Being ready to change
A leopard can change its spots with the right help
Okay, here I am. Fix me.
They were my thoughts when I first had a counselling session many years ago.
It was arranged through my employer to deal with apparent anxiety. I’d been taking time off to hide my hangovers from drugs and alcohol and it got noticed. Help was offered and I decided to keep schtum about the substance abuse and manipulated my way down the anxiety route. I also got a two hours or so off work once a week for a couple of months.
Irresponsible? Yes. Was I in pain? Yes. Did I mention my drinking and drug-taking? No. Did I want to feel better? Yes. Did the experience bring about any positive change? Definitely not.
I simply wasn’t present but I fully expected the counsellor to make me well. Not only was I unprepared to change, I had yet to reach any level of acceptance of my true problems. In short, I was a passive and unresponsive client playing a game whose rules I didn’t want to learn.
Years later when I knew with utmost certainty that I needed help with my mental health and addiction, I recalled how I approached my cancer treatment a decade before. I intuitively trusted the process, experience and skills of the oncologists and medical staff – I did everything they suggested. I allowed myself to get better in their hands. The epiphany that counselling was no different helped me take the leap of faith. That and the tiniest of glimmers that I was starting to get an open mind. Over time, I’ve found open-mindedness intriguing and discovered that, for me, it’s as much about what I need to unlearn than what I learn.
To be fair, not everyone can launch into a counselling experience with gusto. It can sometimes take time and there are many good reasons for a client not to be overly forthcoming in the initial phases: fear, denial, resistance, loyalty to others, to name a few. A good, well-trained counsellor, however, will see this and use techniques to help the client open up and form a trusting relationship. Add personal responsibility for taking action to the mix and then the magic can start to happen.
Changing ones behaviour and world view is a tough thing to do – but also one of the most worthwhile and satisfying ventures I’ve ever done. I wholeheartedly believe that the leopard, with the right help and attitude, can change its spots.
In summary, pay the fee, turn up, engage with the process, do what’s suggested, see the journey through and I’m sure you’ll get far more than your money’s worth.
Author: Seán Robinson, Trustee of The Counselling Foundation