Thursday, October 18, 2007

Life..... what happens when we are busy making other plans.

I am taking a short break.

See you in ten days time....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Please Feel Free To Ignore Me......

How narcissistic is it to announce your own birthday on your blog? I have absolutely no shame at all, as The Mother is fond of telling me.

Today I am 41, which feels so much older than 40.

And I don't have any cards, because nobody loves me the striking Posties have buggered it all up. (Not that I mind them striking. I adopted Spanish working practices a long time ago, and don't resent them for wanting a bit of what I have.)

But all is not lost, because I have received an email from the Kooky Hypnotherapist at work, telling me that she is going to give me a 'right good birthdaying' today.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Mothers and Daughters....(Part IV)

The Mother is very, very worried about me. The Mother wants me to give up blogging. Blogging, apparently, is very dangerous. Blogging is very dangerous because it involves t'internet, which is populated entirely by terrorists, paedophiles and pornographers.

This latest outburst of maternal concern was prompted by the fact that I told her I had met up with some bloggers. I met these terrorists, paedophiles and pornographers bloggers at Caroline's book launch in Manchester in June. I returned home unscathed. If any of the bloggers who attended Caroline's launch would like to identify which particular category they belong to, however, I would greatly appreciate it.

I also drove in my car today, which statistically puts me at significantly greater risk of harm than writing words which other people sometimes read. But driving does not involve the internet, so that's ok.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The End Of Spin...?

"...I haven't got an autocue, I haven't got a script, I've just got a few notes so it might be a bit messy; but it will be me..."

David Cameron

What an incredible feat that was, to deliver a carefully written and well rehearsed off-the-cuff, straight-out-of-my-pretty-head speech like that.

I now realise what British politics has been missing these long years, the ability to memorise something clearly being a much more desirable quality in a leader than the ability to read out loud.

Personally I would rather vote for Chris Lyons, the Melbourne man who can recite the first 4,400 digits of pi from memory. And I don't even know what his politics are.

The end of spin....? Pah.

You Know You Are Getting Old When...... don't mind getting stuck behind a slow moving farm vehicle on your way home because it makes it easier to bird watch and drive at the same time.

.....the fact that you can download a Hilary Clinton ring tone from the PM blog makes you want to write a stiff letter of complaint about dumbing down. To Radio 4 and The Times (and you don't even read The Times.) think who is that nice man talking such common sense? before realising it is John Major, the man who famously ran away from the circus in order to become an accountant.

All of which happened to me yesterday. I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled....

Sunday, September 30, 2007

You're Never Alone With A Head Full Of Relatives....

You might think after umpteen years of investigating my internal world, I would be adept at managing the ancestral voices in my head. You would be wrong.

Rooting through the fridge today, I came across a paper bag of slimy mushrooms, the unsuspecting victims of my current domestic lethargy. I was just about to put them in the compost pile when I heard my long-deceased grandma’s voice in my head.

“Eeh bah gum!” she said. “Dost tha ‘ave money to burn?” (She really, really did used to say “eeh bah gum!”, arms thrust under her ample bosom and mouth set firmly, waiting for a suitable reply.)

I don’t have money to burn, nor do I have a mint in the garage or a money tree in the garden.

Chop onion and garlic very finely and sweat in a generous knob of butter.

My son is very fond of home made mushroom soup. I took him to a friend’s for lunch when he was three. “Mushroom soup? “ she asked.

“Mmmm, my favourite” he replied.

She placed a bowl in front of him and he took a taste.

“Is this from a can?” he asked innocently, “because mummy makes her own, and I really only like it home-made.”

“You,” she responded to me, accusingly, “are making a rod for your own back.”

I fear she was right.

Sort through bag of mushrooms, composting the worst and peeling and finely chopping the rest. 20 minutes. Pour large glass of gin and tonic.

My grandma was born in 1912, leaving school at the age of 14 to work in the Yorkshire cotton mills. Life was hard, and food was not for throwing away, even if it was growing its own life forms. She married young and had children straight away, family planning in those days consisting mostly of crossing fingers – and legs – and slapping the husband hard when he came home from the pub. She had an amazing capacity for conjuring up a family meal out of bugger all, and although it was comprised mostly of flour, lard, water and those bits of the animal that the posh folk wouldn’t eat, I remember her as a wonderful cook. I developed a fondness for stodgy dumplings and neck end of lamb as a small child, although I would caffle at the sheeps’ brains, pigs’ trotters and tripe that she would serve up for my granddad.

Sweat mushrooms for as long as it takes to get rid of the slime. About another 20 minutes. Pour another large glass of gin and tonic.

The Mother has the same skill, and would produce daily meals for our family of seven from a bag of flour, a block of lard, a couple of bendy carrots and whatever the butcher was throwing out. The Mother retains her fondness for lard, and will buy some in especially when Sister #2 visits from Italy.

“I’ve bought you some lard!” she announces, the minute my sister arrives on her annual visit.

“Fabulous” responds Sister, “because Italian extra virgin olive oil really is so disappointing when you have been brought up on beef dripping.”

Stir in a suitable amount of flour, and cook it out for at least 3 minutes, stirring continuously.

The Sister leaves after a month, half a stone heavier and about to birth a 9lb meat and potato pie.

Add enough vegetable stock until desired consistency is achieved. Thicken slowly…remember just in time that under no circumstance must it boil. Approximately 3 minutes.

I have successfully abandoned my maternal line’s attachment to carbohydrates and cheap cuts of meat. I still can’t throw food away though.

Add some black pepper, a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and a dash of single cream. Ready to serve.

So I appear to have spent the best part of an hour making a single bowl of mushroom soup. One, measly, single bowl of soup. Granted, I have simultaneously marinated a chicken in garlic, lemon, coriander and chilli and prepared some vegetables for roasting, but nonetheless the voices in my head have convinced me that an hour’s worth of soup-making is morally superior to composting a bag of slimy mushrooms.

If someone could persuade me that feeding my son slimy mushrooms is damaging to his health, I would be most grateful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Normal Service Is Resumed.....

Several weeks ago, the lovely Anticant sent me a list of questions. Then life took over. I am hopeful that life is largely back to some semblance of normality and that blogging duties are now resumed as normal. But I'm not promising. So, Anticant, here are your insightful questions and my considered answers........

Why do you call yourself Ms Melancholy? You don't seem like a gloomy person to me?

I like the post-modern notion that there is no such thing as a 'real' self, but that we are merely a collection of multiple selves: different personal narratives that describe significant ways of experiencing ourselves in the world. Some of my earliest memories are of an acute awareness of the existential void. Meaninglessness coupled with the tyranny of awareness was the bread and butter of my childhood. Clearly I didn't use that particular discourse as a four year old, but the sentiment was there nonetheless.

