Narcissus Is Us

Call To Act
I am going to ask that before you read the below, pause, go for a walk, make a beverage and do something that is you centred. My sister Edwina Hawkridge advised once she gleaned what the blog was to interrupt. Whether that pause is taking a nap, meditating for a few minutes, reflecting over something recently heard, tapping out a rhythm, sketching something, scribbling, or just staring out the window. What follows below attacks the very thing we are communicating on right now. So leave. This piece will remain, and you can laugh at it’s offering whence you return.

Suprise
The pursuit of happiness has many of us duped. Caught inside an ever decreasing trap of our own making. A few years ago I wrote extensively about Narcissus. He who fell madly in love with his own reflection. His admiration of himself causing his eventual death by the river Styx.

Reflection Can be Golden

Addict
Some of us look at our computers/laptops/tablets or phones infrequently? Some of us believe that we casually gaze upon mobile devices once every half an hour to every couple of hours. The truth, we regard devices as many times as 10 – 40 times in an hour. That’s as often as once every 1.5 minutes in an hour. If we were to ask ourselves, if like Narcissus we have fallen in love with our own image? We would possibly answer with a resounding – NO! However the attraction to longingly, lovingly, looking at our internet savvy tech has me questioning. Are we doomed like Narcissus?

Brain on Notice
For a few years I have attempted to keep a regular meditation practice. There are a few reasons. Firstly, for overall brain health. Another consideration for me is to maintain a consistent level of focus. Our world now, demand’s a renewed level of awareness. At the top of my priority for improved concentration include; Raising emotionally literate children, my work with counselling or coaching clients, listening to podcasts or radio programs, reading bathing in the knowledge of others and enjoying insights. The benefits of focusing would be positive outcomes relating to meditation practice.

Infuriation
The constant challenge is the mind drifts. This is experienced at an exaggerated degree when I am sat in repose meditating. It is like my mind finds ways to literally run away with itself on the most errant of ideas worries and imaginings. Last nights meal, conversations to be had, arguments lost, items found, children to picked up or dropped off, client considerations, relationship concerns, family, health (relating to MS and aging) fitness, financial worries, ongoing world crisis (Climate, War, Water, Energy), elections, study, travel and the list continues. All of the above thoughts and considerations flood in when a moment is created for internal reflection. It is like brains wired for activity, our minds attached to them are unable to fully let go of the high functioning operant level. Problem solving, solution focused finding is a goal to be reached. To down gear into an experience of relaxing calm seems like an impossibility.

Eye Glasses
Perhaps we should be happy for Narcissus? He found the subject of his desire, and was content enough to waste away with his beloved by a river and die. Knowing the story from a position of the outsider looking upon Narcissus’ folly we notice his short-sightedness. His inability to find anything other than his own image reflected back at him. A totality of all that was beautiful, beguiling, attractive and yet ultimately unobtainable. Zeus presented Narcissus with a cruel curse then. A tale of woe for all who cannot hear or see the message therein.

Enchanted
Like Narcissus what our devices are able to do, is show us our interests in ever more increasingly captivating presentations. Whether the service is delivered by Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the appeal is to be amongst, playing, adapting, creating, uploading and engaging with an audience that reflects an individual back unto themselves. Devices offer an echo chamber, a self-fulfilling feedback loop. Being away from the ‘mirror’ then invites fear, revulsion, envy, jealousy, self pride, pity, fleeting experiences of happiness and momentary collections of learning. I have been with all of these emotions and thoughts throughout my time creating a virtual footprint. The feelings that are legion, arise either through producing content or accessing information. Being away from the device and the virtual world has many experience the idea of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Not being online at the right time and place all the time. I imagine the virtual footprint anxiety steals something from us.

Like Narcissus – Really?

Handling Fire
At a new years party 2019 -2020, when the crisis that is the global pandemic was nascent, I shared an idea about mobile phones. I said to another party goer ‘It is like the mobile phone has replaced the fire we all used to share our stories, whilst sitting around its warmth. The phone is our camera, telecommunication device, and connects us to the world in a way that fire did and could not.’ In the days before we would throw our imagination against the fire. Fire would help us see and describe what we saw amongst our group. These imaginings could then be made manifest. Manifestations of our imaginations happened at first with interpreters, then scribes and with paper, then books, then radio, cinema then TV we have moved from the communal and shared experience to the insular and the individual.

