Running the Black Men’s Therapy Group has gifted me and my co counsel Sheila Samuels with more evidence of how necessary the Introductory course/workshop is for Black Men.
A previous post Jitters, observed the negative side of what too often happens, when someone does not get the help so often not looked at as a support. Therapy is often a last resort and sometimes barely that. How can therapy be successful when there is so much at stake? There are a number of reasons for the reluctance to engage. Cost. Culture. Cures and Cons.
Cost Therapy is not generally a low cost investment. See Kwanda’s initiative to redress this. IAPT was seen as a possible panacea for the masses to engage with psychologically trained individuals to access C.B.T. (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
Helping those who wanted psychological support to begin resolving and managing their experiences of depression and anxiety well. The NHS support was provided through GP services for those who either expressed need or were found to be able to access C.B.T. support. The cost for a person wanting C.B.T. is nothing but time. Current waiting lists are between 6 – 18 months in some areas.
Culture For many people there is a sense of unknowing and unconscious/conscious fear when thinking to access talking therapy (a stigma). TV shows like In Treatment, Queer Eye, In Conversation with John Bishop and Couples Therapy allow viewers to see the process outside of themselves. Sort of like a fly on the wall. Viewers don’t get the first hand raw experience of what therapy does. Therapy can often be a truly eye opening experience. It can be scary too. Don’t let fear prevent you doing great things, again!
Uncoupling However living with the pain of what potentially is lying hidden could be seen as worse. On a number of levels the person living with the pain knows this too.
Many cultures across the globe have differing ways of managing internal scars. Some attend to these scars in community settings, some go to see a Doctor or psychotherapist, some a faith healer, shaman or spiritual leader a wise elder in the community. The aim is similar – to unbuckle the experience of (emotional, physical, psychological, historic) pain from the present.
Not for Me Therapy supports a person or group to achieve this aim of unbuckling. In a Western technology filled world. Some cultures have developed a socially accepted space in the minds of their people for therapy to be an acceptable form of treatment. For some cultures including the African Diaspora, Asian Diaspora and South East Asian Diaspora, therapy is often seen as something that is not to be touched. Therapy is for other peoples. “We don’t speak our family matters to outsiders.” “It makes us weaker as a community that has already suffered and is going through our own ongoing struggles with it’s identity purpose, history and future.”
Cures Therapy is not a cure. It has helpful elements that have curative affects for individuals and for groups but it by no means can wipe out past traumas and pains in a single shot. The process can take time – sometimes for a few years.The accumulative effects are like a river cutting through rock or an overnight heavy snowfall. Therapy cannot undo centuries of pain. What therapy can do is support a better understanding to support groups and communities resolve current and past experiences.
It is Written Books like The Body Keeps The Score and It’s Not Always Depression support an individual and groups to begin reviewing their current lived experience and review them critically. The two books highlighted above and therapeutic encounters generally encourage people to take out the parts that are not working for them anymore. Observe the learning from an array of differing experiences. Begin implementing another way to live and live well. I can think about a number of clients I have worked with for 1 – 5 seasons who have all gained somethings from therapy and found a way to let their past demons die and accept their now to live as best as they can making improved choices.
Cons Therapy has it’s good, bad, and indifferent encounters between therapists and clients. The right mix often happens when skilled therapists meet willing clients to address their difficulties. At times an incompatible mix can happen of cultures, sexes, compassion fatigue of therapists, unconscious biases, identities and egos are amiss and both the client and therapist cannot make the therapeutic encounter work. The fatigued battle weary therapist and enthusiastic risk aware client would be an interesting dynamic to supervise.
Cons? The thinking behind IAPT’s 6 appointment model is that a short focused piece of work can be effective when a single problem is looked at solely. This is equal to 300minutes of considered time and can be effective to resolve an issue. The difficulty arises when more than one primary concern is activated or pulled through. Which can happen as a result of discussing the other factors around the initial reason a person engages in therapy.
Time is a valuable commodity as is a successful outcome for the work for client and therapist.
Cons?? Six appointments at times does not touch the sides of heavily affected people’s challenges like complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Another difficulty that the Global Majority has with encountering therapy are the historic experiences of colonisation, criminalisation, cultural appropriation and theft, villainizing communities and splitting groups of people along tribal, ethnic and gender lines. An implicit encouragement of groups to fight politically or physically inside of these constructed divisions, and then them to be offered a westernized approach to heal communities seems like an insult to a historic injury.
