Resilience begins with owning your vulnerability – we’re all only human after all! How I got to near breaking point.

penny robertsThis is a client’s story of courage and recovery.

I always thought and was told that I was a good planner, super organised and focused. My nickname at uni was Miss Organisation and I’ve built a career in Operations a perfect fit right..?

Last year I went through a massive personal upheaval that resulted in me losing perspective and left me wondering what the hell was I doing with my life and whether I’d got it all wrong.

This period of feeling out of control and lost started in March. A stolen purse – six years living in London and the laws of averages meant it was bound to happen to me – there’s a first time for everything… right?

Then after this came the night I left another purse and all my newly replaced cards in an Uber… never to be found. Then it was a stolen rucksack and more personal and work possessions in someone else’s hands a month later. And finally leaving another purse on a train – which even the cleaners couldn’t find!

The icing on the cake was a lost train ticket, when I had no cash and cards – I was still waiting to get new cards after I lost my purse the last time – and nearly being stranded in the city.

Until this point I had NEVER lost anything in my 29 years on this planet. The universe was seriously telling me something – stop, slow down, relax!

The irony is I’d actually been doing that albeit not consciously. At times I had felt like I was nearly paralysed by the massive upheaval that had occurred in my life but I was still acting and carrying on as normal. I was out of tune with my mental wellbeing – I needed to get back in tune!

The truth

So here’s the brutal honesty that with time, my friends, family and my therapist helped me come to terms with. I was numb / out of touch with my emotions. I was grieving for a broken marriage and selling my home – losing the life I’d spent my adult years building. I was feeling totally ashamed of how things have turned out for me at the grand old age of 29 and hiding how I truly felt.

This was not how I thought my life would turn out – but had you asked me what I thought my life would be like I couldn’t have articulated it to you. I knew I wasn’t the first person to go through this – and I sure as hell knew I wasn’t going to be the last but honestly that didn’t help me at the time.

Where to begin…

It’s tough – bloody tough admitting when you’ve not got your shit together. I felt like I was losing face by admitting I had depression – I was ashamed. If I could have hibernated at this point I would have!

What I very gradually realised over time though was that the more I talked about my depression the more I normalised it for me. I felt like I was building my own understanding of what I was going through – the tears lessened as I gained courage.

My work, friends, family and therapist were all supportive. I’ve consciously chosen to write my support network in this order – from personally who I thought would be hardest to talk to, to easiest to talk to- as I am shocked by how even conversations I thought would be tough weren’t as bad as I envisaged.

If you don’t own your vulnerability in all sectors of your life then you won’t build your resilience and support network. I was, and am, blessed with an amazing support network. Having just started a new job when this all “went down” it could have resulted in a sudden ending but it didn’t! They listened, were accommodating and genuinely cared.

Stability with my work routine was important for me and gave me a weekly focus. My friends showed me bucket loads of compassion and were there for me even when I didn’t know how to articulate how I felt. My family were beyond amazing – they helped me focus on the joy of the now (beach trips and time with my nephews spring to mind in particular) as well as planning for fun times ahead.

I’m writing this post from Chile – a dream two week adventure by myself that during dark times I thought I might not have the courage to do. What a difference a year makes!

Small steps lead to big rewards. Honesty and open communications breeds positive changes and inspiration from sometimes the strangest of places and experiences!

2017 is my year of fun! A year for me to own to positively take steps to create the life I deserve. 2016 helped me understand the challenges and heartbreak that life can throw at you from time to time. The lessons from 2016 have helped me become more resillient they’ve made me stronger and aware of how important it is to look after my mental health just as much as I look after my physical health.

I truly believe that to experience life’s true highs sometimes you need to experience it’s lows. And to really get the learnings and build resilience from such experiences you need to own them and get used to being vulnerable – it’s tough but it can be done!

The afterword

Writing and reflecting on my experience of depression briefly makes it seem a hell of a lot calmer than the turbulent time I went through. For me a combination of medical and therapeutic support has worked. Everyone is different and experiences are personal. The commonality in finding a path out is human connection – everything starts by talking and being vulnerable….

The Ups and Downs of Therapy; a client’s story

The thing I liked about my therapist when we first met was that she seemed different from me – the last thing I wanted was to talk to someone similar. The relationship would be different from anything I had experienced: it was the first time I had discussed my life intimately with another person.

