Last night we had our counselling service meal. We decided not to venture into the festive melee. Instead we hired a comfortable room in our building (which houses various other groups and activities besides us). John and I spent a relaxed afternoon together, decorating the room with lots of candles and fir cones, and heaps of fresh dates and jewel-like chocolates. I cooked for all of us, as I like to eat (hearth and home, no decorative kiwi fruit). Lesley brought wonderful apple juice pressed from her orchard. Many of our therapists and office volunteers came, bearing the gifts of themselves and other gifts: cinnamon biscuits and piles of golden satsumas and oranges; beautiful little squares of freshly baked brownie with reindeer flags in them and frangipane topped mince pies and exciting home-made crackers stuffed with surprises (and hats), family tree decorations gathered over years of family life to adorn our table for the evening, memories and precious moments – a room filled with tangible and intangible treasures.
So we had a feast, and the odd poem and a lovely song, and laughter and fellowship. We lit a great circle of candles for our hopes for the year to come. People spoke about their time with us, and their senses of what this means to them personally, and to their clients. The room held one of our newest office volunteers (two months), and one of this summer’s placement students, as well as John (around 18 years) and one of our longest-serving office volunteers of many, many years, with a sprinkling of us on the middle ground of just under a decade. Several who, like me, came on placement and have never left. We all choose to offer our time, we all choose to remain, bringing our diverse life experiences and our diverse day jobs to the alive, eclectic, warm, companionable, gifted mix that is our counselling service and community.
People spoke of their sense of the work our therapists do, supported by our office volunteers – this ‘healing space’: how fundamentally and profoundly important this open-ended, person-centred space is for those who find their way to us, some from appallingly, devastatingly painful and difficult experiences on their journeys, people who have no reason or basis to trust, or expect anything different – and yet they somehow know what they need to do. They find their paths. Our therapists walk alongside, and support this process. I heard people expressing their sense of the power and magic in this, and the privilege of being alongside. No ‘us and them’, no professional arms-length ‘one size fits all’ disempowering ‘mental health’ perspectives – rather a deep human knowing that we are all in this together, and the point of being here is to connect with each other in presence, openness, empathy and loving intent, in what is in the broadest sense, ‘therapeutic relationship’.
It has been a deeply challenging couple of years for us as a service, in all sorts of ways. I looked around the circle, thought of it all, listened to the richness and love in what people were saying, and I saw how we have held together and grown as a community and as individuals, in adversity. I found myself comparing what I was seeing and hearing in the room with the cramped, distorting, coercive ugliness of the challenge we have faced. Some of those in the room have been close to this struggle, others less so – people have chosen the level of knowledge and involvement that works for them as individuals. Various people spoke of their own experience of these events, and their faith in what we are offering as a group of therapists and individuals choosing to work together collaboratively.
I had a sense of awe, of unfolding, of what we as human beings are capable of at our best (and at our worst). I spoke of my own wish that 2014 hold less fight, more creating and building, more connecting in nurture and community.
And I looked at John alongside me, where he belongs in the heart of our community – that would not exist without him. He has been here longer than any of us. Without him, our service would have ended in 2003 when the then-funding was withdrawn. He has poured in his unstinting effort and countless, countless unpaid hours in the service of our clients, and our therapists in their own learning and unfolding. I thought of the many, many lives touched, healed and changed for the better through the service he has built and sustained, people who come to us with desperate damage, and find their own growth and healing to take out into the world. None of that would exist without John. I thought about all I have learned from him and in relationship with him since I arrived at PGCS in 2005, how instrumental he has been in my own development as a therapist and a human being, my own healing and learning.
And I feel a vast, swelling gratitude, and commitment to what we are doing.
So, on the morning after our gathering, I want to say to John and every other member of our heart-based community, past and present: Thank you. You are amazing. Keep doing what you do, keep being all you are.
Palace Gate Counselling Service