Monday, July 30, 2007

Mission Completed: Return to Scottish Borders

Entry for 29 July 2007:
(see also photos at: )

Last February, we took my mom and my sister Anna down to Elliott country in the Scottish Borders, in order to help our mom carry out instructions she had received from my dad to help heal ancient injuries. My mom’s initial understanding was that this had something to do with witch burnings, but as we learned and observed we saw much more than that: the centuries of running battles as the armies of England and Scotland fought over the territory; the thieving and pillaging of our ancestors, the Border Reivers (especially during the 1500’s); and, in more modern times, the mono-culture of the pine plantations.

As I recounted in an earlier blog entry, ( ), our quest was only partly successful, because we ran out of time and energy and so were unable to make it to the middle point of the triangle that my mom had charted, a point near Wyndburgh Hill, which is midway and a bit east of a north-south line between Hawick and Hermitage Castle. We did see what we took to be the top of Wyndburgh Hill, but it turned out to be the broadcast antenna on top of Wigg Knowe, a smaller nearby hill. As a result, I promised my mom that this summer when Kenneth was here, he and I would undertake to complete the mission.

This past weekend was our last chance for the summer to carry out this mission. (Kenneth returns with us to the US in a week.) We arranged to stay at the same B&B we stayed at last February. However, we got off to a somewhat inauspicious, late start on Friday afternoon. (I had forgotten the crystal and medallion we were supposed to place and had gotten partway to the city centre before Kenneth thought to ask about it. The positive side of this was that we missed much of the rush hour traffic.) Nevertheless, we made good time, stopping for an excellent dinner in Melrose, before continuing from there to the B&B a bit south of Hawick, arriving a bit after 10pm.

The next morning, after a hearty but somewhat heavy Scottish breakfast, we set out. I had determined what appeared to be the most efficient, straightforward route. After we arrived at the trail head, Diane walked in about a kilometer with us, then said goodbye and left us to go back to the car to wait for our return. She agreed to wait for nearly 4 hours before driving back to Hawick to check for phone messages from us.

Kenneth and I had intended to run much of the way, but found ourselves weighed down by our breakfast, so we walked for the first hour, entering pine plantation after a couple of kilometers. It was a beautiful day, dry and with cool breeze, the sky scudded with clouds so that we went in and out of sun the whole time.

As the photos show, the logging road went up and around gently. From time to time, we stopped to see if we could get a signal on our mobile phone. After about 45 minutes, we rounded a bend and got our first look at what we took to be Wyndburgh Hill, then, a bit after that, away on our right, we saw the broadcast antenna of Wigg Knowne. This time, when we checked, we got a strong cell phone signal, so I left a voicemail message for Diane giving the time and where we were. (She was out of range down in the valley, but in case of emergency would be able to pick up any messages we might have been able to leave by driving back to Hawick.)

Wyndburgh Hill, now on our left, kept getting closer, until we passed beneath it. Plantation was on our right, but the hill was bare: Parts had never been planted and were covered in tall undergrowth, while elsewhere it had been logged off and was now covered a rumble of dead tree branches. It looked like a difficult climb, particularly if approached directly, but we figured that we could go along to one of the ridges to the south or north of it where the approach might be manageable.

The map showed two cairns in the middle of plantation another couple of kilometers further on, almost exactly at the point at the center of the large equilateral triangle that my mom had drawn. My mom’s instruction was to place the crystal and medallion in one of these cairns, if we could, so we decided to push on further into the plantation, toward the cairns.

After another couple kilometers, the road forked into three, and we took the leftmost way, an overgrown path between the trees. (See one of my favorite pictures at: .) British pine plantations are densely planted, a crop more than a forest, as I have noted before, but the map showed the cairns only 20 meters or so off the road, so we expected to able to see an opening in the trees on our left, by which we would be able to see and reach each cairn. As we walked along this overgrown path, flies buzzing around the black hood of his jacket, Kenneth said, “Now I really feel like I’m on an adventure!”

Instead of cairns, however, all we found was a wee burn every 100-200 meters. A couple of times we struck off through a promising-looking break in the trees, only to find ourselves hunched over trying to scoot under or around the closely-placed, scratchy branches, which rained dead needles down on us. No cairn! The second time we tried this, the deer trail took us to a fire break on the other side of the section of plantation, but no cairn. As far as we could tell, the plantation had completely obliterated the cairns! So much for the sacredness of British Ordnance Survey maps! Commercial interests trump all!

