27 November 2012


Becoming Online

When I first went online, I was fearful of the power of the ‘net and had lots of paranoia about having an online persona. Emails and eBay were manageable, and made Christmas shopping much easier. But just before my sister emigrated to Australia in 2006, I saw her clicking away on the social networking site “MySpace”. I decided to set myself up a profile so I could easily keep in touch with her. I liked the easy sharing of pictures and links and the broader opportunity of linking up with others outside of my usual social realm. It took me a few months to put a picture up, and even then it was of me in disguise. Initially my profile was public but I tired of getting rude messages of a sexual nature. So, swiftly making my profile “private” I continued to experiment with online social networking. I decided that I wanted to be very upfront about who I am , including all my quirks and bizarre preferences. I was sure that somewhere out there in the world there would be people with whom what I wanted to say resonated and this absolutely turned out to be the case. I scoured the lists of users for women roughly 10 years either side of me in age and looked at their profiles, sending a friend request if their profiles or blogs piqued my curiosity enough. Occasionally I would receive a friend request from somebody that wasn’t some dodgy bloke asking for private pictures, and so as time went on I accumulated many online “friends”.


Online romance blossomed where it wasn’t being looked for and whilst on MySpace I was aware that two British "friends" were having online relationships with American men they had “met” on MySpace. It seemed a little crazy at the time, but they are all married now and really happy. One of the benefits to online courting is that you have time and space to really get to know each other without getting physically hooked on one another. Of course, the physical side is a valid and important part of intimate relationships, and I know a few people who “fell in love” online and then when they met in the flesh it was a disappointment,  because the chemistry just wasn’t there or because one or both had simply told too many fibs about themselves.

Forming close friendships

I am aware and cautious of the perils of an online presence but having spent a good while socialising in Cyberspace I am as aware of the good as the bad. I have had the privilege of being able to make very meaningful connections with people. My friend Sue, who shares her experience below, has shared ups and downs with me and she helped me through some challenging times through online messaging.

My longest and best online friend has got to be a man who I shall refer to as bollers. He writes a little about our friendship in a paragraph below.  We have known each other for nearly 7 years now and I believe that we have provided a lot of mutual support and companionship throughout life’s ups and downs. bollers was kind and trusting enough to share with me the difficulties of his diagnosis of suffering with schizophrenia and I have learned a lot about his experience. He has had his fair share of my issues directed his way so it feels, to me, like a two-way street with plenty of room for us to walk freely side by side. In fact, bollers very generously assisted me with my Counselling Certificate presentation on schizophrenia. As part of my presentation I asked my peers a week or so beforehand what they would ask if they could ask a person with schizophrenia anything. On the day, I handed them back their questions and asked them in turn to read the questions out loud. On a big projector screen was a recording of bollers, answering the questions individually, his face filling the screen, his voice booming around the room, his very presence felt by all. Not bad for a self-professed hermit and such a generous thing to do.  After 4 and half years of online friendship we met in the flesh – he came to stay for a long weekend, and it was so fantastic to spend time with him. He was as he is online.

I have made other good friends online. Codename is a marvellous mentor. I first met her on MySpace and was deeply impressed by her intelligence and philosophical leanings. She made the leap to Facebook, when MySpace started to lose what was good about it, and the friendship grew. She helped me with some of my written assignments for my diploma in counselling and gave excellent, supportive feedback. I finally got to meet her in the flesh a year or so ago and she is as sidesplittingly funny, gorgeous and deeply intelligent as her online persona.

From personal experience I am aware that meaningful relationship can be made online and am looking to integrate an element of online counselling into my private practice. For bollers, online relationship was the only feasible option. For me, it was an opportunity to be brave enough to express who I really am, a risk that was very much worth taking.

Here follows a few paragraphs written by people who have kindly agreed to share their experience of cyber-relationship.


I didn't meet my partner online, though we did start seeing each other and properly getting to know one another shortly before he was due to spend a four month stint in the States.

So when he went away, we were at that crucial 'are we going to carry on seeing each other stage'. Our interaction was quite constant on Skype, and we would talk for (literally) hours every day. It was kind of nice because I had the opportunity to separate the exciting physicality of a new relationship from the actually talking and getting to know each other. Having said that, it was also very frustrating not to be able to touch the other person, and we did engage in a bit of web cam naughtiness. As the months drew on, we both became more and more frustrated with the inadequacy of online contact, and by the end of three months, we were talking less on Skype. Interestingly, talking on the phone became preferable, I suppose because there was a juddering web cam, or slight time delay, it actually felt more real to speak.


