What is Psychotherapy for?

The Book of Life has come up with a delightful and sensitive description of the art of Psychotherapy here.  Some psychotherapists may be a bit more interventionist or active in the process than this – me, for example.  But it’s nonetheless a really good explanation of just what we’re up to as we sit opposite you in our consulting rooms, and how you can expect to feel differently as a result of your investment.

Relationship in need of a bit of attention as we start 2017?

I often say that relationships are like gardens.  They don’t just look after themselves; they require some careful tending and nurturing if you don’t want them to end up overgrown, ugly and unloved.

My favourite reading over the Christmas break was this wonderful article, 1500 People Give All The Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Need by the talented writer Mark Manson.  As a newly wed, he asked his readers for their relationship dos and don’ts and then distilled their answers into the most concise yet comprehensive relationship advice I’ve ever read.

In fact, if everyone were to read this and do their best to put it into practice, we Couples Therapists would be sat at home twiddling our thumbs all year waiting for the phone to ring. It’s that good.

I’ll stand by you

Today I’m blogging about love, though not necessarily of the romantic kind.  Rather, the love that enables us to stand by someone who is depressed and try to just go through it beside them, instead of trying to persuade them out of it.

I know from personal and professional experience that this is very hard to do.  When someone we love is depressed, it’s so painful to see them suffer.  We feel as if we should be able to suggest or do something that will fix it, for their sake … and for ours.  It’s hard for us to tolerate their pain, and we’ll do almost anything to make it stop.  And if we can’t, sometimes in our despair we distance ourselves from them because we can’t stand it, maybe leaving them feeling even more lost and alone.

When we’re the one who’s depressed, oftentimes we know the things we should do to make us feel better … get out into the sun or nature, do something physical we enjoy, spend some time with trusted others, do something that helps someone else.  But the cruel irony is that the time we most need to do these things is the very time we find them hardest to do.

And yet, there is something that can help.  Knowing that someone is there for us unconditionally, who can bear our pain just as it is and not try to change it, can make all the difference.  This link, “A message to the depressed” from the young vlogger Sky Williams (no stranger to the black dog himself) sums it up beautifully.  It’s a couple of years old, and has a few million shares already … but I’ll bet there are still plenty of people who haven’t seen it who might find it helpful.

My favourite Pretenders’ song also puts it so movingly:

Oh, why you look so sad, the tears are in your eyes,
Come on and come to me now, and don’t be ashamed to cry,
Let me see you through, ’cause I’ve seen the dark side too.
When the night falls on you, you don’t know what to do,
Nothing you confess could make me love you less,

I’ll stand by you,
I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you

So if you’re mad, get mad, don’t hold it all inside,
Come on and talk to me now.
Hey there, what you got to hide?
I get angry too, well, I’m a lot like you.
When you’re standing at the cross roads,
And don’t know which path to choose,
Let me come along, ’cause even if you’re wrong

I’ll stand by you,
I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you.
Baby, even to your darkest hour, and I’ll never desert you,
I’ll stand by you.
And when, when the night falls on you baby,
You’re feeling all alone, you’re wandering on your own,
I’ll stand by you.

I’ll stand by you, won’t let nobody hurt you,
I’ll stand by you, baby even to your darkest hour,
And I’ll never desert you,
I’ll stand by you.

Emotional Intelligence

I enjoyed this recent article by Travis Bradberry, co-author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

I think some people have naturally high EQ, but we can all improve our levels.  This article articulates very well a lot of the skills, qualities and behaviours we nurture through psychotherapy and counselling to do just that, such as helping clients to:

  • be able to identify, distinguish, name and choose if, how and when to express different emotions
  • actively work on countering negative self-talk, perhaps through writing the thought down on one side of a sheet of paper, and a rebuttal on the other
  • become more assertive – say what they mean, and mean what they say
  • give up on the idea that perfectionism is a good thing!

I’d love to see this stuff taught in schools, though it would surely do us therapists out of a lot of work!

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dr John Gottman identified four communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and especially Contempt. He called them, rather amusingly, The Four Horsemen. Tammy Fletcher in San Diego calls them Relationship Killers.

Here are two nice, short articles on the subject to help you avoid the apocalypse – well worth a read.



Does sharing household chores help or kill passion?

There’s an interesting (and by the looks of the comments, very controversial) article by Lori Gottlieb in this week’s New York Times about male-female relationships. Does a More Equal Marriage mean Less Sex?

It considers whether an egalitarian marriage (where decisions and tasks are shared equally), while good for marital harmony, might be bad for the couple’s sexual relationship. For example, are gender stereotypes so deeply entrenched that seeing a man do “feminine” tasks makes him less attractive to his mate at a sexual drive level, even while making him a more appealing person to be sharing a house with? Is it possible that women want to be married to men who are kind, considerate, thoughtful and treat them as equals … but fancy men who are quite different?

This is of course a big generalisation, but I do get the sense from my own couples therapy practice that there may be something in this idea, at least some of the time. What we want at an intellectual level may be quite different from what we want at a sexual level; or, as sex therapist Esther Perel puts it in the article, ” … the values that make for good social relationships are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust … most of us get turned on at night by the very things that we’ll demonstrate against during the day.”

Funnily enough, I was reading this article while standing up on a train home from London. I sensed that the man seated next to me was really uncomfortable about being seated for a long period while I was standing, but also torn with indecision over whether giving up his seat for me could be seen as insulting or patronising. And with some cause: male friends tell me they have been berated for such “crimes” as holding a door open for a woman, which makes me sad. Personally, I’m all for acts of kindness and good manners, and don’t see the need to turn them into an argument on gender politics.

In any case, I think it can be really hard nowadays for men to know how to be around women; indeed I think they are often in a double bind, as the case studies in the article illustrate well. I applaud the author for daring to write on such a contentious subject, because surely more reflection can only be a good thing.