"The Spurlock Effect..." 7th April 2014

posted Apr 16, 2014, 7:54 PM by Christian Billington

It felt like a long trip home from the ACA Hawaii convention this past week. My red eye allowed me time to think, to reflect and plan. While others slept, I contemplated my take home messages and in this case message.

The first keynote speaker, a humble humanitarian and super-sized filmmaker by the name of Morgan Spurlock offered a strong message that felt personal to me. Morgan delivered a presentation that was essentially his story; his beginnings and the progression of his passions, the challenges and triumphs of the work he has undertaken and the pertinent issues his work has raised.  Morgan openly displayed his emotions largely through tales surrounding his family, his first kiss, life and death and his gratitude for all of the wonderful individuals he has in his life. Each person has offered him a gift and he has embraced these teachings and shaped his life, as he would like it to be. Morgan left the audience with a take home message that I may never forget. Its power and simple complexity are with me as I practice, as I write and as I listen to my clients. “Share your scars,” is what he said, which is what we ask our clients to do all day long.

There is vulnerability in this message, to put your ‘scars’ out there takes courage because there are no guarantees of how you and your story will be received. There is a connecting power for us all and perhaps most of all, there is a challenge. A challenge to show yourself, who you are, what has hurt you, what has made you happy, what has shaped you... It felt to me like a keep it real, be genuine, be authentic, be human acknowledgement.  I have a lot of gratitude for this message and this reminder that we are all in this world together. That we all endure, triumph and fail at times in life.

Listening to Morgan speak, like previous great speakers I have heard before, I felt a connection. His stories felt real. They felt relatable. I too shared a teacher that changed my life, I remember my first kiss with such detail, I have had ideas rejected and supported, and I have felt the sadness and pain of loss when I lost my own grandma (my, ‘Toots,” if you will). When we share ourselves, our stories and experiences, it offers commonality and vicarious teaching moments.  Sharing offers a common bond and this can be therapeutic moving a long way towards developing the all-important therapeutic relationship we share with those we work with. This relationship is the essence and most important facet of how I practice, which is perhaps why this message resonated with me so greatly. While the pros and cons of self-disclosure and blurred boundaries are well taught, his talk reminded me that there is fallibility within us all and we all struggle sometimes, (yes even therapists). This feels importantly universal and yet, for the most part we share so little of ourselves. Why?

            In the most powerful and affecting presentations I watched in Hawaii there was a common thread. The presenter shared something of himself or herself; they told stories of success and challenge in their lives and in practice and these anecdotes have stayed with me. Our stories, our lives are unique to each of us and there is an incredible power in those moments when things are radiant and in those periods in all of our journeys when things get dark and we feel alone and this was captured in this personal key note presentation and I am grateful for that.

            So as you consider, “The Spurlock Effect,” think about your own story and your own scars. Then ask yourself what am I going to do with them?

I have started a 'tweet.'

posted Feb 8, 2014, 9:25 PM by Christian Billington


This is my handle. My goal is to offer up articles on general therapy, couples therapy and grief and loss. I will also add in what i hope are interesting stories and the occassional funny post too.

Getting Paid... (Well sort of) (11/11/2011)

posted Nov 15, 2013, 7:11 PM by Christian Billington

“If you love the work you do then you never have to work a day in your life…” This phrase sounds like a multi-generational war cry from parents to their children. Almost like a shrouded warning to pick a career that you enjoy and stick with it. Sadly, for most the reality is not quite so simple. The majority of us will have several careers and positions during our lives and too often, loving what you do becomes secondary to getting paid.

With growing unemployment and fiscal concerns plaguing the United States, I spent this past week considering the term ‘psychic salary,’ and what it means to me. I was first introduced to the term two years ago. At that time it was described to me as the part of the work you undertake that cannot be equated in financial terms - almost like “job satisfaction” if you will. A recent blog I posted received a wonderful comment. The commenter posted she had found her ‘calling’ in counseling and was so pleased that she had done this, despite a much lighter pay check at the end of the month. I could tell from the tone of her posting that this individual was happy with her career choice. There was something there that I relate to; that feeling of satisfaction from a job well done.

