Lowering the gaze There are times in life when trying to look too far ahead can be overwhelming … especially at the beginning of a new year.
Sometimes it serves us better to lower our gaze a little and look at what’s in front of us … this week, this day, this hour even … that’s enough.
When something feels too much in a given moment, it usually is. And that’s when we need to listen to ourselves. Take a gentle breath, and just focus on the next step … one step at a time, just for now.
- 2 January 2022
Hope …. the greatest gift of all.
Hope for change, hope for release, hope for better. Wishing everybody a safe and peaceful Christmas and a hope-full New Year.
- 23 December 2021
Growing up (and away) from narcissistic parenting Every child deserves and has the right to feel safe, loved and nurtured (this isn’t just a throw-away comment, I believe this to my core). But it’s not like that for everybody. Being the adult child of a narcissistic parent working through their experience can be deeply distressing, confusing, upsetting. As with most counselling presenting issues, recovery will ultimately be about acceptance. This doesn’t mean that we have to like something, but rather that we are no longer hoping for it to be different. Some points to maybe think about if you are the adult child of a narcissistic parent:
A narcissistic mother is arguably likely to be more damaging than a narcissistic father (see next point).
Society views mothers as kind, loving, giving, benevolent (Mother Earth, Mother Nature ….) but not all mothers are like this. Because of this societal expectation, the child is likely to feel shame and deny their own experience.
A narcissistic parent is incapable of feeling for others, including their own child (possibly the worlds greatest taboo?).
Blockers to recovery are likely to include the adult child gaslighting themselves (ie, I wasn’t abused, I had food and clothes, what am I even complaining about …..).
It can help with the process to look at how, when and why that person became narcissistic. Not for excuses but for explanations.
How did you survive? Who did meet your core needs?
What does your inner child want to say about what happened to you?How would your adult self now respond to your inner child?
What do you want to say to your parent (within a safe environment)?
There are more types of narcissist than just the archetypal ‘grandiose’.
A final note: Being the adult child of a narcissistic parent isn’t easy. But it is really the parent who needs to be pitied (right word?) because they will never get to experience love and relationships and connection in the way that others do. And that’s quite sad really, isn’t it? - 19 December 2021
Being on page with hopes and expectations Just about the two most important questions during a first counselling session … what’s brought you here now and what are you hoping to achieve? It’s important to know what someone (or a couple) is hoping for, and what their expectations might be, as you begin working together as partners in this therapeutic process. Sometimes, as clients, we have a very clear idea of what we need or what we’re hoping for, and sometimes we don’t (and sometimes it changes over time) and that’s okay. Each client is unique, so too their presenting issues. With these two questions explored we can then get to work, in whatever way feels best for that person..
- 20 November 2021
The cornerstones of counselling, irrespective of age
Working in counselling with children and young people can be very different to working with adults, not least because few children and young people step forward themselves to ask for support (the suggestion of counselling and the first contact will generally come from a parent, a teacher or a GP). But once good introductions have been made and trust is established (and, critically, the child or young person themselves has decided that they’d like to continue), the principals are the same … a safe, confidential place to explore whatever it is that is going on for that person (young or older), through whatever means works best for them, with the aim of achieving a positive outcome. Empathy, respect, honesty … the three corner stones of counselling, whatever the age.
- 1 November 2021
Guiding our own journey When we first come to counselling, we may wonder if we are about to receive advice, or guidance, or even be told what to do to improve the situation that has brought us to therapy. In fact, what will be offered is something far more profound and useful … the opportunity to reconnect with who we really are, what we really think and how we really feel. In life, we can lose touch with ourselves as we travel through experiences and relationships. As a result, the real crux of who we are can lay dormant under everything that has passed before. Uncovering and reconnecting with ourselves is just about the most valuable thing a person can do for themselves, because from that standpoint we can then guide ourselves.
- 24 October 2021
Healing from the inside out
We can't erase what has happened, but we can work towards leaving a well-healed scar rather than an open or active wound. Talking helps.
- 13 October 2021
The importance of smaller steps One of my favourite images . Sometimes it can feel like our steps forward are so small that they feel inconsequential and dispiriting. But they count, these small steps. They mount up, and get us to where we need to be.
A step forward is a step forward.
- 25 September 2021
The voice that speaks inside
Never a truer word spoken … we are each our own expert in ourselves. Only we can know what’s right for us (or wrong), and only we can know how to shift ourselves out of something (a situation, a feeling) towards a more positive and authentic outcome. But sometimes things are cloudy. Sometimes circumstances get in the way of us really being able to listen to ourselves. Sometimes other people have too much power or influence. Sometimes we are in denial. Sometimes we’re just stuck. Counselling is not about guiding or advising or telling. It’s about really listening. It’s about offering back what’s been heard. It’s a relationship in which space and time, thought, reflection and understanding are shared so that greater clarity might be achieved and a greater ability to ‘just listen to the voice that speaks inside’.
