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'A baptism of fire': a qualitative investigation of a trainee counsellor's experience at the start of training

Folkes-Skinner, Julie and Elliott, Robert and Wheeler, Sue (2010) 'A baptism of fire': a qualitative investigation of a trainee counsellor's experience at the start of training. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10 (2). pp. 83-92. ISSN 1473-3145

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Background: Belief in the effectiveness of professional counselling and psychotherapy training is widespread and generally unquestioned. Few studies have attempted to understand the changes experienced by trainees, or identified which aspects of professional training programmes assist them in the process of becoming therapists. Aims: to investigate how a trainee counsellor changes at the start of training, and to identify which aspects of a professional counsellor training programme were helpful in instigating and suppor ting change. Method: the experience of one trainee counsellor, Margaret, was captured through three semi-structured inter views conducted at the beginning, middle and end of her first term. The data were subjected to systematic qualitative analysis. Findings: Margaret experienced significant change during her first term. Each inter view revealed a different phase of her development. The core categories were: becoming something new (week 3); growth in therapeutic confidence (week 6); sur viving 'stressful involvement' through supervision (week 11). Experiential learning, in particular group super vision, was helpful throughout. The presence of real clients was identified as the main driver for change. Conclusion: The findings were found to be consistent with a number of other studies, which suggest that training is potentially painful because of the emotional demands it places on trainees, particularly at the start of practice. Consequently trainees require opportunities for experiential learning, peer suppor t and suppor tive supervision to assist them in their development, but most importantly, given that suppor tive super vision can only minimise the harm of stressful involvement (Orlinsky & Ronnestad, 2005), they need early positive experiences with clients.