Not Only Is Big Brother Watching, But He Is Whispering In Your Ear.

So, we’re nearing the end of 2019 and finishing it off with a bang, here in the UK we will have a General Election. This election isn’t about Brexit, despite what the media would like us to think, this is about our future, our children’s future and the future of public services such as the NHS and Education. These issues are hotly contested, and because of this, the coming election is a storm of emotions, sublimation, ‘fake news’ (thanks to Donald for that one) and mud-slinging from all corners. Your average election then, right?

The difficulty is that the media has so much power now; whatever is presented in the press via, video or audio, is immediately deemed the truth. We have all heard about how the Conservatives changed one of their CCHQ Twitter accounts during the recent Politically televised debates, calling itself ‘Fact Checking’ account, falsely debunking statements of truth. I am reasonably confident that if I were to behave in the same way, and someone made a complaint, I would no longer be able to practice!

This phenomenon, of hearing a ‘fact’ often enough that we start to believe that it is true, is called the “Illusory Truth Effect”. This phenomenon affects people in different ways, irrespective of your cognitive profile– how ‘smart’ you think you are, score, or come across. The more we hear a piece of information, the more we believe it; this is why precisely what we hear/see/read in the media is so important, if it is repeated often enough, we believe it. The response by Dominic Raab, the Conservative Party Foreign Secretary, on the BBC Breakfast TV Show was “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”. We know this is wrong, though, don’t we? How many of you get your news from Social Media now? That quick thumb scroll through Twitter while you’re picking the kids up from school, or on the way to your next meeting, or while having a cup of coffee- we all do it, and we all pick up information from it, to say that we don’t is deflective and obtuse.

I wonder if you have heard of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal? A story broke in December 2015 by a journalist called Harry Davies for The Guardian. The story gave detailed information of how the Cambridge Analytica company gained knowledge from (what, at the time, was believed to be) over 50 million Facebook US profiles, without their consent. Cambridge then used this data to enable them to advertise politically and to build a software program that has the power to influence and predict voting choices. All without Voter’s knowledge. The story finally broke in March 2018 when an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, who had been an anonymous source for an article in 2017 in The Observer by Carole Cadwalladr, headlined “The Great British Brexit Robbery”, went public.

So, did you know about this? Follow the links to learn more about the story as I don’t have time or space to write up here. You may ask why is this relevant to me? Well, the app created was called “This is your digital life” and gained consent (permission) from a couple of hundred thousand Facebook users to collect the answers to the data questions asked. All well and good, right? Yes, but what Facebook didn’t inform their users was that they also used the data and profiles for their Facebook friends in their online social circles. 87 MILLION of these profiles used without the owner’s consent. This meant that the data wasn’t just limited to users in the US, but all over the world, too. At this point, our story becomes more pertinent and of more interest to those of us in the UK.

Cambridge Analytica had links to another company, AggregateIQ (AIQ), who played a pivotal part in the 2016 Brexit Vote Leave campaign. AIQ accounted for 40% of the campaign budget for the Vote Leave campaign. Can you see where I am heading here? All of this happened, without your knowledge and even may have influenced how you voted at the time.

Coming back to the illusory effect, had you accessed your Facebook in 2016, or even your Twitter in 2019, you would have seen the information that you would have deemed to be tru, By the sheer fact that you had read it, and perhaps understood it published elsewhere, once, twice, three times.. how many times before you even stop questioning the data, never mind the source? I know, I know, life is too busy, it’s not relevant to you… so many reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

When do we stop questioning and start following? This journal article explains how even when we know a ‘fact’ is untrue, we still need reinforcement of the truth to enable us to ensure that we do not automatically accept the original ‘fact’ as the truth. That sounds quite complex, however if, for example, you have been told, or learnt, that a Goldfish has a three-second memory, Now, you hold that ‘fact’ as the ‘truth’ because you have heard it or been told it many times before. However, the truth is that goldfish have a memory span of about three months.. the Great Wall of China is NOT visible from space, despite what we were told as children; nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three Wiseman (just Wisemen!) and although 41% of US adults believe we coexisted with Dinosaurs, we actually missed them by 64 million years; all great examples of how the Illusory effect works! So, to mediate for these ‘facts’ we hold as the truth, we need to reinforce the true facts for us to override the incorrect facts. Simples…

My point throughout all of this, is who’s truth do we believe? Where do we get our information from? This isn’t just about politics, this is about how you live your life. It is about your narrative. Are people on benefits, for example, all lazy or cheats? No, it’s what you’ve read and heard over and over again in the media. The truth is that we all have difficulties in life, and we would hope that when we need help, it will be there for us. That help will only be there, if we look at what we are being taught and told and challenge it. It is easy to let sleeping dogs lie and go along with the Illusory effect; however, at the end of the day, is it helping you? Have you made the right decisions? Are they your decisions and not the decisions that the media/politicians/parents/work colleagues/friends want us to have?