- 19 September 2021
Taking the first step to recovery Whenever I meet somebody new for the first time in my work, I am always aware of the courage that that first step is likely to have taken (as it did for me when I first met my counsellor many years ago). New clients are likely to feel apprehensive and nervous, especially if they have not experienced therapy before. What will the counsellor be like? (in my case, particularly un-scary and human, I think). What will they ask me to talk about? (nothing that you don’t want to). Will I be judged? (nope). Will I feel powerless (no, you’re entirely in the driving seat). When that first leap of faith has been taken, the benefits on the other side can be incalculable. But I digress. The point is that if you’re not feeling great, talk to someone - anyone. Family member, friend, GP, counsellor, employer. Make that first step.
- 10 September 2021
Stop, feel, listen
Often we can be too close to our feelings … they can be overwhelming and suffocating and claustrophobic. Pausing, stepping back, and asking ourselves ‘What’s going on for me here?’ can help. Feelings are important, they’re trying to tell us something. Sometimes we just need to stop and listen.
- 13 August 2021
‘The sense of one’s own value or worth as a person’
Three thoughts here … (1) self-worth is about valuing from the inside, not about relying on external validation from others. (2) if we take all of our self-worth from just one aspect of our lives (ie physical appearance, or academic or professional achievement, or parenting or whatever) .. we potentially leave ourselves wide open to placing too much pressure on that one area, and ourselves. Far healthier to draw from a variety of pools. (3) if we suspect that self-worth (or lack of) is an issue for us, it’s worth looking at - and challenging - any negative life experiences which may have led to entrenched negative (and wrong) core beliefs that we hold about ourselves …. and the unhelpful rules, assumptions and behaviours that we have adopted to unhelpfully support them, often subconsciously.
- 4 August 2021
Accepting just how it is, before positive change Everybody who comes to counselling seeks change … be that with an aspect of themselves, a feeling, a situation, a relationship. But first we need to accept exactly how it is. Then we can move forward.
- 24 July 2021
Now working with couples and other relationships
Be they romantic (married or otherwise) or friendships or familial (siblings, parent/adult child) or work based … all relationships have the potential for difficulty, conflict, misunderstanding, assumptions, stuckness, troubled times. Talking helps, because it offers the opportunity for all sides to be heard, and deeper understanding to be achieved and felt. From this standpoint, better decisions are made moving forward.
Pic: Kristina Litvjak - 11 July 2021
A safe place to explore, at whatever stage of life
In many ways, working with young people in counselling is very different to working with adults, not least because the decision to seek support perhaps hasn’t been theirs initially. But once the relationship has been gently established, once trust and understanding is felt, the process is the same ... a safe place to explore whatever it is that is going on, and in whichever way and at whatever pace works best for that person (young or older).
Pic: Mentatdgt - 19 June 2021
Hold tight, healing isn't lost
Healing isn’t linear. One of the most useful concepts in therapy, most often shared when a client feels that the progress they’ve made has disappeared. Healing is rarely (if ever) linear. Dips, plateaus, curve balls are normal, human, part of recovery. Whats important to know is that the healing that has taken place already is not lost. It is banked away, ready for the upturn.
- 12 June 2021
Finding the right conditions
We all, us humans, have an inbuilt motivational drive to be the best we can be - whatever that looks like for us individually. But sometimes life can get in the way. My favourite counselling story: Carl Rogers, the father of humanistic counselling, noticed as a child a sack of potatoes in the basement of his family home which had started to sprout. The seedlings were weak and pale and mis-shapen because the conditions for their growth weren’t good. Little soil, little moisture and limited light from only one tiny external window. But still they grew, despite the conditions they found themselves in. Rogers built his model for therapeutic working from this one childhood experience. So, what happens if we’ve come from or find ourselves in unfavourable conditions for good mental health and growth? That’s where counselling comes in. Rogers went on to discover and prove that all that was needed in order for a person in difficulty or distress to experience positive change for themselves were three things within a therapeutic working relationship: empathy, unconditional positive regard (respect) and congruence (genuineness) With these optimal conditions in place, positive change grows and thrives.
Pic: qinghill - 18 May 2021
Give yourself a fighting chance, stop beating yourself up
It’s not unusual to find that a client in therapy - who is already dealing with a difficult situation - is also busy beating themselves up at the same time. This wonderful illustration depicts this phenomenon beautifully I think. So, if you suspect that you are making life tougher for yourself than need be, in an already tough time, please stop (I know, easier said than done at times) ... or at least be mindful that that’s what might be happening, and perhaps also be aware that this is a little like fighting a battle with your hands tied behind your back. Give yourself a fighting chance.
