This essay is a reflective journey into the process of supervision. What supervision actually entails and how to use the process to begin the life mission of becoming a professional counsellor. What it means to become a truly self-reflective practitioner who is mindful and open to learning about one’s self in addition to continuing the process of deepening the theoretical knowledge of which supervision can be ones most useful tool.
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First and foremost being a student counsellor in the mode of Peron-Centred counselling, the key component would have to relate to first taking a personal journey of discovery through reflection to become aware of self in the process of actualisation. Corey (2009) cites Rogers who believed that people where essentially an expert on their own lives and that if the therapist was to become a conduit for empathy, respect, and authenticity, then they too would benefit from experiencing self through the process of reflection and exploration. Only then could the therapist model the behaviour for which the client could perceive possible for themselves. Corey (2009) also cites Broadley as describing ‘actualizing tendency’ as a “directional process of striving towards realisation, fulfilment, autonomy, self-determination, and perfection” (p169). For me self-reflection and exploration is the only way to realise self actualisation, for without having an internal conversation how would one expect to grow as an individual let alone as a counsellor. In addition, as a student a vital tool in self-reflection is the process of supervision, through which the sharing of experiences gained through placement can be an opening to not only improving the use of skills, but additionally a tool to develop mindfulness, and self-awareness. Since starting my volunteering I have applied these concepts to the best of my abilities, and through daily reflection I have been able to recognise the learning goals that I would like to focus on during my first placement.
When asked to summarise my learning goals I then had to consider theoretically how learning goals can aid the student to not only reflect on their needs and experiences, but also to refine what a professional counsellor requires to develop and progress. Cleak and Wilson (2004) who cite Rogers and Langevin as suggesting that a learning agreement contain elements of being, knowing, doing and thinking in order to make the most of the placement and the supervisory experience. Cleak and Wilson (2004) also suggest that there are seven core learning areas which can be incorporated into the learning contract. Such as, values and ethics, processes combined with skills and relationships, how to use knowledge, self-learning and professional development, understanding the organisational context, awareness of the necessity for research, and finally acknowledging social policy within the placement experience. Learning goals are also important from the supervisor’s perspective as Brockbank and McGill (2007) discuss awareness of the supervision relationship can benefit both the supervisee and the supervisor when learning goals are clearly defined and aid supervision to function as a supportive and productive process. This also includes the supervisee being aware of their learning styles for example whether learning has a preference towards perhaps cognitive rather than experiential. I therefore summarise the key learning goals I have identified for my first placement experience as follows. My learning goals begin with honing my use of the core counselling skills of active listening, accurate empathic reflection, authenticity, and presence, through the process of feedback and reflection. Secondly I have identified that I need to work on the appropriate use of rapport and the use of disclosure, through understanding how to establish boundaries and use deflecting techniques when the issue of inappropriate disclosure is exhibited. Third I feel that understanding how the organisational procedures such as keeping confidential client notes functions around my responsibility to upkeep the records to meet my ethical requirements. This is also a process of learning to work within the organisational teams that work in a paradox of isolation and conjunction, to bring together the experience and knowledge of administration, support staff, nurses, other professionals including my department of pastoral care and counselling. Fourth is the learning involved with bringing art and music into the person-centred style of counselling I have been taught to use. This includes bringing in the theoretical knowledge of my supervisors to help facilitate a deeper understanding of combining skills and theories. Finally to bring it all together is the practice and development of self-reflection and self-awareness including being mindful. This final task is probably the most important of all since it requires me to open myself to self-reflection in addition to positive and negative feedback from my clients, my colleagues, and both of my supervisors.
