Zero-Sum of White Supremacy

Intrigue
The concept of games we are all either consciously, or are unwittingly playing, has stuck with me since I was introduced to Logo Therapy. This was the mid to late 90’s by a friend who worked with me at Seattle Coffee Company. After the Interior design degree at De Montfort University. Before I became a youth worker, Basketball Coach and then learning mentor and counsellor. Logo therapy was developed by Viktor Frankl who wrote the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. Dr Viktor Frankl was sent from Vienna to concentration camps in Nazi occupied Germany. Dr Frankl, Jewish, developed his idea in relation to surviving the trauma of his enforced internment in a hopeless and indeterminate set of circumstances. Dr Frankl sought freedom of mind and not destruction of his discovered sense of self determined will. ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ as a book, collects his ideas about what he saw and felt whilst in a concentration camp. I gave my copy away to an incarcerated person in 2012. The individual’s set of circumstances appeared to mirror Dr Frankl’s. Imprisoned against their will, for crimes they were later acquitted from. They appeared to have draining levels of hope with justice being served, in relation to the crime they were accused of committing…

More Games
Other psychological concepts and games we are infernally playing was also informed by The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck, Games People Play by Eric Berne, The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo, and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It remains a marvel to me that the ideas from the authors listed above are not common knowledge and made commonly available for the global many.

Balance
The knowledge that there are games we play came as a surprise as I began my counselling training in 2006. Understanding that game play is less about manipulation of others and more about having our human needs met. Arriving on the planet small, defenseless and knowing little about the world we have been born into, we are to learn from those who care for us. We are also to learn from the environment we live amongst. Both care givers and the environment lived in, teaches the infant how to make sense of what is experienced. Game Theory could be explained as a seemingly complex web of transactions and attachments we have to achieve a number of seemingly understandable goals. Game Theory is much more complex than my explanation. The theory is born of both economics and philosophy. Two schools of discipline that are of themselves a challenge to truly know as a lay philosopher.

Non-Comprend Pas
The understanding that I am making in using the vehicle of Zero-sum to White Supremacy, is that if White wins all of the games all of the time, then there is nothing left for any other cultural and racial group. The winner through ill begotten means has won all of the games that have ever been played or potentially ever will be played. Or so White Supremacy believes. What ‘White’ is to yet to understand in the multi layered, multi dimensional, time spanning game of chess being played is that ‘White’ has also lost. There is a desperation in holding on to the belief of the pearly White mountain tops of racial hierarchy.

I lose – You lose
The losses are uncountable. There is something blossoming for me here about the old ideas around The Enlightenment. Whose Enlightenment begot whose? Returning to the Zero-sum game of winner keeps all, what is not in the annals of discovery are the missed opportunities, the conversations, arguments and differences that were never had! These losses cannot be counted because they did not occur. Discoveries of equitable commerce, economical travel, growing bountiful regenerative crop that has little to no impact on eco systems, disease reduction or illness prevention, educating of the young and those who are in the work place, successful re-habilitation of forensic populations to the communities they have been shut away from, community policing for the betterment of all could not take place, amongst a trillion other ideas of people advancement and liberation. The persons these ideas may have sprung from were/are held in detention centres, concentration camps, internment camps, fleeing war, shot, poisoned, starved, grew impatient, turned to insurgency, conspiracy and interruption of localised and global systems of control and ultimately died. The fulfillment of their mission on earth and dreams that may have enhanced, supported and brought enrichment were not/have not been realised. No, White on the chess board of life has won a thin victory of almost limitless riches. But richness is not wealth. What White has lost is the wealth of remaining on the board with ghosts of fallen cultures and non-remembered peoples. Oppression and extermination of indigenous populations summarily robbed and erased wisdom globally. However, listening to pieces still on and off the board and their ideas about how to return the game to how it should be played – Infinitely. Could be the next human goal.

Game Theory
Game Theory Appears to be an Economical and Philosophical term applied to any number of different agents that behave in ‘normal’ or irregular ways to factors that determine predictive or unplanned outcomes. A fuller description of Game Theory is found here – Stanford Encylcopedia of Philosophy. My attempt above is to provide a summary of the information the link provides.

Infinity and Beyond
The infinite game as Simon Sinek discusses as found below, sounds like a game we all know and yet don’t recognise or fully understand – life as an infinite game. Simon offers a description of the infinite game as not winning or losing, but remaining and still playing even whilst other players drop out. The differences between Zero-sum and infinite, in game theory, Simon Sinek explains is the Zero sum game has a finite set of parameters. An outcome, a limited set of players and time in which the game is played. The infinite game is limitless inside which the parameters for the game are not set. With Infinite games there is an unknown set of players, playing a game with the main objective to continue playing the game. There are no known winners or losers.

