It's June, which was news to me this morning. May has gone so quickly for me that I didn't have time to notice it. June however, has a few events that will be obvious markers for me of the passing of the year. Next week I am going to London to see Esther Perel speak at The School of Life. I can hardly contain myself. The following week I'm off to France to check out an area that I have plans to move to one day. It's all very exciting. I hope that June offers you all the opportunity to notice change and progress toward your goals also.
Here are my notable links for the week:
1) How do you deal with grief – fall apart under its weight, or stay strong? - The Guardian
2) Bereaved parents 'let down at work by lack of support' - The BBC
3) Is it OK to wear a necklace with “depression” or “anxiety” on it? - The Pool
I've had a few new clients start over the past week or so who are not looking to work on a crisis or a loss. They don't have addictions or trauma to process. There's no break-up to get over, and no abuse to recover from. Instead, they have approached me for therapy for a mental health check-up. They want to talk about a few things that have been going on for them, the state of their lives as they are today and to understand more about themselves. They want to be living their best lives and acknowledge that there is more to that than a gym membership and an Instagram full of carefully curated nights out.
It was all I could do not to applaud these people as they sat in my office.
I'm a huge believer in the benefits of counselling and focus on mental health. I can say that with conviction because I know that it helped me to work through some things which I might never have alone. I could have spent a lifetime trying to understand where I came from and why I do the things that I do. I like to think that I have expedited that process after spending more than four years reflecting on myself and my thought processes, and the feelings associated with them. But enough about me, back to my clients...
We are looking at these sessions as a "Mental Health MOT" if-you-will. We'll do some reflection on childhood to understand where they come from - the dynamic of their family-of-origin. We'll look at how things are in the now, and notice any threads which come up recurringly. We'll look at how we respond to stressors and the way that we relate to others. Attachment and existentialism will be key theoretical concepts in this task.
The goal of this kind of work is not to unravel a person's psyche. That is not what counselling is for. This kind of counselling - or "going to the mind-gym" as one of my clients described it - is to allow for reflection, understanding, building resilience and checking in with our anxieties. Sometimes it can be enough to tell a person who is totally unconnected to us, and whom we do not have to fear the judgement of, our darkest fears. Sometimes our secrets. That unburdening is sometimes all people come in for. A clinical confessional per se.
I'm considering putting together a package for the Mental-Health-MOT so that we can look at it as something we do semi-regularly - maybe every year or two - so that we can be sure that our mental health is in as good a place as possible, and if it isn't, that we catch issues as they form before they could manifest in addiction, anxiety, depression and relationship breakdown.
What do you think? Is it something that you might consider? Let me know in the comments.
Another busy week for me. Lots of new starters and some of my long-term clients have started to reduce their session frequency as we move towards them ending therapy. Both of these are exciting status of the therapeutic process and that I feel very privileged to witness.
Here are a few links that stood out to me this week, wishing you a great weekend:
1) After losing my husband, this is what I want people to understand about suicide - iNews
2) A free 44-page PDF booklet supported by Mind, Rethink, CAPUK and others, for people with mental health problems and those caring for them. - Moneysavingexpert
3) I returned to work during depression, and this is how it felt - The Pool
Last week I wrote this post pondering the reasons why we might stay in a job well past its sell-by-date. I looked at the shame that might keep us in a role, or the will to please parents. I talked about burnout in teachers, and how so much of our self-esteem can be wrapped up in the thing that we get paid to do.
That's where I'd like to go back to this week - considering the impact that our jobs have on our self-esteem in terms of status and the lifestyle that they afford us. Specifically my experience of doing so. I hope that some of it will be relatable.
When I was working in London I earned a lot of money. That's not a boast. I'm ashamed to say that I spent most of it. And not on things that I could present to you now and say, this is the culmination of seven years of living away from my home and then-husband. These are the spoils of being the last person in the office on a Friday night after a 10+ hour work day when you know it will take you four more hours to drive home. I have nothing that I can show you and be proud of. It was the bribe to buy my happiness. And given how unhappy I was, it had to be fairly sizable.
