Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Preparing myself for the presentations held none of the stress I thought it might. Anxieties over being able to follow up the other class members' presentations were not present within me, which I think has a lot to do with representing my brother's case and my learning to come to terms with speaking in front of people - empowering myself to get on and talk rather than worrying about talking. I did have a slight fear that my topic wasn't in line with those of the others, but felt that it had an important role in the schema of the course, which was further highlighted by one of the students saying that in her school she had no idea what work Education Welfare did. If we do move into helping work I think now that we will think more about whether or not Education Welfare involvement might assist helpees.

It is good to get an overview of the various agencies and organisations available to support people across society - and for me in particular the realisation that these services run small courses that may fill the next year while I decide where I wish to take my skills next in the absence of pursuing a course as I have done this year.

In the triad work I observed both helpers, and provided a level set of feedback that highlighted for me, and I hope for them, that their skills are there and they simply need to relax more into their roles. Both lacked in reflection and summary, and they needed to approach paraphrasing with a little less speed, but they did have knowledge of them and good call upon them for use.

Both communicated effectively the levels of their expertise and the boundaries of confidentiality and time. I understood that one of the helpers in particular was at odds with the needs of the helpee. She kept her own agenda to herself throughout and it wasn't until afterwards when she explained this that I was able to relay my own views on the matter and how I perceived she might be feeling about that difference.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I attended my first session of counselling today, in order to resolve the issues still up in the air regarding my brother’s case. I didn’t feel entirely at ease going into the session, which I found quite strange at first. I’d spent the past two years talking to anyone and everyone about my problems and now faced with a stranger (admittedly one I knew the purpose of – to listen, support and counsel) I felt self conscious. I can understand the fear people have of going into a counselling session with no prior knowledge of what to expect, of what the counseller will be thinking.

She was friendly, supportive and set out the boundaries of the working relationship, explaining the bounds of confidentiality with regards to my employer (since my employer was covering the costs they would hear of me as a code number, but never my name), the counsellor’s own therapist and of course general confidentiality. She offered up a lot of reflection. At one point she commented that she herself felt burdened by my story and that she could only imagine what it was like for me.

She didn’t seem entirely comfortable with constant eye contact and often she would be looking to the side of me, which was slightly off putting. Though I don’t know whether this is a personal issue with her or whether she attempts to keep pressure away from her clients in this manner.

After the initial length of my explanation about the whole case (in its most basic form) we discussed the differences between myself and my brother – the lay of responsibility and the burden. We covered our treatment by the LEA and the difficult position in which I had been placed, and the betrayal I have felt from the work colleagues I had once thought of as friends.

She probed with questions about how I had felt towards certain individuals, my old boss, my brother; the relationships I had had and how they stood now. We talked about my want for revenge and how that had changed. She asked me to comment on why I no longer wanted revenge on my old boss – who’s own failings, lack of integrity and lies have had a large contribution on the case – whilst I wanted revenge on the LEA.

My entire issues with anger, my anxieties and the stress I have felt comes down to one very simple need – the need to be understood. We had admitted the truth on all quarters, had spoken to everybody with a fair degree of respect and remained honest and open. All we wanted in return was the same. All I wanted with regard to my old boss was that people acknowledged that there is enough evidence to prove her involvement. All I wanted from her was to admit that she knew. The difference between her and the LEA is the level of people I want to understand. The LEA has more people involved, more people who have lied and cheated because of their personal beliefs about the case. The fact that I still wish revenge would only be sated if everyone involved understood the true facts and knew how badly we had been treated. I just want recognition.

Realising that I’m not sure how much use a counsellor can be to me. She asked me how I thought I could change my feelings and pursue a solution. Simply, it is to leave my current employment, move on and drop my ties with Bracknell Forest, tro focus on my writing and let it go. Especially since everything that I built up for the 5 years of my work has already gone in the past 3 years, and I just haven’t let go yet.

I know what I want and I know how to get it. I know that the kind of revenge I want against my employer will never be and I want to restart my life. There will always be those niggly moments of: what could I have done? How could I have dealt with it differently? How far could I have pushed? Could I have spoken to the press? Would it have made it better? Does it matter?

Nobody cares but me and my family. The justice we wanted for ourselves and the prevention of the LEA from doing this to others in the future are two separate issues, and the last of which I have no control over.
I don’t need a counsellor to tell me that it rests with me to let go now. It’s still a difficult choice, but I have to make it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A couple of the other students had a discussion with me regarding the group dynamics and what I percieved to be their feeling towards their place in the group as a whole. I felt that they did not see me as part of any clique and were at ease enough to discuss their issues. Although this was no helping session and there were no settings of boundaries – despite the topic there was no agreement to keep the discussion only between the three of us (I would not speak of it to anyone else regardless).

For the first time since starting the course, 26 weeks earlier, the immediacy and self disclosure that occurred between the three of us put me in a position to listen. In some way my prior actions, my separation from the other little groups through either my lack of something in common or the consolidation on their friendships over mine meant that the two talking with me could talk with me.

It is clear to me why these two feel excluded and are “slightly” separated from the rest of the group – one being of strong will and with a “take me as I am” attitude, whilst the other tends towards talking about herself a lot and going off topic. I have seen the reactions in the others at this, and felt the reaction in myself. I therefore was at a little odds with them. I did not think that it was wholly on the shoulders of the other groups. The actions of these two, rightly or wrongly, had put them at some odds with the others. It was not my place at this time to put this to them, since it was inappropriate. They were disclosing and any objection or counterance on my part would have destroyed what they were trying to get out. In some way, they do have my agreement.

I admitted that I felt separated from the others. Although I have built up a rapport, have had guidance from a couple in my personal life and do feel that they care about the problems I have been through, I do have a sense that the groups with whom they navigate towards at times of triad work are closer friends; be that in the belief that their agendas or their styles of learning are the same, or simply whether what they have in common allows their work together to be easier, I don’t know.

