One of the most encouraging signs of personal growth I hear is when a client says that they feel different and more settled but without quite understanding how or why things have changed.
This is an indication that something has shifted in the client’s ‘way of being’, a sign that something deep in the unconscious has been accessed and is moving towards resolution.
It takes time to arrive at this point. Up until then the client may have been trying hard to think their way through their difficulties. And, while there is certainly a role for our thinking or ‘cognitive’ function in counselling, it may not get anywhere near the underlying sources of psychological discomfort and distress. By far the greatest region of our mind’s capacity is in the realm of the unconscious. This is also where our unresolved psychological difficulties reside, where we really ‘feel’ things without knowing why. Accessing this important part of ourselves therefore involves working with feelings and emotions and this enables us to develop both a greater understanding and acceptance of ourselves.
Exploring this part of ourselves will help us if we have got into a pattern of thinking and feeling that assumes that we are in some way unacceptable or that we are a failure – it is not enough just to know that we are essentially okay if at some fundamental level we can’t bring ourselves to believe it. It is not uncommon for many high high-achievers to still feel in some way lacking or inadequate, despite satisfactory relationships, impressive qualifications, career success, etc. Despite all the evidence of success ‘on paper’, for some reason that they just can’t fathom they feel a failure or that they are letting others down in some way.
Developing a sense of one’s own value is an important objective in counselling work. If we can begin to do this we become curious instead of fearful, more relaxed instead of anxious, more open and connected instead of withdrawn and isolated.
When we can feel ourselves moving in this positive direction it can feel strange. Getting used to a different way of being can feel confusing as we let go of unhelpful patterns of thinking and feeling that have previously contributed to our sense of who we are. Often clients wonder if they can ‘hang on’ to this more settled and comfortable version of themselves, particularly as our ‘thinking’ self can’t quite put its finger on what exactly has happened to change things.
So much of the work in counselling is less about trying hard to change, and more about allowing the true self to emerge. I recently read an article by a yoga instructor that included a sentence which seemed to sum up this approach quite nicely: ‘surrender the intelligence of the mind to the wisdom of the heart’.