 

The idea of ‘difference’ became the key to approaching therapy. Sessions were an opportunity to experiment with different ways of thinking, without relying on reason or analysis. Instead, I would talk about whatever popped into my head at the time – no matter how irrelevant it seemed – and see where it led.

 

My first fear was that I would sabotage therapy, probably by convincing myself that it had been going on too long. To counter this, rule number one was that there would be no time-limit: if it took years, it took years and I wouldn’t leave until it felt good to do so.

 

The second fear was that I would develop an attachment to my therapist that would become painful, so the boundaries of the relationship were very important. I determined not to cross these boundaries under any circumstances: no contact between sessions, no trying to discover personal information. The therapy room would become a bubble, although, as I later discovered, there was a downside to this.

 

As therapy progressed, the word ‘instinct’ kept cropping up, and I began to realise how powerful the unconscious mind is, and that it is often right. Understanding my past behaviour in this context – that a lot of it was actually self-preservation – was a huge relief. I began to trust my instinct more as a guide through the process.

 

Self-expression was surprisingly hard. I found the spoken word incredibly limiting and the habit of editing myself as I went along didn’t help. A lot of the time it felt as if I was talking around a feeling, but couldn’t be completely accurate – I just didn’t have the language. Images were very helpful in this respect. If I couldn’t describe a feeling I would imagine it as a scene or a story and describe that instead. In fact, the further away we got from the literal, and the closer we got to symbols, stories and art, the more satisfying and truthful the conversations felt.

 

Going to therapy for a long period, it was inevitable that some subjects would be discussed many times. This wasn’t a problem, but I was aware that each time we repeated a subject, I would describe a set of feelings that were different to what I had said before. Thankfully my therapist didn’t point this out, although I have no doubt that she noticed the contradiction. The question is, why did this happen when I was trying to be honest? The best answer I can come up with is that I was just saying what needed to be said on that particular day. This pattern of repetition/contradiction did lead to some answers that you could call ‘truth’,  but the answers seemed less important than the process of finding them.

 

One of the more unnerving sensations was the feeling that life was on hold. In the midst of the therapy bubble, most of my time was spent looking forward to the next session or thinking about the previous one. The outside world felt less important. If it had ended at this point I suspect it would have been pretty devastating and knowing that I was dependent made me nervous. It was a leap of faith to trust that one day I would feel differently. Until then, the frequency of the sessions gave me enough security to keep going.

 

But the relationship between therapy and my life in the outside world was something I struggled with. Whenever we discussed making a change, I had all the reasons not to do it. This inability to connect therapy and life felt frustrating at the time. Looking back, I probably didn’t realise how much was shifting around in my unconscious. Every so often change would rise to the surface and I would suddenly decide to do something completely out of character. Eventually I learnt that I didn’t have to force the change to happen, I just had to be open to it.

 

I think one of the great misconceptions about therapy is that it’s all about the moment of catharsis. That the right question will lead to a huge outpouring of emotion and then everything will be better. I never had that experience – therapy was more complicated and difficult than that, but also more rewarding. I certainly don’t think of it as getting things out of my system: I have more in my system now than when I started.

 

The decision to stop was surprisingly easy. It just felt right. Life wasn’t perfect but I had the strength to deal with it. As the end approached I knew how important it was to end well, to walk out the door without regret.

 

People who know me well say the change has been enormous. They are probably right, but it’s a difficult thing to see objectively. Superficially, life hasn’t changed that much, but there has been a fundamental shift in how I react to things. My stress and anxiety levels are certainly much lower, I’ve become more open to taking risks, and more patient with other people.

 

My life now is messier, dirtier, happier, angrier, faster, less predictable and more confusing than it has ever been. For the first time it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I want to do. But I do what I can and don’t worry about the rest. So far that seems to be working.

 

Written anonymously by a client in 2015

The Psychology of Violent Extremism

Since the last newsletter where violent extremism was discussed, there have been a number of further acts of violence within the UK.  Thinking about what drives people to engage in such behaviour has become more pertinent.  Dr Hannah FarrAlongside this it also feels important that we think about how we talk to our young people about these acts, especially after the suicide bomber at the Ariana Grande concert, where many young people were involved.  At the end of this piece I will provide details outlining where to find information on trauma, how to support people who have been through a traumatic experience and how to talk to young people about what has been happening in their world.  However, I want to start by presenting some of the psychological research which has tried to develop a profile of someone who becomes involved in extremism.

