Musings and Articles by CST Associates and Partners
Jim Holloway is a BACP senior accredited counsellor and supervisor, a partner in Cambridge Supervision Training, and co-author of Practical Supervision: How to become a supervisor for the helping professions (JKP 2014).
What BACP means to you:
I recently read a surprisingly persuasive account of how organisations don’t really exist. No matter what their purpose, size or structure, they are ‘legal fictions’. A limited liability company, for example, can be accurately described as a figment of our collective imagination: it can’t be pointed at or touched, it’s not embodied by any person or group of people, and often not even located in one particular place. It’s only an ‘entity’ in law. That could explain why many organisations of various kinds try to represent themselves to the general public through an individual figurehead or ‘personality’.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. It’s something I invite new supervisees to play with, if they are BACP members. Say you had to choose someone to be the face of our professional body, as you perceive it, who would you select? I don’t mean a highly personable and articulate PR person, however valuable she or he would be in reality. The fun is in making up at least one idiosyncratic character who captures the subjective essence of what BACP actually means to you. Notice and include any seemingly random associations, however stereotypical, fantastic or daft, that come to mind. This is not a subtle branding exercise: it’s about your unique, genuine, uncensored version of ‘BACP’, in your very own head. For myself, right now, I conjure up Harpo Marx in drag – all turquoise and lavender, as it happens – intently making stacks of sandwiches out of policy documents, membership forms, committee reports, research papers... and occasionally honking his/her horn to get my attention. (What can I say? It works for me.)
Many trainees or novice practitioners seem concerned not to say 'the wrong thing'. Well, let's be clear: very often those are precisely the things that need to be said! In my experience, most supervisees enjoy having a chance to be free and frank when envisaging BACP in this way. The playfulness of the exercise helps to bring ‘unallowed’ feelings or ‘professionally incorrect’ attitudes – and even perhaps an indication of some important shadowy stuff – out in the open, with good humour and without shame. I believe this is vitally helpful in supervision, for two main reasons. Firstly, I want my supervisees to be true to themselves and not constrained by taking up a deferential or ingratiating stance in relation to the profession or me. While being ethically minded is an essential requirement of the job, this doesn’t oblige us to be nice and polite and proper all the time. Many trainees or novice practitioners seem concerned not to say ‘the wrong thing’. Well, let’s be clear: very often those are precisely the things that need to be said! The supervisory space is nothing much if it isn’t full of candour. Secondly, issues around power and authority need to be addressed openly in supervision and not dodged or dismissed. In private practice we act mostly on our own authority, but there is a higher authority to which we’re answerable, and it has the power to impose sanctions and withdraw our individual membership. That’s what thousands of us have signed up to, and it’s a big deal, both intellectually and emotionally, to be part of such a prodigious and powerful association.
Remembering the argument that they don’t really exist, institutions seem especially likely to attract our best and worst projections and fantasies: we fill them in or flesh them out, as it were, through the power of our subliminal imaginings. To help make these transferences more conscious, I invite supervisees to say what they know about their typical pattern of relationship to authority. The story they tell about their personal power and what they do with it is always relevant. Some perceive BACP as a potent enabling force, like a nurturing family, so they feel empowered; others experience it as officious and demanding, so they feel oppressed. What follows from that? I want the supervisee to be aware of the next movement they make in response, and they usually find it useful to reflect on this in terms of parent/adult/child dynamics.
This process is reliably helpful when a supervisee is very anxious about applying for accreditation; even more so after they have made an unsuccessful first application. When a supervisee is despondent or frustrated, feeling let down or unjustly treated, then the restorative function of supervision is obviously invaluable. I believe there’s added value to be gained by recognising that the intellectual and emotional struggle to become accredited is necessarily difficult and painful. Not everyone finds it excruciating, but I believe going through the process is very much like an initiation. In other words, it’s about growing up.
I don’t want to oversimplify this, but if ‘BACP’, in your head, is: (a) too much like a mother or father you must please and have approval from, or (b) too much like a parental authority you must criticise and do battle with, then you are probably not in a truly grown-up relationship with BACP. Many supervisees in private practice adopt a kind of reluctant pragmatism (‘There must be a less bureaucratic way, but I will do my best to jump through all the hoops because I need to become accredited’), and to be fair I think that is how a lot of us actually move closer to mature autonomy. The experienced practitioners I supervise have matured enough to know the childlike positions they can get themselves into, and how to make the necessary adjustments. Some less experienced supervisees wince, and some laugh, but most do both, when I point out that the letters BACP really do not stand for Big Anonymous Critical Parent.