Published Articles

Awareness = Choice = Change

Anyone can write an article….

You are so cool! I don’t think I’ve read something like this before. So wonderful to discover someone with a few unique thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with some originality!

Thanks we rather like being unique over at the hub!

So whilst trying to run a busy successful counselling practice, over at the TLC Hub I have also recently discovered the art of writing articles on lots of different topics and different perspectives of counselling.

I decided it was only right to share them with you. Please message me if you would like to suggest an article for further publication.

Anxiety Isn’t New

Published on 20th October 2021

Unravelling those anxious thoughts…

So where does my anxiety come from?

Anxiety is basically the body’s response to stress that derives from the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for the control of danger, perceived threats, emotions and anxiety.

The limbic structures of the brain process incoming stimuli and regulate our emotional responses to them. It will either go into fight, flight, freeze or fawn modes, known in today’s psychology as the trauma responseIt is predominantly a fear of something that might happen, or is about to happen, something that we usually have no control of anyway!

Two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol (the primary stress hormone), are pumped through the central nervous system leaving the recipient feeling highly charged and hyper-vigilant, waiting for the threat or danger to pass.

I often refer to this stage with my clients as like a meerkat, standing upright on its hind legs looking and scanning the area for any potential threats and dangers.

Another visual way of describing anxiety to my clients is by imagining themselves back in Neanderthal times being faced by a menacing sabre tooth tiger – do you run, fight, flee or freeze or fawn? 

Back in those days the stress response, although immediate, was fleeting and dealt with relatively promptly one way or another. The body could return back to homeostasis and the anxiety would be abated.

Decades ago however we didn’t have all the accoutrements of today’s world having to juggle invisible balls, or spin never ending lines of plates just to thrive to strive in today’s society. 

The higher the expectations we put on ourselves, the more unrealistic and unattainable they potentially become! This could cause no amount of stress and anxiety for the individual. concerned. Hence why clients may feel their life is spiralling out of control and seeking counselling. Control can be described quite simply as a reaction to losing control.

Is anxiety new to counselling?

Anxiety is not new from a counselling perspective either. The Great fore fathers of psychology such as Freud with his psychoanalytic theory, Maslow with his theory of human motivation (more widely known as the hierarchy of needs), Erickson with his psycho-social theory, we’ve been writing about anxiety as far back as the 1800s!

Freud (love him or hate him) actually discovered three different types of anxiety: 

  • Moral anxiety: A fear of deconstructing our own moral codes and principles.
  • Neurotic anxiety: The unconscious worry that we will lose control of our urges and impulsivity resulting in punishment for inappropriate behaviour. 
  • Reality anxiety: A fear of life in real time, something like ‘how could I possibly go outside whilst there is a life threatening pandemic out there!’.

Freud believed that all behaviour had an underlying root cause, and these causes sit at the very back of the inaccessible, unattainable part of the unconscious mind. 

The unconscious mind can be depicted as a large storage vessel that holds repressed memories, emotions, fears, desires, fantasies, introjects, and dreams. Because they are repressed and inaccessible they are not in our conscious mind or, as a Gestalt therapist, I like to use the term ‘out of our awareness’!I rather like this quote by psychologist Asleigh Warner:

Behind every behaviour is a feeling.  And beneath every feeling is a need.  And when we meet the need rather than focus on the behaviour we begin to deal with the cause and not the symptom.

So how can counselling help me and my anxiety?

So anxiety is not new, and it will not be new to the client either. As a counsellor I gently ‘unpack’ with my clients the very first time they recalled feeling anxious. I believe this is where it sits for them. All those trapped memories and repressed emotions or somatic sensations are basically how the body/brain and senses perceived the initial threat or danger. 

We can’t erase the past, but if we find the root cause or potential triggers we can start to understand our anxiety rather than be afraid of it.

In my practice we face it together and find ways to lessen the threat level they once perceived it as. I often say no child is born anxious, it is what they may have seen, or been exposed to, or witnessed in their crucial developmental years.

As a  Gestalt counsellor I work in the here-and-now, working creatively with art, colour, mood cards, white boards and other creative mediums. I facilitate their journey by asking them to capture their thoughts and emotions as they come in rather than trying to suppress them and make them unattainable.

