Taking issue with the Head of Policy

So we’ve had another reminder this week that our culture divides mental and physical health, to the detriment of those suffering with the former. George Freeman, head of policy for the government, stated in a Radio 5 Live interview that disability benefits should go to ‘really disabled people’ rather than people ‘taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety’. Freeman has apologised, (of course he has – his comments have been met with a flood of complaints and Teresa May in non too pleased with him), but the words have been said and they reveal much about Freeman’s attitude to mental health.

As a Psychotherapist you’d expect me to take issue with Mr Freeman’s words and I certainly do and will. This incident has elicited many responses already and the advocacy it has generated for people experiencing anxiety has been heartening. For me, the aspect of this situation that I find most striking is the total ignorance of the opinion Mr Freeman expressed, by which I mean the complete lack of understanding he has of what it is like to experience acute anxiety or an anxiety related condition. And I don’t mean the lack of empathic understanding – I mean the lack of knowledge. Having witnessed the impact that anxiety has on my clients over the years, I find it ridiculous that we keep talking about mental health as if it is different to physical health. Physiologically, the sensations of anxiety are created by our fight or flight system, located our amygdala. This almond shaped part of our brain releases adrenalin and cortisol as a response to threat, to prepare us to fight the threat or run away from it. Those hormones are real and measurable in the body. They are not ‘all in the mind’ as in ‘made up’. They are ‘all in the mind’ as in ‘produced by the brain’. The physical impact in someone with acute anxiety is visceral; heart pounding, nauseating, gut wrenching, head spinning, terror based, life limiting, debilitating anxiety.

Dr John E. Sarno writes extensively on the psychosomatic basis of physical pain. In The Divided Mind he explains how the brain limits the oxygen supply to parts of the body, creating pain, as a form of distraction from unconscious emotional distress. Here we have a medical doctor explaining physical pain as a mind generated problem, turning Freeman’s premise totally on its head. People claiming disability allowances for a back condition, those ‘really disabled people’ that Freeman refers to, may well have a ‘mental’ condition and people with acute anxiety have demonstrable physical symptoms. It really is time for a more sophisticated understanding of the mind body connection to be more generally understood, particularly for people like Mr Freeman who are in that most dangerous position of having the power to impose an opinion based on no knowledge.

Julie Sale is LCC’s Director and aᅠ UKCP ᅠRegistered Psychotherapist,ᅠCOSRTᅠ Accredited Psychosexual/Relationship Psychotherapist, Supervisor, EFT Trainer, Master NLP Practitioner and Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

If you’re worried about anxiety and the impact it may be having on your life please take a look at our website or get in touch

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World Mental Health Day-First Aid for Anxious Minds

When I was a student psychotherapist I had an epiphany moment when I thought I had found a cure for anxiety. I must stress that I am not generally prone to grandiosity and, of course, it wasn’t long before I discovered than my insights had all been seen before. The epiphany was borne of a moment of striking personal insight that could only have been seen as revelatory to a person used to living with an anxious mind.

I was walking down Whitechapel Road in the East End of London with my mind churning about something I was worried about. Eventually, I realised that I needed to calm down. I instinctively took a deep sigh breath and I looked up. And there, right in front of me was The East London Mosque. How had I not seen it? It is a very large, visually striking building and I had almost walked right past it. I hadn’t seen it because my visual attention had been locked into my thoughts. My eyes had been focused on my anxiety, not on what was actually in front of my face.

Here was my epiphany.

In that moment I understood one way to quieten an anxious mind, a step towards developing peace of mind, a way to connect with the wider mind of spirituality. You take a deep breath and you turn your attention outside of yourself…to the external world…..to the present moment.

Now, this might be blindingly obvious to many of you, but, to me, someone who had spent, to this point, most of her life lost either in a book or in my own thoughts, it was an absolute revelation.