We were beginning to run out of time, so we made the decision to plant our objects on top of Wyndburgh Hill instead, and turned back. On the way in, we had spotted what we thought was road up to the top, so we took this when we came back to it. Unfortunately, the road quickly ran out and we were left to clamber through the bracken, thistles and litter of dead branches left from past logging operations. Once we reached the main part of the hill, the undergrowth cleared a bit, but now we had to contend with the fact that the ground was basically boulders covered by ferns and other marshy plants. It was steep going, with tricky footing, and we were out of breath by the time we finally neared the top.

There, in front of us, at the very top of Wyndburgh Hill were a couple of piles of rocks, the ruins of a small collapsed hut, probably 3 metres across, with a side building, also in ruin. In the middle of the collapsed hut were a couple of sheets of corrugated metal, the crude roof of the hut. None of this had been visible from below, but it was obviously the perfect place for our objects, better in its splendid isolation and ruin than our missed cairns.

The wind was blowing so hard that we could hardly stand, so without delay we pulled out the two objects: One was a crystal, one of my dad’s collection from his work as a shaman. The other object was a medallion, a laminated replica of the Murray Creek silver coins minted many years ago and given to all of my siblings and their children: on one side, the Cretan labyrinth design; on the other, a depiction of the great mother oak that looms over the Murray Creek labyrinth. I pulled a stone off the top of the pile and placed these objects in the crevice there. Then, Kenneth and I took turns reading the liturgy my mom had written, and that we had said last February at the three points of the surrounding equilateral triangle. This prayer asks for healing for the afflicted spirits and parts of spirits in the land. We finished the liturgy, then piled stones back over the place where we’d put the objects, forming a small cairn on top of the ruin.

We took a few more pictures, left another phone message for Diane, reporting our success, and started down the other side of the mountain… and right into very tall weeds and thistles. Stepping very carefully to avoid twisting or breaking something, we painstakingly made our way down Wyndburgh Hill.

What this reminded me of, more than anything else, was the summers I spent as a kid in Carmel Valley, exploring my grandmother’s knoll, finding or making trails through the tall grass, sometimes with my dad, sometimes with my brother Willy, and almost always with one of my grandmother’s dogs. This was my adventure, and it took me right back to my childhood, and with these memories came a set of 50-year-old skills and sensitivities to terrain, footing and vegetation.

Fortunately, we made it down without serious mishap, with nothing worse than soggy socks and a few thistles, thorns and scratches. On reaching the road, Kenneth did his version of the victory dance from the Final Fantasy computer games, and headed back down the road, with about 45 minutes left before our rendezvous time with Diane. We took turns running and walking, trading the backpack back and forth between us, and made it back, tired, dirty and impressed with ourselves, with ten minutes to spare. Mission complete!

I don't know what other adventures Scotland has for us, but as I finish this entry, I am sitting in bed several nights later, Diane gently snoring next to me. It's just gone 1am, and I notice the full moon rising over the tenements on Polwark Street, shining through the slatted blinds of our bedroom. It will be interesting to see what comes next, what next needs healing here in Scotland. I started seeing clients again last week, and was greatly relieved to find that I still had it in me to help my clients face difficult and prickly feelings, search for experiences that are illusive and hard to find, and finish incomplete tasks. Wyndburgh Hill isn't a bad metaphor for all that!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Star Folk Club

Entry for 24 July 2007:

Diane’s sister and her husband Rich was here visiting last week, sight-seeing every day. This schedule proved to be a bit too intense for Diane, who began to flag under the effort. The weather turned authentic last week, so they got to see Scotland at its midsummer grimmest, overcast & rainy almost every day. We wouldn’t want them to get a false impression of the place!

For better or worse, I had ducked out of most of this, on the first Sunday managing a trip to Alloway, Robert Burns’ birthplace just south of Ayr, and on Saturday we went up to Kilmartin again, but for the rest of the time, I begged off, on the grounds that I was still trying to catch up from the previous week’s accumulated work (my unanswered email currently stands at 319). However, Nancy had expressed an interest in Scottish music, so on Thursday night, on top of a trip to Stirling they made, I dragged us all off to the Star Folk Club, which holds concerts every Thursday evening in St. Andrews-in-the-Square, a converted church which is now a space specializing in Scottish traditional culture, including concerts.

