Running the Black Men’s Therapy Group has gifted me and my co counsel Sheila Samuels with more evidence of how necessary the Introductory course/workshop is for Black Men.
A previous post Jitters, observed the negative side of what too often happens, when someone does not get the help so often not looked at as a support. Therapy is often a last resort and sometimes barely that. How can therapy be successful when there is so much at stake? There are a number of reasons for the reluctance to engage. Cost. Culture. Cures and Cons.
Cost Therapy is not generally a low cost investment. See Kwanda’s initiative to redress this. IAPT was seen as a possible panacea for the masses to engage with psychologically trained individuals to access C.B.T. (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
Helping those who wanted psychological support to begin resolving and managing their experiences of depression and anxiety well. The NHS support was provided through GP services for those who either expressed need or were found to be able to access C.B.T. support. The cost for a person wanting C.B.T. is nothing but time. Current waiting lists are between 6 – 18 months in some areas.
Culture For many people there is a sense of unknowing and unconscious/conscious fear when thinking to access talking therapy (a stigma). TV shows like In Treatment, Queer Eye, In Conversation with John Bishop and Couples Therapy allow viewers to see the process outside of themselves. Sort of like a fly on the wall. Viewers don’t get the first hand raw experience of what therapy does. Therapy can often be a truly eye opening experience. It can be scary too. Don’t let fear prevent you doing great things, again!
Uncoupling However living with the pain of what potentially is lying hidden could be seen as worse. On a number of levels the person living with the pain knows this too.
Many cultures across the globe have differing ways of managing internal scars. Some attend to these scars in community settings, some go to see a Doctor or psychotherapist, some a faith healer, shaman or spiritual leader a wise elder in the community. The aim is similar – to unbuckle the experience of (emotional, physical, psychological, historic) pain from the present.
Not for Me Therapy supports a person or group to achieve this aim of unbuckling. In a Western technology filled world. Some cultures have developed a socially accepted space in the minds of their people for therapy to be an acceptable form of treatment. For some cultures including the African Diaspora, Asian Diaspora and South East Asian Diaspora, therapy is often seen as something that is not to be touched. Therapy is for other peoples. “We don’t speak our family matters to outsiders.” “It makes us weaker as a community that has already suffered and is going through our own ongoing struggles with it’s identity purpose, history and future.”
Cures Therapy is not a cure. It has helpful elements that have curative affects for individuals and for groups but it by no means can wipe out past traumas and pains in a single shot. The process can take time – sometimes for a few years.The accumulative effects are like a river cutting through rock or an overnight heavy snowfall. Therapy cannot undo centuries of pain. What therapy can do is support a better understanding to support groups and communities resolve current and past experiences.
It is Written Books like The Body Keeps The Score and It’s Not Always Depression support an individual and groups to begin reviewing their current lived experience and review them critically. The two books highlighted above and therapeutic encounters generally encourage people to take out the parts that are not working for them anymore. Observe the learning from an array of differing experiences. Begin implementing another way to live and live well. I can think about a number of clients I have worked with for 1 – 5 seasons who have all gained somethings from therapy and found a way to let their past demons die and accept their now to live as best as they can making improved choices.
Cons Therapy has it’s good, bad, and indifferent encounters between therapists and clients. The right mix often happens when skilled therapists meet willing clients to address their difficulties. At times an incompatible mix can happen of cultures, sexes, compassion fatigue of therapists, unconscious biases, identities and egos are amiss and both the client and therapist cannot make the therapeutic encounter work. The fatigued battle weary therapist and enthusiastic risk aware client would be an interesting dynamic to supervise.
Cons? The thinking behind IAPT’s 6 appointment model is that a short focused piece of work can be effective when a single problem is looked at solely. This is equal to 300minutes of considered time and can be effective to resolve an issue. The difficulty arises when more than one primary concern is activated or pulled through. Which can happen as a result of discussing the other factors around the initial reason a person engages in therapy.
Time is a valuable commodity as is a successful outcome for the work for client and therapist.
