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The Reflective Practitioner ;- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self , the only 'book' worth reading

The Reflective Practitioner ;- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self , the only 'book' worth reading

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Published by Peter Creagh
A short reflection on the importance of being a Reflective Practitioner in Counselling Psychology. Deals with Mindfulness, Meditation, the power of story, personal development, aspects of counselling and psychological theories and practice.
A short reflection on the importance of being a Reflective Practitioner in Counselling Psychology. Deals with Mindfulness, Meditation, the power of story, personal development, aspects of counselling and psychological theories and practice.

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Published by: Peter Creagh on Aug 26, 2010
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The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

The wisdom of focusing on the Self Some reflections by a Reflective Practitioner
Peter Creagh: counsellor, trainer and supervisor in private practice
“She who knows others is clever. She who knows themselves is brilliant “
Taoist Saying

The title of this article reflects on some aspects of the journey I have undertaken over the past twenty five years. It also has become like a ‘personal Mantra’ that informs much of my practice as a counsellor, trainer and supervisor. It draws on my experiences of theory, practice, and awareness of self and others and from ideas and practices from both Eastern and Western cultures. In short it is an attempt to present not so much a theoretical view, but more a personal experiential view of the importance of reflective practice and outlines some exercises and practices I have found helpful. It will include story, the use of metaphors, similes and analogies, personal experiences and share aspects of experiential learning which has helped me to grasp the ‘nebulous cloud’ that is reflective practice. But what is reflective practice? Of necessity this has to be a personal perspective. Partly because, until recently, the official website of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) contained reference to only two journal articles that directly address this issue. This may indicate both the difficulty of expressing reflective practice and also that there are probably as many answers to the question as there are reflective practitioners. Consequently, my reflections are informed by my own unique ‘journey’ and also by my training and practice in person-centered and experiential therapies. One of the missing elements in today’s society is that we have lost sight of the importance and wisdom of a story. An importance that was, until relatively recently, part of my Celtic upbringing. John O’Donohue (1997) in his excellent and widely acclaimed review of Celtic Wisdom charts a journey of inner realization that shows how Celtic philosophy and spirituality was not only holistic but also has parallels to those of eastern philosophies, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. In most of the ancient cultures, wisdom and understanding of the human condition were explored and passed down through the medium of story. In addition, from a personal experiential perspective, I would argue that our ancestors’ view of the human condition was not really lost but merely mislaid and that modern psychology has merely rediscovered and used new language to express the elements of what it means to be human and thus express what was ‘implicitly’ always known. The following two stories are intended to illustrate some of my previous points but particularly my methods of reflection and teaching. They illustrate some of the philosophical and spiritual roots of my understanding of the human condition and of reflective practice. . The first is taken from the Hindu Tradition and demonstrates how the Master (Guru) teaches the disciples. It is important to note that in the Hindu Tradition, each individual disciple follows a Master and that the Master teaches both by example and in daily meetings (Satsang) where the teaching is often through the medium of stories outlined at Pravachans (Spiritual Conferences).
1 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

