You may be wondering whether you are made of the right stuff to be a counsellor. Identifying your personal expectations is one step towards helping you to assess your potential. What are your expectations of yourself as a counsellor? Do you expect to be competent or incompetent, satisfactory or a shining beacon of excellence? Will you experience the work as difficult, easy, traumatic, challenging? Do you expect to need or want further training, post qualification? Will you need to be supervised in your work? Will you need personal counselling?
Understanding what competence means for you will assist you in forming realistic expectations of yourself. When Laura first came across the term competent counsellor or good enough counsellor, she was surprised. It challenged her values. She was brought up to feel that you are either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at things but not ‘competent’. (Actually at first she wondered if it was another piece of counseling jargon for people to use in a politically correct fashion.) But she now understands this phrase more in relation to herself. Laura thinks that it offers her a realistic and compassionate way of viewing herself.
When Laura realised that her way of viewing her skills and abilities was as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it explained many things to her such as her approach to new skills and interests. She would throw herself into learning a new skill but would never reach the magical point of being good – there was always something she could see that needed improving. The term ‘good enough’ gave her the freedom to give up the chase for perfection. She now understands that her expectations of herself were too high – these expectations were encouraging her to set goals and judge herself and this was impacting upon her natural desire to learn and have fun while learning. She can recognise now that her approach to learning grew from her family background where there was constant encouragement to strive to do better and achieve more – she was not giving herself credit for what she had achieved and continued to bully herself into trying to do better. (If Laura took this approach into a counselling relationship, she would be offering her client a therapist who was unable, in part, to value herself. If Laura was not valuing herself, would she be fully able to value the client?)
So, the expectations you hold will impact on your client work and personal development during training. Training can offer an opportunity to explore your expectations and begin to understand where they come from and it may help you recognise whether your personal expectations are impinging on your relationship with your client – and your training peers can assist you to explore this area.
For Rick, the stage of becoming a competent counsellor came after training, facilitated, in the main, by his counselling supervisor. He’s had the same supervisor right from the start and this gave him the benefit of having someone watch his progress. Much of his training had been geared to learning what to do and what not to do. There was inherent flexibility, but the message was ‘to toe the line’. He felt he had to follow the person-centred approach as it stood. But it took him some time to realise that he had allowed himself to be restricted by the impre4ssion that he had to follow a fairly rigid doctrine. As his client experience blossomed he learned that what was important was to find his own interpretation of this approach, but based on his training and his understanding of the philosophy. He concluded that Carl Rogers was proposing a way of being both as a client and counsellor. It was up to Rick, with his supervisor, to learn what the person-centred approach was actually about for him through practice. He has developed into a person-centred counsellor but it has taken several years to reach this stage. The end of a diploma course in person-centred counselling, for Rick, was not the making such a counsellor but the road to becoming one.
I feel I am becoming a more contented and confident person, although I have been through doubtful times as to my suitability to be a counsellor and sometimes the length of the process seems overwhelming. However, I have a kind of hope that if I have come so far in the first half of the course that, by the end, I will have achieved more self-awareness. I still feel there are blanks in me that I know little about and that these interfere with me relating to clients. Jenny
I remember I often questioned whether I could ever become a competent counsellor. Frequently I wrestled with the core issues of the person-centre approach. I had many questions and there seemed so few answers. I just couldn’t get the hang of it to start with,. My questioning, disbelieving and skeptical approach led me to consider why this was happening. In some ways I was testing the process and myself. I also became aware of a block which was getting in the way. I was confused about how counsellors should be, that is, how should we behave? It seems I was trying to emulate the core conditions and integrate this into who I was as a person.
It took me time and many debates with peers and tutors, to come to the conclusion that I could choose to apply such conditions to my way of being when I wanted to, when it suited me. I don’t have to be congruent and transparent with someone outside a counselling relationship if I don’t want to. I can be judgmental if I want to be. But what allows me this freedom is the choice to be whatever I want to be in my own life. However, by observing peers, sometimes I would notice a particular attitude or approach that I may have disagreed with and , while I am happy to accept this disagreement, I sometimes wonder how this attitude or approach impacted on their counselling work.
