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Our latest article in the Chiswick Herald written by Child Psychotherapist Juliet Lyons on the international aspects of her work can be read here. Or please see below:

International aspects of my work

As an 18-year-old, I worked as a nanny in Italy. It was my first taste of child-care. I learnt how to care for a 1-year-old while being welcomed into this Italian family - Mother, Father, Grandmother and Grandfather. There was a sharing of languages - English and Italian nursery rhymes; nappy changing practice; foods for a one-year-old (variations on tiny pasta cooked in stock or ‘brodo’ with parmesan, of course). I learnt that learning another language can be a gateway into understanding and partaking in a culture, and to be really satisfied in our exchanges, we not only seek to understand, but partake. At the time, I had a very significant dream: I could talk across languages, transitioning in each sentence between several different languages to produce an extraordinary type of poetry. The dream has stayed with me ever since as does my experience as an English nanny in Italy. 

In some senses, this dream has come to fruition: over the past 7 years, working in Chiswick as a Child Psychotherapist, I have been struck by the number of international clients and how enriching this is to the work. My clients come from areas as diverse as Argentina, Russia, Bulgaria, the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Brazil, Italy, Sweden, US, China, Rumania, France, Germany, (the list goes on) as well as the UK. Occasionally, I even work with a translator. This cultural mix makes for very interesting and varied exchanges. They are multi-layered and complex in the interchange of attitudes and beliefs around caring for each other, parenting, and the forming of identities. 

It is not surprising then that in my consulting room, I have noticed recent political events have had an enormous impact. Following the American elections, I had an influx of young American, female clients who were experiencing enormous amounts of anxiety. Children in my consulting room seem highly aware of politics and environmental issues, particularly those who originate from outside the UK. There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in families that come from abroad about their future and where they will live in the near future.

People who come to this country do so for many reasons. Often to do with their work, sometimes for the hope of a better quality of life for themselves and their families. Some have married a UK resident; others have married someone from their own or a different country and culture. They often face enormous losses of friendships, family, and the familiarity of their culture and language. Sometimes they take tremendous risks to move and often feel very vulnerable in such a move. I have been deeply moved by parents that have sacrificed so much to come to the UK, at times to enable their already vulnerable child or children to have opportunities in schooling, therapies and medical care that is just not available in their home countries. 

Attitudes to parenting vary. What is accepted as normal parenting in one country, is seen as abusive in the UK. For instance, hitting your child is still accepted in many countries. Parents can find themselves in the hands of Social Services, learning about the dangers of hitting a child, and learning of more humane ways of setting boundaries and having a different type of relationship with their child. In such cases, the child can see the UK as a protective force, a caring and kind country. But equally, it can be hard for them to carry the burden of knowing that their country of origin did not protect them in this way. It is a complex situation to come to terms with. But these children are initiated into the extremes of cultural diversity that few experience in such stark ways, and often become deeply sophisticated in their understanding of difference. Some families, very sadly, have experienced abuse here in the UK. When people put their trust into a system and an individual in the system abuses the trust and vulnerability of a child and family, it is very difficult to come to terms with. The pain can be shared and born, but it is always there. 

At this particular point in time, when the UK is reconsidering its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, it seems more important than ever to consider the psychological aspects of being native and being a foreigner. Above all, what I observe and learn from my international clients is around how they navigate the space between dependence and independence, and how they retain or lose their sense of cultural identity.

How we form our identity is relevant to this discussion. According to theories, based on observations of infants, babies and children, identity is formed in relationship. We take in how others view us and see us, how they understand us, and how they interact with us. It is a complex dance of interactions that are forever being built in our minds and held in our bodies. On each building block, the next identity forming interaction is possible. It is the interactions around the care of ourselves that seem to form our resilience and identities most strongly. 

What is significant in this dance is that where we are understood and feel ‘got’, we can accept closeness. Where we are misunderstood, and in particular our vulnerability is misunderstood, trust cannot be built and we therefore tend to break bonds, move away from closeness. Empathy is what allows us to reach each other, to hear each other to feel touched by one another. When one is vulnerable, fragile, unformed, forming, emerging, discovering, awakening, then the softness, safeness and attunement of empathetic responses will find their way into our very being and become part of us. If we are responded to without empathy, with misattunement, with harshness, with a lack of understanding about our vulnerability, then we will shut out the relationship, with long-term and ongoing consequences for us and others. Of course, we will constantly make mistakes as parents, but what is key is that we can repair the ruptures – change our ways, recognize it if we get it very wrong, work with others to find different ways. 

