Primary Colours of Psychotherapy.

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.

Thread
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.

Artiste
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.

Bespoke
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.

Colour: Storage

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.

Runway
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.

Shades of Red

Internalise
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.

Pebbled Yellow

Inspirator
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.

Educate
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!

Icarus
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.

Sliding Doors
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.

Indigo Swirls

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.

Oblique
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.

Escaping
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.

Be Water
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.

Be Water

The Score
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…

EMDR
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.

Past/Present
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.

Blue: Cotton Candy Clouds

Crane Stance
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.

On Being
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.

Equine
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.

How High
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.

Finally
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…

Rainbow
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…?

Resources
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

Images
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.

Kwanzaa. Black Excellence. Black Mental Wealth.

As the year begins to wind down to the holiday season with Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa an African American Cultural Holiday and New Years. I am writing my almost penultimate blog of the year to log an awareness of both an implicit and explicit form of othering. Some cultural and religious holidays are internationally celebrated others are misremembered. This time of year where the hours of darkness far outweigh the hours of light, festivals of light are an attempt to remain enlightened. At the end of November I was a panelist on the last True Roots conversation of the year. Emotional Emancipation Healing circles was the focus of the discussion as well as Black Mental Wealth and Black Excellence. Amber Golden, and Therese Taylor-Stinson highlighted that restoration happens when we come together, and look at what has hurt us, make healing a priority and support each other to move.

Mixing
Celebrating Christmas is amalgam of pagan festivities and of Christian beliefs. The date of Christ’s birth is largely unknown. Historians identify possible months of Jesus’ birth from April – October. The 25th of December wildly accepted as Jesus’ birthday is very likely to be a falsehood. Winter’s Solstice in the Northern hemisphere occurs every year on the 21st of December and is the shortest day. For some the 21st of December marks the ending and the beginning of the New Year. The shortest day is a recognition of the end of the Earths spin away from the sun and towards longer and warmer days. For pagan communities aware of Sun and Moon cycles an element of magic and thanksgiving observed the shortness of this day. All days that followed would only increase time spent in the light.

Harvest Crop

Like
Kwanzaa is a construction of an ideal for the African Diaspora to celebrate amongst itself a 7-day ritual of community appreciation and cohesion. Kwanzaa is named after the first fruit of the harvest. A feast to give thanks to the community. There is a double meaning to harvest that includes the children and their re-acclimation to values that support the unity of the family. The argument returns to one I presented earlier this year, of finite and infinite games. What springs to mind about Kwanzaa is the union of old and new, those members of the community who no longer exist in physical form and yet are remembered as still belonging to the unity of the family. An appreciation of life yet to be is also a cornerstone of the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa. In 1998 I ventured to visit family in New Jersey for the ‘Holidays’ and was awed by my cousins observance of Kwanzaa. My cousin had a dismissive view of the commericalised Christmas holiday celebration. Some of the words I write here are a remembrance of the sharing and learning he offered me back then.

Year Review
Christmas represents for many the birthdate of Christ. The 24th and 25th of December is a time of celebration – seeing family – eating – coming together – eating – wrapping presents -eating – giving presents – receiving gifts – eating – looking back over the year – planning and imagining for the year ahead – napping and eating if there is any room! Christmas is also a time of mass anxiety, upset, commercialism, stress, money and credit card over use, increased debt and increased profits for many retailers. Christmas sales are almost as important as black Friday deals, Boxing day sales, New Years sales and Easter sales. For many, the meaning of the 21st and 25th of December has been all but erased. Interpreted as “What am I going to get?” For many more there is anxiety and stress. Christmas is an unwelcome yearly phenomena. Forever bearing down on willing and unwilling observers. The Christmas march, begins from the first of January every year, and the accompanying concerns the ‘Holiday’s brings, grow continually. ‘It’s for the children’ some say still. I wonder if the smiles of collected parties, adults included on the ‘Big’ day are equal to the 3-4 weeks of anxiety – elevated heart rate, serotonin and cortisol release of preparations previous to the 25th every year?

3 Red

Increase Light
An eclectic and inclusive celebration would in the least recognise the traditions celebrating light festivals the world over. A conscious global community would observe: Diwali, Hanukkah, Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Gregorian calendar’s New Year, and the Winter season concluding with the Chinese New Year every year. My reasoning is that I feel unity arrives as a outcome of awareness, collaborating and exemplifying human connection – sharing both difference and sameness can decrease hostility towards the unknown.

Outline
What I have specifically enjoyed about Kwanzaa is the representation of joyous fulfillment extending beyond 1 day. Most of the celebrations mentioned above are either singular or successive. Spanning either 24 hours or a number of days. Kwanzaa is a non commercialised and community centred celebration observing the African family living in *Diasporan lands (Absentia). Every and all dimensions of family is what I am interested in recognising beyond the nuclear. The 7 days of Kwanzaa highlight the collection and connection of the African family gathering. Each day of Kwanzaa are known as: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani. For me each day invites a sense of collective success and wellbeing. Inviting mental wealth amongst, strength within the collective and that then meeting each individual as a residual product. I position Kwanzaa as an ideal against the wealth sought in individuality, the incessant greed of possession, and the frequent belittling of others for their lack.

Umoja – Unity
Umoja the first day of Kwanzaa. Lighting of the first central Black candle marks the beginning of the 7 day cultural harvest festival. The other 6 candles 3 Red and 3 Green are lit on the following days. For members of the African community living in absentia Dr. Maulana inspired by the Watts riots in 1966 imagined a weeklong celebration incorporating ideas from his studies of African traditions. For me Kwanzaa is a representation of Black mental wealth and an example of Black excellence made manifest. Some of the symbols and phrases can be identified in Southern, West and East African countries. What Dr Maulana has been able to ‘see’ is a gathering of Diasporan African people under 7 guiding principles. Achieving self acceptance and self awareness with an aim to release self from mental and physical subjugation. The African family in unifying would appreciate our inherent excellence, the strength, ability to persevere, to lead, create, challenge, be vulnerable, and to love despite uncountable barriers and obstacles. Kwanzaa invites all to know and love self and know and love family.

