Counselling, second and third

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Yes, I was on my way to my third session when I realised I hadn’t written up my second and wasn’t going to. So oops. Last week is a bit of a blur other than my speaking session when I talked about the impending sense of doom which I did then write up. I’m still petrified about going away but have accepted that it just is how it is and I won’t relax until I get back.

Anyway, so last week we talked about empathy, and the need to be able to tease out a client’s emotions without taking too much of them on board yourself. It’s a continuing process of understanding their perspective and interpretation, or

a desire to understand

as Carl Rogers put it succinctly. A caring curiosity was a phrase I came up with.

My understanding by the end of the session was improved. There’s a balance giving empathy and holding back your own stories in that a client telling you of their experience immediately, and understandably makes you think of parallel experiences and how you felt about them. In a “normal” conversation you would share of your own experience and what that understanding brings to your understanding of the other person’s experience. Empathy has to be about using your own experiences to better understand what the client is going through and how s/he is feeling, but without assuming that the experiences are actually similar. In the next session we then discussed very briefly whether having shared experiences helps understanding or prejudices it. Do you want to talk to someone who has been there before you or do you want someone to listen with open heart to your new experience? It all basically comes down to understanding how someone else feels about their interpretation of their experience. Your own experiences can help or hinder depending on how much you lean on them.

I had a lovely practice session with someone who has been a carer for her brother for several years so we had quite a discussion about funding and the stresses thereof. I had a rant about worrying about this blasted holiday which did help. We had a good connection afterwards and talked about her need to feel more positive about her achievements as a carer.

I feel that we haven’t really gelled as a group. We sit there feeling as if at school, wanting someone else to speak first and it’s often the end of the group where good things are said. Our teacher doesn’t make us check out as such but instead invites us all to share something we have learned from the day and a word or two on how we feel.

Congruence then is how your external demeanour (behaviour and words) matches your internal thoughts and feelings. In other words, if a client says something you don’t like, you don’t try and pretend that you do but acknowledge your feelings.

I became more aware of how important it is to hear the feelings being expressed by the client, both spoken and heard, rather than the content of what is being said. It’s the feelings that need to be picked up on rather than the story. We’ve all been a bit hung up on understanding the story. The story isn’t important. It’s how it makes someone feel that is.

In order to be congruent you have to understand how the client feels. Then you have to understand or identify how you feel about that. How much of what you feel is about your stuff rather than theirs. Identifying how you feel in the moment, any moment, can be difficult. We are in an era where people get on with things rather than pause to smell the roses. Those moments when we take stock are rare which is one of the reasons that meditation has become so trendy, with the five minute meditation phone app that allows you to schedule in a pause to your busy day. We don’t stop between one thing and the next and ask ourselves how we feel. Or at least I don’t, or not very often. If I don’t do it at home while waiting for the kettle to boil, rather than thinking about what I’m doing next, then I find it even harder to do while I’m focusing on listening to someone else’s story and trying to hear their emotions.

So after all this focusing on the client, and listening to what they’re saying and how they’re saying we’re now talking about focusing on ourselves at the same time. Doing that in practice session was very difficult and will continue to be. We sort of broke rules and pauses to say, as the listener, how we felt about what we were listening to.

I struggle with the start of the group as we do all sit there and stare at the floor rather than participate but we do get thought-provoking by the end.

 

An Impending Sense of Doom

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And just how long have you had this impending feeling of doom?

I do feel this physically, as a massive knot in my stomach, a tension that will not go away or even loosen. I’m even getting tension headaches. What is going on?

I went into Christmas feeling in a relatively good place, looking forward to starting my course again, feeling happy about exercise and continuing that. I was aware that I would be fighting for 2son with the council in January but I was ready. Christmas and the New Year came and went without major incidents so all is well.

Except that it isn’t.

