In Dance

2020 was an ‘off’ year for a number of reasons. The blight of CoViD19 significantly affected millions living on the planet. The global social uprising sparked by the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd offered radical insights of not just the coronavirus but also multiple lockdowns and a social awareness that all is uncertain. For me, I chose to leave one organisation and join another. The organisation I chose to join: B.A.i.D. Black Artists in Dance.

Clocked
In 2019 an inspired group engagement re. Something Other: Diversity Space – lead to a sparkling conversation with Joyce Gyimah-Distefano and Gerrard Martin from B.A.i.D. We discussed what my role had been with Diversity Space and what their vision was for B.A.i.D. A recognition of shared interests in the wake of the global social unrest was straightforward for me to recognise.

Mirroring Buddy

Opposites
There was a clear overlap of B.A.i.D’s involvement with challenging status quos, and my involvement with Diversity Space, creating opportunity for Black and Brown voices to be heard amongst an NHS foundation trust. Whilst from two vastly different practices ‘psychology’ and ‘dance’, I would hazard that there are psychological components in dance and a dance in psychotherapeutic engagement. These differences made working together glimmer with possibility. If you have had the chance to watch Move on Netflix a flicker of the psychological, sociological and historical is present within each of the dance offerings.

Recognise
I held an affinity for what the future of B.A.i.D. was to begin engaging with nationally. The similarity of what had begun in 2019 with Diversity Space was – Black/Brown people to be seen, valued, heard, supported to achieve both inside of and outside of the NHS. For B.A.i.D. A space for Black dancers to be recognised amongst, celebrated within and supported to achieve what their hard won talents would earn them in the world of movement performance.

Picturesque Poise

Buckaroo
The promise to Black and global majority communities – that the harms and injustices of the past – were to be rectified and put forever right are largely still unmet. Capitalism’s promise following unarmed Black death, appeared as the last hiccups of a world semi conscious of race, colonised histories and the lie of supremacy gave way to resentment and impatience. The backlash came after a few weeks of full tilt support of Black Lives Matter and *EDDIE (Equity, Diversity, De-colonialism, Inclusion, Equality). Change unfortunately takes time. Some know, others don’t. As Mariame Kaba carefully described in an interview with Ibram X Kendi, “make use of and remain vigil of disciplined hope”.

Outline
Joyce explored what had been achieved with Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust alongside colleagues. What the Raison D’Etre was for the Diversity Space and how our collaboration grew to become a significant force for change for the organisation and for the 4 members of the small but dedicated team. 2 have remained and 2 have joined other teams beyond the NHS. B.A.i.D. as an organisation were clear with what they wanted to engage and achieve. Small – large scale dance training institutions address how to be anti-racist and to tackle practices that ignore, silence and invisibilise individuals from Black and global majority communities that attend dance training.

Fields of Gratitude

Marked
I have delivered 2 individualised events for Rambert School. At the first event as the supervising counsellor for B.A.i.D. I met with students to discuss mental wellbeing, addictive qualities of mobile phone use, risks and rewards of being in and outside of group, raising awareness of public, private and secret communication, identifying attachment patterns, and developing coping strategies. The event in March went well, primarily due to the open curiosity of students, the overview and support of Joyce, Gerrard of B.A.i.D. and Phaedra from Rambert. Students were willing to explore difficult concepts and find interesting solutions and challenge their thinking and mine.

Elastic
The second event involved a group of staff from different components of Rambert School. The staff group were equally as engaged as the dance students had been. They followed what was presented in relation to end of year reflections, as though this type of training happens every term! (It doesn’t!) Staff were as flexible in their thinking and as willing to engage with challenging and opposing ideas, as their students had been. Either there is something in the air in this part of London, or the ethos of the school helps shape all engaged at Rambert.

Flexibly In Tune

Crash
A number of stand out moments happened throughout the day. Concepts such as a ‘Year in Change’ and ‘Conflict’ began shifting around the identity of self and community for Rambert staff. I was thankful to have had a number of prior conversations with Joyce, Gerrard and Phaedra in relation to what an event with me could resemble. Reflecting on 2020 – 2022 the Rambert team were able to note the necessary and amazing choices staff had taken to change ways of being in the school and away from – virtual/online learning, marking, attendance, re-engagement at the school after lockdown. Heading into the topic of conflict, we noted that for much of the pandemic we were all engaged within a number of battles that were; physical, psychological, philosophical, political and social.

Resolution
The small skirmishes (mentioned above) potentially left small and deep scars. Rambert staff identified that we would be better to pay attention to these wounds, heal them and make use of the learning offered. Rather than to limp slowly and recklessly forward – hurting more.

The internal conflict the past 2 years have presented are: what changes are to remain and what of the many adjustments made, do we leave behind?

For me there are phenomenal outcomes when seemingly opposing disciplines arrive at the same place at the same time and attempt to dance.

Perhaps individually we can remain in tune.

Collectively we may find co-ordination a challenge. With considered effort and for a long time after, fun can be re-discovered amongst the many…

Perhaps

Resources
The B.A.i.D. link connects to Black Artists In Dance website – offering the uninitiated an insight to an amazing organisation.
Rambert School present their collaboration with BAiD.
The Mariame Kaba link is connected to the Blog post of Willfully Unseen: Packed Ending and her interview with Ibram X Kendi on How to be Anti-Racist podcast.
In Tune is a link to the musical and poetic feat by Robert Glasper and Amir Sulayman. When artistry takes on a social movement often a power experience is entombed.
EDI a short film by Oxleas NHS trust a view of some of the work the Diversity Space delivered and continues to support and improve the NHS service.
Unlocking Us with Brené Brown in conversation with Karen Walrond, provides a clear direction beyond the upset of the past 2 years. I thought the conversation fitting for the staff group.
The last resource is of Prentis Hemphill discussing conflict with Kazu Haga. The big take away for me was that, there are 7 truths inside of the true false paradigm. Useful to overcome differences of opinion and remaining in the unknown open to curiosity.
Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust EDI
Code Switch Why Now?
Brene Brown in conversation with Karen Walrond Unlocking Us
Prentis Hemphill in conversation with Kazu Haga Finding Our Way

Images
Theme Dance
Cover photo by Maick Maciel on Unsplash
Buddy Wave photo by SJ Objio on Unsplash
Field Dance photo by Ian Kiragu on Unsplash
Picture hold photo by Nkululeko Mayiyane on Unsplash
Wild Style photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash

*An acronym recently invented.

The Completion Compulsion

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ Viktor Frankl

A few years ago an interesting idea blossomed. The thought, to interrupt the want and wish to complete an idea or action. A few experiences helped to solidify these concepts. I will detail below. Explaining thoughts like these, are useful to those interested in psychological models. Also those interested in relieving unhelpful ruminative thoughts.

IOM
The Case of Ms. Snow. For a few years I worked as a forensic mental health practitioner for Together for mental wellbeing. My role at the charity changed a number of times. I began working with one probation service in Greenwich (Jan 2015). In May/June 2015 I supported 6 probation services. The Probation service NPS/CRC (National Probation Service/Community Rehabilitation Company) were adapting to a new model of resource management. As a result the NPS contract with Together changed. ‘Doing more – with less’ was the theme of the new contract. After a year of supporting Probation services in Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Greenwich, Merton and Sutton, I transitioned to working within the Southwark probation service. The new role was to support in partnership with Probation, Police, Housing, Substances and Rehabilitation and employment. I provided the mental health arm of support to individuals involved with the IOM (Integrated Offender Management) programme.

Mosaic In Colour

Messy
Ms. Snow a probation officer was a ‘conversational’ courts assessor. We held a fast friendship. Discussing the challenges the service users faced and how IOM and probation were aligning to provide improved health outcomes. Ms. Snow was particular about her work-station organisation! Post it notes, coloured pens, pads and computer set up just so. With impish glee, I took great pleasure in re-arranging a few items at her desk. I had an idea of how much the rearranging offset her equilibrium. Ms. Snow also shared in making a mess of my workspace in a similar way too. I wasn’t as organised or as particular about my workstation. Her efforts often caused me to smile. It’s the thought that…

Re-Arrange
I would disturb Ms. Snow’s station and then leave to meet a client and on returning note what was disturbed in my area too. Without fail Ms. Snow’s arrangement of her work area would return to pens and note pads and post it notes – to as they were before my involvement. We joked about her compulsion to restore ‘order’. We laughed about my need to increase entropy. An uneasy alliance formed about the balance between order and chaos. Her need to reassemble and my want for disorder. 2 adults acting like children in a serious setting, professionally shepherding adults facing significant difficulties. The idea for the Completion Compulsion was borne in that space. Chaos curiously can invite/inspire order.

