Details of the #52essays2017 Challenge can be found on Vanessa Mártir's blog but, in brief, it's to write one personal essay a week.
This essay has been a tough ask to write. It involved my poking around in the dark places with a sharp stick, but I finally felt able to do that. And to do that without any of that "poor me" schitk I've been allowing myself for the past few years. What made this possible was reading Tanya Byron's "The Skeleton Cupboard" about her experience in training to be a clinical psychologist. This isn't a book review - that'll be contained in a separate blog post - but it made me think about and review my training experience in a whole new way.
Believing that I had the skills to become a good counsellor was right - I do. Discovering, during training, that I didn't have the emotional robustness to be a good counsellor was also right - I didn't. To be honest, this post could stop right there and be entirely accurate, but it's not the full story.
I had absolutely loved my first year of training, despite it being hard work and very demanding. But the second year was entirely different - it was brutal and I was totally unprepared. My major stressor was the lack of a clinical placement. Neither the course literature nor the interview had indicated this would be required in order to pass a core module that year. I struggled for nine, highly stressful months to find one. The only limitation I placed was that my journey time to a placement couldn't be more than a two hour round trip. I wasn't being a wuss; still in full-time employment, my weekly attendance at college and monthly supervision already required round trips of four hours.
Unfortunately the competition for voluntary placements in my area was phenomenal. Eventally, I was offered a place which would involve stretching my travel limitation, but they wouldn't permit me to write a case study on any of their clients and that's what I needed to complete my module. Could I have found a way round this problem? Yes - although not without adding significantly to my already considerable financial burden - but yes. Unfortunately, there were other stressors, the toughest to handle being a lack of honesty in supervision.
I was surprised by the complete lack of empathy at my training facility, particularly that student welfare didn't appear on the agenda at all. But maybe that's how it has to be. I believe there are better - certainly kinder - methods of telling a student that they are lacking in a critical aspect for their chosen profession; applying such pressure that a student experiences breakdown seems extreme. Looking back I wonder if, in the maintaining of the strict boundaries necessary for practice, can one lose sight of humanity?
Oddly (or maybe not), it was another book that had a massive impact on of me at the start of my second year in training. Whilst most of my cohort were reading "Why Love Matters" or "Love's Executioner", or about differing styles of therapy, I was reading about Ethics. And what I read there felt overwhelming. With hindsight, this was really a final year read. If I'd read something other, would the outcome have been different? Maybe ... but, if we're being brutally honest, maybe not and I've made an active decision to stop looking back now.
For a couple of years I toyed with returning to complete my training. But in the end, I decided to go down the route of life coaching instead. Funny really, as I so nearly chose that route for my second year.
The most frustrating part of not being a counsellor is that I can't work with those in real need, in crisis. But reading Tanya Byron has helped me to make my peace with that.