Men Only Retreats

I found this very interesting article today on the BBC news website and found it very thought provoking. It also brought back memories of my counselling training where similar exercises were undertaken.

They were challenging for all, regardless of gender and its a difficult process looking deep within ourselves.

I work with a lot of male clients from 11 to adult and there is a theme that comes up around what does masculinity look like. In some cases it’s a lack of role models, for some it isn’t fitting the social norms of the society around them.

I have great hope though in the younger generation. Despite the media portrayals of social media obsessed entitle young people, those I meet are not like that. They are far more aware and accepting of difference, in gender and sexuality or race and religion than my own generation ever was at that age and they are using that awareness to challenge the stereotypes imposed on them by their parents and grandparents generations. Many are politically awakened and sadly too many have to be very conscious of the dangers in the societies they are raised in.

Its a long article, but worth reading through to the last paragraph:

“I think that men are going to be called to do this work more and more,” says Rafia. “I think that women have put a lot of issues on the table and a response needs to come from the men. We do need to show up. We do need to heal ourselves. And the world does need authentic men.”

New Years reflections

The New Year always seems to be a time of reflection and hope to me. I reflect on the year past and hope and dream what the future year will bring, sadly it doesn’t always work out the way we want to.

For me on a personal level events in this last couple of years have meant I found myself reflecting a great deal on the past including things I thought I had dealt with and closed the door on.

The lesson for me is that doors don’t always stay closed and sometimes we have to revisit again and again painful memories.

The most profound thing for me though in that is that each time I process stuff anew, it is a very healing experience. By viewing the past from where I am now – with the support networks and self awareness I have allows me to put events into a different context. While my past will always be a part of me it doesn’t define me, but I also won’t deny it and sometimes it needs some attention and work.

That’s one of the side events of opening up yourself to therapy, once you begin processing, you never really stop. It becomes part of your being. I believe that’s a very powerful part to have.

It means that when the unexpected happens, as it surely will it is a resource we can call on to find a way through. To come out the other side with who we are still intact, even if we have been changed by new experiences.

I hope that whatever 2019 brings you, joys and sadness, fun and challenges that you have the resources to cope, inner resources and the support that comes from honest and loving relationships with friends and/or family.


Spending Christmas Day alone

Are you finding the thought of Christmas day difficult because you are going to be spending it alone?

If you use Twitter there is a hashtag #joinin which was started by the comedian Sarah Millican a few years ago. Its aimed specifically at people who will be alone to give them people to talk to on Christmas day who are in the same situation.

Social media can be a great way to connect such as the twitter hashtag above, but it can also be something that makes us unhappy. This article has an interesting take on how Facebook lurking just makes us more dissatisfied if we believe everyone else is having a much better time than us. If you can’t use it to connect with people, how about having a break from it on Christmas day so you don’t put pressure on yourself on what it is supposed to be?

Another option you may not know about (I only found out this week) is that some cinemas are opening on Christmas day. This may be something to get you out of the house and do something different. However, as public transport won’t be running this option is going to be limited to people with cars or who live near enough to walk. The odeon have a list of venues opening here.

I wish you all the best over the next few days and hope you find some peace and joy, whatever your current circumstance.

Not such a great time of the year

There is a lot of celebrating going on around us at this time of year, but what if you aren’t part of that?

There are many reasons that you may be finding the festivities hard to cope with. One of those is bereavement, either a recent one or one that happened at this time of year in the past. Cruse have put together the graphic at the bottom of the page which you may find useful.

But there are other reasons; you may be suffering from an illness that makes it hard to feel like celebrating. This could be a mental health illness or one that gives you physical pain.

You might be estranged from family members and all the talk of family gatherings make it hard for you to join in the happiness because of your own emotions.

Your children may not be spending Christmas with you as they are with their other parent or your family is in another country.

You may be lonely and feel you don’t have anyone to spend the holiday with.

There are always organisations open to offer you crisis help if you need it, the most well know is the Samaritans who are there to talk if you need it.

Maybe what you need is to plan to change something longer term and are thinking about therapy. This might be the time to initiate that, please feel free to contact me if that is the case.

To all those people who are finding it tough this year I hope you find some solace and find some peace despite what is going on for you.

Young peoples mental health

Have you seen the latest NHS Report on Mental Health in Young People?

