So a slightly different blog this time about my present work as a psychologist and what it involves – without of course breaking confidentiality…I trained as a health psychologist and I am chartered with the British Psychological Society (also registered with the Health Care Professionals Council); both of which involve responsibilities i.e acting ethically and keeping up my professional development (see below). The reason I am writing about this is because quite often you hear people say to those who are living with difficulties-“why don’t you go and have a little chat with a psychologist?” Warning – never use the word “chat” when referring to talking therapies! One of my old colleagues said those chats can be expensive! Also because I am self-employed it seems to me that some other people – including the people at my church, think I just spend a few hours a week chatting to people and that is all my work entails!!
At present I work as a psychotherapist (not the same as a counsellor when a psychologist is doing it- see my previous blog!) I work with adults, adolescents and children. I mainly use CBT, but also other concepts/ideas/approaches too. And yes I do talk to my clients, but very little of that is chat – some of it is psychoeducation, some of it is Socratic dialogue and the rest is working collaboratively with people in getting them to change/accept their thoughts and behaviour. However the work I do is not just the time I spend with my clients….I have to continue with my professional development and this includes: reading, reflecting, attending workshops/conferences etc. I also see my supervisor once a month… I have to send out invoices, write reports, market myself, read through notes and prepare session content, as well as responding to emails and chasing up clients who don’t contact you when they should…On top of that it is a sedentary job and also one that takes an emotional toll, so I sometimes feel drained and can have impostor syndrome! Therefore I have to look after my own physical and mental health through exercise and finding time to relax etc. Despite all that I do enjoy my work; I don’t earn much, but I love being my own boss and I like working with my clients…
The researchers at CAR UWE (the centre for appearance research at the University of the West of England) recently published a podcast on body hair, but it was over 30 minutes long and most people don’t want to spend that long listening, so I’ll summarise it here and some. As well as making some hair-raising jokes, they made three main points (that they had found from looking at the literature) none of which are really surprising:
- Women are more likely to remove body hair than men.
- Gay men are more likely to remove body hair than straight men.
- Younger women tend to remove more body hair than older women.
- There are cultural variables.
In fact it seems that many young women remove body hair from the neck downwards, including pubic hair – not just the bikini line, but the whole lot (and yet there are a minority of women, including a couple of celebrities who are”embracing” their body hair). And this seems to be because modern day porn shows women with no pubic hair and so young men are coming to expect that…..!!!! I remember when I grew up in the 70s and 80s that any man who wanted a woman to remove all her pubic hair was considered to be a pervert….after all pubic hair is a sign of sexual maturity…
One area that they didn’t discuss was the relevance to oral sex – they didn’t go there, so….Nobody likes that feeling of having a hair stuck at the back of the throat, so maybe this is another reason why some men prefer women to go bald….however they are not going to do that themselves – no doubt they would argue that the penis sticks out further than the clitoris and therefore it isn’t necessary for men to do that! LOL… But what is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose and I would also argue that if women are going to shave their armpits then men could do so too!
I have had quite a few clients where drink has been a problem and I am not talking about alcoholism…rather the sort of dependency on drink which shows itself when someone can go all day without a drink, but once they open that bottle of wine they are unable to stop; and because they are drinking pretty much every day, they are having way over the recommended average weekly limit of 14 units… Often it can also make anxiety worse the next day too and/or exacerbate depression… Some of my clients work on this with me (as a health psychologist) successfully, but others can’t manage it and then drop out of therapy.
My closest family members would laugh if they read this blog, as they know I like a drink, but I probably have 3-4 dry days a week and the weeks I drink 20 units are balanced by the weeks I drink only 8. Also I find it more difficult when someone else is pouring/buying, so I have now devised this system when on an evening out I will wear a set number of bracelets and whenever I have a drink I take one off – once my arm is bare I have to stop – simple! This helps, because we all have a limited amount of willpower and sometimes that “muscle” is worn out by the evening, so action planning helps. This is related to the research literature on implementation intentions and devising if-then plans e.g. if there is no alcohol in the house then you will be less likely to drink! etc. etc. For the Psychologists out there, there are a few good articles on alcohol in our monthly magazine, including the low-down on digital interventions which can help some people.
