The thought behind this blog is to attempt answering a clients question. As an artist using the spectrum of human experience to express high art – they asked if as I say psychotherapy is a refined art “what would be the primary colours?”
I wonder what your answer would be?
As you can see below my answer encompasses a psychotherapeutic journey.
The question is profoundly simple and yet also confoundingly complex. In essence what are the three counselling theorems that I primarly reach for? The primary colours of the artist’s palette are Red, Yellow and Blue. In the light spectrum the primary colours are Red, Green and Blue. From 3 primary colours, a million more colours are created.
As an integrative counsellor, the question caused me to pause for a number of reasons. I was invited to see myself as a painter of notoriety. Palette and brush in hands, peering curiously from behind an easel and canvas occasionally, at the subject being depicted. What would be my Red, Yellow, Blue? What does integrative really mean? Which three of the many counselling and psychotherapeutic approaches would I say are primary? Hence the blog. The answer – arriving later.
An integrative counsellor is often trained to use more than one counselling or psychotherapeutic approach to support the person(s) engaged in the work. Counselling approaches can include and the list provided is by no means exhaustive: Person Centred, Humanistic, Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioural, Solution Focused, Problem Centred, Transpersonal, Internal Family Systems, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, Culturally sensitive, Transactional Analysis, Game Theory, Attachment Theory, Trauma informed, Music Psychotherapy, Art Psychotherapy, Movement and Dance Psychotherapy. The list is near endless. Somatic Abolitionism is a very recent interest. Invited by Kimberly Cato to immerse myself into. When asked what my Red, Yellow and Blue for counselling and psychotherapy are? After several years in the world of counselling and psychotherapy, a few colour wheel associations are made.
Red – Assessment
I am drawn in by the experience of developing a sound relationship with the person(s) sitting in the *‘chair’ opposite me. The vibrancy of the unsure, questioning, circling of the two who soon will be engaged in the psychological rumble that is psychotherapy – is the red of the colour wheel for me.
Assessments are: Potent, energetic, immediate, open, raw, honest. The assessment is not specifically an approach of psychotherapy, but it is a significant and an important factor. Assessment is how the process of counselling is begun. In the assessment which is a two-way engagement, the client and the mental health professional enquire of the other what work is to be engaged with, and how the content of what is discussed will support both to enable growth, change, development and healing to be happen. The counsellor is assumed to be the one with power/knowledge. The opposite is more often the case. The client holds their entire story. The impact and the meaning of their life’s challenges being lived with. These choices and decisions lie between, to be understood and reviewed for newer formations and meaning to arrive.
Together counselling aims to address the parts of the story that are useful, syphon away parts of the story the client is to grow from and implement gathered learning.
Yellow – Person to person
From my initial training at Morley College and then accessing the integrative approach at University of Greenwich, I was rooted in the person-centred understanding of counselling and psychotherapy. Carl Rogers the giant, I the infant beginning in the profession. Measuring myself against the Rogerian model. Psychodynamic persuasions had yet to seduce me into an understanding of the shadow aspects of a person’s (client’s) psyche, or mine. I enjoyed staying amongst the lit and topside overstanding of what a person brought in to the counselling space. The surprises were wan of the danger and risk of the Id, Ego, Super Ego, the exchanges amongst transactional analysis, I danced free from the drama triangles of the Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor, the super consciousness of the internal supervisor observing the Transference and Counter Transference were also moderately subdued.
Outside of congruence, unconditional positive regard (UPR), empathy, compassion and non-judgemental listening. The way in, to support another appeared straightforward with person centred approaches to counselling. I looked forward to playing a role that supported others to access improved *awareni of their mental health. The readying myself and mental preparations were not too dissimilar to the other roles I held of being a Basketball Coach, and a learning mentor. The precontemplation and readiness to perform as a compassionate collaborator were a wardrobe I was already somewhat familiar with.
Then in the 2nd year of counselling training I met 2 experiences that would forever change my appreciation of the counselling landscape. Counselling in a large London prison. And a client that I met in this prison I have renamed ‘Laos’. Person centred counselling had for me a limited reach when it came to working with some men in prison. I remember reflecting with my supervisor, the notable Anne Willoughby, that my usual approach of nodding and paraphrasing did not seem to be working with Laos. He mocked me during our 2nd meeting by asking ‘Are you really just going to sit there and nod all the way through this, repeating everything I say?’ Either I was not getting him, or he was not getting me. Possibly both. AW and I decided to put our minds together, as is the case in supervision. The aim is to summarise and re-direct the approach being taken. If something is not working, figure out what it is and change it!
Accessing psychodynamic perspectives of the inner child, internal family systems, drama triangles, being aware of transference and counter transference all helped to build a resourced, close, understanding of who I was meeting. A fuller story of the person I was counselling came to light. Once I began processing Laos’ from a perspective of ‘seeing’ his life’s history. A number of significant chapters opened up: Laos was a person that came from a family with wealth. He was given the metaphorical keys with access to explore all elements of his younger life in the countries and cities he and his family moved to. Following his father’s career. Laos had a privileged background. He was privately educated. Teachers were aware of his intelligence and gift with mathematics. He suffered experiences of abandonment and loss. Travel became an escape for him as was alcohol and substance addiction. Survival was mostly what he was able to hold on to.
