Mockingbird: A Review

Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy, by Dr Dwight Turner.


Opening
I wrote to my friend Banjo Aromolaran-Eaton that ‘Mockingbird is an outstanding reflexive undertaking. Dr Dwight Turner has done a difficult job of contending with Intersectionality and otherness brilliantly.’ Like wrestling with a thunder cloud. Every droplet of water examined and the electrical charge removed from most of the ion particles.

Light: Arcs

Indent
When a good book lands, one might read it once, and think on what has been learned occasionally. With a book like Mockingbird the learning will be a consistent reminder of what work and stretching still lie ahead. As an adherent of life long learning, the idea of continually growing – a welcome challenge. The ‘once read and gone’ idea is past, in our age currently being lived. Information once read, understood and digested can now be actively applied. We can demand more from what we consume.

Unapologetic
What Dr Turner does is turn the lens he is looking out at the world with, upon himself profoundly, unflinchingly, unapologetically. The book wilfully presents the discomfort of observing and feeling around challenging self concepts of identity. You might find yourself wincing in parts of the book that boldly delve way beneath the surface of safety. This is what makes Mockingbird stand out. Dr Turner does not turn away from the difficult. He in fact chooses to pause, point and move toward the unaligned (taking us with him), like an architect or builder snagging all fixtures that don’t sit right.

Beyond Bubbles
A message for those looking for an Aladdin’s cave of treasure, we won’t find it at the end of our lane/road/village. We will have to leave our comfort zones and go in search of it. There will be trials, there will be miss steps and lost chances. We will experience failure and defeat. What we will also come across, are clues as to where the treasure is hiding. Getting forever closer and seemingly further lost. I am writing as though the book is a story. It sort of is. Mockingbird is an heuristic undertaking with many points of learning. Mockingbird is both excruciating and exquisite in how it presents us with both understanding and many moments of insight. It is the Sea at the End of the Lane! The point of interest for me is, when a writer writes about themselves in intimate detail as Dr Turner has, they invite us to look at ourselves too in just as brave a way.

Contrast: Light Art

Scythe
My least favourite part of Mockingbird. The most challenging and at the same time best learning, came as Dr. Turner, focused his attention to Death of the other. It took me about a month to read this chapter. (A slow reader I am not!) It’s the apex part of the book. This chapter is the half mile Andy Dufresne has to crawl through to arrive outside of Shawshank as a smelly free man. Dr. Turner observes the many millions that have been classed as other and killed throughout history. In all honesty my heart sank at this point of the book. Death as a subject I had thought I had vanquished.

Death, I find is only over when our story inevitably ends. Mockingbird pulls no punches and everything is unearthed to be picked over and reviewed: Privilege encompasses us all he shares. This is a hard concept to bear witness to. There is death in acknowledging our experience of privilege, when believing that privilege belongs to everyone but us. How wrong was I?

Why Read Mockingbird
Questions that arise from a position of confusion, outrage and a sense of powerlessness are addressed. The book does well to hold the paradox of being othered and yet also having power. ‘Intersections…’ provides a way to begin engaging with the unconscious for answers, as Dwight has and wilfully shares his findings. The aspect of battling with the barely conscious parts of ourselves sounds challenging, because it is. With Dr Turner as a guide, who continually shares his discoveries, the uncovering of hidden meanings, make questing in a psychological way appear painful yet appealing, and also ultimately freeing. There is bravery in Dwight being so open and vulnerable with us.

Spilling: Light Art

Flawed
Without question there is difficulty in first understanding ones privilege within Western societies. Both Canada and the UK present a few preferred specific characteristic identities above others. As a Black male, grappling with the disabling effects of Relapsing Remitting MS, there are dynamics of feeling both disempowered, and yet held as powerful, whilst counselling to empower others. At times it can feel as though I/We are in the Minotaur’s labyrinth trying to make sense out of the complex multiple narratives held about Black and Brown bodies. If we include ableism, mental illness, gender, culture, race and class, we can begin to widen our lens and witness how Intersectionality encapsulates everyone. Post Trumpism, with Canada waking up to it’s residential school horror, of indigenous children’s remains being discovered in mass unmarked graves across Canada, post Britain’s exit from the European Union (I have refused the misnomer, for it was never fast and it was never easy), post the social reckoning that George Floyd’s murder awoke many people up to. Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy is a just and balanced and intrepid response. Intersections aims to support readers understand the paradox of the part held and the part we are to play at this critical multi-layered moment in world history.

