Why does personal therapy benefit trainee counsellors?

Most training bodies in the UK stipulate that personal therapy is mandatory for trainee therapists. There are certain ethical issues with this – not least that, because therapy is an obligation, some argue that coercion doesn’t encourage genuine openness and personal exploration. Counsellors and hypnotherapists know that  clients need to be invested in their own emotional development and that being forced or persuaded to have therapy often negates any potential progress. In effect, you have to want to be helped to get the benefit.

Having that said, we can perhaps assume that trainee therapists are aware that therapy is a generally positive process and a tool for the good.  Hopefully then, students are open-minded and approach their therapy in a genuine spirit of wanting to become more self-aware and develop their emotional maturity. 

Part of the answer to this question concerns the advantages that all clients gain from therapy. These include:

  • The opportunity to express emotions, fears and needs in an open way and without the risk of being judged.
  • Being able to talk through events and emotions with someone who has no agenda of their own, who won’t try to influence your thoughts and emotions or "fix" your problems.
  • Verbalising thoughts and emotions out loud to another person, helping you to see things from a different perspective, which in turn can make moving on, finding your own solutions and coping strategies much easier to develop.
  • Simply letting out difficult or challenging emotions, which can be cathartic and healing.
  • Having the chance to process your feelings and accept them.
  • Having someone take the time to fully listen, which gives value to your experiences and emotions. It's a great feeling that someone is spending that time just listening to you, making you feel that your feelings matter and that you matter. This has an obvious knock-on effect on your sense of self-esteem and your ability to accept and deal with the challenges of life as they arise.

What other specific advantages are there for trainee therapists?

  • Therapy also helps with personal and professional development: raising self-awareness, emotional resilience and confidence. It demonstrates how powerful active listening and empathy can be and helps trainees to really experience how worthwhile the therapeutic process is.
  • Personal therapy also offers a very good form of experiential learning, whereby trainees can see how concepts they learn about in theory play out in practice.  These could include transference, for example, making students more aware of these potential issues in their own practice.
  • Trainees learn to be reflective – as clients they are learning to be self-reflective as part of the process – as therapists, they will also need this skill to develop as a practitioner.
  • Therapy is a great way for students to experience what it is like to be a client and the dynamics that exist within the therapy room.
  • There are genuine therapeutic gains to be had by engaging with the process. Hopefully, students will be happier within themselves as a result of personal therapy and that can only be positive for them in their own work.
  • It’s a chance for students to see the whole process from beginning to end, to have therapist behaviours modelled for them and to experience how ethical boundaries are established and maintained. 

Ultimately, counselling can assist you to make positive changes – both personally and professionally – and positive change and growth is always a good thing.