I’ve recently taken on a plot at the Reading Road Allotments. It’s my first allotment so my head is filled with the excitement and pressure of having a big bit of land to fill with vegetables over the next year. First I need to clear away the jungle of grass and weeds, but all this time digging and planning what I’m going to grow has got me thinking a lot about the similarities between counselling and gardening.
This is a broad bean seed. Once planted, given the right conditions it will germinate and grow into a broad bean plant and produce lots more delicious beans – fingers crossed!
My task as a gardener is to provide the bean with the right conditions for it to grow. Everything else is down to the bean. I have to trust its innate knowledge about how to germinate, put down roots, and reach for the sun to the best of its ability. Even if I could offer it some advice, it’s very likely that it knows best about what shape of leaves it needs, and when to start producing flowers etc.
There’s also nothing I can do to make it something its not. This bean will never become a tomato, or a squash, no matter what combination of nutrients or moisture I provide, no matter how carefully I prune it. All I can do is help it become the best broad bean it can be.
Some things of course are out of our control, bad weather or pests might set the bean back a bit, but if I focus on giving it the right nutrients etc., then it has the best possible chance to thrive whatever life throws at it.
Counselling is a bit like gardening, albeit with a lot less digging. My job is to provide the best possible conditions for personal growth to occur. These conditions are like the essential nutrients for a plant, phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium. In a counselling relationship they’re empathy, acceptance and genuineness.
The right conditions allow someone to make the most of their own unique abilities and characteristics and thrive even in the face of the set backs and ‘bad weather’ we all experience at times.
Just like I’d be foolish to try turning a broad bean into a tomato plant, I’d be just as foolish to try guiding my clients is a certain direction. My job is to help them make the most of what they are and find their individual way forward, not to try and make them what they’re not. This - please forgive the plant based pun - stems from a core trust and belief that given the right therapeutic conditions, people will grow or change in a way that’s constructive for them. Even well meaning attempts to guide someone in a certain direction can be ultimately counterproductive. In fact it’s often it’s the outside influences of people (and society at large) telling us who we should be - trying to make broad beans into tomatoes - that can cause problems in the first place.
I’d better finish here, it’s currently sunny and those beans aren’t going to plant themselves. If you have any questions about counselling, or if you’d like to arrange a session, do get in touch.