Taunton Somerset Counselling David Trott

Taunton Somerset Counselling David Trott

About the Author

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022. You may also contact David via email on: davidtrott747(at)btinternet.com Please replace (at) with @ in the email address.

David has a specific focus on integrative counselling, integrative counselling and psychotherapy, the integrative counselling model and the integrative counselling approach.

Keep up-to-speed with David's integrative counselling and psychotherapy articles that explores integrative counselling case studies.


David is a member of The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and works strictly within their ethical framework. As a fully qualified Integrative counsellor, he can adapt the therapy on offer, to best meet the individual needs of the client or group.

What is the BACP Register Counsellors & Psychotherapists?

The BACP Register of Counsellors & Psychotherapists is a list of BACP members who have met the standards for registration. In addition, the Register has gained an important quality mark of accreditation by the Professional Standards Authority for Health & Social Care, which is an independent body accountable to Parliament.

Website URL: https://somersetcounselling.org

Embracing Uncertainty: We Look At Leaving Our Comfort Zone

For most of us there’s often an element of uncertainty in our lives: we never quite know what’s around the next corner. We could experience this in our family life, in our recreation or in our work. This unknown aspect of our existence can add spice and interest to otherwise ordinary days or can cause unease and disquiet, depending on one’s outlook.

In the world of counselling and psychotherapy it’s no different, one never knows what issues will be brought into the therapy room when a new client comes through the door. Sometimes there will be some background information because things have been mentioned in the e-mail or phone call when contact was initially made. This knowledge is often offered by the potential client because they want to know if I can help them in that area or if it is something outside of my field. While helpful in some respects, I prefer to know nothing of a client until they sit in the chair and they start to tell their story. For many that might be an unsettling scenario, but I have to own up to having a penchant for this uncertainty and I actively embrace it.

So what sort of issues surface in the therapy room? The short answer is – everything. The most frequent problem seems to be anxiety and depression, which when examined is often linked to other underlying issues such as relationships, work, self esteem, addictions, childhood abuse and money. So it’s important to unravel what’s below the surface and covert, rather than what’s floating on the top.

Uncertainty of course is not just a visitor to my domain; the client no doubt will be feeling some unease at meeting a counsellor for the first time. They may wonder if they will get along together, what will be expected of them, will it really help and countless other thoughts. The relationship between counsellor and client is paramount for psychological change to occur, although the client may feel at times some dislike for the therapist if they are being challenged on deeply held beliefs or viewpoint.

For many people it’s more comfortable to carry thinking and behaving in their habitual ways rather than make changes, because at first these changes feel all wrong. In counselling we look at the neural pathways that get established in the brain over time that maintain patterns of thought. These pathways are like tracks through a wood that we keep going down because to veer off the well trodden path and make a new one is hard. So it’s not unusual for clients to want to alter and improve their lives but seek reassurance that they themselves do not have to change.

A popular approach to making those changes within therapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and works by the client being shown the link between events that happen in our lives, our beliefs about those events and our resulting emotions and behaviour. A key aspect of my work with CBT are the `Ten Unhelpful or Irrational Patterns of Thought` - a handout that I often give to clients. Listed here are the ways of thinking that as the title suggests are unhelpful in our lives. Most of us will experience these at some time or another but they are like the tide at Weston-Super-Mare; they come and go. The danger is when we think in those ways rigidly and inflexible all the time.

The Ten Unhelpful Patterns of Thought are:

  1. All or nothing or black and white thinking - perfectionism. All or nothing thinking is extreme thinking that can lead to extreme emotions. People either love you or hate you. Something is either perfect or a disaster.
  2. Overgeneralising - sweeping statements. The error of drawing global conclusions from one or more events. We tend to assume irrationally, that if one thing goes wrong everything else will.
  3. Mental filtering - focusing on the negative. Glass half empty. Mental filtering is a bias in the way you process information in which you acknowledge only information that fits with a belief you hold.
  4. Mind reading - assuming you know what others are thinking. With mind reading the tendency is to assume that others are thinking negative thoughts about you.
  5. Fortune telling - you think you know what is going to happen. You probably don’t possess extrasensory perception that allows you to see into the future
  6. Awfulising or Catastrophising - exaggerating the importance of something. Thinking that a situation is worse than it is. Awfulising is taking a relatively minor negative event and imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from that one small event.
  7. Emotional reasoning - assuming your negative emotions are how things are. Confusing feelings with external reality. Your partner has been spending long nights at the office with a co-worker for the last month. You feel jealous and suspicious. Based on these feelings you conclude that your partner is having an affair with their co-worker.
  8. Labelling and mislabelling - using inaccurate and emotive language to describe a person or an event. You may label the world as `unsafe` or totally unfair`. The error here is to label something that is too complex for a definitive label.
  9. Making Demands - Thinking Inflexibly. Got to, need to, have to, should, must, ought to statements - result in guilt about yourself. “I should have looked after my parents better” .
  10. Personalization and blame, removing yourself from the centre of the Universe - you see yourself as the cause of some negative external event. Taking excessive responsibility for bad things. Major negative events are very rarely the responsibility of just one person.

Embracing uncertainty means leaving that well worn path and making new ones, despite the feeling of strangeness that will occur. It’s about thinking in a different way and recognizing when those negative automatic thoughts rise up and consume us. We have a choice of how we think and it’s possible in the first second or two of a stimulus to change how we react: replacing those old tired patterns of thought and thinking in a new way about ourselves, or in fact about anything.

An indicator of one’s propensity for `stuckness` might be seen in simple ways. When we buy clothes, are they usually in the same style and colours? Do we mainly do the same type of holiday or do we actively seek out and experience different cultures? Do we experiment with food: trying new dishes and recipes? Do we rigidly stick to the same make of car and get in a spin when something changes, like the man I knew who bought a brand new Ford Escort every two years. As we know the Escort was a very popular reliable motor and had a run of around thirty-six years. It was produced in around six different Marks, many special editions and went through numerous transformations and upgrades. When it was eventually replaced by the Focus the man in question didn’t buy one because it wasn’t an Escort. Had this new model just had an `Escort` badge on it, he would have.

As mentioned at the start of this piece, uncertainty can add spice and colour to one’s life and no doubt this is partly why the Lottery and Bingo are so popular: we are uncertain if we are going to win. On a higher level, there may be times when we consider our own existence and ruminate on where we came from and where we are going when our time is done. Many will have a solid belief that they know the answer but many will experience uncertainty around this existential question and this is another of the issues that surface in the counselling room.

