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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.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, click here to visit the site or read below:

Keeping yourself and your family safe in a world of online communication
 
It is becoming clear that whilst the legal landscape is changing to try and keep up with the online communication revolution, ultimately our safety is dependant upon our own abilities to decide on the most skilful way to use new technology.
 
In this article Nicholas Rose suggests some information sources that provide valuable information about safe use of the internet and social media but also suggests how to most skilfully use them.
 
The wonder and the horror of online communication is its scale, immediacy and permanence. There is such a vast world of people and issues available online that we can engage with instantly however any mistakes are recorded and once information is out it can be impossible to retrieve it. What we do and say has consequences and so we have to develop skills and experience to ensure that we minimise the risks of being misunderstood and maximise our understanding of the things and the people with whom we engage.
 
It is obvious that new technology is providing new ways for criminals to steal, abuse and violate and an excellent website giving detailed information on security and safety is www.getsafeonline.org however here I want to look at how we can judge what is going to be the most skilful use of technology for us individually. And when I say skilful I mean how we ensure it is harnessed for positive benefit, enabling us to engage with subjects and people who can enrich our lives and how to avoid those that might be to our detriment. 
 
So when I am talking about safety it is not just about physical, financial and psychological safety its about protecting our full potential. If you are parents then again there is lots of great information, even by age range on the above website but your children will still benefit from you teaching them how to be skilful in their use!
 
We live in a world where lives can be ruined by a seemingly simple mistake and so often we hear people being accused of “poor judgement” and this can have a devastating impact on someones life. Ultimately it is poor judgement that leads to us making mistakes, of course mistakes can happen but given the power of social media and technology what can we do to avoid them as much as possible?
 
  1. Boring as it might be do the research and read up on what best practice is for protecting yourself online.
  2. Think about your strengths and weaknesses in life - finances, relationships, health, parenting and then think about the benefits social media and technology can offer but also identify areas where you might be more vulnerable.
  3. Think about the experience of communicating and engaging with information and people and how this varies across situations and media.
  • So what is it like for you to be with family, friends, colleagues in face to face situations - how does it vary and why?
  • What is your preferred way of communicating in different situations and with different people and why? Face to face, telephone, text, facetime/skype, email, social media….
  • So with whom and in what situations do you feel most at ease and in which do you feel least at ease?
  • Can you now identify the people and situations in which you may struggle to communicate and those where you will find it easiest?
 
In guidance I have read it often says to notice how you feel and think in response to content or communications to see if they bring up any negative feelings or thoughts. The intention here is to encourage people to listen to the very good warning systems that we have but can so often dismiss. However, I also suggest looking out for very positive feelings or thoughts - whether we are nervous or excited such feelings can influence our actions and awareness of these feelings can be used as a signal that we may benefit from exercising some caution. Look out for your reactions both positive and negative and when you are aware of them consider the following:
 
Think about how you are feeling and ask yourself whether those feelings appear logical given the context. If you have no feelings or very strong feelings either positive or negative then try and take a step back before offering any information or entering into any further communication; try asking yourself:
 
  • In what way is this material / content / communication triggering these feelings - what assumptions am I making and what are the other possibilities?
  • What do I want to do or say now and what might the consequences be?
  • If I put myself in the other persons place how might they interpret what I do or say right now and what might result?
  • What am I wanting from this situation and what if I don’t get what I want?
  • Am I feeling under any pressure here and what is the source of this?
  • Thinking about past situations are any similar - do I have a pattern of behaviour that can be unhelpful and is this an opportunity to change it?
 
If as a result of this reflection you are left with any sense of doubt or dilemma then think about taking a step back to give yourself more time. Consider doing something else and going back to it later or ask someone else for their views. 

 
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Our latest article is published in the Chiswick Herald, please read below or click here.

On The Couch: Is Your Relationship In The Best Of Health?

“In relationships, believing that we understand our partners and that they understand us is the single biggest cause of trouble” says Chiswick based Couples Psychotherapist and Counsellor Nicholas Rose. In this article Nicholas explains how to keep your relationship in the best of health.

Understanding between partners’ comes from a desire for both security and vitally, safety – often closely associated with the idea of loving or being loved. If we feel understood, we are more likely to trust in our partner. Ultimately partners are the people most likely to be relied upon in an emergency and in emergencies nothing is more important than clear communication – it is nothing less than a need born out of a need for survival.

Potentially it all starts from birth – if understanding does not exist between us and our primary carers then we risk death – therefore the first thing a baby does is learn how to communicate with its primary care givers. How this is done depends upon what is learnt in the attempt to gain attention – is it more effective to be noisy or quiet, happy or sad, laugh or cry, well or sick, tidy or messy, dependent or independent, creative or practical - the list is endless. Therefore what we learn in the early days is the closest we come to have an approach to life and relationships that is “hardwired”. Simply put, we are good at doing or being in ways for which we have felt understood.

