So, I wasn’t going to post this on here, my blog, because initially it felt too ‘business-like’ for here. But then I though more on it, and I thought how – actually – it is not especially business focussed. It is ‘me’ focussed. Because ‘me – I’ am my business nowadays. And that seeing as this blog is supposed to be about me and my thoughts and reflections – actually, maybe this is appropriate for here. Because this talks about a lot of the things that contributed to me reaching this point. So here it is;
Why did you want to become a psychotherapist?
I have always wanted a career in mental health. Ever since I can remember, as a child, I knew that mental health was fundamental to leading a happy and fulfilled life, and understood that it was poorly understood and accepted by the world at large.
My own family was deeply affected by this stigma, as my Grandmother was very unwell with what was then known as manic depression (nowadays would be called bipolar), and it seemed that nobody quite knew what was to be done for her. Sadly she lived a very unhappy life, never really receiving adequate treatment for her condition – in fact sometimes the treatments she was given made things massively worse for her. Due to the lack of understanding in her community, she opted for residential care (not wanting to bring shame or more upset to her family) and lived most of her life under the influence of very heavy drugs or sedating therapies as a result. ‘Care in the Community’ and wider understanding of conditions like hers only happened towards the end of her life, and unfortunately – although she was eventually given the opportunity to have more autonomy in her life, and care – it was probably too late for her. Sadly, by the time she died she was so deeply affected by the long term side effects of the treatments she had received, that her distress had spread through the whole family, and the sense of loss, anger and confusion that we all carried about her illness had a deep and long lasting impact on us all.
I always knew that one of the only ways I would be able to make sense of the tragedy surrounding her life was to try to understand it better, and to try to spread awareness and understanding about conditions like hers, and many other similar conditions.
I had an innate sense that self awareness, self compassion and self knowledge provided the clues to the happiness that we all search for in life, not only giving us the tools to deal with mental illness, but also the tools for emotional strength and ultimately, a better life for all of us. It always seemed strange to me that we, as a society, seemed to shy away from doing this, and regarded the process as a luxury only afforded when unwell, when we need ‘fixing’. It always made perfect sense to me that ‘prevention is better than cure’, that if we took the time to understand and truly be with ourselves more, we would be happier and healthier in every way.
How have studies help you in doing what you do today?
I started my working career many years ago in mental health nursing, and the nurse training, although wonderful, did not satisfy me, by going into enough depth about how we, human beings, work; Primarily as individuals, then as part of larger systems – families, communities, societies. I quickly realised that I need to go into more depth with my studies to learn about this stuff. I started off with an introductory course in counselling, just to give me a taste of what it involves. This was a short 6 week course run by my local college, which I loved, and confirmed for me that this was what I wanted to do. I immediately went on to do a further foundation year in the same subject.
Life then got in the way of my studies for a few years. My children were very young at the time, and making a living took priority. I worked in a variety of other jobs – all of which gave me valuable experience which I consider just as necessary to my counselling skills as the years spent in formal education. Understanding life, and living through the challenges and joys that it brings, are vital components in making a good therapist. Who wants to sit and talk to an academic who is out of touch with the realities of everyday life? Most people want a therapist who is warm, real and who ‘gets’ them.
I didn’t return to my studies until many years later (probably a good ten or eleven years after my initial foundation course) The reality of education is that it is an expensive business. Not just because it costs in course fees and materials, but in counselling training we have to commit to spending as much time working voluntarily in placements as we spend at college, we have to find time to do all of our written assignments and pay for our own personal therapy and supervision for our placement work too. This means that we can’t do as much paid work alongside our studies as we would ideally like to, and we have a substantial amount in the way of expenses. I didn’t find myself in a position where I was financially able to make this commitment for quite a long time, and when I did, I had to bite the bullet and accept that I was going to have to struggle whiles I did it – as did my poor family, who supported me!
When I returned, because of the long gap in my studies, I took a year long ‘refresher’ course at NVQ level 3 (A-Level equivalent) so that I felt back in the swing of things and confident about moving onto studying at a higher level. This was definitely the right thing for me to do, and I found it much easier to go on to do the further four years at HE level that are needed in order to practice as a therapist working privately.
The years of studying went by in a bit of blur, to be honest, as the training process is so intense and gruelling that my brain regards some of it as quite traumatic, and chooses to defend me against those memories. Many use the metaphor of ‘peeling an onion’ as a metaphor for the process, as it seems to keep going for ages, going deeper and deeper for such a long time before you get to the centre of things. My tutor always said it felt like taking her skin off and wandering around with her raw self exposed. I very much felt like that.