We are all human animals making sense out of chaos.

Barely. 

Resources Explained
The list below is extensive primarily because much of what Dr Dwight Turner has been involved with has been affirming and informative. The links to his Twitter, Website and the numerous interviews and discussions all offer insight into a psychotherapists expansive explorative and sometimes explosive understandings.
Heuristic research initially I wanted to engage with for my Masters, but the subject of my topic to be researched wouldn’t fit into the model that Alice Shlegel shares. Alice’s explanation of Heuristic research further confirms my choice to use autoethnography. A Son’s Journey will be dissected further at a later point here.
Ionized particles and them being contained in Thunder Clouds was a useful aside to examine the comparison of Intersectionality, power, race, psychotherapy and the heavy charge a mix like this offers.
A thank you is extended to Kate Bowler who recommended that I read The Sea at The End of The Lane. Tim Ferris interviews Neil Gaiman about his process of writing.
The line in Exhibit A by Jay Electronica in the 2nd or 3rd verse remains one of my favourite verses referencing struggle, redemption and winning against multiple odds.
Shawshank was/is a life long great film. Morgan Freeman offers these words about his friend Andy at the end of the film. Morgan’s character intones how Andy lives on as a memory – whispering a promise of life after incarceration.

Resources
Dr Dwight Turner Twitter
Dr Dwight Turner Website
Dr Dwight Turner Interview Black Therapy
Dr Dwight Turner CPCAB Talk Being the Other Symposium
Dr Dwight Turner Discussion about Intersections
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos article by Dr Dwight Turner
Understanding Heuristic research YouTube video by Alice Shlegel
NSSL The National Severe Storms Laboratory Link explaining Thunder Clouds.
The Sea At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman interview with Tim Ferris
Andy Dufresne link to Exhibit A by Jay Electronica
Morgan Freeman Shawshank Redemption Missing my friend

Images inspired by Black Steel
Cover Image by Michael Opoku-Forfieh
1st Inlay photo by Garidy Sanders on Unsplash
2nd Inlay photo by Juliana on Unsplash
3rd Inlay photo by Paul Carmona on Unsplash

It’s Not Always

Beginning
Initially the idea of reading ‘It’s Not Always Depression’ was approached with some resistance. I was asked to review the book by Dionne and Victoria of The Counsellors Café Magazine. Here is my review a few years too late, but ties in with my earlier writing on Shame.

Depression as a topic can be viewed as an uncomfortable and difficult concept to investigate. In fact I was actively avoiding the topic. Choosing to dive right in I discovered that with guidance depression may not be the root cause of an individuals story. Hilary Jacobs Hendel has written a wonderful book that explores and explains emotion. In an accelerated way Hilary is able to discuss the effect of trapped emotions and their impact toward the person they reside within.

Internal
‘It’s Not Always Depression’ combines story-telling and science (neuropsychology and neuroscience) in a way that is compelling to read. Whilst reading the book we are able to exhume ones’ experience of the self and our internal family systems (IFS) and examine encounters we had at earlier times of our lives.

Daringly

Big T and little t
Hilary Jacobs Hendel is able to use her work as a psychotherapist to share the experiences her clients travel through to arrive at a better understanding of themselves and ultimately their story. We meet women and men that have had challenging experiences at different times in their lives. Hilary explains that these events can be viewed as big T and little t traumas. Big T traumas frame an event as overwhelmingly significant and life changing. Little t trauma shares the idea of accumulative experiences that lead to cognitive defences being set up by clients to be able to manage daily – dangers and discomforts.

Transition
For me, prejudice in all forms and racism in particular are mis-labelled as little t traumas. I feel that all forms of oppression are potentially big T traumas. Oppression discrimination and racism viscerally affect the persons viewed as other and directly affect the way’s in which these persons live or don’t get to live. Remember Breonna Taylor, Jean Charles De Menezes, Mark Duggan, Pyriscience shares a list of BIPOC deaths in Canada.

