I spent the weekend on a training course.
I am usually ultra-selective about the training I attend, and I’m still not sure how this one slipped through the net, but it wasn’t until my bum was firmly on the seat that I realised it was going to be a ‘Janet and John do therapy’ session. Oh, bugger. Too late to leave. I have a mantra that I chant quietly to myself on such courses: keep your head down and your gob shut I repeat quietly and persistently to my inner rebel. If the trainer is up for it I will engage robustly with them on issues of theory, but my instinct told me that she really wasn’t up for it and no good would come of it.
(A friend of mine during my social work training many moons ago taught me the value of this philosophy. As is usual on ‘helping others’ type training we had to write a self-reflective journal, describing our personal journey through our placements and our ‘learning edge’ for our future personal development as reflective practitioners. My friend handed her journal in with pride. It read ‘KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND YOUR GOB SHUT’ in size 36 font. How we laughed.)
The day proceeded without any mishap, until the lovely trainer asked us to think of five things that we would like to thank our parents for teaching us, in a bid to commit to positive thinking. I was in the room and had nothing to lose. So I thought. Lots and lots. Now, I don’t want to use this blog to be horrible about my parents and siblings or whinge about my unhappy childhood. It’s cheap, it’s immature and one day they might read it. So all I will say is that I grew up one of five children, low in the pecking order but without the privilege of being the youngest, with parents who ran a corner shop and worked themselves into the ground for 60 hours a week. My siblings and I were, well, probably feral is the best way to describe us. You can join up the dots for yourself. So I thought some more, and then came up with what I thought was rather a good list, given the adverse circumstances of my childhood:
- I am very good at mental arithmetic because they made me work in the shop.
- I can cook, bake, sew, knit, darn socks and iron shirts. All of which are handy skills for a good wifey, and may come in useful some day if I ever decide to be one.
- I can hold my own in an argument.
- I can disappear into my head in a room full of people until I hardly recognise that anyone is there. Therapy calls this dissociation. I call it a life skill.
- I can carry quite hot things without using an oven glove.
The lovely trainer then invited us to share one of our ‘positive inheritances’ with the group. Oh shit. My neighbour shared a very moving story about …..well, it doesn’t matter really, but she clearly found it moving. She wiped her tears and I realised it was my turn. I thought about it long and hard for about a nano-second and decided to share my best party trick: that of carrying quite hot things without an oven glove.
“I can carry quite hot things without an oven glove” I said. People stared at me. One man smiled a little bit, and I quite liked him for it. Perhaps he felt the same way as I did? There was a very long pause, during which I decided not to speak. I really felt I had said enough.
“Thank you for sharing that” said the lovely trainer, and looked a little embarrassed before moving on.
And I would also like to take the opportunity to advise any aspiring therapists out there to actually learn how to be alongside someone quietly in a genuinely therapeutic relationship, without recourse to tricks, fancies or psychological gimmicks.