A key task of psychotherapy is to help someone understand their own cognitive and emotional processes better. It is often the case that our own ways of thinking, feeling and behaving are so habitual that we take them for granted. Because we can’t see them clearly, or see them at all, we don’t question them.
One to one, a psychotherapist has various ways of bringing those hidden or unrecognised processes into conscious awareness. Since we have no choice over something we can’t see, self-awareness is especially important when established ways of thinking or habitual emotional responses create an unhealthy and self-defeating cycle. Once our habitual responses are recognised, we have knowledge, insight, and therefore new choices.
This article is about one method of getting to know yourself better that can be done alone, outside the therapy room; a method that can also enhance what happens in psychotherapy sessions: the left/right journal.
One of the key insights in psychotherapy is that an event in itself doesn’t have meaning: events gain meaning through the personal filter of the experiencing individual. Four people at the same event, because they have four different filters or expectations, will experience it in four different ways. Using the imaginary example of observers of a fight in a car park, this article explores personal filters and their role in making meaning. We conclude with an explanation of what this means for the process of emotional healing in psychotherapy.
A panic attack is an experience of being overwhelmed by unresolved emotional trauma, an event in the past revisited in the present as if it is happening again. The long-term therapeutic resolution of that trauma is personal and therefore different for each person. In the short-term, the psychosomatic (emotional and physical) alarm response may be calmed by an exercise which brings the person back into the safe here and now. The first part of this article explains the therapeutic theory behind the body calming exercise; and the second part is the exercise itself, available as a downloadable MP3.
The key task of counselling or psychotherapy is to raise a person’s awareness of their own processes, to help them become attentive to their habitual patterns of thoughts and emotions. Of the four basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear and anger – it is often the case that a person has learned that one emotion is ‘bad’, that they aren’t allowed it, that they should resist feeling it.
This article outlines the purpose of emotions; why some are blocked or ‘banned’ in some families; how an ‘approved’ emotion is used as a substitute; how the banning of an emotion can lead to a repeated cycle of unresolved feelings; and how psychotherapy can help.
This is the final article of four about attachment, the way we form relationships based on formative experiences with carers, usually our biological parents. The previous three articles have described how the avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganised attachment styles are formed, how these attachment styles play out in adult romantic relationships, and the way psychotherapy may help resolve the issues inherent in each attachment style.
The insecure attachment styles – avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised – are characterised by compromises the child made due to unmet emotional needs. These compromises then form a blueprint for what is and isn’t possible in intimate relationships. The avoidant blueprint is the need not to give away emotions which feel dangerous to express; the ambivalent blueprint is the need to manage fear of abandonment; and the disorganised blueprint is an abiding hypervigilance as the world is not a safe place to be.
By contrast, secure attachment is characterised by the child getting enough of what s/he needs enough of the time, enabling the child to express emotional needs openly and appropriately with the expectation they will be accepted and met. This child, free from preoccupation with hiding emotions, free from fear of abandonment or the need to stay safe from danger, has an inner sense of security which enables a much greater degree of self-knowledge and therefore a better quality of relationship with others.
This article describes the parent/child relationship which develops secure attachment and how this plays out in adult romantic relationships. As with all four articles, the attachment style is illustrated by a song: secure attachment is characterised by To Do With You by Jake Thackray. The final section of the article explains that the ultimate goal of therapy is to provide the care and conditions to help the client move from an insecure to an earned secure attachment.
This is the third of four articles about the way we form relationships, known as an attachment style. This article explores disorganised or fearful attachment. Taking early experiences with parents or carers as the blueprint, disorganised attachment originates in an abiding fear due to lack of safety, resulting in negative views about life, dissociation, and emotional disregulation. In adult life, this makes relationships problematic, as the primary concern of the fearfully attached is avoiding danger and, for that reason, emotions are either heightened or blocked and hypervigilance is the norm.