1. The Coin and the Penny Candle Each day the Master would meet with his disciples and from his inner wisdom tell stories and parables. His disciples would listen attentively with a mixture of pleasure, puzzlement and occasional frustration. Many of them longed for something much deeper and more easily understood. Yet, when they expressed their frustration, the Master was unmoved and merely replied. ‘My dear brothers and sisters, you have yet to realize that the shortest distance between you and Truth is a story’. When his disciples protested about the simplicity of his answer and asked for further clarification, he replied. ‘Do not despise a story. A lost gold coin is often found by means of a penny candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story. The Master’s wisdom, shared by many of the great teachers and with most of the Aboriginal peoples, teaches that the truth to be explored and understood is us and that ultimately this is the most important exploration and story. But how can we begin this process? One way of answering this question, which resonates in my ‘felt sense’, see Gendlin (2003, p32), may be seen from the second story. It comes from the great Sufi Tradition , a mystical branch of Islam, and concerns Mullah Nasruddin – a wise fool whose teachings are delivered through seemingly ‘silly stories or incidents’. One night the villagers were woken by the sound of 2. Nasruddin and the Lost Key muttering and scuffling in the village square. On looking out they saw Nasruddin frantically searching on his hands and knees under the light of a lantern in the middle of the square. The concerned neighbours came out and asked him what he was looking for. Nasruddin replied ‘I am looking for my house keys’. And so, the neighbours began to assist in the search for the lost keys. After a hopeless but thorough search lasting about ten minutes, one of the neighbours asked ‘Where do you think you lost your keys?’ Nasruddin replied ‘over there’ and pointed towards the dimly lit edge of the square and his own house. ‘Then why ‘, asked the exasperated and puzzled neighbour, ‘are we looking here! ’ ‘Well ‘, replied the equally puzzled Nasruddin ‘is it not obvious? This is where the light is!’ Nasruddin’s wisdom demonstrates his understanding that to find something that is lost it is best to search where there is light. However, paradoxically, the story also illustrates the simple truth, that very often the light does not shine on the place where ‘that which is lost’ can be found. This parallels our experience when we strive to explore and to find that inner truth which is often only dimly perceived. Arguably this ‘dim perception’ could be likened to what Mearns and Thorne (2000) refer to as ‘edge of awareness. Merry ( 2003) , commenting on this , suggests that these edge of awareness experiences ‘ may be ‘dimly perceived’ and are a source of anxiety, but the individual will not be aware of the source of that anxiety’ . Whereas, Gendlin (1984) equates edge of awareness with what he calls a ‘felt sense’ and this forms part of his understanding of the importance of focusing. Returning to Merry’s comments, I find that is possible to access and to be ‘present’ to some of these ‘moments of anxiety’. Sometimes by accident and at other times using techniques that assist in bringing them into awareness. Although such times are often challenging, they present opportunities for growth. This requires a courage and willingness to face these ‘edges of awareness’ aided by a source of ‘reflected light’ and the deep realization that this source lies deep within me and all people. For me, this is another analogy for what is the process of Reflective Practice RP). But perhaps we need to address the term reflection and what it means.
2 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

REFLECTION AND THINKING One of the difficulties I have found in the past was grasping a clear idea of the difference between reflection and thinking. This is partly due to cultural influences and to the prevalent ideas on what is education. In most of the West, thinking is encouraged and our busy and often frenetic lifestyles prevent us from reflecting. In fact, for many, it blurs the distinction between reflection and thinking. Yet this was not always so. In Celtic culture there has always been a sense of the difference, a difference that is not unlike the distinction found in Hinduism and Buddhism. In O’Donohue (1997, ps 83-84), there is an important passage on the senses. He suggests that it is ‘far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness than with the idea of will’. He goes on to reflect on how in the West we use our intellect (mainly thinking) to inform our will and thus ‘hammer’ our lives into shape. He contrasts this with the Celtic notion, shared by the East, of working with a ‘different rhythm’. Rhythms that can lead us back to the natural home of our self. He concludes that this rhythm is best found by using our senses as ‘generous pathways to find our home’. Many may find this either too poetic or perhaps even confusing. However, I find that these ideas share their roots in Eastern philosophies and, partly, in the concept of focusing. But perhaps an easier way and certainly an alternative way to distinguish between reflection and thinking is to be found in the following simple story. A Master was once asked by an eager disciple to expound on what was the difference between reflection and thinking. In reply, he gathered his disciples around a large bowl. He had one of his disciples empty a very large jar of water in a steady stream into the bowl and asked them all to observe what they saw. When he questioned them they all commented on the fact that, during the pouring of the water the ripples in the bowl caused their images to be distorted. He then asked them all to sit still for a while doing nothing. After a short while, he then suggested they return to the bowl and observe what the saw. On asking the disciples they all replied ‘we saw our images clearly’. The Master quietly said ‘You can now clearly see the difference, thinking can cause distortion but reflection gives a much better image’. So reflection is, in a sense, a further stage on from thinking. It may involve some aspects of the latter but it is somehow more than this. It utilises other aspects of what it means to be human and one of these is our senses. It is also aided by ‘stillness’. In short it is a holistic experience. The great Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh has this wonderful saying. ‘Sitting still doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows’. In many ways, reflection is just that. It springs like the grass from the silence of allowing the fruits of thoughts, emotions, intellect, spirit, experiences and life to grow into the reflections that can meaningfully inform our life and particularly our reflective practice. Before looking at other aspects of eastern approaches, their contribution towards RP and one or two strategies that can aid our reflections, it might help if we initially go with the flow that suits many of us in this culture and briefly explore some aspects of mainly experiential and personcentred approaches and also a model that could inform our reflective practice..

