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.

He’s Still an Arse


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I’m not sure when I worked this out. I think it was at the last family picnic which was June 2014. It’s taken this long for it to simmer through and turn into a thought.

Ex1, father to 1son. Take away the alcohol and he’s still an arse.

That is really liberating to say.

The thing is, I often wondered what would have happened had ex1 not been a drunk, or if he’d decided to stop drinking before we got divorced, when 1son was born or even before that. Would we have made it as a couple. Could we have? I’m not really suggesting for one moment that I think alcohol was the whole of the issue, but it is so big that it is hard to see past it to other difficulties that are there.

I was at that family picnic over two years ago and I was increasingly irritated by his presence, his behaviour and everyone’s reaction to him. And I realised, although I didn’t really realise it with all my being, that there he was, absolutely sober and had been for ten years or more and he was still an arse and I still would have ended up leaving him.

I don’t actually knows what that means for me. I still married him either way. There is the suggestion that alternative paths would have ended up the same way. I suppose the only relief is that thought that we still wouldn’t have lasted, that any “what if” scenario would have played out with the same end result.

Maybe it’s also about my being angry with him rather than with alcohol and this means I’m not blaming what was almost a third party in our marriage. It was his choice and it was his fault.

I still don’t know why this is such an important realisation and will have to ponder it further

Introduction to Counselling, eighth


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I moved chairs. I had been sitting with the youngest people and I realised that I didn’t really feel that I was getting enough from them. I thought this a few weeks ago but hadn’t quite got round to sitting somewhere else, as if it matters or is a criticism of them. However this time I got there early as we had planned a pre-group discussion for some of us so I sat down with those who were there. This whole thing feels like being back at school. Who you sit with and where and whether you can move is all part of an invisible social dance I feel a stranger to.

I realised that the check in is really annoying me. Rather than say, this is how I feel, right her, right now, people (including the leader) use it to say how their week has been, which may contribute to how you feel at the start of a session, but it’s not really what it’s for. I’m not saying how my week was, but I do struggle with what to say.

T said in check in that he found his research on CBT difficult as it conflicted with his personal views that people couldn’t be programmed. Apart from the fact that this is the sort of interesting thing to hear at check in it made me think. Whilst I would like to think that we’re not some sort of programmable robots the reality is that we are fundamentally programmed. Our parents programme us, as does school, the media and the rest of the outside world. There are expectations on us all to behave certain ways in certain situations and that is essentially a programme. To take it to extremes brainwashing is a form of dramatic re-programming. The military programme their troops to regard the enemy as less human to make them easier to kill.The Israeli army is well known to be best at de-humanising in this way. This is all programming. Free will is an illusion, but it’s so complicated that we might as well act as if it’s real because we can never work out the programme in full detail.

We discussed ethics, although in a very limited way. We compared the counsellor’s position to that of a teacher or a doctor. All are in a position of authority with the power to abuse people in their care. Registered counsellors will have signed up to the BACP’s Ethical Framework (other organisations exist) and must always have a supervisor (who is more of a mentor than a supervisor). The supervisor is there both to discuss your clients and how to handle them but also how you are and to point out what you may not be able to see. There’s more to it than that but it’s a start.

We discussed a case and the ethical issues around it but it was rather superficial.We talked about boundaries and responsibilities, balance and malpractice.

We then briefly went through the differences of CBT, person-centred therapy and psychodynamic models. Some people were looking at these for the very first time and other than for a few brief moments it wasn’t really all that informative and I lost interest and doodles a lot. M was interesting as he talked about EMDR, a debatable therapy that for him at least seemed to work quite well in terms of him jumping into combat alert status when out on the streets of London.

We only had time for one speaker and I listened to V who was really interesting. He reminded me of the social awkwardness of not having any money and the not being able to say what you do because when you don’t have a job, for whatever reason, you tend to get ostracised. He’s going through rehab at the moment, in what sounds like a really excellent institution and that makes him an outsider to society in so many ways. I didn’t warm to him in the first few weeks but I’ve got better. There was so much I wanted to share with him in response to what he said and it seems that the closer someone’s experiences or feelings are to your own the more you want to share and the harder it is to keep your mouth shut. Feedback often turns into to a voluntary continuance of the session but with more interruption, more questions and more advice.

I went home planning to book for the next term, something that is in progress and with homework of writing a summary journal for the course.

Conflict in Time


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Person-centred therapy is about giving someone the time to lead their own recovery.

Counsellors are there to guide, not to be a chauffeur, and not to be a back-seat driver.

When I had therapy at the training institute I had, I think, four different therapists.

