Whilst on holiday in Greece I was struck by the importance of the Olive Tree. Primarily by its beauty: the ancient dark gnarly trunk in contrast with the silvery sage and bright green leaves almost translucent in the sun. But also by its centrality to Greek culture and economy.


Whilst wandering through an olive grove I noticed how olive trees also provide an ecosystem for neighbouring flora and fauna: rabbits hopped merrily, yellow butterflies and bees rested on the cowparsley below, while swallows darted above the canopy.


I was reminded of the similarity of the holm oak, another Mediterranean tree which is very happy at my home in Bournemouth. My thoughts moved to the holm oak in my garden and the view my patients have of it from my consulting room. How its branches wave around on windy days and yet it stays firm with its strong roots and trunk pinning it to the spot.


My holm oak tree is a metaphor for resilience in life. The trunks and roots give it a strong base, representing many things: in a healthy childhood this base is provided by our parents and the early start we had in life. If our childhood was challenging we may have been lucky to have been given other roots at that time or later on in life, such as a supportive extended family, friends, partner or therapist. This strong base gives us strength and a belief in ourself which allows us to develop and mature knowing that we are ok.


This strong base supports the branches. So to extend the holm oak metaphor further, when the branches wave around on windy days and challenges appear, for example: loss of a loved one, unemployment, or loss then the branches are held in place by the trunk and root system. So we rely on our stable base to keep us secure at our core and we feel we can adapt to what happens to us without it overwhelming us. Our stable base allows us to be resilient and we know that we will survive what is happening to us.


Our aim is to live as the olive tree with flexible branches that can bend but remain in place with a solid core sense of self.



Embracing our Shadow Side

On a trip to Italy I saw many works of art and was struck by the amount of trompe l’oeil (a ‘trick of the eye’ style where objects are painted to look real) in the interior design of buildings.

Looking closely I could see how important the shading was.  On further research, I found out that the use of light and dark in the painting gives the clever perspective of the trompe l’oeil which deceives the viewer, allowing them to see the picture as the artist intended.

This led me to think of Jung and the importance he placed on our ‘shadow’ side: those feelings which we may describe as negative eg jealousy, anger, or hate.  We can also become anxious when we experience these ‘negative’ feelings which adds to our uncomfortableness.

Depending on our early childhood experiences eg being brought up in a family where anger was never overtly expressed safely, or was expressed violently, we may find some ‘shadow’ feelings frightening or uncomfortable. Sometimes to the extent where we don’t allow ourselves to feel them and so we unconsciously repress them, not liking to think of ourselves having these feelings.

Jung saw these shadow feelings as vital to our inner self.  They are as important to us as positive feelings and provide us with useful information and signals. Once we are able to notice our feelings in a non-judgemental way we can accept our current state of mind and body. This is the start of change. Then we can choose what to do with these feelings.

As Jung suggested, over 100 years ago, if we accept all of our feelings, both negative and positive and are able to integrate them we are able to reach a better understanding of ourself and can use our feelings for a more healthy life.

As the trompe l’oeil needs light and dark to exist as a fully functioning phenomenon -so do we need our shadow and light sides to exist together consciously for a balanced and fulfilled life.

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

Finding Constancy in Crisis

The lifeguard huts are now reinstated on the beach, a sure sign of spring’s arrival and welcome normality in our current crisis. As I walked past the sea I noticed how still the beach was. Except for the waves. I watched them, mesmerised as ever by the movement in them. The rolling in and out of them, the white crests tipping and then plunging down to meet the body of water and then the sand.

This got me thinking about the constancy of waves. Their rhythm: rolling in and out. Slowly sometimes, effortless…other times their pace quickens, perhaps even a little furious…

And so it can be in life. When we are faced with something difficult for example extreme stress or the loss of someone, we can feel in shock. We can find it challenging to function as normal: hold down work, family, household and commitments. We can find we take out our anger and frustration of the situation on our nearest and dearest. It’s these times when day to day life seems too awful that we may find it hard to keep our head above water.

However, for most of us life does go on. As the waves continue their unceasing movement so does life. As the ups and downs occur we need to find resilience to keep going. Keeping the faith to get through the difficult times is key. Continuing as we are may be all we are capable of but that’s enough. Like carrying a heavy load further than we want or believe we can, all we need to do is just take one step at a time and focus on getting through one hour, day and week at a time.

