This is a gentle and insightful article on the authors experience of depression. Lauren Talbot describes depression as a dark grey cloud that envelopes a person and their spirit. It steals days, months or even years of a persons life. She knows from her own personal experience that if you find yourself in a dark hole then its very hard to see beyond it. So what can you do? If things get tough and unbearable seek help advises Lauren. She writes that in every decision you make towards getting help you can let go of something that is holding you down! If you would like to seek help then we have experienced therapists at The Affinity Centre, who have the right skills to support you on your journey.
Ideally therapy is a two person process. When you have made the big decision to undergo counselling your therapist should allow you to feel comfortable with bringing your personal material to the room even if you don’t initially understand what that personal material is actually all about.
This is Matt Cahills topic for his Downtown Therapy blog. He discusses the fact that there is often a strong urge to share and talk about our feelings when in therapy however the thing you want to talk about is less clear. Matt writes: “We can only partially describe what’s on our mind – in fact, it may not involve the mind at all, but emotions that seem detached from thoughts.”
If this resonates with you why not take a look at Matt’s article?
What is Trauma?
Trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless, powerless and vulnerable in your life. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic.
Bessel van der Kolk, a leading researcher in the is field, defines trauma as “an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people’s existing coping mechanisms” (van der Kolk & Fisler, 1995, p.505)
When the mind is overwhelmed by trauma, it struggles to recognise the event or events as over, as being a past memory. For someone who is traumatised, it can be experienced as ‘ongoing’, ‘happening right now’, in the ‘present’ moment. This is due to the brain not being able to integrate the entirety of the incident, or incidents and assess the situation as having ended, being ’over’.
What makes traumatic stress different to other forms of stress is the fact that an element of threat, or harm to life or body, must be present. The reaction to a life threatening event stimulates the nervous system to an extreme response of fight, flight or freeze. It is the release of these primitive survival responses that differentiates trauma from other forms of stress.
Flight is when a person runs away or tries to escape via another means. The purpose of this is to separate a person from threat. It is an attempt to put a distance between the individual and the danger and is usually the first line of defence.
Fight is a defensive action, as the term implies.
Both of the above reactions are not planned consciously but are a response by the primitive survival part of the brain.
Freeze is the last resort response, when fight or flight do not work. The body becomes immobile (which can look like playing dead).
To define Trauma further:
Trauma, as opposed to complex trauma, can be described as a serious emotional injury or shock to the body, due to an accident or violent situation. That is, an emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to the psychological wellbeing of a person. For example, an event such as the loss of a loved one, violation of an individual, divorce, redundancy, or situations that causes great distress and disruption to everyday life.
Complex Trauma is an emotional state experienced by people who are, or have been, exposed to repeated and prolonged trauma. These traumatic events for an individual may have begun early in life and possibly disrupted many aspects of their childhood development and the basic sense of who they are.
Due to ongoing abuse in childhood, the unavailability of a carer, the witnessing of violence, all of these or a combination of them, impact on the development of a child, which would continue to influence their adult life. Adults who have been exposed to this type of trauma will often resist support and have a lack of trust in their world.
Working with complex trauma usually encompasses aspect of dissociation, recovering small amounts of early experience, as well as finding a way to retrieve aspects of those traumatic events in a safe and effective way.
Developmental Trauma occurs in childhood when a child is exposed to chronic or multiple aspects of abuse, such as abandonment, various primary carers in their early years, abuse, neglect, or violence. The child can remain emotionally stuck at the developmental age of when the abuse occurred. The impact upon adult life can be seen through various behaviours, such as difficulty in being able to self-regulate from strong emotional states, rages, lack of awareness of, or dissociation from, sensations, emotions and bodily states, together with difficulty in being able to describe emotions or bodily states. The individual may cope through self-harm, risk taking and/or thrill seeking behaviours. They may have a distrust of others and a persistent negative sense of who they are.
Dissociation is a way in which an individual copes with the trauma and abuse that threatened to overwhelm them in their childhood. An adult who experiences dissociation may try to keep difficult memories at bay, or struggle to recall traumatic periods, events or people in their life, especially from childhood. Often an individual may “switch” to alternative identities when under pressure, this is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, or “DID”. This is an identity confusion or alteration that talks or lives inside the head of an individual. These identities may differ in age, older or younger than the person’s actual age, they may have unique names, different voices, genders, mannerisms but to name a few aspect of the ‘alters.’ Some identities may not be familiar with each other.
