By Laura Winters, LMSW
Search and Adoption Consultant
I am sitting here at a desk in one of the offices at Chesterfield Counseling Associates. Jeff and Sandy are both with clients in their respective offices, doing what they do best…tending to the emotional needs of the people who come to them. I started to reflect on the client experience of walking through the door for the first time. What brought them here? What do they need? Are they feeling anxious and uncertain about what counseling even is? Are they worried that their issue is just too big? Do they even know what they need?
As these thoughts swim through my mind, I begin to think back to my early 30s when I entered a counseling office for the first time. Let me preface this by telling you, my experience will not be yours. This will be an example of what therapy is not…at least not at CCA.
I was a wife and mother to two small children, working full-time, and struggling with finding balance between all of my responsibilities and my needs. I found myself crying DAILY, for reasons I did not completely understand. I was filled with a mess of emotions, unable to effectively sort them out on my own.
With a defeated spirit, I decided to call a therapist…an elderly man with years of experience, recommended by family members. I scheduled that first appointment, which I both desired and dreaded. When the day finally arrived, I was relieved knowing I would finally be in the same room with someone who could help and guide me through this forest I was lost in. His office was in his home; an early 19th century two-story house. Instructed to walk in without knocking, I entered the foyer which doubled as a waiting room. The house smelled “antique” with a slight hint of mothballs. The wood floors creaked under my feet. I sat in a soft chair and waited, lulled by the ticking of the grandfather clock. Aside from that, there was the deafening sound of quiet.
The therapist finally opened his office door and invited me in. I had been choking back tears all day but the dam broke when I sat down and he closed the door. He handed me a box of tissue and retired in a chair across from me. Saying nothing, he looked at me and waited. And waited. And stared. And waited. And stared. I had no idea why or what I was supposed to do. I eventually ascertained he was waiting for me to begin. But begin where? I had no idea. I was a ball of knotted yarn not knowing one end from the other. The clock ticked and I begged him, “Will you at least ask me a question?” His response, “What would you like me to ask?” I attempted to talk and explain but what I needed was direction. I needed to know him better. I needed a relationship with this person. I needed to build trust. He was the “professional”. Wasn’t it his job to help lead me in the right direction?
With seemingly nothing accomplished, I left the office after handing him a check and scheduling our next appointment a week later. I saw him two more times but when my experience was much the same, I decided to go back to doing life on my own. Fortunately, my emotional state did improve but I cannot attribute it to that first counseling experience.
Fast forward to my present thoughts as I compare the difference between then and now; reflecting on the difference between the old creaky house with a questionless man who stared at me and this warm, inviting space with people who are eager to pull treading and drowning people from the sea and into the boat with them. I find myself smiling as I listen to the sounds of this place. The chime that sounds announcing someone’s arrival. The warm greeting from counselor to client when the waiting room door opens. The hospitable offering of snacks and drinks. The warm goodbyes and see-you-next-times. Music playing in the hallway to ensure the words and thoughts and feelings of the client aren’t heard beyond the therapist’s office walls. But one thing the music does not drown out is the occasional burst of laughter. Laughter! The sound of relief and feeling understood. The sound of relationship. The sound of being heard and valued. The sound of trust and rapport. The sound of hope and healing.
I wish my first experience was different. But without it, I wouldn’t recognize how incredibly special this place is. And for that, I am thankful!