On how we sometimes use long complicated words to describe ideas that we all understand and think about

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Existential.

That’s the word I’m talking about.

When I was young, it was a word I used to sometimes hear floating around in ‘adult conversation’. To my childish ears it sounded terribly grand and intelligent, and the kind of word that glamorous sophisticates used. It was a word that described something I knew nothing about. I simply knew that I didn’t have a clue what it meant, and hoped that one day, when I was a ‘proper grown up’, I would. In fact, I hoped to not just comprehend it’s meaning, I wanted to be one of those adults that was clever and refined enough to throw it around carelessly, with the ease of a word as well integrated and understood as ‘crayon’ or ‘cat’ (bear in mind my tender age when thinking these thoughts).

Of course, there is a vast difference between a word describing an abstract philosophical concept, and a simple noun.  I knew that, and I knew that I had a long road to travel before I really ’had’ it in my wordbank. As such I didn’t really stress myself too much, or make any huge efforts to try to understand it (the internet did not exist in those days, don’t forget)

I have no witty story culminating in a hilarious calamitous event that caused me to suddenly realise that I was an adult who didn’t really know what it meant. To be honest, when getting engrossed in life, work, family, living, there isn’t a whole lot of time left for contemplating the concept of ‘existential’?

It really wasn’t something that my conscious thought had a lot of time for until I started spending a lot of time really examining my own thought process, in therapy. But that’s what therapy does. It gives us the time and space to look at our memories, our hopes, our fears, our aspirations and so much more besides– our consciousness.

So somewhere along my journey of looking at myself, of looking at all the events and micro-events, and seminal events, and inconsequential events, and ‘wished for’ events and ‘thankfully dodged’ events…and making senses of how all these pieces have contributed, impacted, made me who I am, and how I work, I came across the word again. Existential.  Now is probably a good moment  to introduce the dictionary definition of it.

Existential ˌɛɡzɪˈstɛnʃ(ə)l/2770380

Adjective adjective: existential

relating to existence.

 

 

I know. That’s it. That’s all it means. It means it is.  My long introduction to it…my youthful apprehension of it… the generally fearful and (a little dismissive) public perception of it as a word suddenly all seem a bit laughable. It is a word that describes a very simple concept indeed. One which every single one of us knows and is intimately familiar with. What it is to be.

By giving it an adjective, it makes an incredible internal process (a process so deep within that it is mostly unconscious to us) the ability to be looked at externally. I guess that is where the concept of it becomes a bit high brow. ‘Objectively looking at the existential’ is traditionally the realm of philosophers, and for me the very word ‘philosophy’ has always oozed intellectualism. But the truth is, we all have the capacity to be a philosopher. By that I mean that, given the time and space to consider, we all have thoughts and views on what is to be.

Which leads us on to the term ‘existentialism’ –  an intimidating word on first impression. I think it has a scholarly reputation because of it’s association with the philosophical movement associated with Nietzsche, Camus, Kierkegaard, Sartre and the like, and the(often) lengthy, wordy tomes they wrote about it. Well, let me tell you – since making friends with the term, and dissolving my fear of it, I have made it my mission to read most of those books. They are complicated, and for a good reason. Because life, being, existence, is complicated. (Do the words used need to be so complex? Hmmm. That is definitely up for debate, but another time for that…)

The existentialists posed the idea that in order to fully look at life, and understand it, we have to break it into smaller chunks. They call this concept ‘the four givens’, and these are;2

Death

Isolation

Freedom

Meaningless

Now, for me – personally – I very much like this and wholeheartedly appreciate that they came up with this great framework for me to use when I consider what it is to be. After all, ‘being’ is the heftiest subject I can think of (and I challenge you to think of one bigger!), and to have it broken into these (still extremely hefty) sub sections makes it feel much less daunting for me.  When considering the double edged swords that they can all present, and noticing our own feelings about them, what it means for our values, our spirituality, our morals and our entire way of being – it certainly does seem that it gives us a very deep insight into ourselves.