To continue the sea metaphor, if we are able to keep our ship steady we will survive being thrown around in the storm. If we keep our head down and continue with our everyday life as simply as we can, the storm will eventually pass. Things will shift and at some point in the future things will be easier.

How To Choose A Therapist

Who and What is the Therapy for?

As counselling becomes more popular an increasing number of people are going to their GPs for help and finding themselves on a very long waiting list for therapy. As a result, more people are choosing to find a private therapist, but there are so many available that it can be confusing deciding who to choose.

It’s worth spending a little time thinking about who and what the therapy is for.

Is it just for you? We call that individual therapy. Or is it for you and your partner together? In which case you will probably want couples counselling. It may be for a young person or for the whole family? You will need to find an appropriate counsellor for the problem and the person or people who need it.

You may also want counselling or psychotherapy for a specific problem. You may be recently bereaved in which case you may need bereavement counseling. You may want help with an addiction or you may need support for a relationship that you are in. If that’s the case then there are specialist organisations and therapists who work in these areas and they may be a good place to start.

Here are some links to websites of organisations which may be


There are so Many Therapists, Who Should I Choose?

There are many different types of models of therapy: psychodynamic and psychoanalytical, cognitive behavioural therapy, humanistic, person centred, integrative, it’s difficult to know which to choose. The counselling directory gives a good summary of each type of therapy available.

Research has shown that no matter what model of therapy we choose, it is the relationship between the client and the therapist that is the most important aspect and the one which makes the most difference in improvement.

What To Do Next

Make contact with them. Either email them or even better pick up the phone.

Book an initial session where you can meet. You can tell them a little about what is going on for you and why you are looking for counselling and they can tell you how they work.

It’s important to get a feel for a therapist before you start working with them. Take note of how you feel when you research the therapist, talk with them and meet them. Here are some questions to think about when you meet them:

Do you feel you could trust them and talk to them confidentially?

Do you feel understood? Does it feel like they get you and understand your problem? Can you imagine working with them?

Is the therapist clear about what they offer, what their fees are and how they work?

Are they fully qualified and accredited with a national umbrella body like BPC or BACP?

Don’t worry that you may be nervous. We all know that starting counselling or psychotherapy is a big step into the unknown. It’s totally normal to feel anxious when you first make contact and when you go to your first session. Just reach out to the therapist initially and they will help you find your way to them.

How Will Therapy Help?

Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year can be a difficult time for many people. We spend the holiday with family in a more intense way than normal and this can reveal strains, tensions and ruptures that we normally overlook or don’t like to admit in our daily lives.

Alternatively we may have had a lonely time over the break and wished we had a partner or were in a more healthy relationship or realised our relationship is too toxic to continue.

The holiday may have given us time to reassess our current lifestyle and think that we will benefit from some changes. If we have that sinking feeling on a Sunday, then maybe it’s time to look for a new job or career? If we are feeling isolated working from home then maybe it’s time to get out networking or take up a new hobby, fitness or adult education class? If we are exhausted and realise we aren’t able to spend enough time with people we love then maybe it’s time to think about our work/life balance?

If it’s difficult to admit to ourselves that any of these things is affecting us it’s often even more difficult to talk about it with someone else.

Counselling or psychotherapy is a perfect place to talk about your worries and concerns. It gives you space to say exactly what is bothering you, with someone who is objective and open minded. A good therapist will give you time and space to untangle what is upsetting you. As they say a problem shared is a problem halved and often just getting the issue out of our head and into words is such a relief.

If you think that going to a qualified professional person will help you or someone close to you talk about what’s unsettling or upsetting you then I suggest you start to think about having some counselling or psychotherapy.

My next post is on how to choose a therapist…

10 Ways To Survive Christmas


Ask everyone what they want to do over Christmas. Including something of what everyone wants will make for a happier holiday and will show that everybody’s wishes are important. Decide what you can manage to do, how you can do it and where you can do it. Agree on who you want to spend time with and for how long.

2. Prioritise Your Relationship.

If you are in a relationship give yourself time together away from the hectic run-up to Christmas. Boycott all Christmas talk and catch up with how you both are. Book a babysitter and have a meal out or buy a vat of popcorn and snuggle under the blanket on the sofa in front of a movie.

3. Pamper Yourself.

Take some well deserved time out for you. We need to be ok with ourselves before we are able to give to others. Give yourself a chance to recharge your batteries amidst the ever-increasing excitement. Find a local yoga class, meditate, or just unwind in a hot bath with plenty of bubbles, candles and a glass of mulled wine.