Connecting with games

Kujichagulia- Self-Determination
The act of self determination is to live life with little outside/other influence or determining/governing factors. Doing what is needed and sometimes wanted from a position of curiosity is to be governed by one’s own interest. The motivation feels different when another is advising telling or yelling at you to do something you may not want to do, or need to do. Self determining is to recognise that all choices even the act of not making a decision has an equal and possible outcome. In relation to Self-Determination for the African family, excellence is truly what we are. Attributions of maligned unwanted, discarded, projective identified qualities and stereo types have been incorrectly ascribed. Operating with a belief of not being enough is an unconscious representation of growing up in a number of systems that do not value, or refuse to acknowledge us as anything other than 3/5ths human. Dr Clint Smith’s How The Word is Passed book link below explores the lie in detail. The acceptance of self-determination also inspires the community to know itself. To appreciate ones personhood and of those who came before, and those yet to be born. The resilience of ancestors surviving an inhuman system afforded us a light that is impossible to erase.

Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility
I understand Ujima and the idea of collective work as primarily centred on the organisation of family including extended family and the community overall. As a counsellor/psychotherapist I am in regular conversations with clients that are grappling with their disillusionment of family and also looking to re-structure, reshape and repair these relationships. The work of healing is both individual and collective. The responsibility of advancement can and often does start with one individual and often leads to many taking up the cause. On the 3rd day of Kwanzaa the family is to observe what work has been carried out to support everyone’s wellbeing. What has been harvested in effortful engagements, received as a result of gifts and what time has been given to others to manifest health. Those whose efforts are often unseen, or taken for granted are invited to come forward and accept their role in holding and guiding the family group through the year’s challenges.

Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics
In a world that is predicated on profit and loss, wealth and poverty, accumulation over waste and destruction Ujamaa observes the benefits of collaboratively working together to improve an individual’s, a family’s and a community’s economic ability. The 4th day of Kwanzaa observes that consumerism, capitalism and the cultural lay religious practice of Christmas robs some communities of wealth, humility and compassion. Presenting an idea that some deserve not to have a good end of year celebration as these groups are the wrong type of humanity and thus deserve judgement, scorn and little from the table of good sharing. The principle of Ujamaa centers the idea of coming together for the family’s good – humanity’s wellbeing.

Nia- Purpose
The 5th day of Kwanzaa is Purpose or Nia. I am mindful of a saying I came across a few years ago. Mark Twain is reported to have said ‘Two most important days in your life: The day you were born and the day you discover why. ‘ Offers a useful perspective to the understanding of purpose. I am taken back to working for Together for Mental Wellbeing and developing training on Tertiary Desistance. Purposeful endeavour is an engaging concept working with people in prison and those once returned. Discovering one’s purpose is a little like inspecting interiorly and finding the one thing or the connected parts of the self, that are beyond passion and can be seen as life’s work. (My mind has ventured to Dave Eggers ‘A Life’s Work of Staggering Genius’) Purpose is appreciating ones inherent and earned skills and to make use of them to support self and others. My born with skills are to artistically represent what is seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted. The earned skill is psychotherapeutic and being able to write missives to direct understanding. Bringing both together are the blogs purpose. I feel that my specific purpose is in translating concepts of psychoanalytic thought artfully for those who share an interest in healing.

Cornucopia of Corn varietals

Kuumba- Creativity
I witness creativity in almost everything. For instance architecture and living on a housing estate perhaps was a beginning of my noticing the art in a concrete clad environment. The block I lived on had a central atrium with plants and trees growing up from the ground floor up towards the light of the first floors. Natural beauty contained/constrained by the concrete that sounded it. The 6th day of Kwanzaa observes the act of creating a better world. For me the act of creating often begins with an inner spark of something or an experience that is inspirational. The want that follows is to reconfigure, reimagine and reorganise the inception to be something more. Transmuted into physical and active form. Dr. Maulana was able to make use of his studies and understanding to reimagine an end of year celebration to reconstruct the African family. A repurposing of his studies willfully applied to restoring Africans living in absentia. Kwanzaa observes a themed approach to live well.

Imani – Faith
The 7th day of Kwanzaa is one of celebration and to acknowledge faith in oneself, family, and community followed by deliberate mindful action which can create opportunity for change. Faith in the ancestors. In those who came before. Faith in those living amongst the community to support those engaged in affirming activities. Faith in those yet born to continue righting the keel of the ship so the remaining journey arrives at a just port. The aim to manifest good returns on the energy of their time and commitments. Kwanzaa a non-religious practice. Kwanzaa aims to raise awareness amongst those who are looking to support their community rather than continually investing in companies and businesses interested only in profit. Placing the global African community as an after thought, a peon to larger market forces.  

All Smiles

Celebrate
In conclusion festivals that light darkness are representative of human ingenuity and genius. A conversation about misrepresentation of the myth of Christmas has assisted my appreciation of the holiday’s origin beginning in Egypt. What Dr Maulana Karenga has offered with Kwanzaa is an interpretation of his African research for global application. In order to support global unity. From the 26th December – the 1st January, my aim will be to observe the 7 principles of Kwanzaa. Another way to mark the ending of one calendar year and make space for the one that follows next.

Resources
The TED talk by Dr. Cheryl Tahede Grills was shared by Kimberly Cato of True Roots prior to the conversation in November, priming panelists and guests for a wholly beneficial and uplifting conversation about EEC .
Kwanzaa the official website for the end of year celebration. A wealth of information about Kwanzaa the originator and useful resources for communities wanting to observe the African American cultural holiday.
I enjoyed Tarana Burke’s and Brené Brown’s interview on Unlocking Us. What is shared between the two is how vulnerability in African-American communities is a difficult ask.
Tobe and the Originals to the list of resources arrived as I poured through a number of music videos. Their movement and creativity are a force to be reckoned with in that the principle themes of Kwanzaa are inherent in what I saw in the interview and in some of their music.
TED Talk Dr Cheryl Tahede Grills Emancipate From Mental Slavery
Kwanzaa – The African American celebration
Brené Brown, Tarana Burke and Jason Reynolds You Are Your Best Thing
Tobe and Fat & the Originals discuss Love, Erykah Badu and Breakthroughs
Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Dr Clint Smith How The Word Is Passed

Images
Cover photo Rainbow candles by nrd on Unsplash
Autumn Harvest photo by Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash
3 Red candles photo by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash
Board Games Family photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Coloured Corn photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
All Smiles photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

It’s About Healing: Beyond Therapy

When Marlon James the author of Black Leopard Red Wolf offered at a book signing in 2019, that ‘It’s about healing’ he presented me 2 insights in one. This is often the way with the wise. A single sentence containing as many meanings as one wants to ascribe.

