Sunday, 23 December 2012

My top books of 2012 (and 2013)!

Hi all!

Giving we are nearing the end of 2012 and that Christmas is very nearly upon us (there's no escaping it now), I thought I'd share with you my reading highlights of 2012 and ones I am looking forward to in 2013.

My top 3 books of 2012

The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom.... this for me is a must read for any therapist or trainee. The book consists of 85 short chapters each consisting of individual pieces of advice such as "Engage in personal therapy", "Talk about Death" and "Do home visits".  Yalom's style is incredibly accessible and enjoyable to read (I highly recommend his other books, especially Love's Executioner). 

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! by Sheldon Kopp....... Not only is this a great title (yes, I am one of those people who judges a book by its cover) but it also is a great read for anyone setting out on a journey of self exploration. As Kopp writes "All of the truly important battles are wages within the self".

How to stay sane by Philippa Perry..... Perry is one of my favourite psychotherapists, (check her out on Twitter and her monthly client case studies in Psychologies magazine) and in this book she doesn't disappoint. It's a really simple, well presented pocket book which delves into the spectrum of mental health, with chaos at one end and rigidity at the other (and with most of us somewhere in between the two). Perry includes some useful exercises, including one linked to meditation and another about tracing your family tree through social connections.

And for 2013....

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown....this is a New York Times bestseller and I've loved her talks on TED and her podcasts so am looking forward to reading this. Brene's central message is if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, then we can create real connections with others and that it takes true courage to be vulnerable, its a sign of strength not weakness (here, here I hear you say). As a taster, here's a link to one of Brene's TED talks, (it's fab).

An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks..... I read this, all be it very briefly, on my way to my university interview, so this book holds some sentimental value for me. The book consists of various short stories regarding different case studies including people with autism. As with Yalom, Sacks is another great accessible writer. Plus am hoping Santa might be bringing me Sacks's new book, Hallucinations!

Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell...... This comes out in January (I have already pre-ordered my copy on Amazon). The Free Range philosophy is about designing your life and work to suit your needs and passions and breaking out of the whole 9-5 corporate cage (yeah)! I first came across Marianne through a great organisation called Career Shifters and have since then completed several of her courses. So am looking forward to reading her book and seeing what more I can gleam. Here's the Free Range Humans website in case you want to know more

To add a tiny little bit more culture to my blog this month, I though I'd finish with a couple of funny,festive poems from one of my favourite poets, Wendy Cope (a local Kent girl who went to the same school as me):

A Christmas Poem

At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,
The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle
And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle
And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single.

Another Christmas Poem

Bloody Christmas, here again.
Let us raise a loving cup:
Peace on earth, goodwill to men,
And make them do the washing-up.

So that's it for another year (sob, sob). I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and I will be back in the new year!

Take care

Love and peace to all!



Saturday, 24 November 2012

Shrinks in the media - more harm than good?

Hi everyone and belated Thanksgiving to our US amigos!

This month I have been enjoying watching my DVDs of the fabulous HBO series In Treatment. For those who don't know, In Treatment, is a drama series centring around the work of Dr Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Bryne), a psychotherapist in New York (here's a great little trailer I found on You Tube about the show, In Treatment). It got me thinking about how psychotherapists are portrayed in film and TV.

The fabulous In Treatment
There are numerous real life therapists who have voiced great concerns about how therapists portrayed in the media seem to breach ethical boundaries with alarming regularity.  For example therapists in film and TV  often have multiple relationships with their clients (at worst romantic ones), talk about cases with their own family members, and provide treatment outside their range of expertise.

Good Will Hunting
(the key park bench moment (post fight))
There is a specially formed group in the States called the Media Watch Committee to provide therapists with a platform for their concerns on this matter.  

One the examples the panel uses to demonstrate their concern is the character played by Robin Williams in the film Good Will Hunting, where the therapist makes great inroads with his client but crosses ethical boundaries in the process (anyone remember their first session where Robin Williams ends up grabbing Matt Damon by the throat)!

