2021, New Year, Same You.. And That’s Okay!

I wasn’t going to write a New Year’s post this year; it felt like there wasn’t much to say, I guess. Well, that’s what I thought until I started to scan through my social media. I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it (again); the year we have just been through has been pretty horrendous for so many and in so many different ways. It’s been a time of frustration, anxiety, worry, trauma and stress; all the things we experience in life, but magnificently amplified. 

We’ve had pressure on us to just “keep calm and carry on” when nothing about this year has given us a chance to do so. I follow many scientific, informational, cultural, economic and news posts. I noticed the frustrations, bewilderment and trauma from society; the slight hysteria of the beginning of lockdown in March, the frustrations of a second lockdown and the confusion of what we are now experiencing. I’m not about to go into the politics of whether or not this is a real disease, whether the social distancing is fair or whether or not you should wear a mask; if you care about your fellow human, even if you do not have the knowledge of being a respected epidemiologist or scientist, then you know this is a real disease with devastating effects. COVID’s traumatic impact on society as a whole has been and continues to be, immeasurable. People are dying, so keep safe, wash your hands, social distance and wear a mask. But like I said I’m not going to debate this fact with you. 

I will say that the pressure we put on ourselves to do things this year has been so intense and unprecedented; I don’t know anyone who has learned to play the piano or guitar or is almost fluent in a new language. No, I’m not seeing any people socially, but my practice is hectic at the moment, so I hear a lot from different groups of our society. The consensus is consistent “I should have done X, Y and Z during this lockdown, everybody else did, and now I feel like I’ve wasted my time “. I think the truth of the matter is that we are all somewhere in the middle- some people have done some stuff like learning how to make bread or sew, and for other people, they’ve had to learn to cook just to survive. Everything we’ve done during this lockdown, this pandemic, has given us skills; nobody in our lived experience has lived through a pandemic, but you have. 

2021, well, it’s not going to be much different; I’m afraid, certainly not the beginning of it. I see a lot of people having high hopes for 2021, we’re already starting to see the next year of “I’m going to do X, Y and Z”, “2021 is going to be my year”, “it’s gonna be so much better” et cetera et cetera. Yes, we can hope it’s going to be better, yes, I suspect it will be a lot better, but we have a long hard slog to get through first. Things aren’t going to suddenly change at 12:01 on January 1st because it is a new year and we want things to change. We are still in a pandemic, and we are still struggling. So, you don’t have to start with new years resolutions of “I will do this, and I will do that”. Does it matter if you learn Japanese this year? Or maybe yoga? Had you planned to do these things before the pandemic happened? So why pressure yourself now? Let’s just try and get through the first six months of 2021 as best as we can, let’s not put added pressure on ourselves or each other. 

I keep seeing motivational quotes about mental health- you know the ones, “I’m just focusing on the positives” all of them insidiously assuming that it is your fault that you don’t have a positive attitude. Of course, these can be helpful- affirmations can, and have been proven to help and support psychological therapeutic work AffirmationsPositive Psychology. However, these can also make some people feel really bad about themselves, as they can’t be present with affirmations at this moment in time. “Oh, it’s my fault that I’m feeling so bad because I should just have a positive mental attitude”. Positive mental bullshit, there, I am calling it. It’s tough to be an optimist when the whole world is in a pessimistic place. So, please be kind to yourself- just because someone has posted a beautiful picture of the beach with “think positive, tomorrow is a better day, if you think positively about it”; doesn’t negate how you feel at this moment in time. It is hard to see that far into the future when you struggle to get through that current moment. You are allowed to feel sad, desperate, lost- we’ve all felt it at some point this year.

Remember to be compassionate, other people think and feel the way you do, some people feel worse, and some feel better. These feelings will pass with time, so distract yourself for that moment. Talk to your friends and family, stay connected, one of the most important things that we can do to support ourselves and be compassionate to ourselves and others. Connecting with others is essential to us as humans; it makes us human and is vital to us as a society, as a community. It can help us to have motivation and purpose to carry on. So, focus on talking to people, doing things that make you feel good and not feeling guilty about it. If you’re feeling low, talking to a friend is going to feel hard to do. It’s okay that it feels hard, but the best thing you can do is push yourself and talk to that friend. I know it is difficult, but take it one step at a time; that famous saying of “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is so true, now more than ever. 