I’m going away for a long weekend towards the end of the month, with two good friends. It’s going to be the maddest, more extravagant thing I’ve ever done and while I know I would never have chosen to do it on my own I am expecting to not stop laughing or having fun for a few days. Sounds awful, does it not? However I am leaving 3son and 4son on their own for the time. I’m leaving on Wednesday and coming back Tuesday morning so they will have to get themselves to school Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday. They are quite capable of doing this and when I am at home if they chose not to go to school I’ve never been able to make them go anyway so it won’t make any difference. I don’t want to be caught out by school as an absent parent but I’m not leaving a six year old while I holiday for a fortnight. They are not going to have a massive party or drink all the alcohol (although I will be careful not to stock up) and quite frankly the worst I can imagine them doing is leaving the gas (oven) on overnight. I’ve warned 3son about the perils of blowing up the house and he does appreciate that this is a sensible concern of mine. They’ll make a mess, not wash up and eat junk but nothing major. I’ve promised them a weekend away of their choice if they behave. I’d like to make sure that no one from social services (for 4son) tries to contact me or notices my absence but what are the chances of that happening? So what is there to be worried about, other than I have never done it before and I feel like I’m being naughty?

I have a work thing that I’ve never had to worry about before. I host a number of websites on a shared server and it got hacked before Christmas. I’ve never had a problem before but now they’ve got in once they keep trying again on a daily basis, sometimes killing off a site in the meantime so I need to ring up (£2 for 15 minutes) and get a backup reloaded. It takes time and patience and the most important site won’t come back and is beyond my ability to repair. I haven’t yet worked out whether I should move them all to a different server (itself a time-consuming process), stop hosting them myself (consequences and a sense of responsibility), or what. I feel helpless because I don’t know enough to sort it out definitively myself. I followed clear instructions for wiping a WordPress site and re-installing a clean version and it didn’t work causing me to ring up once again to get a re-install as they couldn’t see why it didn’t work either. Anyway I’m boring myself with this but I am spending an hour (at least) every day scanning websites and monitoring situation just to make sure nothing is starting up again. This is something that was never a problem before and now is a problem and another anxiety I don’t need. I don’t feel there is anyone else who is reliable that I can pass it onto. So it’s a pressure that has come out of the blue and I don’t know what to do with it or how to resolve it, with no clear cut solution. It’s not a life and death situation but it taps into my sense of responsibility and duty. It’s also incredibly boring.

I am beginning to win the conversation about my parents’ location on their return to the UK, something that only appeared on the horizon last month. It does worry me the idea of having them close to me. Having suggested the south coast with its fast trains (when running) to London and having the proposal dismissed my sisters have now got on board with this idea and are encouraging my parents to reconsider. I do actually think it would be better for them as well as just not wanting them round the corner from me. It’s a subtler pressure but one that is very quietly freaking me out even though I’m being (trying to be) sensible about it.

I was supposed to be looking at schools this month for 2son but haven’t got started on that although it’s really important. I haven’t actually finished the little things I meant to finish before Christmas. I’ve got a leak in the bathroom, mice in the house, car insurance to renew and my bedroom light blew up last night. Niggly things that I have to deal with and really can’t be bothered. I have a job I want to give up because nobody has any enthusiasm for running it but I can’t afford to resign but have to wait and see. 1son went back successfully a week ago; 2son returned to school yesterday and 3 son returned last week to school. 4son is currently off sick which is worrying me more than it should as he was ill at the end of last term as well. I’ve phoned the doctor for a consultation but I expect she’ll tell me I’m over worrying. I do want a day to myself soon!

I have a list of things to do which I am perfectly capable of doing. I absolutely don’t see a reason for feeling as wound up as I do. I do feel better for writing all this out and for discussing it in my ten minute practice session today.

There is also the reality of a new year as opposed to the expectations of better days. Same shit, different year.

 

Counselling, first (advanced intro)

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I’ve had a week to write about this and haven’t got there, or done my homework.

