'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