Creative writing and the therapeutic journey

Blog Post No. 155

18th July 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The art of writing; the frustrations of writing; complexity versus oversimplification; and the artist’s therapeutic journey…

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Introduction

Cover444It is now more than three months since my previous blog post was published.  The delay was down to how busy I’ve been, largely because of writing my latest book, which is now available at Amazon: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: The case against Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.***

My main role in life, as a doctor of counselling, is to see individual clients who have ‘problems of daily living’ which they cannot resolve on their own.  I help people with problems of anxiety, depression, anger, couple conflict, attachment problems, and other relationship problems.  Dr Jim’s Counselling Division.***

drjim-counsellor1However, I also write books, blogs and web pages; and articles or papers on counselling-related topics.  And I help individuals, from time to time, who are struggling with their creative or technical writing projects.  Sometimes I help individual writers to stay motivated, or to process their repeated rejection by an unreceptive and uncaring world.

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The frustrations of writing

It is far from easy being a creative writer.  Frustrations abound, from conception of a new and useful writing project; doing the research; writing early drafts; then polishing, editing and publishing; and then trying to sell the end product in a world which is awash with information overload.

An example of the frustrations of having produced a useful book, and then having it be ignored, is this:

Chill Out, coverOver the years of my professional career, I have found it stressful coping with the excessive demands of an exploitative social and economic environment; on top of the stresses caused by my own ambition; and the pressures of my own goals.  As a response to feelings of stress, I have studied the nature of stress; the causes and cures for stress; and the best strategies for staying on top of daily stress and strain.  And then, in 2003 (or earlier) I began to write about the nature of stress, and how to manage it, so it does not spoil our happiness and damage our physical health and emotional wellbeing.

In my new book on REBT, I wrote about that period like this:

“As early as August 2003 (and probably earlier), I was writing about the fact that stress was a multi-causal problem.  That idea contradicts the ABC theory, which asserts that all emotional distress (including the common manifestations of stress: anger, anxiety and depression) are caused exclusively by the client’s Beliefs (B’s).  Here is an example of my writing from August 2003:

“I have developed a stress management programme consisting of fifteen strategies which help you to work on your body, your emotions, your thinking, and your stress management skills. This programme allows you to develop a stress-free life.

8-physical-symptoms-of-stress

“You may also be affected by many life-change stressors, e.g. Moving house; death of your spouse or other loved one; divorce; marriage; redundancy; bullying at work; promotion; demotion; change of lifestyle; etc.

“Your stress level also depends upon such factors as your diet, exercise, what you tell yourself about your life pressures, and so on. (What you tell yourself about your pressures is called your “self-talk”).

“And a lot depends upon your sense of control. Can you control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you confident and assertive enough to at least try to control your workload, your work environment, and/or your social life? Are you wise enough to learn how to stoically accept those things which you clearly cannot control? The more control you have, the less stress you feel, according to the Whitehall Studies, conducted by Michael Marmot, beginning in 1984.” (Original source in footnotes)[1].

However, the frustration was this: Although I had expertise about managing stress; and although I had packaged 15 different strategies for getting your stress under control, very few people bought my book!

And today, I believe, most people do not understand stress: How it destroys their happiness, damages their physical health, and causes all kinds of emotional problems.

Tough stuff! This is the lot of the creative writer.  The world most often seem to not to be ready for our insights!

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People love simplicity and side-tracks

While my stress book was not selling to any reasonable degree, the simple books about the ABC model of REBT, produced by Dr Albert Ellis, were selling much better.  Those books presented an exaggerated claim that they could help the reader to quickly and relatively effortlessly get rid of any problem, simply by changing their beliefs about the problems they encountered.

My new book demonstrates that there was never any solid evidence that this claim is true.  It also demonstrates that, in the process, the REBT/CBT model blames the client for their own upsets, thus excusing the harshness of current government policy in the US and the UK, where the riche are enriched and the poor are squashed!  That squashing process huts, and causes emotional distress and physical health problems.

Here is the evidence that it is not the individual’s beliefs, but the social environment that has the most impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing:

While psychotherapists like Albert Ellis tended to emphasise the role of the counselling client’s beliefs in the causation of anger, anxiety, depression, and so on, Oliver James, and his concept of ‘affluenza’, tends to emphasise living in a materialistic environment. As Dr James writes: “Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii. (63).

