Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: Burgo on Defences

Burgo, J (2012) Why Do I Do That: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives. Chapel Hill, NC: New Rise Press.

Joseph Burgo, psychotherapist and expert blogger, has written a readable, informative, and above all, useful account of our psychological defences - the lies we tell ourselves to avoid emotional pain. He has a gift - you can see it in his blog - to engage with the reader and tranform complex psychological phenomena into understandable and recognisable everyday human processes. This is a good trait in a psychotherapist. In a writer it means the insights of psychoanalysis are available to the reader and he or she can use the book's contents and exercises to begin some self-analysis. The book has helped me to understand the unhelpful ways I protect myself from emotional pain and the costs involved. It offers the possibility of choice - more enriching ways of relating and being in the world, ways that are more in touch with reality.

The defence mechanisms are unconscious and repeating patterns that keep our experience of self and others predictable and safe. Burgo writes about denial, splitting, idealisation and projection as means by which pain is avoided and distressing reality kept at bay through dissociation or by locating it elsewhere, particularly in others.

The book begins with a quiz inviting the reader to explore their own psychological make up and the defences that might accompany the different ways of being. After each chapter there are exercises to help the reader identify how each defence might be being deployed in his or her life. I have found it useful to keep a journal whilst reading the book, for my observations and as a place to do the exercises. As a result I have discovered interesting things about my own defences and learnt to be even more curious about the defences employed by my clients. Like Burgo I believe defences are a part of everyday life, to be expected, even appreciated, after all their intention is a positive one: learnt at times of great stress to keep us functioning; but at a cost and ultimately defences get in the way of seeing and engaging with the world as it really is.

So I can happily recommend Joe Burgo's book, without, I hope, idealising either the book or Joe!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Marsden Window

I hope you can see the photo I took today of the whiteboard I was using during some teaching and learning. I've called it The Marsden Window, with a nod to Joe and Harry of Johari Window fame. I'm never sure what the 'share' feature on my phone throws out.

Though The Marsden Window is not particularly original it was effective this morning in communicating an idea I wanted to get across to a great-to-be-with group of counselling students at the University Centre where I work.

One of the drawbacks of a skills based approach to counsellor training, and this has been identified by David Rennie in his book, Person Centred Counselling: an Experiential Approach, is that learners inevitably focus on their next intervention rather than the experience of the client or their connection with the client. Quite often learners resort to asking fairly random questions and once the questioning begins it can be difficult to stop. Turning a counselling session into an interview in which the responsibility for the session and its direction shifts from client to counsellor. This can have a negative impact on the client's autonomy, on the session's  emotional depth and on the quality of the connection between client and counsellor.

So I had a brainwave, drawing a window (a square with four quarters to it) on the whiteboard and writing: 'connect to self', 'connect to other', 'core conditions' and 'active listening' in the four compartments. After using this model for a few hours I added another element, drawing a thick black line around the window - the window frame - symbolising the time boundaries and ethical boundaries that must be in place when counselling.

The aim of this model is to shift the focus from doing active listening to being in relationship with the client.

This is achieved by the counsellor connecting first of all to their own feelings and process. To achieve this the counsellor might ask, 'How am I feeling in this moment?' or 'How am I feeling today?' The effect of this is to centre the counsellor or connect the counsellor to his or her feelings and gives the counsellor an opportunity to put difficult feelings to one side and hopefully become more emotionally available, more able to sense the feelings of the client. Students found this very helpful and there was a strong sense of the sessions slowing down and the counsellors becoming more thoughtful. Also cliens became tearful and more emotional and in feedback said they felt supported, listened to and accepted.

The next stage of the model sees the counsellor connect with his or her client. Here the opening question is important and ideally invites the client to do what the counsellor had just done: connect to process and feelings and join the counsellor in this 'place of feelings'.

The next part of the model acknowledges the importance of Rogers' core conditions: the importance of empathic understanding, of accepting and prizing the client, or more importantly of the client feeling accepted and prized.

Then we arrive at active listening, but there is a greater chance that this active listening emerges out of a deep rapport with the client and is imbued with the core conditions.

When using this model I observed a qualitative difference in the way students were listening to each other and a move towards the bellybutton-to-bellybutton communication I was looking for.

I'm going to keep reflecting on the teaching and learning of counselling. A recent Higher Education Academy Report states there is little evidence on the best ways of teaching and learning counselling. It fits also with the research aims of UCBC where I work.

Thanks to the four students I worked with today. I learnt a lot.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Return of the Blog

It's been a while since I posted anything on this blog. First there was the pressure of work and then the summer weather was gorgeous and I needed to rest after an intense year of teaching. So I left my desk for the great outdoors - St Anne's on Sea, Morecambe and the local park - where I relaxed and read books unrelated to counselling and mental health. Or so I thought, but as one of my ace students pointed out, Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier and Syvia Plath's The Bell Jar are all psychology related. Plath's novel, by the way, is not only brilliant but as compelling a description of major depression and post traumatic stress as I have ever encountered.
So, away from my desk, I stopped blogging, tweeting, scooping and all those other social media verbs and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. But now I'm back in the saddle, and like John Wayne in The Searchers, I'm going to hunt down some ideas and present them in future blogs for my own enjoyment and yours too. That might be the first time I have addressed 'the reader' directly (her name's Amanda).
Farewell for now, I hope you all had a pleasant summer and if any of my new students are visiting this site, welcome aboard!

Friday, 1 March 2013

A New NLP Book is Published

Looks like there's a new NLP book out. Stan Rockwell has reviewed the recently published, NLP: The Essential Guide to Neuro Linguistic Programming at the @PsychCentral blog. You can read the review here. I trotted along to and found the book on sale for £7.58, which is pretty good value for a 464 page book. Conveniently I only remembered my self-imposed moratorium on book purchases after the thing was bought and leaving the Amazon depot.

Rockwell gives a pretty positive review; he does comment on the amount of jargon filling the pages and that can't be denied; but he he goes on to say that he's been using the techniques described in the book and doing the exercises and they've been working for him. My criticism here is that yet again we have a book re-packaging NLP as an easy guide. 

What we actually need is someone developing new models, researching the effectiveness of what we already have or applying NLP in new and interesting contexts - as my friend and colleague Chris Mitchell does in her excellent Behaviour Management Toolkit reviewed by me here. I seem to remember John Grinder, one of the co-founders of NLP, talking in a YouTube clip of the need to 'replenish the well'. It's a good metaphor, as you would expect from Grinder, because of course if everyone draws water and the well is not replenished then eventually the well runs dry.

I've been having a fun time with NLP at the moment. I'm teaching the principles of NLP and drawing on my experience of using NLP as a therapist to groups of psychology students at the college where I work. Teaching this stuff has really helped me reach an even better understanding of NLP. In particular I'm really appreciating the 'explanatory power' of the approach when, for example, the class and I explore the psychology of negative emotional states - often called 'disorders' - though 'differently ordered' might be a better term; and I'm appreciating the creativity of NLP and the strengths based approach to therapeutic work: helping clients to access resources and creating choice about how they'd like to feel.