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

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Value of an Introductory Course in Counselling

I've delivered about fifteen basic counselling courses over the last five years and they're my favourite courses to deliver. It's because of the transformation I see in people, and in such a short period of time. Individuals who once constantly butted in with their own stuff are able to put on hold their need to dominate conversations and interrupt with questions and advice. Other participants, who used to be 'miles away' and pretending to listen, are able to focus on the speaker's experience and listen with empathy and compassion.

Typically, participants begin by learning how to refrain - from interrupting, giving advice, offering 'fixes' or asking too many questions. They learn about mirroring and how to build rapport. Then comes the use of active listening skills - like paraphrasing, reflecting feelings and summarising. The aim is for learners to be fully present when listening and it's a challenge because out there in the 'real' world hardly anybody is really listening. One of the things my students always comment on is their realisation that their colleagues, friends and family do not listen.

So this month I've been assessing my latest two groups and as usual I've been deeply impressed by their use of skills. It makes me think that communication skills ought to be part of the National Curriculum or a module on every FE and HE course going. In my fantasy that would lead to better relationships and fewer crimes.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Dorothy McGregor

On Friday afternoon I travelled over to Maundy Grange in Accrington. It must be four or five years since I last visited. Maundy Grange is a charity staffed by dozens of volunteers and managed by the truly amazing Dorothy McGregor. The Charity provides food packages, clothes and furniture, counselling and spiritual support to local people in need. Dorothy must be eighty years of age now, but she still works every day from early morning to late evening, running Maundy Grange and providing immediate practical, emotional and spiritual help to the disadvantaged and poor. She is an anchorite, a Catholic nun with the name Sister Benedicta. In her long life she has worked as a probation officer - for twenty-five years - in the days when that role was about welfare rather than punishment. Before that she was a midwife and a mental health nurse. Public service is the theme when considering Dorothy's career. Now she lives her Mission in the community, with a philosophy of unconditional love. Dorothy is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we identify our purpose in life. I am sure it's that and her deep Christian Faith that keeps this tiny woman going - along with cups of coffee and bowls of thin soup - and I say tiny, but what an enormous presence she has!

I first met Dorothy in the year 2000 when she took me on as a volunteer counsellor at Maundy Grange. I was training as a counsellor at Blackburn College with two outstanding teachers, Tony Cook and Liz Rice and I needed a placement. I stayed for about five years, getting involved in the management of the charity, writing bids and managing projects. Eventually I disagreed with my fellow trustees about the direction of the charity and gradually gave up my responsibilities and left. On reflection that turned out well for me as it freed up some time and enabled me to set up my own counselling practice. Whilst I worked at Maundy I was proud to consider myself one of Dorothy's 'right-hand men'. The fact is that Dorothy inspires total loyalty and even now I'd come running if I heard the call!

So on Friday I took along a student of mine and introduced him to Dorothy, hoping she could help him in his search for a placement. Of course she did and he was delighted. It was a moving experience for me, here I am with students of my own, sorting out placements. Time passes. Dorothy looked older of course but the inner beauty, the compassion and the resilience were still there. We sat together and I fell in love with with this amazing woman again, as I do each time I meet her, and as I did when I first met her twelve long years ago.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Andrew Flintoff, Dean Windass & the Mental Health of Men

Watching Andrew Flintoff's programme on depression in sport last week was both moving and encouraging. As I watched I thought that social attitudes to men's mental health might be changing. How refreshing that sporting heroes like Flintoff were willing to talk openly about their own experiences of depression. It was the kind of reaction I'd hoped for following the very sad death of the Wales manager, Gary Speed, last year. Other sportsmen have been willing to share their experiences, most notably the footballer and broadcaster Stan Collymore. Recently ex-footballer Dean Windass has spoken frankly about his depression. Windass said that to the outside world he appeared happy and successful but in reality he'd cried every day for the last two years and had recently attempted suicide twice. In an excellent Guardian article here Ally Fogg writes passionately about the issue of men and mental health. He points out that boys are coached from an early age not to cry or show distress: 'Never show weakness, never show fragility and above all, never let them see your tears'. So we shouldn't be surprised that men become skilled at appearing happy when their lives are in turmoil or that men are unlikely to seek help for emotional problems. So, with suicide rates amongst men worryingly high - especially amongst young men - Andrew Flintoff's programme must be welcomed as another step towards the day when men can acknowledge without stigma that they are struggling and ask for help.