Counselling journey and review

30 Sept 2018

While most of the year was simply a case of getting by, the last few weeks has seen change, some positive, some I’m still not sure about.

Let’s go with the positive: I have begun a counselling skills course and have set a goal of becoming a counsellor. Originally I wanted to learn these skills as they could help me manage/combat/overcome elements of condition that I feel hinder progress. As I had little help with any of my issues I’ve now decided that I don’t want others to suffer in the same way and that if, by any small means I can help, I will.

Looking at the choices out there, I think CBT, NLP or Psychotherapy could be any of my specialisms. I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself, but it does no harm to consider these options.

Speaking of NLP, I did an introductory session an found it incredibly helpful and positive. I think that alone pulls me to it. Simple concepts, yet so affective, such as removing negative terminology from communications; comparing who you are on a bad day/good day and figuring out how to stay in ‘good day’ mode more often. Once I’ve saved up enough I will do the foundation course and then onwards from there.

The counselling skills course will no doubt be challenging, but you can’t help someone fight their demons if you can’t fight your own. I’m going to use this blog as part of my self-reflection while doing the course. This session was mostly admin, but we did cover something interesting: a group contract that lays out a framework for helping via mutual respect, understanding, empathy and a safe place. All good groundwork for establishing a contract with helpees.

The contract lays out what the helpee can expect from the helper, with some caveats. While the discussion is confidential, should the helpee disclose something that leads the helper to believe the helpee is a risk the themselves or others, or involved in illegal activities, such as child endangerment, drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism, then the helper is bound by law to report this.

So we established a group contract that will lay down a framework in which we can discuss and practice freely, safely and in confidence. Anything we think breaches this will get escalated and dealt with accordingly.

2nd Oct 2018

Today’s session introduced us to boundaries and ethics. The line between personal and professional will be something for me to develop, while I’m always focused about whatever job I’m doing, I’m always the same person; I don’t have a persona for work. This is something I may well have to adopt, particularly in the helping profession. It’s very clear how much this work can have an emotional impact on the helper and how vital it is for one’s own wellbeing that they learn to distance themselves.

We were given some recommended reading: Counselling Skills and Studies by Fiona Ballantine Dykes, Barry Kopp and Tracey Postings. The first two chapters cover the contract and ethics and there’s some really interesting takeaways such as:

  • Have a framework for looking at what appropriate behaviour and attitudes are
  • Recognise the limits of your ability and monitor your own values
  • Convey the limits of what you can offer to the person you are helping
  • Enable the helpee to find other support where appropriate

Boundaries clarify the helping relationship so that both helper and helpee know what to expect from the relationship. Boundaries outline what is acceptable in the relationship. That could be boundaries on time and length of session. the limits of confidentiality and frequency of meetings, what would happen if helper and helpee met on the street or at social situations.

We often feel uncomfortable when our personal boundaries are challenged; it’s good, therefore, to know one’s boundaries and how they could help or hinder us during a helping session.

Time boundaries are something I hadn’t really considered, but what if we had reached a breakthrough or were discussing something emotional then I suddenly said it was time to end the session? Setting a clear limit and a ‘countdown’ to the end will give the both the chance to naturally end the session and set a focus for the next one. It will also allow the helpee a chance to gather themselves before leaving.

  • Boundaries may have limits and these need communicating at the start of the session
  • A helping session needs to have an appropriate ending
  • Boundaries must be clear
  • Appropriate and context-specific
  • Firm but caring
  • Neither controlling nor manipulative
  • Neither hurtful nor harmful
  • Neither invasive nor dominating
  • Respectful 

Another challenge is that of empathy: I’ve always struggled with seeing things from another’s perspective. I know my way of doing things and philosophies and have difficulty understanding how no-one else does things the same way. I think this is more to do with the Aspergers; tunnel vision is part of it. Another thing that concerns me is showing empathy, as my voice is quite monotone and I don’t have much inflection, so I sound uncaring when I talk. I can work on this as part of my development plan. 

Sometimes it’s easier when expressing sympathy, when something is done to someone, rather than stepping outside of oneself and into another’s mindset.

9 October 2018

Tonight we wrapped up things from last week, looking at boundaries, and we had a discussion about what Safe, Legal, Moral and Ethical means, or what we thought it meant, in relation to the job.

I was wary and a bit trepidatious when it came to the second half of the evening as we started to practice listening skills. We arranged ourselves into triads, taking turns being the helper, helpee and observer. I always fear saying the wrong things, or not responding when expected, or responding when not expected, or just not knowing what to say (though if you don’t know what to say you shouldn’t say anything).

