'Endings' in therapy: a therapist's perspective.

Ending therapy can be hard. Not just for the client, but also for the therapist. This isn’t something that the ‘profession’ feels easy talking about. Indeed, when I was training I was scared of telling my clients I would miss their presence in my life, even though I meant it and prize therapeutic honesty, for fear of what the ‘counselling police’ would say if they found out. Could I be criticised for getting too attached? Worse still, might people think that ‘it’s all about me’ and that by sharing my true feelings, I might be indulging myself, and should march straight back to my own therapist before I dare take on a new client.  

This fear was active in me for a long time.

And yet, I knew it wasn’t about me in a needy or domineering way. It was about me in as much as it was my experience of the therapeutic encounter, but it was also a feeling that was being co-created with another human being. It was a product of relational depth and time spent together week on week.

For some clients (and therapy naysayers) it seems easier to imagine that counselling is, bottom line, a financial transaction. At its worst it’s ‘paying for a friendship’ and at best ‘I pay you to care, and whilst I know you probably do on some level, I know that wouldn’t be the case if I wasn’t paying to come here’. These assumptions are understandable and societally enforced in various ways, but they don’t have to be true. They don’t ring true for me in my work.

I have a private practice, and I ask for a fee. This helps me to live and pay my bills, but every time I step into the therapeutic space I am stepping into a relationship, and entering into it in a meaningful way. No amount of money can make me genuinely care. No amount of money can buy my deepest empathy. No amount of money can be enough to bring me back to the chair week after week with another soul and minister to their despair, or join with them in their triumphs and successes (however small or large).  

You do it because you are called to. I do it because I believe in the healing power of relationship. I want the best for people and to help them bring down their road blocks. I also need to eat. The nuance of what it means to be in a therapeutic relationship is a post for another day, but suffice to say I don’t ever just show up and go through the motions. Great therapy, in my eyes and approach, requires relationality, it requires trust, it requires willingness to be open to the other. It requires some of the qualities of friendship, but more than that. It is not pals. It’s not family. Yes, it’s highly one-sided. It’s a relationship all of its own despite it being about them and not you. No one feels this anxiety more than the client, but it’s OK. We go into it knowing that this is what it’s about. Nevertheless, it holds its own space and it is real. What happens isn’t magic, it isn’t the product of a highly qualified expert and a broken patient. It’s the power of connectedness between two people showing up over time. Some people will be dismayed to hear this, but I believe it to be true. It works because you do the work together not because I hold powers. And each therapy is different. Again, another post.

So, that’s a flavour. And a lead in to the point about endings.

Endings are not transactional as a given. They don’t have to be. On the contrary, if therapy is a relationship, then ending is felt at an emotion level. Hopefully, ending is felt positively – you have done good work together – but there might also be a sense of loss. On both sides. I don’t find it a small thing to sit with another person week after week (especially in long term therapy) and so when our work ends, I feel the absence of the client. This is never truer than when you have moved from near-death back to life with another person. When you have been with them in their despair over the very question of whether to stay alive.

This isn’t pathological. It’s not concerning. It’s not a cause for alarm.

It’s human. It’s life affirming. It’s reflective of the ways that human beings affect each other. It comes and it goes, and in the end you wish your client the very best. It’s OK. Further along in my practice now, I can acknowledge to myself that each ending has an impact to varying degrees. Sometimes I just hold their slot for a week or two without filling it. A nod to their leaving. Sometimes I meditate and send them on their way, privately. Sometimes I smile tearily at myself as I walk to the car knowing that’s that, and they’re going to be OK.

More importantly now, I can invite my clients to hear how I have experienced them and our work together. I can do this with appropriate boundaries. I can do this within ethical practice. I can do this without worry that I am self-indulgent and in need of prosecution. I can do this without it meaning that I am trying to hold on and not let go. I can do this as an offering that says ‘I was here, and I cared, and I will continue to care. Your presence has been felt, I have seen the world through your eyes, and I wish you well’. If my voice and experience doesn’t matter to the client then that’s OK. I don’t feel the need to tell them, and I will talk it though in supervision, but if they want to know, then I am happy to speak truthfully. Nothing is lost, only gained.  

So, how you end matters. Both client and therapist bring their own experiences, discomforts and rituals to ending, and it’s important to understand this and be aware. You need to let some people bolt out the door. Sometimes a client doesn’t want to say more than ‘Thank you for this, goodbye’ and that’s OK. But creating proper endings for people can be redemptive and transformative, for the therapist included, and we try and prepare for these in advance. The client leads and the therapist intuitively finds a way to work with that; this is the deal.

