Journal post 30; Monday 13th May 2013

This has been a strange week and I have had real problems writing this journal as a result. The day spent at college, monday, was a day that was dominated with preparation for the forthcoming exam, and completing our practical assessments.  All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed with pressure. Pressure and fear. We took a past paper, and even though we have done these before, and I had previously felt quite comfortable with them, this time I struggled, and I mean REALLY struggled with it.  The process of articulating all of these actions which, when  practised within the counselling room seem to come naturally, almost through intuition or some kind of felt sense, suddenly seemed incredibly difficult. A bit like describing how to breathe. A strange turnaround, because for so many months of this year I have been busy writing about the counselling process, far busier writing about it than actually doing it. These days it is the opposite way around; at present I am counselling six  clients a week , and I certainly do not find six hours a week in which to sit down and write. Maybe that is why I struggled?

There is also the thing that I have always hated about exams – the fact that I have to hand write. That means not just that the words are written out by hand, but that they are fixed in their place in a way that they simply aren’t when using a computer. When writing like this, in my journal or in an essay, i will write and edit, rewrite, edit again, cut, paste, jiggle bits around, change words and change sentence structures several times over in the course of one piece of writing. This, in my opinion, makes for a much clearer, more succinct piece of writing – my natural way of speaking is to use far more words than are strictly necessary, and as such, so is my unedited writing voice – this is not good for an exam!

So, I am afraid. Not only am I afraid, but I am quite a self aware person these days – this means that I am aware that I am afraid. This is also not a good thing because, for me, fear breeds more fear. I start off feeling a little anxious, and then start getting anxious about the fact that I am anxious, on top of the original things that I am anxious about, and before you know what is going on, I am having to use techniques that I learnt many years ago in CBT to avoid a panic attack coming on! (Just one of the reasons I am still not a huge fan of CBT, because even though it helps me to deal with anxiety when it comes along, it has done little to help me get to the root of  what causes me to suffer from such severe anxiety, and so now – years later – here I am, still suffering , when I really have no good reason to) I think that in previous journals I have mentioned the fact that it took me many attempts to pass my driving test –  an example of the same process. Right now I really am feeling that same process going on, and I don’t like it at all. Awareness is supposed to help you deal with things better , supposedly; one of the principles underpinning the whole purpose of counselling.  Well, I hate to say it, but this is an occasion for me where I disagree with that statement. Awareness of my anxiety seems to only fuel it further!

So is that why I have found it hard to write this week? Partly, but also I think that the letter that arrived on tuesday morning, from the college, saying that counselling courses were no longer going to be offered, had an impact too. A sudden realisation that not only am I reaching the end of this year’s course, but that I am reaching the end of my time at this college altogether. This was certainly something that had been in the air all day on monday – as a group we had been in good form, but the high spirits felt strained, almost forced at times. For me, it felt like it was getting close to that mania, that bipolar high, that ‘I’m actually really not very happy at all but I just can’t stop behaving in this way because it is just what I have to do right now’ feeling. Maybe a bit of denial at the loss I know I am about to feel? Maybe I am thoroughly determined to enjoy the time I have left, and so feel the need to act in a bit of a slightly over the top, happy, silly kind of way? I don’t know, I really don’t, and I have spent a lot of time this week trying to work it out – equally though, I am aware that every time I have sat down to write this journal I have been unable to get anywhere with it – an unconscious avoidance of having to really acknowledge those feelings, maybe?

It is the end. We are nearing the end of the course, we are facing goodbyes, and the potential endings of the relationships we have formed, and we are reaching a point where we have to make decisions about our future. And that is scary. And I am scared. And I can’t resolve this fear right now – thinking it through doesn’t change it. I am going to have to sit with this, at the very least until after the exam – probably for quite a while after that too, I suspect.


 

 

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Journal post 26; Monday 15th April 2013

Our first day back after the Easter break, and being the busy bee that I am (now I am working in not one but TWO placements – I started a new placement last week, working with people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions), I had hardly noticed being away – being so busy with the whole balancing act; placements, supervision, personal therapy – not to mention the fact that the kids were off school, and wanting me to cook and provide taxi services! But it seems that I was actually the only one who hadn’t missed college; the general mood within the group on check in this week, was that of deep anxiety – most of them have placements working for a children’s counselling service within schools, and as such they had a complete break from the routine for the holidays – I think that the break, combined with the sudden realisation that we are reaching the final stretch of the course (6 weeks till the exam), and are facing independence as counsellors (possibly, if we do go on to work for a service) gave everyone a sudden reality check. Do I want to be doing this? Do I feel capable of doing this? Will I continue next year? How hard am I finding this?

