Mental Models

A Hierarchy

Visible Air

Water and Vapor – Mirrored

The theories and understandings that one fashions for oneself can be as relative to living as other more established ideas. We live in a just and fair society, Good things happen to good people and vice versa, Luck is man made, Every Cloud has a Silver Lining, What goes up has to come down. Life is for the living. Thoughts can include “I am a good, bad, fortunate, unlucky, beautiful, weak, faithful, invisible, resilient, conniving… person”. Which may be true some of the time.

Counselling Models

Studying to become a counsellor a number of theories and models were presented for us to learn. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Freud’s Id, Ego and Super Ego, Karpman’s Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer, The Parent Child and Adult, Spheres of influence, Internal locus of control/influence and External locus of Control/Influence, Prochaska and Di-Clemente’s Cycle of change, attachment models by Ainsworth and Bowlby, the transactional relationship and my favourite Petruska Clarkson’s 5 Relationships Model.

Tailor Made

Clarkson’s model was impactful as it helped me to recognise the similarities and some of the differences had between major schools of thought within psychological and counselling theory. John Nuttall once delivered a lecture on the breadth and life span of psychotherapy and many of it’s twists and developments, on my 2nd year of my counselling course. My work with Laos helped to develop my thinking and practice as an integrative counsellor. Integration has been a useful way of encountering my work. Blending a number of different counselling models together creatively, intuitively enables those that I work with to gain a nuanced and individual experience of working with me no matter the setting – Individually Tailored.

Criminal Justice

With over 10 years of working with the UK’s criminal justice system there have been a number of realisations made about detention, rehabilitation and being on probation in the community. The experience of being a law breaker appears to carry a life sentence that burdens both the service user and those that they are close to and possibly society as a whole. A triangle of sorts could then exist for us all. Each side or corner being unwilling to carry the weight of blame shame and pain on behalf of the other. In effect pushing it away from one side to another. It returns in ways that are surprising and upsetting: Incidents of break ins, street robbery’s, car theft, mugging, assaults, depression, anxiety, increasing laws for surveillance of the populace. The cause…

Odd Triangle

A Triangle of Sorts

Loss

The cause I believe is manifold and complex, not that an attempt at explaining or understanding should not be sought. As social beings we live amongst a number of groupings that support our development and perceptions of the world in which we live. Family, culture, gender, race, physical and mental ability, education, class, religion, time, culture and the society one is raised in can support an individuals development. Many from the list can also be attributed to lead someone to have disastrous outcomes – for life’s opportunities to become lost.

Tide reversal

Were aspects of a person’s life to be out of balance i.e. with limited access to health services, experiences of poverty, early experiences of violence, witnessing substance misuse and experiences thereof, familial education attainment low and un-supportive, petty crime viewed as a survival engagement.

Sun Sea Sparkling

Tides

A person being raised amongst a set of challenges familiar to those involved with forensic backgrounds could find themselves with difficulties that they did not ask for but royally given. Laws, policing, prison, adjudications, societal exclusion are often unlikely to reverse a tide that may have already gone out. Unless…

20 – 60 – 20

There are groups within groups. A visit to Rochester prison in 2017 helped to define the who could be rehabilitated and who perhaps the tide had gone out permanently for. Within any population or group there are percentages of people that are hardened and will always think that they have a way of working things to their benefit and will never change, perhaps have been jaded and have no good reason to. Then there are a percentage of people who are unsure or ambivalent to change and will give anything a try in a half assed way. The last group are the die-hards who recognise that to have any chance of success, commitment to a new way is the only way to bring change and maintain it.

Hard Change

The first 20% may have been in the group just below at one time in their lives. They tried to make the necessary steps to achieve success, but were not believed, found to be lacking the stuff to stick with it and ultimately fell foul of persistent negative thinking patterns and negative events. Becoming convinced that no change is coming and that they are content enough. The term throw away the key is often used for people that present themselves as devoid of hope, lacking empathy to engage with others and have walled themselves in to their dark prism. Should we key throw? Is the choice to agree with their view of the world a necessary acquiescence?

Half in Half out

The 2nd group of 60% are willing to make attempts at change. With successes and positive outcomes change is possible. The challenge is maintaining resilience were things to not happen as quickly, were aspects of success to become failure, were short term gains to turn into losses. Do the 60% group have the ability to keep chipping away? What internal and external supports are they able to draw on to continue on a path that offers a glimmer of something better?

