Tracy* felt anxious as she walked into Arcade Road in Littlehampton and spotted the grey front door to my office. She was nervous as she reached out and pressed the buzzer, but it was ok because I was waiting upstairs ready to buzz her in.
I felt a little nervous too as I waited to meet her and find out how I could help her. I also felt excited about the journey we would take together.
I buzzed Tracy in and met her on the stairs. ‘Hi I’m Mel’ I said as I gave her a big friendly smile and we went straight to my office to sit down.
Tracy realised she felt a mixture or emotions. You see, she had been worried about starting counselling because she didn’t know if it could help, and she was curious about meeting me and wondered what I would be like. So she was happy and relieved that she was finally in my office and could see I was friendly and relaxed.
When we were both comfortable I asked Tracy to share with me why she would like to have counselling. Tracy felt a little overwhelmed because even though she had been looking forward to getting help, she didn’t know what to say or how to explain her feelings.
But it was ok.
Because I knew what to say and the right questions to ask.
Tracy took a deep breath and said ‘ I don’t know where to start. I just feel lost and I don’t know who I am. I’m quite anxious and depressed. I don’t like myself and I have a critical inner voice that constantly tells me I’m no good and that people don’t really like me. I get upset quickly and I have outbursts over small things, and this leaves me feeling fragile and wondering what’s wrong with me. I struggle to make decisions and when I do make a decision I change my mind. I always put others before myself and try to please them, even if I don’t really want to, and that makes me feel angry and exhausted. I used to have an eating disorder when I was a teenager and it comes back when I’m really stressed. And on top of all this I have a very difficult relationship with my mum. We have never really got on. She is very controlling and manipulative, and she makes life difficult if she doesn’t get her own way. I have never been able to please her and she tells me everything I do is wrong. She was too wrapped up in her own life to have time for me when I was a child. She doesn’t care about my feelings and she actually seems to enjoy it when I’m upset. She tells friends and family lies about me to make me look bad. Whenever I confront her on anything she somehow manages to turn things around to make it look like I’m in the wrong, and this leaves me feeling so confused. She stops speaking to me if I do something she doesn’t like. Sometimes she has stopped speaking to me for months, but then we just go back to normal as if it never happened. I think some of my problems might be to do with my relationship with my mum, but I’m not sure why. I feel bad for thinking these things about my mum because she can be nice at times, so maybe I’m just imagining it all and it’s not that bad. Maybe it’s just me’.
Tracy felt better after getting it all out into the open, but she also felt a little exposed and worried it all sounded like a jumbled mess that can’t be fixed, and she wondered how on earth I could help her.
I gave Tracy a loving smile as I reassured her that everything she had said made a lot of sense to me, and in fact I had heard this same story many times because these are the difficulties I specialise in helping my clients with.
Tracy literally breathed a sign of relief and I watched her shoulders start to relax as she sat back into the chair. She smiled and said she was looking forward to coming to counselling and hoped she would feel better soon. I smiled and told her she would.
Some time later during our ending session, Tracy told me she was so happy she had decided to see me for counselling. She no longer had anxiety or depression or worried about what others thought of her. She had stopped putting pressure on herself to be a certain way, and she no longer felt the need to please others or say yes all the time. She had learnt how to self care, and she enjoyed it.
She had learnt where that critical inner voice came from, and she now knew how to silence it. And she had learnt how to manage her feelings, which meant she had stopped having emotional outbursts.
Best of all she no longer felt confused in her relationship with her mum, or wondered why she treated her so badly and behaved the way she did. She even felt like she had learnt how to make sure her mum will always treat her with respect.
We reviewed how Tracy felt on that first session and the way she described herself and her difficulties. Tracy said she no longer had any of those problems and instead she felt stronger, braver, empowered, and she liked herself now.
We said goodbye and I watched as Tracy walked off and down the stairs. I sat down and allowed myself to have a moment as I thought about what a privilege it had been to share this journey with another brave and lovely client, and I remembered why I love my job. And then I wait for someone else to be brave and get in touch with me, and I get to do it all over again.
*Tracy is not a real client. Names and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality. Tracy’s difficulties, presenting problems and final outcome represents a typical client that I work with.