Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Moon Topples Great Big Awesome (Short) Fiction Contest

In a spirit of chummy competitiveness, the delightful and talented Mr Moon Topples is hosting a short fiction competition for the blogworld. Visit here for details. (And read his blog whilst you are there. It really is very good.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What On Earth Does He See In Me...?

The Husband and I have both been practising very hard since Christmas. I can now play 'Take Me Out' (level: HARD!) on Guitar Hero. I rock! He, meanwhile, can play his Grade 5 cello pieces beautifully. He is sophisticated and talented. He loves me anyway.

The Word On The Street...

The size zero model issue rages again. It is undeniable that the fashion industry and certain sections of the media are setting norms that for most young women are largely unattainable, resulting in an increasing number of young women with anorexia and body dysmorphia issues. That much is true. But is that the extent of the story? I have never heard anybody argue publicly that they prefer a size zero, apart from a minority of adolescent girls, top designers (apparently clothes just don’t hang right on women with a woman’s body) and a minority of men who prefer pre-pubescent girls but, in a bid to stay the right side of the law, choose women who just happen to look like pre-pubescent girls instead. I have a hunch, though, that alongside this truism the fat girls are voting with their feet. I followed a young woman down the High Street this summer. She was in the uniform of most young women: crop top, hipster jeans, far too much flesh on show. It wasn’t a particularly warm day, and I worried for the cold on her kidneys in a rush of maternal concern. She was also revealing a considerable roll of corned beef-mottled flesh over the top of her jeans, and I couldn’t help but admire her for it, cold kidneys aside. I liked the fact that she was more than happy to show off her quite considerable belly, complete with belly-button piercing. It seemed a sign of her liberation, within the parameters of today’s cultural norms.

I loathe the fact that young women today seem to have abandoned any notions of old-fashioned feminism, and dress in a way that advertises first and foremost their sexual attractiveness. Their pat answer to this charge is that ‘I dress to please myself, not to please men’, which is the biggest pile of hypocritical pants since Hillary Clinton took part in that nauseating bake-off with Barbara Bush. But if we old Kate Millett types accept that that is how it is for young women today, then it is pretty cool that fat girls feel that they can pull it off too. In my teenage years – which was actually only ’79 to ’86 – there is no way a fat girl would’ve dreamt of wearing the same sexy clothes that her skinny friends were wearing, for fear of public humiliation. Walk down any High Street at 11.30pm on a Friday night, however, and you will see any number of curvy young women showing off their curves, their bulges and their magnificent cleavages without a hint of shame. And although I do wish they would all cover themselves up and leave a bit more to the imagination, I admire the curvier girls their self-confidence and their blatant two-fingers to the size zero culture.

PS. I have a rather curvy friend who wears very low cut tops with no bra, and her breasts can often be seeing escaping from the briefest of material that feigns to cover them. She once complained to me that ‘men only talk to my tits’. I pointed out that I only talk to her tits, as it is quite impossible to take your eyes off them as they swing out of her plunging tops. When I invite her over to dinner my poor husband has to take a very deep breath and chant “eyes forward” quietly to himself until she has left. I love her very much but come on, what is that all about? I will show you my tits, but you mustn’t look? Come back Andrea Dworkin, all is forgiven.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

But I Am A Lazy Person...... I really can’t be bothered. You know what I meant, didn’t you? Societal problems should not be remedied with individual solutions, therapy included, and therapy should not collude with the fantasy that others should meet our emotional needs. It’s a paradox. Life is full of them. That’s all folks.

PS. could a clever person out there let me know if it is grammatically correct to follow a semi-colon with and? I look to you, Caroline....

PPS. There was a big part of me that didn't feel at all churlish about the timesonline plug, but my politics got the better of me. Just to say.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Mystery Is Solved...

Dear Sirs,

I would like to object in the strongest possible terms to your link to my blog. It is most impolite to creep up on somebody after a barely coherent rant on one of her favourite topics, and invite a host of right-wing readers to identify with it. I now feel obliged to defend the liberal sentiment of my position, which will require a new post paying more detailed attention to the internal logic of my argument. I deeply resent this.

Yours Sincerely,

Ms Melancholy.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Tyranny of Stats...

Looking at my stats last night (look, I've not been blogging long and so this stats thing is still new and exciting to me - I'm sure I'll grow out of it, but in the meantime please bear with me) I notice that there has been a flurry of activity over the past few days from timesonline. So naturally I checked out the website, and I can't find any reference, however tangential, that would be directing people towards this blog. So now I am very, very curious. If anybody lands here via a link or reference from timesonline could you kindly let me know how come?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On Therapy Culture...

