I’m going to be running a workshop at the TA Cumbria conference in February 2021. I usually attend this event in person, but this year the conference is going to be all online. I hope that, even though it’s online, the organisers and presenters will be able to find ways to generate a sense of place. In previous years at TA Cumbria, I’ve always appreciated that.
I’m thinking about how I might generate that sense of place just now. Maybe I’ll just end up with some pictures of sheep – but perhaps I can do better than that.
What qualities does the practitioner need to bring to their work and what qualities do they need to encourage in their clients? This workshop builds on ideas from Transactional Analysis – such as the “I’m OK, You’re OK” position – looking at three key qualities: being welcoming, bringing curiosity and challenge, and the holding of hope. Faced with what the client can bring, the practitioner needs to be active and skilful in order to keep these qualities fully alive. And they also need to find ways to match and mirror where the client is at, not showing more welcome, curiosity, or hope than can be tolerated at any given moment.
In the workshop I will be drawing on some of the material from chapters 4 and 5 of my book Talking It Better. Here’s a brief extract from chapter 4, where I am discussing the challenging of being welcoming of a person, even what it’s hard to hear what they have to say.
Perhaps more critically, the practitioner also needs to be sufficiently skilled and resourced to hear and welcome the toughest of stories. I’m thinking here of stories that might not be aired in many social settings and might not even be aired with those we are closest to: stories of being sexually abused as a child; of being physically attacked; of being sexually assaulted; of being bullied and mistreated – perhaps over many years. There are other kinds of horror too: stories in which a person is stuck, unable to find joy in their life and self-destructively wrecking all promising avenues of help and change; stories of going around the same hellish loop again and again.
Such stories make for uncomfortable hearing. But I need to make sure I am familiar with and able to manage this kind of discomfort. If I am doing my job right, this discomfort will not dominate or over-steer the way I respond to the help-seeker’s story. It will not bounce me into a response that would match a pre-given social template or that primarily serves my need to settle and soothe myself. That is, I can experience the discomfort and still be able to steer myself by what the help-seeker needs.
And, further, if things are going well, I can actually use my own discomfort as a resource. It may carry useful information for both me and the help-seeker.
For the practitioner, part of knowing how to hear such stories is having the space – the room to take a breath and make an active decision rather than just act – to decide what part of their discomfort to share and what to manage on their own.
There’s a lot more about it in the book. And I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas with the workshop participants in, as it were, Cumbria.