I met my wife online and though one would think it wouldn’t be the most normal place to meet someone I did and I am glad I did. Never did it before, but if I didn’t I would have never met my wife. If you think of it bars, clubs, stores etc aren't really that good places. It took six months of writing back and forth before she gave me her telephone number, and another two weeks of texts before she allowed me to ring her but it was well worth it. I waited 46ys for the love of my life and I did it online. Crazy as it seems, it worked for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


I was probably the most unlikely person to ever have imagined I’d end up married to someone who I met online, but this is exactly what happened. In 2008 I got talking to a chap in America on MySpace and we messaged for nine months just chatting and catching up on life. Over this time we became really good friends and would ring each other and text, after some persuasion by him, as I was very cautious and doubtful of online friendships being anything other than that. However in 2009 we finally met in person and knew immediately it was going to be a big relationship, we always maintained our online relationship when he went back home and this became a huge part of our courting and when we married in 2011 in Las Vegas the first thing we did was publish our wedding pics on Facebook and MySpace as it has been such a major part in bringing us together over all the miles. Although at the moment my husband cannot live with me in the UK as he has various things to tie up before he moves here permanently, we still communicate by messaging and msn and truly think that online relationships are probably more likely to succeed than randomly meeting people the normal route ie pubs clubs etc... In online relationships you tend to open up more about your life and I think this can either determine if you are suited or not to one another’s lifestyles. So all I can say is I’m very grateful for online messaging as its brought me someone who is wonderful to me and my children. Along the way I’ve met quite a few new friends on it , of course there has been occasional "weird " people but I can say genuinely the majority of friends I’ve made are ones I will keep forever Amanda being one of them as she too has had lot of experience, and has often given us advice and help along the way to which we are extremely blessed and grateful.


in a land before facebook there lived a magical kingdom called myspace and it was here that i first encountered amanda. she had left a interesting comment about a television “face” and i had felt compelled to write to her, which was saying something as over the prior few years i had turned into a hermit who’d left all his friends long behind whilst learning to live with being schizophrenic. this was a new horizon for me that offered some hope of a future as well as being a worthy new way to pass the time as i convalesced. so “message” amanda i did and thankfully she replied and that is how it began.

what do i like about cyber friendships? well typing keys opposed to chatting face to face allows me to pause for thought, unlike when i am in a “real” life situations, as i have a proven record of putting my foot in it. it also suits my hermit lifestyle, a way of having company in my life without a lot of the hassle. then there’s the possibility of helping other people, which by its very act helps me- not that i ever expect anything back from a online friendship but more often than not it does happen, simple things like someone to hear my space like scream from time to time.

i am no expert on this sort of thing, the number of online friendships i’ve been in is low, but quantity is not the issue, it’s about the quality of the relationship, about creating meaningful relationships and that takes effort and honesty reciprocated both ways and this is something i have found with amanda. she’s straight talking in a gentle way and her words are always the righteous truth. she has much wisdom within her and being part of her life is something i shall always treasure. with cyber friends travelling the galaxy becomes a reality.

My presence on the ‘net as a therapist

The issue of therapist self-disclosure gets batted round from time to time. Should we be “blank screens”? Is it really possible to be “blank screens”? I don’t think so. What I believe, and this works for some people (but I do not claim that it will work for all), is that looking for a therapist is tricky. That there are many homogenised counselling websites out there – how do you choose who to see? Some of my clients have told me that it is purely down to the amount of information I share on my website that makes them choose me. They feel more comfortable knowing more about me beforehand, and I have even heard that they felt a connection with me before meeting me. This fits perfectly with my experience (click here for my blog on my session with the author and psychotherapist and author Irvin Yalom) of feeling a connection of another through reading their written word.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, UK

16 November 2012

Child Abuse - a review of The Body Never Lies, by Alice Miller

"Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one's parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child." 
                                                                                                                                              Alice Miller

“Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.”
Alan Watts 

I was very much looking forward to reading this book as I had heard good things about Alice Miller. The subject matter intrigued me and of course, dealing with issues of childhood neglect and abuse is very pertinent to the work I do as a counsellor.

Roughly speaking, the book explores the following concepts:

1) The body expresses our truths more than the self-deceptive mind ever can.

