Personal Development on Beliefs as a Counsellor
“All these personal counselling/therapy requirements for counsellors in training encourage selfish introspection. Counsellors are there to help others and if they need counselling themselves, they should not be in the job.” Discuss with reference to your own experience and beliefs and to counselling literature.
The idea that trainee counsellors should have personal therapy in order to be effective practitioners is a contentious issue that is regularly debated but researched very little. There are two types of training courses in counselling; those that impose a mandatory personal therapy requirement for their trainee students, and those that don’t. This essay will look at the differing requirements between courses and will explore research evidence that supports the advantages and disadvantages of personal therapy as reported by students in counselling training. I will also discuss my own views regarding the subject, using theory to support my argument and provide a conclusion about my findings in relation to the proposed statement in the essay title.
As an Inter-Psyche Diploma student, I am required to have 60 hours of personal therapy over the two year course. This is not unique in terms of its mandatory requirement as there are other providers offering Counselling Diploma courses, who also require their trainee students to undertake personal therapy. However, during my research, I have found that Inter-Psyche seem to require the most hours. Ocean Consultancy delivering a CPCAB course require 40 hours over 2 years, Kingdom Compassion require 20 hours over the same period and Place to Be requires 30 hours. As Inter-Psyche belongs to Kent and Medway NHS, it has a duty to promote psychological well-being and as a BACP accredited course, has to adhere to the ethical framework which states that practitioners must ensure that their well-being is sufficient to maintain a good quality of work. There are however, some training centres that do not have a mandatory personal therapy requirement such as the Human Givens College and Chrysalis.
The Human Givens College stance on personal therapy for trainees is very clear. They feel that therapists who have personal therapy are no more effective as counsellors than those who have not had personal therapy. They claim that personal therapy can actually be harmful to the trainee because people only need counselling if their lives aren’t functioning in the way they would like them to. The Human Givens College uses the basis of Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs to argue the belief that we are born with an innate set of needs and if these needs are met then we are simply incapable of developing any form of mental illness. They state that research shows “conclusively” that their beliefs are supported, but I feel this is a generalised statement to make when the evidence shows that research into this area, shows dichotomous findings. Human Givens cites research by Russell (1981) who conducted an objective, in depth investigation into the effectiveness of psychotherapy, as support for the idea that counsellors do not need counselling. However, the research doesn’t explicitly state this. Its findings showed that there was no evidence that counsellors who have had personal therapy were more effective in practice but that there were advantages and disadvantages of having personal therapy. However, this research is outdated and more recent research adds credence to the argument that personal therapy is an important part of counselling training (Human Givens).
Recent research conducted by Edwards (2018) concluded that there were positive and negative aspects to having personal therapy whilst training. Positive aspects included: learning good and bad practices of the job, it highlighted the need for self-knowledge, students learnt things beyond the text book. Negative attributes were reported as: the mandatory requirement was not well received by students, it impacted on areas of life, such as relationships and family and some encounters between student and therapist were problematic. These findings are supported by Murphy et al (2018) and in addition, Murphy et al (2018) found that students reported therapeutic gain from personal therapy. However, they did find that the financial and time burden on the student caused them to feel an element of frustration, especially when the therapy was mandatory.
An insightful piece of research, comes from Grimmer and Tribe (2010) who interviewed newly qualified and trainee counsellors. These findings concluded that personal therapy plays an important role in encouraging the trainee to gain a sense of self through the development of reflexivity, which comes from the experience of being a client. It allows socialisation into the role and validates the experience by seeing examples of good and bad practice. The trainee also gains an ability to differentiate between personal issues belonging to the client and the therapist. This research clearly supports the need for trainees to undergo personal therapy and highlights some important learning experiences to be gained from the process.
The evidence presented so far has shown support for the need for trainee personal therapy and this raises the question of why people want to pursue a career in counselling. Research conducted by Barnett (2007) found that early loss was a key factor in this decision and this turns attention to the work of Carl Jung and the wounded healer. Jung (1966) believed that therapists have all been driven to this career due to wounding experiences in their life. He emphasises that therapists must remain open to further wounding, which comes in the form of the issues that clients bring to the therapist. It’s important that therapists continually learn about themselves in order to minimise counter-transference and a good percentage of this learning is done when delving into the issues of the client, because we can only put right in others, what we can put right in ourselves (Frith Luton). Barr (2006) found that 73.9% of counsellors have experienced one or more wounding experiences, which negates the proposal of Human Givens that trainee counsellors do not need counselling. Freud (1937) also agreed with personal therapy and once stated, “But where and how is the poor wretch (trainee therapist) to require the ideal qualifications which he will need in his profession? The answer is in an analysis of himself “(Freud, 1937, p.246).
