I find as a counsellor, I am continuously growing and changing. When I first became a counsellor, I was outcome focused and wanting to make a difference. My work centred in helping the client have a better life and I worked hard, often seeking reassurance. Continue reading
I’m delighted to share with you that I have been awarded my Senior Accreditation with BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherap)y. As I started sharing my good news with some peers and my supervisees, a few raised some questions and I thought I would share these along with my answers.
Why bother going through the BACP accreditation process?
Do you needs tools to manage your anxiety?
Wouldn’t it be great at times when you want to avoid situations or people, you could pick out a tool to help you? Imagine when anxiety strikes you try a techniques and it helps you get rid of that anxiety feeling. You then get on with your life. Rather than end up feeling destabilised.
This post will show you Continue reading
Reflections on starting my own counselling private practice
My decision to starting my own counselling practice was based on two reasons. Firstly, I loved being a counsellor and secondly, I really wanted to be independent.
You also need to be prepared to work at being successful. The reality is that it is more likely that you will not make much money at the beginning of starting your counselling practice or be inundated with clients. There is a lot of counsellors out there and plenty of competition. Every day I see a new counsellor Continue reading
Counselling and social work – can two identities can work together?
Guest blog post from Lynn Findlay, (counsellor and psychotherapist based in Sheffield) who reflects on whether two career identities can work together. You can find more of her reflective writings here
I never realised until recently how much my identity is bound in my career and my job role. I now see this too in my clients, it can be expressed as a dilemma, a frustration and a loss. A loss of Something that we traditionally think is external until we are without it, or facing being without it, then it becomes our safety net and comfort zone.
What is it? Our job role or title becomes our identity and an important part of our “I am”. Imagine you are introducing yourself to people you have not met before, perhaps at a family event or new social gathering. What is the next thing you say after your name?
For me it was always “I am a social worker”, often before my roles in my family, those I care about the most who accept me unconditionally, or the hobbies I enjoy which give me more enjoyment and pleasure. Work was always there, always second on the list.
Who ‘I am’ in my career?
I have been a qualified social worker for over 20 years, and over the past three years as I completed my counselling training, I have grappled with who I am in my career. I noticed I began to add on to my introductions an “as well”, usually “I am also training to be a counsellor”. But this was an add-on and I thought perhaps it was because I was still in the doing phase rather than the being.
I am now a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. But I am still a social worker first. My working week is shared between the two roles. I am trying hard to see myself as both my identities, but this isn’t easy at times. I have considered moving on from social work but I know I am not ready to let
this part of my identity go, just yet. It is my safety net and my comfort zone. I am still getting the “I am a counsellor” to flow.
Working in dual roles also enables important reflections on the shared values and skills across the professions, with building relationships and making a difference to people’s lives, alongside some of the differences, most notably in power and assessment. Being a counsellor has changed how I view power and I consciously address this now in my practice where I can, both in how I am working and being perceived by others, and in the wider systems we operate in.
Having these different roles brings privilege and I can use this to empathise with clients who are too facing change, wanting to make changes to their “I am” or moving on from being stuck. It is a loss we often don’t consider, especially if it is through active choice, rather than retirement or redundancy.
Now when I am introducing myself to others, I consciously try to remember all the roles I have in my life, and bring these into the conversation. Just as I encourage with my clients when we explore their wholeness and all their parts of self which come together to make the whole person. It does feel
strange not to put work first all the time and I often try to begin with my hobbies, although these often precede with ‘aspiring’. Noticing how you introduce yourself to others highlights what you value and what you think others value in you. It might be time to try things in a different order….?
Do you struggle with change? Are you aware of your own reactions to changes? Do you resist change?
Change brings about different reactions within us and even irrational behaviour. Therefore a common first instinct is to resist the change.
How can we deal with change?
When change happens, it is useful to reflect on our inner resistance to change. If we have a deeper understanding of ourselves, it will help us understand how our inner resistances work and how we generally react to different situations. By learning more about ourselves and our reactions we can adapt to different situations and learn to cope with them.
A strong sense of self-awareness will help you to take personal reasonability and stay more in control. It is up to you how you chose to react to each situation. Learning how to manage change more effectively will help you to be better equipped and more positive when it change happens to you.
Positive ways to make changes
Change often only happens when we want it too. If you procrastinate, you will be putting of inevitable. The danger is we may be wasting precious time in our lives being unhappy when we could turn it all around by embracing change.
