Messing up



We all mess up when we see clients. And to prove it, I’ve asked around a couple of trainee friends and acquaintances to share some of their experiences with you. I’m naming no names, and I’ve changed details if people are possibly identifiable, but you’ll see from the list that the mess ups go from ‘inconsequential’ to ‘something that was talked about in supervision’. Some of them are mine, some aren’t. I’m not sharing which are which. But this is for students not yet in (or just starting) training – we mess up! It’s usually not the end of all things!


1: when getting up to show out a client, I stood up and immediately fell over. My foot had gone to sleep and I hadn’t noticed.


2: I wore my top inside out for the whole evening, only noticing on my third client.


3: I once didn’t turn the handle to the waiting room properly and as a result, walked into the door, and then the waiting room with a very red face.


4: Checking my phone between clients I realised I’d not put it on silent. Lucky for me, no calls came in!


5: I got in to my client room to discover the clock had been taken away and I wasn’t wearing a watch. I managed to time it JUST right


6: On an evening placement, I became aware the cleaners were cleaning as I was seeing my client and I had forgotten to flip the ‘counselling’ sign to ‘in use’. I felt my heart pounding as I tried to decide what was best to do. It seems daft now.


7: I asked for some fairly low-key advice on a client thinking they had left, but they hadn’t. It wasn’t anything that broke confidentiality, but I feel mortified.


8: Seeing a client for their second session I went in whilst they were getting a hot drink and started to say hi but they ignored me. As they turned around I realised it was a friend of the client’s and the client was there waiting for me.


9: One of my clients always has squash. All the others have water (squash is an option if asked for but they are the only person to ask for it). Last week I was flustered with the client before and I forgot and put water out. I felt terrible when they asked why they had water.


10: My files are anonymised. I had two new clients lined up to start in two weeks. When I went in to start, I didn’t have a record of what their names were. Luckily for me, they were recorded on an old version of the spreadsheet for the placement. It took me about half an hour to find the names. (They both DNAed).


So there you go. Random things trainees have done and had it work out ok.


What things have readers done?



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.


Counselling interviews

Firstly, I want to say sorry for not posting for so many weeks in a row! I’ve had a lot of family stuff going on (my dad is fairly ill right now, but we aren’t sure what with and it is hard and I don’t have much head space left. However, it seems to me that (much like counselling DNAs) the more weeks I don’t blog, the more weeks it will be HARDER to blog, and so I thought I’d make a start on it now, with this 🙂

Creating my own placement has been a lot of fun, and I have certainly done enough hours through it to qualify at a level four (had I wanted to) so it is in no way a waste of time. However, I’m not so good at marketing and despite the additional exposure I’ve created, it hasn’t translated to actual client hours (aside from one glorious month when I had seven clients in six slots – two fortnightly – but then most of them stopped coming). So, when placements at my local rape and sexual abuse centre were advertised I pretty much bit their hands off. Because I created my own placement, I never had to go through an interview. Now that I have, I can write about it!

In case you’re wondering – I got the job. So this is presumably what a good interview looks like (and also – I’m carrying on with my placement one day a week, and the RASAC one day a week).

I wasn’t sure what prep to do – I did the usual checking out of the website, but couldn’t do much more really.

The interview itself consisted of two counsellors, one of which would be my supervisor (and co-ordinates the service). They asked me various questions about why I wanted to work with rape and sexual abuse (it was actually the first place I looked at, but they didn’t have a volunteer counselling system in place then and I have a long-standing interest in abuse and dissociation so this is ideal for me).

