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Personal Counselling for Counsellors

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"All these personal counselling/therapy requirements for counsellors in training encourage selfish introspection. Counsellors are there to help others, and if they need counselling themselves, they should not be in the job." Discuss with reference to your own experience and beliefs and to counselling literature.

This statement is a criticism of the demand made by many training providers for their students to enter into personal therapy during their period of training. It also questions the suitability of practicing counsellors who have a need to attend therapy themselves.

This essay will identify the past and current requirements for personal therapy during training of the largest British accrediting organisation for counselling and psychotherapy. It will also identify the requirements of some of the training courses, both accredited and non accredited, available locally. The opinions of acclaimed authors of counselling literature, with respect to personal therapy both during training and when practicing, will be investigated. My own viewpoint will be given as informed by personal experience and beliefs.

Accreditation by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is generally considered to be the gold standard for training courses in counselling and psychotherapy. In October 1998, following consultation and a review, mandatory forty hours of personal therapy or the equivalent for trainees was introduced as a requirement for accreditation. This policy was subsequently changed in May 2005 in favour of a requirement to provide evidence of personal development. (www.bacp.co.uk)

Letters to the Editor of the association's own publication "Counselling," following the introduction of the condition, are evidence of the strong feelings of some of the membership including such respected authorities as Professors Dave Mearns, Windy Dryden, John McLeod and Brian Thorne. They cited the substantial financial cost to trainees and the fact that no clear definition of what the therapy was intended to achieve among the reasons for their opposition to the move. (Inter-Psyche download) I have found no current evaluation of the decision to dispense with the personal therapy requirement, nor an explanation of what its replacement, evidence of personal development, might consist of.

Three of the four BACP accredited diploma courses which I investigated for my own training retain compulsory personal therapy for trainees while the fourth requires students to attend an experiential group for the duration of the course. None of the course literature I read prior to starting my training gave any reasons for the condition but I believe it to be part and parcel of the learning experience and the expected outcome is personal growth. Other training courses, which were not BACP accredited, had no personal therapy requirement at all.

The Human Givens Institute runs various courses including a counselling Diploma. Their website makes the claim that extensive research is conclusive in showing that better therapist do not result from personal counselling and that they can in fact be harmed by it although no evidence of these claims is offered. The website goes on to state that "People only need counselling when their lives aren't working....Those with the aptitude and spare capacity to do this work would not need counselling." (www.humangivenscollege.com)

Opposing the Human Givens views on research are those of Diana Saunders and Frank Wills (2005) who consider that despite the usefulness of personal therapy being generally accepted, little research has been carried out to quantify the subsequent effect it has on counselling practice, and what research there is does not identify exactly what makes the therapy effective. In their opinion it is not considered to be necessary, nor is it a well respected part of training in the sphere of cognitive and behavioural therapies. Furthermore they assert that compulsory personal therapy has sometimes had serious detrimental consequences.

John McLeod (2003) acknowledges possible negative outcomes in saying that successful therapy requires a willing client, and a mandatory requirement may produce an unwilling client due to it not being the trainee's choice to enter therapy at that time. Painful issues may emerge which then demand considerable attention thus reducing the trainee's emotional capacity to participate in the training and/or to counsel clients. On the positive side he sees personal therapy as a powerful way to learn about the process of change which occurs within the therapeutic relationship, a way to experience therapy from the Client's perspective, and to increase self awareness.

The psychodynamic therapist, Michael Jacobs, holds that personal therapy was in part introduced to counter the difficulty of counter-transference from therapist to client. He states that "One of the reasons why it can be valuable to engage in personal counselling or therapy is that it can help counsellors learn about their own transference difficulties" also "Personal analysis was introduced partly to try to overcome this ever present difficulty." (Jacobs 2010 pp. 145 and 152)

The man considered to be the founding father of therapy wrote "Every analyst ought, periodically.....to enter analysis once more, at intervals of, say, five years, and without any feelings of shame in doing so." (Freud



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