Twickenham Therapist on Silence

Recently I went to the Peak District for a weekend of yoga and mindfulness.

Nine of us met the teacher and each other for the first time on Friday evening for the first yoga session, followed by dinner where we got to know each other a bit. The teacher suggested that during the weekend we breakfast in silence to preserve the peace and calmness of the early morning sessions. Dutifully we agreed but after experiencing this on the Saturday morning, the group voted to restore breakfast conversation.

The interesting thing was however, that by Sunday morning, having spent 24 hours sharing our stories, fears, head massages and cake, breakfast was spent in an easy quiet of familiarity.

It got me thinking about silence and how we experience it.

Often in group when there is a silence the first person to speak will say how unbearable it is and that they are talking in order to break it. It may be that their experience of silence is that it precedes anger, or is the aftermath of a row. Maybe they grew up with a parent who could not express their anger, so raged silently in that way that fills the air with tension. Something about the lack of noise is unbearable.

One of the women on the weekend said that she lived alone, so for her silence was a reminder of that. Talking to her about this it seemed that it was more palpably a reminder of the loss and grief  that had forced the silence upon her.

In therapy the silence can be heavy with expectation and charged with anticipation. A client’s silence can be because they are searching for the words to articulate something that has not been spoken about before. Engaged silence is the respectful and holding  environment that such disclosures require.

Engaged because sitting in silence with someone is a world away from ignoring them. One of my yoga friends told us about a retreat where not only is talking banned, but also hand gestures and signals. In this environment if you need something, you have to wait for someone to attune to your need, to work it out and provide you with it. Wow, imagine that, how connected would we have to be with each other to make that work? The words we use with each other are often about keeping a distance,  words are about controlling the space between us as much as they are about connecting. We tell our colleagues about our weekend in a way that presents a story, we knowingly add to the way they experience us with what we tell them. Stripping the words away means we give the world ourselves as we are.

True silence is of course hard to find short of burrowing down a disused  mine. On that first breakfast I was blown away but just how loud crockery is! But shutting out the obvious noise is a great way to tune it to what is happening beneath it.

stick_man_by_minimoko94-d2zvfn8One of my favorite mindfulness exercises is to draw a stick man in the middle of a page, imagine it is me and draw or write the noises  I hear all around it, in the place that they are coming from. Try it in the garden on a summers afternoon, the birdsong, lawn mowers, children playing, etc will anchor you in the here and now. Do it in a coffee shop and you will find out just how many sounds there are that you disregard or tune out. It is a great way to practice a bit of mindfulness without the wandering thoughts that inevitably accompany a breathing exercise.


Twickenham Therapist likes this from Kate In Trainers

Kate in Trainers blogs under the name Mad Mum Runs where she talks running and living with mental health diagnoses of a personality disorder and PTSD.

She writes eloquently and honestly with what it is like living with ongoing mental health problems, and how running helps. I wanted to re-post (with her permission)  her blog on schema therapy because I think it is a really good description of how our thinking patterns can be laid down and reinforced through life,  often to our detriment.

Please read it if you’ve learnt to live with a head full of negative or damaging thoughts, I think it will really help.



Twickenham Therapist on wayward fathers

I’m not talking about teenage boys who shoot and leave as it were, and  take no responsibility for their resulting child. No, it’s the middle class “explorer” Dads I take issue with, the current poster boy of which is Benedict Allen, temporarily taking the title from Ben Fogle.

