Wednesday 1 April 2020

Emergency kit for low mood, anxiety and panicky feeling

In this time of huge change and uncertainty, it can be quite unsettling to work out how to do life differently. For much of the time you might feel able to tap into fresh reservoirs of strength and inspiration, but just now and then, you feel you’re struggling. It might be that for much the time you feel you’re in danger of being overwhelmed with the not – knowing. Or maybe, you feel you’re somewhere in between.
We’ve prepared an emergency kit with a list of things you might have around you to draw on at times when you feel low, anxious or panicky. Some will appeal, others may not – but we hope you find something that is helpful for you.

·        A note to yourself to tackle one day at a time, to use your resources, to try and notice the good things every day.
·       A guided meditation, noticing things in your environment and reflecting on them in a mindful way, clouds, flowers, trees any interesting object. The app Headspace has lots of great content and has added new stuff.
·       A playlist that reminds you of happy times, or that soothes or energises you. Make a playlist for someone else, ask them to make a playlist for you. 
·       A journal to scribble in or to write about your feelings, or a sketch book to draw or doodle. Or a colouring book, maybe a mindfulness one, and nice new coloured pencils
·       A craft kit like cross stitch, paint by numbers, crochet, knitting
·        Something soft, a fluffy blanket or a silky cloth or a cuddly toy to stroke, touch or squeeze. Pets can be helpful here too.
·       A fidget toy, stress ball, glitter jar or lava lamp, play doh can also relieve tension.
·       Calming oils, an oil burner or just a cotton ball dipped in your favourite soothing smell
·       Playing cards to shuffle or deal, play simple card games alone, like patience, or with someone else. 
·       Photos of happy times and important people. Now might be the time to make an album, maybe using an online photo service or printing out photos and putting them in a scrapbook. Or you could use them to make a card for someone you’re thinking of.
·       A list of things you’d like to experience or accomplish or even revisit in the future.
·       A letter to yourself, written compassionately, reminding yourself that you are strong and loved and worthy, telling yourself all the things you have already managed to overcome, progress you have made towards psychological goals. Compliments others have given, things you’re proud of. Remind yourself all difficult situations will pass or improve, and pain eases over time. 
·       A hot water bottle/cold pack to use, depending on what’s happening in your body. Cold flannels on your wrists can help to ease panicky feelings as can breathing exercises
·       A note of those you that it would help to seek out and what you would like to say to that person. Have their telephone numbers to hand. Processing verbally by talking to someone often helps. This could be your GP, a counsellor, or the Samaritans on 116123. You can self- refer to talking-therapies, although this won’t be immediate. 
·       Some gentle at home exercise will boost your endorphins - free online classes like Joe Wicks for all abilities or Lottie Murphy’s restful Night’s Sleep Pilates Routine.
·        Go out for a walk, run or cycle in the fresh air.
·       Seeds, bulbs or plants to plant pots, window boxes or garden borders.
·       Jigsaw puzzles

Thursday 4 January 2018

We just don’t talk any more : how can we move forward?

Communication breakdown

 For many couples the breakdown of communication happens very gradually. Couples in this situation are often able to communicate at a functional level - about what is happening during the week , who is picking up the kids, how much the gas bill was and so on - but not at a more intimate level. Conversations about spending time as a couple, hopes and fears for the future, feelings about the relationship are few and far between and often inconclusive.

 People talk about drifting apart without really noticing. Sometimes work, interests such as sport or music, friends, children or other family commitments take precedence so that the couple relationship gets forgotten. When the couple – or more usually one partner – notices they’re not really communicating, it often seems that they are almost living separately.

It may be that people don’t talk because it’s too difficult to know where to start. There may be a hope that difficulties will resolve themselves if ignored for long enough. There may be a fear that talking about feeling that things aren’t great will lead to the end of the relationship. Other people feel that they can’t talk to their partner without hurting them. They may feel they’ll be misunderstood or just not able to express what they need to say. For other people, talking is frightening because it leads to arguments and conflict that will never be resolved.

