Hitting a Moving Target, Blindfolded!

Normal, what on earth does that even mean? In so many contexts, it’s not only a flawed baseline, but clumsy and quite misleading.

This post could branch off in any direction, ‘normal’ behaviour, ‘normal’ levels of mood, ‘normal’ job and ‘normal family’. Normal and average are interchangeable and very beige. I am reigning this in to talk about ‘normal’ relationships, in terms of the work I do with families and individuals, but primarily couples and relationship challenges.

The ‘normal’ benchmark of relationships is so distorted within society that when reality kicks in we panic and react. The only normal in relationships is there isn’t any such thing, and the sooner we acknowledge the difference and celebrate what diversity brings to our relationships, the sooner we get to experience a deeper and more fulfilling relationship. Many academics and seasoned therapists past and present suggest 3 phases to a couple’s relationship. This contrasts a fair bit to the romantic notion of love and how that is what love looks like from the very start to our passing days.

relationships2The Romantic phase. You can’t help but love this phase. Colours are brighter, the bird song serenades your effortless skipping through each moment and day. Time apart is unimaginable, thanks to endorphins flying around your body. That feel good sensation is fuelled by the brains ‘high 5’ of approval through the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. An awesome duo of neurotransmitters that bathe the body in a sense of wellbeing. This is a period, both conscious and unconscious, where we put our best foot forward…we wear aftershave and everything! Now, this phase can last for seconds to a couple of years, and has to come to a transition point at some stage. It’s at this point we navigate towards the second phase, being the power struggle. This is usually around the time of a definite commitment, such as getting engaged or moving in with our partners. Now, this is like enjoying life as a fun runner, in dress up and face paint to leaping into an Olympic event. They certainly don’t hand out Speights (beer) and a sausage at the end of these big shows (I imagine this is something quite unique to Kiwi events).

Harville Hendrix, suggests ‘it’s like the wounded child takes over. I’ve been good long enough to ensure this person is going to stick around, now lets see the payoff’. The expectations of each partner well and truly step up a gear and the performance each is giving steps down. Being attractive, clever and fun-loving aren’t enough. Partners are now expected to satisfy unmet childhood needs, complement lost self parts, nurture and be forever available.

“Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain” C G Jung. The power struggle sets the stage for growth and the third stage, conscious love. Here the how, why and when’s can’t be done justice within a few sentences, so if this flicks a switch for you check out one of the many texts by Harville Hendrix.  At this stage we-ideally- move from, ‘what can I get from this relationship?’ to ‘what does the relationship need from me?’ It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as holding on for dear life to the romantic phase of the relationship, sits far more comfortably in the sphere consumed by the me, myself and I. Rather than being a hindrance, it is only after you pass the romantic phase do you start to explore and nurture a deeper, longer lasting relationship and love. The key is to send the mantle of relationship expectations based on a perceived social norm on its sweet merry way. It is essential that we embrace, not fear difference and begin celebrating each others uniqueness. As it is this uniqueness that has been unconsciously hand picked to continue your personal growth and emotional maturity, through a relationship. Many folk search tirelessly for a mirror reflection of themselves. Time is better spent looking for someone that extends our strengths and reduces our weakness and vice versa. Much of which is informed by past scripts and our experiences of our own caregivers. Some refer to this as an Imago match. I learnt this lesson over a decade ago in my second year of counselling. Whilst at a colleagues retirement dinner I was genuinely fascinated when I found out he had been happily married for 42 years to his first love. Fresh to life as a married man myself I wanted to know the secret. Straight off the bat his response to my question was ‘we have similar interests but very different hobbies’. I’m sure he undersold the ingredients fully to his impressive marriage, but he didn’t harp on about how they finish each others sentences and have been tennis partners since school, as this was far from the case, it was they acknowledge and support each others differences but their values and beliefs bring them back to a central point of connection.

I scribbled this down recently when talking to folk about identifying potential relationship matches. The first image being what many of us think is a good match and the second is quite often the best match.

There is no secret as far as I know, some folk are making a pretty penny from what amounts to little more and a short lasting pep talk. However, what I would say is that it can offer a huge shift to simply acknowledge difference in your relationship and ignore any thoughts of pursuing ‘normal’. Celebrate the wonderful uniqueness each person brings to the party. Know that difference isn’t as alarming as it may feel or incompatibility, but in fact the foundations for growth, personal and relational. Unsettling at times, but you will do well to embrace it with open arms. I must add that, just in case it may not be obvious, i am in no way including abusive relationships, and I hope this is a context that will not be diffused or associated within this post.

