What is a clean space? I am borrowing from psychotherapy’s understanding of clean pain and dirty pain here. The idea for clean space is a transmutation from Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and a conversation with a friend. In the book Resmaa defines ‘clean pain as choosing integrity over fear and standing in that fear with integrity and moving towards the unknown. The alternative path is responding from dirty pain. Dirty pain is when we respond to fear and conflict from our most wounded parts. Responding from dirty pain only creates more pain, both for ourselves and for other people.’ Kevin Reese.
Adapt Faster For the past few months I have been engaged in conversations with Joshua Isaac Smith. ‘Clean space’ is a new concept for us to consider. Perhaps also psychotherapeutically. We wondered what ‘clean space’ would mean? A room devoid of clutter, debris from the past, smoke, mirrors, egos, distraction and expectation. A ‘clean space’ would be filled with windows. Allowing safe passage of the used and damaged out, and on the new breeze, fresh exciting ideas and plans.
‘Clean Space’ existing as a hopeful tentative NOW.
Empowered Recently I was amongst 20 Black men at MacMaster’s Black Student Success Centre for an Empowered conversation. Being with groups of Black and Brown men, has been part of my psychotherapeutic experience since joining BAATN in 2010. Forming The Black Men’s Therapy Group, collaborating to start The Diversity Space at NHS Oxleas, being a counsellor of Kwanda’s Mens Groups, attending and co-facilitating the True Roots Check-In and Chat gatherings and now the Empowered experience at Macmaster’s University have all been ‘clean spaces’. Every experience supports an understanding of how rare meeting in an unencumbered way can be.
These Days I wrote last year, about when Black people gather in numbers larger than 2, in spaces that are considered White, often that group is interrupted or stopped from happening. Noise, disruption, a perceived harmony considered out of alignment the cause. A closer examination could be that witnessing Black people together laughing, discussing, enjoying time peaceably can cause suspicion, disharmony, an old yet fully present order – disrupted. The observer offset by a preconceived notion that a group of Black men are planning something. Leading to revolt. In solidarity groups arrive at causes that determine outcomes and act accordingly to achieve necessary change.
Ready The Empowered event at Mac’ was the first of it’s kind at the University. Members of staff (2 sports coaches, a lecturer/PhD student) students from different years and areas of study and me came together to watch Black Boys. A film about the Black Male experience in America, and then discuss our understanding of being a Black man in Canada. The skill of withholding rather than exploding, being assertive versus aggressive, non reactive when encountering micro and major aggressions, the exhaustion of constantly being on guard. Like being in an invisible straightjacket…
Rebound Speaking with Joshua, who wondered about an organisms tendency to shrink, retreat, respond in fear when new stimuli are introduced. Prompted me to write this short blog. Our conversation helped me to think about synapses and encountering difference. Does the brain re-wire initially encountering challenge? Do synapses retreat breaking connection momentarily? Only to reach out and form a link later and then re-enforce that link with others. Or once a synaptic link drops, is the link permanently severed? Being in safe spaces, ‘clean spaces’, do synaptic links regrow? Do we regrow once danger and perceived threat disappear?
Exponential Growth I believe we do in ‘clean spaces’. If the human has a tendency to self actualise, to improve continually, Black men witnessing another (others) in a space being vulnerable, can identify that the masculine can be compassionate and however that male wishes to recongise and express themselves. That was what I witnessed. A willingness to step outside of a pre-set mold. Tentatively we began to unfurl and live in space without filters. We became hushed, listening intently, focused. We found time to articulate our ideas and experiences like a testimony for the gathered to know ‘You are not alone.’ ‘I see you.’ ‘I have felt that way too.’
You, Me, Us Being in service to another, is being in service to self, to one’s family and community. ∞ (infinity) is an act of Ubuntu. When as a species (human) we can accept that no person is more important than anyone else on the planet. Death then can be an equalising concept. This final experience has us all in repose, be you a queen, a member of a Junta, or a salesperson. Having access to ‘clean space’ for Black men I imagine contributes to a sense of being seen, heard, valued and fulfilled. I am fortunate to have been a part of the inaugural Empowered event and look forward to many others at MacMasters, and beyond. The request from ourselves to humanity is less to seek permission, but taking the necessary steps to live well as Black men.
More of Experiencing ‘clean spaces’ more than once, leaves me questioning about how members of the Empower group found their time? I am also interested to know how to increase a sense of security and ‘clean space’ beyond designated times and places. As a psychotherapist I am interested to know what the bite point is. When do ideas of connection bloom towards collaboration, action and then implementation? Having access to ‘clean space’ could be the catalyst.
Moving energy collectively forward.
Little is achieved without community around.
The first ‘clean space’ may well have been the family unit…
Resources Black Boys hyperlinks to the site of the film. The link below is a Blog discussing the film in some detail by The Curvy Critic Sonia Lowman. With I stand Alone, the outro of this piece of music bites down on the kernel I have been mulling on throughout this blog. Patrick Stump presents an idea on repetition. Without ingenuity nothing new can be introduced. Amongst community – everything is out for reinvention. Black Folk introduces a wonderful love song to Black People about the Black experience. As insightful as the music is wistful. Poetry filled with pointed observation. Again we observe community. Clean Pain links to a short piece by Kevin Reese who looks at his life following release from prison and integrating with community. Jason Reynolds has a 4-part podcast where he in his smooth baritone, observes life post CoVid19 alongside his mother’s influence. Community for me is more than 1. QLS Classic with Common, highlights Common’s rise from Chicago to being a global figure. Note how he observes community, influence and movement that helps to shape his career. Black Boys by Sonia Lowman a review Robert Glasper, Common, Patrick Stump I Stand Alone Tank and The Bangas Black Folk Clean Pain and the necessity of healing – MSR Radiotopia Presents My Mother Made Me – Jason Reynolds Quest Love Supreme – QLS Classic: Common
**Backlinks Adapt Faster – Joshua Isaac Smith Canada links to the Blog Encounters of the 3rd Kind Black Student Success Centre or BSSC at MacMasters Uni BAATN The Black African and Asian Therapist Network The Black Men’s Therapy Group Blog The Diversity Space Blog Kwanda’s Mens Group Blog True Roots Blog Ubuntu: Recovery – White Supremacy Blog
**Whilst I find backlinks useful in the main body of text. They can be distracting for you the reader. I would be interested to know if you find links at the end of the writing helpful.
To build muscle one needs to put the reps (repetitions) in. So shared by various online fitness enthusiasts, coaches, trainers, physios. Even Ms. Snow, my friend the personal trainer (PT) advised. A daily core practice would support me in all I do now and later in life. I sought Ms. Snow’s advice to help me with the depleting effects of MS. To build strength, conditioning, discipline the same could also be true. One is to repetitively – with purposeful engagement put in the reps. I wonder what then of empathy, cultural competence, listening and compassion?
And So What? For me last month’s post re. The Completion Compulsion supported ideas of just because something has begun, does it mean it has to end in its usual fashion? The ongoing war in Ukraine, the conflicts in relation to Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the proposed ideological conspiracy of the Great Replacement Theory, the impending world grain shortages, possibilities of an economic recession, a world at war and ecological upheaval destabilise a sense of normalcy. Reality was never predictable even if the human animal has attempted to make it so.
Pardon? A slower more complicated understanding of both global and provincial challenges would be to appreciate that there may only be one problem that can be solved. Once complete, we can then move on to the next. I am mindful that we all probably aren’t asking as many questions to determine what the problem should be defined as. Einstein is reported to have said, ‘if given an hour to solve a problem he would spend 55 minutes asking questions to thoroughly understand the challenge in front of him.’
Rush From the war in Ukraine, the recent massacres in Buffalo, Texas, and Nigeria the human animal seems to be at odds with itself. ‘Finger pointing’ does little to answer these questions a client said to me recently. To resolve the many deaths, the overwhelming sense of being lost, or of being on a runaway train without a driver and crew. Much like the Pandemic we are all very much ‘in it’ with little chance of escape. Let’s begin asking questions, not necessarily to only find solution, but also to raise our capacity for critical thought and to claim responsibility for what we do next.
Silk Road The fraying fabric of our now has brought to our beleaguered attention spans the onslaught of gross upheaval, change and uncertainty. The concept of a repetitive exercise – to improve the human capacity to remain outside of chaos and stay in contact with our collective realities is the charge I am levelling here. Can we? Has the march towards the end of civilisation as we know it, begun?
Backing Out I am mindful of the work of Resmaa Menakem and his assertion that whilst we attend to the heavy lifting of deep psychological spiritual restructuring, he also advises that we stop when the work gets too much. He is famous for saying “Pause, just pause, notice the charge and back out of it. Come back to it when you feel you can manage…” The completion compulsion installed in many, invites us to run through the experience of whatever the pain, shame, blame may be so we can arrive at ‘reframe’. The reframing is the prize promise held out for us after surviving the assault course of paying attention to what ails. Talking about or allowing the body to somatically process and release the pain is what Resmaa is advising. If not today, then at some other time when one is capable of managing the charge. Once one has built up enough strength to withstand the labour of what the charge presents. We survive, we heal and we grow.