The intention was to do this mini course as a way of keeping my hand in and getting skills practice. Funnily enough that’s not happening. I have done virtually no reading on the subject since I finished the introduction course almost two months ago although I have bought some books. This is a mini course of six sessions and I shall miss one altogether and have to leave early from another which almost makes it not worth doing.

I entered the room for the first session to find a hubbub of conversation rather than the estranged silence when people don’t know each other. It turned out that most people had done the course with others last term and there were only a few like me who knew nobody. So I felt that I started with a disadvantage.

Having a different teacher brought a different approach. No mindfulness and the check out at the end was two words max. She also refers to practice client and practice counsellor, a mouthful compared to speaker and listener. She did once or twice talk about “fixing” people, which I don’t like. People seek therapy for help to become a better person. This doesn’t mean they’re broken and actually that is rather insulting.

It serves as a reminder that there is a looseness to this all. We talked briefly about the debate between directed and non-directed therapy, the extent to which a therapist should guide the client.

We also discussed how counselling has to work on the boundaries day of what is deemed safe that a client has to feel comfortable and safe but then try to go to the edge and step out.

Confidentiality was discussed. Do clients understand that keeping sessions confidential doesn’t mean they won’t be discussed with a supervisor or that they won’t be anonymity and discussed with a partner, or with friends? Or even online? I don’t think it does.

So I’m not convinced that I’m going to get a huge amount out of this but am going to give it a try. I felt more argumentative this session.

Celebrations

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I find Christmas a lot easier than New Year’s, but both present their own difficulties.

This year (well, last year) I did not feel in the mood for Christmas at all in the run up. I didn’t have 4son asking for a tree at the beginning of December and by the time it was the end of term I just decided it wasn’t worth it. If no one else is bothered by the lack of Christmas decorations then why should I go to all that effort of getting it all down from the attic and packing it all away afterwards.

That wasn’t the only reason though. We normally put the tree and other decorations up on the front room, which the boys often don’t use during the day at all so what’s the point?

It’s also more fundamental than that. I’ve done Christmas for so many years and put all the effort in mostly by myself and I’m bored of it. 1son used to be master of ceremonies and turn present opening into a long happy and fun occasion but that’s no more. I’ve come to an agreement with my children on presents as they either want cash or online games that don’t need wrapping. This year I didn’t even wrap the selection boxes. 1son normally goes to a book shop to buy a round of presents but he only managed his bus fare home this time. He does succeed in getting most of us playing various board games over the holiday period which is the one thing that brings most of us together. Doctor Who is the only television we watch together and 2son didn’t bother attending.

Nevertheless I enjoyed the day. It might have been low key but we all did what we wanted to do and spent time in each other’s company which is what Christmas is really about, once children grow beyond wanting lots and lots of massive presents to open. In the years since my parents stopped joining us for Christmas the day has evolved and is still evolving. Having a relaxed attitude to food and spending a few hours in the pub are two of the key differences. Drinking champagne out of pewter tankards is a minor one. It’s becoming our Christmas and won’t ever fully stop evolving. Hopefully one day the others will grow up enough to want to put a little bit more effort into making it special.

New Year I find a lot more challenging emotionally. I see it as a time of personal hope and optimism. People are excited to face new challenges and book new holidays, making resolutions that often fall by the wayside by the end of January. My attitude tends to be more “same shit, different year” and it’s only very rarely that I can be in the mood to feel positive about what’s coming. I’ve learned this over the years and if I am staying at home I don’t watch live television and feel miserable because I’m not out there in a crowd. I don’t watch or read anything that can get me close to tears. Last year I went, on my own, to a local pub with a band playing that I liked and, while it was certainly weird being on my own, I was fine and happy. This year the opportunity to go out with friends was there but I just didn’t feel optimistic or enthusiastic. I turned down several offers (which in itself was nice) and chose to go home early and ignore it all. I was fine, although resented the staying up to 2am waiting for 2son to come home from his revels as he does not yet understand the concept of taking a key with him.