Many people with trauma, complex trauma, developmental trauma or dissociative disorders are able to learn new ways of coping and lead healthy, fruitful lives.
How is Trauma treated?
Within my practice it is fundamental that, before anything else takes place, the individual feels safe. I work with the “Phase-Oriented Treatment” approach:
- Phase 1: Establishing safety, Stabilization and Symptom reduction
- Phase 2: Working through and integrating traumatic memories
- Phase 3: Integration and rehabilitation
Phase 1: Establishing safety, stabilization and symptom reduction
The fundamental key to recovery is for the individual to feel safe. People who have experienced trauma often feel betrayed, both by what has happened to them as well as their own bodies. Within therapy it is vital for the person to get the right help. They need to feel safe and stable (in control), before working on or talking of what happened. We would work step by step together, in session to help you gain an improvement in your daily life as well as your ability to cope. We would do this by helping you to learn how to practice self-soothing and care skills, as well as techniques to help you experience safety. This phase does not always happen quickly, but for some it does. You and your experiences are unique to you and I work at a pace that is right for you, in a respectful and caring manner.
Phase 2: Working through and integrating traumatic memories
Before this stage can be implemented, it is important that the individual is stable or has become reliably stable during phase one. For a portion of survivors to discuss and process their trauma, this could be re-traumatizing and may compromise their ability to function on a daily basis. Therefore, time is taken to ensure that the person is ready to move to this phase.
In the second phase of recovery, this is where talking about what happened is more a part of the treatment. However, this is only done with your permission by asking if you would like to discuss further. It is where you can uncover, slowly, what happened. The aim is that the traumatic memories are integrated and become less disturbing. The survivor is allowed to experience and express their feelings in a safe environment. It can be helpful for the individual to experience and express the feelings they have about what they have endured. All of the survivor’s feelings are legitimate and an understandable response to their experiences. Being able to re-experience and express these feelings in a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship can help you to overcome the mistrust, isolation, and damaged relationships that experiencing the traumatic events inevitably bring.
Phase 3: Integration and rehabilitation
This is the final stage of the process. Integration has been taking place throughout the other two phases. You will have gained insight into your own resources. The memories of trauma and also the powerful feelings the trauma generated will have lessened and would not be impacting upon your day to day life. There will have been a gradual building of bridges, throughout your therapy to your present life. During our time of working together you would have become more connected to your bodily sensations and have found ways to be more able to manage them. This would enable you to handle any situation that arises in the here and now more effectively. The final stage of recovery involves the survivor to have more meaningful relationships and engagement in their daily life. The individual is no longer defined by their traumatic experiences. They have gained knowledge and insight of who they really are; an amazing human being who found a way to survive overwhelming events and who knows that no matter what life presents to them, they always have themselves. They are survivors!
My professional mission is to bring insight into the world of an individual who has been traumatised, empowering them from a place of suffering, to one of hope and recovery, transforming the mind, body and soul from terror to calmness.
If you are interested in having Trauma Therapy in Wilmslow at The Affinity Centre please contact us on 01625 529099 or use the contact form here.
Van der Kolk, B. & Fisler, R. (1995). Dissociation & the Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memoires: Overview& Exploratory Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 8(4): 505-525
Read the book: Overcoming Childhood Trauma by Helen Kennerley. A self help guide to handling trauma.
Post written by Jackie Connaughton, an expert in Trauma Therapy and one of The Affinity Centre therapists
Each week we look at one of the common psychotherapy issues, explaining how you can regain control your emotions and use them constructively. This week we’re looking at anger, another perfectly natural emotion and very much a part of being human.
Anger is pretty straight-forward: something happens that makes you angry, you express your anger and then move on. But when you display excessive anger or cannot move on, this can be a sign of a mental health issue.
Many people say they feel ‘out of control’ when experiencing excessive anger, as if they are standing behind themselves watching and unable to stop what’s happening. Frequent anger-attacks or prolonged periods in a tense state can be damaging to both your health and your relationships, to help regain control – it can be useful to learn your triggers.