People often say communication has broken down because their partner ‘never listens’. Again there can be many reasons for this. It may be that communication is based on assumption. Each partner ‘knows’ what the other is going to say so feels there is no point in listening. Or it may be that attempts to talk are interrupted when the couple or one partner is distracted by for example children coming in, by something coming up on tv /by Facebook/ by email or text messages.

Moving Forward

Sometimes couples can start to communicate again simply by acknowledging that they have got out of the habit of talking to each other. If this is the case for you, try agreeing to put aside time to talk.

·         It needs to be a time that works for both of you – e.g. not when one or both you is about to go to bed

·         it might be at the same time each week or may be on a more ad hoc basis.

·         It needs to be a time when you can give each other your undivided attention – no screens or other distractions.

·         It can be helpful to agree how long you’re going to talk – maybe 10- 15 minutes to start with- but see how it goes. If both of you feel this isn’t long enough, you can always agree to extend the time

Some couples find this easiest to do at home, maybe over a cup of tea or a meal. Sometimes it’s easier to go out of the home – for example - going for a walk can make chats about the relationship seem less intense.

We’ve already tried everything

Sometimes though, couples feel they’ve tried to do this, but it hasn’t helped. They still seem to go round and round in circles. In these situations, couple counselling can be effective in helping partners to explore and understand the couple dynamic. From there the couple can find new ways to communicate.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

We're all going on a summer holiday....

Were all going on a summer holiday, fun and laughter on our summer holiday ………

 Isnt it your turn to look after the children?,
All I wanted to do was lay down and read a book,
Am I expected to have sex every night?
I want to go for long walks, cycling and you just want to laze around.
Im exhausted
 Im on my own with the children and lonely ..

Does any of that sound familiar or are these things you worry about?   Holidays are meant to be a time to relax, to have fun, a chance to finally spend some quality time, to check in with each other.  Holidays have a lot to live up to and we can pack our expectations into the suitcase next to the beach towels without thinking about their weight as we check in or find the suitcase does not fit in the boot of the car.

TOP TIPS for reducing holiday stress

   Talk with your family about what you each hope from the holiday.   Find out what each of you would like to do and how you can each support each other in achieving this.  Listen to each other, dont talk over each other and value each persons contribution.
   Allow time for yourself and ask your partner for help to achieve this.  Maybe you can negotiate rest times with your children!  Remember to do things you enjoy.
   If your holidays have become built on commitments and traditions, think about which one remain important to you and each other.  Its ok to re-evaluate past traditions and maybe drop some to introduce new ones..
   Dont plan too much.  Allow time to relax with each other.
   If you are visiting family be clear about your commitments and the time you will spend with them so you are not struggling against their expectations.
   Have fun when you are talking about your holiday. Ask the children to draw how they would like the holiday to be, talk over cocktails, wear a sombrero.  Create joy together.

Its not about creating a perfect holiday because Life isnt perfect, and holidays are part of life. Embrace their imperfections.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Feelings experienced by teenagers whose parents separate / divorce

This month we’re looking at the impact of parental separation / divorce on teenagers. When parents separate every member of the family ( including the wider family ) experiences a sense of loss. There are some distinct phases which include denial, anger, blame, sadness, reality testing, acceptance and moving forward. No two people experience them at the same time or in the same way as these stages aren’t linear but people dart between them. 

However, in our work with young people, there are themes and feelings that recur. Here we’ve created 3 monologues that capture some of the feelings that one teen might experience as their parents separate. The characters are entirely fictional but the feelings and thoughts are a blend of many different conversations we have had with many different young people.

