Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gotta Get Yourself Connected...

I am heading off for a New Year jaunt tomorrow, staying with a lovely friend in the middle of bloody nowhere. Not only does she not have wireless connection, but I have just discovered she has no internet connection at all. How do people cope? I shall take my laptop anyway, so if anybody spots a desperate looking woman driving around the Forest of Dean with a laptop on her knee, it's just me looking for a hotspot. Any help would be much appreciated.

A happy New Year to you all xxx

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Morrissey is my hero...

My Christmas celebrations will begin in earnest on Friday evening when I schlep over to Manchester to see Morrissey. (In concert, you realise. He has not invited me over for tea at his mother’s, more’s the pity.) I have loved Morrissey forever, or at least since I first heard This Charming Man and fell under the spell of the man with the gladioli in his pocket. I naively assume that everyone finds Morrissey a genius and have been surprised at people’s comments when I mention - mention? Perhaps I should say repeat ad nauseum - that I am going to see him in concert. The kinder comments include:

Morrissey? Isn’t he the miserable fucker from The Smiths?

Morrissey? I would rather stick pins in my eyes.

Morrissey? That explains a lot…

Please allow me to convince you that Morrissey is not a miserable fucker, and that his lyrics are, in fact, pure romance. Here is a selection of my favourite Morrissey lines:

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.
Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed.

(Bigmouth Strikes Again)

Who am I that I come to be here...?

As I live and breathe
You have killed me
You have killed me
Yes I walk around, somehow
But you have killed me
You have killed me

And there is no point saying this again
Yes, there is no point saying this again
But I forgive you, I forgive you
Always I do forgive you.

(You Have Killed Me)

And my children’s favourite:

And if a double-decker bus
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten ton truck
Should kill the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine

(There Is A Light That Never Goes Out)

Really, how much more romance can you take?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Being a Mother...

I was sitting at the kitchen table with my 11-year-old son, discussing his Christmas list which he had sourced himself on the internet due to his mother’s terrible lack of organisational skills.

“You can get all of it on Amazon,” he was telling me, “and if you go for the second-hand options I can get five PS2 games and five books. And of course a surprise” he added, with a frown.

It was then he noticed his 8-year-old stepsister, eyeing us with concern. He paused.

“The thing is,” he directed at her “when you are my age Santa only brings you a couple of small presents, because he saves the best for the little ones”.

She looked satisfied, and went back to her supper. He winked at me knowingly. I felt a surge of love for my lovely, thoughtful, kind little boy and remembered my siblings cruelly disabusing me of the Santa myth when I was only three or four. Perhaps I have not been such a bad mother, I thought to myself, to produce such a lovely son. And my eyes welled with tears.

“Mum!” he said with disdain.

“What on earth are you crying about?!”

Oh, the joys of motherhood.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blair's cynicism: part one...

You could be forgiven for not knowing that this week the government announced wide scale closures of urban Post Offices. Perhaps this was the Bad News that they have been apparently burying all week, although given that these closures will primarily affect the frail elderly and the disabled I somehow doubt it.

Small, local post offices provide an essential community service: for many isolated, elderly people they are a social centre, an opportunity for face-to-face relationship and contact, a source of community information and a place for advice and support. My local postmistress assists a number of her frail/forgetful elderly customers with official correspondence and paying of bills and is an informal monitor of their general well-being. I have even known her to call out a GP if she is worried about their health. (In fact, she provides exactly the kind of service that social workers used to provide, before they were chained to their desks and forbidden from actually visiting their elderly clients.) The walk to the post office keeps elderly people ambulant and socially active, thus holding back both physical and psychological decline.

Thus we can see that closing these post offices is a Very Bad Thing Indeed, which will eventually cost us in terms of increased demand on health and social services.

The bit that really, really hacks me off, though, is Blair’s defence. In a marvellous example of doublethink, he argues that these post offices are closing due to lack of public demand. Because for the past five years the Department of Work and Pensions has been bullying (yes, bullying) pensioners and people on benefits to have their weekly money paid into a bank account. Bank accounts that most of these people have never had and don’t want. It may come as a surprise to most middle-class professionals that the vast majority of people who live solely on benefits prefer cash in their pocket, as it is the only way they can budget on the miserly amount that the state permits them. Honest, its true. Some people just do not want a bank account. They want to take cash from the post office, and pay their bills in cash over the counter (or put cash on their electricity meter cards, which are quaint things that only very poor people have.) But now they can’t. And Blair can happily close these post offices because the only people that use them have no political clout.

