Main principles regarding our learning process as practitioners

If we want to do justice to the notion of the ‘reflective practitioner’, our learning process (as people about ‘people skills’, as therapists about therapy) needs to be consistent with our therapeutic beliefs and understanding.

When we apply therapeutic concepts to the learning process itself, we can recognise it as a highly individual process of integration, involving both personal and professional development. All courses, therefore, aim to provide space for both individual process and skills training, as well as theoretical and experiential learning in response to the group’s developing needs.

In order to do justice to the variety of learning styles which participants bring to the events, there is usually a mixture of theoretical, practical and experiential learning, involving everybody at the level and to the degree that they are expecting and willing to engage. As we are dealing with what happens between people, the group itself provides a learning situation, with people learning from and with each other.

Each participant’s experience is therefore understood as a resource. Depending on the theme and the configuration of the group, we can pay attention to the unfolding group dynamic (and how it supports or hinders participants) as an aspect of the learning. Such balancing of attention between each participant’s psychological and learning process and the group process as well as the tasks and objectives of the course is an important element in all our courses.

Like the work with a client, the learning process depends on pace and timing - in CPD courses this depends on the interaction in the group and the safety and readiness of everybody to participate and get involved. It tends to be true that the more we get engaged and can allow exposure and take risks, the greater the learning. But this cannot be forced - it needs to be balanced with attention to each individual’s process, learning style and ‘contact cycle’ of engagement and withdrawal.

The learning on our events is a fluid mixture of experiential, reflective, theoretical and practical, in response to the actual group’s needs and group’s process at the time. Our courses are based on the recognition that psychological work is not mainly left-brain and cognitive, but involves all of us - body, emotion, imagination and mind.

For such training to translate into our everyday practice, it needs to engage our understanding, our own process and self-awareness in relation to our whole bodymind self, and be congruent with our developing identity both as a person and a professional.

The more we attend to right-brain to right-brain attunement between client and practitioner, the more our learning and skills practice needs to engage our spontaneous experience, and ideally involves many action-reflection cycles. So we often work with stop-start roleplays, either in small groups or in the middle of the group. During our more in-depth courses for experienced therapists, we also include real live sessions between participants, with occasional breaks for immediate reflection and supervision.

We will respond to any issues around exposure, shame or negative judgements which are bound to arise in these learning contexts in such a way that they become part of the learning process. This allows us to keep much of the learning rooted in here-and-now embodied experience, and thus affect directly implicit memory and learning processes which tend to translate readily and immediately into your everyday practice.

One of the crucial insights - shared by many therapeutic approaches - is the significance of the 'here & now' (Gestalt, person-centred, 'here & now' transference interpretations, existential, etc). To enhance our capacity as therapists in working with the bodymind and relational phenomenology of the 'here & now', our training and continuing development need to offer us learning opportunities in the 'here & now' of our CPD events.

Developmental injury and trauma as well as characterological conflicts enter the 'here & now' of the therapeutic relationship, and it is important that our training events access those processes which "bring the moment to its crisis". The interplay of self and other, internal and external, body and mind is most pressing in charged moments in the therapeutic relationship - which no amount of theory or knowledge can properly prepare us for.

We aim to orient our CPD events towards including the immediacy and complexity of 'here & now' experience in whatever learning format and group context is suitable.

One of the basic principles of our therapeutic work - and therefore our teaching - is that these conflicts and uncertainties are necessary - that there is something about the helping relationship that inevitably exposes the practitioner to internal conflict.

The simple essence of that principle is: the client’s conflict becomes the therapist’s conflict.

In psychoanalysis this has been called the ‘countertransference revolution’: the recognition that through attending to the conflicts in our internal process as therapists we can also gain access to aspects of the client’s inner world.

In this sense, the therapist’s own experience in the therapeutic relationship can become - in Freud’s words - a ‘royal road’ into the depth of the work. There cannot, therefore, be a simple, standard procedure that is right and correct with every client - nor even with one client. That kind of stance may work with inanimate objects, but not when confronted with another person and their subjectivity. This has serious implication for how we learn and teach counselling and therapy.

Although some courses consist of a clear outline of topics and learning objectives to be covered, they are not usually structured in typical academic linear fashion. Too much counselling and psychotherapy training is based on the notion that a) there is a correct theory and correct technique, and b) if only the practitioner applies these correctly, everything will be fine and therapy will work as planned.

Most practitioners, and certainly most experienced practitioners, know that this is a fallacy. The therapeutic position constantly involves uncertainty, ambiguity and conflict - the therapist feels torn between conflicting therapeutic impulses and ideas, between different avenues to take, between opposing interpretations as to what is going on. Interventions often have different - and sometimes the opposite - effects of what was intended.

As psychological practitioners we know that our client’s beliefs - however valid and ‘true’ they may be in themselves - can serve a variety of emotional functions: beliefs can enhance our lives or rationalise all kinds of misery, avoidances and pain.

The same is true for us as practitioners: our therapeutic beliefs and models can enhance our practice, but they can also foster fixed assumptions which may interfere with our work. One aspect of continuing professional development is to keep exploring and reflecting upon our ‘habitual position(s)’ as therapists - those relational and theoretical stances which we may have inherited from our therapeutic forefathers and take for granted.
All theories have, of course, a large kernel of validity which serves us well. The question is not so much whether a theory is ‘true’ or not, but what effect it has on us and our presence in the consulting room when we practice.

Flexible and fluid format of our events

Integrating and balancing individual and group process, exploration, demonstrations, theory and skills practice

To do justice to the above principles, our training events, therefore, provide a blend of structures, from pairwork, experiential exercises and skills practice in triads to role-plays and demonstrations. The learning is usually supported by theoretical input appropriate to the experience of the group, backed up by hand-outs, papers and references.

Work in pairs and triads will alternate with work in the middle of the group, in either role play format or live sessions. Often skills practice tends to benefit from frequent stops and starts; in order to maximise the learning in frequent action-reflection cycles, the practice sessions are often interspersed with and followed by feed-back, supervisory reflection and appropriate theoretical discussion.