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…

 

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Journal no 7; 12th November 2012

This week, we spent our morning studying ‘Hobson’s conversational model’ ,  (Robert Hobson, an English psychotherapist  born 1920-died 1999) which has been more recently called a  ‘psychodynamic -interpersonal approach’ to therapy.

At the core of this approach is the concept of self by William James, the philosopher, who said that;

(1) All thought is owned by some personal self;

(2) All thought, as experienced by human consciousness, is constantly in flux and never static;

(3) There is an on-going continuity of thought, as it moves from one object to another, constantly comprising shifting focus and context

(4) Thought typically deals with objects different from and independent of consciousness itself, so that two minds can experience common objects

(5) Consciousness takes an interest in particular objects, choosing to focus on them rather than on others

In my opinion, these concepts naturally lend themselves as cornerstones for a therapeutic process – although it is one that Hobson was ‘unwilling to present as a fixed and definitive set of ideas. To me, it is about fluidity, flux and flexibility, about the process of change – and for that reason, I really resonate with this. (In fact I would say that in reading his ideas on the page, it seemed to articulate all my intuitive thoughts on the essence of the counselling process)

The approach was originally called ‘conversational’ because of the emphasis on the use of language. Hobson stated that the therapist and client have a ‘special friendship’ – therapy, and the therapist  can build this relationship through developing a mutual ‘feeling language’ . The therapist can be with the client ‘together in their aloneness’, thereby helping the client through the development of this relationship and the healing power of ‘being there’ with them (echoing several other attachment theories, to me – I recall Fairbairn and Bowlby talking of rebuilding insecure attachments)

Hobson holds true the fundamental notions of psychodynamic theory; that people repeat destructive relationship patterns from the past, that we all use defence mechanisms to shield ourselves from difficult internal feelings, memories and desires, that our problems can stem from unresolved developmental tasks, that we have a need for secure emotional attachments and that the therapist in working with these issues must be aware of transference and counter transference occurring. Yet to me, it seems that his approach bridges the gap between traditional psychoanalysis, where the therapist is at a distance from the process – abstaining from any self- disclosure or impacting their own personality on the therapy – and humanistic approaches, where the therapist is almost as much a part of the process as the client; where the relationship is the key which unlocks the therapy. The concept of ‘aloneness’ is undoubtedly an existential issue, which requires warmth and compassion in discussion, and imposes personality on all who discuss it. I feel it is this concept of the therapist being integral, as an individual, to the process, that brings the psychodynamic approach up to date – shedding the image of a cigar smoking doctor, holding a notebook, sitting behind a client on a couch, saying very little, and I like that it does that.

AS a group, we spent a long time discussing our inbuilt need to feel some kind of resolution from the counselling interview – that as keen students; heads exploding with theory, we are unconsciously striving to apply that theory and to see some kind of progress being made, for our own satisfaction and the consolidation of our learning. However this is not necessarily what is always going to happen, and often it is just not necessary – the process in itself is enough, and trust and faith in the long term power of the process and respect for the client’s autonomy in their own change is vital, and must be remembered. Often, we are so engrossed in the story being presented, that we forget about the process itself. Supervision is the place where we need to take our reflections on the session, and use our supervisor to help us clarify the power of the process as much as the theory and story. Hobson’s model exemplifies this beautifully.

Luckily for me, I had only recently watched a video of myself counselling, (and bizarrely, fortuitously, one where the volume was very poor) and so I had a slightly more objective view of my own experience of the counselling process to draw from. Because of the poor volume, I had paid extra attention to the body language used, the intonation in voices, shifts in rhythm and the overall feel of the session, and in my reflection I felt my eyes being truly opened to my own abilities as a counsellor. I saw so many areas for improvement, and so many new areas for future work. The benefit of reflection like this is huge, again highlighting the importance and huge gains to be made from supervision. The supervisor is the third person in the relationship, providing that objectivity of someone from the outside looking in – vital and so valuable!

I don’t know whether I was invigorated or intoxicated by this idea, but (in retrospect, foolishly) I put myself forward to be recorded again in the afternoon, and let the whole class watch my abilities as a counsellor on the big screen – an exercise in studying ‘the process’. Why, why, why??? BACP Self care – lesson to be learnt, K, you are not a natural extrovert! Why do I feel the need to constantly push myself forward towards other people with my own personal learning? Firstly, allowing myself to be counselled in front of the whole class during the last lesson of last year, then blogging this journal, then doing this??? Is it for the adrenaline rush? Cos I feel so awful afterwards, having done it – but then I am well aware that I like making myself feel uncomfortable, as I am secretly pleased with myself for having pushed myself through the pain. Ooooh, this really is stuff for my therapy – I’m hearing echoes of the eating disorder inner voice coming back “punish, punish, take control,” as well as the overactive superego, my family telling me ”don’t be shy,” and Fairbairn’s internal saboteur; setting myself up for criticism and failure, some external punishment for my internal self- hater.

Sadly, the crash after I did this, did exactly what the saboteur wanted – set me up to fall, and I felt myself crashing after that – not that anyone around me would have known – well, I may have been slightly quieter outwardly, but I know that I do a very good acting job – I have been perfecting it for nearly forty years now!  The rest of the afternoon was a blur to me, and that evening, and the next day too. It is only now, two days later, that I feel able to write about it, and I still don’t understand it.  More exploration  needed, plainly…