journal; January Residential Trip

Our long awaited residential! The bone of such contention within the group; the organisation of dates and anxiety about arrangements! As the date approached, my fear surrounding it grew. A friend had scared me a little by suggesting that it would be overwhelmingly confronting, and that being away with the group, I would have nowhere to hide. I guess I was feeling anxious about this, until the Monday session immediately preceding it, when (thankfully) our tutor informed us that we would still have our own rooms – a private suite to retreat to at the end of the day. Once I knew this my fear dissolved, and gave way to feelings of excitement – my own private room! I do not have this luxury at home. Ever since my divorce (and financial ruin) I have lived in a tiny little cottage with my kids, giving them the bedrooms (they are teenagers and need the space) and sleeping downstairs on a little day bed. As you can imagine, I do not have very much privacy, I long to stretch out star shaped on a double bed and have a little retreat from everything sometimes!

So the event began well for me, very well indeed, when I found that I had been allocated the biggest room on the corridor! I am sure that this wasn’t an accident – I am quite aware that it was a lovely gesture from my tutor, who had probably overheard me voicing my excitement and I appreciate it very, very much! (Hope you know that, J, as you will be reading this)

The exercises began with a story – the story of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ to be exact; a story I was familiar with, having read it to my children when they were small. I have never had it read to me before, though. Funnily enough, I can’t actually remember ever having had stories read to me when I was little – I’m sure I did, but I was probably too small to remember. I know I was an early reader, and I have previously mentioned in my journals how my childhood was quite a solitary affair, being the youngest child (with a large age gap between me and my siblings) of the family, and both parents having to work very long hours. Although I may not have had bedtime stories; I do remember one of my sisters giving me a ‘bedtime cabaret’ sometimes – which I loved! She would sing me a song, or recite me a poem, maybe even give me a little dance (she was a performing arts student, can you tell?)

Having ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ read aloud to me that afternoon felt wonderful. J read it in such a beautiful way; it was calming, thought-provoking, soothing and felt like a whole new story to me, as if I were hearing it for the first time all over again. The story itself felt like a metaphor for the journey of self through life; uniqueness, change, love, pain, separation, happiness, authenticity, self-trust and belief were all touched upon, as well as many other concepts. So simply put, and gentle and clear with its message. We shared our feelings and thoughts on it afterwards, and immediately began to feel the restorative effect of sharing an experience with others, the power of sharing an emotional occurrence in a mass. I enjoyed it immensely.

The next exercise was called ‘The self puzzle’. The task was to draw a map or a puzzle representing the way we view ourselves. We were given coloured pencils and paper, and a fair amount of time to complete it in. Mine was a mass of words – each one a different colour, every colour of the rainbow, positioned at a different angle or orientation, leading to a central word – my name written in a golden yellowy orange, like the sun, surrounded by a ring of stars. The words were a mix of positive and negative, personality traits, qualities, flaws and a few objects I feel attachment to;

shy, sensitive, alternative, flamboyant, thinking, organised, music loving, evolving, loyal, quiet, feisty, argumentative, spiritual, daft, handmade, aesthete, smiley, books, pro-active, saucy, home-loving, naughty, funny, woolly, analytical, raucous, chaotic, weird, searching, Mum, questioning, books, cat, dynamic, insecure, perfectionist, independent, family, unsure, faddy, rude, rebellious, creative, mental and challenging.

What did I learn from it? Lots – the obvious – the jumbled appearance, even though I also thought it was an organised chaos is very much how I view myself – the colourful nature – also obvious and the words used, self explanatory . What was most telling to me was the word that I left out, that I did not write, but that I knew should be there; bipolar.

Because it is what I am. (revision on re-reading; it is ONE of the things I am)

It is fundamental to my way of being, it underlies all of my behaviour and character traits, yet I felt it unacceptable to write it down, because I am still in denial about having it. Why? Because I am scared that it will mean I am not capable of being a counsellor, and I am scared of becoming my grandmother; living out my life trapped by my own mind.

I was furious with myself. So furious that, when asked to do the next task – wander around the grounds and take 2 photos, one to represent my inner self and one representing my outer self – I went straight around to the service entrance and took a beautiful photo of the wheelie bins, and the surrounding rubbish!

Luckily, the grounds are beautiful – a fabulous Victorian building with acres of land surrounding; it quite a calm, fresh kind of day, and the peace and tranquillity combined with a gentle walk, gave me time and space to reflect, breathe, focus on being in the moment, clear my mind of reprimands and reminiscences, and get a better perspective on who I really am. The process of searching for objects that reminded me of myself gave me an opportunity to take myself out of myself, study it rationally and refocus on the more positive qualities that make me who I am.

I returned to the room refreshed, I had let go of the anger that I had directed inward (another pattern of mine that this exercise helped to make me more aware of) and felt okay about presenting my photos to the group. I felt that my two photos were interchangeable – they represented facets of both my inner and outer self – opposites, both coexisting within me – and that is okay; it is who I am. I am congruent with my contrasts – I am learning to be more honest and open about my flaws – this taught me how important it is to me to always do that, how awful it feels when I don’t.