I had been wanting to go to a concert in this venue for ages, so this was a good opportunity to do so. The headliner was a Gordeanna and Adam McCulloch, a mother-son duo who performed mostly traditional music. There was an introductory act for each half, adding variety to the evening.

The venue is a late baroque greek revival structure with fancy ceiling; the sanctuary is dominated by a large wooden pulpit, leading to me to conclude that this had been a Presbyterian church. We say at tables lit with small votive candles, drank beer from the restaurant-pub downstairs, and listened to the music.

As I have noted before, folk music is not a spectator sport in Scotland. Wherever and whenever possible, the audience joined in, enthusiastically singing songs many of which we had never heard before, many apparently from their childhoods. During the break, the man who had introduced all the acts came up to chat with us, as if we were new attendees at a church, possible new recruits. At the end, he went up to the front one more time, and said, “And now, as always please blow out the candles and take your glasses downstairs. Goodnight!” I love the science fictional frisson of brushing up against deeply constructed but foreign culture. I hope we can find time to go back again soon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Emotion-Focused Therapy Intensive Level 1 Training 2007

Entry for 16 July 2007:

Last summer, Les Greenberg, Jeanne Watson and I (with help from Antonio Pascual-Leone) imported Les’ Emotion Institute EFT Level 1 4-day intensive training model to Scotland. This was a new format for Jeanne and I, who were used to doing training in shorter installments over longer periods of time, so we were along to learn and to see what we could add to Les’ successful model. Since then, I have been working with about half of last summer students in EFT Level 2, which met fortnightly over the academic year. And I have been teaching on the Fulltime Diploma course here. As a result, I have learned quite a bit about the kind of students who tend to take these courses, and also the kind of training that most of them have been getting on diploma course like ours at Strathclyde.

This year, Les was unable to make it, so Jeanne and I decided to go it on our own, and the result was last week’s four-day intensive EFT Level 1 course. We both approached the experience with some trepidation: could we do a good job without Les’ charismatic presence? Would Jeanne and I be able to get along without getting in each other’s way or stepping on each other? Should we even try to talk about EFT brain theory? Would the students rebel if we didn’t do quite so much on chairwork? Or would the classically-oriented person-centred folks rebel if we did too much chairwork? How would the three helpers we recruited from the EFT-2 course pan out? And, in general, could we make the course our own and still have it work out OK?

In the end, it turned out that our experience and worrying paid off. Of course, Jeanne and I spent hours each night preparing for the next day and were exhausted by the end. But the course worked wonderfully.

What worked? It seems to me that all the following made a contribution:

1. We emphasized empathy-based tasks more (empathic exploration, evocative unfolding), highlighting the continuity with Person-Centred therapy and the participants’ existing skills. This made the approach less threatening and provided an easier transition.

2. We emphasized therapist experiential response modes, making the training more concrete and specific. (We even had the observers in the skills practice keep track of the response modes.)

3. We did emotion theory in bits over three days, and in general didn’t talk that much at a time, regularly breaking things up with videos, a live demonstration or skills practice.

4. We spend a whole day doing lots of two-chair work, making sure everyone had a chance to be in both client and therapist roles. This seemed to satisfy folks without burning them out, and it even felt OK to back-off a bit on the skills practice on the final day.

5. Without having to compete for airtime with Les, Jeanne and I developed a very nice rhythm with each other, picking up from each other, taking turns making presentations, giving case examples, and answering questions from the participants. We genuinely enjoyed hearing what the other had to say (partly because we have slightly different takes on the therapy).

6. We used three local helpers (Helen, Mary & Grahame), who took the course last year. In addition to being enthusiastic and enjoying themselves, they provided a psychological bridge for the participants, someone similar with whom they could identify. (I would like to take this opportunity to thank them publicly for their help and energy!)

7. I felt much more comfortable with myself in this place than I did last year, clearer about how to proceed and what I can and cannot do, also much more tuned into the students’ needs, from having worked with both diploma students and folks who had gone through last year’s course. In fact, having done the EFT-2 course, I was much clearer about what they have picked up and missed last year, as well as being clearer about how to do EFT-2 for next year. In other words, I felt much more located and grounded than last year, when everything was still new and confusing. This comfort enabled me to enjoy myself, have fun and engage with the participants and the process.

