Just as a person might go to the doctor with a cut in the skin or a major, life-threatening illness, so might a person come to a counsellor or psychotherapist with a current life-issue that is fairly straight-forward to solve or with a long-standing, complex, deep distress that needs more time, deeper engagement and stronger guidance from the therapist. In the first couple of sessions the client and I decide together on the number and frequency of sessions which is based on the client’s needs, current situation and desired outcomes.
I have worked therapeutically with hundreds of people and I have come to see that there are a number of distinct components that need to be addressed in the process of therapy.
1. The pain of the current situation: mostly people come into counselling in much emotional pain-a separation, a loss, an illness, or an overall dissatisfaction or even despair with life. In therapy, this pain is heard and seen, held with kindness, cared for and given as much time and space as it needs. Its origins can be given voice, its depth understood and its impact explored.
2. The blockages to healing: if change were straight forward there would be little need for professional help. Many things can get in the way of navigating life and often people have little conscious knowledge of these obstacles. For example, there may be unhelpful beliefs or out-dated values that stop us from growing. Life-experiences such as family of origin events, trauma and losses shape how a person experiences their current situation and these need to be addressed. Childhood events often impact deeply but move into the background of knowing; these may need to be remembered and processed. Current lifestyle choices, relationship or work situations may need to be re-evaluated. It is often the independent yet caring point of view that offers the client new perspectives.
3. The vision for a happier life: at times people who come to see me are surprised to be asked what a happier, more satisfactory life might look like for them. It never occurred to them to articulate a clear vision. Others are quite clear and have a strong sense of direction already; it is more the obstacles that need to be addressed. There are many layers to this, of course, and from a holistic perspective it means being happier in body, mind, heart and soul as well as feel a sense of integrity in relationships, health and lifestyle.
4. The path to get there: there are many ways to healing and there are many therapeutic approaches that are taught and practiced to support the healing process. The methods that guide my work are based in humanistic, existential and holistic principles. As a therapist I became aware some years ago of the growing use of meditation and mindfulness as a tool for healing in therapy. With more and more research available it became clear to me that mindfulness practices were not only complementary to my existing work as a therapist but could expand my ability to help clients with different presenting issues. I include strength-based approaches, work creatively and experientially and work very closely with my clients own personality, potential and preferences.
5. The way to sustain the good life: in addition to gaining insight and making new choices for one’s life the goal of therapy is to sustain and grow what has been gained. When the counselling relationship comes to an end, long-term plans are made, resources offered and support structures put in place. In addition, I have an ‘open-door policy’ which means that my clients are welcome to come back any time they need support and guidance.