The Joy Of Everyday

I remember starting out as a trainee therapist feeling that there needed to be something powerful and inspirational in every single therapy session. Very quickly I learned that life isn’t quite like that. There were times in sessions with clients where it often felt like nothing was really happening. And there were certainly times in my own therapy sessions where I left feeling very underwhelmed.

But over the years, I learned that that part of the process, the “everyday” part can be one of the most significant parts of the process.

Just as there is an ebb and flow in life, so there is an ebb and flow in the therapeutic process. Some great insight is realised; a significant point is reached; and then everything slows down to the meandering pace of the everyday.

Sometimes I’ve struggled in therapy as a client, wanting to get through the pain of that moment and feel the release and the achievement of sorting something out.

Sometimes I’ve struggled in therapy as a therapist, wanting the client to get on with it and engage with the process of “letting go”, or reach that “light bulb” moment in order to come through the other side.

But if we allow that process to happen and engage with the flow, it allows for a time of consolidation, integration and a chance to draw breath before the next deeper part of the process begins.

It all takes time. And therapy takes time.

The process is individual for each client. Forcing things on and rushing things through doesn’t work. The therapeutic process will happen, if we allow it, for ourselves and for the client.

The everyday sessions are just as important as the inspirational sessions. Both are part of the whole picture.

Without those everyday sessions, the inspirational just wouldn’t have time to grow and emerge. And the inspirational sessions need the everyday for balance and integration.

Those everyday sessions are both preparation for and recovery from the inspirational sessions.

Remember too, that your everyday session may just well be someone else’s inspiration session!

So, get to know the joy of the everyday and enjoy the whole picture.

One Thing at a Time

The other day I caught myself trying to watch the last few frames in an exciting snooker match, and at the same time, making sauce for lasagne, feeding the cat, filling the washing machine and messaging family in Abu Dhabi.

Of course, there came a point where I had to stop to make sure the cat didn’t get fed the lasagne sauce, or the cat food end up in my lasagne…or even the cat in the washer…just in order to see the final frame of snooker and make sure my text message wasn’t complete gobbledegook!

It got me thinking about that space within therapy where the focus is entirely on one thing – the client

I need to put aside my mental “to do” lists.

The focus is on what the client is saying – and not saying. The body language and non-verbal communication. The feelings expressed and held tightly in.   The tears, the frowns, the smiles, the fidgeting. The silence.

As therapists, when we enter that therapy space, we need to leave our own “stuff” outside the door, in order to make room for the client’s “stuff”.

It’s not always easy. One single hour will tell you that.

And of course your mind will wander. Mine has. The important thing is recognising that and being able to reflect both in session and in supervision, on the reasons, the impact and the process of that both for yourself and for your client.

It’s about being present in the moment with the client. One thing at a time – the present. The “now” of reality; the dynamics of the client-therapist relationship and what it mirrors from the client’s reality; the ability to stay with what is …….and explore it in that moment.

There is great skill in multi-tasking in today’s world. There is equally great skill in focussing on one thing at a time.

It takes time to learn the skills for both.

Being There…

When I was working on a placement as a trainee counsellor, I once felt very alarmed by a client’s story and its impact on me.

The client had related a series of events which correlated directly to a recent personal experience of mine, and as a relatively new counsellor, I struggled in that session to maintain my focus on the client and not my own stuff. Being there for the client was beyond difficult.

So how much is it ok to acknowledge that in a session?

In that particular example, I acknowledged none of it explicitly with the client, and it took up several sessions of supervision to work it all through. That included referring the client to someone else.

It takes a lot of practice and experience to allow the process of the moment to evolve and trust your own instincts. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A couple of years ago, one of my clients was relating her feelings on her mother’s recent death from cancer. It was sudden and emotional.

My mother died of cancer – quickly, suddenly, and although it was over 30 years ago, I still connected with that process of events.

