Sunday, March 20, 2011

Coping With Change

For everyone whose lives have taken a sudden turn in the recent past (and isn't that most of us?) here, below, are a few points about change, and coping with it - that you might find of some interest.

Also; for those who are finding their way to my blog for the first time: there is a new section with information about Depression and Anxiety (and a simple relation method to try) on the link above. More information about me and my counselling services are in the right hand column and in the pages above.


Coping With Change

1) Expect a reaction
People often say: ‘I don’t know why it’s affected me so much’, and criticise themselves for crying, laughing, or feeling moody. All these, and every other emotion, are normal in the face of change – any change.

2) Let yourself grieve
Change, no matter how good it is, means loss. When something in your life changes you lose the old way of being or the old set of circumstances. And loss means grief and nostalgia.

3) Go with the flow
Resist and be rigid in the face of change and it will be a lot more painful. The secret is to be flexible and you can ride it out more easily. Think of yourself like a boat in a storm. Turn a

4) Hang onto the familiar
If the change is big then keep up many familiar things as you can – and remind yourself of how much in your life isn’t changing. Stick to your usual routines, see people you normally see, and reassure yourself that not everything has to change just because some things have.

5) Get support
Don’t try to cope alone or keep your feelings to yourself. Talk about it, have a hug, a laugh, a cup of tea and a bit of reassurance. Being brave doesn’t always mean managing alone, it may mean finding the courage to ask for help.

6) Divide it up
When possible divide bigger changes into smaller steps. For instance, a house move, a wedding or a divorce involves several stages. When you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the change, concentrate on the step you’ve reached, rather than the bigger picture.

7) Find the good in it
Some changes feel awful – death, illness, financial loss and many others can feel like the end of the world. Sometimes you have to look very hard to find the blessing in such changes, but there always is one. It’s through change that we grow wiser and stronger and learn to make better decisions.

8) Know that it will end
All change comes to an end when the new circumstances are in place and become familiar to you.
Every change, no matter how big, will end and you’ll return to a feeling of normality. Keep this in mind when you feel as though you’re in the middle of a bumpy ride.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It may be "new", but is it better?

A few thoughts on the need for change for its own sake...which could be applied to counselling and supervision, and which seem appropriate on the "day that's in it", as I write (Polling Day in Ireland).

I'm in a fairly remote part of Mid West Ireland. We have had no "proper" (as in well-known provider) broadband facility, until earlier this month - and I have been using a locally owned wireless broadband service. I've had it for 3 years, and it's only really been working well for the last 3 months, after they added an American-made "bullet" to the dish, which amplifies the signal I receive from a mast about 10 miles away.

Then, last week, I got a flier in the letter box saying that "The National Broadband Scheme" had arrived in my area (it was vaunted all over the press about 4 years ago). It's a service that uses a plug-in modem from 3G and the mast is less than 3 miles from my house, high on a hill. The monthly charge is half the cost of my current service. I rang the call centre (it's in India) and was told that the connection would be "excellent", given my proximity to the mast. What did I have to lose? I signed-up over the phone and the modem arrived on Tuesday.

I've just got back from the post office, having returned the modem and cancelled my direct debit for the 3G service - and I'm glad I didn't cancel my existing ISP. The "excellent" coverage is extremely slow, jerky and nowhere near as good as the existing one (which can still be pretty poor on a bad day).

So much for the much-vaunted National Broadband Scheme, and my high expectations of it. Just because something is new and "hyped-up" doesn't mean it's going to be better than what you have already. Similarly, if something is familiar and the shine has worn off it a bit, it doesn't mean it's not worth having.

Perhaps counselling clients feel that way about you, especially if they've been attending for several months. They could be swayed with views about the "new kid on the block", who worked wonders for Auntie Joan. You might be thinking that about your supervision, too, and be filled with envy about your colleague who claims to have struck gold by finding the world's best supervisor.

If something isn't working, you may need to see if it can be fixed before you throw it out and look for the reasons why it's not working anymore - and this may be particularly valid if it was working and has now stopped.

Perhaps the least useful thing to do is immediately find a replacement, just because it sounds better. Because, you might end up gong to the metaphorical post office and sending it back within a week!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Integrity over Solvency?

Or..."Should you put ethics before economics?"

I did something the other day that I may live to regret. But if I do live to regret it, it will only be because I've run out of milk and I can't afford to buy another carton, or the electricity might be cut off because I didn't pay the bill. And, even then I'll only be broke and hungry.

What I actually did doesn't really need to be repeated here right now - but the consequences are that I will have to forgo a significant amount of income, until the income stream that I lost (or gave up - depending on your point of view) is replaced.

What I felt I did, generally, was stand up for a principle. The principle (or at least my principle) is that counselling should be carried by people who are committed to it, who have ethical and moral values that they live up to and who have the best interests of their clients at heart. Now, we can all say that, can't we? In fact, if there is anyone who reads this who doesn't say that, then they are already on the wrong website - but are at least being honest with themselves.

