PERSONAL COUNSELLING Session 1.
I felt really excited as I was walking to my counselling appointment – I’ve had ten sessions of counselling before and really enjoyed the opportunity to see how it should be done. I also really relished the space for me. I’ve long thought of counselling as an opportunity to get out all of my Jewels, the good and bad experiences, hopes, fears, losses and loves, and examine them before putting them away safely.
I wasn’t sure how I imagined what my counsellor would be like. I must have had some image in mind because I noted that she wasn’t exactly what I expected, however, strangely, I still can’t establish what I actually did expect. Very formally, she asked me to complete a registration form and assessment form which I dutifully filled out, finding myself irritated when I made a mistake on the form. She clearly explained contracting and boundaries, including safeguarding, as expected and I listened carefully. She then invited me to tell her a little bit about myself and my expectations of counselling. I took my time to explain that I wanted to examine some issues that might come up during my work with clients including some significant losses in my life. I noticed that I was offering carefully measured elements of my experience – clean and sanitised with just enough ‘grit’ to present me as flawed. I also noticed that my counsellor appeared tense, holding herself separate enough but offering sufficient responses: ‘It sounds like you have a lot of regret?’ and ‘You have set up quite a target to achieve’ which invited me to consider what I was saying in more depth.
I realised that I was trying to be a ‘perfect client’. I was getting straight into the work but in a measured and controlled way. There was a logical path to my disclosures – easy for my counsellor to follow and track, and these built upon each other in a systematic way allowing the counsellor to hold my story respectfully and with minimum effort. My story was nothing like the often messy stream of consciousness that I’ve experienced with my clients. I notice that I was making this easy. My counsellor didn’t need to coax or invite me to explore emotions, rather I brought them out in expressive words. I also noticed that my counsellor was being the perfect practitioner, offering accurate observations and reflections but my underlying impression was that she appeared bored and almost relieved when our time was up. There was no sense of connection or ’relational depth’ that Mearns & Cooper (2005) and Knox (2008) describe. My counsellor did nothing wrong. Neither did I. I feel however, that whatever complex dance went on between us was not altogether right. It has given me some things to think about but nothing to feel.
It makes sense to do something differently. This is my session, after all, and at its most superficial level, I am paying money for this opportunity. If I want to present a perfect image of something, I can do this in my hairdressers or in my teaching. My counselling sessions should be about the rawness of my Self in all of its glories. I can risk loosening my ‘Be Perfect’ corset and getting down and dirty with the crappest, most loathsome, embarrassing and shameful bits of me and working with them until I can reach some equilibrium that allows me to let go of some of my high expectations. It is fine to know that these things are there but the real work lies in feeling their influence on who I am.
A next step might be to confess all of this to my counsellor during my next session and seeing where that goes.
Knox, R. (2008). Client’s experience of relational depth in person-centred counselling. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 2008; 8(3): 182-188
Mearns, D. & Cooper, M. (2005) Working at relational depth in counselling and psychotherapy. London, United Kingdom: SAGE