Sunday, May 31, 2009


Entry for 31 May 2009:

Today has been my 59th birthday. It is a tradition in my family to mark a birthday by considering the significance of the number of the birthday: 59 is a prime number. 59 is one minute less than an hour (and 1 second less than a minute), sitting as it does immediately under that roundest of numbers, 60. So: I get one more chance at figuring out how to make the best use of my 50’s.

Today turned out to be another startlingly beautiful day in Glasgow: sunny, high in the mid-70’s, light breeze. This doesn’t happen too often here. Normally, when we drive to church about 10am on Sunday morning, the streets are pretty empty, but today there were so many people out, trying to make the most of the day that there were traffic jams. Startling! I’ve decided to take it as a good omen.

Mostly, we had a pretty normal Sunday, sleeping in a bit, going to church, doing our weekly grocery shopping afterwards, then lunch and a bit of nap, then some email and a chat with Brendan. Today, however, we had dinner with Beth and James, co-celebrating Beth and my birthday at one of our favorite Scottish restaurants, The Sisters. When we got there, they offered us a table outside, which turned out to be a perfect way to spend 3.5 hours on a late Sunday afternoon/evening. Afterwards, we touched base with Kenneth; my mom and sister Louisa emailed me; and finally I IM’d with my brother Conal.

So birthdays are a great excuse to touch with family, sometimes in unusual ways. My mom also sent greetings from my dad: “in case he hadn’t been able to get through directly,” she wrote. I wrote back that he’d been popping up in sessions with my clients over the past several weeks, and in particular in the presentation I did on Friday on HSCED, which I introduced by acknowledging his contribution to the development my thinking about the uses of legal models in psychotherapy research. But it was still good to hear it from her. Thanks, dad, wherever you are! The birthday number game was always something we played at each other’s birthdays, so that’s you popping up there also. You’re in my head and heart too!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Space Still Available for this Summer’s Emotion-Focused Therapy Level 1 Training

This intensive 4-day workshop, will facilitated by Robert Elliott and Jeanne Watson, with assistance from Lorna Carrick. Building on your Person-Centred counselling training, it will enable you to begin helping your clients to access core emotions. Level 1 provides an overview of Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapy (PE-EFT) methods, including Focusing, Clearing a Space, Unfolding, Two Chair Work, and Empty Chair Work, and is prerequisite for PE-EFT Levels 2 & 3. Monday 13th July – Thursday 16th July 2009, 9.00 – 16.30, Jordanhill Campus, University of Strathclyde. For more information, go to or contact Karen McDairmant at: .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Continuing Saturday Adventures: May

Entry for 17 May 2009:

More Saturday Adventures:

1. Burrell Collection special exhibition of Greek pottery: This was a loan from the British Museum, depicting various mythological and mundane themes (Heracles, sport competition): We went to this out of loyalty to our youngest son Kenneth, who is a classics major, trying to absorb as much as we could of the images on the ancient amphoras and trophy vases on his behalf.

2. Newark Castle: Not a city in New Jersey, but a castle down the Clyde Firth and opposite from Dumbarton Castle, at Port Glasgow, the old deep water port before the Clyde was dredged. Naturally, shipyards grew up around it over the centuries, eventually dwarfing the 17th century castle and its older defensive tower. Then, shipbuilding moved up the Clyde toward the City. Now, all but one of the shipyards are gone and torn down, receding like the tide of the centuries, revealing the castle again. It’s an obscure, lonely place, though; we are perhaps only the second set of visitors that day, even though it was a lovely, sunny May Saturday. The Historic Scotland person – ticket-taker, docent, shop-keeper, maintenance- and handyperson all rolled into one – appeared to be bored or lonely, and talked at us for quite awhile. “A hidden gem”, he called the castle. And he was right: the late medieval square tower; the 1690’s house, with its well-lit great hall, kitchen below, gallery above; modern parkland (where shipyards used to be), all overlooking the Clyde estuary.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Brendan’s PhD Graduation Celebrations

