On my last post I talked about the idea of doing your own work individually – see “Do your own work.” In that post I talk a lot about the “self” of the therapist and what that means. I acknowledged that there are ways to let things go and other ways to unburden the pile up of psychological work we all undertake everyday. One of those ways is peer support and I wanted to blog a little about my practicum experience and the importance of networking within your community of peers. As a way of managing cases that seem to stick with you or “get into your head,” and even as a way to share cases, to learn and to process, peer support has already proven invaluable for me. Already in practicum I have clients who affect me and it helps a great deal to have trusted allies with whom to share and help process the why and how we are being affected by certain cases. Peer support in my opinion is a two way street so we learn from other counselors’ experiences and cases, while at the same time we learn by reflecting on our own experiences and reactions.
Peer support is often recommended, and for good reason. As it turns out, we can offer each other invaluable assistance and insights. I have grasped onto peer assistance wholeheartedly and it has helped both me and my clients. I advise establishing a peer support network as early as possible. We never know when we will need each others’ help, and networking can act as a very good source of referrals when we all move into established niches within our respective field.
Peer support in practicum has been both formal and informal. We proceed formally during the weekly two hour class and informally in the confidential study room, although both support a more laid back approach to processing. The first hour is consistently used as a ‘check in’ for everyone within the group, to briefly discuss cases and ask for help brainstorming solutions and approaches. The second hour is usually spent on current case studies that warrant discussion and questions from the support group. This format has proven helpful and beneficial for everyone involved. Just being there and being allowed to speak freely about clients, getting feedback and ideas from people I respect and have studied with this past three years has been a great experience for me. I advise my colleagues to consider both a safe location and client confidentiality when you share with your peers. All discussions should be respectful of clients’ confidentiality and rights.
Already, in practicum and from experience I feel that some clients just stay in my mind more than others. Clients affect me in different ways; one couple I relate to, one couple I have to spend a considerable amount of time preparing for and one individual just fascinates me. Some cases are worth mentioning, while others seem more routine. Peer support, for example, has already helped me to debrief and understand transference with one particular couple, and to better process comments from my own supervisor. This third party perspective has proven to be very useful on numerous occasions, and that makes me want to continue interacting with my circle of colleagues as I move from practicum into practice, wherever that may be. Reflecting and sharing with others allows us to see things from outside the therapy room from a less-connected view and this offers insight and the opportunity to learn.
My peer group is comprised of a special type of professional relationship that initially started with a group of friends with whom I have shared studies during my counseling masters work. It is growing into something considerably harder to define. After practicum, I hope this group acts as a monthly excuse to go out for some lunch, coffee or tea and sit with like minded individuals and talk about individual cases or the business in general and of course the annual ACA conference.
I encourage all therapists to create or find a group of trustworthy professional peers who are interested in regular sharing, reflection and assistance. If you wish, this group can become a professional network valuable to all as we grapple – and help our clients to grapple - with an increasingly multi-dimensional, difficult world.
So when your next client climbs into your head and you are carrying them around with you. Who are you going to turn to/call?
Christian Billington is a counselor in training. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, trauma and the development of training to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field.