Cons?? Six appointments at times does not touch the sides of heavily affected people’s challenges like complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). Another difficulty that the Global Majority has with encountering therapy are the historic experiences of colonisation, criminalisation, cultural appropriation and theft, villainizing communities and splitting groups of people along tribal, ethnic and gender lines. An implicit encouragement of groups to fight politically or physically inside of these constructed divisions, and then them to be offered a westernized approach to heal communities seems like an insult to a historic injury.
Cons! Where would trust exist within these paradigms to complete a piece of effective work? Western approaches to therapeutic outcomes were developed originally for a small group of people in Europe!
If we were to widen the lens and take in the planet through a global and pan view, communities from Central and South America, the indigenous populations of Australasia, Inuit communities, Sub Saharan Africans and Northern African communities may not access therapy marginally or fully because of their own senses of culture, their community understandings, religions, beliefs, sense of collectivism and historical legacy experiences with the West. A Eurocentric approach with therapy would need to be de-colonised and become incorporated within the cultures therapy hopes to support.
Cons!! There are also the experiences of what White psychiatrists, and White therapists have perpetrated against Global Majority communities which adds to the sense of historic mistrust against westernised approaches to healing.
Astonishment I have been amazed at the fact that I am transfixed by the Netflix show called YOU, his lies, his abilities to deceive and manipulate his way into peoples lives astounds me. The story telling and artful portrayal of Joe Goldberg is an introduction to the layering of an unwell man, that believes that he is, well – well.
Endings The first season was complete hedenonism and I allowed myself to be swept up in the mire of Guinevere Beck and Joe’s “love affair” that ended shockingly in season 1.
Currents The second season I find myself trying hard to swim against the current of liking Joe. Of not wanting him to win, steal, cheat, lie. Kill. But he does and I am amazed and happy and appalled by my want to see him suffer, be caught, found out, be brought to justice and then he is not and I am relieved and dismayed at myself for enjoying his escape.
Adoration Amiss This is bad love. This is the love of the ill and the confused. This is the love often given or showered upon a narcissist or sociopath/psychopath. This love is wrong on so many levels but there I go, mesmerised with the allure of LA sun and youngish people living their best sordid lives. Pure unalterable, unabashed fantasy.
Familiarity This is sociopathy. This is personality disordered contortion. The hook for me is the overlaying of the voiceover. The quick, witty, aware commentary. It sort of makes it okay. Smoothies over the roughness. This voice is similar to the ‘always on voice’ of mine in my head. I would hazard a guess that this voice is similar to the voice in your head too. It, the voice in our heads, is the entertainment. The doubter, the proof reader, truth seeker, worrier. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like without hearing it?
Surprised recognition Here in is where the clever thing about the show YOU lies. Hidden but omnipresent. Fixed like the ground beneath our feet but almost invisible because we do not notice that we walk across it, The ground holds us all up.
The voice in Joe’s head provides us with a commentary of all that happens and is happening. The dry, clever awareness of Joe is something we have heard before. He the voice is like our own. For me, this truth is the one that stands ahead of everything else about the show. We recognise them (the voice) as ours and are left wanting and loathing them him and us.
Before It is a madness (confusing, intoxicating) how YOU can be so enticing! Watch on and be as appalled and as amazed as I have been.
The Wonder Years with Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper held something similar and as recognisable as did Dawson’s Creek’s teenage *philosophizings and posturings or similarly in Everybody Hates Chris with Chris Rock’s commentary. The voice over offers something more alluring.
The 3 shows listed above offered a running discourse that held the viewer wrapped up in both on and off screen musings. Whilst continuing the story in ones own mind well after the TV has been turned off. Another Netflix show that occupied precious cerebellum space, for me, was House of Cards for similar reasons listed here.
Inside Man The last point I will raise is that the infection, my infection has to be passed on. Like an advert for stopping the spread of something harmful, and doing the opposite! I find myself speaking about the show. Defying my own sensibilities. Deftly displaying how I have been lured in to classifying Joe as disaffected and altered. Thus labelling myself just so.
I had not realised that I was spreading the harm by finding others to discuss the show with, is in itself an alarming, ludicrous and an insidious act. I should be offering warnings: Get out now if you can. Don’t continue to watch. Avoid YOU at all costs!
