Saturday, February 3, 2024

Silent Epidemic: Why Social Anxiety Is Exploding, And How You Can Craft A Path To A Happier, Healthier You

We say that anxiety is a mental illness, but few people appreciate exactly what this means. So let’s talk about Julie.

Julie’s Story

Julie doesn’t like to go out. “I’m a bit plump, my family are not rich, and I can’t afford designer handbags,” she says. “When I go out, people will judge me.”

When Julie gets a new job, she is excited. She doesn’t aim for CEO but she wants a decent career path so she has enough money to live without worrying about bills. She hopes to buy a house at some point or to travel.

Social Anxiety Disconnects Us
Social Anxiety Disconnects Us

But as Julie doesn’t like to go out, she goes to the office and then goes straight home. She doesn’t join her colleagues for the weekly after-office drink, and works from home as much as she can.

When her line manager points out that she’s disconnected from the team and that upper management don’t know her, Julie feels nervous.

She wants to be seen but when next invited to go out for a drink, she refuses. She also ducks out of the annual dinner.

To herself she says, “I do my job. That is all that matters.” But secretly she thinks that if she goes out, they’ll judge her.

Julie does a great job. However, six months later she misses out on a promotion. The boost goes to a colleague who is less able than Julie, but he is the bloke who is there, chatting with the bosses at the bar and smooching at the annual corporate dinner.

Because whether we like it or not, business decisions are influenced by connection and friendship.

Everyday Choices or Anxiety?

Social Anxiety is IncreasingJulie thinks she’s making everyday choices. However, the truth is that her fears are sabotaging her career advancement.  

Here is what we miss when we talk about anxiety being a mental health issue:
Anxiety creates a nightmare world and convinces us that it is real.

When you live with anxiety, you live in a nightmare – but you don’t see it! You think you are perfectly okay but the truth is that your life is constrained by your fears.

Key Takeaway: when your fears prevent you from living your best life, you have an anxiety issue.

Recognizing Social Anxiety

Here’s what social anxiety looks like:

You have an intense fear of being judged.
You avoid social situations.
If you are in a social situation, or maybe just thinking of one, you are nervous.
You are convinced that you suck at being social.

Summary: if it’s a choice between conversation or Zombie Apocalypse, you’re eating brains.

Why Social Anxiety Is Increasing

According to studies, social anxiety is increasing. Sifting through hundreds of studies, one analysis in 2023 pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 25.6% increase in anxiety disorder cases (76.2 million additional cases) and a reset is likely to be slow. 

I believe there are several factors fueling social anxiety:

Talking has been largely replaced by texting. So when you do meet people face to face, just chatting feels weird. It is also more immediate. You can check a text; it’s harder to filter your words.

Online communication is forever. Young adults are used to having every single word they’ve said picked apart and criticized by the pack.

Plus, what they thought when they were 12 is still held against them when they’re 28. It’s unfair, and damaging.

Because of the factors above, I see Gen Z as a traumatized generation; young people have been attacked and harassed to the point where they are often shut down.

The pandemic is important because it has added to the disconnect. But we were already well on the way to trouble.

In a broader sense, social convention and social space architecture are now focused on separation (wrongly dubbed ‘privacy’)

Schools put desks in rows, not in small groups.
Teachers let students do group work with their close friends instead of encouraging them to work randomly with others in their class or year.

Coffee shops and canteens have moved from communal tables to individual tables.  Even pubs have individual tables instead of communal bars and tables.

Social disconnect is increasing to the point of absurdity.

I saw a promotion this week for a bus company trip to the next town that highlighted, “We promise never to seat you next to a stranger” meaning they will make sure you have an empty seat next to you rather than ask you to *gasp* sit next to someone for 2 hours!!!

Overcoming Social Anxiety

Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar.
Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar.

The tricky bit about anxiety is that there is usually a kernel of truth in the nightmare. There are people who judge others by the pound or bank balance. That says something about them, not us.

Julie knows this! But anxiety is a mental health issue, remember?  

While a bit of Julie knows her fears are irrational, the main effect is that it is overwhelming.  

