The Artist

jm-basquait

Jean Michel Basquait

An early memory from primary school, was of drawing frequently. I loved drawing, painting, sculpting and running sprint races. I had dreams of becoming an artist. I knew nothing of art or of the art world then.

Risk

I remember sharing with my mum in year 3 that I wanted to become an artist and she in her infinite wisdom, said something along the lines of “Artists don’t make that much money.” Re-remembering this experience I’ve come to realise a few truths,

  1. The aim of life, in my mum’s world, was to make money. I would add she was not materialistic, more a pragmatist.
  2. Becoming an artist was a dreamer’s activity (guilty as charged – I was a dreamer, what child isn’t?), and as a result could not be for me. Our world (mine, my mothers, my sisters) was made up of hard realities.

To give context – the time I had my epiphany in year 3, was in the late 70s and money was scarce. We lived on a council estate in North London and didn’t have much. We lived on the top floor of a block of flats. Often the lifts did not work as a result of vandalism, and the council not repairing them. Aged 7 I had thoughts that I could engage in an artistic career. Earning a good living was not an issue I had previously thought much about. In my mother’s view of the world money was a constant concern.

Everywhere we could see was a panorama of concrete. Mum worked as a nurse. Dad was between two worlds. London and Ghana. He worked as a civil servant, and a representative of a Ghanaian political party. He was often away in Ghana for long periods of time. Life from my mum’s perspective was a disillusioned experience, difficult and practical. There was little space or time for the aesthetics of art and appreciations of creativity.

tangmereThe conversation about becoming an artist had a profound effect on my idea of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was to have further conversations with my mum about what I could do with drawing as a profession. We came across Architecture as a possible profession that utilized my creativity but could offer me a long and productive career. I imagined what life as an Architect would be like; Drawing buildings and spaces in a range of techniques, using different perspectives to show my vision. I knew little of the technicalities of what being an architect was, but knew that drawing was a part of what an architect did. I wanted to do that. Draw!

Fast forward to September 2016

There have been a number of experiences I’ve had over the past couple of months that have helped me to begin crystallising my identity as a counsellor. One of those experiences was watching a show called the Chef’s Table. The first episode in this series on Netflix observed a man by the name of Massimo Batturo a famous chef in Italy. I was able to witness a remarkable journey. Massimo’s transformation is so different in places to my own story. The multiple successes and failures so rich and complex that in parts his story resembles my own. So much so that I could see myself on his vibrantly filled exuberant passage . A light that I was unaware of, switched back to on for me. This illumination was a warm pleasant and welcome surprise.

Waiting for me

As I have travelled along this path of becoming a counsellor/psychotherapist I have looked for moments that could take me home, to a warm embrace from my life partner, to a large bowl of pepper soup by my elder sister, to a big A-ha moment where I recognise like in moments of de ja vu that I have been here before, or that I remember a particular profound and beautiful experience: such as witnessing a colleague break into a smile after tasting a slice of one of my home baked loaves of bread. Moments like these are not lost on me.

chefs-table

With Massimo I recognise the inner child and the sense of wonder at the world and all that there is in life to uncover. I feel the same way about working as a counsellor/Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together for Mental Wellbeing and as a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University as an experiential group facilitator. The feeling of discovery in each of these moments I will describe as like that of a prospector or an alchemist finding gold. The gold I am looking to uncover with a client or a group is their light switching to on – when they say “I can see it now!”

For Massimo hiding beneath his grandmother’s table as a boy away from his brothers teasing. Watching her cook and learning from her, started for him a journey of innovation within the field of cookery and chef mastery that honed his craft like few others before him: his gold. Chef’s table observed his travels and uncovered his passions, the struggles and how things began to coalesce in his life once he returned to Modena. Happy accidents like dropping a lemon tart started in him a journey of exploration-to find the thing! (My words not his). The ultimate, the zenith in his mastery of cooking experience.

Enter art

Massimo and Lara Gilmore visited art galleries in New York at which Massimo was indifferent to. He made me laugh as he described the pigeon piece which in one moment an installation changed Massimo’s idea of himself, arts and his life’s work.