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The singer, not the song

Wounded psychotherapistIf you want to know where Albert Ellis’s cockeyed theory of human disturbance came from, you have to look beyond his theory books, and get into the foundations of his life, by reading his autobiography, and biographies about him.  That’s what I did in the end, in order to understand him and his theory of REBT.  In 2013, I did the research on his childhood, and wrote a book which showed that his childhood neglect by his parents was so extreme that he became an extreme Stoic, with an incapacity to experience or expose himself to love.  He developed an avoidant attachment style, and a disregard for emotion as a guide to action in the world.  He became a cold ‘reasoner’, whose reasoning was cockeyed because he was afraid to feel the sense of rejection that would have been appropriate to his childhood abandonment.  You can read about his sad journey in my book titled, A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis, and the limitations of REBT/CBT.***

front-cover2But that then brings us to who I am!  What is my song, and who is the singer anyway?  You can read about the journey that I’ve been on, from birth to the age of forty years – the key experiences that shaped me – and how I did my therapy in the end (which Ellis failed to do!)  You can find that story here: Metal Dog – Long Road Home: A mythical journey.***

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Conclusion

If you are a creative writer, and you want to write your own autobiography, or autobiographical novel, or you need support with any aspect of your creative writing process, then I can help you.

Coaching, counselling and therapy for writers.***

Or you could take a look at my current books in print.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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[1] Source: My stress management page from 2003.  Still available online, at the Internet Archive WayBack Machine, here:           http://web.archive.org/web/20050829093647/http://rebt.cc:80/_wsn/page3.html

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Reduce stress – increase energy

Blog Post No. 48

1st May 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: A star technique for saving your energy: Wiping the slate clean each day

Introduction

Every day we all are involved in the business of energy management, (physical and mental) whether we are aware of it or not, as we juggle different tasks, time pressures and negotiating with other people. We are all expected to engage in ‘multi-tasking’, which is actually virtually impossible, but the pressure of life is certainly intense.

1-Man-workingSo how, in such a demanding environment, do we manage our energy successfully? So that we optimise our productivity, but conserve our energy and protect our physical and mental health.

What I know is that if we don’t manage our energy carefully, we become the victim of burnout and stress, and unhappiness and ill health, and who wants that?

One successful energy-management strategy

Here is a great suggestion from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in.

“This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterday”.

When I was a tutor in a college, I had a variety of challenges to face every day in my job, just like everyone else has to face in their jobs. I needed a very high energy level to keep going in the face of the challenges at work, and to adapt and adjust to the needs of the different learners I worked with.

To preserve my energy, so that I could face the following day’s work feeling refreshed, I developed a strategy that served me well for a long time and I want to pass it on to you.

Whiteboard-image-6Each day, at the end of the final teaching session, I would wipe the whiteboard clean of all the information that was on it, and I would remember all the outstanding events of the day, good and bad, and wipe them away in my mind at the same time.

I wiped away my hopes for successfully getting information across to people, and disappointments and mistakes.

This left my mind, and the whiteboard, empty and this action created a calm, white, clear mental space on which I could start anew, again, the following day. After all, I couldn’t change what I had done (or hadn’t managed to do). I could only learn from my experience.

I call this my ‘blank slate’ technique.

Goethe-2The other aspect of this approach was this: I was asserting my boundaries with my job. In other words, I was taking responsibility for managing upwards.  I was not allowing myself to develop ‘leaky boundaries’ through which outside forces could use up my precious reserves of energy!

The ‘Blank slate’ technique is a very powerful, effective visualisation process. It requires effort, determination and  insistence that ‘it’s over!’  But it works only if you work it!

Quality recovery time

Once we have finished work, (if we want to return to our work the following day with strength and vigour), we are then into ‘Quality recovery time’.

Swimming-athlete-3 Some years ago I found this idea was used by Olympic athletes. After they had been working on the skills they wanted to develop, then they needed time to rest and recover. The human body needs proper recovery for sustained and improved performance, for development, and even for preventing injuries.

For those athletes, the athletic skills practice time and the recovery time were a partnership – they were absolutely intertwined, if you wanted to become really accomplished in what you were doing. Their conviction was that, if you neglected your recovery time, your ability to sustain high levels of energy to achieve your goals would quickly run out.

Quality-recovery-4

Part of quality recovery time is mentally and physically completing the day’s work, whether paid or unpaid, and then moving into regeneration of our energy: getting the most nutritious food we can afford; having a decent night’s sleep; having a mental break; spending time with our loved ones; and generally recharging our batteries.

Boundaries between work and quality recovery time are essential, and people can be very vulnerable if they don’t create boundaries. Their employers will not do it for them: I recently read of an American estate agency that has moved into London, and insists that its staff answer their mobile phones in the middle of the night, if a client wanted to speak to them or make an enquiry about a house purchase.