Heat
What has been replaced by a communal warmth and sharing is a blue cooler light. There are uncountable gains for those who value and learn as individuals to absorb information in an singular way. The loss for me, is being aware of how learning by self is passed on? As a global community with a small handful of members holding knowledge for themselves, how can we all grow and learn similarly? Is there a need for Ubuntu? The idea of the Zero-Sum game is made manifest here. Could individual isolated learning be an example of flaws in a solo learning monoculture, potentially leading some towards fundamentalism and radicalization over and above collective reasoning, reflection, awareness of self, group, community and growth?

Urbanized Reflection

Minimise
With self interest held at a premium does the web of interconnectedness fail with a system that has a few sclera’s enmeshed amongst it’s organisation? I am taken to my own faltering nervous system, the scourge that is MS. Within a weakened system like the nervous system of a person with an auto-immune disease like Multiple Sclerosis, electrical messages are not passed easily along damaged nerves. The message either arrives late, in a delayed or garbled fashion or not at all. With relapsing remitting MS (RnR) a relapse can be caused by heat, stress, tiredness and by the over defensive mechanism of the body’s immune system confusing food particles as harmful pathogens that should be attacked and destroyed. Thereby damaging formerly healthy cells and creating scars and lesions along nerves.

Corrupted
I am also mindful of Cypher in the Matrix, who as a component attacks and betrays the system the rebels have asserted. As a node Cypher attempts to corrupt all – for his own gain. If a web like the human nervous system, the microorganisms of the soil and the systems that support plant life, can and often do find alternative paths to carry information, then the organism can survive and often finds ways to do so well. With the invention of mobile technology our ability to function well, beyond a virtual world appears hampered, affected – infected.

Juggernaut
Attention spans have been decreasing ever since the Information Age became the mental onslaught it now is! Our minds have become a much sought-after real estate upon which a number of material battles are fought for. Those who win get to earn our first 2nd and 3rd purchasing choices. They earn our belief and own our loyalties. Any other choice is seen as untrustworthy, valueless, having inferior quality and simply does not hold our interest. Reading a long read like Whiteness on The Couch by Natasha Stovall or a book that challenges long held ideas about the world in which we live such as The Origin of Consciousness in The Breakdown of the Bicameral mind by Julian Jaynes, or True Believer by Eric Hoffer helps to improve focus and builds a newer understanding of what we all experience and offered chance to re-evaluate. Even a blog as lengthy, wordy, wan and as wildly speculative as my blogs tend to be, can grow attention spans and generate a nonlinear perspective that could be useful in topics of discussion at personal or professional settings. Make what is read, listened to or watched personally meaningful. Even if the subject material is used as a catalyst to spark ridicule or laughter for a moment allow self to be altered.

Intelligent Light Trappings

Options
What we tend to gain when we step away from the banal, simple, pre-digested material often fed through news and media outlets, snap chat feeds, Instagram lives, TikTok videos, Youtube viral finds, Facebook campaigns, twitter links, LinkedIn broadcasts, can be a step closer to genuine rich honest communicative ideas that challenge and create space for new thoughts and ideas to emerge. The intention behind writing this piece was ultimately for the reader – you; to answer a simple question. If you realise that you, like Narcissus, are soon to bring about your own end through mindless neglect what steps do you take?

