What is a clean space? I am borrowing from psychotherapy’s understanding of clean pain and dirty pain here. The idea for clean space is a transmutation from Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and a conversation with a friend. In the book Resmaa defines ‘clean pain as choosing integrity over fear and standing in that fear with integrity and moving towards the unknown. The alternative path is responding from dirty pain. Dirty pain is when we respond to fear and conflict from our most wounded parts. Responding from dirty pain only creates more pain, both for ourselves and for other people.’ Kevin Reese.
Adapt Faster For the past few months I have been engaged in conversations with Joshua Isaac Smith. ‘Clean space’ is a new concept for us to consider. Perhaps also psychotherapeutically. We wondered what ‘clean space’ would mean? A room devoid of clutter, debris from the past, smoke, mirrors, egos, distraction and expectation. A ‘clean space’ would be filled with windows. Allowing safe passage of the used and damaged out, and on the new breeze, fresh exciting ideas and plans.
‘Clean Space’ existing as a hopeful tentative NOW.
Empowered Recently I was amongst 20 Black men at MacMaster’s Black Student Success Centre for an Empowered conversation. Being with groups of Black and Brown men, has been part of my psychotherapeutic experience since joining BAATN in 2010. Forming The Black Men’s Therapy Group, collaborating to start The Diversity Space at NHS Oxleas, being a counsellor of Kwanda’s Mens Groups, attending and co-facilitating the True Roots Check-In and Chat gatherings and now the Empowered experience at Macmaster’s University have all been ‘clean spaces’. Every experience supports an understanding of how rare meeting in an unencumbered way can be.
These Days I wrote last year, about when Black people gather in numbers larger than 2, in spaces that are considered White, often that group is interrupted or stopped from happening. Noise, disruption, a perceived harmony considered out of alignment the cause. A closer examination could be that witnessing Black people together laughing, discussing, enjoying time peaceably can cause suspicion, disharmony, an old yet fully present order – disrupted. The observer offset by a preconceived notion that a group of Black men are planning something. Leading to revolt. In solidarity groups arrive at causes that determine outcomes and act accordingly to achieve necessary change.
Ready The Empowered event at Mac’ was the first of it’s kind at the University. Members of staff (2 sports coaches, a lecturer/PhD student) students from different years and areas of study and me came together to watch Black Boys. A film about the Black Male experience in America, and then discuss our understanding of being a Black man in Canada. The skill of withholding rather than exploding, being assertive versus aggressive, non reactive when encountering micro and major aggressions, the exhaustion of constantly being on guard. Like being in an invisible straightjacket…
Rebound Speaking with Joshua, who wondered about an organisms tendency to shrink, retreat, respond in fear when new stimuli are introduced. Prompted me to write this short blog. Our conversation helped me to think about synapses and encountering difference. Does the brain re-wire initially encountering challenge? Do synapses retreat breaking connection momentarily? Only to reach out and form a link later and then re-enforce that link with others. Or once a synaptic link drops, is the link permanently severed? Being in safe spaces, ‘clean spaces’, do synaptic links regrow? Do we regrow once danger and perceived threat disappear?
Exponential Growth I believe we do in ‘clean spaces’. If the human has a tendency to self actualise, to improve continually, Black men witnessing another (others) in a space being vulnerable, can identify that the masculine can be compassionate and however that male wishes to recongise and express themselves. That was what I witnessed. A willingness to step outside of a pre-set mold. Tentatively we began to unfurl and live in space without filters. We became hushed, listening intently, focused. We found time to articulate our ideas and experiences like a testimony for the gathered to know ‘You are not alone.’ ‘I see you.’ ‘I have felt that way too.’
You, Me, Us Being in service to another, is being in service to self, to one’s family and community. ∞ (infinity) is an act of Ubuntu. When as a species (human) we can accept that no person is more important than anyone else on the planet. Death then can be an equalising concept. This final experience has us all in repose, be you a queen, a member of a Junta, or a salesperson. Having access to ‘clean space’ for Black men I imagine contributes to a sense of being seen, heard, valued and fulfilled. I am fortunate to have been a part of the inaugural Empowered event and look forward to many others at MacMasters, and beyond. The request from ourselves to humanity is less to seek permission, but taking the necessary steps to live well as Black men.
More of Experiencing ‘clean spaces’ more than once, leaves me questioning about how members of the Empower group found their time? I am also interested to know how to increase a sense of security and ‘clean space’ beyond designated times and places. As a psychotherapist I am interested to know what the bite point is. When do ideas of connection bloom towards collaboration, action and then implementation? Having access to ‘clean space’ could be the catalyst.
Moving energy collectively forward.
Little is achieved without community around.
The first ‘clean space’ may well have been the family unit…
Resources Black Boys hyperlinks to the site of the film. The link below is a Blog discussing the film in some detail by The Curvy Critic Sonia Lowman. With I stand Alone, the outro of this piece of music bites down on the kernel I have been mulling on throughout this blog. Patrick Stump presents an idea on repetition. Without ingenuity nothing new can be introduced. Amongst community – everything is out for reinvention. Black Folk introduces a wonderful love song to Black People about the Black experience. As insightful as the music is wistful. Poetry filled with pointed observation. Again we observe community. Clean Pain links to a short piece by Kevin Reese who looks at his life following release from prison and integrating with community. Jason Reynolds has a 4-part podcast where he in his smooth baritone, observes life post CoVid19 alongside his mother’s influence. Community for me is more than 1. QLS Classic with Common, highlights Common’s rise from Chicago to being a global figure. Note how he observes community, influence and movement that helps to shape his career. Black Boys by Sonia Lowman a review Robert Glasper, Common, Patrick Stump I Stand Alone Tank and The Bangas Black Folk Clean Pain and the necessity of healing – MSR Radiotopia Presents My Mother Made Me – Jason Reynolds Quest Love Supreme – QLS Classic: Common
**Backlinks Adapt Faster – Joshua Isaac Smith Canada links to the Blog Encounters of the 3rd Kind Black Student Success Centre or BSSC at MacMasters Uni BAATN The Black African and Asian Therapist Network The Black Men’s Therapy Group Blog The Diversity Space Blog Kwanda’s Mens Group Blog True Roots Blog Ubuntu: Recovery – White Supremacy Blog
**Whilst I find backlinks useful in the main body of text. They can be distracting for you the reader. I would be interested to know if you find links at the end of the writing helpful.
Many of these blogs are born from a filtering of information from a range of sources. Some arrive whilst in conversation with friends and family. The below is a hybrid of both. A large thank you to my sister Edwina and Ms. Amarpreet Ajji who both steered me through a number of tough realisations.
Adverse Hooch is well known as a legal and illegal alcoholic drink. In America – pruno is the colloquial equivalent. Moonshine is another name of illegally produced malted alcoholic beverages. Why am I writing about illegal liquor one might be inclined to ask? “Adversity is the mother of all invention”. My mum was fond of saying. This is my offering.
Locked In Having worked at over 10 prisons in the UK, and witnessed the ingenuity persons in prison extend themselves to – brewing alcohol illegally, there is a truth to my mum’s saying above, that I wanted to explore here. The common experience of hardship creating solution. If there wasn’t difficulty, poverty or war, would development of the advances that exist in the world currently be with us?
Community Links Living in Canada I am unable to be employed. My migrant status is under review. My ‘In Country’ application has been in process for over a year. In that time I have had chance to volunteer my support as a psychotherapist for True Roots as a panelist, and also as a co facilitator of their men’s monthly check in and chats series, ACCA as a volunteer co-ordinator for the organisation’s Individual and Family support programme, and most recently as a member of the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton that support individuals with rehabilitation after a custodial sentence. There is also a piece of work at McMaster University in Autumn I am looking forward to be involved with. I haven’t stopped engaging in purposeful activities it looks different at the moment.
Combustion The sloth of my application currently being processed by Canada’s immigration service is at the centre of my reasoning for Hooch. My ability to work and contribute, as in the UK, is hampered by slow processing. A low-grade frustration builds like a storm cloud. Similar to the lazy afternoon pull and erasure of dry wipe marks from a board that once held the allure of valuable information. The teacher oblivious, uncaring or both. Queue the classroom explosion.
Brew Hooch is a bi-product of ingenuity meeting boredom, opportunity and time. The blogs are my attempt to produce something potent and as therapeutic in a collection of words as hooch are for those behind ‘the wall’. Offering a taste of freedom. By writing I ease the storm cloud’s weight. If each letter were a droplet of rain, perhaps by the end of this year the rain cloud could become like cirrus – light as wisps of steam caught in rarefied air.
Expense Existing as a non-entity has perils: unaffordable health care, costly health and car insurance, inability to join the labour force, nonexistent credit rating, poor social mobility or cultural capital. Confidence repeatedly dashed against the rocks of doubt ‘Will this ever…?’ I am not alone in sensing the vacuum. A hoovering up of all that was known about a temporaneous life before the move is common for an immigrant.
Slow Down Whole communities have travelled from one country into another, and sometimes into yet more. Some – held in an infernal holding pattern such as Tom Hanks in the film Terminal, knowing the turmoil of life in absentia. And more living with the daily concerns: imminent threat of permanent removal re. ICE, deportation holding centres, dashed plans to reunite with family, job prospects and hopes of starting to live once more, following the global lockdown – held just beyond reach. An added sting of not knowing reasons for the omnipresent delay.