We can only affect real change if we are informed about the decisions we are making and the choices we take; can you say that you are informed? Are these your beliefs, or the ones you have grown up on? Whichever it is, vote with your heart and your conscience; the Illusory Effect can be challenged, but only if you are open to it! As a strong proponent for Social Change, and an advocate for justice and equality, and maybe perhaps a little bit of the researcher in me, I am voting with my rational mind and with the policies in mind. I am voting for what is going to make my family, my children, my friends and my communities future lives better!

If you’re interested in finding out what my stance is, from a Counselling Psychologist in Training point of view, follows this link to a great organisation called ‘Psychologists for Change’. This organisation is a group of likeminded psychologists, psychology graduates, academics, applied psychologists and more who believe in applying psychology to policy and political action; trying to make all our lives better.


References:

Something is a miss..

Hi Everyone! I hope 2019 is faring well for you all! I have been remiss in my job of late- I have not updated my blog since the New Year. There has been a very good reason for this; last year, I had a loss in my family that was incredibly profound. It wasn’t my first loss, but it was my first loss as an ‘adult’, and it did hit me hard. Since then, as anyone who has experienced loss, I have been trying to figure things out and make sense of my, now changed, world. That’s not been an easy thing for me to do.

My first experience of loss was as a 7-year-old at school, my favourite teacher died of an asthma attack. I remember being so sad, but not understanding how something as simple as an asthma attack could kill someone. Being a young child, I quickly got over that loss and carried on with my life, back in my safe cocoon of knowledge that people don’t really die, unless for a ‘special’ reason. I carried on quite well for a few years and then experienced my first loss of someone who was personally important to me, as a young teenager- my Grandmother died (being that I am half Polish, she was my Babcia) and my whole world was shaken. Everything I thought I knew had been capsized.

A few years after, I lost my Grandad (Dziadek) and I think I was much better equipped to deal with that loss, as I had already experienced a loss that felt so huge, it would crush me. I can now see, with my Psychological training, that what I was experiencing was perfectly healthy! Had I not responded in the way I did, perhaps then there would have been something ‘wrong’, but we dealt with it as a family and we carried on. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve or process your loss. Psychologists and Psychiatrists have spent a lot of time trying to work out how our grieving processes work- Swiss-American Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was frustrated by the lack of education that medical schools gave, in terms of the response to death and dying, so she started a series of interviews with patients, conducting her own research into the work that was already available, with regards death and dying.

1969 came and Kübler-Ross published her book, ‘On Death and Dying’  which published her idea that we go through stages of grieving, which she called the ‘Stages of the Grief Cycle’. Kübler-Ross initially assumed the stages to be linear, that is that one follows another, follows another, in order. However, later in life, she realised that the process was not linear, and that as individuals, we go through the process in differing stages, going back and forth as our own personal grief is processed. This kind of makes sense to me- I mean, we are all fundamentally human, so it would be sensible if we all reacted within some boundaries of a cycle, wouldn’t it? Or does that not account for our individual differences?

Kübler-Ross’ model does have criticism levied towards it, however. There are many reasons why the model might not be applicable; life is very different since KKübler-Ross created the model There is no definitive evidence that we actually pass through these stages; I use the model with clients to show that we all experience different reactions to loss, but that all of these reactions are part of a natural process. George Bonanno, a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University in America has reviewed a number of peer-reviewed studies and journals and has come to the conclusion that we adapt and cope with trauma and loss through Psychological Resilience and some resilient people show no grief at all- but this doesnt mean they haven’t experienced the loss profoundly- this brings to mind an article I read about hypersensitivity, which would make an excellent blog post in the future. (Follow the links to read more about Psychological Resilience- it really is interesting!)

Whatever the theory behind grief and loss, we all experience it in our own way. For me, I felt the need to slow down my pace of work and to focus on the present more deeply. By doing this, it helped me to appreciate the here and now, rather than the what is going to happen in two weeks time, or the rumination on the past! Mindfulness, as always, has been a huge support for me. I guess this is my own personal resilience kicking in, acknowledging that there has been change in my life, and for me, change needs to be adapted to and worked with. Some changes happen quicker than others, I guess, and there are no rules as to how your own personal psychological resilience will kick in and work for you.


  1. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Dying-Elisabeth-Kübler-Ross/dp/0415463998
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kübler-Ross_model
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bonanno
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_resilience

Making Time for a Happy New Year.

Hello to all my followers and clients, past, present and future.

I hope you have all had a peaceful and relaxing holiday- I was so busy on the run-up to the ‘big day’, I ran out of time to write a blog post! Now, I know I am not the only person in the world to run out of time, despite how well I may plan! There is always some eventuality that presents itself, causing the best-laid plans to come a cropper!

With that said, we have to remember that there really is only a small amount we can actually fit into our everyday lives, yet we push ourselves for more. It’s human nature, we are striving to achieve what Maslow called ‘Self Actualisation’ within his Hierarchy of Needs Model, the idea that we reach self-fulfilment and achieving our potential in life. No pressure then, right?

I guess this is very fitting for the time of year- we are now moving into 2019, a new year, with new promises of achievement and potential to be filled. Make of it what you will, but remember, your happiness is paramount. We are only on this Earth for a short time, being happy and fulfilled, whatever that looks like to you, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

So, I guess it is left for me to wish you all a lovely evening tonight- enjoy the last day of 2018 or celebrate leaving the year behind! Whichever, I wish you all the very best for good health, peace and kindness in the New Year. Happy 2019, I shall see you on the other side 🙂

GI Conference, Day Two.

Day Two of the conference arrived and, unfortunately, I missed the keynote as I overslept (blame the comfy hotel bed, not me- honest!) but I did make it in time for one of the most interesting, culturally speaking, of the panels for me. Day Two was billed as the Youth Day, and so I was unsure of how much would be beneficial to me, however, as with everything in life, we can always learn something new, and Day Two was hugely stimulating in a way I had not expected!

Creating Trans Visibility Online’ was really interesting and was hosted by artists who were profound and challenged gender/queer stereotypes, making art and film that is inclusive in many ways.

CampbellX was the first presenter and they/he brought to life their experience of queer/trans media, in particular, the lack of a trans/queer narrative in ‘modern’ movie making. Campbell (and many others!) are working incredibly hard to redress this imbalance. I have to admit, I had never seen Campbell’s work prior to the conference, but I am slowly going through it (so little time in real life to achieve everything I want- I know you all feel the same, too!) and loving the work.

What Campbell is doing is bringing to life what it means to be a trans/queer creator and how this affects us all in terms of visibility, community and normalising it within our lives. Heck, what actually isnormal? Normal for me is everything from one end of a spectrum to the other end, but creators like Campbell are helping us to navigate the spectrum sensitively, accurately and in the most normalising way possible. I would highly recommend viewing any of Campbell’s work- Desire, Visibility and Studlife movie and others.

*Please do note, that I cannot possibly give the panellists, Campbell in particular, enough time without writing whole reviews and essays, and as we discussed in the first part of this review of the conference, this really is the TLDR; version J*

Fox Fisher and Owl(having been described as a nonbinary ‘power couple’) presented a video they had made ‘Josie and Poppy’ which depicts a young trans girl, in the present, discussing what it is like to be trans with an older trans lady and really shows the contrast and difference over time, in coming out. I really enjoyed listening to this panel- everyone was so informative. Fox and Owl are Trans campaigners, and (bless them!) have even had the misfortune to try to inform (and educate!) Piers Morgan, which is, let’s face it, an impossible task even for the calmest and most rational of people!

Fox and Owl work with media and film outlets, often for free, to help give advice about presenting trans/queer actors on television and film. Sadly, often their opinions and experiences are cast out as being ‘too out there’, which is a really sad response to the narrative of trans/queer people’s lives; how can you have a cis gender person tell you what your experience of being trans/queer is/should be. After all, how can you write and film a trans experience if you are cis, and coming from a heteronormative standpoint?

I hugely admire Fox, Owl and Campbell for the work that they have done, and continue to do; making media that shows the normalcy of trans/queer relationships and life, we’re taking greater strides towards inclusivity. The hard work and effort that goes into the work that Rights activist do is exhausting and, often thankless, but it is worthwhile and absolutely essential that it is done.

We were also shown a small amount of a campaign called ‘My Trans Body’ which shows trans people’s experience of what their bodies are like and how they feel in their skins. Again, surprisingly enough, we all have bodies- some are different shapes and sizes, some are different colours, some with tattoo’s, some scars, some people are fine with showing their bodies, others are a little more reserved. Guess what? That’s like everyone. A trans body is a normal body, so making this campaign is a huge step for helping anyone cis to understand that trans people are not defined by their bodies, but society wants our bodies to define us- we are all trying to be the person we want to be, psychologically and physically. I cannot imagine the strength, brevity and courage it takes to be in a campaign like this, and I am so blown away by the work involved. *I watched this again just now, and it is about the 10th time I have watched it and I stillhave goose bumps every time!)*

Our final panellist was Sascha Amel-Khier, the co-founder for the e-magazine Beyond the Binary. For many cis gendered people, nonbinary can be the most difficult gender expression to understand, the implication of which is that there is little attempt by mainstream media to represent non-binary at all. I can only think of a couple of nonbinary characters in tv or movies, and their representation isn’t positive. Sascha created Beyond the Binary in response to this void, to give representation for nonbinary people, accessible to all!

