BBC News story on smartphone addiction

13 02 2019

I made a brief appearance on the BBC London News last week, for a story on smartphone addiction. You should still be able to view the video clip here on iPlayer, for the next few days at least.

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The story was about a secondary school in Wembley, North London, which is selling old-style ‘brick’ mobile phones to its teenage students for just £10, to encourage them to stop using smartphones. Having trialled a smartphone amnesty, students who had switched to the older phones reported better sleep, better concentration, improved relationships, and increasing levels of happiness.

Smartphone and computer addictions are increasingly common, particularly among teens who may already struggle to regulate their rapidly developing brains and bodies. The lure of the smartphone means that we are often not fully present with those around us, which decreases levels of attunement and secure attachment, as seen in the Still Face Experiment. I often hear disconnected couples in therapy talk about how they feel that their partner’s laptop or phone has become the priority at home; pushing them into second place. This may also escalate into behaviours such as videogame or online porn addiction.

It is important to recognise that addiction is a habitual experience of disconnection. Disconnection from disowned parts of our selves, from uncomfortable feelings – such as boredom, loneliness, or sadness – and from others. Recovery, therefore, is the process of learning to slowly reconnect to these disowned parts of ourselves, these uncomfortable feelings, and others. The opposite of addiction is connection. This is why attunement and attachment, which shape our capacity to connect, are crucial elements in the recovery framework, and to work on in therapy.

If you would like to explore working on these, or any other, issues in therapy, please do not hesitate to contact me.





6 things a sex therapist wishes you knew

22 05 2018

Here’s an article I did for Prima magazine a couple of years ago, but omitted to post on here at the time:

6 Things A Sex Therapist Wishes You Knew

My 6 tips were as follows:

1. It’s good to talk about sex!
Lots of clients still feel like opening up about their sex lives is a real taboo, and that sexual thoughts should be kept private and hidden away. But the truth is that sex is a huge part of who we are – it plays a vital role in determining our identities, and in shaping the relationships we choose throughout our lives – so it’s good to talk about it, and there’s nothing shameful or degrading about doing so.

You might not think that your sexual thoughts are relevant to certain other issues in your life, but sometimes sharing these inner desires can really shine a light on something else that’s seemingly unconnected.

2. …but don’t JUST talk about sex
Sex is often the symptom, not the cause. Lots of people come to therapy looking to resolve a sexual issue, and often there’s a temptation to focus on that issue and not talk about anything else. But as you explore around the problem, you tend to find that what’s being played out in the bedroom is often related to other thoughts and feelings.

Even something as innocuous as moving house or changing job can have an unexpected impact on libido, as attention and energy levels are focused elsewhere. So it’s really important to get the full picture of what’s going on.

3. There’s nothing you could say that would surprise your therapist
People go to therapy for all kinds of sexual issues. This might be a question of their own orientation, making sense of a certain fetish, or exploring some kind of dysfunction, which they feel is preventing them from having the sex life they truly desire.

No matter how embarrassed you might feel about a certain sex-related issue, your therapist won’t judge you for it, and will remain calm and impartial as you explore the problem. Sexual issues are very common reasons for people to seek therapy, so your therapist has most likely heard it all before; and however filthy or unusual you might think your kink is, someone else has probably already shared it.

4. The biggest sexual organ is the brain
People spend so much time focusing on genitals, but often forget about the brain. Sex is a deeply psychological process, and one person’s turn ons can be another’s turn offs. This is because we all get aroused by different sensory stimuli, and have a different set of positive and negative associations for all kinds of situations and events; often relating back to previous experiences.

You can have a lot of fun with your body, but truly great sex needs to involve the brain as well. After all, it’s the brain that gets flooded with a magical cocktail of chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins – at the point of orgasm, to produce an almost trance-like experience.

5. Sex means different things to different people, at different times
There’s no single definition of a good sex life. Sexuality is fluid, and needs and desires can change drastically from person to person, and even day to day. For example, at the start of a relationship sex is usually about pleasure and passion, but over time it can become more about intimacy and connection, and then if a couple decide to have children it can suddenly become quite outcome-focused.

