A substantial snowfall last weekend was a very tangible reminder that Winter is well and truly here. Personally, I like Winter. At least the part leading up to Christmas. But I know many find it a challenging time, for different reasons.
It feels like there are so many demands on our time, energy and finances these days. What's more, the choices we have about how to use these valuable resources can feel overwhelming!
If you are reading this blog, chances are the title has intrigued you. Perhaps you have heard words such as neurodiversity, neurodivergence or neurotypical being used but have no idea what they mean. Maybe you know someone who has recently been diagnosed with, say, AD(H)D, or Autism, and want to understand more about these differences. Or perhaps you yourself are neurodivergent. My hope is that this blog will be informative for a wide audience with an interest in this topic.
It's important to state from the outset that I am approaching this topic from a person-centred, neurodiversity-affirmative perspective. Therefore, I avoid using terms such as disorder or disease, which are indicative of ableism and the medical model. As someone with dyslexia and probable dyscalculia, I hope to bring insight from my own experience, as well as valuable learning from my work with neurodivergent adults and children during the course of my teaching and counselling careers.
I think it's also important to clarify the meaning of some terms which I will be using in this blog:
Neurodiversity - the expected range of variations across all human neurocognitive functioning.
Neurodivergence/neurodivergent - a person whose neurocognitive functioning differs in one or more ways from what is considered within the typical/expected range of human neurocognition.
Neurotypical – a person whose neurocognitive function most closely resembles what is considered to be in the typical/expected range.
*Taken from Free2bMe's Neurodiversity 101 training resources
What brings so many neurodivergent people to therapy?
As well as genetics, it has been shown that environmental factors- such as the quality of attachment with the primary caregiver in early infancy- can greatly affect the development of our brains. While this is a likely component in neurodivergence, I also believe that much of what is seen as disability or deficiency in neurodivergent people is in fact their difficulty in navigating a complex, fast-paced, one-size-fits-all culture that has neither acknowledged nor accommodated difference very well.
While I understand that the notion of diagnoses can jar with person-centred thinking, we do live in a world that functions by categorising people in this way, and sadly often the only way to be seen, understood and supported is by being assessed and diagnosed. However, by the time they reach an age where their differences may have become noticeable enough to be assessed, many neurodivergent people have already mastered the art of masking and adapting, to exquisite perfection.
The fact is, the effects of being unseen, unsupported, misunderstood, conditioned to behave in "acceptable" ways, and expected to meet the same expectations as neurotypical people can be CATASTROPHIC for the neurodivergent person. They might seek counselling because they feel they have lost touch with their core self in a way that leaves them asking "who am I?" Their self-esteem can be extremely low, and there may be a deep-seated sense of shame.
I would argue that until fairly recently, there has been no framework in society for understanding and accepting neurodifference (except in the more pronounced cases), so the neurodivergent child felt they must try to hide their differences to fit in. Parents and teachers may have compared them- explicitly or implicitly- to their neurotypical siblings or classmates. Indeed, the school system still measures all children with the same yard-stick, branding those who perform less well in exams and tests as "lower ability", "less able" or "the bottom set" (I too am guilty of getting sucked in to using this language while working as a teacher). The neurodivergent child will probably have internalised these messages that they are somehow less than others, despite their many strengths. They might even believe that they are incapable, leading to a sense of learned helplessness. Sadly, the many strengths they possess are overlooked.
As awareness about neurodiversity spreads, many adults are now seeking assessments for conditions such as AD(H)D and Autism. Many are also considering therapy because they want to make sense of their differences, how these have impacted their lives growing up, and how their experiences might have shaped core beliefs about themselves and others.
How can person-centred therapy help?
The person-centred therapist is interested in how the client experiences the world as a unique individual. Even if there has been a formal diagnosis of neurodivergence, the therapist will not make any assumptions about the client. Instead, they will listen intently and try to understand what is has been like to be that client living with neurodivergence. They will also open up space to acknowledge and celebrate the many strengths that neurodivergent people possess. This is hugely validating when a client may have had people down-playing, undermining or dismissing their differences all through life.
The therapeutic relationship is at the heart of person-centred counselling; it is this that brings healing, rather than techniques or behaviours. This is hugely important for a neurodivergent person who may have great difficulty trusting others, and may struggle with relationships. Obviously trust does not come overnight, and it can take time to form this alliance, but once a sense of safety is established, the client can begin to remove the mask and allow their true self to be seen by another who will accept them just as they are.
