Gambit exhibiting his power

Teachers Gambit

Unmoored1

In May I ended my final year with both year one and year two integrative counselling students at the University of Greenwich. I have taught at the University of Greenwich for 3 years as a visiting lecturer. The final teaching lessons with both year 1 and year 2 were surprising and left me feeling un-moored.

What Next

Ending with both year 1 and year 2, conversations involved what would come next??? With year 1 the conversations involved what they had survived and what the next year would bring.  The Counselling and Psychology departments are to move from Avery Hill to the Dreadnought building in Greenwich village, London UK. The change of location represents a physical re-ordering to the experience of teaching and learning. Changes to the orientation of the scheduled lessons and new group members will add an additional layer of nuance to the students day.

High seas 1

Relief

The new cohort of students (2018  – 2019) will not be any wiser of these changes. The 2 groups of students I taught on their last day were relieved to have passed through the gate of the unknown and were weary from the internal struggles the course had helped unearth. I enjoyed the teaching. The opportunity to share what knowledge I have with minds receptive to new ideas – ideas that at times were vastly different to their own. The excitement of moving from unknowing to knowing more, is more than worthy of the days nights and weeks spent marking students work. I will no longer be a part of the excitement, the changes, the conflicts, the time tabling confusions, rooms being locked, difficulties with technology – I am going to miss all of this!

Soft Departures

For year 2, I was to discuss formation of their counselling identity. The presentation began with a student stating that they would not be returning for year 3. A number of students expressed surprise and disappointment as well as tender comments about the student leaving the course this year spattered amongst the room. The student will leave with a level VII (7) diploma and a confidence about how they are going to engage with counselling and psychotherapy.

It’s Personal

For those that were to continue onto year 3, there were ideas as to what was to happen for them. A few students identified that the dissertation piece had been a challenge to be moderated on. The point of the exercise was to gather an understanding of their counselling approach. As an integrative course the need to understand the ‘how and why’ of using a particular theory is important for the therapist and for the client to know.

The Journey

Sharing my counselling journey from 2012 when I completed the same course, with year 2 students was a special moment. Describing the numerous points of growth change and adaptation of how I viewed and interact with the world. Sharing experiences that developed awareness of competence and confidence, helped the arrival where it feels natural to share ideas with a group of 20-30 people as if speaking to a group of friends.

Newbie

I have shared a number of times about the experiential group of that first year. The group surprised and impressed me. There was a dynamic rich freshness, a vibrancy of their experience that fueled the group’s discussions. It may have been my newness to the whole teaching experience that has framed them as a pivotal memory.

In year two I worked with my first all women experiential group, I had chance to relearn what I thought I knew from the previous year. A welcome surprise. I had chance to reflect on growing up within an all-female household. Growing into adulthood I came to appreciate a non-male dominated space – this experiential group mirrored that.

Lecturing

In this my third year I was offered the chance to lecture on the undergrad psychology and counselling course, teach a year one case discussion group, facilitate a year one all women experiential group, and teach the year two case discussion. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge about direction and imparting some of my book learning to trainee counsellors. Fortunately they were receptive to some of the ideas and some of the critiques I offered.

rough seas 2

Irv’s wisdom

Having had the opportunity in April to interview the enigmatic Irvin Yalom for the Counsellors Café – he shared the finer subtleties of working with process groups, he advised that to support a group learn and become it’s own entity, you have to be willing to risk being real, be present and be a part of the process. Be where they are at. Be honest, congruent, vulnerable… I came close…

Illusions

In my 2nd year of teaching (2016 – 2017) a number of opportunities to share interesting ideas seemed to arrive at the end our experiential groups – I went with it and shared. On my last day of this years visiting lecturing, I shared with the year one case discussion group a book. ‘The structure of Magic” and I invited seven of the group members to read a number of the opening paragraphs. The first chapter discusses the idea of magic. Magicians, Princesses and Princes populate a land and a boy is to understand his place amongst it all. The ideas that counsellors follow in the tradition of Freud, we perhaps are also Magicians creating illusions.