Having spent many years in therapy trying to 'cure' this melancholic aspect, I eventually came to the realisation that this was neither possible nor desirable. Melancholy is an integral part of my personal narrative, and accepting this has brought me a great richness of experience. I have other, equally valid, selves which are happy and jolly and take great pleasure in being in the world. Ms Jolly Happy never appealed to me though. My favourite piece of music is Mozart's requiem. It could only have been Ms Melancholy.

Did you always want to be a therapist, or did it happen by chance?

Those of us for whom therapy is a vocation, rather than a money-job, would probably agree quietly amongst ourselves that we began our training in pre-school as we tried in vain to heal our unhappy families. For some reason the discipline of psychology tends to pathologise us for this, assuming, presumably, that only the misery-free can act as healer to others. I completely disagree. My personal journey has given me the ability to attune to others' emotional states, and, provided I keep the needs of the client at the core of the process, I think this is A Good Thing.

Like the good, working-class, moderately achieving, sort-of-aspirational, political young woman that I was, I muddled a path through community work, social care and mental health work before finally embarking on my therapy training when I was 29. I have never regretted it, although a little more financial recompense for my labours wouldn't go amiss.

What personal satisfaction strokes do you get from your work?

I think it is a given that being an integral part of someone's personal growth - their 'recovery' if you will - is profoundly satisfying. There is an unexpected benefit to working at a deep emotional level with an individual, however. Sitting quietly, in the moment, simply attuning to and attending to another's emotional state becomes, surprisingly, a transformational experience for the therapist. Neuro psychologists refer to this state as 'limbic resonance' - the experience of vibrating at the same emotional frequency as another being. It has a profound regulatory affect on the client - both at an emotional and physiological level - and ideally they learn to take the experience into other significant relationships. An unexpected benefit for the therapist is that exactly the same thing happens for them. It's a two-way street: that's how relationships work. Shhh, don't tell anyone though. That's our secret.

What do you like most about where you live?

No surprise here.....easy access to the most wonderful walking country in the Yorkshire Dales. The melancholic part of me loves the wild, barren moorland and the jolly-happy me loves the green, fertile valleys of the Dales. I have a favourite spot: watching the sun go down behind Pen-Y-Ghent, high up on a moorland road listening to the curlews and lapwings. Sheer bliss. Having spent the best part of 20 years living in cities it is an absolute joy to live in this part of the world again. (Immensely difficult to find mung bean noodles, though.)

If you had 3 months sabbatical, with enough money and the freedom to do whatever you wanted, what would you choose?

I love Latin cultures - that fab mix of politics, passion and manana - so it would have to be 3 months in Costa Rica. El Coco in Guanacaste province is a rinky dink little seaside town, filled with partying Ticos at the weekend and sleepy as a graveyard during the week. You can eat barbecued fish at a shack on the beach and listen to the howler monkeys in the nearby jungle, whilst watching the world go by at any pace you want. I would read all of the stuff that is piled on my 'to read' shelf, and probably try my hand at writing. But mostly I would just potter and swing in a hammock, watching iguanas and humming birds and smile knowingly at the existential void.

And if anyone wants to be interviewed, please email me and I will attempt to come up with a list of probing questions for you.....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Swimming With The Fishes....

OMG!!! I did it, I did it, I did did did it! I bloody well snorkelled out of my depth without turning into a jelly fish.

As the boat which had just deposited us in the middle of the sea sped off, I realised that I was torn between two equally compelling forces: the desire to scream and panic and thrash about wildly, and the compulsion to respond to the archaic internal narrative which was telling me not to make a fuss and draw attention to myself (or, indeed, spoil things for the lovely Polish-American couple who were with us.) The internal voice won over, and I just got on with it in British-stiff-upper-lip manner.

And actually, it was fab! I saw spotted fish, stripy fish, pink and green fish, pink and purple fish, fish with long fins, a fish wearing lipstick, blue starfish, lovely coral and a brown ugly sludgy thingy that was apparently a moray eel. I think all the rest of them had names too, but I was far too elated when I got back on the boat to look in the book.

I really hope I shan't have to change my mind about CBT.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More Drivelling Nonsense From The Conservative Party...

Whatever happened to Ian Duncan Smith? Since his whimpering demise from the top job IDS has apparently been heading up The Social Justice Policy Group, a think tank charged with meeting the challenge of social exclusion via policy recommendations to the Conservative party. He has clearly been a busy, busy man because today saw the publication of Breakthrough Britain, a 691 page report rehashing the same old family values toss outlining some truly groundbreaking ideas for tackling Britain's social problems.

My particular favourite is that the government should incentivise marriage through the tax system. Apparently this would work wonders, because there is considerable evidence that children of separated parents do less well at school and are more likely to become involved in petty crime.

My psychology training has led me to believe that children require a stable, loving relationship with at least one parent in order to develop a secure sense of self. Add to that a healthy mix of respect, security and boundaried parenting and you are unlikely to produce a granny basher or drug dealer. But apparently not. My training has it all wrong. All you require is for your parents to be married, and to stay married, and what better way to do that than offer incentives in people's pay packets? God knows, I would definitely stay in a miserable and unloving marriage if the government were willing to pay me fifty quid a month to do it. Well worth it, don't you think? And so good for the children. "I know you are deeply traumatised by the misery of our family life, darling, but don't worry, I am putting the fifty quid away in your post office savings account and it will pay for your therapy when you leave home."

Do you think we will ever again see a government that can actually do joined up thinking? Are there any politicians left who know how to have an intelligent, serious and insightful debate into why we have some of the most serious social problems in Europe and a generation of young people who believe that social exclusion is the norm? Does IDS really, really believe that incentivising marriage will go anywhere towards addressing the deep rooted problems of people living on the margins of society?

I think Betsy has been putting something in his tea. If not, perhaps she ought to.

Monday, June 11, 2007

So What Are You Up To This Week...?

cartoon from

I predict an uneventful week ahead. Working, pottering, revising for my SATS helping my son to revise for his SATS, tiling the bathroom, blah.

And on Thursday I shall be at Waterstones in Manchester (91, Deansgate) listening to a promising new author read from her brand spanking new work of fiction. She is called Caroline Smailes. Have you heard of her?

Fancy a review of this yet-to-be-launched novel? Just scroll down a bit then: there's one I prepared earlier.

I have booked on a charabanc. Stray is our driver, Badger is in charge of maps and Bobo The Hysteric is providing the in-car entertainment. It is always worth taking an hysteric with you on a long trip. I shall be bringing the picnic. Ms M just loves to feed people. (Whaddya make of that, Dr Freud?) I have heard that lots of bloggers will be there, as well as people who just love books, and even some people who like to write about people who write books. I have heard that there might be room for just a couple more, so long as you are little.

So, like I said, an uneventful week ahead for me.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

In Search Of Adam...

Caroline Smailes has written a novel. I would be surprised if anyone who reads this blog has not come across Caroline's amazing story, of how her unassuming blog launched her beautiful first novel, but in case you haven't you can catch up with her story here.

