Julia invited us to take the opportunity to reflect upon our individual journeys as counsellors/psychotherapists and to share those thoughts, memories and influences with colleagues and/or the group. She began by explaining a little about the day and discussing what each of us would hope to gain from it.
During the usual ‘agreeing the ground rules,’ Julia made the interesting comment that confidentiality was sometimes a ‘slippery concept’ which led to an interesting exploration of how the subject could carefully be explained and explored with clients and others involved keeping a clear focus on the ethical points and boundaries required. This is especially important when working in organisations, small localities, or social settings. The underlying caution was not to assume that everyone always held the same respect and understanding for such boundaries of confidentiality and clear contracting was recommended.
Julia shared some insights into her own journey particularly those she found helpful and those she had not. Her background is in the psychoanalytic world and before then in historical research and so research and, in particular, qualitative research, is of great importance to her in her practice, teaching, supervision and her CPD. She explained she was and is now very much influenced by the work of Winnicott and Attachment Theory along with her ‘therapeutic heroes and gurus: Josephine Klein, Allan Schore and Sue Gerhardt and others, and thus her psychoanalytic base has become more integrative over time. She led us through an experiential day using specific questions that encouraged us to revisit the place we began this journey, the different stops within it and the changes we have made or begun to make on the way. The First question from Julia was:
‘So what made me think it (training as a counsellor/psychotherapist) was a good idea? Idealism and experience?’
Comments such as ‘naive, over confident, unsure, scared, life experience, thoughts of others, feedback in our original careers, curiosity, desire to help people make changes, thoughts that we could do this for them, personal experiences with therapy which made us want to know more and to expand the skills we were already using’ were shared along with the recognition that, at the beginning, we really did not know what was involved or the demands the training would have on us emotionally, physically, psychologically or spiritually.
We shared a little about the people who had inspired us to begin this journey and there were many: teachers, colleagues, therapists, authors, friends, media people and supervisors. One of the ones I would like to share here is a girl I met on my first day at a new school in a new part, for me, of the country. We were both 13 and she showed such wisdom, compassion and empathy to everyone including me which was far beyond her years and the memory of her stays with me. The innate qualities she demonstrated then I have endeavoured to replicate in my dealings with others in my work and my personal life.
We also explored with Julia the impact our attachment styles have on the choices we made then and, in a way, continue to make as we reflected upon what each of us had brought from our past to our training and how we felt when we finally sat with our first clients. Looking back was not always easy as we acknowledged the help or empathy we tried to give whilst feeling the regret and even shame at the lack of experience and understanding we may have clumsily and unwittingly displayed then.
‘Rules, regulations, ethics, traditions, shibboleths and training?’
What were the helpful traditions and regulations? The helpful included the ethical frameworks of each professional body which hold the principles and themes of good practice, but the unhelpful included ‘shibboleths’ (I had to look this up) – beliefs or customs that didn’t seem as appropriate today as they may have been in the past. Julia explained she no longer believed that the ‘blank screen’ was helpful or that the patient should always speak first. Other comments included being able to offer information or knowledge we hold to clients appropriately and sensitively and openly admitting when we do not know the answers to questions, but that we will explore issues collaboratively with them.
‘Being myself. How to forge an authentic way of being or is it all right to break the rules?’
The group felt it was vital to be authentic – to be ourselves in order to practise safely and to be of service. The key to such a way of being included, we felt, our following hopes and aspirations: knowing ourselves, our values, strengths and weaknesses; having empathy for others and ourselves so providing a safe space for all; being non-judgemental and having integrity, discretion and humility; validating our clients/supervisees and their experiences; understanding our and others’ ethical values; being present and open to exploration of issues/ideas/dreams; listening well; holding safe, consistent boundaries; stretching boundaries; going at the client’s pace tentatively challenging when necessary, allowing space to breathe and think; working collaboratively and pro-actively honouring difference and diversity; being organised, reflective and reflexive; enjoying ongoing CPD and the research of new ideas; having regular and enhancing supervision; honouring the value of ‘do no harm’ and importantly enabling laughter in sessions when appropriate.
‘The direction of travel: becoming more human(e); behaving myself?’.
Julia asked us to look at how we hoped to evolve from this moment and she talked about Winnicott’s belief in being real and authentic with clients and at the same time staying ethical and behaving himself. She explained that she felt she was finding a way that was right for her practice both emotionally and cognitively. Julie encouraged us to do the same and to engage in the continuing change of our profession – we will probably never be at the point of having all the answers, but we will continue to seek them. Julia shared that she had ‘found a set of values and way of practising that feels comfortable and feels like me (and I try and behave myself)’.
Thank you Julia for an interesting and enlightening day.
There was only space here for a brief snapshot of a busy day and for those who would like to know more: Julia’s website is: www,firstname.lastname@example.org
The article she wrote that led to this workshop is : ‘In pursuit of Authenticity’ Prof. Julia Buckroyd, Therapy Today, March 2015 Vol. 26 Issue 2.
‘How to survive as a Psychotherapist’ 1993, Nina Coltart. Sheldon Press, London.
‘The Child, the Family and the Outside World’ 1991, D.W. Winnicott. Penguin Books.
‘Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy’ 2005, Dave Mearns and Mick Cooper. Sage Publishing.