Counselling, Supervision, Training, Research, Teaching, Writing. Providing therapeutic services to the people of East Lancashire and beyond.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Taming the Black Dog

A friend and counselling colleague gave me a copy of Taming the Black Dog. I'm often on the look out for self-help books I can recommend to my clients. Something to replace the classic by Susan Jeffers: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. Published in 2004 and written by Patrick Ellverton, Taming the Black Dog is a guide to beating depression, the Black Dog of the title.

Ellverton's book does contain a lot of good advice about healthier eating, exercise and the benefits of keeping a daily log. Ellverton recommends finding a mentor and writes admiringly  about his own source of  inspiration, Winston Churchill. There's advice on creating a daily regime of walking and prayer (or meditation) to 'restore the balance' and keep the black dog at bay. There's also advice on alcohol misuse whilst another section contains a twenty minute exercise routine. The guidance I personally found most useful was the recommendation to spend time in the evening planning the next day's tasks.

Ellverton's advice is rooted in a lifetime of coping with depression. Ellverton was an army officer and this too is reflected in his book. You can see from the description I've given that the book has a 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' quality. He eschews counselling as tending to do more harm than good, though he offers a counselling service on his website.

I suspect Ellverton sees counselling as backward looking - a fruitless examination of unhappy past experiences likely to make depression worse. It's certainly true that rumination is a big part of depression and in my work as a counsellor I don't encourage clients to constantly dwell on their misery. I seek to acknowledge distressing memories and current unhappiness but recognise too the client's heroic side and the possibility of change.

Ellverton sees medication as a way of managing the symptoms of depression in the short-term whilst the depressed person makes changes to his or her thinking, behaviour and lifestyle. I have sympathy with that view and the need for lifestyle changes.

So Ellverton advocates a set of new habits: walking, exercise, playing a musical instrument, prayer, healthy eating and sobriety 'to keep the black dog in its kennel'. Anyone who likes this approach and can follow his prescription will find Ellverton's book helpful - replacing the behaviours that maintain depression with new behaviours that promote good mental health. The only problem is that depression tends to take away the motivation and will power needed to  make these changes. If that's the case for you then maybe some kind of therapy might be helpful.

Taming the Black Dog is available on Amazon here 

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