The Black Men’s Therapy Course: The quiet revolution

I have been asked over the past few months how the Black Men’s Therapy course has gone. Wonderfully would be how I would answer the question. The initial jitters and experience of serendipity became a rounded experience of therapy.

Wary
Topics covered included included Low Mood and Depression, Anxiety, Mood Management, Addictions, Loss and Self Care. The initial group of men that came were initially in the first few minutes wary. There was good enough reason. None of the course attendees had previously met. They were also new to me and my co-counsellor Sheila.

1st Block
For the first block of 6 appointments, in order to assist the conversation and support holding the group, the frame was to offer
a check in,
review the week just passed through and
towards the end of the meeting provide a
check out.

The first day of the course gave opportunity for the 5 men that joined to meet and greet each other. Get to know who was in the room and know their reasons for being a part of the course. The first day went very well and gave a sense of what the rest of the course would look and feel like.

January 2020
The 2nd block of 6 appointments were looser in their formation. 3 previous attendees joined the follow up course with 1 new attendee. Check ins became a way to engage with the subject material of that night’s discussion. Topics included Intergenerational/Trans-genertional Traumas (PTSS), Micro-Aggressions and Stereotypes.

Refocusing

Congruency
One of the outcomes that I was pleased to notice was the willingness of the group to engage with challenging and difficult material in an open and honest way.

Showing who they are amongst other men without the need to hold up a mask pretending bravado or being a braggart. The vulnerability I had hoped would be a consistent and precious part of the meetings was consistently realised.

One of the reasons a level of congruence was achieved was the sense that we had all come together for a specific purpose. To talk on a level with others that look like us about experiences that intimately impact on our lives, the lives of our families and those we consider friends allies and our community.

Membership
The next block of 15 appointments is to start on the 18th of March 2020. The course will be an open group – and will accept new and previous attendees to attend as often or as infrequently as they would like.

The idea of a closed group became muted within the 1st block of 6 appointments. The idea of not admitting new members after the 3rd meeting was tested after 2 new men joined the course in week 4.

The group successfully negotiated how to accept and work with new members. From January going forward the group were settled in themselves and were willing to engage with difficult personal histories. The men were able to discuss concerns related to identity and being in hostile work spaces.

Sign Up
If interested in joining the next group send an email to either myself or to Sheila Samuels via our websites. Click on the links above.

Resources
Yannick Yalipende
Therapy Today October 2019
Kwanda the Online Village

Image
Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash
Self Portrait Tankerton pebble beach

Jitters: The Night Before

Having the jitters before the big day is normal, expected, an indication of the importance of what is to be tried. 13th of November was going to be gigantic because I was about to start providing a low cost counselling group experience for Black Men in S.E. London.

*Solstice Shuffle
With the days here in the northern hemisphere becoming shorter and shorter, and with that colder too, rather than retreat and hide. I want to fight back the dark with warmth and light. My colleague and I are to start something I feel will be big. Important. Game Changing. We have talked and laughed and listened and prepared.

It’s time.
So the jitters, and jitter bugging are a nervous type of energy. Highlighting an excitement and a wondering of what is going to be. New. Novel. Nuanced. Black focused group therapy for men.

Why?
Because why not! The reasons aren’t as important as the reasons that some are asking them. What reasons arise in your minds eye as to the reasons as to why, there could be need of an introductory course for therapy for Black Men?

Support
Speaking with my supervisor a few months ago I asked, do you think this idea of mine is racist? He took his time and invited me to think about my reasoning, my question, the need. I did and said No, I do not feel that the group is a racist idea. The want is to support an under-served social and ethnic group access skilled support at a low cost. Some psycho-education will happen and the aim will be to support members grow towards a healthy sense of themselves and their position in the world.

A memoir, an insight to living whilst Black

Lack
I recognise that men generally are less inclined to express themselves and be vulnerable with others. That takes time. It’s a strength that women largely are gifted with. Men tend to suppress their softer side for fear of being manipulated or hurt or worse humiliated. The concern is that under pressure, that hiding, turns those suppressed feelings into something toxic and harmful. We know of the term toxic masculinity.

Triplicate
Being toxic as a Black Man is like a triple bind.

