Have yourself a merry little Christmas? (re-posted from 2016!)
Ah, the perfect family Christmas, everyone having a good time, enjoying themselves and each others company? Or perhaps it triggers old unhelpful behaviour, brings up those hidden skeletons in the closet, or reveals wounds thought to have healed? Love it or loathe it, sometimes bringing family members together can be problematic, so here are my top tips for a (reasonably) peaceful Christmas and happy New Year….
Beware the ‘child’ – no, I don’t mean your rather annoying nephew, I mean the inner child – we all have one and often when placed in a family situation the inner child gets triggered, you might find yourself responding to your siblings or parents ‘as if’ you were a child. If you notice that feeling creep in, take a moment to breathe and remind yourself that you don’t have to respond in that way – internally decline the invitation to ‘go back to the playground’.
Lower your expectations – Perfection does not exist, so be realistic about how the get-together may go. By letting go of the pressure for everyone to be happy, this may actually mean that you end up enjoying yourself!
Watch and wait – Try to pause before reacting, observe what is happening around you, and even count backwards from 10 before saying or doing something that you will regret. This is especially important if it is alcohol-fuelled, so if you know that you’re more likely to become annoyed or irritated when you’ve had a few drinks, it may be worth to watch your alcohol intake.
Take a break – make sure you take some time for yourself – go for a walk, a ‘lie-down’ upstairs or a snooze in another room. If you feel you need a break, do take one. But remember there is a difference between taking a break and ignoring everyone!
Be grateful – you may not like seeing your family, there may be tensions, but do take a moment to reflect on the aspects of the celebration that you are grateful for. Often family members are taken for granted and it is only when they are gone that people realise how much they meant.
Christmas can one of the most challenging and loneliest time of the year for many, so for those that need it: The Samaritans – call 116 123
I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and New Year.
World Mental Health Day 2017 aka 'Keeping the workplace ship-shape'
The focus of this years' World Mental Health Day is the 'workplace'; I work with a number of organisations that enlist my expertise in mental health to assist their employees, and nearly all of these organisations are involved in the 'helping professions'. So, how do I help keep the business emotionally 'afloat'?
In my experience, it is those that engage in a 'helping' role that can suffer the negative effects of the work. I sometimes find that agencies working with vulnerable, chaotic or distressed individuals often unconsciously mirror this by creating an unhelpful working environment that can result in vulnerable, chaotic and distressed employees - a turbulent sea for a rather unseaworthy vessel. When this is added to the the premise of a 'helping' organisation being in place for the benefit of the client/service user, the employees can end up feeling overworked, over-stretched and unwell.
I am usually asked to go into workplaces at a times of crisis to provide a form of clinical supervision or practitioner support - when the ship is on the rocks . The work I do can be extremely useful for both the individuals and, in turn, the team.
I encourage staff to use the space allocated for support for:
1. To take ‘time out’ from the pressures of front line work
2. Time for reflection and for reviewing the work and organisational pressures
3. To identify areas of conflict or difficulties and how you can influence or manage these
4. To identify ares of strength and resilience as individuals and as a team
5. To have a space for containing the emotional impact of the work
6. To develop and maintain self-care strategies - identifying the personal reactions to your professional work
I always encourage the workplace to recognise that we don't exist in an every buoyant dinghy in calm waters! Looking after the mental health of all those you work with is essential for good business, good practice and good health.
"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship' - Benjamin Franklin
Trying to answer the unanswerable questions.
Few of us will be unaffected by the recent terrorist events, I was horrified to see the events unfold. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died, were injured or who witnessed such a act of terror. For those of us watching from a place of safety, it still has an impact and can resonate for sometime before some form of 'normality' is restored. I work with children in a couple of local primary schools and it was unsurprising that they wanted to bring it to their counselling sessions.
Many children will have unanswerable questions, but it is important to encourage them to ask' and for them to be able to ask over and over again if it helps them to try and process it. Don't be afraid to answer with "I don't know" as it's ok to be as bewildered as they are. Explain how for a great deal of the time we are very safe in the UK - there is a lot of protection for us and there is constant intelligence being gathered and acted upon to keep us safe. Remind them of how rare these acts are. Provide them with the facts - better to hear the facts from you, than to let their imagination conjure up something that may scare them even more. Providing factual information is fine, but do try to steer clear of gratuitous descriptions or videos/pictures of the event itself - remember that you are aiming to help them feel safe, not to traumatise or upset them further. Let them express their emotions - it's ok to feels scared, tearful, upset - comfort them. It is equally important for them to see your emotional reaction. Finally, encourage them to get on with their normal lives, and the same goes for us grown-ups. Terror wins when the fear continues and stops us from living our day to day lives.
