By Clare Davies – Counsellor, BACP (Accredited)
What do I mean when I talk about minding the gap? What is ‘the gap?’ For me, it’s that distance between my inner furniture and my clients. It’s the spongy bit between us, that sometimes get dented into, but is usually able to bounce back. The area that contains a shield and space where emotions live, where resonance is made, where recognition of the other and their world happens. Where supervision, journaling, personal reflection, peer support and conversations are had when support is needed. A space sometime needed to work out what goes on in the therapy room and who it belongs to.
A consideration when training as a counsellor was assimilating whether my gap was big enough to enable me to deal with and help other people with their emotions. A big part of training is to understand where we are within our own selves and our resilience, inner strength and ability to deal with the other. We are often brought into training in counselling because of our own stories and experiences. Our ability to self-reflect, to enquire, to promote self-growth, to undertake personal counselling as and when needed is as big a part of our self-care as is our continuing to develop our knowledge, understanding and continual personal development.
After training, I became a self-employed therapist, using all the resources at my finger tips to practice safely and ethically and be there for my clients in the best way. I spent 10 years in private therapy looking after my clients and myself, and minding that gap.
When big things began to change personally, I began to notice that the gap was changing! My sister was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2012… it all happened rather rapidly, with much to absorb, adjust to and process for myself. It seemed new clients presented with issues that were starting to mirror my experiences.
At this point in my career, I continued to look at and question in a self-reflective manner, and through supervision, whether I had the resources within me to service both myself and my clients adequately enough. As a humanistic therapist, I used emotions, feelings, experiences to resonate with them. This obviously means that it takes my emotional resilience and energy to be part of that relationship. It feels an important part of our professional journey to continue to reflect on and ask whether we are giving of our best to our clients as our lives inevitably change. My resources at this point were enough for me to be able to manage my own journey, keep myself safe and emotionally supported, as well as helping others on theirs.
Three years later in 2015, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Another shift in ‘the gap’. More emotional upheaval and internal shifting as I had to invest and come to terms with another family situation that drew on emotional strength. I was still a perfectly adequate functioning therapist, but I started to reflect on whether I was ‘being fair’ to my clients, and giving them enough of myself? My reflection noticed that the gap that I had at the beginning of my career as a therapist, was narrowing, and there didn’t feel as much emotional resources available to give as much as I had done before. That didn’t mean there wasn’t enough, just that there was a change in the emotional resources I had, and the cushion between me and ‘the other’ felt thinner than before.
The gap that had previously protected me, and been a big cushion between myself and the other, was narrowing, and my clients’ hurts and emotions were sometimes hitting me in a completely different way. It’s a tricky one, and something that we all as individual therapists need to reflect on and work out for ourselves – I don’t believe there’s a hard-and-fast judgement on this – at this point I knew that I had to keep an eye on where I was with it. I didn’t ever feel that I wasn’t giving my best to my clients, just that it took more out of me emotionally to do so… the balance wasn’t always feeling quite right.
Yet once you’re emotionally involved with – and supporting and meeting with – clients, the idea of not being there for them is a hard one. I didn’t want to let my clients down, yet I could feel that something needed to shift for the sake of me and my clients. I didn’t want to wait until I was unable to cope… it felt important to my clients and myself that I took charge and worked out how to manage this path.
Early 2016 I took the decision to stop advertising for clients. I was coming to the point where I needed to take a break, and if I stopped looking for clients, work would start to tail off a bit for me to experience a new world. This gradual ending worked well for me, and I realised that I was heading towards a break from counselling… controlled, gentle, working in the best way for my clients and me.
My long-term clients were the hardest to break from. I gave them two months’ notice and we worked on a good ending to our work – as important for me as for them. It would have been easy to hold on to ‘one or two’ but I decided in the end that a complete break was going to be the best. Not easy. Not how I wanted it necessarily to be, but it felt the right decision.
Since Spring 2016 I have been a dormant but still accredited therapist. I still attend peer support groups, and have contact with peers. I’m still interested in what’s happening in the counselling world. I undertake CPD requirements, and am getting ready for getting back to therapy.
I’m 18 months on from losing my brother and sister who died within five weeks of each other. I’m still nursing the wounds of grief. I am changed again, but am feeling as though I need to get back in to the counselling arena. I have missed being there for others, but feel the break was necessary. It wasn’t an easy thing to step out of, and I’m not sure how easy it will be to get back in to. I feel as though the right thing will present itself at some stage…
I’m not sure when or how just yet, but it feels like I’m getting ready and I’m trusting the process… I’m on the slip road about to enter the traffic again… I’m waiting for the right space to slip back into… and my foot is hovering over the pedal!
© Clare Davies