There’s something about anxiety right now

stressThere’s something about anxiety right now

27July 2017

Both the West and the UK as a nation have had a difficult couple of years – from terror attacks in major European cities that many of us know well, to the Brexit vote and result, quickly followed by the political fall-out and Trump’s control of the USA. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, terror came back to the streets of the United Kingdom in the middle of yet more political uncertainty during the 2017 general election. Then, most recently, we witnessed the unprecedented loss of life in the Grenfell Tower horror.

For most of us, these events are stories we digest through the various forms of news and political and social media coverage – something happening in the outside world, well away from us. But these events have been quite triggering for people with worked-through and unworked-through trauma in their life stories.

At my own practice, contacts from people experiencing anxieties appear to have risen dramatically since the June 2016 Brexit vote; 2017’s events have done nothing to quell this near tide.*

Anxiety can be an extremely difficult and life-restricting thing to experience or have to live with. The professions of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy have created many working models of anxiety and many labels with which to subdivide or associate types of anxiety. Social Anxiety, Panic Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder form the kaleidoscope of disorders humans feel when anxiety gets overplayed and out of hand. And yet, anxiety is a natural thing to experience. Indeed it is the body’s response to danger. You can think of it like a monitor or alarm that is set to be triggered if you are put in the position of feeling threatened, under pressure or when you are facing a stressful situation.

In small amounts, anxiety is often a very good thing and in some situations it can even be the thing that saves your life. However, get too much of it happening inside a human being for too long a duration, and it can cause problems with pretty much any area of your life. At that point, we start to think of it not as a friend that can help us to feel alert, motivated and push us into action, but as a disorder that can control and even ruin our life.

If you find that you have – in addition to the primary anxiety symptoms of irrational and excessive fear or worry – other common emotional symptoms such as feelings of dread or apprehension, vigilance for danger signs, expectation of the worst, difficulty with concentration, feeling irritable or tense and jumpy, or that you experience mind fade (where your thoughts just go blank), then it might be time to think about taking steps to talk through your anxiety issues with a professional or, at the least, take some positive actions which might include things like mindfulness practice or regular exercise. And, if you don’t feel like being confined to a room to work through your issues with a therapist, then you might want to consider taking your anxiety to an outside environment with some walk and talk therapy – such as the type I offer within my Cambridge or Bristol practice.**

 

* There has been a reported five-fold increase in traffic to the Mental Health Foundation’s online anxiety page since July last year (Therapy Today Magazine May 2017)

** Walk and talk therapy will be the subject of a future post on this blog site.

Everything has still to be learned

BlogLearn

Everything has still to be learned

14 March 2017

On a wall in my consulting room is stenciled, in 2-inch high letters, a quote from C G Jung: ‘Let no day pass without humbly remembering that everything has still to be learned.’ The quote, which was first offered to me by my Jungian analyst during my own twice-weekly encounter in the late 1990s and early 2000s, made its way to my wall six years ago when I moved into my current workspace. It had, by then, become a mantra for me in my professional and personal life.

I’m aware that the simple idea of never-ending learning that the quote suggests has often been the inspiration for my writing of this blog; see, for example, Crying has an upside for men and women alike, On being ignored forgotten or abandoned and What are you living for now. When we really begin to look for learning in our lives we can be surprised just how much opportunity there is to do so.

While it is obvious and common that people think about therapy as being focused on re-working, understanding and narrativising (for example, past traumas, anxieties, bereavement, loss or depression) or that counselling and psychotherapy help us to move through issues like understanding communication or sexual difficulties as a couple, a simplifying, alternative view is that a surprisingly large amount of therapy is done around learning things. Of course, this learning is not in the way we learn in an academic institution but, nevertheless, therapy is about learning. In the unique non-partisan confidential space of the therapy room we might discover and learn how to look after ourselves better or we might learn a new way to look at a difficulty or problem. With the help of therapy, we might even be open enough to learn new things about old stories or patterns of behaviour; we might see that we can still alter the way we see ourselves within a relationship or perhaps in relation to a past situation.

