Counselling can be for anyone.

It is interesting how counselling is associated with mental ill health. Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrats conference (2014) promised to increase spending on mental health, and there is frequent debate about putting mental health spending on a parity with that of physical health. I however, am not debating whether your mental health is sub-optimal and you ‘need’ treatment, I am proposing that just like we indulge our body, we should perhaps be a little more attentive to our mind/soul/spirituality.

I could google the cost of a spa break, or how much we spend on wasted gym membership. Or I could start on the cost of teeth whitening, facials, liposuction, a touch of Botox, these are accepted behaviours, which incidentally, are not inexpensive, that are used to help us ‘feel good’ about ourselves. Behaviours which we do regularly and then need to do them more frequently for the same benefit and then up-grade, and repeat the cycle.

We attend to the body, the shell, our physical form. This is how we see ourselves in the mirror, and it is important. Our acceptance of this picture in the mirror, is often conditioned by a view that society gives us regarding what is aesthetically pleasing. Some of us our more bound by this view than others, and constantly need to pay attention to how we look in order to feel ‘acceptable’ and ‘accepted’ to others and ourselves.

I recently was introduced a group ‘Health at Every Size’ one article caught my eye, Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift . This article demonstrates how powerful non-health based influencers have been on defining what a ‘healthy weight’ is. This has not been challenged enough by scientists and health professionals.

The general dissatisfaction of our ‘form’ that many of us have is not a ‘mental illness’ and yet it impacts on our relationships, our ability to get satisfaction from social events, our enjoyment of holidays, because it results in us  carrying an anxiety about how we see ourselves and also how others see us.

Then there are those of us who despite having a good quality of life, the family we aspired to, the regular work promotions good physical health who feel guilty that despite this they do not feel satisfied/happy. We wonder ‘what is the point’. This is not ‘mental illness’ yet impacts on our relationships our potential to do well, and our overall enjoyment of what we have.

Another group of us carry a sadness (which may be experienced as anger or frustration), it is associated with an aspect of the world, people, society, animal or human welfare, our environment, things that are ‘not good’, for example war, pollution, famine, global warming. Often we have little control of this as an individual but feel as a race/ species uniting we can have greater influence, so endeavour to put energy into this. This sadness can be overwhelming, it has a moral or ethical feeling and is hard to ignore. This is not a ‘mental illness’ yet impacts on our relationships, and our satisfaction with our own life journey.

These issues can slip from being motivators to de-motivators, we may feel like a failure, or unlovable, or even worthless, or insignificant. Not a mental health problem, but nevertheless leads to low mood.

Many of us with strong social networks, good communication skills, and who trust those that love us and are close to us, can share these doubts well enough to grow through them and understand themselves better.

Those that are not so fortunate may find their support through counselling. Counselling provides an unconditional space to explore what is that makes us who we are, counsellors generally believe that we are all ok, exploring the things we don’t like about ourselves can be done safely and without fear of judgment. Allowing reflection and opportunity to see things from a fresh perspective.

The benefit of doing this is often felt immediately; having the space to be who we truly are and explore our defences and anxieties in a contained consultation with a stranger who has no vested interest is liberating.

You may even want to try counselling just for the experience!

 

 

A Brief Demonstration of how Neuroscience Substantiates Counselling Practice

Emma Dunn Counselling and psychotherapy

Eye contact in counselling;  An example of  when it might be one sided.

Eye contact is often highlighted as an important part of engagement with an other. When I am counselling others my gaze is focused on the eyes of the person sitting in the other chair; ‘my client’. This is regardless of whether they are looking at me. It is as if I am saying to them I am here, ready, attentive and available for you.

However it is more usual for them, in times of deep reflection to have their eyes averted, almost glazed over.

I noticed myself doing the same, glazing over, when trying to describe to a friend, how I might feel if I could sail. I was trying to describe the sensation of being at one with the boat optimising the energy of the wind. I was disengaged from eye contact but became aware of this only after I had formed the words and understood what it was that I was wanting to express. It was then that I was reminded of the work of John Kounios and Mark Beeman, on the neuroscience of insight and why I believe so passionately about listening to our own experiences, and facilitating insightful moments. Picture Blog 2

Neuroscience is tending to indicate that insightful solutions to problems occur when the right hemisphere of the brain, notable the anterior superior temporal gyrus, is active, working creativity, and the left brain becomes less active- not working at interpreting external, in particular visual stimuli. This is seen clearly when my clients look away and appear ‘vacant’. This is why holding silence can be so powerful, it allows the right hemisphere priority to act on stimuli from the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system where emotion, non-verbal activity is shown to occur. Getting in touch with our feelings and experiences. Then, once some sense has been made, the left hemisphere, logic and language come into play and the state of introspection returns to engagement and ideas are articulated and a clarity follows. Client’s and counsellor’s eyes then meet, as if to provide assurance that the experiences are valid.

It is during the silence, when I as a counsellor have been fully available, I too have been using the right side of my brain. Activity of mirror neurones in the here and now, combined with personal experiences based on my attachment history will inform me in a way that enables me to show empathy. When my client articulates her reflections I too am in tune with the implications and emotions that these generated and our counselling relationship deepens and work progresses.

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I believe, psychotherapists who practice reverie and/or use  the impact of clients on their sense of self, either as countertransference or somatic experiences, even in dreams or in the supervision process are demonstrating how powerful it can be to allow our right-sided creative, emotional brain to speak to us. The antithesis of active problem solving, where we consciously piece the clues together, reverie allows the insights to suddenly arise within the process of being in relationship.

 

It continues to surprise me when counsellors are fearful of the work of neuroscience which is helping us to understand the work we know can happen in counselling. This brief exploration of insight, demonstrates how concepts from other models for example reverie, relational depth, empathy, dream work and Gestalt ideas can all be substantiated at least in part by science, this is a wonderful truth that endorses psychotherapy and counselling as an effective means of helping people to understand themselves, come to terms with this and make use of experience to reach whatever goals they are aiming for.