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

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Chris Parry-Mitchell and The Behaviour Management Toolkit

I have been good friends with Chris Mitchell for a while now and this week had the pleasure of her company over coffee and a cup of tea in Blackburn's nicest cafe, The Coffee Exchange. It was great to see her again, happy and healthy. It was a great chance to catch up, and for me to talk at length about David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, and my personal quest to improve workflow and productivity. Not only did Chris stay awake during this (and she was drinking tea, not coffee) but she listened and gave good advice and inspired me to make changes; but what else would one expect from the author of The Behaviour Management Toolkit

I have to declare an interest at this stage, because not only is Chris a friend of mine, but we also share a common perspective on working with people and have similar training, often with the same Neuro Linguisitc Programming (NLP) practitioners and trainers. Indeed there are many similarities between Chris's work on avoiding exclusion from school and the Proactive Carer Programme I developed and delivered with my friend, Adam Gibson of Lancashire Counselling Services. Both draw on NLP and Transactional Analysis and both share a common ethos, the fundamental principle that if you help people develop resources they will have more choices and their behaviour and circumstances will change in positive ways. There are other shared principles: the power of groups and group work and the need for passionate and committed leadership that encourages and equips individuals with the knowledge and skills to make small but significant changes. I often use a metaphor that someone gifted to me, that if you sail from Portsmouth to New York and you're one degree out at the beginning of your voyage, you'll be in a different country by the time you've crossed the Atlantic. Fine if you don't mind landing in Canada, but you get the idea: small changes over time yield significant results.

So what's in The Behaviour Management Toolkit and how useful might it be to teachers and trainers working with young people at the point of being excluded from mainstream education? It's a ten session programme, with all the handouts and worksheets on a CD-ROM taped to the back page. It aims to equip young people with the insight and skills needed to make different decisions, change their behaviour and get better outcomes. Almost 300 children have been through the programme run by Chris in Preston, Lancashire, and  more than 80% of those have remained in education. Now this could be the programme, it could be the expertise of Chris and her two colleagues, John and 'Swifty' (Andrew 'Swifty' Swift is an old student of mine, but I take no credit for the excellent practitioner he has become). More likely it's a combination of these factors as well as the potential all young people have to seize an opportunity to change when they are given the chance by adults who appreciate their struggles and care about their futures!

The Behaviour Management Toolkit applies some classic NLP patterns: the Mercedes Model, submodality shifts and an extremely effective perceptual positions exercise to educate group members about their own thoughts and feelings, the impact of their behaviour on others and why that matters. It uses ideas from TA (warm fuzzies, cold pricklies, the Drama Triangle and game playing) to help young people understand and take responsibility for how they communicate. Each session begins with participants identifying and sharing their achievements that week, creating positive feelings, generating positive feedback and helping to change internal filters so a young person starts to notice what's going well in their lives and not just what's going badly. The whole programme is well put together, so each session builds on the previous  one and models learnt early in the programme are reapplied later on. Chris says she responded to feedback  from her young participants, making changes and increasing the programme's relevance and effectiveness. I think it's a superb piece of work, but the ultimate test is, does it work? Well, the statistics and the participants' feedback says it does; and whenever I've visited the project I've noticed an atmosphere that's warm and safe and purposeful, and the young people I've met there are full of praise for Chris and her team.

I hope practitioners working with hurt young people and their sometimes challenging behaviour make use of the Toolkit. In a previous career I delivered offender programmes for the National Probation Service. These were based on the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, an approach I much admire, but which, in that context, lacked the optimism and the humanistic underpinning found in The Behaviour Management Toolkit. I use it when teaching NLP based interventions to students on the BA (Hons) degree Working with Children and Young People at The University Centre at Blackburn College, a course that 'Swifty' graduated from several years ago! Congratulations to Chris Mitchell and her team, changing lives and living your mission!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Guest Post: Carl Newsham reviews Relational Depth: New Perspectives and Developments

I took delivery of my brand new copy of this title on the day of release a few weeks ago (07/01/13) after pre-ordering on the back of an e-mail prompt from Amazon. As I was the first to receive it, and John (my tutor) is busy marking our latest round of assignments! I am offered the opportunity to review the book for inclusion on this page, a privilege indeed!

I first came across the notion of Relational Depth in the 3rd edition of Mearns and Thorne’s Person-Centred Counselling in Action (2008) which led me to Mearns and Cooper’s Working at relational depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2005) which is, up to now, the only complete book fully dedicated to the phenomena as named.

