Person Centred Counselling

Not one for social media, here's where I share some things that occur to me or strike a chord with me.

May 2021

All therapy is about grief

That’s the view of Dr Edith Eger, a psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz. I agree. When I look at what the people I work with bring to therapy, one way or another it is about grief – deep and poignant sorrow or distress about losing someone or something important; or something that is causing suffering.

We tend to associate grief with bereavement, the loss of a person or pet. But there are so many other non-death losses: like loss of connection or relationship; loss of hope; loss of dreams; loss of health or capacity; loss of security, status or identity; perhaps the biggest one of all, loss of self - not being able to be who we are, wondering “who am I?”, not fitting in, not being understood, not understanding our own reactions. If we grieve something, it is because it matters.

And we don’t have to have had something to feel a loss – we can also grieve for something we hoped for but didn’t get. In his book, “The Wild Edge of Sorrow”, the author Francis Weller talks about five gates of grief:

  1. Everything we love, we will lose.
  2. The places (in us) that have not known love.
  3. The sorrows of the world.
  4. What we expected and did not receive.
  5. Ancestral grief (what we carry in our bodies from sorrows experienced by earlier generations).

The fourth gate makes me think of another – what we got but didn’t want, choose or ask for.

We don’t get over losses but we can learn to live with them. Grief needs to be heard and honoured. Only then can it start to heal enough to move forward.

February 2021

A Blessing for Presence

Many years ago - when I was in the middle of a very lonely struggle - someone gave me this poem. It is by John O'Donohue and is from "Eternal Echoes". The words gave me an anchor in very choppy seas, and helped me regain my balance. We are living in very choppy waters at the moment, with very different challenges, circumstances, needs and outlooks. Whatever you're dealing with, maybe these words can give you something to hang onto.

May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence

May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses

May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon

May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path

May the flame of anger free you from falsity

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and anxiety never linger about you

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul

May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that need no attention

May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder

January 2021


Recently, I watched a lack of acknowledgement cause someone considerable distress. They hadn’t felt heard by those they needed to hear, and it left them hurting. Not just with the original upset but now with the additional hurt of being missed.

It reminded me – again - how important acknowledgement is. It really matters. Getting it can change everything, make everything more manageable, and allow the possibility to move on. Not getting it leaves a nasty taste and something that can fester and grow.

The impact of something being acknowledged (or not) is massive, yet it can often take as little as a word, a phrase, a sentence, a gesture, a tone to make a positive difference. Letting someone know they’ve been heard isn’t about agreeing with them but about listening and being felt by them to have heard. Nor is it about fixing ….though the very act of offering an appropriate acknowledgement can in itself help fix something.

Acknowledgement can be the bridge between us and another, when it seems only conflict is there. And it can be a bridge back to ourselves - because sometimes the most important acknowledgement is the one we need....from ourselves.

December 2020

The Music of Speech

I recently took part in what is called a “Focusing Roundtable”. Hosted by The Focusing Institute, based in New York, it’s a chance to consider a particular subject from a focusing point of view. As I explain on the About Me web page, focusing is a way of listening to your emotions as you experience or talk about something. It’s a way of getting to know several things better - yourself, your reactions and how you really feel about something.

“Roundtables” are a chance to learn, discuss and explore something using focusing. I’ve previously taken part in ones looking at dreams, writing and poetry. In this recent case, it was about the music of speech in the therapy relationship. Our Mexican host, Salvador Moreno-López, played us two pieces of music. They sounded very different but were, in fact, the same words by the poet Pablo Neruda sung in Spanish to different rhythms. Salvador then said two phrases – in English this time - in six different ways each: some loud, others soft; some agitated, some calm; some emotional, some matter-of-fact

It was a very audible reminder of the range of experience and emotion that a few words can convey. I recognised many of the tones as ones I’ve heard in the counselling room. People can be strident when they don’t expect to be listened to, welcomed or understood. Other voices are much quieter because the owner isn’t used to being heard or often finds themselves drowned out by others. I left the Roundtable thankful for such a beautiful suggestion – to think of speech as music and, whatever the sound, to appreciate the notes underneath. Thank you Salvador!

November 2020

"I have no other thinking available"

That’s a quote from “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. I’ve just finished listening to it on Audible where it was narrated (brilliantly) by Carey Mulligan. The premise of the book is that there’s a library between life and death, and you can take out books that allow you to sample lives you might have had but didn’t because of choices you made.

