A time to wait…

In every degree there is a time; a time to wait. 

In fact, in every qualification. In every academic piece of work. And probably many times in fact. That’s certainly my experience. Send assignment in. Wait. Get assignment back- with grade. 
And now, it is the final wait for me – for this academic qualification at least. My understanding is that my exam board met today and that at some point in the next two weeks I will know if I passed or not. Right now, I don’t know. Right now I am waiting. And it’s a nice mirror; I am sitting on the stairs in the Quaker centre where we run out counselling service from, wondering if my client has been delayed, or if they are not coming. That wait at least, will be shorter. 
It is an interesting time of judgement. I have passed all of my academic assignments. I have passed all of the required hours to give me a BACP qualification. I have also passed all the hours that allow me to be given the PgDip in psychotherapy and counselling (for which I have to have a UKCP level of hours apparently – 240),  but two mishaps happened. In swapping over my note-taking formats earlier in the year, I didn’t realise that I was missing some hours that I had done. It didn’t matter as I had enough hours anyway, but I have a general spreadsheet with hours, and a specific one. I totalled my hours from the general one for something I handed in, and then I had to hand in a final piece of work with less hours (but still over the 240). And also, I had to complete 120 of my own counselling hours. I’ve done that, but instead of a form, I handed in a letter. 
So- I have fulfilled my requirements. There shouldn’t be any reason for me not to pass, but both of my documents are- irregular. I haven’t heard from my old tutors about this, although I have asked for confirmation that it is ok. Right now, I am back to waiting. Two weeks. 
But, it seems, my client isn’t coming. 

(how) Do you see me?

This is the second of two or three (I haven’t decided) parts about the BAPCA conference.

In the lead up to the conference, it occurred to me that it might be an interesting idea to get BACPA to challenge some assumptions and at the same time, help me personally, and so I sent an email and asked if, on people’s name badges, it could look like:


After some explaining about what this meant, and that it wouldn’t be ok to write ‘pronoun: he/she/other’, with two people who both said ‘yes this seems ok’, I was excited and hopeful that for one weekend, I would immediately be known for who I was and wouldn’t have to explain myself to everyone (although I foresaw some conversations about my choice of pronoun). When I got to the conference, I cannot describe the disappointment I felt when I realised that the badges just said NAME on them. I was crushed. This was a conference on diversity, supposedly at least in part for and about people like me, and something I had requested had been theoretically agreed to but not carried out. I wondered if perhaps it had been an administration error, so I asked the first person I’d spoken to what had happened. She told me that it had been discussed, and they couldn’t see why THEY would need a pronoun on their badges, and if I wanted one, I could just write one on. I responded and said ‘that immediately ‘others’ me’ and in her face I recognised that I had made sense in that moment.

I walked away, to be met by someone else who said ‘Oh – you’re the one who’s going to write ‘they’ on your badge aren’t you? you need to tell me about that, because I don’t get it’. And I kind of mumbled something and went away. I was uncomfortable with the idea of having to explain myself and just wanted to get away. I decided from that point that I wasn’t wearing my badge. If i couldn’t be fully known for who I was, on equal terms, I would be known on my terms. I felt pestered by the same person on two more occasions to educate them. I eventually flat-out said ‘no, I won’t. Please feel free to look online’.

My four days was spent never really being seen. Most people got my pronoun wrong most of the time. Some people really tried hard, and I can see that and don’t have a problem with it. Some got it right (few), and a lot more got it wrong, corrected themselves and moved on. A lot more clearly weren’t able to risk admitting potentially being wrong or uncomfortable, and so carried on (either that, or they never noticed that despite me talking about it, and showing up to the evening event in my facial hair, that ‘she’ was potentially inappropriate) and it was ‘she’ all the way. Others performed great linguistic feats to never gender me. I suspect it would have been much easier work to say ‘they’, rather than not use ANY pronoun.

I have to say, going out in the evening in my facial hair was something I’d never done before. That has previously been confined to my house. Aside from a couple of positive comments, no-one said anything or reacted externally, which was just what I wanted. It was great (both the positive and the lack of negative). I was able to relax and have fun in a way I didn’t think I’d manage, the first time I walked out of the bathroom and into public.

But it was back to ‘she’ for most of it.

Readers, those who say you’ll work with LGBT clients, have a think. It’s not enough to think you’re accepting. When you get it wrong with me it’s ok; I’m resilient. When a client who has never outed herself to anyone before comes to you looking ‘like a man’, you’re going to have to potentially put away your ‘he’ and develop your ‘she’. You might get a genderqueer person who like me who uses ‘they’, or per, or xie, or one of the many other gender-neutral pronoun (or who, unlike me, doesn’t want a pronoun at all). If you’re going to be culturally competent working with especially the T of LGBT people, you need to know some people who are trans, have spoken to people who are trans, or have done some reading and training on the topic.

I’m sure that most people at the conference would have said that they were competent to work with LGBT people. Had I been a client, it could have done me a lot of harm. As it was, I’m used to it. It happens every day. It means that BAPCA was not a safe space for me, much like most other spaces are not safe. But for a client, it’s imperative that your space is safe. Ask yourself honestly – ‘could I consistently call someone ‘they’ without tripping?’ ‘could I call someone who would ordinarily be read as ‘a woman’ and who comes to my counselling room in a skirt ‘he’ without having an issue?’ Those are difficult things to do, because society genders us in to two groups. You’re stepping outside of it all to accept the client as they are, not as you want to see them.

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.

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.





Spotlight on: Livescribe electronic pen





I recently bought a Livescribe pen from a friend. She was no longer using it, and I had an idea thatit might be useful both for my phd and for my therapy training.