I don’t see these three phases as lineal, but cyclical as we navigate through life and all the highs and crappy bits. There will be conflict, whether overt or covert, it’s making a conscious commitment to the relationship and developing communication that continues to strengthen relationships and enable growth.

The Silent Partners of Counselling (SPOC’s) and how SKOOPER can help

You won’t struggle to find advice, apps and bits in between to help those reaching out for support, such as counselling. But what about the family and friends outside of counselling, you won’t find much if anything at all.

As a counsellor I’ve seen thousands of individuals and families over the years. When they are sat in front of me they are the all and everything of that space. For most of the counselling conversations it will be a deep processing and the development or strengthening of ‘positive seeds’, ‘food for thought’ or ‘reflection’. Whatever you want to call it, a huge amount goes on outside of the counselling space in between sessions. What is it like for the family and friends who are seemingly along for the ride? Kind of like a silent partner in business land, they have a huge investment, commitment and role in the whole deal but may feel shut out from the whole thing.

Every relationship and individual is wonderfully unique, so what works for one may be useless for another. However, SKOOPER may offer guidance on how to manage time as a SPOC (Silent Partner of Counselling).

skooper-for-spocs-1

SAFETY of self and others is paramount. Know that if the counsellor has concerns over their safety this will be communicated to the right people after consultation with the client. If you have real concerns about the safety of your loved one then have a plan or at least a contact.  This would be knowing the contact number for the crisis teams specific to the age of the client, so in New Zealand it would be either the adult or adolescent team and the respective after hours process. Of course there is always 111 or the emergency service number of your country.

KNOW counselling and what it is and isn’t. Do your homework. I’m finding increasingly that this is becoming the case, and when folk first call me they have already checked my website out, read a few posts and really had a think about making sure they get the right fit for them or their loved one. This is just my point, being a part of such an important decision is incredibly powerful for all parties. The first session is reasonably stock standard in terms of contracting and getting a feel for the space and what counselling is and/or isn’t. This is usually a good conversation to have for those connecting with a counsellor for the first time, especially before moving on to the next point.

OPEN and honest conversations. Have a chat and agree what, when and how conversations will be approached post session or as it goes on. Do I ask questions and how do I approach them? That is best figured out between you, up front and honestly. People do all sorts and I’m fortunate in where my office is located, lots of café’s, restaurants and beaches. One example is a couple who meet up after one of our sessions (I will have seen one of them). The kids are with a child minder and they go for a meal. The first 10 mins is reconnect time, 20 mins is a bit of counselling reflection time and then they are pretty strict about the rest of the time being non-counselling related and them time. An example from a teenage client involved a toy. Children and teenagers are more than capable of expressing how they feel, if anything they can teach us a thing or too. What is sometimes a challenge is how to initiate it. Well, when they wanted to talk about something important the toy that was kept on a shelf would be turned around as a sign for their parent. Once spotted the parent would always say the same thing, “I spotted Bert, how about smoothie in 30”. The point is make a plan for what this period of time (whilst having counselling) may look and sound like for your family.

Be OKAY with the not knowing. If your partner will only give you ‘ít’s alright aye’ and then moves on with their day, then take a breath and respect their choice and let it go. One strong response could be ‘fair enough, know I ask because I care about you, but if and when you do want to talk about stuff, just let me know and we’ll do just that’. Trust the process and trust your partner or family member.

Remember it’s not PERSONAL. Counselling should never be gossiping and an opportunity to have a real moan about your partner, family member or boss, it simply doesn’t go like that. Counselling will largely centre around whoever is in the room itself, not talking about folk that aren’t.

Ease up on yourself. It can be a heck of a rollercoaster and pretty draining being immersed in your partners reflections and ongoing processing. So, look after yourself too. Keep connecting with those you want to spend time with and doing those things that you love to do. Protect times where the deep and meaningfuls are off-limits. Only last night I was walking with my family on the beach, when I started talking about some work I needed to do the following day. My wife calmly turned to me and just said, “Be present” with a smile. First time I have had one of my own blog posts used to bump me back on point. it’s okay, if not essential that you can just say ‘not now’.