This process introduces the individual in a timely and careful way to their capacities to be an individual within a group. To retain a sense of individuality that, when under attack, can find itself again, and therefore is secure enough. This individual will therefore be likely to tolerate difference. This, in part, is what makes us able to have an interest in another without too much fear of losing our identities. When we meet another, a stranger, we are always taking a risk. But it is the capacity to be uncertain, unsure and how we manage this that is key. If we are too frightened, we might wish to either merge (to deny difference) or to project our fears and make the other more frightening than they are. Managing the tension between a child wanting to explore and keeping them safe is a key principle of parenting. Psychotherapist Nicholas Rose advocates ‘the importance for us to equip ourselves with communication tools so we can feel safe and secure in engaging with others whilst also knowing how to deal with abuse and dysfunction.’ This is inevitably complicated if we are communicating across languages and cultures.

At Nicholas Rose and Associates, we have a culturally diverse team. Psychotherapist Adriana Amorim says, ‘I think that working with diversity is at the core of what we do as counsellors and that having a better understanding of the mechanisms of diversity through personal experience of migration helps me to work more efficiently and in tune with clients' predicaments.’ For me, learning from clients from all over the world, I find that children and parents want to retain something of their original identities and yet, they want to be themselves at the end of the day. And who they are and are becoming can hold many cultural identities. For me, to be able to partake in and support this complex process of identity building, is a privilege.

 
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, click here or read below; this article looks at our take on how relationship counselling would have been useful in the musical La La Land.

Love and relationships in La La Land
 
SPOILER ALERT - If you have not yet seen La La Land you might want to read this article when you have!
 
In the final scene of La La Land, as Ryan Goslings’ character plays the piece on the piano that first captured Emma Stone’s characters attention, an alternate outcome flashes by where they get together and stay together. 
 
The pivotal moment appears to be where instead of him roughly pushing past her, he instead stops and kisses her passionately. To me this suggested that if only he had acted differently in this moment, if only he hadn’t been so upset, then everything would have turned out differently? However putting my relationship therapist hat on, I would suggest a very different potential turning point in their relationship - one that if handled differently may well have led to a positive although maybe less dramatically satisfying outcome?
 
For me, the key moment in the film where I would expect the problems to have originated was where he overheard her speaking on the phone to her mother about their and his financial situation. He is seen looking at a damp patch on the ceiling and these things are shown just prior to him deciding to take on a new job. A job where it is clear is out of line with the way they had both been thinking and feeling until then. We can only imagine what he thought and how he might have felt hearing the situation and him discussed in hushed tones? And why was she speaking in this way we can also only wonder about whether she found it difficult to talk to him about this situation, there may have been a part of her that wanted him to overhear but also what she wanted him to understand? The most skilful thing for them to do at this point in time would have been to talk about something they were obviously finding difficult - so why didn’t that happen?
 
In therapy I would be wanting to understand how they both thought and felt at this point about the financial situation and to explore what they both understood about how the other was thinking and feeling? I would also want to know whether they talked together about making decisions that would impact on the relationship and to consider what had been talked about and what was not. For example, if he said that he had decided to take on this work how did she think and feel about questioning him about his reasoning? Likewise what were his thoughts and feelings about talking to her about what he saw as a problem and what he thought would be the best solution? So often partners will think or feel that talking might not be the best thing to do. They might think they should not question their partners decisions or might also not want to share for fear of burdening the partner. 
 
They might think certain subject areas are out of bounds or they might not be expecting their partner to be interested in a particular problem. An added dimension here might be how they were both very passionate about wanting to make a success in their separate careers and also aware of each others career dreams. I would want to know how they felt and thought about challenging but also being challenged about the priority they might give to their careers at that point in time?
 
So often things do not get talked about because people are so focussed on doing things in what they think is the right way they forget that in a relationship the right way is actually about teamwork. There are no rights or wrongs only the need for the couple to feel comfortable in the relationship and to think that it works for them.
 
Maybe in La La Land if they had talked about the financial situation at this point different decisions would have been made? However in my opinion, it is not so much the decision itself that is crucial as the fact that both think and feel that they made it together. It is this that I think ensures even through the most difficult of times, both partners see their situation as the problem rather than their relationship or each other and it is this state of mind and belief in their relationship that ensures they can find the energy and motivation to work in harmony.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, please click here or read below:

How to make this Christmas the best ever!
 
The Christmas holidays are a wonderful opportunity for us to strengthen and improve our relationships and yet for many they can bring stress and anxiety. For some it can be more about surviving than enjoying the Christmas holidays.
 
