I thought I’d come up with some questions. An opportunity to reflect a little, maybe gain a little insight, maybe give a little insight too. These aren’t meant to be the perfect 9, however right now their nine questions I can answer honestly that cause me a little bit of uncomfortableness which, for me is a good thing.
1 So why did you decide to become…… a counsellor?
Its an odd choice for me. I was always interested in people’s ‘stuff’, but ive never really been a social person. I always imagined never wanting to work with people. I like being on my own. I’m quite the isolationist, I prefer to be on my own. So it came as a real surprise to me that talking to people, and more importantly, listening to people was not only something I enjoyed, but something I was actually good at. Who knew, the one thing I never really wanted, to be around people, turns out that people found talking to me good. They felt listened to.
After a brief spell in rehab, and having counselling myself, I then went into the classic ‘wounded healer’ and decided I could fix everyone. So I started down this route with the 10 week introduction to counselling course. As the years passed and I developed skills and learned more and more about myself, I finally moved away from practice post qualification to work in different areas, with different groups of people. This gave me more chance to develop how I work and get more experience of life.
Having returned to practice last year, a more rounded person, and not quite the wounded healer. I find that I’m less trying to be a counsellor and a therapist, instead I’m just trying to be me, as genuine and as real and as flawed as I am.
2 What have you found the most rewarding thing about working with …. clients?
I’m still always amazed by the bravery of the client coming through the door for that first time. To sit down opposite a stranger and open up so completely. Being a small part of that process and being so close to the courage and strength amid the desperation and the trauma I sometimes hear is incredible. And then to witness little moments, or huge shifts in behaviour, value and beliefs is such a privilege. I learn so much about resilience and strength of character from my clients. Ive learned that I can do anything if I put effort into it, the way I see clients fall and get back up again reminds me that vulnerability is a strength.
3 What do you find the most difficult thing about working with …… clients?
Clients stopping therapy initially was always really tough. It would be my fault. Because I wasn’t good enough, I was a fake and a charlatan. Training and experience has taught me that this is not the case. However I do still question when clients suddenly stop coming, it allows me to pause and reflect on my practice. Whilst I don’t crucify or blame myself anymore, the ‘imposter syndrome’ does creep in. So i have to remind myself that im not the driver, im not the expert, i’m just a mirror and a minor participant in their life.
4 As a ….. therapist …… who has been your greatest influence and why?
I guess a priest called Father John was my first real influence, because he listened to me when I was at my lowest. Broken and scared and riddled with shame and addiction, he showed great belief in me. Later it would be Barry, my first Counsellor who was just there, and then even after, David. These people listened to my truths, and my lies, before I learned about honesty. It took me a long time to realise the power of being really listened to. Having spent most of my life trying to fit in and be who I thought people wanted me to be. To be listened to by people and eventually realise that my truth was enough and didn’t need to be embellished allowed me to really be heard.
It goes without saying and probably appears a little sentimental for a therapist to say Carl Rogers, however he also has had a huge impact on me. Only recently seeing him counsel in the Gloria film I realise that his way of working has slowly been the way that I have developed as a therapist.
5 What’s been the biggest mistake that you have made as a …… therapist?
A client with anxiety, in early placement. A professional, that I felt was struggling with their sexuality. Although married, with children, I was sure they were going to tell me they struggled with their sexuality and didn’t know how they would tell this to their spouse and children. Based on how they spoke and how they looked. It is dreadfully embarrassing to admit this now and to believe that I ever thought these things. Although I am unaware if this at anytime impeded the therapy which began and drew to a successful conclusion for the client, to have held such judgmental attitudes is embarrassing today.
6 What was the thing that you did as a …. therapist …… that gave you the greatest satisfaction?
Working with a client who had witnessed traumatic sights when younger, resulting in extreme anger and paranoia that the were going to be attacked at night. Affected sleep and daily living. After several sessions, I asked client why they didn’t experience anxiety when they went to their caravan. Client came back a week later, still shocked that after 20 plus years in therapy, nobody had picked up this little fact, that there was a time and a place where they didn’t experience the anxiety.
7 If you could go back and give yourself advice whilst you were in training what would it be?
“Wait! Take your time. Try not to be what you think a counsellor ‘should’ be and be more you, find out who you are and where you have come from and stop trying to be a counsellor.” 8 How do you look after yourself and ensure that your well-being is at its best?
In short. Probably Not as well as I could. I try to relax in the evenings and do the simple things that bring me joy. Life is busy with work alongside counselling and other commitments. So walking my dog Hiro is a big part or my wellbeing. Spending some quality time with my family when possible. Although time is limited, fishing is when I get the best opportunity to really switch off and recharge my wellbeing.
I only got into fishing recently, the last 10 years, it has become a pastime that I feel I have been lacking all my life although I never knew it.
9 What has been a personal barrier for you that you have had to overcome or continue to work on in order to be an effective …… therapist?
My own feelings of inadequacy. The feeling that I’m not really qualified and competent enough. Although I trained and learned the theory. There is still a part of me that feels I am not academic or theoretical to know what I’m doing. My practice is emmersed in my experience in my life and is not enveloped with a sound clinical and theoretical recall. At times I think that makes me less of a professional, however I do remind myself that my approach is based in theory, and my practice is based in my experience.
So there I am. In nine short question, an opportunity to pause for thought. This is never a bad thing. I’d be interested in what other people find if they were to ask themselves the same nine, inserting what they do, or who they are instead of counsellor or therapist. It raises the question of how we get to where we are today, and also the difference between what we do, and what we are and whether they are related or in isolation of each other.
Please feel free to comment, I’d be interested in perspectives.
A Thirsk Counsellor
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hi there. I’m Paul Cullen. A Thirsk Counsellor registered with the BACP. I’m interested in all aspects of mental health and well-being and feel it’s important that we each find our way to our own journey.
Originally a Lancashire Lad, I know live in my adopted county of North Yorkshire, with my family.
Have a mentally healthy day.