I am totally in love with my vegetable garden. To me, growing food from simple seed to share with friends and family is not just a great way to relax – it gives me a sense of deep purpose and joy. As a relationship therapist and fertility counsellor I also find the process of gardening is a perfect metaphor for the work I do.
Through subtle similarities it is easy to see how people can be encouraged to think and behave differently in often challenging circumstances and how the seeds of love can be nurtured through a therapeutic relationship with a professional.
Think about the embryo inside the seed of any plant, lying dormant as it waits for just the right conditions to inspire it towards life. Isn’t that also quite so for someone currently feeling resigned, frustrated or unhappy with their lovelife or relationship right now? Here the seeds of change might be lying dormant for months or even years, but the warmth, compassion and encouragement of a counsellor can inspire hope that something new and better can happen – and soon.
The warmth, compassion and encouragement of a counsellor can inspire hope that something new and better can happen – and soon
Like the container that holds my seedlings, and the sun and water they need to grow, so also is the constant support a therapist can offer a client. Our job is to hold and contain clients’ hopes, dreams, fears and concerns while they safely explore current difficulties until they are ready to push out tentative shoots towards change and renewed love.
The cycle of observing, tending and tweaking the support I give to new seedlings reflects how we work with clients in session – we tweak, observe and reflect on the impact of and responses to our questions and suggestions in a conversational dance that we know will eventually let in the light of personal awareness and growth.
As a gardener I know I must also respect and respond to the natural diversity in every seed I plant if it is to flourish. Did you know that all plants have a preferred, optimum environment in which to grow? Tomatoes thrive in hot and dry environments. Parsnips need winter frost. Spinach is encouraged by first putting the seeds into the freezer to mimic a passing season. I have never questioned these differences, labelled them as either good or bad, or tried to change them. Instead I choose to accept them as they are and remain constantly curious about the best course for each plant as it grows.
It doesn’t take much of a leap from this I think to understanding that personal growth is most readily encouraged when clients are accepted for who they are and where they’ve come from. Our job is not to impose change, or offer advice about the right way to be, or what should be done. Instead we acknowledge individual, social and cultural differences, and ground our attitude in acceptance and deep respect for everyone.
We can of course plant seeds without any awareness of their distinctive needs, in the same way that we could attempt to work with clients and their lovelife difficulties in a prescriptive or formulaic way. In the garden this isn’t very successful and will yield very disappointing results. And I imagine the outcome is quite similar when a therapist places a preferred technique or personal rule book before their interest in a client’s uniqueness and finding out what is right for them.
Maintaining and celebrating differences, while ensuring no one element is overwhelming the others is of course what makes the best tended garden and ultimately the tastiest plate of food. And so, as in my garden where I try to work with rather than against nature, applying thoughtful observation rather than thoughtless labour, and considering every living thing as inter-related and functioning together, the therapeutic attitude of curiosity – the philosophy behind BeLoveCurious – is key to sowing the seeds of love.
This is what ultimately makes the difference in my garden, and I believe is also the key ingredient to helping people work out what it will take for their love to fully blossom and their relationships to bear wonderful fruit.
Sarah Swift, is a Relationship Therapist & Fertility Counsellor based in the East Midlands.