As a reminder, the thoughts expressed here are mine alone – they do not, necessarily reflect the beliefs of counsellors in general or the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
Last time I started talking about my own experience with counseling. I recognized two points: 1. that I don’t think I make a very good client and 2, that the stigma about going to counselling is real. I talked briefly about the counsellor as the client and somehow went onto a tangent about crossing from the cognitive realm to the emotional realm. As a matter of fact I don’t think I’m quite done talking about emotions. Why do people struggle so much with accepting their emotions? I know why I avoid my feelings (counselling must be working). My emotional responses played significantly into my ability to escalate or de-escalate high crisis situations working with children and families. I also had to learn to de-personalize my emotional responses due to the nature of the issues I was dealing with (sexual abuse victims and perpetrators, suicide, victims of violence). Basically, I had to learn to “shut off” if I were to have any longevity in this field. People start being trained to not feel at a very young age. As a baby, we cry and almost instantaneously we are lifted cuddled and nurtured until we stop. When we cry, our parents change us, play, distract, and/or stick a pacifier or bottle in our mouths. As we get older, our education continues. When we are sad, parents, family and friends immediately start to cheer us up. When we are angry, we are told to not be angry. When we are afraid, we are taught to avoid the things that scare us, or are shamed into not being afraid (its only a little itty bitty spider, you shouldn’t be scared). In fact, it seems that whenever we express anything other than happiness or love, others went well out of their way to make us stop feeling that way and to make us feel better. From an infant we are taught that it is not o.k. to feel a certain way and that we should do anything including shoving whatever makes us feel better into our mouths (doughnuts, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs) to make it stop.
The pleasure principal; seek pleasure, avoid pain: human nature, certainly, but nurtured from a VERY early age. We develop the habit of pacifying undesirable emotions and the emotions remain – sometimes suppressed momentarily, but certainly still there. How do you interrupt and reteach years of conditioning? As I mentioned in the last posting, it seems like the moment we start to challenge and problem-solve, the client starts to resist.
Mindfulness involves drawing and maintaining awareness and eventual acceptance of the personal experience. Awareness of breathing, awareness while eating, awareness and acceptance of the feeling of sadness is a progressive process that needs to be learned and practiced. Therapist, heal thyself and practice mindfulness many times during the day, then model and encourage that process with your clients. Start today with breathing…. Now… no really, now….
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA