I am reading Brené Brown’s new book “Dare to Lead”, which is all about the importance of owning our vulnerability in business. It’s left me thinking about the role that vulnerability plays in counselling, sandplay and creative arts therapy. I’m also wondering how often we are told by supervisors and teachers (consciously or unconsciously) that such human frailty is not helpful to our clients.
I supervise many therapists and students who will come in rather shamefaced and ‘admit’ to me that they showed emotion or some other supposed weakness in a session with a client. It saddens me that even highly trained therapists think they did something wrong by allowing a child to see that they were moved by something they said; the idea of a counsellor as a blank slate has a lot to answer for. Of course we need to watch our boundaries and work on the ability to keep our own problems out of the therapy room. But at the end of the day, how difficult must it be for a client telling us something deeply affecting to see us showing little or no reaction. I have seen many clients (and supervisees) have their feelings validated by seeing a compassionate response on their therapists face. Are we as therapists in danger of disavowing our own humanity?
Brown brackets together vulnerability, fear and courage – her view is that we need to be in touch with all three at the same time. This is where creative therapy really scores. Sandplay and art create a holding and intimate space between therapist and client – there is a risk in putting symbols in a tray, but there is also a peace in it. There is fear in expressing ourselves, which needs courage at the same time, but there is also a release and a relief in being witnessed, authenticated and held. Too often in life – in our families, our closest relationships and at work – we have been taught not to be vulnerable because of it is a perceived weakness with potential consequences. In creative therapy, we can learn that we can show ourselves in a safe, contained way and be accepted just as we are.
I would hate it if students or supervisees couldn’t talk to me about their own emotional reactions and resonances: for me that ability to be a human being in supervision, training or the therapy room is a crucial gift. The precious space that supervision or training courses provide is somewhere where we can learn to know our own vulnerabilities and to love them. And of course, because they are no longer seen as ‘other’ or ‘outside us’, being able to show frailties like this means that we are more able to contain our personal resonances in front of clients. Our vulnerability creates a softness and a kindness that is a crucial part of the healing and provides the soil in which the creative flowering can grow.
The moments of real growth for me in my own process were when I realised that my therapist or supervisor also battled with demons: the moments when I saw compassion or felt a resonant opening of their heart in the space which left me feeling seen and acknowledged. These moments also encouraged me to pick up a paintbrush or move the sand with my fingers.
My aim is that all of our training courses come from that soft, expressive place where vulnerability is seen and creative seedlings can grow.