The first thing to remember is that people think of Christmas in many different ways and there are often many competing expectations. For example people may use the following words to express their hopes for Christmas, family times, friends, relaxing, having fun, spirituality, charity, reflection, partying, staying in, going out, log fires, wintery walks, time alone, time with others, entertaining, being entertained. Remembering this means that you can be proactive and ask people what they are wanting to get out of Christmas and what they would like to do - you can then decide with those you care about how to ensure everyone can have a good time
 
Principle one - Examine yourself first
 
Priority number one is your well being. So it is really important that you know what you want to get out of Christmas. After all it is you who will have to manage whatever plans are made. Here are a list of questions to help you think about this:-
 
How are you? 
How’s life for you at the moment?
What is concerning you at the moment?
How do you feel about family life?
What would you like to get out of Christmas?
Why do you think you want this - is this what you want or need?
Now take a moment to now think what you NEED from Christmas?
What do you not want to happen?
Thinking through how the family is at the moment what do you foresee?
In terms of current challenges what have you tried and what haven’t you tried?
Do you feel supported? Again, if not what have you tried and not tried?
How self critical are you? Yes difficult behaviours in the family may well be coming from the dynamic created by traits that you see as your own shortcomings but be kind to yourself. Don’t make yourself do things because you feel you should - find creative ways to achieve the same aims!
 
Principle two - Use a constructive and collaborative communication style
 
Avoid escalation of conflict by simplifying your communication. When you feel that conflict may arise use this four step way of ensuring you express yourself clearly and in a non confrontational way.
 
  1. State the fact/s
  2. Share your response to the situation - say how you feel and think (never say you make me feel / think because that will escalate conflict)
  3. Explain why this matters to you
  4. Share the problem you now have, ideally tell them what you want to do but if you are unsure ask them for their input
 
For example one of your family arrives late, this means you will be under pressure to get somewhere on time, this is something that you have said is important to you, you feel angry and stressed. It also means that it is unlikely you can fit in both of the things that were planned.
 
  1. I said we would need to leave at 9am but you have arrived at 9.45am
  2. I feel upset, angry and under pressure
  3. I want to be relaxed and easy going and being late means to me that I am failing but being late also means I end up under pressure 
  4. Now that we are 45 minutes I do not think we can do what we had planned, I need help in deciding what to change. Do you have any thoughts?
 
Principle three - Maintaining boundaries
 
A constructive and collaborative style of communication does not mean that you now let others decide what happens. Particularly if you are clearly the one with the designated responsibility - for example the cook of the Christmas lunch! The key concern now is finding a new plan that works for everyone - including you. With the example above you may decide to take out one of the activities that had been planned. Before you do this double check with your motivations to ensure that this is the most practical solution - that the decision is not an outlet for your difficult feelings but an answer to the dilemma you face. 
 
So you have said your piece and have invited help but it is now for you to decide what you need next. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting others to know what you want and to step in. If it doesn’t feel right then say so - in the best relationships people work together to ensure everyone is happy, it is merely wishful thinking that someone else can know you better than you know yourself. So avoid disappointment this Christmas, take responsibility for your own happiness whilst working with others to help them realise theirs!
 
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!
 
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Our latest article on bullying in the Chiswick Herald can be read here. Or below:

Bullying and what to do about it!
 
Research shows that one in every two people are affected by bullying. It is something that people still find very hard to discuss. Research, information, education in schools, employer advice, safety online, children, adults and the elderly are all areas and people where there is some progress but as our awareness of bullying develops then I think confusion can occur. 
 
Increasingly I think the word can be used incorrectly and it is really important to be clear about whether your or another persons behaviour is bullying. If used incorrectly misunderstandings can be magnified and conflicts made worse, sometimes partners might accuse each other of bullying as it can justify ending a relationship. However it is also essential not to shy away from the word when bullying might be happening.
 
No good can come from a person being trapped in bullying and to stop a bully is to also give them a chance to change their behaviour.
 
So the first step is to be able to identify bullying. This sounds obvious but in my work I have found that many people have not realised they are being bullied, it is also common for people not to realise that they are bullying others. Meanwhile I also hear people accuse others of bullying behaviour when on closer examination there is actually something else happening.
 
Bullying can take many forms but in essence it is deliberately setting out to hurt another person either emotionally or physically. It is often a pattern of repeated behaviour and one that leads to the bullied person feeling differently about themselves and the world. Threatening behaviour, insults, unfair treatment, excluding are all possible manifestations. It is also something that often occurs to certain people because of factors such as how they appear, a disability, sexuality, gender, race or religion. There is always a purpose to bullying - it will be to make the other person feel bad and / or to get them to behave differently or do something that the bully wants.
 
