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Polyvagal theory and the empathy bypass

Posted on 28 August, 2017 at 8:10 Comments comments (0)

One of the joys of running the Diploma is meeting a group of like-minded people, getting to know each other and observing how relationships form.

Relationships are important. We are social beings. The human brain is a social organ. Empathy is central to relationships. Theory of mind means we can put ourselves in the shoes of the other, feel their feelings and see through their eyes.

On the Diploma, we watch an old recording of Carl Rogers counselling and man on anger. It's a rare film and not one you can access on you Tube.

One thing that shines through as you observe Rogers is how central empathy is to his work. Empathy is one of the person-centred core conditions for a therapeutic alliance. It's something we totally accept now but it wasn't always so.

Rogers was an innovator of what he termed ‘here and now therapy’. He was greatly inspired in this by the work of Otto Rank. Rank was once a central figure in Freud's analytical circle but became disillusioned with his oedipal obsession and the focus of psychoanalysis on the past.

Here and now therapy would focus instead on being fully present, and offering congruence, non-judgement and empathy to build a relationship and create a holding space where the client felt safe enough to explore their thoughts and feelings.

Polyvagal theory now offers an additional explanation for the effectiveness of the therapeutic alliance and how one human brain can connect with another.

The ventral vagal nerve is connected to the facial areas associated with communication, such as the eyes, mouth and ears. It is the most recently evolved branch of the autonomic nervous system and developed as human beings began to group together to form tribes and family units. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal now became essential for bond-forming and for working together.

Brain imaging confirms that information from our environment enters the right emotional brain hemisphere first. The brain checks out whether it is safe or whether it needs to engage fight or flight.

If it does feel safe, the incoming information travels across the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres. It now engages the neo-cortex or rational left hemisphere where thought and reason process the data.

This milli-second of internal triage generally occurs outside of our consciousness.

If the environment feels safe, the ventral vagal system is in the driver’s seat and the brain tells the heart to remain calm. But if we sense a threat, whether real or imaginary, the older fight or flight system becomes switched on. Intense threat can even result in a brainstem response; freeze, shut down or death.

There are many ways to override our innate human empathy.

The social psychopath feels little if no empathy, for another human being. It's a brain wiring issue. The narcissist is so focused on ‘The self’ and their own needs that they see little point in engaging their empathic circuitry.

Polyvagal theory now informs us that, when we feel unsafe in our environment or in the presence of another, the older autonomic nervous system will produce more instinctive reaction that comes from the older part of the brain that perceives the world in a polarised, black or white, fight or flight mode.

In that mode, it's easy to see how empathy would be switched off, another explanation for how the hand that feeds can also be the hand that kills.

 

'If every man could mend a man....'

Posted on 21 August, 2017 at 14:40 Comments comments (0)

I'm prepping in earnest now for the southern based Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma running from September.

The northern hub training went really well. I ran the new 'Mindfulness Based Mind Management' trainers' day for the first time. I hoped it would be well received, but was absolutely bowled over by some really enthusiastic feedback, such as the email I received from BACP counsellor Donna Ward :

'The Fusion training model has picked up the best of other therapeutic models, fused together with Frances’ knowledge and evidence of what really works. Incorporating coaching, it is the full package!

For me it has provided the missing pieces of the jigsaw. I now feel hopeful and confident that I can really move my clients past sticking points and make some major breakthroughs. Frances’ knowledge and delivery was clear, professional and EVERY bit of what she taught us was useful. This was certainly not a course that was padded out.

It has changed my mind-set in so many ways. I have realised we don't have to complicate this process. What Frances has done with this model is fantastic. The Mindfulness Based Mind Management was a great course. It is very clear and easy to follow, concentrating on the facts and what really works; also what is realistic so it can be maintained.

Honestly, this has been the best training I have been on. Every bit of it was so valuable. I definitely got what I needed from the course. …definitely great value for money.

I feel very honoured to be part of Fusion. The skills I have learned will help gives people their lives back.'


Mending the world

At the start of the MBMM day, we set our intention by stating what we wanted from the training. I surprised myself with the level of emotion attached to my own response:

'I just want to help. I want this training to help you and to help your clients.'

It took me back to a saying I came across right at the start of my own journey as I emerged from a frightening experience of post natal depression, 'If every man would mend a man, all the world would be mended.'

It set me thinking. I reframed the word 'would' as 'could'. Through my experience, I had seen that many people wanted to help me, but didn't know how. Now training as a counsellor, I realised with a sense of despair that, not only was the mental health system broken, but that the training for mental health practitioners was seriously flawed too.


My dream

A dream started to take shape to make fast, efficient and effective help available to those who, like me when I was so ill, might be clinging on by their fingernails, desperate for someone to offer hope, practical information and a plan to help them reclaim their lives. It led me found the mental health charity Reclaim Life.

And that dream now continues with the launch of the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Mind Management programme; something that has the potential to touch even more lives and help more people improve their emotional resilience.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me now in a growing movement to change the face of mental health in the UK.

Thanks to the Foundation for Ribble Valley Families for sending me your trainees and for putting the model to good use improving the lives of local Lancashire families. Thanks to Social Sense and the Mindful Me team who are putting so much energy into getting the model into schools where it is so desperately needed.

Thank you to a lovely Fusion coach who is just starting on her own journey to found a charity to provide therapeutic coaching in Wales.

And thank you to all the Fusion Therapeutic Coachers and Trainers now out there doing great work.


