Book Review: Mary Connor, Training the Counsellor: An Integrative Model

Pub. Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0 415 10219  £12.99

Mary Connor shares ten years experience of counsellor training in a book which is something of a landmark among the vast and diverse body of literature available to those involved in the counselling field. With the pro­liferation of training courses in recent years, the need to reflect on all aspects of the training process is emerging as paramount.

Training the Counsellor is essentially a resource book for trainers. While its focal point is an integrative four-stage model for training “competent and reflective counsellors”, the author’s intentions are by no means restricted to producing a manual for those who design courses. In fact, one of the most striking themes woven into this model is the emphasis the author places on the ‘person’ of the trainer, and how this pervades and influences the trainee’s process of learning and development. As such, this book provides a comprehensive framework within which trainers may examine their consciousness in relation to the various roles they find themselves in.

The author begins by casting an eye over the changes in counsellor train­ing since 1969, likening the field to an energetic and lively infant “growing so fast it is hard to keep up” (p.1). In conclusion she asserts that training will only begin to “come of age when there are recognised courses for training trainers” (p.11). As a means of introducing the training model, the reader is encouraged to reflect on the transition from counsellor to trainer. Differences between being a counsellor and a trainer are highlighted, and particular attention is given to the concept of the “good enough counsellor trainer” who models for students the qualities necessary for effective counselling practice.

Connor’s model for training counsellors is both integrative and develop­mental. It emphasises the need for trainers to know “not only the key elements which should be in any counsellor training programme, but also the way in which these key elements may be related to one another within the programme” (p.26). Thus, student learning is seen as a product of the training process as much as it is a product of the Course content. Interpersonal and intrapersonal development are envisaged as central and intrinsically facili­tated by the training process. Further to this, the dynamics of the relationship between trainer and student are explored in relation to three themes: trust and dependency, authority and control, competition and rivalry.

Having devoted the middle section of the book to propounding a model for training, both in its theory and its practice, the remainder of the work focuses on the roles and responsibilities of the trainer.

The trainer is described on the one hand as a facilitator whose job is to enable and empower students by communicating respect, empathy and authenticity, and to remove blocks to learning by being intentional, flexible and resourceful. On the other hand, the trainer is an educator who under­stands and accommodates the individuality of the learner, who takes into account different learning styles and different levels of motivation.

Being a trainer inevitably means being an assessor. Connor acknowledges the difficulties which arise in the particular role: “Perhaps the most unloved aspect of counsellor training is assessment. The whole notion of assessing implies judgement and therefore runs counter to much counselling philos­ophy” (p.156).

Finally, in keeping with the comprehensive nature of the volume, the author tackles some of the significant ethical and professional issues in counsellor training, and discusses the ongoing professional development of the trainer.

From the trainer’s point of view, this book is a soul searching experience. The reader is brought face-to-face with the many thorny issues of training and given numerous case examples from the real experiences of both trainers and trainees. The systematic structure and explanation of the model and the depth of understanding of the training process combine to provide a valuable resource for even the most experienced trainer.

Paul O’Donoghue