Troll; a New Name For An Old Game

So, I was going to write a blog piece about how this week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, however, I recently made a flippant comment on social media, and all kinds of furore ensued. As I have said before, I won’t argue Politics, Religion or Music; changing people’s opinion is not my mission in life- supporting people to achieve their missions in life, however, is.

I am a fairly laid back person- I believe in the right to freedom of speech and I believe in the right for people to have their own opinions. What I don’t believe in, in any way shape or form, is bullying, and this folks, is what I became subject to- the infamous ‘Internet Troll’! Now, this got me thinking- we can all Pop Psychologise the schemas and mind-set’s of an Internet troll, but actually, what is going on for them and why do they do what they do?

In this day and age, I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 doesn’t communicate in some way via social media, email or text messaging (I have no statistics on this, so this is just a rough guess!) so this made me wonder- what are the studies out there? Has anyone studied Internet trolling? How many people have experienced Internet Trolling and if so, what is the usual outcome?

This might not seem like it would affect you or be something you would come to Therapy with, but, actually, cyber bullying is on the increase- in 2012-2013 Childline (a UK charity) saw an 87% increase in the contact they had with children complaining of cyber bullying. To put this in context, there were 4,507 children who actually had a counselling session from Childline, in a one-year period, specifically about cyber bullying. I couldn’t find any statistics for adults, but if the statistics for children have increased, I would imagine, so too, have the statistics for adults.

My experience of being ‘trolled’ was from someone I did not know, over a comment I made, expressing my own opinion. This person then took it upon themselves to bring me to task for being irrational and abusive- of which, I believe, I did no such thing. The troll decided that I had caused an affront to people and as such, it was their task to chide me. It was, to say the least, intimidating that someone so vehemently, aggressively and dogmatically was ‘baying for my blood’. This person wanted me to pay for what I had said- they felt the need to publicly vilify me, and would not give up until they did.

After a few comments, I politely declined to continue- ‘know when to pick your battles’ is something I have been taught by my parents over the years, and I can spot a troll fairly easily. To be fair, I shouldn’t have even replied to them once, but, I am only human, and so I did. Mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was not pushing it to the back of my mind and forgetting about it. It bugged me. Someone was being incredibly rude about me on a public forum, whether deserved or not, and it made me feel uncomfortable.

So, what could I do? Well, I could research- go to my books and look for a reason as to why people like this person feel the need to belittle people and ignore their opinions. What makes the Internet troll think they are right and that everyone else in the world, who doesn’t agree with them, is wrong?

So, firstly, what is an Internet Troll? What is the definition? Well, I found this online, from the good old Oxford Dictionary;

‘Make a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.’

Now, I have met a few of these in my time, both personally and professionally, but I have never had the displeasure to greet one online. And, linking in to one of my other blog posts (about how we behave and what we write when we are hidden behind a computer screen), I wondered whether Internet trolls are the same in real life, or was it just the safety of the computer that gave them the edge and bravado to behave however they wanted to?

Actually, I guess this does tie in with Mental Health Awareness week- after all, if someone is being/has been trolled for a period of time (or even just once could be enough), this could seriously upset and trouble them. Bullying is bullying, be it online or face to face and we know from statistics, that bullying does cause people to become depressed, suicidal and to even feel like they have no choice left but to take their own life.

So, what makes a troll? Well, according to a study in 2014, ‘trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘‘hot-button issues’’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014). So, an Internet Troll is a very specific type of person- they are actively seeking to make users appear overly emotion or foolish. I can certainly identify with that as being my experience. This study took place in Canada, and consisted of 1215 participants. They were recruited from an Amazon website and were given several, notable and rigorously tested personality scale questionnaires- the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale (SSIS), the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale (VAST) and a 27 item Short Dark Triad Scale (SD3). Short Dark what? The Dark Triad is effectively a Tetrad of Personality- people who experience and identify more with Sadism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism. These scales, when filled in, give the researchers an idea of what types of personality make up an Internet Troll. After all, the people who took part in the study were, admittedly, Internet Trolls; so, who better to ask?

