EQ

Emotions

Emotional literacy is a term used to understand ones emotions. In light of the swathe of information in relation to mental health, mental illness and the taboo subjects of psychosis and schizophrenia entering our regular experience. I write to explore a small but significant distance. A gap is beginning to widen in relation to being able to discuss the effects of mental illness and what a person feels. Almost like the dark side of the moon – present but never seen.

Hovering curious

Omnipresent Majesty – Humility

Humble

Luke Roberts was possibly the first person to highlight the willingness commonly witnessed of our public to talk about a mental illness. A few years ago that was unheard of, no one talked about their stuff openly! The gap of not connecting illness with the effects it has on a sufferers/survivors life alongside their emotions appears irrational to me. A sea change has occurred of the willingness to talk about mental illness that has been supported by various well known individuals sharing their stories in a variety of ways: podcasts, radio, television, newspapers, books, blogs. Luke’s point relates to our joint vulnerability in expressing witnessing and accepting that the many they’s are the many us’s. Humility possibly also plays a part here also. We have become inured to the siren and unable to recognise the pain that those who have shared their stories have lived through, or are living with.

Water humbly supporting

Balance on the river Li

Balance

The overall benefit to being open about life’s challenges and the trials one has lived through is encouraging to another who may have similar troubles. By hearing another’s triumph over a personal tragedy, surviving the hurricane of war, another story can be developed like a picture. Showing a story of wonder and banal normalcy.

Precious

Bringing Fresh

Delight of Autumn

There is something sensational about another person expressing their hurts in a public domain that captures attention. Are we looking to empathise with that person’s experience, knowing their story may well support us in avoiding a similar fate happening for us, witnessing another’s horror offers chance to pay attention to the frailty of life?

I think one of the aspects that those who work with others intimately recognise is the strength of vulnerability as well as the beauty in the human experiences of loss, gain, winning, failing, laughing, journeying, pain and healing. It is the promise of alchemy that attracts.

The gleam of joint success and winning and losing and overcoming and moving beyond the hurt to something else…

Knowing

Exposing one’s hurts invites the *witnesser to pay attention to what ails, that can offer chance to review and chance to change. With emotional literacy what is being invited is to recognise what hurts during the conversation. Focusing on the internal world to invite change. The Chimp Paradox is an excellent example of us figuring out what is causing us conflict before it is unfurled and hurts another/others or ourselves. The motive is an understanding that as a human we experienced a number of developments in our life that largely supported our growth.

Inside

Depicting slow

Tranquil Motion

We may recognise that we have an inner child, a surly and impatient teen, an internal parent and a calming adult voice. The tensions that arise by being pulled in a number of different directions by these parts inside of us, cause some emotional pain, in the least invite us to questions such as “Why did I just do that?” “Why can’t I just get over this?” My favourite is “What’s wrong with me?” Invariably nothing is ‘wrong’. What may have happened is you are experiencing the tension between different parts of the self that are in conflict and may have been hi-jacked by an emotion or fear.

Test

As humans we have drives that enable us to navigate through life and learn: seeking safety and warmth, finding a partner, finding food and sustenance. These different drives can throw us against societal norms and personal wants/drives leading to conflict. A great example of this is the marshmallow test. The want to eat for those between the ages of 4 and 7 are so great that some children eat the one marshmallow rather than wait the 3-5 minutes and get to eat 2. Delaying gratification is a skill that is learned over time. As is the ability to be emotionally literate. One can’t run at it like other self-development programmes. Like training oneself for any new skill or ability it is best achieved over time.

‘There will be many failures along the way. Ah, but the successes will carry for longer…’

Talk of the Nation

Two Guys on Your Head Failure

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Three Benches

Late Autumn

A November morn: Three Benches

A number of conversations about walk and talk therapy have happened recently that have inspired thought about working in nature. An under grad student wrote a compelling review of eco psychology citing the work of Kamitsis and Simmonds 2017. Stating that working in nature can be either a passive or active form of therapy. I enjoyed reading their work as it gave me insight to what I had unconsciously started to experience as a #WalknTalk enthusiast over 5 years ago.

Thin places

In 2014 I met with the originator of Nature Based Therapy and started to recognise that a community of therapists and practitioners were moving their practice from the confines of a room to outside environs. Speaking with Duncan E. Stafford last year was another great conversation as he began venturing into nature using walk and talk as a method of engaging clients. A recent conversation with a therapist interested in using either a garden or a local park Marie-Line Charler brought out what I have begun to recognise as a strength of using Eco psychology/eco therapy as a means to support others the work and the environment – working outdoors is like being close to the thin places

My last conversation with Lynn Findlay further propelled the conversation about therapy in nature. Lynn is a runner and posed a question about pace on twitter that had me intrigued.

