Mirror mirror on the wall
In the well-known story, the wicked witch wants to be told what she wants to hear and is not happy to be told otherwise. Would such a mirror benefit us? I think not.
What we need is a more honest mirror, one that looks a little deeper and one that gives us a compassionate understanding of our inner psychological workings. The kind of really helpful information which we can utilise to comfort, understand, and make an enduring difference to the quality of our lives.
We can sometimes be disappointed in our reflection, and reflection can come from all kinds of mirrors, comments people make, even well-meaning ones, an expression or a reaction to something we say. However, all of these are open to interpretation and so are not always helpful. Counselling can help to change our perceptions to be kinder and more realistic. The therapist as a therapeutic mirror is just one of the many skills a counsellor has to help their clients.
Does such a magic mirror exist? I would argue yes. I often refer to myself as a therapeutic mirror and there is a very simple reason for this. Counsellors as a part of their training spend a fair amount of time learning to listen, I spent six months, which does seem to be a lot of time – but, is it necessary? Do people not listen? Well, it can be argued that hearing and listening are not the same thing.
Have you had one of those wonderful moments when you have felt really listened to and you know you felt understood? This should be the norm for counsellors. What we do is called active listening, it is kind of a blend of empathy, attention and unconditional regard. The counsellor will acknowledge, reflect and paraphrase, and thus give to the client valuable insights, which help to give self-understanding and a level of awareness, perhaps not previously achieved.
But what do you get from this precious resource? A lot is the simple answer. Here are some examples:
- understanding of the origins of emotional issues
- identify unhelpful strategies which once helped, but don't now
- uncover outdated thinking patterns
- learn new ways of understanding ourselves and the world around us
- uncover strengths and resilience
I often read that counsellors provide a safe place, and indeed that is a necessary environment that every counsellor should provide. This is part and parcel of the therapeutic relationship; it would not do, and certainly would not help if a client felt ill at ease. To be able to confide, express and open up, requires trust and safety. This starts with the counsellor who has that responsibility. If you are not comfortable it is not easy to express yourself or to tell your story. The question, how does that make you feel, becomes a lot more helpful when there is no judgment and unconditional positive regard.
Counsellors have been specially trained to listen and respond, and to work with the client to find what interventions will work best. Every person has their own unique personality and life experience. A skilled counsellor will work hard to find what works best for each client. So, if your counsellor nods and reflects back their understanding, remember it is not just a shallow reflection, it is a therapy that may make a lot of difference.