Growing in the garden and in counselling

Counselling and horticulture inform each other

Horticulture has a lot to say about how plants grow and change, and therapy has a lot to say about how people grow and change. My experience is that these two worlds inform each other, which we might expect since both plants and people are organic in nature. For me, counselling or therapy is an organic process.

Physis – that tendency within each living thing to change and grow.

New article in Counselling Directory

I’ve written some of my ideas about how our understanding or contact with plants might inform our approach to counselling and this article was published in Counselling Directory. Here’s the link;

Acausal Understanding Ourselves

Follow Your Heart? But How? – The Kairos Approach

How often have you heard “Follow Your Heart”? How often have you thought “OK, but how?!!”

You may have heard a version that says “Follow Your Heart but Take Your Head With You”. I believe that this is more useful – and below is my understanding of this widespread invitation to use our intuition.

There are several references to the theories of Transactional Analysis (or ‘TA’) but don’t worry if these are of no interest to you – they aren’t essential to understanding my ideas.

Two versions of time

When we talk about time, our meanings are usually quantitative and describe, quite precisely, when something was, when it started or how long it lasted. This is the world of seconds, minutes & years.

But there is another aspect to time, a more qualitative one, which has far less to do with the measurable, cause-and-effect perspective and more to do with ‘what this time is like’ or the inherent qualities and texture of the time under consideration.

The causal, quantitative quality of time is everywhere and we are very used to working with it – in our diaries, our timetables and in making scientific measurements. This is incredibly useful when, for example, we want to travel by air or plan an event. But the acausal, qualitative view of time does also manage to find its way into our lives, and also has great value.seasons

The seasons, for example, have strongly qualitative textures. We know Spring from autumn, and know which season we are in, but it’s very difficult to say precisely when each season starts or ends. Rather, a morning will come along when we know that ‘Spring is in the air’ or  a tree will show us the ‘first signs’ of autumn.

For speakers of the Romance languages (e.g. French) the two qualities of time may be much more apparent. ‘Le jour’ is a specific day of 24 hours or that part of it which is not night. ‘La journee’ has a more sensory quality – it is a day spent with someone, or doing something, and need not have a meaning to the speaker of a specific, measurable period of time.

Introducing Kairos

For very ancient peoples it’s likely that this qualitative perspective on time predominated. But in the classical period (Ancient Greece & Rome) both perspectives were more commonplace. So the Greeks had two deities to represent time – Chronos (for quantitative, measured time) and Kairos (for qualitative, experienced time).

Images and descriptions of Kairos include the following features;

  • He has wings on his back and feet – this gives him a fleeting and fast approaching quality.
  • He has a tuft of hair on the front of his head – the forelock by which we can grab him.
  • He has the back of his head shaven – if we miss his forelock there’s no way to grab him from behind.

For Greeks ancient and modern, kairos also means ‘the weather’ and kairoi are ‘the times’ as in ‘we live in difficult times’. Again, the qualitative, experiential, non-scientific mode of referring to time is used.

Opportunity knocks but once… (proverb)

Kairos represents the way in which time offers us opportunity. Opportunity arises suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, and our job is to grab it by the forelock. If we delay then opportunity flies by. We miss it, and there’s no way to recapture it. Our only hope is to let lost opportunities go, to face forward, face oncoming Kairos so that when the next opportunity presents we are ready to take hold, to grab his tuft of hair.

Seizing the Day – Carpe Diem  

rushingHere’s my opportunity to take some energy out of a popular Western myth! ‘Seize the day’ has come to mean ‘jump out of bed and get on with it…, fill all your time…, live life to the max…’.

This idea invites us to ‘do, do, do…’ until we drop, and to ‘drive, drive, drive…’ until we’ve ‘made it’.

From a TA (Transactional Analysis) perspective this is an invitation to engage in our TA Driver behaviour which ultimately invites us towards the payoff of our early life scripting rather than towards autonomy, spontaneity and intimacy.

When the poet Horace wrote (Odes 1:11) “fugerit invida aetas; carpe diem…” (envious time will have fled, seize the day…) he chose two feminine nouns for ‘time’ and ‘day’.

And the verb ‘carpere’ can also be used to mean ‘harvest/pick/pluck’ or even to ‘enjoy’.

In a World-view which knew Kairos, Horace’s ‘fleeing time’ and ‘seizing’ are more consistent with a lesson about meeting opportunity as it arises (seizing the tuft of hair on Kairos’s forehead) and enjoying the benefits this offers rather than hammering every last ounce of ‘progress’ out of each day in order to ‘meet our goals’.

