I have to make a confession. As a therapist I have this almost overwhelming temptation to try to fix things for my clients; to try and make them better. There, I said it.
I say ‘almost’ overwhelming because I would never actually do that; I am a good counsellor.
In some ways it feels unfair; to have compassion and empathy, to have the patience to listen as long as is needed, and then not to be able to give my answer or solution feels almost cruel. It’s as if the gods or the therapy police have set the whole thing up deliberately to frustrate me or to test my resolve.
Of course, I know the reasons why a good counsellor doesn’t give solutions… it’s to do with empowering the client to find their own solutions, yada yada… and I do believe that, really, I do. But it’s just so hard to hold my tongue.
I sit with someone in their distress, or someone who is utterly stuck, and everything inside me is screaming ‘it shouldn’t be this way’. I know how it should be. We should all be happy. No-one should have to live with grief, pain, confusion, abuse, bereavement, loneliness, bullying, rejection. Whose fault is it? Who can we blame? The parents, the government, the children, the bankers, the teachers – always the other.
But there is something intrinsically human about brokenness. We hate it, all of us, but we can’t avoid or sidestep it. It is universal. Having broken my ankle I feel my dependance on others. I need help. I can’t reciprocate quickly. I owe someone something. And I feel more human in my vulnerability. And still I hate it. I want to be strong, capable, efficient, dependable, wise. Is the solution to have the Hollywood happy ending, the easy healing? Or is the world a kinder, gentler more human and healing place when we see one another and allow our true selves to be seen?
A young man with (I guess) mental health difficulties is walking in and out of the coffee shop as I write. He has come in about fifteen times now, each time getting closer to the serving counter. Is is goal to buy a drink? Is it use the bathroom? I want to jump (well hop with crutches) up and offer help, but how patronising is that? What is it like to be him, I wonder? He is mumbling fragments of sentences. Is he aware of people watching him? Does he go home and feel ashamed because people look at him wherever he goes? Is he lonely, isolated?
And I realise that it is I who wants the solutions so that I don’t have to go on watching the other’s pain.