About Watch This Space
One of the blessings of this counselling work is that with the need to stay alive to the reality of experience in practice and private life, there's little room for stagnation. And there's so much out there to be interested in that informs and nourishes, that can eventually be integrated and used.
Therapists generally pay attention to CPD, that is their Continuing Personal Development, and the purpose of this page is to keep you informally informed of bits and pieces of my own CPD training that relate to my practice.
So watch this space if you will. The dates shown in the sub-headings refer to my own resourcing of the material, starting with the most recent.
Anxiety Matters, April 2017
I attended a workshop where therapists discussed and traded ideas about anxiety.
In my experience anxiety is a common and growing factor for people who seek counselling. People agreed that anxiety has a protective function, alerting us to areas that might need attention, for example, if you have an unexplained physical symptom, you might feel concerned and visit your GP to have it checked out.
Anxiety can be viewed as on a continuum of severity; some anxiety is normal. Prolonged, habitual and severe anxiety can erode quality of life and health.
People commonly use various breathing techniques to soothe anxiety. One such technique offered at the workshop was the 4x4x4x4 method:
Find a square shape on which to visually focus, perhaps a wall or a table or a window or a pattern on a curtain. Now keep your focus on one edge of the square whilst breathing in slowly and evenly to the count of 4; next shift your focus to the following edge of the square and hold your breath for an even count of four; then shifting your focus to the next edge of the square, breath out slowly and evenly to the count of 4; shift your vision to the final edge of the square and hold your breath to an even count of 4. Continue the cycle for a few more rounds, according to what suits you. Once calmer, this restful self-awareness gap enables you to have a greater choice about the way forward.
Some people use numbers to soothe their anxiety, counting down backwards from 20 to 0 . Other people might use worry beads, or set themselves a distracting task such as searching for 5 capital cities beginning with the letter A, or 5 animals beginning with the letter D and so forth.
If you worry a lot, finding your mind going round and round over the same ground, some people might find this technique useful:
Say to yourself "I am only going to think about it for half an hour (worry time) at the same time every day". This technique provides a container, a boundary for the worry and gives people permission to let go of the worry for the rest of the day.
Another technique for people who feel frustrated when stopped by the red traffic light when driving is to:
Focus your vision on the red light, and consciously physically relax your shoulders, using the time to calm and become aware of yourself. People report it works!
A simple technique for bringing yourself out of worry and into the reality of the moment is to intentionally re-direct your focus into the body by saying to yourself "Where are my hands? (shifting your awareness to your hands); Where are my feet? (shifting your awareness to your feet); Where is my head? (shifting your awareness to your head)."
Finally, if you have lots of anxiety, you may not know how to soothe yourself. Reflect on how you might use your senses, your vision, hearing, sense of smell, taste and touch to self-soothe when troubled by anxiety.
This one day workshop was facilitated by Counselling Plus.
June 2015 - Successful Loosers - Studies in Obesity
I attended a three day course relating to obesity, given by the National Centre for Eating Disorders. Included in the training was an exploration of why weight loss is hard, and also why it is hard to maintain that loss. Some people are brilliant at losing weight through willpower, but they have no capacity for keeping the weight off. The National Weight Control Registry USA has listed findings about people who manage to maintain weight loss for at least five years. The findings include the following common factors for those successful loosers as:
-No specific weight target
-High levels of activity
-Nutritional dense diet including breakfast always
-Many small changes but targets something consistently
-No patterns of fasting and indulgence e.g. holidays
Death Cafe (May 2014)
One mid-week evening I attended a get together, organised by Death Cafe, at the Buttercup Cafe in Lewes, East Sussex. At a Death Cafe, people gather to drink tea, talk about death. It is not a counselling or bereavement group. Each event is facilitated. The objective is to increase awareness of death, by promoting discussion around the subject.
Death Cafes are for anyone who is interested in talking about the subject of our mortality, and it is not aimed specifically at professionals in the field.
You can find your nearest Death Cafe event through the website www.deathcafe.com.
SANE NEW WORLD, Taming The Mind, 2013
Ruby Wax obtained a masters in mindfulness and then wrote Sane New World, Taming The Mind, which was published in 2013. Her own experience with mindfulness has profoundly affected her ability to deal with her depression and to enhance the quality of her life. The book is aimed at everyone who has a mind, and who suffers. Sane New World includes a personal account, and a practical journey around the mind. It also includes an inroad to mindfulness practice.
