There’s an old song lyric by The Korgis that goes, “and everybody’s gotta learn sometime” and that is absolutely the case for all Counsellors, Psychotherapists, Social Workers and Psychologists. Much like Doctors and Surgeons though it’s an interesting space in which to learn ‘on-the-job’! In medical spaces like that there is an old and established model called “see-one, do-one, teach-one” for teaching procedures to new doctors. Thankfully it doesn’t work like that for therapists.
Long before we are allowed the privilege of sitting in a room with a client, we study for years in a university lecture room (or online these days), we study research and ethics, we learn about different treatment modalities that work best for different presenting issues and ages of clients. We also sift through mountains of research papers, learning to discern what the evidence actually teaches us about all the various mental health conditions and how we can then work with clients to support them. And of course, we write thousands of words of papers to test and evaluate our learning.
Then it is time to put all of this academic learning into practice. It’s time to learn the very most important elements of being a great therapist – empathy, unconditional positive regard and a genuineness levelled at each and every single client you get to work alongside. And it’s not like you can sit next to another therapist to learn how to do it. You’ve got to just take the leap and trust that you find your feet.
Whilst you’re alone in the room with your client you aren’t really alone because in addition to having a university appointed clinical supervisor for individual and group supervision, you also have the support of the clinician’s in the setting that you’re doing your placement at. And interestingly, that first session is the start of a whole new level of learning, a learning that for me is added to every single day that I work with clients. Just as I assure every new client that I work with that there is nothing they can do or say that will mean I could ever think badly of them, I also believe that every single client teaches me something new. Whether it’s a literal opportunity to learn something new about a mental health condition, an alternative treatment approach, or it’s something new that I learn about myself in the process of working with them there is always learning going on.
Having a willingness to learn, a natural curiosity and comfort with receiving feedback are all vital traits to have or develop as a therapist. It helps us when we are in the room with a client, but it also helps us grow and develop as we continue to learn. Because we’re all learning – or at least we should be. Even therapists who have sat in their well-worn chairs for years should have a heart open for learning, from you as a client, from their colleagues, their clinical supervisors and in professional development settings.
Therapists on placement aren’t allowed to be paid for their sessions – they are still classed as students – which is why the prices are always so discounted in private practice. They are literally enough to cover the bills for the setting that you’re seeing your counsellor at, it is by no means a reflection of your therapist’s worth. So, if you are lucky enough to work with a brand-new therapist with their training wheels very much still strapped on, know that you are firstly in very safe hands and know that you are in a privileged position of helping shape that clinician’s learning. It’s a very special thing, the relationship that grows between a therapist and their client and I love to see it grow, just as I love to see new therapists grow and learn and it’s why I’m so thrilled to have ‘counsellors with training wheels’ as part of the team at Thea Baker Wellbeing (click HERE for more information).