Member profile: Dr Nathan Beel

Our April 2022 profiled member is Dr Nathan Beel, who is running the PACFA course ‘Client factors for therapists: identify and utilise the client’s own change ingredients’ on 8 April, 6-8pm AEST.  

Nathan is a Registered Clinical Counsellor , PACFA-accredited supervisor, and member of the Queensland Branch. He is the Counselling Discipline Lead at the University of Southern Queensland and has a part-time counselling and supervision practice. 

Can you tell us about your path to becoming a counsellor and how long you have been in practice?

I decided I wanted to become a counsellor at about 18 or 19 after experiencing difficulties and being helped by a counsellor.  I enrolled into a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in counselling, stayed on to do a graduate diploma, before getting my first paid counselling position. I have been practising counselling since 1998 and maintained clinical membership (originally with Qld Counsellors Association, and then PACFA) since 2004.    

What therapeutic approaches do you draw upon in your practice and what is it about these approaches that appeals to you?  

These days my practice is probably best described as integrationist. It is flavoured by Person Centred Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Process Oriented Psychology, Inner Relationship Focusing, Internal Family Systems, and Feedback Informed Therapy.  I prefer to focus less on specific models, and more on understanding change from a Common Factors perspective.   Outcome research suggests the bulk of change ingredients are not found in what distinguishes one therapy from another but what is common to all therapies.  My focus for the past decade is to understand these common ingredients of successful counselling and to incorporate this knowledge intentionally into how I work with clients.   

You say on your therapist profile that you specialise in working with men. What kinds of issues do men commonly bring to therapy that are gender-influenced, do you think? Have the presenting issues changed over the time you’ve been a counsellor?  

I decided to study male-friendly counselling for my PhD because of having several males referred to me with labels from therapists as being difficult, aggressive, and resistant, and hearing their stories about feeling discriminated against by their own therapists because they were males.  On reflection, I recognised that I also had biases against male clients in some areas, particularly heterosexual couple counselling.  Gender issues are always, at least implicitly, present in the room, regardless of the sex or gender identity of the therapist and the client and can influence both client and counsellor perceptions and behaviour. Specific gender issues that can arise relate to preferred coping strategies that are more commonly used by men (e.g., externalising, instrumental, addictions, suicidality), relationship distress styles (e.g., particularly adopting a withdrawing role), domestic violence, anger, parenting, and work stress.  The counselling expectations themselves can be threatening for some men, as they often involve a relational process of addressing concerns in a way that violates traditional masculine norms.  Men may have been taught to suppress emotions, not talk about problems, feign toughness, not expose vulnerability and weakness, etc, yet these behaviours may be required in therapy.  Not all men are alike, and there is significant diversity between men, so while therapists may be aware of common gender norms, they need to be careful not to assume all males adhere to them.  For those interested in a more detailed summary of some of my findings, see PACFA’s eNews 2017, pages 5-8. 

You teach counselling in a university.  What do you think is important for counsellors to learn to prepare them for practice?  

When I decided to become a counsellor, I wanted to work with people diagnosed with schizophrenia.  In both my undergraduate degree and Masters, the primary therapies taught to me were brief therapies, yet my first job was as a long-term face to face counsellor in a rehab, of which I was naturally underprepared. Following this, I worked in a crisis line service doing single session 20 – 40 min sessions. I’ve been in numerous different contexts of counselling, with different populations, delivering counselling in individual, group, couple, family, and online formats. I’ve never worked predominantly with people with schizophrenia as I had hoped.  My path has been varied and unexpected.  What my experience taught me was that the pathway of counsellors can be unpredictable.  As a counselling educator, I do not know what my students’ professional pathways will be, what their therapy interests will be, what their clientele will be or their formats of practice. For many students, they do not know these yet either. Many will need to be agile and adaptable. If this is the case, I think it is important that students are taught portable skills and concepts that they can transfer to any setting, client group, and format of practice, while also adding the specialised skills and knowledge for specific clients and contexts.  For me, it is important that students learn the Common Factors associated with successful therapies, and to consider how they may enact these factors, regardless of the therapy models they choose, or the contexts they work. While they will learn many other things in their training journey to make them well-rounded counsellors, the Common Factors, in my view, is one of the most foundational knowledge areas they can learn to prepare them their future practice. 

On 8 April 2022, you’re running the PACFA course ‘Client factors for therapists: identify and utilise the client’s own change ingredients’. Can you please share more about the course content and how experienced PACFA members may also benefit from the course?   

This professional development event will focus on clarifying what client factors have been shown to contribute to successful therapy outcomes at a broad level.  It will then describe a process for how counsellors can identify salient, often implicit, specific resources and values of individual clients that can be utilised in the service of addressing their goals and needs.  These ‘ingredients’ are embedded in the client’s own life, intuition, and even complaints.  Counsellors help the client to develop these bespoke therapeutic ingredients into skillsets that the client can practice, apply and experience as needed.  De-identified composites of case examples will be described. Experienced PACFA members may benefit from being reminded of the centrality of the client to positive treatment outcomes, learn how to recognise therapeutic potential from within client complaints, and learn a process to help strategically utilise client factors drawing on ideas and skills that are recognisable from a range of familiar models.   

Register now for ‘Client factors for therapists: identify and utilise the client’s own change ingredients’, 8 April, 6pm-8pm.

This webinar counts for 2 hours Category A CPD.