Will you be a guest blogger?

 

Writing

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’

 

Students/trainees:

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?

 

Therapists:

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?

 

Supervisors:

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?

 

Trainers:

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?

 

 

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Training mid-point

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

I was going to do a recap on the little of the conference I was able to attend, but I’ve just reached the mid-point in my training, and as that’s most present in my mind, that’s what I’ll be talking about. Conference recap next week!

 

So – half way. Kind of. Half way through uni classes. 2/3 of the way through this format (weekend meeting for 3 or 4 days at a time) and 1/3 of my way through cinical hours (at least in terms of dates – I’m behind in my hours).

 

Where am *I*?

I struggle with my course, a lot. I haven’t yet written about it here, because a lot of it seems to be relevant to me as an individual in particular, rather than me as a trainee in general. I’m also aware that my classmates read this (some of them, anyway) and I would suspect that some of my tutors do (some of those know I’m having a hard time also), and I don’t want to upset anyone, or come across as any kind of ‘passive-aggressive’.

I have spent the last three workshops pondering whether I was going to withdraw at the end of this year, for a year out. I’ve decided not to – at least for now.

Training has been far harder than I thought it would be. I feel like somewhere along this course, I have lost myself. I am full of theory, and knowledge about what a person-centred counsellor ‘does’ (or you know, ‘doesn’t do’). This recent weekend we had a conversation with our trainer who was talking about the ‘rules’ and his comment was along the lines of ‘who says you have to follow’the rules’?’ In some ways, I think it’s a fair point. In others, I suspect that *breaking* those (often unspoken) rules would soon land me in trouble with my supervisor. In losing myself, I’m aware that I am clinging tighter to the me that’s left. Don’t get me wrong, I don’tmind this losing myself in part – I have faith that somewhere along the line, I will find me. But it is disconcerting.

 

I don’t feel like I fit. Generally, I spend a lot of time feeling like a fish out of water; wanting to challenge things, wanting people to see a different side of things. I suspect this stems from having to be more critical of things in my general life; I was at a wedding yesterday. Someone I care about was making a ‘backs against the wall, lads’ joke. He did it without thinking, and with no malice intended. And that’s the problem.It was done without thinking and with no malice. That makes challenging it much harder (I didn’t) than if it was maliciously directed at me; but perpetuating that stereotype, that way of thinking is insiduous and also dangerous. I make these choices (to challenge or not) almost on a daily basis throughout all of my life. I think that I hoped that my training environment would be different and there is certainly a higher level of awareness and that’s great. But I still feel like I stick out somewhat when I challenge. Or when I don’t, but it seems like I am the only person who thinks it should be challenged. I accept and understand that there are areas that my classmates might have that are the same – where *I* am the person not doing ‘the right thing’, and I would love to learn more about that, but at present, I’m a bit of a sore thumb, in training at least.

The question then, is ‘do I want to be a sore thumb for another two years?’

In my everyday life, I have friends both online and offline who are part of ‘my’ community and who have a shared experience to a greater or lesser degree. I work alone (in that I am the only person who does my job and my boss works in a different office to me) so I don’t really come across it there, and I am about to change job (in actual fact, I’m starting a phd) with LGBT-related issues. My therapist is queer also. I’m so grateful for that. I’ve been through two other therapists in two years, and I chose them (rather than go to my current therapist) because I wanted that other experience. It was somewhat disastrous for me. Therapy now, feels somewhat like ‘coming home’. There is something in the quality of being met at *my* level that I haven’t experienced with my other counsellors (and believe me, I wanted to – they were somewhat cheaper than my current therapist! They didn’t in the end, prove to be ‘cost-effective’, however).

 

I was hoping I would get that in my course, and there have been moments of that, and this feels very ‘doom and gloom’. In truth it has not been all (or even ‘mostly’) bad, but it has worn on me. I am currently sitting with a big part of my identity that is unacknowledged within my class by and large. I have referenced it, but I’m not sure it’s been noted by anyone. In staying, I feel like I have no option but to ‘out’ myself next year (I have been in so many cloests that it’s not true…). I don’t want to. I don’t want no reaction, because that will mean I haven’t been received, but I don’t want a negative reaction either, so it feels like 2/3 of the possible reactions are negative. So I have that to go back to. I don’t know if these reactions are inside me, or outside. This is a bit of the problem with losing myself.

 

As a therapist – how have I improved? Well, I’m less nervous. I started my own counselling placement, and it has grown enough that I have asked another counsellor to work with me. I do two days, she does one. As a service we aren’t full, but we have 7 clients between us, with another three possibles on the horizon (which would then make us almost full). I have much less in my head about what to ‘do’, and I trust the therapy process a bit more. I know more now, what is ‘my’ response, and what is a true reflection. My clients tell me that their therapy is helpful, and that pleases me. I know that it is them doing the work; what their comments tell me is that i am not *negatively* impacting on them (or not much, at least!)