They asked me about my approach, and I checked out how much I could stick to it (luckily for me, lots of their counsellors are person-centred and they are fine with it. The big questions were about what could I identify as a strength and a weakness and my personal strength has the flipside of being my weakness. I always find it hard to talk about my weakness in a job interview – it seems disingenuous (more so if I said ‘oh I can’t think of one’!) but I was able to talk around it and how I was changing it. They asked about the breaking of confidentiality and how I would feel about issues of disclosure, and I was ok with that – I don’t think it would ever be fun, but I do make it clear to people when they come for counselling that there are specific incidents when I have to ‘tell’. Another hard question was ‘give an example of how you have used your supervision with regard to theory to help you’ and I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head – I mean I could think of plenty of ways Fred had helped me (less so the new supervisor), but nothing that translated directly into/out of theory. Then I realised that there had been a ‘big’ ethical incident (something that a client had brought that I had needed to take his advice on) that would qualify, so I was able to talk about bits of that. And the final big question they asked me was on my thoughts on suicide. I responded that my own thoughts on suicide aside, I would always respond as per the placement guidelines. That as a person-centred counsellor I don’t feel that I have more say in someone’s life than they do, but I would always be willing to adhere to a counselling centre’s guidelines, and if I chose to go in to private practice, I might have different personal guidelines, but that for me, adhering to those wasn’t an issue (and in some ways is probably a relief – I don’t have to worry as much if I have to adhere to guidelines about ‘if you say you are going to seriously harm yourself, I must tell a supervisor’ than if my personal ethics say ‘I have no right over your life’. Either way I will worry, but in guideline one, my supervisor will be told straight away and correct procedure followed. In guideline two, it would be much more fuzzy). They also asked me about my thoughts on equality and diversity, and I was able to speak from personal experience about a few points, and use that to illustrate my thoughts on a few others.

So, in short, it was a lovely interview. If you’re coming up for an interview, the points above are something you might want to consider (I recognise they won’t all be the same!) and if you haven’t yet started with your counselling hours, then you can generalise to triad work, and to places your TUTOR has given you feedback. If you’re applying somewhere that doesn’t offer supervision, you may want to think about getting a supervisor – they can help you with an interview.

I start at the RASAC in January. I can’t wait!

What have others’ interviews been like? I’d love to know what some different ones look like!

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?



Open to experience?


'Life In A Lava Lamp' - Levity III Luminarium,...

‘Life In A Lava Lamp’ – Levity III Luminarium, Bangor Open Air Festival (Photo credit: Kristofer Williams)


It started with a phonecall in my dayjob:


Caller: Where do IT services put contact details?

Me: I don’t know- I don’t work in IT services

Caller: then how do we know where they go?

Me: we don’t. What do you need to know?

Caller: I need contact details to display on this webpage

Me: I can do that for you.


Now, had the caller called and said what they *needed*, I would have been much better placed to answer, without that conversation going round in circles (which it did for some minutes before I was able to work out what they wanted).


This got me thinking about myself, and whether I am good (or not) at asking for what I need. Essentially, I’m not. I try to be, and I try to be honest and open about my needs and desires, but it can be really hard.


It seems to me that it’s linked to Rogers’ becoming a fully functioning person: – Openness to experience. The more I try and be open to experience, without being defensive, the more I become a fully-functioning person. But it means putting down my defences, and my defences are where I find it hard – as a client said to me: ‘I don’t want to have to owe anyone anything – I will get hurt’, and I suspect that’s a lot of people’s experiences. Certainly, it’s been mine in the past, and it’s hard to put that down as an adult.


I see myself thinking on ridiculously small things – like ‘I really fancy chips for dinner’, but if my partner is cooking, I don’t feel able to express a desire for that always. Because somehow it’s better to want chips and not have that desire met through not asking, than it is to ask and have that desire not met. I’m thinking too much there and rationally, I don’t care, but somewhere inside a small part of me feels that it was important to ask so there had better be a REALLY good reason why chips aren’t forthcoming. And there would be. But still, I can’t always risk it. I don’t even realise I do this all the time.


Fred, bless him, told me in supervision last time that he felt I accepted critical comments on my practice well. And I do. In THAT situation, I am open to the experience and do not feel the need to put up defences against it. There can still be a lot to lose in supervision – the desire to be seen as a ‘good’ trainee, the good working relationship we have. But somehow, I go in with the bigger picture in mind and it seems ok to be told ‘it seems to me that possibly you need to consider X situation with your client’ and it’s a BIG thing.


I see it in other areas in my life. There is some .. upset going on in a part of my life. I am trying hard to remain open to the experience, but actually, a big part of me just wants to snap back. For me, it is when life feels ‘unfair’ that the openness to experience disappears. When it’s supervision and my supervisor is much more experienced than me, that’s fine. When it’s my reading of a situation over another’s and I feel put in to the ‘bad person’ corner, it is MUCH harder to be open to that experience. Of course, what it really needs is much less of a general ‘open to experience’ label and much more of a ‘what’s going on for me when this happens?’ experience. And this is where I fall down – this is one of those things I’m trying to address in my personal therapy. It’s a long long road.