Provoke

Those that we work with use the magic to create new stories and illusions of their own making. The year 1 students were challenged by the idea and I deliberately meant to be provocative. Another idea that also challenged them, was my earlier offering of therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts being Judge, Jury and executioners.

Invitation

The loss felt, as I move on from the experience of teaching and learning was, the ideas propagated within the minds of students will be watered by other gardeners now.

The un-mooring invites the idea of finding new ports, trade knowledge acquired on high seas, amongst audiences new. The sense of risk and triumph much like the rise and fall of tidal swells offers, chance to arrive there once again…

Patterns – A Beautiful Way of Thinking

Fractal ImageFractals

For as long as I can remember patterns have fascinated me. From simple designs like parquet flooring and tessellation to radial patterns of nature’s fractals, all offer a representation of our world and known universe that support understanding and for me a degree of comfort.

Splicing Media

Whilst listening to Invisibilia, The Science of Success, Two Guys On Your Head podcasts and watching The Alienist Netflix show, links below, a thought struck about the need for pattern recognition. The interest for me seems to span from an aesthetic (how things look) to the psychological (how our minds interpret information). Questions arise about our need to rapidly recognise patterns and what use we then make of the recognition. The Two Guys episode does well to explain and expand on the idea.

The Invisibilia episode reviews a woman’s attempt to change her life pattern and asks if we too are able to stop and make different choices that support growth and positive outcomes for our lives.

The Science of success episode shares insights on nonverbal communication, micro expressions, and how as humans we can be better at detecting lies with columnist Vanessa Van Edwards.

The Two Guys on Your Head podcast, the doctors of psychology discuss the problems that can arise from seeing things in our minds and not just with our eyes. In essence they reference pattern matching in an artful way.

Art Meets Science

The Alienist has fascinated me too, I started watching the show in late April. I find myself keenly interested primarily as the protagonists are using patterns to solve crime. The show demonstrates how forensic science and forensic psychology may have come into effect. Albeit in a fictionalised 19th Century New York. Here too a pattern seems to emerge as a team search for clues and hidden meaning of their own behaviours and of that of the person responsible for the young men’s deaths. The aim of casting the search net so wide is to understand and stop the person responsible with all accessible means at the investigators’ disposal. What also interests me is that this depiction of late 19th century New York which appears to be a close representation of our modern 21st century lives.

Patterned Living

The realisation that we are living amongst a number of forming and reforming of continual patterns such as algorithms has had me in a state of wonder ever since I read Eric Hoffer’s True Believer in 2008. Themes appear in all four of the media samples mentioned above which include: attraction, guilt, authority, liberty, sexism, addiction, class and passion. History has a habit of repeating itself as Eric Hoffer has suggested.

We tend to use patterns to help us recognise things as diverse as migration, seasons, crop cycles, stock and share prices, rhythm and bpm, music, clothes, travel, festivals, meals, traffic, weather, sleep and waking cycles and psychological patterns marking the stages of life we all pass through. There are a possibly a million more patterns of life that I will have missed.

Counselling Patterns

As a counsellor the pattern of therapy I find, is similar to that of a story, there usually is a beginning, a middle and an end. At times the beginning and ending can happen in a single appointment. Caleb Carr’s Kreizler series I am intrigued to start reading, as it has inspired the Alienist TV series. Usually the book is read first then I watch the adaptation later. Here I am able to witness a break in my own pattern of behaviour.

Pattern Matching

On a common level we interpret a number of cues to inform ourselves about our lives that include; faces, sounds, smells, tastes, all call upon our ability to make use of a range of stimuli. A face that smiles we could view as friendly, a loud screech of tyres helps us recognise that something on wheels either was braking or accelerating, pleasant aromas of food or scents could alert us to a range of pleasing experiences. We recognise these as a result of experiencing them before and unconsciously process and store them. Once recalled, through action or thought we pattern match and behave almost automatically, almost without thought.

