I have recently completed an introductory counselling course and am preparing to start an advanced diploma in integrative counselling. This essay that I am sharing with you here is the essay that I wrote for the introductory course and I am sharing it here basically as a marker for where I am currently.
Beginnings, Middles and Endings
Whenever I am going to write something, generally, the first sentence is the hardest. It is somewhat like cliff diving, stepping forward and letting the gravitational power of the words collapse into the manuscript, with potential risks and safety checks needing to be considered. As I consider this, I notice how similar this is to first sessions with therapists I have experienced, where I have trusted them, like the sea, to catch me safely and not be hiding rocks or sharks below their depths.
When thinking about how I will approach this essay, instinct/intuition has left me with a feeling that it would be best to start with Endings and finish on Beginnings. So this is what I have done, as I trust my instincts. It also seems appropriate to note here that, while there is an end to this essay, there is no conclusion, because my process has not concluded.
The word “ending” brings my mind to “apocalypses” – not necessarily in the sense of “Armageddon”. The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokálypsisas meaning “uncovering”. This fits much of the perception I have regarding what-counselling-does, in that I see counselling as an activity that involves uncovering psychological struggles, with a desire to end the struggle and empower the client to live their life.
The word “ending” also brings to my attention the experiences of death, dying and grief, which are likely subjects that clients will bring to sessions. Having lost my mother at a young age, knowing multiple other individuals in my life to pass away and having experienced cancer treatment myself, these subjects are ones that I have reflected upon for much of my life. My desire to pursue training in Existential Therapy comes from a desire to be able to fully support my clients with their uncoverings regarding these matters, as well as a chance to reflect upon my personal encounters. I notice how intensely immediate existential concerns are culturally now, given COVID-19 and the unfolding mass-extinction event the world is experiencing, and I notice how little conversation there is regarding grieving the lose encountered within these situations, and my personal desire to help individuals grieve what has been lost – as Jamail put it “in facing mass extinction, we must allow ourselves to grieve” (Jamail, 2019).
“Endings” now turns my attention to journeys, journeys-end and the “being-here” of journeys-end. When in therapy myself, I have noticed how the being-here of journeys-end has not felt like stopping, but as starting. I know that my journeys-end with this introductory counselling course will not be a stopping point, as, while I will have reached a destination I wanted to reach, my journey will not be finished. There will undoubtedly be far more learning, exploring, journeying, and I already know I want to experience the diploma in integrative counselling, as another journey to start.
My mind is now drawn to the matter of “ending” as change. My instinct is that, outside of being coerced into attending therapy through the state, family or any other societal pressure, all that seek counselling desire change. This might be a change in them, a change in their experience or a change in the type of help they receive. In as much as an uncovering is changing from being-covered to being-uncovered, change seems to me integral to the counselling process. This ending-as-change seems to me to be a desiring-rebirth/reincarnation, as not-desiring-death; which suggests to me that being-in-counselling, even if only on an unconscious level, involves some intensity of primal life-desire.
As I consider “middles” I notice how much I am in one, in this course and in other senses – I will often say I live in the middle-of-nowhere; approaching 30, I feel as if I am entering into the “middle” period of my expected life time; in terms of pandemics and other political narrative, I feel somewhat like this is a middle period; and now the song by Stealers Wheel, Stuck in the Middle With You, comes to my mind.
My first thought regarding middles is of how much being-in-The-middle denotes experiencing The sensation of Becoming – “The” is capitalised here to emphasise both its active meaning here and to stress not-“A” here, and “Becoming” capitalised to stress that my focus here is on the active status of Becoming, rather than passive becoming-thing or becoming-that. At the middle part of this course, I am at the middle of my Becoming of becoming-introduced-to-counselling-as-a-counsellor. This means that I am experiencing something Happening that is affecting me in many ways. By this course, I am intellectually affected, emotionally affected and probably affected in a multitude of other ways that I am probably only aware of at an unconscious level. These all impact who I am Becoming, especially at this point in my life, approaching 30, considering who I want to be, what career I wish to undertake and how that might impact my loved ones, the kind of father I want to be for any children I might be part of the lives of, and my personal desires to help living individuals experience wellness, as part of my practices as an environmentalist.
My attention is now brought to middles-as-processes. I like the term process – not in a clinical sense of “being-processed” by some kind of authority, but process as meaning not-static – my experience of the world being very much that life is continually in process-as-movement, which is why I have somewhat embraced a philosophical perspectival-framework call psychic-nomadism (where home is both nowhere and everywhere) (psychicnomad.wordpress.com, 2009). As I reflect on this now, I am noticing how intensely the experience I have of the processes of this course is currently technologically mediated and situated from-home-as-my-house. This throws my attention onto how different, perhaps even radically so, my experience would be if this were happening face-to-face. Perhaps when I do the diploma in integrative counselling I will be able to reflect upon the differences between the face-to-face learning experience and that of via videoconferences. Working in a school currently, I cannot help but notice how different the experiences seem to be between the children in the classroom and those at home.
