Journey of a Pluralistic Trainee: A Response to COVID-19
Emma Foley, Trainee BA (Hons) Counselling & Therapeutic Practice, @ USW Newport
Practising to work pluralistically during the second year of my counselling degree came with a comforting, familiar, ‘clickety clack’. The cart was sitting firmly on the rails and the view was amazing, opening up to new horizons. I became accustomed to the tummy roll of new expectations and began to enjoy the exhilaration of the climb. I was almost reaching the top of the rise carrying a toolkit of resources, well-read books marked with highlighter and pencilled notes, research papers diligently sourced, grades in the bag, placements lined up, and supervision sorted. I was about to turn from dreams into reality the hours of work by lamplight; juggling home and student life; delving into the deepest, darkest corners of my mind and soul; the building of resilience, knowledge, and skills.
Suddenly the cart jolted, waking up a primal response. Stomach knots deepened when, reaching the top of the climb, the cart lurched forward descending at speed towards the world below. Pages flew from my toolkit. As I struggled to grab them the cart jolted up and down, side to side, and each piece of paper swirled, before being carried away on the wind. The cart derailed, coming to an abrupt halt, it was no longer fully equipped for the clients that I had been preparing to join on their journey. There was a barrier at the end of the line. COVID-19 had arrived, reverting the reality of meeting clients face-to-face back to dreams, our journey put on hold until I was able to get back on the tracks. I looked around, noticing how much the world had changed since I started my ascent. Suddenly I felt helpless. My toolkit felt empty. I noticed the warning signs; ‘Coronavirus. Social distancing: avoid contact with others to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Stay safe. Stay at home’.
That’s where I found myself, at home, thinking about my clients, wondering if they were experiencing the same emotions of fear and anxiety. My mind was full of questions as I sat with uncertainty. What do I do now? How can I help? How can I use all these newly practiced skills to work collaboratively and creatively? How can I go on a journey with my clients when we can’t physically sit in the same cart?Feelings shifted from uncertainty to fear, from anger to frustration, and then came realisation.
Pluralism re-invents itself in response to changing circumstances. It offers us different ways of working with clients, a voyage of discovery, finding out what will help them. Each will need different things, at different times. As a pluralistic trainee counsellor, I know I have been given the tools and knowledge to explore with them safely and ethically, face-to-face. But now there was a barrier across the tracks that wasn’t there before: online counselling. Practising pluralistically, however, always invites us to arm ourselves with more knowledge, more training, in order to be informed, ethical practitioners. We’re already asked to sit with uncertainty, not knowing where the track is going, navigating loops so we’re able to see the world from the ‘upside down’, from a different perspective. Embracing difference and diversity, being open to new perspectives and different views of the world, so we can help clients search for meaning. I know that training as a pluralistic counsellor has helped prepare me for the huge change in circumstance with COVID-19: knowing that there is no one monolithic truth, that it’s about finding new ways of working, meeting clients wherever they are, physically, emotionally, even virtually, to help them find meaning in these strange, uncertain times.
As trainee pluralistic counsellors, we understand the importance of being comfortable with our own limitations. We know we have to prepare: making sure the cart is sitting firmly on the tracks, wheels oiled, toolkit replenished: in order to cope with any bumps or loops, any ruptures that could cause derailment. We want to be able to embark on a new journey alongside our clients, to have the opportunity to begin the ascent with seatbelts firmly fastened, and travel the virtual rollercoaster with them, safely, at home. But at this time of uncertainty, as I write this, we are found waiting patiently in the sidings, up-skilling, adapting, training to work on-line, ensuring that we are practicing ethically, so that our clients can be confident that they will be in safe hands.