Therapy in five chapters

Last week, the morning I was pressing “send” to launch an email with my final book submission in tow, I paused…I had forgotten something. As I walked back home after a celebratory breakfast I settled in my mind on one last amendment that was needed: to the acknowledgments. Writing the acknowledgements section was one of the hardest tasks for the book; and I deliberately set aside my final day on retreat last November to let the sentiments – and words to express them – come through. It was an emotional day. In the following two months, I must have re-visited the draft dozens of times!! And last week, it needed one last tweak, one last group of people needed homage…

“To the therapists I have worked with, learnt from, healed through. “Thank you” can never be enough, but I hope some of the accounts in this book illustrate your impact on my being”

I’m a big fan of Portia Nelson, and her poem inspires this particular “autobiography”; the story of how the five therapists in my life have changed my life.

Chapter 1: Seeing, and being seen

“J” wasn’t technically a therapist, but the relationship I struck up with this “coach” was certainly therapeutic, and one that opened up my eyes to the work (and world) of self-development. We worked together during the time I was upping my game as an athlete: and I think its fair to say she helped me harness a “core strength” – both literally (we often trained together) and metaphorically (I came to know and function from the core of my being). J helped throw light onto my wound and the strategies I had adopted to evade the pain; and I felt truly seen by her. Unfortunately, our relating was in a collusive blind spot – what we call in therapy getting caught up in the transference! I felt stronger all the time we were together, but it fostered a dependency. The relational breakdown that inevitably followed hurt deeply at the time, but bottom line is – I am grateful for her initiation onto the path of seeking; and undoubtedly, without knowing her I would not be living the life I am now.

Chapter 2: Essentials of alchemy: a strong container for the creativity within

Like J, “L” was a coach. I first met her at an Association of Coaching conference as I was training to be a life coach. At that event, L had read out Portia Nelson’s poem – it was “idealisation at first sight”! But this time around L didn’t let me get away with those types of transferential invitations. In our relatively short time of working together, L helped me come to understand just how broken hearted I was after my first therapeutic adventure; moreover, how that relational dynamic (and breakdown) mimicked the relational disappointment(s) within my primary wounding. Through her modelling I came to realise the importance of holding a boundary as a therapist. Not only for the protection of the client, but also for the efficacy of the work. Most of all, I am incredibly grateful for how she opened up the spiritual dimension of my life. Unknown to me when we first starting work together, L was actually trained as a therapist in the psychosynthesis approach, and my experience with her led me not only to meditation but also deciding to train as a therapist.

Chapter 3: Presence and being

Thanks to L, I had been meditating for two years when I started working with “V”. I was excited to find a Buddhist therapist to accompany me as I started on the training path toward being a therapist myself. Buddhism wasn’t at the centre of our work however – it appeared sometimes in the language (and since we both enjoyed the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the odd quote!). Yet the consistency in our relating I came to experience with V was underpinned by her attitude of deep compassion. Her consistency was also demonstrated by the frequency of our meeting. L had shown the value in boundaries but we only saw one another monthly; V built on the importance of ‘frame’ – weekly sessions, same time, same place. Such relational conditions are the bedrock of therapy – and this ‘form’ held the experience of V’s therapeutic presence. Just sitting together felt healing: her being invited my doing to slow down…and I opened…sometimes it was quite messy! I am grateful for how V held me in this time, assisting in my “going to pieces without falling apart” (to quote Buddhist therapist Mark Epstein).

Chapter 4: Clear to be kind

V had demonstrated the core principles of the Rogerian approach and its focus on the relational conditions as healing. In the segue from qualified counsellor to registered psychotherapist I wanted to experience the type of psychotherapy I myself was settling into as a practice frame. “S” was a Gestalt psychotherapist that I worked with while I completed by Masters; and I came to know her not only as kind and compassionate, but also challenging – in all the ways I had hoped a Gestalt therapist would be. In Buddhism, the bodhisattva Manjushri carries a sword with a sharp blade. He cuts through the knots at the roots of suffering swiftly and therefore cleanly. S’s blade was a sharpness of insight and a skill of empathic challenge – kind and clear. Our time together helped me cut through a fair number of knots that had been loosened up in my time with V. She also helped me see how I was contributing to situations that kept me in a loop of distress: strategies that once kept me protected but that I had now outgrown. The pattern that persists once being what assists. I was slowing finding compassion for both the persecutor and victim parts of myself.

Chapter 5: To be continued

And here I am now, working with “R”. After finishing my therapy training, I wanted to take a break from being in therapy myself – that break lasted all of 6 months…entering a new job threw up all sorts of issues – yes, idealising transference…again! R is the first male therapist I have worked with; and this has added dimensions when working with a Jungian and Buddhist. This phase of my life – mid-life, Vajrayana Buddhist practice – have me considering and reflecting upon the dynamic balance of the masculine and feminine energies. We play these out together in many ways – literally (as male therapist / female client); and conversationally (as we delve into my life experiences and the underlying energies that play out). R is now more of a spiritual mentor than therapist. The nature of the Vajrayana path has me see the non-duality of confusion and wisdom. I am both knotted AND completely whole – my work with R encourages a confidence and reminder to identify with the knots less and less. In this way, the path is never complete – we can always unravel more and more. 

From the beginning of this path to where I am now could be labelled as a story of a woman who has found her strength WITHIN her vulnerability.

And this has been a journey in which five different people, five different relationships. Five different mirrors reflecting back five different Helen. I needed each in turn; to encounter and work through what I was ready for at each turn; and what life was revealing to me at the time.

As I wrote my book and shared some of the client stories I have been a part of in the other chair, I often wondered what each client would think of our work together, the legacy, the lessons. I truly hope I have contributed to as something as powerful as these five bodhisattvas have to me.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *