It’s All in the Hands

With summer at it’s height and the evening’s beginning to draw in, I noted my willingness to bake shoot into overdrive. I was asked by a colleague what got me into baking and said “Baking helps me manage anxiety”. Baking helps to stall the thoughts that build about the improbable future by occupying time and ones hands and ones mind with the act of making something – edible gold.

A Probation Favourite

Potato and Dill Bread

Distraction

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I baked my first savoury bread as a result of not knowing how to begin writing my dissertation for my masters in counselling. In a way baking helped to calm my nerves about the mammoth task ahead of me. Writing a significant piece about my early life and relationship with my mother was an unwelcome challenge. Baking bread helped to transform anxiety and stress into doing something productive and creative.

Transition

My first ever bread was a banana bread which lead on to an attempt at making an Irish Soda bread. The step from the banana bread to the Irish Soda was not too great. Unlike studying at an undergrad level with Interior Design and then studying at a masters level with Therapeutic Counselling. The transition from Banana Bread to Irish Soda was straightforward. With the Irish Soda, I didn’t need to invest in any equipment like a bread mixer or training, practice and time were the only requirements.

Development

Bread baking has taken me to attempt sour dough’s, brioche’s, fruit loaves and pastries including croissants and pain aux chocolate. This is not an advert for suggesting a try at the Great British Bake off. Baking relieves me of pent up energy and emotion and relaxes me immensely. GBBO is entirely enjoyable to watch, to be a participant? Not for me. I could see the vision of the master bake ending up in a bin much like a previous contestant were things to go wrong. Baking remains a joy, a simple pleasure. The product of which can cause a rush of excitement and some envy.

The Baking CV

I have brought baked goods into most of the places I have worked:
2004-2007 Salesian College mostly cakes and an Irish Soda Bread
2009 – 2012 Drs Surgery near Camberwell cakes.
2010 -2014 Belmarsh Prison I pushed myself a little and attempted cakes and more complex breads including a quick rye bread.
2014 The University of Kent where I was a student mentor – Breads and cakes. This is where I honed the skill of making the sourdough. A book bought for Christmas that year the handmade loaf by Dan Lepard inspired me.

Smiles

In the 3 years I have worked alongside probation I have brought many breads and baked goods in to offices at Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Southwark. The bread is usually accompanied by cheeses, grapes, butter and jam or a soft spread. My belief is, those that work in the public domain genuinely are unsung heroes and are in need of congratulating and validation by those they serve and look after (Society). My offerings were a small testament to an idea: ‘Gift others with something pleasant that would be hard for them to return’. The breads cakes and other items I brought in, usually vanished in a short space of time and put a smile on most people’s faces. For me giving and causing for a short while joy, was priceless.

Edutainment

Mentioning the GBBO above, stirs my thinking about what Channel 4 will offer us this season? Last year’s departure from BBC1 to Channel 4 did not deter my admiration for the participants or enjoyment of watching the show. It still ticks most of the boxes for good entertainment. A sour faced judge, a fair judge, and 2 comedians bringing levity when things inevitably go wrong. The mini edutainment sections are also in CH4’s edition too. Netflix has all 7 seasons and all episodes. Let the entertainment begin!

2 Artisan Breads

Sundried Tomato, Onion and Cheese Loaf alongside a Caraway and Raisin Bread.

Appreciation

I baked for my team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners recently – 3 Dan Lepard Recipes: a classic banana bread, a yoghurt and chive bread, an onion and cheese baguette that has an MO addition of sundried tomatoes. Renamed  as ‘Pizza Bread’ by a colleague at Together. My anxiety about my moving on from Together enabled me to craft 2 wonderful loaves and a cake as a goodbye to a brilliant team. As a group the NPS team have worked diligently and passionately in probation offices across London. Overcoming a number of unforeseen challenges, obstacles and developments within the service. The bread was to say thank you and that their efforts have been greatly appreciated by me, Together, Probation and the service users they have supported.

