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.

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