In part of my professional life – working with sexual addictions – I am even more taken by the learning that therapy becomes. One exercise I use to help addicts become more aware of their behaviours, which I call ‘Stop Moments’, is a task focused on seeing the world in a different way. You ‘stop’ and find something to see in a way that you haven’t before. When people begin this special sort of observation, they often find themselves monitoring the movements of an insect on a window frame or watching a raindrop slide down a pane of glass. Later on in their therapy, I get to hear about wonderful and special moments that people find for themselves. These observations enliven the process but, more than that, they make me certain that therapy is created in a very individual way. Importantly, it continues to remind me, as the therapist, that I too still have everything to learn about a process I have been involved in for more than 20 years.

Suffering from creative constipation …?

Blog awaiting imageSuffering from creative constipation …?

31 August 2016

I’m not quite certain if I first heard, read or spontaneously thought of the phrase ‘creative constipation’, but over the years I’ve made it my own. Often, when I first use it as a possible explanation for a feeling people are trying to express, it is greeted with a smile or chuckle before, on reflection, it begins to reveal its more serious nature in the therapy space.

The UK government reports that the creative industries are worth £84.1 billion a year to the UK economy, generating nearly £9.6 million an hour. Indeed, these have been a growth area of the UK economy as a whole: in 2014, they grew at almost double the rate of the rest of the economy.

While creative activity can be profitable, most people, at some point in time, decide they aren’t actually creative. Sometimes that moment of ‘discovery’ is quite clearly remembered. ‘My music teacher communicated to me that I was welcome to sing in the choir, just not on performance night’; ‘Our art teacher was a sarcastic man; he suggested to me that while the naive style was practised by many artists, first they had to learn to make it look like the thing they were drawing and then unlearn the rules. I never tried to draw again.’

While being creative is rightly connected with the arts, I tend to see it as a much wider human activity. Indeed, I’d boldly state that to be human is to be creative. While artists, musicians and actors are the creatives we think of most readily, teachers, builders and engineers, for example, can be hugely creative in all their various forms.

Creativity is an experimental activity. Small children do it naturally, acting out roles and bringing life to inanimate objects. But the socialisation processes of modern society, in the home, in educational settings, rarely stop to focus on the development and enhancement of the creative process. (I’m reminded of the lyrics of Harry Chapin’s ‘Flowers are Red‘.) And there begins the long constipating process. Life, vitality, energy, spontaneity can all begin to sludge up in our system when we abandon or refuse to see the creative spirit in human activity. When it gets really bad, even sex itself, the ultimate creative expression of human beings, can suffer.

Rather than a neat conclusion to this blog I thought I’d end this post with a challenge. How have you been creative this week?

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

Just call me …

Blogfind200Just call me …

30 July 2016

“Yes you’re right,” says Jessica, as we begin to talk for the first time about the process of therapy. “The only clues I’ve got,” she says, “are from TV sit coms and films.” We laugh together for a moment and then I begin a fairly routine explanation of what my work role as a therapist is.

First, what I am not. I’m not a psychiatrist. The Royal College of Psychiatrists* describes Psychiatry as a “medical speciality, like general practice, surgery, general medicine or paediatrics. You have to train for 5 years as a doctor and in the UK – like every other medical specialty – do 2 further years of ‘Foundation’ jobs in hospitals before you can start to specialise in psychiatry. It usually takes another 4 years to pass the two professional exams of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, after which you can specialise further.”

Although I studied some developmental psychology during my initial degree, I am also not a psychologist. A Clinical Psychologist (the type of psychologist you are most likely to encounter within an NHS setting) will have gained an undergraduate degree in psychology. Again, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, psychologists will have gained “further experience working in relevant healthcare settings[;] clinical psychologists then do 3 years Doctorate clinical training in an approved training scheme at university. During this time they work with patients under supervision from experienced psychologists and study for an academic doctorate as well as their first degree. They complete training placements with adults, children, older adults and people with learning difficulties.”

Historically, psychology has applied experimental approaches to exploring sates of the human mind. My shorthand for people is that psychiatrists are doctors of the mind and psychologists are scientists of the mind.

So back to what a psychotherapist is and isn’t …

“I’m not an analyst.”

“So I’m not going to be lying on a couch answering your questions,” says Jessica. “It’s not a Woody Allen film, then?“

Indeed, in my own twice-weekly analysis that lasted nearly 6 years I never laid down on a couch because even analysts don’t all do that.

