At the heart of working with other people is acknowledging and honouring the fact that every life is unique and every life is difficult. That was underlined for me when I began working with grieving people as a volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care. Every client I have worked with there comes because they have been bereaved. It would be easy, then, to assume that they will all face the same difficulties and popular wisdom is that they will all be going through the same predetermined set phases of grief. But that is not the case. Every one of those clients is unique, with their own particular life difficulties and ways of responding. Their grief is as individual to them as their fingerprints. So, while theoretical models which tell us about the stages and processes of grief may be helpful, they do not tell the whole story.
This extends beyond working with grief and is true for everyone who walks through the door and into a therapy room. Each person who does so comes in with their own unique life story, perspective and hopes for what counselling may bring. These will have been formed by their individual experiences and influenced by their family and relationships, the culture and society they grew up in, their race, gender, age, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation etc. With such diverse ways of being in the world, to think that one therapy approach will be helpful for all people, all of the time, is to be blind to people as individuals.
It is easy to be unconsciously blind to the individual experience of others living alongside us in any society, but as a therapist I know how important it is to challenge that in ourselves, to do our best to open our eyes and hearts to it, no matter how uncomfortable that sometimes feels. I know I cannot shoehorn people into a particular diagnosis or model or way of being. I do not want to. I try instead to be curious. I want to find out about my clients: what has happened to them in their lives; what do they want from counselling; what do they feel is going to be helpful; what do they think is going wrong for them; what is it that they think is missing from their lives? Above all else, I want to listen to their story from their perspective, without preconceived ideas stemming from some form of diagnostic label.
Every life is unique and every life has its own unique difficulties. In my role as a counsellor I feel privileged to have been trained to walk alongside someone as they undertake their own exploration into understanding that for themselves and supporting them to make sense of their own lives.