One of them pushed me a lot and was also the only male. This may be a gender difference but I’ve not had another male therapist to compare him to. He insisted that I made eye contact for the duration of the session and kept telling me to look at him when I was talking to him. It’s a lot more difficult to be evasive and pontificate when you are directly looking at someone. He pushed me to try and have one more go at having a proper conversation with my father. I did eventually do it, after we had finished therapy and didn’t get anywhere. I was sort of glad I tried but I also recognised that I wouldn’t try again and that I wouldn’t have done it without being pushed. I think possibly the counsellor wanted to achieve something with me, to feel that he’d got me on the right track.

Of the other three, one was good, one was OK and one was useless. The useless one was incredibly patient, didn’t push me and didn’t guide me anywhere near enough. I felt safe but also that the sessions just weren’t going anywhere. It felt as if I’d gone out for a drink with an acquaintance and had a nice time. It was frustrating and eventually I said so and we sort of discussed it but the therapy just petered out and at that point I decided not to continue.

I have talked about this occasionally with my therapist. She is very comfortable and easy going with me but she also asks good questions and gives good guidance. In two of recent sessions I had I really pushed myself to say things never said before. When we talked about relationships we talked about sex and I found that extremely difficult.

This was my choice though and we had spent enough time together for me to feel safe enough to say these things.

Which is all well and good but time is money, especially with therapy and a year costs £2,500. It’s not cheap. On the other hand I have said more and got further that I have with all the short term therapists so I’m not saying it’s not worth it.

If someone comes to therapy and says they’ve only got 12 sessions, because that’s all that’s funded or that they can afford, how does that affect therapy? They might have a short problem that can be easily resolved but they might not.

What happens about finishing? If a client doesn’t say that’s it, I’m done, can the therapist? The client can always benefit from more and further insight but there come a point when they’ve covered the basics. The therapist gets paid regardless. How do you be a responsible therapist and leave a client when the time is right.


I Want a Relationship


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I want a relationship were the last words I wrote down at the end of our counselling. It was a thought that just plopped into my lap and rather than dismiss it, I owned it.

I am not very good at saying “I want” and I’m not very good at considering myself worthy of a relationship. It is therefore extremely difficult to say something that is inherently so simple.

I don’t want to be alone. I want someone to share my life with. I also wouldn’t touch me with a bargepole, so why should anyone else?

I did discuss it in therapy. We talked about the fact that I’d closed down such ideas and therefore, in the way that people do, somehow I make it clear that I’m not interested. No that I’m not interested in anyone in particular, but that I’m just not interested, not available, not open to consideration. I need to change that and I’m not sure how. Trying to be more physically open around other people. More eye contact is an obvious change but there is also sorts of body language that is much more subtle than that. Plus less subtle things like not walking away from someone I like because otherwise they might think I like them too much and to save them the trouble of rejecting me.

Whatever it is I need to change the way I come across physically and the way I come across emotionally. I come across as unavailable because that’s how I consider myself. I’ve been through several major relationships which all were not good really. As a result, when I noticed that I was falling into another relationship of an even worse nature, I pulled the plug on myself and basically decided, although it probably took me several years to articulate it to myself, that if I could make good decisions about relationships I could at least decide to stop making bad ones. So I did.

I have paused from the whole drama of trying to find someone and that has been good. I’ve learned, for the first time in my life, how to live independently, albeit with four children. I can cope with living on my own. But coping is not something I want to do for the rest of my life.

So the first thing to do is to change my mental attitude and stop being so closed off to the idea. The second, and the far more complicated issue, is to look at my body image and self-worth and improve the whole lot. If I can’t see myself in a more positive light then I won’t let anyone else.

This is a really scary realisation. I’m immediately thinking how it makes me vulnerable, how it opens me up to pain. But if I don’t open myself up to that vulnerability then I can’t open myself up to the good things either.

Introduction to Counselling, seventh


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I was not really in the mood after a half term that had been complicated as usual and I had a disrupted night’s sleep due to fireworks in part but I was also really restless. So I sat down to this session feeling irritated by being there. For the first time I didn’t really focus on the short meditation we start off with that does help clear our minds.

Then I found myself in a group of three where I liked both other people. We talked about where we were and all really said that we were questioning the style of counselling. Every time as a listener you open your mouth you are offering some guidance and some direction and purely person-centred approach is letting the speaker go where they want until they get to where they should be. This really reminded me of how I’ve felt with different counsellors, especially those in training, that some pushed me really hard and others let me meander. The meandering irritated me a lot because I felt I should come out of a session having achieved something, an insight or a revelation, that there should be progress that I can tick off on my virtual personal development chart. This dichotomy I haven’t really got my head round and it was clearly an issue with the other two as well. Having a “permanent” therapist had made the meandering seem more useful as it’s part of the getting to trust your therapist and feel comfortable enough for deeper and seemingly more productive sessions. How would you approach sessions differently if you knew someone was only going to have a limited amount, whether restricted by time or cost?