Completing my G.C.S.E.s and leaving secondary school I went to an art college in Wisbech. I attended with the view of completing a spatial design BTEC course. My view of becoming an artist had changed to that of becoming an Interior Designer. My wish to become an architect changed as a result of a conversation with my secondary school’s careers advice service. The conversation observed my lack of mathematical skill that would be necessary for becoming an architect. The careers person also observed that I was good with my hands (even though they had not seen me in Design Technology). Becoming a carpenter would be an equally rewarding career. This conversation disillusioned me further and invited me to think in terms of achievable goals. My final shift of career paths was to become an interior designer.

This from a boy who grew up on a ziggurat in North London. Attending art college was fantastic. It brought me into contact with new ideas, a wider group of artistic people, art history, photography, set design and a new appreciation to design in my life.

I knew little of the arts before I attended Isle college. I was invited to think about composition, texture, light, colour, depiction, balance, true representation, balance, organisation and frame. I developed an affinity for landscapes and fell head over heels for J.M.W. Turner’s work my favourite piece being the fighting Temeraire.the-fighting-temeraire

I believe my trajectory on this psycho-therapeutic path has been pointing me to a distant experience: Art. Massimo helped me arrive at this realisation. I had wondered when and if this moment would ever arrive.

What next?

I feel that the next part of my journey is already unfolding in unpredictable and thought provoking ways: Walk and Talk Therapy, Baking Therapy, Basketball Therapy. Often the work of a counsellor/psychotherapist bursts with so much life, complexity, colour and difficult experiences clients share. The effect of which can be fractious jarring and uncomfortable. The work can also be heart-warming, hilarious and humbling.

By viewing my work with clients as a canvas that is an ever changing palette of colour and texture I feel that I am closing the gap between where I am within the profession of psychoanalytic thought and my original goal of becoming an artist. The work then is a compositional piece that lives, breathes and carries itself forward in new and exciting ways long after we have stopped working together, with it’s many layers and qualities continuing to develop, separate, coalesce and define the self. I am attracted to the living art of working in a way that explores the unimaginable, bravely and without compromise.

The prospect of living and working as an integrative therapist holding an idea of myself as an artist could be seen as a threat to what came before, however I am witnessing a sense of discovery to approaching my work as a collaborator to a human canvas that is ever changing.

When asked who I am, my answer…

 

…I am an artist,

 

…I became what I was meant to be…

 

…eventually..

 

…Poetry.

An Open Letter to Dr Powell

WT 6I was positively affected by a lecture in 2015 given on the subject of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy. So much so that I decided to write to the person who presented a thoroughly engaging talk about the links between Spirituality and Psychotherapy. *((additional comments not in the original letters))

30 April 2015

Dear Dr. Powell,

I attended the summer conference on the subject of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy at University of Greenwich. The conference space was held by yourself and attendees discovered that you have practiced as a Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and now as a transpersonal  therapist (Clarkson). You described that your aim is to treat the whole being of the person you work with, including spirit.

Before I attended the conference I read the 3 short articles that were sent ((to gain understanding of your work)). Each of the readings gave me the chance to gain an understanding of your experience of working in a spiritual way with clients.

I enjoyed the accounts of helping bereaved clients using drama therapy to begin grieving. What I gained from your work also was that you appeared to accept clients ((where they were in themselves)) and the process they may have become stuck in.

During the conference which was well attended, I noted the expression of cultures that had accessed spiritual healing as a way of supporting people around the globe. I was keen to hear of traditions of spirituality that ranged from Aboriginal peoples in Australasia, South America, Central America and Africa.

I can remember a key moment working with a counsellor a few years ago ((2009-2010)) where I mentioned my fathers country of origin and stated as if out of nowhere that if “I had grown up in my fathers village I would have become a healer”. The statement both shocked and brought to me an awareness of my origins and that of my attraction to counselling. Working as a therapist has been a way for me to practice supporting people in a westernised way without readily acknowledging my history, culture or county of origin. ((Ghana))

The conference invited me to observe the content of what was expressed and how the lecture was not able to embrace all of the spiritual traditions from around the globe. I feel intrinsically that the African continent and the various traditions that began from there including art, science, and spirituality are not often acknowledged. My point is that members of the African Diaspora as well as other Spiritual traditions including Australian Aboriginal and Maori traditions have also contributed to the landscape of spirituality and could also be acknowledged for their contributions to this fascinating field of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy.