Illustration: @secretunicornart - 17 April 2021
Beat the bully
Anorexia ... arguably the most disgusting of mental health conditions (and certainly the one responsible for the most deaths), where the sufferer lives constantly with the most abusive of partners in their own mind and body. Important things to know and remember: (a) it IS an illness, (b) it is not the sufferers fault, and is not deserved, (c) it will start - or rather, sneak in - as a ‘friend’, a support mechanism which apparently offers comfort and control, but there will always come a point where ‘servant becomes master’*. Important to discover the illness’s root, and what ultimately triggered it ... but more so to work out what’s maintaining it. If the drain is being circled, please seek support.
- 12 April 2021
Allow in the freedom and space that comes with [unavoidable and wonderful] imperfection
‘Good enough’ was the term coined by paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the ‘50s to describe what he felt was the best kind of mothering ... loving, attentive and consistent but with enough freedom and space to allow children to grow and develop and find their own identities and independence. I love the term ‘good enough’, not just in relation to parenting but all other life roles too ... partner, spouse, friend, sibling, employee, child. I remember clearly the first time I heard it in training. It sounded wonderful ... the thought that being ‘perfect’ might not (after all) be necessary, and may even (in fact) be detrimental. The truth is that we don’t have to be perfect ... I’m pretty sure it’s impossible, and whose definition are we working to anyway? But if we’re still left feeling as if we have to be [perfect], that’s where the work is. - 24 March 2021
If you can't beat it .... maybe learn to accept it
Anxiety has its uses, just like all other emotions. It’s part of our survival kit, there to alert us if and when something is wrong. But for some of us it can feature pretty much constantly as a not so welcome thread that runs through our lives, moving intermittently (and at times seemingly randomly) between low level, moderate and severe. If this is the case, and if attempts to discover its root have been explored, acceptance (as best we can) can be useful. Fighting against it can make it worse. I love this illustration from @what.is.mental.illness because it shines a light on the fact that, as awful as anxiety can feel at times, it can have positive aspects.
- 24 March 2021
Hope is always there ... even if you can't quite see it
A person contemplating suicide doesn’t want to die, they want their pain to end. That person will also, heartbreakingly (and completely wrongly), believe that their loved ones will be better off without them. If you are that person (and you are not alone), please tell someone that you’re struggling. Help is available. Life will get better. Nothing stays the same. Hope is always there, even if you can’t see it just yet ... a bit like sunshine behind thick cloud.
If you haven’t seen it, please watch #OurSilentEmergency #Asktwice @romankemp @bbcthree
Photo: Thomas Koukas - 16 March 2021
Follow your own path
Just because you have been given a life script*, doesn’t mean you have to follow it.
*the way to tell if you have ... if you sense that you are not living authentically, or if there are conditions to someone’s affection and positive regard of you.
- 10 March 2021
Take the hand-break off
Low self esteem can be painful and paralysing. The key to reversing it is finding (a) its root, and (b) what’s maintaining it. Unconditional self acceptance IS possible ... and wonderful.
- 27 February 2021
There's no shame in mental health ... we all have it
We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. It’s whether we are feeling well or poorly - that’s the thing.
- 22 February 2021
Have faith ...
... in yourself, in your abilities, in your passions, and above all that the situation WILL end.
Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
- 14 February 2021
Therapy's just a click away
Don’t suffer in silence ... counselling via Zoom is just as effective as in person. What’s needed: a device, wifi, and an hour of privacy. Once together, it feels as if we’re in the same room. You are not alone
- 3 February 2021
Being aware of what makes you tick
The attachment style that we adopt as a result of our early experiences has a profound affect on how we attach, relate and interact with others throughout our lives. Being aware of our own attachment style (and those of others) - and it’s impact on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours - can often be positively life changing.
- 29 January 2021
Feeling emotionally rubbish ... a universal thing
We all know that men can struggle with mental health just as much as women (why wouldn’t they? we’re all human and life can be tough) ... So why is it that men are still so much less likely to seek support than women? My own experience of working with men - young or older - in counselling is this (and please forgive any gross gender-ism, but we only have so many words here): once they give it a try, and trust is built, men really get therapy and use it well, recognising and valuing a private place to talk and explore what’s going on for them. Take the leap ... it might just be worth it.
- 16 January 2021
To have [therapy] and to hold
Holding space ... the term used in counselling to describe what it means to be metaphorically ‘held’ by your therapist, not just when together but in between sessions and beyond. For the client, this is one of the most valuable aspects of therapy - knowing that somebody else is mentally and emotionally present with you (as well as physically when together); an empathic support free of judgement, and secure in confidentiality.
- 9 January 2021
Hold tight .... ... nothing stays the same ... better times ahead.
- 5 January 2021
Stepping forward lightly
Wondering how everybody is feeling about the approaching New Year ... apprehensive, relieved, fearful, hopeful? Maybe a mixture of all four, or something else entirely? However you’re feeling about 2021, perhaps an approach or mindset of ‘light attachment’ might be helpful ... in other words, trying to take whatever comes each day at a time, without too much expectation or too little hope. A balance between the two. And maybe - unless they work particularly well for you - without the heavy burden of resolutions this January ....