If you are currently in therapy while reading this, you will have noticed that your therapist does not give you advice or tell you what to do. Instead they will support and guide you while you explore your own thoughts, feelings and behaviour before reaching your own conclusions. This is because there is far more value in what you discover for yourself than things that we are merely told. With this in mind, do take this opportunity to stray from the comfortable and the familiar and stretch yourself mentally and make some fresh new pathways in your brain, it will feel odd, but do it anyway and wholeheartedly embrace uncertainty.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

David Trott © 2019






Bereavement: Making Some Sense of It

It’s almost certain that at some point in our lives most of us will experience bereavement. It might the loss of our parents, spouse, children, friend, colleague, neighbour or someone that we feel we know like a TV star, celebrity or even royalty. Whoever it is, they will leave a void in our lives consistent to their importance to us.

This article is intended to make some sense of what happens to us when someone in our life dies and the distress, shock and confusion that most of us will feel, but first of all, let’s get the terminology right:

Bereavement is what happens to us

Grief is what we feel

Mourning is what we do

Being bereaved sets us off on journey of transition; from where we were before bereavement, through several stages of change, to hopefully adjustment to the new situation. How many stages of transition after bereavement actually exist is open to debate and varies from therapist to therapist but I opt for nine. These are:


Denial or Minimising


Anger – either at the person who has died or at a scapegoat for causing the death. Guilt that didn’t do something

Grief – physical and mental pain

Consideration of new options

Making sense of what happened

Acceptance - coming to terms with the death

Being at ease with the new reality

Although set out in a neat and orderly fashion above, that’s not usually how we journey through the stages. We can jump forward, skip or return to any stage at any time, like the tide at the seaside, we ebb and flow. However for most of us, we reach the point where we have made sense of what happened and are able to find some contentment with the new situation, sadly for a few it’s not the case. The use of the correct words like `died` and `dead` is important and although this might feel uncomfortable, research has show that using the right words can help the grieving process.

Years ago grief was dealt with very differently and people in mourning could be identified by signs and signals - mourning clothes, stopping clocks and pulling over of curtains etc. These days people in mourning can outwardly look the same as normal but be going through a whole raft of emotions - possible all within one day. As well as emotions, severe physical symptoms of illness can appear. Stress and worry can make you ill and bereavement, especially when the death is sudden can cause all sort of symptoms including numbness that can last for days, tightness in the chest, loss of appetite and insomnia.

Support at this time of course is crucial and often we see families coming together and supporting each other, however some experience detached, slightly cold behaviour from people, for example a neighbour crossing the road to avoid contact. This type of behaviour is often down the person just not knowing what to say, being embarrassed or worried that they will say the wrong thing. Although the bereaved person will usually welcome the chance to speak of the deceased, there are things that are best not said. These include `It’s part of God’s plan.` This phrase can make people angry and they often ask `What plan is that? Also `Look at what you have to be thankful for` is best avoided because they know what they have to be thankful for, but right now it doesn’t help. ‘He’s in a better place now.` The bereaved may not believe this, so keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked. Lastly `This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.` Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to moving on because they feel this means forgetting their loved one and this can feel disloyal or a betrayal of them. Sometimes the deceased can take on the status of a saint in the eyes of those bereaved. Moving on is easier said than done.1 

Betrayal and disloyalty also creeps into another area of `moving on` and that is the emotionally charged process of disposing of the deceased’s possessions, like clothes, paperwork and hobby items. This should only be tackled when the bereaved feels really ready and because of the emotional attachment many will feel towards their loved one’s `things` the bereaved should not be pushed or harassed into premature sorting and disposal. When ready the bereaved can decide if they would like to do this with a close friend or family member or on their own, although opinion seems to favour accompanied small steps. For many, the process is fraught with emotional ups and downs; what do you keep? What do you give to charity? What do you throw away? As well as the fear of losing even more of the loved one. It’s here that we occasionally see the seeds of hoarding sown: people just being unable to lose anymore and so they start to build walls of stuff to take comfort from.

One of the most difficult areas of dealing with bereavement is when we have to explain to children what has happened to a loved one and this starts with telling as much of the truth as possible, this means sharing information in doses and gauging what the child can handle by giving information in small bits. Avoid saying things like `Granny is on a journey` or has `gone to sleep` The latter could be worrying for the child because they might think if they go to sleep they may not wake up as well. One child became confused by being told that Granddad had `gone to heaven` because they heard it as `gone to Devon`. This reminds me of the late, great Irish comedian Dave Allen who once said that he attended a funeral when he was young and had misheard what the Priest had said at the graveside. Instead of `In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost` he heard `In the name of the Father, Son and in the hole he goes` This stayed with him for years and years and he really thought that was what a Priest says at a funeral. We may also be tempted to say that we have `lost` someone and children might worry in case they get lost as well. On a popular TV chat show some years ago the host said to a female celebrity `Of course, since we last met you have lost your husband?` `No` replied the celebrity ` I haven’t lost him, I know exactly where he is`.

The truth gives a reason for your upset and tears and your openness can help the child to learn how to mourn. Of course, however you broach the subject the child will be upset and we have to accept their emotions and encourage the child to talk. Also remember that that it’s ok to cry. Often we hear well meaning people saying to a crying child `Now come on, none of that`. This is not about the welfare of the child but more about the adult being unable to cope with the tears and the emotion of the little one and so they try to shut the child down.

A few words about `Impossible tasks` for children who are bereaved might be useful here. Sometimes adults will place huge burdens on these children by saying things like `you’re the man of the house now` or `you must take your Mother’s place in the home` How innocently these things might be said and probably with the best of intentions, but what a burden to pass on to that child. In counseling children are often encouraged through visualisation to stop and unload some of their burden, like leaving heavy baggage on the platform when they board a train, this approach can be very beneficial. Sadness in children at distressing times can be looked on as jumping in and out of puddles whereas in adults it’s more like wading up a river of grief.

As an adult it’s important not to hide your grief from the child. Seeing you grieve will let the child know that it’s normal and healthy to feel sad and be upset. Don't be afraid to share memories of your loved one. Sometimes parents feel afraid to talk about the person who has died. Research has shown that re-living memories or sharing stories actually aids in healing. Don't be tempted to change the subject when your child comes into the room because doing so places a taboo on the subject of death. Instead, modify your wording when a child is present.  Children need consistency, so try to keep to your usual daily routines and ensure that your child continues to take part in their regular activities. Bereavement doesn’t put a ban on laughter and as such is a great healing tool; it’s ok to still laugh.

It’s impossible to determine how long the grieving period will be for the bereaved, as we are all unique and handle things differently. However at some point it would be useful to ask yourself these basic questions:

Have I accepted the reality of the loss?

Have I experienced the pain of the grief?

Have I adjusted to the new situation?

Have I withdrawn from my loss and put my energy into a new situation or person?

