Journal posts 22 and 23 ( a week missed, off sick); march 11th 2013

It felt like I had been away from college for a very long time; it had been half term, and then I had been ill, so I was pleased to be back, despite not feeling quite one hundred per cent recovered. I was relieved to see everyone, and feel that they weren’t too let down by my not being there last week – everyone seemed incredibly understanding, none more so than J, our tutor, and so on check in my first tears of the day were spilled, as she made sure that I – and everyone else in the room- acknowledged just how awful the last few weeks had been for me. Oh, there is nothing like feeling a bit sorry for myself to get the waterworks flowing, and it seemed that today was going to be one of those days that examined my ‘life deficit’ in even more detail, prompting even more tears. Still, painful as it is, I am doing it, I am not shying away as I used to (although I do still try the odd trick, to get out of owning up to my upset – not because I don’t want to face it as such, but because I am embarrassed at how much crying I seem to do in our sessions). This last time last year, when we were studying our CBT module, I managed to avoid being the ‘client’ for the entire process! Nothing like that is going on any more, and I feel proud of myself that I am facing up to my stuff in a much more congruent way these day, even if I am, erm, ‘soggier’ for it…

We continued after check in with a quick recap on the work they did last week – the concept of working at ‘relational depth’ in person –centred counselling (meaning ‘A sense of connectedness and flow with another person that is so powerful that it can feel quite magical. At these times, the person feels alive, immersed in the encounter, and truly themselves while experiencing the other as open, genuine and valuing of who they are.) Developed by Dave Mearns and Mick Cooper, the idea is that the core conditions are not simply ‘tools’ that are used, that they become an integral part of the counsellor, the very principles by which we work from, enabling this work to take place at ‘relational depth’, where change can happen, where communication does not skim over the surface, but is used to facilitate movement from deep within. A hugely powerful concept, and to me, the essence of person centred counselling; something that couldn’t possibly be attained without congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy being at its heart.  In my experience, the very best work that we do with clients is when it comes from the soul, and to touch someone’s soul, requires you to access your own. To me, it is reminiscent of those late night chats with your best friend, after a bottle or two of wine, where the real truth is revealed and dissected; pored over and pounded. We counsellors want the conversation to reach that level (but in a clear headed state, where the content can be remembered the next day!) Clients interviewed after  reporting back as having achieved this, have said they felt it was; Empowering and useful as a catalyst for change, that it lessened painful feelings; that there was a positive effect on the therapeutic process, a deepening and  equalisation of the relationship, greater trust in their therapist, and that they were more able to vocalise their innermost thoughts and feelings;  that from that they gained a sense of connectedness to their own selves, greater self-knowledge and understanding and acceptance and that with that they felt more able and powerful to move on and break their patterns of thinking, and enjoy better relationships with others.

Powerful stuff. This led on to this week’s subject – ‘the divided self’; the idea of sub-personalities, as written about by John Rowan (‘Discover your Sub Personalities’; 1993, Routledge, London). Immediately, this sounded very Jungian to me – akin to ‘personas’ and ‘archetypes’. Sub –personalities are pieces of the whole of the overall personality, which have a life of their own, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, intentions and agendas. There’s the rebel and the martyr, the seducer and the saboteur, the judge and the critic and a host of others, each with its own mythology, all co-existing within a person.  Counsellors must recognise these facets within both us and our clients, and understand that one of them has a story to tell. Each one views the world differently. Each one interprets the events of life differently. Which ones control behaviour, thinking, and choices? Attention needs to focus on those that constantly provoke, react and attack. They are hurt and angry, wounded and in need of healing, if there is to be any inner harmony.

This was both incredibly hard and incredibly easy for me to get my head around, simultaneously.  I am bipolar; I naturally exist in extremes – I am very well aware of the inner conflicts within me. I got the concept in a heartbeat, but when we went on to do a survey that measured our sense of self, in terms of pluralism, my results came out completely opposing everyone else’s in the room, and that made me extremely upset! For a bipolar person to be okay with themselves, they have to be comfortable with that level of multiplicity operating within – it is all right, they are all a part of me, and coexist within me; I have to accept myself as being multiple and opposing at times. It doesn’t mean I don’t know who I am – quite the opposite; I know exactly who I am, a person who exists in extremes (when not properly medicated, anyway).

