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

Here’s how to give yourself a summer mental health and wellbeing check up!
 
Summer can be a great time to take stock. The disruption in our usual routines can remind us that there are different ways to live and this can be enough to help us make some simple but hugely important changes.
 
The summer holiday is for many people the one time when they feel they have earned the right to do what they enjoy. As a result it is a time when many things are enjoyed - some of which maybe vital for well being - but how can you decide what is vital and what is merely pleasure for pleasures sake? 
 
It is a natural tendency for us to let the things that support us fall by the wayside at times when the pressure of everyday life demands sacrifices. I use the word sacrifice intentionally because what I see people doing every day is “sacrificing” something. Firstly because there is a hope that some reward will follow and secondly because a sacrifice is mostly seen and understood as positive thing. Everyone has heard something said like “she sacrificed the best years of her live for  her children and see how they repay her”, or “he worked for them for years, put up with poor pay and now look at how he’s been treated”. It doesn’t change what has happened but it does position the one who has sacrificed as the one to be judged more sympathetically. 
 
In other words I think people can find themselves leading hard lives because they prefer to think of themselves as someone who sacrifices. And then of course people don’t sacrifice overtime for time with their families, don’t sacrifice promotion for staying in a job they are actually enjoying, don’t sacrifice the rush hour commute in favour of a yoga class, don’t sacrifice the hour they spend each day reading bad news for an hour listening to music, reading, walking, making love… A sacrifice seems to be about giving up something we find positive…
 
My point is simply that the judgements and beliefs we hold about the way to approach life will affect the way in which we make decisions and not always for the best! So use the summer holidays to give yourself a mental health and wellbeing check up and heres how. 
 
Think about and write down:
 
1. The things you do during your usual routines that you are pretty certain are unhealthy / unhelpful, the things you would like to change or improve for example, lose weight, drink less, exercise more etc. 
 
2. Your life when you are in your usual routines and without stopping to analyse/censure what comes to mind list the times when you have the most positive feelings/thoughts/bodily sensations.
 
3. When you get the most negative feelings/thoughts/bodily sensations.
 
4. How this compares to when you are on holiday.
 
 
Now:
 
1 Write down the three most significant things that you DO NOT feel compelled by when on holiday. For example “on holiday I do not feel under pressure to get everywhere on time” again do not stop to analyse or censure.
 
2. Again without analysing / censuring, write down what would need to be different for example, “I would need to start working part time”.
 
3. NOW is the time to allow yourself to analyse and censure your reactions to these changes - so list all the reasons why you do not think you can change.
 
This is the point at which you will see all your judgements and belief’s - ask yourself “what of the things I’ve listed here do I actually know, where does this come from and what evidence do I have that this applies to me and my life?”.
 
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Our latest article has been published in the Chiswick herald can be found here. Or please read below:

A couple of common misconceptions about feelings explored….
 
Is it wrong to have bad feelings when people die?
 
At a funeral I went to last year the priest spoke about how loss might bring up sadness, loneliness, depression and shock. The difficulty for me in hearing these feelings listed was that it led me to think that we were being told that only certain feelings are appropriate; ones that suggest we had a relationship with the deceased that was wholly positive? 
 
In reality bereavement can bring up many difficult feelings both about the relationship someone had with a person who has died and the fact that the person has now died, for example, these might include angry, vindictive, hurt, hostile, relieved, excited, numbness etc.  It was only at the wake afterwards people appeared to find themselves able to start to acknowledge the more authentic nature of their relationship with the deceased, for example to be able to say something like “I could get so annoyed with her because she used to be so stubborn” or “I could feel so disappointed because she could be so judgemental”. Even then I found myself wondering about other thoughts and feelings that remain “secret”. For example, people can feel relieved when someone dies but then feel guilty that they have that feeling of relief.  
 
As psychotherapists, when counselling we so often have patients where part of the struggle is because they have feelings that they think are wrong or inappropriate. That means we often have to deal with the persons feelings about their feelings before we can start to work on the underlying feelings themselves. 
 
So whats the answer? Firstly to accept that when things happen to us then the feelings, the types of feeling and the strength of feelings or even the absence of feeling are a reaction over which we have no control and no matter what we think of them they are all appropriate and justifiable. It is the actions that we take in response to feelings that can be problematic so instead of being concerned about the feelings and trying to control them, pay attention to them instead, question them, try and understand them and then think about what you would like to do.
 
 
Do you ever say (or think) “You are making me feel….”?
 
This is something that I think most people will find themselves saying at some time or other. For example, that person who you have told numerous times not to be late is late and you say to them (or think) “you are always late and you make me feel so annoyed!”. But of course the annoyance is yours and it is most likely because you have again fallen into the trap of expecting a different outcome? After all it is not really a surprise that they were late. So what is the annoyance? I suggest it is annoyance with yourself and because we like to try and get rid of negative feelings as quickly as possible we can mistakenly expect the best way to deal with them is to allocate them on someone else.
 
Because our feelings appear so powerfully to us when someone says or does something that generates a reaction, and because it is also usual for others to quickly think we are the source of their feelings, this basic notion is almost hardwired. However this misconception does not help us, because the way in which we respond to people and situations is a uniquely personal thing based upon a range of factors including our life experiences, expectations and cultural norms to name a few. And the proof? Can you say you never witness different people responding differently when in the same situation? It is a common phenomena that when there is an incident, police witness statements typically contain very different accounts of the same incident. And what about all the times when you have found that your explanation of someones behaviour is different to someone else’s? 
 
The reason why this is so important is that you can change your way of thinking so that you see your feelings as YOUR response to a situation or person. And when you do this you can consider what those feelings are telling you about yourself and how you are living your life. Back to that person that is always late, now you are no longer putting the responsibility for your feelings on them what do YOU want to do about avoiding either the situation or the feelings next time?
 
If you would like to speak to a counsellor for help and advice please don't hesistate to get in touch
 
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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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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.