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Expressing anger responsibly

For years I experienced high levels of frustration that would manifest itself as body tension and violent fantasies.  In my dream world I would be an avenger inflicting violence on those who deserved it (usually thieves, disrespectful chavs, or litter louts).  In the real world though I was afraid of violence and not sure if it was the fear of being hurt or the fear of the consequences of hurting someone else.

After I trained as a therapist I was comfortable with all emotions except anger and would unconsciously pussy foot around the subject for fear of provoking my clients.  In my training I had been taught very little about the practicalities of working with angry or violent people.

It was not until 2010, on a somewhat esoteric shamanic training, that I learned how to engage with anger directly and work with it effectively.  It was a turning point for my practice and for me.

Now anger is one of the emotions I’m most interested in at the beginning of therapy.  I have a number of ‘anger meditations’.  They are crucial for people who’s anger is very much on the surface and being expressed in ways that are hurting other people or themselves.  They can also be very useful for clients who claim to have no anger in them as often these are the people who are experiencing most frustration.  Anger contains so much energy … and containing it also requires so much energy.  Relieving the pressure inside frees this energy up and transforms frustration into a powerful assertiveness that is especially useful for reconnecting and clearing out connections with others.  I see these relationship connections as the pipes in my plumbing analogy.

This video shows some of the anger meditations that I recommend to my clients for practice both within the therapy room and at home.  The idea is to practice ways of connecting with and moving the anger responsibly – so that you, the objects around you, and the people around you are safe.  The video includes:

  • Punching anger meditation
  • Cushion slamming anger meditation
  • Vocal anger meditation (with the Howl Towel)
  • Silent screaming
  • Throwing anger meditation
  • Tantruming anger meditation

I don’t claim that these meditations will completely resolve any anger issues you may have.  But they should take the pressure out of any frustration and provide a set of safer ways that you can channel your anger as and when it arises.

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Nonviolent (Courageous) Communication (NVC)

Imagine the scene: Jane, who is a bit OCD, comes home to find some shoes in the middle of the hall.  She flashes with anger.  ‘How dare he treat my home with such disrespect?’ she says to herself and she storms into the lounge to give him a piece of her mind.

Imagine the scene: Peter’s boss is angry because he thinks Peter has lost a key account.  He has come right up to Peter and is giving him a piece of his mind.  Peter doesn’t seem to be responding and this is winding his boss up even more.

Imagine the scene: David’s long term live-in girlfriend is packing the van with all her stuff.  He is standing, dumbstruck, on the side of the road watching.  Will he ever see her again?

Nonviolent communication

Eckhart Tolle says that if you are not comfortable in a situation then you have 3 options:

  • Completely accept the situation as it is (i.e. suck it up)
  • Change the situation
  • Move away from the situation (preferably having accepted it first)

The question is, when you would prefer to stay and other people are involved in creating that situation, how can you change it without resorting to some kind of coercive tactic using reward or punishment?  For years I’ve been teaching clients a way of doing this.  Recently I’ve come across a very similar structure, developed by Marshall Rosenberg which he calls Non Violent Communication. In this case violence is not limited to the physical but could include the induction of sadness, fear, guilt, or the promise of some reward if the other person does what you want.

In this article I’ll introduce my personal take on this way of communicating and provide a link to a brilliant YouTube video of Marshall introducing NVC.

If not violent then what?

Anyone who has worked with me will know that I often ask clients to discover the positive in the negative.  For example, if a client says they are un-comfortable then I’ll ask them ‘And when you are NOT comfortable, how are you?’  Their answer could be anything that is not comfortable: angry, stressed, afraid, or even happy.  Though these feelings may not be comfortable they are positive in that they are stating what IS rather than what is NOT.

In the same way, I’d ask Marshall Rosenburg, when communication is NOT violent, how is it?’  My guess is that he would answer could include the words loving, direct, compassionate, assertive, and honest.  If I had to choose a word to describe it I would say it is courageous.

What is courageous communication?

Courageous communication is not about compromise.  Compromise is where nobody gets what they want.  Courageous communication seeks something higher, a different way of relating in which everyone gets their needs met.

Courageous communication comes from the heart.  It tells it how it is without seeking to make the other person feel afraid of you or sorry for you.  By being open and honest about your feelings and the values that drive them and genuinely curious about the other person’s experience it bypasses adversarial patterns and encourages a natural co-operation.

The courageous communication process I teach has 5 parts:

  • Identifying the external behaviour / triggers
  • Describing your internal experience / reactions
  • Explaining your needs
  • Suggesting an alternative
  • Opening up the discussion

Identifying the external behaviours / triggers

Assuming that you have the other person’s attention then the first stage is to let them know exactly what is getting to you.  When you are doing this is is important that the other person does not feel threatened or blamed or they will close up and go into a defensive mode.  The way you do this is by using very specific sensory language in order to describe something in the way that any impartial observer would understand.  It is best to avoid metaphors or blaming labels.

For example:

  • ‘When you treat this place with disrespect’ becomes ‘When I see shoes in the middle of the hall’
  • ‘When you threaten me’ becomes ‘When I see you close to me and hear your loud voice’
  • ‘You betrayed me’ becomes ‘When you tell me you are leaving for a month and then I see that you have packed all your things’

Describing your internal experience / reactions

None of the internal stuff would be a problem if you didn’t have some kind of reaction to it.  These are either going to be thoughts or feelings.  Behind a thought is likely to be a feeling.  The next stage of the process is to explain what you are feeling.  This requires you to actually know what you are feeling.  A feeling has a location in the body.  It is your feeling so be sure not to describe it in terms of what has been done to you.  A useful checklist is: Glad, Mad, Sad, Bad, Scared.