I was listening to a clever woman from Marie Stopes on the Today programme yesterday talking about waiting times for abortions. I was making sandwiches for lunch-boxes, toast for breakfast and applying mascara with that second pair of hands that parents develop in the morning, but I was still enjoying listening to the discussion. I was in agreement with pretty much everything she said: first-trimester…blah-de-blah, government guidelines breached blah-de-blah, poorest people hit…as always… etc etc. And then she said “the government is leaving women in distress. They should at least be offered counselling.” Or something similar. And suddenly I felt quite irritated with her. Isn't the government’s job to provide us with a health care system that is fit for purpose? Is it really the government’s job to help us to manage our emotional response to the world?

There was a subtle implication that we have a god-given right to be without distress, an entitlement to have the world meet our emotional needs and a right to ‘counselling’ to ensure that we should never ever have to feel distress. Because emotional distress is intolerable and unbearable, right? It left me pondering the role of the state in our emotional lives. Is the state actually responsible for alleviating distress that we may feel, for example, at finding ourselves with an unwanted pregnancy? Or is the state responsible for ensuring the material conditions which will allow us the security of managing our own happiness? (By providing first class health care free at the point of delivery, for example?)

What irritates me is that ‘therapy culture’ gets the blame for individuals demanding that the world meets their emotional needs, without paying attention to their personal responsibility. I fear that in using the words ‘personal responsibilty’ I may be mistaken for a Daily Mail reader (which would cause me so much distress that I would have to have even more therapy.) But psychotherapy is absolutely about enabling people to manage their own internal world by taking responsibility for it. Psychotherapy doesn’t – or shouldn’t - collude with the notion that emotional dissonance is intolerable, and should be routinely remedied by professional intervention in the way that we would treat a disease. It is a very normal part of being alive and should be seen as such. Psychotherapy is about enabling people to develop the robustness that will allow them to process their internal world and not collapse under the weight of it. Dorothy Rowe says that when she sees a client who asks ‘why me?’, she responds with ‘why not you? These things have to happen to somebody.’ I like that.

I fear this is descending into an incoherent rant. To clarify: I absolutely believe that there are some people who genuinely want and need psychotherapy, and who benefit enormously from it. I believe there is a need for people who can’t afford counselling or therapy to have access to it via the public purse. But I don’t think it’s helpful to shout ‘give ‘em counselling’ every time someone has an unpleasant experience.

Phew. Glad I got that one off my chest.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why Oh Why Oh Why...?

I think what is missing from my children’s lives is the opportunity to bathe in a cocktail of chemicals every evening, inhaling noxious fumes and plastering the tiles with gunk. I can’t believe I have been depriving them of this luxury for so long. So thank goodness for Gelli Baff, a new product currently being advertised on children’s TV. I have ordered a shed-load to make up for my previously neglectful parenting.

PS – I give them three months before they are out of business. Surely nobody is this stupid?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

On Mothers and Daughters (Part II)

I have had a strange and emotional weekend. My sisters and I took our mother to London to celebrate her 70th birthday. We left our father at home, on the pretext that it was to be a ‘girly weekend’ but in reality because they are difficult individuals who become intolerable when a pair. So a girly weekend it was, with the brother we were staying with elevated to honorary girly status and his wife in a stoic supporting role.

I rarely see my mother out of her domestic context. The family gathers around her, as she is unsettled when removed from her natural habitat and is an uneasy guest in all our homes. She rules her own home with an iron fist and a viper’s tongue, however, and occasionally I will still flinch if she moves towards me, in honour of an archaic memory. My siblings and I have forged fragile but loyal adult relationships. But with my mother I remain locked in a relational dynamic that is flooded by the past until the present has no room.

She was truly out of context this weekend: a guest in her son’s home, pampered and spoiled by her daughters as we ferried her round ‘that London’. And through the fissures that appeared I was able to see glimpses of the present. I saw a frail old lady, scared of the world and anxious to please. I saw an ageing parent struggling to accept her children’s successes and independence, but bursting with pride at their ease in the world. As we cussed and shouted and laughed ourselves hoarse over dinner, I watched her fade into the background and let her children set the rules of engagement. I saw her through a stranger’s eyes and the past was, for once, in the past.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Therapy By Numbers...

I spent the weekend on a training course.

