They are based upon personal and professional experiences.
Ten Helpful Tips For Trainee Counsellors
I started my own training with little idea of what to expect. A few tips including practical and emotional aspects would have been very helpful. Here are some suggestions taken from my own experiences as a trainee and as a counsellor and supervisor.
1. Find out about college or university assistance
There might be extra support available if you have particular needs such as mobility or learning differences. If you inform course directors and tutors of your needs from the start there is more clarity about what is required and what is available.
2. Find out about time commitments and financial costs. This will give you more options for planning ahead.
As you check fees and course dates look out for extras such as residential training.
Set aside adequate time for completing work that needs to be submitted. Be prepared for plenty of reading.
Having your own regular therapy is usually a course requirement that will add to your expenses.
Counselling practice is often at a placement that offers clients free or low-cost therapy. Most placement counsellors work voluntarily and are provided with free group supervision.
During supervision counsellors discuss their work with clients and their personal and professional development. You will probably also need to have individual supervision adding to your time and cost commitments.
3. Be prepared to experience the emotional effects of counselling training
Many trainees experience a range of feelings and emotions. Training includes self-exploration and working with emotional areas such as bereavement. Some topics may resonate with your own issues. Peer groups can be both supportive and challenging. Working together with any conflicts that arise is part of your learning and development.
4. Be prepared for changes in your relationships
As you develop personally and professionally your perceptions, attitudes and interests can change. You may become more self-aware and self-accepting, more confident and self-sufficient. These changes can affect your relationships with family and friends.
5. Keep written records of everything
Receipts and payment records help if there are any administrative queries.
To avoid misunderstandings keep records of communications that relate to your course, for example time extensions for handing in assignments.
Keeping information about course details and areas of study can save you time in the future, for example when approaching placements and applying for jobs.
Keep records of time spent in personal counselling, your hours of voluntary counselling, and individual and group supervision. This information will be needed to complete your course, and later if you apply for BACP Accreditation. Many, but not all courses have forms and procedures for this.
6. Find a counsellor
Most but not all training courses require that you have a number of counselling sessions. Whether or not personal counselling is stipulated I would recommend it for the following reasons:
As a counsellor it is important to have sat in the client’s chair. To have experienced being in a therapeutic relationship from a client’s perspective, and to have worked at depth with your own issues.
Whilst training there are various situations where your own material might be triggered. Counselling can support you emotionally which is important for your own self-care as well as enabling you to be grounded whilst working with clients.
7. When choosing a counsellor and a supervisor make sure that each is approved by your college or university.
This avoids forming a bond with a counsellor or supervisor only to discover that you have to end the relationship and start again. Some trainings have a list of approved counsellors and supervisors.
8. Consider looking for a placement at the earliest opportunity
Counselling clients is likely to be a central part of your training. I recommend applying to a few placements and starting early as there are a limited number of places. Some trainings will not let you continue into the next year without a placement.
9. Invite fellow trainees to form a peer group
As you approach the end of your training it is a good idea to think about future supports. Courses include opportunities for learning, discussing, sharing and attending to personal and professional development. Following graduation, meeting fellow trainees regularly can be mutually helpful and supportive.
10. Take good care of yourself
Training can be immensely rewarding, intense, exhausting, exciting, emotional, deep, challenging, stressful, life changing and more. Attending to your own well-being is essential. Allow yourself some time for pausing and considering your own needs. Notice what nurtures you, what helps you to relax, what gives you a sense of peace and well-being and what replenishes and energises you. With good self-care you are better equipped to meet the demands of your course, and to be more grounded, energised and present as a counsellor.
I will conclude with a quote by Carl Rogers, these are the words that come to me when I reflect upon my own experiences of being a trainee.
If I am to facilitate the personal growth of others in relation to me, then I must grow, and while that is often painful it is also enriching. Carl Rogers (1995) On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy
Talking with a Counsellor
I remember my first session as a client and how nervous I was. As a counsellor I look forward to meeting you, I am interested in the issues that bring you to therapy and I hope that you will find me genuine, empathic and supportive.
