Counselling in Wokingham – Join the Dots

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

As a child, I used to enjoy “join the dots” puzzles; I liked the way the picture would gradually emerge, and would enjoy the challenge of working out what was represented as soon as possible.

As a counsellor, I still do “join the dots” puzzles, but they are of a rather different nature.

When people come to counselling, they will often be hoping to improve their self-awareness in order to help them understand why they behave as they do, or why they want the things they want, or to help them make an important decision. Sometimes people will say that they’ve done something that’s “just not me” – an angry outburst, an affair, an impulsive decision. They may be seeking to ensure that they don’t repeat that behaviour, and understanding why it happened is usually a very important part of that.

When people start counselling, often they will bring me dots. They will talk about memories, incidents, experiences which have been part in their lives – isolated events or thoughts – maybe people who have been important to them. There may be many such dots, scattered randomly, apparently unconnected. What picture will we see once the dots are connected?

In join the dots puzzles, of course, the dots are numbered, the route is signposted.   Follow the path and you’ll get a picture – a picture that is predetermined by the puzzle setter. In counselling, however, the dots are not numbered. There are potentially many different ways to join them up, and therefore many different pictures that can be formed. What is the best way to join the dots, the way that makes most sense to you? Which dots are relevant, and which can be ignored?

As a counsellor, I have done a lot of these puzzles, and so I can offer my experience in helping you to join the dots. I can enable you to explore in a constructive way, with suggestions about which dots are likely to connect. Which experiences have influenced your behaviour, your decisions, your priorities? Suppose we join up these dots in this sequence – are we are starting to make a picture?

But while I have a lot of experience in joining dots, I don’t have the answer – I don’t know what the final picture ought to look like. So just as you might need my guidance to help you to join the dots, I will need your guidance in deciding whether a particular sequence feels right to you. Does it ring true?

We can draw many different pictures from the dots you bring. We can explain things in many different ways. But it’s important to remember that whatever pictures we might draw, they are about you, and they belong to you. Only you can say which of the pictures you like, which of them make most sense to you.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Stuck?

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

I enjoy crossword puzzles, but sometimes of course, I get stuck. I find that I just can’t see the solution to a particular clue. But very often it seems to happen that if I put the newspaper down, and go and do something completely different, I can solve that difficult clue quite easily when I come back to it an hour or two later.

I used to work in IT. Sometimes, in that environment, technical people would find themselves stuck with a program that wouldn’t work or with a hardware problem they couldn’t diagnose. I often found that, if they tried to explain the problem to me (even knowing that I lacked the technical know-how to solve it), they would suddenly see the answer – it would just flash into their head.

In both cases, people are stuck, unable to see a way forward. In both cases, the solution becomes obvious when they look at their problem differently. In the first case, it’s as if I have cleared my head of preconceptions and can look at the crossword clue afresh. In the second case, the act of verbalising the problem seems to enable the techie to see it in a new light.

People often come to counselling because they are stuck. They perhaps feel trapped in a situation, in a relationship or in a job and can see no way out – they have no choices. Or maybe they are struggling with repeating patterns – they keep losing their job, they can’t seem to maintain a relationship, they repeatedly fail in their attempts to give up smoking or keep to a diet.

Couples, too, can be very stuck with a particular issue. They may have tried to talk about it many times but have ended hitting the same brick wall every time – or maybe they find that they just argue round and round in circles.

As with the crossword puzzle or the IT problem, they key to getting unstuck can be about looking at things differently, and counselling can help with that. The simple fact that you are sitting in a different room, physically removed from your normal environment, can clear your head and give you a new way to look at things. The act of describing your problem to a counsellor, of verbalising it, can help you to see it differently. In telling someone else your story, you are giving it a different perspective and that can help you to approach things afresh.

For couples too, that repeating conversation can be different with a third person in the room – that vicious circle you are stuck in can be broken. You can start to hear your partner better, to understand their point of view, to see things from their perspective.

Now, back to the crossword, 17 across, Therapy unclogs line unexpectedly (11)

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Counselling in Wokingham – Your Support Network

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

We all need support – some of us more than others. Support may come from people, pets, activities – all sorts of places – and perhaps, from some potentially destructive sources such as alcohol, drugs or pornography.

It can be useful to think about your support network by asking yourself who (or what) gives you:-

  • Someone you can rely on in a crisis
  • Someone to talk to if you’re worried
  • Someone who makes you feel good about yourself
  • Someone who can tell you how well or badly you are doing
  • Someone who makes you stop and think about what you’re doing
  • Someone who introduces you to new ideas, interests or people

You may not be able to answer all these questions, which means that may be gaps in your network. That’s worth thinking about, because if, for example, there’s nobody you can turn to when you’re worried, you’re probably having to deal with any worries on your own. Up to a point there’s no problem with that, but it is stressful and difficult to be in a constant state of worry and in the long term it will probably take its toll. It can be a bit like a bucket placed under a dripping tap. It’s a big bucket, it’s a slow drip, but eventually the bucket will fill and overflow.