The agency is proud of their customer service! What about the mental and physical health of their employees? This is arrant exploitation of people’s need for a job.

Far from being a good form of work/life balance, this employer is only interested in work/work imbalance.

Work-life-balance-7

Conclusion

If you want to have a good quality of life; to have real work/life balance; and to preserve your physical and mental health in the process, then there is no alternative but to create our own boundaries between work and recovery time.  This is also necessary if you want to be creative and productive in your work time!

Thinking back to my ‘blank slate’ (or ‘blank whiteboard’ technique), if you learn to use this technique at the end of each day, this will ensure that you don’t leak lots of energy away when you need to be into quality recovery time.

What you need to create is some physical representation that the end of the day’s work has arrived (like my cleaning of the white board).  An example would be creating a clear desk; or unplugging a piece of equipment; or putting your diary in a locked drawer; etc.

There is a lawyer in a novel by Charles Dickens who, when he got home after a day’s work, would spend a long time washing his hands, getting rid of the accumulations of the day’s work from his body and, symbolically, from his mind.

Reflection and leaky boundaries

Leaky-boundaries-image

Reflecting at regular intervals on how happy you are with your work/life balance will give you valuable clues as to whether you are managing your life energies in the best way for you.

If you are aware of leaky boundaries in your life, and are giving your energies away to others, (without your full consent), then you could consider the strengthening skills of assertiveness and negotiation.

Strengthening these skills will make you happier and more confident as you manage your life in the face of pressures from others (and pressure from your own Inner Critic).

Brene-brown

Contact me if you want to learn some very useful techniques for managing your energy for better work/life balance; for increased creativity and productivity.

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Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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Daily Resilience–boosters for you

Blog Post No. 46

31st March 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Daily resilience–boosters for you

Introduction

Do you want to be more resilient? To stand up to the pressures of your daily life more vigorously and powerfully and energetically?

Tennis-starIn this blog I am going to summarise some findings from research conducted on athletes, which can help us build our resilience in the face of all the hassles and challenges we can face at work each day.

An explanation of micro-resilience at work

Micro-book-coverBonnie St. John and Allen Haines wrote a book called ‘Micro-resilience’, and in it they summarise this research finding: Dr James Loehr (a sports psychologist) wanted to understand why there were hundreds of athletes who were on international tours, but there were only a few who regularly won the tournaments and trophies. He wanted to know what the difference was between these two sets of athletes.

Loehr put heart rate monitors on a selection of the two different sets of tennis players – the ‘winners’ and the ‘also ran’s’ – and discovered that the top tennis players were able to very speedily recover their energy and positive focus after having played shots.

As they were returning to the baseline in the tennis court, or to the side of the court, they used particular strategies to recover their energy, focus and motivation.

These top-players very quickly returned their heart rates to normal – much more quickly than their less successful competitors. Here was the crucial part of what Dr James Loehr learned:

The further he went down the list of seeded players, the more dramatic the differences were. Those at the bottom of the list (the less successful tennis players) employed none of these rejuvenating behaviours….”

“They stayed keyed up, tense and even distracted in the sixteen to twenty seconds that normally elapse between a point scored and the following serve.”

The power of ‘mini-recoveries’

He discovered that by the final set of a 3 hour tennis match, the player who had been using small, imperceptible ‘mini-recoveries’ in-between the points, was much more likely to succeed in the tennis game than the players who did not use such strategies.

So Dr Loehr created something called the ’16 second cure’ and this consists of focusing exercises and relaxation techniques that help the players, who are under intense pressure, to do the following things:

“…shake off mistakes, release tension, and project a positive image to their opponents…”

And this strategy has now been taught by tennis coaches throughout the world.

How this research finding can help people in all types of jobs

We can all use this research insight in any field of work.  Each day, any of us can experience periods of intense pressure, quiet times and a whole range of experiences in-between. We also have a constantly changing selection of people to deal with and respond to. How can we keep going so that we aren’t totally washed out by the end of the working day?

Power-of-full-engagment-coverDr James Loehr created the concept of the ‘executive athlete’ after these research findings, which he wrote about in his book ‘The Power of Full Engagement’ (2003) with T. Schwartz.

This very successful use of energy management strategies by athletes can be transferred to other working environments, if we adapt them appropriately.

Micro-resilience techniques to help us stay in control

If you experiment with using some of these strategies – listed below – to keep you going during the day, you will find that your energy level is higher and you won’t feel as drained.