Non-Compos
The irrationality of tidiness, or the discomfort caused by presumptions of messy work stations/offices/cars/bed/kitchen/living rooms is linked to an idea of messy space = messy mind. ‘An indicator of instability or a ‘marker’ of mental illness, some assume. Ms. Snow and I joked, laughed and made fun of her near incessant need to bring order to what appeared as chaos. A representation of the organisations and people we were working amongst at probation and Together, perhaps. An experience at a staff lunch emphasised the want for both order and completion. A common phrase was said by me which began something like ‘No smoke without…’ or ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but…’ As you read these words I wonder have you chosen to complete these well worn phrases? Was there an involuntary sigh as you recognised that leaving the phrases incomplete draws attention to something agape in you, unsatisfactorily incomplete? If so, you are now aware of a compulsion to complete. Because not closing the loop is often discomforting.

Unusual
Another example of a completion compulsion arrived whilst working 2 years later as a counsellor at a women’s prison in Kent. The client recently convicted. Troubled by the nature of the crime they were accused and sent to prison for. They found accepting the circumstances of being in prison impossible to bear. The crime they were sentenced for, far outside of their ‘regular’ life experience. This will not be a blog proclaiming their innocence or guilt about the crime accused and sentenced for. The blog is a piece of writing explaining how we (both *Stacey and me) were on course to interrupt her thought patterns.

Unsupported
At our first and following meetings, an exploration of Stacey’s past was uncovered. The complicated details of her education, schooling experiences and friendship networks were shared. Ideas of her being a wall flower, bullied, disliked and unsupported by peers. We unpacked what her relationships with friends and teaching staff were like. Departures were another group of people observed. Either she had left them or they had moved away from her. Her current experience of being bullied at the prison by other detainees – a reminder of her past and an uncomfortable undeniable truth about her present. Intrusive thoughts, depression, low self esteem and a waning sense of resilience were discussed and carefully explored.

Projection
We talked about patterns of behaviour and associated ideas Stacey held about herself and the past. The intrusive thoughts were linked to her disbelief about being sentenced and about the accusation that brought her to prison. Her dislike of prison. Being away from her family. Confronting difficulty daily. Her life at East Sutton Park, these aspects of her new world she was dissociated from as she had been understandably in her past. A dislocation of how her life was supposed to have turned out Stacey was barely willing to face. It was here that the interruption was to be placed. Starting with a simple game of recognising a patterned hand clap was the launch point of creating something safe and new.

RBG  Light Circles

Play
Why a game? Most games are fun to play! There is a sense of learning and enjoyment in game play. The 1,2,  1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, 3,4 hand clap is immediately recognisable. Stacey smiled as she recognised and then was able to complete. The next part of the completion compulsion game is to start the pattern of the 1,2, 1,2,3, 1,2,3,4, and not clap the 3,4 part of the pattern. The reason for this is to support tolerance of non-completion. Recognising that surviving the compulsion, is part of building an awareness to interrupting a way of being. The magic of the completion compulsion took root. What was introduced for Stacey was a new cognitive pathway and a resilience to trying something new. The game part makes the completion compulsion accessible and immediately recognisable. She smiled with concentration as she aimed not to complete the pattern. Her feet tapped out the last part of the pattern after 15 seconds.

Sigh
We laughed at how this challenge was offered and at how silly the idea of not completing left her feeling. After a few more attempts we were able to breath through the conflicting need of not completing the pattern. When Stacey identified that she could choose to either ignore or complete the compulsion she was able to live inside a paradigm shift. A woman free of the obligation to only see herself as a prisoner, as a person cast out from society for perpetrating a crime. But also to appreciate that she was a creative, able to interpret written material and support others with reading and writing at the prison.