Does it bother me? In a way I would hope that someone would choose me first. Enough to bother about? No. I do not care to get in the way of what other people want because I will end up in a group to do triad work anyway. This does discount myself, since I admit that there are people I would rather be with. But, the flipside is that it is a similar selfishness to that which excludes me.

This topic led to one of the two questioning me on my two sides – the mask of humour and wackiness that ingratiates me with other people, and the real person beneath who is more thoughtful, reserved, observant and adult. I had not expected that anyone would question me on the two sides of my persona. My humour puts others at ease, but does not allow them to get close to me. Having seen the breakdown of that façade over the previous month or so with my brother’s case and my lack of energy to hold up my humour, the two told me that suddenly a whole new me had come out that was everything supportive and thoughtful. Whilst one did not mind the humorous side, the other said that they hadn’t felt as if I was being sincere. It was only now that they felt they knew who I was and could trust my real identity to have… the discussion we were having.

I disclosed, as I have at the very beginning of these logs, that my humorous persona is used to ingratiate, to join me with others and give me a sense of purpose and place. If I have nothing else to add, then at least my wit will put me in their minds. I explained where I saw the origination of this in my childhood – to keep my place in my groups of friends at school, as the unique member who acted in that way, and because I otherwise did not take part in many debates (seeing that everyone has a view and also that others can always speak their mind far clearer than I can).

One of the students with whom I was disclosing this, admitted that hearing me see and acknowledge that I am the way I am and also see where that comes from was very interesting.

I was asked what I thought might happen if I dropped the mask and became the person I really was. I do not know. I am worried that I will have nothing to say. That I will become just another face in the crowd, and my inability to come up with topics of conversations will increase. I have certainly learnt that my humour, whilst I have thought it makes it easier to meet people, does not work entirely as it should, since I can be perceived as insincere and not entirely approachable.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The helping sessions were fairly difficult this week, since we’d had so much time away from actually using the skills that anxiety was getting in the way of listening.

The big thing I came up against was that I had a great sense that the helpee had a drink problem, but I got sidelined by the assertion that the problem was with the helpee’s wife, and I wished to deal with the possible relationship problems – by first assertaining what the difficulties between husband and wife was (I could see that it was clearly the drinking after the session had ended). To that end, the session was over without my investigating the drinking at all.

I was interested in advising the helpee of getting him support in the form of relate counselling, whereby he and his wife could go together. I didn’t feel that my skills were suited to supporting him, since he wouldn’t admit to a problem in the relationship although his wife “moaned” a lot. The need was for them both to attend counselling together. The flipside of my belief that I failed to identify the drinking problem is that he wouldn’t admit to any wrongdoing or failure in the relationship on his part. It is possible that he wouldn’t admit to a drinking problem, and therefore in relate, with his wife present, the issue might be raised and the more experienced counsellor would deal with it.

Observing the observers when they are giving feedback has allowed me to see that we are all beginning to have a greater understanding of the use of the skills, and what is possible in a helping session. Although we still share an anxiety, the knowledge is there, the helpers are prepared to take on board the feedback and engage in discussion on what they could/should have done better/instead.

One thing that I can see we are holding back from is our congruence. As part of our learning we have come to terms with holding back our agenda and not offering advice of what we think the helpee “should” do. We have come to an impasse and this is much like the old adage of “show don’t tell” in writing. A writer is taught not to tell the reader what is happening. This is a specific lesson in getting the writer to explore what other tools are available to them. Ultimately they have to come back to using the “tell” tool, but in moderation and whilst relying upon “show”. In helping work, the helper is not solely there to listen but to reflect and offer support. One such support being advice on referrals.

As helpers we have been taught to set aside our agendas and need to offer advice, yet, what we must learn to pick up is the skill of advising, which is subtley different from advice, in that the helper’s agenda is removed and no pressure is placed upon the helpee to follow the advice.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The topic of the Saturday workshop was very apt, consolidating on much that I had been dealing with recently and the culmination of the past 2 years – an ending that is now in sight and the possible changes that will occur because of that.

The interesting part of the day was the discovery that an amazing number of changes have been going on for whilst I have been fighting through one big issue, changes that had meant very little and gone under the radar – changes that actually show that my outlook on life, the way I treat others and my own self awareness has been altered.

I can see that it is empowering for a helpee to look back and see the changes they have made or been a part of, as it helps to show that nothing stays the same and that there is always a path to travel.

The flipside of endings is the loss and abandonment – the feeling of “what is my place in this world? What is my purpose?” I realise that there is a need to manage expectations and keep a positive, forward-moving, motivated view of things to come. From a helping point of view, the end of helping can directly affect the helpee – being sent out into the world to face it “alone”, regardless of the new self awareness and skills learnt.

For me that moving on and loss is sad, because I feel that the friendships I have, for example on this course, are of circumstance. We have something in common – namely: learning and self awareness. After the closure of the course there will no longer be anything to hold our relationships together, which to me I find quite sad. This is because I have invested part of myself in getting to know these people and that over time apart that will be eroded.

This in itself highlights something else said by a couple of those who have been through a divorce: the betrayal they have felt and the loss coming from their divorce has meant that they never give fully of themselves to their next partners. They always hold something back so that they won’t get hurt again.

I believe that I have experienced this to a lesser degree in what I believe are those friends I have invested time and emotion into, choosing to ditch, or as I see it: betray, me because they have heard a rumour regarding my brother and tied me in by association. The discussion on transitional objects and endings of things like friendships and courses and the relation back to everything changes and moves forward, perhaps, I think, is allowing me to also let go of those feelings of betrayal.

