I have seen the top of the mountain

IMG-20180815-WA0001Yesterday I climbed a mountain with my family.

Actually, to be honest, it’s more accurately described as a ‘fell’, and most seasoned fell walkers or mountaineers would regard it as a relatively straight forward ‘un-technical’ challenge, posing very little danger. But for us it’s a big deal, okay!

Anyway, it’s a mountain we’ve intended to climb for years, but which always seemed particularly intimidating for one reason or another, so we always found an excuse!

This year we decided to do it. No more excuses.

At various points during our ascent, we took it in turns to voice our doubts, fears and ambivalence (although to be fair, I don’t recall my eldest daughter doing this once – she practically skipped all the way to the summit seemingly without a care in the world, only stopping occasionally to sit on a rock and wait patiently for the rest of us to catch her up!).

Every time this happened, one of us eventually became irritated, amused or concerned enough to counter with some statement along the lines of all being in this together and keeping going, “to that next bit there, then we’ll see”.

I confess the interaction between my youngest daughter and I became somewhat bad tempered on several occasions, and at one point I snapped at her “look, this is difficult enough. I don’t need to hear you sowing seeds of doubt, I need to hear that we can do this!”. She reacted defensively. I begrudgingly accepted I should be patient with her.

My wife, throughout, maintained the voice of reason, and often reminded us all of the value and practical application of mutual encouragement. Above all, she encouraged us to be kind to each other.

As we eventually approached the summit, we encountered a final scramble. One last treacherous obstacle in our way.

Halfway through this scramble, with one knee up by my ear, one foot trembling on a knife edge of rock, and a view beyond my outstretched arm of a sheer drop, I froze and called out “I don’t think I can do this!”, then after what seemed like an eternity of contemplation and the astonishment that I might actually be about to give up, I heard the voices of my family saying almost in unison “You’re doing so well! You can do it!”.

I dug deep and hauled myself up and on to the clear path to the top of the mountain.

As I stood gazing at the last, relatively straight forward stretch, my youngest strode past me, confidently saying “we can do this!”.

After a short walk, we found my eldest daughter smiling at us calmly from the peak she’d arrived at minutes before.

My wife cheerfully exclaimed “well done everyone, we did it!”, we rewarded each other with a lovely group hug and, as my youngest unpacked her kite and flew it from the top of one of England’s highest points, we all agreed that this achievement changes things in a very good way.

Or, as my eldest put it, “that was cool!”

Past, Present and Future

_20180812_120810

There’s something we health professionals do sometimes that I now notice myself doing less often.

It’s talking about our clients characteristics, beliefs and habits with apparent certainty that these things exist right now, in the current moment, even though we can’t possibly know whether that is the case because they aren’t in the room, and we maybe haven’t even seen them for days!

“They’re avoiding”, “they’re overwhelmed”, “they talk really quickly and quietly”, “they’re fairly high risk because they’re impulsive and they dissociate”, “they’re probably going to need something longer term, more specialist, more intensive”.

All of these statements use present tense to describe past observations, present formulations, and future expectations. This implies consistency, continuity and predictability.

I’m tending to provide a clearer distinction between tenses now: “They were really struggling”, “they’ve had some really difficult stuff to deal with”, “they talked about their strength”, “they’ve got what it takes”, “they can definitely do this”, “they really inspired me”, “they described in detail how they’ve got through in spite of everything, and how they can stay safe going forwards”.

This implies movement through past, present and future, and therefore acknowledgement of dynamism, capacity for change and multiple possibilities.

I’m generalising in both cases, of course. There are always exceptions in the way we all talk. Even so, this is what I’m noticing more and more.

I think the difference in the way I’m talking reflects the way I’m thinking, which is that change is not only possible but certain, inevitable and constant, and also the way I’m feeling; an absolute unshakeable, consistent belief and confidence in every client’s capacity to steer this change in the direction they hope to.

When talking about specific clients, I’m simply giving a factual account of what I heard them say, as that is all I know.

My use of present tense is tending to be reserved more to describe my own perspective, rather than to attempt a description of theirs.

I tend not to talk about them in the future tense at all, except perhaps to recount the future tense phrases I heard them construct whilst describing what they would be pleased to notice themselves doing.

