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Monday, May 29, 2006

Doing Counseling Psychology in the Philippines

Well, you might be asking how I came into this field? I am a Filipino SVD (Divine Word Missionaries, its Latin name is Societas Verbi Divini) working in the seminary. Way back 1991, I got the rare chance of attending a CPE or Clinical Pastoral Exposure during summer in Taiwan. I was a first year Theology student then, and I've been feeling like there was a need to get into a deeper self-awareness. I was in touch with my feelings, but I did not feel at home with them simply as I did not know my feelings. Hence, one lunch time, Fr. Lou, a Maryknoll priest was at table with my prefect, and I overheard their conversation. I thought and prayed about it, and then asked if I could do that on summer. (They were not talking about me. I just heard CPE, and I thought it was what I wanted.)

The process was simple: we visited the patients at a nearby hospital during afternoons. Then we had to submit our verbatim reports. By verbatim reports I mean the transcript of our conversations with the patients we visited. It was actually like my brain had to replay the whole conversation, and there was every effort to be faithful to what I was saying and what I thought i heard from the patient. We had to submit them to our supervisor, and then every morning on weekdays, one of the six among us in the group had a chance to have that verbatim report talked about or "scrutinized." Yes it felt like being in the hot seat, and none of us suspected that the verbatim report was the field on which we would be "playing out" ourselves. I mean too, that through the verbatim report, a lot of our inner movements and processes which we rarely get to be conscious of we get to touch and encounter. I remember a lot of self-realizations during those weeks (CPE was a 6-week program). I never even thought of it as a "healing" process. Little did I realize that something was growing in me.

When I resumed studies in September for my second year in Theology, I was overwhelmed by comments from my classmates telling me "Law Gu, ni bien la!" ("Law pronounced as lao, not lo" is a monicker among friends, and Gu happens to be my Chinese family name. Hence, the sentence reads: "Old Gu, you have changed!" ) I was surprised and then I asked for some qualitative statements to back up their observations. Among those which I remembered and helped me a lot was this: that I have become more "Dz Dzai!" meaning I was there, now, the self was a transparent one, not somewhere hiding in a feeling or thought, not scared, not pretentious, no defenses, just me, real and vulnerable, open and free. Their comment really boosted my sense of self that I virtually recommended the program for all those among us who would be priests. Maybe I was speaking too much because by the end of that school year, CPE was required in the subject on the Sacrament of Anointing, one of the 7 sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church of which I have become a priest since 1993.

When I had to come back to the Philippines in 1995 because my student visa couldn't be renewed and the government then was not ready to give me a missionary visa instead (they were trying to put some control into the onslaught of foreign workers and other foreigners coming to Taiwan to do missionary work but on the side they were teaching English, and yes, it was a lucrative job then, maybe until now!), I was sent for studies. One of my former companions in the Overseas Training Program was in De La Salle University working as a counselor while studying Counseling Psychology. He was the one who toured me around the school, and eventually, maybe out of the feeling of being totally alone and a stranger in the school, I chose to take the doctoral program in Counseling Psychology, majoring in the Clinical setting. There were at that time other settings including the School Setting, the Industrial Setting, and in a few years, they added the Community Setting. I took a full load, and in three years time I finished the course work, and took the comprehensive exams which, thanks God, I easily passed. Until now, since 1998, I have been a Ph.D. candidate while some of my classmates have defended their dissertations, thereby becoming Doctors. While I sometimes feel a little "lesser" than them, the experience of some PhD classamtes asking my help for example in the fields I have been working into like Clinical Assessment for Child Custody, for example, or which test to use for what type of assessment, makes me feel am one like them. But of course, PhD is PhD! No feeling can take its place, no matter who affords me the chance!

Anyway, that's how I got into this field.

Recounting how I loved doing counseling psychology work, I remember Dr. Rayco, the guy who toured me around DLSU who was so generous with his time then that he immediately brought me to one Center for Sexually Abused Girls. That started my desire to get to understand the inner person of victims, and my CPE experience came back.