By the time my brother’s tribunal is over I might be ready to start opening up new choices, I might lose my fear of what might happen if I choose to make a big change, I might actually start living my life again.
This week has been the most stressful of my life – least of all being the stress of the exam, which I felt quite pleased with. It became a distraction from the stress of my brother’s tribunal. I had to deal with a lot of different and conflicting emotions during the tribunal itself, beginning first with listening to my father being violently sick because of the stress of going through with the case and representing my brother. In the end I represented my brother as my father couldn’t do it – a subdued stress at first since I had not prepared myself for the coming trauma as my father had done, and the anxiety had not been allowed time to build inside me.

I already felt anxious, stressed and sick, and did not feel any added pressure until the second day of the case in which a day’s break had allowed me time to realise that I was stuck in a situation I couldn’t control, that pitted me against my own employer and in which my brother’s wellbeing rested, and my father’s own regrets that he could not go through with it and now wanted to put his agenda onto me. The culmination for me was a mini-nervous breakdown in which I was ready to throw in the towel, didn’t know what I should do, and couldn’t formulate my argument for the next day – all solely down to stress and pressure. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness was only overcome by my wife’s involvement to help reguide and refocus, just as a helper does to a helpee – she kept me in control and just highlighted the path I wanted to take.

I was forced to readdress my relationships with the respondent – all of whom I have held a deep-seated hatred for, since they began their ill treatment of my brother and my family. There I was, cross-examining them with my anger spurring me onwards, showing up their inconsistencies, bad judgements and bad practice, making them stutter and stumble and be seen for what they are, and yet at times when I referred them to evidence pages I did so with courtesy, all please’s, thank-you’s and sorry’s. I was being forced to treat these people as peers, to work with them to produce an outcome, to readdress why I hated them so. This unconditional positive regard extended to an incident when one of the older witnesses for the respondent collapsed during questioning and was carried back to a waiting room. I made a choice to intervene and followed it through – although the room was filled with the 8 people I hated in all of the world, and who I had been cross-examining, I entered the room and offered the use of my first aid skills.

Most important of all my conflictions is that the case hinges on the school and inparticular the deputy head (who hired my brother onto a full time contract) knowing that my brother’s relationship with a student had gone on. She denies it, but the evidence counters that. If we can prove she knew, then they cannot sack my brother 3 years later for the same thing. I hate her most of all, was bullied by her, and have suffered because she has lied to protect herself and her job. And yet, as soon as our proof was out, as soon as the borough councillor admitted that if it were true she would be subject to a disciplinary, and as soon as the news reporter had his key evidence and left to write up his story – the report of which is damning for all – my guilt kicked in.

I have spent the last 2 years of my life dealing with such deep anger that when it came to crunch time, I could not go through with it. She must be brought to task, but I no longer want a part of it. I don’t want to place blame, and I don’t want people to be held accountable. I don’t want it on my head. My father pointed out to me that I’m compassionate, and sure, I am, but why now?

It seems that under the cloud of anger, in whatever guise it takes hold – sadness, depression, regret, etc – our true nature is blinded, our real wishes are suppressed, much like a change in physiology brought on by drugs or hormones.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Undertaking the helpee role during roleplays highlighted the use of congurence in the helper. The session lasted fifteen minutes, and the helper carried off an adequate use of counselling skills, seeming slightly stilted in her approach. The session finished, but we continued to discuss the problem I had been relating. The helper, now unhindered by the restraints (as she saw it, and as we all see it when we are helping) came alive, was able to speak freely of her own feelings (better showing empathy) and engage with me in a better relationship than that which we had during the session.

It seems to me that we have all been ignoring the third core principle of congruence, as we have been holding back our own responses to the helpee whilst trying to be good-little helpers so as to tick all the boxes.

Strokes, and my attempts over the week to avoid them, have led me into inner difficulty. I cannot avoid strokes as I had thought might be possible. In fact I often rise to baiting, give my reasonings for doing this or that, argue a point, or get upset long before I realise that I attempting to forgo it all. Stroking is intrinsically bound to human nature, and I am denying myself, am avoiding congruence if I keep myself to myself. I thought that avoiding strokes would make me feel like a better person, be a better person, and not rise to arguments, because I would be dissasociating myself from them.

It doesn't. I can no more avoid strokes, either positive or negative, than I can avoid being part of the human race. It is something that we are forced to do, whether we want to or not. Attempting to avoid it means that you are either not being true to yourself or the other person.

A case in point was the other night when my wife and I were waiting for a builder to come and discuss some building work. He never turned up and we spent the whole evening getting up to check the front door. I had opted to phone him, but my wife didn't want to since we were aware that his father's funeral had happened two days before, and she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Phoning him, she thought, was rude. Whereas my point of view was just to make sure whether he was coming at all, and if not, then when he would be. Negative stroke 1: I was angry at him for not turning up and her for not allowing me to relieve my stress by finding out what was happening.

Next I suggested that since she was up she should go and lock the front door. He would not be turning up after eight and we would not be answering it. She said that was my job; I said it didn't matter, she was up. She refused. Negative stroke 2: I was now angry that she was arguing over something as silly as locking the door, which is something that she wants done every night.

This spiralled into her calling me selfish, and me calling her childish. By the time I went to bed, she was already there. She pointedly asked me why I was ignoring her, stating that I was avoiding eye contact and not talking to her. When I said I wasn't avoiding her, and asked her what she wanted to talk about, she had nothing to say. She then said that she didn't want to start an argument, but then wouldn't talk about it. Negative stroke 3: She was placing all the blame on me, accepting none of the responsibility and further failing to let me get across my point of view; not that it would have mattered because she, like me, was more interested in her own point of view to listen and accept the point of view of the other.

So, I slept on it, and woke up with it on my mind. All other negative strokes are merely a continuation on the theme, with me still angry and her wanting to ignore what happened and then heaping it again on me since I am upset and she... wasn't (but now she is - and it all becomes my fault). We both believe the other to be playing the blame game.

