What you need to know about therapy

Therapy can be mysterious and intimidating, especially if you don’t know what to expect. So here’s what we in the therapist community wish people knew about counselling and psychotherapy.

 

1. It’s not really a therapist’s job to give you advice.

They’re not here to tell you if you should call off your marriage or quit your job. The real job of therapy is to get to know yourself better and change the way you’re thinking, the way you’re behaving, or the way you’re understanding the world. 

Sure, they might tell you about strategies to cope with a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, but when it comes to your personal life decisions, they’re more of a facilitator.  Do you really want to come to therapy to give your power away to someone else or do you want to learn to have that power on your own?

 

2. They probably see a therapist, too.

Simply put, never trust a therapist who hadn’t been to therapy themselves.  Many training programmes actually insist that students have regular weekly therapy sessions throughout their training as it's an invaluable tool in this line of work.  

Not only does sitting in the clients chair give a therapist a valuable insight into how you feel, but if a therapist is unable or unwilling to understand their own emotions and processes, they will have a great deal of difficulty helping you to understand yours.

 

3. Most therapists don’t prescribe medication.

That’s typically the job of a psychiatrist / doctor, not that of a counsellor or psychotherapist. However, with your permission, your therapist can coordinate with another provider to help you start or end a medication, if that’s something you’re interested in.

 

4. You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to go to therapy.

One common misconception is: “That you have to be ‘crazy’ to go to therapy.”  There are a lot of reasons why people go to therapy that have nothing to do with mental disorders. And when people do go because they have a disorder, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re going to get help and speak to an expert just like you would seeking help for any other medical condition.

It’s usually this in between area — when you’re struggling but not completely debilitated — that people hesitate to go to therapy because they feel like they don’t need it. But if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or not able to function as you’d like to, that’s a sign you do need to talk to somebody.

 

5. Your therapist isn’t talking about you with their friends at the bar.

Rule number one is confidentiality.  A therapist would quickly lose their professional accreditations and memberships if they talked about clients outside of the therapeutic framework.  They may discuss certain cases or broader themes with a small group of trusted colleagues or with a more experienced therapist in a process called "supervision" (which all therapists are required to have on a regular basis), however this is all kept on a strictly confidential basis.

 

6. And they probably aren’t Googling you.

Many therapists view Googling a client without their permission is an overstepping of boundaries and almost a breach of confidentiality. Clients can feel violated if their therapist brings something up in the session which they saw on the Internet and that is the opposite of what is trying to be achieved. 

The therapeutic relationship is all about trust and the client needs to trust that they can bring up their issues at their own pace rather than the therapist knowing all about their lives in advance. 

 

7. Your therapist probably won’t acknowledge you in public unless you do first.

Don’t worry about running into them at a restaurant and hearing “Hey, glad to see you out and about!” while you’re on a date. The general consensus is that therapists won’t acknowledge you in public unless the client initiates it, and even then, they won’t acknowledge that they are your therapist unless you do first.

So feel free to say hi and introduce them as your therapist/yoga teacher/neighbor, or ignore them entirely. It’s your call, and it’s something you can talk to them about ahead of time if you’re worried about it.

 

8. Just going to therapy won’t necessarily help — you have to participate.

Therapy isn’t like going to your doctor for a sinus infection and leaving with antibiotics. It takes collaboration — not just passively sitting back and waiting for results. It’s pretty disappointing for clients when they think that’s the way it works.  They want the therapist to ask them a bunch of questions and it’s like a treasure hunt.

But if a client is prepared and willing to talk about what brought them in and what they’d like to work on, it can make the whole process more collaborative and efficient.

 

9. Therapy doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment.

Sometimes people hesitate to embark on therapy because they feel like ‘If I go once I’m going to be sucked in for 10 years, three times a week,’ and it feels like this huge decision. But the length and frequency of therapy is very individual. It can be a one-time deal, a few months of sessions, or longer depending on what you’re going through and what you’re looking to accomplish.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask questions about a therapist’s approach in the first session or two. Things like: What would treatment look like? How long are we going to be working together? How will I know when we’re finished?

 

10. The right “fit” is the most important factor when it comes to finding a therapist.

You could be seeing the best, most qualified therapist in the whole world, but if the fit isn’t good, its not going to be as effective. What research tells us is that of all the different variables in therapy — types of treatment, education of the provider, length of treatment, all that stuff — one of the biggest factors in therapy success is fit.

What does that look like? Feeling heard, understood, and respected. The experience of therapy itself isn’t always going to be fun or enjoyable.  But in the context of that, you should feel safe, accepted, and heard, and at times challenged.

 

11. And stopping therapy doesn’t mean you can never go back.

As a therapist, we hope that by the end of treatment, a client feels like they’ve improved their functioning, whether in their relationships or their job or as a student.  That they’re feeling like they’re contributing to whatever is of value of them and not distressed by the symptoms they were experiencing.

Of course, life happens and things change, and just because you felt better for years doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily need help again in the future and that is perfectly fine to come back.

 

12. If you’re worried that something might be inappropriate — like hugging them or asking about their personal life — just talk about it.

Not every therapist will be open to hugging their clients, but if you really feel compelled to, don’t be embarrassed to bring it up. A client should feel free to say anything or ask anything.  Ask it if it’s on your mind and then let the therapist decide whether or not they’re going to answer that. Try not to filter yourself or censor yourself.

 

13. They don’t have all the answers.

Sometimes people think therapists have a special ability to see inside you but we really don’t.  We have a particular training and understanding of how humans are, how humans behave, how emotions work, and we’re able to use that to understand the specific situation someone is in. We don’t have these magical skills that we’re instantly going to read into you — it’s a process.”

 

14. Being a therapist can be hard work.

Between juggling several clients every day and helping patients through particularly traumatic events, it can be an incredibly daunting profession.  Obviously it can be hard to hear difficult stories hour after hour, day after day and then still have enough energy for your own family at night.  It can be a challenge, but it’s certainly manageable.

