Could Emotional distress and Spiritual development be linked?


A fundamental question at the heart of psychology that is often overlooked relates to the link between emotional distress and spiritual development. What is it that links psychological with spiritual?

Could it be that deeply painful and traumatic experiences shift our awareness. Dr Russell Razzaque, author of “Breaking down is waking up,” describes how we are all functioning at an “ego” level, one in which we are pretending to be a series of characters and forms engaged in a dance. He goes on to describe a world with different levels, where it’s possible to move from one level to the other, from our solid everyday tangible life to another more spiritual level. He describes it being a bit like a sea, where above, the planet looks like a series of unconnected islands and continents but, below exists a different reality, where we see that none of it is separate at all – it’s just part of one giant land mass that makes up the Earth’s surface. It’s all a matter of perspective.

In order to experience this deeper level requires an expansion of awareness, and thus can occur through practices such as meditation or can happen spontaneously, perhaps, he suggests as a consequence of psychological distress. The difference being that it is not a conscious choice but a spontaneous experience. As such it can sometimes be somewhat frightening when it does.

Because we move through the world with our ego constructed “self” a self we create in our minds to make sense of “our world,” changes to this perception can be hard to comprehend as our reality is shifted. People talk of “peak experiences” where just for a moment a different reality is experienced. Peak experiences are often described as a heightened sense of wonder, awe or ecstasy, moments that stand out from everyday experiences (Cherry). Other such mind altering experiences can be, so called, “out of body experiences,” the consequence can be that people see life very differently afterwards. Similarly, some drug takers may glimpse “another world,” quite often a surreal but sometimes spiritual world.

Finally, returning to psychiatrist Dr Russell Razzaque, he leaves us with this interesting statistic, and that is, that 74% of people who have suffered a major mental illness describe themselves as ” deeply spiritual” – a figure many times higher than that of the general population.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

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Cherry. K. “What are peak experiences – psychology overview.” www. psychology [Accessed 7/7/14].

Razzaque. R. (2014). Why Breakdowns Can Also Be Breakthroughs, in Watkins Mind, Body, Spirit, Issue 38, Summer, pp 52-53.

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Get yourself a few rays of Sunshine – Beat #Depression


Tip 29 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It is not just Morecombe and Wise who extol the benefits of sunshine.  Boosting the supply of vitamin D in the body serves to maintain optimum levels of serotonin to assist the activity of cells throughout the body, regulating mood, sleep and our ability to process information.  In the summer months go out for a few minutes every day, soak up the sun and ensure supplies of vitamin D are topped up.  Meet friends for a picnic, take a stroll before nightfall and watch the sunset.  In the winter, consider hiring or purchasing a light box, (see tip 40), as serotonin levels change with the seasons and are at their lowest in the winter months.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve.

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you


Massage and Emotional Wellbeing

pulsing picture

When we are physically well and our body is in good shape the impact of the stress upon us will be far less than it would if we were unfit.  With a well-tuned body we are better able to handle the demands of life, express ourselves and project our personality and needs.  Indeed, it could be said that the body is a barometer, measuring the degree to which we are functioning effectively.  When we are unfit this not only makes it more difficult to cope with the many pressures upon us, but it also adds to the levels of stress we experience.

When we hold onto external stress, whether physical or psychological, it is manifested as “tension” in the body.  Its impact upon us may be imperceptible.  We may not even be aware that we are holding on to stress at all.  Sometimes, the first sign that indicates an accumulation of internalised stress is a noticeable increase in clumsiness and poor           co-ordination.  At a more subtle level, rigidity is present and the free flow of movement is inhibited.  Energy levels, too, may be noticeably impeded, as we may feel lethargic (slowed) or agitated (hyper-arousal).

If we are unable to release the build up of internalised tension this can result in headaches, tightness (often neck and shoulders), aches and pains (commonly stomach or lower back), the immune system can become deficient and we are more susceptible to colds and illness.  Likewise, even symptoms such as dry hair, skin rashes and poor sleep patterns frequently result from internalised stress and tension.

Stress is such a common feature of everyday life as to be regarded as “normal” and while this is true to some extent, stress levels are definitely up and the demands on us now are far greater than ever before in human history.  Most of us can adapt to moderate levels of stress, particularly short-term, but so often though, the result is ill-health.  Anything from colds and flu, to Angina, heart attack, conditions like depression, even cancer, has been linked to stress.

