In close contact

 

As counsellors we have to consider our boundaries all the time- everything we say and do has the potential to cause harm- one of the reasons I like the PCA is because it doesn’t believe in imposing on clients and for me, that lessens the risk of harm. I have read accounts of counsellors who ‘try’ one interpretation or technique week after week (and oh, when I first started, did I wish I had some of those. All I had was me, however), and it seems like a fine line to tread.

I am part of a small community locally and some of my client group overlaps. I know from my clients that I have had some ‘near misses’, where I have chosen not to go to an event they have gone to, or I was at the event but at a slightly different time, and I am used to that, and how that feels. I expect that for clients in that demographic there may be overlap and we cover that in boundaries at the beginning.

Recently however, I bumped into something quite unexpected. A client was discussing their house*. They mentioned they had something on the house that made it very unique. And I realised with surprise that a house with that description is on a street close to me, that I pass (often in Lycra when I am out for a run) on most days of the week. Now, I couldn’t check with the client where they lived- that would be a misuse of power, because if that is my client’s house (and even if it is not) I am not going to be reciprocal about where I live. It would force a power-imbalance. So I just have to ‘suck it up’. If my client and I see each other, we will deal with that. And if we don’t (it has been a few months and we have not yet) then all is well.

But it is a very odd feeling- I am self-conscious when I go past now, and still putting aside that mental interjection when we meet. I find that I am more actively trying to stay away from there – not by putting myself out massively, but by making small changes to try and ensure both our privacies. But it is just another example of where an unexpected boundary crops up. Some people live and work in small towns and expect this all of the time, but would be affected by a different type of boundary- I know this, and I am sure that I will find other boundaries that I nudge against. This was my first one, however, so it has stayed with me.

*not their actual house, just an example chosen as an identifier

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When clients stop coming

 

This blog started off as a blog on challenging myself, and I realised that it was somewhat akin to a previous post I wrote in July about my training mid-point, and as I started, I realised that I was thinking about my therapy, so I decided to go there instead.

 

I suspect any trainee or counsellor reading this has had an experience (or several!) where a client who has previously seemed very interested in coming to counselling suddenly stops, with no reason. This is a bit about my own experience (as a client) of that.

I’m a firm believer in layers of therapy (like an onion. Or a parfait). I first went to counselling when I was 19, for a very specific reason. Therapy kind of worked around this issue and when i was ‘better’ I stopped therapy. A few years later I went to see another counsellor about unrelated issues that had come up for me. And there came a point in that therapy where I felt that i was ‘done’. I was there, with nothing really to say, and nowhere to go. So I stopped going to therapy and apart from a brief return when a couple of traumatic thing happened within a week, I didn’t go back.

 

At the start of this course, I had to get my own therapy of course (it’s a UKCP course and that’s mandated). I saw two therapists over the course of a year, but therapy felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t for lack of trying, and eventually, my counselling insitution let me go back to the therapist I was seeing in my early 20s (over 12 years ago). It’s really interesting for me to wee the journey I am on with that counsellor; I was so convinced at 25 that I didn’t have anything left to talk about, and now, a decade or so later, I find that I have barely scratched the surface.

 

I’m fairly sure that my COUNSELLOR could have told me back then that I’d barely scratched the surface – but she like me, is person-centred and that isn’t in her job description. I was at the place I was at, and that place said I was done. I was at a plateau, or a gathering place. I suspect that I’d had quite a lot of restructuring to do in therapy, and that I simply wasn’t ready to start building again – I had to spend some time being the ‘new’ me in the world before I was ready to start building again.

 

Now – I see that I am building again, that therapy is of tremendous use. But the stuff that i’m doing now, I simply could NOT have done then. I wouldn’t have had a place to start even and it would have thrown me into confusion and led to me not coping in life. I was lucky that I was able to verbalise that to my counsellor and we worked together to an ending, but I suspect that there are many more clients who aren’t keen on endings and they just leave, with no warning, and don’t answer calls or return messages. It’s frustrating as a person, but as a (trainee) counsellor I recognise completely that the client is doing what is best for them and that it’t not for me to impose my will onto a client and instead, I wish them well in my head and hope they find what they need in life.

 

 

Guest blog: Neil Loffhagen

My first guest blog comes from Neil, who is a person-centred, focusing-oriented therapist. His website is available here.
Without more ado:
As counsellors in training great insights are gained concerning ourselves. Yet of all the things that I learnt about myself, I yearned for the day of completing the diploma or other qualification we are seeking. I certainly had a feeling of great relief obtaining my counselling diploma. Yet, there was and still is a feeling of never quite knowing enough. I propose that such a feeling is beneficial for ourselves and in particular our clients. Let me share my thoughts.

