Articles

The Philosophy of the Idiosyncratic Counsellor
Chapters:
Preparation, assessment, contracting and ending

In this chapter I focus on some of what I believe are my idiosyncrasies as a Person-Centred counsellor. I outline my personal philosophy; how I acquired it and how it informs my Person-Centred theory. I then describe, in some detail, what I consider to be a most important, but often neglected aspect of being a counsellor, the preparation for meeting clients. This preparation is about self-care and it is physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. It enables me to meet my clients in a helpful way. I go on to explore my approach to assessment, contracting and ending with clients. These aspects of my practice highlight some of my idiosyncratic ways of working. Some may find it paradoxical that my discipline and careful attention to boundaries enable me to be more fully present and to work more freely with my clients.

Personal Philosophy

Since reading The Celestine Prophecy (Redfield, 1997) I have been deeply affected by the concept of synchronicity, defined by Joseph as ‘a meaningful coincidence’ or an event without any apparent cause (Joseph, 1999, p.xiv). He goes on to summaries Jung’s definition of synchronicity:

... Any apparent coincidence that inspires a sense of wonder and personal meaning or particular significance in the observer. It is a perceived connection between two or more objects, events, or persons without any recognizable cause. (Joseph, 1999, p. xi).

I have experienced many synchronous events throughout my life and I now keep a synchronicity diary which sharpens my awareness of acausal events — often only realizing their significance retrospectively. This is not a complacent giving up of my life to Fate but rather an exciting and inspiring guide to the unfolding, formative and evolving self that is me. I often wonder how many therapists have had the experience of working on some aspect of their own psychopathology and then had enquiries from clients with almost (or exactly) the same problem. On innumerable occasions I have said, mostly to myself, that I need a couple more clients at home or in town and within a week they have come.

I can’t account for any of this theoretically but I have heard other therapists say they have similar experiences. Sometimes going along with seemingly acausal or synchronous events feels like finding myself on a well-greased helter-skelter: terrifying on the way down but so great when I get to the bottom I want to try it again.

Another aspect of my approach to life is my love of natural history, biology, botany; anything to do with ecology, nature, or gardening. My learning about evolution was one of the few good school experiences I had. I remain an observer of the way nature will, without fail, make something out of (apparently) nothing: a pile of garden rubbish will, within a few days, start to develop its own ecosystem.

Another significant contributing factor in the development of my personal philosophy was the rise of various ideologies or styles of feminism. I experienced many feminist principles as affirmation of my ideas about sex roles and capabilities (notions that came from my inner locus of evaluation). They matched my experience of gross injustice and gave me permission to disregard the chauvinism and arrogance of the prevailing norms of my peers during my twenties and thirties. I could see how my actualizing tendency (although I did not recognize it as such then) had been, and continued to be, stifled and ridiculed both by my family and society in general. I became a fairly stereotypical man-hating feminist for several years as a way of defending myself and of gaining some inner strength and personal power (Proctor, 2002, Ch.6). As pendulums go, the strategy became self-defeating because I had not resolved my difficulties with contacting and expressing my inner or core values; I had only exchanged them for another set of other people’s values, yet another external locus of evaluation. However, what I did integrate into my self-concept was the principle of taking personal power and responsibility for my life.

I believe my current profession is where I fit in the Great Scheme of Things. When I am well grounded in my inner valuing I feel perfectly and inspirationally at home with myself, and with my life. When I am trying to live up to the externally imposed, or introjected values of others (those that don’t already accord with mine) I feel like a butterfly under water.

My history has resulted in a personal philosophy which I believe to be consistent with the philosophy and theory of the Person-Centred Approach. It can be summarized in this personal credo:

I believe that we have a formative or actualizing tendency which is consistent with everything else in nature and that this tendency is universal.
I believe that the formative tendency in the universe is consistent with the notion of subtle energy (Cameron, 2002), which affects, is affected by and is the energy in all matter, including the atmosphere, stratosphere, and the outer reaches of the universe.
I believe that if I prepare myself for meeting my clients and supervisees in a way that has me remain mindful of the action of subtle energy, I will be most effective.
I believe, and experience, the six conditions for therapeutic change to be the pathway to mindfulness of both my power and limitations to being beneficial to my clients.
I believe that mindfully and willingly opening myself (by visualization) to the power of subtle energy helps me to be clear and confident in the necessity and sufficiency of the six core conditions.
I believe that me, my philosophy, theory and practice continue to evolve.

My Idiosyncrasies

The areas of my practice where my idiosyncrasies are most visible are: my preparation to meet clients and my assessment, contracting and ending with clients.

My preparation to meet clients

… It is with self-love that the spiritual discipline of the person-centred therapist must begin, for without it the therapeutic enterprise is a charade where the therapist offers to the client an unconditionality of acceptance which he or she withholds from himself or herself. … Self-love is a moral imperative for the person-centred therapist and no potential path towards it must be neglected. (Thorne, 2002, pp.38-9)

In order to experience self-love I need to be in psychological contact with myself, which is essential if I am to be in psychological contact with my clients. I therefore place a great deal of emphasis on my preparation to meet my clients. It is, for me, another necessary condition, or pre-requisite, to achieving a person-centred attitude towards my clients, supervisees and trainees and it demands discipline. It is about self-love and self-care. I need to look after myself so that I do not tire and become distracted. I need to ensure I have the energy and resources to be present to my clients and to enjoy my work. This discipline is essential to my fitness to practice and is part of the duty of care I owe my clients.

I engage in what I call macro- and micro-preparation. Macro-preparation is how I care for my physical and spiritual needs: good diet (including eating out well), adequate sleep, entertainment that I find moving and inspiring such as visiting art galleries, theatre, films and exhibitions. Macro-preparation also includes my professional development, which occupies a number of concentric circles of activity, starting with training and continuing with ongoing reading, supervision, courses, workshops, case discussion with peers in a Continuing Professional Development group, and personal therapy. Micro-preparation is a finely focused exercise immediately before seeing clients, usually at the beginning of the day. I concentrate on my immediate emotional state and bodily sensations in an attempt to bracket them, or put them aside, temporarily. This helps to create a clear space in my head to concentrate on my clients.

My preparation enables me to achieve a more freely flowing inner contact with myself. This is essential as our bodies and minds are the primary vessels to convey our person-centred attitude to our clients. It helps create a greater level of congruence by helping me to become aware of what is going on in my body, mind and emotions. Tudor and Worrall (1994) argue that it is incumbent upon the therapist to 'prepare the ground for psychological contact', thereby facilitating greater congruence in the therapist. Tudor and Worrall’s four requirements for congruence include:

That we are aware of the flow of feelings and sensations within us as we work (self-awareness); that we are able to be and live these feelings and experiencing (self-awareness in action); that we are able and willing to communicate our awareness in the immediate moment of our relationship with a client (communication); and that we evolve coherent and ethical criteria for assessing when it may be appropriate to share our awareness (appropriateness). (Tudor and Worrall, 1994, p.198).

By paying close attention to my preparation I am more able in the moment with my client to distinguish an appropriate disclosure from what Tudor and Worrall describe as 'promiscuous honesty, sloppy practice and lack of reflection in practice.'

My micro-preparation in particular helps me to create a metaphorical clearing so that I am as closely as possible in the client's world. My mind seems never to be still, I continuously find myself attempting to make sense of myself and my world. This process can get in the way of my ability to make contact, or be present, with my clients if I do not do something to alter my absence of mind. Likewise, if I’m struggling with the impact of life events I may feel inhibited from entering my client’s world so as to experience it from their frame of reference. Brazier states that:

Insofar as the therapist is content and at peace, they will find it easier to avoid becoming judgmental. Insofar as they overcome self-centred concern, they will find it easier to stay with the client. Insofar as they live in the present, and are free from serious preoccupation with the past and the future, they will find it easier to flow with the client. Insofar as we are free from these contaminating influences, there will be space which is safe for us and safe for the client. The therapist needs to create the same kind of inner space which the client is trying to find. Therapist and client are on the same path. (Brazier, 1995, p.30) (my emphasis).

