I have reached a crunch point in my counselling placements. Whilst I have two clients who are both past their sixth session I have lost at least three in the first few sessions because they didn’t feel that I was “contactable”. In other words I am feeling extremely anxious because it’s a first session with a new client (I’m not good at meeting new people outside the counselling room either) and when I feel anxious I put the barriers up, and that makes me unreachable.
The clients I have kept are under 40 and the ones I have lost are over 40. Maybe I find the younger ones easier to reach because I’m not transferring my father onto them.
I suspect it all comes down to fear of not being good enough, of anything less than perfection being inadequate, of my saying less through fear of saying the wrong thing. I then say nothing, or say it badly or just trip over my tongue. I worry about interrupting a flow preferring to wait for a pause that never comes. I worry about how the client is receiving me to the point that she’s not because my defences are up.
More than simply relaxing I need to tear down my walls, to make myself vulnerable. I cannot sit back and wait for the client to come to me; I have to reach out to them emotionally. It’s not that I don’t care or aren’t empathic but that I don’t feel confident or even safe enough with a new client to let my emotions show.
To a certain extent this is where I have reached in my own personal therapy. I have inch by inch over the last few years become more confident, more open and more capable of dealing with the ups and downs of life. I know where my comfort zone ends and push beyond it more. I look after myself better than I used to.
But, and it’s a huge but, at my core, deep inside I am a very vulnerable small person who is scared of being challenged and failing to respond appropriately. I am scared of being judged and found wanting. And all I can see as I write this is my father’s face hovering in front of me telling me that I am failing yet again.
All this fear and anxiety is a barrier to my growth. It’s a barrier to my personal growth and now it’s proving a barrier to my professional growth as a counsellor. I’m feeling as if that slow inching forward needs to turn into a gallop that resolves itself before I get another new client. I’m also aware that these clients are coming in a vulnerable position in need of support that I am failing to give them. I’m not filling the basic core condition that the client must feel that empathy and unconditional positive regard coming from me.
I don’t know how to resolve this. I don’t know how to resolve this at a gallop. I am wondering if the sensible thing is to defer for a year so that I can have a bit more time to work through this but I also know that will feel like a failure and hit me emotionally and also be harder financially. I don’t even want to have to explain to people why I’m taking another year.
There are some practical issues as well. We learn how to be a person-centred counsellor in a purist way, learning with our peers who behave well when they act as clients. The difference between that and real world clients who are much more vulnerable and much more scared and willing to run away from it all is huge. I do not think we spent enough time covering this initial first few sessions and the vulnerability of them. I haven’t yet found my words, my ways of explaining how it all work to the level necessary in those first few sessions, of explaining just enough to keep them going without scaring them off. This I can better prepare for.
I don’t know whether my peers are experiencing or have experienced similar issues They tend to talk about clients they’ve had for longer rather than the ones they’ve lost early on. I do feel that I have fallen behind those who have completed their first 100 client hours and who seem to act with much greater confidence, a confidence which is totally understandable. I do not feel like sharing where I am with this process and opening myself up.
Looking at the worst case scenario rather than hiding from it, I don’t become a counsellor, whether I finish the course or not. I have to find a different way forward in my life and start a serious job hunt for something else that allows me to care for people but without making me so vulnerable. If it required more training there would be additional financial difficulties which would sap my strength but I would find a way. Starting again would set me back and I would have to learn to see these past few years as a journey of self-discovery rather than a failure to reach a target. And yes, I would have to get over the shame.