Opening channels #23 Trust

This is a difficult one to write.  Our taught sessions have finished and now we are pulling together portfolio evidence and notes on our counselling practice hours.  Towards the end of the course, I found it difficult to focus on the learning, group sessions and skills practice in class, due to commitments and challenges in my paid work.  I knew that I was disengaging from the group – bored if I’m honest – and looking forward to finishing the taught sessions so that I could concentrate on my practice hours with clients.

My relationships with other members of the group have been predictably unpredictable.  I have always found with courses, where personal development is an integral part of learning, that relationships in the learning group can ebb and flow (as in real life) and I felt naturally that I worked more comfortably with some group members than with others.  I had detected some friction with two individuals but nothing that was overt enough for me to tackle.  With one of these people it felt very much that her own, openly disclosed, insecurities caused her to raise a defensive wall and even constructive comments and praise from me resulted in a prickle.  I admit that I backed off and rarely chose to work with her if it was possible to work with others.  On her part, she formed a very strong alliance with another member of the group that effectively protected her from having to work with others.

We limped along to the end of the taught sessions and during community time, I openly shared my regret that I hadn’t made more of my time with the group and that I had found it difficult to share information with some group members as I wasn’t fully trusting what they would do with this information.  No-one challenged this during the group time but this was ‘normal’ for our group – community time had ceased to be used for addressing challenges or issues in the group since an incident in the first few weeks of the course.

The course tutor had arranged a catch up and sign off session for group members who had not completed their work and I attended with my partly completed portfolio.  I left the session shortly after arranging another date to meet my tutor.  Later that evening I noticed that the group member mentioned above had written a celebration status on Facebook and I scrolled through to add my congratulations for finishing the course.  In the middle of the comments from several of her friends was a series of comments about me written by her and two other members of the group.

There is a saying – ‘Eavesdroppers rarely hear good about themselves.’ – and it was clear that these people had forgotten that I was a ‘friend’.  I wasn’t tagged to include me in the conversation and the whole thing felt inappropriate and glaringly out of place in the congratulations that surrounded it.  Nothing in the comments was exceptionally malicious but there was a veiled undercurrent of glee that I was still behind on my practice hours.  After getting hold of what I was feeling I emailed all three individuals and pointed out that I had noticed these comments.  I asked what made them think it was appropriate to discuss my circumstances in a public forum and expressed my shock and anger that they had done so.  It went quiet and I noticed that that I had been blocked from this person’s Facebook.

Then came a reply from her by email – one line:

‘It appears that this is more your issue than mine.’

Anyone who has attended a counselling course will probably have encountered this comment as a way of closing down a challenge and pushing the challenger to look in on herself to identify what is eating her.  I’m not sure what I expected as a reply but I know I would have honoured any acknowledgement that the comments were inappropriate.  I sensed her anger at being called out – this is a professional course which gives us the right to practice and the responsibility to adhere to professional standards – and I know she is proud of her status.  I replied and agreed that this was my issue and pointed out that I would have expected her to feel the same way, had I commented publicly on her circumstances.  I also stated that I didn’t feel it unreasonable expect the same principles of integrity, trust, confidentiality and professional behaviour that we had all agreed to, to be applied here.

There is nothing here for me to gain by continuing the argument – I ended by appealing to her empathy and understanding and have left it there.  The other two group members have not replied or even acknowledged my email and I am disappointed.  My expectations may be too high – we are all at different stages in our professional and personal development and may have different ways of reconciling disparities in our private and professional behaviour.  This might be a cautionary tale in the use of social media (remember who your ‘friends’ are) or it might simply be a rant about our inside and outside voices – I get that people will dislike me but don’t make it so obvious if you don’t want to be challenged!

Rogers talks at length about integrity and genuineness as a counsellor – this is a thing to be, qualities to permeate our everday lives, not something to turn on just in the counselling room and ultimately I felt that these comments were dishonest.  Each member of this small sub-group have had opportunities to speak to me or contact me privately, ask what my deal is or challenge me on any behaviour that has caused them to feel uncomfortable.  They chose not to and I expected better from them.  I’m blocked from trying to resolve this by each person’s reluctance to be in contact with me and work it through and I’m left discomfited by this justifying my feelings of mistrust in the group processes.

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Opening channels #21 Red Coat

PERSONAL COUNSELLING (3)

A lot has happened this week and I was feeling a little defeated when I arrived for my appointment. My counsellor asked how I was feeling and, from nowhere, I let loose

“I’m furious…”

Going on to explain what had been happening at work and how I felt about it, one of my overwhelming sensations was pure red rage – I cried, ranted, swore – loose and very raw emotion. So raw that I’m finding it so difficult to write about it now. I have never done Anger very well. I tend to turn this inward so it manifests as sulking, seething and, ultimately and painfully, depression and self-loathing. I genuinely dislike myself when I am angry. I feel out of control and scared of where my anger will take me. I guess it makes me vulnerable as it one of the few times I worry about what other people think about me and I feel stupid for losing control.

Of course I apologised to my counsellor…for the tears, snot and profanities flying around the room…and she gently asked me what I thought I was apologising for. Immediately, I had to confront my real fear about appearing to lose control, losing my carefully constructed ‘together’ Colette who is rarely rattled, scared, anxious or vulnerable. I wondered what was so important about this persona that I would deny or judge what I was genuinely feeling. So many times, I have spoken to clients about Anger and how we question or deny it. How we treat it differently to Joy, which we value and celebrate and rarely try to hide. Now here I am, feeling like a fraud because I am not doing myself what I expect of my clients – accepting the realness and ordinariness of an emotion that has a part in every Self. How can I ever help anyone if I’m unable to do the very thing that I ask my clients to do?

My counsellor was clear – here I’m being hard on myself. We don’t need to be ‘sorted’ to help someone but we do need to be aware and comfortable with what we are aware of. I feel like I’m trying on Anger like a new coat and I’m walking around in it to feel if it fits. It is a red coat and very striking. I’m also aware that it is noticeable and that it will draw potentially negative attention to me but it is mine. This red coat has been stuck in the back of my psychic wardrobe for far too long and it frightens me deeply to wear it openly. I am coming to the understanding that I must wear all my coats comfortably if I am to encourage my client to try on theirs. I cannot recognise, work with and unconditionally accept anger, rage, fury in all its glory in my client if I’m unable to accept my own.

I really admired the way my counsellor sat with me in all this and her gentle way of scooping me back up in time to end the session. For all that I worried about my relationship with her after the last session, today, for this hour I felt safe to let loose knowing that she ‘got me’.