This 'inner space' is what I am trying to create. Brazier also describes it as a ‘clean space’ or the clearing of a mental space for his clients:

Deeper acceptance begins with the therapist creating space inside themselves: a positively receptive frame of mind. … A cup is like the mind, when it is already full, no more will go in. If we are going to learn anything, we must first empty our minds. … It is our own emptiness which begins the therapeutic process. (Brazier, 1995, pp. 23-24)

Brazier goes on to say that a few minutes of meditation helps him to become in touch with the universe, 'with the common ground' between him and his clients. He stresses the importance of this in order to be fully attentive and 'oriented' to the client from the very beginning of a session:

The first few moments of encounter generally prove to be disproportionately significant ... The client, … being full of need, may well say crucially significant things in the first few moments which can easily be missed if the therapist is still getting oriented. (Brazier, 1995, pp.24)

At the beginning of his demonstration sessions Rogers invites his volunteer clients to take a few minutes so that they can both mentally prepare for the session. Thorne describes a number of activities he engages in to enhance his spiritual contact with clients including taking a few minutes every day to focus on each of his clients in turn. He found that: ‘The holding in mind of clients in this way can have a remarkable impact on the therapeutic relationship and its development.’ (Thorne, 2002, p. 42)

A simple relaxation exercise works for me. If I hold physical, emotional and psychological tension in my mind and body, it blocks much of the free-flowing energy I need to be close enough in contact for my client to experience our time together as therapeutic. I take between twenty to thirty minutes at the start of my day’s work to do a thorough, focused relaxation and grounding in the reasons why I am there and why I do this work. I prepare in my counselling room, which seems to orient me in my world. This enables me to stay grounded in my world whilst moving around freely in the client's world.

Of course, there are times when preparation is more important, and therefore harder, than others. When my life seems to be going well, and I have no major concerns, I take less time. When I have a distracting family crisis then I have to spend more time preparing simply because I am so distracted that even the preparation is a challenge to my powers of concentration.

I take up to fifteen minutes for the physical relaxation stage; relaxing all my inner and outer muscles in turn. Once I have relaxed my body, I focus on where I am in relation to the rest of my world. This is a very practical orientation exercise that gets me in touch with my relative power and importance in the world, and the universe. I orientate myself by becoming aware of being held by my chair and where it is in the room, where the room is in the house, where the house is in the street, where the street is, which part of the country (north, south, east, west) and where I am located in Europe, in the Northern hemisphere. I remind myself of the movement of the moon around the earth, of the earth and moon around the sun and that the sun, moon, earth and stars all form the Milky Way, one of many galaxies.

This helps me to get in touch with how I fit in the evolution of my environment, of my relative importance within it. I believe that everything is connected, and that that includes me. I think about my size in the universe, the point of evolution of the universe and my environment. I think about the reality and limits of my personal power (power within) to affect change in the great scheme of things. I have always had a keen and fascinated interest in how organisms work or actualize and why; a curiosity about what promotes or inhibits the action of atoms and their interaction with each other. I imagine myself and my client being microscopic atoms in the universe, both with infinitesimal roles to play that are nevertheless vital to the universal evolutionary process.