Process As a former sourdough bread baker and investigator of the subtle art of Kimchi (Sauerkraut restores gut health too) I wonder about the end of my waiting experience. I recognise that there is a fermentation taking place. A general awareness of developments I am not involved with. The experience – maddening and wildly frustrating. Space is taken to think a little, and share some of my thoughts with you. For me the sharing is the main point of writing these truncated missives – fermentation’s produce – Hooch.
Resources The ACCA links to the Afro Caribbean Canadian Association’s website, where you can find out a little bit more about the organisation is achieving in Hamilton. St Leonard’s takes readers to the SLSH website, one can take a look at all that this inspiring organisation does. Sourdough takes you to the almost fool proof method of creating and crafting a sourdough bread by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. I am yet to make Kimchi. When I do I will follow Sue’s recipe. There are a range of studies that introduce the concept of our guts being our 2nd brain. Sean Brock is another find on Netflix who has an interesting take on flavour, pickling and fermentation. The article by Sandor Katz looks at fermentation’s power to transform cooking/baking. I enjoyed reading their interpretation of brewing cultures to transform ingredients for a diners culinary pleasure. A House Divided by Code Switch introduces a family that reside in the US under different policies of immigration. A number of complexities arise from their differing legal status. My Lying Eyes by This American Life explores the complex experiences of migrants to the US. Some appear to be allowed quick safe passage whilst others are left with a complex and dangerous route. Bassem Youssef introduces a number of important reflections about civil unrest, seeking justice and being an immigrant. The Stoop’s excellent coverage of Black life introduced a micro tear in the fabric of being othered outside of North America. Code Switch A House Divided This American Life My Lying Eyes Pod Save The World – Bassem Youssef The Stoop – I’m Black and I’m Jameela
2020 was an ‘off’ year for a number of reasons. The blight of CoViD19 significantly affected millions living on the planet. The global social uprising sparked by the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd offered radical insights of not just the coronavirus but also multiple lockdowns and a social awareness that all is uncertain. For me, I chose to leave one organisation and join another. The organisation I chose to join: B.A.i.D. Black Artists in Dance.
Clocked In 2019 an inspired group engagement re. Something Other: Diversity Space – lead to a sparkling conversation with Joyce Gyimah-Distefano and Gerrard Martin from B.A.i.D. We discussed what my role had been with Diversity Space and what their vision was for B.A.i.D. A recognition of shared interests in the wake of the global social unrest was straightforward for me to recognise.
Opposites There was a clear overlap of B.A.i.D’s involvement with challenging status quos, and my involvement with Diversity Space, creating opportunity for Black and Brown voices to be heard amongst an NHS foundation trust. Whilst from two vastly different practices ‘psychology’ and ‘dance’, I would hazard that there are psychological components in dance and a dance in psychotherapeutic engagement. These differences made working together glimmer with possibility. If you have had the chance to watch Move on Netflix a flicker of the psychological, sociological and historical is present within each of the dance offerings.
Recognise I held an affinity for what the future of B.A.i.D. was to begin engaging with nationally. The similarity of what had begun in 2019 with Diversity Space was – Black/Brown people to be seen, valued, heard, supported to achieve both inside of and outside of the NHS. For B.A.i.D. A space for Black dancers to be recognised amongst, celebrated within and supported to achieve what their hard won talents would earn them in the world of movement performance.
Buckaroo The promise to Black and global majority communities – that the harms and injustices of the past – were to be rectified and put forever right are largely still unmet. Capitalism’s promise following unarmed Black death, appeared as the last hiccups of a world semi conscious of race, colonised histories and the lie of supremacy gave way to resentment and impatience. The backlash came after a few weeks of full tilt support of Black Lives Matter and *EDDIE (Equity, Diversity, De-colonialism, Inclusion, Equality). Change unfortunately takes time. Some know, others don’t. As Mariame Kaba carefully described in an interview with Ibram X Kendi, “make use of and remain vigil of disciplined hope”.
Outline Joyce explored what had been achieved with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust alongside colleagues. What the Raison D’Etre was for the Diversity Space and how our collaboration grew to become a significant force for change for the organisation and for the 4 members of the small but dedicated team. 2 have remained and 2 have joined other teams beyond the NHS. B.A.i.D. as an organisation were clear with what they wanted to engage and achieve. Small – large scale dance training institutions address how to be anti-racist and to tackle practices that ignore, silence and invisibilise individuals from Black and global majority communities that attend dance training.
Marked I have delivered 2 individualised events for Rambert School. At the first event as the supervising counsellor for B.A.i.D. I met with students to discuss mental wellbeing, addictive qualities of mobile phone use, risks and rewards of being in and outside of group, raising awareness of public, private and secret communication, identifying attachment patterns, and developing coping strategies. The event in March went well, primarily due to the open curiosity of students, the overview and support of Joyce, Gerrard of B.A.i.D. and Phaedra from Rambert. Students were willing to explore difficult concepts and find interesting solutions and challenge their thinking and mine.
Elastic The second event involved a group of staff from different components of Rambert School. The staff group were equally as engaged as the dance students had been. They followed what was presented in relation to end of year reflections, as though this type of training happens every term! (It doesn’t!) Staff were as flexible in their thinking and as willing to engage with challenging and opposing ideas, as their students had been. Either there is something in the air in this part of London, or the ethos of the school helps shape all engaged at Rambert.
Crash A number of stand out moments happened throughout the day. Concepts such as a ‘Year in Change’ and ‘Conflict’ began shifting around the identity of self and community for Rambert staff. I was thankful to have had a number of prior conversations with Joyce, Gerrard and Phaedra in relation to what an event with me could resemble. Reflecting on 2020 – 2022 the Rambert team were able to note the necessary and amazing choices staff had taken to change ways of being in the school and away from – virtual/online learning, marking, attendance, re-engagement at the school after lockdown. Heading into the topic of conflict, we noted that for much of the pandemic we were all engaged within a number of battles that were; physical, psychological, philosophical, political and social.
Resolution The small skirmishes (mentioned above) potentially left small and deep scars. Rambert staff identified that we would be better to pay attention to these wounds, heal them and make use of the learning offered. Rather than to limp slowly and recklessly forward – hurting more.
The internal conflict the past 2 years have presented are: what changes are to remain and what of the many adjustments made, do we leave behind?
For me there are phenomenal outcomes when seemingly opposing disciplines arrive at the same place at the same time and attempt to dance.
Collectively we may find co-ordination a challenge. With considered effort and for a long time after, fun can be re-discovered amongst the many…
Resources The B.A.i.D. link connects to Black Artists In Dance website – offering the uninitiated an insight to an amazing organisation. Rambert School present their collaboration with BAiD. The Mariame Kaba link is connected to the Blog post of Willfully Unseen: Packed Ending and her interview with Ibram X Kendi on How to be Anti-Racist podcast. In Tune is a link to the musical and poetic feat by Robert Glasper and Amir Sulayman. When artistry takes on a social movement often a power experience is entombed. EDI a short film by Oxleas NHS trust a view of some of the work the Diversity Space delivered and continues to support and improve the NHS service. Unlocking Us with Brené Brown in conversation with Karen Walrond, provides a clear direction beyond the upset of the past 2 years. I thought the conversation fitting for the staff group. The last resource is of Prentis Hemphill discussing conflict with Kazu Haga. The big take away for me was that, there are 7 truths inside of the true false paradigm. Useful to overcome differences of opinion and remaining in the unknown open to curiosity. Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust EDI Code Switch Why Now? Brene Brown in conversation with Karen Walrond Unlocking Us Prentis Hemphill in conversation with Kazu Haga Finding Our Way
To build muscle one needs to put the reps (repetitions) in. So shared by various online fitness enthusiasts, coaches, trainers, physios. Even Ms. Snow, my friend the personal trainer (PT) advised. A daily core practice would support me in all I do now and later in life. I sought Ms. Snow’s advice to help me with the depleting effects of MS. To build strength, conditioning, discipline the same could also be true. One is to repetitively – with purposeful engagement put in the reps. I wonder what then of empathy, cultural competence, listening and compassion?
And So What? For me last month’s post re. The Completion Compulsion supported ideas of just because something has begun, does it mean it has to end in its usual fashion? The ongoing war in Ukraine, the conflicts in relation to Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the proposed ideological conspiracy of the Great Replacement Theory, the impending world grain shortages, possibilities of an economic recession, a world at war and ecological upheaval destabilise a sense of normalcy. Reality was never predictable even if the human animal has attempted to make it so.
Pardon? A slower more complicated understanding of both global and provincial challenges would be to appreciate that there may only be one problem that can be solved. Once complete, we can then move on to the next. I am mindful that we all probably aren’t asking as many questions to determine what the problem should be defined as. Einstein is reported to have said, ‘if given an hour to solve a problem he would spend 55 minutes asking questions to thoroughly understand the challenge in front of him.’
