• Jane Williams

Why if you've watched 'After Life' you may have the wrong impression of therapy

You may have seen the recent series ‘After Life’, written by and starring Ricky Gervais. If not, it’s a real rollercoaster: funny, heart wrenching, deeply sad and ultimately a very human story. It’s a very powerful exploration of his character Tony’s life and grief after his wife’s death from cancer. I should give a health warning that it tackles some big themes: loss; suicide; addiction and the meaning and purpose that different people find in life. There’s also a very lovely dog in it…

Tony goes to see a therapist to support him in his grief. Yes, this is a darkly comic series and there was certainly comedy in how the therapist behaved in the sessions. As a counsellor watching it though, I found myself alternately shouting at the telly and hiding behind a cushion.

There are often ‘interesting’ portrayals of therapy on the big and small screens. After Life certainly highlights what not to expect from a counsellor: Tony’s therapist was rude, overbearing, talked about himself a lot, gave his client opinions and advice and didn’t listen to him. Here are three things that I hope you can expect from counselling with me:

1) A counsellor will really listen to what you need to say. The experience of someone’s undivided attention can be a rare thing in our age of devices and distraction. The therapist in ‘After Life’ spent some of the sessions scrolling on his phone. Obviously this was an extreme example for comic effect, but it helped me to reflect on how I listen to clients. I listen to what clients say, yes, but I listen for what feelings may be beneath the words, and I reflect back to the client what I am hearing. A simple act of hearing your own words, thoughts and feelings summarised and offered back to you can be very powerful. It can give you a chance to stop, breathe and consider. To explore patterns and sometimes have those ‘lightbulb moments’ of insight. And no, I won’t be scrolling through my phone.

2) A counsellor is not there to judge you. You may be coming to counselling to explore past or current feelings, thoughts, relationships or experiences. A counsellor listens, helps you to explore patterns and encourages you to reflect. A counsellor accepts you, just as you are, and creates a safe space for you to say things that you might not be able to say to anyone else. We don’t judge you for feeling how you are, or for things that have happened. That acceptance and the fact that we are two people, meeting together to explore what you need to, can be very empowering and healing.

3) A counsellor doesn’t give their opinions or advice about your situation. Cue Tony’s therapist saying ‘well, it’s about time you got over it really isn’t it’. Oh my goodness. My starting point is that a client is always the expert on their own life. Perhaps it sounds clichéd, but we really are all unique: so many things come together to make us the people that we are. My role is to help you to explore what’s going on for you, believing that the answers that you may be looking for come from inside you. Sometimes it’s just about learning to listen to ourselves. Time with a counsellor can help you to make the space to do that. What I can do is be alongside you while you explore, notice and be curious about what has brought you for counselling and to find a way forward.

I hope that this gives you an insight into my perspective about counselling. If this sounds like the sort of approach that you would find helpful, you can give me a call to arrange a first session.

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