Working this way is very organic as it helps unlock the past in a gentle, safe and contained way.

Excellent site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

David Ray Holmes October 21

Awareness = Choice = Change

The unveiling of the societal masks we wear

Published 10th September 2021

The different societal masks we wear!

So I’ve been thinking recently about how many masks we wear in our societal roles. We all have them, we all use them, but they are invisible – possibly not even seen or known by self.

Whilst recently recovering from a virulent chest infection my daughter helped me feel better by putting on some eyelash extensions and a bit of lipstick. To the outside world I looked fine, well, healthy even.

What no one could possibly see in that one captured image was that ‘inside’ (my lungs in particular) were anything but fine.

It got me thinking that we really can not see or possibly understand what is going on under the surface for someone. Whilst our outward appearances may seem as if we are excelling in life, performing to our fullest potential, existing, or barely just living. How could anybody identify from our outward exterior what is truly going on for that person.

So what do I mean by wearing a societal mask?

The metaphor of wearing masks is not new to counselling. Also known as personas, alto egos or schemas. Carl Jung describes them in his analytic psychological approach as an individual’s social facade or front. It reflects the role the individual in life is playing out. We wear them to protect our vulnerable inner true selves and feelings. It is like an invisible wall or barrier we unconsciously put in place to be accepted by others.

We are ‘programmed’ from early childhood to fit in with society and so wear masks that project social conformance and acceptance. Masks lie, however, hiding our true selves and feelings, albeit with fair purpose in protection of self.

The masks I wear

I have them – the mum mask, the wife mask, the counsellor mask, the charity committee mask, the HR role mask, and the I’m trying to get into fitness mask. That’s ok as they are all parts of me, however I believe that whilst I’m wearing all of those different masks I am trying to be my true authentic self with all the masks I currently wear. I’d like to think that although the masks are different the person wearing them is not, ie. my authenticity remains the same.

So what does true authentic self mean?

I have learnt over the years it’s ok to be me, it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to show emotion and say it how it really is. It is ok to say no, it’s ok to cancel last minute plans as anxiety rears its ugly head, in fact it’s ok to, dare I say those now very familiar words, it is ok to not be okay!

Life is complex. From a young age we are moulded to try and fit in with societal norms, we are taught morals and whether our compass is right or wrong. We are even told sometimes that we are not good enough. Over time we swallow whole these introject‘s that make up the complex being of self.

I wish I had the strength and conviction I do now to say a few things to the people that have wronged me in the past. To say I didn’t want to do that actually, I won’t accept that harsh, bullying tactics and treatment. I would like to have said no you are treating me unfairly and with discrimination!

Learning to live authentically, being true to yourself, not following facts or fads or fitting in to please others is difficult. Especially with social media at its all-time high, checking back on likes, or comments, or whether my latest post has made any impression at all.

How can we live more authentically?

I think we should teach our children to be the best version of themselves from an early age that difference should be encouraged and not held in disparity. Teaching them about acceptance of race, gender, sexuality and equality for all.

Living authentically is liberating, freeing not having to put on a brave face or pretence to anyone. Being a Gestalt practitioner I work very much in the here and now in the moment by seizing the day.

I like to see my clients as multifaceted – like a diamond with many different faces, faults and fabulousness. The counselling techniques and methods I use to help facilitate their acceptance of all sides/parts of themselves. Even the parts they don’t like.

I said to a client only recently ‘you can drop the dad mask, the husband mask, the boss mask and just be you.’ He exhaled deeply and said thank you Nicky I’ve forgotten what me looks like!

We still have much to learn about the complex human mind, but one thing I have learnt over the years is, if we are true to ourselves then we can learn to be truly authentic with others. Or seeing it metaphorically like a seesaw very equally in-balance with self and others. I’m accepting of me, and I’m also accepting of you.

How can a Gestalt therapist help me?

Working creatively with clients can help unlock things from the past in a safe contained way. Gestalt therapists work very much in the here and now helping clients find awareness of themselves and the world around them.

I love this article. It can be so helpful to realise the different roles (or masks) we have in our lives.. (parent/friend/work colleague/carer etc.) Sometimes we can come to one to define us which can feel jarring alongside our other roles. Or as discussed in this article, we can feel we have lost sight in our true selves.