If the answers lean towards the negative, it might be useful to consider outside help in the form of bereavement counselling. In my own counselling practice I have worked with many bereaved people over the years. A common denominator appears to be the opportunity for the bereaved to talk openly and freely about their loved one without fear of upsetting a family member or friend. This can be a huge release and encourage the healing process. I can offer the confidential, private and comfortable setting of my own therapy room here at Creech St Michael with as many or as few sessions as the client feels are needed, at reasonable cost.

Alternately there are many agencies offering help and these include:

Sue Ryder www.sueryder.org/how-we-can-help

Cruise Bereavement care – Call their helpline on 0808 808 1677 open until 5PM

Somerset Area Cruse - phone 01458 898211 - covers:

Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea

West Mendip

Taunton and Minehead

Yeovil and Sherborne The line is staffed from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday

Samaritans (Taunton Branch) 01823 288998 (local charges apply) 16 Wood Street, Taunton.

Samaritans (National free number) 116 123

Lullaby Trust (Death of a child) Bereavement Support 0808 802 6868

Bereavement Advice Centre 0800 634 9494 Mon – Fri 9 AM-5PM www.bereavementadvice.org

Whichever path is chosen, it’s important that one is taken if the bereaved person is suffering distress and sees no way out of their situation. Many feel it’s not grief that hurts; it’s not talking about it that hurts.

What To do Next

If you feel Bereavement counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

© 2019 David Trott

1 American Hospice Foundation


The Rationale Behind Talking to a Counsellor Rather Than Friends or Family

Back in 2012 I wrote an article about how it’s far better for someone in distress to talk to a professional counsellor than a friend or family member. Now seven years later it feels right to update and expand that piece in line with current attitudes and ideas. Since my original post we have seen views about mental health and personal stories being expressed more openly, often by celebrities like actors, musicians, sports stars and even Royalty. These people have done much to bring the whole subject of mental health into the limelight and have helped to improve attitudes to where we now see psychological health moving towards being treated the same as physical health. However for some progress is gradual and by this I mean we still encounter occasional derision around mental health issues by some who wouldn’t dream of disrespecting a person with a physical illness and so we sometimes still find prejudice if we scratch below the surface.

Previously I talked of what can happen when someone confides in a family member or friend and the result of that being the listener possibly feeling some responsibility for the talker’s situation. When this happens it’s a springboard for upset and hurt and may trigger the talker to hold back and not talk freely about their concerns and issues because they are afraid of upsetting the listener. An example of this could be the son encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the family firm, even though the young man had other ideas about his future. Plucking up courage to speak to his parents about his unhappiness and the feeling that joining the firm was a big mistake, he gets into a heated argument and decides that he cannot raise the subject again. The parents feel hurt by their son’s apparent rejection of their help and his ungratefulness at the chance to carry on the family business and ruminate on `where they went wrong. `

Alternately, if the young man has sought the help of a professional counsellor, things might well have turned out differently. He would have been able to talk freely without any fear of upsetting anyone because counsellors and psychotherapists are not personally connected to their client’s story and are independent in their outlook and because of their long training are virtually unshockable. A proficient therapist will be genuinely interested in their client, empathic and non-judgmental and do their best to help their client but they won’t advise them or tell them what to do. It’s all about the therapist supporting the client while he or she explores their thoughts and feelings and if the client can come up with their own solutions there’s more value in that then being told what to do. The client will be encouraged to maybe see things differently and helped to explore ways of resolving their situation. All this is done in the confidential and private setting of the counsellors own comfortable therapy room.

Depending on the individual client a profession counsellor will work with them along a planned path, which will start with identifying what the client wants to achieve in counselling, what changes they want to make to their lives and what their goals are. Through active listening the counsellor will help the client identify unhelpful thinking and irrational thoughts that are creating unwanted feelings and explain how to replace those unhelpful thoughts with new positive ones.

The work might include the acquisition of an understanding of the origins and development of emotional difficulties and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings which had been blocked off or denied. Hugely important is self-acceptance and the development of a positive attitude towards self and movement in the direction of fulfilling potential as well as being assisted to arrive at a higher state of spiritual awakening. The therapist will also help the client to find a solution to problems which the client had not been able to resolve alone. Right from the very first session, the aim of counselling is that at some stage the client will leave feeling better about whatever was troubling them and with new skills to keep themselves psychologically well. So we can now see now that it’s not just family and friends being too close to be helpful, it’s also the skills the counsellor has to move things forward that makes things different.

In conclusion: Imagine that you have taken yourself away to your favourite seaside resort to give yourself time to make sense of something disturbing and worrying in your life. You walk along the front, taking in the vastness of the sea, the seemingly endless beach and the gulls riding the wind overhead. You notice families enjoying a day out and couples holding hands with eyes only for each other, oblivious to people around them. You reach the end of the promenade to where the bandstand sits upon a grassy knoll and decide to sit for a while on a wooden bench where you get into conversation with a total stranger. The stranger seems understanding and genuinely interested in you and you find yourself trusting them. You pour your heart out to them and talk of things that you have never told your family or friends. This is similar to counselling because counsellors are not personally involved in the situation and are impartial. Therefore there is no conflict or bias and you won’t upset them because they are trained to listen. Hence, there is no hidden agenda, no ulterior motive, no past, regret or guilt: the counsellor is maybe the perfect stranger.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

© David Trott 2019




Farming: We Reveal the Dark Side

Travelling around Somerset and our neighbouring counties it’s easy to become accustomed to the lush pastures, rolling hills, woods, hedgerows and huge areas of arable land that make up our wonderful environment. To us it may just be the backdrop to our busy lives but to the operators of one of the biggest and important industries in the UK, it’s their workplace. We are talking of course about farming and the men and women who help feed the nation and add billions to the economy of the nation; the farmers.

According to 2014 Government figures the value of UK agricultural production (at market prices) was £25.8 billion, this included 970 million dozen eggs laid by 37.1 million birds and 14.6 billion litres of milk from 1.8 million cows. During this period 400,000 people were employed in farming and 71% of land in the UK was used for farming – impressive by anyone’s standards.

To the layman or casual observer, farming may seem an idyllic and pleasant way to earn a living. We see farmers out on their tractors or passing by in Land Rovers with their trusty black and white Collie in the back and we may think `That’s the life`. We might be impressed by the massive machinery they use or the nice looking farmhouse and buildings. We could notice the farmer’s children playing in the yard with the freedom that we wish our own children had. It’s possible that we really believe we see real farming life at the county shows where the gleaming white coats of exhibitors and their beautifully presented animals convince us that all is perfect and flawless down on the farm. We might then venture into the food tents and sample the delights within. It’s no accident that the red and white gingham tablecloths, cheese, pickles and crusty bread feed into our desire to view farming as a wholesome, healthy occupation enjoyed by wholesome, healthy ruddy faced people who love the countryside and the job they do. But there’s another side to this seemingly idyllic profession, a dark side that’s not spoken about very often, a side that even in our open society cries out to be heard and understood; mental health issues for farmers.

