I read an article in ‘Therapy Today’, the BACP magazine, about man who had led a criminal lifestyle (drugs and viiolence) and ended up in prison. There he had the opportunity to have some counselling and, even though he had tried counselling previously and not found it helpful, this time he was ready for it. He described how he wanted to find out who he was: to understand how he’d reached this point in his life and to find a different way to be. Something his counsellor said to him when they were taking about change resonated deeply with him: change yourself and you change the world.
This deceptively simple phrase resonated with me too. It seems to capture the essense of counselling/therapy: the idea of promoting autonomy and choice. We need to explore, understand and truly experience what has led us to be the people we are, and how we carry this into all our relationships, in order to be able to make the choice to change. And when we change ourselves we change our worlds: our relationships, our perception, our actions, our impact.
It is easy to imagine that it is more likely to be men who are not in touch with their feelings; coming across as reserved and lacking in empathy. This is clearly too simplistic: both sexes can be oblivious to the fact that they appear rude and/or remote. These forms of behaviour may have developed as defences against childhood trauma, deficit or injury or as a result of what seemed the normal way to interact at that most impressionable of times. Whatever the reason, it is definitely something that can sabotage relationships and needs working on if you want to be in a successful, caring relationship.
Talking about sex, sexuality and particularly any sexual problems can be one of the hardest topics to address in counselling; even if the main reason for coming to counselling is directly or indirectly related to sex or sexuality. This can also be true for counsellors or therapists themselves. Exploring this intimate, core part of the self can feel invasive, embarrassing and risky. But it can also be vital for individuals to understand themselves and feel able to make the choices they need to in life. So it is fundamentally important that counsellors explore their inhibitions about talking about sex and sexuality, before they can create the space and safety necessary for their clients to be able to do so.
Doing a day of training last Saturday has reminded me of how it can feel to be in the client’s chair rather than in the counsellor’s. I felt vulnerable, out of my depth, excited and scared – sometimes all at the same time. I also learnt a lot about myself in terms of how I relate to others, the world in general and myself. So it was invaluable and I am very glad I had the opportunity to do it. Thinking back on it now, I’m struck by one of the tutor’s words, (paraphrased): ‘I believe we learn through experience, rather than being told.’ I believe that it is through the experience of counselling, in the relationship between client and counsellor, that we learn what we need to know about ourselves and our lives so we can heal where it’s needed and move on towards where we want to be.