Encountering Thresholds in Our Lives

Child on a diving boardThreshold issues are a huge force in your life, whether you are aware of them or not.  The issue of threshold is around us every day, perhaps even every moment. Perhaps it's timely to look at it as we prepare to cross over from one year to another.  But raising our threshold consciousness is timely at any time.

*pix  This little girl is crossing a threshold.  She's crossed many. See below. 

What's a threshold?

1. A piece of wood or stone placed beneath a door; a doorsill. This is support for the entry and support for your feet or vehicle as you pass through that entry.

2. An entrance or a doorway. So a threshold can be physical but covers more than physical territory.

3. The place or point of beginning; the outset. Beginning or outset implies a point where what is established is behind and what is new is ahead. This doesn't mean the new is known or even that the pathway, if there is one, is linear.  

4. The point that must be exceeded to begin producing a given effect or result or to elicit a response: a low threshold of pain.  This refers to territory (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) that involves different experiences, responses, challenges, information, insight, awareness than what is known from what is already established.

If we are growing, learning, developing we meet thresholds and cross them on a regular basis in our ordinary lives.  When you reach the curb of the sidewalk you've reached a threshold.  Your next step will put you in the street where cars may be moving. If you are aware of this change, have physical balance to step down, have awareness and common sense about traffic patterns, speed, traffic signs, you meet the qualifications necessary to cross this threshold safely. So you read the signs around you, step down when you decide it's appropriate, and cross the street.  You've met the necessary criteria and satisfactorily negotiated a threshold.

Entrances are thresholds and entrance requirements that must be met in order to cross the threshold are familiar to you in our culture.  You have to meet the criteria for threshold crossing if you are applying for a job, a slot as a student in a school or university, applying for military position, various competetive sports, position on a team preparing for a task ranging from debate to mountain climbing.

If you manage to get across the threshold without meeting the criteria, you are not equipped to cope with the new and different world on the other side. Cheating, talking your way in, pulling strings, slipping by unnoticed might get you across the barrier, but you still have to cope with the world you meet on the other side.

The criteria for crossing does not exist to keep you out.  It's there to ensure that you can survive, cope and thrive once you get in.

When you discover a threshold you want to cross and simultaneously discover that you don't meet the criteria, then you have your task before you.  Find a way to meet the criteria.  In other words, equip yourself to be able to cope with icy peaks when climbing Mount Everest or solving calculus equations at Cal Tech or maintaining a gracious demeanor as your brain scans cultural ramifications of a decision in the diplomatic corp.

But these are criteria that are spelled out for us.  Other thresholds, like marriage, becoming a parent, leaving home, also have criteria but you are more free to jump in whether you are prepared or not.  If you feel fear or anxiety at the point of a decision you may be noticing that you are nearing a threshold.  You anxiety is a clue that you would be wise to check your preparedness because what it takes to survive and thrive on the other side of the threshold is something new and different for you.

Do you know enough to survive, cope and thrive on the other side of the threshold?  Probably not.  You learn as you go.  What you need to cross the threshold is the bare minimum to begin.  Have you got it?

If you feel stuck in your life you may be at a threshold you are not yet prepared to cross. Can you find a way to meet the necessary criteria?

Recovery is a threshold. Anything that seems just out of reach for you is an indication that a threshold is near.
What do you need to meet that threshold?

Often, the first requirement is to know that a threshold exists and is there for you when you are ready.  Of course, some thresholds lead to negativity.  If you cross over into a world of crime, for example, you change your life in a negative way.  So recognizing a threshold and appreciating the criteria you must meet to cross that threshold gives you a good indication of whether or not this direction is what you want to follow.

Does the criteria demand that you weaken yourself or strengthen yourself? Must you become more deferential to standards you don't honor or must you become more confident and sure as you stand up for what you do honor?

I'll write more about thresholds.  I think about this subject regularly.  It's time I started putting these thoughts in print. 

Here we are together as 2013 winds down and 2014 begins.  Happy Threshold Crossing to All!  :)

Title Child on a Diving Board
Description A 9 year-old Caucasian child at a swimming pool and running on a diving board. She is a long-term survivor of massive abdominal surgery at age three for neuroblastoma. She is presently disease-free.

This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Linda Bartlett (Photographer)


0 # time to take responsibilityshh 2013-12-28 17:03

I've really not been enjoying my counselling work as much as I expected to, nor do I feel like I'm learning as much from it skills-wise as I thought I would, and have been at that point of feeling like I don't want to go in, but forcing myself to go because of the commitments I made to the children I counsel, and the organisation I counsel with, and of course my own career and professional development... but predominantly for the children, to be the consistent, reliable figure that they need and deserve.