Horace’s idea is more consistent with ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ (Herrick) or the more rebellious ‘When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ (from a TA perspective this sense of determination is functionally +RAC).

Kairos In Spiritual Psychology

A fully acausal view of time includes the idea that for each ‘season’ or ‘era’ (nouns for time in English which have an acausal, qualitative feel) only certain events are fitting or even possible.

If we grow tomatoes (in the UK) then we just cannot have fruit in January or November. Precisely when we can have fruit is uncertain – tomatoes, and natural processes generally, don’t work to a chronos calendar. Even commercially, with modern F1 hybrids, a grower will be working towards ‘week 26’ with some degree of uncertainty, and keeping an eye on the weather (kairoi).

A fully acausal view sees all of Life’s activity in this way including starting a business, going on holiday or moving home.

In Ecclesiastes 3 (The Tanakh & The Old Testament) there is ‘a season for every activity under the heavens’ including ‘a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…’.

In the Greek versions of the Old Testament the word ‘kairos’ is used here over and over.

It may be possible to act or begin activities without regard to the ‘season’ and what is fitting for the season. But this is ‘pushing against the river’ and may become ‘driven’ (see TA drivers), uses a lot of energy and other resources and may miss the opportunities presented by Kairos.

Toolkit – Working with Kairos

So how do we use this qualitative concept of time to help us know how to live? Sometimes I meet clients who just don’t know what they want, or have lost contact with how to ‘hear’ (internally) what they need and what their ‘heart’ (or intuition) is telling them.

There are a number of tools I offer for this. And working with Kairos is a useful one of these tools.

shopping trolleyAs an example to begin working I’ll look at supermarket shopping, something that many people get involved in.

Example – The ‘cause-and-effect’ way to go to the supermarket…

One way to do the shopping is to imagine the week unfolding ahead of you and write a list of all the meals you’re going to have, then write a list of all their constituents or ingredients. Then, you walk around the house to see if anything else is running low, and add that to the list. Then, we head off to the supermarket and buy everything we’ve written down.

If you’ve ever shopped like this you’ll know it can be quite effective, especially if you’re working to a limited budget or special dietary needs. However, often, something will happen at the supermarket that invites you away from such a rigid process…. For example, you see the most beautiful bunch of grapes…

Example – An acausal way to shop – inviting in Kairos…

If we look more closely at the image of Kairos we see three more important features

  • He is carrying scales
  • He has his hand on one side of the scales, so that the balance is his way
  • He is balancing the scales on a razor

Based on this, I offer clients a four step process – stopping, dancing, balancing, acting.

Stopping – This is really an invitation to develop a regular meditation practice. However, as a minimum, before heading off to the supermarket there needs to be a degree of harmony, of breathing from the abdomen, of mindfulness. I refer to the balance in Kairos’s hand as a reminder.

Playing/Dancing – here’s where the fun starts. This is the dance around the supermarket. Of course you’ll need to attend to your ‘basic shop’. But can you ‘feel a pull’ today, towards, say a particular shelf or counter? Are you salivating at that head of broccoli or interested in that jar of chilli jam? Where would the trolley want to go? Missing out some aisles perhaps? Doubling back along others? Did you really smell that bread?

And what other feelings are arising? Boredom amongst the breakfast cereal? Gratitude at the fish counter?

There is an analogy here in the ‘leading’ that Quakers may feel during Waiting Worship – we can wait and listen and value what is felt.

This doesn’t mean simply putting all these interesting items in your trolley! At this stage we are just ensuring that our felt, qualitative version of the process is at least available to us. And that we are available to the process.

You may well ask “But won’t I just end up with lots of weird stuff and sweet stuff at the checkout, and just over-spend?” Well, you may do if you just went with the dance and bought whatever you’re led to. But this is where the next steps are important – balancing & deciding.

Thinking/Measuring/Balancing – here’s where you get to be the grown-up (from a TA perspective this is about deploying integrated Adult and Nurturing Parent ego states). Kairos offers us the scales with which to measure and weigh options. Although he has a hand on one side of the scales and would invite you (all other things being equal) to come down on his side, the scales are held out in front, preceding his forelock, preceding this opportunity. You are invited to consider, to weigh, to balance, to think.decision

At the supermarket, maybe that cream cake is attractive. But you already have one in your trolley. If you were dealing with an eight-year old you might say “OK, but if you choose that cake you’ll need to put the other one back”.

