Hurt People Heal People Too: My Journey to Becoming a Counsellor
Stuck in the wrong job, anxious and disconnected from herself, Miriam Christie trained as a counsellor
She explains how her previous experiences help her in her counselling work
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Hurt people hurt people is a saying I often hear and sometimes see pop up on Instagram memes.
That may sometimes be the case but I also believe that hurt people can heal people too. With the right training, those of us who have had setbacks and mental health issues can use the insight and empathy that comes with experience to help people facing their own demons. If we were going into battle, I for one would feel more reassured knowing a battle worn veteran had my back.
I get asked quite a lot about why I decided to become a counsellor and I completely understand the curiosity. Knowing about a therapist’s journey into their work, can help people to build trust with them. I have come to realise that making myself vulnerable, whether in session or by sharing my story in blogs and articles, can embolden people to seek help – and it can help those who need to find me to do so.
I think that often we can only really make sense of our journey with the benefit of hindsight. It seems strange to me now that my winding road into counselling began in the communications industry. I was good with words and I knew I wanted to connect with people. I did a masters in journalism and, after some on-and-off newspaper and radio jobs, I took a job in public sector and charity PR, imagining I could improve people’s lives through communication.
More than a decade later, I had lost touch with that idealistic, wide-eyed twenty something. I was on a career ladder that felt more like a hamster wheel and had gone from being a stressed-out young person to leading teams of over-stressed young people. I had witnessed too much cynical spin to have any sense of connection to my initial motivations. I said what clients and the media wanted to hear to the point that I didn’t have a sense of who I was anymore. I was simply a people-pleaser.
For years, I experienced cycles of depression and anxiety that I ignored to the point of breaking, which I would then temporarily alleviate with short term fixes like holidays, retail ‘therapy’ and parties. Monday morning blues were more like Sunday dreads, which bled into Saturday until it became everyday adrenal fatigue.
Have you ever heard of the sunk cost fallacy? It’s a financial term used to describe continuing to invest in a failing venture because of the time, money or effort already out in. That is exactly what I was doing with my career. I had made a choice and it felt almost unthinkable to change my mind. My parents were of the generation that got a job and kept it their whole lives. How could I tell them I wanted to change? I had built up a career that looked great on the outside. How would people understand? People would think I was nuts. Would I be of any value without the status of my job title? Where would I even begin?
Two people coming into my life at the right time helped me to see that the walls of my self-made prison did have windows and even doors.
My boyfriend, now husband, loved me. Feeling unconditional love is very freeing. I started to think, if he likes me as I am maybe other people can accept me as I am now and understand my motivations for change.
An eccentric, plain-speaking therapist helped me see physical symptoms (feeling choked up, anxious, lethargic) as a friend who wouldn’t let me off the hook until I paid her attention. Not far beneath the surface of the nagging symptoms were the answers – I needed to reconnect with what mattered to me. A big part of that was my job, a vocation.
My first stepping stone was to take a job using my skills to promote a social enterprise that worked to help others find fulfilling work. Seeing how the passionate team at Careershifters lived their values helped me to that it was possible to do an about-turn in your career without upending everything; that it is very possible to create a career that reflects what is important to you – and that you enjoy!
My therapist encouraged me to rediscover things I used to do purely for the joy of it and to explore what I liked now. I used to teach aerobics and Pilates before I moved to London and got a ‘serious’ career and I loved it, so I signed up to a yoga teacher training course. At the time, I didn’t have any real plan for using the qualification. It was more of a figurative two fingers up to my old life, or – more politely put - a gesture of self-care and self-definition. The course helped me to rediscover the freedom and therapy that I find in movement. It helped me to find a new way of tapping into my wellbeing, which I could then explore further with my therapist.
All these years later, these skills that I turn to for joy also influence how I work with clients. I like to work holistically, taking into account the body and the mind and paying attention to the somatic cues our bodies give us.
I remember feeling nervous to tell my therapist, what I think she knew already; that I wanted to follow in her footsteps and become a therapist too. She told me that she thought it was a good idea because the world could use another good counsellor. Her words of encouragement will always stay with me because they were the ‘yes’ that got me started and I’m still grateful for them.
Now I work with words and use the body’s powerful signals to explore and facilitate healing. My own development as a therapist and yoga teacher – along with the life lessons and challenges of being a daughter, friend, mum and free-range woman in this world - has led me towards supporting women through issues around fertility, pregnancy and post-natal mental health. Alongside my client work, I write blogs and articles to reach as far as I can with the therapeutic potential of words to connect and support.
Miriam Christie is a verified welldoing.org integrative counsellor working online and in South East London