This essay is a reflective evaluation of my developing counselling skills which I applied in weekly triad sessions as a student-therapist. In this process of learning I will provide my journey through the sessions of the therapeutic relationship with the client. This essay will also contain reflections of examples from my practice sessions (triads) in which I facilitated the sessions as the student – therapist. I will also offer a reflection on my strengths and challenges during my experience of being with the client.
I also intent to reflect on the usefulness and the ineffectiveness of skills used by me in this role play and recommend ways I could improve the application of these skills. Additionally, providing relevant literature that supports a person-centred counselling model which I used as a foundation in the therapy session.
I would like to point out that to protect the client’s anonymity and confidentiality, no identifying information will be disclosed during my reflection. I would also like to point out that I did not have the opportunity to engage with the same people during any of our practice sessions but took this opportunity to get to know others in the subject.
There are a multitude of micro counselling skills and techniques but for the sake of this essay I will only focus on six skills that are one of many components that support the foundations in basic practice.
During this subject there was a strong emphasis on skills-based learning which required me to demonstrate key therapeutic skills essential to effective psychotherapy such as: therapeutic relationship building, effective communication, empathy, transference and counter transference, identifying and reflecting on issues of power and bias in psychotherapy. I also engaged in several therapeutic exercises that served to highlight ways in which body awareness can be incorporated into therapy, which I found to be invaluable. These sessions also provided me with the opportunity to examine ways in which being with the client and the importance of the here and now can support healing and growth within a therapeutic environment.
I am aware that the counselling role – plays assisted me in gaining awareness, insight and the opportunity to explore ways of developing and enhancing my counselling skills. These skills, also known as counselling tools can be very effective if a skilled counsellor knows how and when to apply them. (McLeod.,2007. p.61) explains that apart from counselling techniques, to be effective as a counsellor one must use their own self-awareness of feelings and thoughts that arise in a session of which can be used to make an informed response. As I reflect on the usefulness and the effectiveness of my developing skills, I explore ways in which I was challenged and how I could improve the application of these skills with supervision, practice and a reflective attitude.
During our early sessions we were invited to explore the basic experience that lies at the heart of the therapeutic encounter; relationships and connection. This was introduced with specific emphasis to embed a conceptual frame work and model to encompass the whole person in a therapist relationship. I intend to adopt an integrative style in my own practice which compliments my personality, skill base and knowledge which I have every confidence will lay a solid foundation to the therapeutic relationship in a client centred approach.
“In person-centred therapy, the client is encouraged to express his or her thoughts and feelings about a situation. The therapist remains relatively passive, giving minimal verbal prompts or paraphrasing the client’s statements. The client is responsible for the direction and content of the therapy session; the therapist provides only a clarification of unclear statements or feelings. The idea behind this approach is that the therapist is providing an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance in which the client can explore his or her emotional issues. Eventually, the client’s innate curative ability will take over.” (Friedman.,2005 p.3). I aware that having good communication skills and rapport building are imperative to building connection and was aware that I in order for this to happen the environment needed to be safe or supportive. During each session I was aware that a duty of care to pay attention to creating and maintaining safety and consistency within the therapeutic relationship and space was always the priority.
It became apparent during the triad sessions that the counselling space should be able to provide a safe environment in which the person feels respected and comfortable.The counsellor should be able to engage in a relationship with the person in a way that the person feels accepted and not judged.
“Listening can be defined as a method of responding to others in order to encourage better communication and clearer understanding of personal concerns. It is an active and dynamic event that requires effort on the part of the listener to identify the verbal and nonverbal aspects of communication” (Watanuki ; Lindquist,.2006. p. 4555).
I felt throughout my interactions as a therapist I provided an environment in which participation was valued and listened to. At times I struggled with awkwardness due to language barriers with one particular person, which was at times felt frustrating. Upon reflection I now understand the importance of being culturally sensitive and the importance of having a deep understanding of power and privilege regarding race and societal attitudes. Despite these challenges I attempted to remain focused on what the person was saying, although I found this challenging and concede the language barrier was certainly a real test for me when attempting to implement active listening skills. In highlighting this, I am aware that the environment was not set up to highlight de?ciencies or embarrass anyone but as an environment of learning with the aim of acquiring new skills and have the opportunity to reflect on my new knowing.
On another occasion, I felt I genuinely listened to the person(s) I engaged with and utilised silence in my interactions with specific clients, providing opportunities for them to tell their story without judgment. There were times when the persons story was raw and was characterised by anger and uncertainty, it was at these times I gave my whole attention.
On another occasion, I became aware as not to interrupt the person speaking, I remember thinking that its ok not to know what to say and its perfectly fine to take a few minutes to think about my response. During the session, I became aware just to let the person share their story, staying present and listening with intent. This person had mentioned during the session that they had never been given an opportunity to share this particular part of their history, I felt this provided an opportunity me to show the person that I was there actively listening and giving them my full attention. Upon reflection I could of implemented additional techniques such as paraphrasing, but believe being in the moment with the person was more important.
Taking an alternative view, when playing the role of the client, there were times that I did not feel that I was being heard at all and was often provided with multiple solutions, I felt as though I was wasting my time acting out the role as I was feeling frustrated. Upon reflection this was a good learning opportunity for me to experience what it is like for someone who attend counselling and leaves feeling as though they have been heard; a valuable lesson learnt.
“When I am interacting with another person, I bring my own organismic experiencing and self-structure to the relationship. I am at my most facilitative when the congruent part of myself is engaged: that overlap where my experience and self-structure are in harmony, where I can be totally flexible and open to my client’s experience, and to my own experience of my client. This is essential in my ability to empathize fully.” (Yalom, I. D. 2002., p. 49).