Underpinning the symptoms of stress can be unresolved trauma, or sudden shock, and similarly there may have been a build up or accumulation of stress over a long period.  Stress can arise as the result of internalised emotion such as anger, guilt or worry.  Whatever the cause, the important thing to do is to listen to the body and identify causative factors and then work to release the excess stress which gives rise to muscular tension.  The body can then begin to return to a more harmonious and balanced state.

Touch is something which is often absent from many peoples lives and it can be very healing. We actively need to be touched for our emotional health. This need is more than   simply a desire. It is a physiological necessity that, if unsatisfied can have profound            psychological effects. Research has shown that even a 30 minute neck and back massage can reduce depression. It can lower levels of stress related hormones and make people more alert, less restless and able to enjoy deeper, more  restful sleep.

The mode of body therapy that I practise is known as pulsing. In my opinion it is particularly well suited to promoting emotional well-being.  It is a very effective and gentle mode of bodywork with its emphasis on listening to the body and working directly with the natural rhythms and movement; assisting the free flow of energy and working to restore the natural resting state which occurs when the body is at ease.  Pulsing utilises gentle, rhythmic rocking movements to facilitate the release of stress, either on the physical, psychological or emotional level.  Amid continual rhythmic rocking the client is transported to a place of blissful peace and tranquillity, reminiscent, perhaps, of the womb or being rocked in a parent’s arms.  The ebb and flow of the breath is mirrored in purposeful movements, sometimes subtle and barely perceptible, other times lively and bold.  With no strain whatsoever, the body is moved gently through natural pathways, promoting mobility and encouraging relaxation and openness.  The wave-like movements bring about very deep relaxation as muscular tension is eased.

Clients learn how to recognise physical tension and how to let it go.  Often in so doing, emotional pain will be released and equilibrium will be restored along with a deepened sense of vitality and peace.  At the hands of an experienced practitioner, the gentle rhythmic movement can leave you feeling like you are dancing on a cushion or air.  As you learn to let go of bodily stress you will be better prepared to move forward and face life’s challenges.

For more information or to book a taster session please contact us.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve.

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to

Steve Clifford, Psychotherapist and body worker.

Visit us @

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @

Tweet us @ cbt4you


Alexander J. (2001) Mind, Body ,Spirit, Carlton Books, London.

Kirsta A. (1987) The book of stress survival,  Gaia Books Ltd, London.

10 tips to improve your child’s emotional health

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Are you worried about your child’s emotional well-being? Well here are some tips that you might find useful. Happy children have good mental health, secure family relationships, enjoy good relationships with their peers and are emotionally balanced.

Here are ten suggestions worth following:

1. Encourage emotional expression.

Allow your child to express their emotions, whether that be anger, sadness, worry or fear. Do not laugh, ridicule or humiliate them. Even if they are expressing emotions you find difficult to handle, do not withdraw or withhold your love.

2. Be consistent.

Ensure that your child knows what you expect from him or her. Try not to send confusing and unclear messages. Remember, children are not mind readers. If you have a partner make sure that you are both singing from the same hymn sheet.

3. Rules are rules.

Set clear rules and boundaries. We all like to know where we stand. Do not make idle threats. If you do impose sanctions, make sure you always carry them through, that way your child will know you mean business and they will learn to trust you.

4. Do not compete with your child.

In other words do not try to get one better over your child. When they are upset do not try to outdo them and become more upset than they are. It is not their job to comfort you.

5. Do not put down your child’s other parent.

If you have broken up with the child’s other parent, do not say unkind, hurtful or critical things about them. No matter how unkind they may be, or how much you may be hurting. Fighting and point scoring can be a major source of anxiety to a child.

6. Foster independence.

Sooner or later all children will express thoughts or emotions that are different from your own. Encourage them to be inquisitive and to explore new things, meet new people and have experiences that you may never have experienced. This is how they learn.

7. Try not to bask in reflected glory.

Your self esteem should not be linked to your child’s appearance, behaviour or how well they do academically. Their performance does not reflect on you as their parent. By all means, give praise for things well done, but do not punish or withhold love and approval if they do not do well.

8. Their friends are not your friends.

Try not to get overly enmeshed in your child’s friendships. Make their friends welcome without becoming overly involved. When they get older try not to interfere with their love relationships.