Memories fade like the aroma of a freshly baked bread, I would like to hold on to these memories for a while longer…

Breaking the Cycle

Half-Truths

In a conversation with my supervisor we came across an interesting idea. We [society] punish those who have done wrong to society by sending them away to prison.

Arike asked “I just want to make sure I heard you correctly, you want to punish people who have already had a difficult past?”

“Er, yeah, well that’s what society wants for people who have wronged them. They have to repay us by spending time away from us, to then return rehabilitated” I said.

Arike chuckled… My folly although well put, had been illegitimately conceived. I had stumbled into another half-truth of society’s thoughts about the criminal justice service and about what, We the greater want from those who have committed crime against Us. We want them to pay back for the harm they have done to us. Rehabilitate, be re-educated and return healed from the hell that they were sent to…

Is the above a fair request?

Musical Identity

By stating to Arike that I have been the victim of a number of crimes was an attempt to show understanding. Being beaten up on my housing estate at the age of 9 by a school bully, and having my mother’s purse stolen by a friend were painful shocks to the system. We living near the bread line stolen from by a trusted friend…

Living in Wandsworth between 1997 – 2002, my car being broken into a number of times was possibly a greater loss. My car stereo and CDs – stolen, taken, had, made off with, disappeared…

Music was then, and is now, an important part of my identity. I loved making mix tapes and then playing a selection of these carefully chosen tracks as I drove to work.

1st Car

An Escape Golf Mark 2

Loss

My assailant, had taken something I held dear. I felt rageful for my hurt and violated sense of space. I also wanted my stuff to back. I shared this with Arike who chuckled some more. In the time after my stereos disappearance, I was able to get to a place of compassion.

The idea I was able to fashion was that the thief possibly needed my stuff more than I. Perhaps they were not in a frame of mind I could ever fathom or figure out. They found my car out of place in this well to do part of Wandsworth, broke in easily and took what they needed. I was lucky they didn’t steal the car, further complicating my commute to work. My red 1988 Volkswagen golf. It pained me to get into it and drive with no sound other than the engine – hollow and vacant.

Why

I imagined a male. Possibly either a drug or alcohol misuser who exchanged my low tech, low cost, car radio for their next escape. The usual phrase of ‘Why Me?’ formed and was popped by a realisation that if a £20 car stereo sale could bring momentary happiness, then my loss could result in momentary happiness for them… perhaps then…

Hurt First

An outcome of the discussion had with Arike was that the thinking around prison and punishment of crime may be archaic, ill fitting, not suited for our modern times, out dated and out grown. If not prison, then what? Community sentences? Returning to the idea of punishment Arike posed a final question:

“Society wants to punish those who already have been hurt?”

From this point a realisation hit home. The want for punishment remains for a society hurt by those who have taken something from us. I get that. What I started to visualise was those who commit crime also have had things taken from them, freedom, childhoods, education, self-agency, identity, family, access to funds, homes, safety… As a group of people, they were hurt first.

Faces at the bottom

We as a society rejected and affixed labels (Mad, Bad, Sad) and then sent them away. Is there much wonder then that as a group of people rehabilitation does not come easy?

Breaking the Cycle - Big Society

All for All. Big Society

Can you imagine what it could be like to return to a place where you are not wanted, feel impoverished, unable to contribute, the so called friends you thought you had were just as dysfunctional as the people you grew up with, or certain members of your family, spending time between probation, job centre, approved accommodation, attending change grow live CGL, trying to give up a habit as a coping mechanism that halts feelings of denial and hurt, returning to familiar patterns of crime, to feed a habit and return to a gaol system that further impresses that you are not a member of anywhere but it’s grey confines. What then?

For me there are many layers to unpack for ‘Those Who Were Hurt First’ that would need to be addressed by all.

The unpacking begins…

Yoga, herbs and sunshine: New Zealand opens ‘humane’ jail for most violent inmates

Johan Hari T.E.D. Talk Addiction as a Health Matter not a Criminal Justice Matter.