Psychological research into those who carry out acts of violent extremism has been somewhat minimal to date.  However, there are some characteristics which have been identified and provide us with some insight into what drives a person to join these groups.  It is suggested that those young men (I will focus on men here as they are the majority in these groups) who feel marginalised and unrepresented in places of authority e.g. the government, and who perceive an injustice are more likely to join an extremist group.  They appear to be searching for a sense of belonging, connectedness and affiliation (Silke, 2008), which they don’t feel they get elsewhere in society or their community.  It is suggested that they feel uncertain about themselves and their world (Bonim, 2014) and seek danger and excitement as a way of giving their life meaning.  They feel they are unable to make changes in any other way than through extreme and unconventional means (Saucier et al., 2009).  They believe they represent a broader victimised group who need someone to stand up for them (Horgan, 2017).  Motivation, ideology and social process all come together to play a role in the radicalisation of men who join extremist groups.  Understanding this interplay is the first step towards developing policies to intervene (Kruglanski et al., 2014), it may also be important for society to understand and play a role in expressing concerns about possible extremism in their communities.

How communities can play a role in expressing concerns about suspicious behaviour has also been an ongoing discussion especially after an attack.  Dando (2017) stated that when it comes to ‘pointing the finger at a neighbour or friend’ when they are suspicious of their values/beliefs/behaviour the impact may be too great.  She considers the impact of a reduction in community police officers, as it may be that a rapport between communities and police could encourage people to have more of the difficult conversations.  ‘When people feel socially and economically excluded, and when groups feel marginalised they tend to look inwards rather than outwards’.

Violent extremism effects us all, either directly as a victim or family/friend member of a victim; even as a family member/friend of the perpetrator; as an observer and member of a community or as a parent (carer) trying to explain to a child what is happening in their world, whilst trying to make sense of it yourself.  These experiences are traumatic and leave us with questions and difficult emotions, so I have attached some links to websites which may help to provide some support.

By: Dr Hannah Farr, Clinical Psychologist
July 2017

Dr Hannah Farr works at Wendy Bramham Therapy on Thursday mornings in Marlborough.

Links

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/03/23/how-to-talk-to-children-about-terrorism_n_8580612.html

  • Helping children understand their responses to difficult news stories

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/13865002

 

Loneliness – no longer a silent epidemic

Loneliness has crept up on us as a silent epidemic and is now regarded as a public health issue affecting our wellbeing and shortening our lives.

Traditionally, we think of loneliness affecting only the elderly or the sick.  Today it is indiscriminate and affects the young, the old, the single, the married, the working, and the retired.  Apparently, we are all increasingly susceptible.

So why are we so lonely?

Loneliness is a feeling of social and emotional disconnection. It is not a direct consequence of being alone. We can feel lonely in a crowd.  It is true that the rise of virtual online relationships, our culture of independence, our frenetic busyness and our increasingly mobile workforce can make us feel more disconnected. But social isolation is not the same as loneliness.

We are often afraid to admit our loneliness because we believe we will be judged as unlovable and unlovely .

How does this cycle of loneliness work?

When we are lonely, we tend to perceive things more negatively and more pessimistically. We make more judgements and more assumptions. These assumptions are often along the lines of everyone else being happier, busier, more popular, more loved, and more sociable than we can ever hope to be.

We become more and more defensive and withdraw rather than engage. Our internal story tells us that ‘everyone else is happy and connected and no one wants to bother with me.’ The story goes round and round in our heads and we end up sabotaging any opportunity for connection by pushing people away.

So what can we do about our loneliness?

We can start by making a connection with ourselves. Notice first how defensiveness feels in your body, notice where it sits, and how it drives you. Name it, describe it and breathe into it. Expand the space around it. Befriend it, it’s ok, it’s yours.

Notice any change when you engage with someone in a shop, or whilst walking the dog. Look for the feeling of opening up and warming up a little. It’s often the smallest incidents that give us the first feelings of change.