Sascha talked about the realities of starting up in media, and the difficulties in becoming visible on internet search engines when your demographic is not main-stream. In order to appear high enough in search results, contributors have to create drama in their narratives, as this is what has been defined as interesting by the search algorithms. It is not that creators of non-binary content want to drive their agenda with drama, but without it is difficult to reach their audience. In this way the media infrastructure is perverting the content in what should be independent spaces, creating a more adversarial environment than other wise exist, generating controversy in favour of understanding.

Social media can be quite brutal and the comments sections are an intense example – especially where there is controversy. Reading negative comments about yourself and who you are, every day, gets incredibly overwhelming. The panel shared their strategies for dealing with trolls and unkind comments, the general consensus was simply to block accounts and delete comments, but some choose to interact and use the opportunity to fight ignorance head on.

Sascha and the panel shared their experiences with, for example, the YouTube algorithm being transphobic and homophobic; considering some non-explicit content as offensive for being a trans subject, blocking content from users, based on gender – a protected characteristic.

It is well documented that trans teens often suffer from depression and isolation, many having little support from their family who are ill-equipped to support them with issues that they cannot relate to. If the media infrastructure had no barriers to strong positive trans role-models, many trans teens would be able to receive the support they need for figuring out their identities and how to live their own trans lives. The fact that currently, the infrastructure of social media squashes down the work of trans creators, when combined with the general lack of a platform means that fewer questioning trans people are getting access to the help they need and that cis people are being further enabled to ignore the trans community.

Sascha talked about their experience of being nonbinary, which was a hugely empowering talk to witness; Sascha described how being absolutely unapologetic about their gender, their experience is that this makes others acceptance of the ‘nonbinary’ descriptor more acceptable, and hence, normalises the gender debate quickly. Being able to be so unapologetic enables confidence and confidence makes everything so much easier, no matter who you are!

The final panel for me, was the panel that was run by Sascha, from the previous panel, which brought the discussion of trans spaces in our schools, something that is of particular interest to me. What made this panel even more relevant, was that trans kids from the age of 12-18 gave their experiences of being trans in schools today and two teachers who are trans and working in schools, both experiences being very different.

The personal stories brought to this conference were humbling and amazing; the strength involved to attend school, or work, when you’re going through such a big experience has to be exhausting. The panel asked one main question at the beginning of the session; “What one person made things better at school for you?”. I guess this can be extrapolated through gender and experience, but it is a very valid question. Who are you inspired by? Who are your allies? Who can you talk to or get support from? Who may be a challenge to talk to and therefore someone who makes things better becomes even more important. That one person can make a huge difference to your life.

There was a discussion around the difficulties of coming out at school; the fact that it is mentally draining, stressful and not straightforward for a lot of trans kids. Perhaps it may be easier to go with stealth, but the resulting anxiety and stress can be much more scary; the thought of being ‘caught’ or ‘not passing’.

The take home is that the support you have around you, and the allies you find along the way, will always be important in your life, however, you identify, but for trans kids, it can be almost an essential lifeline to cope with school, developing and growth.

I would highly recommend next years GI conference to anyone who wants to learn more; I came away from the conference feeling more informed and a sense of deeper understanding with regards to trans issues. Not to mention the people and discussion!

 

 

 

 

GI Conference, Day One

*This has taken a little longer than planned to write- apparently ‘life’ happened while I was at the conference, but we’re back on track now! Also, I did not anticipate actually having so much to write, so I am splitting this article in two- below you will find Day One of Conference, and I hope to have Day Two posted by the end of the weekend!*

I have had the absolute pleasure to have attended the Gendered Intelligence ‘TransForming Spaces’ 2018 Conference in London last weekend. What I have experienced and taken away from the weekend will stay with me for a long time and require an equal amount of time to fully digest; to see where my place may lay amongst this, but I am excited to be a proud part of it!

For those of you who may not know much about the trans community, this blog will give you a small insight. Gender is not binary; by this, I mean that it isn’t as simple as just being ‘male’ and ‘female’. We know that gender is a spectrum, and different people identity in different ways along this spectrum; non-binary, trans, queer- however you feel. Cis gender means a person whose birth-assigned gender matches their gender identity; for example, I was born female, and I identify as being female. Laverne Cox, for example, was assigned male at birth but identifies as a female.

