What is counselling? – Alex Blaldock

Recently I was asked to give a talk on why counselling should replace mental health services.  I initially accepted this invitation, and then when I got to thinking about what I was going to say, I started to think that the question was all wrong. 

Counselling shouldn’t replace mental health services, because it is part of mental health services.

However, when we hear the phrase ‘mental health’, what do we think?  Schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar, phobias, PTSD.  Top-end issues each with their own carefully attached label.  Or the ‘crazy’ person we see wide-eyed weaving the streets who we think should be ‘locked up’.  Or those with severe learning disabilities.  Issues that are not ordinarily associated with counselling.  And yet mental health covers everything from management of daily life to psychopathy.  Counselling definitely fits in along that spectrum.

Over the last couple of years the government have made promises about providing additional funding for mental health services, creating thousands of new jobs in the sector, including having a counsellor in every school (how, when they are cutting school budgets?).  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have fronted a mental health campaign.  Sports stars, pop stars, stars of stage and screen, have all signed up to be involved, to encourage greater awareness of our mental health.  And they are not just talking about the issues listed above.

They are encouraging us to engage with our day to day thoughts, feelings and emotions.  That having a down day might be just that; we all have them and it’s okay to acknowledge it to someone.  Or it might be because yesterday wasn’t great or something happened; that happens too and it’s okay to acknowledge it to someone.  Or it might be because we haven’t really talked about anything for years and we have ended up not being able to manage the everyday issues that are not usually a problem; the little things have become too much. 

Talking about it is a positive thing to do, man or woman.  You might not have listened when your nan told you that a problem shared was a problem halved, but she was right.  Getting it out of your head, being heard, being listened to.  That’s what counselling does.  It’s not about being given a solution.  It’s about finding out about yourself. 

Every time we have a new thought the chemical balance in our body changes.  So, we are in a constant state of biological and psychological flux.  And it can take a lot to manage that every day.  So, whatever is going on in your mind, no matter how big or small it may seem, if it is there it is affecting you.  If you want to let it out, whatever it might be, talk to a counsellor.  We will listen.

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Workshop: Past trauma and the unconscious mind

At our workshop on Saturday 24th November we will be exploring the ways in which counselling brings the past into the present and looking at the effects of past experiences on future selves.

We will be thinking about clients with issues such as chronic anger, low self-esteem, and self destructive patterns of behaviour.

We will be findings ways to explore past relationships, experiences of trauma or abuse, and other influences on a client’s sense of identity. This may include parents who divorced when the client was young, prolonged illnesses while at school, family upheavals, accidents, or deaths. Or it may be about the personalities that they were exposed to during important developmental stages.

We will be using psychodynamic theory to identify issues and connections, and then person-centred theory to work with the client in the moment. We will provide a programme to follow which will lead a client toward understanding and acceptance – able to understand their triggers and coping mechanisms, and to trace their presenting issues to past (and unchangeable) experiences; thus to work more effectively at overcoming present problems.

We will be looking at Freud and Eriksson and their views on the importance of developmental stages; and at Melanie Klein’s theory of splitting. We will also include Parent-Adult-Child from Transactional Analysis as well as some other theorists.

Our workshop will include materials and activities (some personal work and some using case studies). There will be opportunities to network with other counsellors from a variety of placements and practices. We keep numbers small so everyone can get the most from the day.

Please click here for an application form

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Student mental health

Student mental health ‘failing a generation’

BBC News

In 2016, 146 students killed themselves, and three have died in Bristol in the past month alone. Read the full story

Mo says: So many are in crisis. Whether it is stress from exams, pushy parents, peer pressure, gender identity or many more issues. I believe it is out of control because there are only a few counsellors out in schools for them to talk to. Because there are no places for them to go to except their own bedroom where they ask the internet and get bogus answers from the wrong people.

Universities offer counselling services staffed by trainees or counsellors that may not have experience dealing not only with these specific kinds of problems, but of working with young people. It is not like working with an adult.

How often do we stop and listen?

No one has time, parents are too busy. When was the last time you stopped what you were doing and really listened?

