Yearly Archive 2020

The importance of touch

If you, like me, missed this piece at the end of last week, this is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on touch on BBC Newsnight.

Touch is so important to us all.

Click here to view the whole report.


Home alone: life social distancing

Plenty of words and phrases have come to dominate our vocabulary in the past few weeks and months. Social distancing; lock down; quarantine; isolation, shielding. And now it looks like it’s going to be a very long time before they slip away from our day to day dialogue.

It’s not difficult to understand what each word or phrase means practically. Social distancing means we have to stay 2 metres from other people. Self-quarantining means someone who might be infected staying separate from others. Being in isolation, sick people have to stay away from others.

But what do they mean in terms of our experience? What is it like to stay 2 metres away from everyone we meet in the supermarket or at work? What does it mean to stay right way from everyone else if we think we have Covid-19? What is the impact of having limited or no close contact with other people for weeks and months?

Each of us is different. Some need others around them all the time, feeling lonely without company. I am pretty comfortable in my own company. I can be contentedly alone for a long time but incredibly lonely in a group. Irrespective of our personal preferences, every single person needs good, mutual relationships and there is plenty of evidence that being socially connected makes us happier. We need touch too. There’s evidence it builds trust, reduces anxiety and stress, boosts the immune system and lowers blood pressure.

Against this backdrop, social distancing is bound to be having an impact, even amongst those of us who are perfectly content on our own.

We can’t visit our close friends and family. Unless we’re living with them, we can’t give the people we love a hug. They may be fewer than normal, but we do have options.

Reach out to friends and family. Tell them how you are, share your experiences. Voicing a feeling can ease it, it stops it from being overwhelming. Say you want a hug or that you’d love to be able to offer one. It’s not the same but when you’re hungry, a snack is better than nothing if a delicious dinner is not an option.

Spend time together
Get creative with the contact. Go to the cinema together. Pick a film on a streaming service, set up a video call on Zoom or What’s App and sit down at the same time to watch it together. Arrange an ‘online coffee’ with friends, have dinner online with family or play a virtual board game.

And if the WIFI isn’t great, have a chat on the good old fashioned telephone.

Make contact and smile
Make the most of the daily exercise and opportunity to make essential trips. Acknowledge the people you see. Give them a smile or a wave. You’re bound to get one back.

In the absence of a hug
Touch matters. Being hugged matters. In lieu of the real thing, hug your knees close to your chest, wrap your arms around yourself, wrap yourself up tightly in a blanket and think about the warmth of the hug you’re giving yourself.

Savour the moment
It might not seem like it at first glance but find something in the moment to really appreciate, to savour. It could be a really tasty meal, fresh breeze on your face or something as day-to-day as a refreshing shower. Notice it, relish it, tell someone about it. | @cathyeconnan

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.