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Expert or learner - what would you like your therapist to be?

By Teri Watkin, Aug 25 2016 12:25PM

This may seem like a strange question – of course we expect our therapist to be an expert – why else would we pay to meet up with them? However, it’s not as daft a question as it may seem.

All therapists learn about theory – they learn about child development; they learn about what motivates us as human beings to do the things that we do and make the choices that we make; they learn about how to engage with a client in a therapeutic way; they learn about how the systems we all belong to (family, culture, work, religion, ethnicity etc) shape us, and many other things. These theories provide a framework within which to work – a structure which helps us to understand the client, and without that framework we’d just be hazarding a guess as to what is going on with the client. So of course we expect the therapist to have a level of expertise in the theories that inform psychotherapy practice.

However, it’s possible for a framework to become a cage. If we slot all of our clients into a nice neat ‘theory box’ we are unlikely to be doing our best for the client.

Every human being is different and whilst we might use our understanding of theory to gain a ‘broad brush picture’ of the client, the only way we can put detail into this picture is to acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know and to open ourselves up to learning about this particular client at this particular moment in their life. For me, that’s the joy of this job – I’m always adding to my understanding of what it means to be human and to struggle with the problems of living.

In March 2015 I submitted a 3,500 word document to BACP for assessment for senior accreditation. To become senior accredited I had to show how I had developed as a therapist from the time when I was first accredited. In other words, I had to demonstrate what have I learned in that time and how this learning has that influenced the way that I practice. I was delighted to be awarded senior accreditation – but that doesn’t mean that I can now stop learning. Fortunately, I love learning and know that I will continue to develop my skills for as long as I practice as a therapist.

So to answer the question that I posed at the beginning – a therapist should be both an expert and a learner. We can expect that a therapist will have a sound framework within which to work safely, but we should also expect that the therapist will be comfortable with ‘not knowing’ and be willing to learn.

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