I love studying. Prior to my seven-year
psychology degree, I started three other degrees. I love learning, I love
researching, I love growing, but mostly, I love writing. The sense of
achievement that follows looking at a finished document that didn’t exist
before provides me with such satisfaction.
I grieved after completing my degree, over the end of that part of my life.
Such was the loss, I wandered aimlessly,
wondering how to fill my days. How to fill the gap in the joy, calm and sense
of achievement that writing had fulfilled.
Before, I had sat in my favourite chair in the sun and listened to the tap tap of the keys and I turned my thoughts into pages and pages of my thesis. I sipped tea and felt the warmth on my skin and worked at my all-consuming task. I hadn’t ever predicted the ritual would leave such a gaping hole in my life and my wellbeing.
Soon after finishing my degree, I returned to writing for other reasons.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, I began journaling in the form of letters to my grandmother, my nan, who had died four years earlier. I found I could connect with her throughout my time of need by putting pen to paper and in doing so, her answers to my questions and the love and support I knew she would have given revealed themselves, loudly and clearly. Comfort.
Cancer treatment, hair, breasts, ovaries all came and went and soon I felt well enough to search for meaning in all that had just happened in my life. What if, as a psychologist, one who had worked extensively with cancer patients, I had a message to share that might alleviate someone else’s burden of illness just a little? I knew I had something to share, something of value, and decided to write a book.
I joined a writing class and in three years my breast cancer memoir, A Hole in my Genes, was complete. Revisiting my old friend, the writing process, brought me stunning mindful calm and a sense of achievement like no other, in the form of meaning for my cancer experience.
However, with the words ‘The End’ came another grieving period, my all-consuming ritual ended once again. It had been a catharsis. It assisted with my processing of facing my mortality. It had allowed me to express a myriad of emotions safely, yet fully. Writing had saved my life.
Fast forward a matter of weeks and the urge to write, to create, to express myself tugged at my thoughts ever so strongly and I knew I need a new writing project.
A coffee, a dog walk, and some tossing around of ideas with a photographer friend one afternoon saw the birth of The Psychology of It.
As psychologists, psycho-education is one of our most valuable and most utilised tools.
When our clients can understand the what,
why, when and how of a disorder, or a reaction, an emotion, a behaviour, they
are more than half-way towards knowing how to choose the most effective coping
tools to manage their situation.
Therapy is an interesting beast and I know for myself at least, I go through phases of using particular interventions,particular stories and metaphors and I certainly have my go-to examples thattend to help most people understand a variety of topics.
I noticed that I would find myself repeating the same information, using the same analogies, drawing the same diagrams over, and over again, day in and day out, wishing a resource existed, using my language, to direct my clients to.
Of course, there are amazing resources online but mostly they specialised in certain areas, were too science-y, too self-help-y, or were generally too ‘something’ that my clients wouldn’t read.
Enter Stage Left, The Psychology of It.
The Psychology of It website is where it all began. I adore writing in many different formats and so created a website with five different categories. As a psychologist, the evidence-based research and science is key to efficacious work. We are scientist-practitioners and are always evaluating the work we do with our clients, as well as keeping up-to-date with the latest best practice principles. A lot of the time however, this information is only available in research journals and not easy tounderstand for the general community.
So, I began with a section called Analyse This, where we were able to interpret the more scientific information in a user-friendly way. There are descriptions of different disorders as well as information about different treatment modalities, and articles that describe why certain human experiences are so.
In the name of being user-friendly, I wanted a quick reference guide to a number of easy-to-learn coping tools that people could access and easily understand. These are the tools I’m teaching my clients every single day and so to have an article I can print out for them, or direct them too after a session to reinforce the skill they have learned that day, is invaluable. Those articles are found in The Coping Toolkit.
I also wanted a space to write about personal opinions and experiences. The main aim of The Psychology of It is to normalise human experiences, reduce the stigma and highlight the similarities we have as human beings, as opposed to always focussing on the differences. I didn’t always want to have to be scientific about things and noticed that a lot of people are more likely to read information if it’s presented in a more personal format. This is where Up Close & Personal came in.
