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 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



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



I need to hide; stay warm; feel cocooned

Shelter from the pain


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


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 2 2nd October 2012

Today began with a recap on Freud’s theories; the unconscious mind and psychic determinism, the personality structure of the ‘id’, ‘ego’ and superego’,  the emotional experiences of the past influencing all later experience, ‘eros’ the life force, and ‘thanatos’ the death instinct being the driving forces of human existence, the psychosexual stages of development (anal, oral, genital, latency and adolescence), defence mechanisms, and the concepts of transference and countertransference in therapy.

A lot of time was spent discussing transference and countertransference within the group, it’s inevitability in all relationships we form, particularly between therapist and client, and the importance of our awareness of it as therapists, and how we choose to use it. Sometimes, when considered necessary it is played along with, if the therapist considers it necessary for the client to work through issues with the subject the transference takes its root from; sometimes it is confronted and broken, providing material for study within the therapy room. In psychodynamic therapy it is a key that can potentially unlock the whole therapeutic journey, as the emphasis in this type of therapy is the impact of the past on present day life. Transference in therapy can bring the past into the ‘here and now’ and make those feelings available once again, ready to be worked with.

The therapist must retain awareness of its presence, and must also be aware of any countertransference that takes place – the therapist’s own feelings in response to the client. More time was taken discussing this, particularly in relation to supervision. Although the supervisor is not present in the therapy sessions, he/she is the third person in the counselling relationship, and it is necessary from them to provide a distanced perspective of what takes place in the therapy. When transference and countertransference occur, the supervisor must bring this to the counsellor’s attention, and discuss the potential consequences of how it is handled, as well as making the counsellor aware of their own feelings in this process, and possibly assisting them with any work that may need to be done.

Nearer the end of the day, we read an interesting piece from Hawkins and Shohet;  ‘supervision in the helping professions’; their supervision model is derived from the ‘good enough mother’ theory by Winnicott (also psychodynamic), and suggests that just as the mother is able to care for her child with support from others ( a husband or extended family), the counsellor can care for their client with support from the supervisor. They list 6 mains focusses for supervision; reflection on the content of the counselling session, exploration of strategies/interventions used , exploration of the process and relationship, focus on the here and now process as a mirror and finally, to focus on the supervisor’s transference. All of these areas of study provide space for transference and countertransference to be noted and discussed, and worked with.

Personally, I find the whole concept of transference completely fascinating, and feel like I have spent my whole life observing it, not just in my relationships, but in those surrounding me too. I am well aware that I married a man that was like my father, but only after I had realised how all my father’s strength lay within the support of my strong willed, dynamic mother – as a result, his actions (or lack of them) forced me into becoming my mother myself – something I really didn’t want!

The practical part of the day was spent discussing an issue concerning transference. I was the counsellor first, listening to S. It was very, very interesting, and so good to be back to doing what I love! I so enjoy sessions like this, where we are given a subject and an orientation to practise with – I feel that it tests me, trying to keep my counselling approach with a discipline – in this case, psychodynamic. I found myself feeling calm and quite confident about the session. Although S tried to avoid the heart of the subject matter many times, I pulled her back, smoothly and gently, I was assertive ‘Right now, I am more interested in how this related to your feelings about your father’.  It felt that that I led her to the root of the issue, and some degree of confrontation/resolution ‘so I wonder what you would say to your father if he were here now’ – maybe not strictly pure psychodynamic – possibly a little bit gestalt, although we didn’t go so far as to use an empty chair. It was enjoyable though. I felt engaged and empowered by it; exhausted afterwards though, as the process group witnessed.

 The high level of emotion within the group that had been raised by the day’s subject was palpable within the group session.  I even felt the need to pop a couple of paracetemol, as I could physically feel the electricity being generated in the form of a ‘storm headache’! I’m ashamed to say it affected my concentration levels in the last part of the day, where we discussed the previously mentioned Hawkins and Shohett model – it took me rather a long time to get my brain in tune with what the words written in front of me were saying – something I found extremely frustrating, I don’t like being the ‘class dunce’, which was how I definitely felt at the end of the day, when we left. Luckily a large gin and tonic imbibed when I got home eased the frustration somewhat. Ironic really, – my placement being at a drug and alcohol recovery centre… (!)