The implication is we need to challenge our assumption we understand and are understood around the most basic of concepts. For example, love. How love is expressed varies enormously across cultures, communities and families. Just ask your friends how love was shown to them as children and you are likely to get a wide variety of responses from food, fun, talking, not talking, sharing, giving, taking, education, discipline, fairness, holidays the list is endless. 

Another prime example is how people are looked after when sick. In some cultures it is common for everyone to visit sick friends and relatives, in others the patient is cared for by being protected from visitors. Neither is right or wrong but someone who is used to visitors when sick will feel neglected and uncared for if their partner tells everyone to keep away as they need rest!

As adults we acquire the ability to enter into relationships on equal terms. Fundamentally a shared language and status provides us with all we need to build and maintain healthy relationships and understanding. It sounds basic and the principle is, however the skills are something to be learnt and developed. Here are some basic rules:

1 Words like “love” are short cuts – use them at your peril. Instead never assume that the word means the same to you and your partner.

2 It requires commitment from both parties to develop an understanding. (At the extreme, the presence of physical or emotional abuse in a relationship suggests that the commitment does not exist).

3 If you feel hurt by something that your partner does or says then (as long as it is not physically or emotionally abusive) it is likely that your defences and theirs are revealing a conflict of understanding. Do not assume that the intention was to hurt you, instead say how you felt and ask if that was what had been intended. Remember relationships often breakdown due to the conversations that have not been had rather than those that have.

4 Never underestimate the possible impact of change, difficult times and stress. Anything that changes your routines or patterns can bring stress that triggers defences – at difficult times in life you might find it difficult to recognise each other. Look out for bereavements, fertility issues, children arriving and leaving, career changes, health challenges and traumatic events.

5 If you are struggling then do not hesitate to seek professional help. Many couples seek help when it is too late - when there is too much misunderstanding and hurt and not enough energy and commitment left in order to make the changes required.
 
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This article appeared in the Chiswick Herald. Please click here or read below:

Depression - how to think about it and how to recover from it
 
News reports last week covered research showing that 25% of architecture students in the UK are receiving or have received treatment for mental health problems related to their studies. Unusually this study sought to identify the sources of the distress and was able to list a number of factors - importantly all of these were outside of the students control.
 
It is often rightly stated that a stigma exists around depression and other mental health illnesses. However the point that often gets missed is that one of the biggest blocks to sufferers in recovery can be their own attitudes to both mental health and themselves for experiencing mental illness. It is really common for people to feel upset with themselves for struggling and to try and almost bully themselves out of their feelings. Unfortunately this tends to result in sufferers feeling even worse and they can become stuck in a vicious cycle of thoughts and feelings.
 
This research amongst students suggested that financial pressures, workloads, working conditions and sexual and racial discrimination were all serving to damage the mental health of one in four of these students. And as I have written previously, it seems that the mental wellbeing of students and employees in the education sector has been overlooked for some time. So much focus os put on results and processes with little emphasis on wellbeing.
 
So research like this is really important because it shifts focus when someone is struggling. Instead of questions being raised around how the person is coping (or not coping) with the inference being that they are not doing something right, it can be directed at looking and considering the context in which the person finds themselves.
 
We know ourselves through our relationships with others and yet when we are having a hard time, it can be really easy to conclude that it is only us that are finding things hard. I wonder just how surprised but also relieved architecture students were when they read the findings of the research? For many I suspect they will have felt intensely relieved, not that so many others struggle but that they are not alone. And more importantly the cause of their depression and anxiety is not simply themselves.
 
Getting a comprehensive understanding of the issues someone faces and the context in which they live and have come from is crucial in getting to grips with depression. Before anyone can start to recover they need to discover some hope in the potential for them to lead a life without such painful and overwhelming feelings, or as is often the case with depression absence of feeling. And hope comes from the realisation that the depression is only natural given where they find themselves in life, that it is not that they are doing anything wrong but the contrary, that it is only right that given their circumstances they can feel as they do.
 
Being able to make the connections that makes sense of the experience starts a process whereby positive connections can start to be made. Ways in which the sufferer can start to do things differently, take control, build confidence and distance themselves from the illness and increase their sense of connection with the world, others and their ability to find life satisfying and rewarding.
 
Again though, during recovery one of the biggest hurdles can be a persons impatience with their recovery. The desire to get away from the experience of depression can be so powerful that they can be vulnerable to almost addictive behaviours. Exercise can be a good example of this, the physiological feelings and rewards available from exercise can lead to addictive behaviour and ultimately this can act to sabotage recovery.
 
To prevent this it is important to spend time to reflect on whats happening, the changes being experienced and to consider the consequences of decisions moving forwards. It is a common phenomenon that people who appear to be on the point making a full recovery make a decision that can have devastating results. In fact suicide risk can be greatest for people who appear to be in recovery than those in the depth of their depression.
Mental illness is such an unpleasant experience for suffers and their loved ones that it is only natural to try to avoid dwelling on difficult feelings and to want to look forward and focus on the positive however taking time to think about how things are going and how to maintain momentum whilst allowing set backs is crucial.
 