1 day can change your life

Fusion coach-trainers Cindy Shilton and Jenny Capaldi are running a Fusion Breakthrough workshop together on Saturday 14th October at Simpson Village Hall. Please contact them if you are interested in attending. You can help publicise the event for them by sharing with your contacts.

Lots of good luck Cindy and Jenny


Bouncing forward

For me, as for many, personal change started with a terrible experience. It was German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche who said 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'

The reality of post trauma growth means that many of us who have travelled for a while along the road of despair can emerge the other side of the experience with a powerful message and motivation to help; what someone on the recent diploma course referred to as 'bouncing forward.'

It's launched! Fusion Mindfulness Based Mind Management is here

Posted on 11 August, 2017 at 10:20 Comments comments (0)

I recently returned from lovely Lancashire where I delivered the first ever Master Trainer day of the Fusion 8 week Mindfulness Based Mind Management programme.

It’s fair to say it was well received. The overwhelming reaction was ‘wow!’

I’m pleased with it. It’s been hard work and the guided visualisation scripts for the trainers are still in production. But it seems to me, the process has brought together all of the loose ends, taking the Fusion Model to the next level and offering, what I believe to be, the best mental health practitioner training currently available in the UK.

It’s fast-track and affordable too. Perhaps someone could tell the NHS? They seem to be worried that, even with £1.3 billion allocated funds, they will not be able to train sufficient practitioners in 4 years!

After 8 days’ training the Fusion Therapeutic Coaches and Trainers are highly skilled and fully armed to work with clients where ever they present on the ‘continuum of wellbeing’. And with the 8 week MBSR now part of the Fusion programme, there are even more ways to help people build emotional resilience rather than for society to have to ‘fire-fight’ each personal crisis as it occurs.


Mindfulness Based Mind Management

Mindfulness is all about focus.

It’s the brain training that strengthens the mental muscle of the pre frontal cortex, the seat of our executive control.

It’s certainly a powerful mind management tool. The Fusion programme makes new and critical links with cutting edge neuroscience such as epigenetics, mapping the connectome and polyvagal theory. When people understand just why it works, why wouldn’t they spend 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day simply sitting in the presence of their own thoughts? ‘Show me the evidence base’ is the modern mantra.

And why not?

Knowledge is power after all. Most people do not want a mental health diagnosis. They simply want an explanation for how they feel and a practical strategy for feeling better as soon as possible, restoring hope.

On week 1 of the MBMM programme, delegates are encouraged to go for a mindful walk and ‘see with new eyes’. It’s known as ‘beginner’s mind’. On the course, I make the connection with the powerful brain filter, the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

Counsellor Liz Blackburn made the connection too. She contacted me yesterday:

‘I would just like to say how much I enjoyed the course and the Train the Trainer and MBMM.

Here is a story…… When a returned home after the final day, I went for a mindful walk.

So often I do this walk quickly, just to get the exercise. I live in a beautiful place (even though it might be a bit wet) but so often I don’t appreciate it. Within 100meters from my house I spotted a buzzard soaring in the sky. Then I went on to notice a young hare playing in the lane. Further on I stood for a short while to watch the swallows and swifts, trying to identify the differences between the two.

The curlews are still here, not returning to their coastal homes for the winter yet. Further along I spotted an owl as it took off from a nearby gate post. At this point I thought to myself “all I need now is to see a deer. I will do before I get home”, I thought with confidence.

Almost immediately, I had hardly turned the corner when there in front of me was a young red deer, just grazing in the field. This really proves the power of RAS!! That was for me; the perfect walk… I continued on my way home, only to notice some sloe berries growing on bushes that I had passes many times before but never noticed them. (It looks like I may be making Sloe Gin this autumn.)

What enjoyment to have a “Mindful” walk.’

Prince Harry, the 'box it up' grief model and why it doesn't work

Posted on 19 April, 2017 at 6:50 Comments comments (0)

 

In a week when Prince Harry referred to his attempts to deal with the death of his mother, Princess Diana, by boxing up his emotions for 20 years, he clearly described how people try to deal with life’s losses and traumas by switching off their emotions. His older brother, the Duke of Cambridge has now also responded, saying 'it never leaves you'...'you never get over it'....'it's time that everyone speaks up.'

The ‘box-it-up’ method can certainly work for a while, as it did for Harry, but what tends to happen over time is that the lid of the box begins to lift on its own and all the guilt, anger and despair start to tumble out.

What do you do when that happens? An enlightened GP may refer you for counselling, only for you to be told there’s a three month waiting list, or longer. This is when the system becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It’s clear we need more mental health practitioners and better mental health education too, so people can learn the mind management skills that become the building blocks of emotional resilience to life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Many years ago, I started a mental health charity called Reclaim Life in Bedfordshire and trained its volunteers in many of the core skills of therapeutic conversation. I’m pleased to say Reclaim Life is still going and still helping the local community.

I’m now working closely with Stephen Blackburn, Social Sense and the MindfulMe programme in the north of England, to introduce the wider community to the Fusion Model approach to mental health skills and training. Stephen also works for the Foundation for Ribble Valley Families and I’ve had the privilege of training and supervising their therapeutic coaching practitioners, watching the practice grow, with admiration, as more and more adults and young people are helped.

Word about all their good work has spread.

I recently heard FRVF have been nominated for an East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group Excellence Award, a real testimony to how highly their work is regarded by the CCG. Fingers crossed they win. How good would it sound to be able to say in their literature ‘The award winning Foundation for Ribble Valley Families.’

I’m proud to be a part of it.

Stephen sent me some client testimonials. This one caught my attention. It reminded me of my own experience of post natal depression over 25 years ago and how it started my professional journey to change the face of mental health for the better.

