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

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: Burgo on Defences

Burgo, J (2012) Why Do I Do That: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives. Chapel Hill, NC: New Rise Press.

Joseph Burgo, psychotherapist and expert blogger, has written a readable, informative, and above all, useful account of our psychological defences - the lies we tell ourselves to avoid emotional pain. He has a gift - you can see it in his blog - to engage with the reader and tranform complex psychological phenomena into understandable and recognisable everyday human processes. This is a good trait in a psychotherapist. In a writer it means the insights of psychoanalysis are available to the reader and he or she can use the book's contents and exercises to begin some self-analysis. The book has helped me to understand the unhelpful ways I protect myself from emotional pain and the costs involved. It offers the possibility of choice - more enriching ways of relating and being in the world, ways that are more in touch with reality.

The defence mechanisms are unconscious and repeating patterns that keep our experience of self and others predictable and safe. Burgo writes about denial, splitting, idealisation and projection as means by which pain is avoided and distressing reality kept at bay through dissociation or by locating it elsewhere, particularly in others.

The book begins with a quiz inviting the reader to explore their own psychological make up and the defences that might accompany the different ways of being. After each chapter there are exercises to help the reader identify how each defence might be being deployed in his or her life. I have found it useful to keep a journal whilst reading the book, for my observations and as a place to do the exercises. As a result I have discovered interesting things about my own defences and learnt to be even more curious about the defences employed by my clients. Like Burgo I believe defences are a part of everyday life, to be expected, even appreciated, after all their intention is a positive one: learnt at times of great stress to keep us functioning; but at a cost and ultimately defences get in the way of seeing and engaging with the world as it really is.

So I can happily recommend Joe Burgo's book, without, I hope, idealising either the book or Joe!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Marsden Window

I hope you can see the photo I took today of the whiteboard I was using during some teaching and learning. I've called it The Marsden Window, with a nod to Joe and Harry of Johari Window fame. I'm never sure what the 'share' feature on my phone throws out.

Though The Marsden Window is not particularly original it was effective this morning in communicating an idea I wanted to get across to a great-to-be-with group of counselling students at the University Centre where I work.

One of the drawbacks of a skills based approach to counsellor training, and this has been identified by David Rennie in his book, Person Centred Counselling: an Experiential Approach, is that learners inevitably focus on their next intervention rather than the experience of the client or their connection with the client. Quite often learners resort to asking fairly random questions and once the questioning begins it can be difficult to stop. Turning a counselling session into an interview in which the responsibility for the session and its direction shifts from client to counsellor. This can have a negative impact on the client's autonomy, on the session's  emotional depth and on the quality of the connection between client and counsellor.

So I had a brainwave, drawing a window (a square with four quarters to it) on the whiteboard and writing: 'connect to self', 'connect to other', 'core conditions' and 'active listening' in the four compartments. After using this model for a few hours I added another element, drawing a thick black line around the window - the window frame - symbolising the time boundaries and ethical boundaries that must be in place when counselling.

The aim of this model is to shift the focus from doing active listening to being in relationship with the client.

This is achieved by the counsellor connecting first of all to their own feelings and process. To achieve this the counsellor might ask, 'How am I feeling in this moment?' or 'How am I feeling today?' The effect of this is to centre the counsellor or connect the counsellor to his or her feelings and gives the counsellor an opportunity to put difficult feelings to one side and hopefully become more emotionally available, more able to sense the feelings of the client. Students found this very helpful and there was a strong sense of the sessions slowing down and the counsellors becoming more thoughtful. Also cliens became tearful and more emotional and in feedback said they felt supported, listened to and accepted.

The next stage of the model sees the counsellor connect with his or her client. Here the opening question is important and ideally invites the client to do what the counsellor had just done: connect to process and feelings and join the counsellor in this 'place of feelings'.

The next part of the model acknowledges the importance of Rogers' core conditions: the importance of empathic understanding, of accepting and prizing the client, or more importantly of the client feeling accepted and prized.

Then we arrive at active listening, but there is a greater chance that this active listening emerges out of a deep rapport with the client and is imbued with the core conditions.

When using this model I observed a qualitative difference in the way students were listening to each other and a move towards the bellybutton-to-bellybutton communication I was looking for.

I'm going to keep reflecting on the teaching and learning of counselling. A recent Higher Education Academy Report states there is little evidence on the best ways of teaching and learning counselling. It fits also with the research aims of UCBC where I work.

