As I make my plans for my return to counselling practice after a two year break due to ill health, I am faced with worries and thoughts that I have not considered before, and a confidence crisis that has surprised me.
I have a chronic pain condition that sometimes causes symptoms to flare up in unusual ways physically and mentally that often may need explaining to those unaware of why this happens to me. Part of why I stopped practicing is because I felt my own issues had begun to overtake every part of my life including client sessions, and so I stepped back while I continued to find ways to come to terms with a new way of life and being.
Now, two years later I find myself worrying that even though I feel mentally and physically strong enough to get back to work, would my ongoing condition cause my new clients to be worried about me as a counsellor, as a person expected to sit with them and support and enable their own processes? Would they think that I cannot cope with their needs because my health is not what I consider to be ‘normal’? Perhaps my clients will not feel I am ‘together’ enough to be a counsellor because I am not the absolute image of health and vitality as far as they could see.
I often get asked by those not in the counselling field how difficult it is to put on my ‘counsellor hat’ with clients, and how I manage to cope taking on other people’s issues. These questions do not come from a person who understands not only some important parts of being a counsellor, which is self-care and awareness in order to protect other people’s issues from impacting on our own state of mind, but also only adds to the ideal that in order to support another person one must be devoid of human emotion ourselves, switching on a special part of ourselves to be able to sit with another.
Of course any counsellor reading this will know this is not how it works, we are counsellors yes, but also our human natural selves, and although in the client relationship we have boundaries that may not exist in the outside world with others, ‘counsellor hats’ in my opinion, do not fit.
It was this very thought that made me question what a new client may expect from their counsellor, and perhaps even the things I have expected from my own therapists in the past at various points of my learning and life. I remember needing my counsellor in the past to have the answers, tell me what to do and fix my problems. This of course was a long time before I had any real understanding of what therapy is.
My idea of a good counsellor is someone who could cope with whatever issue I brought to sessions, someone who had empathy, understanding and ability to listen without judgement. None of these qualities insisted on a counsellor without personal issues of their own, or a perfect life having it all ‘together’.
I realise now that everyone has opinions about what we feel another person should be, Judgement is in our human nature and normally based on our own needs. My own needs right now are obviously about wanting to be a good enough counsellor to support a client. I cannot reframe other people’s opinions and needs to fit into what I would like society to be, but I can work on my own needs and understanding of how this process is affecting me, and have faith that those future clients I work with, will have faith in who I am as a person and a professional.
Practicing what I preach isn’t always an instinctive process for me but in this case I feel it is a matter of great importance not to expect or need perfection, I say often to myself and others ‘there is no such thing as perfect’.
Just because I am supporting another person, does not mean I am not good enough to practise unless I am without flaw. That the idea of someone being on ‘top form’ all the time, and not having any issues or worries of their own is an unreal ideal, and what could that offer another person anyway?
It is precisely my issues and experience of the difficult times, and of course all the wonderful times in my life, including those of the people around me, that has informed my knowledge of our world, that makes me the person I am today. I possess empathy, understanding and unconditional positive regard because of all those beautiful flaws and issues that make us all unique and simply human, and for this I realise I am proud.
I believe a counsellor should have knowledge and learning to be able to cope with the professional constraints and pressures that comes with supporting others. But having all the answers is not what is useful to another person. I have had to go right back to my initial learning theories and textbooks to focus my mind and heart on why I do what I do for others, the power of the relationship and the safe space to support someone else in. How to keep myself safe, well and aware.
There are a million counsellors in the world who successfully support their clients in all that they are and all that they are not, the shadow and the light. Equally there is a million clients mirroring this acceptance towards their counsellor. And so it seems I have found the ultimate confidence booster for me right now as I step back into the working world of therapeutic counselling, is to remember all of this, be in this community, share in our knowledge and experience, but also be proud that there is only one of me with all I have to offer. Utterly aware, flawed, scarred wonderful me.
Lisa is a qualified integrative counsellor with a BACP Accredited Level 4 Diploma in Counselling. She has been in private practice since 2014 and has been in many varying voluntary and paid supportive roles. Lisa also has a special interest in holistic methods of therapeutic counselling and the person centred approach to a working relationship.
You can make contact with Lisa via her email