"Ultimately the body will rebel. Even if it can be temporarily pacified with the help of drugs, cigarettes, or medicine, it usually has the last word because it is quicker to see through self-deception than the mind.... We may ignore or deride the messages of the body, but it's rebellion demands to be heeded because it's language is the authentic expression of our true selves and of the strength of our vitality."

2) The commandment "Honour thy father and mother" has infiltrated our culture to such an extent that  it is taboo to not love our parents, regardless of what they do to us. If we have neglectful or abusive parents then it is expected that we forgive them, even if they continue the hurtful behaviour to us as adults.

(referring to literature on self-therapy and therapeutic care) "... readers are advised to "snap out" of the role of victim, to stop blaming others for the things that have gone wrong in their lives, to be true to their own selves. This, they are told, is the only way of freeing themselves from the past and maintaining good relations with their parents. For me such advice embodies the contradictions of poisonous pedagogy and of conventional morality. It is actively dangerous because it is very likely to leave the former victims in a state of confusion and moral uncertainty, so that the individuals in question may never be able to attain true adulthood throughout their whole lives"

3) The effect of the commandment echoes in the work of many therapists, who due to their own  beliefs about attitudes towards parents, encourage clients to forgive and move on.

"Time and again, I have asked myself why therapy works for some people while others remain the prisoners of their symptoms despite years of analysis.... In each and every case I examined, I was able to establish that when people found the kind of therapeutic care and companionship that enabled them to discover their own story and give free expression to their indignation at their parents' behaviour, they were able to take their lives into their own hands and did not need to hate their parents. The opposite was the case with people whose therapists enjoined them to forgive and forget, actually believing that such forgiveness could have a salutary, curative effect."

Alice Miller uses examples of famous people to make the links between mind, body and childhood abuse/neglect. Those she discusses include Checkhov, Kafka, Nietzsche and Virgina Woolf. She breathes life into her arguments by using real life examples of those whose lives we may have some familiarity with. Rather than being fantastical conjecture, as such an endeavour could end up becoming, it reads as convincing and compelling.

Miller aims to help individuals break the cycle of abuse. On the inside cover it states:

"Miller examines the cyclical nature of violence and abuse. Parents and guardians who abuse their children, both physically and mentally, leave them embarassed and hurt. The inability of most children to properly express such feelings causes them to perpetuate the cycle by lashing out at their family, friends, and, above all, their own children, who will inevitably do the same."

Somebody once told me that he only started to live his life when his mother died. This man was 65 and his mother had died 5 years ago. When he found out that I was a counsellor, he said he was happy that there were people like me to help free people from ruining their lives being a prisoner to their parents. I do hope that I am able to provide a truly non-judgemental space where I allow clients to fully explore their feelings of anger, rage, hate and many more emotions. This is not about "parent-bashing; it's about acknowledging a person's perspective of their experience and holding that for them, without steering them to reconciliation or forgiveness. Only that person can make a decision for what is right for them.

The idea of neglectful or abusive parents goes against the beliefs we have in place, as a collective consciousness,  to keep us feeling secure. We want to believe that parents, and in particular mothers, love their children and treat them accordingly. Unfortunately, reality does not reflect what we want to believe. Sadly, for some individuals, childhood is a place of hurt, neglect, cruelty, physical abuse, mental anguish or an inappropriately early introduction to the world of adult sex. This book helps to destigmatise the subject, and is a step towards society being able to validate these people's experiences.

I highly recommend The Body Never Lies to anybody who is in the therapy business, and to those who have sadly had a childhood and adulthood impeded by parental neglect or abuse.

I have received the book "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward, and look forward to reading another perspective.

If you have been affected by the topics raised then please consider the following:

In crisis, contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90

To find a counsellor in your area, try Counselling Directory. This is a good place to start as you can check if the counsellors listed are members of a regulatory organisation. This is not a guarantee of ethical practice, but there is recourse in the rare and unfortunate event of unethical practice.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, UK.

11 October 2012

Does Therapy Work? By Jane Barclay - Book review

Does Therapy Work? by Jane Barclay
A book review, with Q&A with the author

"You're going to be my father, lover, brother, friend."

"I wish all my clients knew that," replied Sam.

Appreciation at last. Special.

"I know I'm going to try and seduce you," I announced a few weeks later.

"Then let's make a deal, that we don't have sex."

We shook hands and smiled at each other.