- 30 December 2020 (Photo: Simon Migaj)
The ‘C’ word ... Christmas
For some, the most wonderful time of the year. For others, dreaded. Its one of the ‘big two’ most talked about seasons in the counselling room (alongside summer); both are loaded with the heavy expectation of what we ‘should’ be doing or feeling (have I mentioned my healthy disdain for the 'should' word?). This year, more than any other, wishing everybody a safe, calm, and peaceful Christmas, free from ‘shoulds’. - 24 December 2020
'If you wouldn't say it to a friend, don't say it to yourself'
The way some of us speak to ourselves internally is nothing short of scandalous. If we heard someone talking out loud to another human being like this we’d step in. These internal dialogues (which brings to mind the term once coined by Nigella Lawson: ‘intimate terrorism’) can become very ingrained, and profoundly damaging. The good news is that this type of behaviour can be stopped. But it takes awareness that it is happening, a concerted effort and practice .... and most important of all a decisive decision to stop sabotaging self.
(* Title quote: Jane Travis) - 9 December 2020
Good, clear, open hearted communication is profoundly important in life ... that, and not assuming we know what the other person is thinking or feeling or, for that matter, minding how the other person will respond to our own very real thoughts and feelings. It’s about being in touch with who we are, and being as inline with that in our daily lives and interactions as possible - simply and calmly, adult to adult. Then we all know where we stand .... and that’s the good stuff to work with. - 29 November 2020
Ever decreasing circles
Do you ever feel like you’re going round in circles? Within your own thoughts, relationships, circumstance or behaviours? Coming to counselling is about seeking change, from whatever it is that is causing distress, disharmony or discomfort. Clarity is key, as too is increased self-awareness. And sometimes, after all of that, a leap of faith ... (where the run up can often feel worse than the leap) in order to exit the circle to freedom.
- 14 November 2020
Please yourself (as well as others)
‘People pleasing’ isn’t about being kind, helpful, thoughtful ... it’s about feeling that the needs, cares and thoughts of someone else are more important then our own. If this is the case it’s a good idea to explore levels of self-worth, or the relational ‘conditions’ that have been placed on us by others. Sitting back and asking ourselves ‘what’s that all about? can be useful. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to please, but having to please is a whole different ballgame.
- 7 November 2020
- We've got to go through it
Grief is a bit like the bear hunt .... there’s no way around it, we have to go through it. But how that journey turns out might not be what we expect. There are many models that attempt to explain how people experience and move through grief. Arguably the best known is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s process with its 5 (sometimes 7) stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Important to remember (as Elizabeth herself pointed out) that we don’t necessarily work through these stages sequentially in an orderly fashion; sometimes we skip a stage, some times we don’t experience one of them at all, sometimes we reverse, and sometimes we get stuck. Helpful to know perhaps that healing isn’t always linear and all reactions and feelings are ‘normal’. Whatever the journey, talking helps the processing of this most difficult of human experiences.
- 24 October 2020
No room for judgement
There are times when a client might worry that they are letting their therapist down. This will typically be when someone is wrangling with an inner conflict about how to move forward in their lives, and they fear judgement from the person with whom they have shared private experiences and inner most thoughts. Important to say that judgement has no place in the therapy room. At all. A therapist may quietly wish good things for their client (therapeutic relationships are as real as any other) but will have no view as to what that outcome is. Only the client themselves will know what’s right for them (just as only I can know what’s right for me). What counselling offers is the space and relationship in which a client can explore whatever it is that is going on for them, so they can move from stuckness towards personal resolution, whatever that looks like.
*image Jessica Stock ️
- 15 October 2020
To hear is not necessarily to obey
Gremlins, aka the Poisoned Parrot, aka that little internal voice that hisses and scoffs ‘who do you think you are?’ ‘what makes you think that you are good enough?’ ‘you are not deserving’, ‘give it up!’ (and quite frankly, these are the cleaner, kinder versions). However the Gremlin came to be, its worth knowing two things: (1) he’s worth challenging, and (2) he doesn’t have to be obeyed.
*Carolyn Spring, Reversing Adversity
- 4 October 2020
Are you being served?
How does this serve you? What’s the benefit? Simple thoughts that can be useful when we're wrestling with a situation or a relationship or our own actions when they don't, at some level, sit well with us.
- 26 September 2020
Am I okay with this?
