Moving house is mentally exhausting, and how much of your personal life do you decide to share with coworkers and clients?

I’m not physically moving until mid-late January and I am already stressed. I think I’m stressed a reasonable amount for the situation and I’m also balancing it with excitement. So, really I’m complaining for the sake of complaining – which can be therapeutic and bonding!

That relates to my current train of thought – how much of my personal sh*t do I share with my co-workers and clients? I know, I know. There’s no right answer. Everyone’s different, everyone’s work environment and relationships to people at work is different, and so on. Still…

While I was doing my Bachelor of Social Work degree at uni, I was taught to have an absolute concrete hard line between my personal and professional life. Pfft. Boundaries are important but that is impossible – like literally impossible.

Current best practice and training (ugh there’s always better stuff when you’ve already left) shows that social workers/therapist are more effective when they show they’re human. Every social worker I’ve meet agrees that there are hard limits (e.g. don’t add your clients on your personal Facebook!) but the other stuff is a bit more grey and wibbly-wobbly.

I use discretion to decide whether or not something I share is appropriate. I generally follow the principle most social workers follow is – I only share it if it has a purpose and helps the client. That being said, why deny that I’m feeling a bit tired or anything else that shows that I’m human and imperfect? The days of therapists presenting this perfect impenetrable have-my-life-together are over! Or at least for those of us that keep up to date with Best Practice with capital B and P.

You have to model the model – be imperfect, be vulnerable, be human and show that it is okay to be all those things you’re telling clients are okay! If you say one thing then to the contrary then why would the client believe you?

Or relate to you.

Or trust you.

So my point is that I’m really tired guys. Moving sucks. Buying furniture sucks and is so expensive. The dog in the box photo I found is cute though.

And you can always trust me to be honest and imperfect.

Peace,

Michelle

What’s the difference between a social worker, counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist and psychiatrist?!

I professionally identify as a social worker and a counsellor. I think I would also fit into the definition of a psychotherapist but it’s a term that I don’t identify strongly. I have a Bachelor of Social Work and a Graduate Diploma of Relationship Counselling so those titles fit most comfortably for me.

Social Workers: A social worker needs am accredited Bachelor of Social Work or a Masters of Social Work (Qualifying) degree by the Australian Association of Social Workers to use the title.

Counsellors/Psychotherapist: A counsellor/psychotherapist in Australia doesn’t require any training or qualification to use the title though there are many different programs/degrees that teach counselling and psychotherapy. There are two voluntary registration bodies: the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) and PAFCA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia).

Psychologist: A psychologist must have completed a 4 year Bachelor of Psychology, then Honours or post-graduate diploma, then a Masters degree or 2 years supervised internship. A Clinical psychologist is a psychologist with a Masters of Clinical Psychology, while a Registered Psychologist does not have a Masters.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a registered doctor who can prescribe medication. Sometimes they are trained in psychotherapy but often are not. Often only get consulted when a client needs to adjust their medication and not for therapeutic services. Many trained GPs will be able to provide the same medication management.

So who should you see?

It depends on your needs. I am, of course, biased as I am a social worker and I believe we work holistically. It really depends on how you click with specific practitioners and how their specialities meet your needs.

I don’t think titles matter as much as how much you would get out of it. I’ve seen a variety of mental health professionals for both personal counselling and professional supervision – including counsellors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists.

If you think we would click well together then shoot me an email at: nichemichelle@gmail.com and we can chat more.

Just another bio…

It’s always such a dilemma when writing up or choosing a professional biography/write up. I like the first person casual atmosphere (as you can probably tell from my Who Am I? page) but recently I was asked to write up a bio for a new workplace and I tried to follow their style. I’m interested in getting feedback of  what you think would be more welcoming/encouraging for the clients to message for an appointment:

Michelle is a qualified social worker and relationship counsellor. She specialises in issues of self-growth and identity, family and couples therapy, parent-child bonding, working with the LGBTIQA+ community, family of origin exploration and issues, relational and complex trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect, working with men who use violence, and attachment issues. Michelle enjoys working with individuals and couples to really unpack their experiences of relationships and sense of self. She is interested in how our families of origin influence how we think and act in our current relationships.

Michelle also enjoys working with carer-child relationships to facilitate a secure attachment and deeper connection whether this is with an adolescent or a toddler. She has experience working with children and families that have been impacted by trauma such as domestic violence or intergenerational neglect. She approaches these issues with an empathetic non-blaming lens.

Michelle’s practice framework is developed from a variety of models and theories but the she would say she is most passionate about attachment theory, narrative therapy, family systems therapy, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, trauma-informed, and Open Dialogue/dialogical practice. However, she doesn’t think that all that is as important as the relationship between the therapist and client.

She also co-facilitates a monthly parent’s support group for gender-diverse youth at the Gender Centre, and is interested in running workshops/groups for both clients and practitioners.

External supervisors and the small world therapists live in

Supervision is a topic I am super passionate about. I believe you should get a minimum of 1 hour of clinical supervision every month. I’m getting 1.5 hours of line management every month, 1 hour of work funded external supervision every 6 weeks, and 1 hour of self-funded external supervision every 4-6 weeks. I used to attend a monthly group supervision (that has since been discontinued). I also co-facilitate caseworker group supervision across 3 offices (but I’m not counting that since I’m not a supervisee).