Resources
An inspired evening of conversation, food and drink, with friends and new acquaintances can provoke discussion that offer chance to catch new ideas. If the pandemic has robbed us of anything it is the freedom to meet, and have chance to come together and talk, share ideas and laugh at the folly of our lives. I thank Dave, his wife Emily and family for hosting a truly entertaining evening that birthed the idea of the fire in our hands – mobiles.
I have shared in previous Blogs Natasha Stovall’s article of Whiteness on the Couch. The article is a prime example of a sustained effort arriving at difficult conclusions. Whiteness on the Couch is a long read. My advice take time to absorb the information shared.
The Origin of Consciousness sounded like a great book to spend time with. My niece Portia suggested I read it if I wanted to gain understanding of what we perceive as psychology. The book has helped me appreciate the complicated awareness we have understanding our minds.
The link to Cypher is in essence prophetic in relation to how he attempts to swing events in the 1999 movie The Matrix, to his favour.
After Skool offers a wonderful philosophical and practical understanding of what we are experiencing being a sentient being on the planet now. I was attracted by the title ‘MASS PSYCHOSIS – How an Entire Population Becomes MENTALLY ILL’. I believe the authors of this beautifully drawn argument offer a useful and updated understanding of Eric Hoffer’s True Believer.
Elite Content Marketer brings the article Screen Time Stats as a useful observation of our human trend in relation to the other screen we used to spend hours watching – TV. I also enjoyed reading about the impact of picking up our phones. We become enthralled with what we have seen. Narcissus whisperings.
The Social Dilemma Netflix documentary was a perfect film to highlight the challenge facing humanity at the height of the Pandemic. I found the documentary useful to hear from those involved with the information age industry, state clearly, if a service is free YOU ARE THE PRODUCT being exploited, used and largely manipulated.
The True Believer YouTube video is an insightful look at Eric Hoffer’s book. Academy of Ideas shares understanding of what the book discusses. I offer True Believer as a counter argument to A Killing of the Mind video. Mass movements come and go, we determine their impact.
A Killing of the Mind After Skool
Screen Time Stats Elite Content Marketer
The Social Dilemma Netflix
True Believer Academy of Ideas

To answer the question above, as an Artist my medium du jour is writing. It is my small act of creating, imagining and bringing to light from another place ideas that engender hope, resilience, humor and balance. These ideas are what keep me up at night and get me up in the morning. If writing can open doors that lead to corridors of wonder – the attempt – tether lightening to my leaden ideas…

Images
Cover photo Glee by Glen Anthony on Unsplash
1st photo Inlay Golden Tree image by Faye Cornish on Unsplash
2nd photo Train Viewing by Rasheed Kemy on Unsplash
3rd photo White Shoes by Redd on Unsplash
4th Mirrored Man photo by Imani Bahati 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

A Different Future

Equity in Dreamworks Inc

An odd moment arrived recently when reviewing the past few weeks of protests, stating the now ubiquitous ‘Black Lives Matter’. The movement, for me, blended with the ending scenes from the movie Kung-Fu Panda 3. The idea is somewhat out there, and will probably not land safely. If you have not seen the movie or are unfamiliar with the KFP franchise the idea will land ever more askew!

Unity Looks Like
Ubiquity Accepted

Unity
In the final scenes of Kung-Fu Panda 3, a village of pandas step forward after defeating a marauding wolf pack and put out there paws to save the hero, Po.

Demonstrating
The scene clearly demonstrates the now common idea that in unity, a great wrong can be put right. That a Black and White hero can defeat a Demi God! Inviting a village/world to heal long held wounds and restore itself to a bright and limitless future. The idea has long been held. The story has also been told since human beings have walked the earth.

Together we stand. Divided we fall!

Touch
With Po (Hero) in the spirit world, feeling the hands/paws reaching out and lifting him up. Po gains the strength to be able to put up a good fight and defeat the misguided power seeking Kai. Does this concept sound familiar? World leaders current and past be warned…

Switch
Kai interestingly resembles a buffalo with dreads and his baritone voice denotes a person of African-American heritage. Possibly increasing the diversity representation in the DreamWorks cannon of films and simultaneously complicating my relationship with the synergy of good and bad, black and white, up and down dyad.

Support
There is mass celebration and delight amongst the villagers, once Po returns. Evil has yet again been defeated by Po aided by the furious 5 and the Panda village. To save the One, The Many must unite.

Silence as Weapon
Apathy Harms

Evolve
The moment of blending for me, is the recognition of the callous murder of George Floyd and the laying of hands for Po in KFP3.

For me, evolution can be experienced amongst us (the human being). A global recognition of the myth of White Superiority has begun.

And in protest against the systemic factors insisting that White Supremacy is the natural order of how the world is always to be.

What has been experienced by the many, has been one of finding Unity. At least for a moment in history. Seeking justice for George Floyd after the pandemic is also about finding a way to restore – make what has been centuries of old wrongs – right for and with Black people at the helm. Globally.