I thank you for a great day of learning and for sharing your fascinating path of how your journey with spiritual infused psychotherapy continues. I am expectant of a tipping point for science to acknowledge that the tools used to measure the ever expanding universe are as nought compared to the instruments that we all possess within ourselves.

Yours sincerely

M

((Dr Powell’s response))

15 May 2015

Dear Michael,

I’m glad you found the day at Greenwich useful.

I very much agree with you that in the West we have neglected the rich healing traditions that have existed for so long in other cultures and which could profoundly enrich our own culture were we less insular (and less wedded to scientific materialism).

I have learned much from indigenous sources (in my case especially from South America, and from China (Daoism)).

Thinking of Africa, I am reminded of the powerful impact that Malidome Some’s book ‘Of Water and Spirit‘ made on me when it was published 20 years ago.

The problem of social attitudes is not easily overcome. I wrote in the paper ‘Furthering the spiritual dimension of psychiatry in the UK’:

‘Current mental health science is largely dismissive of pre-scientific reality as ‘primitive’ and ‘animistic’. For instance, the shamanic view of ‘spirit’, which has informed cultures as far apart as Northern Asia, Mongolia, the Inuit, North American Indians, the tribes of the Amazon Basin, the aboriginal culture and in Europe, the Celts, is these days of interest only to medical anthropologists (to mental health science). Yet contemporary psychiatry shows the same indifference towards the major faith traditions of today. This becomes more intelligible in the light of Gallup surveys which show that while 80 – 90% of the general population believe in God, or a higher presence, only some 30% psychiatrists and psychologists do so!

There were many avenues that we could have explored at Greenwich and I would have welcomed you voicing the transcultural aspects in the open forum. But perhaps these occasions simply serve to encourage each person on their own unique journey. I hope so. Thankfully, material realism is not able to suppress the intuitive human spirit that knows there is more to life than science alone can ever reveal.

Thank you for your kind remarks.

Best wishes,

Andrew

((My reply to Dr Powell))

May 2nd 2016

Hello Dr Powell,

A year has sped past and I am yet to reply to your generous email.

Can I first apologise for the late reply to the email. The reasons for the tardiness are two-fold.

1, I was surprised by your content and the open nature in which you addressed my points. I had expected a different – more defended response and was taken aback with how you viewed the psychological profession and cultures that were outside of Western systems of thought and being.

2, I had hoped to make use of your reply for my blog. What you have offered is richer contextually than I could have anticipated. I would like to use our dialogue in my blog. Would you give permission for me to do so? My reasons for wanting to use your response would be to support dialogue in the otherness of counselling and psychotherapy that I am growing in my awareness and feel is important to share with others.

To explain a little more about me and my background. My Mother was Guyanese, My Father was Ghanian both now deceased. I ((can recognise)) am from the new and old worlds simultaneously. I once reflected with a counsellor I worked with a number of years ago, if I had grown up in my father’s village in Ghana, I could see myself having become a healer/shaman/doctor/medecine man . At that moment a sense of otherness became known where once it had lain dormant.

I came into the world of therapy by taking a circuitous route. My first degree was in Interior Design. After completing the degree I spent a number of years lost figuring out how to overcome my mothers death, she died in my 2nd year of my University degree. ((I was to work out)) beginning a life in London, trying to make a career out of a number of different roles including as a coffee barista, pizza delivery ((driver)) and youth worker.

Finding an element of myself in the young people I supported, I invested time and energy in being an effective youth worker and youth project manager. Later I trained to become a Basketball Coach which led to me becoming a learning mentor and then a counsellor. Looking back on this journey I think of it appearing straightforward. The truth was all of the occurrences happened as a result of chance encounters, or chance conversations.

My point is that it feels that there has been a gentle pull to walking this path as opposed to a few others. I think of Mr Some’s journey and his teachings/conversations with his grandfather who shared with him at the age of 4 how difficult his future was going to be. I felt I could relate with Mr Some’s grandfather identifying that Malidoma is to bring to the new world elements of the old world, and to the old world – the magic of the new.