The simplest of questions. When something is bothering us, just asking ourselves ‘Am I okay with this?’ is a very useful way of shaking the stuckness a little. If the answer is: ‘Yes, on balance it’s fine’ - then okay, we’ve explored it, time to encourage ourselves to move on. If the answer is: ‘No, I’m still not okay with this’, the next step is to work out whether there is anything we can do about it. There may be nothing within our power that can be done, or there may be options available to us. The final question to ask ourself is whether we’re actually prepared to do something? Working through this three-tiered framework encourages a little separateness from the problem, greater clarity and a boost to feelings of control and self-empowerment. - 19 September 2020
Finding possible obstructors to 'happiness'
The holy trinity: in no particular order, the three components* that underpin human happiness - (1) meaningful relationships, (2) purpose, (3) physical activity. All three aspects are as important as each other, and worth looking at perhaps if we’re going through a period of low mood and aren’t sure why ..... to see if something is amiss or whether there’s anything out of balance. p.s. just a thought: us humans aren’t meant to be ‘happy’ 24/7; feel free to replace the word ‘happiness’ in the first sentence above with whatever word you’d choose to describe the emotional state you crave most (contentment, at peace, grounded .....), whatever resonates with you.
*University of Liverpool Psychology Professor Peter Kinderman. - 9 September 2020
Being in charge of our emotions, not them over us
Nobody has the power to make us feel anything. Nobody can make us feel ashamed, hurt, angry, sad, upset. It is us who has control over whether we feel something. Full disclosure: this was a tough one for me to get my head around originally. (And just to be clear, I’m not talking about any form of abuse here); how is it possible not to respond automatically with feelings of hurt, anger, shame when someone behaves badly towards us, i.e. within a friendship or a personal relationship or a work situation? And yet it is true. We have a choice. The key is in looking closely at the situation as impartially as we can, and working out what’s really going on for us and why. Is the feeling really deserved? Where is our response to what’s happening coming from? What previous experiences have been triggered? What is the motive behind the action that affected us in the first place? Is it, in fact, ‘their stuff’, and not ours? How much responsibility do we actually need to take? Once we understand ourselves a little better (and where we stand in any given situation), then we have a much better chance of being in control of our emotions - and not them over us. - 3 September 2020
Finding freedom from unhelpful cycles of behaviour
Unpicking how it is that we get ourselves into unhelpful and repetitive patterns of behaviour can be a very effective way of finding a better way forward for ourselves. It’s about working out what the original trigger thought was, then identifying the feeling that came with it, and finally the behaviour that came as a result after that (i.e. what we did next): in short, Thought > Feeling > Behaviour. Another way of looking at it is ABC: (A) Activating event > (B) Belief > (C) Consequence*. It’s a framework that can be applied to so many situations. For instance, thinking that we have been left out of something socially, leading to > feelings of hurt, anger or upset, leading to > rash responses and/or diminished feelings of self-worth. In other words, how we can be complicit in making ourselves feel pretty awful. Break the chain ... look at the situation from a distance .... identify old patterns of Thought > Feeling > Behaviour ... challenge them ... find freedom from any cycle of behaviour that doesn’t serve you well.
*Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). - 28 August 2020
Everybody has a breaking point. Nobody is invincible. All it takes is a perfect storm of circumstances, timing and predisposing personal factors. Feeling low or anxious is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of being human and responding to what’s happening for us, or even just sensing that something isn’t quite right. Seeking support, talking, knowing that there’s hope, wanting recovery.... that’s a sign of strength. - 2 August 2020
Acceptance is everything ....
... by which I mean the point at which we accept the situation we are in for what it is, and the person we are for who we are ..... free from denial, bargaining, ‘what if’s and ‘if only’s.What it doesn’t mean is rolling over with our legs in the air and accepting any old thing that is thrown at us. Rather that acceptance is full awareness of what is going on (and perhaps why), and where we sit within it. From this view point we have a much better chance of finding for ourselves a more honest and positive way forward. - 24 July 2020
Unravel - in a good way
An oldie but goodie, this illustration. It’s not uncommon for a new client during their first few sessions to say something like ‘I don’t know where to start’, or ‘this all feels like such a mess’, because this is how it can feel as we start to tell our story and describe what it is that has brought us to counselling. This is the illustration that I’ll use most often to help describe how counselling works (or sometimes I find myself using the analogy of a big pile of spaghetti - although, thinking about it, perhaps it’s not quite as attractive as the wool ). In other words, it might feel as if not much makes sense right now, or that it all feels too enormous and indescribable, but that’s because we’re at the start; you haven’t had chance to get it all out yet, or set the context, or to have a good sort through, and begin to put everything into separate piles that will later make more sense for you. A good counsellor (to my mind) won’t tell you what those piles should be or which strands should go where, but they will listen intently and help you clarify your own thinking and your own decisions moving forward. That’s what it’s all about. - 16 July 2020
'Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony' - Mahatma Gandhi
‘Congruence’ is a big word in counselling. It means more than just honesty, or genuineness ... to me, it means knowing who we are, in our heart of hearts, and living as closely to that in our daily lives and interactions as possible; no drama, just quietly, personally congruent. Living incongruently - that is to deny or suppress our true thoughts, feelings and the essence of who we are - leads inevitably to distress and unhappiness. Sounds obvious, right? And yet it can be such an easy state to slip into. Getting back in touch with who we really are - especially if we’ve been layered down by the opinions and the demands of others over the years - can take some work, but it’s invariably worth it. Living congruently, that’s where ‘the good life’* is.
