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…

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Journal post 13; Monday 10th December

The following day, and my head is still reeling from this session! It began at check-in, with the same feelings of anger and upset that I have already reported in these journals, resulting from the impact of absence on the group as a whole, and a need for self-care arising from both this, and the general increase in the workload (it is accelerating, as the term goes on) And again, as I have also reported in these journals – I did not particularly share these feelings, although I certainly empathised. My outlook at the beginning of the day was actually quite bright and optimistic (!), as I had had a good weekend and was feeling quite together and organised about my workload.

A more experienced counselling student came in, to do some work on ‘mindfulness’ with us. I already had a fair idea of what mindfulness involves, having been a yoga and meditation fan for many years, but I think a fair definition would be to say that Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment – essential for a humanistic counsellor. The process of constantly checking in with yourself throughout the therapeutic process (and at all other times too, actually); questioning how you are feeling, what this is creating for you, how that may manifest and therefore how must the client be feeling in relation to both that, and what is going on for them at that moment – valuable, valuable process material that must be noticed in order to have an authentic process and relationship.

The exercise itself was similar to other meditations I have done in the past – what I felt was interesting about it was the questionnaire that we did, both before and after. It was the same questions, but the answers were quite different. I found that I had pots and pots to write on the ‘before’ sheet (it asked us to note what our thoughts and feelings were, what was distracting us – any physical feelings; aches pains etc. and that sort of thing) – my mind (even though it felt quite relaxed and happy, to me) was busy; active, even. In contrast, after having done the meditation, my answers flowed out of me quickly, with ease. There were no blocks – everything had been cleared, and strangely, I suddenly felt ravenously hungry! What was that all about? Had the blocks which I automatically put up within my body, the ones which shut out hunger and pain (being a ‘sort of ex anorexic’ living with crohns disease, pain and hunger are ongoing feelings residing within my stomach) been released by the slow deconstruction of the thoughts within, that the exercise had taken us through? So interesting…

After a break (and some food) we returned to read a piece describing a demonstration counselling interview that Carl Rogers did with ‘Gina’, a client who was struggling with death anxiety. It was a transcript of a session they did together, showing how Carl Rogers’ non directive technique, combined with his core conditions; empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence, could be so very effective in leading a client through her fears, so that she could feel that they were fully acknowledged, understood and that she therefore, felt more able to deal with them.

It was wonderful; so simple, natural, honest and effective – and yet again, in my life – this acknowledgement of synchronicity (Jungian, I know) as reading this piece where Rogers dealt with darkness, fear and existentiality, and most importantly – ‘Gina’, so beautifully, seemed to coincide with the place I had been finding myself in recently when considering my own theoretical leaning; the full circle I feel I have travelled, through many other theorists and back to Rogers again. The power of the core conditions cannot be underestimated – not just in a counselling relationship, but in almost all of the key relationships in our lives, and I love that!

We followed that piece with a quick survey that assessed our own levels of unconditional positive regard towards ourselves – it measured how we regarded ourselves, and contrasted that with how much our own self-regard was dependent on how we perceive others as seeing us too. I realised that although I am working hard to build my own self- esteem, and I am succeeding to a degree – so much of that is still dependent on how I think the rest of the world sees me. As if I don’t full trust my own judgement? Hmmm… I don’t think so; I like to think of myself as intuitive and fairly insightful, but I am aware that the last few years have ‘knocked the stuffing out of me’ somewhat, and this has had a marked effect on how I, and in turn others must, perceive myself, and how much I now trust my own perception. I discussed this further with K – my partner for the practical part of the day – and discovered much more that I must take to my therapy sessions.

Next, the process group, which completely blew up!

I described at the beginning of the journal, how others in the group were feeling the pressure at the moment, and struggling with that. Combining that with the theme of ‘unconditional positive regard’ that we had been left with before lunch, the  break had been spent trying to assist that group member with her issues. She was at a real crisis point; even feeling that she was on the point of leaving the course (and as other group members have left us along the journey, knowing that impact, I think I am not alone in saying that as a group we do not want to lose anyone else) As a result we arrived back to the classroom late. Not just a bit late, ridiculously late. It was completely accidental – the 4 of us involved had been so engrossed with trying to help this lady that we simply lost track of the time, but nonetheless  – an awful breach of our group contract, understandably upsetting for the others in the group who felt let down by us.

And so, it was raised in the the process group. Except it wasn’t raised in that guise; it came out in a much more aggressive way, with one of our tiny group exploding in a rage; upset and tearful at what she felt to be ‘a small inner group within the group leaving her out’.  She was new to the course this year, and as such, felt insecure within the group; understandable. But I really thought I had understood; I have made a point of working with her several times; I always stop to chat with her whenever I can – I was new to this group myself at the beginning of last year, and so I fully remember how bewildering and intimidating it is, trying to fit in to a bunch of already formed group dynamics. Still, she was angry with me – she conceded, not as angry as the others, but that I was still guilty. I felt horrendous!

I am glad that she got it off her chest – it had obviously been troubling her for quite a while, and I am glad that she finally felt safe enough with us to be able to. Now it can be worked on, and we can try to improve things, and finally – we have a feeling of being congruent as a group.