Louise Herbert Helping people to connect to themselves October 21

Thank you for being there!

Melanie Parkinson

Really interesting. In relation to myself, I have always called it changing hats. So interesting to read that you call it a mask, which is a much better representative word for it.

I enjoyed reading your post discussing masks in relation to your work with clients.

Lynne Coulsting Helping female business owners October 21

Awareness = Choice = Change 

Right brain vs left brain: What’s the difference?

I’m not going to lie, I have always struggled with numbers, science, physics, calculations and analytical thinking and logical reasoning. 

Because of my inability to comprehend mathematics, I was told by a very oppressive maths teacher that I would never amount to anything (thanks for that!). In fact, “You are so bad at maths, why don’t you just sit at the back of the class with a magazine!”

The 15 year old me did just that, sitting ashamed and embarrassed, daydreaming out of the window pondering that there must be more to life than maths! Willing and almost wishing that the limp, waterlogged daffodils would come to life and start dancing on the empty playground, and help me escape this cruel scenario I had to endure.

I’ve always been drawn to people, vibrancy, art, colour, and music from a very early age. I was able to read emotions, understand and empathise with people and see things through their lens. Listening and caring came naturally to me.

I’ve always known that I was attracted to bright things, creativity and colour. In fact, I won first prize in my junior school craft week by painting a multi-coloured elephant (so vibrant and different, she stood in the middle of the drab school hall).

What I couldn’t have possibly known back then, though (or even through my adolescence and early adult life,) was that my brain just didn’t function the way society perceived it should. It didn’t make sense of a world that seemed organised, measured, precise and narrow in its thinking. 

creative brain was not much use to anyone that didn’t understand it, let alone something to be encouraged! A heavily dominated right-sided brain struggles with huge walls of text which can make studying and essay writing a mammoth task. A heavily dominant right-sided brain will make more sense out of one single picture than a thousand words could ever depict. 

A fine example of this is, whilst finishing my foundation degree, and having to write yet another case study, I was surrounded by a mountain of books. I felt like I was firefighting my way through the text, trying to extract their point or meaning. My brain has to go over and over the phrase or meaning so many times for it to sink in.

I can honestly say hand on heart, that in the seven years of studying, I never completed one counselling theory textbook. Don’t even get me started on the Harvard referencing system! How one could lose precious marks if semicolon or full stop was out of place.

Is there a difference between the right and left sides of the brain?

Surprisingly enough, there is a difference and quite a significant one at that. Imagine your brain cut into two halves. Although from an outward appearance they look the same, the variance couldn’t be more different. They don’t work independently of each other, they process information differently, and they both function completely differently for each individual.

Is this a new concept?

Absolutely not. The analysis that the brain has two hemispheres (or a split-brain) that function autonomously has been around for over 60 years. Sperry (1960) based his Nobel Prize-winning theory on this very matter!

How do the left brain and right brain differ?

According to Sperry, the left brain is more verbal, precise, ordered and analytical than the right brain. Often referred to as the ‘digital’ brain or even the computer brain.

He also suggested that the left brain was responsible for neural processes such as:

  • rationality
  • judgement
  • sequencing
  • straight thinking
  • mathematics
  • calculation
  • reckoning
  • specifics
  • particulars
  • limitations
  • intelligent use of words

The right brain, however, is more visual, creative, and uses intuition as a process. It is deemed less structured, organised and is sometimes depicted as the ‘analogue brain’ that uses indications or information characterised by a constantly adaptable physical quantity such as spatial position.

Sperry’s research indicated the right brain is also associated with:

  • inspiration
  • vision
  • inventiveness
  • universal thinking
  • perception
  • awareness
  • artistic temperament
  • colour 
  • rhythm
  • nonverbal cues
  • emotions
  • visualisation
  • daydreaming
  • facial recognition
  • 3D shape modelling

What is very obvious is that although structurally the two hemispheres are equivalent in size weight and measure, their neural functions and processes are hugely diverse.

Food for thought – like we have our dominant hand, do we also have a dominant brain?

For me, there is no denying it! And, a recent test has only confirmed what I already knew from all those years ago, that my brain is an alarming 87.5% right brain.

