Therapy as a learning experience for both client and therapist


Every psychology placement teaches you something. While you expect to build your therapy and assessment skills, you might not anticipate the things you’ll learn about yourself. My first placement taught me that I love working with kids, that a 50+ hour work week is just not my calling, and that I’m a practical therapist; no one leaves my sessions without something concrete to use or work on. My second placement hasn’t stinted on personal insights either. For the first time, I’ve had the chance to work with adults and in the public sector. Along the way I’ve met many brave, kind and wise people; clients and practitioners alike, I’ve also learned about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (love it!), and visited hospitals, hostels and everywhere in between. But what have I learned about myself?:

1) I like freedom and autonomy – the ability to tailor therapy and assessment techniques to the client.

The individualised approach can be tricky to provide whether you are a psychologist in the private sector and limited by time and resources, or a psychologist in the public sector and expected to follow a particular assessment protocol. Regardless, I now recognise that I like the idea of individualised therapy and assessment, within my means. Why? One size does not fit all. That, and I like efficiency 😀

2) Sometimes psychologists get concerned, and that’s okay. 

At this point I may have thrown you.. Why is that okay? Aren’t psychologists supposed to be non-judgemental and accepting? How can you expect someone to talk to them about the tough stuff if they are worried or uneasy?  Well, bear with me because I agree. Psychologists should be open and non-judgemental so they can objectively understand and support their clients’ journeys. They also need to make sure that the biases and feelings that come along with being human don’t interfere with their work. BUT, at the same time they need to respect that some feelings, such as a sense of unease, might be an important signal that something is not as it should be; that the client, someone they know or even the psychologist themselves, may be at risk. This information can then be used to prompt further assessment to understand what is going on and to develop a plan to keep everyone safe. So in a nutshell, I learned that objectivity as a psychologist isn’t so black and white, it’s a balancing act of being accepting and non-judgemental while not entirely dismissing your own reactions insofar as they are helpful to therapy.

3) I’m a specialist, not a generalist.

The fact that I’m doing a PhD and therefore learning a lot about a teeny tiny area should have made this revelation a no-brainer, but it was still a bit of a surprise. Having had the opportunity to try lots of different things has shown me that while I could work in other areas – I get the most enjoyment working in my specialty area. This certainly helps with narrowing down what I’d like to be doing next!

So it’s true what they say about therapy being collaborative because client and therapist are teachers and students alike. The therapist may bring a raft of tools to share, but the client also brings lived experience to the table which adds to and shapes this toolkit. And in the process of learning how best to use these techniques to address the issue at hand, the strengths, weaknesses and preferences of both client and therapist can be highlighted.

Who knows what lessons my next placement will lead me to!

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Filed under Clinical Phd, milestone, Reflections, Teaching

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