The Humanistic approach: Not what is wrong, but what happened?

Jane

Jane Gotto

The practice of Humanistic Psychotherapy has gained significant recognition in recent decades.   Having been a humanistic psychotherapist since the early 1990’s, Jane Gotto, Director of The Terrace, has noticed research and results have brought the humanistic approach – putting the person in the centre of the work – more mainstream. It is now challenging some of the more traditional ways of treating mental health, by working with the person not their symptoms. This piece links to  a letter sent by Terry Cooper, Founder Director of Spectrum Therapy, in which he talks about Richard Bentall’s response to Stephen Fry’s programme exploring manic depression, as part of the BBC’s In the Mind series.

In Terry’s piece, published by Spectrum Therapy, (http://www.spectrumtherapy.co.uk/images/resources/ALL_IN_THE_BRAIN_COMP_DOC.pdf), Bentall asks Fry to portray the conditions he is so keen to demystify and destigmatise – bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – in a way that does not, as much current thinking seems to do, decontextualize the disorders. Are they, as Fry maintains, based on ‘bad luck’ or ‘genetics’, striking the especially vulnerable and becoming a lifelong condition only treatable by medication or are there more complex conditions at work?

As Terry Cooper stresses, “any degree of self- influence is empowering and generates hope” and “trying to fix people -remove symptoms- rather than provide time for them….. creates a premature closure of underlying problems.”.

Eleanor Longdon’s moving TED Talk ‘Voices in my head’ (http://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head?language=en) is as chilling as it is eloquent and moving. Her description of the way in which the medicalisation of her mental health issues created a downward spiral from which she was lucky to escape offers an alternative to the conventional twenty-first century psychiatric response and asks the question in the title, focusing not on what others have said is wrong with the client, but on how the client really feels.

Eleanor Longden TED

Eleanor Longden

It takes in issues such as nurture versus nature.  Do we look at a client’s response as a consequence of the pre-wiring of their genetic make-up?  Or do we examine it as a result of external factors after conception? This includes environmental factors, life experience and the effect of learned responses.

Jane Gotto shares Bentall’s concerns that we should not be quick to assume that the hearing of voices is a dangerous medical condition only treatable by strong anti-psychotic drugs that, in their medical effects, mask the real problem rather than treat it.

‘I think it is important that, as professionals, we shift from looking at symptom based treatment to finding out about the person’s experience;  who they are, what their story is, and how did they get to the place they are in?’

Jane Gotto works with a formative perspective, developing an understanding of what the person wants for themselves, and addressing what would make them feel better in their life.

There is evidence that a genetic component to mental ill-health is likely, but it is not easily identifiable and can blur the distinction between recognised conditions, such as bipolar, schizophrenia, ADHD and, as Bentall highlights, even Autism.  He points out that many psychiatric patients are deeply dissatisfied with what medicine alone can do for them. Why, when other conditions such as cancer, are seeing improving survival rates, is recovery in those with mental illness just as elusive as it was fifty years ago?

Jane Gotto says “The fact that Eleanor was dealing with voices in her head was the symptom, and what was healing was the experience of being listened to by others. But fundamentally and importantly she learnt to listen to herself. That’s a hopeful outcome.”

We would love to hear your views on this complex subject.

Teenage time-bomb: Why are our teens struggling with their mental health?

The Terrace head in handsIt has always been tough to be a teenager – it is a rite of passage; a period when wanting to be treated as an adult combines with the vulnerabilities of childhood to make an often confusing mix of emotions. But are 21st century pressures increasing the risks of long-term health issues?

News today suggests that a Department of Education survey of pupils  aged 14 and 15 has found that more than one in three of the teenage girls report symptoms of anxiety and depression. This equates to a rise of 10% over the past ten years and as such is clearly a major concern for parents, educators and society as a whole.

Girls reported  considerably higher levels of psychological distress than the boys – 37% having three or more symptoms compared to just 15%, and in boys the percentage has fallen since 2005.

