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 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