The S… Word

Beware: Hard-hitting questions ahead….

Have you ever thought about suicide?

Not about actually doing it (though perhaps you have?), but thought about it in terms of when someone else tells you they are feeling like ending it all?

What do you feel about someone taking that action for him/herself?

How might you even start to assess the risk factors for that person?

And what if the client in front of you tells you that it’s the end for them?

What buttons does that press for you personally?

Many years ago I worked with Samaritans and we often commented that those who talk about it, rarely actually do it. It’s the ones who don’t talk about it, who go through with it.

Now I realise this is difficult territory, and particularly if you have been to that point yourself.

But if the thought of working with these elements feels too risky for you, then it will undoubtedly feel too risky for your client to talk to you about as well.

Take a moment to reflect on how you feel. What do you believe for yourself about suicide? How might you manage those feelings and your responses to your client? How you will work with the rest of the session? And how you will work through what is next in your client’s process?

It’s BIG stuff. But so is life. And death. And this is the stuff of therapy rooms.

Before Christmas I was reading an online article entitled “Breaking the Stigma” which focussed on enabling people to talk much more about suicidal thoughts and actions.

What would it feel like for you, to specifically ask your client if they feel suicidal?

I haven’t ever considered taking my own life. But I have worked with those who have, both in thought and action.

It’s part of life.

So how are you feeling right now, reading and thinking about this process?

What about the S word….?

For you? For your client? For your clinical work?

What do you need for yourself right now? How will you meet that need for yourself?

Take Care.

A Leftover Christmas Story…

Oh, I know….” A leftover Christmas Story”….and it’s getting towards Easter!

It all came about after I read an online article about a farmer with a flock of turkeys. (What’s a group of turkeys called?!). His sheepdog was used to cattle, but the turkeys needed some different management.

So the farmer trained his sheepdog to herd the turkeys round the fields and barns to maintain his stock levels for Christmas.

He had to teach an old dog new tricks…

He had to work with what he had in order to achieve a new goal.

So, just perhaps we can apply that to ourselves. When was the last time you taught yourself a new skill? When was the last time you set yourself a completely new goal, or took on learning something completely different for you?

Currently, I am thinking about moving house to be closer to family. Now this is definitely not something I was anticipating for myself at all. Moving house is big business. And it would mean moving to an area of the country I have never lived in before. And it all seems to take so much energy, thought, preparation, planning, and new processes.

But, circumstances change. The farmer diversified from cattle to turkeys and had to find new ways of working and managing his new venture.

CBT is a therapeutic approach that supports us in changing and managing our ways of working. Coaching supports us in setting our own goals and finding ways of achieving them.

So when something new is on the horizon, there is always support around, be it skills and techniques to enable us to achieve our goals in practical terms; family and friends to support us in our personal process; or our own inner awareness and insight to move us forward to the next stage for us.

My “rafter of turkeys” (I looked it up!) task is about moving house.

What’s yours?

Food For Thought

On a recent long cross-country coach journey, I found myself sitting behind someone who, at the start of the journey, was having a long conversation on her mobile. She had one of those voices that carried the length of the bus, and inevitably, after some time listening to all the details, I found myself getting weary, irritated and more than a little fed up.

We’ve all been there!

However, it also got me thinking about times in a therapeutic session when the client might relate a story I struggle to listen to. It’s entirely boring. Or it’s been repeated innumerable times. Or it’s one of those stories where I simply lose the thread…

So – if the story has that effect on me, it probably has the same effect on others close to that person. What response does s/he get from those around? My response in the therapeutic space needs to be different.

If my mind wanders onto my “to do” list, or my own issues, how much does my process reflect the process of others for that person when they tell their story?

When I recognise that process, if I bring myself back into the present with the other person and their story, I can start to focus on their need in telling the story over and over.

What is it that they are gaining here? How can I enable them to recognise that need for themselves and then meet that need from within?

Perhaps, equally significantly, what am I missing from the story, so that it needs a constant re-telling?

How can I convey my physical and emotional responses to the other person in a way that enables them to reflect on the processes as well?

Obviously sitting on a coach or train is a different situation, and when the person in the seat in front of me finished their conversation, there was an almost audible sigh of relief from the whole coach!

And, yes – you guessed it – there was a tangible sharp intake of breath from the whole coach, when part way through the journey she had another phone conversation….you get the picture!

Food for thought.

Now What…

OK – so you’ve left your old job. Or you’ve come to the end of therapy. Or training. Or you have moved house. Or left a relationship. Or it’s the end of the old year and the start of the new year. Now what?

Beginnings and endings. Both are intricately and intimately connected.

T S Eliot (in Little Gidding) wrote: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

Most of us stop there in remembering the quote, but Eliot continues later….

“………..We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. “

Each session of therapy or coaching; each morning and night; each breath in and out. These are all beginnings and endings.

So if beginnings and endings are so very constant in our lives, why do we often get so upset, fearful, panicked? How do we feel so challenged?

Beginnings and endings essentially are change, and the fear of change weighs heavy at different stages of life and different times of year; at our experience of different life events. And, of course, whether we have initiated the change or had it thrust upon us.

Beginnings and endings are the stuff of therapy rooms the world over.

Eliot’s quote almost sounds as though we are going round in circles though…”..the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…”

But – and it’s a big but – even if we are at the “same” place, we face it with more experience than before. On our way there, we will have learned new things about ourselves and others; we will have had new experiences; seen and heard different things.

So I think of it more as a spiral rather than a circle. Each turn of the circle leads us into a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around.

Endings and beginnings.

What have you learned along the way to where you are right now?

What next for you?

Inside Counselling…

I considered a number of different titles for this particular Blog initially. However, having decided it wasn’t really to do with “Self Assessment” (ie Tax Returns) or “More Than” (ie Insurance), I settled on “Inside Counselling”.

Except of course, counselling is absolutely “more than” listening to another person talk about themselves and their life……and even more absolutely about self assessment in terms of personal awareness, insight, development and understanding!

How many times have you heard someone comment “Nice job – I wish I could get paid for just sitting in a chair listening to someone else.”

The problem with counselling is that if you only sit in a chair listening to someone else, you really aren’t engaging with the real work of counselling.

When you get inside counselling, it is so much more than that.

So, what’s it really all about?

Well, obviously, sitting in a chair listening to someone is an essential and important part of the job, and it takes great skill to focus entirely on the other person and their story for an hour at a time. Listening with a focus and purpose. Using skills of reflection and working with empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard.

But it is also more than that, in that there has to be a continuing process of self assessment in terms of awareness, parallel process, boundaries, ethics, transference, collusion, sabotage, projection, emotional responses etc etc.

How well are you able to focus entirely on the other person and what they are saying for one whole hour without fidgeting or losing track of their words or story, ignoring the shopping list and the items on your “to do” list, putting aside your own experiences, not sharing personal information, not forgetting the names of their children or what happened when, and managing your own emotions in response to your own experience or the fact that your buttons are being pressed in a big way?

How well are you able to engage in a transparent sharing of your own thoughts and process in relation to the work with a client? How much are you able to take constructive criticism, guidance, supervision of all aspects your clinical work and the points where your personal life and experiences impact on that process?

I borrowed the title of this Blog from a book* I bought very early on in my training. Not on any course book list that I have experienced, first published over 20 years ago now, but certainly not out of date.

If you still think counselling is all about sitting in a chair listening to people, then it’s time to think again.

If you want to explore more than simply listening, sign up for an introductory online course and engage with a much deeper process for yourself.

If you really want to get inside counselling, and are prepared for a challenging read, then get the book…

*Inside Counselling by Anthony Crouch. Sage Publications 1997

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