3 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

SOME ASPECTS OF REFLECTIVE PRACTICE AND THERAPEUTIC THEORIES In the past twenty or thirty year’s professionals in education, health, social services and latterly counselling and psychotherapy have begun to recognize the importance of reflective practice. In western societies, this is more advanced in the fields of education and health. However, in eastern societies this has been an almost unbroken line going back several millennia. Therefore, we in many parts of the West have much to learn from the East. What can be reasonably assumed is that most professions stress the need for providing a basis for reflective practice both in formal professional training and in on-going continuing professional development (CPD). And much of this is rooted in two areas. These are the encouragement of personal development and the awareness of self and others. In addition, practitioners are encouraged to undertake regular updating on advances in theory, research and practice. All of this learning is then taken back into the work with clients. In counselling and psychotherapy this basis for reflective practice is ‘rooted’ in all of the preceding elements. In the UK, sources such as Dryden & Thorne (1991), Dryden et al (1995) and Mearns (1997) stress the importance both in advanced training and on-going practice for considerable amounts of personal development and inter- personal skills training. Mearns (1997) devotes separate chapters (7 and 8) to these twin elements. In common with almost all professional training, the demands and stresses of self-development and awareness are time, emotions and physical and psychological and financial pressures. I myself continue to have periods of stress and anxiety as I face the requirements and demands of remaining up to date with changes in theory, research, and development of skills, self-awareness and actual practice with clients. The remainder of this short paper will try to ‘tease out’ some of these demands and their effect on reflective practice. But first I share with you something I have found to be a sound piece of advice. It is a constant and gentle reminder to be patient with myself and comes from Scott-Peck (1983 p285) ‘Greater awareness does not come in a single blinding flash of enlightenment. It comes slowly, piece by piece, and each piece must be worked for by the patient effort of study and observation of everything, including ourselves’ All Professional Training, and particularly Therapy Training, is designed to assist participants to develop the awareness alluded to by Scott Peck. It does so in all the following areas; the Practice of Counselling/Therapy Skills, knowledge and understanding of Therapeutic Theories and actual Professional Practice – including professional and ethical issues. Obviously the level and duration of the training will decide the amount and depth of each of the three areas. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy in its accreditation criteria outlines several criteria for this training. One of these is a requirement for a minimum of 450 hours of training and an additional 450 hours of supervised practice over a period of 3 to 6 years. These figures give an indication of the importance of Personal Development as an integral part of any training and its connection with the three areas of theory, skills/awareness and practice. To assist in their Personal Development, trainees are encouraged to develop the tendency to be reflective. This may be achieved in a variety of ways such as, Journals, assignments, seminars, research, reading, supervision and a variety of other more personal strategies like reflection, inner listening and focusing.

4 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

McMahon (1999), in two articles in the BACP Journal, provides a useful overview of RP and the various strategies that can assist practitioners. Some of her points are similar to those outlined in the preceding sections. In addition, she addresses some effects of culture and the therapist’s theoretical approach, particularly those in the cognitive- behavioural school. Her focus is mainly on some ‘external’ aspects such as, supervision, client feedback, case notes and studies and on-going CPD. Undoubtedly these are important but my experience indicates that of equal importance, and arguably more so, is the part played by self awareness and inner reflection. Before considering some aspects and strategies that could usefully guide this inner reflection, the following model is offered as a possible means of integrating McMahon’s points and those covered in this short paper.

