February, 2008

Needle Phobia

I found myself listening to Jeremy Vine on the radio the other day, discussing needle phobia and many people phoned the show to talk about their experiences of this very depilating fear.

The impact of this phobia on many people’s life can be very dramatic especially if people have to have regular injections for diabetes or for other medical problems.

There are many reasons a person may have a needle phobia, it may be to do an early experience at school, possibly hearing other children telling stories about how much it hurts, or just the idea of the injection itself .Other people may worry about infections from needles, what they are being injected with, the size of the needle or the manner in which they were given the injection.

However what people often don’t realise is just how much help there is available. There are many therapies available to help people with needle phobias quite successfully and rapidly, a selection of them is detailed below:

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – both similar ‘talking’ therapies that help a person to think differently whilst using behavioural exposure to the fear.

Thought Field Therapy (TFT) –that involves the person thinking of their fear whilst tapping on meridian points on their body. Although this sounds quite unusual it is very effective in treating fears and phobias.

Hypnosis – despite how hypnosis is presented in the media, it is a very safe therapy where the client has full control throughout the session. This therapy is once again very helpful in treating phobias quite rapidly

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) has developed several techniques that have been found to be very successful in treat phobias. Sometimes these techniques maybe used in combination with more formal hypnosis however they can also be used separately.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy that has proven to be very successful in treating phobias. A person is asked to thinking about a specific aspect of their fear whilst using bi-lateral stimulation. This may involve the client moving their eyes back and forth or the use of alternate taps on the back of the hand or listening to alternate sounds played through head phones. This helps the brain to reprocess their fear and helps the person to feel relaxed when confronted by the fear.

Effectiveness of antidepressants

A report out today suggests that research into the effectiveness of anti depressants has cast doubts on their effectiveness for all patients.

A study by the University of Hull suggests that drugs like Seroxat and Prozac and other newer SSRI antidepressants are more significantly benifical for people with very severe depression.

In most cases when people were given either the antidepressant or a placebo (dummy drug) there was little difference in treatment success.

These findings support what I have felt as a psychologist for a long time. I have treated many people for depression and anxiety and the majority of my clients have been on some form of anti depressant medication to help them. The vast majority of these clients have reported that although they have been taking these anti depressants for a long time they feel no significant benefits from them.

The vast majority of my clients have sought ‘theraputic’ help as a result of their medication doing little to help them.

As a psychologist I am unable to comment on what medication a client takes, but many of my clients find that after only a short time in therapy they feel more positive and as a result discuss with their doctor how they can begin to reduce and then come off their medication.

I would encourage anyone suffering from depression or anxiety to seek theraputic help, there are many types of therapies available that can offer very good support and treatment, and most people find that they can very quickly resolve their issues and feel more positive.

The benefit of finding the right kind of therapy is that a person will be able to learn to think differently and handle many of life’s situations in a more confident way so that they feel in control. Not only will you resolve your current issues or worries, but you provide yourself with the tools to respond more positively to future situations without the need for medication.

Bullying on the increase

Why is bullying on the increase? It is reported that 70% of children now admit to some form of bullying.

I have treated a number of children and teenagers who have been victims of bullying, and have experience working with the consequences. I have just been interviewed by Century FM radio on the topic, and it gave me a chance to think about the issue.

In the past, young people may have been the victims of bullying whilst walking to and from school or while they were at school. However with the advent of new technologies more young people are finding themselves the victims of bullying. The internet and mobile phones mean young people can now be bullied in their own home. A person may receive emails or text messages while sitting in their bedroom that victimise them. In addition social networking websites can mean that children can once again be easily bullied as a person without many ‘friends’ on their website is therefore seen as less popular.

Also with mobile phones people are finding themselves the victims of happy slapping another culture that is on the increase. Many people want to video something on their phones and show it off to their friends; as a result of this people have moved to physically hurt other people. In these incidences there are often several people involved and therefore a psychological consequence of this is that people get caught up in the moment of what is happening. A psychological term used to describe this is ‘diminished responsibility’ where as a result of many people being involved in something it lessens the individual responsibility.

So the question remains has bullying actually increased or is it just easier to bully people now? I believe the answer to this is a little of both. Yes it is easier to bully people now due to what I have explained above. However people do appear to have less respect for one another now than they used to, we live in a faster paced society and this coupled with decreasing family values is impacting on the growth of today’s children and how they view life and other people.

Body Image

Smiling GirlWhy do people obsess about body image? Why is it so important? And who is it that influences the way we think about body image?

These are just some of the questions I have been asked by Manchester radio show “Century FM” on a piece they were recording on ‘body image’, played yesterday.

We are in the west becoming more obsessed by body image, and there appear to be two opposing sides emerging. On the one hand you have programmes like ‘Coleen’s real women' or ‘how to look good naked’ which try to promote positive ‘real’ body images; on the other hand you have various women’s magazines and newspapers promoting glossy pictures celebrities’ cellulite, or showing before and after pictures of how celebrities have put on weight. These kinds of articles are often splashed across the front cover with banner headlines like “spot the celebrity cellulite”.

