Opening channels #18 The Walk

the-walk

 

The Walk

I’m wondering if other counsellors have a similar difficulty?

If you, like me, meet clients in a waiting area then walk together to your counselling room, what do you talk about? I have tried all of the usual topics – travelling and the idiosyncrasies of public transport, questions about the quality of directions and ease of location and, of course, The Weather, as the mainstay of all British small-talk. At one agency, ours is quite a long journey through a public area then up the stairs and, as there is no space to walk side by side, I find myself shouting over my shoulder. These small conversations are essential to client care I believe – Desmond Morris (2002) calls these ‘grooming signals’– smiles, eye contact, small elbow touches, questions about travel and the weather – which show the other that we are caring for her/him. I know from personal experience that, when I am nervous or anxious, these small conversations can really help me relax so I try to use The Walk as a precursor to the counselling session.

My difficulty is during The Walk back. After the session, despite our work to negotiate an ending that suits the client, she or he is, at best, thoughtful or contemplative and at worst, sad, tearful, embarrassed, angry, uncomfortable. We know that much of the change work done in counselling frequently happens towards the end of the session with the familiar ‘door-step comment’ and more is done after the session on the journey home when the client begins to process her new understanding or senses around the issues she brought to counselling. With this in mind, The Walk takes on new significance and I wonder what works best. Do we chat again or stay quiet?  In the interests of balance, do I resume the small talk that I started with on meeting?  Walking in silence obviously allows the client some quiet time and enables her to start or possibly continue processing. It also allows me a pause to get ready for the next client. Does the client need the fuzz of the small conversations to detract from where she is at the moment? I wonder if it is better to allow the client to walk out alone and whether she needs me to see her to the door.

Separating after the counselling encounter feels difficult. I understand cognitively that we are alone in our experience of the world and that the counselling relationship allows me only a small glimpse into the experience of the other. There is an intimacy though in witnessing another human’s innermost thoughts, hopes and fears and it feels cold to step away from that abruptly at the end of the hour. I am aware however, that the client remains alone with her experience and will continue to exist even after I have stopped witnessing. I cannot be there for every moment and this is why I must stick with my boundaries and take care with time to make sure that the client returns to her aloneness with a comfortable sense of ‘ending’. My challenge is for me to accept the comfortable sense of ending.

Any counsellors/therapists out there with any advice? How do you do The Walk?

 

Reference:

Morris, D. (2002) Peoplewatching. London, UK: Vintage

Opening channels #4

So here’s the thing…unconditional positive regard

Rogers says it is ‘…experiencing a warm acceptance of each aspect of the client’s experience as being part of that client’.  Standal refined it stating there are ‘no conditions’ of acceptance and no feeling of “I like you only if…” and there is a real emphasis on ‘prizing’ the person.

Now I get all this in theory.  If I’m going to be any way effective as a counsellor, I must accept and care about the client in a non-possessive and non-judgmental way.  I recognise that this will be easier with some clients than others – I’ve had my fair share of challenging encounters with people I’m trying to work with and I’ve come away with some scars, both physical and emotional.  I’ve been trying really hard to offer UPR in all of my dealings with other people and it does get easier with practice but…

There is a person who I find difficult to be around. This is an acquaintance, not a client.  My feeling is that the image he wants us to have of him is more important than the feelings of anyone around him.  I want to analyse his motives and to challenge the way he communicates and I can feel myself wincing when he speaks about himself, which he does often, loudly and at length (see – already I’m judging)  How would I manage if he was my client?  What happens if I meet a client who reminds me of him?  I know this is the stuff of a nightmare supervision session because I now have to dig in me and find out why I’m not able to prize him and warmly accept his experience and his view of his world.  Meeting and dealing with people like this, who push my buttons, make me question whether I’m really cut out to be a counsellor.

It’s been a tough day today.  I’ve listened to him do ‘his thing’ for most of the day and find myself with an aching jaw where I’ve clenched my teeth to stop myself telling him to shut the f*ck up.   Talk about being genuine – I’ve just smiled and gritted and tried to tune him out.  How do other therapists get on with this?