The brave heart: 3 steps to cultivating courage in therapy
Courage in counselling and psychotherapy
Courage is something that is rarely spoken about in relation to counselling and psychotherapy – yet we know it’s a vital part of the process.
Courage is often needed just for showing up in therapy – simply making a first appointment can feel enormously risky for some people. In sessions, courage is vital for voicing things that may feel shameful, and for enduring the kind of difficult emotions that may come up as we talk. And courage is an integral part of the archetypal 'hero's journey', so often reflected in therapy, where the hero goes forth on a difficult quest and returns fundamentally changed.
Not having courage is a problem. Without it, we tend to rely on a range of alternative, unhelpful coping mechanisms. These can include systematic ignoring, rationalisation, repression, sublimation, self-soothing, and distraction. Such strategies may work well in the beginning, but often lead to the kind of side-effects that can drive people to seek therapy in the first place – such as relationship difficulties, depression and OCD.
So what exactly is ‘courage' – and how can we cultivate it?
What is courage?
There has been a huge amount written about courage over the years. All the literature agrees it’s a highly positive attribute, connected to ideas of heart, energy, strength and endurance. It’s definitely not about reckless bravery. Rather, it’s about the simultaneous knowledge of both risk and fear, and acting regardless.
Essentially, the research on courage tells us that:
- Courage is what can help us endure the darkest moments, and be bold and strong when facing difficulties. So it is an amazingly effective resource for positive change.
- As we develop our courage, we are likely to find energy, authenticity and vitality beginning to spread out into our lives.
- Courage is about acting despite our fears – we don’t need to be ‘fearless’ in order to be courageous.
How can we enable courage to blossom in therapy?
Firstly, long before most people would say they are feeling ‘courageous’, they are able to recognise the first sproutings of energy, confidence and strength. So just being aware of these qualities as they begin to appear – both in your counselling sessions and in the rest of your life – gives your courage the light and air it needs to develop.
Secondly, everyone has something unique that motivates them towards change – for example, wanting to be a better dad, or caring-for-self, or anger, or religious faith. So it can be really helpful to identify and hold in mind your own motivators – the things that give you a sense of purpose when times get tough.
Finally, research has shown that the feeling of safety and acceptance from a counsellor is a positive catalyst for courage to flourish and grow. This means that seeking out a counsellor with whom you feel completely safe, and not judged in any way, is not just a ‘nice-to-have’, but may actually be a vital part of your journey towards courage and change.
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About Sarah Hamilton
Sarah Hamilton is an experienced counsellor and psychotherapist, fully accredited with the BACP. Having previously worked in the charitable sector and the NHS, she now runs a private clinic in Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire (www.haycounselling.co.uk). She works with both adults and teens, and has particular interests in trauma and mindfulness.