Reflective Listening.  Post a session there is usually a fair bit of momentum still going on and words and language used may be a bit different from what you are used to hearing. Reflective listening does two things affirms your partner that they have been heard, but also invites them to expand further if they want and feel able. Using the same words simply reflect it back.  I intentionally left the question marks off the response, you simply reflect what they may have said and if they expand further, then great, if they don’t then that’s okay too. Phil Dunphy from the Modern Family gives it a go.

Lastly, say what you see and hear. If you notice positive changes, no matter how small, let them know. We all need to hear at times that we are on track, and it also just as good for you to catch the good stuff and how it makes you feel.

These are just a few points to think about, if you can think of any more then let me know, even if they won’t work in an acronym :-).

Hope its helpful and at the very least prompts thought and discussion.

Otter, Lion, Golden Retriever or Beaver?

What personality type is your young one?

If you have read my post on ‘Passion Pushing or Sharing the Goodness’ then you already have a fair idea about what I’m like when it comes to sport and competition. I was recently part of a workshop talking about resilience in children, and it recalled the old matter I had about personality types, namely the Myers-Briggs personality model.

My son is a big unit for his age, the size that many folk presume equates to a child a couple of years older than he is. This then is sometimes followed by the comment that he’ll make a heck of an All Black. This is somewhat of a contradiction to reality. This has nothing to do with his physical attributes but elements of his personality that makes me prouder than if he were to be an All Black. We join other families on a Saturday morning at Rugby Tots. He is pretty sharp off the mark, outstanding at zig zagging and takes great delight in watching me race off after his ball once he’s kicked it the length of the room. The personality I am referring to is best illustrated in how he plays the games they guide us through. Cowboys and Indians to start with, this is a gauntlet style activity where the cowboys race through a channel whilst the Indians are kicking foam balls at the them. Last one standing wins. My boy waits until the others have past before he kicks the ball safely out of harms way. The best example is tag rugby. He won’t take the tags off the other boys. When I asked him why, he whispered into my ear that it is snatching. Every week this happens with the strongest example being the Saturday just gone. Two boys face off with about 10 yards between them. When the whistle goes they have to sprint to the ball and the first one that dives on it wins. After 3 attempts my son would stop short of the ball until the other boy had caught up and dived on the ball. The fourth time I had encouraged him to get the ball highlighting it was part of the game and okay. This time he raced down and secured the ball and proudly brought it back to me. The other boy was beside himself and being consoled by his mum and one of the coaches. My son then turned around, jogged to the other side of the room and handed the ball to the upset young man. Every part of me a proud dad. I would suggest my son is very much a Golden Retriever. I am only too aware having seen lots of interactions with other children, that as parents we need to be mindful of the implications of being a retriever and how this informs elements of our parenting.

That is the very point of these personality type examples. To encourage us as parents to simply observe, listen and explore our young ones as best we can. Developing an awareness of our childs needs through celebrating strengths and acknowledging areas that would benefit from monitoring and developing.

Have a look at these and just explore, even if you think it doesn’t fit your young one then have some fun defining your own animal, car, plant… whatever.

Otterotter

Imaginative, easily distracted, creative, dramatic, ideas, spontaneous, entertainers… these are often the children with ‘imaginary friends’ or who you see in the Spiderman outfit!  Putting them in ‘time out’ often not effective as they really don’t care that much. Reward them with fun and praise them for originality.

Beaverbeever

Practical, punctual, precise. A fan of rules, lists and step-by-step instructions. Likes structure and to get things right the first time. Children will often play ‘real’ games like shop, restaurant… and aim to draw pictures realistically rather than imaginatively.

lionLion

Direct and competitive, strong-willed, assertive. Likes to be treated as an equal, they don’t like authority. Yelling and putting them in ‘time out’ won’t work. You need to stay calm, involve them in decision-making and give them some responsibility.

Retrieverretriever

Caring, affectionate and empathetic. Likes to keep everyone happy (sometimes at the expense of themselves), likes to follow the rules and be ‘good’, needs praise and encouragement and to feel special. Can be loyal to a fault. Just the mention of being put in ‘time out’ will often result in good behaviour as they don’t like to be separated from the group or to be ‘bad’.

So, which one is your young one, better still which one might you be and how can this inform how you parent?

 

Pastoral Leadership: Listen Before You Leap

I recently got into a conversation with a new senior manager at a high school. We talked about what takes a leader from professional competence (looks the part and keeps working through the ‘to do’ list and ‘to see’ folk) to a nurturer of authentic change. I am primarily talking about pastoral care of our students and the role we as educators have. When I refer to pastoral leaders I refer to every member of the school community from the canteen staff, students and teachers all the way up to the Principal. I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible educators that far exceed the expectations of any job description. They bring about change through relationships that are firm, fair, consistent and from a position of genuine care for a students wellbeing. We all know this isn’t always the case and even the best of folk have their off day.

