I was surprised by the question. Although my work with individuals includes celebrations of healing and new ways of seeing, it's true that it is often challenging times that bring people to counselling. Many of the stories that are shared are hard stories- are about childhood abuse, the limitations of illness, family violence, or heart-rending and involuntary loss of occupation, or home, or spouse, or child or the very beliefs they had been relying upon.
And every time I hear someone’s story I find my heart opening further to our humanness.
Oh, it's not that I'm blind to the many ways we go into denial and self-deception, how we sometimes reach for unhealthy ways to lower our anxiety or can even cause the very thing we most fear with self-sabotage.
But mostly what I hear is great tenderness and courage. Every human life includes challenges, loss, struggles and difficulties that often create real pain and suffering. And sometimes the suffering is so great, I wonder how people continue. But most often they do. And not only do they continue, they often use the challenge that has taken them to their knees and made them wonder if they can continue, to find a way to live more deeply with themselves and others.
What can you say about a woman whose only child has committed suicide who goes on to discover her own love of painting spectacular images of transformation and working with teens at risk? That she is magnificent in her courage and willingness and ability to walk through the fire of living and keep her heart open. That she is fully human, as you and I are, which means that you and I have within us the same capacity for courage and for loving life so deeply that life can, if we allow it, draw us back into living fully and joyfully even in the face of heart-rending sorrow.
And sometimes, the challenges in front of us are not large dramatic losses, but the small day to day wear and tear of making our way in the world, caring for those who are dependent upon us, doing what needs to be done to feed the children without losing ourselves to a culture that can too easily keep us running on the outside and out of touch with our inner life, the life of soul.
Whether those I work with are facing small daily struggles or large life losses- over and over, I am inspired by their humanness. Many days I finish a session and simply sit in awe of them- of us- and wonder how a creature so tender, so vulnerable that we can feel devastated by a thoughtless comment, can survive the changing and unpredictable conditions of a human life, let alone thrive. But they do- we do- leaning a little on each other at times, opening our hearts a little further, healing from wounds, daring to dream and saying “yes” to life.
How do I protect myself from being depleted or depressed by my work with others? No need for protection. Others open my heart and deepen my faith in the way we are made. They inspire hope and renewed tenderness for myself and the world. And I am grateful.