Updated date:

Practicing Psychotherapy Until I Get It Right

Psychologist Listening to Client

Psychologist Listening to Client

That special moment

I remember when I knew that being a psychotherapist was what I was meant to be. I was in my first year of my Masters program and we were doing a 3-week face to face summer intensive training program, practicing the skills we needed to use to be effective counselors.

We often used our own "stuff" when we were practice clients, and this time it was my turn to be the therapist. My classmate sat in front of me, describing a family issue that was on her heart. I asked her, "If this problem had a shape and size, what would it be?" She responded by saying that it was huge, bigger than she was, and mis-shapen. Further questions brought other descriptors: rough, gray, heavy, like this huge rock. "Like a boulder," I ventured. "So where in your body do you feel this rock?" She responded that it was on her back, between her shoulders.

My tone softened. "That's an awfully heavy burden to be carrying around."

Her eyes filled with tears. She nodded, and the tears spilled down her cheeks. I let her sit in silence for a few moments, and then I handed her a tissue. She dabbed at her eyes. And then she was able to continue and tell me how she felt about this huge burden, and how long she had carried it. Later, she told me that it was the first time she had truly been able to feel the weight of it, and it meant so much to her that I heard her in her suffering and was willing to come alongside her in it.

That was the moment. That special moment both defined me and validated me as a budding therapist. I remember thinking, "I was MADE for this!" It was like landing the best golf shot ever, or executing the perfect round in show jumping. I felt flushed, accomplished, and fulfilled all in one moment. And I remember saying to myself, "I'm actually DOING this!"

"Climbing" courtesy of Erika Marcia LM at Pixabay

"Climbing" courtesy of Erika Marcia LM at Pixabay

An Arduous Journey

There have been many ups and downs on this journey of higher education, many times I wanted to give up (especially during research methods!) ... and yet I persevered. I have had great profs, good profs, and those I thought were awful, only to find out they were wonderful in person (and it was just a matter of seeming rude in print!)

There have been so many obstacles! In October 2013, my youngest daughter (age 21) died in a car crash. I could not imagine giving up my studies because she was so proud of me, so I soldiered on while dealing with my own grief in my own way. She became my inspiration for pressing on. At times, I can still hear her voice, like some unseen anchor above me, a piton that won't come loose from the peak I can only barely see.

After the summer of 2016, I decided to slow down the program and take only one course per semester due to increased pressures at work. I was able to return to Alberta in the summer of 2017 to do a Group Counselling face-to-face institute, and again in the summer of 2019 to do Solution-Focused Brief Therapy intensive training.

But in the middle of all that, in the fall of 2018, I tried to do a practicum outside of my province of residence. That experience almost derailed my chosen career. The supervisor was not at all a good fit for me, and I ended up being told to go home. It was a devastating blow. All I knew is that I wanted to be a counselor, but not if all counselors were like this one. I cried for three days straight and went into a depression that I needed medication to help me overcome.

I came back home to my husband and daughter a month or so later, feeling defeated and useless, after finding someone to take over my apartment lease. I looked hard for a psychotherapist to help me work through those issues my previous supervisor had noticed (and fired me for). Finally, someone took me on. I had my first session with her in January 2019. Within six months, I had regained some of my confidence, and I did well at my SFBT training, which also increased my feeling of being a competent counselor.

I secured another placement for the fall of 2019, but the host of the practicum became very ill in the summer of 2019 and was unable to host me (doctor's orders). So I deferred until this fall.

And here I am, ready to proceed with my practicum. Today I attended my orientation at the same site I was to have done my practicum last year, feeling far more ready than I did then. My feeling of more confidence is largely due to my growth as a person and the help of my therapist.

Now that the word is out that I am receiving clients free of charge (and under supervision by a local counselor with certification from the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), I have no shortage of folks who are wanting to book an appointment with me.

It has been quite the climb, with many times losing footing. However, I am grateful for the piton in the rock and for my climbing partners along the way. Everyone has been so supportive!

So now, I turn my attention to what lies ahead. I am only beginning to see the culmination of my academic climb. I can see my chief piton, my little girl, cheering me on. With anticipation and yes, nervousness, I am facing the future with my feet solid on the rock, knowing that the anchor holds and the rope of hope is strong.

That's what practice is for

I'm sure I will make mistakes along the way. But I do know this: my supervisor will help me learn from them and I will be a better counselor with her help and guidance, at the end of this eight-month journey.

So here's to practicing until I get it right! This, of course, means that I will never get it completely right - and that is okay. I am always learning. Always.

And the anchor holds.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Judy G Gillis