Tetris – by Lizzie Lumsden, IICP MA Student 2014-2016
Do you ever find when you’re trying hard to articulate something really important, words fail you? I love words, yet I seem to be at a loss for them right now. But I’m sitting here, trying to encapsulate something that feels so essential to me now, yet so hopelessly immeasurable.
I’ll try to refrain from using self-development slogans, inspirational quotes or spiritual bumper stickers. I’m not even going to talk about journeys either, for none of that stuff could possibly capture or do justice to what it is I feel, now I’m nearing completion of the masters in Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy with Prof John McLeod.
Maybe the tiredness is responsible for my uncharacteristic dumbness; you know, that kind you feel when you’re emotionally drained after watching a deeply stirring film. As the credits roll you feel moved, for it has profoundly changed the way you’ll feel and think about something. The cogs in your brain are still reconfiguring. Or the degree of wooziness that can set in coming over the last big hill of a long trek, legs heavy but unyielding.
For me it has been difficult and exhilarating in equal measure.
I’m possibly shell-shocked. Dazed I suppose, that it’s nearly all over, another page turned. I’m tired but delighted to have the opportunity to reflect on how I feel just a few days after my group, the first cohort of students on this course, have formally disbanded. We’ve made it through together. There was definitely a cruel quickness of time but I’m gladdened that we all formed the depth of friendships that we did and that much to my surprise, I actually enjoy research; I love the process of doing it and digging for it, so that information and new ideas can inform my thinking and clinical practice. But that’s not the half of it, not even close.
Let me start with my research topic as this is a fundamental part of the course after all. My own research study has been a passionate and personal endeavour. I have been ‘affected’ by research you might say. With each twist and turn, I was fitting together the pieces of my own jigsaw puzzle. A pilgrimage of sorts perhaps. My research topic is something that led me into psychotherapeutic training in the first place but what I probably didn’t realise at the beginning of the course, is that I was still scrambling around for my own unanswered questions. The quest was still very much alive, nipping at my heels. Mystical experience, my subject, had a profound effect on me about five years ago and ever since, I have been struggling with stigma, failing to find resources and trying to cherish something that most people wanted to demonise and ridicule. Our culture it seems, is just not cut out for coping with these types of experiences.
Coming to terms with this as my real research direction was a mighty big deal; I had to push through my own fears of feeling like I was stepping up to scorn my own intellect in serious academic circles. “Mystical experience, the domain of charlatans” some might say, “spiritualty isn’t something that you can research with any semblance of scientific credibility.” The refining of my topic was challenging; the slog of the spike turned out to be about me facing my own dread of coming out of the spiritual closet. But I’m fully out now, and pleased to say after two years, I’m proud.
The skill, support and expertise received on this course leave me feeling choked. I have been expertly guided and encouraged in a way that I never could have imagined, by people whose skill, humility and brilliance have left me with a learning experience that has been so formative, it has shaped me personally and professionally in immeasurable ways. Everyone at IICP has been supportive, but I would specifically like to thank with heartfelt gratitude, Prof John McLeod and Dr Marcella Finnerty.
Now onto pluralism. The pluralistic perspective is also such that your whole worldview gets emancipated. It is a philosophy of ‘both and’ rather than ‘either or’. It transcends the black and white dichotomies that can complicate therapy. Suddenly possibilities abound, there is an end to monist egoism and there’s an entirely brilliant perspective tendered that values collaboration and enhanced, respectful communication. It’s a research informed practice that requires you to be dynamic and responsive, inviting you to accept the validity of other answers to the questions. It’s a magnificent conceptual space of co-existing ideas. It’s therapy in full colour.
The pluralistic approach to therapy was specifically developed as a framework that could encompass the widest possible range of findings on what clients might find helpful in therapy. A growing body of research also informs us that attuning therapeutic interventions to a client’s preferences is likely to lead to retention and possibly more positive outcomes. This is the antithesis of the one size fits all approach. This is response in action. It is the future of therapy made more manageable.
Beginning to think this way and actually embody this collaborative philosophy sees a whole new world of possibilities develop. Communication and relating reach new heights, facilitating a much superior level of understanding between people. Suddenly you find yourself in a liberated and progressive space.
For me, the last two years haven’t just been a flippant tick box exercise of adhering to assignment deadlines and marching in line with grading rubrics. I never wished for one minute, that I could click my glittery ruby heels together to rush me to end of the program. It wasn’t about picking up some piece of paper telling me I’m more academically worthy than I was before. I’m aware that I could have used this writing space to outline my research process or how I feel enriched by specific content of the course. I could pontificate endlessly about my own research and what that’s done for me and outline how supportive faculty have been from start to finish. But I won’t. All of that is not only quite frankly boring for you to read but it doesn’t convey the meaning of my experience. Pieces in my heart and mind have moved, swapped about, rearranged. The pattern is different from when I started out. It’s incalculably better. Some of that rearrangement was breath-taking and not always in the most comfortable of ways; like the kind you get halfway through that walk I talked about earlier, that point when you’re out of puff after the first major incline kicking yourself thinking, “what the hell have I got myself in for this time?”
But out of all the words I can think of to capture what this means for me (and please excuse its embarrassing simplicity and obscurity), it’s ‘Tetris’.
Let me explain. Similar to that awe-inspiring film or the great outdoors adventure, I appreciate that lots of courses are meaningful and change us in abiding ways. The colour of our lenses gets switched. The picture on the TV gets sharpened. I’m sure most of you can identify with the idea that our interior joinery gets shuffled about quite a bit in this field of study. I can only describe this as a turbo shuffle.
The research landscape isn’t unlike Tetris either. Its complex landscape is continuously changing; the puzzle evolves as fresh tiles of information get added. I wish I could find a more gracious analogy than that of the 1980s Russian-invented puzzle video game but I can’t.
Fundamentally, I think my experience has really been my own unconscious desire to create order out of chaos, the human impulse that also inspired Tetris. This has been twofold; my aspiration to manage the clinical chaos that flares up from such a cluttered theoretical backdrop (pluralism helps manage all sorts of tensions in theory and practice) as well as my wish to give meaning to my own frustrations and struggles of mystical experience.
Now, I get to complete my own research, ‘What Does Your Mystical Experience Mean to You?’ Perhaps I’ll even get to contribute to the research landscape, laying down my own little research tile. Now that really would be magic.