A friend asked me the other day whether it was normal that her therapist told her that she came from a past of addictions in her family too. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I asked if it was more than a sentence or two and she said “no”. I asked if it felt it was said in a way that she was indicating she “knew” something which was the beginner’s mind and curiosity and she said “no”. I asked her what it was that it brought up for her and she said she was probably just used to the medical model.
It is very rare that I would bring up my own childhood in counselling and here is why: People who come to my counselling office are often caregivers themselves. Many have partners or roommates. Many work 40 hours a week. Some are parents too. My general feeling is that I want to expand their therapy hour and give them as much time in stillness as they can bear to simply breath and feel while offering little gestures of support and reminders that I am really there, deeply listening.
At the beginning and end I will often say a few sentences about the week in terms of weather or world going-ons, but that simply provides a moment to land into the office and then a moment to ground back into themselves before they go back out into the world. It’s purposeful because it creates a natural transition and because I am giving a glimmer of my personality outside my role as a therapist. During the therapy 50 mins against the flow of my extroverted personality, I will rarely get overly chatty as I would if I was talking to a friend, unless they do and I might ask if it’s an intentional “break”. But believe the client should be speaking about 80% of the time.
For some minutes at the beginning and some minutes at the end I will consciously meet their voice and either indicate a slowing down or example a touch degree higher of “positive stress” if I find the person could use that in shifting their nervous system “up” from a very low state. I believe that a lot of the work a therapist does is lending their nervous system, so regardless of the content shared, their job is to stay in a healthy zone of their own nervous system throughout the day.
Therapy doesn’t always feel good, as it can be the place you go to release pain or identify unwanted tendencies, but most of the time I can say that people leave the room saying that they feel at least a little bit lighter.
That said, there are reasons that I will intentionally share something personal. The main reason is that I want the client to know that I am human too and that we share all feelings in our common humanity. The other reason is to show an area of expertise. I have done a boat load of trainings, but no one really cares about that. People want to know: Have you seen death? Have you experienced heartbreak? Have you felt shame too? Yes, yes and yes.
I believe that part of my job is to let people project onto me whatever it is that they need to in order to see the projection and reclaim that positive or negative quality themselves, however, I will remind you occasionally that I exist too as I am another human with my own set of boundaries so I don’t believe in wearing a therapist hat so much as creating a therapeutic space for us to explore all that!
Though most clients would find that in my person-centred style, I share very little of my own personal life or history, there is the rare occasion where I might say “I know a bit about that” and usually it’s to also let them know “I can tell you 100% that you are not alone in that!”
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“Circlework provided for me a space to reflect and feel connected to myself and other women. To be able to take that feeling—that space—with me day to day provided me with a sense of empowerment and reassurance to any challenges I may face.”
-NADIA, VANCOUVER, BC