I am usually ultra-selective about the training I attend, and I’m still not sure how this one slipped through the net, but it wasn’t until my bum was firmly on the seat that I realised it was going to be a ‘Janet and John do therapy’ session. Oh, bugger. Too late to leave. I have a mantra that I chant quietly to myself on such courses: keep your head down and your gob shut I repeat quietly and persistently to my inner rebel. If the trainer is up for it I will engage robustly with them on issues of theory, but my instinct told me that she really wasn’t up for it and no good would come of it.

(A friend of mine during my social work training many moons ago taught me the value of this philosophy. As is usual on ‘helping others’ type training we had to write a self-reflective journal, describing our personal journey through our placements and our ‘learning edge’ for our future personal development as reflective practitioners. My friend handed her journal in with pride. It read ‘KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND YOUR GOB SHUT’ in size 36 font. How we laughed.)

The day proceeded without any mishap, until the lovely trainer asked us to think of five things that we would like to thank our parents for teaching us, in a bid to commit to positive thinking. I was in the room and had nothing to lose. So I thought. Lots and lots. Now, I don’t want to use this blog to be horrible about my parents and siblings or whinge about my unhappy childhood. It’s cheap, it’s immature and one day they might read it. So all I will say is that I grew up one of five children, low in the pecking order but without the privilege of being the youngest, with parents who ran a corner shop and worked themselves into the ground for 60 hours a week. My siblings and I were, well, probably feral is the best way to describe us. You can join up the dots for yourself. So I thought some more, and then came up with what I thought was rather a good list, given the adverse circumstances of my childhood:

  1. I am very good at mental arithmetic because they made me work in the shop.
  2. I can cook, bake, sew, knit, darn socks and iron shirts. All of which are handy skills for a good wifey, and may come in useful some day if I ever decide to be one.
  3. I can hold my own in an argument.
  4. I can disappear into my head in a room full of people until I hardly recognise that anyone is there. Therapy calls this dissociation. I call it a life skill.
  5. I can carry quite hot things without using an oven glove.

The lovely trainer then invited us to share one of our ‘positive inheritances’ with the group. Oh shit. My neighbour shared a very moving story about …..well, it doesn’t matter really, but she clearly found it moving. She wiped her tears and I realised it was my turn. I thought about it long and hard for about a nano-second and decided to share my best party trick: that of carrying quite hot things without an oven glove.

“I can carry quite hot things without an oven glove” I said. People stared at me. One man smiled a little bit, and I quite liked him for it. Perhaps he felt the same way as I did? There was a very long pause, during which I decided not to speak. I really felt I had said enough.

“Thank you for sharing that” said the lovely trainer, and looked a little embarrassed before moving on.

So I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for lovingly handing me the life skill of being able to pass the roast potatoes without getting out of my seat to find the oven glove.

And I would also like to take the opportunity to advise any aspiring therapists out there to actually learn how to be alongside someone quietly in a genuinely therapeutic relationship, without recourse to tricks, fancies or psychological gimmicks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who Needs Psychotherapy...?

Forget in-depth psychotherapy. Find out who you really are with this sophisticated personality test. I couldn't quite decide between two pictures, but I felt this captured me quite well....

You are sexy, powerful, and bold.
You're full of passion and energy...
Sometimes this passion has a dark side.

You feel most alive when you're seducing someone.
You never fail to get someone's attention.
Quick minded, you're also quick to lose your temper!

and then I discovered I was also this....

Your Personality Profile

You are pure, moral, and adaptable.
You tend to blend into your surroundings.
Shy on the outside, you're outspoken to your friends.

You believe that you live a virtuous life...
And you tend to judge others with a harsh eye.
As a result, people tend to crave your approval.

and now I am just feeling confused.

Time for some dialogue between my multiple selves...

The World's Shortest Personality Test

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ladies or prostitutes...?

Prison warder from Sudbury Open prison, being interviewed on the radio:

I saw two females leaving the prison first thing in the morning. They had clearly been there all night. I am not sure if they were prostitutes or ladies.

Here is a tip: ladies wear tiaras and fox fur stoles, whilst prostitutes wear bright red lipstick and suspender belts. Hope this helps...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Who Is Defending Our Civil Liberties..?

The House of Lords may look like a bunch of old duffers, but they are currently doing a sterling job of preserving our civil liberties by forcing amendments to the government’s Mental Health Bill. There are two key proposals in the Mental Health Bill that we should be extremely concerned about: the removal of the ‘treatability’ clause and the extension of powers of compulsory treatment to those who live in the community.

