Monday, 6 February 2017

Turn It Off And Unplug

I don’t know about you but I’ve been shaken by the last few months. In the UK, the instant rise in racism days after the Brexit vote and a massive 41% rise in hate crimes in the month afterwards was shocking. 

Comments sections in the online versions of newspapers have shut down and a quick look at the comments elsewhere tells you why: a tsunami of sneering and contempt. This is by no means only from people whose education has been limited.

Anyone with a slither of empathy is feeling pressured. Added to our own stresses of emptier purses, job instability and end-of-winter gloom it can all get a bit much. Here’s what I’ve done to keep it together.

1. I disengaged from social media.

It’s where many of us get our news and it can be febrile. We’re now at a point where nothing but the grinding of law or impeachment will stop Trump and nothing but the Lords and a general election have any power to hinder what’s happening here.

I deactivated Facebook and Twitter. Instantly it felt as if there was newly available space and time. Oppressed groups are not depending on me as an individual. I didn’t consciously know that until I stepped away.

Deactivation is not the same as deletion and you have 30 days to reactivate.

2. I stopped watching or listening to anything to do with news or current affairs. 
The Today programme was my alarm. Now it’s classical music. I would fall asleep to the World Service, now it’s a non-political podcast. Yelling at the radio achieves precisely nothing.

3. I reminded myself that that the work is never finished.
If a snap election is called tomorrow and all homeless people are given a home and all vulnerable people are tended to by armies of skilled, compassionate and valued carers, and the Living Wage goes up to £20 an hour there will still be endless injustice and unhappiness. There is no end to injustice. There never has been.

4. I tried to keep the basics under control.
I’m eating a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner and always have a bottle of water with me. Getting enough exercise remains an issue but there it is. Getting a deep sleep is more dependent on the cat than on me, but I’m in bed by 9.30pm most days.

5. I don’t waste my time on unhelpful people.
If someone says that I should give Trump a chance I smile and talk about the weather. If they go on about immigrants/drug addicts/ alcoholics/ people on benefits being responsible for their own misery I smile and talk about the weather. On an email list I have to be on, a subject that I have a great deal of experience came up and followed the usual annoying path that this subject takes when education and experience aren’t involved. I amazed myself by being able to let the group take that path. It’s not my job to educate, persuade or stop anyone - until they become an immediate danger to themselves or others.

6. I do spend more time with people like me. 
Hoorah for the echo chamber, say I. In a world of insults and cheap shots talking with a friend about transcendence and immanence across cultures was refreshing. So was listening to a friend talk a load of old nonsense about the digestive systems of rhinos, and so was thinking out loud about the use of data in expanding another friends business. We knew that we had the same basic philosophies so we didn’t need to visit them for more than a few moments.

7. I’ve upped how many kind things I do.
All of my neighbours are good people. All of them have also expressed opinions that have been brutally violent, racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic. Coming to terms with this complexity has been a matter of making my own life easier: I don’t want anything but an easy life in my own home. When I cooked a meal for a neighbour who was ill, passed over some flowering cherry branches to another, spent some time chatting with another and got a key cut for another who is always losing hers it made me feel better.

8. When things have become overwhelming I root myself in the immediate present.
 “I am here in my warm living room. I have food in the fridge. I can go to bed if I want. I can go out to a café if I want. I do not need to do that important thing right now.” If things get really bad I see 5 or 6 objects and name them.

A friend gave me a magazine whose cover and entire content was New Age Random Word generated. The cover featured something about honouring the feelings that emerge in the perfection of this moment. I cannot tell you the pleasure I had in dumping it in the bin.

Take time to enjoy the little things.

9. I did not go for a walk in the woods because there are no woods anywhere close to where I live. 
Neither is there a mountain, a beach, hills or a horizon. Like most of the world I live in a city where parks tend to be loaded with dogshit and mud. If I go to the nearest decent park I am surrounded by incredibly wealthy, high status people who allow their children to violently impose their status on pigeons.

But if I get there at dawn I can feed the squirrels by hand and the pigeons by stealth without any of the Friends threatening to call the police* or anyone yelling about rats with furry tails or the plague. There is nothing like the warm ear of a squirrel as she sits on my lap, or the delicate, soft body of a pigeon eating from my hand. No mindfulness practice comes close to what happens when a robin settles on my hand to eat.

10. I listen carefully to what clients are saying and not saying. 
Since Brexit, political distress has overtly entered my room at least twice a week. Strained friendships. Job instability. The value of sterling. Feeling newly powerful. Feeling newly disempowered. The failure of determined and artificial positivity. Cut services. Despair. Even if your client is in an enclosed religious Order politics is in the room because you are. Being able to listen to and understand what clients are talking about is about as basic as it gets, and my sense of being informed about the greater and lesser movements in the world helps both the client and me manage the often overwhelming sense of insecurity these movements bring.

