Counselling, Therapy and the freedom to speak out
“Am I allowed to say this?” These comments and similar sentiments will often be heard in therapy rooms as new counselling work starts to gather pace. The question is usually followed by a sense of relief as the client begins to realise that she or he really can say what they think without having to fear the consequences.
I have written elsewhere about the positive feelings that a client may have following a first appointment with their counsellor. (https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/counselling-and-therapy-how-does-it-work). Within that article I referred to the sense of freedom that the client may experience within the therapy room. That feeling of freedom and autonomy is likely to extend to words about the hopes, fears and concerns which can at last be voiced out loud.
In the external world, society expects us to be measured in our choice of words. In the social media settings trolls wait like underfed vultures ready to pounce on any ill chosen phrase. We can be apprehensive that colleagues, friends, partners will take offence at an off the cuff remark which was intended to amuse but may instead be taken as a slight or even seen as prejudicial. This need to walk with care can be stultifying and inhibiting. Little wonder therefore that the counselling room is increasingly seen as a haven from the tyranny of those imperatives which dictate how we should behave and what we should say.
There are other sanctuaries beyond the counselling room. A comparison has for example often been drawn between the confessional box and the therapy room. Yet an important difference exists. The confessional will hear not just the admission but will offer a response which may include forgiveness as well as an element of the judgemental. Absolution may be given but there will be the expectation of an expressed regret with evident contrition. There may well be a penalty imposed with a penance to be observed.
Within the counselling room there is no judgement. There is no admonishment and no penalty imposed. There is no requirement for confession and therefore no need to forgive. If feelings of guilt are present they are there to be acknowledged and observed. There is no retribution but just a concern to support the client, to assist understanding and to encourage her or him to take ownership of those thoughts and decide what comes next.
This is not to suggest that the counselling room is a moral vacuum. Therapists are of their time and have to acknowledge current social norms and ethics. Unlike the early days of therapy there are now some challenges to an absolute laissez faire approach. Both the law of the land and regulatory bodies such as BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) will have expectations around confidentiality. if for example if it is clear from client comments that a child may be physically harmed or if plans are afoot for the commission of terrorist acts, counsellors are not expected to remain silent.
On a personal basis and in a rather flippant way, I will often find myself mentioning to clients that they are free to do whatever they wish within the counselling room just so long as the fabric of the room is not damaged. I emphasise that my concern is for the client who will be next in the room and who will also need a chair to sit upon. I will say this with a smile but there may be some clients for whom it probably is a useful reminder!
Yet rather than trash the room or plan outrageous acts most clients just use the freedom available in the room to voice the irrational, the vitriolic, the angry, the hurtful and also the puzzling. And having expressed the anger or hurt the destructive action is now far less likely to occur. There is a reason for that which is reflected in the opening lines of Blake’s poem, A Poison Tree;
I was angry with my friend
I told my wrath, my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
That poem resonates with ideas reflected in counselling work. If we can find the courage to speak out the very act of hearing our voice say the unspeakable can sometimes be sufficient to quieten the internal emotional furore and appease the anger. To have those words witnessed can be cathartic. There can for the client be a sense of control regained with the inner pain soothed through recognition.
The therapy room provides a safe space and the freedom to speak the wrath and challenge the demon. It can be a good place to visit or even to stay for a while. Counselling has a lot to offer. It is your choice as to whether to take up that invitation to explore.