Become the Expert on You
Always get to know the person who's helping you
However, good science doesn't set out to prove anything, it only accepts or rejects the idea that there is no connection between two things. This approach is called 'the null hypothesis' and the default position is that something doesn't work until it can be reliably show that it does.
I researched my own practices and gradually developed a repertoire of methods and understanding that I knew was solid, reliable, accurate and effective. I built a basic grounded-theory research principle into everything I did. I incorporated discourse analysis into everyday discussions and construct analysis into everyday interventions. I monitored my work using recognised outcome measures and crunched the numbers alongside the changes I saw to try to figure out what it all meant.
Family is family
As my knowledge grew, I wanted to gain more experience of working with as many different types people and situations as possible. I'd already worked therapeutically with people of all ages and different groups on a number of diverse issues and was looking for something new.
Over the years, I'd noticed that many people described their lives and the issues they had in terms of their childhood experiences. When you pair everything down, this is because the family is the basic unit of representation for any future communication we have with anyone.
A family connection is our first social connection and our first experience of a group. You can see this when you look at the groups around you, for example your work group or your social group. All of the people in your groups can be easily fitted into your family roles of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and so on.
We all have friends who are the responsible ones (like a mum or dad) and friends who need little looking after (like a younger sister of brother). We all have colleagues who slot into the same roles. It gets really interesting when you consider that they don't actually fit into these roles, we put them there according to our early understanding of how these roles work. But that's a whole other story. For now, its suffice to say that how we communicate with family now is how we communicate with everyone else later.
I took a deeper professional interest in child development and how the building blocks of our early experiences formed the foundations for the life-shaped home that we build for ourselves as adults. I shifted my focus to work that involved children and families so I could work with childhood experience in the social context of family life.
I took jobs in several specialist roles where I had the opportunity to work with the whole family issue rather than just individuals in isolation. I honed my skills in working with individuals and the wider group context. There was no stopping me as I sought out errant grandparents, feuding neighbours, anti-social groups of teenagers, and family members who lived miles away.
I brought them all together into one connected unit in order to get to the bottom of what was going on. Anyone who had an opinion was included, whether they wanted to be or not. This taught me a lot about communication, enablement, and responsibility.
When you have 13 people in a room, all of whom have an opinion on events, but only 5 of them have ever spoken to each other, and only two are only ever going to be held responsible for the outcome of that conversation, then you have an unequal situation. My job was to make the situation equal. Its that simple. What wasn't simple was how to do that.
I studied Child and Adolescent Mental Health at post-graduate level to further my understanding of what could happen when things go wrong at an early age. I compared my studies to the family environments that I experienced on a daily basis to see what the theory looked like in real life.
I worked with real-time problems as and when they occurred which meant that I responded to crisis situations in the places where they took place. This could be a police station following an arrest, a school where a child was being violent in class, a home where a serious assault had taken place or a prison where someone had been remanded to. To get a real flavour of what is going on in someone's life you have to sit down and eat their meal with them right?
This is often referred to as 'in-vivo' therapeutic work - therapeutic work that is done with a live issue as it occurs, in the setting in which it normally occurs. It requires a quick and ready professional approach to help people change their lives in this way and you have to think on your feet. But it does deliver some of the best changes I have ever seen.
A lot of phobia work is done in this way because the quickest most effective way to deal with a fear is to actually face it and find a way to cope with it. I incorporated an in-vivo approach into the therapeutic work I was doing to really kick-start the change process and move things along. I left the reed diffuser behind, took the change process out of the office, and used it wherever people would get the most benefit.
For example, this could be in someone's home if they are agoraphobic, an open space if they are anxious about social contact, climbing if they afraid of heights, or actually getting out and doing things if they are depressed. This really allows me to create unique therapeutic experiences that help to change the way people look at their issues and change their lives in a positive way.
Change today: change tomorrow
One of the things I really find value in is seeing people develop as a result of the work we've done together. I like to follow up any work I do to see the real changes that have happened in people's lives. This could be by email or a quick call. Where booster sessions are required, they can be easily arranged to keep you moving in the right direction and working towards that new life.
Over the years, I've gained a unique perspective on how people develop over time. I've seen first-hand how the various issues we experience in life influence the way we grow. How you live today really does create the person you are tomorrow.
Throughout all of this, the biggest thing I've learned is that change is always possible, no matter how out of shape things may seem. Problems can last a lifetime but real change is only ever seconds away.
Give me a call to see how you can change your tomorrow.