Own Self
As a writer, Marlon James’ books have invited a sense of closure to misremembered, misrepresented pasts. Stories about Black Africans living in *Diasporan lands are often exotified embellishments. Built upon lies that fall from colonisers mouths and minds as if fully formed. Tall tales have positioned the African in precarious positions and amongst endangered real and imagined landscapes. With diminished ability of self governance, self determination or self improvement. Placing white saviorism in the middle of a mistaken history. Cut stories, as though ripping a past in half could interrupt it’s eventual and inevitable realisation. We see beyond the lines painting the African either in unfavorably bad light or out of the picture. Here I am remembering the last episode of High in the Hog 4 part documentary and ‘The Harder They Fall’ movie.

Sunset Hills

Simmering
The insight Mr. James highlighted was that by writing (creating) we can access healing and that by telling our stories in our own way within language from cultures adopted, we add to the healing pot. There is something about seeing the words and art that you think, being pulled from you and thrown across a page (such as this), a scroll, a wall, a canvas, caste in clay, poured into jewelry, or a clothing design made, into a picture or a film or piece of music, a dance, a move in sport. The spark of that inspiration is then left to affect another. Witness and harness it to their own end.

Re-calibrate
Therapy has become almost a lesser than activity. Synonymous with celebrities doing the work to move beyond past harmful experiences. Healing has meaning and therapy seems to encompass everything from Osteopathy, Neuropathy, Light and Sound assisted treatment and, I have been found guilty to be using the abbreviation too, in Walk and Talk Therapy. (What I was later to learn is that ecologically enhanced/assisted psychotherapy can alternatively be used. It’s wordy though.) The term therapy is an abridgement. The argument I am presenting is about meaning making. What we mean when we say therapy – is treatment. Engaging with another trained in the art of psychotherapeutic/psychoanalytic treatment. A form of healing involving a client discussing with a trained professional. Supporting pain from their past to be assuaged.

Reframe Change

Upended
Two representations have recently been offered on TV, that psychotherapy is a tool used to ruin or invite in a healer’s unrest. The two cases I am choosing to highlight here are characters bent on utterly destroying each adherent. My concerns are about two shows ‘Hypnotic’ Netflix, and ’The Shrink Next Door’ Apple TV. There are clear boundary issues that are crossed and transgressed in both. I wonder if they ever really existed for the therapists involved? My concern is that a mislaid belief about psychological attempts at healing will be unconsciously accepted as truth. In turn then, the bent towards accessing additional support will be interrupted. The seemingly global succession of mindfully engaging with some psychological intervention willfully overturned.

Complex
Because – for me healing is a multi modal and multidirectional phenomena. Healing travels into the past, amongst the present, and supports an understanding and use of the future – simultaneously. I mean that when a counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist, healer is supporting an individual or a group or a couple they are working amongst and with a range of differing and sometimes competing factors. Healing can include the client’s history, family, intimate partners, work patterns, associates, aspirations for the future, sleep, diet, exercise, rest, entertainment and past experiences. In couples and with group the experiences everyone brings to a healing encounter can be magnified. With group support the experience is as if another living entity is involved with the process as with the people involved – almost.

A Wall of Hearts

Where There Is Light
Then there are the shadow aspects clients don’t wish to bring to therapeutic encounters. Both Carl Jung and Freud called this the Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is the part of ourselves we do not want to own or claim we know, because of it’s often distasteful, deplorable desires and dreams. Previously I mentioned Smaug the Dragon in the Hobbit as a depiction of the mortal dilemma. As humans we are as impressive as the Dragon, as deep and as cavernous as the dungeon Smaug inhabits and as precious as the horde of gold the Dragon rests upon. When we can embrace all seemingly separate parts of ourselves then…

Laboring
Healing is to recognise all parts of the individual including the split off shadow aspects of the self and support a repair that has hurt persons hold all aspects of themselves carefully, with kindness. As mentioned before if we cut parts of ourselves off, we are doing a disservice to our whole being. We cannot fully access who we authentically are. If a part of ourselves is forever banished we spend energy on the look out for the usurper to return and disrupt. We perpetually anticipate the interlopers inevitable resurgence. Perhaps we are to address healing as an ongoing active engagement with no predetermined or presumed end. Like a story without conclusion. Perhaps what Marlon James was introducing as the concept of healing, is to be continually tilled and tended to as soil…

Holding Mariposa

It is all about healing!

Resources
The Mindful Cranks podcast introduces Manu Bazzano who supports an idea of mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapy and letting oneself go.
Hana and Leila presenters of The Stoop podcast look at accessing psychotherapy and what causes some members of the Black community to either seek support or not.
Eldra Jackson offers his story in this TED talk as a way to describe what happens when a trauma is denied exposure and the opportunity for healing to take place.
Stormy Monday explores the music habits some persons in San Quentin prison use to look after themselves.
The Mindful Cranks with Manu Bazzano
The Stoop On The Couch
TED Talk Eldra Jackson Masculinity
Ear Hustle Stormy Monday

Images
Theme Healing
Embrace Painted Sky photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash
Sunset Hills photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash
Shift Happens photo by SOULSANA on Unsplash
Rainbow Heart photo by Jiroe on Unsplash
Holding Butterfly photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Something Other: NHS

The experience with the charity was painfully inspirational and set me up with a want to build a communal space for Black and Asian mental health professionals. Meeting Frank Lowe in the summer of 2019 moved the want aspect into a need. I will investigate what causes a need for a space that I and marginalised others could feel comfortable in below.