Rush From the war in Ukraine, the recent massacres in Buffalo, Texas, and Nigeria the human animal seems to be at odds with itself. ‘Finger pointing’ does little to answer these questions a client said to me recently. To resolve the many deaths, the overwhelming sense of being lost, or of being on a runaway train without a driver and crew. Much like the Pandemic we are all very much ‘in it’ with little chance of escape. Let’s begin asking questions, not necessarily to only find solution, but also to raise our capacity for critical thought and to claim responsibility for what we do next.
Silk Road The fraying fabric of our now has brought to our beleaguered attention spans the onslaught of gross upheaval, change and uncertainty. The concept of a repetitive exercise – to improve the human capacity to remain outside of chaos and stay in contact with our collective realities is the charge I am levelling here. Can we? Has the march towards the end of civilisation as we know it, begun?
Backing Out I am mindful of the work of Resmaa Menakem and his assertion that whilst we attend to the heavy lifting of deep psychological spiritual restructuring, he also advises that we stop when the work gets too much. He is famous for saying “Pause, just pause, notice the charge and back out of it. Come back to it when you feel you can manage…” The completion compulsion installed in many, invites us to run through the experience of whatever the pain, shame, blame may be so we can arrive at ‘reframe’. The reframing is the prize promise held out for us after surviving the assault course of paying attention to what ails. Talking about or allowing the body to somatically process and release the pain is what Resmaa is advising. If not today, then at some other time when one is capable of managing the charge. Once one has built up enough strength to withstand the labour of what the charge presents. We survive, we heal and we grow.
Drawing Parallels 10 minutes can be enough to suggest both the satisfaction of annihilation and understanding existence anew. The first episode of Love Death + Robots I watched, called Zima Blue, presents an interesting take on a new, yet old story. If humanity had a search for meaning, that resulted in arriving at as straightforward a solution as the protagonist Zima does in this Netflix show, perhaps many of our protests about living and dieing the way that we currently are, would be less torturous. Simply, we are no more or less important than pollen, dust, a water droplet, sand, microbes or subatomic particles. Yes we have sentience, morals, laws, science, philosophy, religion, art. How do we know that sand, like sub atomic particles does not have intelligence? Sand is able to find it’s way into food, homes and machine parts uninvited isn’t it? How is this so? Like sand we also have an incalculable ability to find ourselves in perilous circumstances with an always present entropy. How intelligent/sentient are we to have both the ability to creatively build and yet also to completely destroy?
Flex Putting in the work of building up our ability to remain safe and conscious takes time, practice, resourcing, awareness and a team of committed individuals to support what is unearthed to be integrated, left or discarded. There is no specific end point, only a continual learning, implementing, contracting and expanding. Much like a muscle, strength is maintained as long as the practice is continued and consistent. The reason for the effort is to improve outcomes for the many that perhaps have little or lack resources, or voice. Perhaps the voiceless show through action that every decision made has a direct consequence that impacts upon us in the now and definitely will in the future: Beached whales, birds dieing from plastic consumption, fertile land loss, mudslides, millions of hectares of arable land ablaze, centuries old glaciers collapsing and shrinking…
Vigil In May I attended a candlelight vigil for the massacre in Buffalo. The event was arranged by the leader of ACCA and the youth development co-ordinator Evelyn Myrie and Talibah Howard. The mood sombre. The need for a public show of support and community display of solidarity was met appropriately. I mentioned during my talk that since Rodney King’s, attack over 20 years ago, I have been numb. The idea was shared amongst peers for a True Roots discussion on the 2nd year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. I believe grieving can have a similar effect. As Lama Rod Owen suggests below, continuing the journey out of the numbness, into a broken hearted state. I feel resourced and ready to build the muscles by putting in the reps. At the horizon, where sky meets earth: answers.
Simply Because The aim is to do better with the tools and knowledge available to us and make changes in the systems of education, finance, money management, manufacturing, waste disposal and looking after the whole of life as if our lives depend on it. Because we do!
If we don’t put the reps in we won’t have the chance of ever arriving…
Resources Steve Rose’s article in the Guardian was interesting for what has been misrepresented as the ‘truth’ in relation to Black Brown and white lives in conflict for access to live as equitably as possible. Philip Hoare writes about the research on whales and dolphins beaching themselves. Initially I thought that whales beached themselves due to illness caused by digesting plastic waste. The article dispels my basic awareness. Jaymi Heimbuch Photographer, conservationist shares their story about the tragic impact of plastic waste on the environment. They list 9 steps to reduce plastic waste in seas and land fills. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Lori Santos and Arianna Huffington exquisitely explores the misunderstanding we have about rest, sleep, restoration and vitality. Going slower, doing less, concentrating on 1 or 2 tasks does not make us lazy or slow. Possibly focussing on a small number of projects, having the energy to complete them helps us feel satisfied. Sleeping is a conduit to living well. The Link here takes you to the site of the Nap Ministry. Listening to this episode of the Happiness Lab reminded me of the industrial revolution and the idea of being a wheel in an international production machine. The nap ministry introduces another way to make use of and access work. The Other Front Lines from This American Life invites us to observe conflict in Ukraine from a number of perspectives. Resistance and survival appear different to various communities in Ukraine. Prentis Hemphill interviews Lama Rod Owens about our misunderstanding of anger, and the emotion’s misuse, mislabelling and what we can do once anger gives way to something more. Brené Brown on Unlocking Us contends with the difficult experience of the epoch we are in and what will be experienced, lost and eventually realised. I enjoyed Brené Brown discussing the insurrection at the Capitol Building in 2021 and what may be inferred from the show of avarice and hubris. Guilane Kinouani and Eugene Ellis discuss their books and their encounters writing about race as psychotherapists, living whilst Black and what the journey ahead entails. The Happiness Lab BONUS: Sleep When You’re Dead Tired (LIVE with Arianna Huffington) This American Life The Other Front Lines Ukraine stories Finding Our Way Prentis Hemphill and Lama Rod Owens Radical Anger Brené Brown Unlocking Us Words, Dehumanization, Accountability Therapy Today: The Big Interview with Guilane Kinouani and Eugene Ellis
‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Viktor Frankl
A few years ago an interesting idea blossomed. The thought, to interrupt the want and wish to complete an idea or action. A few experiences helped to solidify these concepts. I will detail below. Explaining thoughts like these, are useful to those interested in psychological models. Also those interested in relieving unhelpful ruminative thoughts.
IOM The Case of Ms. Snow. For a few years I worked as a forensic mental health practitioner for Together for mental wellbeing. My role at the charity changed a number of times. I began working with one probation service in Greenwich (Jan 2015). In May/June 2015 I supported 6 probation services. The Probation service NPS/CRC (National Probation Service/Community Rehabilitation Company) were adapting to a new model of resource management. As a result the NPS contract with Together changed. ‘Doing more – with less’ was the theme of the new contract. After a year of supporting Probation services in Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Merton and Sutton, I transitioned to working within the Southwark probation service. The new role was to support in partnership with Probation, Police, Housing, Substances and Rehabilitation and employment. I provided the mental health arm of support to individuals involved with the IOM (Integrated Offender Management) programme.
Messy Ms. Snow a probation officer was a ‘conversational’ courts assessor. We held a fast friendship. Discussing the challenges the service users faced and how IOM and probation were aligning to provide improved health outcomes. Ms. Snow was particular about her work-station organisation! Post it notes, coloured pens, pads and computer set up just so. With impish glee, I took great pleasure in re-arranging a few items at her desk. I had an idea of how much the rearranging offset her equilibrium. Ms. Snow also shared in making a mess of my workspace in a similar way too. I wasn’t as organised or as particular about my workstation. Her efforts often caused me to smile. It’s the thought that…
Re-Arrange I would disturb Ms. Snow’s station and then leave to meet a client and on returning note what was disturbed in my area too. Without fail Ms. Snow’s arrangement of her work area would return to pens and note pads and post it notes – to as they were before my involvement. We joked about her compulsion to restore ‘order’. We laughed about my need to increase entropy. An uneasy alliance formed about the balance between order and chaos. Her need to reassemble and my want for disorder. 2 adults acting like children in a serious setting, professionally shepherding adults facing significant difficulties. The idea for the Completion Compulsion was borne in that space. Chaos curiously can invite/inspire order.
Non-Compos The irrationality of tidiness, or the discomfort caused by presumptions of messy work stations/offices/cars/bed/kitchen/living rooms is linked to an idea of messy space = messy mind. ‘An indicator of instability or a ‘marker’ of mental illness, some assume. Ms. Snow and I joked, laughed and made fun of her near incessant need to bring order to what appeared as chaos. A representation of the organisations and people we were working amongst at probation and Together, perhaps. An experience at a staff lunch emphasised the want for both order and completion. A common phrase was said by me which began something like ‘No smoke without…’ or ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but…’ As you read these words I wonder have you chosen to complete these well worn phrases? Was there an involuntary sigh as you recognised that leaving the phrases incomplete draws attention to something agape in you, unsatisfactorily incomplete? If so, you are now aware of a compulsion to complete. Because not closing the loop is often discomforting.
