Trying and learning

Perhaps a good place to start is with the saying “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.


You might ask why I am using that statement and why it is relevant. Well, just recently it seems very appropriate to my thinking and feeling. I have to say I am not at all sure I agree with the saying anymore.

A while ago a counselling session finished in an unexpected and sudden way. For three or four days, it impacted me really badly. Duvet days, excessive sleep and poor nutrition, beating myself up (mentally). It was not the best experience but I was able to accept it for what it was and was comforted with the belief that it would pass. 

Indeed it did pass, but it took effort and a willingness to deal with it. Initially, I did not want to deal with it. My self-worth and self-image had been bruised and perhaps, unsurprisingly, I went into old thought patterns i.e. it is all my fault, I am not good enough, I am stupid, stupid to even consider I could manage such circumstances. These thoughts were coupled with feelings of despair, guilt and self-loathing.

Sound familiar? Shocking as it might be, this counsellor is prey to the same feelings a lot of his clients experience.

Now it seems apparent that, had this old dog not been able to learn new “tricks”, I would still be sitting in the problem. Probably overwhelmed, definitely dejected as well as a lot of other negative feelings.

That is not where this counsellor is now though. 


Well, this 'old dog' used what he had learned in training and what I have experienced as being useful. Full of self-pity and remorse I was able to reflect on the ending. I was aware of the events, aware of the effects and was thus able to consider what I could do and what I should do. 

Then I did it. 

I realised and accepted my role in the events. Clumsy wording, being stressed by a series of DNA’s, allowing this to obscure my knowledge of the client etc. etc. I realised the potential of the ending to destabilise my client, how my actions and words might have been experienced by them and the awful realisation that I could have caused harm (emotional and therapeutic - not physical). Unintentional but potentially harmful anyway.

So, what to do?

I spoke to colleagues, listened to responses and, as a result, I felt less unhappy than I had. Then I wrote an email to said client. I offered an apology for my actions. I acknowledged the way they might have experienced the session. I offered to continue the sessions, should they want to. I offered them my best wishes whatever they chose to do.

Then I waited for the next scheduled session. Full of anxiety and fear and with a firm idea of how to be, should the client turn up. Not grovelling and full of apology but not full of arrogance and conceit. I wanted to be willing to look at the circumstances, hear my client's experiences and try to move forward. Post rupture, I have experienced the client relationship going to a greater depth so was hopeful.

Well, the client did not attend, has not responded to my email and has not made contact. All of which they are perfectly entitled to do. This has not turned out to be an entirely negative experience though.

Not entirely negative?

Well yes, actually. I have been congruent and by practising what I hope to enable my clients to achieve, I have achieved. I have learned, and thus I have grown. By walking the walk and talking the talk I have had an experience I hope my clients will have. Being mindful that the best I can be is next to, and not in front of, my clients.

So to finish, I do not ever want to repeat the experience but should it happen I know, first-hand, what can happen. I know that only the client can achieve therapeutic change and the best I can do is provide a safe, warm and supportive environment that allows that experience to happen.

One day at a time I am becoming the best I can be. Thanks to Carl Rogers and his conceptualisation of the “organismic self”. I have been able to feel the events in this life as they happen and to respond, and adapt, to them in real time. Thank you Mr. Rogers and thank you to all my clients. Without the both of them, I would not be who I am today and without them, I might not even be able to realise I do not know.

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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Chelmsford CM1
Written by Steve Fayers, Counsellor / Therapist | Certified Trauma Therapist
Chelmsford CM1

I am a person, a counsellor, a parent, a flawed human being who has struggled with life. Struggled with addiction.
I would rather struggle than give in and accept a life that does not meet my needs and wants.
I am trying to be the best person I can be.
"I will not go quietly into that goodnight " (paraphrased Dylan Thomas)

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