Going back to the list above, your answers may make it apparent that you rely heavily on one or two people for support. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but again, it is something to think about. For example, if you rely on your partner to fill all, or most of, these categories, perhaps you are asking too much of them, putting too much pressure on them – and perhaps they are too nice to tell you that. Perhaps they are that bucket for your dripping tap.

It’s good to have people around you who can support you, but it’s also good to have your own resources. That might take many forms. Religion and meditation, exercise and dance, food and drink, cleaning and DIY. All these things can be helpful in different situations, to help us feel better about ourselves in different ways.

Pets, too, can be a great support. Stroking them is very soothing (though maybe not if your pet is a hedgehog). And they are great listeners: they never answer back, they never criticise, they just let you talk it through.

Similarly, some people turn to a lost friend or relative to support. “My dad always listened to me when he was alive, and I feel that he’s still listening now.” You can still lean on someone even if they’re not physically with you. “What would my mum say if she could see me now?”

There’s loads of support out there and inside you, waiting to help you. And if, occasionally, that’s not enough, well, you could always try counselling!

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Counselling in Wokingham – Rewriting History

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

People come to counselling for many reasons, some with a focus on dealing with past events, some to deal with present problems, others to think about the future and what that may hold.

These three time “divisions” – past, present and future, are intertwined. Our past experiences influence us in the present and shape our view of the future. We are a product our all our experiences, whether we see them as positive or negative. The way we deal with the things that happen to us in the present is based on the results of past behaviour. So if, for example, you have always been good at languages, you are likely to be confident about learning a new language now. If your past partners have always cheated on you, you are likely to be more suspicious of a new partner. If the last Christmas dinner you cooked was not up to your expectations, you’ll probably try to do some things differently next Christmas.

But as well as the past influencing the present and the future, in a sense the present and future also influence the past.   Of course, we cannot alter the events of the past, but we can change our view of the past, our interpretation of past events. We see historians do this in their work – they may find new information, or question the reliability of some sources of information. Or they may offer alternative ways at looking at things, which challenge existing accounts of the past.

We are our own historians, and so we too can offer alternative interpretations of our own history. Our brothers or sisters may remember things a little differently.  They may assign different motives to people’s actions and conversations with them can enable us to look at the past in a different light.  We can choose the stories we tell about ourselves, and the lessons we take from past events.

Our view of the future influences our view of the past. If we feel optimistic about that’s to come, bad experiences from the past will seem less significant – which will leave us feeling happier in the present and in our vision of the future. If we are looking at the future with foreboding, that will tend to mean that past events take on more significance, perhaps even leaving us with a feeling that we lack control over our future because so many things have gone wrong in the past.

Exploring these three time divisions, and how they interrelate can be an important part of counselling….and it can be a very rich and surprising experience!

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Counselling in Wokingham – Taking Small Steps

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

While there can be “breakthrough moments” in counselling, very often progress is slow, and that can be frustrating.   This can apply in both individual and in couple work.  For example, an alcoholic can only recover an hour, a day, a week at a time.  So too, with depression, recovery can be a slow process.   If you’ve come to counselling for help in making a big decision, it can take a while before things start to become clearer.  In relationships, restoration of trust after an affair is usually very gradual (though in this case that trust can be broken very suddenly).

The frustration you might feel is natural.  Probably you have lived with your current situation for quite a while before coming to counselling; it may even be that counselling is a “last resort”.  So you are likely to be very eager, even impatient, to move on, to find an answer, but you are likely to find that you need to give the counselling process a bit of time before things start to change.  You will need to tell your story, and probably look at things from a number of different angles before things start to shift, though occasionally it can happen that something “clicks” and things can change for you after one or two sessions.

In cases where counselling seems to be moving quite slowly, it can be helpful to take a step back and review the last week from a new perspective.  The positives (and there nearly always are some positives, however small) can be highlighted and built upon.  If an alcoholic has managed one day without a drink, that can be captured and repeated, so that next time it can become two days without a drink.  If you have had a few hours when you have felt less depressed that normal, you can talk about what you were doing, and how that felt, and then seek to replicate those circumstances.  If you and your partner have had one relaxed evening when you haven’t argued, you can both think about what you did to help that to happen, and to do that again.  Similarly, the times that have been less good can be analysed and new strategies can be developed to help you to avoid or minimise those situations in the future.

Of course, there will be ups and downs; usually progress is not a steady, upward line.  It can sometimes feel as if, having worked really hard to make some slow progress, one negative event takes you right back where you started.  However it is generally true that if you have gone from A to B once, you can do it more easily the second time.  Counselling can help here too, by enabling to view progress as a whole and focus on the improvements you have made over a long period, to keep the shorter term issues in perspective.

