What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
– Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Opening your heart in therapy takes courage. It is not easy. It is not easy sitting in the client’s chair for your first session, meeting your therapist for the first time and being asked to tell your story and what brings you to counselling. It is a huge question. Where do you start you may ask yourself? How do you start? A simple question with such complex answers. So you begin as all stories do from the very beginning. You find your ‘once upon a time’, your intro, and you start with that. Slowly. There is no rush, not even with a limited amount of sessions as you might do if you’ve been referred by your GP. Six sessions is plenty to begin with. Sometimes it is the right amount of time and more.
So there you are, on time for your first session, thinking about running away and feeling completely vulnerable. It is absolutely natural. A good therapist will have had extensive amount of personal therapy hours herself as a client, so she will know what and how it feels to be in the client’s chair. I am a therapist, but I am also a client – I have my own personal therapist. I find this is not only essential to my work as a therapist, but as a source of my own emotional support. You cannot give if your own well is dry. I know how hard it is to talk about the truly painful stuff that’s happened, that still bleeds even after much time or no time has passed. I understand how uncomfortable it is to be open with your hidden shame, your darkness, your demons, your capacity for hope and faith shaken and diminished. And the longing your heart still holds and needs to speak of.
All you need to do as a client and when working with feelings of vulnerability is to find a therapist you connect with. Do not be impressed by credentials, although they do signify determination, but go for someone who you feel in your gut ‘gets you’. Do not decide based on modalities either – don’t worry if the therapist is CBT oriented, psychodynamic, humanistic or existential. Even though I am an existential therapist for I love philosophy, stoicism and working with our existential givens what I tell my clients when they ask me about my way of working is this: I have a space for therapy. I sit in it. People come to see me and we talk. I care about everyone who comes even if it is very hard, very painful or scary. I don’t turn clients away unless, of course, I feel they would be better off with someone else. I stick around. I listen and I don’t run away.
I do this because it was done for me, and this meant the world to me. I do this because I know this helps with feelings of vulnerability and allows people to open their hearts. When they do, they do get better.
My article above was published in the Counselling Directory today: