Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Art Therapy – A Creative Approach To Change

Art therapy is a healthcare profession that uses artistic creation as a tool to facilitate the expression and resolution of emotions and emotional or psychological conflicts. Art therapy is practised in individual sessions or in small groups under the guidance of an art therapist. 

Sometimes it is difficult to find the words to describe your emotions or how you are feeling.

Art has the potential to heal. The art-making process and creative therapies can be a reparative and a holistic approach for people to develop new ways of being and relating, while gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of yourself, and building on self-empowerment.

Art therapy may also be used to support - or as a precursor to - talking therapies, as it may be easier to express yourself visually before verbally. Art therapy combines visual art and psychotherapy in a creative process using the created image as a foundation for self-exploration and understanding. Thoughts and feelings often reach expression in images rather than in words. Through the use of art therapy, feelings and inner conflicts can be projected into visual form. In the creative act, conflict is re-experienced, resolved and integrated.

Art therapy is a profession with more than 70 years of history that fits within the care professions. Art therapy is practised following a strict methodology and under a defined therapeutic framework or setting. This therapeutic framework and the aforementioned methodology are mainly based on the theory of art therapy, analytic group psychotherapy, dynamic psychotherapies and contemporary art theory.

Art therapy is for everyone. It can be used with anyone of any age as long as there is the willingness in the person to start therapy in which they will be encouraged to undertake an artistic process.

The use of art media enables self-exploration and the expression of emotions in a non-verbal way. This non-verbal approach is particularly helpful for people who feel uncomfortable with more traditional “talking” therapies. 

The advantages of art therapy/art psychotherapy are that clients can be encouraged to:  

  • express feelings a client may find difficult to verbalise
  • explore their imagination and creativity
  • develop healthy coping skills and focus
  • improve self-esteem and confidence
  • identify and clarify issues and concerns
  • increase communication skills
  • share in a safe nurturing environment
  • identify blocks to emotional expression and personal growth

The psychological value of art therapy explores how past relationships and experiences affect an individual’s current circumstances. In order for this to be facilitated, a trusting relationship is built between therapist and client, and “art making” provides a form of expression so that personal development or growth can occur in a safe and supportive environment.

Written by Eden O. Shoro  2018

Art Psychotherapist MA, HCPC, BAAT

Photo by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Cannabis - Is It Wacky To Legalise It?

Psychiatrists are to reconsider their opposition to the legalisation of cannabis. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has decided on the move following the government’s decision to allow the use of cannabis for medicine purposes and on prescription.

Up until now, the college has opposed its legalisation and the College’s advice has been at the forefront of government decision making. Other medical bodies, however, are calling for reform and the RCP has decided to look at the matter again.

Dr Adrian James, Royal College of Psychiatrists’ registrar, told The Times the panel would start with an open mind. However, he said he was still concerned about the risks of psychosis.

Dr Robin Lawrence, founder and consultant psychiatrist at 96 Harley Street, believes the College is right to have concerns.

“Before, the government makes a decision about legalising cannabis, there are several pitfalls that need to be addressed. 

“First, it’s important to understand first of all that the cannabis plant contains more than one active ingredient: THC and CBD. 

“The cannabis smoked by students in the 1970s contained a high proportion of CBD, a relaxant that actually expresses anti-psychotic properties.  

“THC, on the other hand, causes hallucinations and leads to a short-lived psychosis in many, a few of whom may go on to suffer schizophrenia for the rest of their lives.

 “Skunk, which is what is now available on the streets of the UK has a very high proportion of THC – the ingredient connected with psychosis. 

“What is worse, is it is now very difficult to buy the earlier form of cannabis because the growers – by selective breeding – have actually changed the nature of the wild plant so that it contains higher quantities of THC.

“The THC gives the cannabis a much greater ‘kick’, making it much more dangerous from the psychotic perspective.”

Dr Lawrence believes legalisation, as long as it’s licensed in the same way as alcohol so that the strength of the cannabis can be measured, could improve safety concerns.

Even so, he suggests, it is highly likely that there would be a black market for the “strong stuff”, whatever legislation is passed.

The psychiatrist has another concern about permitting teenagers or young adults to take the drug.

Dr Lawrence says: “There is a risk is the long-term use of cannabis, usually from a young age, which can result in the user (normally a male) spending hours and days in his room smoking rather than going for a job interview or taking on any responsibility. This can mutate into an entirely wasted life. 

“The importance here, is that the adolescent brain should never be exposed to cannabis unless there is a pressing medical need (as in some cases of epilepsy where cannabis oil is the only available treatment). 

