Reward The general reward in life is to get to a better end.
For our lives to have made it out of the dark times. To have found a piece of peace. The peace offering light, laughter, a sense of community and belonging, along with a sense of purpose.
Farther Along The aim for me with the mini-series of blogs was to invite you to shift ideas along. For me, the topics of Substance, Resilience, Resistance and Persistence introduce a 5th component: Insistence.
Clear Eyes Insistence is to ask with energy, that something should be done, given, offered, delivered. Insistence is the firm belief that something next is to follow and will soon arrive only when one asks.
Fair Writing these thoughts out has been fun and a challenge. The mini-series has helped to smooth over a time of constant worry. COVID19 continues to ravage the world as we know it. Being set a task without borders has felt liberating on a number of levels. It is fair to say that writing 500 – 600 words at a time is both a stretch and a reward. My pieces are usually twice as long! Fleshing out these ideas in a brief format has helped me to understand these 4 concepts at a more fundamental level. The 5th – Insight – came as a slight continuation and as a gentle conclusion.
Ask If you have read the previous 5 blogs and have thoughts about their construct, content and conveyance of information can I kindly insist that you complete the attached Survey Monkey Questionnaire? https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/R8QWZGG
Thank you in advance for your comments and reading of last week’s writing. Comments always welcome.
I consider what my role as counsellor/psychotherapist is, after 10 years of practice. Change is present and I am simply bearing witness.
What am I? A Shaman. A mental health practitioner. A support. An educator. An enthusiast. A Creative.
Tune this The dial has swung on this thing called therapy don’t you think? Treatment for mental illness is no longer clinging to an outer boundary of the:
‘Never!’ ‘No!’ ‘You will have to drag me outta here to see a therapist.’ ‘Sedate me first, please?’ ‘Do I look like I’m crazy to you. Well? Do I?’ ‘If you think I need therapy, why don’t you just lock me up?’
Accessing support has become more socially acceptable. Changing the perception to another resource for those requiring support. Those with the means to pay for it do. Signing the contract and attending to treatment with studious intent.
Therapy can be a choice. Enter from stage left: IAPT providing access and enabling a great many more people to access the support so few previously sought.
Choose Wellness Now therapy sits alongside health as a must for those in emotional, physical or psychological pain. Many have come forward sharing their change. Championing their therapy and the counsellors/ psychologists/ psychotherapists that walked with them through their dark spaces.
Half Life Enough time has passed for the shame of a half lived life to be released and relieved. I thank those like Paul McGregor who champions the cause of C.A.L.M. Talking therapy is a way through blocks and barriers, as is homeopathy, hypnotherapy, walk n talk therapy, coaching, osteopathy, dance, sport, gym and dietary support.
Staying Some of the approaches mentioned above I have been able to use. I realise that the change for me is as a result of what people have asked of therapy.
Be in the room with me. Don’t leave like those others did (Dad, Girlfriend, Mum, Boyfriend, Work, Gran and Grandfather, evn my Friends!).
“Help me understand my story. Make sense of these experiences with me.” With the experience I have, I am able to interpret and meet some of what is asked. The call is pressing. The call is also immediate.
The call is a now (exclamation mark) not, a later. And this is where therapy meets coaching meets mentoring entrepreneurship and consultancy.
Orbit This is where I find myself. I am not sure there is a final word for where I am finding myself. A therapist? Of course. Yes. A mentor? Yes. A coach? Yes. A counselling supervisor? Yes.
I feel that consultancy is what is pooling for me currently.
Pulling me in like a form of magnetism.
Therapy Sloth The time we are living in now is almost of immediate gratification. If it cannot be had within moments of the request – abject fear, loss, failure, ignorance and paucity ensue. Or a sense close to. I ask and within microseconds, no longer minutes, goodle or facetram or instagaboggle will provide.
What then of therapy? The old model was to be a blank screen allowing the client to project their fears and desires onto. With newer versions of therapy the therapist stayed in the room and aimed to be a vehicle that supported the clients change.
