Deliciously Displayed Information – Podcasts

Growing up the radio was a constant source of information and music Radio 4, Radio 2 and Capital Radio were usually the go to favourites of the household. Moving to Peterborough in the mid 80’s that changed to Hereward Radio. What follows is a brief overview of the podcasts that have brought music, information, entertainment, humour, ideas, and education to my hungry ears. Podcasts are like audio jewels presenting content in digestible chunks like mini books.

My aim with this blog entry is to entice you, the reader, to try a few of them if you haven’t  already. If you like what you hear, drop me a line and the podcasts know your thoughts. This can be done either at their website main pages or at their itunes/soundcloud pages. A brief summary of how I came across each show and what the podcasts are about follows. I did not know what a podcast was when given an iPod Touch for a Christmas present in 2006. I began investigating what they were and how I could get my ears onto some of them. iTunes was a great source for listing what the world was listening to.

Those that I listened to initially seeking humour, satire and information included Answer Me This, Russell Brand, Dave Gorman, and then

This American Life thisamlife

The first show I listened to back in 2006 captivated me for a number of reasons. The stories that were told were human, raw, spellbinding and real. The content seemed refreshing and asked questions of the listener and of the protagonist(s) that the parts of the story discussed. Ira Glass introduces many of the shows which have headings like: The Perils of Intimacy, Getting away with it, and Infidelity and many many, more. Ira has an inquisitive yet authoritarian style of delivery when crafting each show. It’s like he has a secret box which he is inviting you the listener to peer inside. The fact that he has the box I have never questioned, nor the fact that it’s wonders he is happy to share…

The Moth Podcast the-moth

Was the 2nd Podcast show that I downloaded and got into. After one show finished I began rabidly searching for the next! The shows are captivating and have the ability to stay with you for a while. The premise of stories told without notes at first was simply an unbelieveable concept, but as I have continued to listen I have not heard papers rustle or been aware of teleprompters and so am accepting of the tag line.

As a former performance poet, it is possible to hold a group of people in sway for up to 10 minutes if the delivery offers the audience a fullness that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

My favourite story is a tale of attending a Baseball game: Look out for ‘Where’s Murphy’ There is something rich endearing and poignant in this and many of the stories I have heard over the past 10 years. There are moments whilst riding various forms of public transport I have laughed out loud or fought back tears and even let them fall when feeling ‘devil may care’. Sometimes the feelings the stories evoke are too much to hold.

Black Girls Talking

I have had the pleasure of listening to Alesia, Ramou, Fatima and Aurelia for a few years now. My search for black podcasts back in 2012 was frustrated in that I could not find many. Stumbling across Black Girls Talking podcast was a fortunate happening. I had tried to get into the black guy who tips but found the content and delivery laborsome. I enjoy the women’s conversational sharing of views on; culture, beauty, ethics, race, feminism and a Black American Women’s perspective about the world.bgt-banner

Their delivery is quick witted, intelligent, funny, and enjoyable. I grew up with 3 sisters and can understand other perspectives that are dissimilar from my own. The beauty information BGT discuss, I find useful, not for self application but to be aware of concerns from a Black woman’s point of view. As a result of the BGT podcasts I was intrigued to watch Magic Mike. Which I enjoyed and I did not think I would. BGT discussed the 2nd Magic Mike film but I wanted to see what they were comparing the newer version against. BGT nailed the psychological elements of the 1st MM film and so when I eventually watch the 2nd film I will watch in anticipation of what BGT highlighted.

Blanguage blanguage

I was introduced to this show as a result of BGT. Who ran an additional show on other shows in the podcast universe that might be of interest to listeners of BGT. Both Iman Xashi and Daniel Arthur offer listeners many things to think about from a Black British perspective. I enjoy both presenter’s energy, shared perspectives on topics relevant to the black diaspora and that they do not always agree. Which is a point of interest in hearing 2 presenters voluminously discuss their points.

