It’s Good to Talk (Part 1)

In Get Rich with Retraining I explained that I’d enrolled on a part time Introduction to Counselling course at a local college.

It’s an introductory course (the clue is in the name) and I don’t hold myself out as a qualified therapist, psychologist or Internet Doctor.

But the course is accredited by the British Association of Counsellors & Psychotherapists. This means that I’ve been learning the official stuff that you learn as a trainee therapist.

Every week we role-play being a client and then being a counsellor. It’s been super-interesting. Here’s my summary of what I’ve learned so far in therapy.

There is something magical about talking to another person

Whilst The Escape Artist is capable of being gobby loud when the situation demands, I’m an introvert at heart. Introversion can be a super-power to the extent that it makes you less likely to blindly follow the herd. Financial independence is built on conscious choices..and that often means zigging when everyone else is zagging. That comes more naturally to introverts.

But introversion can be a trap. If you can’t reach out and open up to other people in the real world, you are missing out on so much.


Opening up to someone who you can trust has an almost magical effect. By airing a problem, you break its hold over you. It’s not just a way of “getting it out” and venting; talking it through can be a source of lightbulb moments and mental breakthroughs.

There have been questions / problems / challenges that have bounced around in my head for ages like a pinball bouncing round inside an arcade game. I then verbalise the problem in a practice therapy session and BING! sometimes it’s solved mentally before I’ve even finished explaining it.

It’s a cliche that therapists don’t give advice, don’t offer solutions and offer nothing concrete to clients. Like all cliches, there is some truth in this. Counsellors are not like doctors who ask some questions, make a diagnosis and then hand down a prescription to go take some pills which will magically fix everything without any effort on the part of the patient. 

A counsellor acts as a facilitator and sounding board and helps the client see their blind spots. The client is guided but they own their own problems and come up with their own solutions. Therapy is about doing the work. 

Self-sabotage is a thing

I’ve learned in therapy that everyone has problems. Even the most polished, annoyingly outwardly self-assured person is dealing with a big pile of shite in some area of their life. And even if they aren’t right now, they have in the past and will again in the future.

To achieve financial independence you need to hold your shit together for a decade or two. Staying on The Path is not easy…partly because we humans have a remarkable talent for self-sabotage.

An example: last night I was on a crowded, late night train home. I couldn’t help over-hearing a young man, somewhat the worse for wear and in some distress, explaining to his Dad that he had problems with his vision and that was affecting his job and his mental health. Both men were working but earning low wages so money was tight. The son was worried about his vision deteriorating to the point where he might lose his job. It was distressing to hear.

The son then went on to explain that his vision was fine when sober but got bad when he was either drunk or on cocaine.

WTAF?!? The Escape Artist resisted the temptation to intervene and ask whether he’d considered…I don’t know…maybe NOT TAKING COCAINE ON A RECREATIONAL BASIS?!? Maybe take up an alternative hobby?…I hear good things about gardening.

Yes, I know that sounds judgemental. But actually I have no problem with young Charlie taking class A drugs in the privacy of his own home. Live and let live.

Just please spare me the Hard-Pressed Working Families Struggling With High Cost Of Living routine. Obviously in a country of 70 million people many will be struggling, but its election time in the UK and this schtick is everywhere: spouted by politicians, journalists and other clowns. There’s an unholy alliance between politicians pretending to have all the solutions (they don’t) and the public pretending that all their problems are caused by someone else (they aren’t).

I realise that I’m at risk of being thrown out of The National Association of Nice Guys for saying this but most people are fucking themselves over self-sabotaging via limiting beliefs or lack of self-control. We’ve all done it. Progress starts with taking responsibility for our actions and stopping blaming other people.

At college, as well as the other counselling students (who are grown ups) I have also met The Youth Of Today and many of them are not in great shape. The canteen is an absolute horror show of crisps, fizzy sugar drinks and junk food. The results not pretty. These are problems of abundance, not of deprivation.

Humans are not rational

Most of the personal finance media is rubbish. Its hopelessly compromised because its written to sell product and validate the potential customers, rather than deliver difficult truths.

comforting lies

So its written as if everyone is rational, no one is over-spending and its just about choosing the right fund or insurance policy.

The ultimate crime in financial journalist (or salesperson) world is to be a “scold”. After all, we are all Hard-Pressed Working Families and no one is wasting money. Obviously. This is why there are no 4×4 SUVs, no pubs, nightclubs, strip clubs, tattoo parlours, cosmetic surgeons, cable TV channels, bookmakers, Soft Furnishing Warehouses (Welcome to CushionWorld!) or purveyors of over-priced junk food (Welcome to LardLand!) in Britain. None at all.

No, nothing to see here…

Self-development is the foundation of therapy

Its funny how people often sneer laugh at self-development and call it “snakeoil”.

But it turns out that self-development is the foundation of being a counsellor (and much of the early training). Many of the concepts I’m learning are already familiar from self-development books I’ve read. As a quick example, let’s take just one concept from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: the gap between stimulus and response.

If you’ve ever made an impulse purchase that you regretted (and who hasn’t): that’s because your gap between stimulus and response was not wide enough. This is why we should use “cooling off periods” (e.g. sleep on it!) before buying stuff. It’s also why people leave angry comments on blogs that they regret later when they’ve calmed down.

In counselling, the gap between stimulus and response means you examine your own thoughts and emotions and be aware of them without necessarily accepting them as true. Our emotions are like passing clouds: temporary and often insubstantial.

