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Counselling training - what a surprise

By Sydney Forder - October 2009

On the day of my placement induction I found myself asking, why should today be any different? This is because since beginning my Counselling Diploma last year I have had to learn to deal with being constantly in a state of surprise, or more to the point whatever my expectations have been in a situation they have been for the most part, wrong. That's not to say I have been disappointed, I haven't. I am at a bit of a loss to describe this sensation, so I'll try by using a food metaphor (my favourite kind of metaphor, read into this what you will!) It's as if vanilla ice cream is your favourite flavour, you've tried other flavours but vanilla is definitely the best. But, one day someone says to you, "Vanilla may be the best flavour, but have you tried it with hot chocolate sauce?" All of a sudden you've experienced something new and wonderful yet the vanilla ice cream is exactly the same except you have just learnt to experience it in a new and different way. This is the sensation that seems to be arising time and time again since the start of my Diploma.

Experiencing something old in a new and different way has been happening to me all year but only today at the placement induction has the importance of this new sensation become clear to me. I will explain further after I set the scene, and describe how my day began.

At a few minutes before nine o'clock in the morning I arrived at the site of the placement and thankfully realised I, along with a few others, had arrived before the building had opened. So I stood outside the gates to the locked single storey building with the other members of staff all of whom were also waiting to enter. To pass the time I found myself trying to assign identities to my fellow early birds, like a child playing Cluedo I was giving them all a personality and instead of a weapon, a suitable vocation, and more importantly trying to decide who I thought was a counsellor and who I thought was a client. Surprise looming yet again!

We entered the building in single file in a relaxed mood, but in traditional polite English silence. I signed in at the reception desk and let the receptionist know I was there for my induction. I then sat and waited patiently but I quickly realised my Cluedo playing skills were not quite as honed as they once used to be. The people I had expected to be counsellors disappeared into the administrative heart of the building, and the people I was unsure of all descended on reception, carrying away with them a red folder containing all the pertinent information for their next client. This however was not even the biggest surprise for me; this was saved for when my new supervisor came to collect me. After attending an interview for the placement some months earlier with a smartly dressed lady, I had expected to be met today by the man in the shirt and trousers I had seen outside. Instead I was collected by the man in the jeans and tie dye t-shirt I had failed to pigeon hole whilst playing my futile game of adults' Cluedo.

What I have learnt for myself from today's experiences together with my frequent surprises throughout the year is not just that my perception of a given situation is constantly changing but my own self awareness has also been greatly heightened. Before if I wrongly guessed the identity of my supervisor I would have shrugged it off, but today (as I'm sure a great many of my first year contemporaries would after hearing this stock question a million times) I would ask myself; What's the meaning behind this? Thus allowing myself the freedom to be aware of my thoughts and to either accept them or be appropriately sceptical of their meaning.

So what does this mean for all us students approaching the start of the second year and the clinical placement? Firstly it highlights the importance of our own personal therapy and how important it is to understand ourselves so that we may affectively help others in the counselling room. Secondly it gives us trainees a reminder that being surprised by our clients is ok just as long as it's not all the time and that we should remember to always maintain a healthy balance of acceptance and scepticism of ourselves, as well as our clients.