Voices from the Field – Defining Moments in Counsellor and Therapist Development

Voices from the Field – Defining Moments in Counsellor and Therapist Development

Edited by M Trotter-Mathison, J Koch, S Sanger and T Skovholt:

Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group 2010. ISBN: 978 0 415 995757

Reviewed by Ursula Somerville

Have you ever wondered what you would identify as your defining moment in life?  Voices from the Field is just such a book. The book was born from a series of brief story-like articles, by Tom Skovholt and Patricia McCarthy, from the counselling profession in a special issue of Journal of Counselling and Development in 1988 relating to “critical incidents/turning points” in a counsellor’s life. Three of the above named editors explored the stories as part of their doctoral seminars.

The book is set out covering the “Lay Helper Phase”, “Beginning Student Phase”, “Advanced Student Phase”, “Novice Professional Phase”, “Experienced Professional Phase” and the “Senior Professional Phase”. Each chapter is: Introduced, has a Chapter Summary and a unique section of Questions which can be used to self reflect, to create further dialogue regarding what counselling is “supposed” to “look like, be like or feel like”. Some 84 practitioners, at different stages in their professional development, write about their defining moments in both professional and personal lives. It is an easy to read book with each experience taking two to three pages in length.  

The lay helper phase is for the non-professional who uses themselves to help others. At this phase they would not be trained and so could be with friends, siblings, co-workers and I might add the voluntary helper. It is noted that often times the lay helper will use this skill to bring them into formal training in this work. In “An Obstructed View” the anonymous author tells of his/her defining moment where they attempted suicide as giving them a perspective of

“…from the inside out the fragile balance that depressed individuals sometimes maintain between life and death, hope and despair, moving forward and ceasing all motion”. and “… gaining distance from the attempt….showed him/her that …depression can be insidious and that it lies”.

In the beginning student phase Andrew Weis tells us of the supervisor who thought that the “secret knowledge” therapists are sometimes presumed to have of their clients should be kept so as he worked with a client in a humanistic way while she was suffering with bulimia. They collaboratively worked through treatment options which would best suit her. This experience with his supervisor showed him that sharing knowledge with your client and supervisee can be empowering for them. The advanced student Laura Sobik talks about the loss of a client to suicide and about her fear of speaking about it in print. Notwithstanding this she speaks about the effect this event had on her and the support she looked for and received and how this had been a defining moment for her in her work. All therapists who have experienced this and indeed all of them who fear it will “happen to them” would do well to read this article. Jeffrey Rings takes us through the existential work of a dying client. He frankly talks about “not giving her illness much notice ….. turning instead to the next client who would turn up….”. He talks in the present tense about his client’s pending death and shares how, even as he writes this defining moment up, he is allowing “more

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