Unusual Another example of a completion compulsion arrived whilst working 2 years later as a counsellor at a women’s prison in Kent. The client recently convicted. Troubled by the nature of the crime they were accused and sent to prison for. They found accepting the circumstances of being in prison impossible to bear. The crime they were sentenced for, far outside of their ‘regular’ life experience. This will not be a blog proclaiming their innocence or guilt about the crime accused and sentenced for. The blog is a piece of writing explaining how we (both *Stacey and me) were on course to interrupt her thought patterns.
Unsupported At our first and following meetings, an exploration of Stacey’s past was uncovered. The complicated details of her education, schooling experiences and friendship networks were shared. Ideas of her being a wall flower, bullied, disliked and unsupported by peers. We unpacked what her relationships with friends and teaching staff were like. Departures were another group of people observed. Either she had left them or they had moved away from her. Her current experience of being bullied at the prison by other detainees – a reminder of her past and an uncomfortable undeniable truth about her present. Intrusive thoughts, depression, low self esteem and a waning sense of resilience were discussed and carefully explored.
Projection We talked about patterns of behaviour and associated ideas Stacey held about herself and the past. The intrusive thoughts were linked to her disbelief about being sentenced and about the accusation that brought her to prison. Her dislike of prison. Being away from her family. Confronting difficulty daily. Her life at East Sutton Park, these aspects of her new world she was dissociated from as she had been understandably in her past. A dislocation of how her life was supposed to have turned out Stacey was barely willing to face. It was here that the interruption was to be placed. Starting with a simple game of recognising a patterned hand clap was the launch point of creating something safe and new.
Play Why a game? Most games are fun to play! There is a sense of learning and enjoyment in game play. The 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, 3,4 hand clap is immediately recognisable. Stacey smiled as she recognised and then was able to complete. The next part of the completion compulsion game is to start the pattern of the 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, and not clap the 3,4 part of the pattern. The reason for this is to support tolerance of non-completion. Recognising that surviving the compulsion, is part of building an awareness to interrupting a way of being. The magic of the completion compulsion took root. What was introduced for Stacey was a new cognitive pathway and a resilience to trying something new. The game part makes the completion compulsion accessible and immediately recognisable. She smiled with concentration as she aimed not to complete the pattern. Her feet tapped out the last part of the pattern after 15 seconds.
Sigh We laughed at how this challenge was offered and at how silly the idea of not completing left her feeling. After a few more attempts we were able to breath through the conflicting need of not completing the pattern. When Stacey identified that she could choose to either ignore or complete the compulsion she was able to live inside a paradigm shift. A woman free of the obligation to only see herself as a prisoner, as a person cast out from society for perpetrating a crime. But also to appreciate that she was a creative, able to interpret written material and support others with reading and writing at the prison.
Bi-ped I was later taught in 2019 EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing). Engaging a client with bi-lateral stimulation (clapping, tapping, walking, lateral eye movements or saccades) changes neuro-pathways in the brain. Establishing a validity of cognition helps to embed an alternative way for a client like Stacey to perceive themselves anew. Interrupting the compulsion to complete a familiar upsetting pattern, is key to establish and access ideas of choice, space and alternative possibilities.
Applause There are unseen rewards for completing a pattern. We are rewarded by a hormone feed of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins when a recognised pattern is successfully achieved. For example: the door was shut after using it, the sentence complete, the thought pattern arriving at it’s pre-imagined end.
Abrupt Some degree of discomfort is caused when the pattern is disrupted. When the pre-destined arrival at the ‘end’ is unmet. If you can, think about calling a tele-service for banking, telecommunications, TV, Insurance or other customer experience. Passing amongst the laborious numbered steps to finally, eventually speak with someone. The service alerting you of how long the call may take until you speak with a representative. As a loyal customer, you are mentally prepared for the 5 – 30 minute wait. You’ve made time for this. The annoying music has clicked through convincing you of progress being made. Just before the call is about to be patched through to a real live person, the line goes quiet and next all that is heard is dial tone.
Livid If like me you’re already stretched patience breaks and you begin hurling abuse at the company, and the rubbish telephone service offered, an awareness of the completion compulsion is present. Mainly because of the call not going the way you had planned. The eventual end of the conversation has been hi-jacked. The choices that someone in this position is left with are to leave the call to another time, call again immediately, rage fueled or to vow never to engage with this service again!
Battle The reward arrives once completion of the action is met. After the tenseness of the situation is passed, a relief then fills the space that was formerly occupied. The feeling can be heightened with either food, drink, a good conversation, laughter or movement. But the reward arrives after survival of the event. Such a strong word to use to describe tolerating a moment of low stress. However it is like a micro battle of wills and wants. To have the thing sought one has to travel through the mire to the other side. We could put up walls, convincing ourselves that we don’t need the service. But the uncomfortable truth is that we recognise the importance of whatever the service is and yes, do still need. So once more back into the fray.
Relief The completion compulsion idea is to learn tolerance of discomfort and disconnected completion. We have a pre-conceived patterned ending in mind. Reward hormones are queued up waiting to bathe the brain with feel good rewards. A peak moment of stress. Followed by an intentional interruption. The usual ending averted. Instead – a period of non-activity, of waiting, or long held moments for curiosity to brew. Asserting another possible wanted completion. Preferable to the interruption. An alternative could be as readily accepted as a proposed pre-planned expected outcome. A positive cognition is what we want the mind to begin accepting. Then allow the ‘happy’ bath of the brain to commence.
Metamorphosis For me, returning to the women’s prison a fortnight later, Stacey shared that there had been a change to her intrusive ideas. Speaking with family outside of the prison a shift in perception had started. Stacey and her family were lodging an appeal about her conviction. A spark of prevailing had begun to be established. Stacey had started a difficult transition to appreciating herself as a person in prison. By interrupting a pattern of thinking a newer cognitive model could be inserted and made use of. She had been able to challenge those who were making things difficult for her in prison. A visible change was noted as we completed our work after 6 appointments. Stacey appeared satisfied with how she was viewing her past, present and future.
Arrivé A simple game of moving things around on a desk turned into a game of interrupting thought completions in Stacey’s mind, resulting in a new way to appreciate herself and her life. The Completion Compulsion initially is to bring to awareness the need to close a loop. Don’t! Wait. See what else arrives…
@calm There is a gap between every heart beat, breath, event and response. Not only does choice exist in the space between but also a powerful awareness awaits #meditation M.O.
Resources I have cast my resource net wide to offer a useful collection of ideas in relation to interrupting our usual pattern of success arrival. Code Switch podcast features an in-depth episode from The Nod featuring unknown celebrities who should be household names. In light of the recent events in Buffalo, I wanted to offer another story of Black life, filled with glamour joy, some tragedy and restitution. From Criminal an unknown story of a man’s choice to create state wide change. Interruption of a status quo is how Dr. Dudley E. Flood engaged with segregation and changed the experience of schooling in North Carolina. The Happiness Lab features Dr. Laurie Santos considering how intrusive thoughts can be redirected in this episode of The Happiness Lab. I end with Dr. Brené Brown’s interview with Adam Grant and the benefits of remaining with an idea past it’s natural conclusion point and reconsidering an initial viewpoint. The highlight for me was when Brené spoke about the Priest and the Prosecutor. There being a fear about the Politician and what they can do with words. Code Switch ft The Nod podcast They Don’t Say Our Names Enough Criminal podcast The Boycott The Happiness Lab podcast Don’t think of the white bear Brené Brown and Adam Grant Think Again
‘To know that at our core there is a knowing, resourced, patient, wise, unbroken peace that lies awaiting rediscovery – the truest magic. The reason to search…’ M.O.
The interesting thing about the psychotherapist is that ‘they’ often cannot tell of what they do behind their closed doors. It mostly is clarifying talk between counsellor and client. A conversation unlike other noise making conversations. The information held between them is confidential. The psychotherapist can speak about process, the results of the work, the deep hole either avoided or climbed safely beyond. This is one of those types of stories.
List There are a few reasons I wanted to write this piece. My ongoing fight with MS, the war in Ukraine, CoViD19 and living while Black. The current uncertainty of life appears to have increased an awareness of the sense of the known/unknown. A few nights ago, I thought about the possibility of the next global conflict, detonations and an ensuing Nuclear Winter. Sleep evaded me as a result of spinal discomfort, an outcome of the slow creep of Multiple Sclerosis.
Hiding Discovery often takes place when one is looking for something else. The long-hidden coin, key set, file, ear ring, and memory, often are found whilst excavating randomly. Almost like the item was waiting for you to venture along this path. Jumping out and surprising! The interesting thing about certainty and beachcombing is what is found. Something is always found! The ‘what’ remains a mystery until discovery.
Modelling A few years ago I wrote about a few of the mental models a counsellor/psychotherapist may use to support clients. These models offer both in the relationship, a frame with which to make the dance of support, seem regular, measured, predictable. Anything at any moment can usurp a care planned recovery. The mythic return to the ‘normal’. Most of the time, the complex and intimate nature of the counselling relationship, can wrestle a surprising memory or event from sabotaging the ground already made. The memory used to germinate understanding, the processes covered and the journey that lies ahead.