In terms of my own beliefs, I believe that personal therapy is an essential part of training to be a counsellor. I can identify with the wounded healer concept and feel that we need to heal ourselves before we can help others heal. In order to do this, we need to increase our self-awareness and emotional literacy. This means understanding what our issues are and how these affect our lives. It’s about recognising how those issues make us feel, naming our feelings, learning to express them and learning ways of coping. This self-knowledge will assist trainee therapists in understanding clients and will also assist in how to help clients access their own emotions. Conversely, although I do support personal therapy, having not needed to access any up until this requirement, I have found myself feeling a little apprehensive about my journey. It have felt pressured into having counselling and although I recognise that I have issues within myself, I have not felt that they affect my day to day living. With this in mind, I have been concerned that counselling may exacerbate issues that I have learnt to live with and create more problems in my interactions with people. I can also identify with the point raised by Murphy et al (2018) regarding the financial and time burdens placed upon trainee counsellors. Although I entered this training knowing what was expected of me, the practicalities of the situation are sometimes a little testing. Putting the negativity aside, I still welcome the necessary part of my journey and have realised that there are aspects of my personality I would like to change and that with the help of my counsellor, I can do this. I also recognise that it is my responsibility to keep myself safe and that I only need to talk about what I feel I need to in order to change, rather than delving into issues that I feel have no detrimental effect on my life.
I appreciate that people will have different views on personal therapy and that cultural and psychological circumstances will inform this opinion. For example, I recognise that if someone has had previous psychological intervention, they may be reluctant to potentially open up old wounds. Some cultural expectations such as those in collectivistic cultures, for example, East Asians and Arabs, encourage prioritising collective goals over self-directed aspirations and focusing on individual needs is seen as selfish. This could make people from those cultures reluctant to access personal therapy.
I disagree with the statement presented in the essay title essentially because I feel that being introspective is not selfish, in actual fact, it is the complete opposite. When thinking about the Johari window, we need to maximise the open window in order to understand ourselves better and to be transparent to others. This requires accessing our blind self by understanding how others perceive us, opening up our hidden self to be more congruent and this in turn will minimise the unknown self and increase our opportunity to reach our greatest potential, which increases our ability to offer the core conditions to our clients. I personally cannot see anything selfish in this.
In conclusion, the statement proposed in the essay title has given rise to a debate in which research has been presented to disagree with the statement. Although there is some research to show that personal therapy for trainees is not effective and there are training courses who do not make a mandatory requirement for personal therapy, the evidence presented here shows strong support for its importance and effectiveness. Advantages include personal and professional growth and an increased ability to understand ourselves in order to understand others. Disadvantages focused mainly on the practicality and material aspects of time and finances. Concepts from theories such as the Johari Window, the person-centred theory and the psycho-dynamic theory, as well as well-respected theorists such as Jung and Freud adds to the support that personal therapy is not only altruistic but an essential part of any successful career in counselling.
- BACP (2016) ‘Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions,’ Leicestershire, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
- Barnett, M. (2007) ‘What brings you here? An exploration of the unconscious motivations of those who choose to train and work as psychotherapists and counsellors’, Psychodynamic Practice (2007) 13(3) 257-274
- Barr, A. (2006) ‘An investigation into the extent to which psychological wounds inspire counsellors and psychotherapists to become wounded healers, the significance of these wounds on their career choice, the causes of these wounds and the overall significance of demographic factors,’ [online], available at: http://www.thegreenrooms.net/wounded-healer-masters-thesis/ (accessed 19th October 2018)
- Edwards, J. (2018) ‘Counseling and Psychology Student Experiences of Personal Therapy: A Critical Interpretive Synthesis,’ Frontiers in Psychology, p. 1732. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01732 (accessed 19th October 2018)
- Freud, S. (1937) ‘Analysis terminable and interminable,’ In J. Strachey (Ed.) Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, London, Hogarth Press.
- Grimmer, A. and Tribe, R. (2001) ‘Counselling psychologists’ perceptions of the impact of mandatory personal therapy on professional development – An exploratory study’, Counselling Psychology Quarterly (2001) 14(4) 287-301.
- Human Givens College (date unknown) ‘The Human Givens Approach,’ available at: https://www.humangivenscollege.com/hg/index.html (accessed 14th October 2018)
- Jung, C. (1966) cited in Luton, F. (date unknown) ‘Wounded Healer,’ [online] available at: https://frithluton.com/articles/wounded-healer/ (accessed 14th October 2018)
- Kingdom Compassion (date unknown) ‘Christian Counselling Training Courses,’ [online] available at: http://www.kingdomcompassion.com/training/ (accessed 20th October 2018)
- Maslow, A. (1943) cited in McLeod, S. (2018) ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.’ [online] available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (accessed 19th October 2018)
- Murphy, D. et al. (2018) ‘A systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research into mandatory personal psychotherapy during training’, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. doi: 10.1002/capr.12162 (accessed 19th October 2018)
- Ocean Counselling Training LLP (date unknown) ‘Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling TC-L4 (Humanistic Route) CPCAB Accredited’ [online] available at: https://www.oceancounsellingtraining.com/training-courses/a-level-4-diploma-in-therapeutic-counselling-tc-l4-humanistic-route-cpcab-accredited/ (accessed 20th October 2018)
- Place To Be (date unknown) ‘Postgraduate Diploma Counselling CHildren in Schools,’ [online] available at: https://www.place2be.org.uk/training-qualifications/qualifications-in-counselling/postgraduate-diploma.aspx (accessed 20th October 2018)
- Russell, R. (1981) ‘Report on effective psychotherapy: legislative testimony update,’ Lake Placid, Hillgarth Press.