Each of these four articles about attachment includes music which exemplifies the attachment style. Disorganised or fearful attachment is illustrated by Björk’s Hyperballad. Finally, the role of psychotherapy is outlined, the process of helping someone with fearful attachment reach a place of emotional security and safety.Read more
This is the second of four articles about attachment styles, the way we form relationships and view ourselves based on early experiences of nurturing. The first article briefly outlined the groundbreaking research of Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby and described the avoidant attachment style, in which emotions are either unavailable or feel dangerous to express. This article explains the origin and characteristics of ambivalent attachment, in which the infant is preoccupied with the presence of the parent whose emotional availability is unpredictable, and carries this model of relationships into adult life, passively or angrily fearing that their partner doesn’t love them.
Each article ends with an example of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style, and asks how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. The ambivalent attachment style is illustrated by Harry Nilsson’s Without You and Radiohead’s Creep, and the combination of avoidant and ambivalent attachments in relationship is illustrated by Wham’s Freedom.
Often someone finds themself back in a familiar and distressing situation with a partner or friends, thinking ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ or ‘Why do I always end up here?’ The first step towards breaking out of unhealthy relationship patterns is to recognise the repetition, and our own part in perpetuating it, so that we have conscious choices about our own behaviour.
The attachment model for understanding relationships focuses on the nature of the bond between an infant and primary carers, usually the mother and/or father. In research, three broad categories of attachment were observed in children: avoidant, ambivalent, and secure. To this, a fourth category was later added, disorganised. Longitudinal studies have shown that, unless a positive intervention is made, the child now grown uses this primary relationship as an unconscious blueprint for their adult intimate relationships.
These four articles look at the childhood origins of each attachment style, what this looks like in adult relationships, and how counselling or psychotherapy can help change the pattern. Each article ends with examples of popular songs which encapsulate what it means to live the attachment style.
This first article describes the emotional unavailability of the avoidant or dismissive attachment style, illustrated by Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I, 10cc’s I’m Not In Love, and Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am A Rock.
We tend to think of grief and bereavement as something we experience only when someone close to us has died, but the bereavement process can happen with any deep and significant loss: the death of a person, the end of a relationship, significant loss of health, the loss of a limb, the end of a career, etc.
This article outlines what to expect in any grieving process. My aim is to show that difficult experiences are normal processes of adjustment to a new situation involving loss.
For some, the scene is all too familiar. A couple are on a repetitive round of arguments, living the same events time and time again, repeating the same disputes and feeling the same powerful negative emotions. Why does this happen? And how might couple counselling, individual counselling or psychotherapy help communication? Read more
What is this thing called love, This funny thing called love? Just who can solve its mystery? Why should it make a fool of me?
~ Cole Porter, What is this thing called love?
In all its various forms, love is a frequent subject in the therapy room. As in Cole Porter’s song, some people’s experience is that loving relationships inevitably end, leaving them feeling foolish. Others experience love as a restricting prison, or as something powerfully desired but unattainable. Why is this? And how can counselling and psychotherapy help?
A question I am sometimes asked by clients, usually in the first few sessions, is “Is there any hope for me?” It is a fundamental question which goes to the heart of therapy. A way of understanding the question is ‘Will I be able to grow beyond my present state? Is change really possible?’ The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’.
For anyone going through relationship issues, bereavement or loss, the pain can be magnified by the time of year, particularly Christmas, new year, anniversaries, birthdays. This article looks at the common theme of these difficult times of year – endings and beginnings. Those unresolved emotions, as well as bringing heartache, can be an opportunity for growth and increased self-awarness in therapy.Read more
For many people, the first question when reading this website will be, ‘Is counselling or psychotherapy for me? Will it help?’ The aim of this article is to address what therapy is like and what it can offer.
‘Psychosomatic illness’ and ‘psychosomatic symptoms’ are commonly-used terms. In everyday language, they are typically used to dismiss both the symptoms and the person, with phrases such as ‘It’s all in the mind’, often meaning, ‘It isn’t real: this person is imagining it’. This article outlines why such ideas are mistaken, and the importance of understanding the unity of mind and body.
Recently I’ve been doing some work on my house and much of my furniture has been moved to accommodate the changes. I walked into the darkness of one room and reached out to turn on a lamp in the place it used to be. It wasn’t there. But for a split second, as if by magic, I saw it in front of me. I then turned to reach for it in the place I knew it now was, and realised the importance of what had just happened: for those in trauma, reliving expectations is a key part of experience.