Core I.d.
By the middle of my reading ‘It’s Not Always’, I became aware of an awakening in me and was surprised as I thought I had buried certain memories. I came to recognise my core emotions of: fear, anger, sadness disgust and shame. I caught sight of myself as a child and a large T trauma that had happened for me at the age of 7. Moving through the change triangle I witnessed core feelings and thoughts that inhibited the core feeling – ideas of I shouldn’t feel this way any longer, perhaps I deserved what had happened, I didn’t understand why this thing was happening to me at that time and no one would have believed me if I were to tell. Using the change triangle I identified and accepted the feeling of shame. A disquieting emotion. I recognised the defences I had put up to protect myself and kindly understood how they had protected me but that they were not necessary any longer.

On Top

Collaborate
Clients and therapists could read this book either together or individually as it offers a wealth of knowledge and understanding about the human experience. Hilary Jacobs Hendel explains the use of AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) and her involvement with Diana Fosha’s work.

Accelerate
Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s writing is accessible and informs how a therapist using AEDP and the Change Triangle, can support a client gain insight and create change that is transformational. The book offers readers chance to ask important questions about emotions and identify experiences of small t or large T traumas. From recognising the trapped pain of earlier experiences, readers are invited to begin working to reclaim and rewire the memory and release associated emotions. Using the change triangle supports dynamic change and acceptance of a newer reclaimed identity.

Daring Greatly
The invitation Hilary shares with us is to live in an openhearted state as often as we can and of being our Authentic Selves as much as we dare.

Resources
Kimberly Cato Black Therapists Speak
AEDP Diana Fosha’s
Hilary Jacobs Hendel on Embodied Podcast
Brené Brown The Arena

Images
Cover photo by Good Faces on Unsplash
Inlay photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash
2nd inlay photo by Sebastian Pantosin on Unsplash

Investment in Therapy pt 1

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.

Finding a Heart

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.

Resources
Black Issues in the Therapeutic Process – Dr Isha McKenzie-Mavinga
Black Bodies TEDx Devante Sanders

Images
Photo by Shane Avery on Unsplash
Photo by Roman Kraft@romankraft Unsplash Autumn Love Signs

In Conversation with Lenny Henry: Who Am I Again?

I had waited a long time for this moment and was glad of the chance to see a living legend. Lenny Henry in conversation.

Wooph
I had little expectation of what an evening would be like spent with Lenny Henry and Romesh Ranganathan. Perhaps it would be 2 brilliant men one-upping each other. Laughing at the loops wound around the audience and themselves that the other tried to vault over. Clumsily failing and falling. It wasn’t like that at all. I came away from the evening feeling lighter. Like after a therapy session. Wooph describes the reaction in energy that Lenny would get at a show when an audience laughed uproariously at a piece in his set.

Without Me
Arriving a few minutes after the show began, due to train cancellations and me not being able to run for the 18:36 train (another loss MS has had me suffer. It’s either MS or age. I just don’t feel old in my mind, at all. I want my body to know and hold on to that fact too).

The Train pulled off, with me looking on, deflated. Shaking my head then looking up at the board for the next one. Hither Green Monday evening – the choices were limited. 2 Choices I was invited to take. Wait for the train that might get me to there on time or try and hop skip and jump at London Bridge to get a connect for a faster train to Waterloo East?

Selection
The choice I made was to wait and hope. Hoping and waiting got me there late and frantic. I eventually walked in and Lenny was mid flow through the end of his set introducing Romesh. He was finishing with something about the physical abuse he experienced at the hands of his mum. Had I made it on time I would have been laughing too, like the already seated audience.

Sit Down
I took my seat in the Royal Festival Hall and for the hour and 25 minutes I had left sat and was amazed by Lenny’s and Romesh’s mutual appreciation of what they had contributed to the cannon of British comedy and to reversing the march to an un-coloured comedy and TV scene.

