It is an inevitable part of the journey – the unravelling or undoing of oneself. The school I attended was well aware of this part of a student’s journey. Many a student has come up against this wall and had opted to leave or simply not finish – just becoming a number but not a face alongside their colleagues, framed and placed on the graduation wall. In this particular place it was perhaps even more poignant as a common theme amongst my peers was ministry burn-out, or a turn in life where, like myself, a clean slate and new beginning was necessary. So here we were, all attempting to start over, but overlooking the part that requires oneself to look at ourselves in the mirror.
Person of the counsellor is a term used to describe how the counsellor’s own story is being invoked while working with the client. We were taught this skill first and in reflection it made the most amount of sense to do it that way. Before we even knew what to say in our therapeutic conversations – before we knew how to really care for the client in conversation – before all of that, we were taught how to look at ourselves in the mirror. What I saw scared me. I saw a fragmented man with a fragmented past, on the edge, hiding from the world and hiding from himself.
I tried to hide but the format of the degree would reveal my secrets. When practising counselling we were to sit in two chairs facing each other. Such a position seemed exposed and vulnerable to me and there was no way I could be that vulnerable without feeling safe first – and I most definitely did not feel safe. So I would drag a table in-between us and have the session with that prop. However, our professors had been down this road with their students for quite a long time and instead of focusing on my skills they focused on the prop, wondering why I would be so inclined to use the table in such a way.
I was triggered. Triggered by their probing questions, triggered by the environment, triggered by the liturgical elements of worship and routine that the school would do as part of regular campus life. I was triggered by my classmates and I was triggered by the content of the textbooks I was reading. I was becoming unglued and very quickly I was looking for an escape – a way out – a place to hide – to start over once again.
But I couldn’t any more. Not again. I had dragged my family through enough turmoil. They had sacrificed too much already. They didn’t have another move in them. I feared that to move one more time – to ask them to support me once again – well, I just didn’t think it was there and in the end if I went down that path I would find myself very much alone. And that was the scariest thought of all. So I sought help.
One of our professors ran a counselling centre in the school – on one aspect to provide counselling to the entire school and on the other aspect to provide counselling internship opportunities for the students in my degree. I opted to go to this centre and I requested that I would met with the professor. Those next few months were a painful journey for me as I began to work through a lot of the trauma and brokenness of my life. When I combined the professional counselling with the indirect counselling I would receive through the classwork / practice, and the textbooks / papers I began to see hope in the brokenness of my journey.
All along I had been experiencing my emotional self but without language to describe them. Consequently, without the language to describe what I was feeling I was becoming overwhelmed and that contributed to my fragmentation. I was now learning language to put to my emotional experiences and I was gaining confidence in expressing that language. I placed tremendous value on my emotional self, knowing that my fragmentation only helped to sustain me through some incredibly painful times in my life and although it resulted in my dissociation I actually saw that as a gift and not a problem. Consequently because of those initial ideas around fragmentation and dissociation, when the language was learned I began to write and focus my studies into this are of counselling. In the end my thesis research was focused on dissociation and fragmentation – a result of my own healing journey after a life-time of pain and suffering.
I had now found language and I was about to use it in an even more profound way then before.