Vulnerability: The Hidden

There are a number of reasons that I have wanted to specifically work with Black Men/Men from the African Diaspora engaging in therapy. There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about the strong, fierce, angry Black Man. There is also an unacknowledged backstory of why these perceptions have been allowed to exist. It is far easier to continue the lie. Pulling misinformation apart is the long slow and hard road.

Edu-
The Introductory course is styled for someone like myself, willing and able to be vulnerable with others – open to learning about themselves and being *edu-trained with others. It’s the therapy course I could have used when I was 13 or 20 or 37. I could probably do with a black men’s group now! Queue Dope Black Podcast.

Mini deaths x 3
I have 3 deaths that I want to acknowledge in this piece. The one that cut the deepest is the one I will write about last. It was an insidious and traumatic cut that has gone on to hurt many. Possibly does still. I now understand this wound. I can now forgive the persons that have directly and indirectly hurt me. I believe that pain is at the core of the reason for wanting to support others. The many…

1st Loss
My 1st death wrapped me up,
shut me down and
had me mute about the pain of my loss
was the death of my mother.
Back in November 1993
Rita Margaret Drakes.

She died some 25 years ago and her terminal fight with cancer has been a model of my own struggles with Multiple Sclerosis: Part denial, part anger, part bargaining, part shock and then ambiguous acceptance that always seems out of reach. Tantalisingly close but defyingly, just beyond my outstretched arms – unable to connect…

Death 2
The 2nd death is of my friend Ade through suicide. His death was both shocking and hard to accept. Recognising that I had no chance of saving him offers some relief. Only some. He made a choice much like a character in a Star is Born. The incident much like Jude in A Little Life, the encounter with almost dieing happened many, many times before.

Death 3
The 3rd is a story I have not written or talked much about. I have shared with only a few. Some members of my family know.
This death.
This loss is of innocence, of trust and the insidious nature of the harm caused to me. I have held myself in a place just out of reach. Believing that I am wrong, bad, mad and sad. That the harm caused was of my doing and that I deserved it. That I continue to deserve mistreatment. That if I hold myself just out of sight, my hurt cannot infect others. But it had.

Unreported
I was about 6 or 7 when I was sexually abused by someone older than me. The events are uncomfortable to describe and I will choose carefully what I share. Being shown pornographic images elicits an uncontrollable physical response in some people. It did for me! I became aroused and that arousal was used by them to perform their sexual acts.

I recognise the crime committed against me. As well as working in corrections (Criminal Justice) I have seen this pattern replicated for a significant number of men and women I have supported. Abuse happening to them including; physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, financial and domestic and then perpetrating a similar crime against another or others.

Tankerton Reflection

The pattern is of ever diminishing returns and a debased sense of self can be and often is the outcome.

Broken Loop
A person who has been hurt can act out in ways to inflict pain on others. But I feel it is more than that, the person is after. They could be after an understanding of what happened to them first, by behaving in ways that evoke fear, obedience, power and getting a secondary gain from the sense of control this may have over another.

Reconnecting
I write this as an origin story of why I have created a course for Black men to access healing. I write because if I am unwilling to recognise my own experiences of pain and trauma how can I then support others begin working on theirs.

As with most things dealing with change it has to start with us first.
Admitting that the hurt happened is primary to begin the process of healing.

Mend
What comes next is action.
This is where the fun and pain coexist. Getting to decide what happens next, where to go next, whom to speak with after, how to work it through and beyond so that it can no longer hold you from getting there.

There where you belong.

Safe, Resilient, Free, Successful, at Peace.

Resources
Episode 7-10 of New Amsterdam is a must see for the development of a story similar to mine.
Where Shall We Begin. Trauma Doesn’t Like to be Touched
Lisa Nichols
When they See Us

CTA
The Black Men’s Introduction to Therapy begins on the 13th of November.
Visit www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com or www.equilibriumtc.com for more information.

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Men of the Diaspora: It’s Time

On 13th of November 2019 a colleague and I will begin a group therapy experience for Black Men. The group will be run as an introduction to therapy and group psychotherapeutic support.

