No eating near the portfolios! Handing in the baby

Our guest writer, Emily Brookes, is a soon-to-be-vivaed final year trainee counselling psychologist. Do feel free to check out our website for details of our clinical supervision register and our research support services!


handing_over_baby_smallMy proof reader really has done an excellent job. She’s changed things I wouldn’t even have thought of and as I read through her amendments I feel this sort of lovely distance from my narrative. I’m an observer yet deeply engaged with the text. It’s the same feeling I get when I do my final edit. I become submerged in the story of my research and instead of seeing words on a page, watch a film play in my head. It’s a marvellous experience.

Final formatting is not so enjoyable. Sodding Word! If I make even minor changes to something the tables in my document jump out of place. It takes me ages to put them back and when I do it turns out my page numbers have changed. Then I have to re-do my contents. Breathe, just breathe.

My study buddy, R, is having the same problem. We’ve developed a mantra – “it’s only minor amendments” which we use to soothe ourselves and mostly ignore the issues. The day before printing R rings me in a panic. She’s been on the phone to Staples who have quoted her over £200 to print two copies of her portfolio. Having just spent approximately £25,000 on the actual doctorate and considerably more if one counts personal therapy, travel expenses, membership to BPS, working for free, late fees at the library etc, this is definitely not happening. Eventually we go to the local church centre and get them done in black and white for about £20 each. (Colour bits are done on R’s home printer). Mini-win.

The thing is, in doing it this way we then have to check whether all the pages are in the correct order. It’s excruciating. I go to touch the first page but back off quickly, best go wash my hands, we don’t want smudges. I’m also really hungry (printed over my usual lunch-time) but there’s no way I’m having a bagel now and risking getting butter all over it. As well as page order I’m checking the formatting, and doing so whilst trying to ignore the content. There is no time (or energy) available to change anything major now so I’d rather just not see it. Ignorance is bliss.

R and I drag ourselves into Staples for binding (priced reasonably, unlike the printing). My hair is greasy and I’ve consumed nothing but coffee. The assistant gives us a compassionate and knowing smile yet R looks visibly distressed. She’s been making regular visits to the branch and secretly researching the staff. “We want Kate” she mouthes to me in a frazzled whisper from behind her hand. “She’s worked here for over 12 years”.

In my opinion binding is quite exciting. One can tell I’ve been a hermit for the past six months. It looks so posh with a card back and a cellophane cover. A teacher of mine once said to me “you can’t polish poop”. Well, if this were possible, Staples’ binding would do it. I want to open it again so badly but I resist. I don’t think I could handle finding a typo.

Travelling to Uni, R and I joke about our Portfolios, calling them “the babies”. Thankfully it’s not raining. We carry them wrapped in plastic bags, in a cardboard box. I’m quite convinced that a small bit of crumpling wouldn’t render major changes but let’s not tempt fate. I’m also starting to regret the “minor amendments” mantra.

As I hand my baby over to the admin staff I feel strange. I expected a wash of elation, hysteria perhaps, but actually I feel somewhat lost. Leaving the office I get that missing feeling like I’ve left something behind, and I keep looking over to see if R is carrying the theses box. For the next few days I still wake at night with text running through my head. The grip of anxiety continues to shake me in the morning, urging me to stop wasting time on non-essential sleep. What is this?! Just enjoy your freedom woman!

Interestingly I start to feel happier when I begin job-searching. It seems I can only feel comfortable if I have a picture in my head of what my future is going to look like. Ironic really since my thesis is about mindfulness!

Perhaps I need therapy.

Sigmund Freud Quotes

Grit Flow

Sigmund Freud
 
Sigmund Freud ( born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis. In 2001, Time Magazine referred to Freud as one of the most important thinkers of the last century. A 2006 Newsweek article called him “history’s most debunked doctor.”
 
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
 
“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”
 
 “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”
 
“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
 
“The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization.”
 
“The madman is a dreamer awake”
 
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come…

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Counselling Psychology is in the eye of the beholder

imageIt’s a very interesting discussion that has been stirred up, by Dr Russel Ayling and Emily Brookes, around the essence of the Counselling Psychologist: a discussion that seems to be lurking underneath the surface of most modules that I have attended as part of my Doctorate course, discussions with colleagues, conference material and even the pub after all this.  I don’t have a concrete answer myself; what I do have, however, is a different viewpoint, since I was introduced to this search for identity after I had already chosen to emigrate for this particular field. What I will try to do is to describe what Counselling Psychology means in a country not so far from here, and even more than that, what Counselling Psychology in the UK looks like when being advertised overseas.

I finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology in Greece, a country where higher education is largely free, and the few private colleges and universities that do exist, are not recognised at the same rank. This limits the need to brand different branches of Psychology and gives a solution to who is being called a Psychologist straight away: as long as you have graduated from one of the four (public) Psychology departments of the country, whose courses are four years long and include a clinical placement and a research project, you are a general Psychologist and eligible to be a member of the Greek Psychologists Association, with the accompanying license to practice. Graduates from private universities are Psychologists too, but have a much harder time getting licensed and usually require additional studies. I won’t go into the problems and shortcomings of this system, I’m just painting the picture.

It is at the point that you have graduated and are now a Psychologist, that the time comes to think about specialising. It’s not necessary, you could go on and practice as you are, but thankfully most graduates are looking for at least a Master’s degree, in order to gain further insight into the area of Psychology they are interested in. The options within the country are embarrassingly limited. Clinical Psychology is generally considered to be the applied branch of Psychology, where Psychopathology is discussed, you get to know what a Psychiatric hospital looks like and you are introduced to the almighty Psychiatrist. Psychology of Addictions is a big thing, and then you have Cognitive Psychology, almost synonymous with research, and Developmental/Educational Psychology where, even though there are no psychologist positions in schools in Greece, you learn all about why you would be quite useful there. Master’s degrees are again public and free, you pass exams to get in and courses last for two years, usually.  Counselling Psychology has appearedin the last decade or so, and there is a Master’s degree for it, which surprisingly has fees. There seems to be an international theme around Counselling Psychologists having to pay for a lot of things, but I’ll get back to that a bit later on.

The reason that I was initially drawn to Counselling Psychology was because of my experience of an introductory module in my last year of my degree. It was the only module that was practical and touched upon how Psychologists actually make a living and what day to day life as a Psychologist looks like. It discussed the different theories around the length of the session, private practice and boundaries; it introduced the notion of theory integration, and that it is OK – things tend to get quite purist in Greece. It felt like a fresh breath of air to my slightly suffocated mind, which was having a hard time imagining a future as only one thing and working in only one place. I was drawn to Clinical Psychology, I wanted to work with people, not with numbers on a page, not in schools (children are great but their teachers and parents… I don’t know), I had already been volunteering in drug addiction services for three years and was quickly getting over that too. But Clinical Psychology was too close to a rigid medical paradigm; medication is questionable in the best of cases in my opinion, and the infrastructure of mental health care in Greece is so limited that it felt like I would be sentencing myself to a path where I could bring very little change. I wanted options! And this is the point in my journey where the UK came into the picture.

I have always wanted to leave Greece, at least for some time, to live somewhere else, study somewhere else, and broaden my horizons. I had caught the Counselling psychology bug now, so I started research. From where I was, with the resources available to me at the time, it seemed like Counselling Psychology was an American concept: nice, neat and practical, and very focused on career evolution. The courses advertised and the articles I could find spoke about how Counselling Psychologists have all the things I admired: a focus on the client, a deep understanding of theory, a direct focus on practice and work with people, plus a multitude of employment opportunities. It really seemed like a unicorn for me; through one field you could have the option of teaching, doing research, private practice, work in mental health care, specialise in children, and so on. Since the US was too much of a reach, geographically and financially, I started looking at options in Europe.

I researched France, Spain and the UK, going by the languages that I already spoke, since I felt that starting a post-graduate degree without some comfort with the language would make things unnecessarily difficult. In France I found very little, most courses that would accept me were psychoanalytic in nature, which I loved, but it did not give the array of options I was craving. The system in Spain felt quite similar to the Greek one, and again, Counselling Psychology was not directly mentioned anywhere. I diverted my attention solely to the UK since I could find courses specifically named Counselling Psychology, plus I could see myself staying on, living and working there.