After reading the book, I also attended one of Ruby's one woman mindfulness shows in February 2014, which included a quick tour of the mind, and a question and answer session.
Through her spirited, humane dissemination of her knowledge and expertise, she is helping to promote the benefits of mindfulness as a positive tool to anyone who is interested.
Sane New Mind is available in paper and kindle form.
Mindfulness Training 2013
I attended an 8 week course to broaden and develop my ongoing mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is a study of our mind through direct experiential exploration. It is not essentially an intellectual pursuit, and is available to us all. The cultivation of this awareness enables us to make more skilled, compassionate choices of how we respond to experience in relation to ourselves, others, and our environment.
Currently mindfulness is widely promoted for mental health and wellbeing, and there is a great deal of research happening worldwide.
Training offered in the Brighton area includes through teachers at Mindfulhealth.
Irvin Yalom live video linkup (February 2013)
Irvin Yalom is a much loved and respected author of fact and fiction in the psychotherapeutic world. He recently took part in a live video linkup with an audience of around 900 therapists at the QEII conference centre in Westminster. Facilitated by his clinical psychologist son, he answered questions, talked about therapy, and read a therapy story from a publication upon which he is currently working. Dr. Yalom is Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, a renowned psychotherapist, and he writes with such wisdom, heart and vision, I have no hesitation in recommending his works to one and all.
Dr. Yalom's latest work of fiction is The Spinoza problem.
Duo Counselling (Winter 2012)
During last winter I spent three weekends training in Duo Counselling, the theory and practice of working with couples, with the special feature of having two therapists facilitating the couples counselling sessions. This type of couples work is structured so that couples meet for counselling fortnightly, with longer sessions, usually with work to do at home in between times.
The course was facilitated by Make a Difference Training.
Searching for the Dreamer (November 2012)
I recently attended a one day seminar relating to working with dreams in therapy. My broad understanding now is that working with one’s dreams helps maintain and develop a healthy mind, processing experience that we have not integrated on a conscious level; and that we generally have limited recall of dreams because we already have sufficient data in our waking hours to assimilate.
Carl Jung thought dreams are pure nature, the unvarnished truth, the raw material, symbolic. He thought there was a non singular meaning. You can uncover different levels of dreams in a lifetime. The unconscious is in touch with a lot more of ourselves than is seen.
There are four broad focuses of dream analysis. Sigmund Freud particularly focused on the objectivity level and the transferential level. Jung was more interested in the subjective level and the archetypal level of analysis. Using the subjective level, every part of the dream can relate to the dreamer, the ‘I’. A house, for example, is our home, the place where we abide, and may well say something about the state of the dreamer. The attic often relates to the head, to the ability to intellectualise, the basement may refer to more hidden areas of the psyche. The type of car you drive in the dream may relate to your persona, the way you present in the world. We drive cars; however, trains may denote lack of control. We are passengers in trains, and we alight at a given destination.
The vast majority of us dream; most mammals do; we can visibly be aware of our pet dog when he/she is dreaming. It seems the majority of anti-depressants suppress this function of the mind.
Someone suggested that, when you wake up in the morning, you lie in your waking position for 10” or so, with your eyes closed, before the conscious world fully revs up as it were, and connect with the dreamer. You can keep a dream diary by your bed, and see what arises.
Marcus West, the presenter of the seminar, is a Jungian Analyst and psychotherapist based in Findon and Hove.
Core Process Psychotherapy Workshop (July 2012), An Introduction to Mindfulness in Relationship Training
Core Process Psychotherapy (CPP) is grounded in psychological structures apparent 2,500 years ago which are still alive today, largely attributable to and transported through the spiritual and scientific foundations of Buddhism, bearing in mind that the hand of even more ancient structures will have had their bearing.
CPP particularly focuses on what is alive in us right now, in relation to the client we are with. It requires mindful awareness, including all that we can notice that is going on within us, thrown up by the moment to moment living relationship. Central to the facilitation of CPP skills is some form of mental training, involving for example the ongoing development of concentration and insight. This therapeutic system allows people to work at depth, with a limitless wealth of information.
The workshop included illustration of a three part model comprising Personality, Being and Source. Personality may have the appearance of solidity, permanence, whereas in fact it is a created, fluid malleable entity which can be observed and influenced. In CPP terms, Being relates to our experience stripped of time, the creator of past and future. Being involves the immediate experiencing of all that is accessible, all mental formations, bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, emotions, moods of our own internal environment, and also that which we can perceive in the external environment, and particularly in therapy, in the space between client and therapist. This Being is a flowing, dynamic thing. Source relates to a wider force to which we are connected, outwith the individual entity, difficult to describe on the conceptual level.