Hearing you talk and working with my current supervisor has helped me to trust in the process of counselling and the wonderment that arises in those quiet still moments. Scot M. Peck’s book A Road Less Travelled which I read over 15 years ago, helped me to recognise that life can be a rewarding challenge – at times one is just aware of the challenge.

Since our last correspondence, I have attended a number of interesting seminars including 2 workshops on dreams at Greenwich University. The event in February I found enriching and supportive, both trainers had an engaging open perspective to their work and interactions with the delegates that had attended were interesting and filled with energy.

The latest training I have attended was in relation to a CBT approach in working with PTSD and Trauma affected clients hosted by the British Psychology Society, which furthered my understanding and interest in working with those who have experienced a number of significant life events. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book which I read in January 2016 ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ has really helped me to fully appreciate that an integrative approach to working with those affected by trauma can recover with skilled intuitive support.

I appreciate your reply of last year and apologise ((once again)) for my very late response.

Be well

M

Dr Powell responded a day later and a dialogue with him and my supervisor is continuing to grow my felt sense of otherness, Spirit, within my counselling practice.

Baking: Failure – Success

The Journey into Counselling 2014-06-01 10.39.03

In May 2015 I presented my counselling journey to 3rd year students who were coming to the end of their MSc in Therapeutic Counselling at University of Greenwich. I was invited to speak with the students by the then course director Victoria Alexander.

Since completing the course in 2012 I had wondered if I would ever receive the esteemed call to present my counselling journey to students. Speaking as an Alumni, I imagined would be a mark of success. It was – but not in a monetary sense. I had, at last, arrived as a mental health professional and that was worth acknowledging in the least for myself. From completing the course, it had taken 3 years to get to a point where I felt I had ARRIVED.

When I was a 3rd year student I looked forward to meeting alumni who had completed the course before me and listening to their stories. In 2011 I was expectant of listening to personal stories that would inspire me to have incredible success as a counsellor.

Pinpoint moments

During my time on the Greenwich course there were a number of moments that stand-out. My Interview with John Lees, the first day of the MSc course, attending art therapy/drama therapy experiences, realising that I had adapted from one approach of counselling – person centred, to being an integrative counsellor. This event happened during my second year of the MSc and I will write about Laos (not the clients name) in a later Blog.

Other memorable moments include; my first counselling client that attended their appointment. I practiced in a GP surgery in SE London. My 2nd counselling placement at a Prison and my first client once there. Failing a submission piece during the second year of the course and having to repeat a piece of work and resubmit, oh the shame! Entering the 3rd year of the course, engaging in a difficult conversation with a lecturer – John Nuttall on a delicate issue, completing year 3 and looking towards the top of Canary Wharf Tower on an evening in June from where I live in Lee, and whispering to myself we’ve done it, acknowledging the support of my wife throughout the three years.

The presentation

With the group of students met in 2015, I shared the beginning of my journey as a youth worker – basketball coach, which lead to me becoming a learning mentor and then to the world of counselling.

I spoke as though there appeared to be a plan, but that would be me being presumptuous. The path to become a counsellor opened up the further I travelled along its over grown route. With each move there appeared to be a logical next step which developed, honed and remodelled my sense of enquiry. The book by Scott M. Peck A Road Less Travelled highlights the difficulties and treasures of working in the field of psychology. I happened to read the book at least 10 years before I began my training.

Creative practice

At the end of my presentation a number of questions were asked in relation to what life is like now as a counsellor/mental health practitioner. I was able to share that for me as a professional the experience is of being creative. I shared that I had attempted to bake and bring to the presentation a sourdough bread. The bread was to be used as a symbol. Sharing the growth and development of the journey I had undertaken. I was asked by a student ‘what the lack of being able to produce a bread represented?’ My response was for them ‘to think about my lack of bread and get back to me.’ In truth I did not have a good enough answer and used wit to escape the students question.