Application
Within the Infinite game the objective is to continue playing. The aim is to enhance the game and propel players to improve continually. By introducing a winner takes all to a set of Infinite goals the game breaks-down and stops the flywheel nature of advancement as seen in Kiss The Ground – Netflix. In conflict it has been Afghanistan v the Soviet Union. Vietnam v America. Afghanistan v America. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Buddhism v spirituality, atheism, agnosticism. A finite system cannot out flank, outmanoeuvre, outpace an infinite one. A thought experiment would be if we were to build a structure as a monument to human ingenuity, power and understanding from a strong material like bronze or a hard wearing stone – like marble. How long would the edifice stand before the elements change it’s appearance or it’s position? A century? A millennia? With a game of winners and losers the winners earn a partial victory. The win is temporary. At an unknown moment a previous loser has the potential to become victorious. A perpetual cycle for balance and rebalance is instituted.

Cut Down
White supremacy has not won. White supremacy simply believes it has. The challenge is to move the statue of the fallen aside. In order that true progress can be had by all communities willing to move ahead beyond the lie that White supremacy has continually told. Discovering and figuring out what living life all means moves from the *stuckedness of judgement to curiosity, wonderment and awe. By playing an infinite game we enhance the self, the community and the planet. White supremacy has only scored the earth with a seemingly impermeable mark – Capitalism. There is a Native American saying that brings to mind the uselessness of the product of Zero-sum and capitalism ‘When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.’ I mis-remembered the quote as Only when we have poisoned the rivers lakes and seas, will we see we cannot eat money. The full quote is attached in the link. The person who brought wisdom to light spoke truth to power and highlights the short sightedness of Zero-sum.

Human Need
Money is a Zero-sum. Capitalism is an oppressive divisive system and is a Zero-sum game too. Having more of the substance does little to appease the disquiet of illness and dis-ease inherent in the human being. We simply move ourselves away from enjoyment and fulfillment beside others. A birthright. A human given. For most, a natural experience and a human need. There are also contra-indications for living amongst. Some prefer to live alone or in small communities or with 1 other. Nomadland the film is a useful extrapolation of a similar idea. Alongside and in communion with others, we find not only ourselves but also family and a sense of peace. White supremacy appears to not allow an idea or belief in systems as complex, as rich as unity to survive. The strength of people coming together, waking up from the nightmare of White supremacy is a fear that perpetuates the misdirection of self-interest, distraction and procrastination serving only a Zero-sum outcome.

Fight
To begin:
Accept nothing as a given.
Question all, continuously this means even the thoughts you may carry.
Invite critical thinking as a tool to discover unpack and make sense of self and the planet we inhabit.
Be curious often and play infinitely.

Resources
Game Theory explanation provided by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Games and Rationality was instrumental in helping me summarise my understanding of game theory.
I thank Kimberly Cato for introducing the Akala video where he speaks about Injustice the film. As a result of being a team member of the summer series program of conversations for True Roots I made the link of Zero-sum and White supremacy.
Ibram X Kendi interviews Heather McGhee about her understanding of the Zero-sum game. The conversation emboldened the thinking I had about how ineffective White supremacy is and what has happened with anti Black racism and the pandemic of racism overall.
Simon Sinek discusses with Brené Brown some of his ideas from a few of his books that include: Start with Why, Leaders Eat Last and the Infinite Game.
Simon Sinek shares his idea of the multiple losses that happen when playing a Zero-sum game. My interest in watching this T.E.D. talk came after the thought about a totalitarian system being a Zero-sum game – that of White supremacy. I enjoyed Mr Sinek’s thought shower. Nomadland is a film that invites reflection on living with both freedom and the uncertainty this brings.
I have shared ‘Injustice’ the film as the ultimate Zero-sum literal experience. Criminal injustice and prison is a pure example of Zero-sum. Even within the prison system a repetitive pattern of winners and losers populate all strata of people incarcerated.
Ibram X Kendi with Dr Heather McGhee Be Anti-Racist
Simon Sinek with Brené Brown’s Dare to lead podcast
Simon Sinek T.E.D. talk Zero-sum game
Injustice A Biritsh film looking at the criminal Injustice Service in England and Wales.

Images
Cover photo Black playing cards by JESUS ECA on Unsplash
Jenga Stack photo by Virgil Cayasa on Unsplash
Risk photo by Halacious on Unsplash
Moody Backboard photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
Game Over photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Love Rains – The Father Wound

I wanted to revisit the story of invisible wounds that are carried with us into adulthood. To look somemore at where Jill’s story ends and how and why Mos Def’s story begins. The reason: Psychological concepts live in us and are always present. Love Rains offers not just insight but also understanding.

Listen while you read if you can!

