The Strength that We Find in Our New Everyday
At the start of 2021 we entered another lockdown, another phase of potential isolation, changes to our usual habits and preferences and, for many, the removal of essential cultural resources and supports. I have been dwelling on how pluralism responds to difficulties such as these and helps clients to focus on their strengths, while also helping us all to recognise what we can do in adversity and choose when and how we deploy these strengths in our lives.
Over the last year the counselling and psychotherapy profession has been swept by change and our privileged role in society has been disrupted and is in increasing demand. We have had to dig deep to sustain our ability to respond, but we have done so, and while we can stand in wonder at how well we have managed and hope that when this is all over both our clients and ourselves will be intact, I think there is something much more important to see in this.
Most of us will have experienced in our own lives—or witnessed in the lives of our clients—monumental and life-changing challenge. Many of us will use these experiences as touchstones. Many years ago I experienced a profound loss and as a therapist I can still, when needed, take myself back to that moment when death was so close to me that it took the strength from my body and hollowed my gut to a vacuum. This moment for me was followed by mornings patterned with the memories of what happened falling like snowflakes on my consciousness. Despite this, and over time, the sensation lessened and I knew slowly that I would be okay. This aftermath was not about a return to normal or even a new normal, it was about the change this experience rendered; a change which was about strengths, new knowledge, insight, and power. What I had experienced means I can hold my clients in their distress because I know that space, I learnt that it did not destroy me, but reconfigured me to know what life is worth, what I will live for, and what I will let pass. I know that my clients can experience this too, they can sustain and come out with new knowledge and strengths.
We each know the space where COVID took us, but from this we know now what is important in our lives, we know how much we reached for each other, the energy we put in to finding and maintaining connections, the yearning for touch, for air, for the sun on our faces, and the laughter of friends. We know we are strong enough to throw our lives in to disorder and allow new order to settle. We can tolerate limitations on our lives for the good of others which this time last year were inconceivable. We can do all this will humour, with love, with imagination, intelligence, and wisdom; we can find in the driest desert something that will bloom.
Our new lockdown is familiar territory, we walk in hope of a vaccine and far too many of us are living with loss and pain. COVID has been like a test to help us find our capacities, to see our collective strengths and abilities because what we can do next is look towards a threat to humanity which is so large we struggle some times to see it. Climate change is happening and we can act. Last year each of us radically changed our lives and supported others doing the same. We could have said ‘not my problem’, could have stepped out and ignored what was needed for, but we knew what was at stake and we did it. Can we take what we have learned, our new strengths, our new abilities, and turn then to this even bigger issue?
Greta Thumberg tells us that she doesn’t need to fly to Thailand to be happy, and neither do we. What did we really missed last year? It wasn’t the flights, driving the car, the new possessions and luxury wear; we missed each other, being in the sun, breathing the fresh air, and laughing with friends. The natural world and humanity are what we need and what we are about to lose to climate change. Now we can never say we are not strong enough to choose to sacrifice things for the good of all, that we cannot change everything to save others, that we cannot give up small freedoms for large ones. We are strong enough and we know that the space will not destroy us when we use what we have learnt to save the world.
This to me is the meaning of client resources and of harnessing client strengths. As a pluralistic therapist it is not just about validation, or reassuring someone that there are things that they can do, or that there is a path to tread, but showing them that they possess power and strength no matter what they face and that turning strength to a chosen outcome is within grasp for everyone.