Then my campaign began.

This excerpt from the book is printed on the blurb on the back and I found it quite different to what's usually on the back of therapy books.  Does Therapy Work? could be the title of a dry and research-laden pile of boring dirge that I would possibly have forced myself to read whilst in training. The snippet on the back however, promises something fleshier and most definitely more tantalising than a tome of empirical research and justifications that the most reductionist of therapies - CBT - is the only one proven to work (...yawn...).

A great brain

I have met Jane Barclay at counsellor network meetings and I like her. She is very professional and intelligent and I like the way her mind works. She did a very interesting talk on sex addiction and it is clear from the way she talks that her mind works on lots of differing levels simultaneously. I wish this could be measured as I think that it is the sign of a great counsellor. There are so many differing levels going on in the therapeutic relationship - the client's stuff, the counsellor's stuff, the effect on each other, background knowledge of the physiology/neurology/biochemistry of the interactions and emoting, psychodynamic models - there are a myriad of ways of looking at what is going on, which is a skill applied deftly by the truly integrative counsellor. (For more information on this see The Seven Level Model outlined by Petruska Clarkson - one of the frameworks that is used by integrative counsellors to give their work coherence.)

Jane is also a huge Irvin Yalom fan so I know she has great taste in books. I liked the look of Does Therapy Work? so was eager to get stuck into it.

I was also slightly (very slightly) worried in case I didn't enjoy the book and she might ask me for feedback...

An engaging read

Well, a few pages into it I was excited to find that I was very much engaged. She hooked me in with Part One which is split into The Component Parts and Struggle and Suffering. Jane writes about the therapist in training and the requirement to engage in personal therapy. She explores the therapeutic relationship from differing perspectives, drawing from neurology and attachment theory to explain how we form habits in our thoughts and behaviours and the difficulties in therapeutic change, and also refers to her personal therapy, although this is written about much more extensively in Part Two - Demonstration. Jane also writes about our cultural influences, from child-rearing manuals to society's version of happiness. A sample paragraph:

"...it is this very need for attachment to and dependence upon others that carries the greatest risk of disappointment, of betrayal, of experiencing primeval terror of abandonment and helplessness. When out of balance and frozen in conflict, the dual needs for trusting connection and self-reliance can potentially generate the very greatest suffering and lead to infinitely more creative ways of trying to escape this state that actually perpetuate it. Negotiating for balance is a way of living that I call Autonomous Independence which begins at birth and continues up to and including our last heartbeat, breath and synaptic impulse."

Indeed I like this phrase "Autonomous Dependence" as a way of describing the successful straddling of the apparently conflicting needs we have to retain our sense of self amidst the urge to merge with others. 

A book about the power of authentic relationship

This theme is revisited in Part Two where Jane describes the therapeutic relationship between her and her therapist, Sam, a remarkable sounding man. What I very much value about this book is Jane's risk-taking in describing her innermost fears and thoughts in the actual process of her therapy. This is very different to talking about the various approaches and techniques associated with counselling This is a narrative about the very unique meeting of two very unique individuals, which is exactly what every counsellor/client relationship actually is. We can research this and measure that but these are just reductionist constructs which take away the soul of what can be the most authentic and beautiful, if somewhat intense and at times uncomfortable, therapeutic relationship.

Jane shares her secrets, her shadow side, her shame,  sexual jealousies, babyishness and excruciating vulnerabilities in this gripping, moving account of authentic therapeutic process. This is not fluffy counselling, this is bold, visceral relationship. 

Any gripes? I was slightly disappointed with how quickly I finished the book, at just over 100 pages long. That said, there isn't any waffle to cut through. It's 101 pages of pure-spun gold.

In reading Does Therapy Work? I learned that Jane is at heart, like me akin to a Romantic Scientist - valuing scientific research but intent on looking at the whole of the human being, the whole of the relationship.

I wanted to ask some questions

I emailed Jane and asked if she would kindly consider answering a few questions regarding the book. She generously obliged and here follows my questions and her answers

Amanda: How would you describe your theoretical orientation?

Jane: Happy to state that I hate this question! Always have, feel boxed in. The closest I can get is to call how I work ‘Integrative Life Work’.

Amanda: What were your motivations for writing this book? 

Jane: Early on in therapy, I felt compelled to write to stay sane. I simply couldn’t hold all that was flooding in my head/body. Turning what I’d written into a book was a long (ten year) process, as I shaped and re-shaped (loathe to finish) and condensed approx 160,000 words down to 100 pages!!