Diversity Space
Kent prisons offered a useful sidestep from the set of challenges I contended with as a project manager at the charity. As the lead counsellor for the Kent cluster of prisons I held onto hope for a number of new experiences. Meeting the No. 1 governor at the beginning of my time at one of the six prisons I was to oversee, encouraged me to believe in change as a possibility. The number one governor appeared approachable, a good listener and socially aware of the setting of the jail and the over representation of young Black men detained at the prison. The governor was clear that the concerned focus on ne’er do well’s, sent to prison was a societal/political/educational issue if we widened the lens.

Diversity Thinking Spaces Call To Act

One Amongst Many
In the second year of managing 6 prisons, alongside 3 other Black and Asian staff, we started and implemented the Diversity Space. There was something I found hard to metabolise, voice, and process about being a Black male lead counsellor managing a mostly White staff team across 6 prisons. The diversity space gave me chance to lay down the shields, masks, double consciousness I walked along every corridor with, into every room carrying, all meetings attended, most telephone conversations and only a few counselling interactions. As Code Switch’s ‘This Racism Is Killing Me on The Inside’ link in last week’s post highlights, the effect of being discriminated against wears the recipient down.

The Need
I have previously highlighted that walking whilst Black in the 21st century is a different experience than living and walking whilst Black in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Working in prison as a person of proposed seniority, with legitimate reasons for being a key carrying member of staff offers a number of challenges for both uniform and detained persons in prison. There were concerned looks by prison staff as I appeared from behind a previous locked door. These concerned looks intensified from staff when I began walking the corridors with a cane to assist my slow MS labored progress. Persons in prison treated me as an anomaly. Visibly disabled and Black, not uniformed, hobbling about with a cane. ‘He must be one of us then’ seemed to be the consensus. I was once asked by a person in prison where he could get a cane like mine? He and I weeks later laughed once he realised that I was staff. I needed a space where I could process these mal formed moments, vent my frustrations amongst a room of people who yes resembled me in some way, but also understood what walking, breathing, living as an othered person was like.

A Message to The Battle Weary

Beginning
Starting Diversity Space I wanted a safe space in a prison more than once a month! The irony is not lost. As a member of staff there was something either confusing, discombobulating and often discomforting about being a Black free person working in prison. The team that I supported did their best to accommodate and support me. The practicals of getting the computers to work, or using the telephone system, and finding various cell blocks or locations of colleagues the team excelled at. The deeper learning of moving amongst a populace of staff who had rarely interacted with a Black man, other than in prison was a gap perhaps too great to fathom.

Tresspass
I did not share my frequent observations, experiences and worrisome times of being treated as an other. For instance, my first day at one of the prisons, a member of the psychology team almost with eyes of unpleasant surprise wanted to loudly proclaim but stilled their tongue ‘you can’t come in here!’ as I entered the counselling and psychology office. The hastily dropped assessment may have been that a Black prisoner was entering a protected ‘White’ space. The topics of race, class and poverty were often left overlooked. They unspoken barbs of information perfuming an already laden atmosphere. An undercurrent of fear lurked in every corner. The social subjects of othering people too large to appropriately be dissolved in any singular discussion. I felt that my presence in prison was a question some could not find a fitting answer to. As a result I was often left reeling from acts from staff that limited the aim I had of wanting to improve circumstances for persons in prison and staff that cared for them. Diversity Space offered a balm. Similar to my experience to BAATN I felt appreciated, seen, heard and understood once the group began.

Community and Sharing Feels Thus

Underestimate
When a group of like-minded individuals begin a project that ultimately is used as a tool to hold themselves together within a hostile environment. Violent uprisings can be an outcome, however, the gatherings are usually fertile ground to develop ideas that disrupt and destroy the psychological hold power structures like White supremacy maintain. The aim – to move the needle – the axis of control – away from oppressors. Generally, the idea of coming together is to be of support, to listen, to share stories, to laugh uproariously and to find ways of managing an intolerable set of circumstances whilst not losing one’s mind. The empathic embodied understanding received by fellow colleagues, was one of the best and most fitting outcomes the group offered me, a Black member of staff working across 6 prisons in Kent. I no longer walked the corridors alone. There is an implicit confidence that a person with knowledge strides with. I walked the prisons, as if carried by an unseen army/team beside and around me. I had a special group of psychologically and sociologically trained Black and Asian professionals that were in the Strange Situation with me.

Thinking Space
I met Frank Lowe as he delivered training on Decolonizing Psychotherapy in Bexley, South East London. The event changed something in me. I felt Frank largely presented his truth as a catalyst for change to be made amongst attendant staff groups. Frank highlighted the need for change fundamentally within the NHS and specifically within psychological professions. Last weeks blog pointed at the ‘over and under representation’ aspect that engulfs the delivery and receipt of care in the National Health Service. During the training, I boiled over when a senior (PMSF) psychologist suggested that we are all racist. In essence they were correct. Growing up in a racist, financially oppressive, sexist, classist, homophobic, ableist society is going to have a deleterious effect. My position was that the likelihood of being stopped searched and unlawlfully killed by police was less likely for them and unfortunately more an eventuality for me. This the summer before the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Before Corona Virus Disease 2019 permanently rearranged our planet. Frank during the lunch break pulled me to one side and offered his wise understanding. His advice ‘Do something that changes the dynamic for you and those who look like you. Don’t stop until the environment, your environment, that you work in feels good with you in it.’ He thanked me for my honesty and challenging what was left ‘unsaid’ to be heard. I exited the training with the germ of a concept burning away until we turned DS into a reality. I was only too happy to share with a few others and start something called the Diversity Space in October 2019. I would like to also thank my then manager who recognised a need for Black and Asian professionals to meet outside of the ‘White gaze’. There is a history of health services taking time, energy, health, family, money, opportunity, choice, friendships, promotions away from those who toil endlessly within it’s substrate structures as ‘othered’ people, and offer little to compensate for multiple losses. The idea was to find a community within a community and our way to health.

