Conference time!

it’s BAPCA’s person-centered conference tomorrow. I’m going and quite excited about it. It’s a conference on diversity and they are covering many areas that look interesting. I hope to learn a lot. 
I’ve asked them to put a space for pronouns on the badges and I hope people do use it. It would be amazing if I wasn’t the only ‘they’ present. We shall see. 
I’m also presenting at this conference, on kinky clients. It’s one of my pet areas so why not? It’s my first time presenting at a conference and I am somewhat apprehensive. I am just doing an ‘off the cuff’ thing because I think that’s how I work best at present, but I’ll be doing a conference write-up and will include some links in that for people. 
I’m camping, and happily for me, so are two of the people that I know best at the conference. I’m very excited!

Where to go?

I’ve been thinking about the direction to take this blog in. It’s been suggested to me that I blog around sexuality and gender, and on the one hand this really appeals to me. There aren’t many people out there visibly looking at therapy through an LGBT (or queer) lens, although I am sure that there are many people out there doing so less visibly.
On the other hand, it feels like a very personal thing to do. I would literally be outing myself all the time, in talking about lenses that affect me, and around training and therapy. I’m not a person who does a lot of putting their insides out (my partners will tell you that much also – also my therapist, I’m sure – were she not bound by ethics). So to take a risk and do that in a weekly blog feels like a big deal.
But yet, it’s alluring. Whilst at the same time, I don’t want to be the ‘expert’ on this, which might just be a lesson in my writing style. I tend to deliver authoritatively, when that wasn’t actually my intent, and people respond that way.
And again, I have the outness of ‘me’ to consider. Do I connect my blog with my studies (you can see from my twitter bio that I’m also doing a PhD; in a relevant area)? Do I name myself? I started off by definitely naming myself on my twitter, and then withdrew and changed that, and since then I’ve changed my actual name as well. But not for clients – there have been many decisions to make, and there will be more, I’m sure.
Can I be professionally but not personally me? Does a standpoint and an idea mean that it has to come from my personal lived experience? Or can it come from watching those around me and voicing their experiences (or my interpretation of those experiences)? What if clients find me? There’s a scary thing. I know some of my cohort follows me, and that’s strange (to know that ‘real life’ people are ‘watching’), and I would be ok I think, if they did. But I couldn’t be sure. I tend to write like no-one (except my training institution) is watching, otherwise I’d never write anything. I’m aware that sounds paranoid!
Right now, I can’t decide. Although I am tending towards not knowing what ELSE to do, except not blog. And I’m still new, and this is still new. It’s probably worth keeping and doing something with. Maybe?

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’!

Group process revisited

 

In the trainee facebook group I manage (but will be handing over soon as a ‘no longer trainee’), a conversation has arisen recently about process groups and acceptance. Coming out of that, and not directly relating to any one question I’ve been thinking through process groups.

 

All too often it seems to me, people in process groups are so keen to present themselves as ‘accepting’ that they do not question things. And when your tutor is in the room, of course – you don’t want to be perceived as judgmental or stereotyping etc. So when someone presents something challenging to us, there is a big temptation to say ‘yes – that makes sense’, even when it.. doesn’t. Even when we don’t get it; when we have questions.

 

I think about my own experience, part of what caused me to leave, where something about my life is on the surface accepted and no questions have ever been asked, but when I talked about the possibility of doing some training for the year below (as part of my make-up for missing two days when my dad collapsed and later died), a majority of the group seemed very interested in attending that.

 

It is a liberalist discourse, that says ‘everyone is equal’. And yes they are, individually. I am as equal as anyone else, but I identify with a lot of the ‘protected characteristics’ (disability, gender identity, sexuality) that mean that structurally, I’m actually NOT equal (by which I mean that there are more things stacked against me than the person who is straight and cisgender and has no disabilities – for a very quick one: people in civil partnerships are not AUTOMATICALLY entitled to the same pension rights as people in marriages). And the problem with a liberalist discourse is that because everyone wants to be perceived as being liberal, ‘acceptance’ is the name of the day. No questions are asked, thus, unless I (for example) keep putting myself out in to a void where no-one asks questions, and continually explain things for everyone, it is possible to make a lot of assumptions.

 

Of course, there will be some people in the group who get it and who are not asking questions because they will get it, but Dominic Davies’ (1998) paper echoes my sentiment:

 

“However, this avoidance of difference and denial of cultural variables can be very damaging for the therapeutic relationship. Clients may spend a lot of time trying to work out the therapist’s real frame of reference, and look for subtler signals of genuineness or incongruence. This detracts from the pre-condition of psychological contact (Singh and Tudor, 1997)”.