Drawing Parallels 10 minutes can be enough to suggest both the satisfaction of annihilation and understanding existence anew. The first episode of Love Death + Robots I watched, called Zima Blue, presents an interesting take on a new, yet old story. If humanity had a search for meaning, that resulted in arriving at as straightforward a solution as the protagonist Zima does in this Netflix show, perhaps many of our protests about living and dieing the way that we currently are, would be less torturous. Simply, we are no more or less important than pollen, dust, a water droplet, sand, microbes or subatomic particles. Yes we have sentience, morals, laws, science, philosophy, religion, art. How do we know that sand, like sub atomic particles does not have intelligence? Sand is able to find it’s way into food, homes and machine parts uninvited isn’t it? How is this so? Like sand we also have an incalculable ability to find ourselves in perilous circumstances with an always present entropy. How intelligent/sentient are we to have both the ability to creatively build and yet also to completely destroy?
Flex Putting in the work of building up our ability to remain safe and conscious takes time, practice, resourcing, awareness and a team of committed individuals to support what is unearthed to be integrated, left or discarded. There is no specific end point, only a continual learning, implementing, contracting and expanding. Much like a muscle, strength is maintained as long as the practice is continued and consistent. The reason for the effort is to improve outcomes for the many that perhaps have little or lack resources, or voice. Perhaps the voiceless show through action that every decision made has a direct consequence that impacts upon us in the now and definitely will in the future: Beached whales, birds dieing from plastic consumption, fertile land loss, mudslides, millions of hectares of arable land ablaze, centuries old glaciers collapsing and shrinking…
Vigil In May I attended a candlelight vigil for the massacre in Buffalo. The event was arranged by the leader of ACCA and the youth development co-ordinator Evelyn Myrie and Talibah Howard. The mood sombre. The need for a public show of support and community display of solidarity was met appropriately. I mentioned during my talk that since Rodney King’s, attack over 20 years ago, I have been numb. The idea was shared amongst peers for a True Roots discussion on the 2nd year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. I believe grieving can have a similar effect. As Lama Rod Owen suggests below, continuing the journey out of the numbness, into a broken hearted state. I feel resourced and ready to build the muscles by putting in the reps. At the horizon, where sky meets earth: answers.
Simply Because The aim is to do better with the tools and knowledge available to us and make changes in the systems of education, finance, money management, manufacturing, waste disposal and looking after the whole of life as if our lives depend on it. Because we do!
If we don’t put the reps in we won’t have the chance of ever arriving…
Resources Steve Rose’s article in the Guardian was interesting for what has been misrepresented as the ‘truth’ in relation to Black Brown and white lives in conflict for access to live as equitably as possible. Philip Hoare writes about the research on whales and dolphins beaching themselves. Initially I thought that whales beached themselves due to illness caused by digesting plastic waste. The article dispels my basic awareness. Jaymi Heimbuch Photographer, conservationist shares their story about the tragic impact of plastic waste on the environment. They list 9 steps to reduce plastic waste in seas and land fills. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Lori Santos and Arianna Huffington exquisitely explores the misunderstanding we have about rest, sleep, restoration and vitality. Going slower, doing less, concentrating on 1 or 2 tasks does not make us lazy or slow. Possibly focussing on a small number of projects, having the energy to complete them helps us feel satisfied. Sleeping is a conduit to living well. The Link here takes you to the site of the Nap Ministry. Listening to this episode of the Happiness Lab reminded me of the industrial revolution and the idea of being a wheel in an international production machine. The nap ministry introduces another way to make use of and access work. The Other Front Lines from This American Life invites us to observe conflict in Ukraine from a number of perspectives. Resistance and survival appear different to various communities in Ukraine. Prentis Hemphill interviews Lama Rod Owens about our misunderstanding of anger, and the emotion’s misuse, mislabelling and what we can do once anger gives way to something more. Brené Brown on Unlocking Us contends with the difficult experience of the epoch we are in and what will be experienced, lost and eventually realised. I enjoyed Brené Brown discussing the insurrection at the Capitol Building in 2021 and what may be inferred from the show of avarice and hubris. Guilane Kinouani and Eugene Ellis discuss their books and their encounters writing about race as psychotherapists, living whilst Black and what the journey ahead entails. The Happiness Lab BONUS: Sleep When You’re Dead Tired (LIVE with Arianna Huffington) This American Life The Other Front Lines Ukraine stories Finding Our Way Prentis Hemphill and Lama Rod Owens Radical Anger Brené Brown Unlocking Us Words, Dehumanization, Accountability Therapy Today: The Big Interview with Guilane Kinouani and Eugene Ellis
‘To know that at our core there is a knowing, resourced, patient, wise, unbroken peace that lies awaiting rediscovery – the truest magic. The reason to search…’ M.O.
The interesting thing about the psychotherapist is that ‘they’ often cannot tell of what they do behind their closed doors. It mostly is clarifying talk between counsellor and client. A conversation unlike other noise making conversations. The information held between them is confidential. The psychotherapist can speak about process, the results of the work, the deep hole either avoided or climbed safely beyond. This is one of those types of stories.
List There are a few reasons I wanted to write this piece. My ongoing fight with MS, the war in Ukraine, CoViD19 and living while Black. The current uncertainty of life appears to have increased an awareness of the sense of the known/unknown. A few nights ago, I thought about the possibility of the next global conflict, detonations and an ensuing Nuclear Winter. Sleep evaded me as a result of spinal discomfort, an outcome of the slow creep of Multiple Sclerosis.
Hiding Discovery often takes place when one is looking for something else. The long-hidden coin, key set, file, ear ring, and memory, often are found whilst excavating randomly. Almost like the item was waiting for you to venture along this path. Jumping out and surprising! The interesting thing about certainty and beachcombing is what is found. Something is always found! The ‘what’ remains a mystery until discovery.
Modelling A few years ago I wrote about a few of the mental models a counsellor/psychotherapist may use to support clients. These models offer both in the relationship, a frame with which to make the dance of support, seem regular, measured, predictable. Anything at any moment can usurp a care planned recovery. The mythic return to the ‘normal’. Most of the time, the complex and intimate nature of the counselling relationship, can wrestle a surprising memory or event from sabotaging the ground already made. The memory used to germinate understanding, the processes covered and the journey that lies ahead.
Tanktown Beachcombing is a mix of imagination and discovery. The analogy used to support both of us as we walk across ‘their’ ‘our’ joint landscape. For me, it is a pebble beach. Like many around the world such as Brighton, or Tankerton. Beaches I used to visit, with friends and later with family. Now these beaches are mind wanderings, used to explore what the ever-active mind of my fellow beachcomber brings to shore. The most surprising find ‘mindfully’ beachcombing with a client, was a netted live WWII sea mine. Current global crises afloat in our subconscious.
Inside Out The rankling honesty of the current war in Ukraine – upsetting the idea of peace globally, presents us with the uncomfortable. Some profit from upset, others perish. Can we as a species continue to externalise the fight within, the paradox of being human, without facing dire consequences? The war within looks at all we throw amongst the shadow and stride knowingly away from: Shame, failure, contempt, weakness, anger, fear, loneliness, hate. Remaining in a state of uncertainty is to engage with continual discovery and loss – Beachcombing. Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, uncovers more of our emotions in a clear, earnest and relatable way. Atlas of the Heart supports us to understand ourselves more and with courage, congruence and compassion take the hidden into the light.
Wherever You Go Living in a body of culture, as a Black man, the uncertainty of further experiences of vicarious trauma visiting are constant. The global dominance of Western culture has continued to be called into question, thankfully. Before Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders, uncountable attempts were offered by many to re-course, the river of assumed White body supremacy. The West evaluating, assessing, characterising art, science, faith as pagan, primitive, tribal, with no value, demeaned the Global North also. Traditions long practiced, new to the West’s limited understanding (the enlightenment era) of the planet and the people’s living in the global South. In an attempt to silence and squash uncertainty, millions lost their lives to conquest and land theft. Many more, descendents: rebuilding, reclaiming, restoring.
Dumbfounded The pandemic has outlived most projections of how long it ’should’ last. Has the reality of what we are still globally lurching through, begun to reawaken our sense of wonder, fear, and an awareness of how small and powerless we are? 20th/21st century humans, somewhat knowledgeable and yet also unknowingly vulnerable. Humans never really were in control or as omnipotent as had once been thought.
Thought Less I thought with age (me nearing 50) that knowing more would accompany seniority. The philosopher Socrates’ idea of ‘I know, that I know nothing’. Makes more sense to me now. We, convinced by assuredness, that knowing affords us safety, a life, decency, respect, wealth, luck, faith, security has not for millennia been valid. Life does not arrive with a 100% guarantee of anything other than at some point… Death. To beachcomb is to dare, to risk, to lose, to give up hope of ever finding anything worthwhile and still meditate whilst moving. Laughingly picking up finds. Placing sea worn wood, stones, fossils, glass either in bags to take home or carefully back onto the beach.
