I first became interested in becoming a therapist during the summer of 2011 when I was referred to the employee assistance programme set up by the company I worked for. I engaged with therapy for six sessions and my therapist was a kind, intelligent, forthright and caring woman who allowed me the space I needed to make radical changes in my life. She listened to me; she offered me choices regarding what I might want to do with the type of relationships I allow in my life, including the relationship I had with myself. My therapist never offered advice, never made suggestions and never told me her opinion. She was kind but challenged me; she listened to what I said without judgement, but called out discrepancies, irregularities and inconsistencies, but not in a way to make me feel bad, patronised or worthless. She questioned what I was saying in a way that felt like she wanted to know more about me, and to allow me to find out more about myself.
Until I began studying counselling and then therapy, I had no idea about the process a therapist undertakes in order to evaluate their relationship with their clients, or to be able to learn more about a person based on what they are saying, and also what they are not saying. What I learned was there are a huge variety of tools, techniques and strategies which can be adopted by a therapist to help build relationships with clients, as well as ways to use verbal and non-verbal communication to engage with others in a way that provides for a deeper level of understanding between people, and then to use what we learn about each other within therapy to form the basis of work we can undertake together to make changes in our lives.
As well as the tools we use within therapy to try to either understand each other in a more detailed way, there are also techniques we can use as therapists out with therapy which allows us to take the information we are gathering in sessions and evaluate it more fully and usefully. As therapist’s we also reflect deeply on how we are within sessions with our clients. These reflections allow us to make changes to our behaviour which may benefit the process. They also allow us to think about what our client is saying during sessions, and also how we are processing what our clients are saying, as well as how we are using this information and responding to our clients. The reflections allow us to evaluate the impact therapy is having on us; reflecting also allows us to explore more deeply what kind of feelings and thoughts we are left with after sessions. What are we left with that remains unsaid, and what reasons might there be for not saying these things? And what can we then use to feedback to our clients which may be of use to the therapeutic process, and ultimately make us better therapists.
One of the things our new students on the diploma course are asked to do is begin reflecting on everything that is going on as they begin their journey to becoming therapists. They are asked to reflect on the therapeutic groups they take part in, on their work with other students in therapeutic practice sessions, on their work with clients as student therapists, and on their overall journey through the course. When I began studying the COSCA Counselling Skills Certificate reflective practice was new to me, something I had never heard of. I learned there are numerous reflective practice models which people can use to help guide their reflections and ensure they are useful and the first model we were introduced to was the Rolfe model pictured below.
Over the past few weeks, either in my day job at ASC, in my private practice, or as a tutor with the Centre of Therapy, there have been countless situations or contacts with people which have provided opportunities for me to reflect on how I have conducted myself and on the impact my relationships/contacts have had. In order to illustrate how this process works, I can look at the impact of my participation as a tutor last weekend which I described in the previous blog. I can use the Rolfe reflective tool to evaluate my experience and learn from it.
What – Describe the experience in terms of the achievements, consequences, responses, feelings and difficulties?
Taking part in my first classes as a tutor on the Scotacs Diploma in Cognitive Therapy and Group Work was an invigorating experience. I was able to be present, be myself, and use my own knowledge and experience to interact with the students. I was able to manage my thoughts and feelings in order to ensure I remained focused, while at the same time allowing myself to be open to enjoying the experience of meeting new people and learning to try my hand at something new. I felt comfortable and excited by the journey, with the only difficulties I experienced in trying to remember to attach the correct names to the new faces I was encountering.
So what – go further and discuss what has been learnt (about self, relationships, actions, thoughts, attitudes, cultures, understanding, strengths, weaknesses, and improvements).
What I learned is that the process of teaching and the actuality of engaging with a subject I love and people who are willing and open to learning is invigorating and exciting to me. I received further evidence in the form of feedback from others that I am good at building relationships, and if I look at why I believe this is the case then I think it is because I have a genuine interest in people and what they are interested in. I care about how other people’s experiences have shaped them and in turn what this teaches me about myself. I learned that other people respond well if they are approached from an open, honest and genuine place, and I learned that if I am as genuine as possible with people I receive validation in the form of people appearing to meet me in a genuine manner. As always I believe improvements I can make in terms of how proficient I am as a teacher lie in gaining more experience in our subject matter, in meeting with students at a level which they respond well to, in recalling the minutiae of therapeutic practice as well as the broader points, and in gathering more feedback where possible.
Now what – identify what needs to be done in order to develop learning, improve future outcomes and enhance practice.
I believe gaining more experience, or practicing doing what I am doing already, will aid my development in the areas I have highlighted above as areas in which I can improve. I also believe in continuous development through learning theory, and as such I will continue to study relevant material in my own time. For my next session I will be delivering as part of the course an input on Albert Ellis and REBT. Although this is a topic I know well and the techniques involved in REBT are techniques I use regularly, I will prepare by recapping what I already know and practicing some more ABC’s before the next teaching weekend.
The above example of reflective practice is something which can be used in any area of our life. Reflecting is not the sole property of therapeutic practice. Any time we struggle with communication, in any relationships we have were there appears to be blockages or barriers, where we find issues related to being stuck or not getting to the place we hope to be, using useful reflection’s enable us to look at the constituent parts of our processes and highlight areas where we can do things differently and by doing so we can achieve the movement we seek. Or at the very least we can identify the real issue or series of issues which are affecting us.