Monthly Archives: March 2014

Fears and Misconceptions about Counselling

When someone starts thinking about seeing a counsellor or therapist, they become aware of some of their fears about embarking on this unique relationship. Opening up to another person, a stranger, about your intimate, painful feelings is certainly a daunting prospect. There are some common fears and misconceptions about counselling and what you can expect from working with a therapist. Here are the main ones I’ve come across:

Will you think I’m crazy?

I think you are a unique human being, doing your best to find your way in the world. None of us is perfect and there are times we all need help and support. Effective change usually requires trial and lots of errors. Also, if I think you’re being irrational, I’ll tell you.

Will I be able to trust you?

Your ability to connect with me will be the number one factor determining how well we work together. If you don’t feel like you click with me after a few sessions, it’s OK to let me know and seek out a different therapist/counsellor. We all need different things and my main priority is for you to achieve your goals.

Will you psychoanalyse me?

My job is to be curious and to help you gain more understanding. A good counsellor doesn’t claim to have all the answers for why you are the way you are although we may have some ideas that we will willingly share with you. When it comes to getting answers and more understanding, we will form hypotheses together and you will come to your own conclusions. A counsellor facilitates that process. They don’t tell you how to think/believe/act.

Will you tell me what to do?

I’m here to share my knowledge with you and help you make your own decisions that are balanced, rational and well-explored. Strengthening your own reasoning and decision-making skills will increase your independence and self-esteem.

How am I going to feel? Will I be able to bear it?

Therapy is the perfect place to learn how to express your feelings. That’s what I’m here for, to give you a space to try out new ways of being, thinking and feeling. Take advantage of this. When we learn how to work through our negative emotions with others, it increases our relationship skills and makes us more comfortable with voicing our hurts. This is a necessary component to maintaining relationships and managing emotions in a healthy way.

If I slide backward into old behavior patterns, will you judge me?

Most people judge themselves enough for at least two people. I encourage my clients to come clean. It’s only through acknowledging our steps backward that we can figure out what’s standing in the way to moving forward. Relapse is very common and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Will I ever be happy?

Happiness is not reserved for special people. Everyone has regrets, things we wish we hadn’t done, people we’ve hurt along the way, people who have hurt us either intentionally or unintentionally. I believe that we can heal our wounds and you deserve happiness just as much as the next person.

Will you fix my life/problems?

I can help you gain more clarity, more understanding and form a plan of action, but therapy is not a magic pill that erases all issues. It takes work, and only you can make the changes/choices necessary for you. But if you’re willing to work with me – and to be as open and honest as you possibly can – we can find the right way for you.

People come to therapy for all kinds of reasons. Beginning therapy can be scary for some as they are showing a willingness to face tough topics. For others, it’s a huge relief to finally be taking action to move in a different direction. Therapy isn’t always easy, but I think it’s the most worthwhile gift you can give yourself. Find someone you trust and who puts you at ease. The relationship you build with your therapist is the most important aspect of all.

Power

I believe we all struggle at times with issues of power, particularly in relationships. Can we really say how we feel? How will the other person react? Will we get what we need? Many of our difficulties are connected to the issue of personal power: Can I do it? Can I express myself? Can I decide?

People often feel stuck and powerless. The position of ‘not enough power’ cannot be understood and overcome if we don’t connect it to its counterpart, ‘too much power’: they go together.

When people have too much power, they have the tendency to abuse others both directly, in a dictatorial way, and indirectly, in a manipulative way. When people feel powerless or without the right to express their power, they are actually repressing themselves to keep everything under control; letting others abuse or manipulate them because of their fear of what might happen if they make themselves more powerful.

Too much or too little power are two dangerous extremes. In both cases, there is no contact with real inner power, and external power is used to compensate this lack.

What is external power? It is a feeling of security, satisfaction and recognition that comes from an external source. We are part of a society, and society is made of social roles that identify our function and contribution: job, relationships, economic and social conditions. If we don’t feel good within ourselves we can start looking for compensation in the outside world in order to bypass this pain. While forgetting about our inner world, we subconsciously try to make others feel as bad as we feel. We can exercise power in a direct way, abusing others, or in an indirect way, manipulating them.

This is the case, for example, if we invest all of our life in order to hold on to prestige and important social status. It happens when we crave for a career and ‘powerful’ positions, like those of politicians, policemen, army officers, managers etc. We can also become bossy in social groups or in our relationships: family, work, friends, children etc.

Someone that exercises external power needs someone to suffer it, and vice versa. The latter is the case if we look for social roles that make us feel a victim or dependent on others. In order to compensate for a lack of self-esteem, we can have external power in an active way but also in a passive way. We absorb external power from ‘powerful’ people who show a strong attitude and personality; at the same time we exercise our own external power by keeping them hooked through a manipulative attitude. We need each other to exist.