Bi-ped
I was later taught in 2019 EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing). Engaging a client with bi-lateral stimulation (clapping, tapping, walking, lateral eye movements or saccades) changes neuro-pathways in the brain. Establishing a validity of cognition helps to embed an alternative way for a client like Stacey to perceive themselves anew. Interrupting the compulsion to complete a familiar upsetting pattern, is key to establish and access ideas of choice, space and alternative possibilities.

Pool Patterns


Applause
There are unseen rewards for completing a pattern. We are rewarded by a hormone feed of dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins when a recognised pattern is successfully achieved. For example: the door was shut after using it, the sentence complete, the thought pattern arriving at it’s pre-imagined end.

Abrupt
Some degree of discomfort is caused when the pattern is disrupted. When the pre-destined arrival at the ‘end’ is unmet. If you can, think about calling a tele-service for banking, telecommunications, TV, Insurance or other customer experience. Passing amongst the laborious numbered steps to finally, eventually speak with someone. The service alerting you of how long the call may take until you speak with a representative. As a loyal customer, you are mentally prepared for the 5 – 30 minute wait. You’ve made time for this. The annoying music has clicked through convincing you of progress being made. Just before the call is about to be patched through to a real live person, the line goes quiet and next all that is heard is dial tone.

Livid
If like me you’re already stretched patience breaks and you begin hurling abuse at the company, and the rubbish telephone service offered, an awareness of the completion compulsion is present. Mainly because of the call not going the way you had planned. The eventual end of the conversation has been hi-jacked. The choices that someone in this position is left with are to leave the call to another time, call again immediately, rage fueled or to vow never to engage with this service again!

Battle
The reward arrives once completion of the action is met. After the tenseness of the situation is passed, a relief then fills the space that was formerly occupied. The feeling can be heightened with either food, drink, a good conversation, laughter or movement. But the reward arrives after survival of the event. Such a strong word to use to describe tolerating a moment of low stress. However it is like a micro battle of wills and wants. To have the thing sought one has to travel through the mire to the other side. We could put up walls, convincing ourselves that we don’t need the service. But the uncomfortable truth is that we recognise the importance of whatever the service is and yes, do still need. So once more back into the fray.

Relief
The completion compulsion idea is to learn tolerance of discomfort and disconnected completion. We have a pre-conceived patterned ending in mind. Reward hormones are queued up waiting to bathe the brain with feel good rewards. A peak moment of stress. Followed by an intentional interruption. The usual ending averted. Instead – a period of non-activity, of waiting, or long held moments for curiosity to brew. Asserting another possible wanted completion. Preferable to the interruption. An alternative could be as readily accepted as a proposed pre-planned expected outcome. A positive cognition is what we want the mind to begin accepting. Then allow the ‘happy’ bath of the brain to commence.

Golden Shimmer

Metamorphosis
For me, returning to the women’s prison a fortnight later, Stacey shared that there had been a change to her intrusive ideas. Speaking with family outside of the prison a shift in perception had started. Stacey and her family were lodging an appeal about her conviction. A spark of prevailing had begun to be established. Stacey had started a difficult transition to appreciating herself as a person in prison. By interrupting a pattern of thinking a newer cognitive model could be inserted and made use of. She had been able to challenge those who were making things difficult for her in prison. A visible change was noted as we completed our work after 6 appointments. Stacey appeared satisfied with how she was viewing her past, present and future.

Arrivé
A simple game of moving things around on a desk turned into a game of interrupting thought completions in Stacey’s mind, resulting in a new way to appreciate herself and her life. The Completion Compulsion initially is to bring to awareness the need to close a loop. Don’t! Wait. See what else arrives…

@calm There is a gap between every heart beat, breath, event and response. Not only does choice exist in the space between but also a powerful awareness awaits #meditation M.O.

*Stacey is a pseudonym to protect their identity.

With thanks to Kate Bowler and Joshua Isaac Smith for words of encouragement and support to write the above.

