Healing…. seemed like a cheesy, maybe slightly ambiguous word for me. I unearthed it during counselling training in my research project about structured and effective interventions counsellors applied, that would constitute effective outcomes in trauma/abuse work (insert thinking emoji). I was looking for a how-to manual. However, the phrase that came up so many times was, ‘’it’s the therapeutic relationship that heals’’. My inquiring mind brought me to questioning what is it about the therapeutic relationship that is healing and what are counsellors doing to enable a space where healing happens. I wanted to know the ingredients of the ‘‘safe space’’ of healing, recovery, moving on, letting go or getting closure.
My focus shifted to the healing aspect of therapy; no structures, no methods, no preconceived notions, just counsellor’s perceptions on healing. This is what I discovered in the realms of phenomena;
- Counsellors healing. One of the keys to a healing therapeutic relationship is the counsellor’s own awareness on themselves. Their own healed parts and the awareness of their future encounters of everything that is unknown within themselves. Be it their childhoods, adult life, bad relationships, bereavements, losses, whatever their story is, their awareness of how they are, with all they have been through in their lifetime, is healing for clients. Here’s why; to know oneself will allow another to explore themselves. Counsellors will stumble upon something through client’s exploration which may resonate. It’s what is done with that awareness, such as checking in with yourself be it supervision or personal therapy or acts of self-care and self-love. By doing so, you won’t be getting in the way of your client.
- Counsellors perceptions on healing. Another key theme was what do counsellors think of healing. When counsellors know their own meanings of healing, they leave the space for their clients to find what is healing or therapeutic for them. Speaking to someone, a therapist or friend, being in nature, writing, drawing, painting, playing music, listening to music, climbing, cooking, saying a prayer, believing or having faith (inexhaustive list), it can be anything that helps to move someone through an internal process which eventually unfolds and evolves, bringing new meaning.
- Process. This theme is about the vehicle that guides counsellors in their practice. Ethics, modalities, beliefs about therapy, counsellor’s conscious awareness of using techniques and tools that guide them in their work. ‘’When the therapist knows what she is doing and why, she is less apt to make mistakes’’ (Rothschild, 2000, ‘The Body Remembers’). It’s about not doing therapy, but being with another and congruently applying knowledge base to support clients. It’s a receptive process, being present and receiving clients in their entirety, not just the stories they bring or the trauma they carry, but paying attention to the person and aiming to know all of them.
- Trust. Without trust there is nothing. Trust that what is said, will be held safely and sensitively with upmost respect. There’s no taking any part of a person lightly, as Alice Miller (2008), in her book, ‘Drama of the Gifted Child’, states; ‘’every child has a legitimate need to be noticed, understood, taken seriously, and respected’’. This need continues through life. Frances Frei in her Ted Talk, ‘How to build and rebuild trust’, says, the components of building trust are three, authenticity, logic and empathy. Authenticity is being who you are in the face of all the norms and social expectations. Dr Nina Burrowes (2014), author of ‘The little book on authenticity’, explains authenticity as being the author of yourself. In the context of counselling, counsellors would be open and honest about the work, be prepared to be tested with trivia before being trusted and they would earn a client’s trust rather than expect it. Counsellors would author therapy to meet each individual client’s uniqueness, which in turn allows the client to author their own narratives. Logic, Frei explains is clear communication. Counsellors clear communication of what therapy entails, going at client’s pace and having firm boundaries, brings safety, security and stability. It’s like the root of forming a trusting bond. Empathy, the ability to understand and reflect another person’s feelings. Counsellor’s understanding vulnerability, rejection, guilt, shame, grief and fear that compounds trauma, allow clients to begin finding themselves and begin showing themselves empathy. Empathy bears witness to the client, it is through empathy one connects to the other, and through that come beginnings of healing.
What I took from my research is that, healing happens through passages of time. It can’t happen all at once and there certainly is no fixed structure or process that I can follow. I learnt not to impose my answers and what works for me. For healing each person has to find their own answers and it can be found in a connective therapeutic bond that doesn’t aim to fix, rescue or advise. It happens through listening and witnessing client’s worlds, being impacted by them and then sharing how I imagine those worlds to be.
‘’The most important thing I, or any other therapist, can do is offer an authentic healing relationship from which patients can draw whatever they need. We delude ourselves if we think that some specific action, be it an interpretation, suggestion, relabelling, or reassurance, is the healing factor’’ ~ Yalom (2015), ‘Creatures of a Day’.