Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I came face to face, this week, with the, ultimately expected, fact that I needed glasses. I had avoided an eye test for a year, ignored the occasional blur and the receding periphery of my vision, but, surprising even myself, when I was told I'd need glasses, it depressed me.

I was put out not only by the cost, but by my worry that it would change people's perception of me, that it would, perhaps, even change me - a mask, if you will. I felt as if the real me would be stuck behind these spectacles while people I met made, perhaps even more judgemental than usual, snap judgements about who I was. I was suddenly moving camps from the non-glasses wearing fraternity, to the not-so fortunate. I guess, I now feel as if I am entering a world of disability, and I think that age-gradual-debilitation idea frightens me quite a bit - it's another reminder, along with my back problem, that I am getting old, and like my parent, and grandparents, I'm not going to be able to do the things I used to be able to do (Why then, don't I do more exercise?).

I only realised on sunday, when I attended a get-together at the house of a work colleague of my wife's, that I had a strange feeling of inadequacy around people with glasses. Moreover, my interaction with people wearing glasses have mostly been people in a position of power - either good or bad - who I perceive as being more intelligent than me, and who are mostly serious people - teachers, bosses, parents, the investigator in my brother's case, and all those professional business people, power-dressed in their executive suits.

Of course, over the years, I know that people have mistaken who I am, because of the way I dress, carry myself, or talk, anyway - snob, gay, intellectual, idiot (I at least take pride in being a Jack-of-all-trades) - so, what does it really matter?

It's as if having to grow up, responsibility, ageing; it all combines to mollify my young spirit - something to fight against (I have allowed too much of myself to be moulded by the external stresses of the world already, let me at least keep my vanity)!

Secondary to this, I was presented with a prejudice of mine. My parents received a Christmas card from my uncle, detailing (as usual) the successes of his children over the year. As a family we mock them for this treatment - this is the only communication we receive from them (certainly since the death of my grandmother and the demands my cousin made of my mother to pay him what was rightfully his - oh how I love Christians), and it is all, always, self congratulatory. It makes me feel inferior, but then, the contradiction is that I wouldn't want their lives, I wouldn't want to study politics or law, and step up to the bar. There is some innate part of me that refuses to allow me to like them in any way, their devout religion and the manner in which they have always conducted themselves makes me consider them as the most phoney people I have ever known - that they really think they might get into Heaven and because of my beliefs, I won't, sickens me.

That has to be the core to my belief system, and to ponder that as being one of the fundamental reasons why I have built up my own faith of world view is a scary prospect; not simply because it ultimately is built on a subtle form of hatred and distrust, but, it also raises the question, what would my faith and belief be if I hadn't had them as role-models for all religions? It does worry me that there is a chance that I might be less open-minded (than I am), that I might be ignorant, egotistical, and self-deluded.

But, would I be happier?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I have had an epiphany in regards to the relationship between being a writer and becomming a counsellor. Whilst in my learning I have been taught about the objectivity of the counsellor's role; the stoicism of keeping one's own thoughts and feelings to one's self whilst discussing the issues of the client. I realise that this is a need in writing also.

I get so blinded by my own need to help a reader/listener to understand what I want to say, what I am trying to assert that I have failed to realise, even in my learning that any strength of realisation can only come from subjective understanding, dependent upon the reader/listener's own life experiences. There is simply no point in telling someone what they need to do, what they should believe because their power and their control is removed, is taken away, their right as an equal human being is usurped. Similarly, a writer may be trying to get at a very specific point; John Fowles in the Collector is trying to narrate class difference, JD Salinger in the Catcher in the Rye shows us every teenager at the point in their lives where they are trying to find a place in a world that ultimately disgusts them.

But, the point for these and for other books, as well as the relationship between counsellor and client solely comes down to the analysis of character, the fine-tooth comb over what makes a character tick. In a good novel we are never told what a character is like, we are shown what they think, how the act, and their first reactions to situations before they are able to cover themselves. We see inside of them through the lies they tell us and the lies they tell themselves, the ones they live by - the safety barriers and boundaries they believe they need to live inside to survive.

Counselling requires the same. It is no good the counsellor explaining their position, their thoughts; telling the client what they are thinking or should be thinking - as with writing, this is not only a turn off, but nothing is learnt, their is no process for growth, no moment of understanding. The prize, the awakening never comes from the answer, which is why so many people find themselves interested in stories, in beginnings, middles and ends; more specifically, people need stories of rites of passage - without a full understanding of the journey, the answer is meaningless.

I must bear this in mind in the delivery of my writing, the understanding of my characters and in the delivery of my counselling skills.

Secondary to this was my self awareness upon how racist I am - not in an aggressive manner, but in a stereotypical way. Firstly, I was assisting, in South London pub, at a charity party, and at 2am, was awaiting in the empty pub (whilst the staff cleared up and my friends popped to the local ambulance station to store their equipment) with a large designer bag packed with upwards of £1,800. Two black men walked past the window, and I felt as if they had made an effort to peer inside, at what I thought was the bag. I promptly moved it under the christmas tree while I waited for my friends to return and began to worry about what I would do if one of those men tried the unlocked door, wanted the bag and presented a knife.

As it was, a black gentleman did enter that pub and enter into the toilet - at that time I thought he must know the staff, but after the return of my friends and his re-emergence from the toilet, the staff asked him what he wanted and removed him - I can only make assumptions about what I thought he'd come in for, and perhaps how he had only been scuppered by the number of people.

Secondly, I was watching the film Crash, which regards race relations in Los Angeles, and the ease with which people seem to stereotype; most noticeably two black youths besmirching the rascism they receive, before falling into type and holding up a couple at gun point and stealing their car.

Fear is the reason; Rascism is only the excuse.

I would honestly have felt less worried, standing in that pub window, if two white men had walked past (probably peered inside only because people were in a pub at 2 in the morning - is it a new late night opening pub?), but then if I really think about it, I felt no less anxious by our fifteen minute walk from pub to my friend's flat than I do when I walk down to my local shop - there are no black, coloured, ethnic minority people at my local shops, only white adolescents with nothing to do, alcohol and no boundaries.

I am afraid of the unknown, of what might happen, and it is easier to stereotype so that I believe in some way I am protecting myself - because I think I know what they're like, what I think they're capable of. I label the local kids as "chavs", and suddenly I have encapsulated everything they are and everything they are capable of, and I can dismiss them.

But I realise that rascism is just an excuse for my own insecurities.

We did a task a few weeks back in which we spoke of our initial internal responses to certain character types - and all of them come from our own fears our own insecurities about what these people will do to us physically, about how they will affect us psychologically, about how they may change us or what they will make us endure, before we can return to our comfort zone.

Writing and counselling is about forgoing judgements, is about acknowleding weakness, temperament, possibilities and about embracing difference, change and the many levels of society's supposed structures, about using the fear for self awareness only, for growing and taking control. I have to be prepared for my readers to come to a conclusion that isn't necessarily my own, because as with spirituality, with religion, with politics, people come to decisions based upon their own life experiences, their own subjective understanding; never because someone has told them so.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Missing the class this week bothered me more than I thought it would. It reminded me of the times, as a child, I had gone on holiday with my parents for our two week summer break. I would always be sorry to go because of what I would miss out on with my friends. Not that I didn't enjoy the holiday once I arrived; I always felt a bit down since it was time that I wouldn't get to spend with my friends. Returning home then was one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday.

For me, missing out on just one evening's lesson, is missing out, not on the learning, but the shared experience, the being part of something that brings us all together and gives us something in common.

Those of the group who have missed a few of the lessons through illness have appeared a little detached from the group as a whole, seeming, from my point of view, to feel inadequate compared to the the current counselling skills of others, and generally less likely to interact with the whole group.

Further to this feeling a part of something, I have noticed that unless I situate myself next to someone who is already present in the room when I arrive, others tend to sit away from me when they arrive. It is then only when there isn't enough seating elsewhere that people finally sit next to me.