Countryfile Magazine drew attention to the prevalence of mental illness among farmers recently with the shocking statistic that on average one farmer will take his own life each week in the UK. In France the situation is worse where a farmer dies on average every two days. So why are farmers at such high risk of suffering mental health issues?

Farming can be a very isolated occupation and it’s common for farmers to do entire days without seeing anyone, a far cry from bygone days when many farm workers were employed on the average farm. As opposed to many other professions farming is a 24/7 occupation with very long hours, far less days off and holidays and with the added element of `living above the shop` where the farmer cannot leave the worries and stress of his work behind at the factory gate.

We have seen many factors over the years that have tipped many over the edge – these include Foot and Mouth, Bird flu, TB, difficult market pressures, flooding, and loans and mortgage repayment issues, any one of which have the potential to decimate livelihoods. As well as this there is the sometimes negative perception of some farming methods by the general public

The social isolation of farming can lead to a lack of support or a lack of other people noticing mental illness symptoms. Most farmers are male, and it’s widely accepted that men are less likely to discuss personal problems than women. This could be linked to strongly held beliefs that men should be able to sort themselves out or that seeking help is somehow a sign of vulnerability or weakness. It’s also known that men are far more likely than women to take their own lives.

The most common mental health problem is depression, one in five of us will suffer from this at some point during our lives, and farmers are no different. There are major differences between feeling low and being clinically depressed. When the latter develops, the person can be affected most of the time, frequently for a number of weeks or months. Symptoms can include tiredness, restlessness, low mood, falling energy levels, poor concentration, a lack of interest in things that would normally give pleasure, an increase in alcohol or tobacco use, loss of sex drive and suicidal thoughts. Physical symptoms such as aches or pains may also occur.

So where can farmers turn for help? As a professional counsellor working in a village on the outskirts of Taunton, I have had clients from all walks of life. These include mechanics, architects, accountants, cleaners, musicians, garage owners, web site designers, welders, members of the armed forces, dentists and farmers. Although hugely diverse in their occupations, they all had something in common; there was something in their lives that prevented them from leading a happy and contented life, a black cloud that followed them around and weighed heavily on their shoulders.

Talking to a professional counsellor or Psychotherapist can help immensely. One reason for this is that counsellors and psychotherapists are not personally connected to their client’s story. A good therapist will be genuinely interested in their client, empathic and non-judgmental and do their best to help their client, while at the same time not advising or telling them what to do. It’s all a question of support for the client – support to help the client explore their thoughts and feelings and support to maybe see things differently and to hopefully move forward towards resolving their situation. All this happens at the client’s own pace in a confidential and private setting.

As well as counselling there are other avenues open to farmers seeking help with stress, depression and other mental health issues, these include -

Whichever path the farmer decides to go down for help, it’s important that one is taken. With deep seated habits of just managing or trying to cope on one’s own it sometimes feels right or normal just to carry on in the same old way but there is an alternative and that is to seek help before things get worse.

About the Author

David grew up on a small farm in Somerset, where as a young boy he helped with milking, the pigs, chickens , sheep and beef bullocks and in the summer, the hay making. He often attended livestock markets with his father at Glastonbury, Highbridge, Yeovil, Langport, Bridgwater and Taunton and helped with the family wholesale butchery business. Although almost a lifetime ago and set in a bygone age he feels it gives him an insight into the stresses of farming life and an empathic view of the valuable and essential work of the farming community.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

© David Trott 2019


Understanding And Managing Emotional Baggage

All of us, as we travel through life, acquire emotional and psychological baggage; unwanted stuff from painful events and times in our lives that we have not been able to get rid of. We drag this burden around month after month, year after year, often unaware that these negative feelings are shaping and influencing who we think we are and the choices that we make. Some of this baggage is overt and plain to see, while other baggage is concealed and lurks down in one’s subconscious.

What might be an example of emotional baggage? A fictional but an entirely plausible scenario might be the woman abused at an early age by a trusted relative. Through clever and devious means the young girl is led to believe by the perpetrator that she is somehow to blame for the attack.  She then carries this belief into adult life which then affects the view of herself, her life and relationships. She might therefore retreat from the limelight, keeping herself in the shadows where she won’t attract attention.  She might dress plainly and not make the most of herself for the same reason.  She might consider herself not worthy of the good things in life and by doing so punish herself for what `she did wrong. `

So why do we put up with it? It’s been said by some that this baggage can almost become comfortable to carry, we certainly get used to it’s weight and sometimes can’t imagine what it would feel like to be without it. However we have a choice; to carry on taking this stuff around with us, allowing it to disturb our lives, relationships and future or to make a conscious decision to ditch it.

In the counselling room I see baggage, either overt or subconscious rearing it’s burdensome head most days. As a symbol of this I often describe a scene from the brilliant 1986 film The Mission set in 18th century South America in which Captain Rodrigo Mendoza played by Robert De Niro drags around a large net of armour, shields and swords as penance for previous behaviour.  The scene is harrowing and follows Mendoza as he struggles through jungle and rivers and up steep hills with his huge load. At times he loses his footing and tumbles backwards but regains his stability and forges forward again, never able to put his burden down until he has punished himself suitably. It’s a fine performance by De Niro but one that is played out every day by ordinary people with ordinary lives  

So we see that emotional and psychological baggage can affect who we think we are (Ego) and influence our choices in life. But how do we put down that baggage once and for all? The answer is likely to be counselling, where long held beliefs and assumptions can be explored together by the person and the therapist and maybe a different view of the client’s situation offered.

The fictional client discussed above, when in therapy could well come to see that the abuse she suffered was not her fault. She might then feel able to come out from the shadows and allow herself to shine. She might put herself forward more, have more confidence, dress better but most of all put down that heavy sack of armour.      

© 2017 David Trott 



The Psychology of Hoarding

In counselling and psychotherapy as in many other walks of life, one can never be sure what problem or issue our next new client will bring through the door.  In this hectic paced life with it’s stress and pressure, anxiety is often the fundamental subject of concern for clients, although this may be cloaked or concealed, masquerading as something else.  So before us we have the overt and obvious and then we have the concealed and stealthy, each intertwined with each other like garden ivy.  Attempting to unravel this, we may ask which happened first, which in itself is reminiscent of the chicken and egg dilemma.