 

As a person? My partner tells me that I am more open to people now. That I don’t jump to sarcasm as fast as I used to. That I am more open to other points of views. I see this for myself – I used to be very definite about the views I had, and now I am much more likely to actively consider several views. I listen more. i *hear* more.

 

As a student? No idea. I have no idea if I’m improved or not. This is another one of my ‘lost’ problems, and I’m not going in to it here.

One thing that hasn’t changed for me is the knowledge that I definitely want to qualify. I have more of an idea of the client mix that I would like and I can see that having more clients would help me to be the counsellor/psychotherapist that I want to be.

 

I think this post is possibly the most confused one that I’ve ever written. It’s not altogether unhappy, but it possibly has more of me than most if not all of my posts so far.

Question for anyone who has got this far (and a medal!): If you experience a difference between yourself and your classmates (race, sexuality, disability, mental health diagnosis, class, etc), what is that like?

Show your workings

Molnija inside

Molnija inside (Photo credit: Kaensu)

Any trainee or trained therapist will have heard this many times I suspect: ‘show your workings’. Certainly it’s something I seem to hear every other (training) day. For a long time I was really resistant to the idea, essentially, that I should explain exactly where I was coming from in the statements that I was making. For me this has stemmed back to childhood – in maths class, we were told that if we put our ‘workings out’ down, even if we got the answer wrong, we might get a point for the working out. I never wrote my workings out down. That might account for my C grade – we’ll never know.. As an adult, people often tell me they don’t understand me, but have never elaborated on why. Certainly I can see differences in the way I related and the way some others relate, but it hasn’t been until I became a psychotherapy student that I am hearing this so much more. As a trainee in group process, in triad feedback discussion, I have learnt the notion that it is important to show my working, and let people know why I am saying the things I’m saying. It doesn’t come easily, something I disocvered recently when preparing for a joint presentation that two of my cohort and I are presenting this weekend (‘is person-centred therapy an appropriate treatment for eating disorders?’). I put into our dropbox folder some of the work I was working on, some my fellow-student formulated a response based on it. However, I had assumed that what I was doing would be directed at the third member of our group and had some some of the work around that also. Although I’m confident that we can use my classmate’s work (due to the way we have done it, it should all be fine) I think it’s going to take some re-working – we haven’t seen our third classmate’s work at all), it would have saved my classmate some time potentially if I had said ‘hi all, I’ve put this up and this is the reason for it. I would like you to/not to do X with it. Luckily for me, my second classmate has taken this with good grace and like I say, I’m convinced we’ll use it all, but it would have saved her that moment when I replied with my thoughts and she realised she had spent hours on something that wasn’t intended for her. (actually, this is a really good example of group working. In my last group work of this type, I think we micro-managed ourselves, and left ourselves open to stress that way. This time round I think we – different classmates – have ‘managed’ far less and have left ourselves to our own devices, with the net result that currently I feel less prepared). ‘Showing your workings’ also links into openness to experience and the issue of defences. As I say – this is something that goes back to childhood for me – a place where it was safest to reveal as little of yourself as possible. Even back then my refusal to show my workings got me in trouble a few times. It did also ‘save’ me a few times, and those must be the ones that are more deeply ingrained. ‘Showing my workings’ is a concept that i am becoming *more* comfortable with, but I would not in any way say that this was a happy place for me. When it comes to clients, I try and be a little more open – I am mindful that I don’t want to be seen as ‘expert’ by making pronouncements, and also, when I say ‘I hear you say X, and I guess I am wondering if this relates to Y, for these reasons’. it slows me down far more than saying ‘is this related to Y?’ and that in itself is helpful. I read a paper recently (that I can’t now find to link to) that suggests that it is only as we speak that the meaning of our words becomes clear to us, and slowing that down surely helps in that process.   In short, it’s something I could be much better at, but I have come to see the value of it – people like to know what you *mean* when you say things – including me, and showing my workings just helps to make that happen. Sometimes it’s a useful poke to remember that my childhood is not now, and I can take being poked in my soft spots if it means showing my workings and letting people know not just ‘where’ I am in my thinking, but also ‘why’ I am.

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Self-disclosure

Sharing

Sharing (Photo credit: furiousgeorge81)

 

Today I had a decision to make – my daytime work is filming something that I am a part of that will end up on youtube. I had to decide what top to wear. This got me thinking: self-disclosure is a tricky beast, where it’s generally agreed that some self-disclosure might be ok, if it benefits the client, but other self-disclosure is not ok, where it might not. Although having said that, there will inevitably be times where we self-disclose to benefit a client, when this doesn’t help, or choose not to disclose when it might have helped.

