Monday, October 30, 2006

Return to Scotland

Entry for 30 October 2006

Back after a brief, but intense, visit back to Ohio. More of the leaves have turned in our absence, and we were greeted by a gray, cloudy day, with quite a low cloud ceiling over Glasgow. Since I have been studying the flight path into Glasgow Airport during my runs, I was able to recognize many features from the air this time, including the stretch of the canal as it curves in a large arc around the section of Anniesland-Temple where we live. The locks look a bit like sporadically-strung pearls; and there was a barge negotiating one of the locks as we flew over.

The end of British Summer time means that it is already fully dark by about 5pm. I’m not quite ready for this much dark this soon, but November is almost upon us.

Many pieces have fallen into place during the past week, both here and in Toledo. Among them, I am now in possession of a National Insurance number, which is described primarily in terms of what it is now (“It is not a means of identification”), but which various bureaucratic entities seem to want. And I finally got a direct-deposited paycheck; although the amount is strange and will need to be investigated, this is a clear Sign of Progress. The other day, Diane announced that she is almost ready to believe that our luck has turned, an intuition which appears so far to be holding.

I found it comforting to hear the local Scots dialect and accent as we deplaned this afternoon, like coming home again (I felt this way hearing Dutch in Amsterdam also). We are still only at about 70-80% comprehension of Glaswegian Scots, but that is a great improvement over a few months ago.

Our Glasgow home was none the worse for our absence, although it felt small and cold after our time in our Toledo house. Diane soon remedied the latter, and we are settled again into our cozy quarters. It appears that we may soon have our first house visitors, which will make the place feel really cozy: As far as we can tell from her email messages, Diane’s Chilean exchange student sister Gloria and her daughter are planning to arrive in the UK in two days’ time. Coupled with an acutely overdue manuscript and teaching commitments and a large backlog of admin, this is shaping up to be another crazy week!

Hans Strupp Dream Visitation (In Memorium)

I am in Scotland; Hans Strupp
Visits me again in my dreams:

He has a large family with him,
Children and grandchildren,
Psychotherapeutic and biological.
He is frail but alive, this dream-ghost of Hans.
He is on his way to some kind of treatment.

He and his large family fill
The big house we are staying in
By the loch, the late sun lending
A glow to the green hills and water.
He wants to know
Why I haven’t been to visit him.
I can give no reason.

* * *

I awake and remember all the other times
I have dreamed of Hans.
Down the years, he has been
A persistent ghost, even in life.

Somewhere buried in my notebooks from grad school,
I have written down my first Hans dream.
All I can call up now is this image:

He is standing next to a Door;
He is the avatar of Psychotherapy Research,
The gatekeeper of the fellowship
I so desperately want to join,
Like Lord Osirus judging whether I am worthy to enter.

Ever after that, every few years,
He would appear again in my dreams,
As if marking my progress,
While in the my waking life
I contemplated applying for a post-doc with him,
And followed his research,
Collecting his articles and books.

* * *

Encountering the Hans of my dreams
I was always afraid
The door to Psychotherapy Research
Would be barred. Over time,
This became increasingly puzzling,
Because the real Hans,
Like the Scottish ghost Hans
Always invited me in.

The real Hans
Wrote strong but honest letters that helped me get tenure.
The real Hans
Invited me to apply for a job at Vanderbilt.
The real Hans
Graciously briefed me as green junior editor
Of Psychotherapy Research.

The real Hans
Was loved by his students, who became
Some of my closest friends
In the Society for Psychotherapy Research

The real Hans
Wanted to retire to write therapy dramatizations
Like Irving Yalom;
But we remember him because he ended up
Writing so much of what we know today
As Psychotherapy Research,
Tackling its toughest problems with unflinching honesty.

Far from barring the door, in fact,
He held it open, and invited me in
As he did for so many of us.

* * *
Now we, his large psychotherapy research family,
Gather at the door of the big house,
A house filled with many rooms he himself built,
Looking out over many places:
A lake in Ohio, a loch in Scotland.

It is time for him to go.
We gather by the open door, without judgement.
The ghost of Hans Strupp passes among us,
Drifting over the lake, beyond the mountains, to the West.

Somehow, I am comforted by the feeling
That his ghost will be back again
In time to help us dream
New rooms for Psychotherapy Research.

-Robert Elliott, 28 October 2006

North American SPR-Burr Oak 2006

Entry for 26-28 October, 2006:

1. Return. The main excuse for our trip back to Ohio was the conference of the North American Society for Psychotherapy Research (NASPR) in Burr Oak. Burr Oak is a State Park with lodge/conference center in southern Ohio, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. I was third president of this regional chapter of SPR and have fond memories in particular of the first NASPR conference, which I helped organize in 1992. Because Tim Anderson was the local organizer for the meeting, it inherited some of the traditions of the Ohio Local group of SPR, including the after-dinner speech (Jeremy Safran provided the entertainment this year in a talk on mindfulness and emotion regulation) and poetry reading.

2. Memorial for Hans Strupp. A high point this year was the memorial session for Hans Strupp, who died just a few weeks ago. Irene Elkin, David Orlinsky and Marv Goldfried, our three elder statespersons, led this, but others including Tim Anderson and Mike Lambert contributed also. I found this to be quite moving, particularly as an evocation of Hans’ unique mix of creativity, ambition, scientific integrity, warmth, and formality. (My experience of Hans can be found in the poem I had written for him, which follows as a separate entry to this blog.)

3. Cross-linking at SPR. My favorite thing about SPR is the opportunity it provides to cross-linking with different groups of researchers. This time, I was able to make a very interesting connection with Jeremy Safran, whose team is studying things like “intersubjectivity” in therapy, defined as “moments of meeting” in which both client and therapist are able to recognize and appreciate each other’s subjectivity, creating a metaphorical “third space.” This sounded so much like Relational Depth, that I finally button-holed Jeremy in a hallway and belaboured him with a proposal that we initiate a dialogue among his group, Mick Cooper and his team here at Strathclyde and members of the KU Leuven group in Belgium. In other words, I began to see the possibility of creating a connection between the interpersonal-psychodynamic folks that Jeremy is part of us and the emerging interpersonal wing of the Person-Centred-Experiential approach.

