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Our article - "Reduce conflict and stress in relationships" published in the Chiswick Herald on the 9th November. Please read below:

Reduce conflict and stress in relationships
 
Conflict and stress in relationships often come from misunderstandings and poor communication. We cannot expect others to change how they communicate but we can change ourselves and when we find communications of others upsetting then having a better understanding can help.
 
In this article I’m going to look at how, by paying attention to our thinking and the words we use we can become more relaxed, have less conflict with others and become happier. Initially, I will explain how we have a natural tendency towards the negative, the role of our thinking, how the words we use can make things worse for us and how we can also apply this when we find the communications of others upsetting.
 
Recognising the difference between interpretation and fact
 
For example, a friend who you had agreed to let know whether you would or would not be able to make it for coffee, replies saying 
 
“You are late contacting me! Bad behaviour from a friend?” 
 
As you can see the response contains judgements which are negative towards your actions namely, “late” (no date or time had been agreed for confirming) and “Bad” (a subjective interpretation) - with such wording it is likely that you will have had a negative reaction to these words?
 
Beware - negative interpretations cause escalations in both yourself and others
 
Your feeling response to these judgements is likely to be negative. What feeling it evokes in you will depend upon your current situation and also how you to tend to respond to negative comments. Importantly your own negative reaction to the judgements may well lead you to negative judgements in return. For example, if you have been really busy and not very well you might feel upset and then your own negative judgement will be to think you are being misunderstood, if you have a history of disappointments, you might feel anger and think they are unfair, if you have had critical parents you might feel anxious or nervous and think you are in trouble?
 
So likely responses you send in these three scenarios might well be something like:
 
“You just don’t understand and are not being nice”.
“You are unfair, I know what it is like to feel disappointed and you have no right to feel this way”.
 
With these first two responses your friend is likely to be respond with further negative judgement and accusation. A third possibility and just as harmful to your friendship would be the following:
 
“I am sorry, I’ve changed my diary so I can make it”.
 
In this response you are dismissing yourself and doing what the other person wants just to avoid conflict, ultimately the cost to you of doing this is to have inauthentic relationships that bring you little in return!
 
Facts, facts , facts
 
So what can be done?
 
When you receive something from someone that results in a negative feeling here is what to do:
 
  1. Pause - It can be tempting to allow your thinking to take over but this is also unlikely to be helpful as your thoughts will be based upon your negative feelings.  Also when you have allowed your thinking to gain momentum you may find it hard to avoid taking action that has negative consequences.
  2. Take a breath and then ask yourself “what is factual here?”, with this example it can be helpful that having spotted there is little factual content and noting your negative reaction, that the important message from this interaction is that your friend is upset but not able to communicate this to you in a helpful way?
  3. Now develop a response with the following parts: first - state the facts, two - explain what thoughts it brings up for you. For example:
 
“I felt upset when I received your message and I do not remember us saying a time by which we would confirm whether or not we would be able to meet. As I felt upset, I am thinking that maybe you are upset that we are not able to meet”? 
 
Such a response is factual, offers a suggestion about what is going on and invites further communication. Unless you are in a friendship with someone who is abusive, in which case their response is likely to contain further judgements and criticisms, it is likely your friend will see that a misunderstanding has occurred.  Also if in the future difficult situations arise, this interaction will have helped build trust so that your friends initial response will itself be factual. They might for example say:
 
“I feel upset because I was looking forward to us meeting and I have not seen as much of you as I would have liked lately”.
 
And if you now note your reactions to receiving this kind of message, I imagine you feel upset for the other person and rather than defensive and wanting to avoid them, find yourself wanting to reach out and get something new organised?
 
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Our latest article was published in the Chiswick Herald on the 14th September on page 27, click here to visit the site or read the article below.

How to make your family times happy times
 
For some people their family feels like the best place in the world whilst for others the worst however for most there are good times and bad times. For everyone though there will be a pattern to peoples behaviours and sometimes those patterns might change for the better!
 
When relaxed and happy people are able to rub along together with little conflict however individuals in groups often take on particular roles and this can lead to tension between people. When something changes or when stressful situations arise, behaviours may not change to adapt appropriately and / or the defence mechanisms deployed by people may add to conflict.

Staying quiet is an option but one that rarely changes an ongoing problem.
 
If you want to break patterns of behaviour that cause problems then the first thing to do is to think about your family and the particular roles people take. It is normal for people to assume a “job description” and tensions tend to arise because these job descriptions either overlap or leave holes. For example, you might have four people willing to cook but no one who is willing to clean up afterwards!
 
