5 August 2013
I am a counsellor. For the majority of my working day I am counselling people.
I also have a counsellor.
This fact sometimes surprises people. I don't make a habit of disclosing this to my clients, as quite clearly, they are paying for me to pay attention to their issues, not mine. But I am not defensive or scared about self-disclosure, and if asked, by a client or otherwise, I have no problem in sharing that I do see a counsellor from time to time.
Sometimes I am asked why. I thought I would share my reasons...for clients, fellow counsellors and the interested layperson to know, should they want to:
Therapy as a trainee
As part of my Advanced Diploma in Integrative Counselling, there was a requirement to engage in a minimum of 40 hours of personal therapy whilst in training. This is typical for many counselling courses but is not a requirement of the BACP. It is an opportunity to engage at a deep level with the lifestyle changes and issues that becoming a counsellor involves. I witnessed huge personal growth in many of my peers whilst we trained together. Part of the training involved practising on each other, with real issues. However, these mini sessions were only 20-30 minutes long, and anything that did come up in that time, could be safely taken to our personal therapist should the issues be requiring of more attention. It was a good experience in learning the value of what we do in our profession.
Putting my money where my mouth is
My hope, in being a therapist, is that people will be able to explore facets of the self that are impacting on their lives in a way which isn't helpful or wanted. This involves deep exploration of the psyche. This can be painful and/or excruciating work. How can I expect my clients to do this if I am not prepared to do likewise?
Keeping "my stuff" out of the therapy room
As a bog standard human being, I do encounter difficulties in my personal life just like everybody else. There may be illness, grief, stress and all manner of human experiences that I am exposed to. To be present with a client I have learnt to put those things "on the back burner" whilst counselling. Having done well over 1000 hours of counselling I am well practised in doing so. Some of these times are more stressful or challenging than others. During those times I will probably see a therapist weekly, so that I can discharge the emotions that the life events may be bringing up, which makes it much easier to put those things on the back burner. If I were to continue counselling other people, and not have an outlet for "my stuff" I would worry that not making the space for it outside, may affect my fitness to practice. Fitness to practice is something that the BACP Ethical Framework takes very seriously, and with good reason.
Continued Personal Development
I want to be a truly open minded person but, as a human being, I am blighted on occasion by prejudgements and misconceived assumptions. I see personal therapy as a way of continuing my personal development, to round off the continuing professional development I engage in.
Do you have any thoughts about counsellors having therapy?
Amanda Williamson is a registered MBACP counsellor working in central Exeter, Devon.