Therapists are professional secret keepers and that takes a toll after a while which is why many will schedule in regular breaks throughout the year.  So if you find your therapist taking a week off every few months, it's simply a chance for them to recharge their batteries and to come back the following week in the best possible position to help you.

 

15. But chances are, they also find what they do incredibly rewarding.

When therapy works, and it does, you’re going to walk out of there with a new understanding and new ways of doing things. You own it. It’s yours. It goes with you for the rest of your life.  Whenever a therapist is able to see someone’s growth process taking place, it brings such delight and positive feeling.

 

If you would like to find out more about therapy, please contact one of our team today

Changing your present through exploring your past

First Steps in Therapy

The prospect of counselling or psychotherapy can be very nerve wracking and anxiety provoking, especially for those who have never experienced therapy before.  Finding the right therapist who you feel comfortable with is extremely important in any long term work, so you should always think about doing a little research before you begin with any therapist. 

It can be tempting to pick the therapist closest to you or one that fits your budget, but these may not necessarily be what you need.  Allow yourself time to look at different therapists profile photos, read up on what they say about themselves, how they work, their speciality areas and have a read of any blog posts and reviews.  It may sound strange, but even without meeting or speaking to a therapist, many people can get a sense of how comfortable they feel just by looking at their profile details.    

Once you have found two or three therapists who you believe you would feel comfortable with, I always suggest giving them a call to arrange an initial session.  Speaking over the phone rather than on email allows you to hear their voice, their tone and the words they choose, all of which will help you to gauge how you feel about working with them.  A phone call starts that connection which is so important in any therapeutic relationship.

I always suggest arranging several initial sessions with several different therapists.  All therapists, even those of the same modality, will work in slightly different ways and one of those ways may feel more comfortable for you than another.  Think of it as buying a new car, you would always want to test drive a few before deciding which one felt the most comfortable for you.

So what can you expect in your initial session?  Depending on their modality, different therapists may work in slightly different ways, but essentially the initial session is a time for the therapist to find out more about you and determine if they have the experience and the ability to help you.  They focus not only on the issues which have brought you to therapy and the outcomes you would like from the treatment, but also on you history, family, relationships, career, etc. so that they can get a proper overview of who you are and where you are coming from in life. 

The initial session is also another opportunity for you to assess how comfortable you feel with your therapist.  There are so many factors which can affect that connection between you at both the conscious and unconscious level, but you will instinctively know when you feel at ease with a therapist.  

If you find it extremely difficult to find a therapist you feel comfortable with, the issue may lay more within you and a resistance to the therapeutic process itself.  If this happens, it is something which is worth bringing up early on at your next initial session to see if that helps you to feel differently about the situation.

Towards the end of the initial session, the therapist should briefly go through their work contract.  This should cover aspects such as confidentiality, cancellation policies, session lengths, frequency, costs, timings and endings.  They should give you a copy of these terms and conditions for your records. 

If you feel that you would then like to go ahead with further sessions with this therapist, you will book in for regular weekly slots.  Most approaches will go for one session per week on the same day and the same time with the session length set at 50 minutes.  Some approaches will give you an hour session length and others (particularly psychoanalyses) will offer more than one session per week.     

Your sessions will usually then continue with the same therapist until you feel that you have gained all you can from that experience.  Sometimes this can be as short as 10 weeks, other times it can be many years.  

Coming to therapy can feel daunting and scary, but that is a good thing because it means you are challenging those aspects of yourself which have kept you trapped in the past.  Finding the right therapist is one of the most important factors in how successful your therapy will be.    

 

Sitting with your feelings (no matter how uncomfortable!)

There are many in society who believe that experiencing negative emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, jealousy, etc. is wrong.  They believe that those feelings are unhelpful and should be conquered through the use of positive thoughts, cognitive thinking and behavioural changes.  In fact, a lot of the concepts around Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are just that - using behavioural techniques to change how we think and therefor how we feel.   

However I've always been a great believer in sitting with your feelings and allowing yourself time to understand them and acknowledge them, rather than trying to chase them away and bury them.  Now I'm not saying to dwell on feelings or become immersed in them, but at the same time, not to block them out either.  I like to think of it as watching a lightening storm out of your bedroom window.  You are safe enough inside your house that you are not going to get hurt by the lightening, but at the same time, you are allowing yourself to see it and experience it (rather than shutting the curtains and hiding under your bed covers!)

The benefits of sitting with your feelings really hit home during a recent client session.  The client began by talking about their work, how they had lost their motivation and had become disillusioned with it.  They explained how they dreaded going to work and were desperately looking for some alternative.  A few days before the session, the client had spoken to their mother about their feelings.  The mother was very solution focussed, coming up with idea after idea after idea about the possible solutions, e.g. more training courses, ideas for new jobs, careers advisors, etc.  As my client sat and listened to her mother, she became more and more upset and more and more despondent.  She didn't want solutions, she just wanted to be heard and acknowledged.  She wanted her mother to be empathic and understand her feelings.  My client wanted to know that she was still acceptable and still lovable even if she was feeling this way, however her mothers problem solving response made her feel that she was unacceptable and wrong in some way, as if she was failing.  This made her feel much worse. 

Later in the same session with my client, I began to question whether she was using psychotherapy theories and cognitive reasoning as a way of avoiding or burying certain internal feelings.  She admitted that there were times when she was doing that, however believed that it was the right thing to do.  She believed that she could control her unwanted feelings through CBT techniques and other practical methods then it would make her feel better in herself.  I referred her back to earlier in the session when she had spoken about the discussion between herself and her mother and explained how I was hearing that exact same conversation going on within her.

One part of her, which we may call the Parent (in reference to Transactional Analyses terminology), was wanting to problem solve, using practical techniques to overcome her feelings.  However another part, which we may call the Child (also TA terminology), was yearning to be heard for what it was feeling, wanting those unpleasant feelings to be acknowledged, recognised and accepted. 