At that moment in session, it felt like our two experiences were intermingled – my client’s experience of her mother’s death, and subsequent sense of grief, and also my own experience of my mother’s death and my own loss and grief, as well as my empathy for the client. For a brief moment we shared the tears. Being there for the client was personally demanding.

I shared that I had had a similar experience and that the emotions of that experience are strong, long-lasting and very personal. .

I returned the focus to my client’s experience, but not without making a mental note to refer to it in supervision.

My client continued to explore her experience and find some closure on her own process in therapy.

I found my own closure in supervision on that particular experience with that particular client.

Be there for the client and for yourself.

Being congruent is about being aware of your own process as well as the client’s process.

Above all, it’s about knowing yourself, and trusting the process.

And Being There.

 

 

The Challenge of Acceptance

“How to accept myself for who I am” was, apparently, the tenth most frequent ‘how to’ question to Google in the UK in 2016.

It’s a question which comes into the therapy room constantly. And if I, as therapist, am demonstrating empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence with a client, there are times when I start to feel strong responses when the client struggles to accept him/herself for who they are.

My frustration, anger, confusion “stuckness” is likely to reflect the range of responses that client receives in everyday life from those around them.

But none of that knowledge and understanding helps the work go forward a lot. That is, until that “in the present” feeling and response is brought into the therapeutic space.

Now that’s deep into congruence – what words can I use to express my own sense of longing for the client to be gentle with him/herself? How do I express that frustration at not knowing them fully? How do I encourage them to reveal just that little bit more about themselves in order to move the relationship to a deeper level?

It’s a challenge.

Whilst they may get a range of responses in everyday life, there has to be something different about how it works within therapy. So I may feel the same feelings, have the same thoughts and responses to that person as others – but it’s what I then do with them that matters.

The client may find that others distance themselves or walk away from situations, relationships, communication etc.

So, in therapy, we need to work differently with it.

How would it be to reflect what you feel, and wonder with your client what that means for them? How would it be to stay with those feelings and give the client permission to explore their reality against their desire?

I think the big question here is “How can I enable a client to explore and accept who s/he is if I don’t accept who I am?”

If I, as a therapist, am unwilling to engage with my own personal development, what does that say to a client? If I, as a therapist, avoid my own struggles with self-acceptance, what message does that give to a client?

What impact does it have on clinical work?

Put yourself in the client’s chair, figuratively speaking, and reflect on what you would want from your therapist.

That might mean putting yourself in the client’s chair……literally….

It’s a challenge.

In Search Of Self

One of the national banks has an advertising tag line of “We are what we do”.

I’m not sure I fully agree with that. If we are only what we do, then that’s a very partial version of self I think.

Another advertiser uses the tag line “We are defined by what we have seen” – well it is a national chain of opticians!

Of course, what we do, is part of who we are, but it’s not the whole of who we are. We are what we do….and much more than that as well.

And of course, what we have seen – and heard, touched, tasted and smelled – also is part of who we are, but it’s not the whole of who we are. We are what we have experienced…..and much more than that as well.

Sometimes I have experienced those who have been so identified with their work role in life, that when it comes to retirement or redundancy, they are lost – as if they have no sense of self apart from what they do.

So – who am I really? Who is this “self” and my sense of who I am?

Take some time to reflect on all the things that make you “you”….that might include characteristics, work roles, relationships, feelings, beliefs etc

Write down your lists of words and phrases. Draw them out as a Mind Map. Or draw a circle in the centre of a sheet of paper, write your name in the circle and write your words at the end of lines spreading out from that circle.

It’s not a contest to see who has the most words, lists or lines on the page. But it is about finding out the whole of who you are.

That will include perhaps “what you do” but it will also include being a father, brother, sister, friend; someone who likes being spontaneous; someone who is creative, thoughtful; someone who likes to plan ahead; someone who gets anxious; someone who doesn’t like change; someone who wants to find a place to call home……

Some of those things you will like about yourself. And some of them you won’t.

But remember, above all, you are each of those individual aspects, and you are much more than them as well.

I’m off to find a sheet of paper.

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