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression then consider seeking help. A counsellor or psychotherapist will have the right skills and experience to help understand the depression, its causes and then provide support through the entire recovery process.
 
Patients often ask me how long it will take, how many sessions will be needed for them to recover. My answer is always a simple one - we know we are finished when we no longer have any concerns that are usefully talked through.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick Herald, please click here or read it below.

How to make the School Holidays the best ever!
 
The school holidays are a wonderful opportunity for families to strengthen and improve their relationships and yet for many parents they can bring stress and anxiety. For some parents it can be more about surviving than enjoying the school holidays.
 
The first thing to remember is that as parents you are in charge and so before anything else take some time to think about how best to manage what can be a massive undertaking in terms of balancing time, logistics, money, competing demands and complex relationships.
 
Principle one - Look after yourself before looking after others
 
Priority number one is the well being of the person in charge and yes that is you. So it is really important that you know what you can manage and that you apply your knowledge about what will work best. 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 the summer holidays?
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 the holidays?
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. Say what your response 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 and ask them for their input
 
For example one of your children 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 a good parent 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. 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. The message you want your children to have is that when things go badly in life it is important to take the course of action that best puts things back on track. And if you think some form of punishment is also necessary then that is a different issue and should be handled as such.
 
So you have said your piece and have invited help but it is now your decision to decide what should happen next. Clarity about who is in charge is ultimately about safety. If any of the children do not like your decision remind them of the fact that you are responsible and that in life it is important that people take their responsibilities seriously. And of course remind them that one day they will be in the position of responsibility and then they will need to be the one making the decision.
 
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Our latest article on trauma, anxiety and the EU Referendum has been published today in the Chiswick Herald, please click here or read it below:

Traumatised by the EU referendum?
 
Last week Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England said that the UK was already suffering from “economic post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD. Now in psychology this diagnosis is only applicable to people presenting symptoms once a month has passed since the traumatic event. 
 
To consider the referendum as a traumatic event may seem exaggerated however it really does depend upon a persons relationship both to it and the perceived threat an unwanted outcome held. In our practice many people have wanted to talk about the EU referendum and the entire range of emotions have been triggered by an event that for many connects to key life concerns such as security, belonging, identity, relationships and hope for the future to name a few. I think many people have found that much of their time has been taken up or influenced by the referendum and if you have too then I think now is a good time to consider how you are coping. 
 
Specifically, take some time to think about whether you have started to change how you are living on a day to day basis. Has how you experience or spend your days changed? Are you spending more time following the news / social media, are all your relationships as they were before, are you eating and exercising or have you slipped into some bad habits
 
If the answer to any of these is yes then the key is regaining balance. If you are doing things that add to your stress and anxiety levels then either think about reducing the negative activities or add in other positive things to counteract the effects. This is important because if you do not take corrective action then you could end up with a stress or anxiety disorder.
 
I would however also like to take this opportunity to talk about PTSD as it was the starting point for this article. Having worked with patients diagnosed with this devastating condition for many years, including five years working with survivors of torture for a specialist charity in London, I think there is a growing confusion around trauma and how it impacts on people. I’m not suggesting the referendum will or will not result in cases of PTSD however we know that at times of particular stress and anxiety its also possible for PTSD related to previously untreated traumas to surface. So here is what you need to know about trauma. 
 
Triggers for trauma are identified as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation and the person will have directly experienced the event, witnessed it, learnt of it in relation to a close family member or friend or, have been exposed to the details of the event.
 
Faced with a traumatic incident it is normal for a persons survival instincts to activate, so “fight, flight or fright” are the primary physiological responses combined with difficult thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. However it is the symptoms that present following the event which are used to consider whether someone may need treatment.
 
In the weeks immediately following a traumatic event it would be usual to diagnose an Acute Stress Disorder or ASD. Sufferers with ASD will have the same symptoms as those with PTSD but not everyone who suffers a trauma and ASD will go on to have PTSD. 
 
The symptoms are grouped into four clusters and include reliving the event (in dreams or through flashbacks), having distressing memories, thoughts or feelings as reminders of the event, then a range of cognitive experiences including memory loss, distorted thinking, wanting isolation and finally “arousal”. So being hyper vigilant, experiencing sleep problems and / or reckless or self destructive behaviour, one example might be use of alcohol.
 
In returning to the EU referendum it is still too early to consider the use of the term PTSD to that event however it is not too early to take stock to ensure you are managing your stress and anxiety. Stress, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorders are types of mental distress and illness where much work has been done to both understand and treat sufferers. Following a time of stress/anxiety/trauma it may well be possible for us to find our way back to a post event way of living but it can also trigger an anxiety / post traumatic stress disorder particularly if there were already other underlying concerns in life or previous untreated trauma.