Confessions of a trainee psychotherapist…..part 3

There are two little words designed to put fear into the heart of any trainee psychotherapist. Not ‘training client’ or ‘process report’ or even ‘case study’ (though these make work just as well). They refer to the part of the experiential skills training known as the ‘Fish Bowl’ exercise.

These are the utterly relaxing, completely non-anxiety-inducing segments of training that involve you and a peer in role-play as ‘client’ and ‘therapist’ acting out a therapy session. Oh, wait, I forgot to mention the fact that there are 12 of your peers sat around you in a circle scrutinising your every move. And then, they give you ‘feedback’ on your (lack of) therapist skills one by one, once the excruciating exercise is over. Ah, yes. When I dwell on it further, ‘Fish Bowls’ are basically the psychotherapeutic training equivalent of water torture; sink, swim or…um, float.

What purpose can these sadistically-designed skills sessions possibly serve? Well, a really good one (I am loathe to say). No one likes to make mistakes – less so in an experiential microscope – but how else does one acquire skills? Fish Bowls are one of the best opportunities to learn, because when you make ‘mistakes’ in an environment like that, you don’t forget it. Besides, like most things, the idea is always more horrendous than the reality. It is always a supportive atmosphere (everyone after all has to take the hot-seat at some point) so it amounts to a kind of ‘peer supervision’, which is always beneficial.

Experiential psychotherapy training – depending on what school you are in – is not for the faint hearted, but ultimately it is how we learn to ‘swim’ and figure out our own approach. Without it, out in the open ocean, we’d be, um… fish food.

Joan Bloggs is not the author’s real name. We hope she will keep us posted on further musings.

If you are interested in training as a psychotherapist, a good place to start research is the BACP or UKCP websites (see our About Therapy page).