Melanin Millennials melanin-mille-podcast-image

I was invited to listen to Melanin Millennials by a friend who was to be interviewed by the duo in March 2016. Satia and Imrie discuss a number of topics from a Black Female Londoners perspective each week in a humorous and insightful manner. The Millennial concept is an interesting one for the show. Arriving in the 21st century has presented a number of different understandings about the world in which we inhabit. The Internet has grown to be a phenomena unprecedented in terms of it’s reach and how it shapes the world. Aspects of intersectionality are discussed which for me offers another perspective. The show is topical fast paced, pulls no punches and offers listeners an insight to two unique perspectives about the multifaceted complex and wondrous world in which we live.

Invisibilia

Another NPR show lead me to discover Invisibilia, was Hidden Brain. There have been 2 Seasons of excellent story coverage, investigative reportage and quirks of human nature have hooked me to this podcast. Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel have entertained and provided an informative format to see behind the Wizard of Oz curtain and ponder on the inner workings of our minds and the world around us. The Personality Myth, The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes, Frame of Reference are great shows. The Flip The Script episode has remained a stand out show. The presenters have gone to great lengths to review stories that are immediately interesting and the idea behind flipping the script was that non complimentary behaviour can save lives. I look forward to the 3rd Season.

Code Switchcode-switch

Gene Denby, Shereen Marisol Maraji, Kat Chow, Adrian Florido, Karen Grigsby Bates discuss and share views on race and culture experienced in the US. Code Switch for me was found as another introduction by Hidden Brain. I have understood Code Switch as rapidly changing between various forms of speech modulation in various social interactions as a necessary function of being a person living in an ever changing world. Code Switch go much much farther to explore the intersectionality of race. From President Obama to the murder of Alton Sterling and A Letter From Young Asian-Americans To Their Families About Black Lives Matter. This episode is very touching and catapults the idea about the relevance of socially constructed boundaries and how useful and useless they are. The Podcast does not hide from difficult material, does not portend to answer the multifarious questions that exist about race in America. I enjoy the multifaceted experiences of the presenters, their nuanced understandings of being ‘othered’ in America and what they foresee happening in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency and the impact he is already having at all levels of American lives and the rest of World.

Serialserial

Serial was introduced to me by D who now has a podcast that I avidly listen to Broad Waters.

Season 1 of Serial is about the story of a 17 year old boy who is convicted of killing his girlfriend. The point of interest is Adnan Syed currently sits in jail and may or may not have taken her life. The 12 episodes cover in detail, aspects of the case of Adnan Syed and whether he may be the wrong person sentenced for Lee’s murder. The telling of this story is rich, complex and captivating. If there were time I would go back and listen to the show again.

Season 2 is an emotional piece covering a DUSTWUN of a soldier leaving his post, being captured by the Taliban, held hostage for a number of years, the political football his case becomes, his escape and eventual return to the US, and the public scorn he faced as an infamous returnee. Season 2 is a phenomenal story that uncovers a number of important elements about the US military’s efforts to find Bowe Berghdal, errors in judgement that may or may not have lead to fatalities of colleagues of Bowe’s, and some small successes. There was little coverage in the UK on this case but Serial are able to clarify and raise the importance of the story.

The Infinite Monkey Cage timc

Stumbling across this podcast was a revelation 6 years ago and has continued to amaze me. Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox masterfully interweave quantum theory and physics with humour in comparison to just about everything else on the planet. I look forward to each show like I used to look forward to the Christmas Lectures on Channel 4 as a year end learning experience.

