I’m Okay – You’re Okay

The image above is taken from the front cover of I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas A. Harris – a pretty old book. This book has a personal significance for me because it was the first book I ever read about transactional analysis (TA) which continued to resonate when many years later I chose TA as my preferred therapeutic approach and decided to qualify as a TA counsellor and to continue advanced Clinical training.

In my early adulthood I had originally come across this book in my father’s library. Even when reading it all those years ago, I had recognised its use of rather out-dated language and examples (feminist friends, be warned!) from the 1970s. And yet, despite these limitations, I still today refer to chapters in this book for the accessible way in which he introduces the concepts of transactional analysis.

Even on first reading I found that this book offered a comprehensible guide to transactional analysis; its sensible non- technical language was a revelation for a young man seeking to understand his patterns of behaviour, hoping that there were real possibilities for change in himself and in others, – namely changing the dynamics contained in our interactions (or transactions).

When I was asked recently about my stance on clients who come to see me with their various histories, problems and behaviours, I replied: “Using TA, my ways of working – no matter what the client brings – are to be as close as I can to an ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ attitude”.

A TA colleague has defined this as meaning:

When things go wrong:

• I don’t blame anyone
• I hold on to my power
• I actively wish for you to hold on to your power
• I seek relationship with you
• I respect you and me equally
• I seek to problem solve
• I stay off the Drama Triangle
• I use emotionally literacy to resolve our issues
• I agree to disagree, respectfully for all of us
• I say no when I mean no

Even for those not in therapy, these are useful pointers on how to improve one’s relationships with others, and are worth bringing to mind.

Do Therapists Dream of their Clients?

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We often dream about what we’ve been doing and who we’ve been with, so it should come as little surprise to discover many therapists dream about their clients.

What published research there is indicates that not all therapists have such dreams, and that those who do, may be reluctant to discuss their dreams of their clients.

Given the apparent insights derived from client dreams, my experience had been to incorporate them into my work. However disturbing and directly related to the therapy process those dreams may be, they are depictions of the struggles involved. In my experience I find that dreams which – by the way – are few and far between, can function as a means to process difficulties experienced in the therapy with my clients.

Through reflecting on my dreams, then, I have learnt, though clearly distressing, nevertheless they yield helpful insights about myself, my clients, and the therapy; and, for me to go on and apply those insights in my continued clinical work with the client.

In sum, dreams about clients can be used by their therapists to understand themselves, their clients, and the dynamics of the therapy relationship.

Is Your Relationship a Power Game?

It was a treat to attend the Leeds Food Festival on a weekend this Summer, with live music – an acoustic performance by Fran Minney. After her set we talked about her song ‘Power Game’. I was interested about this couple she had sung of, where one partner knew herself well enough to sense that she might become ruled by hate.

It was specifically the following chorus that led me to imagine what might have been going on between them before their break:

You played the power game
Only said yes when I said no
You never really felt the same
You won the game
I never thought you’d play

I wondered whether each partner had noticed subtle signs that the other had manipulated them out of the things they each wanted. And, – that based on those interactions – whether they had become immersed in an unhappy series of skirmishes, minor battles – gradually losing sight of any real intimacy.

In listening to the lyrics again at home, it was clear that she had finally stepped out of this relationship – to say her last goodbye, hoping her partner had not meant to break her heart.

In transactional analysis, ‘power plays’ is the term used for a series of transactions where a person obtains from another something he wants against the other person’s will.

In my work, with my clients, hearing of such ‘power plays’, I know, as they escalate, there is always the possibility of one party losing out, starting to question their own mind, their own version of reality.

Grieving- a terribly potent spiritual experience?

I’ve heard and read about Palma Cathedral before and today, this Sunday morning, there was time to visit it – not as a paying tourist, but attending Mass (from a seat way at the back); all the while being only too aware of my own religion’s emphasis on respecting other religions and their teachings; of opening oneself to teachings about life and death from a wide range of sources; of the fact that here I was continuing to reflect on events that had occurred over two days past.

On Friday afternoon I had seen my mother and said my final goodbyes to her on this earth. This had been a terribly potent spiritual experience. I had yearned to be able to go and finally see her in the flesh, to offer and share our goodbyes. Strange to find ourselves at this poignant moment such a long way from home. I had spoken to her and said “Thank You” out loud. I had bowed in gratitude, palms together in front of me, as I left her. I now recognised how much she had fought for her sanity, her life and her liberation as a professional and educated woman. Indeed, talking with the Nurse and Holiday Rep earlier they had conveyed their views candidly that she had let down her guard in her final days, “showing her vulnerability” they said.

As I left her, closing the door gently behind me and walking up the corridor to meet with the Municipal officials again to finally complete documentation for repatriation I was mindful of the significance of what had just happened. I felt a huge weight had been lifted from me. Knowing that now we had both moved to become what we were called to become – each as a separate, unique individual.