It is crucial that the therapist has an understanding of neurodivergence, so that they can understand how the sessions may need to be adapted to meet the client's needs. For instance, the environment may need to be adapted, extra reminders given for sessions, information and resources be given in different forms. This opportunity for the client to voice their individual needs and have them responded to is all part of the work and can help build confidence and autonomy.
Another way in which therapy can help is by giving the client space to explore what a diagnosis might mean for them. Not everyone wants the expense, or the potentially long wait for formal assessment- in this case a self-diagnosis may suffice. For others, the possibility of receiving financial, learning or workplace support can bring relief and hope. Counselling gives an opportunity to explore thoughts and feelings about these different options.
Neurodivergents have so much to offer the world as sensitive, creative, determined, insightful people, often with a great capacity to delve deeply into a particular area of interest. Imagine a world where neurodifference was valued and championed!
If this blog has resonated with you, perhaps because you are neurodivergent, or think you might be, please do get in touch via the contact page of my website for more information or to discuss booking a session.
How often do you go for a walk simply for walking's sake? As with many things in life, walking can become about the end goal, rather than the process itself. We walk to get from one place to another, to exercise the dog or we count our steps to stay fit. Of course, these things are all beneficial and perhaps even necessary, but what if the real value actually lies in the act of walking itself?
Personally, I have come to realise that the more I incorporate walking into my everyday life, the more it becomes a way of life. This practice can enhance all aspects of wellbeing. If you're intrigued about how, then read on!
I have always enjoyed walking, but during the pandemic I became more intentional about it, paying greater attention to its impact on my mental health. During lock-down, when we were restricted to our local area, I discovered another world right on my doorstep: networks of intriguing paths leading down alleyways and even beautiful green spaces, previously invisible to me! I developed a habit of taking a short walk every morning, and this offered a grounding anchor when the world felt unpredictable and unstable. This routine brought familiarity and reassurance in a tumultuous time. So helpful did I find this, that I have kept the routine going; why stop doing something so good?!
One of the silver linings of the pandemic for many of us (though certainly not all) was the freeing up of more time. When we were permitted to travel further afield in between the lock-downs, I spent hours exploring the nearby Peak District on foot, with its rugged hills and stunning views. Already a keen nature enthusiast, I fell in love with the natural world all over again. Perhaps my gratitude for beauty was sharpened having been relatively confined for some time?
Another important feature of the pandemic was that walking became the new way to spend time with people- at least for me- and one friendship in particular deepened through doing regular walks together. This is something else that continues to this day.
It was about this time that my sister Naomi and her partner embarked on an ambitious adventure trekking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), from the Mexico-US border, through the wilderness, all the way to the Canada-US border; a journey over 2000 miles and taking around five months to complete. For her, walking truly did become a way of life! When I asked her recently about her experience of walking the trail, this was her response:
The most powerful walking experiences I’ve had have been where I’ve slept right under the stars in a bivvy bag. The sky becomes your shelter. For days on end you have that direct contact with the outdoors and there’s something uniquely special in that. When I am walking in nature, I am usually in one of three states of mind, all of them good. The first is thinking. It’s a sacred space to process events, emotions, hopes and fears. It’s a quiet, safe place where the rhythm of your footsteps help to slow racing thoughts and often inspire new and helpful ways of thinking about things. The second is creative inspiration. I like writing, and the rich and endless soundscapes, shapes, colours and textures will often cause poems or phrases to float into my mind and I will stop to jot them down before I forget, or I will let them come and drift away, enjoying them as they pass. Thirdly, flow. A meditative headspace where I feel the trees and the rocks, the birds and the sky as an extension of myself. I am not thinking about anything in particular in this headspace but I feel a deep sense of relaxation and awareness of my surroundings. I can sit and stare at a log for many minutes and just absorb its beauty in a state of total rest.
If you're interested to hear more about Naomi's experience walking the PCT and other trails and pilgrimages, you can find links to her blogs and vlogs at the bottom of the page.
There is so much to say about the benefits of walking, it's hard to capture them all with words. The list below is an attempt to highlight a few:
I hope this blog has inspired you to introduce walking into your life! I would love to hear about your experiences. Please do leave a comment if you'd like to share them.
