'In therapy, the therapist acts as a container for what we daren't let out because it is so scary, or what lets itself out every so often, and lays waste to our lives.' Jeanette Winterson (author)
Understandably, deciding to try counselling and contacting a counsellor for the first time might feel quite scary. When else would you contact a stranger with the knowledge that you might tell them things that you've never spoken to anyone else about before? These might be things that are hard for you to even think about, let alone speak out loud to someone else.
Or maybe it feels easier to think about talking to someone you don't know. A counsellor isn't a member of your family or a friend who you need to look after and protect. They've chosen to listen to the difficulties of others and they'll have put things in place to look after themselves and to hold that load. That's why my code of conduct requires me to meet with my supervisor regularly and to look after my own needs before I commit to meeting any clients.
Even with that knowledge though it can take time to develop the trust in a counsellor and believe that they will be able to hear and hold the things that you are finding difficult so that it won't 'lay waste' to them too. In my work, I see the first stage of any therapeutic relationship as a process of building trust and safety. I don't expect clients to come and tell me their greatest fears in the first session. Sometimes a lot spills out in an initial rush of relief, but I also know that it often takes time to feel safe enough to be vulnerable.
This is another reason why I love a person-centred approach to counselling. I don't set the agenda, the client does and I hope that's where some trust can come. Once clients realise that they're in the driving seat and that there's no pressure from me to go in any particular direction then some freedom can come. That might give a sense of control to the therapeutic work that may then enable you to take some tentative steps to see if you can trust our relationship enough to share the things about yourself that are hard to speak out loud.
There is still likely to be some fear though, even if we can create a place together that feels as safe as it could be. If there are things that you have never spoken of before then how can you be sure what my reaction to them will be? When I think about this I notice that I want to accept that fear as an important part of what keeps you, and us all, safe. There's no need for you to share anything or do anything in a counselling session to meet my needs or to please me. Fear is a natural and necessary emotion and not something I’d want anyone to sweep away. Then, when the time feels right a 'what if' feeling might emerge. It might then feel like a good time to see what will happen if that difficult emotion or experience is let out so that someone else can hear, and gently hold onto it alongside you. An oppportunty to share the load of something that might be a very frightening thing to hold onto alone. Or you may decide not to share. The decision is yours alone.