A wait is over

For those of you following along on Twitter, you might have seen that my confirmation email came yesterday; I passed the exam board. I am now a qualified counsellor/psychotherapist with a PgDip in person-centered counselling and psychotherapy. 

And now I am waiting to see a client- my first client as a qualified counsellor. It is an odd feeling- like riding a bike without stabilisers. In reality, not much has changed; I haven’t been to my training institution since June (the end of term) and my cohort had their first week of their last year a couple of weeks ago. I have the same supervisor, the same clients, the same room. But here I am, fresh and new. I have done many counselling hours (well over twice that of a level four trained counsellor), but I am about to do my first hour (or possibly get my first DNA) as a trained counsellor. There is something different in that. 
In many ways it’s full of possibilities. In other ways, it is stagnant- this is my counselling service (there are now seven of us affiliated with it, including me) and that I guess isn’t something a trainee usually does. But I saw the gap and I made it work. We have three working counsellors and a waiting list. I’m not moving ‘on’ to anywhere- this charity is what I want to spend a good long while building. That’s why ‘stagnant’- change happens slowly. We are waiting for charity status to be awarded so that we can move forward to the next bit. And the next bit and the next bit. So still, a lot of waiting. 

I was very relieved when I got the email confirming. I entertained thoughts about it all going wrong at the last moment, of course. But it didn’t. Everything is fine. 
I’m taking a couple of weeks’ break here and next week will probably be the move to the new name (as yet to be thought of!) whilst I ponder my new direction.

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The growth of my counselling service (creating your own placement)

I wanted to talk some about growing this counselling service. Except I’m not really sure how it happened. But what I do know is that I went from starting with one client a week in September 2013, and gradually moving up to two (My average was 1.5 clients a week for the first year), I was able to approach a counsellor I knew who also wanted to work in the areas of gender and sexual diversity and ask if she wanted to join me. I don’t actually know what her numbers were for that year, but I think from conversations, that they were much like mine. My supervisor spent much of my first year telling me that I should get a second placement, and eventually, in October of 2014, I moved my own placement down to one evening a week, and started working elsewhere one evening a week.

 

That seems to have mushroomed my service. From about November I’ve had an average of just under 4 clients a night here. My fellow counsellor averages about the same, and we have just taken on a new trainee who has started with two clients (and may move to more). From never having a waiting list, our waiting list hasn’t dropped under 5 in 6 months. I live in constant fear that it will.

 

Now we have left the umbrella of the service we were with and are applying to become our own charity. The paperwork is in, we have moved offices (to a much smaller room that feels much more cosy), and I feel like I’ve spent a LOT of money on chairs, room rent and electronic systems for us (some of these I have not yet spent – they are upcoming). There was clearly a need for this service in my local area given the wait – currently at four months, and the fact that in the last week I’ve had more than one person tell me they wish this service had been around for them when they needed it.

 

Not all institutions allow students to create placements. I’m lucky that mine did, otherwise I would probably not have been able to complete my course (I did not anticipate this complete lack of evening availability when I signed up), and I guess that this week what I’m saying is – if your course allows you to do it, and you have a specific area you want to work in that isn’t already covered locally, go for it! It helps if you have some marketing experience and the like, but my service has gone from non-existent to having seen well over 50 clients in two years (my numbers add up to just under 50 and I guess my co-counsellor’s will add up to less than that) and my average number of client sessions has gone up, from about 4, to about 10. I think that says something a) about my improving skills as a therapist and b) about the types of things that my clients feel able to bring. They certainly bring very different things now to what they were bringing a year ago. Maybe it’s just a standard thing – I don’t know yet, I’ve only been in practice two years. I saw my first client on the 24th Sep 2013, so just short of two years. And tonight, as my first night as ‘my own’ (there are four trustees; it is no longer ‘my’ counselling service, but it will always have been ‘my baby’) service in some way evokes all of that original process –How will it be? Will it work out?

 

I’m going with a ‘yes’!

Endings. More endings

 

So it’s that end of year time again. My (academic) year has ended. One academic year, anyway. PhD students don’t get ‘years’, they just get to work (if only we could be paid our stipend and still get six months a year off….). Anyway. My end of term on my MSc came around. And it’s all been a sea-change here. When I started this course three years ago, I was heading for a four-year MSc. But various things have happened, and when I discovered that I could exit this year with a PG.Dip, that felt like the best option for me.

 

In short, I’ve withdrawn from my course, I get to graduate with a Pg.Dip in Psychotherapy and Counselling, and QUALIFY this year. I’m very happy about this. I have to complete some counselling hours and then I’ll be done. It will be a tight squeeze, but I have an excellent therapist who has made me a lot of accommodations (double sessions, hello…)

 

I wasn’t going to write about it yet, because it hasn’t happened yet. But I figure I have to have some faith somewhere. As long as something (else) terrible doesn’t happen to me in the next three months, everything will be fine and I will be qualified by the end of September. Then I get to graduate in November in a very cold cathedral, probably much to the bemusement of the year above me, who will ALSO be graduating in a very cold cathedral and won’t have a clue who I am.