(*Carl Rogers, founder of Person Centred Therapy) - 4 July 2020
What does yours look like? It seems to me that everybody who suffers from depression* describes theirs differently - and yet we all know what it is. I find this both fascinating and humanly comforting. It can be really useful to picture (or paint, or draw) what depression looks and feels like to that person; part of that work might be to get to grips with that particular depression’s personality, or to visualise it’s colour, what it sounds like, or even it’s smell. Give it a name - the more details the better. Doing this helps to separate ‘it’ (the depression) from the person, when ‘it’ is busy telling the sufferer that ‘it’ is actually the person themselves (it’s not - insidious beast that it is). Matthew Johnstone’s brilliant books about depression uses the ‘Black Dog’ analogy made famous by Winston Churchill, whilst in @bryonygordon’s fantastic book ‘Eat, Drink, Run’, some of her Mental Health Mates describe theirs as: ‘a black snake [finding] the worst case intention behind everyone and everything’, ‘a sly and nasty hyena, because it always laughs at you and tells you how stupid you are’, ‘a slug .... hard to get rid of, not nice to look at, has a slimy but potent hold over me and leaves a trail of destruction in its wake’. Depression doesn’t have to look like an animal. It could be a pit, or a cave, or a cloak, or a weight - whatever fits best for the person living with it. Whatever it looks like, visualising and personifying it can help wrestle some power back .... which combined with other support mechanisms can really help in the fight back to good mental health.
*depression can happen to anyone. - 27 June 2020
Taking a leap of faith There are few things more wonderful, or more humanly connecting, than witnessing a client’s visible relief and lightening as they realise that the world hasn’t gone up in smoke now that they’ve found the space and courage to talk about whatever it is that they’ve been harbouring and carrying, sometimes for years. In a heartbeat, something that has been deeply unsettling or disturbing or shame making - an event, a memory, a thought or a feeling - somehow no longer holds the same power now that it has been said out loud and found the light of day. And then we can settle down to look at what it’s actually all about, before finding a way forward ️.
** just as wonderful to be on the other side of the couch too. - 21 June 2020
A weighty issue Weight is a deeply complicated issue for many of us. It impacts greatly on how we feel about and relate to ourselves, others and the world in general. Over two thirds of people in this country have an unhealthy relationship with their ‘food, weight and shape’. That’s a staggering amount of people - both women and men - who spend a phenomenal amount of time wrangling daily with their disordered eating (under eating, over eating and a hundred variants in between - whether ‘mild’ or severe). At the risk of sounding blindingly obvious, consistently thinking negatively about our bodies - and therefore being persistently unkind to ourselves - cannot help but have a detrimental affect on our mental wellbeing. I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in professional training in working with eating disorders and obesity at the beginning of the year (delivered by the brilliant @healingmindstw). Two things particularly have stayed with me from the many, many things that I learnt. The first is the ‘3 P’s’, the three factors that have led and fed (no pun intended) an experience of disordered eating: (1) Predisposing factors: what laid the foundations? (2) Precipitating factors - what started it? (3) Perpetuating factors: what keeps it going? And the second is this: at the beginning, a person will very much have been the master of their eating habit, but there will always come a time when master becomes servant. - 14 June 2020
Learning to live well again We don’t ‘get over’ trauma and loss* - that’s what has become clear to me whilst working with people experiencing grief. Sad to say that there isn’t a magic eraser out there that can eradicate all memory and feeling of what we have lost and what we’ve been through. There also isn’t - and this is important - a specified time by which you have to feel ‘better’ (especially if said time frame is implied by others, i.e. ‘shouldn’t you be over this by now?’; answer: ‘if I’m not feeling it, apparently not’). Life after loss is undoubtedly different. But what I have also learnt is that we can - with time, with processing, with self-compassion and a little faith - learn to live well again with it.
*when we think of loss and grief we think, of course, of bereavement, but these words also to apply to all kinds of endings ...... marriage/partnerships, friendship, work, self-esteem, a way of life ...)
- 7 June 2020
The common thread that binds The presenting issues that clients bring to counselling are many and varied, but there is one common thread that binds us all together - the need for change. Everybody who comes to therapy wants something to change, be that how we are feeling, or the situation or circumstance that we find ourselves in. Working towards any kind of change can be scary. It can take time, exploration, wrangling ... and most of all, a reconnection (if we have become disconnected) to who we really are. Change needn’t be a giant leap, sometimes just a little shift in mindset is all that is needed to bring about a positive outcome ️. - 31 May 2020
The commitment of both client and therapist One of my favourite therapy related books whilst training, and still one that I love today is Robert de Board’s ‘Counselling for Toads’. It beautifully and simply describes how a particular type of counselling works using the story of ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Toad has become clinically depressed and his friends are very worried about him, which leads him to counselling with the Heron. During their first session, Toad asks whether he will ever feel better again. Heron’s reply (posted below) remains, for me, one of the best, most honest, most tender explanations of what to expect from counselling and the commitment needed from both client and therapist.