9. Bad behaviour, not bad children.

When your children are misbehaving, remember they are not “bad” children. It is merely their behaviour that is “bad.”All behaviour means something. Step back and see if you can spot the meaning.

10. Children are children.

Finally – Remember that children and adults have different needs and expectations. Children are not “mini grown-ups.” They want different things.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to                                                                                              

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist                                                          Visit us @

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @:

Tweet us @ cbt4you

Ref: “8 Surefire Ways To Emotionally Screw Up Your Kid,”Julie de azevedo Hanks, 8 March 2012, [Accessed 29/03/14].

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Remember the Positives – Beat #Depression


Tip 6 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It’s very easy when you are feeling down to lose sight of the positives.  One facet of depression is the way the depressed outlook shapes thinking.  The depressed person tends to ruminate on the negative things people say, and hears only critical comments. This is called “filtering out” and is a particular type of unhelpful thinking trait that often goes hand in hand with depression.  Instead of noticing things in a balanced way, we only notice things that “fit” our negative mind-set and we dismiss the positives. This in turn serves to reinforce low self-esteem and a negative outlook.

One way to turn this around is to create a positive book (see tip 25).  Buy a small exercise book, and if you are creative, cover it with a bright paper cover or positive images from magazines.  Use this book to jot down positive things that happen, positive things people say and positive things that you have achieved during the day.  Slowly you will begin to notice more and more positives as you learn to hear them and not dismiss them from your radar.

Consultant Psychologist Rick Norris, in his excellent book, “The Promised Land,” recommends compiling a list of 20 positive memories.  He acknowledges that this can be somewhat overwhelming, as depressed people get out of the habit of playing memories that make them happy, because their mental filter tends to screen these out of their conscious mind.  He suggests recalling three positive memories each day for a week. He tells us the benefit of doing this exercise last thing at night is because it can be a pleasant way to drop off to sleep and also that we tend to be more in tune with our sub-conscious mind during sleep, perhaps  leading to sweeter dreams!

With best wishes, Steve

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to                                                                                               Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you

Motherhood and Mental Health

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Guest Blog 

I have spent a large majority of my adult life battling with depression and anxiety, and had developed my own coping mechanisms to weather the storm. These mainly involved eating carb rich foods, drinking large amounts of alcohol at night, and spending most days watching daytime tv in my dressing gown between extended naps. Then something amazing happened, someone fell in love with me, and I started to believe that maybe I wasn’t as useless, hateful and hideous as I felt. For a while I started to feel normal and lived a normal life; I went out, I saw friends, I went on holiday, I even went back to work. I dared to think that my mental health problems were finally behind me.

Then something wonderful happened that destroyed my stability, I had a baby. My baby girl was amazing, she loved me, she needed me, in a way no one ever had before. It didn’t take long for the weight responsibility to weigh down on me, the hormones to drop and the sleep deprivation to kick in. This was the most joyous thing to have ever happened to me but I was depressed, really depressed and every day I cried because I thought my baby girl deserved a better mummy than me, someone that didn’t have a panic attack whenever she dropped her dummy on the floor, or screamed with frustration louder than she did when I couldn’t get her to latch onto my breast.

In time I allowed my health visitor and GP to help me, I began medication once again and gave up trying to be the perfect mum. Recovery was slow but after 17 months I finally felt comfortable being mummy. Then something very unexpected happened, I fell pregnant again.

Immediately I panicked because I was still taking medication, so I swiftly weaned off and began preparing for the new addition to our family. This second pregnancy wasn’t plane sailing, I suffered with terrible morning sickness and was exhausted all the time. Looking after my over excited toddler, working part time and hauling my giant belly around soon took its toll on my fragile mental health. I fell into a deep depression and was referred to a specialist mother and infant mental health team. Once again I reluctantly started medication and waited for a referral to a psychologist. In the meantime I had support from the mental health team, my GP and my health visitor, support I found invaluable.

My daughter had just turned 2 when I gave birth to my son, and everyone told me I had my work cut out, little did they know I was already close to breaking point. This should have been the happiest time of my life but all I could think of was how to escape it. I loved my new son more than anything and became almost obsessed with him, no one else was allowed to hold him, I insisted he co-slept with us to make breastfeeding easier, and I carried him everywhere in a sling. All these things seemed like the actions of a normal loving mother from an outside perspective, but inside our home I began pushing my husband and daughter away.