Shrink Rap
Even in more 'close to real life' therapy, one can see boundaries being challenged if not broken. For example, psychologist Pamela Stephenson interviewed her own husband, comedian Billy Connolly, for her show called Shrink Rap on Channel 4. (Here's a link to some of the episodes from the series Shrink Rap). Or the straight talking technique adopted by Oprah's Dr Phil is certainly way too directive for any serious therapy to take place.

To further demonstrate the gap between therapists on the screen and those in real life, classifications of shrinks in the media have been developed, for example:

Dr Dippy AKA Frasier
'Dr. Dippy,' who is crazier or zanier than his patients (e.g. TV’s Frasier Crane).
'Dr. Evil,' usually a corrupt mind-controller or homicidal maniac like Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs.'
'Dr. Wonderful,' the warm, caring, competent therapist who has endless time to devote to patients and often cures them by uncovering a single traumatic event.
'Dr. Rigid,' who stifles joy, fun and creativity. The spoilsport psychologist who tries to have Santa Claus committed as a lunatic in 'Miracle on 34th Street' is an illustration of this stereotype.
'Dr. Line-Crosser,' who becomes romantically involved with a patient.

Given the classifications above, it's not surprising that studies have shown that overall media portrayals of therapists create a negative impact upon the public. 

In one study (by Iowa State in 2008), the more comedy and drama programs watched containing characters of therapists, the more negative the attitudes. The study participants expected little benefit from consulting a therapist, and were less likely to seek mental health services.

Studies have also shown that the crossing of boundaries by therapists in film and TV has contributed towards a misunderstanding by the public that these kinds of behaviours are acceptable in real life therapeutic relationships.

Personally I feel that it's great that therapy is playing a more key role in the media but a balance needs to be struck between entertainment and education, the same as much can be said for other professions which rely on strict ethical guidelines such as lawyers and doctors. I would like to see more realistic versions of therapy in film and TV which could help narrow the public's expectation gap and hopefully help alleviate the stigma which still exists surrounding therapy.

Something to ponder next time you see a therapist on film or TV!

Take care

Lots of love



Saturday, 27 October 2012

Laughter really is one of the best medicines :)

Hello there!

Those of you who know me know that I am always up for a chuckle but have recently discovered that laughing can also be good for us physically and emotionally.

Care to share the joke missy?? :)
Apart from giving your muscles a fair bit of a workout, laughing unleashes endorphins which help combat stress and are the body's natural painkiller.

One of the most famous studies in laughter was conducted by Dr Lee Berk in California. In 1989, Berk studied the effects of laughter in 10 healthy males. Five experimental subjects watched an hour-long comedy while five control subjects didn't. Blood samples taken from the 10 subjects revealed that cortisol (the hormone our body releases when under stress) in the experimental subjects had decreased more rapidly in comparison to the control group. Berk's research has also shown that the level of natural killer cells (a type of immune cell that attacks virus and tumour cells) is increased through laughter. These same cells are suppressed if the body suffers consistent long-term stress.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have calculated that just 20 seconds of laughter could be as good for the lungs as three minutes spent on a rowing machine.

Children laugh about 400 times a day whereas adults manage a miserable 15, so a little more laughter will not only help us physically but also help us connect with our more creative and playful inner child.

Apparently your body cannot tell real or fake laughter apart, so you can essentially create laughter superficially and still get all the great benefits. Which is how the practise of laughter yoga came about...

Dr Madan Kataria set up the first laughter club in 1995 in Mumbai. There are now more than 5,000 laughter clubs worldwide.
Laughter yoga in action

One of my favourite podcasts, Shrink Rap Radio, interviewed Dr Kataria recently. Give it a listen, what I find funny is that throughout the interview there's lots of laughter and I definitely couldn't help chuckling to myself while I listened (got me some strange looks on the bus let me tell you)!