I read her novel this week. I was blown away. With the story of Jude - a motherless, abused child on a quest to discover her roots - Caroline has produced the most moving piece of fiction I have read in a long time. The subject matter is not for the faint-hearted. Childhood sexual abuse, post-natal depression, self-harm and suicide are not topics that raise one's spirits. The prose, however, will fill your heart with sheer pleasure. Soak up the words. Each one is carefully chosen.

Caroline has beautifully crafted form and style to shape the content. The ‘what’ is presented simply. The ‘how’ is the stunning beauty of the book. The way we meet the book is precisely the way we meet a broken child. With patience, with work, with tolerance. By hearing the voice that lay underneath the words, chilling as those words are.

Jude doesn’t let you get close to her easily. Of course she doesn’t. That is how it is when you are a child abused. She tells you her story in stark, brutal sentences and you have to read between her words to find out who she is. But once you are alongside her, she slowly begins to reveal herself. You have to work hard. That is how it is for children like Jude.

Books can often make me cry. I have read Love In The Time Of Cholera umpteen times and I cry every single time. In Search Of Adam made me cry. I began to weep not at Jude’s story, but the beautiful way in which Caroline allows me to know it. I began to weep at the beauty of the voices within; at the emotion that is held within the words. I had to work to attune to Jude, but once you are attuned Caroline draws you in until you are deeply involved in Jude's reality. This is precisely how I would ‘do therapy’ with Jude. Caroline has the consummate skill of an experienced writer to recreate this process in fiction form.

Caroline is a linguist. She captures Jude's voice beautifully, and through Jude we come to know the world of the grown-ups. As Jude grows, the voices begin to layer and layer until the book is dense with texture and meaning. Her use of language and poetry is exquisite. I was reminded of some of the Anglo-Indian writers: Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy. Quite some going for a first time novelist.

Caroline will be reading from her novel at Waterstone's in Deansgate, Manchester, on Thursday 14 June at 7pm. Don't miss it. I suspect it's the start of something big.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Yummy Mummies...

Something has gotten under my skin today. I shan't tell you what it is. I wondered whether to blog it, and then remembered that I already had, back in the days when I didn't have any readers. First aired in November, now to be found on UK Gold.


What a monster we have created.

Who decided that we should professionalise motherhood? Don’t get me wrong, I object to the double shift that most women work as much as the next card carrying feminist, and I have always believed that raising our children should go down as our best achievement as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil. But when our sisters in the sixties and seventies fought for the private sphere to be made political – and for women’s work in the home to be recognised as, indeed, work - did they realise they were tilling the ground for the emergence of a new form of child abuse in the form of the career-mother? I suspect not.

Everybody knows one. The stay-at-home mother who feeds her pre-school child on a diet of Tumble Tots, Monkey Music and Play Group For The Gifted Child, followed by an hour of Mozart, a soupçon of French for toddlers, and some basic pre-verbal algebra. They relax by making pictures with macaroni or baking organic, wholemeal fairy cakes and the day hasn’t ended successfully until daddy has read a chapter from ‘Homer: the Picture Book’. The poor child ends another day wondering whether it has made the grade.

Do they realise that, as mother subjects them to yet another round of work toddler stylee, she is doing this out of love? I suspect not. Do they somehow recognise that mother is doing this out of a desire to offset her own fears of inadequacy? That their own emotional needs are secondary? Eventually, I suspect, they do.

Just for the record, children (in particular very small children) require relationship above all else. Over-structuring their time leaves little room for the spontaneous development of attachment that will provide the blue print for all of their later relationships. That is not to say that intellectual stimulation and structure are not important. But they really should take second place to the child’s capacity to experience itself in relation to a loving and accepting other. Sitting with your child in front of CBeebies, chatting and taking pleasure in their pleasure, is, ironically, probably far better for their emotional development than any number of outings to Professional Toddler Stimulation plc.

You know who you are. Please just stop it.

PS. I have a friend of a friend who is über Yummy Mummy. Her husband is a surgeon. She refuses to do his washing or ironing (she does her own and the children’s) and hires a cleaner on the grounds that ‘my job is motherhood’. I must admit – child development issues aside - I can’t help but admire her chutzpah.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Funny How Things Remind You...

Whenever you get back from Italy you think there is no point ever cooking again, you will never recreate such lovely food....

Says nmj

I am inclined to agree.

She reminds me of the time we emerged from a jungle track in Costa Rica, to see a sign in Italian:

Pizza! Al Forno di Legno!

We had driven through a 'monkey trail' in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, in search of a secluded beach about which we had been told. Playa Prieta is a beautiful white sand beach edged by the jungle and buffeted by huge pacific waves. It is a paradise if ever there was one. If you are really lucky, howler monkeys will visit, curious to investigate your presence. Even in high season you are unlikely to see any visitors there apart from a handful of local people. It is too far off the beaten track for most tourists to bother.

Playa Prieta

'Monkey trails' are the rough tracks that cut through the jungle of the Guanacaste region, and offer shortcuts for the very brave from one main road to the next. 'Main road' is something of a misnomer in Costa Rica. Anything but the Pan American highway is nothing more than a dirt track, full of potholes and very slow going. The monkey trails are so but with bells on. Cut through the jungle, they link small communities who are more used to travelling by horse back. These days most have vehicles, but you are a brave person to attempt it without a jeep, a spare wheel, a jack and the nouse to use it. Or a horse.

We forded rivers, scrambled over tree stumps, went eeny-meeny-miney-mo at every junction and, fingers crossed tightly, emerged at the small community of Portrero. And then I saw the sign.

Pizza! Al Forno di Legno!

My Italian is not great, but I knew that this meant pizzas baked in a wood burning oven. The Husband was beside himself. His favourite food ever - since a trip to Italy the previous year when my sister had introduced him to the sheer joy of a genuine Italian pizza - found on the edge of the Costa Rican jungle.

We stopped at the small hotel, owned by a family from Milan. They really did have a wood-burning oven, and the pizza was spectacular. Neither our Italian nor our Spanish were good enough to establish why they were living on the edge of the jungle in a remote part of Guanacaste. That was ok. It allowed us to make up their story as we ate our pizza.

We saw a turqoise-browed motmot as we left. I am a secret twitcher, and as I spied it through my binoculars I felt even more excited than I had the time I spotted a migrant hoopoe in Anglesey.

Turqoise-browed motmot

A few days later we saw a Jabiru, after a very arduous three hour drive along the roughest of roads and a change of wheel at the roadside. It was well worth it. This is a monster of a wading bird, at almost four foot high, and from a distance looks like a little old man in an overcoat.

The magnificent jabiru

Costa Rica is a very special place. They welcome tourists - their economy depends upon it - and yet they remain committed to sustainable tourism and protecting their natural inheritance. We were woken by howler monkeys each morning at 5am. We saw Iguanas sunning themselves in the midday sun as we drank our pipas frias, and fireflies lighting up the bush at night. We saw huge Olive Ridley Turtles clambering up the beach at night, and tiny turtles making their way back to the sea.

