Journal post 14; Monday December 17th

Our last session before the Christmas holiday!  Everyone else in the group seemed to be quite excited about Christmas – looking forward to the break, busy with planning and organising their festivities and the general feeling on check in on this morning was one of relief and excitement.

Except me (of course – always have to be different).

I am in a dark place at the moment. Check in with myself, where is my mood? Low, low, low…

I hate to sound like a humbug, but I just can’t seem to get excited about Christmas this year. I am trying, really hard actually, for the benefit of the kids, but it is hard, so hard. I suppose I feel that it just hasn’t been the same over the last few years – I used to be the Queen of Christmas – after all, I ran gift shops; My Christmas planning used to begin a whole year in advance, and the entire year was a build-up to December – my product buying had to be finished by april at the latest; floor plans and merchandising strategy in place by July, extra recruitment done by September, ready to switch into full on Christmas on November 6th. Then it would be two months of long days, Christmas shopping evenings and generally working flat out, combined with the hubbub of preparing  a family Christmas too – nativities, making mince pies and tree decorations – the things young children love about this time of year. I had to be supremely organised – which I was; I thrived on the business and adrenaline that this time of year meant to me. I loved it.

But in the last two or three years, it has gradually unravelled for me. The first Christmas after I separated from my husband was hard – but I coped pretty well – the kids were still small, and I had to keep the shops buzzing. Sadly, finding out about his new relationship and affair on Christmas eve, wasn’t my best Christmas present ever, but I chose to ignore it for the most part, and threw myself into the festivities harder than ever, determined not to let that spoil things. The last two years have been harder I guess, as I haven’t had the shops to keep me busy in the same way. I had worked every single Christmas in Retail for nearly 25 years; Cheesy Christmas music was force fed to me, forcing me to be festive and jolly. This year and last year have been the first ever, where I have not had to work on Christmas eve, and wish people a ’Merry Christmas’ a hundred times over!

This year Christmas will be very quiet for us, as my kids have reached the age where they really do not want to be involved in many family events, so it will be a small cosy affair with just the three of us, for the first time ever! How do I feel about that? Distinctly underwhelmed, worried that it will just be a day, like any other with the small difference of a bit of an extra tasty dinner! I am worried that I will feel lonely; which is probably why the exercise we did in the morning really upset me so much…

We were asked to ‘free write’ on the theme of ‘loneliness’, and this is what came out;

Empty evenings

Bored

Alone

Trapped in my own head

Four walls closing in

Feeling my thoughts take over

Inner voices filling the void

Fed up with my apathy and lethargy

Playing twisted tricks on me

This treacherous world is a cold dark lonely place

Uncaring

Untrusting

I need to hide; stay warm; feel cocooned

Shelter from the pain

Hurt

Cut myself off

Even though I long for contact, for touch

Is this insanity? Is this what it means?

I want to work out what it truly is

                                                                               But my head pounds

Spins

I need to shut it down

Silence the circular ramblings

The questions that are always unanswered

And sleep until it is all washed away

But then I wake up

And nothing changes

Still the same

The truth is; we are all born alone and die alone

The space inbetween spent chasing

Connections, commitment, communion

All of them distractions from reality

All meaning found is just a comforting illusion

A denial

Does that make me crazy?

Or do I have clarity?

We were given half an hour to do this in. I probably wrote for about ten minutes of that time, and spent the rest of it weeping to myself. I just couldn’t stop. The sadness it stirred within me was quite overwhelming; the awareness of the four givens (death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness) and the weight of those subjects.

I has worried me. Am I resilient enough to do this work? Is this a temporary state, or will I always over empathise? Is there such a thing as ‘over empathising’? I always thought surely not, but now I just don’t know. I feel very, very delicate, nervous about the Christmas break. Even though this course has been such hard work, I need it so much – it is my only affirmation at the moment, the only thing that gives me validation in who I am – I was one of the last to leave at the end of the session yesterday – was that because I just feel that I need to be here so badly? Or because I was afraid of going home and beginning the holiday, and accepting that I do feel lonely at Christmas?

I can’t accept it, I just can’t. I am going to do something about it. I will report back in the New Year with positivity, I PROMISE. Myself

Journal post 13; Monday 10th December

The following day, and my head is still reeling from this session! It began at check-in, with the same feelings of anger and upset that I have already reported in these journals, resulting from the impact of absence on the group as a whole, and a need for self-care arising from both this, and the general increase in the workload (it is accelerating, as the term goes on) And again, as I have also reported in these journals – I did not particularly share these feelings, although I certainly empathised. My outlook at the beginning of the day was actually quite bright and optimistic (!), as I had had a good weekend and was feeling quite together and organised about my workload.

