Falling Ability of Memory

Oh my MG
A good writer, journalist, author can bring you aboard their insight like a sea worthy crew member after being swept up in a raging sea storm. Malcolm Gladwell is for me that great sailor and an ongoing *inspirator (inspiring conspirator). His expansive ideas educate and instill knowledge like glittering diamonds. Carefully collected like the gems they truly are.
Currently I have been challenged by his Revisionist History episode Free Brian Williams and will explain below.

Do You Remember When?
The episode presents a curious point of view. It all begins with where we’re you when the World Trade Centre Buildings were attacked? Me: September 11, 2001 I was called from my office by a young person. I remember them asking “but weren’t you there this year?”

Rain Soaked Street

I remember looking at the TV in a Youth Cafe in Woolwich in dumbfounded shock! Filled with disbelief. In January of that year I had spent many wonderful days in NY with my friend SO. Travelling from New Jersey to NY beneath the World Trade Cenre Buildings.

And so hooked I fell into the story of a news anchor person who told a version of events that did not occur as his memory told him they had.

Made up mind
The why of the story is what threw me. I did not want to have my mind changed. Especially because what I had thought was so obviously correct. In my minds eye I was right and decent and moral. He the cheat, Brian Williams, should have known better. But Malcolm weaves a story that blends science, psychopathology with neuroscience. The mix is heavy and splits me along ethically dubious lines. The show ends and I find myself interrogating my many memory missteps too.

Again with the Netflix?
Mamadou Athie was not Grandmaster Flash in the Get Down I confidently said to Dr CW as we watched Uncorked. He was an older gentleman I said. I replayed scenes burned into my mind of Grandmaster flash teaching the ‘younger’ DJ how to find the lyric in a song and keep that playing. I was confident. Then I heard Malcom whispering “remember what was said in the podcast”. We think our memory is indelible like a CD or Video recording or cassette tape. It is not.

Screw Cap
Our memories may remember key pieces of information. Bits. Like an outfit. A face. A scene. A voice. A piece of music. A scent. But the whole conceptualisation our memories simply cannot fully compute with crystalline accuracy.

Review
For 1 second of data to be processed by our brains there are millions of pieces of information being assimilated, ignored and stored. Of course we aren’t going to be able to recall them all. We simply cannot. So I revised mentally The Get Down and Mahmadou in Uncorked and realised my error.

Malcolm and Dr CW were right. My memory had failed me and yet I was ready to stick to my wrongful ideas and hold these above what turned out to be a truth. Reluctantly I realised that I was similar to Brian Williams! Believing what my memory told me and not what others advised me was true and correct.

Duality
The effect of the realisation is laughable and uncomfortable. Another area of fallibility is our gut feeling or going on the feeling of something purely. Read ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman for a fuller understanding. We should employ both fast and slow thinking. We would find, we would make different choices. Also read the Chimp Paradox to gain a better understanding of our brains capacity to splice information resulting in different reactions.

Sidestep
Listen to the episode of revisionist history and share either anonymously or below when and where your memory played a trick on you.
Altered Carbon? Possibly we are. We were not meant to hold onto these *rememberings. In fact every time we pull up a memory the memory changes. These blogs, journals, diaries, photos and videos are a way of capturing an idea or memory in a time capsule and store it as it was back then.

After Lockdown 2020
Post COVID19, you could do yourself a favour. Welcome a new world. Where we recognise that unless we train our minds to become memory champions like Jim Kwik or Yanjaa Wintersoul, external devices will store parts of what you no longer have active need to remember. Why not let these memories go. Remembering things like embarrassing or traumatic events might actually be holding you back from experiencing something new and worth remembering. Just a thought. Remember to forget.

Perhaps life is better that way.

Resources
Revisionist History Free Brian Williams
Jim Kwik Memory
2 Guys on Your Head – Memory
Hidden Brain – Did That Really Happen?