I emailed many institutions directly trying to gather information and found out that ‘Psychologist’ is a protected title in the UK and that not all people who deliver therapy are Psychologists. I also learned that a Masters won’t do me any good if I want to practice and that I need to try for a Doctorate if I want to be qualified. That was a bit of a blow, although to me it made much more sense than being qualified, as I was, after only four years and minimal practice.  In most course descriptions, the focus on the therapeutic relationship was highlighted, as well as the applied nature of this specialisation. Clinical Psychology, to the eyes of an outsider, seemed to be synonymous with the NHS and reserved only for British citizens and outstanding, already experienced practitioners. One Clinical course rejected me, saying I was very young as well. Counselling Psychology courses seemed much more eager to take me on, and I ended up choosing City University in London over another Counseling Psychology doctorate because of the emphasis on integration and inclusion of Psychoanalytic modules.

I will skip through the part of applying, interviewing and moving to the UK and will finish this train of thought by describing what I learned about Counselling Psychology in the UK that was different from what I thought it was.

1. Counselling (and Clinical) Psychologists are not the only ones who can have private practice or generally work directly with clients. Although this was very explicitly said to me when inquiring about which level of education to go into, the reality is far from it.

2. Counselling Psychologist trainees need to pay for a lot of things that other breeds don’t have to.  I won’t include therapy, because I believe everyone should pay for therapy while in training; I will include HCPC supervision though (some placements offer HCPC supervision, however most trainees will need to pay for it at some point) and travel expenses, and all placements being voluntary. This creates questions around the worth of Counselling Psychologists, both amongst other Psychologists and other professions as well.

3. The reason why there is so much discussion around identity and description of different roles in the UK is closely connected to the existence of different accreditation and regulation bodies, ssuch as HCPC, BACP, etc. This makes it necessary to define who does what and how someone can judge if what is being done is done properly.

4. Closely connected to the previous point, the education system in the UK is private, which means competitive. This fuels the need to advertise courses and to assure students that they will pay to become something that will give them work. To my eyes, the comparison between Clinical and Counselling Psychologists stems from the comparison of the equivalent training programmes and the fact that these two branches of psychology lead to a protected Psychologist title. Whilst in Greece you would become a Clinical Psychologist if you like Psychopathology, or a Counselling Psychologist if you like a bit of everything and want a well informed private practice; in the UK it has more to do with which course you were able to get into and how much you could afford to pay for your training.

I am very grateful to the London Counselling Psychologists blog, which inspired me to organise these thoughts that I’ve been having for a long time, even though I have over-simplified some concepts in my attempt to bring them together. I don’t know if my reflections will be useful to anyone else; I hope they will be, but I am now intrigued to figure things out for myself, read, think, discuss, enquire and be more aware.  To be continued…

Cornelia Givissi is a final year Trainee Counselling Psychologist at City University

What do Counselling Psychologists do?

imageAs Russel Ayling published his blog post on branding last week I was experiencing some of the issues he speaks about in situ. I was trying to explain to a friend newly embarking on her clinical training what it is that counselling psychologists actually do. The conversation had come about when she told me that a previous colleague of hers had said he had never met a CoP who could clearly explain what they did.

My initial response to this statement was anger. However, I then proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes waffling to my friend in an attempt to succinctly explain the CoP practice. I grudgingly realised that had this chap been speaking to me, he would have had a point. Afterwards it dawned on me that perhaps I find our work so hard to describe because it is so complex. In a nutshell we could say that we are “psychologists who specialise in the therapeutic encounter”. Then again, as highlighted in Russel’s blog and by those who wrote responses to it, other practitioners could say that too.

We know that it is important for us to be able to communicate what it is that we do. Others have published their understandings and in my opinion, an excellent example is Martin Milton’s (2010) book “Therapy and Beyond”. For my personal peace of mind I felt like I needed to compile my own succinct list. I wanted something I could direct people to so that when again in a situation where somebody says “so what does a counselling psychologist do” I can say “well it is rather complex. Why don’t you take a look at this blog”. Thus, heavily influenced by Milton (2010) and those who contributed to the book, the following details what I have come to understand as the CoP way.

(Disclaimer! As highlighted by Russel, it is often hard to work out the difference between our work and the work of those who have undergone clinical training. Indeed, it seems to me that in practice we share much of what we do with many other practitioners. The following is therefore not a case of “we do this and no-one else does”, rather a pulling together of what it is that we do do, regardless of other professions).