Bread = therapy

I have been working on my sourdough culture for a little over three years. It began when I received a book for Christmas by Dan Lepard the ‘Hand Baked Loaf’ in December 2011. I bought a few Kilner jars and started as Dan had suggested. I found it difficult to throw out much of the leaven on the 6th-7th day as he suggests, but overcame my reluctance to discard hard won yeast for the greater good of the bread. The yeast culture has been successful in helping me to produce a range of breads, pizza bases, focaccia and pain aux chocolate in the 3 years I have been baking in this way. I have also had a number of failures where the leaven has not produced bread that has not risen or has not had the aeration (big air holes) that a good sourdough should have.

Getting it wrong

A better response to the student’s question of my failure to produce a bread for the group, could have been to discuss the reality of failure or of not being successful when making interventions or assessments with clients. Whilst failure is an uncomfortable experience the effect of not reaching a particular point with a client can also be useful in providing information.

Getting things wrong can be of use for a therapist. I learn the strength of the alliance between me and the client, and the resilience of the therapeutic engagement. In most cases there is a point for reflection. “Was that interpretation useful now, for them?” “Would a senseate reflection be of use here, how did that story go, could it be of use, now?” I also get to refocus, so as to aim interpretations close to the person’s growing sense of awareness most of the time.

The other outcome is the person being supported finds a way forward which informs them of their resilience and that their counsellor doesn’t have all the answers!

Sharing concepts of not getting it right in therapeutic encounters with clients, with the student in question, could have helped to deliver the analogy of not producing my bread. ‘My bread is similar to working with clients, I don’t always get it right. With time, patience, be willing to accept the failure (lack of understanding, miscomprehension, miss timed interpretation) as a reason for the therapeutic work at times missing the mark, and continuing to offer support for successful outcomes.’ This is what I would liked to have said.

The future

Continuing after a mis-step in the counselling contract can result in a better result in therapy. For me and sourdough breads the aim is to create great artisan breads like those at Gails Blackheath, Brickhouse Bakery, and E5 Bake House. Alchemy occurs in therapy and can be achieved with bread.

I am glad that I have pursued the effort of crafting a good leaven that will produce great bread. Without the many failures I could not have appreciated the inevitable successes.

Belonging v Fitting In

Confusion 2015-05-25 15.32.10

There are many reasons that I have wanted to write a regular blog. Mostly to share a perspective on things I experience from bewildering and conflicting perspectives. These perspectives include myself as a thinker, a past time of mine since I was a young man.

  • A black male psychotherapist, three words that cause me to pause and reflect on the meanings that are associated with each and how these three words interact with each other and with the social fields I come into contact with on a daily basis. I suspect a blog about being a black male psychotherapist is to be written in time.
  • Being a father of 2 young black boys the responsibility I am presented is to support their development in being able to simply just be. With Janelle Monáe’s Hell you Talmbout I recognise that my involvement with my sons’ lives is of primary importance and one in which I am invited to be an educator, coach, listener, artist, co conspirator, chef, journey planner and Doctor. Ta Nehesi Coates speaks and writes well on this subject in his book Between the World and Me.
  • Some of the other roles I engage with are; as a member of a mental health organisation working alongside probation and with service users, as a husband, as a lover of jazz, a reader, a former interior designer, youth worker, comic book reader, movie goer, longboard rider, podcast listener, basketballer and coach, friend, walker, facilitator and multiple sclerosis sufferer. This list is not exhaustive and there are probably at least 5 or more subjects I could add.

Fitting in, Belonging

For this blog I wanted to discuss an awareness I sensed but hadn’t fully brought into full consciousness until I came across it whilst reading Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. One of the concepts she was able to describe was a simple concept of either fitting in or belonging. At the time of reading ‘Daring Greatly’ in Oct – Nov 2015 I was experiencing what it meant to either ‘belong’ or to fit in.

2014 into 2015

Working for a large organisation with a group of people one knows vaguely who each have slightly differing roles and responsibilities to yours, there can be points when you are offered a chance to either fit in, or if lucky to choose to belong. When I joined the organisation I attempted to go with the flow and fit in.

Fitting in often does not cause great offence to others ‘no boats are rocking’. Perhaps in oneself the effect is of losing grip on what is important – oneself and one’s reality. Losing sense of oneself can be unsettling and what could be worse is not realising that your way is lost until you are saying and doing things that you don’t recognise.