Resources
I have cast my resource net wide to offer a useful collection of ideas in relation to interrupting our usual pattern of success arrival.
Code Switch podcast features an in-depth episode from The Nod featuring unknown celebrities who should be household names. In light of the recent events in Buffalo, I wanted to offer another story of Black life, filled with glamour joy, some tragedy and restitution.
From Criminal an unknown story of a man’s choice to create state wide change. Interruption of a status quo is how Dr. Dudley E. Flood engaged with segregation and changed the experience of schooling in North Carolina.
The Happiness Lab features Dr. Laurie Santos considering how intrusive thoughts can be redirected in this episode of The Happiness Lab.
I end with Dr. Brené Brown’s interview with Adam Grant and the benefits of remaining with an idea past it’s natural conclusion point and reconsidering an initial viewpoint. The highlight for me was when Brené spoke about the Priest and the Prosecutor. There being a fear about the Politician and what they can do with words.
Code Switch ft The Nod podcast They Don’t Say Our Names Enough
Criminal podcast The Boycott
The Happiness Lab podcast Don’t think of the white bear
Brené Brown and Adam Grant Think Again

Images
Theme: Patterns
Cover photo Blossom by Nighthawk Shoots on Unsplash
Colourful Mosaic photo by Max Williams on Unsplash
RBG Circles Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash
Blue Pool Pattern Photo by Marek Slomkowski on Unsplash
Gold Leaf photo by Susan Gold on Unsplash

Crush

Crush

Blue freeze frame wave

Awe in Azure

Awe never describes
Width in liquid girth
Amazed views
Crushed immensity
*Uncontainable
You

A wave about to break

Cyan Turquoise Wave

All enmeshed
Azures soft movement
Tranquil rhythms unending
Surprising furiously
Eroding curves
You

Bubbles stratifying

Caught Beneath

Inescapable
Bubbles
Mirthless faces
Flexible rubbing
Time *turqoised
You

Stuck and glassy wave

Water Frieze

Epitome in Translucency
Thief
Erasing pasts
Hidden deep
Increases
You

Wave of Might

Flexible Might

Waves disappear
Salty cascades
Rise and Fall
Continuous Change
Strengthens
You

Collaboration offers chance to hone a piece in amazing ways. Add your suggestions for lines 31, 32, 33 in the comments below.

My aim – complete Crush by Saturday the 1st Dec 2018 with the suggestion coming from OnlyRae.

Thank you for the support…

The podcast link below discusses a piece of work written in tattoos on a collection of bodies.

The Allusionist Podcast 

Is Counselling a Good Thing?

Argentine Tango

If it leads to dance… Possibly

‘As Counsellors and Mental Health professionals our role could be seen as Judge Jury and Executioner I shared with a group of Introduction to Counselling students at University of Greenwich in March’

The idea came as an afterthought to a slide which shared the below idea…

Psy-professional dominance

“…the psychiatrist, along with his psychiatrically orientated satellites, has now usurped the place once occupied by the social reformer and the administrator, if not indeed the judge…”

(Wotton,1959.pp.17)

Judge

The idea that we do not judge our clients for their actions, thoughts and circumstances of their lives is mostly I believe true. However as therapists we do make assessments and with that comes some degree of judgement.

How willing are we as therapists to engage with clients and the narratives they share of their lives’? By proxy we are judging! For me the idea is an uncomfortable reality, however it undoubtedly appears as a truism. The wise, and flexible in thought Irvin Yalom in his book ‘Loves Executioner’ shared views about 10 clients he worked with. Wherein lies sometimes excruciatingly honest judgement from him about clients. For example: Penny in the chapter The Wrong One Died was so affected by her past that elements of it were forgotten. Penny’s story stood out for me primarily because her ascent was incredible.

I did however make judgements, about her realisations and towards the end of her story the surprise was tear provoking, moving and surprising as she began to accept what therapy has been able to deliver. A truth well hidden (suppressed) – once seen (recognised) and the pain associated with it had chance to be released the experience offered Penny chance to grow!

As therapists we hold a non-judgemental line with our clients, that attempts to not judge choices of clients but circumstances that they are found within. To this end we judge vicariously choices made and the set of circumstances clients find themselves in. Penny is a great example of judgement by proxy.

