Swimming with Sharks

The David and Goliath of MS

Like a Shark Bite Managing Multiple Sclerosis

2018 appears to be the year of growth change and acknowledgment. The year has offered unimaginable highs of experiences and a number of discomforts.

Malcolm and Goliath

I had a profound conversation with a supervisor about the Goliath that MS is. I described it’s ability to make me immobile, incapable of maintaining my balance, fall over my own feet, the indescribable fatigue and the effects of the dreaded brain fog and non-acceptance of the illness. As an African Caribbean man the illness presents as a continuing battle of identity.

Here I would like to highlight that Malcolm Gladwell has forever changed my perspective on the story of David and Goliath. David a trained marksman and Goliath a lumbering short sighted oaf who simply was nimbly struck down by a swift footed and clever assassin. For the purpose of the blog I’ll stick to the original telling of the story.

MS I shared is like a Gargantuan beast of a disease that strikes at will and takes no prisoners. It is merciless and has no rules of engagement. It strikes and I succumb to it’s malware like intentions like an affected computer system.

The Great White

I was invited to think of MS as a great white shark during the conversation. One can be swimming away in reasonably deep water blissfully oblivious. Under the surface of the water and at a time when one least expects it a crushing bite can unsuspectingly ruin that hard won peace. The shark attack bites and bites hard. There is seldom chance of escape, or hope of appeasement. There simply is the possibility of relapse and further degeneration as the disease kicks into a more progressive form. MS has no known cures. Rest, diet and a host of vitamins including vitamin D, B complex’s, C and A can have a supportive impact. I am currently trialing CBD oil and will write a more informed blog about it’s use.

Walking a Line

The conversation with the supervisor was unique as they have suffered with the illness for almost twice as long as I, and recognise the disastrous impact it has on mood, diet, energy levels, travel, work, friendships, career options and overall well-being. This was the first conversation I have had with a veteran of the disease. I have another friend that I haphazardly talked with about the disease, but they recently moved to New York city. There is something welcoming and nurturing about finding others who are walking a line that looks and feels like the one you are walking.

A New Story

GoliathThe summary of the conversation with the supervisor was that when all seemed to be going well with my career a blow by the hand of fate has paused my star’s ascent. In a moment that feels  both gruesome unkind and resentful my body is attacking itself – unwittingly I am destroying me.

No Running Away From

In That Thing You Seek I sarcastically noted of the gift of MS. I have wanted to kick it’s ass and prove to myself and it that I am not to be cowed by it, deflated by it, undone by it, denied by it. I have lost the ability to run (I used to love to run), have boundless energy, lost my sense of balance, have leg cramps and back spasms, lose my train of thought mid speech: mid-sentence, lose myself to a foggy mind, make miss steps trip and fall, no more shimmy shimmy ya on a Bball court with my sons or with my old Gladiators or Hurricanes basketball teams I once coached.

The Sharp End

Now I realise that this is a war of attrition. The numerous days ahead will be hard won battles just to make the what was a ten-minute walk home now a 15-20 minute one from my local train station. It’s the unseen losses and defeats that I feel will cause the most pain. Turning my imagination over to that uncertainty of a whirling dervish is a torture at this point I will not spend much time with.

For me now it’s a case of joining the MS society, locating a mental health professional to discuss the impact on my self-aspect, accessing the support a great many have offered (I have been too stubborn and too proud in accepting) and begin re-modelling for another type of future.

The last words from my supervisor are that of “I don’t think I do accept this MS stuff actually. Rather, on reflection, I think I treat it like that old adage of keep your friends close and your enemies closer still.”

For me it is a recognition that MS has me and I, like a shark bite, have it!

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Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism

blue-masque-2.jpg

Flow state thinking

An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be done to support those who through no fault of their own are facing unsurmountable challenges. The other was is there something here about listening for the solution in a way that supports a peaceful outcome. Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them. But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead – Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference.

Or  “Tactical Empathy” is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. LEO Hearted T-shirts

Affective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Wikepedia

Blending

The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity.

Choice with Others in Mind

Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for the many.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities, compassion, recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informing.

Links to Social Responsibility

Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before, then significant derailment of the production line can and will occur.

For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide from threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that are in mind as a continuum. Arwa setting up a foundation recognises that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many she had to organise her thoughts and other people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans.

The Call

The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/4/8/a/48a779ee34e742f3/Larry_Temkin_on_The_Obligations_to_the_Needy.mp3?c_id=20122623&expiration=1524205451&hwt=73d3eb9c2a810f74954eaf8cd6b13f30

https://crooked.com/podcast/turkey-and-28-hours-pinned-down-by-isis-with-arwa-damon-2/

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.