Reflective Cycle Model A simple ‘truth’ for me and one I often share with clients and trainees is that ‘models are useful guides for the wise but painful straitjackets for the unwise ‘ However, our western culture places a strong emphasis on the use of models, and certainly there are numerous models of counselling! Consequently, it is wise to recognize that both culturally and by personality; many find that models are useful methods of expressing complicated and deep concepts. It is that spirit that the following model is offered as a ‘gift’ or guide to demonstrate how on-going professional development could guide the reflective practice.
Theories Research Practice Awareness Client Feedback etc

5 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

The first stage, is where we experience things in a variety of ways both in our training and professional practice and in everyday life. Examples of these experiences are found in training, where formal presentations, skills practice, reading , research etc play their part and in outside activities such as, other reading, experiences of using skills in Practice, in everyday interpersonal relationships and supervision. The next stage is where all the above experiences, and any lessons learned, inform any response or plan we might make. This may be to record them in a Journal or Assignment and/or put them into practice with clients and others. This could involve, research, reading, personal therapy, supervision, discussion, notes etc. The third stage is when we put the response into practice both by reflecting on the issues and then by changing or amending our practice. This reflection will note what is good, what requires amending and, where applicable, using reference sources e.g. articles in Journals, Magazines, books, video, internet etc. We could then make changes so as to guide our on-going practice. Finally, we reflect on all the previous stages often by recording it in a Personal Journal/Diary, discussion with colleagues and in Supervision. We then receive feedback, from self and others and thus re-enter the reflective cycle. SOME CONTRIBUTIONS OF EASTERN PHILOSOPHIES Western cultures and philosophies have and continue to make an important and valuable contribution to the totality of human knowledge. Their influence on the theories and practice of psychotherapy and counselling is enormous. Eastern cultures and philosophy, particularly those of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, make a similar contribution. Arguably in the West, we have either failed to recognise this mutuality or we have been a little arrogant about our contributions. Increasingly, in the ‘global village’ and multi-cultural society that we now live in, we are being challenged to engage in meaningful dialogue. Guided and aided by my ‘spiritual guide’ Ishpriya Mataji, a psychologist and sannyasi, I have found from my own experiences that such dialogue can provide wonderful opportunities for growth. In recent years the literature in psychology has begun to reflect this growing dialogue. An excellent compilation is edited by Young-Eisentrath & Muramoto (2002). This explores aspects of Buddhism and Psychotherapy, particularly Jungian Psychoanalysis. It has contributions from practitioners in both the East and West. Many advice us to beware of any tendency to oversimplify or too readily accept apparent areas of agreement but also conclude that there is much we can exchange to our mutual benefit. In the past we in the West have failed to recognise some of the fundamental differences between our own and Eastern Philosophies. In addition, we have often ‘lifted’ ideas and strategies, sometimes without proper attribution, and applied them to Western settings and cultures often with minimal reflection. In short, we have often failed to be guided by the old adage ‘don’t mistake the violin for the music’. Ignorance of this adage can cause misconceptions.