My work with Laos became a transition point. Through which I became an integrative counsellor adapting my approach for every person I would support subsequently. For Laos I believed he woke up in me the sleeping dragon. A counsellor able to straddle the psychotherapeutic world of person centred counselling and the forever developing one of the psychodynamic-neuroadaptive psychotherapeutic world. He experiencing his world as cavernous, treacherous and risky. I imagined, that he needed to know that his counsellor was just as resilient, resourceful, daring, hungry and as courageous as he.
Blue – Mystery
The advent of CoViD19, the various lockdowns and multiple stages of locking up and unlocking, me moving to online only counselling provision and supervision has changed all aspects of how I meet clients. Petruska Clarkson wrote about a heightened experience in the counselling relationship. For some who work in a number of differing professions, describe the experience of being in flow. When a counsellor has a perception that they have crossed into a knowingness that is beyond them Clarkson would call an experience like this – transpersonal.
With a question, a look, a smile, a tear, a non-verbal cue – some ‘extra’ communication lies between the counsellor and client. It is like the room alive to the presence of the two or more in the room share an experience that is beyond what both have known of themselves before. At times these moments are fleeting, sometimes they stay around for many minutes. The fear being, that a mistaken word, a misstep, will evaporate the hush that has descended. It is like magic. A few friends who have kinesthesia have spoken about seeing sound, tasting colour. That letters and numbers have their own distinct flavours or colours. Being in the hush is like this knowing what is possibly unknowable. These moments offer a profound connection.
All types of performers tune in to mystical moments such as these. When they say things like ‘I was feeling the vibe’ an experience of transcendence is amongst them. Wrapping those who watch them spellbound and amazed as if time and space are immaterial. The feeling: stars and rainbows, tingly and unexpected in a way that is as awe inspiring as it is brief. Leaving me questioning did that really just happen? It is the lecturer who instead of reading off of her screen, begins pulling apart one concept in the hope that the class can keep up. They mesmerised and amazed. Hoping that every lecture will be as electrifying and as delicious as this. It is the podcaster who feels their way through a difficult moment with guests. They then finding something golden that all who hear what is being shared – are forever changed.
Bruce Lee has been reported to have said that Water is an important element to be aware of. Changing to meet the environment it experiences and yet still remaining itself. The following sections are continuations of the Blue theme – peering beyond the horizon.
Bessel Van Der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ was an important book to have read. Bessel characterised his appreciation for body focused psychotherapy, or body focused treatments as a way to support those who are living with trauma. The writing of ‘The Body…’ is to offer understanding of the process of realising the release what has been trapped in the body offers. Bessel’s book assisted me in appreciating that talking as a form of treatment has it’s limits. Whilst the mind is helpful in making sense of events in time and space, there are restrictions in what can thoroughly be relieved. Some parts of memory do not have the words. These moments are either pre-verbal, somaticized knowledge or lie in parts of the body that words are useless at describing. Psychotherapy, counselling, C.B.T. D.B.T. are all useful up until a point, then words falter. I am interested in what comes after the words. This for me is Blue…
In 2019 I trained to use EMDR. I had a long-held interest in wanting to use Eye Movement De-Sensitisation Re-Processing to support clients. I came across EMDR as a result of Bessel’s book and my training at Greenwich. I was intrigued to know more of how bi-lateral stimulation could support someone who has experienced Small t trauma and Big T trauma to live beyond principle events. The trainers Barbara Lerch and Joshua Isaac Smith carefully wove personal narratives of using body based and specific bi-lateral stimulations with clients. Their stories about the impact for clients were surprising and initially I found unbelievable.
One client I supported at a prison in Kent helped me fully appreciate what EMDR does. They were a survivor of war in Afghanistan. Going to school amongst a country wracked by war. Daily trips to the store, friends houses were a series of gauntlets ran. Living with the constant fear of being shelled, surviving mortar attacks, passing through bloody scenes, witnessing people dieing and hearing cries of the injured and scared. The belief they held, was that they were still in the war. That they were still in Afghanistan. Every loud shout. Every gate being slammed in prison, brought them immediately back to scenes and memories from their past.
By inviting the client to observe 2 important concepts of self belief and what they would preferably like to believe about themselves, is a key component in the change dynamic when supporting a client using bi-lateral stimulation. EMDR training instigates a theoretical imbalance that clients are to address and rebalance themselves with. The result, an experience of Capoeira – expertly and nimbly turning a hard to reach fact into a reality. By experiencing both the past and a future the client would prefer to live in. An undeniable shift had taken place. When the work was completed their smile and their sense of disbelief was felt, as they dizzily left the room. The successful outcome was experienced as a shedding of an old heavy armour. Walking beyond with something flexible and better suited to the life they were now to live.
