Last week my colleague asked me a question that really got me thinking. She asked me what counselling means to me. Funnily enough it’s not something I had ever sat down and pondered on as I’ve always just known it means a lot, it’s my career, my passion and it feels like my purpose. If you ask me if I enjoy what I do, I’ll always reply with a tone of gratitude and say, ‘I was born to do this’.
I sat back and thought about what counselling means to me both personally and professionally and I think my greatest asset as a professional, is having had firsthand personal experience of the counselling process. Most of my personal journey in counselling as a client, was done informally with colleagues and although informal I distinctly remember how powerful these sessions were. There were times in my career when I would sit with a colleague and cry and I couldn’t understand what was going on or why this emotion was coming up at a particular time. It was in these counselling spaces that I was taught to allow the emotion to surface, to express and to process them, to let the feelings come and in their own time let them go. Emotions, feelings, memories and experiences all surface for a reason. They teach us something, but only if we let them.
Being able to have experienced a safe counselling space to do this was more healing than I could ever have known. It created a space where there was no judgement, only acceptance. This became a space where I could explore myself, my past, the stories I believed about myself, my family and my world. I realized that my present was being affected by some of my past issues or experiences that I had been carrying around like baggage. They were causing unconscious blockages, influencing my ability to feel at peace.
This is what I love about counselling. It shows the power in a relationship, being accepted, being valued, being heard and respected by another in my own struggles. This taught me that I could do the same with myself. It taught me that I deserve a space to share, to explore and to heal. This type of exploration is not easy and can in fact be one of the hardest things anyone can do. Opening oneself to the counselling process takes such bravery and often clients arrive at my therapy room reluctant to show any vulnerability. This reluctance is due to the belief that crying is a sign of weakness, which blows my mind. The statement ‘it is weak to cry’ is a fallacy so many of us still believe and we need to challenge this. To be vulnerable with ourselves and one another is one of the bravest things anyone can do. It is not nice to cry, it is not nice to feel sad or vulnerable, but to go there shows a truly admirable strength and it shows you will not shy away from yourself in fear but rather that you are brave enough to face yourself head on.
When a client walks into my therapy room or even just makes an enquiry, I immediately have so much respect for them as it shows they are brave enough to realize they are not okay and are willing to delve into why that may be the case.
Counselling can offer a space for acceptance through the therapist, but this is not enough. The end goal is self-acceptance, and this is what so many of us still believe is unattainable. Self-acceptance is difficult one as often we have no idea who we are. We know who we might want to be and who we present to people or we think we know how others might want us to be but to know and accept who we truly are is the real challenge. As human beings we tend to define ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. When we do ‘bad’ things, make mistakes or hurt those who love us, we begin to believe that we are bad. Our inner dialogue becomes critical. When our inner dialogue is “I am bad, I am a failure, I am stupid or unworthy”, how will we ever accept or love ourselves? How will we ever feel safe enough to take up space with our emotions? We all long for connection with others and of course true connection is one of the most beautiful experiences in life. But how can we really connect with someone else if we haven’t even allowed ourselves to connect with ourselves. We are disconnected from our true beings and it is our true beings that we need to give some water and sunshine to allow them to bloom. Disconnection from one’s self is not necessarily a process that happens intentionally. We do not choose as children to disconnect, rather it’s an organic process that often occurs as a survival mechanism which help us survive past traumas.
We may have been raised in a family who ‘kept up appearances’, where on the outside everything looks perfect but, on the inside, there is fear, shame, anger and secrets. As a young child we begin to adapt to this and live our lives this way. Internalizing and protecting the feelings, avoiding them in so many unhealthy ways, out of fear that people will figure things out and disapprove. So many of us learn to live inauthentically, when the reality is that this process, this life cannot be about people. If I am living for others, in fear and in control of others and in comparison, I will not thrive. Learning to accept ourselves is not as simple as just deciding to do so. Although for some it may be a bit easier, often it’s about finally opening ourselves up to our pain. It’s turning around and facing that box of skeletons that we have been carrying around for so long. It takes true bravery to be truly honest with ourselves. One of the greatest things we will ever do is learn to accept ourselves with all our quirks. We are not perfect, but we are beautifully unique.
Sitting back and thinking about what counselling means to me really is so much. It is about growth, peace, bravery, awareness and acceptance but mostly I believe it is about love. It is love that draws us to counselling. Whether in a formal or informal setting. Although we may believe we hate ourselves, being willing to enter into the counselling process shows there is still even a tiny mustard seed of love in our beings. My hope is that for us all is that this seed grows, and everyone comes to realize and accept their true selves and all their imperfections.
Lauren Moore Charlseworth