What the study found was that the participants, a mix of men and women, commented, on average, at least 1 hour per day. That is 1 hour per day that these Trolls give up to their ‘hobby’. If you had an hour free, per day, I wonder what you would want to fill it with? Perhaps being kind to yourself and allowing yourself some ‘me’ time to do something that makes you feel good? I guess, that is the point for Internet Trolls- trolling does make them feel good; albeit in an odd way. Younger people commented for longer and men spent a greater time commenting that women.

The troll persona would appear to be a combination of a malicious virtual avatar, which reflects their own personality and their ideal self. Of all the personality measures that were studied, sadism was associated most with trolling and was specific to the trolling behaviour. The personality measures also show that trolling had a positive correlation with Psychopathy and Machiavellianism- as the authors of the study describe, ‘cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. Wow. I was not expecting to come across this information. Now, I am in no way saying that my troll had any of these issues that I have discovered evidence for- I cannot possibly know that, and I cannot ‘psychologize’ someone I have never met. For all I know, my troll didn’t understand what they were doing. So, please do not assume I am tarring every troll with the same brush- as with everything in life, there is no black or white, only shades of grey.

Another study claims that trolling is both ‘real and pretend, both playful and malicious’ (Phillips, 2011). So, does that mean that they are just playing with your emotions? Purely for ‘the game’ and ‘the lulz’? In the Phillips study, the troll lays the blame firmly at the recipient’s door- saying that they are free to leave the public forum/social media and just not look at it anymore. But what about the invasion of privacy for the victim of the troll? And why should they be forced out of their social media- don’t we all have a right to be online, how we want and when we want?

Another study describes trolls as ‘Trolls attempt to hijack a discussion through harassment or inflammatory content, hoping to provoke an emotional response. The troll ‘wins’ when discussions descend into virtual shouting matches’ (MacKinnon and Zuckerman, 2013). So, being at the end of a troll’s wrath is a no-win situation. Another study states that ‘the order of society is maintained by morality. Morality has definite rules and conducts, which every member of the society agrees upon and depends on. Morality is functional since it has authority and regularity. Therefore people know how to behave and what is right or wrong offline. In the Internet space, however, people do not perceive clear codes of conducts on the Internet, nor authority and regularity, according to the result of this study. Unlike offline morality reinforced by education, that online morality have not been shared and not even discussed so provides the existence of Troll.’ (Shin, 2008)

For some people, trolling is obviously a hobby- a mean one, but one that they enjoy. The victims, not so much. The effects of online bullying are far-reaching. People who troll online are not necessarily devoid of morals in real life, so, the question remains, why do it online?

Victims of cyber bullying are often told if you cant handle it, get offline. But why should you? So, how do you deal with something as serious as online bullying? Where do you go and what do you do, if you don’t want to go ‘offline’? There is support out there, but the convention seems to be, step away from the Internet! Sometimes, however, the damage is already done.

So what does all this mean, well a person will not necessarily consciously decide to find a deserving victim and become the Troll. But someone will rather come across a situation that fulfills their specific trigger requirements – say an offense to their pragmatic morality, and will punish that victim until they see the error of their ways. They may not see their behavior in same way as an external perspective, and without the feedback inherent in more involved forms of communication, continue without mercy. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new concept, but bullying is not. The same feelings can apply in real life, as well as the virtual.

In my practice, I have worked with clients that have been bullied- some for a short time and some for years and years. The damage that it does to them is intense, traumatic, and to some extent, irreversible. Being the victim of a bully changes you forever; it changes the person you were and creates a whole new person who has to learn to deal with the changes that have happened. Some of the changes can be good- the victim can find strength in standing up to a bully, but this can be rare. Most of the time, the changes are not positive; they wear on you as time goes on.

Coming to therapy can really help the victim; they can talk about what has happened to them and explore what the impact has been on them. However, sometimes, victims feel like they are all alone and have no one to turn to- this is when bullying can take a vicious turn. What the bully feels is just ‘a little bit of fun’ can lead to far reaching ramifications for the victim; ‘Beyond the immediate trauma of experiencing bullying, victims are at high risk of later physical and emotional disorders.’ (Vanderbilt and Augustyn, 2010). And here we are, full circle to Mental Health Awareness Week.

