I remember the day when the envelope arrived with a request to ‘please do not bend’ emblazoned across its face in red. I knew exactly what it contained - my diploma had arrived, and with it came the validation that I’d not only officially qualified, but was also able to legitimately call myself a ‘Therapeutic Counsellor’. In the moments that followed, I felt a true sense of accomplishment and couldn’t help but reflect back over the years of intense training and meeting criteria, the twists and turns of necessary and often painful self-exploration, and most of all, the times of being fully present in the moment that’d enabled my insightfulness and true empathetic understanding for others to emerge. I was very fortunate to be trained, challenged, and guided by inspiring tutors, who were also professional therapists, and taken on quite the trip – one that wasn’t simply about learning the theory, but also cathartic and somewhat unexpected – a journey that helped me to realise change, growth, and a real sense of empowerment. I also very much benefited from the personal therapy undertaken with my own professional counsellor, which exposed me to a restorative therapeutic relationship unlike any other. It helped me to unpack the hurts that I’d kept buried or unresolved, and birthed my passion to become a healing helper to others struggling with their own mental health issues or negative influencers.
How I became the Integrative Therapeutic Counsellor
My time in training encouraged me to take a humanistic, integrated, and adaptable approach, not only in my working relationships with clients, but also to Life in general. I learned that during the years from childhood to adulthood, we all develop an individual sense of personal worth, which can be easily damaged by life events such as loss, hardship, or despair, and while exploring this concept, I’d found myself connecting with two specific quotes that exemplified the way in which my principal modalities were to inform me as an Integrative counsellor:
‘The person-centred counsellor believes that all clients have within themselves vast resources for development. They have the capacity to grow towards the fulfilment of their unique identities, which means that self-concepts are not unalterable and attitudes or behaviours can be modified or transformed.’ ‘What marks out a psychodynamic approach is the identification of links between present feelings and fantasies and past experiences with their associated feelings and fantasies. This is not an intellectual exercise, not acting like a psychic detective, but gradually building up a picture of the way the past and present link in a powerful way, affecting our present thoughts, feelings, fears and desires, and above all our relationships.’
Losing my home and most of its contents to a hurricane causing widespread destruction (no, that’s not a metaphor, it actually did happen) taught me about the many aspects and realness of loss, and its devastating effect on one's mental health. It was a traumatic and unforgettable experience that played a huge part in the journey of my life and led me to become the counsellor I am today – one who has personal experience of the conditions for growth needed for us to bravely face and tackle the difficulties of life and to make mistakes. I offer my clients the autonomy to enter into a collaborative space, where it takes trust in our alliance to unearth the unconscious harms and fears of their past, and a willingness to explore how they affect them in the here and now.
How things can go wrong and the Person-Centred approach to change
Clients in despair often describe being surrounded by people who consider themselves the experts on how they should lead their lives – e.g., parents and teachers, friends, partners, or work colleagues - who set unrealistic, damaging expectations of them that adversely affect their sense of conditional approval, to the point where they feel judged and/or lack a sense of self-respect. The main premise of the person-centred approach is that an individual can be offered empathetic understanding and trusted by me to find their own answers, or a way forward, from the learned ways in which they relate to themselves and others. If given the medium to do so through a safe and humanistic therapeutic relationship, that enables them to feel a sense of acceptance, clients are often surprised or shocked by our discoveries of implicit pressures, caused by the hurts they’ve held in, and by how much they’ve been left unexpressed or unresolved. As their helper, I offer forth my authenticity as a person who has experienced hurts and grown from trials, and the safe space to talk openly in an exchange that is not only collaborative, but also demonstrates that I’m a fully attentive listener - they are, after all, pivotal to our work together. One of the main revelations for clients, new to talking therapy, is the fact that I’m actually listening with respectful curiosity and a genuine intent to fully understand and connect with their self-concept. In my experience, people appreciate it when I use exploratory questioning to clarify what is happening for them in the moment, simply because I’m seeking to fully comprehend what they’re experiencing – by connecting in with them - as they are the ultimate protagonist in the story of their life. We talk person-to-person, and in doing so, their concept of self can be altered or retold in a Hope space, where they can realise the change and growth needed in order to fulfil their potential. They can develop a sense of trusting in themselves and an ability to draw on their own wisdom from within while gaining the feeling of ‘humanness’ needed to become their true and complex self.
As the person-centred approach is focused on an ability to enter their emotional world; my role is to be with them in the here and now. It is non-directive, driven by their own readiness to ‘go there’, and reflects what they bring into the room rather than leading the content of their session or trying to ‘fix’ them.
In my next blog, I will talk about the other aspect of my Integrative Counselling - the Psychodynamic modality - and how the two concepts work together.
Sherryl Baker Dip. Couns. MBACP