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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Counselling in Wokingham – Can Talking Help?

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

Sometimes clients come to counselling doubting (perhaps under duress) whether it will help them. How can talking about things possibly change anything? And it isn’t easy to describe exactly how counselling works – it is quite a complex process that works differently for different people at different times. However, one theme that seems to recur is the idea that counselling helps clients to look at their situation in a different way – to look at things from the outside rather than the inside.

Problems can prey on our minds, can be frightening and confusing – and this can make it difficult to think about our problems in a logical, practical way. We can find ourselves thinking round in circles, going over the same ground again and again, seemingly unable to control what is happening inside our heads. The expression “I can’t see the wood for the trees” is very apt. It seems to me that confusion takes over, so that rather than thinking rationally about whatever may be worrying us, we can only think about the confusion, we worry about being worried – and that makes us even more worried.

If that is what is happening to you, counselling can help you to break these patterns by providing a different environment. It can be an environment where you can view your problems from a different perspective. In explaining things to someone else, you are forced to take them out of your head so that you can share them with your counsellor. It is as if you have placed your issues in the middle of the room and are able to walk around them, viewing them more dispassionately. Rather than your problems controlling you and your thinking, you can start to regain control yourself.

When clients first come to counselling, they often explain things to me a quite confused way. They might dot about in time, linking things that happened decades apart, or they might constantly be stopping as their emotions become too strong. This reflects their confusion. It’s like a tangled ball of wool – and where is the end of the thread? Without that, how can it ever be untangled?

As time goes on, my clients’ stories tend to become more coherent. They can start to work out what is really important and what is just confusing things. The ball of wool becomes a little looser, easier to separate. Things start to look and feel different, solutions start to emerge, decisions begin to feel a little simpler.

It isn’t that I, as a counsellor, have a magic wand that will make everything better, though I may have some useful ideas. It is that the process of talking about things with a skilled listener is helpful in itself – to ease confusion and bring clarity, to release pressure and give breathing room, to reduce constraints and increase control.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The First Step

Paul Cockayne – 07791

This is a sort of counselling “blog” to give you a flavour of how I work. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links above

What are first sessions like? People often approach counselling with trepidation, so let me first assure you that I do not have a couch or a bad Austrian accent. The counselling room where I work is an informal setting where we can sit and talk – it’s nothing more threatening than that. It is a safe environment where anything you tell me is treated confidentially, and I will not judge you or criticise you for things you have done, for thoughts you have, or for feelings you are experiencing.

I’ll start off the first session by talking briefly about confidentiality and one or two other little details that are important before we start. This will only take a couple of minutes, then the session will be open for you to talk about what has brought you to counselling and what you are hoping for from it. If you are attending as a couple, I will be keen to hear from both of you, to hear your different views and understand if you have different objectives.

The first session is very much an exploratory one. We won’t spend time filling in forms or following a fixed agenda; we’ll see where the session takes us, we’ll follow our noses. One reason that I like to work in this way is that I think it gives you a good feel for what I’m like as a counsellor, and what it will be like to work with me. It is absolutely vital that you feel comfortable with me, and are able to be open and honest in the counselling room. So the first session is very much about you getting to know me a bit, and about you being able to answer a big question : “Can this help me?”

There’s usually a lot to cover in the first session, but I will make sure that we spend the last 5 minutes or so talking about what happens next. It may be that for some reason either you or I don’t feel comfortable with the relationship, in which case we’ll agree to go no further. More often we’ll feel that there is benefit in meeting again, in which case we’ll need to talk about some of the practicalities about counselling before the session ends.

Assuming you do want to go ahead with further counselling, we’ll need to decide how often to meet. Weekly sessions are usually a good starting point, because they give you time to reflect on things while giving you continuity of counselling. But there are no hard and fast rules – the frequency of meetings is largely up to you, and I will be as flexible as possible to make sure that your needs are met.

When the first session is over, it can be a huge relief. If you were nervous coming in, you hopefully feel much less nervous going out. And just talking about what is going on for you can be enormously helpful. Nothing may actually have changed, but holding stuff in your head as it whirrs round is very stressful and telling someone else about it usually releases a lot of that stress.

It is the first step in the counselling process.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Past, Present and Future

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, obviously. But the future also influences the past – not the events of the past, but our view of the past, our interpretation of past events. If we feel optimistic about the future, 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.

The present can be overwhelming.  If things are going badly, if we are under great stress, it can be hard to think about anything except how awful things are.  It’s a bit like a horse wearing blinkers, it can only look at what’s immediately in front – it can’t see anything to either side.  And for us, the present can become all-consuming.

