Should I see a therapist?

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Well, that really depends on why you want to see a therapist. If you are going to see them with the hope that they will solve your problems, then perhaps not. If, however, you are going to them with the hope that they will help you to solve your problems, then that’s another matter. You see, the job of a therapist is not to “fix,” but instead to help you to mobilise your resources. A good therapist does not solve your problems, but helps you to develop the capacity to solve your own problems.

People often look to have therapy when they have a major life crisis, such as a death, the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Sometimes people feel empty or inadequate inside, or they may feel that life is not going right and they may feel unfulfilled.

It can take courage to go and see a therapist, after all, firstly the person has to admit they have needs and then they have to face them. Fear of facing painful feelings can prevent people seeking help and many turn to work, alcohol or other coping strategies to push thoughts and feelings out of their consciousness. Therapy does require a commitment from you, but it is worthwhile and talking about difficult emotions in a safe space can be very liberating. Expressing your thoughts and feelings in such a way as to clarify your own situation, come to terms with painful emotions and see your difficulties with greater objectivity can really be helpful.

It is the therapist job to provide you with a space where you can talk without fear of judgement. In other words, a confidential place where you can feel held, secure and safe. For many, the therapy room is a refuge, a sanctuary. I like to think of it as your room, your space within my world. A place where you can return to at any time in your life should you need.

A good therapist will make you feel at ease, they may even feel more like a friend than a professional therapist, someone with whom you may feel you can tell anything. Whilst friendship and friendliness may be an important ingredient, along with warmth, genuineness and congruence they can never be a friend as such. You are seeking their help as a professional not as a chum, buddy, lover or any other relationship.  It is precisely because of the uniqueness of this relationship where warmth and friendship in the therapy space combined with professional integrity come together in the service of your difficulties. Next time you are telling a friend something notice how they will often come back and try to tell you a worse story, or perhaps they will tell you what to do or simply rubbish what you say. A good therapist won’t do this. Of course, there may be a value in the therapist sharing or disclosing something of themselves, they will only do so really if it is deemed to be helpful and supports the therapeutic endeavour. You can be sure of one thing though, unlike a friend or acquaintance, a good therapist won’t dump their garbage on your shoulders!

The term psychotherapist is one that I really like. Not because it is a lovely grandiose title… but because of the original Greek meaning of the word. Here the word therapist literally means “attendant” and the word psyche literally means “spirit” or “soul.” So a psychotherapist is literally a “Soul Attendant.”

One of the problems when deciding that you want to take up therapy is to find the right type of therapy for you. The problem is that there are just so many different types of therapy to choose from. Therapies vary from analytical laying on the couch type therapy, to body therapy, cognitive behavioural, transpersonal to neurolinguistic programming. The list is seemingly endless. I suggest you go to a good bookshop and look for books on therapy in the psychology section, alternatively contact a few therapists and ask them to tell you more about their particular approach.

Probably the best way to find a therapist is through personal recommendation. This may be from your doctor or a friend. The key thing is that the therapists approach has to feel right for you.

These days a lot is spoken about a type of therapy know as cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, which is my own speciality. This is an action-oriented as well as word-oriented therapy. It helps people understand what is happening and what they can do to change the way they feel and react. CBT looks at the way thoughts (cognitions) and beliefs affect our emotions and the meaning we give to events. This affects our emotions and our reactions (behaviours). Unlike some other approaches, CBT is a relatively short term psychotherapeutic approach. The length of therapy tends to depend on the complexity of the presenting problem. A block of sessions ( usually six) may often be enough for a noticeable difference to emerge. Improvement to “quality of life” is often the best measure of success. The goal of CBT could be said, to enable the client to learn ways to address problems and difficulties in order to become their own therapist.