Thanks to the four students I worked with today. I learnt a lot.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Return of the Blog

It's been a while since I posted anything on this blog. First there was the pressure of work and then the summer weather was gorgeous and I needed to rest after an intense year of teaching. So I left my desk for the great outdoors - St Anne's on Sea, Morecambe and the local park - where I relaxed and read books unrelated to counselling and mental health. Or so I thought, but as one of my ace students pointed out, Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier and Syvia Plath's The Bell Jar are all psychology related. Plath's novel, by the way, is not only brilliant but as compelling a description of major depression and post traumatic stress as I have ever encountered.
So, away from my desk, I stopped blogging, tweeting, scooping and all those other social media verbs and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. But now I'm back in the saddle, and like John Wayne in The Searchers, I'm going to hunt down some ideas and present them in future blogs for my own enjoyment and yours too. That might be the first time I have addressed 'the reader' directly (her name's Amanda).
Farewell for now, I hope you all had a pleasant summer and if any of my new students are visiting this site, welcome aboard!

Friday, 1 March 2013

A New NLP Book is Published

Looks like there's a new NLP book out. Stan Rockwell has reviewed the recently published, NLP: The Essential Guide to Neuro Linguistic Programming at the @PsychCentral blog. You can read the review here. I trotted along to and found the book on sale for £7.58, which is pretty good value for a 464 page book. Conveniently I only remembered my self-imposed moratorium on book purchases after the thing was bought and leaving the Amazon depot.

Rockwell gives a pretty positive review; he does comment on the amount of jargon filling the pages and that can't be denied; but he he goes on to say that he's been using the techniques described in the book and doing the exercises and they've been working for him. My criticism here is that yet again we have a book re-packaging NLP as an easy guide. 

What we actually need is someone developing new models, researching the effectiveness of what we already have or applying NLP in new and interesting contexts - as my friend and colleague Chris Mitchell does in her excellent Behaviour Management Toolkit reviewed by me here. I seem to remember John Grinder, one of the co-founders of NLP, talking in a YouTube clip of the need to 'replenish the well'. It's a good metaphor, as you would expect from Grinder, because of course if everyone draws water and the well is not replenished then eventually the well runs dry.

I've been having a fun time with NLP at the moment. I'm teaching the principles of NLP and drawing on my experience of using NLP as a therapist to groups of psychology students at the college where I work. Teaching this stuff has really helped me reach an even better understanding of NLP. In particular I'm really appreciating the 'explanatory power' of the approach when, for example, the class and I explore the psychology of negative emotional states - often called 'disorders' - though 'differently ordered' might be a better term; and I'm appreciating the creativity of NLP and the strengths based approach to therapeutic work: helping clients to access resources and creating choice about how they'd like to feel.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Chris Parry-Mitchell and The Behaviour Management Toolkit

I have been good friends with Chris Mitchell for a while now and this week had the pleasure of her company over coffee and a cup of tea in Blackburn's nicest cafe, The Coffee Exchange. It was great to see her again, happy and healthy. It was a great chance to catch up, and for me to talk at length about David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, and my personal quest to improve workflow and productivity. Not only did Chris stay awake during this (and she was drinking tea, not coffee) but she listened and gave good advice and inspired me to make changes; but what else would one expect from the author of The Behaviour Management Toolkit

I have to declare an interest at this stage, because not only is Chris a friend of mine, but we also share a common perspective on working with people and have similar training, often with the same Neuro Linguisitc Programming (NLP) practitioners and trainers. Indeed there are many similarities between Chris's work on avoiding exclusion from school and the Proactive Carer Programme I developed and delivered with my friend, Adam Gibson of Lancashire Counselling Services. Both draw on NLP and Transactional Analysis and both share a common ethos, the fundamental principle that if you help people develop resources they will have more choices and their behaviour and circumstances will change in positive ways. There are other shared principles: the power of groups and group work and the need for passionate and committed leadership that encourages and equips individuals with the knowledge and skills to make small but significant changes. I often use a metaphor that someone gifted to me, that if you sail from Portsmouth to New York and you're one degree out at the beginning of your voyage, you'll be in a different country by the time you've crossed the Atlantic. Fine if you don't mind landing in Canada, but you get the idea: small changes over time yield significant results.