This bothers me and it doesn't bother me. In so much as I have to wonder whether I put myself across as the friendly easy-going person I think I do, or whether I come across as rather high-maintenance, too energetic, or judgemental. It could very well be that the others feel more comfortable sitting alongside women, or that it is merely the luck of the draw.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This week I didn't feel focused upon any of the tasks. I was agitated, in an overtly happy mood, and was trying (and failing) to keep my humour restrained. I grew overtly stressed when other members of the group took topic off at a tangent or didn't understand the task at hand: to identify behavioural responses - not to argue that they wouldn't respond in that manner.

I think my irritability had stemmed from the stress of having to deal with unruly teenagers in one of the borough's quieter libraries, and the resultant adrenaline that I hadn't been able to get rid of before going along to the lesson.

I identified the behaviours fairly well, and am able to distinguish between the way in which things are said - the delivery - and the message itself - the meaning behind whatever tone is prescribed to it.

I specifically took away from the group an awareness of my own initial reactions. This, I think, is where the past few weeks have been leading - towards the fact that even if you cannot treat someone with unconditional positive regard, if you cannot remove yourself from the subjectivity of the way in which they have acted, what they have said, or who you perceive them to be, at the very least, measure your own response. In light of my attitude in the first half of the lesson I believe recognition of one's behaviour and responses is one of the more important tools since it goes hand in hand with empathy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Saturday’s workshop was a real eye opener, not just in terms of realisation of self, diversity and the implications of who I am in regards to what society thinks I am, but also in respect to people’s spiritual and political beliefs. It appeared to me that a lot of the group had very little to say in either respect, able to discuss what they had been up until this point. Whilst my comments were hardly positive towards either political situation or religious faith, I do have a sense that I might be more self aware, or at least, more concerned about my place or position in respect to these. The atheists and the people who steer clear of politics (having no view on it) really proved to me that a lot of people are more prepared to stick their head in the sand because they either don’t want to think about issues, don’t want to upset the status quo in their lives, or really have a sense that it’s not happening or not going to happen if they don’t afford it any thought.

I think it’s a credit to the group dynamic that the introduction of four people from the other group did nothing to unbalance the ease with which we communicated. I have no doubt that the four would have been apprehensive to begin with, but I’m sure that the looking back at the group contract and the warm up exercises helped propel us all along.

I took away from the workshop a lot of thinking about who I was and who I thought I was, and spent the majority of Sunday considering self and the experiences and circumstances that have led to me becoming me. Although not an entirely pleasureable experience in itself it brought to the front of my mind possible reasons for my responses in certain situations, which is extremely interesting.

I got a lot out of Monday night’s session also, really finding myself in the counsellor role during the triads. I was really pleased to be congratulated on my conduct and my use of some of the skills with a very important aspect highlighted: that when a client’s issue is something that sparks memories or an ongoing situation with yourself. For me, this manifested in me remaining very aware that I shouldn’t involve myself, steering clear of leading questions or advice, and whilst the client said that he was comfortable with me, and felt that my questions were very open, helpful and empathic, the two observers suggested that to them I hadn’t been entirely so. I found it difficult to paraphrase any more than I did do, not finding that the time was right to interrupt in such a manner, which is why I made the concerted effort to summarise the session, and almost fell into the trap of offering advice. It was highlighted throught that, and my subsequent change of tack, to avoid advice and offer up an open ended statement, putting the onus of responsibility back on the client, that keeping an open mind and not trying to rush what you are saying will allow you to stop, rethink, and say the right things for the client, not for yourself.

It was interesting when the tutor explained the reason for putting all the guys into one group, which had made me face my fear of male judgement and the possibility of having to cross emotional barriers that usually don’t exist between female and female, or male and female. I admitted to myself that when I had first joined the group, I was sizing up the men, trying to gauge their personality types far more than I did the females of the group.

Playing the role of counsellor in this instance really opened up the potency and power of that responsibility. Despite my previous frustrations regarding that lack of control on the counsellor’s part, I suddenly felt more empowered, able to say that when the time was right, they would know to make the right decision for themselves, and happy to step back knowing that I had planted a seed of thought that one way or another remain with them.

I guess that the point of this is to keep the client thinking, because too many people switch off, set up their barriers and try to deal on a day to day basis with their problems whilst avoiding the cause. Whether they make the right decision in the end is entirely up to them, as long as the counsellor can keep the issues at the fore of the client’s mind. The client can only face up to them, can only allow themselves to heal if their wounds have been opened and cleaned.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Expanding self-awareness

Name (how important is it to you?)
My name has always been important to me, as far as disliking it. The nicknames that may be derived from it and the connotations, for example: Dick or Dickie, have always offended me, because I term them as a put down. This stems from school and the obvious cruelty of other children. However, my grandfather always called me Richard Dick, and he was the only one who ever got away with it. Also in school, the use of my proper name became something I dreaded because of when I was naughty I didn’t like its use to identify me and make me stand out. Certainly, in my previous job, hearing my name called by my boss was a grating experience, but these days I am more aware of how its use can show how relaxed other people are in my presence: Rich, Ricardo, etc.

Gender (are you satisfied with being who you are?)
As a male I believe that I have it easy: the world is still a predominantly male controlled environment. However, I have often found myself in a predominantly female environment; either being the only male or one of a few. I have a strong effeminate side ‑ as a pre-school child I had a dolly (Thankfully mum wouldn’t allow me to have a pram) – and have always been relaxed in the company of the opposite sex – my first memory of interaction with a girl is from playgroup when I would pretend to be this girl’s dog; also I had my first girlfriend in my first year of primary school.

Body (are you satisfied with your physical appearance?)
I have grown into my body and am only bothered, these days, by my slowly swelling gut (but will I go to the gym?). As a child I was always tall (called: Lanky or Beanpole), and I had two large front teeth (Goofy), which required braces. I guess I was fortunate to go into secondary school with my teeth fixed and more people of my own height.

Abilities (what are you particularly good at?)
I am usually fairly good at picking up new things, able to see someone do something and mirror it – Tae Kwon-Do and French Jive. I was able to act my way through five school plays, my pinnacle moment being: Mr Bumble in Oliver, and through drama GCSE. I am good at writing, and put a lot of effort into developing that. And, I have an ear for music, though I cannot play an instrument and have lost the ability to sing that I had as a child. The one skill I most wish I had is the ability to draw, because it’s something that has always eluded me, and I believe would help me flesh out my story creations a lot better.

Mind (do you feel OK about your intellectual ability?)
These days I am content with my ability to pick things up and put my mind to certain disciplines. I don’t have the pressures of other people to make me feel or seem stupid in comparison. At school I was intelligent enough, or at least, applied myself enough, to be in the top-sets at school, though never truly grasped some of the concepts and never won any awards for achievement. It was frustrating to see other people constantly better me, but I’ll never know whether it came down to me not fully applying myself – I have now managed to put myself through university and come out with merits in computing for a HNC and a HND, and achieve a high 2:1 degree. I do sometimes doubt my own ability, and when presented with something I deem as difficult I will worry about whether I can do it or not.

Age (are you comfortable with the age you are now?)
From day to day, my current age (26) doesn’t bother me. When I think about it I realise how time is marching on and ten years ago I had already planned my milestones to hit by this age. I still feel so young, am only now getting over the fact society considers me to be a man, and wonder what ever happened to 18 or 19. Because I enjoy interaction with other people I tend towards joking around with them, and since the majority of my time is spent with women, some of the interaction, I am aware from the comments of others, can be construed as flirting. I do wonder how long it will be before I can no longer act in this manner, because my age will get in the way and people will begin to construe what I say or do as no longer light-hearted banter, but as some form of lecherous.

Birth (how do you feel about where you were born?)
I was born in Heatherwood hospital, Ascot. As a subtly snobby child it was a status symbol to have been born somewhere else (Ascot being quite affluent), though these days I have no feelings about it.

Culture (where were you brought up?)
I was brought up in Bracknell, Berkshire, my whole life, in what I believed to be a middle-class, white, English culture, very aware of the difference in how I spoke to that of the way many others at primary school spoke. My idea of the class system was based upon size and location of houses and behaviour; I had no idea about the real terms or meaning.

I was brought up to treat everyone with equality, be good, and polite. My parents didn’t christen me because they wanted to allow me the chance to make up my own mind about what I wanted to be. There was never any religious influence upon my life other than the introductions of it in secondary school, which didn’t really touch me.

