bracket bracket bracket. and self-disclosure


I have new clients a lot – it feels like. I am in one placement where I might see a new client every six weeks (it’s up to the client if they want to stay after six weeks, and often they feel like they are ‘done’ by then).


And sometimes, a client comes who feels like they are telling ‘your’ story somehow. Not all of it, not all of the time, but they say the things you’ve said. Their history mirrors yours, or perhaps it almost does; perhaps there are parallels, if it’s not an exact copy. And my experience suggests that it is a lot easier to deal with these experiences when it’s a one-off. I remember a client of similar age to me who knew this, (unusual because most people think I’m about ten years younger than i am!) who referenced some tv that was on when ‘we’ were children, and i knew exactly what they meant. But I could bracket that because it’s a one-off that’s maybe not so important as the situation around that TV-watching. But sometimes, a client comes and it almost feels like they are telling your story. And they want your understanding. They want to know they aren’t alone.


That was an experience for me a few months ago now – a client talked about something in their life experience that hit my biggest buttons. The feelings they described about that experience could have been my words. And this was the subject of the hour. It was one of the hardest hours I’ve done, because you have to be able to bracket your experience, whilst leaving enough of yourself in the room to be fully present with the client. If you remove yourself from contact, your client is losing out. The client went from talking about that life experience to a physical effect it had in the present. They weren’t sure if I would understand, but it happened that it was my experience almost exactly (although for them the two things had stemmed from each other and for me they were separate). I considered what they were saying, and what they were asking, took a breath and said ‘yes. That is my experience also. It can be like…..’ It wasn’t a particularly big disclosure (it was around levels of physical comfort in a certain situation), but once the words were out, they felt right.


At the start of my journey, I would not have disclosed anything at all, attempting to be a blank slate. But the more I learn, the more I try and put ‘me’ in the room. I suspect that part of that sharing of myself there was an attempt at trying to compensate for having had to move so much of myself out of the conversation when I was bracketing. I wanted to ‘give something back’. I think that I was fairly careful in what I did and didn’t trample. But it can be very hard. For me it’s about, ‘this is my experience. from what you say, it sounds like similar may be the case for you. tell me more about that’ (I actually wouldn’t be that stereotypical about it, but it’s a quick shorthand!) In this instance, it worked. The client could see that i did have a real understanding on their comment and we moved forward to a place of understanding they had not yet seen. Sometimes, it can be really useful to ‘put yourself out there’.

Feeling the pressure of using ‘skills’


I remember how metaphorically naked I felt. That first session. My face (which has a tendency to betray me, colour-wise) feeling somewhat scarlet in a building not overly warm. I should probably go back and look at that blog post for the first hour – see what I said. But one of my biggest thoughts was that i HAD NO TOOLS! JUST ME! and those tools were a potential armour. The stereotypical ‘tell me how you feel’ not quite seeming to cut it as a protection in the same way that a CBT worksheet might.


It was just me.  Alone. With nothing. REALLY SCARY! However, I should say that my tenth hour was with a client who went on to stay with me for over a year. They recently came back to help them through an unexpected situation for a couple of sessions, and somehow the topic of them first coming, came up, and in the conversation I mentioned that it was fairly soon (although I didn’t say exactly when) into my seeing clients that they came. They were surprised, not having registered that i was SO new. All my clients know that I am a trainee, but no-one has ever questioned my statements so I have never had to say more than I am comfortable with. But it was lovely to hear that I had not been seen as ‘rubbish’, even though I had nothing to ‘hide behind’, as it were.


But recently I spoke to a new client about the possibility of doing some focusing, because that feels appropriate for what has come to therapy. I’ve had training, I’ve USED focusing, but I don’t use it as part of my therapy, so to speak. I do it separately, and don’t use much of it in sessions. The discussion of, and desire of the client to try focusing sent me rapidly scrambling for books (noticing that one has gone AWOL and i haven’t the slightest clue where it is!), ready for the most recent session. And before the session, desperately trying to remember ‘these things are important. DO THESE THINGS!’. As it happened, we didn’t do focusing, as it didn’t feel the right time.