I gave up a "nice little earner" - as a UK TV show used to say - because I felt that a small minority of the people I was dealing with were not being honest with themselves about their personal commitment to counselling. Those people put their bank balances and their personal lives before their client. This resulted, directly and indirectly, in extremely distressed and vulnerable clients being neglected, overlooked and not managed appropriately.

When the time came to "blow the whistle" I found myself on the end of a firmly closed rank, and very much the "person in the wrong" (it's a long story - and no doubt, one with several sides to it).

When I think about "did I do the right thing", I don't think about my bank balance, or my personal life. I think "who did I let down" by not staying in a situation that was (in view) toxic and which seems to have no hope of immediate recovery. That genuinely is a source of regret and there are some good people out there that I won't be working with any longer.

But, as self-righteous as it sounds, I feel that there are some situations that are so wrong, that to even try and defend onself against them is wrong in itself.

Grouch Marx said..."I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member".

That's fair enough and, sometimes, for the sake of doing the right thing, I feel that I have to leave one. I hope those I left behind feel that is fair enough, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Application of Knowledge and Skills

There is an old, and probably apocryphal, story about a very wealthy businessman whose great love in life was paddle steamboats. This man was so rich that he had managed to accrue a small but nevertheless very costly collection of antique paddle steamers, all very old and mainly acquired in the Mississippi Delta, and conveyed to the river near his home at considerable further expense.

However, this particular multi-millionaire was also not rash about spending money - and even though he liked to indulge his hobby, he certainly didn't want to think that he wasn't spending his money wisely.

The day came when his favourite steamboat stopped working. The engine ground to a sudden halt, and the paddle stopped turning and the man was beside himself with dismay. "Get me the best paddle steamboat engineer in the world and get them here fast!" he called to his assistant. As it happened, the best paddle steamboat engineer in the world lived around the corner from the millionaire and a car was sent to fetch him that very afternoon.

The engineer, a wizened old man of about 83, stepped onto the boat, went straight down to the engine room and busied himself by feeling along the rusty and creaking old steam pipes with his hands. After about 15 minutes of carefully inspecting the tired old pipes with his tired old hands, he stopped. While leaving one hand on a particular spot on a pipe he took out of his pocket what looked like a thin metal hammer as used for cracking nuts, lifted his other hand off the pipe and struck it deftly, once with the hammer. With a mighty cough, the old steamboat clanked back into life and chugged away as strongly as it ever had. The engineer smiled at the businessman and handed him a piece of paper saying "my invoice".

The businessman, who was also smiling looked at the invoice and his smile turned into a frown. "Ten thousand dollars!" he cried "are you serious? All you did was hit a pipe with a small hammer!".

"Oh, I'm sorry", said the engineer, "let me itemize the invoice for you properly" - and scribbled this on the paper with a pencil:

For hitting the pipe with a hammer: 1 dollar.
For knowing exactly where to hit the pipe with a hammer: 9999 dollars.

Counsellors, therapists and clinical supervisors amass a great deal of knowledge during their trainings and then while carrying out their clinical work. But that knowledge, of itself, is useless if you don't know precisely when and how to apply it in practice.

The really good practitioners are the ones who know just how to hit the pipe in the right spot. They may not always be as expensive as those who don't - but they really should be highly valued.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inception - A New Way to Understand Dreaming?

Last night I had a dream that I went to the cinema for the first time in neary 12 months. I sat in a large, spacious auditorium, with a massive, crystal clear screen, state-of-the-art cine projectors and a sound system to make the road crew of U2 green with envy.

In this glorious movie-drome, I watched the latest Hollywood blockbuster Inception, one of the most visually dazzling movies of the 21st century, and I sat there awe-inspired and enraptured with the rest of the audience, from the opening credits to the final frame of the last reel.

Well, that was the dream. The reality was that I did go to the cinema to watch Inception last night, but it was shown in a tiny projection room probably best used for preview screens or art-house movies in foreign languages, on a screen that seemed barely bigger than my TV set at home, and through a lens that had a very large white mark, that covered about 1/3rd of the centre of the screen. The picture jumped around the screen, there was constant scratch line running down the right hand side of the image, and the sound was so thin that a rustle of a sweet paper 5 rows ahead of me almost drowned out the dialogue. The audience (not more than 15 people) got so bored with the show that at least 2 of them got out their iPods and started chatting online.

Now to the movie itself. It may have been visually stunning - and I have to admit that I was impressed with some of what I saw on the screen - although I would have been more impressed if I could see it properly. But I was not impressed with the Hollywood mumbo-jumbo that passed for dream psychology. OK, it was only a movie but instead of wallowing in Christopher Nolan's latest blockbuster, I found myself getting more and more irritated by what I saw as 2010's biggest load of cinematic codswallop, so far. We'll all have our opinions on the movie, and they may differ widely - and that's fair enough.