This is for the simple reason that I don’t believe any of us have a reliable way to predict the future, whilst I do believe that we are all continuously building the future together.

I think all of this reflects a move away from theorising, interpreting and predicting, towards investigating, evidencing and co-constructing.

I spent years talking about clients in a way that now feels unnatural, so I now talk about them in another way.

I’ve changed.

What’s more, I’ve changed to become even more the way I’ve always hoped to be as a professional, and that is simply to be myself.

The only catch here (there’s always a catch, right?!) is that being so different in the way I’m talking might sometimes lead to seeming ‘out of step’ or even isolated. It’s fine though, because I’m also noticing that, as time passes, more and more professionals seem to be talking the same way as me.

During a particularly touching moment with some colleagues recently, I commented that “I think I’m just on a different planet”. One replied “well we like your planet!”. Another added “yeah I think I’d like to visit it!”

I responded with an invitation, “you’re all very welcome any time!”, which I’d now like to extend to anyone reading this.

You’re very welcome to visit this other world, filled with hope, love, peace, optimism, pragmatism, inspiration and belief any time you like.

Stay as long as you want.

Come and go as you please.

The population is growing all the time and there’s unlimited space for everyone.

It may take a little time to leave the past behind and adapt to the way everyone’s talking, so the bridge is always open for everyone to travel backwards and forwards as necessary.

If you do pop back, feel free to mention some of the inspiring things you heard people say about how they know they have everything they need and can achieve whatever they hope to.

And might I also suggest trying, as far as possible, not to guess what the future might hold for this planet, but instead simply hold on to hope and believe it’s population can definitely do this, whatever this is.

After all, it’s changing, adapting and getting so much better all the time!

Love Rekindled

Imagine a world in which everyone talks more about love than hate.

No need.

It’s already here.

All you need to do is look for it. Noticing it will help it grow.

I recently attended Elliott Connie’s ‘Rekindling Love’ free online workshop.

It was primarily aimed towards people providing counselling for couples, and even though that isn’t something I do, I found it hugely inspirational.

It included so much invaluable insight into how to be truly respectful and obliging towards people asking for help in turning their lives back around towards a future that is just right for them and everyone they love.

He recounted his experience of meeting a couple who told him they had just got divorced. He asked them what it was they wanted and they said it was for their children to be ok, because they both had so much love for them. He met with them once or twice more, using the solution focused approach, then a year or so later they contacted him again to tell him they were getting re-married!

His part in this happening included holding on, with ‘dogged determination’, to his belief that they were capable of achieving their best hopes, .

fire outdoors camping barbecueHe described what it takes for a practitioner to do this: Letting go of the need to interpret, theorize, educate. Freeing yourself from distractions such as pessimistic doubts, ‘noise’, and the urge to ‘fix it’. Instead, relinquishing control, ‘letting go’, simply believing in the change happening in front of you, drawing on your qualities as a person destined to do this work because of your open, accepting, facilitative nature. Allowing yourself to go in search of the struggle that brings success. Giving yourself permission to become oblivious to tension, and purely and simply focus.

Now I’m not citing this just to show what a brilliant psychotherapist and couples counsellor Elliott is (although I am absolutely certain that he is – one of the very best in the world right now in fact), but to show that even after a catastrophic crisis in people’s lives, anything is possible for them in future, and they can achieve something that seems impossible simply by following their hearts and staying focused on their hopes.

I’m not saying that getting divorced might be a mistake for a couple. Clearly, sometimes that’s the best way forwards for them and can lead to anything they desire. It’s simply their choice.

I’m just saying that whatever choices anyone makes, there’s always hope and endless possibilities for the future, and that Solution Focused Practice is a highly effective and respectful way for practitioners to provide a catalyst for positive change in fewer sessions than would generally be achieved in more ‘traditional’ approaches.

Registration for Elliott’s ‘Rekindling Love Masterclass’, the exhaustive interactive training for professionals who wish to truly master couples counselling (for which this workshop served as a taster) begins on August 13th, and registration is still open for a couple more days at time of writing this. Anyone interested in making the investment to become the best they can at what they do can sign up here: https://www.rekindlingloveworkshop.com/masterclass