Journal post 26; Monday 15th April 2013

Our first day back after the Easter break, and being the busy bee that I am (now I am working in not one but TWO placements – I started a new placement last week, working with people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions), I had hardly noticed being away – being so busy with the whole balancing act; placements, supervision, personal therapy – not to mention the fact that the kids were off school, and wanting me to cook and provide taxi services! But it seems that I was actually the only one who hadn’t missed college; the general mood within the group on check in this week, was that of deep anxiety – most of them have placements working for a children’s counselling service within schools, and as such they had a complete break from the routine for the holidays – I think that the break, combined with the sudden realisation that we are reaching the final stretch of the course (6 weeks till the exam), and are facing independence as counsellors (possibly, if we do go on to work for a service) gave everyone a sudden reality check. Do I want to be doing this? Do I feel capable of doing this? Will I continue next year? How hard am I finding this?

As usual, being me, although I empathised with the general feeling I did not share the anxiety ( as seems to be becoming a habit) Not that I was feeling full of confidence and self assuredness, but again, for me, this was a wall I had hit many weeks ago in the course, when things were not going so well; my placements were not happening, I was struggling financially and therefore could not afford the cost of the supervision and therapy required, and as a result, was feeling that I wasn’t really participating fully with the process, and was questioning my ability to do so.

A few months later, and what a difference! I am loving my placement work, beyond words. It is not easy, by any stretch, but it is challenging, and fulfilling, and – bizarrely – I actually think I might be quite good at it, too! Certainly my service manager seems pleased with my work – he is full of praise and admiration for what I do, and he even managed to arrange a training morning  for me last week, paid for by the hostel. I (maybe misguidedly, I don’t know, I hope not though) interpret that as being him having faith in me and wanting to invest in developing my skills, for the benefit of his service.

My clients, who began erratically, have settled, noticeably. Absences are rarer, and we are getting to the point in our relationships where some real work can be done. I feel the weight and power of what goes on within our sessions, and I respect and am humbled by the fact that they deem me both capable and trustworthy enough to share this with them. It feels like a very special thing that happens within the counselling room.

I do feel slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of suddenly having lots of written work to tie up, however, and the thought of the exam is not a particularly pleasant one, it is true. But am sort of stoical about these things – they are inevitable, they just have to be faced and gotten on with.

So, when we were asked to do an exercise on ’embracing authenticity’ as a counsellor and as a person (one can be both – amazing!), asked to question things within us, as whether I am comfortable feeling my feelings? Can I admit distraction, voice irritation, show my anger, put words to affection if it is there, be spontaneous with a client and cope with the unknown, be both gentle and forceful, understand my senses when working with my client, and basically BE ME in response to my client? I actually, hand on heart, felt confident and honest in answering a resounding YES, and I felt proud of myself for being able to answer that. The task asked us to reflect on the impact of congruence (authenticity, honesty, being real) in the counselling relationship – remembering instances when it had real impact on the counselling work, and to think about our congruence with ourselves. When do we feel most connected with our true selves? What has it taught us in relation to ourselves and our approach to counselling, thinking about these things? I found it a process that I met easily, with no resistance at all – in fact, I would say that for me, the path of incongruence now seems alien, horrible to me, and the impact of this in my everyday life has been huge too. I finally appear to have a decent, if only for the sake of the children, relationship with my ex-husband – and I do put that down to my true honesty with myself about how I feel towards him, and my finally relaxing on myself about how I ‘should’ feel. Equally, I am beginning to stop beating myself up in relation to my children; my parenting skills, my guilt for the harm that I believed the divorce caused them.  For the first time since my divorce I actually feel able to begin a romantic relationship again- I feel that I am honest enough with myself to trust myself again, finally. These are all huge things to me – they have made a real difference to my quality of life, and my quality of life, in turn, has made a difference to my abilities as a counsellor. I feel that I come from a much steadier, healthier place, and I think that must radiate to my clients. I don’t feel that I need to hide anything of myself to them – not that I am self-disclosing all over the place, talking about myself within the room, but if I feel compelled to I don’t worry about doing so – I feel that genuineness in the relationship is key, and whatever feels real and right within that should be trusted. Undoubtedly, my supervisory relationship has contributed to this confident feeling, as for the first time I feel that I have a professional sharing my client relationships, their journeys,  and affirming that I am going about being with them in the right way. The few times I have self-disclosed, I have gone straight to my supervisor with it, and she has reassured me that it was ok to do so.

Overall, I would say that my confidence has improved no end through my supervision sessions, generally, in fact. I am glad that I have found a good one, I feel that I have struck gold there, and it is a good feeling. A feeling which I feel is echoing through all aspects of my work right now. Of course, ask me how confident I am feeling again in six weeks time, when the exam is upon me. It may well be a very different story…

 

Journal Post 19; 4th feb 2013

 

Quite a different kind of day today – our tutor is away for a few weeks, so we have another lady standing in temporarily, and although she is basically sticking to the same format that our days have always run to before, her style and approach is so very dissimilar that the entire day felt completely unlike any other. Not in a bad way, though; and illustrating clearly for me how two counsellors can practise from the same theoretical background, yet so many other factors become relevant to the type of therapy that will be created; connection, personality, mood, energy levels, intuition – basically, the qualities that go into making every person an individual, every relationship an individual relationship, and thus, every therapy an individual therapy.

