A therapist with mental health issues.

This blog was originally posted in January 2018 and later published in the BACP’s professional journal magazine (March 2018) – Therapy Today

Expert by experience

Steph Jones argues that personal experience of mental health problems can add to a counsellor’s skills

I was recently thumbing through a back issue of a psychology magazine and came across one of those ‘short interview with a therapist’ articles. The therapist in question had only decided to retrain after he reached retirement age; his motivation was, he said, to ‘give back to society’. As I continued reading, I felt more and more unsettled. The interviewer asked, ‘Have you ever been in therapy?’, to which he replied, ‘No, I’ve never needed to be.’

This spun me back to a lecture on my own counselling training course, where our professor uttered these words, now permanently etched on my brain: ’Never trust a therapist who hasn’t had therapy.’

In my late teens and early 20s I struggled like hell. I grew up in a single parent household, and my mother battled (although mostly in complete denial) with alcohol. Sofa-surfing and jobless by 17, I found drugs, boys and alcohol were fun alternatives to escape the crushing pain of abandonment and rejection (Mum left me for a violent and abusive man who shared her passion for alcohol. Both are now deceased due to their addictions.)

I remember my early childhood as being a very confusing time. Mum would lavish me with love and attention, but fly off the handle for no particular reason. She would talk to me like an adult friend after she’d downed a bottle of wine. I had absolutely no boundaries. I was obsessively washing my ‘contaminated’ hands by age seven, a latch-key kid by nine, and hauled into the GP’s surgery aged 10 by my hysterical mother demanding to know what was wrong with me. She later gave me hell for not showing the GP my ‘real behaviour’.

I first went for counselling when I was 25 and had accepted that, although my life was by then relatively stable, something didn’t feel quite right. My counsellor (a trainee CBT practitioner) didn’t seem all that interested in my journey of abuse and neglect, my presentation of emotional instability, attachment issues, no confidence or self-worth, major depression, anxiety, frequent panic attacks, dissociative states, some self-harm, impulsivity, maladaptive behaviours and evidence of substance abuse. Instead we focused on what he deemed to be the main problem: why I didn’t have the confidence to talk to a guy I had a crush on.

It wasn’t until several years later that I had 21-sessions of cognitive analytic therapy, through an IAPT service, with a kind, funny, attentive and authentic male counsellor. Each week I would pour my heart out as we did ‘the work’. Together, we painstakingly collaborated in trying to make sense of my life and helping me learn the art of self-acceptance. I screamed, I got angry at him, I wept in grief and anguish; I projected all the unresolved dysfunctional toxic material from my relationship with my mother into our dyad, and he held it securely, compassionately and patiently. He made me realise (much to my initial resistance) that I was in a relationship with an abusive narcissist (I was), and that I was making excuses for his terrible behaviour because I could understand where his pain came from: ‘Jones knows her onions,’ my therapist said.

One afternoon he remarked that he thought I’d make a good counsellor, and I admitted that I’d previously looked into it but hadn’t pursued it, ‘because… reasons’. At that moment, I realised all my ‘reasons’ were in fact fear-based excuses, and within the next few years I had qualified, with a postgraduate diploma in counselling and psychotherapy on a BACP-accredited university course. I worked 60-hours a week to achieve my goal, and burned out on several occasions, collapsing under the strain of the essays, and feeling incredibly alone. But I stuck with it. All we trainees did.

Through the mill

Over the years, I have had around 70-sessions of counselling of different types with different practitioners: some good, some bad, some bloody awful (one therapist told me that he communicated with aliens to help him in his practice). It may seem like a gross over-generalisation, and I know many skilled counsellors who have travelled the academic route, but, in my experience, those that have been bang-on-the-money in terms of their awareness, observations, communication style, interventions, empathy and guidance had all been through the mill – they had lived the syllabus; they spoke from a place of core wounding and subsequent healing.

What is that about? How does my own mental health experience shape me as a professional? What exactly is the special ‘thing’ that I bring into the counselling relationship to help the work? When I attempt to solve this riddle, I realise just how difficult it is to quantify. But maybe that’s the point – it is almost impossible to capture in words an intuitive skill that extends beyond the five recognised senses and is, therefore, in the eyes of science, situated somewhere in the realm of Woo-Woo. Isn’t this part of the problem – that, in our Western culture, we seek to dissect and label all we see in order to ‘understand’ though our limited senses? A shamanic culture, by contrast, would take interconnectivity and acute empathy as a given, without the need for any scientific research to make it ‘real’ or true.