The Daily Telegraph quotes Nick Harrop, of charity YoungMinds, who believes it has much to do with the way in which 21st century life impacts on young women:

“Teenage girls today face a huge range of pressures. Stress at school, body image worries, early sexualisation, bullying on and offline and uncertainty about the future after school are all piling on the stress,” he tells me. “Social media also puts pressure on girls to live their lives in the public domain, to present a personal ‘brand’ from a young age, and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares.”

Certainly, the rise of Instagram, Snapchat and the other image based social media channels has created more ways to challenge a girl’s image of herself compared to her peers, and sadly, to the photoshopped images of models and celebrites. Girls report issues with eating, with concentration and with anxiety, as they are constantly made aware of the importance of appearance in the media. Too little emphasis seems to be put on successful career women, perhaps, rather than those who model or walk the red carpet.

But others, such as former mental health tsar  Natasha Devon  think it is more to do with the kind of lives young people have to lead now, as parents work longer hours and success in life appears driven by higher salaries and working harder than ever to buy  those things, such as a home, that previous generations took for granted. In addition, all those subjects that supported good mental health are squeezed in the recent changes to the curriculum – music, art, sports and drama often provided a balance to the more academic subjects in which a young person felt more pressurised. Interestingly, those from a more affluent background were more likely to feel worried about achieving less than their parents hoped for them.

But Natasha Devon thinks the only difference between the sexes is how they deal with their mental health problems. She is quoted as saying:

“At an adult level, women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which makes them look like primarily female issues. But men are more likely to seek help for substance abuse and are far more likely to take their own lives. It suggests to me women seek help for anxiety and depression but men self-medicate and tend to wait before they reach crisis point.”

This tends to suggest that where girls might be more ready to seek help, in the longer term it is boys who need greater support.

So what can be done? Here at The Terrace we have a number of therapists skilled in working with children and young adults, and we know how complex an issue this is. A good place to start would be in schools, where changes in behaviour can be noticed early and elements put in place during the school day to support self-confidence and self-esteem.

What do you think would be a good first step?  We would love to hear your views on what could be a proverbial ‘time bomb’, as a generation struggles to come to terms with the every-increasing and pressurised pace of 21st century life.

Depression Awareness Week -keep the campaigns going

whatyoudontsee-768x768Darker than grief, an implosion of the self, a sheet of ice: no matter how you describe it, this is a terrifying state to be trapped in Tim Lott, The Guardian Tuesday 19th April 2016.

This week is Depression Awareness Week. Perhaps, when there are so many ‘awareness’ days, weeks and now months, we start to take less notice of individual campaigns? ‘Compassion fatigue’ is described by some as a willingness to be supportive, but with so many causes to support it becomes more difficult. It is hard to focus on one campaign without feeling guilty about all the others you cannot give your time, and often money, to.

It is vital that we resist that fatigue when it comes to our mental health, however. For many years, the stigma attached to depression, anxiety and other mental health issues was such that no-one felt able to discuss their issues openly. There is still a long way to go before that stigma has entirely disappeared, but here at the Terrace we are definitely noticing that many more people feel able to open up and take steps to address their, often lifelong, needs. From childhood trauma, to PTSD and relationship problems and across the whole mental health spectrum there is an increased willingness to seek help.

Our mental health impacts directly on our physical health, so an holistic, whole body approach to some physical illnesses can work wonders; yet the NHS struggles to bring together services that could, in the end, save money. It seems a vicious circle.

Depression is particularly damaging because it is largely invisible. Often people mask their symptoms, at great cost. It can be exhausting to hide your true feelings. This is why campaigns such as the #whatyoudontsee social media campaign run by the fabulous Blurt Foundation this week are so important. Depression can literally hit anyone, at any time. Young or old, regardless of gender and personal life – the number of sports stars, television celebrities and film stars opening up prove that even wealth and fame are not protective factors.

So seek help. Join in the online campaigns. Approach your GP, or contact us here at The Terrace (we have great counsellors and psychotherapists, as well as mindfulness and complementary therapists), and most importantly talk about the issues you are experiencing.