1. Not speaking about ones vulnerability and pain causes us (humans) to seek other ways to find release. Some of these ways can lead to long term health factors that affect Black Men in particular and those connected to them acutely.

2. Becoming toxic, distrustful, upset and angry causes others usually friends, partners and family to flee, reduce contact, disconnect from or just avoid and hide.

Professional dislike
The trusted are often met with the same vitriol and disruptive rage as Drs, nurses, psychologists, probation officers, teachers, police personnel, employers and work colleagues. With the disruption some meet their needs through miss-telling of truths. Making the environment of the affected worse. Thus serving to – ratchet up their paranoia or distrust. Leading to more self isolation and projected anger at others.

Hitting Out
The third and final bind is when the lid blows off!

These moments tips the scales violently over.
The contents carefully balanced are shattered scattered and lost. The family, job, friends, savings, house, children, partner, colleagues, all ruined.

The man at the centre of the storm can then fall foul of pre existing stereotypes. He – unable to cope with the pressures of life. A Man Not really. A Man deemed crazy. Unable to climb and look after himself or anyone else for that matter. A drain on resources, draining energy, becoming to onlookers: menacing. Unworthy…

The Straw
Mental health services are generally not accessed before the police are called in. Usually it is this point that help is found and quickly. Society seems ready to pounce as the risk level becomes uncontained by members of the general public.

Detention
The implosion leads then to an enforced section and the man’s civil liberties of self-governance, self respect, self determination sanctioned and taken from him for between 48hours up to two weeks. Legally! Sometimes it can be for far longer. For this man it is a story he may have avoided. If there was a way to have found a space to discharge through speaking about his allostatic loads with (an)other(s).

A stong looking exterior often hides the vulnerability and the pain. Lets talk www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com
Let’s Talk now.
Photo by Giulia Pugliese on Unsplash

Perhaps
My jitters are about the chance to create a new story. For the one above. For that lonely man who shuffles along the street, sometimes talking or singing to himself. Looking unwell. Acting in a slightly bereft, unkempt way.

Rise
The idea of creating something new as a psychological model is both powerful and exciting. People engaging in therapeutic communities and therapeutic work is a different outcome to the bleak one I have witnessed as a Londoner, as a person working in prison, as a consciously aware Black Man that wants to listen for a different ending. Sometimes a situation has to reach rock bottom before it gets better.

Sometimes

Resources
Code Switch – This Racism Is Killing Me on The Inside
The Stoop – Angry Black Woman
BAATN – Beyond Silence

Comments are welcome.

Musical Interlude

1986

Waking up to the sounds of Hip Hop in 1986 was like a coming of age experience, but now as I think about it the experience was matched by Musical Youth a year or two earlier. In 1982, aged 8, Pass the Dutchee was a huge phenomenon and spoke directly to my youth and Joie de Vivre of living on a council estate in Tottenham, North London.

Autumnal Graffiti Lewisham London

Old School
Before Musical Youth, music consisted of my mum and dad’s records, 70s classic soul songs from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin and some West African Hi-life music that if I could find now I would wrap my arms around and release – never. There is something I find undeniably uplifting to the energy of high-life music.

Making It
In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Bob Marley phenomenon had phased in but not affected me as much as Musical Youths song had. I couldn’t get enough of Pass the Dutchie. Hoping for a repeat every time ‘Pass the Dutchie’ was on the radio. I must have driven my mum mad, eventually she bought the single! In the 70’s and 80’s Black representation in popular culture was minimal whether on the radio or on TV. Back then social media, the internet and Youtube were simply not invented and getting access to an African Diasporic influence was rare in the UK. Musical Youth for the 2 weeks that they were in the charts topping sales and appearing on various shows including top of pops felt like an important arrival.

The Tail end of Autumnal Graffiti Lewisham

Hippidy Hoppidy
Than came 6 minutes you’re on by Doug E Fresh featuring Slick Rick! And this song blew my mind. In 1983 we had moved off of the estate and our landscape and environment looked very different. We were nearer to Wood Green and that shopping experience, nearer to Green Lanes and that shopping experience and also closer to West Green Rd and that shopping experience too. A Trifecta of sorts. We had moved into a neighborhood of houses and streets. The vibrancy of the estate was replaced by a quieter more progressive neighborhood and Doug E was inviting me to not forget the ‘hood I was from. Scratching, mixing, breakdancing, graffiti, MCing took my Musical Youth experience and flipped it up 100 notches. I was also entering puberty and all of the upheaval that brings.

