Counsellor’s Creed Point 6: “I Cannot Take You Further Than I Have Been”

“As a counsellor, I can only take you as far as I have been willing to go in my own life.” Does this mean that clients cannot become psychologically healthier than their therapists? I do not believe this is true, and it would worry me considerably if it were.

Continuing my reflections using as a springboard the anonymous 12 point Counsellor’s Creed which has been doing the rounds among practitioners, I come to point six:

6. As a counsellor, I can only take you as far as I have been willing to go in my own life.

I see the counsellor’s role as accompanying rather than “taking” the client anywhere, but of course there is a sense in which the counsellor is a guide who knows the general terrain. And it is true enough, that while it is quite possible to have effective therapy with a counsellor who has had nothing like the same life experiences, if they have not known the depth of certain feelings within themselves they will not be able to really accompany the client there.

I am thinking here of painful feelings and experiences — that a counsellor who has never experienced grief, loss, or anxiety to any significant extent, or who has “not gone there” but blocked it out, will not be able to find that place in themselves from which to relate to their client, who may not feel that they are really present with them.

Yet “take you as far” implies a healing journey, in a positive direction, so maybe this point means that if the counsellor has not found a certain level of wholeness/strength/full functioning in themselves, then their clients will not be able to go there either, will not be able to be “healthier” than their therapists. I do not believe this is true, and it would worry me considerably if it were.

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After all, therapy/counselling is not a practice of teaching someone in distress how to be like the therapist! Neither is it a guru-follower relationship in which the follower is being enlightened. If a counsellor relates with a client in a real, genuine, accepting and empathic way, (which I would say is necessarily also a creative, individual way involving all the skills and knowledge the counsellor and client bring), then that person will grow — in any direction and to any extent, dependent on their own potential and other conditions in their lives.

Of course, if a counsellor has no idea how to be genuine, accepting and empathic, then the client will not start to treat themselves in that way either. That is a matter of basic competence. Yet being that way with yourself and with a client does involve a great deal of, for want of a better phrase, “personal growth”.  Maybe this is all the writer of the point meant!

If this is the case then I agree. If a therapist does not listen to and accept themselves with all their feelings, “good” and “bad”, then they may be able to stay with the client for awhile in the mess with which they came, but they are unlikely to point to any life-enhancing possibilities over the horizon…

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