When counselling works best
I first had personal counselling during my training as it was a course requirement. I was not ready to talk about anything very deep and decided to stop after a few sessions.
As the training progressed I was aware of areas in my life that felt stressful and uncertain. I tried therapy again and gained clarity and enough confidence to make some changes.
As time went on I took more risks and worked with difficult emotions.The bond with my counsellor helped me to feel secure and grounded. Because she did not judge me I became less judgmental towards myself. Counselling was empowering and fascinating, At times it was challenging and emotionally painful.
From a professional point of view I learnt that counselling works best when the client chooses to engage with it. Therefore when someone gets in touch with me to arrange therapy for a relative or a friend I always check that the person they are contacting me about wants to have counselling.
How many sessions?
Sometimes people ask me how many sessions they will need. They might be wondering how long before I will feel better? or when will there be a significant change?. Others prefer to have counselling on a long term basis.
From my own point of view there is not a set number of sessions. Instead this is something for us to discuss together taking into account your needs and wishes. These can change over time and you might like to have a review to look at how you are feeling and to consider what would be most helpful for you.
Why choose counselling?
Counselling gives clients the freedom to speak openly without some of the constraints that can get in the way when talking to family and friends. It is confidential and non judgmental. Professional counsellors are interested in how things are from your point of view, they can hear about your overwhelming experiences without becoming overwhelmed themselves.
There are many reasons for choosing counselling, maybe something happened to you in the past and continues to cause you distress. You might be struggling with current issues, tangles, decisions and dilemmas or coming to terms with life changes.
The issues are not always so clear. Maybe you sense that something is wrong without being able to identify a specific problem. Perhaps you are experiencing sadness, a loss of energy and enthusiasm, anger, stuckness, restlessness, feelings of emptiness or moodiness. You might prefer to have individual counselling, or to work as a couple or a family.
Who’s doing the talking?
Occasionally a new client asks ‘will you expect me to do all the talking?’ The answer to this question is no, although clients do tend to do more of the talking. My Person-Centred approach is relational, it involves us forming a bond and working together with the material that you bring so our conversations are two-way.
As a client there can be times when you have plenty to talk about and times when nothing seems to be very pressing. There might be so much going on for you that you do not know where to begin or how to access the underlying emotions.
We might look at what you are feeling and thinking now, or we could sit quietly together and see what emerges. In my experience something tends to present itself and whilst this may not be what matters to you the most, it is often a way into something deeper.
What is counselling like?
During the first session I am interested to hear about you and what brings you to counselling. You are very welcome to ask me questions and I will explain about confidentiality.
During sessions you can talk about any area of your life and explore yourself and your relationships. Counselling can be deep and emotional, it can also be a relief to speak openly and honestly, to be understood without being judged.
New insights and realisations emerge, sometimes whilst we are together and sometimes between sessions. Most people gain more confidence in their own strengths and inner resources.
Sometimes the conversation is serious and then a lighter moment arises naturally. Sharing laughter can be healing and replenishing.
Person Centred Counselling
The Person-Centred approach was first developed by Dr. Carl Rogers (1902–1987). Central to the approach is the belief that people have a natural tendency to develop psychologically when they are in an accepting, empathic and genuine relationship.
Carl Rogers explains
It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried.
It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement in the process. Carl Rogers (1961)
If the counsellor is tempted to demonstrate their own abilities they may lead clients in an unhelpful direction. Furthermore taking the lead implies that the counsellor, rather than the client knows what is best.
This takes me to the importance of self-awareness.
Person-centred counsellors strive to be aware of their inner experiencing, noticing and addressing anything that prevents them from being fully available for clients, and anything that that might compromise the quality of their work.
Rogers published an article in 1957, identifying six conditions that he considered 'necessary and sufficient' for therapeutic change.