Another main aim for The Psychology of It is to connect us all, human to human, again by highlighting the similarities we experience as humans. Conversations on the Couch does that beautifully by introducing people from all walks of life and ‘interviewing’ them, using the same set of questions that explore their personal life experiences and opinions, identifying their unique outlooks but also highlighting their commonalities with others. This section helps us feel as though we’re not the ‘only one’. In fact, Fraser has his own Conversation on the Couch up on the website. You can find it here.
Finally, I realised there might have to be a ‘miscellaneous’ category which I named New Things. Whether it be new resources, new experiences, new people, it’s a section where almost anything fits.
As well as the five sections filled with articles by some wonderful guest writers, we also keep a resource list called Stuff We Like. It’s always needing updating so if you have any recommendations, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
In the world of social media, The Psychology of It is linked to a Facebook page with over 3000 followers, and also on Instagram and Twitter. These all allow for further reach for the messages we’d like to spread, reducing the stigma of mental illness, and pushing the barrow for mental health, messages of wellbeing and the importance of self-care.
The Psychology of It is growing and in many ways has taken on a life of its own.
This year, it has also become a clinical practice in south-west Victoria, Australia. This practice allows me to work as the type of clinician I’ve also aspired to be. Many sessions with clients are starting to be conducted outside of the clinic walls where we take the practice of the skills learned in session, into real life. Clients are booking in for mindful walking, running, eating sessions. I’ve also purchased two stand-up paddleboards so that in the warmer months, mindful breathing and grounding sessions can be conducted on our beautiful rivers and ocean. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be undertaking a Trauma-based Yoga for Clinicians workshop and am excited for what doors that may open for me both personally and professionally.
To top it all off, I’m extending the messages of the importance of self-care, well-being and preventative mental health by hosting The Psychology of It’s first international Wellbeing Retreat in Bali, Indonesia. To find out more about that, you can go to http://thepsychologyofit.com.au/retreat.html.
I’m so excited to be combining the science of psychology, with the ancient wisdom of yoga led by my close friend and colleague Peta Jolley, in the stunning heart of Bali. We are looking forward toa week of companionship, learning, personal exploration and growth, not to mention stunning experiences and the most amazing wellness food on the planet. Mindful Tribes have designed such a wonderful boutique experience for us and we’d love for you to join us.
In the meantime, A Hole in my Genes iscurrently at the publisher’s and will be available before the end of the year. I’ll keep you up to date and would love to offer the Get Psyched community a nice big discount.
As children, we look to others as we learn and understand the world around us. The people in our lives help us navigate things we come across that are new and often hard to make sense of, from learning to tieing our shoelaces to first fall outs with best friends. When we get stuck with something, we ask our parents, guardians or teachers for help. It is something we are encouraged to do in life from an early age, so why do people find asking for help so difficult?
So many things can influence our views on asking for help, and some of the most common reasons are rooted in our social identity and sense of self.
Fear is a powerful driver when it comes to thoughts and behaviours and asking for help is no exception. Often times asking for help is assumed to be a sign of weakness or failure when in reality it demonstrates great self-awareness and strength. Being strong enough to ask for help -whether you are a new parent in need of some shut-eye, a student struggling to understand course material or simply someone who is not tall enough to reach the top shelf- requires a level of self-awareness to identify what you need.
This sounds simple but figuring out what we need is not always easy. Having a good understanding of your needs is a key part of asking for help. Knowing specifically what we could use a helping hand with, makes it easier for those around us to understand how we feel and also to offer the support we need.
Independence and Identity
Asking for help can sometimes feel like you are relying on others, rather than being capable of doing things alone. These thoughts can lead to feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness and can threaten our sense of independence and identity. However, it is important to remember that everyone needs help sometimes and that no one can do everything alone. Getting support to achieve our goals, or even just to get through a tough day, doesn’t make you any less independent. In asking for help, you are taking control of your situation and how it is handled.
Why asking for help is important
Asking for help is important because it is one of the first steps we can take to truly accept ourselves. Acknowledging our limits and understanding our imperfections allows us to grow. Brené Brown, who is based at the University of Texas, carried out research in vulnerability, and her work found that being vulnerable is a key part of self-acceptance and knowing our worth.
So we can help others
“When you cannot ask for help without self-judgement, you are never really offering help without judgement”
Another important part of being able to reach out to others is that we can create an environment where we are able to help others. Seeking help and being able to offer it, with empathy and compassion, provides a network of support for and between the people in your life. But first we need to treat ourselves with that same compassion; if we are able to accept ourselves then we can begin to offer unconditional and non-judgemental support to others.