The Infinite Monkey Cage invites 2-3 guests from within a particular scientific field and a comedian to discuss the topic at hand. The comedy arises from the ludicrousness of scientific thought in that it too can be imaginative. Robin Ince also parodies Brian Cox which is often humorous and offers the listener an opportunity to reflect on the often complex information. An article I hope they discuss in the future is http://www.theearthchild.co.za/quantum-theory-consciousnessmoves-to-another-universe-after-death/

The TED Radio Hourted-radio-hour

Technology Entertainment Design is what TED stands for. The podcast is a treasure trove of ideas, impassioned story-telling and innovative ways of overcoming adversity. Every episode centres on a theme, and the presenter Guy Raz interviews each TED talker. In each interview Guy is able to dig deeper into each story and offer the listener to gain a fuller understanding behind each talk. As a Counsellor I enjoyed hearing The Act of Listening which explored what happens to the person who listens to the other. Other episodes that caught my imagination have been The Power of Design, Nudge, What Makes Us -Us, Shifting Time, Why We Lie and Extra Sensory. If I were to be honest, all shows present something unique and interesting from a wide range of human experiences.

Philosophy Bitesphilo-bites

Thinking is a past time that many people are engaged with daily. Finding a podcast that delved into philosophers from all over the world was a fascinating find as it brought ideas that I had barely thought about or vaguely heard. What is a Woman, Stocism and African Philosophers were spellbinding editions to the long list of interviews with philosophical teachers. The enjoyment gained from listening to new ideas is the feel of the mind being stretched into a nuanced awareness that impacts the way I interact with the world. After hearing different, interesting and astounding information my thoughts are nudged in new directions. This is what learning could be about – being okay with not knowing everything and humbling oneself before insightful ideas.

Piano Jazz Shortspiano-jazz

Mariane McPartland was a famous Jazz Pianist. She is joined by guests from around the Jazz world to play popular favourites and little known pieces. The show is a teaser for a longer show and the show both disappoints and thrills due to it’s 15-20 minute length. Sarah Vaughan, Nora Jones, Grover Washington Jnr and Patti Wickes all share interesting annecdotes and music with Mariane. I have enjoyed the interviews and the music played albeit for the short time the show is on for.

Satellite Coaching Loungesatellite-ife-coaching

Is dissimilar to other podcasts that interview and discuss with clients matters of import. Rebecca Gordon is able to dive in to the heart of the person being interviewed to access deep reflective personal stories that affected them, created change for themselves and others and as a listener invites an opportunity to look inward and identify what could be worked on next. Look out for interviews with Dr Shani, Joy Langley and Andrew McDonald all who share their vision, experience in the particular field of work and offer insightful reflection for the listener to begin reviewing where change could be applied to their lives. Listen with a journal so notes can be taken and applied, or discussion points raised with others.

Hidden Braininvisible-brain

Shankar Vedantam hosts a show about the inner workings of human psychology. What drew me to the show was Shankar’s youthful enthusiasm for the subject being discussed. Another feature I really enjoy about Hidden Brain is Shankar and Daniel Pink hosting stopwatch science. Which uncovers in four minutes a gigantic amount of information in a fun and engaging way. There are many things that could be learned as a result of listening to the show one example of which looked at the scientific process which could be viewed as flawed. In that no two scientific experiments produce a similar result under test conditions in different times or different places. Another episode looked at musical Savant syndrome and how Derek Amato became musically gifted after an accident. Invisible Brain presents useful information in a way that invites gentle questioning of the world in which we inhabit.

Microphone Checkmic-check

Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kellie host a music show in relation to the development and nuance of the art form that is Hip Hop. Ali is a member of a Tribe Called Quest and Frannie is a Hip Hop journalist. The two blend knowledge about the subject, enthusiasm and great interviews offering insightful reflections for listeners. I began listening to the show as a result of Hidden Brain’s Shankar Vidantum mentioning Microphone Check as a worthwhile show to check out. Look out for Saul Williams discussing David Bowie and Martyr Loser King. A concept that has inspired Art, Music and a Book. With the respect built as a result of listening to one show I trusted Shankar’s advice and downloaded Microphone Check and have enjoyed every episode ever since.

The Science of Successscience-of-success

Matt Bodnar has crafted a worthy list of great podcasts filled with content that has the ability to entertain and make significant impact to a listeners way of being. From the intro tune through to Matt’s opener about the show and the ideas he will be presenting the learning opportunity is made apparent. The enthusiasm with which Matt shares information and the fact that he is well versed in what he has gleaned from thinkers, orators and current entrepreneurs opens a window to accessing something useful with every podcast. 3 stand out shows for me were with Rory Vaden, Vishen Likihani and Mark Manson. All discussing shifts in thinking that lead to big results for an individual.

