Expert Author Susan Leigh
I was talking earlier with a friend who is a lawyer. She was saying that she'd recently found herself over-thinking her cases after work, waking up during the night worrying if her clients had followed her advice, questioning if she could have done more, concerned about their next steps. I replied that caring about our clients is important, but it's also important to step back and appreciate that people need to make their own decisions once they've been presented with the right information and gained some clarity about their options.
She asked me how I cope with the often distressing details I hear and was surprised when I said that I don't lie awake at night replaying my clients sessions. I told her that I do my very best when I'm with each client. That they know they can contact me if they need to, but that they also need time to process what's happened, no doubt with improved confidence levels and a greater understanding of their earlier life experiences. But where it goes from there, what happens next is part of their journey and for them to decide.
I like to tell the story of a beautiful house that's full of wonderful things; fabulous paintings, luxurious fabrics, expensive furniture. But if that house is built on sand a serious bout of rain could threaten its stability and potentially wash it away. A surveyor may come in, look at the house and advise of any dangers, on how to repair it, but if the homeowner chooses not to listen or do the repairs they are left with that information in order to consider the consequences of their decisions. And, of course sometimes the rain will not come and the house will survive.
People's lives can be like that too. They may have constructed a great life that looks perfect, but ongoing, sustained trials can put the entire structure under threat.
As a counsellor and hypnotherapist I am in a not dissimilar position to the lawyer. I too see clients and sometimes hear things that I feel may need to be dealt with quite urgently. Hypnotherapy is a great, non-invasive way of helping people with their underlying issues without necessarily having to uncover or discuss the detail of any contributing factors. So a lot of healing can be done quite subtly, in a private, non-disclosure way
But any therapist or adviser has to respect their client's choices. Each person has their own journey to make, which may include loss, hurt and pain before they're ready to make changes. This may happen even though the therapist may indicate that there are easier ways for them to protect themselves or handle things in a better, more positive way.
Don't forget that people may also be receiving lots of well-meaning advice elsewhere. Family, friends or colleagues may all have sensible, considered opinions, but those opinions will often be coloured by each person's experiences and wishes for the client, or they may be invested in the client's decisions. And there are those clients who will keep on seeking help until they hear what they want to hear.
Then there are therapy junkies who half-heartedly go from one adviser, therapy or therapist to the next, relieved that 'nothing works', so that they don't have to change. These people may be afraid of change, preferring to stay in their comfort zones even when it's becoming increasingly uncomfortable. They may want to maintain the status quo or are concerned at the tsunami which will be caused by them behaving differently.
All of us who work in areas that impact on or influence people's lives, from healing to advice giving, have to be aware of our boundaries and the beginnings and endings of our responsibility and input. What we see may well be interpreted through our own referencing of their story; we hear their words, are moved by them, but the emotions we feel are based on the significance we place on the different elements of the words we hear.
For example, we may be upset when we initially hear of a bereavement, but upon listening further we may hear the client express relief that someone in pain or who has behaved badly towards them has died. Experience and training teach us to be prepared to take each client session with caution and respect.
Being aware of our boundaries, doing our best and then stepping back is the most appropriate way to proceed, both for ourselves and our clients, whenever we're dealing with other people's issues and concerns.
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