This is my humbly offered attempt at an answer. I believe pain and suffering allow us a glimpse of the truth. I’m suggesting that, when you’ve experienced a high degree of pain and suffering in your life, you naturally cultivate a wider emotional spectrum.

Perhaps, at a biological level, this is about having an over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system, and learning to manage this effectively enough (adapting) so that the world is no longer perceived as a constant threat. I sometimes visualise this as a kind of variation on the window of tolerance – that, when you’ve done enough work on yourself, a hyper-aroused state can be cultivated so that your senses become cat-like, useful, and not just unpleasant.

Could it have something to do with the brain’s mirror neurons – could therapists who have personally experienced mental health issues simply be picking up on strong and familiar subliminal clues, even before the client has verbalised their concerns? By this same token, having been to the depths of despair yourself might suggest that your transference receiver is already finely attuned to the suffering experience – a bit like a sniffer dog checking for explosives in an airport check-in queue.

This exquisite sensitivity used to frighten me – I used to consider it a ‘weirdness’ and try to hide it away from others, but I now regard it as a magical power in my counselling toolkit. To put it another way, therapy is hard work, my experience of mental health issues has given me the tools to be an empathic badass, and you don’t learn that in class.

Two-way street

My decision to write this article was met with some concern by one of my peers. ‘I’d feel really uncomfortable disclosing that, Steph. What if a client read it?’ Their comment (although well-meaning) highlights something that I think lurks in the background of our profession. Many of us come to the work as a ‘wounded healer’, yet there seems to be a tangible undercurrent of shame and embarrassment at the mere suggestion that we were (or are not) ‘100% mentally healthy’. I know countless practitioners in the caring profession who pour themselves into helping their clients but secretly cry their eyes out in the bathroom over lunch. But we’re fine, aren’t we? Nothing to see here, people – just dust in my eye.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that we ‘reveal’ ourselves, ‘warts and all’, to a client (of course, boundaries are critical), but that we use appropriate self-disclosure, and that we seek support to understand our feelings of shame or inadequacy when anyone (client or colleague) ‘finds out’. The more we dismantle the concept of the ‘expert therapist’, the easier it will be for our clients to trust us. In the words of another peer, ‘Vulnerability helps even out the power imbalance a bit more.’

I once worked with a highly-regarded doctor who had been through a great deal of psychoanalysis to deal with his own childhood issues. He talked about how his experience enabled him to ‘feel’ the psychological pain in another person, and really ‘lock into the source’. He believed this made him a better clinician, and we often talked about how whatever happens in the patient–professional transaction does so at a level of meta-cognition – an unspoken communication that says: ‘I can see you’ve been there too.’

But it’s not pain-by-proxy, that’s for certain. I am deeply and consciously aware of whose material is whose, and have a passionate and curious supervisor who works with me to help ‘sift out the lumps’. Nor is it about personally identifying with their experience (the all-unhelpful, ‘Hey, I know how you feel’), or an unprocessed desire to heal vicariously through the work.

For someone who is lost in the dark, perhaps it provides comfort that their therapist has not only been into the darkness but has come out the other side. There’s a famous quote from the film Good Will Hunting that seems to encapsulate my point. During an intense therapy session, Sean, the therapist, says to Will, his client: ‘So, if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.’

High empathy is beyond the observed, assumed or inferred. It is beyond cognition – it is existential, intuitive and instinctual.

No shame

When a client walks into my office I am not assuming the role of a perfect professional. I am flawed, just like everyone else, and I am honest about that. In retrospect, every ‘Eureka!’ moment in my own personal therapy arose from the therapist spontaneously disclosing their own private pain, and so demonstrating to me that this pain could be overcome through blood, sweat and tears. They were the proof, and now I am. Of course, we ‘wounded healers’ are never fixed. Life-long, hard-wired patterns of negative behaviours and processes do not vanish in a puff of smoke just because you’ve got a string of letters and qualifications after your name. In times of stress my pure-O OCD will make itself more apparent. I like to nip this in the bud by visualising a bloody big red stamp smashing out the thought and then making myself a cup of tea. These days my anxiety has become a manageable and endearing shyness (even though I’m viewed by others as a fun-loving extrovert) and my severe numbing depression gives way to occasional low days (I self-care the shit out of low days).