Inspire Them
The idea came from a former client who is featured in a testimonial. He was a client who in the span of 2 short seasons of work transformed his outlook on life. He mentioned the idea last year (2018). An introduction to therapy for Black Men or Men of the African Diaspora crystallized. In April 2019 when I went to The Man Talk in Brixton, I was moved to begin something that men who perceive of talking therapy as not for them – could be introduced to the idea of therapeutic support.

Sharing Vulnerability
At The Man Talk, seeing a group of men talking about issues they have lived through including: suicide, prison, depression, bereavement, life plans overturned and offering support to others, was amazing. The event brought the need for specialised low cost support to me in an impactful way. So impactful that I wanted to start something too.

Authority
Working with case discussion groups and process groups at Universities across London beginning at University of Greenwich (Sept 2015), presenting at UEL to students on their psychology programmes I paid attention to the amazing power of group work.

Unkown Knowns
I use the word power with intention as I feel there is an unknown element that affects working with groups. The bereavement group I currently support at one of the prisons I work at in Kent, is a perfect example of the wonder and amazing effect group work has on individuals and the group overall.
The group becomes it’s own entity. Factors from outside the group space interact with members and push and pull what is shared in directions that are unknowable.

Summer Captured in Fall Colours

Wellness
Reading the work of Irvin Yalom and his experiences of group work especially in Loves Executioner offer the reader a clear understanding of what group therapy does.

Call To Act
If interested to know more about the group please contact either myself or Sheila Samuels who will be co-counselling the space with me. The group begins on the 13th of November 2019 at the Wellness Hub, 7 Burnt Ash Hill London. SE12 0AA

An Origin Story

Musings on Therapy
I can remember the moment that counselling, psychology, psychotherapy or psychopathology became the most important career choice I ever made. I was 33, this was in the summer of 2007.

Balance
3 years before I met Laos I worked at Harris academy school for girls in East Dulwich. I had begun an introductory course of counselling at Morley college. The teacher Ian Mendelberg was a great example of Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls, I was later able to appreciate. Ian was able to combine wisdom and grace with humor and presence.

SSCO
I was the school’s Specialist Sports Co-ordinator providing group and individual sports and pastoral care support. I also coached basketball in the morning as a Breakfast Basketball initiative. Within 2 seasons the programme helped beginners take 3rd place in London’s Central Venue League Basketball tournaments. A crowning moment for the team, the school and for me their coach.

Clarity
The crystalisation moment mentioned above was realised at an individual mentoring appointment with a student of the school. My own a ha moment. Goodbyes carry an emotionally laden content that is difficult to contain and manage. A yr9 pupil was relocating to a different school for the next academic year.

By me asking if she was going to be alright she replied:

“I’m gonna have to be aren’t I.?” Her South London brogue attempting to deflect the suppressed emotions of loss and attachment to her school and friends. The tears were kept inside but we both acknowledged their presence with a nod and pleasant ending phrases.
“It’s been good working with you.” I said
“I hope that the course works out for you.” She offered
“I think you can see that it has this effect on people.” I said
“Oh, right, yeah, Mr Opoku. You might be on to something.” Shaking her head
“Shall we end it [the appointment] here then?” I said
“Yeah I think now would be a good time to stop, or I really might start…” She insisted
“Okay then…”
“Good bye then and… thanks…”
And with that she got up and left.

Something…
I have since gone on to complete a Masters in Therapeutic Counselling, courses in Brief Solution Focused Therapy, Trauma Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy and a course at Westmeria College to become a counselling supervisor. The latest training has been to complete Eye Movement De-sensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) that is reconfiguring, reconceptualising what I thought I knew about counselling and psychotherapeutic support.

The Climb
The interest in supporting others has not yet reached it’s zenith. The craft, this high art has become a greater thing than looking to care for just 1. By helping another the environment around them and the person doing the helping is immeasurably changed. I look back at the moment with the yr 9 student and said yes let’s have a conversation, which lead to many more conversations at that school and took me out of Harris Academy to other change spaces including: A boys secondary school, 7 Probation offices, supervisees, a team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners, 6 prisons and 6 counsellors in Kent and clients in a range of settings including prisons..