To me, it was most important that I succeed in my second chance to be the perfect mummy to my baby. My daughter became a source of irritation to me, and as much as I loved her I didn’t want her to be under my feet while I adoringly showered my son with affection. I hated the sound of his crying and did everything I could to avoid it, even if it meant ignoring my daughter’s needs. Potty training became  battle of wills as she used it as an excuse to get any kind of attention from me that she could. I became so stressed and anxious that I stopped taking the children out on my own, feeling that everyone would be staring at me and judging my inadequacies.

As the panic attacks increased and became more and more severe I could no longer leave the house at all, and even stopped going in the garden for fear of people hearing me or my children crying. I begged my husband to stay home from work everyday so that I wouldn’t have to be on my own, and sobbed uncontrollably when he left. I lived in a sleep deprived, depressive, obsessive nightmare for 6 months until the inevitable breakdown happened. I could no longer be strong, I couldn’t keep going, I couldn’t manage anymore, I was on my knees and everyone around me was suffering. My psychiatrist saw me as an emergency appointment and sent me straight to a mother and baby clinic for mothers with mental health problems. My son came with me, but my daughter had to stay behind with my husband. I have never felt so guilty or so low, I felt like I was ruining her life, and the life of my husband.

I firmly believed that my family would be better off without me, rationalising that my children were too young to remember me and my husband would soon remarry if I left him a widower. The staff at the clinic were wonderful, welcoming and genuine, but I still felt worthless. The nursery nurses took care of my son while I caught up on much needed sleep and attended various therapy sessions. I sat with other mums, consuming copious amounts of tea and biscuits, and chatting about motherhood and its unexpected challenges.

After 6 weeks away from home, seeing my daughter and husband only once or twice a week, I began to see my own worth. I felt crushed every time my daughter left after a visit, when her little face looked up at me and asked “mummy, why can’t you come home with me?” She still loved me, and I missed her and knew that I loved her more than ever. She needed me, my husband needed me, and I learnt that I did have enough love in me to share it with all my family and leave some for myself.

Since returning home I have had up and down days. I’ve had panic attacks and some days my depression is still crippling, but I know I’m getting better. I want to be around to watch both my children grow up. I want to feel my husband hold me and tell me everything is going to be ok. And most of all I want to prove to myself that I’m not such a bad person, that I am actually a good mummy, and that my mental illness is just that, an illness, not part of me or my personality, so it has no place in destroying my life. I just have to remind myself that I am a person, not an illness.

Thank you anonymous mum

With all good wishes


Please email your submission posts to                                 Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

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How to be a “good enough” parent.


It’ s not easy being a parent. Despite all your best efforts, the drip, drip, drip effect of  demanding children, babies crying, nappies and housework, to name but a few, all add up to ensure a steady rise in stress levels. Of course, there will be times when you feel you’ve done brilliantly, but there will also be times when you chastise yourself and feel you have failed abysmally. At times it may seem that the demands are endless, but it need not be like this.

Begin today by taking the pressure off yourself.

Here are thirteen tips that might be helpful.

1.If you find yourself feeling as if there are too many demands on your time, make a list and then prioritise by breaking your list down into 3 parts – Needs, Wants and “Oughts.” “Needs” are top priority, “Have-to-get-done-right-now-or-there-will-be-consequences” sort of things. “Wants” are things you would really like to do if you had the time. While, “Oughts” are things you feel you ought to do to please someone else or because you think others would do them, such as, “I ought to cook a big family dinner on Sunday, just as my Mother did.” – From today, take care of your “Needs” first, then move on to the “Wants” and then only attend to the “Oughts” if you have time. The “Oughts” are no longer on any priority list.

2. Take a tip from twentieth century American Theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who in his “Serenity Prayer,” tells us to, “Accept the things we cannot change, have courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. When your children are misbehaving, remember they are not “bad” children. It is merely their behaviour that is “bad.”All behaviour means something. Step back and see if you can spot the meaning. In CBT circles we talk about “front stage” and “back stage.” Front stage is what the world sees and back stage is what is really going on behind what we see. Think of “attention seeking” behaviour as “attachment seeking” behaviour, in other words, they want to be with you. Praise them when they are demonstrating the type of behaviour you regard as “good” behaviour. Also give yourself some praise.