Giving Life
Listening to Jazzfm a few years ago and hearing the Jackson 5’s Never Can Say Goodbye and Foster Sylver’s Misdemeanour brought my youthful musical musings and wanderings full circle. The youthful exuberance and joy of music came immediately flooding back to me.

Using the words of ‘Gene Denby and Shereen Marisol Meraji of Code Switch fame, “What song(s) are giving you life, right now?” List below, comment, let me know your thoughts…

Songs that Give Me Life: It’s Time
Radio Silence Radio Silence Talib Kweli Amber Coffman & Myka9
Write At Home Radio Silence Talib Kweli feat Datcha, Bilal & Robert Glasper
Day to Day Art Science Robert Glasper Experiment

The 1st Man Talk

7 men on stage all talking about their individual experiences of life loss and mental illness.
The men included
Terrol Lewis @TerrolLewis Brixton Street Gym,
Gabriel Sey @Gabriel_Sey Personal Trainer,
Don Strapzy @DonStrapzy Musician Dulwich Dons,
Paul McGreggor @PMcGreggorCom CALM zone,
Xavier The Life Coach @XavierTheLifeCoach,
Kharris Kwame @Kharis.Kwame Financial Advisor
and Leon ‘Sweets’ Lewis @SweetsLewis

When I found out about the event, thank you Eddie, I was at first intrigued. I knew little of the people who were going to be speaking at The Man Talk. But this did not derail my interest.

Finding a queue outside Brixton Ritzy mostly with men from the Diaspora standing, waiting, talking amongst themselves, greeting each other, shaking hands, fist bumping, head nodding and laughing was a welcome sight to behold. I usually see something similar of this relaxed nature at one of the prisons I support as the men travel to or from their activities to their wings.

Here though there were no prison officers. Patrolling, expectant, ready, making small talk with themselves or with some of the men housed at this prison. The scene was light and celebratory not couched for things to go off or tense.

I looked on and waited. Hoping to get a seat soon. My 6’2” frame groaning for respite leaning on my adjustable cane, we stood and waited for close to an hour. Eventually the doors were loosed and patiently the assembled group of men ambled with reverie into the cinema.

I found a seat near to the end of a row. Most had come with friends or people they knew. If Ade was still here I would have gone with him. The evening began with a welcome and a brief greeting with people sat beside me, in front and behind that added to the sense of camaraderie amongst the audience. The Man Talk began with Leon Sweets Lewis introducing what we the audience were in store for. His informal beginning allowed the assembled panelists to introduce themselves and their reasons for why they felt The Man Talk was important.

Terrol Lewis @TerrolLewis Brixton Street Gym,
Spoke about the soon arrival of his first child, being sent to prison for a period and wanting to get to a train platform… Terrol became more impassioned the more he spoke about his mission that almost never was. The train platform experience was a moment that he came close to bringing his life to a premature end.

Inside Brixton Ritzy at the Man Talk

Gabriel Sey @Gabriel_Sey Personal Trainer,
Talked about not finding his purpose and being lost and close to being broken. Finding his path with personal training and getting fit and supporting others to do the same.

Don Strapzy @DonStrapzy Musician, Dulwich Dons talked about his known and unknown personal stories, encountering loss, finding himself between a number of different worlds that include Music Football and his community. Wanting both to succeed and support family and friends.

Paul McGreggor @PMcGreggorCom CALM zone held nothing back. Paul introduced himself with the story of losing his father to suicide. A pin drop moment for me. It brought the audience and me to the edge of our seats. From Paul’s conversation the TALK became REAL and the objective of why we all were sat, listening and witnessing was made evident. The Campaign Against Living Miserably  

Xavier The Life Coach @XavierTheLifeCoach, the elder statesman of the room shared aspects of his story. He is a voice coach, singing mentor and has supported numerous X-FACTOR contestants to perform well. Xavier discussed becoming a life coach after sharing his insights with friends and putting his skills coaching singers and performers to shine. XTLC was launched as a new concept for him from that point going forward. Xavier also shared about the death of his mother which completely caused him to shut down and function. When he returned home he cried for his sense of loss. Xavier mentioned that his loss was profound because of his connection with her.