Sometimes people struggle to cope with these transitions, or may find that their own needs don’t match with their partners’, and this is why talking about sex is so important in relationships.

6. Don’t put it off
If you do have a sex-related worry or concern, it’s best to talk about it as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with a family member or a friend or partner, then seek out a good therapist to explore the issue with you. The longer you wait, the more it becomes likely that you build the issue up in your head, or start to complicate it even further.

It’s always best to tackle issues, rather than to let them fester or be ignored. More than ever, people are talking openly about their sexual orientations and desires, so there’s no need to deal with your worries alone. Everyone deserves to feel sexually fulfilled, and that includes you.

I specialise in sex and relationship issues, so if you would like to discuss any of these in a safe and secure environment, either individually or as part of a couple of family, then please contact me and I will schedule a session for you.





The secret to secure relationships.

18 02 2015

The Huffington Post recently published a special feature on love and relationships, for Valentine’s Day. They contacted me to ask me some questions about the secret to creating secure relationships, and I thought I would share my answers here:

Huffington Post: “What is the importance of authenticity within a relationship?
Stefan: “When we’re authentic with someone it means we allow ourselves to be seen ‘warts and all’. It means being exposed and raw and vulnerable, which is a horribly scary thing to do as we’re all familiar with the pain of rejection. However, it’s a risk worth taking, because the act of expressing our deepest flaws and fears and then having them acknowledged and accepted by our loved ones creates an incredibly powerful and secure emotional bond, as it suggests an unconditional love. If instead we choose to hide behind the mask of our ‘best self’, then our vulnerabilities stay hidden, which may feel safer in the short term, but in the long term this suggests that any love we receive is conditional or has a caveat; that our partner only loves the version of ourselves which we allow them to see, and than they might not love us if they knew the whole truth. This results in a constant fear that our hidden secret vulnerabilities – our skeletons in the closet – might one day be exposed, and in an emotional connection which feels conditional, or incomplete.”

Huffington Post: “What is the importance of getting to know your partner well / deeply?”
Stefan: “A friend of mine recently joked that premarital therapy should simply consist of the couple eating apples in a silent room, and that if they don’t kill each other after 10 minutes, then marital bliss awaits. The point he was making is that we all have little idiosyncratic foibles and quirks, and it can be these little mundane things – like the way we eat an apple – that can end up driving our partners crazy. That’s why it’s so important that we get to know our partners well; so that we’re not only aware of the obvious personality traits, but also the ones which are buried deep, which may only be exposed during times of stress or vulnerability. We all act differently under great pressure, and frequently resort to ‘adaptive behaviours’; coping mechanisms which we’ve developed earlier in life, to help us deal with painful feelings and events. The longer any relationship goes on, the more inevitable it becomes that the couple will be faced with a situation which might trigger some of these behaviours; so it’s good to know how you and your partner are likely to react when this happens. Many of the strongest couples are the ones who can recognise each other’s adaptive behaviours early on, as warning signs that something isn’t right, and then soothe each other until the danger has passed.”

Huffington Post: “What are suggested techniques to get to know your partner better?”
Stefan: “First and foremost: spending time together. It sounds so obvious, but it takes a long time to really see how someone is going to behave and react in a range of different situations. At the beginning of a relationship couples often experience a huge amount of happiness together, but happiness is only one emotion. It’s important to know how you’ll handle other emotions together as well. So it’s not just the quantity of time you spend with someone, but the quality too. If you’re just staying in your comfort zone all the time, then you’re not really getting a chance to see how you and your partner might respond to each other in a challenging predicament. So, get out of your comfort zone together: go on unusual dates, try a new activity, relinquish control and let your partner surprise you occasionally, travel to somewhere new, and make sure you get to see your partner in a number of different social situations – with family, friends, and colleagues. It’s only by having a variety of different experiences together that you can really see how compatible you are as a team. And, of course, keep talking. Communication is key, so make sure you check in with your partner regularly, to learn what their emotional triggers are, and to stay attuned to their needs.”

