Journal post 21; 25th feb 2013


The first day back at college after half term, and the first day back with J, our tutor. I missed you!

Having one of our major assignments due in next week; today was set to be one of our workshop days, where we can make sure that we are working to the right format with J around, to guide us in that. I love these days, I find it really useful to do independent study with support on hand – it suits me very well. I like the company of having the rest of the group around me while I work; it is such contrast to the quiet of my house while I write and write away at home – which is, after all, one of my main pastimes. I do get a bit lonely, writing as much as I do. But I do love doing it, so it is worth the sacrifice, I think!

I felt present and connected with the group very well today – better than I had for a long time. Although my check in at the beginning of the day may have been bringing in all my anxieties that had built up in the few weeks since I had last seen everyone, I quite quickly felt them subside with the support of the group. After lunchtime, we spent some time watching a taped transcript piece, which was interesting – so valuable to see the blossoming competency of our skills within the group, and quite affirming. We are all “proper” counsellors now!

This led on to the process group – every week a new experience! I think I owned up to my secret dread of process group in an earlier journal. Well, did this week change that? I don’t know, really. Maybe…

Anyway, it began with a silence; as it often does. I did something I don’t often do, and I chose to ‘rescue’ everyone by breaking the silence to talk about a book I’d read recently that I thought the others might enjoy – usually I wouldn’t do that. I am not awkward with silence at all – I live in it much of the time, as I already said – and I am not, habitually, a ‘rescuer’, but for some reason I wanted to talk about a book. Did I want to show off my ‘knowledge’ to the rest of the group? No, I don’t think so – I think I might have wanted one of them to have read it too? Yes, I think I was calling out for someone to connect with me. “Get me! You get my books, you get my music – this is me showing you how to relate to me! I am giving you an inroad!” Because, I still don’t connect. Everyone talks about how the group is so tight, and I do feel that we have all become good friends, but I still feel that nobody gets me. Actually, I have always felt that nobody gets me – it just feels particularly so, now. Now that I have this new knowledge, now that I have made this major change of pace, of perception, doing this course – becoming a counsellor; GET ME! NOTICE! ACKNOWLEDGE! It’s HUGE! But of course, no one does…

Is this learning? Is this ‘process group learning’? Is the group serving as the microcosm of society, which the theory books say it will, showing me just how disconnected from the world I feel? It seems that even ‘like-minded’ individuals, are not of the same mind set as me. Am I alone? Do we all feel alone like this? Are we ‘together in our aloneness?’ – that was a Patrick Casement quote, wasn’t it? Is that one of the realities of existence? Coming to terms with that might make for some sort of inner peace, some sort of resolution, but it seems quite a cold and lonely place I would then be confined to, and I can’t help but yearn for something more than that from life…

And then, as if to prove me wrong; universe delivering in some kind of fateful way that it sometimes does; our quietest group member spoke up. She spoke, I mean REALLY spoke, about all of those things I have already mentioned; connection, being present, aloneness – as if absorbing all of my internal thoughts and laying them out for me to see. The whole group was involved, participating, helping her with her thoughts – “was she crazy?” she asked. She said how hard she was finding it; the written work and the practical work was overwhelming when combined with her other responsibilities, and she felt that her head was her own worst enemy; she was finding it hard to shut out her continual self -analysis at times, and to just learn to recognise feeling, and go with that. It felt as though she had reached into my inner monologue and said my words out loud – and what is more, the level of support she received was astonishing. Will I ever be able to do that? If someone as shy as her can, why can’t I? Oh I know I may appear more confident on the surface, but I am plainly not, otherwise I would have done so. I am inspired; both by my classmate’s bravery and the power of the process group. Proof for me, once again, on the power of this process…


Journal post 20; 11th february 2013

A Good Read

A Good Read (Photo credit: Them Elks)

I didn’t go in this week. Again… I know. I feel bad about it. In my defence, it did snow. Fairly heavily, I suppose – I mean, it would have been hard to reverse the car out of the road, but truthfully – there was another reason why I didn’t go in. In my heart I really didn’t want to. I felt wounded by what I perceived as the ‘attack’ the week before, where I had arrived feeling so good about my placement, and felt that I had cold water poured on my joy by (a few of) the others in the group, tutor included.

Anyway, I have discussed it all with my (new) supervisor, and I think I feel okay about it now. She says that she has no worries about the way that I am working, in regards to safety and ethics, and suggested that I have a chat with my regular tutor (J) about it when she returns. Having previously had the ‘okay’ from her about my work there, I can’t see it as being a problem, so I feel better about things.

