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…

 

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Journal no 9; 22nd November 2012

This week, another skeleton class, as the dreaded lurgy tightened its grip, squeezing our precious group to the bone; I must admit, I was in two minds about coming in myself, but feeling the commitment to the course had to remain, no matter how crappy I was feeling on the inside, dragged myself in. During check in, other members of the group reported feeling a bit angry and resentful of the fact that, despite their own hardships, they had made it in to the session, whereas the others hadn’t managed to make it their priority. I acknowledged this, and certainly empathised – but was quite aware that actually, that was not how I felt in this situation. Me; I felt proud of myself for having made it in, despite feeling like a sack of dung. Maybe I was in an introverted place, and that is why they were so self-centred, but it did not stop me acknowledging, empathising, and – I think – affirming to the others that it was okay to feel angry. I suppose, with  our knowledge of defence mechanisms, I just knew and understood that their feelings of anger directed outwards, were most probably displaced, and were more about their own frustration at themselves and their own personal struggles with how demanding they are finding the course.

The day was focussed on ‘self’ – more searching back into our own pasts, trying to make sense of our lives – in keeping with these last weeks of studying the psychodynamic approach. On this day, we were given a quote from Michael Jacobs, a leading contemporary psychoanalyst, as a springboard for own reflection;

Part of therapeutic work involves finding expressive language (image, metaphors, narratives, statements, outbursts, drawings, songs, movement etc) for aspects of the impact we have on each other, and aspects of the impact life has on us”

This quote was a revelation for me, in terms of understanding how modern psychodynamic therapy has evolved from the early days of a silent therapist, sitting behind a couch. This emphasises a connection (a continuation of the ideas of Winnicott, Fairbairn and most recently, Hobson) between the therapist and the client – that recognition of our mutual cultural touchstones will strengthen the therapeutic relationship further, building further trust and understanding. In my mind, this fixes the eternal issue for me, when looking at the work of Freud, Jung and the like – the fact that a much clearer picture of the client’s psyche will inevitably emerge, if a strong, trusting, warm relationship is built. The divide that I always perceived between psychodynamic and humanistic approaches is now well and truly broken. One can use psychodynamic theory in a more humanistic way, and reap the benefits of both approaches. Using the past as meat for the dialogue, but engaging with the client in a way that is parallel to that that Carl Rogers defined through his core conditions; Bingo!

To bring the power of this idea home to us, we listened to a piece of music by Shostakovich together, and reported back to each other how it made us feel; what it made us think about. There were many similarities – some said that it made them feel excited and optimistic, think of royalty, grandness. Of course, there were many differences as well in our reactions – after all we are individuals with our own perceptions and frames of reference. But I surmised more similarities. We felt connected by them, just as counsellor and client can, when mutuality is established; a bond created. Knowing that the core theory I am training in is humanistic, I do believe that the connection between counsellor and client is key, the most important element of the relationship. Without this, how could any client could trust the counsellor with their inner most thoughts, feelings, dreams and fears – I know I couldn’t. (Very ‘humanistic’ of me? No! I can be psychodynamic and think this way too! Ha-Ha! Michael Jacobs says so…)

The next few hours were spent looking back on key figures in each of our lives who have had impact on us – not just people, but culture too – films, tv, brands, art, songs, and how they have shaped us. We took a long time to think about this alone, and a long time sharing our thoughts together. The strengthening impact on our group as a result, was HUGE. The level of connection and understanding that sharing of personal reference can achieve really is staggering. Our entire lunch hour was spent reminiscing about mutual songs, films and tv shows we have loved, describing what they mean to us. As a team building exercise, it had a phenomenal effect, but even more than that; it reinforced the importance of an affinity between the counsellor and client, and how culture can be used to express so much, how we all emote through it and personalise it. (I am reminded of my many years of making ‘mix tapes’ in a bid to try to let the recipient know how I was feeling, and equally, the amount of mix tapes I received, in turn)

After such an emotional and powerful morning, combined with my general ‘dung like’ feeling that I have already described, it seemed ok in the afternoon skills session for me to take a step back from baring my own soul. I found myself in a session where my client wanted to talk, no – NEEDED to talk about issues she was having with her marriage, and how her growing self-awareness was impacting on that – an issue close to my own heart in many ways, having been in that position myself. I felt the value of my level of understanding, and responded accordingly, by stepping back from taking my turn to be a ‘talker’ (client) and giving her the whole duration –  a double session effectively. She needed it, and I needed to feel the affirmation that I was useful to her too. I enjoyed the separation of her feelings from my own, despite the similarity of her situation to my experiences. To be honest, my own experiences were completely disconnected from what was going on between us as client and counsellor in the room, it was really only afterwards, on reflection of the session that I even thought about them. Whilst I was with her, in the session, I was focussed on the here and now of what she was saying, HER here and now, and mine was only in relation to her and what she was telling me.  During this long, powerful session, I briefly found myself in a moment where the gestalt ‘empty chair’ technique seemed appropriate to use, but, unsatisfyingly, on trying it, found it did not sit well with the feel of our session – although my approach is definitely humanistic; honest and even a little confrontational (in a gentle way, I hope), I don’t think that I enjoyed the feeling of using that technique. Oh well, lesson learned. The session was good, other than that. – I think I pulled it back!