But, what does this mean? And does it even matter?

It matters because, for years of being made to feel inadequate and stupid with mathematics as my nemesis, having a freeze or mental block when trying to add up on the spot or splitting the restaurant bill, there is actually a logical straightforward explanation for this. My brain just does not work that way – only a meagre 12.5% of it does!

It means that a very heavily right-sided brain will always struggle with maths, analytical problem solving, reading lots of uninspiring text and logical one-sided reasoning!

It means that, rather than ostracise someone and put them at the back of the class, we should put them somewhere where their ideas can flourish and grow, and come to life! It means that they have the potential to see beauty and hope where others do not. It means that having an intrinsic creative stance on life should be embraced with equality rather than disparity. 

I was told at a nursing interview once, “Oh you are one of those arty-crafty types. I can’t be doing with people like you!” (Again, thanks for that!). But, despite her cruel words, I was a successful nurse for over 20 years.

I am now able to use my creativity in my counselling, working with metaphors, analogies, art, and creative mediums. I write blogs and design flyers and web posts for a very well-established counselling organisation. I have never felt more free, liberated, and finally accepted!

Hopefully, this article will highlight that before we dismiss, cast aside and write off children who struggle with maths, science and logic, perhaps we need to grasp and have an insight into what other attributes or hidden gems may be laying suppressed beneath their surface!

If this article has resonated with you or has made you sit up and think ‘hey, this has happened to me’, then a creative and insightful counsellor who uses intuition, awareness, as well as free-thinking, may be well-suited to you. They will be able to understand your point of reference and facilitate your journey in a holistic way.

This is probably one of the most insightful therapy articles I’ve read on left/right in a good while. Makes perfect sense to me.

Sonia Lucas Psycho-therapeutic Counsellor 19-10-21

Loved this article! I too was that person at the back of the class reading a magazine! Now I use my right brain to it’s full potential!

Caroyln Crews Bereavement Support Worker 19-10-21

Awareness = Choice – Change

It’s all about the love…

By Nicky Bates Published on 6th October, 2020

Having recently attended a six-hour CPD study day on Attachment Theory, it got me thinking how pivotal understanding attachment is for clients. I, therefore, have come to the conclusion that attachment and our attachment style lays the foundation stones to one’s life.

What is attachment theory?

Attachment theory has been around for many years and there are lots of different views and theories on the subject. What is played out in the counselling room could potentially arise from the attachment style the client received from their primary caregiver, predominantly from the ages of 0 to 7 years.

What the developing child was or was not subjected to could ultimately set the precedents to how they form, maintain and possibly sabotage important relationships as adults. 

It’s thought that there are many attachment styles but the three main styles are:

  • secure attachment style
  • fearful-avoidant attachment style 
  • anxious/preoccupied attachment style

The secure attachment style

This type of person is thought to make up about 53% of the population, although I’m sure many therapists will argue this is not the case. They do not, as a rule, generally pitch up for counselling. They are self-assured, competent, and have a very good understanding of self and self-regulation. They have a natural resilience to anything life throws at them. They make and break relationships easily, usually without malice or harbouring any contempt.

They only present in the counselling room if they have a sudden bereavement or have experienced a sudden trauma that has temporarily knocked them off balance. Their default setting – or as I like to call it, their reset button – is usually a good one, and therefore, they are able to adjust to circumstances and events as they unfold.

The fearful-avoidant attachment style

This is a person who uses avoidance as a defence mechanism. People with avoidant attachment style may completely avoid relationships altogether, or keep anyone new they meet at a distance. They may sabotage their blossoming romances out of nowhere because they are scared their new partner will leave them, so they get in there first.

Possibly as a result of severe childhood trauma, emotional neglect, abandonment or abuse. Their exposure to severe trauma can cause long-term damaging effects, which changes the sensitivity and emotional/neural pathways to the brain. During childhood, the key emotion experienced was fear. They quite often present as stoic, which basically means they have had to learn quickly how to suppress their emotions.

Their reset button generally is a faulty one. They find it difficult to trust people and usually avoid new situations and relationships altogether. They may appear stand-offish and cold while wanting to remain aloof and distant in order to build an invisible shield of protection around their self. 

