On reflection, I am not sure why I had left it until my final stages of training to attend the Divisional conference. I am a final year trainee at City University, and after taking a couple of year’s maternity leave, I came back to the course to finish writing up my research. Having been “out of the loop” and having completed the teaching components, I thought it would be good exposure for me to jump right into the deep end and submit an abstract for a poster. So, hesitantly, a couple of months ago, I submitted an abstract and applied for a bursary. How difficult could it be? It was a very easy process and before I knew it, I was en route to the two day conference, armed with what could only be described as an evocative poster. Not only was I nervous about having my work displayed in a public arena, but the area of my research which is looking at how ‘Trainees discursively construct Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism’, is an area very under researched in Counselling Psychology and one which receives a mixture of responses. However, I felt proud that I had compiled something eye catching and it was my chance to uncover an area that needs talking about!
The opening talk was conducted by Paul Gilbert, whom I had seen speak at the Psychotherapy section conference, some years ago. Like I remembered him, he was an impressive speaker and delivered his talk smoothly with humour and genuine compassion for the clients he has worked with. Whilst, I was sat there listening to his advice on the power of self-criticism and the power of self-kindness, I noticed there was an error in the programme with the content of my abstract. My initial reaction was to feel embarrassed and frustrated with myself, but I soon turned that around and listened to the wise words which were being spoken and said to myself ‘Well done Sarah for making yourself come to this conference and also displaying a poster, you should be proud of yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have noticed an error, these things happen!’ It reminded me that as professionals we are human and we have our anxieties, which we will need to continue to work on throughout our career.
Over the course of the two days, there were a number of interesting and innovative workshops offered by qualified Counselling Psychologist, as well as trainees presenting their research, of which I will reflect on a few. On the first day, I attended Julia Hutchinson’s workshop on ‘Mindfulness and Parenting’. This was not only relevant as a Psychologist, but as a mother. It was incredibly thought provoking and reminded me of the value of being present, being available and being attuned to our children’s needs and our reactions amongst the daily stresses faced by many of our clients and ourselves.
After a sumptuous lunch, put on by ETC venues, I attended the afternoon symposium ‘Giving Psychology Away’, presented by Fiona Bailey, Ronald Harper and Elizabeth Kilman. This focussed on the importance of Psychology in the prison service and how the aforementioned Counselling Psychologists have delivered Psychology within HMP Whatton, HMP Bronzefield and a medium secure inpatient ward. I was surprised this talk wasn’t full, because it was fantastic. It highlighted the possibilities Counselling Psychologists have but need to grow within the prison service. It focussed on the importance of using Psychology not only for offenders, but for the prison officers who work with them day in and day out. They highlighted the value of being able to give the prison officers a space to reflect on very difficult prisoners and their own struggles with their job which would hopefully enable them to make better informed decisions in response to the recurrently self harming client. It also struck me how through the use of formulation we can start to formulate what might be going on for staff members in these environments and how we can offer Psychology to help educate, inform and empower those who feel stressed, apathetic and uninterested in those who commit crimes. There was so much more I could have said about this talk, but it definitely left me feeling inspired and wanting to know more about what I might potentially be able to do within a forensic setting at some point in my career.
I attended a lively and invigorating talk by Laura Cutts on ‘Counselling Psychology and Social Justice’. This certainly got people talking and raised issues of politics, integrity, and what Social Justice actually meant. One thing I actually came away with was how we could indeed implement Counselling Psychology at more of a grass roots and community level. This was something that was encouraged in my training, and it reemphasised the importance of thinking laterally and how we could best use our skills to implement social change and inform policy.
Both the public lecture on the Friday, delivered by Professor Tanya Byron and the Keynote piece delivered on the Saturday by Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins were exceptional. As a female and a mother, it was fantastic to have two women deliver very articulate and passionate talks from the hearts of a mother. Through Tanya’s very honest and witty account of Building Kids for the 21st Century – A Biopsychosocial Perspective, she was sharp, informative, passionate and able to share the many ironies she faced having written, as a professional, many ‘how to cope with…’ manuals only to find herself struggling, as a mother, with temper tantrums and sleepless nights and not having a clue! Her speech reinforced the importance of allowing children to be children in an ever ‘risk averse keeping up with the next doors children’ society. Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins’ speech was incredibly heartfelt and humble. It was one of the most connecting experiences I had felt across the two days. She reminded us of the importance of challenging our own preconceived ideas about client groups, in this case, working with learning disabilities, and that Psychotherapy is not just a talking therapy but a way of communicating, which can be done in many creative ways.
On both days, I came home feeling incredibly passionate and alive. The conference certainly did the three things on the tin that it said it would deliver ‘Inspiration, Innovation and Impact’. As a soon to be qualified Counselling Psychologist I feel excited about the opportunities that are out there. I am not naive to the continued discussions that arise from the recent letters that have been written in The Psychologist about the future of Counselling Psychology in the NHS. Nor am I naive in assuming that anything comes easy in life. I think all of us undertaking this training realise just how much work you have to put into it to come out the other end. However, what this conference did inspire me to do was to continue to be creative, to take risks, to get involved and to use our training to inform social policy and social change and to think laterally. There is a lot that can be done with Counselling Psychology inside and outside the clinic room as well as inside and outside of the NHS and at a community level. But it is at conferences like this that you get to start talking and networking with similar minded people.
My poster was received well and it gave me an opportunity to articulate some of my thoughts around the subject of BDSM and was good practice ahead of viva. It also gave me an opportunity to network with other Counselling Psychologists to share ideas. A couple of people had kindly pointed me in the direction of some useful material, and I was even able to do the same for someone having read something relevant to their topic a few days before. I felt like part of a profession, and the buzz that I got being able to network with some like minded people was very inspirational. At the end of the last day, I was approached by one of the Chairs who had noticed my research and suggested I should consider presenting it as a paper at next year’s conference. So, hopefully next year, I can come back a Dr and do just that.
For anyone reading this with doubts about attending the conference, I would say just do it! The bursary option is a fantastic chance to be able to attend something worthwhile with little financial expense other than your travel costs and you can always find time to design a poster!
Sarah Cannon-Gibbs is a final year trainee Counselling Psychologist at City University
Find her on Twitter @SCannonGibbs