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.

 

Interview on Gender & Sexual Diversity

I recently did an interview on gender and sexual diversity with the excellent folk at Sheffield Central Counselling.

This seems even more timely now that it’s been published because of the current debates that are going on about whether guidance against gay conversion therapy should be extended to encompass bisexual, trans, and asexual people. I find it very frightening that some people in the therapy profession are arguing against this extension, as if there are circumstances in which it might be appropriate for a therapist to try to change a bi, trans, or asexual person’s sexuality or gender. There is clear evidence both that conversion therapy is far more common in these contexts, and that it is incredibly damaging. I hope that they will see sense and extend the guidance to encompass everyone, not just gay people.

Here’s my interview and a link to where you can read more…

You are a writer, academic, psychotherapist and campaigner for rights in the area of sexual minorities and, especially, gender diversity. Many people have heard of transgender, but can you explain a bit more about gender diversity?

Sure. I guess I like the term ‘Gender and Sexual Diversity’ (GSD) because it gets at the fact that there are a whole range of genders and sexualities beyond the ‘sexual and gender minorities’ that we tend to hear about: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT).

That range includes all the people who are attracted to the same gender who don’t necessarily identify as bisexual or gay (around 50% of young people according to a recent YouGov poll). It also includes all those who are into kink or BDSM, and asexual people who don’t experience sexual attraction. And, as well as trans people (whose gender is different to the one they were assigned at birth), GSD gets at all the people who experience themselves as something other than 100% male or 100% female. That’s around a third of us according to one recent study.

GSD also reminds us that everybody has a gender and a sexuality – not just those of us who are somehow outside of the cultural ‘norm’. In the books that I write about these topics I always make a point of including heterosexuality and cisgender (people who aren’t trans) because those things can also have a big impact on people’s experiences of life. For example, some heterosexual and cisgender people struggle because they feel such a pressure to conform to social expectations of what it means to be a straight guy, or a straight woman, in our culture.

Sometimes people fail to distinguish between gender and sexuality. How can this be problematic? 

Read more…

 

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…

Mindfulness and Mental Health – London, 1st November

Call for presenters/facilitators/attendees
Mindfulness and Mental Health Day – 1st November 2013, London Camden
Dr. Meg Barker will be running a free event on 1st November for practitioners and academics who are interested in mindfulness and mental health, to coincide with the publication of their new book on the subject. Please get in touch with Meg if you are interested in attending or getting involved (megbarker@gmail.com). Confirmed speakers include Steven Stanley, Duncan Moss, Rebecca Barnes, Many Bazzano, and Jyoti Nanda.

Sex and relationship therapy: Fiction and fact

This weekend I saw the new romantic comedy Hope Springs. The movie is about a couple in their sixties (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) who go to intensive couple therapy (with Steve Carrell) because Streep’s character is concerned about the lack of intimacy and sex in their relationship.

 

On one level I loved the movie. The performances were all astonishingly good, the comedy was pitched perfectly and had me laughing out loud, and I shed a tear or two in the darkest hour before the dawn because it was such a good depiction of how lonely it is possible to be in a relationship.

However, as soon as I left the theatre, I started to reflect on the messages about sex and relationships in the film and found some of them pretty problematic. In this post I’ll go through a few of the ideas from the film, saying why I question whether these are good sex and relationship therapy.

Spoiler alert: I have written in detail about the film so don’t read on if you want to suspend disbelief and enjoy the movie like I did before engaging your critical faculties!

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