Tanktown Beachcombing is a mix of imagination and discovery. The analogy used to support both of us as we walk across ‘their’ ‘our’ joint landscape. For me, it is a pebble beach. Like many around the world such as Brighton, or Tankerton. Beaches I used to visit, with friends and later with family. Now these beaches are mind wanderings, used to explore what the ever-active mind of my fellow beachcomber brings to shore. The most surprising find ‘mindfully’ beachcombing with a client, was a netted live WWII sea mine. Current global crises afloat in our subconscious.
Inside Out The rankling honesty of the current war in Ukraine – upsetting the idea of peace globally, presents us with the uncomfortable. Some profit from upset, others perish. Can we as a species continue to externalise the fight within, the paradox of being human, without facing dire consequences? The war within looks at all we throw amongst the shadow and stride knowingly away from: Shame, failure, contempt, weakness, anger, fear, loneliness, hate. Remaining in a state of uncertainty is to engage with continual discovery and loss – Beachcombing. Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, uncovers more of our emotions in a clear, earnest and relatable way. Atlas of the Heart supports us to understand ourselves more and with courage, congruence and compassion take the hidden into the light.
Wherever You Go Living in a body of culture, as a Black man, the uncertainty of further experiences of vicarious trauma visiting are constant. The global dominance of Western culture has continued to be called into question, thankfully. Before Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders, uncountable attempts were offered by many to re-course, the river of assumed White body supremacy. The West evaluating, assessing, characterising art, science, faith as pagan, primitive, tribal, with no value, demeaned the Global North also. Traditions long practiced, new to the West’s limited understanding (the enlightenment era) of the planet and the people’s living in the global South. In an attempt to silence and squash uncertainty, millions lost their lives to conquest and land theft. Many more, descendents: rebuilding, reclaiming, restoring.
Dumbfounded The pandemic has outlived most projections of how long it ’should’ last. Has the reality of what we are still globally lurching through, begun to reawaken our sense of wonder, fear, and an awareness of how small and powerless we are? 20th/21st century humans, somewhat knowledgeable and yet also unknowingly vulnerable. Humans never really were in control or as omnipotent as had once been thought.
Thought Less I thought with age (me nearing 50) that knowing more would accompany seniority. The philosopher Socrates’ idea of ‘I know, that I know nothing’. Makes more sense to me now. We, convinced by assuredness, that knowing affords us safety, a life, decency, respect, wealth, luck, faith, security has not for millennia been valid. Life does not arrive with a 100% guarantee of anything other than at some point… Death. To beachcomb is to dare, to risk, to lose, to give up hope of ever finding anything worthwhile and still meditate whilst moving. Laughingly picking up finds. Placing sea worn wood, stones, fossils, glass either in bags to take home or carefully back onto the beach.
The aim to willfully, amble alongside others and humbly discover…
Resources A brief explanation of the resources. There are times I feel that the best part of writing these missives are the moving parts that the above grew from. Talking While Black from This American life is I presume a take on the blog series Walking Whilst Black. The episode observes 3 experiences of Black Americans, encountering racism and policies being written to erode the use of critical race theory or any discomfort caused by discussions about difference. A case of seeking to remain willfully ignorant. Certainty is a part of the musical art form – Jazz. There is timing, time signatures, a mood being worked through and produced. With Alice Coltrane’s music, a sense of uncertainty is also apparent on Turiya and Ramakrishna. A meeting of Eastern and Western influences, holding you in their sway as Alice plays piano. The music invites both promise of delivery and holding a refrain, with each note curiously working at the space between. Prentis Hemphill discusses with Patrisse Cullors imagination, discovery and making way for something different. A joyous conversation. Brian Cox and Robin Ince and guests discuss amongst other things quantum mechanics, the Block Universe, Time, Free Will and entropy. The idea of not knowing, the idea of uncertainty and someday being close to answers I found reassuring to listen to. The last reference perhaps could be moved to the top of the references list. The conversation is enjoyable for what it reveals, Brené Brown talks with Father Richard Rohr on the topic of uncertainty. Father Richard Rohr is able to be profound and humble at the same time. The concert hall of Brené Brown – allows both the music and the silence to rebound. Encapsulating whilst the teaching resonates. When truth is heard, it is also felt… Alice Coltrane Turiya and Ramakrishna Finding Our Way with Prentis Hemphill and Patrisse Cullors Entropy Infinite Monkey Cage Uncertainty Unlocking Us with Brené Brown and Father Richard Rohr pt 1
For a few months now the idea of connection has been spinning. A few concepts have been attempting ascendency. Their want – to remain as consistent lenses for viewing the world through. These lenses tinted by the topics of: Shame, Open hearted state, Vulnerability, Listening, Attention and Intimacy. Merging together they have made a mind soup. Appealing in colour. Rich in flavour. Texture silky with some identifiable and unknown contents awaiting discovery therein. It’s the after taste of umami, that has my head to the side – questioning…
Vulnerability – Intimacy A counselling conversation recently, wandered close to the cliff edge of danger, curiosity and discovery. Most do. My hope with the below is that I can summarise and offer some of what was covered. Many of the counselling engagements I have throughout my working week pull and stretch understanding along a range of different paths. We were observing vulnerability as a component of being with others/another. That being amongst a space of vulnerability, is ultimately a goal often ventured but not soon realised. My mind turbo charged – whispered ‘but what of intimacy?’
Attention Deficit I shared my understanding of the world’s lurch toward certainty and attention with the client. When the opposite of attention, offers just as many outcomes and rewards. As likely to resolve a few human wants. I’ll share my basic understanding. We have a world focused on assessing and evaluating what can be made use of. What can be managed safely. If there is profit or gain. What can be left, lost or discarded. Veering wildly away from risk. Presenting the unknown unknown as problematic, unchartered and dangerous. In Narcissus is Us, I wrote about the draw of hiding behind a mobile device that offers the promise of connecting with others, but increasing a feeling of separation and loneliness. Our detriment. By venturing an unknown, new learnings, experiences and appreciations can be gathered. Are these encounters not as valuable as the ones we know and expect?
Switch Tracking Attention can be useful. By becoming aware of global issues, we can ask ourselves and others difficult questions and be willing to listen for answers. Humanity is curious by nature. Often we want to find reasons for things working the way that they do, or not. We can then find possible solutions. Alternatively flicking between a number of sources, to entertain ourselves is often the outcome of our attention being used. I wonder at what cost? Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’, offered a useful interpretation of where our global attention is affixed. Our ‘seeing’ a range of images, stories, videos, links to sales and profit for an elite few. Attention is a way of being used to support financial reward for companies globally – not us, the user.
Pause for Cause My interest here is what are we losing, or have already lost? Could our attention deficit cause disconnection? Would we be aware of this trend? The CoViD19 pandemic, the global racial reckoning after the public murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the rise in technological dependency and entertainment, potentially may have instigated a turning away from trusting relationships with each other and specifically within ourselves. Use of telecommunication devices such as: Google Meet, MS Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp Video Call, Apple’s FaceTime, offer a semblance of remaining in contact with and a newer way of connecting with others. I wonder if “the being with” is the same? Is there an unknown component being lost? In my case, living on a different continent to those I support. I am dependent on mobile communication and working agilely. Does convenience increase or decrease contact?
Vulnerability I will use Brené Brown’s counsellor’s words to begin this part of the discussion. Vulnerability is both *exfoliatingly excruciating and **excitingly exquisite. Vulnerability is similar to walking a tightrope across a canyon. There is both risk and beauty to be had in both. To know that there could be pain attached to being vulnerable, can make us less willing to share much of ourselves. There could also be a wonderful sense of release, relief and resuscitation with letting go – the armour and shield. When we are in a place that we feel is safe enough. That the company we keep can bear witness to our vulnerability. We can get to the next more pleasing experience of being with, with less distance, less fear more empathy and a sense of being held.
Opening In last years post On Shame I placed emphasis on how to use shame to support growth. Both Hilary Jacobs Hendel and Brené Brown in their books, and interviews, share what living in an open-hearted way, looks and feels like. Another perspective of what learning arrives once Brown’s and Jacobs Hendel’s work takes root. We become engaged with the possibility of daring greatly, being compassionately congruent, and living within the scope of intimacy. The idea of engaging consistently in an open-hearted way, presents challenge. Would we be able to, with the world sliding towards the solipsistic? I wonder what do we gain from the pretense? That a me-centric view of the planet has us on course to irreparably damage ourselves and the biosphere we inhabit. A rise in mental illness could illustrate that the construct of the world we are living in, is unhealthy. Perhaps there are other ways to be in the world?
Dive Of late my concerns are about the bare-naked truth of limited interaction with others. Telecommunication has limits. Hearing and seeing, can be experienced from afar. But what of the sense of felt presence of being in the same space/room with another, with others? What happens to the intimacy of non-verbal communication? The hand gesture that is not seen as a result of the glitchy nature of WiFi, or the LAN cable disconnect, power outage? My client wondered if vulnerability was similar to a person going for a swim at their local swimming pool. Bathing suit on. Walking out carefully along the mid level diving board. Bouncing up and down. In full view of everyone else, but not piking and diving into the pool. Vulnerable yes. Intimate not yet.
