The Course, Of Course

I mentioned back in October that I’ve returned to education and am now studying counselling, part-time. I thought I’d share with you an update on how that’s going.

The classroom at Aylesbury College where the practical parts (and some of the theory) of my course are taught.

The short answer: it’s going well.

I’m finding myself challenged in fun and new ways, despite my volunteering experience, which has included no small amount of work on emotional support helplines of one kind of another. For example, we’ve on two occasions now done role-play sessions in which the “helper” (the person acting in the role of a counsellor) has been required to not ask any questions to the “helpee” (their client). Depending on your theoretical orientation and your background, that’s either a moderately challenging or a very challenging thing – sort of like the opposite of a game of Questions, but with the added challenge that you’re trying to pay attention to what the other participant is actually saying, rather than thinking “Don’t ask a question; don’t ask a question; don’t ask a question…” the whole damn time.

It’s an enjoyable exercise, and works really well to help focus on sometimes-underused skills like paraphrasing and summarising, as well as of course giving you plenty of opportunity to simply listen, attend to the helpee, and practice your empathic response. The first time I did it I was noticed (by my observer) to be visibly uncomfortable, almost “itching to ask something”, but by the second occasion, I’d cracked it. It’s like climbing with one arm tied behind your back! But as you’d expect of such an exercise, it leaves you with far more care, and control… and one enormous muscular arm!

Amidst all of the “fluffy” assessment, I was pleased this semester to be able to cut my teeth on some theoretical stuff, as a break. The practical side is good, but I do enjoy the chance to get deep into some theory once in a while, and my reading list has spiraled out of control as each thing I read leads me to find two other titles that I’d probably enjoy getting into next. I’ve recently been reading Living with ‘The Gloria Films’: A Daughter’s Memory, by Pamela J Burry, whose existence in itself takes a little explanation:

Gloria with Carl Rogers, from the film "Three Approaches to Psychotherapy"

In 1964, three psychotherapists walked into a bar. They were Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis and Fritz Perls. They had a few drinks, and then they had an argument about whose approach to psychotherapy was the best.

“I respect you both deeply,” began Perls, “But surely it is clear to see that your rejection of Gestalt therapy is rooted in your attempts to pretend to be accepting of it. It is clearly the superior approach.”

“You don’t need to get emotional over this,” said Ellis, “Let’s just go back and find the event that first inspired your prejudice against my rational emotive therapy, and re-examine it: there should be no doubt that it is the best way to treat disorders.”

“It feels like you’re being quite cold to one another,” said Rogers, father of the humanistic approach, after a moment’s pause. “I wonder what we could do to explore this disagreement that we’re having… and perhaps come to an answer that feels right to us all?”

And so the three agreed to a test: they would find a subject who was willing to undergo a single therapy session from all three of them, and then it’d be clear who was the winner. They’d film the whole thing, to make sure that there could be no denying the relative successes of each approach. And the losers would each pay for all of the winner’s drinks the next time they went out to the Rat And Bang, their local pub.

Albert Ellis wraps up at the end of his section of "Three Approaches to Psychotherapy".

Now that story is complete bullshit, but it’s far more-amusing than any true explanation as to why these three leading counsellors were filmed, each in turn, talking to a client by the name of Gloria – a 30-year-old divorced mother of three concerned with being a good parent and how she presents herself to men. I’ll leave you to find and watch the films for yourself if you want: they’re all available on video sharing sites around the web, and I’d particularly recommend Carl Rogers’ videos if you’re looking for something that almost everybody will find quite watchable.

Gloria died fifteen years later, but her daughter “Pammy” (whose question about sex, when she was nine years old, gave so much material to Gloria’s session with Carl Rogers) wrote a biography of their lives together, which was published in 2008. The focus of “The Gloria Films” was on the therapeutic methodologies of the practitioners, of course. But Gloria herself was intelligent and compelling, and I was genuinely interested to get “the rest of the story” after she left that film studio (made up to look like a psychotherapist’s office) and got on with her life.

Hence the book.

And so hence, my example of how I keep reading (or in this case watching) things, which  lead me to find more things to read, which in turn give me yet more things to read.

And now you’re up-to-date.

Back To School

Next week is half-term. Why does that matter? Because I’m back in education.

