I recently took my first holiday from being a counsellor. I found it a challenge, not least because of my feelings when my own therapist takes a holiday. See, everyone knows people need holidays. And I understand (especially now!) how taxing being a counsellor is, and I value my therapist as a person so there’s nothing more I wish for him than the ability to rest and recuperate.
But with the warmest intentions in the world, there’s no denying the fact when he goes on holiday it really throws my stability out of the window. It has an impact on me, and that impact, the drowning feeling of being in the stormy ocean without my lifejacket, makes me resent my therapist taking holidays. I mean, his job is to help me, and there he is abandoning me. One second we are progressing in leaps and bounds, the next I have no outlet for a week, or two weeks, or three.
This loss of momentum is certainly what I was aware of in my own client work. I was so grateful for the progress I was making with my clients, and I felt awful to be putting a lack of continuity in the lives of people who really need stability and consistency. I was prepared for them to resent me: I really didn’t mind that because I resented myself. I felt like a bad counsellor, a failure. I projected my own feelings when my therapist takes a holiday onto myself during my holiday.
When I first saw my clients again after the gap I was keen to let them explore how they felt about the break. I wanted them to be able to communicate frustrations if they were frustrated. I wasn’t very surprised to hear that my clients had experienced the break similarly to how I do. They understood my need for a holiday, they wished for me to have a good time of relaxation, but they did feel a bit left in the lurch, and they felt like they were almost back at square one regarding the therapeutic process.
Opening up to a stranger, or opening up at all, is a gradual process, drip by drip, week by week. To have a gap in that can put you into a state of struggling to get back to that level of exposure and trust. It could take a few weeks to build back to where you left off, to be able to disclose in the way you were before. At first I thought this loss of pace was a bad thing. It feels like it as a client when you’ve managed to start talking and then you clam up again. But as with every challenge, it has huge potential for growth.
When I don’t have my therapist to lean on, I have to go back to leaning on myself. In reality, I am the one who gets me through all but one hour per week. It’s me, my strength, resources, will, determination, or sometimes simple stubbornness. But when you’re at therapy you soon start to feel that it’s that one magical hour that it getting you through, not all that grit that kept you alive to the point you first walked into that therapy room. As a counsellor, I am all about how progress is down to my amazing warrior clients not anything special about me, so why then was I suddenly worried about how they would cope without me?
It was a vital time for learning for me and my clients. For me, I remembered that my clients had got through every one of their bad days before they met me – they have unrivalled strength even on their weakest day. For my clients, I hope the lesson was the same. I am here to help them, and I will do my best to support them and provide a conducive environment for change and recovery, but they made it by themselves before and the progress they are making now is them too. I am just the facilitator. It’s them who work the magic. And sometimes when you have no one else to carry you, you realise the magnificence of your own strength.