Entry for 18 May 2009:

Because we were in the process of moving from Los Angeles to Toledo, Ohio, I didn’t go to my own PhD graduation in 1978. So when our oldest son, Brendan successfully defended his PhD dissertation last September, I assumed that that I wouldn’t be going to his either, especially as it conflicted with the BACP Research Conference. However, Brendan loves rituals and so when I got my submission for the research conference turned down, I took this as a Sign that I should go to Brendan’s graduation. I moved a couple of things around and managed to squeeze a week’s annual leave into my mid-May schedule.

Brendan did both his undergraduate and graduate work in computer science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He has been fascinated by computers from childhood, when we used to play computer games together, including Ultima 2 and the old King’s Quest games from Sierra On-line. One thing led to another and he ended up going into computer science as an undergrad and eventually as a PhD student. Along the way, he acquired an interest in Japanese language and culture, as a needed balance for the computer science.

Our celebration of his PhD graduation turned into a 4-day extended event:

Last Tuesday, two days after coming back from EFT teaching in the Netherlands, I flew back through Amsterdam on my way to Detroit. By the time Diane and Kenneth picked me up from the airport, I was somewhat droopy: Not only had I worked a 12-hour day on the Monday, but I’d gotten up at 4.30am in Glasgow, only to be confronted by a slow leak from the ceiling of the bathroom in our flat. (I woke up my upstairs neighbor to investigate the leak, and then woke up Diane, so she could phone the letting agency once they’d opened.) I was grateful when, on arriving in Toledo, Diane and Kenneth took me off to the Olive Garden and fed me salad and lasagna.

Day 1: After a day of semi-recovery, we picked up Brendan and Mayumi very early Thursday morning off the red-eye flight from Seattle. We all went home and crashed for several hours, before getting up and going out for a long walk around Secor Metropark, one of Toledo’s many large country parks. It had rained heavily the day before, but the day was warm, the creek was full of brown, muddy water, and the mosquitoes were already out. After this, there was nothing for it but to go for ice cream. Then, to work off the ice cream, we went to the Barnes & Noble, where I found books for my kids to give me for my birthday. After that, it was time for dinner at Jing Chuan, our favourite Toledo restaurant, where we were greeted warmly by Karen, one of the owners. Finally, as we were driving home, on an impulse, we stopped by the Game Room, the local gaming and comic store that we have been going to for at least 10 years, now moved into a much larger building down the street from the old place. Amazingly, the parking lot behind the new store was full of cars and the place was packed out with 40 or 50 avid board, role- and card gamers, many times more than we had ever seen at the old place. By this means, we accomplished in one rather intense afternoon and evening all the main activities that we normally do in a much longer visit.

Day 2: Another gorgeous May day. Kenneth and I got up early and went for a run, then we all drove to Cleveland for Brendan to pick up his academic regalia, meet with his advisor and collect the photo server computer from his advisor’s lab. While Brendan and Mayumi ran their errands, Diane and I hung out with Kenneth at the flat that he’d just moved into the previous week. We met then up with three of his and Mayumi’s closest friends from Cleveland, Peggy (his favorite Japanese teacher), Matt and Toyomi, at a Turkish restaurant, where we ate and talked outside as dusk gradually descended, drinking Turkish wine and finishing up with baklava and apple tea. Finally, we drove back to Toledo, arriving about midnight.

