A musical interlude

Today I’m running low on ideas and energy, but inspired by discovering that one of my favourite singer-songwriters is coming to the UK this week, and that i can GO SEE HER, I’m giving you without more ado: the therapy song by Dar Williams (lyrics below for anyone who wants them)

I don’t go to therapy to find out if I’m a freak
I go and I find the one and only answer every week
And it’s just me and all the memories to follow
Down any course that fits within a fifty minute hour
And we fathom all the mysteries, explicit and inherent
When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent
And she’s so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,
But she knows that it’s much better if I get it for myself…
And she says

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, what do you hear in these sounds?
And… oooooooh,aaaaaaah
What do you hear in these sounds? ? ? ? ?

I say I hear a doubt, with the voice of true believing
And the promises to stay, and the footsteps that are leaving
And she says “oh”, I say “what? “…she says “exactly”,
I say”what, you think I’m angry
Does that mean you think I’m angry? ”
She says “look, you come here every week
With jigsaw pieces of your past
Its all on little soundbytes and voices out of photographs
And that’s all yours, that’s the guide, that’s the map
So tell me, where does the arrow point to?
Who invented roses? ”

What do you hear in these sounds?
What do you hear in these sounds? ? ? ? ?

And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself…………

And I wake up and I ask myself what state I’m in
And I say well I’m lucky, cause I am like east berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they’d know that I was scared
They’d would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out just like me…and…

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, the stories that nobody hears…and…

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, and I collect these sounds in my ears…and

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, that’s what I hear in these sounds…and…

Oooooooh,aaaaaaah, that’s what I hear in these……
That’s what I hear in these souu ouuun nnnds!

Dar’s website, complete with tour dates. Go see 🙂

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Help make better counsellors

This is a plea to all readers of this post (counsellors, potential counsellors, clients and potential clients, everyone) to help make us trainees into better counsellors. How? By simply signing a petition. This post will explain why I think it’s important from my own point of view.

If you look to move on from this, ask yourself why. Why doesn’t it matter enough to take a couple of minutes to sign and do some good? I realise that’s confrontational, but I think it’s important to examine. Feel free to leave me a comment with your point of view 🙂

Changes in acknowledging diversity

Diversity word cloud

This month is LGBT history month. A month where we (all) celebrate LGBTness in a variety of ways. There have been films, talks, discussions, debates, all kinds. Also this month, the winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, a place where it’s exceedingly difficult to be LGBT (those human rights issues are explored much better in other places). But even in the rest of the world, athletes who happen to identify as LGBT are the target for homophobia on twitter. Also in the news this month is the Huffington Post’s article on homophobia in universities. I’ve seen some – ‘less than parliamentary’ responses to lgbt history month myself this month, from ‘just your average person’.

And so my preamble brings me closer to my point. I’m a trainee therapist. That’s what this blog is all about. And one of the things we haven’t had so far in our training is any specific training on diversity (and this seems to be repeated across many institutions – it’s certainly not just a problem where I am training). We have had a day on disability run by someone with a disability, which was excellent, and really served to uncover some of the thoughts, feelings and doubts we had about disability – many of my cohort not feeling we had had much contact with individuals with disabilities. It opened our eyes.

But for sexuality and race? Well, I exist within the class, as a queer (white) person, and there are also a couple of people of colour within the class. And this has so far been where our teaching happens. I have more than once been asked to answer in depth questions on gender and sexuality, and I see my POC classmates being asked to educate on race. I also see the microaggressions that happen. For me personally, I’ve heard (not about me) ‘she was bisexual, but she’s chosen to be straight now’ (in fact, on checking, the person in question had felt no such change in their identity and was simply dating someone of the opposite sex’. I’ve heard (addressed to me) ‘why do you want to work with those [queer] people?’.