The key to effective change is exposure. In non-therapy speak, Julie needs to build up positive experiences to rethink her reality.

In sessions, Julie actively challenges her negative thoughts, practices her social skills in a safe space, and then slowly creates positive experiences in real life.

It is a gradual process where each positive experience helps build up her confidence.

So, if you see a bit of Julie in you, know you’re not alone. Also, there is help.

Don’t let fear clip your wings; you deserve to soar. Contact me.

Images by kandhal keshvala, Pete and WOKANDAPIX from Pixabay

Thursday, January 25, 2024

“Is this something I should seek therapy or counselling for?” How therapy and counselling sessions can work for you

One of the questions I’m asked regularly is, “Is this something I should seek therapy or counselling for with you?” If I had any sense at all, my standard reply would be, “Absolutely, and here are my bank details.” Sadly, ethics get in the way.

So here is my response.

Sessions are a tool and like any decent tool, you can use them in different ways.

Pixabay Image from Gerault
how sessions can work for you

Some people use sessions to make changes in their lives. For example, if you have a long-term issue that bugs you because it stops you from being your best you, you can explore that in sessions and work on changing your thoughts and behaviour. You go for several sessions, and when you reach your goal, you quit. This is the classic sense of ‘going to therapy.’

Some people use sessions to thrash out a short-term question in a safe space. For example, if you are in a relationship and you’re not sure if you should stay or leave, talking it out in a private session can help you figure out what you want.  You may go once and not go again. Typically, that is called ‘counselling.’  

Finally, there are people like Bob.

Bob is the CEO of a tech startup. He says, “I can’t talk shop at the bar with my mates because it will tank my share prices. I love my wife, she’s a star, but she works too and having me come home and rant for an hour about how Matt from purchasing screwed up is too much. I won’t do that to her. So I want to trauma dump with you. Let’s do every second Tuesday, because that is when my financial partners come in to haul me over the coals.”

So how you use sessions is up to you. Let me know if you’re interested 😊

Monday, January 22, 2024

Anxiety, depression and negative self-talk

Anxiety and depression lie to you and promote negative self-talk. The negative self-talk then fuels anxiety and depression. Part of the healing process involves breaking this toxic spiral by changing the self-talk. It's not a 1-2-3 easy fix but it's very doable. So if you are caught in this cycle, reach out. You're deserve to be happy ❤

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

From Strangers to Friends: Crafting Connections When You're the New Kid in Town

Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay
Image by Chu Viết Đôn from Pixabay

We just moved house and I am lonely. 

It's taboo, isn't it? To say that we feel we lack friends? But it's a huge problem. 

Loneliness: The Secret Silent Global Epidemic

In 2023, the World Health Organisation said that current global estimates suggest that 25% older adults experience social isolation and between 5-15% of teens experience loneliness.

In the UK, the 2022 Community Life Survey found almost one in 10 young people in the UK feel lonely often or always. In the USA, about half of adults report measurable levels of loneliness.  

As loneliness is such a huge issue, and we tend not to talk about it, I have been posting my experiences online. I hope to break the taboo, and hopefully to help others.

Thankfully, this is a happy story because we're making friends! 

Friendship After Relocation

We moved to Thornaby in England, a place we had never been before, 10 weeks ago. We have no family here. 

Usually, work provides connections. Not for us! I run my own business, and as a therapist I can't be friends with clients. As for Tom, he had to wait to apply for work because companies wanted to be sure he has a visa first.

Therefore, loneliness was one of my top concerns (along with finding good cat food for Target, Tic Tac and Inkie).

Socializing In A New City

Friendship is about turning up and talking to people, finding common ground, and then meeting up over and over again, so that the connection deepens. 

After landing in Thornaby, we went straight out to the local pub. In the past, the interior design of pubs was fostered to promote community. Sadly, this has changed. The old horseshoe bars where strangers mingle are mostly out, and lots of individual tables are in. So you go out - and sit by yourself!

This is something scientists and politicians should be interested in: interior design in public places should promote communication, not foster isolation.