The librarian (Mrs Elm) is someone our protagonist (Nora) knows from her schooldays. They had many conversations in the past and they do so again as the book unfolds. In one exchange, Mrs Elm says, “You’re overthinking, Nora” and Nora replies, “I don’t have any other thinking available”.

That really struck a chord with me. Highly sensitive people are often told that they over-analyse or over-think. I certainly was. And many of the highly sensitive clients I work with have described being told similar things.

Many years ago, I voiced how I felt about being told yet again I had over-analysed something. A very wise woman’s response was that, “I don’t think you over-analyse, Sally. I think you analyse enough to understand”. That was it, exactly, in a nutshell! I have never again worried about how much I analyse or think about something. And, in any case, like Nora, I have no other thinking available.

October 2020

Being Highly Sensitive - problem or answer?

People can be sensitive for lots of different reasons - for example because of difficult or traumatic experiences, due to a medical condition or as a result of low self-esteem. I've worked with people facing all these challenges.

And there's another type of sensitivity I come across regularly - people who process things more deeply than others, who are aware of and affected by the emotions of others, who regularly get over-stimulated and overwhelmed, and for whom the tiniest detail makes the biggest difference. These are examples of what's called being Highly Sensitive. And I usually find that people who fall into this 'category' have spent a lifetime trying - and failing - to be less sensitive.

I used to be surprised at how many Highly Sensitive people I see in counselling. I’m not anymore, because it has happened so often. And it makes sense to me that people who think deeply, care deeply and are deeply affected by things, need somewhere to express and explore this. To try to make sense of themselves – because being sensitive in a world that mostly isn’t can be difficult, exhausting and lonely.

I’ve seen the difference it makes for Highly Sensitive people to be welcomed for who they are. And to discover that what they've been feeling is not the individual flaw they feared but a recognised thing, shared by 15-20% of the population. I’ve lost count of the times people have said how much they wish they’d found this out about themselves sooner because “it would have saved me a lot of angst”. Understanding their sensitivity rather than trying to change it can actually let them appreciate it. And that, in turn, can be the beginning of a new path – one that’s less fraught and more fulfilling.

I’ve written an article about this in The Counselling Directory: Being Highly Sensitive – what if it’s the answer not the problem? [It has since been re-published in the December 2020 edition of "Happiful" magazine]. Have a look and, if it resonates with you, I hope it will give you a platform from which to get curious and start managing the challenges of being Highly Sensitive differently. And also to do something new - celebrate the gifts that come with it!

March 2020


In a conversation the other day, a friend said that if they were asked to come up with one word to describe a particular person, they would say “trust”. Wow, what a word to use. And what a gift to the person to have that word used to describe them. Trust. That choice of word felt significant. I wanted to understand it fully so I looked up its definition: “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something”.

I asked my friend what it was about this other person that added up to “trust”. He told me it was what they said, how they said it and the feeling behind it. He said he’d noticed this about them from the first day they met and it was still true today, 25 years later. And he offered a second word to describe them: “caring”, in how they went about things, how they cared about what happened and the effort they put in.

I thought how important those words are in counselling and for me as a counsellor. “Caring” speaks for itself ….or it should do. And “trust”? Well, that word is everything. Without trust, how can anyone ever begin to feel safe – to share, to disclose, be vulnerable, be seen? Trust is something you earn. My clients are the judge of whether I am worthy of their trust. Of whether I am reliable, genuine, interested, consistent and competent.

Trust is what made a difference to me as a counselling client. It’s what makes a difference to me with my counselling supervisor. And trust isn’t just about counselling, it’s about life and about relationships. It’s what makes the world go round, or doesn’t. We all need someone we can trust.

February 2020

From Weird to Wonderful

I’ve lost track of how many people have come into the counselling room and said, “I don’t know who I am” or “There’s something wrong with me” or “I’ve always felt different”. To me, these are variations of the same thing – that the person has lost sight of themselves. Usually this is because they or some part of them hasn’t been welcomed, often for as long as they can remember. They don’t conform to others’ expectations of who and how they should be. They’ve usually been labelled “weird” or “different” or “a misfit”. They’ve been judged and found wanting, and so begin to judge themselves. They’ve learned to hide, to try to conform …. and they end up in conflict with themselves.