‘Check in’ was so much more in depth than it had ever been before – we were questioned not just about where we were, right there and then with our feelings and our mood, but D (the new tutor) wanted to get to know us quickly, so she asked us about our theoretical preferences and leanings – a sure-fire way to get to know what a counsellor is all about. She cut to the nub of me straight away and I got a strong feeling that she felt that vulnerability within me that people so often do, making me feel upset with myself. I had invoked that again – do I need to start recognizing this more clearly when I see it? Is it a warning to me that I am either dipping or flying, and not realising, myself? If I am to be an effective counsellor, employing all the BACP ethics and guidelines regarding self-care, and safety of practice, I must pay close attention to these signals. Yes, I know that I know myself, but my condition can mean that I have a tendency to sometimes ignore myself too – I must make sure that I don’t do this if I am to be safe in my work.

After a visualisation exercise, focussing on grounding ourselves, putting our roots down in this room, in the here and now, making us feel so much more present with ourselves and each other – we began discussing Egan’s ‘Skilled Helper’ theory – a very well used approach throughout the NHS in Britain, and a highly effective strategy used within brief therapy. It is broken down into three simple parts, questions – What is going on? What do I want instead? How do I get to what I want?

Stage I, Current Scenario – What is going on? This is where the counsellor uses their exploring skills to gain an understanding of the story – what has led the client to seek counselling. Skills used by the counsellor would be; open-ended questions, silence, focusing, empathy, paraphrasing & reflecting both meaning and feeling, structuring, summarising. Stage 1 can take five minutes or five years – it may be all someone needs – to get their story out and be heard.

Stage 2, Preferred Scenario– What do I want instead? In this part the counsellor will take a more directive role than in the previous stage, exploring possibilities (akin to the ‘golden question’ from SFBT) – what would the client prefer ideally? Using brainstorming techniques, imaginative thinking, prompting the client into further exploration; ‘what else?’ How might that feel? What would you be doing/thinking/feeling? What will be the benefits when you achieve this? How will it be different when you have done this? Reality check; are there any costs to you achieving this? This part of the approach can be used to regain positivity and really play with ideas – give the client an idea of how their life could be and an idea of what they could strive towards.

Stage 3, Action Strategies – How will I get there?  More brainstorming and creativity initially – ‘Let’s consider as many different ways of achieving this as we can’ leading to an exploration of what action would need to be taken, and eventually formulating a plan. The use of SMART goals is recommended here (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-phased), and the strategy is broken down into bite sized chunks of action –‘what will you do first? And then…?’

The key with using this model is that the client’s needs must be kept firmly in the centre of what is going on – the model should be used for the client, not the client for the model. Although, as we found when experimenting with using this in our practical part of the session, it is an extremely easy and effective model to use – such a simple strategy can lend itself to many different situations.

During my (brief) session as the counsellor (our group overran with the timing, so I only ended up with a five minute session – seemingly impossible, but strangely, using the highly focussed approach of Egan, it still worked) we found that stage 1 seemed to contain the bulk of the material; in exploring stage 1 fully, the client’s natural coping strategies were revealed, revealing that she had already pulled herself through to stages 2 and 3 without realising. Upon this being noticed, the client felt much more positive about the situation; a few new strategies were batted about, but her confidence was bolstered by the realisation that actually she had already acted in a positive way intuitively, and she felt encouraged to continue with the approach that she had already embarked on. Bingo!

I felt positive after this session, and the feedback given to me by the tutor on the counselling skills I used was lovely; very, very, encouraging. We spent a little bit of time after that watching a video from ‘Ted Talks’, which was great; very informative, and we had a good old group chat with Donna (our course facilitator) after that, which felt productive, but meant we didn’t get any time for a process group (every cloud has a silver lining! I secretly hate process group, I find it so boring and awkward…)

I was excited to get to the supervision part of the day – having recently started my placement; this was the first college supervision session that I would be able to get involved with properly, and I wanted to tell the group about a particularly troubled client I was seeing, who I felt I needed help with.  When I did though, I felt quite upset though at the reaction I got from the tutor. She seemed to leap at me, barely giving me a chance to explain. An awareness of ‘Safety in my work’ seemed to be her primary feeling that she wanted to communicate to me – she felt that I was possibly taking on too much for a student at my point in my training. But the fact of the matter is that in this placement, all of the clients are in extreme crisis, and it does involve taking on heavy issues. I have had real problems finding a suitable placement, and as long as I don’t feel that this is too much for me, I am very reluctant to let this one go. Yes, I have had an extremely positive response, initially, to this new service that has been set up, but I am well aware that this is probably because it is a new thing for the kids at the hostel, and that once they are used to me being around things will probably settle down and I will be less busy. I think that as long as I am aware of how much I am taking on, and make sure that I don’t bite off more than I can chew, so to speak, I will probably be okay. The overwhelming feeling that I have from this placement is one of positivity, and I do not want to let that get squashed. I have an appointment booked with a new supervisor next week, to discuss my work there fully, and I am excited about that, so I hate to sound so terribly rude, but *blows raspberry* – I will be carrying on with this for the time being, at least! Although, in linking back to the first paragraph of this entry, I am well aware of my own issues, and am keeping a self- critical eye on things, don’t worry…