27 August 2015

Guest Post by Karen Pollock - Counselling and Judgmentalism

I am honoured and grateful to Karen Pollock for writing this post for my blog. I left the subject matter up to her but knew she would do good work. I recommend you take a look at her blog posts which you can find here. They always give me food for thought.

Firstly, may I thank Amanda for giving me this opportunity. When we first chatted about guest blogging she mentioned that quite a few counselling students follow her blog. Several ideas occurred, but deep down I knew what I wanted to write about. This may seem like a rather personal post, but I hope its wider relevance becomes apparent.

So you are getting ready to return to college, or starting on a counselling course for the first time. It’s hugely exciting, probably a little scary if you are honest, but you have made it. Through night classes, through interviews, through scraping the money together, student loans, negotiations with employers, and now it’s time to go.

You wouldn't be here if you didn't want this, counselling training isn’t easy, or quick. You know this is what you are meant to be doing as well. You are empathetic, non judgemental, practice all the core conditions. The college is up ahead, deep breath, here goes, hope the tutors are as nice as they seemed at interview, through the doors and you are in!

Find the classroom, a group of new faces, new people. Where to sit? This woman looks nervous, looking around worriedly, glasses and short hair, perhaps more severe than you would have it, but hey, not judging is part of being a counsellor. You ask if the seat is free and sit next to them. Introductions are done, she is Jude, used to a teacher. Another classmate arrives, you do the introductions “Hi this is Jude, she used to be a teacher, I am (insert name here)”.

The morning is taken up with paperwork, and at lunchtime you all head off to the refectory. All except Jim. Bit unfriendly you think, but then, not everyone is a people person. Perhaps counselling is not for everyone either, but lots of time for him to work that out for himself.

Months pass, you are learning more and more about yourself. Jude, who seemed lovely, has dropped out. You are surprised. Jim still doesn't have lunch with everyone. The equality and diversity module is fascinating. At lunch you sit with Sarah; your kids are the same age and you get along with her. Thoughts are still bubbling through your brain.

“How is your presentation going” she asks. You have to research discrimination faced by gay people. “Great learning so much” you say, the area is so vast, but important “It’s so good, if that's the right word, that straight people like us are forced to think about the discrimination others face”. Sarah doesn't say anything and is quiet for the rest of the day.

It’s time for the filmed role plays, that unit that has been looming on the horizon since September. Everyone admits their nerves; you all have placements but this is different, you are under a microscope, trying to counsel a fellow student while your peers and tutor watch, then discuss how you did.

Watching Julie and Sarah you make notes. Julie has certainly come up with a challenging role, playing a sex worker who has been raped. You nod as Sarah tells her role play partner that since Julie is doing something illegal she will have to take this to supervision. This would be your response too. In the group discussion afterwards you bring up issues from the abuse modules. “Julie” is clearly exploited, probably a survivor of child abuse, maybe drug issues. You compliment Julie on such an imaginative character creation.

Have you spotted where this is going yet?

Jude was agender; they dropped out because being constantly misgendered was very bad for their mental health. They never felt able to be out at college

Jim is autistic; he finds the refectory to loud and stressful so avoids it. He never feels able to be out at college.

Sarah is bisexual and polyamorous. She has a male and a female partner. She never feels able to be out at college.

Julie is a sex worker and yes, you guessed it, she never feels able to be out at college.

Until I attended the Pink Therapy national conference I assumed I was just unlucky with my classmates, that I would, in a different setting be able to be open about my sexuality and being polygamous. Very quickly, as I write here, I discovered my experience was not unique. Where counselling students are not cis or heterosexual they are either hiding it, encountering assumptions, having to educate their classmates, and facing overt, or covert prejudice.

As you walk through the college doors this year, full of hopes, dreams and ambitions, pause a moment, and consider the assumptions you may make. Look around your classmates, some will be queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual, have hidden disabilities, be sex workers, be non monogamous. Will they feel able to be out at your college?

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