Journal post 16; Monday 14th january

Today, we began by looking at ‘strategic therapy’ – a model originally developed by Milton Erickson (who is often credited with the founding of several popular NLP techniques that are commonly used) and popularly advocated by Jay Haley, for use in brief courses of therapy. The therapist initiates what happens during therapy and designs a particular, individualistic approach for each problem. “Strategic therapy isn’t a particular approach or theory, but a name for the type of therapy where the therapist takes responsibility for directly influencing people” (Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques Of Milton H. Erickson MD)

We went on to discuss Milton Erickson’s techniques. He was quite a controversial figure in psychology, being largely self-taught, and favouring methods that some considered unorthodox. He regarded the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating, and used approaches such as hypnosis (although his definition varies from the commonly held image of a client being put to sleep and being made to do things that they would not usually consider doing – his meaning of this word is more to do with achieving a deep state of relaxation and ease with the client, whereby they are more receptive to ideas that the therapist suggests, more aware of intonation, tone of voice, more perceptive of other signals that could be given), working with metaphor (a wonderful example was given of his discussing sex with a couple who he was counselling – he used the simile of a three course meal – did they prefer to slowly savour their food, enjoying a leisurely entrée with a good wine, or was it better for them to rush through to the dessert?) reframing (suggesting it would be more bother to continue presenting symptoms of unease than to give them up)and my favourite – encouraging resistance (whereby the encouragement of the client’s negativity to any suggestions by the therapist, creates a situation where the client, wanting to oppose the suggestion, finds himself unable to resist without cooperating with the very aim of the therapist anyway – often described as ‘reverse psychology’)

In reading about his work, and the lovely anecdotes about his unusual approach to it, a real sense of his quirky personality came across, and the obvious success of his uncommon methods made me warm to them, rather than reject them.  These all seemed to me to be really effective, exciting techniques; but I completely appreciate that a great deal of skill must be acquired in order to practise in this way. Definitely to be used by a confident, experienced and highly intuitive therapist – I have a long way to go yet!

The book by Jay Haley ‘Uncommon Therapy’ (a copy of which I simply had to order, as soon as I got home) describes his technique beautifully here;

One way to view the strategic therapy of Milton Erickson is as a logical extension of

hypnotic technique. Out of hypnotic training comes skill in observing people and

the complex ways they communicate, skill in motivating people to follow directives,

and skill in using one’s own words, intonations, and body movements to influence

other people. Also out of hypnosis come a conception of people as changeable, an

appreciation of the malleability of space and time, and specific ideas about how to

direct another person to become more autonomous. Just as a hypnotist can think

of transforming a severe symptom into a milder one, or one of shorter duration, he

can think of shifting an interpersonal problem into an advantage.

This ‘strategic therapy’ ; where the therapist most definitely takes charge of the treatment, and uses their powers of suggestion, intuition, and at times, plain trickery, into facilitating the client’s change of perception – is commonly used in family therapy situation these days. The therapist will focus on identifying problems, setting goals and helping the clients to examine both the outcome and the effectiveness of them. The British Strategic Therapy Centre advertises this on its website by calling it ” the art of solving complicated human problems with apparently simple solutions” and it strikes me that this quite an accurate summary  -of how I perceive it to be, anyway; assisting the client by breaking the problems down into less complex, more manageable issues, and  in turn, helping them to find solutions – in other words COMMON SENSE (!) – What any helping professional would try to do; be they a social worker, a support worker, nurse, care assistant or counsellor.

The discussion within the group was really interesting that day, but was slightly marred by the anxiety that the weather was bringing – snow was falling, thick and fast, and many of us in the group had concerns about travelling home, and about how our children were being affected by their school’s snow policies (School these days seem to just shut at the first sign of snow. In fact, England just seems to lose the plot as soon as the weather starts to get a little more extreme – you’d think we would be prepared for it by now; after all, it happens almost every winter. Grrrr…) So, after a brief chat about the paradox of failure within counselling (can counselling ever be considered a ‘failure – aren’t all experiences, regardless of the positivity or negativity of their perception at the time, simply lessons to grow from; the very aim of counselling) those of us with children who needed rescuing from their schools took the decision to cut the day short; me included. Such a shame, as the subject matter on today, of all days, was absolutely fascinating – well I thought so, anyway…

 

Journal no 10; 26th November 2012

Today we revisited the hugely important subject of ethics and values in counselling, and in particular, how they relate to us in our placements, and in practise.