We were developing the ability to listen and paraphrase. Right at the beginning of the course we were told that whatever is said in these groups is confidential, and it was recommended that as we were just getting started, we should keep the conversation light. With that in mind, we began practice.

It was very interesting seeing how the others approached this. I felt they did it better than I, as I thought at one point I may have lead the conversation with my helpee, but post session we mentioned being aware of that danger and noted I simply followed a thread the helpee started, so we didn’t go ‘off topic’. It wasn’t my place to lead or direct, it’s the helpee’s time to discuss whatever they want to, so I kept out of their space.

The paraphrasing was a bit tricky. Though I’m quite eloquent and know what to say in my mind, as soon as I try to speak it all seems to go wrong, so I left myself and the helpee some room, for both of us to reflect on what has been said and then for me to show that I understood. Then I could back out of the conversation and let the helpee continue.

We had 10 minutes each, and as we reached 2 minutes, we decided that would be a good time to wrap up and ‘cool down’, as it were, ensuring that the helpee was ok with what had been disclosed and they were happy to leave it there.

16 Oct 2018

The session was some more admin, but also getting to grips with the contract. I found this very interesting, if a bit daunting. While the purpose of counselling is to forge a respectful, trusting relationship with the client, it is still a professional relationship and there are legalities that underpin it.

The contract considers the approach, confidentiality, expectations and even payment preferences. While is it is formal and binding, it still has to be clear and personal enough to not intimidate the client.

We looked at a few different versions of this, as there’s no singular way to write the content but the above conditions frame it.

In the Approach we could lay out our limits of ability, counsellors are not there to offer treatment, but can direct to those that can; also it should make it clear that we practice a person centred approach and believe that the client is the expert on their own life and we are there to help them understand themselves.

Anything that is discussed is in the strictest Confidence, and that is underpinned by an ethical framework; however, the client must be made aware that confidentiality can be broken under certain circumstances such as intent to harm self and others as well as committing a serious crime such as child endangerment, drug trafficking and terrorism. Also, conversations could be shared with a supervisor, so the client needs to be aware and so to if the conversation be used for training purposes (any names are always omitted and left out of notes). Speaking of which, any documentation is to be kept safely locked away. 

Some counsellors are quite happy to let clients have personal phone numbers and email addresses, though I’d prefer to keep things separate, so there must be a stipulation about this, and by extension, how to interact if at all, should there be an accidental social meeting (the client may not have informed family of friends about receiving counselling).

Aside from payment, there’s the question of boundaries. Some of the above keeps a line between the personal and professional, but there’s also time boundaries. The client needs to know how long they have and that the session shall be drawn to a close with a few minutes to spare for the sake of reflection and grounding. Plus this helps to focus the discussion and establish what to discuss at the next session.

I’ll start sketching out a contract and host it here.

6th November 2018

After a half term break we picked up by looking at Carl Roger’s counselling principles and the core values. I already knew about these due to previous reading, but it was good to have a refresher.

Certain things made more sense, particularly the core values of congruence, empathy and unconditional personal regard (UPR). I have struggled with empathy; not from a definition point-of-view, but personally. Maybe it’s due to the Asperger’s or maybe it’s because I am very analytical (says he analysing his condition in relation to the study). I don’t suppose one can learn empathy, but I’m going to give it a damn good try as unless I can move out of my head mind into my heart and gut minds then I’m wasting my time.

I’ve begun to see an overlap with other models of therapy, such as NLP (which I am studying). Self-actualisation and congruence are discussed within the ‘ecosystem’ and ‘communication’ models which looks at how people can only know the world via their interpretation, not the world itself. What a counsellor/therapist must do is to take the client as they are, understanding that external factors have helped to shape them. For instance, people from a poor area will grow up believing that the world is a harsh and desperate place,  whereas people who are from affluent backgrounds will have a hard time when encountering extreme poverty as it is something that is so totally different to their world view.

It is within the role of the helper that they accept and respect these differences and by exploring them, come to understand the helpee – only then can true empathy emerge.

The helper may be challenged in this and ask questions of themselves, but through self-awareness we develop congruence. 

There was a really good video we watched about empathy by Dr Brene Brown; not sure if it was from one of her TED talks, so I’ll do some digging.

After the break we continued with our skills practice. We’re all finding this bit tricky, but I think awareness of the core skills helped us during these sessions. We agree that is is difficult to not say something, or hold back from saying something and just let there be silence. We find it difficult, and disconcerting, for there to be silence in the middle of a conversation, especially one that could be emotionally charged. Perhaps saying ‘would you like a moment to reflect on what you were saying’ or ‘thanks for telling me that, can I have a moment’, may be a good thing to say? There’s the risk of the response becoming mechanical though, but it’s best not to overthink it.