1. Two persons are in psychological contact’ (Rogers 1957)
Counsellor and client have some impact upon each other. Without psychological contact counselling would not be possible.
2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.’ Rogers, C. (1957).
Self-concept refers to how we view, experience and evaluate ourself. Ideal-self refers to how we wish to be and believe that we should be. The more that our self-concept and ideal-self match, the more consistent or congruent we are. If there is consistency between the way we see ourself and the way that we want to be, we are likely to have a strong sense of our worth.
Rogers' second condition refers to a miss match between how the client perceives themself and how they would like to be. If the client is vaguely aware of their incongruence they are vulnerable because they are likely to feel some anxiety. If there is no awareness of their incongruence they are vulnerable to the possibility of becoming aware of it and experiencing anxiety.
The third, fourth and fifth conditions are often referred to as the core conditions, they are about the qualities which the counsellor brings to the relationship.
3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.
As far as possible Counsellors are aware of what they are experiencing in their relationships with clients. Their inner feelings are available to them allowing the counsellor to be openly themselves and to share some of their experiencing when this seems to be in clients’ best interests. These qualities of presence and genuineness create a trustworthy and safe environment for the client to explore them self and their issues.
4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client
As far as possible counsellors are genuinely accepting, respectful and warm towards clients who are free to be themselves and to explore their situation without being judged or criticized. When people are valued they are more likely to value themselves, to become more confident and to develop greater self esteem.
5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.
Counsellors understand clients empathically as if they were in the client's shoes. This can reduce feelings of isolation and of being alone with one’s troubles. Counsellors reflect back what the client tells them, helping clients to hear themselves and to check their own views and meanings.
Counsellors endeavour to understand clients at a deep level, and at the same time it is important to also be in touch with their own reality.
6. The communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.
Counsellors communicate their empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard to clients so that clients can benefit from being understood and accepted.
In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth? Carl Rogers (1961)
Carl Rogers (1961) On Becoming a Person p. 11
Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95-103.
Congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy are personal qualities which counsellors develop within themselves. This is a continuous process of development.
A Counsellor's perspective
I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. ~Yeats ~
These lines speak to me of the relationship between client and counsellor. Speaking openly about yourself can feel vulnerable and I want to respond with respect and sensitivity.
Dreams are delicate, they are real in our hearts but not in reality. Dreams for the future may not be fully formed and they can change. I am not here to shape yours by imposing my own agenda and views. Nor do I want to tamper with your memories or their significance.
Treading softly requires my full attention and presence while we sit together. It is my intention to provide an open space for you to move at your own pace and in your own direction.
If I urge you to go down a particular path, then I risk sending you off course or to areas that you are not yet ready to navigate. You are in the unique position of knowing what is going on from the inside, so I will take your lead. Perhaps you see an obvious route or we might only know your next step as you are taking it.
Sometimes people tell me that their concerns are small compared with the suffering of others. My own opinion is that suffering is not a matter of comparison. It is what it is for each of us. At the same time I understand that for some people, looking at themselves and their situation in a wider context can put things into perspective and that this can be useful.
I am interested in whatever it is that brings you to therapy. This might include particular issues, your distress, a wish to explore and gain insights, a sense of something quite vague that needs your attention, decisions, hopes, dreams, and more...
Therapy is not always an easy option, looking at ourselves and our lives can take some courage. I hope to understand how things are from your point of view so that you feel truly heard and accepted.
Within an accepting empathic and genuine relationship there is more freedom to explore due to the lack of criticism.
At the same time I endeavour to be in touch with my own perspective so that I can share my insights with you when appropriate and so that I can remain grounded and supportive.
Having an awareness of my feelings and emotions allows me to be authentic and sincere. I hope that you will find my genuineness and honesty trustworthy and secure so that you feel safe enough to explore challenging areas and emotions.
