Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Counselling 101: Beyond the silence.

It's the first day of my counselling introduction course, and I need to keep a journal. So here's some rudimentary notes.

we all came in with predetermined ideas- I know I'd written my speech for when I was asked what I was doing there and what I expected to gain ages in advance. So it was an important lesson to just forget all of that, sit back and listen. That's probably fairly essential for a counsellor. What an unexpected result of that was that I realised all I was planning to say had been said better, so I just said what I was feeling. Which was something like:
"People sometimes come to me for advice and I'd like a better idea of what to do. And personally, what I really want to know is how to care, but not so much that it affects me. How to care the right amount."

At the very least, I'd probably sleep better.

The teacher also did an interesting exercise. We split off in twos, and once had to be the counsellor, one the client. The client (went first) had to just talk about what it felt like to be in that chair. And although they were identical, they were totally different chairs. As the client I was sprawled out on the chair, slightly freaked out by my partner's totally impassive stare. Speaking to fill the silence, which was unsettling.

Can you believe we actually had to physically swap chairs midway through? Although I thought we were both actors, we were experiencing a very powerful tool. It helped, too, that the client chair had a black jacket on it, and the counsellor chair a white top.

As the counsellor my posture was totally different, closed and upright, and I had to concentrate on the right responses- not speaking, obviously, but I'd learnt from my turn the importance of a counsellor registering what their client says on their face. I think it worked (mostly). But you don't give as a counsellor, I think, you receive. The client gives you something, and when it follows a long silence you can see something significant building inside them. We don't often let silences finish themselves off and see what lies beyond, which is a shame. But this is very fragile, and the slightest word or look from me would have broken it.

I suppose all the counsellor gives in cases like that is the time to let the client see what lies beyond that silence.

Those are the main lessons I'll take from session one. The scale of the forces, and the importance of being yourself. I'm too prone to rationalising, putting everything into words and imagining scenarios. yet when I strip off the surface and daily chatter of thought and almost stop thinking, that's when I really start to learn.


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