One pub is too far away for comfort. A second pub is nice but after 4 visits we still weren't beyond a, "What would you like to drink?" So we concentrate on the third pub, our local. After a few visits, people started to chat.

In addition, we looked into mixers. We found the local council has a meet and greet - which led to my first ever game of bingo. We also found a garden bowls group, a classic British game. We're having a go at that tomorrow.

Finally, I joined a book group. It's lovely but it meets only once a month, so probably won't be very productive in terms of connecting.

For us, going to the pub and meeting a happy crowd was the game changer. We have been twice now to meet the same gang, and had a lovely time. So we are on our way.

If you want all the details, I have posted on Facebook about each effort.

My first post, explaining the plan

My second post, visiting the pub alone

My third post, disaster report! 

My fourth post, more planning

My fifth post, success!

Dealing With the Fear of Rejection

Everyone is capable of stepping out in some way, but one of the typical obstacles to reaching out is, “What if they don’t like me?”

I should disclose here that I am bold.  When I meet people who don’t like me, that’s okay.  This is partly experience, I talk to hundreds of people every year as part of my therapy and feature column work, but it’s also partly attitude.

I'm sharing my philosophy because a change of mindset is empowering.

The process of making friends starts impersonally. Yes, it's not about you!

Let me put it this way: suppose Alice likes books, tea and cats, and Joan likes football and raves. They’re both perfectly nice people, but they’re not a good match. 

Building friendships, at least at the beginning, is about matching interests and attitudes. My point of view is that out of 100 people, a good half will have interests that don’t match mine. And that’s okay.

As for judgement, yes, a surprising amount of people confuse “not a match” with “don’t like” or nasty labels like “boring” or “stupid”. That says a lot about them; it’s nothing to do with me.    

When I meet a non-match, I make the most out of the encounter and then I move on. 

How To Game The System

Making friends is a percentage game – at the beginning. You may meet a lot of non-matches at first. Knowing that gives me energy to try again and again, without feeling bad about it.

However, once you meet a match, then the opportunity changes because people tend to hang with their matches.

I think of it as bubbles. If I meet a person I get along with, their bubble is bound to be my cup of tea. I will actively ask for introductions (the bold part) and it usually works great!

Also, as making friends at the beginning is not personal, I am practical about non-matches. When I meet a person who is not a match, I know their bubble is likely to be similar, so it’s best I give it a miss and try something else.   

If You're Introverted

I am fairly introverted, so I keep an eye on my energy levels. I plan my socialising carefully, in blocks on certain days. But when I do go out, I go all out. 

I suggest that you plan carefully, so you make sure you don't overdo it. However, do be consistent. Part of the magic is turning up regularly. You can't make friends if you only see people once in a blue moon!

So there you have my approach. My method means I can approach new connections with optimism and interest. It works well for me. But I am not shy. If you are, then I’d say go at it but do it with a friend. 

I hope you found this interesting, and if you are lonely, useful and inspiring.

PS, Recommend Me

I have two slots open, one on weekend mornings UK time. So if you can recommend me, please do!

Thursday, December 14, 2023

First Step To Empowerment: Identifying the Chains of Verbal Abuse from a Parent

First Step To Empowerment: Identifying the Chains of Verbal Abuse from a Parent

Our parents are supposed to love us and want the best for us. That is not always true. If you have a difficult relationship with your parents, here are some thoughts about taking that first step towards a happier life.

Sally’s Story

At the thought of Christmas, Sally’s stomach is in knots. Every family party runs on predictable lines. Sally says, “Mum is a bit difficult to shop for.”

No matter what Sally does, it’s never enough.

Gift giving is torture.

“A facial at the local beauty parlour? When do I have time for that kind of nonsense?”

“Perfume? How very predictable. You have no imagination, Sally.”

“A silk scarf? I’ll never wear this. How stupid of you, Sally.”

“A gift certificate? You don’t even have time to buy your mother a gift?”

Not only are Sally’s gifts roundly criticised, but dinner conversation is centred on Sally’s career, looks, and dating life.

