My first ever counsellor was big into mindfulness, and on a fateful February day handed me the ripest, juiciest, most beautiful orange you’ve ever seen in your life. I held it in my hands and she told me to think about eating it for ten minutes. That’s a long time to think about an orange. After this period, she invited me to take the orange home for practice.
I ate it within seconds of leaving. She was pretty disgruntled the next week when I turned up sans-orange and sans-practicing-thinking-about-eating-the-orange. I stood my ground: surely it’s just human temperament to want to eat an orange after thinking about it for so long?
I don’t regret it. It was worth it.
Two years on and I’m on to my second stint of counselling. This time I know what to expect. I’m less skeptical about the exercises I’m asked to do. I’m open to suggestion – intrigued to find the techniques that will best help me to heal on my grief journey.
There’s no shame in asking for help and support when life has a habit of throwing so many twists and turns your way. After losing my Mum, I was completely lost and unsure about what to do with myself. Fortunately, I was already lined up for counselling through a charity – and gladly embraced the opportunity for someone else to bring structure to my life.
It was a mixed bag. I was so raw from losing my Mum, and my poor counsellor had graduated two weeks before taking me on. We weren’t the best fit – but I did learn some valuable lessons, and read a couple of books that gave me the strength to keep going.
This time around, I knew that I needed to find a counsellor who could offer me the right kind of support and help me through a difficult few months.
Counselling is not a magic cure. I think there’s a common misconception that going to counselling is like receiving a prescription – keep up the dosage, stick to your times and you’ll be right as rain. It’s a lot to expect from another person – that they will somehow have the ability to give you the secret to solving your existence. It’s more like a guided journey. It’s hard work – but it’s absolutely worth it.
I see counselling – particularly the grief counselling I do – as a space to process thought with someone who has the ability to guide me to realisations and to healing – and then gives me homework to take back with me. I take that homework seriously. I don’t believe that it’s my counsellor’s responsibility to help me process my grief – I think that’s my responsibility. She’s there to help me, and then I go home and put in work that helps me to demonstrate to myself that I have the tools to solve my own issues. If I’m struggling in the future, I’ll have a whole suite of techniques to fall back on. It makes me stronger.
We try a lot of exercises together. Sometimes our session will be an hour of me chatting away (and feeling more and more self conscious as I realise I’m blabbing) – sometimes we go through worksheets, or talk about the importance of ritual. We don’t always talk about grief either. I’m a believer that sometimes in order to deal with grief, you have to approach and heal other areas of your life so that you can carry that sadness and process it comfortably. It helps me to get through the week.
It’s also tiring. Counselling takes it out of you. After a session I’ll often feel worn out. That evening will often be the most difficult one of the week and I’ll need to ensure I’m being extra gentle with myself (an excuse for lots of treats too). You’re shaking yourself up and then being spat back out into the real world. Bloody knackering.
It works though.Grief is a long, drawn out journey and when you’re supporting people around you or trying to come to terms with it, it’s hard to give yourself the space to look after yourself. Counselling is where I heal and where I process. It has allowed me to create a structure in a situation where I have very little control.
It’s a hard thing to access. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to gain access to counselling through charities and acts of kindness. If you are thinking of looking for something – it’s worth the research. There are a lot of places that will do low-income models, pay-what-you-can and charities that have a shorter waiting list than the NHS.
So if you’re thinking about it – be brave and take that step. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help and support. I honestly believe that going through counselling is such a healthy and productive thing to do. You sometimes get free oranges too – and that can only be a bonus.