In the end they actually split my answers up across a couple of different articles. Here’s one about how couples can connect with each other. And here’s one about how well couples feel they know their other half.





Assessing Adult Attachment: A Dynamic-Maturational Approach to Discourse Analysis

10 09 2011

My review of “Assessing Adult Attachment: A Dynamic-Maturational Approach to Discourse Analysis”.

Assessing Adult Attachment front cover

Attachment theory has come a long way since John Bowlby’s paper “Forty-four Juvenile Thieves” was published in 1944. In the paper Bowlby wrote about his work with disturbed youth in London. He theorized for the first time that the nature and security of an individual’s relationships to their primary caregivers during infancy and early childhood equips them with the methods they will use to express their feelings and needs in later life. Those relationships also predict how people will form relationships with significant others during adulthood.

Through further research into Bowlby’s initial ideas – and the invention of the Strange Situation experiment – Mary Ainsworth was able to develop a clear system of classification for this theory, which could be used to identify three unique patterns of attachment: Type A (Avoidant), Type B (Secure), and Type C (Ambivalent).

This rudimentary ABC system has been at the heart of attachment theory since its inception, and has paved the way for a host of psychological texts and theories. Titles such as “Attached” by Dr. Amir Levine and the “Attachment-Focused Family Workbook” by Daniel A. Hughes join countless other attachment-specific books currently on sale, and Dr. Sue Johnson’s research into relationships and subsequent development of her Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) program have brought about a revolution in the field of couples therapy. Indeed, a recent issue of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy’s ‘Family Therapy Magazine’ was entirely devoted to The Science Of Love, reporting the recent findings of groundbreaking research focused on the understanding of romantic love and adult attachment.

It is clear, therefore, that the ABC classification system of attachment theory has a lot to offer those in the therapeutic field, but it is not without its problems, either. First, it often seems overly simplistic: the classifications can be vague and unreliable, everyone is forced to classify themselves with one of just three basic attachment styles, and there is no option of further classification within each division. Second, it is too limiting: people frequently feel typecast and stuck within one specific attachment style, with no option for change or progress. Third, it is outdated and culturally biased: the system was derived from work in the cognitive sciences in the late 1970s, and based largely on findings from observations of middle-income, low-risk American families. And fourth, it offers very little in terms of a solution: once someone has identified their attachment style, then what?

The main cause of these problems has been the source of the classification data itself: the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), an interview and coding method developed by Mary Main and Ruth Goldwyn in the 1980s which has been the primary method of collecting and interpreting attachment information ever since. Now, at last, with this book, Crittenden and Landini have provided us with a more up-to-date, efficient and multicultural alternative, which continues to be compatible with the AAI data collection method, but works equally well with other forms of interview, too: their own Dynamic-Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment.

Various theoretical perspectives on attachment can be applied to the interpretation of the AAI. Main and her colleagues developed the AAI based on a version of attachment theory that assumed that (1) by adulthood most adults had a single representation of attachment relationships, (2) this relationship reflected one of the Ainsworth patterns of infant attachment, (3) these patterns were transmitted from mother to child across generations, and (4) frightening circumstances disrupted the organizational process, leading to a state of disorganization in infancy or lack of resolution of the frightening circumstances in adulthood.

In the Dynamic-Maturational Model of attachment and adaptation, none of these four assumptions are made. To the contrary, the DMM approach to attachment theory presumes that adults have multiple dispositional representations, each unique to the information processes underlying it. Second, the array of strategies is developmentally expanded from its roots in infancy, with endangered individuals most often using the later developing and more complex strategies. Third, it is understood that each individual constructs his or her own dispositional representation from his or her own experience. Sometimes this will reflect similarities to the parent’s dispositional representation, but, especially in cases of parental disturbance or inadequacy, children will often organize the opposite strategy from the parent… Finally, exposure to danger is assumed to be the essential condition that elicits attachment behavior, and, across repeated experiences, leads to organized self-protective strategies.