4. Find time to breathe. Get into the habit of taking five minutes out for reflection, breathing and contemplation. Just five minutes quiet breathing can restore, calm and promote inner peace. Learning to meditate will help you to develop patience and greater tolerance, so that when your children are demanding you will be less irritable and better able to react calmly. Daily meditation (five minutes only) is all it takes, to gain a better perspective on life, where you will feel more relaxed, less out-of-control and your day will seem more manageable (see my November 2012 blog on Mindfulness Meditation).

5. Teach your children to meditate. Silly as this may sound, teaching children the tools to manage emotions such as stress or anxiety can be a godsend. You know what it is like to see your child having a tantrum, out of control and at the mercy of major upset.It is distressing for them and you. Well, showing them how taking deep breaths, learning to visualise a nice calm safe place can really help, furthermore, it will stand them in good stead to cope with the stresses and pressure of young life. Teaching children and young people to learn controlled breathing and use affirmations and visualisations is a key facet of my work with children in my private practice.  Something I thoroughly recommended to all parents.

6.Remember that children and adults have different needs and expectations. Children are not “mini grown-ups.” They want different things. If you are entertaining aim to reduce stress by focusing on the needs of the smallest and youngest. Adults will be able to appreciate what you are doing and why you are doing it. Everything from how long a child can sit still, concentrate or be quiet, is so different from an adult. If you go out, choose child friendly places, do not expect a child to “fit in.”

7. Surround yourself with positive energy. Avoid those friends who are stressed, tense or negative. Avoid the ones who are always bitching about other friends or moaning about their partners or life. Instead, find some friends who are happy and smiling. Learn about positive self-talk ( see my October 2012 blog on self-criticism) as this is an important way to reduce stress and maintain a positive frame of mind.

8. When those around you, whether it is Mother-in-law or your partner are critical this can really undermine your confidence, which will in turn affect your parenting. Apply the following:

  • Stay focused on the present, don’t drag up the past, this will not help.
  • Listen, don’t interrupt, don’t become defensive. Hear the others point of view and remember it is only their opinion. Now reflect back to let them know you heard them.
  • Try to see their perspective, let them feel understood. Get them to explain in more detail if you do not understand and give you examples.
  • Now respond calmly and take responsibility. Accept what is right to accept. Remember, if you feel you are being attacked you are likely either to retreat in shame or lash out and attack..
  • Instead of trying to “win,”look to compromise and try to find a solution or resolution. Remember,It is OK to get it wrong.

9. Rigidity and inflexibility are major sources of stress. Keep your plans flexible, there are countless ways that plans can change. Make allowances for change, have a plan B. If you are more relaxed then those around you will also be more relaxed.

10. As a young parent it is very important to get out and join mother and baby or toddler groups. Being a parent can be very isolating and the friendship of others can a real help when things look tough and lots of fun can be had.

11. There is an old saying, “Choose your battles wisely.” Sometimes, letting  things go is so much better and far less stressful than having mini battles on all fronts. With your children it is so easy to find fault, point out their mistakes and “correct” them. Instead, look to build your children up,to make them feel better, You have plenty of time to demonstrate to your children the right way to do things. Model the behaviour you want your children to adopt. Being a critical parent should not be one of them.

12. Let go of “multi-tasking.” I am not referring to low-functioning activities such as listening to music while you play with your offspring or leafing through a magazine while the television is on. No, I mean doing several things at the same time with your attention split across different things. If you listen to your child when they are speaking to you, they will feel appreciated and respected. Driving while answering your phone and keeping one eye out for the children in the back is positively dangerous. Being present in what you are doing, whether it is playing with your child, washing dishes or eating ensures, you are fully present in the moment.

13. When you find yourself pulling your hair our and are tempted to throttle your little darlings, STOP. Instant fury is triggered by reflex action and responses come from a small part of the brain known as the “amygdala” located in the”limbic centre” of the brain. This is the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response when we sense danger or threat. In the case of instant anger, the thinking part or “central cortex” has been bypassed. This is known as an “amigdula hijack.” By simply lengthening the fuse and counting from one to ten slowly, it will allow the thinking part of the brain to engage.

Remember, pause, step back and breathe.

With best wishes, Steve

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to

Visit us @                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime at:                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you


Image ref: Elisa Franci Gonçalves, Wikimedia Commons images, Adults with children.

Recommended reading: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and its all small stuff” by Richard Carlson, published by Hodder & Stoughton.