So what's in The Behaviour Management Toolkit and how useful might it be to teachers and trainers working with young people at the point of being excluded from mainstream education? It's a ten session programme, with all the handouts and worksheets on a CD-ROM taped to the back page. It aims to equip young people with the insight and skills needed to make different decisions, change their behaviour and get better outcomes. Almost 300 children have been through the programme run by Chris in Preston, Lancashire, and  more than 80% of those have remained in education. Now this could be the programme, it could be the expertise of Chris and her two colleagues, John and 'Swifty' (Andrew 'Swifty' Swift is an old student of mine, but I take no credit for the excellent practitioner he has become). More likely it's a combination of these factors as well as the potential all young people have to seize an opportunity to change when they are given the chance by adults who appreciate their struggles and care about their futures!

The Behaviour Management Toolkit applies some classic NLP patterns: the Mercedes Model, submodality shifts and an extremely effective perceptual positions exercise to educate group members about their own thoughts and feelings, the impact of their behaviour on others and why that matters. It uses ideas from TA (warm fuzzies, cold pricklies, the Drama Triangle and game playing) to help young people understand and take responsibility for how they communicate. Each session begins with participants identifying and sharing their achievements that week, creating positive feelings, generating positive feedback and helping to change internal filters so a young person starts to notice what's going well in their lives and not just what's going badly. The whole programme is well put together, so each session builds on the previous  one and models learnt early in the programme are reapplied later on. Chris says she responded to feedback  from her young participants, making changes and increasing the programme's relevance and effectiveness. I think it's a superb piece of work, but the ultimate test is, does it work? Well, the statistics and the participants' feedback says it does; and whenever I've visited the project I've noticed an atmosphere that's warm and safe and purposeful, and the young people I've met there are full of praise for Chris and her team.

I hope practitioners working with hurt young people and their sometimes challenging behaviour make use of the Toolkit. In a previous career I delivered offender programmes for the National Probation Service. These were based on the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, an approach I much admire, but which, in that context, lacked the optimism and the humanistic underpinning found in The Behaviour Management Toolkit. I use it when teaching NLP based interventions to students on the BA (Hons) degree Working with Children and Young People at The University Centre at Blackburn College, a course that 'Swifty' graduated from several years ago! Congratulations to Chris Mitchell and her team, changing lives and living your mission!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Guest Post: Carl Newsham reviews Relational Depth: New Perspectives and Developments

I took delivery of my brand new copy of this title on the day of release a few weeks ago (07/01/13) after pre-ordering on the back of an e-mail prompt from Amazon. As I was the first to receive it, and John (my tutor) is busy marking our latest round of assignments! I am offered the opportunity to review the book for inclusion on this page, a privilege indeed!

I first came across the notion of Relational Depth in the 3rd edition of Mearns and Thorne’s Person-Centred Counselling in Action (2008) which led me to Mearns and Cooper’s Working at relational depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2005) which is, up to now, the only complete book fully dedicated to the phenomena as named.

Relational depth is described most succinctly as “a state of profound contact and engagement between two people, in which each person is fully real with the Other, and able to understand and value the Other’s experience at a high level.” (Mearns & Cooper 2005). This is to say that it can be experienced by anyone in any relationship providing the right conditions and sufficient depth is present. But what are the right conditions? What amount of depth is sufficient? And, can anyone really say what relational depth actually is? In terms of the therapeutic relationship; can relational depth be measured? Can a therapist do anything to encourage the phenomena to emerge in session? And, how is it perceived as valuable by the client in therapy? This is a collection of recent studies, experiences and essays based around the concept of relational depth which attempt to explore the subject further.

Divided into three parts, the book groups together an eclectic mix of reflections, suggested techniques and related perspectives to inform us of the state of current thinking about and practice uses of the topic. Part 1 begins with each author describing an actual moment of relational depth from practice; this really brings the book to life: case examples are more meaningful to me than a description of what I have referred to earlier as a notion. I found passages here that I could relate to from my own practice and from this chapter onwards I felt part of the team, comfortable in the knowledge that I had known relational depth personally. Part one moves away from the softly-softly approach from chapter two onwards with a study by Rosanne Knox focusing on the clients perspective of relational depth complete with flow-charts concluding that the impact of relational depth on the client can alter the feeling of isolation and facilitate movement towards re-connection with the self within the client. Chapter four introduces the Relational Depth Inventory (RDI) as proposed and researched by Sue Wiggins, a concept so brave I actually had to read the chapter a few times! To create a psychological measure for such a concept is akin to counting raindrops, I do marvel at finalised 24 item questionnaire produced from the study, I want to know more. Mick Cooper rounds off part one with a precautionary discussion about trying to capture empirical data from such a holistic and complex phenomena should we, as humanistic therapists, be happy for relational depth to remain elusive and in the moment.

