Ian and Sue Wallace Counselling

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Having hard Conversations

When you need to talk to someone, who is connected to you emotionally, about something that is not easy to talk about then you can use the structure of your words in that communication to get a better result which concludes in a win win for both parties. This is what I call having hard conversations, the ones you worry about or are unsure about with the possible negative reactions of the other person.
The conversation is in three parts:
The first part is a way of creating a non-aggressive non-confrontational process which helps the other person to relax and see your view without them feeling attack. The process is that you take full ownership of the reason for the conversation and your part in it, speaking from the I position. An example of this would be.
“I feel bad at the moment that we can’t see eye to eye about it and I know that sometimes I don’t express myself well and how I put things across. I feel that I am lonely because I don’t feel connected at the moment”.
Taking full ownership and not putting the responsibility into their domain helps them to lose the defensive position and be more connected to you and sympathetic to your position.
The second part is the win win part you describe how you would like to change things so that both parties benefit. An example of this would be.
“I hope that if we could only be more connected to each other that would help us both to have a better relationship and not feel disconnected”
Both parties get something from this.
The final part is one which puts the responsibility on the other party to say they want this and want to help to achieve it, in this party less words is better and more effective so you don’t stray from the path so to speak. An example would be.
“I know I cannot do this on my own would you like to have that also”
A direct closed question finalises it and puts the ball firmly in their court.
If they reply with a wooly answer and try to skirt it then you put it firmly back to them and you keep doing that until they make the decision. An example would be.
Reply “I’m not sure”
Possible replies “When will you be able to tell me?”


“What can I do to help you to know?”
So it’s an ownership, Win win and give responsibility process and then you can hopefully get a better result, either a compromise or an understanding that they don’t want to help you or have a better relationship which then at least you can make a choice over.


Responsibility of the Clients worlds

A lot of Counsellors and Therapists over the years have come to me with dilemmas around the work they do and the Client’s they see. One of the common issues is whether I should be seeing the Client or Client’s I am seeing or I am confused as to what I am doing. This usually revolves around the issue of responsibility for the Client or the material they are presenting or the organisation that the person is working for making the Counsellor responsible for something they really do not have responsibility for. An example of this would be a Client who disclosed something in the room and that information gave us ethical considerations,
Do we challenge the Client about the information?
Do we take it to supervision and then see what we do with it,
Do we say nothing and disregard it
In all the instances where I have had these types of conversations it’s usually because the Counsellor is left with the information and they haven’t been able to offset the responsibility and produce a process of completion with whatever has been disclosed. I always take the view that the Client is responsible for the information they give us and as we always upon meeting go through the confidentiality, data and disclosure document with them before engaging with the work then they know that if someone would be at risk we have to disclose to provide safety. If the Client tells us something which could incur risk then they automatically know we have to take some sort of action with that information. My questions in these circumstances are.
Why did you tell me that?
What do you want me to do with it?
Giving responsibility to the Client is the most therapeutic thing we can do as they have choices and by them taking responsibility this models a better process for them in engaging in their world.
Once we have discussed these questions then they are involved in the process of disclosure and they can be helped by us to deliver or work effectively with that disclosure safely and properly. We all have to take responsibility for our actions and reactions so please don’t accept responsibility for something which is not yours and direct the responsibility back to the person who should hold it and help them to make better choices, decisions and disclosure if needed.
I have found once Counsellors do this then they feel more at ease with themselves, less angry with the Client and more able to process the issue objectively which helps all.
We never have to work with any Client’s as we need to feel able to be congruent and competent in all of our Client work.
If an organisation or a Client tries to move you boundaries on working with people who you feel you can’t work with then politely but firmly suggest that in working with this Client or Clients you will be engaging outside of either you competency or you cannot for whatever reason be congruent with the Client or the material they are bring then ethically you should not work with them. As we all sign up to these basic principles then no one can justify making you work with anyone who falls outside of these two basic ethical standards.


The unknown future

This time of anxious thoughts and futures where every day is the scariest moment as this invisible killer walks amongst us has been something which no one could have envisaged in their lifetime. Its hopefully a one off event and it passes as soon as it can with as little an impact as it can have on your lives and for the ones it has destroyed or touched my sincere condolences.
Clients who I thought might not cope due to their anxiety issues previously have fought and conquered them to be able to function and cope with this mad world where as others who seemed to be coping have increased their anxiety feelings and emotions. Couples who were in distress and unable to communicate have been able to put their differences aside and pull together in ways that they have never been able to before. This topsy turvy world has indeed changed how any one would think they would react and interact, there doesn’t seem to be a logical reason for how people are coping or not coping each seems to be tackling it in a different way.
I wonder if our resilience to coping with this virus depends on whether we are being strong for others tackling this external menace whether we see this external threat to all nations and people’s as a joining up, us against it. I wonder if two people in disagreement, bickering falling out with each other join together if another person outside of their relationship threatens them both then they come together to fight that external threat. Countries or communities come together to fight a larger presence that threatens them, wars being an example.
The people of the world then come together to combat this virus which threatens us all and has no preference as to nationality or social or financial standing or our place within the world each person is fair game to it.
Keep safe and stay well everyone and remember how we all helped each other in these strange times.


