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A kind of depression.

Depression — admin @ 10:06 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week we took a few minutes to sit and talk about different kinds of depression. Some people who are diagnosed with depression are told they have a chemical imbalance which is causing them to feel unwell. We’ll talk about that kind of depression another time. What we’re interested in discussing with you this week is a kind of depression which is actually quite hard to define. In simple terms it is a collection of feelings which are experienced over a period of time and which relate to a general dissatisfaction with the turn that life has taken. There’s a kind of self help phrase going around at the moment which says ‘depression is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you’ve been trying to be too strong for too long’. This is the kind of depression we’re talking about.

One of the difficulties about coming to therapy for the first time is being able to say why you’ve decided to come. It can be hard to say what’s wrong. It is not necessarily that its too upsetting to talk about it; although that is sometimes the case, its just that the feelings are a low level flattening off of your normal zest for life and its hard to know where to begin describing it. This is where counselling and psychotherapy come into their own because we are not concerned with a diagnosis or with placing your feelings or symptoms into a particular category. Rather, our first concern is to hear from you what way you are feeling and how this is affecting your life.

In the initial stages of therapy the focus can be on what your current difficulties are. These are normal everyday things like getting up for work; financial problems and managing relationships with loved ones, partners, parents and others. Sometimes we find that how we are feeling begins to affect these different relationships in similar ways. This can lead to a feeling that ‘there is something wrong with me’ and this can shake our confidence a little further. It is not uncommon for someone who begins to feel this way to subtly withdraw from their primary relationships. This strategy is about avoiding feeling hurt or experiencing judgement from others. Loved ones can pick up on our frailty and try to protect us by keeping details of ongoing domestic issues from us. All these serve to increase the sense of isolation we have begun to experience.

This is a painful phase to endure and getting back a sense of positivity or optimism seems like a daunting, if not impossible task. Although it is not generally looked at this way at the time, it also presents an opportunity to reorder our priorities and re-assess the direction our lives have taken. It can lead to a process of dreaming it all up and beginning again. This is not something that can be achieved overnight but over the course of a therapy new horizons can be considered and played with. We can spend some time looking at what fears or roadblocks exist within us which have served to stifle our creativity over the years. We can look back at previous experiences; at times when we suffered setbacks and see what adjustments these caused us to make in our unwritten plans. These adjustments to difficulties can be similar to the withdrawing from loved ones at times of distress. Initially we do these things to protect ourselves but in the longer term they may serve to stop us from attaining even modest goals.

I suppose we at Counselling Connections have a slightly different view of this kind of depression. We would see it as part of a natural process that we all go through on an ongoing basis in life. We assess where we are; we see things we’d like; or we imagine a way we’d like to be and we aim for that. We probably do this on an ongoing basis through life without really realising we are doing it. The times we are talking about this week are those times when this process doesn’t work or where we get stuck at some point in it. This can be because in the ‘assessment’ phase of the process in our minds we might see where life has taken us and realise that we’re not happy to be here. This is painful; it can lead to loss of interest in life and a temptation to give up. It can also be regarded as an opportunity. To engage the services of a specialist in this kind of thing, a counsellor or a psychotherapist can lead to a process of getting to know your own self and your own processes to the extent that you are much more in command of them. In this way we can learn to leave behind states of getting stuck or of withdrawing from life and learn ways to feel content and accomplished and quietly confident in ourselves and our position in the world.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

What did you talk about this week?

Counselling — admin @ 9:34 am

Here at Counselling Connections this week one of our partners was away at an important business meeting and her return to the office was anxiously awaited. When she got back we sat down in the kitchen to catch up. ‘I’ve been really anxious to know how you got on’ I said. ‘Yes’, she replied; then paused and said ‘I wonder if this is how clients and their partners feel after a therapy session’. News of the business meeting would have to wait while we teased this out and spoke of our clients’ experiences of this phenomenon, the experience of being debriefed.