The Jury

As Jury we sit, stand, walk and run with clients for hours, inviting them to make more informed choices about themselves. The deliberations seem never ending, the 2nd guessing, the moving ever backward, sideways, and forward before the breakthrough and release. We as therapists prepare the case, a case, our case, formulate the reasoning behind the whys of what lead circumstances to be as the client finds themselves embroiled within, and prepare, re prepare, and wait and hold and offer possible other ways of seeing a set of circumstances.

What we wait for is the lights to come on and the internal glow of re-framing, reclaiming and enlightenment. As an integrative therapist, these moments are worth the wait and the clients patience, as a testament to their resilience and outward growth. They are hard fought for – similarly in the jury’s quarters where arguments ensue, the fight and wrestle for a client is an internal and elemental battle. As therapists we enjoy the battle and the multiple defeats as I view that just further along, the small reprieves and then the striking of gold await. Leaving the jury’s quarters with a verdict whilst hard won, are so so precious.

The Final Act

Executioners execute and we do, for we let die old ideas a client holds of themselves, relationships, careers, family, money, their pasts, identity, food, love, self-esteem, weight, culture, age, sex, and country. We cease the battle once the client begins a journey anew – renewed.

Faith in self – restored, assuages the pain of growth. I have been fortunate enough to witness the act of resilience many times. This is the therapists chalice. This be the raison d’etre of why we do what we do. We resolve something with each struggle, every fight, every loss and every victory. As long as we remain true of ourselves, (congruent) to the work, to the process and to the client – we as a team ultimately win.

A brief tale of The Argentine Tangoist. I had a client a few years ago that I enjoyed working with. They were a trained psychotherapist and could share with me the approaches I was using to support them as we worked. I viewed the work like a daring dance! The dance was like none other that I had been involved with before. It was quick and slow and brief and intricate. I was lost to the spin at times as were they. The work with the Tangoist lasted just over 10 sessions and then as quickly as the work started it ended. Poof! Just like that over. It was chess of the highest order (I am a beginner) and I lost and won and was amazed by their skill. The sense of growth and loss has become a new narrative of mine. One that I have a grapefruit sensation – lingering. As executioner we too can be opened up to the unknown. Here too lies learning…

I have clients where the battle has raged for a while and then peace bursts forth once a realisation or a truth is found. Undeniably the light is perceived by the client – growing from obscurity to clarity and thus, battle weary but ready, strike new ground with renewed faith in their victory. After many years of searching as an artist, poet, basketball coach, youth worker, learning mentor: Counselling and Psychology found and claimed me.

There is something about this work I love – for it blends art with science and the unknown.

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.

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.

Baking and Psychological Perspectives

October 2015 has been an interesting month for me, working as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner, working as a Counsellor in private practice, beginning a visiting lecturer position at a London University and attempting to write regular bog as well as baking a number of artisan breads, I was asked by a colleague ‘How long have you been baking?’ I said four years and when I thought about it a little more, I realised that I have been baking for a little over 8 years. Cakes were my initial interest and Dan Lepard’s Banana Bread was a firm favourite. It’s a foolproof recipe and delivers an aromatic hum of delight every time I bake it.

6 Cereal Bread

Baking Therapy

A Therapeutic Artistic Experience

Whilst on my final year of my MSc Therapeutic Counselling course I struggled with writing up my research ‘A Son’s Journey’. A thought came to me about trying my hand at baking bread. I knew nothing about bread baking and sought an easy recipe. I came across an Irish Soda Bread recipe and after about 3 attempts could turn out loaves of this simple bread every time as well as I could have desired. My bread baking experience grew and I was able to follow Dan Lepard’s recipes with success every time. The current favourite in my household is a Cheese and Onion baguettes recipe that I have altered to a sundried tomato cheese and onion loaf. Baking bread has become a way to relieve stress and  process client material into something edible. I see baking bread like alchemy only my product is edible gold.

Baking Bread as Therapy

2 Years ago I developed and ran a baking workshop with a group of African Caribbean men for Family Health Isis in Lewisham. One of the attendees at the workshop asked ‘So where is the therapy in doing this?’ I replied ‘It’s in what is happening right here and right now, the smile on your face and the faces of everyone here, the fact that you are all going to learn how to bake a simple bread and be able to take it home and share with friends and family. The therapy is in the doing.’ With this in mind I turn my attention to the Great British Bake Off of 2014.