6 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

A misconception I once held, and one I encounter in my sharing with others, is the confusion that surrounds Eastern ideas such as Yoga and Meditation. I am grateful to the past and on-going teaching of Ishpriya Mataji in this regard. Yoga is often presented as merely a collection of asanas (postures). In reality it is a complex and holistic approach to the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of life. Ashtanga Yoga has eight different types, one of which is asana. Ultimately, all yoga has a spiritual purpose and is intended to assist devotees in realising ultimate life. Another misconception is the failure to understand the difference between meditation practice and meditation. This is very common in western society. The former has many methods. Examples are, sitting in a particular posture, breath awareness, and pranayama or the control of breath, focusing on an image, Zen walking and swirling dancing. All these are ‘practices’ that precede the actual experience of meditation, which is ‘beyond all senses, thoughts, ideas etc’. These are important points to reflect on. They caution us against an over -simplified view and the consequent misunderstanding of Eastern philosophies and practices and their application and integration into our practice. I believe that we could all benefit from a healthy dose of humility in much of our work and in our dialogue with other cultures. I have found this to be of great benefit to my reflective practice and it has assisted me in both understanding my own roots and culture and then reaching out and engaging in sensitive and culturally aware dialogue with colleagues and clients whose roots are different from mine. SOME USEFUL STRATEGIES THAT AID REFLECTIVE PRACTICE The following is a paraphrase of a story recounted by John O ‘Donohue (1997). It addresses the power of gazing. A journalist friend once asked to interview a Native American Chief. The chief agreed on the understanding that they could meet up beforehand. The journalist readily consented, thinking it would be a preliminary meeting to discuss the areas for the actual interview. The two met and the Chief sat in silence and gazed into the journalist’s eyes. This made the journalist uneasy but slowly he began to return the gaze. The two sat like this for two hours after which they both felt that they really ‘knew’ the other and that there was no further need for an interview. This demonstrates the power of ‘looking’ – not just with the eyes but with the whole self. I have found this to be useful in my practice, not only with clients but with myself. A practice I use is to sit quietly before a mirror and to gaze into my own reflection, at first I found this slightly awkward but persistence paid off. It has often assisted in reaching my ‘felt sense’ and providing genuine insights. I normally end the practice by giving myself a ‘thumbs up’. I refer to this as ‘my thumbs up therapy session!’ I have used this successfully with trainees and with clients. But more importantly it has assisted me in my RP. There is a quotation (source unknown) from Lao Tse – a Taoist Master, which demonstrates some of the deep qualities of listening. ‘It was as though He listened and such listening as His enfolds us in silence in which we begin to hear what we are meant to be.’ This quality of listening is difficult, if nigh impossible. However, if I attempt to sit in a ‘clear space’ and listen to myself, to my body, psyche and spirit, then very often the reflections I perceive, and often record in my journal, are of great assistance to me in both my life and practice.

7 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

Perhaps the following story may assist in approaching and understanding ‘inner listening’. I have a young friend Arun who is now twelve years old. His name means ‘bright dawn’ as he certainly brings a light into his parent’s life! This story concerns Arun when he was four years old. He was and is a very intelligent, curious and delightful young person, who is capable of understanding seemingly complex issues. He was travelling home from Playschool with his father Robert. They were in the car and Robert, who likes music, was listening to the car radio. Suddenly, from the back of the car Arun asked ‘Daddy, where does the music come from’ Robert, who was feeling tired and harassed from his work as a Social Worker, nevertheless managed to remain an interested and educative parent! So he replied. ‘It comes from the Radio Arun’. He then proceeded to give Arun a technical description of Radio Stations, transmitters, airwaves, receivers and finally the radio and its loudspeakers. There was total silence and they returned home. Later on that evening Robert was bathing Arun, who stopped playing and looked thoughtful. Then, almost out of nowhere, Arun asked ‘Daddy, where does the music really come from?’ In a flash of insight Robert ‘knew’ that his previous explanation was unsatisfactory. He pointed to his heart and said ‘the music comes from hear inside me and, pointing at Arun’s heart, also from inside you’. The response was immediate. ‘Ahah,’ said Arun and returned to playing happily in the bath. When I heard this story from Robert I was deeply moved. I realised that a young child had the inherent ability and awareness ‘not to mistake the violin for the music’. It has taken me many, many years in adult life to even begin this process and to reach this clear level of perception and awareness. Hopefully Arun will always retain that ability for inner listening and certainly Robert’s flash of insight was an example of this. Hopefully we too will re-learn the lesson that Arun already knows.

AWARENESS – MINDFULNESS AND FOCUSING One of the most important Eastern contributions, both to the spiritual path and to psychoanalysis, is that of mindfulness, the word used in Hinduism is ‘awareness’. This has some association with Gendlin’s concept of focusing and the Celtic and Christian ‘Practice of the Present Moment’. But what is mindfulness? Mindfulness, or to put it more correctly ‘right mindfulness, is one of the eight limbs of the right path in Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh (1998 p64) stresses that this is one of the most important paths and notes that Buddhist psychology stresses that ‘we are always giving our attention to something’. In Eastern teachings the mind is likened to a chattering monkey that is always jumping around and very difficult to control. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that mindfulness is the practice of giving our attention to the present moment thus giving us the opportunity to have right thoughts and right actions. In this way we are always present to what is going on in our body, psyche and spirit. His earlier work (1987) is devoted entirely to the practice of awareness and is considered by many to be a classic in this field.