The Artist

jm-basquait

Jean Michel Basquait

An early memory from primary school, was of drawing frequently. I loved drawing, painting, sculpting and running sprint races. I had dreams of becoming an artist. I knew nothing of art or of the art world then.

Risk

I remember sharing with my mum in year 3 that I wanted to become an artist and she in her infinite wisdom, said something along the lines of “Artists don’t make that much money.” Re-remembering this experience I’ve come to realise a few truths,

  1. The aim of life, in my mum’s world, was to make money. I would add she was not materialistic, more a pragmatist.
  2. Becoming an artist was a dreamer’s activity (guilty as charged – I was a dreamer, what child isn’t?), and as a result could not be for me. Our world (mine, my mothers, my sisters) was made up of hard realities.

To give context – the time I had my epiphany in year 3, was in the late 70s and money was scarce. We lived on a council estate in North London and didn’t have much. We lived on the top floor of a block of flats. Often the lifts did not work as a result of vandalism, and the council not repairing them. Aged 7 I had thoughts that I could engage in an artistic career. Earning a good living was not an issue I had previously thought much about. In my mother’s view of the world money was a constant concern.

Everywhere we could see was a panorama of concrete. Mum worked as a nurse. Dad was between two worlds. London and Ghana. He worked as a civil servant, and a representative of a Ghanaian political party. He was often away in Ghana for long periods of time. Life from my mum’s perspective was a disillusioned experience, difficult and practical. There was little space or time for the aesthetics of art and appreciations of creativity.

tangmereThe conversation about becoming an artist had a profound effect on my idea of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was to have further conversations with my mum about what I could do with drawing as a profession. We came across Architecture as a possible profession that utilized my creativity but could offer me a long and productive career. I imagined what life as an Architect would be like; Drawing buildings and spaces in a range of techniques, using different perspectives to show my vision. I knew little of the technicalities of what being an architect was, but knew that drawing was a part of what an architect did. I wanted to do that. Draw!

Fast forward to September 2016

There have been a number of experiences I’ve had over the past couple of months that have helped me to begin crystallising my identity as a counsellor. One of those experiences was watching a show called the Chef’s Table. The first episode in this series on Netflix observed a man by the name of Massimo Batturo a famous chef in Italy. I was able to witness a remarkable journey. Massimo’s transformation is so different in places to my own story. The multiple successes and failures so rich and complex that in parts his story resembles my own. So much so that I could see myself on his vibrantly filled exuberant passage . A light that I was unaware of, switched back to on for me. This illumination was a warm pleasant and welcome surprise.

Waiting for me

As I have travelled along this path of becoming a counsellor/psychotherapist I have looked for moments that could take me home, to a warm embrace from my life partner, to a large bowl of pepper soup by my elder sister, to a big A-ha moment where I recognise like in moments of de ja vu that I have been here before, or that I remember a particular profound and beautiful experience: such as witnessing a colleague break into a smile after tasting a slice of one of my home baked loaves of bread. Moments like these are not lost on me.

chefs-table

With Massimo I recognise the inner child and the sense of wonder at the world and all that there is in life to uncover. I feel the same way about working as a counsellor/Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together for Mental Wellbeing and as a visiting lecturer at Greenwich University as an experiential group facilitator. The feeling of discovery in each of these moments I will describe as like that of a prospector or an alchemist finding gold. The gold I am looking to uncover with a client or a group is their light switching to on – when they say “I can see it now!”

For Massimo hiding beneath his grandmother’s table as a boy away from his brothers teasing. Watching her cook and learning from her, started for him a journey of innovation within the field of cookery and chef mastery that honed his craft like few others before him: his gold. Chef’s table observed his travels and uncovered his passions, the struggles and how things began to coalesce in his life once he returned to Modena. Happy accidents like dropping a lemon tart started in him a journey of exploration-to find the thing! (My words not his). The ultimate, the zenith in his mastery of cooking experience.

Enter art

Massimo and Lara Gilmore visited art galleries in New York at which Massimo was indifferent to. He made me laugh as he described the pigeon piece which in one moment an installation changed Massimo’s idea of himself, arts and his life’s work.

Completing my G.C.S.E.s and leaving secondary school I went to an art college in Wisbech. I attended with the view of completing a spatial design BTEC course. My view of becoming an artist had changed to that of becoming an Interior Designer. My wish to become an architect changed as a result of a conversation with my secondary school’s careers advice service. The conversation observed my lack of mathematical skill that would be necessary for becoming an architect. The careers person also observed that I was good with my hands (even though they had not seen me in Design Technology). Becoming a carpenter would be an equally rewarding career. This conversation disillusioned me further and invited me to think in terms of achievable goals. My final shift of career paths was to become an interior designer.