Broad Watersbroad-waters

I had an idea a few years ago about listening to a show with 3-4 black men from the UK discussing topics that mattered to them. Finally the show exists! The 3 men, Q, D, and Ruze immerse themselves with difficult, challenging and thought provoking ideas. Look out for United States of Trump which discusses in a humorous and inspiring way US UK and European politics and how the shape of the political landscape will create change for many of the world’s citizens. Broad Waters termed after the North London Housing estate in Tottenham is a delight to listen to as the men are willing to engage with complex material and argue a point to near exhaustion in an intelligent and engaging way. If the 3 men were to have a live event I would book a front row seat.

Fighting Talkfighting-talk

Has been a long standing show that I have listened to. I began listening 5 years ago for the humour and folly of the contestants and presenters. Fighting talk is a show about sport that has 4 enthusiasts answering questions that the host presents to them. They are scored for their answers given which accumulates to the grand finale. Two of the highest awarded contestants get to fight it out by presenting an argument that the host dreams up at the end of the show. The question is called defend the indefensible and the answers by contestants have to be completed in 20 seconds. I can only imagine how uncomfortable the person being asked to speak on a topic that is against their principles may feel, and be on record for sharing! It would be like asking an esteemed psychoanalyst to refute the importance of Freud or Jung’s ideas. Colin Murray is by far the best person for the job, as he is a phenomenally impassioned sports commentator and guests appear to work well with his quick delivery and caustic remarks. If sport from a UK perspective interests you alongside comedy then Fighting Talk could be a good choice for entertainment on the commute to work.

The Black and Asian Therapist Network Podcast baatn

I would be remiss to not mention BAATN’s podcast which ran for a few years and that I sorely hope returns. As a member of BAATN, I was intrigued to find out about more of the training that BAATN has been involved with over the past few years. Eugene Ellis has an open and smooth way to introduce and discuss topics such as A Critique of the Diversity Movement, Attachment Theory and Working with Black Families, Transcending Intergenerational Trauma and Creating Partnerships with Training Organisations: Let’s Talk about Race. There is a curiosity to the podcasts and a willingness to share the journey thus far and how much farther there is still to travel. I look forward to the show’s return.

Moral Maze moral-maze

D from Broad Waters introduced me to Moral Maze. The podcast introduces to the debaters on the show a challenging idea such as A World Without Down Syndrome or Moral Imagination and Migration and interviews panellists that discuss their ideas with the debaters who then ask questions in relation to the moral position of the idea and how this then affects the individual, and the world. The first few episodes took some getting used to. The format, arguments and caustic questioning jarred my sensibilities. I got used to the rapid display of information in 4 episodes. The argument often gets heated and lost in intellectualisms. However what can be found as a result of the multiple presentation of ideas are thoughtful flexible understandings of competing associations with what is morally right or wrong. A stand out episode was Legalising Drugs which was a thoroughly engaged piece of reportage as the guests debated from all sides of the argument. Johann Hari was a phenomenally astute respectful and very listenable guest on the Legalising Drugs episode.

Alternative Introduction

In the last 10 years the industry of Podcasting has grown. I have gained a wealth of knowledge as a result and most of the information I can access share, think on and internally make use of. For me it’s about the refraction of the depth of the information gained, which is ever changing. The aim would be to develop the information from the podcasts into units of use for self and others. Listen to and Watch this space…

Ignored Song

apathy-moses

First They Came …

In Germany, first they came for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . . Martin Neimoller

Why Prisons

I was asked at a family barbecue why I pushed so hard and worked for the men and women who found themselves involved with the criminal justice system in England. My answer was simply that they could quite easily have been me.

