So you’ve got ASD- Can you tell me how that feels!?

In short, No!


 

So, this week, I decided I was going to write about something that is very personal to me, but I have very little personal experience with- confusing or what? But I guess that is what happens to people on the Autistic Spectrum- they don’t get things that Neural Typical (NT’s) say, do or infer, and this is where this weeks blog begins; in celebration of Autism Awareness Month.

Our journey into the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is just beginning- I spent a long time last week on a training day, helping me to understand the complexities that ASD people and children experience. One of the main things I took from my training is that Autistic Spectrum Disorders really shouldn’t be called that- it’s a condition, not a disorder. It’s something you are living, not something that you dip in and out of, but for the sake of complexities and simplicity, I shall call it ASD, as this is what the condition is commonly known as.

Do you know someone with ASD? Would you even recognise someone with ASD? Do you even know what makes a person ASD? Approximately 700,000 people in the UK are living with ASD (that’s 1 in 100); so, the chances are you do know someone with ASD. The National Autistic Society describes Autism as;

“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.” (NAS, 2015)

That might seem pretty broad to you, and perhaps you may think that ‘I know people like that; they’re just rude though’, well, this might not be the case. Perhaps they are living with a condition that is shrouded in myth and mystery. ASD is a Spectrum disorder, which means that everyone on the spectrum experiences their Autism in a different way; which can make it difficult to spot sometimes- there is no ‘template’ for what someone with ASD should be like, so it is really important that if ASD is suspected, it is assessed properly, by a professional. Note, this in itself can alienate people- setting you out from the crowd as ‘different’ because you have been given a ‘diagnosis’.

Some ASD people, as in every walk of life, can be comforted by a diagnosis, and some may feel trapped by their diagnosis. Supporting the ASD person can include helping the person come to terms with what is going on for them. Yes, you may be a little different, but that doesn’t make you any less special!

In fact, people with ASD often develop special interests of fascinations-, which can make them experts in their chosen area! This doesn’t mean that all people on the AS are geniuses at maths, science and art; but if that is their chosen area of interest, then this can really be a bonus. Our experience is that the person on ASD is fascinated by maths, science and literature. They don’t get a lot of the social meaning in the books they are reading, but that doesn’t stop their enjoyment of it! If anything, it has increased their hunger and thirst for books and knowledge- how can that possibly be a bad thing?

There is an organisation called Specialistern who specialise in finding ASD people work- in various different environments, but in particular I.T, as the qualities that ASD people have (enjoyment of repetition, attention to detail and structure) mean that ASD people excel in these types of jobs! A complete celebration of the nuances of difference; totally dispelling the myth that ASD people cannot work. Quite the contrary, thank you very much!

People on the ASD spectrum find it difficult to socialise and often do not get sarcasm, empathy and the individual gradations of language and communication; logic makes sense to ASD people, emotions not so much, so imagine an instance of a job interview, where an ASD person is asked to say ‘What would you do when x happens?’ How terrifying would that be- knowing that you do not have the emotional range to express or understand what you are expected to. Quite a few people on the ASD find it difficult to maintain eye contact, which can sometimes appear as being offhand, disinterested or rude. Now, go back to the job interview; a candidate finds it difficult to look you in the eye. Do you think it’s because they are rude and have no social skills, or does it cross your mind that they actually might have a reason for not doing that.

Now, in cases of working in Customer Service, then perhaps not being able to maintain eye contact would be an issue. But, if you are working in a lab or at your desk, programming away, then does it really matter that you can’t hold eye contact? Should it stop you from getting a job? What about equal opportunities? Aren’t they for everyone? And, at the end of the day, not everyone, NT or ASD, is cut out for Customer Service!

Growing up with ASD can be a challenge; as kids, us NT’s are used to hanging out with our mates, socialising and generally being young, free and single and enjoying every minute of it. But with ASD, it’s not as simple. It can be hard to make friends; how difficult is that for a child? To see other people playing and laughing around you, but not being able to do that yourself? Some ASD people learn social skills- it doesn’t mean they get them, it just means that they have worked out that if someone smiles at you, you smile back, and if someone is sad or upset, you don’t stare blankly, but you say I am sorry you are upset. For us NT’s, this is normal, we take it for granted. But people on the ASD do not find this ‘normal’- we are the exception to their rule, so why don’t they get us?

But then, what we have found is that a child with ASD can use their special interest as a fantastic communication skill- it’s a conversation opener and ice-breaker! This is turn can help to raise self-esteem and improve communication skills. So, that subject you’ve been focusing on for as long as you can remember? Well, it could very well be something that can calm you and relax you when talking about it, so please, don’t stop focusing on what makes you happy!

People with ASD, although have difficulty in social interaction; it is a myth that they cannot have successful, loving relationships. All relationships can be difficult, in some ways, but when you find the right person, well, love conquers all, doesn’t it? People with ASD do feel emotions, they feel them very intensely, and because of this, they can be very overwhelmed with their emotions and how to understand and deal with them. This doesn’t make them unable to maintain relationships, but I can imagine that relationships can be very hard work for ASD people.

I have worked with a few ASD clients, and have found working with them very rewarding- I hope they felt the same! Working in therapy with ASD clients is slightly different to working with NT clients- asking a ASD client to ‘describe how x makes them feel’ will not garner you with much information; asking them to explain ‘what that is like for you’ can fill the room with an abundance of experiences, all rich in the context of human caring, empathy and concern.

Something I learnt last week, was that ASD people very often find visual representations easier to use to express the words they want to communicate- for example, drawing a rainbow and each colour represents a different emotion. So, instead of having to try and explain sadness, the ASD client can show the colour blue- how much easier is that, than having to struggle with meanings that are difficult to express?

ASD is a hidden condition- you cannot see it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Approximately 106,000 school age children in the UK have an ASD condition and support for those children and parents is paramount. A report by the National Autistic Society said that 63% of children with Autism had been bullied at school (Kathrine Bancroft, Amanda Batten, Sarah Lambert and Tom Madders, 2012). Isn’t that 63% too much? What is happening to tolerance of individual differences? What are we teaching our children about the diversities of life? Are they learning from our behaviour towards people who are different?

