After a suicide…

After a family member or a much loved friend has died by suicide, those left behind may feel shame or guilt, low self-esteem, fear, anger, a sense of abandonment and distorted thinking. Some of these feelings will be part of the normal process of working through grief, but may well be intensified in these situations. These feelings need to be worked through and sometimes it can help to talk to a close friend who is good at listening or a suitable talking therapist. Anger has to be allowed time to  fade and other feelings like guilt, rejection and blame can be reality-tested.  Fortunately the Church of England (since 2015) now allows Christian funeral services for people who die by suicide and eventually the Roman Catholic church may change their minds on this too. This is important as the funeral service is a helpful part of grief work: It helps people accept the reality of the loss and it can be an important opportunity for people to talk and express their feelings and memories of the deceased – although sometimes over-idealising people in this way is not  always helpful and as well as talking about the things they are going to miss, it could be helpful to talk about the things they are not gong to miss?  Also it may act as a social support network.


Perfectionism is closely linked to anxiety. I know this because I had a colleague who was dong her PhD on perfectionists and also because in the early years of secondary school I used to be one. Now instead I am known as “cutting corners Bailey”! Not because I am not dedicated to helping my clients improve their lives, but because I don’t believe in adding more anxieties into my life on top of the ones that arrive all by themselves. Perfect is not a suitable adjective for one’s life or ones’ relationships, because life is never perfect and people aren’t, therefore you are going to always end up being disappointed if that is what you are striving for. Also perfectionism often leads to procrastination. Wanting everything to be perfect is a sign that we want to be in control all the time (also impossible) and therefore a sign of insecurity. Being good enough is often the best we can strive for.

Pelvic floor…

So I am a health psychologist and therefore I always have my ears pricked for discussions about health, which included a discussion after my Pilates class today about pelvic floor exercises. Apparently there is a physiotherapist who is also a comedian! (And she specialises in this type of exercise). Most women come across advice about how to do the exercises after they have just had their first baby; and I also know alot of women who don’t bother doing them and then wonder why after the second or third child they pee their knickers every time they sneeze! The point is we should be telling adolescent girls about this long before they get pregnant and the motivator then is that it will improve their sex lives. After all telling a 16 year old that she needs to do them, otherwise she will have to have a horrible operation when she is an old lady to stop her being incontinent is not going to be relevant to her. And this is the same for all health behaviours – find what motivates the individual first. Apparently we are supposed to do them three times a day, but the great thing is nobody need know you are doing it – even if standing at the bus stop! How do you remember to do them then? Make an if-then plan; e.g. if stopped at a red traffic light, then I will do my pelvic floor exercises. And apparently it is good for men to do too…


Healthy Living…

The Psychologist has issued a leaflet on healthy living for positive mental and physical health; so here are ten top tips:

  1. Small changes in our diet can add up, but don’t over do it, otherwise it becomes impossible to maintain those changes, so look for several methods that are lasting, sustainable and even enjoyable!
  2. Beware emotional eating and make “if-then” plans to have healthy snack alternatives available for when you are stressed (O’Conner)
  3. Eating well is not only about what, but also about when, where and how you eat. Meals should be eaten at regular times and in specific places, preferably at a table and not on the go or in front of a computer. If it is called a meal it is more likely to be eaten mindfully (Ogden).
  4. Get it off your chest – talking therapies  such as CBT help with emotional and mental health problems, but also writing it down helps too. Writing about your emotions for about 15 minutes a day can improve well-being (Pennebaker).
  5. If a smoker, pick a day to stop completely and then stick to it; and if you fail try again – successful quitters have usually had several attempts.
  6. Physical activity doesn’t have to  involve an expensive gym, if that is not your thing – just moving more and sitting less is a good place to start.
  7. Problems sleeping? Don’t snooze! (Ellis). Lying in too long, going to bed too early and napping can disrupt our sleep patterns. However for most of us a short period of bad sleep is natural and should correct itself.
  8. Stress management theory says that the relationship between stress and performance is bell-curved. Too little can cause boredom and too much can make us ill – so find your sweet spot at the top of the curve, but keep levels in check (Thomas).
  9. When drinking alcohol don’t try to keep up with your peers! 14 units a week on average is the recommended amount for both men and women now – spread over 4-5 days with at least 2 dry days a week.
  10. Careful, specific planning for things that you really want to do with monitoring and realistic goals can help in any behaviour change (Abraham).

healthy me!

