A Sneak Peek

About a week ago, I got back from a three-week, concentrated, six-hour-a-day face-to-face finish to a couple of courses I was taking in my Master’s program. They call it “Summer Institute” or “SI” … but near the end, one of the students said that SI should stand for “Summer Intensive.”  I think she was right!

The first day, we got to practice one skill and one only: listening. No uh-huhs, no mm-hmms.  Just eye contact, facial expression and paying attention to what the other person was saying. The exercise was only a few minutes long. Yet it highlighted the importance of being present with the client. And over the course of the next several days, we added new skills, techniques and strategies to that one until, by the end, we were counselling each other in 45-minute sessions, using all the things we had been learning, finding our own style, and creating a trusting atmosphere. Some techniques were a little harder to master than others.  But still, it was almost like magic… how much easier it got even after a night’s sleep.

Photo "Opening Door Knob" courtesy of sixninepixels at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Opening Door Knob” courtesy of sixninepixels at www.freedigitalphotos.net

And there were a few times when I caught myself actually DOING what I had dreamed of doing since I began this program!  As each of us “practiced” our developing skills with the others, taking turns being client and counsellor under the watchful eyes of our instructors, we used the raw material of our lives, and each of us found ourselves touched and transformed even while we learned how to help those in need. Friendships were forged in the fires of care and empathy; we got to know each other better in those three weeks than many do in years. There was a spirit of camaraderie and caring that infused us, where we cooperated, cheered each other on, helped each other succeed.

It was marvellous.

It was a foretaste, a sneak peek into the lives we had chosen for ourselves, one on which we would soon be building in the months and years to come.  Our confidence in ourselves and in each other blossomed and thrived in that atmosphere of acceptance, respect, and genuineness.  We started to see how therapy could be a conversation that in itself is helpful regardless of the theory or orientation chosen by the therapist.  We saw – some of us for the first time – a clear picture of ourselves as counsellors.  That was the most powerful experience, one which I will carry forward into the rest of the program and into my counselling career.

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Change is good – but it’s hard

In my last post, I talked about my multiculturalism course.  I said it was outside my comfort zone – and it was – but what I was unprepared for was how FAR outside my comfort zone it was!  The readings, assignments and discussions confronted me at every turn with how wrong my thinking had been all of my life about people who were different from me: different in belief, dress, class, religion, skin colour, ability, and sexual orientation.

Most of my life I have been in this white, Christian, heterosexual bubble that not only tries to pretend the non-existence of other ways of thinking and acting, but (when confronted with them) says they are automatically wrong… because they don’t look like me or think like me or act like I do.  I guess our society is set up to compartmentalize people into categories.  And it’s a given that the church does – to the point of excluding everyone who doesn’t follow the pattern. (I could be pulled off on that bunny trail, but let’s not do that right now.)

People are different. Different is good.

In the last 13 weeks, I have been exposed to the dangers of non-acceptance, of judgment, of abuse done in the name of love (whether that is familial love or romantic love or Christian love), and of viewing someone, ANYONE as “less than” just because he, she or they are different.  I have been outraged at the holocaust perpetuated in this country over the years by those whose stated mission was evangelism but whose real agenda was cultural genocide.  I am referring, of course, to the tragedy of the residential schools and the fact that generations of First Nations peoples had their culture, their very identity, ripped from them in an effort to ‘better’ their lives.

I have talked with people who are of different races, genders (and yes, there are more than two), religions, classes, and sexual orientations.  I have learned that “treating everyone the same” is not enough.  People who have been oppressed need greater consideration, more access to the things I take for granted.  For example, some people cannot even go to the bathroom without their identity being questioned.  Think about that.  I don’t need to pass an inspection or show my ID every time I go to a public washroom.  These people need laws to help them carve out a place to exist in our society, to even have the right to have their significant others make decisions for them in hospitals … or funeral homes. The level of oppression is unbelievable, and by far, most of that oppression comes from those with privilege.  White privilege, cis-privilege, (cis is identifying as the same gender as the parts you were born with), middle-class or rich privilege, and Christian privilege (link) are the chief offenders.  And it is rampant.

I didn’t understand privilege (most privileged people don’t) until I had someone explain it to me.  Privilege is an unfair, unearned advantage that someone has over another person on the basis of some part of their identity: skin colour, gender identity, religion, and so forth.  Here is a short video explaining the basics of white privilege : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysj_8fqnNcY

Change is good. But the process of changing is hard.