Both therapy and self development involve taking a good long look at yourself and seeking out your blind spots. It means going looking in the areas that you may not want to go looking in.

People have defences

We humans are masters at covering up the truth from ourselves. This is not to blame or shame anyone, its just recognising that human nature is a mix of good and bad. As religion used to remind us, we’re all flawed and imperfect creatures.

This may explain why people react so defensively (or aggressively) when they first read mainstream media articles about financial independence.

Is it possible that those howls of protest reflect defences put up by people? Maybe they are seeking to avoid the question of whether they could do anything to improve their own money management and their own situation in life?

What do I mean by defences?

Defences are the way that you protect yourself (your emotions and your belief system) from attack (both perceived attacks and actual attacks). Defences are part of how our unconscious operates. To develop defences you put on emotional armour to shield yourself from being hurt.

People tend to

  • be unaware of their defences
  • overlook when their defences are not helping them
  • find it difficult to change when their defences interfere with their capacity to engage with people

You mostly learn defences through experiences when you’re young, impressionable and especially vulnerable. The ways in which you respond become habitual. People are influenced both by nature (genetics and innate personality) and by nurture (their experiences and environment). Some people are more predisposed to anxiety and therefore defensiveness than others.

Its good to reflect on those occasions when you react defensively. When you feel yourself become defensive, pause and later try to see whether you are being reminded of some memory or experience from your past. You may be able to spot that your current feelings are a transference of feelings from the past.

Something in the present may have triggered old feelings in an unconscious knee-jerk way. Underneath your defensive response is usually some deep anxiety or fear (e.g, of being rejected, abandoned, humiliated etc). Childhood memories may be the basis for your fear (and hence defensive reaction) and may not be helping you these days.

Source: Counselling for Dummies (by Gail Evans)


  1. BuyInTheDip · · Reply

    Interesting field is the human mind. I am also an introvert and hate making impulsive decisions. Nearly all have turned out the be a disaster (eg in 1987 putting £2k into a fund after reading the glossy brochure replete with pictures of ionic pillars, smiley people, etc). So since, deferred gratification has been the name of the game (with the occasional stumble). On another point, this narrative that some people are using food banks and homeless are clogging up every nook and cranny of the local high street is strange. I actually think these are symptoms of a rich society – so free food allows people to spend on the latest gadget or similar extravagance (weed?) instead and some homeless realise they can make more than minimum wage and do f*ck all (and maybe visit food banks too, so they can spend their “earnings” on other stuff). I’m sure there are genuine cases out there but WTAF?

  2. Barney, if you want to be a truly great professor at your new gig, please invest in this book : ‘BEHAVE, the biology of humans at our best and worst’ written by Robert M. Sapolsky. It not only will require your many neurons to work hard reading it, even if the book reads like a charm from easy English prose and fantastically well written paragraphs, you’ll also get a huge exercise in abdomen muscle building from the many supreme laugh out loud burst that this lecture will lead to, and you will discover that we ‘super’ humans are basically not so different than many other mammals out there that are living in very different environments, brain wise. The author is also poking fun on so many peculiar things that make us “humans” when at our best, and something quite different when at our worst. He also did spend 20 years studying the Masai tribes and the Baboon gang habits in Kenya, as an example, next to being regarded as one of the most outstanding brain operational systems specialist out there in the world. It is a big pile of a book, and I had to start taking notes while going through it all, but is is right on top of one of the best books I ever read, and I read many stuff, as an introvert. Worth every penny and every ounce of your precious remaining time on this little planet called earth, that little speck of dust flowing through a giant universe.

  3. Paullypips · · Reply

    What an enlightening article! You are obviously paying attention as a student and learning. I find this “how we think” stuff fascinating. Thank-you for sharing your knowledge with us all in a straightforward, plain-speaking kind of way too. I feel somehow that I ought to contribute financially to the cost of your counselling course as I too am getting the benefit without having to trouble to attend it.

  4. cracking great post!
    I’m going to have a closer look at myself and my own actions – after all, I may have left one or two hasty comments in my time.

  5. Felice Pazzo · · Reply

    Guilty as charged, although perhaps the Haterz critical comments are just their way of processing your posts!

  6. Excellent reading!
    I laughed at the guy on the train. I have overheard similar style stories of ‘perceived woe’.
    The college canteen food – the result of commercial agreements and contracts, capitalism makes it presence felt everywhere. As FI followers we are utilising this to obtain our passive income so need it to exist and flourish but also be immune to its influences.

    By airing the issue you can detach yourself from it and suddenly you can see the answer. You cannot see the answer regardless of how often you try as it is attached to you, locked tight. I have found that the case a few times. I have spent days trying to resolve something then tell someone and suddenly, I am viewing the problem as if it belongs to someone else and I can then see the answer. In the same way as the ‘step back method’ – go do something else to clear the mind and come back to it refreshed and the answer appears. 🙂

  7. Cascadelaranja · · Reply

    I’m not a counsellor but like you I do some coaching and it sometimes feels like counselling. Often at the end of conversations with clients I ask them ‘How was that useful for you?’. The answers usually reflect what you’ve described here. To see yourself clearly you need a mirror. A coaching conversation can act like a reflective surface for your thoughts and ideas. Now I think you CAN create something similar through writing reflectively but for a lot of us, having an empathetic, engaged, kind, and respectful ‘other’ to talk with is more effective, easy, and interesting. One of the things I find so amazing is that I can get as much insight and as many ideas to take forwards as the client and I feel slightly guilty about taking their money (but not so guilty that I don’t take it).

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