Counselling whilst introverted

I’ve been seeing clients for 18 months now. I have over 200 hours of client work and that’s great. I enjoy it a lot. But I do notice that I spend a lot of time ‘making’ myself go- or dreading going. I sat down and picked it apart a bit and I came to it being an introvert. 
I find it hard to meet people- in a group, unless I know people well and have enough in common with them, I’m usually quite quiet when it comes to making conversation- work, I can do. The introvert in me is why I find conversing in sign language (a language I am learning) so hard – I am not a natural ‘joiner’ (unlike one of my partners who thrives on that kind of thing) and would much rather not be talking, but one cannot learn a language without practising – and one cannot practice outside of a classroom unless one has conversations with others- often people unknown. I would rather not do that – so the language-learning is hard. 
Back to counselling, I think what happens is that in my head the thought goes ‘now I have to go do five hours of talking with people’ and that’s *hard*. And it’s been this way since the start- I spent a significant amount of time wondering if I hated counselling, before realising that if I stopped thinking about it like ‘five hours of having to make conversation’ and instead thought about it like it was- ‘five hours of working as a counsellor’, then actually, it wasn’t so hard. Once I remembered that as a counsellor I’m not there ‘to make conversation’, I didn’t struggle as much. 
That’s not to say it’s not still hard to get out of the door sometimes, but that may be more to do with the fact that I also quite like being at home. 🙂

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Dual roles and ethics

 

 

The thing my counselling course is so hot on (understandably!) is.. ‘ethics’. Speaking as a student who was unable to get permission to do a piece of work with their cohort on the training experience because of the issue of ‘dual roles’, I have come ‘up close and personal’ to this issue a number of times.

 

As a person counselling in a small community, I have (inevitably perhaps) bumped into ex-clients at events. As a (trainee) counsellor with some minority interests, I have met other counselling professionals unexpectedly in some quite intimate venues. Both of these things are things you often can’t (or don’t) legislate for in advance. As much as I might talk to a client about the fact we might bump into each other at an event, I don’t always hold in mind that I could bump into ANY client at ANY event (although when I put the bins out in my PJs the other day it was definitely top of my list of thoughts).

 

But something that is rarely talked about and (by my institution at least) is something that I know has been an issue for at least one other trainee, and that is when your supervisor is also your placement co-ordinator. How do you manage that? It is probably fine when all is going well, but what if you have an issue with your placement outside of supervision (say you have a particular area of expertise and your placement is less than expert on the matter and you want to raise it)? What if your placement has an issue with you? Normally this would not be necessarily dealt with in external supervision – procedural issues would be addressed in placement, and if YOU felt it was an issue, you could decide to take it to supervision. When your co-ordinator is your supervisor this separation may not be possible.

 

It’s something that’s recently become more relevant for me because for the first 15 months of seeing clients I was running my own placement. Now I am in a second placement where my supervisor is the placement co-ordinator and I am having to negotiate where something is one thing and where it is another. My advice would be to have something concrete set up: we’ll have supervision X times a month, but it may be that I need to talk to you about procedural things outside of that and we will do that outside of supervision. Or: we’ll mix the two. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other, but until I was in this position it never occurred to me that without those boundaries I would suddenly be experiencing contact with my supervisor that did not feel like supervision, but was perhaps, billed as that.

 

From all I can see, we hit dual roles all over the place. A friend recently asked me if I could recommend a counsellor for them. And i can. But only because I know the counsellor. If i didn’t know them, I wouldn’t be able to recommend them. So now my friend may be seeing my friend who is a counsellor (I haven’t, and won’t ask. But if they say they are, I will negotiate that. But it’s still a dual role: friendship/professional relationship). I co-run a person-centered group locally. Trainees and trained counsellors come. Some of whom I am aware of from other services. Some of whom I know from my life before. It’s a dual relationship. I work with someone who is related to a friend. These are all dual relationships that we are expected to manage, without even really a passing word. Whilst I could not get ethics approval to write a paper about the student experience (because it was a dual role), I will be allowed (or at least, in the past others have ben allowed) to interview potentially people from my cohort for my dissertation. It’s a dual relationship. As are all the others. But in the others, it is a given that I will be expected to manage that.

 

Being non-binary in binary places

 

 

Non-binary. What’s that then?

