“It is clear that you have led the life of a counsellor – just by a different name”
Last September I enrolled on the Chrysalis Level 5 Professional Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling Practice (Prof. Dip Psy C.) – a psychotherapeutic counselling course which will enable me to become a professional counsellor/psychotherapist. The course is held at Oxford Brookes University. Thus far I have attended three classroom sessions. I recently submitted my first graded assignment, a personal development profile. I was pleased to receive the following feedback for my piece of work:
“This is a fantastic piece of self-reflection and realization. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. It is clear that you have led the life of a counsellor – just by a different name.”
I have shared the aforementioned piece of work below.
Component 1. Understanding the work of Hypnotherapy.
Personal Development Profile on the themes of looking back and looking forward.
PART ONE – THERE AND THEN
In my mid-teens I developed serious drug and alcohol dependencies which magnified an already flawed set of thinking patterns and fuelled a chaotic lifestyle. Motivated by intense mental and emotional suffering, I took steps to beat my addictions the day after my twenty-sixth birthday. At the time of writing, I have remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol for over fifteen years. Because of this, I have been able to enjoy a purpose-driven life.
Almost a decade after putting down the drink and drugs, having consistently worked to eliminate resentment, self-pity, selfishness and fear – I sought help from a counsellor to tackle what I refer to as a toxic stew of abandonment issues and morbid jealousy. I was on the brink of setting fire to yet another relationship with a woman I cared for – and I finally realised that merely hoping I would change, grow up or mature was the futile exercise that my past suggested it to be. I met with the counsellor and we discussed the situation at hand. Years of taking inventory and self-reflection meant that I arrived at my first counselling session with a written list of fifty examples of my jealousies and insecurities. These ranged from primal fear-driven monitoring of my girlfriend’s social media pages, to feeling worthless because my girlfriend’s ex-partner could ski and I could not. The list was as ridiculous as it sounds – but it was real. Painfully real. The counsellor listened patiently and commended me for my willingness to engage in self-reflection and my desire for change. She also noted the change in my body language and breathing when I shared about the situation. We located a feeling of tightness in the chest that would precede mental gooseflesh – imagine a bag of ice placed on your brain. She suggested that these initial physical sensations were a signal to unleash the reptilian brain, so that primitive urges and drives (e.g. sex and security) would be acted upon. The counsellor suggested that we use hypnotherapy to reprogram my response to physical triggers. The next time I experienced that familiar tightness in the chest, instead of freaking out (to use a non-clinical term!) I would feel calm, secure and completely in control of my thoughts and emotions. I would respond appropriately. I would not react.
Fast forward six years and I am happily married to the woman I was in very real danger of losing through unconscious self-sabotage. We have two sons. Lessons I learned the hard way, relatively late in life, I am determined to teach them early on.
The counsellor and I did not discuss childhood trauma and we did not engage in long-distance time travel. That particular problem was resolved in the here and now.
I am still very much a work in progress though. It is only fairly recently that I have been able to make significant progress in terms of battling my oldest addiction – sugar and compulsive eating. I have tried hypnotherapy in the past to combat this problem, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that I was either unwilling or unable to modify my behaviour. It is my hope that my several failed attempts to resolve this issue using hypnotherapy will enable me, in the future, to better understand (and more effectively support) clients of mine who are failing to progress as they would like.
An educator at heart, my professional background includes teaching, teacher training and education management. I have worked within organisations as varied as the NHS, Oxford University Press and The Ministry of Justice. I currently work within an integrated mental health and substance misuse team at a men’s prison in South East England. After a career spent in the education sector, with much of my free time spent practicing avocational addiction recovery work – it was a natural step for me to ‘professionalise’ and move into my current role. The woman who hired me told me about the Chrysalis counselling course and piqued my interest. She was in the final year of the course on which I am now enrolled.
My main interests lie in the fields of addiction, spirituality, self-discipline, moral psychology and behaviour modification. Living with purpose and the power of narrative are also themes to which I consistently return. To that end, I appreciate the writings of Carl Jung, Viktor Frankl, Alfred Adler, Anthony de Mello, Jocko Willink and Richard Rohr.
PART TWO – HERE AND NOW
After completing the first two modules of teaching, I feel extremely motivated to engage with the course material and develop my skills as a hypnotherapist. I have enjoyed both sessions, as well as the reading and self-study that I have undertaken at home. It was exciting to receive the course reading list and begin sourcing the material. I decided to begin with titles that are available in audio format so I could listen to them on my drive to work. I also listened to a number of podcasts about hypnotherapy and downloaded a self-hypnosis app called ‘Reveri’. I am currently using the Reveri app to build new, healthier habits for eating. I have listened to several audio interviews with Dr. David Spiegel, Reveri’s Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer. I have found these resources to be extremely useful in terms of developing my knowledge relating to hypnotherapy.