But, today I am really angry. Today I have realised that I have not got over my problems with my old job, with management, with my brother's case. It seems in my nature to sulk and brood over matters that perhaps I could get over by dealing with them straight away (ie: phoning the builder up that night, regardless of what my wife wanted, because I needed to know where he was), but it has now been nurtured into me to carry this pent up aggression and frustration.

Strokes! Can't live with them, can't live without them.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Three things have struck me during today’s session. Although I know that I am progressing, that I have developed and found understanding, I listen to the other members of the group occasionally mentioning how they have used counselling in their home or work life and wonder why I haven’t managed to develop to that level. Reading through my reflective logs I can see that I have used counselling skills in some situations at home, but these are few and I haven’t managed to do so at work at all. I appreciate that it is all dependent upon people learning at different speeds and that situations need to arise or exist in order to be able to use the skills, but I still feel as if I’m being held back, that I’m not quite getting it. I wish to be presented with similar scenarios to the others, but I fear that I don’t because of my problem of not always being able to engage with other people. I often turn inward, thinking about my own life, problems, book idea and therefore don’t express enough interest to engage others. I need to be more open, less self interested, but I fear I won’t be able to consolidate ideas, or move ahead with myself, my life or my book if I don’t think about them.

After undertaking the mock exam I had a twinge of sadness, possibly desolation, at the thought of the course coming toward an end (despite still being three months away). By the time the course ends the group will have spent seven months getting to know one another. When I worked at the school, at the end of every school year I was sad that I would lose contact with the students I had got to meet, to know, and to share a friendship with. I think that because I have a fear of death and loss I am always looking “nostalgically” to the past. I am always thinking back to the things that I have done, the people that I have met and the times that mean most to me. I think what makes me sad is the loss of friendships and times that I can never get back. My friendships will never be the same and with a change in the type of relationship: I will have nothing in common with these friends on the course once it is over, and I cannot stretch myself to keep up the relationship after that because it becomes a tie preventing me from spending time on moving forward. Meeting these people again in the future will, as I have often found with meeting other friends, never be the same. The built friendship will have deteriorated too far to be the same.

I have realised in myself that most of my arguments, and the arguments of others centres around a feeling of being misunderstood or not listened to. This annoyance, or developing anger means that often the argument escalates. At the moment I am asking myself why it is necessary for me to make myself understood! Whilst I acknowledge that it is rude for me to interrupt others and to not allow them to express themselves, their thoughts and emotions, and whilst I myself understand that I need the positive strokes of expressing myself et al, I also see that it isn’t necessary.

Despite the fact that I should never discount myself, I realise that I do not ever have to make myself understood. I have every right to walk away from a conversation, an argument, a discussion. I don’t need to be the last word, I do not need to be perceived as right or wrong, and I don’t have to think of myself as the loser or the culprit if I apologise.

People need to be understood and feel that they need to be able to say their piece solely because they feel that they are being suppressed otherwise, and I recognise that. I also recognise that it is ultimately irrelevant in a usual day-to-day environment. For example, religious debating rarely changes either side’s point of view. Often, as in this example, animosity and self righteousness can build up on both sides, which is like banging heads against a wall. Ultimately what each side is doing by asserting themselves and wanting to be heard or to be allowed to speak last is simply because they want their point of view to be put across and because they believe that their view is more important than anyone else’s.
I don’t feel that I need to do this anymore, I don’t need to play this game any more. It will be interesting to investigate whether I can do this, and what the outcomes are. Will I be unburdening myself or will I be discrediting the possibility of personal strokes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I spent the weekend with school friends. As there were seven of us, there were times when I felt like a spare person. Everybody else had someone to talk to and although I had managed to sit in the middle I rarely had anything to say to any of the others. This wasn’t simply a case of being excluded from the conversation, just that I had nothing to add to any of them – was left out because I didn’t know how to enter the conversations. It feels ludicrous to even admit that in regards to my close friends, but I have to acknowledge that it isn’t only confined to this scenario.

With strangers or in strange environments I find it difficult and sometimes become anxious during long silences. I need to fill the gaps and yet I have nothing to say, can’t think of anything that will bridge whatever the gap is between me and the other person, or people. I believe it is a similar fear to the one in which I have if I need to ask a stranger for help or directions – an inevitability that I attempt to put off and put off.

This problem isn’t as bad as that of my wife’s cousins, who were so shy as to almost curl up and die whenever they were engaged in situation, but I guess it’s something I should address in counselling skills triads.

On the topic of people who do shy away from conversation, it seemed that my wife’s cousins found it emotionally painful to engage with other people, as if the ‘strokes’ provided to them by others hurt them. A session in which a person like this is a helpee/client would be exceptionally difficult to sit through.

Also, a friend with whom I am developing a strained relationship finally had some self realisation – she had told her boss that she didn’t want the extra workload and responsibility that was on offer, despite his insistence that it was the wrong decision and that she should do the extra work. Normally this friend is a workaholic with a very specific mindset that states her life ethic is the only one with any credibility.

With her self realisation that she was better off without the added responsibility was a major stepping stone in her personality, and I was able to provide her with positive encouragement that it was good for her to give herself permission about what she felt was right for her. Regardless of the needs or wants of others, she needed to step back and have some “me” time. She admitted that it made her feel empowered and a bit more adult to be able to give herself permission in that manner, as previously she would have taken on the extra work and become increasingly stressed because of it. My counselling skills enabled me to give her nothing more than the encouragement that validated her decision.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Saturday's workshop on difficult clients, issues and situations was a real eye opener for me. I managed to correctly identify my own weak areas in which I felt I'd found it difficult to help: transexuals and people who have been cruel, or raped others. I even suggested that I might be able to try in both circumstances. However, I didn't realise that I would have the reaction I did as I related a story in which I felt partly reponsible for a situation that led to girl's rape and her attempted suicide. My naievity and the fact that I had little control aside, I was not prepared to have to fight my emotions in order to explain the story. I had thought it related to helping a rapist. It seems now that I would feel too emotionally attached to a rape victim to maintain my distance and keep my agenda to myself.

