Not lost in Values – On lifelong skills training and comparison
I’ll begin with a confession: I can’t stop comparing the different ways of working between Spain and the UK, I can’t. I am even writing about it. I know I shouldn´t be letting this happens! But I must admit that I’ve been struggling with comparison over these past months.
If something useful comes out of all these long talks with my mind, it is that it has made me think about the type of person / therapist that I want to be and the type I don’t.
Among the many intangible things that I´m taking back with me, perhaps, the most valuable is to have been able to observe and learn from the qualities of the UK Psychology professionals whom I have shared some experience. But I´d like to focus on something that stands out above many other discoveries: the interest in lifelong skills learning these people seem to have. If I thought skills-building and professional development was something highly recommended, today I consider it to be mandatory.
The job of a psychologist requires big doses of personal work over the years. Let us be clear about it; a good therapist should be able to work and progress on certain issues prior to and in parallel with working with clients. I am not referring only to a perfectly structured and comprehensive University curriculum (we know a lot about never ending, lengthy and full of theory curricula in Spain). No, I mean a personal job-based training, focusing on self-knowledge, awareness of professional values and training in therapeutic skills (as a minimum). However, this is not always a must according to the legislation of each country, so each professional has to rely on their own ethical “headlights”, or “that thing called values” to become the therapist who wants to be beyond the minimum required.
I have enjoyed find out that the practice of therapist supervision is one of the many good habits of therapists (mostly ACT therapist) I have met in this country engage in. Unfortunately, this is not a widespread practice in my country (comparative framing hitting hard now!)
I am not blaming the Spanish therapists. The discussion deserves a more extensive reflection and we would have to look closely at the political interests and the educational system. Such as the predominance of an over-medicalised mental health model where clinical or counseling psychologists have no real place. Or overly lengthy and non-practical graduate and postgraduate studies. A big mess, I know…but, while we wait for all these issues to be fixed, we should be able to tackle this problem in a critical way from a minimum sense of rigor and individual responsibility. What happens when we become mental health professionals in the public or private spheres? Are we done with our training or are we willing to keep on studying and learning from others? As I see it, this leads to a certain taboo and concealment of our own barriers and formative needs, so much so that we frequently cover them with a mixture of arrogance and ignorance that, seen from this perspective, is very sad and not particularly enriching.
Skills training, along with advances in the knowledge of therapeutic methodology from solid theoretical models, could be improved with the help of figures such as the clinical supervisor, either individually or within supervision groups. My brief but inspiring experience in “ACT SPACE” group, a London based peer supervision group, facilitated by Michael Sinclair (www.city-psychology.co.uk), Joe Oliver, Emily Griffiths, Emma O’Donoghue and John Boorman has been a great discovery that I really appreciate. I’ve learnt much from attending that could not be summarised in a single entry of this blog but will influence me in many reflections and changes in my practices from now on. Once in Spain, one of the first changes will be joining a solid supervision group and seeking an individual supervisor.
Since I began by confessing something, I’ll finish now with a wish – a call to learning, a defense of being supervised, of embracing our own vulnerability, of being able to contact what we may not like to be aware of, to let ourselves feel shame and embarrassment while training, to let us fail many times, so that only then we could do better with our clients in session. This leads to the recognition that therapy doesn’t place us on a plane of superiority over anyone, but of equivalence, mutual enrichment and a consciousness of what really matters.