This is what GI does, and how the work they do benefits the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole. As a Counselling Psychologist in training, I work with people from every area of life, so part of my responsibility, to my clients (and to myself!), is to update and increase my knowledge about the world around me. I love training and find it so beneficial to my practice, but my favourite type of training is to listen to other experiences- their stories, their narrative.

The conference was really interesting, in lots of different areas, and I couldn’t attend every panel that I would have liked to, but that’s a small downside to the conference (or comic con!). What I did manage to attend, I found thought-provoking, motivating and useful and so thought that writing a blog post would be a great idea to share my experience.

Friday was the first day of the conference and the day I thought I was most interested in. As with most things in life, we really have no idea what is going on, until it happens, so I hadn’t bargained on Saturday being so informative and emotionally challenging, just as Friday had been! Don’t worry, I am not going to write essays, but give a quick round-up of the panels I attended. I know time is precious, and we all want the TLDR; version of events 😉

The Keynote speech was given by Dr Meg-John Barker and introduced us to the concepts of what space means for trans people. Turns out (which we will find out as we go through the weekend), that, surprise surprise, it means the same as it does to the heteronormative portion of society- safety, privacy, enjoyment and living a good life!

They also talked about how trans can be subject to a ‘moral panic’, particularly when cis gendered people feel their ‘space’ is being challenged. Dr Meg-John talks about this regarding how trans people actually change space and time, by being adaptable- like shapeshifters or Timelords (did you notice that Dr Who is ostensibly a trans person?). Dr Meg-John talked about the difficulties faced by the trans community, concerning space, but also the positive elements, too. Dr Meg-John is an enormously engaging speaker, and listening to them was a fantastic experience, opening up just what it is to be trans in Britain in 2018.

Dr Meg-John has written many books on sex, gender and relationships, and their website is certainly worth visiting for (a lot!) more information.

The first panel that I wanted to attend was based in Therapeutic content- ‘Responding to the needs of trans clients in the therapy room’ and how to ensure that my practice is trans affirmative- working with clients of all diversity and being educated with those diversities in mind. Luckily, my training has been based around diversity inclusivity, so I hope that my practice reflects this!

We also listened to Dr Igi Moon, Kris Black, Amanda Middleton and Serge Nicholson talk about Conversion therapy, and the detrimental effects that this has on LGBTQ+ people; in particular the insidious nature of the therapy. We believe Conversion therapy to be something that is planned and performed on you, whereas the reality is that Conversion is taking place every time an LGBTQ+ person’s experience is denied. Every time they are not listened to. Every time they are misgendered. These realities are so important for cis gendered people to understand. We don’t need to pathologize gender and gender identity- it’s not a medical, mental illness, it’s a human life experience. Who are we to question that? As Psychologists and therapists, we need to be mindful of the narrative and words we use in our therapy rooms.

There was a discussion around the MOU2 (Memorandum of Understanding Against Conversion Therapy 2) and a legal mandate to rebuke Conversion therapy. Mental health practitioners should, ideally, be members of a Professional body, such as the BPS or BACP, and (nearly all) of these bodies have signed up to support MOU2; the ethos is at the core of our Therapeutic framework; to hold our clients safely, non-judgementally, to allow space to explore their needs.

There was also a discussion on the protection of the words ‘counsellor’, and ‘therapist’- the term ‘Psychologist’ is a protected term, and cannot be used by anyone who is not a Psychologist. However, the term counsellor and therapist are not. Therefore, therapeutically, anyone could set themselves up as a therapist, so it is incredibly important to ensure the therapist you are attending has the right skill set for your needs. To this end, GI have their own therapist network (one that I hope to be able to join next year, following the mandatory training) to enable you to choose a therapist who is Trans affirming.

The next panel I attended was simply called ‘Toilets’. For any trans person, the mere mention of toilets can send terror into your heart, a reality that just isn’t there for the vast majority of cis gendered people. Cis gender know that we can go to the toilet, anywhere; pub, shop, school, work etc. However, for trans people, toilets are a place of unsafety and challenge. I cannot imagine having to hold my bladder for a whole working day, because there were no toilets, I felt safe using, yet this is a daily issue for Trans people. This makes me so sad; toilets were developed in 1820 and it took a further 40 YEARS to create public toilets for women, so in terms of health and hygiene, we seem to move very slowly as a species. This just isn’t good enough and we need to increase the pace, to make toilets accessible for everyone, regardless of gender or disability.