So, a warning for all you Internet savvy people; ‘Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!’ (Buckelsa, Trapnellb and Paulhusc, 2014), Perhaps it is time to be mindful of what we are saying to people, especially online. After all, you never know when it might be you who are the victim of bullying, and not the perpetrator. I know it has made me think twice about posting things online and has certainly made me more wary of how I interact online. I don’t find the Internet my playground, and I don’t want to be teased. Therefore, the only answer is to step away from the keyboard, and make a cup of tea!


Buckelsa, E.E., Trapnellb, P.D. and Paulhusc, D.L. (2014) ‘Trolls Just Want To Have Fun’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 67, September, pp. 97-102.

MacKinnon, R. and Zuckerman, E. (2013) ‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’, Digital Frontiers, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 14-24.

Phillips, W. (2011) ‘Meet The Trolls’, Index on Censorship, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 68-76.

Shin, J. (2008) ‘Morality and Internet Behavior: A study of the Internet Troll and its relation with morality on the Internet’, Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, Las Vegas, 2834-2840.

Vanderbilt, D. and Augustyn, M. (2010) ‘The Effects of Bullying’, Paediatrics and Child Health, vol. 20, no. 7, July, pp. 315-320.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s May Day- Time To Break The Rules!

I spent the whole day in London, UK today. As I was leaving, there were crowds and crowds of people; traffic was snarled up and it was getting noisy. I had totally forgotten that today was May Day, and, as per the usual tradition, demonstrations were going on in our capitol. The voices were so loud- everyone there seemed to be clear about one thing; what they wanted.

It made me wonder, are we always clear about what we want? I know we like to think that we are, but are we, really? When it comes down to it, don’t a lot of us honestly think that people are mind readers- if we have been upset by something, we expect people to guess at what has upset us! It is then difficult to have a conversation; if you think you know what the other person means or intended, when actually, you’ve got it quite wrong! Does this ever happen to you? Maybe you have noticed that other people do it to you? Are we really being clear about what we want, or are we just hoping that others guess?

Relationships can be difficult, even at the best of times! Our relationships with out friends, partners and family are all different. The way we communicate with these people may also be different! We have expectations of people, and ourselves, that sometimes, just really aren’t sensible! Do you think that anger is a negative emotion? Do you think that it’s best to hold your anger in?

Well, it may (or may not!) surprise you to know that, actually, anger can be a very cathartic emotion! By expressing our anger, we are communicating our displeasure and upset to others- no need for mind reading here! If we bottle up our anger, we can become resentful; we expect people to know why we are angry (there’s the mind reading again!) and we don’t necessarily give them a chance to communicate with us about what is wrong!

If we supress our anger, we are a bit like a bottle of pop (no advertising here!) that has been shaken and shaken- when we take off the lid, the pop is going to explode outwards! Does that sound familiar to any of you? By supressing your anger, it can lead to your emotions coming out in other ways- sometimes by verbal explosion, sometimes physical, but none of them particularly helpful! So, what to do? Well, when you first start to get angry, I would suggest that this is the point at which you should express your anger- don’t wait until it builds up and leads to resentment. Violence, physical or verbal abuse is never the answer to being angry- perhaps dealing with your anger before it gets to tipping point, could help you to control the other emotions that spill out, when your anger gets too much.

Sometimes, we bottle up our anger and emotions, because that is what we were taught to do- from an early age! As we are born and grow, we are constantly surrounded by rules- some of them are there for good reason (don’t cross the road on a red light, for example!), but some of them are rules we have kind of inherited along the way. Did your parents ever teach you that ‘if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? This is an example of what we term ‘Rules for Living’ and is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy concept- sometimes our rules for living are just too difficult to live by; sometimes we need to soften them, to make things easier.