Die Hards

The 3rd group are those who have recognised that by maintaining themselves well they are further ahead. Achieving life goals and turning their once ambivalent/negative perceptions to more positive ones supports their chances of contributing in a meaningful way to their lives and  the lives of others living fully. These are men and women who have found a purpose, a talent, gift, a way to make sense of all that had occurred and have the capacity to make peace and plot another path beyond, away from and towards.

Panoply

I realise that I have presented a number of challenging ideas around change for various groups of people. The training and education I have experienced have enabled me to notice plot twists and the art to life. Recognising when and where opportunities for growth change and are possible. When progress stalls or reverses what chance is there to hold on for? A few years ago I developed a way of viewing recidivism in the UK as a collection of interconnected health goals – another model was realised. I discussed the idea with a number of colleagues J Soame, A Willoughby and K Giakoumi as I valued their insight and all helped to develop the model further. Breaking the Cycle was born…

A few further thoughts in relation to patterns and models of thinking.

TED Talks Radio Hour – Hard Wired

Ear Hustle Podcast – The Row

Philosophy Bites Podcast – Obligations to the Needy

The Outlet

Thomas would yell whilst making a fast break down court towards the opposing teams basket “Outlet, outlet, outlet.” Thomas was the loud, outspoken, fast talking, mathematician, the unbelievable dribbler and phenomenal shooter. As a shooting guard he handled himself exceptionally on court.

Turnover

I have mentioned my adoration of Basketball and of the Alienist in other posts. With the Alienist the appeal has been it’s willingness to display patterns in manageable saccades that introduce difficult and strange and new ideas, that turn stomachs and minds and at times both.

Release

Let it Go

Shedding

A thought struck as I near the end of the 1st book of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist. The idea of the outlet. The shedding of psychological material in a safe and secure way that offers regeneration. Think a reptile it’s skin, a cat or dog their summer/ winter coats, a London Plane it’s outer bark. At page 516 the case is as good as over. The shudder of the character John Moore, recognised as letting the horror and level of mind torture he has gone through to pass. He shares the events of the night with his friend and police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.

Shake it off

The recognition is in acknowledging that a case has run its course to an eventual end. How many of us in helping professions conduct a full case analysis or case review to determine learning. With the intent to successfully shake the case off? Every client we work with is unique and has patterns that can be recognisable. Then there are those clients that surpass our understanding. That leave us questioning our training our experience, our knowledge, inviting doubt, questioning suggestions from supervisors both internal and external.

Burrs

How often then do we review with the aim of release and then cleanse? Psychological Burrs are sticky and can unduly influence a helpers work. The journeying with another on the path to better health is one that tests both the professional and the person being worked with. We enter a play that has a number of factors that interact and can determine the outcome of treatment.

A Kings Park in South London

A Winter Walk

Path 1

If the play happens to move along desired paths then we congratulate the client for their success. When working amongst a group of other professionals we also commend the team about the decisions and choices we all took part in playing with recovery.

Path 2

Were the play to be difficult and lengthy and not follow the desired path, we make alternative plans and develop contingencies that may develop a successful outcome for the work. This is where the heart of the matter often sits. Perhaps the client is initially enthused with the idea of what the work with you will deliver. Then a number of road bumps happen and they become aware that continuing with the work will arouse long held fears. Forgetting the intention to move towards better health. Here the skill of the therapist is key as well as the resilience and trust of the client. Where a good working alliance is built this road block can be understood and moved past respectively.

Path 3

Were things to get stuck and not progress we then enter another phase of the work – that of figuring out the why of the holding pattern and where the blockage could lie? The tricky thing about road blocks is that they are almost imperceptible. They reveal themselves in the client’s away times, or in the quiet moments in a session. For me they appear as questions or slivers of insights that may be occurring for the person sitting opposite. I have grown to trust these slim chance offerings as hidden openings. Using tools like art, paths, stones, the wind, changing seasons, dreams, woodland tableau’s something gets worked loose and we begin investing time to what has been unearthed. These moments are when the magic happens.

Shudder to Outlet

With all three patterns the shudder should occur. Shudder to reorganise thinking, shudder to congratulate, shudder to stay awake and to find other ways in which to grow move and shape treatment.

Go be and be happy

Go at St James Park

Self Care

Here the outletting of the pressured thinking, the complex conversations, the layered concentrated empathy and compressed and extended compassion need to be passed. To allow space, to breathe freely, to re-energise and replenish to connect with our purpose, our why. This then is an aspect of self-care. We who care for others can be less concerned with our own wants needs and mental well-being sometimes at great cost! Placing all of our focus on those that we support. Care starts with us first. Selfish? Possibly.