The aim to willfully, amble alongside others and humbly discover…
Resources A brief explanation of the resources. There are times I feel that the best part of writing these missives are the moving parts that the above grew from. Talking While Black from This American life is I presume a take on the blog series Walking Whilst Black. The episode observes 3 experiences of Black Americans, encountering racism and policies being written to erode the use of critical race theory or any discomfort caused by discussions about difference. A case of seeking to remain willfully ignorant. Certainty is a part of the musical art form – Jazz. There is timing, time signatures, a mood being worked through and produced. With Alice Coltrane’s music, a sense of uncertainty is also apparent on Turiya and Ramakrishna. A meeting of Eastern and Western influences, holding you in their sway as Alice plays piano. The music invites both promise of delivery and holding a refrain, with each note curiously working at the space between. Prentis Hemphill discusses with Patrisse Cullors imagination, discovery and making way for something different. A joyous conversation. Brian Cox and Robin Ince and guests discuss amongst other things quantum mechanics, the Block Universe, Time, Free Will and entropy. The idea of not knowing, the idea of uncertainty and someday being close to answers I found reassuring to listen to. The last reference perhaps could be moved to the top of the references list. The conversation is enjoyable for what it reveals, Brené Brown talks with Father Richard Rohr on the topic of uncertainty. Father Richard Rohr is able to be profound and humble at the same time. The concert hall of Brené Brown – allows both the music and the silence to rebound. Encapsulating whilst the teaching resonates. When truth is heard, it is also felt… Alice Coltrane Turiya and Ramakrishna Finding Our Way with Prentis Hemphill and Patrisse Cullors Entropy Infinite Monkey Cage Uncertainty Unlocking Us with Brené Brown and Father Richard Rohr pt 1
For a few months now the idea of connection has been spinning. A few concepts have been attempting ascendency. Their want – to remain as consistent lenses for viewing the world through. These lenses tinted by the topics of: Shame, Open hearted state, Vulnerability, Listening, Attention and Intimacy. Merging together they have made a mind soup. Appealing in colour. Rich in flavour. Texture silky with some identifiable and unknown contents awaiting discovery therein. It’s the after taste of umami, that has my head to the side – questioning…
Vulnerability – Intimacy A counselling conversation recently, wandered close to the cliff edge of danger, curiosity and discovery. Most do. My hope with the below is that I can summarise and offer some of what was covered. Many of the counselling engagements I have throughout my working week pull and stretch understanding along a range of different paths. We were observing vulnerability as a component of being with others/another. That being amongst a space of vulnerability, is ultimately a goal often ventured but not soon realised. My mind turbo charged – whispered ‘but what of intimacy?’
Attention Deficit I shared my understanding of the world’s lurch toward certainty and attention with the client. When the opposite of attention, offers just as many outcomes and rewards. As likely to resolve a few human wants. I’ll share my basic understanding. We have a world focused on assessing and evaluating what can be made use of. What can be managed safely. If there is profit or gain. What can be left, lost or discarded. Veering wildly away from risk. Presenting the unknown unknown as problematic, unchartered and dangerous. In Narcissus is Us, I wrote about the draw of hiding behind a mobile device that offers the promise of connecting with others, but increasing a feeling of separation and loneliness. Our detriment. By venturing an unknown, new learnings, experiences and appreciations can be gathered. Are these encounters not as valuable as the ones we know and expect?
Switch Tracking Attention can be useful. By becoming aware of global issues, we can ask ourselves and others difficult questions and be willing to listen for answers. Humanity is curious by nature. Often we want to find reasons for things working the way that they do, or not. We can then find possible solutions. Alternatively flicking between a number of sources, to entertain ourselves is often the outcome of our attention being used. I wonder at what cost? Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’, offered a useful interpretation of where our global attention is affixed. Our ‘seeing’ a range of images, stories, videos, links to sales and profit for an elite few. Attention is a way of being used to support financial reward for companies globally – not us, the user.
Pause for Cause My interest here is what are we losing, or have already lost? Could our attention deficit cause disconnection? Would we be aware of this trend? The CoViD19 pandemic, the global racial reckoning after the public murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the rise in technological dependency and entertainment, potentially may have instigated a turning away from trusting relationships with each other and specifically within ourselves. Use of telecommunication devices such as: Google Meet, MS Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp Video Call, Apple’s FaceTime, offer a semblance of remaining in contact with and a newer way of connecting with others. I wonder if “the being with” is the same? Is there an unknown component being lost? In my case, living on a different continent to those I support. I am dependent on mobile communication and working agilely. Does convenience increase or decrease contact?
Vulnerability I will use Brené Brown’s counsellor’s words to begin this part of the discussion. Vulnerability is both *exfoliatingly excruciating and **excitingly exquisite. Vulnerability is similar to walking a tightrope across a canyon. There is both risk and beauty to be had in both. To know that there could be pain attached to being vulnerable, can make us less willing to share much of ourselves. There could also be a wonderful sense of release, relief and resuscitation with letting go – the armour and shield. When we are in a place that we feel is safe enough. That the company we keep can bear witness to our vulnerability. We can get to the next more pleasing experience of being with, with less distance, less fear more empathy and a sense of being held.
Opening In last years post On Shame I placed emphasis on how to use shame to support growth. Both Hilary Jacobs Hendel and Brené Brown in their books, and interviews, share what living in an open-hearted way, looks and feels like. Another perspective of what learning arrives once Brown’s and Jacobs Hendel’s work takes root. We become engaged with the possibility of daring greatly, being compassionately congruent, and living within the scope of intimacy. The idea of engaging consistently in an open-hearted way, presents challenge. Would we be able to, with the world sliding towards the solipsistic? I wonder what do we gain from the pretense? That a me-centric view of the planet has us on course to irreparably damage ourselves and the biosphere we inhabit. A rise in mental illness could illustrate that the construct of the world we are living in, is unhealthy. Perhaps there are other ways to be in the world?
Dive Of late my concerns are about the bare-naked truth of limited interaction with others. Telecommunication has limits. Hearing and seeing, can be experienced from afar. But what of the sense of felt presence of being in the same space/room with another, with others? What happens to the intimacy of non-verbal communication? The hand gesture that is not seen as a result of the glitchy nature of WiFi, or the LAN cable disconnect, power outage? My client wondered if vulnerability was similar to a person going for a swim at their local swimming pool. Bathing suit on. Walking out carefully along the mid level diving board. Bouncing up and down. In full view of everyone else, but not piking and diving into the pool. Vulnerable yes. Intimate not yet.
Listening To experience unity and no degree of separation, the pool into which we dive is to be receptive. We were vulnerable bouncing up and down on the diving board. We move from vulnerability to intimacy when we leap forward into the pool. The water, willing and able to embrace us well. With the capacity to support if we were poor swimmers. The want to be intimate and vulnerable with others is linked to the spaces and people with whom we could share our tenderness and theirs. If the listening environment is primed and ready to accept, hear, understand, sharing will be an easier happening between those in the room/space. A few examples of altered listening were provided whilst I was training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist. We were asked to share a story with another student sitting opposite us. Who showed obvious signs that they were not paying any attention to what the storyteller was saying. Yawning, feigning sleep, mouthing the words this is so boring. I witnessed one student, stand and walk off! The vibe of these encounters felt uncomfortable for both the teller and the listener. A listening environment, in time becomes as valuable to a personal exchange as the “what” is shared in those spaces.
Unity Intimacy being the submersion. The hitting the water. Pushing up from the bottom of the pool. Bubbles. Breaking the surface. Gasping. Ejecting water from the mouth. Treading water. Feeling the cool. Spreading fingers and swishing the water in full play. Swimming the full length of the pool. Intimacy then, is bringing oneself into an experience of being with. Recognising self as separate from and yet being willing to fully commit, engage and be for however long enmeshed and inside of. Willingly being embraced and held by that other. Looked after by many trusted others. And you them. Intimacy is an act of trust. An act of faith that they, you, can exist as a oneness. Separation the umami taste of the soup. Within an intimate encounter, an ingredient that aims to dissolve union. Or possibly to enhance it.
Algorithm To move from distrust to intimacy, I wonder what the way of growth would be? Distrust, Dislike, Disappointment, Ambivalence, a positive experience, many positive experiences, Questioning throughout, Acceptance of what is, Testing self, Testing others, Failure and willingness to starting again – many times, Independence, Pauses, Building Resilience, Empathy, Compassion, Disciplined hope, Trust, Vulnerability, Intimacy…?
Event Horizon The path I propose to intimacy would likely be non-linear. My guess would be that the journey would be with a number of restarts from various positions listed above. I believe at our core, we seek connection and are excited by the prospect of being intimate (honest, open, collaborative, risking vulnerability) with others. 2020 was a beginning of a different way of living for many on the planet, perhaps there is another pull, daring us towards –
Resources The Anthropocene and all that is to be discovered in an ever changing human/non human landscape are subjects that Ayana and Dr. Bayo sit down to discuss. Dr. Bayo conjures in discussion with Ayana, a plethora of viewpoints through which to learn, question and revisit our understanding of spaceship earth. Masterpieces and Messes with Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds observes the up and down nature of discovery, loss, heartbreak and getting suspended from school for doing the right thing! A wonderful dance to listen to. Mistakenly Seeking Solitude uncovers a long-held myth. Being by oneself, holding oneself in abeyance does not make us happier, talking to strangers does. Dr. Laurie Santos with guests explain. Maya Shankar uses this podcast to investigate how significant events in hers and her guests lives leads to break through’s discoveries and successes. Failing can lead to break down and break through and intimate connection. For the Wild podcast with Ayana Young and Dr. Bayo Akomolafe Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds The Happiness Lab – Mistakenly Seeking Solitude with Dr. Laurie Santos A Slight Change of Plans – Meet Maya Shankar in Conversation with Michael Lewis
The thought behind this blog is to attempt answering a clients question. As an artist using the spectrum of human experience to express high art – they asked if as I say psychotherapy is a refined art “what would be the primary colours?”
