It may be more comfortable for counsellors to inhabit both a ‘counselling brain’ and a ‘personal brain’. One concerned with professionalism and theory, and the other incorporating everything outside of the working day. This may, to an untrained eye, be the most professional and distant way of approaching any workplace. However, in a discipline which is grounded on empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness, we must ask – is it ever appropriate to merge these two distinct ‘brains’? Personally, I would argue that to blur the distinctions between the personal and professional realm in counselling to some extent can offer a window of change that would otherwise be unavailable. People often forget that counselling, psychotherapy and other such domains are focused around one thing and one thing only – people.
I write as a psychology student, and have recently read a string of comments in a popular magazine debating whether disclosing details of personal mental health issues as a practicing clinical psychologist is positive or counterintuitive. In my opinion, the pursuit of acknowledging and accepting mental health problems (and indeed, instances of mental health flourishing) in all individuals is one of psychology’s greatest triumphs. We, as both humans and counsellors, are fortunate enough to be able to construct our reality and our society as we please. For example, in my own university modules which involve discussing psychological mechanisms in animal species, lecturers often refer to traits which are “uniquely human”. I love this phrase. I feel it brings a real sense of exceptionality to human life and highlights how complex and fascinating humans are. It seems to me that the real core aspects of humanity – i.e. the very components which make up our ‘unique humanness’ need to be kept in mind throughout counselling and therapy.
Some may argue that we must learn to reflect upon and explore our own lived experiences and use these to inform and facilitate the therapeutic process. As counsellors, we have bookshelves filled with theories, with wonderfully elaborate stories and graphs which attempt to unpick human emotion. However, I suggest that these theories cannot be fully, whole-heartedly implemented without some form of personal backing. Indeed, Pioneers in the positive psychology movement Peterson and Seligman (2004) identify wisdom as one of 24 human character strengths. They suggest that at the heart of wisdom is allowing for discussion surrounding past negative experiences. The researchers contend that we can translate trauma into wisdom, through acceptance and understanding.
I would argue that without the opportunity to openly discuss and make sense of our own experiences – in both professional and personal arenas – the promotion of wisdom is restricted. Indeed, a counsellor’s role may be seen to facilitate the growth of these skills in the client, and enable self-exploration in a safe and suitable environment. With this, wisdom and other character strengths can be developed in the client. In ‘Person Centred Counselling in Action’, the authors include a full chapter on ‘The Counsellor’s Use of the Self’, discussing the importance of self-love as a counsellor, and stressing how “the cultivation of a cherishing and affirming relationship with the self” benefits practice.
Guest blog post by Madeleine Pownall, Opportunity 4’s assistant and writer.
Connect on Twitter: @maddi_pow or visit Madeleine’s blog www.thoughtbubblesblog.co.uk