This holiday period (the French say “Bonne continuation” as the holiday continues from Christmas to the New Year, and so, I just discovered, do Swedes) is tough on expectations. Whether it’s the expectation of presents, or turkey on the table at 1pm sharp, or unwanted relatives, in the run up to Christmas we are all filled with messages on how we ought to perform at Christmas, with lavishly decorated rooms, tables filled with food and drink, presents galore and every family member. And everybody is happy, smiling, laughing, having fun all the way through. If this truly is how you spend Christmas then you are very very lucky. For most of us it just isn’t, for different reasons for all of us. I have done what I can to take control of how I spend the day and how my children spend the day so that we all have a little of what we want and we all end up reasonably content at the end of the day with the only murders taking place on screen or in a board game. Sometimes it’s brilliant, sometimes it’s just fine, but never are we going through the day again with gritted teeth biting our tongue. And even if my parents end up living round the corner, they are not joining us for Christmas again. Ever*.

* I have a feeling we may have a debate about this.

 

 

2016, a personal review

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I think, as we enter a new year that I’ve come such a long way and yet still have such a long way to go. I wonder if I will ever make it. I’m more aware of the work yet to do and it scares me. Feeling comfortable with who I am sounds so simple and yet so far.

I’m sitting in the pub starting this while listening to Comfortably Numb which is what it takes to start this post I’ve been ruminating over for the last week. I’m finishing it at home the next day.

Whether 2016 has been a good or a bad year for me I really don’t know. I think it has actually been good but I don’t feel it.
Continue reading

Introduction to counselling, tenth

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The fact that this was the last session meant that I didn’t have to write it up before the following session so have left it for a few weeks while I got on with other things.

We had been building up to the end emotionally as a group and actually the last session was slightly anticlimactic. We did finish off by going round the room and saying whether we were continuing and if so which course. Most of us were going to look at September, with a couple able to fast track and a couple not continuing. Applications for September aren’t until April and not all of us will get in so it will be interesting to see who amongst us are there in September (plus there are two groups then).

I was really pleased that C asked for my number. It’s silly but it did make me feel valued. She said nice things about me which I found really heard not just to hear but also to recognise as me. The confident, funny, intelligent person with a great laugh sounds lovely but so far removed from how I see myself. Continue reading

Introduction to Counselling, ninth

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This was an interesting day.

We did the usual check in,  round up,  I’m bored of describing it all now,  blah…

Then we talked about differences. All the real and perceived differences that might make a client feel uncomfortable about talking to a counsellor. People make assumptions about differences and those assumptions involve prejudice.  Including prejudice about prejudice.

We were invited to form pairs and to look at what might make difficulties.  I sat with L and we decided that we didn’t have a problem with each other at least not one that could be identified and that wasn’t helpful. Then she started saying “the only thing that it could be is that you’re a parent and I’m not and some parents…” and I interrupted and said “are smugly superior because they have children,  you don’t and couldn’t possibly imagine what it’s like”. We agreed that we both disliked such prejudice. So there was a perfectly reasonable assumption made that there was a prejudice which didn’t actually exist.

So this made me think,  what are my prejudices,  the real ones that would block me from listening properly. I would like to think that the obvious ones wouldn’t,  that I wouldn’t be blocked by race,  gender,  class, age,  life experience etc. I would find it difficult dealing with someone who is severely prejudiced,  whether it’s racist,  sexist,  homophobic,  or simply hates everyone not like them. And Daily Mail readers and quite frankly,  several other newspapers.

I do try hard to not pre-assess people before I get to know them.  I think I know from my own experiences that some of us find it harder to make a good initial impression, often through nerves, and it’s therefore not fair.  Plus,  assumptions are often wrong and it’s easier to not make them in the first place than it is to change our mind after. I’d like to think I’m good at getting to know people on their own terms rather than being prejudiced . But it’s also necessary to be aware that I may be wrong.