Safety

Whilst on an airplane or on a ferry the flight attendants and shipping crew advise to fit in emergencies – breathing masks and life jackets first to ourselves and then to others. The idea: look after self first, then we are able to look after others.

Everyday

Outletting can be achieved through a range of actions and behaviours. The main aim is to let go of the psychological weights being carried from one day in to another or from one interaction in to another. Supervision is a great way to get loose from the psychological work. Once a month or twice a month may not be enough. We can become susceptible to compassion fatigue, empathy impasse or burn out/singe outs. That may be ameliorated with a daily check in and an outletting of all that could be a trigger, an up setter, an applecart turn-overer, with the aim of finding a piece of tranquillity. To rediscover and reconnect to our why. Returning to the play with those being helped with renewed energy.

Everytime.

Goodbyes…

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about an interesting part of ending a meeting or a conversation – the good bye.

Good Bye Umbrella

Wind Caught Umbrella Away

I asked my colleague, “How do you find saying good bye to another professional?” I asked.

She replied: “I never really thought about it.”
I said: “Well…. I… have and I find myself saying bu’bye to just about everyone, even to people that are from call centres. What am I doing?” I said
“Well”… she paused, “it is a nice way to bring a conversation to an end. With my friends I sort of say BYEEEeee” She said
“So you sort of sing it?” I asked
“Yeah something like that…” she said, “…And then with one of the counsellors I worked with before, she would  say Bye Bye Bye Bye Bye as they were putting down the phone almost apologetically ending the conversation.”

Intention

Here I laughed uproariously, I couldn’t control it. The laughter was delicious and surprising and welcome. My laughter was in part due of recognition of how a counsellor may behave trying hard to maintain compassionate boundaries and also ending a call with a client. My colleague’s re-enactment was also a great characterisation of a person tentatively putting down the phone receiver cautiously. I could almost see the care and non malificence of the counsellor’s intent.

Family

My laugh of recognition was also about how I end my calls this way with my sisters especially my eldest sister.
One of my nieces asked: “Why can’t you just say I love you and get it over with?”
I gave a long explanation about the long good bye as meaning the same thing! My niece 14 at the time didn’t quite buy it. I don’t believe I really did either.

Formal

The goodbye or the bu’bye conversation with my colleague continued as I was looking for comparison with how others manage their goodbyes and when and where a bu’bye is an appropriate way of ending an engagement with another.

Warm

Perhaps a goodbye has become formalised as a permanent ending – hard with finality. Where as bu’bye is warm and has a similar meaning but is vague and familiar. I have in mind the bu’byes I said to my sons when they were much younger. However singing a good bye as my colleague does with her friends, I understand as another form of familiar parlance and recognition of the significance for people close to oneself.

Endings

Final Goodbyes

Goodbye Walking Away

In a few weeks I have an uncomfortable good bye ahead of me. My time at Together for Mental Wellbeing has run it’s course and I am to move on to pastures new. The experience I have gained at the charity has been amazing, transformative and unforgettable. The discomfort arises as I bare witness to the friends I have made, moments of inspiration had, insights shared, support offered and ideas for development discussed, are to be no more.

As a lay philosopher the opportunity to discuss ideas with others about the advancement of the criminal justice service in London and find ways to better support those in the community and those in custodial settings I will greatly miss.

As a group I have not come across another set of people that are as committed, compassionate, resourceful, flexible in thinking, and willing to work the unforgiving hours until the job is complete. It has been a growth making experience working alongside: Counselling Psychologists, Community Links Workers, Counsellors, Forensic Psychologists, the Data Team, IT department, HR team, Admin team, Managers from around the world all contributing to an organisation that has a belief based in recovery and safe return/re-entry to the community

Saying goodbye to all of the above is saying good onward journey for both of us. Borrowing a phrase from Chris the Big Issue seller at London Bridge who always offers me a phrase that makes me smile:

A truthful quote

Painful Goodbyes

‘Until we meet again’

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.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

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.

Belonging v Fitting In

Confusion 2015-05-25 15.32.10

There are many reasons that I have wanted to write a regular blog. Mostly to share a perspective on things I experience from bewildering and conflicting perspectives. These perspectives include myself as a thinker, a past time of mine since I was a young man.