So if you can practice controlled drinking, your mental health and physical health will benefit… Also you are less likely to get to that place where the alcohol controls your life and the only answer would be then to give it all up for good! And I don’t know about you, but on a Friday night in the Summer I am looking forward to that first glass of cold white wine!
In the Psychologist this month Christian Jarrett tells us 10 things about the placebo effect, which I will summarise here:
- It works even when you know it’s a placebo!
- Colours and branding help e.g. blue placebo pills make better sedatives than pink ones…
- Some people are more prone to it e.g.optimists (especially with analgesics).
- Some doctors are better at inducing it than others e.g. ones who are warm and friendly.
- It’s not just about pills and pain relief e.g. certain smells can make people feel and be more creative if they are told it does that…
- If you are told you have slept well you will be more alert the next day even if you have not slept so well….
- If you are told that you exercise more than your peers, you have better health outcomes even if you haven’t…
- The opposite of course is the nocebo effect – so be careful about reading the side effects on your medications!
- Expressive writing improves mental health even when the trauma is a made-up one….
- The effect appears to be getting better i.e. more of an effect can be contributed to placebos in trials and this has changed between the 90s and 2013…
When I was about 7 years old my mother tested me, by asking me what I would like to do with the last piece of chocolate cake and I surprised her by saying I would chop it in half and we would have half each. She was touched by this answer, so she let me have the whole slice. I then broke it in half and ate the dry bit first and the creamy bit second, which is what I usually did…So maybe I was quite good at delaying gratification? Obviously it would be more complicated now, as I would have to choose between the slice of chocolate cake or getting into my jeans! Researchers think this is partly to do with our genes i.e. how much self-control we have….
For the past four decades, the “marshmallow test” has served as a classic experimental measure of children’s self-control: will a child eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later? This behavioural experiment was first carried out in the 60s at Stanford Uni, in the USA, by the psychologist Mischel and colleagues. Over a period of time following the children into adulthood, they found that the ones who delayed gratification were often more successful in their lives – better at passing exams etc and the men were probably better lovers! They have repeated the tests recently and found that it is not just down to the children’s personality traits, but also down to the environment i.e. the children who were in the group with reliable researchers who kept their promises were able to hold out for 9 mins longer than the ones who had been let down….therefore as parents we should be consistent with our children.
The funniest part of the experiments, I found, were the activities the children did while waiting: dancing, singing, napping, drawing and even sitting on the marshmallow. so that it was out of sight! Which is why I don’t keep chocolate cake in the house, unless it’s my birthday!
In The Psychologist this month Christian Jarrett summarises some of the recent research on the best way to use exercise to boost mood and combat stress/anxiety. Here are some of the salient points:
- Moderate intensity exercise is best, perhaps because low intensity is dull and high intensity is too unpleasant! You need to get out of breath enough where you can’t sing, but could still hold something of a conversation.
- However mindfulness based exercises such as Yoga and Pilates can also improve mood, as even though you may not get much of an aerobic workout, you are still concentrating your mind on your body in a positive way.
- 10-30 minutes duration is ample (but no less than 10). Therefore a brisk walk round the block will do when you can’t make it to the gym…
- Allow for your own fitness level and preferences, so that you find that sweet spot where exercise is enough of a challenge without being unpleasant.
- Include weight training as well, as that enables you to see your progress in a visible way.
So I shall continue with Zumba,Spin, Pilates and BodyPump, knowing that I am exercising my mind as well as my body.