I was introduced to the quote above by a friend, GK, who currently works in a prison. My friend is a conscientious committed counselling psychologist. They introduced the quote a few years ago. ‘They came…’ was a poignant reference to the work we were engaged with as counsellors at this London Prison. The men we supported with members from the mental health team could not be forgotten.

Recognition

There were moments in my life where had things continued; joining a gang, engaging in destroying public property, fighting other boys on the estate, I could have found myself involved with the criminal justice system and possibly have spent time in prison. I spent 10 years living on a well known housing estate in North London and wrote about aspects of it in my MSc research paper called ‘A Son’s Journey’.

‘The block of flats I lived in consisted of a series of box-like structures in close proximity to one another. This layout created a feeling of overcrowding and compartmentalisation and it was these features that I found repeated in the prison which is meticulously divided into cells, landings, communal areas, canteens, house blocks and corridors.

The lack of open space and privacy felt all too familiar. My block was an open tiered construct. It had covered corridors that one had to travel along to reach the domestic spaces in the building. On the ground floor of the building, there were shops and businesses which created an insular feeling, there was little need to travel off the estate as your immediate needs could be met in this ‘city’ within the city of London. In this regard, the estate also resembled prison, in that it felt like a separate entity, quite apart from the rest of society. ‘

A Son’s Journey May 2012

An Almost Experience

In some way my working experience of prison, working with service uprisons-obsoletesers, probation, police and the criminal justice system offers a chance for me to balance the disparity I find myself involved with. I recognise that I am an outsider but with a quasi-experience of being an insider. One of the reasons that the quote has continued to live and breathe in me could be acknowledging the truth of the quote. ‘And then.. they came for me.’ The quote references the indifference or the apathy of the person who has written. There is almost the suggestion that there would be no-one left to stand up for them.

In training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist I had not thought that I would ever begin to work with a group of people that were so low on society’s pecking order as those who had been sentenced to serve time or several terms in prison. Working in prison was the furthest thing from my mind when I began training as a counsellor in 2006.

Plight of the young

Between 2009-2010 my counselling experience was going well at a Drs Surgery in South East London where I had held a placement for just over a year. I had thoughts of opening a private practice and working with the general public with one particular area of specialty: Young People from backgrounds similar to mine. Inner City, low socio-economic incomes, poor educational attainment. The idea was to complete the MSc course and then gain a few years experience working in the field and then begin a small private counselling practice for myself.

Gotcha

A list of other placements were made available to students at Greenwich University in the Spring term of 2010. I nogotchaticed a prison placement. Initially my thoughts were that I would not make a good prison counsellor (self-doubt), or that I wouldn’t get many clients that would want to work with me, and I wasn’t going to apply (denial). I discussed my prejudices and fears with my life partner. The effect of which increased my curiosity about engaging with a forensic population. Making the application was straightforward then came a few months of waiting. I sent a follow up email to the lead counsellor of the prison, AW, who enquired about the initial email.

An invitation followed and I met with AW and 4 other interested volunteers in July 2010. After the initial meeting an opportunity was granted to walk the prison grounds. The size, scale, height of the perimeter wall, and security measures of the prison did little to lower my excitement and fear of walking into the complex. We were shown to various house blocks, the education department, the hub at health care, workshops and the counselling office HQ. My initial assumptions of seeing Hannibal Lector character, chains slinking along the ground in a menacing way did not happen. The group of 4 would be volunteers were introduced to a regular working prison with prisoners moving within it as regularly as people traverse through life whilst in the community. I witnessed nothing strange and little alarmed me.

I had walked into and out of a prison and had actually ‘liked’ the experience. It wasn’t as bad or as frightening as I had imagined. It was in fact much like the housing estate that I had grown up on. A similar modular, organised block form building that reordered space. I understood the function and physical presence of the prison. For me this recognition was my in.

