|"If we did not appreciate it before, we do now. The course we are on is a practical and vocational one. Beyond the reflective journal, the skills sessions and the written assignments, we need to get out there and counsel" |
|"I am compelled to start with statistics. In October, when our course began, we were 25 – of whom 23 were women. The winter, the pressures of being adults and parents in a credit crunch, the demands of the study schedule, have reduced us to 21." |
We have all served our apprenticeship on NVQ level two counselling skills programmes in HE colleges and universities across the Midlands. We have all taken our best shot at role plays and poured ourselves into the highly personal and deeply reflective journal
On becoming a student
We have all served our apprenticeship on NVQ level two counselling skills programmes in HE colleges and universities across the Midlands. We have all taken our best shot at role plays and poured ourselves into the highly personal and deeply reflective journal (meticulously cross referenced against the endless criteria that are the hallmark of the modern vocational qualification). And here we all are – teachers of one stripe or another (I belong in this category), nurses (surgical and mental health), two physiotherapists, a beauty therapist, a PR executive, a postwoman, an administrator, mothers whose children have reached school age – an eclectic assortment of 22 middle-aged adults, all signed up to a practical and BACP accredited two-year part-time graduate diploma in counselling and psychotherapy, all eager to qualify as professional counsellors, eager to learn the trade.
What strikes me immediately as different from other freshers’ gatherings is the well of sensitivity. These are genuinely nice people, eager to know about each other, willing to listen beyond the normal limit of politeness.
This is nice, refreshing – for the first day – but by the end of the fourth week (we are only in college one day per week) I find myself anxious, impatient with politeness and with a strange craving for the rigorous audit of the NVQ. It is by this stage clear to me that I have preconceived expectations of a practical, professional, postgraduate course – and that they are not being met.
The ‘Skills’ – our immediate abbreviation for the level two course we have all completed as a passport to this diploma – was a night school class for most of us; two hours a week for 20 or so weeks. It has established us as decent candidates, people with the broad social skills requisite to do this kind of work but no ‘expertise’. We have now signed up for two years and I feel a craving for some new and obvious ‘expertise’ to mark the step up. I want to carry around fully formed theories like marbles in my pocket and recognise the right answers when I see them. In my mind, it is these nuggets of knowledge that will distinguish me as a postgraduate, a professional – make me good at it. As a lifelong learner, a recidivist schoolboy, I yearn for a grading system, a tangible target I can reach if only I do my homework, instead of which, I find myself in group discussions, skills sessions conducted only with fellow students, no underpinning theory at this stage and not coached by tutors.
I am urged to consider personal experiences and the value system I bring to the counselling room. Our teachers facilitate an organic learning based heavily on self-reflection. The burning questions I should ask myself are: How do I feel? Why do I feel that way? How might that impact on my ability to offer counsel? We brush past Rogers’ theory on self-actualisation. The reason for this experiential approach is revealed subtly in week four: ‘the single most influential factor in the efficacy of counselling is the quality of the therapeutic relationship’ (Greenberg and Geller). Regardless of the declared theoretical approach, the relationship is the key factor in determining the successful outcome of therapy. I am shaken, a little dizzy.
The key lesson it seems I need to grasp in this first term is not to be gleaned from lectures, but is about myself; specifically, how I will manage not knowing, not having ‘expertise’ to fall back on. I talk to Denise, the postwoman. She knows when she has done a good job because her sack is empty and everyone has got their mail. But how will we know if and when our counselling has gone well? Who will be there to measure or acknowledge the quality of relationship? As I wend home, I do some personal reflection. I have previous form. I can remember ‘stuff’, but can I learn to be always ‘present’? I get home and dutifully write up my confidential journal.
It is a long entry even with all the imagined interventions: ‘I wonder why that is so important to you?’ and ‘I am hearing that you like to have all the answers.’ The last sentence is fully felt and fully me. It says, ‘Tell me what I have to do!’ I wonder in the morning when I read it back, whether I can self-actualise properly, whether I am on the right course.
All names and details have been changed to protect identities