Counselling is a creative process and as each of us are the real experts on ourselves, anything that enables us to express ourselves in that process is fundamental to it. Self expression leads us to self awareness and that frees us to realise that we can continue as before or choose to do things differently.
I have never heard the story of a client that didn’t make sense to me once they explained their personal and family history. As we hear ourselves telling our story, and realise how we got to this place, it is then possible to explore what other choices we could be making. There are some basic needs that enable this process to work well:
- A safe, calm, comfortable and confidential space, with an agreed confidentiality and time boundary managed by an ethical and professionally qualified and supervised counsellor.
- We all need a counsellor who is encouraging and prepared to witness and listen to our story, in terms of how it is now and how it got to be like this for us.
- Acceptance and understanding. (The word in Cherokee for Love is the same word for understanding – in the book ‘Little Tree’ by Forest Carter).
- So many of us as clients come into counselling believing that there is something ‘wrong’ with us, because we have a high expectation of ourselves. It is vital to normalise that we all go through bad experiences, make mistakes, feel unable to cope sometimes. It is vital to normalise this and value the choices we may make as children to survive, which may not continue to suit us as we mature into adulthood. A common phrase I have found myself using a lot is: “Welcome to the rest of the human race”. There is a sense of all of us being in this place of grappling with what is and doing the best we can.
‘You did what you knew how to do, and when you
knew better, you did better.’
- Something deeper – Compassion. It is hard to work with people and not feel compassion for that courage and indomitable spirit that moves us through some of our toughest times.
- Specific counselling tools that stimulate self-expression: writing, play, role play, art, meditation, visualisation, a walk in a labyrinth (see post under Labyrinths) both in the counselling room and for homework, depending on what might interest and inspire us.
- Encouragement for us, as clients, to think, imagine, visualise, dream how our lives can be and what we may want to do differently.
When is comes to empowering us to make different choices, I have used a few exercises which seem simple but can be effective in enabling us to make new choices.
- It can be valuable for us to notice how we make choices about simple things. For example, if we go into a cafe, how do we choose if we want food or drink; something savoury or sweet; something hot or cold. Do we habitually choose the same thing? Do we go along with what other people want? Do we really ask ourselves what we want to have today, that might be exploratory and different? What happens if we sit in a different seat or walk a different way than is our normal habit?
- It can be interesting for us to take time out to try on clothes in a charity shop but make an effort to see what we look like in a different styles, colours, shapes than we would usually do…something out of our comfort zone and notice how that feels. What might we learn about ourselves?
- Also, it can be useful to spend a half day or a day on our own in an unknown city or town and discover what we might like to do that perhaps we don’t normally allow ourselves to do – that relationship with ourselves that is so important to explore.