27 November 2012


Becoming Online

When I first went online, I was fearful of the power of the ‘net and had lots of paranoia about having an online persona. Emails and eBay were manageable, and made Christmas shopping much easier. But just before my sister emigrated to Australia in 2006, I saw her clicking away on the social networking site “MySpace”. I decided to set myself up a profile so I could easily keep in touch with her. I liked the easy sharing of pictures and links and the broader opportunity of linking up with others outside of my usual social realm. It took me a few months to put a picture up, and even then it was of me in disguise. Initially my profile was public but I tired of getting rude messages of a sexual nature. So, swiftly making my profile “private” I continued to experiment with online social networking. I decided that I wanted to be very upfront about who I am , including all my quirks and bizarre preferences. I was sure that somewhere out there in the world there would be people with whom what I wanted to say resonated and this absolutely turned out to be the case. I scoured the lists of users for women roughly 10 years either side of me in age and looked at their profiles, sending a friend request if their profiles or blogs piqued my curiosity enough. Occasionally I would receive a friend request from somebody that wasn’t some dodgy bloke asking for private pictures, and so as time went on I accumulated many online “friends”.


Online romance blossomed where it wasn’t being looked for and whilst on MySpace I was aware that two British "friends" were having online relationships with American men they had “met” on MySpace. It seemed a little crazy at the time, but they are all married now and really happy. One of the benefits to online courting is that you have time and space to really get to know each other without getting physically hooked on one another. Of course, the physical side is a valid and important part of intimate relationships, and I know a few people who “fell in love” online and then when they met in the flesh it was a disappointment,  because the chemistry just wasn’t there or because one or both had simply told too many fibs about themselves.

Forming close friendships

I am aware and cautious of the perils of an online presence but having spent a good while socialising in Cyberspace I am as aware of the good as the bad. I have had the privilege of being able to make very meaningful connections with people. My friend Sue, who shares her experience below, has shared ups and downs with me and she helped me through some challenging times through online messaging.

My longest and best online friend has got to be a man who I shall refer to as bollers. He writes a little about our friendship in a paragraph below.  We have known each other for nearly 7 years now and I believe that we have provided a lot of mutual support and companionship throughout life’s ups and downs. bollers was kind and trusting enough to share with me the difficulties of his diagnosis of suffering with schizophrenia and I have learned a lot about his experience. He has had his fair share of my issues directed his way so it feels, to me, like a two-way street with plenty of room for us to walk freely side by side. In fact, bollers very generously assisted me with my Counselling Certificate presentation on schizophrenia. As part of my presentation I asked my peers a week or so beforehand what they would ask if they could ask a person with schizophrenia anything. On the day, I handed them back their questions and asked them in turn to read the questions out loud. On a big projector screen was a recording of bollers, answering the questions individually, his face filling the screen, his voice booming around the room, his very presence felt by all. Not bad for a self-professed hermit and such a generous thing to do.  After 4 and half years of online friendship we met in the flesh – he came to stay for a long weekend, and it was so fantastic to spend time with him. He was as he is online.

I have made other good friends online. Codename is a marvellous mentor. I first met her on MySpace and was deeply impressed by her intelligence and philosophical leanings. She made the leap to Facebook, when MySpace started to lose what was good about it, and the friendship grew. She helped me with some of my written assignments for my diploma in counselling and gave excellent, supportive feedback. I finally got to meet her in the flesh a year or so ago and she is as sidesplittingly funny, gorgeous and deeply intelligent as her online persona.

From personal experience I am aware that meaningful relationship can be made online and am looking to integrate an element of online counselling into my private practice. For bollers, online relationship was the only feasible option. For me, it was an opportunity to be brave enough to express who I really am, a risk that was very much worth taking.

Here follows a few paragraphs written by people who have kindly agreed to share their experience of cyber-relationship.


I didn't meet my partner online, though we did start seeing each other and properly getting to know one another shortly before he was due to spend a four month stint in the States.

So when he went away, we were at that crucial 'are we going to carry on seeing each other stage'. Our interaction was quite constant on Skype, and we would talk for (literally) hours every day. It was kind of nice because I had the opportunity to separate the exciting physicality of a new relationship from the actually talking and getting to know each other. Having said that, it was also very frustrating not to be able to touch the other person, and we did engage in a bit of web cam naughtiness. As the months drew on, we both became more and more frustrated with the inadequacy of online contact, and by the end of three months, we were talking less on Skype. Interestingly, talking on the phone became preferable, I suppose because there was a juddering web cam, or slight time delay, it actually felt more real to speak.