If somebody asked me what do you do? I would reply that I do many things, but one of the most important things is”tilting the mirror.” In other words. Reflecting back in such a way as enable the client to glimpse a slightly different perspective. Helping the client gain insight and understanding. This may be helping the client to see how unhelpful thinking traits, such as catastrophizing mind reading, black and white thinking distort their view of reality. We may look at the meaning they give to events creates a huge emotional upheaval and how stepping back and distancing can help. Then together we look at the problem area and the way it impacts on the person’s life. We consider how life would be different if the problem was resolved. We look at what may need to happen or change, then we look at the emotions arising out of the event or situation and talk about them. Together we identify what needs to happen to bring about resolution of the problem area. Then we identify strategies and goals (or aspirations) to aim for. Working within a specific time frame, using measures and behavioural experiments to help us. Through the course of therapy the client and therapist walk “shoulder to shoulder,” addressing the difficulties In a collaborative way.

Some people say, “I felt worse after my first session,” for others, getting it out in the open can be a great relief. Problems rarely resolve themselves without action, and if they do so, it may not be in the way we desire. Having the opportunity to explore them with another person may help a great deal.

Don’t expect miracles, but don’t dismiss the possibility that resolution of difficulties can feel like a miracle. Therapists are not “miracle workers” and if they present themselves that way, don’t go anywhere near them! The therapist is there to guide you to achieve your goals, not to do the work for you or “make” you feel better. Every session you attend is one step closer to feeling better.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

visit us @ www.stevecliffordcbt.com
Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                        tweet @ cbt4you

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Could there be an evolutionary explanation for depression?

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Could there be an evolutionary explanation for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression?

I have for a long time pondered over the hypothesis mooted by some that there may be an evolutionary explanation for both anxiety and depression. This explanation may also embrace seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Let’s start with anxiety. On the face of it, anxiety is fairly easy to categorise as an evolutionary response.

Imagine a tribe who live in mud huts next to a fast flowing river inhabited by crocodiles and surrounded by a dense jungle full of ferocious animals. This tribe have no fear whatsoever, and the children, just like their parents, take every opportunity to play in the fast flowing river and climb the trees in the jungle.

All, that is, but two people, a man and a woman who were born with this condition called anxiety. One by one the children and their parents get eaten either by the crocodiles or the ferocious animals inhabiting the forest. The couple with anxiety however, do not venture near the river or risk going into the jungle. Lo and behold they are saved because of their anxiety. In time they have children and so this condition us passed on and on through the generations.

Anxiety could be said to be one of the main motivating forces in much of human behaviour and provides a tremendous impetus to learning and adjusting throughout life. The earliest human remains that resemble us, is a female skeleton (Australopithecus) or should I say, several hundred bones known as AL- 288-1. She has been named Lucy” and she dates back some 3.2 million years and she is a hominid.

Lucy would not have fared very well when facing a huge wild beast; her nails could hardly be described as claws. Her hair, a little under her arms, between her legs and on her head could hardly be described as fur. Porcupines or their prehistoric equivalent had spikes that came up when they were scared. Lucy, on the other hand, had goose pimples and a few short hairs that stood up on end, hardly a match. She was not very strong and could not really outrun her enemies. So how then did she fare so well?

Well, she had two special gifts: a brain that could think and reason in a way that her enemies could not, and hands that had fingers and movement far more sophisticated than them. She soon learnt how to fashion weapons with her hands. This fantastic evolutionary condition called anxiety enabled her to identify threat.

If we were really being picky we might say that anxiety does not mean precisely the same as fear. Fear arises from threat, by some situation outside a person, that can be assessed and acted upon. Fear prompts us to either attack or run away. The sophisticated autonomic nervous system, ( the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system) in conjunction with the endocrine glands prepare the body for “fight or flight.”

There are several other states associated with fear and these include “freeze,” like a rabbit does when in a car headlight, and another we shall call “flop,”  – in this latter state, blood pressure, which is sky high when in the fight or flight state, literally drops in an instant causing us to faint. An example where this might come into play is where you are running away from your attacker and you are caught by a huge blow and a gaping wound prevents your escape. Unable to fight or flee, a message is sent to the brain in an instant and a rapid drop in blood pressure causes you to faint. Lying motionless, hopefully your pursuer just might think, ” ugh, dead meat, that’s it, I am not interested any more.” Another related state is known as “fawn,” – in this state, showing extreme affection and getting friendly with your attacker, you might be able to favourably influence your fate.