My client was quite taken aback by this realisation.  She had understood what it felt like to have her need to be heard and acknowledged ignored by the practical approach of her mother and here she was, doing exactly the same thing to herself. 

This understanding has since helped my client to sit with her unpleasant feelings for longer.  Most of the time, she finds they now disappear much sooner and stay away much longer.  I like to think of it as a small child trying to get it's mother's attention.  The more the child is ignored, the more it will interrupt and the louder and more demanding it will get.  However once that child has been heard and acknowledged, it is more likely to feel satisfied and not pester it's mother for attention for a while.

I am a firm believer in feeling your feelings, sitting with them and then choosing a course of action rather than just reacting which often reinforces negative beliefs and emotions.  I have found on countless occasions how accepting all feelings as being fundamentally "okay" and listening to them has provided great therapeutic insights and relief for clients.  So next time you experience fear, anger, sadness, despair, loneliness or any other negative feeling, why not give it a go yourself?  Rather than covering up and burying these emotions, try sitting with them for a while, tolerating the discomfort, learning from those feelings and really understanding that part of yourself. 

7 Reasons to stop proving yourself to everyone else

You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, FINE enough, and STRONG enough.  You don’t need other people to validate you; you are already VALUABLE.

Sometimes we try to show the world we are flawless in hopes that we will be liked and accepted by everyone, but we can’t please everyone and we shouldn’t try.  The beauty of us lies in our vulnerability, our complex emotions, and our authentic imperfections.  When we embrace who we are and decide to be authentic, instead of who we think others want us to be, we open ourselves up to real relationships, real happiness, and real success.

There is no need to put on a mask.  There is no need to pretend to be someone you’re not.  You have nothing to prove to anyone else, because…

1.  The people worth impressing just want you to be yourself.

In the long run, it’s better to be loathed for who you are than loved for who you are not.  In fact, the only relationships that work well in the long run are the ones that make you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself, and without preventing you from outgrowing the person you used to be.

Ignore the comparisons and expectations knocking at your door.  The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.  Prove yourself to yourself, not others.  The RIGHT people for you will love you for doing so, and they will appreciate all the things about you that the WRONG people are intimidated by.  Bottom line: Don’t change so people will like you; be patient, keep being your amazing self, and pretty soon the RIGHT people will love the REAL you.

2.  No one else really knows what’s best for YOU.

Don’t lose yourself in your search for acceptance by others.  Walk your path confidently and don’t expect anyone else to understand your journey, especially if they have not been exactly where you are going.  You have to take the steps that are right for you; no one else walks in your shoes.

Let others take you as you are, or not at all.  Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.  By being true to yourself, you put something breathtaking into the world that was not there before.  You are stunning when your passion and strength shines through as you follow your own path – when you aren’t distracted by the opinions of others.  You are powerful when you let your mistakes educate you, and your confidence builds from firsthand experiences – when you know you can fall down, pick yourself up, and move forward without asking for anyone else’s permission.

3.  YOU are the only person who can change YOUR life.

In every situation you have ever been in, positive or negative, the one common thread is you.  It is your responsibility, and yours alone, to recognize that regardless of what has happened up to this point in your life, you are capable of making choices to change your situation, or to change the way you think about it.  Don’t let the opinions of others interfere with this prevailing reality.

What you’re capable of achieving is not a function of what other people think is possible for you.  What you’re capable of achieving depends entirely on what you choose to do with your time and energy.  So stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.  Just keep living your truth.  The only people that will fault you for doing so are those who want you to live a lie.

4.  Society’s materialistic measurement of worth is worthless.

When you find yourself trapped between what moves you and what society tells you is right for you, always travel the route that makes you feel alive – unless you want everyone to be happy, except you.  No matter where life takes you, big cities or small towns, you will inevitably come across others who think they know what’s best for you – people who think they’re better than you – people who think happiness, success and beauty mean the same things to everyone.

They’ll try to measure your worth based on what you have, instead of who you are.  But you know better than that – material things don’t matter.  Don’t chase the money.  Catch up to the ideas and activities that make you come alive.  Go for the things of greater value – the things money can’t buy.  What matters is having strength of character, an honest heart, and a sense of self-worth.  If you’re lucky enough to have any of these things, never sell them.  Never sell yourself short.  (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” and “Simplicity” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

5.  Life isn’t a race; you have nothing to prove.

Everyone wants to get to the top of the mountain first and shout, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  But the truth is, all your happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing, not while you’re sitting at the top.  Enjoy the journey by paying attention to each step.  Don’t rush through your life and miss it.  Forget where everyone else is in relation to you.  This isn’t a race.  You get there a little at a time, not all at once.

Let go of the foolish need to prove yourself to everyone else, and you’ll free yourself to accomplish what matters most to you.  Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you don’t have to always be and do what everyone else is being and doing.

6.  The path to all great things passes through failure.

You are an ever-changing work in progress.  You don’t have to always be right, you just have to not be too worried about being wrong.  Screwing up is part of the process.  Looking like a fool sometimes is the only way forward.  If you try too hard to impress everyone else with your “perfection,” you will stunt your growth.  You will spend all your time looking a certain way, instead of living a certain way.

It’s impossible to live without failing sometimes, unless you live so cautiously that you aren’t really living at all – you’re merely existing.  If you’re too afraid of failing in front of others, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful in your own eyes.  You have to remember that it doesn’t matter how many times you fail or how messy your journey is, so long as you do not stop taking small steps forward.  In the end, those who don’t care that failure is inevitable are the ones that reach their dreams.  YOU can be one of them.  

7.  It’s impossible to please everyone anyway.

Some people will always tell you what you did wrong, and then hesitate to compliment you for what you did right.  Don’t be one of them, and don’t put up with them.