Shrink Rap radio podcast with Dr Madan Kataria

So just to help you on your way, and for my own personal enjoyment, below are some of my favourite internet videos which will (I hope) guarantee a chuckle!

Till next time,

Take care (and keep warm)!



Friday, 28 September 2012

Restorative Justice

Hello there!

I've just started volunteering for Victim Support, a fantastic organisation which offers free emotional and practical support to victims of crime.

Through my role at Victim Support, I've learnt about an initiative called restorative justice. This is an approach to justice which allows the victim of a crime to have a dialogue with the perpetrator, where the perpetrator is encouraged to take responsibility for their actions.  The research shows that participating in restorative justice means the risk of the perpetrator re offending is greatly reduced, by 27%, and also the victim is provided with a tangible platform for closure.

Before my interview at Victim Support, I did some research and came across this amazing radio show which the charity produced with the Prison Radio Association. In the show three current residents of Brixton prison meet with three victims of crime to discuss their experiences. their traumas, and their pain. As you can imagine there is tremendous bravery and courage in the programme, its incredibly awe inspiring. Here is the link to the radio programme, it's called Face to Face

Around the same time as starting with Victim Support, I watched a really interesting TV programme on Channel 4 called Lifers, which also contained the theme of restorative justice. It was a documentary about residents at Gartree prison in Leicestershire, home to Europe's largest population of life-sentenced prisoners. The experiences of the prisoners ranged from those who seemed to feel little remorse, to others who regret their crime almost every hour of every day. What really came through to me in the programme was the major influence the forensic psychologists had on any possible releases or transfers for the inmates. The inmates stories are varied and horrific at times, but certainly its an intriguing insight into the minds of people who just snapped one day with tragic consequences. Here is the link to the TV programme: Lifers TV

Some serious stuff but definitely worth taking a look.

Till next month

Take care




Friday, 31 August 2012

Deja vu anyone?

Hi all!

Hope everyone is having a great Summer!

A friend of mine at work said to me the other day that she was feeling a real sense of deja vu during our conversation. She asked me if I knew what deju vu was all about, and so I thought what better way than to look into this for my monthly post.

We've all been there!
Most of us have had that funny feeling that we've been somewhere before, or that we're experiencing  a situation for the second time. This gut feeling is deja vu (meaning "already seen" in French).

There are quite a few different theories as to why deja vu happens, for instance is it an act of precognition or prophecy? Or does it reflect our past dreams? Or maybe its something more scientific?

The most compelling (and probably the most accurate) reason for deja vu is that is is an anomaly of memory, which gives a false impression of an experience being a recall.  

So basically events and episodes which we experience are stored in our memory as individual elements or fragments of that event. Deja vu may occur when specific aspects of a current situation resemble certain aspects of previously occurring situations; if there is a lot of overlap between the elements of the new and old situations, we get a strong feeling of familiarity.

One of the ways our brain tricks itself into deja vu is through a mismatch between its long term and short term memory pathways. The current stimuli, instead of being stored in short term memory and then transferred to long term memory (if needed) gets dumped straight into long term memory, immediately causing that stimuli to feel as if it is an experience that you are pulling from your past.

This phenomenon is pretty common with as much as 70% of people having experienced some sort of deja vu, and interestingly its more experienced by people of 15 to 25 years old. I wonder whether this is because younger people's memories are more malleable and active and so the chances of memory overlap or disfunction is higher.  

More controversial explanations of deja vu have been put forward by parapsychologists who say that some cases might be representations of past lives, so in effect déjà vu experiences occur as people are living their lives not for the first time but at least the second.

Several psychoanalysts attribute déjà vu to simple fantasy or wish fulfilment, so the experience is made to seem like a past experience, but with a more positive outcome.

