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…

 

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journal post 25; March 25th 2013

Today’s session was, well, odd. It had a very different feeling to previous weeks. I know I am in a different mind-set to how I have been. I confess, although I have been very much on top of the placement, supervision and personal therapy side of this course in the last few weeks, I have fallen slightly behind with the writing side of things. My change of meds seems to have given me a jolt, and I can feel myself in a much more positive frame of mind than I have been for a long time – of course, I am a little concerned that this could send me into a hypomanic phase; the new found emphasis on having a personal life, and the vigour with which I am pursuing it does seem alien to me (it has been so long since I have had any inclination to do so), and the fact that I am suddenly 2 journals behind does feel like a little alarm bell ringing to warn me of a potential danger that could lie ahead. But this course; the self -awareness that it has taught me, the discipline of examining my behaviour and feelings as they happen; my focus on the here and now, the learnt skill of examining both my internal and external processes; has (I think) given me a valuable tool in monitoring myself and learning how to enforce self-care – not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of those around me, my friends, family, colleagues and clients. After all, no-one can be counselled by a crazy woman!

Self- care has been a recurring theme within our group for many weeks now. In a way I feel  that perhaps I hit that wall before some of the others did, but check in today revealed a strong sense of anxiety resonating with the other members; a fear of the ‘ever sooner looming’ exam ( we have only 8 weeks) , and the end of the course shortly thereafter. It was also painfully clear that our tutor, J, was not feeling her usual self. Check in was much briefer than usual, and an anxiety radiated from her that is not usually present. As it turned out, she revealed later in the day that she wasn’t feeling up to teaching on this day, she was exhausted by a very stressful family situation, and she recognised that she felt a little ‘unsafe’ and took her leave early. Of course, I am perfectly okay with her doing that, but before I knew that this was going on with her I did feel slightly unsettled, and it did make me worry, and immediately wonder if I, or any of the other members of the group, had done something wrong. I guess this is how a client will feel if a counsellor practises when they really shouldn’t.

So, having spent the morning revising exam techniques, trying to keep us within the discipline of writing from a strictly humanistic perspective (not always that easy when the other theoretical perspectives are always there, lurking within my mind), and most difficult of all; sticking to using humanistic language . There are times when each theoretical school will have their own terminology for describing a similar psychological process. For instance, the psychodynamic concept of transference and countertransference occurs, and could well occur within a humanistic counselling relationship too. It’s just that in humanistic terms this would be described as ‘working with the client’s feelings towards the therapist, and the therapist in turn recognising their feelings towards the client, using immediacy, having the feelings brought to their awareness within the here and now.”

The afternoon, without our tutor, was spent discussing further, going through an old past paper and discussing it within the group. One of the other group members took it upon himself to take charge of the discussion and sat in the tutor’s seat, writing on the white board and generally leading the debate, something which the other group members didn’t seem to mind very much, but I got really annoyed by! How dare he think that he knew better than anyone else in the room? My inner rebellious streak was activated, and I found myself disagreeing with him on purpose, actively, and arguing his points, insisting that I was not going to accept what he said, purely because it was he that had said it! The other group members were a little surprised at the open friction between us, but actually he seemed to take it in very good humour, welcoming the debate. Thank goodness. I did apologise for it in the process group immediately afterwards, and he seemed to not be too upset. I explained to him that actually, in a weird way to me, my feeling comfortable enough with him to challenge him and not feel worried that he would hate me for it was a big step forward for our relationship. I think it was.

I took the feeling of elation at the progress I felt our relationship had made further within the process group, and I made it my place to continue being the rebel, and challenged a couple of other group members. I took care not to sound aggressive, but I wanted to make them think. Sometimes (as if often the case within the counselling relationship) it seems perfectly clear what is going on with people, but they can’t see it themselves. A counsellor should never tell the client what their thought process is or means (an abhorrent idea, and the absolute opposite of what a good counsellor should do) but should be able to challenge the client into thinking about their process for themselves, and helping them come to their own conclusion. In fact, this is vital, as no person can ever make an assumption about what another person is thinking or feeling or acting out. Carl Rogers firmly believed that, it is one of the corner stones of person centred theory. It is hard, as a counsellor, to challenge though (as I discovered) as there has to be a huge amount of trust within the relationship for it to be acceptable, and not detrimental to the overall process.

