Journal post 30; Monday 13th May 2013

This has been a strange week and I have had real problems writing this journal as a result. The day spent at college, monday, was a day that was dominated with preparation for the forthcoming exam, and completing our practical assessments.  All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed with pressure. Pressure and fear. We took a past paper, and even though we have done these before, and I had previously felt quite comfortable with them, this time I struggled, and I mean REALLY struggled with it.  The process of articulating all of these actions which, when  practised within the counselling room seem to come naturally, almost through intuition or some kind of felt sense, suddenly seemed incredibly difficult. A bit like describing how to breathe. A strange turnaround, because for so many months of this year I have been busy writing about the counselling process, far busier writing about it than actually doing it. These days it is the opposite way around; at present I am counselling six  clients a week , and I certainly do not find six hours a week in which to sit down and write. Maybe that is why I struggled?

There is also the thing that I have always hated about exams – the fact that I have to hand write. That means not just that the words are written out by hand, but that they are fixed in their place in a way that they simply aren’t when using a computer. When writing like this, in my journal or in an essay, i will write and edit, rewrite, edit again, cut, paste, jiggle bits around, change words and change sentence structures several times over in the course of one piece of writing. This, in my opinion, makes for a much clearer, more succinct piece of writing – my natural way of speaking is to use far more words than are strictly necessary, and as such, so is my unedited writing voice – this is not good for an exam!

So, I am afraid. Not only am I afraid, but I am quite a self aware person these days – this means that I am aware that I am afraid. This is also not a good thing because, for me, fear breeds more fear. I start off feeling a little anxious, and then start getting anxious about the fact that I am anxious, on top of the original things that I am anxious about, and before you know what is going on, I am having to use techniques that I learnt many years ago in CBT to avoid a panic attack coming on! (Just one of the reasons I am still not a huge fan of CBT, because even though it helps me to deal with anxiety when it comes along, it has done little to help me get to the root of  what causes me to suffer from such severe anxiety, and so now – years later – here I am, still suffering , when I really have no good reason to) I think that in previous journals I have mentioned the fact that it took me many attempts to pass my driving test –  an example of the same process. Right now I really am feeling that same process going on, and I don’t like it at all. Awareness is supposed to help you deal with things better , supposedly; one of the principles underpinning the whole purpose of counselling.  Well, I hate to say it, but this is an occasion for me where I disagree with that statement. Awareness of my anxiety seems to only fuel it further!

So is that why I have found it hard to write this week? Partly, but also I think that the letter that arrived on tuesday morning, from the college, saying that counselling courses were no longer going to be offered, had an impact too. A sudden realisation that not only am I reaching the end of this year’s course, but that I am reaching the end of my time at this college altogether. This was certainly something that had been in the air all day on monday – as a group we had been in good form, but the high spirits felt strained, almost forced at times. For me, it felt like it was getting close to that mania, that bipolar high, that ‘I’m actually really not very happy at all but I just can’t stop behaving in this way because it is just what I have to do right now’ feeling. Maybe a bit of denial at the loss I know I am about to feel? Maybe I am thoroughly determined to enjoy the time I have left, and so feel the need to act in a bit of a slightly over the top, happy, silly kind of way? I don’t know, I really don’t, and I have spent a lot of time this week trying to work it out – equally though, I am aware that every time I have sat down to write this journal I have been unable to get anywhere with it – an unconscious avoidance of having to really acknowledge those feelings, maybe?

It is the end. We are nearing the end of the course, we are facing goodbyes, and the potential endings of the relationships we have formed, and we are reaching a point where we have to make decisions about our future. And that is scary. And I am scared. And I can’t resolve this fear right now – thinking it through doesn’t change it. I am going to have to sit with this, at the very least until after the exam – probably for quite a while after that too, I suspect.


 

 

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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 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…

 

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 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 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…