Context
My moment I had not anticipated came when after a flurry of mutual appreciation both men took stock of where they were and fist bumped like two men on the street. Only these two men were some of the funniest, most daring, Black and Brown men sat on stage at the Royal Festival Hall watched by several hundred people. Taking stock of how far they had come and what it had taken for them to get there. Both men could scare you with their intense observations and perspective and have you crying with pain and laughter as their on point humor bit.

Represent
I was saddened by the number of Black and Brown people that I did not see there. I had wanted the theater full to the rafters of people that looked like me and Romesh. Lenny was our champion. A winner of a fight, he won by not throwing punches with his fists, but with the wisdom of a sage.

That fight – won – has enriched him and lightened the hearts of many. I was saddened that Lenny’s brilliance, his story may have been
too political,
too sad,
too funny,
too hard to accept for many to make an effort to be there for a wet Monday night attendance.

Those that were there laughed and laughed hard at some of the memories Lenny shared. The fight at school, with the bully where Lenny beat him with words and had a crowd turn on the aggressor. Another story was of having things thrown at him by his mum, that always found their mark – even around corners.

No. They. We. Missed this. Him talking about his new book. Who Am I again? About the process of writing being like therapy. About his experiences of playing at clubs around the country and being racially abused and slowly winning these difficult crowds round. I was saddened because I would have wanted the under represented to be over whelmed by his story’s show of strength. That even through his saddest times, success and challenging adversity became towering achievements.

Pull Up
I was saddened that for the ‘community’ not to have come to support and show appreciation for a sage that has worked hard at his craft and worked at demands of the BBC and ITV to make. The face of British TV and the widening scope of achievement and attainment of BAME communities has been altered. Those that may want to make a career in the media, either in front of the camera/mic or more importantly behind the camera/mic will pay attention to what Lenny has pointed at. He has called it ‘Rubbish’ and said ‘this thing here, needs changing. NOW!’

Shouldering
For me, what I came to see, what I was waiting to see was Lenny’s passion at wanting to change the culture and face of British media. His deft, clever brilliance and memory of both his ups and downs of his career showed his resilience and how he has put his weight behind wanting to shift the colour line to be more representative of the young, the forgotten, the talented and the Black.

Who Am I Again is his 1st Autobiography available at all good book stores. With luck there will be others. My only CTA…

A Review- Black Leopard Red Wolf

Black Leopard Red Wolf
Imagine if you will a non linear telling of an African history told without colonial conventions about story time and whose voice is the narrator or the keeper of the story. 

Black Leopard Red Wolf 
Is Marlon’s invention of an African past unsullied by the misapprehension of the European. Marlon crafts this book breaking away from the idea of past present and Future. Skillfully he weaves a story together from a possible ancestral past that is rich with magic and risk and myth. 

Black Leopard Red Wolf 

Marlon James and Black leopard Red Wolf 1st in Trilogy

Is a book to lose an idea of up down and other *polemities. The book teases and plays with language timing and of telling a story in a fashion that other stories are often told. It is an opus, an operatic explosion diverse and divisive in creating a new African mystery. 

Black Leopard Red Wolf
Is to be read with care. The misdirects and loose narrative can befell the unweary traveller. There are moments of outstanding beauty, and times where Marlon plays with the idea of trauma and horror. Take your time and enjoy a new way of being told a truly original story. There are moments too when you will laugh out loud and be surprised.

Gambit exhibiting his power

Teachers Gambit

Unmoored1

In May I ended my final year with both year one and year two integrative counselling students at the University of Greenwich. I have taught at the University of Greenwich for 3 years as a visiting lecturer. The final teaching lessons with both year 1 and year 2 were surprising and left me feeling un-moored.

What Next

Ending with both year 1 and year 2, conversations involved what would come next??? With year 1 the conversations involved what they had survived and what the next year would bring.  The Counselling and Psychology departments are to move from Avery Hill to the Dreadnought building in Greenwich village, London UK. The change of location represents a physical re-ordering to the experience of teaching and learning. Changes to the orientation of the scheduled lessons and new group members will add an additional layer of nuance to the students day.

