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Being A Counsellor

by David Hamilton (April 2009)

Since I decided to train as a counsellor, there have been moments of clarity in various different areas of my life, but I wanted to share one of the most exciting ones with you in the hope that it might help you as it helped me.

I think that everyone likes getting cards, birthday cards, greeting cards, and even get well soon cards, and these come from friends and relations - People who care about us and want us to feel good. I had received cards before from many people on a variety of subjects and occasions, but the first card I ever got from a client was the one that will stay with me always.

I was apprehensive at the beginning of the therapeutic alliance, but after a few sessions with this client, I began to think about where they were in life. I really wanted the client to overcome the presenting issue and be happy. The journey was full of ups and downs, and some weeks I worked at containing my excitement when the news was good and things were working out, and other times I just wanted to say "it will be alright" as the client imparted tales of woe. I remember what my first counselling tutor had said early on in my career "imagine a box just outside the therapy room, then put everything that's yours into it, and when the session is finished, pick it all up again". I found myself struggling a little with this and asked my supervisor what I should do.

The answer sounded strange at first, it was almost in contradiction to my earlier training - "Don't be afraid to bring what's yours into the room, but use your own self awareness to separate what belongs to you and what belongs to the client. When you are thinking of your clients issues when in your own context, it may facilitate an advanced empathy that really helps the sessions flow." This really helped and I use it in my core approach as it enables the counter transference to work in harmony with the therapy. Perhaps one caveat is that it requires a constant self awareness to ensure that the clients interests are upheld and not mixed up with your own.

The client didn't solve the presenting issue, perhaps due to circumstances beyond their control, and drawing parallels with other lines of work, that may have been a task uncompleted. But the therapeutic value of those sessions was huge. Every week or every couple of weeks the client would reflect on what the previous sessions had achieved, and at the end of our sessions they asked if it was appropriate to give a thank you card. I had read in the BACP "Therapy" magazine to be aware of what implications gifts and things like that could have, and I am thankful for that information, it brought my awareness of ethical concerns to a deeper understanding, and, after checking with my supervisor, I told my client that a card would be nice.

The card came the following week, which was the last session. It was a normal thank you card that's quite common to most card shops, but my client had taken the time to write a little passage in it explaining what the counselling had done for them. In reading it I felt a warm sensation that really made me smile.

I don't feel that recognition is important to the provision of counselling, but that card meant that regardless of the initial presenting issue, the client had grown emotionally and in so many other ways by their exploration of themselves, to the point where they could no longer feel upset or frustrated at what was going on in their lives.