1. You know that person you don’t like? Turns out they’re a gift
From day one I had a number of reasons I didn’t like one of the women on my course: she was confrontational; she was loud; she was ‘in your face’; always interrupting and questioning things; insensitive to other people’s feelings – my list went on. I would avoid sitting next to her and even avoid her eye contact when the class had to pair up for skills practice. I even brought my gripes to personal therapy and I’m glad I did, because my therapist helped me to confront a truth that my heart already knew: it wasn’t about her; it was about me.
In my eyes, we were opposites. Where she was confrontational, I was shy. Where she interrupted, I never said what was on my mind. I saw in her things I couldn’t do; things I was afraid to do. Recognising this has helped me to examine my behaviour and the self-doubts that it stems from. Over the following weeks, I purposely sat closer to her in class and one week she sought me out. Striding across the room she announced we would work together that evening. She had no such preconceived ideas about me and it became clear that a lot of my judgements really didn’t fit this real person. Because of this person, I have had to face facts about myself and, as a result, started to find my own assertive voice.
2. Silence is your friend
I used to find it excruciating to sit in silence. After a few seconds, I would need to smash it to smithereens. I needed to rescue the situation and make it okay, less awkward. Often this resulted in me rambling just to fill space and immediately wishing I hadn’t said the ill-conceived sentences tumbling out of my mouth. Of course, the person I was rescuing was not the person in the client’s chair. I was invading their space in order to make it all less awkward for myself.
In our society, we don’t often get to just ‘be’ very often and it’s a privilege to share silence with another person. As a counsellor, silence – if you let it - can give you way more than words. You see the body-language, notice a tight jaw or sense an emotion hanging in the room. Gifting a person time to be with the gravity of their thoughts and emotions can give them, and you, the coordinates to buried issues and even solutions.
3. I have prejudices
On the surface, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a vanilla liberal – open-minded, a believer in equality, a feminist, not racist, not homophobic. But this journey has challenged this sense of myself and brought more complex reactions to my awareness. Growing up, we learn from seeing how to be as much as from hearing life lessons and, as a result, often swallow whole unchallenged assumptions and beliefs. For example, I learned that girls won praise when they were ‘good’ and pretty. Boys were criticised if they cried or had an interest in anything ‘girly’. I watched as boys got to do P.E when it rained and girls were sent to the library. I saw my peers bullied for being different and understood that fitting in was safe. All of this has shaped assumptions about myself and others, which I may not notice until I reflect upon, question and challenge them.
4. My strengths can be my weakness
Some of the qualities that I value are part of the very reason that I decided to become a counsellor. I prize emotional intelligence and emotional intuition and I thought that this would stand me in good stead as a counsellor. Given half a chance (and a glass of wine) I can turn armchair-analysis into a competitive sport so it has been a humbling revelation to me to discover that some of these ‘strengths’ can be wholly unhelpful when it comes to really listening to and supporting someone. Understanding this was like having the rug pulled from under me as I came to really understand that you start at the very beginning with everyone you meet. Each person brings their own unique subjective experience to the therapeutic relationship and it is my responsibility to learn and to listen with new ears.
5. The real value of money
I’m told it’s a northern thing, but I’ve always been a bit of a miser by instinct. And when I say always, as a child I actually used to sell my Easter eggs back to my family or trade them to my sisters for doing my chores. For all that, I never really considered my relationship with money. Taking on debt to pay for university was just something most people I knew did so I didn’t really connect my financial commitment with my education. I understood the importance of having a job, but didn’t make a clear connection between my work and the weekly shop or the sustenance of my handbag habit.
Training to be a counsellor is bloody expensive. Of course, you pay for your course and then there’s the personal therapy, the supervision, the books and the top-up courses. But, because this is a career-change that I had to think long and hard about, I’m more mindful of what this investment is buying me. I’ve had to make cut-backs and be more conscious about my day-to-day spending decisions. And actually, this has been no bad thing. Nowadays drinks with friends, buying and receiving gifts and even adding to my bag collection feel all the sweeter for my awareness of the connection between the financial cost and the experience.
Miriam Christie is a trainee counsellor at CPPD Counselling School in London. Miriam divides her time between working as a campaigner, teaching Yoga and Pilates and blogging about health and wellbeing. To find out more or to get in touch with Miriam, visit her website here