‘The Foundation for Ribble Valley Families has played a very important role in our lives as a family.

Witnessing my pregnant daughter sobbing, broken, desperate and in the darkest of places, hearing her say she could not carry on is, for a mother, the most unbelievable gut wrenching feeling of helplessness.

After trying and realising we could not be offered support for over 48 hours from her case worker; I knew that was unacceptable. I turned to the charity to help us! They did!

The foundation saw my daughter and me within hours. For my daughter, she was listened to and most importantly heard! For me, kind words of support, someone to share my fears with and an overwhelming sense of relief! She was safe!

My daughter was supported throughout her pregnancy, seen weekly. The life coach gave her time to express her anxieties working through them together; she was equipped to help herself feel she could take control, to learn strategies to relax; to cope.

This may seem dramatic but, now I share incredible moments and time with my beautiful daughter and grandchild. We are a loving, supportive family, however the Foundation for Ribble Valley Families came to our help when we needed it the most and we will be forever grateful to them.

Thank you!’

Changing mental health

There's no doubt that coach-counsellor integrationists are working at the cutting-edge of mental health. We are the trailblazers for a new wave of practitioners who are prepared to challenge the old ways and the status quo. We refuse to be tied to a one-model-for-every-client approach.

It's a privilege to be working in mental health right now. Although there are social and financial challenges, never in recent history have people been prepared to be so open about their own emotional well-being. Prince Harry’s honesty will do even more to help.

 

Just why is our mental health care so poor?

Posted on 7 August, 2016 at 14:20 Comments comments (0)

I spent most of last Friday working on a blogpost. On a sunny Saturday, I spent the morning with a group of Fusion coaches who attended our regular group supervision. In the afternoon I went to a barbeque, stayed sober, and left early to bring together an ebook offering tips, tools and strategies for emotional wellbeing.

 

Today, Sunday, I am spending the afternoon writing this newsletter. It's lovely outside and the garden really could do with a bit of work. There's a green-striped deckchair on the lawn that looks pretty inviting. The pub next door is open and I can hear my neighbours chatting and relaxing outside.

 

Question: Why do I choose to do all this work when I don't have to? Why did the Fusion coaches choose to give up their Saturday morning to attend supervision?

 

Answer: Because I care, because they care, and because we believe there is a better way to help people with emotional health problems.

 

I am grateful to Fusion coach Di Danzebrink for bringing to my attention a trending twitter feed that broke my heart when I read through it. #MentalHealthCareSoPoor has caught the attention of young people who feel let down by our mental health system. It is full of statements of disappointment and despair.

 

I've taken the time to reproduce some of the thread here for you. These are real people with real problems calling out to those in charge to do something, anything, to improve the 'help' currently on offer in the UK.

 

Those of us who work in mental health have a duty to ensure we have a toolbox of skills that are really effective and will really help. It's difficult not to feel upset and/or guilty about what is happening in the name of mental health.

 

 

#MentalHealthCareSoPoor

 

‘Oh you tried to kill yourself? Let's get you to tell the story 10 times to 10 different people..’

 

‘That happened so long ago you're not allowed to still be upset about it’

 

When I couldn't leave the house due to anxiety my therapist reply was ‘go for a walk’

 

‘It sounds like you have bipolar disorder because you're very moody’

 

‘When I was 14 my first psychiatrist misdiagnosed me as bipolar disorder within 10 min of talking to me’

 

‘I'm still waiting to start therapy after being referred in March.. lol’

 

Being yelled at by hospital staff for crying too much

 

One time and mental health worker told me he doesn't think I have bipolar disorder because I don't seem manipulative or angry enough

 

when you feel desperate enough to say how suicidal you feel and get ‘well you can't be that bad if you're telling us’

 

‘I struggle making phone calls because it makes me so anxious.’ ‘Okay. so here's a list of phone numbers you can call’

 

You will most likely be sent home from A and E in less than 24 hours after serious suicide attempts

 

No one cares unless your physical appearance reflects your mental health, no one should have to prove they’re ill

 

Dr says ‘you're clearly too social to be autistic’, but you haven't seen anyone socially in the year

 

You have to look at your meds on online to see what your doctor thinks you have

 

When people would rather go through mental illness on their own because doctors or cans do absolutely nothing

 

Because the only recognition to help you ever receive as if you attempt suicide

 

When you go to the doctor about depression and suicidal thoughts and get told ‘it's just teenage girl hormones’

 

When your anxiety makes you feel physically ill, day in day out, but that's impossible because ‘it's all in my head’

 

You are only considered a priority if you're suicidal, like why leave you get to that point….. prevention is key

 

‘You don't sound too bad on the phone. Have you thought about trying antidepressants IAPT telephone assessment’

When I got hospitalised for suicide at 16 CAMHS never called me after because I ‘wasn't severe enough’

 

My psychologist refused to see me after I missed an appointment due to my mental illness

 

Me. ‘I feel depressed’. CAMHS. ‘You wear make up your fine’

 

‘You're not even old enough to know how bad life really gets’. ‘Okay hey yeah, you're right I'm too young to be sad...sorry’

 

Not being taken seriously because you seem okay…. that's why it's called mental health..cos u can't see it?