Continuance
A part two will follow taking in the steps of how we developed a singular focus – focus group. An impossibility as there are too many foci…

Resources
I came across the Mary D Ainsworth Strange Situation whilst attending my counselling training. I use the term strange situation to show how being in a prison as a Black civilian was seen as strange. Often by those who looked upon me and by my awareness of those who looked at me – askance. Double consciousness 101.
Robert Glasper’s Got Over artfully uses the voice of Harry Belafonte to resonantly express the arc of his career and his lived experience of being an outsider and othered. The request is to recognise achievement no matter the obstacle.
Gabor Maté and Resmaa Manekem share a beautiful conversation. These two pioneers at the top of their fields having an equally empowering conversation about Race, difference and learning to survive the discomfort. Thank you Kwame Opoku for the share!
The Unlocking us Podcast with Brené Brown and Esther Perel, two women at the height of their respective powers – highlight the need for all of us to be aware of Thanatos and Eros. What we lose by not being aware of the death of the other both actual and metaphorical. What can be gained as we dance, play and experience the erotic is also wonderfully unpacked.
Rohan Thompson of Breakthrough Counselling and Wellness talks with Isaac Callan about a report that impacts staff in the district of Peel Ontario. Rohan discusses the beyond intimate labor from a Black union that caused the report to make a significant impact. The link for me in relation to the podcast and the NHS is how a minority group observing and experiencing a racist system leans into their own discomfort and articulates what steps are to be taken to bring about necessary changes.
The Am I Going Mad series of YouTube documentaries invites us to observe the challenge of being Black in the world, contending with racist thought belief and actions from the societies we live in.
With This American Life I felt the title was a useful frame to begin looking at what has been built within a system of hate and what else could exist once the towering edifice cracks, crumbles and falls into dust?
Got Over Robert Glasper and Harry Belafonte
The Wisdom of Trauma with Gabor Maté and Resmaa Manekem
Unlocking Us podcast Brené Brown and Esther Perel
What’s The Point Management of child welfare in turmoil
Am I Going Mad Are All Men Created Equal
This American Life Made To Be Broken

Images
Cover photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash
We Welcome photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash
Survive Hoodie photo by sham abdo on Unsplash
Young Men Laughing photo by Siviwe Kapteyn on Unsplash

Internalised Racism – Close Group

I continue reviewing the concept of Internalised Racism in this post.

Closed
The True Roots conversation on the 30th of June was a closed group for Black and Brown (Racialised) people to hold an open, challenging and affirming conversation. With members from White communities barred, the freedom to share difficult experience with others unburdened double consciousness. Links to current and past personal histories were made. Unfettered – the conversations were like a surge of blood to an unseen unnoticed wound. Members who attended discussed their understanding of Internalised Racism. Part of the discussions observed what has been the learning in relation to ourselves and about the societies we live amongst.

So We Dare
Having written a little about group the idea of being amongst a closed experience felt risqué and yet also necessary. Inclusivity is undoubtedly an ideal to be achieved. Perhaps once Racialized communities recognise their needs for active participation in healing, liberating from outdated and ill fitting, ideas can begin. Exclusive meetings held amongst communities that are representative of diasporic Africans, Asians, Indigenous communities and LatinX communities are often framed as anti-White. Generally, these encounters are experienced as spaces for important idea generation, healing and application. The focus is on uplift. The experience of being amongst the True Roots online space felt unapologetic. Panelists and guests offered clear resourced and relative experiences about their growing understanding of what is lost by trying to acclimatise to societies that are structurally racist.

Abdicating Responsibility
The UK, Canada and the US deny and work to hold on to the outcomes of Colonial pasts and historic abuses against Black and Brown bodies. Claiming each country’s sovereignty and superiority over former and existing colonies. European settler behaviours have largely bestowed power upon European descendants and centred on greed gaining wealth. I would argue that centuries of war, genocide, trauma, and vilification of others has left a fetid festering wound amongst the planet. Calling all to attention, yet only a few hear the Earth’s cries. Fewer still tirelessly wrestle to create change that invites resuscitation or better regeneration.

Resources
Ms Xaba offers a number of personal stories of coming to realise the impact of the invisible marks left by apartheid. I recognise myself in the Ghana experience. Making self small, with the idea of perceived threat. Choosing to leave, before being told to.
Daniel shares his realisation of Internalised racism and the connection to misogyny. His story takes him from the US to Jordan where he learns to understand himself anew.
Internalised Oppression by Zed Xaba
Internalised Racism and Misogyny by Daniel Juweid

Images
Light Freeze Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

Vicarious Trauma – Jacket

I wrote a few weeks ago about the experience of some people suffering trauma by witnessing harm come to another. Reminding them of their own hurts and past experiences of pain. Writing about Rodney King and then George Floyd has opened the door to an even earlier experience with Stephen and his jacket.

Big or Little T Trauma?
Last week I wrote about the chase by police of me on my bike for reasons unknown. This week I wanted to discuss a first trauma. Yes there were others. The event was momentous as I had not been treated like this by anyone. I was about 7. It was summer. My friend ‘T’ and I were taking it in turns to ride my bike around the estate. The bike a black and yellow Cinzia, was my most treasured Christmas present! The bike was a sort of hybrid BMX.

Looking up.

Summer
It was another hot summer 1979/1980. We kids were not up to much. Playing around the blocks of flats, killing ants, making and firing peg guns at each other and at pigeons. Harassing each other for rides on each others bikes. Playing knock down Ginger. Asking about who’s going to the shop? Because those half penny cola bottle sweets were so tangy and sweet. Tangmere used to have it all. Something unknown to my 7 year old awarness made all of the shops shut and never re-open.

Intimidate
T had somehow met Stephen and been impolitely requested to give him a go of my bike. I believe Stephen had chased T and pulled him off the bike! Stephen was an older kid, maybe 10 or 11. He carried himself with some swagger. I can remember him (Stephen) pulling wheelies and doing long skids along the pavement. Treating (trashing) my bike in a disrespectful and in a way I found unapologetic in manner. Like the bike was his! I was angered by this. T may have told me what had just happened to him. I became livid I can remember. A thought I had was, this could be a case for the Red Hand Gang! But they weren’t around so, I could make this situation better all by myself.