The huge shift I see in schools at the moment is one to student lead, and therefore change based on student voice. To sympathise a person may ask and then listen to what happened, whereas an empathetic leader would genuinely want to explore the whys. The difference between processing the problem and acknowledging the uniqueness of everyone we come into contact with is a more effective position. It is a conversation of reciprocated learning, modelling the very behaviours we hope to hear and see. It is not losing Mana, control or power, in fact the very opposite. This is how you affect change one by one, and beyond one incident but toward ongoing growth.

An example: A student wears the incorrect shoes for three days, following school policy and procedure, post warning they are now into after school detention land. Until…. the student ‘loses the plot’ after receiving an additional detention slip for ongoing ‘minor defiance’ (not attending original detention). This results in a ‘major defiance’ and a stand down. The teachers perspective, the student is just plain defiant and being a teenager so must get punished. It’s then far more than just interesting to explore the the student’s experience towards informing the why? As it happens the school shoes had just been bought in anticipation for a new start in the safe place that is school. This student has endured an abusive home environment almost all of their life. Unfortunately, these same new shoes were used to assault a number of family members the night before he was first pulled up by teachers, to the extent the students mum was hospitalised with serious injuries. These shoes were seized as evidence in the intended prosecution of his father.

expelled

If you get anything from this post then I hope its this: It’s very rarely black and white when it comes to school misbehaviour or discipline. Is it brave or just plain common sense to come alongside the student and dare to listen just as much as talk. It’s not necessarily setting out to justify a behaviour, but more to inform the context and reasoning with the hope of preventing future incidents and exploring better responses for better outcomes. 

The biggest point to be made in terms of pastoral leadership is that it is not hierarchical, every member of a school community from the students to the Principal are all pastoral leaders. This philosophy is no longer a feel good gimmick that can be rolled out prior to inspection time. It is increasingly and quite rightly being acknowledged as fundamental to a strong school community. Wellbeing measures as a tool for measuring educational success is growing, and when embraced beyond rhetoric is a fantastic juggernaut  that showers both staff and students with the benefits.

Technology & Counselling (Virtual Reality)

This is a short intro into what I am up to in counsellor land. I have often felt that professionals in the field of mental health in NZ are a private pedigree and less than confident or willing to share ideas. I say ideas not best practice because its okay to have ideas, give them a go and embrace if they work and file away if not. Not to mention what works for one person may not work for another. I hope to share my experience and feedback of incorporating technology into my practice in the hope it raises questions, which can only be a good thing.

Firstly why? why not just do what I do and sit back on the masses of evidence that tells folk it works and makes a difference (counselling that is). Also, technology costs money and I want to reduce overheads for maximum profit margin. As the head of a large counselling department we can barely buy refill let alone a VR headset. I will certainly in future posts on this topic return to addressing and discussing challenges such as these.

Why? I want to access and engage with clients that wouldn’t ordinarily access counselling. I want to make it more interesting and challenging for my client and yes for me too. I want to fill my tool box with as many strategies and resources as possible that can support me in my work and my clients in their process. Technology is here and now and I would like my work as a counsellor to keep up with the needs, expectations and opportunities that come with innovation. Most importantly I want to continue to ask questions of myself and how I work so I continue to evolve, whether this means technology is a welcome addition, or whether it is an unhelpful gimmick. I want to make that decision from the coal face rather than being directed by those that may have their own agenda or insecurities about such change or ideas.

663275 Google Expeditions_03

To begin with I’d like to introduce:

Virtual Reality (Samsung VR Gear $199 NZD)

good vr

This device works with a Samsung S6 upwards and I use it with my S7. You upload the Oculus app via the app store and once done you connect your phone behind the front protective fascia and adjust so its nice and tight to your head. It takes only a few minutes to get used to it and how you select something from the menu, focus, volume and the ‘go back’ button. Pretty straight forward.

samsung vr

Context: I have used these in two roles. In my private practice with adults around social anxiety, anger and stress. Also in my role as a school counsellor (Age group 11-18 years). You will certainly see students requesting appointments that you may not have previously seen.

How do I use it?

