Show your workings

Molnija inside

Molnija inside (Photo credit: Kaensu)

Any trainee or trained therapist will have heard this many times I suspect: ‘show your workings’. Certainly it’s something I seem to hear every other (training) day. For a long time I was really resistant to the idea, essentially, that I should explain exactly where I was coming from in the statements that I was making. For me this has stemmed back to childhood – in maths class, we were told that if we put our ‘workings out’ down, even if we got the answer wrong, we might get a point for the working out. I never wrote my workings out down. That might account for my C grade – we’ll never know.. As an adult, people often tell me they don’t understand me, but have never elaborated on why. Certainly I can see differences in the way I related and the way some others relate, but it hasn’t been until I became a psychotherapy student that I am hearing this so much more. As a trainee in group process, in triad feedback discussion, I have learnt the notion that it is important to show my working, and let people know why I am saying the things I’m saying. It doesn’t come easily, something I disocvered recently when preparing for a joint presentation that two of my cohort and I are presenting this weekend (‘is person-centred therapy an appropriate treatment for eating disorders?’). I put into our dropbox folder some of the work I was working on, some my fellow-student formulated a response based on it. However, I had assumed that what I was doing would be directed at the third member of our group and had some some of the work around that also. Although I’m confident that we can use my classmate’s work (due to the way we have done it, it should all be fine) I think it’s going to take some re-working – we haven’t seen our third classmate’s work at all), it would have saved my classmate some time potentially if I had said ‘hi all, I’ve put this up and this is the reason for it. I would like you to/not to do X with it. Luckily for me, my second classmate has taken this with good grace and like I say, I’m convinced we’ll use it all, but it would have saved her that moment when I replied with my thoughts and she realised she had spent hours on something that wasn’t intended for her. (actually, this is a really good example of group working. In my last group work of this type, I think we micro-managed ourselves, and left ourselves open to stress that way. This time round I think we – different classmates – have ‘managed’ far less and have left ourselves to our own devices, with the net result that currently I feel less prepared). ‘Showing your workings’ also links into openness to experience and the issue of defences. As I say – this is something that goes back to childhood for me – a place where it was safest to reveal as little of yourself as possible. Even back then my refusal to show my workings got me in trouble a few times. It did also ‘save’ me a few times, and those must be the ones that are more deeply ingrained. ‘Showing my workings’ is a concept that i am becoming *more* comfortable with, but I would not in any way say that this was a happy place for me. When it comes to clients, I try and be a little more open – I am mindful that I don’t want to be seen as ‘expert’ by making pronouncements, and also, when I say ‘I hear you say X, and I guess I am wondering if this relates to Y, for these reasons’. it slows me down far more than saying ‘is this related to Y?’ and that in itself is helpful. I read a paper recently (that I can’t now find to link to) that suggests that it is only as we speak that the meaning of our words becomes clear to us, and slowing that down surely helps in that process.   In short, it’s something I could be much better at, but I have come to see the value of it – people like to know what you *mean* when you say things – including me, and showing my workings just helps to make that happen. Sometimes it’s a useful poke to remember that my childhood is not now, and I can take being poked in my soft spots if it means showing my workings and letting people know not just ‘where’ I am in my thinking, but also ‘why’ I am.

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Open to experience?


'Life In A Lava Lamp' - Levity III Luminarium,...

‘Life In A Lava Lamp’ – Levity III Luminarium, Bangor Open Air Festival (Photo credit: Kristofer Williams)


It started with a phonecall in my dayjob:


Caller: Where do IT services put contact details?

Me: I don’t know- I don’t work in IT services

Caller: then how do we know where they go?

Me: we don’t. What do you need to know?

Caller: I need contact details to display on this webpage

Me: I can do that for you.


Now, had the caller called and said what they *needed*, I would have been much better placed to answer, without that conversation going round in circles (which it did for some minutes before I was able to work out what they wanted).