Get to know the story in your head. Notice how it drives you further away from others. Notice your negative assumptions. Then by contrast, notice what giving people the benefit of the doubt feels like.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown suggests that when we allow ourselves to be seen, when we share our vulnerabilities, we connect with others. In turn, they feel able to be themselves and connect with us. Her definition of connection is ‘ the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.’
So let’s start by connecting with ourselves. By seeing ourselves, hearing ourselves and valuing ourselves without judgment.  Remember that there are thousands of people experiencing this same feeling at this very moment, you are not alone. Then reach out, from the strength you’ve derived, one small step at a time, to connect with others – chances are, they’ll be hugely grateful.

By: Lisa Stevenson

Tel: 07873 871059 (mobile)

email:  lisa@vitalconnections.co.uk

website:  http://www.vitalconnections.co.uk

Working in Therapy with Adolescents and Young People: What is different? Key points of understanding.

On 25th April, a group of 16 therapists of varying disciplines and experience attended a seminar presented by Professor Stephen Briggs (whose books include: Working with Adolescents and Young Adults: A contemporary psychodynamic approach (2008).

We had had the opportunity to download 26 of his slides which offered a framework for the discussions.

In the process of working with this age group, we understand that we have to do things differently from our work with child and adult populations, outlined as follows:

THERAPEUTIC STANCE:

  • Providing a combined containing and exploring space..(containing anxieties and exploring meaning).   This combines taking in the feelings, making sense and feeding back whilst ‘holding’ urgency and anxiety.  Also, enabling the young person to tolerate the ups and downs, extremes of excitement and depression;  facilitating feelings of overwhelm and omnipotence, and taking these things seriously.
  • Being ‘adolescent-centred’..trying to understand the adolescent ‘world view’, without making assumptions about the adolescent’s knowledge or experience of the therapy process.  This includes noticing how quickly adolescents can change and how stuck they can be in the developmental process. The therapist is required to take on the ‘in-between-ness’ of the client, moving responsively between more adult/more childlike states as they occur.  Working with the ‘yes’ adolescent and the ‘no’ adolescent.

WORKING WITH DEPENDENCY:

  • Stephen Briggs explored the delicate issues around the adolescent’s potentially fragile sense of independence where the offer is to share with the therapist what is his, what can he share? What does the therapist need to know; what can be private and acknowledged as private?
  • The therapist needs to work out what the adolescent can and can’t bear, adapting to the fragile sense of separateness from parental figures, his aloneness in the world and the responsibility of his own thoughts and actions.

BECOMING A SUBJECT IN ADOLESCENCE:

  • ‘Being subject to’:  things happening, re-enactments and repeated patterns through change…(puberty, relationships, peer groups).
  • ‘Being subject of’: something that’s going on emotionally and rationally – relating to experience, learning from experience.
  • ‘Becoming a subject’ – the process of gaining ownership..new adult, sexual body, ownership of one’s own thoughts. Ownership of drives, sensations, impulses, feeling and powers. With ownership of bodily changes comes both power and the power to enact. Power relationships evoke different capacity to enact thoughts and feelings.
  • Increased separateness from parental figures at the above levels.
  • From neuroscience, we’re told that with brain development, the slowest capacity to develop is the capacity to reflect.
  • For Separation and Individuation at one end of the axis and Regression on the other, there are transverse opposites:

Self -esteem and competence.   Vs.  Fear of failure
States of mind (subject to).          Vs. Subject of
Power.                                              Vs. Dependence
Life.                                                   Vs. Death

So the binaries in the adolescent process are:
– Excitement v Loss
– Love v Hate
– Life v Death
– Online v Offline
– Powerful v Dependent
– Competence v Fear of Failure

The retreat from death can lead to omnipotence and/or the need not to fit in with convention.  Online/offline ambivalence engenders both omnipotence (with the provision of answers to problems) and the defeat of omnipotence (when the adolescent can’t solve the problem).

An example:
Exploring on line = securely attached
Looking for ‘belonging’ online = less securely attached.

These are part of the dichotomies to be held in mind through the therapeutic intervention in adolescent work.

We had a further three case studies to consider, discuss and apply the learning from the presentation as well as from our own experiences.

WORKING WITH TRANSFERENCE AND COUNTER-TRANSFERENCE:

In the transference:

  • drawing attention to connections between the social world and the therapeutic relationship.
  • making formulations about relatedness, maternal and paternal transference.

In the counter-transferential space:

  • what are we picking up as therapists of the adolescent feelings? What feelings are we evoking?
  • what about me is getting in the way of this work?