On the way back to my mother’s hotel, I wrote in my notebook of this new-found sense of individuality. I jotted down on the side of the notebook page the transactional analysis concept ‘symbiosis’ – to signify and mark this significant moment when the psychological dependence we had shared, had – as Buddhists say – ‘burnt up’. I had become my own self. And, – with a degree of healing perhaps – , we both had consciously moved towards this moment over these past few months.

The Spotlight Exercise

Do you want to overcome your anger issues? Are you seeking answers to how you may go about doing this?

Next time you get angry think of a traffic signal. Red light means ‘stop’ – calm down. Take a long, deep breath and, as you calm down a bit, tell yourself what the problem is and how you feel. The yellow light reminds you to slow down and think of several possible ways you might solve the problem, and choose which is best. The green light signals for you to ‘go’, to try out that plan, and see how it works. I offer a copy of the Problem-Solving Rap to remind attendees to apply the traffic light problem solving steps in their anger situations.

You can try this exercise every time you are stopped at a traffic light, focusing on your own inner landscape. Ask yourself: How am I doing? Is there anything needing my attention right now? As I focus on that, can I see options and alternatives? Can I focus the attention of my thinking brain on those alternatives, and discern which one I want to try next?

You may not have time to go through the entire checklist as the traffic light turns to green, but you can use the image of the spotlight again and again as you go through your day, focusing your awareness on what’s happening, your reaction to what’s happening, noticing various options for addressing the situation, and choosing what to experiment with next, with openness and curiosity for the results.

In the busyness of life, you may rarely have the luxury to pause as you go through the day. The Stoplight Exercise is a tool that helps you step back and gives you the opportunity to manage your anger and identify your interactions with others so that you have an accurate picture of your own habits and patterns and how they are impacting on others. Through building on your own self-awareness and self-management you will open the door to positive changes.
The Stoplight Exercise may be used as a tool to support you as you are about to enter those situations where you are most likely to show signs of anger; offering you a “pulse check” to give a feel for how you may react and what your feeling are at that moment.

Your reflections can be kept personal or shared with your counsellor as you uncover what you want for your own development and what your hopes and dreams are for you in the future.

While this Blog does not replace counselling, you may find it interesting and useful, leaving you with the option of taking up counselling with me.

I would, however, recommend that you contact a professional counsellor or psychotherapist if, for whatever reason, any of these materials raise any issues for you.

Sources:
My description of the Spotlight Activity is excerpted from:
Goleman, D (2013) Focus (London: Bloomsbury)

Creative methods – Why use them?

I was inspired to write this Blog after talking with Joanna, a fellow Counsellor who was also giving information and advice about the kind of counselling she offers at the Complementary Therapies Open Day recently held at Bingley’s Prospect House Clinic.

Setting up stall, l looked across to the table where Joanna was sitting with her brochures and her website slide show playing on her laptop, when my attention was drawn to the fifty or so sea shells, neatly placed across the breadth of the table – shells she’d collected on a beach in New Zealand! Asking her about the sea shells, she explained she’d used them to encourage some clients to speak more about what it was that they had experienced when they started with their counselling sessions so that they could compare this with their experiences at later points on their counselling journey.

In choosing to use creative methods, you and I can be actively involved in the process of creating your own creative tools, as our ways of working together evolve. As we find the ways that work best for you, as curiosity and exploration open up meaning about such experiences as love, kindness, gratitude, betrayal, abandonment or brokenness. One such creative tool being a Broken Heart which – to begin with – may be in pieces but then is gradually rebuilt, and may eventually even be strengthened within your relationship.

In transactional analysis we consider creative methods as engaging the Child ego state; offering the opportunity for you to communicate without words, as Landreth (2001) described it when: “Emotionally significant experiences are given meaningful expression through play”.

Perhaps the greatest strength of creative methods though, is their versatility: the fact that you, the client, can use them as a short-term, solution-focused form of therapy to support you in adjusting to your current problems and difficulties but also, if you so choose, as a depth psychotherapy that can lead to transformational change.

 

Mindfulness – Does it really matter?

I was inspired to write this Blog after talking with Joanna, another Counsellor who was also giving information and advice about the counselling she offered, as part of our Complementary Therapies Open Day at Prospect House Clinic, Bingley.

As we were talking over break time, our conversation touched on our respective ways of working.  We realized that we both knew of exercises and activities that are associated with what we, in the counselling world, call ‘mindfulness’.

Joanna went on to say that she was looking to get some further training in mindfulness in order to add it in to her practice, knowing that her religious faith had already informed her life as a person and her counselling practice – as an inseparable part of her.  I wondered, for my part, what influence my own religious faith had had on my practice.

It was clear to me that I already knew about mindfulness whose origins lay in a 2000- year old Buddhist philosophy and practice.

It was clear to me, too, that I was already drawing on mindfulness exercises – offering these to my clients as methods to practice in order to develop awareness of themselves, as well as of their relationships.  These exercises include tools such as: breathing exercises, body scans and creating their own compassionate images.

I know from research that mindfulness exercises, if introduced and practiced with a professional counsellor, can be especially effective for those with stress, anxiety and depression issues.