Your mind works best when it is open. As Frank Zappa says ‘Your mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work, if it isn’t open’. Sometimes we can drag the baggage of the past and superimpose it on to situations without being open-minded and taking a fresh perspective. One thing I hear from clients who resist change is ‘Well we tried that before and it didn’t work’ You need to remember every situation is different, and just because something different work last time, it does not mean it will not work next time. Give it another go with an open mind without the expectation that it will fail.
Prepare your emotions
Accept the fact that you may be emotional during the change process. Change may make you feel unhappy, fearful, insecure, unsettled, frustrated. On the other side of the table, however, you may feel enthusiastic, elated, delighted and excited. Any of those emotions will have an impact on your energy levels so it is really important to prepare yourself.
Relax and go with the flow
Sometimes change happens and we have absolutely no control over it whatsoever. When this happens you have to choose how you are going to respond. If you resist change and remain rigid and inflexible it will be a lot more difficult and even painful. Going with the flow sometimes is the best approach.
Having a positive attitude about change is the right mindset to cultivate. If we go into the change situation believing that it is negative then we are more likely to experience negative outcomes. Whilst it is important to understand some of the risks and pitfalls involved it is also important to focus on positive outcomes.
Keep some familiarity in your life.
Understandably changing everything sends people into panic as it threatens to destabilise their world. If you are embarking on a major change, then keep up as many familiar things that feel comfortable to you. This will help remind you that there are things in your life that do not need changing, and how much is in your life that isn’t changing. For example, sticking to same routine or seeing friends you normally see. You can then reassure yourself that not everything has to change just because some things have.
Challenge your perspective
Sometimes the way we view a situation can be very narrow because we are perceiving it through our own filter, and will perhaps benchmark it against our previous experiences. It is important to really examine and look at the situation from all angles. Be careful not to get yourself stuck up a one-way street with your thinking. There is always another angle and another perspective.
As a summary when thinking about change:
- Understand why the change in your life is happening
- Actively seek out the opportunities this will bring
- Be positive and open minded
- Understand your emotions around change
- Take responsibility for your reactions and choices.
Do you resist change? Will any of the above tips will help you to adapt to change?
I have had several losses in my life and been through different journeys with grief. When grief first entered into my life, it would have been helpful if someone explained the stages of grief to me. It would’ve been good if someone just told me that grief was normal. I was doing alright. It was ok to feel all those bad feelings. I had to feel them. I tried to ignore them but i needed to go through them all – bad and good. Grief comes with no timetable. It differs from person to person. You have to be patient, and allow the journey unfold and go in whatever direction it takes you.
So what did I learn from my journey with grief?
I learnt about myself and I changed. For the better. I’ve become empathetic and kinder. I learnt that as hard as it gets, it does get easier. You don’t forget but you do learn to live with the pain.
What are my tips to help others who are grieving? Here are a few points, I think are useful for anyone experiencing grief.
It saved me. I walked for miles. It was a time when I really let you in grief. I cried, I shouted. Every step helped. It got me out of the house and gave me exercise. It allowed me to be myself. Sometimes I stomped. Eventually my step came lighter. I now take this lesson into my work by offering walk/talk therapy.
When I worked overseas, I wrote to a family member. Each evening I wrote for 10 minutes or so. At the time, I did not realise how therapeutic this was. Evenutally I turned this to writing to the deceased. When I felt lonely. I wrote and told them. It allowed me to share my feelings – anger one day, sadness the next. It helped me recognise what I was feeling. Knowing what I was feeling helped me feel better equipped to deal with the various feelings, especially through the depression stage.
3. Allow yourself to grieve.
I stayed in the numbness stage and managed to supress those feelings. I became an expert at burying them. I do wonder if I accepted those feelings sooner, perhaps I would’ve moved on quicker. It is important to acknowledge the pain. This will be the start of the healing process. It is good to read around and gain some understanding of the grieving cycle.
4. Lean on friends and family.
Friends were there to help. I rejected most help. You think they will be bored with your story but they are not. Embarrassment kept me to keep things to myself. If only I told some of the friends how lost I felt and how I was feeling. I had a lot of expectations from them without telling them what I really wanted from them. If you experience a traumatic death as we did as a family. Talk. Share. Work through that trauma together. Stop thinking you must protect each other.
5. Seek support.
Find a therapist. Counselling what helped me through the depression. Counselling helped me work through the intense emotions and identify the barriers to my grief. It also helped me learn how I react to my emotions.
