During my internship as a counselling psychologist I worked with deeply traumatised, male refugees from Somalia. And as the weeks passed by I saw and experienced how each of the ten men in the group started to change. Slowly. Smiles occurred more often. Gentleness increased. Slowly but surely, their individual lives were about more than merely the pain they had endured. This process of healing was utterly visible, tangible even.
The healing that was taking place in front of my eyes was the result of each man committing themselves to a process that was carefully thought through, and that was applied with flexibility to the circumstances of each session, and to each individual man in the group. It were the men themselves who were doing the work of healing: strengthening their skill base to handle their own (waves of) emotions, strengthening their mutual bonds, and having the courage to open up, bu vulnerable, and touch the deepest pain of their trauma.
It was their courage that stood out for me, above all else. How much it must have taken each one to commit to this process of healing and personal growth I can only estimate. But they did it. All of them, encouraging each other at times, and leaning on each other at other times.
The Magic of Healing
It was during this round of engagement with the actual application of the processes of psychology that I myself became – experientially – aware of the power of counselling. I called it a reverence for the processes of psychological healing in my conversations with my supervising professor. This experience also strengthened my respect for the individuals who are courageous enough to be vulnerable during a process of counselling and therapy.
The realisation that “something isn’t working in my life and only I can change it” is the starting point of genuine personal growth. Some people make great effort to let that realisation never shine through; they might end up seeking solace through other means. But in my line of work I meet the people who do muster the courage to seek change, to heal, to grow and mature.
As counsellor it is never me who does the actual work: it always is the client. As counsellors we can’t perform magic, we can’t – through speaking some mysterious phrases or performing mysterious acts – heal or change somebody.
What we can do is offer processes through which people can empower themselves. We can offer safe spaces where a client can experiment and explore. Where all feelings can be expressed and studied, and where pain, anger and sadness can be released to make space for new emotions.
When a client commits to the call of his or her soul, courageous and vulnerable: that is when magic happens. The magic of genuine healing, and authentic personal growth.