Sunday, 15 December 2013

Anger Management

When you have outbursts of anger, it can feel like you don't have much control over your emotions - don't have much control over yourself. Learning to control and contain that anger can feel really daunting.

Counselling may help you work out what it is that is causing you to feel angry - your own particular experiences and circumstances. It may be that things in the present trigger feelings of anger, because stuff from the past gets tangled up with the present. You react perhaps without even realising where the anger comes from. Untangling the past from the present can help reduce your level of anger, so that you react in the present in a more appropriate way, even a calmer way.
However there is something else to consider as well. It might be worthwhile looking at what it is for you to 'be angry'. What exactly does this involve? This might seem obvious, but actually looking at it in more detail might help to show what is going on for you.
Feeling angry is the not same as 'acting out' anger. In other words, you can feel angry in yourself without acting aggressively. Feeling angry and behaving aggressively are two separate things. The unfortunate thing is that they often get fused together and a person can feel out of control and compelled to act in ways they later regret.
Being able to separate out these two different things can have a big effect on the amount of control you are able to feel you have in a situation, ( appropriate and healthy control, that is, not controlling others, but being more in control of your own emotions).
Anger in itself doesn't have to be bad. If we can express ourselves clearly in words without being attacking of others, then problems can get sorted out. We can have a discussion. We're being assertive rather than aggressive and more likely to be listened to and understood.
We get angry for a reason. It can motivate us to voice our concerns and give our perspectives, so others can take our point of view into account. When we act out aggressively people are likely to respond by becoming defensive. This can shut down the possibility of people listening to each other and trying to work together to find a solution.
This is why just suppressing anger isn't necessarily the best solution. We may feel not considered or listened to or understood. We may feel that something is unfair. If we keep just trying to suppress our anger, the pressure can build up...and then the possibility of exploding seems more likely.
Or else we turn our anger inwards and feel down in ourselves, perhaps becoming depressed.  Or perhaps as the pressure builds with no outlet we become physically ill. Think of all the headaches and churning stomachs and bad backs and high blood pressure...
Expressing how we feel, having our voice, is important. The best chance of getting others to hear us is if we can do this calmly and clearly enough. It can take practise to get to this stage. It may not happen overnight. Isn't it worth working on though?
This way we are working with our anger to express things we care about - that have a value for us. We're not doing battle with ourselves or with anyone else.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Stereoscopic vision - having a more 3-D view of the world

It seems to me that at times it can be useful to look at things in different ways in order to better understand what is going on. At a simple level, if you saw the face of a pyramid from one angle you might not realise what the structure was really like. You wouldn't have a three dimensional picture - how could you?

Stepping stones across the water
I think it can be useful to bear this in mind when looking at more complex things that can be hard to understand - like ideas or human relationships. We might wish that other people could better see our point of view, (which is obviously the 'right' way to see things, isn't it?). However taking in other perspectives can be really helpful in seeing the bigger picture - a more three dimensional view, helping us better understand and appreciate each other.

In some ways, we all may have a resistance to this, especially where our emotions are involved. However, I think that we also, as human beings, have a great capacity to see things from differing viewpoints. It struck me recently that actually our brains are wired up in that way. We have stereoscopic vision.

Our two eyes each see a slightly different picture of the world and our brains merge the two to give us a three dimensional picture with depth of perspective - that's how our brains work. We naturally take in different views and do our best to make sense of them. It's a human trait.

Of course that's a simple comparison; and doesn't mean that we will always just agree with every other point of view. But we can at least have some understanding of what things might look like from someone else's viewpoint.; and this more three dimensional view of the world may help us in how we live our lives and relate to each other.

Lin Travis Counselling Services

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Objective science and subjective voices

I'm going to an 'Medicine Unboxed' event in a couple of months or so.. I haven't been to any previous ones but I'm looking forward to it. This year's event is called 'Voice'. Medicine Unboxed is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to explore 'understanding medicine through the arts and humanities'. I like the thought of this.

Looking from a new perspectiveIt's easy in the course of everyday work to get stuck in particular ways of looking at things. Therefore to see new perspectives, especially from different disciplines, seems to me very worthwhile. As a counsellor, both in the NHS and in private practice, I am especially interested in 'voice' from different perspectives.

For me, both psychology and philosophy inform my work and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to study both. These for me have been two different voices. Psychology has given me a grounding - a factual approach - and the philosophy has helped me in asking questions that open things up to further investigation.

That makes it sound as though they fit well together and some of the time that's true, but not always. Often philosophy asks questions and challenges points of view including the scientific perspective. It's easy to feel defensive and protective of a point of view rather than allow any challenge. I found it really difficult to begin with, hearing the scientific viewpoint being challenged. I'm sure this coming event will challenge some of my points of view too. I hope so.