In a fast-paced consumer-driven society we are all searching for meaning in a life we know in our heart to be finite.

 

 

Action for Happiness – will it work? We have to try….

images (3)Two weeks ago we heard that the Dalai Lama has given his support to the Exploring What Matters course established by the Action for Happiness project, started in 2010  by Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon. He is  AfH’s official Patron, endorsing its key beliefs:

1. We can each affect our happiness and the happiness of those around us
2. We need to prioritise the things that cause happiness
3. Helping others is essential for a happier society

The project was proud to publicise a quote given by the Dalai Lama to the BBC:

‘I wholeheartedly support the Exploring What Matters course and hope that many thousands will benefit from it and take action to create a happier world’ ~ Dalai Lama

Now Action for Happiness wants to get the course into hundreds of communities and is running a crowdfunding campaign to back it up – it isn’t a profit making organisation so needs support (and volunteers) to get it off the ground.

It is easy to be cynical about something that seems to offer what appears to be a simple solution to the many problems in our society. Of course we affect the happiness of those around us, and it is never a bad thing to help others. But it is easy to forget those life enhancing things in a world that is so fast paced and driven towards commercial and personal success. We don’t always put the happiness of ourselves or others first.

Action for Happiness has what it calls a ‘Great Dream’ – offering 10 keys to happiness.

ImageGen

No one can argue with any of those terms as a means of finding life easier to cope with and more meaningful. It is a ‘great dream’, but small steps can be taken every day to achieve greater happiness, and we have to at least applaud the attempt to get us all to take stock of what is important to us.

Amongst other things, Action for Happiness suggests we take more notice of the world around us, connect with people and keep learning new things. It supports a mindful approach to life and the course it wants to take out into the world asks big questions, such as  What really matters in life? What actually makes us happy? and How should we treat others?

We were relieved to see that the project doesn’t expect those experiencing difficult times, depression or anxiety, to ‘pick themselves up’ and move on by themselves. It acknowledges that we all need help at some time and we need to ask for it when we are ‘stuck’ and can’t find a way through. In fact, there is a whole page on their website devoted to countering arguments put forward by sceptics who feel the whole idea is too simplistic and subjective.

So do take a look at the Action for Happiness website and let us know what you think. Do you have any concerns? We would love to know what you think.

Our view is that surely we have to try? The world seems to be going to the proverbial hell in a handcart at the moment, with our global humanity being lost in political maneuvering and brutal conflict. We think we know how to be happy, but it can’t hurt to remind ourselves every so often, can it?

Guest post: Words are tools of healing by Vivienne Tuffnell

41Z6WYh-WXL._UY250_Our thanks today to our guest blogger, writer and poet Vivienne Tuffnell, author of a number of wonderful novels, including Strangers and Pilgrims, The Bet and one of our favourites, Away With the Fairies, all dealing with the human condition in a mystical and spiritual way. Her short story collections are full of mystery, with supernatural elements and a deep questioning of what it means to be human. She has written and spoken of her own struggles with depression and has just published a fabulous selection of her prose pieces from her popular blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. These essays challenge, question and nourish the spirit, offering support to others in mental and emotional distress. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Just words

No one listens to me.
But then I have nothing to say
I have not said a thousand times before.
I’m dying for someone to hear
My silent screams
And offer help.
I’m searching for the words:
The right words
The magic words.
They’re just words;
They hold no power
To save or damn me.
Just words: no more.

I wrote this poem about ten years ago and I would say now: I was wrong. I wrote that poem before I discovered quite how powerful a tool the written word can be for self-healing. The process of reading and the process of writing have effects that I believe are much greater than we’re prepared to imagine.

I began writing almost before I could read; I used to sneak in to use my father’s typewriter, trying to write down my stories, believing that somehow the hitting of the keys would magically reveal the words. And words were magic of the finest kind, because they could transport you from a dull bedroom on a rainy November day when it’s too cold and wet to go out and play, to, well, anywhere in the entire universe. From being read to as a tiny tot, to trips to the local library twice daily during the long summer holidays, I devoured books. I started trying to create them too, from a very early age; I wrote my first novel when I was ten. I read English and Latin at university, which was so sobering I didn’t read much at all in the first year after graduating and it was another two years after that before I tried writing fiction again.