A more experienced counselling student came in, to do some work on ‘mindfulness’ with us. I already had a fair idea of what mindfulness involves, having been a yoga and meditation fan for many years, but I think a fair definition would be to say that Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment – essential for a humanistic counsellor. The process of constantly checking in with yourself throughout the therapeutic process (and at all other times too, actually); questioning how you are feeling, what this is creating for you, how that may manifest and therefore how must the client be feeling in relation to both that, and what is going on for them at that moment – valuable, valuable process material that must be noticed in order to have an authentic process and relationship.

The exercise itself was similar to other meditations I have done in the past – what I felt was interesting about it was the questionnaire that we did, both before and after. It was the same questions, but the answers were quite different. I found that I had pots and pots to write on the ‘before’ sheet (it asked us to note what our thoughts and feelings were, what was distracting us – any physical feelings; aches pains etc. and that sort of thing) – my mind (even though it felt quite relaxed and happy, to me) was busy; active, even. In contrast, after having done the meditation, my answers flowed out of me quickly, with ease. There were no blocks – everything had been cleared, and strangely, I suddenly felt ravenously hungry! What was that all about? Had the blocks which I automatically put up within my body, the ones which shut out hunger and pain (being a ‘sort of ex anorexic’ living with crohns disease, pain and hunger are ongoing feelings residing within my stomach) been released by the slow deconstruction of the thoughts within, that the exercise had taken us through? So interesting…

After a break (and some food) we returned to read a piece describing a demonstration counselling interview that Carl Rogers did with ‘Gina’, a client who was struggling with death anxiety. It was a transcript of a session they did together, showing how Carl Rogers’ non directive technique, combined with his core conditions; empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence, could be so very effective in leading a client through her fears, so that she could feel that they were fully acknowledged, understood and that she therefore, felt more able to deal with them.

It was wonderful; so simple, natural, honest and effective – and yet again, in my life – this acknowledgement of synchronicity (Jungian, I know) as reading this piece where Rogers dealt with darkness, fear and existentiality, and most importantly – ‘Gina’, so beautifully, seemed to coincide with the place I had been finding myself in recently when considering my own theoretical leaning; the full circle I feel I have travelled, through many other theorists and back to Rogers again. The power of the core conditions cannot be underestimated – not just in a counselling relationship, but in almost all of the key relationships in our lives, and I love that!

We followed that piece with a quick survey that assessed our own levels of unconditional positive regard towards ourselves – it measured how we regarded ourselves, and contrasted that with how much our own self-regard was dependent on how we perceive others as seeing us too. I realised that although I am working hard to build my own self- esteem, and I am succeeding to a degree – so much of that is still dependent on how I think the rest of the world sees me. As if I don’t full trust my own judgement? Hmmm… I don’t think so; I like to think of myself as intuitive and fairly insightful, but I am aware that the last few years have ‘knocked the stuffing out of me’ somewhat, and this has had a marked effect on how I, and in turn others must, perceive myself, and how much I now trust my own perception. I discussed this further with K – my partner for the practical part of the day – and discovered much more that I must take to my therapy sessions.

Next, the process group, which completely blew up!

I described at the beginning of the journal, how others in the group were feeling the pressure at the moment, and struggling with that. Combining that with the theme of ‘unconditional positive regard’ that we had been left with before lunch, the  break had been spent trying to assist that group member with her issues. She was at a real crisis point; even feeling that she was on the point of leaving the course (and as other group members have left us along the journey, knowing that impact, I think I am not alone in saying that as a group we do not want to lose anyone else) As a result we arrived back to the classroom late. Not just a bit late, ridiculously late. It was completely accidental – the 4 of us involved had been so engrossed with trying to help this lady that we simply lost track of the time, but nonetheless  – an awful breach of our group contract, understandably upsetting for the others in the group who felt let down by us.

And so, it was raised in the the process group. Except it wasn’t raised in that guise; it came out in a much more aggressive way, with one of our tiny group exploding in a rage; upset and tearful at what she felt to be ‘a small inner group within the group leaving her out’.  She was new to the course this year, and as such, felt insecure within the group; understandable. But I really thought I had understood; I have made a point of working with her several times; I always stop to chat with her whenever I can – I was new to this group myself at the beginning of last year, and so I fully remember how bewildering and intimidating it is, trying to fit in to a bunch of already formed group dynamics. Still, she was angry with me – she conceded, not as angry as the others, but that I was still guilty. I felt horrendous!

