Understand the past, embrace the present, enjoy the future

GEOFF BOUTLE
BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

My office provides a safe environment in a pleasant relaxed location on the outskirts of Basingstoke, with easy access and ample parking
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Counselling, Therapy and a return to work

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”There is something wrong.  I should not be feeling like this “.  When these comments are expressed in the therapy room, the task for client and counsellor is to decide how to work with them.

The usual response is to accept that there is an issue to be resolved and emotional distress to be eased. Work can then begin on exploring the client’s narrative or story.

There is however sometimes an alternative response to be considered.  This is when the therapist looks together with the client at whether those concerns are appropriate or not.   Rather than indicating a major problem, could those uncomfortable feelings that ‘something is wrong’ sometimes just be a natural reaction to the challenge of living in this demanding society? 

That can be a difficult discussion to embark on particularly when the client is clearly uneasy with her or his current feelings. There is also the reality even in the therapy room, of working in a consumer driven environment where the prevailing maxim is that the customer is always right.   If the client view is that ‘ I should not be feeling like this’   then is it really ever  appropriate for others to be exploring an alternative view?  

Perhaps much depends on what is happening for the client.  The comment that ‘I should not be feeling like this’ can reflect a myriad of difficult situations with very different causal factors.

It may be for example that much time has passed since a particularly distressing event occurred. The client who normally deals very well with difficult issues, is being encouraged by well-meaning friends to accept that by now the grief should have eased and he or she should be ‘moving on’. Yet on this occasion the client is very aware that pain remains and refuses to budge.

Alternatively it may be suggested by others that an action carried out by the client, such as a cross word that was spoken or a careless mistake that was made, was relatively minor and should surely now be forgotten.  Nevertheless this time, the feelings of guilt and self-criticism remain sufficiently strong for the client and continue to intrude on everyday thoughts.

On those occasions there is some work to do in the counselling room. Once we have an opportunity to look together at what has occurred, client and counsellor can start to develop an understanding of why those feelings persist. There will be an individual narrative underpinning the persistence of those feelings. If that narrative can be really understood the client may then be in a better position to decide upon the next step.

That next step may be to take an active stance in reducing the impact of those difficult feelings, perhaps by using some CBT based strategies. Alternatively more time may need to be spent exploring that narrative and developing a deeper understanding of his or her self by using more traditional therapies

There can however be some occasions when the most appropriate action is actually no action. Inaction at a time like this can at first seem counter intuitive and difficult to accept. Emotional distress of whatever sort is at best uncomfortable and at worst debilitating. Why should such feelings ever be tolerated?  

Perhaps that decision to tolerate and accept comes when the client is able to see that the unpleasant feelings are just an understandable part of the challenge of daily life  An example may be feeling nervous before an important event or being ill at ease in walking into a crowded room and having to talk with strangers.

In these situations I will sometimes use a phrase within the therapy room about becoming ‘comfortable with being uncomfortable’.

This may be particularly relevant at this time of year.  The summer has been great.  Quality time has been spent perhaps with family or partner away from work, colleagues, university, school or wherever.  Now however the time has come to return to work. The daily routine beckons.  And just what will you be returning to?

For some who absolutely embrace their role and delight in time spent at work, there can be a sense of excited anticipation to be enjoyed.  For others there is perhaps a more uneasy feeling at the prospect of walking back into work with a concern as to what awaits. There may be apprehension about workload or about a potentially difficult encounter with an awkward colleague.  Those uncomfortable feelings may be unpleasant but they can be regarded as acceptable and manageable.

For some however this type of concern can invoke a sense of foreboding. In extreme cases the prospect of returning can bring about a malevolent dread which stalks and perhaps ruins the closing days of the holiday.  In those cases the comment that ‘I should not be feeling like this’ is very apt – and in those situations that level of individual discomfort really needs to be resolved.

One way of evaluating this level of personal discomfort is to consider where we place ourselves along a spectrum of concern.  To feel some unease about a return to say the workplace after a period of absence has a ring of normality about it.  Just like other events such as that first date with someone very special or the opening match of the new sporting season, thoughts of a return after a long absence invite anticipation and anxiety. Perhaps we can describe that disconcerting feeling as just a feature of the human condition.

If however that feeling persists then there really is a problem to be dealt with. If that unpleasant sensation grows rather than diminishes each time we turn into the car park or if the feeling develops to such an extent that the anxiety turns into that nameless dread then there is an issues to be addressed.  

In those situations something clearly needs to be done.  Those statements of concern present a cry to be heard and not ignored or rationalised away.  There is a call for action.

And it is at those times when the best response may be to pick up the telephone or type out the email address and make that first contact with a therapist.  And the reason for the call? 

There really is something wrong.  I should not be feeling like this………….!

 

 

 

 

By
Geoff Boutle

added on 1st September 2014

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