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?




being in the ‘professional world’ as a trainee

Symbol of Confusion

Symbol of Confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Often I speak to trainees who wouldn’t consider going to a conference, or doing any other training as a trainee. This strikes me as a shame; although I can see many good reasons why someone *couldn’t* go (money, childcare, too many existing commitments, with clients and supervision etc), I’m not so sure on the reasons why people CHOOSE not to.


Some people of course, just don’t like to mingle (I’m an introvert – I feel that pain), but still more I think, feel that they would be ‘out of place’ or that it’s ‘not their place’ to do training as a trainee. So I thought I’d talk in general about my experience.


As a trainee, I’ve been to three conferences now, BAPCA 2013, ADPCA2014 and PinkTherapy2014. I also attend a regular ‘peer supervision’ group for therapists (and obviously trainees) working with clients (or identifying with) with particular interests. I’ve also done a level one focusing course, and am about to start levels 2-5. I also try and get to a regular person-centred skype group.


i have *never* been made to feel anything but welcomed, accepted, and treated as an equal when I’ve attended these events (although I am very aware that my knowledge of theory is far less than many other attendees). I’d like to say, for anyone who feels they aren’t yet qualified enough – YES YOU ARE!


Along with another counsellor, I’ve started a person-centred group locally to me. the other counsellor is fully-qualified and happy to work with me as a trainee.


As for the peer group,  I started going before I had clients even – as a first year. It has been an amazing experience and one I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. At everything I’ve attended as a trainee, there have been other trainees. It was from meeting other trainees at events that led me to create the person-centred trainee email list and person-centred trainee facebook group. The email list has over 100 members and the facebook group has over 400 members.


I would go to each event I’ve attended before in a heartbeat. People have been united in being welcoming to the profession, and it’s been really nice to get encouragement from people further along than me (and also to be able to commiserate on the tribulations of being a trainee with others). Plus you get to learn about things ‘from the horses’ mouths’, so to speak. I’ve met and had conversations with many of the ‘big people’ in the (UK at least) person-centred world. They probably don’t remember me – they were mundane conversations, but it was lovely to be able to put faces to names, and to get a real feel for them in ways that their voices don’t always come across in books. You also get to hear some lovely snippets about things you’d never hear in a book and get to connect with a world you wouldn’t otherwise have access to – the living, breathing (in my case person-centred) community.


The same thing for training. I may be slightly reckless in taking on the focusing training at the same time as everything else, however, it feels like an excellent opportunity and my heart is drawn to it. If I wait, what then? I can scarcely afford it – the way my savings work out, I think I will graduate with moths in my bank account, however, I suspect that there will always be SOMETHING i can’t afford, and I would really like to know more about how to do focusing successfully. So – caution to the wind, and all of that!

I can’t afford to do further training at present, but if i DID have the money, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. I would also be MORE than happy to do additional training that was free, or conferences that are free. I’ve found that although most counselling-based conferences cost to attend, it’s possible to attend ‘client-related issues’ conferences for free – bereavement, sexuality, disability etc. If you work full time these often still necessitate a day off work, but the UKCP does some free conferences on a weekend, so it isn’t always a week day by any means.

Bottom line – if you see something that interests you – go for it. People will be supportive and welcoming. Check out my ‘spotlight‘ page for other things that I focus on specifically that might be of use.





O Captain! My captain!


Robin Williams

Robin Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Like the rest of the country, I woke today to the news of Robin Williams’ death; it was almost the first thing that my partner said to me this morning. It’s sad news at any time, but somehow his death has touched me far more than any of the other celebrity deaths I’ve heard about recently. Perhaps it was because he was 20 years older than me, and therefore working as an actor for as long as I remember films. I grew up with his films, and I have always been struck by the sensitivity that he played his characters. My favourite film has always been ‘What dreams may come’; the story of one man’s journey through death, and suicide touches me in ways I can’t explain. Other films of his also touched me – Good will Hunting; Dead Poet’s Society. Every film I have seen him do has been done sensitively. I remember watching Mrs Doubtfire with my then partner, who was trans, and she had nothing bad to say about the film; she felt it was done well, although that character’s struggles were not my partner’s struggles – the point was, she was not given cause to take offence.