Having 'objective' scientific facts can be very reassuring. However, as human beings, we also have a conscious awareness - a subjective sense of things. I think that's important too - our own particular take on the world. Science can have trouble trying to measure this and taking it into account. You can't reduce this subjective sense to a set of numbers. Even words to describe how we think, and especially how we feel, can be hard to come by. Science alone may not always seem adequate for the task.

However when we can go beyond this to, for instance using the arts, then it becomes easier. We can use literature, poetry, paintings etc. to help describe things that seem not to fit easily into the neat boxes of science. Philosophy can help us question things; and therapy can help us work with the uncertainty that this questioning invokes. We can explore new territory.

For example, when Sartre wants to describe being inauthentic or in 'bad faith' in 'Being and Nothingness', he uses vignettes to give us the idea of what he is trying to say - little scenes that paint a picture very effectively. For me, his vignettes bring his ideas alive. The existentialists, including Sartre, also used novels as a way of  helping to communicate their ideas for this reason. Metaphors and stories can introduce layers of meaning that help give us a more in depth understanding. Kafka, and a couple of thousand years before him, Chuang Tzu seem to me particularly adept at these layers of meaning in their writing - encouraging us to see, and to think about, things in new ways.

Freud talked about elements in dreams as being 'over-determined' -  that is having layers of meaning, all of which have significance. The arts can help us access this dream world part of ourselves, that might otherwise be hard to get hold of.

I feel therefore that having a variety of ways of exploring the human condition makes sense to me. Any one perspective is just that - one perspective. Sometimes in order to get a more three dimensional view, we need view to see things from different angles. Involving different disciples including the arts and philosophy seems to me a great way of encouraging this exploration; and engaging with fresh ideas.

I'm not against a scientific approach, but rather I think it is one way among several that can help us explore humanity in all its fascinating dimensions.

Lin Travis Counselling Services

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Finger pointing at the moon.

As a psychodynamic counsellor, I feel something of a dilemma. What can I say about what therapy is about; or what it might be like for any of my clients? People may be looking for reassurance or some idea of what it might entail. That seems fair enough, but in practice not so easy. Therapy is such an individual thing; and what is important is how each individual experiences it; and what they can learn from that experience.

Stepping stones across the waterThere are many therapeutic approaches but the psychodynamic approach involves helping the client feel comfortable and safe enough to talk about whatever is bothering them. It also presumes that people are not necessarily aware of what is underlying how they feel.

This means that I cannot say ahead of time exactly what it will be like. Individual therapy involves two people, both therapist and client, and their interactions through therapy. It's not a taught course, written ahead of time, but authentic interaction between two people. It unfolds in real time. That's part of what makes it therapy.
Given this, counselling may feel like a step into the unknown. It may understandably feel scary. Making it feel safe enough for the client is therefore very important. It can be a challenging process but also it can be very rewarding and satisfying when changes do take place.
I can't therefore specify exactly what therapy might be like, but I can hopefully indicate something of what it is. This seems to me a bit like the idea of a finger pointing at the moon. You don't look at the tip of the finger, but at the direction in which it's pointing. It's a way of doing things, but exactly how you get there is something to be discovered as you go along the way, with the support and encouragement of the therapist - an excursion into new territory from a safe place.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Chuang Tzu and Kafka - actionless action and the authentic life.

I was pleased to discover today that it is indeed as I suspected that Kafka had read the writings of Chuang Tzu. I love the writings of both of these guys. If  you like Kafka and haven't come across Chuang Tzu, he's definitely worth investigating. The writings are from around 300 BC but sound so fresh and full of life - a collection of short tales / writings, entertaining, both humorous and serious - stuff to make you think and challenge your perspective and ideas about life and what's important. (There are various translations and some you may take to more than others.)

Stepping stones across the water

The writings of Chuang Tzu writing contain a broad variety of ideas including challenges to the way we view and judge ourselves and others. For example, several stories illustrate his views on disability which seem forward thinking even today over two thousand years after they were written.
In recent times, Kafka and the existentialist writers such as Sartre and Camus have used stories to illustrate their ideas of what it might be to think about an authentic life. This seems to me very much in tune with the ideas of Chuang Tzu. His 'actionless action' (wu wei) certainly seems to include ideas of authenticity, though it also seems to say more than this too.
Being in tune both with the whole of ourselves as well as the world around us, in how we are and how we express ourselves, may be something of what this actionless action is about. (That's just my crude attempt at trying to say something about it.) It is also about being part of the natural world as opposed to an authoritarian culture.
It also strikes me that all these guys used stories or vignettes to illustrate what is hard to say in words. Metaphor or story telling can be a better way to describe things that are hard to get hold of otherwise. Easier to get a picture in your mind of what it is about.
Interested to hear other people's thoughts on this.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A space for reflection

This post is about places that may help us feel good. For me, there are certain places where I feel a sense of calm and wellbeing - special places.