 

I was told to ‘grow up’ when I told my doctor I was suicidal

 

When a therapist said to me ‘you're a good-looking girl I don't see what problem is’

 

My therapist once told me ‘at least you're not one of those starving kids in Africa’

 

My last suicide attempt I wasn't hospitalised because they didn't have the bed available

 

That they laugh at you for trying to diagnose yourself but will not diagnose you

 

My therapist said she was shocked I was so high functioning…. even when I wasn't eating, showering or sleeping

 

That after self harming my doctor told me to exercise when I felt anxious because I was on the heavier side

 

My little sister was diagnosed with PTSD. She was dropped off the patient list for being late to one appointment

 

I tried to kill myself and the doctor told me I should be grateful I'm not actually ill like the other people in the hospital

 

That I stopped going to therapy after my therapist accused me of embellishing my stories and lied for attention

 

That the only time I saw a doctor at the psych hospital was for 5 min after I was admitted

‘I'm suicidal’. ‘Have you tried art therapy?’

 

Your anxiety can't be that bad if you talk to people online

 

Your gender dysphoria is probably just a phase

 

Always being let down by the system ……then being promised help but get nothing

 

My doctor telling me my depression isn't as bad as someone else's they've seen because I can fake smile

 

‘We’re surprised you're still alive, we don't really know how to treat you …so we’ll use you as a case study instead’

 

Being sent to a therapist that wasn't even qualified to deal with the disorders I had, making me feel more helpless

 

There was no follow-up after leaving three nights in hospital for a drug overdose, because it'd happened before

 

Because I'm constantly told that if you think you have problems you aren't as bad as so-and-so

 

Phone feeling suicidal and get told to ‘go to bed’

 

In group therapy sessions with children ages 7 to 17 we were told you have it better than other kids

 

That I was told I wasn't depressed enough while in the emergency room hospital

 

The first two therapist I went to when I was 12 refused to help me because I was too young and too happy

 

That you are constantly re-diagnosed

 

I have to prove that I have an eating disorder. I feel like a failure. A fraud. I need to get skinnier so others believe my suffering

 

When you therapist forces you to have your parents in on all your sessions so you don't actually have a safe spot talk

 

Being advised to ‘have your daughter arrested for her behaviour so she can be noticed as bad enough the treatment’

 

One therapist telling me my body dysmorphia is nothing to worry about and just cut down on the cakes

 

That after four months of fully describing the extent of my illness, my therapist told me to ‘look on the bright side’

 

My CAMHS worker could no longer see me because of cuts to the NHS and I was apparently doing fine

 

when my friend committed suicide I was told if I'm still sad three months later, they'd consider helping me

 

They wouldn't listen to me about my being suicidal so I started shouting and it sent me home because I was a threat

 

That I was too young for the rehabilitation programme and so was discharged as ’recovered PTSD’

 

A psychiatrist tried to suggest to my parents that I changed my legal name to rebel against them

 

A psychiatrist who had never met me before tried to diagnosing me with ADHD

 

After not being seen for six months being discharged even though they kept cancelling my appointments

 

Telling a counsellor I wanted to die to be told I was ‘low risk’

 

You just need to exercise and smile and you'll be happy. Thank you for the amazing advice CAMHS

 

My doctor made me leave the room during an episode because he was running late

 

Because a lot of MH profs are too busy defending the feelings of their good colleagues instead of listening to us

 

to treat suicidal thoughts they give you meds with the side effect of increasing suicidal thoughts

 

The clinic closure came six months after my father’s suicide and two months after I lost my job

 

After five years of antidepressants and self-help leaflets.. yet and more depressed and anxious as ever

 

Having my therapist offer to text me every day to make sure I was okay ..and I never got a single message

 

Half of the time I was there and she kept talking about another kid from my school and how he got better and his problems

 

I explained how I felt my therapist and he said ‘maybe you're just a sad person

 

 

Tell the NHS about something new in mental health

Posted on 31 May, 2016 at 14:45 Comments comments (0)

It was my absolute privilege to have the chance to present the Fusion Model to a group of thirty head teachers at a conference at MK Dons this week.

 

I used the opportunity to describe to them the difference between the medical and recovery models of mental health. More importantly, I described how Fusion, whilst being part of the recovery movement also represents a new prevention model; providing the kind of psycho education and mind management skills which build emotional resilience.

 

I described how I feel it is not just our current mental health system which is seriously flawed, but how we train our mental health practitioners too. Many counsellors, after years of expensive training, emerge from their studies without the skills to resolve PTSD, anxiety, depression, anger and self harm. Many do not know how to prevent suicide.

 

My own work in promoting fast track training based on the cutting edge discoveries now emerging from neuroscience, has shown these life-enhancing and potentially life-saving tools can be passed on quickly to those who would like to know how to have ‘a therapeutic conversation’.

 

I have distilled all my own training and experience into a programme which passes on the knowledge which can change lives, improve wellbeing and help build resilience. You can become a Fusion Breakthrough trainer for as little as £525.

 

Perhaps someone could tell the NHS?

Hold On, Pain Ends: How hope creates resilience

Posted on 31 May, 2016 at 14:45 Comments comments (0)

One of the deepest, darkest depressions I have ever witnessed was in a young man, aged just 18, who I shall call Gareth.

 

His mother, a very worried woman, had dropped him off for his first session having outlined to me what she felt was the essence of the problem.

 

Gareth’s mental health issues began around the age of 14, when he started using drink and drugs to excess. At 16, he had spent some time in a mental health unit where he was given powerful antipsychotic medication which he felt had damaged his brain beyond repair.

 

He had dropped out of sixth form, unable to cope with the building pressures of exams and now spent most of his time in his room, often up all night, sleeping all day and only emerging to eat.

 

Gareth's energy was so depleted he had difficulty actually forming the words to tell me his story. There was a sense of sorrow and stillness around him which was almost tangible and which felt to me like grief. Even with his hood up, I could detect the haunted expression in his eyes I have witnessed before in severe depression.