The GBBO 2015

The season of 2015 ended and I am pleased that Nadiya won. She simply outshone her competition and as the most accomplished baker – won. I felt the spark and nuance of the show is starting to become a little worn. This years contestants of 2016, were experienced bakers who all came with their ‘A’ games ready to shine. Compared to 2014’s tumultuous affair with Ian and Baked Alaskan-Gate I anticipated similar frenetic episodes in 2016.

Transactional

In light of Ian’s departure from The Great British Bake Off 2014 on Wednesday 27th August, I am considering what it was about his implosion that grabbed my interest. As a Psychotherapist/counsellor there was a particular quality to the event that I would like to pick up on – which is that of Transactional Analysis, and use this as a basis to understand what may have had me recognise and make note of Ian’s actions. Was it the fact that another contestant had sabotaged his efforts at completing his signature bake by removing the baked alaskan from the freezer and not informing him of this? Albeit for 40 seconds ruining the chances of it setting once and for all!

Calm

Was it to do with the fact that after all his efforts the finished article did not stack up to previous bakes he had been successful with? Blowing out of the Bake Off tent to cool off was his only strategy, or it was the strategy he took. Before he left the tent he took his prize bake and chose to put it in the bin! On reflection my interpretation of Ian’s actions are this. Given the idea that he could not meet the judges expectations (parent) he chose to hide (child) his efforts by throwing the cake in the bin.

Shock Reactions

I registered shock on his face as he realised what had happened to his cake. Unbeknownst to him it had been removed from the freezer and it hadn’t set. He switched from shock to confusion to outrage and then to an act of restrained violence! Unfortunately/fortunately for him he took his angry feelings out on himself, by binning the cake (sabotage). It looked like the only option available to him even with Sue saying that he shouldn’t do that. He then feeling shame leaves the tent. (Shame Violence Intervention) SVI

Another Way

A better scenario would have been to put the cake in the freezer and walk out. Then calm down and present the cake. Then talk to the other contestant about the events of baked Alaskan-gate and how to share freezer space. Then witness another baker like Norman leave the competition and then regroup for the following week.

I feel that Ian had nowhere else to go with his feelings but to vent. The camera’s eye was on him and so he took matters into his own safe/unsafe hands by upstaging the proposed Saboteur by throwing the cake away. I felt the perpetrator of the initial attack of the cake’s demise did look a little guilty. As he walked up to the judges with the bin Ian appeared red faced and sorry (child). Mary and Paul (parents) gave ‘supportive’ comments but Ian had sealed his fate (adult) facing the consequences of earlier (child) reactions to a set of unfortunate circumstances.

Cue Chaos

What also struck me about the event is how quickly things descended into a state of chaos. This was not helped by meltingly hot conditions of the Bake Off tent. What surprised me was the inaction of other contestants to what they could see of Ian’s shallow swan dive. I would have liked to have seen a few people speak up about what had happened to the Judges re: Freezer – other contestant- Baked Alaskan-melting or asked Ian to take a walk and talk with them and calm down before the cake entered the bin.

It’s Heating Up

Unlike the Bake Off of 2013 events appear to be (imagined mostly on my part) more pressured in the tent and with less humour. The show has always been about baking and presenting the good and otherwise outcomes of using an oven to cook with, but with the additional side offerings of humour, innuendo and double entendres. (Perhaps this has all been side-lined to the extra Slice on Friday’s with Jo Brand). What this show in August 2014 presented me with was how an individual can become unstuck when baking a difficult cake.

Flexibility

My work with Family Health Isis and supporting a group of African Caribbean men baking bread highlighted for me that baking can be a hugely therapeutic and rewarding and affirming experience. Baked Alaskan-Gate emphasises for me the need to remain flexible in light of success or failure.

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

In September 2015 I spent a few days reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. The book offers the idea that owning our vulnerabilities makes us stronger, or better at not fearing our lives. Daring greatly as an idea has struck several chords for me as I have lived in fear of discovering that my disability might prevent me from doing my job well enough.