Jung, a fellow deja vu sufferer
Looking into my psychotherapy training, I discover that Carl Jung himself wrote briefly about deja vu. He described a instance during his 1925 trip to Mombasa where he viewed a slim,black man with a spear looking at him from his train. Jung really captured the feeling of deja vu when he wrote "it was a picture of something utterly alien and outside of my experience , but on the other hand a most intense "sentiment du deja vu". I had the feeling that I had already experienced this moment and had always known this world which was separated from me only by distance in time. It was as if I were this moment returning to the land of my youth, and as if I knew that dark-skinned man who had been waiting for me for five thousand years." 

So looking at the different theories it seems deja vu is just our memory getting a tad confused and not unfortunately something a little bit more intriguing like psychic activity.  Sorry folks!

Till next month!



Friday, 3 August 2012

The Denver Shooter - a question of sanity?

I wanted to write this month about the tragic shooting in Denver during a screening of the new Batman film. For me, this horrible, horrible incident has thrown up some interesting issues worthy of closer investigation. 

Currently the case is awaiting to trial and the key matter will be whether the suspect, James Holmes  (24) was sane when he committed this act. If he is proved insane, then he'll serve life imprisonment and avoid the death penalty. 

What I have found when looking into this, is that in the search for answers, I seem to only find more questions. So here are just some thoughts to ponder...

Psychological profiling

One of the key questions being asked is what may have drove Holmes, someone described as previously quiet, pleasant and introverted to commit such an horrific crime? And what kind of psychological profile does Holmes fit? According to experts, mass murderers fit one of three profiles

  • A psychopath in the clinical sense, meaning no empathy, no remorse, no feeling for others (like Ed Harris of the Columbine school shootings):
  • A deep-suicidally depressed individual (like Dylan Klebold of the Columbine school shootings); and
  • A delusional, out of touch with reality, deeply mentally ill individual (like Seung-Hui Cho of the Virginia Tech shootings).
Current thinking from psychologists is that Holmes was likely living a world of an alternate reality, suffering from delusions of threats and making plans to make right things that he perceived were wrong. So Holmes fits the third category of the list above.

Studies have shown that in most cases of mass murderers,  a staggering 98% had suffered what they considered either a major failure or loss in the time leading up to the killings. One wonders what loss Holmes could have suffered which would have been the final trigger to commit this horrendous crime? Could it be connected to him dropping out of his studies, failing his exams or moving away from his home town?  This picture is still very unclear especially given that Holmes appears to have begun planning his attack months before.

An alternate reality

This idea that Holmes could have been living in some kind of alternate reality would certainly explain some of Holmes strange behaviour. For example his declaration to the police officiers who arrested him that he was "The Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman." This identification as the Joker may also explain Holmes recently dyed red hair. Plus reports that he asked a prison worker "Did you see the movie?" "How does it end?" suggests that he is still living in his fantasy world. It is said that the judge banned cameras from Holmes' second hearing so not to excarcerbate Holmes' belief that he is in some kind of film.

There are conflicting reports about what kind of social media presence Holmes had. Apparently, contrary to the majority of his generation, he didn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. This matches Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, and supports the idea that Holmes fits the out of touch, delusion profile. However we do know that he had recently created a profile on an adult dating site before the shootings plus one of his classmates said that he used role playing games on the internet. Involvement in such types of games does suggests a potential break from reality into fantasy, again supporting his delusional profile. 

Holmes' psychiatrist

It has now been discovered that Holmes had been seeing a psychiatrist at the college, Lynne Fenton, and that he had sent her a notebook just before the shootings which was seized by the police on 23 July.  It is likely Fenton's evidence will become key to the trial especially regarding Holmes state of mind at the time of the murders. It will also be interesting to see if the notebook will be admissable evidence as opposed to being privileged under the doctor/patient relationship.

This whole case pivots on the question as to whether Holmes was sane when he committed the attack. It could be suggested that carrying out such a viscious, mindless crime is surely insane in itself but counter that with the meticulous planning which appears to have been involved, it's certainly not a straightforward case to prove. I can only anticpate that the evidence from Holmes' psychiatrist will prove invaluable.