I am glad that she got it off her chest – it had obviously been troubling her for quite a while, and I am glad that she finally felt safe enough with us to be able to. Now it can be worked on, and we can try to improve things, and finally – we have a feeling of being congruent as a group.

For me personally though, I am sad, really sad (my eyes are filling up a bit even as I write this). I feel awful that I made someone else feel awful, even if it was unknowingly. I guess others perceive me totally differently to the way I think they do. I had thought I was trying. Not only that, I am aware that the last few weeks I have been quite self-absorbed, getting deeper and deeper into my own self-awareness and the counselling process than I ever had before. I had sort of thought that was a good thing though, what I was meant to do on this course. I suppose the lesson learned is that I must keep a foot on the outside too; not get to focussed on myself, even within this group – there are bigger things going on, that I am not always aware of…

 

Journal no 12; 6th December 2012

Check in today was very emotional. Only a few of us had made it in again, and it triggered feelings of anger and resentment that I have already mentioned were present a few weeks ago. Whether it was because there were so few of us and the room felt more intimate or the fact that it was just the time for it to come out, there was a lot of upset and frustration erupting first thing. Again; not mine.

Whereas the other group members were feeling anxious and worried about the general workload, and this was fuelling their feelings of rage toward the others who once again had not made it in, I was not sharing this feeling; This year, I have made it my priority to be up to date on my written work, as last year I fell behind and this caused me huge anxiety. Not that I am in any way smug – I am behind on my placement hours, as the counselling placement that I had originally planned fell through, and I know that I am going to have to probably take on 2 placements (more if I can) in order to make up the required hours. This is a huge worry to me. But it did mean that, although empathic to their situation, I did not share it. Instead I was in my own little world, getting nervous about a placement interview, that I was going to that afternoon.

In fact, because of the interview, I had to leave the workshop early, and only managed to take part in one exercise before my departure; a self-study on how we all cope with crisis in our own life. We were asked to think about how our capacity for coping was affected – our capabilities in  decision making, taking care of ourselves, controlling our emotions and thinking straight – how we got through the crisis; what helped? Our own personal resources that we drew on, and finally what the crisis has taught us about ourselves. How have we changed as a result?

I had to leave before we had a chance to talk through it all together, but I spent most of the car journey to London thinking about it (mainly to keep my mind off being nervous, to be honest). In light of the tearful check in, the theme for the day had become one of ‘self care’; understanding our own limits, how important it is for us as counsellors to know when or if we are approaching a crisis moment. Burn out is a very common issue for many in this industry, and the BACP make it clear in their ethical guidelines that a counsellor has a duty of care to the self as much as to the client. After all, if the crisis point were to be reached, clients would end up being let down as well as the self, and that would result in double the fallout.

I feel that I have only very recently brought myself back from the brink of a precipice as far as anxiety fuelled meltdowns go. In fact, just a couple of journals back, I probably sounded quite manic and perhaps even a bit unhinged with it. All it takes, when one is carefully balancing all of their balls in the air (as we all do in life), is for one or two to suddenly get a bit out of synch with the others and before we know it, things are unmanageable all of a sudden. This is a very useful lesson for the counsellor to remember; if necessary, juggle with fewer balls until you are fully confident that ones in the air are bouncing in a good, strong rhythm – do what it takes to keep the rhythm steady, for the fallout when they have all been dropped is greater than losing one or two; As counsellors we are in a position of great responsibility and pressure at times; we have to take that seriously and safeguard ourselves and our clients.

Ironically, my major crisis point in my life (the big one, that I had been thinking about when doing the exercise, not my mini meltdown last week) was the turning point for me that put me back on the road to becoming a counsellor; it took a dramatic turn of events to make me stop and re-evaluate what my existential values really were. What was important to me? What did I need? What could I not survive without, and what sort of life did I want to live, bearing these factors in mind. The upshot was that I closed down a previous chapter of my life, and gave myself a period of enforced rest, before embarking on the next chapter; This one(this links well to the next exercise that I know the others did that afternoon – a ‘road map’ of their lives so far, tracking the decisions they have made so far, and where they could have gone instead, had they chosen a different pathway)

On reflection, even though I probably hadn’t fully processed and dealt with my crisis when I jumped back on to the ‘counselling train’, I can wholeheartedly say that it has been the focus of the course, the therapy that runs alongside it, the self- awareness and reflection that it has brought with it that has got me through and helped me to deal with my traumas. Of course, I know I am not fully there yet, but I know that I am a different person because of these events and this course of action that I have chosen to take,  to deal with them.