In the final analysis, perhaps the hardest thing for some clients to hear is that they mattered and will continue to matter. Perhaps it’s also the hardest thing for therapist’s to say. But I hope I will always be brave enough to say it, and I hope my clients will be able to receive my genuine warmth and care until the very end of our time together.   

 

 

One Day Outdoor Coaching: Friday 25th January 2019

When & Where: Friday 25th January. Peak District, Yorkshire or North Wales (to be discussed together).

What: We will do one-to-one coaching together from approx. 9.30-4pm (in keeping with winter daylight hours) meeting inside first (for a cuppa and a chat) and then moving outdoors where we will walk, talk and explore what’s going on for you.

How: My coaching is person-centred and broadly rooted in existential philosophical practice. That means, you are the expert on your experience and have the answers and solutions to the problems you’re facing. My job is to listen, ask questions, challenge and help you make sense and meaning of where you’re at in the here and now. We will look at your goals, and what’s troubling you or holding you back from living the life you want, and we will look at ways through that suit you. During the day we will consider your values and beliefs, the stories you tell yourself and others and how you understand the role of purpose and meaning in your life. We will do this and plenty more besides!

Who: I am a qualified psychotherapist/counsellor specialising in outdoor therapy and coaching. My approach is non-pathologising and relational, meaning that I am interested in helping you make sense of your life and the things you are facing (however difficult) through a strong and safe working relationship together.

Suitability: You do not have to be an outdoorsy person, or be especially experienced outdoors. We will work at your pace and level of experience, whilst aiming to gently push you forwards. We do not have to have worked together before (this may be the first time) but you are equally welcome to book the session if we have or already do work together in therapy/coaching. All I ask if that you wear appropriate clothing for the day and I can advise on that when we know the weather!

Cost: £165 for a full day of outdoor coaching (plus email support before and after.)

How to Book: As there is only one place available securing the space will be on a first come first served basis. Please email me at ruth@whitepeakwellbeing.com to express your interest and I will send you a paypal invoice to secure the place. Once we’ve got it in the diary we will plan the location in line with your preferences and get started!

For more information on my practice approach and values please have a scout around this website or find me on Instagram @whitepeak_ruth. I look forward to working with you.

The Healing Power of the Wilderness

The link below will take you to an article I recently had published with Passion Passport, on the theme of healing in the wilderness. As it is, it's mainly about the light and sound of the mountains. I hope you enjoy it!

http://passionpassport.com/healing-power-of-the-wilderness/

For some reason, I can't embed a visual link. Sorry for this rather shoddy looking blog post!

a very brief conversation about heartache

The following is a transcript of a spontaneous and short conversation I had with myself whilst out running after a day spent with clients. It represents an imagined continuation of several unconnected conversations and thoughts had throughout the week on how we live with the things that wound us.  I was running the route I always run when I only have forty minutes. The sky was heavy with moisture, though not quite raining. The mist thick to the floor.


Me: How do you live with heartache then?

Myself: This again (laughs inwardly). I’m not sure there is a how.

*pause*

Myself: I think you just do. You just do live with it. 

*pause*

Myself: That wasn’t the answer you were looking for, was it?

Me: No, not really.

Myself: I’m sorry you feel disappointed. I suppose it does sound like a paradox doesn't it? You just do, by doing nothing at all. You get active with the idea of passivity perhaps. Of what you can't do. Hmmm. Let me think some more. Hold on.

*longer pause*

Myself: it seems to me, that everything that works aches. Everything that works, must ache.

Me: How do you mean?

Myself: I mean that, if something is operating hard and functioning well then it is being worked. It’s under strain. It must ache. The ache proves that it’s working.

*pause*

Me: Ok...I think I see. Tell me more though. 

Myself: Would you expect your legs to always be pain free when you are running on them constantly? Do you not accept that they ache as a consequence of the work they’re putting in?

Me: Mmm. Yes. That’s true. When they ache I know I've done the work. I feel pretty satisfied actually. 

Myself: Exactly!

Me: my calves hurt, and I read that as inevitable damage that will repair. I welcome that. I invite that. It's kinda the point right?

Myself: (nods)

Me: And I suppose I rest them. I allow them that. And then I put them through the same ordeal again. As often as I can, actually. I try and keep myself fed in the right way so that they can do the work. I suppose I hope they’ll get stronger but, yes, I think they’ll always ache.

Myself: Yes. That. So, you see you do just live with heartache. You carry on in the same way. There's no magic how. The muscle just gets stronger. But it will always ache. This is the proof that it’s working. That it’s doing the work that you ask of it. That you are doing the work.

*end of run. kettle on*


International Women's Day 2018: a personal reflection

We sit together in vulnerability.