So, to hear that he is dead, and of suicide, was a shock. I have heard people say ‘if it was too much for him, then what chance to any of us have?’ and also people talking about how ‘selfish’ he was. Mostly, I think that material possessions aren’t what make us happy, and this is a testament to that, and as for selfish? How selfish are *we* if we demand that a loved one stay alive at massive cost to themselves, just to make us feel better?


When I started this blog post, I didn’t know where I was going – I thought: ‘something about the frailty of our clients’ lives and how it is for us as therapists and specifically trainees, but actually, as I wrote the paragraph above, I think that for me this is about suicide and how my view and the person-centered view mesh.


I firmly believe that it is an individual’s right to choose. And i believe that the person-centered approach allows for that. I am not the expert of anyone, and I do not assert that (lack of) expertise over anyone. yes of COURSE i hope that all my clients thrive in therapy and finish counselling happier than when they started, but when it comes down to it, I respect that my clients know themselves. They know whether they are capable of making it through whatever they are aiming to make it through, and all I can do is be there along the way.


I’ve expressed this view on counselling forums before and been chastised for it, but I don’t change my mind. All I can do if I have a client in this position is to make sure that my notes are meticulous, so that if a client DOES complete suicide, I have what I need to protect myself in coroner’s court. I can keep good notes, I can talk closely with my supervisor, to make sure that we are both on the same page, but I cannot save my client. Only my client can save my client. I can do everything in my power to stay with my client on their journey, in the hope that the ‘conditions’ are indeed sufficient, and that includes referring them on if needed – trainee pride has no place here; the client’s life might be at stake. It can be hard to have a client who is suicidal. I’m not saying otherwise. But I still believe that it is the client’s right, should they wish, to take their own life. As a trainee however, there are many things that I find hard as a therapist- there is a saying in counselling circles that you are sent the clients you need, rather than the clients that you want and it’s not that a suicidal client is a special type of difficulty- I suspect that there are people out there who would be fine with a suicidal client, but who would find something else very much more difficult.


Do I think suicide is selfish? Possibly. Do I think that being selfish is wrong? Not necessarily. To me, being selfish means that you are putting your needs first. I suspect that a lot of people, if they were more selfish in their lives, would feel less like they needed to be ‘selfish’ in killing themselves.

Free time


Summer (Photo credit: raffacama)



So, this is what free time looks like? Aside from the end of term, I also set myself a task of making a cross-stitch for a friend’s wedding next week. I’ve finished and it’s beautiful. But now, for the first time in 11 months, I have nothing to do on a lunch break – no book or paper that needs reading, no assignment to make notes for, nothing to print. This blog is due, however, and that is just ongoing. But there is gloriously nothing else to do. That only happens when I go away for the week with friends. When I’m at home with nothing to do, I start thinking through all the books I am going to read. At the moment, I have a new Terry Pratchett that is begging for my attention, and I will be starting that this week.




I have my ‘summer homework’ book arriving in the post shortly – Rogers on groups – and I’m looking forward to that, but for now, this feels like my indulgent summer. I have a ‘to read’ pile that’s fairly precarious. I also have a LOT of shelves that I need to put up – for the books, to get them off the precarious ‘to read’ pile (and move them on to a ‘to read’ shelf).




I still have clients – I’m not on holiday from that, but actually, that just feels like ‘normal work’ (and when I started seeing clients 11 months ago I didn’t imagine that that would be what I was saying less than a year down the line).


This feels indulgent and decadent, but frankly, I am not the furthest behind in my hours that I could be (certainly, could o better and hope to do so next year!) and I have passed (I think) year two, so I think that a small celebration in the forms of relaxing is in order.


How are other students spending their summer?






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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Group process

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Water drop

Water drop (Photo credit: rxp90)


It occurs to me that I haven’t spoken much about the things i do and don’t like about training, so here’s a post on what I do like (undecided as to whether to do one about what I don’t, as yet!)

My training format is a three or four day weekend one week in six (on average). I travel up the night before (I am here currently) and stay in a room (which is beautiful) from Thurs-Sun, to save on travel. the M1 is never fun, and twice a day would be a nightmare.

My favourite part of the day is generally group process. My cohort is small. It was small at the start of the first year, and people have left, so now it’s smaller still. In many ways we seem quite close-knit, certainly within pockets we are, and so by and large group process is interesting.

