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.

 

 

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.