Often when clients first come to counselling they are totally absorbed in their present issues.  I remember one client telling me that she couldn’t think more than about one minute ahead.  Life was simply about surviving into the next moment.  It rather put me in mind of soldiers in the WWI trenches, forced to survive in such horrendous conditions that the only way to cope was to take things one day, or one hour, even one minute at a time.

As I worked with my “one minute ahead” client, she started to find her time horizon extending to a day, a week, a month, and we used this as a way of gauging the progress she was making.  Survival was certain, the future was in view, change was possible.

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

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Counselling in Wokingham – Stalagmites and Avatars

Some years ago I remember working with a couple who both, at different times, had had affairs. The woman seemed ready to forgive and move one, whereas the man did not. His blockage was that he had put his partner on a pedestal – he saw her as “perfect”, and he was struggling to adapt to the obvious truth that she was not really perfect, she was flawed, as we all are. Which reminds me of another client who much admired a favourite uncle – he was someone she looked up to, her role model. It was horrendous for her to discover that he was a paedophile.

People are not always who we think they are. But when people are important to us, we create an internal representation of them, like a sort of avatar, and we carry that around with us. This is handy, because we can turn to them for comfort, or advice, or love, when they are not actually there. Without us necessarily realising it, their avatar provides us with support.

When there is a clash – when we discover something unexpected about someone – we have a choice. On the one hand, we can ignore what we’ve learnt – we can deny it refuse to believe what we’ve seen or heard. But if we choose not to do that, we will need to change our avatar to include the new information.

Changing the avatar is tough. This is partly because it is all quite subconscious, and partly because of the way it is created. When we get close to someone – when we fall in love, it tends to be a slow process. Bit by bit we get to know that person better. In small steps, we gain trust in them. Slowly, slowly, the avatar is growing in importance and assuming a solid shape. It’s like a stalagmite forming in a cave, one drip at a time.

For my client who’d seen his wife as perfect, his avatar was destroyed, ripped out of him. He was experiencing shock and a huge sense of loss. His avatar had been a false one, and had been exposed as such in an instant. His stalagmite had been shattered by a single hammer blow.

In other cases the avatar is not destroyed, but is changed. It changes shape in a significant way, so that it no longer fits comfortably inside us in the way we are used to – in the way that we need it to. For example, I remember working with a couple where the man had suffered a long period of depression. His partner had come to see him as someone she needed to look after. Her avatar, once a representation of a strong, independent man, had become something she needed to care for, a dependency, a duty. As her partner emerged from his depression, he was feeling stronger but she was struggling to see that. He was changing, but her avatar was not – or it was changing much more slowly.

When things go wrong for a relationship, recovery can be slow and difficult. Probably both of the couple need to make changes, and those changes will most likely affect the relationship only very gradually. The avatars needs to reform, and that happens only slowly, one drip at a time. The drip from the stalactite cannot be rushed.

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Counselling in Wokingham – The Meaning of Life

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

Often I don’t think of a title for my blogs until I’ve finished writing them. Today, I’ve started with the title. As titles go, it’s a bit on the daunting side, especially given that usually I write only about 500 words. How many thousands – millions? – have already been written on the subject? And is the answer really 42?

For many centuries, going back into pre-historic times, man has sought a meaning to life and for all that time religion has sought to provide some answers. There are many different religions, different gods, different ways of living, all seeking to provide mankind with an answer to that big question, about the meaning of life.

As individuals we are all exposed to religious ideas and may find a certain faith rings true for us : if a particular religion feels right, we are likely to adopt it and it can give us the answers we are looking for. But for many people, religion doesn’t really do it and the question “what is the meaning of life?” remains unanswered.

This leads us to an existentialist viewpoint, that there is no big answer (not even 42). But this does not mean that there is no purpose – rather, it means that we have to find our own purpose, to make our own lives meaningful. It’s a personal thing rather than a cosmic thing.

What matters? What’s important? It’s different for all of us : making the most of ourselves, helping others, creating something beautiful, doing something perfectly, being thoughtful, winning, experiencing intense emotions, fighting what we believe is right, being happy. This list can go on and on.

It’s about finding things that matter to us as individuals. Many different things will be important, in different proportions for each individual. We don’t ever necessarily write a list down and tick things off. It is a very instinctual process for most of us, I think. We find a way of life that works – practically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually.

And I don’t think that this is really different for people who “have religion”. It’s just that those people are choosing a religion that matches their own personal list of meaningful things, again often instinctually. It’s like cooking from a recipe rather than just taking some raw ingredients and making something up. It’s still food.

If I were forced to live off a diet of beetroot and rice pudding I would not be happy (though others might be). I am fortunate to be able to choose the food I eat and so too I am able to choose what meaning I ascribe to life. It’s very much a matter a personal choice, life can mean whatever we want it to mean.

And in less than 500 words, too….