When you run into someone who discredits you, disrespects you and treats you poorly for no apparent reason at all, don’t consume yourself with trying to change them or win their approval.  And be sure not to leave any space in your heart to hate them.  Simply walk away and let karma deal with the things they say and do, because any bit of time you spend on these people will be wasted, and any bit of hate and aggravation in your heart will only hurt you in the end.

Afterthoughts

You don’t need a standing ovation or a bestseller or a promotion or a million bucks.  You are enough right now.  You have nothing to prove.  Care less about who you are to others and more about who you are to yourself.  You will have less heartaches and disappointments the minute you stop seeking from others the validation only YOU can give yourself.

The floor is yours…

How has the desire to be accepted by others interfered with your life?  What has it stopped you from doing or being?  How have you coped?  Leave a comment below and share your insights with us.

 

This article was originally posted on Marc and Angel.

Societies expectations vs authentic self

From the moment we are born, society teaches us the rules we need to survive.  We are conditioned with messages about what is right and what is wrong, what we should and shouldn’t do.  Often, we only feel valid and “okay” if we comply with societies expectations.  However this often brings us into conflict with our own authentic selves.  For example, if you feel really upset over an incident, but your society has given you a strong message that crying is weakness, you feel compelled to stay strong to comply with societies expectations, whilst at the same time, feeling low and sad inside.  Often these internal conflicts can be the source of depression and anxiety reactions.  So in this post, we are going to look at some common issues which we all experience in life and consider if they can actually be healthy.

 

1. Anger

Anger is something many of us avoid expressing and yet it can often be very liberating. Feeling angry but expressing it in a healthy way can create powerful and positive change in our lives. Anger is simply a type of emotional energy that rises up in us when we have been wronged and a personal boundary has been crossed. That energy is set out on a mission to dismantle the inappropriate situation that has caused our suffering.

So, learn how to embrace that energy and put it to positive use. When you become angry, examine how you can express that anger in a positive way that will create change for the better. It is when we deny our anger and avoid it that it can turn into more unhealthy ways of being, such as rage or depression. Know that healthy anger is there for a reason, to be your protector and liberator.

 

2. Being Lost

We are feeling lost when we have lost our sense of direction. Yet when we are lost, it makes us pay attention to the moment and to our instincts. If you have ever been lost in a big city or a foreign land, you likely also made some wonderful discoveries while trying to find your way.

The same is true for life. Be okay with knowing it is the journey that is important, and sometimes in being lost and going down paths we never would have thought to choose we find out things about ourselves that are amazing. We discover unknown talents in ourselves, and meet friends or allies who otherwise would have remained a mystery. Being lost now doesn’t mean you will be lost forever. It simply means you are taking your time in finding your way, and also allowing the world around you to give input into the path which is best for you. Often it is that input we never would have dreamed to ask for that sets us on our true path.

 

3. Crying

Crying, like anger, is a healthy human emotional response to certain situations. Although few of us would want to be crying all the time, it is important to honor those times in life which may bring us to tears. Those tears can be tears of loss but also of joy. When we cry, it helps our psyche unleash energy that if we were to hold on to may become toxic or make us rigid.

Crying also softens our personalities as well as our appearance to the outside world, letting others know we feel, care, grieve and are effected by the world around us. So, crying not only lets us release our grief and sorrow, but also sends a signal to others that we are open and vulnerable as human beings, making us more attractive as friends and partners than those who never shed a tear for any reason.

 

4. Being alone

Being alone doesn’t have to be seen in a negative way and often can mean that we are just cutting off some of the not necessary social activities to dive into a deeper level of our being. It’s true that there are some situations where a person isolating themselves might be a reason of concern, but know as well that many of the world’s greatest artists, writers and thinkers found supreme value in solitude to find deeper inspiration and re-ignited their sense of creativity. Sometimes we just need to turn off the external stimuli and be with ourselves.

If you are feeling the need to be alone, trust and honor it. Sometimes a walk by yourself in the park, or even going on a solo vacation can lead to a level of self-reflection that completely renews our sense of purpose. In some situations, the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to be alone.

 

5. Not listening

Not listening to others may often be seen as an anti-social or even arrogant form of behavior, and yet there are times when you need to just go on your own intuition and be free with what your inner calling is. Keeping your eye on a strong vision sometimes requires you to ignore or tune out those voices who may not understand or be in alignment with that vision. Trust yourself and know that if advice is being given to you there may be some very good reasons not to listen to it.

Not listening can also simply display a level of discernment, as we have all seen those people who listen to what everyone else tells them, and how they can often appear to be captains on a rudderless ship, lacking an internal strong sense of direction. Be wise and know when to listen to others and when not to. If that inner bell says to go on your own gut feeling in spite of what others say, then trust it.

 

6. Breaking the rules

Breaking the rules at times can improve your life, as well as the lives of others. Rules are made by people, and none of us are perfect. So, trust in your own ability to find the heart behind the rule, and then decide for yourself if that rule promotes the greater good. Most innovations in art, science and society happen because someone stopped abiding by the rules as they were written and had the courage to challenge those rules that were unjust. Some of the world’s great rule breakers were Rosa Parks, Gandhi, John Lennon, and Martin Luther King Jr. Don’t be afraid to be like them.

 

7. Not fitting in

Not fitting in can be painful and awkward, especially during teenage years, but it can also mean you’re an innovator and that you have something to offer beyond the norm. When we fit in, it is usually because our thoughts, feelings and even our imagination is in tune with our community. Stepping outside that box of what others might expect of us can lead us into a place of not fitting in, but it can also lead us to explore outside the zone of commonly accepted beliefs and thoughts, which is the fertile ground for new ideas and new ways of thinking that beget innovation.

The future never fits nicely into the past, so embrace who you are in the now even if it doesn’t fit in with others. Know that your innovations may forge a new path that others may eventually follow.

 

Credits: lifehack.org, by Brett Bevell

Issues with communication?