I believe that if I free myself up to accept and connect to the universal subtle energy it will free me and my client to actualize, without interruption, hindrance or distortion. Merry argues that:

Not only are we connected with each other, but also more remotely to every other living thing, because every living thing is made of fundamentally the same stuff, and shares a common ancestor (Merry, 2000, p. 34)

I think that maybe it is this connectedness that I tap in to or become aware of, which results in me feeling connected and charged with a free-flowing energy between myself and my client. I believe that environment is everything in life. This way of seeing my place and power in the universe frees me up to create a freeing environment for my clients. I cannot change my clients, either by influencing or doing anything to or for them. I can only bracket, to the best of my ability, those elements of my thinking and being that are likely to inhibit their natural growth potential, the actualizing tendency. Some of those inhibiting factors can be likened to aspects of the ecological environment of plants or animals; for example weeds, acid rain, wrong kind of soil, lack of (or too much) light, conditions being too dry or wet. What I am doing is preparing the ground and grounding myself in it. This creates a fertile enough environment to facilitate growth, notwithstanding that some parts of my clients are 'not for growth' (Mearns and Thorne, 2000, pp. 114-6). My task is to provide the optimal conditions for my client’s natural, integral propensity for growth, without any predetermined expectations or agendas. We cannot make things grow nor can we intend to grow our clients like some kind of hothouse plant that is brought outside in the spring after over-wintering in a heated greenhouse.

I remind myself that I have three intentions: to empathize, to be non-judgmental about my client’s experiencing and to communicate congruently if I think I am not as fully in tune with him or her as I think I could be. It is not my intention to get my client to do anything, or go in any direction, or change his/her content or style of communicating. I hold in awareness that behind all my client's behaviours and beliefs is the instinct to actualize, be creative, social and constructive, and that 'Behavior is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.' (Rogers, 1951, p. 491)

I remind myself how lonely and frightening it feels not to be understood, to believe that I am not understandable and that therefore I must be mad or bad and definitely unlovable. I remind myself that clients do not have to express feelings in order to have a therapeutic experience. Some clients of mine have made amazing changes to their lives through only relating the sequence of events in their lives between sessions. This is not to say that I have an expectation that clients necessarily make changes to their lives. Some clients, for example, make use of counselling as a support for stressful occupations.

Finally, I spend a moment, if necessary, reflecting on anything I’ve learned about myself recently in supervision. I remind myself that I am in the process of integrating that learning into my own self-structure.

This exercise reconnects me with the knowledge and experience of how it is 'the client who knows best what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried.' (Rogers, 1961, p.13). Furthermore, that the client needs no active help from me in setting the pace, the agenda, or tone of the sessions. I need only to sit on the edge of my clearing, and keep it clear of obstacles to my client’s process. I can listen with a free and uncluttered ear, without preconceptions and expectations. My own empathic connection can flow more lucidly, and I can more empathically communicate the sense I am making of what my client is telling me about their experience and meanings.

My philosophy, theory and practice, therefore, encompass the belief that a sense of being in my ecological niche results in me experiencing a sense of connectedness to the universe, a cosmic connection that engenders a higher quality of presence with my clients. This higher quality of presence works to enhance my love of self and my empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. This is probably the most important belief that I hold, for it informs everything that I do, and all of my way of being with people, most of the time. For me it is a spiritual activity that requires the spiritual enhancement of my body and psyche. From this flow all aspects of my work.

Assessment

When a client first makes contact with me I take five things into consideration when assessing whether or not I can, or will, work with them: current caseload, my physical and emotional wellbeing, client presenting issues, any ethical considerations, and any practical considerations.

I do a maximum of 24 sessions a week, including supervising other counsellors and trainees. I prefer an optimal number of 20 but will go up to 24 if some clients are due to leave. I also take into consideration how much other work I want to do such as training, writing or setting up another aspect of my business. If it is Spring, I know I’m going to want to spend much more time doing my garden before it’s too late so that affects the number of hours that I work. Since my garden is a very important part of my macro-preparation, if I neglected it I would be doing a disservice not only to myself but to my clients also. It is my responsibility to avoid depleting my inner resources.

