Clowns’ eggs and counselling theory

There’s a tradition of painting clowns’ faces on eggs, it started in the 1940s as a hobby of one of the founding members of Clowns International and it developed into a register. When a new clown joined an artist painted the face he performed with on an egg which was then added to the register. No two clowns we’re allowed to have the same face, so if your face resembled one already on the register you were advised on how to change it so you had your own unique face.

There are many published approaches to counselling and psychotherapy such as: Roger’s person-centred approach, Freud’s psychoanalysis, Pearl’s gestalt therapy and Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, to name a few of the more famous ones. If the clowns egg register was operated in a similar way to publishing counselling theories then it wouldn’t include every clowns face, rather the register would just hold eggs of the faces of clowns that were particularly original; and instead of the eggs being intended to stop other clowns using those faces they would be there to help other clowns copy them. So there would be fewer eggs in the register and there would be a tendency for clowns copying the same eggs to have similar faces; but even then all clowns would still end up with their own unique face. Different clowns would draw inspirations from different collections of eggs and they would also add some ideas of their own, and even if two clowns where to work exclusively from the same egg their underlying facial features would differ and they would interpret the eggs differently when they came to apply their makeup so they would end up with different faces.

When we develop our approach to counselling we may well draw our ideas from numerous theories as well as using our own insights and experience; and even when two counsellors train in and base their practice on the same theoretical model they will still bring their unique personality and perception to their practice. The job of a trainee counsellor learning about counselling theories can be likened to a clown sitting in front of his makeup mirror with a row of famous eggs in front of him, he can refer to the eggs but when it comes to actually putting on his makeup it’s his own face that he needs to focus on, the eggs help but the real work is done in his mirror. Similarly, the job of a counsellor sharing his approach with others is like a clown looking in the mirror an painting his face on an egg (we don’t have the luxury of an artist to explain our theories for us), it’s important here that he paints what he sees in the mirror rather than copying straight from the famous eggs.

Counselling theories can been looked at as portraits of the values and perceptions of counsellors, the one theory that drives our practice is our own theory. It’s not enough to read and understand someone else’s ideas, we need to go on and change the way we see the world and incorporate those ideas into ourselves before we can use them in our practice. So while you are studying theories always keep at least one eye on how they chime with your perception, and make plenty of time to look away from other peoples theories completely an focus entirely on what you think and feel about counselling.

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