If you have a rule of ‘I must always be liked’, well, that’s a difficult rule to adhere to! Not everyone in this world can like everybody else, so, when your rule is broken, and somebody doesn’t like you (for whatever reason!), how does it make you feel? Do you feel good about it? Or do you feel terrible, guilty, and anxious or any other number of emotions? This is a very rigid rule to hold dear- perhaps you learnt it from your parents, or from school, church, your friends, the newspaper or social media. Wherever you have learnt it from, it isn’t helping you to get what you want in life- happiness. So, what can we do about it?

There are a number of things we need to do;

  • What is your rule? In this example, I am going to use the rule that ‘I must always be on time’
  • Where did the rule come from? In this case, we will assume parents (sorry Mum and Dad!)
  • Is your rule realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable? No- sometimes you can’t help but be late- for example traffic queues. So this means it is not achievable.
  • What are the negative consequences of this rule- how does it impact your life? It makes me stressed all the time- I am constantly rushing around to be on time everywhere!

The rule came from our parents, who would always tell us to be on time as it is incredibly rude to be late, and only naughty people are late. As we have lived with this rule through growing up, it is something that we hold dear to us- after all, Mum and Dad are always right, aren’t they? This rule was then enforced when you went to school- remember being late for a class? Getting detention because you weren’t on time? Then you go to work, and the rule is again reinforced- it is wrong to be late!

But the thing is, life isn’t always straightforward- you’re rushing to get out of the house to meet friends for a play-date and the baby tips their milk all over them; which means that you need to change their clothes, making you late! There was a traffic accident on the way to your interview. The train was delayed. These are things that are simply beyond your control- you cannot change these. So, as you can see- being on time, always, is not reasonable rules to have- complications arise and for reasons beyond our control, sometimes, we are late!

So, what are the negative consequences of holding on tight to this rule? Well, rushing around to be on time all the time- how stressful is that? When you are late, and there is nothing you can do- do you beat yourself up about it? Do you feel cross and angry that you were late? What other negative impacts does your rule have on you?

Now you’ve worked out that your rule for living actually are hindering your goal in life- to be happy- what can you do about them? Well, you can do what we call to ‘soften’ the rules- turn a rule into a guideline. Be kinder to yourself and accept that sometimes, you just cannot be on time. Softening your rule from ‘I must always be on time’ to ‘I will try to be on time, but sometimes, this will not happen and I am ok with that’.

I am not saying this is easy to do, and it does take practice, but by doing this, you can make stressful or unpleasant situations a little easier for yourself. By softening your rules, you are hopefully not going to get as angry, and that bottle of pop isn’t going to explode everywhere! It seems so simple to do, but the tricky part here, is actually recognising your rules and working out how they affect you! We cant expect others to change for us, or to have the same rules for living that we do, but by softening our rules, it makes living with them much easier.

So, what’s stopping you? What are your rules and how do you think they are stopping you from getting what you want? It might not be happiness you are after; perhaps it is just not expecting everyone you meet to be polite. By making little changes to our lifestyles, we are making massive changes to our lives, and, over time, hopefully making our relationships and the way we deal with problems, a little better and a little easier!

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

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Is My Teenager Depressed, Or Just Hormonal and Moody?

I don’t know if you have read the recent news about children’s mental health care and cuts over the last 5 years (the cuts equate to 5% or £50 million) (Buchanon, 2015), but children’s mental health is a big issue, and it appears to be affecting more children now then before. I guess this means, that as parents, we need to be more observant than ever before. It is unknown if instances of teenage depression are actually on the increase, or it is just that through education and the fact that depression is no longer such a taboo, we are reporting cases of it more.

Children nowadays are under so much pressure- with the Internet and Social Media- the pressure is actually 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s amazing how resilient teenagers are, given the constant pressure. But how do we know whether what they are going through is normal, hormonal teenage behaviour or an actual depressive illness? However, the average onset of depression is about 14 years old. By the end of the teenage years, 20% of teens will have had depression; of those, 70% will improve through treatment and 80% of these teens don’t ever receive help for their depression. Between 1 in every 12 children and 1 in every 15 young people self harm deliberately (Green, 2013).