Kwame Opoku a Balham based counsellor introduced me to the phenomenon that is Resmaa Menakem. I have been fully immersed in his body focused message and shared a few of his interviews on previous blogs. During a conversation with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast Resmaa shares a number of his findings and what he invites those that he works with to understand about the world we are living in. There is a cost to continue speeding through the experience of life with blinkers on and what slowing down feels like. There are emotional and historical charges due up for release. We would do well if we pay attention to generational wounds, traumas, remembering’s, suppressions and not just talk about them but somatically be in the process of healing with them. For me the Blue here is wrapped in a Brown of the earth and of the spirit body. The cover art for My Grandmother’s Hands invites pause to understand the content of the book and the journey left to travel.
There is a part of me that is nervous releasing this nascent idea here. But I have thrown other ideas forward that have either been held by you, questioned by you, but not laughed at or ridiculed. So I will remain courageous and share an insight. Reading 40 Million Dollar Slaves, William Rhoden offered a wonderful perspective of those who were brought to North American shores, against their will, being instrumental in animal husbandry. There was a line in the book that described an integral part of how African people were able to commune with livestock and specifically horses. Mr. Rhoden didn’t write this, but there was an implicit idea that being compared to a beast of burden had some people in bondage, appreciate the lives of the creatures that they worked with in a way that was spiritual. Mr. Rhoden went as far as to say that African Americans were excellent horse trainers, riders and jockeys because of an embodied knowledge.
An idea fixed itself to the back of my mind in 2016 of working with horses after reading the book. 2 more celluloid presentations arrived in 2021. The first being High on the Hog Netflix documentary and The Harder They Fall Netflix Cowboy movie. A Cowboy instructed Stephen Satterfield, that of course Black people were amongst the first Cowboys! ‘Where do you think the term Cowboy came from?’ My jaw hit the ground and fireworks spread across the screen for me. The ‘oh, of course of it’. The ‘hiding in plain sight of it!’ The dastardliness of it! Men and Women of African descent were cowboys.
On an episode of Queer Eye S6 ep. Snow White of Central Texas (yes I know, yet another Netflix show) the ‘5 change agents’ visit a Texan farm. The farm introduces children to animals. Both guests and farm dwellers received a therapeutic outcome from visits. As part of the redesign the owner of the farm experiences equine psychotherapy themselves! Leigh the equine therapist shared an insight that ‘horses do not speak in language they speak in energy!’ On hearing that, my interest in animal assisted psychotherapy peaked. Equine psychotherapy is something I will look to pursue in the future. This the last instalment of the primary colour Blue, I am to daub across the canvas of psychotherapy. I have a suspicion further interests will maraud…
And here my foray in a psychotherapy painted landscape that began with 3 primary colours has ended with a colour palette that extends to both Infra Red and Ultraviolet. A simple question asked by a client has turned into a 2000 word long read. Conclusion: as an integrative psychotherapist I am interested in the blending of approaches to support the process of healing. Red – Assessment, Yellow – Person Centred/Psychodynamic, Blue – for me, looks like this – EMDR – Somatic Abolitionism – Equine Psychotherapy…
I wonder what your primary colours could reveal…?
Israel Anthony artist extraordinaire and a hell of a chess player! I have played him and lost a number of times. This is a link to his website.
Resmaa Menakem’s website on Somatic Abolitionism. Here Resmaa shares his vision of what his training offers participants.
Bruce Lee is known for his incredible skill at Kung-Fu and little known for his appreciation of philosophy. Bruce Lee offers his interpretation of being fluid.
EMDR links to the EMDR centre London where I completed my training. Barbara and Joshua are phenomenal exponents of the application of EMDR.
Brazilian Capoeira offers a short clip of the Brazilian Art form/dance/self defence fighting style/political movement.
A link to Dream Winds horse training website. For animal assisted psychotherapy training in Ontario.
On Being – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence interview with Krista Tippett and Resmaa Menakem talk about his book ‘My Grandmother’s Hands’ and about the idea of the human body being constricted – primed and ready for fight, flight and freeze.
Wu Wei Wisdom with Alexandra Lees and David James Lees discus healing the inner child. Thank you for Kate Bowler for recommending this podcast. The conversations between Alexandra and David are enlightening and humorous.
The Happiness Lab I thank a number of sources for alerting me to, a client and Dare to Lead by the Brené Brown team. I have been resisting listening because I doubted that a podcast could provide a probable path to happiness. There is something here for me about expectation, arrogance and beginners mind. Glad to be shown my errors and unlearn.
On Being Podcast Krista Tippett with Resmaa Menakem – Notice the Rage, Notice the Silence
Wu Wei Wisdom Podcast – Inner Child Therapy
The Happiness Lab Podcast – Dr. Laurie Santos – You Can Change
Cover photo Paint Brushes photo by RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist on Unsplash
Light Box Corridor photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash
Yellow – Red Sheds photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Red Art Slick photo by DAVE NETTO on Unsplash
Yellow lead photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash
Rainbow Corridor photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash
Blue in water photo by Adrien Ledoux on Unsplash
Blue Water photo by steffi harms on Unsplash
Blue/Pink Sky photo by Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash
*Chair I used to work with clients who were in the same room as me. Before the pandemic. Now we are separated by considerable distances and yet able to meet by the marvels of modern technology. 2 Chairs in 2 very different spaces.