Clients hopefully benefit from the enhanced skills of attunement that the therapist gains, alongside other related developmental areas involving ongoing cultivation of wisdom and compassion.
This two day workshop was facilitated by the Karuna Institute.
Understand Your Eating (March 2012)
I attended a workshop given by Julia Buckroyd focussing on binge and compulsive eating. Food was discussed as an emotional regulator, a mood enhancer, something that soothes, strongly linked to our childhood environment, with contributing factors such as genetics, evolution, and the current 24/7 accessibility of cheap food. We all eat emotionally; it’s how much we do it, rely on it, to get us through the day that is telling.
Awareness of what it is that is being managed with food, and support in building up a healthy identity were discussed as central to progress, with the gradual increase of using human relationship rather than food to manage our lives.
Research seems to show that people who have experienced high levels of abuse, neglect and trauma are particularly susceptible to binge and compulsive eating.
Julia Buckroyd is Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of Hertfordshire, and has recently written a book entitled Understanding Your Eating: How to eat and not worry about it.
A Soupy Unity - Existential Psychotherapy Seminar (January 2012)
I attended an Existential Psychotherapy seminar given by Professor Ernesto Spinnelli, which included an explanation of its three fundamental principles. The relatedness principle was likened to a bowl of soup. If you hold up a spoonful of it, you can never hold up another spoonful exactly the same. It is individual, unique, unrepeatable in that respect. Our individuality however is based on the fact that it comes from the unity of the ingredients of the soup itself. The connectedness is the source of each being becoming a being; we are each a particular expression of that soup and fundamentally connected to it at a level of unity.
The uncertainty principle follows on as a consequence of relatedness, placing us in an uncertain context; because our structure is inter-related, it cannot be fully controlled internally. This state of being continuously open to uncertainty include both our external and internal environment. Our sense of ourselves as well as the world we live in and the people around us can be seen as uncertain. Some of us avoid uncertainty, others gravitate towards it. Embracing uncertainly brings us into the immediate present, gives it value, attention, confronts anxiety as a lived, felt experience of uncertainty.
The anxiety principle relates to anxiety as a lived dilemma, a constant in our existence if we meet relational uncertainty. When we evade uncertainty we encounter anxiety at a less aware level that can have a neurotic quality to it. The paradox is that the more we evade, the more we are prone to anxiety.
The expression of the above principles in existential psychotherapy involves the therapist attempting to stand beside, in the connected present, the lived framework of another, engaged in the uncertain and anxious now. A primary enterprise is to move towards better description of what is brought to the therapy, enabling better awareness and the potential for change as unforeseen possibilities emerge.
It may be that the experience of the creation of a different temporary space created by both parties can be beneficial of itself. Description can help capture something similar and different, facilitating a kind of comparison between the temporary space and the space out there. An example was given where someone says "I'm shy, desperate to relate, terrified talking to people". If the shyness is here in the temporary space, then it can be explored here. If not, then, you can explore what's different.
The descriptive enterprise can be developed using three particular types of inquiry, that of embodiment, the use of metaphorical description and narrative scene setting. This enables movement away from the abstract, making the experience more personal and better connected to subtleties and complexities, enabling a more accurate lived experience.
Ernesto Spinelli has written a number of books on the subject, including Tales of Unknowing, Therapeutic Encounters from an Existential Perspective, Demystifying Therapy and Practising Existential Psychotherapy, The Relational World.
Ernesto Spinelli & Associates is a team of expert practitioners in the related fields of psychotherapy, counselling, coaching and mediation.
time2relate - Couples Counselling (Summer/Autumn 2011)
I attended three training weekends for couples counselling using the arts, inviting therapists to add more creative elements to their work with relationships. Mythological stories played a central part as a way to demonstrate the various stages of relationship, with a view to supporting couples to ultimately cultivate and deepen their experience together.
On a previous workshop I recall the lecturer saying that in the UK, couples often come to counselling far too late; sometimes an ulterior motivation might be separation; some couples learn to manage their relationship better; and others reach richer, more mature levels of satisfaction.
time2relate offers couple therapy, couple groups, training and supervision.