Communication is one of the key issues in many relationships.  It doesn’t matter if this is a romantic relationship, one with family, friends or work colleagues, communication problems can happen anywhere and at any time.  How often have you heard the phrase “We got our wires crossed” or “You got the wrong end of the stick”?  How often do you feel misunderstood or misheard or receive a reaction which you really were not expecting?

Often effective communication is seen as a bit of a mystery whose secrets are only revealed to those successful sales people or politicians or lawyers who always seem to know what to say to get their own way.  However, communication can be very easy to understand and like most things, it begins with you.

One of the key concepts in therapy is the idea that at any one moment in time, we are thinking, behaving and responding from one of three states.  The first state is Parent.  This is when we think, act and behave in a way we observed our parents behaving when we were younger.  This may be responding with the same emotion in a specific situation, maybe saying a certain phrase, holding certain prejudices, etc.  The Parent state is very powerful because, as a child, we look at our parents as being experts in the world who can never be wrong.  So to a child’s mind, imitating their parents means that they will also never be wrong.

The second state is called the Child.  This is when people think, act and behave in a way they did as a child.  For example, they may have learnt that sulking encourages another to feel guilty and so they end up apologising.  Maybe they learn to throw a tantrum when they didn’t get their own way.  Maybe feelings of terror or anxiety come up if they are unsure or challenged.  Any feeling, behaviour or a response learnt as a youngster falls under the Child state.

These are all examples of where the past influences our current behaviour.  However the third state is known as Adult, and this refers to when we are acting appropriately to the here and now situation.  Being in Adult doesn’t mean that you can’t experience emotion, however it does mean that the emotions are appropriate to the situation in hand rather than remnants from the old Parent or Child state.  For example, shouting out in pain if you have just injured yourself is appropriate, however shouting at your partner because they bought the wrong type of washing liquid isn’t.  The latter is much more likely to be a reaction from a Parent state. 

So the ultimate key to great communication is to try and be in Adult.  If you are suddenly aware of a communication issue, take a step back for a few moments and try to recognise which state you were in at the time of the difficulty.  Think if it is actually appropriate to the here and now or whether it is an old relic of the past coming into play, something from you Parent or Child state.  By continuing to communicate from your Adult, both in speaking and in listening, you will find that things improve dramatically.  If anyone communicates to you from their Parent or Child state, try to become more aware of that pull within you to respond in kind, however try to maintain that Adult state. 

Change always begins with you.  Don’t expect other people to change unless you are also prepared to do the same.  So next time you encounter a communication issue, try to take a step back, look at it with your Adult awareness and simply ask yourself, “What part of me was responding there, how would it sound differently if it came from my Adult and how would the other have responded to my Adult?”.  You will find that thinking and responding from that Adult part of you can have truly amazing results!

You can find more information on the Parent, Adult and Child by Googling “Ego States”.

Dealing with Passive Aggressive Behaviour

What is passive aggressive behaviour and how can you cope with those who express their anger indirectly?

Are you around someone on a daily basis who is passive aggressive?  Is it a friend, colleague or family member who is becoming increasingly difficult because of their indirect ways of expressing anger?

It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with someone who is unhappy, but refuses to talk about it directly. There are, however, several ways to better handle the situation and maintain your cool. 

What is passive aggressive behaviour? 

Passive aggressive behaviour is where someone indirectly expresses hostility and anger via stubbornness, procrastination, and unreasonable behaviour.  They will try to keep their feelings inside, but end up giving out mixed messages and will deliberately try to make things difficult for others.  Although these actions may be more subtle and underhand, they can be much more destructive – greatly affecting friends, family and colleagues. 

Strategies to help you cope 

When dealing with someone who is passive aggressive, it is important to be aware of their behaviours and approach them in a neutral and composed way. These individuals are looking to push your buttons.

The following steps are key:

  • Don’t take it personally – It is important to remember that the anger harboured by someone who is passive aggressive stems from their life situation and background. Therefore it is not your responsibility. It is very likely you are just the most convenient person for them to take this anger out on.
  • Moderate your response – When dealing with passive aggressive people, aim to stay as calm and composed as possible – keeping your voice steady and your language neutral.
  • Empathise – This may be tricky but can disarm someone who is passive aggressive. Reflect their suppressed feelings – making it clear you recognise they may be frustrated and that this may be difficult for them to deal with.
  • Be direct – If someone is being stubborn and deliberately refusing to do something, be very clear and assertive about what you expect from them. Keep everything factual and avoid emotion. Level-headedness is your best defence against passive aggressive behaviour.

Fear of change

While there are some people out there who relish change and embrace new experiences, for many of us change instils a feeling of fear which can manifest in angry, destructive or self-limiting behaviours. 

Humans like security and certainty and we are generally creatures of habit. The idea of breaking our habits often leads to anxiety, which is why many of us don’t change until the discomfort of our situation becomes greater than our fear of change e.g. someone may only make a real and concerted effort to lose weight after a heart attack or similar .

Many of you reading this will have faced the situation of wanting a new job.  You may be unhappy in your current role, feeling undervalued and underpaid, and yet at the same time, something prevents you from looking for a new job.  This is often fear of the unknown.  In your current role, you may not be happy, but you know what you are unhappy about and you have become used to and prepared for that unhappiness.  Thinking about trying something new often brings with it that uncertainty which you can’t prepare for.  A well-known saying is: 

“The certainty of misery is preferable to the misery of uncertainty”. 

These feelings are very primal and instinctive.  For primitive man thousands of years ago, doing anything new or unknown could bring dangerous consequences, e.g. leaving the protection of the forest to hunt animals could leave you vulnerable to an animal attack yourself or eating an unknown berry could result in poisoning. 

This instinct is also reinforced through learnt behaviour.  As children, we are taught about the world around us and often allowed to feel safe in familiar surroundings but made to feel cautious and wary in unknown and unfamiliar situations, e.g. don’t talk to strangers, don’t leave my side, don’t go there, don’t do this, etc. 

