I’m late. I don’t suppose anyone noticed but my intention was to write my final blog on the 24th and having in nine months fully recovered from the impact of losing it so spectacularly, reflect complacently on how I managed to do it.
That’s not how it’s worked out. I’m a mess. Everywhere I look there’s mess. I still haven’t a clue what I’m doing, what I’m going to do. I have the entire contents of the filing cabinet in boxes I’m sorting through. I’ve found notes from training courses I’ve done, session plans and handouts from courses I’ve taught. Only a fraction of the stuff I’ve done. All of it useless. All of it waste. All of it bin-able.
I remember a conversation I had with my father one winter night when he was depressed. He very rarely opened up, my Dad but this night he did. He should have stayed in America when he loved it so much. He should never have worked for his father. He should have moved us all to England when he had the opportunity. He should never have agreed to send us away to boarding school. On and on, late into the night he went through every major decision of his life concluding that he got it all wrong. It’s a conversation that never would have occurred if I hadn’t trained as a person-centred counsellor. I knew better than to argue, understood that it doesn’t matter what I think, what matters is that I witness and don’t block the release. I let him say everything he had to say and, at the time, made no comment. But I wrote him a letter when I got home saying that I disagreed and telling him what a wonderful father he was and had been. He never referred to any of it again.
Last night I realised that I now feel pretty much as he did then. Only I think there’s no way there is any truth in how Dad was judging his decisions whereas the evidence of squandered opportunities and wasted effort abounds in my life. And into this mix, drop a communication from someone I’ve managed to offend to the extent of destroying our friendship.
I went to London to go to the PCSR conference, a magical event somehow so overshadowed by this information that it all but sucked all the good out of it. I slept no more than three hours the night before but was able, in the moment, to set all aside and engage with the wonderful gathering of 170 psychotherapists and counsellors who care about what’s happening in the world, the crisis in mental health provision in this country, all sorts of issues dear to my heart.
I facilitated one session with the whole group and another with about fifty people. What’s amazing is that at no point did anyone say anything inconsequential or irrelevant, no-one wittered on, none of the normal challenges of keeping a conversation on track occurred. It was only on reflection that I realise just how unusual that is. I think it’s because this was a room full of people listening to each other. The circle exploring ethics was wonderful. If ethics is rooted in dialogue, in an exploration of ‘the good’, the diversity of views expressed captured the heart of ethics. I felt completely comfortable saying my piece when it was appropriate. I know it was helpful to have someone draw attention to people who had something to contribute and ensure that those who were most comfortable speaking in such a large group did not end up being the only ones who spoke. Sitting here, this lovely sunny morning, I’m starting to take it all in. I may have been so distressed by the shock of discovering how I have lost the best of friends that it eclipsed the positive experience of participating at the conference in my thoughts, but I can reflect on it now.
Because I was in my element. It is not everyone’s cup of tea to take the helm and work with a group of 170 people. Me, I loved it. It did my heart good to hear what people had to say, to know that my concerns are shared and to feel that together we can become an effective agent of change. We are forming a Union. We are setting some boundaries around what happens people entering the profession. There were people in the room who pay to work. There are trainees counselling people with complex and multiple issues that would challenge the most skilled of counsellors because there is no financial backing of the provision of services. Errors are inevitable and the reputation of the entire profession is tarnished as a result.
I know most about what’s happening in IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy, the NHS mental health provision – almost entirely CBT orientated), all those good-hearted well-intentioned people doing extraordinary work under the most difficult of circumstances. And still the truth is the less you need, the more likely you are to have your needs met. A hugely disproportionate slice of the available mental health provision is going to people of least need. The people ‘CBT-based treatments’ don’t help, drop out and are ignored in the statistics. In how NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence – they produce the guidelines in relation to all NHS services) and IAPT are playing the numbers game, the picture that results fails to reflect reality. And I’m in a room full of people who get that, who recognise the urgency with which the failure of the system to meet the needs of people in distress needs to be addressed.
Yet the most significant event of the day for me was after the conference as such was over, when C. talked about reading this blog and said something like ‘Everyone needs a community. Everyone needs people on their team. Well I’m on your team’. I felt like crying but I didn’t cry. I have more friends than I know.
There’s the day half gone. Scary. Time to pick up the threads and start tackling the mess. Keep going. Keep saying yes. Maybe this is the best I can be. I go on getting it right sometimes, getting it wrong at others. Better to be upset by getting it wrong than not to give a shit I guess even if it feels horrible.
It was like I stepped into a particular version of myself at the conference. I was given an opportunity to do what I can do well and I enjoyed it. Hearing what people had to say delighted me even when the content was difficult. I’m hearing care and concern. I’m meeting people who are ready, willing and able to take action on what they see needs to be addressed. It’s the beginning of a movement and I was there when it was born. That’ll do. I am blessed beyond all counting and writing this blog has helped me remember that.