Certainly, at this middle-point, I am learning; not only learning about what I am learning, but learning about what I have still to learn. I know I want to learn about integrative counselling, eco-therapy, primal therapy, existential therapy and the anarchist play therapy known as soma-therapy. But I am also aware that there are approaches that I know I do not know about, which will spark my interests in other moving directions and be potentially intensely beneficial to my practice. This fills my body with feelings of excited anticipation for exploration! I also notice another state of knowing, whereby I might also be unaware of some therapeutic techniques that I have already learned and that live within my intuitive, instinctual unconscious mind – having had a father who has been a qualified counsellor for much of my life, who knows what I might have learnt from him through my life, particularly regarding Gestalt practices, and how that will and will not be to my benefit! (The question of where and how to apply what counselling skills I have and will learn, considering ethical matters, comes to my mind now. It would be unethical to attempt to manipulate friends into doing any counselling therapies without their consent; as it would also be for me to attempt to start private practice today without having completed my training.)
My attention has now come to focus on Time and the-present. I do not believe that time exists – as in the past or the future being actual, in this present moment. But, if I consider myself as experiencing time, I notice the concepts of being in-time and being out-of-time – especially with regards to how this impacts contracting with clients and being-a-student. In these senses, I want to be in-time, out of a sense of care towards clients and classmates, as well as not missing deadlines for essays. There is the potential experience of time moving at different paces for myself as therapist and for any client, which seems important to remember. As far as this pertains to being-in-the-middle, I am noticing how time-awareness is integral to beginnings and endings.
In the sense that this course is an introduction, it is certainly a beginning. I am at the beginning of an experience that is an ending of who I have been and what I have known, as an experience of Becoming and learning. There is much to be excited about with this beginning and also somewhat of a quality of grief, in affirming the change that involves the loss of aspects of who I was. There are also questions regarding how and where I can ethical use those counselling skills I have learned/possess already.
I notice, at this beginning, how much I bring into this moment who I have been and those experiences I have encountered throughout my life. I experience a sense of anxiety with regards to how some may weaken aspects of my ability to help clients; alongside a sense of joy for the way in which most will intensify my ability to help as well. The learning I have undergone through my undergraduate work in psychology and philosophy, as well as my independent para-academic work, will no doubt affect my learning somewhat in both of these senses. Also life experiences of trauma, being-in-therapy and being-raised-by-a-counsellor will also have an impact in a multitude of ways. I notice how I cannot help but bring these experiences into my therapy training, as experiences that have affected me.
In a broader sense of what “beginning” might mean, my mind turns to the subject of cosmology and theological-cosmic-origins. Being raised between different Abrahamic religions, a place of unity in the perspectives was that of in the beginning God creating the world – not as fact but as story. As I became interested in physics – particularly the more theoretical areas – the subject of what came before the Big Bang, as the origin of origins, became more of a focus in my attention – as sought to find some kind of answer to the question “why are we here?”. While I have reached a somewhat Absurdist position of “there is no reason to answer that question” I have my own, perhaps absurd, reasons that have inspired me to undertake this course. My experience of a desire to help individuals is at the forefront of these reasons. Then there is my desire to not find myself working jobs akin to some of those I have undertaken in the past three years, which have been of no existential value and only functioned to provide an income.
As far as my beginnings go, from this absurd position I find myself in, my mind has turned to the concept of dark precursors that the philosopher Deleuze articulated as the untraceable intensive phenomenon that occur, allowing for the manifestation of events that are seen (Deleuze, 2014) – such as the conditions that result in lightening or what-came-before-the-big-bang. For myself, these will be those life events that led to my conception and birth, which my father has not told me of or even knows about; the aspects of my early childhood that I forgotten and that lurk in my unconscious mind; and similar other aspects of my origins that I have no awareness of.
Not A Conclusion
As I look at this narrative and collection of thoughts that I have recorded here, I notice that I have written this for an Other. I notice that a therapist is, in a sense, an Other, and that when I have been in therapy, to support the therapist in helping me, I have somewhat presented myself for the Other that is the-therapist. This Other cannot see all of me though, as no one can – unless God really is watching. The narrative, as a description of selfhood through time, I don’t believe can provide a sense of knowing for the Other that is totalising – so I guess that there is something of a feeling of doubt towards narrative work (not doubt as in rejection, but doubt as in unsure).
My attention has now turned to another aspect of my experience of being in therapy, which inspires a feeling of joyful affirmation towards the activity. That is the here-and-now experience I have encountered when the therapy has the quality of relational depth, wherein I am not experiencing the therapist as an Other, but as an egocentric/person-centred exchange of seeking-help-and-receiving-help. While this is not a conclusion, I want to affirm that this the kind of therapeutic experience I want to provide clients.
I am ending this essay with a similar excited feeling to that I have had at the endings of being-in-therapy I have experienced. It is an experience of not-knowing, filled with life-desire. I want to learn more, train more and see where I eventually find myself.
Anonymous (2009) The Psychic Nomad Manifesto, https://psychicnomad.wordpress.com/2009/04/22/the-psychic-nomad-manifesto/
Deleuze (2014 ed) Difference and Repetition, Bloomsbury
Jamail (2019) In Facing Mass Extinction, We Must Allow Ourselves To Grieve, Truthout.org