Pattern recognition is a way of interpreting information to support our understanding of what is likely to occur. My fascination with simply being aware of patterns enables me to make more informed choices. To make use of the patterns mentioned what would it be like to become a detective/scientist/artist for a while, curious enough to find out the patterns that involve your life and make sense and meaning from them.Triangle Pattern

In essence I am enjoying the psychological battle unfolding in the Alienist (episode 5 at the time of writing) as the characters recognise their strengths as a team and some of their weaknesses. The attempt to solve the mystery of the serial killer is a case of playing field chess in fog. It is a game, it is baffling and unseen players could move pieces that inspire the win and also the loss. As in life, the aim is to live well amongst a seemingly ever unfolding pattern.

The List

The Pattern Problem by Invisibilia. https://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/597779069/the-pattern-problem

Lies and Body Language http://podcast.scienceofsuccess.co/e/the-secret-science-of-lies-body-language-with-vanessa-van-edwards/

Seeing and Perception with Two Guys on Your Head http://kutpodcasts.org/two-guys-on-your-head/seeing-and-perception

The Alienist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9867sT-Y1M&feature=youtu.be

A pattern that has us at once, confused and often bemused, with a sense of knowing of the way we are still to travel.

And be hopelessly, laughingly and completely lost.

Do or Do Not

Impossible-Possible

Procrastination

I have been walking and talking with a client for 6 months and one of their main concerns is with procrastination. As modern human beings especially now with a large swathe of things to distract us (TV, Newspapers, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Pinterest, Messenger, Google Play, Netflix, Podcasts, Sport, TV on the Go, TV Now, LinkedIn plus countless more) and interrupt us, procrastination often arises as a theme within my counselling work.

As the client presented a number of different scenario’s that had them procrastinating – out of the blue I recalled a saying I had not heard in many years. ‘Do or do not do there is no try.’ The saying from Yoda made us both laugh and it could have been – the light Spring air and fresh budding trees in the park, but I was slightly taken aback by this uncanny recall and wisdom from a film I had watched many years ago.

Innate Wisdom

Many before me have stated that walking and talking in open air environments invigorates the senses and mind in ways that supports new neurological connections and psychological associations to form. I can remember the corner of the park we were walking through and the slight buzz when the important sensate reckoning was about to burst forth – “Do or Do Not Do…”

There was something about the discussion with this client which reminded me of conversations I have had with other clients, students, colleagues family members and friends about the concept of doing or not. I recognise dilemma and fear and the encounters that invite either failure loss and psychological pain of defeat. When trying we are making an attempt. I have clumsily described trying to pick something up with another walk and talk client. In essence the stick that I attempted to pick up remained lodged on the grass. The client saw what I was attempting to illustrate laughed and we walked on. Trying is an attempt to get something achieved. Doing is completing the task.

Two Choices

Perhaps there is chance to see that there are two choices that one can make whilst procrastination strikes, “do or not do” Yoda has said. The client who suggested that their procrastination was affecting their ability to get a certain task completed has choice. They debated about their effectiveness that was being prolonged and deflated as a result of the procrastination, it was also running their energy store to zero. We discussed a number of strategies that could be employed to support decision making and thought about timelines to support tasks being completed. By the end of the appointment an idea of progression had begun to form as well as the Yoda saying ‘Do or Do Not, there is no Try…’

Purposeful Procrastination

Rory Vaden has a book titled Procrastinate on Purpose that I am to read soon, as I would like to make better use of time to procrastinate with. Another concept I am getting used to is the idea of the Leaky Brain by Jeff Goins he of the ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve’ book.

