I had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues the other day. She is currently completing her COSCA counselling certificate and drew upon an interesting ethical question. As part of the course, students are required to examine their own ethical viewpoints and in particular ask themselves if there are any clients they wouldn’t feel comfortable working with. In order to do this, students are asked to examine their own prejudices.
This reminded me of when I was completing my COSCA certificate, and what I found where my particular prejudices when I looked for them. It’s important for therapists and counsellors to be mindful of who may or may not trigger emotions for us. Looking back my list of prejudices were long and included people who did not agree with my political beliefs, people with strong religious convictions, racists, bigots, homophobes etc, etc, etc. When I started asking myself the question, who am I prejudiced against, the list went on and on.
This kind of thinking brings up interesting dilemmas, but also provides opportunities to explain how and why therapy can work. One of the core tenets of therapy is to be non-judgemental. Another way of looking at this is that it is impossible to be non-judgemental. We are all products of our environments and upbringing and as such it is nigh on impossible not to be judgemental. What we can do, is learn about how we judge others, and learn to put these judgements to the side. One of the other core tenets of cognitive therapy is to focus on thinking, and how in a lot of cases when clients are experiencing problems it is down to fairly rigid thinking. Must, should, shouldn’t, can’t won’t. A lot of things appear very black and white, and this rigidity exacerbates the problems the client may be experiencing. If the therapist or counsellor also has a rigid mind set, and is unable to put their judgements to the side, this will reduce the effectiveness of the therapy.
Prejudices are examples of rigid thinking, as they illustrate a mind-set that is set in its way. Black people are dangerous, gay people are a threat, religious people are scary, paedophiles are evil: all examples of a rigid way of thinking that does not take into account the complicated shades of grey that inflect every facet of the lives we lead. One thing I can say for certain is that the more time I spend with clients, the less certain my thinking is regarding people and the more flexible I have become, particularly my view of myself and others.