I just hope that the interviewers I met with on that afternoon saw all of the learning that has gone on within me, and judge me to me capable of helping others, as I have been helped by this process.  I feel that I have come such a long way on the journey, I don’t want to stop, or lose my pace! Fingers crossed…

 

Journal no 11; 3rd December 2012

Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Pers...

Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Person-centered psychotherapy into mainstream focus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A much, much, needed workshop day, today.  I brought my laptop in, and spent the day, along with the rest of the class, squirrelling away, trying to make some headway with the big ‘supervision essay’ that we have due next week. The room was thick and alive with so many different emotions and feelings about the task in hand – some were nervous and scared, saying that they were not ‘academically inclined’, and some were confident and assured about how they were working. Me; somewhere in between the two I suppose.

I have no doubt in my mind that I am clever enough to do this – I understand all of the theories that have been thrust at me, and feel that I have absorbed them into my way of thinking (well, my friends point out my ‘counsellor commentary’ that I apparently babble, to me all the time anyway, so I guess that something has filtered through my mind tank somewhere along the line. I feel frustrated though, that no matter how hard I try, things just don’t seem to falling into place for me; things are not easy. My placement at the local drug and alcohol recovery service does not seem to be forthcoming, no matter how often I chase them, and it seems to have taken an age to get the funding in place for this course at all.  On top of these factors, I have the current chaos that is going on out of my ‘counselling’ world; benefits, housing issues, health, and legal complications still being resolved from my previous life as a business woman, and I suppose that I am feeling a bit swamped with it all. Being me, though, I am slowly but surely working my way through (I have leads to follow for 3 potential placements elsewhere, which is promising) and, like my journals, hard as I find it to do the work, the writing and the reading, I am ploughing on…

As I did throughout this day, and slow and steady does win the race in the end, because by the end of the day I was nearly finished on my essay (I had already done a substantial amount at home, true) but I felt pleased – relieved to have one more thing ticked off my giant ‘to do list’!

Process group in the afternoon was – I don’t know, weird (?). I had felt that we were all quite relaxed as a group – ok, there were a few issues going that were creating some discomfort amongst the others (technical problems with the camera, and a little bit of resentment hanging over from last week’s session), but I personally, did not feel that it carried any great weight. Was I missing something huge though, because our facilitator kept on saying that she was noticing an awful lot that was unsaid within the room? To be honest, that felt a little antagonistic to me. Although I don’t mind being poked a bit in therapy (my family background is reasonably ‘lairy’ and confrontational, so I guess I am used to it) I could feel that others in the group were getting quite uncomfortable and resistant. I know that these techniques were a little bit ‘gestalt’, and it made me consider how this approach can turn people off to therapy with as much ease as it can turn them on. I think that as time goes on, I am having more and more faith in a more non directive, less intrusive process; an approach which leans in a more in Rogerian person- centred way, technique wise. That is to say that my faith in the presence of the core conditions being powerful enough to get to the nub is growing rapidly. As far as content goes, I can’t help but still feel drawn to a more existentially founded line of approach, but I know that this is because of my own personal views and values. To me, counselling is an existential issue – it is about finding a way to live life in a way that is meaningful to the individual. My own therapy has never helped me to ‘solve’ any problems that I have had. It has facilitated a broader way of thinking and perceiving them, so that I can take those experiences and learn from them in a way that helps me to live a life that is truer to the one I want. It is true, I do spend a lot of time considering what I do really want from life, and how I can make those things happen for myself. Maybe that is because of my age, my fairly recent divorce,my illness, and my enforced career change?

I found this quote by Carl Rogers because I think it sums up how I am feeling about therapy right now. (DISCLAIMER; I am a student though, so this is subject to change);

“In my early professionals years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?
I have gradually come to one negative conclusion about the good life. It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue, or contentment, or nirvana, or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted or fulfilled or actualized. To use psychological terms, it is not a state of drive-reduction, or tension-reduction, or homeostasis.
The good life is a process, not a state of being.
It is a direction not a destination.” –From On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers 1961

Journal no 10; 26th November 2012

Today we revisited the hugely important subject of ethics and values in counselling, and in particular, how they relate to us in our placements, and in practise.