Amanda: Can you tell me anything about what is was like being so frank with your self-disclosure?

Jane: Being so frank was a relief. Came easily. I just burned to tell it how it really was...

Amanda: Was writing the book a kind of therapy in itself?

Jane: So, yes, writing from day one to completing the book was always therapeutic.

Amanda: Have you had any repercussions since publishing?

Jane: The effects of publishing took me by surprise. I missed writing so much but skipped ‘saying goodbye’ and rushed into marketing. Going public, for real, jolted out of hiding the part of me who was terrified of being condemned and I plummeted into a very dark place for approx 6 months. This too, though, came from childhood experiences – none of my terrors were realised.

Amanda: Are you still in touch with "Sam"?

Jane: My after-therapy contact with ‘Sam’ dwindled in quantity, though we did email from time to time. I don’t judge our contact as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; I’m also pretty certain the child in me remained confused and continued some transference of longing-for-unavailable father. My learning from this is to be clearer about boundaries in the aftermath of a therapeutic relationship.
    ‘Sam’ died last year. I was honoured to be amongst the people to be informed and so went to his funeral. And have since been glad I’ve learned in the last few years how to grieve rather than continue the practice of ‘refusing to mind’

Amanda: What are your favourite therapy books?

Jane: Favourite therapy books?! The ones that speak to me ie are written by people to people. Alice Miller, Irvin Yalom (of course), Judith Hermann, John Bradshaw, Lance Dodes (I think that’s his name – writes on addiction) to name a few authors. Stanley Keleman is another, and mustn’t forget Ronnie Laing!

Does Therapy Work? is available via Amazon.

Jane Barclay has a private practice in Exeter: 

Amanda Williamson MBACP
Counselling in Exeter

Welcome to Counselling in Exeter

2 October 2012

Time to stop being SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder

Updated Jan 2024, originally written and published in October 2012

The nights are drawing in and I am already noticing how much more difficult it is to get up in the morning. I have my weapon against miserable start-ups though, which I'll go into later.

Most of us are aware of the existence of SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder, although I suspect that more people suffer from it than are actually aware of it. 

The symptoms of SAD, according to SADA - The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association website (click on link to read more):

  • Depression
  • Sleep Problems
  • Lethargy
  • Over Eating
  • Loss of Concentration
  • Social Problems
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of Libido
  • Mood Changes

About 10 years ago I noticed that although I enjoyed the idea of winter, roasts, fires, snuggly clothes, cosy nights in etc,  the reality of the lack of daylight really got to me, on a physical level as well as mood-wise and by Christmas I would feel quite dreadful. I originally thought that maybe I had hang-ups about Christmas, and yes, the frittering of large amounts of cash for a load of c**p does sicken me slightly...but the idea of a mid-winter celebration to cheer up the depths of winter sounds marvellous....in theory. So why did I feel so grumpy?

As the years passed by I noticed that I was desperately craving light in the winter and would avoid darkened rooms - they made me feel agitated. On gloomy, mid-winter days, I felt almost suffocated by the darkness descending around 4pm. I became appreciative of the fact that trees lost their leaves so that a bit more sunlight could reach me.

About 5 years ago this self-diagnosed SAD came to a head. I noticed that every winter I was becoming more and more antisocial, that I was struggling very hard to get out of bed in the mornings - it felt like torture. My appetite was affected and my activity levels slumped. Whilst I think a certain amount of adjusting to the winter season is inevitable, I found myself spending nearly half the year feeling low and increasingly anxious. 

The Magical SAD Lamp

I researched the topic, on the internet and from books from the library. I decided that I should try a SAD lamp and spent hours looking into which would work best for me, or, indeed, work at all.

The Litebook
The reason behind why SAD lamps seem to work, is that in the winter there is a lot less light reaching our retina, and it is the action of sunlight on our retina that signals the body to stop producing the sleep hormone melatonin. By using the lamp we are telling our bodies that it is time to wake up.

I settled on the Litebook as it's small size and portability appealed. It is so powerful that you only need to use it for 15 minutes a day to feel the benefit. The slight downside is that you are advised to use it from September to gain full advantage, and use it until April. I bought mine in November so didn't get to feel the full benefits the first year, although it did help me to feel more awake and I noticed a big reduction in my SAD symptoms. The following winter I was even better, significantly better than I'd been in years and even arranged a birthday party for the first time in a very long time (my birthday is at the end of January, a time when I used to be at my peak of misery).