4. Get Enough Sleep.

As the big day approaches look after yourself. Neuroscience proves that sleep is the body’s way of repairing itself. Whilst asleep our brain restructures its connections making sense of the previous day’s information and storing it to memory. Go to bed at your usual time as often as possible. You will need all the rest you can get so that you can get everything done and still have energy left to enjoy yourself.

5. Reflect And Resolve.

Reflect on 2019. What has gone well and not so well for you? Think about what you might do differently in 2020. What steps can you take to improve your lifestyle and happiness?

6. Give Something Back.

Research shows that depression can be relieved by volunteering in the community. As Christmas is the season of goodwill why not invite an elderly neighbour round for coffee and a mince pie or encourage your children to choose a current toy they could give away to a charity shop to make some room for this year’s presents?

7. Be realistic.

Aspiring to perfection will only lead to disappointment. Don’t be over ambitious. Keep it simple and focus on what you have agreed to do.

8. Plan and delegate.

Write lists. Spending some time thinking ahead about what you need will pay off. Work out your financial budget for Christmas and stick to it – this could mean deciding a maximum amount on Christmas presents or introducing a secret santa present system. Be organised and don’t wait until Christmas eve to buy the turkey! If you are hosting ask all guests to contribute by bringing along something to eat and/or drink. If you are visiting offer to take something.

9. Old Fashioned Fun.

Take the opportunity to switch off the technology for a few hours. Spend some quality time together, play board games, cards, go for a walk.

10. Try Something Different.

Escape it all! Book a last-minute holiday to learn diving in the Red Sea. Get rid of the need for washing up and book your Christmas dinner out or ring the changes and order a spicy Thai take away.

Difficult Christmas Ahead?

The festive season can be difficult for many people. Plans are being made for the holiday season and whilst some of us spend time looking forward to them there are others of us who dread the question “What are you doing for Christmas and New Year?”

Expectations are high, but if we are honest maybe more than a few of us are not looking forward to the upcoming holiday period, especially family gatherings.

Are you or is someone you know:

  • living alone
  • in an unhappy relationship
  • recovering from a breakup
  • bereaved
  • feels like their family doesn’t understand them?

These feelings are actually more common than we think and can be exacerbated at celebration times.

Things We Can Do

We can start by allowing ourselves time to work out how we feel. This is always the first step to change. This may take some time, especially for those of us who find getting in touch with our feelings difficult, but once we are aware of how we feel we can do something about it.

Maybe we are currently suffering from:

  • depression
  • social anxiety
  • stress
  • feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • feeling sad and not wanting to face people

The next step is to work out what we really want to do. Do we want to go to the celebration? Or would we actually rather avoid it altogether?

If we don’t want to go at all, can we work out why we want to avoid it?

For example: are we dreading family celebrations because we don’t like some members of the family? If so would it be possible to talk to the person concerned about how they may have hurt us?

Or can we find a way to manage the situation so that we feel more comfortable? Maybe going for a shorter amount of time or taking someone else with us for moral support. Could we be strategic and spend as little time as possible near the people we find challenging?

If we have worked out that we really cannot bear to go at all, then having the courage to make the decision and tell others is the hard part. Especially if this is going to involve a break from the usual routine.

However, if we feel we are acting with integrity and choosing to do something different for our own mental health, then we need to have the courage of our convictions and tell others our plans and stick to them.

Our new plan does not need to be climbing Kilimanjaro, it could be helping others less fortunate than ourselves eg volunteering at the local homeless project. Or organising a friends’ Christmas day for others or just staying home cosying up with a good book or movie.

The objective is to feel ok with who we are and what we do over the festive period. To strike a balance between doing what we want to do and doing what others want us to do. Our time off is precious and we need to be true to ourselves and honest about what we want to do and with whom we wish to do it.

Seasonal Spending Tips

In the run up to Hanukkah and Christmas there will be lots of celebrating and gift giving ahead. However, we don’t want to spend so much money that we are going to have to pay for it emotionally and financially well in to next year. It’s easy to overspend on presents and entertaining and this can lead to worry, anxiety and depression later on when the reality of our spending hits home.

Now is the perfect time to take stock of our finances, work out how much money we will need and make arrangements for this.

The organised amongst us may have already stocked up on presents and only have the food and drinks to pay for, but those of us who are less organised may need some ideas to keep our seasonal spending in perspective.