The cleverness is that you don’t realise how involved you are until it’s too late. Oh the characters themselves warn you. “You’re a sociopath! Is that it?” Says Love. Yes we scream he is! But do we then stop watching? No. We remain as if hypnotised because he is I, and I, is You and that is truly
Recalibration The challenge for them (Narcissus) is in the invitation to begin deconstructing and decommissioning a world view that has enabled their Narcissistic behaviours to win at life.
For their self-interested behaviours be victorious against a past that could have been annihilating for them. Surviving and sharing their history with another would be a closer assessment of their truth if they could trust others enough for it to be heard.
Dismantling their coiffed well-presented image of themselves takes courage. The dark side of themselves is a perspective that has them as a person beginning to see that the vision they had held was askew is risky. The final scene in Dorian Gray is a perfect depiction of Narcissus seeing himself almost for the first time. The grotesque in themselves is an unbearable concept.
Staccato As Jill Scott sang in Love Rain ‘the vibe slipping off it’s axis’ is a useful analogy to describe the destabilization for Narcissus. Slippage is necessary to enable a nobler sight of realism to be perceived and understood. Perhaps the task is not for us to save, but to stand at a safe enough distance. Allow Narcissus to recognise that the image before her/himself is illusion. A visual echo of what once was. The mirrored and always elusive self is unable to be experienced – much like A Picture of Dorian Gray – the perfect imperfect.
*Humorosity A cataclysmic explosion would be necessary for the change to begin in earnest for Narcissus. To make a change of such import the intervention has to be brutal and honest. Perhaps…
The offer here is, with curiosity and doses of humoured inquiry make an attempt to be interested in what happens for Narcissus’s now. Do not rush. If you can, pose loose questions. With a sense of genuine wanting to peer behind their curtain/wall. Inviting Narcissus to do so too. For though the subject appears to be laid bare and low -unprocessed material lies here.
In part due to their exposure of a little known truth they dimly knew of themselves. Mainly because of the expansion caused by the explanation of their inner truth. Be careful as this could either be their first introduction (genus) to humility or the hard pressed kernel of defiant resistance. Only time will tell which route they will take. One that leads to re-connecting with their humanity. The other continues following a path to more pain for themselves and for others.
Honouring What lies at their centre? (Have you wondered?) The aim here is to open up chinks in a well-oiled, well maintained Armour. The chinks let out as well as let in opportunities for scents of change. The process can be slow. What is to be noted is Narcissus’ recognition of empathy and warmth from themselves to another. Observing fealty and connection for themselves and also what being in honest communication is like. Where, if any differences are felt and what that may be like? Rather than them hearing the familiar self-recriminations of blame, of anger, disappointment and fear. Letting themselves out of their prism they shielded themselves from the world – cautiously. See earlier
What next There are a number of choices that could be made in relation to Narcissus. Leave them to attend to manage themselves by themselves. Stay and learn to manage life with them. Leave and attend to the holes that they pockmarked your life with. Stay but be emotionally detached. Leave and heal and be aware of narcissistic tropes. Stay and support them through change. Leave and live well. Stay and enlist others to support their change growth and development.
I recognise these are not easy choices. It is about what resilience is like for you and what resources you have at your disposal. Always hold the gas mask analogy with you. This is about you not them.
Attractive The intriguing factor for me as a therapist is the attraction to Narcissus. Narcissus who brings some emotional pain, self doubt, a devalued sense of self, experiences of elation and happiness to the person(s) they are with.
Magnetic Is there a part of their character that appeals above ones own although this particular aspect is often harmful and hurts?
If personal harms are the case, what does being with Narcissus offer? Someone who is wicked with their humour. They are able to bring together a group of charming and attractive friends? They are able to offer you the delights of social mobility and acceptance? They provide you with an undeniable sense of responsibility “If I don’t, who will?”
Does superiority, defiance, charm and wit with moments of crushing lows also become experiences of the person who has fallen for their attraction to Narcissus?
I would advise you to evaluate with time away from them. Look at your life with them and life without them in it. There was a time before when they were not. How was life then…?
There are a number of reasons that I have wanted to specifically work with Black Men/Men from the African Diaspora engaging in therapy. There is an overwhelming amount of misinformation about the strong, fierce, angry Black Man. There is also an unacknowledged backstory of why these perceptions have been allowed to exist. It is far easier to continue the lie. Pulling misinformation apart is the long slow and hard road.
