Two placement therapists talk about their experiences of working with NHS clients.
Lisa Mainz, who is in the second year of a Masters in Gestalt psychotherapy at Metanoia Institute, first heard about The Awareness Centre when she had just moved to the UK from the US. “I’d moved here so recently from the States, and I was not yet at college so there was no bulletin board to look at, but a friend told me TAC were looking for people.”
Almost two years later, Lisa has no regrets about this. “When I was asking around about TAC I did hear some mixed feedback. People said things like ‘the boundaries are very tight’ and ‘you are not given much leeway’, but the longer I have done this, the more I have realised that you have to have strong boundaries, and it is being so boundaried that makes The Awareness Centre run so smoothly.”
“Looking back on it now, it’s given me a good grounding. Working within those boundaries teaches you about how you go into your own private practice; it encourages you to think about money and contracts and boundaries with clients. Being at TAC has been a huge learning curve for me, I have learnt so much from it”.
Lisa, who has a background in oncology nursing, first joined the low-cost counselling service, but after a while her supervisor suggested that she had done enough hours and might be ready to take on an NHS placement too. “I hadn’t even considered NHS work, but I thought ‘Why not? It’ll be great, it’ll double my hours!”
Like many placement counsellors, Lisa did not have any experience of short-term work before she started her NHS placement and she had some nerves about how to work with clients for six weeks. “But it has been such an eye opener as to how effective short-term work can be. You learn to work very differently. So that has been another interesting learning curve.”
On reflection, Lisa, who sees four clients a week in a GP practice in north Lambeth, says she still does both, but if she had to choose would pick NHS work over the longer-term work in the lost-cost service. “It has been the most fantastic experience. You get such a multitude of clients every six weeks – it really has equipped me with a way of dealing with anybody that comes in the room.”
“If I’ve had any problems I have been able to deal with them in supervision”
However, when Lisa first started seeing clients in her GP surgery she did feel a little uncertain about her preparedness to work with more challenging clients. “When one of my first clients walked in on my first day, I did have the thought: ‘I am not equipped to deal with you!’” However, Lisa took her concerns to supervision and since then has felt that she has been given the support she needed. “You do need a lot of support when you see NHS clients, especially at first, when it can feel quite challenging. But if I’ve had any problems I have been able to deal with them in supervision”
“I have been very lucky in that,” says Lisa. “My supervision has been very consistent and very supportive; it’s been a huge asset to me. Over the years I have realised that the more of yourself you bring into your supervision the more you get out — not only about your clients but about yourself too.”
John Hobbs heard about The Awareness Centre when he was looking for a placement in the second year of his counselling diploma course. He had sent off, “About 30 enquiries and applications for a placement and some of them never even got back to me.” Then, almost by accident, he found The Awareness Centre online, applied, heard back straight away and went for a group interview, which he describes as a “scary thing”, but he was accepted and has been seeing clients in a Lambeth GP surgery for just over a year.
John, who was in the police force for 30 years before retraining, is also a qualified hypnotherapist and plans to continue practicing both hypnotherapy and counselling. “My clients who come to hypnotherapy come as a last resort for help with habit-breaking and weight issues. But with counselling, quite often you catch the clients early on in the process, when they are just beginning to think about their issues and it can make quite a difference quite quickly, so I enjoy that.”
“I really enjoy targeting the issue and seeing where we can go with it in six weeks”
He also really enjoys the focus of short-term work. “I always fight the corner for short-term work. I think it is brilliant; you can do amazing stuff in six weeks if you are accurate with the assessment and prioritise an issue that is potentially overshadowing everything. I really enjoy targeting the issue and seeing where we can go with it in six weeks.”
John says he would recommend a placement at TAC to anybody doing a training in counselling or psychotherapy, “It is such a good grounding. I am now confident that whatever comes through the door I am all right with it. I have crammed a lot of learning into a short space of time.”
Above all for John, the best thing has been the clients and the variety of issues they bring: “It is great to be exposed to people that are there because they need to be there and really want to do the work and get something out of it. You get a really good mix, you just do not know what they are going to bring in to the room next, and I love that.”