The Always Support

Jill Scott
Now me non clairvoyant and in love,
Made the coochie easy and the obvious invisible.
The rain was falling,
And I couldn’t see the season changing,
And the vibe slipping off its axis.
Our beautiful melody became wildly staccato. The…rain…was..falling…and…I…could not…see..that…I..was…to…be
Plowed…
And sown and fertilised,
and left to drown in his sunny afternoon,
Cumulus clouds, 84 degrees,

melody.

Chorus x1

Joy and Risk

Wide open, wide, loose like bowels after collard greens.
The mistake was made, love slipped from my lips,
Dripped down my chin and landed in his lap,
And Us became nu.
Now me non clairvoyant and in love
Made me the fool
You were never true
If you didn’t want me, ah, you should
have let me know
All you did was make a mockery of
Something so
Incredible, beautiful
I honestly did love you
So

Chorus x1

Immature
What then? Both hurt, but for two differing reasons. What follows is time healing and recovering from that pain of loss. Until it is met again and perhaps both can learn how to survive the intimacy and complications that romantic love can bring. For some, men can be less emotionally aware, less in tune with body-mind-emotion connections. Men can feel that shame and fear are the same and do not spend time investigating to understand their differences. Until an adulting experience happens. They are met by circumstances that force change. Then they do. Then they can. Then they will. Willingly facing the denial of their first hurts and begin the process of healing.

Cold and Warmth

Throne Making
Mos Def’s piece blew me away when I first heard it. It still does. No poem before or after had ever exalted and re-set the Black woman so perfectly, I wanted to possess and inhabit these words and the intention behind them, to make right the many centuries of wrong hurt blame shame and pain. This too is my shame. In a word I am sorry for the wrongs that I and my ken have brought to you. I want to make peace with you: Queen.

Mos Def:
I stretched my arms towards the sky like blades of tall grass.
The sun beat between my shoulders like carnival drums.
I sat still in hopes that it would help my wings to grow,
So that I could really be fly.
And then she arrived,
Like day break inside a railway tunnel,
Like the new moon, like a diamond in the mines, like high noon to a drunkard, sudden.
She made my heart beat in a now/now time signature.
Her skinny canvas for ultraviolet brushstrokes;
She was the sun’s painting.
She was a deep cognac color;
Her eyes sparkled like lights along the new city.
Her lips pursed as if her breath was too sweet and full for her mouth to hold.
I said, “you are the beautiful, distress of mathematics.”
I said, “For you, I would peel open the clouds like new fruit;
Give you lightning and thunder as a dowry.
I would make the sky shed all of its stars like rain,
I would clasp the constellations across your waist
and I would make the heavens your cape,
And they would be pleased to cover you.
They would be pleased to cover you,
May I please cover you?
Please”

Adoration

Heady
For me there is little in the way that speaks of adoration and reverie to honour or emits love much better than this. The poem can be interpreted as if to say I am sorry – and somehow yet, still more.

That an idyll can be obtained and brought about between Women and Men in this tale. ‘I see you, have loved you, am in love with you. With you, greater than I could ever be without you. And for that, I will share all that I am and more with you.’ That’s what I interpret in Mos Def’s verse.

The story in the remix offers a safe turn around to what is a well-known and pre-destined ending to love: Loss. Defeat. Endings.

As a result of the Kaemotherapy counselling offer, a number of Black women have been accessing my free workshops on 21st century mental health. I’ll write up my findings about the workshops soon.

Supporting Black women and men have become primary targets for my therapeutic support. There is great work to be completed and I am glad to have found a role that leads to overall wellbeing and health for more people.

Resources

Goddesses of the Roundtable Healing The Father Wound
Brené Brown Unlocking Us Podcast Ask Me Anything
Tony Porter T.E.D. Talk A Call To Men

Images
Cover photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash
2nd Inlay photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash
3rd Inlay photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash
4th Inlay photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash


Love Rains – The Mother Wound

It was a warm night in July and I had been tossing and turning for the 2nd night in a row. Another awakening was happening for me. I asked myself what to do with the discomfort of knowing half of the population of people on the planet are valued lesser due to gender? It is a nonsensical, that has bothered me for 40+ years.

Bounce
That night a song rebounded in my mind and I was left with a question. What can I as a spirit, living in a Black male human body support Black women overthrow the yoke of patriarchy? The supporting interview with Kim Evans that offered free counselling via Kaemotherapy is a reminder of the fantastic work already being carried out.

Zoom Overload
Rotimi Akinsete who is involved with Black Men on The Couch shared with me, that a Somali Woman recently offered her community the access to a free session of counselling support and 30-40,000 Black Somali women joined the zoom chat. A welcome surprise that there were that many Women who wanted to access support from the call. There appears to be much work to be done!