Effective thinking requires information. Which information is important depends on the project you’re working with or the opportunity Kairos is offering whether it be career, relationships, moving home or whatever. At the supermarket the information is likely to be around budgeting, value and nutritional content. And you wouldn’t buy ice-cream if you have a three-hour journey home.

There is a risk with this thinking and measuring and balancing because it’s fairly easy to convince yourself out of following Kairos’s direction – like ‘well I’m not sure…’ or ‘will I like it?’ or ‘what will they think?’. From a TA viewpoint this is getting stuck in scripty parenting styles (ego state P1) where we replay internal messages like;

  • ‘I don’t deserve it’
  • ‘That’s not for the likes of me’
  • ‘Who do I think I am?’
  • ‘That’ll never work’
  • ‘I just can’t decide’
  • ‘They’ll say I’m silly’

None of this is rationalising. These doubts may seem rational like ‘It’s a waste of money if I they won’t eat it’. But if it’s within budget and nutritionally OK and you want it from a deeper place then go with the Kairos.

At this point, it’s worth knowing about physis, or the Universal impulse to grow. Universal Process invites each of us to move towards a more autonomous and enlightened place characterised by increasing awareness, intimacy and spontaneity. The growthful energy within each of us is irreversible and constantly moves us forward (think of a germinating seed or a growing child – living things never go ‘into reverse’). From an external viewpoint physis may not look like a tendency to normalisation. However, when Kairos is presenting an opportunity you will not be being invited to do something irrational or harmful.

If you feel the urge to

  • Harm someone or potentially harm someone in some way
  • Harm yourself in some way or potentially harm yourself in some way

Then these are not urges to seize opportunity presented by Universal Process (In TA, they are outdated script messages from P1). Kairos invites action on our part in line with our growthful tendency, or individual physis.

At the supermarket, if you have an urge to buy your first-ever liver or linguine, and you’ve checked that it’s nutritionally OK for everyone and within budget then this is part of your growthful direction in this season of your life. Your family may look surprised. Internally you may question your boldness – these are simply more internal, script messages (P1). Physis may not look like ‘normal’ but greater things are happening. On the other hand, if the linguine is going to take you over budget this is an Adult block. If the liver is going to knowingly invite an allergic reaction there needs to be a nurturative block. In these cases, the urge was not a call of Kairos in the first place. Physis is not characterised by struggle with real-world limitations.

Deciding/Acting/Cutting – In his hand, the hand held out towards you, Kairos holds a razor. When we cut, when we use scissors, or make an incision or an excision, we permanently let go of all the alternatives except the one we are choosing. Decisions are just the same, we drop the thinking about options and act. A hairdresser makes hundreds of irreversible decisions with their scissors each day!

Everything so far has been hypothetical. Now, Kairos invites action. Failing to grasp his forelock is to lose the opportunity. He will soon be gone.

Kairos Flowchart

The example at the supermarket may seem superficial but these types of situation involve ‘smaller’ outcomes so they are a great way to practice tuning into Kairos. Similar situations may be

  • Decorating your home.
  • What you create in your garden
  • How to spend a weekend off or where to go on holiday
  • Choosing a gift for someone
  • Deciding what to wear – watch out for the P1 messages here. What you wear is very public so invitations to normalise (P1) will be strong. “What will they think if I wear the purple?” Over-compliance may not take you forward. But then, over-rebelliousness may also be a risk because effectiveness in certain situations (e.g. in business) may mean some ‘towing the line’ (In TA terms, allow your integrated Adult to monitor your compliant/rebellious adapted child ego states).

At a universal level, there is no difference in the process whether the outcomes are ‘small’ or ‘big’. Physis operates in the same way for a dandelion seed as for an acorn. From our perspective, some situations may invite greater dread and this worry operates against the stopping and playful/dancing stages. After some practice the Kairos Approach is useful in ‘Bigger’ situations too, like

  • Making career decisions
  • Deciding where to live/relocate
  • Starting or changing a business
  • Beginning or making a change in a relationship

Getting support with ‘following your heart’.

decidedAt different places above I have used references to Transactional Analysis or ‘TA’. This is a powerful model of communication, relating and psychotherapy that can help in many ways when people feel stuck or when faced with difficult challenges.

If you’re feeling like some support in this area could be useful contact me to arrange an introductory meeting where we can explore what’s happening for you in this life season.


