Focus: Finding my Strengths in Pluralistic Practice
Darren Hopgood BA(Hons) MBACP MNCS, Academic Researcher (Counselling Tutor) and Private Practice (Chiron Counselling Support)
I have been practising for a short time now, two and a half years, not long at all. When I qualified as an integrative counsellor, I focused on person-centred, Gestalt, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Whilst at university studying my BA in Counselling at the University of Sunderland doors opened to so much more. New possibilities, resources, and understanding. The networking created so many more opportunities for my practice and I felt drawn to so many skills and techniques and ideas. All of which I wanted to learn and to incorporate into my practice.
For the last two and a half years, I have voluntarily worked in a primary school with five to eleven-year-olds, which has been great. I worked there as a counsellor whilst being training in working which children of that age, play therapy, art therapy, and the like. I also volunteered to work with families where there were carers for those with chronic life long health needs and terminally ill family members—helping care for the carers.
My natural personality and ways of doing, thinking, and feeling was what brought me to pluralistic counselling. The way I understand pluralism, for myself, is that it allows for a balance of person-centred and solution-focused therapies. I know that those dedicated to a purist path can incorporate a pluralistic mindset without straying from their chosen model. However, that is not something that I feel comfortable with in my practice; it is just not me.
There is a temptation to explore and research many different ways to help our clients. It is quite natural for those with a pluralistic mindset—well, I think for me anyhow. One thing I started to do, however, was to cast my net so widely that I became distracted by many different disciplines and I got lost in the flow of information, research, and many new and exciting ideas. I had to take a real look at my practice and find the discipline to focus on one thing at a time.
It became clear that I needed to refocus on the things I am good at, and to put my limitations into clear focus: either strengthen them or abandoning them altogether. I found I was suffering from a need to be perfect in my practice and to offer so many different things to my clients, I started to suffer from stress when doing the job I love, and the clients began to suffer from my uncertainty.
I am sure that many of us have done this soul searching, and I know many of us will do this time and again. There is a natural need to grow, develop, and expand. I now feel that the real trick to this is to build on what we know, not to stray too far away from our core training—well, not too much too soon anyway. I felt the need to look at my strengths and limitations again. I am sure I will have to do this many times as I am sure we all will.
My strengths are in one-to-one person-centred practice. It was the main focus of my core training. I respect this as both a stand-alone discipline and an accompanying practice in my counselling sessions.
I am also confident in using many of the Gestalt experiments, like the empty chair, letter writing, and body awareness. These have been incredibly useful. I feel that this is, perhaps, the number two on my list to catch up on and expand my knowledge. The choice to do this was simple, it came up a lot in session, and it was received very well by my clients.
My number one focus now is gaining knowledge of rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT). I use their ABCDE model a lot (Activating event, Beliefs, Consequences, Disputations, and Effects), though I do this is a very person-centred way. I sit down and talk it through with the person in the room. I have found that this improves communication and, quite often, the client volunteers to write down things as we go. So, yes, I use CBT at times.
I feel for me; these three ways of working has become the foundation for my practice. I feel I need to focus on improving and building on these three things. The real temptation for me has been adding many different techniques and theories, but, really, I got lost along the way, and that is not good for my clients or me.
I want to be the best therapist I can. I want to be able to offer everything in the world to help people, but I know that this is impossible, I can’t do everything or know everything. So, my to-do list is simple. Learn more about REBT, learn more about Gestalt, and polish up my person-centred approach. Sounds simple, but it is so difficult for me not to be distracted by so much new research papers on so many new and shiny theories. Do not get me started on books!
So, my temptation as a pluralistic counsellor led me down so many different paths, and I quickly got lost. Over the past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic I have been alone a lot. Reading, and doing CPD, became my whole life. After this year’s online pluralistic conference I was inspired even more to distraction. I spent long hard months reviewing what I could do to improve my diversity understanding and what I could do to help make my community and the world in general, a better place. So much soul searching, so many reality checks, and so much need for change.
As I never know when to stop writing, I will and on just one comment: Focus, develop our strengths, and grow a little at a time.