Counselling: Driving and Map Making
...or: How I work with people.
I wrote in an earlier blog, "I am very friendly, but I am not your friend..." about what I think the relationship between you and your counsellor is, what it is not, and what it offers you. This is the first part of what I think counselling is. It creates a space for you where the second part is possible.
The second part of what I think counselling is, is what I am trying to to do for you in the time when we meet. I see myself as working with you to clearly understand your hopes for counselling. I then work to create a space where, using my skills, you can have a really good conversation with yourself, unlike the conversation you are able to have with people you are deeply emotionally invested in. This space allows you to gain understanding of yourself and your situation and map it out clearly.
With this clarity we are then able to collaborate to find the right approach to help you make a way forward in your situation. To give just a couple of possible examples, it might be helping you find ways to make meaning of your life in the midst of loss, or it could be developing understandings and strategies that work for you to in order to gain freedom from anxiety or depression.
I have found a metaphor that I feel helps explains how I do this.
When I work with you in counselling I feel that it's like we go on a drive in a car together.
You are the driver and I am am the passenger. We sometimes use the metaphor of a journey about conversation, "where are you going in this conversation" etc. When you walk into my office, you are facing some sort of situation that you are challenged by. That's what you want to start talking about or working with. That is like the road outside my front gate, you know it exists and its where we will start our journey together.
Before we even start, I ask you what car you want to take, the sports car, the motorbike, or the truck. That is, the way you feel that is comfortable and useful for you to have that conversation. It might be that you just want to talk and have someone listen and reflect, you may want to use Sand Tray because you are feeling confused about how you are feeling and want to express it and see it more clearly in physical symbols, or you may be trying to make a decision and we draw up a list of pros and cons together. These are all different tools or "cars" I have in my tool kit, and I have many more. But I don't choose the car to drive, you do. I suggest things you could try and you choose what feels comfortable and useful for you. In another professional role I have been a teacher where I say, "This is what you are going to learn today. We are going to do these three activities and then you will have learned that". Counselling is not that.
I let you choose your hoped for outcome and I offer you ways you could try to get there, but you choose the "car".
Then we start the drive. You are in charge of that drive. You go as fast as you want or as slow as you want and if you decide to stop and get out, turn around and go back that's absolutely fine. My role is to sit in the passenger seat of the car and chat to you about the journey we are taking. Noticing together the major landmarks in your life, the roads you choose to drive down, and as we talk, I help you make a map of your situation. At the end of the conversation together, we have made a map of your life that you can look at. You are then able to see much more clearly what you are thinking, feeling and doing, what all the major moving pieces in your life are and how they are fitting together.
As we work together I may notice something I think you may want to talk about, a road you might want to go down. So I ask you, “is that a road you want to go down?” You, at that point, decide a) if it is a road (I am wide open to being wrong) b) if it is a road you want to engage with and so we do or c) you agree it's a road but you have zero interest in thinking about it let alone talking about it with me, which is completely appropriate.
Counselling is all about being honest. What that word doesn't mean is that you have to tell me every little detail for me to help you. I am very capable of helping you without any detail at all. What honest means is that what you say out loud in counselling is the truth as best you know it. Not for me, I am not sitting there trying to understand you so I can tell you what is wrong with you or to analyse you. You are being honest because what I want to create for you is a space safe enough for you to be really honest with yourself, so you can think really clearly about how you are, what's going on and what you need.
So if I ask you if you want to talk about something (ie. what road do you want to go down) and you say no thanks let's talk about something else, I am really happy with that because that is your honest answer. It really matters to me that you feel you have the ability to say that, and I think it really matters to you too.
My job as a counsellor is sometimes to occasionally bring it up and say, "Hey you know that road, would it be helpful to go there today?" or " is this related to that thing you don't want to talk about? Just checking" and again, you choose if you want to go there or not.
That's how I work as a counsellor. I give you lots of choices of car, I make sure we’re are going where you want to go and not where you don't. I let you change your mind about where you want to go at any time. I just make sure it's not me that's planning your journey because I have no right to decide where it is you need to get to. That's your choice.
There is, however, a clear boundary around your choice of how I work with you. If you are going to harm yourself in a very serious way, someone else is going to harm you, or someone else is going to be harmed, I need to act as a counsellor to prevent that harm. Understanding this boundary line is very important but I won’t explain it it more than that here this time (if you talk to a counsellor make sure you understand this line really well).
Remember, this is all about how I work with people and what it is I am trying to do for them. I do have a very clear agenda for my clients. I want them to be having the safe, healthy and awesome life they want. But I also know I am not there to tell them what their safe, healthy and awesome life should be like.
The way I work with people is aimed at helping them figure out their hopes for life and to help empower them to go out of my office into their real, everyday life and pursue that.
Every decision I make when working with people is driven by that agenda and those values.
So I let you choose how I work with you, what we work on and what you want to get out of it. My job is to provide you with information and options, to assist you with all the tools I have to go on the journey you want to take to get where you want to go.