Clearly, the introduction of this model represents a major leap forward in our understanding of attachment and attachment theory, offering a far more detailed and multicultural system of classification than the old ABC model. Over the course of this book, Crittenden and Landini fastidiously lay out a new classification system, with many numeric subdivisions within each individual attachment strategy. In fact, the research is so exhaustive and delivered in such great detail that it seems almost impossible that any clinicians reading this would not recognize each of their clients at least somewhere within the text. The downside to this is that this is not an easy book to read; it is certainly not something you will want to flick through to help you relax at the end of the day. But those who do make their way through the sometimes dense and challenging text will come out feeling incredibly rewarded for their perseverance, armed with a new treatment model for working with their clients and a new understanding of the complexities of adult attachment.

Essentially, what the field of attachment theory has been sorely lacking is its own Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — a modern, flexible, and multicultural tool which will provide practitioners with the common language and standard criteria for the classification of specific attachment styles, and their best-practice solutions. Now, with Crittenden and Landini’s long-awaited book, it finally has it.

Critically, though, this book aims to do much more than serve as just a DSM for attachment theory. As well as a basis for gathering empirical data, the authors provide us with a compassionate new guide for treatment formulation, and there is a chapter – titled ‘But What Shall I Do?’ – dedicated specifically to this cause:

Researchers are happy with a reliable classification, but not so psychotherapists and others who must guide troubled individuals and their families. They need an action plan. In this chapter we describe how one uses an AAI classification, combined with information about the history and current functioning of the speaker and his or her family, to derive a functional formulation. The functional formulation is the professional’s dispositional representation (DR) of the relation between the service structure and the individual and his or her relationships. Like all DRs, a functional formulation is dynamic; it is always changing as new information is integrated into the existing set of information… We describe how to derive functional formulations that can guide treatment both at its onset and, with feedback and updating, across the course of treatment.

Crittenden and Landini then go on to demonstrate exactly how their model can be used as a therapeutic tool, using the initial classification as starting point to guide both the therapist and client toward the resolution of past issues and the reorganization of the thoughts and language that shape both our ideas of self and attachment strategy. Furthermore, this model aims to shift the focus on attachment styles from one of disorder to one of function; from the old deficit-based model to one that is dynamic and optimistic. Rather than an emphasis on diagnosis simply for the sake of identification or labels, the authors stress their hopes that this model might open the doors to new ways of thinking in not just the mental health field, but others as well, concluding that:

When functioning is understood as attempts to protect rather than to damage or harm, alliances between mental health professionals and people in need of care become more likely.

Many say that DMM theory and methods are complex, too complex for working clinicians. After a century of trying to understand and ameliorate mental illness, it seems unlikely that simple theory, simple assessment, and quick manualized treatment will be more successful than our past efforts. It is more likely that theory needs to be sufficiently complex to represent the crucial aspects of the life experiences of people with mental illness. The assessments need to be sensitively attuned to the encrypted communications of very distressed adults, and to be coded by skilled professionals trained to a high level of reliability.

Possibly, the greatest potential of the DMM-AAI is its capacity to focus observation precisely while retaining the openness to expand and change understanding of observations. We hope this book will be used to promote accuracy of observation, clarity of interpretation, and – most important – discovery of new ideas about human adaptation. Psychological tools that yield useful data without restricting thinking are very valuable. The DMM-AAI does more: It opens the door to groundbreaking basic and applied research of as much relevance for the social sciences as for the healing professions.

This is a groundbreaking piece of work, containing a life-span view of adaptation that is both intuitively succinct and simple in structure, yet also completely nuanced in execution. Researchers and clinicians alike will undoubtedly benefit from the wealth of information shared here, and it is a must-have for anyone with an interest in attachment theory, representing a major evolutionary step forward in the field.

5 out of 5 stars.