For me, though, during the session I found I was a lot more tuned in to what Student A was saying, and finding that I didn’t really want to speak, but let Student A just talk, and occasionally repeat or paraphrase. The situation though feels unnatural, but I guess that will pass with practice. Once I start to relax and stop thinking too much I may find the process easier and this will help to put fellow students at ease.

We also got to try out our contracts. That was very interesting and we all picked up pointers off each other. It was enlightening to read and hear what others included. That was the feedback generally, and in my triad we definitely felt that each other’s contracts were better than our own, but we collaborated by exchanging phrases and ideas.

13th November 2018

In tonight’s session we reiterated the core values, particularly empathy, which I feel I struggle with. Sometimes it’s better to not speak and let the client know they are valued and understood in different ways. This could be via non-verbal cues such as body language, composure, eye contact, nodding, staying present, silence (giving time for reflection), facial expressions (remaining calm or mirroring the client’s expression). Showing support via a gesture such as offering a tissue  or glass of water.

I’ve had a chance to practice this at work, by listening more, not speaking and paying more attention to people with whom I have little in common. It’s very easy to empathise when you have experienced something, so I can understand a colleague who talks about depression, as I have a lifetime history of it, but for something I’ve not experience? That would be where I have lots of room for improvement.

I did set myself a challenge though. As well as what I’m trying at work, I’m also reading real life stories on some of my favourite Reddit subs. There was one in particular that struck me about a competitive power lifter whose wife died in a car accident before his competition, so he promised he’d win it for her. The look on his face as he pressed above his personal best and won gold made me feel. I tried imagining what it would be like to be that guy; giving everything and pushing beyond your limits to keep a promise to your dead wife.

It was a rare experience for me and quite uncomfortable, as typically, I don’t experience much emotion. 

It was a rare experience for me and quite uncomfortable but isn’t this the point? To challenge oneself? This can be difficult for me as I if something is out of my direct experience I have trouble relating. I have trouble relating to people in general. Maybe I should study psychology instead!

However, upon considering the core values I now see them as the engine that powers self-actualisation through realisation. This helps me with an assignment for next session where we have to depict what the values mean to us at this time, in relation to others. I did a picture of Nietzsche as Ubermensch for my research degree and it sums up how I feel about the above.

When I started my research degree I had no knowledge of Nietzsche other than what I knew from history: the connection to Nazism, the nihilism and madness. If I was to understand his ideas fully, I had to put all that aside and understand the man, then his ideas could be put into context. That is Unconditional Positive Regard – accepting someone for who they are; no judgements, no assumptions.

There was a part of my book where I just couldn’t find an adequate means of representing a concept and had to get inside Nietzsche’s head, to truly understand how he felt about the concept in order to write new dialogue in his rhetoric. That’s empathy. And it was exhausting.

And finally, the Ubermensch character represents Congruence. A person who accepts and brings together all parts of themselves into a unified whole; all parts of their being acting as one, realising the idealised version of oneself via self-actualisation.

In this respect I hope I get the grasp of empathy. To put oneself in another’s place; to feel what they feel. This can be difficult for me as I if something is out of my direct experience I have trouble relating. I have trouble relating to people in general. Maybe I should study psychology instead!

However, upon considering the core values I now see them as the engine that powers self-actualisation through realisation. This helps me with an assignment for next session where we have to depict what the values mean to us at this time, in relation to others. I did a picture of Nietzsche as Ubermensch for my research degree and it sums up how I feel about the above.

When I started my research degree I had no knowledge of Nietzsche other than what I knew from history: the connection to Nazism, the nihilism and madness. If I was to understand his ideas fully, I had to put all that aside and understand the man, then his ideas could be put into context. That is Unconditional Positive Regard – accepting someone for who they are; no judgements, no assumptions.

There was a part of my book where I just couldn’t find an adequate means of representing a concept and had to get inside Nietzsche’s head, to truly understand how he felt about the concept in order to write new dialogue in his rhetoric. That’s empathy.

And finally, the Ubermensch character represents Congruence. A person who accepts and brings together all parts of themselves into a unified whole; all parts of their being acting as one, realising the idealised version of oneself via self-actualisation.

We had a chance to research referral services; this was a great activity and very useful information, should we ever have the need to refer a client on if we reach the limits of our abilities. The trio I was in got Anxiety as our topic and we found some local support services. (Actually there was some overlap with other topics in mental health). The main one is Anxiety UK; a national service with groups across the nation. Their website is quite good with links to CBT, Counselling and other local organisations. Mind, Lancashire Wellbeing, The Richmond Fellowship and The Sanctuary network are others. (I found it ironic that the name of a support organisation, Richmond, is the same as personification of my depression).