Mr Blair, your cynicism appals me.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

John Humphrys Spoiled My Day...

I was driving over the moors last week on my usual trip to work. It was a clear, sunny day and I was pondering how bleak could also be beautiful when I spotted it: a Red Kite, hovering about 40 feet off the ground just ahead of me. I pulled over to savour the experience. I enjoyed a few moments of sweet melancholy (of the ‘I wish I was a Red Kite – life would be so simple’ variety) which then gave way to a feeling of contentment that I live where I live (because on a Bad Day it feels like the arse-end of nowhere.) I continued to work feeling happy with life.

I was driving the same road yesterday morning. The Today Programme was reporting how the reintroduction of the Red Kite in the UK has been an unprecedented success, given that it was nearing extinction 10 years ago.

“What a tender and heart-warming story” I thought to myself.

“I wonder if I will see my Kite today?”

John Humphrys continued. Apparently, we are in danger of gravely prohibiting their breeding by feeding them with kitchen scraps, as it inhibits their natural instinct to scavenge and expand their territory.

“We are, in fact, killing them with kindness” intoned Mr Humphrys (serious voice, grave concern conveyed.)

Why does John Humphrys always have to spoil things?

LOL!!!! :))

Before I started blogging I used to get quite irritated with the annoying little icons, smiley faces, ‘LOL’ type comments , indiscriminate use of exclamation marks! and the ‘god, aren’t I funny!!!’ implication of several exclamation marks in email communication. But I think I understand now. Psychology tells us that most of our communication is non-verbal (I can’t be bothered researching the actual figure, but suffice to say it is highish.) As a therapist I know that I ‘listen’ to the non-verbals just as much as the verbal content of people’s communication. Posture, facial expression, eye-contact, tone of voice (paralanguage) and gestures all communicate a different aspect of the story I am hearing. Sometimes people tell me that they are OK, but their non-verbals tell a very different story. I listen to my own body and internal experience, which will often pick up their unconscious communications thus allowing me to make the implicit more explicit.

So if communication is so complex and richly textured, how do we express ourselves in discussions that rely entirely on the written word? (I think this is different to ‘proper’ writing, by the way, which doesn’t rely on an explicit exchange between author and reader in the way that blogs, emails, letters etc. do.) It is very easy to misunderstand and redefine the other’s intention and motivation. We unconsciously project our own paranoia and then persecute the other. (Think of all those arguments that have started from a poorly worded text message. I am thinking of starting a support group for people who compulsively misunderstand text messages and find themselves in yet another text argument.)

Necessity is the mother of invention. Hence we shoe-horn in those smiley faces, ‘LOL’ commentaries and further indiscriminate exclamation marks (!) so we can let the reader know that ‘I’m a nice person really, even though I have just left a potentially disagreeable message on your blog’. They may be a bit flat-footed in comparison to our usual complex psychological communications, but I guess they do the trick.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Postscript: Go Go Hutton...

I read a post recently on a Labour blog (I would reference it if I could remember where I read it) arguing that it is too easy to just be cynical about government policy, and we should therefore take the time to partake in a more considered and intelligent debate. Therefore, in the spirit of constructive debate I refer again to John Hutton’s move to oblige women legally to name the father of their child on its birth certificate.

Let’s not be coy here. Hutton’s targets are unmarried mothers who claim benefits and his motivation is to reduce the burden that these children place on the state.

For some time I have facilitated development groups for young, lone mothers who claim benefits and who live in socially excluded communities in inner cities. SureStart commission the work and their aim is to both build community capacity and to facilitate a more stable and secure environment for pre-school children in these communities. I work closely with these women and get to know them well. I can think of a number of reasons why they would choose not to name the father of their child on the birth certificate, none of which Hutton would consider a suitable reason for exemption. Primarily, they would not want to be forced into an economic relationship with the man who has already refused to take responsibility for his actions and has usually behaved in a humiliating and cavalier way towards them. These women don’t have much, but at least the benefits system allows them a measure of independence and freedom of choice to be or not to be in a relationship with the father of their child.

The devil is in the detail. Hutton will have no idea of the difficulties women on benefits face when their ex-partners cease their CSA payments because of a change in circumstances (and these men are often very chaotic which means their payments stop and start like a game of musical statues.) In addition, enforcing a relationship with the father of their child, however tangential that relationship, will only serve to foster further acrimony and hostility and that is VERY BAD for the child. (Particularly if he has insisted on a paternity test, which no doubt most of these absent fathers will do.)

There are many, many reasons why women choose not to name the father on the birth certificate but it is never because she just couldn’t be arsed to include him.

I agree, by the way, that men should be encouraged to take responsibility for the offspring that they randomly sire. I agree that young women should be far more discriminating about whom they choose to have children with, and should not see having children at 16 as a career choice. I agree that children (and parents, for that matter) are better off in families with 2 parents and that all parents should take their job very seriously indeed. I agree that the welfare of the child should come first. I hate the fact that these young women feel so abandoned by wider society that they have children in order to raise their own self-esteem, and then have absolutely no idea how to parent them successfully. I agree that we as a society have a problem here, and I know it is not a popular thing to say in liberal company.

However, attempting a solution through legislation is oppressive and divisive, and, trust me, these women don’t need reminding that they are on the margins of society. We need good, old-fashioned, empowering and respectful community work such as that provided by SureStart. So why is the government reducing its funding?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Go Go Hutton...

John Hutton has apparently won a ‘Whitehall battle to require the law to be changed to require both parents to be named on a child's birth certificate.’ This means women will be required to name their baby’s father with exemptions for only the most exceptional of circumstances.

I think our leaders have come up with another simply marvelous idea here. May I humbly offer some further suggestions?

  • Unmarried, pregnant women could be encouraged to give birth in special mother and baby homes – I’m sure many religious groups would be willing to run them – and the babies could be handed over to nice, middle-class, childless couples after birth. This would reduce the burden on the state.
  • We could actively discourage unmarried women from getting pregnant by ensuring that it is a shaming and humiliating experience resulting in social isolation, abandonment by one’s family and a lifetime of poverty.
  • We could invent a time machine which would spirit us all back to 1953.

Any other suggestions warmly welcomed. Please send to John Hutton c/o ‘Regressive Social Policy ‘r’ Us’.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Naked Rowers Get Therapy...

Charles and Tom are best friends who found themselves with a couple of months to kill in between graduating from Bristol University and starting Sandhurst Military Academy. So they decided to row across the Atlantic. Naked. Like you do.

In preparation for their Herculean task, Charles and Tom have had some couples therapy. God love ‘em. Couples therapy is not an easy undertaking, and is only ever marginally less stressful for the therapist. Given that it involves parading your finest moments in front of a third party, for most couples it is usually something of a last resort balanced precariously between calling the divorce lawyer and buying the strychnine. Couples either argue so violently you need the skills of a boxing referee or refuse to speak until it feels like pulling teeth. (This is not a criticism, by the way. I have great admiration for couples who are willing to involve a therapist in their most private moments.) But boy oh boy, I wish I wish I wish I had gotten that gig. Picture the scene: two marvellous specimens of our finest public school system, eager and willing to go.

Therapist: Charles, what would you like Tom to know about you before you start on your journey?

Charles: Well, I’m a frightfully decent chap, but nanny used to beat me every night with a wooden spoon and I’m afraid it’s become rather a custom.

Therapist: How do you feel about that, Tom?

Tom: Oh thank goodness for that, Charles. I was worried you might have some strange habits.

Charles and Tom are thus well prepared to spend several naked weeks together in a space the size of a public toilet cubicle. They apparently, and I quote: ‘plan to have small diversions to relieve the possible tensions and boredom.’ Sometimes you just don't need to make it up.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Therapist's Sex Shame...

Ok, now I’ve got your attention.

In case you can’t be bothered reading this story, it’s a sad and sorry tale of a sexual relationship between therapist and client which, inevitably, turned sour. I do not raise this issue in order to heap yet more shame on the beleaguered Ms Bouwman. She has, after all, lost her reputation and her livelihood, not to mention her erstwhile lover. And to be fair to her, she did demonstrate that she is at least on nodding terms with the ethics of her profession by ending the therapeutic relationship before commencing the sexual one. So why do I feel compelled to comment? Because it is so wrong. So very, very wrong.

The purpose of psychotherapy, as far as I can make out anyway, is *to understand how we form and maintain attachments and to learn to regulate our internal experience – including past and present unmet needs – so we can engage with the external world in a reasonably functional way. (Please note that there is no mention there of ‘how to get my needs met’, a phrase which sends me into a spiral of despair and is banned from my therapy room.) This (*to understand….etc etc) is rather more difficult than it might sound. It is much easier to fall in love with your therapist in the hope that this love will soothe away all of your internal conflicts. (I suspect we all have an unconscious desire to merge blissfully with an idealised other; think baby suckling at mother’s breast and you are on the right lines.) It is your therapist’s job (yes, job as in responsibility) to take this transference and use it therapeutically, thus enabling you *to understand…etc etc.

This, in a rather rambling way, brings me to the point of this post. Of course it is flattering, and sometimes, dare I say, exciting, when a client says they fancy you/love you/want to shag you on the couch. We are only human, after all. But in order to use this material therapeutically - in service of the client (rather than in actually servicing the client as in Ms Bouwman’s case) – the therapist must be able to monitor, regulate and then use their subjective experience. This means having personal therapy. And very good, frequent, therapeutic supervision. And more therapy. And an intensive, experiential training which requires them to undertake their own personal therapy. And did I mention the importance of owning your own stuff through personal therapy?

The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy requires all members to undertake personal therapy throughout the duration of their training, which is usually 4 or 5 years and therefore approximates 250 hours of personal therapy.

Counsellors, as far as I am aware (and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) are required to undertake around 20 hours of personal therapy.

Clinical Psychologists and CBT practitioners are neither required nor encouraged to undertake personal therapy. Ms Bouwman is a Clinical Psychologist. I do wonder if there might be a link.

You may have gathered that I feel quite strongly about this. I confess that I am very suspicious of anyone who wants to be a therapist but is unwilling to trawl through their own internal world; it just smacks of wanting to tell people what to do, and that is no fun for anyone.

PS If you find yourself tempted, read David Mann’s Erotic Transference and Countertransference: Clinical Practice in Psychotherapy. It’s fab.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Come on, keep up.....

I have my ear to the ground, my finger on the pulse and a close eye on popular culture so let me be the first to tell you that Dave Hill has a new book out. What do you mean you already know? Oh well, buy it anyway, it looks fab.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

And a Merry Christmas to you too....

In a fantastically ignorant misunderstanding of multiculturalism, up to 70% of UK businesses have advised their staff against indulging in ‘Merry Christmas’ type conversations with their customers. (By the way, have you noticed how the term ‘customer’ is now used to describe anybody from the person at the pick ‘n’ mix counter at Woollies to the person with schizophrenia at the end of the housing list? But that’s another post for another day…) As I was do supposedly intelligent people have such a monumental capacity for missing the point and, in the process, handing on a huge silver platter the opportunity for small-minded Middle England to go “ooh, look how oppressed we white middle classes are. Why, we can’t even wish each other a merry Christmas anymore”?

Apparently this advice is based on the misguided notion that ‘people of other faiths’ may find it offensive and even sue - for what? You hurt my feelings? - by which they transparently mean that ‘people of Muslim faith’ may find it offensive. I am not Muslim, but if I were, I would be deeply offended at the thought that someone might possibly imagine that wishing me a Merry Christmas would offend me. So well done to the Christian-Muslim forum for politely pointing this out.

In a previous incarnation I worked for a provincial Local Authority and got mightily hacked off with this annual piece of lip-service to anti-oppressive practice, which seemed to allow the powers that be to ignore the year round parade of discriminatory practice towards any number of minority groups. So listen up there, you stupid corporate people: there really is plenty of institutionalised discrimination out there for you to get your teeth into, should you really want to, without getting all sensitive about a bit of seasonal good cheer. God knows, we all need it.