There's an old joke about how many counsellors it takes to change a lightbulb. The answer is one, but the lightbulb must really want to change. I might have guessed two counsellors - one to change the bulb and one to ask the bulb how it felt. But corny jokes and stereotypes aside, I can't imagine anyone would seek counselling if they didn't want to change, but sometimes it's a question of rooting out what it is that needs changing.
Carl Rogers, pioneer of client-centred counselling, believed humans have one basic motive and he described it as the 'actualising tendency' - to fulfill our potential and live to the highest level of 'human beingness' we can. A flower will bloom and grow given sunlight and water, basically, the right environment. It may sound simplistic but humans are the same. We can bloom and grow too, if our environment is good enough.
Counsellors talk about a 'safe space' to explore thoughts and feelings. I try to give clients the right conditions - my full attention, empathy and acceptance of whatever they want to share with me. Can you remember the last time someone in your life really listened to you? No interruptions, no telling you that they 'feel the same', no checking their phone for messages while you spoke?
Sometimes people have a very definite idea of what is giving them trouble but what if there's just 'something' you can't quite figure out... something hidden from your consciousness, but something which makes you feel 'blurgh'? (We're into more psychodynamic territory now - I'm trained in both the above theoretical backgrounds and find they actually work really well together.)
My clients are familiar with me asking them to 'get hold of the thread of a thought or feeling and follow it back'. Imagine you're lost in a maze but you tied some thread onto a hedge at the entrance so all you have to do to get out is follow the thread back.
Recently, a client described some confusion over the time he was meant to drop his children at a friend's' house. Suddenly, a sunny Sunday became bleak and depressing as he fell into an old pattern of thinking and feeling, describing his desire to get back into bed and 'pull the duvet over his head'.
As clients become more self-aware, hopefully because I'm helping them notice what's in their heads when such feelings take hold, they learn to focus on the thoughts whizzing past in any given situation, making links between past and present, and understanding what is held in the unconscious that can change a sunny day into a 'dark place'. They hold tight to the thread and follow it back.
Life can be scary when we don't understand what's causing negative feelings.Digging in and really looking at root causes can help us all bloom and grow!