So, as you can see, depression is actually a lot more prevalent than you might believe, with around 1 in 5 teens suffering. Depression can often run in families and can be preceded by a traumatic event, such as a divorce, death, a break-up or an abusive situation.

Firstly, it is really important to note that each person experiences depression in a different way from the next- our experience’s are unique to ourselves, and, although we can empathise (put ourselves in the other persons shoes) to a certain extent, we can never fully know what they are going through.

Yes, hormones are raging for teenagers, and it is a turbulent time to live through, but most teens manage their angsts with normal, sociable activities- meeting up with friends, sports, arts, music, and pride about success in school or outside activities. All of this helps to balance out the negative feelings and increase the teen’s sense of self. Bad moods, moodiness, grumpiness or ‘acting out’ (arguing, using their defence mechanisms to protect themselves from what is going on) and it is all part of the teenage years and the need to find your sense of self- if you are a parent, remember back to your teenage years? Perhaps they were difficult; perhaps you acted out? Remember that it is not an easy time; have some patience and try and listen to what your teen is telling you.

Although these moods are to be expected, there is a very big difference between moodiness and depression. Depression can challenge, and even destroy, a teens very idea of themselves or who they want to be. Depression causes overwhelming sadness and despair, which cannot be resolved by being told to ‘man up’ or ‘buck up your ideas’.

One of the most important things to recognise about depression is that your teen may not always appear sad; they could be putting on a front to hide their sadness. Teenagers are trying to assert their own independence over their parents, so the arguments and moodiness could just be that. However, for some depressed teens, symptoms can be rage, irritability and aggression, making it quite difficult to actually ascertain what is going on for them.


 

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Depression


 

Some of the main signs and symptoms of depression (NHS, 2014) in teens can be easy to spot- others not quite so.

  • Does your teen feel a sense of hopelessness or sadness? It can be for no reason at all.
  • Does your teen have thoughts of death or suicide? ‘Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t here’ can sometimes be a common thought.
  • Do they suffer from a lack of energy? Are they fatigued more than normal?
  • Are there any changes in their eating habits? Eating more, or less?
  • Are there any changes in their sleeping habits? Sleeping more, sleeping less, night waking and being unable to return to sleep, waking up early?
  • Have they withdrawn from the family and their friends?
  • Are they tearful? Do they cry easily? Are they crying frequently?
  • Have they lost interest in their usual activities? Is there a sense of apathy that wasn’t there before?
  • Are they agitated? Restless? Unable to sit still?
  • Are they suffering from feelings of worthlessness and guilt?
  • Have they developed a difficulty in concentrating? Have their grades at school dropped?
  • Have they lost their usual enthusiasm? Have they developed a lack of motivation?
  • Are they feeling irritable? Angry? Hostile?
  • Have they increased feelings of anxiety?
  • Have they become extremely sensitive to criticism?
  • Do they have unexplained aches and pains? Headaches or stomach aches, for example?

Headaches, stomach aches, withdrawing from people or hanging out with a new crowd, anger, irritability and sensitivity to criticism are more common in teenage depression than they are in adult depression.


 

What is the effect of Depression on Teenagers?


 

So, what is the actual effect of depression on your teen (Medlar, 2014)? Again, this is a very unique perspective- what happens for one teen may not be what happens for another, so it is important to go by your own experiences and not others!

  • They may become violent, or more violent than usual. Usually, this is boys, but girls can become violent too. Sometimes they have been the victim of bullying, and are ‘acting out’ in the only way that they know how.
  • Some teens develop problems at school; and some excel, as they throw themselves in to their work, rather than deal with what is going on. Depression can make you feel tired, give you difficulties in concentrating and with the added aches and pains, it can lead to low attendance at school or an apathy to not engage in the way they used too.
  • Low self esteem- being depressed, your teen will already be in a low mood cycle. This can then intensify their feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness, failure and even ugliness. They may even start to see problems where there are not problems.
  • Some teens turn to drug and alcohol abuse- substances are a common way of dealing with feelings. Whilst we are drinking or on drugs, it can make us feel temporarily better and focus us away from the problems. The only problem is that substance abuse actually makes things worse for the depressed teen.
  • High- risk behaviours, such as unprotected sex, sleeping around, out of control behaviours become common, as the teen is searching for a way to alleviate their pain.
  • Some depressed teens may start to talk about running away; some may even run away. These are usually cries for help, so if this happens, it is important to listen to your teen.
  • Self-harm can also be a way of expressing their depression. Keep an eye out for teens that appear to be hiding parts of their body with long tops, or a refusal to wear shorts in warm weather. It might be a fashion statement, but it could be a sign of something else.