Allen is the guy who decided he needed to trek into a remote part of Papua New Guinea through a local war zone, to see if he could hook up with the remote Yaifo tribe. This was a tribe he had spent a week with over twenty five years ago, and, well, I don’t know, did he think they were  sitting around wondering what he was up to in the intervening period? Any how off he went, leaving behind his wife, three children and any form of communication. After missing a scheduled appointment some weeks later a helicopter  search and rescue exercise was mobilized to bring him home.  Thankfully, in this digital age, he manged to film himself suffering from Malaria whilst waiting to be rescued, so we can all share that experience. with him. Ben Fogle similarly enjoys pushing himself to limits in far flung places – although somewhat more safely with a camera crew in tow. Bear Grylls has form in this area as well

I am sure the partners of these men are stoic and capable women who know what they were signing up for. But here’s my message for their men. By all means risk life and limb in remote parts of the world if you will, but don’t have children. It’s a choice; you can’t do both. Children are not a part time activity, they’re a full time obligation. They need parents to be around, and constant. A child deserves to have a father who is present for them. Their lives should not be weighed down with anxiety about whether Daddy will come home or if this the trip that kills them. Having a child means you have to be a grown up, it’s not all about you anymore, someone else comes first.

Twickenham Therapist on high flying and falling apart.

In my job I am lucky to work with some incredible people as clients, particularly  women, who I feel privileged to know and journey with. They are successful in demanding careers. They inhabit their workplace, poised, articulate and on top of their game. Other women look up to them and want to learn from them. They are everything that is good about the 21st Century and a role model for our daughters.

Yet they are falling apart on the inside.

Continue reading… →

Twickenham Therapist on death


It’s the time of year when the poppies and parades remind me of the war time losses,  100 years ago right up to now and inevitably ongoing.  Death in battle is a wrenching loss, people pulled from their lives and families, suddenly leaving a space in the world that can’t be filled. History and now the media inform us of the circumstances of their death and I am left with a feeling of huge sadness, underpinned with respect and gratitude that they gave their lives in such a way. I can connect with them if told enough about them. But as I write this, news is coming in of the earthquake on the Iran/Iraq border, where the latest figures are expected to 328 dead.

328 people to whom I have no connection, no longer alive and  I find myself noting how awful that is in an abstract way. But these people are a number to me, I find it hard to conceive of them as individuals with lives and families. Did they have hopes or dreams, where they happy, what were they expecting from the week ahead before their future was eradicated?

Death hits us hardest when it happens to someone we love; then we get right up against it and face the inevitability of loss, of life without. Grief is personal, yet also shared; it pays no attention to time, it goes on and on, or sometimes it has barely started years later. Grief for me is like the sea on the shore, sometimes a huge wave crashes in and knocks you over, other times it gently laps, subtle, but always there.

Something about death reinforces for me the need to live. But I know that for some, the living is hard, and the thought of death the relief. “Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes” as the TV series MASH told us. It can be hard for us to understand this, primed as we are for survival, but ignoring someone who is suicidal or jollying them along misses their point, and adds to their sense of otherness and isolation. Sometimes we can only hold the hope for them and be there until they remember why they want to live.

Death is inevitable, and so part of the struggle of life.

Twickenham Therapist on challenges


I’ve taken on a big challenge recently –  to run a marathon next year. After the thrill of making the decision and getting a place died down I was left with questions

  • Can I do it?
  • Do I have time to train?
  • What happens if I can’t make it?
  • What was I thinking?

The reality is that it will be hard work and take a lot of effort, but I have support and time to prepare. Not everyone is so lucky, particularly those for whom challenge is a huge part of everyday life.

If you suffer from depression, getting out of bed can be a challenge in itself, everyday tasks of living take huge effort and self-care is often the biggest challenge of all. Similarly, navigating the day ahead when you suffer from anxiety means being in a constant state of alert and heightened tension. It’s exhausting and often something that remains hidden from friends and family – so added to the burden is the pretence of looking like everything is just fine.

You know that confident happy person you see every day? Maybe on the train, in the playground, getting coffee – the person who looks like they are sailing through life, nary a care in the world? Trust me, they’re not. They’ve just got the pretence thing down pat; what it really means is that you just don’t know what their challenges are – but they do have them.

I’m very fortunate, my day to day challenges are generally first world stuff and I got to choose my big challenge. I opted to run. But I remain in awe of anyone attacking challenges that are not of their making. Anyone for whom the business of life is made harder by anxiety, depression or any other mental dis-ease. You are truly amazing.

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