Context and Perspective in Counselling work

Supportive Memes: Context and Perspective

I am attempting to explain why I have these two phrases in my counselling phrase log book on rapid recall/dial up.

Thorny Issues = Sweetness

Context and Perspective

Phrases

There are a number of phrases that I use on a frequent basis when counselling; “Hmmmmmm”, happens to be my favourite, “that’s an interesting point”, “I wonder if there is another way to see that?”, “can you say a little more”, “what is the context for that” and “what is your perspective on these set of circumstances now?”

I am writing this blog to expand on the last theme which is that of context and perspective. I copied the two explanations from a word web app to broaden my understanding.

Context: Discourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation. The set of facts or circumstances a situation or event.

Perspective: A way of regarding situations or topics, The appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer, The technique of representing three dimensional objects on a two dimensional surface

Locations

I used the dual phrase (context and perspective) 1st a few months ago working with a client in private practice. We had come across a few repeating patterns in their life. These patterns had followed set ways of thinking feeling and behaving in the world that were as a result of earlier experiences. A thought struck me as we walked and talked that brought the frame of what was being discussed into bright focus.

I remember we were walking along a pebble path in sunlight in August, the aroma of blackberry’s perfumed the air. At the time of our meeting the sun was beginning it’s slow descent and the moment was framed by my clients words. They spoke about “always doing X and thinking X and that if X happened in this way then it meant that Y was surely to follow and…” I can remember that it occurred to me that we had spoken about some of these ideas before when we were working at my counselling space in Lee.

Clarity

There was a moment when I thought about the 2 differing environments one was a room the other was outside in a park. The context upon our meeting was different and yet some of what was being discussed was similar to a previous conversation. What I had hoped to convey was that to alter the thought feeling and behaviours facing a set of circumstances, perhaps altering the way in which one approaches them can bring about change.

Interior Design

My 1st degree was in Interior design. I studied at De Montfort University and enabling the client to accept the vision of the designer was an idea I came to appreciate. Interior design helped me gain an understanding of seeing life, art and psychotherapy from a number of differing perspectives. So for me when I speak about perspective I am not speaking about near or far, here or there – more about a continuum of views.

Resetting

Earlier in October 2015 I worked with a probation referral as a FMHP for Together. He told me of his difficulties managing loss, incarceration and not knowing of how to get his life back on track. He was able to outline some of the things he was hoping to achieve and again I was struck by this idea of context and perspective.

To support the process of what was happening for this client I wanted to share that I understood what had occurred in his life, but that the context had shifted considerably and that within his new frame the perspective on the past present and future could be greater/different. I took my time to explain what I meant in relaying information about context and perspective.

Life Review

What I like about these two ideas is their interrelation (how they connect) and that as two words they stand on their own. To place one’s life in context is to view how it is now, who is in it, and the things that are happening. Some attention could be spent reviewing the past in either a limited way: the past 6 months – 5 years or since birth.

Perspective invites individuals to get into a reflective space and note how life is. How life was and how they would like life to be in the future. Perspective is also seeing themselves from other peoples point of view. When discussing aspects of a person’s life whilst in this space the texture around the person I am working with appears to soften.

The aim of working with context and perspective is to develop ways with clients that promote forward movement or away from their current set of circumstances and approach a future that could be brighter.

Baking and Psychological Perspectives

October 2015 has been an interesting month for me, working as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner, working as a Counsellor in private practice, beginning a visiting lecturer position at a London University and attempting to write regular bog as well as baking a number of artisan breads, I was asked by a colleague ‘How long have you been baking?’ I said four years and when I thought about it a little more, I realised that I have been baking for a little over 8 years. Cakes were my initial interest and Dan Lepard’s Banana Bread was a firm favourite. It’s a foolproof recipe and delivers an aromatic hum of delight every time I bake it.

