In 2016, when I took a leap of faith and began my private practice, I was plagued with doubt and thoughts like “Will I ever get a client?”, “Was I stupid to leave a full-time job?”, “Will I ever have a full-fledged practice?” were pretty common-place.
In the second week, I received a casual enquiry from a woman wanting to view a “past life”. Being a clinical hypnotherapist, such requests were quite common back in the day due to popular media’s obsession with the concept of “past lives” and while addressing the myths around hypnosis and regression therapy is a topic that I’ll reserve for another day, I remember asking the woman if instead of viewing a “past life”, she’d be willing to work on any issue that, according to her, needed resolution.
After some thought, the woman spoke about a chronic pain in her spine and shoulders that she’d had for over a decade, and she’d visited enough medical experts to know that it was psychosomatic in nature. She said that she did not mind exploring this particular issue in our session if I used hypnosis because if not a past-life experience, she would like to at least be hypnotized. I took some time to explain the model of the subconscious mind to her and busted some common myths around hypnosis. After ensuring she knew what she was signing up for, we scheduled a hypnotherapy session the very next day.
At the end of the session, she said that while she experienced relief, it was not what she had imagined the session to be like. She said that it was nothing like they showed on television, and that bit really disappointed her. I felt quite dejected because the session had not met her expectations, but I put the incident behind me. Of course it was not easy and I again wondered if private practice had been the right move considering the myths and misconceptions that surround psychotherapy in India and even if I was getting clients, they probably had very different expectations out of the sessions than what counsellors and psychotherapists actually provide. My supervisor, back then, was a pillar of strength: he told me to remember my intention behind the desire to build this practice and to stay true to that purpose.
I never heard from this woman again until yesterday when she called and asked me if I am still practicing, and if yes, she would like to book a session. I was extremely surprised to hear from her. I could not help asking what made her connect after so many years.
The pain I had for twelve years never came back to me after that one session with you! It just disappeared forever!
I cannot explain in words the rush of emotions that I felt at the end of the phone-call. There was so much gratitude and joy that just bubbled inside me.
I was so thankful for listening to my inner wisdom that had always guided me to only work with clients willing to explore and resolve their issues rather than with people of casual interest. #MentalHealthMatters cannot just be a trending hashtag. The onus of making it accessible and encouraging help-seeking behaviour lies with mental health professionals as well as the people who want to be helped. I know the last bit may sound controversial, but I’d explain it this way: nothing works unless you do. Every individual’s life is a beautiful story and counselling and psychotherapy can help you in taking your story forward from junctures where you feel stuck. But you should want to take that story forward. You should want your story to change. The “how” bit is what we explore through counselling and psychotherapy, but the action-steps have to be taken by the client – as therapists, we can only support.
What actually happens inside a therapist’s room is vastly different from the portrayals you see in movies or on television. As mental health practitioners, we will come across clients who will expect magical transformations, dramatic revelations, and we need to take our time to help dispel those misplaced expectations. Many a time, like I experienced with this former client and several others actually, they may be disappointed or feel let down at the normalcy of the session, but that’s just another interesting angle that can, perhaps, be explored in further sessions if the need arises. I have heard of mental health professionals who actually, in an attempt to attract business, make use of spiritual tools and accessories like the hypnotist’s pendulum (which is actually never used in a clinical hypnotherapist’s session), without realizing how they only end up adding to the problem by propagating the myths and misconceptions even further. As mental health professionals we need to conduct ourselves with integrity rather than actually feeding on to the misconstrued notions people have built around therapy, hypnosis and counselling.
As a novice counsellor, I did make the mistake of associating my worth with my clients’ success-stories at times. Supervision helped me remember that my job is not to fix my clients and I cannot rely on their progress to determine my worth. I see many novice counsellors struggle with the same issue, and to them I would just like to say that I know how that feels. Please invest in supervision. It will do you a world of good!
Finally, for anyone reading this: please do not be misled in any way by the client-experience I shared: not everyone experiences spontaneous recovery the way this particular client did. Therapy, most of the time, is a long-term process and multiple aspects of an issue are explored in our time together. Some aspects are easier resolved than others.
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