Tuesday Tools Day: Depression

Tools Against Depression: Gratitude

In a world of cheesy motivational posters and cheery-faced self-help gurus, the word ‘gratitude’ can be overused. At times it can be pushed as something of a panacea to the harsh realities of modern life. Suggesting it as a means to help overcome depression can therefore seem, well, pretty oblivious and tactless; especially if that’s how you’re framing it.

But hear me out.

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Tools Against Clutter

Tools Against Clutter: Categories

Clutter. It can build up so quickly. Whether you’re naturally neat and averse to clutter, or have a more tolerant and laid-back approach to your surroundings, most people have a limit. A point at which too much ‘stuff’ becomes a problem.

There are myriad ways to go about tackling this – and everyone is different. One thing I think is incredibly important is finding your own most comfortable way of decluttering, which is why I don’t like to be too prescriptive. A common theme, however, is categories – and for good reason.

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Therapy: The great cultural divide

I’ve always known that pursuing a career in a therapeutic profession posed unique challenges. At slow times I might explain away the lull in enquiries by putting it down to cultural attitudes: “Therapy and coaching are viewed differently in Britain; it’s much more common and accepted to seek help in the US“. Not an entirely untrue statement, if rather defeatist and limiting (I try to catch my own limiting beliefs where I can).

But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. It’s not merely a stiff-upper-lip attitude and access to mental health services at no extra cost through the NHS; Britain and America mean different things when we talk about ‘therapy’ and ‘coaching’, and I think it’s vital to understand what that cultural difference means in real terms.

While there may be a reluctance to ask for help, and a resistance to paying privately for something that is (ideally) accessible for free, the fact is that what people see therapy portrayed as in film and TV from the US is not what they get if they seek a therapist in the UK. This can present a problem when it comes to expectations vs reality.

Of course, no fictional representation of therapy is going to be 100% accurate – things are altered or exaggerated for dramatic or comedic effect. We do need to open our eyes to the huge differences in approach, and how it affects perception and demand.

I recently read this article; while admittedly not the most current take (it’s from 2012), some of the points in it expose the gulf in practices between what the UK and US both call ‘psychotherapy’:

Many patients need an aggressive therapist who prods them to face what they find uncomfortable: change. They need a therapist’s opinion, advice and structured action plans.

This is reiterated and broadened on later:

In graduate school, my classmates and I were taught to serve as guides, whose job it is to help patients reach their own conclusions. This may work, but it can take a long time. I don’t think patients want to take years to feel better. They want to do it in weeks or months.

Despite the litigious culture in the US (far more so than in the UK), there is a willingness – even an expectation – for therapists to play a more active, advice-giving role. Perhaps the prevalence of therapists building thriving careers out of their work is less to do with cultural attitudes and more to do with perceived value for money; clients feel they are getting something more than just time and a listening ear.

With that said, I don’t devalue what counsellors and psychotherapists do here in Britain. I have both seen and experienced firsthand the difference that a non-directive, actively listening counsellor can make in peoples’ lives. There are arguably pros and cons to more and less directive forms of therapy.

The trouble is that there isn’t generally room for that here. In contrast to the article above, the BACP – the largest governing body of counselling and psychotherapy in the UK – clarifies thatCounselling is not about giving advice or opinions, nor is it a friendly chat with a friend. The therapist helps the client to understand themselves better and find their own solutions to resolve or cope with their situation“.

Bit of a big difference there. The efforts that have been made over the past few decades to standardise counselling and psychotherapy have undoubtedly achieved some great things. I maintain that the requirement to have regular supervision was one of the best outcomes of the process – I’d never want to practice without that monthly resource, and I don’t envy therapists overseas who don’t necessarily have that in place. The question, however, is whether the increasing standardisation of therapy in the UK – ostensibly to bring it in line with the medical professions it frequently works within and alongside – actually pulls it further away from what clients want, expect, or find approachable.

Long-term therapy is much more common in the US. It’s frequently used as a prevention, rather than a cure; a space to share your thoughts with a trusted, friendly face, get another person’s take on what’s going on for you, and challenge you to keep growing and looking after yourself. Sessions may be less frequent, acting as more of a ‘check-in’ than intensive work. Here in the UK, if you’re seeing a therapist long-term it is generally because there are lots of complex things to work through that short-term counselling hasn’t been able to untangle. The idea of seeing a counsellor just because it’s probably a good idea to talk about your life and mental health on a regular basis seems ludicrous to many people.

Just talking to others and getting their views, the cultural difference seems to boil down to this: in America, counselors – to respect the US spelling 😉 – are seen as mentors and advocates, with the capacity to work with mental health issues as part of a broader nurturing relationship that may include advice-giving. In the UK, counsellors are perceived as medical practitioners; an expert in emotional issues, who you may see if you reach breaking-point and can no longer cope. Many people don’t know the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist, despite psychiatry requiring a medical doctorate and having an entirely different perspective and approach to mental health. Perhaps, amidst all the preconceptions and misconceptions, it’s unsurprising that so many clients are somewhat perplexed when they are told that they will not be given advice as part of the process.

