I spent much of last Sunday preparing to make gluten-free cakes for our first CPD training event. My kitchen has never been so clean before.
I made a joke to my partner about focusing all my anxiety on this detail, but when he agreed too whole-heartedly, I realised how important this was to me. The cake, and the accompanying cleaning of the kitchen, are more than just an irrelevant detail, a magic spell to make the training a success. They represent important qualities in my work as a therapist, and in the Apple Tree Centre.
Counsellors often speak of working in a way which is “person centred”, of holding “unconditional positive regard” for our clients, of “empowering” people or of promoting “anti-oppressive practice”. Person centred counselling is a specific approach in itself, but it is also an overarching principle which informs many approaches to therapy, and forms a central part of our mission statement at the Apple Tree Centre.
Being person-centred means recognising the uniqueness of every client – of everybody we meet – and adapting our practice to suit their needs. When children and young people arrive at the Apple Tree Centre, it is vital that they feel important and cared for. If they are going to feel safe and trusting enough to explore their most difficult and painful memories, they need know that they will be recognised and accepted for who they are, not as representatives of a group, but as themselves.
(When I was 14, I started lessons with a new piano teacher, who said, when I’d failed to practice one week, “ah yes, I know teenaged girls”. He didn’t know me, and he didn’t inspire me to practice any harder.)
Being person-centred also means recognising our clients’ strength and expertise, and being prepared to learn from them. We offer our training, knowledge and experience freely, allowing them to decide how best to make use of our time and attention, trusting that they will be able to find what they need.
It is important for us to recognise our own limitations as therapists. There may be clients whom we are not equipped to work with, and we need to be honest about this. If we do take on a client, though, we take them as they are. We don’t expect them to fit in with our preconceived ideas of how therapy should work, how children should behave, or how wounds should heal.
We want our training delegates to feel welcome and valued in our centre. We want them to leave with an impression of the centre as warm, nurturing and inspiring, and good food helps to create that impression. If we provided cake which was unsuitable for some of the group, it would imply that they were less important, more “difficult”, less deserving of our care and attention. By taking a bit of extra care, we make the whole service accessible to everybody. By trying out new recipes, we also learn something new and exciting for ourselves, which will prepare us for the people we will meet in the future.