Be the change you wish to see

i think I am probably going to do a couple of weeks on my experiences at the bapca conference. This one will be less about my personal experience and more about BAPCA.

Going back to ADPCA last year, I listened to some people say they didn’t feel safe with ‘some people’ at the conference. It seemed to be a long-standing thing and I had no idea who or what it referenced. As the ‘outsider’ (it was my first time) it engendered a feeling of unsafety for me, and also of rules that I didn’t know if I was breaking. I didn’t know if I was talking to the ‘wrong’ person, and I am concerned about my own safety with regards to who is safe or not to become close to.

At the BAPCA conference this year, someone was named in group as having had several inappropriate relationships where you might reasonably expect those not to happen (for example, as a counsellor, tutor, trainer, etc).  I have to be honest. My first two responses were a) relief that *something* was out in the open and b) a thought about whether that was (one of) who was being talked about last year. I don’t know the answer to that.

I saw the community rocked by this. It became clear that some people were on one side and some were on another. My question was about whether there was evidence- my concern was that as a ‘newbie’ I was listening to a narrative by one person about another person (who had chosen not to be present) involving other people (also not present) that I’d never met. It becomes difficult to make a judgement although I tend towards thinking that ‘a string’ of allegations leads to some important questions. I was told a statement was made by one person and that originally the BACP were approached with that. That’s enough for me. At that point, I have to say ‘I believe her’.

A different community I am part of had a similar conversation last year. A consent violation was alleged, and initially denied. Then, much like the Saville case (and seemingly every high profile case since), more and more people came out to say ‘me too’, over years, even (in my case) as the original victim was still being vilified publicly and privately. I know that because when I contacted them privately to say simply ‘I believe you’ that’s what I was told in return. Those consent violations had been happening for years. I had not known and I had been at very personal potential risk.

For me there is no fence to sit on. I must be on one side or the other, and it is unthinkable to me that I should be against a potential victim. It comes from personal experience. Seven years ago I experienced my own consent violation. Dealing with the aftermath literally nearly killed me- I was spiralling into suicide attempts, an eating disorder, a lot. I came out of it thanks to my family. My mum literally saved my life. But a few months later I started to hear rumours about myself from friends across the country (From Suffolk to Northamptonshire to the Midlands) that I was accusing the person of X and that I was lying. On finding the original source of the rumours, it was someone I had briefly met once and who after the fact had met him and they had become friends. And the reason I say ‘there is no fence’ is because the people who said to me ‘I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened, so I can’t say for sure’ essentially felt like they were saying ‘I don’t believe your experience is true’. For them, my aftermath meant nothing (I gave up my job, my home, my life and moved across the country to escape).

I cannot be that person. All the consent violations I have mentioned are different- I’m not equating any of them. But they are all deeply personal and involve a misuse of personal and structural power.

So, I was glad that the ‘rumour’ had names and dates. But it meant that BAPCA was now falling apart. I went to the ‘what’s next for BAPCA?’ meeting and also spoke to a few people and it was clear to me that there was some unease around the CG and processes. At the meeting, I was trying to decide whether or not to stand for the CG, when my friend spoke to stand. At that point I decided that I could too. I had not wanted to be the lone voice, but felt sure then, that on a lot of things I would not be the lone voice. So I have been co-opted on to the CG. I also know of one other person who definitely wants to be co-opted, and one who is saying she does (but I’ve had less specific conversation with her), and I think that the four of us are a) very different people to each other, but also b) very different people to many of the CG and I hope that it will provide a balance in processes.

I don’t know if this will be a long-term ‘staying’ for me or not. I am undecided on many things, but I also know that I do have a chance to change things- so I will take that opportunity up.

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Conference time!

it’s BAPCA’s person-centered conference tomorrow. I’m going and quite excited about it. It’s a conference on diversity and they are covering many areas that look interesting. I hope to learn a lot. 
I’ve asked them to put a space for pronouns on the badges and I hope people do use it. It would be amazing if I wasn’t the only ‘they’ present. We shall see. 
I’m also presenting at this conference, on kinky clients. It’s one of my pet areas so why not? It’s my first time presenting at a conference and I am somewhat apprehensive. I am just doing an ‘off the cuff’ thing because I think that’s how I work best at present, but I’ll be doing a conference write-up and will include some links in that for people. 
I’m camping, and happily for me, so are two of the people that I know best at the conference. I’m very excited!