Perhaps the model is to change once more. The next adaptation is to be in the room and be an active agent, an instigator of change that is significant and meaningful for the client being supported. The work could find a breakthrough in one sitting, 3 or 23.
Transitioning Change has no signature. No off, on, or now, time stamp.
Change happens as a result of the relationship between the supporter and *supportee. It is the twang of tension. The confusion of misapprehension it is the stuff of the in between. I stopped being a therapist the moment when I applied psychobabble to the vast complex life I am living in. Take a look at Haunted as an example or The Alienist blog featuring in Patterns: A beautiful way of thinking.
Ending With I am here for those who assertively, dramatically and seriously want something amazing to happen. Change is available for those who want it! More importantly it exists for those who ask for it and continue asking until that change arrives.
I work with those who are ready and waiting for the next turn on their wheel.
The Call I am a consultant transforming the art of conversation. Now, if you would like to work with me on that project, idea, challenge or concern drop me a line or visit www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com.
Emotional literacy is a term used to understand ones emotions. In light of the swathe of information in relation to mental health, mental illness and the taboo subjects of psychosis and schizophrenia entering our regular experience. I write to explore a small but significant distance. A gap is beginning to widen in relation to being able to discuss the effects of mental illness and what a person feels. Almost like the dark side of the moon – present but never seen.
Omnipresent Majesty – Humility
Luke Roberts was possibly the first person to highlight the willingness commonly witnessed of our public to talk about a mental illness. A few years ago that was unheard of, no one talked about their stuff openly! The gap of not connecting illness with the effects it has on a sufferers/survivors life alongside their emotions appears irrational to me. A sea change has occurred of the willingness to talk about mental illness that has been supported by various well known individuals sharing their stories in a variety of ways: podcasts, radio, television, newspapers, books, blogs. Luke’s point relates to our joint vulnerability in expressing witnessing and accepting that the many they’s are the many us’s. Humility possibly also plays a part here also. We have become inured to the siren and unable to recognise the pain that those who have shared their stories have lived through, or are living with.
Balance on the river Li
The overall benefit to being open about life’s challenges and the trials one has lived through is encouraging to another who may have similar troubles. By hearing another’s triumph over a personal tragedy, surviving the hurricane of war, another story can be developed like a picture. Showing a story of wonder and banal normalcy.
Delight of Autumn
There is something sensational about another person expressing their hurts in a public domain that captures attention. Are we looking to empathise with that person’s experience, knowing their story may well support us in avoiding a similar fate happening for us, witnessing another’s horror offers chance to pay attention to the frailty of life?
I think one of the aspects that those who work with others intimately recognise is the strength of vulnerability as well as the beauty in the human experiences of loss, gain, winning, failing, laughing, journeying, pain and healing. It is the promise of alchemy that attracts.
The gleam of joint success and winning and losing and overcoming and moving beyond the hurt to something else…
Exposing one’s hurts invites the *witnesser to pay attention to what ails, that can offer chance to review and chance to change. With emotional literacy what is being invited is to recognise what hurts during the conversation. Focusing on the internal world to invite change. The Chimp Paradox is an excellent example of us figuring out what is causing us conflict before it is unfurled and hurts another/others or ourselves. The motive is an understanding that as a human we experienced a number of developments in our life that largely supported our growth.
We may recognise that we have an inner child, a surly and impatient teen, an internal parent and a calming adult voice. The tensions that arise by being pulled in a number of different directions by these parts inside of us, cause some emotional pain, in the least invite us to questions such as “Why did I just do that?” “Why can’t I just get over this?” My favourite is “What’s wrong with me?” Invariably nothing is ‘wrong’. What may have happened is you are experiencing the tension between different parts of the self that are in conflict and may have been hi-jacked by an emotion or fear.