Know your triggers
The easiest way to learn what sets you off is to keep a diary about the times you have felt angry. Once the anger has passed, you’ve calmed down and can think rationally, ask yourself:
• What was going on at the time?
• Did someone do or say something?
• How did that make you feel?
• What was your reaction?
• How did you feel about it all once you’ve calmed down?
Do this over a period of time and you may see patterns emerging, sometimes simply knowing what makes you angry can help you stop feeling so tense.
Look out for warning signs
If you are struggling to pinpoint your triggers then try to recognise the physiological signals of anger, such as:
– A rush of adrenaline
– Quicker breathing
– You become tense
– Your heart beats faster
If you can program yourself to spot these signs then you’ll give yourself time to consider your reaction to a given situation. The more control you gain over anger the more you can live a normal life, keep your relationships healthy and your feelings positive. So, here’s…
10 ways to keep anger at healthy levels:
1. Count to 11
If you can feel the adrenaline rushing and heart rate quickening then count to 11 before you react, 11 is odd so you’re more likely to remember to do it and it’ll give you time to cool down.
2. Breathe slowly
Your breathing will quicken when you become angry, so slow it down – breathe out longer than you breathe in and relax on the exhale.
3. Take care of yourself
The saying goes – ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ so get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods and make time for your kind of relaxation. Remember: drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions, which can worsen anger, so avoid them if you’re serious about helping yourself.
Or write, compose, dance, whatever you like doing that’s creative – it will help you feel less tense and can reduce feelings of anger.
5. Open up
Get a different perspective on your triggers from a friend, discussing your feelings can really help you understand opportunities for change.
6. Speak only when calm
Speaking in anger can upset people and make a situation worse; it can feed anger in others and cause longer-lasting damage to relationships. If you can give yourself time to calm down, you’ll be able to express your frustration in a clear, non-confrontational way and are more likely to resolve the situation peacefully.
7. Have a laugh
Humour helps you get a more balanced perspective and ensures you don’t take yourself too seriously. For example; when your mother-in-law messes with your sock draw for the umpteenth time after being asked not to, just imagine her drawing up a plan, wearing a ninja suit and slightly rearranging your socks, before sneaking off and laughing like a Disney cartoon villain while sitting in a Dr Evil chair.
The truth is, she’s probably just on autopilot trying to help out and humour can help you realise this.
Just remember that humour doesn’t mean laughing off your problems or getting a laugh at someone else’s expense.
8. Change your thinking
Try not to use definite words such as ‘always’ or ‘never’, for example: “She’s always doing it” or “He never remembers things”. These words compound your negative feelings and suggest there’s no way of solving the problem, they’re also rarely accurate and can hurt people’s feelings.
9. Let Forgiveness be your reaction
When your anger rises, you’ll be filled with negative feelings and bitterness – turn your back on these emotions and instead forgive the person that has angered you. It’s empowering. Discuss what happened and learn from the situation.
10: Know when to seek help
Learning to control anger alone can be very difficult and if you’re struggling to manage your anger then you may want to consider seeking professional help. Here at the Affinity Centre we can help you identify your triggers; know when you’re becoming angry and learn how to respond in a healthy, controlled way.
To get in touch and discuss your anger with an expert in a completely confidential environment, call us on 01625 529 099. You can arrange an appointment at our Wilmslow Centre at a time that’s convenient for you.
Read the book: Anger Management For Dummies* by Gillian Bloxham gives constructive ways of dealing with anger and reviews how therapy can help.
This week we’re looking at anxiety – a perfectly natural and important part of our life. Anxiety is a basic reaction to a fearful situation, it floods our muscles with glucose and enhances our focus. The idea is: you’re about to be attacked by a sabre-tooth tiger and your body is preparing itself for fight or flight.
So, anxiety isn’t a bad guy, but as with most things in life; too much of something is never good. Excessive anxiety can expose your body to prolonged periods of chemical imbalance, causing psychological issues such as an inability to cope with stress. It can stifle learning and make decision-making a nightmare, it can also stop you from living a normal and healthy life.