Mindfulness. There are a couple of free apps that are ‘OK’, but the graphics aren’t as good as they could or should be. What you can do is take your pulse pre and post session to monitor its effectiveness using the phone as a senser. I have found it works and my clients, adults, adolescents and children love it.

Apps: Both would get a 7/10, however the future scenes for Guided Meditation VR would take it to an 8/10 and make it the better of the two.

guided med vr                                exvreience

 

Anxiety. There are again a few apps for public speaking, fear of flying etc. Really not many right now but they are coming through quite quickly. The main distinction is previously VR has meant a programmed virtual reality, so quite grainy computer generated simulation. The cameras now however mean the content is using real images and footage and in HD. This is far better. Again, I have used it for students with a fear of public speaking at my school. I simply recorded our hall with no spectators, 10 spectators, 20 and then 35. Time was limited and students so I plan to sepnd a bit of time on this concept building towards a full assembly. This is great for both students and staff. I turn the sound down and through desensitization we gradually build the scene up with the student reading their presentation. Again we look at anchors in the room and capture the sensations of a successful delivery.

heights

Sports Counselling. Visualisation can be anchored in real-time and specific to the individual and their sport and needs. For example in Rugby, a kicker would be recorded completing a successful kick. This recording is then utilised to replay and rehearse the conditions and enable you both to explore anchors whether on the field, physically or verbally. This principle is used in most golf shops nowadays to improve your swing without having to wade through rivers or apologise to the next green to retrieve your ball.

How do I intend to use it?

Behaviour Modification. I hope to simply record scenarios that cover the gambit of student challenges. Conflict resolution and bullying for example. Recording scenarios that we can use to explore the A B C’s of behaviours and also the opportunity to apply what we discuss in a safe but realistic environment -role play.

I hope to utilise a specific camera to increase the quality and availability of footage and content that is specific to my client base, community and presenting issues, so NZ rather than courtesy of The States. The fly 360 (below) seems like the best ‘normal folk’ or no commercial grade device retailing at about $950 NZD. However there are others in your local store such as the Samsung Gear 360 ($650 NZD). However, if you want to keep it even more low-budget then use your 360 option on most of the newer phones.

fly360

It’s very new and specific reviews of apps and uses will grow in time through future blogs. Early signs are extremely positive, my clients love it and it can really fit in nicely as part of a wider session making a great additional resource to work with clients.

For more info etc. check out:

http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-healthcare/therapies.html

Virtual Reality Therapy: Treating The Global Mental Health Crisis

http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/virtual-reality.aspx

http://www.wsj.com/articles/virtual-reality-as-a-therapy-tool-1443260202

(These articles offer further reading, they are not necessarily my thoughts and opinions)

 

 

The Starfish Story

When I left PE teaching to take up my first counsellor position I was given a gift by a friend and colleague. This gift still sits pride of place in my office as a bit of a nudge and visual pep talk and reminder. It was a starfish in a small flax bag, that also contained a short story. That short story is one about a child on a beach making a difference, one star fish at a time. This is an adapted version of the original by Loren Eiseley.

The Starfish Story 2

This story can be interpreted to put across many different messages. For many daunting tasks and ‘to do’s’ can be put to one side due to procrastination or fear. This simple story illustrates the need and importance to break the seemingly insurmountable down into manageable pieces, and move forward one step at a time.

In counsellor land this may be that such a safe and supportive environment is provided that a client is able to deconstruct the big picture thinking and expectations, into bite size pieces that can be explored without the clutter of the ‘static noise’. This brings clarity which can bring positive movement, as if we get lost in the static noise and own the confusion that it brings we tend to stay put.

What may seem small and insignificant to you can be monumental to others. What may seem too huge and impossible to you, becomes possible if you concentrate on putting just one foot in front of the other, rather than getting caught up in how far away the destination is.

When it comes to the value of reaching out and helping someone, that really depends on the motivation that drives it. I have had the absolute honour of coming into contact with the most passionate and generous ‘helpers’ I can imagine as possible. It is not what or even how much they give and do, but the genuineness behind the action. When we do something because it’s good and we want to, with the only intended benefit being for the people we do it for, then it becomes a real gift with a heck of an impact. Yes, if it then makes you feel good as a byproduct then that can only be mother natures way of saying ‘top job’. Perhaps not so much if you are doing it to make yourself feel good and helping others is a byproduct. I believe this is the difference between presenting a connection, to engaging in an authentic and positive connection with others. You sure as heck can feel the difference, and you can be pretty sure they do to.