Iguana, sunning itself

The pipas frias seller in Playa del Coco

And Portero has the most wonderful pizza al forno di legno.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

On Shopping And Being Rude...

Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire Dales

I am rubbish at shopping. Really, spectacularly rubbish. Although I dabble, I remain an unreconstructed lefty when faced with the opportunity to become a proper player at consumerism. I balk at the opportunity to hand over sums of cash in return for a fleeting glimpse of happiness. God knows I see enough ordinary human misery in my job to realise that consuming like there is no tomorrow brings little more than debt and a hollow feeling that you have just been had.

Obviously there are times when I have to go to a shop and buy things. My general rule of thumb is that if something comes in a brown paper bag I can manage it. Anything bigger, and it means that somebody is trying to sell me something and the rubbish shopping thing kicks in. I can just about handle the over stimulation of the senses that goes on in a large store. I can switch off to the ‘buy me,’ ‘no, buy me instead’ from every product. What I can’t handle is the fact that every single transaction with a sales assistant has a psychological ulterior. Nothing is as it seems in the world of shopping. These people are trained to take my money. I am trained to understand unspoken and psychological communications. It is a match made in hell and makes me a little unruly.

I survived Ikea this week, with barely a scratch. Well, just one minor hiccup:

Me: (very loudly) who in their right mind would buy a suite in such a dreadful colour?

Kooky hypnotherapist: perhaps that man sitting behind you?

His partner was clearly quite taken with the dreadfully coloured suite. He smiled at me conspiratorially, and so I rather suspect he wasn’t. I said sorry quite a few times. I think I just about got away with it.

I left Ikea empty handed, apart from a battery operated milk frother which cost £2.50 and I am really rather taken with. No need now for that hugely expensive cappuccino maker.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself that I had managed a full circuit of Ikea without falling out with my companion, ( although the kooky hypnotherapist is particularly difficult to fall out with), without stropping like a twelve year old and having only slightly offended one person. All in all a good shopping day. (I know we didn’t actually buy the chairs we went for, but that really is a minor detail. Not having a nervous breakdown is a good shopping day as far as I am concerned.)

I took a call from The Husband on the way home. I had to meet him at a local bathroom shop because, apparently, we have an urgent need to fit a new bathroom. I was bemused. We have lived in our Old-Lady-Style-House for 4 years, in the full knowledge that it needs redecorating and that neither of us can be arsed to do it. But suddenly WE NEED TO FIT THE BATHROOM THIS WEEKEND.

(Ouch, so sorry for shouting, but that is what the message said.)

So I met him at a major retail outlet and frankly it was a bridge too far. Sensory overload. Too many special offers - a veritable Woolworth’s pick ‘n’ mix of taps, fixtures, fittings and toilet seats with sweets embedded in them. (What's that all about then?) The background music was way too loud, and I maintain that 70's disco music is only appropriate for.....well, a 70's disco really and then only under sufferance. It was all too much for me.

I felt sorry for the twelve year old assistant who tried in vain to interest me in her lovely (?) bathrooms. She should have been sitting in a park drinking Diamond White with her friends. I should have been somewhere else sticking pins in my eyes. I ended up sitting on a toilet rocking gently whilst The Husband translated her sales speak to me, and I told him to tell her to speak up and stop mumbling, as if she were the one with the hearing problem and not me. I can’t imagine how rude she found me. Sorry little sales girl. It really wasn’t your fault. I think my Old-Lady-House has turned me into a grumpy old woman.

Operation Bathroom started yesterday. I shall be glad to have rid of my Old-Lady bathroom. I already have sciatica and greying hair, and was concerned that the shell-style bathroom suite and maroon patterned tiles would soon start looking quite attractive to me.

I escaped Operation Bathroom with my son. The two of us took a wonderful walk up Pen-y-Ghent and I began to feel human again.

The workings of capitalism are clever. They needle our inherent desire for satiation, knowing that when it is within our grasp they will needle once more. We sublimate our core relational needs into the need to consume, and neatly side step the issue of built in disillusionment that accompanies the built in obsolescence.

I would like to claim that this is why I hate shopping, but that would be just too pompous. Really, it’s because I am rubbish at it. Very, very rubbish.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Anyone For EBT*....?

You may be aware that there are plans afoot to expand access to psychological therapies in the NHS. This is a Good Thing, in my opinion. You may also be aware that there are plans afoot to ensure that CBT will be pretty much the only therapy on offer. This is a Very Bad Thing in my opinion. Perhaps you already know that. We have had some stimulating discussions on this blog about the pros and cons of CBT. See here and here if you want to catch up.

I have worked with a number of clients who self harm; who will routinely cut themselves as a way of managing a deeper distress than the physical pain of a wound. I have a friend who does this. She is exceptionally bright. She runs a successful business and has a broad CV. She knows more about psychology and psychotherapy than most, including many who work in the field. She invests in her personal development, and has an awareness and intuition that make her a valuable friend. She also cuts herself.

We present to you a joint post, on cutting and soothing, from the perspective of the one who cuts and the one who listens to some of those who cut. Find her words here.

There are a number of techniques that therapists are taught to use with those who cut. These include:

  • Challenging the negative self talk, and replacing it with a positive internal narrative
  • Distraction techniques, like going for a walk or a run
  • Using an elastic band to inflict pain without damage
  • Stabbing a melon with a large knife (!)
  • Taking a bath with aromatherapy oils

These techniques don’t work. I know, because in my early days I have encouraged people to use them and have been dismayed at their lack of effectiveness.

They don’t work, because they absolutely fail to understand the purpose of the cutting. They fail to take account of the simple fact that, for those who do it, cutting soothes. That cutting has an effect on the physiology of the individual, and provides an experience that going for a run or pinging with an elastic band simply can’t replicate.

People don’t cut because they are attention seeking or histrionic. They cut because sometimes it is the only thing that soothes. Everyone who relies on self-harm for comfort has a level of significant internal disorganisation, resulting from either early trauma or lack of attachment in their early years.

This is hard for a therapist. We sit and hear the level of distress, the despair, the hurt and the pain and we feel overwhelmed. We may feel the distress ourselves. We feel pain at watching another in pain. We feel frustrated with ourselves that we cannot relieve it, and then we project that frustration onto the client for not making the techniques work for them. We may feel intolerant at their impotence and at their apparent inability to soothe themselves. We may pick up the projected impotence and feel like a failure at not being able to help. None of this is easy for a therapist.

And so we come up with yet another technique, the purpose of which is to soothe our own feelings of impotence or inadequacy. We Try Hard. It ceases to be about soothing the person in front of us, who is still in despair. The person who cuts knows that they are causing the therapist despair. It hurts them. They know that we are Trying Hard. They leave feeling misunderstood and blamed, confirming a belief that no one can help and they can only find respite through self-harm.