For example:

  • ‘I feel disrespected’ becomes ‘I feel angry’
  • ‘I feel threatened’ becomes ‘I feel frightened’
  • ‘I feel betrayed’ becomes ‘I feel like the life is draining out of me’

Explaining your needs

The reason you are having the emotion is that one or more of your needs are not being met.  A need is the thing that you need to be fulfilled in order to achieve a certain outcome in a certain context.  A popular generalised model is called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In order to stay alive for an hour I need breathing.  In order to stay alive for a month I also need water, sleep, and excretion.  In order to live a happy and fulfilling life then there are many needs that need to be met.

When we have pre-existing emotional wounds we can need certain things in order to avoid these being triggered.  If, for example, you have a broken toe then even a slight tap could hurt like mad.  In this case you may need extra space around your foot in order to feel safe.  It is not unreasonable to ask for special treatment while you are healing from something.  It is unreasonable to EXPECT it.  Not everyone carries the same wounds so not everyone has the same needs.

Talking about your needs in a certain context helps explain what is going on for you in a way that the other person can think ‘Oh, OK, I get that’.

For example:

  • ‘I need things to be really tidy in order to feel relaxed.’
  • ‘I need to feel safe in order to take in information.’
  • ‘I need honest communication in order to make a relationship work.’

Suggesting an alternative

Your listener may well be somewhat surprised at your openness and honesty so far.  This is a great time to suggest something new.  Paint a picture of how things could be.

For example:

  • ‘I’d like it if we could agree where things are stored.’
  • ‘I’d like to talk about this after lunch so that we can understand what has happened and learn from the experience.’
  • ‘I’d like you to leave some bags here now and for us to talk on the phone this evening.’

Opening up the discussion

Your suggestion is not a demand.  It does not require the other person to comply with it.  But it could be the start of a negotiation.  A conversation in which you find out what their needs are and how you can help them fulfil them.  The way I would suggest you ask this is:

  • ‘How would that be for you?’

Is courageous communication always enough?

I’m not sure if Marshall would agree but I believe there is still a place for violence.  In my opinion the only legitimate use for violence is to get someone’s attention.  (And I’m open to having my mind changed on this one too.)

  • If a child is walking towards the dangerous cliff top then just grab them … leave the conversation till later.
  • If someone is ignoring you then a shout may surprise and shock them a little but get their attention.
  • If someone is in a panic and action needs to be taken a slap around the face could break them out of that pattern.

If you have the other person’s attention courageous communication may not change their behaviour.  You must accept that.  It could be that their values are very different to yours, if they are then it could take a lot more than a simple script to come to an understanding.

The basics of Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

Here is the first video in a series by Marshall Rosenberg.  I warn you that he will get his guitar out and sing a song.  Get over it.  Continue watching.  And find your inner giraffe ūüôā

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Zero effort meditation … sounds too good to be true?

If someone told you that it was possible to reduce stress and pain, improve physical health, promote inner well-being and even psychic abilities with no personal effort and an almost insignificant financial investment what would you think?  Sounds too good to be true?

Meditation, ooh meditation; meditation, that’s what you need

The benefits I have sited above are all associated with the practice of meditation.  But wait!  I also said no personal effort.  Chances are that if you’ve tried meditation that just won’t fit with your experience!  Keeping the mind focussed on a single thing can be very challenging indeed!  So can practices like developing loving kindness for your worst enemy.  It all takes serious amounts of concentration.  Add to that a particular way of sitting – probably cross legged with no back support – and you’ve got a particularly difficult experience all round.  Consequently, many people expecting meditation to be a relaxing way to zone out for a bit give up the practice before they have experienced any of the benefits.

Before we get onto the ‘no effort’ bit let’s understand a bit more about what meditation does and why it it beneficial.

Brainwave states

When we meditate we learn to move ourselves into different states of consciousness and we become aware of different things.  These changes in state have associated brainwave states that can be monitored by measuring the tiny electrical impulses in the brain.

I found the following explanation on a site that sells meditation machines:

Beta waves (15-30 oscillations (or waves) per second (Hz)). This is the brain rhythm in the normal wakeful state associated with thinking, conscious problem solving and active attention directed towards the outer world. You are most likely in the “beta state” while you are reading this.

Alpha waves (9-14 Hz). When you are truly relaxed, your brain activity slows from the rapid patterns of beta into the more gentle waves of alpha. Fresh creative energy begins to flow, fears vanish and you experience a liberating sense of peace and well-being. The “alpha state” is where meditation starts and you begin to access the wealth of creativity that lies just below our conscious awareness. It is the gateway that leads into deeper states of consciousness.

Theta waves (4-8 Hz). Going deeper into relaxation and meditation, you enter the “theta state” where brain activity slows almost to the point of sleep. Theta brings forward heightened receptivity, flashes of dreamlike imagery, inspiration, and,sometimes, your long-forgotten memories. It can also give you a sensation of “floating”.

Theta is one of the more elusive and extraordinary realms we can explore. It is also known as the twilight state which we normally only experience fleetingly as we rise up out of the depths of delta upon waking, or drifting off to sleep. In theta, we are in a waking dream, and we are receptive to information beyond our normal conscious awareness. Some people believe that theta meditation awakens intuition and other extrasensory perception skills.

Delta waves (1-3 Hz). This slowest of brainwave activity is found during deep, dreamless sleep. It is also sometimes found in very experienced meditators.