These are the people I’m often lucky enough to work with. What I’m privileged to get to know is not their weirdness but their essence, not their difference but their uniqueness. Who I meet is not a misfit but someone rich in curiosity and imagination, whose ability and passion would be a gift to the world if only it was welcomed.

I mentioned Neil Peart in last month’s post. One of the songs he wrote (Subdivision) includes the lyrics, “Growing up, it all seems so one-sided, opinions all provided, the future pre-decided, detached and subdivided in the mass-production zone. Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone”.

Well, I want to welcome the dreamer and help the misfit feel less alone. My experience is that there is a wonderful freedom in people being able to be who they really are, to express and explore what was previously not allowed. When people can walk away from the mass production zone they don't fit and into the light as they are, the world is a better place. And, more importantly, they can be seen, be heard, be themselves. The ultimate gift.

January 2020

Loss of a Lyricist

On 7th January 2020, Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist of Canadian rock band, Rush, died. His talents brought together three of my great loves – drums, words and music.

He wrote beautiful lyrics: “Different eyes see different things, different hearts beat on different strings” (from Different Strings) and “In your head is the answer, let it guide you along. Let your heart be the anchor and the beat of your song” (Something for Nothing).

He captured truths that you couldn’t articulate until you heard his lyrics: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” (from Free Will) and “We are secrets to each other, each one's life a novel no-one else has read” (Entre Nous).

His lyrics could be highly motivational: “If the future’s looking dark, we’re the ones who have to shine. If there’s no one in control, we’re the ones to draw the line. Though we live in trying times, we’re the ones who have to try. Though we know that time has wings, we’re the ones who have to fly” (Everyday Glory).

Neil Peart was a poet. And his songs and drums, along with the high-pitched vocals of Geddy Lee and the tone of Alex Lifeson’s guitars, were an unforgettable introduction to music for me. There will be no new lyrics from him but what a treasure trove he has left behind. Thank you, Neil, we’ll miss you.

December 2019

If only...

In an ideal world, there would be snow on Christmas Day. The sort of snow that doesn’t need to be shovelled out of the way, affect travel, lose its natural curves or become slushy. Snowmen would be made without trampling the surrounding snow. And everything would disappear, in one go, overnight and completely. Dream on…..

I always wanted to be the first person to make tracks in fresh snow. And, many years ago, I was lucky enough to do that early one morning: just me and a fellow student, during a residential weekend which was part of our counselling training. The experience inspired me to write this poem:

There’s no mistaking the sound of snow

So silent you have to strain to hear it.

Outside, flakes fall effortlessly

As I step into the Christmas card

Of this perfect morning.

How special to witness the scene.

Branch tops painted white by an artist

Whose brush gives light and definition.

Everything is still, yet moving

And I am warmed by the cold.

Nothing stirs.

No bounding dogs or noisy traffic,

The path ahead is mine to make.

I walk, reverently, amongst the giants

And leave the quietest of footprints behind.

After a while, I stop and turn back.

The imprints left behind now lie ahead,

Already replenished by a generous sky.

I enjoy the solitude, but I am not alone,

I have nature and friendship alongside me.

Soon I must leave this two-tone scene

And step into a world of colour and sound.

Before I do, I drink in the moment,

And find myself wondering

How something so white can come out of the dark.

November 2019

When a Quote Says it All

"If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters."

(Alan Simpson)

October 2019

What do a sprained ankle and person-centred counselling have in common?

I didn’t know but, recently, I had cause to find out.

It was a beautiful day. I was on holiday, walking along a path blanketed in autumn leaves, drinking in the colours and light. The next thing I knew, I was on all fours. I’d stepped on a stone hidden under the leaves, which made my left foot turn inwards and my ankle give way. I thought that was the end of my holiday plans.

But it wasn’t. I gave my ankle RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation. I rested, including sitting with my feet up along the back seat of the car as we drove to our next stop (a bit Driving Miss Daisy). I wrapped my foot in ice, lots of it, for hours. An Andy Murray-like ankle support and anti-inflammatory medication from the local pharmacy did their bit. And I sat and slept with my foot up on a pillow. Unbelievably, within 36 hours, I was able to walk well enough. Granted, the bruising made it look like I was wearing a purple shoe. And the swelling more than doubled the width of my ankle. But I could walk and – amazingly - without pain.

