I think it's true to say that out of all the clients I have worked with, those in training as psychotherapists have initially proved the most trying. Not all of them. There have been notable exceptions where the trainee’s excited absorption in the theory and practice of psychotherapy has been duly match my devotion to an intrepid exploration of themselves from the start. One might expect that this would always be the case, but others have arrived reluctantly, even resentfully, seeing their attendance immediately as a course requirement rather than an opportunity for self-discovery and transformation. They see little, if anything, in need of discovering or transforming. This in itself is, of course, a self delusional problem, much in need of discovery and transformation. While I don't quite put it like that, I do suggest they go away and think about how they might want to use our time together therapeutically.
From ‘Not Playing it by the Book’ by Phil Lapworth in Lapworth, P. (2011) Tales from the Therapy Room: Shrink Wrapped, London, Sage
When I began my diploma in counselling thirteen years ago there was a requirement for twenty hours of personal therapy. In the end I had 50 hours and I've been back since, with different therapists, from different traditions, using different models of therapy. I see this as part of my personal and professional development, an investment in me as a therapist, committed to connecting with others and addressing those parts of me that unconsciously sabotage working at relational depth.
There is, of course, an argument which suggests trainee counsellors ought not to be forced to have personal therapy, that to make someone attend counselling contradicts the counselling ethos of promoting individual choice and autonomy. I see the point, but those same courses see nothing wrong with setting and assessing assignments, and the student who asserts their autonomy by not handing in their assignments doesn’t pass the course. Maybe that isn’t an appropriate comparison; I am not much good at rhetoric, despite a degree in Scholastic Philosophy, so let me instead promote the merits of personal counselling for trainees with a little list:
Personal therapy can promote self-awareness and reflexivity
It enables trainees to experience what it feels like for clients when they come for help
It's an opportunity to work on personal issues in a safe space. It provides a confidential place to take personal issues that may result from reflective practice and supervision
It’s much better to work on distressing experiences in personal counselling than to have them activated by a distressed client during a counselling session
Working with an experienced therapist provides an opportunity to model how they work and to experience a therapeutic relationship. It is also an opportunity to experience different approaches to therapy
I’d be interested to hear arguments against personal therapy for trainees, especially from those providing personal therapy. I think I will need some convincing before I stop advocating personal counselling for trainees. And if Liz Johnson my first therapist ever reads this – thanks for what you did Liz and how you did it!