The Tao Haiku
Without opposite
Warm, Cold, Up, Down, the journey,
Possibly never

Resources
Kung-Fu Panda 3 Ending
The American Lie https://youtu.be/2roWLzrqOjQ
History of White People – Nell Painter
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos – Dwight Turner

Images
Cover Photo Photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash
1st inlay photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash
2nd inlay photo by Karimi Karagania on Unsplash


Crystalisation of Identity

From Person Centred Counselling to an Integrative Approach: One Client Inviting Change

Pier and Bridge

A Beginning – Morley College

I started officially training to be a counsellor in 2006. The introduction to counselling course was at Morley College in London and taught me what Counselling entails. Iain Mendelberg was the tutor and was able to offer a model for the type of counselling professional I wanted to be for clients: patient, wise, honest and courageous.

As a group of trainee counsellors, we were introduced to Carl Rogers and his passage into counselling and psychotherapy. Rogers was closely followed by Fritz Perls and Gerard Egan which gave us a thorough grounding of person centred and humanistic perspectives of counselling.

Freud’s scientific method was often referenced as a starting point that was used to frame our learning. What I gained insight to was from Mr Mendelberg’s calm humorous approach to teaching. His generosity as an educator gave me an indication of what lay ahead for me as I trained – I too could become for those that I worked with a reflective, calm and person centred mental health practitioner. Or so I thought.

On completing the Morley course I took a year out of study. My first son Coltrane, was born shortly after the course ended in June 2007. 1 year later September 2008 I began at Greenwich University on the MSc Therapeutic Counselling an integrative counselling course.

What Does Integrative Mean?

I had little understanding of what integrative meant in the 1st year. Some of the information that was covered in the first term refreshed my awareness of counselling theory from my time at Morley college. The main difference of the Greenwich course, was apart from the workload was the amount of reading material to be digested on a weekly basis and the depth the writing therein went to.

Each article was intricately written, often with intimate insights that frequently altered my perspective of counselling. There was also a general understanding that the reader would grasp some, if not all of the concepts discussed. The first year of the course I found to be a struggle but I worked hard at attempting to meet the requirements the course asked of me including; Placement and application of counselling theory, Skills, Experiential group, Theory, and Personal logs. The requirements life asked of me were a frequent source if inspiration, tension and fatigue and these included; my marriage, fatherhood, work, coaching basketball, amongst a few other responsibilities…

Integration of Perspectives

For the 2nd year of the course at Greenwich in Oct 2010, I was fortunate in securing a 2nd placement at a prison. My first placement was at a Doctor’s surgery in SE London which I was fortunate to be awarded in Aug 2009. My learning as a trainee counsellor I feel was enhanced by both placements as I was able to witness how mental illness is supported in the community and in a prison setting. The significant differences noted were the efforts made by the mental health team in prison collaboratively working together to reduce risk – efficiently.

In the community, fast access to mental health support is desirable but not always achievable. Due to the volume of people in GP’s wards. The range of services and referrals to and from specialist support is difficult to meet. Providing treatment for mild to moderate cases of mental illness can take 6 weeks – 8 months to be received. With the advent of IAPT (Increased Access to Psychological Therapy), the idea was to drastically reduce waiting times and be able to support more people in the UK, that experienced depression and anxiety.

Laos – Understanding Integration

I met Laos (not his real name) in January 2011. Laos was a tall, well-built Asian man in his 30’s who repeatedly offended. He was held in custody for charges related to attempting to rob with a bladed article. Laos shared with me the incident in question and much of his life history. Which is to follow.

I worked with Laos for 5 sessions in total and throughout that short time my counselling approach changed. During the 2nd and 3rd appointments an idea formed that person centred counselling did not appear to be touching the core of this man’s particular set of difficulties. I took it upon myself to investigate and develop a psychological perspective to gain an understanding of his formative life experiences and how I could support him more effectively as a counsellor.

Reflecting on my counselling journey it was this choice that changed my perspective on how I practice as a therapist. As an aside I have enjoyed the Kung-Fu Panda series of movies. The 3rd Kung-Fu Panda stood out as a perfect collaboration of contextual realities, concluding with a seminal experience and eventual crystalisation of identity for Po. My light-bulb moment wasn’t as spectacular but had elements of the clarity Po achieved in this movie clip.

Drug Use – An Escape?

Laos reported that he had many change experiences including moving home a number of times across much of Asia, the far east, Australia, Canada and to U.A.E. Laos had begun using various substances in his teens starting with Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine and Crack. He mentioned that he had also used amphetamines but stated that he preferred cocaine. With other drugs he reported that it was always a gamble.