I have found something that sometimes works. It is not a technique. It is not a clever psychological trick. I have learnt that when I walk in their shoes, I start to understand what cutting gives them. I start to understand the primal experience, and recognise that inflicting deep pain on oneself can be physically soothing. It is a very different experience for each person who cuts, and it is not helpful to try to come up with a universal theory to explain the whys. For some people it is about manifesting psychic pain. For some it is about control. For some it is akin to a sexual experience. I have heard people say that it is like having an orgasm, only better. There is no doubt that the physiological experience is as important as the psychological one. Neuropsychologists are starting to research the possibility that cutting releases oxytocin – the same hormone that is released at the point of orgasm. It is possible that cutting performs a function of affect regulation.

So if I could sit alongside the person who is telling me of their pain and their need to cut, if I could walk in their shoes without acting out my own frustration, impotence or discomfort at my own distress, what effect would that have?

We know that to be in the presence of a self-regulating other is soothing in itself. We learn to tolerate our own deep despair by having another tolerate it for us, and show us that it is indeed tolerable. Neuropsychology tells us that when this happens in childhood positive neural pathways are formed, which allow us to continue to soothe ourselves in distressing moments when the other is not there. The secure attachment facilitates the production of oxytocin, serotonin and possibly other neurotransmitters. For those of us who don’t have enough of this experience in childhood, it is hoped that therapy can help us to develop it later in life.

So if the therapist can be a truly self-regulating other alongside the person who cuts, and a holding witness to their pain and distress, this will soothe. And as the relationship strengthens, the attachment will enable the other to internalise the positive object that is the therapist.

There may be time then for techniques. Or perhaps for simply saying “I don’t want you to hurt yourself. I want you to be safe because I care about you.”

I have grave concerns about CBT being the only therapy on offer for people who rely on the NHS. With many clients and issues it simply doesn’t work. With some clients it is positively harmful and reinforces their self blaming pathology. If you want to hear what this is like for users of NHS mental health services, read this excellent post by PatientGuard.

* Elastic Band Therapy

Saturday, May 19, 2007

And Now I Feel Hungry....

I have been tagged by the lovely Dandelion, which gives me an excuse for a lazy post whilst I pretend to watch the FA cup final. I find football unbelievably dull when I have no interest in the outcome, and how does the neutral observer choose between one stupidly rich team and another stupidly rich team?

The tag is to name your five favourite eateries in your location. So here, in reverse order, my top five eating out joints in Yorkshire.

5. The Angel Inn, Hetton.

Modern European food, with lots of seafood on the bar menu and a great venison in the restaurant. The Angel often picks up awards, and always gets a mention in The Observer Good Food guide. According to the Observer it is ‘miles from anywhere, but nonetheless worth the drive.’ Actually, its only miles from anywhere if you don’t live nearby. For the rest of us, it’s a great local restaurant.

4. The Fountaine Inn, Linton

Modern British menu but this is much, much more than just a pub lunch. The quality is superb, portions generous and they make it a point of principal to use local produce (including a fabulous local cheeseboard.) Their lamb shank signature dish is the best I have tasted. A must visit, next time you are in the Yorkshire Dales.

3. Harlequins, Cowling

More modern European. Really superb food but in the most odd location. Cowling is a one road village with very little to recommend it, and you could be forgiven for driving past Harlequins without giving it a second glance. But the menu is wonderful and the food is some of the best in Yorkshire. Slightly pricey for us at about £45 quid a head (we are tykes, after all) but a favourite of mine for a special occasion.

2. Prashad Chaat House, Bradford

The Patel family started this chaat house on a small side street in Bradford to serve traditional Gujerati food to the local community. Serving chaat, puris, dosas and some fab specialities (like deep fried coconut balls) the Prashaad is building an impressive collection of awards. It remains true to its roots: small, unassuming, unpretentious and with prices to match. The food is fabulous. If you are lucky Bobby Patel will dance around the tables to the background bhangra. He is really quite sexy, which is just an added bonus really.

1. The Kashmir, Bradford

If you like curry, then trying to pick out a restaurant in Bradford is like wandering around one of those wonderful old fashioned sweet shops: you could almost weep at the choice. Bradford curry goers are a parochial lot. There is a serious competitive edge between the hard core restaurants, and friends have been known to fall out over which one is best. We always end up at the Kashmir, and always in the downstairs room which one reviewer has described as ‘having the atmosphere of a high class public urinal’. Dispense with the cutlery and eat with the fabulous pile of chapattis that accompany every dish. If you get them on a good night the food is unbeatable. If you get the best chef’s night off, when the food can be disappointing to say the least, no worries: just go back another time. You would be hard pushed to spend more than £15 a head on a 3 course meal so you haven’t broken the bank.

I shall dispense with tradition, and not tag anyone. If you fancy it, please consider this a tag. The only requirement is that you include the following list and add your link to the bottom.

Happy eating.

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
miss kendra (los angeles, california, u.s.a)
Jiggs Casey (Berkeley, CA, USA! USA! USA!)
Tits McGee (New England, USA)
Kat (Ontario, Canada)
badgerdaddy (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Dandelion (England, Great Britain)
Ms Melancholy (Yorkshire, UK)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I Like Thyme With Chicken....

I have had some back pain today. Just a little more than I find tolerable (although The Husband claims that I am a man when it comes to tolerating pain.)

I went to the first aid box at the complimentary therapy clinic where I work, hoping it might contain something to ease the pain.

I found a collection of Bach remedies, some arnica (gel and pills) and a bunch of thyme. I took the Bach remedy for 'disappointment' and went to Boots for some Nurofen.

My back was much less painful as a result. Please don't tell my colleagues.

PS. I was joking about the thyme.

On Meeting A Stray And A Badger...

My meeting with Stray came via email, following a post about a smear test I seem to recall. It passed without incident.

I met Badger a few weeks later, introduced by Stray via her blog roll. Enjoyable indeed, but still without controversy.

So how I wish I wish I wish I had met them first in the flesh and not the cyber world. As their housemate did. Read it here. And then see if you dare visit them ever again.

PS Not only has Badger won the coveted Post of the Week for her post on Tourette's, but Stray has won the coveted GBA(S)Fiction festival, over at The Moon Topples. Such talent, and all under the one roof.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Congratulations Lovely Badger...

Last week Badger wrote a beautifully evocative piece about living with Tourettes, and the very wise jury at Post of the Week have judged this the best post from a very tough short list this week.

Well done Badger. I am most happy for you indeed. So if you have ever wondered what it is like to have an itch....that is scratched but never eased, then go and read the wise words of Badger.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Meetings And Ruptures...

Have I ever told you that I live in sleepy little backwater? Maybe just the once or twice? I love where I live. I love being out in the Dales within a half hour’s car drive, walking my imaginary dog or cycling with the children. (I am allergic to proper dogs, but imaginary ones don’t make me sneeze or wheeze.) I love staring at the hills whilst I wash the dishes, and driving up through the mist in the valleys on winter mornings into the glorious sunshine which lights up the hues of green on the moors. I have spent the best part of twenty years living in cities around the country.

