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Reaching out into the unknown.

Counselling — admin @ 11:03 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been reviewing how we communicate with you and ways in which we can reach out and explain counselling better. It seems to us that there are barriers which may stop you from coming to counselling. Our strategy is to explain counselling as best we can in plain English and also with the website and all of that to make getting in touch as simple as possible. Lots of you make your first contact with us through our website and send us an email with some of your questions. Practical matters like the cost of sessions and availability of suitable appointments are normally secondary issues. Understanding what counselling might do for you seems to be the top question. Not only is it the most difficult question to answer but it also seems to be the most difficult one to ask.
There may be lots of different reasons for this. Let’s give you an example: while walking up to the town recently we met a friend who asked how we were getting on. When we said that we are doing well and that we are quite busy he said ‘oh, oh dear that’s terrible’. This made us laugh but we knew what he meant. We are glad to be able to say that a busy counselling practice, far from being a terrible thing, is in fact a very positive one. It means that lots of people have come to a point where they decide they want to change things and are slowly going through a process of transforming their lives. Rather than add to any unhappiness that might be around we like to think that we reduce it. In fact, with the help of our clients, we are sure this is the case.
So, how do you go about making that first contact? And how do you know what to say? Well, it’s not unusual for someone when they come to see us first to say ‘I don’t know what is wrong with me’. And that’s as good a place as any to start a counselling relationship. It gives us a beginning, something to talk about. Sometimes people can be upset because they’ve never asked for help before and they see coming to counselling as a sort of failure of their coping skills. It’s fair to say that people quickly get over this once they become engaged in the counselling process and start talking about their lives.
There may also be an element of stigma. You hear some funny, well actually not so funny, things said about counselling by people who’ve never been. Labels are without doubt a big part of this and are perhaps the biggest barrier to starting counselling. There is a natural fear of ‘mental illness’ or being considered mad or crazy and people often joke about this nervously when they come to see us first. That nervous laughter is a good way to bring up a difficult subject and we are glad to take the time to explain that we don’t diagnose and we don’t attach labels. Our concern is simply to hear you talking about what is affecting your life and begin a process of exploring things and imagining changes.
One of the things about counselling is the idea of ‘not knowing’. You may not know how to get in touch. That’s okay; we’ll try to make that as straightforward for you as we can. You may not know what is wrong. And that’s okay too; it gives us a starting point, somewhere to begin. For our part we will not know any of the details of your life or the ways in which they have impacted on you. You are the expert on these things and you can fill us in as time goes on. I suppose that ‘not knowing’ is something which makes us all feel uncomfortable and that to some extent counselling is about looking into the unknown and trying to get to know it. In that way we hope that together we can relieve the discomfort of not knowing and facilitate a change to a more confident, secure way of being.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Getting to know you.

Counselling — admin @ 11:15 am

Here at Counselling Connections we stood for a few minutes this morning looking out over the garden. We are lucky to have a large green garden with trees and shrubs and secret nooks and crannies. The lawn, however, is, to be honest, a little mossy and in need of some gardening expertise. This latter point causes a slight shudder when thoughts turn to firing up to old lawn mower again one more time. This act is the renewal of an annual rivalry now entering its eighteenth year. The lawn mower, you see, has developed a personality; a wilfulness which will only submit to a knowing adversary and only after testing that adversary’s resolve to the limit. It may need a little attention with an oily rag, perhaps a new spark plug; definitely a fresh drop of oil and then and only then will it cough and splutter into life raising it’s objections in clouds of grey and white smoke which take ten minutes to clear. Once these preliminaries are dispensed with it will work but only on condition that it is not asked to do too much. Wet and long grass is for young mowers and ours is seventeen which in lawnmower years is about a hundred and nineteen years old.
The thing about this relationship of course is that it is with an inanimate object. Albeit that anything that has an internal combustion engine can appear to take on human, often feminine, characteristics it is still only a machine. But we grow fond of them; think of a relationship with an old car. There is tremendous satisfaction to be got from the annual ritual of starting up a cantankerous old lawn mower for the first time. And for all that it would only cost a few hundred to replace this would seem like an act of disloyalty to an old comrade with whom many campaigns have been endured. This is perhaps an example of projecting human characteristics into different situations where we then master them and become secure in our position with the outside world. How this works with family pets is the subject of a whole different discussion which we’ll save for another day.
A wider look at the fun we have in our relationship with our lawnmower has us thinking about ways in which we adapt to our environments. Sometimes these can be enriching but it has to be said that perhaps also they can be maladaptive and facilitate unhealthy behaviour. For example, replace the cantankerous lawnmower with an equally contrary relation, say a grandparent. This fictional relation may live in the family home and may have been present when the children of the family are quite young. These children will learn to adapt to the vagaries of mood of the older person. This could be a vey positive addition to the child’s life growing up as they forge a relationship with an older person outside of their parents. Children make allowances for and learn to help the other to cope and lean how to be in a relationship with another.
The same ability to adapt which is a natural part of living in a family group is also brought to bear in situations where the other person, whoever that may be, is a malign or negative influence. For whatever reason this person may be jealous or nasty and the people around them can be forced into to trying to placate their moods. When this happens on an ongoing basis it can leave unhealthy coping or adaptive strategies in place in the minds of individual family members. This is something which we have to be careful of in relationships. It can create patterns of bad relationships which are repeated and which often cause people to seek therapy to learn how to change. It is possible to track back through old relationships to see where adapting to others may have caused us to allow respect for ourselves to be shelved. Becoming aware of this in ourselves is the first step on the path towards a new assertiveness which, though it can be difficult to practice to begin with, can lead to fuller more respectful and enriching relationships.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Love matters.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 1:32 pm