Listening To experience unity and no degree of separation, the pool into which we dive is to be receptive. We were vulnerable bouncing up and down on the diving board. We move from vulnerability to intimacy when we leap forward into the pool. The water, willing and able to embrace us well. With the capacity to support if we were poor swimmers. The want to be intimate and vulnerable with others is linked to the spaces and people with whom we could share our tenderness and theirs. If the listening environment is primed and ready to accept, hear, understand, sharing will be an easier happening between those in the room/space. A few examples of altered listening were provided whilst I was training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist. We were asked to share a story with another student sitting opposite us. Who showed obvious signs that they were not paying any attention to what the storyteller was saying. Yawning, feigning sleep, mouthing the words this is so boring. I witnessed one student, stand and walk off! The vibe of these encounters felt uncomfortable for both the teller and the listener. A listening environment, in time becomes as valuable to a personal exchange as the “what” is shared in those spaces.
Unity Intimacy being the submersion. The hitting the water. Pushing up from the bottom of the pool. Bubbles. Breaking the surface. Gasping. Ejecting water from the mouth. Treading water. Feeling the cool. Spreading fingers and swishing the water in full play. Swimming the full length of the pool. Intimacy then, is bringing oneself into an experience of being with. Recognising self as separate from and yet being willing to fully commit, engage and be for however long enmeshed and inside of. Willingly being embraced and held by that other. Looked after by many trusted others. And you them. Intimacy is an act of trust. An act of faith that they, you, can exist as a oneness. Separation the umami taste of the soup. Within an intimate encounter, an ingredient that aims to dissolve union. Or possibly to enhance it.
Algorithm To move from distrust to intimacy, I wonder what the way of growth would be? Distrust, Dislike, Disappointment, Ambivalence, a positive experience, many positive experiences, Questioning throughout, Acceptance of what is, Testing self, Testing others, Failure and willingness to starting again – many times, Independence, Pauses, Building Resilience, Empathy, Compassion, Disciplined hope, Trust, Vulnerability, Intimacy…?
Event Horizon The path I propose to intimacy would likely be non-linear. My guess would be that the journey would be with a number of restarts from various positions listed above. I believe at our core, we seek connection and are excited by the prospect of being intimate (honest, open, collaborative, risking vulnerability) with others. 2020 was a beginning of a different way of living for many on the planet, perhaps there is another pull, daring us towards –
Resources The Anthropocene and all that is to be discovered in an ever changing human/non human landscape are subjects that Ayana and Dr. Bayo sit down to discuss. Dr. Bayo conjures in discussion with Ayana, a plethora of viewpoints through which to learn, question and revisit our understanding of spaceship earth. Masterpieces and Messes with Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds observes the up and down nature of discovery, loss, heartbreak and getting suspended from school for doing the right thing! A wonderful dance to listen to. Mistakenly Seeking Solitude uncovers a long-held myth. Being by oneself, holding oneself in abeyance does not make us happier, talking to strangers does. Dr. Laurie Santos with guests explain. Maya Shankar uses this podcast to investigate how significant events in hers and her guests lives leads to break through’s discoveries and successes. Failing can lead to break down and break through and intimate connection. For the Wild podcast with Ayana Young and Dr. Bayo Akomolafe Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds The Happiness Lab – Mistakenly Seeking Solitude with Dr. Laurie Santos A Slight Change of Plans – Meet Maya Shankar in Conversation with Michael Lewis
The thought behind this blog is to attempt answering a clients question. As an artist using the spectrum of human experience to express high art – they asked if as I say psychotherapy is a refined art “what would be the primary colours?”
I wonder what your answer would be? As you can see below my answer encompasses a psychotherapeutic journey.
Thread The question is profoundly simple and yet also confoundingly complex. In essence what are the three counselling theorems that I primarly reach for? The primary colours of the artist’s palette are Red, Yellow and Blue. In the light spectrum the primary colours are Red, Green and Blue. From 3 primary colours, a million more colours are created.
Artiste As an integrative counsellor, the question caused me to pause for a number of reasons. I was invited to see myself as a painter of notoriety. Palette and brush in hands, peering curiously from behind an easel and canvas occasionally, at the subject being depicted. What would be my Red, Yellow, Blue? What does integrative really mean? Which three of the many counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches would I say are primary? Hence the blog. The answer – arriving later.
Bespoke An integrative counsellor is often trained to use more than one counselling or psychotherapeutic approach to support the person(s) engaged in the work. Counselling approaches can include and the list provided is by no means exhaustive: Person Centred, Humanistic, Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioural, Solution Focused, Problem Centred, Transpersonal, Internal Family Systems, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, Culturally sensitive, Transactional Analysis, Game Theory, Attachment Theory, Trauma informed, Music Psychotherapy, Art Psychotherapy, Movement and Dance Psychotherapy. The list is near endless. Somatic Abolitionism is a very recent interest. Invited by Kimberly Cato to immerse myself into. When asked what my Red, Yellow and Blue for counselling and psychotherapy are? After several years in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, a few colour wheel associations are made.
Red – Assessment I am drawn in by the experience of developing a sound relationship with the person(s) sitting in the *‘chair’ opposite me. The vibrancy of the unsure, questioning, circling of the two who soon will be engaged in the psychological rumble that is psychotherapy – is the red of the colour wheel for me.
Runway Assessments are: Potent, energetic, immediate, open, raw, honest. The assessment is not specifically an approach of psychotherapy, but it is a significant and an important factor. Assessment is how the process of counselling is begun. In the assessment which is a two-way engagement, the client and the mental health professional enquire of the other what work is to be engaged with, and how the content of what is discussed will support both to enable growth, change, development and healing to be happen. The counsellor is assumed to be the one with power/knowledge. The opposite is more often the case. The client holds their entire story. The impact and the meaning of their life’s challenges being lived with. These choices and decisions lie between, to be understood and reviewed for newer formations and meaning to arrive.
Internalise Together counselling aims to address the parts of the story that are useful, syphon away parts of the story the client is to grow from and implement gathered learning.
Yellow – Person to person From my initial training at Morley College and then accessing the integrative approach at University of Greenwich, I was rooted in the person-centred understanding of counselling and psychotherapy. Carl Rogers the giant, I the infant beginning in the profession. Measuring myself against the Rogerian model. Psychodynamic persuasions had yet to seduce me into an understanding of the shadow aspects of a person’s (client’s) psyche, or mine. I enjoyed staying amongst the lit and topside overstanding of what a person brought in to the counselling space. The surprises were wan of the danger and risk of the Id, Ego, Super Ego, the exchanges amongst transactional analysis, I danced free from the drama triangles of the Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor, the super consciousness of the internal supervisor observing the Transference and Counter Transference were also moderately subdued.
Inspirator Outside of congruence, unconditional positive regard (UPR), empathy, compassion and non-judgemental listening. The way in, to support another appeared straightforward with person centred approaches to counselling. I looked forward to playing a role that supported others to access improved *awareni of their mental health. The readying myself and mental preparations were not too dissimilar to the other roles I held of being a Basketball Coach, and a learning mentor. The precontemplation and readiness to perform as a compassionate collaborator were a wardrobe I was already somewhat familiar with.
Educate Then in the 2nd year of counselling training I met 2 experiences that would forever change my appreciation of the counselling landscape. Counselling in a large London prison. And a client that I met in this prison I have renamed ‘Laos’. Person centred counselling had for me a limited reach when it came to working with some men in prison. I remember reflecting with my supervisor, the notable Anne Willoughby, that my usual approach of nodding and paraphrasing did not seem to be working with Laos. He mocked me during our 2nd meeting by asking ‘Are you really just going to sit there and nod all the way through this, repeating everything I say?’ Either I was not getting him, or he was not getting me. Possibly both. AW and I decided to put our minds together, as is the case in supervision. The aim is to summarise and re-direct the approach being taken. If something is not working, figure out what it is and change it!
Icarus Accessing psychodynamic perspectives of the inner child, internal family systems, drama triangles, being aware of transference and counter transference all helped to build a resourced, close, understanding of who I was meeting. A fuller story of the person I was counselling came to light. Once I began processing Laos’ from a perspective of ‘seeing’ his life’s history. A number of significant chapters opened up: Laos was a person that came from a family with wealth. He was given the metaphorical keys with access to explore all elements of his younger life in the countries and cities he and his family moved to. Following his father’s career. Laos had a privileged background. He was privately educated. Teachers were aware of his intelligence and gift with mathematics. He suffered experiences of abandonment and loss. Travel became an escape for him as was alcohol and substance addiction. Survival was mostly what he was able to hold on to.
Sliding Doors My work with Laos became a transition point. Through which I became an integrative counsellor adapting my approach for every person I would support subsequently. For Laos I believed he woke up in me the sleeping dragon. A counsellor able to straddle the psychotherapeutic world of person centred counselling and the forever developing one of the psychodynamic-neuroadaptive psychotherapeutic world. He experiencing his world as cavernous, treacherous and risky. I imagined, that he needed to know that his counsellor was just as resilient, resourceful, daring, hungry and as courageous as he.
Blue – Mystery The advent of CoViD19, the various lockdowns and multiple stages of locking up and unlocking, me moving to online only counselling provision and supervision has changed all aspects of how I meet clients. Petruska Clarkson wrote about a heightened experience in the counselling relationship. For some who work in a number of differing professions, describe the experience of being in flow. When a counsellor has a perception that they have crossed into a knowingness that is beyond them Clarkson would call an experience like this – transpersonal.