I came away from the experience wanting to give time to the people who were imprisoned there. I also wanted to acknowledge a gnawing suspicion that my imagined incarceration could only be released once I had served my time, completed good pieces of work with the men there and learned some valuable life lessons. I believe one of the most important lessons was about freedom. If a person is unable to perceive that they are free. Also is equipped with the tools to make a positive impact in their life and the life of others. Being released to the community could be an uncomfortable challenge that a person can feel ill equipped to manage. It is possible they might return to prison a number of times until…

Divingdeepsea-diver-suit

The main learning I took from the 1st prison encounter was, men who ‘came away’ were not too dissimilar to people I had supported in the community. The main difference was the setting. If I could get past the idea of working in a prison and what that may mean then I could literally work anywhere. I started working at this London prison in October 2010. It took roughly 4 weeks before I could walk in through the front gate of the prison and not have my heart beat double time.

I managed to develop a number of self-checks to ease myself into another way of being whilst in the prison. My 1st mental trick I adopted, was to imagine myself entering a compression chamber and on leaving the prison entering a decompression chamber. Both stages allowed me the chance to get ready for the environment I was moving into. The idea enabled me to contextualise myself to the new spaces I was about to come into contact with. Like a deep sea diver I was able to situate myself both in and out of the prison.

The deep sea diver idea was also like having a suit of armour to manage the pressures, pushes and pulls of prison life. Mentally removing the suit on leaving I found that I was no longer carrying stuff I had no right to carry beyond the prison gate: stories I had encountered, past histories of discomfort and pain, uncertainty about the future, disillusionment about being away.

I learned that each space within the prison had it’s own vibe. Each house block, education department, workshop, gym facility, training room and areas within health care held it’s own unique energy and texture. The energy of each facility of the prison then had an effect on all that came to use these different spaces. For example when in the education department I found myself to be quiet and tentative in excusing a service user from a lesson. In workshop I found myself to be assertive and loud when asking a service user to access a therapeutic encounter. The aim was to engage the person I was to work with in a way that showed that the service had not forgotten them. It was like the counselling service helped people to recognise that they were not ‘disappeared’ or ‘forgotten’ as perhaps they might have fears that their family, friends and society as a whole had.balacne

‘First they came …’ Reminds me of the interconnectedness of humanity and that if we are to make successful cohesive advancements in our respective communities for the betterment of all, then all should be remembered and involved in reconstruction even those who have the ‘ignored song’.

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.

Belonging v Fitting In

Confusion 2015-05-25 15.32.10

There are many reasons that I have wanted to write a regular blog. Mostly to share a perspective on things I experience from bewildering and conflicting perspectives. These perspectives include myself as a thinker, a past time of mine since I was a young man.

  • A black male psychotherapist, three words that cause me to pause and reflect on the meanings that are associated with each and how these three words interact with each other and with the social fields I come into contact with on a daily basis. I suspect a blog about being a black male psychotherapist is to be written in time.
  • Being a father of 2 young black boys the responsibility I am presented is to support their development in being able to simply just be. With Janelle Monáe’s Hell you Talmbout I recognise that my involvement with my sons’ lives is of primary importance and one in which I am invited to be an educator, coach, listener, artist, co conspirator, chef, journey planner and Doctor. Ta Nehesi Coates speaks and writes well on this subject in his book Between the World and Me.
  • Some of the other roles I engage with are; as a member of a mental health organisation working alongside probation and with service users, as a husband, as a lover of jazz, a reader, a former interior designer, youth worker, comic book reader, movie goer, longboard rider, podcast listener, basketballer and coach, friend, walker, facilitator and multiple sclerosis sufferer. This list is not exhaustive and there are probably at least 5 or more subjects I could add.

Fitting in, Belonging

For this blog I wanted to discuss an awareness I sensed but hadn’t fully brought into full consciousness until I came across it whilst reading Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. One of the concepts she was able to describe was a simple concept of either fitting in or belonging. At the time of reading ‘Daring Greatly’ in Oct – Nov 2015 I was experiencing what it meant to either ‘belong’ or to fit in.

2014 into 2015

Working for a large organisation with a group of people one knows vaguely who each have slightly differing roles and responsibilities to yours, there can be points when you are offered a chance to either fit in, or if lucky to choose to belong. When I joined the organisation I attempted to go with the flow and fit in.