That’s a lot of supervision. I know.

When I used to work full-time in two separate organisations I had another 2 supervisors on top of that. Messy!

In my speciality of relationship and systemic therapy (with an attachment lens) there’s not a lot of options for supervisors with a degree (mostly Masters due to the limited study options too) and at least 10 years of experience under their belt. I also had some additional criteria – I needed them to have enough degrees of separation from my organisations I want to work for in the future, my current managers, most of my co-workers, etc. You get the picture.

When I was researching potential clinical supervisors in Sydney I had a very short list. I think it was about 6 names – maybe less. I had to cross someone out because they literally worked in my role previously and my line manager was not keen. I crossed off another two people because they lived too far north for me. I crossed off another because they were running group supervision for one of my workplaces. So I had 2 people left over.

It’s been about a year since and through training/work/etc I’ve noted a few more names but it’s still a small group. I’ve attended enough state-wide and national conferences/trainings to know the key players. Word of mouth is both a huge advantage and also very dangerous! A trainer I liked recommended a supervisor I loved, and on the other side at the national conference a group of family therapy leaders recommended a supervisor I had tried earlier and totally flopped with.

Supervision IS NOT just about finding solutions, solving problems and double checking what you’ve done.

Supervision IS about building a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Supervision is a relationship where you are supported to grow.

Supervision’s goal is to create and maintain a long term relationship where you feel emotionally safe enough to expose your vulnerabilities as a person and as a professional, where you are open to be challenged, and comfortable to ask questions about what your supervisor said. It’s about having passionate theoretical and ethical debates, unpacking a session where you would have done everything differently, having someone who you see as an expect recognise your skills and identity as a therapist, where you can grieve and celebrate cases.

It’s about finding the right fit like Goldilocks. Trial and error. I definitely feel different levels of comfort and trust towards different supervisors. Some supervisors are more structured and holding in their approach which can create a sense of safety and security in the space you share. You trust in their ability to contain you. Some are more practical and task based, and provide less emotional support. In contrast, others may not have strong enough boundaries and try pull you into being their emotional drama. In the supervisor-supervisee relationships there can be a variety of dynamics and dangers that occur in any dyad.

I also love peer supervision which I don’t have in my current role – I’ll take a look at options out there or even look at starting my own peer supervision group where we can meet up once of month after work or on the weekend.

Australian Association of Family Therapy Conference 2019 at Melbourne

Hello there,

I’m currently in the middle of day 2 of Australian Association of Family Therapy’s Conference hosted in Melbourne. I’m originally from Sydney so there was some uncanny valley when I stepped out of the airport. Are the streets differently sized to Sydney or am I imagining it?

As a giant introvert I was not looking forward to the amount of people and hours I’ll have to be internally switched on. As a therapist I was peachy keen to get into the presentations and talks. 1.5 days in and I am wiped!

I came with a colleague so there’s also the interesting navigation of spending so much time together in a (semi-)social setting of breakfast, breaks, lunch, dinner, etc. Luckily, we’re both big introverts and also fans of talking about talking about so we can speak openly about when we need some time alone.

This trip has also made me reflect on the evolution of my now as a person and as a professional compared to me as a person and a professional only a few years ago in terms of social anxiety and imposter syndrome. I used to be anxious about finding someone to sit with or appearing busy, preoccupied with appearing to know more than I do, and a whole variety of insecurities related to feelings of inferiority.

Now I pick a spot, sit down and do my own thing. I’m more comfortable with quiet, even silences, and that has been something I’ve consciously cultivated over the last few months. I am a stereotypical Sydneysider who is always on the go, always doing 3 things at once, and over-committing myself.

I’m very consciously slowing myself down for personal and professional development. I think the therapist’s Self cannot be separated from their practice so every change I make in my personal growth has an impact in my practice. I’ve moved away from very cognitive “building insight and reflective capacity” (isn’t that a patronising phrase?) and moved towards processing and experiencing. Emotionally-Focused Therapy’s Sue Johnson’s key phrase “slow down” has made itself home in my couple’s work.

There’s always something interesting both to unpack intellectually and watch in basic fascination of the posturing and negotiating of egos/beliefs/insecurities in a room full of therapists. Most of the attendees are professionally trained to some degree (social work, psychology, psychiatry, etc), some have even worked in this area for decades but no one can escape the insecurity and vulnerability of being human and wanting to be admired.

I love the growing trend of emphasis and recognition of Self of the therapist. This was something that was seen as unprofessional when I was at university. I was taught to cut off the part of me that was human so the only part the client saw was the professional. Bullshit! Evidence now shows that the therapeutic alliance, the being with, the Self, the authenticity and human connection is the biggest part of whether therapy works or not.

I’ve booked into an Open Dialogue / Dialogical Approach training next week and I am excited to see how it can support me in being present, curious and open.

For the conference so far the interesting sessions were about: Attached-Based Family Therapy, Parenting Project (Bowen-based manualised program for parents in CAMHS), and working with transgender/gender diverse families.

Speak soon,
Mish