Couples Counselling and the power of listening
Problems in a significant relationship can be detrimental to our well-being. You may be feeling sad, angry, anxious and distressed. Couples include married and unmarried partners, siblings, friends, colleagues, parent and child.
When is couples counselling most effective?
Some couples turn to counselling when the situation has become unbearable, whilst others decide that it is important to work through their differences at an earlier stage. Over the years I have found that counselling is most beneficial when both people are ready to attend to their relationship, whether sooner or later.
Sometimes one person is eager to start counselling whilst the other is reluctant. People usually become more comfortable with counselling once they realise that they will both be listened to with warmth and respect.
Causes of tension within relationships
Each of us brings our unique history, personality, hopes, desires, culture and ways of coping to our relationships. Difficulties can arise when people have differing opinions, needs and wishes and when painful areas such as a bereavement are not attended to. Daily pressures and life events also have an impact.
People tend to seek counselling when one or both people are unfaithful, when trust is lacking in the relationship and when there are conflicts around financial matters. Drugs and alcohol can cause major problems or they might exacerbate other difficulties. Some people experience bullying and abuse within their relationship.
The power of listening
An advantage of couples counselling is that the exchanges are facilitated in a manner that gives both people a safe space to talk, to be heard, to be understood and to be acknowledged.
My role includes listening carefully, respectfully and sensitively to each person. I want to comprehend your point of view and to have a deep sense of what you are feeling.
When I share my understandings of one person's perspective, the other has an opportunity to hear them too. You might feel some empathy or recognise a different view point.
Being heard and acknowledged is often a relief. You can listen to your own feelings, gaining a deeper sense of your anger, frustration, anxiety, guilt, grief, and love. This may bring fresh insights into how you are affected and how you react.
For many clients listening to the other person without commenting is incredibly difficult. You might have a very different perspective, feel misrepresented, and judged unfairly. I hope to communicate my awareness of how hard this is, whilst still holding the space for each person to speak and each person to listen.
As each member of the couple becomes more able to listen to the other, it becomes easier to see both points of view. Discussing differences of opinion and working together with life issues becomes easier.
Couples counselling can help you to identify and address the causes of your difficulties and to understand each other's feelings and perspectives. You can also improve upon how you communicate your views and emotions with each other. As new ways forward emerge you might want to make some changes which can also be explored and discussed.
As couples move towards ending their counselling sessions, many prepare to continue their relationship in a more peaceful, companionable and loving way. A few decide to see less of each other or to end their relationship. Listening skills can help you to manage this more respectfully, amicably and kindly.
March 12th 2020 ~ Driving home from Heathrow airport I sneeze into my coat sleeve. The cab driver is alarmed, he warns me that 'Each time you sneeze it’s like a mini bomb going off’. We have been visiting family in Florida and I am noticing a a higher level of tension and anxiety in the Uk.
Back home I soon realise that we only have one roll of toilet paper. Before going away I gave my son a shopping list and he has very kindly brought everything we need, except loo paper. His reason ‘I tried three shops and there wasn’t any’ seems rather unlikely. I go out in the evening and eventually find a large pack, it is the last one on the shelf.
The next few days
Countries all over the world are closing down. I am fascinated by the drama and the enormity of it all. The news is the only programme that interests me and the topic is always the same.
We are now in lockdown and all my counselling and supervision work is online and by phone. A few clients decide to wait until we can be face to face again.
Some people ask for telephone sessions and sit in their car for privacy. A number of supervisees have fewer clients and want to meet less frequently. To begin with I am uncertain about the future of my practice. Then I have a few new enquiries and it feels more secure.
Certain clients and supervisees are more technologically able than I am. Sometimes I need their help and feel as if our roles have been reversed. I learn to allow for extra time at the end of sessions in case starting up or crashing during the middle has eaten into somebody’s time.
Since we can no longer be in the same physical space it is important to acknowledge how this feels and to mention any concerns. Although we are physically distanced I hope that we can still feel emotionally connected.