If you’re feeling low, it is hard to do anything, even fun stuff. Then we can get stuck in a perpetual cycle of loss; we feel bad so we stop doing some of the things that make us feel good- in a pandemic this could be going to meet friends, going to a coffee shop, gym or cinema. These are things we may not be able to do at this moment in time. Not doing these things makes us feel worse and lowers our mood- I feel depressed, so what’s the point? So, we do less and even stop contacting people- c’mon, how many of you are now avoiding those Zoom meetups with friends? Avoiding texts or calls? A connection keeps us going, and it is something small that we can do to improve our mood. It is about acknowledging that things are tough right now, so be kind. If your friend said they felt low, what would you do? Would you talk to them? Make them laugh? Send them a text or a card? Organise a Zoom call? Okay, that’s wonderful- you genuinely are a good friend  But, hang on a minute. If you would do that for a friend who is feeling low, why would you not do that for yourself? You are just as important, if not more important; it could help to see it in this frame of reference; we all need help and support at times.

But you know what? That might be too hard right now. It’s New Year’s Eve, and life looks very different from how we planned it to at this point. So a Zoom meeting is too much- honestly, who wants to put on clothes and take off your pj’s anyway? So, grab a shower, a bath. Change your bedding or pj’s. Have a cup of tea whilst sat on the sofa, or dancing around the kitchen. It doesn’t matter what you do but show yourself some kindness if you can. What have you got to lose by trying? Tonight might be rough for a lot of us, so let’s just get through it. Tomorrow is a different day; it may not be better, but it won’t be the same as today. Have a lovely evening; whatever you are doing. If you’re alone, try to do all the things you love the most, and if you’re with people? Well, it doesn’t have to be fireworks, you know. A quiet night in is okay. This time next year, everything will look different, and I hope you will be with all your family and friends. After all, 2021 can’t possibly be as bad as 2020… can it? Happy New Year, everyone!


1.     Psychotherapy Relationships That Work. Volume 1 Evidence-Based Therapist Contributions, John C. Norcross (editor), Third Edition, Hardback (August 01st 2019)

2. https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-positive-psychology-definition/

Thank Goodness That’s Over… I Hope?

Well, what can I say? 2020 has been the strangest, most challenging year we have faced yet. Some of us have fared ok, and some of us have struggled. Christmas is supposed to be the time of year when we relax, have fun, spend time with our chosen family and friends, but this year looks very different for many people.

The struggles we have faced this year have been some of the hardest in my lifetime- mental health difficulties have increased, financial struggles and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Never mind our health and how worried we may be about ourselves and our loved ones.

I have spent most of the year in shielding, and it has been quite an isolating experience, even with a large family. We have missed out on so many celebrations, and we have lost family members. As I am typing, my town has now gone into ‘Tier 3’ due to the seriousness of the situation. We live in some very worrying times.

There are so many reasons to take care of ourselves, but we quite often put others first. During this challenging time, I want you to be compassionate to yourselves- we have had such a challenging year, and we often overlook ourselves. Being compassionate to yourself is difficult, but we afford so much compassion to others, why not focus on yourself for a little bit?

2021 may well start easily- however, we face more challenges with this new COVID strain, which is more easily transmitted, and there will be further difficulties ahead. A vaccine is here but will take time to roll out. Please remember to be careful, social distance and wear a mask- doing these things shows caring for yourself and others, even if we don’t realise it. Reach out to your family and friends, even if you think they are busy or have a place to go at Christmas. Quite often you may find that they don’t- we are very good at hiding our difficulties sometimes, and during a pandemic, we are no different.

