Counsellor and trainee psychodynamic psychotherapist Hannah Beckett-Pratt discusses the importance of supervision and the universality of human experiences
This week, Counselling Directory member Hannah Beckett-Pratt explores the role of supervision in counselling, and makes the call for regulation.
Hannah is a qualified transactional analysis counsellor and a trainee psychodynamic psychotherapist. She runs her own private practice, WellSpace Counselling, in Hampshire, where she works with adults on a 1-2-1 basis – often seeing clients for several months, if not years.
She is particularly interested in the impact of early-life relational experiences on adult mental health – more specifically, the dynamics of the mother-infant relationship, emotional and psychological abuse within families, and the development of personality disorders.
So, what’s her professional opinion?
Hi Hannah! Why did you decide to become a counsellor?
The most literal answer is that I was teaching A-level psychology in a Sixth Form College, and wanted a pastoral promotion. I had been advised that a Level 3 Counselling Skills course would boost my application but, while studying, I realised that what I actually wanted was to help people better understand themselves and their lives, and to do that for myself too.
So, instead of applying for the promotion, I continued my counselling training and began my own psychotherapy, which I have been in for six years now.
In a more covert sense, my interests have always surrounded what it means to be human and how we become who we are. When I reflect on who I am as a person, and my own life experiences, it makes total sense to me that I've chosen this work.
Since you began, what have you found to be the most surprising thing about the work you do?
Firstly, the more personal psychotherapy I have, the more I am able to help clients. I find the adage that 'we can only go with others where we have been ourselves' to be very true in this line of work.
We don't literally need to have been through the same events that our clients have, but the more we have felt and explored our own experiences, the greater depth we can work at, and the more profound the healing. I am invariably surprised by the universality of human suffering and the similarities in what impacts us; and also at how resilient we are, even when we cannot see it ourselves.
When I reflect on who I am as a person, and my own life experiences, it makes total sense to me that I've chosen this work
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I see psychotherapy as more of a purpose than a profession; it is the art of using oneself in the service of others. For that reason, looking after and developing myself is indispensable to the work and, in turn, my clients also impact and change me.
I feel a deep sense of privilege in response to the relationships between my clients and me, and I think this is what I value the most. I think there are very few professions where every single interaction and communication has the potential to be truly meaningful and enriching to both the client and me.
What are some of the challenges that come with your line of work?
For me, the challenges and benefits are two sides of the same coin. While it is incredibly enriching, the meaning of the work also means it has a significant impact on me. I believe the therapist being impacted is integral to in-depth therapy, but it is also a lot to bear and needs to be honoured and mediated. The work of psychotherapy also shines a light on the areas of myself that I need to work on, just as much as it does my clients.
From a practical and social perspective, working as a therapist remains a privileged position. The training is expensive and requires you to reduce paid working hours in other employment to attend clinical training placements. Personal therapy and supervision are usually extra on top of these costs and, once qualified, the costs of running a private practice are comparatively high to income generated, too.
How do you address some of the challenges that you face?
I believe ongoing personal therapy and high-quality supervision are crucial in restoring and increasing emotional capacity. I also ensure I allow enough time between clients to rest, go for a walk, or have a coffee. I work out regularly and make time for hobbies, friends, my husband, and my dog to ensure my energy, body, and mind are well-balanced, and to keep burnout and compassion fatigue at bay.
I mediate my client work with other income sources, which have included teaching, examining and assessing counselling and psychology courses – and freelance writing on topics relating to psychological and emotional and relational health.
From a practical and social perspective, working as a therapist remains a privileged position
What do you think could be done to improve the profession for you and for others?
This is a hotly-debated and controversial perspective, but I do believe the counselling and psychotherapy professions need to be regulated by ethical bodies and, ideally, the law.
I think this would better protect members of the public in their search for safe, qualified, and ethical therapists. I think it would help industry professionals to be better recognised for the impactful, but demanding, work that we do, and would contribute to standardising and formalising training paths and establishments too.
What do you see being some of the major challenges your profession will face in the next 10 years?
As self-development and wellbeing continue to become more significant in public discourse, people will likely pay more attention to their psychological and emotional health. With the current crisis in the NHS, it will be challenging to continue to offer free and low-cost therapy services to the public.
I hope, though, that this might give us a chance to alter the way we see mental health and move away from the pathologising medical model. It would be great to see more curiosity for how emotional distress develops in relation to our external and internal worlds, and increase the offer of other services outside the NHS, such as charities.
I also think we will continue to see the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people's mental health. The dramatic adjustments we made as a society to cope with a life-threatening virus cannot be underestimated, and I think we are only just beginning to get an idea of the scope of its impact.
Regulation and streaming of therapists' skills according to their experience and training path will be an industry-specific challenge. While I believe standardisation is necessary, I think it will be a messy and arduous process, given how long the therapeutic profession has been unregulated for.
What advice would you give to others in the profession?
Have as much of your own therapy as you can afford. No training or CPD can expand therapeutic capacity as far as personal psychotherapy.
FdA (Hons), BSc (Hons), MSt (Hons), DTTLS, MBACP, UPCA, UKCP