Link to Naomi's blog and vlog:
Journaling is a powerful and cathartic way to express and process personal thoughts and feelings; a therapeutic art journal typically takes a visual- rather than written- form (although writing is often incorporated).
I like to think of journaling as a kind of self-therapy. Often, what emerges on the page comes from a very intuitive part of the self and can be surprising and enlightening: a mirror to the soul. Journaling is a channel through which inner wisdom can flow. Although journal prompts can be a great way to get started with the process, the habitual journal writer will learn to trust their own instincts. There is no right or wrong way to journal! This absence of rules or an agenda is both liberating and empowering. Can you tell I'm a fan?!
The art journal has played a spectacular role in my own journey of healing and growth. I write in a journal every morning, yet during especially difficult times of intense emotions, or when processing something really significant, I have found myself turning to art instead. Sometimes an image can get straight to the heart of the matter, where words are but a faint shadow.
Having reflected on why images are so helpful on the journey of self-understanding, I believe it is because they offer us something with form and substance to connect our experiences with, so that we can make sense of them. What's more, the universality of metaphors, or symbols, gives us a common language to communicate our thoughts and feelings with others.
I speak from personal experience when I say that the very act of being creative when journaling feels deeply fulfilling. Some felt sense or idea that had been gestating within us is birthed. When it is externalised, we can see it for what it is. This can bring about a real feeling of relief and even joy.
Whilst I think anyone could benefit from art journaling, those who tend to think visually may find it comes quite naturally to them, whereas others prefer the medium of writing, music, drama or the spoken word. All of these are creative ways to explore our inner world. I encourage the clients I work with to find the language that feels right for them.
If you'd like to give art journaling a go, I have put together a list of tips which may help you get started:
Photo credit (below): Paul Bishop
If you're thinking about starting therapy, you've recently started, or you're just wondering what it's all about, this is the blog for you!
There can be a lot of mystery surrounding therapy, and many misconceptions which often arise from an unhelpful portrayal of therapy on T.V. and in the media generally. I aim to give you a taste of what to expect, at least from the kind of therapy I offer, which is Person-Centred.
I think it will be helpful to begin by debunking some therapy myths:
What to expect
If you decide to have therapy with me, here are some helpful pointers about what you might expect.
At the introductory session: this is a chance for us to get to know each other and notice how the dynamic feels. Can we imagine working well together for a course of sessions, perhaps even long-term?
I will ask you some questions about your background, lifestyle, key relationships and what has brought you to counselling. I'll help you to consider any goals you might have. I will also share the contract and ask if you wish to add or tweak anything, as this is a two-way agreement- not a list of rules I impose on you!
During regular sessions: if we both feel O.K. to continue working together, I will offer further sessions. These are led by you, and you can decide what you would like to explore. I will listen to you, and help you identify the emotions you are feeling. Often clients find that by hearing words, phrases and even body language reflected back to them, they gain deeper clarity and insight.
Sometimes it can take a while to "warm-up" to therapy. It may even feel a bit awkward at first. This is completely normal as it can take time to build trust and feel comfortable with someone new, especially as you are sharing very personal things. You will soon find your flow. However, if you change your mind about working with me, or the time doesn't feel right, it's perfectly fine to say so. You are always very welcome to get in touch again in the future.
Some people think that when they start therapy, things will quickly start to feel better. While this can be true, it's actually very normal to feel some uncomfortable emotions. Opening up wounds can be painful and you may find that life unravels a bit as you deconstruct core-beliefs and begin to change the way you think and act in day-to-day life. This is all part of healing and growth.
Top tips to get the most from therapy:
All the best for this exciting journey to becoming a more self-aware, authentic you. This is probably one of the most precious gifts you will ever give yourself!
What do you think of when you hear the word trauma? A distressing event such as a car crash, an assault or the sudden death of a loved one? Or do you think of symptoms like flashbacks, dissociation and panic attacks?
At times, emotions can hit us with the full force of a tsunami, and frankly, we wonder if we will survive. Think about the inconsolable sorrow felt when a loved one dies, the intense fury when someone betrays you, or the crippling stress of a complex and seemingly impossible task.
Many people will start counselling with the notion that it's going to involve delving into, and churning up, the past. I would say, that's completely up to you! In contrast with some other psychotherapy models, person-centred counselling tends to focus on the here and now. There is no pressure at all to talk about childhood and the past unless you want to.