But I miss my friends. I miss having people to call on for a chat, or a coffee or a beer on a sunny evening. People who challenge and excite and stimulate me. I have some lovely colleagues who do all of the above, but none of them live near enough for a “let’s pop out for a beer” phone call.

I am astonished to find that blogging is replacing these kinds of friendships for me. Through blogging I have met the most stimulating people. People from all walks of life, who are a constant source of pleasure and surprise.

One of these people I have met in ‘real life’ and is fast becoming a dear friend (hey, BoBo!) Two of them I chat with daily via email or gchat and are fast becoming very dear friends (hey Stray and Caroline!) Many of them I email occasionally for stimulating and interesting discussions (too many to mention…..)

Sometimes it can be hard to make a relationship using only the written word. We rely so much on non verbals to aid our understanding of the other. A tone of voice, a slight look of shyness, a feeling of insecurity that silently passes between us, a teasing smile that indicates I was only joking really. With the written word we have only our words and our unconscious self to play clever tricks on our minds.

I am in my tenth year of working as a therapist. When I first began I wanted to soothe people, in the way that I had been soothed during my dark years by my therapist. But we cannot just soothe. That is not how relationships work. They are full of fractures and misunderstandings and our dear unconscious reminding us silently that people cannot be trusted, do not care for us, will never be there when we really need them. These ruptures form the very basis of the therapeutic process. It is through these fissures that meaning erupts, overwhelming us with its presence until our conscious mind can take a hold and truly make sense of them. I have learned, sometimes very painfully, that the rupture is the heart of the relationship. Whilst close, loving contact is beautiful, it is through the rupture that we really learn to be alongside each other in our painful existential aloneness. A carefully held rupture is an exquisite thing to behold.

We are all forging something new here, in this little blogging world we inhabit. We are learning a new way of making relationships. Friendships that can hold incredible value, but that need tender care at times because the rupture is so much more difficult to hold when we cannot be physically present.

And so to my lovely bloggy friends, and to those I am yet to meet, let’s hold the ruptures with tenderness. They are just as important as the times of meeting

Friday, May 11, 2007

On Tit-being-ness...**

I started to watch Obedient Wives on TV this week. Based on the insane ramblings teachings of one Laura Doyle, who wrote The Surrendered Wife, the programme followed the lives of a number of women who have achieved total domestic bliss by handing over control of their lives and their relationships to their husbands. If you have a penchant for being treated like a juvenile domestic slave, then I could see how it might appeal.

It was really, really funny for about three minutes. After that I found that pushing cocktail sticks under my finger nails was more fun. I can’t bring myself to critique it. You know it's pants.

Predictably, it featured a deeply unattractive misogynist who had travelled to Thailand to find a wife, because ‘Thai women know how to treat a man’. That reminded me…..

…..when I first moved back to Yorkshire I made contact with two old school friends, whom I had not seen for 20 years. We met at one of their houses for dinner, partners in tow. A lovely evening ensued, involving copious amounts of wine and fond reminiscing about our school days and how much the old town had changed. I told them that I had driven past The George* – a grubby side street pub famous only for its bar room brawls and after hours drinking.

“It still looks as rough as a bear’s arse” said I, “but it’s now got a Thai restaurant above it. Isn’t that weird?”

Total silence. You’d think that a therapist might have just picked up on something, but no, I ploughed on regardless.

“I expect some ugly fuckwit has bought himself a Thai bride, and tied the poor cow to the kitchen stove” said I.

“Yes” said friend-whom-I-had-not-seen-for-20-years. “Actually, it was my dad.”


*Names have been changed to protect the innocent

**Thank you to the lovely Caroline for coining this phrase.

Monday, May 07, 2007

How Times Have Changed....

A recent conversation between a friend of mine and her 11 year old daughter.

Daughter: Mum, can I have pole dancing classes at school?

Mum: Pole dancing classes?

Daughter: Yes, Miss B is teaching us pole dancing.

Mum: Miss B is teaching pole dancing?

Daughter: Yes, on a Monday after school. But if I go I have to be free on Monday the 7th of May because we are doing a display.

Mum: You are doing a pole dancing display?

Daughter: Yes, in the Town Hall Square.

Mum: Miss B is putting on a pole dancing display in the Town Hall Square?

Daughter: Yes, can I do it?

Mum: (stunned silence)

Daughter: Pleeeease mum. It’s for May Day.

Mum: Ah, (relief) Miss B is teaching you May Pole Dancing darling.

Daughter: Yes, that’s what I said. Pole dancing. Can I do it mum?

So to my friend and her lovely daughter, I hope your pole dancing goes down a treat today. And mind not to get the ribbons caught up in your legs when you go upside down.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Does Play-Doh Smell Of Marzipan...?

We have just spent a wonderful evening at the Bridgewater Hall, listening to Colin Carr playing Bridge's Oration, Natalie Guttman playing Britten's Cello Symphony, Ralph Kirshbaum playing Elgar's Cello Concerto and Yo-Yo Ma playing Walton's Cello Concerto. The concert was part of the Royal Northern College of Music's International Cello Festival. We heard four truly stunning performances. Although Elgar's Cello Concerto really belongs to Du Pre, Kirshbaum still made me weep.

As the music flowed through me I became quite fixated on the percussion section. The bloke playing the timpani had both hands occupied for most of the night. There was another chap with a snare drum and another kind of drum; he had a couple of snare rolls and a few bangs on the other drum. Next to him was a chap with a couple of cymbals. He got to have a go at the end of both the Elgar and the Walton, but I don't think he was needed much for the Bridge or the Britten. (My memory may be letting me down here.) However, he had to slip over to a xylophone type thingy (which may well have been an actual xylophone) during the Walton which I guess kept him on his toes.

And finally, there was a young woman with a big J. Arthur Rank looking gong. She wasn't wearing a toga though. She gonged a couple of times during the Britten and I think once again during the Walton. I got to thinking about being a percussionist. She was turning the pages, and I realised that she would have to be able to read music so she could see when it was time for her to gong. I know that reading music at that level takes a lot of skill. I once turned pages for a pianist friend who was playing Prokofiev's Sonata for Violin and Piano and I could barely follow the music to turn in the right place. Heaven only knows how he actually played it. So I am guessing that the gong woman could read music at a very high level.

But with all that skill, all she gets to do is gong the once in a 30 minute piece of music. And the problem is, if she gongs in the wrong place it is a complete disaster. Ergo, she has to be both competent and confident. So, I wondered, if she is both competent and confident, and can read very difficult music, why doesn't she play an instrument where she gets to play a bit more of the time? Even the bassoon had more play time than she did. What prompted her to think 'I want to be a percussionist. In fact, I want to be the gong person'?

