If, like mine, your wider family has a liking for board games when the crowds gather over holiday periods, you may also be familiar with the process of someone trying to read out the instructions in a way that everyone playing the game understands.

I never volunteer for that task!

As the game progresses, the instructions are referred to over and over; challenges are made; questions asked; and eventually a winner emerges!

I have to say that over the holiday period recently, I experienced this process innumerable times.  And instructions for board games cannot always be relied on to be completely clear in my experience!

“Have the writers of this set of instructions actually ever played this game!!?”

I think it can often feel like that with therapeutic theory.  The tutors, authors of books, supervisors, offer up sets of “instructions”, as it were, to a particular theory and then ask you to “play the game” by working in that particular approach using those skills and techniques.

When I was a student, I generally found myself forgetting much of that information after about the first sentence of conversation with a client.

So the session progresses with a mix of half-remembered “instructions” and instincts, human responses, thoughts and feelings.

Of course, in a board game, the instructions do matter or else there’s a piece left over; or someone misses their turn; or everyone is at a total loss because a vital element has been overlooked.

So how much of the “instructions” matter in a therapy session?  Well, I would suggest that some are perhaps more important than others.....and finding your own balance with that is an essential part of the process.

Of course, writing a case study or assignment might require you to demonstrate a good knowledge of the instructions.  And a good foundation of knowledge will allow you to create, adapt and weave your own process with the work.

But remember that whereas with a board game, everyone really has to play by the same instructions, in therapy, there are a lot of different “instruction manuals”.  But even if there are 30 therapists all trained in the same approach in the room with you right now, each of those therapists would maintain the basic instructions but also do it in their own way so that there would be 30 variations on a theme.

But, of course, you can only ever do it in your own way, if first you “read the instructions carefully” before starting.