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

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Gore Vidal Obituary

The American writer Gore Vidal died on 31 July 2012 at the age of 86. And finally I have a Sunday free so I can reflect on his life and pay tribute to the great man of American letters. Gore Vidal was a hero of mine. I admired his intellect and wit, his brilliant essays, interviews and liberal politics. He was urbane but with an acerbic edge. Vidal had the courage of his convictions and over a long life relished his battle with the American right in all its political, social and religious manifestations.

Gore Vidal's literary output was prodigious: essays, novels, novellas, plays, screenplays and memoirs. His novels varied in quality. The historical novels Burr, Lincoln, Creation and Julian are excellent because Vidal is an expert at combining history with characterisation to produce a compelling narrative.

His satirical novellas Duluth and Myra Breckinridge are wonderfully shocking and funny; but for me Live from Golgotha and The Smithsonian Institution, like some of his other novels (The Judgment of Paris and Messiah) fall flat. But even so there is something very touching in The Smithsonian Institution. Vidal's main character is a young physics genius working on the neutron bomb and time travel. He uses his time travelling discoveries to visit the battlefield of Iwo Jima and rescue his friend, a young marine killed there.  A moving piece of wish fulfilment this: Vidal's friend, an eighteen year old marine called Jimmy Trimble died at Iwo Jima in 1945 and Vidal grieved his loss for the rest of his life.

Jimmy Trimble also features in The City and the Pillar (1948), an unflinching account of a young gay man's life and his ultimately destructive attachment to his best friend. It's a remarkably frank account now but in 1948 the book caused a storm. Vidal says he was faced with a difficult choice contemplating its publication: he could pursue the political career he wanted, Vidal's grandfather was a United States Senator, or he could publish the book and be damned. He chose the latter course and was subsequently shunned by the establishment and the right-wing press in particular - the battlelines were drawn! Vidal went on to run for high office on the Democratic Party ticket but was unsuccessful. 

Gore Vidal was a good novelist; but, as Martin Amis has said, it's as an essayist that Vidal approaches greatness. He was a master of the wicked turn of phrase, the put-down, the metaphor that sums up an enemy in the most unflattering terms possible. He drew on a vast knowledge of history, politics and literature. Vidal was a voracious reader, a habit that began when he was six, reading to his blind grandfather, Senator Gore of Oklahoma. In his scathing attacks on American foreign policy Vidal drew particularly on classical history, likening the post-war 'security-state' and it's interventions abroad to the late Roman Empire. Vidal mourned the passing of the republic, arguing that the Founding Fathers would not recognise the America of Nixon and Bush. 

In recent years I enjoyed watching videos of Vidal on YouTube and on Websites run by public service television stations in the United States. His legendary row with the sneering William F. Buckley is there and a near punch up too with Norman Mailer. I shall be watching them again, but this time with some sadness rather than relish. As The Economist says, the passing of Vidal really is the passing of an era. I'm now going to visit Amazon to plug the gaps in my Gore Vidal library and I've added some links below for those who would like to read more about Gore Vidal.

Gore Vidal Obituaries

Friday, 17 August 2012

Taming the Black Dog

A friend and counselling colleague gave me a copy of Taming the Black Dog. I'm often on the look out for self-help books I can recommend to my clients. Something to replace the classic by Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. Published in 2004 and written by Patrick Ellverton, Taming the Black Dog is a guide to beating depression, the Black Dog of the title.

Ellverton's book does contain a lot of good advice about healthier eating, exercise and the benefits of keeping a daily log. Ellverton recommends finding a mentor and writes admiringly  about his own source of  inspiration, Winston Churchill. There's advice on creating a daily regime of walking and prayer (or meditation) to 'restore the balance' and keep the black dog at bay. There's also advice on alcohol misuse whilst another section contains a twenty minute exercise routine. The guidance I personally found most useful was the recommendation to spend time in the evening planning the next day's tasks.

Ellverton's advice is rooted in a lifetime of coping with depression. Ellverton was an army officer and this too is reflected in his book. You can see from the description I've given that the book has a 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' quality. He eschews counselling as tending to do more harm than good, though he offers a counselling service on his website.

I suspect Ellverton sees counselling as backward looking - a fruitless examination of unhappy past experiences likely to make depression worse. It's certainly true that rumination is a big part of depression and in my work as a counsellor I don't encourage clients to constantly dwell on their misery. I seek to acknowledge distressing memories and current unhappiness but recognise too the client's heroic side and the possibility of change.

Ellverton sees medication as a way of managing the symptoms of depression in the short-term whilst the depressed person makes changes to his or her thinking, behaviour and lifestyle. I have sympathy with that view and the need for lifestyle changes.

So Ellverton advocates a set of new habits: walking, exercise, playing a musical instrument, prayer, healthy eating and sobriety 'to keep the black dog in its kennel'. Anyone who likes this approach and can follow his prescription will find Ellverton's book helpful - replacing the behaviours that maintain depression with new behaviours that promote good mental health. The only problem is that depression tends to take away the motivation and will power needed to  make these changes. If that's the case for you then maybe some kind of therapy might be helpful.

Taming the Black Dog is available on Amazon here 

Friday, 10 August 2012

NLP In Blackburn

I facilitated three days training in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) last weekend. I was with my friend and fellow NLPer Cath Birtwistle at the University Centre at Blackburn College. We got some great feedback from our trainees in what turned out to be a fantastic training experience on a hot and sunny weekend. Coming home in the evenings to see our Olympians win multiple gold medals was surely the icing on the cake! In this post I want to publish some links to my favourite NLP resources on the Web.

NLP Links

Andy Bradbury has provided a collection of insightful NLP book reviews at Honest Abe's NLP Emporium

The Anglo-American Book Company is a good place to go for NLP books including those by Crown House Publishing

The Association of NLP is one of the UK's leading organisations for the promotion and regulation of NLP

INLPTA is the International NLP Trainers Association and certify training around the world

I learnt most about modelling from David Gordon, his website is here: Expanding Your World

One of the wonderful out-growths of NLP is Symbolic Modelling and Clean Language, modelled on the work of the late David Grove by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley.

For NLP training in Lancashire - Diploma, Practitioner and Master Practitioner courses - you can check out Chris and Glenda Grimsley at: The Insit2te for NLP for Public Services

Robert Dilts the NLP developer has published lots of resources at his NLP University website.

My friend Fran Burgess, author of The NLP Cookbook has a website called The NLP Kitchen

Another friend, Chris Mitchell has successfully used NLP with disaffected young people and you can see how by reading her book The Behaviour Management Toolkit

Another of NLP's developers is Steve Andreas, you can see some of his videos at his YouTube site: NLPComprehensive