At the end of the day, we are all different, not matter what condition we do or do not have- this isn’t to trivialize the ASD experience- I am more asking that surely, in 2015, we can be accepting and tolerant of what we don’t understand? We can teach our children to be kind and patient and to understand that we are all different- be it size, shape, colour, gender, sexuality or even the way our minds work. After all, ASD people are tolerant of our differences, why can’t we be tolerant of theirs?


 

NAS (2012) The Way We Were, [Online], Available http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/50th-birthday/survey-report.aspx [21 April 2015]

NAS (2015) Facts about Autism, 12 January, [Online], Available: http://www.autism.org.uk/About-autism/Autism-an-introduction/What-is-autism.aspx [22 April 2015].

http://uk.specialisterne.com

 

 

Laughter- the friendly medicine.

So, tonight is going to be a really quick blog post- I have been training all day and am shattered (remember back to a previous blog where I said it was ‘ok’ to give yourself a break? Well, this is it!). I will be writing about my training today in next week’s blog though- so look forward to a long in depth article then!

I was working this week with a new client- new client’s are always interesting, as you don’t know their story and it is a ‘process’ to develop a rapport with your client, into what we called the ‘working alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003). The Working Alliance is basically a term for the way in which we work with our clients- in order for you to tell me about yourself, we have to get on, you have to engage with me enough to feel comfortable enough to talk about issues that can be very challenging.

Now, notice how I didn’t say ‘we’ need to engage with each other? As a therapist, my work is all about engaging with you, as the client. I am ready from the moment you walk through that door- you could tell me the very worst thing in the world, and I will openly accept, listen and empathise with you. You don’t even have to know me. That is my job. As a therapist, I am a keen listener and what a therapist does do, is to afford you Unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1951)- that whatever you say to me, whatever your experience is, even though I many have never experienced it myself, I can listen to you without judgement. Accepting all that you tell me and actually caring about it, too.

As a therapist, I am ethically bound to be empathetic and congruent to you, as a client. What this means, is that I am open to what you say, and am listening- I can understand and imagine, or empathise with you about how that must feel and how difficult/challenging/funny/scary it is. After all, it is about being genuine and if I am not genuine with you and honest, how could you hope to gain anything from our meeting?

These are the core conditions of my training- I hope it is what makes me an understanding and empathetic therapist. But, sometimes, for some clients, this isn’t enough. They still experience difficulty in the therapy room and it can take some time to get to know each other well enough, for you to feel like you can open up to me. And you know what? That is fine. It is ok to take your time!

I was reading a study about how, after laughing, we are more inclined to open up and tell others personal details about ourselves (Gray, Parkinson and & Dunbar, 2015)- the study used groups of participants, who were each shown a different video, prior to writing down five pieces of personal information about themselves, which they were prepared to share with their companions. They were shown either a comedy clip, an uplifting but sobering clip or a neutral clip from an instructional golf video.

The only difference in their reactions was laughter. I remember doing a similar experiment during my Psychology degree, except we were measuring our heart rate. Laughing, for obvious reasons raised our heart rate. I remember thinking, well, how can this be linked to anything interestingly Psychological? But here it is- the laughter made that group of participants share more intimate details about themselves than the other clips.

So, I guess you will be wondering, what does that have to do with being in the therapy room and talking about yourself? Well, as therapists, we are only human, you know. We smile, we joke and we are guilty of laughing at the wrong thing, sometimes. So, perhaps, when sharing our information, a more light-hearted approach could be used? Maybe we should share a joke or two, before we start our sessions? I know that, the longer I see you for, the more we talk about, the more we exchange pleasantries and the more we will laugh or smile at the beginning, middle and end of a session. So, I guess, laughter does actually bring us closer together- it helps us to feel comfortable with the person we are with. I imagine, that laughter is a great leveller for all people.

It has been found that when we disclose information about ourselves, it increases liking of us in the other person, and increased liking increases the likelihood of laughter. Increased liking leads to further self-disclosure and before you know it, you are part of a disclosure liking cycle! (Collins and Milner, 1994) So you can see how talking about ourselves, liking and laughter all go together hand in hand.

Unfortunately there is also an opposite cycle where by fear of rejection in the face of disclosing prevents disclosure – leading to increased isolation, loneliness and depression. (Wei, Russell and Zakalik, 2005). The thing is, in therapy, I won’t reject you. I won’t laugh if it’s not funny and I won’t make you feel bad about a decision you regret.

So if you are feeling low, and someone invites you out somewhere, and you don’t really feel up to it, you need to ask yourself a question. Which cycle do you want to ride? The fun bike to town? Or the same one you have been riding in the rut you have been stuck in?

The flip side to this, I would assume, is when we are out and about socialising. Perhaps if we are giggling too much, we relax too much and allow ourselves to say things we didn’t mean to? Perhaps it isn’t just ‘all the alcohol talking’. The study described how laughing could be a ‘social lubricant’. By the very nature of therapy, this seems to go against the grain; after all, I am supposed to be empathic and congruent towards you. But, perhaps you would like to see me laugh or smile? Maybe that makes me more real to you? Whatever it is, and however we are in the therapy room, I am there for you and we can talk and develop a rapport; even if we don’t laugh!


 

 

Clarkson, P. (2003) The Therapeutic Relationship, London: Whurr Publishers.

Collins, N.L. and Milner, L.C. (1994) ‘Self Disclosure and liking; A Meta-analytic review’, Psychological Bulletin, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 457-475.

Gray, A., Parkinson, B. and & Dunbar, R. (2015) ‘Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure’, Human Nature, vol. 26, no. 1, March, pp. 28-43.

Rogers, C. (1951) Client Centered Therapy, London: Constable.

Wei, M., Russell, D. and Zakalik, R. (2005) ‘Adult Attachment, Social Self Efficacy, Self disclosure, Loneliness, and subsequent Depression for Freshman College Students; A Longditudinal Study’, Journal of Counselling Psychology, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 602-614.

