I have been fortunate to have experienced some amazing counselling relationships in my years as a clinical practitioner and what follows is a post about a truly significant counselling relationship.
You might think that with calls and emails coming in 7 days a week and seeing clients in a busy practice, it could be hard to remember exactly when a counselling relationship started but when I took the first call from this prospective client, I had a feeling about something which I couldn’t pinpoint at the time but I do remember where I was when I took the call from Susannah. It was quite late in the afternoon and I was standing in my kitchen. She said she was looking for bereavement counselling as she had just lost her partner. I remember feeling particularly moved by her voice. We arranged for her to come to my practice but after the call was finished, her voice stayed with me.
When she arrived for our first session, I saw this beautiful and fragile creature who reminded me of a butterfly, exquisite markings and so delicate. This session was filled with tears as she tried to tell me what had happened to her from finding out that her partner had died to how she got to be seeing me. To witness her distress was excruciating and all I could offer at this time was listening. Her story was incredibly painful to hear, the sadness tangible and the feeling of wanting to make all her pain disappear, overwhelming. Just to be with her was the start of our counselling relationship as she knew, maybe not consciously, that I could be therefor her.
She was still in shock and clearly traumatised by the events leading up to her calling me so what I could offer was all my attention to her words, compassion for her tears and reassurance that I would be with her on her journey. Several sessions passed in a similar way and we did get to do an assessment which involved me asking questions about her past right back as far as she could remember. This can be challenging for people as memory can trick us sometimes yet others find this a cathartic experience. I think trust in the counselling relationship starts to build here. I asked about her first days at school, home life, education, work history, relationships and interests amongst other things. This enabled me to gather a lot of information in a relatively short period of time yet enough to give me an insight into her life and get a sense of her. I also observed Susannah’s reactions to certain questions and her responses.
Clients are often surprised at what does come up for them during this process, some because of what can be triggered and what they can remember, others shocked at how little. It’s an interesting process for my clients and for me as we don’t often find time to sit and reflect on our lives in this structured way, as we are too busy getting on with it.
For me, the privilege of hearing about other people’s lives and what they have been through to get to here is often a humbling experience. Clients have said they feel something shift even at this early stage in the work because they may have talked about things which they hadn’t done before.
All of this happened with Susannah and we continued to work together for some time during which she worked tirelessly on her issues and we moved further away from her loss and more towards the present and then looking at what the future might look like for her. I think Susannah changed pretty much everything that could be changed in her life, where she lived, how she worked, what she did for work, how she saw herself, how she related to herself and everyone around her. She now runs her own business doing what she loves and is so good at.
I have been truly honoured to be a part of her journey. Talking therapy can be such a wonderful and life-changing experience and I believe that the counselling relationship is fundamental to the work.
Susannah went on to write a book called this i know, about her experience of grief including the therapy which is available on her site. What an extraordinary journey for both of us and what a joyous outcome to witness her progression from butterfly to an independent woman running her own business doing what she loves.
It has been wonderful for me to have her acknowledge the work we did together, in such a public way because often the therapeutic relationship is kept private. I wanted to write about it because I hope it might encourage anyone who is thinking about embarking on therapy but is not sure, to make a call and go and find out what therapists are available. The BACP has a Therapist Finder or Counselling Directory where searches can be made by location. Both sites offer further information about what different types of therapies offer.
Her words about her experience with me are wonderful for me to read as I wish it for everyone who embarks on talking therapy with someone who it just works with. “Working with Jill is the most important thing I have ever done. I had just lost my partner and was still in shock when I found myself sitting opposite the women who would help me find my way back to myself. Jill held a compassionate space for me to unravel all the parts of my life that needed exploring, and helped me piece my world back together remade and renewed. There’s nothing magical about therapy – it takes time and work – but finding the right therapist? That’s a gift, and that’s what Jill was for me.”