Reflecting upon this, I realised that on the occasions when my manager who is also my supervisor, has not been in and I have been left on my own to see my clients, do my paperwork, and lock up and leave, that, I have really enjoyed my work and left feeling good about things - yet I like my manager and we get along well, so why is this the case?

What I have come to realise is that I don't think I'm really getting what I need from supervision with her - when I go asking for support and guidance or a different view on my work with a particular client, I often come away feeling like that hasn't been dealt with. I have one client in particular where I feel she just doesn't grasp what is going on for him, and why he is such a difficult client, he frustrates her she doesn't seem to be able to empathise or show UPR when we discuss him. I feel his acting out is very symptomatic of his background and attachment issues, his way of coping with very painful stuff, that he can't just sit and talk about or explore metaphorically with me, I think a lot of his behaviour is being driven by subconscious, protective mechanisms - and she doesn't seem to have any grasp of this type of thing at all, she just sees it as deliberate and that he is old enough and bright enough to know that he is supposed to talk about his issues when he sees me and if he refuses to settle down and do so then he's abusing the service (OUCH!!!).

The net effect of this is that I'm not developing the skills I need to develop, I'm not learning how to deal with clients who present like he does, he is not getting the help he needs and deserves. I feel like I am losing respect for my manager - yet as the one who is lesser skilled and less experienced, it's like I shouldn't be questioning and feeling such unease and disagreement about the way she is interpreting things and trying to guide me, I should just take it.

I chatted things through with a friend the other day who concurred with my feelings on this and said she felt shocked that given the child's background that my supervisor would not see things differently. I also know that my supervisor has taken this child's case to supervision.

The thing is, I know that if I sought supervision elsewhere, and discussed this case with say Joanna or my own therapist, that they would be able to offer me  the guidance I need to help this child, and I am starting to feel that for the sake of my professional integrity and professional development, that it's time I did this, and sought supervision from another professional on this, yet at the same time I feel uneasy about it, as it seems so wrong and disloyal to my manager and the organisation, I'm not sure I can actually do it.

I know it's time that I took responsibility for myself, for my own professional development, and for what I am able to offer this child, and do the right thing by the child ....I know if my manager pulls the plug on sessions for this child because he won't co-operate (which is kind of where she's heading), that knowing his background, I will have failed him and potentially compounded everything further. I'm not willing to do that - but I still haven't figured out how to deal with that line between working for an organisation, and being an autonomous professional.


0 # Responsibilitypinkjoanna 2013-12-28 18:20
Dear Shh,

This situation is a major challenge for you. I'm glad you are thinking it through before you take any action.

Before I was licensed I interned at several clinics.  I received both individual and group supervision on a regular basis.  Group supervision was very helpful because we addressed the system of the clinic as well as client therapy issues.  They go together as you so eloquently describe.

As I know you appreciate, many different forms of therapy exist, forms that come from different and sometimes conflicting philosophyical bases.  

You seem to need clarity about your supervisor's therapeutic base and the main treatment philosophy of the clinic.  Then you will have a better way to understand where and how you are in agreement or in conflict with your clinical environment.

Once you have that clarity you can decide if you are in the right place for you.  

Question to ask yourself:

Can you work within the treatment philosophy of your clinical environment?

Your answer, yes, no, maybe, determines your choices.


Stay, leave, introduce desired change, experience more regular supervision with your supervisor in a group so different perspectives get aired, explore other clinical settings that are more in keeping with your work preferences, consult with professionals you respect in the field to explore options.

Also, and this is such a sensitive area, can you explore within to see if any unresolved countertransference issues are coming up that affect your vision?

We work in what is called "the impossible profession."  Looking without, within and at the transitional spaces is never easy, especially when our emotions color what we emphasize.

Any supervision you get has to take into consideration the culture and philosophical base of the clinic.
If it doesn't you might not be to implement suggestions.  Some clinics are eclectic and offer many different therapy styles to clients.  Others do not.

Please be clear about where you are and what is honored in your setting.  Then you can make more clear decisions about your next move.

I hope this helps, Shh.

2.  Do you see a possible way to introduce change?
0 # Thanks Joannashh 2013-12-29 17:48

 I really miss the opportunities for group supervision, as I've really valued it in the past, but where I'm based the time/space is limited and it is the manager's decision how the client sessions and supervision are organised, and as things are we are all kept very separate - I am lucky if I even see one of the other counsellors to say hello to during the day (only happens if someone runs over time and I'm waiting for the room)

 I am counselling within a national organisation, whose theoretical basis, is a blend of humanistic and psychoanalytical principles, which sits well with me, but I feel my manager is much more humanistic in her approach and not a great fan of the psychoanalytical side of things.

