Recently a friend of mine mentioned that they were about to start therapy and this fact alone was making them anxious. This was useful for me to hear as I sometimes forget that potential clients might feel this way. It’s important to note that the friend in question wasn’t coming to me for therapy (that’s a big no-no in this profession).
I asked my friend why he was anxious about attending therapy and he replied that he was ‘terrible at it’. Terrible in this case meaning setting goals, which is something more common in CBT than Gestalt therapy. The use of the word ‘terrible’ really got me thinking about how much pressure we put on ourselves, from appearance to socialising, from fitness to career, and not forgetting our diet. Even hobbies, pastimes we are supposed to enjoy, can provide a source of anxiety if we’re putting ourselves under pressure to get them absolutely right or comparing ourselves to others.
I asked my friend what would be the worst thing that would happen if he couldn’t achieve the goals he agreed with his CBT therapist. ‘Nothing will change’ he replied. Change is at the heart of therapy for many clients. Perhaps they want to move on from an issue that is troubling them or perhaps they wish to change something about themselves. In that regard ‘nothing will change’ is a disappointing outcome.
I mentioned to my friend that getting things wrong and making mistakes didn’t have to be catastrophic. We may learn something invaluable about ourselves if we are supported to look back on our mistakes and try and learn from them. Quite often, people are so busy shaming themselves for not getting it right that they forget to look back and see how they might have done better. In this way people may lose hope of ever being successful in a certain area of their life and may simply stop trying. Imagine a fledgling chess player who never plays another game after their first defeat.
This, for me as a counsellor, is so important. I hope to provide a safe, non-shaming space, where people can make mistakes, experiment with being different, and then be able to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. You wouldn’t expect to go to night school and speak perfect Italian straight off the bat, and counselling is no different. It’s not about getting it right, it’s about being willing to try something different and experiment with new, healthier ways of being.