Anthems
Love rains is a phenomenal song by Jill Scott on her first studio album ‘Who is Jill Scott?’. The album, a launching of a new songstress-poetess back in 98/99. Who is Jil Scott broke down a small wall for me in relation to an appreciation of Black Feminism. Songs like ‘Getting’ In The Way’, ‘Long Walk’, ‘The Way’ and ‘Love Rain’ became summer anthems for me that year. Most of the songs involved Jill’s interpretations on modern love and experiences on adulting.

Step Over
My wall was small because I had witnessed many of the challenges my mum and sisters were battling against daily. In many instances I was on the same side of the wall – bar 1 – male. Council housed, poor, from a sole parent family, Black, lower class.

Cardboard
The box we found ourselves in appeared too layered to clamber out from. My mother wasn’t one to relent on the hustle. My sisters were all able to dramatically blow out the sides of the box in one way or the other and escape. They all leaving home at 15/16…

Warming Embrace

The telling of Love Rain is a song/story of falling in love, and that love being passion driven and failing/ending. She writes/sings

Listen while you read if you can!

Jill Scott F/ Mos Def
Miscellaneous
Love Rain (remix)

chorus:
Love rain down on me,
on me,
Down on me.
Love rain down on me,
on me,
Down on me,
Love rain down on me,
on me,
Down on me.
Love rain down on me,
on me,
Down on me.

Met him on a Thursday,
Sunny afternoon,
Cumulous clouds,
84 degrees.
He was brown, deep
Said he wanted to talk about my mission, listen to my past lives.
Took me on long walks to places where butterflies rest easy,
Talked about Moses and Mumia, reparations, blue colors, memories of shell-topped Adidas.
He was fresh like summer peaches;
Sweet on my mind like block parties and penny candy.
Us was nice and warm, no jacket, no umbrella, just warm.
At night, we would watch the stars,
And he would physically give me each and every one.
I felt like cayenne pepper, red, hot spicy.
I felt dizzy and so near heaven.
Miles between my thighs,
Better than love, we made delicious.
He me had, and had me he.
He had me tongue tied;
I could hear his rhythm in my thoughts.
I was his sharp, his horn suction.
His boom and his bip,
And he was my love.

Recognise
There may have been these experiences Jill sings about above, a number of years ago. Perhaps even post the CoViD19 pandemic, pre and post lockdown experiences we may have taken long walks after being cooped up for so long. Fallen in love with our environment outside our front doors again. Perhaps met a special someone…

All Set

Chorus x1

The rain was falling and slowly and sweetly and stinging my eyes,
And I couldn’t see that he became my voodoo priest,
And I was his faithful concubine.
Wide open, wide, loose like bowels after collard greens.
The mistake was made, love slipped from my lips,
Dripped down my chin and landed in his lap,
And Us became Nu.
Now me non clairvoyant and in love,
Made the coochie easy and the obvious invisible.
The rain was falling,
And I couldn’t see the season changing,
And the vibe slipping off its axis.
Our beautiful melody became wildly staccato. The…rain…was..falling…and…I…could not…see..that…I..was…to…be
Plowed…
And sown and fertilised,
and left to drown in his sunny afternoon,
Cumulus clouds, 84 degree, melody.

Love Fade Verse
The ending of love and passion heads into something more pedantry, pedestrian, passion free? I wonder what else could be said here? What a woman who has been let down by her love, her world, by the problematic system of patriarchy might say?

Support by
I am to, pay attention. Call out the many micro-aggressions. Listen. Take up less space. Be a witness. Recognise simply it is not about you (man) or me. It is about equanimity and equality of opportunity. The very basis of a fair society.

Wounded
There is a story for both the woman willing to be vulnerable and for the man unwilling to bear countenance of vulnerability, that seems to be a part of the hidden story of this song. The idea that by barely whispering ‘I love you’, has someone who has been hurt by love – run.

Internally.

Looking for safety.

Resources
The Goddesses Roundtable Episode 3 Healing the Mother Wound
Dope Black Women podcasts: Mental Health of Young Black Women And Young Black Girls with Ebinehita Iyere.

Images
Cover photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash
2nd Inlay photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Review: Shit I Can’t Say

Seeing a one person play spring from the pages of a gifted writer to life on stage is amazing. To have the writer be someone you coached as a basketball player as a teen. An ever larger sense of amazement. To see the focus of the play greet, embrace and thank his son – priceless.

All The Shit I Can’t Say to my Father
I went to see All the Shit, in August 2019. A friend, an ex baller, I coached – Abraham Adeyemi has written a modern day sensation. The night was the performance of sublime art.

Charming
The performance was led by a young charismatic actor, Zackary Momoh, who reminded me of a younger Chiwetel Ejiofor. There was something about his delivery that was precise and filled with presence. The audience were appreciative of his deft delivery and intimate bringing to life of Abraham’s words.