Since last month, I’ve been a student again. Not full-time (I’m not falling for that one again), of course, but I currently spend my Monday evenings studying towards a Certificate in Counselling Skills at Aylesbury College.

Aylesbury College. It's actually quite an attractive building, except in the rain.

It’s actually a qualification I’ve been looking at for several years, but it’s only recently that I’ve lived somewhere even remotely close to somewhere that it’s taught: while there’s a lot of counselling theory that can be learned by distance learning, there’s naturally a lot of hands-on counselling practice that demands a classroom or clinical setting, and for that… you really do need to be within reach of a suitable school.

Not that Aylesbury‘s exactly on my doorstep. It’s not even in the same county as me (it’s just barely over the border, in fact, into Buckinghamshire). And this can make things a little challenging: whereas many of my classmates walk or cycle in, I have a special little dance that I have to do every Monday, in order to make my study possible.

I arrive at work early, so that I can get out of the door by 4:30pm. I then leap onto my bike and pedal furiously through Oxford’s crowded afternoon streets to the East side of the city. There, I lock my bike up and hop into a borrowed car (more about that in another blog post), pick my way out between the growing pre-rush-hour traffic, sprawling 20mph zones, and deathwish cyclists, and hammer along the A418 in order to get to class for its 6pm start.

This is the M40. I don't get to go on this. But that dual carriageway you see going over the top of it? That's one of the few stretches of decent road on my weekly commute to Buckinghamshire.

Three hours of theory and roleplay later (as well as a break to eat a packet sandwich), I’m back on the road. It annoys me more than a little that now that I’m not in a hurry, the roads are usually clear and empty, but it’s a good excuse to crank up the volume on Jack FM and enjoy the ride back through the villages of East Oxfordshire. Back in Oxford, I pick up my bike and cycle home: I’m usually back before 10:30. It’s quite a long day, really.

So what’s it all for? Well: ultimately, if I stick with it, it leads to a Certificate in Counselling, then to a Diploma in Counselling. If you take that and couple it with a stack of distance learning modules, it adds up to… well, this Foundation Degree in Counselling, perhaps.

But that’s not what you wanted to know: what you wanted to know was, “What are you doing, Dan? What’s wrong with the degree and career you’ve already got?”

Well firstly, of course, learning doesn’t have to be about qualifications. This is a field that I’ve been interested in for longer than I’ve been blogging. Plus: I’m sure that my various pieces of emotional support work, like my work with Oxford Friend, will benefit from the experience and learning that I bring to it.

But also, it’s about the idea I’ve always had that a good mid-life crisis ought to benefit from planning: it’s too important to leave to chance. And I’ve been thinking that a career switch might be a great mid-life crisis. The social sciences are fun, and while counselling might not be exactly what I’m looking for, there’s some doors opened by studying it. With less than a decade before I’m 40, and with part-time study being an ever-so-slow way to get things done, I’d better pull my finger out.

Doubtless, I’ll have more to say about my course as it progresses, but for now, I’m just glad that it’s half-term week, which means I get a week in which I don’t spend my Monday running around like a headless chicken… and I get twice as long to finish my homework.

Not Quite Where We Planned To Be

Claire and I are in Preston. Let me explain how this came about.

As I mentioned, we spent Friday night and most of Saturday in Gregynog, a beautiful stately home owned by the University of Wales and used as a conference venue. Every year, the Computer Science department ships almost the entirety of the second year out there to learn how better to get a job, in anticipation of hopefully getting an industry year placement the following year. Claire, as a department staff member, was invited along to help organise a group of students. I was invited along as an representative of the computer industry, there to give mock interviews to students of the kind that they might expect when applying for computer science related jobs for their industry year or for graduate positions.

It was a lot of fun. I met some interesting people and, with their help, got to grill students. Perhaps my favourite part was successfully catching out students who had… how shall we say it… exaggerated a little on their CVs. One fellow, I remember, had, while boasting about his web development proficiency, stated that he was familiar with HTTP. So I asked him what the fundamental differences between a GET and a POST method were. I’d have accepted something about request parameters being visible on the address bar, but no: no such luck. It was also good to be pleasantly surprised, such as by the database-proficient claimant I met who successfully, with a pause, disassembled the huge database relationship diagram I gave to him. My co-interviewer says I’m evil. I replied that I was merely thorough.