Oh, did I mention my new supervisor then? *acting faux surprised* I think she is WONDERFUL! I have met with her twice now, and I love going in to see her; I can talk about anything there (provided it is relevant to the work, of course). She works to the Proctor model (normative, formative, restorative ) which suits me very well.

So far it has been like this; I bring my clients in to her, give her a brief description of how I perceive them to be, we talk about the sessions, what work has gone on, how they seemed to react to the work, what has impacted on me the most, what are my feelings are about it, how I felt I was working – success as well as concerns, did I have any ideas about how things may develop, and the measure of the work to both the service provider and my college course. She gives me her feedback and shares her insight on how she feels I am doing. It feels very different in the room, to that of a regular counselling session – even though we use her regular counselling room – for one thing, she likes us to have a cup of tea or coffee together, saying that this is one way she distinguishes between clients and supervisees. I like that; little things like that do mark a difference, and make me feel more like a ‘grown up’ in the room with her. That we are two professionals, sharing case notes together – which is, actually, what we really are! It feels good, it feels that I am a ‘real live counsellor’ finally – which I can still can’t fully believe is exactly what I am these days!

Her input to my work has had many effects; for one, I feel lighter with it. I feel supported, that I don’t have to hold the mass of all that goes on in my counselling room alone. My clients give me some of their heaviest weights to hold – it is my job, and I am happy to do it, but to feel that I have someone to share my load with feels comforting, and lightens it for me immeasurably. She has increased my confidence in my work. To have someone to sound off to; run things past; check out how they think I am getting on with the work is bolstering. She reassures me about this line of work which is, after all, 99% instinctive – and as such, one can never fully know that one has always been ‘correct’ as there is no real check-list to work from. Being a student; being ‘green’, I feel nervous at times – there is a real feeling of having been tossed in to the water, and the gravity of the work, the importance of this relationship to the client and their life, their future, does sometimes pull at me. But she helps me to remember that I can float without even realising I am doing so, and that by applying thought and doing what I have been trained to do, I can actually swim rather well at times! I feel that we have an honest and open dialogue – not everything she says is ‘super positive’ – I feel sure that she gives her honest and critical opinion, but she definitely shows me unconditional positive regard too, which makes me feel safe, and in turn, more able to be congruent with her, and able to confide my doubts and fears.

Coincidentally, the book I am reading at the moment, “When Nietzche Wept” by Irvin Yalom (who I now think can be officially elevated to the position of my all time favourite psychoanalytic writer – I am sure he would be pleased to know) illustrates the three way, client, counsellor, supervisor relationship beautifully – and also, with that, the potential transience of these roles within the triad. After all, we all learn from our clients as well as our supervisors; the learning is shared three ways, and although the non -fictional counsellor should never switch  roles with the client or supervisor (clear contracts have been agreed upon), the beauty of this novel is that it is set at the birth of psychoanalysis, where these rules hadn’t yet been established, and so Freud, Breuer and Nietzche all take on each of these roles at different points through the novel, muddling through and exploring methods of working.

I have spent the last few months working my way through many different styles of writing – training as a humanistic counsellor leads me to read a lot of existential literature, and I have found this Yalom novel to be a breath of fresh air, even though it deals with essentially the same type of content. Mind you, the last few works I had read were by Kafka, Camus and Dostoevsky though, so that is probably why it feels so light in comparison! I must be careful, I suspect I may be becoming a little evangelical, preaching the power of Yalom to everyone that will listen, and we all hate being preached at, don’t we?

Journal Post 19; 4th feb 2013


Quite a different kind of day today – our tutor is away for a few weeks, so we have another lady standing in temporarily, and although she is basically sticking to the same format that our days have always run to before, her style and approach is so very dissimilar that the entire day felt completely unlike any other. Not in a bad way, though; and illustrating clearly for me how two counsellors can practise from the same theoretical background, yet so many other factors become relevant to the type of therapy that will be created; connection, personality, mood, energy levels, intuition – basically, the qualities that go into making every person an individual, every relationship an individual relationship, and thus, every therapy an individual therapy.

‘Check in’ was so much more in depth than it had ever been before – we were questioned not just about where we were, right there and then with our feelings and our mood, but D (the new tutor) wanted to get to know us quickly, so she asked us about our theoretical preferences and leanings – a sure-fire way to get to know what a counsellor is all about. She cut to the nub of me straight away and I got a strong feeling that she felt that vulnerability within me that people so often do, making me feel upset with myself. I had invoked that again – do I need to start recognizing this more clearly when I see it? Is it a warning to me that I am either dipping or flying, and not realising, myself? If I am to be an effective counsellor, employing all the BACP ethics and guidelines regarding self-care, and safety of practice, I must pay close attention to these signals. Yes, I know that I know myself, but my condition can mean that I have a tendency to sometimes ignore myself too – I must make sure that I don’t do this if I am to be safe in my work.