Perhaps there is something more to being caught in thoughtful dilemmas.

https://youtu.be/BQ4yd2W50No

Chris Voss’s Tactical Empathy and Peter Singer’s Effective Altruism team up

blue-masque-2.jpg

Flow state thinking

An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be done to support those who through no fault of their own are facing unsurmountable challenges. The other was is there something here about listening for the solution in a way that supports a peaceful outcome. Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them. But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead – Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference.

Or  “Tactical Empathy” is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. LEO Hearted T-shirts

Affective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Wikepedia

Blending

The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity.

Choice with Others in Mind

Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for the many.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities, compassion, recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informing.

Links to Social Responsibility

Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before, then significant derailment of the production line can and will occur.

For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide from threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that are in mind as a continuum. Arwa setting up a foundation recognises that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many she had to organise her thoughts and other people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans.

The Call

The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/4/8/a/48a779ee34e742f3/Larry_Temkin_on_The_Obligations_to_the_Needy.mp3?c_id=20122623&expiration=1524205451&hwt=73d3eb9c2a810f74954eaf8cd6b13f30

https://crooked.com/podcast/turkey-and-28-hours-pinned-down-by-isis-with-arwa-damon-2/

Is Counselling a Good Thing?

Argentine Tango

If it leads to dance… Possibly

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

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

Psy-professional dominance

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

(Wotton,1959.pp.17)

Judge

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

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

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

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

The Jury

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

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

The Final Act

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

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

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

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

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

Small – Big Life Matters

A little life ba-little-lifey Hanya Yanagihara

Revisiting my brief overview of ‘A Little Life’ the 2015’s Man Booker Prize nominee a year later was a passing idea. What could be gained from this experience was noting if my opinion had changed about the book a year later.

A Challenge

I was introduced to this book by my sister CF. She stated in a resigned fashion that this book was a depiction of a persons struggle. No matter what they could good experiences were presented to them they could not heal from the pain of their past.

As a practicing counsellor with over 7 years of experience I was intrigued and appalled by the idea of a wound so great that no recovery could be experienced. Naively I approached the book like an investigator seeking to uncover what experiences a fictional character could not heal from.

Within 80 pages Ms Yanagihara (author) had me so involved within a complex story of loss, betrayal and pain that to stop reading was the furthest thought from my mind. As I turned the pages and further engrossed myself with this Little Life, I began to recognise why my sister had stated in as clear a way as possible why she proclaimed that there are scars that some individuals never recover.

Symbolism

The central character is called Jude. Jude has a number of difficulties that he is able to successfully negotiate his life with including low self esteem, self harm and a mysterious physical disability. There is a scene that springs to mind as a metaphor for the book. After a significant self-disclosure to a close friend, Jude is thrown from a roof to a window ledge in a scheme to rescue his friends. The rescue involves him undoing a lock that he alone knows how to remove.

event-horizonEvent Horizon

If a reader makes it to the impromptu rescue part of the book, unfortunately they have been pulled over the edge into the event horizon. There is little chance of escape until the book ends and even then a reader will be further embroiled with ‘But if’ scenarios and disappointed views about the characters lives in the book for months after completing A Little Life.

Support Group for a Book?

I have spoken with others and read tweets about how readers have experienced the story #aLilLife with calls for support groups and warm blankets to help the reader survive the tumult of impassionesupport-groupd story telling. A
ll talk about the effect the book has on the reader are accurate. The twists and turns of the story, the feelings the book and writing evoke and how, as a reader, they wish they could have friends and family that Jude has.

I read the book morning noon and night. At one point stating on twitter ‘It is the first thing I reach for when I awake and the last thing I touch before I fall asleep.’ At times I stay up for an hour or 2 past the witching hour to complete a paragraph or a chapter. A Little Life is a tour de force.