“Still working at the bank? Well, I suppose it’s good you can earn something. It’s not like anyone will ever marry you, not with that awful hairstyle. You’re too tall, too. Have you thought of going on a diet?”

Every year, Sally ends up in tears.

She tries to hide her hurt because if her mother catches her crying, she screams, “Oh, for God’s sake, water works again? You’re too sensitive, Sally. I’m only saying it for your own good.”

Sally’s dad says, “You know your mother is difficult. It’s the way she is. Just put up with it.”

Recognising Emotional Abuse

Sally’s mother is not difficult. Sally’s mother is abusive.

Abuse comes in different forms, but emotional abuse is about using words to hurt. Also, abusers typically deny that they are causing hurt. When called out, they deny, minimise, blame or gaslight.

Can Parents Be Abusive? Yes!

We are conditioned from small to believe that parents know best. Also, society tells us that family is always loving, even when messed up.

Sally wants to believe that her mum is difficult and that if only Sally got the right present, it would all be totally different.

Truth: people are human, parenting is complicated, and messing up here and there is perfectly normal.

Truth: some people are lousy parents.

The World Health Organization reports that 36.1% of children worldwide experience emotional abuse, which includes verbal abuse. Also, 25% suffer sexual abuse and 22% from physical abuse.

Although abuse is common, it is extremely difficult to admit that a parent is abusive.

Kids with broken bones are brainwashed to believe that, “I must have done something wrong.” It’s the same for verbal violence.

We Are Getting Better At Calling Out Abuse

Thanks to conversations and sharing (hooray for the Internet!) we are becoming better at spotting and fighting abuse. But it is easier to recognise it in others than in our own family.

If you recognise yourself as a Sally, it helps to frame events bluntly.

Don’t Let Abusers Frame Events; State The Truth

Don’t let the abuser frame what is going on. Put your own words to it.

Not, my mother is difficult

Not, my mother says nasty things because she is being helpful

But, my mother is perfectly okay with hurting me. She makes me cry over and over again.

Not, my dad wants to keep the peace

Not, my dad sees everyone in a positive light

But, my father sees my mother hurt me until I cry and he is perfectly okay with that. He has zero interest in protecting me.

Ask: Would I Act This Way?

We shy away from seeing the truth because it is painful. Also, it means a fight.

Abusers like Sally’s mum typically enjoy being mean. So when Sally makes an effort to stop the stream of abuse, her mum will double down and try and intimidate her.

Sally’s dad will likely help to make that happen. He has a history of not protecting Sally.

Finally, while Sally’s friends will rally round, some family, colleagues and others will weigh in, all talking rubbish like, “She’s your mum” which really means, “We are okay with Sally being verbally abused.”

Fighting all of that is tiring.

Use Perspective Exercises for Clarity

Sally can get some power back by using a perspective exercise, a tool where she reframes events as though she is a bystander.

“Would I mock and criticise a gift and call someone stupid, fat, and other mean words? And do this over and over again?” and “Would I stand by as a friend is destroyed and tell them to just be quiet and take it? Year after year after year?”

As the answer is probably a resounding no, this will help her create new boundaries so she can protect herself.

Another good question to ask is, “Does my mum treat her boss this way? Or a neighbour?” Most likely, Sally’s mum abuses people she thinks inferior but she is perfectly capable of being polite to people she respects.

Sally may then realise that her mum is an adult. She is fully aware of her behaviour.  She chooses to be nasty.

Once Sally sees what is happening clearly, the chains should loosen.

You Have Choices

Once you see where you stand, it is easier to make decisions about your needs and wants.

Sally has a range of choices: doing nothing, speaking up, limiting contact, skipping holidays with gift giving traditions, roping in a friend to help, cutting off all contact with her mum only, telling her dad to step up, cutting off all family contact etc etc.

She may choose one option for now and change to another option later.

Tip: there is no one answer and no one fix. You’re an adult and you can pick what suits you. And if that changes, you change with it!

Sorting Out Abuse Is Complicated

On paper, recognising and dealing with abuse seems very cut and dried. In practice, it is rather more complicated.

Be gentle with yourself. Take it slowly. Remember it is sensible to protect yourself from hurt.