Here at Counselling connections this week our minds have turned to matters of the heart. The industry that surrounds Saint Valentine’s Day is well in motion with an array of cards and chocolates, not to mention flowers available to young lovers. Our sympathies are with the young men and women who are at the stage where these things are all important and where there is so much pressure to meet the expectations of peers. Love is not a new phenomenon and young lovers have always been expected to display the extent of their love for each other. In these times this may mean helium balloons and a slap up meal but in different times the challenge was the same only the manner of the display has changed.
So much of our work here is about love. So much of the difficulties which people can experience in life have to do with love. It strikes us, talking about it here this morning, that there are so many variations of love. How one kind of love can almost become a prison is in stark contrast to the freedom of a facilitating kind of love. Whereas we see the ill effects on someone’s life of growing up without love we also see the transformative effects that love can have.
It is probably fair to say that each of us has a slightly different way of loving, our own individual style of love. We learn to love and be loved from our first childhood experiences, initially mostly with mother and then with father too. Our levels of trust in the world are built up from our experiences and from how we are held and facilitated by our parents when we are infants. We feel free to experiment and test the world if our efforts, whether successful or not are met with understanding, patience and above all with love.
Love facilitates our becoming as a person; it is a life enhancing force as powerful and important perhaps as the sun is to plants. And it is complicated too because the love of a parent is not about always saying yes. Sometimes a loving mother or father has to say no to the demands of their child and maintain a loving understanding if their gentle admonishments are not met with acquiescence. Indeed they might be met with a tantrum and here again our adult way of loving is greatly influenced by how this is negotiated. Some adults may huff and brood if they don’t get their way just as they did as infants.
It is probably also fair to say that none of us is completely free from the effects of our childhood ways of loving. When we meet a new friend for the fist time we may feel a stirring of the heart; a hope for a future filled with our childhood expectations may emerge. This is probably a natural process learned with evolution. Then things will settle down and more realistic, adult expectations of a relationship will emerge. Here too we have to be careful to maintain a spark of the initial attraction. In all too many cases a marriage will begin to flounder when two people just take things too much for granted and fall into ways of behaving which are just about settling into a routine and are absent of any richness or real love.
On other occasions we find that someone has a poor ability to stop loving someone once they have started. I suppose we are all familiar with examples of a person maintaining a relationship when friends and family can plainly see that it may even be harmful for the person. This may be due to patterns around addiction or violence. We can learn about how our own style of love influences how we behave in these situations and we can learn to change the way we love. If we didn’t develop the ability to take risks with love, to get it wrong and start over or if fear stops us from loving to begin with we will find relationships and intimacy difficult. It is good to explore these things in ourselves and to learn about aspects of our selves which may serve to block love.
Love can be transformative; to learn how to receive the love of another can lead to a wonderful experience of growing into the potential of your own full self. And to give a facilitating love, free from jealousy or rivalry can fill the giver with a great deal of warmth and feelings of living a full and purposeful life. To be in a relationship, whether that is as a romantic partner, a parent or child or as a friend where real love is present is to facilitate seeing the flowering of the best of what is in us.
Dundalk, Counselling Connections.