Understanding Ourselves

Take the ‘Feelings 101’

Would you like to understand your feelings better? Perhaps you have questions like;

  • Why do I always end up feeling this way?
  • Why won’t this feeling just ‘go away’?
  • Why should I feel like this now? I’ve been it some tough situations, and they were no problem to me.
  • What’s the point of feeling bad? Don’t I just need to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull myself together’?
  • Am I going mad? I didn’t used to respond like this.
  • Will I ever feel better? I feel so hopeless.
  • Will I ever feel better? No one can bring back such a special person. 

Take the Feelings 101

It may be that, back in our early family situations, ‘doing’ lots of feeling wasn’t especially welcome. And in many contemporary Western settings, bringing our feelings to situations with work colleagues, neighbours and community, friends or family may not be the most ‘acceptable’ way forward.

Yet our feelings are a natural internal response to our experiences and the circumstances we find ourselves in. Ignoring them or ‘pushing them away’ potentially misses the information they are offering about our current reality.

As we begin to understand, contact, explore and express our feelings we find that;

  • They’re a useful source of information
  • We’re less ‘on autopilot’ and respond more to here-and-now reality
  • We’re more aware of what we need
  • We take more care of ourselves
  • We’re more ‘in contact’ with other people
  • We’re able to be more spontaneous

This ‘Feelings 101’ or Introduction to Feelings is a number of pages that look at ideas like;

  • What our feelings are
  • Why we have feelings
  • What feelings mean
  • How our feelings work
  • How to get started, and do more with feelings
  • Why we have bad feelings
  • Why we have some bad feelings over and over
  • How we can have fewer of these recurring bad feelings

The articles link together. But clicking on the ‘Feelings 101’ logo will always bring you back to this start page.

Take the Feelings 101

A useful way to ‘take the Feelings 101’ is to read each article in order from this list below. However, each article is written to ‘stand alone’ and you might want to dip into the ones that seem most interesting.

Take the ‘Feelings 101’ and make a start with your feelings!

  1. Getting Started – Somatic Feelings and Authentic Feelings – great sources of information
  2. The River of Feelings – Looking Away, Diving In or Just Watching
  3. Saving ‘Feelings’ Stamps
  4. Feelings in our Early Family – Some feelings were allowed, other feelings were not
  5. Beginning to Talk About Feelings
  6. Looking More Closely at ‘Can’t’
  7. Can someone really ‘make me feel bad’ by what they say to me?

Getting support with feelings
Remember that everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms. It may be that ‘dealing with feelings’, especially uncomfortable ones, means working with someone who is qualified to support you.
Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?


Understanding Ourselves

Experiencing Stress at Work?

Stress at Work? – Here’s some information that will help – As a human being your resources are not infinite, they are finite.

My guess is that, if we were at work together, I’d be admiring your values right now.

Your great attention to detail maybe? Your amazing patience or stamina? Perhaps it would be your constant efficiency or kindness?

These values are positive. They may have got you this great career and, if you have enough energy to keep them up, that’s fine.

As a therapist though I know that each of these worthy values comes with some ‘internal messages’ like (in the same order as above) ‘Don’t make a mistake’, ’Keep trying’, ‘Don’t show your feelings’ , ‘Don’t waste time’ or ‘Don’t say “No”’.

These internal messages are quite demanding and can result in internal pain or internal stress (You may have external stresses too like a new team, a new manager, a new home or a recent loss).

In our early family taking these values very seriously (e.g. achievement, strength) was likely to have been a way to stay ‘OK’ around a parent-figure. This parent-figure may have even modelled the values themselves.

Those days are gone. If you’re experiencing internal pain by holding onto these values so tightly, by complying with the internal messages so strictly, then things need to change.

As human beings our resources are limited and this limitation needs to be accounted for. It’s really hard on yourself to expect to comply with these tough internal messages 100% of the time. It’s hurting you.

Here’s what to do;

  • Download, print & complete the ‘Driver Questionnaire’ to get an idea for which groups of messages or ‘Drivers’ are contributing to your internal stress.
  • For each of the Drivers that are significant for you read the relevant blog post to get further information. Are you;

Being Perfect – The Quest for Perfection

Aiming to Please – Saying ‘Yes’ when we mean ‘No’

Hurrying Up – Rushing and Cramming Lots In

Being Strong – Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Trying Hard – The Endless Struggle

Getting Help with Stress at Work

If your stress is resulting in physical symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, diarrhoea, vomiting, skin rashes etc. then get an appointment with your GP to talk about this.