I felt embarrased, caught in the middle of my story, on the verge of tears and not feeling as if I could just stop. I was shocked by my own outpouring, and felt at my most naked before the whole group: this issue seems core to my regrets. Although I didn't feel comfortable to let go of my emotions completely, I felt accepted and empathised with by the group.

I guess that personal disclosures as a counsellor or helper doesn't come without its obstacles. Were I to have been in a helping situation and I had recounted the story to a distraught helpee, my sudden burst of emotion and memory would have offbalanced the session, removed focus from the helpee, turned about the session and could be potentially disasterous for the helpee to feel that they will be listened to by someone who doesn't have their own issues to think about or deal with. If this were to happen, I would be completely vulnerable as I wouldn't have protected myself in my personal disclosures.

The tasks relating to dealing with a difficult client: a patient left to wait for 45 minutes and the homeowner with the leak; covered two points, firstly the need for the helper to proactive, guide and offer the client/helpee choices, options and the such like, but also to redirect them to a better and more helpful person/company for their situation. To this end the key is to show interest to the helpee, to make give them your full attention and provide them with ideas and solutions that are practical and give them a sense that things are or will happen, and not to try a fob off approach or go round and round in a circular argument. Sometimes other options may not be appropriate and there is only one choice to be made, but with empathy and confidence on the part of the helper, the helpee shouldn't be left feeling as if they're on their own.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The work on ethics was an interesting subject, in the case of my group, relating a fourteen year-old girl coming to a GP Counsellor because of her wish to have an abortion and her mother who has recently discovered her daughter is coming along and wants to know why.

In the counsellor role, I could do nothing but iterate that without the daughter’s consent for the mother to know anything about her reasons for coming to see me, the law had tied my hands. There would never be any way for the parent to discover the reason without the daughter’s express permission. This is an acute example of a domestic world interacting in a turbulent capacity with the legal world, placing the counsellor in a difficult ethical position.

On the one hand the girl would benefit from her parent’s support if they knew what was going on, possibly being given validation on a choice they thought they didn’t have. On the other hand, despite the girl being under the age of consent and requiring a parent’s signature for standard surgery, in the eyes of the law, her rights stand.

The counsellor’s position is simply not to respond to answers. In the case of where a parent may phone up for confirmation that their child is attending meetings with the counsellor, a response must be made that neither admits, nor lies, since it is no one’s business whether the child is or is not going.

This raises the issue for me that if I were the parent I would want to know, but then, the counsellor may be the only point of objective contact the child has, and if the counsellor were to break the ethical and moral code, that child’s faith would be lost and perhaps next time they wouldn’t speak to anyone.

For me, the roleplay was of interest for another reason. Despite my history of acting, and performing in front of people, I always get myself worked up about doing so, even if it is waiting in line to speak my mind or say my piece. I thought it would be the same waiting in line to do the roleplay, especially since everyone else seemed to be doing really well with theirs, and my group had planned as much. I was surprised therefore to find that I wasn’t bothered about doing it at all. My hear rate remained the same and I didn’t feel breathless – a physical change in myself, I belief, from a feeling that I am accepted in the group and not to be judged by any of them. Feeling laughed at and judged is something I have always felt since school. Although I have never let it stop me from doing what I want, it has always made me anxious and set my adrenaline pumping.

I had worked at one of the borough’s library branches late on Monday before going to college and had to deal with insollant and rude children. This led me to feel seriously anxious since it is an ongoing problem, and not one that I can resolve myself.

A task on giving our neighbour a compliment, as part of a discussion on strokes led to most people seeming slightly embarrased at accepting the positive comment that had been said to them. People tend to feel wary of compliments, for various reasons. This highlights an issue where some people cannot accept compliments and don't have the emotional capacity to deal with them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reading the book Dibs about a boy who everybody thinks is mentally retarded and requires psychotherapy, has highlighted to me how little I know about the use of counselling skills at this stage. At every step throughout the progress between Dibs and his psychotherapist, my own choices about when and how I believe the psychotherapist should react and question the child has been completely out of kilter with what Dibs actually needs and what the therapist actually does. My emotional attachment to the child, my empathy and sympathy grew fairly quickly into the narrative so that at every page I was aware of when my sympathy wanted to over step the boundaries of Dibs's needs and really showed that I was being driven by my own agenda to straighten him out rather than concentrating upon his agenda - necessary development. I must focus upon developing my empathy and holding my sympathy back.

Further to this I can see the relationship development between Dibs and his therapist, and see the use of empathic response to engage and interact with the child. It is this kind of empathic delivery that I haven't been using in the practical work. I have been told that I haven't appeared as much in the way of empathic towards the person in the helpee role. Again, I see that empathic response is supposed to be an acknowledgement of feelings.

Separate to this, I have been watching a television program on weddings, which has highlighted not a prejudice, but a fear: a man marrying and having relations with a transexual woman who has recently undergone a sex change operation. I had thought myself competent to withhold my reaction, but upon watching the program I was shocked to find that I had a very real physical reaction - my skin crawled; it made me shiver; I felt disgusted as if nature had been corrupted by this change and this relationship between the two people.

I feel awful because of my reaction, and my previous thinking that I wasn't closed to the thought that anyone can be who they want to be. But this reaction shows to me that I have a fear of meeting and interacting with a transexual, and not because I think they might fancy me. At this time I believe it stems from my perception that it changes the rules of engagement and interaction. These ideas aren't fully formed and are difficult to pinpoint because I'm not presented with the situation myself, but it is something to be aware of: a black spot reaction that if presented to me, will require a measured, careful response accompanied by thought.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A lot of discussions made mention to where members of the class had used counselling skills at home or in a work environment, discussing how they were at odds with their initial feelings of wanting to fix the problem or tell the helpee to "buck their ideas up", but ultimately using their skills to talk through the helpee's problem. I am very aware that I haven't managed to bridge the gap between my lessons and my life in a similar fashion.