Of course, if choosing to challenge for their own needs, as I think maybe I did at the beginning, one must be able to study why they do that, and whether that is significant. For me, I know that it follows a behaviour pattern for me. I do not like being told what to do or think, particularly not by men, it seems. A hangover from growing up in a house full of women (one of 3 daughters), going to an all-girls school, being ‘the boss’ for most of my working career, and being an independent divorcee in recent years. As behaviour patterns go, it is not one that I am too worried about actually. Maybe if it starts hindering my future relationships this will have to be something I re-address, but for now I am kind of okay with it. I don’t see the harm. I think I have intuition enough to know when to use it and when not to. Of course, my exes may not agree with that, but I like to think that that is why they are ‘exes’, not ’present’s…

Journal posts 22 and 23 ( a week missed, off sick); march 11th 2013

It felt like I had been away from college for a very long time; it had been half term, and then I had been ill, so I was pleased to be back, despite not feeling quite one hundred per cent recovered. I was relieved to see everyone, and feel that they weren’t too let down by my not being there last week – everyone seemed incredibly understanding, none more so than J, our tutor, and so on check in my first tears of the day were spilled, as she made sure that I – and everyone else in the room- acknowledged just how awful the last few weeks had been for me. Oh, there is nothing like feeling a bit sorry for myself to get the waterworks flowing, and it seemed that today was going to be one of those days that examined my ‘life deficit’ in even more detail, prompting even more tears. Still, painful as it is, I am doing it, I am not shying away as I used to (although I do still try the odd trick, to get out of owning up to my upset – not because I don’t want to face it as such, but because I am embarrassed at how much crying I seem to do in our sessions). This last time last year, when we were studying our CBT module, I managed to avoid being the ‘client’ for the entire process! Nothing like that is going on any more, and I feel proud of myself that I am facing up to my stuff in a much more congruent way these day, even if I am, erm, ‘soggier’ for it…

We continued after check in with a quick recap on the work they did last week – the concept of working at ‘relational depth’ in person –centred counselling (meaning ‘A sense of connectedness and flow with another person that is so powerful that it can feel quite magical. At these times, the person feels alive, immersed in the encounter, and truly themselves while experiencing the other as open, genuine and valuing of who they are.) Developed by Dave Mearns and Mick Cooper, the idea is that the core conditions are not simply ‘tools’ that are used, that they become an integral part of the counsellor, the very principles by which we work from, enabling this work to take place at ‘relational depth’, where change can happen, where communication does not skim over the surface, but is used to facilitate movement from deep within. A hugely powerful concept, and to me, the essence of person centred counselling; something that couldn’t possibly be attained without congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy being at its heart.  In my experience, the very best work that we do with clients is when it comes from the soul, and to touch someone’s soul, requires you to access your own. To me, it is reminiscent of those late night chats with your best friend, after a bottle or two of wine, where the real truth is revealed and dissected; pored over and pounded. We counsellors want the conversation to reach that level (but in a clear headed state, where the content can be remembered the next day!) Clients interviewed after  reporting back as having achieved this, have said they felt it was; Empowering and useful as a catalyst for change, that it lessened painful feelings; that there was a positive effect on the therapeutic process, a deepening and  equalisation of the relationship, greater trust in their therapist, and that they were more able to vocalise their innermost thoughts and feelings;  that from that they gained a sense of connectedness to their own selves, greater self-knowledge and understanding and acceptance and that with that they felt more able and powerful to move on and break their patterns of thinking, and enjoy better relationships with others.

Powerful stuff. This led on to this week’s subject – ‘the divided self’; the idea of sub-personalities, as written about by John Rowan (‘Discover your Sub Personalities’; 1993, Routledge, London). Immediately, this sounded very Jungian to me – akin to ‘personas’ and ‘archetypes’. Sub –personalities are pieces of the whole of the overall personality, which have a life of their own, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, intentions and agendas. There’s the rebel and the martyr, the seducer and the saboteur, the judge and the critic and a host of others, each with its own mythology, all co-existing within a person.  Counsellors must recognise these facets within both us and our clients, and understand that one of them has a story to tell. Each one views the world differently. Each one interprets the events of life differently. Which ones control behaviour, thinking, and choices? Attention needs to focus on those that constantly provoke, react and attack. They are hurt and angry, wounded and in need of healing, if there is to be any inner harmony.