We will just to wait and see how this one plays out. It will take months to get ready for trial, which I think is a positive thing, as it will give the local community much needed time to grieve and rebuild from this horrible tragedy.

Till next month




Friday, 13 July 2012

Living La Dolce Vita!

Roma, Roma, Roma!!
As you may have guessed, I recently came back (in the early hours of this morning to be specific) from a little jaunt in Italy....Thought I'd share some amusing highlights from my trip!

Most touristy moment
When I considered almost buying a 2013 calendar of cute young Roman Catholic priests (believe me they were bloomin' gorgeous)! 

Freak out moment
When I arrived in Bologna train station and realised that my connecting train had been cancelled due to a train drivers strike (only in Italy).  Was pretty impressed that I didn't panic too much (am crediting daily meditation for my zen calm) and instead immediately when into alternative route planning mode (am such an earth personality type). 

Yummy pizza!
Best grub
Got to be a 4 cheese and zucchini flower pizza washed down with a cold beer (see pic-yum yum),  served at a back-to-basics pizzeria filled with locals and colourful banter. (If you're ever in Rome check this place out: Barfetto 2 on Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo near Piazza Navona).

Scariest cab driver
Taxi guy who picked me up in Bologna, when he missed the junction, he actually contemplated stopping and reversing back up the motorway, thankfully he decided against it!! 

Most awe inspiring moment
Driving up to the health lodge in the stunning Dolomites (1800 metres up, see pic below) made the tiresome and expensive journey from Rome worthwhile.

The Dolomites (in arty photo mode)
Sleaziest Roman
Restaurant waiter on my first night who insisted that I didn't tip, as I should come back the next night and go out with him (as if)! Needless to say I left the tip and never returned to that restaurant.

Weirdest spa treatment
The hay pack where you are essentially covered head to toe in wet hay (yes hay, the stuff horses eat!) and wrapped up in layers of towels and plastic sheeting and then left for an hour floating on a water bed, until someone came to unravel you. It was meant to detox you but all it really did was leave me with a troublesome shower situation and a certain smell which took a while to disappear!

Your Ego....Friend or Foe??

While I was recently wandering through the Vatican (as you do :)), a tourist passed me wearing a t-shirt with an interesting slogan "Your ego is not your amigo".  

During the same trip, I also came across this quote from the novel I was reading (Eat Pray Love),

"That's just your ego trying to make sure it stays in charge.  This is what your ego does....Your ego's job isn't to serve you. It's only job is to keep itself in power."

It got me thinking about whether the t-shirt and the novel were actually true. Is your ego really something to be wary of. Ego...friend or foe?

Putting on my trainee psychotherapy hat for a moment, it was Freud who devised the psyche into 3 parts; the id, the ego and the super-ego. So let's look at how all three of these operate...

  • The id is the unorganised and unconscious part of the psyche which contains basic drives (for example the libido). The id acts to avoid discomfort, pain, displeasure and is unresponsive to the demands of reality. So a newborn baby would be described as completely "id-ridden" (it focuses only on its drives and impulses and requires instant satisfaction (as many a new parent will tell you!)).
  • The ego is the organised part of the psyche that includes defensive and intellectual-cognitive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the ego's operations are conscious.The ego aims to please the drive of the id in ways that will not cause harm in the long term (i.e. ways that are grounded in reality). The ego sometimes has to handle conflicting demands between the id and reality (and the super-ego). However, the ego appears to be more loyal to the id in times of such conflict, thereby essentially ignoring reality. To combat these conflicts, the ego develops defence mechanisms such as denial, displacement, fantasy, projection and repression.
  • The super-ego aims for perfection (i.e. its continually disappointed and unsatisfied)!  The super-ego includes a person's ideals (your sense of right and wrong), spiritual goals, and agency which forbids and/or criticises a person's drives, fantasies, feelings and actions. So essentially the super-ego is the part of you that  provides feelings of guilt, remorse etc, after you have done something to satisfy the needs of your id (naughty!). 

