In this blog post, I write more about my view of counselling and psychotherapy as two parts of the whole array of professions that support mental, emotional and spiritual healing and continued health. These professions can work well together in supporting clients towards healing.
When I started working as a counsellor and psychotherapist in 2007, I enjoyed working in a way that I described as ‘general practice’. By this I meant I was interested in working with almost every client who after our initial consultation wanted to proceed with their therapy work with me. This attitude came from my curiosity which I brought to the work regarding the many aspects of mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Peers with perhaps a sharper business sense than I, gave the advice that I should specialise and become known for expertise in one area of mental and emotional health. They were perhaps right regarding how to create and build a brand and become known. However I am grateful for the experience of my years as a general therapist. I enjoyed the challenge and learning that came from a range of clients with a variety of presenting problems. They helped me gain some experience with and insight into a wide range of mental, emotional and spiritual health issues, the extent of which I do not think I would have encountered had I narrowed the focus of my work from the beginning.
My postgraduate educational development also did not follow a linear career path, and yet brought great results personally and professionally. My mind was duly blown and my attitudes opened up through the Masters in Gender and Women’s Studies. This learning helped me create the lively and varied therapy practice I enjoy now, with many clients saying it was that qualification that made them choose me as therapist. They know that I have at least done some work around gender and sexuality, power and discrimination, as well as the socialisation we go through around these – that I am at least familiar with the concepts before we start therapy and am open to learning more (not that it is my clients’ job to teach me, but I am grateful when I receive new ideas and new ways of thinking about old ideas through working with my clients).
I may also say here that clients who do not choose me for that reason, also experience how the learning from that course comes into the therapy room. How could it not when so much of what clients come to work on is around accepting who they are, processing their past and coming to terms with old emotional, mental, physical or spiritual wounds. Accepting who you are includes considering how intersections of privilege and discrimination, power and control, have influenced your sense of identity and your place in the world - including your gender identity and expression of your sexuality.
As I said, I am a psychotherapist who is also interested in how other therapies work to support clients towards health, healing and balance. It is not unusual for me to book into workshops that are not purely (or at all) psychotherapy related.
And so it was that one day I participated in a training day where I happened to be the only person in the room who worked as a counsellor or a psychotherapist. I was surprised when I heard, quite early into this particular training day, someone volunteer the opinion that psychotherapy was a waste of time. After that, it was demonstrated that this dismissing counselling and psychotherapy as worthless was not an isolated comment – such casually dropped anti-psychotherapy comments continued throughout the morning. At lunch I found myself seated opposite a group member who lost no time in comparing psychotherapy unfavourably with what he practised. Not content with that, he continued his theme during the afternoon tea break. Stationing himself directly in front of me he proceeded to expound on how superior was his work in comparison to long-term psychotherapy. He talked for a quite a while, so giving me plenty of time to think, and I took away a lot to reflect on from the day:
- I think it is great to be passionate about your work, but to me there seemed to be something else going on for the people who seemed really keen to stress that their work was better than psychotherapy;
- the idea that any person or group who puts such energy into knocking someone or something, may be acting out of fear. Did he fear psychotherapy? Could it be because psychotherapy requires you to look at and question yourself as well as your client?
- encountering the frequent and casual denigration of psychotherapy, also prompted me to think more deeply about my attitude towards other helping professions.
I see all the recognised therapies which require training prior to registration as a practitioner as important, suitable and relevant to different people at different times in their life. I do not believe any one approach has all the answers, or can be the only one suitable for all clients. In my experience, a lot of the time the different professions work well together. Sometimes clients tell me their psychiatrist encourages their attendance at our therapy sessions, other clients are referred to counselling by their GPs, I often suggest to new clients they get a checkup from their GP to rule out a physiological reason for low mood or anxiety, and I sometimes suggest clients try other therapies in conjunction with psychotherapy such as massage or acupuncture.
I picture all the helping professions like a wheel, with each represented as a spoke of the wheel. Indeed, I have sometimes drawn such a picture for clients while I proposed that massage, acupuncture, psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, attending your GP and so on can work in different ways towards helping and supporting them into healing and finding their balance and wellbeing.
Even within my own profession of psychotherapy, I believe each therapist cannot be the best one for each and every client. My point is that different approaches will suit therapists and clients with different temperaments. I guess we gravitate towards a way of working that suits our personality and our own healing path.
I believe that being a therapist is a way of life, not a job. In psychotherapy training, we consider the question of whether you can only take a client as far as you have gone yourself – in terms of self-reflection, growth, challenging our old behaviours, releasing negativity and self-harming behaviours. Not that all therapists are leading perfectly healthy balanced lives in every way – I know I am not. But it is a way of life in that I continue to work towards uncovering my blind spots, releasing my self-harming behaviours. Maintaining that personal journey helps me to meet a client wherever they are on theirs.
For me, the necessary awareness for a counsellor or psychotherapist around continuing our own personal growth, maintaining a sense of respect for the other who is our client and releasing a need to be the expert in the room – makes it incongruent to disrespect another profession which is represented by a different spoke in the wheel. It is not necessary to put another down for you to succeed. If I believe my way of working is the best way I have found for me, it does not mean I should dismiss other ways of working as useless. May we all be in the work with a healing intention and in the service of helping our clients.