As humans we have drives that enable us to navigate through life and learn: seeking safety and warmth, finding a partner, finding food and sustenance. These different drives can throw us against societal norms and personal wants/drives leading to conflict. A great example of this is the marshmallow test. The want to eat for those between the ages of 4 and 7 are so great that some children eat the one marshmallow rather than wait the 3-5 minutes and get to eat 2. Delaying gratification is a skill that is learned over time. As is the ability to be emotionally literate. One can’t run at it like other self-development programmes. Like training oneself for any new skill or ability it is best achieved over time.
‘There will be many failures along the way. Ah, but the successes will carry for longer…’
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am wondering about another way of extending my counselling practice.
Short Focused Work I read a short story over 10 years ago of a psychologist who had worked with a client for a short number of weeks. The setting appeared to be in one of the North Eastern States of America as there was mention of Coney Island.
Assessment and direction The story was about a man in his mid 30’s – 40’s who went to see a psychologist due to feeling low and not knowing the reason for his low mood. (I should note that no ethnicity culture or race was mentioned which for me as an African Caribbean male could mean he could be African American, Asian American, Native American, Latin American or European American). After a short assessment the psychologist was able to offer the man treatment for his low mood in the form of writing a to do list of activities and to return in exactly 1 month and pay the significant bill.
Disbelief The client took the sheet of paper and scoffed at the advice. Joking aside he was aware of his plight. If he did not follow the psychologist’s requests things would remain the same. In the four weeks the man was able to complete the 6 things on that list. He returned to the psychologist at the 2nd appointment and told of his accomplishments and how he had noted his mood appeared better. The psychologist asked as to what was different between the two appointments? The man told him of the changes he had put in place and as a result many things in his life were different.
Invitation to Change One of the 1st requests on the list was to take a 2 week break from work and make a concerted effort on the list as it was going to be hard to complete whilst at work.
The man spoke of revisiting Coney Island as a man, and remembering what it had been like when he had visited with his parents. Back then Coney Island had been filled with colour, noise of people having fun, the sea crashing on to the beach and gulls calling. For the psychologist had invited the man to revisit a place from his youth. As the man spoke a smile brightened his face as he remembered what returning to this place had been like for him.
List There were a number of other tasks the list contained including:
Ridding his home of debris he had collected over the years that he no longer needed,
Accepting the wrongs he had caused himself and suffered by others and making a resolve to wipe the slate clean. Making himself aware of the lessons and deciding to move on.
The last thing on the list was to write a letter to the one person he had wanted to say sorry to for a long time.
A Letter He reported to the psychologist that this last request had been the hardest to complete. He had written the letter the previous night before coming to the appointment with the psychologist. The man told of who he had written the letter to and of his deep sorrow at not having done a few things he had said he would, and as a result what life had become – dull uninteresting flat and uneventful.
Rediscovery The man spoke of the past four weeks as if they had been an adventure. As if he had discovered what living was about again and stated that he wanted more of it. He told the psychologist that he had written the letter for himself and was to send it to his parents apologizing for what he had not achieved even though he had had dreams when he was a boy.
StayCation On completing the letter and signing it he made a discovery before he sent it to his parents. The man reported to the Psychologist that his life was not over and that the four weeks away had taught him a valuable lesson. He only had himself to look at for how his life was. He had decided that he was not going to make excuses for not achieving his dreams any longer! He told the psychologist that on the 1st week after his staycation he had returned to work and had handed in his notice and had found another role in a different type of work that had awoken in him a sense of adventure. The four weeks he had taken to rediscover himself had been the best investment he could ever remember making and that he would be happy to pay the fee he was being charged as the 6 short requests had brought him back to himself and to his life.
Chicken Soup? I can remember that I had a smile on my face as I read that story. It may have been in Chicken Soup for the soul 3rd edition. What springs to my mind is the huge capacity of therapy and the individuals, groups, and children that work with us to create change in their lives. I am wondering if I shape my business in a similar way, what could happen in 2 sessions; a crash course in manifesting and managing change.
Inside Space (pic)
Image Cover image and inlay photo by Michael Opoku-Forfieh