I don’t know why people keep asking me if I’m ok with what’s going on with Mum and Dad. One I don’t want to talk about private stuff and two there’s nothing to say. Dad has ever been around that much especially during the week so it’s no big deal that I see a bit less of him at the week end. Anyway I’d rather be out with Sam and Jess.
The only thing is I wish Mum didn’t want me and Alex to go round to Dad’s new flat. I know he doesn’t like living there so it’s not as if he’s going to be there for long. It’s much better that he keeps coming back to the house to see us. Don’t know why Mum has to disappear the minute he turns up though. It’s my birthday next month and I know Mum’s going to ask me what I want to do. Well that’s easy. The four of us go out for dinner – that’s what we always do on birthdays.

I hate them. They pretend to care but it’s all about them.
I don’t see why Mum gets so upset that I don’t tell her where I am. Why would she care? She never listens to me when I am at home. I did feel bad for her at first. But it’s all about her - how hard things are for her. How lonely she is. How sad she is. If I try to say how I’m feeling she just cries and tells me how guilty she feels. Sometimes I just want to explode with frustration – sometimes I do. Then I feel bad – but why should I? She and dad were always yelling at each other when he was at home. Or not talking to each other for days. Now she knows what it’s like.  
They’ve wrecked everything and I’ll never forgive them. At least when I’m out with my mates I don’t have to hear it all the time- and if I have a few drinks I can forget about the whole mess those two have made my life.


I’m not saying everything’s amazing but I’m starting to realise how awkward it was so much of the time when Dad lived with us. Mum and Dad always seemed so angry with each other. Now at least I’m not just waiting for the next big argument and then not knowing what to say to either of them when they could hardly look at each other. Me and Mum even went out last week and had a good time- and that’s not just because she got me some decent trainers. And she’s stopped asking me how Dad is when we go out for dinner with him. We can have a bit of a laugh with Dad and he actually listens when I’m telling him about stuff that’s going on for me. Mum and Dad actually email each other rather than getting me and Alex to give messages. Probably because we kept ‘forgetting’. Anyway I don’t care why – as long as they sort their stuff out. And let me and Alex have our say.


Thursday 7 April 2016

Minimising the impact of parental separation/divorce

For couples with children who separate / divorce, one of their first concerns is often how their children will be affected, and most children do find the experience of parental separation distressing.

 However, research in the last 20 years shows that it is not parental separation that causes long –term emotional distress to children. It is the ongoing conflict between parents, whether they are together or apart, that can be very damaging. The parenting relationship does not end when the couple relationship ends and the way this is managed by both parents will significantly affect the way their children cope with the separation / divorce. Many parents talk about wanting to put their children first as they separate and below are some general principles as to how this can happen.

 Minimising the impact of divorce / separation on children

Key to minimizing the impact on children is the parents’ ability to separate totally the parenting relationship from the couple relationship. When couples separate, there are often difficult feelings such as anger, fear and bitterness between them as they struggle to deal with the end of the couple relationship. Unless there is violence or abuse in the relationship, children need both parents.  If ongoing parenting together is difficult, it may be helpful to seek the support of a relationship counsellor or seek mediation.

Helping the children through and after the break up – parenting together when you’re no longer partners

Every child is different and every experience of break up is unique. In families where there is more than one child, it’s likely that they’ll respond differently and at different times. Nonetheless, Parenting Together when you’re no longer partners will make all the difference to children.

Parenting Together when you’re no longer partners means you both:

          Tell the children, whatever their age, that you both still love them. This message needs to be supported by long - term assurances that this love will continue.

          Make it clear the separation isn’t about them. Children may blame themselves. Reassure them that your love for them as parents is different from the love you had for each other. A common fear for children of separating parents is that if the adults can stop loving each other, they can stop loving their children.

          Accept that your children’s feelings towards your ex are likely to be very different to yours. They need to know it is ok with both of you to love both parents.

          Let your children know its ok to talk about what’s going on either with you or with someone they trust – e.g. another family member; a teacher; a counsellor

          Recognize that practical arrangements affecting the children need to be agreed away from them: the small as well as the big details– e.g. when they will see each parent, where they will live, where the rabbit will live etc. you. As children get older you will need to take account your children’s wishes by asking for their views, but don’t put them in the position where they might feel they have to choose between you.