The business of change aka 'How many Therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?'
So, how are your new years resolutions going? The new year often means a resolve to change and as a therapist I see myself as in the business of change - be that changing perspective, behaviour, unhelpful thinking, focus. But it's a strange business, one that is full of conflict: I may 'want' a client to change but it's not about what I want. The client may look to me as if I have the panacea to all of their problems - but I don't. A client may thank me at the end of their therapy, but it's them that does all the work. A strange business indeed!
I often ask clients at the start of the work or during a review process - what will have changed? How will you know coming to see me has been worth it? They often speak about improvements in their thinking and feeling, their approach to problems, or their relationships improving; and the interesting part is that they do all the work to make the changes they desire. Yes, I can provide techniques, a space to process, a containing safe environment, a healing therapeutic relationship but the act of change comes from within.
There are many challenges to changing oneself:
Why bother? Work out what your motivation is - want to change because someone else wants you to? I'd bet on that not being achieved! What is it that YOU want to change and why is it important to you? Work out the long and short term benefits of making the change and look at the reasons to not change, then decide which of those is most important to you.
It's hard work! Change is not easy, you have to commit to it and be tenacious. Planning is the key. Keep easily accessible reminders of why you want to make the changes to help stay focussed. Keep a diary or record of your progress where you can see it. Break the overall goal down into small achievable, measurable tasks s that you don't set yourself up to fail. 'Focus on each step, not the marathon'.
Accountability It can really help to tell others about the steps you are taking to make positive changes to your life, encourage those you trust to keep you on track and check on your progress, get them to join in, if they can, then you can support each other.
Self-sabotage Think through the obstacles you place in your own way before you start, work out the areas of vulnerability and develop strategies to minimise the risks or ask for help to manage these. Question where you are on your priority list. Have a think about the reasons you give yourself for not changing, what is the 'pay off' for staying the same?
Who am I? Working on changing oneself means that you'll not be the person you were before, so what will this changed version of you be like? This can be a very difficult part of the change process as both yourself and others around you get used to the 'new' you. at times it is those closest to you that may find the changes a challenge "But you never used to be like that!”
Celebrate! As much as you can celebrate the changes you have made - reward yourself can for these positive steps. Practice gratitude for what you already have in life and the strength and courage to make positive changes to ‘you’.
Oh, and the answer to the 'question' "how many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?" It doesn’t matter how many therapists there are, the lightbulb has to want to change itself!
Change of seasons....
The air is noticeably chilly, more layers are being worn, the leaves are beginning their colourful autumnal journey and I am drawn to thinking about change. Throughout my work I have witnessed clients make significant changes to their lives. More often than not at end of their journey with me and the start of the new chapter in their lives they turn to me and thank me for the help I have offered, and yet I reflect to them that it is they that have made the changes! So how do they do it?
1. Awareness of the area of influence v's area of concern - I often encounter clients that feel swamped by outside influences and are overwhelmed with the idea of having to change everything and everyone around them. I remind clients that their area of concern (the things they are worried about) may not be changeable even though they spend a lot of time and effort focussed on these, I invite clients to focus on the thing that they have the most influence over and very often this means looking at what they can change in themselves!
2. Stepping out of their comfort zone - often clients present a way of thinking, feeling and being that maintains the unhelpful patterns of thinking and relating to others - their comfort zone has become a 'cage'. Trapped in this cage (sometimes self-inflicted) they look longly to what's outside with fear and believe that they can't make the steps towards changing their life. Yet, when they realise that they can take the steps to make the changes (with hard work) they realise that the area outside of their comfort zone can become 'comfortable' - this often has a ripple affect as one change inspires another and so on.
3. Challenging 'excuses' - By 'excuses' I mean the reasons that we give ourselves to maintain the status quo: There will always be a reason not to change, once it's recognised that the 'excuses' are maintaining the unhelpful beliefs and feelings this can be the start of making positive changes in life. By giving reasons to change rather than reasons to stay the same can help inspire action and maintain motivation.
4. Take action - I encourage clients to try 'doing' or 'action' activities, so that the 'I can't' changes to 'I did'! Sometimes over focus on thinking can get in the way of beginning to make the changes e.g don't think you can say no to people? Clients try changes it on a small scale and build themselves up to the more challenging situations. Remember: pace yourself and set small achievable goals.
5. Taking the work outside of the room - The real magic happens when clients can apply the learning from inside the consulting room and apply it to their life. It is really important to have support in this - recruit those closest to you to be a cheerleader for you and support you in the positive changes you are making. It can really be amazing to see.
Can sucessful therapy be linked to the success of Leicester City FC?
#Fearless The #fearless could be linked, in my opinion, to the idea of hope. LCFC rose to the challenge, they remained optimistic, and fostered a hopeful attitude in facing each team.