For me, when training as a psychotherapist, learning about the four givens gave me my ‘a-ha’ moment. It illuminated a road that I wanted to travel along, and it excited me so much that I knew I would always want to encourage and accompany anybody else who chose to walk down that road with me.  It was a crazy, unexpected by- product of that epiphany, to realise that this meant I understood what ‘existential’ meant; that I was finally that elusive idealised adult that I used to fantasize about being when I was a child. A wonderful by-product, I hasten to add, one that boosted my confidence enormously on one level, and dissolved a myth on another.

On reflection, I feel it is healthier to have that myth dissolved. I guess that is why I am writing about it, and trying to convey how simple yet complicated the concept of existentialism is.

Because life, being, existence, is something we ALL do. We all cope with. We don’t always understand it, and we don’t always feel that we are necessarily managing it well, or with the agile dexterity we would like at times, but we all do it, and think about it on some level or another.

Counselling gives us space and time to contemplate the existential. That is, to look at what it is for us to be. For some it makes more sense to go for smaller bite size and more easily digestible chunks. Perhaps six weeks of therapy is enough to work with, for a few years.  Whereas others prefer to make a long term commitment to it, and go for a long term deep analytical type approach. (A deep hefty Sarte book vs a web page that just seems to hit the spot that resonates, perhaps?)

Both are fine. Neither approach is right nor wrong. We are all individuals with differing capacities for concentration, absorption, ways of learning and being. But one thing we all have in common, is that we all are, therefore we all have the capacity to look at the existential. We just have to find the approach that suits us, and in therapy – it is the therapist’s job to help us do that.

Please visit my main website to find out more about my work as a counsellor psychotherapist, and how I apply this existential approach to my work.

 

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On an interview I recently did for another website

So, I wasn’t going to post this on here, my blog, because initially it felt too ‘business-like’ for here. But then I though more on it, and I thought how – actually – it is not especially business focussed. It is ‘me’ focussed. Because ‘me – I’ am my business nowadays.  And that seeing as this blog is supposed to be about me and my thoughts and reflections – actually, maybe this is appropriate for here. Because this talks about a lot of the things that contributed to me reaching this point. So here it is;

 

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Why did you want to become a psychotherapist?

I have always wanted a career in mental health. Ever since I can remember, as a child, I knew that mental health was fundamental to leading a happy and fulfilled life, and understood that it was poorly understood and accepted by the world at large.

My own family was deeply affected by this stigma, as my Grandmother was very unwell with what was then known as manic depression (nowadays would be called bipolar), and it seemed that nobody quite knew what was to be done for her. Sadly she lived a very unhappy life, never really receiving adequate treatment for her condition – in fact sometimes the treatments she was given made things massively worse for her. Due to the lack of understanding in her community, she opted for residential care (not wanting to bring shame or more upset to her family) and lived most of her life under the influence of very heavy drugs or sedating therapies as a result. ‘Care in the Community’ and wider understanding of conditions like hers only happened towards the end of her life, and unfortunately – although she was eventually given the opportunity to have more autonomy in her life, and care – it was probably too late for her. Sadly, by the time she died she was so deeply affected by the long term side effects of the treatments she had received, that her distress had spread through the whole family, and the sense of loss, anger and confusion that we all carried about her illness had a deep and long lasting impact on us all.

I always knew that one of the only ways I would be able to make sense of the tragedy surrounding her life was to try to understand it better, and to try to spread awareness and understanding about conditions like hers, and many other similar conditions.

I had an innate sense that self awareness, self compassion and self knowledge provided the clues to the happiness that we all search for in life, not only giving us the tools to deal with mental illness, but also the tools for emotional strength and ultimately, a better life for all of us. It always seemed strange to me that we, as a society, seemed to shy away from doing this, and regarded the process as a luxury only afforded when unwell, when we need ‘fixing’. It always made perfect sense to me that ‘prevention is better than cure’, that if we took the time to understand and truly be with ourselves more, we would be happier and healthier in every way.

 

How have studies help you in doing what you do today?

I started my working career many years ago in mental health nursing, and the nurse training, although wonderful, did not satisfy me, by going into enough depth about how we, human beings, work; Primarily as individuals, then as part of larger systems – families, communities, societies. I quickly realised that I need to go into more depth with my studies to learn about this stuff. I started off with an introductory course in counselling, just to give me a taste of what it involves. This was a short 6 week course run by my local college, which I loved, and confirmed for me that this was what I wanted to do. I immediately went on to do a further foundation year in the same subject.