 

 

 

“It’s Society’s Crime, Not Ours!”*

I was reading some fluffy ladies magazines this week (research, you understand!) when I was quite astounded by the way we view people in everyday life. I have young children, and already, by the time they are 5, they already know that they should be ‘thin’ and that why are some of their classmates even thinner than they are.

So, I was really interested to read this study I found, about age differences and body size stereotyping in preschool girls (Harriger, 2014)- 102 girls from the age of three to five were asked to consider twelve adjectives (six positive and six negative), and to allocate one of these adjectives to one of three females they were presented with. One female was very thin, one was very fat and the final female was average size. There were no other differences between these females.

The result, which I suppose should be unsurprising, is that the three, four and five year old girls ALL ascribed more of the negative adjectives to the fat female and the more positive adjectives to the very thin female.

The second part of the study was for the children to look at nine figures (three fat, three thin and three average) and to choose who their first three preferences would be for playmates, and then to choose a best friend from the selection of nine figures.

Children of all ages tended to choose the thin figure as their first choice, a thin or average person for their second choice and had no bias choices when ascribing their third playmate. However, best friend choices always tended to be the thin figure.

Surprisingly, the three year olds showed more of a bias towards thin figures, as opposed to a bias against fat figures- fat prejudice would appear to grow with age.

Now, this study was only in America, with young girls, so the study would need to be replicated world wide and to include boys into the demographic, but it makes for sobering reading, doesn’t it? The fact that even by the age of three, young girls are conditioned to prefer the company, and appearance of thin people.

Another article I read, just this morning, was from the Guardian newspaper, which suggests that thin people are more likely to suffer from dementia than larger people (Bosely, 2015). Wait just a moment. Hang on there- so; being thin might not be a good idea in the long term? So, another article I read, states that being overweight means that you will find it more difficult to get a job, due to fat bias, fearing that fat people are ‘lazy’ (Parry, 2015). Ok, what is going on here then? Am I supposed to be fat or am I supposed to be thin? Which one is it World? Come on, I AM WAITING!!!

Whichever size you are, surely what matters is how people respond to you; and herein lies the problem. People judge people, all the time. We can’t help it. Even the most non-judgemental person in the world has their bad days, or a subject that strikes a chord with them. But what about tolerance? What about caring for others?

The fact that three year old girls find thin people more acceptable than fat people shows a huge flaw in our society- no matter how much we want to be thin, for some people, for whatever reasons, that might just not happen. The same can be said for thin people- perhaps they wish they were a little larger, but can’t put on the weight.

I feel sadness for young people in this technological society- they can’t win. As demonstrated by the two different newspaper articles- you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When the newspapers get hold of a picture of a celebrity, on the beach, not looking their best, the headlines scream offensive comments about bulges, wobbly thighs, stretch marks and cellulite. The next day, the same celebrity is on the newsstands again, but this time, she is wearing a beautiful dress, showing off how thin she is- and the newspapers mock her for being too thin, and that she should put on more weight.

Our young people are bombarded by this media, 24/7 (yes, when you think your son/daughter is in bed sleeping, they are on Snapchat, Instagram or Oovoo with their friends, sharing pictures and stories and further perpetuating the beauty myth) and it is relentless people! The pressure on our young people, to be thin, to get a job, to get good grades, to get a partner, is immense. Somewhere along the line, we need to give them a break and support them to understand that we are all different and that is ok.

Some people, however, are taking a stand, and saying “NO” to the fat shaming- Plus size models such as Tess Holliday (@Tess_holliday) are standing up for women, in particular, and saying that my shape, your shape, their shape- it’s all ok! #effyourbeautystandards has become a moniker for the disaffected and is gathering momentum, which is vital when fighting societal prejudice!

So perhaps we need to start to normalise bodies at a much younger age- a thigh gap may not be achievable for your body frame, no matter how hard you try. Perhaps, like Kim Kardashian, you will always be a ‘shapely’ figure. Or perhaps you will always be as thin as Nicole Richie. I am not in any way saying that these women are healthy or not, or that they do or do not have issues with food or eating; I am merely commenting on their shape and size. And what I am saying is that both shape types are normal for society- some people are naturally curvy, and some people are naturally very thin.

As with anything, there are varying degrees of normal, whether you are on the lighter side of the scale, or the heavier- what is important, is body confidence and how you feel (health, is of course a big issue and I am not denying it’s importance). We need to ensure that our children are healthy, yes, but also that they see the differences in people, and that all differences are normal. Whether it is your weight, your religion or your sexuality- we are all NORMAL here!

These prejudices are a function of society and as such there is an aspect that you may not have considered. If there is a societal prejudice that an overweight person will be less competent than a thin person, this prejudice will also be held by overweight people, leading to an undermining of self-confidence in their abilities.

So I guess, the challenge for us all, will be to question the way we think about people we know, especially when they are acquaintances, rather than friends, and ask ourselves “Am I really being fair in my mind, whether it is conscious or not, as to what I am thinking and saying to that thin/fat person? Am I really crediting them with the skills that they actually have?” And more to the point, am I being fair to myself? Because this, being kind to yourself and increasing your self-confidence, can be hard to achieve.


 

 

Bosely, S. (2015) Society pages, 10 April, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/apr/10/underweight-people-face-significantly-higher-risk-of-dementia-study-suggests [10 April 2015].

Harriger, J. (2014) ‘Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls’, Eating Disorders, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 177-190.

Parry, L. (2015) Mail Online, 8 April, [Online], Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3030815/Overweight-needn-t-bother-applying-job-Nearly-half-employers-unlikely-hire-fat-workers-fear-lazy.html [10 April 2015].

* Quote from Montegue Withnail, 1969

 

 

 

 

 

The Issue Behind The Headlines.