Discussing that led us on to wanting to know more about the various therapeutic approaches. What we are learning here is valuable to whichever school of therapy we end up practising but there’s a need to really think about which approach is the one we want to take further, especially as the courses are not cheap or short.It probably wasn’t much of a coincidence that our homework for the week was to go away and research CBT / person-centred / psychodynamic approaches.

Anyway, recapping on the previous session was mainly about questions. What type could be asked and what purpose did it serve. Questions can interrupt the natural flow of the speaker but they can empower the individual by increasing their awareness of the options available, both in the choices that they can make and the direction the conversation can go.

Then to the experiential sessions. With a slightly different duo we had a really powerful exchange of speaking and listening. I was on the case using my phone timer to make sure we got through it all three ways and we did. The first speaker talked about something intensely personal, so did the second and so did the third. I felt we all listened hard, talked hard and fed back well. We gelled as a trio and it felt a really positive session, one of the best. We nit-picked each other’s listening and were quite precise at saying what could be improved. It was quite hard hearing some of the comments which do make you feel picked on, however nicely they’re put and even when you agree with them. It’s hard to not get defensive and just accept.

There’s a conflict between working with the people you find most difficult or least productive to act as a good learning session for yourself in terms of learning patience and tolerance, and wanting to work with people you feel are like minded so that you can work harder and better. On the other hand I enjoyed it so much more.

In the feedback at the end, S said that C had said one particular thing as listener to her that was “a drop of light into the dark” which was a beautiful image

Introduction to counselling, sixth


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This was the sixth session and the last before a short half term break. I wasn’t really concentrating as my head was full of thoughts from previous post.

We started off talking about next steps training wise. You can do a level 3 fast track which condenses the year’s learning into six months starting in January but quite honestly I think that would be too much and it takes up Saturday which would eat into the weekend quite relentlessly. There’s a Wednesday afternoon session which would suit me.

We recapped the previous session on triads and giving feedback, emphasising that the major inhibition is fear of causing hurt or being hurt by it.

We then talked about questions and we found it incredibly difficult to articulate what to ask, let alone the when, why and how we were asked to. To what extent is every question a nudge of some sort that takes away from the client’s ability to choose where she goes? Your own curiosity needs to go.

It’s necessary to own the question: “I’m hearing…”, “I’ve noticed…”, “I’m feeling…”. This makes it clear that you’re interpreting what is being said and allows for correction to get you closer to what is actually being meant by what is said.

I’ve abandoned this post and revisited several times before being able to proceed. Why? I’m not sure. I wasn’t proud of myself.

When it came to the sessions I listened to a person talk about social anxiety, about how, after an incident, she withdrew and couldn’t leave the house for a while and struggled to talk to people. She was articulate and strong. She knew what was wrong and she had coping mechanisms. She was making progress. And I froze. I couldn’t think of the right thing to say and she spoke quickly so it was hard to keep pace with her. The first thing I said was “how did that make you feel?” and then I laughed at how stupid that phrase sounded and then I worried about her thinking I was laughing at her rather than at me and I unravelled. I apologised in feedback more than once and said it was me and not her but I worried about whether I’d upset her although she seemed fine. In fact she said that I seemed distracted and not as focused as I usually was so was I alright?

I think the more serious the issue someone reveals in these sessions, the more difficult it is to say the right thing and the more I weigh what I’m going to say. I’m worrying about saying the right thing and not hurting the person. When someone is just talking about having had a bad day at work then that is easier than dealing with a deeper issue that requires more sensitivity. I didn’t provide that sensitivity and couldn’t.

Betrayal, trust and innocence


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That thing that’s bubbling towards the surface, well I think it’s surfacing.

It’s something to do with trust and innocence.

As a young child I had a relationship with my dad that wasn’t just about hated family walks. He used to take me to work on a Saturday which was something that didn’t happen with my sisters and he used to come and tell me stories at bedtime. He never read me one out of a book but talked about his life, his childhood, his National Service or his really bad jokes that gave him so much pleasure. Then we left London and it all stopped. I felt that I lost him then and that we never got back to that intimacy. Continue reading

Introduction to Counselling, fifth


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Once again I’ve left this several days after the event so it’s a blur until I start to recall it and then it all comes flooding back. Our leader (teacher seems wrong) was ill so we had a substitute. She was different in a good way and the change made the session seem more lively and interactive.