In the twelve months passed, I’ve worked in depth, therapeutically, with twelve women. This is coincidental, and didn’t happen neatly in blocks as the months sit in a year, or indeed as increments of time sit around the clock. But the number is meaningful to me. 

This morning I woke up with a profound sense of love and care for those women that have come in and out of my life this year – as I have come in and out of theirs - noticing how I carry each of them with me for much longer than they (or I) might have imagined. I feel grateful to have met them, heard their stories and been alongside them in the unpicking and sense-making of their trauma, abuse and bereavement.

In weekly meetings over several months you become woven into each other’s lives in a way that is unlike any other relationship. It is intense, and at times wrought and anguished, but also ephemeral, ambiguous and without label. You sit together in painful vulnerability. You sit together in the universal frustrations of being human, and the personal victories. In stuckness. In strength. You silently root for them to root for themselves. You’re on the edge of your seat. You are sunk in.

Sat with my morning tea today, I wondered: how are they getting on now? Are they still healing? Are they hopeful for their future? Do they feel enough? In therapy, you quickly adapt to planned, abrupt and unresolved endings; you get used to the fact you might never find out what happens next though you may wish to. Increasingly you recognise there’s something difficult and beautiful in that, and the easiest way to carry it, is not being afraid to.

Learning to love the Other without expectation of reciprocity or longevity, is one of the oldest, most fundamental and existentially challenging lessons that there has ever been. It is what opens a space for the Others self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and subsequent growth. A lack of love (felt and expressed as warmth and respect for the essential life within everyone) is the thing to fear most in and out of therapy. Sitting bravely with love – trusting in its errant and unfinished process – enlarges the capacity we all have for more of it.  

So, as I walked in the woods this morning I gathered twelve small cones for a jar on my desk. I piled twelve stones into circle and sat for a while. I listened to the wind, and felt the coming rain. I sat with the things that don't speak, and with the ever-present future wish. Finally, I dismantled the circle and left the woods.

Happy International Women’s Day 2018.

We Sit in Vulnerability

(an old photo taken in summer 2017)

 

On Sadness

No one seems to talk about being sad anymore. In a world rich with the parlance of mental illness and diagnosis, 'depression' is pushing out - what is to me at least - the more tolerable and beautiful elder of depression, sadness.

It's not easy to talk openly about sadness - perhaps because of the fear of deepening a hole in our bones for it to sink further in to, or because of what it 'brings up' that is uncomfortable to face - but the ubiquitous presence of sadness in art, music and literature tells us that we're as drawn to sorrow and melancholy as we've ever been. Hard to resolve as it is, there is a great deal of beauty in sadness. There is something alluringly cathartic about embracing the sad moment, and giving over to it's longing in the privacy of our own hearts, to the soundtrack of a song played in the minor chord.  

How we do sad is personal. For some, there is a need to be together in collective moments of grief and loss. For others, it can be an intensely private affair. There are some who release it through crying; finding relief in this climactic expression of pain and heartache. And others who will simply sit unto themselves and wait patiently for its end. But both states do not offer an end. Sadness cannot ever fully end, principally because everything else can.  Sadness is, because one day we will not. Sadness is an indication of reality. 

I identify with being a sad person, not because I'm unhappy and joyless - much of my life is a joy to me, expressed in hope - but because above all I am enthralled, enchanted and motivated by the 'difficult feelings' that flow out of the finitude of our human condition. I'm grateful to get up every day and start again, precisely because I know - sadly - I won't always. Like many, I have experienced enough loss to fill my shadow several times over, and I have invested my time in understanding how to work with it. At times, I hold on to sadness too tightly - I have done this again recently despite awareness of my 'process' - as if in doing so I might keep what cannot be kept - perhaps even relieve from others what they can't carry themselves. In doing so, sadness becomes unbearable.

But generally, I've found that a curious and kind approach to the inevitable visitation of sadness over the years has lead to my most empathic and compassionate work. If I can carry my own existential sadness with an embracing joy in the suffering of it - if I permit that in myself - then it invites and allows others to walk freely in and out of their own. Because there is nothing so stifling as being told what you should feel, nothing as liberating as being invited to feel what you want. Every feeling has it's own need for expression in and through the individual. Anything held too tightly can become a problem.

Sadness needs to breathe itself out, as much as we do. Mindfully noticing sadness and letting it move in and out of the rooms of our life, is to acknowledge that everything is welcome, before time ultimately runs out on us. Letting sadness in is an invitation to our mind and body to do it's most courageous work of recognising it's potential to do no more. There is no path that can be taken without it. But in the end the wish of sadness fulfilled, is peace. 

Walking in to the lonely place