There was such good spirit at the end that people wanted their pictures taken, and asked if I was going to put a picture up on my blog. Therefore, by popular demand…

Friday, July 13, 2007

First Half of July: Catching up

Entry for 13 July 2007:

Over the past two weeks, I have:
-Been to a ScotCon meeting in Dundee dealing with the NES Improving Access to Psychological Therapies plan
-Helped Wendy and Rosanne move toward tying up the current phase of their research and begin to move on to the next phase.
-Spent a lovely Saturday adventure visiting the ruined monastery in the middle of the Lake of Menteith (boat ride and ramble around the ruins and small island with its ancient trees) and on to Doune Castle (of Monty Python and the Holy Grail fame), with its constantly surprising rooms opening one after another, seemingly larger on the inside than the outside, like the TARDIS on Dr. Who.
-Wrote a manuscript for Person, the German-language person-centred therapy journal. (Peter Schmid wrote back to say he thought it was "brilliant"; it's always nice to get good feedback!)

-Last but not least, Jeanne Watson and I ran a four-day EFT Level 1 training here at Strathclyde (more on that later, when I’m not falling asleep…)
-Spent part of today (a university holiday because of the Glasgow Fair this weekend) at See Woo, a large asian market filled with interesting and exotic items.

After all of this, I am so tired that pretty much all I’m good for is vegging out with my family and watching TV (last weekend we watched the Sky TV version of the Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and in between times we have been working out way though the US TV series, Heroes.

But the water lilies floating on the canal have begun to bloom, sending up their yellow flowers like rocket ships blasting off from Cape Canaveral. The rain has returned, but we still have almost 17 hours of sun each day, and the long, magical light of the Scottish Summer still hovers over our days, the peak of summer, repaying the long Dark we endured last winter. Life is good…

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Diploma Day and Good-bye (for now) to Dot

Entry for 30 June 2006:

The teaching staff from all three postgraduate diploma courses in counselling meet as a group two or three times a year to review how things are going, to address shared issues and to think about where we are heading. I find these meetings an opportunity to connect with the other teaching staff and to take stock.

I attended my first one of these meetings last summer during my preliminary visit. At that time, much of the meeting was spent with Mick and Dot kind of baiting each other about the true nature of the person-centred approach, which was interesting for awhile but eventually became repetitious. This year, Mick wasn’t there, because he has been on a kind of sabbatical working on his latest book, so he hasn’t been teaching on the diploma course, and Dot had announced her intention to take a potentially open-ended sabbatical of her own. She has been teaching on our diploma course for some 12 years, most of its history, and her strong, passionate voice for the relational interpretation of the person-centred approach has been an important component of the training for a long time. Over the past months, it has been my sense that we were beginning to move beyond the old “who-is-really-person-centred” debates toward a more pluralist (in several senses) view. Unfortunately, neither of their voices will be much heard next year, as Mick will be devoting most of his efforts to helping the new Counselling Psychology Doctorate program get off the ground.

Our leave-taking for Dot extended throughout the Diploma day, at a reception for Dot afterwards and then on to dinner together at the Monday Part-time course’s favorite haunt, the Three Craws. Various people from the Counselling Unit’s past dropped by over the course of the reception and dinner, like the ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, only friendlier, among them, Mary, Margaret, Jill, Darcy and others. I had a sense of the history of the Counselling Unit passing before my eyes. I dragged Kenneth and Diane along, following my policy of No Family Left Behind, and they were their charming selves, even if Kenneth did doze off once.

Nevertheless, I have a feeling that Dot will be back; she needs her time away, but it’s also very clear how much passion she still has for the work. It will be interesting to see where she gets to...

It was a splendid day and evening of processing and conversation. The conversation about the True Person-Centred Way has moved on, I think, to what I think will be more productive dialogues about actual practice, what the diploma course will look like under government regulation, and the role that research will have. At the end of the afternoon’s processing, Alan and Maryanne asked if I would be willing to do a session with them next autumn, bringing them up to speed on the research evidence. “I’d like that very much”, I said.