The individuality of Sexuality

When I first started working within the Counselling profession I was interested in how each of us sees there world and how that world changes throughout the course of our life. In this blog I am looking at our perception of how we see ourselves through a sexual lens.
It’s fairly normal for humans when they are becoming sexually aware to flirt with other ways to sexually express themselves, usually this an inquisitive aspect of understanding ourselves and our sexual identity. Sometimes we hide this aspect of ourselves either because of our confusion or anxiety of how we fit within our cultural norms or how others may see us or describe us or our identity. It’s always intrigued me as to why humans feel more comfortable or have to belong to a grouping or cultural system, it’s like a tick box profile on a dating web site, how do you define yourself, which box do you fit into, and how would others feel about that definition of how you define you.

If someone for example define themselves from a sexual identity point of view as bi-sexual then does that mean that encapsulates them, set in stone, and they can never be different or is that a fluid process of change throughout our lives. They may then change during their life from bi-sexual to gay or to heterosexual having a fluidity in how they see or are inquisitive about other aspects of a sexual connection. This having to be as part of a system or cultural/sexual norm can lead to a process of denying ourselves from fully being us or restricting ourselves in our fullness of life. Now this might never be an issue as we are choosing to deny our true self but if for example the cultural/system identity denies this aspect of us, as some cultural/system groups do, then we might resent this aspect of the restriction which will then normally increase our frustration or resentment of the cultural/system grouping we belong to.
When this presenting problem occurs in the counselling room our contracted work may be to find out how the individual sees themselves and how that may affect their world and life, looking at the options and possibilities their choices can give them. Sometimes in the course of the work we will look at this, defining themselves within a specific label or box, and how that might be altered or changed but in doing so we might challenge their box and how they feel about the box they put themselves in. After all one person’s bi-sexual identity may be another person’s gay identity, using stereotypical boxes to define ourselves or label ourselves does not always fit, as a box is defined by another person or group and as we are an individual and that individuality will always mean that we might fit some of the box but also that individuality means there will always be a small or large part of that box we do not adhere to or fit into. Being able to be comfortable with this individuality, knowing that the box is just a guide to who we are not always who we are, that we can be different and an individual making our own box, can be so releasing to the Client, knowing we have choices can reduce anxiety, resentment and frustration.


Stay safe message and Self Care to Therapists

These strange times are something we will remember possibly for eternity, the time the earth stayed in. Its increase in a fear response will raise the anxieties of most people but undisputed the people who are already hypersensitive to anxiety. For these people as well as ourselves we need to realise that no matter what coping strategies we have helped them to use they may not fully work in these excessive times of lock-down.
We might wonder whether we can safely help people if we are also in an anxious state and we have to check our own needs and well-being first in order to help our Clients and be able to be fully congruent with them. We might be able to work on line or via the telephone and that may sustain us financially but again this must be balanced with our own mental and physical health, in so far as our natural drive is to help others, mostly that’s why we do this work. We do need to make sure we are fit enough to help others so that we can be fully able to engage with them if we doubt this for whatever reason then we have to ask ourselves if it is right to offer our work to Clients at this time.
Our natural empathy for our Clients would be to worry if they are able to cope without us, hopefully we are not the only support option they have in their lives. It’s natural to worry about them and the situation they might be in but to feel guilty about not being able to hold the session or support them due to our own issues will not really help them if we engage with them.
Find the space to heal yourself first, if needed, then when that is done offer sessions to your Clients so we may make it through this time and be there for them our friends, family, others and our new Clients in the future.


There's only 3 options with any question

I work with a lot of Clients who find it hard to make choices, usually due to an upbringing of being given a critical choice voice either explicitly or implicitly. In order for the Client to be able to make choices then I have to explore why they feel unable to make choices, this sounds common sense, but if your reality is that you don't have a voice then to have one challenges not only the historical voice giver but also the world you live in and how you interact with that world, this can be very scary for the individual, suddenly your living on Mars in some way it’s completely alien.