I wonder what your answer would be? As you can see below my answer encompasses a psychotherapeutic journey.
Thread The question is profoundly simple and yet also confoundingly complex. In essence what are the three counselling theorems that I primarly reach for? The primary colours of the artist’s palette are Red, Yellow and Blue. In the light spectrum the primary colours are Red, Green and Blue. From 3 primary colours, a million more colours are created.
Artiste As an integrative counsellor, the question caused me to pause for a number of reasons. I was invited to see myself as a painter of notoriety. Palette and brush in hands, peering curiously from behind an easel and canvas occasionally, at the subject being depicted. What would be my Red, Yellow, Blue? What does integrative really mean? Which three of the many counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches would I say are primary? Hence the blog. The answer – arriving later.
Bespoke An integrative counsellor is often trained to use more than one counselling or psychotherapeutic approach to support the person(s) engaged in the work. Counselling approaches can include and the list provided is by no means exhaustive: Person Centred, Humanistic, Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioural, Solution Focused, Problem Centred, Transpersonal, Internal Family Systems, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, Culturally sensitive, Transactional Analysis, Game Theory, Attachment Theory, Trauma informed, Music Psychotherapy, Art Psychotherapy, Movement and Dance Psychotherapy. The list is near endless. Somatic Abolitionism is a very recent interest. Invited by Kimberly Cato to immerse myself into. When asked what my Red, Yellow and Blue for counselling and psychotherapy are? After several years in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, a few colour wheel associations are made.
Red – Assessment I am drawn in by the experience of developing a sound relationship with the person(s) sitting in the *‘chair’ opposite me. The vibrancy of the unsure, questioning, circling of the two who soon will be engaged in the psychological rumble that is psychotherapy – is the red of the colour wheel for me.
Runway Assessments are: Potent, energetic, immediate, open, raw, honest. The assessment is not specifically an approach of psychotherapy, but it is a significant and an important factor. Assessment is how the process of counselling is begun. In the assessment which is a two-way engagement, the client and the mental health professional enquire of the other what work is to be engaged with, and how the content of what is discussed will support both to enable growth, change, development and healing to be happen. The counsellor is assumed to be the one with power/knowledge. The opposite is more often the case. The client holds their entire story. The impact and the meaning of their life’s challenges being lived with. These choices and decisions lie between, to be understood and reviewed for newer formations and meaning to arrive.
Internalise Together counselling aims to address the parts of the story that are useful, syphon away parts of the story the client is to grow from and implement gathered learning.
Yellow – Person to person From my initial training at Morley College and then accessing the integrative approach at University of Greenwich, I was rooted in the person-centred understanding of counselling and psychotherapy. Carl Rogers the giant, I the infant beginning in the profession. Measuring myself against the Rogerian model. Psychodynamic persuasions had yet to seduce me into an understanding of the shadow aspects of a person’s (client’s) psyche, or mine. I enjoyed staying amongst the lit and topside overstanding of what a person brought in to the counselling space. The surprises were wan of the danger and risk of the Id, Ego, Super Ego, the exchanges amongst transactional analysis, I danced free from the drama triangles of the Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor, the super consciousness of the internal supervisor observing the Transference and Counter Transference were also moderately subdued.
Inspirator Outside of congruence, unconditional positive regard (UPR), empathy, compassion and non-judgemental listening. The way in, to support another appeared straightforward with person centred approaches to counselling. I looked forward to playing a role that supported others to access improved *awareni of their mental health. The readying myself and mental preparations were not too dissimilar to the other roles I held of being a Basketball Coach, and a learning mentor. The precontemplation and readiness to perform as a compassionate collaborator were a wardrobe I was already somewhat familiar with.
Educate Then in the 2nd year of counselling training I met 2 experiences that would forever change my appreciation of the counselling landscape. Counselling in a large London prison. And a client that I met in this prison I have renamed ‘Laos’. Person centred counselling had for me a limited reach when it came to working with some men in prison. I remember reflecting with my supervisor, the notable Anne Willoughby, that my usual approach of nodding and paraphrasing did not seem to be working with Laos. He mocked me during our 2nd meeting by asking ‘Are you really just going to sit there and nod all the way through this, repeating everything I say?’ Either I was not getting him, or he was not getting me. Possibly both. AW and I decided to put our minds together, as is the case in supervision. The aim is to summarise and re-direct the approach being taken. If something is not working, figure out what it is and change it!
Icarus Accessing psychodynamic perspectives of the inner child, internal family systems, drama triangles, being aware of transference and counter transference all helped to build a resourced, close, understanding of who I was meeting. A fuller story of the person I was counselling came to light. Once I began processing Laos’ from a perspective of ‘seeing’ his life’s history. A number of significant chapters opened up: Laos was a person that came from a family with wealth. He was given the metaphorical keys with access to explore all elements of his younger life in the countries and cities he and his family moved to. Following his father’s career. Laos had a privileged background. He was privately educated. Teachers were aware of his intelligence and gift with mathematics. He suffered experiences of abandonment and loss. Travel became an escape for him as was alcohol and substance addiction. Survival was mostly what he was able to hold on to.
Sliding Doors My work with Laos became a transition point. Through which I became an integrative counsellor adapting my approach for every person I would support subsequently. For Laos I believed he woke up in me the sleeping dragon. A counsellor able to straddle the psychotherapeutic world of person centred counselling and the forever developing one of the psychodynamic-neuroadaptive psychotherapeutic world. He experiencing his world as cavernous, treacherous and risky. I imagined, that he needed to know that his counsellor was just as resilient, resourceful, daring, hungry and as courageous as he.
Blue – Mystery The advent of CoViD19, the various lockdowns and multiple stages of locking up and unlocking, me moving to online only counselling provision and supervision has changed all aspects of how I meet clients. Petruska Clarkson wrote about a heightened experience in the counselling relationship. For some who work in a number of differing professions, describe the experience of being in flow. When a counsellor has a perception that they have crossed into a knowingness that is beyond them Clarkson would call an experience like this – transpersonal.
Oblique With a question, a look, a smile, a tear, a non-verbal cue – some ‘extra’ communication lies between the counsellor and client. It is like the room alive to the presence of the two or more in the room share an experience that is beyond what both have known of themselves before. At times these moments are fleeting, sometimes they stay around for many minutes. The fear being, that a mistaken word, a misstep, will evaporate the hush that has descended. It is like magic. A few friends who have kinesthesia have spoken about seeing sound, tasting colour. That letters and numbers have their own distinct flavours or colours. Being in the hush is like this knowing what is possibly unknowable. These moments offer a profound connection.
Escaping All types of performers tune in to mystical moments such as these. When they say things like ‘I was feeling the vibe’ an experience of transcendence is amongst them. Wrapping those who watch them spellbound and amazed as if time and space are immaterial. The feeling: stars and rainbows, tingly and unexpected in a way that is as awe inspiring as it is brief. Leaving me questioning did that really just happen? It is the lecturer who instead of reading off of her screen, begins pulling apart one concept in the hope that the class can keep up. They mesmerised and amazed. Hoping that every lecture will be as electrifying and as delicious as this. It is the podcaster who feels their way through a difficult moment with guests. They then finding something golden that all who hear what is being shared – are forever changed.
Be Water Bruce Lee has been reported to have said that Water is an important element to be aware of. Changing to meet the environment it experiences and yet still remaining itself. The following sections are continuations of the Blue theme – peering beyond the horizon.
The Score Bessel Van Der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ was an important book to have read. Bessel characterised his appreciation for body focused psychotherapy, or body focused treatments as a way to support those who are living with trauma. The writing of ‘The Body…’ is to offer understanding of the process of realising the release what has been trapped in the body offers. Bessel’s book assisted me in appreciating that talking as a form of treatment has it’s limits. Whilst the mind is helpful in making sense of events in time and space, there are restrictions in what can thoroughly be relieved. Some parts of memory do not have the words. These moments are either pre-verbal, somaticized knowledge or lie in parts of the body that words are useless at describing. Psychotherapy, counselling, C.B.T. D.B.T. are all useful up until a point, then words falter. I am interested in what comes after the words. This for me is Blue…
EMDR In 2019 I trained to use EMDR. I had a long-held interest in wanting to use Eye Movement De-Sensitisation Re-Processing to support clients. I came across EMDR as a result of Bessel’s book and my training at Greenwich. I was intrigued to know more of how bi-lateral stimulation could support someone who has experienced Small t trauma and Big T trauma to live beyond principle events. The trainers Barbara Lerch and Joshua Isaac Smith carefully wove personal narratives of using body based and specific bi-lateral stimulations with clients. Their stories about the impact for clients were surprising and initially I found unbelievable.
Past/Present One client I supported at a prison in Kent helped me fully appreciate what EMDR does. They were a survivor of war in Afghanistan. Going to school amongst a country wracked by war. Daily trips to the store, friends houses were a series of gauntlets ran. Living with the constant fear of being shelled, surviving mortar attacks, passing through bloody scenes, witnessing people dieing and hearing cries of the injured and scared. The belief they held, was that they were still in the war. That they were still in Afghanistan. Every loud shout. Every gate being slammed in prison, brought them immediately back to scenes and memories from their past.
