To see or not to see… a therapist- that is the question!

In my last blog I expressed my disappointment that some student therapists are unable to see a need for personal therapy. Whilst browsing through the September Edition of the BACP Counselling & Psychotherapy Research (Vol. 10 No. 3) I came across the paper ‘Therapists’ experiences of personal therapy: A descriptive phenomenological study’ by Vicky Oteiza. In it participants noted therapy as ‘A difficult but helpful experience’. They also noted several enriching aspects including:
• to be more conscious, more aware of their personal issues
• to abandon the fantasy of considering themselves as the ‘healthy one’
• to admit they are ‘merely’ human too
• to respect an individual’s personal rhythm
• to let themselves be guided and accompanied
• to expect to be challenged
To which my reaction is ‘surprise surprise’, therapists are human after all and perhaps what is good for the goose is ………. !
Although the number of participants in the research was small it included a variety of theoretical approaches. Unsurprisingly they stated ‘that personal therapy might not be so important for other approaches such as Cognitive-Behavioural, where there is more focus on change of behaviour than on emotions or change of personality’.
I indicated in my previous blog that I value my own personal therapy and, needless to say, as one who offers online therapy as well as face to face I have experience of the latter. I was offered the opportunity to act as a client to a student on online work and I found it insightful and extremely valuable both as a client and therapist.
I don’t intend to include one of my poems in every blog – I would soon run out of material for one(!) – but this is one which is perhaps relevant to the current theme.
Mirror Image – Inner Mirage
I look at myself
But it is not as I am
Left is right and right is left
I see the outside
But not within
Inside are feelings thoughts and desires
Constructed and formulated over time
Moulded by parents, peers and friends
By people of influence and power
Conditioned
That’s what I am – the sum of conditioning
Now I’m unravelling it all
The good from the bad
The wise from the not so wise
So many mistakes
So much to forgive myself for
To understand
A never ending journey
What will I discover about myself next
At least I’m not an alien
Unless I haven’t got to that bit yet

Geoff Cox
May 2008

I’ve started so I’ll…

I never cease to be surprised and disappointed when I meet students of counselling failing to see the necessity of therapy for themselves. Personally I think it would be very arrogant to sit with a client and hear them disclose personal information which they may never have uttered before and to never have gone through a similar experience. Personal therapy is important for a counsellor, as it can be for anyone, for several reasons. It would be a very exceptional person who had not experienced negative conditioning of some kind, or had not had an experience with a negative effect. We are the result of the conditioning we have experienced since the day we were born and continue to be influenced to a greater or lesser extent by life events, parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, work colleagues, role models and with whoever we have a relationship of any kind. We are influenced by our educational experiences, religious belief or non-belief, the clubs or organisations to which we belong. We are influenced by the media, newspapers and magazines, television and radio and not least, if we are cyber surfers, the Internet with all its social networking possibilities and blogs – such as the one that you are reading now!

Therapy helps us in our personal development. Our self-awareness is raised allowing us to recognise ‘where we are at’. We become aware of the choices available to us. We can continue with our old thoughts and behaviours or we can make amendments, adopt new ones and maybe ditch a few which are no longer relevant. Did you once believe in Santa Claus? How appropriate, or helpful, is it to continue that belief beyond the age of about seven? Perhaps we continue with some beliefs and behaviours because they have been passed on to us by our parents, either consciously or unconsciously – ‘If it was good enough for them then it’s good enough for me’ perhaps? It’s not to say that what they said and did was not appropriate at the time, the question is ‘does it remain so?’ For counsellors, in addition to our personal development, therapy is also an essential aspect of our professional development and something we need to address regularly.

I first entered into therapy in the 80s when I realised there was something amiss and was inclined to think it was the ‘other’ rather than me who was ‘at fault’. How wrong I was. Of course it is no-one’s fault when relationships get into difficulties – it is the equal responsibility of each member of the relationship, whatever the relationship – parent/child, teacher/student, manager/employee. I soon discovered what my responsibilities were and set about changing my life – a journey I am still making. I have made some painful discoveries about myself but I have also enjoyed the excitement of self-discovery. I began to eagerly look forward to my next session having realised that I could, if I chose, make significant changes in my life and consequently enhance my self-esteem and feeling of well-being. I began to think that with this insight I may be able to assist others in doing the same. A few years later I began my counsellor training.

I continue to visit my therapist on a regular basis and I was inspired to write the following poem. I don’t claim to be a poet but someone who occasionally writes poems. I hope you enjoy reading it as I did writing it. Coincidently(?) my therapist’s name is ………………. Dawn

The Dawn of Enlightenment

Greeted by a welcoming smile
Guided toward a comfortable chair
We gaze at each other.
The pregnant silence broken by the utterance of my uppermost thought
Seemingly innocuous its significance is unthreaded
Yet another journey begins
Twists, turns and connections
Perceptive interventions
Parallels drawn
Intuitive observations and reflections
Mysteries exposed
Thought and purpose clarified
Perceptions and beliefs challenged
Unease and discomfort lead to understanding
Confidence in my guide develops
A team of two
A common goal
A fascinating journey full of excitement
Greater discoveries of self
What could be more fulfilling?
I am empowered and enlightened
Horizons have broadened
Life has never been so good
The shared adventure comes to an end
‘Au revoir’ not ‘goodbye’
Another chapter is yet to be discovered.

Geoff Cox
July 2007

In the beginning

I may well be setting myself up for failure as I’ve begun to write a blog which means I shall need to write on a fairly regular basis and as, in the past, I have tended to start something and then not complete it. I am hoping that will not be the case with this. So here goes –

That mumbling is perhaps not a bad place to start. As a counsellor, like other counsellors, I am human. I am not completely ‘sorted’ and I accept that I never will be. There will always be aspects of my life where positive adjustments and changes can be made. We may have addressed Issues previously but sometimes it may be helpful to look at them again. We will have a different perspective and may recognise further changes we could make. So, I’m reviewing my tendency to start something and not complete it. A question I asked myself is ‘will completing this task be in my best interest?’ I believe it will and that is why I am choosing to do it. I’m not an altruist (I don’t believe anyone is but I’ll leave that one for another day) as not only will I be writing down my thoughts and opinions (a useful ‘tool’ in therapy for recognising previously unconscious thoughts and feelings) I will be exposing them to whoever wishes to read them. As a result I may receive both positive and negative feedback and consequently I will learn something about ‘me’. To ignore any comment would make the blog meaningless and would be dismissive of those who took the trouble to respond.

I am already intrigued as to what the reaction of others will be and also what my reaction will be to any response. It already feels a little scary. And that is not a bad thing. Any new venture we begin is a step into the unknown. There will be new discoveries and experiences so being a bit nervous is understandable. It’s OK to feel scared. I need to be kind and understanding to myself.

I have started ……………… so I’ll finish. We shall see. However, it occurs to me that it will finish when I’m finished. If my blog were to come to a sudden end regular readers may conclude that the blog has disappeared down a Black Hole or that I too have come to a sudden end and that could mean different things. We’ll have to leave that one until later also.