A Thank You To My Teachers, My Clients
You learn the basics of your therapy or craft and how to be safe from the courses you take, but the real learning comes through practice and experience; it is my belief that the greatest learning and the best teachers are our clients.
Clients teach us patience, the diversity and true impact of our intention, grounding, as well as challenge our belief systems or test our boundaries of compassion and empathy. They teach us in many ways and from many different angles, just so we get the message. It is often the clients that we find the most difficult and challenging to treat, for whatever reason that can offer us the greatest lessons and the best rewards.
One of my most memorable and challenging clients has taught me so much and continues to do so.
On one particular occasion my client, a lady in her early sixties rocked up for a treatment session. She presented with a complex case and had an array of different symptoms and conditions from digestive and joint problems, sinus issues and headaches to a cough and bladder problems. There was always something new to add to her already long list. We had been working together for some time. At first she received a lot of soft tissue work with the occasional acupuncture session; more recently she started having CranioSacral Therapy. Sessions with her and prior to this particular lesson had become exhausting and exasperating for me; it was difficult at times to get a straight answer from her. Asking her how she felt about the issues she had or the problems she was experiencing in her body would be greeted with a random vision of scattered, colours, colours that she would see but that had no great meaning for her. I received the odd “I don’t know” but more often than not a continuous endless stream of verbal conversation with constant side tracking and every ingratiated detail explained. Even when her rhythm indicated something significant her mind would still bounce around. I struggled. I admit, I was beginning to feel like I wanted to scream “Just get to the point would you!”. We would continuously go round and round in circles, eventually leaving me exhausted and feeling like we just were not getting anywhere. Symptoms would shift, come and go, but she would always come back. Even with my gentle attempts to move her on, she was the type of client that you feel is never progressing. You question your techniques, your approach, you wonder why they come back, they can fully drain you of energy if you let them; however your nightmare client presents be sure to know this. These clients often have the most to offer and teach you, and when you are ready you will see just what that is for you.
On one particular session this client gave me a really good, thankfully brief lesson in grounding and intention. It was during a CranioSacral Therapy session. She was in a particular state of distress about her neighbour and an on-going problem that seemed to be getting worse. She suffered with a tight chest and cough. This neighbour continued to smoke outside, in her own garden but extremely close to the boundary of my client’s property. She had been met with abuse on more than one occasion when raising her health issues with her neighbour who it appeared was now going out of her way to be exactly where my client found it most distressing, as often as she could. She even made an extra effort to appear whenever she saw my client enter her garden and the environmental health services were now getting involved. My client didn’t enjoy going home and could not see any solutions even though people had offered a few, myself included. She reiterated the story as if it was someone else’s life. Speaking as a third person but with haste, her expressions were very frustrated and angry, almost to the point of tears. When I stated the obvious and asked her how the situation was making her feel or what was she experiencing when she was retelling the story, she would dart off on one of her verbal tangents almost like she had heard a different question entirely. Her brain just didn’t know what I was asking. Her response excluded mentioning any type of emotion. She was unable to register that she had expressed anything at all whilst talking to me. There was just a mental, physical gap and equally she accepted this missing link. I felt determined to try and help, to really make some progress today, especially because today she was even more upset than usual.
I had the energy, I thought! About 10-15min from the end of the CST session I started to feel really sick and nauseous. Rising slowly up from the pit of my stomach I began to feel more and more as if I would really physically vomit. This was accompanied with sweating and then shaking. The feeling was so strong that I had no choice but to break the session and excuse myself from the room in order to regain my composure. The colour had drained from my face and for a moment I felt I could easily have passed out. After 5-10min I regained my colour and composure. I drank some water, tried to ground myself a little and re-entered the treatment space. We finished off the session. Briefly we discussed what she had experienced during her session. She said she had felt fine, not much physically happened but she saw so many amazing bright colours that were unusually erupting and exploding like a volcano but doing this inwardly as if they were imploding on themselves. She felt quite relaxed about seeing these colours and then she left. Afterwards I analyzed the session. This had never happened to me before. Strong emotions releasing and coming from a client I understood very well and could handle but physical symptoms, that was a new one on me. Was it something to do with the session? or maybe it is was just me? Two weeks passed. Different clients came and went. The same client came for a follow up session. Nothing much had changed; she was still quite stressed. Within 5mins of working with her with my hands placed on her head the very same physical symptoms began to appear. I tried to ground myself and pull my intention back; it was not enough and I once again had to leave the room. This was not a coincidence. Lesson learned: the only way I would be able to continue the session was to completely ground myself, back off with my intention and just be present in the room, I could offer no more anyway.
Craniosacral therapy is very different from other modalities of treatment. Your intention and the energy that you bring has major implications and effects in the session and the energy of the space that you enter. Treatment is non-prescriptive and guided by the client, not decided upon by you the therapist. You gentle and non-invasively meld with the client in an ego subordinated way through a gentle light touch of your hands on their body. There is no doing, more listening and following. I thought I knew this, but my client was testing and teaching me to think again from another angle and perspective that I had not encountered. As I pulled back knowing now that my symptoms and working with this lady were connected, things started to become clearer. I became aware how much I had been unconsciously drawn into her body and energy in a much more physical way. This hadn’t just been from the one session but had built up over time as our relationship had developed. I hadn’t noticed till now. The more I relaxed in my own presence and did this by focusing on how aware I was of my own body, sensing my back, feeling my feet on the ground, my breathing etc. the more my energy began to restore. I felt more centred and I began to realize just how much of my energy I had given away to my client. If my intention and energy had physical form, I would have literally been laying right on top of her. Oh my goodness, ‘MY intention’ and ‘MY need to help her’ had been so strong, I was squashing her and it seemed, as a result I was feeling everything in her energy field. I hadn’t been listening and supporting her and where she was at all. I had merged so much with her that the more I tried the less I felt, the less she could move or change and so the cycle continued. Now, only my hands were gentle touching with nothing more than the intention to listen, support and follow. No doing, no helping, just listening. I noticed… it was easy, effortless and literally felt like I wasn’t doing anything. That is because I wasn’t … she was. At last she had the stage once more and I became the witness to her play. She finally had room to move and space to breathe. She began to unwind and move her body. Her chest relaxed and her breathing changed and I continued to just watch and do nothing but follow and support, realizing all the while how squashed she must have felt with my energy and intention being so needy and suffocating her in her own space. After the session she sat up and cried with me for the first time. Real tears with full acknowledgment and emotion came flowing out. The colours she saw continued but no longer did they implode but gentle exploded outwards. Wow!
The situation with her neighbour is still un-resolved but she continues to be more expressive on how it makes her feel, she is calmer and more open to helpful suggestions.
A great lesson in grounding and intention and how you can literally cripple an opportunity for a client to let go, all because ‘I’ wanted to help my client. If I am honest I just wanted self- gratification and an ego boost because ‘I’ had finally found the problem. That isn’t about my client and is even less helpful. Over time I had given my energy to my client so much through this need that I could no longer feel what was going on in my own body, my energy and intention squashing her meant our sessions were crippling both of us. All that my client needed was space and a witness to listen and support her, so her body could do what it needed. She showed me less is more and I could write an essay just on how much she taught me on that one particular occasion.
I thank her for my big lesson. She continues to challenge and teach me and I now welcome my continuing education.
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