You Care too Much: The Nature of Caring in Counselling

Nearly a year ago a professional I respected bellowed the words “You care too much!”, and as the dissonance I had been harbouring toward the role I was in came crashing down, I finally realised how important it was to me to care.  Moreover, as I progress into reflective supervisory based practise, I am beginning to understand what it really means, at a practice level, to live in alignment with this innate capacity to care.  Such understanding is embedded in the notion that how I practice professionally cannot be detached from who I am personally – there is a reciprocity between personal and professional Self-concept that cannot be separated from one another (Moss et al., 2014).  This is an understanding that embraces a practice of excellence, and personifies a distinctly virtuous therapeutic culture as a grounded yet ever-emerging journey of coherent congruent authenticity.  Correspondingly, I shall firstly contextualise the practice of excellence in counselling, followed by three personally salient areas that relate to a virtuous therapeutic culture that provides better counsellee outcomes.  Finally, I shall extrapolate what my journey of embodying coherent congruent authenticity looks like in a practical applicable manner. 

Practice of Excellence

            There is something illusively dexterous in asking the question: What does it mean to develop a level of extraordinary skill and effectiveness that allows for consistency of successful collaborative outcomes? (Kotter & Carlson, 2014).  While the answer is multifaceted, I am coming to believe that there lies a correlation between my innate capacity to care and embracing a level of skill and effectiveness that begets consistent collaborative outcome.  Such correlation is underscored by the knowledge that our humanness is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and there is within each of us, an inherent inclination toward wellness when safe interpersonal connectivity is created (Siegel, 2010; Vanier, 1998; Proverbs 3:5-8).  Namely, when a compassionate connection that expresses respect for culturally, spiritually sensitive inner wisdom is present and is perceived as such, there is a dynamic systematic move toward complexity and inherently healing self-organisation (Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Siegel, 2010).  This is a connection that is based on a solid foundation of Self-development.  Such development begins with an awareness of human ambiguity and motivational intent as well as the desire to continually embrace a curious exploration of the Self (Kotter & Carlson, 2014).  Development that recurrently acknowledges intention, action, and impact (Badenoch, 2018; Siegel, 2010).  Specifically, it is to accept my Self as having neurobiological emotional-motivational drives and to discern true intent behind decision and action (Panksepp, 2010; Rogers, 1995; Schore, 2009); it is to accept ambiguity with appreciation of the nuances that transpire the complexity of human experiences (Carroll, 2011a; Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Rogers, 1995); and it is to ascend to a level of relational truth and trust that begets courageous, curious exploratory expansion – of Self and of Other (Carroll, 2011a; Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Rogers, 1995; Siegel, 2010).  Indeed, with a solid foundation of Self-development there is an opportunity for me to authentically grow in the inseparable reciprocity between personal and professional Self-concept.  This is an opportunity that allows me to benevolently utilise my innate capacity to care within the context of counselling.

A Virtuous Therapeutic Culture for Better Counsellee Outcomes

            It is in awareness of this inseparable Self-concept – knowing that who I am personally will always manifest how I practice professionally – where the nuanced nature of a virtuous therapeutic culture emerges.  Importantly, for this reason I am coming to recognise the reality of the need for support – and the need to be open and honest to a Supervisory Other.  I must allow myself to be supported in order to see what I otherwise cannot see (Badenoch, 2018; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Lloyd-Hazlett & Foster 2014; Romans 12).  Notably, this recognition has stirred a cognisance of the shadows that lie within my humanness: that there are, and always will be, inner experiences that convey subliminal attitudes which in turn affect how I relate to an Other (Gelso & Perez-Rojas, 2017; Schaeffer, 2012; Zala, 2012).  And whilst these inner experiences can be inherent in practice no matter the field, in the field of counselling their nuanced natures are such that they seep into perceptions and interpretations, neurobiologically triggering reciprocated reactions within and between the Self and the Other (Siegel, 2007). 

Quite remarkably though, with guidance of the Supervisory Other, these neurobiologically triggering reciprocated reactions are a phenomenon that can open windows of connection, meaning, and understanding (Schaeffer, 2012; Siegel, 2010).  This is the phenomenon of parallel processing: affective paradoxical mirrors of transference and countertransference that reveal interpersonal dynamic (Arnaud, 2017; Gelso & Perez-Rojas, 2017; Koltz et al., 2012).  More specifically, when in the presence of the Supervisory Other the Self is able to develop an introspective capacity that pays attention to and utilises inner experiencing to embrace that which is implicit and non-verbal (Gelso & Perez-Rojas, 2017; Schore, 2009).  Personally, in experiencing reflection with a Supervisory Other and in building upon the introspective capacity of inner experiences, I have begun noticing that moment-to-moment, past-to-present, and present-to-future affectual relational content begins to raise to the surface of my awareness more easily – with support I am coming to see what I previously have not been able to see.  Moreover, this more readily accessible awareness is beginning to create a safe intrapersonal space that welcomes a deeply felt sense of my Self’s ambiguous shadows and the relational complexities that may transpire in counselling (Gelso & Perez-Rojas, 2017; Koltz et al., 2012; Lloyd-Hazlett & Foster 2014). 