Autumnal Feelings

Partial Delays
News broke earlier in July that due to unforeseen circumstances ‘The Shit…’ was going to be changed to just a reading and a performance (How does that work you may ask?).

It’s part rehearsal, part working through of the words to the stage, set and possibly with an audience. The actor reads through the script aloud like a read through. Similar to a sound check for a music performance.

I thought the reading was a brilliant way to introduce the concept of what we were doing there. What we potentially could be see. A one person play engaging and interacting with the audience. Seeing the finessing of the script was seeing a craftsperson work their skills to a High Art Finish.

Throughout the play Zackary read and cast aside the pages almost as though this was part of the play. Him screwing up a few of the pages at one moment (after he had read them). Then came the toss towards a wastepaper basket was thrilling. I smiled ridiculously at that and may even have clapped. I instantly recognised both Abraham and many peoples dream of being a top performing NBA/WNBA star.

Engagement
The show felt both lyrical and compassionate. ‘The Shit…’ entertained me fully. The audience and I, were involved to see AK the protagonist’s journey. As he begins to acknowledge and unravel his taught relationship with his father.

The AK’s father is Nigerian. A Christian. A multi-talented labourer, a craftsman of often obscure and unwanted jobs. It was at this point the flexibility of the play shone. AK asked a member of the audience what her dad did.
She replied “Carpet layer – Handiman”
AK “Yeah, my dad probably did that too”
Audience – Whoops of laughter and applause of recognition.

The father, AK’s father should have been an engineer, but due to the racist notion that countries outside of the more favored commonwealth countries like Nigeria couldn’t possibly educate to the standard of British trained engineers were denied entry to the professions they trained for. Took what roles and jobs that they could and raised their families as best they could.

Off stage
The scene that caught my imagination was of seeing Abraham stand with his father. The moment happened off stage after the crowds milled out. I do not know what was said. That moment being private – Abraham’s and his fathers. What I perceived was a bridge of admiration begin to form. An acceptance of something that had been lost. The awareness that maybe something new has possibly been found. This meeting between father and son, through drama, through ‘All the Shit I Can’t Say to My Father’ is the making of new stories and about letting go of old ones.

My Bridge
I realise now that reconciliation was an impossibility for me and my father. A dream unobtainable. A number of significant changes would have to have happened in both of us first. To have approached a turning point that began a new start for us. The moment of second chances and water under the *bridgedness passed aeons ago and I am invited by circumstance, to allow it to pass too.

Duality
He was a man of the late 1930’s Ghanian, African, lacking in humility, compassion he believed, was a concept for the weak and foolish, arrogance and bull headedness was his way to confront the world. His religion was dual Christian and Muslim. A Ghanian former politician living abroad was how he saw himself. UK politics was of mild interest behind his own ambitions. Fatherhood suffered. 

We never found ground between us that felt comfortable for each other to be on. His death on October The 31st 2016 ended without a neat bow. Ours was not a story book ending. My father left not speaking to any of his children and without making amends for the pain he caused. That will be ours to tidy and pack away.

Reflection
For Abraham the play appeared redemptive and restorative. Like a deep cleanse. I was happy I got to witness that for him. For me and my siblings I hope that the clearing and cleanse happens with acceptance moving on in to forgiveness. The chalice was never ours to sup from.

The intention is set for me to start from near the beginning. Refreshed and unburdened. Again.

Resources

The Dope Black podcast – Raising Kids While Black
Revisionist History – Talking to Strangers
2 Black Guys with Good Credit – Black Power Money Power
The Stoop – Unexpected Family

Crystalisation of Identity

From Person Centred Counselling to an Integrative Approach: One Client Inviting Change

Pier and Bridge

A Beginning – Morley College

I started officially training to be a counsellor in 2006. The introduction to counselling course was at Morley College in London and taught me what Counselling entails. Iain Mendelberg was the tutor and was able to offer a model for the type of counselling professional I wanted to be for clients: patient, wise, honest and courageous.

As a group of trainee counsellors, we were introduced to Carl Rogers and his passage into counselling and psychotherapy. Rogers was closely followed by Fritz Perls and Gerard Egan which gave us a thorough grounding of person centred and humanistic perspectives of counselling.

Freud’s scientific method was often referenced as a starting point that was used to frame our learning. What I gained insight to was from Mr Mendelberg’s calm humorous approach to teaching. His generosity as an educator gave me an indication of what lay ahead for me as I trained – I too could become for those that I worked with a reflective, calm and person centred mental health practitioner. Or so I thought.

On completing the Morley course I took a year out of study. My first son Coltrane, was born shortly after the course ended in June 2007. 1 year later September 2008 I began at Greenwich University on the MSc Therapeutic Counselling an integrative counselling course.

