I hope – and don’t think I am – evangelical about ‘the talking cure’. Keeping shtum I’ve found vitally protective at times. For example, when I’ve tried talking and that has
been damaging, having not been ‘received’ in that communication. The big risk with openness and sharing is exposure. Shame – the possible fallout from such exposure – is, I think,
one of the dastardliest emotions that we feel as humans. So, I understand and respect the need to avoid communicating at times: when not talking is key. This may particularly apply
in toxic relationships where boundaries are crucial; when not engaging is self-preservation.
Let me now assume an alternative scenario, not one of toxic relationships. When I work with pairs of people – including family members, friends and couples, I see my role as facilitating each person to speak honestly without having to leave the room. And before it’s too late. At the ripe old age of 36 too many times have I seen crestfallen faces before me – individuals or pairs – mourning the tardiness of honest conversation. And it takes all parties to want to engage in dialogue. I realise that talking may be terrifying, gruelling, and marathon-like. Still, I urge you if there is enough love between you and the other, to commit to exploring. To get yourself in a position where you are able to have those conversations; able to say what you want and able to really hear the other. If that is too unappealing, and you are willing to risk the consequences of not communicating, then that could be information too? Fear of talking aside, there may be other reasons you want to step away?
Even if the motivation is there, the utility of such communication may be limited. I can only hear, empathise, and communicate with others as much as I have worked through
myself. For example, I’ll struggle to take in the loneliness in another if I haven’t come to terms with similar feelings in my world. If I’m pretty clear and sure about me, there’s
relatively little in others that will shake me in the long term. Including the scary possibility of the other not being able to ‘get’ me, even vaguely empathically when I attempt
to talk. I would hope that as a listener, I can remain – or manoeuvre to be - open to listening when it is my turn to do so, however hard - even if in that moment I am being told
to fuck off.
What about talking, communicating, even if only to oneself? The cost of not doing this can be beastly: bodies yelling in panic attack prose. Anxiety in this form is often thought
to be the outlet for buried, unspoken experiences and emotions. Sad and scary perhaps, but our bodies are also trying to communicate and restore equilibrium during an episode. And
perhaps the biggest risk of all in not honouring our own voices is as the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1849) describes: one’s ‘deepest despair’ is to choose to be another than herself.
For the most part, I’m pro talking then. Surprise! I can’t knock communicating inwardly and outwardly. And neither, I don’t think, could my favourite great Dane.
Kierkegaard, S. (1980). The Sickness Unto Death (H. V. Hong & E. H. Hong, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1849).
The artistic giant Anni Albers (1899 – 1994) turned to textile art as her second choice of career; options were especially limited as a woman. I was gorgeously stirred by an exhibition of her work at the Tate Modern in London,
not least because her approach has kinship to the therapy world.
Firstly, she treated textiles as if people; valuing them in their own right, not just for what purpose they may serve (in the home, for example). This supports a recent discussion I had with a coaching colleague: where there is an organisation sponsoring the work, it is useful to treat the organisation as a person too, worthy of inherent respect.
Secondly, there is both punchy abstract and order in Anni’s work. I can relate to this: I believe that people cannot be split into parts, so I meander and weave with my clients.
In this process, powerful connections – and sense, order - emerge.
Finally, watching the painstaking physical process of weaving screamed ‘discipline’ to me. Discipline is my best friend at work: it keeps my curiosity legit (for example, checking the intention behind any questions).
It also keeps my responses bona fide in terms of theory: I often go to supervision and say ‘I said x to someone, where does that fit with theory?’, and we work it back. Spontaneity
certainly has its place alongside discipline though, when it evolves from robust competence and ethic. It may be that I don’t make the conscious link to theory/ethics when sat with
a client; but audit myself retrospectively during supervision. With clients who have been coming to see me for a while; and/or with coaching clients, being disciplined feels all the more
pertinent. The familiarity of a relationship, or the often slightly more practical, future-focussed work in coaching can feel like fertile ground for unhelpful responses to pop out,
if I don’t have my beady, disciplined-but-spontaneous, eyes open.
‘Beady’ – is that a good link back to Anni and her textiles? Thanks to this inspiring woman, I see the raving beauty and robustness of the therapeutic endeavour that bit more clearly.
Dunne, A., (2018). Art in Focus: Rail by Anni Albers. The Irish Times [online]. 11 August. [Viewed 13 March 2019].
Available from https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/visual-art/art-in-focus-rail-by-anni-albers-1.3589901
Peer discussion with Becky Vincent
You may not be prime minister, but having power at all is a tricky business. I know that therapy and supervsion certainly support me to act with integrity and rigour given that I have some power from my role alone. Although the following article relates to having vast power within politics, I suspect we could all learn from this: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/12/prime-minister-therapy
If you need permission to do or to be just as you are - or less - today, here's your ticket. I love this poem - 'Today' by Jean Little.
TODAY I will not live up to my potential.
TODAY I will not relate well to my peer group.
TODAY I will not contribute in class.
I will not volunteer one thing.
TODAY I will not strive to do better.
TODAY I will not achieve or adjust or grow enriched
or get involved.
I will not put up my hand even if the teacher is wrong
and I can prove it.