Filling one’s house, garden and garage with things, known as `Hoarding` seems to me to fit exactly into this possibly over simplistic picture of anxiety leading to hoarding or hoarding leading to anxiety.  Our understanding of this distressing situation has been greatly helped in recent years by excellent TV programmes such Channel 4’s `The Hoarder Next Door` where we see renowned psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses working with people who have surrounded themselves with possessions and who cannot bring themselves to part with them.   In almost every case, as the therapy unfolds, the client is found to have suffered some form of trauma or loss in their life and the therapist can often attribute the start of their hoarding behavior to this unhappy time in their lives.  So we see the client feeling a need to surround themselves with possessions which gives them comfort and a sense of security in their vulnerable state.  The problem of course is that the amount of possessions gets out of hand and affects the functionality of their house.  However, despite the difficulties that their hoarding creates, the client finds it extremely hard to let go of their things because doing so would cause more trauma through the loss and separation.

In severe cases we see people with so many possessions that they are unable to use rooms in their house for the purposes that they were intended.  For example people that are unable to reach their bed and so they sleep in a chair amongst their hoard or they cannot use their kitchen or bathroom because of the clutter.   It’s not unusual for the person’s hoard to have little or no monetary value but none the less the person will have an ultra strong attachment to it and will become extremely upset if someone tries to clear it.  Therefore it’s easy to see why treating Hoarding Disorders can be quite difficult.  This is partly because very often Hoarders don’t view their habit as an issue and have little appreciation of the effect it’s having on their lives.  Those who do realise they have a problem may not ask for assistance because they feel ashamed or embarrassed.

Is there a difference between hoarding and collecting?

The simple answer is yes and the difference is how they are organised.  Lots of people collect items such as coins, matchboxes, beer mats or thimbles but these are usually easily accessible and well organised.  There might be albums, shelving or those shallow plastic organisers with partitions and compartments involved and may have a value.  However a hoarder may collect random stuff like old newspapers, magazines, plastic containers, leaflets or cardboard boxes in a non structured way i.e. piled on top of kitchen work tops, on settees and chairs, in the bathroom and in the stairs, impairing the use of these places.

The thinking and logic of a hoarder will almost certainly hinder their ability to get rid of things and this will show itself in excuses and reasons why they need to keep their hoard.  Broken electrical items will someday be repaired, out of date food is still ok, old newspapers might contain something interesting, eighty-seven ice cream containers are useful for putting stuff in, the supermarket trolley in the garden could be converted to a go-cart for the grandchildren, the bank statements from 1957 might be required by HMRC and those leaflets about pizza and curry houses might be needed one day.  

Treatment is often in the form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  Here the therapist helps the person to understand why they find it so difficult to throw things away and why the clutter has amassed. This will be in conjunction with hands-on tasks and strategies to work with.

The following case studies are real but have been generalised and disguised to protect the identity of the clients, who have all given their permission for their story to be anonymously outlined here.

A symbol of another age

Attachment features strongly with hoarding issues but also filters down into the need or compulsion of keeping of items which maybe do not suit the style or period of one’s house or are simply disliked, solely because they came from an emotionally significant person.  One such circumstance comes to mind when a middle aged man had to clear the house of his late mother.  Much of the ladies possessions were worn out or broken but she did have a rather beautiful oriental teapot which the son placed in pride of place on his own welsh dresser. 

The man’s wife agreed it was a fine example of a teapot but felt it didn’t fit into the style of their house and suggested that it should be put into a sale of fine art and china.  The man resisted, pointing out that it belonged to his mother and what a lovely thing it was.  To call it an argument is too strong but whatever it was, it went on for some months until the very last time the man repeated his plea  `But it was my mother’s`.   At that point the wife having had her fill of his reasoning exploded with `But your Mother wasn’t a ******* teapot.

Later in therapy we found out that there was of course more to it than the ******* teapot.  The piece came from a gentler time when tea was expensive and tea making was a sophisticated ritual.  The item itself had originally belonged to the man’s Grandmother and had been brought back from Hong Kong by another of her daughters, who was married to a shipping executive based there.  It was the days of Ocean going steamers, deck chairs on the sundeck, white linen suits and cigarettes in stylish holders, in fact a vignette of pre-war refinement.

It became likely as our work together progressed, that our man unconsciously sought to hang on to those genteel, sophisticated days that his family had once been a part of and really had little to do with the teapot itself.

Unable to lose anymore

An example of someone surrounding themselves with possessions in the aftermath of trauma again comes from my own client work.  My client’s son went abroad to live and left his father with his car to look after.  The car had a certain smell to it – tobacco and that single guy sort of aroma of aftershave and body spray.  When it became apparent that the son had made a new life for himself and he would not be returning, pressure mounted on the father to sell his son’s car.  He dragged his feet over this, annoying his wife greatly because they had little room for it on the driveway.  The father would start it every week and sit in it – feeling that he was looking after it for the son.  He felt it was a link to the boy and he enjoyed thinking about the places he had been taken in it. However, the longer it stayed there, the more the car developed into a constant reminder of the loss the father felt.  He was unable to move on and accept the new situation, instead he insisted on protecting the vehicle from those who threatened it and his associated memories.

Recapturing childhood

A man approaching retirement booked a counselling session and explained that he had become almost addicted to attending Toy and Train Fairs, where he spent copious amounts of money on older Dinky die-cast toys and Hornby locomotives and rolling stock.   Such was his obsession that when he got home, he would leave the items in his car over the following week and smuggle them past his wife in dribs and drabs.

In this case we cannot call the man a hoarder because his collection was organised and tidy, however there was something more to it.  In therapy it emerged that the man got a warm fuzzy feeling when he bought something he liked and it was more about this feeling than the actual toy or model itself.  It’s very likely that this warm fuzzy feeling he talked about was caused by the release of Dopamine in the brain and this pleasurable feeling is very addictive.  In further sessions it came out that he had had a rather impoverished childhood and he was never able to have the things that many other children had.  As an adult he had become successful and quite wealthy and decided that he would have everything that he had missed out on as a child and so he surrounded himself with lovely things.

As therapy continued he felt strong enough to tell his wife of his past actions and to also miss the odd toy fair or show.  He stopped smuggling items into the house and eventually bought less and less.  In the end it was enough to know that he could have more if he wanted it but really his collection was now complete.

Losing a loved one

Another situation where attachment shows itself is in the period following a bereavement.  The transition stages from the shock and numbness of the initial loss to the acceptance of the new situation is well documented and is indicative of the progress the bereaved is making.  However, some people get stuck and this can show itself in the refusal to dispose of the decease`s belongings, partially clothes.  From the outside, one can see that there is no logic to this practice as the person has died and will not be returning; however for some the need to keep the clothes is overwhelming. 

