I think I am in a fairly unusual position (at least judging by the small sample of my own personal acquaintances) of having a relationship with my own therapist which predates the beginning of my training, so I suppose my experiences of being a therapist in therapy are likely to be atypical.
There was no concern, for example, about needing to ‘get my counselling hours in’, no urgency to stick with a therapist and just get the thing done. I feel very lucky to have had an established relationship and to have avoided the frustrating and sometimes futile search for a good relational match in such a limited time.
As I read through the BACP professional conduct hearings, I have often been struck by the high number of cases brought by trainees or qualified therapists. I suspect that prior knowledge of ethical considerations and what constitutes good practice may account for some of this, and it links with the Macaskill and Macaskill statistic that 27% of therapists in training report experiencing harm in therapy, which was highlighted in Philip Cox’s recent article.
Reflecting on my own therapy, I believe there has been some evolution in the way we work – as an example, my therapist recently offered me a reference for a research-related chapter he thought I might find interesting – however I am aware that I like to keep an ongoing conversation in all of my therapeutic work (as a client and a therapist) about therapeutic purpose, and clarity in boundaries which ensures my therapy can retain purpose and direction, and avoid meandering into supervision or collegial chat.
I have learnt a lot about therapeutic practice from my therapist, but much of this has been unconscious learning, and a byproduct of good therapy rather than a conscious effort on my part to take note of the way he practices. This feels organic, and not a primary purpose or outcome of the therapy.
I find myself curious about what it might feel like to counsel a therapist. My sense is that there could be a number of potential difficulties for therapist and client to navigate.
I have heard it said that counselling trainees can be frustrating when the client views the therapy as simply another hurdle in the race to qualification, rather than an opportunity to engage at depth. Impatience on both sides of this type of situation is likely to be a major barrier to psychological contact, and it seems really important to have an ongoing dialogue about therapeutic aims and how the relationship is working. I think it’s also important to avoid falling into a generalisation that any trainee that walks through the door will be motivated by the course requirements rather than a desire and willingness to engage with the process.
As with any client, I think it’s important to be aware of whatever might be lurking in our shadows when working with therapists or trainees. Unconscious competitiveness, sensitivity to one’s work being judged, desire to mentor, desire to identify, underlying resentments about specific training establishments, assumptions about trainees or desire for friendship could all interfere with the effectiveness of the therapy if left unacknowledged and unchecked.
Not only do therapists deserve effective therapy in their own right, but I would argue they need it to be effective therapists themselves. It is my feeling that any potential barriers to the work of therapy need to be brought into the daylight should they emerge in the relationship.
I would also encourage any trainee therapist who does not feel they are getting effective therapy, and has not been able to resolve the issues within the relationship, to find a new therapist. I don’t think there is a more valuable part of the training process than the opportunity to explore oneself at depth. It is not something you want to miss out on.