TODAY I might eat the eraser off my pencil.
I'll look at the clouds.
I'll be late.
I don't think I'll wash.
I NEED A REST.
Yesss, I think we need a ‘return to curiosity’ as suggested in this excellent article. Not least because it may take the pressure off knowing everything in this age of information. https://www.theguardian.com/society/commentisfree/2019/mar/21/we-need-a-return-to-curiosity
These are tricky times, I think we may all agree that. The deeply uncertain political backdrop to our lives is having an unsettling effect. Add to that the inescapable force and pace of social media, and what this psychotherapist sees is anxiety aplenty.
Cue, depression. Anxiety and depression can be a dastardly duo. They do like to hang around together. The good news is that addressing one will often quieten the other. They – like most mental health difficulties - may be eased by looking at symptoms, root causes, or, as is often the case, both.
More good news: there are some daily choices (for most) that can support mental health and resilience. Perhaps you are already well-versed in aspiring to the below, but just in case..
1. Eat well.
2. Sleep well.
4. Be aware of what you enjoy, and do those things - small or big. Let’s assume they aren’t self-destructive please people – I’m not telling you to binge drink!
5. Be aware of and don’t do (too much) of what you don’t enjoy
6. Be able to say ‘no’ when needed
7. Download the ‘CALM’ or ‘Headspace’ App – and use it
Granted, some of these are biggies that you may need help with. For example, ‘being able to say no’ may open a whole conversation about how you see yourself. But oh so worth looking at – not least because these kinds of roots of difficulty often hold us back in various ways, some of which we may not even be aware of.
I find it unnatural to draw lines between anxiety, depression, roots, symptoms, etc. From nearly a decade of working with clients, I see that working with the whole person, rather than trying to compartmentalise difficulties unnaturally, is beneficial. People are not linear, so neither is the therapy I offer.
I hasten to add that sometimes it’s necessary to prioritise symptoms – and I think what our (great in my opinion) NHS service provides often does just that. However, this is only part of the work with anxiety, depression, and indeed mental health problems in general.
If your mental health is difficult to manage alone at the moment, symptoms or biggies or otherwise, I hope that you will seek help. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a good place to start: www.bacp.co.uk . And I am contactable via the 'contact tab' or on 07802510491.
This morning I flicked open 'The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats' - a gift from some lovely friends - and stumbled upon this beauty. It speaks to me and I hope it will you too.
Sweetheart, do not love too long:
I loved long and long,
And grew to be out of fashion
Like an old song.
All through the years of our youth
Neither could have known
Their own thought from the other's,
We were so much at one.
But O, in a minute she changed -
O do not love too long,
Or you will grow out of fashion
Like an old song.
This article speaks to the cynic in me - yet my gratitude list is on the go. An easy way to feel a bit better? Yes please. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/23/is-gratitude-secret-of-happiness-i-spent-month-finding-out
This article is well worth a read. Hands up here - my subconscious tribalism, for example for causes that I deem to be 'good' or 'right', is in full swing. You? https://www.wired.com/story/sam-harris-and-the-myth-of-perfectly-rational-thought?mbid=social_fb
What a corker of a term – and a concept. Coined by someone with a corker of a name: Jerold Bozarth, a big fish in the person-centred therapy world, who sadly died last month. I'm grateful to Bozarth, who posited that an empathic response could take a plethora of forms. He discerned exactly how empathy could be different from simply reflecting back an understanding of someone else’s shoes (metaphorical footwear, if you will).
Specifically, Bozarth (1984) said that a response was also empathic if it:
a. Comes authentically from me as an individual
b. Is in response to another as an individual
c. Arises from the here-and-now context
Eh? I hear you say. Let me give an example. Easy-to-identify empathy may sound something like, ‘you’re ambivalent’. An idiosyncratic empathic response may be something like, ‘I could tell you what I know about x and y if you would like that’.
The first part of the sentence (in italics) comes authentically from me as an individual: a., above. The rest of the sentence (‘if you would like that’) is in response to another as an individual: b. above. Regarding c., i.e. arising from the ‘here-and-now context’, we are talking about overall meaning and possibly content. In other words, the ‘x and y’ that I’m offering to say more about is somehow consistent with the original comment(s) made.
Idiosyncratic empathy therefore precludes anything general, for example stock responses made to various clients. These would not be responses from an individual, to an individual, in a specific context.
For someone like me who’s pretty disciplined about what comes out of my mouth in the old 50 minutes, buying into this is a revelation. By ‘buying into’, I mean I agree heartily with making room for personal, unscripted responses in the counselling room. However, I feel strongly that idiosyncratic empathy has to be married with discipline; it’s not a green light for anything goes. And similarly on the other side, that there is no place for bland, vanilla responses in person-centred therapy (‘idiotic empathy…’).
Bozarth, J. D., (1984) Beyond reflection: Emergent modes of empathy, in R. Levant & J. Shlein (Eds). In Client-centered Therapy and the Person-centered approach. New York, Praeger
This workshop will be an opportunity to meet with other practitioners from the helping professions - including but not limited to counsellors and psychotherapists - in order to reflect, encounter, muse.. I.e. To develop personally and professionally. I imagine content would include - for example - personal experience, theory, ethics, practice (and possibly live practice if wanted).