Despite much preparation, the task of disposing of a loved one’s clothes is probably never going to be easy and for some people it may rank as one of the most stressful experiences of their life.  For many, it may take months to feel strong enough to start the task but for Hoarders, it may never happen without professional help.  Somewhere in the distressed state of mind of the bereaved is probably guilt at what needs to happen and maybe a sense of responsibility as custodian of the deceased person’s things.  These possessions are obviously a link and may well still carry their scent.

So, it’s clear that Hoarding is often a symptom of an underlying issue such as loss, attachment or trauma.  In such cases the root cause must be addressed before working on the resulting problem.  Here at somersetcounselling.org we use the analogy of the flat tyre – we look, find and repair the puncture before we attempt to inflate it again.




Royal Speaks Out On Mental Health Issues

Like a breath of fresh air Prince Harry this week has spoken out about his own mental health issues in the years following the death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales when he was 12 and the positive results he received from counselling. 

In the past we have heard honest and in depth accounts of mental health problems from celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax who have done much to bring to the fore these issues but Prince Harry is the highest profile person in this country to speak in such personal terms. I believe that this will do much to help remove the stigma that still remains around mental health issues.

In my own work as a professional counsellor I see many clients who are surprised by the fact that the brain is just another organ of the body, like the stomach, heart or lungs and can go wrong.  If a person consulted their GP about chest pains, there probably would be little of the embarrassment or apprehension likely from a consultation about depression, anxiety, phobias or suicidal thoughts.  In fact it’s likely the person with chest pains would wear the scar of any future surgery with pride, unbuttoning their shirt and showing friends and family.  Generally this is not the case in the UK with mental health where such concerns are spoken about in hushed tones or not at all.   I see this manifested in my own practice where some clients have travelled many miles from home to be somewhere they are not known and so are less likely to bump into friends.

Prince Harry in his honest interview with The Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon speaks of blocking out his mother’s death by sticking his head in the sand as a way of coping with it.  The result he says was a shutting down of his emotions for the last 20 years, which in turn had a serious effect on his working and private life.

With the interview, Prince Harry is following in the footsteps of his mother who in 1995 spoke in a groundbreaking interview with Martin Bashir on BBC’s Panorama about her post-natal depression, self harming and bulimia.  Now 22 years later Prince Harry once again breaks with tradition and talks openly about issues that affect one in four of us, where rank or circumstance affords no immunity.

Prince Harry has discovered what many have known for innumerable years, that talking helps.  Since the early mists of time, people have sought out someone to confide in and these days we are lucky to have an abundance of highly trained professionals to listen.

If you feel you are affected by any of the issues mentioned by Prince Harry or have any other concerns that are troubling you, then I urge you to seek help in the form of a professional counsellor because as Harry found `it’s good to talk`.

© David Trott April 2017


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Types of Unhelpful or Irrational Thinking

In the modern world of counselling and psychotherapy, a leading tool used by therapists is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  This works by the client being shown by the therapist the link between events that happens in our life, our beliefs associated with those events and our resulting emotions and behaviour.

A key aspect of CBT is the Types of Unhelpful or Irrational Thinking that we might employ when we try to process what is happening.  These engrained faulty patterns of thought often prevent us from seeing things as they really are and can make a situation worse.

In no particular order, let’s start with `All or Nothing or Black and White` thinking – this is perfectionism.  All or nothing thinking is extreme thinking that can lead to extreme emotions.  People either love you or hate you.  Something is either perfect or a disaster.  Imagine you are trying to eat healthily in order to lose weight or to get fit but you give in and eat a doughnut.  All or nothing thinking may lead you to conclude that your plan is in ruins and you might as well eat the other eleven doughnuts in the pack.  Another example might be the shiny new car on our driveway, which is our pride and joy.  In a supermarket car park someone opens their car door heavily and puts a ding in the side of our prized possession.  With All or Nothing thinking, our car is ruined and might as well be scrapped. Our world is not black and white.

Next we have Overgeneralising - sweeping statements.  This is the error of drawing global conclusions from one or more events.  We tend to assume irrationally, that if one thing goes wrong everything else will.  For example, you get into your car to go to work, it doesn’t start.  You think to yourself `Things like this are always happening to me.  Nothing ever goes right`.   Other examples might be `It’s not safe to step outside your door these days` or `They’re building everywhere, there’s no green fields left.  If you find yourself with thoughts that involve the words always, never, everybody, nobody, the world is…, all, none, people are…you may be overgeneralising.  Be specific about the situation.

Another unhelpful way of thinking is Mental filtering – focusing on the negative.  Glass half empty.  Mental filtering is a bias in the way you process information in which you acknowledge only information that fits with a belief you hold.  For example – you believe that you are unlikeable and really notice each time your friend is late to call you back or seems too busy to see you.  You tend to disregard the ways in which your friend acts warmly towards you on other occasions. 

Our next unhelpful way of thinking is Mind reading – and that is assuming you know what others are thinking.  With mind reading the tendency is often to assume that others are thinking negative thoughts about you.  For example – you are chatting with someone in the street and they look over your shoulder as you are speaking, breaking eye contact and yawn.  You conclude that the other person thinks your conversation is dull and he’d rather be talking to someone else.  In CBT the theory is that there is always another way of viewing things, so the person you are talking to may be yawning because they slept badly and looking over your shoulder because they are expecting their bus to arrive.  There are countless possibilities and probably don’t involve you. 

Fortune telling – This is very much like our previous example.  You think you know what is going to happen.  You probably don’t possess the powers of a superhero that allows you to see into the future but still think you can do it.  For example you have invited your boss and her husband for dinner.  You are worried by this and decide that it is going to be a total disaster.  They won’t like the food, your house and you won’t know what to talk about.  Fortune telling can stop you taking action and can work like a self fulfilling prophecy.  

An interesting but maybe a harder one to identify is Personalization and blame -removing yourself from the centre of the Universe- you see yourself as the cause of some negative external event.   Taking excessive responsibility for bad things.  Significant negative events are very rarely down to just one person.  For example you feel guilty because a friend lives in chaos and turmoil and you can’t sort him out.  You think `If I was really a good friend, I’d be able to help him`.

Now we get to  Awfulising or Catastrophising - exaggerating the importance of something.   Thinking that a situation is worse than it is.  Awfulising is taking a relatively minor negative event and imagining all sorts of disasters resulting from that one small event.  Some people seem to have a tendency to look on the black side.  You are waiting for your teenage daughter to return home at night.  She is a little late, by which time you have imagined she has been kidnapped by the local mad axeman, involved in a serious accident or has run away with her boyfriend to a hotel in Cornwall.  CBT is evidence based and so it’s likely that you haven’t any to support these fears.