Life then got in the way of my studies for a few years. My children were very young at the time, and making a living took priority. I worked in a variety of other jobs – all of which gave me valuable experience which I consider just as necessary to my counselling skills as the years spent in formal education. Understanding life, and living through the challenges and joys that it brings, are vital components in making a good therapist. Who wants to sit and talk to an academic who is out of touch with the realities of everyday life? Most people want a therapist who is warm, real and who ‘gets’ them.

I didn’t return to my studies until many years later (probably a good ten or eleven years after my initial foundation course) The reality of education is that it is an expensive business. Not just because it costs in course fees and materials, but in counselling training we have to commit to spending as much time working voluntarily in placements as we spend at college, we have to find time to do all of our written assignments and pay for our own personal therapy and supervision for our placement work too. This means that we can’t do as much paid work alongside our studies as we would ideally like to, and we have a substantial amount in the way of expenses. I didn’t find myself in a position where I was financially able to make this commitment for quite a long time, and when I did, I had to bite the bullet and accept that I was going to have to struggle whiles I did it – as did my poor family, who supported me!

When I returned, because of the long gap in my studies, I took a year long ‘refresher’ course at NVQ level 3 (A-Level equivalent) so that I felt back in the swing of things and confident about moving onto studying at a higher level. This was definitely the right thing for me to do, and I found it much easier to go on to do the further four years at HE level that are needed in order to practice as a therapist working privately.

The years of studying went by in a bit of blur, to be honest, as the training process is so intense and gruelling that my brain regards some of it as quite traumatic, and chooses to defend me against those memories. Many use the metaphor of ‘peeling an onion’ as a metaphor for the process, as it seems to keep going for ages, going deeper and deeper for such a long time before you get to the centre of things. My tutor always said it felt like taking her skin off and wandering around with her raw self exposed. I very much felt like that.

We studied psychological theory, but without the detachment that a more formal medical training offers – we experienced every aspect of what we learned. As I already mentioned, Counselling psychotherapy students go into their own personal therapy as soon as they begin training, so they are unpacking their own baggage and looking at it in conjunction with learning about how psychological concepts take different perspective. As a result we applied each and every concept to ourselves and our own lives, and we felt the impact each concept brought with it. It was painful, and messy, but necessary in order for us to have true empathy with our clients, and understand the weight and responsibility of the work we are undertaking.

The placement work was just as hard. Because of many cuts to health service budgets, a lot of services and organisation rely on counselling psychotherapy students volunteering their services, in order to run their counselling services affordably. As such, we found ourselves ‘at the sharp end’ of counselling, dealing with clients that were at crisis point, within services that were also close to crisis point. This is working in an environment where social factors make the therapy itself even more valuable, yet much harder to deliver effectively, due to financial and practical constraints. Being raw and sensitive to all sorts of feelings, emotions that have been brought up by the other side to our study, this felt particularly difficult at times, but it was also so incredibly rewarding and satisfying, and such a massive learning experience for me that even though it nearly broke me at times, I would not change one moment of it.

 

 

What kind of people come to you? You look young, so don’t some say you don’t have experience? Have you had such situations?

There is no stereotype for the type of person that comes to me. I see EVERYONE. People from all different walks of life, social background, profession, age, sexual orentation, gender, race – whatever! We, human beings, all have brains – therefore we all have mental health. Just like we all have physical health – in fact I hate the differentation between the two. Our brains are part of our bodies, are they not? Its health. Full stop. Health affects everyone.

