The Sales are on and every year the news shows us scampering masses plunging into Selfridges to buy a handbag.
There’s nothing wrong with getting something you’ve always wanted but couldn’t usually afford, especially if it’s something you need. But our reasons for buying are often less rational.
Private therapy can be expensive, but it’s more of an investment than buying things that make you feel elated and then make you feel guilty. Corporate employers recognise the value of counselling to their profits by offering free, confidential therapy to their employees via Employee Assistance Programmes.
Normally, I charge £80 to £120 per session (find out more about why I have a sliding scale here) but in the spirit of the times, I’m having a sale of my own. Rather than you paying £480 to £720 I’m charging £360 for 6 pre-paid sessions. This offer is open until the end of January. To offer professional care I limit how many hours I work per week, and if those hours are filled when you call to take advantage of this offer I can put you on my waiting list.
If you’re not sure how counselling can help have a look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.
Feel free to phone to ask any questions and have a great 2014.
Imagine if hundreds of thousands of people were wandering our streets dragging a badly broken, untreated leg behind them for years on end or bearing a ghastly wound that was prescribed sticking plasters. We’d expect the person with the untreated leg to be permanently crippled and the person with the wound to get infections, be further damaged and perhaps to die. We’d also be shocked and outraged that such a huge number of people were being treated with contempt and cruelty by the NHS.
That’s the situation we’re in with mental illness.
These are just some of the findings of the LSE research into UK mental health which actually makes good reading. It’s about time that people in power spoke robustly about ‘broken spirits’ and ‘troubled souls’, because this is precisely the issue. Organic mental illness caused by a head injury or chemical imbalance is quite rare, whereas the expectation that you can function like a machine for 80 years has a huge impact on mental wellbeing. Anxiety and depression are perfectly reasonable responses to being expected to do just that, and increasingly high-pressure circumstances only add to the problem. Poverty is a causal link to many illnesses, including mental illness (no one’s getting richer) while the stress that far too many families are under causes children to go mad, and who can blame them?
An enormous amount of the time I spend with clients is spent in discovering what they actually value. People arrive saying they’re not doing as well as they want to at work, can’t sleep or drink too much and very quickly discover that they’re being bullied at work, hate everyone around them or feel destroyed by disappointment. Soon, from feeling defensive or personally disgusted with themselves, they move to feeling terribly sad and helpless in the face of apparently overwhelming circumstances.
Then they realise that they have more options than they knew. It is perfectly acceptable to go off sick. You are allowed to rest if you’re exhausted, just as you would be if you’d been in a car accident. You are allowed to go onto sickness benefits – it doesn’t make you a scrounging work-dodger: the existence of sickness benefits recognises and respects that if the State pays the interest on your mortgage or your rent for a period of time you are more likely to return to productivity.
Sometimes, people come to understand that there is more to life than productivity, and that there’s a difference between productivity and contribution. Churning out endless bits of paper is, for instance, far less useful and satisfying than giving meaningful support to an elderly neighbour or unhappy child or the local cats home.
A good number of clients relearn that, as Lord Layard has suggested, who we are requires just as much care and attention as how much tax we can pay. That’s now moving from a philosophical premise to a vital economic reality.
I’ve always had trouble with the phrase ‘Self Esteem.’ We all think we know what it means but try to define it in a sentence.
‘An evaluation or appraisal of ones self worth.’ ‘Valuing yourself,’ ‘How I feel about who I am.’ But how is that measured? By whom? On what scale?
The huge majority of work on the subject addresses low self esteem but we know that people, particularly young people, who have an inflated, entitled attitude to the world often have high self esteem:
“Likewise, people with high self-esteem think they make better impressions, have stronger friendships and have better romantic lives than other people, but the data don't support their self-flattering views. If anything, people who love themselves too much sometimes annoy other people by their defensive or know-it-all attitudes. Self-esteem doesn't predict who will make a good leader, and some work (including that of psychologist Robert Hogan writing in the Harvard Business Review) has found humility rather than self-esteem to be a key trait of successful leaders.”
I see people who are suffering from a lack of confidence; from years of being told they’re rubbish or from being told they are wonderful but not believing it (usually because the people telling them didn’t believe it either.) I’ve met people with brittle smiles who have been repeating affirmations about how great they are, often fed to them by other people with brittle smiles neither of whom actually believe any of it. And then there’s the pseudo-science of The Secret which blames you for being such an idiot and totally crap at manifesting high self-esteem.
(The quantum mechanics that The Secret and its offshoots has plundered is beautiful, profound and barely understood by the peer-reviewed scientists who’ve dedicated their lives to it, let alone anyone else. As with diluted understandings of Karma it’s ridiculous to suggest ‘You want and deserve your horrible life, the Sultan of Brunei wants and deserves his privileged life.’ The real message, as with so much of the self help industry is ‘This is all your fault,’ which seems calculated to keep you in need of further guidance, teaching, courses and books from people making money from it.)
Over the years, I've taught workshops on self esteem referring to the research and using tried and tested techniques but felt it was somehow missing the mark of authenticity. Eventually, I stopped teaching this workshop when I felt it put me in the same category as the brittle smilers. And there’s still something to say about how we feel about ourselves in the world.
Self-Compassion looks as if it may have some good answers:
“Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin is the pioneer of self-compassion as a tool to promote psychological healing, well-being, and better relationships. She contrasts self-compassion with self-esteem in that it does not require us to elevate ourselves above other people and compete with them. While high self-esteem is generally based on evidence of superior achievement, self-compassion is a more constant personal quality, in which we value ourselves and treat ourselves kindly just because we are human.”
That’s a message I can relax with – that simply by virtue of our existence we are worthy of the same care, respect and healthy relationships as anyone else. Not because we work harder or achieved more or anything else, but just because we exist. That’s the message from counselling research too, that if the counsellor prizes the client, doesn’t judge them and is genuine in relationship with them then the chances are that therapy will work. This is an attitude not a set of techniques, and it’s a damn sight harder than chanting affirmations. I think it’s worth the effort.
A wise and straightforward description of Post-Natal Depression.
"It all boils down to the same thing, the same thing that birth, pregnancy and parenting boil down to. Knowledge. If I had known others felt the same? If I had known there was help out there? We don’t talk any more, we don’t trust ourselves and we don’t listen to our intuition. We’re all too busy getting were we’re going as quickly and effortlessly as we can. If my body wants me to spend longer in bed with my new baby then maybe it has a point? If I yearn for company and comfort and don’t thrive well when alone and vulnerable then maybe there’s a good reason for that?"
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