Sharing women’s knowledge at an important stage of their online counselling journey that can help YOU with yours
Recently I sent a special message to 3 of my counselling clients. I’d noticed something similar jumping out at this stage of their therapy, so I gathered my notes from our sessions and wrote a paragraph capturing their words and the meaning behind them.
Each woman was asked if she would be ok with the paragraph being shared, that anonymity would be strictly maintained. If she would be ok with this sharing, would she like to change anything? All 3 women were more than happy to share, and some said they were already helped just by seeing their own words.
An invisible team of solidarity
Narrative Practice insights: translating ideas into practice that are helpful for you in online counselling.
There is a practice in Narrative Therapy of inviting people, at certain stages of a journey, to respond to the positive steps you are taking in your life. This practice is called Outsider Witness. The purpose is to richly establish a more helpful identity conclusion about yourself, a preferred sense of self that is emerging but still doesn’t feel ‘solid’, doesn’t feel completely ‘real’:
If our preferred story of who we are remains only a conversation in our own head, it will not have the sense of being ‘real’. This sense of ‘realness’ or ‘authenticity’ only comes when our preferred stories are witnessed and responded to by a significant audience.
Maggie Carey and Shona Russell
As explained in much more an detail in this article an ‘Outsider Witness’ is in some way a significant person or group of people: they may be family, a partner, close friends OR someone who has been through a similar journey.
As in face-to-face therapy, but even more so online, when you are reaching out for help you are often at a point where you may be feeling incredibly isolated. There may even be a need for actual isolation and anonymity: you are establishing a new life away from a violent ex-partner; you are LGBTI and in an unsafe environment for queer people etc. But without connection, who have you got to offer that sense of solidarity we all need at crucial times in our lives?
The more people engage in positively witnessing each other’s lives, the greater solidarity and collective care is developed, and the less people become dependent on individual therapy.
Maggie Carey and Shona Russell
I have no interest in keeping you in therapy forever, so I’ve become curious about ways to ‘bring people together’ that might help deepen a sense of connection and allow a kind of witnessing without asking anyone to give up anonymity or put in much extra ‘work’ beyond their time in counselling sessions.
No applause thank you
At this point I would like to be clear that Outsider Witness practices and sharing of stories amongst people in counselling is NOT about applause. It is about how someone’s story resonates with you, and ways that you are influenced or will take a particular action after what you now know about this person.
When responding to someone’s story, an outsider witness is given 4 categories- 4 steps to help with a meaningful response to what they are hearing.
When thinking about outsider-witness responses in terms of resonance and transport, here are the sorts of considerations to keep in mind:
• What touched or moved me?
• What is it about my own life or experience that meant that I was touched in this way?
• Where have I been moved to in my thinking or experience of life?
• How is my life different for having been moved to this new place?
Maggie Carey and Shona Russell
Incidentally, these four categories of inquiry and response are helpful for ALL people who struggle with what to say when your loved ones are needing support. They give opportunity for more depth and meaning than the following ways we often respond: offering advice, leaping into the ‘you’ll be rights’, going overboard with the ‘you’re awesomes!’ or wearing a look of pity for someone’s movement within struggle.
Translating a version of this concept- of these ideas- is in important part of my online counselling practice. Sharing parts of someone’s journey at particular times with others is certainly not as in-depth as a ‘full on’ outsider witness practice, but it allows the use of modern technology in a modern time. It’s a way of creating the power of a ‘group’ when we don’t have the time or the means to do so ‘IRL’, and yet it offers something more in that there is no beginning and no end: the opportunity is potentially continuous as the words and meanings and stories become embedded in your own narratives.
What’s the outcome?
So far, one woman has written a really thoughtful response to the other women. The original email and her response have found their way into my virtual counselling room and most importantly out into women’s actual lives.
Yes: your actual lives.
I’m hearing that the snippets have given each woman a little more language for her own journey. The ‘mantras’ are appearing for the individuals in times of struggle or times of feeling good, adding a sense of support, of solidarity and of strength amongst peers. Feeling more able to trust themselves, to accept themselves, and to move forward.
Your personal journey is so much more important than psychobabble and diagnosis
Relying on an ‘expert’ to tell us who we are can be a recipe for disaster, moving us away from self-reliance and towards more and more medicalisation of what is essentially human. Self-reliance doesn’t mean doing everything completely on your own: far from it. We are capable of addressing even the most serious of problems with the knowledges we don’t even know are buried inside of us when they are discovered and encouraged to grow alongside one another.
Modern technology means these women who live nowhere near each other, have no obligation to ‘be friends’, and whose stories are vastly different can provide incredibly useful support for one another. There’s a team of extraordinary women who know someone out there Gets It and is helped by their experiences.
That’s the power of practicing counselling on this place we call the Internet. I imagine that some time in the future as the humanity of these practices become more solidified, we might even stop saying ‘online counselling’ and just say ‘counselling’.
** IF you would like to have a go at responding to someone’s story using the Outsider Witness categories, I would encourage you to do so in the comments of this post by writing back to the 3 women who generously shared a piece of their lives with each other, and with the public in this blog post. Go on, I dare ya.**
Main image by Rainer_Maiores