For instance, if I noticed someone on my course who was a real ‘loudmouth’, alays taking the spotlight during workshops or discussions, I would wonder whether this would affect how they worked with clients. What power dynamics would pervade? Not only did I learn to challenge such attitudes to encourage the person to reflect on this behaviour but it made me consider how I am outside the counselling arena and what attitude or behaviours I exhibit and how does this impact on my counselling work. Awareness and a willingness to challenge oneself is, I think, the key.
After all the doubt, I now believe in my abilities as a counsellor, I trust and have faith in the approach but equally I am happy to observe the limitations too, both mine and that of the approach. That’s OK. Michael
I experienced the first two terms of the Diploma as quite de-skilling and although it provided vocabulary for what I had already been doing, the analysing of my work led me to question whether I was doing it ‘right’, whether I understood it fully and even if I was suitable to be a counsellor. I felt a lot of anxiety towards the end of the first year because we had to do a 3 hour exam on what we had learned during the year. This threw me back to my experience of school, exams and being tested which had felt pressurized and frightening. Vera
I have been definitely ‘stuck’ at times. This is why I feel it is important to have a good support network but it can be difficult to find this outside the group and non-counselling people do not understand what is going on. Having said this, it was also difficult to seel support from my counselling group too.
At certain ‘stuck’ periods I was left with some pretty defensive thinking that I was not ‘good enough’. Furthermore, I would sometimes consider that counselling was ‘dodgy’. Equally so, I sometimes felt that my tutor was a ‘con man’. Iain
Before starting my counselling training I had no doubts about my ability to become a competent counsellor. A couple of months into training I experienced chronic doubts concerned with the possibility that I might soon be calling myself a counsellor. Subconsciously, I think I assumed that I would be taught how to counsel. It came as a surprise to find myself doubting my abilities. In fact, my doubts were also insidiously making inroads into my view of myself as a professional working with people with mental health problems. And this was my post prior to starting the counselling course.
It seemed that I was in the process of questioning both my way of working and my personal philosophy. As a result of this, I felt stranded. I had given up my ‘professional’ status in order to explore my philosophy and to check out whether the Person-Centred Approach was right for me. For a while this left me adrift. But I think it was worth it. The process helped me question my working practice with people experiencing mental health problems. It helped me challenge a role which I had developed where I was trying to find the answers for the client. Through my training I experienced an increase in my ability to ‘stay with the client’ which seems to help the client explore their issues at their own pace. Latticia
I still question whether I am a competent counsellor, so nothing has changed. I actually like this. It’s a sort of checking process for me. There are times that I really know that the counselling I have offered a client has been very successful. Not only do I hear them thank me, perhaps with a card, but I can resonate with the belief for them. Other times, particularly with clients who I only see once, I question how effective I have been for them. I also question whether counselling per se has been of use to them. In many of these cases I will never know and I am able to live with this uncertainty. Liz
Points to Ponder
· You may frequently question whether you are good enough to become a counsellor. There is no such thing as a perfect counsellor, only a proficient and experienced one. You can become this with supervised practice and experience.
· You may question the validity and usefulness of the Person-Centred Approach. It is a difficult set of concepts to grasp, not just with regard to the academic or theoretical aspects but especially in understanding how to provide the core conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence.
· It is hard work training as a counsellor, much harder than most people often imagine. There will be times when you want to give up and this may be the right decision to make. Vera claims her first two terms were quite ‘de-skilling’ and that at the end-of-the-year exam provoked ‘anxiety’, evoking past ‘frightening’ feelings about school exams.
· The support of your peers and course staff can be invaluable and, as Iain pointed out, having a ‘good support network’ is important. But he found outside the group ‘people do not understand what is going on’ and in the group ‘it was difficult to seek support’.
· A word Iain uses a couple of times is ‘stuck’. This term is frequently quoted by trainees to describe the static feeling they may feel about their progress.
· Where do intuitions, gut feelings or hunches fit in? What do you make of your own sense of intuition? Are there times when your intuition is more accurate than other times? Is there the risk that our intuition can be restricted by having tunnel vision?
· Appreciate compliments when you get them. Liz speaks of how she gets her thank from a sort of ‘resonance’.
· Depending on the counselling context within which you may work, there may be a tendency for a large proportion of clients to turn up for only one session and not return. How will this affect you in the sense of not knowing why they do not return?