So, meditation is the skill of choosing to go into different brainwave states.  But how does that lead to the permanent benefits that we cited earlier?

How to get a state benefit (without being a dole bludger)

When in these deeper states thoughts and feelings come into awareness that were, previously, buried.  As these thoughts and feelings come to mind they move through and out of the body … you, quite literally, work things out.  This working out process can be somewhat turbulent … it can result in periods of intense emotional experience.  It can feel like falling apart … or even dying.  To the extent that you resist the change, then it is difficult; to the extent that you surrender to it and have faith that it will work out for the best then it is easier.  This process is sometimes called catharsis.  This separation from what is bad inside is the natural process that I facilitate when I am working with clients.

When you work those things out that do not belong inside you get a greater sense of who you are, a greater ability to know what you want, and a greater ability to act in order to get it.

Choosing states … the easy way

If you want to go on a long journey would you prefer to drive or to take the train?  Driving can be fun and developing driving skills can be rewarding but all too often you find yourself spending hours stuck in traffic and long journeys can be exhausting.  So long as there is no industrial action, no wrong type of snow, no leaves on the line, and the line actually goes where you want to go – then the train is a great alternative.  Simply get on, sit back, and relax.

Brainwave entrainment technology is the train of the meditation world.  It utilises an external stimulus to resonate the brain into progressively deeper states of meditation.  All you need to do is to put on your headphones – get into the carriage – and listen to the sound of the track.  (Ahh, the pun of it!)

The track is in stereo with neutral sounds such as rain water or ambient gong sounds.  Ahh, nice and relaxing.  But listen closer and you will notice a seemingly constant tone in the background; this is the really important bit.  The tone is the carrier of the resonant brainwave frequency that we are seeking to create.  When the frequency changes – the rails change direction – and the brain follows.  (Can you see what I did there?)

How do the tones carry the brainwave frequency?

The tones going into each ear are at a slightly different frequency.  When you have 2 waves at slightly differing frequencies sometimes they are in phase and add to each other; at other times they are out of phase and cancel each other out … the result is a beat at a frequency equal to the difference of the 2 input frequencies.  I found the following diagram on the web that shows it well (thank you Mr Epstein’s Grade 11 Physics Class):

The really cool thing is that when each ear is getting a different frequency it is the brain that is doing the reconciliation … the brain is creating the resultant beat that it is then falling into sync with.  This phenomenon is often called ‘brainwave entrainment’ and the interaction of the tones are called ‘binaural beats’.


Not everyone is convinced that binaural beats lead to meditation benefits … for a well written overview and counterpoint I recommend this article.

The subject is also written about by open source binaural beat audio generator Gnaural:

‘Many consider the idea of binaural beats influencing brainwave activity “controversial”, but only the claims of what the influence means are controversial. That rhythmic stimuli can induce FFR (frequency following response) is well established across many species, comprising a subject known as “driving”, with binaural beats falling under the category “auditory driving”, but not having a monopoly on it. Even the isochronal beating of a drum can induce FFR. But binaural beats appear to have advantages over other auditory approaches by being more efficient, both as a true low-frequency sinusoidal stimulus and by engaging more neural circuits than conventional hearing. BBs are also less invasive than some of the non-auditory approaches such as photic or electromagnetic, which are effective but induce seizures in a percentage of the population. In my experience, binaural beats have been as harmless as anything else I listen to through headphones.

‘I also embrace the fact that binaural beats require a conscious effort to get their effect, since i am not interested in replacing meditation but in facilitating it, particularly when anxiety or stress have made it hard to start meditating in the conventional way.

‘As for “snake-oil” claims by profiteers as to what binaural beats can do (ranging from targetting specific drug states to curing disease), my experience is that low frequency brainwave entrainment works as a blanket effect to create a focused mental state similar to hypnosis, in which heightended suggestibility causes expecations to strongly influence experience. But rather than take a dim view of this, I see it for its positives: as a means of implementing suggestion and of facilitating the exploration of mental states. And in regard to the idea that suggestibility is mere gulibility, it should be noted that even the AMA now acknowledges that placebo, despite having no scientifically understood mechanism, gives a statistically reliable effect that can positively imact a percentage of people for whom their either is no conventional treatment available or it has failed.’

Where can I get hold of this binaural beat technology?

I first heard about this technology under the brand name Holosync.  The founder of the company promoting the product is Bill Harris and his CDs do a great job of explaining the technology, the catharsis, and generally motivating you to stick with it.  I think that the Holosync products are great value when you consider the benefits that they provide, however, the first level still costs a chunky $179 and, if you like it, there are 11 more levels to purchase after that.

If you are a bit technical and like the idea of experimenting with yourself then check out the open source projects Gnaural and SBaGen.  I haven’t used either of these myself yet.

The product that I have been using for a few years now is called The Meditation Solution.  So far as I can tell Meditation is at least as good as Holosync and costs a fraction of the price: $29 per level (as a download) or just $280 for the whole course of 12 levels.

I have no commercial links with the promoters of The Meditation Solution.  I think it is such a good product, and so complementary to the deep therapeutic work that I do that I recommend it as a practice to all of my clients.

Listen to free trial meditation track here

For an investment of less than ¬£20 and an hour or so a day of lying back and relaxing why wouldn’t you give it a go?  Just like you – I believe that it is good … and that’s the truth.

Should you stop trying to love yourself?