After a beautiful dinner (so lovely to be cooked for – felt so spoiled!) we returned to our group room, and relaxed together, watching the film ‘The Hours’. I had already seen it, knew what it was about, knew how depressing the subject matter is (suicide, mental illness, the struggle of congruence with self), and so – engaging the counselling practise of self-care – I chose to work on my crochet quietly, engaging enough with the film so that I was still with it, but not so much that I went down. After all, it was only two weeks before that I was considered a suicide risk, myself, and put into crisis care. I was fine at the end of the film, but knowing how everyone would be discussing it in the bar afterwards, I chose instead to retire straightaway to my room for the night (and enjoy my lovely big bed)

The whole of the next day was spent creating and presenting a large collage representing our ‘ideal self’ Wow! What a lot of fun! It felt like being a child again – paint, glue, glitter, paper, scissors, stuff everywhere! The whole group was laughing together – all of us were enjoying ourselves. It was a wonderful bonding experience. Presenting in the afternoon, however, was emotional.

My picture was that of a human figure, featureless – representing how the outer was unimportant to me, coloured in with tiny star shaped sequins – representative of my spiritual views; how I believe we are all connected within the universe, and that I have ambition within me, that I want to achieve, that I want to be fulfilled. I made beautiful coloured tissue paper flowers stuck through the central column of the figure, in the chakra points – showing how I want to achieve balance within myself, how I seek balance within the chakral realms, and there was extra emphasis on the highest chakra –the one associated with connection and spirituality, the highest part (that very top point on Assagioli’s egg diagram)

Connection is so huge to me, so important. I want to feel like I am a part of things again – I purposely removed myself from the world a few years ago, feeling too much hurt, too much distrust; I needed time away to rest and heal, and now I feel that I have done that (as much as will happen, within this isolation that I have created for myself) and I am ready to re-enter – well, within reason, within my own parameters, anyway. It has been a lonely healing process, and I’m not sure that I made the right decision when I took myself away, as I can’t help but wonder if whilst tending to some emotional wounds I managed to unwittingly make others larger and deeper in the process.

The background to the figure in the collage was peaceful; pale blue and green tissue – calming – showing how I want my environment to be tranquil, helping me to feel tranquil within it. I cut out lots of small squares of colourful felt and created a soft, warm cushion for my figure to sit on, almost reminiscent of a patchwork quilt. To me this was representative of my love of comfort, soft things, handicrafts, colour and interest.  The symbolism of the patchwork quilt is quite huge for me – I just adore the idea of time, energy and love being poured into an object that will be kept forever and turned into an heirloom that will be passed on to future generations. The tradition of women quilting together in groups; sharing, helping each other, chatting, listening, enjoying the therapeutic benefit of the crafting – it is a feeling and energy that I tried to create in my shops, in my previous life as a store owner. I ran craft groups, craft lessons; knitting, crochet, basic sewing techniques, that sort of thing. The people who came along to the groups felt the warmth and the therapy that my little craft haven offered, and stayed. Often people are drawn to handicrafts when they are at a point in their lives where they need some kind of restorative force – the creativity, focus and soothing effects of handicrafts are well documented. I suppose that was my inner ‘healer’ archetype wanting to put some positivity and healing energy out into the world in the only way I felt able, within my working environment at the time.

When I presented my work to the group the discussion surrounding it focussed mostly on my spiritual beliefs, and even though this is the most personal and intimate of all subjects to me, I felt able to talk freely; able to voice my ideas in a supportive non judgmental environment – nobody told me I was a ‘daft hippy’, nobody gave me the patronising look that I have become so used to, or the expression of “I think you are mad but I won’t say anything because I don’t want to make you upset” that I get ALL THE TIME from friends and family. For the first time since – forever, I felt complete ‘okay-ness’ with exposing my innermost thoughts and desires; the power and support and healing energy of the core conditions. Not just offered by one person, but by a group of ten – ‘magnified core condition healing’ – so, so, so powerful.

I felt quite exhausted and emotionally drained, to be honest, by the intensity of the work we did in that room that afternoon and so I was relieved of the respite offered by watching another video as a our final activity. It was interesting, and absorbed me at the time – but I find that I cannot recall very much of it now. I think that I was way more tired than I realised.

So finally, we rounded things off with a process group session. Possibly one of the best process group sessions we have ever had – honest, brave, emotional, supportive, free, and an overwhelming feeling of acknowledgement that we are each complex evolving individuals, moving along our own pathways towards higher consciousness and self awareness and forming a powerful human collective that can hold us when we need or want it.

Amazing.  I can honestly, hand on heart, say that the shift that occurred within me over the few days, has been one of the most powerful – as it is the first (and possibly only) time in my life that I ever been able to focus on ME, purely on ME, and been given the time and space to engage with myself on a metaphysical level like this – what a gift!




