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The following article appeared in the Chiswick Herald on the 1st February.
 
Sometimes people with anxiety start to withdraw and avoid things, people and situations where they experience heightened anxiety. Avoidance is a valid coping mechanism and a tool that can facilitate recovery from trauma but if you or someone you know is gradually withdrawing with no decrease in anxiety then maybe its not the most helpful one!
 
In fact this might be considered as “colluding” with anxiety, and collusion ultimately leads to greater anxiety.
 
Anxiety is a heightened state that is identifiable through a combination of physical, psychological and behavioural experiences. Anxiety is different to stress in that it is a longer term condition and it is for this very reason that it can be harder to identify and therefore to treat.

 

It is not uncommon for people to be unaware that they suffer from anxiety until they realise that other people do not feel like them and again, being able to identify anxiety can depend upon its cause. Where there has been a significant life event it can be easier to spot than if someone has been anxious since a very early age. Again it is common for people to not recognise anxiety because the way they experience life has never been any different. For people who have this type of anxiety it can be helpful to think about a persons early years and any childhood traumas.

 

And of course anxiety is linked to a wide range of other unpleasant experiences such as panic attacks, agoraphobia, other phobia’s, obsessive compulsive disorder etc. Long term anxiety may also result in clinical depression or other mental health conditions - so once recognised it is really important to start developing ways to manage and hopefully recover from anxiety.

  

Returning to colluding with anxiety, a common experience is for sufferers to be anxious about being anxious and this is contrary to how anxiety can be alleviated. This cycle which can only result in an escalation of the anxiety must first be broken. We need to recognise that the anxiety has a message for us - one that we need to understand and to do this we must adopt a “kindly curiosity” towards the experience of the anxiety.
 
Imagine someone who cannot travel on the Underground, how might you apply the idea of kindly curiosity? Here are a list of questions that might be helpfully worked through.
 
  1. What is the impact on the person of not being able to travel on the Underground? Answers may be practical for example the cost of having to get taxis or more personal for example feeling unhappy with oneself or a combination. 
  2. Has something happened on the Underground? If yes then traumas that have resulted in an unwanted change are something that people take to counselling.
  3. When did this anxiety first appear?
  4. Was there anything else going on in life at the time?
  5. What has been tried to manage or treat the anxiety?
  6. What hasn’t been tried?
  7. Have you looked for information on using the underground, anxiety and how other people cope?
  8. What do you think and feel about what you have found out?
  9. What would you like to do about it?
  10. What might you find supportive / helpful?
  11. Who might you find helpful / supportive?
  12. Is there any reason why you do not try to deal with this or why it is hard to get help?
  13. If a person you cared for was in your situation what would you say to them, or how would you help them?
 
 
In therapy, one of the approaches to overcome an anxiety linked to a specific situation is firstly to talk it through, secondly to talk about information that might be helpful and then thirdly to draw up a plan of action.
 
A plan of action in terms of travelling on the Underground will be tailored to the specific person, based upon what they want to do, what has worked for other people and what the therapist and the person senses to be manageable.
 
For example, the sufferer might first of all watch videos of underground journeys, they might then go to visit an Underground station, then they might take a train just one stop on an overground section before taking longer journeys. They might have a therapist or friend / relative travel with them the first few times, drop them at the station or meet them at the other end. They might take their mobile phone with them and have someone lined up who they can call. They might take a book or listen to music, carry food or water….. As you can see so many options. 
 
The important thing is to be kind, take small steps and listen to what feels manageable. 
 
The Underground is a fairly common example and one that can cause anything from mild to debilitating anxiety. If either yourself or someone you know is struggling with anxiety remember this is a very common problem and it is treatable.
 
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Our latest article published in the Chiswick Herald on the 1st December on page 21, to read it click here. Otherwise the article is detailed below:

 
Is work affecting your mental health?

 I have been thinking about how many of our clients are routinely impacted on stress that comes from work, either from the pressure of the work itself and or difficult relationships at work. And too much stress can so easily have a significant impact on a persons quality of life. Stress can lead to anxiety and depression that brings with it many symptoms that can prevent people from getting the most out of life.

 And did you know that employers should be thinking about whether your work is well designed, organised and managed? Employers in the UK have a legal duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees and yet according to research conducted by the mental health charity Mind in 2013, work was given as the most stressful factor by 34% of respondents saying they found their work life either very or quite stressful. Other research quoted by the Health and Safety Executive also shows that workers in the public service industries tend to have higher incidences of stress.

 It can of course be difficult to attribute stress to just one source and yet if you find yourself saying that work is stressful, or if you notice that someone else tends to exhibit signs of stress in relation to work then it can be helpful to keep in mind that there are ways to manage and reduce stress. It is also helpful to remember that if you are stressed at work then your employer has a responsibility too.

 Bullying continues to attract much attention in the media for example, if you are struggling at work whilst it might be your first thought to think about how you are failing that might mean you fail to recognise that you are the victim of bullying. Instead of focusing on what you are doing wrong take a step back and think about the environment and context in which you find yourself. Examples of bullying can include overbearing supervision, constant criticism, exclusion and maybe you are working an a culture where this is routine but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with this. 

 But it is not just adults in the workplace who are suffering from stress. It seems this is an increasingly recognised problem for children too. In August 2015 The Guardian reported that English children are among the unhappiest in the world and again there seems to be a significant link with bullying. Head Teachers have been calling for improved mental health care and yet for some time now the news has been full of articles on how much stress teachers say they are experiencing.

 Marybeth Mendenhall, our Senior Associate and a Systemic Psychotherapist told me “The dynamics within organisations can usefully be likened to those that occur in families -  dysfunctional organisations are like dysfunctional families. For the members belonging to the group harmful behaviours may easily become so familiar that it is only when a new member joins or an outsider gets to see and experience being part of the group that the harmful dynamics can be identified”. 

 

Ia Tollstam, our Consultant Supervisor for business services told me “many medium and large organisations have services in place to help managers think about stress and employees deal with stress. Access to counselling is commonplace in many organisations but not so much for those that are smaller”. She added “there is so much an organisation can do to support its staff and the value of a workforce who feel looked after is something the most successful employers understand.”

 

As Marybeth says “Just like with a family, members can really help each other out when trouble strikes and good communications and strong relationships can build resilience that minimises the impact of difficult times or events.” 

 

In talking to my colleagues about stress at work and in families I have found myself thinking about how more and more of our work is with children and adolescents. It seems that stress is affecting everyone? Stressed parents equals stressed children, stressed managers a stressed workforce and stressed teachers stressed pupils so to end I guess I am thinking about just how useful it can be to think about the different roles you have in life - parent, manager, partner, friend, colleague, teacher - when you think of that role can you recognise stress and if so what impact might that be having on those who count on you?
 
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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.