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When is it time to see a therapist?

September 2017

We all struggle with difficult emotions sometimes.  Sadness, grief, anger and fear are feelings that are as much a part of life as joy, happiness and love.  Oftentimes, when our needs are not being met for reasons outside of (or within) our control, we feel sad, angry or anxious.  When we outgrow ways of being and need to update our belief systems, coping mechanisms, jobs, relationships, we may feel some of the more ‘undesirable’ emotions.  So feeling angry that someone in our lives is not taking us into account or grief at the loss of a relationship is not dysfunctional.  On the contrary, feeling these negative emotions lets us know that we may need to initiate a change somewhere (which may in turn triggers some fear?).  Or perhaps we must let someone go and that will probably hurt.  From a psychologist’s perspective, the lack of sadness or grief during a break-up or a death is more worrying than the presence of it.

At some point, however, the continued excessive presence of negative emotions must be addressed.  Does it feel like you spend more days sad or afraid during the week than not?  Is there no particularly obvious reason for your sadness or anger?  Are these negative emotions accompanied by thoughts of hurting yourself (or others) in some way?  Have you stopped engaging with others or in activities that you used to enjoy?  If you have experienced a difficult or traumatic incident and you find yourself dwelling, afraid or grieving for more than a month or two (depending on the event since the loss of a loved one may take longer than this), it may be useful to visit your GP and have a discussion about it.  Your doctor may give you a questionnaire to assess whether you may be depressed or struggling with anxiety and may recommend counselling.

I find that many people decide to see a therapist when feelings become overwhelming for them to manage by themselves.  Talking about it can help:  a problem shared is often a problem halved.  Other times I have noticed that a person’s current coping mechanisms or belief systems about him/herself, others and the world need updating.  Therapy can be very helpful for that.  If I chose to avoid social situations because I believe no one is trustworthy, at some point I may begin to feel very lonely and disgruntled with life.  Perhaps, exploring where we developed this belief that others are not trustworthy may be very useful.   Experimenting with opening up and exposing ourselves to relationships (instead of avoiding them) could offer a different perspective.  Perhaps with the help of the therapist, these belief systems can be modified or we can come to terms with previous hurts.

Overall, the choice to see a therapist is very personal.  Most counsellors, psychotherapist and psychologists offer initial consultations to give you the opportunity to decide for yourself whether therapy is the way forward.  Attending a first session does not commit you to a therapeutic contract, it is an opportunity to see for yourself whether this person is someone with whom you would like to share your journey of self-discovery, self-compassion and growth.  Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or thoughts you would like to explore about this topic.

5 a day for a healthy body,
5 more for a healthy mind

October 2017

We have all probably come across the 5-a-day campaign.  Eating a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day lowers the risk of serious health problems.  The 5-a-day campaign intelligently caters to busy people.  To most of us.  To the modern-day hectic lifestyles we all seem to live.  By encouraging us to take simple measures ‘5 easy steps’ change becomes more accessible.

Scientific evidence suggests five small actions per day can do wonders not only for our physical wellbeing, but for our emotional one as well.  A review of the work of over 400 researchers and experts from across the world has been key to the development of the ‘5-a-day for a healthy mind’.  Five simple actions a day can do wonders for our emotional wellbeing.

Following are the 5-a-day ways to improved emotional health developed by The New Economics Foundation:


Be curious.  Catch sight of the beautiful and remark on the unusual.  Notice the changing seasons.  Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you and give you a sense of connection to the world.


Go for a walk or a run.  Step outside, cycle, play a game, garden, dance.  Exercise makes you feel good and releases endorphins, happy chemicals for our minds!


With the people around you – at home, at work and in the local community.  Building connections, or social support/cornerstones will support and enrich your life.  A sense of belonging is a basic human need!


Try something new.  Sign up for that course.  Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving.  Learning new things will give you opportunities to increase your self-confidence, focus your mind on meaningful projects and you might even have some fun!


Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger.  Smile or volunteer your time.  Look out as well as in.  Seeing  yourself linked to the wider community can be extremely rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.  Once again, increasing a sense of connectedness and belonging gives us a stronger sense of safety and self-worth, all important human needs that if not met appropriately can deplete our sense of wellbeing.

Cry Out Loud if you must…
but you are better off singing it instead

November 2017

In these times of heightened ‘personal responsibility’ for our wellbeing, the quest for health of body and mind, takes us down many interesting routes. While the GP can point us in certain directions, it seems many of us are taking health into our own hands. We hope to achieve a much coveted sense of wellbeing through nutrition, yoga, meditation, sport, therapy and/or the arts depending on our own personal interests, values and what we have available.

The reasons for this “personal responsibility” trend in health are quite complex and I may explore this topic in another blog post; however, in this one I would like to focus on the benefits of one of my favourite performing art forms: singing.

Physical health

The physical benefits of singing are well-documented:

  • A Swedish study suggests singing increases oxygenation and muscle mass in the upper body.
  • It’s good for your heart, lungs and exercising of the vocal cords has been shown to lengthen life expectancy claims Healthy Hearts foundation.
  • Improved posture and aerobic exercise were also possible contributors to some of these health benefits.
  • The release of endorphins (the feel good hormones) when you sing also contributes to both physical and psychological health: its positive effect in reducing stress levels and generally creating a sense of emotional well-being.
  • Various journal articles reporting research findings claim that singing is found to be effective as a stress buster, to strengthen your immune system and to manage chronic pain, Parkinsons, depression and blood pressure.


Singing is good for your physical and emotional health, but it seems that singing with others is even better.

  • Many studies have found that singing in a choir had significant benefits to mental health: the sense of community and belonging to a group decreases social isolation and the sense of loneliness so common in modern times.
  • A joint study by Yale and Harvard Universities found that being part of a choir increased life expectancy
  • Another study published by the Frontiers of Neuroscience journal found that singing can enhance the spirit of cooperation in a group because it helps regulate activity in the vagus nerve which is linked to emotions and communication with others.
  • Research found that when choir members sing together their heartbeats become synchronised, beating faster and slower as they breathe in and out in unison. The researchers claim that choral singing is said to be good for your health, because reducing the variability of your heart rate is desired for optimum health.
  • Keeping your mind occupied learning lyrics, tempo, harmonies is a great way to give yourself a break from worrying and rumination.
  • Carving out the time constructively to engage in such activities helps us to become better organised and not be tempted to veg out on the sofa.
  • Opportunities to problem solve, learn something new, achieve a particularly difficult piece (hitting that high C for example) can give us a sense of purpose, something to strive for, and confidence in ourselves when we finally achieve it.
In truth, many of the health benefits outlined above can be harnessed from any type of hobby: yoga, sports, creative writing or even DIY. Singing seems to encompass many of these benefits due to the strong physicality of the activity and the potential social and creative dimensions to it. To achieve most benefit, according to the research, is to sing in groups – choral societies, musical theatre companies. The more the merrier. Perhaps instead of anti-depressants, GPs can offer Choral Singing on Prescription?

More on this topic:

How Stuff Works: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/singing-happy2.htm

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10496056/Choir-singing-boosts-your-mental-health.html

Healthy Hearts: http://heartresearch.org.uk/fundraising/singing-good-you

NHS: http://www.nhs.uk/video/Pages/singing-and-mental-health.aspx