From the Counselling Room

Counselling Blog

September 2020

Counselling Children & Young People

Brainstorming for the busy mind

Working with 10 year-old Nathan, he appeared overwhelmed and was experiencing feelings of helplessness. He seemed unable to recognise what was causing him to be this way. 

After some sessions where we had got comfortable working together, I gave him a large piece of paper and two different coloured pens. 

Reminding Nathan that this was a non-judgmental exercise – I would not be critical of what he wrote –  I asked him to use one colour to write down all the things bothering him, big or small, things he spent time worrying about or fearing, things depleting his energy and leaving him feeling low. 

He was initially cautious but soon got into the flow. Once all his worries and negative thoughts were on the piece of paper, Nathan could see the issues clearly in front of him instead of being a confusing swirl in his head. 

I then asked Nathan to use the other coloured pen to rate each issue on a scale of 0-10. 0 was for something causing little or no problems, 10 was to represent maximum stress, something that thoroughly preoccupied him.  

When he was scoring each issue, we explored it briefly to recognise the severity of the burden on him.  

This exercise was carried out over two sessions, enabling Nathan to recognise the goal of disentangling his overwhelming thoughts, and then to start working towards this.  

Some issues which had seemed big in his head, once written down, were very quickly scored by Nathan as zero. All he needed to do was recognise them and rationalise them with fact or opinion. What was left was more crucial for him, but gave him a focus for our remaining time and it was easier for him to tackle given the space the brainstorming had freed up. 

This exercise works well with clients who need to empty their minds and sift through things which seem heavier than they are. Some things seem huge when they are held in mind, but when shared and rationalised are made manageable, allowing the client to feel more in control. 

To protect confidentiality, all material here has been provided with consent, or has been disguised, adapted or several examples merged. Real names are not used. 

Nathan wrote down what was bothering him

August 2020

Happiness & Wellbeing

Anxiety Traffic Lights

Do you recognise that feeling when anxiety is growing within you, or does it creep up on you unawares? This month we look at what you can do to help.

When anxiety is recognised, and you can feel it approaching that’s the time to make some changes. If you struggle, it can help to look at anxiety like traffic lights:


Green = feeling good
Amber = early stages of anxiety - when you still have control 
Red = high anxiety – it’s got control of you, hard to shake off.


Get in to the habit of checking in with yourself, questioning how you are feeling, or better still asking what colour you feel. This will give you a clear indication of what you may need to do to reduce any anxiety you feel.


Green

Enjoy your green time and recognise what it is that’s allowing you to feel Green (ok/good) currently. Questions to ask yourself:

  • How did I sleep last night?

  • What have I eaten?

  • Am I looking forward to something?

  • What did I do today to make me feel good?

  • How has the weather affected me today?

  • Have I been drinking more water?

  • Who have I spoken to?

  • What have I done today? Achieved?

 

All the above will allow you to recognise things which have helped you to feel good and help track your mood and anxiety. Working backwards on the above when you are feeling anxious is also a good way to recognise the triggers.


Amber

Think about Amber as ACTION! This is when you would make changes as feelings of becoming anxious are just approaching:

 

  • If you’re sitting, then stand and maybe walk around the room/house/ garden.

  • You could go and get yourself a cold glass of water.

  • Walking/running up and down the stairs would be a great way to calm the anxiety down by focusing on not missing the steps. 

  • Put some music on (fast or dance music).

  • Ring a friend/family member.

  • Write down a list of things you are grateful for.

  • Write a list of people/places you will visit when the self-isolation is over.

Red 

Once you become highly anxious the first thing to do is recognise this then:

  • Try to slow your breathing down. Breathing in then exhaling for longer. A good way is counting to 3 seconds inhaling and exhaling for 5 seconds. Repeat this until it your anxiety reduces.

  • If anxiety seems to be very high, when exhaling you can make a whooshing sound which is exhaling with a little more power.

 

Once your breathing gets back into rhythm then you can work on the Amber stage using those techniques again.


