My Counselling Sessions with Paddy

You can think of this blog as self-promotion and I am not-so-secretly delighted that this client thinks so well of Carole and me. And… there are some great ideas about how to approach counselling in his ideas. It was written in his blog space in 2014 and, 5 years later, he continues to see me on occasion. He offered his approval for posting his letter on my site.

 

I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success — however you want to define that.

In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommendation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like a familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.

My father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole’s husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a Registered Psychologist. I knew Paddy as a faculty member in grad school and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.

On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interrupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate university professor — and that’s what came home for me.

For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In grad school, it was to master Koine Greek or to understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn’t “what” I wanted to learn, but “who” — indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father’s passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress — they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.

I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that’s why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he’s definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It’s like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.

There still exists in today’s society such a stigma attached to “seeing a Psychologist” that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn’t start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.

Counselling doesn’t have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behaviour that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There’s no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.

One last word of advice — and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don’t decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.

My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, “Because Paddy doesn’t tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself.”

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Pat-Pat-Pow

“True friends stab you from the front” — that is was Oscar Wilde said and presumably he had some true friends.

In my work, I might say, “I’ve got your back but watch your front.” By that I mean, I will “pat-pat-pow” and it might cause you to stumble a bit. 

I think that 80% of confrontation is finding the good and pressing it into my client-friend. That is the “pat” and I do it lots because there are lots to affirm in most everyone. And about 20% is the “pow” or the zinger. Watch for the zinger.

I think of pats a lot in my work. This is finding good and commenting on it. Clients say “thanks” and I say, “It’s not a compliment; its an observation.” Not candy-floss sweetness but what is visible to me but unseen by them.

I think of pows a lot in my work. What will provoke the deepest and most lasting change? How do I de-concretize his thinking or believing? How can I help her get unstuck her without harming her? Can I maintain empathy all the while stabbing them from the front like a true friend? And sometimes I think, “WWJD” (as in, “What Would Jesus Do?”).

Normally, I am not too anxious about tension and conflict, but I sure hate harming someone. In fact, I think my job is to create tension and conflict as in, “true friends stab you from the front.” But I will not stab you in the back.

Q — What do you want to work on today?

What do you want to work on today?

This is a frustrating question for many of my client friends, though they hear it most every appointment with me. Some deflect the question and talk on about the events they have experienced since they have seen me last. Some ask me outright, “don’t you know me well enough by now?” Others look at me with a placid glaze hoping that I will answer my own question, which I sometimes do, especially later in the day.

My clients are smart. They are intuitive. And manipulative.

Some want me to set the agenda — many people find it easier to follow than to lead, or maybe they are worried about making a mistake. Some of my client friends think that I am the omni-competent professional and that I should be able to tell them what it is that they should work on. Some people must simply think that I can’t think of a better opening gambit.

Here is what the question means to me and why I have used it for 40 years.

  • The question is addressed to you, the one sitting in front of me. It is not about what someone else wants you to work on, or why someone else want you to visit with me. The session is entirely about you.
  • It is about want, not the oughts – shoulds – musts you carry around in your head. It is not so much about what you need to do or what someone else thinks you need to do. The responsibility is yours to figure out what you want.
  • It is not about sharing or chatting or being a sounding board. It is about mutual work towards a particular goal decided by you.
  • It is about today. It is not about tomorrow or yesterday or sometime far, far away. It is not about your genogram history, though that is relevant. It is about right now and how that fits into the continuity of your life.
  • Also, it is an important question to me when I go for help. It assumes that I am responsible for myself. I like that. Maybe it’s a compliment.

So that is why I ask this quite predictable question. And while I am asking it, I am watching you and thinking. I want to see what efforts you will make to manage me. I want to see if you will avoid work by talking about the past or projecting to the future. I listen for your subjunctive tense [“well I would’ve done that if…”]. I wonder if you will start in blaming your partner, or your trauma, or your family of origin.

I listen to what you want to work on and what you want from me, so that we can work together in the complicated narrative of your life.

See you next time.

A Relationship App — Gottman Card Decks

Here is something I really like for couples. And it is free!

The Gottman Institute’s research-based approach to couples and relationships has developed a series of questions based on their theory of marriage and pairage. Inspired by the popular card decks from The Art and Science of Love weekend workshop for couples, this app offers helpful questions, statements, and ideas for improving your relationship.

Gottman Card Decks

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