@FosterCareLynn My literature research shows plenty [of] studies/research & many #therapists who offer #walkandtalk therapy but little on running. When theory/ethics/contracting are factored isn’t the variable just movement [and] speed? Curious? @hazehill @therapyspaceuk @walktalkinderby @TherapyForfieh

A sunrise framed by trees

Perfect Balance of Light, Trees and Grass. Three Benches

Running Therapy

I was taken by the idea of speed and the added health benefits of running and accessing therapy that Lynn posed. I know of one other therapist that runs and engages with therapy @pullentherapy. Speaking with Lynn was enlivening because of the number of ideas that were brought to light. Such as conducting a research project on the benefits of using running as part of a therapeutic process, whether changing speeds during the exchange would deepen the therapeutic work, and what walk and talk therapy is like for me and my clients.

Goal Less

The student mentioned earlier, made reference to Davis and Atkins 2004 writing, providing insight to the work being about rekindling a connection between a person and nature in a goal-less manner accessing spirituality with the desired outcome of improving mental health. A few weeks ago I had an experience with a walk and talk client that fell into a goal less oriented therapeutic experience. I have been supporting B with walk and talk therapy for a few years, the work has steadily progressed to work using associations.

I checked in with B at a point 10 minutes in to the walk and brought to mind the ending of our previous meeting. With this client in particular, synergy has appeared in our work, either with random encounters with other park users or seeing children’s chalk drawings that frame what we have just been speaking about as we approach. Recently whilst walking across a field B was discussing abandonment and a sole black shoe was discovered.

Dog Chase

On the week in question 3 dogs had been engaged in a game of chase that my client had been bemused by. On nearing the end of the walk a Graffiti Dub had been signed off with Chasing Dogs as the artist. I mentioned this and we both shook our heads and marveled at yet another co-incidence that had happened during our walk. I hold an internal reverent smile with B – last year (2017) a woman had approached and asked ‘Are You God?’ When occurrences like a dog chase and then this being mentioned in an errant piece of graffiti… I am left wondering…

Associations of a wet bench

Bench near hill: a feature of association.

Group Walk

In the past 5 years I have walked and talked with groups and individuals and invited a group of MSc students to spend 20 minutes walking and talking at the end of term. The students had asked for a walk and talk experience. The first year students shared that they were surprised about how quickly the 20 mins had passed, some noticed more about the environment, others focused more on what was being shared. The two groups of men, shared that the experience felt natural and offered solutions that they did not know were there.

In Hiding

Using a non-directive way of accessing therapy can help the person using it to employ creativity which supports identification of a way forward. There may be something in walking forward that helps the conversation and mind to bring about different ideas that seem accessible that before walking and talking may have remained hidden.

2nd Bench

A surprise encounter finding a new area in a park

I said at the end of term to students that walking was our only way of transportation for thousands of years. This could be a good reason why so many find walking and talking a simple and natural way of engaging with therapy.

New Associations – Serendipity

The enjoyment of walk and talk therapy are the moments of serendipity that happen when we are open to exploring in an honest unplanned way. Amazing things occur when the work opens up to creativity and play. With B, 3 paths lead on to 3 benches. Along each one of these paths a different associative idea existed for B. With each of the benches we found more associations that could be positioned .

The first bench represented a collection of recent experiences that were to be removed and forgotten.
The second bench appeared to be a newer experience that was to remain and be nurtured over time.
The third bench became a future representation of ideas for B that showed potential.

Walk and Talk therapy within an enclosed gardern

A fitting end to an insightful walk and talk.

Same Coin

Throughout all of the conversations with both therapists and with B, there was a sense of excitement. The unknown can either scare us or excite us. My counselling supervisor has shared that fear and excitement are 2 sides of the same coin. Working outdoors whether we run, climb, walk, play basketball, canoe or paddle board  being near thin spaces brings the idea of change to the foreground with immediacy. Walk and talk therapy has been like a living canvas for me.

