Helen Downs, a counsellor working for Chrysalis, a charity supporting transgender, non-binary, and questioning people, and their friends and family.
“When I was growing up in the 1980’s, my best friend began to question their gender. At the time this wasn’t something that was talked about, but I helped to support them and we learnt as we went through the process together. My friend is now living very happily as a married man, and I work for the charity that helped him, Chrysalis.
I work 6 hours a week, meeting clients for one-to-one counselling sessions. Chrysalis don’t impose a time-scale so we work with each client for as long as they need us. The first session is often the first time that a person has disclosed their feelings and that’s an immense moment.
…is different. I support people through a process, helping them to get to a point where they can live as their authentic self. We spend a lot of time exploring the hurdles and external pressures that stand in the way of that. The biggest fear for most people is the collateral damage of their transition. Many fear losing relationships. Some people believe they will sever ties with their old life. We work towards allaying fears and identifying the qualities they can transfer to their new life. I had one client who asked if they would still be able to continue their career. They did stay at their job and the acceptance and support they got from their colleagues was amazing.
The best thing...
…is being part of someone’s journey, it’s an honor and a privilege. I feel proud to have built a relationship where someone feels comfortable enough to share such personal feelings. We go through highs and lows but when you stop to acknowledge how far someone has progressed, when you see someone blossom and expand into themself, it’s very humbling. When someone is able to live as their authentic self, their life is so much more fulfilling and it radiates out of them.
The hardest thing...
… is working through painful history. We could have a client in their 70’s who has had to hide their authentic self for years. it’s about unpicking that history, the shame they may have felt. Some may have endured horrific aversion therapy. You have to go through that before you can start to rebuild confidence and a sense of self.
I have learnt...
… so much from my clients. They have been so gracious and considerate of me and we learn together. Working at Chrysalis has made me ask myself about what it is to be your authentic self – this question applies to everyone. It’s given me greater awareness of society’s expectations and how much further we have to go. But I’ve learnt that anyone can be an ally. The important thing is to be there, to listen, to give someone the space to explore feelings. Don’t be fearful of using the wrong language, you can leaarn as you go.