What Does Integrative Mean?

I had little understanding of what integrative meant in the 1st year. Some of the information that was covered in the first term refreshed my awareness of counselling theory from my time at Morley college. The main difference of the Greenwich course, was apart from the workload was the amount of reading material to be digested on a weekly basis and the depth the writing therein went to.

Each article was intricately written, often with intimate insights that frequently altered my perspective of counselling. There was also a general understanding that the reader would grasp some, if not all of the concepts discussed. The first year of the course I found to be a struggle but I worked hard at attempting to meet the requirements the course asked of me including; Placement and application of counselling theory, Skills, Experiential group, Theory, and Personal logs. The requirements life asked of me were a frequent source if inspiration, tension and fatigue and these included; my marriage, fatherhood, work, coaching basketball, amongst a few other responsibilities…

Integration of Perspectives

For the 2nd year of the course at Greenwich in Oct 2010, I was fortunate in securing a 2nd placement at a prison. My first placement was at a Doctor’s surgery in SE London which I was fortunate to be awarded in Aug 2009. My learning as a trainee counsellor I feel was enhanced by both placements as I was able to witness how mental illness is supported in the community and in a prison setting. The significant differences noted were the efforts made by the mental health team in prison collaboratively working together to reduce risk – efficiently.

In the community, fast access to mental health support is desirable but not always achievable. Due to the volume of people in GP’s wards. The range of services and referrals to and from specialist support is difficult to meet. Providing treatment for mild to moderate cases of mental illness can take 6 weeks – 8 months to be received. With the advent of IAPT (Increased Access to Psychological Therapy), the idea was to drastically reduce waiting times and be able to support more people in the UK, that experienced depression and anxiety.

Laos – Understanding Integration

I met Laos (not his real name) in January 2011. Laos was a tall, well-built Asian man in his 30’s who repeatedly offended. He was held in custody for charges related to attempting to rob with a bladed article. Laos shared with me the incident in question and much of his life history. Which is to follow.

I worked with Laos for 5 sessions in total and throughout that short time my counselling approach changed. During the 2nd and 3rd appointments an idea formed that person centred counselling did not appear to be touching the core of this man’s particular set of difficulties. I took it upon myself to investigate and develop a psychological perspective to gain an understanding of his formative life experiences and how I could support him more effectively as a counsellor.

Reflecting on my counselling journey it was this choice that changed my perspective on how I practice as a therapist. As an aside I have enjoyed the Kung-Fu Panda series of movies. The 3rd Kung-Fu Panda stood out as a perfect collaboration of contextual realities, concluding with a seminal experience and eventual crystalisation of identity for Po. My light-bulb moment wasn’t as spectacular but had elements of the clarity Po achieved in this movie clip.

Drug Use – An Escape?

Laos reported that he had many change experiences including moving home a number of times across much of Asia, the far east, Australia, Canada and to U.A.E. Laos had begun using various substances in his teens starting with Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine and Crack. He mentioned that he had also used amphetamines but stated that he preferred cocaine. With other drugs he reported that it was always a gamble.

Schooling

He described himself as a bright student and that he found G.C.S.E’s easy. Laos said that he started smoking marijuana to celebrate with friends on completing his exams. Initially it was purely recreational. A levels, Laos said were more difficult and he changed to the International Baccalaureate. These qualifications he said suited his learning style more. Laos was introduced to harder drugs at AS level and began selling and distributing to supplement his own use.

Laos shared that he and his father didn’t really get on. His father was the main reason that the family moved as much as they did. Laos described his father as strict and the one who dealt with his indiscretions severely.

Life Events

Laos described his mum as kinder and nurturing towards him. His mother died when Laos was in his late teens and he mentioned that for the family it was a difficult time. Laos experienced his 1st Jail term in a Malaysian prison shortly after his mother’s death. He was convicted as a minor of selling and distributing cocaine to fellow students at his school. He reported being in jail for a period of 9 months. He was released early as a result of his father’s connections. Laos described this period as hell on earth. He was away from family for the first time and his mother had passed away. Laos mentioned that his father had practically disowned him for the sense of shame he had brought on the family. His siblings were angry and upset with him. All that he had known was irrevocably changed.

Recognising the inter-relatedness of attachment theory, Object relations, Transactional Analysis, maladaptive coping mechanisms which can support a person in functioning into adulthood. Coping mechanisms unfortunately breakdown in moments of crisis. For Laos these moments of crises were experienced when he was faced with; the mundane and monotonous, significant moments of change or stress.