After a visualisation exercise, focussing on grounding ourselves, putting our roots down in this room, in the here and now, making us feel so much more present with ourselves and each other – we began discussing Egan’s ‘Skilled Helper’ theory – a very well used approach throughout the NHS in Britain, and a highly effective strategy used within brief therapy. It is broken down into three simple parts, questions – What is going on? What do I want instead? How do I get to what I want?

Stage I, Current Scenario – What is going on? This is where the counsellor uses their exploring skills to gain an understanding of the story – what has led the client to seek counselling. Skills used by the counsellor would be; open-ended questions, silence, focusing, empathy, paraphrasing & reflecting both meaning and feeling, structuring, summarising. Stage 1 can take five minutes or five years – it may be all someone needs – to get their story out and be heard.

Stage 2, Preferred Scenario– What do I want instead? In this part the counsellor will take a more directive role than in the previous stage, exploring possibilities (akin to the ‘golden question’ from SFBT) – what would the client prefer ideally? Using brainstorming techniques, imaginative thinking, prompting the client into further exploration; ‘what else?’ How might that feel? What would you be doing/thinking/feeling? What will be the benefits when you achieve this? How will it be different when you have done this? Reality check; are there any costs to you achieving this? This part of the approach can be used to regain positivity and really play with ideas – give the client an idea of how their life could be and an idea of what they could strive towards.

Stage 3, Action Strategies – How will I get there?  More brainstorming and creativity initially – ‘Let’s consider as many different ways of achieving this as we can’ leading to an exploration of what action would need to be taken, and eventually formulating a plan. The use of SMART goals is recommended here (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-phased), and the strategy is broken down into bite sized chunks of action –‘what will you do first? And then…?’

The key with using this model is that the client’s needs must be kept firmly in the centre of what is going on – the model should be used for the client, not the client for the model. Although, as we found when experimenting with using this in our practical part of the session, it is an extremely easy and effective model to use – such a simple strategy can lend itself to many different situations.

During my (brief) session as the counsellor (our group overran with the timing, so I only ended up with a five minute session – seemingly impossible, but strangely, using the highly focussed approach of Egan, it still worked) we found that stage 1 seemed to contain the bulk of the material; in exploring stage 1 fully, the client’s natural coping strategies were revealed, revealing that she had already pulled herself through to stages 2 and 3 without realising. Upon this being noticed, the client felt much more positive about the situation; a few new strategies were batted about, but her confidence was bolstered by the realisation that actually she had already acted in a positive way intuitively, and she felt encouraged to continue with the approach that she had already embarked on. Bingo!

I felt positive after this session, and the feedback given to me by the tutor on the counselling skills I used was lovely; very, very, encouraging. We spent a little bit of time after that watching a video from ‘Ted Talks’, which was great; very informative, and we had a good old group chat with Donna (our course facilitator) after that, which felt productive, but meant we didn’t get any time for a process group (every cloud has a silver lining! I secretly hate process group, I find it so boring and awkward…)

I was excited to get to the supervision part of the day – having recently started my placement; this was the first college supervision session that I would be able to get involved with properly, and I wanted to tell the group about a particularly troubled client I was seeing, who I felt I needed help with.  When I did though, I felt quite upset though at the reaction I got from the tutor. She seemed to leap at me, barely giving me a chance to explain. An awareness of ‘Safety in my work’ seemed to be her primary feeling that she wanted to communicate to me – she felt that I was possibly taking on too much for a student at my point in my training. But the fact of the matter is that in this placement, all of the clients are in extreme crisis, and it does involve taking on heavy issues. I have had real problems finding a suitable placement, and as long as I don’t feel that this is too much for me, I am very reluctant to let this one go. Yes, I have had an extremely positive response, initially, to this new service that has been set up, but I am well aware that this is probably because it is a new thing for the kids at the hostel, and that once they are used to me being around things will probably settle down and I will be less busy. I think that as long as I am aware of how much I am taking on, and make sure that I don’t bite off more than I can chew, so to speak, I will probably be okay. The overwhelming feeling that I have from this placement is one of positivity, and I do not want to let that get squashed. I have an appointment booked with a new supervisor next week, to discuss my work there fully, and I am excited about that, so I hate to sound so terribly rude, but *blows raspberry* – I will be carrying on with this for the time being, at least! Although, in linking back to the first paragraph of this entry, I am well aware of my own issues, and am keeping a self- critical eye on things, don’t worry…


journal post 18; 28th january 2013

English: Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Resized,...