4. Once more into the breach. I was fairly apprehensive about my own scientific presentation, for multiple reasons. First, I’ve been so busy for the past year that it’s been really diffcult progressing my core scientific work, so I had to pull a set of data out the hat (i.e., the recently-closed CSEP-2 research protocol data set). Second, two of the 3 members of the panel I was moderating pulled out at the last minute, leaving my somewhat in the lurch. (Emily B. from Toledo was overwhelmed with internship applications, and the other presenter didn’t show because she had failed to obtain permission from her ethics review panel before collecting her data.) In order to fend off disaster, I managed to lay my hands on enough bits to be able to cobble together a presentation of Emily’s material on the Narrative Retelling task in Process-Experiential therapy. I stayed up far into the night finishing my own presentation on the Therapist Experiential Session Form- 2nd version. I was afraid (or perhaps hoping) that only Diane would show up, but instead there were 14 people there, and it went off better than I had hoped, with the audience being very interested, appreciative and asking really good questions.

5. Poetry Reading; Honorary Lifetime Membership in NASPR. Saturday night’s activity was the poetry reading event that has become a fixture of the Ohio SPR meetings. Jeff Hayes asked me to lead it off. I had already read my poem for Hans Strupp a couple of hours earlier, so there was a danger of folks getting an overdose of my heavy poetry. Fortunately, Diane intervened and persuaded me to read only 2 of the 5 poems that I had picked up. (It is such a gift to have someone to rein me in when I threat to go overboard!) Jeff Hayes stunned me by presenting me with a plaque honoring me for my contributions to the North American SPR and bestowing me with an “Honorary Lifetime Membership in the North American Chapter”; he asked Diane to come up also, and the audience gave us a standing ovation.

I explained how I accidentally started the Ohio SPR tradition of poetry reading as my way of dealing with the dilemma of how to make the after-dinner speech entertaining, and how the response of my OSPR colleagues had inspired me to write more poetry over the past 3 years. I recalled how Laura Rice had helped me to see that there is a role for poetry in psychotherapy through her work on evocative empathy.

Diane had advised me to stick with my retirement poem, “On leaving the Shire” and my starting work poem (see Blog entry for 1 October), as a way of taking the audience through my current transition. I had written the Shire poem very specifically for my students and colleagues at the University of Toledo. However, as I read it and reflected afterwards on the audience response to this poem, it is clear that they heard the poem as my saying goodbye to them also, thus lending it an added poignancy.

I’m always afraid that my heavy poems will intimidate people; however, on this occasion I was very pleased with the mix of original and interpreted poems that followed. In the end, even as I was saying goodbye to the close relationship I’ve had with my North American psychotherapy research fellow-travelers, I felt more at home and appreciated than ever. The nice thing about SPR is that there is always next year’s international meeting (Madison in June 2007).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Two Homes, Two Canals

Entry for 22 October, 2006, Toledo, Ohio

1. Back in the USA. We've made it safely back to Toledo and have reconnected with our kids. Jet lag bad this time -- up at 4:30 after only 4 hours sleep, but we will manage with naps or early bed tonight. The kids were very glad to see us, after our time away, and we headed straight for our favorite chinese restaurant before even going home. Things are weird at home: the street is torn up for road work so we can't park, let alone get our car out of the garage. The living room is pretty empty and lots of things have to moved around by Linda, our friend who has been house-sitting for us. There are lots of things that we know we didn't bring with us to Scotland and didn't throw away, but now we can't find them in the aftermath of the seismic shift.

But it is still nice to be back in our other home. Rather than choose, it feels right to to know that we have two places where we belong right now. It's all evolving.

I will go out for a run in a bit, then if the rain doesn't put people off too much, we'll all go out to one of the parks for a walk. Mayumi has class tomorrow, but Kenneth and Brendan, who are on Fall Break, will stay on until Tuesday night, when we will drive them back to Cleveland and stay the night there. We have various bits of business to do here this week, but the most important feels like putting quality time in with the kids and using the time to take stock of where we are in our new life.

2. The canal connection. This week’s Saturday Adventure was pre-empted by the big adventure of flying back home so we had it on Sunday instead. Out for drive, we ended up at Providence Metropark, in Grand Rapids, Ohio, where there a section of the old Cincinnati-Toledo canal restored. The parking lot was practically deserted. We’d been here before, many years ago, with the kids, and I didn’t really expect the canal to be open on a cold, windy late October Sunday. I certainly didn’t expect a company of historical interpreters in period costume ready to put on their show for the five of us. But there the canal boat was, with washing hanging out, a fellow with a couple of donkeys hanging about, and a lady in the ticket office. We couldn’t resist, and, using Mayumi as an excuse to indulge in the experience we, bought our tickets and opted for the “first person version”, i.e., an enactment of an 1876 canal boat ride. In short order, two women dressed 19th century dresses and a fellow with a fake german accent appeared, and began to cast off, while the donkey driver attached the long rope to his team.

What was so special about this for us was that we are now living 3/8 mile from the Clyde-Firth Canal, and, as readers of this blog will know, the canal is a central part of my experience of Glasgow. So this became a way of deepening the connection between our two lives and homes, and I was eager to engage with the experience at this level.

The barge was 14 feet wide and 60 feet long, making it considerably larger than the boats I have seen going up and down the Clyde-Forth Canal (those look to be about 8 feet wide and 30-40 feet long. This canal was proportionally wider, to accommodate passing boats, and much straighter, at least on this stretch, than the Clyde-Forth. Part of the charm of the Clyde-Forth is its twistiness. And of course here there were no feats of engineers in which the canal was aqueducted over roads and rivers. This canal was wide, straight… and only about half a mile long, having been orphaned about a hundred years ago. But they had restored one of the original locks to mid-19th century standard, and it was fascinating to watch it go through the lock from inside the barge itself. By contrast, the Clyde-Forth contains an anachronistic collection of bridges, and the locks have been restored to a more modern condition, although the basic technology and design of the lock gates was the same. This is a charming historical recreation, while the Clyde-Forth is a piece of living, working history. And of course the most modernistic piece of the Clyde-Forth is the Falkirk Wheel, a marvellous piece of steampunk engineering in which 4 or 5 locks have been replaced by a single, gigantic wheel, which lifts the barge up to a higher level in one go.

The Cincinnati-Toledo Canal, or at least the remaining bit of it, is by contrast, basically a large, plain ditch struck through the former swamp land of Northwest Ohio (which used to be known as the Great Black Swamp). In its own way it seems very American, as is the contrast between museum history (however lovingly re-enacted) and living history.