Cons! Where would trust exist within these paradigms to complete a piece of effective work? Western approaches to therapeutic outcomes were developed originally for a small group of people in Europe!
If we were to widen the lens and take in the planet through a global and pan view, communities from Central and South America, the indigenous populations of Australasia, Inuit communities, Sub Saharan Africans and Northern African communities may not access therapy marginally or fully because of their own senses of culture, their community understandings, religions, beliefs, sense of collectivism and historical legacy experiences with the West. A Eurocentric approach with therapy would need to be de-colonised and become incorporated within the cultures therapy hopes to support.
Cons!! There are also the experiences of what White psychiatrists, and White therapists have perpetrated against Global Majority communities which adds to the sense of historic mistrust against westernised approaches to healing.
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.
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.
Expansion beyond 5 I wonder if there are stages/experiences that follow Denial, Bartering, Anger, Depression and Acceptance that could be added to the stages of dealing with death.
That may provide a better frame to the slim paradox of grief and loss? Maybe a healthier way to manage the tumultuous feelings that accompany loss?
Yes go through the 5 but what about Celebration Rest and eventually finding Peace?
Allowing space for a quiet putting down of all those years of turmoil, self-questioning, doubt, pain and other uncomfortable emotions and thoughts.
Expulsion Nine Night as a Caribbean/African tradition of helping to move the deceased on. Nine Night allows mourners time to remember, tell stories, curse, swear, holler, cry, sing, dance, play cards, pour libation and offer to anyone who has ears to listen our best, worst and most treasured memories of the them that has gone on.
Hammer Toss My favourite story of my mum that has left an indelible imprint on my memory is the story of the hammer. Caribbean’s know of pick up and throw as a rule to instruct and discipline children. Especially the ‘fleet of foot’ child, which I was fortunately. Well. When we meet allow me to share that indelible memory…
Reflect In celebration we hold up a mirror to them (The deceased). Not only do we see them but we also see the time we had with them and ourselves. It’s a funny thing because these memories contain them and us. By remembering, we invite in a retelling of a time before, with them in it, alive, vibrant. Unforgettable. Until even those memories fade and change over time.
Remember Blockbusters If anyone knew my friend Jamui Adebiyi you would know of his acting ability and of his harsh criticism of B rate movies. Imagine Blockbusters, the now defunct movie loaning business chain, at Clapham Junction 1999. Myself, Mobolagi and Ade negotiating between us movie choices, this was long before Sainsbury’s rolled in. I ventured that we should watch a said B rate movie and his reaction was classic Ade. He jumped up and down and said that that movie is crap, it’s crap, it’s crap, timing his jumps with each brief statement. I was about to say Ade is…
And now I remember, he died 8 years ago. That memory lives on as does he, in a time framed by a Clapham junction with a Blockbusters in it, in a very different London.
Revel Celebrate them for the memory they have left us with. In celebrating our time with them, it can allow the sadness to change to something lighter.
Transformation is about an enlightening experience. Allow for it. Make time to celebrate them for all that they were. Who they had been for you. The singular narrative is for those who may have positive affable memories of the person or people that has/have died.
To complicate the narrative, a challenged earlier relationship with the deceased may be harder to muster the mental energy to celebrate who they were. Perhaps, here one can choose to thank them for the lessons learned or let go of the discomforting memories.
Tranquil By arriving at a piece of peace and finally then rest, death can be allowed out too.
Like a bee trapped in a hot glass house. Once freed – buzzing away back to it’s hive. The frenzy at seeking an out Causes the din of Bee head butting n buzzing to reverberate in ones Head minutes after the bee let fly.
Unless released reverently it (death) remains abuzz. Pass through all eight stages for as long as they are needed. Then release and accept/receive the peace willingly.
Restitution Once a person arrives at the point of Rest the energy used to move through the other 7 stages of grief may have waned. One may want to sleep for a while. There are moments where I flip back to the point of being angry with death, sometimes.
It is possible that the only act left is to simply be still. The need to stop running and avoiding the pain is given chance to subside. There is little left to do. The rest point could represent the end of the grief journey. Fully completing the path as it winds down towards the sea could take months or years. Travel well. Remember to let go. They, You, We deserve it
The moment stood out, fresh like beads of sweat dotting a brow furrowed in deep concentration. Mentally I did a double take and thought… Who is he speaking to? Me? Really? King? Oh I get it. Those are large shoes to fill. I’m ready to put that mantle on.
