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.