I am not really mindful of any culture I may have, taking for granted my freedom, and freedom of speech or the fact that my passport will allow me almost unhindered access across the globe.

People (who influenced you most when growing up?)
My parents’ influence has been the driving force into moulding me, though I believe my brother has had the greatest influence on who I am. I have always been aware of his selfishness, his me-first attitude, his lack of friends, the bullying he was subjected to at school, the ease at which he gets aggressive, his inability to communicate with people without introducing some form of put down on them, his lack of self confidence, his ability to rub people up the wrong way, his over-protectiveness towards his belongings, the way, as children, he always made me play as the bad-guys so that he could be the good-guys, his need to be controlling and in charge, his inability to take criticism, his inability to show his true feelings towards things that worry him, his running away from things that bother him, his lack of applying himself, his saying exactly what he thinks, how frustrated I now get at his inability to take responsibility, and his belief and protectiveness towards the family.

I wonder if I would be the person I am today if I hadn’t had him as an older brother.

Parents (what is your opinion of your parents?)
Mum is a good person who says things how they are, gets involved in anyone’s issue (whether it is wanted or not) and a gossip.

Dad is an honourable man who advocates truth and justice, has a very funny sense of humour and is more than prepared to put himself out to help others.

I have the utmost respect for both, and, possibly related to my age and theirs, these days have a greater worry for their health and wellbeing than I have ever done before. I am closer to them now than I have ever been.

Siblings (what is your opinion of your brother?)
I have very little respect for my brother. He rubs me up the wrong way, always puts others down and takes no responsibility for his own actions. At present I feel that he is a burden upon me and my family.

Education (what influenced did it have? What would you liked to have achieved but haven’t?)
I was fortunate enough to be blessed with enough concentration to keep myself in top-sets and with good grades; asides from my A-Level results I have been consistent. My state schooling has forced me to interact with many people I wouldn’t have otherwise got to know, some good, some bad, but hasn’t really been multi-cultural. In every year group there seemed to be just one ethnic minority. For some reason, despite this, other cultures have never bothered me in any capacity.

By the time I completed my schooling I was part of a group of at least twenty friends who would attend parties and go on week long holidays together. There were times when we didn’t all get on, but I felt constantly supported by my peer group.

Employment (list jobs, people associated with them, and their overall influence on you)

  1. Local paper round
    · This taught me the importance of responsibility; I was lucky to be delivering papers to my own street.
    · I used to do it with my best friend, his round was a few roads away from mine and we’d cover each other when one was ill or on holiday.
  2. Local shop assistant
    · For the same company I did a paper round for; low wages and vastly repetitive work though it was good fun whilst it lasted and made me work for and with a range of people from across society.
    · Again I did this with my best friend.
    · I started stealing money from the till, by not ringing through some items, which snowballed, simply because I was on a low wage and saw how easy it was to do. In the end I couldn’t stop myself from doing it week after week. On my last Saturday, the store manager and area manager confronted me and I owned up straight away – ultimately I felt unburdened by being caught, was cautioned by the police and paid back £500 to the shop (I was lucky to have had a policy my parents had set aside for me mature. I never knew exactly how much I had stolen). I was thankful for getting caught and told the manager this (lucky that he wasn’t going to press charges).
    · I dread to think whether I would have moved onto bigger things if I hadn’t got caught then.
  3. Bakery Cleaner
    · From 6am to 1pm every Saturday, I cleaned a bakery, having specifically looked for a job that didn’t relate to money, so that I wasn’t tempted. It was disgusting, repetitive and lonely, but I stuck at it for the best part of a year and only quit when the two other cleaners, who moved onto other things, were never replaced and the boss put more and more pressure upon me to get more and more of the jobs done.
    · I phoned him up to complain and ask for more money if he wanted to work me in that manner. He told me that if I didn’t like it then not to turn up. I told him I’d think about it, and never turned up.
  4. Football Pools collector
    · Whilst doing the cleaning job, mum found me this job as well, and though I was afraid of the responsibility of money I took it on to prove to myself that I could do it and I was in control of myself.
    · It became a burden to have to go out every Wednesday night for three hours, come rain, snow or whatever and go from door to door to collect pools entries and money, but I did it for two years without complaint.
    · I proved to myself that I was responsible.
  5. Technical apprentice and bench engineer
    · My first proper job out of school was in a small company managed by ex-Hewlett Packard employees. We worked with HP servicing their equipment. I learnt a lot about responsibility, getting the job done, prioritising and training others.
    · Management, I realised, were only motivated by money and I was occasionally black-mailed into working weekends to clear outstanding jobs with statements such as: ‘Things are changing around here and trust me, it’s beneficial for you to work this Saturday and show your commitment.’
    · I was also sent off to work at HP to stand in for some of its other employees and I realised that although I didn’t like this part of the job, and had never agreed to it, I needed to be flexible in my working and adapt without complaint.
    · Because of my age I was often passed over for more interesting work and even field work which was somewhat galling.
  6. Helpdesk support
    · Working for the same company I was promoted onto the helpdesk and worked with a team of three others supporting the UK’s HP printing faults which was a great experience, felt more professional and taught me to work towards targets.
    · However, I still felt part of the team I had left behind and when I had my breaks with them, was told not to. There was a definite wish by management to keep the teams apart since the helpdesk team was treated better than the bench engineers.
    · When I quit it was because I’d had enough of the bullying, etc. I was demoted, and then two weeks before my last day I, along with two others, was escorted off site because I was affecting morale with my criticisms of management.
  7. Television extra
    · I joined an extras agency in London and appeared in two television adverts (one in which it was just me and a dog), the Bill (okay, well I was just off screen), and a photo shoot for Take-a-Break magazine.
    · I realised that I hated having to travel into London, work till late, find my own way home, and never get to build relationships with anyone. I also did several auditions, which I had to pay to attend, and never got called up, which I felt was a waste of time, and I realised that I would never get into acting this way.
  8. IT Technician à Network Administrator à IT Manager
    · I took over from a friend when he went to university and supported a computer network for a school.
    · Over my five years at the school I learnt so much about IT, but more so about interaction with other people, of all ages, and really felt part of something. I was involved in all facets of the school, from classroom support, to installing software and equipment, running discos, doing light and sound for plays and dance shows, going on school trips, befriending students who needed extra support, offering myself out for one to one tuition and being open and friendly to everybody.
    · Over time my boss’ grip on her own ability to do her job became too much for her, and her pressure upon me became great. Although she treated everybody beneath her in the same manner, I took a hefty brunt of it. At one point towards my last six months I had a meeting with her and explained that I didn’t appreciate the way she shouted at me, humiliating me in front of students. Her response was simply: ‘I only shout if I have a good reason.’
    · I made the foolish mistake of hiring my brother as a technician. His inability in the job and his doing things that I expressly told him not to do caused me extra stress and pressure: namely engaging in a relationship with a sixthform student despite my expressly forbidding it.
    · I resigned because of bullying, the ongoing changes in the school structure and my disagreement with the way in which support staff were being treated by management at a time when I was close to some emotional breakdown which had led to my fiancée and me having continual arguments.
  9. Contestant stand-in for game show
    · For a three week period leading over one festive season I assisted as a contestant stand-in for the Lulu hosted Saturday program: Red Alert. This was a real eye-opener for me to see the rehearsals and running of a live television show and all the technical aspects that are required.
    · More a surreal experience than a learning one: I did an impression of Norman Wisdom in front of Norman Wisdom, stood in the lunch queue with Bewitched, embarrassingly got the autographs of Steps on a Steps calendar (for a friend), met Lulu, walked thirty metres (towards the exit) side-by-side with Elton John, and sat, for once on the front row, some ten feet away from performing artists: Texas, Elton John and Mary J Blige, Jamiroquai, Andrea Bocelli, Steps, Bewitched, the Lightning Seeds, and of course Lulu.
  10. Actor
    · I was hired for two one off direct-to-video short films for a guy who used to direct for the BBC, is the best friend of Oliver star, Mark Lester, and who once one a Palme D’or for a short film that was shown in British cinemas in front of ET.
  11. ICT Apps Assistant
    · I currently work as IT support for the Library service, feel as if I am coasting since the work isn’t difficult and often I am bored, though with the continued pressures of my brother’s employment tribunal I need the space in which to heal myself.

