A post from trainee counsellor Chris Wilkinson reflecting on his training so far at the Trust to become a counsellor.
When sharing their experiences of studying at the Trust, it’s not uncommon to hear students say something along the lines of: ‘beginning my studies here felt like coming home’. Now at first that might sound a little odd, but consider the process a student here goes through: we spend time each month with experienced trainers, exploring various aspects of psychosynthesis and psychological theory, and of course, inevitably, ourselves. We attend personal therapy sessions for support throughout our studies and, half way through year two, we start placements, putting our new skills into practice with clients as trainee therapists (under significant supervision). As well as being a professional training course in itself, studying at the Trust is a deeply personal process, and as trainees begin psychologically to ‘come home’ to themselves more and more, in this context feeling at home with a sense of gratitude towards the institution just makes sense.
For about ten years I’ve had a strong interest in psychology and spirituality. During university I volunteered for a suicide helpline (which involved being trained in basic counselling skills) and over three years subsequently looked into various psychotherapy training courses, but I intuited that I hadn’t quite found what I was looking for. Coming across the name Roberto Assagioli in an obscure dusty book I was reading on Carl Jung while working in Berlin in early 2013 changed all that. I was fascinated by Assagioli’s life and work, reading perhaps only thirty pages of my first book on psychosynthesis before seeking out a training course in London and booking my place at Essentials (finishing the book on the flight over). When I left the four day Essentials course led by Brian Graham and Pauline Hancock (which I’d liken to being hit by a tsunami… but in a good way), I knew with certainty that I wanted to proceed and enrol upon the Foundation year, relocating from Berlin back to London to do so. I didn’t personally have the sense that I’d come home at that stage, more the certainty that I’d found my path.
The recognition of soul and the transpersonal within the counselling model was a significant factor in my decision to start the Foundation year, but if I honestly ask myself why I chose to study psychosynthesis here as opposed to another course or provider, the answer is simple: it was because of the people. Psychosynthesis is only as useful as the counsellors, therapists, supervisors and trainers it produces, and although I still have much theory to digest and understand, I knew that this particular model had to be working, as I saw something unique in the presence of the trainers, in the quality of how they support our learning, in the behaviours they model in an authentic and human way and in the open questions they ask both themselves and us. It really is inspiring, and I don’t think I’m that easy to impress.
Of course the content of the training weekends in itself is crucial, but I’ve never felt let down on this front either. Even weekends I found it harder to engage with have ultimately had meaning for me. An example that comes to mind is the weekend module on ‘The Will’ led by Angie Fee. Assagioli’s map of the psyche focuses on central aspects of the will, good, strong, skilful and transpersonal. The weekend focused on these aspects and how they manifest in our lives, as well as how at times we perhaps experience a lack of will and the impact this has in certain situations. For myself, I find that one issue with being highly empathetic is that sometimes you can let yourself be trampled on and find building boundaries with others difficult. Indeed, asserting yourself, even when done gently, can feel like an act of aggression. I found that I had a lot of unconsciously held beliefs to let go of in that department, and the weekend encouraged me to reflect on my own experience and my understanding of will.
The author and psychotherapist (who is a patron and trainer at the Trust) Piero Ferrucci, describes the will as ‘the capacity of an organism to function freely according to its intrinsic nature, rather than the compulsion of external forces’. Feeling free to choose (in whatever context) was certainly something I desired in my own life, and I’m sure this will be highly relevant to working with clients. Can we give ourselves permission to assert and make decisions for ourselves, without needing to feel overly responsible for others, while using the tools illustrated in psychosynthesis theory, such as skilful will, to moderate external compassion to ensure that internal self-care – the importance of being true to ourselves - is not neglected? This can be a difficult balancing act to achieve, but exploring in depth our experience of will can set us on this path.
Looking back on my first year, this is one of the weekends that seems to have faded in my conscious memory, almost as if I believed it was of lesser importance. Through my therapy, in the months following that exploration weekend, I began to understand that I was resistant to the concept of will. Although I couldn’t fully digest it at the time, the weekend was taught with vigour and, despite my discomfort, I engaged and participated in the learning. I think this is a valuable point: if you bring integrity and a desire to learn and explore to this training, the course does the rest, it covers so many bases and gives you a treasure chest of experience and exposure. We’re not forced to confront material we’re not ready to face but carefully guided to understand the importance of these different aspects of ourselves and our histories: love, will, the unconscious, childhood, the list is extensive.
Going through my notebook to write this post, I found another quotation I’d written down which seems to me to stand out: ‘the will is the quiet whisper that other voices drown out’. Looking back on my 20 month journey with psychosynthesis feels like I’m looking back on about five years, as - since I began - so much has shifted for me, both inside and outside the Trust. I intuited that this was the path I wanted to pursue and I now realise that I used skilful will to make it happen.
And so I’d advise any potential students considering the professional training after Essentials to seek out that quiet whisper and treat it seriously. Ask yourself honestly if the studies align with the gift you want to give with your life, to yourself and others. If it is, employ skilful will to make it possible and, then, be sure to dive in with abandon.
Chris is a counsellor in training at the Trust currently studying on the 2014 Postgraduate Diploma