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 2 2nd October 2012

Today began with a recap on Freud’s theories; the unconscious mind and psychic determinism, the personality structure of the ‘id’, ‘ego’ and superego’,  the emotional experiences of the past influencing all later experience, ‘eros’ the life force, and ‘thanatos’ the death instinct being the driving forces of human existence, the psychosexual stages of development (anal, oral, genital, latency and adolescence), defence mechanisms, and the concepts of transference and countertransference in therapy.

A lot of time was spent discussing transference and countertransference within the group, it’s inevitability in all relationships we form, particularly between therapist and client, and the importance of our awareness of it as therapists, and how we choose to use it. Sometimes, when considered necessary it is played along with, if the therapist considers it necessary for the client to work through issues with the subject the transference takes its root from; sometimes it is confronted and broken, providing material for study within the therapy room. In psychodynamic therapy it is a key that can potentially unlock the whole therapeutic journey, as the emphasis in this type of therapy is the impact of the past on present day life. Transference in therapy can bring the past into the ‘here and now’ and make those feelings available once again, ready to be worked with.

The therapist must retain awareness of its presence, and must also be aware of any countertransference that takes place – the therapist’s own feelings in response to the client. More time was taken discussing this, particularly in relation to supervision. Although the supervisor is not present in the therapy sessions, he/she is the third person in the counselling relationship, and it is necessary from them to provide a distanced perspective of what takes place in the therapy. When transference and countertransference occur, the supervisor must bring this to the counsellor’s attention, and discuss the potential consequences of how it is handled, as well as making the counsellor aware of their own feelings in this process, and possibly assisting them with any work that may need to be done.

Nearer the end of the day, we read an interesting piece from Hawkins and Shohet;  ‘supervision in the helping professions’; their supervision model is derived from the ‘good enough mother’ theory by Winnicott (also psychodynamic), and suggests that just as the mother is able to care for her child with support from others ( a husband or extended family), the counsellor can care for their client with support from the supervisor. They list 6 mains focusses for supervision; reflection on the content of the counselling session, exploration of strategies/interventions used , exploration of the process and relationship, focus on the here and now process as a mirror and finally, to focus on the supervisor’s transference. All of these areas of study provide space for transference and countertransference to be noted and discussed, and worked with.

Personally, I find the whole concept of transference completely fascinating, and feel like I have spent my whole life observing it, not just in my relationships, but in those surrounding me too. I am well aware that I married a man that was like my father, but only after I had realised how all my father’s strength lay within the support of my strong willed, dynamic mother – as a result, his actions (or lack of them) forced me into becoming my mother myself – something I really didn’t want!

The practical part of the day was spent discussing an issue concerning transference. I was the counsellor first, listening to S. It was very, very interesting, and so good to be back to doing what I love! I so enjoy sessions like this, where we are given a subject and an orientation to practise with – I feel that it tests me, trying to keep my counselling approach with a discipline – in this case, psychodynamic. I found myself feeling calm and quite confident about the session. Although S tried to avoid the heart of the subject matter many times, I pulled her back, smoothly and gently, I was assertive ‘Right now, I am more interested in how this related to your feelings about your father’.  It felt that that I led her to the root of the issue, and some degree of confrontation/resolution ‘so I wonder what you would say to your father if he were here now’ – maybe not strictly pure psychodynamic – possibly a little bit gestalt, although we didn’t go so far as to use an empty chair. It was enjoyable though. I felt engaged and empowered by it; exhausted afterwards though, as the process group witnessed.

 The high level of emotion within the group that had been raised by the day’s subject was palpable within the group session.  I even felt the need to pop a couple of paracetemol, as I could physically feel the electricity being generated in the form of a ‘storm headache’! I’m ashamed to say it affected my concentration levels in the last part of the day, where we discussed the previously mentioned Hawkins and Shohett model – it took me rather a long time to get my brain in tune with what the words written in front of me were saying – something I found extremely frustrating, I don’t like being the ‘class dunce’, which was how I definitely felt at the end of the day, when we left. Luckily a large gin and tonic imbibed when I got home eased the frustration somewhat. Ironic really, – my placement being at a drug and alcohol recovery centre… (!)