Two weeks later, my ankle is still swollen and I’ll be wearing tubigrips and trainers for a while yet. But, alongside what I gave it, my foot has been healing itself since the first moment it was damaged and I felt the pain. My body knew what to do. It has within itself the ability to heal and recover. RICE just gave it the right conditions to support what it does naturally.

So it is with person-centred counselling. And its fundamental premise of offering conditions conducive to healing – positive regard, non-judgement, and genuine interest. Offering time and space to talk about what feels hurt, bruised and stretched out of shape. Listening not telling, hearing not judging, learning not knowing. Wanting to understand what is being felt and faced. Providing an environment which supports healing and recovery. All the time recognising that the ability, strength and wisdom to do that already exists in, and comes from, the client. Even from the most painful situation. Just like my sprained ankle, minor injury that it was. The right conditions make a magical difference.

September 2019

The Guest House - Rumi

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning, a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all,

even if they're a crowd of sorrows

who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honourably,

they may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thoughts, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

August 2019

Youer Than You

One of my clients told me it was amazing what you could read on a lamp-post in Easter Road! There, less than 500 yards from where we meet for counselling, someone had posted the words of Dr Seuss:-

Today you are you

It is truer than true,

There is no one alive

Who is youer than you.

I first heard the words when I conducted a funeral. The son of the man who had died told me his dad used to tell him Dr Seuss quotes when he was a wee boy. And he wanted the “youer than you” quote included in the ceremony. He told me it had always encouraged him to be himself. The words made me smile then and they do now. So clear, so simple, and so true. And, to me, so celebratory, so full of possibility.

Which seems so at odds with how we often feel – that who we are is not enough. Or that we’re different, flawed, getting something wrong. But one of the themes of my work is seeing people who used to say “I don’t know who I am” becoming more and more who they are. Regaining who they’d lost or who they weren’t allowed to be. Like Dr Seuss in action. That is one of the joys and privileges of being a counsellor. Which, by the way, is me being me-er than me.

July 2019

The Quiet of the Beautiful Game

I’m a bit of a tennis fan. I played myself, from the age of nine when I got my first racket from the aisles of Woolworths. Sadly, a shoulder injury at 35 ended my playing days. But there is, at least, still Wimbledon which I look forward to every year. I remember watching Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors – he seemed so calm and stylish the way he stroked the ball in the face of Connors’ power. People talked about McEnroe’s temper but I saw the way he swung his leftie serve and caressed his forehands over the net. Then there was Stefan Edberg’s volleys, carved out of sliced angles and spins. Plus his smile! And I wanted to have Hana Mandlikova’s flowing backhand and Evonne Goolagong’s grace.

I also love the sound of tennis on grass. It’s all so much softer. The players seem to pad about, even when they’re charging around, straining every sinew. The ball sounds less harsh off strings, less hard as it hits the court. I love the green of the courts at the start of the fortnight, before all those dragging feet during serve and slides along the baseline take their toll. Nothing you can do about them.

But, if it was up to me, I would ban players grunting as they hit shots. Not the stretching “effort” variety but those “intimidatory” ones that cut through everything. People might say, how could you differentiate? But you can, I can. There’s no doubting the difference – in pitch (pardon the pun), tenor and timing. They interrupt my senses, and the soft geometry of the game. As the saying goes, “Quiet, please”.

June 2019

Root In The Garden

One day I was working in the garden. Trying to clear out a bed for fresh planting. I had done most of it, but there was one stubborn root, unmoving despite my best efforts. I worried away at it – a substantial root, with about four inches still showing above ground. I pulled it this way and that. The soil loosened around it, but it simply rocked and held firm.

I started to think it was there forever. I slowed down and rocked it more gently. But I let go of the idea of getting it out. Or at least putting so much effort into it. And, strangely, it seemed to respond differently to the change in me. After a time, I could feel it shifting more deeply in the ground. And, suddenly, I felt something give. The root – which had been hard to grip – became like a handle in my hand. And the rest of it emerged like a skipping rope, ripping softly through the soil along its length. It came out, clean as a whistle, about four feet away. What was visible had been in front of me, but the root itself came out behind and to the side.

It felt like a metaphor for counselling, for both counsellor and client. Don’t try to force things, it won't help. It'll just cause frustration and resistance. Change doesn't happen just because you’d like it to. It's a process and takes time. Just because there’s no visible movement doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. The root is often nowhere near where you started or expected. It will emerge when it’s ready. Then you can see its shape and how it connected all along. Understanding can replace struggle. And you have earned a rest!

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