 

This I think, is similar for group process. It certainly rings true for me in my experience of the group.

 

Dominic (I did start by saying ‘Davies’, but I know Dominic, so this felt weird!) goes on to quote Tudor and Worrall:

 

“It is likely that if as therapists we consistently ignore or deny some of our feelings and experiences we will, out of awareness, communicate such unassimilated, or partially accommodated material to our clients”

 

And Rogers himself: “Rogers makes it clear that maintaining congruence isn’t always easy or comfortable and “includes being himself even in ways which are not regarded as ideal for psychotherapy.””

 

This suggests that it is healthier for all (especially when we will go our and see clients with similar histories), if a step can be taken by individuals in group process to say ‘actually – I don’t get it. I’d like to. Can you tell me about X’.

 

As one of my group once said to me (I paraphrase): ‘assume kindness’. It’s a mantra that has worked. I know that in group, I am working from a place of kindness and trying to understand, and assuming that others are (until otherwise told) helped a lot. Here – if you don’t get something or need more understanding, you can commit to doing some research (and nothing made me happier than when people said to me ‘I was reading this thing on gender’) and at the same time, you can express that you don’t get it. You will probably be much better accepted than if you supress that and the person at the side of you can see it, despite utterances to the contrary.

 

In short – it’s DIFFICULT to say in group that you don’t get something. It’s hard to stand out and be that person. But you will make a much better experience for the person who was brave enough to speak, to KNOW that they have been heard and that you want to engage with them, than if they speak and are met with a wall of what can feel like placation with no attempt at understanding. And – if you DO get it, say so. Say why. Let the person know you’re with them, don’t let them sit alone.

 

Reference:

Davies, D. (1998) ‘The Six Necessary and Sufficient Conditions Applied to Working with Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Clients.’ The person-centered journal [online] 5 (2), 111–120

where am i?

So it’s a Tuesday. Blog night. And I’m sitting in my placement between clients, wondering what to write. There is a sense of finality around all of me right now, and it’s difficult to muster up ideas to write about. But it occurs to me that the best thing to write about is what’s on my mind, and what’s mostly been on my mind this week is setting my counselling service up properly.

 

I started this placement almost two years ago. And by started (for any newish people) I approached a charity and said ‘do you want to offer counselling to the LGBT community?’ they said ‘yes please’ and a placement was born. Fast forward a year and the charity started to run in to financial difficulty, although the counselling service is blooming. What started as me on my own very quickly involved me taking on another counsellor and us running the service together. We felt that it was a bit TOO insecure – at one point we were four weeks away from a potential disaster, so we started looking for new premises. Having found those, it felt good to move on, so we are now becoming our own charity.

 

Moving from being a service under a charity to being our own charity has been hard work. Far harder than I thought it would be. The room was the easiest part, and chairs and a rug have been procured (and we get to take our lights and screen with us). But there has been the indemnity insurance (now almost sorted – thanks Howdens), and actually CREATING the charity. That has taken hours of form-filling. And, you can’t have only two trustees and at the time there were only two of us, so we approached a lesbian counsellor we know to ask if she wanted to join us. Luckily for us, she did. Also luckily my primary partner is an accountant and can be our treasurer. We also have a student from a local university who is doing some internship work for us and has created a website and will manage social media profiles etc.

But it feels like a weight of responsibility all of a sudden. I’ve been managing the waiting list forever (the main contact is my ‘work’ phone), but this feels much bigger. We’ve since also taken on a trainee/student (who will qualify to diploma level in sept and then continue on to a further qualification) and my colleague will do the management of trainees. It seems fair – I do the waiting list admin and she does the placement admin. When I qualify I’ll be able to do assessments for trainees as well (I do my own at the moment and my colleague does hers, and trainees’).

It’s been a lot of stuff to think through. Aims, objectives, potential fundings, how often we will meet, and so on It’s good, but very tiring! Right now, I’m waiting for our third trustee to send me back a sheet of paper so that I can get everyone ELSE to sign it and then I can upload it to the charities commission website. Hopefully we will be registered by the start of August when we move. Hopefully then I will be able to complete the bank account details also!

 

I’m worried I’ve forgotten something, but we will see, I’m sure. So that’s where I am. Moving on!

 

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?