This got me thinking about myself, and whether I am good (or not) at asking for what I need. Essentially, I’m not. I try to be, and I try to be honest and open about my needs and desires, but it can be really hard.


It seems to me that it’s linked to Rogers’ becoming a fully functioning person: – Openness to experience. The more I try and be open to experience, without being defensive, the more I become a fully-functioning person. But it means putting down my defences, and my defences are where I find it hard – as a client said to me: ‘I don’t want to have to owe anyone anything – I will get hurt’, and I suspect that’s a lot of people’s experiences. Certainly, it’s been mine in the past, and it’s hard to put that down as an adult.


I see myself thinking on ridiculously small things – like ‘I really fancy chips for dinner’, but if my partner is cooking, I don’t feel able to express a desire for that always. Because somehow it’s better to want chips and not have that desire met through not asking, than it is to ask and have that desire not met. I’m thinking too much there and rationally, I don’t care, but somewhere inside a small part of me feels that it was important to ask so there had better be a REALLY good reason why chips aren’t forthcoming. And there would be. But still, I can’t always risk it. I don’t even realise I do this all the time.


Fred, bless him, told me in supervision last time that he felt I accepted critical comments on my practice well. And I do. In THAT situation, I am open to the experience and do not feel the need to put up defences against it. There can still be a lot to lose in supervision – the desire to be seen as a ‘good’ trainee, the good working relationship we have. But somehow, I go in with the bigger picture in mind and it seems ok to be told ‘it seems to me that possibly you need to consider X situation with your client’ and it’s a BIG thing.


I see it in other areas in my life. There is some .. upset going on in a part of my life. I am trying hard to remain open to the experience, but actually, a big part of me just wants to snap back. For me, it is when life feels ‘unfair’ that the openness to experience disappears. When it’s supervision and my supervisor is much more experienced than me, that’s fine. When it’s my reading of a situation over another’s and I feel put in to the ‘bad person’ corner, it is MUCH harder to be open to that experience. Of course, what it really needs is much less of a general ‘open to experience’ label and much more of a ‘what’s going on for me when this happens?’ experience. And this is where I fall down – this is one of those things I’m trying to address in my personal therapy. It’s a long long road.


So for me, it’s two-fold. One must be able to ask to have one’s needs/desires met, and at the same time, one must be open to the experience of receiving ‘no’, and to be able to work out what’s behind the response to that.


All of this makes me think back to my own clients and their paths down this road and the monumental tasks some clients set themselves, often subconsciously, in order to try and get further towards (generally) happiness or peace. If this is where I am, with two years of reading Rogers’ theories behind me, how much harder does a client, with only themselves to guide themselves (and me, beside them) have to work to achieve the same things. Some days, I’m in awe of my clients.


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Ethics and books


English: Field boundaries

English: Field boundaries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’ve read a couple of books recently that have had me thinking about ethics and limits. I’ve also bumped into this in my own practice.


The books I’ve read were Ethical Maturity in the Helping Professions: Making Difficult Life and Work Decisions  by Michael Carroll and Elisabeth Shaw and When boundaries betray us  by Carter Heyward.


Ethical maturity is a fabulous book and I wish I’d known about it when we did our first year ethics module. I read it as part of being a book reviewer for BAPCA (it should be in PCQ in this edition coming) and as a net result, asked my training institution to buy copies for the library, which they have. But the book talks about how to make decisions, and when decisions aren’t easy. It also discusses the difference between MAKING ethical decisions and CARRYING OUT ethical decisions (amongst other things). The title is somewhat dry, but the book is fascinating – it’s the most interesting ethics book I’ve read (and I have two other degrees in psychology, so I’ve read a few). It’s a theory-based book, from two therapists’ points of view, and gave me insight into my own processes.