What I do have though is who I became through that process. At a certain point, I had a life-changing experience that meant that I had more autonomy than I had ever had before in terms of choosing the next step in my career and in life. Newly divorced I was able to make a choice about how I spent my days without worrying about being the breadwinner - how the bills would be paid for myself and another person while maintaining a certain lifestyle, or whether I would need to be financially reliable for another.
I decided that money wasn't buying me happiness.
I knew then that my career was over.
And I was elated.
It's amazing, the level of endurance that we can summon within ourselves both physically and psychologically when we need to. I had reached the point where I was almost unable to walk with crippling back pain and sciatica after years of undiagnosed slipped discs. But the 14+ hours of commuting that I was doing by car each week forced me into a position where I could no longer carry on, even if I had wanted to. Fortunately, something as serious as potential long-term immobility was enough to encourage my head to catch up with the rest of my body. And so I decided to retrain as a therapist.
I hadn't bargained for there being another casualty of this process, much aside from the considerable difference in pay. That casualty was my self-esteem. This would require reflection and work to rebuild, and it wasn't something I could easily do alone. So wrapped up in my role and job title as it was. So wrapped up in my management of other people and attendance at senior meetings with people who dressed well, spoke intelligently and were - almost painfully - ambitious. My self-esteem was so interwoven with the job that I detested that I could see no way out of it. I realised that I would need to untangle this before I could ever fully leave and pursue my dream career as a private talking therapist.
I spent a long time working on my self-esteem with my therapists. I had a few throughout the course of my training because I wanted to try out different styles and see which fit me best. But I distinctly remember one who really "got" me. I would encourage you to do the same in your own counselling.
I identified how I had replaced parental approval as a source of validation and bolster for my self-esteem - for the approval of my management team. For promotion and increased pay scales. For a company car and a title. For the ability to delegate work to others. For material things that weren't actually anything to do with me at all. Leaving it behind was harder than I thought it would be and I remember clearly saying to my own therapist with a startling lack of tact or self-awareness: "Who am I if I'm just a counsellor?", (forgive me, reader, this too was a subconscious last-ditch attempt at a defence mechanism for the preservation of the status quo...).
Fortunately for me, my therapist's own self-esteem was so wonderfully intact that she didn't make this about her - and we continued to re-evaluate and re-establish who I was in the world without the things I thought that I needed to be in it.
I'm sharing this because working on self-esteem is one of the most vulnerable and open things that we can cover in therapy. This is my attempt to normalise it. To explain it. To let you know that we can all be fooled into thinking that we are what we do. If any of this resonates with you, or you are interested in working on your own self-esteem then I would be glad to meet and discuss options with you.
After all, I have experience.
Well, that was a busy week. I've seen a real upsurge in clients starting therapy lately and I'm doing even more couples work now - which is both fascinating and a great priviledge.
I do hope that you've all had similarly fulfilling weeks. Here are a few links to ease you into the weekend:
1) What if you can’t afford to be mentally ill? - The Pool
2) 'I Stepped Into The Office And Felt Like My Chest Was Being Ripped Open': Three In Four Britons Overwhelmed By Stress - Huffington Post
3) Grief will let go eventually. And then I’ll remember my dad as he was - The Guardian
I also wrote about bonus link (4) on my blog this week which you can check out here - its called Quitting the job you hate, why is it so hard? (Part 1). Part 2 will be out next Wednesday 23rd May.
If you had met me ten years ago I would have said: "I don't like change". Its a mindset that kept me in a career that I knew wasn't right for me within 12 months of starting work. It had been the culmination of a four-year degree, it meant financial stability and making my family proud of me (where all else seemed to have failed). It meant I was paid a salary, not hourly. It meant I was an adult, or so I thought.
I recall a telephone conversation with a parent which went something along the lines of "I really think that I don't want to stay in this job..." and being told, "No-one likes their jobs, it's just something we have to do."
The shame that I experienced in that brief exchange shaped my life for the next ten years. It kept me in a job where I felt belittled, denigrated and patronised for the majority of my time there. And yet, I stayed. I toyed with the idea of leaving many times. I even got external job offers. Yet something held me back. I wasn't able to make the jump from the unpleasant yet familiar place that I had come to depend upon for my self-esteem.
