Under no circumstances

Back in the Nineties I worked at a place called the Mental Health Resource Centre  (Now renamed Oxford Mental Health Matters).  Their purpose was to educate & raise awareness of Mental Health issues,  to compile a database of local & national organisations & services so they could co-ordinate mental health users with services,  and to provide advocacy for those who need it,  primarily persons sectioned in Mental Health Hospitals,  particularly as those under section lose the rights ordinary members of the public have.

I found it a very useful grounding in the law regarding sectioning,  and discovered some of the inadequacies of services to some areas of need.  One of those areas was Anger Management.  Of course,  Probation provided Anger Management for people who had been convicted of offences due to their anger,  but where could people go who knew they had an anger problem,  and wanted to prevent the worst happening,  leading to a possible conviction.

I checked various Counsellors and Psychotherapists throughout Oxford & London,  and found nothing.  I therefore resolved to fill the gaps,  to add whatever areas lacking in services provided to my specialisations and the general counselling & psychotherapy that I provided.  I was particularly surprised at the lack of Anger Management,  considering that my Diploma had covered the subject,  so I knew others were qualified to deal with it.  Perhaps they were opting for an easier life and doubted their ability to keep control within their ground rules.  Whatever the reason,  it wasn’t on offer elsewhere,  and to a point I could understand it.

In my training I had heard the story of the Mental Hospital in which a patient had kicked off with every therapist he had shared sessions with – throwing chairs to break windows,  and generally creating a great amount of mayhem.  The behaviour continued until a new therapist witnessed a recording of one such outburst.  Therapists seemed eager to use the phrase  “This is your space,  I want you to be comfortable here and express yourself “ (or variations of the same),  effectively providing permission to destroy the fixtures and fittings.  The new therapist began by not allowing this,  and used a phrase I use often.  “Its okay for you to feel angry,  but its not okay to act the anger out,  we are here to talk it through.”

For awhile I worked with a teacher of troubled youngsters who often acted up and among the strategies we explored,  we looked at how this begins with child behaviour.  Nobody tells children that  sometimes they will feel angry,  and its okay to feel angry,  but to vocalise it rather than to demonstrate it.  He used various strategies such as giving attention before its demanded,  and providing a means of oral expression for anger that legitimised it.  Before long he had the most troubled kids being helpful assistants,  gave everyone a voice,  and provided access for each child to be able to talk matters through with him.  Within a term he had a well behaved class – though when the same kids had to interact in other classes with other teachers,  they did not feel as respected and reverted very quickly to previous behaviour.  He had succeeded however in proving the point,  that we are not taught as children that its okay to be angry,  and that anger can be controlled – so we grow up feeling that our basic anger is in itself bad behaviour,  and that our feelings are not within our control.  This was something I had proven in my own life and also taught others.

I often hear people say that they are okay under the circumstances,  but I decided that the circumstances were not going to control the way I felt.  Since that decision,  I have not let my feelings control my decisions.  I can feel angry,  I use that anger constructively rather than destructively.  Something can leave me feeling sad,  I acknowledge the sadness and put it aside to do what I must do.  I am far from unemotional,  and I need an outlet for my emotions,  but I put them aside until I can safely exercise them.

In training I learned to put my stuff out of the room.  We would visualise taking how we feel today and all our concerns – putting them in a bag,  and putting them outside of the door until we have finished working.  Ladies and gents,  I’m here to tell you it works.  I could sit for hours,  working with one person after another,  hearing the details of their fears and disasters and life destroying experiences while being there 100% for the clients involved.  My own buttons are not pressed,  my mind does not wander.  I am in control with my multi-tasking brain thinking strategies while being empathic and not folding under the clients,  or my own weight of concerns.  Then after, watch a soap in the evening  (note: Brit soaps do not resemble US soaps)  and cry my eyes out at the silliest thing,  and feel cleansed by it.  I feel revitalised by the work done rather than tired,  and all concerns emotionally are gone,  enabling me to put my energy into doing what I must without impairment.  All of my clients over the years find me ready to work & without moodiness every single time.

That’s why they call it a profession,  because the philosophy in action creates professionalism.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Under no circumstances

  1. Thanks again for the great read, In my work over the past 20 years or so within the youth, disability, and mental health sectors i have experienced many of the same concepts you mention.

    We do need to legitimise the emotional state of anger as a normal part of our human responses to stimuli. As you mention it is about how we choose to respond to and act upon those emotions that counts, both externally and internally.

    The concept of showing respect while being clear about boundaries and mutual respect is also so true. If this path is followed there is a much greater potential for positive outcomes in any circumstance.

    Thanks again, please keep adding these links to my group as i am sure everyone who takes the time to read them is thouroughly enjoying them, have a great day 🙂

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