Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mastering Difficult Emotions and Troubling Thoughts

The skills training model for thinking about and responding to difficult emotions, troubling thoughts and unskillful actions has a lot of merit. This model differs from traditional counselling approaches in that the counsellor or coach functions much more like a teacher. These approaches –which include cognitive behavioural therapy and solution-focused therapy (as well as other approaches) -- strongly emphasize action and homework and help clients to develop and habituate new skills.

Expertise in skill development often takes up to 10,000 hours of deliberate or deep practice (certainly to gain expert status). This means breaking a goal into small chunks and taking small steps, making mistakes, getting corrective feedback and practicing again and again. In the field of counselling, this framework can be applied to concerns such as depression, anxiety, panic, social anxiety, relationship problems, as well as many other issues.

A framework such as Albert Ellis’ ABC model is a good example of a skill development model. In this approach, clients learn to identify the thoughts that they have about life events that generate unpleasant emotions that can lead to depression or anxiety. Clients learn different ways of thinking about these life events and thereby begin to have more positive emotions which then leads to more skillful action.

Behavioural experiments, keeping thoughts logs and homework assignments between sessions allow clients to continue to make progress by tracking their thoughts in relation to everyday experiences and practicing new actions in everyday situations. These between-session tasks are then discussed in counselling sessions and become the basis for further planning and taking next steps.

This model is attractive for clients who want to focus their attention in counselling on goals like increasing happiness, assertiveness, confidence, interpersonal effectiveness etc. and are highly motivated to learn from masking mistakes, practice new ways of thinking and behaving and do homework. The new brain science research is showing that this way of skill development creates real and lasting changes to brain structure. And online counselling is a great format for working on any goals that enhance personal and interpersonal effectiveness.

Best regards,


Thursday, February 4, 2010

“Only Connect”: Depression and Interpersonal Connection

E.M. Forester, is the British writer famous for a number of classic novels (many of which have been made into films), including “Howard’s End” and “Maurice”. He is also attributed with the expression “only connect” in referring to the importance of human relationships.

Counsellors are well aware of the importance of human relationships in a person’s well being and mental and emotional health. Attachment theory focuses on the centrality of the attachment between the child and the parent and how this type of attachment has implications for our relationships in later life. Other researchers and counsellors, notably Sue Johnson, have also studied the importance of attachment later in adult life as well. For example, couples in conflict or distress are often experiencing attachment anxieties including wondering if their partner will really be there for them emotionally.

There is good evidence that social support plays an important role in mental health or substance use problems. People who are clinically depressed report lower levels of social support than people who are not currently depressed. Those who are coping with depression tend to report fewer supportive friends, less contact with their friends, less satisfaction with their friends and relatives, lower marital satisfaction, and confide less in their partners.

Depression is certainly a complex phenomenon and frequently has biological, psychological and underpinnings. However, in at least some circumstances a person’s experience of depression may well indicate a lack of connection in his or her life. The focus in counselling then becomes one of increasing the level and types of social supports and sometimes looking at thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may get in the way of forming and sustaining strong interpersonal relationships.