Journal post 29; 29th april 2013

 

I began today feeling okay about things. For me; I feel that recently my placement work has really compounded a lot of the theory work we have been doing, and my confidence as a counsellor has increased. Of course, as my out of college workload has increased I have found less time to spend on my written work, not to mention any relaxation pastimes (I can’t remember the last time I picked up  a piece of knitting and sat down for an evening’s TV watching) – but I am okay with that. I am comforted by the knowledge that is the last few weeks of the course now, the final push, so this is what I expected to happen really. Of course, technical issues (like losing an entire weekend’s worth of work due to a computer crash late on sunday night) don’t help matters, but hey – what can you do?

We began by recapping on person centred theory and practise in relation to an existential perspective, and how this should be conveyed in the exam. An exercise on enhanced empathy  was enjoyable, even if I did unconsciously put myself in the ‘rebel’ role again in class discussion, and lay myself open to criticism. I always seem to do that, throw a slightly controversial perspective on things – it’s like I just feel the need to mix things up a little bit all the time. The issue debated was; how much of one’s own personality should be brought into the counselling room in a session? Of course a counsellor should always be congruent, I feel this wholeheartedly, and cannot imagine working in any other way now – but I told the group about my placement experience last week, where a moment of silence and reflection in the session had been rudely interrupted by an engine being revved outside (there is a mechanic working directly behind the building). Upon being interrupted, as we were, I felt the client’s  annoyance at the noise, and had voiced it, saying (not over aggressively, but with a snark in my voice nonetheless) ‘Oh, will you please be quiet?’ towards the window, where the noise was coming from. This felt appropriate to me to say, as it was what I was picking up from the client, and the client certainly didn’t seem to mind my reaction – he was too cross with the noise to be cross with me. Our moment of reflection had already been broken, and voicing our shared annoyance at that seemed to strengthen our togetherness, to me,  and I very much believe, to him as well. The other members of the group were concerned that my voicing of the annoyance might have taken away from his feelings in the moment; that my personality being shown might overshadow his. I listened, and understood what they were saying, but ultimately found that I could not agree – I still feel that therapeutically, it is our relationship that carries the weight of our work, and part of that relationship rests on my personality being involved. Certainly, the session is not about me in any way, shape or form, but to inject a little of me into a reaction doesn’t feel wrong to me. Well, it didn’t, anyway.

After that, we took a long time digesting the concept of Martin Buber’s ‘I-Thou’ construct. This is concerned with the way the individual relates to the rest of the world, bridging the gap between phenomenology and existentialism. Phenomenology involves  working within the client’s frame of reference, in the here and now – by linking it with existentialism we take that internal process and link it with their view of the world, their existence and their place in the world. The relationships between objects (meaning literally, objects, or people)  can be described as I -It ( a relationship which has no empathy with the object, no real connection) or I-Thou ( a relationship where the object holds a place for the individual, the individual has feelings for it, is connected to it) Once a therapist has ascertained whether there is an I-Thou relationship with an object they can begin to work on the feelings towards it. For example, in the case of an addiction – what is the role of the object the individual is addicted to? Is it a transference relationship? How will the therapist work with that? It gives us, as therapists, tools into empathising on a deeper level and direction for our work. This was brilliant for me, as one of my placements involves counselling addicts in recovery. I felt very excited that this had given me new perspectives to take into supervision with me later this week.

After lunch, we were watching skills videos again; this time it was my turn to be the client in the video – quite a traumatic experience, actually. This particular video had been shot 6 months ago – a lifetime in terms of my learning in my way of being. I couldn’t bear it, and spend the whole duration watching between my fingers, as my hands covered my face in horror. Aside from all of my usual annoyances that I have about watching myself (my weight, my voice etc) I felt a huge sadness at the incongruence conveyed by my past self; I laughed almost all the way through, despite talking about really sad experiences. I presented my information factually, as if I were disconnected from it, yet appearing to be open and okay with my dirty laundry being aired – plainly I wasn’t! I know that this video was made before my medication levels had been really looked at in detail, maybe that played a part, but the overall feeling I had was of someone who lacked self awareness in her whole demeanour, as far away from being an effective counsellor as it is possible to be. Funny, yes – quirky, yes, probably quite nice to be with at a party or something, but not a confidante, not a fellow journeyman.  I hope I have moved on as much as I think/want to have, I really do.