          Let school/ nursery know what is happening at home.

Parenting Together when you’re no longer partners means neither of you:

          Tell the children the details of why you have split up or of any ongoing issues between you e.g. about money / your views on new partners.

          Criticize your ex in front of your children. Whatever your feelings for your ex, he / she is your child’s parent. The children themselves may say angry things about the other parent but if they hear anyone else criticising their parents, they feel they are also being attacked.

          Use the children as messengers – e.g . ‘Tell your dad you need new PE kit.’ ‘Tell your Mum I need to pick you up earlier next week.’ If you feel your partner is uncooperative it can seem easier to communicate via your children but that puts them in the middle. If it’s difficult to communicate face to face, agree to text / email and stick to factual arrangements.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Recipe for improving low desire for sex

This recipe is a suggestion for women who are in long term relationships , who are struggling to make the mental space and physical time to enjoy sex. These ideas are for those where sex has become a source of anxiety or distress - take from it those parts that might enhance your experience. In the same way as there are multiple ways to make a chocolate cake - this is one set of ingredients and ideas - please feel free to e mail us your own!

Prepare the environment:
  1.  Have a conversation about what you both like to do and receive. Advance knowledge and discussion of favourite touching zones will really help you make the most of the recipe. For example, women often do not like immediate focus on the genitals/clitoris. (Research in this area is useful - reading some erotic fiction or other sexual material can be fun and educational.)
  2.  Whilst a holiday environment is the optimum preparation, at least having a decent night's sleep the night before will be really conducive.
  3. .A shared anticipation (as opposed to expectation) -  some kind of flirtation /connection/context/ communication leading up to the event itself is helpful.

A few hours before:
  1. Remove and discard any stress - leave it on the bus/train/car home if you can.
  2. Create a harmonious atmosphere.  Avoiding arguments or aggravation is a must – and not just between the two of you, but in your home environment generally.
  3.  Factor in some quality time (N.B. squeezing time for sex into the space between turning off the TV/browsing fb/planning tomorrow's presentation/ picking up your teenager/making cakes for the forgotten 'til the last minute cake sale at work or school and collapsing exhausted into bed is not quality time.)
  4.   Measure out some equality around loading the dishwasher/doing the on line shop/ bathing the kids.
  5.   The best sex starts at breakfast with anticipation- try to' simmer' through the day. Possible ways to do this - send a flirty text, think about an arousing memory, scene from a film or read some erotic fiction. Then when you meet you can turn up the heat!

  1.   Relaxation -  choose from as many of the following as you find helpful : breathing exercises/ music/massage/bath or shower/ meditation.
  2.  Sensuality and mindfulness : being in the moment, registering sensations and not running through the list of unfinished jobs in your head.
  3. Patience and time to allow things to build up slowly, without interruption from family members or what's app/fb/ ebay alerts. (An agreement to turn off phones and tablets is a great idea.)
  4. The ability to communicate, laugh, give and take some direction or suggestion and ask for what you would like, avoiding feeling criticised.
  5. Compliments can be blended in throughout if genuine.
  6.  Some massage oil, personal lubricant (warmed), sex toys and erotic material can add some spice.
  7.   Don't forget your contraception of choice.

 Ingredients to avoid – these will spoil the recipe and need to be sifted out thoroughly before you start the recipe
  1.   Critical thoughts or negative body image triggers (touching tummies is often best avoided after childbirth, for instance)
  2.   Over focus on performance, such as number of athletic positions managed, strength of erection or pressure to reach/delay orgasm.


  1. Prepare the physical environment - warmth is essential and people have different ideas about privacy.
  2.    Initiation - some kind of prior knowledge or discussion about how you like to invite each other to be intimate is helpful. Women often dress in a way that makes them feel sexy for themselves and not just for their partner.
  3. Include the whole body, as desired. Blend respect for your partner’s needs with your own enjoyment . It can be really arousing when the other person is taking pleasure and feeling turned on.
  4.   Progression through the stages of interest, desire, pleasure, arousal/excitement and orgasm (if desired) .
  5.  Take time to enjoy the feeling of closeness .  Bask in the feelings afterwards, thinking 'we really should do this more often....' (for reasons why this doesn't happen as often, please see the steps under preparation....)