Some keys points for me are:

  • One in seven I14.4%) of 11 to 16 year olds were identified with a mental disorder. One in sixteen (6.2%) met the criteria for two or more mental disorders.
  • Of these, the most common are emotional disorders, present in 9.0%. Then behaviour disorders at 6.2%.
  • While between 11-16, girls and boys were equally likely to have a disorder, girls were more likely to have an emotional disorder and boys a behavioural or hyperactivity disorder.
  • Between the ages of 17-19 about one is six (16.9%) had a mental disorder. 
  • However, young women of this age are a high risk group as it was found that nearly one in four (23.9%) had some type of mental disorder, 22.4% had an emotional disorder. 
  • Half (52.7%) of young women with a disorder reported having self-harmed or made a suicide attempt. 
  • The results are further broken down into sexual identity, ethnic group, socioeconomics and social and family context and other factors. 

Adverse Life Events

The report states that “children with a mental disorder were that likely than those without one to have experience certain types of adversity in their lives, like parental separation or financial crisis at home.”

I have written many times about the impact of adversity childhood experiences and this report shows again how significant they can be. What is also worrying is the one in five of the children in the survey waited over six months for contact with a mental health specialist. This is unacceptable when the risk of self-harm and suicide in these children and young people is greatly increased by having a disorder. 

We as a society need to do more.

What it’s like for young people in London?

I work with young people in schools part of the week and I’m constantly saddened and often horrified at what they have to put up with. Maybe the levels of violence and fear aren’t in all areas but they are common enough that it is a problem for all society.

Every time there is a news report in of another stabbing in my area of which there have been too many this week I am looking for names to see if it is someone I know. So far it hasn’t been and I feel relief at that.

That leaves me feeling shame as well that I’m relieved it isn’t someone I know. However, it will be someones loved one. Someone out there is left with the grief and the horror. This moving article is by the brother of a young man who was killed last year.

Children’s Mental Health

As a school counsellor this article on children’s mental health sadly comes as no surprise to me. Its a terrible struggle to get children and young people into mental health treatments. Too many are being turned away as not meeting the criteria and thresholds. 1 in 4 as this article quotes also seems too low based on my experience.

Its not just an issue for those being refused treatment, or even the schools picking up the slack as best they can.

Each of these children and young people will (hopefully) grow up to be an adult. Statistically a lot of adults with mental health issues are first seen in childhood. By failing to treat them effectively when they first appear there is a greater risk of them affective the person throughout their life. This impacts all of society, with the cost of this being extended not just on treatment but potentially less ability to work and more benefits are needed.

Its a short term cost saving but the long term is creating more misery and hopelessness when there can and should be hope and recovery.

As the article says, its very bleak.

Are you afraid to let the light in?

Do you find there are times when it can be hard to be anything but your suffering? I know I experience that.

Today I came across this quote and I found it so moving. Our wounds are painful and reminders of what we have been through, but they can be so much more. I identify the light as empathy. The ability and willingness to sit with someone else pain and to help them come to terms with it. To be able to reach deep understanding of others in a non-judgemental way. Without my own wounds I wouldn’t I don’t think I would have developed this ability to the extent I have.

What is your light?

Government mental health paper

A government report has been published on the topic of Improving access to mental health services and it makes for sobering reading. If you think this isn’t something that effects you, maybe these figures will make it clearer “One in four adults is diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives, but only around a quarter of people estimated to need mental health services have access to them.”

The conclusions in the report are summarised as follows:

1.Achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health is a laudable ambition but pressure on the NHS budget will make it very difficult to achieve.

2.Structures are not in place to enable joined-up working across government to ensure the most appropriate action is taken to support people’s mental well-being.

Around half of people with lifetime mental health problems experience symptoms by the age of 14 and schools play an important part in identifying mental health issues among young people, but counselling services are not available in all schools. 

 3.It is difficult for people to access the support they need because the way mental health services are designed and configured is complex, variable and difficult to navigate. 

The National Audit Office found, for example, that in 2014–15, the proportion of people able to access psychological therapy within six weeks of referral varied from 7% in one clinical commissioning group to 99% in another.

4.There is insufficient information about the numbers of mental health staff and their skills, and there is not yet a clear plan to develop the workforce needed to achieve parity of esteem. 

Current structures, practices and payment mechanisms do not incentivise commissioners and providers to deliver high-quality mental health services for all who need them. 

One of the points that I found particularly sad was this section on children and young peoples experiences accessing mental health services. In my work as a school counsellor I have witnessed first hand how long it can take to get a young person into specialist treatment and it can be a very distressing experience.

32.The Centre for Mental Health told us that it had recently completed a review of children and young people’s mental health. This work had found that it typically takes 10 years between the first symptoms of a mental health condition appearing and a young person having access to effective, evidence-based support. Delays were partly explained by low mental health literacy among parents, who found it difficult to know the difference between a mental health difficulty and ordinary childhood experiences, but also because of difficulty accessing services. Even when people made contact with services this could be a remote, formal and frightening experience.Written evidence from Bringing Us Together reinforced concerns about children and young people’s experiences of poor mental health care.

The link to the full report is