- 25 May 2020
The need for personal boundaries Boundaries ..... or more specifically the need for them. This comes up a lot in counselling, as people become increasingly self-aware and realise the necessity of knowing where their limits are; what they are and aren’t comfortable with, and the personal damage that can be done if we constantly allow others to cross a line that we haven’t defined. In my mind’s eye I see personal boundaries not so much as the Berlin Wall but rather a little picket fence: no drama, no big announcements, just a gentle knowledge of where our boundaries are and the ability to explain and gently reinforce them when others attempt to step over. And then everybody knows where we stand. - 21 May 2020
Going against the grain Here’s the thing. All feelings serve a purpose, no matter how awful or wonderful or uncomfortable. Our human tendency (understandably) is to deny, suppress or fight against the emotions we think of as unattractive or ‘bad’; feelings such as sadness, disappointment or anger. What this does though is keep these lesser wanted feelings with us for longer ... or worse still mutate into depression. If we can try to learn to acknowledge and accept what we are feeling for what it is, and let it do its thing, it’s likely to flow through us all the faster and help us process what we’re experiencing more productively. It’s a bit like ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ ... sometimes we just have to go through it, no matter how tough, so we can save ourselves from stuckness and get to the other side.
*illustration quote given to me recently by my wonderful supervisor ; I hadn’t heard it before but it’s perfect. - 17 May 2020
Making obstacles smaller with self compassion Sound corny? And yet it cannot be underestimated how important it is to try and treat ourselves kindly when we’re going through difficult times in our lives - whether that’s to do with the current Coronavirus situation, divorce, grief, work or family worries, or whatever else we’re currently working through. What is it about the human condition that thinks it’s a good idea to give ourselves a hard time when we’re already feeling pretty rubbish? It’s as simple as this equation: difficult time + beating ourselves up for being in said difficult time (or just for being ourselves) = huge additional obstacle to recovery and healing. Let’s just concentrate on the difficult time bit. That’s enough. - 13 May 2020
There's no such thing as a 'bad kid' I had the great pleasure of working closely with young children for over ten years before I became a counsellor. I absolutely loved my job and each and every child I taught. No matter how tough an average teaching day was (did I just say average day?!) it was outweighed a million fold by the sheer joy, energy and wonder that each child brought into school with them every day. And so I whole and full-heartedly agree with educator Jessica Stephens’ statement here. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking here about the ‘normal’ pushing of boundaries that are - although a tad wearing for parents at times! - so important for learning and development. We’re talking about behaviours that are baffling, challenging, troubling and sad-making. Children often find it difficult to make sense or verbalise what’s going on for them, certainly initially. Sometimes it takes a little time, a little patience and the right tools to lay the gentle groundwork in order for a child to begin unlocking and dealing with whatever’s going on for them beneath the surface. - 9 May 2020
Taking a leap of online faith Counselling online: two words that struck fear into my heart not so long ago! But now, five or six weeks in, it feels completely normal to meet up each week with clients on Zoom. Incredible how life can change in a heartbeat, and amazing our capacity to all adapt. Will online ever be my preferred method of working, over face-to-face? Perhaps not. In an ideal world, there’s nothing like actually sharing the same space and time with another human being, and being able to read each other’s verbal and non-verbal cues and nuances first hand. But in the absence of this as a possibility, online working has proved itself to be a massively viable and cracking alternative, and I’m grateful not only for the technology which makes this possible, but to the people I meet on screen each week who have also been willing to take that leap of faith. - 4 May 2020
Keep going, you'll get there This is the quote I have probably held most dear - through tough times in my own life, or when supporting clients as they navigate their way through their own difficulties and suffering. The more I think about this sentence the more I love it, primarily because it’s really just saying ‘Look, this is bad, you can’t stay here, keep moving, find a way out’. It encourages forwardness, autonomy, and tells us that - whatever ‘hell’ means to us each personally, it will pass. Nothing stays the same. Everything has an end and change will come, no matter how bleak the feelings that we’re sitting with right now. Hold tight, seek support, keep going, you’ll get there. - 30 April 2020
Just hold my hand whilst I save myself I love these simple images .... they entirely depict how counselling should be. We all need a helping hand at times - whether that’s practically, emotionally, physically or otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that we want or need to be ‘saved’. Healing and empowerment comes from saving ourselves. My type of counselling believes (and I’m a fully paid up member of this corner stone) that it is within each of us to find and know what it is that is causing us distress or difficulty'. Not only that, we also know how to get ourselves out of it, even if we don’t realise it yet. It can take a bit of time and a bit of soul searching to get back to who we really are and what we really need. My job is to gently support and help enable that process. I know about counselling, and you know about you. Collaboration is everything ..... and I’ll bring the torch. - 26 April 2020