When boundaries betray us however, is a very different book. Written by a feminist lesbian theologian and ordained priest, it documents the story from her point of view, as the client who decides that she would like to move to a friendship with her (lesbian) therapist after her therapy ends. The voice of the therapist is absent in this book, so it is entirely from the client’s point of view. And I find myself sympathising with the client AND with the therapist – I can see where boundaries are pushed, or not held as they might be, on both parts, and I can see wounding happening as well as healing. Of a lot of interest to me is the connection that is discussed a lot in the book. It isn’t what we might call ‘relational depth’ – it is an over-arching connection, rather than a specific one, and as a queer person with a queer therapist myself, and someone who experiences a ‘connection’ that they can’t quantify with their therapist, I wonder if it is the ‘queerness’ that makes it. If not, what does? There is a sharedness about it, an almost unspoken connection, certainly not quantified within the book.


The book is interesting in that it has forced me to look at my own relationship with my therapist. I kind of want to march in with the book, thrust it at her and demand to know if she’s read it. But then, I don’t want to worry her into wondering if I think our relationship is like that one, which ends on a Very Bad Note. But still – there is a conversation to be had. In truth, I noticed the issue with the connection before I read the book – in therapy last week it was in my head but I didn’t speak it. I wonder how many clients do not speak the connection with their therapists and let these go unsaid. I wonder how big an elephant this can become in therapy?

A second thought is about my own relationship with a client. I was poking around with the relationship in my recent supervision, when Fred kindly paved the way for me to see what I had been doing ‘wrong’ (I have an excellent supervisor; sometimes I dislike that fact!), and once I could see what  I was doing I was left with no personal choice but to address it. It involved putting the therapy relationship on the table and examining it with my client. That was *hard*. But the session that came after felt ‘better’ than previous ones. It remains to be seen what the long-term difference is, but that I had addressed it rather than leaving it as my own elephant is of great relief.




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Group process

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Water drop

Water drop (Photo credit: rxp90)


It occurs to me that I haven’t spoken much about the things i do and don’t like about training, so here’s a post on what I do like (undecided as to whether to do one about what I don’t, as yet!)

My training format is a three or four day weekend one week in six (on average). I travel up the night before (I am here currently) and stay in a room (which is beautiful) from Thurs-Sun, to save on travel. the M1 is never fun, and twice a day would be a nightmare.

My favourite part of the day is generally group process. My cohort is small. It was small at the start of the first year, and people have left, so now it’s smaller still. In many ways we seem quite close-knit, certainly within pockets we are, and so by and large group process is interesting.

I find it interesting that as a group we can coalesce on a subject and then move away from it. We can delve into something, or we can leave it. I am reminded of the Rogers story where he tells a group they can do whatever they like, and they gravitate to ‘chit-chat’ and he leaves. I think that that can and does happen within our group (and certainly we aren’t alone in that, I’ve been in other ‘group process’ type things where the exact same thing has happened), but I also think that we can and do stay with a subject even when that becomes big and hard and scary. We push, we receive, we pull. We run away, we come back. We dip a toe into the water, and go haring into the sea. We look away. We cry. We comfort and are comforted.


There are times when we are left alone, or feel left alone, or just ‘left’ within the group. Sometimes it takes weeks of meeting before we can see that that is the thing that has happened here. There is a feeling of ‘something’ in the air, but ethereal and we cant quite grasp it. For those of us more somatic, sometimes it can be concretely felt, but for those less so, there is a vagueness that infuriates, and we feel ourselves react to something that we cannot understand because we have no name for it. And then suddenly, for someone, it will crystallise, and there, THERE is that thing that we did not know we did not know. And it is staring us in the face and how could we have been so blind?


And we talk abut it. We feel it, we discuss. We relax and we hear. Sometimes we rage. We weep. We are stoic, yet our faces betray us. That one drop; that tiny thing that seemed almost ‘nothing’ can threaten to engulf us. But of course, if we can see the ripples that that tiny drop makes, we can defend by deconstructing. We can take the power out of the waves that are happening, and stop the forces that surround us. The water, eventually, becomes calm. And though it may take more than one day, more than one weekend, we walk away knowing that somehow, we are ‘more’ than when we came, although we don’t know quite how that happened.


And that’s what I love about group process.



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