If you are a Sally and you want professional support, reach out. I’m practical, private, and affordable.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

I am moving country, so am changing my rates and payment methods


After almost 30 years in Malaysia, we're relocating to the UK.  I'll be offline for about a week sometime in October 2023, not yet sure of the exact dates. Also, as my bank account will change and my situation, my charges and payment methods are changing too. 
On 1st October 2023 my online counselling and psychotherapy rates will change to £35 per hour. This is the worldwide rate and will apply to all new clients, no matter where they live. 
Payment is over Wise and PayPal (international) or to my bank account in the UK if you’re in the UK.
If you are already my client and you live in Malaysia, you will maintain your super special discount until 1st January 2024 BUT after 1st October you will have to pay over Wise or PayPal.
If you are already my client and you pay in US$, payment increases to US$40 or £33 on 1st October which gives you a small discount of about 8-10% compared to new clients 🙂
I believe in affordable therapy, so I will maintain low rates. If you like a super bargain, contact me 😊

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Navigating Privacy in Mental Health: The Hidden Risks of Professional Associations in SCoPEd

Mental health professional associations in the UK are monetising. As a result, I believe that within 5 years, British-based practitioners will have to turbocharge their pricing. Also, privacy will take a huge hit and may vanish.

Spoiler: I'm not playing, so if you are my client, you will not be affected. However, I think I will be one of the exceptions.

Forewarned is forearmed. In this post I'll explain what's going on. My aim is to help you make informed decisions so you can secure therapy services while maintaining privacy and without paying a fortune.

Big Shock: Professional Associations Can Be Predatory

If you're not sure who's who, it makes sense to check if your therapist belongs to a professional association. You may even look first at the accredited members, thinking those must be the best qualified.

Those assumptions can be problematic.

Professional associations shout about their commitment to standards. However, they are businesses. As businesses, they have one objective: making money. This impacts on your privacy (and also on the fees you pay).

Here's how that works.

Professional associations make money by selling memberships and professional development content. The big ones also sell conferences and run journals that (surprise!) you pay to publish in.

But mental health professionals aren't super rich. It costs £20,000 to £50,000 for a Masters Degree, never mind the cost of the basic Degree. We're not keen to splash out more money.

mental health associations can be predatory By Chicago Bureau (Federal Bureau of Investigation) - Wide World Photos -, Public Domain,
Al Capone in 1930

As Al Capone once said, "'You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone." Successful professional associations work on that principle, and they aim to have all the weapons.

In order to make us sign up, professional associations manoeuvre themselves into a position where they get to gatekeep the profession.

Professional associations try to trademark or control a title, like "counsellor". Others lobby politicians to pass laws so that mental health professionals can only work in schools or hospitals if they belong to their club. Clever ones do both!

In many countries you can pay for and complete a Degree and a Masters in Psychology or Counselling but be barred from working until you pay money to the local professional association.

Yup, we're just like the Mafia!

Professional Associations Monetise Through Accreditation

In addition, professional associations monetize membership ranks within the organization.

You can join up and get a basic membership. However, to get special badges and super listings in their advertising directories, you pay to be an accredited member.

This is where privacy comes in.

Mental health professionals who want that accredited badge, share their client notes and information with a supervisor – a fellow therapist – who then paid to check the work to make sure it's up to standard.

Typically, your client notes are emailed to the supervisor, with your name removed, and then your therapist and the supervisor have a long chat about your case.

I'm a privacy advocate, I know how ridiculously easy it is to identify people, especially if the client, therapist and supervisor are all in the same town, and so this whole supervision business gives me the icks.

But that's me. About half of my clients depend on privacy to stay safe, so for me this is a huge deal. I freely admit that when it comes to privacy, I wear a tinfoil hat.

Devastating Divisive SCoPed Initiative

In the past, qualified counsellors and psychotherapists joined UK professional associations as members, and a select few chose to be accredited.

However, many UK associations are now adopting SCoPed, a system that ranks membership by grades A/B/C and guess what? Your qualifications don't get you the super grade; you have to go for accreditation. 