Oblique With a question, a look, a smile, a tear, a non-verbal cue – some ‘extra’ communication lies between the counsellor and client. It is like the room alive to the presence of the two or more in the room share an experience that is beyond what both have known of themselves before. At times these moments are fleeting, sometimes they stay around for many minutes. The fear being, that a mistaken word, a misstep, will evaporate the hush that has descended. It is like magic. A few friends who have kinesthesia have spoken about seeing sound, tasting colour. That letters and numbers have their own distinct flavours or colours. Being in the hush is like this knowing what is possibly unknowable. These moments offer a profound connection.
Escaping All types of performers tune in to mystical moments such as these. When they say things like ‘I was feeling the vibe’ an experience of transcendence is amongst them. Wrapping those who watch them spellbound and amazed as if time and space are immaterial. The feeling: stars and rainbows, tingly and unexpected in a way that is as awe inspiring as it is brief. Leaving me questioning did that really just happen? It is the lecturer who instead of reading off of her screen, begins pulling apart one concept in the hope that the class can keep up. They mesmerised and amazed. Hoping that every lecture will be as electrifying and as delicious as this. It is the podcaster who feels their way through a difficult moment with guests. They then finding something golden that all who hear what is being shared – are forever changed.
Be Water Bruce Lee has been reported to have said that Water is an important element to be aware of. Changing to meet the environment it experiences and yet still remaining itself. The following sections are continuations of the Blue theme – peering beyond the horizon.
The Score Bessel Van Der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ was an important book to have read. Bessel characterised his appreciation for body focused psychotherapy, or body focused treatments as a way to support those who are living with trauma. The writing of ‘The Body…’ is to offer understanding of the process of realising the release what has been trapped in the body offers. Bessel’s book assisted me in appreciating that talking as a form of treatment has it’s limits. Whilst the mind is helpful in making sense of events in time and space, there are restrictions in what can thoroughly be relieved. Some parts of memory do not have the words. These moments are either pre-verbal, somaticized knowledge or lie in parts of the body that words are useless at describing. Psychotherapy, counselling, C.B.T. D.B.T. are all useful up until a point, then words falter. I am interested in what comes after the words. This for me is Blue…
EMDR In 2019 I trained to use EMDR. I had a long-held interest in wanting to use Eye Movement De-Sensitisation Re-Processing to support clients. I came across EMDR as a result of Bessel’s book and my training at Greenwich. I was intrigued to know more of how bi-lateral stimulation could support someone who has experienced Small t trauma and Big T trauma to live beyond principle events. The trainers Barbara Lerch and Joshua Isaac Smith carefully wove personal narratives of using body based and specific bi-lateral stimulations with clients. Their stories about the impact for clients were surprising and initially I found unbelievable.
Past/Present One client I supported at a prison in Kent helped me fully appreciate what EMDR does. They were a survivor of war in Afghanistan. Going to school amongst a country wracked by war. Daily trips to the store, friends houses were a series of gauntlets ran. Living with the constant fear of being shelled, surviving mortar attacks, passing through bloody scenes, witnessing people dieing and hearing cries of the injured and scared. The belief they held, was that they were still in the war. That they were still in Afghanistan. Every loud shout. Every gate being slammed in prison, brought them immediately back to scenes and memories from their past.
Crane Stance By inviting the client to observe 2 important concepts of self belief and what they would preferably like to believe about themselves, is a key component in the change dynamic when supporting a client using bi-lateral stimulation. EMDR training instigates a theoretical imbalance that clients are to address and rebalance themselves with. The result, an experience of Capoeira – expertly and nimbly turning a hard to reach fact into a reality. By experiencing both the past and a future the client would prefer to live in. An undeniable shift had taken place. When the work was completed their smile and their sense of disbelief was felt, as they dizzily left the room. The successful outcome was experienced as a shedding of an old heavy armour. Walking beyond with something flexible and better suited to the life they were now to live.
On Being Kwame Opoku a Balham based counsellor introduced me to the phenomenon that is Resmaa Menakem. I have been fully immersed in his body focused message and shared a few of his interviews on previous blogs. During a conversation with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast Resmaa shares a number of his findings and what he invites those that he works with to understand about the world we are living in. There is a cost to continue speeding through the experience of life with blinkers on and what slowing down feels like. There are emotional and historical charges due up for release. We would do well if we pay attention to generational wounds, traumas, remembering’s, suppressions and not just talk about them but somatically be in the process of healing with them. For me the Blue here is wrapped in a Brown of the earth and of the spirit body. The cover art for My Grandmother’s Hands invites pause to understand the content of the book and the journey left to travel.
Equine There is a part of me that is nervous releasing this nascent idea here. But I have thrown other ideas forward that have either been held by you, questioned by you, but not laughed at or ridiculed. So I will remain courageous and share an insight. Reading 40 Million Dollar Slaves, William Rhoden offered a wonderful perspective of those who were brought to North American shores, against their will, being instrumental in animal husbandry. There was a line in the book that described an integral part of how African people were able to commune with livestock and specifically horses. Mr. Rhoden didn’t write this, but there was an implicit idea that being compared to a beast of burden had some people in bondage, appreciate the lives of the creatures that they worked with in a way that was spiritual. Mr. Rhoden went as far as to say that African Americans were excellent horse trainers, riders and jockeys because of an embodied knowledge.
How High An idea fixed itself to the back of my mind in 2016 of working with horses after reading the book. 2 more celluloid presentations arrived in 2021. The first being High on the Hog Netflix documentary and The Harder They Fall Netflix Cowboy movie. A Cowboy instructed Stephen Satterfield, that of course Black people were amongst the first Cowboys! ‘Where do you think the term Cowboy came from?’ My jaw hit the ground and fireworks spread across the screen for me. The ‘oh, of course of it’. The ‘hiding in plain sight of it!’ The dastardliness of it! Men and Women of African descent were cowboys.
Finally On an episode of Queer Eye S6 ep. Snow White of Central Texas (yes I know, yet another Netflix show) the ‘5 change agents’ visit a Texan farm. The farm introduces children to animals. Both guests and farm dwellers received a therapeutic outcome from visits. As part of the redesign the owner of the farm experiences equine psychotherapy themselves! Leigh the equine therapist shared an insight that ‘horses do not speak in language they speak in energy!’ On hearing that, my interest in animal assisted psychotherapy peaked. Equine psychotherapy is something I will look to pursue in the future. This the last instalment of the primary colour Blue, I am to daub across the canvas of psychotherapy. I have a suspicion further interests will maraud…
Rainbow And here my foray in a psychotherapy painted landscape that began with 3 primary colours has ended with a colour palette that extends to both Infra Red and Ultraviolet. A simple question asked by a client has turned into a 2000 word long read. Conclusion: as an integrative psychotherapist I am interested in the blending of approaches to support the process of healing. Red – Assessment, Yellow – Person Centred/Psychodynamic, Blue – for me, looks like this – EMDR – Somatic Abolitionism – Equine Psychotherapy…
I wonder what your primary colours could reveal…?
Resources Israel Anthony artist extraordinaire and a hell of a chess player! I have played him and lost a number of times. This is a link to his website. Resmaa Menakem’s website on Somatic Abolitionism. Here Resmaa shares his vision of what his training offers participants. Bruce Lee is known for his incredible skill at Kung-Fu and little known for his appreciation of philosophy. Bruce Lee offers his interpretation of being fluid. EMDR links to the EMDR centre London where I completed my training. Barbara and Joshua are phenomenal exponents of the application of EMDR. Brazilian Capoeira offers a short clip of the Brazilian Art form/dance/self defence fighting style/political movement. A link to Dream Winds horse training website. For animal assisted psychotherapy training in Ontario. On Being – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence interview with Krista Tippett and Resmaa Menakem talk about his book ‘My Grandmother’s Hands’ and about the idea of the human body being constricted – primed and ready for fight, flight and freeze. Wu Wei Wisdom with Alexandra Lees and David James Lees discus healing the inner child. Thank you for Kate Bowler for recommending this podcast. The conversations between Alexandra and David are enlightening and humorous. The Happiness Lab I thank a number of sources for alerting me to, a client and Dare to Lead by the Brené Brown team. I have been resisting listening because I doubted that a podcast could provide a probable path to happiness. There is something here for me about expectation, arrogance and beginners mind. Glad to be shown my errors and unlearn. On Being Podcast Krista Tippett with Resmaa Menakem – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence Wu Wei Wisdom Podcast – Inner Child Therapy The Happiness Lab Podcast – Dr. Laurie Santos – You Can Change
*Chair I used to work with clients who were in the same room as me. Before the pandemic. Now we are separated by considerable distances and yet able to meet by the marvels of modern technology. 2 Chairs in 2 very different spaces.
The feeling of love experienced or expressed in the psychotherapy ‘room’ is a complex dynamic to encounter. I will attempt to analyse this phenomena and my experiencing of a profound and surprising blossoming in the counselling relationship.
