The right to choose more than black and white

ThinkingBlog

The right to choose more than black and white 

26 April 2016

Recently, I had a long and exhilarating conversation with a male colleague who had sought to challenge some black and white (binary thinking) by making a particular job application. We spoke the day after his application had been turned down on the grounds of occupational requirement – this is a circumstance where it is lawful to be treated differently due to your sex.*

One of the reasons it became such a meaningful conversation is that the failed application appeared to raise so much detail about the way humans get locked into simplistic or binary thinking. Take, for instance, the complex sociopolitical situation the UK has become embroiled in since Brexit first reared its head. You don’t have to look too hard to have seen numerous examples from both the ‘in’ and ‘out’ camps of over-simplification and binary thinking. Such debates perhaps underline that the world is a complex place but that our actual ability to cope with these complexities is limited. Maybe it’s best to see that, in seeking simple solutions, we largely ignore or hide the complexities.

After my conversation with my colleague I was left to consider something I have lived with the whole of my psychotherapeutic career – the fact that women who you might expect to want to work with another women often choose to come and work with a man instead.

Simple and binary thinking might lead you to imagine that a woman who has lived in a coercive or abusive relationship with a man would only want to work with a woman. Similarly, if you are female and have been raped by a man, then it might be expected that you would only work with a woman. However, as we have already discussed, the reality is that the real world is more complex. While it might be that many women feel far more comfortable working with a female therapist, some women make different choices. Some women – especially those who have also suffered at the hands of other women – actually need to work with a male therapist. It might be that to work in a safe, secure space with a trained, registered and accredited male therapist can offer certain women the opportunity to begin to work towards trusting men again.

On numerous occasions during my career, I am glad to have been prepared and able to offer to be a trusted man in the repair work women have undertaken. I just wish that all therapeutic and support organisations would consider getting their palettes out, mix the black and white, and do some ‘grey’ thinking by offering the opportunity for women who need it their choice of gender for their recovery.

*https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/sex-discrimination

On beginning to change your life: the first session

blogfirstsessionOn beginning to change your life: the first session

14 February 2017

‘Signing up’ for counselling/psychotherapy can be a big move? It may even turn your life around in ways you hadn’t thought of. So it’s wise to consider a few things before, during and after your initial session.

Many people looking for a therapist do an initial search online. Others look through a directory. And yet others may be given recommendations by friends or a GP. However you ‘find’ a therapist, you may still wish to run the following checks.

First, your new therapist should, at minimum, be registered – if not also accredited – with a respected professional organisation such as the BACP or UKCP. (Psychologists should be graduate or chartered members of the BPS.) You should also read their website carefully to check they have the experience of, and feel comfortable working with, your general/specific issues. (This is particularly important in areas like sexual difficulties, as few general psychotherapy/counselling trainings offer enough input in this area.)

You shouldn’t be persuaded that someone is a good therapist because they have a lot of letters after their name. Studies suggest that once core requirements of education and training have been met, the effectiveness of the therapist is not dictated by their qualifications; indeed, research indicates it is the quality of the relationship between you and your therapist that can have a huge positive influence on the outcome of your work together.*

Remember also that, with personal recommendations, what works for one person may not always work for someone else. There is still a ‘goodness of fit’ to consider.

And so, having selected a therapist who you believe will be a good fit for you, the next step is to chat to them – through Skype, email, text or telephone call – and, if it still feels like a good fit – book an initial session.

***

So what can you expect at your first session. If your therapist works for an organisation, your initial session might be quite prescribed. You may have to fill in the organisation’s routine forms and even complete questionnaires or diagnostic tools. However, in a private practice situation, where the therapist works for themselves rather than an organisation, things might be a little more personal and relaxed.

In my own practice, for example, I like people to spend a moment or two getting comfortable on the sofa. It helps me to know how difficult it is for the person to be in the room with me at the start of it all. I often ask people how anxious they feel about coming along for this session – something simple like: ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is low and 10 is high, how anxious do you feel right now?’ Perhaps people don’t always tell the truth – a little in the manner that doctors can’t always trust patients to be honest about the number of units of alcohol they drink in a week – but it gets us started. (By the way, the usual ‘anxiety score’ is around 8. Also, people who have had some counselling or psychotherapy before often find it easier to be in the first session with a new therapist.)

Quite often, we might then go on to talk about how odd it is for two strangers to meet in a room, knowing little about each other but being there with the intention of talking about some of the most challenging areas in one of those two people’s lives. I make no secret of the fact there was a time when I, too, needed the help of therapy. I might use that at some point in an initial session if it helps to build a bridge. After all, most of us understand things best when we know something about it – and sometimes going through a process is the best way to find out.

When you’ve said a few things about your issues and discovered that the therapist is a human being, just like you, your anxiety can fall a point or two.

As the session goes on, people begin to sit back on the sofa. They pick up a bottle of water, which I always have available. They might even check out the tissues. In short, they begin to dial into the character of my room, my therapy space. Their breathing deepens and they discover that therapy is just a special kind of conversation. It’s a confidential place where: the therapist won’t have expectations of what you want to do; the phone won’t ring; no one else will ‘break in’. It’s a special conversation because it’s focused on you. That doesn’t mean the therapist has to be silent or a tabular rasa (blank slate) like you see in the movies (although if that’s what you need, then that sort of therapist can still be found).

I see the therapist as someone who: joins you on your journey, facilitating you to find your answers to fulfil your needs; won’t get their story in the way of yours; can help you, from a detached position, to look at things. I also think that therapy is a distinctively creative process that, through working together, forms the unique therapy you need.