“I do not believe cannabis should be legalised for anyone whose character has yet to form.

“Currently that legal cut off is 18, but many would regard character as still developing right up until the age of 29.”


Written by Lulu Sinclair 

Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash


Monday, 1 October 2018

The Power of Hypnotherapy


To keep this blog simple, I need to explain how our minds work.  Our minds drive our behaviour.

You may have heard of the conscious, subconscious and the unconscious minds.

Your conscious mind is reading this article right now.  It is capable of handling between five and seven bits of information at any one time.  If you think of your mind as being like an iceberg, the conscious is the piece you can see.  It is also the part of your mind that is least responsible for your behaviour.

The subconscious is the part of your mind that is beneath your awareness but is, right now, aware of the feeling in the little toe on your right foot.  Now that I have mentioned it, the subconscious will bring that sensation to your consciousness so you can attend to it. The subconscious can handle, depending on whom you read, between two and 11 million bits of information at any one time!  The subconscious will inform the conscious mind on how to behave and respond to a given situation based on information stored in the unconscious.

The unconscious is where all of our experiences are stored.  According to neurologist Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, the unconscious holds those experiences that our conscious mind finds so difficult to deal with. Most importantly, I believe, the unconscious also stores the meanings we attach to those experiences.  And it is the meaning we attach to our experiences that determine how they will subsequently affect our behaviour.

The subconscious and the unconscious account for 90% or more of our behaviour. Or, put another way, you have not been in charge of you for 90% of your day so far! 

For example, if you suffer from social anxiety, your conscious mind may accept an invitation to a dinner party. However, the discomfort and trepidation you feel when you’re getting ready to go or when you’re sitting at the dinner table thinking you have nothing useful to say and really should leave, is coming from your subconscious based on information gleaned from past experiences. This past experience information is stored in your unconscious and you are probably not even aware of it.

And, because of this, it is the unconscious with which hypnotherapy concerns itself.



Why Hypnosis?

Unfortunately, most people’s perception of hypnosis comes from stage and screen. This leaves many people believing that hypnosis is a strange parallel universe to which they have never been.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In hypnosis, we induce a trance state in our clients.  The important thing to remember is that trance is an everyday phenomenon.  Take your commute to or from work – how much of it can you remember?

Or, say you don’t like spiders and “find yourself” running away from a giant spider without even realising it.  You are in trance – acting unconsciously –because, as I said above, the unconscious is in charge 90% of the time and instructs the conscious part of the mind on how to respond.

The premise of hypnotherapy and any other therapy that believes the unconscious is responsible for most of our behaviour is that, in order to effect change, we need to change what the subconscious mind feeds into the conscious mind. To do this, we need to understand and change what the unconscious mind believes about the experiences and beliefs stored within.

The easiest way to access the unconscious is through relaxation.

When relaxed, the client can access memories, feelings and experiences that are normally beneath their awareness.  A skilled hypnotherapist will then understand how these experiences are shaping behaviour and can use hypnotic language to change the meaning of those experiences.

Hypnotic language is not from another universe either.  It is simple every day language, normal words but put together to help a client change their behaviour.

I always say to my clients that I cannot change the past but I can help them to change the meaning of their past which then changes the nature and framing of the information divined from the unconscious by the subconscious.  This “reframing” of previous experiences, in turn, changes the information the conscious mind is presented with when faced with triggers that had previously produced unwanted behaviour.

The Buddha described the mind as being like a man riding an elephant.  Although he wouldn’t have used these terms, nowadays we could say the man is the conscious mind and the elephant represents the subconscious and unconscious. 

So, returning to the Buddha analogy and in simplest terms, hypnotherapy is relaxing the client sufficiently so that the rider is persuaded to get off the elephant and go and have a cup of tea so that we can talk to the elephant.

In order to understand the rider better, I believe it is vitally important to understand exactly what the elephant believes.  When did it acquire a particular belief that a particular response is appropriate to social situations, for example, and what was happening at the time?

Then by getting to know the client – and their elephant – I can tailor the hypnotic language towards their particular elephant so that beliefs, meaning, responses and behaviours change. I do this by understanding what the problem means to them, what this past experience means to them, the context of their issue, the language the client uses to describe the issue and other important information.

Theoretically, anyone can hypnotise someone else because, at its base, it is simply relaxation.

What takes skill and experience is the understanding of the complexity of the behaviour of each individual, to find out what is underpinning it and what to say to the client and their elephant that will help bring about change.


Written by Bert Stemarthe

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Intermittent Fasting – Good for Body AND soul?



