How does Change Happen – Or Notice the Little Stuff.

I’ve been remembering some of my experiences of change. One that was very significant for me was a few years ago now. I had been walking my dogs first thing in the  morning and I was reflecting on my internal sense of self and how I was feeling on a day to day basis. As I reached the front door, I had a profound realisation that I was content with myself in a way that I hadn’t ever felt before. I was amazed and astounded by this realisation. I found myself thinking but when did I change?  How did this happen?  As I thought about the difference I was experiencing I realised I wasn’t able to identify any particular moments of significance, but that what had been happening was slow, incremental moments and shifts and change that I had not been aware of until then.

So, how does change happen? There are probably 100’s of books that have been written on the subject, numerous blog posts and theory about how it all works. The impact on people, how we cope and deal with changes in our lives or how we make changes for the better.

Change in Therapy

Clients often talk to me about change during their therapy.   If the desired change is something about self, what seems to be very common is a sense that we will know immediately when change happens.  And that the desired change will happen quickly.  There seems to be an internal expectation that people will immediately think about what they want to do differently and be able put that in place.  I suspect this is often because the distress of the current situation is difficult and people want things to be different and for this to happen quickly.   I see a lot of this with people I work with.   I often find myself saying something like “you’ve been thinking/feeling/behaving this way for x number of years – it’s likely to take some more time for you to make the changes you want.”

The two aspects I’m noticing most as I’m writing this post are about our expectations:

  1. about the speed of change and
  2. that we will notice immediately when we do change.

My “how to support yourself” tips from this post are that we have to learn to be patient with ourselves.  In some ways I often think this is one of the tasks of therapy.  To learn to be more forgiving of ourselves, to be more patient with ourselves, to have more realistic and kinder expectations of ourselves.  And notice the small stuff. I suspect that in my journey to being more content with myself there were numerous small shifts and changes along the way that I didn’t account or was aware of.  If I had been I suspect it would have been very helpful in motivating and encouraging me that I was changing.

I’m going to give a couple of examples of what I mean by “the small stuff”.  If I’m the kind of person who can’t relax until all the jobs are done I might find myself leaving the washing up until after I’ve watched that TV programme.   Or, if I’m really nervous around people and find it difficult to interact I might find that I say hello to one of my work colleagues in the kitchen at work instead of being silent. So my final tip is take time to do a self check and notice those tiny shifts in thinking, feeling and behaviour. They are important and over time can add up to the significant change you are working towards.

Have you made big changes in your life that you would like to share?  How did that happen?  I’d love to hear people’s stories of changes they have made.

 

Quote of the Week

I’m going to be posting a quote of the week along with a local photograph. Living so to close the Peak District I get lots of opportunities for wonderful walks and inspiring countryside. So I thought I’d share them along with an interesting quote once a week. And here’s the first.

Curbar Edge.
Curbar Edge.

“Our patience will achieve more than our force. ”

Edmund Burke.  Via http://www.brainyquote.com/

 

Motivation

There are a multitude of motivational tips, lists of how to’s and steps to achieving change.  Some useful, some less so. I though this was a good article on motivation and ritual by Elliot Begouin in the interesting Huffington Post.  A different and helpful perspective.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elliot-begoun/the-ugly-but-honest-truth_b_7999448.html

 

 

What’s a Therapy Group Like?

Never, it’s not for me, I don’t have the confidence for a therapy group.

Probably just a few of the responses you might have to the idea of being in a therapy group with people you have never met before. And sometimes it can be the very fact that you do not know the other members of the therapy group that be so helpful.  These people most likely do not know you. They are not in a previous relationship with you:  a colleague, friend, sibling or parent, a partner.  They can give you feedback in a way that is not influenced by their history with you.   They may choose to share their responses to the issues you may be facing in your life. You will most probably find out that they have faced something similar themselves. You are not alone in your experience.

A therapy group can be an opportunity to gain support, to explore yourself and your relationships, to have a shared experience of connectedness.  There are different types of therapy groups and different configurations. Some meet regularly, often fortnightly or weekly for a couple of hours or so.  Some groups meet a three or four times a year for longer. Others meet as a one off for a weekend or longer.