The shadow of coronavirus is constantly present. We explore its effects and the surreal feelings that many of us are experiencing. There is a sense for me of us all being in this together.
I would like to find some meaning in all this, to understand in a spiritual way why is it happening, and why now? The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam which is about repairing the world makes the most sense to me. At this extraordinary time people are being kind and helpful, some are showing great courage in their efforts to save lives.
On social media I see many posts about a better future in terms of the environment and new ways of living. There are poems, and videos with beautiful scenery and music. I realise that these posts are supposed to be uplifting, but they bring tears to my eyes because the cost in lives is so high.
These are the first known symptoms of Coronavirus: sore throat, fever, cough, breathing difficulties and fatigue. For some weeks I have had all of these symptoms apart from the fever. Then I hear that one can have the virus without the fever. As the number of deaths escalate, my cough gets worse. I feel as if there is an iron bar pressing down on my chest.
The virus is spreading, it travels through the air and rests on surfaces. Apparently, it can live on plastic for weeks. There are discussions about the pros and cons of wearing a mask and we are given handwashing demonstrations.
When a family member is rushed to hospital my anxiety rises. She returns home the next day and recovers fully. However, my anxiety stays high and the bar on my chest presses harder.
On April 2nd I hear about the death of a Rabbi, I met him once and was impressed by his kindness and sensitivity. His funeral is shown on the news. After that I stop watching the news, I dread hearing about more deaths.
I think I have the virus, or a chest infection or maybe anxiety is causing all these symptoms. One evening I pack a small bag in case I need to be taken to hospital during the night. Then I wake up in the morning feeling better. This happens several times.
Whilst talking online with a friend about my anxiety I become more fully aware of my grief. I am so grateful that none of our family or friends have died, and at the same time I am grieving for the thousands of people who are no longer with us.
My grief feels overwhelming and I am tempted to push it away. However, I know that distracting myself only helps for a little while. So I stay with the emotions in a Focusing way which is gentle and accepting. I notice what I am feeling, and put a soothing hand on my chest where it hurts. Gradually my physical symptoms subside.
Life under Lockdown
I check my street from the window, it looks deserted and therefore safe, so I venture out for my daily exercise. A lady walks towards me from the opposite direction. The virus is very contageous and we must keep two metres apart. Our eyes meet. We both move to cross over the road. We stop and smile. I indicate that I will cross over. We wave and then continue walking on opposite sides of the street.
Each day I walk up the street or down the street, enjoying the sunshine and the flowers.
My son is outside in his car. I leave my granddaughter’s birthday presents on the step and close the front door. From a window I watch my son collect the presents, he places boxes of my favourite coffee pods on the step. I am longing for a hug. When he is safely back in the car, I open the front door. My granddaughter is shouting from the car ‘I love you’, I call back that I love her too. They drive away and I am heart-broken to see them go.
My four-year-old granddaughter in Florida calls me on Hangouts. We agree that every day is the same and give each other tours of our homes. We discuss the time difference and send each other stickers and photos. I treasure this time together, normally she would have been in school.
WhatsApp is ringing, I swipe, and there they all are, my son, daughter-in-law and little granddaughter with her beaming smile. We sing nursery rhymes and look at books.
There are many opportunities for learning online. To begin with I cannot think about starting something new. The future feels too uncertain and I am living day by day, I concentrate upon the safety of my family, and connecting with clients. I talk with family and friends and feel that we are supporting each other. That is enough.
Eventually I feel more safe and recognize that we can take care of ouselves by living in this strange bubble of physical isolation. I choose an online course and join some workshops. Attending to my professional development is grounding and gives me a sense of hope.
Thursday evenings at 8pm ~ It starts with a gentle tinkling that becomes a clinking and then an enormous clanking with fireworks whistling and banging and bursting into coloured lights. Sometimes we join in, knocking on our pots and pans, waving at neighbours and saying thank you to our wonderful NHS.