The difference between anxiety and stress
Knowing whether you have chronic anxiety can be tricky and it’s often mistaken for stress, but they are two very different issues…
Anxiety is a psychological state involving apprehension, distress, or uneasiness in response to fear or a threat.
Stress is the pressure or strain experienced when one thing exerts force on another, such as a work deadline – this can have physical and mental implications.
Anxiety plays a very useful role in protecting us from threats. But when those threats are perceived (irrational) or the anxiety is ongoing (chronic) it can be extremely harmful if not treated. The same can be said for depression and stress, both are perfectly natural but can become unhealthy if felt for more than a couple of weeks.
Anxiety is the most common form of mental issue in the UK, affecting 1 in 20 adults
If you think you may have unhealthy or chronic anxiety, you’re not alone. Anxiety is the most common form of mental issue in the UK, affecting 1 in 20 adults according to the NHS. Sufferers often struggle to make a distinction between real fear and irrational fear, they find anxiety difficult to control and their ability stay calm can be poor.
Symptoms of anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety can be both psychological and physiological, providing an important opportunity for you to recognise that you may be suffering.
Common physical symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Hyperventilation (over breathing)
- Wanting to use the toilet more often
- Dry mouth
Psychological symptoms of anxiety can take the form of thoughts and altered perceptions, including:
- Thinking that you might die
- Feeling that people are watching you and your anxiety
- You feel detached from the people around you
- Thinking that you may have a serious illness or ailment
- Thinking that you may lose control at ant moment
The science bit – What’s happening in my body when I’m anxious?
When you face a fear or threat, your hypothalamus fires up. This is the part of your brain responsible for keeping your need for basic life-requirements consistent, such as hunger, warmth and sleep.
Your hypothalamus reacts to try to maintain balance and its main weapon is the hormone cortisol. Cortisol temporarily puts systems such as organs and the immune system ‘on hold’ and gives extra energy (glucose) to the body/brain to help manage the situation and deal with the immediate crisis.
When the threat has passed (the sabre-tooth didn’t see you), the body returns to normal and cortisol is either reabsorbed or dispersed. This is where the problem can be for sufferers – if anxiety continues for prolonged periods of time, cortisol overstays it’s welcome and can have a damaging effect, mainly on the storing of memories our emotional responses.
Causes of anxiety
As a Psychotherapist in Wilmslow and Manchester, I see a lot of different causes of anxiety and each individual’s circumstances are as unique as their finger print. Anxiety can be the legacy of a distressing incident from your past that you were unable to emotionally deal with at the time, it can be a product of your upbringing; poor diet, drug misuse and even exhaustion.
A common cause of anxiety is the fear of losing control, which can lead to fearing the symptoms of anxiety and a vicious circle where you feel anxious because you dread feeling the symptoms of anxiety.
I have prolonged anxiety, what can I do?
If you believe you are suffering from chronic anxiety then you should seek trusted help and a diagnosis. Visit your GP or a qualified Psychotherapist and discuss your symptoms, we offer anxiety therapy at our centre in Wilmslow, Cheshire. In the mean time, there are steps you can take to help reduce your anxiety levels:
- Intense and prolonged periods of exercise
- Get some real relaxation
- Learn breathing exercises to help with panic attacks
- Distraction techniques (get a hobby)
- Assertiveness training
- Eat healthily and sleep well
- Communicate your problems with friends and family
Most of these are good practice anyway, whether you suffer from prolonged anxiety or not and should leave you feeling healthier, more balanced and better placed to face your fears.
Psychotherapy and counselling for anxiety
Psychotherapy is most widely recommended treatment for anxiety and comes in different forms, allowing your Psychotherapist to tailor your treatment to your personal situation and needs. Group therapy, counselling, applied relaxation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are all available, with the aim of helping you to regain control, face your fears and banish anxiety from your life.
If you think you may suffer from anxiety and want to discuss any symptoms, you can talk to your GP or to a member of our team. They will be able to assess you on your individual symptoms in complete confidence and offer expert psychotherapy. Simply call the Affinity Centre on 01625 529 099 for a chat about how we can help you.
And remember: At the onset of anxiety, try telling yourself that you’ve been here before and it will pass – keep calm and you’ll get through it.