Schooling

He described himself as a bright student and that he found G.C.S.E’s easy. Laos said that he started smoking marijuana to celebrate with friends on completing his exams. Initially it was purely recreational. A levels, Laos said were more difficult and he changed to the International Baccalaureate. These qualifications he said suited his learning style more. Laos was introduced to harder drugs at AS level and began selling and distributing to supplement his own use.

Laos shared that he and his father didn’t really get on. His father was the main reason that the family moved as much as they did. Laos described his father as strict and the one who dealt with his indiscretions severely.

Life Events

Laos described his mum as kinder and nurturing towards him. His mother died when Laos was in his late teens and he mentioned that for the family it was a difficult time. Laos experienced his 1st Jail term in a Malaysian prison shortly after his mother’s death. He was convicted as a minor of selling and distributing cocaine to fellow students at his school. He reported being in jail for a period of 9 months. He was released early as a result of his father’s connections. Laos described this period as hell on earth. He was away from family for the first time and his mother had passed away. Laos mentioned that his father had practically disowned him for the sense of shame he had brought on the family. His siblings were angry and upset with him. All that he had known was irrevocably changed.

Recognising the inter-relatedness of attachment theory, Object relations, Transactional Analysis, maladaptive coping mechanisms which can support a person in functioning into adulthood. Coping mechanisms unfortunately breakdown in moments of crisis. For Laos these moments of crises were experienced when he was faced with; the mundane and monotonous, significant moments of change or stress.

He had experience of supporting himself by using alcohol and various substances including marijuana cocaine and heroin. Laos described himself as a binger (someone who used lots of a substance all at once for a few days and then stopping). It was on a binge that he lost track of the amount of cocaine he had left. Laos told me he had finished his supply and quickly needed to make a withdrawal to go and buy more. Laos was between jobs and had low cash flow to buy more drugs. He decided to go to an off license to pick up some more alcohol as his supply was low. This decision and following events lead to Laos’ 4th jail term.

Case Formulation – Speculative Coalescence

My formulation and how I started to identify that I was thinking and behaving as an integrative therapist was informed by some of the reading I was completing at the time. Petruska Clarkson’s 5 Relationship Model offered me a useful framework to recognise where I was – in my journey as a counsellor. A research project titled ‘A Son’s Journey’ written in my 3rd year of the MSc course, found points of Laos experience reminiscent of my journey to adulthood. (I will look to pick relevant points from my research in a later blog post)

Adapting to Change

Laos early attachment to his parents and to his place of birth were affected by a number of significant changes with and to his environment. Moving from one country to another may have affected his realisation of who he was. This sense of recognition would be in relation to having to repeatedly start again from the beginning in a new and different environment. He would have had to form new routines with new classmates, peers, learn new social cues and with each move be socially adapt to the new country. Laos mentioned that he had been moving home and country since he was 3 years old. The moves were a result of his father and the work he was involved with. If the family home was not a wholly warm and nurturing environment Laos could have begun developing ways to look after himself outside of his parents or family’s awareness.

It is possible that Laos did not come forward and share the difficulties he encountered with his family. Any challenges he had overcome at school or whilst playing with peers he may have kept to himself. Perhaps major achievements and triumphs he may have experienced may also have gone unnoticed as well. I wondered if he shared much with anyone. (Self dependency, self reliance)

Growing Pains

As he entered early adolescence he may have found certain peers more appealing and started to associate with their way of viewing the world. Exciting, dangerous, rule bending/breaking, becoming argumentative/aggressive with siblings, parents, teachers and authority figures. Leading him to take ever greater risks, enjoying self-injurious actions and activities i.e. smoking or self-harming, drinking alcohol, tattooing, piercings etc. The difficulty for me as a counsellor is in recognising the difference between the actions Laos reported of his experiences during his adolescence and usual teenage behaviour.

The purpose of the actions as listed could be to give him a chance to gain a sense of belonging or to fit in with others or create a new identity. It could also have offered Laos an attempt to make the feeling of disillusionment of parental let down dissipate or not be as painful. Another consideration would be in relation to Laos’ attachments to others. If we were to observe his relationship to his mum and then her death could his spiralling drug use be in relation to having difficulty admitting to or acknowledge his feelings of loss? The realisation for Laos could be that self-injurious acts may become habitual and destructive.

