Why does it have to get so damn complicated?
I’ve always thought of myself as “people person”. Indeed in my application for my counselling course, way back, I wrote: “I am exceptionally interested in people, who they are, and who they might become. I have always worked in jobs that involve a lot of interaction with people of all ages and backgrounds. I have worked as a Care Worker, Teacher, Education Welfare Officer and Child Development Instructor. I hope that I have learnt many things from each of the people that I have come across in my life. I have also learnt never to make assumptions based on pre-conceptions; people nearly always surprise you and often prove you quite wrong.” Yet, nowadays, I find myself shying away from interacting with other counsellors, particularly in big groups (I do wonder what the term is for a big group of counsellors). As an individual in private practice in North Staffordshire, you would think that I would seek out the succour and support of my fellow colleagues and professionals and, yet, I find that I don’t want to.
Why so? This change in my behaviour confuses me; various thoughts wander through my mind and I wonder ‘why so’? To take this morning as an example Onlinevents* put on an event to discuss the new BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions*: Before too long I was resembling my 9 year old, when we’re enforcing school reading book time of an evening. I was sighing, disengaged and grumpy. Once again, I found myself thinking: why does it have to get so damn complicated?
Before you let loose a hail of emails, tweets and comments – yes, I know we need to be qualified professionals with conscience, integrity and honour. I know that there need to be rules, and we need to accountable and responsible. I am not dismissing any of that. It’s just, well, often I feel that the actual counselling with the actual client somehow gets lost in the research, theory, debate and rhetoric. One of my favourite quotes from my course is from Jung:
“Learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul” (Jung 1928, p.372)
I feel that I am a bit like the Cuprinol of counselling: I do what it says on the tin. On my website I say: “I would like to offer you a safe, confidential, professional space that is yours and yours alone. You can turn off the filter, and say it how it really is.” and I like to think that, within reason and to the best of my ability, that’s what I do. Again, before everyone’s fingers get twitchy, I am well aware of ethics, theories and a plethora of possible tools, but they are there discreetly, yet constantly; there should I or the client feel that we need to bring them onto central stage, for the most part being a quiet supportive chorus underpinning the session, but not being the focal point. In my opinion, although it seems others got there before me: “The actual contact between a counsellor and a person who is seeking help lies at the heart of what counselling is about” (McLeod 2011, p.390)
Most days, I feel that I apply myself to being in the counselling room with my clients very well. At the end of each day, I am reasonably happy that I have acquitted my role in a manner that I am content with. Obviously, I attend supervision regularly and discuss anything and everything that I feel at all unsure or unhappy about with my very reliable, and I’m sure long suffering, patient supervisor. The vast majority of the time client feedback is positive; clearly not 100% of the time, as I too am human and have my faults. I agree with those that think there is not enough time spent with clients discussing their experiences of their sessions in counselling, and that often we as counsellors can experience sessions quite differently than the client does. Sometimes we can feel a session was awful, whereas the client might feel that the session was useful, and vice versa.
So, why, I continue to ask myself, do I become uneasy, and sometimes even overwhelmed when reading, listening or talking to or with other counsellors. On further reflection, there are elements of Imposter Syndrome*, thoughts and anxiety around being a 'good enough'* therapist. Yes that’s all there, but again the thought resounds ‘Why does it have to get so damn complicated?’.
For example: A couple of years ago I was approached by a healthcare company wanting to send me clients. I went onto a Facebook page for counsellors, and asked if anyone knew the company, and had they worked with them; were they OK? Another counsellor asked if I had always been this defensive, and did I need to look at this in my therapy sessions? No, I wasn’t being defensive; I didn’t need therapy (my supervisor concurred). Quite simply I was just being careful (I left the Facebook page, as I felt that the comment was a tad too personal to be on a public space, and asked by someone who did not know me or my circumstances)
Whilst at University, studying to be a counsellor, I noticed that there were some students who loved the research, and the theories. They adored debating and exploring everything, down to its finest nuance. Whereas I am a very practical, a bit gobby, a bit blunt, a very realistic counsellor. I love being in the counselling room and being with clients, holding the space for them to explore and, hopefully, if that’s what they would like to do, to heal and grow - maybe? Indeed, I often say that I am not academic; I am not an expert. Clients sometimes look shocked at this. I hope that I am real; I am human, and I hope that by being with, and meeting with my clients where they are, and who they are at that time, that we can work towards what it is that they feel that they need.
I am not talking down the academics, the researchers, the thinkers, the debaters; they are very much needed (without being too political here. As a profession we do need evidence based research to prove what we do). I just feel that the do-ers, like me, could sometimes become lost in the throng. I feel that my voice isn’t heard; I don’t feel part of my professional organisation. I am aware that I struggle to be a part of the thing, because I do what I do and I think ‘Why does it have to get so damn complicated?’.
I find solace in a quote I found: This is my way of being. I do it like this because this is who I am. Woe betide you if you try to be like me. Be like yourself” (Rogers, cited by Merry in Keys, 2003, p.175).
So, maybe I should continue to be like myself… and, maybe, it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
Mind how you go.