I thank Paul Delaney for hi-lighting this article. Drug addiction

King Heroin – James Brown

Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow Americans
Lady Americans
This is James Brown
I wanna talk to you about one of our
Most deadly, killers in the country today
I had a dream the other night, and I
Was sittin’ in my living room
Dozed off to sleep
So I start to dreamin’
I dreamed I walked in a place and
I saw a real strange, weird object
Standin’ up talkin’ to the people
And I found out it was heroin
That deadly drug that go in your veins
He says
I came to this country without a passport
Ever since then I’ve been hunted and sought
My little white grains are nothin’ but waste
Soft and deadly and bitter to taste
I’m a world of power and all know it’s true
Use me once and you’ll know it, too
I can make a mere schoolboy forget his books
I can make a world-famous beauty neglect her looks
I can make a good man forsake his wife
Send a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life
I can make a man forsake his country and flag
Make a girl sell her body for a five-dollar bag
Some think my adventure’s a joy and a thrill
But I’ll put a gun in your hand and make you kill ’em
In cellophane bags, I’ve found my way
To heads of state and children at play
I’m financed in China, ran in Japan
I’m respected in Turkey and I’m legal in Siam
I take my addicts and make ’em steal, borrow, beg
Then they search for a vein in their arm or their leg
So, be you Italian, Jewish, Black or Mex
I can make the most virilent of men forget their sex
So now, no, my man, you must, you know, do your best
To keep up your habit until your arrest
Now the police have taken you from under my wing
Do you think they dare defy me, I who am king
Now, you must lie in that county jail
Where I can’t get to you by visit or mail
So squirm, with discomfort, wiggle and cough (coughs)
Six days of madness, (Hah) and you might throw me off
Curse me in name, defy me in speech
But you’d pick me up right now if I were in your reach
All through your sentence you’ve become resolved to your fate
Fear not young man and woman, I’ll be waitin’ at the gate
And don’t be afraid, don’t run, I’m not chased
Sure my name is Heroin, you’ll be back for a taste
Behold, you’re hooked, your foot is in the stirrup
And make, haste, mount the steed and ride him well
For the white horse of heroin will ride you to Hell, to Hell
Will ride you to Hell until you are dead
Dead, brother, dead
This is a revolution of the mind
Get your mind together
And get away from drugs
That’s the man
Back, back
Songwriters: Charles Bobbitt / Charles Fred Bobbitt / Dave Matthews / James Brown / Manny Rosen
King Heroin lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Why Therapy, Why Me?

Angel Falls and Therapy Choosing me

Therapy Why Me? Angel Falls

The realisation of why I became a counsellor I had thought for a long time was because of a delayed and complicated grief of my mother’s passing in 1993.

Reading the TIP guide for trauma Informed Practice training, I attended recently delivered by Eva Roussou, I recognised a fundamental interest that drew me to provide healing encounters and environments with clients. The TIP guide illustrates that trauma can be Intergenerational and Historical. When I think about my family, my sisters and I, and then the countries my parents originated from – Guyana and Ghana I am unable to think past their colonial pasts.

Recolonization

An Historical Past

The Colonial Building Guyana

Both being immigrants and relocating to the UK in the early 60s, they possibly both experienced a number of personal hardships including finding accommodation, finding work, becoming British Citizens, maintaining familial links both in their new host nation and overseas. Adapting to a new culture, adjusting to different ways of seeing themselves and others like them and 1960s England, engaging with environmental hostilities and relearning that their knowledge and education from their homelands may not have prepared them for all they were to encounter in High Wycombe and then London.

Guinness Seeping

I never met both of my maternal grandparents or my grandfather on my fathers side of the family. What I am vaguely aware of from both parents was that Inter-generational trauma and Historical trauma seeped into their raising of me and my sisters. Physical punishment as well as emotional distance was a part of their parenting styles.