I was very fortunate to be able to hear Cara English talk about her experience with toilets, and what her experience has led her to create- Openlavs.com. An amazing idea and website for anyone who needs to use a bathroom when out and about and has no idea about ‘safe’ bathrooms- 48% of Trans people do not feel comfortable using a public toilet. Imagine if that was you.

Openlavs.com is a website that is being populated with Trans peoples experience of the toilets they use, so if they find a particularly good/helpful/safe toilet, you can add it to the website so others can benefit from your experience. This ties in beautifully with the presentation that came after Cara, which came from FaulknerBrowns Architects; as people, we want privacy with our toilets and changing facilities, not just trans people, but cis too. So, why not start to create integral toilets? Floor to ceiling height doors, maybe a sink in the cubicle. I know that I would genuinely appreciate this, and so would many Trans people. A privacy cubicle takes away a lot of the worry from a toilet- and what if we made them all ‘universal’ toilets, so anyone could use them? I know this is a change from what we are used to, but we need to find ways to manage the changes we are experiencing in the world, and this is a simple, straightforward change, that could change so many lives by its implementation.

The next panel of the day was ‘Safer Spaces for Young Trans People’, something that I feel very passionate about. GI have some amazing support projects for trans youth, and listening to the kid’s experience of the support they get, I felt genuinely happy and humbled, but scared and sad for our youth as well.

There has been a huge rise in children identifying as trans, which is also my experience in my practice. Kids have become more aware of the narrative of life and understand language and experience even more so- social media can help massively in this way, but also be equally dangerous, in some respects.

The aim of the GI youth groups is to enable and empower trans youth to be able to live their lives to the fullest, being their authentic selves. Something we all deserve to do, gender be damned, but it is something that is very hard for young trans kids. There is also a trans youth of colour group available; intersectionality occurs in both coloured and white trans kids but is equally treated with respect in the groups. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the GI youth group and this panel; if you have a trans kid, or you are a trans youth, go ahead to the GI website and click here for more information. I believe in safety for our kids; if you have any questions, please do send me a message and I will do my best to answer or signpost you to a resource that can be of help.

My final panel, after a long day, was ‘Inclusivity in the Workplace’. I know I work alone, but this was a panel I thought would be helpful for my work with my clients, but also (when!) I return to the NHS! This panel was really interesting, and slightly more business orientated, but well worth the wait!

Emma Cusdin from AVIVA gave a presentation and led the discussion about her work, changing AVIVA’S policies, making it a more inclusive policy, not just for trans people, but all. The main policy change I picked up was maternity/paternity/parental leave. Their policy is hugely progressive for this day and age- anybody, regardless of gender, whether adoptive parents or natural, is entitled to the same amount of parental leave, which brings their policy into line with some of the more progressive European countries like Sweden.

This may seem like a small adjustment to you and me, but this is huge. It levels the playing field for all; if you feel that it doesn’t affect you, I promise you it does. We can all be marginalised in our lives, so the more we normalise and standardise our policies and ideals in life, the better it is for ALL of us.

Another impressive AVIVA policy is their policy for transitioning at work- there is set FAQ’s and guidance for all employees, making it very clear how to work with transitioning people. AVIVA have all gender-neutral facilities, and they have worked incredibly hard to degenderize their working environment. I love this approach, we really do not need further segregation in life- if we want equality in our working environment, it has to be equality for all.

Jules Lockett, from the London Ambulance Service (LAS), also talked at this panel, about how the LAS started their equality and gender-neutral policy. Jules said that they started the process a year ago and they now have all gender-neutral toilets for all staff. They also had very few issues from staff- staff were curious and asked questions, but overall, it was a positive experience, that went really well.

Both of these examples really excited me, regarding what can actually be achieved and of how accepting and understanding we actually can be. The future is certainly looking brighter, and it was a very positive way to end the panels for the first day of the conference!

It’s Conference time!

Hi everyone! I’ve had a difficult week, so didn’t think I’d get here today, but I’m so happy I made it! I’m at the Gendered Intelligence Conference in London, Transforming Spaces.

I’m really excited to be here, as there is so much to learn, that I can then bring to my Cis and Trans clients, alike. By being here, I’m committing myself to ensuring that my therapy space is a safe one, no matter what is happening for you.

Today I’m going to be focusing on issues like Trans in the work place and supporting Trans clients in the therapy room- I’m truly humbled to be able to hear others narrative and experience about this!

I’ll be posting a full blog, when conference has finished on Saturday, so keep an eye out!

Have a great weekend,

Wanda

It’s been a Mental (Health Awareness) Week!

May is Mental Health Awareness month and this week, 10-17th May, is Mental Health Awareness week. I wonder if you know this, and I wonder if you care? Mental health is still a stigmatised subject to discuss; we’re getting better at talking about it, but we’re not getting better at dealing with it.

