Monday, 4 January 2021

Brexit - Positively My Last Word

It is four years since the referendum and Britain is now finally out of the EU - for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint. January is a traditional time for looking forward but this year is like no other in many people’s lifetime; we are uncertain about what it is we have to look forward to. Brexit still remains a very sore subject for almost half the population so I am using this blog to reflect on my own inner conflict.

Discussions about Britain’s “divorce” from Europe started in 2016 and the divorce term was quickly adopted nationwide. I argued the term was inaccurate; it was much more like deciding to leave a club we had once wanted to join but now decided that it no longer suited us and it was time to leave it behind. A bit of regret, perhaps, even some uncertainty but it wouldn’t take long to get over it. It’s the way life is.

I was wrong. The emotions this departure leaves us with are every bit as powerful as a divorce. For those who wish to remain - the abandoned partner - there is disbelief, fury, confusion as to how something started with such optimistic has ended in such abject failure. Very possibly, there is also a very strong desire for revenge. We, representing the EU lover, really want the person who has wronged us to suffer. Believe me, we say, they will. 

We rant on social media; we block friends who take the other’s side and we look forward with glee to proving that it’s all going to end badly. No matter how long it takes, it will.

The other side - the one that got away - is euphoric. This has been a long time coming. The future is blue-sky bright and the horizon stretches for miles in front of us. This is a blessed new dawn.

Neither view is entirely accurate of course. 

The EU, for example, is not perfect. Most of us have complained at one stage or another about its red tape bureaucracy, the fact that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all or we’ve just held on to our particular prejudice against a fellow member. Now, after Brexit, we look back at it all with a rosy glow.

Limitless opportunities or all at sea?

For the Brexiters - note the replacement of the Brexiteer word, which seemed to have a bit too much of a swashbuckling sound to it - they carry the memory of a once-great maritime power with an empire to show us we once ruled much of the globe and we can do so again. However, everyone will be aware times are different now and, as a geographically relatively small independent nation, we could be in for a rough time. 

There will be troubles ahead for both parties and the one who will do best from life will be the one who can accept and make the best of what comes next. 

So, back to the divorce analogy. The financial battle is over, the welfare of the children remains paramount to both parties (so we are told and so we must believe) and they will no longer be used as a bargaining chip for future financial negotiations. All we need to do now is move forward and get on with our own separate lives.

That's the rational, logical and reasonable part of the process. Unfortunately, it's mixed up with emotions and somehow they are always harder to keep under control. A public promise was made to stay together in good and bad times and someone has broken that promise and the grieving partner has been made a fool of - the instigator must be punished. The surging fury and hurt bubbles up to the surface for no obvious reason and we lash out, and the other person lashes out in response. And so it goes on. Unless we find some way of managing those uncontrollable feelings, our lives could be stalled for years, to our detriment.

I have seen clients who stay in this state for far longer than they see me. For some, there is an attachment to such a state of misery that goes way beyond the real value of the marriage. Sometimes I, as an outsider, wonder how they had held on so long. For others, it is all about the investment, the hopes and the dreams. It is about the despair when the marriage comes to an end and all those dreams have gone and there is nothing left. 

Sometimes the process of hearing their hurt is a form of healing. Talking it out does help. But for any psychotherapy to be successful, the client has to want some kind of change to take place. If they are not a willing participant, the process cannot work.

We are still at the very beginning of the Brexit road. We remain a polarised people. The isolation of Covid makes it harder for us to talk this out and our beliefs become even more entrenched.

I’m told there is a clause in the leaving treaty that allows for another re-examination of the situation in four years. For those feeling hopeless, this may represent a chance to reconsider the initial decision. Or, in four years’ time, it may be clear that leaving was the right decision after all. Who knows? 

What I do know, with quite a degree of certainty, is that holding on to such a level of anger and disappointment is not good for anyone’s mental health. All of us need to find some way of moving on, for now at least.

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 by Call Me Fred on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Cinthia Aguilar on Unsplash


Thursday, 24 December 2020

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a brighter 2021. 

From all of us here at 96 Harley Street 

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Feeling Grounded

How are you about handbags? This, gentlemen, is not just a question for females. Anyone who aspires to understand what the other sex (gender) is like, needs to know about handbags. A handbag is so much more than somewhere to store necessary objects while moving from one place to another, it’s more like an ever-expanding life’s work, a container of it, in fact. Without it, a person can feel bereft.

A long, long time ago, a friend of mine’s mother explained to me how handbags were there to oppress women and keep them under control. I remember feeling surprised at that idea, particularly as it came from a lady who was a generation on from me and who I wouldn’t have expected to speak in such a feminist way. I was the young deserving feminist after all.

Years later, her words came back to me as I ran for a bus/tram in the eastern part of a now reunited Berlin, slip-sliding my way across the snow and clutching my shoulder bag as I ran. I caught the bus - just - but remember thinking how much easier it would have been to run with both arms free, ready to either grab the handle of the bus or catch myself if I fell head first onto the ground if the ice proved too much for my balance.

I had time to reflect on this once again this week after experiencing another handbag disaster. 

I had taken my own particular style of Pandemicitis into account as I prepared for a next-day outing. Clothes laid out, provisions packed, entertainment planned, etc. and the next day all worked beautifully. In fact, I was early. What a great sense of achievement and superiority I had and I was in such a good mood.

The bag - a container of life
That lasted for a further 40 minutes, until I went to find my phone. It was missing, along with the container in which I had placed it, together with my credit cards and purse (in case of being able to spend cash) and mask and lipstick, to repair damaged caused by the wearing of a mask. In other words, I had left my handbag at home. 

My feeling moved seamlessly from my pride at being ahead of myself and so professionally in control to one of bleak despair. “How could I have been such a fool? Why hadn’t I checked and double checked? How can I possibly look after others when I can’t even manage such an elementary problem?” And so it went on. 

I thought briefly - very briefly - of leaving it as it was but soon realised that was not going to be possible. Within minutes, I had the gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach that was not going to allow me to move on with my day until that bag was once more firmly within my grasp.

Small charge (all this, by the way, complies with coronavirus restrictions) was bundled up into the car and we made the reverse journey back home. I was edgy and finding it hard to concentrate and reminded a little of what physical feelings the effects of withdrawal can bring.

The return journey (third time within the space of 90 minutes) was quite different. I was relaxed, cheerful, chatty and even able to attempt to sing along to my companion’s small-scale musical needs.

In other words, I was back to being the person I usually am, with the only proviso being that, for now, I seem to have officially become an airhead. My brain more often than not seems to be completely empty.

Some may argue this is an age thing. It may be but it’s curious how it’s affecting so many people of different ages so suddenly. 

Personally, I’d suggest it’s more likely to be connected with the haphazard lifestyle we’re currently experiencing. It seems to me as though we have no longer have a centre of gravity - either in the workplace or outside, we have no fixed agenda and, possibly worst of all, we have no idea when all this is going to end. And humans, as I have been reliably informed, cannot bear living with uncertainty. 

I wrote last time on the ups and downs of of living in the moment and, to a certain extent, this is a continuation of that theme. My 10-months’ experience of living in the moment seems to have closed down that part of the brain that deals with planning, future and all that comes with being an adult. It was fun for a while, but I still want to be in charge of my own destiny while I can.

There is hope of an ultimate end to lockdown, with the vaccine potential moving ever closer although it seems we still have some months to go. 

So, while I wait for my jab, I’m going to aim to return to full adult mode, listening to my gut instinct, being completely present in my body - that means being aware of your whole self: head, shoulders knees and toes and the bits in between - concentrating on the job in hand and taking this time to prepare for the future when I get my life back. 

Meanwhile, until then, I’ll keep my handbag chained to my wrist.

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1   Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Photo 2   Nickelina Noel on Unsplash


Monday, 30 November 2020

Careful What You Wish For

You remember when the talk was all about living in the “here and now”, a technique of mindfulness that helped us to focus on the present, rather than dwell on the past or what may happen in the future?

Well, here we are, living the dream. We are well and truly operating in the here and now on every level. It is no longer an aspirational part of our inner world, where we use it as a form of meditation to help us quell anxious thoughts. It has become part of our reality as a whole, as our inner and outer worlds collide. Who would have thought it? 

Pre-March, the conversation was all about Brexit with Remainers and Brexiters still caught up in their particular argument and unwilling or unable to see the other point of view. The problem and the anger seemed insurmountable.


Now, Brexit is almost upon us and who’s talking it about it? It seems so, well, unimportant. It’s not of course. It’s hugely important and significant and may lead to extraordinary complications if a suitable deal is not done. It will have an impact on us long after Covid-19 is done and dusted. However, for all of us stuck in the here and now at present, Brexit is the subject few people are talking about.


I was listening to a recent TV interview where the interviewee pointed out that many people voted for Brexit because they believed it would give the UK its  sovereignty and freedom back. The irony, she exclaimed! Brexit has not yet been fully finalised and here we are with less freedom than we’ve had taken from us during our time within the EU.


She has a point, one that I don’t think I can bear considering right now, so I’ll have to return to contemplating the increasingly limited things going on in my life and what I am - and am not - allowed to do. 

Fortunately, I can still go out to buy food and drink (probably more than I would in normal times); I can go for a walk - I won’t be breaking the habit of a lifetime and taking to running - or I can stay indoors with my Vitamin D and SAD lamp (which mimics the sun’s rays though fairly ineffectively, I fear) while I organise my time into something worthwhile as the minutes turn into hours, days and months and nothing too much gets done.

I could, but of course I won’t. Like friends, family and clients, I am finding inactivity expands to fill the time. I am lucky to still see clients online and I relish the structure and the mutual support. 

Usually, my role as a counsellor is to be supportive to my client who is looking to work through a problem. Now, we’re all in it together. My client still takes centre stage - each session is always about him or her, not me - but I am grateful for what I learn from them. They offer their own insights into how they are managing and it’s tempting to want to incorporate some of their own coping strategies into my own. It’s easy to see how boundaries, unless carefully watched, could become blurred.

Having switched to online work for the moment, I have a wider base of client. Most live in the UK but some are overseas and I have to admit I am slightly comforted when I hear first-hand that other governments seem to be in as much of a muddle about what to do as ours. Slightly comforted, that is, not entirely reassured. 

I’ve also found it important to understand that not everyone is having a difficult time in this period. Some people have expressed a sense of satisfaction in the sense of: “Now you know how trapped I usually feel” and that’s useful for me to discover. Someone, somewhere, may be feeling the benefit of a situation I’m uncomfortable in. 

I’m hoping a vaccine will bring this situation to an end because I don’t think it’s good for most of us. I don’t want to catch the fear I feel I’m being forced into feeling. I certainly don’t want to catch the virus, nor pass it on to anyone else but I don’t want to live (or, rather, survive) in this enclosed, unsatisfactory way. Fundamentally, I fear being made to feel afraid. It’s unhealthy.

For now, I’ll do as I’m expected in the hope that the situation will get better.

But, as I wander, clueless as a cloud (thank you, Wordsworth, for the inspiration), through the next few days and weeks until we all receive clearer guidance about our future direction, I shall heed that old saying more closely: "Be careful what you wish for." 

Living in the here and now may not be quite as beneficial as it once seemed.

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1: Katerina Jerabkova on Unsplash

Photo 2: Buchen WANG on Unsplash


Monday, 9 November 2020

Putting On Your Big Boy Pants

The best quote of the US presidential elections surely has to be: "What the President needs to do frankly is put his big boy pants on.

It was said by Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney as he encouraged Donald Trump to concede defeat as President-elect Jim Biden was declared winner.

I don't need to go on. If you have an interest in political affairs, you'll know the rest. If you don't, you won't care. 

But what an expression. What a picture it evokes. I know pants is the  American word for trousers so it’s not quite as much fun in their eyes as in my mind (I envisaged Superman-style pants) but even so it tells it as it is. It is time for Mr Trump to grow up and accept the situation as it is. 

Mr Trump’s presidency has been fascinating because it seems extraordinary that a late middle-aged man (74) gained the highest office in the US while never appearing to be anything but a giant child.

He spoke simply and clearly without the use of big complicated words; his beliefs appeared to be black and white and, if anyone criticised him, wow was he cross! I'm keeping my language simple, as he did. 

He kept everything simple, dismissing North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un as “rocket man”; taking a different view on global warming: “It’s freezing and snowing in New York - we need global warming” and making splendid boasts of his achievements and the reason why he was so popular. At one time, he memorably summed himself up, saying: “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”  

And 70 million Americans still voted for him on election day, making the race much closer than expected (Joe Biden has so far won 74m votes). This man-child that is Trump still has a great deal of appeal.

I didn’t expect him to win first time round. I saw him as the larger-than-life Apprentice show boss with an interesting head of hair and an orange skin tone. He seemed to me to be quite a laughable character, not someone to take seriously.

