Recently my tutor was describing the types of clients you get in a counselling room and started talking about the ‘perfect’ client. Eureka – lights on! I realised, unashamedly, that I had been that ‘perfect’ client – responsive and seemingly open to working hard – while not really sharing my true pain or vulnerability. Luckily this realisation came when I was already three years into my counselling training and much, much more self-aware and able to laugh at myself than I had been back in 2018.
My therapy journey had started two years prior to my counselling training. To be honest, it was one of the main reasons I decided to train to be a counsellor – that and a need to escape the never-ending hamster wheel of corporate life. I had entered therapy following a traumatic few years of serious illness and operations, and the subsequent PTSD from far too many ambulance rides.
My therapist was my first experience of someone in that realm. Until then it had been a series of doctors, consultants and well-meaning family members telling me how ‘strong’ I was, to ‘cheer up’ or the age-old favourite, ‘at least…’.
I remember one moment in the first session where I replied to my counsellor asking me, ‘How are you, Emma?’ with ‘I’m OK thanks, how are you?’, which to me is a perfectly polite, British way of replying to someone. She stopped me and told me that I didn’t ever have to ask how she was, and that it didn’t really matter how she was. This was all about me.
Immediate alarm bells rang in my head – I’ve done something wrong, I’ve offended the teacher, I’m not going to ‘pass’ counselling. You see, I’m a high achiever, one of those annoying people who sits at the front of the class with my arm up answering all the questions and asking for more homework. At that moment counselling was something I had to pass, something I had to complete in order to be fixed and move forward with my new, happy, complete life.
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Oh, the hilarity of hindsight! I often think of that first session and wonder how long it took my counsellor to work out I was indeed trying to be the ‘perfect’ client. Meanwhile I was just being who I thought I was at the time; I didn’t even realise I was doing it until that tutor session five years later.
That counsellor changed my life – I know that that’s no small statement, but it’s true. I was in need of a sense of purpose and understanding of who I was now, after so much change and trauma over the course of two years. My counsellor slowly encouraged me to work that out for myself. She also allowed me to grieve for the person I had been and was no longer, something I felt I hadn’t been allowed to do thus far
She let me just be myself and occasionally feel sorry for myself, something I had steadfastly refused to do despite everything I had been through. ‘Self-pity doesn’t make you better’ was a mantra I had drummed into me from a young age.
With her, I learned that sitting with my sadness was just as important as being positive about the future.
And, once I was sat in my sadness, I realised what it truly was and how I could get out of it. Almost like taking the blanket off the mirror and truly looking into yourself, into your soul, and finally recognising who you are.
Pretty grand stuff, I know. I told you – she changed my life.
I was also at a turning point in my life with regards to work, and so this overwhelming need also came over me to help people the way that therapist had helped me. I wanted to do that, to be as magic as her. I have obviously since realised that we counsellors aren’t the ones with the magic wands – we just learn the ability to help the client see that they hold those wands themselves. We are just there to support them in using them.
What an honour it is to be training to have that ability. I was not the perfect client, nor will I ever be the perfect counsellor. But getting to this point was the most perfect life choice I have ever made.