As far as looking young goes – thank you for the compliment! The truth is that I am not as young as I look, and that is quite a flattering photo of me on my web site. Being a single mother in my forties… having run my own business previous to this, having faced my own demons… having dealt with major health issues myself… having relationships break down… dealt with grief and loss… understood the pressures of modern living… addiction… trauma… been part of a large family with a plethora of family issues going on, I do feel that I have lived enough to be qualified to listen. That said, my clients’ experiences are not mine. They are theirs, and I do not – would not ever patronise them with an idea that I know what it’s all about EVER. As a therapist, I want to experience my client’s experiences with them, alongside them – empathise with them, not sympathise. It is important to understand that although my own experiences shape who I am and help me to know how I came to understand that, my clients are their own autonomous beings, who I walk alongside in this process. My experience of the process can give me encouragement, hope perhaps – definitely faith in the counselling and psychotherapy process. But this process is theirs, wholly theirs, and I honour that and their strength and skill in being themselves and understanding that.

What methods do you approach in your sessions?

There are no rules, there is no format. Therapy is an organic process. I am led by the client, it is THEIR therapy. I work with whatever material the client brings in the room to me. Whatever they want to talk about.  My theoretical training gives me a framework to refer to, and perhaps I may gently guide my client in a certain direction (often unconsciously) but my approach is primarily humanistic. This means that my emphasis and attention is given to the feelings in the room at that moment – we work with those. Sometimes, if I feel it is something that will be useful and useable for the client, I have exercise I can suggest. Very occasionally, I will make use of a worksheet, try an exercise of some kind, or issue ‘homework’ between sessions. But this is rare. Mostly I am ‘in the moment’ with my client, working with what that brings.

 

Are you a member of a professional body? Is there a code of practice that you follow?

I am proud to be a member of the BACP, the British Association For Counsellors and Psychotherapists, which gives us a strict code of practice to follow. Available here ; http://www.bacp.co.uk/ethical_framework/

At present it is not a legal requirement that counsellors and psychotherapists are regulated and governed, but I am wholly in favour of it becoming so. I believe that clients need to know that they are working with a fully qualified professional who is competent and continues to take responsibility for their standard of work in practice.

What are three things that you enjoy most about your job?

  1. It’s great to be with people. To meet all sorts of different people, to have meaningful relationships with such a diverse and interesting client base, is amazing. I feel privileged and honoured that people grace me with such intimacy and trust. I never, ever get over that. It is always a buzz. Even better, when they let me into their lives and hearts enough to have an impact on their world. Wow! A really special thing. I am very lucky.
  2. Actually, nothing comes close to number one. There are many other great things, about the employment conditions, the place I work, the pleasure of being my own boss, the interesting subject matter, the scope for continual learning, the research opportunities the job brings, the interesting CPD events I go to. All of these are great, but at the end of the day its all about people. I do this job (in fact I would call it a vocation, not just a job) because I love people, being with them, understanding them and hopefully, helping them live a better life, Its really what life is all about, isn’t it?
  3. Not doing that. 😉

 

This is also available to view at my website www.katrinamoorecounsellor.com

 

 

On Why counselling is the answer in a world of differences

So, here is an interesting article published recently by the great people at www.hotcourses.com, that I was privileged to be asked to contribute to. I will reproduce the text here, but have left a link to the original article at the bottom of the page…


by Safeera Sarjoo

Updated 29/09/16

  

Why counselling is the answer in a world of differences

I never thought that I would enjoy talking about my feelings and sharing my woes and concerns among strangers.
Attending a relationship-coaching workshop has actually been on my bucket list as something to just experience and write about. In all honesty I was a complete sceptic. My initial thought was how can I trust the advice of a complete stranger, which I’m sure is a common feeling among people accessing therapy for the first time.
But despite reservations, a 2014 Ipsos MORI poll for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy revealed that more than a quarter of people in the UK had consulted a counsellor compared to 1 in 5 people back in 2010.
Women were found to opt for more talking therapies, while the biggest users were aged between 35 and 44.

