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 #16

open-arms-elbow  (Thanks to Elbow)

Music is brilliant, isn’t it?  Songs to sing to, dance with, cry along with and songs that pick me up and hurl me against the wall.  Some songs are my time machines and will whisk me back to a time – sometimes I want to go there and other times, I have to turn off the tune.

I found this again on my i-Pod and found myself crying with joy as I was driving to work.  “We got open arms for broken hearts…” Guy Garvey sings and relates a story of a friend or relative returning to friends and family who are celebrating his return.  The reunion isn’t a happy one, we understand as the line goes on “…like yours my boy…” and we get the sense the return isn’t fully his choice.

There is no judgement however  “You’re not the man who fell to earth…you’re the man from La Mancha!” acknowledging the returner’s feelings about coming home without the success he imagined when he set out on his adventure and trying to reassure him that he is still regarded as brave and intrepid for setting out in the first place.  “Tables are for pounding here…” suggests that the returner might be angry, distressed and in need of a physical release of those feelings. You can pound tables with us, Garvey seems to say and we’ll not think anything less of you.   The song goes on to list all of the people who are there to see him home – all human “Rooney’s face down in a puddle – everyone’s here!” the song ends triumphantly.  We feel that the adventurer is back where he needs to be now, he will heal and may even set out again with the strength of everyone behind him.

I would argue that the song is a lovely symbol of unconditional positive regard, genuineness and warmth and reminded me of therapy.  Clients are adventurers, living life but experiencing an adventure gone off track.  They need to come ‘home’ a place where arms are open and there is no negative judgment.  They expect and should receive a human face (maybe not ‘face down in a puddle’ though) who will support them to pound the table, if they need to and who will value the adventure they’ve undertaken.  Clients are the man, or woman, from La Mancha and will take what they need to embark on their adventure again.

Music is wonderful isn’t it?  Just a few words cleverly and beautifully bringing together the fundamentals of a therapeutic relationship.  Give the song a listen…