Painting with mirrors
For me therapy is often about holding a mirror in front of the client, a mirror which reflects an additional shade of their story inviting a rethink.
The story I hear, see and feel in front of me goes through the filters of my own perception and interpretation, sometimes through my own language skills, before coming back as a reflection to my client.
And they will take the challenge to dare a re-construction of their story if they feel connected.
Clients value often therapists with lived experience. I’ve had ever so often clients making all kinds of assumptions about my own experience of mental health, substance use, relationships, trauma, loss just to name some. Sometimes they were right, sometimes completely wrong. The comment that stuck with me the most was “You KNOW how it is to live on the streets”. Honestly I don’t. Despite the many adversities and setbacks in my life I have always had a home.
So what did my client mean?
What is MY experience of … in my life? It’s a whole constructed narrative involving memories, experiences, knowledge, judgements, justifications, interpretations, feelings, attachments, and not least the readiness to shift these and constantly reconstruct my narrative.
I am meant to hold a mirror to my clients. And what I find is that every client holds a mirror to myself. As a starting psychologist I was too busy dealing with my own anxieties if I was doing the right and the best thing for my clients or if I was working properly according to the protocols of my employer, and I had no space to even notice that there was a mirror for me. Even now, when I can’t connect with a client I am as blind for these mirrors as in my beginnings.
These mirrors I see in my sessions are my challenge to take: looking through them into my own life experience can be immediately enriching and rewarding or painful and unsettling. And whatever it brings up, welcoming and taking it in adds new depths and colours to my life experience because it’s adding to it the perspective of someone else’s lived experience.
And with this my own mirror I held to someone else becomes deeper.
Maybe is this the KNOWING my client talked about.
(The images in this blog post are variations of my own painting Sunset in Leipzig – 2005).