Coming back to anxiety, let us say that it is a feeling of unease or concern in relation to a perceived threat. This was the gift Lucy had. Her fairly small brain was programmed to look out for threat. That is why today we are fixated with the new bulletins and we gravitate towards news stories which have an element of shock and horror. Yes, Lucy could have been programmed to remember the kiss and cuddle she had with Freddie Flintstone, but no, she was programmed to look out for threat and danger. Today, we can be forgiven for being drawn towards gossip, after all it important for you to know if any dangerous predators are moving into our neighbourhood!

One could almost say that we are “over-engineered” to look out for danger; in other words, just like a car alarm that goes off with the slightest vibration from a lorry passing by, or a burglar alarm going off when a spider walks over it, we too are sensitive to all forms of imagined threat or danger. Hence we get “panic attacks” at the drop of a hat and our body kicks into “fight and flight.”

Depression too, could be viewed as a natural response to overwhelming odds or abnormal situations of stress. Imagine if you will, our prehistoric ancestors living in a   cave by a river, close to the plains populated by wild animals. The weather is particularly bad for a prolonged period, dark skies and rain cause the rivers to flood. As a consequence of the poor conditions the normally dry plains flood and the wild animals now are on the prowl for food.

Looking out for threat and danger, the dark oppressive skies signal to us that something is wrong and that we need to withdraw. Perhaps the modern day incidents of seasonal affective disorder hark back to this time? Chemical changes alert us that something is wrong. Could bipolar disorder signal to us to get hyperactive and gather what supplies we can before depression kicks in?

With danger imminent our body chemicals signal both brain and body to withdraw. With lowering of energy levels we do not feel like doing anything much, loss of libido means that we are no longer making babies, so no more extra mouths to feed! No need to go far to hunt as our appetite is diminished and our hastily gathered supplies will last us through this period of danger. With little energy to do anything, not even washing or dressing, we huddle up together under a pile of animal skins and hibernate, sleeping though until the spring and the nice weather arrives again. As it does, so the skies lighten, floods recede and the animals move back to the plains once again. Safety has returned and our mood is restored back to its former state.

Fanciful perhaps, but there may be a grain of truth in there somewhere, who knows?

Until next time, best wishes Steve.

 

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                       Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                             Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                   Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEmmanuel_Benner_-_Prehistoric_Man_Hunting_Bears.jpg

 

 

Could Emotional distress and Spiritual development be linked?

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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.

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

References:
Cherry. K. “What are peak experiences – psychology overview.” www. psychology .about.com [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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Managing really upsetting thoughts and feelings

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As a CBT practitioner I would be the first to point out that avoidance of upsetting thoughts and feelings only serves to perpetuate and strengthen the power they have over you. There are times however, when the sometimes overwhelming nature of these thoughts and feelings can simply be too much. Having intrusive and upsetting thoughts while your taking your child to school, or when faces around you become distorted, due to a painful flashbacks, is not to be recommended. I hope to give you a few tips to help you manage, so that you can go about your life with relative ease, until such time as you can address the causes of these upsetting thoughts and feelings safely in therapy.

The first technique I would like to share is adapted from the “Drop Anchor” exercise by Russ Harris (Harris, 2009).

This exercise will help you centre yourself and connect with the world around you.

1. Place your feet firmly on the ground.                                                                                   2. Now push them down firmly.                                                                                                 3. Become consciously aware of the floor beneath you, feel it supporting you.                       4.Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.                                 5. Become aware of your whole body, as if your whole body now is engaged in pushing.     6. NOw look around you, notice what you can see and hear.                                                  7. Notice where you are and what you are doing.                                                                     8. Breathe!

Grounding techniques

These are very helpful techniques to learn, particularly if you are prone to upsetting intrusive thoughts, memories and images. THey are also good to employ if you are feeling detached and unreal.  Rather like mindfulness, focusing all of your attention on sounds in the environment e.g. birds in the trees, waves on the beach or even the sound of your breathing can be very helpful.