Ghana's Kwame Nkruma Mausoleum Park

Ghana’s 1st President National Park

Throughout the TIP training a nagging awareness kept pulling me back to a number of experiences where non trauma informed reactions from parent to child were observed. Ripping furniture, dropping bottles of Guinness as I failed to jump a wall – smashing the bottles and cutting both hands, sliding down newly carpeted stairs were all met with physical punishments. This being the 1970s, Childline was a deterrent bound to the future. This being raised on a North London housing estate with other immigrant families. Not entirely an unfamiliarity, using corporal punishment as a way to discipline children. Historical trauma? Colonial histories?

Opaque past

TIP invited me to think about the experiences that both parents may have had with their parents and then back to the idea of Historical trauma. Was what I and my sisters lived with a result of my Great Grandparents experience of the trauma they had encountered: families being torn apart, physical abuse, neglect, kidnapping, unexplained disappearances, negation of human qualities or feelings, disease, death, addictions? How do I make sense of these half imagined but sensed intuitions and then make use of them to support self and then others?

Fierce

Listening to www.baatn.or.uk podcast on family constellations was illuminating and solution forming. I recognise that my journey is about setting things right for my children – underscoring the then and the now. Remembering that I and they are living in a different time. James Oliver invites us to be mindful that we are going to make mistakes as parents. The aim for me: impart a willingness to my 2 children, to move on and up with all the necessary parts from their collected histories. As a parent I am to be compassionate, resilient, patient and with an unending and unconditional love that supports their growth ability interdependence and independence fiercely.

Alchemy

Why Me Why Therapy - Providing knowledge to feed generations

Supporting communities to fish

As a therapist I am to continue adventuring the boundaries of counselling to support others.

Remaining creatively inquisitive and humorously engaged with the alchemy of change.

Swimming with Sharks

The David and Goliath of MS

Like a Shark Bite Managing Multiple Sclerosis

2018 appears to be the year of growth change and acknowledgment. The year has offered unimaginable highs of experiences and a number of discomforts.

Malcolm and Goliath

I had a profound conversation with a supervisor about the Goliath that MS is. I described it’s ability to make me immobile, incapable of maintaining my balance, fall over my own feet, the indescribable fatigue and the effects of the dreaded brain fog and non-acceptance of the illness. As an African Caribbean man the illness presents as a continuing battle of identity.

Here I would like to highlight that Malcolm Gladwell has forever changed my perspective on the story of David and Goliath. David a trained marksman and Goliath a lumbering short sighted oaf who simply was nimbly struck down by a swift footed and clever assassin. For the purpose of the blog I’ll stick to the original telling of the story.

MS I shared is like a Gargantuan beast of a disease that strikes at will and takes no prisoners. It is merciless and has no rules of engagement. It strikes and I succumb to it’s malware like intentions like an affected computer system.

The Great White

I was invited to think of MS as a great white shark during the conversation. One can be swimming away in reasonably deep water blissfully oblivious. Under the surface of the water and at a time when one least expects it a crushing bite can unsuspectingly ruin that hard won peace. The shark attack bites and bites hard. There is seldom chance of escape, or hope of appeasement. There simply is the possibility of relapse and further degeneration as the disease kicks into a more progressive form. MS has no known cures. Rest, diet and a host of vitamins including vitamin D, B complex’s, C and A can have a supportive impact. I am currently trialing CBD oil and will write a more informed blog about it’s use.

Walking a Line

The conversation with the supervisor was unique as they have suffered with the illness for almost twice as long as I, and recognise the disastrous impact it has on mood, diet, energy levels, travel, work, friendships, career options and overall well-being. This was the first conversation I have had with a veteran of the disease. I have another friend that I haphazardly talked with about the disease, but they recently moved to New York city. There is something welcoming and nurturing about finding others who are walking a line that looks and feels like the one you are walking.

A New Story

GoliathThe summary of the conversation with the supervisor was that when all seemed to be going well with my career a blow by the hand of fate has paused my star’s ascent. In a moment that feels  both gruesome unkind and resentful my body is attacking itself – unwittingly I am destroying me.

