Relinquishing knowing and reclaiming being: a heuristic self-search inquiry of becoming a counsellor through learning to tolerate uncertainty by reflecting on experiences in life, counselling practice and research
Tweedie, Krista Lynne
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Previous research emphasises the importance of a counsellor’s ‘way of being’ in determining therapeutic effectiveness and outcome. The capacity to tolerate uncertainty is regarded as an important counsellor attribute. However, failing to show how counsellors learn this, limits the practical relevance of the existing literature for psychotherapy and counselling. This study questions how a counsellor can learn to bring his or her self more fully into relationship with clients and what the implications of this learning process on counselling work are. Central to this study is Levine’s (2002) conception that learning occurs through a willingness to think about experiences, which necessitates facing uncertainty. This thesis argues that the capacity to tolerate uncertainty is an individual learning process and a precondition for a counsellor developing his or her ‘way of being’ or therapeutic ‘use of self’ (Wosket, 1999). In this study, the counselling practitioner-researcher draws on her own learning process to show how reflection on personal issues triggered by experiences of uncertainty, that could obstruct a counsellor’s emotional availability necessary for ‘use of self’, may be a fundamental part of counsellor professional development. A learning process is demonstrated through reflection on five vignettes of experiences of uncertainty from life and counselling practice. Beginning with an inexplicable experience in counselling practice that the counsellor struggles to understand her response to, she wonders how her difficulty with tolerating uncertainty might relate to experiences of uncertainty and learned defences from her childhood and adolescence. Through an experience with a client’s overt uncertainty, the practitioner grasps the difference between trying to tolerate uncertainty and developing this capacity as a ‘way of being’. When creative and play work with a child client challenges use of the counsellor’s defences, her learning moves from a conceptual understanding to an embodied one. She becomes more present and vulnerable with clients allowing for connection with clients and greater depth in counselling work. The practitioner-researcher attributes this personal learning to the six phases of Sela Smith’s (2002) heuristic self-search inquiry that requires immersing in uncertainty, dwelling in the research question and accessing tacit knowledge. This study contributes to a lack of practical literature within psychotherapy and counselling on how counsellors develop their therapeutic ‘use of self’, a way of being that has been linked to effective therapeutic outcome yet only a small number of therapists possess. Although the process and findings of this subjective study cannot be generalised, it aims to stimulate each counsellors’ own reflection on therapeutic ‘use of self’. This study suggests a heuristic self-search framework for a counsellor to confront his or her own relationship to uncertainty as an integral part of professional development beyond what training can provide.