Propulsion
I ran at Stephen and shouted give me my bike back! He ignored me and sailed past. I gave chase. Screaming. Shouting. Wanting. My bike back! We met at Martlesham or Croydon one of those housing blocks on the estate. Stephen had sneered a warning to others who were gathered earlier: “if anyone touches my jacket. You’re dead.” He, Stephen, serious, warned. Me oblivious and not hearing, ignored.

Martlesham and Croydon were 5, 6 or 7 stories high with garden units at their lowest housing level. Both blocks had little to no outdoor space higher up the blocks, unless you counted the landings. All of the housing blocks had double height under building car parks. Our show down (mine and Stephen’s) was to take place in one of the car parks – later. The estate had many outdoor green park spaces dotted throughout the collection of buildings at ground level.

Air Time on bike

Engagement
I think I shoved him in the back, or on the shoulder. Committing the mortal foul of touching his jacket. He had warned all who had cared to listen. But I shoved and he went ballistic. I believe that I started running before my bike hit the ground. Before Stephen started swearing. Before Stephen repeated he would hurt me after he managed to catch me. My feet took me away. At great speed. Fear is a phenomenally great accelerator. 

Distance
I ran. He chased. Back then aged 7. I was Nike. Fleet of foot. Good at bulldog, the running tag game. The 60m dash. The 100m sprint. But distance races I had not spent my time running. Now Stephen was quick too, and run as I might I could not lose him. He relentlessly gained on me. Swearing. I thought I could make it home, but his gallop closed down that line of escape. I turned away from racing home to Tangmere 119. To dodging between parked cars. Feeling that if I could use the cars to hide me I could evade capture.

Scared
I ran for my life. Petrified. I feared that Stephen would finish me. He had said just that! This was happening and whilst in disbelief, I ran. Who threatens who about a Jacket? A jacket! Possession and custody of things I understood on some level. I put my body in harms way to get my bike back. This need felt justified. Right. Believable. Stephen’s need seemed trivial, petty. Unjustified. Stephen wanted to hurt me because he viewed his jacket as sovereign. I had mistakenly entered sacred space. Spoilt thread by touch and so here we were. Lion and gazelle in a death defying race. I feared for my life and ran away to protect it.

Relief
He caught me under Martlesham and punched me a number of times. Head. Neck. Body shots. I wish I could tell you I took them all like a man and didn’t give him the satisfaction of witnessing a tear fall. I believe I cried from one side of the estate to the other. I cried up all the stairs to the top floor of Tangmere and when I got to my door which thankfully was opened by my mum. I went in and told her what had happened. She incensed. The bike left and forgotten where it lay. T later returned the bike.

Night Fades

Many – One
Lost in my mayhem of thoughts and sorrow. I was not out for revenge. I wanted the pain and the sense of defeat at being outrun to pass. The reason – I was fast and rarely beaten in a running battle! There was the curious case of Darren. I wanted not to remember the embarrassment of losing a fight to an older boy. I vaguely remember T trying to defend me either running beside as a distractor or getting in the way of Stephen. Stephen had singled me out to exact his vengeance. And so found – was punished.

Prey
The lion had found his prey and was set to claim his spoils. Remembering this painful memory does a number of things. I get to remember and release the pain that has been embedded in me for almost 40 years. There is also the courage to look at past hurts and witness the learning. I recognise that my experience of the chase trauma bears little resemblance to George Floyd’s murder or Rodney King’s assault. What I am doing is reclaiming my experience of terror. Providing an understanding of an unjust event and by doing so, allowing myself to relieve the experience of a trauma witnessed vicariously. It’s narrative therapy.

If
My want in writing this series is that you the reader come away with an understanding of the term Vicarious Trauma that is personally enhanced. That the resources below support compassion and a commitment to live within an anti-racist frame, and that you comment below on these thoughts.

Resources
Trevor Noah Explains the Domino Effect
Code Switch The Return of Race Science
Unlocking Us with Brené Brown Shame and Accountability
This American Life The Reprieve
Going Home song
How Can We Win Kimberly Jones

Images
Cover photo by Chromatograph on Unsplash City Skyline
1st Inlay photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash Looking Up Block
2nd Inlay photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash BMX rider
3rd Inlay photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash Night estate

Perfect Storm: Endings, New Beginnings

The events of the past few weeks coincide with events over the past few months. They appear to have met and produced a swell of human reaction and protest that would have been hard to imagine last year or even 20 years ago.

Liberty Looks

Never
I had thought that my last post on the experience of CoViD19 would be my last. That post looked at the fatigued experience of when will the Lockdown end and things return to something that’s near normal? But something cruel and as life affecting as Corona Virus Disease 2019, has appeared on the horizon and I am drawn to look at this too.

Brutality
3 Black people died in quick succession this year at the hands of law enforcement. A bird watcher in Central Park perilously almost became another casualty. The 3 were Eric Reason, Dominique Clayton, Breonna Taylor.

Demanding Equality

Sailing
A sea person I am not. But I have watched The Perfect Storm and enjoy seeing humans do battle against the elements. I cannot exactly tell you what makes a storm perfect. It may have something to do with weather, tides and currents synchronising to create conditions where storm surges of 40ft hit shores and coastlines. That would be me hazarding a guess.

Gasp
For the perfect storm to have happened in the way that it has, took a tri partisan event. A triple threat. The virus. The Lockdown. 3 Black People being murdered by law enforcement and then George Floyd. That feeling of breaking the surface for air may be the result, after being confined to our homes for long periods of time. We may want and need to react to self and state imposed incarceration. We may want and need to shake the dust off and stretch our collective civil might on streets around the world.

Watching the Watchmen

Swell
The deaths of 4 Black people in the US, may provide the perfect set of circumstances to take our 3 months worth of thinking and feeling, holding our breaths that we all come out of the ‘Rona alive. Then if we combine this sense of surviving with the injustice of people losing their lives unlawfully by law enforcement – repeatedly. If we add in, the deep seated feelings of sadness, confusion guilt, regret, shame, anger and rage. Then and only then breathe out in an exhilaratingly powerful way finally.