No Running Away From

In That Thing You Seek I sarcastically noted of the gift of MS. I have wanted to kick it’s ass and prove to myself and it that I am not to be cowed by it, deflated by it, undone by it, denied by it. I have lost the ability to run (I used to love to run), have boundless energy, lost my sense of balance, have leg cramps and back spasms, lose my train of thought mid speech: mid-sentence, lose myself to a foggy mind, make miss steps trip and fall, no more shimmy shimmy ya on a Bball court with my sons or with my old Gladiators or Hurricanes basketball teams I once coached.

The Sharp End

Now I realise that this is a war of attrition. The numerous days ahead will be hard won battles just to make the what was a ten-minute walk home now a 15-20 minute one from my local train station. It’s the unseen losses and defeats that I feel will cause the most pain. Turning my imagination over to that uncertainty of a whirling dervish is a torture at this point I will not spend much time with.

For me now it’s a case of joining the MS society, locating a mental health professional to discuss the impact on my self-aspect, accessing the support a great many have offered (I have been too stubborn and too proud in accepting) and begin re-modelling for another type of future.

The last words from my supervisor are that of “I don’t think I do accept this MS stuff actually. Rather, on reflection, I think I treat it like that old adage of keep your friends close and your enemies closer still.”

For me it is a recognition that MS has me and I, like a shark bite, have it!

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

Wishing you well.

Waking up into a thought can be a refreshing experience. Recently my thoughts ran onto members of the  Experiential Group I had facilitated for 22 weeks. My thought was simply this: I wished them all well. I also wanted to thank all of the group members.

I have described in an earlier blog what the function the experiential group had and what my role was. What I have not given is a facilitators perspective on how the groups development was and why I wish the members that attended well.

1st Meeting September 2015

The first meeting of the group was interesting. They came into a room that was ill prepared for any therapeutic endeavour. Chairs and tables were hurriedly arranged in a heap towards the back of the room. I entered the room and found a seat and sat towards the front of the room. Members of the experiential group came in after me and found a chair and placed it in a loose formed elliptical shape and then took to their seats. Other members were already in the room and either stayed in their seats or chose the lesson change over time to stretch their legs and take time to wander into the corridor and chat with other students. They would return in time for the beginning of the next lesson and again take their seats.

Sitting at the ‘front’ of the group became my habit for at least 5 of the first meetings. I would later change my position in the room which caused slight ripples of discomfort amongst the group. Comments included “why has Michael changed where he used to sit?” Not providing an answer and allowing the group to give reason for the slight change presented them with a new reality of me their facilitator.

Changing something small

Being a mischievous person altering my seating position in the room and not sharing as to why I had moved from the front of the class to the side or sometimes the back of the room gave the students an opportunity to appreciate change within the therapeutic space. Initially I moved as I wanted to test the group. Would moving to the left or right of the front of the room change the dynamics of the room?

The change represented difference and I feel that a number of conversations occurred in relation to the subtlety of my movement. The group responded by discussing differences of opinion about the course, each other, perspectives on race, religion, sex, counselling, spirituality, profession, age, family, the why of this career as opposed to any other. Identities for the group became a little more defined, roles the members played changed from week to week: the information bearer, joker, quiet one, challenger, agreer, arguer, dismisser, lecturer enthusiast, social commentator, pessimist, optimist and realist changed from week to week. Which offered the group a chance to simultaneously grow individually and together.

Time and Timings

There were a number of boundaries that were initially presented as trigger points which the group  agreed on or raged against. The clock on the wall in the space we used was roughly 3 minutes faster than real time (my watch). By the 3rd week I had identified that my start and stop times were out of sync with the clock on the wall and members of the group were agitated by this discrepancy.

I chose to raise the timing of the start and end time with the group to gain perspective on whether clock time or watch time would be best to use for the timing of the experiential group hour. On reflection the group decided that they would like to use the clock on the wall to time the beginning and the end of each experiential group.