Willingness to let go

The aspect of the book that stays with me, is the roof incident and the reminder his social worker offers him; ‘You have to let others in and talk about this thing, or it will get the better of you.’ I am mindful that this coupled with the scene of him rescuing his friendsjesse-w
and undoing a lock that only he knows how to unpick are 2 moments of evidence. Jude has the tools for his own rescue if he were willing and able to open the locks. Anna provided Jude with a choice, as all good therapists are able to offer their clients.

Self-Agency

The experience of ‘Life’ can be taken for granted. A character like Jude’s helps to explore a reckoning with humanity and all that the human experience can present: Mystery, Adversity, Humour, Friendship, Challenge.

As a therapist, Jude’s story provided me with a reminder of what professional boundaries are – To walk beside a person being supported and remaining both caring and mindful of the individual’s journey towards self-discovery – hoping that they get there.

Jude’s story is tragic, many of the people I work with have disastrous life experiences too. I hold on to the idea that a character like Jude’s in ‘A Little Life’ and service users I support can take steps to change their life path if they can find value in being…

For Jude the chance to take a leap of faith appeared too great, however in my experience it is often as thin as a sheet of paper.

Oscar Grant III – Marcus Isaiah – Viktor Frankl

FRUITVALE

MICHAEL B. JORDAN stars in FRUITVALE

Recently I watched Fruitvale Station the movie (June 24th 2016). A few of my friends Gromyko Dumuje and Thomas Keenan mentioned the story a few years ago, and how it invited them to feel, sad, angry, disappointed and frustrated. I had held back on watching the movie because I was not looking forward to experiencing some of the identified feelings myself.

In short, I was surprised that I was swept away by how I felt in relation to how Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of a young man who was attempting to turn his life around and how his efforts were ultimately halted. I came across Michael B Jordan in the film: Chronicle and was spell bound by his relaxed affable nature in the movie. The next notable appearance of Jordan for me was in season four of Friday Night Lights. I am to write a piece on the effect that Friday Night Lights had on me. B. Jordan’s acting was notable as Vince the quarter-back. His human struggle were immediately identifiable and I applauded his successes and bemoaned his disappointments and failures.

I had not realised that he also was a character in The Wire called Wallace. There is much I had forgotten about the Wire apart from Season 4. The story of the group of young men whose lives all went in various surprising directions. The Wire was the ultimate experience of creating a TV script that leapt out from the screen and stole hearts. Season four of the Wire was the first time I came across the term Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Which could be a pre experience of personality disorder in teens. Treme was the next TV show that held me in it’s rhythmical and complex sway. Friday Night Lights (FNL) has been the latest story to fully captivate me. The story telling and character portrayal are movie calibre in quality, complexity and delivery.

Oscar – Marcus

Getting back to Fruitvale and what touched me about the story, was me recognising the similarity of Oscar Grant’s story and a young man I worked with in a London Prison. Marcus Isaiah (Not the man’s real name) was a 25 year old black male who grew up in London but was from another city in England.

Marcus Isaiah

Marcus was a footballer and enjoyed playing football (Soccer). At the age of 12/13 he was scouted by a large London football club and placed on their player pathway to access good coaching, regular football games, nutrition advice, support with homework and possible pathways to playing with a premiership team.

I met Marcus in my 2nd year at the London Prison I volunteered at 2011-2012. At the assessment meeting Marcus stated that he did not want any psychological help and that he was fine as things were. He had recently been in a fight with another male who had since been moved to another house-block. He was shaken, and visibly stirred by the event. Marcus appeared to be trying to adjust to life in the prison, and also to the fact he had been in a physical altercation with another and that his life at our point of meeting appeared bleak. I agreed to not ‘therapize’ Marcus and check in on him within a week.

Pausing to reset

The decision to pause support and give chance for Marcus to re-evaluate if the support was needed was useful. When I returned and checked in with Marcus, he appeared a little more settled and ready to begin in some therapeutic engagement. He expressed that he was feeling stressed and that talking with someone about it, he may find useful. It is possible that being non-committal offers possible clients engaging in therapy, an out if the therapy does not resolve the identified concerns. They then can say that therapy didn’t work and will not allow themselves to be too disappointed with the end result. We agreed to meet for 6 weeks with the possibility of review and extension if necessary of more sessions.