I assess my own physical and emotional wellbeing. How healthy am I? Can I cope with another client now? Should I take some time out for a while, or reduce my optimal hours? Am I competent to work with this person’s issues? Are the challenges in my life the same as theirs? Can I bracket them sufficiently to be present ‘at least to a minimal degree'? Do I even want to? Will I need to increase my self-care if I take on this client? Do I have the necessary financial and time resources to do that? Do I even want to increase my self-care for this client? What is going on in my immediate and extended family right now? Who is not well at the moment and may need additional support, tolerance, patience and empathy from me? Is this prospective client presenting the same issues as people in my family? Could I bracket my family business sufficiently? How is my general health and well-being?

The attitude I take in my initial telephone assessment of a prospective client goes something like this: ‘Can I handle what this person wants to talk about?’ I check with my felt sense about their presenting problem. For example, can I experience empathy, unconditional positive regard and be congruent with another client who is severely depressed? If I have two in my practice already my response would be ‘no’. Is this person a counselling trainee? I like to limit the number of trainees I have so that I maintain a balance of presenting issues in my caseload so that it is not overbalanced by working with trainee clients and supervisees. Do I get a sense during our phone conversation that we can be in psychological contact? If I’m not sure about this I will invite the person to come for an initial session to ascertain the extent to which this first condition is possible; some people feel less comfortable over the phone than others. I will not necessarily charge for an initial session, especially if the person asks if I offer free tester sessions. I will also take into consideration a client’s age group and how that might affect the balance of age groups in my practice. I also consider the balance of male to female clients, ethnic groups and language or accent. If a person’s English is not very good then I will have to work harder to understand them and may not have sufficient energy for more than two clients like that. If the client cannot pay my full fee and my quota for low-fee clients is full and not likely to reduce for some time, I would pass the person on to someone else or refer them to free or low-fee organizations on my list. I accept a maximum of 10% of clients on reduced fees.

I also ask about the referral source. Firstly because I want to keep track of where people hear about me from, and, secondly, because I want to ensure I don’t have a conflict of interest between members of the same family, friends or work colleagues who are already clients of mine. I would not knowingly take on people who are close to anyone I have worked with. Of course, this fact may not surface immediately in the initial assessment, and if or when it does, I would take the case on its merits after consulting with my supervisor. I would also be careful when assessing my ethical responsibilities with lesbian or gay clients as I am more likely to meet them at social events and this has implications for any therapeutic relationship.

I usually ask the prospective client where they want to be seen and what time of day within the first few minutes of our phone conversation. This can obviate any unnecessary (and tedious for the client) assessment if I cannot fit them in anyway.

All these issues I take into consideration, not necessarily consciously counting them off on my fingers as I listen to the caller, but almost automatically. I listen attentively to my feeling, and go with that. These considerations impact on my ability to experience my share of the six necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change.

Contracting

I do not usually use the word ‘contracting’ with clients but I use it here to describe what I see as my professional obligations during an initial session with a client. I don’t use the word ‘contract’ because I believe the word assumes I have expectations of my clients, which I don’t, other than paying my fee and not arriving before time and running the risk of meeting other clients on the way out, thereby compromising both client’s confidentiality. My contract emerges from what I say about what I can offer, and how I will behave in, and outside of counselling sessions. My intention is to express my attitude about my personal integrity which I believe is transparent to my clients, i.e. that my word words communicate a contractual reliability. At the beginning I inform the client that three things normally happen in a first session. Firstly, I give information about practical issues to do with our meetings and the venue. Secondly, I let the client know that they have the opportunity to learn more about me and what the sessions might look and sound like in terms of who speaks and who listens most. They may either ask me questions or ask me to speak about my experience, qualifications and the way I work. Thirdly, of course, it is the client’s first opportunity to tell me as much as they want, or feel able to, about themselves and why they are coming for counselling now. I let them know that I have no particular preference in which order it comes. I leave it to them to choose, although I do note that practical issues include information about confidentiality. I notice that most people opt for hearing about practicalities first, perhaps as an ice breaker. My contract emerges from this dialogue.

