Sometimes it can be difficult to talk about our feelings, this can be for many reasons, guilt, trust, embarrassment, shame. We might feel that there is no one around us close enough to listen or understand. This can lead us to close down and become part of the problem we are in, without the ability to see beyond our situation, or accept that there is an alternative. And all too often this can result in poor judgement and a downward slide to darker things.
I recently found out that an old school friend committed suicide, I hadn’t seen him for over 30 years, but I still remember the things we got up to and the fun we had as teenagers. These early years have a huge impact on who we are, this ‘growing up’ phase is an open license to make mistakes, cause trouble and get up to mischief (certainly for teenage boys at least). For most of us it fades into history as a collection of happy memories from happier times, and on hearing of his death, it brought back all the time we spent together doing just that. What was most difficult to hear about was that the place his body was found was a place we often played together. I can’t help thinking of the times we played and explored in the place where he would ultimately take his own life 35 or so years later. I remember him for his skills and personality, he was talented at drawing, confident and funny.
It is so easy for others to take the moral high ground on suicide, calling it selfish and putting the blame on the victim for treating their family and friends this way, ‘how could they do that to such loving parents?’ or ‘who will look after the children?’. We forget about what that person might have been feeling and thinking before the event, we forget how isolated, depressed, lonely or unhappy they must have been to undertake such an extreme act. Yet quite often all a person needs is someone who can be there for them, pick up the call, respond to the text, or just invite them to go for a coffee. As counsellors we can often be right at the bottom of the list of options if we are on there at all, strangers with a professional qualification can be seen as self-righteous figures who categorise with labels and show us our mistakes. Or, characters from such a different background from us that they can’t possibly know what we are feeling or have been through, and even if they do understand, how can they know us well enough to help? These are perfectly rational thoughts, we are taught from a very young age not to trust strangers, and yet a counsellor is just that.
I don’t suggest for one moment that if my friend had been in counselling this would not have happened, for all I know he could have spent the last 30 years in counselling. What I am suggesting is that a counsellor can be there when a vulnerable person needs to be heard, we are not there to judge and label, and regardless of our differences, a counsellor should be skilled enough to make those differences appear irrelevant in the relationship.
The first step in counselling is to build and nurture a relationship between counsellor and client. Once this is in place we can then start to work with the person at a pace that suits them and in a way that supports and helps them to move to a safer place. A place where they can feel in control, and one in which they see themselves able to proceed and move forward from.