I have learned to accept my past, overcome the stigma and shame, and not let it define me or my future. I am now a very happy 38-year old, with an incredible partner and a fluffy feline familiar. I let go of what doesn’t serve me (jobs, friends, situations), and I practise what I preach.

I would personally be extremely cautious of any counsellor who hadn’t sat in the client seat at one time or another. It offers a world of valuable insight to integrate into practice. A client whose therapist claims ‘I’ve never needed therapy’ should perhaps have a good long think as to whether they’re the right person for them. For me, that comment smacked of ‘them and us’, which certainly does nothing to equalise the power imbalance in the therapeutic relationship or help reduce the overall mental health stigma. I guess that is the whole point of sharing this piece – to proudly shout that I’m human, imperfect, messy, authentic and bloody good enough.

About Steph

Steph Jones is a BACP registered counsellor and psychotherapist supporting individuals and couples at her private practice in Stockport, Cheshire. She is a former Executive Board Member of Mind Manchester, and a radio presenter, musician and journalist. She writes for a number of wellbeing publications, is currently working on a book, and lives with partner Mike and Ziggy the cat.

 

I’m on Twitter!

Hello there!

Well, I might be ‘slightly’ late to the party (biggest understatement of the year so far…) but yesterday I joined Twitter!

I’d like to say a massive thank you to all of you who follow this blog and my Facebook page- I feel incredibly grateful and it genuinely doesn’t go unappreciated.

If you’re a Twitter kind of person you can find me at https://twitter.com/StephJonesMBACP

Currently I have twenty followers. Kim Kardashian eat your heart out.. 😉

Thanks everyone and big love in 2018.

Steph x

New Year Resolutions and the Snowball Effect

With 2018 only a stones throw away some of you might be considering making New Year resolutions.

Might…!!

It’s a bit of a running joke really isn’t it? Each year we sit down all positive and well-meaning, coming up with new ways and strategies to improve our lives, relationships and health.

I will lose 14lbs… I will learn French… I promise to help my partner more… and yet by the second week of January the majority of us seem to have given up and relaxed back into the old habits we’d identified as not really serving us. So why is that?

It’s all too easy to simply laugh these things off but if you’re seriously attempting to make important decisions about your future and are struggling to focus perhaps you could do with a bit of a psychological MOT!

The science behind why we tend to ‘fail’ at learning something new is well-studied. In the way that you learn to write with a certain hand, speak a language, drive a car, or make a cup of tea, after a while we’ve committed it to memory and are largely working from automated programmes – we no longer have to think about it.

So despite you vowing to give up that second glass of wine with dinner or jog for half an hour every morning, we can often feel that the pull of the ‘old ways’ is too strong and we simply give up, perhaps rationalising, “well, what’s the harm anyway?!

Counselling isn’t just about helping people with stress, anxiety or depression, it’s also about helping individuals to know and accept themselves deeper than ever before.

This could equate to improving willpower, switching jobs, re-prioritising life, or dropping bad habits. You’re the one in charge of your future and only you can reach the goals you set for yourself.

So what are they? How are you going to get there?

If you feel you need a helping hand (heck, we all do from time to time!) then why not source a local therapist to see how they can support you?

Sometimes it just takes a little push of the proverbial snowball to create enough momentum for an avalanche, so let’s smash it!

What do you want to achieve?

Wishing you all a very healthy, happy and peaceful New Year with love, light and sparkles.

Steph x

Mental Health in the Workplace

A recent survey carried out on 3,000 workers suggests that 60% had experienced struggles in their mental health as a direct consequence of their job.

Sound familiar?

Alarmingly, only one in ten felt they could discuss their work-related mental health concerns with their line manager.

It’s important to remember that like physical health, we ALL have mental health on a sliding scale. Struggling with stress, anxiety and depression in the workplace doesn’t make you ‘weak’, ‘incompetent’ or ‘incapable’- it means your emotional state has reached its limit and needs to be addressed.

All too often we ignore these internal warnings and convince ourselves to “stop complaining and get on with it!” Not exactly an effective long-term strategy!

Make sure you are doing all you can in work to look after yourself- wherever possible take regular breaks, eat lunch, interact with others (on non work-related topics!) and prioritise and delegate what you can. If you still haven’t got time to do everything you need to get done, speak to your management- it’s certainly no reflection on your capabilities- after all you’re not a machine on overdrive!!