In my day to day life, I often hear from people ‘your friend’, when the person with me is clearly my partner. My partner is misgendered when with me, because I am more clearly ‘female’ on first glance (long hair) than she (short hair). I have been asked just last month by three people at the same company if I had a husband, and no note was made after the first time, that I had a female partner. The third time I was asked, I got cross and explained it wasn’t appropriate and was told that the man asking the question hadn’t done anything wrong and I had no right to be cross (needless to say, we didn’t buy from them).

THESE THINGS ARE EASY TO DO if you don’t know they’re a problem. And the thing is – it might be something that you only need to be told once in order not to do it. But how many times do you think I’ve heard similar things from people? Countless. There’s one of me, and a lot of people ‘not me’ who are just making ‘one mistake’. It gets wearing.

As far as class, I don’t mind being an educator, but I’m not an expert on sexuality. It interests me as a topic and so I study it, but still, my experience of being queer is very different to someone else’s, and I have no firsthand lived experience of trans* issues, but as the only person who has any experience (it feels), I am reduced to being The Educator. I’d feel a lot better about sharing my experiences and in pointing out where people were going wrong, if I wasn’t the only point of reference my classmates had.

The alternative is that my classmates (and potentially all classes with no queer people in) go out in to the therapy world with no understanding of what it’s like to be queer, and no understanding of the things that they are saying that might be harmful. The same very much goes for race and disability and other diversities.

And although I do take to heart that my classmates want to learn and ask questions, I worry that if it wasn’t for people who were willing to out themselves AND to educate (or just to educate if their diversity is ‘apparent’) then we as students risk going out in to the world of therapy and making those mistakes without even seeing that we are doing them.

For example. As a queer person, if someone says to me ‘my partner’ and doesn’t gender their partner, that’s immediately a small flag of ‘their partner may be the same sex, or the opposite, or not identify in the binary’. It’s very easy as a straight person (I’ve seen many people do it – often to me) to just assume that that’s another way of saying ‘my opposite sex partner’ and proceed on that basis, thus forcing someone in to the closet. This is *not* what we want to be doing to our clients. We don’t want to silence them, we don’t want to layer assumptions on to them. We don’t want to have created a secret within them, or made them feel in any way inferior – because if you assume heterosexuality is the norm, you ‘other’ your client. The feeling then becomes a feeling of ‘less’ness – otherwise wouldn’t queerness be on the same level?

I’ve spoken here mostly about sexuality because that is the identity I am most comfortable with exploring – the only one within the petition that I have personal experience of. I get some similar types of comments on disability. I have for example, said to my counsellor ‘I’m having a bad day’ and got the response ‘but you look well’. That counsellor is no longer my counsellor, for reasons that include having heard that comment said on a few occasions. I recently had to explain to my last counsellor what ‘gender binary’ was, which again ‘othered’ me.

It’s not enough to think that as person-centred trainees and counsellors that we embody Rogers’ 6 conditions and all will be well – if we are not educated on a topic and we don’t know it, we risk causing offence.

For example – how many people reading this know what ‘cisgender‘ means? Most people reading this WILL be cis (hi to all of you who aren’t! :)). It’s a term heard in LGBT circles and widely discussed within feminism, but it’s entirely possible you won’t heard of it if you’re not active in those circles. Doesn’t sound like a big thing? It’s not. But if your client says they’re cis (or not) and you KNOW that word, your client feels heard on a deeper level than if they have to stop and explain to you what it means.

For all the reasons above (and apologies for the length of the post – I’ve been thinking this over for a while), please sign this petition, which arose from the PCSR‘s ‘taboo conference‘ to help make a better change for generations of counsellors and most importantly, *clients*, to come.

For anyone who wants a good book on sexuality and gender, I recently starting reading Christina Richard’s and Meg Barker’s new book Sexuality and gender for health professionals and it’s excellent. It gives a chapter by chapter look at each of the most common terms (and then a more detailed breakdown) across sexuality, gender, and relationship structures. It’s easy to read and provides useful information whether it’s your first time looking at some of this or whether you’ve done previous research.

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Make use of your supervisor!