Recently several colleagues have been having problems with management expectation or bullying. In every case my involvement has stemmed immediately from a: "You must protect yourself," "you must sort this out as soon as possible," stand point. This is instead of taking an objective standpoint and discussing the issues.

Having dealt with my brother's case I am now more proactive in the ideology of both protecting members of staff and dealing with a situation as soon as possible - my brother had no support, didn't know what his rights were, and his case went on for 18 months. In situations of management malpractice it's the employee who comes off worst and suffers all the stress. I think that if I get involved in the beginning and lay what I believe are the foundations of support, my colleagues will be safer and on an even footing with management. However, I have an emotional interest in this - I have my own agenda - I want them to turn around their problem, succeed and be happy with the outcome.

Whilst this countermands the principles of counselling skills the work environment doesn't leave me with the opportunity to spend time talking the problems through. I feel that the situations require a more proactive response from me. I can’t ignore the fact that at the present time and because of my history I am taking on part of the emotional stress of their problem because I know what it’s like. It’s because it raises too many issues for me that I am unable to carry out an objective view and would be unable to help until I was able to be empathic without taking on the stresses.

Further to this, I witnessed first hand the repercussions of loose boundaries and ignored ethics. In one instance of a work colleague with problems I was discussing the issue with a family member – I had wanted to highlight a specific point within the incident that related to my brother’s case – unfortunately, the family member discussed the issue with someone else, who works in the same department as my colleague, and who just so happens to have been part of the incident.

This upset my colleague since it removed all power they may have had in dealing with the incident and took away any and all decisions as to whether they wanted to deal with the situation altogether. Regardless of my impact on the outcome, I must be more aware of my place in relations, and the tenets of counselling skills. This has highlighted for me that even the smallest of disclosures to unnecessary third parties, can yield almost devastating results.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The problem with watching stduy videos from the nineteen-seventies is that the message can often be lost amongst the content - the stark oppressive environments, gaudy fashion sense and people lighting up cigarettes during their counselling training. It's very interesting to watch, in this case the training of would-be abortion counsellors (all of them women), and consider how times, views, opinions and culture have changed, come along, or devolved.

I found that I was slightly taken aback by what I felt was a rather relaxed and adult response from the two women at the centre of choosing their own abortions; which, in one case, seemed almost blasé. With the continuing climate of religious zealotry and controvesy that stands around abortion, I has assumed that back in the seventies, the subject would have been even more of an issue that views would have been in a state of sensationalised (perhaps even naïve) turmoil - as I suppose myself and the rest of modern-day culture often considers much of the thinking of past generations.

Further to this, I had to analyse myself. When questioned by the group about my own beliefs on abortion, I didn’t find the answer easy to come by. I could agree with the assessment of another member of the group – that situations are always different and sometimes it is necessary to allow abortion, and sometimes abortion isn’t the answer. However, I have never been faced with the choice; the decision. I have discussed it with my wife, then girlfriend, when we had our pregnancy scares, but I was often saved any decision because the choice would lay with her (it being her body) and that she could never bring herself to abort a life.

I believe that a life is begun at conception and not birth and would therefore have to suggest to myself that abortion is a bad thing, to be avoided. I have also to consider that there is free will and the choice to abort is as important as euthanasia, and should be a personal decision. As a teenager I would have stuck by my girlfriend’s choice, regardless of the outcome – my position as “man” feeling so dissacociated form the real situation and decision because it “isn’t happening to me” that it doesn’t seem real, and therefore not a real threat. Facing the same question aged twenty-six, with a safe-mortgage, wife and responsibilities I cannot easily answer whether I agree with abortion at all. Certainly, we would never now abort a child, but then, we consider ourselves to be financially comfortable. My views have definitely swung: I don’t agree with teenage pregnancies, but I don’t think abortion is the answer.

It was also interesting to consider that the core principles of counselling haven’t changed in thirty years; a feat I hadn’t considered previously; that this great art, this great skill, really does come down to the three tenets, and to listening ‑ which I personally believe is the most powerful support any of us can offer another human being.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I was already feeling in a slightly depressed state during the lesson, when I was reminded of people I resent. The class had, again, revolved around everyone's anxiety over dealing with the marking criteria of the course, and although I can understand this fear of the unknown, the repetition of the topic has begun to bore me. I feel that it's detracting from our learning, taking up a good amount of our allocated time. I feel, however, that because this is a group situation, and seems to be a group problem, it is wrong of me to express my feelings in this matter, because people quite clearly need to feel that they've addressed the situation to clear their worries. The fact that many of them do worry puts me in the minority, and I need to acknowledge that. It is far more important that people feel comfortable enough to continue, and learn, and therefore, they must be allowed to speak through this worry.

The discussion came round to the lifelines - something I have been struggling with, in that I am keenly aware that I spend a lot of time considering my past anyway. I want to be able to commit enough time to the lifeline in order to get everything down that has defined me, and I don't want to rush it for fear I will miss things out - this will be inevitable. So, I put it off, knowing it will be a particularly long process.

One of the others mentioned the patterns they could see, another introducing the concept of dealing with all their resentments towards people, and I turned my own thoughts towards my previous job and the situation I had tried to escape. I have such resentment surrounding the job, the people, my leaving, and the ongoing situation with my brother that I was soon consumed in such an inwardly focused anger that I was no longer part of the group.