You are not alone
The saying goes ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and in asking for help there is definitely truth in that.
Sharing a problem or issue with someone you trust can really lighten the load of working through a problem on your own. Opening up in this way can also let someone know that you are willing to listen when they ask for help. Often when we share problems we realise that many others have similar experiences, feelings and needs with us, which can make us feel less alone.
It can be daunting to ask for help, and even if you have decided that it is the right thing for you to do, knowing where to start can be tricky. Depending on what kind of help you are looking for there may be a different starting point, but there is no shortage of people who are willing to help and want to help.
Friends and family are a big part of our support network and can be a good place to start. Talking to someone you trust and asking for support might feel more comfortable if it is someone you know well.
There are also community groups and charity organisations that can offer a multitude of resources that can help, for example, local meet-ups, legal advice, and helplines for people experiencing suicidal thoughts or loneliness. Community groups normally post information on local notice boards in public spaces, and of course, most of these organisations and information can be found easily online.
Talking to your GP is also a great way to ask for help if you are struggling with physical or mental health problems. Your GP is there to listen and advise you in a confidential setting and can help you get the treatment and support you need.
Whichever way works best for you, the most important thing to remember is that asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength. No one gets through everything alone, and it’s ok to get a little help in making sure your needs are met.
It’s a term that’s used to help people realise and achieve goals and dreams, but what do we mean exactly by visualisation and what impact can it actually have?
Well, fundamentally visualisation is a cognitive tool used to picture exactly what you want to happen.
In doing so we are creating all aspects of the scenario that we to experience or obtain. Now, I mean everything, so that could be sounds, sights, smells, feelings.
The more realistic the visualisation you take part in and the more it stimulates you, the more impact it will have in you realising and moving closer to what you want to achieve.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter gives a fantastic explanation of what visualisation is and its power:
“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more”
So, with this depiction, we can start to understand that visualisation is an opportunity for us to try and control what we are struggling to control.
It is a tool that helps us create what we want to see and achieve.
This all sounds great, ideal, give me some visualisation!
Well, hold on for a second. What is important when thinking about concepts that talk about how they are the key to success, is to look at the research.
What does psychology say about visualisation?
Well, often in psychological services, visualisation boards are used to help illustrate what the client is seeking.
These external tools can help in keeping the client focussed on visualisation.
Visualisation boards are often used for people that want a better future, a healthier lifestyle and even for those attempting to overcome addiction.
In psychological services, concrete objects are often utilised to help with the process of visualisation.
This is often used with patients with depression to visualise a better future and used to great effect.
These concrete objects can include things such as pictures in wallets for example, or mementoes that the individual carries with them.
Visualisation is also used in psychological and therapeutic services for patients with severe anxiety to create mental holidays to retreat to a calmer environment.
This might sound abstract but it has been shown to have incredible effects.
So, it’s clear then that visualisation techniques can be used to incredible effect in therapeutic and psychological contests but where else is visualisation used?
Where else is visualisation used?
Well the easiest one to appreciate perhaps is in the world of sports
Athletes will spend huge amounts of time visualising good performances.
Recent research has in fact inferred that spending time visualising performances and potential different outcomes and responses in sports settings have as much a role to play in how well an athlete performs the practice itself.
I watched the Winter Olympics earlier in the year and saw bob slay team captains pretending to go through the motions of the full course in their minds.
They would turn in ways that they would expect when they go down the track, all to ensure that they fully utilise the power of visualisation.
Visualisation can also be really effectively utilised in a studying context.
For example, you might visualise exams and coursework that you have due. Visualising what questions, you might get asked and best to answer them are all really powerful ways of utilising visualisation in studying.
The trick here, with regards to anything in visualisation, is to go through the entire process.
Don’t just focus on one questions in an exam or one move on the sports field. Visualise the full thing in its entirety.
That means, from waking up that day, to what you have for breakfast, to walking to school or the gym, to entering the room and sitting down and opening the paper…you get the idea.
The important thing is that you go through as many different scenarios in your head in as much detail as possible.
This way, you teach yourself not to expect anything unpredictable. You also reassure yourself of the different outcomes that could happen and how you might react as a result.
