It has been awhile since I last sat down to write for Counselling Connects. I made it through the mountain climbing episode as described in the last post. Let’s get out of the mountains and back into the counselling office. We’ve talked (well I’ve talked, you’ve listened) about setting goals, being aware of the content and the process and we’ve discussed being aware of self talk. I thought it would be interesting to talk about my experience as a counsellor going for counselling. My daytime job is with Alberta Children’s Services. Through my job I see a lot of sad, unfortunate and unsettling things on a day to day basis. I have found that after working for the department for almost 20 years that I need to become more aware of my feelings (it’s amazing what a person can get used to). To help me get in tune with my feelings, I’ve enlisted the help of a therapist. I’ve noticed two significant things as a counsellor going for counselling: 1. I’m not necessarily a good “client” and 2. The stigma about counselling is real, but not necessarily where you think.
First of all, my therapist doesn’t necessarily agree with me when I say I’m a bad client. She states that it has been a very easy transition through the stages of change; I was already self-aware so came in at or around the contemplation stage. I already had some goals in mind and was already aware of where I was and where I wanted to go. I say that I am a difficult client because I spend more time knowing and anticipating her line of questioning (looking for exceptions, pointing out cognitive distortions, even the occasional “how’s that working for you?” – which really should be copywritten by Dr. Phil). I also know very well how to avoid entering the emotional realm and remain in the cognitive realm. I find it extremely interesting that I, knowing exactly what I wanted to do in counselling, would throw up the challenge to my therapist to get me to function at an emotional level and then resist her. It amazes me how much our clients hang on to negative emotional patterns, even when they are clearly aware of them and clearly want to do something about them. The best way to stay in the cognitive realm and to avoid most emotional interactions is to quickly jump into problem solving: get a fairly clear picture of what is happening and jump into looking for solutions to fix it. As a matter of fact, the more quickly a therapist moves into problem solving, the more vehemently the resistance.
I am reminded of a client that I worked with that was dealing with grief and loss. The first step (cognitive) was to go to every single counselling office and to gather every pamphlet on grief and loss and to read them all – the goal being seeing the same stages that she was encountering written down in different forms in different places…normalizing her experience. The second part was to address the feelings, because not only was she experiencing a wide range of feelings (as expected), she was judging and having mixed feelings about the feelings she was feeling (now that was a mouthful). For example, she was feeling guilty about feeling angry; worried about feeling sad, etc… In my office I asked her to bring up her sadness. I knew she could do it, because she was able to provide many different examples in her daily living when she would bring up those feelings. I asked her to bring her sadness up as high as she could and whenever it started to fade or she would distract herself, she was to refocus her attention on the sadness. It was really quite interesting to watch her body language change as she did so. Not only could I see the sadness come in, but I could see the resistance; the tenseness, her legs and arms vibrating as she literally fought against the sadness.
I know, I know, here I am challenging my clients to be aware of, accept, and stay with their feelings and I’m going to counselling and resisting…. hence point number two… the stigma. I’ll have to deal with that next time as I’ve been a little wordy.