Images
Cover photo by David Becker on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo by Bangkit Ristant on Unsplash

Investment in Therapy pt 3

I have been hinting throughout the previous 2 blogs that there are times when our brains do not support us to live well. There may be a number of reasons for the mind to act in a dubious way towards you. The reasons can include past thinking patterns, current or present living situations, nutrition, lethargy and using the body less often doing light exercise, relationships with others and a host of other experiences can negatively affect the mind.

Out to Get Us
The effects of the mind becoming an agent looking to undermine and derail us are similar to agent Smith in the Matrix. Agent Smith tried to finish Neo unsuccessfully many times. The effects of a mind becoming unwell are well documented.

3 Types
The point I am driving at is, by accessing the support and resources of someone else’s mind, (final flight scenes in the Matrix) can help someone who has entered a negative thinking pattern to realign those thoughts!

Tools in thinking approaches can be used to review what aspects of a person’s experience can be altered, left behind or actively engaged with to create a better now and future. C.B.T. and D.B.T. (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) E.M.D.R (Eye Movement De-sensitisation Reprocessing) are 3 therapeutic approaches that have been shown to have positive outcomes for a wide range of people who present with depression and anxiety and altered thinking patterns who are unable to re-route to have healthy thoughts.

Social for a reason
As social creatures we learn and gain ideas from others all the time. We have existed in a teach and learn from others for millennia. In therapy whilst some of the work is on you to figure things out for yourself, having a professional with you can help jolt the mind to begin thinking new and amazing ideas/thoughts/beliefs.

A coach or mentor will actively challenge you to think bigger or directly upset how you are viewing the world you live in. The aim in therapy/coaching/mentoring is to support you begin expanding and testing new thoughts.

The fear of engaging in support, could be that a person can stay thinking the thoughts they had originally. Remaining – Stuck. With a Flat affect. All around morose.

Exhibit A: It is about You
Then again the visit to the GP. The IAPT appointment happens or you make a last ditch attempt at seeing that therapist friends advised you to see.

You vampire like swoop to the transport to get you there just on time or a few minutes late. Mumbling at reception your request for the appointment with Ms D or Mr S. Your buzzed through and then…

Therapy begins.
Slowly at first.
One session.
An introduction.
The assessment.
You of them.
(Will this work?)
Them of you.
(Not sure, well, maybe?)
A feeling out of them, you, the space.
Do they really listen?
Have they really understood?
You test them.
Can they handle the real reason of why you came?
They sort of pass.
This could work!
The 59 minutes pass and
They politely intuit that
Your time with them is
Over. With a nod,
A slight
Smile, they say “See
You, next week?”
As though unsure of what
They have unleashed.
Not exactly the Cracken,
A distant cousin. The
Bracken? Maybe. As if on
A washing line you
Return and something
Begins to lift…

Slowly…

Exhibit A continued
The investment appears a sound one. The spring has returned. There’s renewed confidence. It looks brighter now. How did that happen? What trickery is this? Some call the experience of feeling renewed and invigorated, therapy. Others healing.

Whatever it might be, it feels good all the way to the bone. If you can cast your mind back to the last time you felt like this? Free. Happy. A willingness to be patient. Filled to the brim with energy. Spontaneous. Taking careful risks. Life before was a feeling of seemingly limitless time. This may have been before. You may have been younger then and that thing, those things hadn’t happened…

Therapy/Healing/Mentoring/Coaching/Consulting can help you to arrive at spaces that can make you want to try again.

We could ask is this a worthy investment…?

Resources
Tim Ferris interviews Brené Brown
Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu Keynote Speech 2016

Images
Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

Worry

The idea of worry is that once we start we aren’t able to stop. But we can! We are able to critically evaluate the usefulness of the concern and downgrade it. Match it to reality we curate.

Frivolous
The activity is a pointless engagement and I will go in to what worry could be useful later on in this blog.

Generally the worries we become involved with are to do with scenarios we can see happening.

What we can do to either prevent them or how we might make things better if they were to occur.