The BACP encourages its members to aspire to the following personal moral qualities

Empathy: the ability to communicate understanding of another person’s experience from that person’s perspective.

Sincerity: a personal commitment to consistency between what is professed and what is done.

Integrity: commitment to being moral in dealings with others, personal straightforwardness, honesty and coherence.

Resilience: the capacity to work with the client’s concerns without being personally diminished.

Respect: showing appropriate esteem to others and their understanding of themselves.

Humility: the ability to assess accurately and acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Competence: the effective deployment of the skills and knowledge needed to do what is required.

Fairness: the consistent application of appropriate criteria to inform decisions and actions.

Wisdom: possession of sound judgement that informs practice.

Courage: the capacity to act in spite of known fears, risks and uncertainty.

Through much discussion within the group, we all questioned these qualities within ourselves – whether they had been tested in any situations so far, whether we could imagine hypothetical situations in which they would be tested and so on. We all hope to aspire to these qualities, but there are times when we all question whether or not we may fall slightly short. I know that in a recent counselling session, my own counsellor helped me to identify a need to strengthen my own resilience. The last term of extreme introspection has made me feel weaker and more vulnerable than I ever have before, at times. Of course, at others, it has given me extreme strength and wisdom, and I know that self-awareness is the key to becoming a sound counsellor, so I will learn how to strengthen my own reserves at the same time from now on; Developing our own ways of coping, and improving our practise is easier when we have this structure to work towards.

The BACP website states that the fundamental values of counselling and psychotherapy include a commitment to:

  • Respecting human rights and dignity
  • Ensuring the integrity of practitioner-client relationships
  • Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application
  • Alleviating personal distress and suffering
  • Fostering a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned
  • Increasing personal effectiveness
  • Enhancing the quality of relationships between people
  • Appreciating the variety of human experience and culture
  • Striving for the fair and adequate provision of counselling and psychotherapy services

In our group discussion, we all agreed that the morals and values that we have talked about are rapidly becoming who we are.  Confidence in our abilities as therapists has led to less fear of any awkward issues arising. For instance, one of the hypothetical situations that many of the group expressed nervousness about dealing with would be in a case involving child abuse.  However, on further exploration of those feelings, that fear was dissolved by the understanding that every person that enters into the therapeutic contract is always considered as a human being first; their behaviours are secondary, and a counsellors must never be judgemental, as there is usually a story behind an abuser, leading to an understanding of why they have fallen into such behaviour patterns.

Morning’s discussion over, the afternoon’s skills practise led me into new waters. I purposely chose to work with a group member I don’t know so well, someone I hadn’t ever worked with before. Why? I don’t know, really. The reason I hadn’t worked with her already is unclear to me – I have always thought her a perfectly lovely person, but I suppose I was slightly intimidated by her quietness, thinking it may lead to awkwardness in the counselling situation (there is a judgment in itself – tsk!) Of course, I was completely wrong. It was a wonderful session – I enjoyed being with her so much, aside from the material we discussed, I just loved the feeling of building a relationship. Core conditions established; the relationship is key, and as I discovered then, can be just as powerful for the counsellor as the client. A new relationship can be just as energising within the context of a counselling relationship as they are in the outside world! The inspiration from that counselling session left my head buzzing with thoughts and ideas, and I’m afraid to say I was not a terribly active participant in the process group that took place straight afterwards. All of my learning was going on internally, and I didn’t feel the need to share it with the rest of the group – or more to the point, I didn’t think that they would be interested in any way in what was going on in my head.

On the subject of ‘what was going on in my head’, the last part of the day was spent looking at an article discussing our ‘internal supervisor’ from Therapy Today. The ‘internal supervisor’ is the source we counsellors have within ourselves, an ability to self-monitor, to step back from the situation, both whilst within the session, and afterwards too; to reflect and learn from what took place.  One quote in particular really stood out for me “an internal locus of evaluation can lead the supervisee to lessening reliance on the evaluations and opinions of others, and to developing more faith and belief in their own judgement”

Certainly valuable words for the student counsellor; unsure and nervous about ‘doing the right or wrong thing’ as I am, but equally valuable words for my everyday life too – I must learn to have more faith in my own intuitions; Definitely an ability I have been less confident in over the last few years. Call it a career move!