 

What about Suicidal Tendencies?


 

Teens that are seriously depressed may make statements expressing suicidal tendencies. Although some of these statements may well be a way of getting attention, or a cry for help, some of these statements are real and the seriously depressed teen could act on their threats. So, when should you worry? What is a warning that your teen may well attempt suicide?

Firstly, is your teen expressing thoughts that they would be ‘better off dead’ or ‘there’s no point’ ‘things will never get better’? Negative statements that are really quite dark in thought and deed? Are they joking about committing suicide? This too can often be a cry for help, as can writing stories or poems about death, suicide and dying. Are they storing medications? Asking for pills or hiding pocketknives or razor blades in their rooms? More obvious signs would be saying goodbye to friends and family, as if this is the last time they will see them. And of course, reckless behaviour- are they getting hurt a lot because they are putting themselves in dangerous positions?


What Can I do If I Suspect My Teenager Is Suffering With Depression?


 

So, what do you do if you suspect your teen is suffering from depression? Well, the first thing to know is you are not alone! There is probably nothing you have done wrong or could of done differently to stop this happening. Even if you don’t know if it is depression, talk to your teen. Find out how they are doing. Perhaps knowing that someone is interested and there for them will help them to open up about what they are finding difficult.

Try and be empathic and non-judgemental; keeping your temper with them is tricky, but the more you can appear open to discussion, the more your teen will feel they can open up. Don’t over question your teen- this could stop them from trying to reach out; teenagers do not like to be pushed into doing things they don’t want too! Try not to patronize, or say things like ‘when I was your age’- imagine someone saying that to you, when you’re feeling down? It isn’t helpful, is it?

Do listen without lecturing- try not to pass judgement or criticize- it takes a lot of guts to open up, when feeling very depressed. The most important thing here is that your teen is trying to communicate with you! You cannot talk your teen into feeling better- listen and acknowledge how bad they are feeling; their pain and sadness. Let them know that you are taking what they say seriously and that it is of importance to you.

Your teen might be too scared too talk to you, or feel that they cannot open up about what is going on. If this is the case, get in touch with your G.P who can refer your child on to the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Team (CAMHS) or there may even be a Psychology Practitioner in your surgery who your teen can talk too. It is really important that your teen, if prescribed medication, does not rely on this alone. Evidence suggests that a combination of drug therapy and talking therapy or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has been shown to be the most effective way to deal with depression.

It is also important to note that some medications can increase the suicidal thoughts; if this is the case, get in touch with your GP. Particularly if there are new suicidal thoughts, failed suicide attempts, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, restlessness or agitations, new/worse irritability, hyperactive or any other unusual changes in your teen’s behaviour.

Finally, be kind to yourself and your teen- try to factor in some ‘me’ time, where you do something important to you; be it reading, a bath, socialising or going out for a coffee or swim. The more positive experiences we have, the better we feel, especially if we can remain connected to other people. This isn’t an easy task to do, and perhaps your teen really isn’t feeling like doing any of it. Try to respect their space, but gently encourage positive activities.

Remember, your teen may not understand their feelings or how to verbalise them, so trying to get them to talk to you could be really difficult- if you don’t understand it yourself, how can you explain it to someone else?


References:

Buchanon, M. (2015) Childrens Mental Health Services Cut by £50 million, 9th January, [Online], Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30735370 [26 February 2015].

Green, H. (2013) Mental Health Statistics, 8 June, [Online], Available: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics [26 February 2015].

Medlar, F. (2014) Signs of Depression, 8 June, [Online], Available: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/07/21/a-few-signs-your-teenager-may-be-depressed/ [27 February 2015].