 
The uptake of people seeking counselling and therapies may suggest that more of us are unhappy with our current situations. However, the rise in the number of people talking through their problems can be seen as a positive thing.
‘I don’t think it’s that more of us are unhappy. I just think it shows that the stigma attached to counselling has dramatically diminished,’ BACP governor, Dr Andrew Reeves told the Independent.
Though this would have been welcomed news back in 2014, the recent Brexit vote has had a surprising effect on people turning to counselling or currently having therapy. An effect many of us may not have foreseen.
‘I think in 2016, we’ve had a massive journey. I’m primarily thinking about Brexit and the powerful aftershocks of Brexit, which was a shock for many people,’ Helen Cordery, an attachment-based psychotherapist, counsellor and WPF seminar leader explained.
‘I think the majority of people found it a surprise and it certainly had massive impact on my work with my clients. That initial few days after the vote, whether people realised consciously or not, I certainly felt a lot of anxiety from them.’
Thoughts like ‘do you want me? Do you care for me? Did you vote out?’ were talking points among some of Helen’s clients.
‘A lot of my clients are non-white, non-British, not even European and they all had a deep fear that I as a white, British woman, voted out and that I didn’t want them, that I rejected them and judged them. A lot of these people might have a deep fear of not being wanted because it struck a chord from their early life, either as refugees or just growing up with being different and experiencing racist abuse and that kind of stuff.’
The outcome of Brexit ignited an increase of race hate crime with the British Transport Police reporting 119 incidents a fortnight after the vote in June. While many of us thought about what it would mean in terms of jobs and migration, very little attention was given to those who perhaps were suffering from mental health problems and the overwhelming effect the vote would have on them.
‘There’s something about Brexit that made everyone realise that we are different to each other – even white British people are different to each other and there’s that fear of the unknown, the fear of not being wanted and of being judged based on the colour of your skin, accent or where you’ve come from. As we move towards Brexit itself it’s going to get more and more accentuated. It was a big shock at the time and for now it’s in the background, but it will become more of a foreground noise.’
Counsellors are actually uniquely positioned to counter these concerns that people may have following the vote. Cordery explains that counselling and psychotherapy can offer a huge amount of insight when it comes to understanding what it feels like to be different and not wanted and how to counter those feelings. In fact, having the ability to help us channel our thought processes to those depths can effectively build bridges between people.
Up until this point in my talk with Helen, Brexit has been quite revealing especially for those who are struggling internally either with their place in society or as an individual, but could there be scope for change thanks to the controversial vote?
Diversity within counselling has been a constant talking point. Ethnic minorities are not receiving the help they so very much need because of cultural attitudes and perceptions, whilst on the other side of the spectrum you have ethnic minorities that feel as though the calibre of understanding of their issues isn’t enough to offer effective solutions and reflection.
I was curious about this and had to ask Cordery whether the current mindset of people feeling misrepresented would trigger a shift where they take it upon themselves to engage with their communities by opting for a career in this line of work.
‘I hope so. I think when we’re faced with a fearful situation, we are naturally designed to retreat and withdraw and self-preservation. It may seem strange to some people to think of Brexit being that kind of situation but I think that’s exactly how it is. I’m hoping things like this will help people think actually ‘okay maybe now is the right time to think about how to learn counselling skills and smooth the next few years over.’ I do hope it leads a significant number of people to come in and learn counselling or experience counselling,’ she explained.