The slogan of Black Lives Matter and ‘I Can’t Breathe’ could potentially, take on more meaning. The sentiment being viscerally felt by masses because they, we get it. We too were restrained against our will for longer than we wanted. Some of us, unfortunately, just didn’t make it.

Letting Go
Shedding years of misguided notions and seeing clearly that life for certain groups of people have been harder for hidden and ignored reasons. Black peoples challenges have not solely arisen from our own design. The making of systems that demean and devalue and place one group of people above others. The idea of superiority was deigned as a right of being and has been implemented globally by Europeans. Black people have been demanding equality. It’s time

One
George Floyd’s death gave reason for many to leave the safe protective confines of homes and take to the streets. Stating to ourselves and internationally that the cause of his death was unlawful, unjust and is simply wrong. The world needs to see how we feel #FFS. The videos and articles I have seen of a world united against injustice is heartening.

One Common Goal

Continuing
For Black, Brown and othered peoples this fight has been long standing. We have been fighting for the betterment of all. Austin Channing Brown’s request of being Better Humans stands ahead all other calls for me.

My hope is for the ongoing struggle to produce tangible life affirming results like: access for all to have an outstanding education system, healthcare, job opportunities, secure and safe housing in neighbourhoods that value collaboration and place being part of a community and advantage over being focused on the one called I.

Other outcomes could include an ever present critical awareness of the impact of systemic oppression and racist policies profiting one group over and above others the world over and a willingness from allies to fairly reassemble the pie. The pie will taste better and there will be more to go around.

Anti Racist change is a demand that is to be met globally by everyone.

Resources
Kehinde Andrews 20 positive ways to bring about lasting change
Uncomfortable Conversations by Emmanuel Acho
Brené Brown interviews Austin Channing Brown on Unlocking Us
Explain White Privilege by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Van Jones discusses George Floyd and what comes next
Harvard Gazette Interviews Prof Lawrence D. Bobo The Fire This Time
Quentin Fottrell discusses George Floyd, white supremacy – and the otherization of African American Men
Brené Brown discusses with Ibrahim X. Kendi How to be an Anti-Racist
This American Life – We are in the future
The Emotional Impact of Watching White People Waking Up to Racism

Images
Cover photo by mana5280 on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo by Donovan Valdivia on Unsplash
2nd inlay photo by Jacob Boavista on Unsplash
3rd inlay photo by 99.films on Unsplash
4th inlay photo by Leandro Valentino on Unsplash




Ascent: Looking like a long way up.

Sticking With It: Challenge

Writing short little epithets, as seen below, after completing a 10-minute meditation has been a part of my meditation practice for just over a year. After nearly 400 days of continual practice with the Calm app, I am open to continue with the learning and growing. Recognising that I have an inquisitive and restless mind has been testing. Finding a practice that reduces anxiety has been useful for me to develop a better understanding of myself. The practice of 10-15 minute meditation every day also supports maintain my focus at this challenging time of World History.

Wise words
The quote from calm that inspired this post was – ‘Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away’ by Pema Chodron.

My response
@calm ‘Noticing that challenges are made to be overcome and they are as much ‘How’ as they are ‘When’. Ask for guidance or help when needed #meditation.

To the quick
The example of the short quip above, is an effort to show that I understand the difficulty of not turning in the opposite direction. Away from the source of uncomfortable challenge. Making a fail safe leave plan when things get tough. Like now!

Healers
There is an attempt to take the quote and re-interpret Pema Chodrin’s words. I then offer both the quote and my interpretation as a support. You may have seen the quote/remix on various social media spaces I inhabit. The quote/remixes are also a way to share that, should someone want access to mental health support I know of many who could be of impactful assistance.

Challenge as a bridge

Target 400
After 395 days of consistent daily meditation practice and a solid bombardment of information about the Corona-virus/COVID-19 pandemic. My need for meditation happens to be both an escape and a cure to return the mind to a steady hum. I have found the practice to be a salve.

Reset
The hype, hysteria and hyperbole of the disease and recognisable human responses including denial, panic buying, hoarding, frequent information fly wheel gathering, does little to aid our capacity to find a level state of mindful yet calm awareness. In fact it is often quite the opposite.

How
To overcome a challenge is a request to understand what it is and how it may affect things for you, family, friends and colleagues. See the challenge as a problem to solve. Aim at becoming creative and communicate with others about what the challenge is and see if others have met/experienced a similar difficulty and what they did? Rarely are you the only person to have faced a problem like it. Accepting advice could be an appropriate way to make it to the other side.

When
That can all depend on you. Running away from the challenge usually puts the difficulty off for an undefined length of time. But, it will return. It usually is an universal phenomena. ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ was a saying my mum would say to me. Possibly her mum may have said it to her too when she was in her teens.

Train
It would be understandable to remove yourself from a challenge for a short time, build up the necessary skills, strength, understanding and then return and overcome said problem.

Result
The outcome for getting beyond the difficulty is the learning we gain from doing so. Being a life-long learner and a perpetual student of life supports growing past false limitations, possibly put in place by others. Apply understanding and continue honing, growing and improving. I believe growing after facing adversity is one of the best achievements of our lives. Becoming a therapist is a part of that story for me, but so is becoming a father, supervisor, lecturer, writer

Resources
Tom Bilyeu Impact Theory: Agent Smith
Science of Success with Jim Kwik

Images
Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash
Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Serendipity: Day 1 The Course

The Black Men’s Introduction to Group Therapy Course began on the 13th of November and was a Kings and Queen making experience with my co-counsellor Sheila Samuels. I borrow the term from Ron Brown High School and Dope Black Dad’s Podcast’s chief presenter Marvyn Harrison who addressed me recently as King.

The moment stood out, fresh like beads of sweat dotting a brow furrowed in deep concentration. Mentally I did a double take and thought…
Who is he speaking to?
Me?
Really?
King?
Oh I get it.
Those are large shoes to fill.
I’m ready to put that mantle on.

Now.