By the 4th week the timing of the start had slid to coincide with my ‘watch time’ and so I naturally chose to adjust the timing of the experiential group to allow for a later start. Challenge to the timing of the Experiential Group became a frequent issue in the 1st few weeks of the group being run. No sooner had I either raised my hand or indicated that our time together had come to an end, students were making their way to the door. I found it curious. It was like something had gone wrong with the work. Their exit provided them with an abrupt end to a difficult experience. At times this may well have been the case.

Challenge

Describing the purpose of the experiential group was something I had not spent a lot of time reviewing before the group started. In short I said to the 11 members how I perceived the space could be used and said ‘Welcome to your first experiential group. How has your first day been?’ I was promptly informed that the group had started the course a week ago and that this was infact their 2nd week.

Ah, the facilitator gets it wrong! But can he regroup? Internalised thought

I then said something about the idea of safety and that I wanted to provide a safe environment in which all students could share things in the room and be heard. The other idea that was put across to the room was that they needed to be authentic as their professional logs would be marked on reflection of what they had shared in the room.

Challenges came from the group in terms of not fully understanding the purpose of experiential group, or what my role as facilitator was, and questioning if the material that was discussed would disrupt the fragile new alliances that were being formed amongst the group. I took up the gauntlet and attempted to manage the groups development as I had with other groups I had supported previously, which included the Skype group of counsellors that I met with every month and the various basketball teams I had coached.

Experiential Group as a Catalyst

If a person could take a picture of themselves before joining a group experience and then another at a mid-point of a course and then another picture near the end of the course they may well be able to perceive subtle changes about themselves.

Things like their stance whilst sitting or standing, as they talked and expressed ideas to a group of peers. When being challenged by another on a point, they would not try to slink away and hide nor become defensive but seek an empathic understanding of why the question or challenge came when it did.

The picture of themselves in the last experiential group would present them with their growth. By journeying with peers, subtle and significant changes will have occurred. For me as a facilitator all students appeared to have hewn from the granite of the course an identity of who they were and where their counselling journey was to lead them to next.

Good bye and Thanks

I have mentioned in a previous blog that saying goodbye to this first group of counselling students was bittersweet. We were able to develop a closing experience of the group that seemed to resonate with all members that attended.

At one point my voice cracked as I shared that I was going to give up ‘Fear’ and what I was going to take was ‘All 11 of you’. The closing of the group had been mentioned as an idea roughly 9 weeks prior. It was similar to the ending of the Roda when I attended Capoeira with the London School of Capoeira 1999-2001. A completing of a good dance with fellow capoeiristas.

I considered all I had worked with, as a facilitator of this years Experiential Group, ready to move on to the next stage of their journey, capable of fulfilling their roles as mental health practitioners/counsellors/psychotherapists/students.

My thanks are largely due as a result of the group’s patience, resilience, trust and belief that I could facilitate the room and support the group to hold each other and the issues discussed with sensitivity warmth and compassion.

What a ride! I look forward to my next group of students, going again and supporting learning and development.

I wish you well.

Baking: Failure – Success

The Journey into Counselling 2014-06-01 10.39.03

In May 2015 I presented my counselling journey to 3rd year students who were coming to the end of their MSc in Therapeutic Counselling at University of Greenwich. I was invited to speak with the students by the then course director Victoria Alexander.

Since completing the course in 2012 I had wondered if I would ever receive the esteemed call to present my counselling journey to students. Speaking as an Alumni, I imagined would be a mark of success. It was – but not in a monetary sense. I had, at last, arrived as a mental health professional and that was worth acknowledging in the least for myself. From completing the course, it had taken 3 years to get to a point where I felt I had ARRIVED.

When I was a 3rd year student I looked forward to meeting alumni who had completed the course before me and listening to their stories. In 2011 I was expectant of listening to personal stories that would inspire me to have incredible success as a counsellor.

Pinpoint moments

During my time on the Greenwich course there were a number of moments that stand-out. My Interview with John Lees, the first day of the MSc course, attending art therapy/drama therapy experiences, realising that I had adapted from one approach of counselling – person centred, to being an integrative counsellor. This event happened during my second year of the MSc and I will write about Laos (not the clients name) in a later Blog.