  • A black male psychotherapist, three words that cause me to pause and reflect on the meanings that are associated with each and how these three words interact with each other and with the social fields I come into contact with on a daily basis. I suspect a blog about being a black male psychotherapist is to be written in time.
  • Being a father of 2 young black boys the responsibility I am presented is to support their development in being able to simply just be. With Janelle Monáe’s Hell you Talmbout I recognise that my involvement with my sons’ lives is of primary importance and one in which I am invited to be an educator, coach, listener, artist, co conspirator, chef, journey planner and Doctor. Ta Nehesi Coates speaks and writes well on this subject in his book Between the World and Me.
  • Some of the other roles I engage with are; as a member of a mental health organisation working alongside probation and with service users, as a husband, as a lover of jazz, a reader, a former interior designer, youth worker, comic book reader, movie goer, longboard rider, podcast listener, basketballer and coach, friend, walker, facilitator and multiple sclerosis sufferer. This list is not exhaustive and there are probably at least 5 or more subjects I could add.

Fitting in, Belonging

For this blog I wanted to discuss an awareness I sensed but hadn’t fully brought into full consciousness until I came across it whilst reading Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. One of the concepts she was able to describe was a simple concept of either fitting in or belonging. At the time of reading ‘Daring Greatly’ in Oct – Nov 2015 I was experiencing what it meant to either ‘belong’ or to fit in.

2014 into 2015

Working for a large organisation with a group of people one knows vaguely who each have slightly differing roles and responsibilities to yours, there can be points when you are offered a chance to either fit in, or if lucky to choose to belong. When I joined the organisation I attempted to go with the flow and fit in.

Fitting in often does not cause great offence to others ‘no boats are rocking’. Perhaps in oneself the effect is of losing grip on what is important – oneself and one’s reality. Losing sense of oneself can be unsettling and what could be worse is not realising that your way is lost until you are saying and doing things that you don’t recognise.

In December 2014, I left an experience of belonging to a staff team in a high security prison and joined the organisation I currently work with in January 2015. The mental health team I left consisted of Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Nurses, Counselling Psychologists, counsellors , an EMDR counsellor who was also my line manager and supervisor, Occupational  Therapists, and counsellors on placement.

HMP Belmarsh’s mental health team was a robust co-operative, co-ordinated group of professionals that met every week to discuss mental health referrals. It took me 2 years to get used to the quick fired nature of the referral process and dissemination of potential clients to departments within the mental health team. In the last 2 years of working at Belmarsh I gained a sense of how valuable these differences amongst the mental health team were as Social workers would have a different perspective to Psychiatrists or CPNs another opinion to Occupational Therapists and counsellors to counselling psychologists.

With these differing opinions in relation to treatment options, barriers for individuals seeking treatment were overcome and mostly resolved. The experience I had was of belonging to a staff team who were willing to work together for the greater good of those seeking mental health support. I was able to recognise that differing viewpoints can be supportive rather than only negative, that can appear to slow or block progress.

A reminder

Whilst training as a counsellor 2008-2011 I had experiences that were of not being able to neither fit in nor belong. I was one of a few minority ethnic people on the course and one of only 3 males that completed year 1. Struggling alongside 18 other students on a bewildering counselling MSc course, I would have thought would generate a sense of belonging or camaraderie. My experience was that of being outside of a group of people who were able to exist in a quasi-understanding of fitting in with each other.

I made a choice in October 2015, which was supported by Daring Greatly, that fitting in was not going to be how I operate whilst working with others. Belonging was a better coat to wear. I had been in a number of previous working experiences pre Belmarsh were belonging was a part of the fabric of the organisation.

Currently I find myself reminded of my training to be a counsellor and the discomfort of attempting to fit in amongst a student populace that I was to belong to, but was different from.  The knowledge of being an outsider from a group is not a new one and has the possibility of offering me an internal conflict which can lead to personal growth.

Reality

The reality is that the experience of belonging or fitting in will repeat in whatever work context I find myself involved with. The interesting thing for me is that I will attempt to gain a sense of belonging wherever I work. The cost of attempting to fit in I find too great. It’s the experience of not sharing your perspective on subjects you care about, of fearing that you will be ostracized by people you work with, finding that you stand out and being uncomfortable with this.

Belonging

Being amongst a group of others I would find it important to relate and talk about any number of subjects on a number of different levels and not be judged or ridiculed in my sharing. Depending on a person’s background and family of origin the aim could be to gain a sense of belonging similar to that of a family system. Perhaps without some of the negative aspects of a family group. For me it’s about the feelings that come with the experience of recognising that one belongs. Which feels very different to fitting in.

I would liken belonging to hearing a favourite song by chance whilst out doing something innocuous. The song I would be happy to hear would be Ooh Child by the Five Fairsteps and something like love spreads throughout your system like you’re in a hot bath.