I was feeling hot, flushed, anger; I was reliving everytime I had been bullied, shouted at, made to wait, forced to do something that wasn't my job, made to follow my boss around like a puppy; more recent additions include the betrayal by people I'd considered friends, the animosity I feel from then when they see me, the sense that they are avoiding me. I was tense, tight fisted, anxious, fixated on negativity. I was recounting the very same emotions I'd had whilst working there, the frustrations and the lack of expression, the way I returned to the office and physically attacked equipment and furniture just to release my anger. Burning inside me are difficult, negative feelings: resentment, anger, bitter, hatred; and I had honestly thought, had been told by others, that I could/should let it go. But, I can't.

I am caught between revenge and karma; wanting to let these people know how they've hurt me, to hurt them back. But, karma has really begun to enter my world. In this new year I don't want to hate or resent anyone new. I don't want negativity to run my life; I don't want to take revenge only for karma to come around again. Surely I believe that karma is there to make them feel, in time, some of what they've made me feel? Underlying those thoughts are the ones that suggest they will never feel it, or that when they do, they won't connect it with what they've done to me. Worst of all, I want to be there when they fall - but I want to be a better person than that.

On the flipside, I want to separate such negative emotions, such a bad experience, from the rest of the evening. I have made a concious decision to consider the lesson as positive. I have highlighted something that burns deep, that is yet to heal. I need to be mindful of that; until I'm healed I won't be able to deal with it, or them, objectively.

The practical work, the triads, were helpful to channel my energies, to turn about the negativity into something positive. I found that my counselling skills at present have a mostly even quality - listening, attentiveness, awareness, expression of paraphrasing, focus of situations and linking of past experiences with new. What I've yet to develop are my long pauses - my moments of worry that I've run out of things to say, that I've taken a path of questioning that has led me to a deadend becuase I was expecting a different response. Also, I tend towards closed questions, requesting agreement from the client, and not listening to the clients use of words: they say what they are feeling and I ask questions regarding thinking.

I need to attune myself, not just my physical responses, towards their needs, and engage them upon the sense that they are using, not remove them from it. All of these stem from my own, selfish, inner need to fix the problem - something that is not for me to want or to do. I must maintain the counsellor's integrity and remain empathic and impartial - to allow the healing process to take its time, to allow the client to deal with their own emotions through my prompts of expression. I must stop attempting to guide the session, and I must attempt to lose my agenda of getting to a specific point.

A good example is in one of the others, when they counselled me. At the very end, they were able to pick out the two most important points of the session, recount it back to me, and show an interest in the development of them - positive engagement that reiterates the problems without directing, and without agenda.
This week’s lesson was interesting since I had missed the previous two weeks (before Christmas) and was feeling jealous that I had missed out on what the rest of the group had been doing. Also, a different teacher meant a different teaching style that was interesting more for how it was opened and closed than anything else.

The tables were moved to the edges of the room and the group sat without barriers. We discussed how we were feeling both in ourselves and about the course both at the beginning and end of the class: a great way, it seemed, to bring us all back together again – since, everyone does end up separating into smaller groups of people they identify with. I have to admit here that felt jealousy towards one of the other guys and his friendly interaction with one of the women, who, I guess, I like – in some way I felt bested; that they had in jokes – I can see this as being a characteristic wish to be the centre of everyone’s attention. Another example is my brief interruption of other people’s monologues or discussions with something comedic, so that I am brought into everyone’s consciousness.

It was good to hear the feelings of the others, listen to the worries of some regarding the course and their position in it, and then, most surprisingly, a morale boosting statement by one of the others.

We did several activities aimed at relating to others. Firstly we all stood, with our eyes shut, arms by our sides, and meditated on how it felt to be surrounded by people we couldn’t interact with; being aware of our inner feelings. I imagined myself in a comforting place – at a beach in Cornwall – sensing, not seeing, all these people around me, just watching, but never interacting. I felt accepted, but then a feeling that they didn’t want to interract with me came on. When we repeated the exercise, holding hands, the feeling within the group and with me was that of being a part of something greater, of being connected; the generation of energy – warmth on the palms of the hands – is a physical representation of a psychological reaction to this; happiness.

Using different coloured, shaped, sized, textured buttons, we represented our support network of family and friends and how we felt they interacted with us; an exercise in perception of self and others. My choices were based upon styles solely.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Relating to Others

Why do I want to help others?

My reasons are as much selfish as they are about helping others. I feel that life is not about simply living day-to-day, working for pay, getting further ahead than everyone else, and repeating ad nauseam. I have always taken enjoyment from interacting with people, and came to relish the job I held at the school, because I was in a position to talk and listen with many students. I know that there were a few students who I had a direct influence upon. I spent time with them, engaging them when they were upset, lonely, or vulnerable, and acting as a sounding board, confidant or moral support. There were others, who I befriended in a lesser fashion, because of their age, but with whom I developed a rapport, and I made myself available to help anyone and everyone, in whatever capacity, who needed it. It gave me a buzz to be known by and helpful to so many people.

These days, my life is empty of that sort of interaction, and my job, and the stress of the past few years has left me bored with work, with information technology, and with the feeling that my life hasn’t any real direction. I am of the mind that I will get my own satisfaction from a career in counselling, that this may very well stretch to life-satisfaction – I will be helping others, and, I guess, in my way, I shall be helping others come to moments of self realisation, and moments of epiphany that could change their lives.

Why do others come to me for help?

Others have always confided in me because, I believe, I have an open attitude towards people and life, and rarely speak of my own beliefs. I often engage people with topics of conversation by agreeing to their viewpoint, and currying favour by making them accepted, and as if we have something in common, by siding with them in their views or an argument they might be having with someone else. Often, I make light of situations and belittle problems with humour.

I still make sure that people feel they can ask me anything, by making myself available to them, by showing that I don’t mind putting myself out, and by being open and honest – I very rarely keep what is going on in my own life from other people; I hate secrets, and am honest with my feelings.

How do I form relationships with others – colleagues and those close?