The lull of the street

Marcus described how he had been taken into custody and of elements of his past. He talked about his footballing career. At the age of 15 being a difficult time to negotiate the draw of the street or playing football. The tension to maintain both due to relationships away from the football pitch Marcus found impossible.

Invitations to chill with friends and associates, and be into what they were into, he acquiesced to. He shared during a therapy meeting that a choice to follow friends ultimately was his largest mistake. He started not attending football practice, talking back to his coaches when he did attend, and his football playing suffering as a result. The people he was around were into moving drugs and also smoking weed. Marcus had also started to use and found that football was less appealing than being around friends and associates and making fast and easy money. Football appeared to be the longer route to gaining the success he felt owed to him.

Background to Marcus

Marcus grew up in a single parent household. He lived with his sister and a parent. The pressures of living in London and witnessing how hard his parent was working to make a hard life liveable appeared to make his decision to make money quickly more appealing than staying in school and attending to his football career. Marcus had a number of negative experiences with Police which could have been viewed as a wake-up call which he was unwilling to answer. The excitement of one game appeared to have been replaced by the thrill and risk in another.

Choice

Similarly to Oscar (Fruitvale) who appeared to have come to a realisation on his own and had tried to turn the corner on his past. Marcus was aware that the former life he had lead was over. Marcus talked about how he would like to be when he was released. He thought about the people he had been spending time with in the last few years. Not one of these friends/associates had visited him in prison. Moving cannabis and weed and getting paid, Marcus now thought was not worth the risk for himself and for those he was connected to including his parent and his sister.

Self Iso’

During our 3rd meeting Marcus described in a poignant and charged way that he had stopped his girlfriend from coming to see him. He was not sending out any more VOs (Visiting Orders) making it almost impossible for her to schedule a visit. His intention was to end their relationship and sit out the time he had left in prison by himself. His parent and sister were also vetoed from attending the prison.

Marcus appeared to be self-isolating in order to minimise the impact of not being able to live with those he cared about. I have witnessed this act a number of times and the consequences of self isolation were short lived and did not deliver the desired effect of stopping the anxiety and reducing the sense of stress in relation to thinking about those who remain in the community.

The Charge

We discussed the reality of what he was facing and what this may mean for the people in his life. Marcus was being held on suspicion of carrying a firearm with intent, possession of illegal substances with intent to supply and driving offences. If found guilty Marcus was facing 2-6 years of life in prison. Marcus maintained his innocence and shared the story of how he was caught by the Police. The arrest sounded painful, provoking of a fear response and highly embarrassing.

The officers who arrested Marcus believed him to be carrying a firearm and were armed themselves. After a chase through the streets of a Southwark neighbourhood, Marcus was dragged over a wall, pinned to the ground, his arm was brought up behind him whilst the arresting officer knelt his full weight on Marcus’ shoulder. Months after the arrest, his shoulder back and arm were still causing him much pain. Studies have shown that extensive periods of pain management lower a person’s mood and can increase their likelihood of developing mental illnesses like depression.

Marcus’ Identity

In Marcus’ case his low mood after being arrested and hurt at the scene of the arrest, detained and entering custody, facing the possibility of years of incarceration was escalating a number of negative associations for him. By Marcus removing people from his life, he was attempting to jettison the feeling aspect of himself. Wrapped up with what Marcus felt needed to be held away from him, was a felt sense of who he was. We could call it Marcus’ Identity: The who he really is. By denying those he cared about access to him and he to them, Marcus could be seen to be arresting his emotional development. By engaging in therapy there was a chance that the attempt to move into a primal state of being could be averted.

Oscar’s frustration (Fruitvale) was witnessed three times during the movie.