8 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

Van Waning (2002, p100) in her contribution to the exploration of Buddhism and Psychotherapy, examines the concept of mindfulness and concludes that this is a very important contribution in that it offers the vital practices of ‘ attention, concentration ,awareness in the challenge of being ‘awake’ and unprejudiced right ‘here’ for both the other and yourself’. Mindfulness is not only an Eastern concept but one that has always been present amongst the mystics in western societies. Ishpriya Mataji once shared these words of Meister Eckhart, a medieval German Pastor, concerning wisdom. They strongly reflect the ethos and practice of mindfulness spoken of in the East. Eckhart said ‘Wisdom consists in doing the next thing you have to do, doing it with your whole heart, and finding delight in doing it’ This advice needs to be based in the understanding that wisdom is considered to be at the centre of the spiritual quest. Wisdom is ‘true knowledge and must not be confused with mere academic learning. Knowledge is deeper and more holistic. Mindfulness provides a wonderful basis on which to build life and is an excellent aid to good practice and good reflection. It speaks of that ‘presence to the present’ which is certainly a powerful component of any therapeutic relationship. But how can mindfulness become part of our daily life and Practice? One way of beginning this process was conveyed to me during a conference with Ishpriya Mataji. She reminded us to beware of the almost universal tendency to hurry, to get on with the pressures and endless deadlines of the modern world. These are counter-productive of any attempts to develop a truly reflective practice. These words of Ishpriya Mataji reflect an important aspect of the practice of focusing and awareness. ‘It is important to slow down the physical if one wants the psychological and spiritual to do likewise’ There are many ways of achieving this ‘slowing down’ which is the initial and important prelude to developing mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh exhorts disciples to take delight and be mindful in the everyday events such as, drinking a cup of coffee or peeling an orange. Two common methods of developing the ‘practice’ are the awareness (the watching) of breathing and the inward repetition a mantra for a period. Both assist in being present to the present moment. I find breath awareness and the practice of Zen walking – a form of meditative and very slow walking- to be most beneficial. All these practices begin to slow down both physical and psychological and assist us to learn the value and wisdom of being more present to ourselves. Then from that firm basis of awareness we can become more present to others. This is a sound basis for building up and improving our reflective practice.

9 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

FOCUSING - MINDFULNESS AND REFLECTIVE PRACTICE To develop an understanding of focusing it is important to experience it. Certainly Eastern Masters would use this as a starting point. Focusing is firmly based in humanistic therapy. Gendlin (2003) outlines the essential concepts and practice of this quite powerful therapeutic strategy of which he is a leading proponent. Middleto (2003) recounts a conversation in which Hendricks Gendlin evidences the connections between focusing and both Sufism and the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Focusing is a process of awareness at a deep level that begins with an awareness of the body, a common practice for most non-western cultures (see Middleto). In my experience of focusing, the first two of the six stages ‘clearing a space’ and ‘felt senses’ are similar to aspects of meditation practices that I have tried. Focusing is useful in our work with clients. It is also extremely useful to use on ourselves as an aid to reflection and reflective practice. Gendlin (1984) suggests that the ‘felt sense’ is actually the ‘edge of awareness’, a concept of person-centred theory. He goes on to propose that this ‘felt sense’ is ‘the client’s client’. For me this is crucial, in that it provides a clear view of how focusing can be useful both in client work and for personal reflection and awareness of self. Mearns and Thorne (2000 p175) propose a new definition of the self. This is Self = self concept + edge of awareness. Therefore the more I can assist myself to access my ‘edge of awareness’, the more aware I become. It also provides an important additional strategy in my work with clients. Those interested are advised to read the relevant references for a more detailed understanding of the above. Gendlin (2003, pp 43-45) proposes six separate but linked ‘movements’ or parts that flow smoothly and with a sense of rhythm one after the other. These are best completed experientially and it helps, in the early stages of practice, to have a guide or mentor to facilitate the process. If, as Gendlin(1984) proposes, the second stage is likened to ‘the client’s client’, then throughout the six stages of focusing we need to be ‘present’ to ourselves and to ensure that we play our part in the creation of Roger’s (1959) six conditions. This means standing back, observing the process, being a powerful accepting and empathic presence and remaining congruent to the ‘flow’ of feelings, emotions, thoughts and insights that often arise. In short, in the practice of focusing we are our own therapist and we are the client’s client. A brief outline, adapted from Gendlin (2003, pp 173-174), of the six part process that is focusing follows. (6) Please note that these are some personal reflections and expressions of my understanding of focusing. They are influenced both by my reading of Gendlin and also my experiences of meditation practices. Again, I would refer readers to the reference sources on focusing for a deeper understanding.