I really enjoyed the group discussion about open questions. Though a tip was to not ask questions if one can avoid it, having this tool was very insightful, as I do struggle with know what to ask. So in the discussion we applied some open questions informally. I learned that open questions usually being with how, what, why and discuss. These types of questions give control to the other person and let them explore their feelings.

Closed questions are typically used for information gathering, are quick to answer and keep the control in the hands of the helper. These questions could begin with: if, will, would, are, do and also can be ended with additional questions such as: isn’t it? Can’t you? Etc. These are to be avoided.

20th November 2018

Tonight the class discussed what the core values mean to us, at this moment. We had triad practice scheduled, but the stories were that engaging and emotional the tutor decided to give the entire session over to them.

I was very nervous about this, as I don’t talk much and particularly not about myself, so this was a chance to throw myself into this challenge. I became clear that we were all equally nervous about this – but as one student commented it took courage to share these stories and that people were brave to do so. I also think it speaks to the nature of the course, and the group, that we all felt comfortable enough to share.

My turn was towards the end of the session. I equate the core values to being the engine that drives self-actualisation, so I used an image I’d drawn of Nietzsche as Übermensch to illustrate this and how it related to the confluence of circumstances that lead me to the course in the first place.

I hope I wasn’t too rambling!

27th November 2018

Due to working 10-12 hour days over the last week, I was unable to attend the session but am told that the topic of ‘endings’ was discussed. This gives me some reading ready for next session.

4th December 2018

Tonight we looked at the therapeutic relationship and the differences/similarities between that and personal relationships. Personal relationships come with history, shared knowledge and experience, common ground; are not likely to be confidential and others soon get involved in the issues: with therapeutic relationships trust has to be earned; there’s no shared experience so both parties much get to know each other. The sessions are confidential and non-directive and also there’s payment.

After break we had practice and were given observation sheets to complete. These are great for feedback and seeing where we can improve.

I think we are all still in the same boat when it comes to this, quite nervous and unsure what to talk about, so I suggested we just talk about anything. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy or emotional, as we’re not fully prepared for that I guess.

We went through the contract and I asked if it was ok that I use the timer function on my phone to measure the session, as a few minutes before the end we will wrap up and reflect.

As I’m uncomfortable with eye contact I made a concerted effort to focus on that tonight so when I was working with Student A, I paid a lot of attention to it. Sometimes paraphrasing doesn’t quite work for me, so I stuck with using Student A’s own words, not parrot fashion, but restructured with the same vocabulary to ensure I understood.

Once I understood what Student A was talking about I found it difficult not to offer directive advice, however, I did use gentle challenges: ‘You said ‘X’ and that you have a goal, but you don’t do anything about it; I invite you to think of that goal and what your life will be like once you achieve it. What would that mean for you?’

Student A’s reply was very positive and affirming so I believe Student A is in a position to make some changes for the better. I then recommended we reflect as the session was ending and how was Student A feeling.

I share the same thoughts as Student B, namely, what am I doing? Where will this lead? Though this was a positive experience I must be prepared to weigh it against a challenging one in order to fully embrace this course.

11th December, 2018

Tonight we had our first Personal Development (PD) session. It was very interesting to look at my self -image/esteem/ideal-self compared to how others view me. In the exercise, the two circles were opposites; my self images is quite poor and I don’t have a high opinion of me or my abilities.

By comparison, my ideal self is the polar opposite, where I would have confidence, be knowledgeable and self-assured. The intersection of these two circles is a bridge between the two states and are qualities I do see in myself; determination, competence and curiosity. These are the qualities that saw me complete my PhD and what I rely on to do this course and the NLP training.

We were put into small groups and asked to write down a word or two that described the others; the ones I received were ‘wisdom’ and ‘intelligent’. Not things I attribute to myself but somehow something others see in me? I visited a friends of mine and asked them to do the Johari Window exercise with me and again ‘intelligence’ was something that they noted. The window with the least amount of descriptors was the ‘known to self’. This echoes the previous exercise, really. Though the one part of this that made no sense was the ‘unknown to self and others’ window. If there are unknown qualities, how can one note them? My friends had chosen many words to go in the ‘unknown to self’ such as; reflective, brave, trustworthy, independent, kind, warm, wise, knowledgeable and giving. 

I’ve had a few days to think about these and can understand ‘reflective’ after all, what am I doing now? However, I think it will take some time to own the other attributes, but these are part of my ideal-self, so it’s something I will work towards.