Relational depth is described most succinctly as “a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, in which each person is fully real with the Other, and able to understand and value the Other’s experience at a high level.” (Mearns & Cooper 2005). This is to say that it can be experienced by anyone in any relationship providing the right conditions and sufficient depth is present. But what are the right conditions? What amount of depth is sufficient? And, can anyone really say what relational depth actually is? In terms of the therapeutic relationship; can relational depth be measured? Can a therapist do anything to encourage the phenomena to emerge in session? And, how is it perceived as valuable by the client in therapy? This is a collection of recent studies, experiences and essays based around the concept of relational depth which attempt to explore the subject further.

Divided into three parts, the book groups together an eclectic mix of reflections, suggested techniques and related perspectives to inform us of the state of current thinking about and practice uses of the topic. Part 1 begins with each author describing an actual moment of relational depth from practice; this really brings the book to life: case examples are more meaningful to me than a description of what I have referred to earlier as a notion. I found passages here that I could relate to from my own practice and from this chapter onwards I felt part of the team, comfortable in the knowledge that I had known relational depth personally. Part one moves away from the softly-softly approach from chapter two onwards with a study by Rosanne Knox focusing on the clients perspective of relational depth complete with flow-charts concluding that the impact of relational depth on the client can alter the feeling of isolation and facilitate movement towards re-connection with the self within the client. Chapter four introduces the Relational Depth Inventory (RDI) as proposed and researched by Sue Wiggins, a concept so brave I actually had to read the chapter a few times! To create a psychological measure for such a concept is akin to counting raindrops, I do marvel at finalised 24 item questionnaire produced from the study, I want to know more. Mick Cooper rounds off part one with a precautionary discussion about trying to capture empirical data from such a holistic and complex phenomena should we, as humanistic therapists, be happy for relational depth to remain elusive and in the moment.

Part two moves on to looking at relational depth in context moving back to the various author’s areas of expertise using real examples from the therapy room. Sue Hawkins explores the concept of it in therapeutic relationships with children and young adults, people whose use of language as a means of expression is as yet under-developed, relying on the unspoken elements of communication. Further chapters look at relational depth in groups and in supervision. The recurring themes in this part really underline the importance of relationship in therapy and the provision of Rogers’ ‘core conditions’ (1951). The essential nature of positive regard, acceptance or Thorne’s ‘tenderness’ (1991) in creating the right environment for relational depth to occur really shines through sending this reader back to basics for a re-cap.

The final part of the book is a collection of related perspectives to the central theme beginning in chapter 12 with a philological look at the language of the Person-Centred Approach by Peter F. Schmid arguing that the essence of person-centeredness is dialogical, bringing a balance to the book overall as previous chapters very much lean towards the unspoken aspects that are and surround relational depth. Further chapters discuss therapeutic presence and mutuality as a foundation for relational depth in turn both discussing the underlying construct of the therapeutic relationship. 

In conclusion, the book presents a very modern look at a very old concept. The chapters are tight, concise and relevant to any practising therapist in today’s fast-paced society. For students I would say this is a must and will be due to appear on a reading list near you very soon! It is refreshing to find expert insight such as this in such a friendly format.

Carl Newsham is studying Counselling with Brief Interventions at the University Centre at Blackburn College and is a trainee counsellor specialising in the person centred approach with clients living with drug and alcohol dependency issues.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

American Counselling Association Podcasts: Gestalt Therapy

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The American Counselling Association have published a great series of podcasts, on a range of counselling related topics. You can check them out here:


I'm making my way through them, and the first one to really grab me is Jon Frew talking to Rebecca Daniel-Burke about Gelstalt therapy. He isn't too complimentary about the showmanship of Fritz Perls, the man usually credited with the creation of the Gestalt approach. Instead Frew gives much of the credit for the development of Gestalt therapy to Laura Perls, the wife of the much more famous Fritz. So this is a great interview and very informative about the history and the  contemporary practice of Gestalt therapy
According to the American Counselling Association Website, Dr Jon Frew is in private practice in Vancouver, Washington, and is a Professor at Pacific University School of Professional Psychology. He completed the three-year Post Graduate Training Program at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland in 1981. He has conducted workshops and led training groups in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He is the author of numerous articles on Gestalt therapy, theory, and practice, and is on the editorial board of the journal Gestalt Review.
Running time: 54:45
Date Recorded: 01/24/2012