Unpacking the suitcase

I used a metaphor with a client yesterday when I was describing the process of counselling, so I thought I'd share and expand on it here. It's probably been done before, but this is my own way of looking at the process of therapy.

In many ways counselling is like a client dragging a stuffed, heaving, cumbersome suitcase to a therapist and asking for help with shutting it. "I've tried sitting on it, bouncing on it and even getting help from family and friends, but it just won't shut and I don't know what do do!"

Firstly, your therapist might notice a number of features of the suitcase - its style, age, material, how worn it is and whether it needs a little TLC. Some suitcases might look pristine on the outside but extremely cluttered within, others are overtly bruised and battered and have clearly seen better days. But it's OK, therapists like all types of suitcases and at that first session they will probably agree that your suitcase is bursting at the seams and needs a good sort-through.

So together, in a safe room where the door is shut and no-one else can come in and see your suitcase, you open the lid and start to unpack - don't worry, the therapist won't blanch, not even at your dirty laundry.

And out it all comes - acres and acres of clothes you've been hanging on to for years. Some of which you haven't worn for a while, others are old favourites you just can't bear to part with and some you'd even forgotten you had. Sometimes we open the lid and the whole contents bursts out like an unstoppable jack-in-the-box, but other suitcases can't open more than a crack and so it takes time to reach in, grab an item and gently pull it out into the open.

Therefore, it can take only a couple of sessions to unpack everything, but other times it can take months or even years. It depends on how big and how deep the suitcase is, how weathered and worn it's become and whether it's easy to open - it can be particularly tricky when the suitcase it locked and the client can't remember where they've put the key!

However, once we've unpacked, we can begin our sort-through (some therapists like to do this as they're unpacking - there's no right way, it's whatever feels right).

So which piece of clothing do you want to start with? That yellow boob tube from 1986? Where DID you get THAT from? It was a present? Who gave it to you? How old were you when you received it? Do you like it? Try it on - does it fit? How do you look? Ummmm, restricted, awkward, embarrassed, even a little ashamed?.....I'm not sure it suits you (did it ever?). Do you want to keep this one? No? OK, pop it in the charity pile & we'll move on.

Next up - Jimmy Choos you've worn once - they gave you a blister and aggravated your bunions. Yes, they're gorgeous to look at but you told me you like wearing flats and you take walking holidays in Wales. So why did you buy them? To impress someone? What made you feel you needed to impress them? How does it feel when you put them on now and walk around a bit? They pinch and are too tight......you're getting a blister? Well, they look really nice, but I'm not sure they're really 'you'? Do you need to keep them? Have you got the receipt or do you prefer Ebay? OK they're gone.

Now this one looks more like you - it's such a lovely top, the colour really suits you - WOW! Turn around, you look stunning! No-one's ever told you that before? You had no idea how lovely this top looks when you wear it? But look, it goes with that mini skirt and those funky trousers and you seem really comfortable in these items. OK, lets fold them neatly and place them back in the suitcase together.

And so we continue. Sifting, looking, rummaging, checking, trying on, discarding or keeping until finally the suitcase shuts perfectly, with little effort. It's back to its real purpose - its true self - carrying personal items effortlessly in an uncomplicated way, ready to be opened and shut again whenever you need to.

And hopefully, in the future, you might be a little more picky about whether something suits you and if it belongs in your suitcase or someone else's.