Making changes is often about taking small steps and reviewing them.  What has worked for you and what hasn’t?  How can you repeat the small successes and avoid repeating the failures?  As you keep asking yourself these questions, you will develop more understanding of yourself, so that that process of changing becomes an easier one.  So be patient, small steps can lead to big changes.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Recovering from an Affair

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

One of the big questions that needs answering as part of the recovery from an affair is “how can we be sure that it won’t happen again?”

It is generally not enough for the partner who’s had an affair (let’s call them the AP) to promise, because it is not likely that the injured party (IP) will trust their word at this stage – lies will generally have gone along with the affair, and trust can take a long time to rebuild. And how does the AP know that they can keep that promise – “It’ll never happen again” – because presumably they made that promise before. It may not have been explicitly stated but for most couples in a serious relationship it is understood that they will be sexually faithful – that promise is implicit in the relationship.

In answering that big questions : “how can we be sure that it won’t happen again?”, it can be very helpful for the couple to get a full understanding of why the affair happened, particularly for the AP to understand what was happening for them emotionally. What was the pull? What hooked them in? Why did they make the decision to have an affair?

Often the AP doesn’t know the answers to these, and other important questions. They might only be able to say “It just happened” or “It’s not like me”. But beneath the surface there are explanations to be found and it is important for the AP to dig deep, to make a real effort to understand what motivated them. There can be multiple reasons why affairs happen, some related to what is happening in the present, for the AP and for the couple, and some related to what has happened in the past, perhaps even going back as far as the AP’s childhood.

This process of understanding is complicated and can be difficult but, if successful, it enables the AP to identify “danger signals” early, and then ensure that they behave differently when they spot one of these signals. There might be practical things that need changing such as flirting less in the office, or being wary of providing a shoulder to cry on too readily. There may also be emotional danger signals for the AP – signs that a third party is becoming too important to them. Are you waiting for the next text? Do you find yourself worrying about them all the time? Are they the person who brings you the most joy?

Understanding is vitally important because with understanding comes choice. If “it just happened” is the best explanation the AP can give, how can they be sure that it won’t “just happen” again?

It seems to me also that mutual understanding is important in recovering from an affair, because with mutual understanding comes teamwork, and that helps to build trust. The AP must carry responsibility for what they’ve done – it didn’t “just happen”, it was a choice. But having said that, some of the root causes may stem from the relationship and so some of the danger signs are mutual.   For example : not spending enough time together; not having enough sex; poor communication. Recovery from an affair is about both of the couple, about working together, about rebuilding the relationship, about walking forward hand in hand.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Is it time to stop?

Paul Cockayne – 07791

Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

So, you’ve been coming to counselling for a while, and done a lot of talking in the sessions, and thinking in between sessions. Is it time to stop?

Well, of course it depends. It’s entirely up to you how long you continue counselling. It may be just a few sessions, it may make sense for you continue a lot longer than that. The choice is yours.

My objective, from session one, is to help you get to a place where you no longer need to come to counselling. From the beginning, we are working towards an ending.   As your counselling progresses, I will be making sure that we regularly discuss the possibility of ending, as I don’t want you to become dependent on counselling for long-term support.

People come to counselling for different reasons, with different objectives in mind, or perhaps with no specific objective in mind. Counselling is a fluid process, and that means that objectives can change as counselling progresses.

If your objective is very clear, the ending may also be clear. So if you’ve come to counselling to help you make an important decision or change, it may be obvious when you’ve done that. Should you take that job in Japan? Should you get married? These questions have “yes or no” answers. And if you’ve come for help with something specific, maybe to give up smoking or deal with your anger better, it may be clear enough when you’ve reached the right time to end counselling.

Some people come to counselling with less clear-cut objectives, perhaps to explore the past or to gain understanding of themselves. If that is your aim, the end point is far less clear, indeed there is potentially no end to the amount of exploration you can do. But still the counselling can reach a natural end-point. You might find yourself saying “I know enough for now”. A new level of understanding can bring a need for a pause, so that the new information can be integrated with the old.

Some people think of counselling as a “safety net” – a place where they can talk about things that feel too difficult to deal with elsewhere. There is comfort in that, but it’s probably preferable for you to be able to discuss (and resolve) difficult stuff yourself. This may mean discussing things with your partner, or it may mean having techniques to deal with difficult situations when they arise. Counselling can help you with these things, so that the safety net becomes less important.

Whenever you finish, whether in a planned or if a sudden way, it’s not necessarily the end. You can always come back to counselling in the future, if you hit a bad patch or want help with a particular issue. The counselling relationship can be an ongoing one. You take your car to the garage when it needs maintenance. You reluctantly visit the dentist when you have toothache. Similarly, your counselling relationship can be ongoing, a source of help or support when you need it.

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