I used these techniques during my career as a college tutor, and there are also techniques from Bonnie St. John and Allen Haines’s book. (Bear in mind that if you are working in exploitative work situations, you will need help from your union as well as these self-management strategies. The union’s specialist form of protection is necessary as it will be beyond your capacity to fully defend yourself if your energies are drained from: bullying management tactics; zero hours contracts; wages below the minimum wage, and/or unhealthy work environments).

Here is a little selection of just seven such strategies; and I teach many more to my coaching-counselling clients:

1. The Yoga ‘Death pose’

Picture-death-poseFirst, let us look at the ‘death pose’ from yoga practice.  This is an amazingly effective way to recharge your batteries, and is very good for your back. If you have you own office or there is a vacant room, simply lie on the floor for 10 minutes with a book (of, say, two inches thickness) under your head (as a ‘hard pillow’). Put your arms down by your sides. Clear your mind of any stress or strain, worry or preoccupation.  Breathe deeply into your belly, and relax.  Stay still, and close your eyes if you want to. Any ideas that arise in your mind should be gently brushed away.  After 10 minutes, very slowly sit up, and then stand up. This will refresh your body and mind at the same time.

Benefits-death-pose-callout

2.The  seated Tin Soldier/Rag Doll Relaxation Exercise

Whilst sitting at your desk, after about 30 or 40 minutes of intense concentration, you will need a break.  Sometimes you will need to get up and move around (as sedentary activity is very bad for you, physically and mentally!).  But sometimes you can relax while you are sitting down.  One way to do that is to use the ‘Tin soldier/Rag doll’ exercise.  This is how it goes:

Tense your body, arms, and face as much as possible for a couple of minutes. Really feel the tension in your body. Imagine you are made of tin, and are very stiff and unbending. (The ‘tin soldier’ phase).

Then slowly, slowly let all the tension drain out of your body, and change yourself into a rag doll. Feel yourself melt into the chair. Relax all your muscles – your thigh muscles, feet, arms, hands and fingers, stomach and jaw, and facial muscles.  Let your arms hang down by your sides.  Let your head fall, and your shoulder slump. (The ‘rag doll’ phase).

Sit with the feeling of complete relaxation for a few minutes (say, five or six).  This will be really good for your body and mind – to say nothing of your productivity, creativity and focus.  In the process, you will be switching on your ‘relaxation response’ which is (to get a bit technical) the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system.

3. Have a quick, healthy snack to boost your blood sugar level.

By eating a small amount of nuts and seeds (for example) you boost your blood sugar level which helps with willpower, and energy during late morning or late afternoon meetings or other challenges.

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4. Have a short walk

Get out of the building, to change your environment. Just a ten minute walk will put you in a different space (mentally), but in particular, it’s really valuable to get out at dinnertime (lunchtime).   You will feel mentally refreshed and have more energy for your work in the afternoon. Seeing trees and experiencing fresh air will boost your energy. Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on “tasks calling for sustained focus”: “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.”

5. Write it Out!

If you’ve had a draining, difficult interaction with someone in work, and you are still reverberating from it, then when you are at your desk (or workstation), write down what happened and how you felt about it.  Writing it down will get it out of your head and give you a chance to cool down. Later you can then reflect on what happened.

(If you are unable to write anything down, simply name the emotions that you are going through, in your mind.)  This is a technique that is called “labelling” and there is a New England head teacher (whom St John and Haines describe in their book) who uses this technique when she has confrontations with parents and teachers.

“When she tried labelling, Kathleen noticed that it increased her sense of control. Now, unbeknownst to her guests, Kathleen’s notes during confrontational meetings not only cover action steps and follow-up items but also descriptions of her emotions during each encounter.”

Dr Daniel Amen, who is an expert on brain-scanning techniques, says: “Often, just naming a thought takes away its power”.

Or as Dr Daniel Siegel says: “You have to name it to tame it!”

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6. Using your sense of smell

Cinnamon

Scents are very powerful. Dr Joan Borysenko, who was one of the pioneers of  integrative medicine and worked at Harvard medical school, stated: “Certain scents can cut right through an emotional hijack. For example, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg.” These scents affect our limbic system and relax us very quickly. This finding was confirmed by Dr Daniel Amen, in his book ‘Change your brain, change your life’:

“Because your sense of smell goes directly to the deep limbic system, it is easy to see why smells can have such a powerful impact on our feeling states. The right smells likely cool the limbic system. Pleasing fragrances are like an anti-inflammatory”.