In any event, we had a grand time bargeing up and down this length of the canal, pretending to be in 1876 on a cold, windy late October afternoon, an unexpected adventure and connection.

3. Residence and Domicile. In the same way, our two homes are not exactly the same, as we have since learned from our accountant: We are living in the UK (or "staying" as the locals say), but we are "domiciled" in Toledo. Our domicile is our once and perhaps future house, but with Linda's help, it is going its own way without us. The place where we really live, at least for now, is in Glasgow.

(October 30):
1. In our wanderings through Ohio last week, we kept running across canals, first drving south from Zanesville along the Muskingum River, which is a river/canal, with dams and locks every 10 miles or so, as it runs down toward the Ohio River. Then on several songs on a great CD by an Athens Ohio group Home Remedy, whom we heard the first night of the NASPR conference. Canals are woven through the history of Ohio in a deep way, as they are in this place also.

2. For some reason, comment don't work particularly well on this site, so I am adding a comment that my nephew Aidan Elliott-McCrea back-channelled to me:
"I was reading your post about Two Homes and I was strongly reminded
of a song by Ed Miller, a Scottish folk singer, about the same kind
of thing, but in the other direction: 'At Home with the Exiles'."

This song, from an out-of-print album by a Scottish ex-pat living in Texas, really captures the mixture of nostalgia for the old country and affirmation of the adopted country which I imagine is a common part of the emmigrant experience. In the end, he sings, "We are all exiles".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Teaching on the Fulltime Person-Centred Counselling Diploma Course: Intensive Training week; Skill training format; A Process-experiential slant

Entry for 21 October 21, 2006, Saturday afternoon, on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit:

1. Intensive training week. It has been a stressful week, first getting ready to start teaching last Monday, then leading long Skill Training sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon I learned that the SCL-90-R test publisher has refused to let us use the abbreviated/paraphrased versions of the test items for our in-press article in Psychological Assessment, requiring immediate action on my part. But Thursday was the worst: I did supervision 10am – 3pm, time-shared double-scheduled meetings 3-5 pm, then went to the MSc course meeting 5 – 8pm. Finally, we had an all-day Research Steering Committee meeting on Friday, after which Diane and I spent 4 hours rewriting SCL-90-R items and packing for our trip back to the US. No wonder I’m exhausted! I figure I spent roughly 18 hours in face-to-face teaching this week, roughly 10% of what I’m supposed to contribute for the entire year! Thankfully, we are in the intensive phase of the training, 5 weeks during which the students come 5 days a week, 10 am – 3:30pm. In early November, we shift over to the regular 3-day per week schedule, which will be less gruelling for everyone.

2. The Skill Training format. I have been meaning to write about my experiences in skill training ever since it started 10 days ago. I have now worked with most of the fulltime course students in this format, which is so much more expansive and intensive than anything I was ever able to do at Toledo. Here at Strathclyde, a skill training session typically runs a full training day, 2.5 hours in the morning, with an hour for lunch, followed by another 2 hours in the afternoon. The class is divided up into 4 groups of 6-8 students each, each with a tutor assigned to it (the tutors rotate through the groups each day). Each training group is then divided up into two smaller groups of 3 – 4 each. One of the main purposes of skill training here is to generate recordings for use in supervision over the next couple of weeks, so one group typically uses audiorecorders while the other uses portable video equipment to record with. The first day of this (week before last) was a disaster recording-wise, but after concerted efforts the teaching staff was able to get their act together.

The students take turns doing 15 min sessions in client and counsellor role, then they give the counsellor feedback. This means that everyone pays very close attention; the observers feel pressured to perform almost as much as the counsellors. I was very impressed with the quality and sometimes quite direct nature of the feedback. If the counsellor messed up, the client and the observers told them this, in a kind but clear manner. But in general, the counsellors did a very nice job, probably due to a combination of prior training and natural interest/skill.

I found this structure to be spacious and effective. I could see the students I observed changing over the course of the day. I could see their commitment to the learning process and to their development as counsellors.

3. A Process-experiential slant to the training. Although I was impressed with the structure and how well it was working for the students, naturally, I began fiddling with the structure. First, I started asking the students what they wanted to work on in their skill training. This of course comes from the way I do training in Process-Experiential therapy, where we are almost always practicing something specific. Here, the students often said that they just wanted feedback. Second, I proposed to the students that feedback begin with the client, privileging the clients as observers of the therapeutic process. The combination of client and observer feedback appears to be particularly powerful for influencing the counsellor; I think that it is harder to dismiss feedback from two people than from one. Finally, I instituted general processing at the end of the day, so the students could share what they had learned that day (this is also a practice that I use in PE-EFT training). All of this seemed to focus the training somewhat more than might have been the case otherwise.

What I have discovered from by these first efforts on the fulltime training course is that it is impossible for me not to train them in Process-Experiential/ Emotion-Focused work. I can say, here is what you do in classical Person-Centred counselling, but I naturally see things in terms of empathic conjectures, evocative empathy, exploratory reflections, and task markers, so that’s what comes out. I feel a bit weird about this, as if I am somehow doing something that I am not actually supposed to do (although this has never been spelled out to me), but there it is, PE/EFT is how I see the therapy process. The students seemed to really enjoy it, at least I got strongly positive feedback from them, which felt great, especially given how strenuous the week has been.

4. In my end is my beginning. So here I am, doing what I have come here to do, and it is stressful, gruelling, challenging, often confusing and overwhelming. But at the same time, it is a blast! I was warned that I might be disappointed in the students, but on the contrary I have been very impressed with them. Actually, I think that the staff sometimes underrates the students. (Perhaps they are closer to the difficulties and the problem students loom larger in their experience.) But I really enjoy working with them, and I feel that I am making a useful contribution. More than that, I feel that, working with the other staff, whom I admire greatly, I am beginning to facilitate a shift in the Fulltime course and in the Counselling Unit as a whole, and that it is just possible that I may come close to fulfilling at least some of the great expectations that I have felt under the weight of since I accepted the job here. Especially after the Research Steering Committee meeting yesterday, I can begin to see our way forward as a group, both in our own course and also in the larger context of counselling and psychotherapy training in Scotland and the UK. This is what we have left America to do, and why we are enduring all the dislocation, chaos, lost productivity, financial complications, friends and family left behind. There’s a line in T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets that captures this moment, something like, “Being here, in my beginning.”