 

Banish the Winter Blues!

As we hurtle towards the dark nights and impending frosts you might start to feel as though you are slowing down too! A lack of sunlight affects our internal body clocks and our serotonin levels start to drop, which can leave us struggling with energy levels, mood, sleep and motivation. Whilst these kind of feelings seem to affect most of us to a certain degree, for around 10% of the population this may be medically diagnosed as something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short).

SAD is basically considered a sub-type of depression and like all mental health issues should be taken seriously. As difficult as it might seem when all you want to do is hibernate, the benefits of maintaining regular social contact, keeping active, eating well and trying to get as much sunlight as you can are all powerful tools in keeping the winter blues at bay.

For more information on SAD and tips to keep well, please visit http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/dealing-with-winter-blues-sad.aspx

Borderline ‘Personality Disorder’

Thanks to Hollywood and general negative press, individuals with BPD tend to get a pretty rough time. A quick Google search on dating someone with BPD brought up these nuggets of wisdom:

“Ultimately no matter how attractive she is, dealing with this type of crazy is not worth it.”

 “I would never date a girl with BPD,
they’re way too clingy and needy.” 

“Walk (RUN) away!”

According to the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), someone with BPD is said to have ‘significant impairments in personality functioning’ including instability of goals and aspirations, compromised empathy for others, problems with intimacy, anxiety, depression, takes excessive risks and is persistently antagonistic and hostile.

In both my personal and professional life I have encountered many incredible people dealing with this diagnosis, many of whom feel as though they have been labelled as having a ‘bad’ personality.

One particular individual I know could be considered highly-functioning and works within the field of psychotherapy. She uses her tools of intuition, insight and sensitivity to support others, and has a tremendous capacity for compassion because she can directly relate to complex and powerful emotions. From this perspective, I would deeply argue that people with BPD lack empathy.

It is however true that people with BPD are exquisitely sensitive which goes some way to explaining why certain accompanying behaviours may manifest as negative characteristics. Imagine that you had burns all over your skin. The slightest gust of wind or drop of rain would hurt you. And in a world full of people with ‘thick skins’ you might begin to think that you were impaired in some way. You’re battling with old emotional wounds and have a core belief that you will be rejected or abandoned by those you get close to, so frightened in fact that it feels safer to push them away in order that you feel less vulnerable.

Sophie* (32) tells us how it feels in her relationship with Jamie*.

“I hate the way it makes me feel about myself, like I’m a bad person. Although I work really hard to remember that people aren’t all good or all bad, my mind feels like it’s breaking when I try to find the middle ground. I love Jamie so much – he’s amazing, kind and so supportive. But it could be a little thing, not kissing me before going to work as an example. Rationally, I know it isn’t the end of the world – and he might have been in a rush, or stressed or whatever, but the feeling – the gut response which is separate to my intellect – can suddenly change my perception of him.

The inner feeling grows into anger, and all I can see are his lesser strengths until the positive traits he has completely vanish. So when I’m in this place, I feel like we’re not right for each other, that he is this or that, and lose sight of the wonderful and amazing man he is.

It can drag me down into depressive episodes, because the negative feelings are so strong and seemingly real. Then he can do something, perhaps look at me in a certain way – which pierces and breaks the spell – then I’m back in the room and everything is fine again.”

What Sophie is referring to is the BPD phenomenon known as splitting. In her case, we discussed how the trigger of Jamie not kissing her was being internalised at a chain-reaction emotional level. When we react to something, the processing can be so quick that we don’t really understand why we’ve responded in such a way until much later. Sophie was able to explore her interpretative chain reaction.

He doesn’t want to kiss me >
There’s no intimacy or connection >
He must have gone off me>
He doesn’t find me attractive>
I feel angry at him >
The relationship is doomed >
We’re not right for each other anyway >
We’re so different >
I can’t stand these attributes of his >
I don’t like him and don’t want to be with him.

Now let’s break this down a bit further and try to understand this.