1. We are pluralistic at heart.
In light of the pluralistic philosophy, the idea that no superior truth exists, the CoP is known to work flexibly, moulding their approach to the client in-front of them. In my mind this connects to Rogers’ (1957) work and begets the question, what is necessary and sufficient for change in this situation? What do we need to provide for this person in order for them to move forward?

2. We focus on building the relationship.
It has long been established that the quality of relationship between therapist and client is particularly influential upon client outcome (e.g. Lambert and Simon, 2008). The factors which embody a quality relationship are far beyond the scope of this humble blog post however. It may be useful to note that literature suggests there are some commonalities across models (e.g. empathy) and also possible divergences (e.g. strict time boundaries). One poignant paper to consider might again be Rogers (1957) who details what he believed a quality therapeutic relationship would look like.

3. We use the relationship to effect change.
How the therapist uses the relationship to effect change is again a volume within itself. Perhaps this is where the CoPs’ focus on process occurs as we use what is happening between ourselves and our client to what we hope is the client’s best advantage. Practitioners using different models appear to use process in different ways or under different conceptual frameworks. For example, the person-centred therapist might utilise process identification and direction to help the client find answers for themselves (see Rennie, 1998). The psychodynamic practitioner might harness transference interpretations, asking how what is going on in the therapy room might be representative of the client’s patterns in the outside world, and thus making the unconscious conscious (Jacobs, 2010).

We can see here why reflection, often in the form of personal therapy, is important as in using process we are not just analysing the client but ourselves and our contribution to the relationship also.

4. We pay homage to context, and navigate this in the therapy room.
Context can refer to any part of the backdrop to what is happening between one and one’s client. In a sense, context is the elephant in the room. It can refer to economics, race-relations, the legal system, feminism, etc. As CoPs we work with these discourses. For example, perhaps we work at a more surface level with a traumatised client if our service only offers 6 sessions, and then refer them on for longer-term work. Perhaps we spend time explaining to a client looking for a quick fix that therapy isn’t the talking equivalent of a pill.

5. We use research to inform our practice.
Point number 5 is what it says on the tin really. As CoPs we are not just clinicians but researchers also. We (hopefully) keep up-to-date with the latest research and use this to guide our sessions. We ask ourselves, what do we know about mechanisms of change generally? What has been found to elicit change for those with similar demographics to our client? How have others with similar problems been known to recover?

As mentioned earlier, I believe our profession is complex, multifaceted, and difficult to describe. The above is a crude shortening of the nuances of what we do. I guess to do justice to our profession like Milton (2010), I’d need the space of a book. However, writing the above has helped me translate my practice into ‘not so many’ words, and I hope will be useful for others also.

 

References

Jacobs, M. (2010). Psychodynamic counselling in action (Fourth ed.). London: Sage.
Lambert, M. J., & Simon, W. (2008). The therapeutic relationship: Central and essential in psychotherapy outcome. In S. F. Hick, & T. Bien (Eds.), Mindfulness and the therapeutic relationship (pp. 19-33). United States of America: The Guilford Press.

Milton, M. (Ed.). (2010). Therapy and beyond: Counselling psychology contributions to therapeutic and social issues (First ed.). United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.

Rennie, D. L. (1998). Process identification and process direction. In D. L. Rennie (Ed.), Person-centred counselling: An experiential approach (pp. 71-88).

Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(2), 95-103.

 

Our guest writer Emily Brookes is a final year trainee counselling psychologist. Do feel free to check out our website for details of our clinical supervision register!

Branding counselling psychologists!

imageMedics often brand themselves as illness specialists: we suffer because we’re ill; a bit of us is broken, we’ll fix that by cutting something off or adding a pill; if you’re lucky, you’ll be cured. I polarise, of course, and many medics such as Joanna Moncrieff and David Zigmond (see his blog post in the BMJ) are highly attentive to these issues.  Psychologists often take a critical approach too these days, rejecting such reductionism and fundamentalism in favour of context and the biopsychosocial. This proves problematic in the NHS though, a system where patients and other professionals are socialised to demand of the psychologist ‘what’s wrong with me?’ and ‘how are you going to make it better?’