Process group was awful. Painful. Literally. My head started hurting towards the end of the video being shown, and built and built throughout one of the quietest, slowest, most torturous process groups ever. Hardly anyone spoke. I know why it was torturous, but I wasn’t going to say. I couldn’t be bothered to – and no one else was going to either. It is because our group has been fragmented, the splits within it have finally been acknowledged – they were out loud during our extra workshop last week. Almost all of the group members were finally present this week – way, way, way too late in the day to change things now, as far as I am concerned. I am not interested in them as participators anymore, I am sorry to say. I ran out of empathy a while ago, having given them the benefit of the doubt again and again. So, as a result there seemed little point in participating in process with them. My head was pounding by then, despite the tablets I took, and after the group had finished, I made my excuses and left the day an hour early, to go home and lie in a dark room. A somatic response to stress, pain, frustration, disappointment? Probably. Definitely. A lack of congruence in not saying anything? Just exhaustion, I think, and a feeling that it is pointless. *sigh*

 

Journal post 27; 22nd April 2013

 

 

I began today feeling completely exhausted!  I don’t know if I am a bit under the weather at the moment, or it was because I was up till quite late the night before, writing – but either way, I felt like death. I told everyone at check in, though, and made sure I drank plenty of coffee through the day, in a bid to keep myself alert and participating. Having very nearly not come in, I was glad I did, as the day’s subject matter was introduced – existential counselling – my favourite! I was actually really pleased, for purely selfish reasons, that we would be talking about a subject that already resonated so strongly with me, as I knew it would be more likely to keep me lively for the discussion.

 

We discussed the basics of existential philosophy, the four givens – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness, and expanded as to how those subjects can be further developed for a counselling approach using the four dimensions of human existence – the physical, social, psychological and spiritual realms. The most prominent existential counselling theorists; Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Emmy Van Deurzen and Mick Cooper, were discussed (I think I have mentioned all of them in previous journals at one point or another – they seem to be the counselling texts I am drawn to and take the most from) and  we – the group- read through a few texts together, prompting lots of lively discussion about how we felt about this approach. The exercise that followed from this discussion  didn’t sit too well with everybody in the group – maybe it was a little too morbid for some? But for me it was, although emotional, a breeze.  We were asked to imagine our death, consider what we would like to have written as our epitaph, imagine our funeral and contemplate our life and death, meditating thoroughly on them.  The exercise itself posed no problem for me – I visit these places daily, I think about them constantly. What was harder for me was sharing that with the group. You see, I like to think that I project a fairly sunny disposition, generally – I like to make people laugh, and think – I like to get people talking and enjoying debate, but what I do try not to talk about so much is my own private thoughts, as I feel that they are probably too dark to share.

 

I had a near death experience 13 years ago when my son was born. My heart stopped beating and I had to be revived, and I had the whole ‘floating above my body, shining white light’ thing that so many others talk of. I didn’t die though – the thing that pulled me back from the peaceful place was the fact that I had just become a mother, and I needed to see my son, and as such I spent the following ten years throwing myself into the role of mother and wife wholeheartedly, up until my divorce, anyway. I think I have also mentioned in previous journals, that I am not what one would describe as a ‘well’ person; constantly anaemic, a crohn’s sufferer and bipolar. I suppose it is living with these things and having been through what I have, that  gives me my general  questioning outlook on life – what is it all about? Am I living my life the way I want to live it? What if I were to die tomorrow? Or be incapacitated? What things give me meaning? I am quite sure that my experiences have automatically made me confront the concepts of the four givens, so as to not be afraid of them. Although, to a degree, I think that the questioning within me may have always been there – I have always counted Camus, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy among my favourite  fictional authors, and I love to read books on philosophy generally.

 

Anyway, as I said, my funeral has been long planned – all of my close friends and family know what I want, I tell them regularly. The epitaph was a nice follow on from that thought – ideas that I had already toyed with – what I feel I am compared with what I want to be. I have to say that after the many years of therapy I have been in, I don’t feel too incongruent with what I want to be. Of course, I have more I want to achieve – this course would be nice, for starters! I think that the main difference of note between them  is the element of ‘fear’ – there are still fears that I have, and such I still don’t feel free to fully pursue the life I want to. But I am getting better at confronting them. Recently I have felt a huge shift within me, I think I have noticeably taken a step closer to being the person I want to be – maybe it is the feeling as the end of the course approaches, or maybe it is the fact that I have been on new ‘mind meds’, and that these ones actually seem to suit me quite well!

 

The recognition of the emotional journey that I feel i have gone on, the questions that I have asked myself, I think do undoubtedly affect my style within the counselling relationship. Although I have been working from a ‘person centred’ orientation,  I feel that the congruence required of the counsellor in this ‘school’ is very much in an ‘existential’ style, and that I do already include my perception of these issues in my style in the counselling room. Likewise, the freedom offered within this approach, the humanistic foundation of considering the client as whole and their experiences, what meaning or lack thereof do they gain from that, the autonomy that both the client and counsellor are aiming for – these correlate with the existential counselling values completely, to me.