In our check in at the beginning M spoke about his wife again, as he has done most sessions, saying she finds it difficult worrying about the changes that will happen to M as a result of this course. I remember trying to explain to my mother when she was worried about a (correctly) perceived change in relationship when I started counselling. I had this image in my head of a spider like web between me and all the people I knew and how counselling meant I re-evaluated the connections and sometimes the elasticated strands got tighter and sometimes they got looser and that changed the whole layout of the web as the different tensions changed the web. I feel sorry for his wife but I’m also curious as to why he feels the need to keep on mentioning it. I think I find it irritating because it’s about her, not him.

We spent some time talking about the roles used in the triad the week before: speaker, listener and observer. Clearly the triad is an important part of the learning process and we were investigating it before moving on to practice.

In terms of positioning the listener and speaker should be opposite but slightly off centre so that they are not confronting each other too intensely. Heights should be roughly the same with both able to see the clock and no tables or other barriers should be present.

The listener is showing active listening, acceptance, being present, showing empathy and reflecting what is said. The speaker is there to share what is comfortable to share; it’s their time. The observer is watching the dynamics between the listener and speaker, observing the evolving relationship.

It’s up to the observer to start off the feedback and we talk about how to make constructive feedback, sandwiching the “to be improved”in between positive comments and being sensitive to the recipient. The recipient has to try and hear feedback with an open mind and hear it all, even if s/he doesn’t agree with it all.

We then went into what feels like a tried formula now of what it feels like to give and receive feedback and what blocks it. I am bored of this formula.

Giving feedback is about being aware that we’re peers here. No one is the expert with the knowledge and the right answer. Feedback should be sensitive and appropriate, owning the observation with “I saw… and I felt…” rather than the generalised “you are…” We owe it to the recipient to be kind and gentle. It might be difficult to receive. Everything that we’ve spoken and listed previously on blocks, giving, receiving apply as well. We must all be in the right frame of mind to be kind towards one another and sometimes we are unable to park our stuff outside the room.

Closing a session: we’ve only got a few more minutes; we’ll have to bring it to an end now; we’ll have to leave it there…

Our triad was a foursome with G N and C. I like G although she does regularly mention Christianity in a way I could do without but she really wants to learn how to use this to enable her to be better at her job and to help people. When she was speaking about trying to apply some of what she had learned and how difficult it was when the real-world speaker isn’t as co-operative and gentle as we were was so interesting that we all found it difficult to focus on the exercise rather than have the discussion about what she was saying.

This brings up a difficulty with these sessions. They’re not real and they’re not exercises; they’re somewhere in between. I hesitated to start talking about 3son and CAMHS and the week that was, not because I didn’t want to (after all it was somewhat on my mind), but because I was worried about dumping it on someone who didn’t have the experience to cope with hearing it. I wouldn’t worry about that with a ‘real’ counsellor. The speaker has to choose something that is real but preferably light enough that it can be discussed in under ten minutes. Speakers so far have all been mild-mannered, with no extremes of emotion. The listener has to interrupt when paraphrasing in a false way as to get practise interjecting in a way you wouldn’t need to do in a full session. But in order to learn how to do it properly you really have to do it every few sentences which isn’t real. Whether it’s because we’re trying to keep it light the session can just go round in circles as if the speaker has chosen a topic, has spoken on it and doesn’t know where to go from there in the rest of the allotted time so repeats what has been said. This is also because the listener isn’t asking questions so it’s harder to guide a conversation. Although the difference between “was that hard for you?” and the non-question that is equivalent “you found that hard” is possibly little. The rules of engagement are different in our sessions to real sessions and sometimes it’s hard to work out how they differ and whether they should differ. One similarity is that you run out of time just as you get to an interesting bit.

We’re halfway through and are tasked with summarising the good and the bad. The above paragraph covers the complicated. I am mostly enjoying it although do get frustrated with the repetition (what is x, how does it feel delivering / receiving, what blocks x). Smile everybody! We’re not going deep enough but it is an Introduction course. I do worry about the impact of the next course on the rest of my life and how it will eat into time. The group is nice and is bonding together. There is I think one person I haven’t worked with at all and several who I’ve gone into groups with but haven’t had sessions with. The two I had an instinctive reaction to I think I did because they remind me of me, middle aged mums. I don’t like that, but that is about me and not them. I wonder if any of us will stay in touch afterwards. The practice sessions always feel rushed. We’re very easy going time wise on the first half and then we have to switch to being exact timekeepers during the sessions and we haven’t learnt that.