The murder suicide of Andreas Lubitz last week, with Germanwings flight 9525 was a terrible tragedy, for all concerned- the 149 victims and their families must be devastated by what the Co-Pilot chose to do. In all the news reports, there has not been any sympathy garnered for Andreas, or his family. Some may say that he does not deserve it, but I would be one of the first to disagree with this perspective. I am not saying that Andreas is absorbed from any responsibility for his actions; I am saying we need to learn and grow from them.

This kind of murder-suicide has happened before- from my research, at least 9 times before. That is a lot. Too many times, if we are being honest. From the news reports, it would appear that there have been failings at many levels- both from the Co-pilot himself, and the process of risk and safety and security from the airlines. One can only hope that these processes have all been re-evaluated in the light of 24th March’s events, and that the situation of one person being alone in the cockpit will not happen again.

I am no aviation expert; I do not know the rules and regulations of air flight. What I do know, are people. Although not an expert in people, I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life towards learning about the ‘human condition’ and what makes us ‘tick’. Over the years, the stigma of depression has decreased, but as demonstrated in the last week; we are still not over the fact that 1 in 6 people suffer depression in their lifetime, and that this is a completely normal illness.

The failing here, I believe, was in company policy- had Germanwings had a policy that there was always to be two people in the cockpit at any given time, as in the US, Andreas would not have had the opportunity to do what he did. So, this then begs the question- was it premeditated or a spontaneous act?

When people suffer with depression, usually, the only people that they are willing to hurt are themselves. Suicide is a form of self-harm; an extreme form of self-harm, but self-harm none the less. The problem with screening for this type of event, is that it would bring up too many false positive’s (Eliason, 2009); making it unfeasible both ecologically and financially.

Most murder-suicides are actually between couples, or estranged couples (Eliason, 2009) and premeditating factors are; substance abuse; divorce and separation; 88% of the time, the victims are female; depression was a risk factor, but in most of the cases of murder-suicide, this was between a couple who had broken up- not an aircraft full of men, women and children. The supposition that Andreas had recently split from his partner is there, but as yet there is no proof to determine this, or indeed if it was a cause or effect of his mental state. But aren’t we getting away from the point here, just a little?

Murder-suicide is rare, especially of this magnitude. Not everyone who is depressed is going to kill themselves, let alone anybody else; so, surely the question here, is why is someone who was mentally ill being demonised for actually being… well, mentally ill? We do not know the factors involved, but what we do know is that the resulting chaos in the press has served to stigmatise mental illness even further. Headline such as ‘Crazed Pilot’ from the Daily Mail; web articles with titles such as ‘Mad, Sad or Bad’ are screaming out the prejudice that society still serves towards mentally ill people.

Dr Paul Keedwell, a Psychiatrist at Cardiff University, was quoted in the Independent newspaper as saying “Among cases of murder suicide in general, the rate of previously diagnosed depression varies from 40 to 60 per cent, depending on the context. Of those who are depressed, very few are being treated for it..” (Connor, S 2015). But most crucially, amongst professionals, the consensus is that murder-suicide is not explainable by depression. Therefore, something more is going on in play here, but, because most of the people who are involved in murder-suicide, who know the perpetrator, are actually the victims of the crime, we cannot get a real psychological pathology of what was going on for the perpetrator at the time (Eliason, 2009).

But again, surely there is something wrong here? Yes, a crime has been committed, and the person who committed it, who we are calling the perpetrator, well, surely they, too, could be considered a victim? I don’t know about you, but the above statistic is actually quite frightening- up to 60% of people among murder suicide cases are not being treated for depression- what we have to ask, is why? If they are not being treated for depression, and the consensus is that murder-suicide is more than just depression- where are the health care system, and employers, letting us down?

Professor Michael Anestis, director of the Suicide and Emotional Dysregulation Lab at the University of Southern Mississippi states that ‘we are not particularly good at detecting risk; who’s going to do it and when’ (Bruenig, E. 2015). Reasons cited for not disclosing mental illness are fear or repercussions professionally and personally. And there in lies the problem. Mental illness, of any form, is still so radically stigmatized that the people who genuinely need the help, are not seeking it. Suffering a mental illness does not have to mean that your life is over; it does not have to mean that you lose your job. What it does mean, is that if you look for, and get support for your illness, there is help available.

In the UK, we are not used to paying for healthcare; we expect everything to be free, as we are lucky enough to have our NHS (National Health Service). However, with budget cuts and a rapidly expanding population, more prone to mental illness (or is it just the fact that we are more likely to report it? That, my friends, is an issue for another blog post!), it means that we are having to look to private healthcare to gain the mental health support we need, and perhaps that is where the model falls down? By having private therapy, individuals who are worried about their professional or private lives, can try to mitigate some of the fall out. Not all, but some. We think nothing of paying £45 for a pair of shoes or a console game, but when it comes to our mental health, we just don’t want to part with the money. So, herein lies the trap- individuals in need do not want to go to their Doctors, but they also deem private care too expensive. Where is the middle ground?

Well, it revolves around reducing the stigma attached to depression and mental illness. The more we can remove this stigma, the more people will seek help for their difficulties. This wont stop every murder-suicide- it would be impossible to catch everyone with one net- but it could help to change peoples lives.

Why are we still stigmatizing mental health, in this day and age? We know that there can be genetic factors involved; we know that stressful events can trigger depression and we know that sometimes, due to our brains physiology, depression can just happen. So, if it could happen to you, then surely it could happen to me? And you. And you. And you. See? If we keep the stigma of mental health, at some point it may affect you or someone you love.

From the headlines I have seen, it is fairly true to say that there is still a huge stigma towards mental illness in the media- an Australian Mental Health Charity, Sane, found ‘that SANE research from 2007 found that inaccurate and prejudiced assumptions about people with a mental illness could be reduced through increased accurate and helpful reporting in the media.’ So, have the headlines of the last few weeks really been helpful? Or have they just served to increase our societal prejudice towards mental health issues?

We need more empathy, more concern and more understanding towards mental health; if we do this, people will not be so afraid to come forwards to get the help they really need. It isn’t fair to all those families out there, suffering because of a silent illness. After all, how do you know that your family isn’t suffering because of a loved one’s health? Or if you do, are you too scared to open up about it, because of what others will think?

