Monthly Archives: October 2017

Working with Self-Harm and Suicidality – CPD with Pete Holloway

Having looked forward to this seminar since it was first mooted, I found that I wanted to take a few days after attending to process the experience. It felt as though it bordered on the transformational and I believed that it was worthwhile to just allow that post-seminar glow to recede if it was going to do so?

A week on, and I have to say that it still feels as though it borders on the transformational. The shifts in perspective it generated for me by examining what self-harm might mean for clients- what and who might be being harmed and who might be doing the harming- by taking a more object relations and existential tack- were truly “lightbulb” moments for me and have already enhanced my clinical practice. The concept that the body becomes the projective tool for what might be going on in the mind; that what is going on in the psyche might be enacted in or on the body sounds simple and yet it was remarkably illuminating.

It was also extremely helpful to address the therapeutic challenges and the “institutional anxiety” that might arise around suicidailty as we work with our clients. Whether we work within an agency as part of a team or whether we are the institution itself as sole practitioners, being able to explore how to work relationally without becoming hamstrung or paralysed by potential consequences around working with such serious issues and behaviours was incredibly valuable.

Looking more closely at risk factors and approaches to risk appraisal when working with the “suicidally contemplative” was also very beneficial in terms of being able to work effectively and appropriately in these areas.

This was an amazing seminar dealing sensitively and helpfully with complex and challenging issues. Pete brought a generosity and warmth to this work which made it accessible and, well, do-able. I am SO glad I attended and have left with the gift of a deeper and more reflective way of “being” with this aspect of therapeutic work and pathways of thinking on this subject theoretically opened to me.

Pete listed some key influences on his thinking and I wonder if it might be helpful to share them:

Felicity de Zulueta: From Pain to Violence

Irvin Yalom: Existential Psychotherapy

Wilfred Bion: A Theory of Thinking

Melanie Klein: Love, Guilt and Reparation

Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery

I know I’ll be adding these to my reading list!

By: Merri Mayers,
October 2017

We were thrilled with the excellent feedback.  20 out of 21 delegates voted 5 out of 5 on all three questions to give these overall results:

Overall assessment of event: 4.95 out of 5
Speaker: 4.95 out of 5
Value for money: 5 out of 5

Delegates feedback:

  • “You have been highly informative and have re-ignited my interest and passions in this field of mental health and therapeutic interactions.”
  • “What an excellent day – Pete has a breadth of knowledge and a great human, realistic approach to therapy”
  • “I liked the group–size, helpful to promoting an atmosphere where engagement and participation is possible.  Wonderul speaker dealing with a difficult, painful topic in a positive way that affirms the therapist’s competence.”
  • “Excellent speaker, clearly an expert; enjoyable and enlightening about a sombre and disturbing subject”
  • “Pete has been so informative, interesting, engaging and funny – so interesting.  I would definitely attend another of his courses.”

Wendy Bramham
October 2017

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Healthy Selfishness – what is it and why does it matter?

Can Therapy Make You Selfish?

Do you worry that having counselling might be indulgent or selfish? Do you fear that focusing on your own desires and needs might result in neglecting or hurting others? Lots of people who go into therapy have these fears. And the fear of selfishness is understandable given that many of us were brought up to put others first. However, I’m wondering if there is a different way to look at this issue? Perhaps there is a kind of ‘healthy selfishness’ that we can explore in therapy and which might help us get our lives in better balance?

Take journalist, Sally Brampton’s**, experience. In ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’, a brave and excellent memoir of her own suicidal depression, she recounts how a therapist told her she was abandoning herself every time she:

  • pretended she was fine when she wasn’t
  • refused to rest when she was tired
  • didn’t ask for what she needed from a person with whom she was intimate, and
  • put someone else’s needs before her own but resented doing so.

The therapist explained that Sally suffered from a failure of care; care for herself but also care from her parents who should have taught her how to take care of herself in childhood. Sally explains that as a child she unconsciously learned that it was better not to need or become attached to people or things, because anything she loved – people, dogs, houses, schools – were taken away from her. As an adult she was able to see other people’s needs but not her own, and this contributed to her serious depressive symptoms.

Narcissim… is therapy just ‘all about me’?

Selfishness, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “…concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others”, is not to be confused with pathological narcissism. This condition is characterized by self-inflation, grandiosity and lack of empathy, which are ways of coping with very low self-esteem. Narcissistic traits include self-serving attitudes and behaviours that exploit others. By contrast, therapy aims to help clients become less fearful and more accepting of their own feelings, which in turn fosters the capacity to build self-esteem, and relate more openly and fully to others through increased empathy, compassion and intimacy.

So, if ‘healthy selfishness’ actually promotes self-respect as well as respect for others, how can it be achieved? Our experience suggests the following:

* honest self-reflection, especially after setbacks

* taking responsibility for yourself

* self-care and self-respect

* acknowledging what you need and what brings you joy and meaning

* celebrating your achievements

* connecting with your authentic self

* learning to tolerate differences between yourself and others

What is Good-Enough Parenting?

