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

A New Hope…

This week has been an amazing week for me- I have completely committed to my own private practice! For the last few years, I have been splitting my time between being a mum to five wonderful (and very colourful!) kids, wife, Doctoral Candidate, NHS Psychology Practitioner and private practice Counsellor and Counselling Psychologist in training… phew, what a mouthful!

Needless to say, just reading that all back exhausts me, so no wonder I feel so tired this weekend, having left my NHS position on Wednesday. I love my job. Let me make that very clear to start with. Many people have called me ‘Wonder Woman’, and to be honest, it makes me feel a fraud. Why, you ask? Because, much the same as all of you out there, I do not have my ‘shit’ together, either. Well, I reckon we all have it together about as much as each other, to be honest. None of us have got it just right, have we?

So, I have decided to listen to my own phenomenological writings- rantings?- and something has had to give. I am not Wonder Woman, I am just a normal mum who is struggling to get the balance right. There are lots of reasons for making the decision I made, some of them I am quite happy to share with you, if asked, but some of them are personal. I love and support the NHS with my whole heart. I think we are a very blessed country to have an amazing system like the NHS. However, everyone in the NHS is working as hard as they can, but the working load is just increasing. It’s a struggle, and it’s hard work to stay positive in that environment. I left because I just couldn’t balance all of it anymore and felt I was running out of time to get everything done. Every week. Every day.

I firmly, and 100%, believe in a free National health service, and free, and readily, available access to mental health care, so being in private practice makes for a lot of questions and soul searching. I will return to the NHS at some point in my future, I hope, but for right now, I am focusing on family, Doctoral work and practice work.

I have decided that I will be available for extra clients and appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9am until 8pm. I am currently in my ‘CBT’ year on my Doctorate, and so am really interested in clients who believe that CBT ((Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) could help them with their difficulties, email:

or call 0759 056 1087 for a chat about what you may be looking for.

Things are changing over in my life, in a positive way. I hope this reflects on both my practice and personal life, and I am very much looking forward to the challenges that are coming my way!

Just Call Me Wonder Woman..

I have just returned from an amazing family holiday- from the lovely warmth of the sun, to the not so warm sun of a UK October morning! Still, at least there is no rain, right? I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to get back in to work, when I have come back from holiday. Yes, we all have the post-holiday ‘blues’, which definitely makes it harder to focus, but it is also such a strain to actually want to put in the effort! Well, a study I read about recently may give me the answer to all my woes…

A study by Psychologists (White et al., 2017), published in the Journal for Child Development suggests that perhaps by pretending to be a fictional superhero, in this case Batman, can help 4-6 year olds focus on mundane tasks that they are given. Let me explain this a little better…

A group of 153 4-6 year old children were given computer based tasks to do, for a given 10 minute period. They were encouraged to take a break, whenever they wished, which consisted of playing an exciting game on an iPad. I know what I would want to do, but that said, I do tend to procrastinate quite a lot, and I am older and aware of what I am doing!

The children were split into three groups- the first group, the control group, were assigned to be ‘self-immersed’, meaning that before and after the task, they were asked to reflect on how well they were doing- for example, ‘am I working hard enough?’

The second group were asked to reflect from a third person perspective- ‘Is (actual name) working hard?’ The final group were asked to consider themselves as a superhero- either Batman, Bob the builder, Rapunzel or Dora the Explorer, and were asked to imagine themselves as the superhero whilst attending to the computer tasks, and asking themselves the question ‘Is Batman working hard?’ This group of children were also given a relevant prop, such as Batman’s cape, to help them. For all groups, once every minute a recorded voice asked a question, appropriate to each group- ‘Are you working hard? Is X working hard? Is Batman working hard?’

Not surprisingly, 6 year olds spent more time on their tasks than 4 year olds, but quite surprisingly, those who were in the Batman group spent 55% of their time focusing on tasks, on the self-immersed group, 35% and 22% for the third person group. The children who were focused on being a superhero focused and worked for longer than any of the other groups.

So, what does this mean to us, either as adults or for our children? Well, at the very least it is making a mundane task more interesting, but what it is also doing is allowing us to step back from what we are doing- self-distancing from tasks is known to actually help us prioritise our goals and help us to focus and resist distractions. This makes sense, as self-distancing is almost the opposite of rumination, so we are stopping ourselves from ruminating and worrying about a task, which is also linked to procrastination.. by focusing, we are getting the task done, quicker and more efficiently.

