My first experience of therapy was at 24 years of age. I can’t remember specifically what made me go at that time, but I have had therapy on and off ever since. A central theme over the years has been the unresolved trauma of a back operation I had for scoliosis when I was 15. During the operation, a nerve in my left leg was damaged, which left me with a permanent limp. The psychological damage has been complex, especially as in those days no therapy was offered.
What happened to me was seen as purely physical, and trauma was not mentioned. Everyone knew it had been a difficult, life-changing experience, but getting help to adjust was not considered. In those days you were just expected to ‘get on with it’. People who did go to therapy were seen as ‘having problems’, and when I first decided to go and see Claire,* a local counsellor, the girls in the office where I worked took the mickey out of me.
Claire was a calm, middle-class and unassuming woman; a woman of faith. All I remember about my visits to her are the sense of peace and the way she made me feel. I don’t remember what we talked about. It may have been about my operation and the effect it had not only on me but on my relationship with my mother, but perhaps more likely I just spoke about the girls in the office, and my dreams of becoming an actor not working out. It is interesting that I do not remember what we spoke about, only the calmness of the room and how peaceful it felt in sharp contrast to how I was feeling at the time. I saw her once a week for a few months.
Since then I have seen countless therapists, healers and medical professionals and recently trained to become a counsellor myself. Having thought I knew it all due to my extensive soul-searching, when I began the course, the impact of my operation once again surfaced along with many other things that I thought I had ‘dealt with’ but that I had actually just emotionally bypassed.
Today trauma is widely recognised and discussed, and it’s accepted that the effects can be long-lasting. As well as counselling as I knew it when I met Claire, there is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, trauma-informed therapy, somatic therapy and emotionally focused therapy to name but a few. Having thought I knew it all, I am now fascinated and encouraged by the amount there is still to know and learn.
Every day I peel another layer and shed light on another part of my past. I wonder which part of me it is that remembered Claire recently, out of the blue – the simplicity of our first meeting, where I felt valued, loved and safe. My wounded teenage self perhaps, who is now finally ready to speak up and feels safe enough?
Remembering how it felt has reminded me as a therapist not to forget the power and beauty in simplicity, and the importance of how the client is made to feel. This may seem obvious but in an increasingly complex world it could be something that starts to become overlooked. I am grateful that I have been on the ‘other side’ as the client many times, and that I remember how it felt, good and bad, when I stepped into the room of someone who was, I hoped, going to be able to help. And simple and uncomplicated as it may have been, all these years later I still remember Claire and the way she made me feel.
*Name has been changed.