Ignite

This poem/’call to arms’, is written for a former work colleague.
I promised to hold a conversation with.
Then
I left
The aim of the conversation – to ignite their fire.
The intention also is to inspire another,
Others,
You.

And begin

Dawning Realisations

Above the Clouds

Staying at the office all hours just to make sure that all tasks for everyone else are done.
Seemingly making your tomorrow’s better.
Has that ever worked?
Really?

That life that you said you wanted is waiting.

Withering yet waiting.

The dream of supporting others with therapy, dance, massage, hypnotherapy, aqua yoga, pilates, debating, aromatherapy, law, osteopathy, teaching, climbing, acting, martial arts, physical and mental health training – are drumming fingers on tables and waiting.

There is the you
Doing the justifying thing.
That “this job?”
“This role”,
“This thing is enough.”
But is it.…

Really?

What would it mean to stop?
To re-plan, re-think, replay your path to the role you always wanted?

Those long hours of training.
The exams, the tests, the reviews, the study hours, the midnight vigils, the all-nighters and support given and taken were for you to grow.

Pushing papers, filing, scheduling may be the new fulfillment.
But if it’s not,
What
Are
You
Waiting
For?

When you spoke to your friends you shared the vision of what you would be doing to help and to support change in other people’s worlds.
The light came on in your eyes.
The internal smile that you offered as a signal was undeniably present as you chatted.

Their eyes shone…

Like a million eye shining

Kusama’s Infinity Mirror

Bringing, offering, sharing healing you recognise is reciprocal like a circle.
It is not your cause or reason but a guide, an internal call.
Once, you answered whilst training and learning and now – the line – dormant and dusty is rarely picked.

Those moments whilst fleeting
When a friend, a colleague or family member excites
Your learning and you recall points on charts that support growth – return screaming,
Almost shouting “How could you have forgotten us?”
“Not used your knowledge more and helped others along their way with growth?!”

Glowing partly through gleefully earned pride you shudder at the response and begin re-asserting the mantle you have been carrying of…
‘Not quite ready enough,’
‘Not quite good enough,’
‘The time is not right, ‘
‘The world is not ready.’

Bullshit!

If another were to say that rubbish about themselves
Your will to see them right themselves and their situation
Would not allow you to hold back or permit them lie to themselves any longer.
And you?

No. Tall Trees Fear

Take what steps are necessary!
Read what books are helpful.
Watch what films excite and invite action
Listen to the music and songs that pull
Speak to those that encourage and inspire.
Seek out mentors and those that you can support.

Here – to inspiration – the path lies.

Pinpoint the re-entry rediscovery moment and with no holds barred LAUNCH
Breakaway
Break out
Break the yoke
Break the cycle

Nothing, can get in your way apart from excuses and you.
What are you waiting for?
The thing that you seek lies on the other side of fear.

 

Now

 

Begin

 

Now

A list of my aids and reminders…
Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – Richard Bach
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
The Matrix
The Artists Way – Julia Cameron
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

A pdf version of this manifesto is available at www.michaelforfiehcounselling.com under Contact

 

To your success

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When Coaching gets it Wrong

My first introduction to American football happened as a result of Grid Iron on Ch4. I was already an enthusiast of Basketball and Football became a new sport to invest time with and learn about. I enjoyed the UK based commentators attempt to over explain the rules and various decisions that occurred throughout the game. This was in the late 80’s.

Choice

Due to Colin Kaeparnick’s non signing with a team last season I chose not to watch any NFL games. I am vaguely aware of the winners of last season’s Super Bowl but am not as up to date with trades and new signings for this season. Netflix and Amazon have been my go to’s.

Offering my NFL starved eyes initially Friday Night Lights – then Last Chance U, All or Nothing, Undefeated, Coach Snoop and QB1. Marching Orders has been a late addition to my TV watching that I have been fascinated by. The show has little to do with football as they perform for themselves and in competition with other bands. Each Last Chance U features a marching band intro and I have been impressed with their discipline and timing.

Defining synchronicity and Timing and Discipline

Netflix show Marching Orders

Losing It

In my experience great leadership can lead teams to phenomenal successes and some devastating defeats. As a former Basketball Coach I recognise the want for excellence from all, all of the time. The reality is that excellence and perfection are not always possible, no matter how much it is wanted, worked for or at times wished for. A number of years ago I had a moment at a London Youth Games tournament when for 30 seconds I lost it with my basketball team. I lost sight of what we had come to do, play well, play for enjoyment and play as a team. The Hurricanes had worked so very hard to get to the games and the 1st game had been a great example of what I enjoyed about coaching. The first game was a narrow defeat but they had gained learning from the experience and looked to have fun throughout the game. I had felt that they were ready to take on any other team and play well.

A meme that inspires

Friday Night Lights Coach Taylor’s advice.

1st Quarter Defeat

The second game out they were losing to another team within the first few minutes of the 1st quarter by 15 – 2. Stunned, appalled and amazed at the swiftness the other team from Westminster were dispatching us with, I called a time out. I wanted to rally my team and interrupt the flow of the game. In the time out my words were incendiary and raw coming from a place of hurt, anguish, disappointment and guilt. My ire was intolerable and according to the team lifted the roof on Crystal Palace’s main hall and painted it an array of colours. My several words of profanity put me in reach of Last Chance U’s Buddy Guy and Jason Brown coaches.

Story Book

The need to perform well and win against insurmountable odds must be a chip that gets inserted into a coaches sub consciousness at some point during their lives. The Hurricanes had trained well. The drills we had covered over the months leading up to the London Youth Games I and my co coach believed would provide them with chances to play well, be versatile, flexible on offence and decisive on defence. The pain of disappointment came as I realised that for some this was to be their last youth games. That their Basketball playing potential was not going to be realised that day, or any other where I were to coach them. The reminder of the story book ending slipped out of sight that afternoon. But life as always continues.

Last Chance Who?

Last Chance University Season 3

2 Shows and Out

Season 3 of Last chance U has underwhelmed me. I enjoyed the first season, it offered a behind the scenes look at another coaches habits and team building capability. The Editing of the  episodes watched may have miss represented Coach Brown’s input with this season’s show.

In season 2, Buddy’s past crept in and derailed his attempts at claiming inter state championship victory. A punishing disappointment that he seemed unable to let influence his decisions and mood. Coach Brown in season 3 appears to have not read the coaches charter. I find it difficult to watch his players be screamed at repeatedly with no information to guide their overall improvement. The coaching staff do not get off lightly either as they are viciously hurled abuse at. My mental health antennae have turned to on and I am starting to see Coach Brown’s ire as unsavoury and dehumanising.  I had not foreseen that such poor management, poor leadership and an unstable personality type could rip a team apart as resolutely as Coach Brown’s had.

The Islander

I am dismayed at the latest instalment of Last Chance U, yes it was never supposed to be as neat and as sewn up as Friday Night Lights, however I held out for something redeemable. A quality to the calibre of Coach Brown that young men were willing to put their hearts minds and bodies on the line for. Initially the spark and committment and energy was there but as pressure mounted Coach Brown started to retreat into a concentric circle pattern that had him be isolated, unlikeable and lacking connectivity. Good leadership drives hard, has unrelenting standards, knows how far to push and be pushed and then offer to those who they work with all the accolades and praise when they achieve what they are due. Marching Orders band director Donovan Wells is a great example of a person who is willing to have vision and inspire others to achieve it and not lose the respect of those he is working with. Once the likeability and the ‘I will run through that wall for you coach’ is gone, the team is lost and the game is over before it even began.

The leader of the field team

Quarter Back #1

Leadership

To lead one should be willing to listen to all voices especially those that dissent. An element in disagreement  may perhaps with revision could support attainment of goals desired. I feel that a good leader, coach, counsellor, mentor, should be willing to be led. Leaders cannot know all, do all or be all. At times it would be best to sit still, listen and learn.

Some Losses

The Hurricane members that I am still in contact with have forgiven my ire and curse words of that then. I am thankful of their resilience and patience with me. It has become a “remember when Coach Mike…”

Laughing plays an important part in dislodging, dissolving and supporting growth. I saw little laughter in last Chance U season 3, unless at the expense of Coach Brown. I am happy that I didn’t permanently damage the Coach player relationship with my team. I lost my temper and not the team.

Some losses are too great…

Gambit exhibiting his power

Teachers Gambit

Unmoored1

In May I ended my final year with both year one and year two integrative counselling students at the University of Greenwich. I have taught at the University of Greenwich for 3 years as a visiting lecturer. The final teaching lessons with both year 1 and year 2 were surprising and left me feeling un-moored.

What Next

Ending with both year 1 and year 2, conversations involved what would come next??? With year 1 the conversations involved what they had survived and what the next year would bring.  The Counselling and Psychology departments are to move from Avery Hill to the Dreadnought building in Greenwich village, London UK. The change of location represents a physical re-ordering to the experience of teaching and learning. Changes to the orientation of the scheduled lessons and new group members will add an additional layer of nuance to the students day.

High seas 1

Relief

The new cohort of students (2018  – 2019) will not be any wiser of these changes. The 2 groups of students I taught on their last day were relieved to have passed through the gate of the unknown and were weary from the internal struggles the course had helped unearth. I enjoyed the teaching. The opportunity to share what knowledge I have with minds receptive to new ideas – ideas that at times were vastly different to their own. The excitement of moving from unknowing to knowing more, is more than worthy of the days nights and weeks spent marking students work. I will no longer be a part of the excitement, the changes, the conflicts, the time tabling confusions, rooms being locked, difficulties with technology – I am going to miss all of this!

Soft Departures

For year 2, I was to discuss formation of their counselling identity. The presentation began with a student stating that they would not be returning for year 3. A number of students expressed surprise and disappointment as well as tender comments about the student leaving the course this year spattered amongst the room. The student will leave with a level VII (7) diploma and a confidence about how they are going to engage with counselling and psychotherapy.

It’s Personal

For those that were to continue onto year 3, there were ideas as to what was to happen for them. A few students identified that the dissertation piece had been a challenge to be moderated on. The point of the exercise was to gather an understanding of their counselling approach. As an integrative course the need to understand the ‘how and why’ of using a particular theory is important for the therapist and for the client to know.

The Journey

Sharing my counselling journey from 2012 when I completed the same course, with year 2 students was a special moment. Describing the numerous points of growth change and adaptation of how I viewed and interact with the world. Sharing experiences that developed awareness of competence and confidence, helped the arrival where it feels natural to share ideas with a group of 20-30 people as if speaking to a group of friends.

Newbie

I have shared a number of times about the experiential group of that first year. The group surprised and impressed me. There was a dynamic rich freshness, a vibrancy of their experience that fueled the group’s discussions. It may have been my newness to the whole teaching experience that has framed them as a pivotal memory.

In year two I worked with my first all women experiential group, I had chance to relearn what I thought I knew from the previous year. A welcome surprise. I had chance to reflect on growing up within an all-female household. Growing into adulthood I came to appreciate a non-male dominated space – this experiential group mirrored that.

Lecturing

In this my third year I was offered the chance to lecture on the undergrad psychology and counselling course, teach a year one case discussion group, facilitate a year one all women experiential group, and teach the year two case discussion. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge about direction and imparting some of my book learning to trainee counsellors. Fortunately they were receptive to some of the ideas and some of the critiques I offered.

rough seas 2

Irv’s wisdom

Having had the opportunity in April to interview the enigmatic Irvin Yalom for the Counsellors Café – he shared the finer subtleties of working with process groups, he advised that to support a group learn and become it’s own entity, you have to be willing to risk being real, be present and be a part of the process. Be where they are at. Be honest, congruent, vulnerable… I came close…

Illusions

In my 2nd year of teaching (2016 – 2017) a number of opportunities to share interesting ideas seemed to arrive at the end our experiential groups – I went with it and shared. On my last day of this years visiting lecturing, I shared with the year one case discussion group a book. ‘The structure of Magic” and I invited seven of the group members to read a number of the opening paragraphs. The first chapter discusses the idea of magic. Magicians, Princesses and Princes populate a land and a boy is to understand his place amongst it all. The ideas that counsellors follow in the tradition of Freud, we perhaps are also Magicians creating illusions.

Provoke

Those that we work with use the magic to create new stories and illusions of their own making. The year 1 students were challenged by the idea and I deliberately meant to be provocative. Another idea that also challenged them, was my earlier offering of therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts being Judge, Jury and executioners.