“I am a therapist who deals with people’s internal mental and emotional issues and difficulties,” I continue. “Sometimes people are comfortable with me as their counsellor – a word that is derived from one who walks alongside. Other people I work with refer to me as their psychotherapist, from the Greek for ‘soul and healer’. Some think of me as their coach, and others come to me for hypnotherapy.**

“What I will actually do is sit in a chair opposite you and listen, talk and engage with you in a relational manner. In short we will have conversations about you, what course of action you might need to take, often what you have done or experienced in the past, how you see the world and your interactions with it, and where it is you are trying to get to. I work with all the issues a human can have problems with – including things that are really difficult to talk about such as sex, addiction, relationships, anxiety and bereavement. But I’m not a doctor of the mind and I’m not a scientist of the mind. I’m more an interpreter or an artist, helping you to construct your own canvas by pulling things from one place and sitting them somewhere else.”

“I call myself a therapist, but my professional registration*** says I am a counsellor/psychotherapist. You can just call me Duncan.”

 

* http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/

** I am fully qualified hypnotherapist and is registered with the General Hypnotherapy Register.

*** I am a fully qualified, registered and accredited BACP (British Association for Counselling and psychotherapy) counsellor/psychotherapist.

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

A stitch in time …

StitchA stitch in time …

29 March 2016

In total, with two different therapists I spent 8-and-a-half-years in therapy. For 5-and-a-half-years I even went twice a week. On the face of it then, therapy was no quick fix. But the main reason I spent so long talking to my kindly octogenarian Jungian analyst was that I had waited too long (22 years to be exact) before I began to face my issues.

When I meet a sizeable proportion of the people coming to my private practice for the first time, they are rather like I was: they come to the space having struggled with their issues for too long. Avoiding issues, as we know, seldom helps them to go away, and when we don’t share difficulties or problems with other people the negatives often become amplified. When issues are within an intimate couple, it’s not uncommon for the partners to struggle together for years, somehow hoping that things will just get better. But in fact the couple usually fall into deeper and more upsetting patterns of behaviours as the partners hang on in there without addressing the underlying problems.

Individuals and couples can live with an overwhelming and prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness. While human beings are quite remarkable in their ability to cope, against the odds, in all sorts of negative scenarios, it is also common for people to enter ‘survival mode’ and this is often accompanied by depressive moods, anxiety, anger and relationship difficulties. As the issues become more widespread and deeply ingrained over time, other issues become amplified and begin to feed back into one another, sometimes leading to a full depressive episode, addictions, anxieties, anger, family and relationship difficulties, and even sexual problems. By this time it can be extremely difficult to decide where one problem begins and another one ends. It’s then common for feelings of being overwhelmed or a prolonged sense of helplessness and sadness to be the presenting issue in therapy. None of this makes it easier to sort your issues out. So, while I don’t have the answer to why we wait so long before seeking help, I hope reading this short blog might make you do something about your needs. Don’t wait; act as quickly as you can.

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

On being ignored, forgotten or abandoned

AttachmentblogOn being ignored, forgotten or abandoned

1 December 2015

From my window seat, I was enjoying watching the early Saturday coffee addicts flock into the café for their various flat whites, cappuccinos and espressos – or at least I was for the first ten minutes. But, during the next five, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that my friend had forgotten we were supposed to be meeting for a long overdue catch-up. At times like this, there is often a choice of internal conversations to follow, and by the time I’d sat for twenty minutes on my own I began to indulge a few childhood voices. Some remembered being ignored, others the embarrassment of being forgotten; and then came the memory most often worked on in my own twice-weekly analysis: the sorrow of abandonment. So, what are these often strong feelings based on?

In the very early months and years of our lives we build up particular ways of relating to people. This is referred to in the therapeutic world as our attachment pattern. The research into attachment patterns was originally conducted in relation to children and their parents.* These early attachment patterns are referred to as Secure, Avoidant, Ambivalent/Anxious and Disorganised. Later research has suggested equivalent patterns of attachment in adults to their significant intimate partners.** In other words, once attachment patterns are established it then becomes the way we relate in our intimate relationships.

People who had the opportunity to form Secure attachments as children also tend to form Secure attachments as adults. The Secure person has a desire for close connections with others and has a sense of a positive view of her or himself. Not surprisingly the Secure personality holds positive views about partners and their relationships.

