A Right Old Person Centred Kicking

Employed, as I am as a counsellor, I have been fascinated over the years about the ways people in various professions chose to attack one another. I’ve learned that each profession has it’s own unique form of attack. I’ve heard how it operates within the teaching profession. In the building trade, the attack tends to be direct, quick and brutal. I’ve seen many people who work in local government and attacks in that arena are myriad but usually have a politically correct blade with which to inflict the wounding.

It is with a muted fanfare that I can declare that after 14 years of counselling, that the best attacks, the most lethal and laser like, happen in the world of therapy. This large body of research hasn’t been gathered by myself as a passive, fascinated spectator; there have been many times over the years when I’ve been on the receiving end of a right old person centred kicking. As a former Mod and a football supporter from the 1970s, I have some experience of what a right old kicking feels like but a person centred kicking, is an entirely different form of combat and trust me, is infinately more lethal.

As a man in a predominantly female dominated profession, I had to learn pretty quickly that an attack would normally take the form of “testicle removal” – that strange experience where one minute you are feeling completely intact and then all of a sudden, you become acutely aware that your balls have disappeared – “It’s the weirdest thing Gordon – I’m sure they were there when I walked into my Jungian encounter group”.

This is how it works:

You’re sitting in your supervision group, congruently describing how you’re helping your client feel less of a doormat in his marriage. You start to become aware of an awkward tension distilling around the room. It has a vague sense of being hostile. You explain how you have introduced your client t0 the idea of the “drama triangle” – that old therapy staple that illuminates relationship dynamics by identifying who plays the victim, the persecutor and the rescuer. You announce proudly that your client had decided to break the triangle by electing to go out for a drink with his mates last Sunday rather than participate in the usual sabbath ritual of lunch with the wife’s family. It is the first time in 16 years that he has broken this pattern. Concious of the building tension, you decide to ignore your supervisor’s observation (“Oh – he’s been a naughty boy hasn’t he”) and plough on by asking for some feedback on how to work with the client now that he has decided to leave his wife.

The resultant attack comes in three stages:

BAM: Your supervisor decides to wonder aloud – “Was the introduction of the drama triangle an appropriate and ethical intervention at that point in the client’s process?” “Could his decision to leave his wife have arisen from…..possibly….a possible narcisitic personality disorder?” And of course, “He doesn’t like women very much does he?”. I try to point out that all his female relationships seem pretty sound to me – it’s just his wife he doesn’t like very much.” I’m tempted to use the word “misogony” but realise that I could be digging myself a very big hole. It doesn’t matter anyway, the scalpel is already out and my bollocks have started to tremble.

WALLOP: “I wonder if the rest of the group has any observations….” This is the Carl Rogers equivalent of the leader of the Inner City firm, standing aside and letting some of the minions take a pot shot. I can see how tricky this is for my peers. They like me but they don’t want to lose some brownie points. “Have you encouraged your client to consider the relationship from his partner’s perspective?” is one of the suggestions. Ten minutes pass as my colleague stutters through a story about one of her clients who after weighing up all the pros and cons of his marriage (as prompted by the counsellor) decided to forego his twice weekly gym sessions and engage in some quality time with his girlfriend at her tai-chi class instead. Throughout this narrative, the supervisor nods enthusiastically and concludes with: “What a lovely piece of work”. I haven’t spoken for twenty five minutes.

KAPOW: By now, I have slid down in my chair and have drifted off into listing my ten favourite songs by The Jam. My client notes have long since been clamped shut in their lever arch file. “I sense you’re feeling angry Mark?” There is no sensing needed; my balls are hanging by a thread and I swear, everyone in the room is aware of my predicament. “Do you want to explore your anger with the group?” NO I FUCKING DON’T. But I don’t say that of course – the job has been done. In a few brief but devastating exchanges, I have become their client. I have reacted badly to the empathic interventions and only by sharing and exploring my humiliation with the group, will my sense of self be restored. The head of the Inner City firm is handing me his pocket for my tears.

You have to admit – it’s brilliant. It’s the most formidable form of attack I’ve ever encountered. And the fact that it happens in the enabling, authentic world of counselling makes it even more brilliant.

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His Hair Is Red And Fuzzy

The greatest football song vocal, with the greatest football song lyrics:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtlmw8xpQJc

 

Manchester can rave about the Summerbee and Best
Then there’s Liverpool and Arsenal and Spurs and all the rest
But let us sing the praises of the lads we love the best
As Leeds go marchin’ on…

Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
They’re the greatest football team in all the land

Now little Billy Bremner is the captain of the crew
For the sake of Leeds United he would break himself in two
His hair is red and fuzzy and his body’s black and blue
But Leeds go marchin’ on…

Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
They’re the greatest football team in all the land

Now first we won the League Cup and before so very long
The Inter-Cities champions were really going strong
And once again at Wembley you will hear us sing this song
As Leeds go marchin’ on…

Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
They’re the greatest football team in all the land

In the Paddock and the Scratching Shed let’s hear the voices sing
Let’s get behind United and make the rafters ring
We’ve a team we can be proud of and Don Revie is the king
As Leeds go marchin’ on…

Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
They’re the greatest football team in all the land

Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
Glory, glory Leeds United,
They’re the greatest football team in all the land!