Spouse (how has your spouse influenced you?)
My wife has helped to teach me to think before I act. She has been a calming influence on my often high-energy persona. She engages me mentally in ways that I don’t get from any other part of my life and has taught me to question the world around me and consider that there is always another side to an argument, another reason behind the actions of others. She has taught me dependence and responsibility and although I occasionally try to bend the constraints of a fair and equal relationship I have found unity.

Preferences (how do your sexual preferences influence you?)
I am always aware of the opposite sex, am a sexual person and because of that I sometimes dream of the forbidden fruit. I am happy in my relationship and to the notion of what a single partner means.

Although I am heterosexual and I joke about homosexuals, I am not homophobic and am comfortable in the company of anyone as long as they don’t try to come onto me. I have a friend from school who came out whilst at university. Though this was a surprise, the more troubling thing for me was that he was no longer a member of the conservative party.

Values (what values do you have, and what influence do they exert? Have you taken them over from other people without thinking about it?)

I will occasionally do stupid things, or bend boundaries, though these will burden me and I will be worried of the consequences. I am of the mind that we make our own decisions and we pay our own prices.

I prefer honesty and hate secrets, often unable to keep them, and used to put great trust in friendship – I value friends far more than I do my extended family. Lying is a burden. I treat everyone with the same respect, even those I don’t get along with, or who annoy me. I am always punctual, dislike putting others out and will often put myself out to help others.

My value system comes largely from my parents but encompasses those of my wife.

Beliefs (what are your fundamental beliefs? How did you acquire them?)
I am a humanitarian with very little faith in anyone who has sought and holds a position of power, since I believe anyone who does just that only does so for their own selfish agenda – absolute power corrupts absolutely, and for me this has been seen time and again both in my employment and in the world environment.

I have a desperate fear of death that extends to the ludicrous notion that everything has a beginning and end – paradoxically it has to – and that frightens me.

I am a spiritualist and have been a part of a spiritualist church and psychic circle. I have learned, witnessed and felt the presence of spirit, used psychometry and mediumship to deliver messages to people from the other side.

I believe that there has to some overriding God, but also believe that there is truth in Darwinism. I cannot put any faith however into an almighty being who needs or wants me to worship Him. To me, an almighty being who wants worship and prayers isn’t that almighty, and is more akin to a slave master. If worship is required to get into Heaven then I am not interested as I consider myself to be an independent freethinker. I am no slave.

I do not blame God for the state of the world since if he existed and had an influence on this world then there would be nothing for man to learn. Every time he made a mistake God would be there to sort it out – there would be no reason to be or do anything.

If God gave me the choice to enter into Heaven or to be cast into the fire of the second death then I would have a hard decision to make, since I neither want to die or live forever.

Religion (what influence does religion or the lack of it have on you?)
I believe that religion has a definite place, and that is to put upon the constraints of living by dictating the duties of men and women towards their fellow men and women. Without the fear of what religion describes as punishment the world would be a worse place than it is, though we are heading that way.

That said: religion is a corruptible tool used by people in power. It’s original purpose of controlling populations and influencing their decisions. It is used as a weapon against other cultures, beliefs and religions, negating the fact that one way or another we come from the same place and will return there.

It is useful in providing the lost with hope and friendship in their most dire time of need, but other than that, in this modern society of freethinkers, it has less and less of a place in society.

Without the influence of religion I have made several mistakes in my life, but because of the influence of my parents and my friends I have been nurtured to be a good person and to consider that the only thing I believe people are judged upon in death is the way in which they have treated others.

Experiences (what life experiences are significant for you and why?)

  1. I was never very good at sports day and in my first one at primary school, aged five or six, I came last in a race. I was confused and then embarrassed when I hadn’t won anything. Upset I went crying to mum who was embarrassed by my upset in front of everyone and told me off and told me to go and sit back down.Similarly, there was an occasion when I had no sports kit for a PE lesson. I was made to do it in just my underpants.Anything that makes me stand out in a crowd, be it to say something, making a mistake, standing up for myself, addressing a committee, or taking my turn to speak in class, makes my heart rate increase, makes me worry about what I’m going to say, floods me with adrenaline and makes my face red – which embarrasses me further.
  2. Despite this embarrassment reflex I have always been in school plays, productions and presentations. This has led to me being singled out for specific and special situations and for me to conquer this fear to get on with what is required of me.Firstly, in my last year of primary school I was asked to assist a lower year group in a fun day by role-playing as a sea captain and leading a group of thirty shipmates in an imaginary adventure in the drama studio.Secondly, for my last assembly at primary school it was down to my best friend and me to host and present the year groups memories of our time there.Thirdly, I was involved in all manner of presentations for my secondary school because staff had asked me to present. I also took part in Bar-mock trials in Oxford as a Barrister, presenting and arguing an imaginary case that led to my school coming third out of ten schools.Lastly, I have represented my brother in his disciplinary and appeal hearings against my own employer, having to overcome my fear of confrontation with a head teacher I had been previously unable to confront.
  3. Although I never went to university I did move away to Bourton-on-the-Water to join an acting agency that promised to turn me, and others, into rising stars. I moved away from the comfort of home and left behind my fiancée. I stayed a month, learning that it wasn’t to be what I had imagined. The guy running the agency, Keith, expected us to teach ourselves how to act. As payment he used us to administrative work and to assist in hiring more people to join his extras agency, which was still getting off the ground. It became quickly apparent to me and the other guy who had joined, Stuart, that Keith didn’t have a clue about what he was doing, despite his energy to put himself out there to get in the advertising and business. He was also a lecherous middle-aged man who boasted to Stuart and me about how he bedded young girls who joined his modelling agency and got too into the Boudoir scenes that they were shooting, and he often named the girl who went on to play Nurse Chloe in Casualty.Stuart and I had a great mistrust of Keith, and Keith’s wife didn’t care. In my last week, a young girl joined us, Esther. Keith made a big deal of keeping us apart, and Esther reported to me that one morning she woke up to him rubbing her back. I quit, advising Stuart and Esther to do what was right for them. Both of them quit as well.Two months later the Police contacted me. Another girl had joined the agency, to do the same thing. She had been seduced into bed by Keith and though she didn’t want to, he had raped her. The Police had become involved because she had tried to commit suicide. Unfortunately, the Police bungled the investigation and Keith got off, along with other charges brought against him, despite the physical proof they found in all his photos.I can only wonder whether if I had stayed on I might have prevented it from happening.
  4. My thieving from the local shop I served in led to the shame of being escorted from the shop by two Policemen (I had thankfully convinced them that I didn’t need handcuffs – pleaded with them in fact). I was put into a cell without my shoelaces or belt and left for an hour before I had my interview with the Police. The thing that sticks out most in my mind now is that the two officers who dealt with me had been really kind to me. They were happy to talk to me about this and that. When we were in the interview room they both suddenly became professional police officers. It was a shock to me as to how they then treated me, and cross-examined me, making sure that I knew the severity of what I had done.The shame I experienced in front of my family, my girlfriend’s family and anyone else who had seen me or knew about it has so far been unrivalled in my life. When my brother first heard about it, he said that I couldn’t possibly have done that. It highlighted to me that anyone can do anything, that you never really know who a person is.
  5. When I was young a friend and I went to the local lake which is surrounded by wooded areas. We were taken hostage by three older kids, and I got so upset that I cried and feigned a serious migraine. The boys let me go and I walked away with my bike, leaving my friend alone.Shortly after he came running past me clutching his ear. They had hit him in the side of his head. I dropped my bike on the path and ran back to where they had been, realising how I had saved myself at the expense of my friend. I was prepared to fight them, enraged by my own cowardice, though I don’t know how successful I would have been. The boys had fled and I was able to rescue my friend’s bike.
  6. I have a fear of heights. I think it was induced when my parents used to hold me at the top of the staircase at home, one with my arms the other with my legs, and they’d swing me out over the stairs several times. Then a cub camp, aged ten, I was given the bumps by the leaders.Despite this fear I joined my family on a hot air balloon ride. Admittedly it is flying Wicker propelled by fire, though I contained my fear enough to enjoy it.

