Frames of reference, and forgetting yourself. 

It occurs to me recently that during sessions I am quite good at putting my own frame of reference aside and being with the client’s frame. But to some degree, because that frame isn’t ‘what I would feel in your position’ I forget that ‘what I would feel in your position’ is actually a valid point. I forget myself in the room. 

This leaves me, in session, trying very hard to ‘be with the client’, but it means I Struggle to recall afterwards. I think it was made much worse by the fact that my last supervisor* was often asking me things about what I thought my clients meant when they said or did X, and that never felt useful to me, because it had been through so many iterations (a client experienced a thing and communicated it – imperfectly – to me. I then experienced that imperfected communication and communicated it imperfectly to my supervisor. Who then experienced the imperfected communication about the experience of the imperfected communication of the original experience (lost yet?!) and on the basis of that, asked me a question about ‘why?’. And I didn’t know. I am not in the client’s head. And sometimes I might clarify about what something means but the imperfections remain. So for several months my supervision was less about encouraging me to stay with my client and more about encouraging me to dissect my client. Fred would never have done that, and I miss him a lot. Maybe next year if I get paid more, I might be able to go back. Let’s hope. 

That dissection, that ‘why’ I realise, means that often when a client occurs to me outside of a session, I’m looking at it from a critical frame of reference ‘well why DONT they do that?’ And it wasn’t until very recently when I was with a particular client that I caught myself stepping into that and stopped myself and thought to REALLY see it from their point of view, and considered the words they were saying and how those might map on to my experience, that I realised just why they might be doing a thing. Of course then, if I wish, I am able to gently check that out (go me with my ‘use of self’). Or not – it depends. 

*I did realise back in December that that supervisor was bad for me and stopped seeing her, but I have had tribulations finding a new one. I start seeing someone new Thursday- John. I have told him I need to be challenged to be a better therapist. I think he’s ok with that and I hope he can. 


Cancelling clients

You’ve probably sat through a class or two talking about the need to have some kind of ‘counsellor will’ about what happens to clients if you die, etc. I’m not going to go in to that just now, but when I had to cancel clients at short notice, I realised that my data-keeping had slipped recently; new clients who weren’t yet added to the easy to get to places meant that I had to make more work for myself at a point when I needed to make less work for myself.

So it seemed opportune to have a post that said essentially: make note of the policies of your placements. Make sure you know who to get to if someone else does your cancelling for you. Double-check that their numbers are up to date in your info; make sure nothing has changed in your placement’s process in the months or years that you’ve been there – I know that at one of my placements, although the volunteer and paid counsellors do the same things, different people co-ordinate the different groups. It’s possible that people have joined or left and you’re not aware of a change in process because a memo has only gone to the paid counsellors, for example.

If you run your own service, make sure that you put your numbers and contacts in one handy place. Also, let them know at the start of their counselling with you: ‘if I have to cancel for any reason, these are the steps I will follow’. It’s easy to think that it won’t happen to you, and the longer you go without having to cancel, the more easy it is to become complacent about it. But it is at that point, when one has become complacent, that *something* will go awry in your life, leading to a last-minute cancellation and a flapping because that number is not where you thought it was. Lesson learnt!

My 2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

i don’t normally do this kind of thing, but I liked what it said and how it said it and thought I would take the time to post and say thank you for reading. Gaining new followers and readers is still really exciting to me even after a year. I hope soon to make it to 100 followers, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is to me. Thank you.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.



Ethics and books


English: Field boundaries

English: Field boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’ve read a couple of books recently that have had me thinking about ethics and limits. I’ve also bumped into this in my own practice.


The books I’ve read were Ethical Maturity in the Helping Professions: Making Difficult Life and Work Decisions  by Michael Carroll and Elisabeth Shaw and When boundaries betray us  by Carter Heyward.


Ethical maturity is a fabulous book and I wish I’d known about it when we did our first year ethics module. I read it as part of being a book reviewer for BAPCA (it should be in PCQ in this edition coming) and as a net result, asked my training institution to buy copies for the library, which they have. But the book talks about how to make decisions, and when decisions aren’t easy. It also discusses the difference between MAKING ethical decisions and CARRYING OUT ethical decisions (amongst other things). The title is somewhat dry, but the book is fascinating – it’s the most interesting ethics book I’ve read (and I have two other degrees in psychology, so I’ve read a few). It’s a theory-based book, from two therapists’ points of view, and gave me insight into my own processes.


When boundaries betray us however, is a very different book. Written by a feminist lesbian theologian and ordained priest, it documents the story from her point of view, as the client who decides that she would like to move to a friendship with her (lesbian) therapist after her therapy ends. The voice of the therapist is absent in this book, so it is entirely from the client’s point of view. And I find myself sympathising with the client AND with the therapist – I can see where boundaries are pushed, or not held as they might be, on both parts, and I can see wounding happening as well as healing. Of a lot of interest to me is the connection that is discussed a lot in the book. It isn’t what we might call ‘relational depth’ – it is an over-arching connection, rather than a specific one, and as a queer person with a queer therapist myself, and someone who experiences a ‘connection’ that they can’t quantify with their therapist, I wonder if it is the ‘queerness’ that makes it. If not, what does? There is a sharedness about it, an almost unspoken connection, certainly not quantified within the book.