So what can we do about it?  Consciously recognising the feelings is a fantastic start.  All too often, people feel an unpleasant feeling and react automatically to distance themselves from that feeling as quickly as possible.  Often this automatic reaction is unhealthy, limiting and reinforces the original belief that there is something to be worried about.  So instead, simply allow yourself to sit with the feeling.  Resist the temptation to get rid of it and just be interested in the discomfort and view it with curiosity.  Allow yourself to become aware of the feeling and understand the message it is trying to communicate.  This increased level of understanding and awareness will not make the feeling disappear, but will allow you to tolerate and control it, allowing you to make those changes you desire in your life.

Curiosity is not about what is right or wrong, it is about a greater understanding of yourself.  The more you allow yourself to be curious about your feelings and the thoughts and beliefs which accompany them, the greater control you will have over them.  

Turning failure into success

In modern society, there is often huge pressure for people to get things right, to succeed and to be perfect.  When we do achieve and get things right, we feel fantastic, however sooner or later we will fail and this sends us plummeting into feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and even depression.  Feelings of failure can last for a few hours to many months after the event and these feelings are often compounded by further failures.  We can become very hard on ourselves, lowering our expectations of our abilities and making us reluctant to take chances in the future, in case we “get it wrong” again.  It can also lead to self-sabotaging and self-fulfilling prophecies were we unconsciously help ourselves to fail, just so we can reinforce that belief.  

Failure is often seen as wholly negative whilst success is deemed as completely positive and this is something we usually pick up from parents when we are young.  As children, most of us were praised and rewarded for getting things right and told off when we got it wrong or made a mistake.  This way of bringing up children evolved from a concept called “Operant conditioning” where rats learnt to behave a certain way by either receiving food or an electric shock dependent upon which leaver they activated in a maze.  The idea was that if rats could be trained to behave in a certain way, then so could children.  And so parents set out to condition their children to aim for perfection and to encourage them to get things right first time by rewarding the positives and punishing the perceived failures.    

Throughout life, this belief system is reinforced first at school, then at work and in relationships.  Eventually we pass this same message onto our own children; that it is wonderful to get things right and awful to make a mistake. 

But are mistakes these awful things we have been programmed to believe?  Should we be feeling so down and hard on ourselves when things don’t go according to plan?  In actual fact, failure is just as important as success, maybe even more so, as long as you have the right mind-set.

You either succeed or you fail

Just think about the above statement for a moment.  Say it out loud and say it as if it were someone saying those words to you.  What feelings does it evoke in you?  Focus on the meaning of those words and what they represent to you.  And when you have done that, repeat the same with the statement below.       

You either succeed or you learn something valuable

Do you notice the difference?  Both statements are talking about exactly the same thing, but the first encourages you to feel negative, inadequate and down on yourself.  However the second is a win-win scenario.  It allows you to realise that when you haven’t succeeded, it is an excellent opportunity to learn something valuable.  Learning how to improve, how to better yourself and how to become more than you were before. 

If you take any of the big, influential names in business, such as Richard Branson, Sir Alan Sugar, Henry Ford (the inventor of the Ford Motor Company), they all experienced an untold amount of setbacks when building their first business.  They could have easily seen themselves as failures and decided to give up, thinking themselves as not good enough, however they decided to learn from each set back.  They allowed themselves to learn a valuable lesson every time something didn’t go to plan, allowing them to improve on it for the future and to build something bigger and better.

And mistakes can often lead to great discoveries.  Some of the greatest culinary creations, like the brownies, resulted from a failure to use a leavening ingredient. Often, our mistakes are actually the gateway to our success. And it’s not just a small success. Many times, it is a life-changing success. Failure helps us become more creative, explore the world around us, consider other options, break the rules, innovate, and steer clear from the conventional, which all could lead to much greater things.

Now I’m not saying to you to deliberately go out of your way to make mistakes or not to try to make a success of your life because that would be counter-productive.  However, next time you do make a mistake, just tell yourself this:

It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and better myself

Because the truth is, without failure, we can never learn to succeed.  So embrace your mistakes.  Be proud of your errors and above all, learn from them. 


Is praising your child actually damaging them?

This may seem like an odd question to ask.  And for most people, whether they are parents or not, the answer seems obvious.  However, according to new research, most of us praise children in ways which can actually be damaging for their self-esteem.

So how can praise possibly damage a child’s self-esteem?  How can positive and reassuring words lead to harm?  Spend a few moments thinking about the praise you’ve handed out recently, whether that was to other adults or children.  When you praise another person with words such as “Good Job” or “That was a great presentation” or “You drew a great picture”, etc. you are effectively passing judgement on that other person’s performance.  For children, the message they receive is “Other people’s opinions of my performance are more important than my own”.  As soon as you value other people’s opinions above yours, you open yourself up to criticism and negativity.

Not only does praise leave children more vulnerable to criticism, but it can also cause them to feel responsible for other people’s happiness.  When their parents come out with praise such as “You were such a good boy for tidying your room”, the child can see how happy this makes the parent.  The message the child receives from this is “If I’m good, my parents are happy”.  In a child’s logic it is then only a very small step to “If my parents are unhappy, it must mean I’m being bad”.  As adults, we can understand that there are many reasons why someone may be unhappy and that it is not necessarily down to us.  However, children don’t understand things in the same way and if they believe they make their parents happy through good deeds, their only conclusion is that if their parents are unhappy, they have done something wrong.  As the children grow, this can again lead to their feelings of self-esteem being negatively influenced by those around them. 

So surely there’s no more?  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of research which shows that praising children at academic tasks can actually have a negative effect on their performance. 

In The Examined Life, Grosz cites research by the psychologists Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller, who, as part of an experiment, asked 128 children to solve maths problems. On completing the first set of questions, some children were told, “You did really well — you’re so clever”; the others, “You did really well — you must have tried really hard.”

