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Therapy for therapists

23 Oct 19
Sue Smith
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Therapy for therapists

This week I’m touching on an interesting subject – the need for therapy for those working therapeutically with clients.

‘Why would you see a counsellor that needs help themselves’? I hear you shout.

Well there are a few things to unpick here.

Let’s start by re-framing this thought, consider this: –

  1. Who wants to be helped by someone that doesn’t look after their own mental health?
  2. You don’t have to be ill to access counselling
  3. Recognising the need to deal with an emotion or a problem is a strength not a weakness
  4. Clients benefit from therapists who are self-aware – it assures that their counsellor is totally in their perspective and not distracted with their own feelings

Starting to make a it more sense now? I’m going to expand on this and will start by outlining the difference between clinical supervision and personal therapy

Clinical Supervision

Some of you may be aware that counsellors and psychotherapists access clinical supervision with a trained supervisor. This is a requirement for membership of professional bodies such as the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Clinical supervision is a regular meeting with an experienced practitioner trained to supervise other practitioners. My BACP requirements for accreditation purposes are that I receive a minimum of 1.5 hours clinical supervision per month. My clinical supervisor is a Dr, a Chartered Psychologist and I have worked with her for over 8 years now. My previous clinical supervisor was a Certified Trauma Specialist (CTS), and Snr Accredited Counsellor (BACP) and she provided my supervision for over 15 years.

The purpose of supervision:

BACP describes supervision as: ‘A specialised form of professional mentoring provided for practitioners responsible for undertaking challenging work with people. Supervision is provided to ensure standards, enhance quality, advance learning, stimulate creativity, and support the sustainability and resilience of the work being undertaken’ (BACP, 2016)

What this means is that in practise I meet with my supervisor and we work through what is going on for me within my practise.  For example – I may discuss with my supervisor a client scenario that I am struggling with. My supervisor may provide pointers or suggest new ways of working with the client. My supervisor is also aware of ethical considerations and ensures my practise is best practise, she would report anything that concerned her about my ability to work with clients.

Sometimes there may be personal things going on for me or a specific reasons why I am struggling with a particular scenario. That’s normal I’m human. Clinical supervision is a safe space for me to work through those issues to ensure that my work with my clients is the best it possibly can be.

Clinical supervision however is not personal therapy.

The BACP state that supervision is not:

‘the same as therapy. At times, it is appropriate for a supervisor to offer support to a supervisee who is experiencing a personal crisis, but that support should not become lengthy, overshadow client concerns or lessen the process of supervision’.

A clinical supervisor may suggest that their supervisee would benefit from some therapeutic work as part of the clinical supervision consultation. However, in the same way as a counsellor cannot accept a client that they know personally for counselling work, the clinical supervisor cannot provide therapeutic interventions to someone they are contracted to provide clinical supervision to. This ensures professional boundaries are maintained.

So, to simply define the two –

Clinical supervision – is a professional process that ensures my practise is safe and in the best interests of clients.

Personal therapy – is a personal process to explore my personal issues in the same way as I would facilitate the process for a client.

Personal Therapy

Whilst not a professional requirement I would argue that accessing personal therapy when needed is a professional thing for any practising counsellor to do.

At the end of the day I am human the same as anyone else (allegedly)! I have fluctuating levels of mental health and ability, usually influenced by external factors.

Like most people I try to put things to the back of my mind and get on with life. Mostly things come and go, mental resilience prevails, and things are fine.

Sometimes however I know that something is lingering and no matter how much I rationalise it and try to put it to rest it keeps reminding me its there. It could be a particular crisis or problem that’s playing on my mind or a pattern of behaviour I’ve developed. Ultimately if it doesn’t feel healthy to me then chances are its not a healthy thing to ignore and carry through my day to day life.

So, when I need to I will access personal therapy to explore what is going on for me, to help me make sense and put those emotions/feelings/thoughts or behaviours to rest.

Why wouldn’t I? Its healthier for me to be grounded, self-aware and fully functioning. It’s also better for my loved ones as believe me those close to you know when things aren’t great. And finally, but not least, its better for me professionally and that benefits my clients.

Last thought

I hope this has provided a little insight into some of the world of counselling beyond the counselling room.

Last thought:

How hypocritical would it be for me as a counsellor to expect clients to access therapy when they have issues impacting on them if I was not willing to do the same myself?

Yes, I’m a counsellor, yes I’m human and yes I will access counselling when I need to.

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