So what is both going on in the therapist and what from the adolescent is stirring up feelings in the therapist?  Much of the rich discussion from the case studies surfaced transference and counter-transference explorations.

Appropriately we talked of endings, particularly from the last case study where breaks in the therapy and missed sessions brought important material for therapeutic thought.

Stephen said ‘there is always something about separation with adolescents…in the therapeutic relationship, we replay through separation from the therapist, those other issues of separation’. ‘We are introducing the adolescent to him or herself’.

By: Angy Man, March 2017

Emma Taylor: the gift of undivided attention

Counsellor, Emma Taylor, writes about therapy as ‘the gift of undivided attention‘..

Before I became a therapist my professional background was in corporate life. Needless to say there are many differences between the two occupations, but one that now feels particularly striking is the difference in my own state of mind when I am working. In my previous career multitasking was essential and the merits of working in this way unquestioned. Concentration on any discrete task was always subject to the superseding demands of an email, phonecall or the appearance of an instant messenger conversation obscuring the work on my laptop screen. At meetings it was acceptable to respond to emails while simultaneously attempting to keep abreast of discussions.

Now however, when I am with a client, all intrusions – technological and otherwise – are silenced. For fifty minutes my entire focus is on the person with whom I am sitting and this is one of the many aspects of my work that I love.

This single-minded giving of attention has always been integral to therapy, but I wonder if at the present time it has a value that is of greater than ever significance. Certainly I am aware that when I am with clients, the uninterrupted nature of our time together is somewhat atypical of much of the rest of my life.

Given the ongoing questioning of the negative effects of ever-present smartphones on sleep quality, relationships and powers of concentration, to mention just a few areas of life, I wonder if therapy now offers something particularly pertinent. When sitting with a therapist, the client does not have to fear the competing demands of the enticing world of entertainment and information to which we now have almost constant access. By mutual agreement external distractions are set aside for the duration of the session, by client and therapist alike.

My training and work with clients have shown me the many benefits of therapy. However I wonder if its most fundamental characteristic, that it is a dialogue in which two people give one another their full attention, is significant at the present time to an extent that it has never been before. It seems to me that there can be something profoundly healing in this aspect of therapy alone.”

Contact Emma via the Clinic on 07468 573866 or directly on 07834 576853

Dr Hannah Farr, clinical psychologist, introduces herself…

Dr Hannah Farr

Clinical Psychologist, Dr Hannah Farr, writes about her therapy specialism…

“Hello Everyone, I have recently started running my practice from Wendy’s Clinic in Marlborough. I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist working with adults, young people and couples who are experiencing life challenges and mental health difficulties.  I have worked for charities and universities, but primarily I have worked in the NHS until recently.  My experience has been with young people and adults who have experienced a brain injury and those with severe mental health challenges.  In my latter role I have worked with people with a diagnosis of psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorder.

Now I am practicing as an independent practitioner and I am enjoying meeting different people who are at different stages of their lives.  I am aware that there are a number of different types of therapists available to people, so I thought this might be a good place to explain what I do as a Clinical Psychologist.

I provide a confidential and safe space for people to share personal information about why they are seeking help.  When people contact me I spend some time speaking with them so I can understand a little more about why they have come to me.  If we then decide to meet in person, we spend time talking in more depth and I develop a detailed understanding of the person’s difficulties.  I do this by listening to the information I am given and drawing on different therapeutic models to develop an understanding of people’s problems.  These models are evidence-based psychological methods of assessment and treatment, which I have been trained to use to a high level.  This means that there has been a lot of research conducted on these models with people who experience similar problems to the ones people come to me with.

I use a number of therapeutic models to aid my thinking and develop an understanding of how people have come to the point in their lives where they feel they need psychological support.  I also use them to develop strategies with people to support them in managing the experiences they are having.   I use an integrative approach, which means I draw on a number of models to inform my thinking.  However one of the main models I use is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).  In brief, this model allows us to think about how our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are linked to each other and how sometimes these can maintain unhelpful coping strategies.

People are individuals and although we can have similar experiences to each other, we often all understand those experiences in our own different ways.  This means that therapy needs to be flexible and able to change when new information is spoken about in the session, or if a person’s situation changes.  I think this is what makes my work so interesting and why I enjoy meeting everyone who comes to me.”

Contact Hannah via the Clinic on 07468 573866, or directly on 07767 879720