I was wrong.  

I am still trying to get my head around his appeal as a politician. Is it an aspirational thing - if he can do it, so can I? Is it that his self-belief is almost hypnotic or do people really believe he can do what he says he will do? Building a wall between Mexico and the US, for example, and making Mexico pay for it.

Certainly, he gave people hope when they felt they had none. He successfully appealed to the workers whose jobs had gone as globalisation crept in. Trump was the visual epitome of raging against the machine, I suppose.

He had a fair degree of political cunning, assuring supporters he’d “drain the swamp” and root out the perceived corruption in Washington. In reality, I’m not sure how well he did on that.

He use the phrase “fake news” to great effect and that helped block rational argument. You were either for or against him. A goodie or a baddie there was no in-between bit as far as he was concerned. In therapeutic terms, it's known as black and white thinking and means an inability to see a way of bringing together positive and negative qualities and only able to see in absolutes - there is no shade of grey.

And that is what we expect from children. Something is fair or not in their eyes. If someone is unkind to them, they bear a grudge, they want to hit back and punish the baddie. No surprise there. But surely that’s not something we expect from a president.   

The surprise for me is that so many adults chose to vote not once, but twice for this man-child. If it is just because of his appeal, then I am quite lost. While, personally, I find his utterings and performance highly entertaining, I’m not entirely confident that President Trump was the ideal man for the job. But how can 70 million voters be wrong?

There is a glimmer of hope. 

I read that it’s more complicated - to me as an outsider at any rate - than it may seem. Some more in the know than I, say those 70m Americans who still voted for Trump had a different reason. They voted less for Trump the man and more for the values of the party for which he stood.

I understand calls to “defund” the police and the increasing normalisation of identity politics and the “wokeism” which comes with it played a large part in the decision of those who voted for Trump and against Joe Biden and the Democrats - something about which senior Democrat politicians are continuing to warn.

Phew, that’s a relief. Those 70 million people who cast their vote for the Trump this time around made a reasonable and rational decision and one I can respect.

I was beginning to get slightly worried that the people of the Western world had become so used to a man-child ruler that they wanted him to remain as president. 

Looks like we're all ready to put on our big boys pants.  

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1 mana5280 on Unsplash

Photo 2  Dave Lowe on Unsplash

Photo 3 Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash


Wednesday, 28 October 2020

How We Gain From Walking With Nature

We are now facing the threat, or reality, of another period of severely limited activities, social and financial deprivation and continued uncertainty. 

These conditions will be exacerbated by fewer daylight hours and colder weather and we are going to have to dig deep to counteract the psychological - and physical - damage that these constraints will inflict on our lives and well-being. The worst hit will again be the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society; sectors which will already have suffered the worst losses and will already be the most depleted.

To have the best possible chance of surviving these deprivations and uncertainties, I suggest we focus on building resilience and accessing resources to provide resistance to infection rather than continually trying to avoid something that may be with us for some considerable time.  
It has been evident from the first period of lockdown that those who are fortunate enough to have adequate space - whether in homes, gardens, parks or the countryside at large - have fared better than those who don't. 
The one thing we do all have, however, is the natural environment itself. It is a resource that needs to be made available to all but it seems there is still not enough understanding of its beneficial properties in keeping us fit, both physically and mentally. 
Research shows that those who live in harmony with nature suffer significantly less anxiety and enjoy better health than those who are alienated from it. In the 1970s, the condition of Nature Deficit Disorder was formally identified by Richard Louv and, since then, there has been extensive research and a plethora of books and papers published evidencing the important way in which nature contributes to our overall health. Sadly, until quite recently, this theory was widely regarded as “alternative” and the benefits largely discounted.  
Fortunately, luminaries such as David Attenborough and Simon Schama have begun talking eloquently of the risks to ourselves of becoming distant from our natural environment. It has perhaps taken the experience of lockdown to alert us all to the reality that we disconnect from nature at a significant physical and psychological cost to ourselves.    
To explore this further, in September of this year I facilitated an outdoor woodland therapy session, working with my daughter who is an experienced Forest School Leader. 
We brought together a group of 10 self-selecting adults who were interested in experiencing how spending a few hours in a woodland environment could affect their feelings and mood.  
We set no fixed goals, but just asked that they tried to remain in the moment as far as possible and to be open and receptive to what was around them in the form of sights, sounds, smells and touch. We talked a little about the cultural, historical and transformative elements of woodlands and the way in which trees communicate with each other through their roots and leaves to warn of predators or other dangers. The example of nature is one of collaboration and community rather than division and dominance, thus making it more resistant to threat and increasing its chances of survival.
When we checked out at the end of the session, there was a tangible energy in the group which had not been present before and people reported feeling lighter, freer and inspired -  
no-one wanted to leave!
Journalist and author Isabel Hardman tells of her own experience and mental health recovery through the aid of nature in The Natural Health Service, a book published earlier this year. If her excellent and thoroughly researched book was formally acknowledged, I believe that we would have an invaluable resource that could be prescribed by GPs as a valid medication and one that could be made available to everyone, whatever their personal circumstances or whatever the external threat. 

