Diversity and Puberty and Shout-outs, oh my!
Last month, I was lucky enough to attend the final ‘Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity Workshop’ of 2021 hosted by Meg-John Barker. The purpose of the workshop was for counsellors and other mental health professionals to expand, understand and challenge our awareness and assumptions of GSR characteristics in our clients.
One of the understandings which sits at the core of the workshop (and also Meg-John’s most excellent BACP resource) is the recognition that most of us will fall into ‘normative’, ‘marginalised’ or ‘invisible’ categories with regards to our GSR characteristics. ‘Normative’ is interpreted as being perceived to be ‘the norm’ by modern day Western society’s ‘standards’, ‘marginalised’ applies to characteristics that were perhaps ‘invisible’ but have now become more ‘acceptable’ to modern day Western society and ‘invisible’ relates to characteristics that generally are not recognised or do not have a distinctive presence in modern day Western society. In one of the workshop exercises participants were asked to identify which GSR characteristics aligned with which categories and what assumptions, awareness and understanding we had in relation to the experience of the world and specifically counselling, GSR clients may have. The learning for counsellors that evolves from this exercise is in my opinion invaluable and I urge you to take a look at Meg-John’s resource to develop your own understanding of this area too!
You’re probably by now getting a clear sense that I am really passionate about the importance of GSRD awareness amongst counsellors and within the counselling profession and it may not surprise you that this was the second time in 2021 that I have attended this workshop, I love it that much. Second time round though, as well as building on my learning from the previous workshop; of how important GSRD awareness is (oh give it a rest Will – they’ve got the picture!), two other thoughts occurred to me.
The first thought, which arose out of a discussion about how where we grow up, in my case Yorkshire, contributes to defining our relationship with GSRD and our own GSR characteristics, centres on puberty and the potential it has for being a great leveller or at least the memories of it.
Whatever characteristics we demonstrate as adults and whatever category that puts us into, we are all likely to have experienced puberty and I would suggest that for the vast majority of us adults, the process was a tricky one, full of challenges and confusions. In fact I’d go as far as to say that everyone will have at least once felt like they have been marginalised, treated as invisible or distinctly not the norm (whatever that means when you’re a teenager) during this time. Of course, I don’t deny that some people’s experiences will be vastly more psychologically impacting than others but if we consider it as a spectrum of experience, we all fall somewhere on it and I think, that it’s likely we’re more clustered together than we’re ever aware of at the time. So whilst it’s often the last thing we want to remember, remembering this when someone is struggling with their GSR characteristics, understanding that we too will have had at least a moment of confusion or upset, could lead us all to demonstrate some unity and compassion when that person needs it the most.
The other thought that occurred to me, apart from how fascinating GSRD is (stop being such a Stan Will!), is my response to something Meg-John suggested when discussing how counsellors who primarily identify with the ‘normative’ category can support peer counsellors who primarily identify with the ‘marginalised’ and ‘invisible’ categories. They encouraged showing support through “solidarity and standing alongside”. This got me thinking about the practice run by Luan Baines-Ball, of which I have been an associate counsellor since March 2020. Luan’s practice is synonymous with diversity, a very important consideration for me when I was looking to connect with peers and establish my private practice. When I reflect on Meg-John’s words, I reflect on how Luan and my peers have exemplified these words in the practice, in our professional development and in our commitment to supporting the needs of GSRD clients in Leicester and Leicestershire. I feel proud to show solidarity and stand alongside such a diverse team and look forward to continuing the learning and client work in this area for years to come.
And with that, I think it’s time to watch The Wizard of Oz…again.