6. Take care of yourself.
I was bad at this. I did not eat and as a result I had no energy. At times I became lethargic and those were the days when it was easy to do nothing. I slept the day away. I did not go out and hid away from people. I lost my confidence and self-esteem. Arrange times to meet up with friends.
7. Plan for the triggers.
Birthday’s, anniversaries, Christmas, Mother/Father day etc They are all triggers. Often the lead up to them are worse than the actual days. Each year it can still be painful but careful planning does help. You can find out more information here.
Bang, you came knocking on the door one day. You swept in pushing me over, changing my life forever. The one thing certain in life is that we are going to die. We know this. Nothing can prepare us for the loss of a loved one to death when you enter into our lives grief. You are hard to describe grief especially as everyone experiences you differently.
I can’t remember what I ate yesterday yet I can remember word by word that phone call when I first met you 26 years ago. ‘Dead? No.’ I cried, slumping to the floor. At that moment my world stopped. A wall of fog came up in front of me. I felt lost, frightened, confused and lonely. I could not imagine my life going on. On the journey home, we stopped at the services and I just starred in the mirror looking at myself. I had to tell my reflection what was happening. I just froze and numbness hit me. Once home, the practical side of things took over and it was easy to focus on that. I even remember us laughing as a family. Laughter as such a sad time. How irrational you can be grief!
The funeral. I think I was there. I can’t remember the day. I only remember how you felt grief. You hurt. I could not breath. The pain was unbearable. It was even worse that having cerebral malaria. And that hurt!
As I prepared to go back to University to sit my exams, denial hit me. I could not accept that the loss had occurred. You’re good at that grief. Letting us deny what has happened. I remember a friend asking me how I was. ‘Numb’ I said. ‘I cannot believe it has happened’. ‘You’ve said it enough times’ he replied. ‘You should know by now’. At that moment, I realised I was alone with you grief. I was surrounded by people my age who had not experienced loss. They did not understand. Their live’s went on.
I became a robot. I got up every day. Sat my exams. I functioned. Friends slipped away and I withdrew into myself. Days I could keep you at bay grief. Some days you hit me when I least expected you. Throughout that time, I felt useless. Reflecting back it is amazing to how I managed to carry on. I got that Master’s and before I know it, I was on my way for my first overseas assignment. I threw myself into my work. I kept that denial up. I was ok. I was superwoman.
Until one day a monster took over me. I still remember that day. I cringe at the friend who the anger was directed at. An overwhelming rage overtook me. And that anger stayed. I did not realise at the time but that anger stayed with me for over a year. Nothing was right. I blamed everyone apart from myself. Everyone else was the problem. At one stage, I was even angry at the person who left me. How dare they? If only they stayed at home that day. You know the drill grief. And then came the anger at myself. If only I went home the weekend before the death. If only I was a better person. If only……
If only someone sat me down and explained you grief, to me. If only someone took the time to listen to me. I am sure the grief journey would have less bumpy if I shared my grief and worked my way through it. Rather than keep stabbing in the dark and resisting you grief.
Two years later, I sank into a deep pit of depression. I was swarmed. I crumbled. I slowly lost my friends. Sadly most friendships have not recovered. Luckily someone picked me up and gave me that hug, and put me in right direction of help. Six months of help helped me crawl through that depression and start believing in life again. I accepted the grief. I was ready to move on. I could see my future. I knew I could start living my life.
Grief, what a journey we’ve had together. I would give up everything to have stopped that journey. But I have to admit, grief, that I have grown from our journey together. I would not be the person I am today without that journey. Some of the opportunities that came knocking on my door would’ve not happened if I wasn’t on your journey. You and I have our distance now grief. But you come knocking on my door sometimes. The birth of my son – a happy moment which you pushed your way into. What’s different now grief, is I allow that moment of unhappiness. I then look at where I am and those who are around me. I can then sit with you and let the happy memories flood in.
In the next blog post, this will look at things that I have learnt from grief and useful tips to help anyone experiencing grief through a loss.
Decision to stop drinking
Nearly two years ago, I decided to stop drinking alcohol. I read about a friend who had given drinking (who I have had a few merry nights with) and the positive impact it had had on her life. From this I decided I would go a month without alcohol. I succeeded. That rolled on to another month. Then another month and another. And it still continues.