Either way, more tolerance is needed. I am not saying this would of stopped Andreas from his horrendous actions, but perhaps, just perhaps, openness, understanding and awareness of mental health issues could stop people feeling like they have no other option, by reaching them before they get to this point. It’s your choice- choose to reduce the stigma.


Bruenig, E.S. (2015) The Germanwings Mass Murder–Suicide Shows the Importance of Depression Intervention, 30 March, [Online], Available: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121405/germanwings-pilot-andreas-lubitz-struggled-severe-depression [01 April 2015].

Connor, S. (2015) Germanwings Plane Crash: ‘Murder-suicide’ cannot be explained as depression, say experts, 27 March, [Online], Available: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germanwings-plane-crash-murdersuicide-cannot-be-explained-as-depression-say-experts-10140104.html [02 April 2015].

Eliason, S. (2009) ‘Murder-Suicide: A Review of the Recent Literature’, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law Online, vol. 39, no. 3, September, pp. 371-376.

Why didn’t you like my Selfie?

Social media is really on my mind this week- I have several online presences; both personally and professionally. I find it hard to maintain them, but in this day and age, when most of our interactions with our friends seem to come from social media, what choice do we have? If you have your own business, then you will know as well as I, that it is essential to have a presence in the online world. But, how is this impacting us in our lives, and what impact is it having for our children?

Bare with me on this, and you will see where I am coming from- there is a psychological platform that is commonly used to study the psychological implications of social interaction called the Ultimatum game. The Ultimatum game relies on two people, one of which is in charge of dividing ‘resources’ between themselves and the other person who is the recipient (these resources can be anything- sweets, money, pencils, but it is usually money).

The person, who is dividing the money, is free to divide the resources in any manner they wish; the recipient can then accept or reject the first person’s offer. If the offer is accepted, say for example a 50/50 split, and then each party gets 50% of the resources. If there is a 70/30 spilt, and it is agreed, then the split is 70% to the divider and 30% to the recipient. If the recipient rejects the offer, then both parties get nothing.

The brain processes involved in the Ultimatum game were analysed (the most cited study of this is (Wout et al., 2006) ) and the results found that ‘unfair’ offers (offers 30% or less), when made by a human partner were rejected at a significantly higher rate than offers made by a computer. Thus suggesting that the participants involved had a much stronger emotional reaction to unfair offers from humans, than they did to the same offers from a computer.

So, what does that actually mean, and what does it have to do with Social media, I hear you ask! Well, this study shows that interacting with humans takes much more emotional involvement, and by default, more cognitive effort (the effort involved in making our brains work) than interacting with a computer.

So, again, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with Social media? Well, this generally means that interaction with a computer is easier for us, as it requires less emotional involvement and cognitive energy than talking to a human- when we talk to humans, 55% of our communication is through body language, 38% through tone and speed of your voice, and only 7% is actually through what we say (Aron, 1997). So when we interact with people, we are constantly paying attention to what is being said, but also the body movements, gestures, the tone of voice, the words that are being said and eye contact that is, or is not, being made.

This enables us to see and hear how people are feeling when they are speaking to us- that is not available to us when we are ‘talking’ from behind our keyboards! This means, to speak online, we need to use a lot less effort than we do when we are face to face- it is easier to hide our emotions online than it is to hide them in a face to face conversation.

By utilising Social media, the user is able to project a personality, expression, opinion, and a persona if you will, that may not be the same as the person that they ‘actually’ are. We all say things out of anger, or hurt, sometimes, but when we say it to the person themselves, we see the effect and reaction we get from being cruel- you do not get that when you are behind a screen.

When we are talking to someone who is in a particular emotional state, we are primed to enter that state ourselves (Dimberg, Thunberg and Elmehed, 2000)- meaning that when we are talking to each other, if our friend is sad, we are likely to become sad ourselves. This is sadly lost when interacting via a computer. Social media is a virtual form of interaction- meaning that the interaction takes on some of the qualities of being real, but is not in fact ‘real’. Therefore, how do we know what we are being presented with is in actual fact, real?

What’s so bad about that, then? Well, for most people, using social media is a form of remaining in contact, whether because there is a distance involved or you just want to let people know how you are doing- ever noticed how most people only really post when good things happen? As adults, we can generally regulate our use of Social media much easier than young teenagers or pre-teens can. Most children have access to the Internet now, and in particular Social Media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Oovoo and other messaging platforms. Whilst they are happily posting away about how good there day was, how much they love their Bae, the ‘banter’ at school, or the fact that Zayn Malik has left One Direction (see, I really am ‘down’ with the kids!), these young people are posting their hearts and lives and loves out in the open, for all to see. It is amazing to me, how many young people’s online accounts are open access; enabling anyone to read them. Or the fact that parents do not seem to be checking what their children are posting to these platforms.

So, here in lies the problem- if a young person is posting on Social media that they are depressed, sad, excited or happy, how do we know that this is really happening? Haven’t you ever just sent a text saying ‘I’m good’ when in actual fact, you have a headache, feel poorly or tired, or are feeling a little depressed, stressed or anxious?

Social media can be a disingenuous way of communicating- the persona we are projecting may not be the persona we actually have, and so who is regulating this? As adults, we would like to the think that we would think twice before we posted something that could be, potentially, offensive. But, young people live in the moment, they speak from their heart and not necessarily their heads- if they are posting offensive comments, perhaps it is down to peer group pressure, and not the actual person they are; who actually does have a very different set of beliefs.

So, where do we go from here? Should parents check their childrens Social Media accounts? Do we need to teach, or remind, our children about self-regulation? We assume that schools are doing the job, but isn’t it also the caregivers responsibility? As shown by the Ultimatum game, we don’t respond to computers in the same way that we respond to people- although there is a person at the end of the Social media platform, perhaps it is easier to say things we don’t necessarily mean on a computer, and then have regrets after?