Collaborative Communication 5 men attended the group and told their stories of why they saw a need for the group. The men held out their independent requests for the room to see feel and identify with. There is a unity to be had in sharing hopes with a room who know what you are saying because they, I, we, have said similar things too.
Safety Groups are always nervous in the beginning. Leaders/Facilitators are too! With a new venue. New people to get to know. A new course. Not knowing met with new, then came upon nuanced and introduced those who attended to what has the potential for being made to exist in the now. For this group it was a Black safe space. Rare. A space curated, created and secured for men of the African Diaspora to meet and talk and discuss and experience warmth from a forgotten Sun. The aim – to discuss Black Mental Health with other Black Men with 2 highly skilled counsellors.
Knowing A good therapy group often operates well with 2 counsellors steering the conversation. Having worked with Sheila at the prison a few years ago I knew she would be a great co-facilitator for this group. Knowledgeable, flexible and able to support the group engage with the sensitive topic of Black Mental Health.
Diversity The group of 5 men with differing ages, professions, from a range of different London Boroughs, from a collection of countries of origin all came with a singular focus: To open the sometimes locked box and speak about mental health, as vulnerable, sensitive, engaged, intelligent, responsible, aware, concerned advocates and as Black men.
Sensate There was laughter, there was a felt sense of wanting to support and be simply acknowledged as friend, brother, seeker, father, colleague like in the classic Ralph Ellis book Invisible Man being seen and understood is a priceless gift.
I could just about keep my hands from clapping all the time or staying on my seat from sheer giddy exuberance: This Was Actually Happening! Finally!
It did, and there are more to follow, on the 20th 27th November 4th, 11th 18th December.
One attendee asked if there are plans for the group to continue past the 6 weeks… Both me and Sheila looked at each other and answered “Well that all depends…”
Who Knows by Ram Dass Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to this tale…
It’s rare for me to hear something that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me fall as if through space wondering what wonderment is this? Prepare yourselves, this is another musically inspired post. Join me as I revel…
Knocked Out Montara by Bobby Hutcherson was like that, when I first heard the track back in the early 90’s visiting my sister in Stoke Newington listening to Jazz FM. I thought about the magic of music. Bobby transported me to a new dynamic of experiencing the world. His playing of the vibes opened a portal to a different time, place and sensibility about music.
I had a similar experience on hearing FTB by Robert Glasper in 2008, and then Gretchen Parlato’s Weak in 2015. Then came Warren Wolf’s Knocks Me Off My Feet released in 2016, but heard in 2019. I know this song. It has belonged to Stevie Wonder for years. What Warren is able to do is make the song his. Yes he is a talented jazz percussionist. Yes he plays the vibraphone like a pianist with all the musical dexterity and complexity that has left me spell bound but the *laterality of his thinking and then playing of this version of Knocks Me – is mesmerising.
Walking into Tower records in the late 90’s and hearing Bobbi Humphrey’s Satin Doll Album. Being assuaged into another late night musical crawl was the ultimate falling experience. I had never heard a *flautist do what Bobbi did on this album. I bought it without hesitation and have savoured her playing ever since. With the Mizell Brothers doing what they did best, producing fresh nuanced music to new audiences.
Visibility But his rendition of Knocks Me Off My Feet has had me singing out loud (in the comfort of solitude in the car and when no one is at home. I was not gifted with a great singing voice).
Warren’s version – takes you into the joy of falling, and falling, and falling in love. Within that happy play of love. It is a joy to behold. Like being held in the rapture of someone else’s perfection. Spellbinding. His art is to make a song his and yet remain recognisable. It is the magic of Warren’s vision and of the accompanying musicians who allow the play of the vibraphone to musically enthrall and take you to the zenith of falling or being knocked off your feet.
Re-Done Montara by Bobby Hutcherson is universally held as a great, no, a fantastic piece of jazz music. It broke records and has been highly sought after. The Roots did a great rendition of Montara on the New Groove Album with the lyric Do What You Want, Do What You Like, Do What You Feel/Do What you Need. I loved this version for as long as I can remember with those late night conversations in my mid 20’s, late night drives, late night studies it was the only version of the classic I could readily access.
Huff and Puff Then along came Warren Wolf. Blowing everything even the original away, with his version of Montara. Why? Bobby made it his! It is his. The Roots made it theirs. It was theirs. Wolf reinvented Mandala and brought it full force into the 21st century. It’s like what Christian Scott did for Isadora, Robert Glasper has done with the piano and with his experiment experiences, Gretchen Parlato reworked SWV’s Weak up to and what Warren has done with this age old classic.
