Making the Most of Counselling and Psychotherapy Placements


Michelle Oldale & Michelle J. Cooke

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    About the Authors

    Michelle Oldale is a UKCP registered psychotherapist. She is a supervisor and trainer with experience in Further and Higher Education settings most recently with the Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute and the Open University. Her interests lie in D/deafness, and disability and the activities of counselling and psychotherapy, training and research. She is a keen writer and regularly reviews books for Healthcare Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal. Michelle lives with her family in Nottingham, and when she is not working enjoys singing, CrossFit, arts and crafts and travelling.

    Michelle Cooke has worked within a variety of therapeutic settings and maintains a private practice providing psychotherapy and supervision to individuals, couples and groups. She is a UKCP registered psychotherapist. In addition, Michelle works as both Programme Leader and trainer at the Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute in Nottingham. Her interests include the evolution of person-centred theory in light of ever-changing thinking within the therapeutic world and beyond. In addition, she is specifically interested in diversity issues relating to the processes of self-criticism, gender and social change.


    We would like to thank all of those who have been supportive as this book was conceived and came into fruition. It has been a long journey! We offer our heartfelt gratitude to the editors and staff at SAGE for their patience and encouragement as we grappled with the demands of being first-time book authors alongside our full-time roles, as well as everything else life had to throw at us. Finally, we would like to thank those who generously shared their placement-related experience as participants in the research that contributed to this endeavour.

    Michelle Oldale: Thank you to Shaun for your unwavering solidity, and to Libby for the occasional prod and Post-it Note. To Michelle Cooke, thank you for believing in the idea and staying the distance!

    Michelle Cooke: First, thank you to Michelle Oldale for your trust and loving support during the process of completing this project; this has contributed to sustaining my levels of dedication and determination in the face of a variety of obstacles. Also, I extend my gratitude to my daughter for convincing me that writing could become a key aspect of my calling and career in psychotherapy.


    Why did we write this book?

    This book was conceived as a result of the authors’ experiences initially as trainees and latterly as trainers facilitating counselling and psychotherapy trainees to navigate the complexities inherent within the processes of searching for, securing and undertaking a placement. On deciding to undertake a search for a resource for recommendation to trainees embarking on the early stages of the placement process, we were astonished to find that despite there being a wealth of texts for business students, nurses, social workers and teachers, no book existed specifically tailored to meet the needs of those training within the counselling and psychotherapy profession. Although we had developed resources for use within the training context, we thought it would be useful to reach a wider audience; for all those involved in the placement process to have access to a resource which could potentially support and guide them through the important decisions necessary at each stage of the process with the view to supporting self-reflection and prompting consideration of philosophy, theory and practice. Thus, a conversation with SAGE Publications commenced, and the result is the book you are now holding.

    We hope that this book supports the view that placements represent more for trainees than a simple accumulation of hours with clients. We have intentionally framed placements as a wider professional and personal endeavour which will influence future development and opportunities, including the potential employability of a therapist. In this way we hope that the experience can be as rewarding as possible for all of the stakeholders concerned. Our vision is to reflect and promote ethical practice based in the uniqueness of the four-way relationship between trainee, training provider, placement provider and supervisor (as well as the wider profession and other frameworks such as the law), whilst acknowledging that the key stakeholder in the process of the placement is the client or service user – an assumption we have made throughout. Thus, we hope that a firm foundation can be built for practice in placement, and that any potential pitfalls can be worked through within this contextualised and relational support structure.

    How did we write this book?

    At each stage of the process we have attempted to take a relational stance illustrating the collaborative relationships involved within placement provision. We hope that this text reflects the importance of these interconnections between trainee, placement provider, training organisation and supervisor in terms of support for the trainee. Furthermore, it is our intention that this text highlights how the requirements and responsibilities of each party in the network can be fulfilled effectively. In order to achieve this, we have tried to step into the shoes of each to consider what they might gain from reading and using this book.

    Who is this book for?

    This book is intended primarily for trainee counsellors and psychotherapists. However, we have anticipated that the audience may be wider and may include trainers, supervisors and placement providers themselves. We hope that trainers will be inspired to use and/or adapt activities to suit the specifics of their training content when considering placement provision. Equally, we hope that the book will provide useful insight into some of the practices sometimes taken for granted as ‘givens’ within the training and placement processes. We anticipate this will benefit both the trainee and those individuals involved in placement provision.

    Key terms

    We are aware of the ongoing debates in regard to defining these terms, including attempts to clarify distinctions between them to protect the terms as part of the discussion about statutory regulation of the profession. It is outside the scope of this text to explore these debates in any detail. However, interested readers may find a synopsis of the arguments in Bond (2010: 30–2). Throughout the text we refer to the terms ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’, we also make use of the term ‘therapist’ to mean either counsellor or psychotherapist. Our rationale for using the terms synonymously, as well as use of the word ‘therapist’, is founded upon the fact that the core of psychotherapy and counselling trainings remain broadly constant, that is:

    • therapeutic skills and attitudes
    • theory
    • ethics
    • personal/professional development, including placement and other clinical components.