Antidepressant use has sky-rocketed since 1992- prescriptions for antidepressants have increased 100% since 2015, or 500% since 1992 and 1.1 million people are, unfortunately, on benefits because of their mental health difficulties. Mmmh. I wonder what this is telling us? I wonder what the trend is that is making antidepressant use increase, year upon year? Don’t get me wrong; I am not against medication for mental health difficulties; I know in some cases the medication taken can be life-changing for some people. I am more interested in the deeper causes than that. What is going on in our society, and why are we getting sadder and less fulfilled, as a nation?

I have been studying for my (final ever!!!) exam in Professional Issues in Counselling Psychology, and, given that this is Doctoral level, I did a LOT of reading for this. In fact, I ordered several books, too 🙂 But seriously, I was engrossed in what is a mix of theory, lived experience, political discussion and the psychology of the changes that we are being forced through. These changes are being pushed on to us from so many different areas; by the society around us, work, school, government, media, social media and peers- you name it, we’re getting pressure from every direction, so just how does it affect us?

I’m really not going to go into masses of theory, so don’t worry there; but hang in there, it’s worth it, I promise! Do you know we have a Minister for Loneliness in Parliament in the UK? Yes, yes we do. She’s called Tracey Crouch, and she is here to cure our loneliness. Or is she? How is she going to make us feel better and less isolated? Is it flinging money at more therapists in what is an already hugely overstretched NHS? Or is it at a more fundamental grassroots level?

Have you been into a GP surgery recently? A health centre or hospital? Have you ever noticed the signs on the walls? What are they telling you? Are they telling you to lose weight? Are they telling you to stop smoking? Join a gym? Practice some yoga or Mindfulness? Those are all great suggestions, sure, but what is at the root of all of this? Why are people unhappy?

Think about your life, what makes you unhappy? Is it your job? Your house? The fact that you are struggling to get from pay day to pay day- or even just through the first week of the month would be good! What do you see when you look in the paper, or on social media? Are these concepts/material goods/lifestyles attainable for us, in this economic climate? The answers you come up with are probably not very positive answers. Things need to change. People need to start getting involved in their lives, and the lives of the community around them- it’s the only way we can affect social change, and as I am about to show, no matter who you are, social interaction is massively significant for us all.

As a (terrible) beauty advert states- here comes the science bit! As homo sapiens, we live for groups. Really, quite literally live because of them, and for them. We’ve talked about the whole caveman thing already on this blog- we wouldn’t have survived alone- so what makes this any different now? We need to feel like we belong. We need to feel needed. Social connection is so vital for our mental health- I’ll start at the beginning and make it as quick and painless as possible, I promise!

Back in the late 1970’s a Polish Social Psychologist, Henri Tajfel, after experiments in the lab, proposed a new theory relating to the way we function as humans; Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). What Social Identity theory tells us, is that we favour the groups of people we are with and feel comfortable with- your rugby club? That’s what we would call your ‘ingroup’ and the opposing team, well, they would be… yes, you guessed it, the ‘outgroup’. So, whose side do we take in a situation like this? Well, the people we are in the same group as, of course. Why is that, I hear you ask? Well, how does being a part of that group make you feel? Accepted? Happy? Fulfilled? Yes, we all feel that way when we are accepted, welcomed, supported and helped in a group. We all feel the need for that acceptance. ALL of us. And when we have groups that we are happy with, it makes our lives better. We have something to look forward to and enjoy, and in turn, this increases our mental health and wellbeing.

Taking care of your mental well-being is just as important as taking care of your physical well-being and is something that you can take an active part in- taking an interest in your own life and community! Getting involved in your community will not only make you feel included, but it will give you a sense of purpose and happiness. Yes, I really do know, and understand, that it’s so hard to get out and about when you’re feeling unwell and low, but if you can get yourself out, you really will benefit from it.

Any group works- reading club, gardening club, pole dancing classes, swimming, boules, poker (no betting here!), cooking club, art, debating, ecological, photography, football, rugby, ballet, environmental, tap… the list goes on, but the more involved you get, the better you will feel. Don’t trust me, trust these fantastic psychologists who have performed research into this fascinating, and helpful area; a group of Psychologists who used Social Theory intervention to create social groups, Groups 4 Health, for people with mental health difficulties; the result was improved psychological health and well-being (Haslam, Haslam, & Cruwys, Groups 4 Health, 2016). One group of scientists worked out that even belonging to a group of people who feel stigmatised, such as a support group, your mental well-being increases (McNamara, Stevenson, & Muldoon, 2013). There are also some scientists who believe that social identity and feeling part of a group and being included is so important that they even wrote a book about it (Haslam, Jetten, Cruwys, Dingle, & Haslam, 2018). Connection is key!