Day 3: After sleeping in, we went out and shopped for the party that Brendan had organized at our house for that afternoon. A fine collection of Brendan’s old school friends began arriving, beginning with Tim and Bill (and Bill’s partner Gina), with whom he’d gone to primary school. More friends arrived: Becky & Josh; Dan & Debbie; Brendan’s old journalism teacher, Shawn Prephan; Sarah, an old sort-of girl friend, and her partner Bobby, whom most of us had never met, also showed up. The house was full of Brendan’s friends, just like the old days, talking, joking, eating pizza and snacks. I put on my Dance playlist of party music from all over the world, and we all settled down to a long afternoon and evening of talking. Brendan was very proud of his blue academic robe, his hood, and his tam, so he put them on, and people took countless photos of him with various combinations of friends and family. I spent a long time talking to Shawn, who had taught both of our kids, as well as most of the young adults at the party; as always, he was intense, passionate and full of amusing and thought-provoking stories. It was his birthday (we sang to him), but he’d chosen to spend it here hanging out with Brendan, his friends and us, so we felt honoured as well as entertained. Finally, realizing that we were going to have to get up at 4am the next morning in order to drive back to Cleveland for actual graduation ceremonies, we shooed our guests out the door, cleaned up, and fell into bed, exhausted and satisfied.

Day 4: Somewhat bleary-eyed, we left for Cleveland before dawn, arriving in time to drop Brendan off to get organized for the graduation procession while we had a belated breakfast. There then followed a series of multiple ceremonies and receptions, starting with a general convocation, with grand procession etc. This was followed by two receptions, one put on by the graduate school, and the other by Brendan’s department. Meral, his advisor, showed up partway through the latter and we had a lovely visit with her; we were impressed by the genuine affection she has for him and understood how well she’d taken care of him and guided him through his graduate work.

A high point of the day was the Graduate Studies graduation, where masters and doctoral graduates were recognized: Families were encouraged to walk across the stage with their graduate son/daughter/partner/parent. Kenneth and Mayumi were a little too shy for this, so they stayed back to take photos, but Diane and I were up for it, and lined up with him, following him as he was announced, hooded by Meral and congratulated, along with us. While most graduates didn’t opt for this, many did, some bringing along their extended families (an Ethiopian physics PhD had 10 people in train). We wouldn’t have missed it for the world, because it really is true: It takes a family -- or sometimes even a village – to raise a PhD student!

But that wasn’t the end of the celebration; there was one more piece of business: Kaiwa Club, the Japanese culture and conversation club that Brendan went to for all 8 years of his time at Case, and where he and Mayumi met each other. A large group of their friends showed up at the old Arabica Coffee House, practicing their Japanese or simply visiting with one another. Diane, Kenneth and I went for a walk around the north side of campus, past the sprawling complex of the Western Reserve Historical Society museum where Kenneth will be working this summer (instead of coming to Scotland), past the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and other such places. After Kaiwa Club, most of the crowed decamped to a favourite Chinese restaurant near the lake, a bustling, chaotic place, where our group of 16 was eventually squeezed around a very large table, and talked excitedly for hours.

At the end, we discovered that we were a bit short of cash and asked Brendan and Mayumi if we could borrow enough to pay for our share. Instead, Mayumi invoked the Japanese custom of “First Salary”, whereby children use their first regular paycheck to take their parents out for dinner. Clearly, some tipping point had been reached in our relationship. At last we staggered out, got into our car, and drove Kenneth back to his apartment, leaving him to his new independence. By this time, we were unbelievably tired, but we somehow managed to make it back to Toledo.

Diane and I dropped Brendan and Mayumi off at the Detroit Airport this morning, and they headed off back to their new life in Seattle, where Mayumi does oncology nursing and Brendan works for Microsoft, helping them get Windows 7 ready for launch later this year. We’d finally managed to make it through the entire crazy 4-day rite of passage, and were now ready for some serious down time. Instead, we hung out north of the airport for a couple of hours, had a nice lunch at an excellent Lebanese restaurant… and Diane dropped me off to catch my flight back to Glasgow. It was worth it, to see both of our kids and our daughter-in-law well-launched into the next phase of lives. I might have missed my own PhD graduation, but I am very grateful to have been part of Brendan’s!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Confluence of Qualitative Analyses

Entry for 17 May 2009:

I’m approaching the end of my 3rd year at the University of Strathclyde, which means that several of the MSc students who started with me in my first and second years are now trying to finish up. Since the beginning of May I’ve been auditing the qualitative analyses of four of these students. It seems that they are all converging at the same time, so I’ve spent many hours wading through draft analyses, which vary in length from 30 to 90 pages of meaning units and categories. Actually, this crop is looking pretty good, although I think all of them have discovered that there was much more to qualitative analysis than they had previously imagined. The auditing document is really the core of a qualitative research project, the goal to which many months’ of analysis and the basis for writing up a qualitative dissertation.