Both sets of children were then given more difficult maths problems. Those who had been praised for their efforts solved more problems and worried less about failing than those who had been told that they were clever.  Even worse, when asked by the researchers to describe the experiment, some of the “clever” children lied about the results: they exaggerated their own scores.

“All it took to knock these youngsters’ confidence, to make them so unhappy that they lied, was one sentence of praise,” writes Grosz. They felt they had to live up to the erroneously inflated opinion others seemed to have of them.

Further research suggests that if a child is praised for school work they do well, they are less likely to stretch themselves, take risks and try something else.  Think about your own school days and ask yourself why you enjoyed some subjects and hated others?  The reality is the subjects you loved were those that you were good at and subsequently were praised for.  The subjects you hated were those that probably brought you less or no praise. 

So is praise always bad or are there circumstances when it can be helpful?  In general, if praise follows these two rules, it is beneficial:

  • If it praises the effort going into a task rather than the result of the task.  Recognising the time, effort and hard work which went into the task encourages the child to continue to put effort into everything they do and to value working hard rather than obtaining results. 

  • If the praise is non-judgemental and not intended to manipulate the child into repeating a particular behaviour in the future.

If you’re ever unsure about whether to praise a child or not, why not ask them how they feel about what they have achieved?  You may ask a question such as “I see you’ve drawn a picture of a house there.  How do you feel about it?”  If they come back and say something positive such as “I think its amazing!” then the child is praising themselves and recognising their own achievements without the need for external validation.  As they grow, that ability to recognise their own success rather than rely on other people’s opinions will be essential for a healthy sense of self-esteem. 

Many of us were brought up in families in which criticism was the default mode.  When we become parents, we praise our children to “demonstrate that we are different from our parents”.  We felt that if criticism was harmful to us as children then praise must be positive.  And from an adult perspective this is correct, however adults have a way of being able to cognitively process and understand things which children cannot.  From a child’s perspective, praise may be less harmful than criticism, however making praise results focussed rather than effort focussed can still cause many issues for children as they grow.       

Eat your way to a happier life!

We are all used to hearing that food cannot make you happy and that eating is just another way of burying your feelings.  However, eating the right food is an essential component to feeling emotionally and psychologically balanced. 

When people begin to feel low, anxious and depressed, they tend to opt for meals and snacks which are quick, easy and usually very unhealthy.  This is partly through to a lack of motivation and energy and partly as they tend not to care about their wellbeing to the same extent whilst in this state.  The lack of essential vitamins and minerals then tends to compound the low emotional and physical state.    

Whilst researching this on the Internet, I found that many websites purely focused on the different types of vitamins and minerals we should be getting each day.  Most also gave advice on which particular foods you could get these from, however what was lacking was interesting, exciting and quick recipe guides. 

I have a love of cooking and so began to think about ways of incorporating these healthy, mood balancing foods into everyday life.  I wanted to develop simple but effective recipes packed with the essential elements which anyone could create, even if they were feeling low, anxious or depressed.  And that is exactly what I am going to do!

So keep tuned and in the coming months, I hope to be adding some tasty posts to my blog!

The main theraputic approaches - Part 5 - Gestalt

Gestalt was developed in the late 1940s by Fritz Perls and is guided by the relational theory principle that every individual is a whole (mind, body and soul), and that they are best understood in relation to their current situation as he or she experiences it.  The approach focuses on self-awareness and the 'here and now' (what is happening from one moment to the next). Gestalt therapy recognises that sometimes this self-awareness can become blocked by negative thought patterns and behaviour that can leave people feeling low, unhappy and distressed. 

It is the aim of a gestalt therapist to promote a non-judgemental self-awareness that enables clients to develop a unique perspective on life. By helping an individual to become more aware of how they think, feel and act in the present moment, gestalt therapy provides insight into ways in which he or she can alleviate their current issues and distress in order to aspire to their maximum potential.

The key concepts in this approach are:

  • Person-centred awareness - Focusing on the future and imagining it separate from the present and past is considered essential. The process follows an individual's experience in a way that does not involve seeking out the unconscious, but staying with what is present and aware.
  • Respect - Clients, whether an individual, group or family, are treated with profound respect by a gestalt therapist. Providing a balance of support and challenge is key to helping those taking part to feel comfortable about opening up and acknowledging areas of resistance.
  • Emphasis on experience - The gestalt approach focuses on experience in terms of an individual's emotions, perceptions, behaviours, body sensations, ideas and memories. A therapist encourages the client to 'experience' in all of these ways, vividly in the here and now.
  • Creative experiment and discovery - There is a range of experimental methodology used by therapists to test their client's experience. These involve highly creative and flexible techniques to help them open up and acknowledge hidden feelings.
  • Social responsibility - The gestalt approach recognises that humans have a social responsibility for self and for others. It demands respect for all people and acknowledges that everyone is different. Ultimately it encourages individuals to adopt an egalitarian approach to social life.
  • Relationship - Relating is considered central to human experience and gestalt therapy considers individuals as 'whole' when they have a good relationship with themselves and others around them. The interpersonal relationship between the individual and therapist that is developed and nurtured in sessions is a key guiding process if therapy. 

Fundamentally, gestalt therapy works by teaching clients how to define what is truly being experienced rather than what is merely an interpretation of the events. Those undertaking gestalt therapy will explore all of their thoughts, feelings, behaviours, beliefs and values to develop awareness of how they present themselves and respond to events in their environment. This gives them the opportunity to identify choices, patterns of behaviour and obstacles that are impacting their health and well-being, and preventing them from reaching their full potential. 

The unfolding of this therapeutic process will typically involve a range of expressive techniques and creative experiments developed collaboratively between therapist and client. These will be appropriate for the client and their specific problems. Below are some of the most common methods used: 

Role-play 

Role-play can help individuals to experience different feelings and emotions and better understand how they present and organise themselves. 