There are many different grounding techniques and I have listed some of my favourite “sensory” grounding techniques below:

Visual: Select an object or perhaps a photo, picture or landscape to focus on.  Study it intently; describe what you see out loud or in your head.  You may choose to focus on something around you, like the wallpaper or even a spot on the carpet or ceiling. Really focus on the detail, shape, colour and pattern.  Counting the grain in wood or fabric will really heighten your “in the moment” awareness.  Use flashcards, with a message to yourself such as, “these dark days will pass” or “I can tolerate this.”

Touch: Carrying round a stone or crystal that you can get out of your pocket when you need to ground yourself is an easy way to bring yourself back to the present. Find yourself a special object to use at such times.Look at the colour, the shape, how solid it is, the temperature of the object and its texture, and whether it is rough or smooth.  You can even use foodstuff like a sultana, banana or mushroom.

Look to your environment, for example by feeling the grass under your feet or the bark of a tree. Take a shower and become aware of the stimulation of the water on your skin, or perhaps slap your hand on the surface of bathwater.  Pinging an elastic band on your wrist, rubbing a comb over your arm or an ice cube over your face can be helpful.  The latter are particularly helpful as an alternative to acts of self-harm.

Sound:  Use your voice, making different sounds and shapes with your mouth.  Select a piece of music, preferably something up-beat, and listen to the sound, in particular, paying attention to the beat, rhythm, the different instruments and vocal harmonies and become aware of any feelings evoked.  Listen to the sounds of birds, the ticking of a clock, or simply listen to the sounds around you, noticing how loud or soft they are.  Notice those in the foreground, mid-ground and distance – now categorise these into groups.

Scent: Scented candles, oil burners and incense are all good for grounding.  I burn incense before I see my first clients each day to help me to focus and put me in the “zone”, ready to attend to the issues they bring me.  It can be helpful to carry round a small bottle of perfume, or putting a dab on your wrist to smell.  A particular favourite of mine is the scent of patchouli, however, my Granny used to carry round a bottle of smelling salts to ward off the “vapours.”  I can only think that this latter, rather pungent scent would be good for managing panic attacks!

Taste: Take a glass of water (with or without ice cubes) and drink it very slowly, savouring the taste, imagining it cleansing and washing away your tension or distress.  A selection of herbal teas with different flavours can stimulate the taste buds.  Be aware, however, that herbal teas have certain therapeutic properties and so should be taken with this in mind.  If you want to find out about the beneficial effects of herbal teas consult your local health food store.

I hope you find these helpful.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

 

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Sources:

Russ Harris – “Simple Ways to Get Present” – 2009. www.actmadesimple.com 

Steve Clifford – “50 Tips to Beat Depression” – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tips-Beat-Depression-Steve-Clifford-ebook/dp/B00ILV965A

Create a Garden Sanctuary – Beat #Depression

50Tips

Tip 2 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

When you are depressed and the whole world can seem too much, sometimes just getting out in the garden and away from it all can help.  Whether it is clearing a weedy corner or sitting in a tranquil place, inner calm can come from immersing oneself in nature.  Sitting quietly in the garden can enable you to slow down and escape the rush and hurry, which may have contributed to your present condition.  Studies have shown that gazing at greenery produces a rise in alpha wave activity, which indicates increased mental relaxation. Taking time to reflect is all part of the healing process.  Tidying and pruning an overgrown garden can symbolically help us to create a sense of order, as we thin out and rid ourselves of the unwanted “overgrowth” in our lives, in the same way that watering and tending new seedlings can help us develop the nurturing aspects of ourselves.  Even the smallest of spaces can be transformed into a healing oasis by just adding a few pots and some greenery.

With best wishes, Steve

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

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                Tweet us @ cbt4you

Get yourself a few rays of Sunshine – Beat #Depression

 50Tips

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 stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you

 

Remember the Positives – Beat #Depression

50Tips

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 stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com                                                                                               Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you