I use my lamp for 20-30 minutes in the morning before getting up. I read or check emails while lying there with the light shining towards my face. By the time the session is over I feel ready to get out of bed. More ready, anyway.

Sometimes, especially if I have an busy evening planned, I will use the lamp again late afternoon to give me a boost. A secondary use for the Litebook is for jetlag and I can confirm that it can be effective in helping if you suffer with that. I use it in conjunction with melatonin supplements, which you cannot buy in the UK, but American drugstores have loads of the stuff.

Jan 2024: for the last few years I have been using a lamp by a brand called Beurer. This year I bought a new model which is brighter than any I have previously owned and is, I feel, more effective.

Other things to help enjoy winter:

Keeping warm 
I wear warm, woollen clothes and fur-lined boots on cold days, and thermal under layers if needs be. Also, I'm not as stingy with the heating as I was brought up to be.

Eating well
I try and keep to my usual, reasonably healthy diet which includes lots of salads, vegetables and fruit. Once I start going down the quick-burn carbs route I find it hard to get out of the cycle. 

Jan 2024 update; I have been taking a liquid probiotic called Symprove to help with gut flora.

The levels of exercise are not as high as during the summer months but I make sure I do something. Any sunny days I try and get out for long walks meaning I get more precious light hitting my retina.

Jan 2024 update: since 2020 I have been doing year round cold water exposure by sea swimming. It's even better in the winter! I also have 2-3 minute cold showers in the morning. It's even better with music playing loud!

Winter Sun
I have yet to be in a position to be able to do this, but due to current commitments I cannot jet off for a week's sunshine to get a boost. If I could, I definitely would.

Jan 2024 update: I have done this the last two years, but not this year. 

The NHS suggest that counselling or psychotherapy can be useful in alleviating the symptoms of SAD and I can confirm that I personally found some benefit in having counselling several years ago when I thought that there was something wrong with me; when I felt rather ashamed and somehow feeble for having SAD. Suffering with SAD may exacerbate existing issues with relating to others and with one's self-worth.  Counselling can help you with these difficulties. 

Here is a useful link with more information on SAD from the NHS website:


16 September 2012

Counselling Training - Meeting the next counsellors in training

Today my Shared Space Counselling colleague, Robin and I went along to The Iron Mill Institute in Exeter to meet the new Advanced Diploma students to talk about our experience of the course, and to talk a bit about what we had been up to since qualifying.

It was a really good experience to meet the new, intrepid, students and to remember what it is like to be at the start of a two year training course, full of curiosity and struggling with doubts about the course requirements. It was an honour to be a (albeit small) part of their training experience and I hope I made sense.

I gave a handout, which I originally wrote last year when meeting last year's new students. I tweaked it a little, but it all remained relevant. This is what I wrote:

Dear Advanced Diploma Student

Going through the Mill – some things to bear in mind

Taking responsibility for your learning

The learning comes, in no particular order, from the tutors, your reading, journal-writing, essay writing, presentations, personal therapy, placement work, supervision, group process and group discussion. All of these are important. During the second year most of the learning could well be from placement work and supervision.

It is worth mentioning that the Iron Mill does not spoon-feed students.  An element of student-directed learning is part of the philosophy of teaching which contrasts with many people’s former experiences. I fully appreciate the benefits of a less didactic approach.

By the fifth session, something definite had happened…Students spoke to one another; they by-passed Rogers. Students asked to be heard and wanted to be heard, and what before was a halting, stammering, self-conscious group became an interacting group, a brand new cohesive unit, carrying on in a unique way; and from them came discussion and thinking such as no other group.
What caused it? I can only conjecture as to the reason. I believe that…for four sessions students refused to believe the instructor would refuse to play the traditional role….(that) if they really wanted something to happen, it was they who had to provide the content – an uncomfortable, challenging situation indeed. It was they who had to speak up, with all the risks that that entailed….their persons, their deepest selves were involved; and from this situation, this special unique group, this new creation was born.

