30 December 2011

Why Love Matters



I recently read Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt.


"Sue Gerhardt considers how the earliest relationship shapes the baby's nervous system, with lasting consequences, and how our adult life is influenced by infancy despite our inability to remember babyhood. She shows how the development of the brain can affect future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early 'pathways' that can affect the way we respond to stress and lead to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour."


So many people have recommended this book to me - many of them counsellor friends but also some fellow parents. I finally got around it reading it and can see why it is so highly recommended. Having taken an interest in the neuroscience of our emotions, a lot of this book was telling me what I already know, but I do think that it is pitched at a decent level for the average layperson who happens to be interested in learning about the science of our developing minds and how our early experiences shape those of our future. 


An important point for me is that we learn to regulate our emotions through the feedback our parents give us. So a neglected child, who is not taught or demonstrated how to handle emotions will not be as well equipped to deal with them as somebody who has had the relevant feedback and validation as a child. Moreover, by parents demonstrating an ability to handle their own emotions, the child will learn by their example.


The book goes into a lot of detail about what exactly is happening on a physiological (neurological and biochemical) level in infancy and childhood and exactly how it impacts on our emotional intelligence. 


"Repeated positive experiences also get etched in the synapses as expectations of how to behave in relationships. But the neglected or rejected child doesn't end up with the same kind of brain. He doesn't get the opiates that will help build the medial prefrontal cortex...The expectations that are etched in his neuronal pathways are that others will not pay you attention or will treat you with aggression or hostility."


This book also correlates with my intuition when it comes to parenting. For example, I have always felt uncomfortable with extremes of the controlled crying technique, "extinction" in particular. This book is not about shaming parents but about pointing out that latest findings in neuroscience can help us to shape future generations. We can use this knowledge and put it to good use when it comes to making decisions about how we care for our children.


Another aspect of the book I found interesting was that it explains how therapy can help those who's formative experiences have left a deficit substantial enough to be adversely affecting their adult lives:


"...the most potent formula for change. Talking to others, forming a relationship with someone who listens to how you feel, is the major element in unblocking the emotional plumbing and in formulating new, more effective emotion strategies."


Also, an aspect of therapy I had never considered in such terms, but which makes sense to me:


"The progress of the therapy often depends on their ability to face their parents' human weaknesses and failings and let go of the hope that one day they will receive the loving care that they missed out on in early life. They grow up when they realise with increasing compassion that their parents are fallible human beings and perfect maternal or paternal love is unobtainable. Accepting that parents are only imperfect and struggling human beings leads to increased self-acceptance."


An enjoyable and important read. 









13 December 2011

Anger management article

Not looking back in anger

This is an interesting article (above) on anger as it mentions suppressed anger as well as outwardly expressed anger. Suppressed anger can be as problematic and destructive as obvious anger. Passive aggressiveness can wreak havoc in relationships and there can be a dynamic where one person is outwardly angry and the other person silently angry, both reacting to and feeding off each other's differing energies. Sulking, withholding and withdrawing are feeding into the conflict dynamic as much
as shouting and name calling. One is more covert than the other but is no less destructive.

It is harder to pinpoint passive aggressiveness so it is some ways more insidious. It is easier for the outward-expressor of anger to be blamed, and to blame themselves. Blame is itself destructive and solves nothing, whether you are the person doing the blaming or the person accepting the blame.

Some of my clients have come specifically for "anger management" and yet I do not see them as "angry people". I see a human being who is having some difficulties, as we humans do. Whether it be anger issues, anxiety issues, assertiveness issues, self-esteem issues...(and of course I could go on...) people behave the way they do for a reason. Counselling is an opportunity to pick it apart and help raise the client's awareness of the underlying reasons behind their behaviour and to help them make choices that are more in line with where they want to be.

5 December 2011

Living with Heart - my latest workshop experience



Living with Heart - a Creating Synergies Workshop

I attended the warm and wonderful Gill Wyatt's "Living with Heart - A Practical Spiritual Path" workshop in Exeter on Saturday.  As previously mentioned, I was very excited about going. The emphasis for me was for personal development rather than improving my counselling skills, but actually, I don't think that the two are separate endeavours.

The context of the workshop was that NEW SCIENCE MEETS THE 'WISDOM OF THE HEART' - a look at latest findings in neurocardiology and how they influence our understanding of emotions, our way of being and of the mind/body divide which we in the West seem to have created.

The best parts for me, were the "heart meditations". For the first one we were invited to close our eyes and focus on our breathing, then to connect with our hearts by imagining breathing through them. With this focus we were to think of something that gives us joy and lean in to the experience of it. I had done this exercise before, on a previous "Heart Intelligence" workshop. What happens, for me, and for some others, is that the joy is intensified to the point where it is almost unbearable, and what comes along with that is the pain associated with the joy. My interpretation of this is that the heart equals truth and is the home of the highest joy and the deepest grief. I believe that for most of us, feelings of bliss, joy and love are physically felt in the heart as well as those of grief, pain and loss. Some found difficulty in letting go of "head thoughts" and going "into the heart". It seemed to be an enlightening experience for all, regardless of the personal experience.