Hospitals now recognise that gardens have a therapeutic value to long-stay patients. That is a great start. 

My fear remains, however, that Nature Deficit Disorder is not yet being taken seriously enough. Unless that happens soon, I worry there will more people presenting with a serious mental health crisis in the very near future.   

Photo 1 by Annie Spratt on Unsplash 

Monday, 12 October 2020

How Therapy Can Heal A Community

Here at 96 Harley Psychotherapy, we are proud to be supporting many different people from many different walks of life. We consider we are privileged to be allowed just a small glimpse into other people’s world and would like to share with you some of their comments on how they have individually benefited from specialist psychological care. Kay Lawrence tells of her personal experience working with these clients.

"Last Thursday’s pay packet was the best money I ever earned!  It was clean and I made it from my own hard work," said the young man referring to his £6.40 an hour pay. He was comparing that sum with his previous earnings of some £1,000 a day as a drug dealer. 

The young man was part of an employability scheme which helps people back into work, having served custodial sentences, or having been homeless, or both.  He was one of many being offered a second chance in transforming his life. The scheme called itself an employability scheme but was it just a job he was being offered? 

"I never thought anyone would help me after I lost my kids, my home, and my freedom," said a 30-something woman who found support after serving a prison sentence. The charity which helped her is committed to finding a way of decreasing reoffending rates by helping women find another way of living that allows them to leave the "revolving door syndrome". 

"Seeing the sunlight through the cracks of a shipping container and being in the sunlight as a real person in my own right is something that I can never truly describe," was the reflection of one  young woman in her 20s who had been trafficked into sex and domestic servitude. She is now being supported as she receives trauma counselling and learns to adjust to her new life, living safely in the UK. 

“No-one else would have been willing to take me on, train me up, and never mention my offences ever again,” said the man in his early 50s who is now part of a charity working with people who have years of repeat offending behaviour, culminating in homelessness, mental health difficulties and addictions. 

“I’m now training to become a coach to motivate kids, who are just like I used to be!  It all makes sense now.  If I can do anything to help those kids achieve their real potential, then my own wounds were worth it,” said the young ex-gang member who is now coaching young people who have been failed by the "system". He and the team are helping to heal their clients’ unresolved traumas and working with them for the common good.

The connection with the "end users`' of all these charities and the charities themselves have a goal in common: they long for transformation and a "better way".

If I can distill equality down to its most pure form, I would suggest the key is that we should all have access to the things that give us the qualities of living well. Fairness, opportunity and parity are the common ground, as is the practical need for food and shelter. However, our emotional and psychological needs also need to be looked after. Who are we without acceptance and respect? Who are we if we are not seen and heard, valued and appreciated?

There is so much good news that can be found in surveys revealing the outcomes of charity work and community projects. We know it may not work for everyone but, if one person in a generation changes the course of their life path, then that sets about a systemic change for their descendants too, as well as those around them. I find this prospect very exciting!  Supply the right conditions, and people who wish to embrace a new way will put in the leg work and do so.

Through our clinically and therapeutically informed work with charities and community projects, 96 HS remains committed to being a part of this good news. Partnering with organisations, we support the lifecycle of change, restoration and transformation in whatever capacity we can provide.

I asked a question at the beginning of this piece: Is it just a job? From my point of view, it is so, so much more.

By Kay Lawrence

These are some of the amazing groups we have been involved with since 2010. 

Photo 1  Silhouette of woman: Steven Lasry on Unsplash
Photo 2 Homeless man: by Nick Fewings on Unsplash