This article by Matt Walsh has an interesting perspective on love (if you can get through the Christian bits). I think the idea of love needing to flow outwards towards an Other may be bang on. In my work with clients I notice that when people hate themselves, are ashamed of themselves, or ignore the consequences of their actions it is as if they ARE doing those things to an Other: their past or future selves.
When we beat ourselves up there is one doing the beating, and one being beaten. It is up to the beater to stop, see what they are doing to the victim, and feel appropriately guilty for it. It is up to the victim to find their core-rage, stand up to the beater, and make them realise the consequences of their actions.
Coming face to face with our past or future selves is something that happens naturally when we stop avoiding and allow ourselves to feel. This isn’t the same as “trying to feel good”. To me that sounds like avoidance. On the contrary, it is about being willing to feel the intensity of everything.
And when you do face yourself (a younger self seen from a third person perspective in a traumatic memory, say) what happens? Magic happens. Once eye-to-eye (I to I) contact is achieved in your imagination the sense of separation dissolves. Any emotion the younger you was feeling, you now feel. You stop seeing him / her and instead become him / her. The situation that was too much for you back then, you get to handle with the benefit of what you know right now (and, perhaps, the support and guidance of your therapist). This can all be rather intense.
And then you come back into the present.
And then you notice that you have a sense of being more at home in your body, more grounded, more comfort (fortis = strong) able to attend to the people around you in the here and now. You are more whole and, therefore, love flows more easily through you.

Moving though deeply held pain as it arises

the-act-of-1419218_960_720Psychotherapy can be really effective at helping people feel better when painful emotions are at the surface.  But how can it help when the pain is tightly held somewhere deep inside?

Sometimes we are so expert at coping with the pain of our early years that we block it off almost completely.  As a short term coping strategy this can work reasonably well but unresolved it can leave a person feeling numb, detached, but strangely attracted to situations in which there is a risk of that pain being triggered.  When external circumstances do topple us into the pain it can be sudden and scary.  In desperation it is tempting to scramble for distraction (drink, drugs, TV, games, intellectualisation, relationship drama, etc) in the hope that the pain will go away again.  It generally does.  But nothing really changes.  And the same patterns repeat themselves until the pain comes back again.

We can only resolve those things that we allow ourselves to become aware of. ¬†This can sometimes be somewhat intense, a “dark night of the soul”. ¬†If, rather than distracting or avoiding these emotions, one expresses them (moves them out) then this can lead to a much deeper¬†sense of relaxation and embodiedness.

I received the following mail from one of my clients (reproduced here with permission). ¬†I’m so proud of the way they are¬†courageously accepting and moving though the emotions as they arise.

I had another painful night last night – although I did fall asleep earlier, and slept longer, although I woke early.
I’m doing my best to screen out the noisy thoughts – catastrophic and less catastrophic – that crowd in on me. I’m also trying not to pursue thoughts that appear to be life-lines from the pain I am experiencing. Instead, I am attempting to focus on the feelings themselves, in their rawest, most inchoate and uncomfortable form. I’m trying to keep in mind what you said about preparing for the worst – which I understand to mean the worst my emotions can open on to. I also tried last night to release my groans and other expressions of pain in a way that released them up and out, rather than in a foetal position.
Today I feel a bit less raw. My body doesn’t feel quite so flooded with adrenaline (fight or flight), so I’m not feeling inner trembling and complete loss of appetite quite so acutely. ***¬†I am trying to connect as much as I can with my feelings as they arise – not ignoring them, but trying to invite them in and sit with them as much as I can. The desire to clutch at anything that might offer relief from the discomfort is still there. I don’t mean alcohol, or anything like that. Rather, I tend to seek out anyone I can talk to and then talk, and talk, and talk. It can help, in the short term. But this time, I am attempting not to do that so much. Preparing for the worst means going towards to pain, not looking for ways to avoid or defer it.
For now, I am not talking to ***¬†about practicalities in our relationship. That will come in time, if it needs to. The act of opening the hand to allow the butterfly to take wing doesn’t require words. It’s a simple act, isn’t it? I would like to be that open hand, to know exactly what it feels like to take that step, and not to be afraid of the consequences. I realise that I am effectively ‘talking’ now. Yes, but I am also trying, in some way, to write out my feelings.
I have come to ***¬†to try and get some work done. I don’t really care how successful I am, so long as I remain open to the ebb and flow of the emotional tide I am rising on. I hope I can do that, and I hope – at least for now – that it will be enough.

Un-fuck yourself

girl-956683_1920Bad things happen to good people.

To make it worse, when these bad things are happening, the good person can become convinced that it is actually their fault and that they deserved it because they are a bad person.

That’s fucked up.

And it fucks us up. Some people get more fucked up than others, but most of us are at least a little bit fucked up.  That’s normal.

So most of us grow up believing that, deep down inside, we are at least a little bit bad and probably don’t deserve to be happy, healthy, and wealthy.

Who wants to think of themselves like that? Who would want to hang out with us if they realised that we are bad? To avoid self-hatred and loneliness, we do our best to be good.

But that can be really hard work.

And, every now and again, when we are under pressure, we do something bad.  And it hurts someone else. And we either feel guilty for what we have done (painful).  Or we find a way of blaming the other person for the situation (less painful … for us).

And so the fucked up cycle continues.

Until you decide to change it.

Find a good psychotherapist.

Un-fuck yourself.

The Recovery Model

The Recovery Model

A few years ago the manager of a mental health charity that I was volunteering at asked me to help them communicate the concept of ‘The Recovery Model’ to their staff in an accessible and easily digestible form. ¬†I’d never heard of the recovery model but they handed me a couple of articles: one by Jacobson and Greenley, and a print out of the recovery model’s wikipedia page¬†(which is now re-directed to what wikipedia calls the ‘Recovery approach’).