This is a pen that will write like a normal pen. It’s a bit chunkier to hold than a standard pen, but for anyone who’s ever employed the ‘think pen/fat pen’ ethod for exams, it’s just a different size of pen. It’s not too chunky. The pen writes on to specific dotted paper (that you can print yourself if you don’t want to keep buying the books). When you’re finished writing, you do a short underline of your work and write the command it needs (PDF will send it to the livescribe software) on the sheet and, providing you have had the pen switched on, it will save everything you have written into your pen and will transfer it to your computer when it can (either via wifi or by docking). The livescribe 3 will transfer your writing in ‘real time’ to the livescribe app. any other users have to transfer to the computer, but still great!


It can also record as it writes, and you can play it back either from the paper itself


Livescribe pen and paper

or within the computer program. The clever thing is that if you set it to record, you can then find out exactly what you said at any particular point – so if you were to draw a diagram and explain it at the same time, you could touch the diagram and it would play your words back. Here is a quick YouTube video (not by me) that talks through some of the options.





I have messy handwriting – much messier than the image above and so far, the computer has been able to find every word I’ve written. It doesn’t have OCR recognition (that is, it won’t transcribe your handwritten notes into text), but it will find anything you’ve written. You can also export your notes out as a pdf, which will include audio if you ask it to, so the whole of your ideas are encapsulated. If you wish, there is an app that costs about £12 that does OCR. I’ve just downloaded the trial version and I would say it’s about 85% correct. Probably worth upgrading for. I’m not sure yet!


It costs (depending on the model you buy) around £120 new, and 4 60 (doublesided) A4 notebooks are abuot £20, but I have seen pen+books go for £40 on ebay. As mentioned before, as long as you have the right printer (a laser I think), you can also print your own paper and save o the expense, although £5 for a large A4 notebook doesn’t seem bad value to me.


You can also hook it to evernote (which will be a future ‘spotlight’) and arrange work into notebooks there (that don’t have to be the same as your physical notebooks. If you use evernote, you can write over the scanned images also.


I plan on using one for counselling training and one for my phd. I shall be journalling with it. So not only do I have a paper copy if I want to physically write, but I can also just use regular evernote to make other entries if I prefer to. The whole thing can be bundled together and sent in for marking that way. For me that feels like a great compromise – before I would do it all on my computer (or phone), and there was no point writing something down because i wasn’t doing it often. That’s because I can’t go back and look at it easily – I can’t do ‘ctrl+f’ and search for the word I knew I’d written on a block of text. But  now I will be able to do just that.


I’ll also be using it to make notes on papers I read. I am still figuring out exactly how I will do that, but I am thinking that it will involve writing the paper title across the top of the page and then noting where I am making comments (paragraph 2, page 1 etc). Then I won’t have to worry about searching each paper manually (or even the little sticky note things. Equally, I can get a sticky-out notelet and write the page information on, so I know where I’ve made notes. If I’ve printed it. I keep all my papers filed in Mendeley (also upcoming), and there is a ‘notes’ field in that program also, so I can easily move between evernote and mendeley to find what I’ve said in the past.


If it all goes horrendously wrong, I’ll let you know. But I think it’s going to be fine!


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?



knowing myself


Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is alre...

Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is already taken up (Photo credit: symphony of love)


I was out running yesterday around my local park. It’s beautiful there. The weather was cooler – but just right for me and running in.


As I started my second lap, I saw a small child – about three years old and their caregiver. The child had no coat on, and long sleeves and trousers and seemed quite content – my running app tells me it was 18 degrees. But what caught my attention was the caregiver’s insistence that ‘you need to put a coat on. It’s cold and everyone else has one’. The child insisted they were not cold and the caregiver insisted it was cold and so the child needed to put a coat on.


Even at my slow speed, I was past this little dyad before I saw the end of that play out, but I imagine that not many three year olds win that battle. And it made me sad. For me, it’s a prime, and very basic example of Rogers’ organismic valuing process (our valuing system). The child is being told that its valuing process is incorrect (MUST be cold) and then (assuming this pattern continues throughout life) learns that many other things that it thinks are somehow ALSO ‘incorrect’. And before you know it, we have clients in our therapy rooms who don’t know who they are or what they feel, or what they like and need.


As trainees also – we are confronted with a LOT of things as trainees – from spending days (by the end of training) with each other in group process, trying to manage the way we feel in response to several people’s feels. Yet, when you are told something as basic as ‘You are cold’ and you do not think you ARE cold, how can you trust in yourself for the big decisions, when you ‘know’ you were wrong about the small ones? This follows on to our ‘experiential learning’ also – in may places throughout our training, we are experiencing things that are very different to what we have experienced in our lives so far. In my family, you didn’t talk about how you felt. That’s not going to get me far in counselling training (or in therapy). So in training I am constantly looking at theory, at conversations, and trying to ‘get at’ my feelings around these things, as well as trying to make academic theory make sense, so I am doing ‘double duty’ here (as I suspect, many people are).


But this not TALKING about feelings then often leads to not having them, because what’s the point of having a feeling if you can’t talk about it? – if as a small child, you are alone with that feeling, both good and bad. There is a difficulty then as an adult, when people say to you that as you use language like ‘gut feeling’ that you MUST then be having a feeling. In my case, it doesn’t SEEM like a feeling, it seems like knowledge, but just as the small child who was told they were cold, when they did not feel they were, I am told I have a feeling, when I do not feel like I do. I accept that other people in my position might experience this as a feeling, but at the same time, I think that I need to do much more work in my own therapy before I can get to that stage for myself. Unlike that child, I can choose to reject the assertion, and know that their experience of those words is just that, and mine is mine. After all, Rogers – proposition two: The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual. I think I just reached a new level of personal acceptance there.


“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”