My attitude to contracting is that it primarily encompasses what I am able and willing to offer my clients. I always put confidentiality first and include my limits. I see no reason ever to breach confidentiality. If I am clear about what I can keep confidential and what I cannot keep confidential then confidentiality is never breached. I explain my legal responsibilities to disclose terrorist activities or plans I might hear about. I go into some detail about how I see my responsibilities to the public in general and to aspects of child abuse in particular. I explain the latter as my limit to confidentiality and that other therapists may take a different view. I explain that it is about my ability to sleep at night without worrying about what might be happening to children that renders them unsafe. I go into some detail about the process of trying to ensure the reduction of risk to children. That involves negotiating with a client who discloses what that might entail for them, whether they might prefer me to make an appropriate contact with the police, teachers or Social Services. I explain that my bottom line is that I would always seek permission from clients to disclose but, failing that, I would never disclose without their knowledge. Moreover I would always continue to support clients if that was their wish.

For me this policy is consistent with the Person-Centred Approach in that I am being very clear where I stand on the issues of public safety which leaves the client free to decide whether or not they want to go on and work with me given my limits to confidentiality. This policy is also about me taking responsibility for my self-care in that I need my sleep and I know I will lie awake for hours worrying about children being treated abusively. Therefore my policy is consistent with me being congruent with me and my clients.

I explain how I work, including my theoretical orientation if asked about it, and check out with my clients how they think my approach might be helpful for them. I let them know that I am willing to experiment with how flexible I can be about session times and duration. I let clients know that I am willing to negotiate double sessions on a fortnightly (or weekly) basis. One client woefully remarked that she thought she could do with a whole day. I offered a whole day, she took it (we separated for an hour at lunchtime) and we had a remarkable session in which she had a number of profound insights and made some resolutions that left me feeling very moved by her new experiencing of herself. What surprised me was that I half expected to feel very tired at the end of the day but I felt energized right up to 4pm when we stopped.

I believe, again, that this is an idiosyncratic result of my congruent relating to myself: I felt excited at the prospect of responding freely to a client’s needs as perceived in the moment. With one couple we did a triple session: I re-negotiated at the end of each 50-minute session, having mindfully looked into myself to assess my inner resources to continue before making the offer to re-negotiate the contract for that day. I have done this since with other couples and sometimes they take it up, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I know I can’t offer it, so I don’t. But the bottom line is that my clients know what is possible, given that we all have the resources to do it.

My attitude to money is another aspect of my idiosyncratic way of being. When contracting, I let clients know that I do not charge for missed sessions. This policy stems from three beliefs: the primacy of unconditional positive regard, synchronicity, and bad karma. Firstly I believe that charging for a missed session is inconsistent with the person-centred philosophy of trusting the client to know best. I am not responsible for anyone’s integrity but my own and therefore I do not have to look after my client by making sure they do not ‘take advantage of my good nature’. I think charging for a missed session sets up the possibility of conditionality seeping into the relationship. If I am seeking to maintain and enhance my unconditional positive regard, I can’t do this by insisting that clients pay for something they have not had. This policy is unconditional in its own right. I do not charge whatever the reason: illness, working late on demand from an employer, not feeling like it, transport problems.

Secondly, my experience and therefore my trust in the synchronicity of events, is such that I make allowances for people cancelling their appointments, getting the day or time wrong, public transport being unreliable, weather, sickness. Within my maximum contact hours per week is a built-in assumption that at least two people will be unable to make their session for one reason or another. Therefore I don’t need to worry about money too much. I emphasize this because of my third reason for not charging.