6 Tips To Spend Wisely

  1. Diarise where and what you are going to do over the festive period and work out roughly how much entertaining and socialising you are planning to do and how much you are expecting to spend. Keep some money aside specifically for this if necessary.
  2. Write a list of presents you need to buy and remember to take it out shopping with you…and stick to it. This will mean you won’t duplicate gifts for people.
  3. Note down the last days postings for cards and packages and send everything second class.
  4. Use websites like Pricerunner and Vouchercodes to ensure you get the best price for products you are buying.
  5. Friday 29th November is Black Friday, avoid the crush by shopping online for bargains or why not decide to do something totally different instead and leave the chaos to others?
  6. Shop locally, from independent small businesses. It’s more ethical, community spirited and eco friendly. You may well find some handmade original bespoke gifts at reasonable prices. Check out your Facebook newsfeed for some nearby creative smaller retailers.

And don’t forget to plan in some simple family time and me time amongst the spending. A bike ride in the woods or a walk along the beach is a great antidote to crowded shops and being in front of a screen.

10 Tips To Survive The Summer Holidays

Are you dreading the summer holidays?  Or excited for them to start? Perhaps it’s a mixture of the two but you’re not quite sure how to get through the next 6 weeks.

Here are some ideas that’ll help you to make the most of the break:

  1. Don’t over plan.  Children need downtime as much as adults, especially at the beginning and end of the holidays.  There is nothing wrong with letting them collapse in front of a DVD or leaving them to amuse themselves with their toys to reduce stress levels.
  2. Help them use their imaginations with you nearby but not necessarily joining in.  Let them use the bed linen to make tents on bed-change day, combine watering the lawn with water play such as running through the spray of a sprinkler or hose. Children need to build their ability to play safely on their own with the company of adults in the background.  This increases their confidence by making them feel safe as they move towards independence.
  3. Aim to leave the house every day: the beach, the park, a bike or scooter ride, a walk or just a visit to the shops will count.  A change is as good as a rest and even a short injection of vitamin D and endorphins is healthy (and will help to tire them out too!)  In wet weather make the most of the local library, museum, child friendly cafe, ball-park, pottery cafe or cinema.
  4. Stock up on some arty crafty bits and pieces (Wilkinsons do an extensive cheap range) and keep old birthday cards, envelopes and scrap paper and card for easy, impromptu making sessions. Check out Scrap store where you can buy cheap off-cut materials and attend family workshops.
  5. Use your supermarket vouchers cleverly (or hunt around on the internet for vouchers) for some special days out to theme parks and wildlife centres.
  6. Ask around at school, the local library, church or children’s centre for summer activities and book your children onto anything that looks like fun.
  7. Arrange play dates with parents of your children’s friends. Take it in turns to host so that you can get some chores done or have some quality child-free time.
  8. Contact your family early and organise visits to and from grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and family friends.
  9. Be easy on yourself and cut yourself some slack over the holidays.  Term time is relentless.  Now you can relax a bit on your daily routines and habits.  Enjoy some family barbeques that run later than normal and follow up with a snuggly lie in the next day.
  10. Keep your sense of humour!  As the saying goes: Those who laugh together stay together.

Where To Go On Holiday

Are you stuck for ideas about where to go for your summer holiday? Maybe you’re in need of collapsing on a beach or by a pool with a book, or on the hunt for somewhere where the children can play safely…

Here are some fresh ideas that may take your fancy…

Single? Embrace the opportunity to develop a hobby or learn a new skill. From photography to yoga there are numerous small group holidays available for all budgets where you might also meet interesting people and make new friends.

Ready for an adventure that will expand your horizons and comfort zone? Sometimes we want more from a holiday than the usual tourist sights. Join a group trip on a mission. Why not try trekking in the Atlas mountains, kayaking in Sweden or white water rafting in Canada?

Double? Planning a couple’s adventure can be a challenge if one of you is more active than the other. Why not choose a resort where the activities are optional such as Neilson and you can choose individual activities or none.

Or escape all hints of children, large and small, and get some quality time relaxing together on a couple’s only holiday. Sandals is a travel company at the high end of the market whilst many others offer some more economical ideas.

Family or group holiday? Hook up with friends, plan a reunion or a family get together. You can hire out an entire youth hostel or a quirky residence in the countryside to enjoy the views and each other’s company.

Or choose from one of the numerous festivals that are taking place this summer eg: Camp Bestival, Latitude or the Green Gathering.

Time off is precious. We owe it to ourselves to make the best of our hard earned holidays, they’re our chance to unwind and create happy memories for the future.