Sunday, October 22, 2006

Teaching on the Fulltime Person-Centred Counselling Diploma Course: Intensive Training week; Skill training format; A Process-experiential slant

Entry for 21 October 21, 2006, Saturday afternoon, on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit:

1. Intensive training week. It has been a stressful week, first getting ready to start teaching last Monday, then leading long Skill Training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon I learned that the SCL-90-R test publisher has refused to let us use the abbreviated/paraphrased versions of the test items for our in-press article in Psychological Assessment, requiring immediate action on my part. But Thursday was the worst: I did supervision 10am – 3pm, time-shared double-scheduled meetings 3-5 pm, then went to the MSc course meeting 5 – 8pm. Finally, we had an all-day Research Steering Committee meeting on Friday, after which Diane and I spent 4 hours rewriting SCL-90-R items and packing for our trip back to the US. No wonder I’m exhausted! I figure I spent roughly 18 hours in face-to-face teaching this week, roughly 10% of what I’m supposed to contribute for the entire year! Thankfully, we are in the intensive phase of the training, 5 weeks during which the students come 5 days a week, 10 am – 3:30pm. In early November, we shift over to the regular 3-day per week schedule, which will be less gruelling for everyone.

2. The Skill Training format. I have been meaning to write about my experiences in skill training ever since it started 10 days ago. I have now worked with most of the fulltime course students in this format, which is so much more expansive and intensive than anything I was ever able to do at Toledo. Here at Strathclyde, a skill training session typically runs a full training day, 2.5 hours in the morning, with an hour for lunch, followed by another 2 hours in the afternoon. The class is divided up into 4 groups of 6-8 students each, each with a tutor assigned to it (the tutors rotate through the groups each day). Each training group is then divided up into two smaller groups of 3 – 4 each. One of the main purposes of skill training here is to generate recordings for use in supervision over the next couple of weeks, so one group typically uses audiorecorders while the other uses portable video equipment to record with. The first day of this (week before last) was a disaster recording-wise, but after concerted efforts the teaching staff was able to get their act together.

The students take turns doing 15 min sessions in client and counsellor role, then they give the counsellor feedback. This means that everyone pays very close attention; the observers feel pressured to perform almost as much as the counsellors. I was very impressed with the quality and sometimes quite direct nature of the feedback. If the counsellor messed up, the client and the observers told them this, in a kind but clear manner. But in general, the counsellors did a very nice job, probably due to a combination of prior training and natural interest/skill.

I found this structure to be spacious and effective. I could see the students I observed changing over the course of the day. I could see their commitment to the learning process and to their development as counsellors.

3. A Process-experiential slant to the training. Although I was impressed with the structure and how well it was working for the students, naturally, I began fiddling with the structure. First, I started asking the students what they wanted to work on in their skill training. This of course comes from the way I do training in Process-Experiential therapy, where we are almost always practicing something specific. Here, the students often said that they just wanted feedback. Second, I proposed to the students that feedback begin with the client, privileging the clients as observers of the therapeutic process. The combination of client and observer feedback appears to be particularly powerful for influencing the counsellor; I think that it is harder to dismiss feedback from two people than from one. Finally, I instituted general processing at the end of the day, so the students could share what they had learned that day (this is also a practice that I use in PE-EFT training). All of this seemed to focus the training somewhat more than might have been the case otherwise.

What I have discovered from by these first efforts on the fulltime training course is that it is impossible for me not to train them in Process-Experiential/ Emotion-Focused work. I can say, here is what you do in classical Person-Centred counselling, but I naturally see things in terms of empathic conjectures, evocative empathy, exploratory reflections, and task markers, so that’s what comes out. I feel a bit weird about this, as if I am somehow doing something that I am not actually supposed to do (although this has never been spelled out to me), but there it is, PE/EFT is how I see the therapy process. The students seemed to really enjoy it, at least I got strongly positive feedback from them, which felt great, especially given how strenuous the week has been.

4. In my end is my beginning. So here I am, doing what I have come here to do, and it is stressful, gruelling, challenging, often confusing and overwhelming. But at the same time, it is a blast! I was warned that I might be disappointed in the students, but on the contrary I have been very impressed with them. Actually, I think that the staff sometimes underrates the students. (Perhaps they are closer to the difficulties and the problem students loom larger in their experience.) But I really enjoy working with them, and I feel that I am making a useful contribution. More than that, I feel that, working with the other staff, whom I admire greatly, I am beginning to facilitate a shift in the Fulltime course and in the Counselling Unit as a whole, and that it is just possible that I may come close to fulfilling at least some of the great expectations that I have felt under the weight of since I accepted the job here. Especially after the Research Steering Committee meeting yesterday, I can begin to see our way forward as a group, both in our own course and also in the larger context of counselling and psychotherapy training in Scotland and the UK. This is what we have left America to do, and why we are enduring all the dislocation, chaos, lost productivity, financial complications, friends and family left behind. There’s a line in T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets that captures this moment, something like, “Being here, in my beginning.”

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