A Swing Bridge: Like Counselling

Reprinted from our archives…feeling a little nostalgia with our lease renewal and remembering how we made the current space our own…

Sometimes changing it up a little creates new conversation.  That can be a good thing.

That happened in our office this week.I’ve had a picture of the Sequoias in my office for about 11 years now.  For years, when we were on the office in the Markham Professional Building, it was in the original office which was tucked inside the office…and it served as the “window” in the room…to provide some greenery in a space that otherwise felt closed in.  It was a valued “office opening gift” from someone who understood how big a deal it was for me to start a private practice in my own space.  That meant something.  

The sequoias were little more than an hour away from where I studied for two and a half years, and the countryside of California is dear to me.  It was this image I looked at often for many years as it was above the heads of clients as they sat in counselling sessions with me.

A picture depicting the Sequioa tree in Bergen and Associates office in Winnipeg Manitoba

I loved the idea of sequoia trees in the counselling office…as a therapist, I’m a little addicted to beautiful metaphors and this tree represents one for me.

Sequoias are this incredible mix of power and beauty…they are the largest living things on earth.  The redwoods might be taller, but in sheer mass the sequoias win because of the incredible diameter of them…you could literally drive a truck through the hollows of a trunk.  They are amongst the oldest living things on earth.

Incredible and majestic.

And fragile.

These incredibly large trees have shallow root systems…Sequoias can extend 20-25 stories tall…and their roots…almost totally within 4-5 feet from the surface.  That’s amazing for a tree that can weigh 12 million pounds and have been standing for a coupla thousand years.


And so, when we went to visit the Sequoias…most of them have large fences around them, not allowing us to trample or wear down the ground…because as mighty as they are, they are also incredible delicate.

And intricate combination of strength and vulnerability. 

Just like our clients.

It is said that one of the reasons these incredibly large trees have stood the test of time with these shallow and vulnerable root systems, is that these trees grow near each other. The root systems, which spread out 150-200 feet, and can cover 4 acres…they intertwine with the root systems of neighboring trees…and give each other strength, support and stability through the interconnection with each other.

In effect, these sequoias are strengthened by living in community.

Just like our clients.

So, this picture has hung for over a decade, and moved with us to be in our windowless waiting room.  I love that image, but it was simple dry mount…and was looking tired and a little worn at the edges.

Time for a change…and a new image…and a new metaphor.

Drum roll please…

Our new waiting room picture:

Swing Bridge is an apt metaphor for the vulnerability and the uncertainty and exhilaration clients face when beginning counselling

(From the great folks at Ikea.)

We’ve had fun listening to the amazing response to the picture as clients and therapists alike have walked in to first see the picture…it’s 2 meters wide and so it makes an impression.  It’s a natural picture bringing a window like feeling to the entrance…and it’s light and brightens up the windowless waiting area.

Mostly…the automatic responses of people have to do with the apt metaphor this swinging bridge picture is for our office.  (Important note here:  This shows I’m not the only therapist with this helplessness of a metaphor addiction…several of our crew spontaneously drew parallels without me saying a word.  A profound bunch we are.  heh.)

Folks saying things like:

  • Therapy is so not easy.  It can be a little terrifying, like going on that
    bridge.  Therapy is a journey from
    one place to another…but the going can get a little treacherous.
  • It’s a beautiful picture…hauntingly beautiful.  But you can’t really tell where the
    bridge ends at this end when you’re starting out…a lot like the journey of
  • That swing bridge looks like it could be a lot of fun…but a
    little scary.  Not quite sure if I
    would be intrigued to go on it, or terrified…a little like counselling, huh?

So, the consensus is that this picture will hopefully have clients feel understood as they come to therapy.  That might sound weird, to be understood by a picture…but clients have often played a song, or read a paragraph, or shown me a book or an image…and wept at how it resonated with their experience; in essence, how it understood them.

Hopefully clients, through this picture, will get that therapy is a journey…a beautiful, crazy, scary, exhilarating, exhausting, unknowning journey.  

Counselling starts in a place that says, “I can’t stay here”, to arrive in a place that says, “This is where I was meant to be”, even while there are moments along the way that feel unsteady and shaky and treacherous. 

Most of us therapists have been in therapy along the way, and understand the value in experiencing the fullness of the uncertainty of those moments…understanding the value that is gained in sitting in the discomfort….and also knowing the value of having a travelling companion along the way that has walked this before and can provide a steadying hand of support and confirmation.

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