As a student training in the field of counselling and psychotherapy it can be daunting and confusing when trawling through the theory books and research papers. Studiously taking notes and listening in class trying to absorb as much information as is humanly possible to develop and grow my database of knowledge and ultimately understand what it is all about. I have always enjoyed listening to the stories and anecdotes’ that our lecturers share with us about their own journeys and experiences throughout their careers. I soon realised that these stories they shared with us not only gave us an insight into how to put the theory into practice but also showed us that they are human too and have experienced many ups and downs throughout their careers. Through hearing their stories and listening to their experiences I learned about, resilience and self-care. More importantly I discovered how stepping into the role of therapist does not mean that I step away from who I am, it means that who I am steps into the role of therapist.
So when the opportunity arrived on Sunday 6th March to attend the Professional Knowledge Seminar in the Louis Fitzgerald hotel which was being facilitated by Dr Marie Adams I was really excited. Having attended Professor Mick Cooper’s workshop in 2015 and not only gained valuable insight into the pluralistic perspective of counselling I had also been given an opportunity to be a student of Professor Cooper for a day and meet the man himself. Now I was eager to experience a day in the presence of Dr Adam’s, not just because she is an accomplished psychotherapist and writer but because she is a woman. In the world of psychology woman are rarely mentioned even though they have contributed greatly to the field and continue to do so which is apparent everyday in the therapy rooms and office of the VCS and classrooms of the IICP.
The title of the workshop was “The Myth of the Untroubled Therapist”. The title itself grabbed attention and generated curiosity in everyone from students to practicing therapists alike. Is there such a thing as an untroubled therapist? Is it true that when you are a therapist, life is easier because you have all the answers and you can handle everything? Is this what our clients think? Dr Adams brought to us and discussed with us her own research into the personal lives of therapists and talked about the importance of self-care and supervision in our work. She asked the important question of “how do we support ourselves and one another during challenging periods in our lives?” She posed questions to us that directed us towards self-reflection on our attitudes to many things from depression and vulnerability to criticism. How we felt about telling people we attended therapy? Can we really offer our clients the gift of therapy and ask them to trust us if we feel shame around admitting we attend personal therapy ourselves? Upon reflection while attempting to answer these questions, I remembered the times when for me it was almost too difficult to juggle college, clinical work and home life and how at these times it was peer support and supervision that had helped me to get through. How sharing the load had eased the burden, which is the message we give to our clients.
Dr Adams also asked us to reflect on our journeys into the field of counselling, what brought us here and why and how this influences our work. To do this we gathered together in groups. The group I was working within had a wonderful dynamic to it as some of us were at different stages in our journies; we were a mix of certificate course and diploma students to qualified practicing therapists. There was a wonderful exchange of knowledge and experience shared through humour and honesty which contributed hugely to the enjoyment on the day along with understanding how although we have all had unique journeys on our way to today, we all share commonalities and we have all experienced pain in our lives. Dr Adams spoke about depression among the counselling profession and how it can deepen empathy. How our own experience of pain often moulds us into the therapists we will be and for some the therapist we have already become.
A quote Dr Adams gave on the day was “You cannot be a therapist unless you have suffered pain” This is a quote that has resonated with me, it has helped me to value the human aspect of therapists, we are at the end of each day only human and we can only give so much. We are people who have experienced pain and suffering in some way and are using that experience in a positive way. Dr Adams also said that “our own vulnerability is the gift we bring to therapy”. I believe it is this vulnerability that allows us to connect with our clients and why sometimes we carry them with us. So even with our training and knowledge we need support. We still have to mind ourselves and take care of our own lives. We still have our own normal everyday challenges to overcome. We are still learning and developing as we go, no matter what stage we are at on our journeys. We cannot help others if we do not accept help for ourselves when we need it.
This workshop gave me not only a rare opportunity to listen to a researcher discuss their findings instead of reading about them however, it also gave me a chance to reflect on my own personal development and attitude to accepting support and help. It highlighted the importance of not only supervision but good supervision and how even though it is difficult to be vulnerable, it is when we are vulnerable that we learn. After the workshop I have indeed gained more knowledge and understanding of what it is all about and I can continue to nurture and tend a growing understanding of where this journey will take me.
I will end on another quote which Dr Adams ended her workshop with,