 

When I set out in training, I created my own placement. Since then my hours have mushroomed, and now there are three of us. We are about to become our own counselling charity, specialising in working with LGBTQ people, and being qualified will really help with that – I can register with people like Pink Therapy, so that I can be PT-accredited etc. My long-term colleague and I have big plans for our future (somewhere in there is ‘get paid’ although that isn’t a priority to be fair). But as they way (in the UK): The future’s orange…

 

I’m not sure what to do with this blog in the long-term. I will be blogging until I graduate, that is certain. What I do after? I don’t know. I could turn it into ‘newlyqualifiedtherapist.wordpress’, but somehow, that just doesn’t seem quite as catchy. Thoughts?

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.

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?

 

 

Endings

Someone asked me to write about endings, so here it is.

 

There are several types of endings I’ve been through since I started seeing clients:

 

The ones where clients stop coming without notice and don’t respond to any contact

The ones where clients call (or text) and tell you they aren’t coming

The ones where clients come and ‘out of the blue’ tell you in session that this is their last session

The ones where you and the client plan for an ending together.

 

Putting aside the ones where you don’t see a client to plan, this is how I have experienced endings in the past.

 

When a client reaches a point where either they express a desire to end (or spread out sessions), or I notice that they seem to be heading towards this, I tend to point out that something has changed, and ask them how they feel about lessening or ending sessions. I often find that clients are surprised when I suggest that they can move to fortnightly (and then monthly) sessions rather than just ‘leaving’ and so far, I haven’t had a client say they would rather just stop – there is a certain safety net in ending more slowly and seeing how it feels to extend time without seeing your counsellor. I recognise that not all placements allow this however (I believe that my formal placement – as opposed to my own service – runs in this manner, although I’ve never tested it).

 

In that last session, it can feel odd – what do you do? How do you keep it person centered?

 

For me, I let the client run the session where I can. If I am at one placement I have to go through some paperwork. I get that completed at the start of the session, and then I let it go pretty much as a normal session in all honesty. I might ask a client how they are feeling about ending and explore that with them, but it’s unlikely to be the first time it’s come up – I would probably feeling a bit remiss I’ve got to an end session with a client and HAVEN’T talked about endings.Once my clients understand what is available from me in future if needed I am happy for them to direct the session as normal. As however they want to have the session. Is there something specific? No. For me it’s about making sure the client is ok in the last 50 minutes. I’ve had clients come in their last hour who obviously didn’t feel they *needed* to come, but wanted to. I’ve had clients come and say ‘I haven’t mentioned this BIG thing before, but I just want someone to know it: (XYZ)’, and then once I’m told, I become almost the ‘holder’ of that thing, and they feel they have achieved what they need. In my own placement, I let clients know that if they want to come back, they just need to contact me and I will put them on the waiting list (or offer them a space if there is one), and in my other placement, I explain what the procedure is (there is a period of time clients must wait before they can go back on the waiting list, but in that time the associated helpline is accessible).

 

There’s no real ‘one way’ to do it, and it’s more about staying true to each of my client relationships, than any particular ‘person-centered’ process. Do what feels right 🙂

Wondering what you’d like to know

 

 

I’ve been writing blog posts on and off (mostly on) for just about 18 months now. In that time I’ve gained over 100 followers that I can see on wordpress, and others who have signed up via RSS (and I have no idea about. Hi! *waves*).

 

Often times I don’t know what I’m going to write about until I sit down at the computer on a Tuesday afternoon, desperately trying to come up with something. Often something from a client session will trigger something (even if not directly related) that will give me a topic, so I’m usually glad to wait until the evening after I’ve seen at least a client or two that week, but sometimes, like today, nothing immediately comes to mind. As I was walking back to my counselling room (having brought my laptop in case a client DNAed) after a client DNAed, it occurred to me to wonder – is there anything people reading would like to know?

 

Whether it’s been a long time since your training (or whether you’ve had no training), or whether you’re in training and you want someone else’s opinion on something around training, or being a trainee, and how that relates to anything in the journey. Or whether you’re a client, and you want to know something from (albeit a trainee’s) point of view about counselling. I’d be happy to answer things if I can – with the understanding that I’m just one person, and it’s just my fledgling opinion and experience..

 

So – I’m signing out, wondering ‘what do you want to know?’ Comments go up with whatever name you please, and I’m happy with anonymity, so please ask. It would be a lovely change to answer something, rather than just send myself out blithely!