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.

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Journal 3; 8th October 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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