Edu- The Introductory course is styled for someone like myself, willing and able to be vulnerable with others – open to learning about themselves and being *edu-trained with others. It’s the therapy course I could have used when I was 13 or 20 or 37. I could probably do with a black men’s group now! Queue Dope Black Podcast.
Mini deaths x 3 I have 3 deaths that I want to acknowledge in this piece. The one that cut the deepest is the one I will write about last. It was an insidious and traumatic cut that has gone on to hurt many. Possibly does still. I now understand this wound. I can now forgive the persons that have directly and indirectly hurt me. I believe that pain is at the core of the reason for wanting to support others.
1st Loss My 1st death wrapped me up, Shut me down and Held me mute About the pain Of my loss It was The death of Mother. In December ’93 Rita Margaret Drakes.
She died some 25 years ago and her terminal fight with cancer has been a model of my own struggles with Multiple Sclerosis: Part denial, part anger, part bargaining, part shock and then ambiguous acceptance that always seems out of reach. Tantalisingly close but defyingly, just beyond my outstretched arms – unable to connect…
Death 2 The 2nd death is of my friend Ade through suicide 2011. His death was both shocking and hard to accept. Recognising that I had no chance of saving him offers some relief. Only some. He made a choice much like a character in a Star is Born. The incident much like Jude in A Little Life, the encounter with almost dieing happening many, many times before.
Death 3 The 3rd is a story I have not written or talked much about. I have shared with only a few. Some members of my family know.
This loss is of innocence, of trust and the insidious nature of the harm caused to me. I have held myself in a place just out of reach. Believing that I am wrong, bad, mad and sad.
That the harm caused was of my doing and that I deserved it. That I continue to deserve mistreatment. That if I hold myself just out of sight, my hurt cannot infect others.
But it had.
Unreported I was about 6 or 7 when I was sexually abused by someone older than me. The events are uncomfortable to describe and I will choose carefully what I share.
Being shown pornographic images elicits an uncontrollable physical response in some people. It did for me! I became aroused and that arousal was used by them to perform their sexual acts.
I recognise the crime committed against me. As well as working in corrections (Criminal Justice) I have seen this pattern replicated for a significant number of men and women I have supported. Abuse happening to them including; physical, emotional, sexual, psychological, financial and domestic and then perpetrating a similar crime against another or others.
The pattern is of ever diminishing returns, and a debased sense of self, of having little value, little to offer, often is, the outcome.
Broken Loop A person who has been hurt can act out in ways to inflict pain on others. But I feel it is more than that, the person is after. They could be after an understanding of what happened to them first, by behaving in ways that evoke fear, obedience, power and getting a secondary gain from the sense of control this may have over another.
Reconnecting I write this as an origin story of why I have created a course for Black men to access healing. I write because if I am unwilling to recognise my own experiences of pain and trauma how can I then support others begin working on theirs.
As with most things, dealing with change it has to start with us first! Admitting that the hurt happened is primary to begin the process of healing.
Mend What comes next is action. This is where the fun and pain coexist. Getting to decide what happens next, where to go next, whom to speak with after, how to work it through and beyond so that it can no longer hold you from getting there.
On 13th of November 2019 a colleague and I will begin a group therapy experience for Black Men. The group will be run as an introduction to therapy and group psychotherapeutic support.
Inspire Them The idea came from a former client who is featured in a testimonial. He was a client who in the span of 2 short seasons of work transformed his outlook on life. He mentioned the idea last year (2018). An introduction to therapy for Black Men or Men of the African Diaspora crystallized. In April 2019 when I went to The Man Talk in Brixton, I was moved to begin something that men who perceive of talking therapy as not for them – could be introduced to the idea of therapeutic support.
Sharing Vulnerability At The Man Talk, seeing a group of men talking about issues they have lived through including: suicide, prison, depression, bereavement, life plans overturned and offering support to others, was amazing. The event brought the need for specialised low cost support to me in an impactful way. So impactful that I wanted to start something too.
Authority Working with case discussion groups and process groups at Universities across London beginning at University of Greenwich (Sept 2015), presenting at UEL to students on their psychology programmes I paid attention to the amazing power of group work.