 I took 100 hours training with the organisation to become familiar with their theoretical orientation and how it is executed in practise before I started this role, my manager came in at a higher level with lots of adult counselling experience, but with less organisation-specific and child-oriented training, and I do see the mismatches in our approaches that arise from that but they don't usually cause any problems; and of course even within the same or similar orientations, everyone has their own style, which I do view as a positive thing ... and very often I find her viewpoint and advice helpful, or at least food for thought that will spark off my own thoughts.

 I often question myself around over-identification and countertransference with this particular child too, as I'm aware that there are some similarities in our backgrounds, but actually feel that it's more likely that there is something of that ilk in my manager's response - as she expresses a lot of negative feelings around this child, and seems to want to protect me from his less desirable behaviours, certainly she has expressed feelings of guilt almost (she apologises a lot to me) around her initial assessment of him as "a straightforward, easy case" which is how he was presented to me - but I'm fine with all of that, he is challenging, challenging in the extreme sometimes, but I don't take any of it personally, I'm genuinely pleased to see him each week, I regard our relationship in a positive light - a naturally positive one, not one I have to dig deep to find the positive regard for.

 I know I will stay where I am until July, as that's the commitment I have made to the children I see - whether I stay on for another year beyond that is more questionable, but I will decide that closer to my renewal date.

 One thing I never really realised until one of my tutors (counselling tutor, not psychology tutor) explained this to another person in our group who asked the difference between counselling and psychology, is that apparently counsellors & psychologists don't generally get along, in her words "counsellors hate psychologists, because they think they are better than us,  they see themselves as more knowledgeable, more qualified, and look down their noses at us" - knowing my career focus she apologised to me as she was saying it ...but I have noticed it when I've been on other counselling skills courses, that when the group introductions go round, that if I say that I'm there because in the longer-term I aim to become a clinical or counselling psychologist, I do sometimes get a bit of a frosty reception, usually from more experienced/qualified counsellors or whoever is delivering the training.... and so I'm not sure whether some of that comes into play too
a) from my manager because that's what I aspire to be (although I don't feel that from her)
b) from me because maybe I do expect too much from her, maybe my expectations of her are what I could expect from a psychologist, and maybe, as much as counsellors wish to dispute it, there is a gap, even though I would never go with the expectation that there is such a gap? But if there is a gap that raises questions about what is expected of me, and I suppose how I tailor my background skills and knowledge to fit I have a foot in each camp - I am currently a part-qualified counsellor and a part-qualified psychologist (and although I don't have the "psychologists are better than counsellors" attitude, because I generally don't have an "I am better than..." attitude , I prefer a "we can all bring something useful to the table regardless of who we are" type view, it stands to reason that something than can be achieved in 3 years part-time study and several hundred client hours compared with 7 years full-time study plus several hundred client hours with the latter commanding 2-3 times the hourly rate of the former, and the professional body of the latter preferring their members to also be qualified counsellors too (so 7 years full-time + 3 years part-time study) - in a lot of cases there is going to be a difference isn't there? and I do have to acknowledge that this might be the case).
(politics bleeeurgh! Hadn't really considered the counsellor - psyschologist stuff before now)

But in terms of what to do...I think I do need to talk to other professionals that I respect, but maybe in a more "off the record" capacity, so not so much setting up supervision elsewhere that I don't really want to do as I feel it disrespects and undermines my manager, but maybe seeking clarification of what's expected of me in this role, and then figuring out or taking advice on how to handle the things I think I'm picking up on, if I'm not expected to pick up on them, as I still have a conscience and a duty of care once I believe I'm aware of something.
I plan to sit on this a while longer though

But I think I have an idea now who my best person to talk might be




0 # Thinking it throughpinkjoanna 2013-12-29 19:01
Great, Shh. 

Writing it out as you have may bring you more clarity about the issues you are dealing with.

Yes, turf competition and status issues occur within the profession in terms of degrees, licenses, associations and income.  When people do not fit into expected stereotype packages feathers get ruffled. 

So another set of  personal challenge you face include:

Will you figure out what is expected of you and shape yourself to fit?  

Will you figure out what you genuinely care about, decide what your goals are, honor your integrity and let all that be your guide?

If these choices are in conflict, do you need to choose one over the other and pay the consequences?  

Or can you find a diplomatic and gracious way to attend to both as you build not only your expertise as a therapist but also the necessary skills you need to prosper in your profession?

Time to watch Good Will Hunting again???   :-)

Welcome to "the impossible profession."

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