And, the interpretation of dreams in counselling and their significance for the client is also an area of wide debate amongst counsellors and psychotherapists. Some say that dreams are important areas for discussion and should be actively addressed - the client should be asked to write down a dream, if they remember it and encouraged to discuss it in the session. Others say that dreams should only be discussed if the client specifically wants to discuss them, and others say they have no place at all in the counselling room.

Some say that the dreams themselves have very specific meanings, and others say that the dream needs to be interpreted only by the client - and what makes sense to them is the real interpretation. The viewpoints will, of course, vary depending on the models of therapy being used by the therapist.

To get you started on reading about dream interpretation, I have added 2 more PDF's to the Therapy Resources page. One is the full text of Sigmund Freud's classic (1910) book "The Interpretation of Dreams" and the other is a chapter on Gestalt dream interpretation from a much more recent book (2006) by Fredick L Coolidge "Dream Interpretation as a Psychotherapeutic Technique". I hope you find them interesting. Whether they make any more sense than the screenplay of "Inception" is something you may prefer to decide for yourself.

As for the movies - I complained about my experience and got complimentary tickets for another film. I think I'll try Fritz Lang's black and white silent movie classic: Metropolis (1927). At least I won't have to worry about the dialogue not making any sense.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Flying Solo - Not to be Advised for Pilots or Counsellors

According to yesterday's The Independent newspaper, Ryanair's Chief Executive Michael O'Leary has said he will be writing to the aviation authorities to ask permission to use only one pilot per aircraft on short-haul flights.

Mr O'Leary's logic is that the additional co-pilot is superfluous in modern jets - and it will save his airline money to eject them. He went so far as to say that the second pilot was only there to "make sure the other fella didn't fall asleep and knock over the controls". Mr Leary backed up his argument by saying that trains only had a single driver, at times, and this could cause a crash if the driver had a heart attack.

He went on to say that in 25 years, wtih over 10 million flights, Ryanair had only one recorded incident of a pilot having a heart attack - and he managed to land the plane safely.

It got me thinking about counselling practice and the need for a "co-pilot" in the form of a clinical supervisor. Maybe it is just a waste of experienced and qualified personnel - not to mention the supervisee's hard-earned cash - to fly the "plane" - being the client in metaphorical terms.

After all, not many client's really "crash" that badly, do they? And when they do there's not really that much of a bang. I was once told that no one had ever been sued for counselling malpractice in Ireland - so let's face it, even if there is a crash the dust cloud will probably pass over our heads.

I hear of counsellors flying their own "planes" all of the time. I have even heard of counselling students who have never had the benefit of clinical supervision. So it must be OK to risk it alone in the therapeutic skies - mustn't it?

To Mr O'Leary: the day you stop putting co-pilots into your aircraft is the day I stop flying on your aircraft. It's unsafe, it's bad practice and two heads are far better than one. The passengers feel safer and the whole trip is likely to be smoother and less fraught with stress, anxiety and panic.

To all counsellors not using supervision - consider becoming cabin crew.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who is Clinical Supervision For?

The other day, I gave a full day lecture on using clinical supervision in counselling and psychotherapy and I think it went well, overall.

It was just that, right at the end of the day, a student, whom I hadn't met for about 5 years when he attended an "Introductory Counselling Workshop" told me that he had been receiving clinical supervision for the past 4 years and that -contrary to the point I had been pressing home since the start of my lecture - he had been given to understand that it had nothing to do with the well-being of the client, but that it was purely about the development of the supervisee.

I have to say that, even after more than 20 years as a lecturer in the field (and occasionally in the classroom) I'm still pleased that I can have an open mind to an alternative viewpoint. In this case, though, I was a little "thrown" by the point being made, especially as it was done with the type of certainty only found in the most inexperienced professionals.

I was even more disconcerted by the fact that I had spent at least 2 hours offering up definitions and models of clinical supervision that hopefully left no-one in any doubt that the process was aimed at ensuring the best possible clinical practice was present when the practitioner met the client.

The problem with jargon is that it can be used to mean whatever you want it to mean. In the fields of counselling and mental health work phrases like "supervision", "mentoring", "personal development" and "professional development" get thrown around and mixed up faster and more vigorously than the plastic numbered balls in a Lotto machine.

The way I was taught to understand the meaning of the term "clinical supervision" is quite literal:

Clinical - "Of or relating to the bedside of a patient, the course of his disease, or the observation and treatment of patients directly: a clinical lecture ; clinical medicine" and Supervision - 1. "To direct or oversee the performance or operation of", 2. "To watch over, so as to maintain order, etc."(Both definitions from

So, my understanding of clinical supervision is that it directly relates to the treatment of patients (clients) and is used to oversee the work of the trainee or inexperienced (or sometimes highly experienced) practitioner - whether they may be a counsellor, psychotherapist, nurse, doctor or other health worker - while they are actively engaged in client work.

it's not always about maintaining order, and it is sometimes about the practitioner directly - but at the end of clinical supervision - at least when I do it - is always a client, and their best interests.

Browse the static pages above to find out more about what clinical supervision is and how it works.