Part two moves on to looking at relational depth in context moving back to the various author’s areas of expertise using real examples from the therapy room. Sue Hawkins explores the concept of it in therapeutic relationships with children and young adults, people whose use of language as a means of expression is as yet under-developed, relying on the unspoken elements of communication. Further chapters look at relational depth in groups and in supervision. The recurring themes in this part really underline the importance of relationship in therapy and the provision of Rogers’ ‘core conditions’ (1951). The essential nature of positive regard, acceptance or Thorne’s ‘tenderness’ (1991) in creating the right environment for relational depth to occur really shines through sending this reader back to basics for a re-cap.

The final part of the book is a collection of related perspectives to the central theme beginning in chapter 12 with a philological look at the language of the Person-Centred Approach by Peter F. Schmid arguing that the essence of person-centeredness is dialogical, bringing a balance to the book overall as previous chapters very much lean towards the unspoken aspects that are and surround relational depth. Further chapters discuss therapeutic presence and mutuality as a foundation for relational depth in turn both discussing the underlying construct of the therapeutic relationship. 

In conclusion, the book presents a very modern look at a very old concept. The chapters are tight, concise and relevant to any practising therapist in today’s fast-paced society. For students I would say this is a must and will be due to appear on a reading list near you very soon! It is refreshing to find expert insight such as this in such a friendly format.

Carl Newsham is studying Counselling with Brief Interventions at the University Centre at Blackburn College and is a trainee counsellor specialising in the person centred approach with clients living with drug and alcohol dependency issues.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

American Counselling Association Podcasts: Gestalt Therapy

Podcast Powered By Podbean

The American Counselling Association have published a great series of podcasts, on a range of counselling related topics. You can check them out here:


I'm making my way through them, and the first one to really grab me is Jon Frew talking to Rebecca Daniel-Burke about Gelstalt therapy. He isn't too complimentary about the showmanship of Fritz Perls, the man usually credited with the creation of the Gestalt approach. Instead Frew gives much of the credit for the development of Gestalt therapy to Laura Perls, the wife of the much more famous Fritz. So this is a great interview and very informative about the history and the  contemporary practice of Gestalt therapy
According to the American Counselling Association Website, Dr Jon Frew is in private practice in Vancouver, Washington, and is a Professor at Pacific University School of Professional Psychology. He completed the three-year Post Graduate Training Program at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland in 1981. He has conducted workshops and led training groups in the United States, Canada, and Australia. He is the author of numerous articles on Gestalt therapy, theory, and practice, and is on the editorial board of the journal Gestalt Review.
Running time: 54:45
Date Recorded: 01/24/2012

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Book Review: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

This little book of case studies has created a buzz in the small world of counselling and psychotherapy. It's been reviewed by the Guardian here, by the Observer here and by Rory of here. Chapters have also been broadcast on BBC Radio Four's Book of the Week and can still be heard on the Marsden Therapy Podbean page here.

I'll start my review by mentioning a major reservation I have about the book in respect of client confidentiality. I accept that Grosz has protected the anonymity of his clients by changing names and details. I don't know how well disguised his clients are or whether they would recognise their private tribulations within the pages of his book. I don't know whether Grosz obtained consent from his clients or if  his clients knew when they attended psychotherapy that Grosz was collecting stories for a future publication.Maybe Grosz didn't know that either. It's a mistake to think that anonymity is the same as confidentiality. Whilst anonymity protects the identity of the client, the principle of confidentiality guards not only the client's identity but - within limits - everything the client says. Of course one of the book's selling points is that it provides an insight into the private world of psychotherapy, but I remained uneasy as I read these very personal case histories, transformed into very beautiful stories.