High seas 1

Relief

The new cohort of students (2018  – 2019) will not be any wiser of these changes. The 2 groups of students I taught on their last day were relieved to have passed through the gate of the unknown and were weary from the internal struggles the course had helped unearth. I enjoyed the teaching. The opportunity to share what knowledge I have with minds receptive to new ideas – ideas that at times were vastly different to their own. The excitement of moving from unknowing to knowing more, is more than worthy of the days nights and weeks spent marking students work. I will no longer be a part of the excitement, the changes, the conflicts, the time tabling confusions, rooms being locked, difficulties with technology – I am going to miss all of this!

Soft Departures

For year 2, I was to discuss formation of their counselling identity. The presentation began with a student stating that they would not be returning for year 3. A number of students expressed surprise and disappointment as well as tender comments about the student leaving the course this year spattered amongst the room. The student will leave with a level VII (7) diploma and a confidence about how they are going to engage with counselling and psychotherapy.

It’s Personal

For those that were to continue onto year 3, there were ideas as to what was to happen for them. A few students identified that the dissertation piece had been a challenge to be moderated on. The point of the exercise was to gather an understanding of their counselling approach. As an integrative course the need to understand the ‘how and why’ of using a particular theory is important for the therapist and for the client to know.

The Journey

Sharing my counselling journey from 2012 when I completed the same course, with year 2 students was a special moment. Describing the numerous points of growth change and adaptation of how I viewed and interact with the world. Sharing experiences that developed awareness of competence and confidence, helped the arrival where it feels natural to share ideas with a group of 20-30 people as if speaking to a group of friends.

Newbie

I have shared a number of times about the experiential group of that first year. The group surprised and impressed me. There was a dynamic rich freshness, a vibrancy of their experience that fueled the group’s discussions. It may have been my newness to the whole teaching experience that has framed them as a pivotal memory.

In year two I worked with my first all women experiential group, I had chance to relearn what I thought I knew from the previous year. A welcome surprise. I had chance to reflect on growing up within an all-female household. Growing into adulthood I came to appreciate a non-male dominated space – this experiential group mirrored that.

Lecturing

In this my third year I was offered the chance to lecture on the undergrad psychology and counselling course, teach a year one case discussion group, facilitate a year one all women experiential group, and teach the year two case discussion. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge about direction and imparting some of my book learning to trainee counsellors. Fortunately they were receptive to some of the ideas and some of the critiques I offered.

rough seas 2

Irv’s wisdom

Having had the opportunity in April to interview the enigmatic Irvin Yalom for the Counsellors Café – he shared the finer subtleties of working with process groups, he advised that to support a group learn and become it’s own entity, you have to be willing to risk being real, be present and be a part of the process. Be where they are at. Be honest, congruent, vulnerable… I came close…

Illusions

In my 2nd year of teaching (2016 – 2017) a number of opportunities to share interesting ideas seemed to arrive at the end our experiential groups – I went with it and shared. On my last day of this years visiting lecturing, I shared with the year one case discussion group a book. ‘The structure of Magic” and I invited seven of the group members to read a number of the opening paragraphs. The first chapter discusses the idea of magic. Magicians, Princesses and Princes populate a land and a boy is to understand his place amongst it all. The ideas that counsellors follow in the tradition of Freud, we perhaps are also Magicians creating illusions.

Provoke

Those that we work with use the magic to create new stories and illusions of their own making. The year 1 students were challenged by the idea and I deliberately meant to be provocative. Another idea that also challenged them, was my earlier offering of therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts being Judge, Jury and executioners.

Invitation

The loss felt, as I move on from the experience of teaching and learning was, the ideas propagated within the minds of students will be watered by other gardeners now.

The un-mooring invites the idea of finding new ports, trade knowledge acquired on high seas, amongst audiences new. The sense of risk and triumph much like the rise and fall of tidal swells offers, chance to arrive there once again…

Patterns – A Beautiful Way of Thinking

Fractal ImageFractals
For as long as I can remember patterns have fascinated me. From simple designs like parquet flooring and tessellation to radial patterns of nature’s fractals, all offer a representation of our world and known universe that support understanding and for me a degree of comfort.