Samuel Tenenbaum, on Carl R Rogers and non-directive teaching, in On Becoming a Person, Carl R Rogers (1961)

Finding and fine-tuning your own approach to counselling

One of the things I really loved about this course is that it isn’t a specific technique that you rote learn and copy. About 6 months into it I fully realised that it was, for me, about learning different theories and approaches and then seeing which resonated with me.  As I discovered more about myself through personal therapy, using different approaches through skills practice and through essay research and writing, I could begin to form a coherent, authentic, personal philosophy and approach to counselling that correlates with who I am in relationship.  This is what they are looking for in your Viva.

Use the tutors!

Don’t bottle it up. They are there to help.  You could sit back and wait to be summoned for your tutorial.  Or you could take action and ask for 5 mins at break/the end of the day at the time that you need the help/advice/assistance/calming measures. 

Personal therapy

Find a great therapist that challenges you. If you don’t like them or find them annoying, have the gumption to tell them what you are struggling with.  Seize it as opportunity for self-development. If they collude with you and allow you to manipulate them to stay in your comfort zone then you are wasting your time, money and a great opportunity.


Spend the time and effort writing good letters to go with your applications. In interviews be prepared to articulate what you are good at and what makes you feel vulnerable.  Be honest. If they don’t accept who you are then do you want to work for them?

Once you are in a placement it is essential for good learning that you have excellent supervision. Yes, it is costly if not provided by the agency, but given the overall cost of learning in terms of tuition fees, lost earnings, personal therapy, it is worth getting this right.

The personal journal and learning log

However you do it, keep on top of it. The paperwork increases as the course progresses. I know some who had a bit of a nightmare as they slipped behind in keeping their notes organised, or had huge gaps in their journal.  I tried to write in the journal at least once a week – preferably straight after college. A few lines is better than none. Sometimes it was hard, especially if there was drama in my life, but sometimes I printed off significant emails if they were relevant to my process.  3 years on, my journals are a source of pride and joy.  I open then up and can see my process so clearly.  I don’t journal as often, but I still do write in there from time to time.

Essays and Presentations

The essays and presentations are essential. You have to do them anyway, so take the opportunity to really dive into learning more about the areas you want to know more about.  It encouraged me to research my particular areas of interest more thoroughly. I also advise you not to slip behind…leading to…


This may crop up anywhere – journal writing, essays, personal therapy, turning up at college, acquiring student membership of the BACP. Always ask yourself – why the reluctance? You want to be a counsellor, right? You have agreed to do what is required of you on the course, yes? So what is preventing you from doing it? If this happens it could be a good one to take to therapy.

Embrace the group experience

Being in a group (of counsellors!) is a unique opportunity to learn a lot about yourself. The more students opened themselves up to being vulnerable in the group, the closer we got and the more okay it was for others to express their vulnerability. 

If somebody rubs you up the wrong way then it is a gift! For you can use this to learn more about you and why you have that reaction to that person. It can help you to take responsibility for your own reactions. You can learn experientially about transference or projection.

Taking responsibility (again!)

My understanding is that being a counsellor requires ongoing self-development and dedication. What I told myself is that if I want to make it as a counsellor, (which I truly did), then  I have to do at least what is expected of me on this course. The reality is, that there is a high level of commitment, administration and organisation involved. The work involved on the course is the ideal preparation for being a responsible and ultimately, self-sufficient practitioner (with ongoing supervision, naturally).

Learn to attend to your own needs

For those of you that find this a struggle, you now have the perfect reason for looking after yourself. It makes you a better counsellor. It helps to take responsibility for one’s own happiness too. In our relationships and outside interests.

“…a good case could be made for requiring counsellors in training to make in-depth studies of some of the world’s greatest creative writers. The counsellor who never reads a novel or never opens a book of poetry is neglecting an important resource for empathic development.”

Mearns and Thorne, Person-Centred Counselling in Action (1988),

Wishing you the very best for your journey.


Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, Devon.

12 September 2012

Amanda Williamson - Counselling in Exeter on Phonic FM

Last Sunday, the 2nd September, I appeared as a guest on Jeff Sleeman's Happy Sundays show, broadcast on Exeter based Phonic FM 106.8FM.

This was my first experience of radio broadcast and I was put right out of my comfort zone by not having a clue what they were going to ask me. My usual coping strategy for public speaking is to be as well prepared as possible. I was quite relaxed about it though, as I invited this new experience as a learning process that would lead to personal progress one way or another...

The presenters, Jeff Sleeman, Phillipa Davies and Anna-Marie Waite were very welcoming and friendly which instantly put me at ease. There was lots of chat when songs were playing, and the content of the show took an organic and coherent flow based on the interaction between the presenters.