RTA One of my consistent worries is being involved with a road traffic accident (RTA). I am either a pedestrian or a driver of a vehicle. The few accidents I have been a part of included me crashing into another car after another ploughed into mine. Another accident involved a bike colliding with a car door flung open to change places with my wife who was driving at the time and me on a bike and a car crashing into me. Some were not that serious. So what does this particular worry pertain to?

Prediction
Few if any can predict the future. But we almost want to tell our brains/minds that we can sort of manage the imagined situation if it were to happen. Take the RTA of mine. The useless idea was imagining what the pain, what the hurt and the mess that will happen if an accident did happen again.

A useful idea on worry would be to positively create the steps as to what should happen if ever I was involved in another accident for example,

call my wife,

call the police,

check if the other person is okay,

check that no further traffic can be happen,

check your body for damage,

review damage to vehicle and theirs,

walk to safety.

Rest.

Regulate breathing.

The more you practice and imagine the what happens next, the lesser the worry takes up space in your mind. Why? Well because you have seen how the event will be when and if it were to occur. You will be ready to deal with that eventuality and know what to do!

The Body Keeps the Score
There is a great section in the Body Keeps the Score book about people who are able to recover after an RTA. Those who get involved suffer less traumatic memory retention because of their working out the challenge at the time of the accident. Using their pre-frontal cortex and using the human part of the brain. Those who block out or blot out the experience of the accident generally fare worse.

Michael Forfieh Counselling presenting the idea that all that we think does not have to be believed.
All is not to believed

So
The advice with worry is to pay attention to what the is concern is.
Evaluate the worry for it’s value and truth.
Develop a strategy as to how to resolve the worry as best you can.
If the worry is a big one see where help can be asked from to support you to reduce the challenge of the concern.
Be proactive, create a new scenario with the challenge resolved.
Think about the scenario being solved and pay attention to how you feel.

It is in the feelings that you can understand what the emotional hijack has been about. You can now see the worry for what it was and how to resolve it.

So now put your energy into solving the challenge.

Mentoring coaching psychotherapy
A good helper can support a person who experiences these challenges. The helper will aim to resolve anxieties and begin working on returning you to a healthy helpful state of calm.

How
By examining the origin of the concern a helper can pinpoint its beginning. Generally the worry is linked to other ideas a person has about themselves including race, class, status, money, childcare, performance outcome and the weather with everything else in between. A helper will aim to establish what the client experiences in heightened states of concern and help you to reduce the siren’s noise and find solution.

Resources
Hidden Brain – Coping with Chaos
Impact Theory – Cultivating a Powerful Worldview
Two Guys on Your Head – Breathing

Images
Cover Photo by Tyrell Charles on Unsplash
Inlaid photo

Do or Do Not

Impossible-Possible

Procrastination

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

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

Innate Wisdom

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

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

Two Choices

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

Purposeful Procrastination

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

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

https://youtu.be/BQ4yd2W50No

Is Counselling a Good Thing?

Argentine Tango

If it leads to dance… Possibly

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

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

Psy-professional dominance

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

(Wotton,1959.pp.17)

Judge

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

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

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

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

The Jury

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

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

The Final Act

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

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

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

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

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

Fruitvale Station meets Psychology

Oscar Grant III – Marcus Isaiah – Viktor Frankl

FRUITVALE

MICHAEL B. JORDAN stars in FRUITVALE

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

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

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

Oscar – Marcus

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

Marcus Isaiah

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

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

Pausing to reset

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

The lull of the street

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

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

Background to Marcus

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

Choice

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

Self Iso’

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

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

The Charge

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

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

Marcus’ Identity

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

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

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

Complex – simple

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

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

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

Recognising the gap in the wall

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

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

Logotherapy

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

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

Wishing you well.

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

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

1st Meeting September 2015

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

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

Changing something small

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

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

Time and Timings

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

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

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

Challenge

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

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

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

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

Experiential Group as a Catalyst

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

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

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

Good bye and Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you well.