Wednesday, 23 October 2019

It's All About Trust

Discussions about “safe spaces” have become wider over the past two years or so.  The pros and cons of what they are and whether or not they should be available have been taken up enthusiastically in the media. 

Young adults, from students upwards, talk about “not feeling safe” and the conversation continues. At the extreme end of the conversation, some university students try to ban visiting contributors or lecturers who might want to discuss a different point of view. The argument, from the lobbyists, runs that the audience may feel “threatened” or “unsafe”, therefore any discussion should be curtailed. It could be seen as a way of blocking dissent. It seems effective.

Older adults may seem a little bemused by the idea of a “safe space”, wondering how anyone could imagine there is somewhere out there that is just such a place. 

As a counsellor, I understand the point of a safe space (I'm going to put the quotation marks to one side for the moment). I hadn’t heard of the expression until I went to college but it made sense straight away. 

Imagine a client comes to see a therapist because they want to talk about something involving their innermost feelings. It’s an awkward situation; they want to talk but they don’t know what to say or they are worried about being judged. Or it may be that they have little experience of listening therapy and do not know what they "can" or "cannot" say. That’s a worry on top of the worry that is bringing them to see a therapist.

One way a counsellor can help them to understand the process is to explain that the counselling room is a “safe space” ie what goes on in the counselling room stays in the counselling room. In other words – and taking into account legal and ethical requirements – what the client says to the counsellor will go no further. That means the client has a “safe space” to speak. And, hopefully from that, the therapeutic process can bring its own healing into practice.  

So, while I understand the safe space from a therapeutic point of view, I wonder if there’s been a bit of confusion between “safety” and “trust”.

In order to talk freely, we have to trust that the person listening to us is a person we can feel safe talking to – confidentiality is key. And we have to feel that that same person has knowledge, wisdom and a desire to do the best for us. In other words: Is this person trustworthy and can I trust them to look after my best interests?

Is it possible that the increasing calls for safe spaces within society are more about being able to trust those in authority over us, rather than a place where we can hide and be protected from the outside world?

Here in the UK, we have the chaos surrounding Brexit which seems to be having a powerful effect on all us, regardless of what outcome we want. Our leaders are locked in a bizarre dance about which we can do nothing. They are trapped and many of us watch on appalled as the “grown-ups” demonstrate they’re not really very grown up at all. They seem to have taken on the mantle of squabbling children and it’s really not what we’re used to. 

Then we have what’s going on outside the UK – the US’s ever-changing foreign policy, the suffering and fighting in the Middle East, global climate change and natural disasters – it’s hard to find a way round what could easily become catastrophic thinking. No wonder the younger members of society see threats everywhere.

Someone I know with a legal background has a specialist interest in parking tickets. After years of studying the law on this particular subject, the person discovered a parking company was acting unlawfully. They used their knowledge to help people appeal their tickets – and win –and eventually wrote to the Department of Transport to explain that companies working on behalf of the state were allegedly employing sub-companies that were not complying with the law. 

You’d expect – or I would – that, when given information and evidence about this, a government representative would investigate but, so far, they haven’t. That seems unfair. 

So, too, does the news that some of the people who mark our students’ exams, have been found to be marking them incorrectly. One examining body is going to have to pay out compensation for exactly this. Who would have thought you could study hard for an exam, go in, do your best and still fail because someone else was incompetent?

These are just two examples that come to mind of situations where you would expect those in authority to be looking out for people who need representation but it sadly seems as if they are not. And that might mean something is going wrong.

We learn pretty early on that life is not fair but we are also taught that those in charge of us are looking out for our best interests. When we begin to doubt such "certainties", we may become anxious. We may find ourselves questioning all sorts of beliefs we had not even thought about before. I have a hunch many of us feel those in authority are more likely to be looking after their own best interests, rather than ours.And that leaves many of us feeling unsafe. It's a strange and uncomfortable feeling, and not one that sits well with us.