Using this blog as a ‘self-help’ guide is a great way to get started on the underlying issues. In fact, for clients who present at my therapy practice with ‘stress’ the driver questionnaire is often where we begin our work.

However, everyone is different and any self-help process can only offer ideas in general terms.  It may be that making a change involves going against these old ‘internal messages’ and at that point ‘self-help’ tends to run out of steam.

Why not book an initial assessment session with a counsellor/therapist who is registered with a nationally recognised professional body (such as BACP or UKCP in the UK)?

Understanding Ourselves

Approaches to TA

There are several key approaches to TA which together form the majority of theories and models used in TA Psychotherapy and Counselling;

The Classical School
This is the earliest view of TA as developed by Eric Berne and his immediate associates such as Steiner, Karpman, Ernst & English. Key TA concepts such as egos states, ego state contamination & exclusion, games, life script and contracting were all established by this pioneering group.

Integrative TA
In this approach to TA psychotherapy, the therapeutic relationship is valued as a way for our client to have new and satisfying experiences which can be integrated as part of themselves. The script system (or racket system) is a key concept as are attunement, relational needs and interpersonal contact.
Key figures in the development of integrative TA were Erskine, Trautmann & Moursund.

Relational TA
Since the early 1990’s TA theories which consider the impact and analysis of subconscious processes in the therapy have developed alongside modern psychoanalytic ideas. These TA theories include a model of child development which details the influence of the earliest interactions between infant and caregivers. Key names; Cornell, Hargaden, Sills, Stark & Novellino.

The Redecision School
Bob & Mary Golding took ideas from Gestalt Therapy and integrated them into core TA theory. Their key concepts were early decision & redecision, injunctions and impasse theory.

The Cathexis School
Some key TA theories developed out of work done by the Schiff’s on the area of developmental deficits. These are the powerful ideas of symbiosis, redefining, passivity, discounting & grandiosity.

Understanding Ourselves

Introducing Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis (or TA) is a theory of personality and communication, a set of models which describes how people are made-up, and how they behave, psychologically.

Many of TA’s key ideas were developed by Eric Berne in the 1960’s and these continue to be developed today. TA contains many models which together describe child development, how we maintain our childhood patterns in adult relationships, how we communicate and work together in groups & organisations and how we can grow and change beyond our early-life scripting.

Traditionally, TA is considered to extend to 4 ‘fields’ – psychotherapy, counselling, organisational and educational. However, skills in TA can be brought into creating and maintaining effective relationships in many professions such as policing, social work, mediation – anywhere, in fact, where we need to understand and communicate with individuals. We find too that as our knowledge and skills in TA grow we are building more satisfying relationships with our friends, family and children.


There are three philosophical assumptions of TA;

People Are OK – You and I have an intrinsic worth, an internal unchanging dignity and value which each of us may recognise in the other. Neither of us is one-up on the other, nor are we one-down and this remains true no matter what we have done or what we have been told is right or wrong. In TA we say ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ which is a simple expression of a deeply held humanistic stance.

Everyone has the capacity to think – Which means that each of us is responsible for choosing what we need, what we do and what life will be like. This ‘thinking’ is the clear, informed, probability-based problem-solving that gets things decided, clarified and completed.

People make their own decisions and all decisions can be changed, no matter how early in life they were made – As young children, we make decisions based on how to best survive in a world dominated by our family setting. Yet these decisions are based on an incomplete view of how the world works and they’re hard to ‘reality-test’. As adults, when we follow strategies based on these early decisions our behaviours can feel dissatisfying or even self-defeating. But we can change. After gaining insight into those old patterns, those old decisions, we can make new ones which invite more effective ways of relating and being in the world.

Based on these three assumptions there are two basic principles of TA;

Using Contracts – When we work together we each take responsibility for what it is we are seeking to achieve.

Open Communication – Both client and practitioner have full information about what is happening in their work. To help with this TA keeps language simple and ideas easy to share.


How the TA World is organised

TA has an international structure. The content of TA’s introductory course (TA101) is set by The International TA Association (ITAA) and the European Association for Transactional Analysis (EATA) plays a role in governing more advanced qualifications.

In the UK, The United Kingdom Association Of Transactional Analysis (UKATA) is our national body and organises conferences & examinations as well as publishing the Transactional Analysis Journal (TAJ).