This was both incredibly hard and incredibly easy for me to get my head around, simultaneously.  I am bipolar; I naturally exist in extremes – I am very well aware of the inner conflicts within me. I got the concept in a heartbeat, but when we went on to do a survey that measured our sense of self, in terms of pluralism, my results came out completely opposing everyone else’s in the room, and that made me extremely upset! For a bipolar person to be okay with themselves, they have to be comfortable with that level of multiplicity operating within – it is all right, they are all a part of me, and coexist within me; I have to accept myself as being multiple and opposing at times. It doesn’t mean I don’t know who I am – quite the opposite; I know exactly who I am, a person who exists in extremes (when not properly medicated, anyway).

We were asked to identify five inner sub personalities, and share them with the class – I couldn’t possibly get it down to less than eight (I could have named hundreds) they were; dreamer, healer, vulnerable child, perfectionist, muse, clown, explorer and rebel. I would say that these are the main ego states I flit between. I could go on to describe how, but it would take all day, and may well be enough for a book, not a journal entry!

The morning ended with a creative realisation, where were asked to firstly focus on a part of our body, then to associate a symbol with that part of the body, then to full imagine that symbol as being alive and real, and to have a conversation with it. Here is what I managed to remember and jot down of mine;

(I had focussed on my stomach and imagined a warm, soft, red heart.)

Me; Love, how do I feel about you? You have deserted me.

Heart; No, I haven’t – you have love all around you, Ungrateful Girl – your family, your friends…

Me; But I want more than that. I want romance, to feel safe, protected and warm, again

Heart; Maybe you could have these things if you made yourself open to them, and ready.

Me; I can’t do that, I got too damaged before. When I lost you before, and lost my family along with you, I broke beyond repair.

Heart; you’ll never be like you were before again, but you can still be ready for me.

Me; How? What do I need to do?

Heart; Take risks again…

 

Wow! Yet more powerful stuff, and more tears. It was lunch time straight after that, and I needed the break. I felt exhausted and a bit ill again – probably from the strain of it. I can’t remember a morning where I had been more present and focussed, for ages…

We watched another skills video after lunch, filling me with more dread about showing mine next week, and then it was the process group; lovely process group. Actually, this week wasn’t so bad. I was really trying hard to be attentive and alert, but as often does happen, the conversation at points drifted into boring drivel. When it was alive though, it was really honest, brutal and raw – and it was  for these moments that I tried to stay with it ( the trouble is with my brain, particularly after a bout of illness, and some  new mind meds that are still settling, it goes off, and it takes all my energy to bring it back, to re-engage with myself, let alone those around me, at times), and so I tried my best to participate with the others, experience them fully. I found myself pulling them back to the here and now at various times – there was much anxiety about the future being talked about; about the exam, about next year, about completing this year and where it will take us, how we will manage. I couldn’t handle it; I was going there too if I wasn’t careful, so I kept  on bringing it back with, “but we’re here, now..,” and “what would you say to a client who told you that?” and it felt pretty good to do that. It was exactly what I would do when working with a client (and probably in my outside relationships too).  I chose not to share in the anxiety though, I didn’t want to, not just to show empathy – I mean of course, I do have fears about these things, but to actually try to empathise, more than I already do, could definitely push me over the edge into anxiety, and mania, somewhere I can easily end up anyway, without taking silly risks that I know could take me to that place!

The final part of the day, the supervision section, another part I often struggle to make it through –often being quite emotionally exhausted by that time of day – was another very conscious effort from me to stay alert and participate fully. A fellow student was sharing his experience of counselling in a drop in centre; his frustration when a client didn’t turn up, and his struggle to keep boundaries in place with a centre that is new to having counsellors working there. I have first-hand experiences of these issues, and through being thrown in at the deep end somewhat, have learnt some valuable lessons and strategies that could be useful to him, so I tried to share them with him. I think he took them on board; I was very aware that he was feeling quite defensive about it – again, just as I had during my first group supervision session, and so I tried to be sensitive, yet constructive with him by offering him suggestions of techniques that have worked for me and sympathy to his situation. (Normative and restorative, perhaps?) I hope he was okay with it; I think he was.

So, to finish the day off, a quick run through of the last essay we had to do, with a fellow group member who feels she is struggling academically at the moment. I told her “I am no expert but I can show you how I went about it,” and she seemed to be appreciative of that. It made me feel good to try to help. My inner healer, rising up again for fulfilment…

 

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 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.