I am always reluctant to agree with those who blame the media whether TV, films, games or newspapers for areas like violent crime; however I do believe that the subliminal messages from reading articles and seeing pictures of celebrities being berated for their how their bodys are, is having an impact upon how some people perceive themselves.

Additionally there have been numerous TV programmes on plastic surgery and with the prices becoming more and more affordable once again the subliminal affects of this are that more people are beginning to feel that they should not be happy with their body image.

I don’t believe that it is the media per se that leads people to think badly about their body image, but we are affected by how things are reported and presented to us.

I ask the question, how important is it really that we read about and see a picture of “Britney Spears cellulite?!

Early bird learning: Learning for the under 5s

StonesWithin the last week there have been several reports about schooling and whether children under 5 should attend school.

Evidence from the Cambridge-based Primary Review suggests that starting age does not have a strong positive impact on attainment. Another research project by the National Foundation for Education Research (Nfer) found that early starting ages did not necessarily help a child’s achievement in school.

Other European countries like Finland and Denmark actually have later starting ages of seven and achieve some of the top scores in educational statistics. However some people are against such late starting ages as they believe the younger child can gain from learning through more formal education.

I believe that the main focus for not having an early starting age should not be on education but on a child’s morals and values. These are the skills we should be taking time to educate our children on, helping a child to understand and believe in respect, responsibility, and being happy.

Often in today’s society a lot of emphasis is placed upon children reaching high educational standards, but it is a worrying fact that often young people are in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Various people then point fingers toward what they consider to be the problem: the young people themselves, alcohol, parenting, education, lack of policing, etc

I think these early years can be spent helping a child to develop social skills, communication, understanding of others and how to have fun to name but a few.

The last point ‘how to have fun’, relates not necessarily to how the child is at five, six or seven years of age but what happens to them when they get older. If we can help children of a young age develop confidence in themselves and their abilities through communicating with others from an early age then this child will be much happier later on in life.

I mention this having worked with hundreds of children for many years and have seen how children of different ages can become easily caught up with worries they don’t need to have provided they are equipped with the necessary understanding and skills of how to communicate with others. Not all children have these skills in as high a abundance as others and as a result find themselves often unable to deal with certain situations as well as they could.

The reason for this is varied and complicated, it could be to do with parental up-bringing, our ever changing society, and what they think and feel about themselves. All these factors influence one another, and for some children it may impact upon how they interact with others.

With the teaching of some simple skills many children could develop and improve.

These skills can also impact upon educational achievement. For example if a less confident child develops their confidence they may then ask more questions in class and as a result learn more.

So I believe that we should begin to focus not so much on education but on developing our morals, values and social skills and understand respect for others and ourselves.

All of this can be achieved by children, and in many respects it will be easier whilst their minds are still fresh and they are still developing and open minded. If we teach them these basic skills early on they will be more open and receptive to the traditional education curriculum.

Coleen's real women

Last night I sat down to with my wife to watch ‘Coleen’s real women’. The premise of the show is for Coleen McLoughlin to find ‘real’ women and pitch them against models to win a modeling contract. Each week she has a new challenge, some she wins and others she loses.

Whilst watching this I was reminded of a research study I conducted a few years ago. The premise of the study was to see how easily people’s opinions of Art could be changed by how it was presented to them.

Approximately 20 people were asked a number of random questions and within these they were shown a set of 10 little known paintings. They were asked to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 for preference.

Two weeks after the study was first carried out the same participants were shown the same set of pictures. This time the pictures that they had rated as their least favourite were given long, detailed descriptions explaining brush strokes, texture and choice of paint. Those paintings that they had rated higher were given shorter descriptions.

The idea was to see if people’s opinions could be changed within a matter of weeks by the way something was presented to them.

This was found to be true in this study, people consistently rated their least favorite painting much higher on the second rating, thus showing that people can be influenced by others when choosing what they like.

I was reminded of this study whilst watch ‘Coleen’s real women’. The two people choosing the model they would like for their campaign turned down what we though were very suitable models that fitted their brief.

I find it interesting to see how people who are connected with art in any guise choose what they think people will like or not like. It would appear that these industries are very subjective.

If a person has worked in an industry for a long time does it give them a better sense of what other people will like, or at the end of the day is it just their opinion, their personal preference? What makes someone an expert in art, fashion, photography, design? Of course there is a real technical skill that many people have to acquire, but for those that are critics, do they always get it right, should we believe them, or is it just about individual taste?

These creative industries like fashion, art and design are shaped by a small number of people who make choices on behalf of us all about what they think we will prefer and respond to. Watching the show last night I realised how much of an impact these people can have on shaping what we see – in the current climate of concern around the ‘size 0’ issue, perhaps it is these people – who make decisions about what image they want their brand to portray – rather than the models / actresses themselves who need to change their view of what we the public as a whole will respond to.

Therapeutic massage and the mind

I have been having therapeutic massage for approximately a year now following several months of painful back problems. Within a short space of time my massage therapist had resolved my problems, but I continue to see her once a month to keep things in check.

It was during my treatment yesterday that I began to think about the connection between massage and the mind.