My usual photo here is an example of one of my favourite places, where I feel this sense of wellbeing - a great place to walk around; to sit and read for a while; to feel a connection with the natural world; to reflect...

This place is in a busy city and perhaps those who live in such a place may feel more need than others for a green tranquil space - however small. However, maybe we all have a need of a space of some kind to reflect on things.

Surveying the sceneThis is a different location but also on the edge of a busy city. The wonderful scent of the azaleas at this time of year adds another dimension to a very visual scene. A great environment to practise mindfulness.

These are two very concrete examples of a space for reflection. We may not need a physical environment like this in order to be reflective, but certainly it can encourage that more relaxed and creative state of mind.

Do you have examples of special places you visit that help you get in touch with a more relaxed and meditative state of mind? I would be really interested in hearing about other people's examples.

Monday, 4 March 2013

If you love me, you should know what I'm thinking...shouldn't you?

It can feel very reassuring when our partners 'get' us. We can feel understood and perhaps closer in our relationships. But how far do we want this to go? Should we even need to say what's on our mind? Shouldn't they already know...if they love us?

Stepping stones across the water.Firstly, I don't think it's possible to always know what is in someone else's mind, however much you may care about them and would like to think you understand them well. After all, simply the fact is that you're not them! That's not to say, we can't understand each other better,  but that's different to expecting others to always know what we're thinking, where we're coming from. Inevitably there are going to be times when we get it wrong. Actually asking them what they think, how they feel, not presuming we already know, can be far more helpful. It also shows our interest in them.

Secondly, would we really want to know what others are thinking without having to ask them? We would be in their heads, not our own. We need our sense of separateness as human beings, our own individuality, as well as our sense of connection with others. To be human is to want to express ourselves as individuals; and to feel connected to others. There's often a tension between the two, but they are both important aspects of ourselves as human beings in the world.

Doesn't that make life more interesting though? Imagine if you always knew what others were thinking? There would be no surprises - a bit of a conversation killer. Would any of us want a partner who thought exactly the same thoughts as we think? Difference can be good - interesting and stimulating.

Lin Travis Counselling Services

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Freud / Jung Letters - a window into the worlds of two great innovators.

I'm in the middle of reading The Freud / Jung Letters; and  I'm finding it fascinating. It's the personal correspondence between Freud and Jung starting in 1906 and going on for around seven years until their final break with each other - over 300 letters!

Stepping stones across the water.Looking back from 2013, it strikes me that we now live in a such different world from theirs. Things have moved on. Yet would we be where we are now without them?

Both men were pioneers - innovative thinkers exploring new territory. As they clarified their ideas, their differences came more to the fore; and ultimately they found no way to reconcile them with each other. However despite this, (or maybe because of it), they have both contributed a great deal to our understanding of the human psyche.
Reading their letters, you can see how their ideas develop and crystallise, as they explain themselves to each other. Interesting stuff!..
Freud also met Salador Dali. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

New Year resolutions and making changes

Even if you don't call it a New Year resolution, this is a time of year when many of us think about making a fresh start or at least trying to do things differently to in the past. Then all too often, we end up back in the same old habits as usual, stuck in the same old ways. It can seem like it should be easy enough to make changes but somehow it doesn't always work out like that. Seemingly small things can get in the way. It can be disheartening when this happens.

Stepping stones across the waterCounselling may be helpful in exploring what is going on, and perhaps uncovering underlying issues that prevent us from making the changes that we feel would be good for us. If making changes seems worthwhile, then giving yourself the best chance of achieving your goal seems to make sense. Perhaps there are obstacles that need clearing out of the way.

Yet some people may be afraid of failure and think that if they don't really try, then they can't really fail.  This can stop any attempt at change from getting off the ground. On the other hand, others may appear to sabotage themselves in a way that suggests they are more afraid of success. Unravelling these processes, whether conscious or unconscious, may give some clarity and help with seeing a way forward...

January is named after the god Janus who had two faces - one looking back to the past year and one looking forward to the year ahead. We may review the past year and make plans for the coming one - hence the New Year resolutions. Nothing wrong with that, but how much time do we spend then focusing just in the present moment? The past and the future may have an influence on how we live our lives, but we live them in each present moment - ultimately the present is the only place we can really be.

Lin Travis Counselling Services