BullyingUK is a charity that provides information and advice through their website www.bullying.co.uk and it can give you information whether you are experiencing bullying at home, work, school, online or any other context. It is also very good in terms of helping where you might be bullied for a specific reason for example your sexuality. But for the rest of this article I want to help you think about your relationships and whether there are any where bullying might be a concern.
 
First of all think about your family, friends, colleagues are there any where you can find yourself feeling uncomfortable? 
 
Secondly, identify what is it about your interactions that feel uncomfortable? Is it things that are said to you, is it things you find yourself saying to them? Do you feel irritated, frustrated, nervous or scared? Do you find yourself acting differently around them to how you normally behave? Do you observe that they treat you differently to other people? Has anyone who knows you and spent time with you said anything to you about what they see happening? Are your requests / wishes ignored? Do you feel forced into doing what the other person wants? Does the person approach you even when you have shown no interest in contact with them? Do you think there is an obvious or perceived power imbalance? Do you think the person might find your interactions with them hurtfull or upsetting?
 
Third, what have you tried to change or stop what is happening? What haven’t you tried and why? Have you tried telling the person that you find their behaviour towards you hurtful? If so did they ignore what you said and continue or increase the hurtful behaviour? Or are you just too frightened to even try? If this is the case then talk this over with someone as the situation needs to change. If you are wondering whether you might have been bullying then can you remember how the other person responded in response to your actions or words. Did they appear calm and relaxed or nervous and scared, what did you then do? Did you continue with your words and actions? Did you ask them if they were ok? Did they do what you wanted even though they had said it was not what they wanted? If you now think that maybe you might have treated them badly you might consider asking them or find someone who you can talk this through with.
 
Im my experience as a psychotherapist people can feel ashamed if they have been bullied or guilty and afraid if they have been the one bullying, so speaking to someone you don’t know can often be really helpful. It is important to be able to feel able to tell the whole story if you find yourself editing out things you of the other person did then this suggests you are not talking this through with the right person.
 
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In our last article published on Friday the 28th October we started to look at the concern many people struggle with when finding a relationship difficult, mainly that the unhappiness may affect children. I suggested that it is really valuable to think about this because you can do a number of things to manage any impacts. I even think addressing the issues head on can help with improving relationships both with partners and with children.
 
Child Psychotherapist Juliet Lyons says: 
 
“Protecting your children from abusive or frightening behaviour is important. But avoiding conflict for the sake of keeping the peace will not be helpful for your children in the long run. It is important that your children learn that it ok to stand up for yourself when you believe that your partner has got it wrong and that you can work through this. This can model for your children how to navigate your way through difficulties in relationships, how to express yourself, hear your partner and compromise”.
 
In the last article I encouraged doing a review of your relationship so as to gain a clear perspective on the areas of struggle. By doing this you should be able to recall actual events and situations and the details of what happened, when, where, why, how and who was there. The value of specific events is that they are much more valuable in resolving problems than thinking of struggles in terms of generics, for example I don’t feel loved any more, I am not cared for, there is no respect in this relationship.. 
 
Think about these events and bring to mind your children, were they there? did they say anything? ask any questions? show any behaviour that suggests they might have been aware of the conflicts? Again, identify specifics for example, they stopped doing homework, asked whether you are both ok etc. When you have done this think about how you responded to them, what do you think they understood, what did you want them to understand, what did you not want them to know and why, do you still feel comfortable with how you dealt with the situation?
 
If you are thinking about this with your partner it can be really useful because there will be two different perspectives feeding into the thinking around this but you should both agree that whilst it will feel very compelling to get drawn into the conflict again and about who was to blame this is not what you are attempting to do, stay focussed on the children and agree to agree that you will return to any unresolved issues between you at another time to be agreed.
 
Adds Juliet: 
 
“The language you use is very important. It is important to make sure that you are taking responsibility for your own feelings, aiming for an ability to express vulnerability, rather than blame and attack. Marshall Rosenberg has written an excellent book on this subject- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life”.
 
Hopefully you will now have been able to identify situations, behaviours, conversations that suggest whether your children may have been affected by your conflicts. Even if nothing comes to mind it is worth thinking about whether you have spoken to your children about conflict in relationships? Conflict is inevitable however what is important is to develop skills in handling them when they arise. And irrespective of whether you think your own struggles may have been affecting your children it can be really useful to remember that. In reading this article and thinking about this issue you are starting to change your approach to conflict and ultimately that is what will be important to your children not only because they will be reassured but because you are modelling skilful behaviour.
 
