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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Get it wrong. Please. 

So this is more on gender, whilst I try and gather enough headspace for anything else. Having a second family member diagnosed with terminal cancer in a little more than six months does nothing for your mental health, I’ll tell you that for nothing. 

People have asked me why I chose ‘they’ as a pronoun and various people have intimated that something such as ‘xie’ would be easier. Oddly, I chose ‘they’ partly because it was IN common use already and was trying to make things easier. My reasoning was that no-one would have to use a new word. But that seems to backfire on me a bit. This blog is partly about that and partly about being able to say to readers, therapists, trainees, ‘get it wrong’ (which might seem different to previous posts).
I was recently out for a drink with friends I love dearly, and who I believe respect my gender identity. And yet throughout the afternoon they consistently gendered me as she. I corrected a couple of times, but it kept happening. Later in the evening, we were joined by another friend who, when I was out with her the week before and introducing her to various people, had a mental blip and referred to me as ‘he; she.. they!’ – the brain understanding of gender change was there, but possibly the comfort of ‘they’ in English had stopped something from registering properly as a specific choice of pronoun (rather than just as an unknown gender). 

Anyhow- after that blip, she mostly genders me correctly now. Joining my other friends, she slipped and gendered me wrongly and then corrected herself and that seemed to make all the difference to my other friends. Suddenly they started to gender me properly (and oddly, later made exactly the same ‘he; she… they’ slip as my friend had previously). But it seems that until they had heard someone else ‘admit’ to getting things wrong, they hadn’t been able to get it consciously wrong themselves and had considered with what might be viewed as an unconscious slip (I have no idea if it was or not!). 

Some of this seems to come back down to power. Much like racism and people who ‘don’t see colour’, it’s easier to pretend there is no difference and therefore you can’t be getting it wrong (even in the face of evidence). It then falls to the marginalised person to point out that you’re wrong, but when you’re in ‘fingers in ears’ phase singing ‘la la I can’t hear you’ because it’s really uncomfortable to think you might be hurting someone) it’s hard to get that point across. Also I think, because cisgender people (that’s anyone whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth) can feel that their pronouns don’t matter very much to them. That’s probably because they get called the right pronoun most, if not all of the time. Ask a binary trans woman how much it hurts when she is called ‘sir’ or someone cos who is considered ‘butch’ if and how pronouns matter. You soon start to get a different story. Not all cisgender people get given the right pronouns and it *doesnt* matter to all of those people who get the wrong one but it does matter to some. That’s why a ‘sorry’ followed by a correction means much more than what can feel like blanket ignorance and refusing to be vulnerable. As trans and non-binary people, we have no choice but to be vulnerable. As cisgender people, you can meet us in that vulnerability. 

On my last training weekend a similar thing happened. I was misgendered all the time by one person (more than one but they are the specific focus here). It hurt. Repeatedly. When I eventually forced the issue, they said they had always been aware they were getting it wrong, but hadn’t been able to acknowledge it, because (it feels to me) they didn’t want to try and publicly get it right and still get it wrong. If that trainee is reading and would like to comment, please do- I will publish it 🙂
It takes being willing to be vulnerable, to get it right out loud. And I understand that. I’m not keen on being vulnerable (or being wrong, for that matter) and to both make myself vulnerable AND (possibly) get it wrong is really hard. 
I promise you though, when you get it right, and every time you get it right, people notice. In a good way. 

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!

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.

 

Trainees, do you need a mentor? Reasons why you might…

 

English: A new and emerging symbol for Polyamo...

English: A new and emerging symbol for Polyamory, non-monogamous relationships, and LGBTQ individuals. The box unfolding into an open heart represents “love outside the box”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we launched the mentor list two weeks ago, the response from counsellors volunteering their services has been phenomenal. We have over 20 counsellors on the list so far, volunteering their services, covering almost every flavour of LGBTQI, poly, kinky, sex-positive, non-binary, and ethically non-monogamous.

 

So I am guessing that there are people reading this who might benefit from a mentor but are wondering if this is right for them, or what the point is. I wanted to point out a few places where it might be useful to have a mentor to go to. Some of these are my own experiences, some are based on others’ experiences.

 

Firstly, if any of the above identities fit with you (or you THINK they might) and you’re not out about them, then a mentor with experience in that area might be able to help. This has so far been the biggest request from trainees – it seems we most want to talk to people (so far) about how to manage our professional and personal identities; how out do we want to be, etc.

 

If you are out, and things might mostly feel ok, then you might wonder why a mentor would be helpful. Essentially, sometimes, it can be useful just to have the ear of someone who has passed through a similar situation with similar concerns. Someone who can understand when you say ‘it really makes me cross that everything on parenting covers ‘mother and father’ and there is no considering for same-sex parenting’, or ‘I have to explain my identity to my class before I can have a conversation about something important to me’.

 

Perhaps you’re poly or otherwise ethically non-monogamous and have heard the comment ‘greedy’ (see also ‘bi’). These may have been presented as jokes, but they hurt (they’re called microaggressions. If this has happened to you, look it up – you will find some useful stuff). Or you hear ‘I don’t understand how you can love more than one person (or have sex with more than one person)’ or ‘but isn’t that cheating?’

 

Perhaps you’re trans or non-binary and in your class you hear jokes about a ‘man in a dress’, or you’re out as trans/NB and often misgendered or misnamed. You may be lesbian gay or bi and hear ‘that’s gay’ as a derogatory comment. As an L or G person it’s directly insulting. As a B person it’s insulting and also depressing, because you’re invisiblised (I think I made that word up). You might be kinky and be hearing a LOT about 50 shades of grey right now, about how BDSM is abuse; that you cant consent to it, or that something is wrong with you if you like it – especially if you’re the dominant/top.

If any of these feel like you, click here to sign up for a mentor. You won’t have to wait more than a few days before I get back to you with someone relevant.

 

New format

Hi all,

Guest bloggers are starting to trickle in, and I’m very excited! To repeat, if you have something you’d like to write (either as a one-off, or as a series of posts) abut the person-centred method, please get in touch 🙂

What I’d like to do for this blog from now on is to have once a month as a guest blog, and once a month as a ‘spotlight on’. The first Tuesday of the month will be the spotlight on, and the third (hopefully) will be the guest blog. The ‘spotlight on’ posts will be about various things of potential interest to a trainee; some specifically person-centred, and others more generic things that might help with studies or research. Sometimes I think that guest blogs will also link into those, in which case they will feature in the ‘guest blog’ spot and be linked to the ‘spotlight on’ list.

This post will be where I hope to keep a list of both things, updating links here as new posts go online.

Spotlight on

2/9/14 – Livescribe electronic pen – or how to make college and uni work easier!

14/10/14 – Person-centred groups

2/12/14 – Person-centered onlineness

Guest blogs

16/9/14 Neil Loffhagen – beginner’s mind (and why this is a good thing!)

22/10/14 John Threadgold – should we love our clients as we love ourselves?

13/01/15 Wade Miller-Knight – working with bereaved clients