Crane Stance By inviting the client to observe 2 important concepts of self belief and what they would preferably like to believe about themselves, is a key component in the change dynamic when supporting a client using bi-lateral stimulation. EMDR training instigates a theoretical imbalance that clients are to address and rebalance themselves with. The result, an experience of Capoeira – expertly and nimbly turning a hard to reach fact into a reality. By experiencing both the past and a future the client would prefer to live in. An undeniable shift had taken place. When the work was completed their smile and their sense of disbelief was felt, as they dizzily left the room. The successful outcome was experienced as a shedding of an old heavy armour. Walking beyond with something flexible and better suited to the life they were now to live.
On Being Kwame Opoku a Balham based counsellor introduced me to the phenomenon that is Resmaa Menakem. I have been fully immersed in his body focused message and shared a few of his interviews on previous blogs. During a conversation with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast Resmaa shares a number of his findings and what he invites those that he works with to understand about the world we are living in. There is a cost to continue speeding through the experience of life with blinkers on and what slowing down feels like. There are emotional and historical charges due up for release. We would do well if we pay attention to generational wounds, traumas, remembering’s, suppressions and not just talk about them but somatically be in the process of healing with them. For me the Blue here is wrapped in a Brown of the earth and of the spirit body. The cover art for My Grandmother’s Hands invites pause to understand the content of the book and the journey left to travel.
Equine There is a part of me that is nervous releasing this nascent idea here. But I have thrown other ideas forward that have either been held by you, questioned by you, but not laughed at or ridiculed. So I will remain courageous and share an insight. Reading 40 Million Dollar Slaves, William Rhoden offered a wonderful perspective of those who were brought to North American shores, against their will, being instrumental in animal husbandry. There was a line in the book that described an integral part of how African people were able to commune with livestock and specifically horses. Mr. Rhoden didn’t write this, but there was an implicit idea that being compared to a beast of burden had some people in bondage, appreciate the lives of the creatures that they worked with in a way that was spiritual. Mr. Rhoden went as far as to say that African Americans were excellent horse trainers, riders and jockeys because of an embodied knowledge.
How High An idea fixed itself to the back of my mind in 2016 of working with horses after reading the book. 2 more celluloid presentations arrived in 2021. The first being High on the Hog Netflix documentary and The Harder They Fall Netflix Cowboy movie. A Cowboy instructed Stephen Satterfield, that of course Black people were amongst the first Cowboys! ‘Where do you think the term Cowboy came from?’ My jaw hit the ground and fireworks spread across the screen for me. The ‘oh, of course of it’. The ‘hiding in plain sight of it!’ The dastardliness of it! Men and Women of African descent were cowboys.
Finally On an episode of Queer Eye S6 ep. Snow White of Central Texas (yes I know, yet another Netflix show) the ‘5 change agents’ visit a Texan farm. The farm introduces children to animals. Both guests and farm dwellers received a therapeutic outcome from visits. As part of the redesign the owner of the farm experiences equine psychotherapy themselves! Leigh the equine therapist shared an insight that ‘horses do not speak in language they speak in energy!’ On hearing that, my interest in animal assisted psychotherapy peaked. Equine psychotherapy is something I will look to pursue in the future. This the last instalment of the primary colour Blue, I am to daub across the canvas of psychotherapy. I have a suspicion further interests will maraud…
Rainbow And here my foray in a psychotherapy painted landscape that began with 3 primary colours has ended with a colour palette that extends to both Infra Red and Ultraviolet. A simple question asked by a client has turned into a 2000 word long read. Conclusion: as an integrative psychotherapist I am interested in the blending of approaches to support the process of healing. Red – Assessment, Yellow – Person Centred/Psychodynamic, Blue – for me, looks like this – EMDR – Somatic Abolitionism – Equine Psychotherapy…
I wonder what your primary colours could reveal…?
Resources Israel Anthony artist extraordinaire and a hell of a chess player! I have played him and lost a number of times. This is a link to his website. Resmaa Menakem’s website on Somatic Abolitionism. Here Resmaa shares his vision of what his training offers participants. Bruce Lee is known for his incredible skill at Kung-Fu and little known for his appreciation of philosophy. Bruce Lee offers his interpretation of being fluid. EMDR links to the EMDR centre London where I completed my training. Barbara and Joshua are phenomenal exponents of the application of EMDR. Brazilian Capoeira offers a short clip of the Brazilian Art form/dance/self defence fighting style/political movement. A link to Dream Winds horse training website. For animal assisted psychotherapy training in Ontario. On Being – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence interview with Krista Tippett and Resmaa Menakem talk about his book ‘My Grandmother’s Hands’ and about the idea of the human body being constricted – primed and ready for fight, flight and freeze. Wu Wei Wisdom with Alexandra Lees and David James Lees discus healing the inner child. Thank you for Kate Bowler for recommending this podcast. The conversations between Alexandra and David are enlightening and humorous. The Happiness Lab I thank a number of sources for alerting me to, a client and Dare to Lead by the Brené Brown team. I have been resisting listening because I doubted that a podcast could provide a probable path to happiness. There is something here for me about expectation, arrogance and beginners mind. Glad to be shown my errors and unlearn. On Being Podcast Krista Tippett with Resmaa Menakem – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence Wu Wei Wisdom Podcast – Inner Child Therapy The Happiness Lab Podcast – Dr. Laurie Santos – You Can Change
*Chair I used to work with clients who were in the same room as me. Before the pandemic. Now we are separated by considerable distances and yet able to meet by the marvels of modern technology. 2 Chairs in 2 very different spaces.
The feeling of love experienced or expressed in the psychotherapy ‘room’ is a complex dynamic to encounter. I will attempt to analyse this phenomena and my experiencing of a profound and surprising blossoming in the counselling relationship.
Fission During training at Greenwich University to become a counsellor, we (students) were advised and taught about the growing of warm intimate feelings between client and counsellor, warned of the dangers of developing a relationship that is based on unseen and unknowable factors. That drive powerful ingredients and are most often used as a catalyst to the counselling dyad. Like a nuclear physicist, carefully bespectacled, be-gloved and radiation suited – mindfully managing radioactive substances as though all errors could, end not only the experiment but her life and the lives of many. And so this last development in healing is to be handled with care.
Defying Gravity Recently I learned that in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy the client is inpart ‘supposed’ to fall in love with their counsellor. Thus recreating the powerful and intimate connection a client may have had with primary care givers. Evolution of intense feelings are a bi-product of meeting with one person and sharing intimate, hidden aspects of ones life with a trained professional week after week, at times for years. Psychotherapy can be a significant challenge for those, who find being open, congruent, honest or trusting of themselves or another an uncomfortable and at times a painful invitation to encompass change. The other outcome is that a client is to also fall out of love and humanise the counsellor. Finding fault where once there was none. The client potentially can then enter the final phase of support. Looking to gain perspective on granular aspects of living life alongside another, who is willing to also acknowledge all aspects – comparatively-realistically-compassionately.
Flowering Before a client enters the counselling room, there may have been past experiences of hurt. Vulnerability being squashed or vanquished by those appointed to care, however these carers did not, could not. And so the person who takes their seat across from the counsellor is rightfully wary. The past has taught them to be alert, to any hint, that any form of harm, insult or embarrassment is met in a formerly used similar self-protective way (Friend, Fight, Flee, Freeze). In time the furtive eyes – dart less. The slightly scrunched body posture unfurls. Petal like. They are able to hold gazes more and then, they really speak. In this place, at these times there is almost a oneness in communication between counsellor and client. It feels like flight. A sense of trust is establishing itself and the distance between the people in the room disappears…
Transpersonal An encounter with a client left me floundering last year. They said just before our session came to a close, “I Love You, Man.” I believed I knew what they meant. They were affirming that something important and meaningful was being recognised in them and that they found this emergent quality both beautiful and surprising. Returning the sentiment with a depth of feeling, by not just saying the words was the difficult part for me. I have been inside these moments of heartfelt connection before. They always surprise and invite me to think about what the counselling work has been able to begin attending to. Like a Doula bringing to life, to light – the unseen…
Transact With the client I hoped that my words and commitment to the challenging work we were engaged with were enough. Simply saying in a constricted, halting way ‘I love you’ would not have conveyed honestly the depth of feeling I hold for the work and for them (clients). I floundered because in the transaction something of equal value is to be offered in the moment. This is a societal lesson. Anything less seems unfair. There was little time left at the end of the session. I knew that a rushed offering would lose the content and meaning of the message. In that moment I may have smiled and nodded and shown my appreciation. Hoping that a felt sense of mindful embrace would convey my connection to them and to the work. The fear, my fear was that I couldn’t bring balance to the exchange. That would be my work to walk with and process in counselling supervision.
Scent Sense We could look at the meaning of the word love specifically in the psychotherapeutic space. However, love has more than a romantic application. I believe that just like the term therapy, there are layered and have multiple reasons and applications of both words use. “I Love You” is an expression of appreciation, recognition, a felt sense of something significant and a not easily identified pleasant sensation. I love you is an acknowledgment of a connection beyond a simple like. There are probably 7 billion expressions, interpretations and mis-understandings of the deeply intimate and connection filled word love. In counselling the relationship between those engaged in the process is similar to a friendship, or of a student and mentor. These relationships are anything but simple and yet remain complex and beautiful at the same time.