On Saturday night, in accordance with our plans, we continued on to Warrington to visit Gareth and Liz‘s new place. Gareth didn’t seem quite ‘with it’. But the food was good and I regretted eating so well at Gregynog that I couldn’t guzzle more, and the company was even better. After the party came to a quiet end, we dropped off Jimmy at his home in Runcorn, and decided to move on up to Preston to say “hi” to my folks.

Needless to say, my mum was at least a little surprised when Claire and I waltzed into her bedroom. We didn’t waltz, mind. More of a polka. But she was surprised, regardless. My dad returns from Vietnam today, so we’re hoping to catch him and have lunch before we return to Aber.

Paul: I bet, despite her trying to remind herself on several occasions, Claire’s still forgotten to call you to tell you that we’re unlikely to make the 2:30 screening of Howl’s Moving Castle at the Arts Centre, so I hope you read this before then.

Letters After My Name

[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]

[this post was recovered on Thursday 30th December 2004]

Results day today, and so I finally get to find out whether or not I get a degree in exchange for my last five years at University. And I do. I’m now entitled to put letters after my name, which is nice.

I’ve got a lower second, which is (I know) less than I’m capable of, but considering my resits and other lark last year, it’s exactly what I expected, so that’s great. Was damn pleased to see that my dissertation got a first.

Now I suppose I’d better get on with the rest of my life.

My Final Exam… Like… Ever

[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]

I feel kind of odd. And no, I’m not just referring to my (still kind-of burny) Lariam headache:

I’ve just had my final exam. And I mean ever.

I know I’m not a graduate yet (assuming I even pass these buggers), but… there’s something kind-of final feeling about leaving that exam room. It took me a good few minutes walking down the hill before it really hit me that this is the end of it.

Five years.

I’ve been a student here at Aberystwyth for almost five years. That’s over a fifth of my life. That’s pretty much all of my adult life (going by the legal definition of ’18’).

I’ve been in apprehensive anticipation of this moment all year. Perhaps longer. I’m not trying to cling on to it – I know when it’s time to let go and get on with other things – but I still feel a certain… sadness… at something having passed by. It’s not unlike… the death of a pet. Or a loved-one moving away. It’s just a hole in me that waits – not fearful… but: presentiment at what is to fill it.

Five years.

When I was in my first year, I talked with folks like Rory

Dissertation Proofreaders Needed

[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]

I’m looking for help proofreading my dissertation. If you’ve been invited to, or you’d like to help, please go to https://danq.me/diss/, download the latest version, and post any comments here.

You will need a password. To ensure that only invited parties can get hold of the password, you’ll need to prove your identity. The following groups are permitted to log in:

  • Members of Troma Night: go to the Troma Night web site and log in: the password will appear on the front page, underneath the words ‘Upcoming Events’.
  • People listed as LiveJournal friends of Fiona: go to this LiveJournal post by Fiona (you’ll need to be logged in and on her Friends list).
  • People who can guess the password – it’s the second half of the name of the project of my dissertation, in lower case, with the final letter replaced with the first vowel in the word that is the name of the logo of the organisation that benfits from my project.
  • Other …

More Celebrations

[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]

[chez geek card]

Yay. Now I’m in a fab bouncey mood and ready to crack on with the next 10,000 words of my dissertation.

People have kindly been offering to proof-read it for me on Sunday night – this is most welcome: if anybody else wants to, you can too: just drop me a comment or a message or something, and I’ll e-mail you it. I presume you’ll all prefer Acrobat .PDFs than PostScript .PS files, yeh?

On which note; everybody’s being really considerate of my need to get this thing done – leaving me to do it where they’re likely to be a distraction; not suggesting really cool things we could be doing right now (except for the above card, ahem), etc. Thank you all, guys!

In other news…

Typically Busy

[this post was lost during a server failure on 11 July 2004; it was partially-recovered on 13 October 2018]

Another couple of weeks of academic nightmare coming up, followed by the Easter Break (during which I’ll be working, ho hum). I’ve got to do my second “poster session” presentation for my dissertation a week on Wednesday; next week I have all my pracs *and* I’m helping out backstage with the Student Skills competition. Oh; and I managed to get myself persuaded to go into the office at the weekend, forgetting that my mum’s visiting. D’oh.