A unhelpful way of thinking which is quite subtle and crafty in it’s action is - Emotional reasoning - assuming your negative emotions are how things really are.    This is confusing feelings with external reality.  An example of this could be - your partner has been staying on late at the office with a colleague for the last month.  You feel jealous, suspicious and mistrustful.  Based on these feelings alone you conclude that your partner is having an affair with their colleague.  One might feel that Birmingham is the capital of England but feeling that, however strongly, doesn’t make it so.  Stay with the facts and evidence.

A common thinking error is Labelling and mislabelling – This is using imprecise and emotive language to describe an event or person.  If you label other people as ` worthless ` or ` a waste of time ` you are likely to become angry with them.  Or perhaps you label the world as ` dangerous ` or `totally corrupt`.  The mistake here is to label something that is too broad and complex for a definitive label.  You read a distressing article in the newspaper about a rise in crime in your town.  The article activates your belief that you live in an unsafe place, which contributes to you not going out and about.

Our final unhelpful way of thinking is all about Making Demands  - Thinking Inflexibly.  Take a few moments and ponder on how often you use   `Got to` ` need to` ` have to` ` should` `must` ` oughtto` statements.  These can result in guilt about yourself.  “I should have looked after my parents better”  “I ought to make more of myself”  `I Have to go and visit my Gran in the nursing home`.  These statements are extreme and rigid and bring with them problems.  The inflexibility of the demands you place on yourself, the world around you and other people often means that you don’t adapt to reality as well as you could.  For example – You believe that you should never ever let anyone down; therefore you don’t put your own welfare first and end up stressed and depressed.

So there we are – a brief rundown on some of the unhelpful or irrational ways of thinking.  The idea is to be aware of them and try to reduce their use, as each day most of us will employ three or four of them without consciously knowing.  Eradicating them entirely from our life may be a tall order but awareness is everything.



Getting Older - Cause for Counselling?

If one is lucky enough to be blessed with reasonably good health and also survive what life throws at us in our younger years, we will enter into a bizarre experience called `Getting Older'. This is unavoidable by the very fact that if we are still breathing, we are still alive and so getting older will happen. Often with youth comes the certainty that one is invincible and this heady intoxication of indestructible self assurance tells us that we will go on forever in this unbreakable vehicle called our body.   I know from my own experience that a belief exists that old age is something that happens to other people and older folks were always that way, having been born like that and so were never young.

So however intensely the young might believe this aging process will not happen to them and that they will somehow be spared old age, as long as they do not succumb to illness, accident, suicide, war or foul play they will gradually and inescapably drift towards the autumn of their years.  Yalom writes in The Gift of Therapy that `death denial` is a belief in our personal `specialness` and how we   believe that we will not be dealt with in the same harsh way that life deals with everyone else.  Therefore we will be spared that final journey, that unfathomable ending, that cut off point.

In our younger years, small changes happen without much drama or commotion until one day we catch sight of ourselves in a shop window and wonder who that elderly grey haired, slightly overweight person is.

It seems no coincidence that at the age of sixty, one becomes eligible for free prescriptions in England. This is because for many people, things appear to change at that age and the likelihood of some health issue increases.

As well as this, getting older means for most of us a certain loss of our good looks.  Our faces lose of their definition, gravity pulls them downward and our skin might become paler and lose some of it’s elasticity.  Our hair may become thinner and change colour and we could gain some weight.  I remember one lady who told me that she hated the way that she looked now and that was the same as all the other elderly ladies at the club she belonged to.  She spoke of her white permed hair, her glasses, paleness of her aging skin and the need to have flat comfortable shoes instead of the high heeled fashion shoes she once enjoyed.  For myself I could see that her image was not helped by the addition of an awful quilted anorak that her husband thought was quite `trendy`.

So psychologically how does this shift in the way we are affect us?  Invisibility is said to be common as one becomes older, invisibility in shops, bars and on the pavements, even the street charity reps, often look past the elderly to the next viable punter, which can add to the feeling of unimportance.  

Paradoxically, there has never been more respect and admiration then we are seeing now for the warriors of our armed forces.  Whichever war or campaign is being remembered, the nation’s hearts and souls back the men and women who have in the past protected us.  Sadly for many of these ex-service men and women, they remain traumatised by what they witnessed and still carry this mental scar.  For them, there’s no doubt in the positive value of counselling but unfortunately many from older generations will see such help as a sort of weakness and favour a spirit of `just getting on with it`, which I feel is a pity as there are many therapists out there with the right skills to help.

So we have the feeling of invisibility and one of unimportance but what of the father and mother whose flock have flown the nest?  They may have spent twenty years or so looking after their young and now they find themselves redundant as parents, rattling around in a house that once vibrated with noise and life.  Do they embrace their new freedom or quietly contemplate the emptiness not only in their home but also their consciousness.

It’s been noted that for some men, middle age and beyond appears to encourage thoughts of reliving their younger years by buying a sports car.   For many, owning what they had all those years ago is not possible, for example the Triumph Spitfires, MGB’s and Midgets are now rare and require lots of TLC.  The alternative is a shiny new fun carriage like a Mazda or a Toyota and one can witness many grey haired gentlemen once again enjoying the rush of open top touring.  However psychologically there is a lot more to it than that and our old friend Sigmund Freud would understand what these people are going through and what they may be trying to replace.  He called the human sex drive the libido and this is often affected to some extent by age.  According to the NHS Choices website –

`Many people lose some interest in sex as they get older, mainly as a result of falling levels of sex hormones, age-related health problems, or the side effects of medication. Older men especially can develop low testosterone levels, which can cause fatigue, depression and a reduced sex drive.  Speak to your GP if you're concerned about this. They may carry out a blood test to check your testosterone level and can tell you about treatments if your level is low. As women start to approach the menopause, levels of the female hormone oestrogen begin to fall, which can affect libido. Women can also suffer from low testosterone levels, especially after a hysterectomy. Testosterone is another hormone that can affect sex drive.  Speak to your GP if you're concerned the menopause may be having an effect on your libido. They may be able to offer you a trial of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) if it's suitable for you.`

A distressing worry for many men as they get older is Erectile Dysfunction (ED) also known as Impotence and this is the inability to get and maintain an erection.  According to the NHS Choices website -

`Erectile dysfunction is a very common condition, particularly in older men. It is estimated that half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 will have it to some degree.  See your GP if you have erectile dysfunction for more than a few weeks. They will assess your general state of health because the condition can be the first sign of more serious health conditions, such as heart disease (when the heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted).`

`Erectile dysfunction is primarily treated by tackling the cause of the problem, whether this is physical or psychological. The narrowing of the arteries (called atherosclerosis) is one of the most common causes of ED. In these cases your GP may suggest lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, to try to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. This may help to relieve your symptoms as well as improving your general health. You may also be given medication to treat atherosclerosis, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and drugs to reduce your blood pressure.`   (Source NHS Choices)

Similarly to the way we attempt to turn the clock back with sports cars, we see the growth in toy fairs across the country where we see people urgently looking for that one thing that will bring back happy memories of childhood.  This might be that Dinky or Corgi toy, a teddy bear, doll, tin plate toy or train set.  I met a man once who had just bought a second-hand Tri-ang train from the 1960’s.  He told me that his family were poor when he was young and so they couldn’t afford these things but now he wasn’t poor and so he was going to have all that he wanted.  So we see people like this man attempting to repair a deprived childhood by collecting long desired items here in the present.