So, having small samples of spices, perfumes or sweets, in your work environment, which have really comforting associations for you, can give you a quick boost of energy.

hardcastle-crags

7. Images from nature can calm us down

Finally, having pictures of scenes from nature around us will have a beneficial effect on us, even if they are just on our screensaver or on a poster on the wall. Or in a frame on our desk or workstation.  Just looking at photos of nature in a quiet room can give us a greater mental boost than walking down a busy urban street.

Dr Marc Berman and researchers at the University of Michigan had participants take a break for 10 minutes in a quiet room to look at pictures of a nature scene or city street. They found that mental performance improved after the nature break, even though the images were  only on paper. Although the boost wasn’t as great as when participants actually took a walk among the trees, it was more effective than an actual city walk.

Conclusion

Balancing our stressful working days with micro-resilience techniques- like the seven outlined above – will make us happier, increase our energy, and improve the quality of our lives.

Why not experiment with them, and see if any of them work for you!

If I had more time and space I could teach lots more of this stuff to you.

Best wishes

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

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References

Loehr, J and Schwartz, T (2003) The Power of Full Engagement. New York. Simon and Shuster.

St John, Bonnie and Haines, Allen (2017) Micro-Resilience: Minor shifts for Major Boosts in Focus, Drive and Energy. London. Piatkus.

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Continue reading “Daily Resilience–boosters for you”

Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit:

How do we become more resilient in the face of bad news?

Introduction

In this blog, I will briefly describe some strategies which have been adopted by several universities to help their staff handle the disruption and uncertainty around Brexit – the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union – and the possible (probable?!) end of research funding for projects which are being undertaken by university staff all over the UK.

brexit

Then the effectiveness of these strategies will be considered, and alternative ones described.

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

This “Dons in distress” statement is the title of an article that was written in the Sunday Times on the 4th December, 2016. The article describes the emotions (of “uncertainty, grief and anger“) that university staff are feeling because of the Brexit vote. Research funding has been disrupted and/or stopped, and in some cases people are totally uncertainty about their future employment prospects.

Nottingham University, the article explains, is now holding resilience workshops to help the staff understand where their huge amounts of stress originate from. This is so they will have an increased sense of control over what is happening to them.

Leeds University staff counselling department and the Psychological Services have created a written guide which clarifies that the feeling of grief, anger, depression and anxiety are stages which are part of the process of handling change.

stages-of-change

They explain to staff that if they don’t call a halt to their constant checking of the news, then they will continue to feel bad. “If you receive a lot of news shocks, your body is likely to experience fear”, they state.

In addition to feeling fear, another result of constant checking of the bad news is that the ability of the academic staff to get a decent night’s sleep would be reduced.

As an alternative to anxious worrying, the guide helpfully recommends exercise, resting and eating well.  (They could have added that “news fasting”, for long periods of time, would also help).

Resilience workshops

Offering workshops and printed guides to staff is a very constructive way to help them get a new sense of control over their lives. However, one of the major drawbacks are this approach the fragility of human memory: Because of the way human memory works, only about 20% of the information from the workshops will be remembered on the following day. And then as the days pass less and less detail will be recallable.  A special effort to record and retain the information would be needed: such as frequent reviews of the same helpful material, to get it into long-term memory.

The same applies to books and booklets: unless they are analysed, and notes taken and transformed into action steps, then their value is limited, and not fully realised.

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

Knowing all about how to handle change and the stresses that go with it, is a good start. And this type of knowledge is called ‘declarative knowledge’. Here’s an example:  many heavy smokers are very informed and knowledgeable about the risks of smoking. Does this knowledge help them to give up smoking? Not in the slightest!

To start new habits, or change old habits, we need ‘procedural knowledge’. We need to know how to do something, which is a very different matter. (If you look at my blog on habit creation this will show you a summary of the process).

How, then, do we cope in the face of life’s uncertainties; to manage our resilience levels; and to develop procedural knowledge of the process?

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

One thing that is easy to forget is that we are all human animals. We’ve evolved from our pre-human ancestors, which evolved into our African hominid and human ancestors. We humans originally lived in the trees and then descended from them onto the plains of Africa. Our ancestors lived and raised children in small groups, and were biologically shaped to adapt to an environment in which each day’s food had to be searched for.

Otherwise, as vulnerable humans, we would not have survived as a race. The innate ‘fight or flight’ response – an internal, non-conscious, physiological (appraise and respond) mechanism – kept our ancestors alive and able to flee from dangers, or to try to fight animals that threatened them.