I thought that it was worth sharing the podcast of the session on this site, as potential clients may have an interest in hearing me speak about my work and what I have to say about counselling in general. I was in the studio for an hour, and the talking parts are at the times indicated below:

05:30, 11:00 and 20:10 - chat about my background, how I got into counselling

30:55 My perspective on addictive personalities and depression

40:30 The basic science of counselling, linked to spirituality/meditation

51:40 How I prevent potential burnout

Jeff Sleeman Happy Sundays Podcast 2nd September 2012 Part 2

Check out Jeff Sleeman's website - he has some interesting looking seminars and meetings on lifecoaching and careers:


Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, Devon.

10 September 2012

Finding the right counsellor

What is important when looking for a counsellor?

This is a blogpost written for Shared Space Counselling. We provide professional, confidential counselling and can provide affordable counselling in Exeter for those that cannot afford the usual private rates.

Robin and I have our own ideas of which criteria is important to us as individuals, when looking for somebody to have some counselling with, but what does everybody else think? 

On Saturday 1st September, at The Green Fair held on Exeter Cathedral Green, Robin and I were with the Therapy@GandySt stand, promoting our counselling service. Given the success of the Respect Festival Questionnaire, I decided to do another one and see if we could learn more about what the people out there want in respect of counselling services. I was also interested to see whether the public deem it necessary for counsellors to have membership of a regulatory organisation, an issue which I am quite passionate about. Some fellow counsellors I know worked for a counselling agency who do not have membership of a regulatory organisation.  These people had concerns around unethical practice within the agency but, because of the lack of membership to the BACP or UKCP, the agency are not accountable for their actions and can continue unethical practice. I am concerned about the safety of vulnerable people  (more on the importance of BACP/UKCP membership here).

So we asked 56 individuals to look at a list of criteria and mark them, using a set scale, to indicate how important each issue was to them. The issues listed were:

  • A Cost
  • B Gender of counsellor
  • C Qualifications
  • D Experience
  • E Age
  • F Membership of a professional body
  • G Approach or technique

The scale was:

  • 0 = irrelevant
  • 1 = slightly important
  • 2 = reasonably important
  • 3 = very important
  • 4 = most important

On average, of all the criteria, the most important were "Experience" (avg 2.89) and "Approach" (2.88), followed by "Qualifications" (2.42) "Cost" (2.36), "Membership of professional body" (1.98).

Significantly lower down in the priorities were "Gender" (0.93) and "Age" (0.93)

It think it's useful to look at extremes of opinions in this, so I analysed which of the criteria attracted "irrelevant" (0) or "most important" (4).


"Age" attracted the most responses of "irrelevant" with 26 people giving it 0 points, closely followed by "Gender" (25 people). "Membership of a professional body" attracted 10 "irrelevant"s and I took the opportunity to explain briefly to those people the risks associated with a counsellor or agency not having membership.

"Most Important":

By far the most important issue for those that we asked was "Approach" as 25 individuals gave it the top ranking. Second was "Experience" with 16 people placing it as most important, followed by "Qualifications" which 11 people ranked as most important.

I am pleased with the results, as I think that what we offer, as a counselling service, caters to what the people we asked, rate as important issues. That is, people who use our service have the choice of approach, delivered by qualified, experienced BACP members, with a flexible cost structure.

Other Criteria

There are of course, other things that people are looking for, besides those in the questionnaire. Some of my private clients simply liked the look of my picture, some were drawn to my testimonials, and others to the things I write about in my blog. I am fairly upfront in my online presence which I hope gives something away of how I am. Many counsellors have homogenised websites which, I assume, intend to appeal to as many people as possible. Some people may not like what they find on my site, but those that do tend to like how I am in the therapy room.

For this reason I think that although recommendations can be useful when looking for a counsellor, it does not necessarily mean that you will gel with a therapist, just because your friend/brother/colleague does. Finding your own therapist can be a useful step towards self-discovery - finding the counsellor that is right for you. We have the good old Internet to vastly assist in this endeavour.

It is hard to gauge such issues as the "character" of a counsellor, but I do believe that you can tell fairly quickly whether you will gel with a therapist. Most therapists in Exeter will offer a free initial consultation for this reason, and it is certainly why we at Shared Space Counselling offer everybody a free first session. 

There is a post here, advising on how to look for a counsellor, which has some useful tips.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, Devon

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