The Relational Turn in Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies

Entry for 16 October 2006:

Relational Depth is a big thing here in the Counselling Unit. Dave Mearns has been working on the topic for several years and he and Mick Cooper recently published a book on the topic. This seems to be one of those zeitgeist things, because suddenly it seems like almost everyone in the Person-Centred/Experiential (PCE) therapy field is talking about related relational phenomena. One of the main differences between Facilitating Emotional Change (1993) and Learning Emotion-Focused Therapy is that we have expanded our coverage of interpersonal tasks, including Alliance Repair and also formulations of Alliance Formation and even therapy termination as therapeutic tasks.

However, others are pushing this even further:
1. Brian Thorne and others have been writing about therapeutic presence for several years. Following this line, Sherri Geller and Les Greenberg have published on the therapist’s experience of being Presence with clients.
2. My fellow journal editor, Peter F. Schmid, has been writing about dialogical/ interactional approaches in PCE therapy, providing a philosophy and even spiritual basis for this movement.
3. The Leuven group, now led by Mia Leijssen, have developed a strong focus on research on interpersonal elements in PCE, including meta-communication (Monica Gundrum, continuing work begun by Dieter Hendrickx), psychological contact between client and therapist (Mathias Dekeyser), relational work (Germain Lietaer), and transparency/genuineness/alliance formation (Jutta Schnellbacher).
4. And of course at Strathclyde we have Relational Depth (RD), which now has an active research group around Mick Cooper studying various aspects of it, including qualitative research on the client’s experience (Rosanne Pearce) and the development of client and therapist questionnaires to measure it (Susan Wiggins). There are others, but these are the two projects that I am helping supervise.

An immediate consequence of this is that Mick is now pushing me to including some new interpersonal (he calls them inter-experiential) tasks in the PC/E protocol we are developing for working with clients with social anxiety difficulties, and he has begun actively working on this. An interpersonal focus seems particularly appropriate for this particular problem, which involves disrupted sociality as a core difficulty.

In any case, relational work and phenomena appear to be getting a new look both here and in PCE therapy in general. I think it’s a trend! Actually, it’s part of a large trend in the field, which is also manifest in the emergence of interactional/interpersonal approaches in general, including people like Len Horowitz at Stanford, Tim Anderson (Ohio University), Lorna Benjamin (U of Utah), and many, many others. This all feeds into family and couples work also, the best-developed example of which in the PC/E field is Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg’s Emotion-Focused Therapy for couples (EFT-C).

There’s a lot cooking in all this, and it’s difficult to bring it all together, but I do think that it is a very promising development.. and I think it’s high time that we looked again in new ways at the core phenomena of the Person-Centred Approach!

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Experiential Approach to Teaching Research to the Counselling Course Students

Entry for 16 October 2006:

Instead of giving lectures or teaching classes here, the Diploma staff refer to “offering input”. Today was my first opportunity to “offer input”, in the form of two lectures: An introduction to research, for the fulltime course, and a somewhat more advanced input on quantitative methods/questionnaire design. These are two of the 6 or 7 total segments of the “research module” to the diploma courses, each segment 1.5 to 2 hours long. Going into this, it was clear to me that just getting up and lecturing was not going to work with these students. The most important thing is to help them connect with the idea of research, and not get (more) turned off by it. Naturally, I was anxious about how these two class meetings would go.

This morning did not begin well. Our furnace at home decided to go out, which made me late for the management group meeting and annoyed Mick. Lorna didn’t tell Beth that she was supposed to stop at 11, so she was surprised when I slipped in at 5 past. Then, they informed me that the students needed a break before going on, so we ended up starting at 11:25. This did give me plenty of time to set up the equipment and test it, but did not prevent me from having trouble with it when I later got to the powerpoint part of the presentation. Then, partway through, Tracey came in to inform me that we needed to finish early because of a crisis with the parttime course (one of the students had unexpectedly died over the weekend).

Given all this, it turned out to be a very good idea that that I had decided to lead off the session with a large group exercise, entitled “Focusing on your Felt Sense of ‘Research’”. Its instructions are as follows:
– Take out a piece of paper.
- Get comfortable, close your eyes or look at a point.
– Ask yourself, “When I think about research, what comes up inside?”
- Be patient, take your time (30 sec)
-When you’re ready, try to put your feeling or feelings about research into words
- As they wish, members of the group are invited to take turns sharing, while the instructor writes down their answers on a flip chart.

This turned out to work exceptionally well: Practically all of the 30 students shared something, and I filled a white board with their descriptions, which were highly ambivalent. I offered mine at the end: “Curiosity. A sense of something so interwoven into who I am that it is difficult for me to imagine myself separate from research.” This made a very nice lead-in to a mini-lecture on science as ethical system and utopian system (courtesy of science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson), followed by a summary of the research-practice gap. Along thenway, I invited lots of questions and we had interesting and productive discussions.

This was followed by Mick’s “Research Quiz” in which I gave them a list of 8 multiple-choice questions and had them break up into small groups to work out answers. After 20 minutes of separate discussion, we got back together and I talked them through the “right” answers, complete with Alice in Wonderland (“Everyone has won and all shall have prizes”).

I concluded by suggesting homework, in the form of a double exercise entitled Two Paths to Selecting Research Topics:
Part A. Going your own way: Finding your curiosity
- Take out a blank piece of paper
- Take a minute to relax, clear your mind
- Ask yourself: What is something am I curious to learn about Person-Centred counselling (that there doesn’t seem to be clear answers for)? Or: What is my sense of something that is still unclear about Person-Centred counselling?
- Wait… Take your time… See what comes to you…
- Write down 1 or 2 research topics that symbolize your curiosity
- Check each research topic to make sure it fits at least part of your curiosity

Part B. Collaborating: Looking at what’s available to see what fits
Consider each of the following possible candidates for your sense of curiosity, then pick the one that fits your curiosity best, if there is one:
•School-based Person-Centered counseling
•Relational depth
•Clients’ experiences of helpful and hindering processes in Person-Cented/Experiential psychotherapy or counselling
•Person-Centred/Experiential therapy with social anxiety difficulties
•Applying the legal model to outcome research on Person-Centred/Experiential psychotherapy/counselling