The amount of change that this experience has challenged me with has been overwhelming at times.  I am not one who likes confrontation (who does?) but I felt confronted … and I felt ashamed of my ignorance and unthinking attitudes toward people who were different. It was really hard for me to address those things in my life because I had thought a certain way my whole life … and then there were these readings – and these discussions – that really pushed me to the limit (and perhaps beyond the limit) of what I could endure. It was rapid-fire, too; there was no time to recover from one body-blow before the next one came.

I am coming to terms with the idea that becoming a counsellor means a great deal more than it did when my parents were my age. It involves scary things like being an advocate for my clients and maybe even fighting the bigotry of the very groups of which I am a member in order to gain a hearing for those who seek my help. It might mean that some people might not like me anymore – a fate that a younger, more impressionable me might consider as worse than death.

However, I am slowly seeing that if I want to make a difference in my world, I cannot just stop at helping people cope with (for example) racism that exists in our society; I need to empower people to stand up against it … and that will involve me standing up against it too.  I cannot sit by and listen in silence while people call every Muslim a terrorist when I know for a fact that this is not true. I cannot look the other way when someone is bullying someone of another sexual orientation, or when someone is loudly protesting against “those people” coming into our country.  Silence is not a luxury I can afford anymore.

In a way, it’s like learning to drive.  My daughter studied and got her learner’s permit a while back.  Knowing the rules of the road and learning how to put those into practice has opened her eyes to a number of things she never expected: among these is her awareness of how other people are breaking the law when they go over the speed limit, or don’t come to a complete stop at a stop light or stop sign, or don’t signal before changing lanes or turning.  Before she got that permit, she never noticed these things. Now she does.

And just so, I am seeing more and more the multitude of examples of racism, sexism, classism, FATism, and heterosexism (homophobia) that people demonstrate in my interactions with people, as well as in the media, even so far as in comedy shows that take pot shots at folks who are different in some way.  (By the way, I no longer laugh at such humour, simply because I don’t find it funny any more!)

What is all of this going to mean?  Well, as I continue my grad school journey, I suspect that I will be more sensitive to the needs and feelings of those who are different.  I suspect that, as I enter the profession of counselling, I will be more likely to set aside my personal beliefs and listen to my clients, so that I can understand what it is like to be them.

And that will make the biggest difference of all.

Outside my comfort zone

My first course at Athabasca was great!  It did challenge me to think in new ways, but in another way it opened new vistas for me in thinking critically about what I learn.  Plus, it made me think about where  I want to go on this learning journey.

This term, it’s completely different.  I am taking a course in multicultural counseling.  And, since I am part of a privileged culture (white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant), of Loyalist descent, cisfemale, heterosexual, and steeped in Judeo-Christian values since birth, this is a difficult course for me because there is no way that I can fully relate to someone of another race, religion, or gender / sexual identity.

I am distinctly outside my comfort zone.  I am hovering above myself, keenly aware that anything I say can be perceived in any number of ways, and I don’t want to offend anyone…. which, I guess, is as good a place as any to start.

I’ve spent the better part of the last four years or so coming to terms with the fact that one of my children is on the LGBTQIA spectrum (I had to learn what each of those letters stood for and why they are there, because I was – and still am to a great degree – so green to all of it).  And for those who (like me) are still learning, the acronym above is for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Twin-spirited, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual.  I am learning and understanding terms I never thought I would, like “cis” as a prefix for male or female (meaning a person identifies as the gender for which their body was born with the parts).

The knowledge that my daughter is on “the spectrum” was not nearly as scary for me as the fear I had that she would end up being bullied or ostracized for who she was… particularly by people very much like I once was.  I have become extremely sensitized to the issue of accepting people for who they are instead of brandishing placards decrying it as “unnatural” or “a choice.”  I hardly think that my little girl chose to be ON the spectrum, much less at the “A” end of the spectrum; she just never, EVER, had any interest in sex – or romance, for that matter.  And truth be told, she has been instrumental in teaching me that someone is not less of a person because he or she is different.

Anyway, I am finding that I am treading a very fine line as I stick-handle my way through this class, mostly because I am so afraid of saying something unintentionally that would offend a classmate or the professor. However, I do think that this is a learning experience for me, so perhaps my fears are normal, my attitude is at least teachable, and I will do well.

Time will tell.  Time will tell.

Not in Kansas anymore

I watched “The Wizard of Oz” last night – and when Judy Garland (as Dorothy) said that classic line, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I nodded in agreement.  Much of my student experience is just like that.