There is nothing bad in performing social roles. What is important is not to let them define us completely, narrowing our life down to the dynamics of external power. In this case, we completely move away from our inner self and unconsciously become prisoners of our behavior.

What is inner power? It is a feeling of security, satisfaction and recognition that comes from within. It is a force that has no need to find external confirmations, it simply is. Inner power does not need to prove itself, either by oppressing others or by being oppressed by others.

If we feel trapped in external roles or behaviour, we can start experiencing psychological suffering. This is an expression of our inner power. Suffering takes on the form of physical symptoms or emotional problems. Inner power wakes up our mind to put something in action for a positive change.

Let’s say that you are in a relationship with someone who, even if he/she is manipulative, abusive or controlling, gives you a sense of security and being loved. In this case you are in the role of the victim. You beg for love and accept whatever is coming, even if it is mixed with negative feelings.

If you start suffering because of this situation and feel the urge for a change, it means you are hearing the wake-up call of your consciousness. Here are some tips if you feel the urge to move from a position of being overpowering or powerless to a position of inner power:

Your suffering is the door towards a healthy change, let it manifest itself and have the courage to face your fears and your pain.

There is nothing bad about having a social role and external power. What is important is to balance them with a good connection with your inner power. The more we are in touch with our inner world, the less we feel the necessity to use external power.

If you usually behave in a way that ends up making you suffer, do a reality check: ‘Why do I do that?’, ‘Why do I invest so much in this way of being?’, ‘What can I do to change what makes me suffer?’

Being conscious about ourselves is something we must give priority to and the rest will follow.

Mindfulness

Recently several people have asked me about the practice of mindfulness: what does it mean? How can it help me? It’s basically an amalgam of ancient Buddhist teachings about how to live in a more tranquil, accepting and attuned way. I think it resonates with us at this particular moment in time because it is the antithesis of our often frantic, over-achieving lifestyles with their reliance on electronic stimulation and ever-present anxiety. Here is a very simple guide to the main principles of living in a mindful way.

Focus on the Present Moment. When you find yourself getting lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, bring your thoughts back to what you are experiencing right now. Try to remain open to how things unfold in the present, rather than having preconceived ideas about how things will or should turn out.

Being Fully Present.Practice being spaciously aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body? What are you seeing, hearing, doing, right now?

Openness to Experience. Rather than dreading and shutting out your own feelings and experiences because you think you can’t handle them, endeavour to welcome with curiosity any thoughts and feelings that naturally arise, knowing they are merely sensations in the moment and the next moment can be different. Become aware of your experience as a flow of sensations, thoughts and feelings and watch how these change and transform naturally over time.

Non-Judgment. Don’t categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or bad, try to change them or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. Watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. Extend this non-judging attitude to other people and things.

Acceptance of Things as They Are. Don’t try to force or change reality to fit your vision of what it should be, feel like a victim or bemoan the unfairness of life. Instead, try to see reality clearly and let it be as it is, knowing that you can tolerate whatever it is that comes up. Extend this acceptance to others, knowing they are the best judges of what is right for them.

Connection. Feel connected to all living things and nature in being part of a larger whole. Reflect on and feel grateful for the cycle of life and the food, beauty and protection that nature gives us.

Non-Attachment. Do not try to hold onto things, people or experiences but instead become aware than life is in constant flow. Learn to surf the wave of life, going with the flow and being confident in your own ability to adapt. When one door closes, another opens.

Peace and Equanimity. Know that life is a cycle and you can’t see the whole picture at any one moment. When things don’t go your way, stay firmly rooted in your own clear vision and values. Walk with a peaceful heart and adopt a non-harming, non-violent attitude.

Compassion. Deal gently, kindly and patiently with yourself and others. Rather than judging, or condemning, open your heart to really listen and try to understand your own and other people’s experiences. Allow yourself to feel other people’s suffering. Love people not for what they can give you or because you need something from them, but because you connect and empathise with their experiences.

Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing mindfulness to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life.

Slow your mind – follow your breathing – be gentle with yourself – enjoy the stillness – smile.

Trying the Simple Stuff…

When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, – perhaps triggered by something someone says to us, by memories or thoughts – it can be really hard  to understand what is happening. And we need help right then, so we don’t make choices that end up hurting us even more. This is when it can be good to try the simple stuff. What could be more simple than breathing?

So… Breathe. Normally we aren’t aware of our breathing, it just happens. But if we pause for a moment and follow our breath…

The average adult breathes 21,600 times a day and yet is unaware of it 99.9% of the time, even though breathing is incredibly helpful in relaxation and well-being.

Here’s a way to get started: put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach; close your eyes and do nothing but follow your breath and the movements of your hands. Try doing this for 20 seconds. And then take a moment to notice how does that feel?