Kestrel's Nest

Psychotherapy

When I started learning about first counselling then psychotherapy I had high hopes and high ideals. Because psychotherapy had done me so much good at a time when my world had splintered into a million pieces I wanted to be able to give something back and help others as I had been helped. In doing that I had certain base principles from the beginning and from which I would not waver. One was that the privacy and autonomy of my clients was paramount. The second was that that I wanted to hold true to the ideals of anti-oppressive practice, and that meant not only respecting my clients' colour, creed, sexuality, disabilities and anything else that made them the individuals that they are but also using forms of therapy that did not oppress but supported them fully on their journey.

For this reason I chose an Integrative discipline because I was told that in doing so I could form my own personal integration of the types of therapy that I felt were right in each particular case. I leant heavily towards transpersonal and gestalt (dialogic, existential, phenomenological) therapies and away from traditional psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, person-centred and cognitive behavioural therapies. I also would not take on short-term limited-session work because I felt that each case took as long as it took and limiting a client to 6 or 10 sessions was something of a Procrustean Bed, tailoring the clients to the therapy rather than the therapy to the clients.

From the beginning this line got me into some hot water with tutors and others. I was reluctant to share the details of my client work in any depth in case studies because I had no assurance that once written those case studies would not be read by persons other than the tutors involved (in fact I was told they would be). I also insisted that the clients involved in those studies should know and understand the implications and agree to be the subject of the study. These self-imposed restrictions severely limited my ability to fulfil the course requirements. I was told that I was being difficult, that I should simply do as I was asked, that case studies were part of supervision and clients need not be asked for permission. I should obey the rules, get my qualification, then I could do what the hell I liked afterwards.

I felt that suppressing my ideals to get the qualification would mean much personal anguish and that I would not value the qualification once I got it. I also remembered something a temporary tutor said: he felt there were therapists around who had the highest paper qualifications available and who he wouldn't let anywhere near one of his clients. He also said there were therapists around who had no qualifications whatsoever who he would quite happy for his clients to see. In other words if I gain a qualification it only means that I am good at gaining that qualification, not that I am a good therapist. I have therefore decided that, at age 59, and tired after three years of hard fighting to get my point of view over with mixed success, and having taken a year out from the course to decide my future, I have, with severe reluctance, decided to withdraw from my course and give up my plans to become a psychotherapist.

In this decision I was helped greatly by moving from an urban suburb to the depths (and I do mean depths!) of the country. It has brought me in touch so much more closely with the beauty and brutality of nature. It has taught me through my study of Animism to know, to understand and to be in touch with my own truths and how important it is to me to hold to them. I am on a spiritual path and my therapy work does not fit well with that path. I found it impossible to continue to compartmentalise my life so I could have Animism in one compartment and Psychotherapy in another. Animism is holistic, it demands all my attention, it is not so much a belief system as a system of living. I had to be true to that system of living and to myself.

I would like to thank Gina Ravens, the therapist who first inspired me to take up the work and had sufficient faith in me to guide me on my first steps; Tree Staunton who did her best to guide my faltering steps and who persuaded me to take a break from seeing clients; Harbrinder Dhillon Stevens, my tutor, who was a real help to me in my last year of training; and Kerstin Lindley-Jones who showed me how it should be done. My thanks also to all those fellow students who shared my experience of the course and my journey. What I have learned will not be wasted, there are other ways of helping and supporting, and I have no doubt they will appear as the wheel turns and the spirits guide.

Blessings,

Angela Kestrel.

(Summer 2004)

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