Unknown Terrain Having worked in a range of settings the idea of liking those who sit in the chairs or in the now virtual rooms opposite me has grown. My former prison supervisor, now friend, Anne Willoughby, advised that whilst you might find working with some of the clients difficult to connect with, and they you, aim to find one thing about them that you are curious about, that makes you smile internally, that you can like. It could be the clients trainers, jeans, the way they talk or an aspect of their face. Grow your appreciation of who they are from that point. This tool given back in 2010-2011 has grown to generally appreciating all clients I have the opportunity of working alongside. I realise that the expression and experience of love is tentative, risky, containing a power dynamic that has unknown elements buried deep within it’s catacombs. The equation consistently asked by a healer is; are they, am I, are we, ready to explore this wild landscape? Often the answer given is – Yes!
Art If projective identification, mirroring, transference and counter transference are the tools that support a clients’ self – entity to realise themselves. In and amongst a list of items of what the client throws out against the canvas of counselling/psychotherapy. The job, my job, is to gently return the disguised and dislodged parts of themselves back to them, in piecemeal fashion and slowly in procession. The client then can appreciate their full picture of themselves as I and close allies do. With congruence, compassion and yes, a deeply resourced, well informed and suitably intentioned – Love.
Resources I first came across the word Doula a few years ago at a training event. Since then I have been struck by the necessity of the role and the idea of what a Doula does. The link takes you to a website about Doulas. There was something about the episode of the Stoop that took love on an interpretive ride. Polyamory was discussed in an open curious investigative fashion. I enjoyed the multiple discoveries made. Brené Brown’s, Atlas of The Heart book and short podcast series about Atlas of the Heart with her sisters, is both informative, searingly honest reflections and often hilarious. The mini series is a great companion to the beautiful and well crafted work of a modern sage. This is Love and The Magpie of Heart Mountain is a phenomenal story of love found in a hard place and at a difficult time in an American’s History. When I heard that President Obama had his own podcast with his friend Bruce Springsteen, I was intrigued to find out what these two men would talk about. I have been entertained and surprised from what I learned about both as they reflect on their lives. The podcasts are reflective in what they invite the listener to witness. Love appears as a character connecting their stories to the past and future. The Stoop Podcast – Polyfree A Sisters Book Club Series Atlas of the heart This is Love The Magpie of Heart Mountain Renegades: Born in The USA Our Unlikely Friendship Images Photo inspiration – glowing feelings. Cover Photo Love Sign Hands photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash 1st Inlay photo ‘Benched Together’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash 2nd Inlay photo ‘Family Time’ by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash 3rd Inlay photo ‘Love Hearts Glitter’ by freestocks on Unsplash 4th Inlay photo ‘T-Shirt Design’ by Brian Lundquist on Unsplash 5th Inlay photo ‘Lean on me’ by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash
When Marlon James the author of Black Leopard Red Wolf offered at a book signing in 2019, that ‘It’s about healing’ he presented me 2 insights in one. This is often the way with the wise. A single sentence containing as many meanings as one wants to ascribe.
Own Self As a writer, Marlon James’ books have invited a sense of closure to misremembered, misrepresented pasts. Stories about Black Africans living in *Diasporan lands are often exotified embellishments. Built upon lies that fall from colonisers mouths and minds as if fully formed. Tall tales have positioned the African in precarious positions and amongst endangered real and imagined landscapes. With diminished ability of self governance, self determination or self improvement. Placing white saviorism in the middle of a mistaken history. Cut stories, as though ripping a past in half could interrupt it’s eventual and inevitable realisation. We see beyond the lines painting the African either in unfavorably bad light or out of the picture. Here I am remembering the last episode of High in the Hog 4 part documentary and ‘The Harder They Fall’ movie.
Simmering The insight Mr. James highlighted was that by writing (creating) we can access healing and that by telling our stories in our own way within language from cultures adopted, we add to the healing pot. There is something about seeing the words and art that you think, being pulled from you and thrown across a page (such as this), a scroll, a wall, a canvas, caste in clay, poured into jewelry, or a clothing design made, into a picture or a film or piece of music, a dance, a move in sport. The spark of that inspiration is then left to affect another. Witness and harness it to their own end.
Re-calibrate Therapy has become almost a lesser than activity. Synonymous with celebrities doing the work to move beyond past harmful experiences. Healing has meaning and therapy seems to encompass everything from Osteopathy, Neuropathy, Light and Sound assisted treatment and, I have been found guilty to be using the abbreviation too, in Walk and Talk Therapy. (What I was later to learn is that ecologically enhanced/assisted psychotherapy can alternatively be used. It’s wordy though.) The term therapy is an abridgement. The argument I am presenting is about meaning making. What we mean when we say therapy – is treatment. Engaging with another trained in the art of psychotherapeutic/psychoanalytic treatment. A form of healing involving a client discussing with a trained professional. Supporting pain from their past to be assuaged.
Upended Two representations have recently been offered on TV, that psychotherapy is a tool used to ruin or invite in a healer’s unrest. The two cases I am choosing to highlight here are characters bent on utterly destroying each adherent. My concerns are about two shows ‘Hypnotic’ Netflix, and ’The Shrink Next Door’ Apple TV. There are clear boundary issues that are crossed and transgressed in both. I wonder if they ever really existed for the therapists involved? My concern is that a mislaid belief about psychological attempts at healing will be unconsciously accepted as truth. In turn then, the bent towards accessing additional support will be interrupted. The seemingly global succession of mindfully engaging with some psychological intervention willfully overturned.
Complex Because – for me healing is a multi modal and multidirectional phenomena. Healing travels into the past, amongst the present, and supports an understanding and use of the future – simultaneously. I mean that when a counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist, healer is supporting an individual or a group or a couple they are working amongst and with a range of differing and sometimes competing factors. Healing can include the client’s history, family, intimate partners, work patterns, associates, aspirations for the future, sleep, diet, exercise, rest, entertainment and past experiences. In couples and with group the experiences everyone brings to a healing encounter can be magnified. With group support the experience is as if another living entity is involved with the process as with the people involved – almost.
Where There Is Light Then there are the shadow aspects clients don’t wish to bring to therapeutic encounters. Both Carl Jung and Freud called this the Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is the part of ourselves we do not want to own or claim we know, because of it’s often distasteful, deplorable desires and dreams. Previously I mentioned Smaug the Dragon in the Hobbit as a depiction of the mortal dilemma. As humans we are as impressive as the Dragon, as deep and as cavernous as the dungeon Smaug inhabits and as precious as the horde of gold the Dragon rests upon. When we can embrace all seemingly separate parts of ourselves then…
Laboring Healing is to recognise all parts of the individual including the split off shadow aspects of the self and support a repair that has hurt persons hold all aspects of themselves carefully, with kindness. As mentioned before if we cut parts of ourselves off, we are doing a disservice to our whole being. We cannot fully access who we authentically are. If a part of ourselves is forever banished we spend energy on the look out for the usurper to return and disrupt. We perpetually anticipate the interlopers inevitable resurgence. Perhaps we are to address healing as an ongoing active engagement with no predetermined or presumed end. Like a story without conclusion. Perhaps what Marlon James was introducing as the concept of healing, is to be continually tilled and tended to as soil…
It is all about healing!
Resources The Mindful Cranks podcast introduces Manu Bazzano who supports an idea of mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapy and letting oneself go. Hana and Leila presenters of The Stoop podcast look at accessing psychotherapy and what causes some members of the Black community to either seek support or not. Eldra Jackson offers his story in this TED talk as a way to describe what happens when a trauma is denied exposure and the opportunity for healing to take place. Stormy Monday explores the music habits some persons in San Quentin prison use to look after themselves. The Mindful Cranks with Manu Bazzano The Stoop On The Couch TED Talk Eldra Jackson Masculinity Ear Hustle Stormy Monday
The blog below is a collection of thoughts, around the theme of setting up a singular focus, focus group. In short the beginnings of a manifesto in support of Diversity Spaces.
Since leaving University of Greenwich in 2012, and being introduced to BAATN in 2010, finding a community of Black and Asian therapists, I have sought to find a space of relative comfort amongst the Psychological profession. Psychology has been mistakenly identified as a White domain, however numerous cultural and ethnic groups have engaged with psychological ideas long before Freud popularised his dangerous method.
Setting Up Engaging with the early phases of development with Diversity Space alongside trusted colleagues felt just, after the charitable organisation experiences. The challenges met, were mostly overcome in the early phases of Diversity Space. Organising sites to meet. Arranging times to gather, discussion about if minutes of each meeting were to be taken, or if they were necessary to share with the NHS Foundation trust of how we were using time. All efforts were in order to hone and re-enforce the need for what the Diversity Space was. In a short period, D.S. achieved a number of worthwhile outcomes.
1-2-3 3 outcomes of note – the delivery of White privilege training to highlight what members from diverse communities experience whilst engaging with ‘White spaces’. A second outcome – were a number of conversations with the head of the NHS Foundation Trust’s Chief Executive and their team attempting to take the department into a fair and equal organisation to work. The best outcome for me was to witness a coming together of members from diverse communities and professions within the NHS foundation trust. Meeting to discuss and reach outcomes of how to develop the organisation to face and embrace the changes needed to have the trust be EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) focused.