If I wanted to make money, I could have chosen from many different careers. Counseling in a sense found me because of my fondness for conversation and connecting with people, as addressed in an earlier blogs. For me, work has never really been about the money although economics is a necessary concern for all of us. The ‘psychic salary’ sounded like some sort of mystical entity when I first considered it and to be honest it still does at times. Looking back my first experience with this idea was when I was a paramedic, I awoke before my alarm and was so excited and keen to go to work and be there helping people through long shifts and often difficult times. Money did not buy that feeling, I did not awake excited and alert because I was going to get paid. Currently, working full time, balancing a paying job and my therapeutic case load has made me consider at a greater depth this career path of counseling that I have chosen. Just reading the blogs and comments that get posted in our virtual world makes me feel like the therapist is a very special person indeed. Arguably for the majority, the fondness of the counseling we undertake every day is a fulfilling proposition. If necessary, I imagine we would probably show up for work and continue serving our clients without the salary - provided of course the bills, homes, vacations, meals, lifestyle and necessities that those dollars pay for were not such an inextricable part of living. That says a lot about who counselors are at their core and just how grand this ‘psychic salary’ is within our profession.

If the money were to disappear tomorrow would you still show up? I think many of us would, because it is not about the money. It’s about the connection, the ideal of helping people function better, the facilitation and processing of conversation, the re-writes of past traumas, the role playing, the research, the interventions, the planning and the shared experience. This is the magnitude of the impression created by the things we love in the work we do, this philosophical essence that cannot be calibrated or seen or found at the bottom of your monthly statements. It is about so much more than getting paid. This is what ‘psychic salary’ means to me.

The entire counseling master’s degree and where I know find myself has been incredibly enjoyable and long may this continue. It has allowed me to increase my ‘psychic salary,’ to appreciate this work, to follow my ‘calling’ (just like my commenting peer) and feel fulfilled at the end of the day. It has, if you will, made my mundane paying job tolerable for the moment because one day I will be fully licensed and from that day onwards I will never have to work another day in my life, because I love counseling. Maybe this excitement is a product of my naiveté and youth but it’s also a feeling I get inside. A psychic sense that this is something my heart, body and mind want me to do.

So how much did you not get paid this month? Was it worth it?

Turn Me On... (10/4/2011)