It’s Not What It Says On The Tin

Language. Language used to create a false reality. Language used to unsettle and wrong foot. That is the subject of today’s sermon.

The world of social care has got this art of to a fine T. It uses the language of transparency to slam down the cast iron shutters. In proporting to shed light, it plunges us into darkness.

Many, many times I have been on the receiving end of this cynical manpiulation of language to divert attention from the actual truth (usually, with money at the core of the truth). One has to grudgingly admire the aplomb with which the authorities perform this brainwashing. They do it with mirrors. They are empowering me. Their approach to social care is person centred. And when I wake up in the morning feeling thoroughly disempowered do I realise that I’ve been on the receving end of the biggest social care centred con trick.

The current fad, the latest illusion is that care plans have at their heart, the person’s independence. So, why is that this newly gained independence suddenly feels like I’m trapped; I’ve lost out big time; my choices evaporate. The greatest independence con trick of recent times occured in the infamous case of McDOnald vs Kensington & Chelsea. Miss McDonald had managed to live, for some time, reasonably independently in her own home. Due to an unfortunate medical condition, she needed night time assistance to access her comode. Along comes the Royal borough and they decided that to facilitate Miss McDonald’s independence, they should stop the night time support and provide the lady with incontinence pads and sheets instead. Not a single acknowledgement of cost savings, K&C acted solely to promote Miss McDonald’s independence. I’m sure she is extremely grateful for this new found independence as she lays in her piss night after night. Last December, I was invited to speak at the Legal Action Group Conference, and the over-riding memory of the day was of the many hardened legal professionals still reeling from the cynical manipulation of a needs assessment by Kensington and Chelsea.

I’m embroiled in something similar at the moment, although thankfully it doesn’t involve faeces. For the most part of 2010, my 22 year old autistic son was illegally detained by social services in a positive behaviour unit, having gone for three days respite at a local respite facility, familiar to him. Both the respite centre and the positive behaviour unit cause him considerable anxiety and I have to still reassure him daily that the trauma of that experience is in the past. Since he’s been back home, respite has come to us and the council pay a support agency top provide a support worker once a fortnight to stay overnight in our home. Now, all of a sudden, Hillingdon council have decided that Steven’s independence is at risk with this arrangement. And how will they encourage his independence? By sending him back to the council’s respite centre for once a fortnight respite. You see how insidious this is: lets gloss over the fact that he hasn’t slept through the night since he got wind of Hillingdon’s plan and instead lets applaud that we are developing an independent, albeit traumatised young autistic man.

Lets turn our attention to personalisation and personal budgets; the “where its at” ideology of social care in 2012. Lauded as being the pinnacle of choice and flexibility, many people are bewildered that their reality of personalisation reveals that the limited choice they once had, has now contracted admidst the inflexibility of the RAS system. Under personalisation, each person has a care assessment at which their specific needs are identified. Those care needs are then fed into the RAS (resource allocation system) and converted to a personal budget: a cash figure designed to pay to have those needs met. Proving that transparency is alive and kicking, you try and find out the figures used by yoour local authority to calculate the personal budget and you’d probably have more  luck trying to relaunch a new series of Love Thy Neighbour. The truth is that most local authorities are feeding the RAS with their old direct payment rate, usually about £10 per hour. Now, picture this Debbie Harry. Prior to the flexibility of personalisation, your care plan consisted of 30 support hours a week, which the local authority commissioned a care agency to provide at, say, £15 per hour. A weekly bill of £450. Under personalisation, your needs havent changed and you still need 30 hours of support per week. The RAS whirls into action and produces a weekly budget of……£300. But hang on a minute mister, prior to personalisation, I was £150 per week better off. The support agency aren’t interested in providing the same level of support for £150 a week less. “Ah, but wait, dear service user. Personalisation is all abouot flexibility. You can commission your own support, tailored exactly to your needs. Thats the beauty of choice”. The end result of all this choice is that although I have been assessed for needing 30 hours per week support, I can only afford to pay for 20. I’ve had to reduce my working week by 10 hours and my wages have dropped by £200 per week. The person I care for cannot access some of her weekly activities as she doesnt have the support to go with her. But hey, never mind, I’m feeling excitedly independent.

I know this reads as a cynical, probably bitter piece, but that is where the continual presentation of a false reality leaves you. It’s not what it says on the tin. But all is not lost. To retain a stable footing, we have to learn how to decode the language. If I am told repeatedly that they are only acting in my son’s best interests, I have to be alert to the possibility that it is someone else’s best interests that are in play. If I am presented with the idea that my choices are being widened by the latest flavour of the month, I mustn’t be too surprised if it feels like my choices  have actually narrowed. If my independence is being trumpeted, be aware that my personal dignity, sense of safety and possibly quality of life, may be compromised. If you’re about to have a person centred plan, dont bother reading up on your Carl Rogers but prepare yourself for someone deciding what is best for you.

Someone pointed out to me that people working in the field have it very tough and are under constant pressure. I agree. Perhaps my expectations are too high. But I believe when dealing with the most vulnerable people, the onus to be honest and straight forward is more important than ever. My son is very literal but also, very intuitive and if he is given a message that his instinct tells him is fishy, then the anxiety cranks up to almost unmanageable levels.

Just imagine how liberated, how independent we will feel if we can decypher the language and be able to stand our ground and retain a sense of our own reality. Now that would be personalisation.