Collaborative Communication
5 men attended the group and told their stories of why they saw a need for the group. The men held out their independent requests for the room to see feel and identify with. There is a unity to be had in sharing hopes with a room who know what you are saying because they, I, we, have said similar things too.

The Philosophical meets the Practical

Safety
Groups are always nervous in the beginning. Leaders/Facilitators are too! With a new venue.
New people to get to know.
A new course.
Not knowing met with new, then came upon nuanced and introduced those who attended to what has the potential for being made to exist in the now.
For this group it was a Black safe space. Rare. A space curated, created and secured for men of the African Diaspora to meet and talk and discuss and experience warmth from a forgotten Sun. The aim – to discuss Black Mental Health with other Black Men with 2 highly skilled counsellors.

Knowing
A good therapy group often operates well with 2 counsellors steering the conversation. Having worked with Sheila at the prison a few years ago I knew she would be a great co-facilitator for this group. Knowledgeable, flexible and able to support the group engage with the sensitive topic of Black Mental Health.

Diversity
The group of 5 men with differing ages, professions, from a range of different London Boroughs, from a collection of countries of origin all came with a singular focus: To open the sometimes locked box and speak about mental health, as vulnerable, sensitive, engaged, intelligent, responsible, aware, concerned advocates and as Black men.

Sensate
There was laughter, there was a felt sense of wanting to support and be simply acknowledged as friend, brother, seeker, father, colleague like in the classic Ralph Ellis book Invisible Man being seen and understood is a priceless gift.

I could just about keep my hands from clapping all the time or staying on my seat from sheer giddy exuberance: This Was Actually Happening! Finally!

It did, and there are more to follow, on the 20th 27th November 4th, 11th 18th December.

One attendee asked if there are plans for the group to continue past the 6 weeks… Both me and Sheila looked at each other and answered “Well that all depends…”

Who Knows by Ram Dass
Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to this tale…

*Cover Image from This Book Could Help

An Origin Story

Musings on Therapy
I can remember the moment that counselling, psychology, psychotherapy or psychopathology became the most important career choice I ever made. I was 33, this was in the summer of 2007.

Balance
3 years before I met Laos I worked at Harris academy school for girls in East Dulwich. I had begun an introductory course of counselling at Morley college. The teacher Ian Mendelberg was a great example of Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls, I was later able to appreciate. Ian was able to combine wisdom and grace with humor and presence.

SSCO
I was the school’s Specialist Sports Co-ordinator providing group and individual sports and pastoral care support. I also coached basketball in the morning as a Breakfast Basketball initiative. Within 2 seasons the programme helped beginners take 3rd place in London’s Central Venue League Basketball tournaments. A crowning moment for the team, the school and for me their coach.

Clarity
The crystalisation moment mentioned above was realised at an individual mentoring appointment with a student of the school. My own a ha moment. Goodbyes carry an emotionally laden content that is difficult to contain and manage. A yr9 pupil was relocating to a different school for the next academic year.

By me asking if she was going to be alright she replied:

“I’m gonna have to be aren’t I.?” Her South London brogue attempting to deflect the suppressed emotions of loss and attachment to her school and friends. The tears were kept inside but we both acknowledged their presence with a nod and pleasant ending phrases.
“It’s been good working with you.” I said
“I hope that the course works out for you.” She offered
“I think you can see that it has this effect on people.” I said
“Oh, right, yeah, Mr Opoku. You might be on to something.” Shaking her head
“Shall we end it [the appointment] here then?” I said
“Yeah I think now would be a good time to stop, or I really might start…” She insisted
“Okay then…”
“Good bye then and… thanks…”
And with that she got up and left.

Something…
I have since gone on to complete a Masters in Therapeutic Counselling, courses in Brief Solution Focused Therapy, Trauma Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy and a course at Westmeria College to become a counselling supervisor. The latest training has been to complete Eye Movement De-sensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) that is reconfiguring, reconceptualising what I thought I knew about counselling and psychotherapeutic support.

The Climb
The interest in supporting others has not yet reached it’s zenith. The craft, this high art has become a greater thing than looking to care for just 1. By helping another the environment around them and the person doing the helping is immeasurably changed. I look back at the moment with the yr 9 student and said yes let’s have a conversation, which lead to many more conversations at that school and took me out of Harris Academy to other change spaces including: A boys secondary school, 7 Probation offices, supervisees, a team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners, 6 prisons and 6 counsellors in Kent and clients in a range of settings including prisons..

I fell in love with the idea of living my purpose: the Artist repackaged. All day and everyday. ‘This Artists Way’ thing is more than most other things I have been before. Parenting can never be bested. However thinking creatively about Psychoanalysis is what I have been climbing towards. Climbing beyond a challenged past. The journey has been difficult and not for the faint of heart. I have crossed ravines and archipelagos never before seen by me, or that I ever knew existed. I have fallen and wondered about not getting back up. Events have brought me to my knees and I have asked for support in being raised back up on to my feet.

Gifts
This path that I chose has not been a bed of roses getting where I have. The challenges are seemingly insurmountable and I have failed many times. However the successes far outweigh the losses. The smiles, the thank you’s, the nods, the hand shakes all make the art worth it. There is still much to learn and to achieve.

Attempting to support service users that appear blocked and fearful of change. Supporting other professionals to grow outside of set protocols and policies to think creatively and act courageously, to support people in their communities. A drug or alcohol misuse dependency should not determine whether that person could or should get access to good psycho-social support and yet currently it does.

As a friend said in 2016 the person should want change, not the set of difficulties they have to continue. I offer that mental health services could be just as solution focused. Offering a label free, diagnosis opposed care centres treating a person with needs – compassionately. Diagnosis can be limiting. Diagnosis can also be explanatory. It is the person that experiences the difficulty that is to be helped.

Mental health support is about offering change along a continuum. Beginning at a super light spot that’s easier to assist a client experience change. Then graduating the person to access support that genuinely alters self-perception by fractions/degrees. The small changes aspect of psychological support is what I feel is most important. Great distances are walked by taking a single 1st step.

We raise we.
Not I or you.
Alone.
A simple singular exchange.

For me it is:
Collaboration,
Connection
Community.

Change
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