The therapeutic profession is still very much in flux; requirements and expectations are ever more stringent, while many definitions remain debatable and ambiguous. Ultimately, though, anyone who considers themselves a talking therapist of any kind has to ask themselves a few probing questions: How do I want to be perceived? How am I perceived? What do I want to give to my clients – and what do they want and need me to give?

One further question, for good measure: why is it that in a country where counsellors are less likely to face lawsuits for professional services they refuse to give advice, while in a culture that carries an incredibly high risk of litigation over the slightest professional mis-step therapists seemingly have a greater willingness to be more directive?

Chaos into order

Why I always encourage some ‘clutter counselling’ before decluttering

People are often surprised when, after requesting some decluttering work, I encourage a few one-to-one sessions of ‘clutter counselling’ before even starting with the physical clutter. It’s not conventional; there are plenty of fantastic professional organisers who prefer to dive right into the physical job. I do believe, however, that in the long run, it’s well worth those few extra hours of exploration and reflection together.

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Tuesday Tools Day: Depression

Tools Against Depression: ‘Me time’

Your reaction to the words ‘me time’ can say a lot about you. Extroverts tend to recoil from it, naturally, while introverts get excited by the very idea of it. Well, normally. Depression is a game-changer, though and even the most resolute introvert can struggle with this crucial element of self-care.

Somewhere down the line ‘me time’, just taking some time to yourself to rest and recharge, became inextricably linked with selfishness in the eyes of society. It’s not enough that you go to work every day, wanting to come home, curl up on the sofa and binge-watch your latest favourite show is seen by some as not having your priorities straight.

Whoever decided that was the case needs a high-five. In the face. Repeatedly.

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Existential Crisis

My existential crisis… and why I needed one.

“This isn’t living”, I thought. “I’m just looking through windows into other peoples’ lives instead of living my own”.

It wasn’t the first time I’d questioned my path in life. I doubt it’ll be my last – the further you pursue a course in life the more obstacles you are bound to encounter.

I had just written my notes up after another client session. It hadn’t been a bad session – quite the opposite, in fact. Whether counselling or coaching, I love celebrating the successes of clients and often can’t help being caught up in the feeling of excitement at what someone has achieved – especially when we’ve been working together for a while and experienced the lows as well as the highs. It’s why I love what I do, and what makes it worthwhile.

In this case, though, it brought sadness and introspection, too. Is this it? Do I even have a life of my own?

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Tools Against Procrastination

Tools Against Procrastination: The Pomodoro technique

I’ve been putting this topic off for a long time! [canned laugh track]

Today we address procrastination, which manages to be both a symptom of AND cause of many people not being where they want in life.

Procrastination can be a surprisingly valuable tool if you can understand it. Many people I meet don’t have a clear idea of what they want out of life or what areas they naturally excel at; looking at what you procrastinate on can help narrow down what you don’t enjoy doing. Often it’s the mundane tasks that get pushed to the bottom of the list (I’m as guilty of this as anyone else). There are some things in life that can’t be avoided, but no-one is expected to enjoy everything. That’s just not human.

So the first step to approaching procrastination is cutting yourself a little slack!

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Rewriting history: Why you won’t remember this post accurately, and why that’s a good thing.

The word ‘memory’ has many connotations; depending on your life experience, you may have a positive feeling or a negative one. Most of us have both good and bad memories, and they are the moments that bind our life experience together, formulating it into a chronological story that makes sense to us. Memory is also sometimes a source of anxiety; in an increasingly technological society, we rely more on electronics to remember things for us which some believe is reducing our memory span. Once we hit a certain age we can become hyper-aware of the slightest memory lapse, triggering fears of dementia even if objectively speaking our memory isn’t that much worse than it’s ever been – ironically, a distortion of memory in its own right.

Memory takes on a whole new dimension in the therapy room. Practitioners of all different therapies are incredibly guarded about false memory syndrome, and with good reason; in the 90s, there was a spate of lawsuits over false memories being implanted in patients and clients. Cases still come up from time to time, but the more rigorous guidelines around the dangers of false memories have helped stem the flow.

But what if I told you that you already have false memories?

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Tuesday Tools Day Anxiety Header 2

Tools Against Anxiety: Fact-checking

Anxiety is a lot of things: oppressive, relentless, distressing… But ‘logical’ wouldn’t make the list.

I previously explored some of the ‘why’ behind anxiety – how as a biological reaction it is just doing its job, but can be oversensitive to some of the exaggerated or intangible threats in modern society.

Today we focus on confronting anxiety with logic, which if practised can be like kryptonite to it.

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