The interesting thing for me as I sketched through some of these hypothetical realisations was how Laos had attempted to rescue himself or bring about an end to his behaviour. He had not gone to rehab or completed 12-step programmes. Laos being caught, found selling or incapacitated through use of drugs and going to prison put in place a semi-permanent stop to his self-destructive pattern of behaviour. This is not to say that drugs could not be found in prison. But Laos was able to recognise that through his actions he was again locked away for a period of time. It is possible that prison acted like both a punitive and supportive parent at the same time. What Laos was appeared to do by being arrested by incarceration was to learn how to find another way to live without both of his parents. It is possible he had not an internal representation of both parents and sought external controls to manage his behaviour.

Re-evaluating – Re-inventing

Within a longer piece of work from 1 year – 2 years it is possible Laos may have been able to recognise what he had lost as a result of his earlier experiences. The losses could include his sense of identity, self esteem, parental guidance, maternal attachment figure (after his mum passed away), emotional self regulation and self-protective mechanisms i.e. speaking to others and finding emotional support. A therapist could have been able to support him in identifying his current patterns of behaviour and look to establish life affirming behaviours that looked at his dependency on alcohol and drugs to alleviate boredom, anxiety and depression.

Idea-Seeds

My work with Laos was informative for a number of reasons. I learned that I had been able to graduate my thoughts to appreciate a psychodynamic profile of a person’s past. What I was able to offer Laos as a counsellor was a robust level of emotional support and an awareness that there were topics from his past that with the right support he would be able to heal in time. I was able to plant an idea-seed. With good support that idea-seed could grow and I imagine bring about significant change for Laos.

Moving forward this level of reflection has supported me in all aspects of my life, noticing patterns of behaviour with those I support. Identifying personal scripts that clients operate with that limit themselves from engaging in new and exciting ways with themselves and others. My hope for Laos is that he recognises his pattern and with support from family, a partner or a trained professional can find other ways of being that are healthy and life enriching.

Baking: Failure – Success

The Journey into Counselling 2014-06-01 10.39.03

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

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

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

Pinpoint moments

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

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

The presentation

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

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

Creative practice

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

Bread = therapy

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

Getting it wrong

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

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

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

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

The future

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

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

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

In September 2015 I spent a few days reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. The book offers the idea that owning our vulnerabilities makes us stronger, or better at not fearing our lives. Daring greatly as an idea has struck several chords for me as I have lived in fear of discovering that my disability might prevent me from doing my job well enough.

I have spent the last 6 years developing my craft as a counsellor and Mental Health professional; working in the community in private practice, at a University as a Student Mentor, in a prison as a counsellor / psychological wellbeing practitioner and as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. I thought I should aim to be better than good. Better than I thought that the disability would somehow stop me from being. In the profession this type of thinking is identified as over compensating. I can put my hands up owning that I do that.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a disease I have struggled to live with for 6 years since being diagnosed in 2011. I can remember the day that my doctor at Moorefields Eye Hospital reluctantly told me. I felt huge waves of anxiety lift. I dreaded that I might have a terminal disease like brain cancer. I might not be bright enough for that. I was also intensely angry and sad. As I imagined that my dreams of being a brilliant professional had dimmed due to my understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis is.

My struggle has been, I have not wanted to admit to myself or anyone that, I have an incurable disease. A disease that has enabled me to take a good look at myself and reflect on the past 30 years of my life. Over the years there were signs of the disease which hinted at a serious nervous system malfunction, that just wasn’t identified after multiple misdiagnoses. The most frightening was at 22-23 I suffered with a 6 month experience of the left side of my body going into spasm after exerting myself. A doctor I saw identified that I might have an inflammation in my lower back that flared up when over stimulated my body through exercise. He requested that I hold my breath through these episodes and either sit or lie down until the spasms had passed. The humorous thing for me was this was a sign of MS and it was missed but his advice worked.

I looked into the mirror on a particular morning in October 2015 and said to myself “I am going to have a great day.” On this particular day I struggled to make it to work on time and tripped and fell hard on pavement, partly due to the fact that I was rushing and partly because of my balance and co-ordination and tiny calculations in gait and flagstone pavement height that I struggle to compensate for felled me. This morning was not what I had in mind as a “Great day”. But a day is 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds long, I just had to wait for the rest of the day to unfold. It did get better.