 

However, when he did speak, it was clear this fragile young man was both intelligent and articulate. Halfway through the session, he leaned forward and quietly spoke the words, in a flat, emotionless voice, which made my blood run cold;

 

‘I will be dead by the age of 21’

 

‘How can you be so sure?’ I asked.

 

‘Because’ he said, ‘if I still feel like this, I will kill myself.’

 

Gareth had lost hope. When people lose hope, they consider suicide and, it was clear to me in that moment, that Gareth and I were going to have to work very hard together to make sure his dark prediction did not come true.

 

A perfect storm

 

In February 2016, figures published by the Office for National Statistics showed that youth suicides are on the increase. In 2014, 201 young people between ages of 10 and 19 killed themselves in the UK; more than 10% up on 2013.

 

It is an accepted fact that suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35. Shockingly, in a recent report by the University of Manchester, it was identified that 29% of those who committed suicide, were facing exams, or exam results, and that 4 children had died on the actual day of an exam, or the day after.

 

Modern life, and our refusal as a society to deal adequately with the building stressors, is providing all the conditions for ‘a perfect storm’ in mental health and it is our children that are suffering the most.

 

The advent of 24/7 access to intrusive social media has added to the problems of peer pressure. There is an epidemic of online bullying. The traditional family structure is shifting, changing and becoming ever more complicated with single-parent families, divorce, separation and remarriage. We are seeing more and more children placed in a ‘care system’ which, on the face of it, doesn’t actually seem to care.

 

There are increasing multicultural and intercultural pressures as never before, as well as the threat from those who see a dark opportunity to radicalise and fill with hate, young people just at the point when they are trying to create their own sense of identity, meaning and purpose.

 

Growing academic pressures result in some children feeling crushed, not just by life, but by a school system which is not geared to take a holistic view of education and some of which have become what Norman Lamb worryingly described, in his 2015 mental health report, as ‘exam factories’.

 

Paradoxically, it seems the government is now criticising the very ‘tick box’ systems they have helped to create. Children and teachers need support, but they need the right kind of support; something really effective that gives the quickest benefit at the lowest cost.

 

Symptoms

 

In the classroom, children’s emotional problems can show up as low mood and lethargy, low confidence and self-esteem, or underachievement and lack of focus.

 

There may be high anxiety which tips over into aggression or bullying; and for some, even more significantly, the kind of loss of hope I saw in Gareth, which can lead to thoughts of self harm or suicide.

 

It’s not enough to simply identify the problem. We have to have a sense of the most effective solution or, better still, prevention. Endlessly fighting of forest fires is not the answer. We must manage the conditions which lead to the fires in the first place.

 

Restoring hope

 

I wondered whether, in the moment my young client expressed his intention to end his own suffering, whether he had any sense of the deeply intimate connection he made with me, not just professionally but personally.

 

His tale of ineffective NHS mental health support resonated with my own, near-fatal experience of post natal depression many years earlier. It seemed in the intervening years, nothing much had changed for the better.

 

Also, the beautiful young man sitting so sadly in front of me reminded me of my own eighteen year old son; similar in so many ways and yet so different. Having achieved successful A-levels, he was now far away in India on a gap year that would become a life changing spring board to his bright future.

 

Gareth should be on his gap year now too, I felt, not here in my office, crushed and broken by his depression and crushed too by our mental health system’s inappropriate and ineffective response to his needs, which had so cruelly robbed him of hope.

 

Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl observed, ‘we have seen that a man can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, but barely three minutes without hope.’

 

It was clear to me, that the starting point for my work with Gareth was to begin to try and restore that hope.

 

As his energy was so low, I asked him to just close his eyes and listen as I began to teach him how to bypass the damaging thoughts present in his left brain. I would now speak directly to his right hemisphere, which understands the world in a deeper, more intuitive way. This is what I said:

 

‘Gareth, I believe there is nothing wrong with your brain. The problem is the depression which has got in the way for a while. I believe the old you, the real you, is now waiting to re-emerge, like the sun, from behind those passing clouds.

 

Your body has the amazing ability to heal if you provide the right conditions for that to happen; something you can see clear evidence of when you cut your finger and put a plaster on it. It is not the plaster which does the healing, but your body which knows how to grow new skin over old wounds.

 

And it’s good to know your amazing neuro-plastic brain can heal too. It is constantly rewiring itself, forming new neural pathways to replace old, outdated or damaged ones. That is how stroke patients are able to re learn the skills they have lost. Our brains know how to reconfigure. All we have to do, like the plaster, is provide the right conditions for that healing to happen.

 

Your amazing brain knows how to ‘time travel’ as well and, as you sit there, in your imagination, you can drift forward to a time in the future when any current difficulties are just a thing of the past, and you can look around you in that happy future life, see what it looks like and, more importantly, from that point in the future, allow yourself to look back and notice what you had to do to get you there.

 

And, while a part of you considers your bright future, another part of you can listen to a story, much as a child would listen to a story at bedtime. It’s a story about a river:

 

In a distant land, far off, a long time ago, there was a river.

 

The river was a powerful and vibrant river and served its community well. But the river knew it must go on a journey onward and towards the sea.

 

So the river set off, passing through green valleys and pastures until, one day, it came to a desert; a dry, cracked and cruel land and, try as it might, the river could not cross this desert. The river grew exhausted and called out in its frustration ‘Can no one tell me how to get past this terrible place?’

 

The sun and the wind heard the cries of the river and said ‘do not worry; you have all the resources you need. Simply allow us to help.

