I hope you can see the photo I took today of the whiteboard I was using during some teaching and learning. I've called it The Marsden Window, with a nod to Joe and Harry of Johari Window fame. I'm never sure what the 'share' feature on my phone throws out.
Though The Marsden Window is not particularly original it was effective this morning in communicating an idea I wanted to get across to a great-to-be-with group of counselling students at the University Centre where I work.
One of the drawbacks of a skills based approach to counsellor training, and this has been identified by David Rennie in his book, Person Centred Counselling: an Experiential Approach, is that learners inevitably focus on their next intervention rather than the experience of the client or their connection with the client. Quite often learners resort to asking fairly random questions and once the questioning begins it can be difficult to stop. Turning a counselling session into an interview in which the responsibility for the session and its direction shifts from client to counsellor. This can have a negative impact on the client's autonomy, on the session's emotional depth and on the quality of the connection between client and counsellor.
So I had a brainwave, drawing a window (a square with four quarters to it) on the whiteboard and writing: 'connect to self', 'connect to other', 'core conditions' and 'active listening' in the four compartments. After using this model for a few hours I added another element, drawing a thick black line around the window - the window frame - symbolising the time boundaries and ethical boundaries that must be in place when counselling.
The aim of this model is to shift the focus from doing active listening to being in relationship with the client.
This is achieved by the counsellor connecting first of all to their own feelings and process. To achieve this the counsellor might ask, 'How am I feeling in this moment?' or 'How am I feeling today?' The effect of this is to centre the counsellor or connect the counsellor to his or her feelings and gives the counsellor an opportunity to put difficult feelings to one side and hopefully become more emotionally available, more able to sense the feelings of the client. Students found this very helpful and there was a strong sense of the sessions slowing down and the counsellors becoming more thoughtful. Also cliens became tearful and more emotional and in feedback said they felt supported, listened to and accepted.
The next stage of the model sees the counsellor connect with his or her client. Here the opening question is important and ideally invites the client to do what the counsellor had just done: connect to process and feelings and join the counsellor in this 'place of feelings'.
The next part of the model acknowledges the importance of Rogers' core conditions: the importance of empathic understanding, of accepting and prizing the client, or more importantly of the client feeling accepted and prized.
Then we arrive at active listening, but there is a greater chance that this active listening emerges out of a deep rapport with the client and is imbued with the core conditions.
When using this model I observed a qualitative difference in the way students were listening to each other and a move towards the bellybutton-to-bellybutton communication I was looking for.
I'm going to keep reflecting on the teaching and learning of counselling. A recent Higher Education Academy Report states there is little evidence on the best ways of teaching and learning counselling. It fits also with the research aims of UCBC where I work.
Thanks to the four students I worked with today. I learnt a lot.