10 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

The first part is ‘clearing a space’, where we relax and begin to pay attention, usually with a part of the body. We become the ‘observer’ of ourselves and resist any temptation to explore or ‘go into’ sensations, thoughts etc. The next part is the ‘felt senses’. Here we select one of the perhaps many feelings or issues that have ‘surfaced’ during the previous stage. Again we resist any attempt to judge or go inside this ‘felt sense’. We merely pay respectful and empathic attention to it and wait until something surfaces. The third part is where we put a ‘handle’ on it. That is, we find a word, phrase or image that somehow expresses the ‘felt sense’. We then begin the fourth part of ‘resonating’. During this we hold both the ‘felt sense’ and the ‘handle’ in an imaginary line. I find it helps me to imagine a child’s seesaw, with the two at either end. So I resonate or ring the changes between the two and see if I get any ‘shift’. This ‘shift’ is often felt bodily and somehow seems to ‘fit’. This brings us on to the fifth part which is ‘asking’. We mentally ask questions until we receive an answer that seems to give a ‘shift’ or ‘release’. This leads to the final part of the process, the ‘receiving’. We receive the ‘shift’ respectfully and stay with it for several moments; during this time further ‘shifts’ may or may not come along. I find that it is often like buses, you wait for some time and then three come along in a row! It is important that we take our time to slowly return from our focusing. This is best achieved by returning to the first stage and to use a well tried method that helps you to become aware of you, your body and your surroundings. I find breath awareness to be a very effective. It is important to seek assistance from a facilitator who has some experience of focusing in order to obtain advice and guidance on how to enter and exit the six stages. This permits you to relax more into the process and experience of focusing. What we make of any felt sense or any other of the ‘answers or insights’ received during the whole experience, is up to us. I find that my personal reflections are greatly enhanced after periods of focusing and also meditation practices. I often use focusing exercises prior to seeing clients or just after they have left. This is not only personally beneficial but it can also lead to some important insights into the therapeutic relationship and the overall process. If and when this occurs, it is of benefit to the client because I then re-enter the relationship with a more aware ‘presence’ thereby enabling me to better play my part in ensuring that Roger’s conditions are present.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS The main purpose of this paper was to convey a personal response, based mainly on my experiences, to the question, ‘what is it be a Reflective Practitioner’? As I review what I have already recorded, I realise that its content and structure is not as I had originally intended. However, I am comforted by the realisation that this mirrors the process of reflective practice! The paper examined the part that the use of stories has had in my journey and attempted to shed some light on the difference between thinking and reflection. It then outlined the theoretical base that informs my practice and set the requirement for reflective practice in the context of being professional. This was informed by the work of others such as McMahon, Dryden and Mearns.
11 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

