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Our latest article is being published in the Chiswick Herald newspaper and online here. Or read below:

Mental Health Round Up
 
It has been a very busy few weeks in mental health and it is heartening to see so many people agreeing it is time for mental health concerns to shake off stigma. The charity led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Heads Together aims to encourage people to speak out when they are struggling.
 
Of course it is part of our experience of being alive that we have an internal and private world of thoughts and experiences that we do not routinely share with others. So how can we know whether we have a concern which needs attention?
 
At the present time it still seems that only in certain instances can it be accepted that someone might struggle with their mental health; so people who have experienced life changing trauma or those who through a number of factors are diagnosed with a mental health condition. It is also still a harsh reality that only if someone’s “presentation” fit with a recognised “condition” will their struggle be seen as genuine and treatment be provided through health services. Further with all the gaps still existing in the science around mental health we cannot yet be clear about whether existing treatments are in fact effective treatments.  
 
All so called “mental health conditions” (still widely thought of as illnesses) are not identified by the presence of viruses, bacterias, infections, tumours or fractures etc but rather by observed “experiences”.  PTSD, ADHD, Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anxiety Disorders, Learning Difficulties etc are all identified through observation and judgement. The authors of the worlds most widely recognised diagnostic publication the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) have stated that they are concerned that science has not yet been able to validate the categories of conditions it contains. 
 
If you cannot be completely certain about the problem how can you be completely certain about the treatment? And if the treatment is not correct what might the implications be for the patient? For example, in the UK it has been identified that young black men are much more likely than young white men to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and no underlying biological cause has been found. So I think that a system that only treats and recognises “conditions” may be as effective at preventing people seeking and getting help as it is at encouraging treatment.
 
Indeed in response to my article published on the 24th February “What causes mental illness?” where I reviewed a seminar I had attended based upon a book by RD Laing and Aaron Esterson called Sanity, Madness and the Family, the seminar convenor, Anthony Stadlen wrote:
 
“I think the title is a bit misleading, as the whole point of the book, as I try to explain in the seminars, was to question "mental illness" and "schizophrenia", not to ask what "causes" them. The very first sentences of the Preface to the Second Edition were:
 
"There have been many studies of mental illness and the family. This book is not of them, at least in our opinion. But it has been taken to be so by many people." 
 
I think this whole question is really important because the gaps in scientific understanding can mean only one thing - we need to look to ourselves and how we experience our lives and decide whether we need to make changes. So back to the question I posed at the start of this article - “How can we know if we have a mental health struggle that needs attention?” Firstly, if people who you are close to say they are worried about you or have noticed that you do not seem to be your old self then take some time to think about their feedback, ask them to give more detail and if you are unsure whether they might have a point then go and see someone to talk things through with. Secondly, if you wonder whether you are struggling then again go and see someone and talk things through. Be as kind and careful with yourself as you would your best friend!
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick herald please click here or read below.

Latest advances in treatment of anxiety and depression coming out of the USA
 
I have just returned from the annual Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s annual conference. The Association is a huge organisation that aims to improve patient care by promoting the implementation of evidence-based treatments and best practices. The focus of this years conference was “wellness” and aimed to present the latest research findings coming from neuroscience and treatment. 
 
I have for some time been interested in what neuroscience is able to tell us about how the brain appears to work differently when there are particular concerns such as anxiety and depression. For example, studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness appears to have a direct impact upon brain activity and the reduction of anxiety. And it is becoming ever clearer that “disorders” occur when there is some disturbance or interruption between the alarm raising part of the brain - (the amygdala) and the processing or thinking area - (the prefrontal cortex). But we still do not know whether the disruption is in the connection from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex or from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala; or a combination of the two. It also seems as though opinion is leaning towards the view that such disturbances occur following some kind of “trauma”, either event driven or biological. However this cannot be definitely stated.
 
In the therapy profession the behavioural community do tend to be more interested in research than practitioners in the other disciplines and so cognitive behaviour therapies or “CBT” have a bigger base of research evidence. As a result service provision organisations like the NHS tend to lean towards offering these services as they are easier to justify from a financial resources perspective and offer monitoring opportunities. Of course the absence of research from other types of therapy proves very little except that those practitioners do not see a need for research. 
 
But research on outcomes from therapy generally conclude that the single most significant factor determining a positive outcome is not the therapeutic model or approach but the quality of the relationship between the patient and the therapist. The major issue here is that researching “relationships” and monitoring them is far more complex than therapeutic tools and techniques and so the focus is unlikely to change any time soon. 
 