Karma is defined as ‘the law of moral consequence’ (Brazier, 1995, p.158). Therefore I believe that charging for missed sessions creates a negative energy that blocks my ability to be empathic, unconditionally positive in my regard of the client’s process and congruent in my communication. I also think that all of the above might inhibit my client’s ability to receive my empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. I believe that if my energy remains positive enough money will come to me. My experience has always been that money for what I need always comes from somewhere if I don’t block the subtle energy that allows it to flow in my direction. My experience has taught me that there is a level of worrying about, or becoming pre-occupied with money, that impacts on me to the point that I am sure my distraction with it becomes obvious and therefore unhelpful to my clients. In other words, it has proved to be bad karma for me to work with money as my primary goal.

As long as we continue to think that acting selfishly is the best policy, we continue to create hells for ourselves and others. That is, we create bad karma. If we act virtuously in the hope of reward in the hereafter, that is better, but still not ideal. It is to create good karma. Ideally, when we act in an enlightened way, we create no personal karma at all, because our action, being selfless, is not for ourselves, but for the community. Good communities are not built by everyone serving themselves, but by serving one another. … Since karma is created by willful behaviour, it concerns both attitude and action. (Brazier, 1995, p. 159-160)

Endings

How or when a client might end forms part of my contracting information in that I make no demands on my clients about how they must go about, or prepare for, ending. By that I mean that I do not require clients to give me notice of when they want to end. In the practical information which I give to clients during our initial session I make it clear that the duration of our time together will, by and large, be dictated by them. For me this is, again, consistent with unconditional positive regard and the notion that the client knows best. My experience has borne this out. Whatever reason a client gives for leaving I trust that it is the right thing for them to be doing at that time. Most often the reason clients give for leaving is that they feel they don’t need to come any more and I agree. I have often been aware of wondering why a particular client is still coming for therapy when during the session they will tell me that they think they can finish now, I fully accept their decision.

Other reasons for finishing have included moving away from the area or emigrating, wanting to work with a counsellor from a different background, sexuality or gender, wanting to return to a previous counsellor who had been away for a while. Some clients have been quite explicit about not wanting to look at issues that are too painful for them at the time. One client told me:

I’m bored with only talking about myself … [I feel] guilty that you have to listen to me and that you don’t get the chance to talk about yourself. I’m just going through a mid-life crisis and I’ll just have to get on with it.

Counselling was just too much of a one-way street in her frame of reference. She preferred to talk about her life with her friends, with whom she could 'return the compliment'. Someone had suggested that she might find counselling helpful, which she did in that after four sessions she realized she had quite a good support network without it.

Some people set themselves targets for ending and stick to them, others don’t. I have a client who was determined she was going to be 'sorted by Christmas' and was not and now feels amused by her ambition. There was a time she would have considered not reaching her target as evidence of her failure as a person. She is now quite content to continue until she feels: "confident enough to make mistakes without beating myself up about it or thinking people will hold it against me forever. I feel proud and open about my bi-sexuality and happy (rather than uneasy) around children."

The main reason why I would initiate an ending would be a conflict of interest. For example, a client may turn out to have a close relationship with someone else with whom I am working. I have also seriously considered ending with a client who, well into our relationship, brought an issue very similar to one that I was battling with.

In thinking about endings in general with clients I hold in mind that no matter how brief the encounter, my warmth and empathy, my way of being with them may have touched that person’s life in a memorable, healing and lasting way. I do not need, nor would it be healthy, to be with them for their whole evolutionary process of healing, growing and becoming. I have been intimate without being attached, therefore I can let go without regret.

The Evolving Counsellor

I have explained above how my philosophy of life and people developed through my reading, training and life experience. I consider this process as ongoing in that my experience of my self (or selves) is that I am changed every day, at least to some subtle degree, by my environment. By the same token, I change my environment in some subtle or significant way. I am changed by working with my clients as they are changed as a result of working with me. If I change my immediate environment, my garden for example, I am immediately changed by its transformation when I finish working in it.