There was another exercise where first of all we were to think of a problem we were encountering in life. Next we were encouraged to get back in touch with the joy we'd felt on the previous exercise - referred to by Gill as our "inner smile". From that place, and whilst "breathing  through our hearts" we were then to think of our problem or dilemma from that place and ask our hearts what we need. Anytime we felt stuck we were to recall the inner smile. My personal experience of this was that I got some very insightful advice, "from my heart" and will be taking action accordingly.

Something else I hugely valued from the day was the scientific input. We learned some genuinely fascinating facts about neurocardiology which correlate with ancient wisdom. We were taught about the relevance of Heart Rate Variability to our emotions with negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, showing an erratic reading and a positive feeling, such as appreciation, showing as a sine wave. This latter pattern is referred to as being coherent and it is when our HRV is in the highly ordered sinewave pattern that we feels positive emotions. This phenomenon - which is attributed to our systems being in harmony,  is referred to as Heart Mind Body Coherence (or psychophysiological coherence).

There was a lot more information about the impact of a highly ordered 'coherent" HRV(such as greater synchronisation between the two branches of the autonomic system) and erratic HRV (there is a shift away from the thinking parts of the brains with our reactionary brain taking more control). But I will not go into the science in depth here.

Another interesting fact is that the heart's electromagnetic field extends out approximately 12 foot around us. Neurocardiology is in it's infancy and at the workshop many of us were excited about what was yet to be discovered through future research. The thing is, ancient Eastern wisdom already knows the importance of the heart and the importance of not prioritising mind-thought.

There was all sorts of groovy data which raised many questions about the massive impact these discoveries could make to how we are in the world.

Discussion was had about what it means to "live with heart" and we shared ideas, experiences, fears and hopes. I really enjoyed hearing what the other attendees had to share and I appreciate Gill's style of gently leading in a strong way. She is generous with her approach and likes the process to be 2-way.

I went home very stimulated and with plenty of self-development to be carrying on with...



Gill Wyatt can be contacted via email: gillwyatt@creatingsynergies.com

Link to the website for the Institute of HeartMath







4 December 2011

Sandtray therapy - truly creative expression



http://www.livestrong.com/article/105596-benefits-sandplay-therapy/

I am fortunate enough to have my own sandtray for therapeutic work with clients. I used it with a client last week which has prompted me to share some of my thoughts on the process.

The article above gives some background information on sandtray work. I personally find it is useful for working in areas of "stuckness" with a client, i.e. where the client has reached an impasse on an unresolved and painful issue, often from childhood, e.g. abuse or trauma but could be from later on in life e.g. a painful divorce, death or other trauma. Last week I suggested sandtray work to a client as they were finding it hard to find the words to describe their pain and had some stuckness with a particularly painful childhood issue. This was a perfect scenario for sandtray work as words are not required for expression in this field of therapy as it taps into the unconscious.

It was agreed well in advance when the sandplay session would be - it is important for the client to make space around the session as it can be powerful and evocative.

The trays are a very specific size and shape based on the field of vision. Along with the tray itself is an extensive collection of miniatures of all kinds of shapes and sizes from toy animals, pieces of fabric, jewellery and many other items of bric-a-brac. This really is the client's realm as they select what they are drawn to and are invited to use them with the sand in any way which feels intuitively right for them. This process can take some time and the client may place some objects with no thought required whatsoever then struggle with other items that they feel compelled to include but need time to do justice to the  placement of these items. Eventually, the client will indicate that they are satisfied with the arrangement.

This is a good time to invite the client to share their thoughts on what they have done. It is important not to intrude into their realm, but to tentatively ask questions regarding particular items (no closed questions!) and to notice e.g. "I noticed that you were very decisive with that piece and the piece next to it seems to have been more difficult for you to place. Asking questions to clarify helps the client make sense of the world they have created.  A box of tissue needs to be on standby of course. Whenever I have engaged in this therapy myself I have found it very powerful emotionally and tears are often a natural part of the process.

One thing I have noticed is that time absolutely flies by with this kind of work, so gentle reminders of the time are required and general time management important so as not to rush the client or finish abruptly. It is considered essential for the client to be given the choice to dismantle their own masterpiece - a piece of art in the true sense of being an outward expression of what is going on inside. I always ask if they would like a picture - it could be useful for their personal development or for use in future sessions. The client takes the objects out themselves, although should they prefer, they can leave it for me to do, and swish away any patterns they may have made  in the sand.

During my training there were many cynics among the class who really did not see how playing with sand could be powerful therapy. By the end of an afternoon experimenting on each other most were converts.


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