Building Good Clinical Practice
Becoming a good therapist is like making a good cup of tea. If you don’t steep the bag for a certain period of time, all you have is hot water. Developing as a clinician takes time as well.
Experience, theory and well-chosen interventions are all important elements in terms of successful treatment. However, it is the heart to heart connection that is the foundation for healing and strong psychotherapeutic relationships. Carl Rogers was indeed on to something when he taught us about unconditional positive regard, appreciation of people in general, their struggles, and of their humanity and their innate goodness.
Imagine, it is your first session with your first client as a new counsellor. What is your greatest fear? Perhaps you’re worried that your new client won’t like you. He may ask questions you feel unprepared to answer causing you to feel inadequate. I asked this very question to a group of new counsellors and one of my students replied, “I’m afraid my new clients will find out that I am a fraud and I don’t know what I am doing”. I greatly appreciated his candor and authenticity. True to form, that student became a highly regarded supervisor and a Therapist.
The Humanistic Approach
Returning to therapists who are just getting started, many are terrified by the notion that a new client may present something truly grave such as revealing an imminent plan to commit suicide. “Whoa!” you may be thinking. Imagine welcoming such a declaration from a client with relaxed compassion and confidence. The counsellor who is authentic, curious about the client’s inner workings and able to connect on a feeling level possesses the ingredients for a positive therapeutic experience. Those adequately steeped in the humanistic approach can transcend issues of diversity, diametrically opposed worldviews and varied backgrounds thus enabling the client to feel valued, understood and accepted – paramount to client safety and healing.
The building blocks of a positive therapeutic relationship is a solid counsellor-client bond cultivated by humanistic principles. The initial platform is built by active listening and connecting with people on a feeling level. The goal is to “hear” the client and respond empathetically in order to not only validate their feelings but to establish rapport with the client, thereby laying the groundwork for counselling to occur. Developing fundamental counselling skills is essential for the counselling interaction to be productive and therapeutic. As you get acquainted with your new client it is important to provide a non-anxious presence, to be curious, convey respect and concern, attempt to discover and support the client’s skills, demonstrate understanding of the client’s emotional state and immediate concerns, while relating as a genuine person.
Your Role as a Counsellor
Before beginning clinical practice, let’s explore your new role as a counsellor. Many people interested in pursuing a career in the mental health field describe themselves as “sensitive, understanding, insightful and psychologically minded”. They have been told that they are good listeners and that their advice was constructive and useful to others in emotional pain. Some people wish to practice because they are curious about human behaviour and want to help people improve their lives. New counsellors, in the other hand, often struggle with the limits of counselling. Attempts to give advice, or solve the problem in a counselling session is not a helpful interaction. It is important not to make assumptions about the new client. Being “helpful” may be satisfying for the counsellor, but may be correspondingly less responsive to the needs of the client. Understanding your role as a counsellor also involves knowing the limits of the role.
Most professional training institutions endorse some form of personal-growth experience such as psychotherapy as a prerequisite to helping others. We all have our blind spots and forms of our own unfinished business that may interfere with our effectiveness as counsellors. Counsellors who have not healed their own psychological wounds and to some extent resolved their own conflicts, will be in continuous conflict with their clients. As a counsellor, you are not omnipotent. Your job is to provide counselling to the best of your ability; you are not responsible for another person’s life.
Taking Care of Yourself
As you can tell from the preceding sections, developing as a professional is difficult and demanding. Good clinical practice begins with self-care. Learning to look within ourselves to determine what choices we are making and not making to keep ourselves alive can go a long way in preventing, what some people consider, as an inevitable condition associated with the helping profession. There are other ways that we can prevent professional burnout and enhance our practice.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Finding other interests besides work.
- Thinking of ways to bring variety into work.
- Increase self-acceptance and mindfulness.
- Attending to our health through adequate sleep, an exercise program, proper diet etc.
- Developing a few friendships that are characterized by a mutuality of giving and receiving.
- Playing, traveling or seeking new experiences.
- Avoiding assuming the burden of responsibility that is properly the responsibility of others.
- Reading, both professional literature and books for fun.
- Taking new classes or workshops or attending conferences and conventions to get new perspective on old issues.
- Cultivating some hobbies that bring pleasure.
Anxiety about entering into the unknown is perfectly normal! The willingness to recognise and deal with these anxieties, as opposed to denying them by pretenses, is a mark of courage. One way to deal with anxiety is to openly discuss it with supervisors and peers. Even with this perspective, the work is difficult and may stir up uncomfortable feelings. Be aware of your own needs and how what you hear is affecting you. Share your work and feelings with your colleagues. Remember, there is no need to work in isolation. How can new counsellors help? Start by being good to yourself – you’ll find that both you and your clients will benefit.
What Else does it take to be a Great Counsellor?
To create a therapeutic atmosphere in which clients flourish, one needs to have a certain head, heart and gut in order to do this kind of work well. It takes more than intellectual capacity, training, motivation and dedication to serve clients with a standard of excellence. Therapists need to communicate confidence in the process and hold the candle of hope for clients continuously. Healing also involves optimism, a great capacity to love as well as empathy, wisdom and flexibility in an atmosphere of safety. Sounds easy?
A great Counsellor is authentic in every aspect of life and utilises himself as an instrument for healing. He has learned to develop his intuition and can view clients through the lens of universal spirituality and compassion. As you enter into this dynamic and fascinating field, strive to be authentic and to live in the present. Savor the medicinal purpose of the tea you have brewed for the benefit of each and every human being you have the honor to serve and to call your client.