I'm not saying that being a percussionist is easy. Not at all. It just seems that it is both a responsible and yet a potentially dull role to play in an orchestra. I eagerly await correction from my erudite blog readers.

As a little aside, the evening was slightly marred for me by my current acute sense of smell. I have been finding many ordinary smells quite offensive this week. I walked past someone eating a hot dog in the street on Friday, and felt nauseous. I had to leave our staff room ten minutes later because someone was eating soup for lunch. (Perfectly nice carrot soup, but I couldn't bear the smell.) Tonight I was sitting next to a woman who smelled of marzipan. I tried to get my son to swap places in the interval but he couldn't be bribed. I thought it might be her perfume, but son suggested helpfully that perhaps she was made of Play-Doh. I was tempted to squeeze her leg just to see.

If I didn't absolutely know better, I might think that I was pregnant. (I'm not.) When I was pregnant I couldn't bear any strong smells, apart from the smell of rubber which I craved and would frequently pop into my local bicycle shop for a deep sniff. Is there another explanation, dear readers?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Will Mrs Johnson Please Make Herself Known...

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I have a proper confession. I suffer from a 'mail opening' disorder. It stems back to the days when money was seriously tight, and opening mail would invariably propel me into a panic as to how I was going to give this person the money they were asking for and that I didn’t have. (I have been a student of some kind for over half my adult life. Enough said.) And so I developed a habit of just, well….piling it very neatly in the corner and ignoring it until its presence became too much to bear.

Now the mail is much less scary but the habit persists and I still have a monthly opening ceremony. (All of my professional mail goes to my office, which I open immediately and sort out straight away. See, I do know how to do it. I am not completely stupid.)

Last Monday I had a ‘mail opening’ day. The euphoria of having beaten the pile into submission is short lived, as each opening session generates a list of things to do. Last Monday generated a list of 13 things that required my URGENT ATTENTION. Nothing life threatening, you realise. Just Things That Need Doing. I spent this Monday URGENTLY ATTENDING to the pile of Things That Need Doing.

Most of them were easy to deal with and very, very satisfying. Oh, the joy of filing a piece of paper that has been dealt with. Its almost too much to bear. A couple of them required me to part with money. I went on-line and checked my bank balance, peeping between my fingers with only one eye open. I cannot deal with the things that Require Me To Part With Money until I have some money. I calculated that this would be March 21 2008. Back on the To Deal With Later pile.

Final piece of paper. A solicitor’s letter from British Gas demanding that a woman that I have never heard of pay them money for gas that she has apparently used at my address. This woman does not live in my house, unless The Husband has her tucked away in the under stairs cupboard for his fickle amusement. The woman I don’t know of has surely not been using gas in the under stairs cupboard?

I rang British Gas. It took me 20 minutes to get through. Their goddamn ‘hold’ music was so quiet that I couldn’t hear it on speaker phone, and so had to carry on with my chores with the phone tucked under my ear. I happen to know that this is dangerous and can cause a stroke. I briefly drifted into a fantasy where British Gas had to compensate my son with millions of pounds, thus allowing him to grieve in a luxury home in Florida, because his devoted and adoring mother dropped dead whilst waiting for them to answer the f***ing phone.

Eventually I got through. Lots of talking. It took them 25 minutes to tell me that it was a mistake, a fact I was already aware of when I rang them up. I told her that I was already aware of said fact. She proceeded to explain how the mistake had been made. I drifted into oblivion for a while. She assured me it would be rectified, and we would not receive any more threatening letters for people who do not live with us.

This wouldn’t be quite so bloody annoying, were it not for the fact that this is the third time this has happened in the three years we have lived in this house. And each time the threatening letter has been addressed to a different person, at my address. Do British Gas think that I am running a safe house for people who don’t like paying their gas bills? Yes, that must be it. I am running a safe house and they are on to me. It can’t possibly be that privatisation has left them unable to run a piss up in a f***ing brewery, because we all know it is the public sector that is inefficient and poorly managed. Privatisation brings only milk and honey for shareholders and increased efficiency for the rest of us. Yes, that must be it. I must be running a safe house. Now, let’s just check that under stairs cupboard….

Monday, April 30, 2007

Have I Ever Mentioned That I Live In Yorkshire....?




We spent yesterday afternoon at Horton in Ribblesdale watching the Three Peaks fell race. In the rest of the country this race is known as the Yorkshire Three Peaks, in order to distinguish it from the National Three Peaks challenge. Around these parts it is just the Three Peaks. Or to be more accurate, t' Three Peaks. Never let it be said that us Yorkshire folk are either insular or self regarding. I think this post is really just an excuse for me to post some beautiful pictures and feel happy that I live in the arse end of nowhere near some of the best hill walking in the country. Never let it be said that us Yorkshire folk are smug.

The three peaks is a gruelling race. A 24 mile long run and a total climb of 4,500 ft over rough country, this is not a race for beginners. The runners arrived at the finish line to the sparse commentary of a local retired runner. Folks don't retire from running until well into their 70s in this part of the world, and this weathered old tyke looked like he had seen a few races in his day.

He wasn't easily impressed. Welcoming back the 10th runner he announced to the smallish crowd that this man had come third last year. "'ee's not as fit as 'ee was" came the commentary. A gentle smile went round the crowd, more out of sympathy than mocking for the poor bloke who looked truly exhausted as he staggered over the finish line.

"Alreet, lad, tha's done well" he greeted the youngest runner, who, at just 18 yrs of age, had come a remarkable 8th place.

There were runners from all over the country. "This lad's from Thames 'arriers" announced the tyke. "Ah think that's dahn south" he added helpfully. The first woman came in around about 15th overall, which was a really remarkable achievement. "And t' first o' t' ladies is here" came the announcement, "an' she 'as a dog for company'. She had run the race with her border collie. It was strangely touching.

It was a beautiful reminder of why I chose to move back to Yorkshire after many years of living in London and Manchester. These rural events are so gentle and understated. There was no flash, no hype, no grandiosity, no high expression of emotion. Just lots of people enjoying the beautiful fells and a feeling of belonging.

Pictures of the fells taken from a three peaks website. Photographer not credited.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sometimes Step-Parenting Is Hard

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Have I ever mentioned the fact that I am a step-parent? We are what the textbooks refer to as a ‘blended family’: me and my son, The Husband and his daughter. We look like a perfectly normal family. The children very easily pass for siblings except that that they don’t invest their energy in trying to secretly maim, shame or kill each other. They get on like a house on fire. They are, in fact, great friends and will hug warmly when they come back to our house after a period with ‘the other parents’ (as we quaintly call them.) I have read a lot about step-parenting. Partly for my work with young mothers where step-parenting is becoming the norm, and partly to reassure myself that it really is as difficult as it feels sometimes.

So we look like a perfectly normal family. Except that slightly hidden from view are a variety of relationships that play out in different ways and at different times.

I love my son with an animal instinct. I am convinced that I would lay down my life for him. I would step in front of the bus. Sometimes my husband is jealous.