Stage 1: activating trigger perceived as a rejection/ abandonment
He doesn’t want to kiss me

Stage 2: false negative assumptions made
There’s no intimacy or connection > He must have gone off me > He doesn’t find me attractive (projection of poor self-image onto another)

Stage 3: emotional reaction
I feel angry at him

Stage 4: reconstructing thought processes to protect against perceived abandonment
The relationship is doomed > We’re not right for each other anyway > We’re so different

Stage 5: new perception reached
I can’t stand these attributes of his > I don’t like him and don’t want to be with him

In breaking down these stages, we can see that Sophie’s processing and subsequent vilifying of Jamie is all based around a fear of loss. The mind constructs a new version of reality to replace the old view (I love Jamie and want to be with him) in order to protect her from feelings of pain and vulnerability. For many borderline sufferers, there is often a sixth stage which involves acting out on feelings (causing a row, getting into a fight, turning to self-harm/ drugs/ alcohol).

She explains:

“When I try to re-balance the thoughts and feelings, it’s just so hard to get back. To put it into perspective, imagine if I asked you to hate the person you loved the most. You’d find it impossible. That’s why you can’t just ‘think’ your way back.
The feelings seem to just generate negative thoughts and convinces me they are the truth. If I’m feeling depressed or numb, my mind can trick me into believing he is the source of my bad feelings.”

People with BPD can learn to catch these triggers and neutralise them before they snowball out of control but it’s a challenging process and takes hard work and dedication. One of the things I recommend is that people learn to communicate openly with their partners, in real time if they can. And whilst it might feel tough to start a type of conversation such as: Jamie, when you didn’t kiss me then, it made me feel that you don’t love me – the results can be profound in terms of deepening the connection and reaching a higher level of understanding.

The other key area for overcoming BPD is to learn to sit with the negative feelings without acting out. For someone with BPD, stage 6 can feel almost compulsive – to get relief from the bad feeling – but in reality this doesn’t actually help. Sitting with the emotional pain and distress can feel overwhelming but paradoxically this is where emotional growth and resilience comes from.

So for the ill-informed out there who view people with BPD as stroppy, irrational and ‘crazy’ perhaps try to exercise a little compassion and understanding as to what drives people’s behaviour. Behind every angry outburst lies a deeper pain or a need for protection.

 

* Names have been changed to protect identities

 

The Anxiety Monster 

Written by an anonymous source with full permission, this is a personal real life account of how it feels to have anxiety.

******

“Blimey, you’ve had a lot to deal with over the last year!” said Long Lost Friend. I only mentioned I’d been single for nine months. And there was no request for tiny violins to be played either; just a factual business update. And then it hit me. Maybe such things ARE a lot to deal with? Do other people get bogged down with such minutia of life??

I did not mention to him that in the last three years my mother died after being discovered (said the paramedics) in the worst case of alcoholic squalor they’d ever seen (she’d gone green), or that my Nana also died, or that I bought my first house, changed jobs, split with long term partner who had serious psychological problems, sympathetically tolerated a barrage of emotional and physical abuse from said partner, broke four ribs, sustained a head injury, pulverised my forearm and fractured my collarbone (the latter because said ex strangled me half to death).

But I feel fine.
It’s just stuff.
We all have stuff.

Bits of emotional fluff that threaten to clog your machine if you don’t keep on top of it. Fortunately I’m made of rubbery stuff and bounce back harder than Alan Partridge.

As I see it, we are here to watch and learn and grow. If we do not pay attention in life’s great class, we will fall on our backsides and get ink splodges on our faces. As things stand, my schooling hasn’t been all that straightforward. In the collection of experiences gathered thus far, little me nursed her alcoholic single parent through several nervous breakdowns (aged 8 and 11) was on her own four days out of seven (aged 14), constantly yelled at (aged forever) and overheard a late night conversation in which Mum proclaimed she didn’t want me because I was “too much.” Harrumph.

After she threw an empty wine bottle at me for refusing to tell her boyfriend I loved him (I most certainly did not), other peoples sofas rather than my own actual bed seemed a much more attractive prospect. Saying that, I still felt a bit peeved when she finally left me (aged 16) for an alcoholic wife beater with a few bob in the bank. Just as well. I wasn’t overly keen on reading the Daily Violence, having my home set on fire by psychopathic step-father, or stealing cars at 3am to drive her to safety. Nope, it seemed that the waters were far less choppy sailing on my own thank you very much.

But for years I wasn’t alone. There was fun and people and sex and poverty and drink and drugs and drama and desperation and distraction. I had a little axe to grind on anyones head who’d get in my way. But beyond the pissed off, alone, rejected little girl there was always a hopeful, feisty, ‘let me show YOU’ warrior underneath the surface. I always felt like an observer amongst the chaos- a scientist studying the unfolding human madness as it blasts across the screen.

