Counselling journey and review

Day 1 – Sun 30 Sept 2018

While most of the year was simply a case of getting by, the last few weeks has seen change, some positive, some I’m still not sure about.

Let’s go with the positive: I have begun a counselling skills course and have set a goal of becoming a counsellor. Originally I wanted to learn these skills as they could help me manage/combat/overcome elements of condition that I feel hinder progress. As I had little help with any of my issues I’ve now decided that I don’t want others to suffer in the same way and that if, by any small means I can help, I will.

Looking at the choices out there, I think CBT, NLP or Psychotherapy could be any of my specialisms. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself, but it does no harm to consider these options.

Speaking of NLP, I did an introductory session an found it incredibly helpful and positive. I think that alone pulls me to it. Simple concepts, yet so affective, such as removing negative terminology from communications; comparing who you are on a bad day/good day and figuring out how to stay in ‘good day’ mode more often. Once I’ve saved up enough I will do the foundation course and then onwards from there.

The counselling skills course will no doubt be challenging, but you can’t help someone fight their demons if you can’t fight your own. I’m going to use this blog as part of my self-reflection while doing the course. This session was mostly admin, but we did cover something interesting: a group contract that lays out a framework for helping via mutual respect, understanding, empathy and a safe place. All good groundwork for establishing a contract with helpees.

The contract lays out what the helpee can expect from the helper, with some caveats. While the discussion is confidential, should the helpee disclose something that leads the helper to believe the helpee is a risk the themselves or others, or involved in illegal activities, such as child endangerment, drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism, then the helper is bound by law to report this.

So we established a group contract that will lay down a framework in which we can discuss and practice freely, safely and in confidence. Anything we think breaches this will get escalated and dealt with accordingly.

Day 2 – Tuesday 2nd Oct 2018

Today’s session introduced us to boundaries and ethics. The line between personal and professional will be something for me to develop, while I’m always focused about whatever job I’m doing, I’m always the same person; I don’t have a persona for work. This is something I may well have to adopt, particularly in the helping profession. It’s very clear how much this work can have an emotional impact on the helper and how vital it is for one’s own wellbeing that they learn to distance themselves.

We were given some recommended reading: Counselling Skills and Studies by Fiona Ballantine Dykes, Barry Kopp and Tracey Postings. The first two chapters cover the contract and ethics and there’s some really interesting takeaways such as:

  • Have a framework for looking at what appropriate behaviour and attitudes are
  • Recognise the limits of your ability and monitor your own values
  • Convey the limits of what you can offer to the person you are helping
  • Enable the helpee to find other support where appropriate

Boundaries clarify the helping relationship so that both helper and helpee know what to expect from the relationship. Boundaries outline what is acceptable in the relationship. That could be boundaries on time and length of session. the limits of confidentiality and frequency of meetings, what would happen if helper and helpee met on the street or at social situations.

We often feel uncomfortable when our personal boundaries are challenged; it’s good, therefore, to know one’s boundaries and how they could help or hinder us during a helping session.

Time boundaries are something I hadn’t really considered, but what if we had reached a breakthrough or were discussing something emotional then I suddenly said it was time to end the session? Setting a clear limit and a ‘countdown’ to the end will give the both the chance to naturally end the session and set a focus for the next one. It will also allow the helpee a chance to gather themselves before leaving.

  • Boundaries may have limits and these need communicating at the start of the session
  • A helping session needs to have an appropriate ending
  • Boundaries must be clear
  • Appropriate and context-specific
  • Firm but caring
  • Neither controlling nor manipulative
  • Neither hurtful nor harmful
  • Neither invasive nor dominating
  • Respectful 

Another challenge is that of empathy: I’ve always struggled with seeing things from another’s perspective. I know my way of doing things and philosophies and have difficulty understanding how no-one else does things the same way. I think this is more to do with the Aspergers; tunnel vision is part of it. Another thing that concerns me is showing empathy, as my voice is quite monotone and I don’t have much inflection, so I sound uncaring when I talk. I can work on this as part of my development plan. 

Sometimes it’s easier when expressing sympathy, when something is done to someone, rather than stepping outside of oneself and into another’s mindset.

Day 3 – Tuesday 9 October 2018

Tonight we wrapped up things from last week, looking at boundaries, and we had a discussion about what Safe, Legal, Moral and Ethical means, or what we thought it meant, in relation to the job.

I was wary and a bit trepidatious when it came to the second half of the evening as we started to practice listening skills. We arranged ourselves into triads, taking turns being the helper, helpee and observer. I always fear saying the wrong things, or not responding when expected, or responding when not expected, or just not knowing what to say (though if you don’t know what to say you shouldn’t say anything).

We were developing the ability to listen and paraphrase. Right at the beginning of the course we were told that whatever is said in these groups is confidential, and it was recommended that as we were just getting started, we should keep the conversation light. With that in mind, we began practice.

It was very interesting seeing how the others approached this. I felt they did it better than I, as I thought at one point I may have lead the conversation with my helpee, but post session we mentioned being aware of that danger and noted I simply followed a thread the helpee started, so we didn’t go ‘off topic’. It wasn’t my place to lead or direct, it’s the helpee’s time to discuss whatever they want to, so I kept out of their space.

The paraphrasing was a bit tricky. Though I’m quite eloquent and know what to say in my mind, as soon as I try to speak it all seems to go wrong, so I left myself and the helpee some room, for both of us to reflect on what has been said and then for me to show that I understood. Then I could back out of the conversation and let the helpee continue.

We had 10 minutes each, and as we reached 2 minutes, we decided that would be a good time to wrap up and ‘cool down’, as it were, ensuring that the helpee was ok with what had been disclosed and they were happy to leave it there.

Day 4 Tuesday 16 Oct 2018

The session was some more admin, but also getting to grips with the contract. I found this very interesting, if a bit daunting. While the purpose of counselling is to forge a respectful, trusting relationship with the client, it is still a professional relationship and there are legalities that underpin it.

The contract considers the approach, confidentiality, expectations and even payment preferences. While is it is formal and binding, it still has to be clear and personal enough to not intimidate the client.

We looked at a few different versions of this, as there’s no singular way to write the content but the above conditions frame it.

In the Approach we could lay out our limits of ability, counsellors are not there to offer treatment, but can direct to those that can; also it should make it clear that we practice a person centred approach and believe that the client is the expert on their own life and we are there to help them understand themselves.

Anything that is discussed is in the strictest Confidence, and that is underpinned by an ethical framework; however, the client must be made aware that confidentiality can be broken under certain circumstances such as intent to harm self and others as well as committing a serious crime such as child endangerment, drug trafficking and terrorism. Also, conversations could be shared with a supervisor, so the client needs to be aware and so to if the conversation be used for training purposes (any names are always omitted and left out of notes). Speaking of which, any documentation is to be kept safely locked away. 

Some counsellors are quite happy to let clients have personal phone numbers and email addresses, though I’d prefer to keep things separate, so there must be a stipulation about this, and by extension, how to interact if at all, should there be an accidental social meeting (the client may not have informed family of friends about receiving counselling).

Aside from payment, there’s the question of boundaries. Some of the above keeps a line between the personal and professional, but there’s also time boundaries. The client needs to know how ling they have and that the session shall be drawn to a close with a few minutes to spare for the sake of reflection and grounding. Plus this helps to focus the discussion and establish what to discuss at the next session.

I’ll start sketching out a contract and host it here.

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