The key point to managing anxiety is to STOP, breathe and then think about what colour you are feeling at this moment. Then work on the techniques suggested for each colour of the Anxiety Traffic Lights.

Are you on red?

May 2020

Happiness & Wellbeing

Mental health week- kindness 


Looking through the window into my garden has never felt so different, and it fills me with such gratitude; a sense of serenity and freedom in these very unprecedented times. Who knew, even three months ago, that we would all be in this situation, that our precious lives would be put on hold and for many, most probably changed forever. We have all had to adapt to the “new normal” so quickly, such as by working remotely and video calling for work meetings, ordering food online, thinking about the basics by carefully planning meals, managing the fear of going to the shops, hiding behind face masks and not exchanging those unconditional smiles that are contagious and connect us as a human community, and being in touch with our loved ones via video call… It can be overwhelming even to think about how much has changed. 


Right now it is Mental Health Week and the theme this year is ‘kindness’, which makes it all the more poignant. We can take this time to look at how we are dealing with this lockdown which is laying bare an unknowable number of issues and concerns for so many. 


While some of those issues and concerns are known to many of us, there are others that are deeper, things like isolation, and the solitude of living alone. Some people are living with difficult relations and relationships, domestic abuse and violence. Many worry about their livelihood, loved ones, long and short term job prospects, career worries due to colleges and universities being shut. Still more have to contend with childcare custodies. And what of those of us living with existing mental health difficulties, physical health issues, and loss and grief through coronavirus deaths, or even deaths not caused by this pandemic? So many of us are living with these situations, and have been touched by this lockdown in so many ways. 


So, I ask the question - how do we comprehend the need to offer kindness to ourselves when faced with all these challenges and adversities in life?

 
So many of us have not considered or practiced self-compassion, or have not offered ourselves the kindness that recharges us, which is a crucial element of being. 


Elaine Beaumont writes in her book, The Compassionate Mind Workbook
This is commonly known as self-compassion. Whilst many of us feel at ease being compassionate to others, and even receiving compassion from others, bringing compassion to ourselves can often be tricky. In fact, rather than being compassionate to ourselves, in times of difficulty we often treat ourselves in unkind ways. We can get caught up in invalidating our distress, fighting or trying to block it out- we can try or ignore it or push it out of our minds. Sometimes we can become overly critical with ourselves for struggling as we do. In all of these, we tend to treat ourselves in a way that we would be unlikely to do if it was to someone else who was struggling in a similar way. So, it turns out that being compassionate or kind to ourselves is often quite a challenge, and that for many of us, it takes practice to learn how to become compassionate with ourselves. 


Beaumont writes about how practising self-kindness and compassion can help us to learn techniques to overcome unhealthy ways of treating ourselves. And there may already be some mechanisms in your life that you use, or would like to use, to help you carve out the space (mental or physical) to reflect on yourself and your feelings. For some this is yoga, for others it’s enjoying the natural world around us in whatever size or shape it can be found (a recent article in Guardian here has writer, Lucy Jones, thinking about exactly this). 


This kindness can create its own sort of healing, a chance to think honestly about how this situation is impacting our lives, but in such a way as not to despair, but to consider, take stock, and continue however we can. 


And this can be passed on - if we offer kindness to ourselves, then we can offer it to others in a more authentic and meaningful way, and in these times of stress and anxiety, even something so very simple is extremely powerful. 


Broadening out the scope from the individual, different communities and cultures will be feeling this pandemic in different ways and at different times. As many of you are aware, this is the holy month of Ramadan, a time for reflection and contemplation, which Muslims around the globe are observing. This is a time, usually, for Muslims to share love through food and prayers with their neighbours, friends and families, offer good deeds to people who have little, and share their wealth through donating alms (Zakat). But lockdown has created challenges in connecting and sharing, and so this must be carefully managed. This year there can be no visiting mosques or friends and family, not even on Eid (Muslim celebrates at the end of Ramadan). 


As it is the case for Muslims, right now, there will be, and are, more events that we would all usually share as a part of a community, in close proximity, and with those we love. 