Fitting in often does not cause great offence to others ‘no boats are rocking’. Perhaps in oneself the effect is of losing grip on what is important – oneself and one’s reality. Losing sense of oneself can be unsettling and what could be worse is not realising that your way is lost until you are saying and doing things that you don’t recognise.

In December 2014, I left an experience of belonging to a staff team in a high security prison and joined the organisation I currently work with in January 2015. The mental health team I left consisted of Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Nurses, Counselling Psychologists, counsellors , an EMDR counsellor who was also my line manager and supervisor, Occupational  Therapists, and counsellors on placement.

HMP Belmarsh’s mental health team was a robust co-operative, co-ordinated group of professionals that met every week to discuss mental health referrals. It took me 2 years to get used to the quick fired nature of the referral process and dissemination of potential clients to departments within the mental health team. In the last 2 years of working at Belmarsh I gained a sense of how valuable these differences amongst the mental health team were as Social workers would have a different perspective to Psychiatrists or CPNs another opinion to Occupational Therapists and counsellors to counselling psychologists.

With these differing opinions in relation to treatment options, barriers for individuals seeking treatment were overcome and mostly resolved. The experience I had was of belonging to a staff team who were willing to work together for the greater good of those seeking mental health support. I was able to recognise that differing viewpoints can be supportive rather than only negative, that can appear to slow or block progress.

A reminder

Whilst training as a counsellor 2008-2011 I had experiences that were of not being able to neither fit in nor belong. I was one of a few minority ethnic people on the course and one of only 3 males that completed year 1. Struggling alongside 18 other students on a bewildering counselling MSc course, I would have thought would generate a sense of belonging or camaraderie. My experience was that of being outside of a group of people who were able to exist in a quasi-understanding of fitting in with each other.

I made a choice in October 2015, which was supported by Daring Greatly, that fitting in was not going to be how I operate whilst working with others. Belonging was a better coat to wear. I had been in a number of previous working experiences pre Belmarsh were belonging was a part of the fabric of the organisation.

Currently I find myself reminded of my training to be a counsellor and the discomfort of attempting to fit in amongst a student populace that I was to belong to, but was different from.  The knowledge of being an outsider from a group is not a new one and has the possibility of offering me an internal conflict which can lead to personal growth.

Reality

The reality is that the experience of belonging or fitting in will repeat in whatever work context I find myself involved with. The interesting thing for me is that I will attempt to gain a sense of belonging wherever I work. The cost of attempting to fit in I find too great. It’s the experience of not sharing your perspective on subjects you care about, of fearing that you will be ostracized by people you work with, finding that you stand out and being uncomfortable with this.

Belonging

Being amongst a group of others I would find it important to relate and talk about any number of subjects on a number of different levels and not be judged or ridiculed in my sharing. Depending on a person’s background and family of origin the aim could be to gain a sense of belonging similar to that of a family system. Perhaps without some of the negative aspects of a family group. For me it’s about the feelings that come with the experience of recognising that one belongs. Which feels very different to fitting in.

I would liken belonging to hearing a favourite song by chance whilst out doing something innocuous. The song I would be happy to hear would be Ooh Child by the Five Fairsteps and something like love spreads throughout your system like you’re in a hot bath.

My experiences of belonging are many-fold, for example attending my first BAATN mens group and mentioning that unlike Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man I WAS being seen and heard by the group, and that I also belonged. Coaching basketball in a number of settings was the epitome of gaining a sense of containment attachment and belonging for every team I coached and for all that attended. My sense of the Experiential Group even though I was the facilitator, I felt part of the group not apart from it, lastly, when my family get together we express our love in volume but each member receives that warm bath feeling…

Belonging.

Endings and New Beginnings

2015-07-05 14.47.16In September 2015 I began facilitating a group of year 1 MSc Therapeutic Counselling Students at University of Greenwich. My role was to sit with 11 students in something called Experiential Group.

