Sunday, July 29, 2012
Entry for 28 July 2012:
Saturday Adventure: We found our way to Langland Moss, a restored bog just outside of East Kilbride, about 20 miles south of Glasgow. It started raining fairly hard just as we arrived, which seemed appropriate. It’s a bog: a soggy place that’s hard to blog about. (But here goes, anyway:) We’ve all read about bogs, and maybe even seen the gruesome preserved bodies of people who were thrown into them, thousands of years ago, like in the National Museum of Ireland. And we’ve read about people cutting and burning peat, which is still used for roasting the barley in making Scottish whiskey. So: What are bogs, and what do they have to do with peat?
Well, it all goes back to the end of the last Ice Age: The retreating glaciers left lakes of melt water behind, which gradually silted up and became filled with dead vegetation, preserved by the acidic conditions, basically tundra, of a spongelike consistency. Spagnum moss could survive under these conditions, cranberry, certain kinds of heather on the drier bits. This happened over thousands of years, then people came along and dug ditches to drain the bog (in other places, climate change and drier conditions eventually prevailed). In some places, they spread lime on the soil to neutralize the acidic pH so that conventional crops could be planted. In other places, they dug out and dried the peat to use for fuel, for example for making whiskey.
At Langland Moss, the bog was drained and a conifer plantation was put in. Starting almost 20 years ago, however, preservationists removed the trees that had been planted as crop and dammed up the ditches to re-new the bog. Today it’s a bog again, once again laying down layers of peat. It’s a lonely place, and the rain seemed appropriate; however, the weather was too miserable for the birds or other animals about today, and it was hard to linger in the wet and cold. In a week, we’ll be in the sultry US, sweating out the month of August; I hope I’ll remember and be cooled by our visit to Langland Moss!
We had some more time after that, so we headed a few miles south to the little town of Strathaven. “Strathaven” means “on the banks or valley of the Avon water (river)”, but it’s pronounced “Straven”, to rhyme with “raven”. I’d been wanting to visit Straven because of the name, and today when I looked at my map, I noticed that there was a museum and a castle. We couldn’t find the museum but we finally spotted the castle. Near the castle was the old Town Mill, which turned out to contain a temporary exhibition gleaned from the museum, which had been closed and sold off for financial reasons by the South Lanarkshire Council last year. The two guys there were very glad to see us, and happily talked at us for quite a while, filling us in on much of the local history: the weaving industry, the churches and pubs, the coach and train lines, the castle. Oh yes, and an earful about the local Council and the museum folks’ hopes for preserving their town’s past one way or another. It’s amazing what you can find in little towns like Tarbolton and Strathaven. For more on Strathaven, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strathaven . Everyplace is full stories!
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Entry for 22 July 2012:
On 22 June 2012, one month ago, my mother Ann Helena Kearney Elliott died of complications from brain cancer in Paso Robles, California, at the age of 83. Today I’m marking the one month’s mind of her passing. I spent the last seven weeks of her life with various combinations of my siblings, helping care for her. It was a powerful experience, which has left me in a different place psychologically, contemplating what it means for her to be no longer physically present in my life, and what my priorities are this point going forward.
If you are interested in learning more about her, my siblings and I have posted an obituary/account of her life online at: http://www.murraycreek.net/ann_k_elliott.html .
In addition, during her illness, I kept a journal/poem sequence documenting the journey we traveled with her. At more than 80 pages, it’s too long to post on this blog and is currently only available as a Google document at: http://murraycreek.net/robert/conversations_mom.html .
(For best results, you may want to download it.)
Here are the two sections that I used for my talk in Antwerp, the opening section and a later one:
0. Saturday Afternoon, 4 May: Arrival
I arrive, full of grand ideas
about the deep and needed
conversations we’ll have.
But I find you past all that,
With your right brain
In charge of what you say.
Instead, we converse in catch phrases.
Surprisingly, these reveal
Deep and zen-like richness.
11. Thursday 17 May: Follow the Leader
Perplexed and confused,
By the many twists and turns
In this story,
We have given up trying to know
What will happen next
On this journey of yours.
When you were still mobile, every hour or so,
You’d get up from your chair or bed,
Without saying or sometimes even without knowing
Where you were going to go.
“Where are you going?” I asked one day.
“Follow the leader,” you said.
Entry for 21 July 2012:
For this week’s Saturday Adventure we got off to an early start, allowing us to see more than we usually do. We started at a lovely, underrated Historic Scotland site: Crossraguel Abbey, a ruined abbey mostly from the 13th and 15th centuries, miraculously well-preserved from the dissolution of the monasteries and the ravages of the Reformation. Much of the church, cloister and two impressive tower houses are largely intact. Sitting right on the A77 about an hour’s drive south and west from Glasgow, the grounds are very well-kept. The fields around it were busy with harvesting. We happily rambled around the place for a couple of hours, exploring all the nooks and crannies we could find, examining the ancient stonework, tracing the path of the little underground watercourse built for the latrine, and climbing the four story 15th century gatehouse tower, with wonderful views of the surrounding country side. The site specializes in information and exhibits about stonework, so we even got to try our hands at some stone carving on a piece of local sandstone, using the maul and (very dull) chisel supplied.
After that, we borrowed the key from the Historic Scotland woman in charge of the Crossraguel Abbey site and took brief side trip to the remains of Maybole Collegiate Church in the nearby village. It's another ruined church from the 14th century, the most puzzling feature is which is the presence of a wall, a much later addition, that half-blocks one of the church's two doors.