Try not to put pressure on yourself for an ‘amazing’ Christmas; new year’s eve will be very different, too. So what if you didn’t learn French, or how to play the piano. So what if your friend is now an expert artisanal baker- we are all coping with this pandemic in the vest way we know how to, and for some people, just getting out of bed and making a cup of tea is about all that they can muster. We have all achieved so much this year; just getting through 2020 has been challenging, but we have kept going due to our resilience. Your friend who is the expert baker, didn’t do it because they needed to be a baker, they did it to keep busy and focused- we have all done this in some very different ways, and it is how we have coped and got through 2020. We are going to need this fortitude for next year, too.

I wish all of you a safe and peaceful holiday period; 2021 will be different, and hopefully better, but we need to be patient and take our time. Have a lovely holiday, and I will see you all in 2021.

Pride 2020

This year, I have left my annual Pride post until near the end of June (and on actual Global Pride day), as I have been taking the time to read, learn and educate myself over the global difficulties of the last few months. Pride is such an important event and it has coincided with a global pandemic and civil unrest- Black Lives Matters is such an important organisation and issue, and is intrinsically linked to Pride, also.

Although I identify as agender, this is not something that has caused me difficulty in my lifetime- an invisible difference, that only a few knew (now the world, may I add!), I wanted to really listen to the voices of the LGBTQA+ community, and the reality of the here and now, growing up with the difficulties a new generation faces. What better way to do this than to introduce a ‘guest’ for this blog- a 17 year old, Magdalena, an Autistic, Non-binary lesbian, studying at college, who writes thoughtfully on the effect of the history and what it means to be LGBTQA+ in the 2000’s. Thank you, Magdalena, for sharing your thoughts.


Identity, intersectionality, and self-reflection, or where we went wrong with Pride 

As a part of my English literature coursework, I’ve spent the past few months studying the gay culture and history of the 1980s. It seems strange to categorise time in such recent memory as history, but for the queer community, the 1980s were massively destructive. The rise of AIDs and the complete lack of accountability from any government means that so many members of the queer community are no longer with us. This has had a profound effect on how gay culture became fetishised within the mainstream in the early 90s and lead us to today’s ‘Rainbow Capitalism’. This Pride, I think it’s vital to take inspiration from the Gay Communities of the 1980s and re-politicise our identities.

To be gay in the ’80s was inherently political – life and love were ruled by legislation. For anyone out and proud, violence was common and expected, employment was tenuous, and family ties were often cut. There was absolutely no way to be gay in a socially acceptable way, and at most tolerance could be expected from cisgender heterosexual friends. But this had a stimulating effect on gay communities – to be an active member of these communities was to ally yourself with other similarly oppressed people.  At first, this was true within queer communities, but soon the complete disenfranchisement from systems of power led to more and more radical politics. Socialism and Civil Rights movements were common within queer communities (not to say that the gay culture within the ’80s was perfect, but that without any ties to bigoted systems of power often people would champion other marginalised groups).  A fascinating example of this is the Lesbians and Gays support of the miner’s movement. For more information, I highly recommend either the film Pride or this documentary made by the group in 1985; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHJhbwEcgrA

With this complete politicisation of identity in mind, I invite you to consider not only queer culture now, but also how the world views queer people at large. One could argue that queer people are now acceptable to society, and the fight for gay rights is over. This is patently untrue – a specific type of queer person is acceptable to society. These people check most of the following boxes: white, able-bodied, cisgender, skinny and either Christian or atheist. Money also helps.

A perfect example of this is Ellen DeGeneres – after she was forced to come out as a lesbian in the mid-90s, she became the most palatable queer person in the media. She was white, skinny, conventionally attractive and already established in the industry. Her talk show is now a staple of American TV, and she has become a household name. Ellen DeGeneres is also now one of the mega-rich; friends with George W Bush (who not only attempted to ban gay marriage constitutionally, but also started the Iraq war – killing an estimated 151,000 – 160,000 Iraqis in the first four years, most of whom were civilians), and is infamous within show business for her alleged terrible behaviour. The only thing that sets Ellen apart from the rest of the 1%, is that she is a lesbian – but based on the above behaviour, how much does she care about the queer community?