I met my wife online and though one would think it wouldn’t be the most normal place to meet someone I did and I am glad I did. Never did it before, but if I didn’t I would have never met my wife. If you think of it bars, clubs, stores etc aren't really that good places. It took six months of writing back and forth before she gave me her telephone number, and another two weeks of texts before she allowed me to ring her but it was well worth it. I waited 46ys for the love of my life and I did it online. Crazy as it seems, it worked for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


I was probably the most unlikely person to ever have imagined I’d end up married to someone who I met online, but this is exactly what happened. In 2008 I got talking to a chap in America on MySpace and we messaged for nine months just chatting and catching up on life. Over this time we became really good friends and would ring each other and text, after some persuasion by him, as I was very cautious and doubtful of online friendships being anything other than that. However in 2009 we finally met in person and knew immediately it was going to be a big relationship, we always maintained our online relationship when he went back home and this became a huge part of our courting and when we married in 2011 in Las Vegas the first thing we did was publish our wedding pics on Facebook and MySpace as it has been such a major part in bringing us together over all the miles. Although at the moment my husband cannot live with me in the UK as he has various things to tie up before he moves here permanently, we still communicate by messaging and msn and truly think that online relationships are probably more likely to succeed than randomly meeting people the normal route ie pubs clubs etc... In online relationships you tend to open up more about your life and I think this can either determine if you are suited or not to one another’s lifestyles. So all I can say is I’m very grateful for online messaging as its brought me someone who is wonderful to me and my children. Along the way I’ve met quite a few new friends on it , of course there has been occasional "weird " people but I can say genuinely the majority of friends I’ve made are ones I will keep forever Amanda being one of them as she too has had lot of experience, and has often given us advice and help along the way to which we are extremely blessed and grateful.


in a land before facebook there lived a magical kingdom called myspace and it was here that i first encountered amanda. she had left a interesting comment about a television “face” and i had felt compelled to write to her, which was saying something as over the prior few years i had turned into a hermit who’d left all his friends long behind whilst learning to live with being schizophrenic. this was a new horizon for me that offered some hope of a future as well as being a worthy new way to pass the time as i convalesced. so “message” amanda i did and thankfully she replied and that is how it began.

what do i like about cyber friendships? well typing keys opposed to chatting face to face allows me to pause for thought, unlike when i am in a “real” life situations, as i have a proven record of putting my foot in it. it also suits my hermit lifestyle, a way of having company in my life without a lot of the hassle. then there’s the possibility of helping other people, which by its very act helps me- not that i ever expect anything back from a online friendship but more often than not it does happen, simple things like someone to hear my space like scream from time to time.

i am no expert on this sort of thing, the number of online friendships i’ve been in is low, but quantity is not the issue, it’s about the quality of the relationship, about creating meaningful relationships and that takes effort and honesty reciprocated both ways and this is something i have found with amanda. she’s straight talking in a gentle way and her words are always the righteous truth. she has much wisdom within her and being part of her life is something i shall always treasure. with cyber friends travelling the galaxy becomes a reality.

My presence on the ‘net as a therapist

The issue of therapist self-disclosure gets batted round from time to time. Should we be “blank screens”? Is it really possible to be “blank screens”? I don’t think so. What I believe, and this works for some people (but I do not claim that it will work for all), is that looking for a therapist is tricky. That there are many homogenised counselling websites out there – how do you choose who to see? Some of my clients have told me that it is purely down to the amount of information I share on my website that makes them choose me. They feel more comfortable knowing more about me beforehand, and I have even heard that they felt a connection with me before meeting me. This fits perfectly with my experience (click here for my blog on my session with the author and psychotherapist and author Irvin Yalom) of feeling a connection of another through reading their written word.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, UK

16 November 2012

Child Abuse - a review of The Body Never Lies, by Alice Miller

"Wherever I look, I see signs of the commandment to honor one's parents and nowhere of a commandment that calls for the respect of a child." 
                                                                                                                                              Alice Miller

“Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.”
Alan Watts 

I was very much looking forward to reading this book as I had heard good things about Alice Miller. The subject matter intrigued me and of course, dealing with issues of childhood neglect and abuse is very pertinent to the work I do as a counsellor.

