I asked my counselor, “Why are so many counselors in the area doing such mediocre work with people?” She paused, a seasoned psychotherapist of over 35 years, and replied:
“Because they haven’t done their own inner work.”
The year I spent in weekly counseling was transformative. She firmly yet compassionately caught me in my contradictions and rationalizations. Like a trail guide who had led many expeditions, the terrain no longer frightened her. She helped me trace my anger and rage (and ultimately deep grief) back to childhood experiences.
With a calm yet piercing glare she met my gaze with a non-verbal “I care about you enough to not let you bullshit yourself or me.”
When I would drift up into my head she would direct me back to my body, my heart and my breath.
I would never quite know what was going to come up in each session, but most sessions ended with tears and a deeper breath than I had started the appointment with.
It was my internal journey, but as she told me more than once, it was her job to help me look into the scary places that I had been too afraid to return to.
She helped me look into the dark closet where my most painful boxes of unprocessed emotions and childhood traumas lurked.
We kept returning back to that closet until it wasn’t so scary anymore, until I realized there was no monster in there and everything I thought, felt, or feared was now ok to experience.
She could guide me because she herself had done her own inner work.
She had been doing her work for decades. It was transformative. It gave me space to breathe. I was able to find out more of who I really was and who I was becoming.
I had already been working as a naturopath on a deep emotional level with many of my clients. When you start asking people about their digestion and overall health they will start to tell you anything and everything. Most people don’t have a safe place to express themselves so a simple question like “Tell me about you?” can open Pandora’s box.
Naturopathy is based on getting to the root of someone’s suffering and disharmony. As a naturopath, I learned early on in my practice that much of the suffering of those I work with came from the beliefs carried with them from childhood, past trauma and the subsequent tension in the body that was used to function through childhood.
If the fathers of naturopathy were around, I would tell them that it doesn’t end at diet and detoxification. Keep digging gentlemen. My naturopathic training taught me to treat the whole person and get to the root of the symptoms. Diet and detoxification aren’t enough. I knew we needed to keep digging.
I studied the Enneagram, Somatic Therapy, and Holistic Counseling. I said yes to any avenues that would allow me to do my own personal deep dive. I latched on to teachers and took trainings. I read incessantly. I wasn’t satisfied with treating the body and watching the soul suffer; it didn’t seem right.
I wanted to see a world with more freedom. First in myself and then in those I walked alongside. I wanted a world with less suffering, to create a life that was meaningful, a world filled with authentic humans.
As I engaged my mind, body, and emotions and I began to engage on this level with my clients, my work with them started to deeply shift.
While I was still using herbs, supplements and nutrition to support the people I worked with, I also started assisting them in digging into the life-long patterns that they keep repeating. Many of these patterns were adaptive strategies from childhood that worked (sort of) in their earlier years but were often causing great suffering in their adulthood.
They couldn’t identify what they wanted or what made them content.
They couldn’t consistently choose the habits that made them feel better.
They didn’t know how to say “no.”
They were living out the unconscious beliefs of their families and upbringings.
They took care of everyone else but themselves.
I found that my clients were happy to have a place to talk about it.
They were happy to find someone to listen, someone who would understand and a safe place to re-examine why they were living in a way that ultimately did not bring them peace.
Some changed quickly while others took their time.
“I have been in counseling for years and we have never talked about this.”
I hear this all the time on the first or second appointment with someone. I cringe.
Most counselors or coaches haven’t done their own deep dive into their inner world. Many are trying to help their clients manage their “anxiety” or “depression” instead of assisting them to get to the root of the problem, to help them discharge trauma from their body, or unravel their defense strategies and armoring from childhood that is sabotaging their life as an adult.
Most therapists I have met are lovely people. They really do care, but caring is not the same as competency.
I recently had a friend go to a counselor and the counselor started eating from a bag of chips during her second (and last) appointment.
When working with people’s souls, emotions and beliefs we must approach them with the utmost humility, centeredness and recognition that we as practitioners don’t know what is best for them. This is their life to live and not ours. We are poking and prodding along the way, pointing out the contradictions and quirks while asking non-directive questions with curiosity and delight of the human standing before us.
When I think of the freedom I have gained through these past 15 years I feel gratitude.
I feel thankful for my teachers and their teachers. I feel grateful that I haven’t given up on myself even when my emotions felt overwhelming and when settling for a mediocre life would have been less difficult than the path I have forged.
I feel immense gratitude to the clients I have worked with for the last decade who have taught me what being human looks like. With all the kinks, joys, trials and disappointments, this human journey is sure to bring us all the aspects of a true adventure.
I wanted to share what I have learned so that more practitioners can find their way back to their authentic selves and figure out how to serve the world from that place.
So, last year I launched the Vitalist school of Psychospiritual Transformation. It has been a beautiful year watching the 15 participants grow, struggle, open and heal.
They have learned a lot and so have I.
Each one of us is different and we all have an opportunity to find our own medicine and to offer our Soul’s gift back to the world.
The Vitalist School was created to do just that.