NHS (2014) Depression, 5 June, [Online], Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Symptoms.aspx [20 February 2015].

 

 

I’ve tried Therapy and didn’t like it- What Can I do?

Whilst working towards my Doctorate in Counselling Psychologist, part of my on-going professional development, and indeed my training, is to attend therapy myself. Why, you may ask? It is really important for me to know what it feels like to be on the other end of the seat in the therapy room!

My experience is probably a little less stressful than the average client- after all, I know what is about to happen; but that doesn’t mean it is any less nerve-wracking! Knowing that you are going to bare your soul to a stranger is a very interesting experience- it taps into our primordial experiences of trying to protect ourselves. Opening up to someone puts us in a delicate position- someone else knows our inner most secrets, and, for that to happen, we have to truly trust that person!

This is why therapy often takes a long time- it would be lovely to give a client a timescale. “I promise that within 12 weeks you will be all healed and never need therapy again!” If I could do this, I am sure I would be so busy; I wouldn’t have time for myself!

The thing is, it takes time to get to know and trust your Therapist- we’re meeting someone new for the first time, and we know nothing about him or her. That puts them in the balance of power, and it can be an uncomfortable experience to start with. Just like making new friends, it takes time to get to know people, but when we do, we can then work together in the therapeutic relationship, for a great outcome. Petruska Clarkson defines this experience as the ‘Working Alliance’ (Clarkson, 2003), and it is fundamental to a good therapeutic relationship.

Just as in life, we cannot like everyone we meet, so this is true in therapy- you just might not ‘click’ with your Therapist! This is OK! It does not mean that therapy will not work for you; it just means that you may need to find someone else that you can work with. Any good Therapist will be able to recommend another Therapist for you- so please, do not feel like you cannot ask for a referral; a good Therapist will gladly help you.

Likewise, if during the first session, the assessment, the Therapist does not feel that they are the right Therapist for you, you may be referred to a colleague. This does not mean that the Therapist isn’t competent, just that they recognise that a colleague of theirs has more experience in the area you are seeking help in, and that the Therapist is actually looking out for your welfare!

So, your first session has gone well and you think you can work with your Therapist- but it is still uncomfortable to talk to them. Why is that? Well, that’s perfectly normal! It can take weeks to develop the relationship enough to trust your Therapist and let them in. This is normal and it takes time. In long term psychotherapy, this can take months, however, from the moment you first meet your Therapist, they will be working hard to develop your working relationship together (Safran, Muran and Proskurov, 2009).

The thing is, a skilled Therapist is working hard from the beginning- the work starts the moment the assessment ends, and real changes can be made in the early weeks of therapy, regardless of the working alliance you and your Therapist have created. So, as you can see, its not all cut and dried- each therapeutic experience is different, and what I would say, is that if there is something in life that is getting you down, or getting to be too much; give therapy a go. You never know, it might help you to make the changes you never thought were possible; after all, why do you think Therapist’s go into the profession? It’s usually because we have experienced Therapy, and found it helpful!


 

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

Safran, J.D., Muran, J.C. and Proskurov, B. (2009) ‘Alliance, negotiation, and rupture resolution’, in Ablon, R.L.a.S.J. Handbook of Evidence Based Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, New York: Humana Press.

 

 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy didn’t work for my friends; why should it work for me?

In response to a question that I have been asked on the Facebook group, here is a piece I have written on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and how it works, or may not work for you!

CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a kind of therapy that is popular within the NHS. The reason that it is so popular is that it is an evidence-based practice; meaning that there have been scientific studies which prove that the therapy works (Whitfield and Williams, 2003). That isn’t to say that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works for everyone, just that it works quite often! We are all incredibly individual- just as you and your friend have very different needs when it comes to relationships; so do we all have very different needs when it comes to therapy!

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works by looking at how our thoughts affect our feelings, which affect our behaviours, which in turn, affect our physical feelings- it’s sometimes called the CBT donut, as all of these behaviours and emotions affect each other! An outside situation happens, which in turn, makes us think and feel an interaction- sometimes these are good, and sometimes these are bad. When the interactions are negative, this is where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can work.