As a therapist who runs a variety of different groups, I am often struck by the potency of the group experience for people.  Taking the step to join a therapy  group, to share intimate moments from your life can be a big decision for some people, one that I think reaps its rewards. Add to this of course, is the fact that I like running groups. I enjoy the interaction, the sharing and contact I see between people, the willingness to be open and support each other. I like the fact we nearly always find something to laugh about together. We enjoy ourselves and have some fun too.

I read recently that we are born into relationship – it seems to me that engaging in therapy with others is a natural way to learn about ourselves through relationship.

Information on my next therapy group can be found at Group Therapy

Inspired

Two people whose writing inspires me. I really enjoy the personal, reflective approach taken by Barbara Clarkson and Martha Crawford.  Barbara’s blog is new and very much reflects her personal style and interests and I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to day as the weeks go on.

http://www.barbaraclarksoncounselling.co.uk/blog/

And then there’s Martha Crawford.  whose writing I have been following for a while.  I find her intellect and ideas fascinating.

http://whatashrinkthinks.com/2015/02/22/if-there-be-none/

I hope you enjoy both of these too. Let me know what you think,  I’d love to hear any recommendations you may have.

Creativity in Supervision

Art and Supervision

I’m really interested in the question of creativity in supervision. As a part time artist, creativity is something I frequently reflect on. In writing this piece I want to draw on my experiences both as artist and a supervisor and therapist to share some of those reflections and thoughts about creativity in supervision and psychotherapy.

How to Define Creativity?

When I was originally asked by Robin Hobbes to write an article for The Transactional Analyst (magazine of UKATA) I thought about how I define creativity, and then I did some reading. I looked at how creativity has been defined historically.  Some of the early ideas of creativity are that it is God given or from something beyond our understanding.  More recently Picciuto and Carruthers (forthcoming) write that “most theorists assume that creativity requires ideas, behaviour or products that are both novel and valuable.”  They also reference Boden (2004) who draws a distinction between “historical creativity” where “the novelty is relative to an entire society or tradition”, so for example, new movements in art and science where ideas are radical and new; and psychological creativity where an idea is new to a person in some way.  For example a new thought, emotion, way of doing, or process. I like how Edwards (1986) neatly summarises the conundrum of creativity, does it require innate talent or can it be learnt, she goes on to reference various thinkers’ ideas on the steps in the creative process.  I’m going to use this model to look at the activity of supervision and how it is a psychologically creative process for the supervisee.

Five Stage Model 

The model identifies five stages in the creative process:

First insight – a term that covers both solving existing problems and problem finding in the form of asking new and searching questions.

Saturation – the research stages

Incubation – period of reflection.

Illumination (The Ah Ha) – the sudden solution as a result of the integration of the previous stages nearly always brief.

Verification – putting the solution into concrete form and checking it for effectiveness.

IMG_20141009_152238
Pencil sketch

In my painting I’m faced with “problems” all the time. How to capture the light in a particular scene, how to use a selection of colours in a pleasing way. Most recently I have been faced with the problem of drawing buildings. I’ve felt dissatisfied with what I have drawn for quite some time, the first insight stage, the problem being how to draw buildings in a loose style and still be accurate. Alongside this I have been engaged in research, the saturation stage, practicing drawing buildings and reflecting on the results for a few months. Most recently, whilst spending time away where I was sketching every day I decided to undertake a more detailed pencil sketch en plein air (outside from life).  In using a pencil I was able to erase my mistakes and keep working on the drawing until I was satisfied I had the perspective correct. The sudden solution. Not that radical and new, but new to me in terms of process and what I had been engaged in recently.  I followed this by undertaking another painting using pen and watercolour, my preferred medium for plein air work.  I’d learnt a lot about how to draw buildings more effectively from my earlier attempts in pencil, about the quality of the lines, planning and composition, how to approach the drawing. The result was much more satisfying.

A more satisfying result
A more satisfying result

So how is this relevant to supervision?

I think that the relevance is in the process, one of problem solving creatively. I see part of my role as supervisor is to facilitate the supervisee accessing their creativity in problem solving with their clients and developing skill in being creative in the field of psychotherapy.