The book itself contains thirty-one brief chapters in which the author considers both the process of psychotherapy and the lives of his clients. With deep understanding he reflects on what he finds there, pointing out the unconscious motivations behind human behaviour, showing how apparently irrational choices make sense in the wider context of early experience and the need to protect the individual from something much worse. So jealousy protects us from the fear of being abandoned and paranoia guards us against the fear of being alone. Sometimes Grosz's conclusions are ingenious, sometimes speculative, but always thought provoking. There is great wisdom and humanity in this book. Reading the book as a counsellor I was inspired and encouraged to keep listening to my clients and to continue helping them to tell their stories.  

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Suicide Prevention in Blackburn with Darwen

I attended a mini conference on suicide prevention at Blackburn Town Hall yesterday. There were representatives from a range of health and social services. I was there with a couple of colleagues from Blackburn College. I noticed that my old employer, The National Probation Service, was missing, which was a shame given that the workshop I attended was on reducing the risk of suicide within the criminal justice system.

The aim of the event was to consider how Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and our own organisations might respond to The National Suicide Strategy. In workshops we discussed how we could work together to reduce the number of suicides in our town and the dreadful impact that each of those has on our community.

The first speaker was Chief Superintendent Bob Eastwood, Lancashire Constabulary Divisional Commander responsible for policing in East Lancashire. He spoke movingly about a colleague who had committed suicide and the impact of their death on family, friends and colleagues. It was pretty clear that Chief Superintendent Eastwood had been deeply affected by this and by the numerous incidents he'd attended at which someone had taken their own life. The impact of suicide ripples out across society. The other startling point made by Mr Eastwood was that sometimes all of his on-duty officers are engaged looking for or attending to suicidal people. He explained that suicide is traumatic and preventing suicide has significant resource implications for his organisation. 

The next speaker was Emma Thompson, the Borough's population health analyst. She gave a presentation on suicide as a global, national and local problem. In Blackburn with Darwen there were 18 suicides across the Borough in 2010 - thirteen of those were male and five were female. On examining the figures for suicide in Blackburn over the last ten years a number of features emerge. She said that most were under the age of 45, 75% were male, 27% were single, 34% lived alone and 70% could be defined as 'white British'.

In the workshop I attended on suicide and the criminal justice system it became clear that the police are struggling to cope with their role as first responders. Often their appearance exacerbates the situation. A Chief Inspector said his officers really struggled with non-statutory offenders specifically and with distressed and suicidal people in general. He said there was a pressing need for speedy assessment and for a referral pathway. We thought there was a place for volunteers in supporting suicidal people, but the work would be complex and challenging.

Living Works talked to us about the suicide prevention training they offered. They offered three major programmes:

  • suicideTalk - awareness raising,  one or two hours duration, groups of 30 to 50
  • safeTalk - a step up from suicideTalk, a programme designed to give people the confidence to talk about suicide with people at risk.
  • ASIST ... a two day course involving role play, designed to give people the skills to work with suicidal people based on the principles of connecting, understanding and assisting.
The aim of Living Works is to create a network of helpers in the community. They said 'help seeking' is encouraged by open, honest and direct talk about suicide. They also said that the relationship between the helper and the suicidal person is key! The presentation ended on a positive note: 'No matter how despairing someone feels there is always a reason to live'.

The final speaker was Shirley Goodhew, Public Health Development Manager for NHS Blackburn with Darwen, speaking about risk factors for suicide: job loss, debt, social isolation, bereavement (especially for older people), family breakdown and imprisonment. Clearly a key risk factor for suicide was LOSS in its many forms. She said stigma and bullying are aggravating factors.

I left the conference feeling that agencies in the Borough had a long way to go if they were ever to work together effectively to safe-guard those at risk of suicide; but I left feeling that I had a part to play and I intend to book myself onto a Living Works training programme as soon as possible because, as the Chief Inspector said, 'Every life matters'.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Some thoughts on Leon Benjamin's 'Building brand me?'

