Tag Archives: challenge

No Pain, No Gain?

Personal and professional development is a big issue in the psychotherapy world. My professional organisations (BACP: UKCP: UPCA) all demand that I engage in the stuff called ‘continuing professional development’ with the personal bit assumed to be somehow incorporated or concomitant. However, having written a book on this subject I think I am on firm ground when I say the definitions of development are somewhat sloppy. Is change the same as development?

I’m thinking about this now for two main reasons. The major push comes from agreeing to write a book chapter on the subject. Out of the fog of procrastination, some embryonic thoughts are emerging. The other impetus comes from having moved from the Midlands to the South West. The change in environment and circumstance has had a big impact on me ‘personally’ – but have I ‘developed’?

fox lodge

I think I have been freed up to experience what is around me in a new way. Of course it is unfamiliar and exciting, and perhaps in time it will all become taken for granted – but I don’t think so. It reminds me of holidays in beautiful places, where you get up every morning and are bowled over by the view; but now there is no going home – I live here! Unlike a holiday I now have the opportunity to appreciate a beautiful physical environment over a long period of time. Right now this is still difficult to grasp, whilst at the same time I feel I have a significant relationship with the place already.

Our relationship with place is something that I have been exploring here in the blog before. I see now that my proclamation of love for the boatyard was just a foretaste of what was to come. With this positive and very visceral relationship with the physical environment I feel that I am moving into new territory. If this had been an outcome of therapy, I’d call it a great success.

A great success but also a great challenge. The moving process itself was riddled with anxiety and shock, and despite the enormous gains there were many losses. It challenged me in all sorts of ways, and that, I am sure, has got to be a part of the process of development. It has to be more than reading the book and doing the ‘self reflection exercises’ that are now in every psychotherapy book I come across!

In just the same way my sketching is unlikely to develop without something toppling me off of the current plateau and making me struggle.

sketchstroud1                window 1

sketchstroud3          blckbooks

It’s taken a while to get it going again after moving house, but it’s back on track – a track that will probably be ploughed up in the summer when I attend the Urban Sketchers international symposium in Manchester. Tickets sold out within 4 minutes of going online, so even the process of booking was a challenge. I’m thinking that the workshops will demand far more, shaking me free from my comfort zones but holding out the possibility of seeing more of the world than I can at present.

There is, it seems to me, no way of avoiding feeling useless, confused, upset, de-skilled, off balance –  if any new personal learning is to take place. I think this should be part of the definition!










How do we learn anything new?

How do we learn anything new?


The sketching highlight of the summer for me has been the Urban Sketchers 3 day workshop, ‘Pushing your Sketching Boundaries’ in Oxford. I was quite apprehensive before I got there, thinking I had put myself in a group that were far more advanced – all the usual anxious fantasies that everyone else would be brighter, shinier, more talented, successful etc. etc. As it turned out, some of them were indeed just that, but on the whole I didn’t stand out as particularly incompetent. In fact, it was a great experience, and certainly did what it said in terms of pushing my own boundaries.

As a workshop it had some interesting characteristics that set it apart from the counselling/psychotherapy workshops that I am used to. Right from the start we were assigned groups and given a timetable. No options, no negotiations. I was happy to comply, pleased that it was so well organised – but the expectation that we would work through both the morning and afternoon sessions without a break was a step too far. (After years of group therapy my concentration span is fixed at an hour and a half!) Not that there was any problem in wandering off to grab a drink from the many coffee shops around, but I was consciously trying not to follow my default pattern of group rebel!

But the most fascinating thing for me was the teaching style. I am so used to… ‘ perhaps I could suggest? or… ‘that’s a very interesting way of looking at this, but I wonder if we can refocus upon the topic here?’ or… ‘let’s try to let go of what we think we know for a moment and look again’… and so forth, all set in a context of choices and options. Here we were told what to do, given a time frame and were expected to get on with it! There was a big cultural factor at play: the tutors were all Spanish and although their English vocabulary was fine, they weren’t fluent in the English ways of ‘not saying what you mean’. Recognising the cultural difference was helpful in restraining my inner rebel, and the outcome was that I ended up doing a lot of things that I didn’t want to do. How else do you push boundaries and learn anything new?

For all the circumlocutions and massaging of egos that might go on in some of my own workshops, I know that the key learning experiences come out of discomfort. Staying in the comfort zone gives security, not growth, and at some point has to be challenged. For that reason I always include some form of role play. I can hear you groan! Yes, I know, so many people hate it … but guess what? In the feedback it is always the most cited example of what has been useful learning. And as the tutor this is the point where negotiation ends. This is what we are going to do, and even if we have to wait for ‘volunteers’ for an uncomfortable length of time, we are doing it!

Do we ever expand our horizons by staying in a familiar and safe place? We need to find a balance between security and discomfort if we are to learn – too much of either can paralyse our capacity to grow.

So in the end I learnt a lot from having to draw in ways I don’t like, which I am not ‘good at’, whilst standing in public places feeling uncomfortable and exposed. I was  really pleased with the sketch at the top of the page –  not my usual style at all!   The tutors all worked hard to give us individual attention and helpful feedback, and gained our appreciation and affection in the course of the 3 days. In fact, we were so inspired that a group of us are now getting together to organise a day’s sketching in Coventry, and even playing with the possibility of an Urban Sketching workshop here in 2015.