This touches a little into the TV programmes that are popular at the moment about `hoarders`.  People who live in cluttered houses, sometimes unable to function because of the amount of possessions that they have.  Often a lot of it we see as rubbish but the people involved are still unable to get rid of it.  Many of these programmes feature Stelios Kiosses who is highly regarded in the psychotherapy world.  Stelios studied psychodynamic counselling at the University of Oxford and is a member of the BACP.

We often see a theme or trend with the work of Stelios where he uncovers a traumatic experience in the lives of the hoarders.  This experience is often linked to loss and the collecting often turns out to be a way of compensating for this loss.  So the feeling for these people may be that of not being able to lose anything more, or perhaps more correctly anyone else from their lives.

For some as time goes on, there can be loss of independence and the need to have to rely on others.  This can be very hard and re-enforces the fact that one is older and just not the same as before.  Having others do one’s shopping if mobility is an issue, may be hard for some as it’s not just food but will include personal items that one might like to buy oneself.

Independence also includes money and getting older will eventually see people retire and this will almost always have some effect on their income.  Poverty in old age is a massive issue and too big to discuss here in detail but for many people the changes that they go through in later years will include some caused by their financial position. Often the phrase is heard that one has to be `really rich or very poor` because if one is caught in the middle, there’s little help to be had.

Loneliness, isolation and lack of communication may be big issues for people when they get older.  Maybe the person has had a busy working life interacting with customers and colleagues and suddenly they are cut free from this and now may feel confused about their role and place in life.  What do they do with their days?  Who do they speak to? 

So we see that loss can be a major element in getting older for some.  Loss of significance, health, visibility, communication and interaction, libido, independence – both financial and physical and perhaps the loss of a loved one.  This is where counselling might come into the picture.  It won’t turn the clock back but it may help resolve psychological issues brought about by the aging process and help the person to see a different view of their life.  This will in turn, enable that person to make the most of what they have and embrace the changes that they are going through.

© David Trott 2015



Employee Assistance Programmes

Here in the UK, we are currently seeing many areas of growth and development as many companies publish encouraging figures for 2014. This feeling of optimism and positivity carries with it the knowledge that these high performing firms have often nurtured a special employer/staff relationship, where we see the employee valued by the company and vice versa.

Enlightened management have long understood the importance of a happy and healthy workforce and many will have put in place a benefits package for their employees. These packages may include a pension scheme, profit sharing, private use of company vehicle and health benefits, which will now often include an Employee Assistance Programme.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide the employee with an independent counsellor and completes the wholeness of the health package. Here we see counselling helping with employee’s emotional issues, an aspect of healthcare sometimes overlooked in the past. These days the link between a person’s psychological and physiological health is more widely understood and we now see the man in the street being aware that they may be feeling unwell because of some emotional issue. I know of a college tutor who when he feels poorly instead of rushing to see his GP will firstly ask himself `what am I worried about?`

The link between the psychological and the physiological can be easily and simply demonstrated by holding out one arm at right angles to the body. Imagine the arm being a branch of a tree gently waving in a soft Mediterranean breeze on a warm summer’s evening. Feel it rising and falling as it waves gently in the balmy night air, moving back and forward in time with the sea as it laps softly against the beach. Now imagine your arm is Brunel’s massive Clifton Suspension Bridge with it’s giant stone towers and vast iron chains holding up the huge deck made of steel girders. Think of the ends of this 1,500 ton colossus united to the solid rock of the cliff face, impervious and unyielding to movement.

So what’s the difference here between your arm being a soft waving tree and a mighty solid bridge? The answer is simple – just a thought. Thoughts affect our bodies and wellbeing and this is why we might feel better on a bright sunny day opposed to a dull and dismal one.

The dynamics of a client/counsellor relationship within a EAP setting will include the likelihood that counselling will be in the form of a short term, time limited model of approximately six sessions and counsellors must decide if this fits with their style of working. Moreover if the counsellor feels they would like to work long-term with a client then they should realise that this may not be possible within the EAP setting and that the providing company may not agree to extra sessions. The reason for this is because EAPs were brought about to provide short term support and problem solving and not for long-term client work. Also companies work with contracts and boundaries and need to make a profit and so will expect the counsellor to have a clear idea of what will be required to help their employee. However from my own experience I know of several household names who have gone that extra mile for the wellbeing of their workers.

Of course this is not a one way street in respect of the company’s good will towards their workforce. A happy worker will undoubtedly perform better than a disgruntled one and will return what is called the employer’s `duty of care` many times over with commitment and loyalty. But what exactly is `duty of care`?

`Duty of care` means that employers should take all reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, which includes the physical and mental health of their workers. This legal duty serves the company well because there is also solid business sense here since `duty of care` is said to be a key factor in building trust and commitment in the employer/employee relationship. Additionally it helps to ensure that the skills brought to the firm or gained within the firm stays there and is not acquired by their competitors, which in turn can boost productivity and ultimately profits.

Being that `duty of care` includes both the psychological and the physiological we can see why it’s dynamics are so wide ranging and inclusive. Areas that must be observed to stay within the legislation include: ensuring a safe working environment, defining jobs and risk assessments, provision of proper training, acceptable working hours and the use of rest and relaxation areas. Further to this staff have to be protected from discrimination, harassment and bullying and have proper channels for raising issues which are a concern for them. In this psychological area we can see how the provision of an independent counsellor fits well into the wholeness of the company’s commitment to care.

So in conclusion, Employee Assistance Programmes arrived in the UK some years ago as a positive export from the USA. Their usefulness as a means of employee support has been proven over time to a point now where it’s not only the enlightened and forward thinking companies that provide them.

EAPs are seen as a valuable and important feature of the employer/worker relationship and is reaching a stage now where it’s provision is an accepted norm rather than an unexpected bonus.

Counsellors who fulfil the exacting standards of accreditation and experience that are expected in EAP work can look forward to a busy working life as we see the whole concept of EAPs being available in the workplace going from strength to strength. David Trott © 2014

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