* * *

In the end, it was a good thing that this first input worked so nicely, because the second input ended up being cancelled altogether in order for the course members to deal with the death of one of their members. It is a sobering experience to lose a course member in this way, but I was impressed with the care with which the parttime course staff handled the situation and was glad they handled it in this way. We will try again another day!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More Saturday Adventures: Clydebank, Roman Bathhouse, Driving, Neighbors

Entry for 14 October 2006

1. Running down the canal to Clydebank: This time I decided to see how far I could get running down toward the River Clyde. Another beautiful day; about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, crisp but not cold, a light breeze. At 8:30am when I start out, not fully light yet. Almost no one out at that time on Saturday morning. I run past the big mall on Great Western Road where we went to the Sainsbury’s the other night. This part of the canal seems flatter, not as high up as the sections to the east where I’ve been doing most of my running. Reaching Clydebank, there looms McMonagle’s Fish and Chips Restaurant; eccentric restaurant in the shape of ship: right on the canal, it boasts of being Scotland’s only sail-through fish and chips restaurant. Where is Brendan with his camera, I think, to memorialize this tacky monument to a national obsession with unhealthy food? Nine miles roundtrip; no knee pain this week; pleased with myself, back by 10am already taking on fluids and protein; 10 miles next time?

2. The Roman Bathhouse: For this week’s exciting Saturday Adventure, Diane and I set out, with her driving our newly-acquired Vauxhall Corsa to the Roman ruins at Bearsden (5 miles north of Anniesland). We are both still somewhat freaked out by the driving here; this is our second exposure session. Getting to Roman Road in Bearsden is stressful but not really too difficult; however, when we get there the parking lot is full, and Diane drives off the curb, which rattles her. We manage to find a space in the public lot behind the church, along the Manse Burn (Burn = brook; manse = house the minister lives in) that the locals seem to use. The Roman Bathhouse turns out to be a wonderful antidote to all the walls and forts we’ve seen, simply because of its mundaneity: monument to a lot of really dirty Roman soldiers. Impressive bathing technology, with lots of rooms of different temperatures. Over to the side and downstream so as to make use of the used bathwater, is the latrine. They used washable sponges instead of toilet paper, leading to the inevitable questions: Who washed the used sponges?

3. Further Saturday Driving Adventures: We hope to collect all the bits of the Antonine Wall, so we drive on to a little cemetery about a mile further on, to see a bit of wall that has been excavated in the midst the cemetery. On the way in, Diane grazes the curb with the back wheel of the car (that’s two!). Afterwards, always wanting to explore, I navigate her off into the unknown farmlands north of the city; in fact, off the edge of our maps onto narrow windy roads, through the beautiful green country. But the oncoming traffic puts her over the edge, and finally she’s had it for driving for today. Actually, it was an excellent run, real progress, but she’s unhappy with herself and the blasted roads. I take over, following the signs toward Milngavie (for some reason, pronounced by the natives as “Mull-guy”!), down some really narrow twisty one-lane roads, until we come into Milngavie by the back way. We continue down the Glasgow Road into Bearsden again, completing the loop, then stop at the ASDA, one of the gi-normous superstores that have sprung up all over Europe in the past 15 years. I begin serious investigation of electronics options, but fail to find a tape player for Diane to play her English language exam practice tapes on, or a VHS player that I can be confident will play NTSC videotapes. Finally, we head home, where after tea and muffins, I persuade her to let me drive us to the Argos electronic store in Partick (once more into the breach!), to pick up a shoebox audiocassette player for her. This is our first serious urban driving in this car and of course I miss the entrance the first time, giving me more practice navigating a one-way dead-end street (not unusual for here!) and busy narrow main roads. Mission accomplished.

4. Who are the people in your neighborhood? We return home to learn from our neighbor that the local convenience store has Diane’s passport, left last week when she made a quick trip in the pouring rain to photocopy the passport for the blasted language exam. The store owner, who appears to be Pakistani, seems to think that all Americans know each other, because he has asked our neighbor, Shannon, who is also American, if she knows us. It is embarrassing to have to retrieve one’s missing passport in front of a line of people waiting at the cash point (the manager doesn’t help matters when he can’t resist remarking that it’s been here for a week). However, it is really good fortune that the manager has asked Shannon. We shudder to think what would have happened if we had got to next Saturday before discovering the passport missing, with no clue of where it had got to. Embarrassing, but also a blessing! Nevertheless, this day has been particularly hard on Diane, and we are both relieved to finally settle in for an evening of just hanging out at home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Car Auction

10 October 2006:

We were somewhat nervous when Tuesday came around, anticipating what the car auction would be like. I’m not sure exactly what we were nervous about, perhaps of doing something really stupid like paying more than we could afford for a really bad car, or maybe of our heads exploding from the pressure and weirdness.

Dave Mearns picked us up about 11am and we went off to the auction place, on the other side of the City Centre and a bit north. After making a couple of wrong turns and reparative U-turns because Dave kept thinking it was somewhere else, we reached the place, which was perched up on the top of a hill overlooking that part of Glasgow.

The cars were secured behind various fences and gates, but inside the compound there were lots of pretty new-looking cars with big numbers taped to the windscreens, and people looking them over. Dave had briefed us on the way there, amusing us with stories about the eccentric characters who frequent these auctions; mostly they were characterized by the tricks they used to discourage competitors from bidding against them, like squirting oil under the car to make it look like the car leaked oil.

Once there, Dave picked up a catalog from them, and we went into a large warehouse-type room almost wall-to-wall with cars. We began to check out the cars, looking for diesels that were not too big. There turned out to be a surprising number of diesel cars, which are more popular here than they ever were in the USA. There weren’t so many of the small ones, but there were enough for us to work with. (We decided on a small car as a way of dealing with the narrow roads here.)

The auction started while we were still looking at cars and trying to prioritize. The auctioneer was practically incomprehensible to us; he sounded more like a Dalek than anything else, talking rapidly in a monotone scots dialect. There were about 10 guys driving the cars over to the queue. The cars were driven in front of a viewing standing, with the auctioneer on the other side of the car from the stand. The large room filled up with exhaust fumes.

We ended up identifying 3 cars that looked promising: Two looked like they would sell for £6,000-7,000; the other for about £2,500. We looked them over a couple of times, discussing back and forth, with the auction going on in the background. One was unlocked so we could at least get into it to see how it felt. Then Dave had us decide on a maximum that we would be willing to pay for the first one that would come up. After some discussion, we decided that we would not go above £6200. We knew that this was a bit on the low side, from the information that we had (various price lists), but that was a way of expressing our ambivalence. We also set a price for the second car that would come up, the least expensive one, but this time a bit on the high side on the medium-condition price in the book, 2600. This car felt to us like it was a better trade off of value etc.