It is not unusual for a partner of a client to be waiting anxiously for their return from a counselling session and to expect to hear in great detail what had transpired. There are many questions about what the therapist is like, what they said and what did they expect you to talk about. And what did you talk about? The discourse in therapy is different to ordinary social interaction; it is so much more about being listened to than an everyday social exchange. It takes a little getting used to; it is new. A loved one will have an interest in hearing about how you begin to deal with the issues which caused you to begin the therapy in the first place. As we discussed this we realised that there was a range of different feelings associated with this therapy ‘debriefing’ and they’re not all positive.

From time to time in therapy the facing of a ‘debriefing’ from a partner on returning home can cause a real difficulty. You have to feel able to say anything that comes to mind in your therapy. It works best when you feel free to speak of your worst fears and traumas, of strong feelings, of love and hate, of jealousy, of rage, of loss and regret, of dreams, disappointments; anything and everything really. It is harder to speak freely of these things without censor if you feel you have to report on them afterwards.

Additionally, something of the power of the feelings in therapy can be lost; diluted maybe when they are repeated outside of the therapy room. Your partner may feel threatened if you don’t tell them about these things but working through them may have to be done without your partner’s active involvement. This may leave them feeling left out, or even that they are not being heard themselves.

Sometimes a relationship is not good or supportive and the partner can make hurtful remarks or insinuations about the therapy. The therapy itself can become a safe sanctuary for these feelings. At other times a loved one may feel a little threatened or envious of the therapy. They may wonder that a stranger, the therapist, is hearing intimate details of their loved one’s life, things that they may not know of themselves. After a while in therapy, noticing changes in their loved one may also evoke some feelings of anxiety. A partner who starts to become more self reliant or who no longer reacts to things in the same old ways causes an adjustment in a relationship. When thing are going well this is a wonderful process; but it still means a change for the partner.

At times therapy can mean trawling over details of very upsetting things from the past. This can create special challenges for loved ones. Sometimes it is really comforting, having revealed something distressing in therapy, to have the love and support of a friend or family member who may know a little but not a lot of what is going on but who makes it clear to you that they are there to support you as you go about your difficult journey. This represents a change in the nature of ‘debriefing’ where your loved one understands that you are working through some difficult things; doesn’t enquire as to the details but remains steadfast in their support. This is a wonderful addition to the work of the therapy.

There is so much more that we could say about this. Reading back over what we’ve just written we realise that this is addressed to the loved one as much as it is to a client. I suppose that is appropriate. At times a client will have little support outside their therapy. At other times their partner will feel threatened by the whole process. Sometimes the important people in your life will try to undermine your therapy, for a range of reasons, some benign and some less so. In any event all these things can be talked about in therapy as you negotiate the changes in your life and your relationships. It is primarily a personal process, about your self and your choosing the best ways to proceed in love and in life.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Human response to Trauma