6 Cereal Bread

Baking Therapy

A Therapeutic Artistic Experience

Whilst on my final year of my MSc Therapeutic Counselling course I struggled with writing up my research ‘A Son’s Journey’. A thought came to me about trying my hand at baking bread. I knew nothing about bread baking and sought an easy recipe. I came across an Irish Soda Bread recipe and after about 3 attempts could turn out loaves of this simple bread every time as well as I could have desired. My bread baking experience grew and I was able to follow Dan Lepard’s recipes with success every time. The current favourite in my household is a Cheese and Onion baguettes recipe that I have altered to a sundried tomato cheese and onion loaf. Baking bread has become a way to relieve stress and  process client material into something edible. I see baking bread like alchemy only my product is edible gold.

Baking Bread as Therapy

2 Years ago I developed and ran a baking workshop with a group of African Caribbean men for Family Health Isis in Lewisham. One of the attendees at the workshop asked ‘So where is the therapy in doing this?’ I replied ‘It’s in what is happening right here and right now, the smile on your face and the faces of everyone here, the fact that you are all going to learn how to bake a simple bread and be able to take it home and share with friends and family. The therapy is in the doing.’ With this in mind I turn my attention to the Great British Bake Off of 2014.

The GBBO 2015

The  recent season of 2015 ended and I am pleased that Nadiya won. She simply outshone her competition and as the most accomplished baker – won. I felt the spark and nuance of the show is starting to become a little worn. This years contestants of 2016, were experienced bakers who all came with their ‘A’ games ready to shine. Compared to 2014’s tumultuous affair with Ian and Baked Alaskan-Gate I anticipated similar frenetic episodes in 2016.

Transactional

In light of Ian’s departure from The Great British Bake Off 2014 on Wednesday 27th August, I am considering what it was about his implosion that grabbed my interest. As a Psychotherapist/counsellor there was a particular quality to the event that I would like to pick up on which is that of Transactional Analysis and use this as a basis to understand what may have had me recognise and make note of Ian’s actions. Was it the fact that another contestant had sabotaged his efforts at completing his signature bake by removing the baked alaskan from the freezer and not informing him of this? Albeit for 40 seconds ruining the chances of it setting once and for all!

Calm

Was it to do with the fact that after all his efforts the finished article did not stack up to previous bakes he had been successful with? Blowing out of the Bake Off tent to cool off was his only strategy, or it was the strategy he took. Before he left the tent he took his prize bake and chose to put it in the bin! On reflection my interpretation of Ian’s actions are this. Given the idea that he could not meet the judges expectations (parent) he chose to hide (child) his efforts by throwing the cake in the bin.

Shock Reactions

I registered shock on his face as he realised what had happened to his cake. Unbeknownst to him it had been removed from the freezer and it hadn’t set. He switched from shock to confusion to outrage and then to an act of restrained violence! Unfortunately/fortunately for him he took his angry feelings out on himself, by binning the cake (sabotage). It looked like the only option available to him even with Sue saying that he shouldn’t do that. He then feeling shame leaves the tent. (Shame Violence Intervention) SVI

Another Way

A better scenario would have been to put the cake in the freezer and walk out. Then calm down and present the cake. Then talk to the other contestant about the events of baked Alaskan-gate and how to share freezer space. Then witness another baker like Norman leave the competition and then regroup for the following week.

I feel that Ian had nowhere else to go with his feelings but to vent. The camera’s eye was on him and so he took matters into his own safe/unsafe hands by upstaging the proposed Saboteur by throwing the cake away. I felt the perpetrator of the initial attack of the cake’s demise did look a little guilty. As he walked up to the judges with the bin Ian appeared red faced and sorry (child). Mary and Paul (parents) gave ‘supportive’ comments but Ian had sealed his fate (adult) facing the consequences of earlier (child) reactions to a set of unfortunate circumstances.

Cue Chaos

What also struck me about the event is how quickly things descended into a state of chaos. This was not helped by meltingly hot conditions of the Bake Off tent. What surprised me was the inaction of other contestants to what they could see of Ian’s shallow swan dive. I would have liked to have seen a few people speak up about what had happened to the Judges re: Freezer – other contestant- Baked Alaskan-melting or asked Ian to take a walk and talk with them and calm down before the cake entered the bin.

It’s Heating Up

Unlike the Bake Off of 2013 events appear to be (imagined mostly on my part) more pressured in the tent and with less humour. The show has always been about baking and presenting the good and otherwise outcomes of using an oven to cook with, but with the additional side offerings of humour, innuendo and double entendres. (Perhaps this has all been side-lined to the extra Slice on Friday’s with Jo Brand). What this show in August 2014 presented me with was how an individual can become unstuck when baking a difficult cake.

