Tuesday 16 April 2019

Salutogenic coaching

Friday's Cumbria Coaching Network meeting, led by Sue Jackson, was on Salutogenic Coaching. (Salutogenesis is a medical approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease (pathogenesis).

The main thesis, based on work with people who have survived stressful change effectively, and the work of Anton Antonowski, is that a Sense of Coherence is a crucial factor.  A sense of coherence reflects a person's view on life, and capacity to respond to stressful and chaotic situations.  Sue works extensively with people who have a diagnosis of cancer, which grounded the work in a particular context.

A sense of coherence has three key components: Comprehension, Meaning, and Management.

Comprehension is essentially cognitive, and is about having adequate cognitive resources available to meet the demands placed on the individual.

Meaning is seen as motivational (think Viktor Frankl); that the demands are worth investing in, leading to a new or adapted frame; it leads the individual to engage with the demands. Management is behavioural, the coping/management strategies the individual engages in, so that stimuli are structured, explicable and predictable.

Thus helping people to develop or strengthen their sense of coherence may involve helping them to reorientate their life perspectives, develop the capacity to respond to stressors, and/or set up a different and balanced path to cope with change.

And there was even a four box model (from the work of Sarah Corrie) for me to add to my collection!  The key issue from that being that if someone is low on both resources and functioning, a referral to therapy is normally more appropriate than coaching.

It was a very stimulating and useful morning; and I am interested in how the Sense of Coherence model maps onto others (such as Bridges' Transition model, and my own ManyStory approach).

Friday 12 April 2019

Another day at the Collegiate...

Yet again, Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment Collegiate Day was profound and thought provoking. We discussed a lot, but I want to focus on just one part of the day.

Nancy is keen to encourage us to explore and expand our understanding of the components of a Thinking Environment. One of the components is Place; and the starting point is that place matters. Place, in fact, is a silent form of appreciation, so where possible, choosing a place that says to people: you matter! is helpful. But Nancy was looking beyond that understanding of place, and thinking about the place where we do our thinking, and the place where we pay attention: that is to say, our bodies. 

So she invited us to think about this question: What is the one thing you know you need to do to ensure that you are saying with your life, "My body matters?"

I was interested in my initial reactions to this question. On the one hand, I was thinking, it's not just my body, but my mind  and my soul, that are important. And on the other, I was feeling a bit complacent: I keep myself fit, exercise well, eat a sensible diet, am moderate in my use of alcohol and caffeine, sleep well, and so on.

But in thinking aloud about the question with a Thinking Partner for a few minutes, I identified four areas that need attention.  One is breathing.  I have long been aware that I have bad habits with regard to breathing, and that particularly affects my singing.  So if I really want to live as though my body matters, I should sort that out.  A second is posture - for the son of an Alexander Technique teacher, I have a remarkably bad habit of slouching; again, something that should be addressed. A third is over-work: I sometimes allow my schedule to get so busy that I practically collapse on my eventual return home from a trip. That, too, is scarcely treating my body as it should be treated. And the fourth is bottling up emotions: I need to find better ways to express and discharge disruptive emotions, rather than ignoring them and pretending that I'm immune to them.

So, from feeling complacent, and that this question wasn't really relevant to me, I moved to a position of insight and commitment: all because someone listened to me thinking out loud for fifteen minutes...

And the question that's intriguing me is about my initial responses to the question. Were they a form of denial, an expression of the lack of importance I attach to my body and how I use it?  And if so, what else am I denying, without knowing that I am doing so?

Wednesday 10 April 2019

What is not discussable?

Recently I was at a talk at a University by a transgender campaigner. This person (let's say Sam as nicely sex-ambiguous name*) made a very articulate and passionate case for a worldview that included the closing down of discussion, adding passionately: ‘I will not debate my right to exist.

Of course, Sam has every right to say such a thing on a university campus. What disturbed me rather more was that Sam was introduced with such a eulogy by a very senior member of the academic community, that it was clear that it would be foolhardy to express any view, or ask any question, that suggested that one did not subscribe to the ‘inclusive’ agenda as propounded.  But of course, nobody was proposing to debate Sam's existence - that was mere rhetoric. What some may have wanted to debate was Sam’s interpretation of Sam's, and others’, thoughts and behaviour (Sam made a very damning accusation of those who disagree with that worldview).

I find this severely problematic for at least two reasons. One is that the whole trans philosophy seems remarkably ill-founded to me. I don’t know what it feels like to be a man - only to be myself, who happens to be a man. I can see many ways in which I conform to some of the stereotypes about manliness, but many others in which I diverge from them. Indeed, as a boy I was subjected to much bullying for not being ‘manly’ enough. Given that, it is far from obvious to me how I could possibly ‘know’ that I was a woman? And I simply do not believe that it is possible to change from a man into a woman - or vice versa.

And that is particularly true, of course, of the young. We know that we all experience emotional turbulence and confusion during puberty and adolescence. The fact that there has been a sudden, massive surge in the number of teenage girls suddenly recognising that they are ‘really’ boys should at least give some pause for thought. Much of the trans agenda, at least as expressed by some activists, seems to me to be about conforming (or not) to stereotypical ideas of masculinity and femininity. Further, we know a lot about the malleability of the brain, and about social contagion. It is not for nothing that journalists and other commentators are very careful about how they report on suicides: social contagion is a real risk.  But some trans activists seem to be weaponising the risk of suicide recklessly, in pursuit of their agenda. 

Moreover, the whole issue of self-identification is profoundly problematic. To say that some may abuse such a system, whether it is men who want access to vulnerable women in hostels (or even prisons) or teenage boys who think sleeping in tents with teenage girls might be appealing, or not-quite-top sportsmen and athletes who see a sudden route to fame and riches, is to say nothing whatsoever about people who genuinely suffer from gender dysphoria. It is merely a reflection on the venality of some people and it is naive in the extreme to suggest that would never happen.

However, to raise these concerns is to be greeted with the accusation of transphobia: the debate is being shut down. Monday's articles in The Times have already resulted in strident accusations of that thought-crime.

And that is my second problem. I may well be wrong in my scepticism about the trans movement. But if we can’t discuss it in a civilised, intellectual, and coherent way, then I, and doubtless many others, will never be convinced.  We may be frightened into silence (I probably won’t be…) but that is not the same thing - and is in fact very dangerous. And surely, universities, of all places, should be where such issues should be discussed and debated. But so often, in an effort to show how inclusive they are, they have signed up with no intellectual scrutiny to the Stonewall agenda - one that many see as profoundly problematic on this topic. And then, discussion is stifled, as the academic at Bath found, who wanted to research (from a sympathetic viewpoint) those who detransitioned, and was prevented for doing so, because it might bring the institution into disrepute.

The stakes are high. If I am right, then there is a real risk that significant numbers of children are undergoing life-changing surgery, resulting in a life-long dependence on medication, sterility, and little likelihood of relief to their real and profound emotional and psychological distress. If I am wrong, then of course I should be educated - but by real research and evidence-based argument, not by a strident rhetoric, and accusations that I am a bigot for asking honest questions.

* I refrain from using any personal pronouns or other gender-specific language in this account, as on the one hand, I don’t want to be bullied into seeming to subscribe to an ideology that I do not share, but on the other hand, do not wish to be offensive. In passing, I note that in another verbal sleight of hand, ‘preferred’ pronouns are in fact being made compulsory pronouns…