Public speaking…

So Mark Twain said  that there are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars!

Most people do get nervous when they have to speak in public and some people will just do everything they can to avoid it, but lots of us will have to do so occasionally, either at a funeral, a wedding or in a job interview. I have had to do so on many occasions now: I was a teacher; I did a speech at my second wedding; I was a researcher and spoke to several audiences including about 100 people at an international conference; I have lectured to BSc and MSc students; and now I can add doing a sermon to my list.

So here are some tips to help you, if you find yourself in that situation anytime soon:

  1. Talk slowly and fall in love with the full stop!
  2. If nervous get rid of the excess adrenaline in advance by either shaking out your hands or by doing some rhythmic breathing (longer on the out-breath).
  3. An old cliche, but true – speak to the person at the back of the room, especially if not miked up.
  4. Don’t worry about people’s hearing aids – that is their responsibility not yours!
  5. Move around a bit and use hand gestures to keep them on their toes.
  6. Modulate your voice.
  7. Don’t be afraid to use notes – but do look up at your audience at regular intervals.
  8. Don’t tell jokes if that is not your forte, but do use humour when appropriate.
  9. Don’t speak for too long – shorter is normally better and if asked to speak for more than 15 minutes, include elements of interaction.
  10. If using PowerPoint, include pictures when you can and if using written slides follow the 666 “rule” ( 6 slides per 10 mins, 6 lines per slide and 6 words per line).

The church and sexuality…


Most of you who read this blog know that I normally write it as a psychologist. Today I am writing it as a Christian. So if you are not interested in the shenanigans of the Church of England you may as well stop reading now!

The church seems to be split at the moment between those who approve of gays getting married in church and those who don’t. It is mainly evangelicals who are against homosexuality and therefore against any sort of gay marriage. They argue that the church does not need to keep up with the times, as we have to follow the Bible – yet the Bible is a collection of books that often contradict each other. And Jesus didn’t have much to say about sex and sexuality, as he had more important things to be concerned about. They also argue that Christianity is not about just helping people, but also about doing what God wants – yet how do we know what God wants? Well we could start with the Ten Commandments – four are about our behaviour towards God and six are about our behaviour towards each other. The only one that refers to sexual behaviour is the one about not committing adultery. And it should be obvious why that is not a good idea.

It seems to me that many of the Jewish laws were originally based on practicalities e.g. eating shellfish could make you ill and marriage was supposed to protect women and children from irresponsible men! Homosexuality was frowned upon in those days because the Jews needed to procreate and expand their tribe. So maybe when the early Christians decided that we did not need to be circumcised and we could eat pork, they could also have decided that men and women were equal and that homosexuality was okay. Unfortunately they didn’t and it has taken the church 2000 years to agree to women bishops. I believe that the church will eventually agree to marrying gays in church and also to allowing lay readers and gay priests to marry too. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 2000 years! After all, isn’t it all about love?

In the words of Gerard W Hughes (from God of Surprises) “We need to love and be loved, because it is only through these relationships that we can come to know God, who is love.”


Is this the authentic painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci? Most of you who know a little about art will recognise that it is not. Apparently it was painted by one of his pupils, but of the same woman. We can all change our outward looks depending on our hairstyle, our physical health etc. But how often do we put on a virtual mask to disguise ourselves, because we maybe don’t want others to know what we’re really like?  It is very easy to think of people we know who come across as fake or phony, but not so easy to think of people who are authentic all the time. For example we may have to put on a mask at work, but if we’re not careful, we may find that putting on a mask too often will have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

Professor Stephen Joseph, in his book “Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters”  talks about the authenticity formula; where to be authentic means knowing yourself and then owning yourself and then being yourself. All of these can be difficult and sometimes people who are not authentic have a problem with people who are. However it is not a state of mind that we achieve one happy day; instead it is a constant process that goes on throughout our lives.