He had experience of supporting himself by using alcohol and various substances including marijuana cocaine and heroin. Laos described himself as a binger (someone who used lots of a substance all at once for a few days and then stopping). It was on a binge that he lost track of the amount of cocaine he had left. Laos told me he had finished his supply and quickly needed to make a withdrawal to go and buy more. Laos was between jobs and had low cash flow to buy more drugs. He decided to go to an off license to pick up some more alcohol as his supply was low. This decision and following events lead to Laos’ 4th jail term.

Case Formulation – Speculative Coalescence

My formulation and how I started to identify that I was thinking and behaving as an integrative therapist was informed by some of the reading I was completing at the time. Petruska Clarkson’s 5 Relationship Model offered me a useful framework to recognise where I was – in my journey as a counsellor. A research project titled ‘A Son’s Journey’ written in my 3rd year of the MSc course, found points of Laos experience reminiscent of my journey to adulthood. (I will look to pick relevant points from my research in a later blog post)

Adapting to Change

Laos early attachment to his parents and to his place of birth were affected by a number of significant changes with and to his environment. Moving from one country to another may have affected his realisation of who he was. This sense of recognition would be in relation to having to repeatedly start again from the beginning in a new and different environment. He would have had to form new routines with new classmates, peers, learn new social cues and with each move be socially adapt to the new country. Laos mentioned that he had been moving home and country since he was 3 years old. The moves were a result of his father and the work he was involved with. If the family home was not a wholly warm and nurturing environment Laos could have begun developing ways to look after himself outside of his parents or family’s awareness.

It is possible that Laos did not come forward and share the difficulties he encountered with his family. Any challenges he had overcome at school or whilst playing with peers he may have kept to himself. Perhaps major achievements and triumphs he may have experienced may also have gone unnoticed as well. I wondered if he shared much with anyone. (Self dependency, self reliance)

Growing Pains

As he entered early adolescence he may have found certain peers more appealing and started to associate with their way of viewing the world. Exciting, dangerous, rule bending/breaking, becoming argumentative/aggressive with siblings, parents, teachers and authority figures. Leading him to take ever greater risks, enjoying self-injurious actions and activities i.e. smoking or self-harming, drinking alcohol, tattooing, piercings etc. The difficulty for me as a counsellor is in recognising the difference between the actions Laos reported of his experiences during his adolescence and usual teenage behaviour.

The purpose of the actions as listed could be to give him a chance to gain a sense of belonging or to fit in with others or create a new identity. It could also have offered Laos an attempt to make the feeling of disillusionment of parental let down dissipate or not be as painful. Another consideration would be in relation to Laos’ attachments to others. If we were to observe his relationship to his mum and then her death could his spiralling drug use be in relation to having difficulty admitting to or acknowledge his feelings of loss? The realisation for Laos could be that self-injurious acts may become habitual and destructive.

The interesting thing for me as I sketched through some of these hypothetical realisations was how Laos had attempted to rescue himself or bring about an end to his behaviour. He had not gone to rehab or completed 12-step programmes. Laos being caught, found selling or incapacitated through use of drugs and going to prison put in place a semi-permanent stop to his self-destructive pattern of behaviour. This is not to say that drugs could not be found in prison. But Laos was able to recognise that through his actions he was again locked away for a period of time. It is possible that prison acted like both a punitive and supportive parent at the same time. What Laos was appeared to do by being arrested by incarceration was to learn how to find another way to live without both of his parents. It is possible he had not an internal representation of both parents and sought external controls to manage his behaviour.

Re-evaluating – Re-inventing

Within a longer piece of work from 1 year – 2 years it is possible Laos may have been able to recognise what he had lost as a result of his earlier experiences. The losses could include his sense of identity, self esteem, parental guidance, maternal attachment figure (after his mum passed away), emotional self regulation and self-protective mechanisms i.e. speaking to others and finding emotional support. A therapist could have been able to support him in identifying his current patterns of behaviour and look to establish life affirming behaviours that looked at his dependency on alcohol and drugs to alleviate boredom, anxiety and depression.

Idea-Seeds

My work with Laos was informative for a number of reasons. I learned that I had been able to graduate my thoughts to appreciate a psychodynamic profile of a person’s past. What I was able to offer Laos as a counsellor was a robust level of emotional support and an awareness that there were topics from his past that with the right support he would be able to heal in time. I was able to plant an idea-seed. With good support that idea-seed could grow and I imagine bring about significant change for Laos.

Moving forward this level of reflection has supported me in all aspects of my life, noticing patterns of behaviour with those I support. Identifying personal scripts that clients operate with that limit themselves from engaging in new and exciting ways with themselves and others. My hope for Laos is that he recognises his pattern and with support from family, a partner or a trained professional can find other ways of being that are healthy and life enriching.

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.