The triad session was very good this and I received some valuable feedback from fellow students (as part of the formal write up and in casual conversation with both afterwards). I worked again with Student A in a follow up from the previous week and we began with me asking how her week had been following her decision. She said she’d acted upon the realisations from the previous session and it has been very positive, that’s why she wanted to work with me again this session, to continue and see where it leads. This brought more insights from Student A. I kept out of her narrative as I’ve begun to use silence more and more, in fact I’d call it the best tool in the kit thus far.

The quality of the feedback I received has spurred me to improve the feedback I give, as though it’s quite praising, I could do with being more constructive (I’ll have to get my Lecturer hat back on and recall how I did the feedback then). The downside to the triad is that the session was so progressive we overran; that’s my fault as I didn’t keep my eye on the clock because I could tell Student A was on the verge of a realisation. Hopefully then I can be more mindful of the time boundaries and make better use of it.

8th January 2019

I think I’ve missed a week out, somewhere, as we did some work on Attachment Styles, though I’ve not noted it. Turns out mine is ‘avoidance’ which is not surprising.

In the first session of the new year we had our second PD group following an exercise which set the tone for the following week. We had to look at events that have made us the person we are; formative experiences that didn’t have to be negative (though it is inevitable that some arise).

The following have had a definite hand in shaping me; and it’s reflecting on those that has caused depression to resurface after months of it being beaten.

  1. Having a series of Out-Of-Body experiences when younger kicked off my existentialism/nihilism;
  2. The end of my first relationship (which was five years) is the cause of avoidance and never getting close to someone
  3. Overcoming aspects of (what I now know to be Asperger’s) to qualify as a teacher, taught me self-reliance, resilience and determination;
  4. The death of my maternal grandmother sparked my obsession with mortality and that I now sleep around 5 hours a night, as I have too many things to accomplish and there’s no time to do them in
  5. The threat of being sectioned and being put on strong meds for depression and suicidal thoughts lead to apathy and a reservoir of ideas that poured out once I’d removed myself from meds, ended up with the…
  6. …Asperger’s diagnosis and turned the ideas into a…
  7. …research degree. That, in turn, strengthened my resolve and showed me I was more capable than I realised and affirmed my obsession with self-actualisation.

Even though there are many positives to these above experiences, the pervasive Richmond was waiting in the wings. Ruminating on these causes had brought back many doubts and darkness and I have been on a downward slide over this last week. It is indeed a slippery slope and will take me a while to climb back up. I will turn to my NLP learnings to help.

Reflecting on these has been painful and I have to consider how they impact the helper/helpee relationship. Let’s start with that. An ex once said that no matter how close I am to someone I always make sure there’s a gap. I have to wonder if that is to protect me or them? After giving everything to one relationship, only to have it betrayed and snuffed out am I that wary that I do not commit completely to any relationship, or has the OOBE and existentialism given me an excuse that all things are fleeting and temporary? I think that is the nihilism talking, but trust and respect are a part of the counselling relationship and if I can’t foster them in a personal relationship, how can I in a professional one? Perhaps it will be easier for me in a professional capacity, as the boundaries of that relationship are laid out in the contract. It would be bad practice and dangerous for both if the professional encroached on the personal so in this instance a gap is a good thing.

It’s the same in work relationships. There has been rare occasions where workmates have become friends, mostly I keep those relationships separate. I can see how this has lead me to being alone for the majority of my adult life. This has been by choice, as I feel I am undeserving of a romantic partner, as well as friends. My personality can be abrasive and insular. Too often I am withdrawn and contemplative; not very outgoing.

15th/22nd of January 2019

I realise I keep missing the entries, however the last two weeks have been of much reflection that is the result of the timeline task and the follow up ‘conditions of worth’. Consequently, I’ve spent my time reevaluating my job, life, interests, well just about everything. The positive is that myself and fellow student received very good feedback and comments from our observation. I’ll comment when I get the written copy. Also, these exercises have revealed a few things that I need to consider.

We have also been given an assignment that will explore our motivations, blocks, strengths and areas to develop. Coming off the back of these two tasks I can see how this will pan out.

As I looked at my notes from the exercises, and pondered the assignment question I can see: that I’ve never looked for outside approval of my actions; at first recognition and reward for achievements is all well and good, but ultimately I do what I do for my own edification. That others may respond to that is a fortunate side effect: that I need to focus on what sparks joy. Too often have I followed a course, or engaged in an activity for material gain, but not really enjoyed it. It’s counter-productive as I come to see that task as a chore and it becomes tiresome. I therefore have no motivation to complete the task, once interest has been lost. Importantly, I realise that my conditions of worth were weighted incorrectly. I always measured my intelligence and abilities against others who were proficient in areas I was not, be they Maths, Science or practical. I berated myself for not understanding, even though I have no issues managing my finances dry, context-less numbers remained a mystery. It’s the same with practical skills. My father is incredibly practical and when I was younger he single handedly converted our attic into my bedroom, as well as installing central heating throughout the home, doing brickwork, carpentry etc. I’m lucky if I can rewire a plug without blowing things up. However, my intelligence lies in other areas to the extent that most people who see it applied state they have no idea how I do what I do. I’m very good at taking abstract concepts, decoding, visualising and disseminating them.