Invitation

The loss felt, as I move on from the experience of teaching and learning was, the ideas propagated within the minds of students will be watered by other gardeners now.

The un-mooring invites the idea of finding new ports, trade knowledge acquired on high seas, amongst audiences new. The sense of risk and triumph much like the rise and fall of tidal swells offers, chance to arrive there once again…

That Thing You Seek.

Zen 1

I finally visited Zenubian on Hither Green Lane after many years living in Lee and had an experience that I had not thought I would ever encounter. Peace.

A slowly widening appreciation of a still, quiet, that seems hard to find in our busy 21st century lives.

I have been researching a counselling space, to begin working outside of my home office. I had contacted Zenubian in April to enquire about a counselling space, and was invited to see their therapy rooms. Later I had chance to look at some of the other venues that they have. Zenubian is a shop selling art, wall hangings and other intricate objects to decorate your home, your office, or a meeting venue with.

Blown Out

Have you heard of the term Burn-Out before? I believed it to be likened to a unicorn sighting, something I would not experience. I first heard the term used after becoming a learning mentor as a helping professional in 2004. The term burn-out is used as warning to those who stretch themselves beyond their limit and still attempt to bridge the gap impossible. It describes someone who has gone out like a flame on a match – leaving a used up embodiment of lost potential.

The Denial

I am not keen to say that I have burnt out, been singed – definitely. I am able to recognise that I have been doing too much. Lecturing, counselling, supervising, and working a full-time job. I have had some of these roles for over three years. I had not appreciated how physically, emotionally and mentally demanding they all are. I went from a human being to a human doing. I was unwilling to bear witness of the fact that I was pushing and pulling and stretching myself beyond my limits. I lay the denial at the feet of my illness. MS the 2011 diagnosis that continues to offer a number of distasteful morsels in haphazard and uncoordinated fashion. I have been unwilling to admit defeat or disability and have attempted to be an Uberman.

End Game

After watching the beautiful and heart wrenching film End Game a thought struck me. The thought arrived as a Dr who had lost both of his legs (below the knee) and an arm (above the elbow) after an accident said something for me that was life changing and life affirming. B. J. Miller MD “When I stopped comparing my new body to my old body… .”

In essence the who I became after the diagnosis was attempting to replace the who I thought I should be now. I have been chasing after him ever since – an illusion.

Energy

Walking into the communal space at Zenubian was strangely familiar, almost like walking around Georgetown Guyana in 2004 (a family reunion), or visiting Harlem in 1995 and hearing Dick Gregory speak, laughing along with men and women that looked like me at the community centre there, or attending BAATNs conferences and most recently watching the Black Panther movie.

The communal space at Zenubian was for me like a celebration, a collection a concentration of energy. The space had wooden floors, brick walls displaying wonderful art, a ceiling. However the vibe of the space offered something unique to me. The space offered peace, it settled me like not many other experiences have recently, that thing that I did not know I was looking for.

As an aside I have been working with a supervisor for 4 years, and he has been my largest supporter of my blending psychoanalysis, psychosynthesis and sensate experiences. As a result of his tutelage and generous supervision skills I have engaged with knowledge that is embodied, that has supported learning about life as both construct and illusion. Trusting more an innate awareness.

Peace is

I have struggled with the idea of peace for a long time. Some suggest that we must fight to attain peace. That it is the human condition to struggle and wrestle with ourselves and others. It appears that even inside oneself we are not at peace. The battles, the wars, the conflict that we encounter on a daily basis between ideas of right and wrong, the ideas of good and bad, even uncomfortable truths to a number of our human experiences have us not at peace.

Zen 2Walking in to the communal space at Zenubian was like a revelation. It was the thing that I had not sought. Chris Voss would class this the Black Swan of a negotiation. I had not recognised I had been negotiating with myself for as long as seven years!

For me the communal space at Zenubian was a place I could allow my spirit release – that felt peaceful, relaxing, comforting, and unusual – as it is for me so precious an experience. I get it now B. J.

There are moments in meditation when a sense of peace arises – where everything is as it ought to be. These moments are rare and yet what happens after the many hours, days, months and years of practice feels justified like repayment for the effort.

We arrive there. We come to, a place – at rest.

Home.

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.