A Short Story of Change

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:

  • Settling debts,
  • 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

Inside Space

Walking and Talking Therapy Begins

Thursday, 30 May 2013

It’s evening on May the 16th. I’ve had a busy day, leafletting my local neighbourhood about Walk and Talk therapy. It’s in the quiet time of the day I can reflect how far I have journeyed. An estimate of the round trip, I have probably travelled 4 miles, Lee-Blackheath-Hither Green. Through my walks I am starting to develop a deeper understanding of the area.

Freud’s Dangerous Method

I want to use this space to enlighten the journey of walking therapy. It started I believe with Freud – one of the forefathers of Counselling and Psychotherapy. It has been well documented that Freud used alternative methods to interact with clients. He would use hypnotism to relieve clients of their distress and on occasion go for walks with clients. The development of having clients lie on a couch was something Freud found useful when working with clients related to clients being immersed in something other than the room. Disassociation became something he found useful for clients to fully open up, drop guards and defenses.

Collaboration whilst walking

Walking Therapy I believe does something similar, as a client starts to pick their way with a guide, the relationship established due to the motion and the action of walking becomes one of collaboration. Traditionally clients and their counsellors sit at a distance to one another. Their chairs are faced in just off oppositional positions to each other. The room will usually be furnished in a low key non threatening manner. There may be a picture or 2 on the walls, framed certificates somewhere in the room and a partially hidden time device. (To keep sessions to time)

Looking for some creativity to my own practice I imagined another way I could work that might inject something new to the counselling process. Walk and Talk Therapy was born. I haven’t looked back since. Excuse the pun (humour and analogy another way to be creative in therapy examined in On Being a Therapist Jeffrey Kottler).

Feedback

I have run 2 successful trials with 2 different individuals over the past 2 months and their responses have been hugely positive.

“Walking and talking is a tranquil activity as it combines movement with introspection”

“You can’t help but be in the moment! Each step you have to be aware of, and that keeps you in the now”, another useful comment.

I have enjoyed how the environment has enabled conversation and inspiration to bubble up and be accessed. Even when in a quiet lull in conversation, the effect of walking in beautiful areas around Lee and Blackheath has meant that something ‘other’ is being accessed and it is when this is brought back into the conversation the reflective quiet’s findings are always surprising and useful.

M

Basketball Therapy Anyone

Basketball Therapy

I have been a Basketball coach for 14 years and know first hand the beneficial effects basketball and playing team sports in general can have on people. While most people assume the positive effects have to do with being physically fit. As a therapist, I’m interested in the emotional benefits of playing sports as well as the obvious physical ones.

Working with boys and girls in the 11-18 age range, one of the things I observed over the years was how the sport equipped them with life skills they could apply off of the court. For example through turning up to early morning practice on time, packing a kit bag, working hard during practice and persevering with learning new skills, players acquired a range of abilities including commitment, sacrifice, organisation, accountability to one self and the team, responsibility, confidence and ultimately leadership.

Therapy in Play

As well as what happened on the court, there was often a therapeutic effect at play in the period after sessions. Many players would speak to me after sessions about some of the difficulties they were experiencing including homework, relationships, concerns with family and worrying about their future. I was often surprised by what was shared and equally what I was prepared to share about some of the challenges I experienced whilst growing up.

Basketball and Therapy

Both the experience of playing basketball and the informal sharing which took place afterwards enabled some players to address feelings associated with depression and anxiety. In many instances I watched players transform from people with low aspirations to people with ambition and hope about their future. I attribute their transformation in part to both the success they achieved on the court and the informal mentoring they received away from the court.

Some of the reasons I have become a counsellor stem from these conversations which sparked something in me to want to support people who were experiencing some degree of emotional/mental difficulty. Looking back on this now from the vantage point of being a trained counsellor, I’m interested in how sports develops positive relationships between players and coaches which is a fantastic starting point for therapeutic conversations.

Mentoring

As a learning mentor in a boys secondary school in London, Basketball again proved an effective tool to enable young men who were experiencing difficulties to talk. Talking whilst engaged in basketball allowed young men to look at some of their challenging behaviour and seek ways to adapt so as to get the best out of their school experience. Games like P.I.G. and H.O.R.S.E were great, as whilst the young men were focusing on making their shot I would be able to offer some useful insight to help their situations. Working this way helped me to establish a good working alliance with the young men that were on my case-load.

Walking and Talking

Much of what I have learnt about using basketball to support people to talk has influenced my decision to launch a walk and talk therapy service. Whether using basketball or the act of walking, both approaches involve using an activity to enable sharing and reflection. Clients often report that when walking and talking, they are surprised at how naturally the sharing occurs. To date I have observed that being in parks and open spaces invites the client to open up in the environment and begin identifying processes for change.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about wanting to develop an idea I have of incorporating Basketball and Therapy. Given my love for the game, this seems like the obvious next step for me.

But first of all I better dust off my basketball trainers hit those courts and brush up on my skills.

Watch this space….