Unkown Knowns I use the word power with intention as I feel there is an unknown element that affects working with groups. The bereavement group I currently support at one of the prisons I work at in Kent, is a perfect example of the wonder and amazing effect group work has on individuals and the group overall. The group becomes it’s own entity. Factors from outside the group space interact with members and push and pull what is shared in directions that are unknowable.
Wellness Reading the work of Irvin Yalom and his experiences of group work especially in Loves Executioner offer the reader a clear understanding of what group therapy does.
Call To Act If interested to know more about the group please contact either myself or Sheila Samuels who will be co-counselling the space with me. The group begins on the 13th of November 2019 at the Wellness Hub, 7 Burnt Ash Hill London. SE12 0AA
And she said something a few weeks ago that had me wondering about social capital and social responsibility. A note to the wise – this is a declaration for curiosity and moving into a space of complexity and accomplishing the mighty good.
Islamic Wall Art
“If I showed up everyone would just get up and leave” she said.
A small piece of my heart broke. Amazed and stunned I listened on as she a Muslim woman spoke about her dislike of pubs and the abject fear she might invoke in others if she were to visit a *house of alcohol.
(*My words not hers)
At times silence and laughter are used to cover the uncomfortable. I smiled and reflected on my non pub going history. I held the notion since Uni that Pubs were not spaces I felt comfortable or safe in. Alcohol and the consumption of numerous pints were for others and not for necessarily for me. I also held the misguided notion that if I were to go to a pub much like my colleague I could be the cause of the music to stop, fights to breakout or the lively conversation to awkwardly end, and that I would be caused to leave. I hadn’t thought of people being propelled from a space I walked into due to my ethnicity, or that people may react that way to her for her faith. London Summer of 2018.
Discussing the comment a little more I could see some similar themes between my story and hers. She then said “Because of my faith we do see Muslims that do drink (alcohol) if I were to go into a pub and someone saw me (gestures to her *Khimar) it would, you know, be like a sign that it’s okay. I couldn’t take that responsibility. I wouldn’t want someone to think because I did they would too. I just don’t like pubs for me. I don’t get it really. Since I converted it’s not something I can see myself doing.”
*I had thought that a Hijab was the attire worn by some Muslim women. But an Hijab I was reliably informed is a term used for a woman that is covered.
Islamic Art by Sargodha
The Greater Good
In that moment I got it. My colleague was not thinking solely about herself or the other Muslim who may, by chance see her entering a pub. I believe my colleague was speaking about the greater good. The ability to place community both seen and unseen alongside and in front of ones individual needs. A greater I, a social responsibility to other faithful Muslims. The request to ‘go to the pub’ came from someone that was leaving the organisation. An unwritten rule of going to the pub to say goodbye to their team and the organisation was the offer. Personal needs/responsibility met social capital with respect and honour – and undoubtedly won.
Awe and Humility
The altruist was observing another law. One that she chose to follow, be in awareness of and sit humbly with. A gentle observing of what unity means for her faith and community that simply outshines the tidal experiences of work alliances and friendships. What was true for her was that attending a pub went against a fundamental truth and did not bow to external pressures from the team. I am usually awed by the immense of space, by scenes of staggering beauty, deft and touching poetry, art that takes breaths away, music that opens doorways. But this, this, this was something else. It spoke of time, respect, values, integrity. It spoke of the greater WE and a love that appeared without an end. Quietly…
A Better WE
My acceptance to pub and bar life is tentative and retracts like a wave. Alcohol is a cognitive disinhibitor and a troubling agent for thinly veiled opinions and loose tongues. I am looking for a greater more un-inhibited WE outside of religion and pubs, away from schoolisms and other human trappings that control, dehumanise, limit and separate. The WE that views all as a continuum and is hungry for parity and better centuries to follow Now!
The Pillars of Unity
I seek what may never be found – a utopia, an ideal, a peace amongst humanity that lasts. Perhaps the need is myth and arises at these worrying and troubled times. Or as Eric Hoffer has written about we came as close to a difficult place as we could and were scared back into what we knew. Dank Dark Smelly Fear. And here we could remain until we all purposefully choose something better. My wish for her, for me, for Us is that we find other ways…