And what about us as adults? Who regulates us, when we are incapable of regulating ourselves? What we need to remember is that what we put out there on Social Media is there forever, even if we do delete it. Recipients or viewers can take screenshots and keep the information. Whatever you are preparing to say, be it to your audience, a friend or possible romantic interest, ask yourself these questions- would I say it to their faces, if I were stood in front of them? And if you would, how would it make them feel?

 


Aron, A. (1997) ‘The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings’, Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 23, no. 4, April, pp. 363-377.

Dimberg, U., Thunberg, M. and Elmehed, K. (2000) ‘Unconcious Facial Reactions To Emotional Facial Expressions’, Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 1, January, pp. 86 – 89.

Wout, M.v.’., Kahn, R.́.S., Sanfey, A.G. and Aleman, A.́. (2006) ‘Affective state and decision-making in the Ultimatum Game’, Experimental Brain Research, vol. 169, Jan, pp. 564-568.

 

 

Stress- If I have no time for you, why should I have time for me?

This week has been a very busy week at WH Counselling- setting up on your own is a long, busy process. I have found myself working more than when I work as an employee! I am constantly thinking about work; a new blog post, a client, training, costs, timing- basically, you name it, it’s there! So, if I am so busy looking after the business, where is the time for me?

Whether you are setting up your own business, an employee or a stay at home parent, we will all suffer from one similar aspect- a lack of time and space! We are all too busy trying to get our work done, make sure dinner is cooked, children have done home work, we’ve done that special favour for a friend, or making time to visit a relative- so, what’s in it for me? You may ask, at the end of another busy week!

“I can’t justify spending time on myself, when there are so many other things I should be doing” is a common complaint among people nowadays- why is that? Are we working harder as a generation, or are we just not working smarter? For some people, working so hard is not an issue- they thrive on it. And, as long as it doesn’t negatively impact yourself or others around you, then I guess that is great for you and your sense of achievement. But, what if it is too much? And how will you know if it is too much? Are you feeling stressed and irritable? Do you feel pulled in all directions? Is it just too much effort to go out and meet your friends for a night out? It is? Well, perhaps it is about time you gave yourself permission to have a break!

When we are feeling stressed, all kinds of things happen to us; we may have physical symptoms- feeling tense, headaches, sweating, increased heart rate, butterflies and many more physical responses. We lose the ability to think as rationally as we would, were we not stressed. Our emotions change- we may not want to connect to people as much as we used too, we may feel sad, depressed, lonely, or like everything is too much to deal with. In turn, this can affect our behaviour- when you are stressed, are you more likely to shout at your children/partner/parents? Do you have less patience? Less interest in normal activities and, in turn, you are actually going out less or achieving less?

This is basically our adrenaline kicking in- our adrenaline is a hormone released from the adrenal glands and it’s major action, together with noradrenaline, is to prepare the body for fight or flight. Have you ever heard of our fight or flight response? It is our body’s way of protecting us and keeping us safe from stressful/dangerous/difficult situations. It can happen at any time- an exam could trigger it, being called in to your boss’s office at work, an argument, an accident or any other number of situations.

All of these physical and emotional response are perfectly normal when adrenaline is released- we might feel our chest tightening and a panic attack approaching, but again, this is just our adrenaline causing our fight or flight response. Everyone has one, and everyone has these symptoms at some point- it is a unique and different experience for everyone!

If you are feeling any of those emotions/sensations- what can you do? Well, sometimes we cannot just ‘get rid’ of our commitments and lower what we achieve. Perhaps we are committed to certain practices that we cannot get out of. But what IS important, is that you make time for YOU. “But I don’t have enough time to do that. I have too much going on. I am too tired in the evenings/weekends”- sound familiar?

At this point, it is even more important to make time for you! Life is incredibly stressful, and we all have a level of how much stress we can deal with- if we are already at our limit and the car breaks down, how are we going to deal with that extra stress? Not well! It may tip us over the edge- a problem that we, normally, if we weren’t stressed, could deal with easily, has blown out of all proportion and we just can’t deal with it.

So, what can we do to lower our stress levels? Make time for yourself! Every day, whether it is 30 minutes or a couple of hours; if it is just a bubble bath on your own, a yoga class, a walk, listening to music or reading a book, it is really important to give ourselves some time to relax and unwind. By doing this, we are reducing our stress levels, and then, when the next big stressful event happens, we are capable of dealing with it rationally and coherently.

Have you ever tried breathing and relaxation? By taking a little bit of time out to breathe, we give ourselves some much needed space to think about what we are going to do about the challenge that has just reared its head. By taking a few moments to breathe, it may stop us from saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or something that we might regret! There are many free apps that you can download, which will help with breathing and relaxation techniques. However, a short ‘mantra’ for helping to relax with breathing, is to ensure that you breathe out for longer than you breathe in for- this reduces the CO2 and allows us a chance to calm and get rid of all the adrenaline that has built up over the stressful period/incident. Please do be aware, that although breathing out will help, it can take up to 2 hours for the adrenaline to leave our body- but, in that time, the body is not releasing more adrenaline; it needs to replenish what it has already released. So, calming down, may take time!

Mindfulness is another tool that we can keep in our stress relieving tool box- “Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety” (Foundation, 2015). In short, it is learning to be in the present, rather than projecting to the future, or revisiting the past, and with this type of ‘relaxation’, it is possible to help with stressful situations. There are plenty of online courses, for free, that can help teach you mindfulness techniques- perhaps this could be part of your ‘me’ time?

So, what I am really saying, is that actually, it is ok to have a bit of ‘me’ time- it is not being selfish, it is taking good care of yourself, so that in times of crisis, you find it easier to cope! Finding the balance of ‘me’ time is very personal to you- what works for one person, may not work for all people, so do bare this in mind when you are working out what will help you! If you are not a sporty person, then there is no point in having your ‘me’ time as a sporty activity!

So, who of you is going to try and incorporate some ‘me’ time in to your day? I know I will be; at the end of the day, we all need a little pick me up from time to time. So, here it is- I give myself permission for some time off- will you?


 

 

 

Foundation, M.H. (2015) Be Mindful intro page, 17 March, [Online], Available: www.bemindful.co.uk [20 March 2015].