I fell in love with the idea of living my purpose: the Artist repackaged. All day and everyday. ‘This Artists Way’ thing is more than most other things I have been before. Parenting can never be bested. However thinking creatively about Psychoanalysis is what I have been climbing towards. Climbing beyond a challenged past. The journey has been difficult and not for the faint of heart. I have crossed ravines and archipelagos never before seen by me, or that I ever knew existed. I have fallen and wondered about not getting back up. Events have brought me to my knees and I have asked for support in being raised back up on to my feet.

Gifts
This path that I chose has not been a bed of roses getting where I have. The challenges are seemingly insurmountable and I have failed many times. However the successes far outweigh the losses. The smiles, the thank you’s, the nods, the hand shakes all make the art worth it. There is still much to learn and to achieve.

Attempting to support service users that appear blocked and fearful of change. Supporting other professionals to grow outside of set protocols and policies to think creatively and act courageously, to support people in their communities. A drug or alcohol misuse dependency should not determine whether that person could or should get access to good psycho-social support and yet currently it does.

As a friend said in 2016 the person should want change, not the set of difficulties they have to continue. I offer that mental health services could be just as solution focused. Offering a label free, diagnosis opposed care centres treating a person with needs – compassionately. Diagnosis can be limiting. Diagnosis can also be explanatory. It is the person that experiences the difficulty that is to be helped.

Mental health support is about offering change along a continuum. Beginning at a super light spot that’s easier to assist a client experience change. Then graduating the person to access support that genuinely alters self-perception by fractions/degrees. The small changes aspect of psychological support is what I feel is most important. Great distances are walked by taking a single 1st step.

We raise we.
Not I or you.
Alone.
A simple singular exchange.

For me it is:
Collaboration,
Connection
Community.

Change
I have opted to include the resources in the body of work. Click the hyper links to take you to other pieces of insightful information. Let me know what you think of this and other pieces below and here https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/9V9TYQS Thank you.

Breaking the Line

Quick Dip

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

Twinned

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

Possibly…

Spores Spread

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

Problematic?

Possibly.

Mechanism of Oppression

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

Again

Share

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

An Education

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

In Comparison

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

Marching

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

Possibly…

How to

To read and make use of the blogs I write.

View them as poems in long form. The hyperlinks are a gateway. Click and follow the pebbles – new awareni* awaits.

Read with an aim to deep dive into topics and subjects that are as interesting as they are exhumations about difference, about life lived at the boundaries: criminal justice, education, therapy, art, Multiple Sclerosis and being othered by society.

The blogs are:

A point of reference.

A placeholder for thought and reflection about oneself, about another, about us.

Read for perspective making.

Read for evaluation and test taking.

Explore for tips and learning and for ideas about baking.

They are slices of condensation, concentrations and at times my consternation’s – for living is a complex choice. An activity of thinking, doing, breathing, resting and being bored. Often…

Be perplexed and curious.

Ask for clarity if you dare!

Comment and be prepared for answers and yet more questioning.

Let us open up dialogues just because.

It could all be oh so much better.

Even these,

Blogs…

Leader

Educationally Missing.

Disappearing

There are a number of stories that capture the experience of unmet potential, stories of people falling and staying down long before they had chance to fly.

Having supported teenagers in schools and working in rehabilitative settings for service users. The experiences of: loss, betrayal, resentment, let down, anger, low mood, dis-regulation of the maturation process and abdication of responsibility appear to have an accumulative effect to understanding being made about life paths. An unknown internal point is not reached or appreciated and a resulting cacophony then is the result.

Heightened Stress

As Dr. Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight have illustrated in their 1st book Unwritten the Story of a Living System. A person, especially a child does not grow well and develop within an environment of high stress and high anxiety.

The result is a reduced sense of self-esteem, reduced mental capacity to uptake new information, lowered tolerance to *stressors, heightened response to survival habits of Freeze-Flight-Fight-Friend actions, hostile engagements with others, use of explosive language and behaviour to process and deal with challenge and of pupils forming uneasy volatile alliances with pseudo friends and ‘family’.