It’s a marker of how far I’ve come, that I was absolutely happy with just seeing a client, vs lots of panic! It was the application of tools that made the difference to me and has gone from being a ‘good thing’ (to hide behind) to something additive to my normal therapy. It’s also a reminder to keep myself up with the things that are important to me. I love the PCA, but focusing also speaks to me. And life – that has a habit of getting in the way. Must make/take time.




I drive an unusual make of car. It’s becoming more popular, but as it’s not a western european make, it’s got a pronunciation no-one expects from the spelling. Randomly recently, a client, as part of a point she was making, asked me what car I drove and I told her the make. It took her a while to understand the car I meant because of the spelling/pronunciation issue. It was an odd moment where I wasn’t sure whether to be explicit about the car (spelling it) etc or just hope that she got it (which she did after a couple of tries). But it made me think about some other clients I’ve had in the past, and a similar issue I have as a patient at my GP. Being the lucky owner of a chronic condition, I take a medication daily. Without it, I wouldn’t be working, or doing much of anything. But again, it’s unusual in spelling (not anything out of the ordinary for mediations – they’re all pretty odd!). I always always struggle to order the repeat, because I and the receptionist do not pronounce the medication the same way. I have just discovered (through google) that actually, neither I, nor ANY of the receptionists I’ve spoken to, have ever got that pronunciation right. But in my case it’s a two minute phone call and I can go away again.


In the case of some clients they will talk about medication conditions, or medications, and their pronunciation of those will differ from mine significantly; sometimes it’s down to a regional accent, sometimes it’s down to a misunderstanding (theirs OR mine) about what the generally accepted pronunciation is, and sometimes there is more than one accepted pronunciation (potato/potato etc). But it’s hard. and that feels strange to say. It’s a word. But on the one hand, I feel like I am not being congruent if I pronounce it the client’s way, and on the other hand I worry about the possibly of looking like I’m passing judgement by saying it my way. Thus far I’ve mostly avoided this by not directly referring to the client’s word, but it does feel like that might have to change soon. Do I yet know what I’m going to do? no…

Messing up



We all mess up when we see clients. And to prove it, I’ve asked around a couple of trainee friends and acquaintances to share some of their experiences with you. I’m naming no names, and I’ve changed details if people are possibly identifiable, but you’ll see from the list that the mess ups go from ‘inconsequential’ to ‘something that was talked about in supervision’. Some of them are mine, some aren’t. I’m not sharing which are which. But this is for students not yet in (or just starting) training – we mess up! It’s usually not the end of all things!


1: when getting up to show out a client, I stood up and immediately fell over. My foot had gone to sleep and I hadn’t noticed.


2: I wore my top inside out for the whole evening, only noticing on my third client.


3: I once didn’t turn the handle to the waiting room properly and as a result, walked into the door, and then the waiting room with a very red face.


4: Checking my phone between clients I realised I’d not put it on silent. Lucky for me, no calls came in!


5: I got in to my client room to discover the clock had been taken away and I wasn’t wearing a watch. I managed to time it JUST right


6: On an evening placement, I became aware the cleaners were cleaning as I was seeing my client and I had forgotten to flip the ‘counselling’ sign to ‘in use’. I felt my heart pounding as I tried to decide what was best to do. It seems daft now.


7: I asked for some fairly low-key advice on a client thinking they had left, but they hadn’t. It wasn’t anything that broke confidentiality, but I feel mortified.


8: Seeing a client for their second session I went in whilst they were getting a hot drink and started to say hi but they ignored me. As they turned around I realised it was a friend of the client’s and the client was there waiting for me.


9: One of my clients always has squash. All the others have water (squash is an option if asked for but they are the only person to ask for it). Last week I was flustered with the client before and I forgot and put water out. I felt terrible when they asked why they had water.


10: My files are anonymised. I had two new clients lined up to start in two weeks. When I went in to start, I didn’t have a record of what their names were. Luckily for me, they were recorded on an old version of the spreadsheet for the placement. It took me about half an hour to find the names. (They both DNAed).


So there you go. Random things trainees have done and had it work out ok.


What things have readers done?