Every walk differs, every talk new. The enjoyment is within the act of co-creation…

Gambit exhibiting his power

Teachers Gambit

Unmoored1

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

What Next

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

High seas 1

Relief

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

Soft Departures

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

It’s Personal

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

The Journey

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

Newbie

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

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

Lecturing

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

rough seas 2

Irv’s wisdom

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

Illusions

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

Provoke

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

Invitation

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

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

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism

blue-masque-2.jpg

Flow state thinking

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

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

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

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

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

Blending

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

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

Choice with Others in Mind

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

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

Links to Social Responsibility

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

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

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

The Call

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

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/4/8/a/48a779ee34e742f3/Larry_Temkin_on_The_Obligations_to_the_Needy.mp3?c_id=20122623&expiration=1524205451&hwt=73d3eb9c2a810f74954eaf8cd6b13f30

https://crooked.com/podcast/turkey-and-28-hours-pinned-down-by-isis-with-arwa-damon-2/

School to Prison Production Line

The above phrase I heard recently thank you Luke Roberts for introducing the phrase to me. ThSchool to Prisone School to Prison Pipeline I have been dimly aware of after I started working at a secondary boys school in 2004 as a learning mentor. My experience as a learning mentor a role that supported me in discovering my innate ability to listen intently. I did more than just  listen, I also supported young men to resolve their difficulties at school.

Resolution

The challenges they were attempting to resolve were impulse control, anger management, school attendance, completion of school work, issues at home affecting attitudes to learning. My understanding about these young men was if school as a place of learning was unable to meet their needs (socialisation) other opportunities would present. These extra -curricular opportunities would and did offer the socialisation, learning, excitement, experimentation and ego fulfillment that these young men sought.

Water Pipes

There are a number of ideas that leap from my mind in relation to a production line and a pipeline. A pipeline generally is uni-directional in that it flows from one direction to another, think of an oil line or water pipe. A production line like the ones witnessed at a factory are omni-directional largely dependent on what stage of the process the product has arrived.

Ron Brown College

I introduce the 1st episode of a Code Switch Podcast 3 part series. Code Switch is a podcast I have reviewed before in a blog entitled Deliciously Displayed Information.  Code Switch https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/10/18/558104287/a-year-of-love-and-struggle-in-a-new-high-school The podcast centres on a new school Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington that is looking to address the disparity of young men of colour that do not graduate from high school due to suspensions and other impediments.

A Global Trend

Unsurprisingly a similar trend exists in the UK as well as other places across the globe. The tendency is, those that do not complete school can find themselves being educated by the streets. Hence entering the pipeline. If a student is removed from either a primary or secondary school, education is continued at another educational setting.

Educated Men PrisonP.R.U. (Pupil Referral Unit), once referred to a PRU – students can be provided with a reduced time table (curriculum) and reduced number of hours to attend school. Some students who achieve a satisfactory level of behaviour at the PRU can be returned to their former school after a determined period of time. If a student has been permanently excluded and are able to attain a satisfactory level of behaviour, they could be placed in another school. Some students do not return to mainstream education. Steaming along the production line.

Black Male Love

During the 30 minute show I found myself hopeful of the prospect of the school. The aim to educate and uphold a value for the Kings in attendance and for the communities that they live within. ‘Work with us and we can help you to be great, able to achieve with the tools at your disposal and overcome the set of circumstances that have be felled many before you.’ The expression of love from black men to other black men is an uncommon and uncomfortable sharing. Experiencing love from another man is rare and due to the rarity difficult to process.

Often during the podcast there are expressions and experiences that challenge the notion of black on black love, wholeheartedly challenge the premise of setting, circumstance and time that appears to wear the resolve of the teaching staff. I am hopeful that the mission of the school will overturn the students hearts and minds. Maybe the hearts and minds of their community.

Healing to Health

An aside, the film Black Panther holds a promise of the utopia of a fictional African nation determining it’s own future echoes the hopes and aspirations of not only the Ron Brown school or the Black Panther Movement or the Black Lives Matter movement but also the ideal that by offering love from self to self an individual and a community can heal. Episodes 2 and 3 shall be revealing…

Wishing you well.

Waking up into a thought can be a refreshing experience. Recently my thoughts ran onto members of the  Experiential Group I had facilitated for 22 weeks. My thought was simply this: I wished them all well. I also wanted to thank all of the group members.

I have described in an earlier blog what the function the experiential group had and what my role was. What I have not given is a facilitators perspective on how the groups development was and why I wish the members that attended well.

1st Meeting September 2015

The first meeting of the group was interesting. They came into a room that was ill prepared for any therapeutic endeavour. Chairs and tables were hurriedly arranged in a heap towards the back of the room. I entered the room and found a seat and sat towards the front of the room. Members of the experiential group came in after me and found a chair and placed it in a loose formed elliptical shape and then took to their seats. Other members were already in the room and either stayed in their seats or chose the lesson change over time to stretch their legs and take time to wander into the corridor and chat with other students. They would return in time for the beginning of the next lesson and again take their seats.

Sitting at the ‘front’ of the group became my habit for at least 5 of the first meetings. I would later change my position in the room which caused slight ripples of discomfort amongst the group. Comments included “why has Michael changed where he used to sit?” Not providing an answer and allowing the group to give reason for the slight change presented them with a new reality of me their facilitator.