 

The sun shone and the wind blew and turned the river into light and fluffy clouds that were carried high into the air and which floated effortlessly across that terrible place into the safety of the mountains on the other side, where they collected as heavy raindrops into a powerful and vibrant river once more.

 

And, in this way, the river was able to continue its journey onward and towards the sea.’

 

Our journey

 

Gareth came to see me for many months as he returned to his studies and I knew things were improving when he passed his driving test and started driving himself to see me rather than being dropped off by mum.

 

Like the path of the river, our work together took many twists and turns. Sometimes I was counselling, sometimes I was coaching. Often, we were both tossed and turned by the storms created by his intense thoughts and emotions, but the waters gradually calmed and stilled.

 

In the time I was with him, I passed on to Gareth, all the skills of mind management I hoped would build a 'wall of resilience' to protect him after our work together was complete.

 

All this happened many years ago.

 

But the image of Gareth sitting on the old velvet sofa in my office, returned to me quite clearly, when he contacted me recently on LinkedIn to tell me he had just started work on his PhD in cognitive neuroscience.

 

Sometimes it just feels good to be alive.

 

How to unlock the power of your amazing brain

Posted on 16 May, 2016 at 14:55 Comments comments (0)

Affirmations seem to work better for some people than for others, but why is that?

 

Some swear by the positive impact their affirmations have made on their life and, there can be no doubt that a well placed, affirmation has the ability to ‘re-set’ the brain for positivity. This is because your brain doesn't know the difference between what is real and what is not, so what you choose to say to yourself is very important.

 

More importantly, your brain is neuro-plastic which means it is able to change and rewire itself. This is good news. It means you are not destined to be the person you have always been and is why, when my new clients express a desire to work on discovering who they are, I respectfully suggest it may be more appropriate to focus on who they would actually like to be.

 

The trouble is, we have a pre programmed negativity bias that can sabotage our very best efforts to make positive changes. We are hard wired to focus on the negatives as a kind of self preservation exercise, which can certainly save our skin by making sure we avoid risks or situations where we might fail. Sometimes, it can feel like a real ‘internal battle’ of belief systems.

 

And many of us have been negatively programmed as children with statements such as ‘you’re slow, lazy, fat or clumsy’. These ‘sticky’ beliefs stay in our subconscious minds and we may not even be aware of them. But, while they sit there, they create cognitive dissonance when we try to make changes which conflict with the self image we've built up from a young age.

 

Neuroscientist, Dr Michael Merzanich refers to a ‘critical period’ when the human brain initially configures itself. Current research indicates that up to age 10, there is no ‘off switch’ for incoming data. We are like a computer downloading the output from our environment, whether that is good or bad.

 

Worryingly, this is when we are drawing up our internal frames of reference. After that age, we are largely consolidating the information we have previously uploaded, to use as an internalised ‘map’ which we then refer to, to navigate the world in which we find ourselves. After age 10, the brain plasticity ‘switch’ is flicked, reducing our capacity for learning from new experience, as a range of powerful internal filters now come into play.

 

Brain aerobics

 

Assuming your negative beliefs may have been there for many, many years, it would be unrealistic to expect a positive affirmation, if repeated only once or twice, to make a significant difference immediately. Regular work and repetition will be needed to build and reinforce new neural structures for them to become encoded and embedded. Now you can strengthen your mental muscles much as you would your biceps and triceps by regular trips to the gym.

 

As Dr Merzenich explained in his groundbreaking 2004 TED Talk:

 

‘….in your future is brain aerobics. Get ready for it. It’s going to be a part of every life, not too far in the future. Just like physical exercise is a part of every well organized life in the contemporary period….

 

….Now that you know, now that science is telling us that you are in charge, that it’s under your control, that your happiness, your well-being, your abilities, your capacities, are capable of continuous modification, continuous improvement, and you’re the responsible agent and party.

Of course a lot of people will ignore this advice. It will be a long time before they really understand it.’

Making a start

You might need to begin by rooting out the negatives first of all.

 

Try making a list of your perceived negative qualities, including the kind of criticisms others have levelled at you, whether parents, siblings, your boss or your peers. Accept that we are all imperfect and all have flaws, and we all need to be forgiving of ourselves on the long and winding road to becoming the person we want to be.

 

Once you have acknowledged those negatives beliefs and made a decision to let them go, screw them up and throw them away. Now write out something more positive and empowering.

 

When you have the positive affirmations you are happy with, you will need to actually speak them out loud for several minutes, several times a day for them to really grow new roots. Brushing your teeth in the morning, looking in the mirror, can be the perfect time.

 

Anchor the affirmations firmly in your mind and body to the word 'STOP'. As soon as you say STOP, you become fully present and can make a conscious decision to shift your mind-set.

 

Use the word STOP as an IT password. Then, every time you type it or use it, STOP brings you to mindful awareness when you can repeat the positive affirmations again.

 

Positive self statements are powerful tools for raising hope, expectation and self esteem. Getting the right ones for you is key. Remember they must be personal, powerful, positive and present tense.

 

If you are having trouble coming up with the right ones, take inspiration from the 59 character strengths listed below to help you add real punch, create your most powerful affirmation yet and to unlock the potential of your amazing neuro-plastic brain.