CTA Compare contrast congratulate and then comment below. There are few that have been able to do re evolution better. Warren Wolf is someone to look out for.
The poem at the end of I Stand Alone by Robert Glasper is worthy of repeating often. Primarily because the poet speaks about there being multiple changes with each re-interpretation, re-evolving not just copying mindlessly. Suggesting that each go round takes us – musician and listener – to a different newer higher level.
There are times when I am amazed by the generosity of spirit of the people I meet in prison. They may only be dimly aware. For this man I would like to share this piece of writing with him. An action of reciprocity. Effective Altruism? Maybe…
Bad Day I was having a shitty day. Walking with a walking stick in prison is a cumbersome and slow experience. The walking stick has me feeling vulnerable and very out there on my own. It’s a constant worry that at any moment something is going to go down and I’m going to be jumped beaten and my keys snatched off of my chain.
It has never happened to me.
(Yes, staff walk around with keys attached to a belt.) Uniformed Staff and civilian staff walk with aware that they carry a large responsibility along with those keys – a symbol of power.
Questioning The opposite is often what I encounter. I generally do not feel powerful. My visible vulnerability brings from many I meet, including officers and often young and mature black men, the nod, or the question of “Are you alright?” Or “You cool?” “What’s happened?” “You good?” “Take it easy, yeah?”
Fade Here I am seen and my daily struggle is met by others compassion, seeing myself as the injured and frail one. I find myself at times wanting to be invisible. But these calls are a gentle reminder that humanity lives here. These moments are of genuine sensitivity being shown from men who are doing hard time, some serving 18-30 years. I have accountability and a responsibility to uphold, mine and theirs.
Between On this day I passed from one wing to another. There are a number of wings/house blocks, housing between 100-150 men. Every house block has it’s own distinct vibe and concentration of prisoners: Vulnerable prisoners, lifers, remand and re-categorised prisoners. These men are due for parole or to be sent to other prisons for more open conditions. The prison has a total capacity servicing over 1000 men. Me negotiating the gates, doors and stairs takes longer as I manage the cane, the keys, assessment charts, writing paper to note take and my diary. An unholy slow moving ungainly mess.
Check-in I am to meet with a client who attends the bereavement group. (Thanks for the reminder I will offer a write up about this group soon.) I need to see him as he left the group early on this week and I want to make sure that he is okay.
Take We meet on his house block and I make my way into one of the offices that has a desk and 2 chairs on his wing.
I offer, “I wanted to come and see you as I wanted to find out how you are after Tuesdays meeting?” He says “Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling good you know? Sometimes this place takes the piss!”
I nod showing that I understand.
He continues “I asked for something that’s important to me for my religion and it’s not on the canteen sheet and I can’t get it! “It’s frustrating me. “I’m usually okay with it here. “But this thing. “I’ve been patiently waiting for 3 months and I couldn’t wait any longer. “I’ve done it their way for a long time and nothing ain’t happening for me. “I’m not just going for mine and leaving everybody else you know? “This is about me and for others like me.”
Release He shares his disappointments and numerous experiences of being let down and similar disagreements about the prison. Like, losing weight, standing forward and supporting others, confronting officers and attending to his overall fitness, wearing clothes he has had to keep care of for years because he can’t trust that things sent in will safely arrive.
Prism He says something like jail being more like a mental health institution in patois and we both laugh. Initially tentatively. Then gleefully. Recognising ourselves in a prison situation as Black men. One choosing to be there with the other, another doing his best to find peace within his situation in prison.
Re-set The laugh of this black man was like the baring of a soul with a comrade at arms, a fellow road weary traveller, a baller. His laugh invited me to view both his and my plight with compassion. This black mans laugh somehow seemed to restore me and also him. We sat and laughed in a prison, about prison and the folly of the circumstances we both found ourselves in. It was Capoeira meeting Jazz, Gum Boot Dance to Blues, Hip Hop bopping slow with Reggae, Salsa and Calypso rejoicing. It was natural and affirming that even here -prison – humanity could be found.
Re-Mix The wonderful ability to take something that is both internal and external put a spin on it and make it both his and mine. The experience of the infinite in a few short moments of laughter. How deliciously wonderful, amazing and so uniquely surprising. I left the prison a little lighter that day, usually a little guilt escapes with me.