"I don't like people like you coming here"
I am of Latin American origin and I immigrated to the UK thirteen years ago. As a migrant I have a relatively successful migration story which goes on the back of very hard work coupled with a somehow formed strong belief in myself.
I grew up in an environment with little nurture for my existence; I lived in a culture that limited women’s access to education. My younger male siblings went to University but as a female I wasn't allowed. They were encouraged to dream on their careers but I was sent to work after secondary school to support my family instead.
When recession and poverty hit our country, myself and many others had to leave. Having studied English as my second language, London was my best bet.
London’s high demand for low paid jobs and the advantageous currency exchange meant that as a cleaner at the time I was able to make a living greater than in my home city, despite the good job I had there. I managed to go up the ladder of the British workforce, established myself in respectable jobs and sponsored for my brothers’ higher education and university.
The journey has not been easy of course, almost deported three times, working over 70 hours a week, struggling to find my way and place within a very hard and selective UK Visa system whilst longing for the hugs of the family I left behind.
Eventually, I took attention to myself and followed my path of support for others. I had developed in the charity sector and trained as a Person Centred Counsellor, finally fulfilling a long-term dream of a) having a profession and b) using it to further support others.
So there I was, sitting in front of my client who had just told me how much he dislikes people like me coming to his country and feeling very aware how his words enlightened even more my sense of pride in my own migration journey.
I couldn’t help to feel privileged that the counselling alliance I have been facilitating has provided my client with enough safety to be able to tell me just that.
You see, it never crossed my mind that my client had a personal dislike for me as his migrant ethnic looking Counsellor- but instead what I represented and what my presence evoked in him. Or how much my being a citizen of his country affected his view of me sharing a city he was in.
You might think it was my person centred training, the Rogerian theory, my own personal growth, the ethics that I abide or whatever it is that comes in that therapeutic room whenever we are in practice, something worked- something enabled me to embrace his sentiment and not take any offence or interpretation of abuse towards me.
If anything I felt this was an amazing opportunity for us both to face this head on and be real with ourselves if any movement of growth was to follow from this… and it did. It moved us forward.
I proceeded to acknowledge his dislike for people like me and encouraged my client to be as honest as he could by saying this was his space and it was not about me taking any offence from his honesty, instead for us to use it and explore what people like me represent for him and his concept of self.
As a Person Centred Counsellor this was one of those relational depth moments where the counselling alliance is such that a moment which could have been interpreted as racist and offended me on a personal level perhaps, brought about a profound exploration for my client which not only supported him in his understanding of the feelings of anger he felt toward ‘these people coming to his country’ but also allowed me to appreciate what it meant to him.
Our sessions continued to explore the long history of alcoholism, his main carers had and how they had impacted upon his education or, lack of it, in his formative years and the comparison he made with others doing better.
My client and I were as congruent as we were able to be at that moment on a subject that affected us both. His own reflection on how his feelings of rejection for other nationals stemmed from the fear of his own success in life was a significant moment for growth in the therapeutic alliance.
So as challenging as this moment in our counselling alliance was, it became an enriching one; and one which many of us in our profession are experiencing in a post Brexit climate where xenophobia* has very sadly been reported at schools, the workplace and local neighbourhoods.
Many colleagues providing therapy for non-British children at schools or other establishments will know the fierce rise of xenophobic bullying experienced at schools, my own children were upset by pupils’ comments of having to pack our bags and go home.
But our clients will be coming from both ends of the debate, and as a colleague I would like to highlight to fellow professionals in the field (from all types of training and methodologies) that we are in a privileged position in society where we can offer a unique safe, confidential and non-judgemental space for these issues to be explored.
Let’s be alert at what this momentum of historic attention to race and borders means to us and how we react to it when it comes in the therapeutic room.
I believe our profession provides a unique platform where we have the opportunity to not shy away from the issues and instead explore it to the core. Hopefully, resulting in a society that has the time to healthily reflect on what these borders really mean to self and to others.
As the sessions ended with my client, I will probably never know how he feels about people like me in his country now, as a professional that is none of my interest to know; however, what I do know is that from that day onwards, we were able to work from a deep honest point in his life’s journey and that the honest reflection on why my presence bothered him, and my willingness to embrace his views enabled him to conclude on what this meant to him, and the movement that took place within our therapeutic alliance.
Claudia Turbet-Delof is an MBACP Person Centred Counsellor that has worked and volunteered in the Charity Sector for over a decade supporting children, young people and families through emotional and personal development support programmes. One of her passions is equality of gender. Claudia volunteers as Vice-Chair and Trustee for women’s rights charity, LAWRS. (Latin American Women's Rights Services)