Dave then left us to go to the viewing stand, while we watched from the sidelines with a lot of other people. We could not seeing anyone making bids, but they were actually making small gestures to signal the auctioneer. Before we knew it, our first car had been bid up over 6300 and we were out of the loop; it ended up selling for about 6500. This was OK with us.

Now we set out sights on the second car; we had about 20 minutes to wait (they went through about 1 per minute). We watched the driver drive the car across the floor to the line, and were disturbed to see its left rear wheel lock up, before driver realized he’d forgotten to release the parking brake. This time, we could follow the action a bit better. The bids worked their way up, until Dave bid the 2600 maximum we’d agreed on. Then, someone bid 2625, and we thought, well, that’s it. We were both startled and worried, then, when Dave bid 2650. What’s going on here?, we wondered. But almost immediately the gavel fell; we had just bought ourselves an obscure British car that no one in America has heard of: a Vauxhall Corsa. This was to be our new car.

And of course we knew immediately that Dave was right to bid up the additional £50 over the maximum we’d agreed to; he had successfully psyched out the other buyer.

However, it was not exactly over at that point, because own winning bid was still below the owner’s reserve price, the minimum price that they had agree to sell it for. As Dave noted, this confirmed that the car was a good buy, but it also meant that we had to wait while the auction people phoned the owner (actually a car dealer who had gotten the car as a trade-in) to see if they were willing to sell it below the reserve price. We paid the £300 deposit (actually Dave did because my paycheck hadn’t cleared yet), and Dave drove us home to wait for the phone call.

About 15 minutes after Dave left us off at home, the auction people phoned to say that the owner had agreed to our price. There then followed a frenzied 2 hours during which we recontacted Dave, arranged car insurance over the phone, and got ourselves a snack. Dave then took us back to the auction place, where he paid them cash and we wrote him a check on my as-yet-uncleared paycheck. We walked out to the lot where they had parked the car. We thanked him profusely for efforts way beyond the call of duty, and he left.

We were now in the possession of a strange car in a dark parking lot, with little idea how to drive it. Fortunately, the owner’s manual was still in the glove compartment.

We arrived home a little after 7pm, totally exhausted from our car auction adventure, and didn’t drive the car again for two days.... but that’s a blog for another day.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Hermeneutic Single Case Efficacy Design: Applying the Legal Model to Practice-Based Research on Counselling and Psychotherapy

Entry for 9 October 2006:

This is the summary of a grant prospectus that I have been working on for the past 10 days. This line of work was originally inspired by my dad, and he and I had several conversations about legal concepts of evidence and proof.

The randomised clinical trial (RCT) method for establishing the efficacy of psychotherapy and counselling is currently at the centre of intense scrutiny and controversy in psychiatry, clinical psychology and counselling. The proposed research would build on previous research in order to develop a case-based alternative Legal Model to complement the RCT, with the likely benefits of bridging the research-practice gap and providing more detailed understanding of the causal processes involved in psychotherapeutic change.

The strategy to be used will be to adapt concepts and procedures from legal theory and practice in order to develop more systematic, rigorous ways of interpreting causal processes in single treatment cases. Variations in how the legal model can be applied to evaluating psychotherapy efficacy will be tested over two clinical case replication series. First, 10 psychotherapy clients will be treated for Social Anxiety Disorder using a promising but untested treatment; second, a further 10 clients will be seen in a more general practice-based research protocol.

This project would make use of and help develop a new research clinic being created by the Counselling Unit. It would make sure of some of the strengths and resources there, including newly available and equipped research space and diverse research team of staff and postgraduate and research students. The requested grant funding would primarily be used to fund full-time MPhil and PhD students. The project would also involve collaboration with the University of Strathclyde’s Law School and with other Scottish universities (including University of Abertay, Glasgow Caledonia University, and others).

Objectives include (a) initiation of a Scottish therapy case database analogous to a body of case law; (b) development and testing of a new treatment for social anxiety; (c) testing and dissemination of practice-based research protocol for systematic case study research; and (d) development and dissemination of best practice guidelines for Legal Model-based systematic case study research in psychotherapy.

More Saturday Adventures: Dumbarton Castle

Saturday, 7 October, 2006:

We weren’t sure to do next for our Saturday adventure, but after consulting our Scottish Heritage guidebook, we discovered a castle within a half-hour’s train ride from our local station. At the last minute, we grabbed Beth, whom we ran into on our way to the train station, coming back from the grocery store, and dragged her along on our latest Saturday Adventure. (We did allow her to drop her groceries off at home.) Little did we know what we were in for!

Taking the Helenburgh train from Anniesland, we passed through various stations that until now had just been names for us: Westerton, Dalmuir, Bowling (where the Canal finally reaches the Clyde), East Dumbarton. When I travel through these kinds of places I am always wondering what it would be like to live there, and I really like the idea of living near water.

After arriving, a bit of wandering around, and stop for directions (it's always nice to travel with women, because they're willing to ask for directions), we found Dumbarton Castle, a little way from the town, built against and up into a small cleft mountain right on the River Clyde. (At this point the river is quite wide.) The weather was windy and rain threatening, but we weren’t going to let that stop us, so up we went, climbing the narrow stone stairs that went up the cleft between the two volcanic outcroppings of the mountain. We wondered if our knees were up to the challenge, but we and they managed. The wind was quite ferocious at the top, whipping the Scottish flag at the top to tatters. The view from the top, however, was phenomenal: It turns out that the Castle Rock is on a peninsular formed by the confluence of the River Leven (flowing down from Loch Lomond in the north) with the River Clyde. We could see the rain heading toward us from miles away, the Clyde curving away into the distance, and the transition from town into the highlands.

The current castle is not particularly old, mostly from the 18th century, apparently built after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, to fight off the rebels. However, there have been military installations or castles on this site since at least 450 CE. During the centuries after the Romans left, this was the royal seat of the Briton kingdom of Strathclyde. There is even a legend that Merlin lived at court here! It's that kind of place. Of course, the Vikings came and wiped them all out around the turn of the first millennium. But, it was fun to imagine people living here at various times throughout the past couple of thousand years, and the place does have a sense of deep history.