‘I’ll hang around with you, if you and your group protect and don’t victimise or bully me. And if you do I am in the In Group so that’s okay.’ How long before the quasi friendship turns into manipulation? Where anti-social activities are the order? Where thrill seeking is obtained through risky behaviours. Where aggression and rule breaking appear normal?

Would the (apparently unbreakable) association/link/connection with the group take an evening? A weekend? A Month? A Term?

Regression

The worrying aspect I find with working at a stage of a person’s negative spiral (prison in my case) is the sense of hope being lost. Of individuals giving up on themselves, their families, on rehabilitating and returning from prison and by-passing society as a whole.

Primary desistance may have been achieved. Secondary desistance may still be a process that is being worked with by a prisoner or service user. Tertiary desistance is where a moral and societal shift occurs in the service user and the individual recognises themselves as part of, not a part from, society – their community. Counselling I find can be useful with a person’s 3rd stopping point.

Tip Point

I witness what the result of stripping social services are for vulnerable people and communities. Crime increase, homelessness, experiences of people in mental distress visible and not able to be cared for by hospitals or carers. What frustrates me is that the experience my son is having with his school and peers could be impacted on positively.

The pain filled progression of pupils, a percentage of whom that are permanently excluded from school (that had the potential to be a pro-social engagement), are victims to, or perpetrators of street violence, join illegal import and export dis-organisations (anti social engagement) to eventually becoming labelled and branded socially unsuitable, un-fit for ‘non offending populations’.

Being removed from mainstream education where students either attend alternative provision for less time than mainline school I feel is a damning move for students, school and society overall. Pupils earn less time being supervised by adults that can provide adequate pro social modelling. Feeding the productionline.

Committed Action

The need then as mentioned in Ignored Song would be for individuals from a range of backgrounds and experiences to provide support to a range of school experiences across the country to ameliorate the perspective some young people have about the world in which they live. And to change how schools and teachers view and support disorganised pupils.

The world does not have to be a dangerous and risky place where disagreements could cost several young people their lives. The aim would be to not minimise their understanding or patronise, but would be to offer challenge and support growth. To see beyond the barriers and horizons they may have erected to protect themselves.

Incision

In 2017 I approached a number of alternative school provisions with an initiative to run morning workshops to groups of students. The theme delivering thinking skills with the topic of psychology as the main driver.

My interest in psychology firmly rooted because of the counselling course. Witnessing that our world is governed by psychology increases my fascination. Psychology is a growth from Philosophy and I am in absolute awe of the impact thought has on us as humans. Continuing discoveries in neuroscience perpetually astound me.

Discussing psychological ideas with students at alternative school provisions in London I felt had the potential to be transformative. When a person begins to come upon a new realisation it is like a gift that was buried. Once unearthed the gleam of treasure that crosses a person’s face is priceless for me – every time.

B-Boy 

Prisoners

Working at a prison with service users in Kent, the look after they realise a hard earned truth feels the same. The service user often points and subtly rears back; like a soft push has just happened. Then a small smile is offered and the subtle shaking of their head. Astonishment!

The chance to experience and practice on the world the new found thing for service users in prison is sometimes delayed by the length of their sentences. Trial runs of new thought and behaviour can be made prior to release in prison with some degree of success. They may alter thinking traps and patterns or their behaviour may flip to be outgoing and light. Interactions with a peer, or group of others could do likewise and change to the positive with new thoughts.

My want was to work with school attendees before they entered the criminal justice system and had negatively altered their lives or the life of others dramatically, irreversibly. Reducing the impact and societies unconscious load that it projects onto those that it classes as criminal. No. We should not wait until our son’s and daughters are detained within secure environments before we develop packages of support. The change I believe has to start now!

The invitation/demand especially in light of Britain teetering on the edge of Exiting the European Union is:

We all must want better now for all.

We have to face up to the challenge.

We must all be willing to work to achieve a brighter tomorrow.