 

Non-Binary Genders are gender identities that don’t fit within the accepted binary of male and female. People can feel they are both, neither, or some mixture thereof. It might be easier to view gender as a 1-dimensional spectrum with male on one end, female on the other, and androgyne in the middle- but the reality is that gender is more complex, and 3-dimensional models with axes for male, female, and how strongly you feel attached to that gender identity have been suggested.” from the gender wiki

 

That, in a nutshell, is me. I have never really identified as ‘female’ and in fact, I’m quoted in a book that I’m not going to link to here that was published in 2006, saying that ‘I do not know what ‘woman’ feels like. I only know what *i* feel like’. At that point, I didn’t know that non-binary existed. I remember as a small child, thinking that I must be a boy. But that feeling faded a bit. I don’t feel female. I don’t feel male. And sometimes I feel like both together, or neither at once. Or – that’s not quite true. There are days when I am comfortable performing gender in one way, and some in another. Today I am wearing a skirt and presenting as you’d expect ‘a woman’ to present. There are other days when I am in jeans and a button-down shirt and presenting in a way you’d expect ‘a man’ to present. And days when I mix that up. Most of the time, my identity is stable. As non-binary. As genderqueer. As me.

 

But I am perceived (coded) as female. In mixed-gender places where people know my pronouns (they/them/theirs) they use ‘she’ unapologetically and without conscious thought (I hope). I hope, because everyone does it. Counsellors, trainees, workplacements, university, loved ones (at least my loved ones correct themselves. This helps), everyone.

 

I had a much more personal story written; the story of what’s happening with my placement. But I am choosing not to share it here, and instead, will share something I read on facebook the other day:

 

“When trans people say “respect our pronouns” we are not just asking you to shift your language, we are asking you to shift an entire paradigm around sex, gender, and race. It’s not enough to change one word when we are asking for the end of an entire worldview.

What we are saying is not just “this word makes me feel good,” but rather I demand the right to narrate my body and my history on my own terms in a system that is predicated on categorizing, containing, and criminalizing me.

When we say “respect” what we mean is fight like hell for me. What we mean is I wasn’t just assigned this gender at birth, I am non-consensually gendered every day and what are you going to do about that?

This is not an opportunity to be politically correct, this is an opportunity to stop being incorrect.” Darkmatter

I do not (yet) call myself trans. But I also recognise that strictly speaking, I am not cisgender; My gender identity is not congruent with the sex I was assigned at birth. But the lines above, they speak to me.

 

Never assume that you know someone’s pronoun. How we perform our gender does not necessarily have anything to do with our gender identities. You would pretty much always look at me and code me as female. sometimes I wear skirts. Sometimes I wear jeans. I’m still ‘they’.

I post this today, with trepidation. But why should I not be me? Anyone else with me (please feel free to comment and say it’s private and I won’t undo it – unless you’re a person who has automatic approval!)

Clinical formulations and the person-centered approach

 

Following on from last week’s post:

 

The second part of this for me was about clinical formations and how I think they have something to teach us as person-centered practitioners. For a long time I have had issue with the ‘processes’ that we have a tendency to use in the person-centered world- ‘fragile process’; ‘dissociative process’ ‘psychotic process’ (other processes incoming) and my issue is as to whether it’s inherently any better to say someone has ‘autistic process’ than it is to say they have ‘autism’, or ‘dissociative process’ rather than that they dissociate, or whether ‘dissociative process’ is a better way of describing than a client’s own potential label of ‘I’m a multiple’.

 

In all the process definitions I have most often seen them referred to as something someone has, rather than a way in which we do something. That for me feels as stigmatising as sticking with the diagnostic codes in the DSM. When people start saying they have ‘fragile process’ in the same way that they might have said they have ‘borderline personality disorder’ or ’emotionally unstable personality disorder’, are we missing a point? Are we in some way finding a new way to diagnose someone? As a trainee, I hear these as absolutes a lot, rather than any kind of ‘in process’ thing. It’s labelled as ‘difficult process’ in the person-centered world, and I have to wonder: ‘difficult for whom?’ Undoubtedly society is set up so that these processes probably often ARE difficult to the client, but is it also that they are difficult for ‘us’?

 

Clinical psychology with its use of formulations (as explained in the book) seem like a good way to get to ‘why’ things happen, and I would suggest that for the most part, things don’t happen because someone has ‘fragile process’, they happen because someone experienced some early trauma that contributed to the resulting action that we now see. What would be more helpful to the client:

 

You have dissociative process?

Why?

Because you dissociate.

Why do I dissociate?

Because you have dissociative process

 

(The above by the way, is the example Lucy gives, only using standard DSM diagnoses, in the book). Or

You dissociate

Why?

What has happened to you in your life?

Well…..

 

I wonder if we have become too keen to label our clients as having some ‘processes’ and whether that actually gets in the way of relating to our clients, and whether it would be better to put those aside also.