The first session normally races by. People often comment they were worried they wouldn’t know how to say things, or even what to say. Yet, somehow, in the end, there wasn’t enough time to cover all the things they wanted to mention.

***

Your first session is over. You are walking away from the place of therapy and are going about you real life again. What can you expect now? You may realise you feel pretty tired, perhaps even exhausted. This is the time to start looking after yourself. Between now and your next session you may spend time thinking about the process. You may even dream some answers or questions. An awful lot of the therapy happens between sessions. Your process has begun … Bon voyage.

 

* See for example: Lambert and Barley (2001) in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 38(4).

 


 

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.

 

Effective solutions for failing relationships

couplesii200-copyEffective solutions for failing relationships

28 September 2016

It is never very comfortable to feel that one is failing at something in life. When it comes to a relationship failing, we can all bring out some pretty special defence systems that keep us away from this recognition: ‘Of course, I’m not perfect, but this really is all his/her fault’; ‘What do you mean we never talk? What were we doing when we went out with Rob and Sue?’; ‘I’m not avoiding you; it’s just that I’ve got to get this work done/answer this message …’;  ‘Oh come on! I’ve not had chance to watch any of my TV programmes this week’; ‘What do you mean I’m always on Facebook [bing … type, type, swipe]?’

If you find yourself in a relationship that is experiencing difficulties, it’s common to feel that you won’t be able to work things out. And if you are feeling that, then the chances are you’ve stopped (or perhaps never did) communicating well. That sense of not mattering in the relationship or the lack of intimacy will very likely have something to do with the couple not being able to properly reach or connect with one another and therefore not talking things through.

Of course, it’s not always easy to see where we are going wrong with our communications. It’s likely that many surface issues will be getting in the way of us finding our voices with one another. Even serious matters such as affairs and addictions can be the secondary issue – the disease symptoms rather than the cause of the illness, so as to speak. Once you realise that difficulties can so often arise from a hunger for real communication and understanding from a life-partner, then effective counselling or therapy can begin to change your joint life.

In my couples counselling and therapy practice I find it’s good to start by checking out what views people actually hold of the relationship they are in. Too often, as I mentioned in my blog ‘A stitch in time …’, people wait until very late in the day before taking action. In relationship therapy and counselling it’s as if one partner has already given up on the relationship. This sort of secret needs to be brought out into the open. Therapy attempts to help partners view the relationship in an objective way – importantly, stopping ‘blame conversations’ and attempting to replace them with a process that involves both partners making an enquiry into how they jointly and individually got to where they currently are. This style of working develops the narrative ­– the story of the relationship to the current point in time. If there are contextual situations lurking in the background – for example, loss in the family or money worries – it helps to see that these are factors that can be negatively influential on the immediate situation the couple find themselves operating from.

It is important to understand that couples therapy isn’t just a mental process. When fully engaged with, couples work is also about behaviour change and emotional understanding. Dysfunctional behavioural issues (such as addictions, anger and especially any perceived or actual physical threats) all need to be examined in terms of what damage they do to trust, intimacy and the ability to communicate. Emotional avoidance tends to lead to fears about expressing the inner dialogue. Depending on how we were brought up, our attachment patterns can lead us to acting out our attachment story in adult life within our close relationships – sometimes with very negative consequences. (Read ‘On being ignored, forgotten or abandoned’ for more detail.)

Your first session of couples counselling or therapy might not result in booking date nights, having meaningful sex with the person you are attending with, finding yourself buying them little gifts, writing love notes or perhaps simply having great fun with them. However, with an effective couples therapy approach, at the right point in your couple difficulties, you should be able to discover just what you need as you move along the therapy road together.

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

Finding a good therapist

Blogfind2002 June 2015

I remember reading Canadian educationalist Allen Tough’s pioneering thoughts in the area of self-directed growth in adults and being inspired at the way most adult learning occurred in informal settings and ways. You could say that adults learn on a need-to-know basis. When you need to get a new car you read magazines, check the Internet, ask around your friends and family for their views, and if you are lucky enough to know a professional in the area you are ‘researching’ then you tend to ask them.

I’m tempted to say that the above pretty much all holds true for finding a therapist as well. But if I think back 20 years or so when I needed therapeutic help myself, I can all too easily remember how difficult it was to talk to people about such issues. Back in the early 90s society was still too wary of therapeutic help. It was also the pre-Internet world when counsellors and psychotherapists were more difficult to find. So, should you just rely on the Internet? Is it good enough to simply look someone up on a website and then hand over your emotional wellbeing to them?

If I were looking for a therapist today here’s what would be on my checklist before I started any sessions with them:
Are they registered and accredited by a respected professional organisation such as the BACP, UKCP or BPS?
Will they talk to you on the phone, by Skype or email before you book a session?
Are they experienced in working with the issues you want to work with? (This is particularly important in areas like sexual difficulties, as few general trainings offer enough input in this area.)
Is the therapist used to working with people in short-, medium- and/or long-term encounters? This might be very helpful in matching your needs with the therapist’s skill set.
Has your prospective therapist had their own therapy? (It might seem odd but not all models of therapy require therapists to undertake their own therapy, while some will simply have done the minimum required by a training course. I’d find it odd to have therapy with someone who hadn’t been in the chair themselves.)

Above all, don’t be persuaded that someone is a good therapist because they have a lot of letters after their name. Studies show that once core requirements of education and training have been met, the effectiveness of the therapist is not dictated by their qualifications.

To my mind, all therapists should be looking to make a good match to the people they are going to work with. Again, studies support the view that it is the quality of the relationship that really helps therapy work. So, it follows that I always offer a no-obligation initial session.

Finally, go with your gut feeling and, if it doesn’t feel right in the room, shop around.