Draw a f***ing diagram!

My old physics tutor Howard Stockley taught me that whenever approaching a new problem one should always set about drawing (a f***ing) diagram. ¬†As I read the sources I’d been given I set about trying to piece together what they were both communicating. ¬†This presentation is the result of that process. ¬†Almost all of the content comes from those two sources. ¬†All I did was add my own spin and draw a diagram to knit the information together.

You are welcome to use this presentation or parts of it in your own work.  All I ask is that you please credit me and give a link to my website.

Hearing voices

It is common for people to talk to themselves or hear seemingly external voices to a certain extent.  Thankfully most of us do not have to go through what Eleanor Longden did.

I wonder if she still hears voices?¬† At the end of the talk she says “What lies within us can never be truly colonized …”¬† I’m not exactly sure what she means by this but I see the objective of personal development as colonizing our own bodies as fully as possible.

In order to assist people in more fully inhabiting their own bodies it is necessary to displace any other entities that may have taken up residence there.  To do this I have developed a way of facilitating re-connection (facing towards the source of the voice), de-fusing (taking back what is yours and giving back what is theirs), and separation.  I find that there is rarely (never?) any need for cutting.

Eleanor talks about her voices being companionable.  One of the consequences of separating from entities is that people often have to experience their own feelings of emptiness or loneliness.  This would be the next thing to work through in therapy.

When this process is successful I would expect clients to find that the voice has completely gone, that they feel more fulfilled, and they are more able to bring their full attention to the world around them.

Testimonial from Rebecca

Rebecca the cat

When I first met Richard I had just lost my significant other and I was in a sorry state.¬† I wasn’t eating properly and I would bite at my skin so it was covered in sores.¬† I was so frightened that I would spend hours hiding behind the sideboard.

Six months later and the transformation is remarkable.¬† I’ve put on weight, my skin is clear, I am confident enough to defend my boundaries when I need to, and I’m able to fully relax and enjoy being fussed over.

Words are not enough to express the gratitude I feel.  How about a half eaten bird?

Rebecca the cat

Working respectfully and appropriately with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and questioning (LGBTQ) clients

I attended a course on working with LGBTQ clients yesterday. One of the highlights was this thought (and tear) provoking video.

“Teen bulling and teen suicide based on someone’s sexual preference is ridiculous – and this film turns the tables on modern society. What IF the shoe was on the other foot?. ” –K.Rocco Shields (Creator/Director)

I was surprised that from some statistics quoted on the course it seems that the rates of bullying for LGBT identified children are only slightly higher than the average. Perhaps it is bullying in general rather than discrimination that is the real problem?

I¬†am also interested¬†that the creator of this film uses the term ‘sexual preference’. On the course we were introduced to the¬†Ally’s Guide to Terminology¬†and according to this ‘sexual preference’¬†is a term to be avoided. As is ‘homosexual’ and ‘same sex attraction’.¬†Some good guidance in here but I don’t think I’ll be following it religiously.

Psychotherapy for 2nd generation holocaust survivors

Photograph of Auschwitz

Consider the last time you threw a rock into a calm lake … the ripples from that impact can end up travelling a long way and taking quite a while to settle back down. If they reflect from other objects in the lake then the resulting addition and cancellation of the waves can create patterns that would be difficult to predict.

And so it is with trauma. Complex symptoms can often have simple root causes when you look deep enough. The thing that many people are surprised to find out is that the root cause may not even be in their lifetime. Much of the work I do with people involves healing traumas from their parents’ lives, their parents’ parents lives, or even beyond.

How could something that happened so long ago, and to someone else, possibly be affecting you? The last century of European history certainly contains many situations of almost unimaginable suffering. That anyone could live through those situations without any physical or psychological scars would be surprising.

Consider someone who lived through the holocaust of world war two. If they didn’t see horror directly then chances are they were painfully aware of it. If they survived then they probably knew many other people who didn’t. Their survival may have come as a result of other people’s sacrifices. But they coped. And got through it.

When we experience traumatic situations we often don’t have the luxury of being able to process them at the time. If action is required then better we take it in order to survive. The problem comes if we never take the time to really reflect upon the past and allow the emotions to move through us. The unresolved emotional content stays with us in our body but becomes partitioned off. A psychological no-go zone.

All parent’s unconsciously invest their hopes and dreams in their children. For survivors of a significant traumatic time such as the holocaust then what better evidence of their survival than to bring in a new generation? The children pick up their parents’ attitudes – which will now be coloured by their experiences of scarcity, helplessness, or physical danger. Children realise that there are certain things that trigger their parents to become upset. They may feel responsible for this upset and may even be blamed for it and told off for being ‘bad’. While their physical needs may be being met it may be like they are walking on emotional eggshells.

And eventually they have children of their own. These are usually the clients I see. Clients with anxieties, relationship problems, or psychological blocks that are difficult to pin down as they often can’t point to anything significantly traumatic in their lives. And they are often quick to emphasise that their parents tried their best and did a good job of bringing them up. Despite that they often describe their parental relationship as either ‘very close’ or ‘distant’ … both of which bring their own relationship challenges.

