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Part A – Reflection on Viva Performance
Upon reflection of my performance in the viva, I became aware of several strengths and weaknesses that may impact my counselling competency. Three predominant strengths were identified. The first was my body language that I used to build rapport and demonstrate active listening. For example, I used hand gestures while I spoke, and head movements while the client spoke. Additionally, I observed and mirrored the clients body language to convey empathy and understanding. Secondly, I was able to draw out the clients story by asking open-ended questions, summarising what the client had told me, and using check-outs to ensure I had accurately perceived the client. Finally, I used reframing in such a manner that encouraged the client to reflect and perceive their situation from a different perspective, while also recognising and drawing on the clients strengths.
There were, however, several weaknesses in my viva performance that I could address to improve my ability as a psychologist. The first was my desire to find a solution for the clients problem. Although this desire was not overt during my viva performance, I felt this way internally. As a result, I had to make a conscious effort to withhold suggesting potential solutions, and instead allow the client to reflect and come up with their own answers. However, what was overt during my viva was my unintentional use of phrases such as “that’s great” or “good” in response to the clients solutions. This potentially conveyed a sense of judgment towards the client, and subsequently, may have limited the problem-solving ability and empowerment of the client to explore alternative strategies in depth.
Another weakness I noticed was my tendency to speak immediately after the client had finished talking, thus failing to give the client moments of reflection to sit with their own thoughts and feelings. I believe I did this because I was uncomfortable and anxious at the thought of silence during the session. Therefore, in an effort to avoid these feelings, I would talk straight after the client had spoken.
Potential ways to address weaknesses
The first step in addressing my aforementioned weaknesses is through developing and increasing my self-awareness. Specifically, I could use self-reflective journaling as a way to identify patterns in my attitudes, behaviours, and reactions to people. Identifying these patterns may help me to avoid unconsciously imposing my judgements on others as I did in my viva performance when the client was exploring potential solutions. Further, I could practice taking on the role of a neutral and non-judgemental listener rather than a ‘problem-solver’ in my real life relationships, and become accustomed to this way of relating and supporting others. Finally, I could address my anxiety surrounding the thought of silence by intentionally stretching out the gap between peoples statements and my responses in real life. For example, I could start by taking a few short silences in conversations, and as I start to become more comfortable sitting with my own anxiety, I could gradually increase my periods of silence.
Part B – The Self in Context of Therapy
Reflection on elements of self
To identify my elements of self with particular reference to an adult attachment style I used Dr Schniering’s criteria,and my responses were most consistent with an insecure-ambivalent attachment style. The behaviours of those classified as insecure-ambivalent are often viewed as anxious and “needy”; requiring validation and reassurance, as well as difficulty coping and being alone (Cassidy & Berlin, 1994). Upon reflection, I considered three elements of myself which are consistent with this particular attachment style. Firstly, I am dependent on others to make me feel secure. Secondly, I become rapidly invested in others and wish to then quickly resolve their distress. However, at times, this behaviour can appear overly intrusive. Finally, is my tendency to people-please and alongside this, my difficulty confronting others outside my immediate family or long-term partner.
Impact of family of origin and social relationships on elements of self
Attachment theory postulates that our attachment style and interpersonal relationships in adulthood are influenced by our family of origin and social relationships during childhood (Mikulincer, Shaver, & Pereg, 2003; Simpson, 1990). I grew up in a loving nuclear family with one younger sister. During my formative years my mum and dad were deeply involved in all aspects of my life, to the point where there were few boundaries between family members. For example, if I was upset about something, I would see how my parents were upset by proxy, which would then inform how I was feeling. According to attachment theory, children internalise the manner in which their primary caregivers responds to their need for comfort and security, affecting the development of self-identify and expectations of other (Hong & Park, 2012). In light of this theoretical framework, my dependence on my parents meant that I never developed a strong sense of independence as an adult. Subsequently, I often become pre-occupied with a single relationship in order to make myself feel secure. This pattern is consistent with research on the outcomes of insecure-ambivalent children who typically do not develop a strong sense of self, and during times of emotional turmoil, rely on external supports, often resulting in a co-dependent relationship (Mayselees & Scharf, 2009).