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is psychological first aid. For me, the ability to shift my attention from inside of my mind to the outside world is my ‘go to’ medicine in my mental health first aid cabinet. I call it my ‘Stop, Look’ procedure when teaching it to clients. If you find that your mind is locked in anxious thoughts, make the choice to stop, take a long breath, breathing in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 5, then turn your attention to your external environment. Name everything you can see, hear, smell, touch, in the simplest term; ‘I can see a desk, I can hear the traffic, I can smell my perfume, I can feel the key board under my fingers’. Alternatively, if the outside world is causing you distress, for example if you are on a busy tube train or with people you don’t like very much, turn your attention to your inside world. Attentional flexibility is essential first aid for anxious minds. Give it a go in honour of World Mental Health Day.

 

LCC Director Julie Sale asks ‘How Important is Sex in Relationships?’

How Important is Sex in Relationships?

The rich diversity of sexual practices, sexual identities and relationship constructs in human experience makes writing on the subject of sex and relationships inherently fraught with difficulty. Are we talking here about the importance of sex in heterosexual, bi or same sex relationships, in couples or multiples, and, if we had the relationship model clear, what exactly do we mean by sex?

When I think about my work as a sex and relationship therapist I can say that, yes, sex appears to be important in relationships. From couples who are reeling with the impact of an affair, to those who have not had sex in years, to those who argue constantly about the frequency and quality of sex, the presence or absence of sex within a relationship seems to be a significant issue. But what is it about sex that makes it so important?

There is the ‘biological imperative’ argument that sexual energy is fuelled by a fundamental drive to reproduce. For those clients I work with who are struggling with infertility, the raw anguish of not achieving this biological necessity is all too painfully evident … but it’s the children they are desperate for, not the sex. In fact the sex inevitably becomes a bland, means to an end rather than being a goal in and of itself. And we all know people who are staunchly opposed to having children, for whom the importance of sex seems to be unaffected by the absence of a reproductive objective.

Is it the physical pleasure of sex that makes it important then, the transporting power and tension relief of an orgasm? Sex is undeniably physically gratifying for many, though not universally, and if it was just about pleasure or release wouldn’t masturbation be enough?

My observation is that the perceived importance of sex in relationships is as much about human relational needs as it is about biology and pleasure… and like everything human, it’s all in the meaning making.

For some people physical touch is their love language. Being touched intimately by their partner means that they are loved and lovable. For these people, no amount of words or gestures in other love languages can compensate for an absence of sex. For others, the reflected sense of themselves that they get from being desired sexually can affect their sexual behaviour. Having affairs or pursuing sex from reluctant partners can be an effort to confirm an idea of themselves as attractive and desirable. Sex plays a part in the proximity dilemma that people in intimate relationships face – how close they become to one another without losing their individual sense of self. Choosing whether or not to have sex with our partners regulates the space between us. Similarly, the quality of a couple’s sex life can be the barometer for the quality of their relationship and vice versa.

I’ve seen couples repair their sex lives by reconstructing their relationship, resolving past resentments, improving communication, developing an understanding of their partner’s world, overcoming the anxiety of their childhood attachment patterns … all quite typical therapy material. Perhaps less predictably, I’ve seen couples repair their relationship problems by re-writing their sexual codes, acknowledging asexuality, embracing polyamory, exploring less main stream sexual practices, to name but a few solutions that I have witnessed.

So, back to our question of how important is sex in relationships. Although this is a deceptively simple question, the essential complexity of human experience means that each individual person will have a different answer within the unique dynamic of their specific relationship. All roads, it seems, bring us back to the glory and agony of human diversity, in which, as a therapist, I delight.

For help with sexual and relationship issues contact us now on hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 

 

Introducing Marja Crowther … LCC Barnet’s Sex and Relationship Specialist

I am Marja Crowther, sexual and relationship therapist, general counsellor and supervisor based in Barnet. I believe life is about balance: work/fun, family/friends, closeness/space, routine/new experiences and calmness/activity. As humans we need to find our own ultimate balance and I see therapy as something to help in the process.

