New Zine! Staying with feelings

A topic I’ve written about on here quite a lot is the idea of ‘staying with’ feelings. After the Pixar movie Inside Out I wrote all about how important it is to get in touch with all our emotions. I’ve also written about the value of noticing how we feel with kindness and curiosity, and about how to stay with other people’s feelings.

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In this new zine I discuss both why we get so shut off from our feelings in a wider culture which values some emotions far more highly than others, and how we can go about shifting our patterns of avoiding and fighting some feelings, and craving and grasping for others. It covers both therapeutic and spiritual practices for staying with our emotions.

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You can download or read the zine here.

 

New vids: Key ideas in therapy

The excellent folks at the Open University have just helped me and a couple of colleagues – Naomi Moller and Andreas Vossler – to put together these three animations of key ideas in therapy.

We all teach on the counselling course at the OU, and we wanted to capture some of the most important things about this topic for people who don’t know much about it. When we’re struggling many of us turn to a counsellor or psychotherapist, but often without knowing much about what they do, or why.

The research that has been done on counselling has found that the most important thing in determining how successful it is is the therapeutic relationship. It doesn’t matter so much what approach the therapist takes, or what training they’ve had, but whether there’s a good rapport between them and the client. That’s why it’s always a good idea to shop around for a counsellor you feel you could develop a good relationship with.

Another thing that research has found is that clients who do well in therapy often pause and check in with themselves before telling the counsellor what’s going on for them. This is a kind of being present with their experience. Approaches such as mindfulness and focusing try to help us to cultivate the capacity to be more present to what is going on with us, and to stay with difficult feelings rather than running away from them, or acting out of them.

Finally, a lot of western psychotherapy has focused on individual people: working with clients one-to-one. One problem with this is that it can give us the impression that any difficulties or mental health issues that we have are completely internal: caused by problems within us that need to be fixed. Systemic therapists have pointed out that many of our struggles are much more about the dynamics between us in our relationships, families, and communities, and about the messages that we receive from wider culture.

I hope you enjoy the videos and find them a useful way in to understanding a bit more about counselling and psychotherapy.

New Zine! Social suffering and social mindfulness

I’ve made my first attempt at a zine!

For the last few months I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the social side of mental distress. It feels really important to me to recognise how our suffering is embedded within our relationship dynamics; our workplaces, communities and other institutional systems; and our wider society.

I often notice what a relief it is for me – and my friends and clients – when we realise this social element to our suffering: particularly how the self-criticism that we do so constantly is something that everybody else does as well, because we’re all in this self-critical culture. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with us. It’s understandable.

This week I’m speaking at a few conferences which touch on themes of inequalities, individualising and intersectionality, and on mental health and mindfulness. So I thought – instead of the usual stand-up presentation – I’d make a zine that captures my experiences of these things, and makes some suggestions about how we might creatively engage with them.

It was also a good opportunity – for me – to get back into making comics: something I’d love to do more of, especially now I’m working on a comic introduction to queer theory with a professional artist. Here’s one of the comics I made for the zine. You can download the whole zine at the end of this post if you’d like to read it more clearly.

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For my zine, the comics really helped me to understand how intertwined all these social levels are – as are the inequalities that we suffer from, and benefit from, and the ways in which we are individualised and individualise others.

You can download the zine as a pdf by clicking on the link below. I’d suggest printing it out as a booklet to get the full zine experience – or just reading it online. There’s also a whole book on mindful therapy by me here (including more comics!) if you’re interested in reading further on the topic.

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Book review: New Directions in Sex Therapy

There’s a great new book out about sex therapy which draws on all kinds of perspectives to present an alternative way of working with people who have sexual difficulties.

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I’ve reviewed the book over on Network Magazine.

The request from Network magazine to review New Directions was a timely one for me. The book raises issues that are very much alive in my world of UK sex therapy at the moment, as well as in the American and Canadian context in which most of the contributing authors are writing.

In some ways the book’s subtitle is more accurate than the main title because it presents a genuine alternative to standard thinking in sex therapy. Rather than providing one possible newdirection, it gives us a much-needed critique of existing ways of understanding, and working with, sex in the therapy room.

The backdrop to this, for those who aren’t familiar with sex therapy, is one of increasing categorization and measurement of sexual problems, and medicalization and individualization of treatments. Several of the contributors to the collection set out a history of sex therapy which began with Masters and Johnsons’ attempts to determine a sexual response cycle across all humans; continued with the delineation of different “sexual dysfunctions” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM); and culminated in a post-Viagra rush to pharmaceutical and physiological solutions and randomized control trial tests of their effectiveness.

The authors in this edited book share a skepticism toward this standard approach to sex therapy and a supreme discomfort with the underlying assumptions about sex. Instead of categorizing sexual “dysfunctions” (such as “erectile disorder” or “female orgasmic disorder”), contributors suggest that any sexual experience (including erections, orgasms, or their lack) will have very different meanings for each person, related to the relationships and wider culture in which they are embedded. Therefore instead of “treatment” of problems with specific medical or behavioural interventions, the therapeutic task becomes one understanding clients’ experiences and what they mean for them. Read more…

Enduring Love?

Monday 16th January saw the launch of a new Open University research project called Enduring Love? Here I will introduce the project and also summarise the talks at the launch about current thinking on relationships, and the pressures they are under.

There has been plenty of research on break-up, divorce and separation. The team behind this project decided that it was time that we knew more about what makes people stay together as well as what makes them split up.

The plan is to get as many people as possible to fill out the online questionnaire so that the researchers can get a good idea of the diversity of ways in which people are experiencing long-term relationships, as well as anything that people who stay together have in common. At the same time, there will be much more in-depth research on sixty couples who will keep a diary of their relationship, take part in interviews together and separately, and explore the way they live and how they feel in their relationship. The detailed research will consider various aspects of the couple relationship such as emotions, sex, commitment, and the way that their partnership fits with other important relationships in their lives. You can already get an idea of the kinds of things people are saying about their relationships from the video clips and podcasts that the team has put together.

The project is called Enduring Love? with a question mark to give the title a double meaning. The researchers are keen to explore what makes relationships work for those who stay together long term and who find that a fulfilling way to live. At the same time it is clear that some couples feel pressured to stay together even when they are very unhappy. It is useful to know what makes an enduring love, as well as what the experience is like when love itself becomes something to be endured. Of course many relationships include elements of both these things: when times are hard the relationship feels like something to be endured, and when things are going well the ‘enduring’ nature of the relationship is something that may be celebrated. Enduring hard times can build intimacy as well as sometimes breaking it.

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Suggestions for Fear and Sadness

In 2010 Darren Langdridge, Andreas Vossler and I published a textbook which brought together experts on all different types of counselling to say how their approaches would work with fear and sadness.

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When we wrote the book I thought that it would be great to do another book covering the same areas, for people who are not interested in studying counselling themselves but who just want to know about what different kinds of counselling suggest. As Mick Cooper and John McLeod have recently pointed out: different things work for different people at different times, whereas most books on the market cover just one approach in detail. Maybe I’ll write that book one day, but meanwhile here are what I personally think are the top suggestions from each chapter of the book we did write. If you find them useful of course you can always do the whole module (D240) through the OU.

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