My deep-seated insecurities of being alone often results in my tendency to people-please and avoid confrontation, particularly with females. As a child, I was bullied by a group of girls and developed a fear of confrontation. As I was desperate to be liked and felt insecure without having someone, I learned to suppress how I really felt about things and I would often feel guilty saying no. For example, I would often adopt other people’s opinions and simply agree with what they were saying. Alongside this, I developed a strong desire to solve other people’s problems as a way to boost my self-esteem, make people like me more, and perhaps to compensate for the little autonomy I had over my own decisions as a child. As a consequence of my enmeshed family boundaries, any problems I had automatically become my parents’ problems. They would do everything they could to solve my issues and I felt secure with the knowledge that if I did not want to do something or had a problem, my parents would get me out it. While this benefited me at the time and was done with the best of intentions, several of my parents behavioural patterns have been passed onto me as an adult, including difficulties in establishing boundaries within my social relationships and taking on the role of problem-solver. Together, I feel it is these qualities that have led me to become attracted to the field of psychology, but also have the potential to negatively influence my interaction with future clients.
Potential impact upon counselling
The quality of the client-therapist relationship is considered central to the therapeutic process and an important determinant of treatment outcome (Hall, Ferreira, Maher, Latimer, & Ferreira, 2010; Sauer, Anderson, Gormley, Richmond, & Preacco, 2010). Attachment theory postulates that an attachment style formed in early life can impact the way a therapist relates and interacts with a client (Bucci, Seymour-Hyde, Harris, & Berry, 2016). As I rate highly on the insecure-ambivalent dimension, there are several interpersonal patterns learned in childhood that may negatively impact the therapeutic alliance. Firstly, my dependence on others to manage my own emotions may results in me feeling overwhelmed and anxious when a client is recalling a traumatic event. Consequently, I may have trouble with affect regulation and providing a secure base to clients from which to explore past traumas. Further, my tendency to want to solve people’s problems quickly and be liked at the same time, particularly with females, may hinder my ability to engage in empathic confrontation, and unintentionally prevent clients from exploring an issue in depth from multiple angles. Accordingly, I am likely to put too much emphasis on the client’s therapeutic outcome rather than the therapeutic process and may doubt my ability as a psychologist if a client is failing to progress as I would hope.
In addition, my difficulties establishing rigid boundaries in my adult social relationships may increase my risk of setting and keeping stringent boundaries between myself and clients. Boundaries set the structure and provide a framework for the counselling process (Hartman, 1997). While I would have no issues following boundaries that are clear; for example, not having a dual-relationship with a client, I feel I may have problems navigating situations where the delineation of boundaries is less clear, for instance, saying no if clients put unnecessary demands on my energy or time. However, there are several management strategies that I could implement in order to combat these potential issues.
With regard to my tendency to rely upon others to assist in regulating my emotions and feelings of security, I could attend psychotherapy and develop strategies on how to deal with client rejection, and manage my own emotions to ensure I do not become overwhelmed and burn out. Regarding my propensity and self-concept as a ‘problem solver’, developing self-awareness through reflective journaling will allow me to become vigilant of personal biases and my desire to ‘fix’ the client, rather than following treatment protocols. Another strategy may be to seek ongoing professional supervision, which I feel would be particularly important for me given my tendency to have enmeshed boundaries in my adult relationships. This would ensure that I maintain an ethical and responsible approach to my work and further instil the role of a counsellor as a facilitator and not a ‘fixer’. Finally, with consideration to my tendency to people please, I could start by practising saying no to small things in my real-life relationships, and gradually build the mental strength needed to emphatically confront and confidently guide a client through their distress.
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- Cassidy, J., & Berlin, L. (1994). The insecure/ambivalent pattern of attachment: theory and research. Child Development, 65(4), 971-991. doi:10.2307/1131298
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- Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 971-980.
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