 
Safety must always be the first consideration. Abusive behaviours are not to be tolerated and if you are unclear about what is abusive take some time to read about abuse and bullying (our next article will focus on this) in the meantime and assuming you conclude that the conflicts are without abuse and you wish to speak to your children then the best way to get started is to ask them whether they have any concerns about conflict either in life generally or in the context of the family? If you have a specific event in mind then state it for example, when asked me whether we were ok after the argument I had with your mother / father I wonder whether my response was clear, whether you understood, whether you were left with any worries?
 
By starting this conversation you are showing that it is ok to talk about conflict, demonstrating that people may react in the heat of situations but that it can be useful to revisit conflicts rather than leave them unresolved, that talking about them may not resolve them immediately but is an important first step. Of course you may find it very hard to have these conversations, feel under pressure to be perfect parents or feel defensive, the important thing is to be aware of what is happening for you and remember it is always possible to say “I am not sure about that right now, I need to think and get back to you”. Ultimately you need to have a conversation where any concerns your children have can be understood and addressed. For example, some children can worry that they might be to blame for the conflict in their parents relationship. 
 
In addition to helping your children feel reassured such conversations may help you to further understand the conflict in your relationship. Remember though you are the adults and you have full responsibility to manage your conflicts in such a way that your children can feel secure, learn about conflict and learn about how to manage them skilfully. In finishing Juliet recommends:
 
“Of particular importance is that you don't endlessly argue over your children in front of them and that you find a way forward together during times when you can fully express your feelings without fear of disturbing your children”.
 
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When couples with children come to therapy one of their biggest fears is that any trouble in their relationship might be affecting the children and often guidance is sought about how best to protect them. The bad news is that such fears are well founded, the good news is that there are things that can be done. In this two part article we will talk about how to approach difficult situations, highlight warning signs and suggest ways for handling them constructively.
 
First of all you need to complete a thorough assessment of your relationship to be clear about what the concerns might be - a clear understanding of how you are in your relationship will enable you to think more clearly about the times and situations when things may be problematic and when your children might be affected. 
 
So thinking about your relationship - are you happy with it? Do you always say whats on your mind? Do you feel listened to? Do you feel understood? Do your needs get taken into account? Is your relationship as strong as it has always been? Do you think your partner is happy? Does your partner do the things he or she used to enjoy? Do you laugh together? Do you enjoy your sex life? Do you have lots of happy memories together? Do you look to the future together with a sense of excitement? 
 
If you are starting to identify think about some problem areas try and be as clear as possible about what you have noticed. Avoid conclusions like we are so loving anymore - instead identify behaviour for example we don’t have date nights any more. Once you have identified behaviours, think about when the behaviour change happened. What was happening in your lives at that time, what was the impact of events, what was discussed at the time and were issues resolved? Even if you were happy with the way things were handled, was your partner? Have you ever checked in to see if your partner was happy? Thinking about any unresolved issues, what happens when situations arise that remind either of you of it? How do you handle it? What is the impact of it? What gets said and what does not get said?
 
By now you should have a good idea of the situations, contexts and times where conflict may exist. Even if you feel comfortable with the problem areas identified and think that conflicts are manageable between yourself and your partner you may want to think about whether there is anything to address with your children. So the second stage is to now think about your children.
 
Bringing conflicts to mind what do you think your children would say, think and feel about them? Do you remember anything they said or how they reacted? Did you understand their reaction? Did you explore with them what they wanted from what they said or did? Has their behaviour changed at home, at school or with their friends and how do the changes correspond with changes in your relationship? Has their relationships changed with you, your partner, other family members and relationships?
 
If you are starting to think about times when things were difficult and finding yourself worrying about whether you handled them in the best way then the very first thing to do is to stop that negative train of thought. Instead congratulate yourself for your courage in giving this some thought and look at this as merely a stepping stone to improving things.
 
A relationship without conflict is unlikely to be one where those in the relationship are fully engaged so it can be really helpful to remember that intimacy can come from conflict in as much the same way as through good times! Conflict shows the existence of care and what is important is that it is handled in the most skilful way. The problem for children is that they often only see the negative situations and may start to worry about what might happen or even, in situations where parents have resolved a conflict not know for certain that is the case and suspect that worse is still to come.
 
In our next article we will look specifically at what to do now.