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meaning and structure; all things I need to feel alive and that give me the energy and motivation to feel more connected to the families I am seeing. Christopher: My new mid-life career change to that of a therapist started six years ago with Relate, the relationship- counselling agency. There, I trained for three years to diploma level as a systemic and psychodynamic couples-therapist and then as a supervisor. With UKCP- membership in mind, I moved to the Institute of Family Therapy to complete their systemic diploma at year two. This allowed me to apply for their fi nal two qualifying years, which I only got on at the last minute because someone else had to drop out. Prior to my MSc years,

Despite fortunately having had a great deal of previous experience of

team-and-screen family therapy,

the thought of the

no one had observed my work in the room with clients, hence working in a team was the major attraction for me. Though nervous of this aspect, I felt I needed, and was ready for, feedback. I did not consider myself to be academically gifted and, in the early years of my training, I had to push myself through multiple essay re-writes, for which I feel I must surely hold a record. I come from a family where the benchmark for professional male identity tends more towards the MSc/doctoral level, and I think this context helped motivate me to take my training through to UKCP membership level. I was lucky that Relate and my private clients off ered a fl exible working pattern. As long as I kept on top of my diary, I could manage the varied course needs.

During the course

Helen: Despite fortunately having had a great deal of previous experience of team- and-screen family therapy, the thought of the live supervision in the context of an MSc course was terrifying. I was not going to volunteer to go fi rst for anything as I was so worried that I would do it wrong! However, through the generosity and safety of the group, in part provided by the expertise of our supervisors and in part provided through the commitment of


live supervision in the context of an MSc course was terrifying

the other students, my confi dence slowly returned to me. Alhough, of course, I did do lots of things wrong, and had this fed back to me (though not in those words), I also learnt that doing things diff erently to others did not necessarily mean that they were wrong or not as good, simply diff erent, and also that providing diff erence is important in systemic therapy. The group was not always easy; there were tensions and it is, of course, easier to make mistakes in private rather than in front of an audience. However, the learning from these mistakes was, I believe, richer from the shared experience of them. The diff erent perspectives of my colleagues also actively challenged me to take risks and to move out of my therapy comfort- zone. For me this

meant, amongst other things, sticking with confl ict, focusing on the detail rather than the wider picture and talking about sex! In addition, the warmth of working with a group, being greeted with a cup of tea, debriefs at the pub and a shared moan, often helped the learning context and the spirit. Christopher: Like Helen, the team experience was the highlight of the course for me. Unlike her, though, this was a new process for me. We worked together with two others for 240 hours over the two qualifying years. The training embraced all the main family therapy models, and our client work there was the place for us to stretch our practice. My previous trainings had been limited to discussing ideas in the context of reported experiences with clients. Now, they could be explored live as the client/therapist relationships unfolded before us. Key for me was that colleagues and supervisors off ered feedback. This was not without challenge, as Helen mentions above. I still remember both the early ‘sting’ of receiving negative feedback, and getting the courage together to off er it to colleagues. I had to keep telling myself I was there to take risks. The team was committed here, and a level of trust was

established that I had not experienced in my working life. The MSc training was made up of many

components, all with their multiple and diff erent dates, groups, places, rooms, tutors, briefs and submission requirements. This led me to a sense of organisational fragmentation. Coordinating these demands with work and private life, not wanting to let our supervision group down, all took much planning and renegotiating of other commitments. I was very lucky here in having not only my partner’s full support, but in my partner having an independent social life and interests. This allowed me more ‘selfi shly’ to meet my course needs. There were still confl icts such as weekends away just before assignment deadlines. I remember spending one in a hotel room with books and laptop while my partner and another couple explored Vienna. Not always a comfortable compromise.

After the course

Helen: The systemic-psychotherapy qualifi cation, in many ways, has made me a more confi dent therapist. I feel I am better at ‘standing up’ for systemic therapy within the multidisciplinary team that I work in. I am more resilient and I have more to off er to families; this is important to me. Also, I am more aware of what I don’t know, but I no longer feel the need to apologise for this or search for the piece of information that will make me know. I can present myself as someone who can join the family in their search for ‘knowing’ and, within this, I can off er the family an experience of something diff erent. I have also become more aware of the stories I carry around with me; how they both keep me safe and constrain my work as a therapist, I now bring these as well as my clinical cases to supervision. On a more practical level, and

probably of more interest to students considering whether to train as a systemic psychotherapist, the qualifi cation has meant I have a wider range of career options available, which will lead to a more varied and interesting work life. In turn, this keeps me enthusiastic, my work more eff ective and me generally happier. To add to this, I have also made some

good contacts; have a new job and have made some new friends to drink cider with! Christopher: I’m glad to say I’m still with Relate, supervising individuals and groups and, additionally, working in private

Context February 2012

So you’re thinking of doing an MSc?

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