Health (how have any illnesses or accidents influenced you?)
I had a fall during Tae Kwon-Do that compressed three vertebrae and has led to me attending a chiropractor and physiotherapist for the past four years. It is a constant pain and discomfort that prevents me from involving myself in any sport, just in case I make it worse. Otherwise I do not let it encroach on my life or use it as an excuse.

Memories (what memories do you treasure and what memories do you try hard to forget?)

  • I try to forget any memory that makes me want to put my head in hands just from the embarrassment: getting caught stealing; the time I was demonstrating German with my teacher for the next year of students and got stage fright; the girl who stalked me; my McDonalds party in which mum told me to take my brother when I was invited to go behind the scenes, and I chose my cousin out of spite; when, in primary school, I wrote fuck on the wall, just because I had never written it before, and got caught by the head teacher – though he was very supportive and didn’t shout at or punish me.
  • I try to forget every memory from my experience list that has been difficult or, as I see it, shown my true negative colours, or where I have let others down by my actions.
    I try to forget the times that I was bullied by others because of something stupid that I did or said.
  • I would very much like to forget all my memories of working for five years as the IT support at the school, because none of the friends I made there are friends now; the bullying I was subjected to has made me bitter and vengeful, and my brother’s case has led to the last few friends I was still in contact with, to sever their ties with me. I want to forget the time at which I needed them the most and they told me not to contact them.
  • I cherish every memory of spending time with friends, especially the summer between GCSE’s and A-Levels in which my friendships with my oldest friends was cemented and we, seemingly, free of constraint.
  • I also treasure the time I wrote my first book, in my last year of primary school and teacher saw it, read it, and congratulated me on it.

Relationships (what relationships in the past are you glad you had, and what relationships do you wish you’d never had?)
Throughout school I always had friends. Even when I was pushed out of a group of male friends I had girl friends to fall back on until such a time as I was invited back into the other group.

There are no relationships that I wished I’d never had since they have all served a purpose in my growth and development, except for my first girlfriend in secondary school. Unfortunately shortly after we stopped going out, her father died and from then on she had a fascination with me because I was the closest thing that remained, that could be construed as a father figure. I only became aware of this as time marched on, and occasionally it became an issue with her wanting to go out with me again, or opening her heart to me. I wasn’t secure in my self to be supportive to her at the time and did nothing to help her get through the problem and let me go. She got a lot of stick and was upset a lot of the time because of it, and I feel some guilt towards my involvement in that.

Circumstances (what life circumstances, past or present, do you welcome, and which do you regret?)

  • I welcome all the times I have been offered to be a part of things: be that at school, in my learning or my work. I have been given so many opportunities in life that I know other people have never even thought about.
  • I wish I had never given my brother a job at the school, because then, when I left over two years ago, I could let it all go. At the moment, I cannot, and I cannot heal over how I was treated and how I feel because of it.
  • I regret stealing and the times I let my friends down because I was more worried for myself.
  • I regret that during my brother’s disciplinary and appeal hearings that I didn’t challenge the supposed independent investigator more than I did do, or challenge the hearing panels. I also regret that I never took out grievances or pursued the whistle-blowing policy before I left and saved fifty other members of staff the trouble of having to get other jobs.
  • I regret that my emotions, especially in regard to injustices, such as my brother’s case or how I was treated, now get the better of me, and how I wear them on my sleeve.
  • I wish I had been a stronger personality in every confrontation that I have backed out of, because now I am afraid that in trying to assert my own authority or position I may go too far.

Authority (who represents authority for you, in the past and now? What influence do these figures exert on you?)
In the past I have been very good, responding co-operatively with my parents and teachers. These days any person in a position of authority doesn’t have my respect because regardless of boundaries I know that they may know more than me, but aren’t better than me. I know that power corrupts and I have been treated like crap by too many people to take it on the chin.

I still tow the line, and I do what is needed, but that is all. I work to live, and am desperate to find away out of that loop hole so that I can free myself from the prison that is work. Nobody is above reproach and therefore nobody can hold an authoritative position above me.

Strengths (what are your major strengths?)
I am friendly
I am co-operative
I know when to listen and when to speak
I am a logical thinker
I am aware of personal space
I can’t tolerate injustice or lying
I am not motivated by money
When I put my mind to something I get on and do it
I’m not violent
I strive for truth and justice

Weaknesses (what are your major weaknesses?)
I find it difficult not to buckle under confrontation
I find it difficult to think on my feet
Sometimes I act because my emotions lead me to without thinking about the outcomes
I sulk, and hold grudges
I am less likely now to invest time to build new relationships
I allow other people to get on my nerves
I am reluctant to do things if I don’t find them interesting
If I am embarrassed I become defensive
I don’t like secrets
I get frustrated if I can’t help others or they won’t let me help, or they won’t take my advice
I can be lazy
I have no vices, only character flaws, such as occasionally not knowing when to be professional and when to stop annoying people with my jokey humour.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I entered the group this week feeling very positive. The class held that feeling throughout the evening and the interaction between everyone was a good experience.

The task to analyse our initial reactions towards five different people was interesting not only from the point of view of looking at ourselves and our own hangups towards character types; for example: in response to a working class Irishman who swears a lot, doesn't declare his taxable income and suffers from depression brought out in me a defensive reaction - I didn't like the idea of this person, automatically thought they'd be aggressive, blunt, a possible drinker, and I'd be worried for my own safety.

In a wider group discussion in response to a lesbian who'd attempted suicide in the past six months, the issue was raised as to whether a counsellor or at least we, as counsellors, would be prepared or should take on the case. More's the point: would we be comfortable with that responsibility and should we have it? But, then, isn't that what a counsellor's supervisor is for?

In my tutorial, my own issues were raised as a point of focus, and it was suggested that I might let the group know when I am feeling particularly vulnerable because of this. My initial response was that I wouldn't - a sense of my problems are nothing when compared to those of other people, and that everyone has emotional baggage - although I am only to happy to discuss my problems in roleplays without any fear of protecting my personal information, as I am aware that others might be. That said, it makes sense that letting others know that I am feeling low is personally beneficial as others will make allowances for you, will make you aware that you aren't alone - a problem shared, etc.

From the triad, I learnt not to be afraid to ask the same question more than once. I attempted to ask where the client had last felt vulnerable, and they couldn't remember. After persuing a different line of questioning I felt as if I had run into a wall, but, as the observer picked up on, and agreed by the client, had I returned to that question, sufficient time had allowed their memory to jog and for them now to be able to answer that question, thus leading to more avenues.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The group felt tense this week, though I'm not sure if that stemmed from what the teacher had to do - covering the group contract and attempting to re-address issues - or whether it was the group having to go over it - knowing that what was being covered had come about because of our reflective logs.

There was anxiety over the distribution of the evidence criteria which didn't seem as if there could be anyway to be avoided. Whilst I, having spent no longer than one year out of some form of course - NVQ, diploma, degree - had no issue with what would be necessitated by the course, everyone suddenly became affeared by the requirements. One person admitted that they felt like running out because it seemed too much. It got me thinking upon the issues of change and how we often need to jump through hoops to fulfill criteria - as with proving our competence on the course - and I came to the conclusion that everybody has a determined set of natural and emotional barriers that are fashioned by the conditioning of their life - which usually has brought them from birth to who they presently are and what they feel that they can cope with.

This conditioning is a protective bubble, in which people feel safe with their environment and the people around them, allowing them to cope with a certain level of stress - as determined by their prior stresses. However, this conditioning is also a restrictive box that prevents people from seeing beyond their comfort zone. It insulates them often, I feel, making them ignorant of wider issues and often makes them selfish - as in preventing themselves from growing and learning. Specifically in the case of the marking criteria for the course, the group felt as if it were being put outside of the comfort zone. They were being pushed into a more "academic" area with the need to "catalogue" and "cross-reference". From my experience of having done this before, I acknowledge that there is some work involved, but no actual mental involvement and certainly nothing to get upset about. I also acknowledge that with external stresses upon each member of the group, from outside the class, it is small things such as the marking criteria that can push people, as they see it, too far outside of their comfort zone, and quite literally be the "last straw".

