Wishing everyone a restful end to the year.

20 12 2014

As we’re coming to the end of the year I just want to wish everyone a restful time over the next few weeks. It’s often a time where families get to come together, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less manic or stressful than the rest of the year; in fact it can often be a time of conflict and anxiety.

I work with a lot of my clients to raise awareness of their feelings at times of conflict or anxiety, and then to manage them using techniques such as mindfulness. I see mindfulness as a means of remaining focused on the here and now, and being completely in touch with the present moment; thus removing ourselves from the constant ‘noise’ of past-oriented or future-focused thoughts buzzing around our brain. Imagine your mind as one of those Christmas snowglobes, shaken up and swirling all over the place; and mindfulness helping all the snowflakes become settled and calm, so that the globe is clear again.

mind-full

Scientific evidence has shown the effectiveness of regular mindfulness, and you can read the recent experiences of the American news anchor Anderson Cooper here, as he describes how mindful practice has changed his life; enabling him to be more calm, present, and efficient.

However you spend the next few weeks, why not try out some mindfulness techniques to simply catch your breath and gather your thoughts? For example, you might want to just focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes, or try some progressive muscle relaxation, or sit through a brief guided imagery exercise. These techniques should help you feel far less stressed and anxious, and much less overwhelmed.

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I would also like to briefly thank everyone at the ACPNL, as they kindly invited me to present a workshop for them last Sunday. I have to admit I didn’t expect many people to be present – considering it was a cold and frosty Sunday morning at the end of the year – so I was delighted to have almost 50 people in attendance. I presented for 3 hours, on the topic of Social Emotion Regulation, and talked about the difference between attachment and attunement, how to create lasting and secure connections in therapy, and the basics of Emotionally Focused Therapy (as a reminder, EFT is an evidence based modality with a proven ‘total recovery’ rate of 75%, and 90% of clients showing improvements; no other modality even comes close!). The workshop was such a success that the ACPNL have requested that I go back and do another one, so I will keep you posted once dates are confirmed.

Once again, I would like to wish you all a happy and healthy end to the year, and all the best for 2015.





Boys Do Cry

15 10 2014

I just wanted to post a quick link to a a couple of excellent articles.

The first was published by Vice last week, titled “A Stiff Upper Lip Is Killing British Men“. You can read it here and I think the facts speak for themselves:

stiffupperlip

“Even accounting for reproductive health, in any given year men are half as likely as women to visit their doctor in England, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m pretty certain women don’t get ill twice as often as men. In the UK, the rate of premature deaths (under 50) is one and a half times higher among men than women, primarily due to cardiovascular disease, accidents, suicide, and cancer—the latter cause offering perhaps the strongest evidence of men’s reluctance to seek help. While affecting men and women equally, skin cancer kills four times as many men in the UK because we avoid addressing the issue until it’s too late… The disparity in suicide rates is another eye-opener. In spite of depression being more common in women, men are three times more likely to take their own lives in the UK. A 2012 Samaritans report concluded that the social constructs of masculinity were a major cause of this imbalance, noting that “the way men are taught, through childhood, to be ‘manly’ does not emphasize social and emotional skills,” and that, in contrast to women, “the ‘healthy’ ways men cope are using music or exercise to manage stress or worry, rather than ‘talking.’ Alcoholism is also significantly more prevalent in men, linked largely to self-medicating mental illness… Communication is the key to a successful relationship, as any happily married person will tell you. The worst part is that we know this. It’s been drilled into us by every book and TV show and film that deals with these kind of issues, but still we ignore it, forging ahead under the misconception that those rules only apply to others.”

In summary: it’s good to talk. And the stigma that men should be strong just deal with things by themselves is outdated, unnatural, and unhealthy.

The second is a lovely article by Robert Webb for The New Statesman which touches on topics such as going from boyhood to manhood, grieving a lost parent, and forgiveness. You can find it here.





Aviva Insurance

25 07 2014

I’m pleased to announce that I recently became a recognised provider of psychological therapies by Aviva Insurance.

This means that I am now able to receive insurance payments for Aviva Health Insurance customers.

Please do contact me if you wish to schedule an appointment.

aviva

defaqto





Stop Suffering Needlessly: How to Quickly Recover from Depression

18 07 2011

Another book review: “Stop Suffering Needlessly: How to Quickly Recover from Depression”, by Kathy Reagan.