Changing something small

Being a mischievous person altering my seating position in the room and not sharing as to why I had moved from the front of the class to the side or sometimes the back of the room gave the students an opportunity to appreciate change within the therapeutic space. Initially I moved as I wanted to test the group. Would moving to the left or right of the front of the room change the dynamics of the room?

The change represented difference and I feel that a number of conversations occurred in relation to the subtlety of my movement. The group responded by discussing differences of opinion about the course, each other, perspectives on race, religion, sex, counselling, spirituality, profession, age, family, the why of this career as opposed to any other. Identities for the group became a little more defined, roles the members played changed from week to week: the information bearer, joker, quiet one, challenger, agreer, arguer, dismisser, lecturer enthusiast, social commentator, pessimist, optimist and realist changed from week to week. Which offered the group a chance to simultaneously grow individually and together.

Time and Timings

There were a number of boundaries that were initially presented as trigger points which the group  agreed on or raged against. The clock on the wall in the space we used was roughly 3 minutes faster than real time (my watch). By the 3rd week I had identified that my start and stop times were out of sync with the clock on the wall and members of the group were agitated by this discrepancy.

I chose to raise the timing of the start and end time with the group to gain perspective on whether clock time or watch time would be best to use for the timing of the experiential group hour. On reflection the group decided that they would like to use the clock on the wall to time the beginning and the end of each experiential group.

By the 4th week the timing of the start had slid to coincide with my ‘watch time’ and so I naturally chose to adjust the timing of the experiential group to allow for a later start. Challenge to the timing of the Experiential Group became a frequent issue in the 1st few weeks of the group being run. No sooner had I either raised my hand or indicated that our time together had come to an end, students were making their way to the door. I found it curious. It was like something had gone wrong with the work. Their exit provided them with an abrupt end to a difficult experience. At times this may well have been the case.

Challenge

Describing the purpose of the experiential group was something I had not spent a lot of time reviewing before the group started. In short I said to the 11 members how I perceived the space could be used and said ‘Welcome to your first experiential group. How has your first day been?’ I was promptly informed that the group had started the course a week ago and that this was infact their 2nd week.

Ah, the facilitator gets it wrong! But can he regroup? Internalised thought

I then said something about the idea of safety and that I wanted to provide a safe environment in which all students could share things in the room and be heard. The other idea that was put across to the room was that they needed to be authentic as their professional logs would be marked on reflection of what they had shared in the room.

Challenges came from the group in terms of not fully understanding the purpose of experiential group, or what my role as facilitator was, and questioning if the material that was discussed would disrupt the fragile new alliances that were being formed amongst the group. I took up the gauntlet and attempted to manage the groups development as I had with other groups I had supported previously, which included the Skype group of counsellors that I met with every month and the various basketball teams I had coached.

Experiential Group as a Catalyst

If a person could take a picture of themselves before joining a group experience and then another at a mid-point of a course and then another picture near the end of the course they may well be able to perceive subtle changes about themselves.

Things like their stance whilst sitting or standing, as they talked and expressed ideas to a group of peers. When being challenged by another on a point, they would not try to slink away and hide nor become defensive but seek an empathic understanding of why the question or challenge came when it did.

The picture of themselves in the last experiential group would present them with their growth. By journeying with peers, subtle and significant changes will have occurred. For me as a facilitator all students appeared to have hewn from the granite of the course an identity of who they were and where their counselling journey was to lead them to next.

Good bye and Thanks

I have mentioned in a previous blog that saying goodbye to this first group of counselling students was bittersweet. We were able to develop a closing experience of the group that seemed to resonate with all members that attended.

At one point my voice cracked as I shared that I was going to give up ‘Fear’ and what I was going to take was ‘All 11 of you’. The closing of the group had been mentioned as an idea roughly 9 weeks prior. It was similar to the ending of the Roda when I attended Capoeira with the London School of Capoeira 1999-2001. A completing of a good dance with fellow capoeiristas.

I considered all I had worked with, as a facilitator of this years Experiential Group, ready to move on to the next stage of their journey, capable of fulfilling their roles as mental health practitioners/counsellors/psychotherapists/students.

My thanks are largely due as a result of the group’s patience, resilience, trust and belief that I could facilitate the room and support the group to hold each other and the issues discussed with sensitivity warmth and compassion.

What a ride! I look forward to my next group of students, going again and supporting learning and development.

I wish you well.

Baking: Failure – Success

The Journey into Counselling 2014-06-01 10.39.03

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

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

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

Pinpoint moments

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

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

The presentation

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

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

Creative practice

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

Bread = therapy

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

Getting it wrong

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

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

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

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

The future

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

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