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Counselling in Wokingham – Fake News

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

The phrase “Fake News” is much in use at the moment, and it set me thinking about how we interpret the news we receive.

fakenews1Some news is patently fake, of course, like the Sunday Sport’s famous “World War 2 Bomber Found On Moon” headline. But no news outlets, whether newspapers, TV or the internet are wholly reliable. To start with, things are left out – can any story ever include all the facts, all the background, the complete context? Stories are “spun” a particular way, certain points are emphasized, so that however hard any particular media outlet tries to present a balanced view, the particular prejudices of the journalists or editorial staff will influence what we are presented with. There is always another side (or many other sides) to every story.

But perhaps our own prejudices are more significant than those of the press. I think that most of us are attracted to news that reflects our own point of view. Our choice of newspaper, TV station or internet site will be influenced by our existing view of the world. A news item that challenges our views will most likely make us uncomfortable or angry whereas something that reinforces our views will seem much more comfortable. We will naturally prefer to read the news that makes us comfortable. Very few people will have the time or energy to read everything written on a particular topic in an effort to develop a completely balanced view.

So I think we gravitate towards interpretations of events that leave us feeling comfortable, and just as we do this with world news, so too do we do it in our personal lives.

fakenews3Everything that happens to us is interpreted in some way. Our experiences exist only in their relationship to us. Our memories do not record events in an unbiased way – the things that happen are mixed with our reaction too them. The things we best remember, I think, are the things that have an emotional effect on us – the things that matter to us in some way. So sometimes others will remember things that we cannot recall at all. This doesn’t mean that they are delivering “fake news” but that their memories are different to ours.

fakenews2As well as our memories being selective, our interpretation of the memories we have, and the events we experience, is biased. We will tend to read the newspaper that best reinforces our existing viewpoints, and similarly we will also interpret events in a way that reinforces our current view of the world. For example, a few years ago I worked with a couple, let’s call them Bob and Anne. Bob used to drink heavily and would sometimes get very angry and occasionally violent after drinking too much. He had managed to give up drinking for a few months and, slowly, the relationship was improving, Anne’s trust was returning, Bob was finding it easier. But one day Anne heard the dreaded sound of a can of lager being opened in the kitchen. She flew off the handle, telling Bob how stupid and useless he was and stormed into the kitchen, all guns blazing. She was met by the sight of a rather shocked Bob standing with a can of Coke in his hand.

We can easily create “fake news” by making assumptions or incorrect interpretations. So before leaping to the conclusion that there’s a bomber on the moon, it’s worth stopping and thinking. It might just be a can of Coke.

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Counselling in Wokingham – Are you selfish enough?

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

The word “selfish” has a bad press – how many times did our parents tell us “Don’t be selfish!”. The implication is that it is wrong to put ourselves before others, that our own needs are less important than those of others.

selfish2I think that we are inherently a selfish race and so it is important for us to learn that other people matter as much as we do, that their needs are important too. Hence the “don’t be selfish” message from our parents. It’s important to be able to look at the big picture, to see things from different perspectives, understand what is going on for other people as well as for ourselves.

But alongside that, we all need to look after ourselves, to make sure that our needs are met. People who are never selfish tend to end up being taken for granted and feeling used. So in the sense that selfish means “looking after myself”, selfishness is a good quality – indeed, an essential one. Often, those messages from our parents leave us feeling guilty about being selfish when actually we should be proud of being selfish – to the right degree.

I remember reading a piece once from a writer who coined the word “self-ful” in an attempt to describe the act of looking after oneself in an appropriate way. Thinking about one’s own needs whilst being mindful of others, I suppose.

selfish1Some people seem never to think about themselves, or if they do, it is only to remind themselves that other people have more urgent or more important needs to be met. And there is reward to be gained from such an attitude, a bit like those ascetic monastic orders who deprive themselves of all worldly pleasures. It is a sort of martyrdom, but often one which is not expressed, so that other people don’t necessarily appreciate the sacrifices that are constantly being made.

What I’ve seen from some clients – very unselfish clients – is that their needs seem to build up to the point where, like a caldera, they need to find an outlet. This can, like a volcano, be a violent eruption. People can suddenly leave apparently happy relationships after 20 or more years, or splash out thousands of pounds on a sports car, or adopt a new career that represents a complete lifestyle change. Sometimes the outlet is not a volcanic explosion but a gradual seepage – a secret activity conducted over many years – a long-term affair, grabbing a cigarette in private when the opportunity is there, using pornography, transvestism.

selfish3Whether it’s an eruption or a seepage, the discovery of the outlet usually causes shockwaves in a relationship. “I never realised that you were unhappy” is a common reaction from the unselfish person’s partner. But in the aftermath of the shock, comes the opportunity to do things differently. The relationship can be re-set, and the words “I want….” might even be heard.

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