Leon Benjamin, a blogger at Winning by Sharing has posted an excellent presentation, How do I build brand me?, on Slideshare. It contains some very useful and (for me) timely advice on social media networking and prompted me to add the following (now, slightly edited) comment:

Thanks Leon, seeing your blog and Slideshare has been timely for me. I spend a lot of time sharing links, writing posts and creating resources for my students and to build my reputation as a counsellor who is passionate, committed and knowledgeable about the profession of counselling. I have evidence from students, clients and colleagues that this is successful, but your blog and presentation has helped me to be patient, focus on the process rather than the outcome and to remember that influence cannot always be measured by immediate reactions and change. In fact these principles apply as much to client work in counselling as they do to my involvement with social media. And the fact that I am now thinking, 'This could make a good blog post' shows how much I have begun to think in terms of creation, curation and sharing. Best wishes, @MarsdenTherapy

So, here I am creating the very post I mentioned in my comment. I think this is an example of why I like social media and its networking potential. I'll make a list:
  • I have Tweeted the link to Leon's blog on my Twitter feed to alert my followers to something interesting I've found on the Web. I'm particularly thinking of those followers who are also colleagues at the University Centre, Blackburn College and interested in developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) and using social media to engage learners.
  • I have followed Leon on Twitter, 'liked' his Facebook page, added his blog to my feed, added his blog to my newsletter on and subscribed to his Slideshares. So I'm now 'connected' and have expanded my network. He may or may not subscribe to any of my social media sites but either way I'm going to be notified whenever he uploads content.
  • Finally here I am embedding Leon's content in my own site and adding my own reactions. For me this is fun but it's also learning.
So, I shall continue giving time and attention to my social media accounts. It's fun to create and curate; it enables me to connect with colleagues from across the world; I'm able to engage with different opinions and experiences, new ideas and research; it develops my writing and critical thinking skills; and builds my reputation as a counsellor, supervisor and teacher who is working at being authentic and is certainly passionate about his work ... 

Now ... I need to add this to my blog and post a link on Twitter ...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Reflections on Bradshaw and Toxic Shame

With some trepidation and for the third time in my career I entered counselling  before Christmas. My counsellor is an advocate of ‘inner child work’ and recommended this John Bradshaw book. I’ve read Bradshaw before because fifteen years ago, when I was training to be a counsellor, ‘healing the wounded child’ was very much in vogue. When I read Bradshaw the first time around I was not impressed. It seemed superficial, quasi-religious and a cobbling together of numerous therapeutic models and techniques. Those objections largely remain. I’m not in sympathy with Bradshaw’s twelve-step approach, his patronising of gay people, his theocentric world-view or his conservative beliefs about sex . The biggest sticking point, however, is Bradshaw’s view of shame.

Bradshaw says that shame is toxic or demonic. In other words, the thoughts, feelings and behviours of individuals repeatedly shamed in early life become shame-based. Shame becomes part of the individual’s identity. Shame is the belief that, ‘I am a flawed human being’. Whilst I agree with Bradshaw's idea of toxic shame and I like the idea of shame as demonic, I struggle with Bradshaw’s corresponding idea of ‘healthy shame’. He argues that the shame we feel when contemplating a wicked act stops us doing wicked things. I can accept that anticipatory guilt serves as a useful emotion helping to keep us out of gaol, but a shame-based reaction seems over the top, harmful and destructive. Is it healthy to feel shame in Tesco at the thought of eating a grape from the bunch you haven’t yet paid for?

Despite these reservations I gave Bradshaw my best attention. I found his exploration of toxic shame in part one of the book illuminating and I could relate to what he was saying. But as he described shame in all its forms and identified the ways shame is passed down the generations and internalised, I began to feel pretty miserable.

In chapter one Bradshaw argues that to combat toxic shame - the belief that I am a flawed human being -  an individual creates a false self to escape his or her shame laden identity. In chapter two Bradshaw expands on his view of shame, describing how it manifests at different stages in an individual's development. It’s in this chapter that his views on gay people  -  he identifies 'normal' children and gay and lesbian children - feel patronising.

I like his idea about the toxically shamed becoming either 'more than human' (ie perfect and superior) or 'less than human' (ie flawed and defective). I remember an offender I once worked with who protected himself from the truth of his awful crime and the judgement of others by assuming an attitude of self-abasement. Bradshaw describes this as 'grandiosity' and says, "It can appear as narcissistic self-enlargement or worm-like helplessness" (41).

Bradshaw expands on his idea of the false self. He says, "To be severed and alienated within oneself also creates a sense of unreality. One may have an all-pervasive sense of never quite belonging, of being on the outside looking in. The condition of inner alienation and isolation is also pervaded by a low-grade chronic depression. This has to do with the sadness of losing one's authentic self. Perhaps the deepest and most devastating aspect of neurotic shame is the rejection of the self by the self" (34).