Maybe the children enjoyed taking on the characteristics of a superhero and found the tasks easier to achieve by thinking in greater depth about the ramifications and effects? The truth is that there are far too many variables here to actually work out why there was a significant difference in focus and concentration levels. But what this research does suggest, is that focus and perseverance could be encouraged and taught through role play- go in to any school or pre-school and I am sure you will find the majority of children, at these young ages, playing role play games, whether as superhero’s, doctors, nurses or mums and dads. Maybe this is the secret to helping resist that procrastination that causes me so much difficulty?

Whatever it is, don’t be surprised if you see me walking in to work this week with my Wonder Woman lasso and bracelets of submission..

 


White, R.E., Prager, E.O., Schaefer, C..K.E., Duckworth, A.L. and Carlson, S.M. (2017) ‘The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children. Child Dev’, Child Development, vol. 88, no. 5, pp. 1563 – 1571.

 

 

Change For Change’s Sake?

Hello everyone- how have you all been? This year has been very busy at Wanda Howell Counselling; I have embarked on yet more training (no, it never stops, if you were wondering!) and have been keeping busy with work, house moves and university at the same time. I have finally finished year 2 of my Doctorate!!! Very exciting times for me- only 2 more years left to go. I have to be honest and say that I have been a little slack with my reading lately, but I did just stumble over an article that caught my eye…

Frequently in my work, I work with young teens and their parents, from a whole range of difficulties like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and more. Often the parents of these teens are very concerned; perhaps their teen has difficulties regulating their emotions, or perhaps they have difficulties with their anger. There are a lot of reasons why teens and their parents reach out for support, particularly in the private sector of counselling. Parents are finding it more and more difficult to access support in the NHS, for lots of different reasons.

The purpose of my post is not to bash the NHS or to apportion blame to anyone. Life is, I think, more difficult for teenagers now, and all of the teens I work with are simply trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in to society. It is a tricky time for them, and not matter how much support these teens do get, parents are always concerned that there is never enough. We all want the best for our children, so we all try and utilise the support we find, wherever we can.

For parents, it can be really tricky- worrying ‘what have I done wrong? My child does xxx- is it the way they were raised, or is it just their personality?’ Will it ever change, or if they are like this as a teenager, is it too late? The study was published in December 2016 and is the first of it’s kind to follow up on teenagers and their personalities, from the age of 14 to 77 (Harris et al., 2016) and the findings are good news for all worried parents out there!

The study was started in 1947, using the Scottish Mental survey, where teachers in Scottish schools rated 1,208 14 year old children on six personality characteristics. In 2012, the team of researchers traced as many of the original participants as they could, inviting them to take part in a follow up study to find out if there was a correlation between their six personality traits in 1947, and the same traits in them, as 77 year olds, in 2012- a 63 year period! You will be very happy to find out (or not!) that personality does change over time, but that some aspects of personality, such as conscientiousness and stability of moods, do not, suggesting that some of our personalities in older age may actually relate to our personalities in childhood.

So, is this good or bad? Well, I guess if, as a child, you had lovely sunny moods and were conscientious at picking up your toys when your caregivers told you too, then yes, this might be great! If you have a child, or if indeed you yourself, are the opposite, and struggle with mood and temperament, this study shows that it doesn’t have to be a difficulty for the rest of your life; we can, and we do, change. Life is different for all of us; our experiences, as well as how we are raised, make us who we are. Fundamentally, we as adults can take charge of this. We can mould ourselves, and we can be the people that we want to be and become.

I think the key point to take home here, is that we change, and that it is never too late to change. We all change, be it from choice or situation, and we can make changes to our lives if we don’t find those changes that are forced upon us as acceptable. So, if you find that there are elements of yourself that you’re not so keen on, with some progressive, and (dare I say it?), conscientious work, your life and your emotions really are within your own hands and it is your own ability that can ensure that things change for you.

Me? Well, I would like to slow down a little, so I am going to start working more on my meditation- I would like to do this a little more regularly, so that I can stop and smell the roses a little better. Otherwise, before I know it, they just won’t be there anymore.


Harris, M.A., Brett, C.E., Johnson, W. and Deary, I.J. (2016) ‘Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years’, Psychology and Aging, vol. 31, no. 8, December, pp. 862–874.