We were asked to identify five inner sub personalities, and share them with the class – I couldn’t possibly get it down to less than eight (I could have named hundreds) they were; dreamer, healer, vulnerable child, perfectionist, muse, clown, explorer and rebel. I would say that these are the main ego states I flit between. I could go on to describe how, but it would take all day, and may well be enough for a book, not a journal entry!

The morning ended with a creative realisation, where were asked to firstly focus on a part of our body, then to associate a symbol with that part of the body, then to full imagine that symbol as being alive and real, and to have a conversation with it. Here is what I managed to remember and jot down of mine;

(I had focussed on my stomach and imagined a warm, soft, red heart.)

Me; Love, how do I feel about you? You have deserted me.

Heart; No, I haven’t – you have love all around you, Ungrateful Girl – your family, your friends…

Me; But I want more than that. I want romance, to feel safe, protected and warm, again

Heart; Maybe you could have these things if you made yourself open to them, and ready.

Me; I can’t do that, I got too damaged before. When I lost you before, and lost my family along with you, I broke beyond repair.

Heart; you’ll never be like you were before again, but you can still be ready for me.

Me; How? What do I need to do?

Heart; Take risks again…

 

Wow! Yet more powerful stuff, and more tears. It was lunch time straight after that, and I needed the break. I felt exhausted and a bit ill again – probably from the strain of it. I can’t remember a morning where I had been more present and focussed, for ages…

We watched another skills video after lunch, filling me with more dread about showing mine next week, and then it was the process group; lovely process group. Actually, this week wasn’t so bad. I was really trying hard to be attentive and alert, but as often does happen, the conversation at points drifted into boring drivel. When it was alive though, it was really honest, brutal and raw – and it was  for these moments that I tried to stay with it ( the trouble is with my brain, particularly after a bout of illness, and some  new mind meds that are still settling, it goes off, and it takes all my energy to bring it back, to re-engage with myself, let alone those around me, at times), and so I tried my best to participate with the others, experience them fully. I found myself pulling them back to the here and now at various times – there was much anxiety about the future being talked about; about the exam, about next year, about completing this year and where it will take us, how we will manage. I couldn’t handle it; I was going there too if I wasn’t careful, so I kept  on bringing it back with, “but we’re here, now..,” and “what would you say to a client who told you that?” and it felt pretty good to do that. It was exactly what I would do when working with a client (and probably in my outside relationships too).  I chose not to share in the anxiety though, I didn’t want to, not just to show empathy – I mean of course, I do have fears about these things, but to actually try to empathise, more than I already do, could definitely push me over the edge into anxiety, and mania, somewhere I can easily end up anyway, without taking silly risks that I know could take me to that place!

The final part of the day, the supervision section, another part I often struggle to make it through –often being quite emotionally exhausted by that time of day – was another very conscious effort from me to stay alert and participate fully. A fellow student was sharing his experience of counselling in a drop in centre; his frustration when a client didn’t turn up, and his struggle to keep boundaries in place with a centre that is new to having counsellors working there. I have first-hand experiences of these issues, and through being thrown in at the deep end somewhat, have learnt some valuable lessons and strategies that could be useful to him, so I tried to share them with him. I think he took them on board; I was very aware that he was feeling quite defensive about it – again, just as I had during my first group supervision session, and so I tried to be sensitive, yet constructive with him by offering him suggestions of techniques that have worked for me and sympathy to his situation. (Normative and restorative, perhaps?) I hope he was okay with it; I think he was.

So, to finish the day off, a quick run through of the last essay we had to do, with a fellow group member who feels she is struggling academically at the moment. I told her “I am no expert but I can show you how I went about it,” and she seemed to be appreciative of that. It made me feel good to try to help. My inner healer, rising up again for fulfilment…

 

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…