Splicing Media
Whilst listening to Invisibilia, The Science of Success, Two Guys On Your Head podcasts and watching The Alienist Netflix show (links below) a thought struck about the need for pattern recognition. The interest for me seems to span from an aesthetic (how things look) to the psychological (how our minds interpret information). Questions arise about our need to rapidly recognise patterns and what use we then make of the recognition. The Two Guys episode does well to explain and expand on the idea.

The Invisibilia episode reviews a woman’s attempt to change her life pattern and asks if we too are able to stop and make different choices that support growth and positive outcomes for our lives.

The Science of success episode shares insights on nonverbal communication, micro expressions, and how as humans we can be better at detecting lies with columnist Vanessa Van Edwards.

The Two Guys on Your Head podcast, the doctors of psychology discuss the problems that can arise from seeing things in our minds and not just with our eyes. In essence they reference pattern matching in an artful way.

Art Meets Science
The Alienist has fascinated me too, I started watching the show in late April. I find myself keenly interested primarily as the protagonists are using patterns to solve a crime. The show demonstrates how forensic science and forensic psychology may have come into effect.

Forensic Science Heritage
Albeit in a fictionalised 19th Century New York. Here too a pattern seems to emerge as a stellar team of individuals search for clues and hidden meaning of their own behaviors, and of that of the person responsible for the multiple homicides. The aim of casting the search net so wide, is to understand and stop the person responsible with all accessible means at the investigators’ disposal. What also interests me is that the depiction of late 19th century New York appears to be a close representation of our modern 21st century lives.

Patterned Living
The realisation that we are living amongst a number of forming and reforming of continual patterns such as algorithms has had me in a state of wonder ever since I read Eric Hoffer’s True Believer in 2008. Themes appear in all four of the media samples mentioned above which include: attraction, guilt, authority, liberty, sexism, addiction, class and passion. History has a habit of repeating itself as Eric Hoffer has suggested.

Repeat
We tend to use patterns to help us recognise things as diverse as migration, seasons, crop cycles, stock and share prices, rhythm and bpm, music, clothes, travel, festivals, meals, traffic, weather, sleep and waking cycles and psychological patterns marking the stages of life we all pass through. There are a possibly a million more patterns of life that I will have missed.

Counselling Patterns
As a counsellor the pattern of therapy I find, is similar to that of a story, there usually is a beginning, a middle and an end. At times the beginning and ending can happen in a single appointment. Caleb Carr’s Kreizler series I am intrigued to start reading, as it has inspired the Alienist Netflix series. Usually the book is read first then I watch the adaptation later. Here I am able to witness a break in my own pattern of behaviour.

Pattern Matching
On a common level we interpret a number of cues to inform ourselves about our lives that include; faces, sounds, smells, tastes, all call upon our ability to make use of a range of stimuli. A face that smiles we could view as friendly, a loud screech of tyres helps us recognise that something on wheels either was braking or accelerating, pleasant aromas of food or scents could alert us to a range of pleasing experiences someone may soon have. We recognise these as a result of experiencing them before and unconsciously process and store them. Once recalled, through action or thought we pattern match and behave almost automatically, almost without thought.

Comprehension
Pattern recognition is a way of interpreting information to support our understanding of what is likely to occur. My fascination with simply being aware of patterns enables me to make more informed choices. To make use of the patterns mentioned what would it be like to become a detective/scientist/artist for a while, curious enough to find out the patterns that involve your life and make sense and meaning from them.Triangle Pattern

Plain Sight
In essence I am enjoying the psychological battle unfolding in the Alienist (episode 5 at the time of writing) as the characters recognise their strengths as a team and some of their weaknesses. The attempt to solve the mystery of the serial killer is a case of playing field chess in fog.
It is a game.
It is baffling and unseen players could move pieces that inspire the win and also the loss.
As in life, the aim is to live well amongst a seemingly ever unfolding pattern.

The List
The Pattern Problem by Invisibilia.
Lies and Body Language Science of Success
Seeing and Perception with Two Guys on Your Head
The Alienist

A pattern that has us at once, confused and often bemused, with a sense of knowing of the way we are still to travel.