In December 2014, I left an experience of belonging to a staff team in a high security prison and joined the organisation I currently work with in January 2015. The mental health team I left consisted of Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Nurses, Counselling Psychologists, counsellors , an EMDR counsellor who was also my line manager and supervisor, Occupational  Therapists, and counsellors on placement.

HMP Belmarsh’s mental health team was a robust co-operative, co-ordinated group of professionals that met every week to discuss mental health referrals. It took me 2 years to get used to the quick fired nature of the referral process and dissemination of potential clients to departments within the mental health team. In the last 2 years of working at Belmarsh I gained a sense of how valuable these differences amongst the mental health team were as Social workers would have a different perspective to Psychiatrists or CPNs another opinion to Occupational Therapists and counsellors to counselling psychologists.

With these differing opinions in relation to treatment options, barriers for individuals seeking treatment were overcome and mostly resolved. The experience I had was of belonging to a staff team who were willing to work together for the greater good of those seeking mental health support. I was able to recognise that differing viewpoints can be supportive rather than only negative, that can appear to slow or block progress.

A reminder

Whilst training as a counsellor 2008-2011 I had experiences that were of not being able to neither fit in nor belong. I was one of a few minority ethnic people on the course and one of only 3 males that completed year 1. Struggling alongside 18 other students on a bewildering counselling MSc course, I would have thought would generate a sense of belonging or camaraderie. My experience was that of being outside of a group of people who were able to exist in a quasi-understanding of fitting in with each other.

I made a choice in October 2015, which was supported by Daring Greatly, that fitting in was not going to be how I operate whilst working with others. Belonging was a better coat to wear. I had been in a number of previous working experiences pre Belmarsh were belonging was a part of the fabric of the organisation.

Currently I find myself reminded of my training to be a counsellor and the discomfort of attempting to fit in amongst a student populace that I was to belong to, but was different from.  The knowledge of being an outsider from a group is not a new one and has the possibility of offering me an internal conflict which can lead to personal growth.

Reality

The reality is that the experience of belonging or fitting in will repeat in whatever work context I find myself involved with. The interesting thing for me is that I will attempt to gain a sense of belonging wherever I work. The cost of attempting to fit in I find too great. It’s the experience of not sharing your perspective on subjects you care about, of fearing that you will be ostracized by people you work with, finding that you stand out and being uncomfortable with this.

Belonging

Being amongst a group of others I would find it important to relate and talk about any number of subjects on a number of different levels and not be judged or ridiculed in my sharing. Depending on a person’s background and family of origin the aim could be to gain a sense of belonging similar to that of a family system. Perhaps without some of the negative aspects of a family group. For me it’s about the feelings that come with the experience of recognising that one belongs. Which feels very different to fitting in.

I would liken belonging to hearing a favourite song by chance whilst out doing something innocuous. The song I would be happy to hear would be Ooh Child by the Five Fairsteps and something like love spreads throughout your system like you’re in a hot bath.

My experiences of belonging are many-fold, for example attending my first BAATN mens group and mentioning that unlike Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man I WAS being seen and heard by the group, and that I also belonged. Coaching basketball in a number of settings was the epitome of gaining a sense of containment attachment and belonging for every team I coached and for all that attended. My sense of the Experiential Group even though I was the facilitator, I felt part of the group not apart from it, lastly, when my family get together we express our love in volume but each member receives that warm bath feeling…

Belonging.

Missing Gregory Porter

Skylark – Gregory Porter – Walk and Talk Therapy along the Thames

2015-02-23 16.50.53

I first recognised the talent of Gregory Porter a number of years ago as I listened to Jazz FM’s Dinner Jazz with Helen Mayhew or Sarah Ward. I am unable to remember which presenter it was. The presenter mentioned that Mr Porter was playing at Pizza Express in Central London and tickets could be won if I entered a raffle. I promptly did, but was not amongst the chosen to go and see Gregory Porter. Disappointed I noticed as Mr Porter rose to international acclaim with his 1960 What? Song which was notable for his rousing call to bear witness to the efforts of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. He was nominated and then won a grammy in 2014.