I rarely find they are unable to make choices in all aspects of their life so the first part of the work is to find the areas they can’t make choices in. These areas will normally have some kind of emotional connection to them, for example they might be able to make choices in a work arena around change but not in their personal relationships around change. Once we have discovered the emotional link then we can work on that area of their life and can leave the others areas of their life alone for now. In order to make a competent informed choice we all have to make the choice separate from and isolates it from an emotional reaction. Once we do this it will still be hard to make a choice but in order to make that easier than a tool is to look at the thing they don't want from the choice then flip it 180 degrees as that is what they will want. An example would be if say someone didn't know what choice to make for say what career they wanted so we break it down to its individual component parts. Looking at each component part and asking, what don't I want 180 degrees into then the opposite is what they do want to do? It’s usually easier for humans to look at the negative aspect of things, it’s more comfortable, then the positive aspect so focusing on the negative to achieve the positive seems more achievable.

The 3 options with any decision we make are:

1 Things stay the same we don't change anything.

2 Things change through all parties agreeing the change and taking their own individual responsibility as to why things don't or can’t work.

3 Detach and walk away.

There aren't any other options or are there?


Boundaries do we need to keep them

Our counselling therapy work is about us being non-judgemental or non-biased towards the Client and this is at the core of what I believe, what about the boundaries we set them in engaging with us and enforcing them boundaries, does this not go against those prime conditions. A lot of Counsellors who I have trained over the past 20 years have debated this with me on many occasions “Is it our role to enforce boundaries or accept the movement of them”
If we take the premise that Clients connect with us to help them to clarify making decisions understand or help them to make alterations to their life then we do need to accept that in order to make them feel easier and more comfortable to connect with us we need to be non-judgemental or non-biased it’s a fundamental part of what we do. If also we take the premise that their lives are usually in a state of chaos and confusion before they seek our help then is making and enforcing appropriate boundaries helpful and indeed healthy for them, are we giving them stability in enforcing the boundaries of our contract with them.
Take a fairly usual occurrence a Client being late for an appointment and our contract is that they let us know if that were to happen via text etc and they don’t do that what would our stance be, allow it or challenge it.
Are we helping them in challenging that boundary, modelling a norm in life that people make appointments and then attend them on time, if we enforce the boundary of being on time we could be modelling a helpful boundary and in so could be giving them a more safe and secure base in which to work from, a solid structure and respectful contractual process.
If we allow it without challenge and move our boundary are we creating a less secure space to work in and from for the Client. In our need to professionally help people in the work we do can we move our boundaries too far and risk being a saviour of the client and is that appropriate in our work with them.
These aren’t easy questions to ask or process and where is the line between care and control and how the Client reacts to that will be a very individual process for each Client, but we do need to ask those questions of ourselves and our practice in order to at least have the conversation for the benefit of our Client.


Feel sorry but don’t then excuse them

When working with controlled people and their behaviours I usually find that they excuse the controllers behaviour due to feeling sorry for their situations they have had in the past, the controller may say they have been treated badly and that has resulted in the reason they treat others badly. This type of excuse allows the behaviour and condones it, guilt feelings are used to control and manipulate others, and if you feel guilt then you are being manipulated.
If you allow the controlling behaviour due to this aspect of a controllers past then in fairness what you are saying is that everyone who has suffered abuse of any type is totally fine in abusing others, they have no responsibility for their actions and consequences they are just doing what they have had done to them.
This is not true as you then would have to say that you, the person who is suffering the abusive controlling behaviour in the here and now should then abuse others and that is not normally something which would ever come into your mind for you to do, in reality it would be abhorrent for you to even consider such things. You would look at how your actions interacted with others and the consequences of those actions on others would be your first thought.
Feeling sorry that they will never be able to experience a fully connected relationship is fine but having sympathy for them isn't as this condones what they do. You can never condone Abuse in any form.

Don’t allow your compassion to override their responsibility they have a choice to value and respect others they choose not to do so.


What type of Therapy?

This is a question I get asked a lot in a sense of what type of therapy I use with my Clients. Asking what the type of therapy we use for our Clients really is a useful question to ask when you enquiring about entering a counselling process. The different types of therapy will use different approaches and the frequency of the sessions will be different, so questions which are useful are:
What theory base do you use?
How long do the sessions last?
How many sessions do you suggest I have?
Is it an ongoing contract i.e. never ends?
What will I get from the sessions?
These and more are the questions you should clarify before you make a decision to access any counselling or psycho-therapy contract. The usual answer I get when I ask the Client if they have accessed any previous counselling service, when it wasn’t deemed helpful, is that the type of counselling they accessed was the wrong one for them. For example you might be a person who doesn’t integrate well with others so group work would not usually be helpful, you might be a person who can’t self-actualise their thoughts, so just a listening process like person centred theory may not be helpful, you may not be able to see the Therapist weekly this might be something the Therapist needs to happen in order to deliver their work.
So ask any questions you need to ask before entering into the Counselling process.


New book


My new book, which is titled Insecurity “It’s all about Me” looks at these drives in much deeper detail and gives ways to help to engage with them and reduce the effect they have on us. Its available now on amazon click here
Have the life you want not the one your insecurity deems you should have.

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