Stop Suffering Needlessly cover

Almost everyone reading this review – particularly those in the mental health field – will have had first-hand experience of dealing with depression at one time or another, whether the sufferer was a client, a relative, a friend, or themselves. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second largest cause of suffering in the world, second only to heart disease. Depression affects over 15 million Americans alone, and is one of the most prevalent and debilitating mental illnesses in the world today, often going undiagnosed and untreated. So there is no doubt that this is a topic which deserves to be written about, and which requires serious attention.

With her new book ‘Stop Suffering Needlessly’, Kathy Reagan joins the host of other self-help authors who all proclaim to be able to offer their readers the secret cure to depression. The back cover of Reagan’s book suggests that “If you’re one of the majority of people who aren’t receiving any treatment for your depression, this book will teach you everything that you need to know to recover quickly.” The cover also promises that “Stop Suffering Needlessly will benefit you, whatever your age, gender, ethnicity, geography, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.” Bold statements indeed.

Unfortunately, on just the second page of the book, these promises begin to come undone, when Reagan says:

Whether we suffer as a result of things we can or cannot control, I believe that there is value in suffering. I believe that God gives all of us at least one opportunity, if not many opportunities (especially for those of us who don’t get it the first time), to fall to our knees, acknowledge our weaknesses, and ask for help. Maybe that’s the lesson to be learned when we suffer. Maybe learning to finally ‘let go and let God,’ and rely on a Power greater than ourselves, is the true value of suffering.

Reagan goes on to explain that:

I believe that there is a Divine plan, which calls each of us to heal from whatever suffering we may experience, to learn and choose to be happy, to pay it forward, and to grow toward our Maker. This is why I wrote Stop Suffering Needlessly.

It quickly becomes clear that this is not a book which would appeal to the general populace. In fact, Reagan seems to be writing exclusively for a very specific audience here: those who share only her own religious beliefs. One of Reagan’s concluding remarks tells us to “Learn to give up control, rely on God or your Higher Power,” and to say the Serenity Prayer daily. The book will also be of most relevance to American readers, as Reagan quotes only from American television shows throughout, and all of her statistics are taken from the American Psychological Association (APA).

This is a disappointing approach to the topic, as it will immediately alienate a huge part of Reagan’s potential audience from her book and limit it to a niche market; rendering many of her suggestions invalid and not applicable to other people. It is also a surprising one, as one would not expect to find such a polarizing opinion in the field of mental health advice or self-help, especially coming from someone who has worked as a professional therapist for almost 20 years. Far from the unbiased, open-minded and nonjudgmental approach we might expect, Reagan makes no hesitation in stating her own beliefs, and repeats them again and again throughout her book, seemingly imposing them on her readers:

I believe that guilt and shame are gifts to help us become better human beings. Following the Ten Commandments for example, is a wonderful guide for our conscience and behavior, and feeling and experiencing some guilt for breaking a commandment can help us do better.

At best this makes Reagan’s book come across as one which should only be read by a select readership, but at worst it comes across as patronizing, insulting, or downright irresponsible. I can only hope that Reagan has adopted this tone for her writing alone, and does not voice her personal beliefs so openly in session, with her clients.

Sadly, the problems with this book do not end at Reagan’s insistence on expressing her beliefs, but continue to emerge as she gives her advice on the topic of depression and its cures. Reagan’s suggestions are purely anecdotal; drawn from her own memories and personal experiences, rather than from any kind of professional research or actual facts. She scatters the phrases “in my experience” and “in my opinion” frequently throughout her book, but fails to back up her theories with any proof or further evidence, instead supplying the reader with occasional quotes from TV shows:

Rejection is God’s protection is a line from a recent episode of ‘Law and Order.’ If you’ve experienced rejection (who hasn’t at one time or another?), consider the possibility that this statement is true. If you’re suffering from the loss of a relationship, is it possible that God is protecting you from some future danger or sorrow that you can’t see? Or that God has something better planned for you in the future?

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Reagan consistently makes sweeping statements, offering vague generalizations and clichés:

It’s common for people who experience depression, and women in particular, to lose a sense of themselves, especially if they have been trained to be care-givers for their partners, children, or others. Do you know who you are and what you need? Do you even have a clue what you need? Many women do not.

As seen here, Reagan has a tendency to pepper her prose with incessant questions, one after the other, presumably aimed at her imaginary readers. Unfortunately these have the effect of making it seem like the author herself is not sure of the answers, and at times make the book completely unreadable, as the text dissolves into entire paragraphs of theoretical questioning and rhetoric.