The Mental Health Act is already quite a scary piece of legislation. It enables a doctor and a social worker to admit those with mental illness to hospital against their will, and a psychiatrist to extend that period of detention for an indefinite amount of time by applying different sections of the act. It is without doubt the most draconian piece of legislation on the statute book, in that it permits the state to lock up a person who has not committed any crime for an indefinite period. It could be the stuff of Kafka’s nightmares. Thank goodness, then, that enshrined within the act are the core principles of assessment and treatment which ensure that the sole purpose of the detention is to ensure asylum and treatment for the mentally ill person who poses a danger either to himself or others. It is this ‘treatability’ clause that the government wishes to remove.

The government has set its sights on removing the principle of treatment as it is this principle that makes it difficult to use the Mental Health Act to detain people with a Severe Personality Disorder. Psychiatry believes that such people cannot be successfully treated, and therefore fall outside of the compulsory powers of the Act (although the Act does specifically include people with Severe Personality Disorder in its criteria of mental illness.) Most people with a severe mental illness are treated with neuroleptic medication. This medication acts on dopamine receptors in the brain and is rather akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It does have the effect of minimising the auditory hallucinations that are characteristic of psychotic illness, however, and, however crude its workings, neuroleptic medication enables people with psychotic illness to function relatively normally with reduced symptoms. (There is a whole different post to be written on the use of neuroleptics which I shall, thankfully, save for another occasion.) This medication has no therapeutic effect for those with Severe Personality Disorders, as they do not experience the flight of ideas and auditory hallucinations characteristic of psychotic illnesses. Hence psychiatry’s argument that they do not respond to treatment and therefore cannot be compulsorily detained under the terms of the Mental Health Act for psychiatric treatment (although they can be detained for 28 days under a Section 2 for assessment.)

The government is extremely keen to encourage psychiatrists to detain people with Severe Personality Disorder, following the murder of Lin and Megan Russell in 1998 by Michael Stone, a man with a SPD who was known to psychiatric services. I am sure that the terrible circumstances of their murder affected us all at the time. But mental health campaigners, including prominent psychiatrists, believe that the danger posed by those with severe mental illness is greatly exaggerated by the media and that the government is currently using scare tactics to try to rally public support for its mental health bill. Tom Hamilton has already written an excellent post on the facts and figures of the ‘dangerous mad man at large’ scenario, so I won’t repeat the argument here. Suffice to say, most people in the field do not believe that the danger posed by a very small minority of people with Severe Personality Disorder in any way justifies the removal of the core principle of treatment.

This principle of treatment should be paramount in any law that permits the mentally ill to be held against their will. (Let’s be generous and overlook the fact that ‘treatment’ consists of little more than being held down by one nurse whilst another jabs a hypodermic needle in your buttock.) Because if the state assumes the right to detain people for 42 days without treatment, then psychiatric hospitals cease to become places of asylum and instead become prisons, with psychiatrists acting as unwilling jailers. So rather than remove the treatability clause, which is the only thing that affords the Mental Health Act its humanity, perhaps the psychiatric system could get just a bit more creative about what ‘treatment’ might actually mean for those with a Severe Personality Disorder? Most people with mental illness would welcome a more therapeutic approach to their disorder, and any steps in this field would render the removal of the treatability clause redundant.

The second issue at stake is that of Compulsory Treatment Orders in the community, which would enable community psychiatric services to compel those with mental illness to receive antipsychotic drugs, with the threat of a compulsory admission to hospital if they refuse. This seems to me to be an open and shut case of undermining our basic civil liberties. If I am diagnosed with a treatable cancer, which is likely to become terminal if I refuse treatment, it is still my inalienable right to refuse such treatment. Many people with mental illness believe that antipsychotic medication has a detrimental affect on their quality of life, and successfully manage their illness without resort to a drug regime. (And I haven’t even mentioned the terrible side effects such as tardive dyskinesia, ocular gyro crisis and the strange loping gait characteristic of long term neuroleptic use.) What people with severe mental illness really require in the community is more intensive support, regular monitoring and therapeutic intervention when symptoms become florid. This would necessitate an injection of cash to allow the community psychiatric services to provide the kind of therapeutic service they are both willing and able to provide. The current Act allows for compulsory intervention should individuals become a danger to themselves or others. I can't think of any clinical justification for favouring a weekly compulsory injection of a mind altering drug over a more therapeutic regime. Indeed, most clinicians - including psychiatrists - do not support the use of compulsory treatment orders.

The House of Lords is to debate the Mental Health Bill once more next week. Let’s hope they maintain their common sense.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Public Service Announcement...