I am also passionate about trying new things and encourage clients to push their boundaries by trying out new behaviours whether in communicating more or better with their partners, by being more assertive or by better fulfilling their potential. Change is easier with support.

If you would like to access our service in Barnet please contact us on barnet@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk in complete confidence.

Gender and Sexual Diversity – Our kids know more than we do

We are at the point of a revolution in social attitudes to gender and sexual diversity and it’s our children who are leading the way.

My 11 year daughter and her friends are absolutely up to speed with gender and sexual diversity terms and they all have a powerful sense of the right each person has to be an individual, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. You could expect that from a sex therapist’s child I guess, but her friends have been a far greater influence over her than I have on this issue. They are incensed at the gender associations of clothes, colours, names and sports. They explain to their gender binary fathers why people like Seann Miley Moore have a right to wear make-up and a dress even if they have male genitalia and that identifying as gender plural is legitimate. They have taken issue with their school’s 1986 Thesaurus which lists ‘abnormal’ as an alternative for bi-sexual. They challenge their peers when they hear the word ‘gay’ being used as a throw away insult and they grumble about the relationships in their school books all being heterosexual. They might get their terms slightly wrong occasionally – I heard them saying recently that they are pleased people can ‘transfer’ their gender, but it’s their sense that the option to transition is a good thing that matters more than having the exact right word to describe it. This isn’t something that is actively taught in their school. They are all at a standard state school that is neither progressive nor overly traditional. This is YouTube and social media lead and supported by some excellent children’s books on the theme of gender and sexual diversity such as George and The Art of Being Normal.

Further evidence of the change in thinking was in a conversation I over heard in a Costa in East London recently. A group of teenagers were talking about hypothetical relationship dilemmas. One such dilemma they considered was ‘would they continue to date a boy who dressed as a girl’. Responses ranged from ‘of course, what’s the big deal’ to ‘not if they nicked my clothes’ to ‘ depends how much I loved that person’. I didn’t hear one derogatory comment about the idea of ‘boys’ wearing ‘girls’ clothes. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t hear conversations like that, even in my right on, intellectual days at university.

Attitudes are changing and those of us who are currently identified as adults need to catch up. It’s one thing for our children to teach us about social media and technology – it’s quite another for 11 year olds to know more about diversity than we do.

Thankfully, for those of us working in helping professions, the leading counselling and psychotherapy associations are addressing this gap of awareness in their membership through the development of a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy. As well as seeking to protect clients, this document commits it’s signatories to educating their members in diversity. At the moment the Memorandum focusses on sexual diversity but the next version promises to include gender, which is a much needed update to a much needed national agreement. Anyone who feels they are behind the curve can find excellent training events at Pink Therapy, who are experts in this field. Alternatively, a day or two in the company of 11 year olds will bring everyone up to speed!

Local Counselling Centre honours all gender identities and sexual orientations and we have specially trained professionals in our team who have the expertise to work with gender and sexual themes. Contact us today for a confidential consultation on 01462 674671 option 2 or email hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 

Introducing Joyce Corkin – Sex and Relationship Therapist at LCC

Hi my name is Joyce and I am one of LCC’s specialist sex and relationship therapists.

I  worked for the NHS in the capacity of Men’s Health Nurse for several years. My speciality is erectile function and associated intimacy problems. I have been asked by people what sort of clients do I work work with. The answer to that is simple – people like you and me.

Relationships are complex and when the Bells and Whistles are just not happening it can lead to unhappiness and anxiety. Sometimes  talking about what s going on in our heads, as well as the nether regions, brings a sense of understanding and renewed confidence.

When you have lost your mojo,  the complexity of relationships often makes it difficult to talk about it with our significant others..  . It can take courage to ask for help but there are practical as well as talking therapies, that can turn your problem around.

