Into the woods

The slender man who chose me as his coach had a calm self-confidence, a little reserved perhaps, but friendly and attentive. At a young age, he already knew how to enjoy a career and how to grow his business. His religious upbringing had prepared him to know his own mind and how he wanted to be with other people. He stood his ground in conversations with me and always took responsibility for his own life and words. In a way, he seemed always in charge of our sessions.

On the fourth session, I accidentally forgot the keys to my practice. He was the first client that day, which forced me to turn back in the rain and I got there soaked. He was already sitting in his chair in my practice. I started drying my hair with a towel. Someone had let him in, he said, it didn’t matter that he had to wait for me. In the sessions before that, I had reluctantly convinced myself that in his mid-twenties he already had the strength to accept himself as he was. As my hair dried and more and more showers hit the windows overlooking the canal from the first floor of the 17th century house, I asked myself: “Why do I feel uncomfortable with my realisation, that he needs so little help?”. Then it sunk in.

He had just one reason to visit me, which was to come to terms with a certain period in his childhood. When he was 12-13 he went to high school where he was bullied. Deep down, he already felt sure of his own ability and worth, supported by his warm, intelligent, and religious family. At school, his peers noticed that he was different from them, maybe they noticed that he somehow judged them as if he were putting himself above them. Ah, I realized, sometimes I felt a little smaller in the room when he was with me and I found that interesting. Understandably, some classmates were not happy with his attitude. They teased him, sometimes harassed him. At some point, he returned to his gym locker room and found that they had peed in his shoes. All he could do was try to avoid them and hide in his own mind. As an adult, in some situations the 13-year-old in him was triggered and still determined his view of the world: “I am not safe, run, you will never be one of them, escape in your own mind”.

He told me that this fear was recently rekindled when his new girlfriend mixed with other people or, in extremis, took dancing lessons with extroverted dancers. I never saw him belittle himself when he was with me, probably because I wasn’t threatening to him and the 13-year-old boy inside. But now I saw it. He and I discussed this and I explained how we could address this in the next session. My suggestion was to use a visualization technique to help him reconnect with his 13-year-old self.

So he did, with his eyes closed, he visualized a forest where he could meet and talk to the 13-year-old. In a soft voice I led him, and after a while they walked away together in this imaginary forest, holding hands. A mountain appeared and they climbed it together. When they reached the top of the mountain, some lakes could be seen in the depths. He talked about how he and the 13-year-old were now one, fused. What a beautiful view he said. After a few minutes he opened his eyes. I had the strong illusion that for the first time he was really looking me in the eye, completely relaxed in his chair. “This is what I came for,” he said, “it’s very valuable. Thank you. No further session is needed.” For a few seconds I felt insecure, almost humiliated for fear of being suddenly left alone. I imagined with open eyes his view of the lakes from the mountaintop and relaxed. “Everything is possible from here,” he said.

6 thoughts on “Into the woods”

  1. Beautiful how the room comes to life when you describe sessions with clients. The power of vulnerability counts for so much in the whole trajectory of the client. Worthwhile reading for both starting and experienced professionals!


  2. I love how vivid you paint these scenarios. And your reflections are so very human. Thanks to you and these clients for letting us be part of what’s happening in your world.


  3. Lovely post Matti, your reflection on your experience alongside the client’s is so great and really useful for other Coaches, well done!


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