As usual, being me, although I empathised with the general feeling I did not share the anxiety ( as seems to be becoming a habit) Not that I was feeling full of confidence and self assuredness, but again, for me, this was a wall I had hit many weeks ago in the course, when things were not going so well; my placements were not happening, I was struggling financially and therefore could not afford the cost of the supervision and therapy required, and as a result, was feeling that I wasn’t really participating fully with the process, and was questioning my ability to do so.

A few months later, and what a difference! I am loving my placement work, beyond words. It is not easy, by any stretch, but it is challenging, and fulfilling, and – bizarrely – I actually think I might be quite good at it, too! Certainly my service manager seems pleased with my work – he is full of praise and admiration for what I do, and he even managed to arrange a training morning  for me last week, paid for by the hostel. I (maybe misguidedly, I don’t know, I hope not though) interpret that as being him having faith in me and wanting to invest in developing my skills, for the benefit of his service.

My clients, who began erratically, have settled, noticeably. Absences are rarer, and we are getting to the point in our relationships where some real work can be done. I feel the weight and power of what goes on within our sessions, and I respect and am humbled by the fact that they deem me both capable and trustworthy enough to share this with them. It feels like a very special thing that happens within the counselling room.

I do feel slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of suddenly having lots of written work to tie up, however, and the thought of the exam is not a particularly pleasant one, it is true. But am sort of stoical about these things – they are inevitable, they just have to be faced and gotten on with.

So, when we were asked to do an exercise on ’embracing authenticity’ as a counsellor and as a person (one can be both – amazing!), asked to question things within us, as whether I am comfortable feeling my feelings? Can I admit distraction, voice irritation, show my anger, put words to affection if it is there, be spontaneous with a client and cope with the unknown, be both gentle and forceful, understand my senses when working with my client, and basically BE ME in response to my client? I actually, hand on heart, felt confident and honest in answering a resounding YES, and I felt proud of myself for being able to answer that. The task asked us to reflect on the impact of congruence (authenticity, honesty, being real) in the counselling relationship – remembering instances when it had real impact on the counselling work, and to think about our congruence with ourselves. When do we feel most connected with our true selves? What has it taught us in relation to ourselves and our approach to counselling, thinking about these things? I found it a process that I met easily, with no resistance at all – in fact, I would say that for me, the path of incongruence now seems alien, horrible to me, and the impact of this in my everyday life has been huge too. I finally appear to have a decent, if only for the sake of the children, relationship with my ex-husband – and I do put that down to my true honesty with myself about how I feel towards him, and my finally relaxing on myself about how I ‘should’ feel. Equally, I am beginning to stop beating myself up in relation to my children; my parenting skills, my guilt for the harm that I believed the divorce caused them.  For the first time since my divorce I actually feel able to begin a romantic relationship again- I feel that I am honest enough with myself to trust myself again, finally. These are all huge things to me – they have made a real difference to my quality of life, and my quality of life, in turn, has made a difference to my abilities as a counsellor. I feel that I come from a much steadier, healthier place, and I think that must radiate to my clients. I don’t feel that I need to hide anything of myself to them – not that I am self-disclosing all over the place, talking about myself within the room, but if I feel compelled to I don’t worry about doing so – I feel that genuineness in the relationship is key, and whatever feels real and right within that should be trusted. Undoubtedly, my supervisory relationship has contributed to this confident feeling, as for the first time I feel that I have a professional sharing my client relationships, their journeys,  and affirming that I am going about being with them in the right way. The few times I have self-disclosed, I have gone straight to my supervisor with it, and she has reassured me that it was ok to do so.

Overall, I would say that my confidence has improved no end through my supervision sessions, generally, in fact. I am glad that I have found a good one, I feel that I have struck gold there, and it is a good feeling. A feeling which I feel is echoing through all aspects of my work right now. Of course, ask me how confident I am feeling again in six weeks time, when the exam is upon me. It may well be a very different story…

 

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…