Recently I started re-reading “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Susuki. In the first chapter, for me, a most significant phrase is:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I wonder, as in any field of expertise, as we learn more, as we study more, if there is a danger that we can become too “expert” or fixed in our view of things? I think this can happen almost unconsciously. It is not that we really think we are better to know more than our clients. Yet, if we are not careful, we may inadvertently come across that way. Perhaps, we may start to see all clients in the same light.

Whilst training I was privileged to have a placement with a youth counselling agency. I still remember vividly my second ever client. A woman in her early 20s sat down. We went through the agency contracting process. Then, calmly, the lady said she’d had an abortion six months ago and couldn’t get through the acute self-blame and shame she felt. My immediate thoughts ranged from “Why have you chosen to see me, a man?” (the agency always asked a client if they would prefer a female or male counsellor) to “I can’t do this, I don’t know anything about abortion”. Add to this our first child was still-born. What was I to do?

I felt in quite a difficult situation. There was really only one thing I could do – put aside everything I had previously known, learnt and experienced, to simply be with the client, to be “good enough”. I had been taught much, plus had some wonderful experiences gained through triads, goldfish bowls, etc., about congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy. Now, obviously theory is good and crucial. However, being congruent, being empathic and having unconditional regard in the room with a client is very different compared to reading about another person’s experience and theory. Academic learning is never wasted, but it had to be put aside to be with this client.

I had to be with her, not with something I thought she ought to be. I had to be alongside her as she came to figure things out. Which she did. this blog post is not about what went on in the room between us. It is more about how I had then a “beginner’s mind” in a real and quite literal sense. It is how I seek to maintain that state of mind when seeing all new clients. As I keep a “beginner’s mind” I feel it helps the client be more open to “many possibilities” of change that can come.

being in the ‘professional world’ as a trainee

Symbol of Confusion

Symbol of Confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Often I speak to trainees who wouldn’t consider going to a conference, or doing any other training as a trainee. This strikes me as a shame; although I can see many good reasons why someone *couldn’t* go (money, childcare, too many existing commitments, with clients and supervision etc), I’m not so sure on the reasons why people CHOOSE not to.

 

Some people of course, just don’t like to mingle (I’m an introvert – I feel that pain), but still more I think, feel that they would be ‘out of place’ or that it’s ‘not their place’ to do training as a trainee. So I thought I’d talk in general about my experience.

 

As a trainee, I’ve been to three conferences now, BAPCA 2013, ADPCA2014 and PinkTherapy2014. I also attend a regular ‘peer supervision’ group for therapists (and obviously trainees) working with clients (or identifying with) with particular interests. I’ve also done a level one focusing course, and am about to start levels 2-5. I also try and get to a regular person-centred skype group.

 

i have *never* been made to feel anything but welcomed, accepted, and treated as an equal when I’ve attended these events (although I am very aware that my knowledge of theory is far less than many other attendees). I’d like to say, for anyone who feels they aren’t yet qualified enough – YES YOU ARE!

 

Along with another counsellor, I’ve started a person-centred group locally to me. the other counsellor is fully-qualified and happy to work with me as a trainee.

 

As for the peer group,  I started going before I had clients even – as a first year. It has been an amazing experience and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. At everything I’ve attended as a trainee, there have been other trainees. It was from meeting other trainees at events that led me to create the person-centred trainee email list and person-centred trainee facebook group. The email list has over 100 members and the facebook group has over 400 members.

 

I would go to each event I’ve attended before in a heartbeat. People have been united in being welcoming to the profession, and it’s been really nice to get encouragement from people further along than me (and also to be able to commiserate on the tribulations of being a trainee with others). Plus you get to learn about things ‘from the horses’ mouths’, so to speak. I’ve met and had conversations with many of the ‘big people’ in the (UK at least) person-centred world. They probably don’t remember me – they were mundane conversations, but it was lovely to be able to put faces to names, and to get a real feel for them in ways that their voices don’t always come across in books. You also get to hear some lovely snippets about things you’d never hear in a book and get to connect with a world you wouldn’t otherwise have access to – the living, breathing (in my case person-centred) community.

 

The same thing for training. I may be slightly reckless in taking on the focusing training at the same time as everything else, however, it feels like an excellent opportunity and my heart is drawn to it. If I wait, what then? I can scarcely afford it – the way my savings work out, I think I will graduate with moths in my bank account, however, I suspect that there will always be SOMETHING i can’t afford, and I would really like to know more about how to do focusing successfully. So – caution to the wind, and all of that!

I can’t afford to do further training at present, but if i DID have the money, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. I would also be MORE than happy to do additional training that was free, or conferences that are free. I’ve found that although most counselling-based conferences cost to attend, it’s possible to attend ‘client-related issues’ conferences for free – bereavement, sexuality, disability etc. If you work full time these often still necessitate a day off work, but the UKCP does some free conferences on a weekend, so it isn’t always a week day by any means.

