Counseling sure has its ups and downs. Sometimes I've felt troubled for my clients in the deep hurts they've experienced, their ongoing and intense pain, and even concern for their physical wellbeing. In those times I've been grateful to my community of colleagues who understand the challenges of witnessing so many difficulties that are out of our control and caring for the people in the middle of all that.
Fortunately, there's the other side of this experience, where truly good things happen for and within clients, also outside counselors' control, as much as we may try to contribute. Recently I've been able to experience some especially special "ups" with several clients that are on my heart today. These successes are absolutely the clients' successes, but it's such an honor and gratifying to be in a supporting role as they do the work of their own healing and growth.
That's what really stands out to me: how much the growth comes from the clients. The peopleI'm thinking of have returned after shorter or longer breaks in our work, for one reason or another. And either because distance highlighted small changes or because of spontaneous and big new growth processes that developed in the away time, I can see important changes in them that clearly came from within themselves. They accomplish wonderful things in self awareness and self-care without my direct support, and I love to see it! I have gotten to reflect back to these people the evidence of their own resilience, inner wisdom, potential for healing and growth, and simply their willingness to do the hard work of facing these challenges. I believe that my support in our time together can play a role in helping them get to the readiness to make such strides on their own, but I know that the real work is theirs, and I'm happy to celebrate how important that is with them when they see it going well.
It's definitely been a gift to see this in a few clients recently. It reminds me that when clients leave therapy, even in a concerning way, their process continues and their innate capacity and will to be well are still with them. It renews my hope and confidence that our work can help bring them more in contact with those inner resources so that, as they are ready to, they can make the changes they need.
Recently I've felt inclined to using nature imagery and metaphors in counseling. I think it is helped by a recent trip to California and some time at the beach this summer, among other adventures in the past few years. While I have been in these spaces, it's been a very embodied experience, so these things come back with me and are rekindled when clients share experiences with feelings that resonate viscerally as I empathize with them.
These images arise naturally as I listen to and feel along with clients, and I look to share them as a form of reflection of what the client is sharing. Knowing that not all of my clients have had the privilege of travel or much time in nature, I try to describe the sensations of the natural image, and verbalize the metaphorical connections to the experience they are describing. Sometimes this is a very brief, passing exchange, and sometimes it is something the client hooks onto and that they may even take home with them to reflect on or expand upon.
One of the things about nature images that feels powerful to me is that it provides some concrete images of our human smallness and lack of power: standing in a dark cave, feeling lost and stubbing our toes looking for a tiny light to hint at a way out; being overcome by ocean waves that pull our body here and there, hoping for just a moment to catch our breath while another wave crashes over. These can resonate with experiences of uncertainty and overwhelm, and might even help me and the client recognize where they need care, or maybe something they can do to help themselves cope in their challenges.
Nature also provides us with calm, peaceful images that can help clients center: imagining ourselves under a warm sunbeam, with soft clouds overhead; feeling a gentle waterfall cascade over us to help the stress fall from our muscles.
I wonder if this is one of the benefits that make time in nature beneficial to our wellbeing. Do we implicitly adopt images that can help us recognize how we feel? Do we internalize peaceful moments to benefit from later? Personally, I do, and I hope I can share some of that with my clients with these images and metaphors.