While my career has led me to become a trainer in counselling psychology, my training was in clinical psychology. My colleagues and I had rarely encountered counselling psychologists, apart from the occasional supervisor or office mate on placement. It seemed hard to work out the difference between us. The best we could come up with where the observables: we got paid to train, did psychometrics and CBT and finished in three years. They worked for free, had mandatory therapy, did counselling and seemed to take ages to qualify. After training though, they seemed to do the same as us.

Counselling psychologists that I supervise tell me that image is a problem. They feel subordinate, misunderstood, and out of place. When I ask ‘what makes you unique as a counselling psychologist?’ they either don’t know or say the same things that I say as a clinical psychologist. I have the same problem, I say. I am a clinical psychologist, training as a psychoanalyst. I tried to bring these together by working as a trainer in counselling psychology. It just got messier!

Clinical psychologists were once specialists in brains and behaviour: their branding was as psychometricians and behaviour modifiers. Hardly surprising given the profession was born alongside psychiatrists in the asylum, where assessment and evaluation, categorisation and medical intervention was the order of the day. Not for nothing did we attract the label of ‘handmaidens if psychiatry’. When the training became doctoral, clinical psychologists labelled up as experts in mental health research. Where to go with once there are no asylums; behaviour and other therapy is routinely carried out by inexperienced, barely trained, cheaper graduates; and psychological research is only permitted if it confirms with the ‘evidence base’. Other forms of therapy, particular those dealing with the complexities of human relationships and their, often unconscious, underlying processes, are treated with suspicion and contempt.

So what place for the counselling psychologist in this? What is its brand? Not medicine. Counselling? Counsellors do that. Psychological therapy? Clinical psychologists do that. Research? Not many counselling psychologists are really into that (see my post on this). Pluralism? Clinical psychologists. Relational approach? Psychoanalysts. Humanism? Counsellors. A mix of them all? Fine, but eclecticism really isn’t in vogue. Where’s the evidence for it? …

In her article in the New York Times, Lori Gottlieb discusses ‘branding’ herself to generate referrals to her practice. Do counselling psychologists need to do the same? More importantly, can they? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments; and if you want supervision on these issues, get in touch!

Dr Russel Ayling
http://www.russelayling.co.uk

 

Letting go of ‘letting go’

let goI was reading a book on the train this morning about Kleinian psychotherapy*. The book contains case studies by various Kleinian psychotherapists and in this particular case I was reading, one therapist wrote that her patient’s way of being ‘was not something he was about to give up’.
 
I frequently come across terms like ‘give up’, ‘relinquish’ and ‘let go of’ when reading material about ways to achieve psychic change, mostly from a psychoanalytic perspective, terms that seem to be distant relatives of ‘change’. Never really questioning their meaning, they’ve indeed become part of my therapeutic vernacular with clients but they’re invariably met with the question ‘how do I do that?’ From a psychoanalytic perspective this question could be interpreted in a number of ways, but it still has the potential to leave me stymied. I too find myself wanting to know about the how. How do we ‘let go’ of defences, ‘give up’ unhelpful patterns of behaviour, ‘relinquish’ ways of being that are problematic? Is it conscious? If it were then surely the task would be fairly straightforward. If it’s unconscious (which is more likely), do we have any say in the matter? In a parallel process I find myself wanting to know the answer to this question, just like clients might do.
 
The more I’ve tried to find an answer, understand it, explain it (to myself and clients), the more I’ve gotten myself caught up in a semantic minefield, never really achieving a satisfactory resolve. Halfway through my train journey this morning, I finally found comfort in reminding myself of the unconscious; that it’s not for us to know. Therefore, if ‘change’ occurs on an unconscious level, can we ever really know how it occurs, how we give some things up or let go of others? Perhaps we’re not supposed to.
 
With that in mind, perhaps my unconscious will let go of my semantic battle. I shall have to wait and see.
 
* Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in the Kleinian Tradition edited by Stanley Ruszczynski & Sue Johnson
 

Is it a word? It sounds like a word! The final stages of writing-up

WordsI’m in the final stages of writing-up my thesis. More accurately, I’m swirling round the dark abyss that is thesis-prison. I’ve dropped so far down the rabbit-hole that I’ve turned to creative writing as a break from the research. It’s like doing anything too different would have disastrous consequences. I’d be coming up to the surface too quickly. My lungs would burst.