My experiences of belonging are many-fold, for example attending my first BAATN mens group and mentioning that unlike Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man I WAS being seen and heard by the group, and that I also belonged. Coaching basketball in a number of settings was the epitome of gaining a sense of containment attachment and belonging for every team I coached and for all that attended. My sense of the Experiential Group even though I was the facilitator, I felt part of the group not apart from it, lastly, when my family get together we express our love in volume but each member receives that warm bath feeling…

Belonging.

Endings and New Beginnings

2015-07-05 14.47.16In September 2015 I began facilitating a group of year 1 MSc Therapeutic Counselling Students at University of Greenwich. My role was to sit with 11 students in something called Experiential Group.

Group Aims

Perhaps explaining what the group is to do and the aim of the Experiential Group would help to frame what I have enjoyed about the experience and why I am sad to see the group come to a close. The Experiential Group is essentially the last component of 4 or 5 sections of training to be a counsellor. Other training providers and universities may have a range of different modules for training counsellors. At the University of Greenwich the course is comprised of; Theory, Skills, Case Discussion and Experiential Group and this was the running order of the day when I attended 2008-2011.

In Experiential Group, members discuss topics that have arisen in the course of the week and share these with the group. The space is infused with dynamism, ideas, emotions and rememberings . My role is to sit amongst the group, and notice what is happening in the room and offer insights and reflections for reflection and application to the conversation. It is a role that I feel is as challenging as that of an orchestral conductor without a pre-designed, pre-aranged outcome or destination.

Facilitate?

At the first meeting in September 2015, the group asked what my role was, ‘Like what do you do?’ I smiled in response and did not offer much as an explanation. The 11 members of the group as one, looked perplexed, as if I were holding back some valuable information. I eventually offered that I facilitate the space.

Different yet the same

I can reflect on joining my experiential group in 2008 with 15 unknown people in the room and feeling at odds with 2 conflicting ideas. The first was that my previous counselling skills course at Morley College had offered a similar collective learning experience but was termed either a check in or a check out. The ‘Check ins’ were at the beginning of the course and the ‘Check outs’ came at the end. I had some knowledge of what the experiential group was about. But did I? Really?

Framing

I can remember in 2008 that I wanted to suggest we check-in and check-out. This would have given me a frame to work within for every group meeting. It may have provided others with a ‘have to’ which could have been prescriptive and not as comforting. Great for me, perhaps not necessary for everyone else. After attempting to make check-ins a part of our experiential group meetings the idea was phased out after 2 meetings. At the time I was not happy about this phasing out but looking back I can see the reason that check-ins were moved past.

The second thought at the time was, there are other people here and they may know more about counselling than me so I should listen and follow their lead as I don’t want to make myself look inept and out of my depth.

Growing Awareness

Looking back on my need for structure then, I can witness a need to control and pace things in a measured way. What happened with this year’s year one students, was apart from time boundaries there were little imposed rules for the group to hold on to. They managed well with little to guide discussion or rules for the group.

The purpose of the experiential group as identified in an article in Therapy Today (Peer supervision and collaborative power) , which is not in the course hand book but a suspicion on my part, is to grow the counselling experience and the counsellors awareness of self and other in the 28 x 1 hour appointments. I have found this group process remarkable, confusing, frustrating, hilarious, as a way of engaging student counsellors works to hone inherent skill development.

Differences

It works because of what each member brings to each meeting. There are differences of opinion, differences in thought, seeing aspects of counselling and psychotherapy in a wide number of perspectives, a collaboration of suspicions, they share successes and failures, difficulties are offered as talking points for the group to reflect. The aspect that makes me wryly smile is that the energy of the room sways and motivates discussion in surprising ways. Pop culture and Pop psychology is often used to hang uncomfortable and indigestible components of counselling and psychotherapy on. Humour was often used to smooth away the cracks that appeared in a discussion that encountered difficulty or a differing opinion.

Appreciation

The group then use the experiential group and components of the course as well as their placements to write 2 professional logs. The professional logs are informed by personal notes taken throughout the year. These notes observe how each participant has used/observed themselves and material from the course in describing themes relevant to them, their progression on the course and relating this to skills, placement (counselling skills application), case discussion and the experiential group. With each professional log, students grew their awareness and their roles as counsellors in each particular setting they practiced their skills in. It was a privilege to sit amongst the group and witness these nano changes, that were in fact gargantuan.

My excitement wanes as I acknowledge that I won’t have this 1st again. These 11 students go on to year 2 or elsewhere to continue their journey in a way that is outside of my knowledge, experience and guidance.

With this said, I am invited to look at what lies at the horizon and begin my walk toward this…

Bon chance.