 If sex has become a loaded issue or an anxiety ridden topic, it may feel quite difficult to start a conversation. If this sounds like something you and your partner need to talk about but can’t really imagine it happening, talking things through with Michaela ,who is a Psycho Sexual Therapist and accredited member of The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, could really help. See our website for her contact details.

Monday 4 January 2016

Couple counselling - is it too late?

We are often asked by people thinking about, or beginning relationship counselling, ‘Is it too late?’ and ‘Can couple counselling really help?’ And the answer is, that in many cases, it is not too late and, yes, couple counselling can, and does, make a significant difference in many relationships.

When couple counselling can be effective

·         When both partners are unhappy about a particular aspect of the relationship but  want their relationship to work.
·         When the relationship has hit a crisis point - for example an affair has been discovered. Other crisis points might be where one partner feels ready to leave or one or both partners feel they have fallen out of love.
·         When a couple feel ‘stuck’: they have tried to resolve their issues but go round and round in circles.
·         When one partner feels unhappy but doesn’t know how to tell their partner so starts to withdraw from the relationship
·         When a couple are thinking about moving in together or getting married and want to ensure they have a shared understanding of the relationship.

How relationship counselling can help

  • It may be that things seem just too difficult to talk about or that there is never a good time to talk. The temptation can be to hope that somehow things will just sort themselves out. The painful reality is that if there are angry, resentful feelings in the relationship and they’re suppressed, they will come out. Sometimes an affair starts but more often the feelings are expressed in the way we behave towards each other - for example feeling constantly irritated by our partner; not wanting to spend any time together; looking for arguments; feeling nothing we do is right.
  • Couple counselling can provide a neutral environment with a third person so issues that have never been discussed or, that have been discussed before but not resolved, can be worked through in a controlled, ’safe’ way.
  • Sometimes both partners are unhappy about the same aspect of the relationship and both want to resolve that issue. In these cases counselling can be very effective in a relatively short time - often a matter of weeks.
  • However, quite often at the start of counselling the two partners have a very different view of the issues and causes of the difficulties. It’s not unusual for one person to be quite sceptical about the relationship’s future whereas the other person thinks things could be resolved. Counselling isn’t about apportioning blame but about acknowledging what it is about the couple dynamic that does and doesn’t work. In these situations, the work is about reaching a shared understanding to see how ‘broken’ the relationship actually is, before a decision is made about its future. Then counselling can help couple use the understanding to move forward.

  • Sometimes it may be that things have gone too far for both partners. Counselling can then be about making a separation less hostile / distressing. If the couple have children, their relationship as parents will continue – and the way they manage this will be absolutely key for the children. When there are high emotions/ conflict between a couple, children can be impacted badly – whether the parents are together or apart. Counselling can help manage this.
  • Occasionally it does happen that the partners don’t agree on the way forward. At this point individual counselling can provide support in managing the huge sense of loss.

When couple counselling is not appropriate

  • If there is ongoing domestic violence/abuse, couple counselling is not appropriate. Help and support for male and female perpetrators of domestic violence /abuse (emotional as well as physical) is available through Respect  

For female victims, there is support through Women’s Aid, and for male victims, Respect offer advice and support as do Mankind at Crossing Bridges offers help for male and female victims at www.crossing

Individual counselling with a relationship counsellor can also be very helpful for victims of domestic violence/abuse.

Berkshire Relationship Counselling Group

At Berkshire Relationship Counselling Group, we see our role as being to work with both members of the couple - to enable them both to share their experience of the relationship and hear their partner’s. Often clients talk about hearing things in a different, more constructive way in the counselling environment so they are able to move forward.