Unfortunately, when behaviours remain unchallenged and the resentment starts to build thoughts such as “they are so selfish, so thoughtless, self centred” start to occur and these tend to generate even more difficult feelings.
 
Do you think that person really wants to be seen as difficult?
 
Such patterns are normally formed because things change but habits stay static. It can be really helpful to think that the person with the annoying habit is most likely doing something automatically and doing it because at some point it was what people appreciated.
 
But now you need accept that the behaviour is simply one that you find difficult and this cannot be changed alone - if it could have been then you would have managed it by now! 

Even if you have been able to see the other persons behaviour as not intentionally difficult it is likely you will find raising this subject difficult. A good initial strategy is to think about how you tend to be under pressure and how others therefore experience you so you can find ways to stay calm. 
 
Fight, flight or freeze?
 
Under pressure people with have a tendency to respond in a particular way - this means it can be possible to predict with a degree of accuracy how someone - including ourselves will be when something goes wrong. There is “fight” meaning becoming active. It doesn’t necessarily mean becoming aggressive but if you think of movement it would be a “step towards”. For those who tend towards “flight” a “step backwards” and for those where “freeze” happens think “standing still”.
 
Once you have identified the response you can think about what this means in handling situations - imagine the situation then think of ways to ensure you both remain calm.
 
FFTP - Fact, feeling, thought, preference
 
FFTP is a structure for how to have those difficult discussions! In this method of communication you provide the other person with all the information about what is going on for you in relation to the issue you are finding difficult.
 
Here is a hypothetical but typical situation. Your brother (Arthur) who is married with three children has, since having the children, started turning up late to family events you organise and when he finally arrives tends to disagree with things arranged in his absence. Today when the family were due to meet for a walk and lunch he arrives an hour late by which time everyone had decided where to eat and ordered drinks. He says he wants to go to a different place as he has heard good things about it. You find yourself feeling annoyed and thinking here we go again. You know that you tend to get angry and that in the past you have ended up shouting so you know it will help if you can stay calm. You’ve been thinking about this and have already planned to ask if you can speak away from the rest of the family, you also know that when you sit down you tend to stay calmer - so you find somewhere you can sit.
 
You - 
 
Fact - “We agreed to meet at 1pm and when you didn’t show up on time we decided on this place, looked at the menu and ordered drinks. Now you want us to change what we are doing.”
 
Feeling - “I am feeling annoyed, hurt and unloved”
 
Thought - “I am thinking that my time has been wasted, what I want doesn’t matter and not good enough for you - it is hard for me to enjoy our family time with these feelings and thoughts”.
 
Preference - “Can we find a way to ensure our arrangements work but can I also ask you don’t ask me to change what has been decided.”
 
Arthur -
 
“It is always so hard for us to get places on time with the children, something always seems to happen when we are leaving the house. I should allow more time but sometimes I agree to something and then don’t feel I can change my mind. Arriving late today I felt stressed and nervous because you have been angry with me in the past so I am always thinking I have to make up for being late. I think I have spoilt things and I need to find a way to make things OK so I try and suggest something that I think will be better. Now I am thinking that if I arrive late I can just relax knowing that I don’t have to do that - I don’t need to fix anything. But you are right maybe we can change the way we make our arrangements - I would like to know its OK not to agree a time on the spot so I can think about timings?” 
 
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Our latest article was published on Friday 27th April in the Chiswick Herald. Click here to visit the Chiswick Herald Online or read below:

 
Keep your children safe and well in their use of the internet - part three
 
My previous editorials have focussed on safety and how to speak to your children if you are concerned about how they keep themselves safe but also if you have any concerns because of they way you see them using the internet. Today I thought it would be useful to consider appropriate use of the internet to contribute to the wellbeing of your children.
 
In June this year new studies provided evidence that moderate use of the internet and social media does actually benefit children and young people. Suggesting that use of social media helps build resilience and develop social skills thus having a positive impact on mental wellbeing. So it looks as though the usual thinking about moderation in all things does also apply to the new digital age too.
 
More than a third of 15 year olds in the UK are understood to be classed as “extreme internet users” sending over six hours a day online and 95 percent are using social media. Extreme users are more likely to report being bullied online and research by the NSPCC identified that 80 percent of children felt unsafe using social media to some degree.
 
In all cases research suggests that parents need to be supported in helping children use the internet appropriately but there appears to be very little guidance out there on how to do that. Most focus is still on safety rather than wellbeing. 
 