So for me, it’s two-fold. One must be able to ask to have one’s needs/desires met, and at the same time, one must be open to the experience of receiving ‘no’, and to be able to work out what’s behind the response to that.


All of this makes me think back to my own clients and their paths down this road and the monumental tasks some clients set themselves, often subconsciously, in order to try and get further towards (generally) happiness or peace. If this is where I am, with two years of reading Rogers’ theories behind me, how much harder does a client, with only themselves to guide themselves (and me, beside them) have to work to achieve the same things. Some days, I’m in awe of my clients.


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Make use of your supervisor!

Heavy Load

Heavy Load

I recently had an hour with a client that troubled me. I wasn’t *sure* if this was one of those moments when I should be actively taking this ‘up the ladder’ or not and so I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ about it, until another trainee friend suggested that I texted my supervisor with my concerns and let him make the decision.

Well, that all sounded too simple, and so I did. My supervisor (Fred) called me later in the evening when he was free and I was able to share my concerns at length. Fred spoke to me at length (40 minutes!) and together we came up with a plan of what would be necessary – of things I could put in place in my next session with the client, and a reminder that I did, when setting up the placement, put steps in place that detailed what I needed to do in instances like this, FOR EXACTLY THIS REASON. That made me feel better about contacting him, and to carry out part two of my steps without issue.

It was hard to make that initial contact, I very much had ‘what if it’s nothing?’ floating round in my head, but frankly I realised it was far better to have a false positive (do too much about a situation that is not that serious) than a false negative (don’t do enough for a situation that IS serious). That let me make the text and also gave me the impetus I needed to make sure that I was able to address the issue at hand in my next session with my client. I’m happy to say that all went well, but even if it hadn’t, just being able to talk to Fred meant that I wasn’t ruminating on ‘what to do?’ and ‘what if?’ all week. I knew there was a ‘what if’, but it wasn’t running rampant in my head.

This is one of those odd moments where I had a hard time and that hard time has helped me to see that actually, I CAN do this. I always had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be able to put things down and thus wouldn’t make a good therapist. Now I begin to suspect that I couldn’t put things down before because there was no official ‘process’ in place to let me do so, so I carried it, day in, day out….

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assignments over christmas (or ‘the sheer volume of time this degree takes’)

never-ending writing


Over christmas, I shall be writing my first process report. This is because we have discovered (to our dismay) that our course weekend dates and our assignment hand-in dates don’t always match up. It became apparent to us on our last uni weekend that our assignment (based on recordings we hadn’t yet done) was due – delivered by post or by person – 3.5 weeks after the weekend, which is not a lot of time. When we mentioned this to our tutors, they kindly moved our hand-in date to January 8th. So we are working over christmas. It’s not such a bad thing – most people on my course work at least part-time, so having a block of time off is helpful in many ways.

But I think few people really realise just how much time is necessary for this course – I certainly didn’t, so here’s my breakdown.

It is suggested that in order to hit the amount of client hours needed every year (120 minimum, 150 preferred) you should have 4 clients a week.

If you work full-time like me, that’s two evenings, because it’s hard work to see a client, make notes from that session and then move on to the next client a few minutes later, without finishing really late. I can do three in an evening, but not four.

We also have to have personal therapy once a week, which essentially takes up an evening.

Aside from this, the course rules are supervision at a rate of 1:4, so if I’m seeing 4 clients a week I’m having one hour of supervision a week. unfortunately for me, not on my therapy night (my therapist and supervisor live in the same town) so that’s four nights a week.

Somewhere in there I have to write my assignments, see my friends and most of all, my partner. My partner and I try and have one night a week just to ourselves, and I try and get work etc done on one of the other days.

To be honest, i had NO IDEA how much time this course would take. In my head I was sure I’d have one night for clients, and that I’d then fit supervision and therapy in to the other night, leaving me 5 nights free. I had my head in the clouds! Any thoughts of joining a choir, or continuing my sign language classes (or any other hobbies) have gone out of the window and will either need to wait until I graduate, or get a better-paying job (that would enable me to work less hours for the same money).

It will be worth it, I’m sure. Until then, I’ll be in the corner writing this process report!

For those of you who ‘do’ christmas, I hope that it is/was a happy one – or at least bearable. For those of you who don’t, I hope that the christmas all around you hasn’t been too bothersome.