In the previous section I mentioned my work as a drug and alcohol recovery worker. Alcohol Awareness Week 2021 (Alcohol Change 2021) took place from 15-21 November, the week of the module two class. That week I was approached by a client on my caseload on the wing. He was excited to talk with me about a book he was reading that had made a positive impact on his mindset and general sense of well-being. Given that I am always interested in the development of the men in my care – and always on the look-out for new reading material, I asked him the title of the book which he only knew in Polish. He went off to his cell to get the book, returning a few minutes later with a book entitled “Potęga Podświadomości” by Joseph Murphy. It was, of course, a translation of “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind”, the multi-million selling self-help guide which I was thrilled to shortly afterwards discover was recommended reading on the Year One Booklist. I chose to view this meaningful coincidence as an example of synchronicity. Furthermore, I chose to interpret it as a sign that I was on the right path and that my decision to sign up for the hypnotherapy and counselling course had been a good one.
In terms of how I see myself in the group, in purely demographic terms, I am one of only two male students in a class of approximately twenty. This gender imbalance is echoed in all branches of the psychological therapies and a contributing factor to my decision to train as a counsellor. According to a 2018 audit of registered members of the BACP, 87% were female and 13% were male (BACP 2018). The following quotation from an article in The Psychologist (BPS 2014) shares anecdotal feedback commonly shared by male participants
“Male trainees often comment on the difficulty of being a very small minority, amongst predominantly female trainees, female course staff and female supervisors. They say that as well as questioning the appropriateness of clinical psychology as a career for them they also question the extent to which the complexity of masculinity and identity is addressed in the training.”
Having observed the disproportionately low number of men working in frontline mental health service provision in the UK prison service – and the current systemic blindness to male perspectives in psychology, I am looking forward to helping to redress the gender imbalance in the so-called ‘talking therapies’.
Some of the qualities and skills I possess are as follows: a genuine love for – and interest in – my fellow human beings. A sincere desire to help people. A strong sense of self-reliance and many years of experience of delivering one-to-one sessions.
I have learned to manage my expectations – believing my serenity to be inversely proportional to my expectations. That being said, I have so far been delighted with the structure and nature of the course. I am developing a keen interest in the art of hypnotherapy, cultivating a beginner’s mind and enjoying the learning journey.
PART THREE – THE FUTURE
I hope that the course will help me to become a more well-rounded human being. I especially hope to improve my core listening skills in order to empathetically listen to those who I interact with. Of necessity, much of my daily work in the field of addiction requires a didactic approach, in order to help my clients understand the disease of addiction, develop healthy coping mechanisms and facilitate connection to recovery communities. As a counsellor I will face the challenge of encountering a myriad of situations beyond my area of expertise and personal experience. I will therefore have to adopt a more client-centred or non-directive approach to therapy. Part of this will involve learning to resist the urge to grasp for a solution before the problem has been adequately defined, allowing the client the space and time to engage with The Minotaur and emerge from The Labyrinth in their own time and in their own way. Ultimately, it is my aim to make a positive impact in the lives of my clients – but I expect the skills I learn on the course to assist in the family home, at work – and in the realm of personal relationships.
I expect the main challenge of course participation to be balancing my daily work in the jail with a busy homelife. My wife gave birth to our second child last month – and our second child celebrates his third birthday next week. It will be important for me to prioritise my reading, practical work, and assessment completion and submission. Scheduling practice sessions with volunteers and refining my scripts and technique will also be vital if I am to meet the course requirements and develop as a counsellor and hypnotherapist.
Perhaps my key strategy on the course is to learn from the catalogue of mistakes I made as a student in my teens and twenties. These included: failing to delay gratification until work had been completed, failing to adequately prepare for class, failing to apply myself fully to every component of the course in question. Another strategy is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity to participate in a stimulating course such as the Chrysalis Diploma in Hypnotherapy & Introduction to Counselling Skills. Taking advantage of the knowledge and experience of our course tutors is another reliable strategy. I also look forward to learning from my fellow students as we seek to develop our practical and theoretical skills, whilst building upon our strengths and strengthening (or eliminating) our weaknesses.
I also have the benefits of membership of both The National Hypnotherapy Society and The National Counselling Society. It was somewhat inspiring to learn that I can become a professional hypnotherapist and start building a private practice after successfully completing year one of the course. It may well be wise for me to temporarily compartmentalize these thoughts until I have received my qualification. That being said, there is no reason why I cannot begin to visualise the kind of service I would like to provide and gradually learn how to deal with the administrative aspects of private practice.
I am excited about the future and look forward to meeting it.
Julian Reid (2021) Julian’s Story. Alcohol Change Blog (online) last accessed 11.01.2022 at: https://alcoholchange.org.uk/story/julians-story-as-a-recovery-worker-it-is-important-for-me-to-keep-in-mind-that-alcohol-misuse-is-on-a-spectrum
BACP Register Audit Annual Report 2017-2018 (online) last accessed 11.01.2022 at: https://www.bacp.co.uk/media/7084/bacp-register-audit-annual-report-2017-2018.pdf
Linda Morison, Christina Trigeorgis, Mary John (2014) Are mental health services inherently feminised? The Psychologist Vol.27. BPS. (online) last accessed 11.01.2022 at: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-27/edition-6/are-mental-health-services-inherently-feminised