What I read, watch on TV, my training and continuing professional development, films or theatre, interaction with friends and family contribute to my knowledge and understanding of others and of me. It influences how I conceptualize myself, my configurations (Mearns and Thorne, 2000, Ch.6). By integrating such learning into my self I continue to evolve intellectually, emotionally and spiritually as a person who counsels for her living.

I do not like to make a separation between me the person and me the counsellor. I prefer to distinguish the roles with regard to a balance between listening and speaking such that when I am with a client I am listening much more than I am speaking. Another distinction I make is that the aim of the counselling dialogue is the creation of a therapeutic environment and relationship for my client’s particular goals and process; the focus of the dialogue is the client, whereas the focus in my other relationships shifts frequently from me to the other. None the less my intention is that my fundamental attitude to the other remains the same with clients and others, and how successful I am in remaining or sustaining a manifestation of that attitude is what constantly evolves within me. For example, I currently attempt to make a distinction between on the one hand not feeling dependent on someone’s good opinion for my self-acceptance and on the other hand needing some level of empathy and unconditional positive regard in order to be in an at least satisfactory relationship with them.

My level of understanding is enhanced by my reading, and my reading is guided by my curiosity and my stage of development. What you, the reader, are learning about me today will be out of date by the time you read this. I will have developed further, increased, refined, or even changed my understanding of many of the subjects I have written about here and my now.

One aspect of my being, however, will not change and that, paradoxically, is my belief that everything changes, or actualizes. There will always be an ecological niche for me, although that might change as I change. I will always sense a universal connectedness, although how I perceive that will change as I learn and understand more about it. I will always believe in preparing for my clients, although how I do that will change as I deepen my philosophical and theoretical understanding of my self and my clients.

My intention to develop a person-centred attitude in my relationships outside my counselling practice will go on but the resolve, ability and the inner resources required to sustain such an intention will, inevitably, develop spasmodically and probably painfully. My belief in creating a moving and inspiring self-care or work/life balance strategy will remain but what I do will surely change.

I will always need to generate inner space for myself and create a 'clean space' for my clients. I like to envisage a time when I will not work on that in the way that I currently do, that I will do so more automatically, more like living in a 'clean space', in the now, achieving a contentment with living with uncertainty, unknowingness and accepting that there is no endpoint to reach, no skills to master once and for all, no perfection to achieve. There is an exciting, moving learning and becoming process to be in, synchronicity to watch out for and opportunities to recognize and grasp.

References:

Bozarth, J. (1998) Person-Centred Therapy: A Revolutionary Paradigm. PCCS Books: Ross on Wye.
Brazier, D. (1995) Zen Therapy. Constable: London.
Cameron, R. (2002) Subtle Energy Awareness: Bridging Psyche and Soma. In Person-Centred Practice, 10 (2) pp. 66-74. PCCS Books: Ross-on-Wye.
Joseph, F. (1999) Synchronicity and You: Understanding the Role of Meaningful Coincidence in Your Life. Melbourne, Victoria, New South Wales, Australia: Element Books.
Kirschenbaum, H and Henderson, V.L. (1989) The Carl Rogers Reader. London: Constable.
Mearns, D. and Thorne, B. (1988) Person-Centred Counselling in Action. London: Sage.
Mearns, D. and Thorne, B. (2000) Person-Centred Therapy Today. London: Sage.
Merry, T. (2000) Person Centred Practice, 8 (1). Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Proctor, G. (2002) The Dynamics of Power in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Ethics, Politics and Practice. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Redfield, J. (1997) The Celestine Prophecy. New York: Warner Books.
Rogers, C. (1951) Client-Centred Therapy. London: Constable.
Rogers, C. (1961) This Is Me. In H. Kirschenbaum, V.L. Henderson (1989) The Carl Rogers Reader. London: Constable, pp. 6-29.
Thorne, B. (2002) The Mystical Power of Person-Centred Therapy: Hope Beyond Despair. London: Whurr.
Tudor, K. and Worrall M. (1994) British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Vol.22 No.2

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