We’ve got exactly the same mechanism within us as our ancestors had, and we have a need to handle threats and dangers through physical activity. Our ancestors dealt with their own problems as they arose. But now the resilience and energy of people is being sapped by a background of continuous bad news, as people try to work, and raise their families in a turbulent world.

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

Each day the most distressing news is carefully presented to us, and endlessly repeated, and our bodies register the negative information, and react to it physically. Unless we take action on a daily basis to burn off the stress hormones created by this endless newsfeed, we will get saturated with those hormones.

The Leeds University guide warns against news addiction, and recommends that staff manage their exposure to news. Apparently, according to the article, dons are having news programmes on continually and checking the news in the middle of the night.

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

As a former lecturer at a FE college for approximately 35 years, I would like to share with you the three top techniques I used to survive in an educational environment which had a lot of waves of changes and uncertainty. Managing to emerge relatively unscathed, I’d like to recommend these three invaluable strategies for you to try out for yourself; and to experience the benefits of them yourself (assuming you don’t practise them already).

The first and foremost technique, in my opinion, to deal with massive change and uncertainty in the workplace, is daily exercise, which will burn off stress hormones from the previous day’s hassles. And not only does it quickly reduce feelings of anxiety or depression (or implosive anger) – our bodies make sure we find it a pleasurable activity, and release feel-good hormones.

Firstly I would recommend that you give up watching the evening news, and/or breakfast news on television each day, and instead do a bout of dancing, jogging, yoga, Chi-gong or any other kind of physical activity that you really enjoy. This is a great way to burn off the stress created by the previous day’s hassles, and it also releases endorphins, which are happiness chemicals, which lift your mood.

According to Robert Parry (2001) – in his book on Chi-gong – when we do exercise which involves deep breathing, like Chi-gong or yoga, then this type of breathing actually stimulates the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems, which is the part that helps the body rest, and restore; and renew itself through the digestive process. (This is called the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system).

We activate this process by breathing from our bellies, not our chests. (That is to say, we breathe into the bottom of the lungs, which pushes the diaphragm downwards, and the belly outwards).

belly-breathing-frog

This means that if we deliberately breathe deeply (from our diaphragm, expanding our bellies) as we do our exercises, we are able to influence our physical state: our body then switches from a stressed state to the parasympathetic relaxed state.

Parry states that: “Tests measuring the electromagnetic resonance of the brain confirm that our brains shift into what is termed the ‘Alpha’ state of relaxation and deep rest during Chi-gong breathing exercises, a state in which not only the digestion but the body’s immune function too can operate at its optimal level. This is why Chi-gong helps us feel more in touch with our emotions and thoughts.” (Page 125).

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that workers need to exercise most days of the week in order to handle stress at work.

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

In addition to physical exercise, I also recommend assertive communication strategies.

Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers’, which I strongly recommend. And the reason they don’t get ulcers, fundamentally, is that they can run away very swiftly from predators who want to eat them for lunch.

If we come across predators (or threats) at work, for example in the form of challenges to our sense of dignity and competence (like being insulted, harassed verbally, or shouted at by a member of staff [or told our funding has been removed!]), we can’t really run away. We have to stay in this stressful situation, and handle these sorts of problems, because we need the income to support our families and keep a roof over our heads.

Because we cannot abandon our jobs when the going gets tough, and because not everybody we work with will be charming and gracious, and good negotiators, life at work can become very difficult.  People can make our lives miserable if we don’t learn how to handle them skilfully.

So my second recommendation is this: Start learning assertiveness techniques to strengthen yourself in the workplace. Learning specific assertiveness techniques, and using them to communicate with colleagues, will mean that you will develop a strong sense of control over your life. This reduces your stress levels.

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

But how are you to learn to be more assertive?  Some good ideas can be found in books – as in Barbara Berckhan’s book on Judo with Words.  Or you can watch videos on assertive communication on YouTube.  Or you can go on an Assertiveness Training course, if you can find one.

A more available option is to go to a good coach-counsellor for help.  Role-plays with a supportive coach or counsellor (like yours truly) can really help to strengthen you. These techniques can be used immediately to create a better working environment for people, or help them come to terms with a situation in which their options are limited.

With role-play you can get descriptions of the techniques to use; coaching on how to do this; and immediate, constructive feedback on how you are communicating.  And it is a very powerful way to help you learn to protect your energy (and your dignity!) For example it gives you practice in expressing yourself confidently, handling requests and complaints, etc., and gives you very useful phrases to use to do your job effectively with reduced wear and tear on your nervous system. You quickly learn to ask for what you want; to say ‘No’ to what you do not want; and how to communicate your needs, wants and feelings to others.

