I recently wrote my first email to find a supervisor. It said:
'Hi. I'm Safa. I'm looking for a supervisor. I want to be elated or destroyed. I don't just want to be told that i'm doing a great job. I'd like to be moved deeply by our sessions, because when I am moved I grow more in my heart space for myself and my clients.'
Kinda intense now that I look back on it..But it's my truth. I was looking for supervision that would change me, not reinforce me. That would shape my perspective of reality. That would expand me in ways I hadn't been able to perceive.
The supervisor I had in mind was busy. In the meantime I had things I needed to discuss. I found someone's number from the CSTA list of supervisors and I dropped a message. This time it read
'Hi I'm Safa. I'm looking for a supervision session. Are you free this afternoon'
I noticed it was different. I could feel my sense of urgency.
Little did I know, it was an urgency leading me in the direction of what I definitely needed to absorb. In this article I describe my supervision session and the three major things that I've taken away.
A rocky slightly awkward start
The truth was, I was in a rush. I was excited and I was nervous. I was even a little bit edgy. I had questions and I wanted answers. Now! We had one hour and I was determined to make the most out of it. So I reluctantly introduced myself, completely forgetting the name of where I studied as I mumbled something about 'Thomas Atlee's school in London.'
I then immediately launched into my first complex client case. I wanted her insight, answers and reflections. I wanted her practical not philosophical ways. I wanted to find out something I didn't know.
'I don't want to talk about unconditional love being the answer to everything because of course it is, but that's not what I need right now' I said frankly.
She smiled. It was a genuine smile. Maybe she found me quite entertaining.
Our back and forth continued. It was becoming more spacious and more philosophical. And I was becoming more impatient.
'I'm very philosophical too you know, I can do plenty of this all day long, but i'm looking for the practicalities right now' I said. I wanted to get inside the heart of the matter but the truth was, I didn't know what the matter was.
So she asked me.
'What's your problem?' she said
'I don't have a problem' I replied. 'None of this is a problem. I haven't come to you because I have a problem. I've come to expand myself and get alternative insights, perspectives and real ways deepen my practice. In practical not philosophical ways.'
Suddenly, something shifted. I can't tell you what it was but it felt like we'd just broken the ice.
After that we seemed to find a rhythm or deeper expression. Maybe I became more open and more comfortable with her. Maybe I let her in. Maybe she heard what I was needing a bit more than I could articulate. But something changed.
The questions that were spinning in my mind
I asked her about a young client who is on the autistic spectrum who has difficulty feeling. He cannot and has not ever really been able to feel emotions. He can talk about them but they appear and disappear in a flash. I told her that during a session we had I saw him at 10 weeks old being vaccinated, his feet curling up as toxins spread through his body, the terror shutting him down, limb by limb until his whole emotional body just froze. A voice said 'this is the point at which I stopped feeling.'
I asked her what to do when this child comes into the picture. Pre verbal and in immense pain but unable to understand why. What do I do with that baby? Do I hold it and offer it unconditional love and safety? Do I invite it to express it's pain and tell the adults what it's really feeling? Do I invite the young baby and the adult to meet and allow the energies to integrate? Do I ask the baby's soul why it chose this path? What do I do? It felt relevant, but I had no idea what to do with this baby. Is this what was in the field at the time, the not knowing what to do? My head was spinning.
I asked her about the cause of when I met a child whose challenging behaviour was merely a reflection of the dynamic that was in place between his parents. In this case, the father who was unwilling to make any changes even for his own child's welfare due to his own trauma which he was unwilling to resolve. His answer to me was a loud and clear 'no'. What then? How could I treat a child when it's not the child that needs treatment?
I asked her about unconscious transference dynamics when my client who is raging inside at his mother, becomes raging mad at me and refuses energetically to participate in the session, and yet comes to the session and pays me for it, whilst saying he is not angry with his mother or me. Infact, he's perfectly polite and agreeable. On the outside. On a practical level, what does it actually mean to hold his anger in unconditional love? Do I just watch and wait and trust? What does that actually look like, session after session with a client?
I asked about the ethics of taking a client's payment when they are not actually making any progress with themselves because they just don't or can't do the inner work required, given that after all, we are not here to expect progress or to change anyone. Is it an ethical dilemma? Except, the client in a way wants to change but at the same time they want to be accepted for all that they are. So where do we position our hearts?
I asked lots of things and we dropped into a deeper level of engagement, beyond the easy answer which is to tell a therapist to just give unconditional love and acceptance to everything and to see the whole. It's easy to say. I guess what I was asking was, in practical terms, how do you do this and what does it look like and how much conscious awareness do you need to bring to it when you're with a client.
Here are the 3 beautiful bombs that dropped which totally shifted my perspective.
They shattered my existing lense which meant I could rebuild my perspective, hopefully with more clarity and even more compassion for my client work.
Sometimes the 'whole' IS the trauma.