As therapists this concept of hope is what we hold onto for our clients - especially for those in the deepest despair. It's not about being unrealistically optimistic, moreso it is the idea that maybe in the most challenging times, hope is the flickering light, even when the odds are stacked against you (LCFC was 5000/1 at the start of the season!) Hope allows me to walk alongside my clients in these challenging times, with no fear of their thoughts and feelings that threaten to overwhlem them. Hope can help my clients see that there may be another way of addressing their issues; to tackle the unhelpful thinking patterns, and that despite how it might feel at the time, there is boldness and bravery in making the steps towards getting help, they are in fact #fearless.
Taking one match at a time LCFC chipped away at the title; they treated each match as a stand alone achievement towards the long term goal.
As a therapist I encourage my clients to chip away at their goals. To recognise each small step as a vital part of the journey towards the overall aim. I recognise that some clients need to take one day at a time, some hour by hour. I also take one session at a time, I focus only on the client facing me and work with the issues, problems, strengths and defences they present; I also do my best to save any curveballs! #oneatatime
Teamwork LCFC's teamwork and ambition were outstanding. The on and off pitch relationships seem to be a key part in their success.
In therapy I aim to develop a therapeutic relationship with my clients, knowing that if the 'fit' is right the more likely the therapy will be a positive, beneficial experience and one that could help them achieve their goals. By encouraging a positive working relationship the teamwork between client and therapist really can be a game changer. #teamwork
#fearless #oneatatime #teamwork To start your own game changing journey get in touch.
Top 10 tips for seeking help
"1 in 4" is a well known statistic, meaning that one in every four of us - you and I, our friends and family will experience mental health issues, it is far more common than people like to think. So when this happens, what do we do about it? Ignore and hope it goes away? Tell the family member or friend to "cheer up" (which is akin to telling someone with a broken leg "just get up and walk"!) There is great deal of help out there but how do you know what to look out for? As a first port of call I would always recommend that someone seek advice from their GP. But for those looking for "someone to talk to" here are my top tips:
Seek professional help - a counsellor/psychotherapist can be far easier to talk to than a family member or friend.
Ask for personal recommendations of therapists or visit www.counsellingdirectory.org.uk which is a search engine to help you find a counsellor/psychotherapist in your area. Which picture/profile information are your drawn to?
Check their qualifications, a 12-week counselling skills course does not make a counsellor! Good counselling & psychotherapy training will have taken a number of years. Look for a minimum of diploma level and above (degree, masters, doctorate for example).
They should be registered and ideally accredited with a professional body - BACP/UKCP. This should mean that they practising ethically, be experienced and have completed a number of years/hours of therapy.
Find out how long they have been in practise and what their areas of interest and expertise are - so you can start to think about whether they are the right therapist for you.
Meet with them so you can get a sense of how they work. A good therapist will help you open up and be the person that you feel you'll be able to share your feelings/fears/hopes and secrets with. The quality of the therapeutic relationship is key to making a positive change.
Beware the promise of a 'cure'. There is no magic wand or a crystal ball. Unfortunately.
How much?! Private therapy can be costly with most counsellors/psychotherapists charging around £40-£60 per hour. Some may have negotiable fees, so don't be afraid of asking for a reduced fee.
There is rarely a quick fix. Counselling and psychotherapy can take months and even years in some cases, so have a think about the timescales you have and what you want to achieve. A good therapist will help you work out what can and can't be done in the time you have.
Be prepared to do the work! Some clients believe that 'it is the therapist that does all the hard work', wrong I'm afraid! In my experience the clients that have made the most positive changes have been those that make the most of their session time and take apply 'in the real world' it to their thinking, feelings, and relationships.
MSCP March 2016
What is the future of mental health?
The '1in 4' statistic is well known, the difficult issues regarding access to mental health services is recognised and now starts a new journey for the provision of mental health services in the UK - more access, less stigma, more money. Having read the Mental Health Taskforce - The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health here are my thoughts:
In my opinion, it is made clear from the report that there has been an extensive, in-depth look at the current difficulties facing those with mental heath issues. Waiting lists are long, crisis care responses are inadequate; stigma and discrimination is rife. However, there are good intentions stated in the report for the future of mental health, so this is very welcome news.
My hopes are that better services will be in place for all - adults, children and young people - so increasing access to help early (prevention or early intervention) is key. Also the core intention of valuing mental health on par with physical health is essential and it is crucial that this message gets understood by practitioners and the public. Finally, that access to assessment and support services is a simple process that allows treatment to be given locally and timely. It is encouraging that these issues, and more, are evident in the Taskforce's 'forward view'
Let's hope that the good intentions become a reality.
MSCP February 2016