English: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Resized, renamed, and cropped version of File:Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a day this turned out to be! On check in at the beginning of the day, I reported in as feeling okay, and indeed I did – or so I thought.

We began with a guided visualisation – a relaxation exercise, which although I felt positively toward, I had reservations about letting myself go fully (I remembered the one we had done a few weeks ago, which seemed to have triggered a full on Crohn’s attack) We were asked to report back on our feelings about the process to the rest of the group, and take some time to fully measure the the impact of this exercise on our thoughts and feelings. The phrase that had resonated with me throughout the exercise had been “I am the creator of my own mental state” – it had frightened me, I mean really frightened me. Am I? I don’t want to take full responsibility for my thoughts – at least not all of the time. For the most part they are okay – if I keep myself busy enough that they don’t have the time or space to start running wild (just one of the reasons why I love to listen to people – it fills my head with their thoughts, pushes my own out of the way for a while) but there are times when – I don’t even want to say; the self-indulgence of fully owning up to the depths of my internal darkness is so ugly and ungracious…

Our tutor, on reflection of the feedback coming from the group at large, suggested that we consider why we were thinking in such polarities; the concept of ‘letting go’ appearing so frightening – maybe the idea of gently loosening my grip would be more appeasing, and easier for me to deal with? Relaxed or tense? What about the ‘inbetween space’? Is it possible to gently weave the two together, so that they can co-exist within me? Is that possible for someone like me? Do I create my bipolarity myself? With strength, can I be ‘normal’? I know that I want to, so badly. I want to walk a calm steady line between the two places, want to be able to accept new emotions occurring within me without fear, I want to be peaceful and comfortable with the natural ebbs and flows, not feeling tension as though I am about to be engulfed by a tsunami whenever any fluctuation occurs. Maybe this is the real reason why I cry so easily? I am constantly on edge, afraid of myself…

This took us on to the next exercise – a revisit to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This just about finished me off! From extremes; happy and comfortable when I arrived this morning – in a nice comfortable state of denial, pushing thoughts of what my life are really like out, out, OUT of my head, to letting them come flooding back in, and feeling myself being pushed under by the weight of the water. Thinking about my needs – where do I sit on the scale of need? It’s a joke really; here I am, reading my existentialist literature – contemplating my navel, effectively, trying to formulate a strategy for my self-actualisation, when my biological, physiological, and my safety needs are not even met yet!

I am often ill. I often do not have enough money to feed myself and my children properly. I don’t have a comfortable place to sleep. I have no security, or feelings of safety or stability. I am scared, all the time; of what will happen to me if I get really ill again, of legal and financial hangovers from my marriage and business still; of my ex-husband finding out, and coming to find me; of my whole network of friends and family getting sick of having to help me so much; of my kids rejecting me again, and worst of all – of myself, of my need to continuously torture myself with the worst, and my unnecessary self-flagellation. I AM DOING MY BEST! What do I expect of myself? Everyone tells me to ease up on myself, that my current situation is not my fault – it is down to circumstances out of my control, but I just can’t fully believe that; there is a (quite large) part of me that believes that I have created this state of affairs through my manic behaviour. In fact I know I have, and that the rest of the world is being kind to me by not saying it. But then, what does blame matter now? I am here, I am living it, and I am the one trying so hard to make things up that I am driving myself to breaking point again.

SELF- CARE. Take self-care.

So I did; I recognised how absolutely horrendous I felt. I knew that the introspection that being at college demanded of me was making me feel even worse. I could feel my stomach knotting, tightening, twisting, and I could feel my thoughts spinning. When my tutor asked me a question, I spoke up. I told her how I felt, and I asked if anyone would mind me leaving early on this occasion.

Luckily for me, they didn’t, and so I went home, and took myself straight to bed.

It was too much.

journal post 17; monday 21st january 2013

Today was a snow day. The weather had turned, the schools were shut, it was impossible to get cars moving out of the side roads, and so I reluctantly had to accept that I would not be attending college on this day. To be truthful, to have an enforced day of rest was probably a bit of a blessing. I was quite exhausted, having spent a busy week getting my new counselling placement organised.

I am very pleased to say that I have committed to working two days a week at a Young Person’s hostel –  assisting clients aged between 16 and 25 by providing them with accommodation, and expecting them to participate with the helping services provided within the building, of which there all sorts of activities and support available – counselling being one of them. These kids present with many different situations; there are young mothers living there, ex-offenders, drug users, orphans,  victims of dysfunctional families and abuse, mental illnesses and learning disabilities, to name a few of the obstacles up against these clients. I think the only assumption it would be fair to make about the work will be that no two days will ever be the same!