My experience tells me that what people need more than anything else is to meet with someone who they feel cares for them and is passionate about wanting to understand their particular concerns. Such an experience is helpful because the person won’t feel the need to justify themselves and can instead think clearly with another person about their situation and what they can do about it. But I also find that people make sense of their situations in different ways, some people are analytical, some clear about their feelings and others like to think through things. When someone is struggling it is likely that they may need to adjust the emphasis they put of the way in which they make sense or not of their problems. Sometimes people ask for CBT and then want to spend their time speaking about their past, whilst others may say they want to talk about how they feel but spend their time looking for solutions. So what does this mean for anyone wanting to seek help with their psychological well being? 
 
  1. Keep in mind that all mental health conditions have been developed by grouping experiences and are not like physical health conditions that can be diagnosed like viruses, infections or fractures.
  2. We still don’t know whether conditions are nature or nurture or both
  3. The expectation of trauma can be misleading and sufferers can fear that their condition must exist because something has happened to them that they have no hope of coping with
  4. Chose a therapist with whom you feel comfortable - someone with whom you find it easy to speak openly with.
  5. Remember you are in charge and give feedback to your therapist to ensure you get the best possible outcome.
 
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Our latest article on reducing anxiety has been published in the Chiswick Herald, please click here or read below:

Reduce stress and anxiety FAST
 
Below are five things to think about to make you feel calmer:
 
  1. Are you taking things too personally?
 
We get upset with other people when our expectations are not the same. There is nothing wrong with expectations as long as you recognise them for what they are - our humanly attempt to reduce our anxiety about living. We try to reduce our anxiety by finding meaning and purpose and with this we form personal views based on all our experiences of living. What we have liked and not liked is fed into developing our personal framework of what we think is good and bad - it sets our expectations and our opinions and these become what we believe to be true about life.
 
When we come into conflict with another it is because our “truth” does not agree with their’s. We don’t want to think we might be wrong because that undermines our confidence in how we make sense of our lives, so it is natural to defend our “truth”. When we defend we come into conflict and this often causes more conflict. 
 
Conflicting positions present us with a challenge so instead of getting angry try to think about conflict situations like this:
 
“I am right, but only for myself. The other person is also right, but only for themselves. We are in conflict because we are both anxious to be right.”
 
  1. Are you aware of how your time of life is affecting your stress levels?
 
Because we are so busy living our lives we tend to forget to take stock and think about just how much stress might be coming from our stage in life. Adolescence tends to get most publicity as it is the most easily recognisable - due most likely to its nature of being condensed into just a few short years - but differing pressures are with us throughout live. Relationships, careers, financial security, our health, families, retirements, redundancies, bereavements all bring pressure to what we do everyday. Stages often talked about are coming of age, leaving home, leaving university, 30, 40, 50, 60, empty nests, loss of parents, retirement…..
 
So if you are stressed and anxious think about the people you love most and think about how they put pressure on themselves and how you wish they would just relax. And now think about where you are in life, what disappointments have you carried from previous times, what impact might these be having today? What are your hopes for the current time and how are you doing with your plans? And what do you want for the future? You might find yourself tempted to start writing lists but maybe you could try to think like this:
 
“I am right to feel under pressure given everything I want for my life, it is what everyone does. I am anxious just like everyone else”
 
  1. Are you seeking perfection?
 
Do you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Or do other people see you as a perfectionist? It is natural to want to get things right and as the above questions show anxiety comes from expectations and standards. To be a perfect human though is to make mistakes - if you want to be a perfectionist then don’t strive for perfection. Another way of looking at things is to try and aim for good enough in all things rather than seeking perfection in some areas at the cost of others. You might like to think like this:
 
“To be perfect requires imperfection, my imperfections make me perfect.”
 
  1. Are you colluding with your anxieties?
 
Think about all the things that reduce your stress. Think of times when you have felt least stress, places that induce calm, people with whom you feel relaxed, ways in which you can release stress. Excellent you have just completed an exercise in not colluding with anxiety. When you feel stressed or anxious it will affect how you make decisions and not necessarily for the best. Feeling calm and level headed is a good starting point for decision making. So try thinking like this:
 
“Of course I WANT to think about the things that are stressing me so what I NEED to do is think about all the things that are not stressing me”
 
  1. Are your taking care of yourself?
 
A great way to turn yourself away from stress is to develop a kind mindset towards self care. DOING taking care of yourself is a great way to reduce from stress and anxiety that arises from THINKING about looking after ourselves. Recent research has shown that just putting one foot in front of another reduces stress, anxiety and depression. So when it comes to exercise, nutrition, finances, relationships, careers, hobbies, spirituality you will feel better just by putting one foot in front of the other. If you are still struggling with your thinking try this:
 
“To feel better I just need to approach everything with the aim of putting one foot in front of the other.”
 
 
 
We hope you have found this article helpful but if you have been experiencing anxiety for a prolonged period then we advise seeking professional help. In addition, anxiety and stress can also come from underlying health issues so if you are suffering from stress and anxiety symptoms we always advise you check out your health with your GP.
 
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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!