Space to Think The experience of belonging to a professional group of practitioners that understand what is at stake in not having representation at all levels within an organisation was of great importance to me. Being a member of the African diaspora we engage in an uncivil set of circumstances. Like being in a war of attrition continuing to deliver much needed highly skilled tasks under fire and being debased, and abused whilst completing them. The practitioners I worked with at some of the prisons I supported, not only understood but offered space to be heard and plan possible ways forward. Speaking with those who shared the idea of a community of professionals all working towards a similar outcome: that of being understood, respected, listened to and seen by the NHS foundation trust we worked for was a highlight. One of the effects of being othered and the hobbling caused being discriminated against, can be the impact on ones thinking/feeling/behaviour whilst at work and away from…
Outcome List Below a list of outcomes the Diversity Space sought during Oct 2019 – Oct 2020.
Valuing contributions of members to the host organisation. Sharing perspectives of Black/Indigenous/Asian Mental Health . Discussing the impact of working at one level and being paid at a lower one – challenging outcomes of interviews/seeking feedback. Critically evaluate a perceived hypocrisy of hypocritic oaths of caring professions. Highlighting the impact of working within a biased/unfair/racist culture/organisation (The NHS ). Completing meaningful endeavour whilst within a former colonial country (The UK). Reducing the stigma of access to psychological/therapeutic support in prison/medical centres for Black and othered persons in prison. Sharing the Diversity Space vision and voice through a range of mediums including (prison/NHS) radio, podcasts, news articles/online articles. Share resources that inspire amongst Diversity Space members leading to change for individuals and within the organisation. Inspiring change for ourselves, for those we support and the organisation we work amongst. Enlist collaborators and allies to represent the groups aims at meetings, when the main body are unable to be present. Seek endorsement/buy in from key members of staff to move the needle.
Old Thinking that writing/transcribing a few lines of policy could change a culture is unfortunately unrealistic. For a system of oppression to be removed an approach could be to understand the problem and challenge what is faced continually, unapologetically. The effort takes renewable sources of energy and a motivated team of conspiring individuals to continue the work. Having access to a limitless source/resource helps. Belief in something larger than the team or an individual is important to arrive at a point close to the eventual goal. Holding a compassionate perspective can be invaluable in the attempt to topple an endemic vicious historic power structure. Developing a team of members that endorse the changes and are willing to speak about the journey, the challenge and also the small wins is important to continue the momentum and interest of the endeavor.
Reality Check The challenge is broad in that there are few elements of life that are unaffected by racist policy and racist decisions. The writing of these ideas have affected societies that we live in so much, rather than question the way in which the world has been drawn we accept and try to make use out of what is available. There are a number of aspects discussed in the episode Made To Be Broken by This American Life which touches on some of the concepts discussed above beautifully. The episode is found in last weeks resources list.
Collect Having a team of skilled professionals at hand, sharing a race aware lens supported me in redrafting a proposal for setting up and introducing a therapy group for Black Men at one of the prisons we worked. The team’s advice namely was about collecting evidence that a group for Black Men in a specific prison was indeed necessary. The core group of Diversity Space members displayed keen awareness of what may prevent a needed group therapy initiative to falter, stall and die.
Data The peers of the core group of Diversity Space advised that I collect data. Specific numbers provide evidence that a problem exists and that there is need for said challenge to be tackled. Data gives clear identification of numbers, listing important characteristics of persons that are affected or could be engaged with. Data would observe: Age, Sex, Race, ethnicity, cultural background, Place of Birth etc. The aim to confirm that a service is hitting a target audience and meeting a need.
Discovery If I had asked a number of professionals at various levels within the prison about the need for diverse access to mental health support, to address the lack of representation by Black and Brown people in therapy, a number of important ideas may have been gathered. Discussing some of the concerns with men and women at the prisons and community spaces Diversity Space members serviced could have revealed what caused low numbers to be engaged with therapy.
Trust In order for diverse communities to access support a service is to be noted for their ability to meet an asked for need. Development of trust is engaged with in successive incremental encounters. The success of a programme, project, research with a designated group can be measured by the groups willingness to attend, engage, develop the programme and increase the knowledge/awareness of everyone involved. A mark of success for me, is how a group over time skillfully withstands ruptures to engagement. Grumbling once a programme restarts, yet willing to encounter the tapestry of building a meaningful project after a project begins again.
Understanding Belief in European models to address Global South community’s concerns is a moment to begin pausing and develop listening that can incorporate culturally appropriate therapeutic methods to support growth health and wellbeing. Emotional Emancipation Circles would be a useful approach to work with African Diasporan communities and groups. A low representation of a diverse staff base, providing mental health support is often an experience that Global South communities encounter when visiting health centres. I lightly touched on similar factors in a previous post. One way to increase belief in models of care is to have representatives of a local community delivering that health provision. My imagination holds ideas similar to low representation of persons from the Global South delivering care. Preventing and spurning access from communities that could benefit from neighborhood provision of support.
Mapping By gathering insights from a range of sources, could provide a number of useful approaches to create access points for communities that would previously not have accessed support – to engage. Currently peer support works and has been a useful way to introduce psychologically informed guidance to clients that would otherwise avoid or decline mental health support. Re. EWB mentors at HMP Swaleside and Together’s Service User Mentoring scheme.
Answer Address the challenges that are presented with creative and open-hearted solution focused idea generation. Gather ideas of old and reimagine them along with ideas from the populace to be served. A service ‘done to’ dooms all. A service ‘done with’ can only succeed because it achieves alongside learning and reviewing and changing and adapting continually.
Resources The EWB Scheme at HMP Swaleside is an engaged programme of work for persons in prison engaging with counselling skills to support other persons in prison that may be struggling with life inside. Together’s Mentoring Scheme for persons who have returned to the community from prison links former prison residents with voluntary support mentors that are successfully navigating life outside and away from prison. I am listing Code Switch’s episode on This Racism is Killing Me Inside again, because of the dual content of what is discussed, and to present what is meant by surviving the allostatic load and not being able to fully discharge the psychological build up. The costs weigh on individuals greatly. Hence the need for Diversity groups. The Untold Story Policing speaks strongly to the notion of being organised and being ready to step into protect what’s important. Jay Ellis strongly advises how policing can be reformed by groups of people coming together and strongly stating what they do and what they don’t want. With Resistance I have gone back to the initial podcast that was highlighted by This American life podcast. This episode looks at divergence amongst a protest group and the paths people take to achieve a similar goals/outcomes. School Colours podcast from Brooklyn Deep I have listed before in Why Listen, as there is something familiar and frustrating to hear about a school district that has largely been written off by a city’s school board. Residents, parents and teachers do not sit idly by and allow their school’s dismemberment to happen in their neighbourhood. No, they organise and loudly fight – admirably. The BBC’s Black Power documentary illustrates what happens when unity meets purpose. I hope to be able to watch more of the telling of this story from Canada. Radiotopia’s new show S*** Hole country offers an entertaining view of being an Afircan in America and an American in Africa. Yes Afia uses the phrase the previous incumbent of the White House used to describe African countries. There is something refreshing to witness the re-mix and re-interpretation of a dour *imbecellic phrase to juxtapose investigative journalism alongside identity. The link to the Diversity Space is how Afia uses the podcast to begin questioning and questing with herself, the African Diaspora and her 2 countries of origin. Code Switch This Racism is Killing Me Inside The Untold Story Policing Nix The 6 Resistance Is It Too Revolutionary? School Colours Agitate! Educate! Organize! Black Power: A British Story of Resistance – BBC S*** Hole Country Quote Unquote
I continue thought on being something other in the psychotherapeutic profession. Whilst the experience is singular, I know I am not on my own.
The Problem A problem halved, is a problem that is shared. Or so we are told, and a few believe. Many hold to a sense that they alone carry the burden of their thoughts and worries. Often withholders are surprised by what happens when they begin to discuss concerns with a trusted other. At times the trusted other is an outsider to their lives. Strangely, anonymity helps entrust the listener and the sharer to intimately examine past and present hurts. This – the relationship between counsellor and client, coach and coachee, mentor and mentee, perhaps also teacher and student.
Taught The experience I have had of being othered has been a part of the caring profession for as long as I have been aware of the double standards held within the profession. Caring and caring less about those who are identified as other. Therapy is to be an experience of supporting individuals, groups, organisations observe the problem(s) and provide support in moving into the beyond. Completing my training as a counsellor at Uni of Greenwich, I have grown increasingly aware of the long held and embedded ideas that accompany being Black and working in the psychological profession. By omission of African, Asian, and global community influences and contributions to the psychology profession, an unspoken idea remains prevalent of Black and Brown bodies delivering care. Some notions may include identification of African Diasporan practitioners as inferior, incapable, unintelligent, possessing poor communication skills, lacking in technical ability and seen as a low quality substitute compared to qualified ‘professional’ (White) mental health practitioners.
Difference Stratified At most – 6 weeks worth of teaching for the 3 years I was at Greenwich, involved an awareness of Gender, Race, Religion, Age, Culture, Class, Economic status, Education, Sex (G.R.A.C.E.S.). Millions of topics relating to equality were lightly grazed. I am grateful for being introduced to BAATN in my second year. I had no awareness that BAATN existed, and have enjoyed what I have learned from being a member.