Its been a long journey
I think it's important to know who you're dealing with and how they've learned the things they know.
I'd like to say that the following is a brief introduction to me and the professional and academic path I've followed. I'd be lying though because its much more detailed than that. Just be grateful I didn't provide a CV, the names and addresses of several childhood friends, and a list of pets I've owned.
I've always been interested in the mind and human behaviour and was a keen observer of people when I was a child. By the ripe old age of eight I'd figured out my neighbour had an anxious-avoidant attachment style with narcisistic tendencies. By the time I hit nine I'd figured out that it was probably best for everyone that I stopped telling her this.
When I grew up (approx. 25 years old) I decided that I wanted to make a living telling people what was wrong with them. I studied for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Psychology to give me an academic reason to stare at people and watch what they do. My degree really opened my horizons in terms of what I thought I knew about the human condition and really turned me on to what we could achieve with our lives.
A taste of the real world
In my first year, I volunteered for a local addiction charity as a counsellor for young people with drug and alcohol issues. The charity had an extraordinarily in-depth selection and assessment process and a training course which was second to none in the voluntary field. They also had an unbelievably professional approach to supporting the counsellors who volunteered for them.
I was schooled in the value of respect for others, why ongoing training is important, and given access to lots of resources. In addition, they had weekend residentials as a part of the course which are always great. I was onto a winner.
Over the next two years I worked with a lot of children and young adults who had problems with drugs, or alcohol, or both. I also changed my focus from counselling young people to counselling people of all ages.
Counselling adults gave me experience of the wide range of issues that older clients bring to counselling sessions, such as work problems and relationship issues. It also exposed me to the nature of well-entrenched problems that people had struggled with for decades.
It seemed that the older people got, the more their problems took on a real existential angst. You can call it a midlife crisis if you want, but its more than just the sudden realisation that your clothes and your children are about the same age. It's about the everyday feeling that life has cheated you out of, well, life.
My interest in common issues such as depression, stress and anxiety developed into a particular interest in the bio-psycho-social aspect of human development. I know, I know bio-psycho-social is a big word, but it basically means how we've developed physically and psychologically to fit in with the world around us.
When I completed my degree, I began working full-time as a counsellor for a multi-agency NHS partnership. It was very busy and the referrals came thick and fast. I quickly realised that nothing happens in isolation from the world around us.
It made no sense to just talk to someone about their problems in a nice room with comfortable chairs and a reed diffuser. It made more sense to work with the families and friends of the people I was counselling as well. That way I could share the load by encouraging all involved to take some responsibility for producing a positive change.
I also started doing psycho-educational workshops to work with groups of people as well as individuals. I'd observed that people learn as much from each other as they learn from me. A group environment offers the opportunity to be told by lots of people that you need to change. This seemed to have more impact than just me saying that.
An analytical adventure
I then began a 4-year professional training course in Counselling and Psychotherapy. I was challenged in a number of different ways and the analysis of everything I did was up for grabs. If someone wanted to know why I was sat a certain way, they'd analyse it. If I didn't provide much of a response, they'd analyse my lack of a response.
Compared to the detached principles of a psychology degree, this was a truly immersive experience in the practical application of integrative therapeutic techniques. It complimented the technical and theoretical psychological knowledge I had gained and helped me to refine my professional experience of applying therapeutic methods in the real world.
Psychology generally believes that people can be made to behave in certain ways if a particular environment is created around them. Whilst this is partly true it, somewhat conveniently, overlooks the fact that people are individuals who know more about themselves than anyone else. The only real way you can find this out is by going on a journey with them.
I learned that when I get to that core of self-knowledge that a person holds, its like I've walked into a library dedicated to them. I can find out what they already know about their lives and what environments work best for them. This means I can quickly help you to identify what it is you want to change and provide accurate and reliable ways to achieve that.
The whys and hows
As my theoretical and practical knowledge grew, I wanted to learn more about evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic techniques. I decided to study for a Master of Science Degree in Psychological Research Methods. This was a great move because seeing something work as a practitioner is one thing; learning how to figure out why it works as a researcher is something entirely different.
Firstly, I learned the skills to read and understand the science behind the methods other researchers thought worked. Secondly, I learned the skills to apply the science to figure out whether what they thought worked in a research setting actually worked in real life. Lastly, I learned to figure out whether what I thought worked stood up to rigorous statistical analysis.
I know what you're thinking: 'there are lies, damned lies, and then there's statistics'. We can thank Mark Twain for popularising this phrase in order to describe a human tendency to prove facts with figures.