Writing Cures: An Introductory Handbook of Writing in Counselling and Psychotherapy

By Gillie Bolton; Stephanie Howlett et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 20

After the session: 'freewriting' in response

John Hilsdon


Introduction: session notes-neglected terrain?

'After a client has left, ' Sue told me, 'I have fifteen minutes before the next one-just enough time for a drink, and a chance to scribble some notes.' Sue is one of nine counsellors I talked to during 2001 and 2002 about the topic of making session notes. The group, although small, have a broad variety of theoretical orientations and working practices. The majority reported experiences similar to Sue's: they rarely have more than 15 minutes between clients, and less in some cases. All write at least something after each session, albeit just rough notes or aides-mémoire for when they record the session later. They all emphasised the importance they attach to session notes, though the purposes of their notes can vary according to their method of working.

All respondents were trained to at least diploma level and the descriptions they gave of their approaches to the work included person-centred, integrative, existential, humanistic and psychodynamic methods. A striking similarity among them was the comment that their counselling training had not included much-or, in some cases, any-explicit content concerning the theory or practice of making notes in response to client sessions. (The exception was a colleague trained as a psychodynamic psychotherapist.)

A review of the growing body of literature on counselling in the UK also yielded little on this topic-although recent concerns about legal and ethical issues have resulted in the production of some helpful material by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) (BACP 2002; Coldridge 2003). At the time of writing, however, I found little other than an article on creative uses of notes (Smith 2001), and a short section in a book about starting a counselling practice (McMahon 1994). Like Smith, I found that the major text books designed for trainee or novice counsellors contained scant advice about writing or using session notes-often relating only to first session history-taking. For example: 'So long as it neither becomes too intrusive nor has a negative impact on the client, note taking may be helpful for remembering details of the client'. (Nelson-Jones 1982:284).

For readers thinking about this area for the first time, I have listed some questions below to indicate the range of issues implied-including legal and ethical issues.

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