Of course the wind blew our hair into wild knots, mine standing out in an eisteinian manner. At times it was so strong we had trouble standing, but fortunately the rain held off until we came down off the mountain. We are looking forward to taking our kids here when they come. Stirling Castle is much fancier and bigger, but Dumbarton Castle has a certain windblown, dramatic charm that we are looking forward to seeing again, and it was great to have Beth along to share our Adventure.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Exploring Glasgow by Running, part 2

Entry for 7 Oct 2006:

As I have written previously, I am trying to gradually extend the distance I run on my long weekend runs. Last week I ran out on the Clyde & Forth Canal, covering about 8 miles, and providing the material for the poem I included as my entry of 1 October. Today I ran further down the Glasgow side canal that runs toward the city centre. After I passed Ruchill, previously the furthest point I’d gone, I kept on going past the home stadium of Dave Mearns’ favorite soccer team, Partick Thistle. This team runs a distant 3rd to the Rangers and the Celtics, the two main teams in Glasgow, but they have spirit and are not aligned with Catholic-Protestant divide that characterizes the Celtics-Rangers rivalry. The stadium isn’t that big, but it has one very interesting characteristic: It features a side basin off the canal, for people to dock their barges in order to go to the game. I don’t know if anyone has ever actually used these docks to go to a game there, but it is a pretty neat idea!

After the soccer stadium, a vista opened out to the right, looking down over the West End of the city. There I saw a series of church steeples, and was able to identify the steeple of St. Mary’s Cathedra, about half a mile distant. After that, I came across an administration building and dock for British Waterways – Scotland, the folks whom I’ve been seeing opening and shutting the locks and occasionally tooling up or down the canals in barges or boats. There were about 6 barges or boat tied up there.

Shortly after this, I reached my destination for the day: Spiers Wharf, a row of 6-7-story Victorian buildings that used to be sugar refineries, then whiskey distilleries, and that still tower over the brick loading area at their feet. Now these buildings have been transformed into nice flats. Reaching the end of the wharf, I found myself looking down at the M8, the major highway that goes around the city centre. The locks and canal veer to the left but keep going beyond that point. I had made it to the edge of the City Centre, and felt very proud of myself indeed!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Cultural Anthropology of Suborientation Terms in the UK: Person-Centred vs. Nondirective vs Experiential Therapy

Entry for 5 October 2006: (I’m using the train journey to catch up on some blog entries)

My natural response to being in a new environment is to try to orient myself as quickly as possible. To do this, I tend to adopt the role of an anthropologist. I listen for terms that are unfamiliar, and for the meaningful distinctions that people make among different things. So I have been trying to understand the folk categories for different kinds of humanistic therapy.

In Belgium, especially as KU Leuven, where I have been working periodically for the past 2 years, this seems to have resolved itself nicely around the term Person-Centered/Experiential (PCE for short) therapy, following the lead of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counseling (note the American spellings!).

Not so here in the UK. The Counselling Unit at Strathclyde does training in Person-Centred counselling. The national organization is called the “British Association for the Person-Centred Approach” (BAPCA). Apparently, many BAPCA members refer to what they do as Nondirective. No one in this part of the humanistic therapy tradition uses my favorite term, experiential; this term is apparently reserved for therapists/counsellors who use Gendlin’s Focusing method.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into this issue of folk taxonomy when trying to put together a grant proposal to BAPCA for an updated/upgraded version of my ongoing meta-analysis of what I refer to broadly as experiential therapy. My contact person at BAPCA, Sheila Haugh wrote back to me,

But my experience has been that people in Britain describe themselves as either non-directive, meaning classical, or sometimes person-centred - which often means the 3 conditions [warmth, empathy, genuineness] underpin their work (and meaning using bits and pieces of other approaches). Very rarely do they describe themselves as experiential, whatever you and I think that may or may not mean. BACPA members, I think, are on the whole less classically orientated than you might imagine - well that is saying it from my description of classical! (25 Sept 2006)

Suddenly, I was confronted with a distinction that I had not realized existed; I had not realized that the term nondirective had been resurrected after all this time and was being used by anyone besides cognitive-behavioural therapists (for their so-called placebo control groups)! Afterall, Rogers abandoned the term as too negative and uninformative in his 1951 book, when he started referring to what he did as client-centered. (He later broadened the usage to person-centred, after he began working with nonclinical populations in the 1960’s.) However, it turns out that the term is still alive and well here in the UK, so while I personally disagree with the usage, my task here is not to judge, but rather to understand the local folk categories. In this case, the existence of the distinction suggests that there is a need in the UK to distinguish between counsellors/therapists who are more vs. less “pure” in their application of the classical person-centred approach. (Classical is how Beth Friere refers to what she does; presumably, this is synonymous with nondirective, but she is not a UK native speaker, since she’s from Brazil...) This means that “purity” is an important issue here, that I will need to pay attention to.

In practical terms, it means that we have to be careful how we describe the topic of the next generation of my meta-analysis of experiential therapy outcomes. My initial attempt to do this was not successful: Person-centred and related therapies simply aroused suspicions that I was trying to sneak in impure treatments. I’m still not clear on how to resolve this linguistic knot, since I am committed to continuing to include a broad range of experiential therapies. As result, I wrote the following back to Sheila, my contact at BAPCA (email, 25 Sept 2006):

Some background: In North America, we (that's Les Greenberg, myself and others in the PE/EFT suborientation) have been using "experiential" as the umbrella term to include person-centered, process-experiential, emotion-foucsed therapy, focusing & gestalt. "Experiential" refers to therapies that are centered around the client's experiencing, not just Gendlin or Mahrer's variety. We've stopped using "nondirective" because it's never good to define oneself by what one is not. We also don't like the baggage of directive/nondirective, so we've switched to "guiding" or "facilitating." Although it is true that none of these therapies directs the client's content, some of them do guide or facilitate the client's process. However, I don't want to get hung up in a lot of suborientational politics around this, I'm just explaining why "nondirective" doesn't work.

I offered "Person-centred and related" as a compromise term that would provide a big enough umbrella to encompass the same set of therapies as are covered in the PCEP journal. Remember that we plan to analyze and report Person-centered therapy separately from the others. In past analyses, as in the proposed research, I've also separated out "client-centered" (i.e., the classical variety that folks in the US & UK call Person-centered) from "nondirective" (which tends to be watered down versions, often used as control groups by CBT researchers, sometimes with minor guiding elements added, such as bits of relaxation training). I can see from BAPCA's point of view they might just be interested in classical PCT, but there is a lot more out there that is very close and therefore scientifically interesting, and I am personally committed to covering the whole range of therapies in our approach.