I try to be civil, friendly, and co-operative with everyone I meet. I keep an open mind and an open posture, but also allow other people the chance to make the first move to get to know me, or to engage me. I can be shy or forward, dependent upon my mood, and I become shyer, the more people I am with (who I don’t know), but in either instance, once the first hurdle of name exchanging and the initial conversation of meeting, I relax somewhat. My humour only comes into play after a couple of hours, or after someone else has begun to express their own – humour is an ice-breaker, but used too soon or wrongly, can make people “humour” you; they will shut off from engaging and interacting, and will be more interested in how much longer they have to endure your company.

How do I assess my relationship skills?

It’s not often that I assess my relationship skills; only having moments of self-realisation if I find myself with a pregnant pause, or having said something that I, myself, feel might have been ill chosen. I am more and more finding that if I am bored and I specifically go looking (at work) for someone to talk to, that I tend towards conversation that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from my brother – the kind of talk in which the other person is doing something, I’m not, and the conversation revolves around myself in the hope it might jump start a better conversation – which is kind of sad.

I become ever more aware of myself when I do spend time with my brother, listening to, what I believe is, his self-centred ignorance, the ways in which he attempts to start conversations (having nothing better to say than talk about something that no one else has any interest in or comment on).

At present I still require other people to pull me up on my behaviour or attitude – if my jokes run too close to the taste line, or my comments are too pointed – and though I do then stop, shy away, or apologise, it still takes me a little while to really look at myself and think about why I needed to calm my behaviour down (I immediately use a defensive block, as, I believe, all people do when someone points out something such as a character flaw; this needs to be got over before I can move on, or develop).

What are the qualities I have which I can develop?

I have several qualities that may be developed to assist my skills. I have many frames of reference, several difficult experiences which I have lived through, different groups of people and character types that I have worked or lived with. These frames of reference enable me to empathise with people, because I can better understand certain situations or feelings. Although there are plenty more situations I haven’t experienced, I believe the acknowledgement of such situations and the storing for use empathy is very useful, as it should enable me to find common ground with people, empathise and therefore, find a way to move forwards with them.

I have a humanitarian and spiritual view of people and the world. I do not force my views on others, even if I don’t agree with their views, and I approach situations carefully, so as not to offend. There is little I want from life, am not competitive, and have a desire to be dependable and reliable for other people – I am prepared to help others, and put their needs first.

I have a friendly, open nature, and am not secretive. I have found that people talk to me and feel that they can come to me. Whether I might be judgemental or not, I never display any such feelings towards people I am talking to, or being an ear for, again, whether I completely agree with their view or not. I may express another viewpoint, but never press it, and will allow people to make up their own minds.

I have a strong interest in character development and the reasons why people do the things they do, or believe the things they believe – mostly stemming from needing to create believable characters in my writing. This also means that I am interested in listening to people, what they have to say, and why they say it. I have an honest interest in therefore wanting to assist people in coming to terms with their own problems and seeing their own way through.

Do I have specific blocks in listening to some people?

I am a proactive person, who, when I am in the mind to do things, wants to get on and get them done. In respect to other people, their problems and their needs, I want to get involved, give them advice, show them the path and direct them to what I believe they should do. This is more difficult in the instances of people close to me: family and work colleagues, because I have a better understanding of what is going on with them, am sympathetic, no empathic, and often, am in a situation where I want to help them directly, and don’t have the luxury of time to sit back and counsel them so that they may make the right decision. Sometimes, this may be compounded by situations that either link to me, or have echoes of something that happened to me, or got me worked up – again, I find it far easier to break into type, and offer advice and guidance on what needs to be done, rather than allowing the person to come to their own conclusions – I am worried they won’t do things right, and might be taken advantage of.

I have a very active mind; conversations, scenery, etc, often sparks a memory recall that takes me off topic, or sidelines my thoughts. This isn’t very helpful in a counselling session, where I need to be concentrating.

Because of my active mind, I can confuse myself. For example, when asked a question about mathematics, rather than work out the answer in my head straight away, I worry about doing it quickly, stumble over my thoughts and slow myself down. This is also leads onto coming up with a question I might want to ask, or a direction I might want to take a conversation. I end up spending too much time thinking about that rather than listening. I end up waiting for my turn to speak.

I have an artistic, and open mind. This is useful in accepting new things, different people and situations, but it also means that I can be easily led, accept things that might require more thought, and often don’t express my own views because I believe other people’s have a lot of credence and don’t require my own, or that because of that, might may be wrong. I am not as confrontational, as I should be, in certain circumstances.

I can be headstrong on occasions; ignoring what people say because I believe myself to be right, but this is only occasionally, and stems from a similar notion, that we all suffer, which is some form of ignorance: I’m right, I know I am.

Have I identified some of my prejudices and stereotyped views?

My personal world view seems to thrive on prejudices and stereotypes. It makes me comfortable to be able to situate people into categories – any category. Whether I use that because of my personal fears, or hang-ups, or whether it is because I am personally dismissing somebody’s view, because of who or what I think they are, in a normal, everyday, sense, is irrelevant. I do not treat people too differently because of which group I perceive them to be in – I treat everybody as I would wish to be treated. Where someone is out of order, and I feel safe enough to pass comment, or direct them to do or be, somewhere else, I will do so.

I never refuse to speak to or deal with a person for any reason other than if I don’t like them personally. I will never be rude or racist, sexist, tall-ist, fat-ist, etc, to anyone, or use it as an excuse, because it simply isn’t in my nature.

As the nominated first-aider, at work, I cannot afford to have hang-ups about dealing with certain people, it is unethical, and I won’t have any problem. I may allow prejudices to sway my judgements or beliefs, but I do continue to think upon subjects for some time, and am prepared to change my mind or view.

Stereotyping is a normal characteristic that makes me feel comfortable, since I am able to categorise people – put them in boxes. I never allow it to prevent me from listening to or befriending different people.