It’s a lot of work to go through them with a fine tooth comb, but it’s worth it for the quality control and the training aspect; the only way to teaching qualitative analysis is to closely supervise a student through the actual process. As I write, these students are busy revising their analyses and writing up their studies. I wish them well!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Developing PE-EFT Training in the Netherlands and Elsewhere

Entry for 16 May 2009:

When I was in the Netherlands last weekend, I had several discussions about the possibility of setting up PE-EFT training there. These have implications for how we think about PE-EFT training elsewhere. Part of the current impetus is that EFT for couples (EFT-C) is taking off and training is being set up for this form of our wider therapeutic approach. What would need to happen to make Dutch-based PE-EFT training possible? Some possibilities include:

EFT Level 1 could be managed by either or both of the following: (1) Run EFT Level 1 training in two 2-day blocks, in a kind of part 1 – part 2; this structure would require some organization and coordination but seems possible. The immediate implication would be that I should reframe the October 2-day EFT workshop as the first half of a EFT Level 1 training. (2) Another promising possibility would be to encourage folks to come over to Glasgow for the EFT Level 1 that Jeanne Watson and I run each summer. These aren’t mutually exclusive.

EFT Level 2 is more of a problem, since I think it’s best delivered over time, to allow participants to integrate the different tasks and emotion theory into their practice. Right now I do this via 14 X 3-hour sessions, each focused on a specific topic or task (amounting to about 40 hrs of training vs. 4 X 7-hr sessions = 28 hrs for Level 1). However, this format is not feasible for folks coming from a distance, which is why Les Greenberg does it as another 4-day intensive short course. I do think that some sort of more extended format is required for Level 2, such as consolidating the current 14-session series into something like 6 X 1-day (7 hr) sessions or 3 X 2-day (14 hr) sessions. (Days would probably be split into morning and afternoon sessions, each corresponding to what is now a separate evening session.)

EFT Level 3 is primarily supervision-focused (we also study and discuss videos) and currently runs in about 12 sessions of about 3 hrs each (=36 hrs); this, too, would have to be consolidated into a smaller number of one-day sessions (two-day supervision sessions don’t make sense to me) spread out over time: probably 6 1-day sessions of 6 hrs each.

In any case, we will want to build up a cadre of folks who have been through levels 2 & 3 and could begin assisting with the training in order to eventually take it over with relatively little input from Les, Jeanne or I. In order to develop further, the approach needs to have a wider base of trainers.

PE-EFT Presentations and Workshop in the Netherlands

Entry for 12 May 2009:

Diane left for America ahead of me so that she could help Kenneth with his next step towards independence: moving out of the dorm and into an apartment. For my part, I flew to the Netherlands for a couple of days of conference presentations and a one-day PE-EFT “taster” workshop near Utrecht.

Conference presentations. The two presentations to the Dutch Client-centred Psychotherapy Association (the VCgP) both went very well: I’ve now given the PCE meta-analysis overview about 10 times to different audiences, and have it pretty well honed. This time I ended with an impromptu call to political action for PCE therapists to insist to health authorities and the government that they pay attention to the scientific evidence. I also did an updated version of the presentation on PE-EFT with social anxiety, featuring the case study of my first client in the protocol. This client’s near-miraculous recovery from quite severe social anxiety has now been confirmed by her 6-month follow-up data, but I had to reassure several people after the presentation that not all my clients showed as much improvement!