Standing Amongst I once described being at one of BAATN’s men’s gatherings as being not only seen, but heard, understood, recognised and valued. My presence was accepted as amongst. A hugely significant and powerful moment of realisation for me. Ralph Ellis’ book Invisible Man offered a useful frame to know what a Black man might experience beyond the sanctity of his home.
Pscyhotherapeutic Beginnings The profession I am a part of is yet to appreciate Black people as amongst and belonging alongside difference. The understanding I have is that a supremacy is incapable of holding a compassionate view inside a nihilist agenda. Europe birthed an idea of psychology that was largely Eurocentric, built on Greek foundations of Philosophy. For me, the link to African (Egyptian) beliefs and traditions is undeniable. The contention I have relates to the progression psychology has taken since the 19th century. Becoming centred and refined on an understanding that gaining more knowledge of the subconscious, will reveal our path to healing. But as the ancestors invite us to be aware, to truly know self is to also be aware of our physical nature too. The body has as much influence on how we think and feel as does the subconscious. The investment made to dust off the research into psychedelics and psilocybin, invites a further leap from mind singularly to mind body and spirit connections. Is this not where those in Middle Earth centred some of their beliefs and understandings of humans living on the planet eons ago? How have we lost this information and what has made ‘Psychology’ the purview of a select few Frail Pale Male Stale people. Freud the genus but the belief in the European model of therapy being best, has many other global traditions behaviours and practices scrapped and made to be valueless muck.
Prometheus I am in a part of the book ‘Work Won’t love You Back’ by Sarah Jaffe, where the author looks at intimate labor and observes how largely Black and Brown women are treated in professions that care for others professionally. I wonder if the inbuilt label of being classed as unskilled and unvalued is also cast upon Black and Brown mental health professionals? We aren’t what the model of a highly skilled professional in text books looks, sounds and behaves like. It is at the institutions that change is to happen. What is taught, how it is taught and by whom it is taught has got to change. Informed this week that Wales is to introduce Black History teaching to all of it’s curricula will in Wales address the change that is to happen globally. The West did not travel the globe liberating people from eternal darkness. The West plundered the Global South for it’s wealth and plunged nations and billions of people into a modern form of windowless shadow. The gloom that persists is the one that hides the light of realisation from plain sight and holds to high ransom (debt, imprisonment, indentured labour, substandard education, threat of war) for those seeking to enlighten the masses.
Over and Under Engaged in similar work a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist a belief is held, that roles such as these are the purview of White highly skilled, highly educated women and men. Caring professions in the West are heavily over-represented by a main ethnic social and class group. That deliver services to ever over-populated people represented by G.R.A.C.E.S groups, in institutions. Schools, Child and Adolescent Services, adult education and prisons are a small list of a mismatch between the numbers involved in delivery and receipt. Observing mental illness and support on offer at hospitals, residential short and long stay facilities, psychological interventions in the community, again I am struck by two experiences of over representation by those providing care and those on the receiving end of it. I wonder what those who provide care to those receiving care believe, think, feel about their knapsack of real or presumed privilege?
Supervision Attending an online supervision group I note the welcome received, (tight, brief, a hint of something undefinable yet all too present). Generally I like to arrive early to the meetings. I hear and regard the effusive positive welcome and list of accomplishments other therapists are lauded with. A warmth, recognition of something similar/familiar, a thing not spoken but still wholly palpable. I understand we like people who in some way mirror ourselves. When met with a frequent experience of being unconsciously or consciously reviled a weathering happens. Aware of the apparent unconscious bias I say nothing of the discomfort these experiences cause. I do not want to be the rabble rouser. The upstart, bringing contention and upset, where others feel sanguine. But some degree of psychological pain experiencing the deletion of my attendance happens. I am at a loss of how to make use of the feeling so as to experience this edition of supervision well. A better solution may be in non-attending. Or showing and saying little (another form of non-attendance), or even being the one who throws each meeting into necessary checking of insults felt and throwing hurts back to be managed by the group. An hour or 2 is not enough to fully disgorge the malcontents held, and I wonder what ultimate good is caused?
Always Seen, Often Ignored Being othered and feeling an inconsequential value within the counselling psychotherapy profession is a common experience I note. Being the only Black person, nay the only Black man (on screen) at a meeting of mental health professionals is a scene on repeat. I am shocked less by these moments. There can be little comfort in solitary confinement. The scene (me alone or to be counted amongst a smaller population of global majority attendees, alongside a larger whiter group of people) has presented itself many times before. The threat of being discovered as not as good as, pointed out as the fraud or made the subject of biased judgement lurks peripherally. One is unable to hide in plain view.
Intimately Labouring What would I like to happen instead in group? Would platitudes, and over ingratiating welcomes make me feel better about attending mostly White gatherings? For me, the change would be about a sensate shift towards feeling less at the wall, clamoring to flee. Fearing attack from an unknown assailant. My preference that all at a space, potentially, are unknown unknown allies. That are doing the emotional, psychological, spiritual work to lessen the sense of distance between G.R.A.C.E.S groups of people, of which I place White people amongst.
Canvas The sense of attending a space where all in attendance are (un)consciously aware of the lack of representation from Global South communities could reduce unease. The challenge ahead is staying with the sense of discomfort. The *taughtness of an environment in time will lessen. Even when the experience is incredibly difficult. It’s the example of my Spidey sense going off at the Pizza Place, letting me know that an unknown foreign agent (fear) is malevolently spoiling an experience. The deciding factor, an awareness that perceived difference does not make anyone lesser or should jettison them from a room. If a space is filled with curiosity and a willingness to make it beyond – to the other side of the challenge then mostly all are usually lifted further along. A new path of awareness can be engaged with. An appreciation of the complex richer connections made across aisles, ages and other forms of perceived stratification and otherings enhance learning. To be applied by continually evolving professionals.
Therapy Today The latest edition of BACP’s counselling magazine Therapy Today (October 2021) offers a wonderfully rich complex yet balanced review of Black therapists engaged in changing the psychological landscape of counselling and psychotherapy in the UK. ‘On the shoulders of giants’ the title of the magazine, looks at a range of professionals. Offering examples of the many women and men who have battled to steer important changes made for the improvement of the profession. My reasoning is ‘But we all have hearts, minds and bodies with which we think, feel and move with’ and so a mass experience of living whilst human can be identified, installed and ideally utilised for the fulfillment of all.
Resources The term allostatic load was the first time I recognised what prejudice, othering and the effects of racism are for Black and brown bodies is medically noted as. Code Switch podcast, discusses what Weathering is and how it can affect people. An earlier blog listed the second link. Black (African American Psychoanalysts) speak of their experiences, training and working with members of the public. When I first watched the documentary I was both affirmed by what these esteemed colleagues discuss and also slightly dismayed. An inherent sadness is present within the pride of being a Black Psychoanalyst and the reality this title holds a mirror to. The link to the Podcast takes you to BAATN’s site. listing the richness of the Black African And Asian Therapists Network Podcast series of talks and presentations. The highlighted episode with Arike and Eugene discusses what steps training organisations could take to become globally influenced, engaged and representative of, in relation to psychological teaching. The podcast was both encouraging and conscious of the work still ahead for many colleges and universities staff students and graduates. The last resource may have been missed in the shuffle. Listed amongst the resources discussing a Pizza shop experience. Jennifer Mullins discusses her journey to become a therapist the learning she experiences in both the class room and most importantly outside of the institution are both inspirational and illuminating. Black Psychoanalysts Speak BAATN Podcast Creating Partnerships Training With Organisations: Lets Talk About Race Decolonise Therapy interviews Jennifer Mullins
Further Reading I am yet to read the Race Conversation by Eugene Ellis and Black Identities, White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago. My listing them here is to highlight that I am still learning and growing. Race Conversation in Psychotherapy by Eugene Ellis Black Identities White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Mockingbird by Dr Dwight Turner
A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece in relation to an experience with Vicarious Trauma and gave a personal account of an experience relating to George Floyd’s killing and the Rodney King attack.
Make Plain What was not explained was what vicarious trauma is. I will do here.
The experience for me then in 1996 was to see a man who I recognised as myself being beaten by 4 police officers. The reason for the attack appeared unjustified, unreasonable and extreme.
I saw myself as Rodney King. Being mistreated, handled in unlawful and in a grossly cruel way. The incident brought to my mind feelings of panic, feelings of loss and abandonment, sorrow, anger, bewilderment, confusion. Ideas that the world is unfair and dangerous. These earlier impressions have left me vigilant, aware, cautious.
Vicarious As a counsellor/Psychotherapist/Coach/Supervisor the role is to support those who are interested in accessing guidance. Often clients bring painful experiences. At times their traumatic experiences maraud around the space we share, as if re-awakened like a Genie from a lamp.
‘Vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured’
For many people the experience of knowing a negative event intimately as a person who has had that experience happen to them, or witnessed a negative event happen to another could leave that person suffering from vicarious trauma.
Circular Any further events that resemble or are a reminder could result in the witness becoming triggered/affected by what they have been reminded of.
My link is George Floyd – Rodney King – my being chased by the police aged 17 – me being chased by Stephen on my estate aged 7. The panic/fear response is still with me.