The book is interesting in that it has forced me to look at my own relationship with my therapist. I kind of want to march in with the book, thrust it at her and demand to know if she’s read it. But then, I don’t want to worry her into wondering if I think our relationship is like that one, which ends on a Very Bad Note. But still – there is a conversation to be had. In truth, I noticed the issue with the connection before I read the book – in therapy last week it was in my head but I didn’t speak it. I wonder how many clients do not speak the connection with their therapists and let these go unsaid. I wonder how big an elephant this can become in therapy?

A second thought is about my own relationship with a client. I was poking around with the relationship in my recent supervision, when Fred kindly paved the way for me to see what I had been doing ‘wrong’ (I have an excellent supervisor; sometimes I dislike that fact!), and once I could see what  I was doing I was left with no personal choice but to address it. It involved putting the therapy relationship on the table and examining it with my client. That was *hard*. But the session that came after felt ‘better’ than previous ones. It remains to be seen what the long-term difference is, but that I had addressed it rather than leaving it as my own elephant is of great relief.




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Find a therapist who works for you

English: Sunrise at North Point Park, Milwauke...

English: Sunrise at North Point Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Français : Lever de soleil à North Point Park, Milwaukee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My course is accredited by UKCP. UKCP rules say that students on MSc courses have to have 40 hours a year of personal therapy. That therapy must be delivered by a therapist who is ‘UKCP registered or equivalent’. My institution has added another layer of complication to that and requires that students’ therapists must also have masters degrees. If you live in an area not massively close to an institution, (as 2/3 of my cohort do) then it can be very hard to find someone locally who fits those requirements AND your requirements.

From the beginning I knew I would struggle. There were two people locally that my insitution would accept ‘on spec’ for me. I didn’t get on witht he first one (although I know someone else who thinks they are amazing, so it just goes to show!) but luckily for me, i got on ‘ok’ witht he second one, and figured I’d give it a go. That relationship broke down within six months. I managed to find another therapist who didn’t have an MSc, but who did have a postgrad qual, and I was able to see her for a while. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t feel very heard in the counselling session, and didn’t feel like I wanted to continue.

This has been going on for me for over a year now, and my institution were good enough to recognise that their ‘MA/MSc’ rule was causing me problems, so they let me bend it, and lo, there were 25 counsellors within a 10mile radius who fit UKCP criteria. So I returned to a therapist that I was seeing several years ago (and who I would have gone straight back to if I could).

I have gone from thinking ‘oh grief. therapy again’ to ‘hurrah! therapy!’. it feels SO much better – i feel ‘got’, I have someone whose style meshes with mine, who makes me feel heard. and I think ‘THIS is what therapy is about’, and also, it helps me to feel better about my OWN workings as a therapist.

So, to any students/trainees (or indeed, ANYONE) out there who are ‘grinning and bearing’ therapy, CHANGE THERAPIST! Getting your hours in is a waste of your time if you are seeing a therapist who’s the wrong fit for you. Getting a therapist who’s on your wavelength will feel so much better, and will make you feel so much better about being a therapist also.

As a related note- if you’re struggling with requirements, talk to your training institution. You might well find there’s leeway.

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When theory gets in the way


sky day 341

sky day 341 (Photo credit: maureen_sill)

I’m a person-centred (trainee) therapist. To me, that means that I don’t rely on elaborate theories about the human condition; I rely ON the human condition. For me, it’s about communication (or not!) with the person sitting opposite me. Still, we have to do SOMETHING with our four-year MSc outside of the person-centred ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’, or it would be pointless, and so we do learn some theories from both our own, and other approaches (if just for information).

Recently I had a training weekend. I learnt a lot about shame – or so I thought, anyway. Shortly after that training weekend, I had a client who was talking about shame. It went like this:

Client: …shame… things.. shame

Me (in my head): Shame! client is talking about shame! I’ve just learnt shame! There are theories. What are those theories?

Client: Keeps talking

Me (in my head): Should have paid attention to those theories. what WERE they?

Client: Still talking

Me (in my head): Shut up brain, and LISTEN!


So, the theory (or at least the fact that I had been present for some doesn’t appear to have gone in. Perhaps I have shame issues and this is a defence. One to bring to my new therapist when I see her this week..) REALLY got in the way of listening to the client. Luckily for me, the interchange in my head just took a second or two before I was able to apply the OTHER bit of theory commonly referred to as ‘bracketing’ – where you recognise that the client has provoked something in you that is about YOU, not about THEM and you say ‘hello stuff, now please move over so I can listen to my client’.

Theory – it’s useful, but in small doses. Also, should have paid more attention in class.


Finally – finding an image for ‘shame’ or ‘preoccupation’ is hard! Have a cloud. It’s not mine, but if it was mine, the best I could do right now would probably be my cats, and the only thing they’re preoccupied with at present, is sleeping.



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