Trauma — admin @ 5:24 pm

We awoke on Friday last 11th March to the news of a nine magnitude earthquake in Japan and a subsequent tsunami that caused great devastation and loss of life. The scenes of cars and houses being swept away by the waves were almost unbelievable. It happened in the afternoon when children were still in school and workers in offices, just getting on with everyday life. One wonders what the problems each was facing that morning before disaster struck and how this dissolved into oblivion with what followed.
As many of you have said, it brings to light our vulnerability as a human race. In the face of natural disasters, we are unprepared, despite our best efforts. Japan has apparently some of the best protective procedures in place with respect to earthquakes and tsunami warnings. These manmade efforts were in vain last Friday. The knock on effect of the damaged nuclear plants and the pending meltdown now adds to the magnitude of the problem. We can barely take it in.
World disasters like this prompt us to lift our heads and look towards what other people have to face in countries where natural disasters are more common than here in Ireland. There is often a mix of relief and guilt that we don’t have to face what other countries do. Human nature sees us fascinated for a while with sky news on continuously, followed by a retreat to one’s own life as the days go on. There have been numerous world disasters over the past few years, one seeming to be followed by another. We’ve been asking ourselves here, what is it in human nature that prompts us to eventually dissociate from the realities of what others go through, when we have been shocked and upset by it initially?…
When we face traumatic situations in our own lives, to help us to continue on living we ‘split off’ or disconnect from the feelings associated with the event. In counselling terms we refer to this as dissociation. Often the person reports feeling as if they had left their body and were looking on at the event. This is an inherent defence mechanism which allows us to keep functioning and helps us to get through. It works temporarily. If we were to feel the feelings at the time, we fear we may be overwhelmed. However, these feelings are still inside and will need to be dealt with at some point. Counselling seeks encourage the client to feel in relation to traumatic events, a little at a time.
Take Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a car accident. The person may be dealing with other people involved in the accident, physical injuries, being grateful that all are still alive. But over the coming weeks and months the person may experience feeling down, crying, insomnia, worry and stress. This is the person coming to terms with the actuality of the accident, of what they felt and witnessed at the time. The body and mind need time to work through and adjust to what it has experienced. We also see this at play with adults who have been traumatised as children. It’s as if they can only afford to deal with it now as adults, that it may not have been ‘safe’ to feel the feelings before now.
So when we look at the tragedy and the trauma Japanese people are suffering, of course we feel sympathetic but in order to keep going in our own lives, we disconnect at some level from the enormity of what it must be like to be there. To allay our guilt in doing this, we look to contribute financially to a recovery fund. When we are faced then with stories from individual families or people in crisis, it evokes an empathic response in us because we can now identify with them as being like ourselves. Like with the four month old little baby who was found alive, we find ourselves drawn into the real life situations and wonder did the baby’s mother survive. But these feelings in us are temporary. We close them off when we close the newspaper or turn off the TV and we get on with what we have to do. It is human nature, not because we just don’t care. Were the countries reversed, Japanese people would be having the same reaction as we are. No doubt there are thousands of traumatised people who are trying to recover the basics of their lives food, shelter and clothing. It is only over the coming months that the reality of the devastation will impact psychologically on the victims.

I can love daddy more than mammy can.

Addiction.,Counselling — admin @ 11:08 am

In other offices people gather around the water cooler or meet over a cup of coffee and discuss the latest office gossip and organisational intrigue. And we at Counselling Connections are no different. Regular readers will know how partial we are to a cup of coffee and also how sometimes, because of the nature of our work, our coffee break chats turn to all sorts of eclectic subjects. This week is no different. We are branching out into addiction counselling and we’ve been reflecting on ways in which addiction behaviour can become a fundamental part of a family’s way of being. This can permeate the minds of individual family members and can have lasting and catastrophic effects on the way they love and allow themselves to be loved, or not, as the case may be.
If this all sounds a bit vague lets try to make it a bit clearer. The coffee break musings that we are talking about began with a question posed out of the blue. It was ‘do you think some girls grow up believing “I know how to love daddy better than mammy does” ‘? The question relates to the situation that we are all familiar with of a woman who seems to gravitate from one abusive relationship to another. She might escape an alcoholic, abusive or violent husband or partner only to find herself not too much later in a similar, damaging or abusive relationship. It seems counter intuitive and it can be a confusing, disorientating experience for the woman concerned. What we are trying to visualise is the process of thought that a little girl goes through as she grows up in a house with a violent abusive father.
There are a number of points of interest. First among these seems to be a learned ability to tolerate and excuse the worst of behaviour in the father. It is like his violence or abuse presents his daughter with a riddle. To solve the riddle would be to end his bad behaviour before it begun. This would present her with the loving, caring daddy of her dreams. But first she must roll up her sleeves and work hard at trying to figure out how to get on his good side. It is clear that when he comes home late that he and mammy fight and in the little girl’s mind the idea forms that this is the wrong way to go about things. She may even get to feel that her mammy gets it wrong by saying anything critical to her father, anything at all really that might draw out his anger. Her fantasy of a beloved, caring father demands that she overlook his part in these nocturnal arguments and in this the seeds are sown of a life of heartbreak, of hopeless forgiveness and even of facilitating another generation of addiction.
In psychoanalysis a pattern of bad relationships is sometimes attributed to something called a repetition compulsion. In simple terms we feel compelled to repeat previous mistakes. Again, this seems to be counter intuitive and it certainly baffled Sigmund Freud when he saw it in his patients. Indeed, the professor had to tear up the rule book and start again and incorporate the compulsion to repeat in his theories of the mind. If we pass our scenario through the test of this theory of repetition it seems that what happens is that the girl puts herself unwittingly in the same abusive situation again and again in order to try to work out exactly why it didn’t succeed the first time, the most important time, with her father.
She has followed her childhood logic of ignoring, excusing and forgiving bad behaviour in her loved one and for some reason which she can’t quite grasp it doesn’t turn him into the loving, caring partner of her dreams. It is our sad task in psychotherapy to break it to her that she has been basing her relationships on a faulty premise. This can be a difficult thing to face up to because it also involves letting in the understanding that her father behaved badly. It can be very difficult for us in life and in therapy to let go of the fantasy of a loving parent and face the reality of their human failings. Sometimes the worse the behaviour of the parent has been makes for stronger resistance to face up to this. This is something that has to be dealt with slowly and sensitively.
So, the childhood idea that ‘I can love daddy better than mammy can’ will provide a child with some confidence that they can cope with a difficult situation in the home. But it can also lead to difficulties in that it facilitates a tolerance of abusive behaviour and an almost masochistic determination to overcome the worst of situations. This is just one scenario that we have discussed here this week. There are many other similar possibilities including trying to cope with an alcoholic mother. What we see is that an addiction in a family can pass from a substance addiction to fixed way of behaviour. Initially these are set in place to help us cope but they don’t adapt well to later situations. Whatever your interest is in exploring these issues we’d be glad if we could be of some assistance to you and we have added an addiction counsellor to our team to help with this work.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Trust your instinct; hold your baby.