Perhaps, I should then make an offer to the class to assist any of them in their marking criteria as and when they require. Really, I should have been more proactive in allaying fears on monday.

During the discussion to re-address the issues of the group, I found that it was on the whole, despite ultimately being a draining experience - I was extremely tired by the time I reached home - an enjoyable process. Not only do I feel that this was going some way from our "storming" stage to our "norming stage", but I relished the sense of being part of a group who were discussing issues that affected us. Aside from with my wife, or on occasions with my parents, debate and discussions in which I can impart knowledge and learn are lacking in my life.

In school I hated debates, because I never trully felt comfortable enough to argue a point, stemming from both a lack of being able to construct a valid argument and always finding that somebody did really know better. That has stayed with me and more often than not I will listen, rather than speak, during a discussion. I suppose my consolation is that "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wiseman knows himself to be a fool." So, perhaps by listening to the viewpoints of others rather than asserting my own has made me a wiser person.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This week's roleplaying in the triads drew upon the previous lessons with quite an impact on me. I recognise that we needed the previous week's roleplay, with hypothetical situations, to settle us into the basic in's and out's of a counselling session. Despite my continued apprehension to get down and do it - a fear of having to think on my feet, as if I'm going to be desperate to think of things to say to the client, that I liken to pulling non-existent rabbits from hats - I let myself relax into the session.

Although I wasn't given the chance to take part as a counsellor, my roles as client and observer were very informative: I was aware of the position of the counsellor, what they did with their hands, non-intrusive agreements to what was being said, and most notably picking up where I thought they were crossing the boundary into giving advice or subtle changes in choice of words, turning a paraphrase by the counsellor from empathy into sympathy.

My key observation was in the moments when the counsellor directed the client with an almost manipulative phrase: 'But we know that we can now be positive for the future.' Not only did this cross the boundary, but could sour a relationship between counsellor and client, since the client may feel that the counsellor has an agenda, or the counsellor may feel they can move onto another topic, and the client still isn't able to because they may not feel happy to move on in this manner.

The interesting thing about this is that my mother-in-law is a counsellor who uses a wider variety of skills, including hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic-programming. She explained that only in certain circumstances has she used guiding statements to empower her clients.

On a personal note, I gave over my weekend to go with my father to see my grandfather in hospital in Plymouth - since I saw it as a son's duty. When we were in the ward one of the other patients, another old gentleman, pulled back his covers and seemed to be in some agitation. Although I saw this, I took the decision to ignore him (not wanting to get involved in a potential misunderstanding with a schizophrenic/halucinating man). It took for my father to notice and to find out what the man wanted (to call a nurse to take him to the toilet, because he couldn't find his buzzer) before he was helped. I need to learn to forgo my fear of embarrassments as it hampers the needs of others around me. I am of the belief that it is my responsibility as soon as I am aware of a problem.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Returning to work after what has felt like a long weekend has knocked the wind out of me. Tiredness and depression were making me ponder what exactly it is that imprisons the mind from being what I would term happy and free.

A few incidents occured throughout the past week that led to me considering my own attitude towards different things.

My wife had involved me in fixing a computer for the son of one of her work colleagues. Although I was happy to do this it took far longer to complete because of his request that I save his documents, music and movies. In itself this wouldn't have been a problem for me, but, my wife had told me that I couldn't ask for anything more than wine or chocolates as payment - she wouldn't like to be seen as mercenary or making profit from someone she has to work with. I too don't like people thinking ill of me but I don't like being unnecessarily put out for the benefit of someone else I took umbridge against my wife's suggestion. This feeling grew worse of the evening as it became apparant that it was going to take twenty hours and not two. In the meantime I was reduced to watching television as the computer ran its backup, which, when I am in a proactive mood, makes me feel overtly irritable.

I spent the entire evening "fuming" about the waste to my time, the fact I don't drink wine, and that I didn't want chocolate. As it was, the backup was redundant since I could solve the system error without losing any of the data. The amount of time I personally put into the computer became just over an hour and in the end I wouldn't accept payment of any kind for it.

I understand that this had come about because of one very simple thing. In my hurry to accept the job and show the owner that I was both friendly and helpful I had disempowered myself and failed to agree any terms. I do feel that if I can help someone and save them time, money or hassle then I am happy to do it, but I must introduce boundaries. It was the lack of boundaries that made me feel powerless and subsequently irritable and angry. I can avoid this in the future by ensuring those boundaries exist, but that ignores the fact that I have those feelings and when a situation occurs I revert to type. I understand enough that the key is to let go of the concerns that I cannot change, though I am yet to discover the key to truly making this work.

My mum went into hospital on friday and over the weekend whilst she was there, I was upset and worried. This worry began to turn into anger. After my brother's year long suspension and subsequent firing for what was termed as gross miscondunct, my family, having endured that year with him, through conspiracy and misshandling by his and my employer, had been consistently stressed.

My father's health has deteriorated and he now suffers from low blood pressure, lack of energy and in stressful situations: memory loss. My brother has spent the year doing nothing constructive, is constantly depressed and has no morale or inclination to get another job - having been sacked for gross misconduct even the temping agencies are reluctant. Mum has been just as stressed, though none of us thought she would be the one to go to hospital.

In a martyr-like fashion I had something else to blame on my employer, another bit of evidence that what they had done to my family was unforgiveable. Looking back now it is almost as if I wanted it to be true that this was a direct result of the way they had treated us, as if I need someone to focus my blame on, something else to add to our list of damages when we go to industrial tribunal. My brother takes some of that blame also; his stupidity to do something I had told him not to, his lack of taking part in going through the facts and developing our side of the case because of the way he takes himself to his room to sulk in his depression, his lack of drive and his failure to see that if he took responsibility for his own life, even had we had to go through his suspension, it would have been far less stressful.

How, then, would I feel if this had nothing to do with stress? Who would I have to blame then for my mum's illness? Would I honestly twist the outcome so that I could place the blame where I wanted it to go? I think I might, regardless of what the doctors might say. Deep down I'd have my culprits.

Finally, two separate occasions were drawn to my attention in which I had come across as blunt and almost rude. The first, in a packed fish and chip shop, I had placed my order and waited for sometime as the fish was cooked. As the assistants sorted out the backlog of customers one asked me whether I had ordered what she was presently holding up, to which I responded: no.

The second occasion related to my repairing of the computer. I telephoned the owner, explained I had completed the job and wanted to drop it off that morning because I wanted to make sure that it wasn't at my house longer than necessary.

Both times, I was told that I had been stern and direct in my approach, offering no apology or chance for the recipient of my statement to acknowledge, let alone agree. My reasons had been in the interest of preserving time and ensuring I couldn't fall over my words or make a fool of myself in front of people I didn't know, through some misunderstanding or other - had my abruptness been pointed out at the time I would have become embarrassed and then angry because of it.

At this point it would be only a guess that I need to be more aware of my self in public situations, take a deep breath and be prepared for misunderstandings. I need to overcome that sense of being an actor who's forgotten his lines on stage.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The attitude within the group had changed this week and I don't think I had picked up on it straight away - but then, I rarely do. I had noticed that I was being possibly a little too relaxed for one; over familiairity perhaps. Joking around with people is one of my natural states, a feeling I'm most comfortable with. When one of the group made a stand against being categorised by her colour, race and origin -- the question had simply been in the interest of gathering statistical data for analysis by the awards body with whom we would be registerd -- I burst into laughing.

Almost immediately I realised that the outburst had been inappropriate. In my exuberance I had misread the situation, thinking that the 'offended' member had been joking, or at the very least didn't like such questions, would eventually answer it, but just wanted to make her beliefs known. I was wrong, and quickly shut up. Whether I personally agree with the view that no one should be pigeonholed in such away, is irrelevant. Whether or not a class on counselling skills in which 85% of the class answered: White British (or other), and in which there are no minority groups, is the right forum for such a soapbox moment is another thing.