This post is not a strange and long call-out post for Ellen DeGeneres, but she serves as an excellent example of what I want to explain. As it becomes more and more acceptable to be queer (providing you are of course massively privileged otherwise), there has been a political shift within communities for us to moderate our behaviour to make other people more comfortable with our identities – we must become entirely non-threatening to be ‘accepted’. This is a step backwards for Queer rights – we cannot align ourselves with bigoted systems of power and present it as progressive. Support for queer people cannot be conditional, because by adding these conditions, we betray the members of our community who fight for us the hardest.

This modern marketing of queer culture harms trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, the disabled, and the poor within our communities. These are the people on the frontlines, making changes. The first Pride was a riot, and trans women threw the first bricks. To celebrate Pride, you cannot opt-out of the political side of being queer – to quote Adam Eli “Queer people anywhere are responsible to queer people everywhere.”  I urge queer people reading this to think about how they identify – not just their gender and sexuality – but who they identify with. Do you sympathise with the people upholding and profiting from bigoted systems of power more than those suffering? Do you identify more with the security of your whiteness than the queer community? Do you consider other people’s pain to be somehow their fault?  

Our identities exist within the context of the world around us, and so the question of identity is far more complicated than the mainstream media would have you believe. There is more to being Queer than loving who you love and being who you are because we must be queer in solidarity with others. This Pride, I invite you to remember our history as revolutionaries and support people who are suffering under the same system you are.


I also want to add to this post- that I will be discontinuing my Facebook page, both personal and professional, in the very near future. Why? You may ask- the answer is simple. Social Media can be used for amazing gains- the spreading of knowledge and information to society is essential, especially when the media and government is trying to twist our understanding of the current climate, and maintain the current untenable white supremacist, racist, homophobic and transphobic culture that black, coloured and LGBTQA folk experience on a daily, hourly basis. Part of the problem, I feel, is the lack of accountability on platforms such as Facebook, to actively manage and discontinue the spread of false information and hate speech. I do not feel that Facebook, in particular, has (or will do) an effective job of this, and I am voting with my feet. There are many forms of protest that one can take, the one option I have available to me is this; the ability to leave, to say no and to not buy in to the offensive, racial, homophobic and transphobic narrative that these platforms help to spread.

Until such a time as I feel the various media outlets, like Facebook, are listening to morality, I do not want to be a part of the machine, so I am removing my cog. Thank you for following this page, I am still active on Twitter (who are actively trying to address the bigoted, socially unjust narrative spewed by the likes of Trump) and my own webpage, www.wandahowell.com


As the black author Eldridge Cleaver said- “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Like all of you, I have been working from home, trying to educate the kids whilst working with clients, admin and writing my progression for my thesis- COVID-19 has kindly set me back a bit, like I am sure it has many of you! So, this blog is going to be short and concise… unless I end up waffling!

This week marks an incredibly unusual Mental Health Awareness week for us all, with everyone coping in the best ways that they can. The theme for this year is ‘Kindness’, but I would ask you “what do you think about when I say ‘kindness’?” I am sure most of you will think about being kind to others. However, particularly during these stressful times, what about showing kindness to yourself? Have you thought about that?

Most of us have an abundance of compassion for our friends, family and even strangers, but what about compassion for ourselves? When do we think about being compassionate towards ourselves? When are we actually compassionate towards ourselves? What do you think being compassionate towards yourself is? What should it consist of?

Being compassionate towards yourself is difficult- our brains are hard-wired to assess for danger at all times, and goodness knows we are in a dangerous situation right now, with COVID-19 causing concerns globally. Jobs, health, schooling and friendships feel like they are all at risk, and some may well be. Now is a really good time to start to be more compassionate towards yourself.

Being kind can consist of many things- volunteering, helping a friend, a random act of kindness or making a cup of tea for yourself because you have had a hard day. I guess I am thinking about the home-schooling parents here- wow, what a term, eh?? Congratulations for getting through it- it has been tough!

