Today our 1st year diploma students celebrated the last day of term by completing their final therapist practice session, and then discussing their experience of 1st year by delivering a learning statement to their peers. As a trainee tutor, I had to share my experience also, so it provided a good opportunity to explore my year and the impact teaching has had on me personally and professionally.
My 1st year as a student therapist was back in 2012, and although at times this seems like a lifetime away I have experienced many similar feelings at various points during my 1st year as a trainee tutor delivering the SCOTACS Diploma in Counselling and Groupwork: A Cognitive Behavioural Approach (there is a mouthful for you!). Watching the students evolve, change, and adapt to their learning over the past 10 months has been inspirational. The diploma course is designed to equip the students with the tools and techniques they require to deliver effective CBT to clients, but more importantly it also require the students to experience the same things their clients would experience by attending therapy. This requires the students to explore their own material by following the standard CBT protocols of assessment, formulation and treatment.
Now I am aware through having conversations with therapists at CPD events or through work that not all courses ask this of their students, however at the Centre of Therapy the course has always had a strong ethical element underpinned by the belief that at no point should therapists be asking clients to undergo treatment interventions they haven’t already experienced for themselves, or at the very least wouldn’t happily attempt on themselves. This may seem like a no brainer, but bizarrely I have come across many situations in which therapists or counsellors have discussed interventions they use without ever having experienced the impact of the intervention. For me, this opens an interesting area for discussion. On the one hand, therapists use very specific interventions for some presentations, so in this respect I can understand why a therapist who has never experienced any issues relating to compulsive behaviours or substance use would be required to experience interventions designed to help clients with these specific presentations. However, as a CBT practitioner, every client who attends therapy will be expected to undergo assessment, formulation and treatment. As such, at the very least it seems appropriate that every CBT practitioner has completed this work on themselves at some point before working with clients.
Our 1st year students have embraced this process, some more than others, but in general as the students delivered their learning statements today a theme emerged of a group of students who had similarly underestimated the amount of work it takes to become a CBT practitioner, but who had opened to the process of change and experienced how therapeutic practice can deliver results in surprising areas of our lives. Of how therapy can bring enlightenment about our processes and begin to answer fundamental questions about who we are as individuals, while at the same time beginning to answer why we behave as we do within wider groups. Our students have begun to experience the recognition of their beliefs about self, others and the world, about how these beliefs evolved, and the tantalising genesis of what mastery over the effect of these beliefs might look like. It also appears that many of the students believed they were generally ok, but now realise they are probably, and I am quoting here, a bit ‘fucked up’. The amazing thing is not the realisation that they might be fucked up, but rather the acceptance that this may well be true, and it is ok to feel like this.
For my part, I have been with the students every step of this journey and I have experienced similar moments of doubt, neurosis, panic and exhilaration. I have used the experience to re-engage with my own experience of therapy. The extra work has been extremely time consuming and at times it has felt exhausting to work full-time while also training to become a tutor, see private clients, and look after my mum. I have a very understanding wife! All in all, the last ten months has been unbelievably rewarding. I managed to complete my accreditation with BABCP, my work with ASC and Forth Valley Recovery Community has been successful. My supervisees have all continued to develop and improve, and I have taken immense pleasure out of learning a new skill. I hope I continue to learn and develop as a therapist, I intend to continue to stay as open as possible to new experiences and I thank my students and clients for teaching me the important stuff that helps me grow personally and professionally. I accepted how fucked up I am a long time ago, I wish I had accepted it sooner, but if youth is wasted on the young then so be it. We live and learn if we want to and I certainly want to learn more, roll on year 2!