It was not so immediately clear, though, what influence my religious faith had on my practice – a question that was for me a lot harder to answer!

Having slept on this I awoke with some answers.  I recalled how on several occasions after finishing a client session I had caught myself being mindful of their pain, hurt and fear – in effect praying for them.   Then, considering my own role in this, I felt that I was offering myself as best I could to uncover and digest their wounds.  Knowing that when the time was right, I would be ready to support them to dive deeper, should they want to go further in their counselling journey – exploring themselves, beyond their current problems and difficulties – to finally heal and grow.

 

Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige – I’ll Be There For You (You’re All I Need to Get By) (Remix) (Blog 4 of 4)

I was surprised today to see Method Man and Mary J. Blige’s remix of I’ll Be There For You (You’re All I Need To Get By) included on former President Obama’s Summer 2016 Playlist because I wasn’t expecting this collaboration between street-tough Method Man and the rhythm and blues singer Mary J. Blige to be featured here.

Listening to the music and watching the accompanying video, their relationship slowly revealed itself to me as the most blackest, most glorious, magnificent display of camaraderie, love and loyalty.

Wearing my therapist hat, and using what in the transactional analysis world we call ‘Martian thinking’ – being non-judgemental -, I paid closer attention to their performance: singing their lyrics to one another – sitting on the pavement, backs to the wall, surrounded by a menacing cityscape.

I became increasingly aware that their words to one another were much more than simply verses and choruses – no longer focusing on the literal meaning of their lyrics – but rather hearing what they were saying to one another, what they were celebrating about loving relationships.

Loving relationships, when given expression, reveal that there is a shared understanding – with enough love to nourish any couple through times of hardship.

Loving relationships like Obama’s, when he was in the White House, when everyday it was resolutely clear that Michelle was all that he needed to get by:

Back when I was nothing

You made a brother feel like he was something

That’s why I’m with you to this day boo no fronting

 

 

Mary J. Blige ‘Therapy’ (Blog 3 of 4)

 

Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy?

Why would I spend the rest of this year alone?

When I can go to thearpy

When I can go to therapy

These are the first four lines from ‘Therapy’, Mary Blige’s single, co-written with Sam Smith, from The London Sessions album.

This song may be considered an important moment for Mary J.Blige.  When she first heard the words being performed to the music, she felt inspired – realising that the song related to so many people, and also finding that – being able to express herself in this way – music became her own therapy.

Later she elaborated that – when picturing herself singing it and going on to sing the song during a stage show – she realized the message was universal because everyone needs a little bit of therapy.  Whether that meant sitting on a couch speaking to a therapist, or experiencing the simple things in life like food, a person you can relate to, or even listening to some of her songs which speak to us all of our vulnerabilities.  Whatever it is that works.

Speaking for myself, when I first heard this song, I remembered sessions when my clients were gaining confidence in their power to transform their relationships; working out what it was that they needed to do in order to change.

When they began to draw on such transactional analysis models as the Winner’s Triangle – the counterpart of the Drama Triangle – thus making the choice to develop and practice those skills and strategies that they knew would work to get their vulnerabilities out there – in effect, starting to turn the negative into the positive.

When, having begun to recognise and accept their vulnerabilities, they had set themselves on the road to reclaiming their lives and identity.

When thus empowered they were no longer pleasing their partners or being what they wanted them to be.

Do look in again for the next Blog Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige – I’ll Be There For You (You’re All I Need to Get By) (Remix) (Blog 4 of 4)

 

 

 

Mary J. Blige ‘Not Loving You’ (Blog 2 of 4)

It had been after watching another performance by Mary J. Blige – “Not Loving You” on ‘Later…Jools Holland’ that I was prompted to reflect on my counselling practice, but this time specifically on my use of the Drama Triangle, to transform my clients relationships.

I had quickly understood that the lyrics, co-written by Sam Smith, were about those situations we find ourselves in when we realise that there is only so much we can do for our loved one if they’re not loving themselves.  The chorus of the song explaining the meaning to me so well with, “So what you gonna do now. Now that you’re falling, you’re falling down.  There’s only so much I can do if you’re not loving you”.

These were situations all too familiar to me:  my clients may well have spoken about them whilst working with me, using these words to describe what they wanted to change about their relationship.

This time around my thinking was about those clients who stayed in the Drama Triangle Rescuer role: always hopeful they can bring about change if only they try hard enough or persistently enough; believing, that by marching in, they’ll save the day – only to find it never works out, – meanwhile their partners complaining that they are not being considered, that they are being told what to do.

Not wanting their relationship taken away from them like this, not wanting to feel the pain, hurt and anger like this, these fall-outs weigh heavily on their shoulders.

Eventually, acknowledging that their power to change that situation lies in stepping out of it and of quitting the drama.  Knowing there was only so much they could do.

Knowing that to love, their partner first has to learn to love themselves and to become the best person they can possibly be.

Do look in again for my next Blog – Mary J. Blige ‘Therapy’ (Blog 3 of 3).