Helping others gives us an amazing sense of satisfaction and happiness, but it can be difficult to volunteer or help out whilst this current pandemic is happening. We do, however, have the internet to help! We can virtually check-in with people and see how our friends and family are. We could skill-share online- I could teach you yoga if you teach me knitting? Given that most of us are actually stuck home and cannot get out to help others, it feels to me that right now is a really good time to practice your kindness towards yourself.

When something goes wrong, or doesn’t turn out as you would have liked or expected, what happens next? What words go through your head? Are they kind words? Are they words you would use to a friend in the same situation? 

We use our Internal defensive behaviours to keep the self from experiencing difficult internal situations or emotions and can include dissociation, substance misuse, harming oneself, and constantly reminding oneself of one’s faults, flaws, and weaknesses.

External defensive behaviours are intended to help the individual avoid harm from others, and include blaming the self, silencing the self, being submissive and non-assertive, distrusting others, and keeping others at a distance (Gilbert & Procter, 2006)

So, If my friend failed their driving test, am I going to commiserate with them and support them or am I going to tell them that it isn’t surprising as they fail at everything and are totally useless? NO!!! So, if I failed my driving test, why do I have those thoughts about myself? This is what I mean about being compassionate towards yourself- ok, I failed the test, but it isn’t the end of the world. I can take the test again; I can take more lessons and I can get better. Everyone fails something at some point in their lives. 

Part of compassion is about being realistic- who are you comparing yourself to? There isn’t really much point in me comparing myself to Taylor Swift, is there? I am not under 30, a pop star or a millionaire, so the comparison isn’t fair to me. Even if my brain thinks it is!

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself, so it is just as import to recognise when you have given enough of yourself- feeling tired, overwhelmed or frustrated are really good signs that it’s time to be kind to yourself. Don’t overdo things- so many people in this pandemic situation have decided to learn things or bake things. If you don’t feel like learning something, just because others have, doesn’t mean you have to. Back to comparing again, aren’t we? Their situation will be different to yours, so maybe they have more time and energy to actually do new and different things. It is ok to have not learnt French, the guitar or how to make the perfect sourdough bread before we all go back to work, you know.

For support:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

https://youngminds.org.uk

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk

Reference:

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353–379.

Social Justice League; Help Wanted!

So, another New Year has come around, and I wasn’t going to write another blog quite so soon (and certainly not about this subject). However, I have been thinking about the recent UK General Election for the last few weeks and what this means for the people of Britain; change won’t happen without voices, so here is mine.

I’ve thought a lot about how (and what!) to write for this post- I tend to keep my Politics to myself, but over the last few years, I have found that this has become harder and harder. Sigmund Freud liked to see the Psychologist as an empty screen for the client to project, transfer on to and work with. I think times have changed, significantly, and that level of work isn’t appropriate anymore. Working with clients’ needs depth, relational understanding, and empathy; if you were talking to me, and I didn’t answer, would you think I was listening or cared? No, probably not, so it feels more important now, with the election result, to raise my voice and make it heard. 

Regardless of who has been in Government- we can argue who started all of this until we are blue in the face- the fact remains that just over ten years ago, austerity measures were introduced to the UK populace. This meant that hundreds of thousands of people had their benefits removed, their Disability living allowance reduced (or wholly taken off them) and some were put on to the new Universal Credit system. All of which meant that they had no money for weeks, even months, allowing the pay-day lenders to step in and make life more difficult. Even the United Nations found that our Government, by introducing these policies, failed to uphold the rights of people with disabilities (UN, 2016).

Oh, but that’s only for the poor, right? Only for the people who don’t want to work or can’t work. I have no sympathy for them, right? They got themselves into this position; they can get themselves out. Why should my hard-earned taxes go to support lazy people? Ever heard yourselves saying this? Ever believed someone who was saying this?

When my son was born over seven years ago, I was fortunate that the austerity measures had not fully hit and were not implemented to the hilt. My son was born with a life-threatening illness that meant he needed constant NHS medical treatment and a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) at the age of one; we didn’t even know if he was going to live or die for this first six months of his life. Every day became a gamble. With this level of stress and worry, my husband and I found that working became impossible (stays in hospital, appointments, tests, lumbar punctures etc.) and we had to do something we never thought we would ever do; we had to go on to benefits.

Being able to claim benefits saved us- we didn’t have to worry about paying our bills or mortgage, we had support and help, and we could concentrate on our son’s BMT and getting him better and looking after our kids. We even were referred to some community support teams and the WONDERFUL charity, the Rainbow Trust.

I dare say, if we were in the same position now, we wouldn’t qualify for benefits. Certainly not as much as we needed to keep ourselves afloat for the 18 months that we needed them for until we could change our circumstances, get back to work and back to our ‘ normal life’. 

My point is, you don’t know what is going to happen in life, which is why I believe passionately in social justice, community support and change. I do not think that the Government that has been voted in believes in social support; I do not believe that they will do their best to support the most vulnerable and in need in our society. So, it is up to us to do this. As a Psychologist, this is part of my job; it should be part of yours, as a member of society, too. Remember, we are conditioned to live in a community group; as I so often say to my clients, Cavemen wouldn’t have survived if they had had to hunt/cook/make clothes/look after children on their own.

There are many ways of supporting your community- volunteering, donating, supporting. Whatever it takes, it’s part of our responsibility, socially and ethically, to make a change. Think about the future of your children, your grandchildren. What do you want their lives to look like? An NHS to support them in times of need? A Government that cares and assists us in our time of need? In your old age? I’m not even going to mention the particulars of Brexit; I can’t even figure out what the general public understand about Brexit, but I don’t personally believe they have been sold the truth on it (see the last blog post!). 

I am deeply concerned about how we understand our society- we seem to be blaming the most vulnerable and unfortunate for our financial problems- if there were no benefits, we would all be better off. I sincerely hope that most people don’t believe the narrative that the 1% and media (owned by the 1%!) are peddling. Our problems stem from greed and commercial gain; we are interested in what we can get from life, not who we can support.

There are so many concerns we have nowadays- an inability to access services when needed, wages not increasing with inflation (which is essentially a pay cut, if you’re not sure why people complain about this) and the cost of living keeps rising and rising. The standard of housing we live in isn’t what we would expect, young people are terrified of never being able to get on to the housing ladder, and good jobs are few and far between. But forget about jobs for life- where’s the security that we need in life, to feel safe and comfortable? Is it really because of the benefits system, or is it because individual International companies and Billionaires do not pay their fair share of the taxes they owe? I’ll leave that for you to decide, and I would strongly suggest doing some research if you’re unsure.

I am not telling you what to think or feel, but the clients I have and have had come from a range of different backgrounds; rich versus poor, young versus old and different ethnicities. The common denominator is fundamental unhappiness in life that is often caused by the situation one finds themselves in. People’s social circumstances have a profound effect on their mental health (Harper, 2016); If you live in a flat, with awful neighbours, coming to therapy could make you feel better. However, if you can’t do anything about those neighbours, things aren’t fundamentally going to change, are they? So, it is of fundamental importance that we have the right social support, as well as the right community and governmental support. I cannot stress how important our community is in supporting us; as a community, we can affect change and make a difference.

This year I am committing to making a difference; I am committing to doing more with my community and more to challenge the political policies and austerity measures that have been and are going to be continually implemented. We are the ones who can make a difference; we are the ones who can create a more harmonious system (Fietzer & Ponterotto., 2015) ensuring that the hierarchy of society that we live in allows for more equality amongst the privileged and underprivileged. Is there anything (else?) that you can do?

With that, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year; May you fulfil your dreams and wildest desires in 2020; taking care of ourselves and others. Happy New Year!


Fietzer, A. W., & Ponterotto., J. (2015). A Psychometric Review of Instruments. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 7(1), 19 – 40.

Harper, D. (2016). Beyond Individual Therapy: Towards a Psychosocial Approach to Public Mental Health. The Psychologist, 29, 440 – 444.

UN. (2016). Inquiry Concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Carried out by the Committee Under Article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Retrieved December 1, 2019, from http://www.ochr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/CRPD.C.15.R.2.Rev.1-ENG.doc

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