Where to go?

I’ve been thinking about the direction to take this blog in. It’s been suggested to me that I blog around sexuality and gender, and on the one hand this really appeals to me. There aren’t many people out there visibly looking at therapy through an LGBT (or queer) lens, although I am sure that there are many people out there doing so less visibly.
On the other hand, it feels like a very personal thing to do. I would literally be outing myself all the time, in talking about lenses that affect me, and around training and therapy. I’m not a person who does a lot of putting their insides out (my partners will tell you that much also – also my therapist, I’m sure – were she not bound by ethics). So to take a risk and do that in a weekly blog feels like a big deal.
But yet, it’s alluring. Whilst at the same time, I don’t want to be the ‘expert’ on this, which might just be a lesson in my writing style. I tend to deliver authoritatively, when that wasn’t actually my intent, and people respond that way.
And again, I have the outness of ‘me’ to consider. Do I connect my blog with my studies (you can see from my twitter bio that I’m also doing a PhD; in a relevant area)? Do I name myself? I started off by definitely naming myself on my twitter, and then withdrew and changed that, and since then I’ve changed my actual name as well. But not for clients – there have been many decisions to make, and there will be more, I’m sure.
Can I be professionally but not personally me? Does a standpoint and an idea mean that it has to come from my personal lived experience? Or can it come from watching those around me and voicing their experiences (or my interpretation of those experiences)? What if clients find me? There’s a scary thing. I know some of my cohort follows me, and that’s strange (to know that ‘real life’ people are ‘watching’), and I would be ok I think, if they did. But I couldn’t be sure. I tend to write like no-one (except my training institution) is watching, otherwise I’d never write anything. I’m aware that sounds paranoid!
Right now, I can’t decide. Although I am tending towards not knowing what ELSE to do, except not blog. And I’m still new, and this is still new. It’s probably worth keeping and doing something with. Maybe?

The growth of my counselling service (creating your own placement)

I wanted to talk some about growing this counselling service. Except I’m not really sure how it happened. But what I do know is that I went from starting with one client a week in September 2013, and gradually moving up to two (My average was 1.5 clients a week for the first year), I was able to approach a counsellor I knew who also wanted to work in the areas of gender and sexual diversity and ask if she wanted to join me. I don’t actually know what her numbers were for that year, but I think from conversations, that they were much like mine. My supervisor spent much of my first year telling me that I should get a second placement, and eventually, in October of 2014, I moved my own placement down to one evening a week, and started working elsewhere one evening a week.

 

That seems to have mushroomed my service. From about November I’ve had an average of just under 4 clients a night here. My fellow counsellor averages about the same, and we have just taken on a new trainee who has started with two clients (and may move to more). From never having a waiting list, our waiting list hasn’t dropped under 5 in 6 months. I live in constant fear that it will.

 

Now we have left the umbrella of the service we were with and are applying to become our own charity. The paperwork is in, we have moved offices (to a much smaller room that feels much more cosy), and I feel like I’ve spent a LOT of money on chairs, room rent and electronic systems for us (some of these I have not yet spent – they are upcoming). There was clearly a need for this service in my local area given the wait – currently at four months, and the fact that in the last week I’ve had more than one person tell me they wish this service had been around for them when they needed it.

 

Not all institutions allow students to create placements. I’m lucky that mine did, otherwise I would probably not have been able to complete my course (I did not anticipate this complete lack of evening availability when I signed up), and I guess that this week what I’m saying is – if your course allows you to do it, and you have a specific area you want to work in that isn’t already covered locally, go for it! It helps if you have some marketing experience and the like, but my service has gone from non-existent to having seen well over 50 clients in two years (my numbers add up to just under 50 and I guess my co-counsellor’s will add up to less than that) and my average number of client sessions has gone up, from about 4, to about 10. I think that says something a) about my improving skills as a therapist and b) about the types of things that my clients feel able to bring. They certainly bring very different things now to what they were bringing a year ago. Maybe it’s just a standard thing – I don’t know yet, I’ve only been in practice two years. I saw my first client on the 24th Sep 2013, so just short of two years. And tonight, as my first night as ‘my own’ (there are four trustees; it is no longer ‘my’ counselling service, but it will always have been ‘my baby’) service in some way evokes all of that original process –How will it be? Will it work out?

 

I’m going with a ‘yes’!