Just eight weeks into my program, I am coming to realize that the profession of psychology is not the same as when I was taking my undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree back in the 1980s.  Back then, the professors who taught at my university learned their psychology from a school of thought known as modernism – the idea that ultimate truth could be known – and they were busy feeding into what I have dubbed the ‘theory wars’ – a perpetual struggle between behaviourism (B.F. Skinner), humanism (Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, Viktor Frankl, and others), and psychodynamism (Sigmund Freud), and their various offshoots, including cognitive therapy (such as Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and so forth).  All of the theorists and their disciples were waging war, arguing about which way was the right way to do therapy to produce maximal results.

Perhaps five or ten years after I graduated, an ideological concept known as post-modernism emerged, which questioned everything and stated that there were no absolutes.  I heard a lot of preachers trying to say that this idea would be the death of society as we knew it. However, the critical thought process that it proposes asks important questions like, “Why do we do what we do?”, “What is working about this method, and what is not, and why?”  Post-modernist thought, like it or not, is here to stay, and I must say that in a way, it is quite liberating because it calls into question all of those polarized arguments of who is right and who is wrong.  And, as difficult as it is to get my head around the idea, the freedom to be able to be eclectic in my therapeutic approach (although some take offense at that word and prefer the term integration) opens the door for me to construct my own therapeutic style, one that is unique to me, one in which I can be genuine and empathetic, where I can truly accept those who come to me for help, while still working on the problems that trouble them.

This is exciting!  I remember going to therapy several years ago; I was referred through my Employee Assistance Program.  The counsellor was very technique-oriented, heard maybe 20% of what I said, and ignored the rest once he had made up his mind what my problem was.  According to his rule-book, I had to do A, B, and C in order to get better.  What I wanted out of therapy was something completely different – I wanted to be able to make peace with my past – and he wanted me to yank someone out of my past and make them pay for what they had done.  That was not helpful, I was not after vengeance.  All I wanted was peace, a path to forgiveness.  I left therapy after the required six sessions and found help elsewhere – but it still took me considerable time to silence the monsters.

I want something better for my clients.  I want to be able to truly hear them and to be able to use tools to help them that we both agree to.  In my program, I am learning that this is the kind of counsellor that I can be; I do not have to be limited to one theory or type of therapy.  I can bring others into it, depending on the needs of my client.  Fit the therapy to the client, not the client to the therapy!

Yet … the landscape of this new learning environment is so different from the one I was in when I was in my undergrad.  Back then, people were all into teaching your baby to read at the age of six months, studying rats in mazes, and making people lie on couches and spill their problems to a psychoanalyst that they couldn’t even see, much less relate to (or have their therapist relate to them!)  Person-centred therapy had been around for a while, but was largely misunderstood and often mocked.

Winding Road by pixbox77 at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Winding Road” courtesy of pixbox77 at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Now, there is a vast body of scientific evidence proving that the therapeutic relationship (including the person-centred elements of genuineness, unconditional acceptance, and empathy that so many made fun of) is a large part of successful therapy, twice as much as techniques are (Leibert, 2011).  While this is amazing, and makes me very happy, it also makes me realize that much more than I ever realized, much of my own success as a therapist will depend on my own ability to establish that bond, no matter what techniques I use. And so, I get the feeling that this is all new territory – that I am ‘not in Kansas anymore’ – and that much more than just my age has changed since the last time I was in academia.

I will therefore need to be very careful when it comes time to choose a practicum placement (not until April 2017), for the people that will help to shape my approach will need to be at least supportive of my approach, and in that atmosphere, I can learn from them.  With that in mind, perhaps I had better start looking around now, if I am to find something that will work for me.  The yellow brick road is unwinding before me, and I have my ruby slippers.  All I need now are good mentors, and I will “get there”.

Reference

Leibert, T. W. (2011). The dimensions of common factors in counselling. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 127-128. doi:10.1007/s10447-011-9115-7

Meet me here

I’ve just been accepted as a student in the Masters in Counselling program at Athabasca University. There, I’ve said it. It’s REAL!

This means that I’m officially in a transition phase between my current career as a public servant and a new one as a servant of the public. I was in Yorkville University’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology (MACP) program from September 2013 to August 2014 – until I discovered that my province doesn’t accept degrees from Yorkville U as sufficient for a person to go into private practice.