 

59 character strengths

1. I am creative

2. I am original

3. I am adaptable

4. I am ingenious

5. I am interested

6. I am open

7. I can think things through

8. I am open-minded

9. I love learning

10. I love mastering new skills and topics

11. I love to build knowledge

12. I can see things from different angles

13. I can see the big picture

14. I do not shrink from fear

15. I speak up for what is right

16. I am persistent

17. I am industrious

18. I finish what I start

19. I am honest

20. I am authentic

21. I have integrity

22. I am enthusiastic

23. I have energy

24. I can love and be loved

25. I can build close relationships

26. I am generous

27. I am kind

28. I have care and compassion

29. I am altruistic

30. I am empathic

31. I understand what makes other people tick

32. I am socially responsible

33. I am loyal

34. I am a team player

35. I value justice

36. I am fair

37. I am an organiser

38. I encourage others

39. I accept others' shortcomings

40. I give people a second chance

41. I can forgive

42. I am modest

43. I can let my accomplishments speak for themselves

44. I do not take undue risks

45. I have self-control

46. I am disciplined

47. I manage my impulses and emotions

48. I appreciate beauty and excellence

49. I am grateful for the good I express thanks

50. I feel blessed

51. I am optimistic

52. I have hope for the future

53. I am future focused

54. I am playful

55. I bring smiles to others

56. I am light-hearted

57. I have faith

58. I have purpose

59. My life has meaning


 

http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain

https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Portals/0/Graphic2014.pdf

 

 

 

 

An easy way to create SAFE SPACES at work and in schools

Posted on 10 May, 2016 at 4:10 Comments comments (0)

 

‘Presenteeism’ is the flip side of the better known phenomenon ‘absenteeism’; being related to the implications for industry and the economy of stress and emotional distress in the work force. It affects output, it affects efficiency and ultimately, it affects gross domestic product (GDP).

 

Simply put, happier employees are more effective and productive employees, yet mental health continues to have a low priority and is still referred to as ‘the Cinderella service’ within the NHS.

 

My motivation for working in the world of wellbeing grew out of personal experience, as I came to realise that our current mental health system is flawed and that much of our training of mental health practitioners is also flawed.

 

What I have worked on ever since, is a way of distilling the skills of 'emotional intelligence' to their absolute essence so they are easy to understand, making it faster (and cheaper) to train practitioners, providing the kind of help, knowledge and advice I needed when I was emotionally distressed and the kind of fast track, effective and affordable training I wish had been available when I embarked on a career as a psychotherapist. Introducing this training into the NHS could save the service a lot of money.

 

Perhaps someone could tell them.

 

In my article this week, I consider the impact of introducing the idea of 'SAFE SPACES' into industry, commerce and into our schools. In the story, I talk about Rachel, a young woman who, although physically present at work is psychologically absence, due to extreme emotional distress.

 

Rachel suffered an early miscarriage and was given a week off by her GP to recover. On her return to work, although now physically well, Rachel had been so emotionally traumatised by the experience that she was unable to function in her job.

 

In the article I give an intimate and detailed description of Rachel's distress and how that impacted her ability to work.

 

This was easy to do, because the Rachel in the story was me.

 

 

Rachel

 

Rachel, at 22, had not expected to become pregnant so soon after her marriage.

 

Although not planned, she soon got used to the idea and started excitedly looking forward to having a baby. She told family and a few close friends. She started shopping for baby clothes in her lunch hour at work.

 

Then one day, something terrible happened. Rachel miscarried.

 

The reaction in her circle was uniform. ‘You’re young, there will be other opportunities. You'll get over it.’ Rachel's GP gave her a week off to recover, but by the time she returned to work, although physically present, Rachel was psychologically absent.

 

Her manager, with all good intentions, asked to have a quiet word with her at the back of the office. ‘My wife had a miscarriage’ he said ‘so I know how you feel’.

 

‘Thank you’, said Rachel. ‘You have no idea how I feel’, she thought.

 

The weeks that followed were difficult.

 

Rachel felt tearful most of the time. She couldn't sleep and couldn't stop thinking about the baby she had lost. She wanted to talk about how she felt. At first friends and family were sympathetic but, after a while, seemed to have less patience with hearing what was, essentially, the same story, over and over again.

 

Rachel learned to keep quiet and people thought she was ok.

 

But Rachel's work was suffering. Her concentration had gone and she started making mistakes. Her manager was now less than sympathetic.

 

‘What's going on Rachel? You'll have to pull yourself together’ he said ‘I can't afford to carry passengers.’

 

Now Rachel had something else to worry about. Her previously safe world seemed to be crumbling around her. Her relationship was suffering too as her husband lost patience with her seeming inability to ‘get over it and move on’.

 

Rachel never did ‘get over it.’

 

Helping Rachel

 

Grief is grief. We should not underestimate the strength and significance of the bond between a mother and her unborn child, no matter how early it is in her pregnancy.

 

The grief does not get smaller. Rather, with time, the hope is that our life expands around it and our loss becomes part of our journey and part of our personal narrative.

 

‘I know how you feel’ is not the best starting point. Neither is ‘pull yourself together.’

 

‘Tell me how you feel’ is better, but that's no good either, unless people are prepared to listen empathically, without judgement and without interrupting with their own experiences.

 

It would have been more helpful for Rachel to have had access to a professional who knew how to support grief, trauma and emotional distress. What Rachel really needed was validation for her experience, an explanation of what was going on for her and guidance on what she could do to help support herself as she worked through her sense of loss.

 

We now know that, the more we become emotional, the less we have access to our rational brain. It’s called emotional hijacking. Concentration and focus are destroyed by high emotion. Managing anxiety is a skill. At times of crisis, just knowing this is empowering. We know what to do to help ourselves.

 

The more we worry, the less we enjoy good quality sleep at night. By the morning, our motivational energy has been eaten up by too much REM (dreaming sleep). Now there is a second problem and the tiredness just adds to the stress.