Coping with Death

Loss/ Bereavement — admin @ 1:36 pm

Bereavement is part of the human experience. Every day people die in different circumstances and at different ages. Yet it is something that is always difficult and can have devastating effects on those ‘left behind’. Although there are feelings and behaviours which come under the umbrella of ‘normal grief reactions’, it is still individual to the person and will be influenced by a number of factors. Our relationship to the deceased, whether that relationship was a good or difficult one, how the person died and at what age, will all impact on our reaction to the death. Our own previous history of losses and also concurrent stresses in a short space of time, will be difficult for the strongest of people.
The amount of support available to us from family and friends will also influence how we deal with death. Research has shown that if we feel supported, the amount of stress we feel post bereavement can be reduced. However one of the difficulties with social support like this is that it is often around the time of the bereavement and not so much later on, when the person really needs it. There is a general sense that as people move on with their lives, the bereaved person is encouraged to do the same. If you have lost someone close to you, you will know it is not that simple.
In order to fully understand why death is so difficult for us, it is important to look at the bonds we make with other people. As human beings we naturally make affectionate bonds as a way to survive and enjoy our experience of this world. This is known as Attachment. When someone close to us is dying, this bond is threatened and when death occurs it feels like this bond is broken. This has a huge impact on us at every level, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Being attached to others is what makes us feel safe and not so alone in the world, so when someone close dies those feelings of security are shook and we can be left questioning our place in the world and what our lives are about. It can be a very lonely time.
Normal grief reactions can be described in terms of the range of feelings, the physical sensations in our bodies, the way it can affect our thinking and the things we do in order to cope. Sadness is the most common feeling and is not necessarily expressed through tears. Crying helps some people feel a sense of relief but it is not for everyone. What matters is that the sadness is expressed in some way and not held in. Anger is often felt after someone dies and can be rooted in being angry that you could do nothing to prevent the death and also the pain of that bond being broken. It is quite normal to feel angry at the person who has died for leaving you to cope alone. There can be feelings of guilt around possibly not calling an ambulance sooner or not having been the best partner or parent in the world. Anxiety and loneliness, particularly for those who lose someone who was in their everyday lives. There can be feelings of helplessness especially with those who have lost a spouse, where the deceased took control of all household affairs. There may be shock, even with deaths that are not so sudden. Where there has been a long illness, relief may be predominant. Numbness is often experienced in the early days and can be a way of defending against overwhelming emotion. All of the above are part of the normal grieving process.
There are many potential physical symptoms which play a significant role in the grieving process. Lack of energy, sleeplessness, breathlessness, tightness in the chest or throat, emptiness in the stomach are all symptoms reported by people who have suffered the death of a close person.
Our thinking can become confused and we can have difficulty concentrating on ordinary tasks. There may be preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased and through the experience of yearning, a sense that the person is still with us. It is not unusual for people to report having seen the dead person, which may be attributable to hallucinations, showing that there can be a profound effect on all aspects of our person through the process of grieving.
With good support from family and friends many people can come through the trauma of bereavement without professional help. There are support groups in most local towns to help communities help each other get through. Where grief is complicated or where social support is lacking, bereavement counselling can help people to come to terms with their loss. Counselling looks at helping the person come to terms with the reality of their loss, acceptance being the key part of this. Working through the pain of the grief is a necessary part of mourning. The level of pain experienced differs from person to person but it is not possible to avoid feeling the emotional pain of losing someone you were greatly attached to. Adjusting to one’s environment without the person can be difficult and learning how to be in the world without that connection. Death will have an impact on one’s external environment, if the person was in your everyday life but equally there are inner adjustments to come to terms with like being a single person again and how this may affect your sense of yourself. Our sense of the world can be turned upside-down and it can be hard to find a sense of direction especially with sudden and untimely deaths. Our beliefs can be challenged in this way. The final task in dealing with death is to emotionally relocate the deceased and be able to move on with life. This can be a scary thought and can evoke huge anxiety. We are talking about finding a way to continue to be connected to the person but not in a way that prevents the bereaved from continuing his/her life in this world as this is necessary for him/her to do. The timing of this is loosely defined. There are many variables that will influence how a person deals with the mourning process.
When there comes a time when the person who is left can think about the person who has died without feeling huge pain, we can conclude that they have dealt with their loss. A rough guide of two years can be expected though for some this is shorter and for others longer. For those who are going through this process as you read this, the intensity of the pain of loss is hard to explain. Accept whatever help you can get, to get through this time. The pain will pass, you will feel more hopeful and you will adjust to life without your loved one as you work through your unavoidable pain.

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