There are of course the obvious benefits of massage in that if you feel pain free and healthy in your body then you are more likely to feel happier. However I began to think of the additional psychological benefits over and above this.

In our ever increasingly busy lives we do not get many opportunities to take time out for ourselves where we do absolutely nothing but relax. Massage offers that opportunity to relax without distraction, you are not talking to anyone, watching TV, working, or even sleeping where your mind can still be very active.

In that short space of time you can take the opportunity to allow your mind to wander and drift of wherever it likes. In a way it may be similar to hypnosis; clients often tell me how good they feel after a hypnosis session because they have had an opportunity to just relax for a few moments.

The process of allowing your mind to just drift is very therapeutic in itself. It can allow your mind to rest for a moment, away from the worries and concerns of the day and what ever you have to do next. This rest can revitalise and reenergise you. I often encourage clients to take ten minutes in a day and do absolutely nothing, not listen to music, TV or anything and close their eyes and just relax for 5 to 10 minute but not to fall asleep. People were doing it in the 80’s they called them ‘power naps’, the benefits you can feel as a result of doing this are great.

With a massage you get to do this to a deeper level as your muscles are being relaxed and as a result of your muscles being relaxed this will help you mind to relax and therefore deal with more aspects of life. Thus you can begin to create a circular process. With you muscles being more relaxed, your mind can begin to find it easier to relax (as it is not worrying about aches or pains and over and above this it is learning to relax by experiencing muscle relaxation). As a result of your mind learning to relax more easily you are less likely to tense your muscles as frequently and may even learn how to relax them more quickly after a stressful episode as you have experienced through feedback what muscle relaxation feel like. This in turn will enable your mind to stay more relaxed, and thus the circle continues.

One of the reasons for the mind being able to relax more easily as a result of the muscles relaxing is due to how your body reacts when you feel mentally stressed. Our body and mind are interconnected and when we feel stressed or anxious our body reacts by tensing up. It is actually very difficult to have an anxious thought whilst your body remains completely relaxed.

Therefore I would encourage anyone to seek the benefits of massage not least for your body but for how it can help your mind.

Under age drinking

Under age drinking has increased in the last 10 years and many organisations and politicians are developing new ways to tackle the ever-increasing problem.

Some of the ideas that have been discussed are:
raising the drinking age to 21,
banning adverts for alcohol,
allowing 16 year olds to go into the pub to drink,
fining parents whose children are caught drinking,
banning so called Alco pops
fining the young people themselves if they are caught drinking

but will any of them ever work?

It appears that many of the suggestions people have with regard to under age drinking or binge drinking revolve around banning or chastising people. Therefore tackling the end product, but not necessarily tackling the source or reason. One of the difficulties with this is that it may only make a problem go under ground (it still exists but is less visually obvious).

This way young people may still continue to drink but hide away when they are doing it. Police may then have more difficulty apprehending people as they are less obvious. This will not necessarily take the problem away from our streets. As these people will still be drunk on their walk home and may still cause the trouble that they do already.

Part of drinking under age is the fact that it is new, exciting and rebellious and many young people give in to peer pressure to join in underage drinking. If we bring in laws to try reduce it happening it will no doubt become even more enticing.

To try reduce this problem we should be looking to understand in more depth the difference between our culture in the UK and that of European countries that don’t have this problem.

If we look at people in Europe they are introduced to alcohol at a younger age. It is presented to them in the context of sitting round the table with the family, enjoying a family meal. The emphasis from the adults is to enjoy their drink and not drink to be drunk. It is about an experience that is wrapped up with family, socialising, telling stories, and eating food over a period of time and not dashing away from the dinner table.

We may not be able to instil all these qualities within our culture into today’s society as it has moved and developed, but that does not mean we cannot take the basic essence of what is happening within these cultures.

It is about changing people’s attitudes to alcohol, not so much through education when children are young, though this is helpful, but more through discussing and understanding. It is not enough to tell people the dangers and try scare them away from alcohol as this only works with those people that were already likely to be scared. It is more about understanding and appreciating the taste, understanding socializing and encouraging socializing. Helping people to acknowledge what fun they can have without the need for excess. How confidence and fun does not come from alcohol but from how you choose to think, feel and behave.

We also need to challenge young peoples beliefs, this could be carried out in schools or clubs. We can do this by discussing words that may be synonymous with under age drinking. For example words like “cool”, young people may belief they look cool as a result of drinking and getting very drunk. The question is how cool do you look when you are sick, can’t walk straight, feel ill, your head is spinning, you can’t think straight or even articulate properly. Does the alcohol make you belong to the group or did you already belong to the group before the alcohol. “What is belonging, and does alcohol make you belong?”.

By challenging these thoughts and beliefs we can help reduce under age drinking, by changing the way young people view alcohol and getting drunk.

I believe that we will do more to reduce this problem, not by chastising or bringing in laws but through developing respect, understanding and challenging beliefs. We need to help young people to have respect for each other, themselves and other people. Again we develop this through taking the time to understand them and in turn helping them to understand alcohol in a different way.

Young people can still have fun, be rebellious and enjoy themselves but without excessive alcohol consumption, and it is the older generations job to show them how.