How experiencing depression can be your ally

We live in a society where we think we can fix things, whereby everything has a solution. As an integrative counsellor, I use a variety of approaches and techniques appropriate to the needs of each individual. The core conditions are the bedrock of my work, but I also have a great tool kit.

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Seven months ago, I was presented with a new client. A client with a degenerative illness; a client that has been given anywhere from six months to three years to live. Week by week, I witness his demise. I see the disease rob him of his speech, his movement, his balance, his identity, and his will to live. I cannot fix, I cannot rescue, I cannot see improvement. My toolkit feels redundant.

I have experienced clinical depression in the past and the suffering, isolation, stigmatisation, debilitation, and hopelessness at times felt akin to death. Depression is something many of us go through, but I would not wish it upon anyone. However, the cliché that surviving it has put me on the path of a wounded healer couldn’t be truer.

I believe my experience with depression has enabled me to deeply feel for my clients.

In the case of my client suffering a terminal illness, I can see staying present validates and normalises his feelings and releases something deep within. My person-centred skills are in full use, I am in his frame of reference. I am holding his hand. I am silently weeping his tears.

I am told it is the one hour of the week he looks forward to – he doesn't want to burden his family with his thoughts, they have enough to contend with. The power of listening and the power of supportive silence is palpable. He feels connected and understood in a desperate time of loneliness, fear, and loss.

We have been through the stages of grief together: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and now we are heading into acceptance, perhaps his health is deteriorating at such a pace, that there is no other choice. Watching the demise of a man that can only face death in the most inhumane way, is a truly humbling experience.

Of course, life is full of lessons, and this client has raised so much on a personal level. It raises intentions of gratitude, intentions about the art of dying as well as how to live and the importance of implementing self-care. But it has also taught me that, ultimately, surviving an extremely deep and isolating experience (such as depression) connects you more to the human race.

You see things more profoundly, you understand suffering, you are not afraid of it, and empathy is not bound, it is boundless. You can do this outwardly if you have been there inwardly. What was my enemy is now my ally.

What did Leonard Cohen say? “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in”.

The lesson here is that whatever darkness you have to go through, there is also an opportunity for growth and a chance to thrive. Personal therapy has helped me enormously, the first step to change was self-awareness and having someone to speak to with neutrality and no judgment – it is the key to surrendering all pretences. It’s the key to unravelling to build back better.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold – a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections. You won't realise your full potential until you go through the tough times, it takes work and awareness in order for it to truly be healing. Ultimately, it is a truly rewarding and liberating process.

Lastly, I remember when I was training to be a therapist, my personal therapist said to me, “Books, theories, courses, knowledge – all are important but your personal experiences and connection with others are what will make you a good therapist.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Kingsbridge TQ7 & Exeter EX1
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Written by Deborah Pleasants, MBACP
Kingsbridge TQ7 & Exeter EX1

I am a MBACP Integrative Counsellor, with a particular interest in mental health. I offer face to face counselling in Kingsbridge, Devon, I also offer online therapy nationwide.

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