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.
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.
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 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.