The current edition of Therapy Today arrived on the doormat today and as well as the themed and topical article on exercise and wellbeing there was also an interesting article on the effect of psychotherapy training on one’s relationship.
Rosemary Cowan interviewed trainees as well as their partners to try to understand the pressures involved in training and the pressures placed on their relationships. The article is based on research she conducted for an MA in Transpersonal Psychotherapy and Counselling.
The study found that the majority of problems that occurred between couples involved in training took place early in the training. Respondents said that this was a period of major adjustment for both parties. Trainees were engaged with multi-faceted, new demands and began to question old ways of being. It was noted that partners often felt a range of mixed emotions, and this ranged from exclusion to irritation. Partners reported that they objected quite strongly to the new way the trainee was behaving.
do colleges support couples during training?
What are psychotherapy training colleges doing to support couples undergoing training? Well, you might ask. Given that colleges find it difficult addressing the needs of their student population (and particularly those with any kind of learning and development issues) you might not be surprised to learn that colleges do not even consider the support needs of couples. Rosemary Cowan points out that the developmental model that her college suggested was very helpful to her. She notes that trainees in the first year were likened to wide-eyed, enthusiastic primary school children; in the second year, like pre-teens, they gain confidence and independence but may also be ‘know-alls’ who overstretch themselves; in the third year they reach the rebellious, argumentative, difficult teenager stage; in the fourth year, with increased maturity and stability, they become more rounded, finished characters.
I have often wondered is there a particular type of person that trains in counselling and psychotherapy. Some say that the motivation for embarking on training in psychotherapy was very often what might be termed ‘wounded-healer syndrome’. Problems such as mid-life crises, physical and mental ill health and relationship and family issues are common with trainees and these drivers had sparked an interest in becoming a therapist. Of course, this raised the spectre that there were pre-existing stresses, and possibly fragility, right at the beginning of the training. Anyone attending open evenings at colleges will get a glimpse of this, often from the line of questioning that takes place between prospective students and the college management. This all suggests that trainees may be in need of more support than most other students in other disciplines and explains why trainees have to be in therapy themselves. However, while undertaking personal therapy will ultimately be helpful to them, it may also stir more difficulties. It was often problematic for partners, digging up suspicion, jealousy and resentment that the trainee was talking about them to someone else.
the course should come with a health warning
I recall from the very early days of my course what my tutor said that the course should come with a health warning. He meant that people going through the training undertake great change and personal growth and this can cause tensions and cracks in existing relationships. However, if your relationship is strong then there is nothing to worry about. Indeed partners of trainees are as useful in the therapeutic community as the trainees themselves. They will offer support and strength to the trainees which ultimately benefits the clients.
Do we have ‘wounded-healer syndrome’ when starting our training? You decide.