Hence, after my first two terms in the course work, when we were required to do our Practicum in Assessments I & II, I went back to that Center and spent half of the required hours with them, and did the other half in my Professor's clinic where I got to practice a lot of what I learned in class. With her continued supervision and inputs during class supervision, the whole task of doing clinical assessment became so enlivening. After I finished my required practicum hours, my supervisor asked me to stay and work with her. This time it was "professional." I got paid for the work. I went there every Saturday, and was given case loads. I got to master some of the tests we used there. I did the test administration, scoring and interpretation, clinical interview and integration report which the supervisor signed. Most of the tasks I did there were forensic cases for psychological incapacity, meaning the reports I wrote were submitted to the courts where annulment cases were tried. While I may not have signed my name in the report, but the whole report was mine, "as commissioned" though. Of course, my supervisor read and edited the whole piece before she signed the final copies that were printed. One of these copies was for the client to whom I gave an oral feedback after they read the report. The other was for the office files, while the other was sent to the judge wherever the said case was being tried.

There were times when children were given to me for assessment. I remember one particular client who was so hyperactive that I decided to "invest" in him, if only to get the needed data for my assessment report. I virtually bribed him so I could measure his behavior, or even just get to talk with him and see if he was capable of focusing or being with someone else. I remember my managing director (who was then my Supervisor) congratulating me for the efforts although she did not refund me for the "investment." But I just told myself, "I pay in school to learn. Why can't I spend this 'tuition' with this client?"

Since I resided here in the seminary, I took the chance of getting my "clients" for class requirements some of the seminary workers who were available or willing to be videotaped or done a report on, and even some of the seminarians. I remember one of the requirements was a videotape for my Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Each one of us in class was required to demonstrate one of the teachniques in NLP. I did "Anchoring" and it was in this technique where I had seen for myself the "magic" of NLP, as the main proponent in the Philippines said in her book with that title "The NLP Magic." Another requirement was in the use of TAT which I did as an adjunct in the counseling sessions. The seminarian on whom I tried using the test was a referred one. He was at a time of his life when he seemed so angry at the world, especially his prefect. He was simply too rough and cutting in his retorts, that when he was referred he came to me and I suggested we use TAT to get to understand his inner dynamics. It was in this particular case where I learned that the task in TAT may also open up in the individual an occasion to learn about oneself. It's as if after having done the TAT, an internal "re-arrangement" had begun in him. In my last session with him, he reported that his father came o him in a dream. The abreaction throughthe TAT atsk completion led him to some realization that made him cooler, but also more aware of his passions in life. In time, what I could do started to "catch fire," so to say. Other workers and seminarians simply started coming to me on their own.

One Sunday, I was coming out from my room after my 8:30 AM Mass. It was about about 10AM, and some seminarians were calling for another student priest who was unfortunately not there to respond to the call. I went as requested to the crypt. There I saw a girl in hysteria. Without any footwear, in her shorty shorts and white t-shirt, entangled hair and sweaty body, she was close to the door of the sacristy and claiming the the devil was coming in to possess her. I asked one of the seminarians who happened to be her brother for her name. Then I did some "reality check" by calling out her name. She responded, I introduced myself, and then asked if she could still recognize where she was and pointing at the the tabernacle I asked what it was supposed to be. She said she was in a chapel, and that Jesus was in the tabernacle. So I told her, "then, don't panic because the devil cannot get near you in this place. Jesus is here, and so is your brother, (then the brother also said her boyfriend was by her side), and we will be with you." Then I mirrored to her the situation she was in: she looked tired, and I asked her to simply take a deep breath, and with NLP-approach, I asked her to take another deep breath, and in a second, she was asleep. Her boyfriend had her in his arms in a Pieta-like scene. Then I asked her brother to have her lie down on the last pew, made sure there was sufficient ventilation, and allowed to sleep for as long as she needs. He could also request for a guest room where she can stay while asleep. Later, her brother disclosed to me that she was actually a rape victim who was trying to rebuild her life by preparing for the board exams. The exam date was nearing in a few days, and she must have been stressed out by the review, and she freaked out.

That particular event made me temporarily say that panic and hysteria of that kind (claiming possession or threat of being possessed) may not necessarily be a true case of demonic possession but a temporary psychotic attack, a "demonization" of her victimizer/s.

I shall continue with this topic in my next blogs. Thanks for reading. God bless

Friday, May 26, 2006

Modernizing Counseling in the Philippines

It was a confrere in Italy who gave me this idea of opening a blog spot. I actually feel overwhelmed by this new thing. However, upon seeing the possibility for it becoming a forum for discussion, I gave in to it. Thoughts develop when written down, and especially grow and deeper when there is someone on the other end listening and interacting. This site is still under construction, and hope to see its first issue in a few days.