The tension that hadn't been present but one minute earlier, was palpable, uncomfortable and stretched beyond the length of time it should have rightfully taken. I made light of it for those around me, mock scraping my nails across the top of the table in a prolonged fashion until the moment had passed.

As class continued I did take note that the 'offended' student remained silent, often looking at her own work rather than either the teacher of others around her. Had I contributed to this reaction from her, with my initial outburst? Had my making light of her beliefs stayed on her mind? How would I feel if I had made a stand, rightly or wrongly, on something I felt strongly about and someone else had laughed at me?

In Week 2, we had been advised after the exercise on group dynamics that we should try to do something in a group that we otherwise wouldn't do; try to give a different response, play a different role. I decided that I would confront the 'offendee' and apologise. This is something that I have rarely done in my life. Normally I would move on, having made a joke or random comment about someone, or their beliefs. I would be aware of a strain in the relationship for a time after that, but it would be time who would play the healing role and not me.

What would I be worried about? Would she not talk to me, because I had made her feel inferior, or would she withdraw from the group as a whole? Our group agreement from the beginning of term was in my mind. I had to at least make some apology.

I apologised and explained what and why I had reacted in the way I had done during the break and recieved positive feedback - crisis averted. Little had I realised that many others had felt very strongly about why the 'offendee' should have simply answered the question because of how much such information assists educational establishments and equal opportunities and the such like. Shying back from the heated discussion I did wonder whether I should have said anything at all. Certainly, until the involvement of a third person, the stubborness in the two debaters could have escalated.

As the group returned to the classroom I held back with the third person. She explained that the 'offendee' had been on her ten week course and had been difficult then. She told me that she had made the conscious decision this time to make the 'offendee' the subject of her unconditional positive regard. I agreed, having considered as much myself.

Moving onto triad role-playing, when it came to be my turn to play the 'helper' role, I was perhaps a little too driven in my open-questioning to drive the conversation to a specific point rather than dwelling upon the feelings being felt by the 'helpee'. This was a person with learning difficulties coming to a counseller to discuss how they have feelings towards another person but can't tell them these feelings. In the scenario, the 'helpee' was very focused upon how other people at their care home bullied them and made them feel inadequate. In my mind I was trying to find ways of making them focus solely on good feelings with an interest to give them something positive to think about, though it became apparant that this wasn't going to be the case and the conversation turned down a dark corridor, from which I didn't think I'd be able to pull it back.

It was suggested that I should have tried putting more empathy into what I was doing, engage the 'helpee' with paraphrasing and ask them questions such as: 'When you are feeling like this, which one do you feel more: lonely, sad, angry?' In a way my attempts to focus on positive things wouldn't help the 'helpee' deal with their problems, and until I realised that I would never be able to help them face their own feelings.

I'm finding this position of a counseller/helper to be slightly frustrating at the moment in that everything that I am is screaming to point out problems, errors and new directions or choices for people. I can't understand why so many people delude themselves, build up unnecessary walls or just don't see that they already have the power to make a change. I wonder why people aren't more proactive in their own lives, their own development. I don't consider that these feelings will be a barrier to learning as I am prone to being wrong and am used to forming new beliefs based upon my learning.

However, what I do consider to be a possible problem was that new feeling that whelmed the group quite noticeable, even in the aftermath of the incident with the 'objector'. We were now being told that the course focus was shifting slightly - unsettling? We weren't supposed to refer to the roleplaying or examples as Counseller and client anymore. Instead we were to use the titles helper and helpee. This was a little bamboozling if not slightly disconcerting. I didn't feel as strongly as some of the others, but I instantly didn't like the idea of this change.

Not only did it confuse the roleplay - since a counseller and a helper are two slightly different things and although using the same core skills, may call upon completely different skills and ultimately play a completely different role (in my mind at least). The other members of my group, all I believe had taken part in a ten week counseller-related course at some point over the last year, voiced their concerns about how they felt the course had lost its focus already, how they were repeating a lot of what they had done on the ten week course, and more importantly to them (I felt) this change on definition.

Having spoken briefly to most of the people on the course I understand that they are pursuing a new direction or building up their skills with the interest of counselling, in some form or another. To have it explained to them that the course they are doing is not a path to counselling is quite a blow to morale. Coupled with many having gleaned these skills already, what are they doing covering them again? What else can they learn from this? Was there a more direct course they could have undertaken?

I couldn't share these worries, though I felt their tension and anxiety over it. It led me to speak this question in front of everyone - normally it would not be me making this clarification. Was it just this one thing or was it a combination of things that led to this subtle, group-wide dissension?

What does the course mean to me? I joined knowing the title: 'Counselling Skills', and the content: being that of learning and using counselling skills. I know that this one year-long course will not put me in any position to become a counseller. I will need lots more work in order to get there. So why was I sharing the anxiety of the others? I must admit that now I am not. I realise that the course will assist in putting me towards a counseller's goal. I can only hope that the others come to realise this also.

Perhaps it is not this that is the worry. The ambiguity over this new development, this standardising of counseller to helper, client to helpee is confusing, but is it purely to do with the awards body making that distinction? Does it really matter to us? Clearly, I feel I should. Either this is a course in which we are learning to use counselling skills, in which case we will be doing this in the scenarios of a counseller and therefore be intent to pursue job development to that end, or we are not.

It was highlighted to me in a conversation regarding these difficulties that every group goes through three stages: forming, storming and norming. Presently, it would appear that we are going through our storming stage and as such will soon progress onto the more level field of norming, but how long will the storming stage last and will everyone still be present at the end of it?

Referring back then to three occasions over the past week in which I have been desperately aware of the need for counselling skills, I must ask myself: can I sit out the frustration of a counseller's position or do I want to be more hands on with the advice?

I had a quick skim through one of the counselling books I had procured from the library over the weekend, and thought back to these separate events. I had previously thought, at the time of each occasion, that any use of the brief amount of counselling skills I had learnt in my first three weeks would make me come across as distant, cold and possibly just a little manipulative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I feel even more settled into the group now. Week three, and the temperament has allowed humour to creep in and for people, including myself, to feel happy about speaking up; either in response to questions or to mention that we had a problem, didn't understand, or weren't listening and has missed what had been said. Regarding the drifting off into distraction, I was more aware of it this week: I have a visual mind that seems to activate at the merest hint of something in class that sparks a memory. This takes me off topic spectacularly fast so that I am usually three further thoughts down the line before I rein myself back in. It was good therefore, to be able to discuss this with the group in the feedback session and empowered me, at least once, to let everyone know that I had become distracted and missed some vital information. Regardless of this acceptance by everyone I am mindful that I must at least play a part in maintaining some semblance of selfcontrol and willpower so as to avoid these distractions and ultimately not annoy everyone.

Upon arrival this week I had a choice of where to sit. The people with whom I had sat last week had located themselves again at the rear of the classroom - the benefit of arriving early. They wouldn't have to sit with their heads turned for the entire lesson, they said. I could either sit with them, and be close to my agreed 'buddy', be with a group who I had socialised with previously, save my own neck from being turned to one side, and be next to someone who I have noticed will withdraw from the group and people at certain times - most noticeably when given an entire room she will protect herself in the corner, regardless of whether she has people to sit with. The other option was to sit somewhere I hadn't previously sat and force people to change positions, possibly siting them with others they hadn't yet associated. The downside would be that I could annoy everyone for forcing them to move from places where they felt comfortable. I chose the former, but must remain aware that we either could become clicky, or seen to be - something I was worried of others being in the first week.

In the task on boundaries I was mostly in line with what is considered to be the right setting of boundaries. There were a few hic-cups in my own beliefs - namely those relating to boss/employee boundaries. Having worked for very extreme personalities in my present and last job I have found myself almost lacking in what could be termed as professional integrity. In my present role as IT support for libraries, I have no boundaries and no goals. My boss is so relaxed as to almost be asleep and I have a sense that my IT knowledge so outweighs his that he doesn't feel he can tell me how to do things. This is compounded by the fact that: a) he has never had to manage anyone in this role before me and often doesn't tell me whats going on, or what the problems are; b) all our projects are being put back until next year because of external influences.