Personally, I think the most accurate term with the broadest appeal is "person-centered and experiential", which is what the World Association decided. As I see it, these therapies really are all both person-centered and experiential. I started to write that it would be OK with me for us to refer to the subject of this meta-analysis as "person-centred", but when I sat with this, I discovered that it wasn't OK with me, because some folks in our tradition (me included!) feel that that term has been used in the past to exclude them because they are not "classical" enough.

The irony is that actually I've been pretty strict re: "purity" of approach, which is why things like Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Hill's dreamwork aren't included. All of these have what I see as too much content directiveness (interpretation, advice-giving). There is some kind of continuum operating here, where ultimately things get fuzzy, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

At any rate, writing this entry has inspired me to go back and revise the original small grant proposal to BAPCA, changing the therapy designation to Person-Centred and Experiential throughout. This is at least more transparent than my first try, and it follows the World Association naming convention, so I think that’s the best I’m going to for now! Then it will be up to BAPCA to decide how far they are willing to go along the PCE road...

On the Virgin bullet train between Glasgow and London

Entry for 5 October 2006:

The fast train between Glasgow and London (Euston Station) generally takes 4.5 to 5 hours, travelling up to about 100 mph (still not metric here!). It’s a bit more expensive than the budget airlines, and takes a it more, but is much more comfortable and involves less hassle. I left my house yesterday about noon, and took the train from Anniesland to Glasgow Central station, arriving in plenty of time to buy my ticket and wait around for the 12:49 train. The train was pretty empty, and so it was easy to get a table. It turns out that the tables have electrical outlets in them for laptops! (In addition to the usual standard and first class sections, there is also one car in section that is designated as a “quiet zone”, where mobile phones may not be used. Next time, I plan to make my phone calls before I leave, and sit in the quiet zone.)

It was a lovely day, going in and out of cloud and sun as we sped through southern Scotland. We were across the border to Carlisle in a bit over an hour, and to the midlands in 2 hours. I reviewed the page proofs for my Rasch SCL90 article, which I count as writing time, so it was a productive journey. It was only when we got south of Watford Junction (the traditional boundary between the north and south England, but actually only a half hour north of London) that we stopped to wait, delayed for 20 min because of “congestion”.

Now after a delightful dinner last night catching up with my old friends Chris Barker and Nancy Pistrang and a very productive day in a meeting of the Editorial Board of the journal Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, I’m travelling home on the last Glasgow train of the day, and it’s practically full, but the seats are still much more comfortable and roomy than on an airplane. The mobile phone service is spotty, because we are mostly out in the country and are moving so fast that we move through signal areas before my phone can pick them up and I can dial. I plan to work on my blog for a while, then after I eat the food I picked up at the station, I’ll work on my RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) and try to wade through some of my accumulated email, which I’ve saved on my computer for this occasion. I’m very fond of this way of travelling, even on a full train (as long as I have a place to sit!), and I’ve been looking forward to having the time for work and reflection.

Later: At Preston, in the Midlands, we experience a sudden change from British English to Scots English. Apparently for purposes of this journey, this is the linguistic boundary!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Up-dating the Scots Language

Entry for 3 October 2006:

The Scots language is undergoing a revival and new translations are currently a hot topic here. Every Saturday, the Glasgow Herald publishes a wee column, entitled “Scots Word of the Week,” by Maggie Scott, which provides showcase for some of these developments. Last Saturday’s entry dealt with the Scots word wab, i.e., the internet (“web”). The Scots word for website is wabsteid (cognate with English “web” + “stead”).

A particularly interesting recent coinage is pitmirk thirl, meaning “black hole”: (pit = pit; mirk = black, dark [cognate with “murky”]; thirl = referring to something that binds [cognate with English “thrall”], that is, binding dark picture. (For an alternative etymology go to: )

The more I learn about Scots, the more interesting it gets!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Poem: On Beginning Work at the Counselling Unit

Of the poems that make their home
In the important events of our lives,
Why should they only nest
In endings and weddings?

Deaths and departings surely deserve their sadness
To be heard in this way.
And poems flock happily to weddings,
Like cockatoos turning the trees white
With their cacophony, even at midnight.

So why not beginnings? Is this not a winning
Time for alliteration and rhyme?
And anyway, all beginnings are endings,
Janus-like, facing both ahead and behind,
Something has to have been left or lost,
For us to have reached this starting point.

We have closed many doors, said many goodbyes;
We have cried many tears, eyes sometimes swollen:
The pain is not forgotten, we hold it to our hearts.

The road through these losses been long,
And we still long for the home
Whose door we shut behind us,
Blocking out all the dear old things,
The parts of ourselves we left behind
To reach this moment.

It is easier to write about what has past:
Its meaning-state is set,
Its sense has converged
On a small set of ambiguities,
Approximating a firmness we take for real.

But what we face at this moment is the opposite:
Now the options spread out before us,
With fractally branching paths fanning out
In many directions, ever-ramifying
Quantum ghosts of possibility
Whispering us on our way to – where?

* * *

It is raining as I leave for my long week-end run,
A Scottish smirr begins to soak in.
But I am not dreich as I reach the canal,
Where I must choose, and choose again,
Which way to go.

This day, I turn right onto the old towpath.
I run past the gas works,
Keep on going over the River Kelvin,
Climbing past the locks at Maryhill,
Following the canal as it crosses high above the road.

At the canal junction, for the first time,
I descend the steps, turn left,
Take the tunnel, and rejoin the path
As the canal veers away from town.

There is no one on this stretch of the canal,
Just the rain pattering on the path.
So I let my thoughts follow the channel as it curves
Beneath the great towers of power lines
Emerging from the switching station,
Where giant totemic figures form rows
Ready to march across Central Scotland.

There so many possibilities for me here,
I see again, and so much power,
Like the water locked between
The locks of the canal,
And in the lochs above the City.

So much capacity, I muse,
As I pass Possil Marsh,
I’m not some old fossil, washed up here.
This is a beginning, for me, for us.

A gray egret, whom I passed a few minutes back,
Suddenly rises and flies on ahead,
Along the canal,
As it curves into the future.

-Glasgow, 1 October 2006