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Reflections from a Student Therapist

by Michaela McLaughlin

I have learned through my work with clients that human nature is a reciprocal dance of giving and receiving. From childbirth to eating food and growing food, to our interactions with the natural world and with each other ‒ I’m fascinated with this idea of giving and receiving. At a basic level, it may look like:

I need. You give. I feel grateful. You feel good. I feel indebted. I give back. We take turns.

But, what I’m learning through my clinical work is that giving and receiving become indistinguishable. The aim is not to have more things or be the teacher or giver ‒ but to keep the gift of life flowing. In this short piece I’d like to share some of my reflections.

On counselling
Counselling is the process of slowing down the internal and external noise and the practice of deep listening. It’s the art of understanding the various filters we use to inhale the world, and the intention we use to exhale and release that which isn’t our own. Counselling is a process of learning how to keep emptying and opening, how to keep beginning. Every client. Every session. Every hour. Every word. Counselling is the process of leaning into all we don’t understand in order to be changed by what we hear and encounter along the way. Counselling is an exciting journey that makes both client and therapist feel more alive, more conscious, and more awake. With every trouble that stalls my clients and me and each wonder that lifts us, we put down our conclusions and feel and think and listen anew.

And that’s the hope of counselling: to listen as an active, animated process of connecting your inner world with the world around you, letting one inform the other. It’s simple and sacred. It’s the work of being here.

Theoretical combinations that I work with
Humanistic: I believe that all humans are fully worthy, dignified, whole. I believe fullness can be an achieved feeling for all. I stand behind the humanist orientation that says I see the lighthouse in you, I accept you as you are and I challenge you to be who you want to be. To achieve that level of awareness requires being cared for, feeling safe, and secure in a trustworthy environment, being supported by a community, being listened to, being challenged, and inspired. I strive to meet people with unconditional acceptance, positive regard and curiosity.

Systems thinker: intersection of power and control, privilege and oppression, intersection of multiple identities. I see the world through a lens of what is socially just; oppression as a life without choice; justice as the process in which we ALL become liberated. I’m a post- modern feminist who believes in constructivism and that every interaction is multicultural. Psychopathology is best attributed to broken hearts rather than broken brains.

Interpersonal: we enter this world in relationship ‒ we live and know ourselves and others through relationship. That’s the premise of why counselling works. The authenticity and vulnerability of the ‘I-Thou’ relationship provides healing ingredients. We need each other to understand anything worth keeping in the world.

Mindfulness-based therapy: awareness of the bounds of your Self and others; how you exist in your body, exist in space, and interact with the body-space of others; how one heals through the movement of emotions and sensations through one’s body; how to stay here, to be present, to listen and to stay present with that.

As an emerging professional, I’m learning that clinical work and the intensive supervision I receive reveal volumes about my self-awareness, my developmental trajectory and any emerging blind spots. Clients are often my teachers. I feel like I’m exploring the edges of my comfort zones in nearly every interaction. And as I look forward, I hope to not ever feel too cosy. We know through psychological theory that clients grow when they are vulnerable and challenged; change happens at the edges of our competence and confidence. For me, too, as an emerging professional, as a student psychologist, as a lifelong learner ‒ I hope to exist in this space alongside my clients.

Michaela McLaughlin is pursuing her PhD in Counselling Psychology at the University of Minnesota. To empower and inspire people through movement and art, to help the heart sing and heal and to recover the ability, grace and power that people already possess is Michaela’s reason of being.

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