The day is an additional opportunity for growth; it is not a substitute for supervision. As I am offering this from my home, I can accommodate up to five participants excluding myself. If there is appetite, there is the possibility for a similar day to run more often.
Working as a therapist, supervisor, and facilitator is my vocation! From me you may expect this passion, as well my careful attention throughout. My belief in the value of such a group is strengthened through experience as both a participant and facilitator. As such, I will also bring my confidence and experience in groups; hopefully leaving you freer to be with others on the day.
More information may be found in the 'About Me' tab.
The day will run from 10am to 4pm and will cost £80 if booked before 15.2.18; £100 thereafter. Please contact me to discuss a concession. The fee includes home-made organic vegetarian soup and bread for lunch.
East London, E1. Full address given upon booking.
Please contact me at email@example.com or call me on 0044(0)7802510491.
Madness: a sane response to an insane world? The words give me a shiver; I should announce my bias now. In favour. As a psychotherapist I’m stretched and challenged further by Mullan’s work in terms of how to be with people that are pretty mentally unwell.
The eminent Scottish psychiatrist at the centre of the film is R.D. Laing. In the mid1960s he lived – to the limit – his belief that what people with schizophrenia or experiencing psychosis need is understanding (and possibly some LSD – see below). For him their communications are understandable, should we take the trouble to try.
What's interesting about this as a work of art is its relevance to the era we live in: one of divided views and related destruction… What happens if we do the unthinkable and try to understand a scary, different 'other' seeming to speak a different language? Elizabeth Moss (Laing's composite-fictional partner ‘Angie’ and part of the 'well' camp) and Olivia Poulet (a 'patient') have an exchange that is blow-your-mind beautiful: Poulet tenderly 'meets' Moss in her vulnerability. The unwell tend to the well.
Timeless human struggles - relationships, power, love, hurt, fear – it's all there for the relating. Both David Tennant (who plays Laing) and Elizabeth Moss do this earnestly and beautifully.
I think it's safe to say, judging from his book titles, that Mullan had a particular interest in Laing. And I’d say this is warranted; I don’t know of anyone as radical and popular (and therefore influential) as Laing in the field in the last fifty years. Given this, Mullan’s tempered approach to the character I applaud. Laing is portrayed unequivocally as a human with all his own foibles and failings in relationships. Laing’s partner ‘Angie’ I believe is cast to illustrate this. I might add that two people did kill themselves at Kingsley Hall and this is not included in the film. Mullan does however take care to show when the approach hits a limit; when a patient become a risk to others. What are the boundaries of empathy?
That is a question that I relate to in my current practice; it's a film that makes me think. Excellent.
What pops almost immediately for me – even as a practitioner with already sympathetic views – is that my empathy for people in extreme distress is stretched, as mentioned above. So, I daresay Laing’s understanding takes a truckload of courage and humility. But with the psychologist Carl Rogers - another renowned figure in the field of the last century - sitting on my shoulder, I’m reminded not to be dogmatic about anything, including ‘recreational’ drug use for mental distress. Rogers (1959) advocated a rejection of all forms of dogma in advancing theory/practice for working with mental illness. Open mind, check.
I come to the conclusion that I need more Laing in my daily work – at least in terms of empathy – the jury’s out on the LSD. Why don't I become less rigid, less assuming of perceived professional norms and see if it leads to somewhere growthful for those who are hurting? Chances are this will be a unique experience for them in a dark, long, often cold journey of illness. And I have my supervisor (compulsory in the UK) and myself to check me.
Laing talked about empathy as an agent of change in and of itself. Some fifty years on, Professor Stephen Joseph at the University of Nottingham in the UK, seems to be arguing similarly in his article, 'Rethinking Human Suffering' (2017). The film is clearly topical. Even the milder aspects of Laing's approach (such as the centrality of empathy rather than the dimension of patients living with doctors) are still revolutionary. This links to the above; that there has been no comparable figure in the field of psychiatry or psychotherapy since Laing.
The film is a sensual, seductive one. Almost entirely dimly lit, with interludes of music without dialogue, dancing and slow frames, it's a treat for the senses. The occasional distorted shot further adds to the dreamlike quality. And, being transported to another dimension of feeling in this way echoes Laing’s fundamental sentiment: fluid boundaries are not necessarily to be decried.
Anything off about the film? I don’t think there was any value added for Kingsley Hall – the residence where Laing lived with his patients – to be set in the US rather than the UK reality (East London). I also wonder if any real (political?) ambitions are thwarted in that most of the audience may be practitioners like me who are already engaged in this debate. Any implications of the film may be further hampered by the fact that the film was physically hard to access! An art-house film being sought out by an already left-leaning audience? I would welcome hearing from others with a different view (channelling my inner Laing).
Joseph, S., (2017), Rethinking Human Suffering in Therapy Today, Volume 28, Issue 4: 28-31
Rogers, C., (1959), A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-Centered Framework, in S. Koch., Psychology: A study of a science Volume 3:184-256, New York, McGraw-Hill