We studied psychological theory, but without the detachment that a more formal medical training offers – we experienced every aspect of what we learned. As I already mentioned, Counselling psychotherapy students go into their own personal therapy as soon as they begin training, so they are unpacking their own baggage and looking at it in conjunction with learning about how psychological concepts take different perspective. As a result we applied each and every concept to ourselves and our own lives, and we felt the impact each concept brought with it. It was painful, and messy, but necessary in order for us to have true empathy with our clients, and understand the weight and responsibility of the work we are undertaking.
The placement work was just as hard. Because of many cuts to health service budgets, a lot of services and organisation rely on counselling psychotherapy students volunteering their services, in order to run their counselling services affordably. As such, we found ourselves ‘at the sharp end’ of counselling, dealing with clients that were at crisis point, within services that were also close to crisis point. This is working in an environment where social factors make the therapy itself even more valuable, yet much harder to deliver effectively, due to financial and practical constraints. Being raw and sensitive to all sorts of feelings, emotions that have been brought up by the other side to our study, this felt particularly difficult at times, but it was also so incredibly rewarding and satisfying, and such a massive learning experience for me that even though it nearly broke me at times, I would not change one moment of it.
What kind of people come to you? You look young, so don’t some say you don’t have experience? Have you had such situations?
There is no stereotype for the type of person that comes to me. I see EVERYONE. People from all different walks of life, social background, profession, age, sexual orentation, gender, race – whatever! We, human beings, all have brains – therefore we all have mental health. Just like we all have physical health – in fact I hate the differentation between the two. Our brains are part of our bodies, are they not? Its health. Full stop. Health affects everyone.
As far as looking young goes – thank you for the compliment! The truth is that I am not as young as I look, and that is quite a flattering photo of me on my web site. Being a single mother in my forties… having run my own business previous to this, having faced my own demons… having dealt with major health issues myself… having relationships break down… dealt with grief and loss… understood the pressures of modern living… addiction… trauma… been part of a large family with a plethora of family issues going on, I do feel that I have lived enough to be qualified to listen. That said, my clients’ experiences are not mine. They are theirs, and I do not – would not ever patronise them with an idea that I know what it’s all about EVER. As a therapist, I want to experience my client’s experiences with them, alongside them – empathise with them, not sympathise. It is important to understand that although my own experiences shape who I am and help me to know how I came to understand that, my clients are their own autonomous beings, who I walk alongside in this process. My experience of the process can give me encouragement, hope perhaps – definitely faith in the counselling and psychotherapy process. But this process is theirs, wholly theirs, and I honour that and their strength and skill in being themselves and understanding that.
What methods do you approach in your sessions?
There are no rules, there is no format. Therapy is an organic process. I am led by the client, it is THEIR therapy. I work with whatever material the client brings in the room to me. Whatever they want to talk about. My theoretical training gives me a framework to refer to, and perhaps I may gently guide my client in a certain direction (often unconsciously) but my approach is primarily humanistic. This means that my emphasis and attention is given to the feelings in the room at that moment – we work with those. Sometimes, if I feel it is something that will be useful and useable for the client, I have exercise I can suggest. Very occasionally, I will make use of a worksheet, try an exercise of some kind, or issue ‘homework’ between sessions. But this is rare. Mostly I am ‘in the moment’ with my client, working with what that brings.
Are you a member of a professional body? Is there a code of practice that you follow?
I am proud to be a member of the BACP, the British Association For Counsellors and Psychotherapists, which gives us a strict code of practice to follow. Available here ; http://www.bacp.co.uk/ethical_framework/
At present it is not a legal requirement that counsellors and psychotherapists are regulated and governed, but I am wholly in favour of it becoming so. I believe that clients need to know that they are working with a fully qualified professional who is competent and continues to take responsibility for their standard of work in practice.
What are three things that you enjoy most about your job?
- It’s great to be with people. To meet all sorts of different people, to have meaningful relationships with such a diverse and interesting client base, is amazing. I feel privileged and honoured that people grace me with such intimacy and trust. I never, ever get over that. It is always a buzz. Even better, when they let me into their lives and hearts enough to have an impact on their world. Wow! A really special thing. I am very lucky.
- Actually, nothing comes close to number one. There are many other great things, about the employment conditions, the place I work, the pleasure of being my own boss, the interesting subject matter, the scope for continual learning, the research opportunities the job brings, the interesting CPD events I go to. All of these are great, but at the end of the day its all about people. I do this job (in fact I would call it a vocation, not just a job) because I love people, being with them, understanding them and hopefully, helping them live a better life, Its really what life is all about, isn’t it?
- Not doing that. 😉
This is also available to view at my website www.katrinamoorecounsellor.com