Guest blog: Neil Loffhagen

My first guest blog comes from Neil, who is a person-centred, focusing-oriented therapist. His website is available here.
Without more ado:
As counsellors in training great insights are gained concerning ourselves. Yet of all the things that I learnt about myself, I yearned for the day of completing the diploma or other qualification we are seeking. I certainly had a feeling of great relief obtaining my counselling diploma. Yet, there was and still is a feeling of never quite knowing enough. I propose that such a feeling is beneficial for ourselves and in particular our clients. Let me share my thoughts.

Recently I started re-reading “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Susuki. In the first chapter, for me, a most significant phrase is:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I wonder, as in any field of expertise, as we learn more, as we study more, if there is a danger that we can become too “expert” or fixed in our view of things? I think this can happen almost unconsciously. It is not that we really think we are better to know more than our clients. Yet, if we are not careful, we may inadvertently come across that way. Perhaps, we may start to see all clients in the same light.

Whilst training I was privileged to have a placement with a youth counselling agency. I still remember vividly my second ever client. A woman in her early 20s sat down. We went through the agency contracting process. Then, calmly, the lady said she’d had an abortion six months ago and couldn’t get through the acute self-blame and shame she felt. My immediate thoughts ranged from “Why have you chosen to see me, a man?” (the agency always asked a client if they would prefer a female or male counsellor) to “I can’t do this, I don’t know anything about abortion”. Add to this our first child was still-born. What was I to do?

I felt in quite a difficult situation. There was really only one thing I could do – put aside everything I had previously known, learnt and experienced, to simply be with the client, to be “good enough”. I had been taught much, plus had some wonderful experiences gained through triads, goldfish bowls, etc., about congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy. Now, obviously theory is good and crucial. However, being congruent, being empathic and having unconditional regard in the room with a client is very different compared to reading about another person’s experience and theory. Academic learning is never wasted, but it had to be put aside to be with this client.

I had to be with her, not with something I thought she ought to be. I had to be alongside her as she came to figure things out. Which she did. this blog post is not about what went on in the room between us. It is more about how I had then a “beginner’s mind” in a real and quite literal sense. It is how I seek to maintain that state of mind when seeing all new clients. As I keep a “beginner’s mind” I feel it helps the client be more open to “many possibilities” of change that can come.

Will you be a guest blogger?



Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So, this blog has been going almost a year now. I can’t quite believe it. One post a week, and on all but one occasions, it went out on time!


Something that I wanted to do at the start of this blog was to have guest bloggers, but I couldn’t do it before I had somehow shown myself to be viable. The blog now has over 70 followers that I can count and I know that more people read in RSS feeds etc (mostly because I get comments elsewhere, like facebook from people who aren’t listed as followers).


What I would like to do, is to have one guest blog post a month and I am asking EVERYONE reading this to consider volunteering. Whoever you are, it can be as anonymous as you like – from your fullname/age/location to ‘guest blogger X’



Are you just about to start your first year? Mid-way through training? Something you love about training, or the person-centred approach? Something you hate, or just can’t get your head around? What made you decide to become a trainee? What sort of client group do you love the most? What format is your course? why did you choose it? What do you love (or hate) about the format? Embarking on your research project and want to share something about it with us?



What differences do you see in trainees today, and when you were training? Do you have any trainee therapists and thus words of wisdom to share from that angle? Is there anything you wish you’d known/wisdom you would like to pass on to today’s trainees? Why have YOU chosen the person-centred approach? Has your understanding changed through your work as a counsellor? Are you a just-qualified counsellor and wanting to share about that?



What are the most common things that trainees come to you with? What made you decide to become a supervisor? What are your words of wisdom for choosing a supervisor?



What do you love about being a trainer? What made you decide to be a trainer? Have you worked across different insitutions? What do you think is important when being a trainer? Do you train in something not normally seen in person-centred insitutions (whether it’s part of the ‘tribes’ or not) that you’d like to share about?


Providers/partakers of useful and interesting resources:

Do you run a resource? A forum? A database of useful information? Do you run a peer-support group, or are you part of a person-centred group that you’d like to share? What’s good about it? Are you part of a great group, whether ‘virtual’ or ‘face-to-face’ that you think people should know about?


If you fit ANY of these, and if you don’t, but you have something you’d like to say, please get in touch. My usual blog posts are about 500 words (which this should come in at) but there’s no limit. As I said – you can be as anonymous as you like – leave me a comment (all comments are screened, so your contact details won’t go public unless you mention in your comment that they can) and I’ll get back to you.


What would you like to add?