Flexibility

My work with Family Health Isis and supporting a group of African Caribbean men baking bread highlighted for me that baking can be a hugely therapeutic and rewarding and affirming experience. Baked Alaskan-Gate emphasises for me the need to remain flexible in light of success or failure.

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

In September 2015 I spent a few days reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. The book offers the idea that owning our vulnerabilities makes us stronger, or better at not fearing our lives. Daring greatly as an idea has struck several chords for me as I have lived in fear of discovering that my disability might prevent me from doing my job well enough.

I have spent the last 6 years developing my craft as a counsellor and Mental Health professional; working in the community in private practice, at a University as a Student Mentor, in a prison as a counsellor / psychological wellbeing practitioner and as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. I thought I should aim to be better than good. Better than I thought that the disability would somehow stop me from being. In the profession this type of thinking is identified as over compensating. I can put my hands up own that I do that.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a disease I have struggled to live with for 6 years since being diagnosed in 2011. I can remember the day that my doctor at Moorefields Eye Hospital reluctantly told me. I felt huge waves of anxiety lift. I dreaded that I might have a terminal disease like brain cancer. I might not be bright enough for that. I was also intensely angry and sad. As I imagined that my dreams of being a brilliant professional had dimmed due to my understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis is.

My struggle has been, I have not wanted to admit to myself or anyone that, I have an incurable disease. A disease that has enabled me to take a good look at myself and reflect on the past 30 years of my life. Over the years there were signs of the disease which hinted at a serious nervous system malfunction, that just wasn’t identified after multiple misdiagnoses. The most frightening was at 22-23 I suffered with a 6 month experience of the left side of my body going into spasm after exerting myself. A doctor I saw identified that I might have an inflammation in my lower back that flared up when over stimulated this part of my body. He requested that I hold my breath through these episodes and either sit or lie down until the spasms had passed. The humorous thing for me was this was a sign of MS and it was missed but his advice worked.

I looked into the mirror on a particular morning in October 2015 and said to myself “I am going to have a great day.” On this particular day I struggled to make it to work on time and tripped and fell hard on pavement, partly due to the fact that I was rushing and partly because of my balance and co-ordination and tiny calculations in gait and flagstone pavement height that I struggle to compensate for felled me. This morning was not what I had in mind as a “Great day”. But a day is 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds long, I just had to wait for the rest of the day to unfold. It did get better.

For 6 years I have wondered about not letting my secret out as I had not wanted to give others insight about my weakness. But as the book ‘Daring Greatly’ describes, admitting where you are weak is a strength that is indescribable for what it offers: release – a sense of liberation. It feels like for a long time I have lived in a cell with a high barred window. I could hear and smell the seasons change and birds chirping, but the scant amount of daylight that entered my cell was not enough for me to grow strong. I have hidden my illness as a result of how I believed others who may never meet me might judge me. Now I am beyond the cell, and striding into sunlight.

On the day in October where I said to myself “Have a great day”, I attended training at the head office of the organisation where I work. The training was on motivational interviewing and I was invited to share a real story with a colleague about something I had wanted to stop doing. I mentioned that I wanted to stop living in fear of this secret of my MS secret getting out. My colleague EK allowed me to think about what changes I could implement. Owning my flaws, my weakness, bearing to be vulnerable could actually be my biggest ‘to do’.

It scares me as to what this may mean for me and my family, my business and my future. However I already realise that by writing this and then sharing this a huge boulder that I have been pushing much like Sisyphus is now gone. I no longer need to hide it. I have accepted that I have a disability and it does not define my star’s ascent.

A Short Story of Change

I am wondering about another way of extending my counselling practice.

Short Focused work

I read a short story over 10 years ago of a psychologist who had worked with a client for a short number of weeks. The setting appeared to be in one of the North Eastern States of America as there was mention of Coney Island.