This skill is very handy for an illustrator and designer and helps me communicate ideas. I’ve even got a PhD in it. So I’m not that stupid, I just see myself as that 15 year old kid in his bedroom, learning to draw, learning to play the bass and focused on nothing else. That’s the spotlight that has to move. To have confidence in my own abilities and take ownership of the view that others have of me. In the classroom my fellow students have said I am kind, wise, intelligent and self-aware. Even friends say this of me, yet I don’t see it because of the perception that I am that kid who is still learning, ergo, not very smart.

Added to this is the realisation that my line of work no longer holds any meaning for me. I’m developing an allergic reaction to consumerism after working for 20 years in retail as a graphic and web designer. My embracing minimalism was an unconscious manifestation of that and I see now that my concept of self worth shifting towards feeling that my day has had purpose and been worthwhile. Save for one other goal, nothing is more important to me right now.

29th January 2019

I received my feedback from the tutor’s observation and there’s a very good note that harkens back to something I mentioned right at the start of this review, which is my difficulty in reading people. The tutor rightly pointed out that I could have followed up on some body language and how that was a signal for something else.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working towards recognising it more by using rapport to mirror the helpee’s body language, that way it they change suddenly I’ll be more aware of it. What also helps is silence. For me this has become the single best tool I’ve developed.

My first learning plan was to gain confidence when talking; at first in commenting but also in personal development groups (as I’m naturally quiet). I believe I’ve achieved this simply by using silence and summarising the helpee’s feelings in that moment. I have found it far, far more productive to use mental imagery in tying together all the threads of the helpee’s story and then simply react, rather than go in worrying about what I’m going to say.

I brought this together in a practice that was observed by the student teacher where I barely said a word all session but managed to sum up Student A’s feelings with a metaphor at the end, which I hoped would show not only my understanding, but that they too would understand. The observing tutor picked up on this so I’m quite pleased that the approach actually worked. I just need to develop it further.

5th February 2019

Tonight one half of the group did presentations on ‘where are we now’, as we are approaching the halfway point of the course. I was quite taken with how brave and confident my fellow students have become. It sounds dry and patronising, but I don’t mean it that way. One can see the progress they are making and how proud they should be of that, even if they perhaps don’t see it at this point.

The first presentation was very powerful as Student A showed a remarkable turn and openness. We could sense a paradigm shift and an emotional rawness which was being kept in check, and this was too Student A’s credit.

This presentation was followed by other equally frank and heartfelt monologues with reflections after each. The support, respect and acceptance from the group was very evident not just the applause after each presentation but to the point where we could help the presenter see thing they may have been blind to about themselves, such as confidence where they thought they had none or the amount of progress they’ve made.

For my presentation I showed a drawing I did some time ago about what it’s like when Richmond pays a visit. The timeline and conditions of worth exercises brought up episodes with him that I thought I’d gotten rid of, so even though it was difficult to go through that again, there have been many positives. I talked about my worries, primarily that (as discussed many time before) I have trouble reading people and understanding emotions so I think this will hold me back, and I’m lacking confidence in this, but students I’ve worked with and my tutor pointed out they’ve experienced and observed my interrogative method to get around that, and that I watch for body language and other clues. It’s something I work hard at and it seems then it is paying off.

To conclude I showed another drawing of where I feel I am now. I am drawing and Richmond appears behind me, but he gets trapped in a bubble an floats there among many other bubbles; just one of many feelings. It’s ok to feel down and sad, but one must realise that one is in control and can chose how to react. I chose to acknowledge the feeling then let it pass in its own time.

The main thing I discussed in the presentation is my confidence in conversations now thanks to adopting silence. It is as crucial to conversations as space is to design. Silence gives you the room to consider, to reflect, to ruminate. It is also respectful and a sign of confidence.

There are moments when I feel unsure of what to say, I think we all have them, and those are the moments I should be even more silent until prompted. The only other thing I could do is to summarise the helpee’s feelings, perhaps? But if in doubt, leave it out.

I really look forward to the next session and the remaining presentations.

