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“The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us. Journey wisely.” Alexandra Elle
I wanted to become a therapist a few years ago when I started to become interested in my own internal and external processes in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I was becoming more self-aware, and I had a deep sense that this was the beginning of an important journey. In 2012 I did a Psychology diploma, as a way to test the waters of the general vicinity of Psychotherapy, without committing to it fully.
Then I started working on a helpline for women experiencing domestic abuse. I found that I was passionate about the work and was good at it. From there I decided to merge the passion and energy I have for working to fight violence against women, and my abilities to non-judgmentally support, ‘hold’ and bear witness to another’s experience, and become a therapist. I bumped into an old school friend and fellow counsellor in a chemist one day, and she recommended the college I ended up going to – the Institute of Integrated Counselling and Psychotherapy, IICP.
By going through the training, you cannot avoid personal development and growth. You hone skills and learn theories, but at the end of it all, no matter the circumstances, it always starts and ends with you, your relationship with yourself, your ‘stuff’. In the therapy room with the client you don’t have your books; but you bring yourself, your knowledge, your experiences, your growth, your perspectives, your curiosity, your understanding, and your skills. You bring the integration of all the learning you have done, both academic and personal.
I started this journey in 2013, and since then my experience of myself and my world has been thrown open. It has been revolutionised, and gradually has settled into a much broader, more open, healthier place. I learnt that Psychotherapy theories are not just to glean skills to use with clients, or something to reference for essays, but are maps for our daily existence, our relationships, or experience of being.
I learnt about the Humanistic, Person Centered approach. I learnt about the freedom of acceptance, about conditions of worth and conditions of growth, about the healing quality of relationships, about self-actualisation, about being congruent (and what that actually meant), about the bravery of being compassionate, the courage that is vulnerability, about the fully functional human. I held this map over myself and my world and used it to navigate, to explore, to wonder.
I have the 10 axioms of Choice Theory stuck on a wall in my home; a daily reminder of its significance in my life. Significant because learning about Choice Theory freed me. It liberated me from ‘external control’ and external influence. Glasser’s ‘Choice Theory’ took my blinkers off and left me pondering new ways to perceive my reality, a new truth which I couldn’t now un-know. Choice Theory holds me steady when I find myself in wobbly territory, in or out of the therapy room. Co-dependency, passive aggression, enabling behaviours, and seemingly harmless patterns slink in without warning; Choice Theory helps me stand firmly loyal to my inner control. It allows me the growth and freedom of responsibility, and the terrifying, exciting, joyful liberation from victimhood and blame, and it allows me to bring this into relationship with others.
I learnt about the four givens of existence in Existential Therapy, I learnt about Socratic Dialogue. I learnt about Narrative Therapy; how the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves can make us who we are, and how we have the power to change those stories. I learnt about ‘Transactional Analysis’ and our adult, child, and parent parts, I explored my own relationship with these parts. In group process I explored my role in groups and in what dynamics I adjust, accommodate, encourage, or lead. In Personal Development I researched what it meant to forge meaning out of our most painful moments and shared it with the class – no fear in this environment. No anxiety about what people will think. No judgement or competitiveness was found there; just support, encouragement, and helping each other find our way, Facebook emails later that evening saying well done. This is the kind of group we were. The models that we were taught were reflected through the class, through the lecturers, through the office staff, through the group supervision, they were mirrored in casual conversations during lunch. In this group of people I experimented with my congruence, my inner locus of evaluation, my inner control, and learnt that I could trust myself, this process, and others.
In May I had to leave the place where I did my training client hours (100 of them to meet the IACP criteria), the Village Counselling Service, and I have mixed feelings about this section being over for me. But I am so incredibly proud for allowing myself the opportunity of this journey. I arrived on the first day, in 2013, thinking I had to seem wise, thinking that I had to already know a lot. I was sensitive, holding my values and concepts close to me, in case anyone might see them and brush them out of my hands. Now I carry my values, my concepts, and myself, knowing that my ‘stuff; and other’s ‘stuff’, are separate and equal.
A few weeks ago I read a piece about a recent IICP conference with a visiting lecturer, and I was struck by the honesty of her comment that ‘deep deep down, in with my other hidden stuff… is that I am a therapist to heal myself’. On my first day with my own counsellor, she suggested this might also be my motivation. I became instantly defensive. God no, I am becoming a therapist to help people, not myself, to save the world, nothing to do with me, I just want to help. And now, with my degree finished, many amazing personal insights, and 118 client hours, I can say quite clearly to myself that, yes, somewhere in there, in my deep hidden stuff, it was true. It remains true. Because I know now, that through healing ourselves we can bring that healing into the world. It starts with us and our relationship with ourselves, and doing my degree afforded me the chance to explore my relationship with myself, to experiment with it, to try out different maps on it, and see what fits best.
I am braver, tougher, stronger, kinder. I am curious about the world and its inhabitants, including myself. My relationship with myself is real, compassionate, genuine, which means I can be real, compassionate and genuine with my clients and everyone else. Curiosity negates judgment and self-compassion negates self-criticism. I am learning how to think less in categories and boxes. My limits now seem ever expanding. When I am feeling weird about being a therapist I remind myself of Irvin Yalom’s expression ‘Therapy is just two people in a room, one more troubled than the other’. We are all troubled to some extent. That is what makes us human. And that is what makes us able to be therapists.
Main Image: John-Mark Kuznietsov