To be the last person standing is not what my son or young people seek. An unblocked, unfettered, untainted future is…

Michael McKnight writes

The Path to Connecting with- Kids “at-risk”. ( Brendtro and Seita )

1. Recast all problems as learning opportunities. 
2. Provide opportunities for fail-safe relationships.
3. Increase dosages of nurturance.
4. Don’t crowd.
5. Find their passion.
6. Decode the meaning of behavior.
7. Be “authoritative”. 
8. Model respect to disrespectful youth. 
9. Enlist troubled youth as team members. 
10. Preemptive connecting.
11. Give seeds time to grow. 
12. Keep positive expectations alive. 

#resilience

Resources

TED Talk Radio Hour School

Code Switch Raising Kings

Togethered Learning

Educational Misses

Frank Morrison’s Art I have long admired. This work is titled as Arithmetic. The pose of both students is emblematic

The state of education

My eldest son aged 11, came home from school recently and shared that he had concerns about his experiences that have troubled and alarmed me. As his father I want nothing more than to protect and shield him from the shadier elements of London living. I realise however the contradiction as I write, because I have worked in prisons for over four years. I have also worked with vulnerable people on the margins of society and that live in the shade for over 8 years. Deepening and grading my perspective considerably.

Working for almost 4 years with Together a National charity that supported service users and probation officers and courts in London. Together’s highly skilled team of practitioners provide mental health support and psycho education to service users involved within London’s criminal Justice System. 

‘*Shade is a factor of life, it precedes and follows light.’

An Event Horizon
Shade and Light – Event Horizon

Transfer

My son has moved from a well-resourced primary school with a committed PTA (Parent Teacher Association) with middle class values and expectations to a secondary school that whilst being in the same neighborhood seems to not be as well supported. The commitment the school has appears geared to raising it’s educational achievements as a secondary school. The social and emotional development of it’s pupils seems to have been overlooked. The documentary called School emphasises what the lack of investment and resources has meant for secondary schools across the country.

Aggress

My son reports that nearly every day there are playground fights and his year group are involved with something called “violating” other pupils. A form of engaging negatively with another pupil that shames them and makes them either react aggressively or retreat from social engagements. Which can have a huge social impact on students – limiting the scope of making firm social connections and friends and bearing witness to the challenges of inner city life.

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons on Netflix is a phenomenal expose on growing up ‘Othered’ within a country that does not want to accept it’s involvement with the systematic destruction and demonisation of several groups of people and their cultures. Ghetto Rage is a topic of interest John mentioned that I will further investigate and write about soon. 

Refuse

As a 40 something year old man I don’t understand the culture of school being a site for malevolence and cruelty committed by pupils as vulnerable as peers of my son’s against fellow pupils. Being assertive is a factor of living learning and growing. Bullying as part of systemic form of disorganised peer oppression troubles me.

My son simply does not want to go to his school or participate in any of the senseless acts of pseudo violence, passive and active forms of aggression
as a result, or other acts of hyper masculinity that seem to have besieged his year group. What is going wrong I wonder with state education? Why are young women and young men acting in harmful ways to other children and themselves and what can we all do about it?

Switch

I doubt I will be able to find the answers in this piece of writing however I can raise my concerns and offer ideas of possible ways forward. I wonder if a member of parliament’s child were attending my son’s state school what they would think/see/feel?

I am disappointed that the choices we are left to think through are: exiting the school, non-attendance and living with a sense of anxiety that has grown in my son and through our family. The social development versus academic achievement focus appears to have been the split that this school has made.

The thinking I have is that the school has grossly under estimated the effect that the focus and pressure toward academia could have on it’s key stage 3 and 4 progression results and overall exam achievements. A
socially and emotionally balanced pupil could perform 
academically better. Not just at exams but in life also. 

Something Else

Perhaps another way is to be found with education that invites collaboration, communication and creativity. Few children my son included are without the curiosity to look for answers or create story’s that make sense of the worlds that they inhabit. For their, our children’s, worlds are different to ours. They face challenges that are new for the planet, maybe we should be teaching all differently…  

Resources

Akala and Education

TES Small Schools Work