By working back through the generations I can help reconnect both the maternal and paternal family lines. In the client’s imagination I start to open up a channel of honest communication with their mother. As the truth begins to flow then it is likely to bring up unresolved emotional content from the mother’s childhood. I work to reconnect the mother to her mother (alive or dead … it makes no difference as I am working through my client’s imagination). As the truth flows back another generation it starts to nudge on the mum’s mum’s psychological no-go zones. This is where the real healing needs to happen. Mum’s mum gradually remembers the times that she decided to forget. She reconnects with her younger self. She allows the sensations to move through her body and complete.

When the major trauma is healed then mum’s mum is feeling more herself. She is totally available for her daughter. She can take anything her daughter has to throw at her. And then hugs her (usually). Her daughter (my client’s mum) feels safe and grows up. She is less reactive and more available for her partner (my client’s father). Once the father’s side is also clear then any relationship issues can be sorted out and it becomes clear between them. In their imagination my client may see their mum and dad hugging. And then be invited into that loving space between them. In this healing space my client gets what they need. Finally their problems simply melt away.

I am very grateful to a client for providing the following links:
New Israeli study finds signs of trauma in grandchildren of Holocaust survivors
The impact of the holocaust on survivors and their children

Conquering your fear of heights

Acrophobia is an extreme or unnatural fear of heights.  This is not to be confused with vertigo which is actually a sub-type of dizziness and describes a whirling movement.

Is it natural to have a fear of heights?

Most of us are energised when we are in a high place with little protection. ¬†Perhaps this is, in some way, a natural fear? ¬†Perhaps it is in our genes? ¬†Scientists have done experiments with children in which they are invited to crawl across a sheet of glass called a ‘visual cliff’ with a drop below. ¬†As one might expect the babies show a degree of caution when venturing across. ¬†That said, it appears that one can become quite at home on a rock face, or other high place.

Do I have a phobia of heights?

A natural fear of heights could be considered a phobia when it begins to interfere with normal activities such as going to work in a high rise office, or climbing a ladder.  (Of course, some people have more challenging work conditions than others.)

I believe phobias are created by a significant emotional event in which you are frightened out of your skin.  The frightened you gets locked in time and the dominant you becomes frightened of the fear itself.  The sudden nature of the fear can make a phobia quite tricky to budge with will power alone.  Luckily they can usually be treated quite successfully using a variety of techniques by a therapist such as myself.

How can I improve my head for heights?

If you reckon you’ve got a reasonable head for heights then I challenge you to watch the following video and notice if any emotions arise for you.

If you do feel any sensations then rather than looking away or contracting around them I would suggest that you:

  • Continue to watch
  • Relax your body
  • Breathe deeply
  • Breathe into the part of your body that is tense (probably your stomach)
  • Make noises on your out-breath (sighs, groans, etc)

This exercise will trigger and move any trapped energy and allow you to become even more centred.  Good luck!

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How to succeed as a therapist


On Wednesday 22 March I was interviewed by Nick Bolton of the Animas Institute on the practical side of starting and running a therapy business. ¬†Listening in were 100 coaches and therapists in training. ¬†I don’t claim to be any kind of marketing guru but this is my perspective:

Video (presentation + audio)

On the couch PDF transcript

Richard is a psychotherapist in East London.  If you have found this post interesting or useful please help others find it by pressing the G+1 button below

Positive thinking

I don’t know who wrote this but I like it:

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day.¬† “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive.¬† In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative.¬† However, there is no language where in a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

It sounds like “yeah” and “right” were more complex than I thought …

Alan Watts on how nothing contains everything

I was talking with a friend yesterday about my theory on how we cope with trauma by separating from our bodies and putting space between the observing us and the embodied us experiencing the trauma over there. ¬†And how, if this is not shaken out at the time, this frightening experience, this frightening thing over there, gets forgotten, get’s negated. ¬†It gets contained within a no-thing … a black hole within ourselves. ¬†A black hole that we are afraid of. ¬†A black hole that we distract ourselves from or fill up with anxieties and addictions. ¬†A black hole that contains a part of us … stuck in time.

My friend asked me if I had ever heard of Alan Watts and suggested I check him out on YouTube. ¬†I have just done so and I’m very impressed with what I found:

Ken Wilber on Spiral Dynamics

For more extracts and to order a copy click here >>

KW: In Integral Psychology I present charts that summarize over 100 developmental psychologists, East and West, ancient and modern and postmodern. Spiral Dynamics is only one of the 100, but I have recently been using it quite a bit because it is simple and fairly easy to learn, even for beginners. Based on extensive research begun by Clare Graves, Spiral Dynamics (developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan) sees human beings evolving or developing through eight major waves of consciousness. For convenience, I will reprint my brief summary of these from A Theory of Everything.


The first six levels are “subsistence levels” marked by “first-tier thinking.” Then there occurs a revolutionary shift in consciousness: the emergence of “being levels” and “second-tier thinking,” of which there are two major waves. Here is a brief description of all eight waves, the percentage of the world population at each wave, and the percentage of social power held by each.

1. Beige: Archaic-Instinctual. The level of basic survival; food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority. Uses habits and instincts just to survive. Distinct self is barely awakened or sustained. Forms into survival bands to perpetuate life.

Where seen: First human societies, newborn infants, senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer’s victims, mentally ill street people, starving masses, shell shock. Approximately 0.1% of the adult population, 0% power.

2. Purple: Magical-Animistic. Thinking is animistic; magical spirits, good and bad, swarm the earth leaving blessings, curses, and spells which determine events. Forms into ethnic tribes . The spirits exist in ancestors and bond the tribe. Kinship and lineage establish political links. Sounds “holistic” but is actually atomistic: “there is a name for each bend in the river but no name for the river.”