This from a boy who grew up on a ziggurat in North London. Attending art college was fantastic. It brought me into contact with new ideas, a wider group of artistic people, art history, photography, set design and a new appreciation to design in my life.

I knew little of the arts before I attended Isle college. I was invited to think about composition, texture, light, colour, depiction, balance, true representation, balance, organisation and frame. I developed an affinity for landscapes and fell head over heels for J.M.W. Turner’s work my favourite piece being the fighting Temeraire.the-fighting-temeraire

I believe my trajectory on this psycho-therapeutic path has been pointing me to a distant experience: Art. Massimo helped me arrive at this realisation. I had wondered when and if this moment would ever arrive.

What next?

I feel that the next part of my journey is already unfolding in unpredictable and thought provoking ways: Walk and Talk Therapy, Baking Therapy, Basketball Therapy. Often the work of a counsellor/psychotherapist bursts with so much life, complexity, colour and difficult experiences clients share. The effect of which can be fractious jarring and uncomfortable. The work can also be heart-warming, hilarious and humbling.

By viewing my work with clients as a canvas that is an ever changing palette of colour and texture I feel that I am closing the gap between where I am within the profession of psychoanalytic thought and my original goal of becoming an artist. The work then is a compositional piece that lives, breathes and carries itself forward in new and exciting ways long after we have stopped working together, with it’s many layers and qualities continuing to develop, separate, coalesce and define the self. I am attracted to the living art of working in a way that explores the unimaginable, bravely and without compromise.

The prospect of living and working as an integrative therapist holding an idea of myself as an artist could be seen as a threat to what came before, however I am witnessing a sense of discovery to approaching my work as a collaborator to a human canvas that is ever changing.

When asked who I am, my answer…

 

…I am an artist,

 

…I became what I was meant to be…

 

…eventually..

 

…Poetry.

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.

An Open Letter to Dr Powell

WT 6I was positively affected by a lecture in 2015 given on the subject of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy. So much so that I decided to write to the person who presented a thoroughly engaging talk about the links between Spirituality and Psychotherapy. *((additional comments not in the original letters))

30 April 2015

Dear Dr. Powell,

I attended the summer conference on the subject of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy at University of Greenwich. The conference space was held by yourself and attendees discovered that you have practiced as a Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and now as a transpersonal  therapist (Clarkson). You described that your aim is to treat the whole being of the person you work with, including spirit.

Before I attended the conference I read the 3 short articles that were sent ((to gain understanding of your work)). Each of the readings gave me the chance to gain an understanding of your experience of working in a spiritual way with clients.

I enjoyed the accounts of helping bereaved clients using drama therapy to begin grieving. What I gained from your work also was that you appeared to accept clients ((where they were in themselves)) and the process they may have become stuck in.

During the conference which was well attended, I noted the expression of cultures that had accessed spiritual healing as a way of supporting people around the globe. I was keen to hear of traditions of spirituality that ranged from Aboriginal peoples in Australasia, South America, Central America and Africa.

I can remember a key moment working with a counsellor a few years ago ((2009-2010)) where I mentioned my fathers country of origin and stated as if out of nowhere that if “I had grown up in my fathers village I would have become a healer”. The statement both shocked and brought to me an awareness of my origins and that of my attraction to counselling. Working as a therapist has been a way for me to practice supporting people in a westernised way without readily acknowledging my history, culture or county of origin. ((Ghana))

The conference invited me to observe the content of what was expressed and how the lecture was not able to embrace all of the spiritual traditions from around the globe. I feel intrinsically that the African continent and the various traditions that began from there including art, science, and spirituality are not often acknowledged. My point is that members of the African Diaspora as well as other Spiritual traditions including Australian Aboriginal and Maori traditions have also contributed to the landscape of spirituality and could also be acknowledged for their contributions to this fascinating field of Science, Spirituality and Psychotherapy.

I thank you for a great day of learning and for sharing your fascinating path of how your journey with spiritual infused psychotherapy continues. I am expectant of a tipping point for science to acknowledge that the tools used to measure the ever expanding universe are as nought compared to the instruments that we all possess within ourselves.

Yours sincerely

M

((Dr Powell’s response))

15 May 2015

Dear Michael,

I’m glad you found the day at Greenwich useful.

I very much agree with you that in the West we have neglected the rich healing traditions that have existed for so long in other cultures and which could profoundly enrich our own culture were we less insular (and less wedded to scientific materialism).