At the stage of first insight I will be contracting with my supervisee as to what “problem” they are seeking to solve. With some supervisees the work at this stage is often supporting them in the area of developing new and searching questions to ask. I have sometimes felt that adopting a contracting approach that seeks to define the problem too early can miss this extremely important part of the creative process, that of developing thinking around new questions to as.  By focussing too soon on what is immediately presented, then evolving questions through exploration may be missed.

Saturation, the research stages.  This takes place on an ongoing basis between client and supervisee and then in the supervision session between myself and supervisee as we discuss the client case presented. Assessment, transactional analysis, script analysis, the moment by moment, session by session experience of being with the client is part of the research process.  In the supervision one of my biggest areas of research is the parallel process.  I find it an invaluable indicator of the relational dynamics in the therapeutic relationship that exists between my supervisee and their client. I also like to be “creative” in how I facilitate supervisees in their research, looking again for new ways to ask questions. So for example using two chair work, or through encouraging movement and role play.

Incubation can take place between supervision sessions and is also part of the activity of supervision where we are reflecting on the experience of my supervisees’ relationships and work with their clients. Sometimes the period of incubation is rapid, where a supervisee may very quickly experience a sudden insight into a client. Other times incubation is much longer and takes place between sessions and the supervisee may be more reliant on the supervisor to provide solutions. Which brings me on to Illumination.  Another part of my focus is that of facilitating growth in the supervisee in confidence in generating their own solutions. That growth might mean encouraging them to undertake more research, or it might be about the first insight stage of asking different questions or more reflection time either with me or on their own.

Verification takes place when supervisees test out solutions through treatment direction and specific interventions with their clients. Reflecting on the impact of those interventions and bringing back for further discussion in supervision.

Ultimately I find thinking about the supervision process as one of creative problem solving very useful,  both in terms of what I am doing in the supervision with my supervisees, how am I being creative and when working with supervisees to facilitate them in developing their own thinking and solutions to client work.

This piece originally appeared as an article in the Transactional Analyst 2014.

Edwards, Betty. Drawing on the artist within. Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Carruthers, Peter & Picciuto, Elizabeth (forthcoming). The Origins of Creativity. In E. Paul & S. Kaufman (eds.), The Philosophy of Creativity. Oxford University Press.

On Being 50

Aging

It was my 50th birthday about 10 days ago. In the run up to the big day I had been feeling pretty ambivalent about being 50. In the last ten years or so I’ve noticed physical changes.  Fitness is not as easy, I get stiff after unaccustomed exercise and my recovery time is longer, I get tired more easily, it’s not as easy to keep my weight at a healthy level etc etc. I’ve also noticed a few grey hairs (actually more than a few) and some wrinkles.

Fear of Death

And perhaps most importantly I’ve been having what I’ve been “calling existential panics.” I will be engaged in doing something, not necessarily thinking deeply about anything in particular and I will find that somewhere in my thought process my mind has turned to the idea of dying.  Then I experience a cold panic at the idea of no longer being here. A sense of what it might mean to no longer have a sense of my own consciousness, of there being no more me. Alongside this is a feel of the magnitude of history, the endless stretch of time flowing backwards and forwards.  I feel completely insignificant. My time on this earth has been but a blink of an eye. It’s uncomfortable and unsettling and pretty scary.

So in the run up to being 50 I’d been thinking about this experience I’d been having. What it will mean to have lived 50 years of my life. That I’ve almost certainly got less years ahead of me than I’ve lived. I was worried how I might feel.

Being Peacful

What a surprise.  I woke up on my birthday and it felt like a good birthday. Friends and relatives coming to a party to celebrate. It was about lunchtime as I was sipping on a celebratory glass of champagne when I had a very reassuring insight. I was reflecting on my life and what I’d felt like at 40, and 30 and at 20, Then I thought that I’d probably got about another 30 years or so ahead of me.  In that moment it felt like it might be enough. That another 30 years was a long time and that in that time I might very well  be ok with the idea of not being here anymore.  So, whilst I’m not ready yet and  I love my life I  also for the first time  had a sense that it might be possible to make my peace with death, dying and leaving.

A serious subject and something that faces us all in end. Have you anything you would like to share about your experience of aging and living?