Drinking socially and for the sake of it
I have to put my hands up. During my student years and as an aid worker, alcohol was a social part of my life. Watching Adrian Childs programme ‘Drinkers Like me’ reminded me how my own social life often circulated around drinking. Plans were made around meeting at pubs, picnics with wine, taking a bottle round to a friends. Many goods times were had. However, some times are fuzzy and some meant I did not enjoy the day after. Regrets, giving up? No. Regretting not giving up earlier? Yes.
Reflecting on my life without alcohol has shown me that it has had a positive impact on my life, and in hindsight I wish I had not gone back to alcohol after the birth of my children. I thought I would share with you what I have learnt about myself and other things I have discovered since I gave up my relationship with alcohol.
Three main impacts of stopping drinking alcohol
- I feel healthier. I no longer wake up to a hangover or feel not quite right. I am able to get up early and have more energy during the day. I feel less sluggish and less irritable during the day.
- My sleep has improved. Years of having continuous sleepless nights has stopped. I now recognise that alcohol helped me get to sleep. However, I would always wake up, and struggle to get back to sleep. In the last 2 years, I have found I have deeper and less interruptive sleep.
- Improvement on my mental health. Looking back on my daily reflections, I notice that I have a more positive outlook on life and I have more motivation. I am able to look at issues more rationally and as a result my confidence has grown. I find myself getting less bothered about things.
Reflecting on what I have discovered
The three reasons above are good reasons for me not to pick up a glass of wine again. However, I have discovered other things. Not only about myself but also about others. I thought I would share these with you.
Not drinking alcohol saves money. Going out with my friends is cheaper. Drinking socially is expensive. Food bills without alcohol is considerably cheaper.
Fun with drinking
I do not need to drink to have fun. Dry January – I would hear people say that they could not go out during this month, or they could not wait until the end of January when the fun could start again. It resonated with me as I remember making similar comments. Yet here I am now. I am having same amount of fun (if not more) as before alcohol.
I do not have to hide behind alcohol. I can be who I am. Confidence in myself has to come from me not from drinking. I am able to be myself in social or networking situations. I feel I come across as more confident and relaxed. I can be me. Being sober means I fully trust myself. I am in control of my emotions and actions.
I have more time. This does not mean I am going out less. No. What I mean is my evenings at home are focused around spending time with the family or doing things for myself. Instead of sitting down with a glass of wine watching the television or hurrying bed time, I am valuing my time at home.
No drowning sorrow
Good and bad times can be felt. I do not need to drown my sorrows. I do not need celebrate my successes with a glass of champagne. Instead feeling those strong emotions is good. There is no need to supress them. I can work through hard times by myself. I can feel happy and elated and enjoy that feeling. I can share it to. Feeling these good and bad times means I feel more alive.
Tackle problems rather than avoid them
Alcohol makes problems worse. How easy it was for me to drink to help me forget a bad day? The reason for bad day is still there tomorrow. Worse off if I was hungover, I was usually feeling irritable or tired, making the problem seem worse. Drinking does not make a problem go away. It only delays having to face it.
I’m enjoying sobriety. The longer I am sober, the more I want to be. I had to admit giving up drinking was not easy. The main battle was my mind. When I first gave up, I seemed to be thinking about drinking daily. However, like most habits, once I had got past the 30 days, I stopped thinking about it. My evenings are planned on what I want to do, rather whether I can drive or not. The longer sobriety lasts, the less I want a drink.
Judgement from others
Other people have problems with me giving up. Yes, it is true. People now comment on my lack of drinking (I never got comments that I drank too much!). People think I cannot walk into a pub without drinking (I can and do – though pubs do need to improve their choice of teas though!). Giving up is my choice. I do not judge my friends or anyone else on whether they drink socially. That is there choice. I can still laugh and have fun with those who are drinking.
Enjoying more activities
I have a wider social circle and activities. Rather than arranging to go out with friends for a drink, I am discovering other things to do. Both on my own and with new friends. I am enjoying different activities. I feel some friendships have deepened. Without drinking, my conversations are meaningful and relaxed.
Where do you go?
It is hard to find a coffee/ tea shop open after the hours off 5pm (apart from the chain coffee shops). Since giving up, I have noticed there are not many non-alcoholic places to meet in the evenings in the centre of Sheffield.
Role model for children
I am conscious on the positive role modelling I am having on my children. My children talk about not drinking when they are older. They are learning from me. They see fun can be had without alcohol. I am more even tempered so they are not seeing any cross words through alcohol or seeing me out of control. When I am with them I am just me.
In conclusion if I had to choose the one reason to stop drinking, it would be the improvement on my mental health. My mental wellbeing has improved immensely.