046 – Coping with Stress as a Counselling Student – Trauma Bonds – Personal Counselling for Trainees
In episode 46 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Rory Lees-Oakes and Ken Kelly talk about how to cope with stress as course deadlines loom. ‘Theory with Rory’ examines trauma bonds, then the presenters discuss personal therapy for trainee counsellors.
Coping with Stress as a Counselling Student (starts at 3.29 mins)
As we approach the end of the academic year. It can be a stressful time for counselling students, with assignments, portfolios and dissertations to complete. Rory explains that when we become stressed, cortisol (produced by the kidneys) travels through our vagal system (a highway through the spine) and floods our middle brain, leading us to forget things.
The presenters offer a number of tips for students feeling stressed about impending deadlines:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to start – get going as soon as possible.
- Think how you would eat an elephant – i.e. one bite at a time! In other words, break down the huge task into manageable steps.
- Set a time to do a set amount of work, e.g. 20 minutes, and reward yourself with a short break – perhaps a look out the window or cup of tea.
- Switching off your phone or other distractions can also be useful.
- Remove yourself from your everyday surroundings, e.g. go to the college library.
- Try to abstain from worrying about your work when you are doing other activities.
- Make checklists of theory trigger words to refer to as you are writing.
- Make sure you answer the question being asked: don’t overcomplicate matters by adding extra information that hasn’t been asked for.
- Consider joining our Counselling Study Resource (CSR), which includes a book by Rory on writing assignments and a video on how the CSR can help with your assignments.
Trauma Bonds (starts at 14.05 mins)
This segment follows Rory’s recent lectures in the CSR on preparing to work with clients who have experienced abuse/trauma, and on the Stockholm syndrome. Trauma bonds are illustrated in the 1974 film ‘The Night Porter’, starring Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling, about the relationship between a Nazi SS officer and a concentration-camp prisoner.
Rory lists specific elements of a relationship that make a person more likely to be trauma-bonded:
- There is violence or threatened violence.
- The abuser alternates between abuse and kindness, so confusing the victim and linking the two behaviours in the victim’s mind.
- The victim believes that retaliation will lead to more violence and so becomes increasingly passive, trading their free will for perceived safety.
- Some abusers use isolation to cut victims off from their family and friends.
- Victims feel shame for what has happened to them (e.g. if they have been raped).
So how can we spot clients who may be trauma-bonded? Key clues are that they:
- show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, e.g. having flashbacks, breaking down, and/or talking like a child
- believe that something bad is going to happen: a feeling of impending doom
- are intensely grateful for small things, e.g. ‘He lets me out to do the shopping’
- deny violence, passively accepting and/or rationalising this
- deny feeling anger or other negative emotions towards the abuser
- believe they have some control over the abuser/situation
- believe that what is happening is their own fault, having a sense of self experienced through the abuser’s rather than their own eyes
- are vigilant to the abuser’s needs, doing anything to keep them happy
- try to understand the abuser, for example making the excuse that they had a bad childhood.
We can deal with trauma bonds in therapy by giving the client space to tell their story, and gently challenging their perceptions. This can take some time.
Rory has written a handout explaining more about trauma bonds and how to work with clients affected by them.
Personal Counselling for Trainees (starts at 24.54 mins)
Most counselling and psychotherapy courses require trainees to undertake personal counselling, though the amount of this required varies greatly between modalities.
While some students welcome this opportunity, others feel reticent, believing that they don’t need therapy. However, many benefit far more than they might have expected. Counselling is not just a place to offload distress; it is also great for personal development.
Personal therapy can be really useful for various reasons:
- Counselling training inevitably involves personal change and can shake the foundations of what you have known so far.
- It is good to experience what it is like to be a client receiving therapy.
- It is valuable to see how another practitioner operates, helping you to learn both how you would like to practise and things you would not choose to replicate.
- Rather like the Johari window exercise, therapy can help us gain sight of things about ourselves that were previously invisible to us.
All these benefits can help us better serve our own clients.