Reflections on becoming a counsellor.
It’s strange being back at college. Going out in the night-time to fluorescent lights and cafeteria coffee is a concept after a couple of years of lockdown . The nerves dissipate in the classroom, when the familiar from school and in later years college, comes alive.
Since the term began, we’ve been focusing on psychodynamic traditions. The folk whose ideas form an intrinsic part of our vocation history. As we learn in Lang Toon in our heads we’re in Vienna with Sigmund Freud and Switzerland with Carl Jung.
I sometimes wonder how our clients view a counselling session. Does it conjure up the images of a chaise long couch with an older, stern man looking at them over half-moon glasses and writing notes? It's an image, albeit historical, that came up for me before I come to counselling as a student.
As a counselling agency we recently completed the initial training for our new student placements and we look forward to welcoming the new team members to their outreach teams in the next few weeks. In the classroom and on the front line, our learning continues.
And while theory sits in the background and we as students acknowledge what has come before us, it's the present-day evolution that starts with our clients.
Sigmund Freud tells us our dreams share the story of our subconscious and according to pop culture it’s all our mother’s fault. Carl Jung encourages us to celebrate our unconsciousness and dance into the mystic, years before Van Morrison coined the melody.
However, the fact remains, as we much as we rest in the comfort of words and knowledge - we don’t live in a book.
Walking through the week can be challenging for some and as we witness the authenticity of our clients, we learn being mindful works, using a drinks diary works, and putting yourself and your recovery first, for what may be the first time in your life, brings hope and choices.
And whilst we acknowledge the counselling founding fathers and geek out on their theories this is the kind of theory I Iike.
It’s that time of year again.
Christmas and New Year are now drifting into memory along with an overindulgence of cheese and chocolate and we’re all back, with a thud, to knowing what day of the week it is and the familiar, if harsh, sound of the alarm clock in the dark, winter mornings.
For us trainee counsellors heading back to our diplomas, it’s another step in our learning journey. The course is intense and demanding as it should be we work towards gaining the BACP accreditation for the privilege of offering a safe, professional, and ethical space to our clients, with the support of Fife Alcohol Support Service who have offered psychotherapy to the people of Fife who are struggling with alcohol issues for over 40 years. Heading back to the online classroom, after two weeks of relaxation, is a thought.
There are also changes afoot for our service as we return to counselling via telephone instead of our traditional face-to-face appointments as we monitor ongoing Covid-19 restrictions and keep our clients, staff and volunteers safe.
This transition made me think about our clients. What is Christmas and particularly the New Year, the traditional season of consumption like for them? How do they navigate this and keep themselves safe? Most of all, I wondered if this challenging time of self-care is acknowledged and while as a trainee counsellors we head back to college with butterfly stomach nerves, the courage of our clients, trying to make changes during what could be the most challenging two weeks of the year should be acknowledged and celebrated.
If this is you, we see you and acknowledge your courage and bravery as we know it can’t have been easy for you.
And if you need our help and support you know where we here – to listen, to hold a safe space and to acknowledge the journey so far, as we ourselves never stop learning.
We are here.
There is a buzz of excitement in the air. As restrictions ease and we move beyond Level 0 in Covid-19 restrictions. Life is opening again. For some these changes are sunny and glorious for others they can be nerve-wracking. Nevertheless, we are moving forward. We can see friends and family for tea with less restrictions, some of us are going back to work from office instead of at home and local colleges are preparing for the new academic year.
For some of us FASS Counsellors, it’s time to dig out the school bags and pencil sharpeners as we begin our Diploma in Counselling at Fife College in the next few weeks. It’s an exciting and demanding journey to become accredited in your chosen vocation and we’re lucky enough to have the financial and supervisory support of Fife Alcohol Support Service with over 40 years of experience in counselling and psychotherapy. Our colleagues have been sitting in front of clients for years and to have these supervisors sharing their jewels of knowledge is a privilege. For us, this is our community.
Community is an important word here. As we Diploma newbies start a chapter in our learning lives, this edge of awareness is two-fold for clients of our alcohol counselling service. And while we’ll admit to feeling a little first night nerves as we meet our tutors, fellow students, and assignment timetable, we acknowledge the courage of our clients who are making those first tentative steps towards positive life changes.
I sometimes wonder what it is like for our clients, how do they feel before the first appointment, or picking up the phone to refer themselves or having a browse through our many self-help guides on our website. I wonder how I would feel sitting outside a health centre about to meet a stranger to confess the most difficult and sometimes painful aspects of my life. This isn’t first night nerves in a classroom. This is true unadulterated courage and at FASS we are lucky enough to witness this manifestation daily.
In the meantime, we’ll keep learning.
When you are ready.
We are here.
The first time I felt truly heard, I was 39 years old.
It is January 2018 and it's day one of my Counselling Skills course. A year of anticipated weekends and travelling up to Tayside Council on Alcohol to gain my certification. I had worked as an Administrator for Fife Alcohol Support Service (FASS) for years and jumped at the opportunity to explore counselling as a vocation.
I have been up since the birds started singing, so I didn’t get lost on my way to Dundee, studied the notes and I’m nervous as are my fellow students.
Our course facilitators introduced themselves and give us an idea of what to expect. They say it was unlikely all 20 of us would complete the course for various reasons. Progression would be from unit to unit, and it was important to take care of ourselves.
One of our first exercises was called Attending. I did not know what that was. Apart from showing up at a restaurant with friends at a particular time. Discarded to various rooms with another student, we were to listen to each other without speaking for 5 minutes.
Ten minutes later, my perspective had altered. I spoke about myself, my life, my interests and had another persons full attention while they listened to me. Now, I know I have experienced this before, however, this was the first time ever I was fully aware of it. It was extraordinary, with body language, smiling, nodding I had no doubt my fellow student was with me, through the indentation of self-esteem and bravado and eventually when I got comfortable - the silence. The glorious silence.
According to Counselling Tutor, a fantastic learning resource for training counsellors, attending is “the skill of listening and giving your full attention.”
Still to this day, a year and a half into my own counselling practice, I remember this exercise fondly.
Attending, in the traditional sense usually means turning up, and for your first counselling session as a client can be nerve-wracking and takes enormous courage and if I can offer a safe space and most of all silence to let another share their story it is an honour and a privilege.
Before I started Counselling Skills training, I was aware of what I may have to give to progress myself and my studies. I did not anticipate the gifts I would receive. Attending is one of those gifts, which for many of us is completely missed unless like me we are lucky enough to appreciate the value of it.
Welcome to Holding the Space.