I wonder if, instead of inter-generational disputes about the benefits – or not – of safe spaces, we might agree that something is not working well enough for any of us in the arena of trust. Maybe, if those in charge could begin to repair that, fewer of us would feel the need to demand so many safe spaces.

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash
Photo by Joël de Vriend on Unsplash
Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Concerning Climate Change And Other Global Issues

First, this is not a blog about the arguments for and against the scientific evidence of climate change.

This is a blog about the effects of the arguments for and against the scientific evidence of climate change and what it is doing to us on an individual level. Or to be even more personal, how it is affecting me.

Actually, it’s not just the climate change issue that we need to consider; it’s the pressure of life and the “dramatic” information we receive daily from one media outlet or another.

Last week, we heard that scientists tell us bacon and sausages are not as bad for us as we thought (hands up those meat-eaters among us who read the story and didn’t immediately lick their lips at the thought of a bacon sarnie?) and that’s after years of being told we should avoid processed meat at all costs. 

Then there’s sugar – what’s that doing to us? We’ve given up smoking, drinking, we exercise like mad and now we can’t have the odd treat. What are we to do?

Back to the subject of climate change. It’s a very, very big subject and it seems to be impinging on our world at an alarming rate. I’d suggest that, if it weren’t for Brexit, it would be headline news all day and every day.

What I’m worried about is how it’s making me worry. I read that the UK has committed to something or other by 2050 so, while it will cost a lot, we will have more than done our part. 

But I also understand there’s a lot of pollution coming out of China and India and, being vast countries and concerned more about their increasing population than “first-world problems” may not be as committed to climate change as “we” are. There’s another worry to worry about.

And, while I’m worrying, my young friends are even more anxious than I am, so I have to take on board their concerns too. We have children missing school to attend climate change protests. We have a 16-year-old bravely travelling the western world to tell us what we should be doing and looking very angry that we’re letting her down.

But, hold on a minute, I don’t feel I am. I recycle, turn off lights, put on an extra jumper to avoid wasting energy on heating, don’t travel much and walk when I can. I am beginning to think that I, as an individual, am doing all that I am asked. Surely that’s enough?

What I’d like to know is why I am being made to feel guilty? As psychotherapists and counsellors, we learn that we are responsible for our own actions but not others and we can’t ever “make” a client do what they don’t want to do, and it would of course be wrong to. We can bring thoughts and ideas into awareness during client-therapist sessions but it’s for our client to decide what they’re going to do about the situation. Not us. 

Why then do I feel as though I’ve been given the world’s environmental and health problems and told to sort them out? It’s as though I’m being bombarded with life-threatening meteors minute-by-minute and I don’t have time to dodge the attack, let alone work out what to do. Besides, what was “bad” yesterday may be “good” tomorrow. I can’t keep up.

Are you feeling tired by this, or slightly anxious? Me too. 

After quite a lot of self-reflection, consideration of feelings, analysis and logical thought – a bit like being the fully fledged adult I am aiming to be – I’ve decided to resist what I perhaps feel is being put on me.

I have to ask myself how much I, as one person, have the power to do and how much I actually want to do. And, through this process, it’s become easier to work out what’s “my stuff” and what is being put upon me by the outside world. 

My reflection was long; my conclusion is short. I’m doing what I can to help save the planet but I’m absorbing too much from the demands of the outside world and that’s not as it should be. 

I need to remember how to filter. I need to push back against the mass of information that is being live-streamed into my brain and I need to remember how to process it for myself so that I can regain my balance. Unless I process this huge amount of information for myself and decide what matters to me and what doesn't, I will remain unbalanced. And that's not a comfortable position to be in.  

So, rather like someone listening to a radio, I need to turn on less and tune out more. 

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 by Bob Blob on Unsplash
Photo 2 by John Cameron on Unsplash
Photo  3by Brady Bellini on Unsplash

As with all blogs, this is the personal view of the writer. Others may disagree.