That’s when I discovered Athabasca. My experience with this school has been wonderful ever since my first communication with them back in January of this year when I started to get my credentials together for my application.

So, due to that one-year delay, and the time difference in how long it takes to get a degree, as well as the fact that I need to continue working while I go to school, my career plans have been set back by a few years. However, I believe I’m now on the right road and that within four years, I will be a Canadian Certified Counsellor.

I’m sure that I will learn so very much in this process. Hopefully that will make me a better counsellor. 🙂

A Leap of Faith

I really don’t feel like I’m in my fifties.

My body sometimes feels like it’s in its seventies. But in my head, I really only feel as though I’m about 25. That gets my body into trouble sometimes – but for the most part, I still feel like I’m learning how life works. Except that … I have a little more experience now than I did thirty years ago.

Two years after I got my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I took time off from work in the late 1980s to raise my two beautiful daughters. Once they were ready for me to not be there all the time, I did go back to the work force (around 1998). Before long, I had landed a nice government job and I thought that this was it – this is what I was meant to do – especially after landing a position that for me was a career-long dream.

Then, the cutbacks started happening. Long-time employees were given options like work force adjustment and such. I knew that it was only a matter of time before these cuts would affect me. Like the Hobbits hid from the Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, I did my best to stay undetected. My job satisfaction went way down and my stress went way up.

I started casting around for a second career, one that would allow me to retire from my current one and not have to depend on the whims of political will. To my surprise, I discovered that I had a passion for counseling, so I started to look into the available programs which would allow me to work full-time and still pursue my education. The online option seemed the best one, so I narrowed the field down to two Canadian schools.

Long story short, I chose the wrong one for me personally. There was nothing wrong with the school; it was just that my province didn’t consider it to be good enough for me to have my own counseling practice (covered by health care insurance); the requirements for that are quite stringent here.

I don’t regret the year I spent in that program; it taught me a lot! However, the province’s requirement did mean that if I wanted to continue and get my Master’s degree, it would have to be with the other school. I notified the registrar of the program I was in, in August of last year. She was disappointed, because my marks were good (3.8 to 4.0), but she understood my reasons. Other provinces accept degrees from that school; mine doesn’t.

So, it was back to square one; I researched the second school’s entrance requirements. I learned that this particular school wanted some prerequisites that I didn’t have, so I set about correcting that (by taking a particular course at the undergraduate level that I had not taken in my BA.) Even though it was not something I would have chosen to take, I finished it just last month. (I’m still waiting for my final mark.)

As soon as I get my final mark, I will be requesting all the information (transcripts, letters of reference, etc.) that I need to apply at my new chosen school, Athabasca University in Calgary, Alberta. (Most of the program is online but there is a residency component).

Since the deadline is March 1, 2015 for a September 2015 intake, I am in a bit of a time crunch. However, I’m confident that it will be okay as long as I get my marks, from the course I took this past fall, in the next week or so.

Mountain Ridge by Evgeni Dinev at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Mountain Ridge” courtesy of
Evgeni Digenev at
www.freedigitalphotos.net


A bit about me

I’m a tail-end baby boomer, married to a great guy for the last 33 years, and together we had and raised two amazing daughters. I’ll probably talk about them off and on in this blog. The oldest was born in 1989 and the youngest in 1992. The oldest still lives with us; she is on disability insurance due to an accident she had in November 2012, and the youngest one was killed in a car crash in October 2013.

I’m active in my church; I’ve been a member of the worship ministry (as a backup vocalist) for over fifteen years. I’ve taught Sunday school and done solos. Our daughter’s death opened new doors for me, as painful as that was. In December 2013 I spoke at a women’s group, and in June 2014 I led a workshop session on rising from the ashes (inner healing). I’m mentoring a couple of young women.

A survivor of childhood abuse, I have an interest in working with adult survivors of similar experiences, many of whom have PTSD and/or anxiety and depression. I also have a keen interest in working with those who have or live with someone who has addictions.

I’m bilingual. Fluent in French and English, I do have an interest in languages, especially the romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian.)

I love horses. At the moment, due to health reasons, I wouldn’t be able to ride like I used to, but someday I would love to get back into it.

I absolutely detest the cold. Especially the wet cold like we have in the Maritimes. (Yes, I know, what in the world am I doing living here??) … Someday I would love to learn Spanish and live in a warm country – like in the mountains of Ecuador for example – and maybe even do some e-counseling. The options could be endless.

I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around the net. And thanks for reading my first post!