Being mindful of 'musterbations' ‘Musterbations’ .... (I know, I did a double take the first time I heard it too) .... words like ‘must’, ‘should’ and ‘ought’ ... as in ‘I must pull myself together’, ‘I should be over this’, ‘I ought to be on the other side by now’. Sometimes a metaphorical kick up the bum is useful. And sometimes it’s deeply unhelpful. Musturbations tend to make us feel worse than we already do. ‘I should be over this (but I’m not)’, ‘I ought to be over this by now (but I don’t feel it)’, ‘I must pull myself together (but I can’t)’ ..... and that’s because the trauma or the loss or whatever presenting issue it is that is troubling the client has yet to be resolved for that person. So the message is be mindful of musterbations ..... they can act as a stick to beat ourselves with when we are already feeling low, and nobody needs that. Instead concentrate on the words that come after the ‘but’ in any musterbation sentence. That’s where our work is. - 23 April 2020
Lean into hope Hope ... the most beautiful of words, and the thing that keeps us going in all kinds of situations. Hope can be the last feeling left standing when we find ourselves at our lowest ebb, even if it’s glimmer is dulled. Hope for better, hope for change, hope for a bit of inner peace. For me, that beautiful four letter word is linked to what humanistic counsellors believe is our undeniable drive to be the best we can be, irrespective of the conditions or circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes we lose sight of that, and sometimes things get in the way, but that innate force is always there, quietly working away in each of us. So for anyone in need of a reminder, have faith and lean into hope 💛 - the sunshine of emotions. - 21 April 2020
Riding the rollercoaster
I heart @decade2doodles. She captures brilliantly the weird thing that is feeling great one day and pants the next, and makes that what it is – okay. In these surreal times, when many are suffering and the rest are left trying to live as ‘normal’ a life as possible, the see-saw between ‘great’ and ‘pants’ can feel accelerated. Today, I’m leaning a little towards the deflated balloon on the right (thought: probably something to do with relaxing of work, routine, exercise at the weekend …) but tomorrow will be different, and that’s okay. Take care everybody. Happy Sunday. - 10 April 2020
Shining a light on shame: exposure therapy Times like these tend to bring out the very best and the very worst in us humans don’t they? In a week in which there has undoubtedly been much kindness, strength, bravery and gentle neighbourliness, I crossed paths with somebody, a stranger, who may well have been having a bad day. Long story short, she flung an insult which was intended to demean and humiliate. It worked. Despite trying to shake it off (understatement alert: people are obviously going through far, far, far worse at the moment), I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was left feeling quietly shocked, upset and ashamed. But here’s the thing. The next day I started talking about what had happened with the stranger. I got it out, I had a good look at it, I saw it for what it was and I decided I didn’t want it. The thing about shame - my least favourite of all the human emotions because it acts as a straight-jacket - is that it doesn’t like to be exposed. It really can shrivel up if brought out into the light. And the other thing about shame is that it can so easily be projected by those with need to transfer whatever it is that’s going on for them. So the moral of this story? If someone or something attempts to hand you shame, shine some light on it - you do not have to accept it. - 17 April 2020
Escaping the stuckness Anyone else prone to a little ‘overthinking’? It’s actually a word I’m not terribly fond of as it tends to be used as a ‘belittler’ of own thoughts.Thinking is thinking. However, sometimes we can become a little stuck in a cycle of thoughts which can be unhelpful and seem never ending. Talking helps: getting ‘it’ out and having a good look at what’s troubling us, working out whether the thoughts have merit and if there’s anything to be done. Also useful is to think of the brain as having two halves, the emotional and the rational, and applying our thoughts to both. Finding balance between the two can relieve ‘stuckness’ (technical term!) and bring a little inner peace. And isn’t that a lovely thought. - 15 April 2020
This too shall pass
Whether we're talking about the Coronavirus situation or recovering and healing from a difficult or traumatic experience, this little visual applies. Nothing stays the same, the world keeps turning, better times will return. Happy Easter one and all, stay safe and well. - 12 April 2020
Plough your own furrow Walks are now even more of an important part of my daily self-care than they usually are. This field today, with its beautifully worked earth, reminded me of a saying taught to me by a lovely friend: ‘plough your own furrow’, meaning don’t worry what others are up to, focus on your own life, eyes inwards. A great sentiment perhaps for when feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and in need of finding yourself again. - 10 April 2020
Adapting to change Two months ago a [wonderful] doctor explained Coronavirus and it’s likely impacts to me. She suggested that I would have to learn how to work on-line, and quickly. Safe to say I was pretty horrified by everything we discussed that day. The world has changed since that conversation, including the way so many of us now work and interact. I’ve learned that some things, however, stay reassuringly the same, including our need to communicate and that the principle of counselling (as depicted here) remains unchanged. - 8 April 2020