The third recommendation: ‘Daily pages’ or a diary.

The-Artists-Way.jpg

The third recommendation is to write daily reflections on how your day went at work, or at home; and how you experienced events. The daily accounts are called “Daily pages”; or “Morning pages”, by Julia Cameron. She uses this technique to unblock creative people who have lost touch with their authentic selves and creative energies. She recommends writing three sides of A4 paper every morning. (This can be stream of consciousness, or deliberate, reflective logs of specific challenges at work, or at home) If this seems a lot, then aim to write at least one side of A4. This daily discipline works for the following crucial reason: our brains are designed to deal with incoming information – we are problem-solving creatures.  Ruminating in our minds, without committing our ideas to paper, simply causes us to go round and round the same old track, without learning or changing anything very much.

If we’re faced with challenges which we can’t handle, or need to ‘get (something) off our chests’ then we can write down what happens and our reaction to the events. This is externalising the information, and putting it out there on the page. Once the information is down on paper and out of our heads, we can see it. And because we can see it, our brain can then go into problem-solving mode and slowly a solution will appear from your brain-mind, magically.

philippa-perry-quoteLetting worries and fears about the future go round and round in our minds without expressing them in some way, is really bad for us and can affect our immune systems. Writing about what’s bugging us has an immediate therapeutic effect, and there is lots of evidence of its value.

It’s also private, with no financial cost, and it builds resilience in people because it puts them in touch with themselves and helps them learn about their own bodies-minds and responses to outside stressors.

~~~

writing-therapy-bookIf you wanted more details about the value of writing, then a really good book written by Dr Jim Byrne, details the benefits and research findings which show what a very effective technique it is. You can find it here: The Writing Solution.***

~~~

 

 

Conclusion

If you want to become more resilient in the face of constant change and challenges, then start to practice these three techniques on a daily basis:

# Physical exercise (preferably something like Chi-gong or yoga);

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

Immediately, and increasingly, these strategies will make you stronger physically and mentally, which is what you need to survive in the face of an incessantly changing society.

Daily exercise, assertive communication and daily written reflections are the foundation stones of self-care. With these three mind-body practices, you hold the key to protecting yourself and your energies in this crazy culture, so that you can survive and do your best for your family and loved ones, and get more enjoyment and relaxation out of the time that you have.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the benefits!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers.  New York: St Martins Griffin.

Berckhan, B. (2001) Judo with Words: An intelligent way to counter verbal attacks. London: Free Association Press.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Press.

Byrne, J. (2016) Narrative Therapy and the Writing Solution: An emotive-cognitive approach to feeling better and solving problems (Narrative Therapy Series Book 1) Kindle Edition. Available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Narrative-Therapy-Writing-Solution-emotive-cognitive-ebook/dp/B01LNE73L0 

~~~

Why meditation is really good for you…

Blog Post No.6

Published on 18th September 2016 (Previously posted on 7th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A *star* technique for enjoying your life more: Daily meditation

Introduction:

nata-5-jpg-w300h225In this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

~~~

Mental demands on our energy

In our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

stress-at-work3# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

Our poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

stop-stress2What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

~~~

Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

school-meditation-008Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

~~~

How do you do it?

the-buddha-copyYou sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

~~~

Regular practice makes for successful meditation

meditation-effects-copyWhy meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

~~~

The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of meditation: http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

meditation-benefits-copy

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

Stress management and love for counsellors and others…

Blog Post No.90 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…

Introduction

Chill Out, coverEarlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week.  She thought it would be good to write about stress.  But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue.  I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily.  So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”.  She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:

Today’s bad news:

Jim-Renata7.jpgAccording to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.

This study tracked the health of 200,000 people.  The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:

Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.

Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.

How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them?  What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?

~~~

Today’s good news:

Human-heart.jpgYou can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back.  You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself!  If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.

This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health.  Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster?  Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.

~~~

Thanks, Renata.  You made your point very well.  Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.

My expertise

Jims-counselling-div2I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain.  I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.

See:

My introductory page on stress management.***

My book on stress management.***

~~~

Albert Ellis on Love

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisTo summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father.  He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for.  Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.

As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved.  This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!

See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance.  From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”.  In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved.  For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure.  Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***

Love is hugely important.  Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval.  Love is a potent force in the world:

~~~

To hell with Socrates

SocratesI have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.

In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:

  1. Most people do not know how to think straight;
  2. That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
  3. That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.

How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists?  I do not believe they could.  I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!

Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful.  (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))

And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.