That's a common occurrence when we are looking to make change - the fear around "Who am I if not .....x?". For me, it was who am I if I'm not an IT Consultant. Feeling important and working 5 days a week in London while my personal life took a back-seat. That might be fine for a few months, but we are talking 10 years. 10 years is a long time to umm and ahh about a decision. And yet sitting here on the other side of that decision, and reflecting upon the courage, hope, optimism, and often wavering self-belief that it took to get here, I only wish that I had done it sooner. I'll come back to self-esteem and the limits that we put on ourselves next week in Part 2.
I've been reading this article in The Guardian about teachers' experiences and burnout. And I can relate. Plus I have a number of friends who are teachers - or should I say I have a number of friends who were teachers. Being in a toxic work environment has a profoundly negative effect on our lives, and it's not just limited to the time we are at our desks or in our place of work.
Now we take our work home with us, we have a mobile phone that our employers "kindly" provide. Similarly a laptop. We are always on, permanently connected to the prospect of work, stress, anxiety and worry. Some of us use work to fill a hole in our lives. The irony is that if we had a different job that demanded less of us then we might fill that hole with something else. Something true to us and more purposeful.
If I've described anything here that you relate to, the good news is there are a few things you can do right now which might help.
In fact, I've done this myself only recently.
Turn all of your smartphone app notifications off.
I mean completely off.
If you have the genuine need to be contactable - for example if you have children attending childcare, or perhaps a sick parent - or if you just feel like not being reachable would be too anxiety-inducing for you then, by all means, leave the ringer and text notification on. If you need your phone for your business leave it on. I'm not suggesting we regress here.
But no app notifications.
No, not even eBay.
Try it for a day and let me know how you feel in the comments.
Hi all, what a busy bank holiday week this was.
For me it felt so restorative to have some sun at last - I hope that meant that you all had to opportunity to socialise and participate in your chosen flow activities - or spend time alone if that's what you needed (solitude is underrated to my mind!). No surprises that for me that was gardening, but also reading and resting - constantly trying to implement that #selfcare plan!
Here are a few links that caught my eye this week, I hope that you enjoy them:
1) I believed all of the stereotypes about addiction, until my husband told me he was a heroin addict - The i Paper
2) Don’t dismiss soaps – often, they tell the most important stories - The Pool
3) ‘Everyone You Know Someday Will Die’ - The New York Times
I have been working with a client for a number of weeks on a short piece of work. Recently we mutually agreed to end their sessions as they had made remarkable progress in just four weeks. It became clear to me that we no longer needed the frequency of sessions and so I put the question to them of whether or not they thought they still needed to come to counselling.
I think this is important - it is for me and I believe it is also for my clients - that we acknowledge the goals that are set at the start of therapy and that we regularly recap to understand how we are progressing. In this case, progress had been so great that the initial goal of eight sessions was no longer relevant.
Upon ending this work my client asked me what its like to be a therapist. And in the midst of running a business, being a business, marketing, blogging, undertaking further training, attending supervision and doing the seemingly endless admin (which I secretly love so please don't feel too sorry for me) I took a moment to ponder what it is actually like to be a therapist. What is it like to sit with someone who is new to me and I to them, and for them to trust me enough to tell me things that they are ashamed of, frightened of, their past hurts and their future hopes.
There's no mistaking that it is a position of privilege, and also pressure. The pressure to be a "good therapist" is omnipresent for the majority of therapists, in my opinion. Only last week I made an Instagram post about how I'd had a good day and had deemed myself a "good therapist". But that's by my own standards. One of those being sure to approach the therapy humbly and accept the things that my clients tell me without judgement and compassion. It's about listening attentively and searching my brain for the wisdom and theory that I have studied so that I can relay it in a relevant way for the individual who sits in front of me.
It's also about being prepared - for people who might not turn up (which I'm pleased to say rarely happens but is a factor in this profession) and about not taking that personally. Understanding that if someone is going through something difficult, that their intention is almost never to annoy or punish me. And to hold that welcoming space for when they do feel able to return.