Other memorable moments include; my first counselling client that attended their appointment. I practiced in a GP surgery in SE London. My 2nd counselling placement at a Prison and my first client once there. Failing a submission piece during the second year of the course and having to repeat a piece of work and resubmit, oh the shame! Entering the 3rd year of the course, engaging in a difficult conversation with a lecturer – John Nuttall on a delicate issue, completing year 3 and looking towards the top of Canary Wharf Tower on an evening in June from where I live in Lee, and whispering to myself we’ve done it, acknowledging the support of my wife throughout the three years.

The presentation

With the group of students met in 2015, I shared the beginning of my journey as a youth worker – basketball coach, which lead to me becoming a learning mentor and then to the world of counselling.

I spoke as though there appeared to be a plan, but that would be me being presumptuous. The path to become a counsellor opened up the further I travelled along its over grown route. With each move there appeared to be a logical next step which developed, honed and remodelled my sense of enquiry. The book by Scott M. Peck A Road Less Travelled highlights the difficulties and treasures of working in the field of psychology. I happened to read the book at least 10 years before I began my training.

Creative practice

At the end of my presentation a number of questions were asked in relation to what life is like now as a counsellor/mental health practitioner. I was able to share that for me as a professional the experience is of being creative. I shared that I had attempted to bake and bring to the presentation a sourdough bread. The bread was to be used as a symbol. Sharing the growth and development of the journey I had undertaken. I was asked by a student ‘what the lack of being able to produce a bread represented?’ My response was for them ‘to think about my lack of bread and get back to me.’ In truth I did not have a good enough answer and used wit to escape the students question.

Bread = therapy

I have been working on my sourdough culture for a little over three years. It began when I received a book for Christmas by Dan Lepard the ‘Hand Baked Loaf’ in December 2011. I bought a few Kilner jars and started as Dan had suggested. I found it difficult to throw out much of the leaven on the 6th-7th day as he suggests, but overcame my reluctance to discard hard won yeast for the greater good of the bread. The yeast culture has been successful in helping me to produce a range of breads, pizza bases, focaccia and pain aux chocolate in the 3 years I have been baking in this way. I have also had a number of failures where the leaven has not produced bread that has not risen or has not had the aeration (big air holes) that a good sourdough should have.

Getting it wrong

A better response to the student’s question of my failure to produce a bread for the group, could have been to discuss the reality of failure or of not being successful when making interventions or assessments with clients. Whilst failure is an uncomfortable experience the effect of not reaching a particular point with a client can also be useful in providing information.

Getting things wrong can be of use for a therapist. I learn the strength of the alliance between me and the client, and the resilience of the therapeutic engagement. In most cases there is a point for reflection. “Was that interpretation useful now, for them?” “Would a senseate reflection be of use here, how did that story go, could it be of use, now?” I also get to refocus, so as to aim interpretations close to the person’s growing sense of awareness most of the time.

The other outcome is the person being supported finds a way forward which informs them of their resilience and that their counsellor doesn’t have all the answers!

Sharing concepts of not getting it right in therapeutic encounters with clients, with the student in question, could have helped to deliver the analogy of not producing my bread. ‘My bread is similar to working with clients, I don’t always get it right. With time, patience, be willing to accept the failure (lack of understanding, miscomprehension, miss timed interpretation) as a reason for the therapeutic work at times missing the mark, and continuing to offer support for successful outcomes.’ This is what I would liked to have said.

The future

Continuing after a mis-step in the counselling contract can result in a better result in therapy. For me and sourdough breads the aim is to create great artisan breads like those at Gails Blackheath, Brickhouse Bakery, and E5 Bake House. Alchemy occurs in therapy and can be achieved with bread.

I am glad that I have pursued the effort of crafting a good leaven that will produce great bread. Without the many failures I could not have appreciated the inevitable successes.