Have you ever heard somebody say: “S/he’s feeling depressed. Give him a chicken leg?” Probably not, neither have I. On the other hand, I have often heard people say: “S/he’s feeling in need of comfort, perhaps a piece of cake might help. Or a bar of chocolate.”

Chicken, of course, is a protein and does not affect moods. Cakes comes into the food category called carbohydrates – also containing potatoes, pasta, bread, etc – which is known to offer comfort to those in distress. 

The way carbohydrates work is that they raise serotonin levels in the brain thereby increasing a person’s sense of wellbeing. Chocolate is similarly comforting. It is high in tryptophan which gets turned into serotonin in the brain. That and its sugar rush will more than double its attraction to the comfort eater, even if the rush may be short lived.

Some people with long-term or high levels of depression or anxiety may be treated with SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor to give them their full name), giving them a level of balance through chemicals that they might not otherwise achieve. But what if a particular diet may be found to help? 

According to an article in psychiatry journal Medscape, Intermittent Fasting is gaining in interest within the medical profession. According to the article, the practice of “voluntarily abstaining from food and non-water beverages” for a limited period of time is known to benefit a range of illnesses from cardiovascular disease and cancer to diabetes and weakening cognitive skills and it seems to have its appeal with some followers who say it helps their moods and mental abilities too. 

Many of us connect intermittent fasting with the 5:2 diet where you eat what you like for five days and severely restrict intake (to about 600 calories a day) for the other two. However, there are variations. 

One 30-something fan of intermittent fasting, who has also experienced depression, uses the 16:8 method, meaning he eats between an eight-hour period and fasts the rest of the day.

He explains: “When I did intermittent fasting using the 5:2 method, I effectively had one meal only rather than spreading it over a day. I preferred to eat in the evening so found that, by 4pm, I was hungry and having concentration issues. And I didn’t do it over the weekends.

“I now have tea or water up to 12 noon and then eat reasonably up until 8pm. That means my concentration remains good and my work doesn’t suffer.”

He says another benefit is that, because he exercises in the morning, he’s burning stored fat, rather than the calories he’d have accrued with a breakfast meal.

Mood-wise, he says he feels much better. “Eating has always made me feel sluggish and that has affected my mood. I do have the occasional slip up – if I’ve a bit of a hangover, for instance! – but most of the time it’s fine. It’s become a way of life and I feel much happier now than I did before I was on it.” 

Psychiatrist and founder of 96 Harley Street, Dr Robin Lawrence believes there is a case for this way of eating. He says: “I have been using intermittent fasting for years; I am sure it elevates the mood and sharpens my thinking. 

“This is anecdotal – there have been very few studies so this is not evidence-based advice – but some of my patients have reported a similar effect. 

“It’s certainly worth a try if you are a bit ‘stuck’ despite antidepressants.”

Written by Lulu Sinclair

Photo by Izzy Boscawen on Unsplash


Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Surprising Pleasure of Ageing




Who would have thought that one of the benefits of getting older is actually enjoying life more? Why is it we get happier as we age? We live in a society apparently programmed to appreciate youth, we use the term: “The optimism of youth” and, in youth, the future seems to stretch out eternally, with nothing but possibilities and hopes on the horizon. 

Looking at it that way, it would seem people should get sadder as they get older. 

And yet, according to a recent survey by the Georgia Institute of Technology, involving 20 young adults in their early 20s and a similar number of adults in their 60s and 70s, quite the reverse is happening. 

The study, which put volunteers into an MRI scanner and used eye-tracking experiments to monitor reactions to a series of pictures, found the brains of young millennials tended towards “hyper-vigilance”. That meant the young people were always on the lookout for threats and things going wrong and were permanently on high alert.

In contrast, the older people, while recognising the danger, seemed to be able to manage and control the “high-alert” function of their brain. 

What happens, says head researcher Brittany Corbett, is that, instead of the brain in an older person being overwhelmed by whatever threat it perceives, it can block out a fearful reaction that would set down a bad memory “template” and create instead a “positivity effect”. 

It seems that while older adults may indeed perceive a threat, they are able to assess its importance – or not – and put it to one side. In other words, they worry less about what may happen. 

Ms Corbett told The Times newspaper: “As we age, we try to have better overall wellbeing and protect our emotional health. Older adults who focus more on negativity avoidance seemingly live happier lives, have better health and longevity."

Ms Corbett suggested the results made sense from an evolutionary perspective. 
“As one's perceived time left in life grows shorter future-orientated goals such as information seeking grow less important.
“Instead present-orientated goals such as living a happy life and having a good well-being are prioritised.” 
Dr Robin Lawrence, founder and consultant psychiatrist at 96 Harley Street, offers his view. 