Roughly speaking, the book explores the following concepts:

1) The body expresses our truths more than the self-deceptive mind ever can.

"Ultimately the body will rebel. Even if it can be temporarily pacified with the help of drugs, cigarettes, or medicine, it usually has the last word because it is quicker to see through self-deception than the mind.... We may ignore or deride the messages of the body, but it's rebellion demands to be heeded because it's language is the authentic expression of our true selves and of the strength of our vitality."

2) The commandment "Honour thy father and mother" has infiltrated our culture to such an extent that  it is taboo to not love our parents, regardless of what they do to us. If we have neglectful or abusive parents then it is expected that we forgive them, even if they continue the hurtful behaviour to us as adults.

(referring to literature on self-therapy and therapeutic care) "... readers are advised to "snap out" of the role of victim, to stop blaming others for the things that have gone wrong in their lives, to be true to their own selves. This, they are told, is the only way of freeing themselves from the past and maintaining good relations with their parents. For me such advice embodies the contradictions of poisonous pedagogy and of conventional morality. It is actively dangerous because it is very likely to leave the former victims in a state of confusion and moral uncertainty, so that the individuals in question may never be able to attain true adulthood throughout their whole lives"

3) The effect of the commandment echoes in the work of many therapists, who due to their own  beliefs about attitudes towards parents, encourage clients to forgive and move on.

"Time and again, I have asked myself why therapy works for some people while others remain the prisoners of their symptoms despite years of analysis.... In each and every case I examined, I was able to establish that when people found the kind of therapeutic care and companionship that enabled them to discover their own story and give free expression to their indignation at their parents' behaviour, they were able to take their lives into their own hands and did not need to hate their parents. The opposite was the case with people whose therapists enjoined them to forgive and forget, actually believing that such forgiveness could have a salutary, curative effect."

Alice Miller uses examples of famous people to make the links between mind, body and childhood abuse/neglect. Those she discusses include Checkhov, Kafka, Nietzsche and Virgina Woolf. She breathes life into her arguments by using real life examples of those whose lives we may have some familiarity with. Rather than being fantastical conjecture, as such an endeavour could end up becoming, it reads as convincing and compelling.

Miller aims to help individuals break the cycle of abuse. On the inside cover it states:

"Miller examines the cyclical nature of violence and abuse. Parents and guardians who abuse their children, both physically and mentally, leave them embarassed and hurt. The inability of most children to properly express such feelings causes them to perpetuate the cycle by lashing out at their family, friends, and, above all, their own children, who will inevitably do the same."

Somebody once told me that he only started to live his life when his mother died. This man was 65 and his mother had died 5 years ago. When he found out that I was a counsellor, he said he was happy that there were people like me to help free people from ruining their lives being a prisoner to their parents. I do hope that I am able to provide a truly non-judgemental space where I allow clients to fully explore their feelings of anger, rage, hate and many more emotions. This is not about "parent-bashing; it's about acknowledging a person's perspective of their experience and holding that for them, without steering them to reconciliation or forgiveness. Only that person can make a decision for what is right for them.

The idea of neglectful or abusive parents goes against the beliefs we have in place, as a collective consciousness,  to keep us feeling secure. We want to believe that parents, and in particular mothers, love their children and treat them accordingly. Unfortunately, reality does not reflect what we want to believe. Sadly, for some individuals, childhood is a place of hurt, neglect, cruelty, physical abuse, mental anguish or an inappropriately early introduction to the world of adult sex. This book helps to destigmatise the subject, and is a step towards society being able to validate these people's experiences.

I highly recommend The Body Never Lies to anybody who is in the therapy business, and to those who have sadly had a childhood and adulthood impeded by parental neglect or abuse.

I have received the book "Toxic Parents" by Susan Forward, and look forward to reading another perspective.

If you have been affected by the topics raised then please consider the following:

In crisis, contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90

To find a counsellor in your area, try Counselling Directory. This is a good place to start as you can check if the counsellors listed are members of a regulatory organisation. This is not a guarantee of ethical practice, but there is recourse in the rare and unfortunate event of unethical practice.

Amanda Williamson is a professional counsellor with a thriving private practice in central Exeter, UK.

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