Which takes me to the end of the day; a short debrief and an early finish. For such a short time, we did a huge amount of work – well, I know I did, and I know that I achieved a huge amount of learning…

 

Journal 3; 8th October 2012

Today began with a recap on Jung and his ideas (one of my favourite theorists), and so I began positively.

We mentioned his beginnings, as the ‘heir apparent’ to Freud, and his break with that association – leading to his ‘psychotic breakdown’, and the ideas that followed thereafter; the innate potential of the psyche to heal itself; his influence by eastern philosophies leading to his ideas on the creative unconscious and archetypes; personality types, and the idea that the psyche is made up of opposites – the shadow being made up of our negative, unwanted ideas, the anima/animus representing our gender opposite characteristics and the persona being the public face assumed, and the concept that the focus of therapy should be in recognising these opposites within ourselves in order to achieve a unified self. Individuation is the name Jung gave to the process of achieving wholeness, and he strived to achieve that in therapy through the use of active imagination – using dreams, visualisations, art and other creative techniques to bring the client into contact with their unconscious – the transcendent function.

Towards the end of our discussion we were asked to consider which archetypes we most relate to, and many of us admitted to relating to the healer largely. Although I may have felt that in the past, these days I find that I am further away from that image internally than I have ever been. If anything, I have felt more like the patient in recent years – and I haven’t enjoyed that one bit. It has been disempowering, and I have resented the idea of allowing my inner world to match my outer world when I am so unhappy with both! Part of me (quite egotistically really) related to Jung himself – this idea of being the rebellious child who takes the ideas of the father and makes his own sense of them; rejecting some notions and choosing to do it his own way, facing the consequences of a complete mental breakdown in search of the ‘truth’ rather than towing the line and never feeling real, fulfilled, ‘actualised’. I relate to the freedom of thought that comes with hitting the very bottom, losing what seems like the last touch on ‘reality’, and admire the way he turned this to his (our) long term benefit, forcing himself to stay in the scary place in order to understand it better. When I hit that place I was terrified, and forced myself back to the ‘real world’ as a drowning man would hit the sea bed and strive to bounce back to the surface, taking huge gulps of both air and water. Sometimes I still wonder if I still have water in my lungs…

This reflection connected well with the next chunk of theory we tackled – the work of Melanie Klein, best known for her Object Relations theory. When we initially learnt about this last year it took me a long time to get my head around these ideas, but in discussing it in class, I realised how much of it I had really absorbed. During the Jung part of the morning, when relating to the favoured son rebelling against the authoritarian archetype, I automatically began to question the attachment between me and my mother – a Kleinian concept. She felt that difficulties in our relationships with our early caregivers affect our relationships in later life, our relationships with all objects, including food, and even relationships with ourselves. Although, I am fundamentally insecure in my attachment style (my mother returned to work when I was very young, and I hated being given to childminders), I have always been in denial about that (as has my mother, constantly reminding me that I was the most spoilt, well-loved child there ever was), and have chosen to ignore obvious signs that relationships aren’t what they appear to be (refusing to admit to myself that my ex husband was having affairs, even when he obviously was)

Klein called our mental constructs of the world around us our phantasies. These fluctuate and change with us as we grow and form our new opinions and perceptions of the world. Often we use the defence mechanism splitting to guard ourselves from emotional pain – separating good feelings from bad feelings, dealing in opposites, understanding the world by placing situations/objects into   opposing places. This is an immature, primitive defence – as we grow older, or work through issues in therapy, and our phantasies are understood and deconstructed we see the world as a less black and white place, containing elements of both good and bad. The clearest example of this for me would be when my ex-husband left me, and I found it impossible to deal with our relationship ending unless I began to hate him (or hate myself, resorting back to the anorexia – impossible, being the sole carer for my two young children; I had to remain functioning). Until I could start to do that, it was unreal to me. Luckily/unluckily – not sure which – he did actually give me very good reasons to hate him, once I deconstructed the phantasy that nobody who loved me could consciously hurt me, and accepted his part in things!

Another defence mechanism Kleinians call projective identification is where our phantasies get rid of our unbearable feelings by pushing them into someone else. My example of this is also from the time shortly after my husband left me. My best friend at the time had, in retrospect, had a slightly -inappropriate relationship with my ex-husband, and I think that when he finally left me, she couldn’t cope with the guilt she felt about the part she may have played in our break up. Unable to face me, she made excuse after excuse as to why she couldn’t be there for me in the months that followed, until I eventually felt hurt and angry by her lack of support, and started to properly question her part in our relationship’s demise. Her negative feelings were projected into me because she couldn’t cope with them.

Hefty stuff! Even though, this was theory I already thought I knew and understood, being asked to apply that theory directly to my own experiences was hard. It is the way to learn though, and although it isn’t always nice to revisit those places, it is necessary if one really wants to absorb these ideas – otherwise they are abstract. This gives them form, even if it is an ugly one.

I consciously chose to lighten things for myself in the afternoon session; choosing a dream to discuss in the practical part of the day, trying to engage with the therapy as ‘play’ (Winnicott’s instructions!) through my ‘speaking’ session. I am not afraid to embrace my ‘shadow’ (as Jung would call it), but I  learned from last week that the exchange of energy within the group can be so powerful that I have to engage an element of self- protection at a certain point – definitely a lesson being learnt for the future. It is possible to engage honestly and directly without giving to the point of exhaustion, and I am beginning to do that. Well, I have to, really…