The BACP encourages its members to aspire to the following personal moral qualities

Empathy: the ability to communicate understanding of another person’s experience from that person’s perspective.

Sincerity: a personal commitment to consistency between what is professed and what is done.

Integrity: commitment to being moral in dealings with others, personal straightforwardness, honesty and coherence.

Resilience: the capacity to work with the client’s concerns without being personally diminished.

Respect: showing appropriate esteem to others and their understanding of themselves.

Humility: the ability to assess accurately and acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

Competence: the effective deployment of the skills and knowledge needed to do what is required.

Fairness: the consistent application of appropriate criteria to inform decisions and actions.

Wisdom: possession of sound judgement that informs practice.

Courage: the capacity to act in spite of known fears, risks and uncertainty.

Through much discussion within the group, we all questioned these qualities within ourselves – whether they had been tested in any situations so far, whether we could imagine hypothetical situations in which they would be tested and so on. We all hope to aspire to these qualities, but there are times when we all question whether or not we may fall slightly short. I know that in a recent counselling session, my own counsellor helped me to identify a need to strengthen my own resilience. The last term of extreme introspection has made me feel weaker and more vulnerable than I ever have before, at times. Of course, at others, it has given me extreme strength and wisdom, and I know that self-awareness is the key to becoming a sound counsellor, so I will learn how to strengthen my own reserves at the same time from now on; Developing our own ways of coping, and improving our practise is easier when we have this structure to work towards.

The BACP website states that the fundamental values of counselling and psychotherapy include a commitment to:

  • Respecting human rights and dignity
  • Ensuring the integrity of practitioner-client relationships
  • Enhancing the quality of professional knowledge and its application
  • Alleviating personal distress and suffering
  • Fostering a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned
  • Increasing personal effectiveness
  • Enhancing the quality of relationships between people
  • Appreciating the variety of human experience and culture
  • Striving for the fair and adequate provision of counselling and psychotherapy services

In our group discussion, we all agreed that the morals and values that we have talked about are rapidly becoming who we are.  Confidence in our abilities as therapists has led to less fear of any awkward issues arising. For instance, one of the hypothetical situations that many of the group expressed nervousness about dealing with would be in a case involving child abuse.  However, on further exploration of those feelings, that fear was dissolved by the understanding that every person that enters into the therapeutic contract is always considered as a human being first; their behaviours are secondary, and a counsellors must never be judgemental, as there is usually a story behind an abuser, leading to an understanding of why they have fallen into such behaviour patterns.

Morning’s discussion over, the afternoon’s skills practise led me into new waters. I purposely chose to work with a group member I don’t know so well, someone I hadn’t ever worked with before. Why? I don’t know, really. The reason I hadn’t worked with her already is unclear to me – I have always thought her a perfectly lovely person, but I suppose I was slightly intimidated by her quietness, thinking it may lead to awkwardness in the counselling situation (there is a judgment in itself – tsk!) Of course, I was completely wrong. It was a wonderful session – I enjoyed being with her so much, aside from the material we discussed, I just loved the feeling of building a relationship. Core conditions established; the relationship is key, and as I discovered then, can be just as powerful for the counsellor as the client. A new relationship can be just as energising within the context of a counselling relationship as they are in the outside world! The inspiration from that counselling session left my head buzzing with thoughts and ideas, and I’m afraid to say I was not a terribly active participant in the process group that took place straight afterwards. All of my learning was going on internally, and I didn’t feel the need to share it with the rest of the group – or more to the point, I didn’t think that they would be interested in any way in what was going on in my head.

On the subject of ‘what was going on in my head’, the last part of the day was spent looking at an article discussing our ‘internal supervisor’ from Therapy Today. The ‘internal supervisor’ is the source we counsellors have within ourselves, an ability to self-monitor, to step back from the situation, both whilst within the session, and afterwards too; to reflect and learn from what took place.  One quote in particular really stood out for me “an internal locus of evaluation can lead the supervisee to lessening reliance on the evaluations and opinions of others, and to developing more faith and belief in their own judgement”

Certainly valuable words for the student counsellor; unsure and nervous about ‘doing the right or wrong thing’ as I am, but equally valuable words for my everyday life too – I must learn to have more faith in my own intuitions; Definitely an ability I have been less confident in over the last few years. Call it a career move!