For 6 years I have wondered about not letting my secret out as I had not wanted to give others insight about my weakness. But as the book ‘Daring Greatly’ describes, admitting where you are weak is a strength that is indescribable for what it offers: release – a sense of liberation. It feels like for a long time I have lived in a cell with a high barred window. I could hear and smell the seasons change and birds chirping, but the scant amount of daylight that entered my cell was not enough for me to grow strong. I have hidden my illness as a result of how I believed others who may never meet me may judge me. Now I am beyond the cell, and striding into sunlight.

On the day in October where I said to myself “Have a great day”, I attended training at the head office of the organisation where I work. The training was on motivational interviewing and I was invited to share a real story with a colleague about something I had wanted to stop doing. I mentioned that I wanted to stop living in fear of this secret of my MS secret getting out. My colleague EK allowed me to think about what changes I could implement. Owning my flaws, my weakness, bearing to be vulnerable could actually be my biggest ‘to do’.

It scares me as to what this may mean for me and my family, my business and my future. However I already realise that by writing this and then sharing this a huge boulder that I have been pushing much like Sisyphus is now gone. I no longer need to hide it. I have accepted that I have a disability and it does not define my star’s ascent.

A Short Story of Change

I am wondering about another way of extending my counselling practice.

Short Focused Work

I read a short story over 10 years ago of a psychologist who had worked with a client for a short number of weeks. The setting appeared to be in one of the North Eastern States of America as there was mention of Coney Island.

Assessment and direction

The story was about a man in his mid 30’s – 40’s who went to see a psychologist due to feeling low and not knowing the reason for his low mood. (I should note that no ethnicity culture or race was mentioned which for me as an African Caribbean male could mean he could be African American, Asian American, Native American, Latin American or European American). After a short assessment the psychologist was able to offer the man treatment for his low mood in the form of writing a to do list of activities and to return in exactly 1 month and pay the significant bill.

Disbelief

The client took the sheet of paper and scoffed at the advice. Joking aside he was aware of his plight. If he did not follow the psychologist’s requests things would remain the same. In the four weeks the man was able to complete the 6 things on that list. He returned to the psychologist at the 2nd appointment and told of his accomplishments and how he had noted his mood appeared better. The psychologist asked as to what was different between the two appointments? The man told him of the changes he had put in place and as a result many things in his life were different.

Invitation to Change

One of the 1st requests on the list was to take a 2 week break from work and make a concerted effort on the list as it was going to be hard to complete whilst at work.

The man spoke of revisiting Coney Island as a man, and remembering what it had been like when he had visited with his parents. Back then Coney Island had been filled with colour, noise of people having fun, the sea crashing on to the beach and gulls calling. For the psychologist had invited the man to revisit a place from his youth. As the man spoke a smile brightened his face as he remembered what returning to this place had been like for him.

List

There were a number of other tasks the list contained including:

  • Settling debts,
  • Ridding his home of debris he had collected over the years that he no longer needed,
  • Accepting the wrongs he had caused himself and suffered by others and making a resolve to wipe the slate clean. Making himself aware of the lessons and deciding to move on.
  • The last thing on the list was to write a letter to the one person he had wanted to say sorry to for a long time.

A Letter

He reported to the psychologist that this last request had been the hardest to complete. He had written the letter the previous night before coming to the appointment with the psychologist. The man told of who he had written the letter to and of his deep sorrow at not having done a few things he had said he would, and as a result what life had become – dull uninteresting flat and uneventful.

Rediscovery

The man spoke of the past four weeks as if they had been an adventure. As if he had discovered what living was about again and stated that he wanted more of it. He told the psychologist that he had written the letter for himself and was to send it to his parents apologizing for what he had not achieved even though he had had dreams when he was a boy.

StayCation

On completing the letter and signing it he made a discovery before he sent it to his parents. The man reported to the Psychologist that his life was not over and that the four weeks away had taught him a valuable lesson. He only had himself to look at for how his life was. He had decided that he was not going to make excuses for not achieving his dreams any longer! He told the psychologist that on the 1st week after his staycation he had returned to work and had handed in his notice and had found another role in a different type of work that had awoken in him a sense of adventure. The four weeks he had taken to rediscover himself had been the best investment he could ever remember making and that he would be happy to pay the fee he was being charged as the 6 short requests had brought him back to himself and to his life.

Chicken Soup?

I can remember that I had a smile on my face as I read that story. It may have been in Chicken Soup for the soul 3rd edition. What springs to my mind is the huge capacity of therapy and the individuals, groups, and children that work with us to create change in their lives. I am wondering if I shape my business in a similar way, what could happen in 2 sessions; a crash course in manifesting and managing change.

Inside Space

Inside Space

Walk and Talk Therapy

2015-06-30 20.52.37One of the most enjoyable things about working as a therapist in nature are the little things that appear to randomly happen on the walks.

Discovered Messages

In September 2015 walking in a park in South East #London someone had scrawled messages on the path that appeared innocent in their offering of wisdom: ‘Be Kind to Each other’ another stated ‘Life is for living if you see this then you are alive’. As I walked past the meme’s with my client, I was mindful not to fall into the role of walk arranger and interpreter of the hidden meanings of what was witnessed. My walking companion chose to make use of the words and applied them to their life.

Leaf Blown Intervention

On another meeting in a different park I met my client near a large oak tree. Initially our #WalkandTalkTherapy was a Stand and Talk Therapy session. We stood for a few moments and reviewed the past week. A leaf blew from the tree and struck the client on the head and this was all the impetus needed to commence the walk and talk. In the 2 years I have been working in this way I have walked through storms, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, Spring, Summer and #Fall. I have met other therapists, artists and project co-ordinators who have also used the environment to inform and shape their work. Much like serendipitous moments happening in my #WalkandTalkTherapy , meeting others who work in nature fall into the category of helping to shape my work.

Mastery is…

Basketball Therapy Anyone

Basketball Therapy

I have been a Basketball coach for 14 years and know first hand the beneficial effects basketball and playing team sports in general can have on people. While most people assume the positive effects have to do with being physically fit. As a therapist, I’m interested in the emotional benefits of playing sports as well as the obvious physical ones.

Working with boys and girls in the 11-18 age range, one of the things I observed over the years was how the sport equipped them with life skills they could apply off of the court. For example through turning up to early morning practice on time, packing a kit bag, working hard during practice and persevering with learning new skills, players acquired a range of abilities including commitment, sacrifice, organisation, accountability to one self and the team, responsibility, confidence and ultimately leadership.

Therapy in Play

As well as what happened on the court, there was often a therapeutic effect at play in the period after sessions. Many players would speak to me after sessions about some of the difficulties they were experiencing including homework, relationships, concerns with family and worrying about their future. I was often surprised by what was shared and equally what I was prepared to share about some of the challenges I experienced whilst growing up.

Basketball and Therapy

Both the experience of playing basketball and the informal sharing which took place afterwards enabled some players to address feelings associated with depression and anxiety. In many instances I watched players transform from people with low aspirations to people with ambition and hope about their future. I attribute their transformation in part to both the success they achieved on the court and the informal mentoring they received away from the court.

Some of the reasons I have become a counsellor stem from these conversations which sparked something in me to want to support people who were experiencing some degree of emotional/mental difficulty. Looking back on this now from the vantage point of being a trained counsellor, I’m interested in how sports develops positive relationships between players and coaches which is a fantastic starting point for therapeutic conversations.

Mentoring

As a learning mentor in a boys secondary school in London, Basketball again proved an effective tool to enable young men who were experiencing difficulties to talk. Talking whilst engaged in basketball allowed young men to look at some of their challenging behaviour and seek ways to adapt so as to get the best out of their school experience. Games like P.I.G. and H.O.R.S.E were great, as whilst the young men were focusing on making their shot I would be able to offer some useful insight to help their situations. Working this way helped me to establish a good working alliance with the young men that were on my case-load.

Walking and Talking

Much of what I have learnt about using basketball to support people to talk has influenced my decision to launch a walk and talk therapy service. Whether using basketball or the act of walking, both approaches involve using an activity to enable sharing and reflection. Clients often report that when walking and talking, they are surprised at how naturally the sharing occurs. To date I have observed that being in parks and open spaces invites the client to open up in the environment and begin identifying processes for change.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about wanting to develop an idea I have of incorporating Basketball and Therapy. Given my love for the game, this seems like the obvious next step for me.

But first of all I better dust off my basketball trainers hit those courts and brush up on my skills.

Watch this space….