Ed (name anonymised), a 24 year old male, was referred to counselling by his ASO, as he had faced much turmoil having escaped a dangerous situation back in his home country and now facing deportation back to the very place that threatened his life. Ed identifies as gay and his family was unable to accept this, due to their religious beliefs and the beliefs of what Ed referred to as a ‘backward country’, where homosexuality was frowned upon. Thus, there was a threat of honour based violence and with the help of his mother Ed had to flee his family and country.
Ed has also had to hide his true identity of being gay from everyone, due to fear and the trauma of unacceptance and judgment, which is overwhelming and frightening. The loss of his true self and the burden of having to be someone else is exhausting.
Through counselling sessions Ed explored these feelings of loss and of being alone and the anxiety of not knowing his fate and the powerlessness that this evoked felt too much for Ed to bear. Ed was essentially waiting for others to decide his fate, ‘it’s too much thinking about if I get deported, I don't want to go back, I’ve got nothing, it’s the end for me, I’d rather die’. Ed was often overcome with emotion and would share how until now, he had not spoken to anyone about how he felt.
There was a reoccurring theme with Ed of feeling unsafe in the present, unsafe in the future, unsafe at home, where he so often felt trapped, ‘I don't know what to do, where to go, I’m tired of feeling like this…’. Ed shared his sorrow at not being able to contact his mother, who he missed terribly and who was the only person who had supported him, ‘everything is out of my control, I can’t even call my mum to tell her I’m ok, I want to end it all’.
It was apparent that Ed did have some suicidal ideation and we explored this together as the sessions went on. Ed would often talk about how he felt that this life is not meant for him, the constant judgement, hiding his true self, the struggle and conflict this causes in how he perceives himself and how others perceive him, the confusion that builds as a result, was all too much for Ed. By asking Ed how he felt about his own life and what aspects he felt were worth living, enabled him to explore his future and reasons he felt he had to live for. He needed reassurance that he had every right to live the life he wanted and he had to fight to do that up until now, which had come at an enormous personal cost, but it was about his survival.
The realisation that the sacrifices Ed had made were not in vain, encouraged him to explore his future and for the first time talk about what he might want from it. He was now actively trying to manage his situation and even found voluntary work, which he recognised would help him in future.
Ed had regained some power over his life that had felt so unstable. He felt in better spirits and spoke about how for the first time in a long time he feels like he has got a purpose, something worthwhile, which was giving him new meaning. The healthy distraction that his voluntary work was providing alongside the counselling sessions had helped Ed feel more balanced and more confident in himself for doing something productive and using his time effectively, ‘I feel like I’m not just wasting my time, I’m doing things to keep busy, I’m actually enjoying myself’.
Ed expressed his gratitude to counselling and the ability to really make use of this space to gain perspective and to self reflect and make positive changes to his life. Although, he is unsure of his future, he knows he is able to survive much turmoil and feels inner strength, due to the depth of exploration within the therapeutic space, ‘I feel like you helped me with where I am now. I trust you with so much, I tell you things I didn’t think I could ever tell anyone and it’s helped me to see things differently’.
Ed’s ASO had also shared with me how he felt counselling had benefited Ed and he has seen a positive change and a new determination in Ed.
Building a strong therapeutic alliance with Ed was essential in supporting him without the judgement or fear that he had faced for so long. My work with Ed is a strong reminder of how it is often the counselling relationship that heals. It reminds clients of the hope that has always been within them, that needed a gentle nudge to resurface. In the words of Emily Dickinson (1924),
Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops - at all.