Kharris Kwame @Kharis.Kwame Financial Advisor story was different. He began by sharing with the crowd that he was a Ghanian and his dream of becoming an American citizen was upended by 2 things. 1st his financial organisation changing their hiring policy of foreign nationals and America’s new immigration policy. The dream he had built up in his mind was over and he had to rethink his goals and dream fast.

I felt inspired by what I witnessed at The Man Talk and want to start a Men of the Diaspora therapy group. The feeling is that something positive that tackles toxic masculinity has started. Potentially men talking about shame pain being hurt and loving is essential for how men process and see themselves. With a fresh perspective and with new imaginings. Not with the tropes of old that states that men are 2 dimensional, simple, unemotional monoliths inflexible immature and bullish.

All panelists were humorous, honest and humble.

All of the men on stage presented a good argument, a representation for men to talk, listen and to be seen in similar ways with others. The Man Talk was a window into vulnerability and honesty. What would that be like for family and friends to experience? To See?

The 2nd talk is scheduled for June 19th and I am not able to attend. What I am confident about are a number of outcomes.

There will be other ‘The Man Talks’ and the ripples will affect how men relate to themselves, and the communities they move amongst.

Other groups will begin holding other men focused talking experiences.

Some already do.

Something important has begun and I am excited by what more is to follow.
Resource
Dope Black Dads Podcast https://soundcloud.com/dopeblackdads/episode-4-co-parenting

I am interested in knowing what you all think about my blogs/writing, when you can, can you complete this survey monkey questionnaire https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/9V9TYQS Thank you.

Breaking the Line

Quick Dip

And stop. First listen to the podcast (The Stoop) and then read on.

Twinned

Someone who reads my blogs said to me that they enjoy reading my words as their mind works similarly. A thought and then digression, never knowing if and when the return may arrive. Travelling in too many to count directions that could be interconnected.

Possibly…

Spores Spread

My posts on LinkedIn, Twitter and my counselling page on Facebook break a few lines. The most notable is that posting a story featuring a woman or man from the African Diaspora including an image of that person, does that thing of breaking the line. Here in the West seeing, hearing, being aware of the thinking of the European is common. In fact it is everywhere! Unquestioned and unsanctioned. 

Problematic?

Possibly.

Mechanism of Oppression

The image, the stories, the experiences are unapologetic and veer in to territory that is uncomfortable, uplifting, informative. Angie’s line from a talk held recently “it is not our job to inform and educate White people about racism.” We Africans did not put in place the structurally oppressive systems that provide stability for one group of people and that leaves everyone else not from that group destabilized and struggling in Westernized societies. It is not our job to deconstruct and do the work.

Again

Share

Breaking the line is an invitation to note what happens when an image of a person of colour is brought before your/ our/ my minds eye. Do thoughts that surprise and dismay also follow? But I am not prejudiced/racist I have so and so person in my life is a common answer and offering. Suggesting leniency and clemency for all wrongs. Malcolm Gladwell shares his insight in this podcast stating that the liberal is possibly the worst offender.

An Education

Books like ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ and follow up podcasts About Race, books such as ‘The Good Immigrant’ and ‘The Colour of Madness’ invite readers/listeners to immerse themselves into another’s view of life.

In Comparison

I have invited those that I work with to invest time in reading these works. As Marlon James said at an event in March ‘if a people can go through 400 years of dehumanising pain, suffering through 3 books exploring racism’s affects may be uncomfortable, but cannot compare to a race’s continued victimisation and vilification at the hands of systemic oppression of difference. Being othered by race, culture, religion or where ones parents originate is a factor in my life and for millions of others.

Marching

Remaining with the idea of being human first is difficult when other barbs are thrown. If Breaking the line happens to be another move to represent all experiences – the work, the journey is a step closer, but not yet done.

Possibly…

Past Future Presents

Being willing and able to stand out. Not stand amongst. Daring to be counted for or against. Being the binaried other. The up to the down side .

Three writers

Three weeks

Three stories and many many more. James, Davis and Thomas. All came to London, all discussed their books and visions.