Why don’t you contact Local Counselling for a consultation? hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk www.localcounsellingcentre.co.uk

The Danish Girl – A Trans Therapist’s Point of View

 

I saw The Danish Girl last night on its first day of release here in the UK. The international hype had already lifted the film onto my ‘must see’ list and I was not disappointed. This is the big screen at its best, with a first class cast and a story told within the plot constraints and time limitations of a film on general release. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good romance or who has personal interest, or is just curious, about what it may be like to be transgendered.

What may not be clear to everyone is that, although based on true life, the film is taken from a romantic piece of fiction which was based on the autobiography of Lili Elbe. The film does not portray her transition as it really happened; nor, I believe, does it claim to do so, although it does follow the main elements of her adult life. I have no wish to disclose spoilers for those who may be considering going to see the film. However, I would advise to take it at face value, as a piece of beautifully portrayed romance and enjoy it for that reason alone. If you gain insight about what it may be like for a trans person to ‘come out’ to loved ones and to undertake the journey of transition then that would be a bonus. However, I add the caveat that the film is fictional and, more importantly, is a period piece set some 80 years ago, before society, and the medical profession itself, was willing to accept the possibility of gender dysphoria and all the pain and turmoil that living with this condition entails. The diagnosis of insanity or schizophrenia applied in the film was, I am sure, all too commonly used then for psychological conditions that the medical profession today takes in its stride and deals with sympathetically.

Being transgendered is not a new concept. Historically there are references going back to ancient Greece and beyond. Native North American Indians have the concept of two-spirit people where, for example, biologically male ‘warriors’ lived with and undertook the woman’s roles and responsibilities within the tribe. The Hijra caste of Asia is also recorded back to antiquity, including a rite of passage which involves the removal of the male genitalia. There are many other examples.

The gender roles are largely blurred in these situations, being neither fully male nor fully female. They do away with the traditionally recognised binary nature of gender and sexuality (male : female / man : woman) which is the accepted pattern in most of the world. Instead they incorporate the non-binary values of transgender, gender variance, gender queer, gender fluidity and many more terms in use today. The same reasoning also applies to sexuality with non-binary labels such as gay, lesbian, questioning, pansexual, bisexual and asexual. The list of non-heteronormative labels available for use today seems to be ever expanding. Is it any wonder that some people are confused and question their own gender or sexual orientation as they seek to fit in?

Today we have counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and a whole raft of medical expertise and awareness available to people dealing with these difficulties. Society is becoming more accepting of difference, although it is acknowledged that this acceptance is not universal. Lili had no such help available to her and had to seek out whatever surgical intervention she could, which was in its infancy and was largely innovative, experimental and perhaps even bordering on illegal. Was Lili the first person to undergo male-to-female reassignment surgery? She is certainly the first recorded recipient of this kind of operation, having undergone surgery five times between 1930 and 1931. The next documented male-to-female surgery was carried out in the UK on Roberta Cowell (1951) followed by the more internationally famous Christine Jørgensen  who had her surgery in Denmark in late 1952. (As a point of interest, the first recorded female-to-male reassignment surgery was carried out in the UK during 1946-49 for Michael Dillon).

Reassignment surgery today is relatively commonplace and is carried out in many countries. Precise surgical techniques, excellent after-care and modern medication all ensure a successful physical outcome. Psychological assessment and support is also available for those who wish to explore their own feelings and self-awareness before considering whether or not transition and/or surgical intervention is necessary; this is very different to the early pioneering days of Lili and the others.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, which brought about many poignant and personal recollections for me in connection with my own journey. I would like to share one such moment (without giving away any spoilers). There is a short scene where Einar (Lili) and his then wife Gerda are practising walking in a more feminine way. They use a line of flagstones in an alleyway to ensure they take small steps, with the feet facing forward and that they walk in a straight line. This may not have been obvious to many others who were watching the film with me. However, I smiled to myself as that is exactly how I learned to walk with a more feminine style, except that I used the tiled floors in the London Underground: it worked!

If you would like help with gender or sexual concerns please contact us on our confidential email to access our specialist sex and relationship team – reduced cost options available.

hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 

Call 01462 674671 option 2