But like many combat soldiers who return to Civvy Street, grown up me is now totally fuckin knackered. She is hyper-aware, riddled with anxiety and experiences internal electric shocks whenever she hears a pin drop. On the plus she has reflexes of a cat and is world champion at Whack the Mole. Most people cannot react any faster that 0.12 of a second. Slow bastards I say. She can listen to five conversations at once the way Bowie watched all those tellies in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Skillz.

Her alertness, awareness, intuition and sensitivity are second to none but she rarely finds peace. Why would she? Her entire central nervous system was constructed in the midst of a war. People like us can’t just ‘chill’ anymore than you can see less of the colour green if asked. Nor can we ‘stop overthinking,’ because it’s our razor sharp faculties that kept us alive at one time. Literally.

This is our programme.

We find it hard to BE with others because we’re hard wired to equate others with danger. Even the ones we love and trust. And that bothers us. For those who are unapologetically self reliant, they will struggle to be vulnerable. They will welcome solitude with open arms because it’s the only time they can ever safely take a breath. A nice day out with friends will result in several days isolation until the Big Ben reverberations finally die down in the pit of your stomach.

Ok, so I’ve proven to MYSELF that I can achieve anything in the face of adversity, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the existential feeling. The feeling that I – like many of you- experience every day: that we’re performing seals, terrified of judgement, or failure, or not knowing.

Because to be judged or fail or fuck up has meant certain death.

No amount of rest, clean living, meditation, spirituality, positivity, peace or love can offset inbuilt psychological warfare. It is what it is. The little children raised by wild dogs will never fully be human. Their little synapses never learned to fire the way normal children’s do. They will always be different- ‘cognitively impaired’ perhaps- yet emotionally rich and raw in a way you might never understand.

“Oh come, come now!” some might say. “Face the fear and do it anyway!” Face what, mate? Life? I do. Daily. So much for your exposure therapy. My over-excitable sympathetic nervous system laughs at the concept of ‘mind over matter.’ You can soothe, but not prevent your adrenal glands from kicking in willy-nilly. They does what they does. Sure, you don’t have to ride the wave but you still feel it crash over you a gazillion times a day. I just smile. And laugh. No one sees my tidal wave.

And for the record, I do not ‘suffer’ or ‘battle’ with anxiety. I tolerate the fucker in the way a dog entertains tapeworm.

I haven’t got the answers. No one has. You could take pills to numb your frazzled nerves, but to be honest I’d prefer to see and hear the ocean rather than close my eyes and shove sand in my ears. That’s a personal preference- I know some people who are too afraid to even look out to sea, and that’s OK. It really, really is.

So when someone you know complains of being tired all the time EVEN THOUGH they live under a duvet 24/7, please go easy on them.

They probably just need a fuckin rest.

Get over it! (said no one helpful ever…)

*All names are changed to provide anonymity, and permission was given by the client to publish this article.

 

*Katie came to me presenting with some difficulties surrounding the relationship with her boyfriend. Despite having a strong, secure and loving relationship, Katie struggled to get over a comment her partner had made in only the first few weeks of them being together. During a casual conversation, her partner had mentioned that Katie wasn’t usually his type but that he was so enamored by her that he just didn’t care! Despite him continuing to say how kind, funny and intelligent he found her, Katie struggled to integrate the totality of his response, finding herself only selectively screening the first part.

The negative aspect of the statement began to gather momentum over time – the perceived hurtful comment playing out internally whenever he told her how beautiful he found her, or how much he loved her.

She struggled to connect deeply with him on an intimate level too, the negative thoughts escalating over time (I bet he fancied his ex-girlfriend more/ He’s probably just humouring me etc.).

At times Katie could catch these thoughts before they took hold by offsetting them against how good the relationship was and how great her partner was. She tried desperately to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones but found the reconditioning self-talk didn’t really change things, only mask them for a brief time.

Throughout her life Katie had struggled with depression and admitted in sessions that she was a very ‘all or nothing’ type thinker.

“I just don’t want to think about this ever again. It’s like there’s part of my brain which just refuses to update and replace old information with new stuff. It means I struggle to let go, even when I know it’s totally irrational.”