The cobbling together of multiple theories is much in evidence here. Bradshaw borrows from NLP, CBT, the psycho-dynamic approach and from humanistic psychology. He refers to Seligman's 'learned helplessness'  as well as Harry Stack Sullivan, Alice Miller and Scott Peck. Does this amount to theoretical incoherence? It’s what might be called a kitchen sink approach to the problem of shame. My reaction was to visit Amazon at regular intervals to buy the books Bradshaw was referencing. I concluded that these ideas might be better appreciated in the original context.

Bradshaw links toxic shame to the discourse on 'being' v 'doing'. He says the false self necessitates a life based on externals - doing and achieving - whilst 'being' depends on the inner life. Bradshaw quotes (or misquotes)  scripture: 'The kingdom of heaven is within' [Luke 17:21].

Chapter three is a long chapter in which Bradshaw writes about the family system as a source of shame. He describes how shame is passed down the generations and illustrates this with a composite 'client' called Max (an 'Everyman' of toxic shame).

There is an interesting section on 'families as social systems' which I think I have read before and stored away. It formed the basis of what I was saying to a recent client about his situation. In particular the principle of dynamic homeostasis: "whenever a part of the system is out of balance, the rest of the members of the system will try and bring it into balance" (52). Bradshaw goes on to write about 'shame-based family rules' and lists them (62-63). He also writes about shame as a state of being and describes the three steps that lead to internalised or toxic shame:
  1. Identification with shame-based models [parents, family structures, roles, rules] and the carrying of unexpressed shame
  2. The trauma of abandonment - shame binding all one's feelings, needs and drives
  3. The interconnection and magnification of visual memories or scenes and the retaining of shaming auditory and kinaesthetic imprints (64).
Bradshaw writes (68) about children being sensitive to the needs of parents: 'By taking on the role of supplying his shame-based parent's narcissistic gratification, the child secures love and and a sense of being needed and not abandoned'. Paradoxically the child is actually abandoned since his or her needs are no longer being met. I was reminded at this point of Ferenzci's writing on the 'Wise Baby' syndrome. Bradshaw certainly provides a good description of abandonment trauma and its many manifestations.

Bradshaw says something interesting about emotions (1) they monitor our basic needs, and (2) they give us energy to act (Bradshaw uses the term e-motion, 'energy in motion'). He says our true sense of self depends on feeling authentic feelings; but when our feelings are shame-bound (marked by internalise shame) instead of real feelings we experience scripted feelings – we have to ask ourselves ‘How should I feel?’ I can identify with this.When I started counsellor training in 1997 I was was cut off from my feelings and how others felt was purely guess work!

In chapter four Bradshaw identifies the various ways we cope with toxic shame, the various covers we have, which he refers to, in the Freudian tradition, as primary and secondary ego defences. He goes on to list them, but I shall refer you to page 104 of the book.

In part two - 'Recovery and Uncovery Process' – things take a more positive turn and my mood began life. To begin with Bradshaw invites readers to join a twelve-stop programme or see a therapist as a means of 'coming out'. I have difficulty accepting the principles underpinning the twelve-step programme as advocated by Bradshaw. As an agnostic I have difficulty with the 'higher power' stuff found in the twelve steps and 'God however I understand it' doesn't quite work for me. 

I know this is controversial and the Twelve Steps has helped millions, but suppose I choose the natural world as my higher power. In step seven of a twelve step programme I'm expected to ask my higher power for help to correct my shortcomings. So whatever none-Godlike alternative I choose I am expected to imbue that choice with Godlike qualities. That doesn't fit for me. More generally I do not share Bradshaw’s theo-centric view of things or attribute moral agency to the universe as he does. It's part of an existential view of things: we exist in a universe that is morally neutral and without inherent purpose; our task is to find purpose and meaning.

Things really pick up in chapter seven. Bradshaw writes about corrective work. He tells us about grief work and there's a nice guided trance on meeting our inner child. He writes about corrective experiences (eg a network of male friends to correct the lack of a positive male influence as a child). He also uses the NLP collapsing anchors technique to help add resources and transform memories of toxic shame. I have begun listing toxic shame-based memories and my friend Jean Clements has agreed to use her EMDR skills on each of them.

