Returning to the Basics of Counseling
The world is on fire. There’s a public health crisis of the Coronavirus and there’s a public health crisis of racism. People are suffering, dying, grieving, and managing fear and anxiety each day. And, as we approach the presidential election, tension is mounting. These are uncertain times. Yet, here we are—we are in a helping profession at a time when so many people are deeply in need of help and support. It’s time that we return to the basics of counseling.
We want to help, so it’s easy to get caught up with searching for the right therapy modality, or the perfect intervention that just might somehow solve all of our client’s difficulties. However, we cannot solve our client’s problems, and there is no magic intervention that will relieve the emotional struggles our clients feel.
What are the Basics of Counseling?
More than anything else – right now especially – our clients need us showing up as fellow human beings and compassionate therapists. Therapy modalities and skills can be useful…and sometimes what we all need most is simply a safe place to talk.
If ever there was a time to remember that the therapeutic relationship in itself can be extremely helpful and healing, it’s now.
It’s time to remember that therapy, in its most basic form—listening and being there for another person—can be the very thing that is needed most.
Listening and Being Fully Present
There’s a quote by Cheryl Richardson—“People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” When we as therapists can gently set aside our own mental clutter, and sit (virtually or in-person) with the client, completely engaged and fully present, the client can benefit tremendously from being fully seen and heard. They feel validated. They realize that their feelings, experiences, and challenges are valid, and their stories are meaningful.
So often we get in our own way as therapists, feeling pressure to problem-solve for the client, or to speak up too frequently in session. It’s easy to forget the importance of being the fully present listener. We forget that openness, space, and silence play important roles in therapy.
Clients need to know that the therapist they open up to about their deepest fears and difficulties they are struggling with right now is also a fellow human being. Being authentic ourselves, showing up in session as our real selves, we also make it safe for them to show up as themselves.
A little self-disclosure when the client asks a question to connect can go a long way in expressing authenticity and supporting the therapeutic relationship. We are fellow travelers on this rocky road, and we are human beings, also experiencing a lot right now. There is so much that we can normalize.
Valuing the Therapeutic Relationship
Feeling safe, secure, and supported by another person is invaluable. In some cases, the therapeutic relationship might be the only relationship that the client has in which they feel heard and valued. This therapeutic relationship itself can be the element of change! If we take this relationship seriously, noting its importance and working to strengthen it, the client will, too. We can enhance feelings of connection during this time of isolation and disconnection. We can provide a template for connection that they can build with others in their personal lives.
Although we cannot snap our fingers and fix all of the problems of today, we can work for positive change in our world, spreading compassion and hope. As helpers, we can remember that therapy in its most true and basic form is showing up and being there for another person; that we can do.
Courtney L. Jewett
Courtney L. Jewett, MS, MA, LPC is a therapist and owner of center yourself therapy, a private practice in San Antonio providing therapy throughout Texas. Courtney’s specialty is helping young women in their 20s and 30s with anxiety, self-esteem, and quarter-life crisis. Additionally, she works with sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors in their journey of healing. Courtney believes in Dr. Irvin Yalom’s idea of creating a new therapy for each client, placing a strong emphasis on the therapeutic relationship itself. Along with incorporating elements of DBT, CBT, and EMDR, she enjoys utilizing expressive therapy and poetry therapy with clients. Courtney also believes in the importance of supporting one another as clinicians and people.