Opening channels #16

open-arms-elbow  (Thanks to Elbow)

Music is brilliant, isn’t it?  Songs to sing to, dance with, cry along with and songs that pick me up and hurl me against the wall.  Some songs are my time machines and will whisk me back to a time – sometimes I want to go there and other times, I have to turn off the tune.

I found this again on my i-Pod and found myself crying with joy as I was driving to work.  “We got open arms for broken hearts…” Guy Garvey sings and relates a story of a friend or relative returning to friends and family who are celebrating his return.  The reunion isn’t a happy one, we understand as the line goes on “…like yours my boy…” and we get the sense the return isn’t fully his choice.

There is no judgement however  “You’re not the man who fell to earth…you’re the man from La Mancha!” acknowledging the returner’s feelings about coming home without the success he imagined when he set out on his adventure and trying to reassure him that he is still regarded as brave and intrepid for setting out in the first place.  “Tables are for pounding here…” suggests that the returner might be angry, distressed and in need of a physical release of those feelings. You can pound tables with us, Garvey seems to say and we’ll not think anything less of you.   The song goes on to list all of the people who are there to see him home – all human “Rooney’s face down in a puddle – everyone’s here!” the song ends triumphantly.  We feel that the adventurer is back where he needs to be now, he will heal and may even set out again with the strength of everyone behind him.

I would argue that the song is a lovely symbol of unconditional positive regard, genuineness and warmth and reminded me of therapy.  Clients are adventurers, living life but experiencing an adventure gone off track.  They need to come ‘home’ a place where arms are open and there is no negative judgment.  They expect and should receive a human face (maybe not ‘face down in a puddle’ though) who will support them to pound the table, if they need to and who will value the adventure they’ve undertaken.  Clients are the man, or woman, from La Mancha and will take what they need to embark on their adventure again.

Music is wonderful isn’t it?  Just a few words cleverly and beautifully bringing together the fundamentals of a therapeutic relationship.  Give the song a listen…



Opening channels #7b – ‘Be strong/Be perfect’

Back to the drivers…

These are major drivers for me and often cause me the most pain, even though I’m fully and exquisitely aware that I’m being driven by them.  They are twisty little b*stards that often work in tandem.  ‘Be strong’ means  I find it difficult to ask for help or to admit that I can’t do a thing.  I will take on extra work and favours, almost to the point of exhaustion, then feel resentful and put on.  I feel at my most strong when I’m doing it all by myself, yet crave the offers of help from others so I can refuse, masochistically, and struggle on alone.  ‘Be perfect’ means it is easier to do it by myself as I won’t trust other people to get it exactly right.

This twisted logic comes from two psychodynamic sources – firstly, my role models growing up were two immensely strong maternal figures who fought and struggled till they took their last breath.  My mother would never acknowledge she was  ill, taking in turn her model from my grandmother who refused help moving furniture even after her second heart attack.  These women were giant, formidable figures, right on through my childhood and, as with all heroes, took on an even more glittering mythology after they died.

My second source is simply my own locus of evaluation.  There is immense energy here.  Rogers talks about the necessity of self-evaluation and rejecting the ‘conditions of worth’ imposed on us while we are growing up,  whilst Steiner talks of ‘stroke economy’; fundamentally we are taught to crave and work for other people’s acceptance, praise and regard but these are usually conditional on us earning or proving our worth.  It feels as if I am constantly trying to show how brave and strong and perfect I am.  I accepted the utter loneliness of proving that I am totally independent and not needing anyone – paradoxically needing everyone to witness my ‘strength’ and ‘independence’  preferably by telling me what a hard worker, or how helpful or how strong I am.  There is no self-acceptance here – only a load of measuring myself through the admiring comments of others and when I don’t get these, I get resentful and sulky.

I’m bellowing, “Look at how brilliantly strong and wonderful I am”  but under my breath –  It all feels a bit ridiculous now that I’m writing it.

What this does is  it prevents me getting close and putting my trust in others and is self-fulfilling.  When I do need help and others around me don’t guess I need it and do it telepathically, this proves how untrustworthy other people are and drives me in the direction of ‘Be perfect’.  Why would I ask for help when I won’t trust people to get it absolutely right?  My way or the highway people, particularly if it means giving up a task that I know will prove how strong I am.

The big problem with these drivers in client work is how I use them to measure others. Will I judge clients as ‘not strong’ for asking for help and will I judge others as ‘imperfect’ for not getting it all absolutely right? Will I dislike a client for not doing  ‘perfect’ therapy?  Is it simply time to give myself a rest from trying to control other people’s opinions of me by allowing my weaknesses and imperfections to be fully out there?  It’s bloody exhausting trying to be fantastic at all times and I think it might be liberating to acknowledge that I’m not very good at other people’s ‘brilliantly strong and wonderful’, whatever that might be.  Being honest and flawed and real will make me a better counsellor and a much more bearable human.

Opening channels #10

I had my interview this week to progress to the next stage of counsellor training.  The first part was a group introduction where we each had the opportunity to talk about ourselves and our motivation for embarking on training.  I’m always really interested in the dynamics of these events and like to test out how I feel about other applicants – these are my potential partners in training and development and I’m always interested in my first impressions and how they change over time.

I try for UPR – honestly.  I push myself toward this end every day but because interviews make us all present a front, I find it difficult to positively value the front others present.  These events often have the stereotypicals too – including Mr Superconfident, Ms Earnestly Compassionate, Ms ChangeTheWorld, Mr Philosopher, Mrs EarthMother and Mr WoundedButBetterNow.  I’ve assigned genders here just for titles but these are interchangeable.  In this session, I met a new one – I’mMakingASpeechUnderGuiseOfAQuestion.

I was fascinated by this person.  She asked lots and lots of questions but these always started with a summary of what had been said – a bit like “Can I ask a question? So you’ve said that there is a placement requirement and that means we will need to secure counselling hours to complete the course and I’m thinking that this means we have to have a placement in order to achieve the qualification.  Am I right in thinking that?”  Every question.  I am honestly going to struggle working with her.

Which stereotypical am I? I have managed annoyingly to be every single one of them at some point – irritating cow that I am.