What is counselling?
This isn’t easy to answer. I am thinking of the many great authors who have gone before who have tried to define counselling and made an excellent attempt, but I have forgotten what they said; so I suppose it’s up to me. At this moment, I would describe counselling as a professional therapeutic relationship, with two people meeting purposely towards help and healing and growth and change.
Who has inspired you on your counselling journey?
My greatest inspiration has come from all the clients I have worked with. Those I can remember and those I may have forgotten. I still appreciate every single one in some way. Every client is a potential teacher and I have always attempted to meet clients with the best in me, with openness, warmth, genuineness and respect. I don’t know when I will next be inspired, so every meeting with a client holds the possibility my life might be changed for the better.
One young person in particular said something to me many years ago, when I was a youth worker, that changed my life. They helped me understand more about helping others, and I believe it helped shape my practice as a counsellor. We were talking about the word ‘potential’ and they mentioned that they had learned from their science class that it meant ‘stored-up energy’. I hadn’t heard this description before and found the idea so inspiring in terms of working with people. I started to imagine we all have our potential stored up inside us as energy. So, whenever I meet with a client, I still believe this to be true, both in terms of their potential being stored up in them and my potential being stored up in me, just waiting to come out!
What does spirituality mean to you?
I sometimes wonder if spirituality could be a way of describing what I connect with when I actively consider the meaning of life, and wonder where I have come from and where I might eventually go when I die. It might also be how I yearn for belonging and seek connection with others and the earth. It also feels like affirming what I know and what I have experienced, and what I have yet to experience, and what I can imagine, and what I don’t know, as well as allowing for something more. I believe spirituality is a flow of energy which is constantly flowing and is always there, even when I don’t think about it or forget or become lost. I know I can reconnect again during moments where I find peace within myself and with others and the earth. If I were to place spirituality on a map, it would be inside everything that keeps us connected.
Most useful piece of advice for a student or newly qualified therapist
Learn some theory and keep practising and talking with and listening to clients and other therapists. Discover what feels right and what works for you and the client, and learn some more theory, and then keep on learning from your clients. It feels so important we learn ways to help us prepare responsibly for our work and find ideas from our experience that can help our understanding of what we can do and how we can be with clients.
In my experience, what helps clients most is how we are in relationship with them and our belief that what may emerge from our relationship has the potential to heal and transform. Being spontaneous and open to surprises and synchronicity is important too. For example, when I wrote my answer to question 2 about ‘potential’ on 9 February 2021, that evening I was drawn to look at the daily meditation book I have, called 365 Tao; Daily Meditations, by Deng Ming-Dao. The reading for that day on page 40 was quite revealing; it was about us realising truths by opening our latent potential. It said: ‘Everything is locked inside of us and need only be opened’.
How wonderful! Things like this sometimes appear in our work too, and I believe helps to confirm that we are on the right path in some way.
Do you have a favourite quote?
‘The most effective way to achieve right relations with any living thing is to look for the best in it, and then help that best into the fullest expression’
J Allen Boone. Kinship with all life, 1954
I came across this quote many years ago and used it in my first ever PowerPoint presentation, and I remember feeling it was like an old friend when it came up on the screen. I have used many inspirational quotes since then, but this one has a very special place in my heart.
Favourite counselling book?
On Becoming a Person, by Carl R Rogers, 1961
I was briefly introduced to Carl Rogers’ work through this book when I was training to be a youth worker in the mid 1980s, and loved his way of writing. Many years later, I had the opportunity to train as a person-centred therapist. This book has always been important to me, and I return to it often.
Favourite podcast or website?
Caroline Myss is a bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker. I have been inspired by her work for many years and enjoy her direct approach.
Favourite piece of music?
Cosmic Dancer, by Marc Bolan, released 1971.
I was 10 years old when I first heard Marc Bolan and have loved his music ever since. The words of this song are part of my own childhood memories and also represent part of my life journey from birth to death. I find the music both sad and uplifting.
Top tip for a successful supervision session
Close your eyes in supervision, to ‘feel’ your clients. Perhaps you will access something more in your relationship that will help the healing to emerge. I have found that imagining being the client can offer so much more in supervision. If supervision feels like a safe place for exploration at depth, I believe there are things beyond our understanding which can be accessed in different ways and are always worth exploring intuitively and creatively.
I trained with a supervisor and teacher who once asked me to choose a stone for my client and a stone for myself, and a stone for what represented the healing. At first, I thought this was strange; however, I trusted her and discovered something quite incredible about the work that offered me new perspectives that felt right and enabled me to process things more deeply. This eventually empowered my client. I now use this understanding in my own supervision and with supervises and have come to realise there is far more available to me – as well as the client and supervisor – when we look further, and deeper, in creative moments of supervision.
What is the most important issue facing the counselling world today?
I am concerned about the impact of SCoPEd on the profession. It doesn’t seem to quite fit how I experience my ways of working and learning from clients. What seems to be missing is the principle of the client’s unique experience in relationship with their therapist, and the therapist’s unique experience with their client.
Feedback on how the therapeutic relationship is captured in the SCoPEd framework is one of the issues which will be revisited before the next iteration of the framework is published.