At this point it was not yet even 3pm, so on the way back to Glasgow we are stopped at the Bachelor’s Club in Tarbolton, where Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns took dancing lessons, started a debating club, and generally hung out with other unmarried men from the area. The docent, a cheery and intense old fellow, was very pleased to see us, reminded us that 21 July was the anniversary of Robert Burns’ death, and happily showed us around the place, which is remarkably small and well-kept. The family of the owner lived downstairs in two small rooms (which also housed their two cows), but upstairs was a largish room that passed for the Tarbolton town hall. This room is about the size of our bedroom in Hyndland and is filled with original chairs, all 300 and 400 years old, as well as other pieces of period furniture and lots of Burns memorabilia. The docent was full of useful and entertaining stories and gladly chattered at us until we ran out of time and had to excuse ourselves. We complimented him on his story-telling and noted that he probably had many more things he could tell us. As we left, he told us he planned to retired by the end of the year and said, “You’ve made my day.” Later, at dinner with our friends Franny and Robert, we toasted Robert Burns on the occasion 216th anniversary of his death at the age of 37.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Entry for 16 July 2012:
I’d not been back in Scotland for more than 10 days before I was off again, this time to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. First I went to Veldhoven for another EFT Level 3 supervision day, then it was back to Antwerp for the Tenth Conference of the World Association for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counselling. This was like a return to the beginning, because the very first of the these conferences was also in Belgium (1988, Leuven), and many of the same players were present: Among them were: Greet Vanaerschot (who gave the plenary lecture on the first night), Mia Leijssen (who made several brief appearances), Germain Lietaer (who was in charge of the first conference), Paul Dierick (a PhD student at the time) among others.
My keynote address was at midday the next day. I had found myself unable to work on it while I was in California helping care for my mother, so I didn’t start working on my slides until I returned to Scotland. I finished it two days before we left, but started coming down with a cold after I arrived in Belgium and was not feeling too well by the time I gave it. We spent the two hours before my talk fighting with the equipment, so I was quite nervous by the time I started. I’d never been a World PCE conference keynote speaker before, and these talks are often of historical importance, or controversial, or both. And of course I had way too much material and didn’t have a clear strategy for dealing with this. I’d also been struggling with the need to somehow integrate what I’d been through with my mother for 7 weeks with my work as a researcher and therapist. So the night before I added sections of the Conversations Journal Poem Sequence to the beginning and end of my talk. In the event this was both personally satisfying and also fit well with my talk, underscoring the fundamentally Person-centred nature of the work I do as an EFT therapist. The abstract for my talk is given at the end of this entry, and I’ll soon do an entry here on the Conversations piece.
Then Brian Rodgers and I did a thematically-linked panel of outcome results and case studies in the late afternoon on the same day as my keynote. After that, first thing the next morning Graham Westwell, Beth Friere and I did a panel on our person-centred-experiential therapy competence scale, which turned out to be a lot of fun.
By this time, however, I was pretty wiped out from my cold and lack of sleep. I dragged myself through the rest of the conference. I had to miss the last half day of the conference of the final plenary panel in order to fly to Italy to make up training I’d had to cancel last May in Florence and Rome. However, I did catch interesting and stimulating EFT presentations by Jeanne Watson, Rhonda Goldman, and Laco Timulak, including Jeanne and Laco’s new work developing EFT for Generalised Anxiety Difficulties, which I found very promising. And Rhonda reported further details on the Self-soothing task.
The conference banquet was one of the best I’ve even attended, in “Horta House”, an art noveaux event space near Rubens’ House in Antwerp. I let myself relax in the company of Germain and Greet sitting on either side of me, while the jazz washed over us as we talked and ate an excellent conference meal. For the occasion, Nele Stinckins wrote a song parody of Funicula, Funiculi, satirising the keynote speeches (including mine) and minor conference glitches; this was performed by a chorus of conference organisers, while Nele and some of the other Belgian women did the can-can. Amazing!
Here is the Abstract of my keynote talk: Working with anxiety difficulties in Person-Centered-Experiential psychotherapies: Theory, research and practice
Anxiety difficulties are common in clinical and nonclinical populations and are a clinically and theoretically important recent focus for Person-Centered-Experiential (PCE) psychotherapies. In this presentation I summarize current and emerging theory, research and practice with clinical anxiety, focusing particularly on social anxiety and emotion-focused therapy (EFT, also known as process-experiential therapy).
First, I summarize three current theories of anxiety: (a) person-centered, which emphasizes conditions of worth and incongruence; (b) focusing-oriented, which points to difficulties accessing immediate experiencing and maintaining working distance; and (c) EFT, which locates the source of anxiety difficulties in early experiences of rejection, neglect, abuse or bullying by significant others, resulting in a harsh internal critic. This generates primary maladaptive shame and fear, which turn motivates behavioral and emotional avoidance or self-interruption.
Second, I report the results of a meta-analysis of 19 outcome studies of PCE therapies for range of anxiety difficulties, most commonly supportive or person-centered therapies carried out by CBT researchers. Results indicate large amounts of pre-post change (d = .94), medium-sized controlled effects (d = .5), but a medium-sized negative comparative effect vs. CBT (d = -.39). I then summarize highly promising results from an ongoing study of PCE for social anxiety, which points to the possibility of developing more effective PCE approaches for anxiety.
Finally, using the results of this study, I describe a general therapeutic approach for working with this client group, including: (a) establishing a genuine, empathic, caring relationship; (b) explicating anxiety-generating processing by careful unfolding or re-experiencing of anxiety-provoking situations coupled with work on the client’s internal critic and self-interruption processes; (c) focusing, empathic affirmation and emotion regulation work to strengthen the sense of self; (d) work to transform core emotions that generate anxiety into new, more adaptive emotional responses; and (e) consolidation of client change.