Oh yeh; my mum’s visiting this weekend. She’s bringing Andy (the BF1) and Puddles (the KCS2) along for Troma Night. Which is nice.

And, in other shiny happy news, I sold my old copy of The Sims: Party Pack for about the same value as it can be bought in shops. Yay, and, indeed, hey.

And, while I’m on the ball – other shiny happy news – I’ve managed to grovel to the bank and secure myself a dramatically increased overdraft, interest free, until September. Which means I can afford to pay for my ADSL subscription. Oh; and the …

Christmas Is Coming, The Exams Are Getting Written

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I haven’t done any yet.

I’ll start tommorow. Better call my mum and get some tips on what my sisters are into this year. Becky’s typically quite easy – she usually just wants the most violent computer game released in the last three months – but Sarah, who’s desires are driven by the fluctuations of what is and what is-not fashionable at any particular time (“That is so last week! Nobody listens to clip-hop any more!”)

Claire and I are going to be spending Christmas (and a couple of days before) with Claire’s dad. Then we’ll travel all the way up the country – with her dad in tow – on Boxing Day to spend the weekend with my family. We’ll be back in Aberystwyth in time for New Year. And then I suppose I’d better start revising.

For the benefit mostly of myself (this is a convenient look-up point), but also just to show you all, my exam timetable for this semester appears at the bottom of this post…

Only three exams! Woo. I feel moderately confident enough about them – although I’ll need to knuckle down and read up a lot of formal notation stuff for the SE33010 exam. I’ve also got an assignment to do for my Professional … [the rest of this post, and one comment, are lost]

First Aid

Yesterday was a long day. After nine hours at work, had two and a half hours of First Aid refresher training at Aberystwyth ambulance station.

On the upside, I’d forgotten how subtly dark paramedics’ sense of humour can be… when one particularly overmoral woman expressed concern at a particular element of the training: “But they could die!”, one of the ‘medics responded, deadpan, with: “No; they’re already a corpse. They’re dead. They’re just lying there, being completely useless.” I like paramedics.

I have a lot of work to do this week – my final week full-time before starting again as a part-timer while I put some work towards graduating – and I’m getting bogged down in other people’s bureaucracy. I can’t get my client’s clients’ computers to connect to my client’s computer because my client’s network administrator has put a particularly secure firewall in the way, and he needs a list of IP addresses (unique identifiers for computers on TCP/IP networks, like the Internet) of all the servers on my client’s clients’ networks, but everybody’s got meetings at stupid times and I can never get hold of the people I need when I need them and… aarrgghh!!!

It’ll all be fine.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #50:

Sit up ’til 5:00am coding for a project that doesn’t have to be in until a week on Friday. On the up side, discover the root cause of the bug that was holding back the progress of the Group Project, and, by redeveloping some source code, cut down estimated production time by two days. Get lots of praise for this. Be happy.

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #40:

Fail to get elected as one of the two student representatives of module CS12320 (Concepts In Programming). What else could I expect? I was nominated against my will, gave an awe-inspiring speech, that declared that “if I get this position, I’ll slaughter every last one of you with a pick-axe” brought up the issue that “hell – I’m not even representative of myself; why do you want me to represent you lot?”, and made clear “I want this role as little as you want me to have it!”. I think they got the idea. I recieved a grand total of 0 votes, and that includes the ones from the people who nominated me (who, after hearing my speech, voted for somebody else). Victory

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #36:

(1) Recieve an e-mail from your Personal Tutor, asking to see you in his office in ten minutes. He knows I check my e-mail 1440 times a day, but dragging me to this level of nerdity is ridiculous…
(2) …make it to his office, cross campus, within eight minutes of him sending the e-mail… Okay – so I *live* in my anorak. I don’t care. =o( I’m going to go and sit in the corner and sulk now.

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #31:

Pass your first exam… with a worldsmashing score of 90%. Your lecturer, apparantly, during a pre-test, scored 95%. The pass level was 36%. Happy bunny? You bet!

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.