But disclosure is in the ‘life’ disclosures that we do or do not make. And it’s here where I see people often reply with a ‘why would you need to do that?’. Generally this comes from a person in a majority – so I am questioned for example, being open about my sexuality with clients, by a person who is not of a minority sexuality, yet who has no issue wearing a wedding ring. In this instance, it’s assumed that the person asking ‘why’ is straight. They have already been saved the issue of disclosure by virtue of the fact that it’s just assumed by society.

There are other disclosures to be made as well however. All too often these are also based on ‘norms’. I would not be surprised to hear myself told that it is not always appropriate to disclose to my clients that I have a mental ill-health history. However, what I then need to know is if I can wear long sleeves always (as a result of that mental health history I have extensive scarring on my arms). If not, what happens to the person-centred principle of therapist congruence, where my client can see that I am (for example) uncomfortable in the heat, but for some (unknown to them) reason am not wearing short sleeve/rolling my sleeves up? Should I be free to wear short sleeves and no cardigan into my office? If not – why not?

We make other disclosures all of the time, based on our speech, our clothing style, and it would be daft to assume that we do not. But still, there definitely seem to be ‘sanctioned’ disclosures that we should or should not make, based on what society (or counsellors?) as a whole have decided are ok. Whilst I don’t think that our place as therapists is to tell our clients our life stories, I do think we need to be aware of the fact that we self-disclose all of the time, and this isn’t avoidable. Sometimes I think that we should actively embrace this and yes, whilst a conversation might be interesting to have around the client-asked question (why is this important to know?).

As trainees, we get told a lot about what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. I’ve been told that ANY self-disclosure is wrong, and also, that the right amount of self-disclosure for the right reason at the right time is ok. Both by qualified counsellors (the second one by Fred my supervisor. I’ll take his judgement on this issue). I think that what we need to be aware of most is a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to a question, and I also think that we need to have thought through issues such as self-disclosure before we are faced with it, so that we have some idea on what we might do/how we might react. For me it feels akin to a shame reaction: society dictates the norm, and those who operate within it do not have to ‘out’ themselves. For those of us who wish to out ourselves as NOT being part of the norm, suddenly, we must justify our responses: ‘why would you want to tell someone you were a lesbian?’ ‘why would you want to let someone know you used to self-injure?’. It’s not a question for me of ‘want to’; it just is. I can never remove those parts of me and they are present in the room as I am. Do I want to make those explicit at times? Absolutely.

 

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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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self-care

Caring for myself is not self-indulgent

Caring for myself is not self-indulgent

As a trainee, you’ll hear this term a lot. If, like me, you’ve grown up having to be self-reliant, ‘self-care’ often hasn’t come into the equation. ‘Getting through’ has been the thing. I’ve had a lot of therapy (thanks, course-mandated therapy!) both before and during this course and I’m far better at self-care than I realise, I suspect, but i don’t THINK about it a lot.

I was forced to recently however, and so I thought it was worth putting out there for others.

Let me tell you a story: A long time ago (2012 in fact), I was the only eye witness to a car accident that ended in the death of someone. I went through the process of giving statements etc, and the prosecution decided I was a credible enough witness that the case could go to court. Fast-forward to over a year later and the day arrived. My evidence as a witness for the prosecution would make the difference between ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ and so as you can imagine, it was a stressful day*. I had a decision to make – the hearing was the day I have clients, and I had to decide what to do.

Various factors led to me deciding to keep my client’s appointment (and I am glad of that – blog post on that to come!), but I knew that in order to keep the appointment and be fully present I had to VERY effectively bracket, and to do that, I had to ‘indulge’ in some good self-care otherwise I just wouldn’t be able to put it down.

When the day came, after I was done in court I went home with deliberate intent to do some self-care, and I did all the things that would make me feel better. I started by playing some phone app board games (ticket to ride is a GREAT app) curled up on the sofa with my partner. Later in the afternoon I went for a run (I say ‘went’; it’s a treadmill) for half an hour with Zombies, run! in my ears. It’s a great distraction, quite aside from the distraction that is ‘running three miles’.

Other self-care things I do include getting my partner (if she is home when I am done) to put the kettle on and I get met with a mug of hot chocolate when I get in – often quite late in to the evening (my placement is 5.30-9.30). Sometimes, taking the time to curl up for even 10 minutes with a book, or watch an episode of CSI (guilty pleasure) are things that help to wind down afterwards, as well as prepare for beforehand (generally the day before in my case).

I suspect it doesn’t really matter what it is that works for you, but I want to stress that it ISN’T an indulgence; if we are to be as good a therapist (trainee) as we can be, we MUST take care of our emotional health first. We cannot help a client if we are drowning. If that includes taking ‘time out’ from placement or our place of study, then that’s what needs to happen. I know that doesn’t happen easily, and should be thought about, but the principle applies – if we are not capable of being there for our client, then we shouldn’t BE there for the client.

*the verdict was ‘guilty’

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