This followed us through to our triads.  I was with D and V.  I’ve chatted and worked with D before and liked her.  V was more of an unknown quantity. D talked about her son.  I talked about exercise and having done my back in which morphed into talking about children and the changes in outings and exercise over time as their ages change and the need to take them out for a run diminishes. V then talked about work to me.  She said afterwards that not being a parent,  she sensed the way D and I shared similar experiences with children and was worried that we wouldn’t understand what she was sharing.  But we had both had similar experiences and even if we hadn’t, I got her situation and the undertones of what she wasn’t saying. I also liked her more because I knew her a little better.

So for me the lesson of the day was a reminder to dismiss assumptions and prejudices and to get to know people for who they are and not the real or perceived labels that may be attached. This includes the instinctive first impressions we form on meeting people. At the same time however it’s necessary to remember that other people will not necessarily return the favour and may make assumptions about yourself that you will have to disabuse them of.

One other thing happened that really shocked me and highlighted differing awareness of differences.

When we were listing differences on the blackboard after having discussed them in small groups I followed up someone’s listing of gender with sexual orientation. I didn’t think anything of it until the leader asked me what I meant by that.  I didn’t think she was asking me to clarify for the sake of it.  When I said that gender was male,  female or other she blanked on the other and said that things had changed since she’ d undergone her training.  I described orientation as who you fancy,  thinking that mentioning LGBT let alone LGBTIQ would only complicate things further. A friend pointed out afterwards that I should have said that there was the gender you considered yourself to be and the one that your body was,  and that they weren’t necessarily the same thing.

In all fairness the rest of the group all looked blank at this brief discussion,  not just her,  and I wondered whether my awareness of these issues which have always existed even if rarely discussed was so rare.  The responses from friends to this clearly shows that I surround myself with friends who are tolerant,  accepting and very aware of people’s differences. I didn’t think we were that special.

 

Here We Go Again

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The trouble with Wednesdays is that 3son doesn’t have any formal lessons. He has enrichment in the afternoon which he’s not bothered about and since he’s dropped his fourth A level he has nothing in the morning. So this is the second time this half term (of two weeks) when he has decided he cannot be arsed to get up. He’s done it a few times last half term as well.

This makes me so fucking angry I can’t tell you. I email school to let them know and after that I just try to let it go but I can’t. This behaviour reminds me of his father, which isn’t his fault but it doesn’t help me. I sit here trying to work whilst worrying about what has prompted it this time and seething with anger that he should sleep through all this oblivious and seemingly at peace.

The last week has been a good week until now. I’ve started exercising, although I’ve done my back in as a result. That means I find it difficult staying put for very long so have been a bit more physically active generally. I got a SAD light which I’m getting used to but that does seem to help my mood. I have plans and thoughts going on in my head. I pushed myself again in therapy to say stuff I really don’t want to say to myself in my head in a whisper let alone to anyone else. I was psyching myself up for the next stage in the process with 2son of having polite words with the council. I was catching up on work and had the week well planned out, doing stuff for me before focusing on work in a serious attempt to change priorities. And now this.

I am worried about him. He had a CAMHS appointment that he went to last week but he doesn’t have one this week. I’ve left a message with the therapist to call me back. He is struggling. He’s not being wilfully lazy. He does have problems sleeping but refuses to do anything practical about it. I talk about turning off devices an hour before sleep and he just rejects that as not working although I’m not sure he’s ever tried. The internet shuts off of an evening but he just carries on with or without it. If I stay up and nag him of an evening it winds me up and ruins my evening. Plus I need to go to bed myself and to do so before he does. So I don’t really have any bright ideas on how to solve this one, although I have suggested to school that they withdraw sixth form privileges that he has.

In the meantime though it’s just another pile of crap on my big pile of crap and I don’t want it. I’m angry for him at just dumping it on me as something else to worry about; I’m angry at the world for having to copy with all this shit on my own and I’m angry at myself for not being able to just let it go and get on with my day.

Anyway, I’ve ranted so will have another go.

He’s Still an Arse – Resolved

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I brought this up with my therapist this week and she came up instantly with the bleeding obvious that I hadn’t thought of.