The other constant in all those years was depression. I experienced my first brush with it when I was about six. You might extrapolate that so much reading and so much writing were the cause of the depression, but it was more that they were the result of it. I read and I wrote to escape the yawning, gaping maw of the void that is depression. The times I experienced the most severe bouts of depression were ones where I could not (for whatever reason) read or write.

Recent advances in science have allowed us a sneaky peek into the human brain without slicing off the top of the skull; this means it’s now possible to have some clue about how our brains react to certain experiences. Most curious are fairly recent studies that involved MRI machines, volunteers, and sequences of words and pictures or sometimes other factors. These include  The emotion potential of words and passages in reading Harry Potter – An fMRI study and
Love, Pain, Money, Cocaine Light Up Same Area of Brain.

What is clear is that there are things going on in the brain that are beyond what we had previously thought. It gives great scope for pain relief and other beneficial results.

In the original version of the film Total Recall, memories are planted in a person’s brain to give them the illusion they have had a wonderful holiday. It’s a matter of an hour or two to create weeks’ worth of memories and the associated benefits on a person’s well-being that a great holiday would bring but without the need to travel or take time off. That’s what a good book can do, too.

As a reader, I crave books that can bring me relief from the inner darkness, but not by providing me with unremitting sweetness and light. There is something obviously false and unsatisfying about books that contain no conflict, no peril, no risk, because life isn’t like that. Some demand to be able to buy books with a Happy Every After guarantee (generally romance) but I doubt that this is a wise choice. Knowing beforehand a book will have a happy ending robs the reader of the experience of literary catharsis, of suffering with the main characters without being certain of relief. It’s the experience that brings the changes in the emotional state, not the outcome.

As a writer, I use my writing to explore how I feel and think, and the expression of my inner life in stories is one way I cope with my own sometimes fragile mental and emotional state. Yet there is both catharsis and a kind of creative synthesis that goes on, largely unconsciously, in the creation of a novel. When I write, quite often I don’t know how the book will end until it comes to me during the process of actually writing it. I often don’t know what the main themes of a book are until it is complete, and sometimes not even then. The feedback from readers sometimes brings me insights into what the book is about that I had no conscious clue about. One of the things I have found most rewarding as an author is that readers have found the books have affected them in profound and positive ways. It could be said that the books have been agents of healing and of comfort. It’s something that makes the process so worthwhile, doubly so, for the writing of a book is a process of catharsis and of inner healing for me; to know that it has this effect on readers enhances my own experience

613N30NIieL._UX250_Thanks once again to Vivienne. Do check out the links to her work and let us know how you feel about the ability of words to comfort and heal…

Vivienne’s Amazon page

Zen and the Art of Tightrope walking

Well-being for students – University isn’t all party, party, party…

images (6)We have recently reposted our piece about ‘empty-nesting’ and the anxiety of parents as their children head off to University and college for the first time. This time of year can be tough for the whole family, and it is important for everyone to acknowledge the emotional and physical stress involved in this new phase of family life.

So – today we focus on those young people taking what might be their first steps to independence. Along with the natural excitement of organising accommodation, buying any equipment and books necessary and packing carefully, there is also a natural level of anxiety – it is the body’s natural reaction to the anticipation of the unknown.Will I like my course? Will I make friends? Will I have enough money? It may not feel like it but everyone has these concerns, even the most confident prospective student. It is a time when you need to take your mate’s bravado with a pinch of salt – inside they will have their own worries, guaranteed.

But sometimes anxiety can become overwhelming. You may find you have work to do before you even start your course. There will be the expectations of parents and teachers and of course, the importance of your course to your future hopes and ambitions. This is the time to notice your body, and any physical symptoms that you may experience that can be attributed to this anxiety. You may not even see them coming, as they gradually creep up on you.