That said, reflecting on how our past experiences have shaped who we are today can be really helpful when trying to understand ourselves more fully and address patterns of behaviour. Therefore, you may find that exploring the past brings a deeper level of insight and maybe even healing.
Before presenting some ideas about the impact of early experiences, it is really important to say that this is not about blame. You might feel you had a great childhood and that you have a good relationship with your caregivers. So maybe focusing on any negative aspects feels disloyal? Perhaps you worry your counsellor would judge your parents? The truth is that no parent can fully shield their child against all their own insecurities, fears, trauma and pain. Children will also be exposed to the values, beliefs and ideals of their caregivers. Counselling brings an AWARENESS of all this, allowing the client firstly to own it, and then decide what to do with it. For instance, are there some old beliefs that need discarding, or re-framing?
There is a great deal of theory around how early childhood experiences impact people later on in life. I am going to talk about just a few key ideas here.
1) Conditions of worth: these are the ideals that children must live up to in order to receive love, acceptance and approval from significant others. Explicit or implicit messages about these values are internalised by the child and they become part of their own belief system. An example of a common condition of worth in our society is that one must be academically successful.
2) Attachment theory: this posits that the way a primary caregiver interacts with their baby in the early stages of infancy determines the baby's attachment style for life. Attachments can be secure or insecure depending on how emotionally available a caregiver is when their child is distressed or in danger. This theory, developed by Bowlby (1969), is based on extensive research and has many implications for how an individual navigates different kinds of relationships throughout their life.
3) Inner child: this term refers to the childlike part of our unconscious mind which reflects the child we once were, containing aspects such as suppressed emotions, unmet needs, joy and creativity. This part of ourselves often comes to the fore when we are around certain people, or if faced with some difficulty. The wounded child is often at the root of the adult's issues.
As a person-centred counsellor, I often draw on these key ideas (even though some are borrowed from different therapy traditions) to help a client in the here and now. For instance, if a client says something like "People will think I'm weak if I show my emotions", I might ask, "Where have you heard that?" or "I wonder where that idea comes from". If they share that they are having trouble in a relationship, for instance they feel distant and aloof, I might ask if they have felt like that in other kinds of relationships.
Clients often find that once they begin their counselling journey, memories start to surface. If you find that your memories of childhood are minimal or hazy, don't try to force them. They will come if and when they are needed, if you come to the process with openness, patience and trust in yourself.
Anxiety is a feeling which most of us experience from time to time, but for some it feels like an almost constant state and might vary in intensity from unease to full-blown panic and terror. People will experience anxiety in different ways- mentally, emotionally and physically. If you experience anxiety, you might notice your thoughts are catastrophic, obsessive or confused. Emotionally, you may feel frightened and upset. You may have physical symptoms such as a racing heart, stomach ache, nausea or headaches. You might feel restless, hyper-alert or exhausted and this can impact on day to day tasks, sleep and eating habits.
It can be extremely difficult living with anxiety, as it can often feel as if something dreadful is about to happen at any moment. It can make you feel powerless, overwhelmed and unable to move forward with your life.
Anxiety is the body's natural response to a perceived threat. In the limbic region of our brain, the amygdala stimulates the fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn response when it detects danger. This is clearly a useful mechanism to protect human beings, and keep us alive. However, it becomes unhelpful when the threat detected is actually historical. There will have been a time in your life when the body was on high-alert to real threat, and this often goes back to the developmental years. Attachment theory, as outlined by John Bowlby, sheds light on how our early moments may impact our sense of safety and belonging in the world. In addition, traumatic life events that shape the way we view ourselves can also make us feel unsafe in the world, alerting us to danger more easily.
Counselling can help with anxiety in many ways. Firstly, it allows space to explore triggers for anxiety and start to notice patterns. You can look at beliefs you hold about yourself, others and the world and begin to ask where these ideas came from. For instance, it may be that you notice you feel highly anxious in job interviews because you have a fear of rejection which is rooted in a childhood experience of being criticised by a parent or teacher. Therefore, the job interview is a perceived threat. The next step might be to challenge and change the root belief that you are worthy of rejection. This is a very simplified example, and often the work of counselling can be complex taking time to identify the roots of issues. However, understanding the problem and validating the reasons for your anxiety can help you to manage it better.
Below are some ideas that might help you to feel calm if you are experiencing anxiety: