Thanks to Anne M Jones for sharing her thoughts about her Diploma in psychotherapy.
“Let’s see how you get on with this one” were Dharmavidya’s words when I applied for the Diploma in 2005, confessing that I had rejected, two-thirds through, two other recognised courses. Happily I gained the Diploma in 2007 and on the strength of it have been working in a London teaching hospital with children’s mental health services since then.
Recently I have been battling with the cumbersome paperwork required to obtain accreditation by the BACP, essential if I am to continue offering psychotherapy after the NHS throws me out along with thousands of others in order to ‘save money’ , so I have been reflecting on what I learned on the course and how it has helped me. It would be good to know thoughts of other Diploma holders (should we be called Amida Diplomats?).
The first thing that comes to mind, possibly because I am in a hospital setting where hierarchies abound, is how seldom now am I bothered by notions of ‘status’. In Western thinking this features strongly; in Buddhism it is a mental construct and does not exist. All around me ranting is going on about the ‘unfairness’ of so-and-so being a “band whatever” which bears no relation to the valuable work taking place, and the respect placed upon the families worked with . In general, my colleagues in the NHS leave no stone unturned to help children and families, their commitment and care flies in the face of all the gloomy newspaper reports which so undermine the service. Being fortunate enough to work alongside committed people feels sometimes reward enough.
The training at Narborough spent a lot of time thinking about notions of ‘non-self’ and though I am constantly pondering this, it took me away from notions of exclusivity as a social care practitioner. This proved so helpful in my work in mental health , encountering people whose deprivations are on an immense scale, yet their determination shines out, to do their best by their children in this often hostile environment, and I humbly offer what I am able, be it simple listening, or more complex work involving another specialist or a school. The parent who said of himself “I’m just another useless single parent on a sink estate” had been infected by Western false constructs about people in society, and Buddhist training helped me detach myself from such constructs, to relate to the courageous human behind the label (Sixteenth vow- unconditional positive regard).
To be able to listen, without being preoccupied by theories or judgements, helps me to enter, as far as I am able, that intangible space of the person’s private worries or terrors. Just occasionally when another is speaking of some appalling loss, our grief’s will meet and I will feel my eyes filling up, and I have been relieved to find that this goes unnoticed because s/he is too absorbed in their own outpouring. Afterwards, there is sometimes a sense of catharsis in the room. The complexity of the problems has not gone away but a clearing in the tangle has emerged (Eighth vow- empathic understanding).
This training constantly reminded me of my ‘bombu nature’ my foolishness and self-delusion- a very necessary stripping of self-kidding if one is to be able to reach out as humanely as possible to people who are frightened by the formalities and trappings of hospital settings. Fortunately I work in a setting where practitioners are respected enough (up to a point) to permit a level of freedom, so it has been possible to by-pass the formal clinic-based appointment system in favour of traipsing the streets to see people. These are people who might not speak English, might be illiterate, or who are so beset with traumas and crises they cannot organise timed meetings, or even a bus pass. Once a warm, empathic connection has been made in their home, changes can begin.
‘Home’, in London, can mean just one room for a family of five, or a damp-infested flat that causes respiratory diseases. I am frequently amazed at how little has changed in relation to housing since my days working in this same area of south east London forty years ago (by serendipitous coincidence). Curiously, a huge housing project that was built after I left here , is now about to be demolished, having apparently failed to meet local needs in the way intended- one reason being that crime there soared. Many families have been distraught at the enforced moves, and I understand the buildings are still in sound condition. (Planners’ delusions on a huge scale?).
Traipsing the streets with names such as ‘Pilgrimage St.’, I am reminded of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, his humour in describing the idiosyncrasies of pilgrims hundreds of years ago on their journey, and reflect how unchanged is bombu nature. And I pass ‘Guinness Buildings’.built by nineteenth century philanthropists, renewing my hopefulness for man’s humanity to man.
Learning, Carl Rogers style, to be ‘an authentic human’ involves reaching levels of humility that I had not known. It involves respecting the strengths, values and knowledge in others and working alongside them to help a struggling child. In this job I have to draw on the expertise of other. For example, Clinical Psychologists, who test children for ‘ADHD’. This diagnostic description has been challenged by many practitioners and journalists but it has a value in highlighting for teachers and parents that a child is simply prone to some extreme behaviours. It does not confer an automatic prescription for calming drugs- parents and children can opt out. They can be helped in finding ways of managing their behaviours, given time and caring attention.
The knowledge in itself can be helpful to parents and children alike. Pre-course, I was far more sceptical, making judgements that potentially excluded help. This is just one example of many myths around children and mental health. Dependant origination teaches us that everything depends upon everything else.
The jumbled words or baffling extreme behaviours of a child begin to make sense once a story is heard, links are connected , an incomprehensible picture deciphered, a process of communication begins, the inexpressible becomes expressed. Sometimes it’s like magic.
Working in a teaching hospital gives me access to constant opportunities to update my knowledge on child development. Sometimes , for all the impressive words and statistics and breakthroughs such as MRI scans that enable researchers to detect activation I find myself wondering how ‘new’ is all this . It is now established that baby’s brains thrive on good quality care (food, cleanliness) and above all love, without which brain connective tissue shrivels and dies. Did not most mothers down the ages know this instinctively? And did not the ‘great, kind’ Qhan Shi Yin express this many aeons ago?