Mothers and Babies. — admin @ 10:49 am

We are noticing in our work with you who are new mothers that there is a need for greater awareness of what you really need in the weeks and months after giving birth. Many of you come to our attention through becoming postnatally depressed. It can be an emotionally and physically draining time. There are many new adaptations to be made in the early weeks and strange and all as it may seem there are also many losses to mourn at this time.
One of specific problems we see you encounter is a social pressure to leave your baby with family and friends so that you can have some ‘time to yourself’. This rarely works for the new mother. There is no doubt that as a new Mother you need support and sleep but time spent away from your baby in the early weeks can often leave you feeling more anxious and upset. This can have an adverse effect leading to a deeper level of depression and a feeling of worthlessness. Here’s why…..
During pregnancy you have been intimately connected to your baby for nine months. It’s a long time. Your baby knows your every breath and heartbeat and is attuned to your voice. He is safe and protected while in your womb and you are providing the ultimate protection for him. The bonding process has already begun and you are forming an attachment that for your baby will be the template for which all other relationships are formed during his lifetime. With breastfeeding and skin to skin contact, there is a continuation of that intimate bodily connection between you. You get to know your baby’s cues and are able to read his needs like no one else. Love hormones are flying all over the place leaving you feeling relaxed and in love with your baby. This in turn combats depressive feelings as endorphins (the ‘feel good’ hormones) are released into your bloodstream just as they are when we exercise. So cuddling your baby can do more good than several hours in the gym. This is the way nature intended it but is all too often not the way it works out.
Feeling very protective of your vulnerable little baby is a natural instinct therefore feeling reluctant to leave your child is normal. You are meant to feel that way so don’t apologise or feel bad about it. Mothers are incredibly instinctive when it comes to their babies and new mothers must be facilitated in tuning into and trusting that instinct. There is no better mother for your baby than you. Yes, your own mother or the midwife may be more skilled at changing your baby’s nappy but they can’t do it with the same love that you will do it with. Grow in confidence that if you are doing it with love to the best of your ability (considering physical discomfort and lack of sleep) then there is nothing better for your baby.
For the most part in the third world, babies are carried by their mothers with a sling until the baby is ready to walk. But here in the developed world, we often insist that what new mothers need is time away from their babies. Not so… what a new mother needs is support to be with her baby until it feels right to her to begin the separation process. When this is decided by anyone outside of this dyad it will result in problems. Friends and family can best help in practical ways with household chores, rather than offering to feed and bathe and babysit. And just to dispel any myths, you cannot spoil a newborn baby…. Trust your instinct to pick him up when he cries. He needs you and you need to cuddle him and soothe him. That’s what Mommies are for…. And you know the payoff will be a far more contented baby and Mother.

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