Sigi (as his ma used to call him)!
So what we have here is essentially a psyche sandwich (so to speak!), with the id and super-ego at opposing ends (regularly fighting with one another) and the ego stuck in the middle. And after a bit of a struggle, the ego normally sides with the id for convenience and thereby justifies actions, feelings etc of the id through various defence mechanisms. 

There's a debate as to whether you can live totally ego free. My ten pence on the subject, for what its worth, is you can't. Your ego (in Latin meaning I am) is your sense of who you are, its what gets you out of bed in the morning, gets you to work and stuff. So trying to live without it would be hopeless (and quite depressing). 

I feel that the best we can do is to be aware of the three parts to our psyche and to try to balance the demands of our id with those beliefs contained in our super-ego, and therefore leaving the ego with less of a fight on its hands. Though all of this is easier said then done!

So next time you're trying to make a decision on something (chocolate or the gym... ice cream or the or the gym), stop and think about whether its truly your choice or whether your id is taking over and your ego is just too damn lazy to stop it! 

Till next month, take care all!




Monday, 4 June 2012

The dreaded writer's block!!

Oh the irony!
So another month, another blog. I see the reminder pop up in my calendar and I start to think about what I want to say and get excited about all the ideas I'm going to have. And then the dreaded writers block hits me out of the blue! Ekk!! I start trying to scramble for ideas, something about Facebook and degrees of separation maybe, or do a film review or something about what I'm learning in college?? All of these ideas fall short of a decent blog and so I start to panic and then of course once that happens, there is no way a great idea is going to come easy!

So I thought why not write about having writers block? I'm taking inspiration from one of my favourite choons, its by Just Jack and its called Writer's Block, the opening lines being..."I get this writer's block, it comes as quite a shock. And now I'm stuck between the hard place and the biggest rock..."

So bascially Just Jack got wrtier's block and instead of just feeling sorry for himself, he decided to write a whole song about how it feels to be in this no man's land of creativity, pretty clever stuff.

The whole area got me thinking about the pressure we put on ourselves to come up with ideas and do we really give ourselves the best chances of maximising our creative potential? 

I recently went to see a Sunday sermon at the School of Life about creativity. It was a great event, the focal point being a lecture by author and academic, Jonah Lehrer. This was preceeded by all 400 of the congregation signing "Clever B*stards" by Ian Dury (pretty surreal but a lot of fun)! 

As an aside, I highly recommend checking out the School of Life website (TSOL ), plus they film their sermons, the one I went to with Jonah's talk can be watched from their home page or from here TSOL Sermon J Lehrer, enjoy!

The lecture linked to Jonah's new book called "Imagine How creativity works". I'm reading it at present and really enjoying it. The key messages I am taking so far are:

  • Being creative is not just for those so-called "creative types" (artists, inventors etc), but for everyone as we all have the same capacity in our brains to be creative.
  • Insights really happen when the mind is relaxed. So the best time for this is first thing in the morning, when you're still half asleep or when you're taking a warm shower or bath.
  • Daydreaming is another great way of getting insights
  • Blue is the colour which brings out the highest level of creatvity (it can double the chance of getting an insight), so sitting in a blue room is recommended (the colour triggers in us visions of sky and ocean which help us relax).
  • The idea that creativity can be assisted through drinking coffee and forcing the mind to focus is false and won't bring the best insights.
As someone who would never describe themselves as creative (years of miserable art, pottery and needlework classes as proof), this is definately an area for me to really work on and develop.

I should listen to the very,very clever Albert Einstein who said:

"Creativity is the residue of time wasted."

So am off to waste some of this long bank holiday weekend (cheers Liz and congrats on 60 years at the top), and maybe find a blue room to sit in for a while!

Will have to see what next month's blog will bring!!

Take care and happy Jubliee weekend!