I suppose one of the things that people ask me most is - how is it to be a therapist and have friends? Or a relationship? Or a family? Or parents?
The answer is, that it's just the same for me as it is for you. I know that when I was in training I looked at my tutors as some kind of wise beings whom I assumed had perfect lives. But allow me to reassure you that my life is as complex as your own. I still suffer losses, and grief, and happiness, and excitement in the same way as you do. I might process some of it in a different way using the skills that I have learned in my training, and for that I am grateful.
It then feels only right to pass this learning on to my clients so that they, in turn, can be their most content, resilient version of their selves.
I've had a busy week with new clients starting and I would say that my practice is now almost full. This is an amazing feeling and I'm so pleased with the way things are going with the business. But not only that. Last night I had a great feeling after a full day's clinic (and my clients may of course disagree!) but for a moment I knew that I was a good therapist.
I knew absolutely at that moment that this is the right work for me for the next phase of my life - however long that might be. I know I use the word "privileged" a lot - but I really do think it encapsulates the way that I feel about this work. That to be alongside someone during their therapeutic process is so humbling and inspiring that I feel lucky to be in the role that I am.
I'm wondering how you all feel about the work that you do? Do you enjoy the way that you spend your days? This reminds me of the Annie Dillard quote: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives"
Does that quote have meaning for you in your life? Ten, even five years ago this quote would have frightened me. Because I was acutely unhappy with my job and some other areas of my life. But work - perhaps how we give ourselves meaning in the world - is a great place to start in therapy. Let me know if you'd like to work on this at www.harleycounselling.com/contact.
Here are this week's reads - wishing you all a great bank holiday weekend.
1) Divorce has shaped me – and I’ve never even been married - The Pool
2) David Goodall: Scientist, 104, begins trip to end his life - BBC
3) ‘HOW WE SPEND OUR DAYS, IS OF COURSE, HOW WE SPEND OUR LIVES.’ - Quotation Celebration
I appreciate the positive impact that IT can have on our lives, I really do. I have a degree in computing and spent ten years working as an IT consultant. This is, after all, a blog, not some newsletter etched on a stone tablet and dropped on your doorstep (that would be rude). But I have come to realise that I've had enough.
I know logically that almost everything now is intrinsically linked to come mechanised or computerised system. And yes, I love social media as much as the next person. I have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, you-name-it. Yet this week I took the decision to insulate my echo chamber a little further. All in the name of #selfcare. How?
I muted Donald Trump on Twitter.
This in itself is not some revolutionary act of political defiance, but rather a conscious act of self-care. I noticed that I have been finding the furore around Donald Trump's political and personal life to be mostly annoying, occasionally upsetting and often infuriating. So yesterday I decided to change the things that I am presented with when I'm on social media. I added his name and his Twitter handle to my list of blocked items. The result was a feeling of instant relief. Scrolling through my timeline I was no longer presented with the vitriol and disbelief that I had been witnessing several times a day. Instead, I saw more positive things - like @ejbeals story of a young man who had escaped war in Syria to become an astrophysicist in Germany or the by-now-viral illustrations that Tyler Feder @roaringsoftly created and shared with the world on working-at-home-attire (which I can personally relate to!).
In short - my world improved dramatically. And that is not to say that I don't still want to be informed and keep abreast of world politics - but that in my day-to-day scrolling of a social media app that I do not need a near-constant reminder of the deeds of a man whom I cannot tolerate.
I work with a few clients who have employed this tactic with great success when it comes to managing their anxiety and awareness of their predilection to dwell on the negative. By doing this kind of manipulation of the data that we see and the images that we are confronted with we can take back some of the control that anxiety or overwhelm robs us of, and restore some calm to our lives so that we are in a better position to deal with unwelcome news when it eventually does come - as we must all accept that it will. Some strategic avoidance of constant overstimulation of nervous or angry feelings is not the same as avoidance of all - and I think we would all do well to take control back from some of the media's tactics for inciting fear and anger in society, whichever country they may be from.
So that's my self-care for the day. If you'd care to share yours in the comments I'd be glad to hear them.
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.