 

SAFE SPACES

 

If Rachel had known about the ‘recipe’ for emotional well-being, she would have been aware that her needs for personal security, attention and control were compromised by the loss of her baby; that the emotional distress she felt was authentic and that, while she waited to regain her sense of equilibrium, there were things she could do to help herself.

 

The STOP system™ would have given her a practical way to ‘take a step back’ from her distress and self soothe with gentle mindfulness techniques.

 

SAFE SPACES integrates ‘the emotional needs ‘recipe’ with a practical ‘system’ for emotional management, creating a powerful wraparound formula for wellbeing and resilience.

 

When it comes to mental health, knowledge truly is power. For all the Rachel’s, here is the formula. I hope it helps:

 

Security

Attention

Family, friends and fun

Emotional intimacy

Status

Privacy

Achievement

Control

Engagement

STOP System™

 

How to use virtual reality to improve mental health

Posted on 10 May, 2016 at 4:10 Comments comments (0)

There can be little doubt now that dual trained coach-counselling practitioners represent the bright future of mental health and emotional well-being.

 

My own professional accrediting body, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy are increasingly acknowledging the gathering momentum towards full integration.

 

And I am pleased to say that Fusion® is right at the vanguard of this new movement with the longest established, the only evidence-based and fully integrated, working model, with the bonus of National College of Further Education (NCFE) accreditation.

 

Increasing numbers of counsellors are seeking to add coaching to their toolbox of skills.

 

Increasing numbers of coaches are looking to deepen and broaden theoretical knowledge by adding counselling and therapeutic elements to their skill set.

 

Many working in the world of wellbeing in any capacity, are seeking skills which will enhance their ability to help.

 

The holistic wheel of life

 

At the heart of the Fusion® model sits the holistic wheel of life. It acts both as a passport to communication between client and therapeutic coach and also is an effective conduit between the worlds of coaching and counselling.

 

Growing numbers of integrated therapeutic coaches now represent 'a third wave'; a new breed of 'super-practitioner'. They have access to an extended and powerful range of skills, offering effective help to resolve anxiety, depression, fears, phobias and PTSD whilst also helping their clients to refocus on a preferred future.

 

Practitioners always want to do their very best for their clients. And one of the most powerful ways of doing that is to be comfortable in harnessing the enormous, and often untapped, resources of the human imagination.

 

My article this week looks at recent research from King College about the use of virtual reality in resolving paranoia.

 

I have been using 'virtual reality' with my clients for many years. But I don't need them to wear a headset or connect up to expensive machinery because I understand how to 'tap into' the reality generator we all have.... in our mind.

How to use virtual reality to destroy fears and phobias

Tim's life had been getting pretty difficult recently.

 

He loved working in London, but the commute to his job in the City was taking him longer and longer.

 

‘I can only do one stop at a time now’ he told me. ‘It would be funny if it wasn't such a massive problem. It takes me nearly an hour on the tube to do a journey that only used to take fifteen minutes.’

 

‘What actually happens when you travel on the underground?’ I asked Tim.

 

‘I feel absolutely petrified’ said Tim. ‘I start sweating and shaking and looking at the doors. I can't wait to get to the next station and jump out.’

 

‘What are you thinking while this is going on?’ I asked.

 

‘I think the big problem is I’ve become worried about terrorism’ said Tim. It’s crept up on me. It never used to be a problem but there's been more and more on the news about people with backpacks. If there’s someone in the carriage now wearing one, or carrying a bag, I just start to assume the worst and I want to get away as fast as I can.

 

Do you think you can help me? I’m going to have to get another job at this rate!’

 

I was confident I could help Tim sort this out, and quite quickly too. We would just have to use a bit of ‘virtual reality’ to rewire his brain.

Virtual reality found to cure paranoia

 

Virtual reality has been in the news recently.

 

King's College London has developed a program which simulates a journey on London Underground in which a person is encouraged to interact with ‘avatar’ travellers.

 

In the experiment, 30 volunteers experienced virtual reality simulations where they encountered increasing numbers of ‘virtual’ commuters.

 

The research team, led by Professor Daniel Freeman from the University's Department of Psychiatry found the group of participants encouraged to interact with fellow travellers in virtual reality showed significant reductions in paranoid thoughts. More than half of the group who had been previously identified with paranoid delusions no longer had the problem by the end of the day of testing.

 

Professor Freeman observed that just a thirty minute session using the right psychological techniques helped people ‘re-learn’ that being around people was safe, and saw their paranoia begin to 'melt away'.

 

Your very own reality generator

 

The truth is, you do not need expensive virtual reality equipment to reproduce the excellent and inspiring results from King’s College, because we all have our own reality generator: the human imagination.

 

The resolution for Tim's problem was really quite straight forward. I simply encouraged him to close his eyes, relax and breathe all his stress away whilst imagining travelling comfortably on the journey which previously had caused him such a problem.

 

How and why did this help?

 

This kind of positive mental rehearsal ‘re-encodes’ the experience in the human brain. The powerful combination of relaxation plus visualisation stimulates alpha and theta brain-waves, accessing the ‘sweet spot’ for neuro-plastic change.

 

In this way, the ghosts of the past and spectres of the future can all be exorcised by a simple mechanism which encourages use of the imagination to help, rather than harm, and which re-wires a previous negatively-conditioned response.

 

The exercise worked its magic for Tim and he was finally able to travel comfortably on the underground again, which proved you can change your mind by changing your thoughts….

 

and no expensive equipment is required!

 

 


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