And be hopelessly, laughingly and completely lost perpetually…

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism

blue-masque-2.jpg

Flow state thinking

An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be done to support those who through no fault of their own are facing unsurmountable challenges. The other was is there something here about listening for the solution in a way that supports a peaceful outcome. Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them. But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead – Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference.

Or  “Tactical Empathy” is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. LEO Hearted T-shirts

Affective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Wikepedia

Blending

The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity.

Choice with Others in Mind

Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for the many.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities, compassion, recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informing.

Links to Social Responsibility

Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before, then significant derailment of the production line can and will occur.

For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide from threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that are in mind as a continuum. Arwa setting up a foundation recognises that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many she had to organise her thoughts and other people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans.

The Call

The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Book Review – A Little Life

Small – Big Life Matters

A little life ba-little-lifey Hanya Yanagihara

Revisiting my brief overview of ‘A Little Life’ the 2015’s Man Booker Prize nominee a year later was a passing idea. What could be gained from this experience was noting if my opinion had changed about the book a year later.

A Challenge

I was introduced to this book by my sister CF. She stated in a resigned fashion that this book was a depiction of a persons struggle. No matter what good experiences were presented to them, they could not heal from the pain of their past.

As a practicing counsellor with over 7 years of experience I was intrigued and appalled by the idea of a wound so great that no recovery could be experienced. Naively I approached the book like an investigator seeking to uncover what experiences a fictional character could not heal from.

Within 80 pages Ms Yanagihara (author) had me so involved within a complex story of loss, betrayal and pain that to stop reading was the furthest thought from my mind. As I turned the pages and further engrossed myself with this Little Life, I began to recognise why my sister had stated in as clear a way as possible why she proclaimed that there are scars that some individuals never recover.

Symbolism

The central character is called Jude. Jude has a number of difficulties that he is able to successfully negotiate his life with including low self esteem, self harm and a mysterious physical disability. There is a scene that springs to mind as a metaphor for the book. After a significant self-disclosure to a close friend, Jude is thrown from a roof to a window ledge in a scheme to rescue his friends. The rescue involves him undoing a lock that he alone knows how to remove.

event-horizonEvent Horizon

If a reader makes it to the impromptu rescue part of the book, unfortunately they have been pulled over the edge into the event horizon. There is little chance of escape until the book ends and even then a reader will be further embroiled with ‘But if’ scenarios and disappointed views about the characters lives in the book for months after completing A Little Life.

Support Group for a Book?

I have spoken with others and read tweets about how readers have experienced the story #aLilLife with calls for support groups and warm blankets to help the reader survive the tumult of impassionesupport-groupd story telling.

All talk about the effect the book has on the reader are accurate. The twists and turns of the story, the feelings the book and writing evoke and how, as a reader, they wish they could have friends and family that Jude has.

I read the book morning noon and night. At one point stating on twitter ‘It is the first thing I reach for when I awake and the last thing I touch before I fall asleep.’ At times I stay up for an hour or 2 past the witching hour to complete a paragraph or a chapter. A Little Life is a tour de force.

Willingness to let go

The aspect of the book that stays with me, is the roof incident and the reminder his social worker offers him; ‘You have to let others in and talk about this thing, or it will get the better of you.’ I am mindful that this coupled with the scene of him rescuing his friendsjesse-w
and undoing a lock that only he knows how to unpick are 2 moments of evidence. Jude has the tools for his own rescue if he were willing and able to open the locks. Anna provided Jude with a choice, as all good therapists are able to offer their clients.

Self-Agency

The experience of ‘Life’ can be taken for granted. A character like Jude’s helps to explore a reckoning with humanity and all that the human experience can present: Mystery, Adversity, Humour, Friendship, Challenge.

As a therapist, Jude’s story provided me with a reminder of what professional boundaries are – To walk beside a person being supported and remaining both caring and mindful of the individual’s journey towards self-discovery – hoping that they get there.

Jude’s story is tragic, many of the people I work with have disastrous life experiences too. I hold on to the idea that a character like Jude’s in ‘A Little Life’ and service users I support can take steps to change their life path if they can find value in being…

For Jude the chance to take a leap of faith appeared too great, however in my experience it is often as thin as a sheet of paper.

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 owning 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 my body through exercise. 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 may 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.