One-day PE-EFT taster course. This was hosted and organized by Combert Schöffer and Weis Verheul (among others) and took place at the group private practice centre in the small town of Bussem, where Combert works. This location turned out to be ideal for a middle-sized EFT training workshop: There was one large room capable of holding 20 people, 5 small therapy rooms for break outs, and a small kitchen, all located on a very pleasant village street, complete with decent restaurant (for lunch) two doors down. It was a bright, mild spring day and the soft sound of accordion music occasionally reached us through the open windows.

Using modified Focusing work for emotion theory exercises. After the successful trial of the emotion theory practice exercises at the Bridge Pastoral Foundation (BPF) conference in April, I decided to try two of the exercises out on this group of therapists. Thus, instead of my usual emotion theory info dump, we interspersed bits of emotion theory with modified Focusing exercises aimed at illuminating different key emotion theory concepts, including the Emotion scheme model and the types of emotion response.

What I hadn’t realized at BPF but saw clearly on Saturday was that this is really a way to introduce Focusing-type work early in the training, accomplishing two things at once. In this scheme, two of the three emotion scheme concepts (emotion schemes and emotion response types) had exercises to go with them to bring the concepts home and to enliven them. (Actually, the emotion scheme exercise would probably have been enough for the one-day overview workshop.) In the four-day EFT-1 training, the logical thing is going to be to use Clearing a Space to illustrate the third set of emotion concepts: emotion regulation.

Missing Marker Work. For the one-day overview, however, we went on after lunch to Systematic Evocative Unfolding, a key task for processing life events. This worked pretty well, except that I forgot to take people through marker work beforehand, which meant that some of the groups didn’t have a good idea of the marker. This is a perennial problem in workshop training organized around specific tasks, with the result that some small groups ended up working on other markers such as conflict splits. And of course marker work is also a modified form of Focusing, in that it involves participants taking a few minutes to look inside to see if they can find an instance of the marker to work on. A few minutes’ discussion of two or three examples of what participants have come up with is useful for clarifying the nature of the marker and suggesting how it might be worked with.

Live demonstration of Two-Chair Work. After this, we were running a bit behind, which meant that there was only an hour left for Two Chair Work, at the end of the day. Wies had been pushing for a live demonstration, so the group ended up voting for this rather than more practice, which I think they’d had enough of already anyway. Live demonstrations are always a bit terrifying to do, because I never know what’s going to come up, and whether the client and I will be able to handle it, but it almost always works out, one way or the other. (Once, at a previous workshop in the Netherlands, a presentation on Clearing a Space went sideways when the person in the client role accessed deep, inconsolable pain requiring me to quickly switch over to Self-soothing work.) This time, the client’s Experiencer collapsed in the face of their Critic. Of course, this wasn’t surprising, in that it’s a common occurrence in depressive splits, but nonetheless was still a bit unnderving because it’s never clear whether the Experiencer will get stuck in the collapsed state or recover. Even so, it made for a nice, realistic demonstration, all the more impressive when the person in the client role did recover from the collapsed position back into a more assertive state that led to a partial resolution.

We ended the day exhausted but pleased with how it had gone and looking forward to the two-day short course in October. Before I left to return to Scotland, I spent part of Sunday morning wandering around the old part of Utrecht, following and crossing the canals that intersect the city. It was another bright, sunny day, and the parks along the canals were filled with families and joggers enjoying the nice weather.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Crisis all Around but Summer Comes Marching In

Entry for 1 May 2009:

Today is the first day of summer in the Celtic calendar, which has always seemed more logical than starting summer in the middle, at Midsummer’s day. Characteristically, it was rainy in Scotland today, when Diane woke me at 6:30am out of a sound sleep and a complicated dream that I can’t remember now. I’d spent most of the past 2 days in bed, recovering from a prostate biopsy that involved drilling 10 holes into a very personal part of my anatomy, with predictable results that I won’t go into here. I gather that 4 used to be enough, but with inflation over time the number has now grown to 10. (Yes, but how many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?…)

Then I was off to give the final installment of my EFT teaching to this year’s first year Counselling Psychology students, a follow-up session on Focusing. The students felt pretty flat this morning, because, they said, they had just turned in assignments for their course that they seemed to universally feel were not good. In spite of this, the session on Focusing went quite well, with the students really digging into some productive work, and as so often happens with me when I do PE-EFT, I ended up with more energy that when I had started. (Never underestimate the power of Focusing!)

