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 no 8; 19th November 2012

I arrived for this session feeling somewhat ‘under par’ and was surprised, on arrival, to find that I obviously wasn’t the only one – it transpires that a nasty bug has swept the class, and only 6 of us managed to make it to college. So, a much depleted group checked in, reporting a mixture of feelings – me, being unusually blunt and candid about just how rubbish I was feeling. For some reason, in the car on my journey in I had been overcome with a terrible wave of upset and tearfulness, despite my best efforts to put my ‘chirpy, sociable College hat’ on, and I just felt too upset to pretend I wasn’t – sometimes it is just impossible to carry on, regardless; particularly in an environment where you are being encouraged to be in touch with your feelings, as we are.

So, it was with a level of discomfort that I began the first assignment of the day – a review of psychodynamic theory, and how we have personally related to it. We were given only an hour to get our thoughts down (in preparation for the exam conditions we will face) and I disappeared off to the LRC to place myself in front of a computer, where I could access my notes. The hour flew by in what felt like seconds, and I returned to the class to share my findings with the rest of the (tiny) group. In retrospect, I think that the group size, combined with my already delicate demeanour, made for an extremely intimate and particularly open debrief.

Feeling somewhat vulnerable, yet unafraid to be fully present in the activity (as the level of support that I feel within the group is huge)  I began the next exercise – a set of open ended questions designed to reveal to us what really is lying within our subconscious. *sigh* Well, what can I say? By the end of this exercise I was close to flat on the floor.  I’ll publish this exercise as a separate blog post so you can read how it works, if you want – or breeze over it – whichever…

What a thoroughly depressing set of answers I put forward!  The obvious truth was glaring hard at me; I was sliding – I could feel myself sinking further and further, and I was getting more and more anxious and frightened about it. This feeling had begun a few days before, when I had received some bad news in the post from the welfare support benefits agency. It was probably a bit of a trigger, as the depression that I had been trying so hard to keep at bay for the last few months –certainly since the beginning of this academic year – was hovering around my peripheries, waiting for the moment it could sneak back in and swallow me up again, and it was getting perilously close to finding one.

The practice counselling session that followed on from the quick answer exercise began with me as the talker. I probably made a mistake there – maybe if I had composed myself enough to be the listener, I would have held it together for the rest of the day? No point in wondering about that now though, because I didn’t.

I started talking, and then I started crying, and once I had started crying I found it nearly impossible to stop. All of my fears came out – I told J (my counsellor for this session) about my psychological assessment I had last week, and my fears of an official bipolar diagnosis, and a change to a stronger medication as a result of that. She questioned me as to why I was afraid of that – after all, I hadn’t been so upset when my son was diagnosed last year? I had been relieved that he was finally going to feel better. But on further thinking, I decided that relief was my own – I wouldn’t have to worry so hard if I knew he was being ‘treated’ correctly – just as I felt that those around me wouldn’t have to worry so much about me if I am medicated more heavily than I am currently. But there is a big part of me that is scared that I will never feel happy again if I take these stronger meds. I mean, I know that when I am down I am really down, but at least when I am, what they call, ’hyper’, I feel productive and successful. It may be a somewhat deluded perception of self, but it is preferable to the negative, hopeless, lethargic underachiever that I am the rest of the time. The other big fear that goes with that, is the fear that I will become even more like my Grandma – that I will spend my life suppressed by drugs, and will die lonely, having never truly lived my life, having had a mere existence.

Wow! Rollo May or Irvin Yalom would probably have a ball dealing with my overwhelming existential angst that this personal setback, combined with the shock and realisation that some psychodynamically orientated introspection  has brought on, but I felt quite guilty that I put this much onto a fellow student. It was probably too much for her to deal with – I could feel her instinct as my friend (within the group) even though she was my counsellor (within this setting), and she was struggling with her inbuilt desire to rescue me, to make it better. Credit to her, though, she resisted well.

The level of upset within me was indescribable – even after the session stopped, I couldn’t stop crying – it was that really deep, really snotty and wheezy kind of crying (you know, that Juliet Stevenson did so well in ‘truly, madly, deeply’ – remember that? I’ve never seen such realistic, hard crying on a film since then) and the inbuilt instinct to close my eyes and sleep after that, was close to overpowering me through the process group and the supervision part of the afternoon. I am extremely embarrassed to say that I even answered a question with “I don’t know” – a phrase you will not hear me offer very often (I am someone who generally has an opinion, or wants to offer input to most discussions) but I really did feel completely spent – a bit broken, even. I couldn’t concentrate – even now, writing this journal the next day I am finding it hard to concentrate.

Still, it is done now; my bad day is over – I may still feel the remnants, but the journal is written – I can put this to bed, and hope that this Thursday’s extra workshop goes better for me. It will, I am sure; it has to!