This type of incident wasn’t just a one-off for Katie who explained that she had a long history of similar experiences in relationships. As far back as she remembers, Katie had never been able to accept that her partners truly wanted to be with her. She felt they must all have some ulterior motive. She was able to identify that she had a pattern of ‘testing’ others, which in reality only ever culminated in dramatic, unstable relationships and pushing others away.

Katie and I worked together to explore some of her earlier relational patterns and her attachment style (insecure), and gradually moved onto discussions about her mother who often had angry emotional outbursts. Katie was able to recollect:

 “I remember being shouted at when I was a very little girl and although I can’t remember the exact words that were said, I remember the feeling. It felt as though my Mum had said she didn’t want me, or that I was a mistake – something like that anyway.
It isn’t clear but the feeling is.”

We explored this feeling of hers and how at the time – despite her mother later soothing her and apologising – little Katie felt as though she didn’t believe her apology:

 “I just didn’t believe her. It felt like because she said it, she must mean it, and it couldn’t be taken back. I felt like I knew the real truth – and the truth was that I wasn’t really wanted.”

As a young child unable to accurately interpret adult behaviour, Katie had internalised the abuse and developed a false core belief – that being:

 “I am unwanted and unlovable, others cannot be trusted.”

The biology of ‘all or nothing’ thinking is actually quite helpful in terms of primitive evolution. When faced with a large predator about to devour us for lunch, there is little time to think about what to do! We flip into our powerful flight or fight response mode so that we can make a snap decision under perceived threat.

Through therapy Katie discovered that her emotional triggers were all relating to her sense of feeling under threat, prompting her to react with maladaptive behaviours (set of programmes). Katie was an intelligent and self-aware woman but struggled to see a way out of this all or nothing (black/white) thinking:

 “How does it work though? How do I just rewire my brain like that? If I see a red triangle and everyone else sees it as a green square, how do I begin to believe them?”

Together, we looked at how such early negative experiences can lead to cognitive distortions and how we set the mind to ‘look’ for danger. Although all of our perceptions are coloured by our own particular version of events, we explored ways of broadening her perception in order in such a way that the perceived ‘dangers’ became diluted.

During our time together, Katie gradually began to update her core beliefs and start to feel less fixed in her all or nothing views.

“It’s still hard to see the grey areas at times, but being more aware of my processes really helps me to reflect on what I perceive to be a trigger in the first place.”

 

Steph Jones is featured on Counselling Directory Register and registered on the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Professional Standards Authority Accredited Register (Registered number 202917).

Steph Jones Counselling (MBACP PGDip BSc Hons)
stephjonescounselling.co.uk
t: 07545 339 175
e: stephanie_k_jones@hotmail.com

Professional Counselling and Psychotherapy for individuals and couples in Stockport, South Manchester, Cheshire and Manchester.

Welcome to the first of my blogs!

In the blog section, I will be keeping you up to date with the latest in counselling, psychotherapy, psychological and mental health news. I’ll use these pages to inform you about different groups, webpages and contacts you might find helpful, as well as talk about a range of topics such as stress, depression, anxiety and relationships.

As the site grows, I would like to invite you to write to me if you have any problems you’d like addressing here – all anonymously of course! It isn’t always possible to respond to everyone individually but I will try my best to incorporate broad themes in my responses, and a huge thank you to those of you who have already written in to me.

Although I work with lots of different issues, much of my private practice work involves working with clients (both individuals and couples) who wish to improve their relationships, helping them to become more authentic in their connections, communicate openly and speak honestly from the heart. As human beings with unlimited potential we really do have the capacity to constantly grow and evolve. It’s not always easy or straightforward though, and it’s sometimes tough to ‘think’ your way through things. In fact sometimes the thinking ties us in knots even more, so much so that we can’t see the woods for the trees!

If you have a sense of being ‘stuck’ in any area of your life, it is important to remind yourself that you have the tools to cut yourself free and improve your situation, as difficult as it might seem right now.

I really hope you enjoy reading my blogs as much as I enjoy writing them.
Thanks for following and feel free to contact me if you’d like some support.

Steph x

 

Steph Jones is featured on Counselling Directory Register and registered on the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Professional Standards Authority Accredited Register (Registered number 202917).

Steph Jones Counselling (MBACP PGDip BSc Hons)
stephjonescounselling.co.uk
t: 07545 339 175
e: stephanie_k_jones@hotmail.com

Professional Counselling and Psychotherapy for individuals and couples in Stockport, South Manchester, Cheshire and Manchester.