On my initial meeting with the service manager , I was immediately grabbed by the challenge of the work, and very pleasantly surprised at how well we seemed to ‘click’ and understand what our task together was going to be in this capacity. I suppose you could say, we straightaway realised that we were reading from the same page! He is also a trained counsellor, and firmly believes  that the key to success in the work of the hostel is by dealing with the mental health of the clients – the trouble that he has had in the past, though, when trying to provide counselling services, is that of engaging the client. He currently has two other counsellors working there, also on placements, who are working to a traditional counselling model – one of pre-agreed contracts, firm boundaries regarding venues, times of sessions and durations, and both have reported back with frustrations about the clients not sticking to the contracted arrangements; taking mobile phones into sessions, arriving late – if at all, not engaging with process generally. Carl Rogers stated that in order for any counselling to be successful the client must be in psychological contact with the therapist; put simply, these clients are not!

T (the manager) and I discussed how we felt the service needed an ‘in-between counselling service’; one where the clients could be gently acclimatised to the process involved. With these clients, some  have never experienced any real kind of boundaries in their lives so far, for one reason or another – they kick against rules purposely and instinctively. For most of them this is their first home of their own, and they are testing out what that freedom means to them; many don’t get out of bed till late, many struggle with working or attending college, with paying their bills, and the day to day drama that being any adolescent involves, let alone a traumatised adolescent (which of course, most of these clients are – how they came to be living at the hostel).

Ellen Noonan’s book ‘counselling young people’ (Routledge, London) which, although drawing heavily on the ideas of Klein and Winnicott, also puts forward the idea that adolescence can be seen as a period of mourning – an extended grief, made more complicated by fluctuating hormone levels and the fact that there seems to be nothing tangible on which to base the focus of the feeling of loss. Even in a non- traumatised young person (and the people surrounding), there is a natural denial (the 1st stage of grief, in the Kubler-Ross model, as we all know) that the end of childhood is something to be mourned. Anger, bargaining, and depression are common reactions to be seen in young people as they go through this; they are forced into change and growth, often against their will, and the lack of control they experience will often push them into a mind-set and behaviour that appears confusing and unfathomable to those around them, often leading to even more problems than they began with.

If you consider this myriad of trauma which presents to every teenager, even those with the most ‘normal’ and ‘understanding’ of upbringings – consider how very hard it must be to be facing this when coming from a ‘dysfunctional’ background; coming out of care, being kicked out of the family home because Mum has a new boyfriend (horrific I know, but it happens),  perhaps a strict religious family that can’t cope with the teen’s newly discovered homosexuality, or as already mentioned – drug abuse, alcoholism, the list goes on and on… These kids really, really need the psychological support that counselling can offer them – sometimes the ones that can’t stick to the terms of the counselling agreement are the ones that may even need it the most – and my discussion with T was about how the service needs to be made more flexible, in order to give these kids a chance to make use of it.

We agreed on a strategy, which is perhaps a little unorthodox, in terms of the traditional counselling placement, where I will set up a new ‘drop in’ counselling service; a clinic type operation, advertising my availability between certain hours on certain days, and inviting clients to book time with me as and when they feel they are in need and/or able to attend. In order to promote this service, and really let the clients know what counselling is for, and about, I will try to get to know the clients a little better; perhaps knocking on their flat doors and introducing myself, asking questions where I try to ascertain what kind of counselling service would suit them – would they like me to come to them? Does the thought of a whole hour seem daunting? Is the idea of sitting in a room with ‘what is essentially a stranger’ to begin with seem frightening? How can I bridge the gap between these kid’s lives and the traditional counselling format? Once I have feedback, T and I can design a counselling service that serves the clients more effectively.

Exciting? Hell yeah! I was itching to get cracking straightaway, and did so, with amazing results almost immediately! I can’t express how happy I am with how the placement is working out; the clients are fabulous, the rest of the staff support team are fabulous too, and I feel completely at home there already; totally valued, totally respected and a real sense of validation from the work that I have done there already. There have been learning curves (don’t expect too much in the way of non-pre-arranged client contact before midday – they are all still in bed!) But overall, the response to the service I am offering has been positive, and in only a few weeks of being there I have already completed many valuable counselling hours.

So as you can see, although the Monday college session was missed this week, there has still been lots and lots of hard work going on – and so much learning, and joy gained from this learning, too! The pleasure of being taken out of my own head, and into someone else’s for a few hours during the day, has been phenomenal!  I have loved the work, really REALLY, loved it; Affirmation that despite all of doubts in my own abilities, I think I have made the right choice in this path. I really do.