Where seen: Belief in voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, ancient grudges, good luck charms, family rituals, magical ethnic beliefs and superstitions; strong in Third-World settings, gangs, athletic teams, and corporate “tribes.” 10% of the population, 1% of the power.

3. Red: Power Gods. First emergence of a self distinct from the tribe; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic. Magical-mythic spirits, dragons, beasts, and powerful people. Archetypal gods and goddesses, powerful beings, forces to be reckoned with, both good and bad. Feudal lords protect underlings in exchange for obedience and labor. The basis of feudal empires –power and glory. The world is a jungle full of threats and predators. Conquers, out-foxes, and dominates; enjoys self to the fullest without regret or remorse; be here now.

Where seen: The “terrible twos,” rebellious youth, frontier mentalities, feudal kingdoms, epic heroes, James Bond villains, gang leaders, soldiers of fortune, New-Age narcissism, wild rock stars, Atilla the Hun, Lord of the Flies . 20% of the population, 5% of the power.

4. Blue: Mythic Order. Life has meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order. This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of “right” and “wrong.” Violating the code or rules has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful. Basis of ancient nations . Rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything. Law and order; impulsivity controlled through guilt; concrete-literal and fundamentalist belief; obedience to the rule of Order; strongly conventional and conformist. Often “religious” or “mythic” [in the mythic-membership sense; Graves and Beck refer to it as the “saintly/absolutistic” level], but can be secular or atheistic Order or Mission.

Where seen: Puritan America, Confucian China, Dickensian England, Singapore discipline, totalitarianism, codes of chivalry and honor, charitable good deeds, religious fundamentalism (e.g., Christian and Islamic), Boy and Girl Scouts, “moral majority,” patriotism. 40% of the population, 30% of the power.

5. Orange: Scientific Achievement. At this wave, the self “escapes” from the “herd mentality” of blue, and seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms–hypothetico-deductive, experimental, objective, mechanistic, operational–“scientific” in the typical sense. The world is a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and manipulated for one’s own purposes. Highly achievement oriented, especially (in America) toward materialistic gains. The laws of science rule politics, the economy, and human events. The world is a chess-board on which games are played as winners gain pre-eminence and perks over losers. Marketplace alliances; manipulate earth’s resources for one’s strategic gains. Basis of corporate states .

Where seen: The Enlightenment, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged , Wall Street, emerging middle classes around the world, cosmetics industry, trophy hunting, colonialism, the Cold War, fashion industry, materialism, secular humanism, liberal self-interest. 30% of the population, 50% of the power.

6. Green: The Sensitive Self. Communitarian, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing of the earth, Gaia, life. Against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Permeable self, relational self, group intermeshing. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Basis of value communities (i.e., freely chosen affiliations based on shared sentiments). Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus (downside: interminable “processing” and incapacity to reach decisions). Refresh spirituality, bring harmony, enrich human potential. Strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchy, pluralistic values, social construction of reality, diversity, multiculturalism, relativistic value systems; this worldview is often called pluralistic relativism . Subjective, nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity, and caring, for earth and all its inhabitants.

Where seen: Deep ecology, postmodernism, Netherlands idealism, Rogerian counseling, Canadian health care, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, cooperative inquiry, World Council of Churches, Greenpeace, animal rights, ecofeminism, post-colonialism, Foucault/Derrida, politically correct, diversity movements, human rights issues, ecopsychology. 10% of the population, 15% of the power. [Note: this is 10% of the world population. Don Beck estimates that around 20-25% of the American population is green.]

With the completion of the green meme, human consciousness is poised for a quantum jump into “second-tier thinking.” Clare Graves referred to this as a “momentous leap,” where “a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed.” In essence, with second-tier consciousness, one can think both vertically and horizontally, using both hierarchies and heterarchies (both ranking and linking). One can therefore, for the first time, vividly grasp the entire spectrum of interior development , and thus see that each level, each meme, each wave is crucially important for the health of the overall Spiral.

As I would word it, each wave is “transcend and include.” That is, each wave goes beyond (or transcends) its predecessor, and yet it includes or embraces it in its own makeup. For example, a cell transcends but includes molecules, which transcend but include atoms. To say that a molecule goes beyond an atom is not to say that molecules hate atoms, but that they love them: they embrace them in their own makeup; they include them, they don’t marginalize them. Just so, each wave of existence is a fundamental ingredient of all subsequent waves, and thus each is to be cherished and embraced.

Moreover, each wave can itself be activated or reactivated as life circumstances warrant. In emergency situations, we can activate red power drives; in response to chaos, we might need to activate blue order; in looking for a new job, we might need orange achievement drives; in marriage and with friends, close green bonding. All of these memes have something important to contribute.

But what none of the first-tier memes can do, on their own, is fully appreciate the existence of the other memes. Each of the first-tier memes thinks that its worldview is the correct or best perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged; it lashes out, using its own tools, whenever it is threatened. Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo-woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value rankings, big pictures, hierarchies, or anything that appears authoritarian, and thus green reacts strongly to blue, orange, and anything post-green.

All of that begins to change with second-tier thinking. Because second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development–even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion–it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various memes play . Second-tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in the terms of any one level.

Where the green meme begins to grasp the numerous different systems and pluralistic contexts that exist in different cultures (which is why it is indeed the sensitive self, i.e., sensitive to the marginalization of others), second-tier thinking goes one step further. It looks for the rich contexts that link and join these pluralistic systems, and thus it takes these separate systems and begins to embrace, include, and integrate them into holistic spirals and integral meshworks. Second-tier thinking, in other words, is instrumental in moving from relativism to holism, or from pluralism to integralism .