Journal 15; Monday January 7th 2013

The first day back at college after the Christmas break – and what a Christmas break it had been for me! Sadly, my holiday had been one of my worst Christmases ever –  I had gone down, big time, and had been put on some very strong medication to try to help me deal with it. Needless to say, it didn’t particularly help; it simply tranquilised me so that I felt disconnected from everything around me. I made a decision to stop taking the drugs that were having this effect a few days before my return to college, and am sorry to say that the effects of the withdrawal were still taking their toll on me, and as such, my concentration levels on this day were, let us say, “patchy”  Even now, a day later, I am struggling to keep my mind focussed on writing this journal – I know I must try to write down how I feel though, as it is important for me, as a counsellor, to remember the chaos of these feelings whilst in crisis, as this is how many clients will be in initial sessions, and possibly again and again, throughout treatment, as the road to psychological wellness is not always a straight line(in fact it rarely is).

Today’s session was spent discussing ‘solution focused brief therapy’; an approach to psychotherapy based on solution-building rather than problem-solving, and pioneered by Steve DeShazer, who is quoted as stating that ‘the essence of psychotherapy was that the client is helped to make a change in their situation.’

SFBT targets the solution; what the client is striving to achieve through therapy, rather than the situation, event or obstacle that brought them to treatment. The therapist works with the client to place their attention on the present and future, not the past. The client begins by first envisioning what their desired future looks like, and then taking small steps toward achieving that outcome. It is an effective treatment model used across a whole range of presenting issues. As the name describes, it is a short course (anything up to 20 sessions) of therapy.

First, the problem is identified and described; “How often does … happen? How long has it been going on? Has it ever happened before? How did you deal with it then?”

Any goals that the client wishes to achieve are discussed, clients to are encouraged to identify these goals, even when they are finding it hard to see any way through their problem – “What do you want to get out of being here? What will it be like when the problem is solved? What will you be doing instead? When that happens, what difference will it make? What else will be different? What else?” The counsellor can use their questions to facilitate the client viewing their possibilities in a more positive light, encouraging them to imagine the ‘knock on’ effects that reaching their goals will have.

Exceptions to the problem are noted and attended to, helping the client to start to take on ideas that could lead to potential solutions. “What about times when the problem is not happening? Or when it is less? You mentioned earlier that some days/times are better. What is it like at these times? What are you doing instead at these times?”

Scales are another useful tool for the counsellor to use, “If you think of a scale from 0–10 with 10 being the best. Nought is how you felt when things were at their worst. Ten is as good as things can be in relation to this problem. Where are you now on that scale right now?  Give it a number, for example 2 or 3. How long will it take to get to 10? Maybe 10 is too big a goal? Is something lower more realistic? What number will be acceptable for you?” his helps to break the goals down into something achievable so a sense of success, and the encouragement gained from that success can be achieved.

The miracle question is designed to elicit a clearer picture of the client’s future without the presence of the current obstacles they face. “Suppose you go to bed and to sleep tonight as usual and while you are asleep a miracle happens and the problem that brought you here today is solved. But you are asleep and don’t know that it has been solved What will be the first small signs that this miracle has happened and that the problem is solved?” This gives the client the opportunity to visualise how there life could be – a powerful tool in itself, in terms of encouragement and inspiration.

DeShazer said “All that is necessary is that the person involved in a troublesome situation does something different.” It was once I read this, that I realised that SFBT is very similar to the kind of counselling that I had been receiving on an ‘every other day’ basis through the christmas holiday break. My counsellor said those very words to me “just do something different”. He asked me to scale in my mood at the beginning of every session, and he asked me the ‘miracle question’. First at the beginning of the sessions with him, and then again as we neared the end (we haven’t quite got there yet – I will still be seeing him once more). Thinking back, more clearly now, we set goals at the beginning of the treatment and he (very skillfully, without me even realising he was doing it) drew my attention to any exceptions to my own ‘bleak prognosis’ of my future.

Finding it as hard as I have to concentrate recently, this simple yet effective treatment outline was more than enough to focus on. As a client in crisis, I can see now, and understand that any deeper probing into the past may have been too much for me to cope with at that moment – even though, when the psychiatrist tried to tell me this, I argued with him, that being a student counsellor myself, I knew the difference, and I wanted ‘proper therapy’(!)

So, big BIG learning for me  – even with my ‘addled’ brain!

I cannot recall many details from the more practical part of the day. I know that I was ‘present’ for the individual skills part – I may have floated off during the process group a little, and I am quite sure that my mind had fully checked out by the time we hit ‘supervision’ at the end of the day, but in my defence I don’t think I did too badly really; considering the medication I was coming off of. In my head, the feeling was similar to as if I had attended a college session at the tail end of having had a bad cold. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to ‘counsel’ for a full hour in the ‘real world’, but I did muster everything I had in order to manage the 25 minutes skills practise we did, and it did seem to go ok. Certainly, when I reported back to my therapist this morning, he was pleased with my progress, in terms of mood, and quite surprised when I explained to him that his techniques were the ones we had been learning about!