Current thinking concludes it is unlikely that one size will fit all and that the appropriate use of the internet will depend upon a range of factors. You might like to think about your child’s age, interests, social networks and particular needs. 
 
If your child could do with help in particular areas then the internet will be able to offer advice, support and even tools. It is most likely that the most effective approach is to actively talk to your children about how they use the internet and look for how it can support them. Focussing purely on time spent online is going to be too limited.
 
To understand the uses that lead your child to experience positive outcomes and affirmation to their self esteem and seek to strengthen and support this use is likely to be more effective than focussing on usage where it either appears to be causing distress or at best appears to have little benefit.
 
Rather than any single solution, it appears that children benefit most when parents use a combination of approaches including modelling positive behaviour, using a collaborative approach to setting limits on usage, keeping up to date on developments and technologies around security and online safety and showing curiosity and a willingness to support positive behaviours. 
 
Technology can be something that parents can think they are ill equipped to deal with, especially when children can be more up to date and often more proficient in handling technology. However what parents do have more knowledge about is the importance of balance - you can therefore support your child in the same way as you would for any other issue - food, friendship, health. You don’t have to know about the technology - just about how best to find a healthy balance.
 
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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, read it here or see below:

How does that make you feel?

I’ve been listening to this Radio 4 series where you hear psychotherapist, Martha, in sessions with patients. The first thing I found myself wanting to do was find out whether it is classed as a drama or a comedy - I was relieved to find that opinion by reviewers appears divided, that it is not seen as pure drama or an attempt to depict therapy in real life. 
 
But ask me how I felt about listening to “How does it make you feel?” and my answer is disappointed and feeling less confident that therapy is being understood and embraced - you find me disheartened. 
 
The title itself set alarm bells ringing for me. I can’t claim to never ask my patients “How does that make you feel?” because sometimes I might, but therapy is not just about getting to people to talk about their feelings. It is a common misconception which does nothing to encourage people to view therapy in a positive light. It’s not the only misconception, others include that people need to talk about their feelings, that men in particular are less likely to talk about them than women and/or it is a British thing not to talk about feelings. The problem with these concepts is that they put across such a simplified view of people and therapy that for anyone struggling, therapy might be seen as nothing more than a placebo.
 
In reality therapy addresses how we make sense and act upon the information given to us by our lived experience - feelings are just one element. Information is also available to us through our thinking, our bodily sensations, our dreams and our interactions with others and the world around us. There is no rule book as to how much importance we should give to each of these components but in therapy we work with our patients to identify how life is being understood and how this understanding is put into action. We then look together at the struggles that have brought them to therapy and look for connections and solutions.
 
So it is not just about feelings. It is also not just about being able to talk about feelings because research indicates that as little as 7 percent of communication is verbal - body language and tone of voice being far greater conveyors of information. It is natural for us to embody how we are and what we want and for us to understand how we do that but also how other people, especially those who are most important to us, is hugely valuable.
 
And it is important to remember that therapy is about understanding ourselves AND others. When we improve understanding of ourselves we can be better at understanding others, likewise when we better understand others then that helps our understanding of ourselves. As an aside, and something that probably merits its own article is my view about short term therapy - often thought of as “counselling” (longer term therapy is often thought of as “psychotherapy”) - in short term therapy I think people often start to see themselves in a new and more helpful way in a relatively short period of time however problems can start to appear in their relationships because the therapy finishes before it is integrated across all areas of a persons life. I regularly meet couples where misunderstandings and conflicts have only become more frequent and problematic after one or both partners have been to individual counselling. 
 
Anyway back to my other thoughts about the Radio depiction. I also wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed that this series also seems to promote the misconception about men because three out of the four patients were men! Finally and most crucially I was saddened to think I heard the therapist as being at times tired, irritated and frustrated amongst other feelings with her patients. For me, I view therapy as a collaboration between therapist and client, an agreement to work together, it is a commitment by both of us to undertake a vibrant, energetic, stimulating exploration. It is a project where neither therapist nor patient can know what will occur, but where both agree to try because good things can come when we give something our best efforts and attention. Unfortunately with Martha I was not entirely convinced this was the case, actually I was wondering whether she might benefit from a sabbatical? And I wonder if future productions might possibly capture some of the wonders of the therapeutic endeavour that so many therapists and patients work so passionately to achieve?
 
“How does that make you feel?” Series 8 is currently available on the BBCRadio iPlayer.
 
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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!