Palace Gate Counselling Service – Independent Listener

This post introduces a new role: our independent listener. This is a new external resource for our therapists.

The Context

We structure this service to provide plenty of support to our therapists, in what can be an isolating profession. At any time, we have up to five therapists working, plus an office volunteer. We all get to know people working the same sessions. There is generally someone to talk to, and we engage in a lot of ad hoc peer supervision.

We also provide more structured in-house supervision – everyone commits to 1:1 supervision each month with an experienced supervisor. Placement students also commit to a two hour group each month. Many qualified therapists choose to attend group too. Groups offer the chance to get to know therapists who work other sessions, at all levels of experience, and to share perspectives and learning. Most people here have two supervisors, and we have an overall team of four – who will talk to any therapist needing time.

Person-centred supervision, as we practice it, is a collaborative peer-peer clinical exploration of each therapist’s process and client work. At its heart is a commitment to client healing and growth, and therapist learning and growth. We don’t see our supervision process as hierarchical, or about telling therapists how to work, or identifying what is ‘wrong’ with their practice, or as ‘accountability’ in the prevailing cultural sense of ascribing blame, nor is it ‘management’. None of those are person-centred concepts. We understand these ideas are currently in favour in our society, and that some therapists want to work like that. Obviously there are many organisations for them to choose besides us. We value client choice, and we offer something different both to our clients and to our therapists. That difference is important to us. We do our best to communicate this, and choose therapists who will feel at home in this environment.

We also have an administrative team, including a senior therapist who is our placement co-ordinator. She is a valuable – and much valued – resource not just for our placement students, but for all our therapists. We also have a number of therapists who have been here around a decade, and will provide talking space for colleagues needing ad hoc support.

So there are lots of people to talk to, and lots of choice about how/who. Our therapists have given us plenty of feedback that they get this, and value it. Nonetheless, we can see potential merit in having resources outside the service. For example, the two volunteer directors of our operating company both have long-standing external supervision arrangements, in order to ensure we are not a ‘closed system’. Most of our therapists have day jobs/private practices in therapy or allied fields, and many of them also have additional external supervision. We see a variety of perspectives in supervision as potentially very valuable.

The Independent Listener Role

The idea behind the independent listener scheme, is to offer the resource of an external qualified therapist/supervisor able to provide listening, facilitation and support. This will be available on a funded basis for any therapist in this service with an issue that, for whatever reason, they feel unable to raise with us through our various internal processes.

The independent listener will:-

  • provide listening and process space to the therapist concerned, and
  • work with that therapist to support and empower them in exploring a process for bringing their issue to our supervision team, so that we can together address this.

Depending on the circumstances, the independent listener may also offer support in an alternative – person-centred – conflict resolution process, should that ever be needed.

We have had this idea bubbling for a while, and have spent time exploring what the role might usefully look like, as well as talking to a number of experienced practitioners to find the right person. We are asking our independent listener to provide services aligned with and respectful of our person-centred ethos, the internal locus of each person involved, and which are collaborative, non-directive, circumstance-specific and process-led. This does not necessarily mean their self-describing as a person-centred practitioner, but clearly it involves their feeling a compatibility with this way of working.

Our new (and first) independent listener is a very experienced therapist and supervisor in private practice, with a lot of group and facilitation experience. She also has a senior NHS role. On the face of it, that might seem to make her an unlikely choice for us. In reality, our and her shared sense is that we have much in common in terms of our perspectives on therapy, supervision, human relationship and what is/isn’t helpful in running a service. She has never worked with this service and has no pre-existing therapeutic or supervisory relationship with anyone here, so she offers an independent, external perspective. She brings a wealth of experience and ability, and we are confident that she will fulfil her new role with sensitivity, integrity and common sense.

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

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