    We use the term ‘trainee’ therapist throughout when referring to those undertaking counselling and psychotherapy training. In this way we hope to acknowledge the activity of training as a professional endeavour from the outset.

    Competence versus fitness

    Throughout the text you will see us refer to the terms ‘competence’ and ‘fitness’ and it is worth highlighting at the outset the difference between these ideas. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) (2012: 16) define competence as ‘to be able to do something’. Competence refers to the concrete skills, qualities and knowledge (e.g. ethical and theoretical) which can be assessed in a discrete way. Just because we can do something, however, it does not mean that we should. Fitness to practise includes a plethora of other factors, such as our wellbeing and personal circumstances. Competence can be said to be a component of fitness but it is not the whole story. When assessing fitness to practise, we take into account a broad range of life circumstances to determine whether it is ethical to be seeing clients at a particular time. For example, a therapist who has recently suffered a bereavement or trauma would use the support mechanisms available to them (e.g. their supervisor and close colleagues) to make a personal assessment of their fitness to practise during this time. The outcome will depend very much on the individual situation and may include ceasing practice for a while, reducing caseload or regulating the types of clients seen for a period of time, increasing supervisory support or attending personal therapy.

    You will notice, then, throughout this book that some sections and activities focus on the development of your competence, some on assessment of your fitness. We hope that you will engage with these in collaboration with those who support you in order to come to an evaluation of your personal and professional needs in respect of each.

    How to use this book

    There may be some for whom this book will be applicable from beginning to end and as such it will represent a companion throughout the entirety of your placement process (or even before you embark on professional training). Equally, some readers are likely to be currently engaged in the placement process either as volunteers, managers, trainers or supervisors and, consequently, will be accessing this text for a variety of different reasons. As such, and to ensure that maximum benefit is gained by a wide range of readers, we have structured each chapter in the following manner:

    • Chapter objectives provide a snapshot of what you can expect, enabling quick identification of what will be of use to you within the specific chapter.
    • An introductory section expands on this, giving further detail.
    • The main body of the chapter uses illustrations and activities which can be used by the individual trainee, trainer, supervisor or placement provider in various circumstances. Each activity includes a specific aim (or a set of aims), relevant background taken from the main body of the text and clear instructions about how to engage with the activity itself. For trainees you may wish to think about how your responses to activities will form a bank of useful material for personal and professional reflection. You may also wish to think about when it might be appropriate to revisit activities at different stages in your training and future career.

    We acknowledge that trainers may wish to use our activities and therefore we have presented them as worksheets so that they may be used in a training and/or supervisory context.

    • Side notes have been devised for trainee readers who will be accessing this text at different points in their training journey. It may be that some have bought this book in order to familiarise themselves with the overall requirements of a counselling or psychotherapy training. Some readers may be partway through their training and have purchased this text as part of their preparation for the placement search and application. For this reason we have attempted to avoid assumptions about prior knowledge and have offered definition of terms where applicable in side notes to the main text. You can see an example of a side note on this page.
    • At various points we have included vignettes which have the function of:
      • illustrating key points
      • critiquing the authors’ perspective and offering potential alternatives
      • challenging ‘accepted wisdom’ and norms within the profession in the spirit of open dialogue
      • highlighting possible discrepancies between the ideal and the practical which in reality is likely to result in compromise.

    Although the vignettes are fictional creations of the authors, we must thank the various individuals and organisations who have supported us in gathering information on which to base these. We hope that the voices reflect a variety of perspectives of the various stakeholders involved in the placement endeavour.

    • The chapter summary draws together themes and invites further reflection in an ongoing reflections section. Reflections are based broadly on Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle:
      • Concrete experience – the reading of the chapter and engagement with activities.
      • Reflective observation – capturing key learning points and reflection in regard to activities.
      • Abstract conceptualisation – concluding your learning from the experience and making points for action.
      • Active experimentation – setting goals, objectives and timeframes for any further action or learning you wish to undertake.

    This process is cyclical (once active experimentation is complete we return to the concrete experience stage). We recognise that this process is ongoing and that trainees may wish to revisit reflective activities at different times in the placement process.

    • The chapter concludes with references and suggestions for further reading.
    Recording your progress and learning

    Most institutions offering counselling and psychotherapy training will encourage trainees to use a training journal, or similar, to enable trainees to capture key learning points as they occur. You may wish to use your journal if you have one already, or start a specific journal in which to record responses to activities, ongoing reflections invited at the end of each chapter, and any other points of interest which arise.

    Final thoughts

    We would like to stress that we welcome feedback from professionals working in all aspects of the placement process. In the event that a second edition of this book will follow, any feedback will enable us to develop the text in the light of changes in the field and your comments. As we invite trainees to develop reflexive practice we hope that our own embracing of this approach will lead to continuous improvement of a text which has long been missing from the field, as well as supporting our own development as therapists, trainers, supervisors and authors.

    Bond, T. ( 2010 ) Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action,
    edn. London: Sage.
    British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) ( 2012 ) Accreditation of Training Courses. Lutterworth: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
    Kolb, D.A. ( 1984 ) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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