CBTDonut

CBT can be very helpful for certain conditions; Panic Attacks, Anger, Depression, Phobia’s, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Sexual problems and Health problems. In simple terms, if your issue is quite specific, (for example a phobia of spiders) the more likely it is that CBT could help you. That is not to say that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will work for you, if you have one of these issues!

During the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions, you will set goals with the Therapist; specific goals, that you will work towards each week. The techniques that you learn to achieve your goals during your Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, can be utilised in other areas of your life, and are tools in your toolbox for dealing with issues as you go through life, and let’s be honest, we could all do with learning tips that might make the journey of life a little easier!

CBT tends to deal with the present, the here and now, which is where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy differs from other talking therapies. With CBT, we do not go in to the past and deal with issues you may have had since childhood; and for some issues, this is ok, as you only seek to change how you make sense of, and react to, certain situations.

However, for some people, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is not enough- they need to go back into their past and to deal with the issues that they have experienced during their lives. Talking therapies are non-directive, and deal with support and empathy. Although your CBT Therapist may well be empathic and supportive, it is within the remit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to be directive- this means that the Therapist will give you advice, ideas and techniques as to how to help your issues. This, though, is very different from being told what to do- and I am sure you will agree, nobody likes being told what to do!

My practice is considered to be Integrative- this means that I utilise different types of therapeutic techniques. My main modality is to be Person-Centered; which, to you and me, just means that I am empathic, supportive and offer a non-judgemental listening ear, whilst we work together to get to a therapeutic ending. Sometimes, this does mean that I use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; but I am not limited to just that. Perhaps a mix of therapies is what you’re after? After all, sometimes we just don’t know what the issues are, or that the issue is grounded in our experience from a long time ago. Either way, perhaps CBT may not be for you, but it could be worth a try!


 

Links to read:

NHS CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) Website

Royal College of Psychiatry Information on CBT

Patient.co.uk Website CBT


Whitfield, G. and Williams, C. (2003) ‘The evidence base for cognitive–behavioural therapy in depression: delivery in busy clinical settings’, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, vol. 9, no. 1, Jan, pp. 21-30.

 

It’s Valentine’s Day- Are you ready?

Whether we are looking forward to it or not, tomorrow is Valentine’s day and for some people, the pressure is really on- to ensure you have a date or to get the right gift or even just to get it right for your long term partner. Either way, Valentines day can be either a dream come true or a strategic and lonely disappointment.

Society really conditions us to believe that, without a date, Valentine’s day is a disaster for us, personally. I like to think that perhaps, being alone on Valentine’s day is better than being with someone who really doesn’t appreciate us!

There are many different theories about love- Psychologist Zick Rubin proposed the idea that romantic love is made up of three elements- attachment, caring and intimacy (Rubin, 1970). Robert Sternberg suggests a triangular theory of love; that there are three components; intimacy, passion and commitment, and that a different combination of all three make up different types of love (Steinberg, 1996). Realistically, most people don’t care how love is made up, just that they are freely experiencing it!

Psychologists have also determined that it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you fancy someone- so first impressions really do count! And it’s not just verbal first impressions- 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 it comes down to it, what we say doesn’t really count, but what our body is saying is incredibly important!

So, I guess from this, we can see that it really is the whole package that counts, and having a level of confidence in yourself, be it mentally or physically, is actually really important to how we come across.

Relationships can be difficult, they are not easy to get right, but when they are right, it is a highly rewarding experience. Perhaps Valentine’s day, for you, highlights differences in your relationship, or the fact that you would like some support in order to become more confident so you can get into a relationship. Whatever the reason, working out your own personal issues can really help with your communication- the more confident you are, the more positive your body language, and as we can see, 55% of communication means you can’t argue with that!


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.

Rubin, Z. (1970) ‘Measurement of Romantic Love:’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 265-273.

Steinberg, R.J. (1996) ‘A Triangular Theory of Love’, Psychological Review, vol. 93, no. 2, April, pp. 119-135.