The D-Word, Talking About Dying (August 2011)
This book is slim and user-friendly. It reaches out beyond taboos around death and dying to a place where many of the practicalities of the subject are laid bare.
A compassionate, informed read, each of its eight chapters can stand alone depending on your interest at the time. Chapters are peppered with useful sections such as "Things to Think About", "What Helped", "What Did Not Help". The D-Word tackles subjects as diverse as how to speak to the dying, what to expect, what to do, who's who, resources available, and draws on contributions from patients, relatives, health professionals and the like, and also gives a historical and cultural context to the subject.
A reference guide for households, it is not a book about bereavement; rather it encourages people to be pro-active about educating themselves on an area largely relegated to the fringes of social discourse.
A psychotherapist, the author, Sue Brayne, originally trained as a nurse and has an MA in the Rhetoric and Rituals of Death. She launched the D-Word website in 2010 to coincide with publication to enable people to ask questions and access further support on the subject.
Talking Drugs at the Link Centre (July 2011)
I recently attended a networking session where a participant gave a short talk about drug taking. As the speaker highlighted, alcohol is way out there at the top of the problem drug tree in this country, ahead of heroin and crack cocaine.
What grabbed my attention was the view that “drug addicts” are stereotypically regarded in a negative, often class and age related manner, whereas in reality the vast majority of people who take drugs, including at problem levels, never approach any of the drug and alcohol counselling services available, and partakers come from across the demographic board.
I resonated with the speaker’s view that the majority of people whose lives are affected by drugs are high functioning, they work, have families, are socially integrated, they hope, dream and make plans.
There was discussion around use of particular words such as “addiction” and “coping” and their negative connotations of hopelessness and the possible selection of more accurate words such as “mood alteration” and “choice” was suggested.
My own experience working in a general, adult drug and alcohol counselling service bears some resemblance to the above-mentioned views. Alcohol was the main problem drug, ages ranged from 18 to 88, and class or gender didn’t seem a supporting factor. My clients were just people with specific vulnerabilities, and many of them were high functioning. I noticed how they often gave a lot of importance to labels such as “addicted”, “alcoholic”, usually either drawn to, or repelled by such categorisations.
A final snippet I took away from the talk relates to tobacco. Drugs are generally grouped as stimulants or depressants depending on the active, affecting ingredient they contain. Tobacco falls into the stimulant category, so how come smokers reach for a cigarette when they want to relax? The actual relaxant part relates to the extra air they suck into the lungs during the act of drawing in smoke. Sneaky. And food for thought.
The Link Centre provides psychotherapy and other related training, and facilitates these periodic networking sessions. The speaker, Richard Church, is a therapist based in the Hailsham area of East Sussex.
Introduction to Coaching (June 2011)
Curious about this discipline I attended a one day introductory workshop, appreciating the speaker’s informal, jargon free delivery.
Although there are overlaps in the skills used in counselling and coaching, the essence of the distinction seems to be that whereas counselling tends to spend energy exploring the client's historical and current life, coaching is more obviously forward looking and more explicitly focused on change and solutions. Coaching can attract a different clientele. Men may find the coaching model attracts them because of it's more explicit focus on potentialities, whereas the counselling model may be perceived more as one implying vulnerability or deficiency, and I understand there is generally less of a power imbalance in coaching than in counselling. The speaker, who is trained and experienced in both disciplines, finds that when he is working as a coach, with the client’s permission he occasionally switches into his role as a counsellor.
One well known model for problem solving and goal setting in the coaching field is G.R.O.W., G for Goal, R for Reality of where the client is now, O for Options or Obstacles, and W for the Way Forward. This model feels inclusive; someone wanting to lose weight, gain a promotion, or switch lifestyles, might benefit from it. Detailed information is readily available on the internet.
I came away feeling revitalised by the dynamic feel of the energy of coaching, excited by the idea of stretching yourself, generating energy in the mind as well as the body as a means of locating your own power to get to where you wants to go, which resonates well with the humanistic branch of the talking therapies to which I subscribe. I imagine that coaching might be particularly useful for people who feel stuck, who are having difficulty accessing their own vision and potential to live a more fulfilled life, and who might thrive on the positive, motivational attention of a skilled coaching helper.
Dave Burke is a coach and counsellor who has a private practice in St Leonards in East Sussex, and also in London. Dave is also Service Manager of Hastings & Rother Counselling Services. He intends to run a 5 day coaching workshop in 2012.