Nierenberg-negotiations-book.jpgMy own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:

1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);

2. To cause their thinking to start up;

3. To ask them for some information;

4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:

5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.

Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.  Combined Qs 1 & 3
2.
3.
4
5.

Dr Jim's photoUsing this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.

The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.

The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:

  1. That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
  2. That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
  3. That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
  4. That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).

And on and on.

~~~

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

 

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

~~~

Blog Post No.89 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”

Kate-Atkinson-Life-After-Life.jpgI recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.

I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day.  In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:

“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”

Domestic-violence.jpgI was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience.  It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse.  (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner.  What a world!)

I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world.  And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.

Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:

In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life?  What’s it all about?’  This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die.  We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds.  And we leave this world alone and empty-handed.  The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire.  The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind.  The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.

~~~

Love-matters-Gerhardt.jpgSue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers.  She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem.  She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.

And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.

~~~

This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like.  This is how I sometimes express it:

Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces:  “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is.  If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean.  In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again.  To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.

Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)

~~~

road-less-travelledI like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’.  It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object.  But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’.  Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.

But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism.  He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisHe failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.

To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love.  I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***

If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

~~~

The benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Blog Post No.9

Posted on 2nd July 2016: (Originally posted on 28th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Several fascinating research findings about the benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Introduction:

Bluebells-trees.JPGMy job as a coach/counsellor is to help my clients become strong, confident and healthy. And if I find information that will help people achieve that goal, then it’s my job to spread the good news.

So in this blog I am going to show you the research evidence that walking amongst trees, simple as it may seem, can do amazingly beneficial things for our bodies without us realising it.

What is ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’?

The name ‘Shinrin Yoku’ was created by the Japanese ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, and what it means is: ‘Making contact with, and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’ (not actually bathing). There are now a few dozen forest therapy centres in Japan, as the process has been scientifically investigated and the research findings demonstrate the benefits of walking in the forests.   These ‘forest bathing’ activities have been shown to be very beneficial for the body.

Yoshifumi Miyazaki, one of the main researchers in this field, has been researching the effects of nature on our bodies for over 30 years, and he mentions in his TED  talk on ‘Nature therapy,’ a  highly significant fact:

Miyazaki.JPGHe mentioned that we as human beings (homo sapiens) have lived on earth for 5 million years, and for 99.9999% of that time, we lived in the forests. Then urbanisation took place, with the industrial revolution, but this period of time has only been 0.0001% of that 5 million years!

So because we are living in an artificial, man-made (or human-made) environment we’re always in a state of stress, and to strengthen ourselves against that stress, if we return to nature and walk in the forests, then we will benefit a great deal from that. We will, he maintains, strengthen our immune system.

Here are some of the research results:

The forest environments reduce the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the bloodstream. Research conducted in 2005-2006 produced evidence that it reduced cortisol concentration by 13.4% after simply looking at the forest for 20 minutes, and it had decreased by 15.8% after walking in the forest.

People’s pulse rates dropped: In the 2008 research, the average pulse rate dropped by 6.0% after viewing the forest, and a further 3.9% decrease after walking there.

But the highest change was in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ [or relaxation response] part of the nervous system, which switches on to help our bodies recover from the effects of stress).

Researchers know that this is connected to our heart rate variability, and this activity increases when we feel relaxed.

Hardcastle-Crags1.jpgSo when the research participants simply viewed the forest settings, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity by 56.1%.

But after the research participants had walked in the forest, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system activity – an increase of 103%!

Why did these bodily changes take place in the research participants?  Dr. Miyazaki discovered that one of the reasons for these changes is that the pine trees in the forests release a substance called ‘phytoncide’. This is the substance emitted by pine trees to kill insects and stop wood rot, and this substance has a beneficial effect on people as they walk through the forests. He has done a lot of interesting research with different wood scents, and shown how they have a positive effect on the body.

So when you’re out walking in the trees, you are really helping your body recover from the strains of working and driving in an urban environment, and regular walking in a natural, tree-rich setting will strengthen your immune system.

(I strongly recommend that you look at Dr. Miyazaki’s TED talk: at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD4rlWqp7Po )

He also mentions in his talk the effects of looking at flowers on humans, and he hands out red roses during his presentation – a lovely gesture to put across his ideas.

I hope you experiment with this idea of walking in the woods or forest.  Happy walking – and finally I’d like to recommend Hardcastle Crags in Hebden Bridge  as a great place to walk!

That’s all for this week,

Best wishes,

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata 4 coaching at btinternet dot com

01422 843 629

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