My study buddy – R – and I frequently look up from our laptops with an expression of genuine puzzlement and say “is this a sentence?” I put it in anyway. Surely the proof-reader should pick up on that.

Today I’ve been editing my Methodology. I’m trying to walk the fine line of ‘reflexive vs professional’. I thought I’d been pretty careful throughout but a quick ‘control and F’ tells me there are no less than one-hundred and forty-four ‘I’s in the chapter. One-hundred and forty-four! Come on now.

Driving home tonight I experienced a genuine thrill of excitement when deciding to take a different route. It’s no shorter or longer, just a different stretch of road. Not prettier or faster, just not the same. I start fantasising about a holiday.

Lovely and supportive friends and acquaintances ask me how many words I’ve written. How many words? Are they kidding? Rather than smiling and replying with a number I feel the need to tell them why their question is flawed. The amount of words one writes is not an indicator of how much work one is doing or has left to do. I repeatedly say to people, “it’s the work behind the words that takes the time, not the words themselves”. At this point I’ve probably written about ten theses, you know, if words are what we are going off.

There seems to be a trend emerging in myself and my other thesis-writing friends. We start off with high expectations. We don’t want to change the world or anything, we’re not disillusioned, but we want to do justice to our participants’ accounts. At first we agonise over discarding each emergent theme. We spend ages asking of the transcript “but what does it mean” and changing our minds over and over again. Eventually the extract gets coded under numerous headings, we’ll decide later. Then, as time goes on, we start getting ruthless. We can’t put in everything can we? As we discard more we get almost sneaky, the examiners will never know what is not included. Eventually every decision is made based on the statement “I just want it done”.

At first qualifying was the absolute win. Qualifying and actually being a psychologist was coveted more than a free therapy session with Irvin Yalom. And being paid! Being paid! How nice to finally be paid! But now it’s so close I can almost smell it and I’m getting a bit scared. I’m not sure I want to be a psychologist. I do, of course, but I’m not sure I want to actually get a job and have the responsibility of a fully-fledged professional. It all sounds like an awful lot of effort and at this point I’m eating soup every day, purely because it requires less energy. R is hooked on Peanut-Butter. R hasn’t been seeing clients whilst she writes up her research. She confesses to me she’s a bit nervous about getting a job and having to ‘do’ therapy again. “Maybe I’ll just watch some episodes of In Treatment” she says, “you know, to brush up”.

Heidegger said that death imposes the concept of time on individuals. It’s no longer death that measures time for me, it is deadline. Each day is another day towards deadline. My supervisor has gone on holiday in August. This is pre-deadline. This is unacceptable. A friend is getting married in September. This is also pre-deadline. This is also unacceptable.

I’m way past the luxury of procrastination. Oh for the days when a ‘break’ consisted of catching up on last night’s Made In Chelsea. This show is truly awful and surprisingly fabulous in equal measures. One does not have to think, one does not have to engage. One is simply entertained.

Last night I started contemplating taking some time off after hand-in. I’m definitely going on holiday. I’m also going to have a lie-in. I might get a dog. And, when I do get a job there will (hopefully) be evenings, and weekends, and the holy grail of annual leave. I’m going to get my hair done. I might even get a tattoo.  

Not long now.

Emily Brookes is a final year trainee counselling psychologist. We’d love her to write more for us; Like, Comment and Follow if you would too!  And visit our website for details of our research support services!

Mazes and labyrinths as archetypes of humanity

:: Culture Decanted ::

Why are we still a-maze-d by labyrinths?

With a diverse range of permutations, the Maze is a symbol that has been with humanity since the pre-historic era. So pervasive is the labyrinth within human symbolic communication, it is impossible to think of a human era where it was not a deep structural metaphor that has guided human thought.

Why talk about Labyrinths? My response is a semiotic one; there appears to be a juxtaposition of the meaning behind the symbolism that is being expressed across postmodern culture. I’m interested in how the meaning of this symbol is changing and why? The labyrinth and maze appear to be experiencing a resurgent popularity; it’s interesting to explore what is driving this engagement.

A modern renaissance of the Labyrinth?

Only a couple of months ago, Robert Morris unveiled his new triangular labyrinth. A very postmodern take on the Labyrinth where the confusion…

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Sadism, masochism and the DCoP conference

BDSM_collar_backOn 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