When they ask for help, how do we make sure young people actually get it?

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A Prison Counsellor: What’s the reward?

Written by Alex Baldock, counsellor at HMP X.

What is so rewarding about working in a prison?

The short answer is the idea of helping people. But this can be ascribed to any other environment. Helping people in prison perhaps feeds into a basic childhood idea of cops and robbers, of good and bad. That being in prison is a thing, perhaps the one thing to be feared and to be avoided because of its negative connotations. So being in a prison can feel as though it is helping those who need help to right their wrongs.

This can unfortunately, be regarded as oh-so-worthy and patronising. “I’m here to help you because I’m not in prison and you are, therefore you need my help”. There is a selfish element to helping people in any context, doing the good deed, from which we can give ourselves a literal or metaphorical pat on the back.

But, as much as both of those reasons might wander around our thoughts, they perhaps don’t form the structure of why we work here and what we get from it.

That, for me, comes from recognising human beings who have their own challenges, trying to make sense of them in a challenging environment which often doesn’t offer the opportunity to talk and be heard; which doesn’t always provide space for what prisoners describe as a normal conversation, which can seem to give little in the way of encouragement or opportunity to change or grow. There is a tense mix of machismo and vulnerability in prison and not just from those who reside here, and navigating it is a daily exercise in personal security, physical and emotional.

So, the reward comes from helping, yes but also the feeling, the hope, that for one hour, in the eye of a storm, that person has the chance to just be themselves.

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Social Networks and Life Events

At our workshop on Saturday 16th June we will be looking at the effects of common life events on your clients – these effects can range from depression and stress to insomnia and relationship conflict. Life events will include divorce, death, empty nest, illness, redundancy, menopause, disability, legal action, and accidents.

We will then explore the ‘ripple’ effects of these life events on the people in their lives as well as the secondary influences that can follow. Social networks will include family, extended family, step families, adoption, work colleagues, neighbours, friends, and exes.

We will also discuss the role of social media in supporting or exacerbating situations

Finally, we will move on to discuss crisis and recovery techniques and tools. These will concentrate on managing the initial stages, coping with the first few days and weeks, and then rebuilding “normal”.

Our workshop will include materials and activities (some personal work and some using case studies). There will be opportunities to network with other counsellors from a variety of placements and practices. We keep numbers small so everyone can get the most from the day.

Please click here for an application form

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Safety for counsellors

Have a look at this article from the National Counselling Society.

Extract: “It is a common myth to think that the term ‘lone worker’ simply refers to people who work completely alone. Although thousands of people do indeed fall into this category, the term ‘lone worker’ actually refers to a much broader spectrum of people – including anyone who works remotely, in isolation, with vulnerable people or, indeed, who can feel vulnerable themselves due to the type of work they carry out.”

Toni says: Don’t forget yourself. You are important. And things can get out of control quickly.

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Keeping trying when it comes to depression

Toni says: if something doesn’t work for you (or a client), keep trying. Don’t give up!
Have a look at these natural ideas.
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A Counsellor’s Story – treating addiction in prison, Part 2

Toni says: Here’s Part 2 of Alex Baldock’s piece about the work he does in HMP X, his insights and reflections about his growth as a counsellor in response to the experience:

The cycles of change being what they are, the popularity of the 12 Step approach didn’t last and I returned to the CBT based treatment.  In ten years little has changed in this area.  The names change of the courses that are offered, but the content remains markedly similar.  For a long time I was really frustrated by this.  I felt like it was Groundhog Day, churning out the same stuff.  I accept that this was my issue, but for a while I was quite angry about it.  How can it have not changed in that time?  Is this the best we can do?

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Relationship gaslighting and perceptions of reality.

Toni says: Have a look at this article. It’s an insight into the vulnerability of women. How easy it is to chop away at their self confidence and the devastating effect this can have on perceptions of reality.


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A Counsellor’s Story – treating addiction in prison, Part 1

Toni says: We are really pleased to present a piece written by Alex Baldock about the work he does in HMP X and his reflections on the way that counselling addresses addiction and his journey as a counsellor. Here’s part 1, enjoy: Read more ›

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