I have spent the last 6 years developing my craft as a counsellor and Mental Health professional; working in the community in private practice, at a University as a Student Mentor, in a prison as a counsellor / psychological wellbeing practitioner and as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. I thought I should aim to be better than good. Better than I thought that the disability would somehow stop me from being. In the profession this type of thinking is identified as over compensating. I can put my hands up owning that I do that.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a disease I have struggled to live with for 6 years since being diagnosed in 2011. I can remember the day that my doctor at Moorefields Eye Hospital reluctantly told me. I felt huge waves of anxiety lift. I dreaded that I might have a terminal disease like brain cancer. I might not be bright enough for that. I was also intensely angry and sad. As I imagined that my dreams of being a brilliant professional had dimmed due to my understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis is.

My struggle has been, I have not wanted to admit to myself or anyone that, I have an incurable disease. A disease that has enabled me to take a good look at myself and reflect on the past 30 years of my life. Over the years there were signs of the disease which hinted at a serious nervous system malfunction, that just wasn’t identified after multiple misdiagnoses. The most frightening was at 22-23 I suffered with a 6 month experience of the left side of my body going into spasm after exerting myself. A doctor I saw identified that I might have an inflammation in my lower back that flared up when over stimulated my body through exercise. He requested that I hold my breath through these episodes and either sit or lie down until the spasms had passed. The humorous thing for me was this was a sign of MS and it was missed but his advice worked.

I looked into the mirror on a particular morning in October 2015 and said to myself “I am going to have a great day.” On this particular day I struggled to make it to work on time and tripped and fell hard on pavement, partly due to the fact that I was rushing and partly because of my balance and co-ordination and tiny calculations in gait and flagstone pavement height that I struggle to compensate for felled me. This morning was not what I had in mind as a “Great day”. But a day is 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds long, I just had to wait for the rest of the day to unfold. It did get better.

For 6 years I have wondered about not letting my secret out as I had not wanted to give others insight about my weakness. But as the book ‘Daring Greatly’ describes, admitting where you are weak is a strength that is indescribable for what it offers: release – a sense of liberation. It feels like for a long time I have lived in a cell with a high barred window. I could hear and smell the seasons change and birds chirping, but the scant amount of daylight that entered my cell was not enough for me to grow strong. I have hidden my illness as a result of how I believed others who may never meet me may judge me. Now I am beyond the cell, and striding into sunlight.

On the day in October where I said to myself “Have a great day”, I attended training at the head office of the organisation where I work. The training was on motivational interviewing and I was invited to share a real story with a colleague about something I had wanted to stop doing. I mentioned that I wanted to stop living in fear of this secret of my MS secret getting out. My colleague EK allowed me to think about what changes I could implement. Owning my flaws, my weakness, bearing to be vulnerable could actually be my biggest ‘to do’.

It scares me as to what this may mean for me and my family, my business and my future. However I already realise that by writing this and then sharing this a huge boulder that I have been pushing much like Sisyphus is now gone. I no longer need to hide it. I have accepted that I have a disability and it does not define my star’s ascent.

Walk and Talk Therapy

2015-06-30 20.52.37One of the most enjoyable things about working as a therapist in nature are the little things that appear to randomly happen on the walks.

Discovered Messages
In September 2015 walking in a park in South East #London someone had scrawled messages on the path that appeared innocent in their offering of wisdom: ‘Be Kind to Each other’ another stated ‘Life is for living if you see this then you are alive’. As I walked past the meme’s with my client, I was mindful not to fall into the role of walk arranger and interpreter of the hidden meanings of what was witnessed. My walking companion chose to make use of the words and applied them to their life.

Leaf Blown Intervention
On another meeting in a different park I met my client near a large oak tree. Initially our #WalkandTalkTherapy was a Stand and Talk Therapy session. We stood for a few moments and reviewed the past week. A leaf blew from the tree and struck the client on the head and this was all the impetus needed to commence the walk and talk. In the 2 years I have been working in this way I have walked through storms, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, Spring, Summer and #Fall. I have met other therapists, artists and project co-ordinators who have also used the environment to inform and shape their work. Much like serendipitous moments happening in my #WalkandTalkTherapy , meeting others who work in nature fall into the category of helping to shape my work.

Mastery is…

Image
Cover photo by Michael Opoku-Forfieh