It is therefore important that we remember to be compassionate, and find new, safe ways to express our kindness towards ourselves and each other and keep those community links strong and warm. As with many things, this process must start with our own selves, and then branch out to help others who may be hiding behind brave faces. 


What I have noticed, on a positive note, is that there is a very real sense of camaraderie and community within our workplaces i.e. the CFC, and in my neighborhood and other communities. Our shared anxieties and uncertainties are dissipated by humour sometimes (may I offer to you,“ doggy yoga" on You Tube), and the fact that people genuinely care for each other. It seems that we are already adapting, and now is a good time to make peace with ourselves and be compassionate. 


EID MUBARAK! 

Joy in nature

Counselling Children & Young People

The Motivation Wasp

Melanie, a 15 year-old client, shared one of the things holding her back was not being able to get out of bed on time. She was continually being late for school and not getting her household chores done. Understandably, this was causing disruption in school and at home. She was desperate to change this but felt she couldn’t achieve it, getting up seemed impossible to her.  

I asked Melanie if she had any dislikes, such as spiders, etc. She said she hated wasps. I wondered aloud what she would do if a wasp was in her bedroom - would she stay in bed? She said no, she would shoot out of bed instantly! I asked Melanie to imagine a wasp in her bedroom when she was next struggling to escape her bed, highlighting it will only work if she wanted it to. She seemed a little reluctant but said she might give it a try. 

Melanie attended the next session saying the technique had worked! And she had managed to be on time for school all week. She also used this motivational technique to give her the energy to get chores completed, which resulted in a happier home. 

To protect confidentiality, all material here has been provided with consent, or has been disguised, adapted or several examples merged. Real names are not used. 

Melanie could not get out of bed

January 2020

Counselling Children & Young People

The Motivation Wasp

Melanie, a 15 year-old client, shared one of the things holding her back was not being able to get out of bed on time. She was continually being late for school and not getting her household chores done. Understandably, this was causing disruption in school and at home. She was desperate to change this but felt she couldn’t achieve it, getting up seemed impossible to her.  

I asked Melanie if she had any dislikes, such as spiders, etc. She said she hated wasps. I wondered aloud what she would do if a wasp was in her bedroom - would she stay in bed? She said no, she would shoot out of bed instantly! I asked Melanie to imagine a wasp in her bedroom when she was next struggling to escape her bed, highlighting it will only work if she wanted it to. She seemed a little reluctant but said she might give it a try. 

Melanie attended the next session saying the technique had worked! And she had managed to be on time for school all week. She also used this motivational technique to give her the energy to get chores completed, which resulted in a happier home. 

To protect confidentiality, all material here has been provided with consent, or has been disguised, adapted or several examples merged. Real names are not used. 

Melanie could not get out of bed

February 2020

Counselling Children & Young People

Happy Clapping

After a few sessions, Georgia, a young person I was working with said she was not getting along with her Mum, Dad and older sister. With some exploration, it was clear that she had a functioning family and was cared for and loved. However, she perhaps didn’t see this and said she felt left out and alone. To me, she was clearly in a self-enforced ‘victim’ position when around them.  

During one session, I asked Georgia to clap her hands. Georgia laughed, a little embarrassed, as though she felt this was an odd thing to do. We then both clapped together, at first both a little self-consciously but after a while with more freedom. It was a special moment as we both clapped with abandon and joy. 

After this I asked Georgia to sit on one of her hands. When she was settled, I asked her to clap again. Looking amused, she said she couldn’t clap whilst sitting on her hand. 

I highlighted, that to me, this seemed to be what she was doing at home when she was with her family. She was not taking part nor making an effort with them, self-sabotaging without realising. It was natural if she continued like this, she’d feel left out. She needed to enable herself to join in and to reap the benefits this would give. 

This technique can be used in any situation to prompt a realisation that a client needs to put some effort in. I have used this with children in school, adults in social situations and even at work with colleagues. 

To protect confidentiality, all material here has been provided with consent, or has been disguised, adapted or several examples merged. Real names are not used. 

Hands on in the therapy room

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