I love my step-daughter because she is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And she is my husband’s daughter and I love my husband. Sometimes she challenges me for her father’s love. She always wins. I would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. I may not step out. I have my child to think of.

I love my husband just because. (I do not intend to get sentimental or shower him with praise. But I really do love him a lot.) However much I love him, I wouldn’t step in front of the bus. I have my child to think of. Sometimes he wants to be number one.

My husband loves his daughter with an animal instinct. He is a fantastic dad, and hasn’t designated his parenting duties to me, as many fathers will do when they meet a new partner. He is mother and father to her when she is with us. He would step in front of the bus. Sometimes I am jealous.

My husband loves me, and I trust that his love is sound. He would not step in front of the bus. He has his child to think of. Sometimes I want to be number one.

My husband loves my son because he is bright, funny, engaging and loveable. And because he loves me. Sometimes son challenges husband for my love. Son always wins. Husband would hesitate before stepping in front of the bus. He has his own child to think of.

Half of the time we are four. But when we are four, we are sometimes two and two. Occasionally we are two and one. Sometimes we are just two. And each has its own dynamic quietly playing out.

It is only right and proper that my son knows he is first in my life. It is only right and proper that my step-daughter knows she is first in her father’s life. That is how it should be for children. It breaks my heart when I work with young mothers who meet a new partner and consistently prioritise him over their children, so desperate are they for another to love them. Parenting books tell us that we should not allow children to ‘come between’ two parents as it gives the child too much power and an illusion of grandeur. Step-parenting books skirt delicately around the issue. We are afraid of naming it. We are afraid of the primal feelings of jealousy, envy, rage and triumphalism.

Sometimes you have to step into someone else's shoes. Sometimes I back my husband into a corner and compel him to talk about it. That is the deal when you marry a therapist. Things get talked about.

We are a happy family. I’m glad we can think the unthinkable.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Keen And Ambitious Children Up For Adoption...

Eldest child is speaking on his mobile in the kitchen.
Youngest child is speaking on the landline in the adjoining sitting room.

Eldest: So you would like to buy some car insurance?

Youngest: Yes please, that would be lovely.

Eldest: We have the standard insurance at £50 a month, or for a little more you can buy the deluxe insurance.

Youngest: Ooh, deluxe sounds good. What’s that?

Eldest: Well, it covers you for all eventualities apart from abduction by aliens or attack by giant gorillas. It’s a snip at £150 a month.

Youngest: I shall take the deluxe insurance please. Here is my credit card.

Eldest: Could I interest you in any of our other products whilst you are on the line? We have home owner loans, if you own your own property?

Youngest: Oh yes, I own my own property. I’ll take a loan while I’m here.

Eldest: Excellent. I’ll just take your credit card details.

Dismayed Mother: What are you two playing?

Eldest: Hastings Direct! (The word ‘stupid’ was implied, but omitted out of deference to his ageing mother.)

Youngest: 0800 00 10 66!

Dismayed Mother: And how long have you been playing?

Eldest: About half an hour. We’re getting bored now.

Dismayed Mother: And who has phoned whom?

Youngest: I phoned his mobile! (Great. Approximately £7.50 of phone call.)

For those of you who do not watch daytime TV – and I assume that is most of you – Hastings Direct is an insurance company who have an apparently thrilling and memorable advert showing regularly in between Yu-Gi-Oh and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It has obviously had a considerable impact on my children. Perhaps my punishment for forcing left wing politics and intelligent discussion at the dinner table is that they now appear to harbour ambitions to hard sell financial services. I am thinking of enrolling them in the Woodcraft Folk.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Anyone for CBT...? (Part 3)

“CBT is the New Coca-Cola: This house believes that cognitive behavioural therapy is superficially appealing but over marketed and has few beneficial ingredients.”*

I have a colleague of whom I am extremely fond. He is warm, compassionate and highly intelligent. He is also a good therapist. He is good at making relationships with his clients because he is essentially likeable and trustworthy and cares a great deal about their situations. He does not pay heed to any relational dynamic in sessions, however, even if the dynamic is getting in the way of dealing with the content. He is confident in his therapeutic skills, but also aware of the limitations of his particular modality and is not afraid to refer someone on if he feels unable to help them. He will usually refer on either to myself (a humanistic psychotherapist) or to one of our person-centred colleagues. He is a clinical psychologist and a CBT practitioner.

We often discuss the differences in our methodology, theory and philosophical assumptions. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we agree to differ. But we maintain a mutual respect both for each other and for our different disciplines and we share an understanding that we both have significant contributions to make to the clinic in which we work.

My colleague is very experienced in his field, having worked as a psychologist for the best part of 20 years. He believes that there are people for whom CBT just doesn’t work. These include:

  • Those who have experienced early trauma or abuse resulting in a fractured or disordered sense of self.
  • Those who have experienced early significant relational deficits, resulting in attachment difficulties.
  • Those who present with rigid defensive processes that they are ‘unwilling’ to give up (often referred to as ‘de-motivated clients’.)
  • Those who engage with the world primarily on a feeling and/or behavioural level, and find it harder to engage their thinking.
  • Those with a schizoid - or ‘shut down’ - process who have difficulty articulating their interior world.

The clinic in which I work has some very skilled and experienced practitioners, all trained in different modalities. We understand that we share many commonalities and that our ways of working are much more similar than they are different. We share a common assumption that the therapeutic relationship is of paramount importance. There is little dogma regarding modality, although there is occasionally some friendly banter. Irvine Yalom - an existential psychotherapist - said that we find a different therapy for every client. I like to think that I and my colleagues work in this way. That we use a wide range of skills, knowledge and processes to genuinely meet people in a place where they can start to contemplate change.

I think the key to our success is that we are skilled at assessing different psychological presentations and processes and ensuring that the individual is referred to a practitioner who is skilled at working with that particular process. For example, I am not so hot at working with the schizoid process. This is nothing to do with my training, knowledge or experience but is part of my own psyche. I am damn good at working with an ‘anti-social’, narcissistic or paranoid presentation however, which is lucky because most of my colleagues would see that as a definite hospital pass and are happy for me to take the referral. And so, hopefully, clients get an individual response to their individual needs.

My CBT colleague is as critical of the government’s current proposals as I am. (Which, in case you missed it, is to significantly increase NHS provision of psychological therapies, providing that the therapy is CBT. See previous post if you can be bothered.)

The government's proposals mean that a therapy will be prescribed before anyone has done an assessment of the individual's needs. I love Stray's analogy in the comments thread of my previous post: we have found that a plaster cast works well if you have a broken arm. You do not have a broken arm? Well, I'm sorry, then we can't help you. An ideal world would see NHS provision working along similar principles to the clinic in which I work, where rigorous assessment is the cornerstone of good practice and human beings run the system rather than the system running us. I can live in hope, I suppose.

*Debate held at the Institute of Psychiatry in 2005. I just fancied being provocative.