The 'open chair' technique 

The open chair technique involves two chairs and role-play, and can give rise to emotional scenes. The client sits opposite an empty chair and must imagine someone (usually himself/herself or parts of him or her) in it. They then communicate with this imaginary being - asking questions and engaging with what they represent. Next, they must switch chairs so they are physically sitting in the once empty chair. The conversation continues, but the client has reversed roles - speaking on behalf of the imagined part of his or her problem. This technique aims to enable participants to locate a specific feeling or a side of their personalities they had 'disowned' or tried to ignore. This helps them to accept polarities and acknowledge that conflicts exist in everyone.  

Dialogue 

A gestalt therapist will need to engage the client in meaningful and authentic dialogue in order to guide them into a particular way of behaving or thinking. This may move beyond simple discussion to more creative forms of expression such as dancing, singing or laughing. 

Discussing dreams 

Dreams play an important role in gestalt therapy, as they can help individuals to understand spontaneous aspects of themselves. Fritz Perls frequently asked clients to relive his or her dreams by playing different objects and people in the dream. During this they would be asked questions like: "What are you aware of now?" to sharpen self-awareness. 

Attention to body language 

Throughout therapy, a gestalt therapist will concentrate on body language, which is considered a subtle indicator of intense emotions. When specific body language is noticed, the therapist may ask the client to exaggerate these movements or behaviours. This is thought to intensify the emotion attached to the behaviour and highlight an inner meaning. For example, a client may be showing signs of clenched fists or frowning, to which the therapist may ask something along the lines of: "What are you saying with this movement?"

The main theraputic approaches part 3 - Behavioural Therapy

The focus of behavioural therapy is isolating and changing unwanted behaviour in the here and now.  They are not interested in the past or what has gone before, just what is happening now.  It is believed that as behaviour is something learnt, it can be unlearnt and then relearnt in a different way. 

Behavioural therapies take a very logical approach to treatment using more of the thinking part of the brain rather than the feeling part.  Treatment often involves practical exercises and the setting of homework for the client.  Below are some of the main areas which a behavioural therapist may concentrate on during treatment:

  • Changing words and phrases from negative to positive, e.g. rather than saying “I hope I won’t be late” (which has the negatives of won’t and late), saying instead, “I hope I arrive on time”.  Both mean exactly the same thing, but one is a more positive way of saying it.  Talking positively forces you to begin to think positively and thinking positively helps you to feel positive.

  • Challenging assumptions, e.g. a male client is struggling to find a girlfriend and makes the statement “women only go for guys with huge muscles”.  The therapist would encourage the client to take a poll, survey or questionnaire in a public place to test their assumption so they could get a rational and balanced view point rather than their current skewed assumption.

  • Challenging negative feelings.  When talking about positive and negative feelings, we do not mean happy and sad feelings, but productive and unproductive feelings.  E.g. a feeling of guilt is a negative, unhelpful feeling as it encourages a person to withdraw, wallow in self-pity and sink lower.  However a feeling of remorse is a positive feeling.  Remorse encourages a person to recognise loss and mistakes and yet take responsibility for their part in those things.  Taking responsibility then allows the person to move forward and improve their lives.

  • Challenging internal thoughts and beliefs.  Encouraging a different thought or belief to a particular situation to produce a different response.  E.g. if someone fears a snake, it is not the actual snake which produces that fear, but their own thoughts and beliefs about that snake.  If you can encourage the client to recognise and change those thoughts and beliefs, then the outcome can be different.  E.g. rather than believing the snake will bite them, believing that the snake is harmless, may produce a feeling of excitement rather than fear. 

The most common behavioural therapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is often used in organisations such as the NHS.  Behavioural therapies tend to be a much quicker form of treatment, sometimes lasting only 6 weeks, which has made it very popular for people and organisations who have time and money restrictions. 

Although very popular, many other branches of psychotherapy and counselling are critical of a pure behavioural approach as it fails to take into account or resolve the original cause of the issue.  E.g. for a male client who struggles to find a girlfriend, behavioural therapies may help him with techniques to improve his confidence to ask a girl out, however they won’t deal with the underlying reasons as to why he lacked the confidence in the first place.  If the client had suffered emotional or psychological trauma in their past which caused the confidence issue, this problem could resurface in the future in a different, possibly more destructive way. 

A pure behavioural approach can often be compared to a sticky plaster.  It can cover up and hide a wound, but that wound is still there and still needs healing. 

I believe that CBT techniques are valuable, but more appropriate to be brought in during the latter stages of treatment with another approach, after the underlying issue has been explored, brought into awareness and worked through. 

The main theraputic approaches - An Overview

For those with an interest in psychotherapy, whether from a client or professional perspective, I thought I would briefly cover the main approaches used in therapy.  These are just intended as an overview and you can find many more details about them online.

Many peoples idea of counselling and psychotherapy is of a therapist sitting there, listening to a patient.  In essence, this is correct, however there are many different ways in which a therapist can interpret and respond to their patient.  For some, they may focus on the use of interpretation, image and dream analysis or childhood trauma.  Others prefer to allow the client to do a majority of the analysis and interpretation themselves and give little input.  And others prefer a more behavioural based method of working including setting tasks, activities and homework.  There are then further approaches which take different elements and combine them in an integrated or eclectic approach.    

A therapist will usually have one favoured method which they will use for a majority of the time.  There are no hard or fast rules about which approaches should be used with which client or which is more beneficial.  It is believed by many professionals that it is not so much the chosen approach that determines the success of the treatment, but more how much the therapist believes in their chosen method. 

Over the course of the coming blog posts, I shall be looking at:

  • Psychoanalysis

  • Person Centred Therapy (PCT)

  • Behavioural Therapy

  • Transactional Analysis

  • Gestalt     

If you have any questions about any of the approaches or if you have a different method you would like to discuss, please leave a comment or feedback!