Journal post 16; Monday 14th january

Today, we began by looking at ‘strategic therapy’ – a model originally developed by Milton Erickson (who is often credited with the founding of several popular NLP techniques that are commonly used) and popularly advocated by Jay Haley, for use in brief courses of therapy. The therapist initiates what happens during therapy and designs a particular, individualistic approach for each problem. “Strategic therapy isn’t a particular approach or theory, but a name for the type of therapy where the therapist takes responsibility for directly influencing people” (Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques Of Milton H. Erickson MD)

We went on to discuss Milton Erickson’s techniques. He was quite a controversial figure in psychology, being largely self-taught, and favouring methods that some considered unorthodox. He regarded the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating, and used approaches such as hypnosis (although his definition varies from the commonly held image of a client being put to sleep and being made to do things that they would not usually consider doing – his meaning of this word is more to do with achieving a deep state of relaxation and ease with the client, whereby they are more receptive to ideas that the therapist suggests, more aware of intonation, tone of voice, more perceptive of other signals that could be given), working with metaphor (a wonderful example was given of his discussing sex with a couple who he was counselling – he used the simile of a three course meal – did they prefer to slowly savour their food, enjoying a leisurely entrée with a good wine, or was it better for them to rush through to the dessert?) reframing (suggesting it would be more bother to continue presenting symptoms of unease than to give them up)and my favourite – encouraging resistance (whereby the encouragement of the client’s negativity to any suggestions by the therapist, creates a situation where the client, wanting to oppose the suggestion, finds himself unable to resist without cooperating with the very aim of the therapist anyway – often described as ‘reverse psychology’)

In reading about his work, and the lovely anecdotes about his unusual approach to it, a real sense of his quirky personality came across, and the obvious success of his uncommon methods made me warm to them, rather than reject them.  These all seemed to me to be really effective, exciting techniques; but I completely appreciate that a great deal of skill must be acquired in order to practise in this way. Definitely to be used by a confident, experienced and highly intuitive therapist – I have a long way to go yet!

The book by Jay Haley ‘Uncommon Therapy’ (a copy of which I simply had to order, as soon as I got home) describes his technique beautifully here;

One way to view the strategic therapy of Milton Erickson is as a logical extension of

hypnotic technique. Out of hypnotic training comes skill in observing people and

the complex ways they communicate, skill in motivating people to follow directives,

and skill in using one’s own words, intonations, and body movements to influence

other people. Also out of hypnosis come a conception of people as changeable, an

appreciation of the malleability of space and time, and specific ideas about how to

direct another person to become more autonomous. Just as a hypnotist can think

of transforming a severe symptom into a milder one, or one of shorter duration, he

can think of shifting an interpersonal problem into an advantage.

This ‘strategic therapy’ ; where the therapist most definitely takes charge of the treatment, and uses their powers of suggestion, intuition, and at times, plain trickery, into facilitating the client’s change of perception – is commonly used in family therapy situation these days. The therapist will focus on identifying problems, setting goals and helping the clients to examine both the outcome and the effectiveness of them. The British Strategic Therapy Centre advertises this on its website by calling it ” the art of solving complicated human problems with apparently simple solutions” and it strikes me that this quite an accurate summary  -of how I perceive it to be, anyway; assisting the client by breaking the problems down into less complex, more manageable issues, and  in turn, helping them to find solutions – in other words COMMON SENSE (!) – What any helping professional would try to do; be they a social worker, a support worker, nurse, care assistant or counsellor.

The discussion within the group was really interesting that day, but was slightly marred by the anxiety that the weather was bringing – snow was falling, thick and fast, and many of us in the group had concerns about travelling home, and about how our children were being affected by their school’s snow policies (School these days seem to just shut at the first sign of snow. In fact, England just seems to lose the plot as soon as the weather starts to get a little more extreme – you’d think we would be prepared for it by now; after all, it happens almost every winter. Grrrr…) So, after a brief chat about the paradox of failure within counselling (can counselling ever be considered a ‘failure – aren’t all experiences, regardless of the positivity or negativity of their perception at the time, simply lessons to grow from; the very aim of counselling) those of us with children who needed rescuing from their schools took the decision to cut the day short; me included. Such a shame, as the subject matter on today, of all days, was absolutely fascinating – well I thought so, anyway…