Donald Winnicott, the famous paediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined the term ‘good-enough mother’ in 1953, and his thinking went on to become pivotal in understanding child development. If we are lucky as infants we will have had good-enough parenting; our primary care-giver will have responded to our needs and feelings, reassuring and comforting us in a fairly predictable and timely manner, and empathising with or tuning-in to our emotions. If this ‘good-enough’ parenting is available to us during our early years, we stand a chance of developing the ability to manage and care for ourselves through life’s inevitable ups and downs.

If good-enough parenting is not available, or we experience a great deal of loss or trauma, we don’t learn healthy selfishness and consequently get used to putting on a mask for the world, and living to please others. Therapy can be crucial in addressing this imbalance, helping clients learn to be their own ‘good-enough’ parent and to properly honour and care for themselves. In her book, Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, writes about the peace she found through rediscovering herself during a quiet island holiday, away from her busy life as mother to five children: “When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. …Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others.”

Perhaps it is only when we can consider ourselves as important that we can find peace and fulfillment? But why does it matter?

What Happens if we are not Healthily Selfish?

Anne* had been married for 18 years, and came to therapy with marital difficulties. She had always tried to please her husband, but recently he had become frustrated and withdrawn. The more she tried and failed to please him, the more Anne perceived him to be selfish.  What was really happening was that Anne was projecting her own unmet needs onto her husband, who in turn felt trapped and somewhat manipulated. Additionally, Anne had become silently resentful of her husband and had also developed stomach pains and indigestion. When her therapist commented that there didn’t seem to be “enough of her” in her life, she felt criticised and rejected. She enjoyed looking after others, she said. Surely this was a good thing? Gradually, in therapy, Anne realised that she had taken on the role of ‘pleaser’ early on in life, and whilst this gave her an identity, it made her self-worth dependent on another’s appreciation. Behind the role of helper she didn’t know who she was; she had become an empty shell.  And so had their marriage.  This pattern of relating, in an attempt to gain self-esteem, was simply no longer working.

Change came as Anne began to acknowledge her own feelings, needs and desires, and to believe she could exist in her own right. She began to develop an authentic sense of self. She started to take charge of her life, taking pressure off her husband and their marriage. The tension that was causing her indigestion also eased, because her unspoken, repressed resentment had been faced, understood and let go. Anne moved from unhealthy selflessness, to healthy selfishness.

Healthy Selfishness enables us to care for ourselves and others

Therapy promotes a ‘healthy selfishness’ which enables us to take better care of ourselves and helps us to form more satisfying relationships. It is better not only for the individual, but for all those we relate to.

We cannot take responsibility for our own happiness if we habitually or compulsively put others before ourselves. The concept of ‘healthy selfishness’ gives us permission to care for and nurture ourselves, which is particularly important if we have learnt to get love and affirmation by pleasing others. Indeed it is often those of us who protest most that therapy might be selfish, who have the greatest need of it!

 

Author: Wendy Bramham, Psychotherapist & Proprietor “Wendy Bramham Therapy”

*  “Anne” is a fictionalised conglomorate of clients and changed to protect confidentiality

** This article was originally written in 2015.  We were shocked and saddened to read of Sally Brampton’s apparent suicide in May 2016.

Historical Childhood Sexual Abuse

One of our newer therapists, Julie Luscombe, has spent the last year as a counsellor supporting survivors, with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

She writes, “since the Jimmy Savile scandal, abuse survivors have felt encouraged to talk about abuse, rather than feeling silenced. Although we still hear about child abuse in the news most days, the stigma around it is lessening. However, the effects of abuse can leave some people suffering with debilitating and consuming symptoms of post-traumatic stress. When trust has been violated a person feels devalued and this can compromise self-esteem and affect all aspects of a person’s life. Traumatic memories can persist because the brain was not able to file away the traumatic memory at the time of the abuse – it was too busy trying the keep the victim safe in the abuse situation. These unresolved traumatic memories can cause a person to feel that the traumatic event is happening over and over again. Therapy can help by helping the brain properly process trauma.”

Julie Luscombe works as a qualified counsellor in our Newbury practice, with both men and women who have been abused as children and young adults. She helps them find a greater sense of safety and security, understand how to manage trauma symptoms, and start on the road to recovery. 

She also has extensive experience working with issues of domestic violence, abuse and sexual violation and has developed a training program for use by medical professionals and the police to help front-line workers understand post-traumatic stress.

Julie offers clients a safe non-judgemental place to work through this process, explore difficulties and move towards change. To have someone to talk to and work through the trauma related symptoms can alleviate distress and empower your life.

Julie Luscombe, MBACP, is a specialist counsellor in the area of trauma and sexual abuse, and a registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.  

She was a counsellor, supporting survivors, with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) during 2016-2017. She also has been working at Trust House Reading for the past 3 years.

Contact Julie:  Mobile: 07469 717219 or  email: Julie.alderson67@gmail.com

View Julie’s profile