During my role as the therapist, I felt I was being empathic with the person whom I was engaging with, at one point the person started crying, I felt a sense of real vulnerability and thought it only respectful that I comply with the person’s request for time out. At no point did I feel uncomfortable or have any intension to rescue the person from their pain. Upon reflection, I was empathetic towards the person but was not aware or considerate enough to consider the speed in which I was travelling with the client during the counselling session and have taken this knowledge on board.
“By restating the client’s remarks without interpreting them, the therapist communicates an attitude of acceptance that makes the client feel safe enough to lower his or her defences and release his or her feelings. Importantly, Rogers underscores the therapeutic effect of acceptance on the granular level of the moment-to-moment process in session. Acceptance, for Rogers, is more than a general attitude. It is a specific response to each of the client’s utterances at each moment in session. Using clarifications, the therapist accepts this client expression, then that one, then this one, then the next one, almost as if s/he were stamping each individual client expression with a seal of acceptance. The sequence of client expression followed by therapist acceptance builds momentum. As each expression is accepted by the therapist, the client is able to more fully express additional unexpressed feelings. After the client’s negative feelings are sufficiently released, positive feelings emerge, and then, insight emerges spontaneously. As this process builds and crests, Rogers claims, behavioural changes occur naturally. (Arnold, K., 2014.p.357).
I felt I was encouraging in asking the client to tell their story using verbal and non-verbal cues. I also used verbal encouragement such as; ‘mmm’ a couple of times while nodding my head and ‘I see’. Which I felt encourage the person to continue talking and let them know I was interested in what they were saying. I also allowed the person to continue talking with minimal interruption where I looked interested by leaning forward, making eye contact and kept my vocal tone soft and engaging. There were occasions that I lost eye contact which was noted by the client in their feedback.
“Mirroring is a therapeutic technique where you repeat back to a client, usually in your own words but sometimes word for word, the idea that has just been expressed. It can literally be as simple as: Client: “I felt hurt and confused.” Therapist: “You felt hurt and confused.” No clever interpretations, no strategies for overcoming the problem, just listening and repeating. Yet when you watch an expert mirroring during a session you can’t help but be impressed by its impact on the flow of conversation and by the palpable human connection being fostered in the room.” Schreiner, M. (2014, May 6). “Mirroring is a therapist repetition of a portion of the client’s speech, a phrase picked out from the preceding discourse for the purpose of drawing out an elaboration or further comment on a topic that the therapist feels is of particular value to pursue. Mirroring indicates the therapist’s willingness to hear more; it invites expansion.” Ferrara, K. W. (1994).
During this session I felt that I used this technique quite well and felt mirroring the person came naturally, repeating back to a person in my own words what I thought they were saying and at time asking for clarification if needed.
Here and now in therapy
“One of the first steps in therapy is to identify the here-and-now equivalents of your patient’s interpersonal problem. An essential part of your education is to learn to focus on the hear-and-now. You must develop here-and-now rabbit ears. The everyday events of each therapy hour are rich with data: consider how patients greets you, take a seat, inspect or fail to inspect their surroundings, begin and end the session, recount their history, relate to you.”(Yalom, I. D., 2002, p. 49). “The aim is to raise a person to what is happening in the present moment in the interaction between them self and the counsellor. By raising the person awareness of this, they get in touch with what is happening within themselves and what may be happening in the relationship with others.” (Geldard., ; Gelard.,2012, p.145). Consequently, because the room was alive with noise I felt this took my focus away from what the person was saying, unfortunately I missed some important information at the beginning of the session and was unable to recount their story, during this time I sat in silence and tried to refocus, this took me a few minutes to settle back my role directing my focus back to the here and now.
I came to understand the importance of the here and just being with the client, one of the most profound skills that I will take away from this subject is the skill of learning to slow the therapy process down and bring awareness to the person’s body awareness and understanding the role of the body in therapy for both therapist and client. I became aware that this is possibly one of the most important skills I have gained.
I now see the value of providing a safe space for the client where they can just be with no pressure to rush to identify the issue. During feedback from the group I felt I was provided with opportunities for re?ection and took the constructive feedback as an opportunity for growth.
“It has been found that personal change is facilitated when the psychotherapist is what he is, when in the relationship with his client he is genuine and without “front” or façade, openly being the feelings and attitudes which at that moment are flowing in him. We have coined the term “congruence” to try to describe this condition. By this we mean that the feelings the therapist is experiencing are available to him, available to his awareness, and he is able to live these feelings, be them, and able to communicate them if appropriate. No one fully achieves this condition, yet the more the therapist is able to listen acceptingly to what is going on within himself, and the more he is able to be the complexity of his feelings, without fear, the higher the degree of his congruence.” (Rogers, C,.1977. p.61).
Throughout my times practicing as a therapist I always felt as though I came across as genuine in my interactions with the person, displaying an openness to and availability for the person to feel safe and at ease knowing I was travelling the journey with them.
“Good clarifying and summarising are very powerful skills. They mirror to the group where they are up to with an issue and help make the next steps clearer. When the way seems lost, identifying common themes the link and group what has been expressed can help organise the group’s ideas and help them find their direction. It can also be useful to use these micro-skills when having complex conversations. Summarising and clarifying help prevent miscommunication. “(Ochre, Glen., 2013).
I felt confident when summarising and found it easy to identify themes in the persons conversation, although there were times that I felt I could have relaxed and didn’t put too much thought into my responses.
In conclusion, I hope to continue to develop my skills in a client centred approach in Psychotherapy.
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