Fission During training at Greenwich University to become a counsellor, we (students) were advised and taught about the growing of warm intimate feelings between client and counsellor, warned of the dangers of developing a relationship that is based on unseen and unknowable factors. That drive powerful ingredients and are most often used as a catalyst to the counselling dyad. Like a nuclear physicist, carefully bespectacled, be-gloved and radiation suited – mindfully managing radioactive substances as though all errors could, end not only the experiment but her life and the lives of many. And so this last development in healing is to be handled with care.
Defying Gravity Recently I learned that in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy the client is inpart ‘supposed’ to fall in love with their counsellor. Thus recreating the powerful and intimate connection a client may have had with primary care givers. Evolution of intense feelings are a bi-product of meeting with one person and sharing intimate, hidden aspects of ones life with a trained professional week after week, at times for years. Psychotherapy can be a significant challenge for those, who find being open, congruent, honest or trusting of themselves or another an uncomfortable and at times a painful invitation to encompass change. The other outcome is that a client is to also fall out of love and humanise the counsellor. Finding fault where once there was none. The client potentially can then enter the final phase of support. Looking to gain perspective on granular aspects of living life alongside another, who is willing to also acknowledge all aspects – comparatively-realistically-compassionately.
Flowering Before a client enters the counselling room, there may have been past experiences of hurt. Vulnerability being squashed or vanquished by those appointed to care, however these carers did not, could not. And so the person who takes their seat across from the counsellor is rightfully wary. The past has taught them to be alert, to any hint, that any form of harm, insult or embarrassment is met in a formerly used similar self-protective way (Friend, Fight, Flee, Freeze). In time the furtive eyes – dart less. The slightly scrunched body posture unfurls. Petal like. They are able to hold gazes more and then, they really speak. In this place, at these times there is almost a oneness in communication between counsellor and client. It feels like flight. A sense of trust is establishing itself and the distance between the people in the room disappears…
Transpersonal An encounter with a client left me floundering last year. They said just before our session came to a close, “I Love You, Man.” I believed I knew what they meant. They were affirming that something important and meaningful was being recognised in them and that they found this emergent quality both beautiful and surprising. Returning the sentiment with a depth of feeling, by not just saying the words was the difficult part for me. I have been inside these moments of heartfelt connection before. They always surprise and invite me to think about what the counselling work has been able to begin attending to. Like a Doula bringing to life, to light – the unseen…
Transact With the client I hoped that my words and commitment to the challenging work we were engaged with were enough. Simply saying in a constricted, halting way ‘I love you’ would not have conveyed honestly the depth of feeling I hold for the work and for them (clients). I floundered because in the transaction something of equal value is to be offered in the moment. This is a societal lesson. Anything less seems unfair. There was little time left at the end of the session. I knew that a rushed offering would lose the content and meaning of the message. In that moment I may have smiled and nodded and shown my appreciation. Hoping that a felt sense of mindful embrace would convey my connection to them and to the work. The fear, my fear was that I couldn’t bring balance to the exchange. That would be my work to walk with and process in counselling supervision.
Scent Sense We could look at the meaning of the word love specifically in the psychotherapeutic space. However, love has more than a romantic application. I believe that just like the term therapy, there are layered and have multiple reasons and applications of both words use. “I Love You” is an expression of appreciation, recognition, a felt sense of something significant and a not easily identified pleasant sensation. I love you is an acknowledgment of a connection beyond a simple like. There are probably 7 billion expressions, interpretations and mis-understandings of the deeply intimate and connection filled word love. In counselling the relationship between those engaged in the process is similar to a friendship, or of a student and mentor. These relationships are anything but simple and yet remain complex and beautiful at the same time.
Unknown Terrain Having worked in a range of settings the idea of liking those who sit in the chairs or in the now virtual rooms opposite me has grown. My former prison supervisor, now friend, Anne Willoughby, advised that whilst you might find working with some of the clients difficult to connect with, and they you, aim to find one thing about them that you are curious about, that makes you smile internally, that you can like. It could be the clients trainers, jeans, the way they talk or an aspect of their face. Grow your appreciation of who they are from that point. This tool given back in 2010-2011 has grown to generally appreciating all clients I have the opportunity of working alongside. I realise that the expression and experience of love is tentative, risky, containing a power dynamic that has unknown elements buried deep within it’s catacombs. The equation consistently asked by a healer is; are they, am I, are we, ready to explore this wild landscape? Often the answer given is – Yes!
Art If projective identification, mirroring, transference and counter transference are the tools that support a clients’ self – entity to realise themselves. In and amongst a list of items of what the client throws out against the canvas of counselling/psychotherapy. The job, my job, is to gently return the disguised and dislodged parts of themselves back to them, in piecemeal fashion and slowly in procession. The client then can appreciate their full picture of themselves as I and close allies do. With congruence, compassion and yes, a deeply resourced, well informed and suitably intentioned – Love.
Resources I first came across the word Doula a few years ago at a training event. Since then I have been struck by the necessity of the role and the idea of what a Doula does. The link takes you to a website about Doulas. There was something about the episode of the Stoop that took love on an interpretive ride. Polyamory was discussed in an open curious investigative fashion. I enjoyed the multiple discoveries made. Brené Brown’s, Atlas of The Heart book and short podcast series about Atlas of the Heart with her sisters, is both informative, searingly honest reflections and often hilarious. The mini series is a great companion to the beautiful and well crafted work of a modern sage. This is Love and The Magpie of Heart Mountain is a phenomenal story of love found in a hard place and at a difficult time in an American’s History. When I heard that President Obama had his own podcast with his friend Bruce Springsteen, I was intrigued to find out what these two men would talk about. I have been entertained and surprised from what I learned about both as they reflect on their lives. The podcasts are reflective in what they invite the listener to witness. Love appears as a character connecting their stories to the past and future. The Stoop Podcast – Polyfree A Sisters Book Club Series Atlas of the heart This is Love The Magpie of Heart Mountain Renegades: Born in The USA Our Unlikely Friendship Images Photo inspiration – glowing feelings. Cover Photo Love Sign Hands photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash 1st Inlay photo ‘Benched Together’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash 2nd Inlay photo ‘Family Time’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash 3rd Inlay photo ‘Love Hearts Glitter’ by freestocks on Unsplash 4th Inlay photo ‘T-Shirt Design’ by Brian Lundquist on Unsplash 5th Inlay photo ‘Lean on me’ by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash
I have already begun thinking ahead to what the year to follow will be about for me and the blog. From 2018 -2021 a commitment was made to write regularly. My lightning quick imaginings and hard to capture thoughts have been ensconced in lengthy word paper and bubble wrap.
Then ‘ta da’ – presented.
The past few years have been eventful. Police killings, an uncontainable pandemic, sporting events mislabeled 2020 even though they they were held in 2021. The statement then – mild.
Horses For me there has been a mix of enjoyment at being able to work with a lot of energy to write a blog a week. There has also been a degree of anxiety and low mood. I too was surprised by the low mood. November’s Willfully Unseen series of shorts – a challenge to embrace fully. When given time to explore topics at length, the risk is to be emotionally pulled along. The writer left to make an unwelcome decision, either chase after the horse or lead the charge.
Tonnage At times sitting down to write, has felt like a significant weight to lift or pull. There has been no request placed upon me to pen away without tiring. The awareness for me has been of not wanting to disappoint by not show up for readers of this blog. Some topics this year have caused an internal struggle. Others were a joy. The mini projects and tasks set for myself, mostly complete.
Proclamation For 2022 I will be writing at least one new piece a month rather than once a week. I have a few other projects on the boil that require attention and incessantly tap on my shoulders, as they too also need completing. I won’t detail them all here but a big one – transition my UK qualifications to an equivalency to be able to provide counselling/psychotherapy in Ontario Canada.
With over 200 pieces written since 2014 I also want to spend time re-editing and re-writing a few blogs as I feel some are in need of updating or refreshing. These too I will repost.
Tilt The New Year often brings with it a sense of agency, urgency and enthusiasm to have things completed as quickly as possible. Inevitably we lose sight of both. The goals and our sense of energy. Turning good will, into a vessel waning and listing in hope.
Plod Perhaps in 2022, we (you and I) can go slower, purposefully. The aim to safely arrive to where we are headed. CoViD19 as much as we would like the disease gone, may continue to affect ‘normality’ for a few more years yet. Maybe by slowing we notice more and reflect on what is important for us to invest our time, finally.
Thank you for journeying with me and for showing interest in my musings. I have appreciated the comments and feedback offered.
Resources There are a number of reasons that we should at times slow down and think again, in the article attached of Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam explores the benefits of slow thinking. In the Revisionist History podcast below, I enjoyed Malcolm making sense of his reactions to decision making. He has an uncanny way of surprising the listener causing laughter in this episode. The conversation between Brené Brown and Adam Grant is another to invite introspective thought on what we think we know and what we understand of our world. Thinking again is possibly a new approach to life in this millennium. Daniel Kahneman is interviewed by Shankar Vedantam on NPRs Hidden Brain, where Fast and Slow thinking are reviewed for our overall health and wellbeing. Hidden Brain Slow Down Revisionist History – Hamlet Was Wrong Dare To Lead The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know Hidden Brain Think Fast