That’s So Pants has written the best post I have read in a long time, on Women Who Write (as opposed to women writers.) Please read it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How Our Heroes Let Us Down...

I was having quite a good day today, having finally reconciled myself to being wrenched from the bosom of my sofa and thrust back into the world of work. And then the secretary at work took me quietly into her office to show me this. Now you know that I know that disillusionment is an integral part of the human experience, and that we eventually have to abandon our idealised objects in order to accept this imperfect world. But does it have to be so painful?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

On Multiple Selves...

I am feeling out of sorts at the moment. Not quite myself. I feel bleak. Perhaps even melancholic. I know it is the time of year and that most people feel at their lowest ebb in the middle of our dark, grey winters. I just don’t like it when I don't feel like the me that I know best. Psychology has not escaped the influence of post-modernism and contemporary psychotherapy is rather abandoning the notion that we experience ourselves as having a unitary, cohesive sense of self. (For a Janet and John version of this see here. For those who prefer a bit more substance see here.) I like the idea that we are comprised of multiple selves. Our different selves have contradictory experiences of the world: different frameworks, different beliefs, different affect, different ‘me’s. The bleak me no longer scares me in the way that it used to. I quite like to talk to her, engage with her and get curious about who she is. All she wants is to withdraw from the world and quietly hibernate, without anyone making demands of her. I know that’s not possible. She doesn’t quite know it but as it’s not her job to know it, that feels OK. My observing self knows it and that is what matters.

It is a useful exercise to engage with these different aspects of self. The more we try to deny or repress them, the more they leak out unconsciously and cause problems for us in our day-to-day life. By engaging in an internal dialogue with them, we bring them forth into our conscious mind and can consequently integrate them into our known experience. I don’t especially want to indulge this bleak aspect of me. But if I show it tolerance I find that it will once again become a background self, and, importantly, will retreat of its own volition rather than because I am asserting control over ‘it’. I observe it, I listen to it, I respect it, but I don’t indulge it. (Buddhism calls this mindfulness, by the way, and psychology is currently advocating it as a ‘new’ treatment for depression. Funny how Eastern cultures were there several thousand years before us.) As long as we can maintain an observing ego to regulate our internal world, these different aspects of self will bring us richness, complexity and depth. I console myself with this now as I sit here feeling at odds with the world.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I Feel A Serious Post Coming On....

Checking my stats I notice that I have quite a few folks landing on my blog having googled 'how to be a psychotherapist'. I can only imagine the disappointment they feel when they come across sentimental posts about my family, the odd bit of pinko ranting and my idealising transference of 80's indie pop figures. May I take this opportunity to apologise for wasting their precious time...

Friday, January 05, 2007

I Fancy A Change For 2007...

What I really want to do is lose 10lbs and drink 3 gallons of water a day until my skin is clear. And then I remember that I just can't be arsed. So I thought I would change the look of my blog instead. Hope you like it.

What Is Ken Russell Doing???

I can't help wondering whether having a stroke live on national TV is actually preferable to becoming an honorary member of the Goody family...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Please Form An Orderly Queue Here.....

Radio 4 did what it does best with The E Generation at 40 last night. I was most interested to hear that researchers are currently working on the therapeutic use of Ecstasy in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can’t wait. It would certainly make my work even more fun than it is already, as, being a relational therapist, I would be ethically obliged to take it myself. Keep working on it, folks.

Happy Times This Christmas...

  • I am a fan of anything that kids and parents can enjoy together – The Simpsons, rollercoasters, hash cookies – and Guitar Hero ticks all the boxes. For the uninitiated this is a PS2 game where you simulate rock riffs with a real-life (well, plastic) guitar which attaches to the console. The four of us played for many an hour and I discovered that firstly, I am a very competitive parent and, secondly, I could give Suzi Quatro a run for her money. Normally I am utterly and laughingly hopeless at PS2 games but let me tell you, this mum really ROCKS! (And The Husband found it strangely arousing…)

  • Family dance classes: showing my son ‘how we did it in my day’ to the Arctic Monkeys, and him laughing so hard he turned puce.

  • The annual trip to the pantomime. We laughed loudly, we booed even more loudly, we shouted ‘behind you’ and we sang along competitively to a ridiculous song. The Husband is so loud and potentially embarrassing that we draw straws for who sits next to him. I hope the kids don’t grow out of this.

  • Tucking my son up in bed on Christmas night, and him telling me it has been his best Christmas ever. He says it every year, and every year I find it more touching.

  • Spending four days with my loveliest, bestest friend, laughing and crying in equal measures and remembering how special it is to have some women-time.