 

Skills practise in the afternoon; being aware that I was using these principles as a place to come from, made me realize that actually this was completely natural to me – this is what I already do. It was a natural, flowing session, like any that I would have with a regular client within my placement. So, well – there I have it – I guess I could describe myself as an existential counsellor, but actually, one of the things that my ‘existential’ approach to myself has taught me is that I don’t like labels particularly, certainly not on myself – so I will hold off on trying to pigeon-hole myself for a while longer yet…

 

 

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 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

Bored

Alone

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

Uncaring

Untrusting

I need to hide; stay warm; feel cocooned

Shelter from the pain

Hurt

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

Spins

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 no 11; 3rd December 2012

Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Pers...

Starting in the 1950s Carl Rogers brought Person-centered psychotherapy into mainstream focus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A much, much, needed workshop day, today.  I brought my laptop in, and spent the day, along with the rest of the class, squirrelling away, trying to make some headway with the big ‘supervision essay’ that we have due next week. The room was thick and alive with so many different emotions and feelings about the task in hand – some were nervous and scared, saying that they were not ‘academically inclined’, and some were confident and assured about how they were working. Me; somewhere in between the two I suppose.

I have no doubt in my mind that I am clever enough to do this – I understand all of the theories that have been thrust at me, and feel that I have absorbed them into my way of thinking (well, my friends point out my ‘counsellor commentary’ that I apparently babble, to me all the time anyway, so I guess that something has filtered through my mind tank somewhere along the line. I feel frustrated though, that no matter how hard I try, things just don’t seem to falling into place for me; things are not easy. My placement at the local drug and alcohol recovery service does not seem to be forthcoming, no matter how often I chase them, and it seems to have taken an age to get the funding in place for this course at all.  On top of these factors, I have the current chaos that is going on out of my ‘counselling’ world; benefits, housing issues, health, and legal complications still being resolved from my previous life as a business woman, and I suppose that I am feeling a bit swamped with it all. Being me, though, I am slowly but surely working my way through (I have leads to follow for 3 potential placements elsewhere, which is promising) and, like my journals, hard as I find it to do the work, the writing and the reading, I am ploughing on…

As I did throughout this day, and slow and steady does win the race in the end, because by the end of the day I was nearly finished on my essay (I had already done a substantial amount at home, true) but I felt pleased – relieved to have one more thing ticked off my giant ‘to do list’!

Process group in the afternoon was – I don’t know, weird (?). I had felt that we were all quite relaxed as a group – ok, there were a few issues going that were creating some discomfort amongst the others (technical problems with the camera, and a little bit of resentment hanging over from last week’s session), but I personally, did not feel that it carried any great weight. Was I missing something huge though, because our facilitator kept on saying that she was noticing an awful lot that was unsaid within the room? To be honest, that felt a little antagonistic to me. Although I don’t mind being poked a bit in therapy (my family background is reasonably ‘lairy’ and confrontational, so I guess I am used to it) I could feel that others in the group were getting quite uncomfortable and resistant. I know that these techniques were a little bit ‘gestalt’, and it made me consider how this approach can turn people off to therapy with as much ease as it can turn them on. I think that as time goes on, I am having more and more faith in a more non directive, less intrusive process; an approach which leans in a more in Rogerian person- centred way, technique wise. That is to say that my faith in the presence of the core conditions being powerful enough to get to the nub is growing rapidly. As far as content goes, I can’t help but still feel drawn to a more existentially founded line of approach, but I know that this is because of my own personal views and values. To me, counselling is an existential issue – it is about finding a way to live life in a way that is meaningful to the individual. My own therapy has never helped me to ‘solve’ any problems that I have had. It has facilitated a broader way of thinking and perceiving them, so that I can take those experiences and learn from them in a way that helps me to live a life that is truer to the one I want. It is true, I do spend a lot of time considering what I do really want from life, and how I can make those things happen for myself. Maybe that is because of my age, my fairly recent divorce,my illness, and my enforced career change?

I found this quote by Carl Rogers because I think it sums up how I am feeling about therapy right now. (DISCLAIMER; I am a student though, so this is subject to change);

“In my early professionals years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?
I have gradually come to one negative conclusion about the good life. It seems to me that the good life is not any fixed state. It is not, in my estimation, a state of virtue, or contentment, or nirvana, or happiness. It is not a condition in which the individual is adjusted or fulfilled or actualized. To use psychological terms, it is not a state of drive-reduction, or tension-reduction, or homeostasis.
The good life is a process, not a state of being.
It is a direction not a destination.” –From On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers 1961