An encounter

I read their movements as startled; accidentally ambling into the path of a towering unknown.

I knelt.

Assumed they would be assessing me as a threat.

We looked at each other.

I held back my curiosity – desire to be closer – excited eagerness.

Silent knowing that I was walking through their field. The pace must be led by them.

Their ribcage pulsed under soft fur and delicate spines.

A thought flickered and lingered:
Perhaps this is too much for them?
Perhaps they are so scared they will have a heart attack?
Perhaps my presence will kill them.

I wondered whether I should retreat. Should consciously increase the space between us.

They pushed out their spines a little.

I humbled.

They knew how to defend themself.

I held my nerve.

Trusted in their ability to keep me away if they needed.
They didn’t need my arrogance to do that for them.

We looked at each other.

I told them I wouldn’t hurt them. It was OK.

I edged a few blades closer.

They prickled a little.

I stopped. Sat back. Followed their cue.

They relaxed their spines.

We looked at each other.

They turned and walked slowly away.

Looking at each other.

What’s this got to do with counselling?

Meeting this hedgehog whilst I was out walking was a wonderful example of the process of encountering one another in the counselling relationship.

In person-centred counselling, the focus is on the here and now – what is coming up right there in the room, whether that be thoughts or feelings or memories. As I did with the hedgehog, the counsellor would be noticing what they were feeling and thinking, as well as trying to pick up on the feelings of the person having counselling. I might verbally check in with the person about what I noticed (I was unable to do this with the hedgehog due to our language barrier…. so we were reliant on intuition and a felt sense). I would be aware of my assumption that they might feel threatened, and ask how my closeness felt, what is was like to be sharing their thoughts and feelings with me.

In person-centred counselling there is a belief that the person has their own answers. As a therapist, we are not there to find those for them or come up with solutions. By being there alongside that person, providing safety, trying to tune in to their experience and following their lead, the conditions of the relationship naturally produce a space where the person can grow where they need to. There is trust in the process, and trust in the person’s innate ability and knowing.

The natural world is accepting and non-judgmental. That doesn’t mean it isn’t sometimes harsh, repellant and scary. It is that, and it can be comforting and nurturing, fascinating and energising. Just as we are.

Counselling holds space for all of that. And outdoor or walking therapy is a perfect frame for that counselling space.

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