Understand the past, embrace the present, enjoy the future

BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor

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Counselling and the art of giving back

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I am always concerned to avoid lapsing into any form of generality when working with clients. It is important not to make any unfounded assumptions.  Everyone who comes into a counselling room is unique with a set of life experiences and issues which are specific to that individual and we as therapists should continually recognise that. 

Nevertheless there are certain themes which do reappear in the therapy room and there are some lines of thought which make a very regular appearance.  A key one is around how quick we can be to help others and yet how often we will shy away from accepting the same type of support when it is offered to us.

Let’s take a really commonplace example.  A good friend of yours is at home alone late on a Sunday night.  There are tears and despair. Perhaps a relationship has ended or there has been a failed application for the ideal job.   The friend is not suicidal but just miserable. The world is a gloomy place and there is a sense of despair.

What would be helpful for your friend is to be able just to have a talk with someone. Perhaps a telephone call to help gain a sense of perspective that there is life and hope out there. And your friend thinks of you as someone who it would be good to talk with.

And yet. It is late on a Sunday. Your friend knows that you will be getting ready for work. You may have already turned in for an early night and he or she feels it would not be right to disturb you at this time.  Your friend decides that you would not welcome the call. It would not be fair on you. And hence no call is made and your friend sits alone with sadness and the isolation.

I wonder what your response would be if you somehow heard your friend’s internal conversation. My guess is that you would have told your friend not to be so silly. Of course you would take the call and you would be happy to talk with her or him. And then, once the call ended and your friend had thanked you for listening, you would understandably have an enhanced sense of wellbeing at having been able to help a friend.

Now let’s try a variation.  This time you are the one who is down.  It has finally ended. That relationship. Or perhaps you are worried about the job and the threat of redundancy. Or you have just an overwhelming sense of being alone.  Whatever the cause just now the world seems a dark and lonely place.  There is no one to talk with. Or is there?

Your friends could help because she always makes you laugh and he always brings a smile.  But it is not right to bother either of them. Not now.  It is late. Neither one will thank you for disturbing them at this time of night. Anyway someone like you should be self-sufficient.  The last thing you want is to appear is in any way needy.  And so the call is not made. The night drags on and you slip just a little deeper into that melancholy place. 

I wonder if on reflection we can allow ourselves to acknowledge that this decision not to bother others, rather than showing a generosity of spirit by putting others before ourselves, is actually just a little selfish.  By remaining in our isolated silo and refusing to reach out and ask for support, we stop our friend from helping us. We prevent our friend from gaining that sense of wellbeing which comes from providing help to a colleague.  And we know that feeling of well-being because we have felt it when others have allowed us to help them.

So what does this tell us?

Perhaps just that when winter seems to have been around forever, when evenings remain dark, folks remain huddled indoors and the world seems just a little less friendly that perhaps it can be acceptable to reach out and ask for some help. 

And that by doing so not only will you help yourself but you will also enable someone else to feel valued and useful.  You will actually brighten the day for a friend.  Or even a late Sunday evening!   





Geoff Boutle

added on 1st February 2017

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