For me personally though, I am sad, really sad (my eyes are filling up a bit even as I write this). I feel awful that I made someone else feel awful, even if it was unknowingly. I guess others perceive me totally differently to the way I think they do. I had thought I was trying. Not only that, I am aware that the last few weeks I have been quite self-absorbed, getting deeper and deeper into my own self-awareness and the counselling process than I ever had before. I had sort of thought that was a good thing though, what I was meant to do on this course. I suppose the lesson learned is that I must keep a foot on the outside too; not get to focussed on myself, even within this group – there are bigger things going on, that I am not always aware of…

 

Journal no 11; 3rd December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

journal no 6; 5th november 2012

A recap on all the psychodynamic practitioners we have looked at this term, to begin with;

FREUD –  levels of consciousness (unconscious, preconscious, conscious). Structure of personality (id, ego, superego) Pleasure principle and reality principle, defence mechanisms, dream analysis, free association, transference and counter transference, psychosexual stages of development (oral, anal, phallic, latent, genital)

JUNG – analytical psychology, archetypes – animus, anima etc, shadow, personality types – thinking, feeling, Intuiting, sensing, transcendental meaning, individuation – spiritual growth, synchronicity, collective unconscious, personas

KLEIN – attachment theory, child analysis, splitting – good breast, bad breast, object relations, depressive and schizoid positions, play therapy

WINNICOTT – ‘good enough mother’, ego splitting, transitional objects, art/ drawings, nursing triangle, space between, focus on environment and relationship with it

FAIRBAIRN – object relations, driven by attachment, working beyond transference, creates real relationship with client, internal saboteur, attacking/resisting object and exciting/disappointing object, attachment with self is important re attachment to others

BOWLBY – attachment, mother-child, separation, secure base, loss, attachment styles – secure, avoidant, ambivelant,

ERIKSON – psychosocial stages, identity crisis, identity achievement, moratorium, foreclosure, identity diffusion

A little more time was spent recapping Erik Erikson, as we hadn’t looked at him in about a year. Here are his stages of psychosocial development;

1. Infancy: Birth to 18 Months

Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust
Basic strength: Drive and Hope

2. Early Childhood: 18 Months to 3 Years

Ego Development Outcome: Autonomy vs. Shame
Basic Strengths: Self-control, Courage, and Will

3. Play Age: 3 to 5 Years

Ego Development Outcome: Initiative vs. Guilt
Basic Strength: Purpose

4. School Age: 6 to 12 Years

Ego Development Outcome: Industry vs. Inferiority
Basic Strengths: Method and Competence

5. Adolescence: 12 to 18 Years

Ego Development Outcome: Identity vs. Role Confusion
Basic Strengths: Devotion and Fidelity

6. Young Adulthood: 18 to 35

Ego Development Outcome: Intimacy and Solidarity vs. Isolation
Basic Strengths: Affiliation and Love

7. Middle Adulthood: 35 to 55 or 65

Ego Development Outcome: Generativity vs. Self- absorption or Stagnation
Basic Strengths: Production and Care

8. Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death

Ego Development Outcome: Integrity vs. Despair
Basic Strengths: Wisdom

 

So, what do Erikson theories mean for me? I’m bang on cue, according to him. At 38 years old, having been divorced at age 35, I leave the young adulthood stage having been focussed on intimacy with my husband (I met him at 18) and  the solidarity of my family, and finding myself very much dealing with the issue of isolation as a result of having been unsuccessful in that  stage. Nowadays my focus is now firmly on my career (hence this training), and finding meaning in my life through what I do, and how much I contribute to society. At times, when I feel that I am not succeeding with that, I do find myself feeling as though I am stagnating, and that my self- absorption is my undoing. But of course, that is the peril of doing this course; there is a fine line between self- awareness and self- absorption, one that is easily crossed from time to time, and I have to be aware of that and the social consequences that brings as well.  Oh, I would love to talk psychological theory all day and night with whoever would listen to me (my poor children bear the brunt of that, I’m afraid – we often joke that they know more about Freud and Jung than most adults three times their age do), but I know that it must come across as boring and self-obsessed. Good thing, I am not married any more, really, because I can’t see how the strongest marriage could survive this kind of scrutiny!

Although I feel that there can’t be many relationships that can cope with a shake up this violent – I honestly do think that my children and I are coping better as a family unit, for it. I hope that my bringing them up with these ideas consciously  in their psyches helps them with their understanding of the world. They are between the school age and adolescence life stages, and I spend a lot of time advising them on the ‘pack mentality’ of their peers, and their fears of inferiority. The ‘moratorium’ that Erikson defined, where the adolescent goes through a period of withdrawing from responsibilities is well and truly happening in this house! It is hard to deal with, but I really do think it would be harder if I had to deal with a husband who refused to understand it as well (my ex husband thought that most psychological theories were patronising and ‘airy fairy’, not realising he, himself was a walking text book case study!)

Too much time spent talking about that stuff – the afternoon was spent being videoed in counselling skills practise, as part of our assessment process. How was that?  Horrendous! Nobody likes looking at themselves on tape, do they? Let alone people who have piled on over two stone in a year? I looked like a chubby middle aged jewish woman – which I suppose is what I am, really – but blimey – I have never EVER thought of myself in that way before, and to see myself in that way is erm, sobering to say the least. Oh well, diet tomorrow…

Jokes aside though, the taping of the counselling session was fun – it was good to see beyond my cringing, and note what sort of counselling skills I used. I hadn’t realised what an expressive face I have! To watch my face change through the session is almost akin to watching a mime – I think I need to work on toning that down a bit – hard, when it’s a completely unconscious process, though. There are many changes to be made; it is a process I would very much like to do again, perhaps towards the end of the course, to see if I do manage to change and evolve my style. As Erikson himself said, “There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding.” –  a metaphor for the continuing evolution of personality over time – after all, we are not ‘complete’ by the time we are 5 or 12 years old. We continue to evolve throughout life (and so will our counselling skills, hopefully)…