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A Father’s Day Plea

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I always twinge at the mention of Father’s or Mother’s Day. Not because I begrudge people a chance to celebrate and thank those they love. It’s more because my thoughts immediately go to those for whom days like this are a painful reminder of what they haven’t got.

Whether it’s those whom this Sunday, Father’s Day is a hige reminder that their dad is no longer with them. Or it may be someone who cannot say that they had or have a loving or caring Father. These days can be a painful and seemingly cruel reminder of what someone hasn’t got or have never experienced. When the whole day is the focus of so much attention on adverts and Facebook it only reinforces this.

There are no magic answers to make days like Father’s or Mother’s Day ok for those whom it is painful. I certainy don’t think people should stop celebrating the day.

My Plea

My only plea is this : if today you are celebrating, please do remember that not everyone is. If you are writing messages all over Facebook to say what a great dad you have, why not add a message saying you are thinking of those for whom the day is a tough one? If you are going out celebrating – I hope you have a fantastic time. When you get back, why not send a text to someone you know is struggling? Say hi and let them know you are thinking of them? These are not big things to ask or do. I guess it’s just about looking out for others whilst you still have a good time.

Celebrate well and please remember those who aren’t.

Why Do People Self Harm?

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13239832 - beautiful, young woman showing a question mark on a white piece of paper in front of her head, on blue background

Self-Harm can be hard to understand

Why self-harm? Most people know that we are all made with an in-built survival mechanism. In the light of this, self-harm can seem like a senseless behaviour.

I recently ran a training session about self-harm for a school in Sheffield. As I was preparing for this, I came across some research into self-harm and the brain. What I discovered shed some light on just why people turn to self-harm.

SELF HARM AND THE BRAIN

When I ask someone why they self-harm, they can provide me with a range of answers. The most common answer that I hear is, “Because it makes me feel better. I don’t know why, but it does.” Neuroscience research has found that the parts of the brain that deal with physical and emotional pain “criss-cross.” This means that when one part of the brain is activated, the other is deactivated for a short time. So, if someone is very upset and self-harm, the part of the brain which copes with physical pain is activated. This means that the part of the brain that registers emotional pain stops working for a while. The person feels less upset. So self-harm can and does bring a short relief to emotional distress.

Neuroscience hints at why self-harming can also be an addictive behaviour. Studies have found that when the part of the brain that deals with physical pain is activated, it releases Opioids into our bodies. Opioids are from the same group of chemicals as Opiates, These are, of course,  addictive. So people who self-harm often speak of both an emotional release and a kind of “high.”

Of course our brains are also highly adaptable. Studies of people who self-injure have shown that the brain “learns” that the physical pain it is experiencing is self-induced. It then increases a person’s pain thresholds. So, someone who self-harms needs to do so more and more to activate the physical pain part of the brain This is why self-harmers often escalate their injuries over time.

So, neuroscience provides some reasons why so many young people turn to self-harm. Hard that it can be to accept, it really can help.

DEALING WITH THE UNDERLYING DISTRESS

However, self-harm is only a short term answer. So many responses to self-harm are focussed on stopping someone hurting themselves. However, whenever I see a someone who is self-harming, my focus is not on primarily on stopping them hurting themselves. Rather I look at and work on what is causing them to feel so upset in the first place. It’s my experience that when you deal with the causes of someone’s upset the amount of self-harming reduces.

So, neuroscience is teaching us that self-harming can bring about some kind of relief from emotional pain. However, at 8:16 I focus firstly on dealing with the root of the problems rather than focussing on stopping the outward symptoms.

Scientific American : How Pain Can Make You Feel Better
The Smithsonian : The Neuroscience of Self Harm

Good Will Hunting it Aint

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When I first decided I wanted to work as a children’s and young people’s counsellor I imagined day after day being filled with moments such as the one shown here (apologies for the bad language in the clip). It wasn’t long into my training that I realised that these kind of life-changing moments in therapy are few and far between.

I remember meeting with my University tutor after a particuarly hard going few months counselling and she asked me how it was going. I remember saying what I had learnt – “Good Will Hunting It Aint.” I was learning (the hard way) that the vast majority of therapeutic work is about creating the right conditions so that a person can gradually make changes.

Therapists call moments like this one a “Moment of Relational Depth” (Mearns & Cooper, 2005). It’s about a moment when a therapist and client just “click.” It’s about a lightbulb moment when the pieces come tumbling into place. It’s about a therapist and client connecting in a way that words cannot describe. It’s about a life being changed and it usually happens as a result of a lot of “creating the right conditions” beforehand.

I HAVE been there for some “Good Will” moments and it’s one of the most amazing and humbling experiences in the world. There are no words that can really describe it but it is a huge honour to be present when the pieces fall into place.

However, the majority of my work is about the long term work to help people to make change in their own lives. Good Will Hunting It Aint – but an honour and priveledge it certainly is.

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