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The end of the academic year, and that means marking time. Marking student work used to be one of my least favourite tasks when I worked in sport science: thankfully as a researcher I didn’t have to do much teaching nor marking…but it was enough to set up a resistance and dislike. However, since changing career and taking up a new teaching role in counselling and psychotherapy I’ve found the opportunity to engage with the student’s ideas through their assignments is a part of the job I am coming to appreciate…and (dare I say) enjoy.

self otherAs a lecturer on two programmes - the Post-Graduate diploma in humanistic counselling and the MSc in psychotherapy - I am marking a variety of assignments: including write-ups of case studies and critical evaluations of recorded interactions with clients. They are fascinating to read, and I enjoy seeing how the students are considering what is happening in the room (between them and their clients) and bringing the appropriate psychotherapeutic theory to help them understand. The best pieces of work are those that consider what is going on for them, what is going on for the client, and what kind of relationship that develops in to. In other words, what we the teaching team are looking for is consideration as to ‘self’, ‘other’ and the in-between. For the students on the PGDip, their final assignment for their qualification was to describe their conceptualisation of counselling - how they think therapy works. This is an assignment that I completed when I trained at Brighton, so each year I get to re-evaluate how I have shifted, and how my practice has evolved. I thought in my blog this week I would share some ideas.

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mind bending loop escherThe end of another academic year, my 27th in Higher Education, my 20th since completing my PhD, and my 5th as a therapist. There is a lot of life in that sentence; a lot of re-modelling, career change, new beginnings, more endings. The older I get, the more I witness myself in transition, and understand this as the only consistency in life. Constantly changing. Like the illustrations of dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher.  

In the counselling and psychotherapy profession we hold great values in endings, making the whole process as conscious as we can. This is true in the room with clients, and true in the classroom with trainees. We, the course team at the University, have just seen another set of cohorts finish their training: two post-graduate diploma counselling courses, and our MSc psychotherapy cohort. Three courses, three different group endings; a total of 55 trainees, some 55 different individual styles of endings. I witnessed most of them, and I felt a mix of emotions - seeing ‘good’ endings, and seeing endings that not ‘bad’ per se yet potentially leaving ‘unfinished business’.

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growing loveIn last week’s post, I shared reflections on my recent marriage, and the choices my partner and I made in incorporating some teachings of the Buddhist Dharma not only in the ceremony but also in setting up how we are going to try to orientate our relationship now we are married. Not a promise, but more a promise to try. I explained how we had taken the six paramitas (or 6 perfections as they are also known) as six practices that we will focus on in order to create a safe container in which we as individuals and we as partners can grow (or in Buddhist parlance, “wake up”). Traditionally, the teachings on the paramitas help the bodhisattva (or we might say the "spiritual warrior") point their activity toward not only their own waking up, but the waking up of others. The bodhisattva aims to “perfect” the qualities of generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation and wisdom. But how does this relate to marriage and intimate relationships?

Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan meditation master, explains that the bodhisattva vows not to hold their own individual territory and defend it tooth and nail, but rather to become open to the world that we are living in. I like the way that Susan Piver, a teacher in the Shambhala tradition that Trungpa founded, brings this attitude to relationships and “expanding beyond our list of complaints, and taking refuge in a far more spacious view. We create the container in which love itself wants to live”. A place where love wants to live - we aim our behaviour toward that which invites love rather than demands it.