10a. I know that snowflakes defeated Napoleon, Hitler and the Red Army 

and that the armed forces take a lot of snowflakes gathered together very seriously indeed.

Taking stock of and attending to our own wellbeing is part of being a competent practitioner. We might need to go on a 4 week retreat somewhere sunny, but if all we can manage is turning the computer off for one day then do that.

*Holland Park has a number of peacocks and peahens. They will eat from your hand like chickens. Pigeons eat what the peacocks don’t. A couple marched up to us and demanded that we stop. We didn’t. The man became apoplectic. “We are Friends of Holland Park,” he said, “We make the rules here and you may not feed the birds.” I told him to call the police, so he did. A policeman wandered into the park a little later and began feeding the peacocks with a sandwich that he had in his hat!

           The fate of the Friends is unknown.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Old Paradigms Die Hard

We're living in one of those moments in history when things appear to turn on a sixpence while fringe voices have been wailing in the wilderness about the dangers they've been aware of for years.

At the same time as we watch ordinary people - our neighbours, friends, clients and family - respond to our own countries' rise in Authoritarianism and racism with varying degrees of denial and acceptance it's easy to ignore what's happening in our own professions. 

Isaac Cordal Follow The Leaders

The BACP sent out a questionnaire paving the way for supervisors to be required to report on supervisees (that's all of us). Therapy Today refused to print any letters on the subject and were forced to offer an apology after a number of therapists resigned, took debate to therapy fora and, since the official venues for debate were closed, wrote directly to the BACP Chair Andrew Reeves.

After looking for 10 minutes on the website I can't find that apology anywhere. 

There were a fair number of therapists who, before the BACP offered their sort-of apology, said "But why shouldn't we report on each other? Therapists are dangerous. Not you and I, of course, but Them." 

Apparently the fact that murder is illegal and people still murder each other, or that doctors may not sexually abuse patients but some still do, that dentists may not perform unnecessary work but some still do, that police may not harm innocent people but some still do hasn't reached them. The BACP properly sets standards against which clients may judge their counsellor and seek redress if necessary. How making us report on each other furthers that is beyond me.

Perhaps it's easier to understand what's happening in counselling and psychotherapy by hearing about what's happening in a closely allied profession.

"I was at the flagship clinical psychology event in the UK at a debate on the future of the profession. And all I could see around me were white faces, mainly – and I do hope they’ll forgive me for saying so – of a certain age. Now there were exceptions, of course. A few ethnics, some younger folk. But there were a lot of old people in suits. And even though I had been around these people – all decent people, I’m sure; some of whom I know, and none of whom I wish to denigrate – all day, it wasn’t until I saw them as a group that I realised how homogenous they appeared to be. And so I began to wonder why this might be.  
There are 12 000 clinical psychologists in the U.K., but only around 2-300 attend the conference. And, from the few I have attended, it’s often the great and the good who come; those who are established and respected and whatever else. I went because I was speaking, but otherwise I wouldn’t have (I’m not a huge fan of 3-day conferences, for many reasons and in any case, the sheer cost of it was prohibitive). But many of the clinical psychologists I know couldn’t give two hoots about it and that, I think, is concerning.  
Put bluntly, we had a debate about the future of the profession attended primarily by people who may well not even be practising in ten years’ time. Those people may know their stuff; they may have built careers and won awards and got tenure and have a publication list as long as your arm, but they are not the future. People who are barely-qualified are the future. People struggling to get onto training are the future. And the people who use our services are the future, because they know what our profession needs to do differently. And whilst there were one or two explicitly ‘service user’ voices, they were drowned out by the rest of us with our doctorates and our academic posts and our reputations and our egos.  
And as the panel stopped talking and the audience began to contribute I knew that nothing that anyone had said would make any difference in the real world and that many of the conceptual debates will go on for years to come and that although we might have clapped and patted each other on the back we need to start having radically different conversations with radically different people if we are ever to make any progress. "
As our grandmothers, alchemists, theologians and philosophers have been saying for centuries, "The Personal Is Political." The choices you and I make in every aspect of our lives have a political dimension. Organic food is cheaper now than it's ever been because a couple of generations of minorities spent huge amounts of their own income and time growing and buying it. Children are not expected to work up chimneys because a minority of people thought this was barbaric, even if it did increase the income of poor families and provide opportunities for employment.

 Carol Hanisch's essay that birthed the phrase "The Personal is Political." It's about therapy. 
If it's too strong for you, too radical, too Lefty Liberal then you might be the problem.