posted Oct 31, 2013, 2:41 PM by Christian Billington

Please forgive me, the title is deliberately misleading. I wanted to get your attention and hold it for the five minutes it takes you to read my blog and the ten minutes that (I hope) you spend considering the idea I present. The title, ‘Turn me off…” would have been more apt, but would that have encouraged you to read this?
This week, I made a rookie mistake. And I’ll bet you’ve done something similar yourself or you know someone who has. I made a mental note before I went into a session to switch off my cell phone. The session was shaping up to be a particularly emotional event where my co-therapist and I planned to directly address the undeniable “elephant’ in the room.” I knew as soon as I sat down in session that my phone was in my left pocket, still armed to ring, which it does often. I felt horrible, unprofessional and distracted. I hoped it would remain silent and harmless in my pocket, but I feared the worst. Of course my fear was well founded and about forty minutes into this emotive session the sonar beep that is my ring tone sounded. Mortified, I fumbled in my pocket, simultaneously apologizing and hitting every button and screen I could in an attempt to silence the monster. It was embarrassing and something I really despise – when a phone rings during a meeting, seminar or in class. Thankfully it did not affect the session and I apologized for my oversight.
I commute to practicum by bus, which allows me time to think and process. I thought about my phone ringing during the therapy session. I was also able to observe how connected and distracted my fellow passengers are most of the time and this got me thinking. Practically every person I observe walking, sitting, bicycling and even driving is staring into their phone and tapping away: selecting songs, checking emails, calling someone, sending a text, or dropping plump, little exploding birds onto angry green pig’s faces. Additionally, laptops, palm pilots, tablets and gaming consoles all connect us to this virtual world through the internet, at the touch of a button. It is amazing to behold this easy, instant access to information, friends and news. The world at your finger tips is quite simply awe inspiring. But at what cost does this come to us? (And just how many accidents have been caused by this connectivity explosion this past ten years?) Being that connected and available at any moment has, in my opinion, cost society a great deal of intimacy and interaction. And by the way, when was the last time you received a hand written letter?
I am guilty also. Waking with this blog percolating in my sleepy head I reached warily for my night stand, past the home phone, past the laptop and finally to my iphone. I brush the screen a few times, past the numerous apps until I find the notepad and tap type in a few sentences and notes, lest I forget them. I wake up and the first thing I do is plug myself back into the social network and my media apps. Doesn’t everybody? For some it is probably the last thing they do before they go to sleep as well. Perhaps I have not fully succumbed yet, as I remain unconnected to the productivity sapping – but fun - Facebook.
Part of self care, I have learned, is knowing when to stop, when to disconnect and lay things down. The fact that our careers and lives can be carried with us and accessed for the most part through the internet is a consummate reminder of how fast our world is moving. Clients so far in practicum have presented because they are overwhelmed with emotions, partners, careers, school, families, activities, society and global community in which we all live. What would happen if they turned off their phones and internet access? If they literally disconnected? Would it help these clients to be alone with their own thoughts and emotions, disconnected from the circus and pressures for at least part of the day? I have been purposely disconnecting for the past six months and it has helped me immensely. As it turns out, free time can be spent with partners, families, out in nature or whatever you desire. Note the same is true for our clients as well. Freedom from constant connectivity even allows me to sleep better.  
I think periodic unplugging is a simple tool to protect not only ourselves, but also the clients we serve. I understand skeptics thinking “Now just hold on a minute, disconnecting from what has become the social ‘norm’ is like asking someone who likes caffeine – a lot - to give up Starbucks or asking a teenager to ‘act normally for heaven’s sake’ (whatever that looks like) - it’s not impossible but it’s sure hard.” For most of us the prospect of disconnecting raises our anxiety because we have learned to feel comfortable checking email, reading blogs, tweeting and texting from our laptops and cell phones. I have found that with time, my anxiety over being alone, with only myself has declined dramatically, and the benefits I have reaped from being disconnected are well worth the trouble. With that said, try it and see how you feel before you promote the idea with clients. Would this simple idea really exact such a positive effect upon your client’s lives? Well the answer is up to them and how strict or flexible they want to be with it. I have tried this one simple idea and set the boundary of not checking emails after seven at night and not reading or responding to text messages, calls or using the phone past six at night and it has helped me. I also stay ‘unplugged’ through the weekend and have been able to read and hand write letters, journal entries and be comfortable with “work” waiting until Monday morning. I feel healthier and better prepared to help my clients. So consider disconnecting you might be glad you did.
Turning off for now…(until next time).

Conversations With Strangers (9/27/2011)

posted Oct 10, 2013, 7:58 PM by Christian Billington   [ updated Oct 10, 2013, 8:26 PM ]

I am not sure if it’s the innate counselor in me or just the social extrovert I was raised to be, but I seem to get into brief and yet scintillating conversations with complete strangers from all walks of life on a daily basis. And truth be known, I really enjoy it.
        Is this fondness of conversation and connection a common theme in counselors’ beginnings? Did everyone who frequents the ACA web site grow up wanting to be a counselor? Are you sitting there, reading this blog, nodding your head, smiling and knowing exactly what I am talking about? I certainly did not grow up with a dream of being a therapist despite the cool tweed jackets, unkempt grey beard, pipe and old worn leather couches (“Tell me how you’re feeling...”) that I understood counseling to be.
        So how exactly did we all decide to be counselors? I am sure each of us has their own reason, just as we have our own unique personalities, experiences and world views. My own motivation is clear, and best captured in my opening sentences above: I love making connections with other human beings. Certainly, in my experience as a paramedic, the art of conversation – and yes I do think it is an art form, with its own skill set - and offering comfort were key facets of the position. And while counseling is clearly about a great deal more than just good conversation, I can’t help but wonder if those random short conversations at bus stops, walking to work and traveling in elevators all led toward my current MA study, to the practicum experience that I currently revel in and to my future work as a counselor.
        How wonderful is a career where we get to grow as humans and as professionals and share our experiences with others? And instead of brief conversations, like ships passing in the night, we are encouraged to develop therapeutic relationships with clients to a deeper level that benefits not only the client but it teaches us at the same time? Understanding the self and why we are as we are is a key foundational principle of counseling and something that I have spent a long time processing and considering these past four years. I am a better person for it.
        So what brings you to our profession?
        And welcome.

Testing, Testing. 1,2,3.

posted Oct 9, 2013, 7:27 PM by Christian Billington   [ updated Oct 10, 2013, 7:49 PM ]

Hello, do you fancy a cuppa?

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