Significantly, within such support and safety, recent transpirings’ have unveiled deep-seated shadows of bias, expectation, manipulation, doubt, and shame, alongside habitual tendencies to ‘rescue’ and monopolise.  And, whilst at first this unveiling seemingly perpetuated these shadows, I am learning that with ongoing reflective practice, and with the courage to introspectively approach that which at times I do not want to see, I am able to work through my shadows and to utilise my inner experiences with a boundary-based groundedness of Self.  Indeed, it is in this working through and utilisation of the inner experience that the reciprocity between personal and professional Self-concept surfaces and the stark reality of virtuous consideration becomes present.  Paradoxically, it is in this same working through and utilisation of the inner experience that a more virtuous therapeutic culture emerges, one that can ultimately serve in benevolence for the Other (Gelso & Perez-Rojas, 2017; Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Lloyd-Hazlett & Foster 2014; Moss et al., 2014). 

The Ever-Emerging Journey of Coherent Congruent Authenticity

            Such virtuous therapeutic culture that serves in benevolence is also manifests within a mindfully deliberate practice of care through attention to intention, action, and responsiveness (Carroll, 2011b; Siegel, 2007).  With attention, discernment of the Self’s impact on the Other and adept in-the-moment contextual and logical decision making can create consistent resonant connection; which in turn creates mutual levels of responsibility and a collaborative space that further serves in the benevolence of the Other (Badenoch, 2018; Carroll, 2011a; Siegel, 2010).  Moreover, this mindfully deliberate practice of care is one in which the ever-emerging journey of coherent congruent authenticity is never more fundamental: this is how I embrace a practice of excellence and personify a virtuous therapeutic culture.

            Such personification, that is creating a coherent congruent authenticity between personal and professional Self-concept, actualises as I more aptly learn how to see and as I learn through living.  The latter impossible without the former.  Thus, the continued cultivation of self-compassion and awareness is necessary.  Such is possible through meditative practices that open calm reflective spaces for body-mind interoception and spaces that cultivate levels of regulation that embody boundary-based groundedness of Self.  I continue learning to see by compassionately attuning to my Self sensing and knowing who I am with authenticity and differentiation (Germer & Neff, 2013; Siegel, 2010).  Such compassionate knowing (mindful presence) also underscores the ability to receive with openness feedback from multiple sources, to self-reflect upon this feedback, and to be willing to change (Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Moss et al., 2014; Zala, 2012).  Moreover, as time goes by, I realise that when I appreciate feedback with recognition and acceptance of my vulnerabilities not as weaknesses but as that which in the past have served me well, I am able to move from defence to open exploration, and to be secure enough to want to change.  It is this appreciation and acknowledgement with mindful self-compassion that begets a willingness and courageousness to try new ways of being and relating.  This is the move from seeing to being, the will to learn through living (Badenoch, 2018; Kotter & Carlson, 2014).

            Notably within my ever-emerging journey there has been a deep wisdom that has come from, and will come from, allowing myself to learn through my life.  A middle ground whereby life has become a balance of the known and the knowing (Siegel, 2012): of theory and of practice, of intuition and of cognition, of passive interaction and of active interaction, knowing when to speak and when to be quiet, of when to think, when to emote, and when to simply breath… (Arnaud, 2017; Ecclesiastes 3; Kotter & Carlson, 2014; Moss et al., 2014; Teyber & Teyber, 2017; Zala, 2012).  This is a middle ground that embraces both/and: as I am weak I am strong, as I despair I hope, as I am hurt I am healed, as I am fearful I am daring, and as I am a professional I am also human (2 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Job 6; Philippians 2:3-8; Romans 5).  Indeed, it is this middle ground that shall allow me to continually learn through my life’s experiences knowing that the more I integrate the knowledge, the feedback, the challenges, and the accomplishments within my lived experiences, the more there becomes coherent congruent authenticity between personal and professional Self-concept – an embodiment of virtues in action.  To care, to truly care.

Finally, to practice in excellence, to personify a distinctly virtuous therapeutic culture as a grounded yet ever-emerging journey of coherent congruent authenticity is to care.  It is to care enough to continually build upon a mindfully deliberate practice that, whilst integrating a solid yet flexible background of theory and technique, takes the time to curiously understand the complexities of our humanness – and always with respect that this journey is not a lone one – the Self needs the Other as the Other needs the Self.


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