Positive Psychology and Mental Health : Clearing The Path

Positive Psychology and Mental Health : Clearing The Path

The ethics of working with clients who are mentally unwell is a hot topic in the world of positive psychology and coaching. It can seem a grey space, especially as clients aren’t always aware of the differences between counselling, psychology, therapy or coaching or the range of modalities used, from talking to hypnotherapy, EFT to somatic bodywork. It can be difficult for clients to sift through the options and find what is right for them. So how do we support clients to understand what we do? And if we feel we are not the right person to help, where is our responsibility in that? Coaching might attract clients with a variety of needs, and because it is often a shorter term investment with less stigma attached, it might be seen as a more accessible option. Where too does positive psychology sit in this? What role does it have to play in ill-health when its initial remit was, as Peterson (2008) tells us, to build on the good in life, rather than repair the bad.   You may wish to listen to the audio version of this article Ethical Considerations Navigating this uncertainty is our responsibility as practitioners. We need to understand and acknowledge where we are comfortable to go with our clients, and when we are moving into territory that is out of our remit, maybe taking on a role better filled by another professional. This shouldn’t be seen as a failure, the client simply needs a different set of skills. These discussions with clients must take place prior to the work starting and again at the contracting stage...
Building Your Psychological Safety

Building Your Psychological Safety

Listen to the audio version of this article This photo of a spider’s web, with one section in need of some serious renovation, resonated this month! Everything can be ticking along nicely then something, or someone, accidentally wanders into one of those flimsy areas and I can quickly feel small or spikey. When we feel threatened, we can react in all kinds of unhelpful ways. We might be defensive or submissive or simply want to hide away, falling back on old responses that are no longer helpful. We may not be aware of any of this because we are very good at hiding the motives behind behaviours, even from ourselves, but we recognise when outcomes are not what we want. Negative reactions, missing out on promotions, friendships lost, the same old arguments with family. Coaching psychology is about shining a light on this inner world, noticing what works well and where developing different strategies could be useful and it’s often in our interactions with others that ‘problem areas’ are brought to our attention, because how we react to others varies with how psychologically safe, we feel. What is Psychological Safety? Psychological Safety is about how safe we feel in relationships. Are we willing to take risks like expressing our thoughts and needs? In the same way we make decisions to avoid people we don’t feel physically safe with, we make decisions about how psychologically vulnerable we are ready to be with others too. When we don’t feel threatened, we are more willing to speak up, take chances even if there’s the possibility, we might make mistakes. We have an...
Strengths: Getting Back to Basics

Strengths: Getting Back to Basics

Listen to the audio version of this article.   Journeys are best begun with an initial reconnaissance. We want to get our bearings, check out what supplies we have in our backpacks, decide on a destination. A self-development journey is no different and learning more about our strengths is an excellent starting point because they are the foundations on which we can start to build greater self-awareness. Today, as I started out on a fresh adventure with a new client I reminded myself why.   Why Start With Strengths? At the start of a coaching relationship, hope is high but trust has yet to be built. Your client might be nervous, wondering what they’ve signed themselves up for. I am asking them about some broad concepts; Zest, Honesty, Bravery, any one of Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) 24 character strengths. The client is new to this work and I can tell they’re not sure. How will becoming aware of their strengths benefit them, what can this knowledge offer? Well, to begin with, strengths are a great place to start a conversation. A way into the stories we hold about ourselves. It helps the client notice the lens they are holding up to their lives and in turn builds self-knowledge and understanding. It also provides a language with which to discuss our drivers and interests. It helps us name our choices and see the threads that have guided our decisions all through our lives, even when we didn’t realise it. Humour, one of my top strengths, helped me recognise the truth of this.   Seeing The Funny Side I had always...
Positive Menopause; Taming The Dragon

Positive Menopause; Taming The Dragon

By the time you get to your 40s and 50s you think you have a pretty good handle on who you are, then along comes menopause and everything can get turned on its head. It is a time in life that often involves considerable external pressures so it may not be obvious that hormones are playing a part in how you are feeling. Caring for aging parents, dealing with children, work, relationships; there are so many reasons to be sleepless, tired and overwhelmed. We don’t always stop to consider ‘oh, this could be a menopause symptom.’ For me, I was left questioning my identity, not just because I was aging but because mood swings could leave me wondering who I really was. Something I took in my stride one day could cause a melt down on another, so which was the real me? It isn’t always comfortable to realise that our reactions are dictated by the presence or absence of hormones, we believe in our stories – my manager made me cross, a late train made me anxious. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t sit well with our minds. When the outside world doesn’t match up with how we feel on the inside, it searches for explanations, and we invest a lot of effort into finding things to blame for our difficult feelings.   But all women go through menopause, what’s the big deal? It’s true, menopause will happen, and some sail through with few complaints. Some find it a difficult time without ever realising why and many simply put up and shut up because our health has never been that high...
Boundaries: Learning To Put Yourself At The Centre Of Your Decisions

Boundaries: Learning To Put Yourself At The Centre Of Your Decisions

Asking For What You Need Boundaries are not all about saying no to what we don’t want, equally important can be asking for the things we do, but that doesn’t always feel comfortable or easy. So how to do it? The answer is straightforward, you just have to practice, and it will feel unnatural to start with because you may have spent most of your life doing the exact opposite.  Spend some time digging deeper because if you can uncover the reasons for an established behaviour this can be a great catalyst to support change. If you grew up in a family with strong opinions, or strong opinions on particular topics, then a sensible coping mechanism for managing the dynamic would be to take yourself out of the equation. Your own desires are something you have some control over, so by discounting your own opinion there is one less person in the mix, making family life easier to negotiate. Added bonus – if you don’t speak out, you save yourself the disappointment of being overruled! Time To Move On That’s all well and good as you start out in life, families can be tough for the gentle soul, but as a grown up these behaviours are not always the most useful. They can land us in difficulties as we try to negotiate adult relationships including the relationship we have with ourselves. That inner voice can be crying out to be heard but we’ve learnt to stop listening. After years of not expressing our needs we can simply lose the ability to discern what we actually want. We create so...
Remembering to Uncurl: Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Remembering to Uncurl: Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

The world moves so quickly. It’s not surprising that our minds and bodies can sometimes struggle to keep up. Evolution takes a long time. A really long time. We often forget because our brains are wonderfully plastic and constantly adapting but some parts still remember the stone ages like it was yesterday! Whilst we are capable of assimilating new information at a fantastic pace, the area of our brain that was used to dealing with ‘that shadow looks like a bear’ can find it hard to interpret messages. The input becomes conflated and distorted, from ‘nice headphones’ to ‘everyone else has those headphones’ to ’if I don’t get those new headphones I’m in trouble’. We are left on high alert, our senses primed for danger, watching for the threat our brain tells us is out there.   Stress Is Normal We don’t always notice the daily stressors we encounter because they are a constant low buzz in the background but coming out of lockdown offered me occasional moments of clarity. I noticed the discomfort created by motorway rush hour traffic or being back in an office. These things generate a strain on the nervous system and require some effort, heightening our stress response system. Let me be clear, these are not bad things. We were born for stress, effort and challenge, they fire us up and teach us skills. The problem comes when we stop acknowledging stress and forget to do the things that help us come back down again afterwards. Without the self-awareness it also gets harder to connect the resulting anxiety with its origin.   Balancing The...