Here is where keeping a personal journal of my inner journey through placement is of vital importance if I am serious about being in the process of self actualising and developing as a professional counsellor. Self reflection is possibly the most important process of awaking awareness and aiding the development of a counsellor who is confident, centred, ethical, and professional. Developing self awareness and mindfulness through self reflection should not be underestimated due to the fact that an open relationship with one’s self is conceivably the preeminent way to grow not only as an individual, but also as a counsellor. During my placement as well as for the entirety of my professional life the reflective practices I intend to use include daily self-reflection daily and consciously practicing mindfulness. Germer (2005) suggests being mindful is usually not a common reality in our thinking processes, as being mindful takes practice to comfortably stay present and focused on the moment. Mindfulness as Germer reminds us is a Buddhist concept dating back some two thousand years, which Buddhist’s term ‘sati’ that translates as awareness, attention and remembering. Germer (2005) also cites Hanh as describing mindfulness as an in the moment awareness of our consciousness processing everything that is happening around us, to us and between us, a being focused on the here and now and totally present. Germer (2005) also suggests that one can learn and develop mindfulness through meditation, relaxation and practice of focusing and clearing one’s mind. Through mindfulness the process of self-reflection can truly begin especially with the aid of meditation allowing one to focus on the difference between emotion, thoughts and feelings, as well as perceptions in order to replay experiences and perceive self in action. Fook and Gardner (2007) suggest reflection is a process whereby the student identifies how their sense of self plays out through the window of personal perceptions, with particular emphasis on how emotions influence decisions. Realising the difference in how relationships play out against theoretical knowledge, and recognising how self can get in the way, begins the process of being able to differentiate between the needs of the student and the needs of the client. These realisations also contain an understanding that becoming a professional means accepting that often what happens in real life counselling is unpredictable, and that that is okay. In addition to journaling I intend to religiously maintain my daily debriefing with my organisational supervisor to constantly balance my perceptions of client interactions both emotional and intellectual. Furthermore feedback from my clinical supervisor will be essential in determining how to interpret my reflective journal in a process that can focus self actualising. Orchowski, Evangelista, & Probst (2010) discuss how supervision can be a process of understanding how reflection can impart an understanding to enable a safe client student relationship. In addition self reflection enhances one’s ability to activate mindfulness when in session with a client, as well as in the process of supervision. Self awareness, reflection and being mindful are all fundamental thought processes that help guard against unethical decision making, and establish a way of ensuring safety for both the therapist and the client. Orchowski, Evangelista, & Probst further discuss how reflection can be part of the contract between supervisor and supervisee bring about an openness to the process of revisiting the client experience for the supervisee, and exploring what came up emotionally for the supervisee.
Which brings up the importance of supervision in the reflection process as I have discovered already, without a supervisor to clarify perceptions lack of confidence and inexperience could easily lead to an unproductive negative interpretation. After spending the last eleven weeks as a volunteer and really having begun the process of placement, I can truly see the importance of supervision in the process of reflection. During the time spent within the organisation I have begun the process of building a relationship with my placement supervisor, with whom I confer about my use of skills, how my clients are reacting, in addition to drawing on her wealth of professional knowledge, and her years of client contact and their histories. Each day contains a component where we debrief and self-care around how to maintain boundaries and identify where emotions can blur person perception, particularly considering that when working in aged care where clients often die or experience the process of illness or severe loss. Jochen (2008) talks about how supervisees often begin the learning process of supervision by being wrapped up in the clients story, and emotions. However, as time and self awareness of the process begin a process of understanding and acknowledging that even though the clients story may be as confronting as severe illness which may bring imminent death, the counsellors role is to support and empathise not attach personal meaning to the emotional content being presented. Hawkins and Shohet (2007) discuss that the use of supervision become a fundamental tool that any counsellor or health professional makes use of regularly, to aid in the understanding ones emotional configuration regarding professional progress and maintenance. Hawkins and Shohet also suggest that supervision is a necessity in the helping professions, to ensure client safety is always upheld, through the constant self-reflection that supervision aims to provide the practicing counsellor.
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Considering that supervision is going to play an important role not only during placement but feasibly for the entirety of my counselling career, it would be prudent to consider what challenges supervision may bring. First and foremost is overcoming the fear of being vulnerable and exposed to criticism, in addition to having personal values and beliefs put under scrutiny, not to mention experiencing another professional judge your ability to effectively master the basic counselling skills, all on top of exposing your self-reflective thoughts and emotions to for all purposes an external voice of conscious. Tjeltveit and Gottlieb (2010) discuss the ethical role vulnerability and resilience play in keeping the therapist safe, in particular the student. Our vulnerabilities can expose themselves in our unconscious reactions through our values, beliefs, cultural identities, even habits and emotions that even with awareness impart unethical decisions or actions. Tjeltveit and Gottlieb go on to argue that resilience is strengthened by the student becoming aware of their vulnerabilities, addressing emotional issues, and becoming open to parts of their personality which could influence unethical decisions. These issues of interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions are so important we can often overlook procedural problems and challenges that can also occur that could in fact hinder completion of the placement in academic terms. For example I discovered that my placement supervisor would not meet the clinical requirements that ACAP (2010) base their requirements upon. Acap (2010) have recommended that if a student wishes to be able to join The Counselling and Psychotherapists Association of NSW Inc [CAPA] (2009) one must have clinical supervision that complies with CAPA’s training standards, which state that the clinical supervisor must have completed at least seven hundred and fifty hours of personal supervision post training. In addition they must also meet the Psychotherapy & Counselling Federation of Australia [PACFA] (2009) requirements stated in article 4.3.1, that a supervisor’s credentials are to be of a level beyond basic counselling and include eligibility to be a clinical member of a counselling association for at least three years (p7). Therefore after having succeeded in acquiring a clinical supervisor I now have to apply the above mentioned challenges in two different scenarios, with two different people, in two different organisations.
To conclude I believe the importance of self-reflection cannot be expressed too often, to widely, or too deeply. The concept of supervision
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