“I am not sure if we can say that this is a consequence of growing older or a difference between the generations. 

“If the former, it is to be welcomed and supports the anecdotal impression that resilience increases with age.  There is also evidence that personality disorders (particularly Borderline Personality Disorder) get better with age and that fits with the former theory. 

“If it is a generational thing - the older generation have always had a greater capacity to ward off unhappiness - then the future looks bleak and must result in a continued increase in demands for psychiatric and psychological services.”

In our current turbulent times, it could be argued there are good, practical reasons for young people to be feeling deeply concerned about the stress they have to manage. Worries about student debt, career paths, mortgage or rental affordability and relationships are real and  immediate concerns.  

One way to help train young brains to identify and contain what must be an instinctive survival fear might be to encourage the here-and-now benefits of the ancient art of mindfulness. 


Written by Lulu Sinclair


Monday, 10 August 2015

Church makes you happy


In this age of war, pestilence and the many other scourges we are seeing come to pass, it's good to know there's a means by which 'sustained happiness' can be achieved.

Researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) and Erasmus MC studied data from over 900 Europeans over the age of 50 whose results are published under the title 'Social Participation and Depression in Old Age' (clearly, these researchers have some way to go before the big five-oh!).

Participants were followed over a four year period and assessed for whether different forms of social participation were associated with changes in depressive symptoms.

Increased participation in religious organisations, they found, was associated with a decline in depressive symptoms. LSE epidemiologist Dr Mauricio Avendano, commenting on the findings, said that, of all the different kinds of social participation, the only activity linked to 'sustained happiness' was going to a place of worship. He also noted:
"The church seems to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life."
Interestingly, attending church was found to be more helpful in maintaining mental wellbeing than participating in sport or charity work. The findings also showed that participation in political and community organisations was associated with an increase, rather than a decrease, in depressive symptoms.

While previous studies have examined the mental health impact of participation, this is, reportedly, the first paper of its kind to look at the effects of participation in specific activities.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the much subscribed 12-step programmes are so successful in the treatment of addiction, based, as they are, on handing over one's grip on life (or lack thereof) to God. This act of humility places one squarely in the territory of recognising one's human frailty for what it is, thereby giving one the opportunity to allow divine intervention.

The 12-step programme is based on the Christian faith of its founders, and therefore deploys such powerful principles as acknowledging our personal powerlessness and defects of character, and gives us the opportunity to make amends where we have erred and to forgive those who have offended us.

When we are given the means to process and address the spiritual content of our lives (and, after all, happiness is a spiritual good) we are given the keys to sustained happiness. The results of this helpful study therefore come as no surprise.


Written by Jacqui Hogan

Friday, 31 July 2015

Size really does (grey) matter


It's the size of the matter that matters, according to the results of a new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, snappily entitled 'Significant grey matter changes in a region of the orbitofrontal cortex in healthy participants predicts emotional dysregulation.'

Effective regulation of the emotions seems to be an increasingly prized commodity, with soaring diagnoses of borderline personality, bipolar and antisocial personality disorders dominating the mental health terrain. It has long been known that people diagnosed with such disorders exhibit compromised emotional regulation and a decrease in volume of certain regions of the brain.

The researchers on this study were interested to discover whether individuals deemed to be mentally healthy (i.e. not diagnosed with mental health disorders), but who rated themselves as having difficulty with regulating their emotions, also exhibited diminished brain volume on MRI.

Reassuringly, the answer was yes!

Such 'healthy' individuals were found to have a smaller volume lower frontal lobe (orbitofrontal cortex) than those who were 'healthy', but rated themselves as having no difficulty in regulating emotions.

Furthermore, the greater the problems with regulating emotions, the smaller the lobe volume. (This same area, by the way, corresponds to the area diminished in those diagnosed with mental disorders.)

The lead author on the study, Associate Professor Pedrag Petrovic, commenting on the findings, said:
The results support the idea that there is a continuum in our ability to regulate the emotions and if you are at the extreme end… this leads to a psychiatric diagnosis."
Or how about the possibility that there are many more people wandering around who could easily be diagnosed with mental illness - they just happen to slip through the net!

This study is encouraging in that it points to the fact that the so-called 'healthy' and the 'mentally ill' may have more in common than we are taught to think. Perhaps we are not so different from each other after all.

Rather, maybe we are all just a diagnosis away from a DSM-defined mental health disorder - as the saying goes, you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!


Written by Jacqui Hogan