 

 

A Blog so Taboo, you probably won’t think it’s about you!

Menopause. We don’t want to say the word, never mind discuss the connotations we have with it- but why? What is so taboo about such a natural process and why do we find it so difficult to talk about?

When I attended my training day, I realised that even at the age of 38 (I know, I know, I don’t look it!), I hadn’t discussed the menopause with any of my peers- there is a perception that it is something that is going to happen to us, in the distant future!

But, what if it doesn’t? What if it happens when I am 39, and I haven’t had time to talk about it with anyone? Early onset menopause can happen at any age- yes, it is unusual, but it is defined as happening before the age of 45. 45. That seems really young to me right now, but I am sure that to my peers in their late 20’s/early 30’s, it seems a long way off!

So, why do we need to talk about the menopause? As men, why do you need to talk about the menopause, or even know anything about it? Well, if you’re in a committed relationship when your female partner (generally) reaches the age of 48-55, you will generally be facing the menopause together. Generally speaking!

I wonder what your experience of menopause is? Was it talked about as a child/teenager growing up? Did you/do you recognise your mums menopause? Was it a positive experience or a negative one? For me, it was an interesting time, to say the least! What about you?

Menopause can be life changing, for both of you. For the women, there can be a whole range of symptoms- hot flushes, being the one we hear most about. But, what about the others? Well, firstly there is the peri-menopause. Who has heard of that? Come on, hands up! Just as I thought, not many of you. The peri-menopause can last for up to 10 years before you have your final period. That’s a long, long time. In this time, your hormone levels begin to change and drop. Remember your teenage years, when your hormones were gearing up? Remember the emotions and the feelings you went through. Yeah, so it could be like that. It might not be, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Then, there comes the menopause itself. Again, the symptoms can last for years- it is a unique experience for each of us! Menstruation ceases, hot flushes, headaches, hair thinning, mood swings, weight gain, memory loss, depression, anxiety attacks, loss of sexual desire (libido) and a general dissatisfaction in life itself. That is a hell of a lot to be dealing with, particularly if you are bringing up teens, working and trying to maintain your relationship with your significant other.

But what if you are in your 20’s or 30’s and you have early onset menopause? What then? Where is the support? How do you deal with it? Like I’ve already said, it is a taboo in our society, so who are you going to talk to? It’s not Ghostbusters, that’s for sure.

Women who go through an early menopause can go through an even greater range of mixed emotions; after all, what was the cause of their menopause? Was it surgical, natural or chemical? Perhaps they didn’t have a choice, and are left with feelings of loss- their child-bearing years have been stolen away from them; feelings of being ‘old’ before your time; feeling that it is unfair- why did it have to happen to me? And of course, the emotions that come along when you are actually in the menopause- was it because you had to have a hysterectomy for a medical reason? Was it natural- before you even expected it to happen? Or was it due to chemical experience- chemotherapy for cancer, for example.

In the UK, 8 out of 10 women experience symptoms leading up to the menopausal phase- 45% of these women find the symptoms difficult to manage (Brayne, 2011). 1/3 of women lose interest in sex during the peri-menopause and 40% lose interest in sex during the menopause.

Now I’ve got your attention. Sex. Lack of. That’s going to affect everyone in the relationship.

No matter what age you start your menopause, as you can see from the list of symptoms; there is a lot going on. It doesn’t mean that you will experience these symptoms- all of them or any of them- but there is a fair chance you might.

And in amongst this, life goes on. You have to sit in the meeting at work, suffering from your hot flushes. You have to pick up your teenagers, even though you are feeling so tired from a lack of sleep. Your partner, be they male or female, doesn’t understand what has happened. You have changed over night- what did they do wrong?

Alexandra Pope, an author and workshop facilitator has found that if you have had traumatic life issues, prior to going through the menopause, if these have not been resolved, then it can lead to a harder time during the menopause. Perhaps the message here is self-care; we need to make sure that we are emotionally coherent, even if we are not about to go through the menopause!

What is important, despite the taboos, despite how uncomfortable it is, is that you talk about what is going on for you. Why have you suddenly started sleeping far away from your partner- explain that it is because you get hot at night and laying next to your partner makes you hotter. Why are your moods fluctuating, when they didn’t before? How is this affecting your relationship?

Many women describe a feeling of ‘powerlessness’ over their bodies- this is happening TO them, and they have no control over what is going on. How frustrating- to be in the middle of a mood swing and totally aware that you don’t want to be! Perhaps this is putting pressure on your relationship- your family doesn’t understand what is going on for you, and why should they? We don’t talk about menopause- it is something we dread and avoid from a young age. It isn’t something that we can control, and most people do not like feeling out of control.

So, what can we do about it? Well, some women choose HRT therapy, but that can have consequences of it’s own. If HRT is the way forward for you- talk to your doctor, talk to your friends. What is their experience of it? Ok, it might not be your experience, but it will give you a good idea of what may happen. Perhaps you want to follow a natural path- if so, what support can you get? Are there relaxation techniques you can learn? A book you can read, a support group you can join?

It’s time we didn’t look at the menopause as a taboo subject- it’s going to happen to every woman, at some time, but it’s how we choose to deal with it that makes the difference.

For me, I am feeling more prepared about my ‘change’ when it happens to me. At least I know what is going to happen and why, and I can understand that I may need some support to get through this, and that’s ok. Things are going to change, but they don’t have to change for the worse! How about you? Are you prepared for the change in your life? Do you want to be?


Brayne, S. (2011) Sex, Meaning and the Menopause, 1st edition, London: Continuum.

www.relate.org.uk (relationship therapy)

www.simplyhormones.com

www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ (Put HRT into the search box)

www.theonlineclinic.co.uk (Female Viagra information; flibanserin)

www.wildgenie.com (Alexandra Pope’s website)

www.daisynetwork.org.uk (network for early menopause)

www.earlymenopause.co.uk

www.thebms.org.uk/ (early onset menopause support)

www.fabafterfifty.co.uk (for older women)

So, Tell Me About Your Mother?

