I read this piece recently and it stayed with me.
“Elodin reached in to his pocket and pulled out a river stone, smooth and dark. ‘Describe the precise shape of this. Tell me of the weight and pressure that forged it from sand and sediment. Tell me how the light reflects from it. Tell me how the world pulls at the mass of it, how the wind cups it as it moves through the air. Tell me how the traces of its iron will feel the calling of a loden-stone. All of these things and a hundred thousand more make up the name of this stone.’ He held it out to us at arm’s length. ‘This single, simple stone.'” (The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss)
It seems to me that Rothfuss has captured the essence of good counselling here. At one level there is a patient with a particular difficulty sitting in front of me. That difficulty might be called Anxiety or Depression or Anger. That represents the stone. My job as a counsellor is to get beyond the obvious label and think with my patient about all the influences that have gone to create this problem. A divorce; an alcoholic parent; a psychotic parent; a violent father; an unsatisfactory marriage. The list is endless. As are the ways in which each element has shaped my patient. And the choices they have made as a consequence of these influences. (All of which makes the argument that therapy should be a long-term process. Not time limited to 10 sessions with a CD as back up.)
This attention to detail is one of the many things that I enjoy as a practitioner. I have the luxury of 50 minutes each week to invite my patient to stop for a minute and consider what they’ve just said. To go back to a mood or a way of sitting or a feeling in the room.I long ago worked out that I couldn’t save the world. I don’t know what to do about ISIS. I don’t know how to stop global warming continuing. I can’t eradicate poverty. (The list of “I can’ts grows longer each year-or so it seems to me!) But I can be the best counsellor I know how to be for the person sitting in front of me. I am interested in the weight and pressure that forged them. About how the world pulls at them. At how the light reflects from them. This I can do.