For the past three years, my bicycle (beach cruiser- no mountains, no racing, just for fun) has sat on my back porch with flat tires and a destroyed seat (the cat thought it was a great scratching post). I had been so busy with classes, work, and home remodeling that I had not given it much thought, other than to I wish I had time to ride. Since this is my last summer of grad school and part time employment, I am trying to play more while I can. I recently repaired my bike so I am off and riding as often as possible. I have enjoyed bike riding since I learned how. To me it feels like freedom. The wind blowing my hair, the trees rushing by, and the ability to go where cars can’t go. As a young person, I spent much of the day on my bike. I lived in a large neighborhood with many places to explore. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed riding, and how happy I feel while riding, so I try to fit it in daily while the weather permits.
I feel very fortunate to be living within biking distance of the neighborhood I grew up in. I can ride my bike over there and relive happy childhood memories, but with the eye of a grown up. I get to see what has and has not changed, and wonder why everything seems so much smaller than it used to. There are many neighborhoods that I can get to by bike, so my rides vary often. Most of the neighborhoods are on the water, so I look at houses and yards, and try to imagine what kind of views the homes have.
I rode for over 4 hours on Thursday this week. I am not in the proper physical condition for this long of a ride, but I have noticed that my legs only hurt for the first 15 minutes, so once I am past this point I am usually okay (until after the ride when I tried to walk). I explored areas I have never seen, and was at one point surprised to find myself much farther from my house than I expected. I enjoy finding these new areas and feel accomplished when I realize that I just ENJOYED several hours of exercise (that is abnormal for me, as I truly dislike most exercise). When I hopped on my bike yesterday, I noticed several things which led to an AHA moment.
Riding a bike is kind of like counseling. How you say? Let me elaborate by using my story. First, years had passed since I had done anything pleasurable, so I had to recall what I enjoyed doing. I truly could not remember what I found fun. Clients suffering from depression or other concerns will likely need help remembering what they enjoy. Next, I had to identify that there was a problem that had been ignored for a while. My bike had issues that needed to be taken care of. I ignored them for several years, and made excuses as to why I wasn’t addressing these issues (no time, no energy, no money, etc..). Clients may know for some time that they have issues that need to be addressed, but may often ignore them and make excuses. After addressing the problems with my bike, I had to commit to making a change to ride it as often as I could, even when I wasn’t feeling it. Clients will need to commit to making changes, even when they don’t want to. When I hopped on my bike the day after my long ride, I noticed that it was more difficult than usual. My thighs were burning, I was riding into a fairly strong headwind, and the sun was behind me, which made it a bit chilly. I was sore, frustrated and the wind was creating resistance. I decided to quit, and head home. I changed direction and instantly the sun and wind became allies. I forget about the discomfort in my thighs and continued riding. This aligns with the working stage of counseling. Sometimes it will be difficult and clients will want to quit when they experience resistance from others, but it is important that clients keep working. Counselors will need to support our clients through this, until they are ready to change direction. Counselors assist clients in identifying what IS working for them, and we encourage clients to do more of that. As my legs began to loosen up, I began to enjoy my ride. I noticed that often I would turn a corner and the wind would be against me again, forcing me to work harder or change direction again. This reminded me that clients may be moving swiftly forward, but any unforeseen obstacle may threaten this progress. It is important to remember that humans will often experience obstacles, but we can them find ways to negotiate them, without undoing all of our forward progress. As I mentioned earlier, I often end up in unexpected locations. Sometimes I am amazed at how far I have ridden, and how much my mood has improved in these few hours. Clients will explore new ways of being and thinking; they will be heading into new territory. Individuals who put in the effort in the working stage will be able to look back and be pleased with how far they have come, and how much things have changed for them. In the grand scheme of things, the time spent in counseling learning techniques to live a more meaningful life is relatively short compared to how long life feels when one is unhappy or hopeless.
Just as bike riding requires effort and sometimes discomfort, so does the counseling process. Clients must be willing to put in the work and expect frustration and resistance along the way. Those that do will likely reach their destination with the tools needed to successfully continue moving forward, even if their journey requires frequent changes of direction. Counselors must be willing to allow clients to establish the pace and speed of the counseling process so that the journey, and ultimately the destination, belong to the client, and not the counselor. Counselors are like the bike, we are simply the vehicle that assists and supports clients on their journey; how they get there is mostly up to them.
The open roads are calling. Happy riding.