Working at the Caravan was what made me decide to become a psychotherapist. Until my placement there, I had some serious reservations.
I cannot underestimate its value, or the value to me personally working there. I was so proud to be part of the team. I love its ethos. Many of my original clients worked with me after I left there, and one still does.
I loved the Caravan’s openness, the way anyone might turn up. That was what made it so alive: it epitomises transpersonal. Supervision was the very best. Many sessions remain vivid in my mind. And the Christmas lunches… they were such fun!
Some other memories, less good, also stick in my mind:
My very first session remains vivid. I was terrified. The client, assuming I must know what I was doing, came in and started unloading. From that second it felt like the most natural thing in the world to be there, with another human struggling to find his way through life.
There was another lovely, stuck, depressed client, very lonely, who came regularly to moan, and one day I challenged him, saying: “I wonder if this is a fear, Keith, about what would happen if you allowed things to change.” He looked at me in affront and said: “I’m not Keith, I’m Brian.” Talk about transpersonal: what was it about him I was not seeing!
The Caravan was my first experience of negative transference. It was shocking to be told: “You are the worst therapist. All the other Caravan therapists are much better than you.” It followed a challenge I’d made, of course. Before she stormed out, 20 minutes before the end – leaving me pretty shaken and ashamed I’d got it so wrong – I’d just managed to say it would be good to talk this through and she was always welcome to come back. She left. Then within five minutes she was back, saying could she come again same time next week… (Following this, Zak generously gave the most wonderful and essential emergency telephone supervision. This client continued for many years.)
There were people who came just once and wanted to hug me, saying it made all the difference; people who verbally abused me for not giving them coffee and tea on call; people who said they were therapists and wanted to understand how this place worked, as it seemed so cool; and people who came and stayed.
I dont know what impact it or I had on their lives. I remember every client (and usually their names!) and wish them well.
It’s an inspirational idea, a magical place = I love you Caravan!!!
I have never worked in the Caravan but over the many years of supervising and working at CCPE, I want to honour this magnificent achievement of 30 years of service to the community and, in particular, to honour the dedication of those of who have managed and held the project together over the years.
The Caravan is a haven for souls journeying in this world who feel lost and alone, a place to come to ease suffering and find human companionship.
It is a place where students of the heart learn to listen deeply, discover and connect with compassion, acceptance and kindness.
It is an opportunity to learn to be with another and give space for a being together that is open and spacious without judgement.
It is an alchemical vessel of dedication, inspiration and love, for transformation of client and therapist alike.
The Caravan was my first placement. At first, I was very nervous about it as I was very green behind the ears. I can tell you after my 18 months stint there I was no longer green.
It was the most valuable and wonderful experience. The Caravan is a very special place where everyone is welcome, from the most disenfranchised to the regular working person who is troubled and embarrassed to ask for help yet is in desperate need to talk to someone.
Zak is an inspiration in his tireless dedication to the ‘Van. He was a wonderful and supportive supervisor, with great compassion for the people who came to the ‘Van. He taught me a lot, for which I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
Janice was also great and incredibly tolerant with me, especially when I kept getting my hours mixed up.
I was very sad when my 18 months were up. But I learnt so much and for that I am extremely grateful.
In my view, there should be many more places like the ‘Van in London and in other parts of the country.
I would be very happy to be a part of that should it ever come to pass.
A very special thank you. I will always hold it in my heart as a very special place.
I was a volunteer at the Caravan between April 2005 and July 2006 – not a long time, yet a powerful and profound experience that I won’t forget.
I chose to be a counsellor at the Caravan because I thought it would be a particularly challenging placement for me. I’m not brave and the idea of sitting, alone, in a small space, right in the heart of Piccadilly, not knowing who would knock on the door – and being pretty certain that those who did would be at a crisis point, deeply upset or disturbed – was not something I would normally choose to do.
It wasn’t how I had thought it would be. I never once felt scared there. I learned more than I ever dreamed I would from those who came, and from the remarkable group supervision sessions lead by Zak. St James’s, too: its ambience, its staff, the market traders and the evening peace all added to the sense of being held in a safe place.
Now, when I feel that sense that something is too much or too scary, I remember what being in the Caravan taught me about self-reliance, determination and trust, and I feel grateful and inspired.
What strikes me when I think about the van is the flow of the changing seasons.
The summer sunshine, reflecting off of red striped market stalls,
The autumn leaves collecting in the plastic window frames,
The hot cups of tea and precarious electric heater in the dead of winter,
Then spring, with its sense of promise and summer flowers beginning to push up through the soil.
And how with the seasons clients came and went,
And how with the seasons some clients stayed,
And how with the seasons I changed and grew,
And how with the seasons some of me stayed the same.
A small green caravan sits inside a walled garden in a city churchyard. Surrounded by old buildings and the sounds of traffic and passers-by, it looks forgotten and vulnerable. The vehicle that brought it here is long gone and there is no road to travel onwards. It is stuck. Quite lost. Left behind. Delivered to the wrong destination. What a waste. Just think where it might be. High on a hill in a beautiful landscape, overlooking the sea perhaps, instead of next to an ivy-covered wall and a metal container filled with market stall equipment. Who would ever have thought a caravan could have found itself in such an awful situation?
However, isn’t the Caravan just perfect as it is – a totally fitting place for clients when they come to its door for the first time? They feel their own lostness and stuckness too. They also feel separated from something. Fragile. Transient. Out of place, without a road and without a direction. To those in need the Caravan must appear an approachable kindred spirit.
Even though it looks out of place, the beauty of this particular caravan is that it doesn’t look that unhappy. It is unapologetically painted bright green and it stands proudly. Despite its predicament, it is somehow at ease. Does it offer a strange kind of hope – a hope against expectation perhaps? Perhaps life can’t offer all you once dreamt of, but it might be bearable. Like the lost caravan, you might even find your own place.
Our role as counsellors is to introduce its visitors to an uncomfortable truth – one that we are learning ourselves by coming here. That is, unless a traveller truly knows where they come from, they can’t move forward purposefully at all – and the only way to find that out is to journey inwards. Only on this kind of expedition can someone find out where they are truly at and what has brought them here.
So the Caravan not only represents being stuck, it also represents the possibility of a journey back to ourselves. A journey where after a time the landscape will start to look familiar again. A journey home.
But first, the knock on the door.
The Caravan also reveals something else. The potential of a relationship – that sharing our travels with other people can be worthwhile. This place is made for two, for the journeyer and the guide – a temporary companion for the first part of the trip, until an inner guide is found.
The Caravan also represents us as counsellors. We hold the potential of relationship too. The Caravan gives me a template for my practice – to provide a temporary space to witness the stories of others – a purposefully designed space to support the emergence of true voices. A humble presence fulfilling a powerful purpose.