I do not wish to be overly critical here, as there are a few snippets of worthwhile information hidden among the text. Some of Reagan’s stories do contain interesting suggestions and techniques, and she supplies a useful collection of links and resources in her Appendix. Her nine steps toward taking control of depression may also be of use to some readers:

1. Recognize and acknowledge your depression.
2. Ask for help. Expect to recover.
3. Take medication if you need it.
4. Take care of your body.
5. Seek therapy.
6. Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
7. Learn other important skills.
8. Increase your social support.
9. Develop a relapse prevention plan: Take responsibility for your depression and your recovery.

However, whenever Reagan seems to latch on to something of interest, or to present a promising theme, she just as quickly goes on to contradict herself, or undo her sentiments entirely. In an early chapter Reagan writes:

Have you ever heard the phrase’ Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps?’ Or ‘Just think positively!’ These old simplistic and cavalier responses to people with depression now sound ridiculous, knowing that depression is a medical illness. As if depressed people could do just that and recover easily… Effective treatment for the medical illness of depression involves more than trite solutions.

Then, just a few pages later she says:

Even if you currently don’t have health insurance, that doesn’t mean that you cannot receive recommended treatment if you want it. You are likely still eligible for some kind of assistance or program, so if you want help, ask for it.

And again, in another chapter, Reagan repeats this sentiment:

Do what you need to do to obtain care. Some health care providers also provide pro bono (free) care. Some retail and drug stores offer free walk-in services too. If you need treatment, you can find it.

These simplistic and cavalier suggestions do indeed come across as ridiculous, particularly as Reagan herself dismissed them earlier, and they seem to lack the sensitivity or understanding one would expect from an author in this field. One can only wonder how a seriously depressed reader might feel, if they turned to this book during a time of utter desperation and exhaustion, only to find such unsympathetic, matter-of-fact advice. Even the book’s title, Stop Suffering Needlessly, seems accusatory and blunt when taken in this context.

Even though I operate from a strengths-based perspective and believe in carrying this approach across to all aspects of my life — including book reviews — it is hard to find many positives in this self-published text. It may conceivably be helpful to the few readers who happen to share Reagan’s exact outlook on life and her religious beliefs, but otherwise it would be best avoided. There are numerous other books on offer which cover this same topic, and do so far better, without any sense of discrimination or prejudice against their readers, and with a grounding in reputable clinical experience and scientific fact, all of which are lacking here.

Reagan is right about one thing: the effective treatment of depression definitely does involve more than trite solutions. Unfortunately, those are all you’ll find in this book.

1 out of 5 stars.





Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour

14 06 2011

Here’s another recent book review. “Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour” by Geoffrey Miller.

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour

In his new book Spent, leading evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller takes us on a journey through modern consumerism; explaining how and why we choose to buy the things we do, and what these choices say about us, both as individuals and as a society. Approaching the issue from a systemic perspective, Miller looks at the ways in which marketing concepts have permeated mainstream culture, suggesting that we now live in an Age of Marketing which marks a “decisive power shift from institutions to individuals”. Miller explores the numerous ways in which this power shift has impacted human behavior, from the hidden instincts behind our shopping and spending, to the traits we value most in our romantic partners.

“Marketing is not just one of the most important ideas in business. It has become the most dominant force in human culture.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have to admit I was initially a little reluctant when faced with reviewing this book, which ostensibly seemed to be a study of market forces and economics; but I needn’t have worried. Spent is a fascinating study of human behavior, using consumerism as the starting point from which to explore the evolution of human psychology and the ways in which we have all become consumers, even in our private lives. Miller’s book is written in a style that will appeal to anyone who is interested in these topics, and it doesn’t require any kind of previous knowledge or expertise:

“You don’t need to know much about psychology, beyond what you already know about people. You don’t need to know much about consumerist capitalism, beyond what you already know about shopping. In fact, the less you’ve been taught about traditional marketing and economics, the fewer misconceptions you’ll have to overcome.”

As well as being accessible and easy to understand, Miller’s writing style is engaging and humorous, and he frequently peppers his prose with amusing personal anecdotes and pop culture references. I quickly found myself deeply entranced in the book, eager to keep reading, and fascinated by all of the facts he revealed in each chapter.

In fact, the more I read Spent, the more Miller’s insights into human behavior reminded me of the work therapists do with their clients; trying to identify the driving forces that lead us towards the choices and decisions we make for ourselves, throughout our lives.

“Marketing’s empiricism works like Rogerian psychotherapy, in which the therapist restates and reflects the patient’s concerns. Marketing holds up a mirror to our selves, reflecting our beliefs and desires so we can recognize, remember, evaluate and transform them… It allows us to accept or reject potential ways of displaying our traits through our product choices.”

