Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Counselling 102: Who are you?

Two central themes to today's lesson; identity and the nature of problems. It seemed easier this week, in some ways, as I knew what to expect on entering the room. In other ways we went deeper than before, and if I'm going to get the most out of this 20-week experience I have to fully experience and reflect on it one lesson at a time. The aim of the final essay seems a little daunting- it's to describe the way in which the experience has changed you. This worries me, as it formalises what had been a personal aim of the course. Can you give marks for personal growth? And if, looking back on these journals I determine that I haven't changed one bit, does that mean the course was a failure and I don't have what it takes right now to be a counsellor? All questions I'm not going to be able to answer right now.

When I came in a saw an unfamiliar face, a student who had missed last week's lesson and I did my best to help her catch up. But the nature of the exercises means that you can't just exchange notes and catch up academically; the best you can do is explain this and convey the most you can from the exercises. In that way it's a long way from physics.

So on to identity. When asked to identify yourself you focus on the aspects that are most important to you. And you make choices, or so we were taught; "I am political", "I like music" etc. Only the bits laid down in concrete "I was born in London", "I am 23" don't have an element of choice laid down. But this makes the assumption that you find it easy to know yourself. Earlier on in the week I determined I didn't like someone, which is a pretty rare experience for me. I didn't choose that, I realised that, and I doubt I can change that. But the main crux of the point I agree with, which is this;

If you say "I'm a happy person" for example, are you always going to be like that? Not necessarily, as events could challenge that and you could experience a whole series of miseries. So do you become an unhappy person and struggle to recognise this change in your identity, or continue to put on a brave face? Naomi only acknowledged these two outcomes, and I don't agree with that. The happy person experiencing misery could just be that; a happy person presently suffering misery. I don't see a contradiction in that, and that's something I should bring up next week. I suppose before I say I'm disagreeing with my teacher, I need to get it straight whether, when she says "either...or" she's excluding or overlooking other options.

I really appreciate the way Naomi includes literary references with her philosophies; it's certainly true that this course will include huge volumes of the human experience we divide into philosophy, literature and religion. John Clare's "I am!" being a good example of identity reinforced by suffering (Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost/ And yet I am! And live with shadows lost).

The exercise again was a counselling role-play situation, where as client you had to discuss your identity, and as counsellor you must switch off your social instinct to say (and even think!) "A similar thing happened to me...", and in this case think about how the client is different to yourself. This is totally counter-intuitive and harder than it sounds, especially on a counselling course, where all are likely to have, to some extent, similar desires to help others and have a quiet life. My partner, in this exercise, I did find very similar to myself, at least the peaceful, non-argumentative parts of myself I like, but I did manage to find at least one way they were different from me. Already there's a reluctance in the group to discuss these exercises in too much detail, as we feel something very personal is shared.

I can't help but be concerned by the way it all floods out when I'm the client. I'm ascribing this to the fact that I'm relatively buttoned up during my work, but this theory needs reviewing; maybe getting my own counsellor wouldn't be a bad idea. I'm not suffering any major issues at the moment, but maybe accelerating the making sense of myself process would be a good thing.

Exercise: Whilst travelling through London this afternoon, think about how counselling is different from friendship.


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