12th February 2019

Tonight we had the remaining presentations which were very inventive involving props and even an original song! It was great to see that they felt so comfortable within the group that they were able to do that.

8th March 2019

Due to half term and being ill, I’ve missed a couple of entries off here. When I returned to class the topic was prejudice and discrimination. Our forms of prejudice are so subtle we might not even see them, but where do they come from? Are they fuelled by experience, culture, media or upbringing?

For example; if I were to be working with a different ethnicity, say Asian, I might immediately think they’re a kung fu master and wise with ancient mystic thought! If I were to be working with someone who dresses in a tracksuit and looks unkempt I may immediately presume they’re from a council estate, perhaps like to drink or do drugs and lives on the dole thanks to their many kids.

Are either of these snap judgements true? Probably not. The Asian may be third generation English and never practiced a martial art, the person in the tracksuit may just need to feel comfortable, or just have no concern for their appearance because they’re too busy dealing with whatever has lead them to me.

I myself always dress in black, have long hair, a beard and am usually quiet. What do I look like to someone who doesn’t know me? I think a lot of our prejudices are generational and come from the days of the Empire when Britons were derogatory about the nations they colonised; also the media does much to perpetuate these views by partitioning information and not giving us the whole view. Not every person with darker skin is a gangster, pimp, dealer, hoodie and criminal. Everything in that sentence can be applied to any ethnicity, but the media does a good job or keeping the nations spotlight focused on one area. Probably why I don’t watch TV anymore.

When we meet someone who is not like us we can’t help but see that person in the context of these assumptions; the point is to quickly drop them and to meet this person where they are; our ethnicity, background, upbringing or culture is a part of us, but doesn’t have to define us and that’s how we should view people when we meet them.

Very easy to say, but I’m sure it’s very difficult in actual practice

We were given a task to adopt the persona of a particular person (or group) and look for services that could help us. The personas included women, a Christian seeking counsel from someone who shared their views; people of different ethnicities, the elderly or disabled and the group I was in got trans-gender female.

The results were very shocking to me as I had no idea how limited access and number of services were. The only group that had ready access were LGBTQ, as it was commented that supporting this group was good business, therefore services were in reach.

We were asked to consider how one might engaged these services and what might get in the way: for minority ethnic groups or Black they are more likely to be given coercive treatment rather than talking therapy; if women are fleeing from domestic abuse and their children have witnessed violence then the children are put on a child protection register as the women has been deemed unable to protect them; seeking someone from your religion to counsel you could be detrimental as they could either agree with you, or if they have a different interpretation of the religion, then they could condemn; if one is elderly or disabled then ready access to services is limited. One may not be computer literate, or only get a short visit from a Carer (and there’s the question of how much time a Carer has given the number of people they must visit, and not getting paid for travelling between service users etc). I get the sense that the system is rigged to dismiss as many people as possible because local and national government can be bothered. It’s quite depressing.

Speaking of which; I’ve said before that deep down no-one knows what they’re doing, we’re all just making it up as we go along, but lately I feel I’ve been floundering a lot. Not so much in my personal projects (though I need to actually get on with them and just create things) but more so with work and the relationships at that place. I can’t quite put my finger on it but something seems off. I’m pushing as hard as I can to do the best under the circumstances, but no matter what I do I can’t feel settled and confident in my abilities. I thought I’d gotten over imposter syndrome at work, but I feel that people believe me capable of more than I know and that adds pressure I don’t need. This has begun to affect my feelings towards the counselling course. I’m beginning to think I’m not good enough, but thoughts like that can be invasive and work their way everywhere.

If I let these thoughts take over then I’m not going to be of much use to anyone, especially during my training and it would be better practice to empty my head and focus on my fellow students as throughout the course I’ve learned (through exercises, feedback in peer/tutor reviews) that my fellow students see me totally differently to how I see myself. I should take solace in that and use the successes to build my confidence, ensure I help the best I can while using NLP/skills on myself to control these moods.

12th March 2019

Tonight we got to refresh ourselves on Qualities (core conditions, personal and moral qualities) and Skills (counselling skills such as reflection, paraphrasing, , focusing, repetition and silence. In preparation for our exam we watched a short Carl Rogers video and made some notes. The range of skills on display were very subtle, but covered:

  • non-verbal communication
  • minimal encouragers
  • picking up and clarifying the client’s feelings at the start
  • broad use of silence, letting the client say whatever was on their mind
  • didn’t lead
  • gives the client space
  • acknowledges clients feelings
  • paraphrasing

We moved on to discuss Immediacy. Much like questioning, it would be difficult to practice this thins without making the moment artificial, in other word it can only be used if the situation demanded it. Much like questioning it could prove challenging for both helper and helpee if not handled correctly.