If not you might be at some point in the future – there is a lot of hype about the psychobiotic revolution at the moment and in order to help you understand it a bit more, I will summarise the article in the Psychologist this month by Professor John Cryan:
- Mums with high perceived stress during pregnancy have children with a different microbiome (the vast army of microbes found in our gut) from those whose mothers don’t…
- Babies pick up microbes from the birth canal when born normally and babies born under C-section don’t – as a result they are more likely to develop autism and have an increased stress response…
- We now have an explanation for why breastfed babies can have a higher IQ – the microbes are breaking down the complex sugars (only) found in breast milk and the microbes extract sciatic acid from these sugars which helps in brain development…
- His studies showed that in a group of 180 old people, health outcomes were better in those who had a more diverse microbiome….and this diversity came from a diverse diet…
- People with resistant major depression have a reduced diversity in their microbiome…
- Healthy volunteers taking probiotics for a month, when stressed, had a different EEG signature and had a reduced positive behavioural response…
- So we have to feed our microbes to feed our brain…
- Unanswered (as yet) questions include – can we design interventions that improve people’s microbiome and also (as a result) improve their psychological well-being?
So, I don’t know about you, but I am going to continue to have an actimel every day (so don’t be vegan!)
My husband would probably say that at this time of year I become a bit too fond of this Danish word! But it does seem a good way of making the most of the cold nights and dark evenings, especially during Advent and Christmas and even afterwards (unless you believe in dry January!) The nearest English translation is “cosy”- but it is more than that, as it also includes a sense of well-being with yourself and with others. E.g. Hygge for me would include a wood burner (with wet or snowy weather outside the window) flickering candles, warmth, simple but tasty food, red wine, lovely background music and good conversation with those I care about – in other words Hygge is better shared…So don’t worry if you haven’t got a Christmas or New Year’s eve party to go to; just snuggle up on the settee, put down your phone, light a candle, be grateful for the little things and enjoy the Hygge… Perhaps it is also about the contrast between light and dark, as well as the contrast between cold and warmth ? Which after all is what many of the Winter festivals are partly celebrating…
My view on dreams, as a psychologist, is that they are just the brain tidying up at night. However The Psychologist this month has an article (written by Christine Parsons and Melanie Rosen) who claim that when we share dreams we’re trying to construct a self-image for the listener; i.e. they think that by sharing complex dreams we make ourselves seem more interesting and creative.
Here are some of the other interesting points they make:
- If you know someone who can’t stand it when you share your dreams, then just tell them you had a dream about them last night and they might suddenly be interested in hearing more!
- We are selective about who we report to and what we choose to share.
- Our dream-self might have a different personality!
- Some believe that dreams can tell us hidden truths about ourselves and that certain objects symbolise people or emotions.
- Others believe that dreams are meaningless cognitive rubbish.
- Reporting a dream requires more than just recollection, as we have to impose a story-line onto it.
- There is always a temptation to filter and fabricate the dream stories!
- Dreams of sexual infidelity can correlate with lower feelings of intimacy towards our partners over the next day or so.
So perhaps the most interesting thing about dreams is not what happens in them, but who we share them with and how we share the “story”?
The Psychologist for October did a feature on animals this month and I particularly liked the research about dogs. I guess I am biased, as my daughter has a dog and my son has recently got one too. (I grew up with dogs, but cannot have one now as I am allergic). Also many of my clients say that some of their best times, when they are feeling depressed, are when they take their dog out for a walk. Anyway here are some of the summary points:
- Stroking a dog can lower your heart rate and blood pressure when you’re stressed.
- Taking a dog for a walk can facilitate social interaction with other dog walkers.
- They are very good at understanding human communication, including tone of voice and even the point of an arm.
- Like humans they sleep better when they have had an active day.
- They know that you can’t see them when your back is turned!
- They have evolved over 1000s of years alongside human beings and this is why they have some social and cognitive skills similar to a 3 year old human child.
- People living with Williams-Beuren syndrome have some similar genes to dogs, which results in them being extremely gregarious and treating everybody as their friend.