Assessment and direction

The story was about a man in his mid 30’s – 40’s who went to see a psychologist due to feeling low and not knowing the reason for his low mood. (I should note that no ethnicity culture or race was mentioned which for me as an African Caribbean male could mean he could be African American, Asian American, Native American, Latin American or European American). After a short assessment the psychologist was able to offer the man treatment for his low mood in the form of writing a to do list of activities and to return in exactly 1 month and pay the significant bill.

The client took the sheet of paper and scoffed at the advice. Joking aside he was aware of his plight. If he did not follow the psychologist’s requests things would remain the same. In the four weeks the man was able to complete the 6 things on that list. He returned to the psychologist at the 2nd appointment and told of his accomplishments and how he had noted his mood appeared better. The psychologist asked as to what was different between the two appointments? The man told him of the changes he had put in place and as a result many things in his life were different.

One of the 1st requests on the list was to take a 2 week break from work and make a concerted effort on the list as it was going to be hard to complete whilst at work.

The man spoke of revisiting Coney Island as a man, but remembering what it had been like when he had visited with his parents. Back then Coney Island had been filled with colour, noise of people having fun, the sea crashing on to the beach and gulls calling. For the psychologist had invited the man to revisit a place from his youth. As the man spoke a smile brightened his face as he remembered what returning to this place had been like for him.

There were a number of other tasks the list contained including:

  • Settling debts,
  • Ridding his home of debris he had collected over the years that he no longer needed,
  • Accepting the wrongs he had caused himself and suffered by others and making a resolve to wipe the slate clean. Making himself aware of the lessons and deciding to move on.
  • The last thing on the list was to write a letter to the one person he had wanted to say sorry to for a long time.

He reported to the psychologist that this last request had been the hardest to complete. He had written the letter the previous night before coming to the appointment with the psychologist. The man told of who he had written the letter to and of his deep sorrow at not having done a few things he had said he would, and as a result what life had become – dull uninteresting flat and uneventful.

The man spoke of the past four weeks as if they had been an adventure. As if he had discovered what living was about again and stated that he wanted more of it. He told the psychologist that he had written the letter for himself and was to send it to his parents apologizing for what he had not achieved even though he had had dreams when he was a boy.

On completing the letter and signing it he made a discovery before he sent it to his parents. The man reported to the Psychologist that his life was not over and that the four weeks away had taught him a valuable lesson. He only had himself to look at for how his life was. He had decided that he was not going to make excuses for not achieving his dreams any longer! He told the psychologist that on the 1st week after his staycation he had returned to work and had handed in his notice and had found another role in a different type of work that had awoken in him a sense of adventure. The four weeks he had taken to rediscover himself had been the best investment he could ever remember making and that he would be happy to pay the fee he was being charged as the 6 short requests had brought him back to himself and to his life.

I can remember that I had a smile on my face as I read that story. It may have been in Chicken Soup for the soul 3rd edition. What springs to my mind is the huge capacity of therapy and the individuals, groups, and children that work with us to create change in their lives. I am wondering if I shape my business in a similar way, what could happen in 2 sessions; a crash course in creating manifesting and managing change.

Inside Space

Inside Space

Walk and Talk Therapy

2015-06-30 20.52.37One of the most enjoyable things about working as a therapist in nature are the little things that appear to randomly happen on the walks.

Discovered Messages

In September 2015 walking in a park in South East #London someone had scrawled messages on the path that appeared innocent in their offering of wisdom: ‘Be Kind to Each other’ another stated ‘Life is for living if you see this then you are alive’. As I walked past the meme’s with my client, I was mindful not to fall into the role of walk arranger and interpreter of the hidden meanings of what was witnessed. My walking companion chose to make use of the words and applied them to their life.

Leaf Blown Intervention

On another meeting in a different park I met my client near a large oak tree. Initially our #WalkandTalkTherapy was a Stand and Talk Therapy session. We stood for a few moments and reviewed the past week. A leaf blew from the tree and struck the client on the head and this was all the impetus needed to commence the walk and talk. In the 2 years I have been working in this way I have walked through storms, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, Spring, Summer and #Fall. I have met other therapists, artists and project co-ordinators who have also used the environment to inform and shape their work. Much like serendipitous moments happening in my #WalkandTalkTherapy , meeting others who work in nature fall into the category of helping to shape my work. Mastery is…