Bottom line – if you see something that interests you – go for it. People will be supportive and welcoming. Check out my ‘spotlight‘ page for other things that I focus on specifically that might be of use.

 

 

 

 

Spotlight on: Livescribe electronic pen

 

Livescribe

 

 

I recently bought a Livescribe pen from a friend. She was no longer using it, and I had an idea thatit might be useful both for my phd and for my therapy training.

 

This is a pen that will write like a normal pen. It’s a bit chunkier to hold than a standard pen, but for anyone who’s ever employed the ‘think pen/fat pen’ ethod for exams, it’s just a different size of pen. It’s not too chunky. The pen writes on to specific dotted paper (that you can print yourself if you don’t want to keep buying the books). When you’re finished writing, you do a short underline of your work and write the command it needs (PDF will send it to the livescribe software) on the sheet and, providing you have had the pen switched on, it will save everything you have written into your pen and will transfer it to your computer when it can (either via wifi or by docking). The livescribe 3 will transfer your writing in ‘real time’ to the livescribe app. any other users have to transfer to the computer, but still great!

 

It can also record as it writes, and you can play it back either from the paper itself

 

Livescribe pen and paper

or within the computer program. The clever thing is that if you set it to record, you can then find out exactly what you said at any particular point – so if you were to draw a diagram and explain it at the same time, you could touch the diagram and it would play your words back. Here is a quick YouTube video (not by me) that talks through some of the options.

 

 

 

 

I have messy handwriting – much messier than the image above and so far, the computer has been able to find every word I’ve written. It doesn’t have OCR recognition (that is, it won’t transcribe your handwritten notes into text), but it will find anything you’ve written. You can also export your notes out as a pdf, which will include audio if you ask it to, so the whole of your ideas are encapsulated. If you wish, there is an app that costs about £12 that does OCR. I’ve just downloaded the trial version and I would say it’s about 85% correct. Probably worth upgrading for. I’m not sure yet!

 

It costs (depending on the model you buy) around £120 new, and 4 60 (doublesided) A4 notebooks are abuot £20, but I have seen pen+books go for £40 on ebay. As mentioned before, as long as you have the right printer (a laser I think), you can also print your own paper and save o the expense, although £5 for a large A4 notebook doesn’t seem bad value to me.

 

You can also hook it to evernote (which will be a future ‘spotlight’) and arrange work into notebooks there (that don’t have to be the same as your physical notebooks. If you use evernote, you can write over the scanned images also.

 

I plan on using one for counselling training and one for my phd. I shall be journalling with it. So not only do I have a paper copy if I want to physically write, but I can also just use regular evernote to make other entries if I prefer to. The whole thing can be bundled together and sent in for marking that way. For me that feels like a great compromise – before I would do it all on my computer (or phone), and there was no point writing something down because i wasn’t doing it often. That’s because I can’t go back and look at it easily – I can’t do ‘ctrl+f’ and search for the word I knew I’d written on a block of text. But  now I will be able to do just that.

 

I’ll also be using it to make notes on papers I read. I am still figuring out exactly how I will do that, but I am thinking that it will involve writing the paper title across the top of the page and then noting where I am making comments (paragraph 2, page 1 etc). Then I won’t have to worry about searching each paper manually (or even the little sticky note things. Equally, I can get a sticky-out notelet and write the page information on, so I know where I’ve made notes. If I’ve printed it. I keep all my papers filed in Mendeley (also upcoming), and there is a ‘notes’ field in that program also, so I can easily move between evernote and mendeley to find what I’ve said in the past.

 

If it all goes horrendously wrong, I’ll let you know. But I think it’s going to be fine!

 

New format

Hi all,

Guest bloggers are starting to trickle in, and I’m very excited! To repeat, if you have something you’d like to write (either as a one-off, or as a series of posts) abut the person-centred method, please get in touch 🙂

What I’d like to do for this blog from now on is to have once a month as a guest blog, and once a month as a ‘spotlight on’. The first Tuesday of the month will be the spotlight on, and the third (hopefully) will be the guest blog. The ‘spotlight on’ posts will be about various things of potential interest to a trainee; some specifically person-centred, and others more generic things that might help with studies or research. Sometimes I think that guest blogs will also link into those, in which case they will feature in the ‘guest blog’ spot and be linked to the ‘spotlight on’ list.

This post will be where I hope to keep a list of both things, updating links here as new posts go online.

Spotlight on

2/9/14 – Livescribe electronic pen – or how to make college and uni work easier!

14/10/14 – Person-centred groups

2/12/14 – Person-centered onlineness

Guest blogs

16/9/14 Neil Loffhagen – beginner’s mind (and why this is a good thing!)

22/10/14 John Threadgold – should we love our clients as we love ourselves?

13/01/15 Wade Miller-Knight – working with bereaved clients