Heavy Load

Heavy Load

I recently had an hour with a client that troubled me. I wasn’t *sure* if this was one of those moments when I should be actively taking this ‘up the ladder’ or not and so I ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ about it, until another trainee friend suggested that I texted my supervisor with my concerns and let him make the decision.

Well, that all sounded too simple, and so I did. My supervisor (Fred) called me later in the evening when he was free and I was able to share my concerns at length. Fred spoke to me at length (40 minutes!) and together we came up with a plan of what would be necessary – of things I could put in place in my next session with the client, and a reminder that I did, when setting up the placement, put steps in place that detailed what I needed to do in instances like this, FOR EXACTLY THIS REASON. That made me feel better about contacting him, and to carry out part two of my steps without issue.

It was hard to make that initial contact, I very much had ‘what if it’s nothing?’ floating round in my head, but frankly I realised it was far better to have a false positive (do too much about a situation that is not that serious) than a false negative (don’t do enough for a situation that IS serious). That let me make the text and also gave me the impetus I needed to make sure that I was able to address the issue at hand in my next session with my client. I’m happy to say that all went well, but even if it hadn’t, just being able to talk to Fred meant that I wasn’t ruminating on ‘what to do?’ and ‘what if?’ all week. I knew there was a ‘what if’, but it wasn’t running rampant in my head.

This is one of those odd moments where I had a hard time and that hard time has helped me to see that actually, I CAN do this. I always had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be able to put things down and thus wouldn’t make a good therapist. Now I begin to suspect that I couldn’t put things down before because there was no official ‘process’ in place to let me do so, so I carried it, day in, day out….

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Caring for myself is not self-indulgent

Caring for myself is not self-indulgent

As a trainee, you’ll hear this term a lot. If, like me, you’ve grown up having to be self-reliant, ‘self-care’ often hasn’t come into the equation. ‘Getting through’ has been the thing. I’ve had a lot of therapy (thanks, course-mandated therapy!) both before and during this course and I’m far better at self-care than I realise, I suspect, but i don’t THINK about it a lot.

I was forced to recently however, and so I thought it was worth putting out there for others.

Let me tell you a story: A long time ago (2012 in fact), I was the only eye witness to a car accident that ended in the death of someone. I went through the process of giving statements etc, and the prosecution decided I was a credible enough witness that the case could go to court. Fast-forward to over a year later and the day arrived. My evidence as a witness for the prosecution would make the difference between ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ and so as you can imagine, it was a stressful day*. I had a decision to make – the hearing was the day I have clients, and I had to decide what to do.

Various factors led to me deciding to keep my client’s appointment (and I am glad of that – blog post on that to come!), but I knew that in order to keep the appointment and be fully present I had to VERY effectively bracket, and to do that, I had to ‘indulge’ in some good self-care otherwise I just wouldn’t be able to put it down.

When the day came, after I was done in court I went home with deliberate intent to do some self-care, and I did all the things that would make me feel better. I started by playing some phone app board games (ticket to ride is a GREAT app) curled up on the sofa with my partner. Later in the afternoon I went for a run (I say ‘went’; it’s a treadmill) for half an hour with Zombies, run! in my ears. It’s a great distraction, quite aside from the distraction that is ‘running three miles’.

Other self-care things I do include getting my partner (if she is home when I am done) to put the kettle on and I get met with a mug of hot chocolate when I get in – often quite late in to the evening (my placement is 5.30-9.30). Sometimes, taking the time to curl up for even 10 minutes with a book, or watch an episode of CSI (guilty pleasure) are things that help to wind down afterwards, as well as prepare for beforehand (generally the day before in my case).

I suspect it doesn’t really matter what it is that works for you, but I want to stress that it ISN’T an indulgence; if we are to be as good a therapist (trainee) as we can be, we MUST take care of our emotional health first. We cannot help a client if we are drowning. If that includes taking ‘time out’ from placement or our place of study, then that’s what needs to happen. I know that doesn’t happen easily, and should be thought about, but the principle applies – if we are not capable of being there for our client, then we shouldn’t BE there for the client.

*the verdict was ‘guilty’

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