Group Aims

Perhaps explaining what the group is to do and the aim of the Experiential Group would help to frame what I have enjoyed about the experience and why I am sad to see the group come to a close. The Experiential Group is essentially the last component of 4 or 5 sections of training to be a counsellor. Other training providers and universities may have a range of different modules for training counsellors. At the University of Greenwich the course is comprised of; Theory, Skills, Case Discussion and Experiential Group and this was the running order of the day when I attended 2008-2011.

In Experiential Group, members discuss topics that have arisen in the course of the week and share these with the group. The space is infused with dynamism, ideas, emotions and rememberings . My role is to sit amongst the group, and notice what is happening in the room and offer insights and reflections for reflection and application to the conversation. It is a role that I feel is as challenging as that of an orchestral conductor without a pre-designed, pre-aranged outcome or destination.

Facilitate?

At the first meeting in September 2015, the group asked what my role was, ‘Like what do you do?’ I smiled in response and did not offer much as an explanation. The 11 members of the group as one, looked perplexed, as if I were holding back some valuable information. I eventually offered that I facilitate the space.

Different yet the same

I can reflect on joining my experiential group in 2008 with 15 unknown people in the room and feeling at odds with 2 conflicting ideas. The first was that my previous counselling skills course at Morley College had offered a similar collective learning experience but was termed either a check in or a check out. The ‘Check ins’ were at the beginning of the course and the ‘Check outs’ came at the end. I had some knowledge of what the experiential group was about. But did I? Really?

Framing

I can remember in 2008 that I wanted to suggest we check-in and check-out. This would have given me a frame to work within for every group meeting. It may have provided others with a ‘have to’ which could have been prescriptive and not as comforting. Great for me, perhaps not necessary for everyone else. After attempting to make check-ins a part of our experiential group meetings the idea was phased out after 2 meetings. At the time I was not happy about this phasing out but looking back I can see the reason that check-ins were moved past.

The second thought at the time was, there are other people here and they may know more about counselling than me so I should listen and follow their lead as I don’t want to make myself look inept and out of my depth.

Growing Awareness

Looking back on my need for structure then, I can witness a need to control and pace things in a measured way. What happened with this year’s year one students, was apart from time boundaries there were little imposed rules for the group to hold on to. They managed well with little to guide discussion or rules for the group.

The purpose of the experiential group as identified in an article in Therapy Today (Peer supervision and collaborative power) , which is not in the course hand book but a suspicion on my part, is to grow the counselling experience and the counsellors awareness of self and other in the 28 x 1 hour appointments. I have found this group process remarkable, confusing, frustrating, hilarious, as a way of engaging student counsellors works to hone inherent skill development.

Differences

It works because of what each member brings to each meeting. There are differences of opinion, differences in thought, seeing aspects of counselling and psychotherapy in a wide number of perspectives, a collaboration of suspicions, they share successes and failures, difficulties are offered as talking points for the group to reflect. The aspect that makes me wryly smile is that the energy of the room sways and motivates discussion in surprising ways. Pop culture and Pop psychology is often used to hang uncomfortable and indigestible components of counselling and psychotherapy on. Humour was often used to smooth away the cracks that appeared in a discussion that encountered difficulty or a differing opinion.

Appreciation

The group then use the experiential group and components of the course as well as their placements to write 2 professional logs. The professional logs are informed by personal notes taken throughout the year. These notes observe how each participant has used/observed themselves and material from the course in describing themes relevant to them, their progression on the course and relating this to skills, placement (counselling skills application), case discussion and the experiential group. With each professional log, students grew their awareness and their roles as counsellors in each particular setting they practiced their skills in. It was a privilege to sit amongst the group and witness these nano changes, that were in fact gargantuan.

My excitement wanes as I acknowledge that I won’t have this 1st again. These 11 students go on to year 2 or elsewhere to continue their journey in a way that is outside of my knowledge, experience and guidance.

With this said, I am invited to look at what lies at the horizon and begin my walk toward this…

Bon chance.

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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