When SCoPed listings were announced a week or two ago, we found that the lady with a Masters and 11 years in practice, and the bloke with the Masters and 24 years in practice, both also contributors to literature, are listed as Column A which is for fresh grads with their first Diploma.

I'm Column A too. My basic Degree, first-class Masters, writing contributions and experience mean nothing to my associations. I'm ranked on the same level as Diploma fresh grads.

From the email, we can pay £230 for them to upgrade us to Columns B and C which is where the adults work. However, we can't get there unless we agree to become accredited members.  Also, we have to pay the monthly fee to stay there.

SCoPEd effectively cancels our training. It means we can become qualified but we can't stay qualified. To stay qualified, we have to pay and pay and pay. 

The Other Cost of Accreditation

Aside from privacy issues, eagle eyes will have noted that mention of fees 😊

Typical accreditation takes a minimum of 1.5 hours of supervision a month. At universities and some companies staff do swapsies, but if you're private like me, you have to pay full professional fees.

Accreditation costs run at £50 to £100 an hour and you have to pay 1.5 hours of supervision a month for basic accreditation.

Currently, I pay £300 a year for membership and conferences. If I were to junk my principles, my annual costs would go to £1200-£2100 a year.

Eye-watering, right? And these costs will be passed on to clients.

Predicting UK Therapy Services 2024 Onwards

There are numerous resignations and protests about SCoPEd, including this one by Michael Golding, a senior and well respected practitioner

However, therapy is big business and big business attracts sharks. I believe the sharks are now in charge.

I think many UK practitioners will want to sit in columns B and C. They will pay to play because they'll be afraid they won't get any business if they're column A.

I believe therapy prices will skyrocket. Again, mine won't.

Also, as supervision will become standard, you will need to think more about privacy. 

How To Discover How Confidential or Private Your Therapy Sessions Are

Discussions about privacy should take place before you sign up. Therefore, before you decide if you're going to work with a therapist, they should talk to you about the nuts and bolts of how sessions and confidentiality work.

My first free chat takes 15-20 minutes and it's mostly about privacy.

If they don't have that first chat, here are the questions I would ask:

·         What is your confidentiality policy?

·         Under what circumstances do you break confidentiality? Also, who would you alert?

·         How and where do you store my information?

·         Who has access to my therapy records?

·         Do you use case consultations or supervision? If yes, will you ask my permission first? Can I say no? If you insist, how is my identity protected? Who is the person you share this with? (in case you know the supervisor) How do they store my information? Who do they share my information with?

Also, here is a short list of green and red flags

How private are sessions by ellen whyte

Making Choices When You're Disempowered

If you go to a hospital, charity, or some big organization, you may find yourself in a position where your notes will be shared routinely without your knowledge or consent.

Maybe you don't have a choice beyond yes/no.

If that's so, here are some green flags that signal your therapist is a good egg.

  • They talk about de-identification, including altering details about you like saying you're a gardener instead of a marketing professional, and they remove your birth date and place of birth.
  • They tell you who the supervisor is, so that if you know them, you can warn them of the extra privacy issues.
  • They give you a heads-up each and every time they share your information.

I'm sorry, it sucks. But I'm afraid that privacy in mental health is a serious problem, particularly in the West.

Bottom Line

If you are cautious about privacy, don't assume that associations and practitioners share your concern. See past the presumption of touchy-feely goodness and remember that it is a business.

Tip Tip: a professional has academic training, practical training and experience. Check where we went to school and see how we are when you talk to us. Then make up your own mind.

And speaking of business, hire me.

  • I'm sensible, super private, and I work online internationally.
  • I work alone.
  • I do all my own paperwork.
  • I absolutely refuse to share any information about my clients.
  • I keep all my client notes offline.
  • I show you your client notes – or I won't take any if you prefer.
  • I'm not paying all kinds of extra fees, so I'm nice and affordable.

While I am not keen on professional associations, I have various memberships because I love to learn.

My memberships are the bog-standard basic ones where they give me access to conferences, journals, and educational materials.

However, I'm column A and that's where I stay. Your privacy is my priority.