The extensive research of Graves, Beck, and Cowan indicates that there are at least two major waves to this second-tier integral consciousness:

7. Yellow: Integrative. Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies [holarchies], systems, and forms. Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Differences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows. Egalitarianism is complemented with natural degrees of ranking and excellence. Knowledge and competency should supersede power, status, or group sensitivity. The prevailing world order is the result of the existence of different levels of reality (memes) and the inevitable patterns of movement up and down the dynamic spiral. Good governance facilitates the emergence of entities through the levels of increasing complexity (nested hierarchy). 1% of the population, 5% of the power.

8. Turquoise: Holistic. Universal holistic system, holons/waves of integrative energies; unites feeling with knowledge; multiple levels interwoven into one conscious system. Universal order, but in a living, conscious fashion, not based on external rules (blue) or group bonds (green). A “grand unification” [a “theory of everything” or T.O.E.] is possible, in theory and in actuality. Sometimes involves the emergence of a new spirituality as a meshwork of all existence. Turquoise thinking uses the entire Spiral; sees multiple levels of interaction; detects harmonics, the mystical forces, and the pervasive flow-states that permeate any organization. 0.1% of the population, 1% of the power.

With less than 2 percent of the population at second-tier thinking (and only 0.1 percent at turquoise), second-tier consciousness is relatively rare because it is now the “leading-edge” of collective human evolution. As examples, Beck and Cowan mention items that include Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, chaos and complexity theories, universal systems thinking, integral-holistic theories, Gandhi’s and Mandela’s pluralistic integration, with increases in frequency definitely on the way, and even higher memes still in the offing….

Managing assholes, step one

I saw this quote by William Gibson:

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes”

If you are then step 2 is to consider the question:

‘Why are you there?’ … what benefit are you getting from being in this situation?

Step 3:

‘What if you left?’ … imagine the consequence of leaving this situation with these assholes and notice any fears.

Step 4:

Find the courage to face into these fears and move towards and through them

Step 5:

Look again at the people surrounding you.

Ju-Jitsu with your inner child

I have recently started taking a few Brazilian Ju-Jitsu classes. ¬†It’s all very new and, to be honest, a bit intimidating. ¬†So far I’ve been one of the most unfit and least¬†knowledgeable students in the class. ¬†The techniques are a knot of arms and legs and I’m having trouble seeing how it all fits together. ¬†To cap it all in my first few classes I’ve even looked the odd one out: I was one of the only ones not in a ‘Gi’.

Why is this experience so stressful for me? ¬†Is it the environment? ¬†No, so far the people at the club have been friendly and helpful. ¬†It is me. ¬†Or rather the experiences that I bring with me. ¬†At some level I’m afraid of conflict. ¬†I’m afraid of standing up for myself. ¬†I’m afraid of my own power. ¬†The answer is not to run away from the fear and the power but to engage with it. ¬†To find a safe way to channel it and to realise that, when I do, the world does not come to an end.

In my work I relate the engaging with this inner power with the level of engagement we have with our parents …. especially our father. ¬†Ideally, when we were young, we were able to safely express our anger and independence and have it contained by our parents. ¬†They were not overwhelmed by us. ¬†They were not¬†controlled¬†by us. ¬†They could handle us. ¬†We felt safe.

When these ideal conditions are not met then we become afraid of the¬†consequences¬†of our anger. ¬†Perhaps they use physical violence to stop us upsetting them or blame us for the upset they were feeling to make us feel guilty for hurting them. ¬†To avoid these¬†consequences¬†we bottle up our anger and withdraw from our parents to a safe distance. ¬†Our¬†relationship¬†becomes, at best, polite; at worst, non-existant. ¬†But as we withdraw from our parents we also withdraw from the part of us who is devoted to them. ¬†We split ourselves off from this ‘inner child’ and s/he’s pissed off with us for leaving them. ¬†Just as we are pissed off with our parents for not being able to handle our anger.

Coming back into contact with your inner child means facing their anger.  Handling it.  Containing it.  Imagine an angry kid telling you to back off and leave him/her alone.  What do you do?  If you want contact you stay with them.  If they lash out at you when you approach then you get in close and hold them.  How long for?  As long as it takes for them to begin to trust that you are not going to just leave them again.  Until they begin submit to your love and allow themselves to let go of the burden of responsibility that they have been carrying.

This is what Brazilian Ju-Jitsu is like. ¬†It is about getting in close and using technique to gain submission. ¬†So I’m going to stick at it and do my best to keep ‘beginner mind’. ¬†My new white Gi arrived today. ¬†I’m going to go to the classes I can and study at home too.

While studying clips on YouTube I found the following video. ¬†It brought tears to my eyes and so I’d like to share it with you now.

Much love,



Completing abortion – acknowledging, mourning, letting go

Having an abortion is choosing to kill the child within.  For many women an abortion is, understandably, a procedure that they would prefer not to think too deeply about.  The consequence of this is that they let go of the physical body of the foetus but retain the spiritual connection with their unborn child.  This unprocessed loss causes an emotional tug that affects their relationship with others Рparticularly any children than come later.

My therapeutic approach coaches women (and men) to acknowledge their unborn child, reconnect with it emotionally and, finally, to separate fully from it.  This process can bring unexpectedly large amounts of guilt and grief to the surface for resolution.  When complete it leaves the parent feeling relaxed, grounded, and full of love.