How can you use visualisation to great effect in your everyday life?
Well, you might to create your own visualisation board and keep it somewhere that you will see it every day. Whenever you walk past it, take some time to visualise what it is you desire as you look at the pictures.
When I was studying for exams, I used to pin my notes and mind maps around my house and when I went to the fridge for milk, there would be some notes there, I would take my time and read them through and visualise how I might use them in a potential question in an exam.
When I went to go out the front door, there would be another page of notes and I would do the same.
I was utilising visualisation to improve my upcoming performances.
Fundamentally guys, visualisation is seriously powerful, it’s not just a generic term thrown around by people who think they know what they are talking about, it has real psychological backing and is a toll that you can use every day to achieve and progress more in whatever you want to do.
Interested in learning more about visualisation? The check out the recent video I did about the psychology of visualisation on my YouTube channel GetPsyched by clicking the link here.
The developments in our understanding of mental health are evident from news articles and striking statistics of depression and suicide in our society. These statistics may shock us, they may even call us into action to develop awareness, understanding and interventions to help improve services that those suffering from mental health issues face. However, as much as these efforts are vital and impactful, populations within our society are still left behind when it comes to mental health care. For me, the stand out group is men.
As a counselling psychologist in training and as a man, I have a developing understanding of the dichotomy of in-depth emotional understanding and masculinity. It can be hard, it can be volatile at times, but it must be understood if we are to tackle the growing issues of men’s mental health. In my own opinion, it is this understanding of what it means to be a man, masculinity and the stigma surrounding men and seeking therapeutic help that are the most prominent barriers to understanding men’s mental health better and developing treatment that is both applicable to men and effective in outcomes.
WHERE I FEEL WE ARE NOW
Mental health fascinates me. Largely due to the number of people it effects and the lack of a full understanding we possess regarding it. In part, I feel this lack of understanding stems from the stigma that surrounds mental health and men’s mental health primarily. Seeking therapeutic assistance or admitting you experience mental health difficulties still holds with it perceptions of weakness and inabilities to cope.
On the contrary, I feel that reaching out for such services and confronting mental health issues is one of the strongest and bravest steps a person can make, however out society chooses to view it differently. The fact that men are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and much less likely to seek help than women should call us into action. We lack an understanding of the subjectivity of mental health. Depression may affect someone in different ways than others, it may be sparked by a different set of circumstance. With this subjectivity comes a lack of understanding of how mental health affects people. I can think of no other group where mental health has a lack of understanding or is stigmatised more than men’s mental health.
So far, our developing research and understanding of men’s mental health stem from our understanding of mental health in general. In order to enhance the understanding of men’s mental health, we need to understand the two entities, mental health and men. The issue is so advance that as I write now as a 27-year-old man, over the next 10 years of my life, I am most likely to die from suicide than anything else. This fact shocks me, it leads me to think of my own mental health, it opens up considerations of the support I may receive if and when I potentially experience advanced mental health challenges. Perhaps my fear stems from the fact that I know I could very well experience such difficulties in time, combined with my knowledge of a system that is failing so many men year on year due to a lack of appreciation, research and understanding.
Our success in challenging these issues stem not only in a development of mental health understanding but primarily in masculinity and what it means to be a man. With expansion in this understanding, we will hopefully come to a deeper appreciation of the mental and emotional challenges men face, how they deal with these challenges, what services would be best to provide them and how best to assist them accessing these services. For too long our approach to mental health treatment has been reactive, it’s time to be anticipatory and work from the ground up to not only treat poor mental health in men but develop and help facilitate good mental health.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES
When conducting my research, I am reminded of the concept of the ‘wounded healer’. Of all the topics in therapy and psychology that lack research, why does my passion lie with men and their mental health? As an only child, raised primarily by my single mother, I think back to my childhood and the male role models that were around me. I had a relationship with my father that remains today, but it was inconsistent.
My passion lies in counselling and therapy and how this can facilitate and assist men through mental health challenges in their lives. I feel my work can only go so far if the stigmatised foundation of men’s mental health is not challenged first. In the coming years, I aim to conduct a systematic analysis of studies conducted in men’s mental health and later a thematic analysis on establishing the stigma of stereotypical masculinity and how it affects the perceptions and treatment of men’s mental health.
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