Miller suggests that there are six main personality traits (known as the “Central Six”) which all of us display as a means of “taste-signaling”, and which we also all assess when evaluating potential partners, as a means of “social screening”. These are: intelligence, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability, and extraversion. He goes on to analyze each of these traits in detail, explaining how we “market ourselves” to others, primarily as consumers; by supplementing each of these traits with a specific choice of product, brand, or lifestyle choice, according to our own individual tastes. Marketing enables us to establish our preferred identities by aligning ourselves with certain choices, and we make these choices in order to impress others; as a means of establishing our status and attracting potential mates. These choices are known as fitness indicators:

“Fitness indicators are signals of one’s individual traits and qualities that are perceivable by other individuals.”

The irony of this, says Miller, is that we already have these indicators within us, as inherent traits, regardless of consumerist capitalism:

“The most desirable traits are not wealth, status, and taste – these are just vague pseudo-traits… Rather, the most desirable traits are universal, stable, heritable traits closely related to biological fitness – traits like physical attractiveness, physical health, mental health, intelligence, and personality… Consumerism’s dirty little secret is that we do a rather good job of assessing such traits through ordinary human conversation, such that the trait-displaying goods and services we work so hard to buy are largely redundant, and sometimes counterproductive.”

This is the central message of Spent; a timely reminder that the obsessive capitalist demands to which we constantly subject ourselves are not only unnecessary, but also often unhealthy.

“We humans have already spent millions of years evolving awesomely effective ways to display our mental and moral traits to one another through natural social behaviors such as language, art, music, generosity, creativity, and ideology. We can all do so without credentials, careers, credit ratings, or crateloads of product… Runaway consumerism leaves us feeling superficial and empty, because we project ourselves outward to observers too promiscuously and desperately.”

So, having identified this painful cultural phenomenon, how do we eschew these unnecessary values which capitalism has taught us; how do we rid them from our private lives? Far from suggesting that we go back to living like our Cro-Magnon ancestors, Miller concludes his book with several chapters on this topic, with numerous ideas on how we can improve our quality of life, not just as individuals, but on a wider societal level, too. Miller’s suggestions range from simple changes to our consumer habits (such as buying locally or second-hand, or even making things ourselves), to having our personality traits tattooed onto our bodies as clearer fitness indicators for potential partners. He also supports the concept of a consumption tax – whereby every product or service is priced according to its ecological footprint and impact on the environment – and the idea of restructuring the ways in which we build our communities, so that likeminded people can choose to live together, based on shared common interests and ideas, rather than for economic reasons alone.

Sure, some of these ideas may seem a little far-fetched or idealistic, but we have to start somewhere, and Miller’s crusade is a noble one. He concludes by asserting that the best method of implementing any change within society is by changing our informal social norms, one at a time; the unspoken rules which we all take for granted, at a local level. We could all do a lot worse than to live by Miller’s suggestions, and for those who may want to take things even further, Miller provides some exercises for the reader, and a booklist for further reading.

Spent is an entertaining and fascinating read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in human behavior or evolutionary psychology. Miller’s explorations of consumer behavior caused me to completely reassess even the most mundane choices I make every day, and the things these all say about me; including my music playlists, the video games I play, my personal fitness, my Facebook page, my choice of friends and partners, and even the bumper stickers I put on my car. Whatever your background, I guarantee that Spent will make you re-evaluate some of the assumptions you had previously taken for granted about your own lifestyle and behavior traits. And you’ll never play The Sims in quite the same way again.

5 out of 5 stars.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the book (as you can tell by my review) but I think Miller raises some important issues relating to culture and wellbeing, as well. Many of my clients often come to me saying they feel dissatisfied with their lives – tired of working too many hours, worrying about finances, feeling cut off from family or friends, and like something important is lacking – but not knowing how to escape the cycle. Miller’s book shows us how the cycle is very much one of consumerism and spending, and our culture’s tendency to binge and purge, as a way of making ourselves feel better, or of rewarding ourselves for ‘being good’. I always see products advertised as ‘Treats’ or telling us that we ‘Deserve it’ and I think about the underlying message that this sends: that we cannot be intrinsically Good unless we consume. No wonder so many of us feel lost or worthless! Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. True happiness lies within, and no amount of material goods or wealth can ever change that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or financial worries, and you want to find that inner happiness for yourself, I can help. Don’t wait for that change – make it happen now!