Sadly, there are other elements that we need to keep us happy- enough money, safe and affordable housing, jobs, jobs that are well paid, jobs that are not zero contract and what about social spaces that we can all use safely? A psychological theory doesn’t cover these, I am afraid, but Politics does. And it’s up to us to influence and create change in these things, if we want to feel better. The tragic school shooting’s in the USA have awoken the frustration and anger in school children across America (even across the world), who can see precisely how unfair their lives are; subject to the rules and regulations of people who do not understand the complexities of their lived experiences- as a parent, I cannot even imagine how scary it is to send your children to school every day, unsure if that is the day that a tragedy may happen at your school.

Politics aside, don’t we want to take a little bit more interest in our lives? Improve our situations- for those we love, those around us, our (future) children and families, and even just for the health and well-being of all? What do you think?


References:

Haslam, C., Haslam, S., & Cruwys, T. (2016). Groups 4 Health. Journal of Affective Disorders, 188 – 195.

Haslam, C., Jetten, J., Cruwys, T., Dingle, G., & Haslam, S. A. (2018). In The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure.Abingdon: Routledge.

McNamara, N., Stevenson, C., & Muldoon, O. T. (2013). Community Identity as Resource and Context. European Journal of Social Psychology, 393 – 403.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin, & S. Worchel, The social psychology of intergroup relations(pp. 33 -47). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

 

 

Ethics, Relief and a Smile on my Face!

Hello Everyone!

My goodness, isn’t life busy? I have been snowed under with my thesis work recently and have been focusing on that- still taking time out for my mindfulness and time for myself, mind you!

I have received ethical approval from UWE (the University of the West of England) to go ahead with my data collection for my thesis now, so am excited to be finally able to recruit therapists! I have 18 months left to collect data and write up my thesis- seems like such a long time now, but I know it will fly by!

What do you guys do when you have deadlines? Do you procrastinate, or do you just get on with it? I am a huge procrastinator, sadly, so have to create ‘fake’ deadlines for myself to get my academic work done and rewards for achieving my goals- anyone else got any good ideas?

As Homo Sapiens, we are entirely designed to procrastinate, that’s why some of find it so easy to do! Why are we created to procrastinate, I hear you say? Well, from an evolutionary perspective, as cavepeople, we would have eaten or collected firewood as soon as we saw it. If we didn’t, the food might spoil, the wood may get wet and then we couldn’t keep warm. So, why put it off? You may not get it if you wait any longer? Our bodies are designed to expect instant gratification, so don’t feel too bad if you’re a procrastinator… blame your genes and/or evolution!

I hope you all have a tremendous long bank holiday weekend- I shall spend it with my head buried in journals and books, studying and preparing for exams! Have fun 🙂

Wanda

Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go!

Hi Everyone! Sorry it has been quite so long since my last blog post, but there has been a lot of change and movement happening here at Wanda Howell Counselling!

I guess one of the first things to say is, a very belated Happy New Year to you all! I hope you have had a good start to 2018. I have been very lucky to have been spending the last few months being super busy helping to build and decorate a home office for myself! It has been a very exciting time for me, having the opportunity to set up my own Psychological practice at home- it now means I can offer therapy in two areas in Swindon- Old Town and East Swindon, which is of course, good news for my clients!

It has been a very busy time, trying to get everything ready, and the snow we had around Christmas delayed things quite a bit, but I started working from the office last week, and I have to say, it really is nice to have your own place!

So, this is just a very quick update on why I have been so mysteriously absent from everything- every spare moment of our time has been put in to building my office, and now it is finished, I can finally unveil my little log cabin! I hope you like it as much as I do!



 

The End of One Opportunity, and the Beginning of Another!

A festive HELLO! to all my readers, followers and clients, new and old. This year has been an amazing year for me- it has been full of some real highs, and some difficult lows, but isn’t that life for all of us?

I am not one to make New Years resolutions, but some of the experiences I have had in my life, especially recently, have made me really want to grasp life with both hands, and make the most of all the opportunities I have, whether positive or otherwise. So, for me, 2018 is another chance to have fun, create, work hard and spend time with my loved ones. That’s pretty much as close to a New Years resolution that I will ever get!

So, with the days counting down to the New Year, I am going to spend the rest of 2017 relaxing with my family and enjoying some (well deserved!) down time. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, whatever your belief, maybe its just a week or so that we can spend some time focusing on ourselves and loved ones, chilling out, and preparing for our return to work in the New Year!

Have a great time out there, be careful and stay safe. I have a few plans for blog posts in the New Year, so I shall see you all here then.

Wanda x