I don’t believe any of us are ready for these skills at this stage, but you never know what the moment calls for; they might be the right tool for the job at that time. Immediacy is used to questioning what is happening right now in that moment, either with the client or in the relationship between the client and helper. This could include:

  • use of present tense to invite the helpee to explore what is going on between them
  • involves the counsellor sharing their feelings and thoughts
  • used to deal with difficulties such as lack of trust, boundary issues or differences
  • the counsellor must be direct, honest, sensitive, aware of timing and be prepared to follow through on results.

That’s quite the juggling act and if all these moving parts are at the front of the conscious mind then they’ll be falling all over the place. I think the best approach is to be aware of the elements that make up this skill, but keeps them in them subconscious until needed. If we burden ourselves with too much at this stage it’ll be overwhelming.

Speaking of which…lately I have been feeling overwhelmed, tired, completely unworthy and at an impasse. It seems that nothing I do goes anywhere; I feel invisible and wasting my time with everything. This mood has lead to procrastination, many early nights and strange dreams. I think it’s because I am putting too much pressure on myself.

It has also started affect my thoughts about the counselling course believing I don’t have what it takes and my character isn’t suited. I much prefer to be quiet and am often stuck for something to say; how can I react in the moment if my only reaction is to keep quiet? How will that affect a client? How will it affect me in that moment?

In tonight’s class we also had a chance to continue with skills practice, and I was the helpee. Student G did a brilliant job and made it look easy, whereas Student A did an equally great job in the feedback. I’ve now got the unenviable task of writing up feedback on Student A!

19th March 2019

Tonight we looked at strong emotions and our reactions to them. There was a strong parallel with NLP in the recognising sensory input and then choosing how to react. As an interesting side note the work of a Masaru Emoto was mentioned by another student. Emoto’s thesis posits how positive emotions can have a positive effect on water (creating unique water crystals as opposed to water that was exposed to negative emotions which created malformed crystals). From a metaphysical perspective it’s quite interesting; as we are mostly water, a wave of positive emotions could ripple from one person to another and so on improving mental states. Therefore the same is true of negative emotions. Perhaps it’s the same concept behind mob mentality, whereby even lucid and sensible people get swept away by the actions of the crowd? It’s an interesting idea.

One of the final tasks we have to do for this course is analyse an audio recording of a triad session. I managed to get mine recorded and though I’m glad that bit is done I am not looking forward to hearing myself. I don’t think anyone likes it but I’m not fond of seeing myself in pictures, let alone in video or audio.

It was an interesting session though as Student B was just as quiet as I usually am so the recording will be mostly silence with Student B doing most of the talking and me wittering on to see if I understand her feelings.

I think that I’m improving in reading body language as there were instances when Student B was looking down and to her right, which is the area for checking out feelings so it was prudent to leave her in this space to reflect. There was one moment though (which I will note in the task) where I did interrupt and I immediately apologised for it but I had a prescient thought which I needed to voice to clarify something. Student B did provide context and though I was understanding her concerns from the outset the new information helped me to establish a chronology that ensured I could focus correctly (before that moment I felt I was straying).

Next week we have the mock exam (we are that close!) and it’s a fair bet that we’re all feeling anxious about it. I do not do well in formal exam conditions, not at all. I need time to think and when on the spot my mind goes blank, which is one of my concerns about this line of work – or talking to anyone really. I should learn to relax and the thoughts will come. I always know what to say, or write, but there’s a disconnect between thought and action and it leads to feelings of inadequacy and social awkwardness.

26th March 2019

Tonight was the mock exam – most were nervous, though at first I was concerned, as I don’t do well in formal conditions, I found I couldn’t be concerned with something I didn’t know about, so was open when approaching the test and I did like one student’s comment that she couldn’t be nervous because she thought it was next week.

The test itself was interesting, though I found the scoring system a bit strange; 5 questions split into A and B, half a point for each and only gaining a point if both A and B are correct. One needs 3 points or more to pass, so even if you missed out on a couple of answers there’s a risk that one would fail because one didn’t answer everything right.

It’s saving grace is that it is subjective so, as I’m never that precise in remembering I’m bound to get something right. From the peer-to-peer marking, and the answers that were read out, I could see that I need to expand on certain themes so I’ll dig into revision this weekend alongside starting the final tsk of analysing the recording.

I had a quick listen and it was very uncomfortable, so I’ll have to go through it in third person and treat it much like the mock where the task was to analyse the performance of a trainee counsellor using her skills in her day job.

All-in-all I was happy with my result as it showed I hadn’t forgotten everything but just need to expand on certain concepts.

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