Then it was off to Jordanhill to try to deal with the latest financial crisis there. It seems like every week now there is another change at some level of the University that affects our work in some way, causing us to lurch off in some direction in order to find out what is going on and what if anything we can or should be doing about it. Often these potential threats turn out to be chimerical and vanish like mist; at other times, we have to drop what we are doing, organize meetings, develop strategies and talk to various people. This is generally sufficient to deal with the crisis of the week; however, there is always the worry that one will come along that will totally throw us. Over time, this begins to feel like a chronic pattern of instability, and we begin to look for wider root causes: the financial crisis (which surely can’t be helping); the low perceived status of faculties of education (as true here in the UK as it is in the USA; I’ve often speculated that people’s negative experiences in school lead them to disparage the education sector in general, including places that train teachers); the bureaucratization of major social-cultural institutions such as education and health care (Research Assessment Exercise, NICE guidelines, Skills for Health etc) coupled with the myth of the superiority of CBT; some sort of inborn fractiousness on the part psychotherapists and counsellors; and so on.

After a while, however, we begin to wonder if these are really sane or healthy working conditions and you can see discouragement begin to creep in: We love our work with our students and clients, and the science, when there’s time for it amid the fire-fighting, is often exciting. Of course there’s too much work, as always, but why, we ask, does it have to be so disorganized, as priorities veer regularly every few months, most commonly between the agendas of research excellence and economizing? What we had hoped was a temporary situation comes to feel like a permanent condition. We find ourselves living with a borderline process, a roller-coaster relationship with our work. For those of us with a high tolerance for excitement, ambiguity and complexity, this can be entertaining, but beyond a certain point it gets increasingly taxing.

These feelings came home last night as we sat after dinner in the living room of some of our American friends, Paul and Melissa, along with their 4 lovely kids. They are exactly the kind of Americans that we miss here: informal, open-minded, independent, natural; who know who they are and don’t take themselves too seriously. It was a poignant occasion: After 2 years of trying to make a go of it here (he’s a professor at the University of Glasgow; their kids have been in various comprehensive schools [=public schools in the American sense]), they are heading back to the USA next month.

But May is here, my favorite month, the teaching is great (even if there is too much of it), I have good colleagues, and the research/therapy is going well. It’s true that things are pretty unsettled for us all, culturally and financially, with lots of unknowns, and steady leadership is in short supply, so that’s it’s pretty easy to feel bounced around and not well held organizationally, but that, as they’re saying about the H1N1 swine flu, is pretty much pandemic at the moment, which means that it’s not personal, which in turn means that… the trick is to hang in there, do our best, find pockets of health, support each other, and try not to freak out.

Because it is a time of uncertainty, and anxiety is a primary adaptive emotional response to uncertainty. Up to a certain point, this anxiety is essential for keeping us on our toes and ready to deal with what emerges out of the situation. It’s not the anxiety but the panic, the freaking out, that will get you, the massive immunological overreaction (the pneumonia) to what is in the end only a temporary but widespread viral threat.

In the meantime, it’s May again, sun and rain, and more adventures loom: Newark Castle the next day, lonely treasure on the Clyde Firth at Port Glasgow, 16th century castle surviving amid the ghosts of shipyards; next week it’s the Netherlands for a conference and a one-day workshop; then back to America for Brendan’s graduation and a bit of vacation; and on, as Summer marches along and the days grow longer (16 ½ hours and counting). There are blessings all around us, but we must keep stout hearts and support each other.