Yearly Archive 2020

Covid-19: managing our mental health

Our world has changed. With huge questions hanging in the air about our physical health and our economic future, it’s unsurprising anxiety is on the increase.

The Government’s mantra is Stay at Home. Simple and clear. But they go on to say, if you can’t work from home, go to work and follow social distancing guidelines. Almost by definition, this introduces uncertainty, leaving individuals and businesses facing, what feel like impossible choices.

On top of all this, humans are social animals. We are heathier, more resilient when we are in contact with others, particularly those we love and are close to. But social distancing and self-isolation are the buzzwords.

So, what can you do?

There are some simple steps we can all take to maintain our mental wellbeing:

Stay connected … to family, friends and colleagues
Communicate with colleagues. Video conference regularly, even if it’s just to check in. We need more not less communication right now.
Use the technology available to talk – landlines, smart phones, tablets and computers.
Get creative with your social life.
Arrange an ‘online coffee’ with colleagues. Have dinner online with family. Stream a film to ‘go to the cinema’ with friends. Play virtual Monopoly, or your choice of game.
Consider volunteering to connect with like-minded people.

Control what you can and accept what you can’t
Whether you’re the employer or the employee there will be elements you can control and some you can’t. Focus your energy on what is within your influence, on what you can do.

Create a new routine … and stick to it
If you’re at home your daily routine will have changed. With so many changes, it’ll also be different if you’re still going into work. Establish a new structure to your day, making sure to plug in time for relaxing and enjoyable activities.

Working from home … what’s expected
Take some time to establish what’s possible and what’s expected of people working from home. With young children and other demands on our time, working from home is not as easy as it sounds. For the wellbeing of both, employers and employees need clarity.

Stay active
Our bodies are integral to our mental wellbeing so find some time to keep moving. Take advantage of the Government advice and go out for a walk or a run once a day.

Look up
It’s easy in an environment like this for our focus to shrink to the fears and terrors of our own world. We can feel trapped. If this happens to you, try to look up and look out. Go outside into your garden or open a window. Look at the birds and squirrels, the breeze in the trees or bushes.

When the anxiety rises … reduce the stress
Notice and regulate your breathing. Breath in for a count of five and breathe out for five and repeat for a few minutes.
Take a moment to notice and explore your physical experience of the anxiety.
Focus on the here and now. Here and now, in this moment, you are safe.
Talk to a trusted colleague, peer or friend. You’re not alone.

I can help … I offer:

  1. Online sessions for business leaders and managers to help you manage the pressures you face.
  2. Bespoke online workshop for your team to help them come together and address the unique challenges they face now. | \ @cathyeconnan

New year, new start? Find the therapist for you

January can be the perfect moment to make a change, from taking up running to deciding to read every Thomas Hardy novel.

Some of us take the opportunity to engage in something more fundamental, especially if the Christmas and New Year break has not been the picture-book perfect event we’re always led to expect. Deciding to engage in psychotherapy or counselling might be the first step, but what sort do you need?. Do you need cognitive behavioural therapy; talking therapies; person-centred, humanistic or integrative therapy, or … the list is almost endless.

As therapists we can be very committed to our own model but the evidence is clear – it’s you and your relationship with your therapist that counts! A study by Lambert (1992, in Hubble et al, 2006) suggests the person’s own capacity and environment account for 40% of outcome variance. 30% of outcome variance depends on the quality of the therapeutic relationship and 15% from the placebo effect (the belief in the therapist and process). Only 15% depends on the type of therapy and techniques on offer.

If it’s your relationship with the therapist that really matters, how do you find the right one for you?

If you go to your GP, you might get referred to the NHS’s mental health services. The likelihood is the counsellor will be a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) practitioner, but as the study suggests, it’s the relationship not the technique that matters and you’re unlikely to have a choice in the therapist you see. It’s worth asking if you can change if you really don’t feel comfortable. The long delays are well publicised and waiting months to see someone may not be okay for you. You could also be limited to a very few sessions. What then?

You might be lucky and have some good, low-cost counselling charities in your area, able to offer an appointment in weeks not months. These counsellors are often trainees, giving their time for free and managed by qualified counsellors running the service. Again, if you’re not comfortable with your assigned counsellor you can ask to change but it might be difficult in practice. To balance their limited resources, these charities also often have to restrict the number of sessions.

If you don’t feel you can wait, don’t want to limit the number of sessions, and want complete freedom to pick your therapist, private practice is the only option. But how do you know if they are qualified to help you? Counselling and psychotherapy are not legally regulated professions. While some people have trained and practised for years to qualify, others with no experience or training can call themselves a counsellor. The main registering bodies are lobbying the Government to change this and progress is being made but nothing is going to happen in the immediate future. How, then, do you find a well qualified, capable therapist who’s right for you?

Most people start on Google. Directories like and come high in the listings. They check the therapist’s credentials before accepting them onto their directories. Regulating bodies – the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy being two of the main ones – also have online directories of their therapists, each of whom has relevant qualifications and clinical experience. Think twice, three or four times, about anyone who is not a member of a regulating body.

Then draw up a shortlist of possibilities and ask to chat to or meet them before you make your final decision. A good therapist will be happy to engage in this way. If you meet them you may have to pay for the initial assessment, but a ‘get to know you’ telephone chat is going to be free. Make sure you ask how much therapy they have had. You don’t your therapist’s issues to play out in your therapy, so you want them to have done the work on themselves. It also means they are more able to give you the depth of support you may need.

You could short cut all this and ask friends and family for recommendations. It’s a good option but remember a therapist who was right for your best friend may not be right for you and there are potential conflicts working with someone recommended in this way.

If you have decided to make a change this January, I wish you the very best and if that change involves working with a counsellor or psychotherapist, I hope you find the right fit for you.

HUBBLE, M., DUNCAN, B. and MILLER, S. (2006) ‘Introduction’, in HUBBLE, M., DUNCAN, B. And MILLER, S. (eds) The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy. Eleventh edition. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, pp. 1-19.