Parallels between East and West were explored and the concept and practice of ‘mindfulness’ outlined and its close connections with Gendlin’s focusing. Several areas such as the power of gaze and inner listening were explored by the use of story and relating personal experience. As professional practitioners we have a duty of care to ourselves, our clients and our profession. One element in upholding this duty is to develop the ability for reflective practice. Much of our training, reading, feedback etc exhorts us to enter into the reflective cycle in a seemingly endless process of experiencing – formulating initial responses to these experiences, proposing changes or adjustment to our practice, reviewing these changes and re-entering the cycle. I know that there are moments when I find this cycle challenging as I face the realisation that I am always in a process of change. Yet, paradoxically, I know this not to be totally true. Because the journey I undertake is merely one where my destination is my starting point and that the real goal of life, and certainly of reflective practice, is to discover my- ‘self’. This is not meant to detract from the important points made by others like McMahon, Merry, Dryden and Mearns. The elements of theory, research, practice, personal development and feedback they stress and recommend are important. For me this is a both/and and not an either/or choice However, the journey is a journey into me, my centre, where all sense of ego disappears. It is a difficult journey, but one where others have travelled on before us. We can learn from their experiences and also learn by reflecting on our own. Whenever I feel that it all seems to be about endless change I find comfort in the following extract from Carlos Valles (1987), an Indian Jesuit priest. He reflects on his experiences of a retreat he attended facilitated by a well known and respected Indian Jesuit Anthony De’Mello who unfortunately died shortly after this retreat. He notes how so much of the 15 days had been spent looking at and reflecting on change and the need to be unencumbered by baggage. Yet, paradoxically, De’Mello finished this Retreat with the following exhortation to the participants: ‘Don’t change: desire to change is the enemy of love. Don’t change yourselves: love yourselves as you are Don’t change others: love all others as they are. Don’t change the world: it is in God’s hands and he knows. And if you do that … change will occur Marvellously in its own way and in its own time’ I wish all who read this a happy, meaningful and reflective on-going journey and one that is ‘unencumbered by baggage.’ Peter Creagh ( Oct 2009)

12 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

The Reflective Practitioner :- The Wisdom of Focusing on the self

References Dryden , W and Thorne, B ( eds) (1991). Training and Supervision for Counselling in Action . London,. Sage Dryden, W, Horton, I and Mearns,D (1995). Issues in Professional Counselling Training. London, Cassell Gendlin,E ( 2003). Focusing , London, Rider Gendlin, E ( 1984). The client’s client: the edge of awareness. In R.L Levant and J.M. Shlien ( eds) , Client centered therapy and the person-centered approach. New directions in theory, research and practice. New York, Praeger Ishpriya Mataji ( various). Private Audio Tapes of Various Conferences., correspondence and meetings at Die Quelle , Decantskirchen,Austria Mearns, D ( 1997). Person-Centred Counselling Training. London, Sage Mearns, D and Thorne , B ( 2000). Person Centred Therapy Today. London, Sage Merry, T ( 2003). The Actualisation Conundrum – Person Centred Practice Vol 11 No 2 ( p85) Ross-on-Wye. PCCS Middleto,P edited by Moore,J ( 2003). Dialogue Between Mary Hendricks Gendlin and Marge Witty. Person – Centred Practice Vol 11,No 2 ( p 69). Ross-on-Wye, PCCS O’Donohue, J (1997). anam cara – Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. London, Bantam Press. Pas, J. F ( 2000). The Wisdom of the Tao – Oxford, Oneworld Rogers,C.R.(1959) A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S Koch (ed), Psychology: a Study of Science, Vol3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York : McGraw-Hill - Pp 184256 Scott Peck, M ( 1983) The Road Less Travelled London, Rider Thich Nhat Hanh (1987). The Miracle of Mindfulness . London. Rider Thich Nhat Hanh (1998). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. London. Rider Valles, C(1987) . Mastering Sadhana . New York, Doubleday Van Waning,A.( 2002) A mindful self and beyond: sharing in the ongoing dialogue of Buddhism and psychoanalysis in Young- Eisentrath,P and Muramoto, S ( eds) ( 2002). Awakening and Insight – Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy. Hove, England , BrunnerRoutledge. Young- Eisentrath,P and Muramoto, S ( eds) ( 2002). Awakening and Insight – Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy. Hove, England , Brunner-Routledge. Welwood, J ( Ed) (1983) Awakening the Heart East/West Approaches to Psychotherapy and the Healing Relationship Shambala ,Boston Wilber, K ( 2001) No Boundary - Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth Shambala, Boston

My gratitude to the many people I have met, travellers, trainees, clients and friends who have shared their stories. To my wife Angela, who is one of the most reflective practitioners I have met. Last, but not least, to Ishpriya Mataji a true guide and mentor who has taught me so much that is of benefit and whose example and teachings permeate my practice. All of these in sharing their stories have touched and informed my story.
13 © Peter Creagh (2009) and Heartsease Training and Counselling, Shifnal, Shropshire,UK email petercreagh43@virginmedia.com

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