This may be the situation where a new influx of counsellors can answer their calling the same way Cordery did years ago whilst working as a dietician.
She recalls vividly the moment she realised that counselling and psychotherapy was perhaps the career path she should follow. Working with an elderly man who had terminal cancer, she found that he was in need of speaking about how scared he was to die and what was happening to him. She instantly connected and realised how important it was to lend an ear and give him that space to express himself.
This experience alone tells us that sometimes what is typically prescribed to us is not always what we actually need. This is especially important when working with the younger generation. Though they’re prone to being glued to their phones and smart devices, they are more in tune with themselves than we think. This is thanks to the normalisation of counselling with celebrities openly talking about their struggles with depression and anxiety and seeking appropriate help. Young people who feel a certain connection to these celebrities will naturally remain engaged and informed of these conditions, which allows them to discuss any struggles they’re experiencing too.
The ability to open up is half the battle and with the vocal nature of social media, the younger generation are at an advantage when it comes to expressing themselves and speaking out. According to a Fifetoday.co.uk article, Childline carried out ‘more than 900 suicide counselling sessions involving children from Scotland last year.’ This was a record number of calls on the issue alone according to the helpline.
It is for this very reason that we need the influx of counsellors to continue to grow and thrive within the industry. Workplace culture now includes access to counselling and therapies to aid workers mentally and emotionally. Even in politics, Scottish MP Nicola Sturgeon has said she will consider a proposal to grant Scottish schools access to counselling services to tackle the growing number of adolescents experiencing mental health issues. Put simply – the demand is definitely there.
So, let’s start at the beginning.
You’ve made the decision to become a counsellor. All too often people confuse counsellors with psychologists, so what exactly is the difference?
Katrina Moore, an integrative Counsellor Psychotherapist was on hand to explain to us.
‘In many ways we overlap because a psychologist will listen to what is going on in your life and try and take action with you to improve it. A psychologist is going to look at your behaviour. Psychology is more of an outside-in approach, whereas counselling is more inside-out. I want to know what it is to be you, not what would typically happen in this situation. That’s not to take away from what a psychologist does because it’s very complex and tricky and a completely different approach. Counselling is softer. It’s more personal and inside the skin. Both counsellors and psychologists are adjusting thought processes, but we’re doing it with a philosophical, spiritual, really personal and very tailored approach. It overlaps with friendship in the sense that you’re getting to know someone in that same way. A counsellor would very rarely offer you advice – I never have. By raising your awareness, it makes you look at what you’re doing more and maybe gives you more understanding for yourself.
‘With a psychologist it’s more of an approach with a course of action to follow, whereas counselling, not so much. It’s about you working it out once you understand why you’re doing something. It can be hard to define because there are counselling psychologists too. There are so many strands.’
Moore’s entry into counselling began after she was told during her job as a hairdresser that she would make a great counsellor. She took an introductory course – a six-week taster – to give her an idea of what a full time course would actually entail. She loved it and almost immediately enrolled on to a one-year introductory foundation course in Counselling. Following this, she decided that a Diploma in Counselling would be the next best step. After growing her own business, she was in a position to enrol and study NVQ levels 3, 4 and 5, which she completed in four years instead of five.
The route into counselling is one that grants a bit of flexibility and is usually a second or third career people find themselves venturing in to. Working towards membership of a professional body like the BACP is recommended and they themselves recommend you taking training with an awarding body that consists of an introductory course, a certificate in counselling skills and an advanced diploma in counselling. 
Cordery found her calling to counselling from her career as a dietician. She underwent her first training experience with a week-long residential course run by a colleague which was with a group of nuns.
Experience working with people is key here. Though a lot of learning is moving to the online sphere it is still advisable that you undertake face to face experience of counselling, perhaps working on a voluntary basis.
Do you have what it takes?
When asking both Moore and Cordery about the qualities that make a good counsellor, there were two constants. Being a good listener and having experienced adversity.

https://youtu.be/yQ-DfVDsvp0

I questioned whether people who hadn’t experienced hardship were suited to the job. Cordery’s answer? Not necessarily. In some cases, they may not even be aware that they’ve witnessed or experienced trauma in the first place.

https://youtu.be/qL9aDBs2uYk

The effect that counsellors can have on people is widespread. It’s apparent that there is a huge demand for these professionals as current numbers are put under pressure with an increase of people accessing these services. Unfortunately, funding within this sector has been cut and jobs within the NHS aren’t as free-flowing as many would like, which can be off putting for people looking to enter the industry.
Speaking to both Moore and Cordery, they themselves have had to work hard to get to the point they’re at. It’s not the type of career that you easily walk in to; it takes time and dedication and when you find yourself in the thick of it all, you realise how crucial this role is in helping vulnerable people. Despite our age, race and background, none of us are immune from experiencing mental health issues and for people in certain ethnic groups, they go through their entire life without even acknowledging this. Being unable to express themselves and their plight has the ability to manifest into other struggles like alcoholism and suicidal thoughts – some of which never get treated or spoken about.
Whatever differences events like Brexit highlighted, counselling has the ability to smooth over by focusing on what connects us. In addition to this though, further dialogue is needed in order to continue breaking stigmas surrounding counselling so that individuals don’t slip through the net and future generations have no qualms about seeking the help that they need.

This article can be seen in its original form here://www.hotcourses.com/study-guide/why-counselling-is-the-answer-in-a-world-of-differences/16180339/0/studyguide.htm 

There is also a link on my website www.katrinamoorecounsellor.com