What is counseling like anyway? On silence and reflection


Photo credit: Sam Illic

Most of the people that come to see me for counseling (or call me for health coaching on the phone) wonder “What’s counseling like anyway?  What am I supposed to do? Just start talking?”

I’m going to write about what a typical session with me might look like. But this is about an aspect of counseling that many counselors, regardless of the theoretical approach to counseling, use.

There’s this technique counselors use called “reflection”.
On the surface it seems pretty simple, after listening for a bit (sometimes not very long) your counselor has a turn and responds with what they’ve heard or repeats back the words you’ve said.
Sometimes it’s annoying, just hearing your words parroted back to you. “Uhhh, yes, I just said that.”
But sometimes reflections in the hands of a counselor go beyond what what you’ve said to what’s been unsaid and to the meaning beneath the surface. 
And that my friend, is pretty awesome.

What does it feel like to be listened to in this way?
This can strike you in a least two ways.

Sometimes a reflection in counseling is like the mirrored surface of the pond that you find on an early morning walk when you’ve gotten up before everyone. 
In the stillness, as the fog lifts off pond, the peace and closeness of God is so safe and real, your desire to hold onto that moment overrides the kid in you that wants to skip a rock across it. 
And life and hope seem as beautiful and close as the sky meeting the water.

Sometimes a reflection in counseling is like the reflection of a bathroom mirror at 3am.
When your upward glance this time goes beyond the painted on smile and meets the pain and regret in your eyes.
When the harsh fluorescent light hides nothing, seeing yourself like this brings a moment of clarity of seeing where life and your decisions has brought you. 

The reflection confronts you with the question of do you want this? 
How long will you run and hide?
The pain and how far God seems as ugly as the walls and floor that surrounds you and you are faced with the decision to give into the despair and go back to the numbness or reawaken, come to your senses. And go back home.

We need those moments of peace, or pain, to see where we truly are.
To begin to change.

And one of the worst things we can do as counselors or clients is to miss what needs to seen and heard and known in those moments. 
To interrupt those moments, by being uncomfortable with the silence or trying to rush through.

Reflection and silence: tools, not just for counselors, that enable us to experience both grace and truth.

How’s the practice of silence in your life these days?

When was the last time that you were able to be still and really reflect?

What rose to the surface?

Or what would, if you made the time or space for it?

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Licensed professional counselor and health coach in Portland, OR Pre-marital and couples counseling. Individual counseling for anxiety, depression, insomnia, sleep disorders, sexual addiction, porn addiction, career, transitions, grief, burnout, personal growth.

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