My first response to this was, how can it be? The whole is the person, their soul, their shadow AND their light. Their light is more powerful than their darkness, right? So therefore everyone must be trying to move towards their whole...everyone unconsciously is trying to find their light? So my approach has been to see the entire whole, everything and especially their inner wisdom. However, the angle my supervisor offered me was the insight of yes, whilst that is there, I need to at the same time be able and willing to hold the position that in that moment in time, and possibly for many more moments in time, possibly for an entire lifetime or more, the whole for that client IS the trauma. What the *&*% part of me thought. As we continued to discuss, it became clearer - that I must be able to allow myself to see that right now, that is the entire whole of that person. They are completely guided and driven by their trauma for want of a better word. Now, that 'trauma' is ACTUALLY a position in itself. And a position is an expression. And an expression is, whether I like it or think it's really their potential or not, their expression. And their expression is their truth. And their truth is there for me to accept or reject. Within their truth is the whole. The divine is reflecting and reflected within their position, whether or not I like it, whether or not it makes them ill and depressed. It is there. My role, is not to pick and choose what I determine to be the whole of that person, or the 'true' aspects, but to accept that what they are showing me IS their truth, right there, right then. I may see beyond it, into aspects that maybe they don't see, but they are presenting me with an expression so my job is to stay with them and accept their expression into my heart. To stay with their pain, their choices, their struggle, their self hatred, their self punishment. That IS, their whole. And maybe, they need someone to experience their whole with them, to finally be understood and seen.
Resistance is vulnerability.
What? I thought resistance is a creative, adaptive defence that prevents real contact from being made, that keeps a person where they are. Resistance is there to be held and respected for the protection it offers but ultimately, it can be dissolved, challenged or broken through. It is often the precursor to a release that is healing for the person's body and situation. Therefore, resistance comes with the inherent and unspoken expectation that it's not permanent nor is it aligned with a person's highest self, but actually it is there to be transmuted so a person can grow. So this bomb completely blew me away. As we discussed the nature of resistance in context of client work rather than as a philosophical enquiry, we edged closer to something that to me, resonated deeply in my heart centre. It was the words my supervisor used. She used the word 'vulnerability.' I've heard it many times in this work, but not quite like this. It was used to describe resistance. I could feel something through my body as she spoke. The resistance itself, is vulnerability. The stuff that a person does when they're avoiding themselves, the games they play, the bullshit they tell you and the stuff they avoid telling you, the distractions, the rage, the tantrums the avoidance, the deflections - all of the stuff that we are taught are creative 'defenses' are actually ALSO deep and truthful vulnerabilities. Being able to reveal to someone your main line of defence, is itself, after all a vulnerable position to be in. You are revealing yourself. So now it means, rather than waiting for a release when there is resistance in the body or mind or emotions, I am going to hold that position as if it were a vulnerability. Cherish the resistance and honour the revelation.
Sometimes, we get clients that have been through immense challenges at various levels in life. Their past lives are riddled with disease, illness, intoxication, murderous events, guilt, disfigurement, deprivation and suffering. Their current life has been a chain of terror, pain, disappointment, abuse or neglect. There seems to be, at a soul level, complete contempt, or else, a very harsh way of teaching the self a lesson. So as therapist what do we have to work with? A person is not only sick, diseased, intoxicated, refusing to change, impacting themselves and those around them, but also has no ability to self reflect. So here we are. What do we hold to the light? What light do I shine to help the little baby who has suffered abuse at a few weeks old and has decided to disappear because they cannot stand to be there. What light is there to shine when that human has decided life is not worth living and they are unable to connect with themselves or anything else around them, nor do they have the desire to, because of what happened to them when they were a few weeks old. Survival, my supervisor said. Sometimes all we can do, is acknowledge that the person has survived. They may be hollow inside. They may be toxic. They may go on to commit murderous acts. They have have no achievements whatsoever and no love around them or in them. Whatever it is, they have survived. There is something in that - in the act of surviving - that in itself is enough. I realised as soon as she said it, that by acknowledging only that someone has survived, it is almost like saying to them 'your mere existence is enough.' It's saying, I don't need you to be shining bright, healing, healed or even sane. The fact you exist on this planet, in whatever form you choose to, that is enough. And THAT, is for me, the highest level of compassion we can have.
All I can say is, I'm bombed out. I'm immensely grateful for actually meeting someone that met me, where I needed to, at the depth that I needed to. My heart felt different after my supervision session with her. Full but a little bit lighter. Raw but alive. Impressed upon, but stronger than before. She moved me. The whole session moved me to a deeper compassion within myself, and for my clients.
Sometimes the whole is the trauma. If I can't accept that in my client, how can they accept it themselves?
Respect and cherish your client's resistance. It is their voice. Maybe it is the only voice they have right now.
Acknowledge survival. Stop expecting there to be more. Stop expecting healing, growth and elevation. Allow survival and existence to be enough. Honour it.