The Drama Triangle

I thought I would write another post about an aspect of TA theory I really like, that I use with my clients and they tell me they find really helpful..

Relationship Patterns

The Drama Triangle, originated by Steve Karpman, is a way of understanding the repeating patterns we can sometimes get into in our relationships, that result in uncomfortable feelings.  How often have you found yourself getting into a familiar discussion with your partner or a family member, where both of you end up feeling a bit rubbish?  Karpman’s idea suggests that this is because we often take up one of three roles in our interactions with people.  The roles are Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim, and the defining characteristic of each of these roles is the view of self in relation to others.  This draws on the idea of life positions, developed by Eric Berne.  He proposed 4 life positions, where people take up one of the four positions listed below and live their lives according to it.

I’m OK You’re Ok –  This is where I see both myself and others as OK with appropriate levels of self esteem, I am able to trust in others and the in world.

I’m OK, You’re not Ok – this is very often the position of the person who bullies, persecutes or rescues. Someone who sees themselves as OK, and others as not OK in some way, they operate from a one up position.

I’m not OK You’re Ok – this can often be the position of the Victim.  The person who has low self esteem and views others as having more power than them and consequently behaves towards them in that fashion, they operate from a one down position.

I’m not OK, You’re not Ok – this is a life position of futility as self and others are viewed as not being ok and able to get on with life.  It may be perceived as futile and full of despair.

Looking again at the roles of the Drama Triangle,  both the Rescuer and the Persecutor operate from a one up position, from the I’m OK You’re not OK life position and the Victim operates from one down.  Here’s an example to illustrate this more fully.

Your colleague is preparing some figures for her boss and she has looked pretty stressed all morning.  She heaves a huge sigh, pushes her chair away from her desk and puts her head in her hands, saying, “I’m never going to get this done in time, I hate excel, I just can’t make sense of this at all.”  Immediately you rush over and take a look at what she is doing.  You think you have spotted the mistake she is making and correct it for her.  Saying “there you are, that’s sorted now”.

She takes a look at what you have done and tells you that it wasn’t the problem at all and now she’s probably going to have to start all over again and she wishes you would mind your own damn business.

You go back to your desk feeling awful saying to yourself  – “But I was only trying to help.”

Uncomfortable Feelings

If we take a look at this little episode again, this time putting in the Drama triangle roles, some commentary and identifying that switch in roles which so often results in uncomfortable feelings.

Your colleague is preparing some figures for her boss and she has looked pretty stressed all morning.  She heaves a huge sigh, pushes her chair away from her desk and puts her head in her hands, saying. I’m never going to get this done in time, I hate excel, I just can’t make sense of this at all.”

Your colleague is probably in Victim, the words she is using and her body language are pretty big clues.  She is could be issuing an invitation to be Rescued or Persecuted.

 Immediately you rush over and take a look at what she is doing.  You think you have spotted the mistake she is making and correct it for her.  Saying “there you are, that’s sorted now”. 

Your response is definitely one of Rescuing. At this point you have not been asked to help and in fact are operating in the dark doing what you think is best, rather than what the other person wants.  Thinking that you know best for someone, whether it is how solve an excel problem or what might make them happy is very much part of the Rescuer role.

She takes a look at what you have done and tells you that it wasn’t the problem at all and now she’s probably going to have to start all over again and she wishes you would mind your own damn business for once.

Your colleague has moved roles into Persecutor.  Part of the way the Drama Triangle plays out is for the participants to switch roles.

You go back to your desk feeling awful saying to yourself – I was only trying to help.

And you have now moved into Victim feeling bad because of getting it wrong.

Any of this familiar?  The good news is that once identify what it is we are doing then we can, if we wish, change. And how do we change this?  Firstly be becoming aware of our own behaviours and the roles we might more often take up. Then by moving from one of the Drama Triangle roles where someone is always in a not OK life position to the I’m OK You’re OK life position.

Here’s an exercise you might find useful to do as a piece of persona reflection.

Can you recall a situation where you were caught in the Drama Triangle?  What role did you take on, what role did the person you were with take on, what occurred in this situation and what was the final outcome?  How might you have got a different result?