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  • Jan-Paul Van Dessel

Loving being the 2nd person to know!

I am writing this blog with two types of reader in mind. One is for any potential clients who might be considering Counselling as part of their recovery or support and wanting to get a sense of how I work, the other being Counsellors in training (or those just curious) about the person-centred approach.


Almost 10 years ago, when I took my very first tentative steps towards becoming a Counsellor, I enrolled in the COSCA Counselling Skills Certificate Course. Facilitated then (as it still is now) by MindMosaic in nearby Greenock, I joined with 11 or 12 others for a series of evening and weekend tutor led modules over a period of about 10 months. The purpose of the course is to enable you to use counselling skills in every day settings, for example being a better listener, but it is not a course that qualifies you to become a Counsellor. Additional studies and qualifications are required and you can find more about that from many other sources such as BACP, COSCA or the National Counselling Service.


A lot of the work was done in what we called 'triads' or 'trios'. 3 people, each with an assigned role. One to talk (about a real life event or issue), one to listen/respond (the 'counsellor' role) and one to observe (and record all they noticed). It was amazing how often and how quickly the conversations could veer towards finding an answer, a solution or a fix. Lots of have "have your tried this...", "you should do this..." and in some cases not unusual to hear "that sounds really hard, I don't know what to say....". The thought for many of us back then was how could we ever sit with someone with really complex, traumatic and clearly more difficult issues and experiences than those we were practicing with. I can of course look back now and smile knowing that we simply did not know what we did not know.




I knew finishing the certificate course that there was so much more to learn and to understand, I had such a sense that something awaited me and a pilot light had been ignited. To walk away then and not proceed would have felt like I had abandoned or wilfully ignored a wonderful invitation - for no good reason at all. Not everyone who trained with me that year in the certificate course completed it, nor did everyone from the course go on to train further. In fact, I am pretty certain that only myself and one other (who is a close friend still and also a qualified counsellor) went on to complete the Post Graduate Diploma. We did so at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. For me that was over two (wonderful) years with some amazing people who remain close to me now. Seven of us meet (online) once every month as a Peer Supervision Group, sharing learning and helping each other around issues ethical or practical.


I was fortunate to have had in my life an amazing mother-in-law, Nancy, who sadly passed away in 2005. She would have been 91 yesterday. Nancy trained in the 1980's as a person-centred counsellor, and I could see that she was an everyday human being, and she was a quiet beacon for me; her assuredness, gentleness and clarity in what her role as a counsellor was helped me commit into my own professional training.


Now many years on, what used to be the most urgent part of the conversation as a fumbling hopeful novice - the answer, the fix, the solution! - is no longer present in that form or with that urgency. I have learned that there is an answer and there is a way forward, it is just that neither of us know what it is yet. But the answer is there, always. I commence every counselling relationship with a sense of certainty that its discovery (or their discoveries) will be made, they will become clear and they will be created by those I am supporting. So often it is not even the answer itself (or the solution, or the resolution - whatever word we try to put on that) that is important, but the journey to it. Everything that is learned on the way, becomes a more reliable part of the self going forward. A more trusted part of who we are that can help us deal with new issues and problems as they arise, indeed even help us see such things no longer as issues our problems but merely events or occurrences that just happen and that we safely absorb and travel through, living life the way we want it to be.


As an experienced counsellor now, when in first contact with a potential client or as we start out in our first sessions together, these are times that I truly relish. I love that I do not know what 'the answer' is, and I so enjoy that I don't have to know or provide 'a solution'. I can be absolutely certain that I don't know what it is, or even need to know, and I can be equally certain that is available to be found, and that through the counselling process it can be discovered, created or revealed. The most delightful and rewarding part is that in almost all cases I will be the second person to know it. What a privilege that is.


And of course, Happy Birthday for yesterday Nancy, and thank you for your gift to me all those years ago.



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