In my previous job at a local school, under the same employer to whom I currently work, I was subjected to injustice, bullying and emotional browbeating, so much so that after six months of taking my problems home and making my home-life similarly miserable, like fifty other members of staff, I had only one choice and that was to move on.

The lack of goals in my present job initially worked as a healing period, but that was over two years ago. Now it has become the norm and I am reluctant to find another job in which I would have to employ some intellect. It hasn't helped that an issue with my brother's role at the school meant that his previous year was spent with him suspended and eventually sacked because of vexatious students, a corrupt headteacher and a conspiracy by councillors and department heads to remove him from the school, based upon a poorly managed investigation that as yet remains incomplete. This led to ill-health for my father and the need for me to represent my brother in letters and at hearings, which has strained my current position as employee.

The next task, relating to groups of three in which one person discusses something they feel really interested in, another listens, and a third observes, required me, rather covertly, to play the role of listener and not actually pay one iota of interest. Other people, after the task, talked about how rude they had felt, either having previously done the exercise and knowing about how upsetting it can become for the person doing the talking, or that they had caught a little of what had been said and wanted to listen, or simply that they felt extremely rude. I took to the task without any concern or worry over what I was doing, putting my all into my secret mission without any consideration towards the speaker. Using the same attitude that I have when I'm being bloody-minded was, in the end, enough to elicit the speaker's upset, and certainly by this time I was aware of how I was affecting them, but I carried on regardless.

I do feel empathic towards other people's feelings, but I have a switch inside of my mind which allows me to override that. Most noticeably this comes into play in an argument, usually about nothing, at home. Very quickly it spirals out of the argument itself and into bloody-mindedness, which becomes a barrier against me apologising or coming out of my sulk. It seems to have been in my nature since a child, but never as bad as it can be now. Since the last six months of my previous job, in early 2003, this has become something that controls me and not the other way around. Often I beomce angrier at myself than over the reason for the argument or my disinterest in the first place.

The task on paraphrasing was therefore a task in which I was aware of my responses. Having discussed the attributes of a counsellor and studied the board and the attributes that I can so quickly slip away from I found the task moderately difficult to get down. Though I know this will come with the time, I did find difficulty in getting down the facts without emotionalising it. The fact then that a few people suggested that my statement: 'Your anxiety over the illness has prevented you from accepting it.' was perhaps a little blunt, gave me some pause during the discussion. I have in the past said things to offend simply because of my intonation or choice of words.

I have recently begun reading into the nature/nurture debate and touched upon an article in the Daily Mail regarding how couples grow apart because our 'personalities undergo subtle shifts throughout our adult lives.' and aren't static as soon as one reaches adulthood. It started me thinking upon how blunt I can be now, and whether or not, over time, I will become more or less blunt. I believe it is true to nurture oneself to do anything, think in any specific way or act as thus, but would I be able to override this programming and force a positive change or would these subtle changes override me?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Week two started almost as if there had not been 7 days between lessons. The class had still maintained its open friendliness - from refectory to classroom. I made a conscious decision to move my seat - from the front of the class in week one, to the back - so that I would be next to my "buddy". This enabled me to get to know a further four people better than if I had stayed in my original seat and partook in only group exercises.

The first exercise of the evening, to pair up with an as yet unknown and write down a list of four facts about yourself, at least one of which being false, helped me get to know someone I had in the first week stereotyped. Since the exercise required us to talk to each other about the kinds of preconceptions we had of each other to discern which fact was the falsehood I gleaned not only the truth but also their humanity - any ice on my part was broken. As it was, I ignored my preconceptions and selected an item to be false purely because I felt it was unbelieveable. The two I did get right were a hollow victory.

In the discussion on groups my adopted group were very sharing, allowing each other to speak, never talking over the top of one another and being open with our feelings. All the while we were giving over a piece of ourselves to the rest of the group, a nugget of what makes up our persona. For me that includes a quietness in bigger groups, a more proactive role in smaller groups, feeling happy in either and having a position in my family that is far more equal than most of the others who felt that they have suffered from some kind of older sibling/younger sibling syndrome. We identified that bigger groups would tend towards a single person taking control, a necessity to keep the group focused: the class environment. However, some characters often take up such a position in order to be in control or to get things their own way.

Personal strengths and limitations gave me an opportunity to, in my mind, readdress a couple of my own limitations that I had touched upon in my week one reflective log. Whilst it was put forward that many people find it easy to list their limitations and often struggle with their strengths, I did not; listing almost double the amount of strengths. Though, I took the task to be more about identifying in ourselves points of awareness, reminders that we're all human, and no better than the people we intend to help; that we all have our own hang-ups. This was reinforced by the brief discussion upon Carl Rogers' Core Conditions: empathy; unconditional positive regard; congruence.

I do feel that I am going to reach a plateau at some point in this course where I will feel that my learning and the practise of counselling is tying my hands - I am proactive in everything I do, helping others by showing them first hand (watching someone struggle with something I can do quicker or better gives me an itch). It's something, like the rest of my reflection, to be aware of. I believe that as long as I acknowledge it, I will be prepared to face it and move on from it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Arriving at the college, my initial worry of how I would find the classroom was forgotten when the Caretaker's request that I park furthest from the building as possible allowed me the opportunity to joke with another student. By chance this was one who would be joining me on the course. We talked our way to the cold, thin classroom and, being the first arrivals, sat down. In my usual manner of never quite knowing what to say and not being the kind of person to fill the air with nervous talk, I listened as she talked briefly about the 10 week counselling course, I hadn't attended, and the books that had been laid out upon the desks.

As more people arrived I picked up one of the books and leafed through it, listening to the conversations springing up around me, but not joining in. If I don't have anything to add, I won't; although, I was already aware that I wasn't making myself available to conversation and was, to some extent, segregating myself from everyone else. Knowing no one, there was that slight anxiety of not wanting to stare at people too much or start conversations that, I felt, would inevitably lead to lots of pregnant pauses: 'Hi, I'm Richard, nice to meet you... erm...'

It isn't as if I have a fear of communicating; in big groups I tend towards quietness and possibly this is so that I don't make a fool of myself in front of too many people too soon. I know I'll get to know the others in due course so it doesn't really bother me, but, I was aware of myself sticking out like a sore thumb by not being involved - which was compounded when a student sat on the other side of me and I was essentially blocking her off from communicating with the rest of the group - but, I held out for the beginning of the course.

What with a good portion of the group already knowing each other, from their 10 week courses, they already had something in common that I didn't. Again, this didn't help me integrate and as they kicked off raucously I was reminded of how I had felt when I'd worked with a lot of smokers. Not being a smoker myself, there was a feeling of not partaking in some important socialising when they all went out for a cigarette break, and I didn't - I tried not to think of the others in the classroom as 'clicky'.

As time marched on there was a real feeling of growing ease. Certainly, it took a couple of tasks and a break to help us all relax, but by the time we'd reached the last half hour everybody was commenting upon the gelling of the group. I must agree that we have all, through some kind of natural connection, found the same level; harmony. I'm under no delusion that it will all be plain sailing but I think the course and the people are going to be interesting.

I must admit, despite the contract, I have already judged some people - well, it's impossible not to: the talkative, the reluctant, the know-it-all, the done-it-already, the judger, the timid... though, I am more than prepared to be proved wrong; it isn't as if I have let any other character type annoy me in the past. I don't consider it to be a problem now.

One thing I do think may be a problem is my inability to keep listening. My mind wanders, through my own complete fault, though I try to stop it. I spend my whole day at work thinking about something else, planning the next stage in my book, developing a character arc, remembering some long forgotten memory, comparing my surroundings or other people to other places and people, thinking about food, or simply staring off into space; I'm also prone to do this while reading and particularly at the moment as I attempt to read Pride and Prejudice. In a lesson environment it isn't so much of a problem since I can usually backtrack and work out what a discussion or topic is about. It is a problem in one to ones, where I stop listening properly and become aware of myself: listening to the other person, studying their features, wondering how long I should maintain eye contact, scrunching my toes in my shoes because I am aware of myself being aware and thus not really being a part of the conversation (almost in an out-of-body way).