The relief that I feel is that I made the right decision to leave him with or without the alcohol. Whether or not he would have stopped drinking if I hadn’t left we will never know but leaving him was the right decision regardless.

It simply validates my decision and hence the relief. But I couldn’t work that out for myself.

 

I Want to Change

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My oh my, what has got into me? That’s the second “I want” statement in a week.

I’ve been here before with the wanting to make changes in my life but not finding the energy or simply not feeling up to it. Maybe it’s different this time, maybe it isn’t. But . let’s go with it.

Carl Rogers talks about the client becoming a more fluid acceptant person. I am static and have been for a number of years. Maybe (again with the maybe) that was a necessary pause while I started to process my childhood and relationships and to decide where I’m going.

If so this pause of some ten years has enabled me to learn to live independently, to function as a single adult, run a household, be a parent, bring up children without any other support, learn to accept an autistic diagnosis for 2son, accept that 3son is not in a best place and may never be. I learned to trust 1son and accept him as a friend, as a fully-fledged adult of whom I am very proud. 4son has grown up from a baby into an incredibly wise young man who possibly needs to learn to loosen up a bit more but is someone whose company I enjoy and whose maturity I can rely on. I’ve gone from volunteering to being self employed with a variety of part time jobs that have kept me entertained but I’m now getting bored of. I’ve learned to say no. The jobs have served their purpose in allowing me to earn while still being around for my children and it’s time that I moved on to something more fulfilling for me on a personal level (and preferably on a financial one).

I quit smoking after nigh on 30 years which is a huge achievement. Other than that my health has suffered. I’ve put on weight constantly since quitting smoking with the occasional pause. I’ve learned to banish diets but haven’t been able to embrace the wisdom of Intuitive Eating or HAES. My self esteem when it comes to my physical appearance is low and the fact that I barely have any teeth left doesn’t help (I have dentures, not holes). I have a real problem in maintaining any sort of physical exercise and the fact that I no longer have to do the school run and can go several days without leaving the house means I am now the weakest and wimpiest I have ever been. I have finally gone to the doctor to demand to be tests to find out what is wrong with my lungs, whether it’s pollution or pollen or what. With that comes the acceptance that I might have to leave London and start again if it does come down to flightpath pollution or general London muck.

I haven’t looked at men. I teetered on the edge of one disastrous something and managed to pull out. That still embarrasses me to the point that I haven’t been able to write about it or talk about it in therapy. I’ve had one healing relationship for a couple of years that served us both well but was ultimately not going anywhere. Since then I haven’t looked and haven’t felt tempted. I’ve never had that instant frisson of lust when the chemistry is right but I also accept that maybe I’ve just closed that down out of fear. I have to start again.

I still struggle to know what it is that I want to do for a living but hope that the counselling course will help me find a way into something even if I do not want to be a counsellor itself. I’m still crap at working out what I do want but at least I’ve worked that out.

I would like to be financially independent and no longer rely on the state for benefits and tax credits. That’s a low bar but money does not excite me, more the things that it permits me to do. Although some of that may still be about rejecting my father’s comfort in financial stability which isn’t an entirely unreasonable goal.

I would like to do something that challenges me, not that is purely intellectual or psychological or even logical, but something of a mix that engrosses me. I am currently finding it challenging to read non fiction. Reading, let alone assimilating thoughts requires a calmness of mind that currently eludes me.

So, I want:-

  • to find a career/job that fulfils me;
  • to become physically fitter;
  • to determine the source of my allergies and breathing problems and how to deal;
  • to gain financial independence;
  • to be open to the idea of a new relationship;
  • to widen my horizons and gain new experiences and friendships;
  • to learn stuff;
  • to look forward and not back;
  • to enjoy the life that I have and to stop worrying about might-have-beens
  • to be done with therapy (although not yet!)

Considering I’m not good at I want, that is quite a list. I currently feel able to push myself and need to maintain that at however low a level it is.