Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Self-Appraisal: 2007

Entry for 16 June 2007:

Last week in supervision, I rashly promised my students that I would present my self-appraisal this week at our last supervision session. After all, the culminating process on Strathclyde's Person-Centred Counselling Postgraduate Diploma course is the student's self-appraisal, and last week I learned that some of the other tutors present their self-appraisal in the last supervision session. Unfortunately, with my immersion in various things, including my SPR preparations, I forgot until right before the supervision session was set to start. As a result, I winged it in a rather disorganized fashion.

However, the idea of tutors/teachers also engaging in the something like the process we ask our student to do seems to me to be fundamentally sound. So, I decided I should take the idea seriously if belatedly and do a proper self-appraisal.

The first question is: What am I appraising? If I were to appraise my development as a therapist over the past year, I wouldn’t have much to say, because I haven’t seen a client since last June. I have treated the past year as I did my two foreign sabbaticals (England & Canada), during which I took a sabbatical from doing therapy also. In retrospect, this was useful, and kept me from burning out as a therapist. Now, however, it is time for me to get back to seeing clients, and I am looking forward to doing so in a few weeks, when we start seeing clients through the research clinic.

But what I am really interested in appraising is my work as a therapy/counselling trainer, since that’s much of what I’ve been doing since I arrived last September, and also that is what is most relevant to the Diploma course. So: What are my current strengths and weaknesses as a trainer? How have I progressed? What do I need to work on in order to be a better trainer?

My Strengths as a Trainer:

1. It is great to be able to draw on years of experience with clients and students, without being cynical or jaded, or too full of myself. When it comes to training, I’ve been thinking about training issues for a long time, and quite systematically for more than 10 years.
2. I genuinely like my students, and take pleasure their varied life experiences and interests.
3. I’ve found that gentle, often self-deprecating humor goes a long way toward helping students learn productively within their vulnerability. It also helps that I am genuinely enjoying what I do here!
4. What it comes down to for me is that I love the training process and find myself drawn to it as a way of giving myself.

My Weaknesses as a Trainer:
1. I consistently try to put too much into my presentations. While it is true that I fear boring people by dwelling on the obvious, I often err in the other direction, leaving my audience behind (which is boring for them also!). I’ve tried to follow the discipline – which I’ve seen most clearly in John McLeod’s presentations -- of presenting only as much information as I can get onto 2 sides of an A4 sheet. But I have found this quite difficult. There is some obsessive, show-offy bit in me that wants to keep squeezing more material in.
2. I have overloaded myself with so much activity here that it is difficult to balance everything. At times, this affects the quality of my presentations and other training work, as when I don’t allow myself enough time to prepare adequately or when I come in tired because I didn’t allow myself enough sleep.
3. I am aware of the importance of live, experiential elements in my presentations, but don’t always follow my own advice. For example, I played almost no video examples for the EFT-2 training, and my research inputs for the Diploma course were at times drier than they needed to be.
4. I feel somewhat insecure about my expertise as a therapist, which has made running the EFT Level 2 training this past year challenging for me, given that most of the therapists are highly experienced. I kept wondering, what do I have to offer these interested, talented people?

Progress this Year (also more weaknesses...):
1. I am far more at home with what I am doing on the diploma course. When I arrived, most of the training practices were strange to me. Not totally alien, but consistently off from what I was used to. And most of the things that I thought I recognized turned out to not be the same either, which heightened my confusion. Now at least I am somewhat oriented. Now I am looking forward to the coming year to see about all the things that were so weird that I didn’t even notice them this year!

2. I did read a fair amount of the documentation on the Diploma course before I arrived, but I found it abstract, and difficult to relate to and retain. As a result, I didn’t feel particularly engaged and a lot of things went past me: I missed meetings whose significance wasn’t clear to me. I was gone for a week of the intensive part of the training. I got mixed up about the times and didn't show up for a supervision meeting (I had to be phoned at home and came rushing, very embarrassed a half hour late). I was late getting student papers graded. I assumed that I would switch supervisees each term, until that didn’t happen. Most comically, it took me 4 months to realize that I wasn’t my students’ only supervisor, and I didn’t know there were three terms or a spring break/Easter holiday until these things happened to me!

Whenever one of these things happened, there was some disorganization that followed, and as a result, I learned what is important here. This was difficult for all involved, but it gradually grounded me in the important aspects of the Diploma course. This is some version of the truth that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes!

3. The students here are different enough from those that I was used to working with in the USA that it has taken me a while to get a sense of them. Few of them have backgrounds in psychology, and most are not particularly interested in research; they're not even socialized to pretend that they are interested in research! They remind me more of the older, nontraditional graduate students that we used to get at the University of Toledo 20 years ago. They are a wildly varied bunch, actually, in terms of the academic and personal backgrounds, which has been a challenge for me, because it’s harder to figure out how to gear my presentations. My standard strategy of offering dense, challenging presentations, which has served me well for so long, often falls flat in this context, requiring me to be more flexible as a teacher. I have made some headway in this direction, but I see now that I will need to continue to be creative in what and how I teach.

4. Although I still occasionally get carried away with myself, I have learned how to find a balance between being able to draw on my own experience and giving my supervisees space to use their own developing therapeutic wisdom. It is a real pleasure to see this wisdom emerging in them; I love to listen to them helping each other!

5. In the EFT-2 training, by the end of the course I had finally arrived at the point where I felt comfortable with what I have to offer. While it would have been nice to have started at that point, it felt very nice to have reached this sense of really having something useful to offer, and it gives me a really good base on which to build for next year.

6. I am becoming much more comfortable with unstructured large groups, including Weird Sh*t processes, especially anger expression in group contexts. At my last job, such processes became extremely toxic, and over the past couple of years I have developed a mild phobia of them. I believe that I am now regaining my ability to hold such processes productively. (Incidentally, WS has now been picked up by this year's fulltime diploma students and become part of the culture.)

My Goals for the Next Year:
1. Start seeing clients in our research clinic protocols.
2. Organize all my diploma presentations with video examples or experiential work.
3. Learn more about large group processes.
4. Start making serious proposals for helping the diploma course continue to evolve.
5. Make sure that I continue to enjoy myself!

Yesterday, at the large Large Group of the Full Time Diploma course, I was asked if I felt ready to take the diploma. For me, this translates to, Do I now feel reasonably competent to facilitate my students’ learning in this new context. In retrospect, I see that in many ways I was not completely competent to do this over the past year. Fortunately, I was able to get by with a lot of help from my friends on the course team and elsewhere in the Counselling Unit. However, I now feel ready to function effectively as a trainer here, so yes, in fact, I do feel ready to “take the diploma”!


Sandy said...

Hi Robert

I was really touched at the effort you obviously went to in order to work on this Self-Appraisal. You have really put alot of thought into it. It seems at times you really do yourself down and are very hard on yourself. There are elements however that I can identify with. I get the feeling some of the time like the cultural differences which you are still experiencing seem maybe in some way painful to you? You certainly seem acutely aware of them as you make much reference to them. I wonder sometimes if you were to make less reference to them perhaps they would be less noticable by others and maybe even yourself? Regardless I just felt it important to re-iterate exactly how much I have appreciated our year together and would very much like to continue that contact. Warm wishes, Sandy

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