Chapter eight is about integrating disowned parts. It covers ‘Voice Dialogue Work’, ‘Owning Projections’ and Virginia Satir’s famous ‘Parts Party’ from her book, Your Many Faces, which has been ordered from Amazon this very night. Chapter nine is entitled 'Confronting and Changing Your Toxic Inner Voices' and begins with an interesting account of the 'fantasy bond'.

When refering to the ‘fantasy bond’ Bradshaw is using the work of Robert Firestone. Basically the notion that one's parents are uncaring is unacceptable to a child. In order to survive the child  idealises the parent and turns himself into the 'bad guy' (201). Bradshaw uses a metaphor to clarify what he means. He says the fantasy bond is like a mirage in the desert: 'It gives the child the illusion there is nourishment and support in his life' (201). Years later when the child leaves his parents the fantasy bond is set up internally - the voice of the scolding parent is given the task of shaming and re-shaming the child. As Firestone says, 'The child incorporates "the attitudes the parents held when they felt the most rejecting and angry. The daughter or son incorporates feelings of loathing and degradation that lie behind their statements"' (201).This is powerful stuff!

On page 203 Bradshaw brings in CBT and Beck's idea of 'selective abstraction' - maintaining ones focus on a particular group of automatic thoughts to the exclusion of all other thoughts. There follows a series of exercises on identifying and challenging the inner critic, including the thought stoppers technique (208) and positive affirmations (219). He goes to provide a useful list of cognitive distortions based on the work of Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck. I like the observation that Bradshaw makes here: 'You imagine that people feel as bad about you as you do about yourself' (213). I also like an excellent analogy he uses between shame-based egocentric thinking and terrible tooth ache: when you have tooth ache you become 'tooth-centric'.

Chapter ten is entitled: 'Choosing to Love and Forgive Yourself for Your Mistakes' (223) and includes advice on giving yourself 'time and attention', becoming assertive, reframing mistakes and mindfulness (the habit of awareness). These are short chapters with Bradshaw’s Christian thinking looming large once more. In chapter eleven Bradshaw writes about toxic shame in relationships, suggesting that: 'Intimacy is the number one problem resulting from internalised shame' (235) and, ‘There is no greater potential for painful shame than rejection' (247)

In part three - Spiritual Awakening - the Discovery Process – Bradshaw argues that true release from shame-based thinking can only come when there is a spiritual awakening in the person. Bradshaw goes on to  explain why shame hangs around sex. He talks about shameless sex and de-personalised sex, which he thinks is 'using people for enjoyment' (though if this is consensual and mutual, why is that a problem?). He argues for sexual relations characterised by the I-thou relationship of Martin Buber. This seems a fairly conservative, family-values approach to sex. Is it not possible to have a mixture of life-sustaining, long-term I-thou relationships and shame-free no-strings attached mutually enjoyable sex?

So the book ends with the return of Bradshaw's religious tone and I ended the book with the feeling, 'this isn't for me'. But that's a generalisation. Actually, whilst parts of the book were irksome, other parts were incredibly helpful to me in my personal development work and I intend to read the book again and spend even more time on the exercises Bradshaw has included. I would certainly recommend it to others (and have done) but I'm also looking forward to reading the many books Bradshas refers to as he rolls along, and which now form a tidy pile on my coffee table, because they may give me the detail and the coherence I'm after.

Bradshaw, J. (2005) Healing the Shame That Binds You, Deerfield Beach, Florida, BCI Books.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Sapolsky on Depression

Here we have an excellent video from Stanford University in which Professor Robert Sapolsky lectures on the biology and psychology of depression. He argues that major depression is the most severe of diseases afflicting mankind. He examines its causality, rooting major depression in biology (genes, hormones and neuro-transmitters) and psychology (referring to Freud's Mourning and Melencholia and Seligman's work on learned helplessness), He concludes that stress is a trigger for depression, with those of us genetically vulnerable particularly susceptible to depression, initially as a reaction to significant life events and trauma and then as part of a cycling depressive disorder.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Visualisation in Person Centred Counselling - The Approach of David Rennie 3 of 3

Here is my third and final screencast on the Person Centred Approach of David Rennie. Here I outline his use of visualisation - were the counsellor (if appropriate) shares the visual images and metaphors evoked  in him or her by the client's story. Rennie suggests this can lead to 'vertical development' - a deeper exploration of the client's material as he or she pauses to reflect on what the counsellor has offered and how it relates to their recollection of the experience.