  1. The prison scene: where the other prisoner expressed anger after a space infringement was unknowingly crossed. Oscar feeling violated on his turf by a known aggressor in a place he did not want to be in. His mom being present to witness him be verbally abused she also being verbally assaulted. Oscar attempted to stand up for himself in the only way he knew how. Shouting and looking to stop the words from causing further harm. Oscar tried to get at the other prisoner. This act cost him the visit. As he was physically restrained and his mom walked out on him. Adding further hurt to the harm caused by his own actions – Abandonment.
  2. When back in the community Oscar attends his former work place and asks his manager to give him back his job after he had been fired. This scene is coupled with Oscar showing a customer his ability to help another by giving her his grandmother’s recipe for fried fish. A selfless act of reciprocity.
  3. The fatal scene on the train ride home after the New Years celebration where the guy from the prison is also on the train. It get’s ugly quick. However no guns are pulled at this point. Permanent Exit.

Complex – simple

Those who are incarcerated attempt to split themselves into smaller more manageable versions of themselves. Marcus was on his way to achieving a simpler version of himself that would be able to manage the prison system and all that it threw at him. Meeting me gave him a chance to check through this self diminishing plan again.

Oscar and Marcus shared a number of similarities. They were both brilliant young black men. Who had ideas of what living well meant to them in the contexts of their young urban lives. They both attempted to provide for themselves and their loved ones, by the means they found available at their disposal.

Both Oscar and Marcus held views of themselves and of the world around them that included breaking laws and being aggressive. Their reasoning could be as a result of the experiences they had whilst growing up. Both men came from single parent homes, poverty appeared prevalent for both males. Opportunities to move beyond the circumstances of their families appeared to have been derailed either by themselves or by circumstance. On some level I could perceive that both Oscar and Marcus had been beaten by an unforgiving system that was intent on further stripping both men of their dignity and self-respect. This being the case they made choices that affected their civil liberty, their lives and the lives of others.

Recognising the gap in the wall

The point of change for Marcus arose as we entered the 4th meeting and he asked if there could be any meaning to his life. ‘Like what is my life about now? More of this shit? I’ve had it with prison and with being in here.’ He asked if there was another way it could have been or could be as he could not see it. I asked if he read, and then told him about Viktor Frankl the Viennese Psychiatrist, Philosopher, Psychotherapist who survived concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Marcus seemed genuinely shocked and intrigued by the story of Logotherapy and Frankl’s ability to rise from a very dark moment in history. I believe that what hooked Marcus was hearing a story as bleak as his and identifying himself with an internal revolution. I told him about what I remembered from the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and wondered if he would like to read it?

I doubt that I have ever been more surprised or pleased to share a book! I read the book with a general interest as to how a man who nearly died in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia could at the end of the war return to his native Vienna in Austria and accept that people he knew may have turned him and other Jewish people over to the German authorities to perhaps die. His wife, mother father and unborn child all died at the hands of the Nazis.

Logotherapy

When I read ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in 1997 the concept of acceptance was a distant thought, compassion even more remote. On passing the book forward to Marcus I was gaining ground on acceptance and compassion as a concept was also being closely followed. The book was a catalyst for me in seeking change and for providing me with answers to an age old ache ‘Who am I and what am I to do with the who I am?’ I was able to fashion meaning from another’s wisdom and insight: Viktor Frankl. In passing the book forward I was attempting to assist another reconstruct themselves with a picture of a young disenfranchised man: in a new progressive light.

I was to meet Marcus for a 6th appointment a month after the 5th appointment had taken place. I called in to the houseblock’s control room to check that Marcus had been invited to stay on his spur for the appointment. I was told that he had gone to court and had been released from there. I tried to hide my joy but I am sure it was witnessed by the officer at the control desk. I was happy that a young man who had made some unwise choices would get a second chance. For the remaining years I worked at the prison I did not see Marcus return. I can only hope he is doing well and I wish him a peaceful journey