Reflection then action
After a busy few days, I find I have time to pause and reflect. It may sound superficial, as it still does to me sometimes, but I have come to value such times. I value them because those times allow me to process events and then decide if and how to go forward with them.
For instance, when the washing machine packed up, instead of bemoaning the inconvenience and the cost, I was able to remember that 15 years of use from the washing machine means I don't really have an excuse to be miffed. Being someone who has friends (something quite new to me), I was able to arrange to use a friend's machine. No longer spending every penny on destructive behaviour, I was able to set about ordering a replacement. This still feels quite unusual for me.
With my clients, I have been asked on several occasions to sponsor them in recovery (sober person offering support on recovery). But, as clients, I am obliged, ethically, to decline - no dual relationships being the relevant ethical standard.
Upon reflection, however, I can encourage them to seek other people who might be willing to sponsor them and to encourage them to keep seeking a sponsor. Instead of the usual blunt and unyielding 'no', reflection has allowed me to see a way of being beneficent to the client. The default and rigid way of dealing with issues such as this has changed.
Another example is following an experience when I felt attacked and ridiculed in a service role I undertake, in a recovery meeting. I reacted defensively in the moment. Subsequently, I have been able to hear the criticism levelled at me. Although I do not agree with all of it, I can accept that the person felt the way they do for a reason. I am able to address the criticism and can choose to amend my behaviour in the service role. I am able to not get drawn into the retaliatory messages and ongoing arguments. The other person's views are valid but they are their views.
Similarly, when I have clients still in the grip of addiction, reflection has allowed me to see the addiction as being part of the client's journey. I am not important enough, nor able, to cause them to stop their addiction. If only life was that easy!
With reflection, I can see the addicted client as a person who has sought out counselling. The counselling might or might not be a step along their journey of recovery, but it is not for me to decide. By offering the client a safe, calm, non-judgmental and welcoming space, I might be useful in their recovery, should the client want to recover.
By not allowing my preconceived notions into the sessions, it is possible for me to accept the client's autonomy, their self-will. Should a client want to deal with issues that might, or might not, contribute to their addiction, I can be alongside the client and not the guide. This speaks to my person centred therapy training.
An analogy I use when explaining what person centred counselling is uses the metaphor of a car journey. The car keys are on the table, the client decides when to use them. Should the client choose to drive, then they decide how far to go, how fast to go, the route and when to stop. As it is the client's decision, it speaks to their autonomy and goes some way to levelling the power imbalance between counsellor and client.
My role is to be a passenger who is beside the client - never in front of the client.
With immense gratitude, I now have two paying clients (10 clients in total) and I have reflected on this also. Gratitude, for me, speaks of humility. With an ego that can very easily become overinflated, humility is very important. Yet there is, I feel, a balance to be achieved and maintained. To try and eradicate the ego would be unbalanced, so, on reflection, it is possible to see that indeed it is me who has put the effort in. Training, qualifying, advertising, marketing, etc. None of which matters if my ego makes me a counsellor that no client would choose to see.
So the balance for me is to not be self-aggrandising and not so meek and humble as to not value myself. Somewhere between those two extremes feels good. Doubtless, I will veer from one extreme to the other but if that means I am able to keep within acceptable limits of either extreme, then that is good enough.
In a recent networking meeting, another counsellor asked if they, or anyone else, would mention to the client annoying client behaviours. Not surprisingly, the responses were varied. Some responders said no never - take it to supervision, and a few spoke of having spoken to the client about the behaviours.
For me, the answer is always yes. With care and sensitivity but yes, do broach the subject. The client might not be aware of the behaviours and their impact. For me, it speaks of being authentic with the client. Something clients are good at picking up on should I be behaving inauthentically.
Although extremely fearful about broaching the subject with the client, a very good supervisor encouraged me to do so. The rupture in the relationship I had anticipated did not occur, instead, the relationship went to new depths. With this client, it was possible to see therapeutic change occur, within the 12 sessions allowed.
Subsequently, this has been the same with other clients. A client of mine, who has had 20 sessions to date, has a criminal history of sexual violence and constantly rubs their groin. After 18 sessions, I mentioned this to the client who was blissfully unaware of the habit. We looked at how this behaviour might be experienced by other people, men and women, which caused the client to pause and think.
When I enquired what was happening for the client they spoke of connecting the way people responded and reacted to them to this behaviour. They then went on to disclose being diagnosed as autistic and ADHD. Not only did this alter the framework that I was viewing the client through but it led to us looking at ways of addressing it. Addressing it because the client saw it as being detrimental. The simple act of offering the client a fidget spinner caused this tick to stop in session. In turn, this allowed the client to focus on the session to a greater degree.
For me, this is a useful example of why it is a good thing to reflect and take action - to bring in things the client does that we find unsettling.