Anxious/preoccupied attachment style

These people tend to be self-critical, anxious and insecure. They are always on a quest to seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt.

In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and feel overly dependent on their partner. These people’s lives are not balanced. Their insecurity leaves them turned against themselves and emotionally desperate in their relationships.

They find it hard to express how they feel about themselves and usually have low self-worth and low self-esteem. Their emotions are usually suppressed deep within, and theirs is a strong sense of blame ad shame towards self. This may well be the client who self harms, has eating disorders and struggles with over control which can lead to debilitating anxiety and/or panic attacks.

Adults with preoccupied attachment patterns are often feeling desperate and assume the role of the “pursuer” in a relationship. They often have positive views of other people, especially their parents and their partner, and generally have a negative view of themselves.

They rely heavily on their partner to validate their self-worth. Because they grew up insecure based on the inconsistent availability of their caregivers, they are “rejection-sensitive.” They anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner is losing interest.

Their reset button is also a faulty one, and often present highly anxious and hyper-vigilant. They find new experiences daunting and are always in need of constant reassurance from others.

Whatever attachment style you feel may resonate with you, bringing it into your awareness will hopefully offer some light on how you make or break relationships with others.

We could also look at attachment it another more simplistic way…

If we think of a new build of a house, it is crucial from the onset to lay firm, solid foundations in order for the house to be supported and structurally sound. It generally remains unscathed, has the key components to make it fit for purpose and usually stands the test of time.

If the same new build is built on unbalanced and uneven foundations, it is usually not structurally sound. It will be missing the key components, will not be fit for purpose and may not stand the test of time!

Awareness = Choice = Change

Why self-care is good for the soul!

By Nicky Bates Published on 13th October, 2019

In light of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, there has never been a better time to look after yourself and your mental health. I find colour and regular walks by the sea are great examples of a grin and tonic!

I realise how important self-care is and why we need to make it a priority in our life. Self-care is vital for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It aides to help to maintain a healthy balance with yourself and helps to boost confidence, morale, and self-esteem. Self-care also promotes positive feelings, and can aid awareness of self, others, and the environment.

What is mental health?

‘Mental health is defined not just in terms of the absence of mental disorder, but is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’ (WHO 2014).

Who is affected by mental health?

In many ways, mental health is just like physical health: everybody has it and we need to take care of it. Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. They range from common problems, such as OCD, depression, anxiety, loss, and trauma, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

What are the early warning signs?

They are not prescriptive or come in any particular order, however, changes in mood and attitude can provide the first signs that all is not well. Mood swings and social withdrawal from family and friends may indicate some degree of emotional distress. Any of the following might provide an indication that something is not right for the individual and they could be experiencing some degree of mental health difficulty. It is important to view this list in terms of a collection of signs rather than as a diagnostic tool.

  • low mood-energy
  • erratic or unpredictable behaviour
  • agitation or overt anxiety
  • social withdrawal/avoidance of social interactions or contact
  • reduced attendance work/school/college
  • sleep or appetite disturbance
  • poor concentration and or motivation
  • unexplained prolonged crying
  • cancellation of events/appointments planned activities
  • self-neglecting appearance
  • lack of motivation to exercise 

So how can I look after my mental health and improve my self-care?

Self-care is vital for building resilience toward those stressors in life that you can’t eliminate. When you’ve taken steps to care for your mind and body, you’ll be better equipped to live your best life. Unfortunately, however, many people view self-care as a luxury, rather than a priority. Consequently, they’re left feeling overwhelmed, tired, and ill-equipped to handle life’s inevitable challenges. It’s important to assess how you’re caring for yourself in several different domains, so you can ensure you’re caring for your mind, body, and spirit; in short, looking after the whole person.

The way you think and the things that you’re filling your mind with greatly influence your psychological well-being.

Nine suggestions for better mental health

  • keeping active
  • eating well
  • drinking sensibly
  • keeping in touch
  • asking for help
  • getting plenty of sleep
  • doing something you are good at
  • accepting who you are
  • caring for others

The way you think and the things that you’re filling your mind with will greatly influence your psychological well-being, which will in turn positively impact on your self-care.

Awareness = Choice = Change