Skylark

Have you anything to say to me

Won’t you tell me where my love can be

Is there a meadow in the mist

Where someone’s waiting to be kissed

My writing is to pay homage to a generous friend who invited me to attend a Gregory Porter concert in London, at which I turned down. CDC’s invite was a call to see and hear a great singer share his magic. Usually I would have jumped at the chance as I have wanted to see Mr Porter for about 5 years. To explain, there were 2 good reasons why I did not attend.

One reason was as a result of having a client, the second reason was for my monthly external supervision, both were on the same evening as the concert.

Skylark

Have you seen a valley green with spring

Where my heart can go a-journeying

Over the shadows and the rain

To a blossom covered lane

Commitment

To cancel a client appointment to go and see a long admired singer was not reason enough for me. I would not begin to count myself as virtuous or saintly. I feel strongly that an investment in time has been made by the client and I wanted to honour that. I also acknowledge the commitment every client I work with has to engage with counselling. In truth I enjoy my work. I am currently involved with a piece of work where I walk and talk along the Thames. I have wanted to take part in Walk and Talk therapy along the Thames since I had the idea 4 years ago. Now that I am walking my dream, an invite to see Gregory Porter could not pull me away.

And in your lonely flight

Haven’t you heard the music in the night

Wonderful music, faint as a will o’ the wisp

Crazy as a loon

Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon

Artistry

The person I am working with is an artist and I enjoy what they share and how they see the world. The walking invites a reflexive quality in engaging with therapy in a natural environment. The client and myself collaboratively address their challenges, successes and acknowledge how new ways of seeing a problem can be worked into their life. Every walk differs, the weather, the natural light, each season, other path users and sights inform/influence the discussions. What can be assessed as useful is adopted in the session. On this evening’s walk we passed 2 paddle boat cruisers, docked yet standing out with their large chimneys. It was like we had miss-stepped the Thames and had been transported to the Mississippi of the 1920’s.

But for a Delay

To have missed a walk and talk therapy session for Gregory Porter could have presented me with an unanswerable dilemma that did not offer either me or the client with comfortable outcomes. To delay gratification was a simple and fair choice. The alternative would have been to have postponed the client and supervision for Gregory Porter. I would then have spent the evening listening yet not connecting with his artistry, as I wondered about both my client and how Supervision would have been.

Gentle Guides

For the 8 years I have had Supervision I have worked with 3 very experienced counselling supervisors. Each one has gently supported my growth as a counsellor, reassuring me when I feel I have made an error with my work, sharing either personal insights or helping me to see things in a number of different ways.

My current external supervisor is no different. He has a way of helping me go beyond regular thinking and into new realms of thought, empathy and compassion. I shared my dilemma of wanting to go and see Gregory Porter or meet with my client and then see him – my supervisor. He smiled and nodded. I told him of the story as written above and he said ‘It is a great song.’

Skylark

I don’t know if you can find these things

But my heart is riding on your wings

So if you see them anywhere

Won’t you lead me there

Peer Supervision

For the past 3 years I also have peer supervision which differs slightly as they, my peer, are on a similar page to me in their counselling journey. The support offered here is similar to a gym training partner. Supervision is a necessary component of my work and I value it’s usefulness and what is shared. I realise that maintaining a component of humility, holding my work forward to be offered as a showing of my craft helps to keep me and those that I work with safe. I recognise that professional boundaries are useful in helping to frame the work.

When I first heard Gregory’s version of Skylark it was an instant Jazz favourite of mine. There is a powerful vulnerability to his phrasing that has me press repeat each time the song ends. As a non-singer I appreciate how hard Gregory has worked to offer his rendition. The last 20 seconds of Skylark melt me each and every time, I know the song is coming to an end I am hoping for a little more in it, something additional that would let me put the song to rest. Gregory pleads with an earnestness that is beguiling keeping me in check. Inviting me to hear the crash of the keys and the fading of the horn as his voice recedes…

Skylark

I don’t know if you can find these things

But my heart is riding on your wings

So if you see them anywhere

Won’t you lead me there

 

Skylark by Gregory Porter

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.