Being ‘in the mess’ with the client can take all kinds of forms and certainly should not be considered just as a kind of intellectual ‘puzzle’. Being stuck intellectually can be one form – an inability to think can be reflecting just that experience for the client as can an ability only to think of one option that keeps being attempted and keeps failing. Being in a mess can however be a whole range of different experiences, each of which will have something to reveal about the client and something to say about oneself as a worker. It can mean, as in an example above, having illicit sexual feelings about a client, or being judgmental or just upset or despairing. The emotional content of the ‘mess’ is always as important as the intellectual or rational elements.
At this point the helper has to remember that their job is not to find the way out of the mess so that they can tell the client how to find the way out. As I have said, our job is not to be ‘right’ but to be helpful. We should therefore be concerned with how best to help the client find their own way forward. When dealing with such a normal process such as bereavement, the first task can be not to get in the way of a natural healing process.
It is easy to see well meaning efforts to help in practice becoming such a barrier. It is rarely helpful for a bereaved person to be given medication to dull their distress, unless there are specific conditions where symptoms need to be managed to allow any sort of reasonable life. Distress undulled by medication is hard to face, but important to help us come to terms with the unchangeable reality of loss. It is often unhelpful for friends and family to be trying to persuade a bereaved person that it is time for them to ‘move on’, start new relationships, stop setting the table for the lost person etc. One of the most common problems faced by bereaved people derives from such well meaning advice. For some, it leads to a ‘pretend’ recovery where a false life is led for the sake of those recommending ‘moving on’. For others, it can intensify a fear that they are in some way abnormal or going mad. For others still, they may just fear that they are a terrible burden to their friends and family.