I find it interesting that as a group we can coalesce on a subject and then move away from it. We can delve into something, or we can leave it. I am reminded of the Rogers story where he tells a group they can do whatever they like, and they gravitate to ‘chit-chat’ and he leaves. I think that that can and does happen within our group (and certainly we aren’t alone in that, I’ve been in other ‘group process’ type things where the exact same thing has happened), but I also think that we can and do stay with a subject even when that becomes big and hard and scary. We push, we receive, we pull. We run away, we come back. We dip a toe into the water, and go haring into the sea. We look away. We cry. We comfort and are comforted.


There are times when we are left alone, or feel left alone, or just ‘left’ within the group. Sometimes it takes weeks of meeting before we can see that that is the thing that has happened here. There is a feeling of ‘something’ in the air, but ethereal and we cant quite grasp it. For those of us more somatic, sometimes it can be concretely felt, but for those less so, there is a vagueness that infuriates, and we feel ourselves react to something that we cannot understand because we have no name for it. And then suddenly, for someone, it will crystallise, and there, THERE is that thing that we did not know we did not know. And it is staring us in the face and how could we have been so blind?


And we talk abut it. We feel it, we discuss. We relax and we hear. Sometimes we rage. We weep. We are stoic, yet our faces betray us. That one drop; that tiny thing that seemed almost ‘nothing’ can threaten to engulf us. But of course, if we can see the ripples that that tiny drop makes, we can defend by deconstructing. We can take the power out of the waves that are happening, and stop the forces that surround us. The water, eventually, becomes calm. And though it may take more than one day, more than one weekend, we walk away knowing that somehow, we are ‘more’ than when we came, although we don’t know quite how that happened.


And that’s what I love about group process.



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Social media

Social Media Buzz

Social Media Buzz (Photo credit: ivanpw)

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There’s a big debate in the therapy world: to social media (as yourself), or not. Many people I’ve seen talk about ‘how to keep yourself safe (by which they mean anonymous) online. Being careful to lock your facebook down, not having your name on your twitter etc.
I decided to go the other way. My facebook is relatively locked down, but it’s more personal than anywhere. Still, if you know my name you can find me, and I have therapy people on there as well as friends. I do wish they would let you customise things a bit more though. But I run a trainee group on facebook and one on email as well, and I use my real name everywhere. The irony is that I am much more open now than I was before I started this path, and that continues to surprise me.
My twitter account is here. please feel free to follow me.
I have another twitter that is almost entirely separate. Only a couple of people that I know well are on both, and it doesn’t link to my name, my location or anything else. Likewise, I have other personal parts of me on the web that don’t have my name and never will – for those, my name isn’t important. I don’t market myself for therapy through twitter, but I don’t see myself changing my account when I go into private practice. This is who I am – the professional me. I once accidentally found one of my therapists on twitter. Their name was unusual and i found them by accident (they had replied to one of the big people in psychotherapy and it came into my timeline). As I scrolled through their tweets to double-check, I saw that they called a family member ‘a slag’. I brought it up in therapy, but it wasn’t the reason I left. I think that so far, I would stand by everything I have written.
I also have a linkedIn account under my name. If you know my full name it’s easily findable. Presently I don’t market my placement through twitter, but when I go into private practice I might. At that point, my name might be listed as my full name. If clients find me, that’s ok. This is me. I am sharing myself more than I am sharing anything; I am certainly not sharing them. If we need to have a conversation, that’s fine. Much like last week’s post about disclosures we make ‘by accident’ (this week I am wearing a rainbow necklace. Friends bought it for my birthday. I don’t change my jewellery often, so I’ll probably still be wearing it when I next see clients. Some of them might ask. they might not. We’ll see), although these are disclosures I make on purpose, there may be moments where I have professionally done something stupid because I am a human being. If that’s the case, we can talk. And if we can’t talk and the client moves on, I will probably be sad, and will learn from the interaction. But mostly I try to be careful about what I do online.
I think my message here is: Be yourself. On purpose.
If you can’t be your (named) self, that’s fine too, but the problem comes with quasi-anonymity, when you think you’re anonymous and you do something daft. Try not to do that 🙂