Self-healing: We do it all the time

I recently had a hip operation.


I marvel at the sheer brilliance of my surgeon, and indeed his colleagues, that they can deliver a new lease of life to a body which was starting to lose function. I love to climb mountains and was finding just getting into the car a struggle. I am eternally grateful for the skills of the surgeon and all those who supported the process. But, however well they cared for me, to them I was a body much like any other and they missed out on its wisdom in aftercare.

It took me a couple of weeks after the operation to get to understand what my body was saying to me. Only then did I get control of my recovery. I had been working to the rules they had set out, and it was just a bit painful. We call these rules the Medical Model. Despite my complaint, for the most part, it works for bodies. But it is not so clever when it comes to minds.

Over decade ago, as I retired from my life career, I was looking around to find how I could use my desire to help others get through their lives better. I discounted many methods which had a lot to offer but were missing what I saw as the essential ingredient, helping people listen to themselves. I came across Person Centred Counselling. It made a lot of sense.

My surgeon had x-rays to look at. Yes, my hip was shot at. Technically, it was Stage 4 and time to do something. But as a counsellor, I don’t have technical diagnostic aids. My surgeon also asked me about my balance, my pain in doing ordinary things and a host of other questions to ensure he was looking at hip joint failure as opposed to all the other maladies that can occur in the area. We both needed him to get this one right. But as a counsellor, I am just left with this dialogue - what my clients can tell me - and how they tell me. Even when psychiatrists assign diagnoses, they have to rely on a client’s view of themselves. I don’t diagnose in the context of psychiatric criteria, but I do need to understand what is going in my client as much as I can. It is my analysis.

Understanding and analysing: Issue identification

So, in my first session, I help my client roam around their life experiences while I try and spot what the major issues are. It may not be what they think it is. The reason they are not addressing the issues which are making them unhappy is usually because they have been accepting them as givens. They have lived with them for so long it’s part of them. They learnt some rules in childhood and they are too deeply embedded to question. Those rules operate below the radar. Alternatively, they are living with a very difficult current situation and can’t see a way out.

I need to be a detective. The more I know about the human psyche, the better I will be at this. The better I can listen, the more accurate my conclusions will be. And that can take one session or many. It depends on how deep it’s buried and how reflective my client is.

There won’t be an operation for this. Mine lasted an hour, leaving me the best part of a year to fully recover. Counselling change is one of identification and processing, but not like the Medical Model. Issue identification has to be collaborative. Like me working out my post-operative recovery regime, they have to find their own Achilles heel. I may not get the focus right initially. Indeed, the focus of attention can change a lot over time.

In the same way that my surgeon changed the hardware of my body - with my consent - I seek to assist my client to change the software of their mind. For that is what it’s all about. It is software that is the active element in my computer and it is software in my mind that is the active element in me. My body is the hardware which supports my software, but regardless of any bodily pain from a physical malady, it is the mind which manages me in life. If my computer contracts malware, it malfunctions. Similarly, if my psyche contains malware, I will malfunction and therefore be unhappy. And that is all that matters in life. Am I happy living? I called my practice EnjoyLifeCounselling because that is

what we all want to do - enjoy our lives. If our thinking processes don’t deliver peace of mind, then we are, by definition, unhappy. Our psyche is out of balance and we can’t find that elusive balance. We need help. As a counsellor, I am here to help where others have been unable to.

I have come into the mental health world at an age when many of my colleagues are talking about retiring from it. But this is the best time of life to do this. I have enough energy to offer my clients combined with a lot of life experience. And it is that different life experience which has enabled me to reframe some existing concepts which seem to prevail in the profession, more because they have become part of the lexicon than they have stood the real test of time i.e. reliable outcomes. Like the follow-up from my surgery, I am expected to follow professional rules rather than sense what the person really needs. It is the client narrative which is the essential ingredient. It is the grist of the process. It is my job to help my clients articulate that.

But there is something more to the investigation exercise than identifying the issues. After some time practising, I discovered that the therapy came along with the analysis. I always offer prospective clients a free introductory phone call to tell them what I can - and indeed cannot do for them.

Person-centred therapy

Part of that narrative is to describe the essence of person-centred counselling. I tell them that when we tell someone something and we are understood, our way of thinking about that subject changes. Whilst that was never mentioned in all of my training, I find that the majority of my clients recognise that right away. And it is change which they have come for. So the very process of investigation incorporates the therapy.

As my client describes something which troubles them, they are exposing the malware in their psyche. As it becomes apparent to them that this is indeed malware, then they can isolate it and seek an alternative. In the same way that I listened to my body as I recovered from my invasive operation, my client is now listening to their mind to recover from the damage the internal malware has caused. Bessel Van der Kolk tells us The Body Keeps the Score. It’s more than that. The body knows the score and has the capacity to self-heal. And that is the miracle. All I have to do is help my client’s mind on its way to healing itself.

Once it sees the light, it will gravitate towards that. That is the essence of the most basic therapy method, classical person-centred counselling. There are healthy ways of thinking and living and there are unhealthy ways too. The mind will seek healthy ways if it’s given the chance. It is my job to facilitate that discovery. 

I explain this in more depth in my book So Now I Get It. It also describes how I have expanded the basic concept of Classical Person Centred Counselling into Soul Centred Counselling, which uses visual aids and a very particular form of meditation. It helps us understand those who behave badly too. The process builds very soundly on the initial benefits of person-centred self-discovery. It is my life mission to help as many people as possible discover their true selves and to be freed of trying to be the person others wanted them to be. The book is my attempt to do that. 

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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Altrincham, Greater Manchester, WA15
Written by David Waite, MNCS (Senior Accred). BSc Hon, MSc Counselling Psychology
Altrincham, Greater Manchester, WA15

Counsellor for adults, children, couples, families and a Supervisor. I have an Honours Degree from Imperial College, a Masters in Counselling Psychology, Senior Accredited Status with NCPS. I campaign for improvement of the profession. BACP has published my articles. I teach an effective meditation. My book ‘So Now I Get It’ describes my approach.

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