Good old Freud- he paints an interesting picture for us modern day Psychologists. Classic Freud, the whole psychodynamic perspective gave us a really good grounding in Psychology and how we worked as people. Rene Descartes, the French Philosopher was one of the great minds who started all this off, back in the 1600’s, when he postulated, “I think, therefore, I am”. Yes, the Greek Philosophers Socrates, Aristotle and Plato were the fore fathers of Psychology, but Descartes statement really hit home. The idea that the brain and the body were connected (Hothersall, 2003).

Psychology has come a long way since then. Freud really brought Psychology in to the main stream; but his work has left a bitter taste in many a Psychologists mouth. There is no doubt that Freud was hugely influential in the grounding of modern Psychology; if you ask the lay person about Psychology, I guarantee Freud is the first name that comes up, along with sniggers of Oedipal Complexes and ‘Tell me about your father/mother’ statements.


 

So, where have we come since then? Does Therapy still ask about your mother and father? And if so, why is it still important?

There are many different models of Psychological theory. One of these, that I ascribe too and, after working with client for so long, see in working practice every day, is Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1969). So, what is it and why is it important to me?

Attachment theory is the work of two Psychologists- John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, the work of who was published in 1991. Quite a modern theory, you may notice, but Bowlby had been working on his theory for decades before this. Bowlby theorised that the relationships and bonds between people, in particular our early caregiver (traditionally the Mother, but this could also be an Father, Aunt, Step-Mother/Father, Foster Parent etc.) are intrinsically important in our ability to form relationships, romantic or otherwise. Bowlby described his theory as the ‘lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969). This was the result of decades of work, and has proven to be a very effective model.


 

So, what is it and why does it affect us?

Bowlby hypothesized that the main caregiver, who nourished, loved and cared for the child, created a bond with them, where the child learns that in times of fear or distress, the main caregiver provides comfort and reassurance. This is essential to the survival and wellbeing of human beings. By developing this bond and understanding, the child grows into a confident toddler, and therefore, a confident child, teenager and adult. The important aspect here is the bond between caregiver and child. It’s what gives the child confidence to explore the world- have you ever watched a toddler exploring a new place? They will go and look at toys, or crawl or wander over to another area, but a securely attached child will be able to do this, occasionally looking back to ensure that the caregiver is there, watching and waiting, should anything go wrong.

This is all part of normal, human development. By being responsive and available to the child’s needs, we are allowing them the space and security to be curious and investigate their surroundings. But what happens if this isn’t the case? And how might it affect me?


 

But why is my primary caregivers role so important?

In the 1950’s and 60’s an American Psychologist performed research on maternal deprivation, his name was Harry Harlow (Harlow, 1958). What Harlow did, was actually quite cruel, but gave a very good insight into the importance of the caregiver to an infant.

Harlow took newborn baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers, and put them in a cage to live. In the cages were two wire monkey mothers. One of the wire monkeys held a bottle from which the infant monkey could obtain nourishment, while the other wire monkey was covered in a soft terry cloth. What Harlow found was that the monkeys would feed from the wire monkey with the bottle, but they would spend the majority of their days with the soft terry cloth ‘mother’. In times of fear and discomfort, the baby monkeys would instinctively head to the soft cloth ‘mothers’ for comfort and support.

From this, Harlow ascertained that the role of the caregiver is not just to do with nourishment, but a large proportion of the importance stems from the love and affection we get from a soft, loving, comforting parent.

A child whose primary caregiver was absent, or perhaps not as attentive as a caregiver should be, will develop in a different way. Perhaps your caregiver had PND (Post-natal depression) and found it difficult to develop a bond with you. Maybe your primary caregiver died, or was busy at work to keep the home above your heads. Perhaps the primary caregiver was cruel and did not show the amount of love we would hope a caregiver would give a child. We can then see how it might be difficult for that child to form the bond needed to allow them the space to be curious and to explore the world. A child, whose caregiver responds in this way, may become avoidant or ambivalently attached- this means that as you grow, you may find it difficult to develop and maintain a relationship- after all, your experience of relationships has not been a positive one.


 

So why does attachment matter? And why is it so important?

Well, a secure attachment base with out caregiver helps to increase our self-esteem, which is a rather large part of us and how we function. People, who have a secure attachment, as babies tend to be more independent, higher confidence levels, perform better in school, are less likely to suffer from depression and have more successful social relationships.

Low self-esteem issues can make the smallest things in life seem incredibly difficult. Perhaps you don’t have the confidence to ask for a pay rise, or the confidence to apply for a job or ask a girl/boy out? Low self-esteem can affect us in many ways, and it can be really difficult to build up, especially if you have no template of what self-esteem and confidence is!

Attachment issues can really affect some people, and for others, they manage to form secure and healthy attachments with no problem- like anything to do with the human Psyche, it is a very personal and unique experience for each person! How we deal with it can change from situation to situation; perhaps your new boss at work reminds you of your mother and how your relationship wasn’t easy, which in turn makes you unable to stand up to your boss, which means more work is heaped upon you. Attachment issues can affect us in many ways, and perhaps it isn’t until we have spoken to someone about this, that we know that it is affecting us.

I am not espousing that Attachment is the root of all evil, but if you are on the receiving end of a negative attachment experience, it really isn’t a pleasant feeling and you can carry it with you, and the effects it has, throughout your life. The thing is, you may not even be aware of your attachment difficulties- after all, didn’t we all have a ‘normal’ upbringing? What I think is ‘normal’ is different to what everyone else things is normal, so how do we know that our primary attachments weren’t nourishing? Sometimes, it is only through therapy that we can make sense of our experiences, and, as I said, all of our experiences are different, and unique to us!


 

Bowlby, J. (1969) Attachment. : Vol. 1. , New York: Basic Books.

Harlow, H. (1958) ‘The Nature of Love’, American Psychologist, vol. 13, pp. 673-685.

Hothersall, D. (2003) History of Psychology, 4th edition, New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.