Counselling for dummies…

The second event I mentioned in my last post was starting a course called Certificate In Counselling Skills. I had actually seen a poster on the subway for the cbt centre in Glasgow running a course, and long story short, I ended up coming across a similar one at University of Glasgow. I deliberated over it for a few weeks, because I was scared I wouldn’t be any good at it and would fail. But after lots of encouragement from friends and family to go for it, I applied – literally days before the wedding! I had a telephone interview for it whilst in Toronto on the first day of our honeymoon, was offered a place, and started at the end of September.

I was really nervous, both for applying and for starting. If you’ve read anything on here before you’ll know I don’t know what to do with my life – I’ve never had a clue – but something keeps drawing me to the idea of counselling. This course is a part time – only 1 day a week – And is an essential introductory course for anyone wanting to pursue a counselling diploma and career, and is accredited by the Scottish governing body of counsellors. I was scared of the class size – only 20 – as there would be nowhere to hide, unlike in a psychology class of 150 at its smallest. The course is very experiential based, and we do practical skills practice every week, which I was terrified for. I hate being put on the spot, or thinking on the spot, and I don’t like the attention being on me. I’m drawn to counselling because I like listening to people, and think it’s one of my key skills, but I’m not so good at responding or talking, and knew i’d find that really challenging, so that scared me too. These weaknesses and fears make me constantly question why I might think a career in counselling could ever be a good thing for me…

7 weeks in though, we’ve just finished module 1 and I have hugely enjoyed it. I’d almost go so far as to say I’m enjoying it more than I ever enjoyed my 4 year Psychology degree. It is challenging, and it is emotionally exhausting and draining, but I love it.

The skills practice aspect of the course is exhausting in every way. You get into groups of 3 and take turns of being the speaker, listener and observer. As the speaker, you ‘just’ have to talk about yourself – live, emotional content (positive or negative) for a set period of time (started as 5 mins, now at 15, and will continue to expand!). The main focus is on the listener – their responses, attendance, interventions etc., and the observer feeds back to the listener what they did that was useful and less useful. I find the being the speaker really draining, particularly as ‘live emotional content’ for me recently has mainly been about my Gran passing away. It is draining, but it is noticeable that if my listener is good, I come away feeling like I’ve had 10 mins free therapy, which is pretty refreshing sometimes and I’ve managed to figure a few things out even in those short times. Being the listener is stressful and I need as much practice as I can get. The course is based on person-centred counselling approach, in that you help the client explore their own feelings, as opposed to offering advice or solutions. “How does that make you feel?” is a big part of it 😂 I always knew I would find this aspect the hardest though with knowing how to respond, and I’m trying hard not to compare where I’m at with other people in the course.

It’s also making me realise how good (or not!!!) my listening skills are. How often I sit on my phone whilst someone is talking, or turn the conversation round to be about me, or listen to provide a solution or advice, rather than really listening to the person. A valuable lesson!!!

I’m learning a lot – not just intellectually, but about myself. As well as being aimed at anybody using counselling skills, the course also has a huge focus on self-awareness and self-development. For the reason that you need to understand your own beliefs, values, experiences and possible biases, in order to treat clients with full acceptance and empathy, free from prejudice. I’m loving the self-awareness aspects of the course, as you may have guessed by any of my previous posts, I like to reflect and analyse so this is right up my street. It doesn’t necessarily sound like real work and may not be academic, but it really is hard going and is so draining. (If pretty rewarding when you figure something out or see or make a change in yourself)

So far I’ve noticed that I don’t necessarily, or didn’t, take feedback very well. Even if it was constructive. I got some reasonably harsh feedback in a practical session early on about what was ‘less useful’ in my listening, and it bugged me for days. This course makes you consider why things affect you the way they do, so I was able to consider why this annoyed me so much. I cane to the conclusion that I don’t like not being good at things, and I like to appear capable. Whether this is for my own satisfaction, or to save embarrassment in front of others, or for a different reason altogether I’m not quite sure yet. But I liked having the self-awareness to consider this, rather than just ruminating on it for ages.

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n thing I’ve noticed is something that has come up in class a few times – our inner critic. We all have this inner monologue, but how truthful, or kind, is it really? We did a self-awareness task using the Johari Window, which helps you identify what aspects of yourself are seen to yourself and/or others. Part of this required us to tell 3 people in the room what our first impression was of them, and vice versa. (Which by the way, was a very odd and rather awkward experience – it’s just not something you ever do!) I was surprised by the responses I got. The apparent impression I gave out wasn’t at all what I thought it was. I was oblivious to the sometimes positive impression I was giving out, and they were oblivious to the negative traits I thought I was showing. Two different people said I looked organised, and like I had it all together – I could not have felt further from that!!! My inner critic told me I looked shy and awkward and unfriendly, and while I might have seemed quiet or nervous, the other negative qualities just weren’t true.

Similarly when we do Skills practice and I take the role of the listener, I constantly panic about what I’m going to say or what questions I should ask, or if I’m sitting the right way or have the right facial expression. Thing is though – this uncomfortable panic will no doubt show, only the speaker will think I’m awkward or panicky because of what they are saying, not because of the madness of my inner monologue at that moment. And I’m sure this can translate to normal conversations too.

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itten about this multiple times in previous posts – about how we can be so much nastier to ourselves than we ever would be to someone else. I wrote in a reflective assignment for the course that it was something I was trying to change, but it is something I find really difficult. I find it hard not to overthink things. Messages I send, conversations I have, looks people give, even conversations I don’t have, but think I should have or could have. I worry what people will think about me – will they judge me? My confidence has somehow taken a hit recently -not sure why – and I’m struggling to push it back up. So often I doubt my ability. I tell myself and genuinely think that ‘I can’t do it’. I think I’m not good enough or outgoing or confident enough to be any good at things, especially this course sometimes. Despite how much I’m enjoying it, I still got super panicky and negative about a formal observation I had for my practical skills and a presentation I did last week. Any achievements I do have, I downplay. I’ve lost count of how many times Matt or my Mum have told me recently to have more faith in myself, to stop being self-depreciating and negative, and to believe that I can do things. I would never be so mean or discouraging to anyone else – friends, family or strangers. So why do I do it to myself? And is it just me? I’m certain it’s not.

I know that’s something I need to improve on. I am capable and I need to remember to believe that! And I didn’t say all that for pity or compliments or anything like that. Just being honest and sharing what’s come up for me on the course so far, and maybe someone can relate to what I’m saying. Like I said, I’m sure it’s not just me.

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, I hope that anyone who made it to the end of that isn’t too bored! Just a quick insight into what I’m up to, and how eye opening it is in many respects. I’m excited to see what module 2 brings!

Remember, everyone else is making it up as they go along too…”

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