  • You may be less able to sleep…
  • You may lose your appetite…
  • You may feel tired and drained…
  • You could be irritable and prone to mood swings…

Sometimes these symptoms can actually affect your life on a day-to-day basis. Panic attacks, when you feel you can’t breathe, that your heart is pounding, that you will be sick and that you need to run, or are rooted to the spot  can stop you doing those things you would normally enjoy for fear of breaking down in front of friends, or being unable to cope in stressful situations.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself – moving home for anyone is difficult and for you it will mean new town, new people, and new responsibilities. If you find anxiety levels rising try to remember that they won’t last forever – as you settle in to your new life the initial worries will fade to the background. Day-to-day worries will come and go, that is life. But if you can maintain some control over your life – especially when it comes to things like money, alcohol, getting exercise and eating healthily – you will find things easier to cope with.

Secondly, remember to talk about how you are feeling. This isn’t always easy, but if you can open up you will find you are not alone and hiding your feelings can simply store up more trouble for later. There is always support available at University or college. Student Support, the local GP, your lecturers and tutors…they are all trained to watch out for signs that their students are experiencing difficulties. And of course your parents and family at home need to know how you really feel. Don’t be afraid to approach someone. The longer you leave it the more cut off and hopeless you might feel.

images (7)To find out more about anxiety, stress and depression see the NHS website HERE. If you are reluctant to take that first step, you can approach someone anonymously – there is help at the end of a telephone. Call Samaritans, or Mind for example. Non-judgemental, they will listen and support you. Alternatively there is a great service that has been set up specially to support students. It is called Nightline and if your University or college is linked up there will be someone to help you. See their website at http://nightline.ac.uk/ . They have a useful list of other contacts HERE.

Remember – this is an exciting time, one that can be the very best time of your life. But you need to take care of yourself and always be certain that there is someone who can help you if you are struggling.

Also, see The Terrace website for details of the skilled therapists who work with us to support young people and their families.

How autumn can be seriously good for your health…

Early_autumn_morning,_Somerset_levels_(2931445670)

Somerset Levels in autumn

We came a little late to this research, but as meteorological  autumn begins, and the nights start drawing in, we thought it was a good time to cast off any gloom at the imminent end of the British summer and highlight how wonderful autumn is, and how good it can be for your health.

In 2014 The National Trust undertook some research that showed how a walk in the colours of autumn can lift the mood, even as the health giving properties of the light fade.

The National Trust found that more than eight out of 10 (84%) people felt that bright autumn walks made them feel happier, healthier and calmer. About 70% of those surveyed felt a lowering of their mood as the days shorten but almost 50% admitted that they did not get out in the fresh air often enough

It is not just a matter of filling your lungs, however. Colour psychologist Angela Wright is quoted as saying:

“Natural colour schemes can inspire us and lift our spirits. Autumn, combined with the rich light at this time of year, is a flamboyant blaze of intense colours with each affecting us in a different way……Fresh air, exercise and the sense of getting away from it all play a positive role in improving our well-being. However it’s the colours that we experience which are the most powerful tonic to affecting our mood.”

Autumn is a time for reflection and taking stock and for many seems melancholy, heralding endings. Children dread the end of summer holidays and head back to a new school year and parents have to get used to packing young adults off to University. But it is also a time of great bounty as many enjoy a harvest festival and the hedgerows fill with nuts and berries, stored by wildlife to see them over the coming winter.

GreatWoodTopTen

Great Wood

The Trust drew  up  a list of some of the best places to experience the full range of autumn colours- those delicious reds and oranges through to exotic purples and deep evergreens. None of the suggestions, from Snowdonia to Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire are close to Somerset, so we were curious to know whether there is a favourite local walk you like to take as the leaves turn. We are, after all, in a county with a wide variety of landscapes. One of our favourites is the Red Walk Trail in the Great Wood at Ramscombe in the Quantock Hills, where ancient oak jostle with spruce and fir and you can, if you are lucky, spot the occasional deer….

So on those beautiful, misty mornings over the Somerset Levels or on a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon, where do you head to kick over the traces and breathe in that distinctive musty autumn smell?