The adult Dismissive personality is associated with those who had avoidant attachments as children. People with Dismissive personalities are largely characterised by being more separate, inward and isolated. Relationships and emotional life tend to be viewed as relatively unimportant. The cerebral takes precedence and feelings are suppressed – including distancing themselves from others.

Ambivalent/Anxious children often become Preoccupied personalities in adulthood. Self-critical and insecure, the Preoccupied adult seeks approval and reassurance from those around him/her even though this never provides the sought relief from self-doubt. In relationships, this type of personality imagines they will be further rejected which, in turn, creates more anxiety, over-dependence, lack of trust and emotional desperation.

The Fearful-Avoidant personality has its connections with the childhood Disorganised pattern of attachment: i.e. in childhood there was a detaching of feelings at times of trauma, and this persists into adulthood. There is a desire to be involved in relationships until the point at which the relationship develops emotional closeness. This becomes the trigger for the repressed feelings from early life to become live triggers in the here-and-now, which are then experienced as if they are happening in the present moment. This makes it very difficult to have a coherent sense of (your)self with the corollary that it makes intimate connections with others equally challenging.

By the time I left the café, it transpired I’d had quite a mental workout. Assured that I can still rely on my own Secure attachment, I wandered through the already stressed shoppers pondering whether my friend’s lie-in had been as interesting as my own solo coffee encounter. Perhaps, I thought, I should enjoy my own company more – but that might just have been the edge of some Dismissive personality traits talking.

* See Mary Ainsworth
** See Hazan and Shaver

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

Crying has an upside – for men and women alike

Cryblogsmall9 November 2015

It’s 8am on a cold early November morning and I’m not expecting to cry any time soon. In fact, I’m sat inside an incredible structure made from discarded and dormant materials, which itself sits inside the bombed-out remains of the 14th century Temple church in Bristol. Among a small group of people – some clearly on their way to work – my wife and I are listening to a band, toyface, who are part of Sanctum, a 24 hour-a-day, 24-day-long performance.

Visiting the city I was born and raised in – and still feel deeply tribal towards – there are always emotional triggers from my past to be found; the song being beautifully performed by the band suddenly triggers a deep emotion in me. And I want to cry. Despite the distractions of the fluxing audience, the music and lyrics of the powerful quartet of musicians speak deeply to something at my core. And yet, I’m still coded to my childhood upbringing half a century ago: ‘big boys don’t cry’.

I know the ‘big boy’s don’t…’ myth well, as men commonly apologise when their emotions release and they cry in my consulting room.

Although little is in fact known about the function of crying for humans, it appears that, according to Professor Ad Vingerhoets, a world leading expert on crying, on average women cry 30 to 64 times a year in comparison with 6 to 17 times a year for men.*

While I cry at the lowest end of the parameters of the quoted figures, I have rarely cried as an adult in a public setting and yet everything tells me this morning that toyface could do me a favour and offer a very therapeutic tear to slip out and relieve me of a few thoughts that the weekend has imposed on me.

A recent study by Asmir Gračanin** suggests that crying might indeed go a long way to making us feel better. The research team examined both the immediate and the delayed effect of crying on mood within a controlled laboratory setting. Immediately after watching two tear-jerking films, 28 participants who had cried and 32 who hadn’t were asked how they felt. They also had to rate their moods 20 and 90 minutes later.

The mood of the non-criers was unchanged and unaffected immediately after seeing the films. However, the mood of the group that cried was distinctively low. After 20 minutes, it was reported that their mood had returned to the level experienced before the screening. When asked again, after 90 minutes, the group that had cried reported a better mood than was the case before the films started.

My own call to personal emotional catharsis, while sitting in the Sanctum space, finally caused my eyes to fill but not to spill. For that to happen, I needed to be a man alone in the company of the downloaded track and my own safe space. I’m adding the track Motherlover to my iPod emotional triggers list. I encourage anyone to experience the purgation of a personal cry list. Think how good you might feel in 90 minutes’ time.

*Professor Vingerhoets also claims that women cry for an average of 6 minutes, while men cry for only 2 to 3 minutes.

**Gračanin, A. et al (2015). Why crying does and sometimes does not seem to alleviate mood: A quasiexperimental study, Motivation and Emotion.

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.