All at the Southbank Centre. London.

All witnessed by the Grateful I.

All Inspirational.

All willing the next generation of writers, to pick up and sign on the Ether: that is fabric, that trick of time, a slice of magic.

With Angie Thomas the bright energy of her torch is carried aloft and loudly. Her message is one of hope and endearing those who are young, to knock down the doors to the banquet. Not ask for a seat at the table. Take the table and the hall!

Healing as action, a right for the young the mature, for the willing and the able.

For Marlon James – Black Leopard and Red Wolf was a call out for healing. Split psyches, broken dreams and promises, pooling resources and hollowing out ones own truth from African spirituality and new/old mythology.

For Angela Davis the story too was also about healing and about activism and about spanning histories and movements like a fan. My notes cannot do her enough justice so I cobble these sentences to scramble my meanings – together and then loosen.

In three short weeks I recognised that we are speeding towards a downpour of words, acts and decisions that have the potential to irrevocably change minds hearts and futures. Whatever the outcomes some ideas remain, things change – Always

Why Therapy, Why Me?

Angel Falls and Therapy Choosing me

Therapy Why Me? Angel Falls

The realisation of why I became a counsellor I had thought for a long time was because of a delayed and complicated grief of my mother’s passing in 1993.

Reading the TIP guide for trauma Informed Practice training, I attended recently delivered by Eva Roussou, I recognised a fundamental interest that drew me to provide healing encounters and environments with clients. The TIP guide illustrates that trauma can be Intergenerational and Historical. When I think about my family, my sisters and I, and then the countries my parents originated from – Guyana and Ghana I am unable to think past their colonial pasts.

Recolonization

An Historical Past

The Colonial Building Guyana

Both being immigrants and relocating to the UK in the early 60s, they possibly both experienced a number of personal hardships including finding accommodation, finding work, becoming British Citizens, maintaining familial links both in their new host nation and overseas. Adapting to a new culture, adjusting to different ways of seeing themselves and others like them and 1960s England, engaging with environmental hostilities and relearning that their knowledge and education from their homelands may not have prepared them for all they were to encounter in High Wycombe and then London.

Guinness Seeping

I never met both of my maternal grandparents or my grandfather on my fathers side of the family. What I am vaguely aware of from both parents was that Inter-generational trauma and Historical trauma seeped into their raising of me and my sisters. Physical punishment as well as emotional distance was a part of their parenting styles.

Ghana's Kwame Nkruma Mausoleum Park

Ghana’s 1st President National Park

Throughout the TIP training a nagging awareness kept pulling me back to a number of experiences where non trauma informed reactions from parent to child were observed. Ripping furniture, dropping bottles of Guinness as I failed to jump a wall – smashing the bottles and cutting both hands, sliding down newly carpeted stairs were all met with physical punishments. This being the 1970s, Childline was a deterrent bound to the future. This being raised on a North London housing estate with other immigrant families. Not entirely an unfamiliarity, using corporal punishment as a way to discipline children. Historical trauma? Colonial histories?

Opaque past

TIP invited me to think about the experiences that both parents may have had with their parents and then back to the idea of Historical trauma. Was what I and my sisters lived with a result of my Great Grandparents experience of the trauma they had encountered: families being torn apart, physical abuse, neglect, kidnapping, unexplained disappearances, negation of human qualities or feelings, disease, death, addictions? How do I make sense of these half imagined but sensed intuitions and then make use of them to support self and then others?

Fierce

Listening to www.baatn.or.uk podcast on family constellations was illuminating and solution forming. I recognise that my journey is about setting things right for my children – underscoring the then and the now. Remembering that I and they are living in a different time. James Oliver invites us to be mindful that we are going to make mistakes as parents. The aim for me: impart a willingness to my 2 children, to move on and up with all the necessary parts from their collected histories. As a parent I am to be compassionate, resilient, patient and with an unending and unconditional love that supports their growth ability interdependence and independence fiercely.

Alchemy

Why Me Why Therapy - Providing knowledge to feed generations

Supporting communities to fish

As a therapist I am to continue adventuring the boundaries of counselling to support others.

Remaining creatively inquisitive and humorously engaged with the alchemy of change.