Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Evolution of a (My) Counselling Philosophy

I'm currently reflecting on my therapeutic practice and my counselling philosophy. I describe myself first and foremost as a 'Person-Centred Counsellor' and much as my philosophy is very much based in Carl Rogers' original Client-Centred Therapy, I'm very aware that I'm not a purist Rogerian therapist.

As my confidence and experience has developed, I've integrated ideas, theories and practices from other schools of therapeutic thought including Gestalt, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Psychodynamic, and more. My research over the last couple of years has also begun to lead me down paths of Body Psychotherapy and I’m increasingly aware of the role of the body and its communications within the therapy room. I’ve always been intrigued by body language, by client’s gestures and movements. And, as our bodies are how we present our Selves in the world, I believe their potential for communication and understanding is very often underestimated, or even ignored.

In my experience, which concurs with a recent conversation I had with a very experienced therapist, when we set out on our paths as counsellors / therapists we quite often tend to stick rigidly to the ideas and practices of our preferred school of therapy. However, as experience (and clients!) teach us, we learn how to integrate other practices and we each develop our own unique therapeutic philosophy and practice which works for us. What’s important for me is that as my understanding of human beings deepens, I am able to refine my understanding of how ‘problems,’ ‘symptoms’ and problematic coping mechanisms develop and are used, and from that I can develop an integrated therapeutic philosophy that is congruent with my personal belief system.

When I begin a counselling relationship, I very much approach the work from a Person-Centred perspective; following the client rather than directing them in any direction. I aim to understand the client's unique experience and I listen carefully to the words they use, reflecting them back, or challenging them. Quite often I find, when I question client's usage of particular words or ask them what they mean by a specific word, the client themselves isn't sure, or hasn't really stopped to think about the words they're using. I love words and language and my work with clients has taught me to never assume that I understand what my clients mean … I always question their interpretations of what I say to them and I always ask them what they mean by specific words they use. For example, in my work in GP surgeries, so many clients tell me they feel ‘depressed’, or the GP has diagnosed them with ‘depression’. I never I assume I know what they mean by that word or diagnosis … I always ask them what their experience and / or understanding of depression is. I see every client as a unique individual and I’m interested in hearing and understanding (as closely as I can) their unique, individual experience.

As our counselling relationship develops, I continue to follow, or walk alongside my client. I aim to remain empathic with them to understand their experience and I remain mostly non-directive. However, I’m also always mindful that as clients talk, their words often trigger theories, exercises and practices from different therapeutic schools, and it’s at this point, as the client’s words have suggested these things to me, that I bring other therapeutic practices into my work.

I've recently become intrigued by Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Hypnosis; and especially the language patterns used in each. In the past I've been very sceptical about NLP, but over the last few months, I've began reading more and more about the approach, its philosophy and structure, and I’ve been surprised to realise how much of its philosophy I’ve been able to integrate into my idea of person-centredness. Indeed, how much of it seems to overlap with the philosophy of Person-Centred Therapy.

I’m embarking on a training course tomorrow in NLP and am greatly looking forward to learning more. At this stage, I have no idea how, or even if I’ll be able to, integrate any of its practices into my current work, but I’m looking forward to finding out. My current feeling, from the reading I’ve recently been doing, is that NLP will deepen, or give another perspective to some of my current ideas and therapeutic beliefs. I’m open to them all being challenged and questioned….

At this stage in my therapy career and my own personal development journey, I’m very much looking forward to the coming year and seeing how, and where, my practice (and my Self) develops….

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