I have learned much from indigenous sources (in my case especially from South America, and from China (Daoism)).

Thinking of Africa, I am reminded of the powerful impact that Malidome Some’s book ‘Of Water and Spirit‘ made on me when it was published 20 years ago.

The problem of social attitudes is not easily overcome. I wrote in the paper ‘Furthering the spiritual dimension of psychiatry in the UK’:

‘Current mental health science is largely dismissive of pre-scientific reality as ‘primitive’ and ‘animistic’. For instance, the shamanic view of ‘spirit’, which has informed cultures as far apart as Northern Asia, Mongolia, the Inuit, North American Indians, the tribes of the Amazon Basin, the aboriginal culture and in Europe, the Celts, is these days of interest only to medical anthropologists (to mental health science). Yet contemporary psychiatry shows the same indifference towards the major faith traditions of today. This becomes more intelligible in the light of Gallup surveys which show that while 80 – 90% of the general population believe in God, or a higher presence, only some 30% psychiatrists and psychologists do so!

There were many avenues that we could have explored at Greenwich and I would have welcomed you voicing the transcultural aspects in the open forum. But perhaps these occasions simply serve to encourage each person on their own unique journey. I hope so. Thankfully, material realism is not able to suppress the intuitive human spirit that knows there is more to life than science alone can ever reveal.

Thank you for your kind remarks.

Best wishes,

Andrew

((My reply to Dr Powell))

May 2nd 2016

Hello Dr Powell,

A year has sped past and I am yet to reply to your generous email.

Can I first apologise for the late reply to the email. The reasons for the tardiness are two-fold.

1, I was surprised by your content and the open nature in which you addressed my points. I had expected a different – more defended response and was taken aback with how you viewed the psychological profession and cultures that were outside of Western systems of thought and being.

2, I had hoped to make use of your reply for my blog. What you have offered is richer contextually than I could have anticipated. I would like to use our dialogue in my blog. Would you give permission for me to do so? My reasons for wanting to use your response would be to support dialogue in the otherness of counselling and psychotherapy that I am growing in my awareness and feel is important to share with others.

To explain a little more about me and my background. My Mother was Guyanese, My Father was Ghanian both now deceased. I ((can recognise)) am from the new and old worlds simultaneously. I once reflected with a counsellor I worked with a number of years ago, if I had grown up in my father’s village in Ghana, I could see myself having become a healer/shaman/doctor/medecine man . At that moment a sense of otherness became known where once it had lain dormant.

I came into the world of therapy by taking a circuitous route. My first degree was in Interior Design. After completing the degree I spent a number of years lost figuring out how to overcome my mothers death, she died in my 2nd year of my University degree. ((I was to work out)) beginning a life in London, trying to make a career out of a number of different roles including as a coffee barista, pizza delivery ((driver)) and youth worker.

Finding an element of myself in the young people I supported, I invested time and energy in being an effective youth worker and youth project manager. Later I trained to become a Basketball Coach which led to me becoming a learning mentor and then a counsellor. Looking back on this journey I think of it appearing straightforward. The truth was all of the occurrences happened as a result of chance encounters, or chance conversations.

My point is that it feels that there has been a gentle pull to walking this path as opposed to a few others. I think of Mr Some’s journey and his teachings/conversations with his grandfather who shared with him at the age of 4 how difficult his future was going to be. I felt I could relate with Mr Some’s grandfather identifying that Malidoma is to bring to the new world elements of the old world, and to the old world – the magic of the new.

Hearing you talk and working with my current supervisor has helped me to trust in the process of counselling and the wonderment that arises in those quiet still moments. Scot M. Peck’s book A Road Less Travelled which I read over 15 years ago, helped me to recognise that life can be a rewarding challenge – at times one is just aware of the challenge.

Since our last correspondence, I have attended a number of interesting seminars including 2 workshops on dreams at Greenwich University. The event in February I found enriching and supportive, both trainers had an engaging open perspective to their work and interactions with the delegates that had attended were interesting and filled with energy.

The latest training I have attended was in relation to a CBT approach in working with PTSD and Trauma affected clients hosted by the British Psychology Society, which furthered my understanding and interest in working with those who have experienced a number of significant life events. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book which I read in January 2016 ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ has really helped me to fully appreciate that an integrative approach to working with those affected by trauma can recover with skilled intuitive support.

I appreciate your reply of last year and apologise ((once again)) for my very late response.

Be well

M

Dr Powell responded a day later and a dialogue with him and my supervisor is continuing to grow my felt sense of otherness, Spirit, within my counselling practice.