Reviewer Ben Scanlan
Peter Jenkins sets out to give a handy, accessible guide to the “practical information about the ‘nuts and bolts’ requirements of actually beginning work as a counsellor” (p1), aiming to provide the sort of book he says he wanted when he was training. While this is a lofty aim, for the most part it is achieved.
The book is divided into eight chapters following a short introduction, which lays out the overarching rationale including the frequent future references to the BACP Core Curriculum for Accredited Courses and the book’s structure as a “textbook rather than being more discursive or theory based” (p2). The first chapter aims to examine the process of becoming a member of the counselling profession, before chapter two examines the organizational context of practising counselling. The third and fourth chapters address client issues and professional issues separately; acknowledged as an “artificial distinction”, but a useful one to give adequate structure and a way to look at things without being overburdened. Chapter five addresses the legal context within which counselling operates, before chapter six looks at ethics and considers the move from codes of ethics to ethical frameworks, and flexibility in practice. The final two chapters are more forward looking, with chapter seven looking at the process of moving from student, via placement, to BACP registration. Finally, chapter eight addresses the often-neglected idea of developing new roles and the potential (and need) to make a living through counselling and related roles.
Each chapter follows a similar pattern with a short, bullet point introduction, a paragraph on the learning context, the relevant section from the BACP Core Curriculum (2009) and then the appropriate points from the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016). The main body of each chapter is divided into succinct sub-headings, and makes use of boxes to display quotes and ideas outside of the text. There are also exercises, some of which draw on the material presented directly, while others are more reflective. At the end of each chapter there’s a section comprised of general resources, research (with a handful of different texts noted), further reading and a reference section for supervisors.
At times, I felt the book skirted around issues and failed to provide more than a cursory depth of insight. For example, the sections in chapter five about the legal context could potentially include interesting sub-sections around recording client material and contracting. However, these are focused solely on the role in an organizational setting, and don’t touch implicitly or explicitly on the implications for private practice. From a personal point of view this feels awkward, given that a huge number of us will end up in private practice and actually this is the area where guidance and insight can be lacking; offering some case study examples of practitioners’ approaches would have offered another level of depth.
I really enjoyed some of the exercises dotted throughout the book, such as one around evaluating experiences of groups and teams. It’s simple, asking the reader to list the types of groups one has been involved in, then the teams of which one has been a member, before asking “what differences, if any, can you identify between a group and a team?” (p83). It may be that Jenkins is relying on the reader to take this simple exercise and expand it themselves, and in that sense I like the basic element as it retains accessibility, whilst implicitly encouraging reflectiveness and an attitude of inquisition.
As a text book, I was hoping for an in-depth presentation of some different perspectives, which could facilitate further reflection within the reader. Jenkins gives an excellent overview of CORE forms, and outcome measures generally. This is something that, despite having worked in several services using them, I’d not heard before. However, after this excellent overview, the offering of the alternative view was limited to “some therapists are very skeptical about the value of collecting outcome data in this way, or tend to see the process as interfering with the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist” (p99). This “critique” is followed up immediately by a stand-alone box with a quote from an author, Streatfield, supporting CORE forms which concludes with the view that outcome measures are “seen as a normal, helpful and integral part of the therapy” (p.99). The picture would be far more complete if an author counter to Streatfield had been found and acknowledged, rather than the alternate view being limited to one sentence.
Chapter eight, which most reflects my current stage, proved the most useful in providing an overview of related roles, such as being a supervisor, conducting research, coaching, undertaking workplace counselling, teaching and group facilitation. While I didn’t think this chapter provided any startling discoveries, it’s the first time I’ve read an articulation of the potential options available, in a way that doesn’t diminish the original training as a therapist but is simply part of building a portfolio living.
As somebody who is building a private practice, there were some useful insights and clarifications brought about by the book. I feel that if I had read it right at the start of training, or when I was beginning a placement, it would have been more use to me than now. Having said that, I do feel there are far more benefits than disadvantages to reading this book, and it’s a springboard to a deeper level of consideration. As I’ve articulated, there are holes, but these holes are smaller than the entire absence of a book like this before, and as such, just provide the potential to explore one’s own views even more.
Ben Scanlan is an Existential Psychotherapist and Coach in private practice in Canada Water and London Bridge. He has worked in the NHS, in sport and the charity sector and has an interest in working with men and suicidal clients.