The Myth of A Natural Birth

canada-goose-216003_1280As I counsellor I do some voluntary work for a Birth Trauma Association. My job consists of giving email advice to new mums on how to deal with the consequences of traumatic birth experience, helping them to find a counsellor etc. More often than not I help mothers to start processing the birth experience itself– confirming that what happened was, indeed, quite traumatic and it is hardly surprising that a new mother is presently feeling low, anxious or depressed.
I am talking here of a physical trauma – something went wrong, there were complications, medical support was inadequate, baby or mother’s life was in danger and so on. What is surprising, though, that very often I get emails from mothers who have delivered healthy babies and are feeling physically ok, yet emotionally they are in a complete turmoil. I am not talking about post-natal depression, which may be caused by hormones, lack of sleep, complete change of lifestyle etc. These are the cases when emotional distress is caused by a wide gap between mother’s expectation of birth and an actual birth experience.
More often than not, these women had an idealized picture of birth – completely “natural”, almost pain free, no medication or drugs involved. Which is a fantastic idea in itself and it is great when birth goes as planned. Unfortunately, it is not often the case. Thousands of things can go and do go wrong and medical help is required. As a result, instead of feeling exhilarated and proud after giving birth to a healthy baby, new mothers feel like failures. This feeling of inadequacy and failure can sometimes develop into depression.
In their antenatal groups expectant mothers are commonly given a picture of a “natural” birth as an only “right” option, making it sound easy and achievable for everyone. Birth is, indeed, a natural process, but it is also quite natural for it to go wrong. Many women through the history have died in the process and it is still happening in many countries today. Advocating the “natural” birth as an only option should always include mentioning the risks associated with it. Expectant mothers should be offered different options and the choice should be theirs, depending on the circumstances, health risks etc. Rather than bullying women into one “right” way of giving birth, antenatal groups should be explaining pluses and minuses of various options and providing women with information. What works for one mother could be completely wrong for another and there is no need to make a failure from what should be a celebration.
Having met plenty of women who have opted for a natural birth, I have yet to meet a person who has asked to see a “natural dentist

How to find a counsellor?

I am often asked to advise on how to find a counsellor.
If you have never had counselling before, the process can be rather confusing, so I thought I will share a few tips here.

Your first port of call is of course your GP. Some GPs are more helpful than others, but you will probably be referred to a local counseling provider. If you are lucky, you will be able to see a counsellor in a few weeks time, but often the waiting list is a lot longer. Even if you do see a counsellor soon enough, you might not get more than 3 or 4 sessions.

So what to do if you feel you need more than that?

The only way to go then is to go private.
It does not necessarily have to be expensive – many counseling training institutions have their own counseling services, where advanced trainees can gain necessary work experience, and offer reduced fees. Some charities local to you might offer free or cheap counseling services, so it is worth asking your GP about it.

If you do decide to look for a private counsellor, is a great resource. It allows you to search by postcode and all the counsellors listed have to provide a proof of their qualifications.

If you want to be absolutely sure that your counsellor has had an appropriate training and is qualified, you can look at
It is a website for British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy and it has a directory of counsellors. If a counsellor is registered as an Accredited Counsellor, that means that he or she has trained at the BACP accredited training institution and has had several years work experience post qualifying.

Vitamin D and depression

happy selfOur psychological wellbeing is directly related to our physical state. Quite often depression appears to be a result of vitamins or minerals deficiencies. One of the important elements, which could influence our mental state, is the vitamin D.
There are many causes of depression. Researchers are now discovering that vitamin D may play an important role in our mental health. Vitamin D acts on the areas of your brain that are linked to depression, but it is not yet clearly understood how it works.
There is a growing amount of research into low moods and vitamin D. Research does seem to show a link between low levels of vitamin D in the blood and symptoms of depression. However, research hasn’t yet shown clearly whether low vitamin D levels cause depression, or whether low vitamin D levels develop because someone is depressed. Lack of vitamin D may also be one of many factors that contribute to a depressed mood. There may be many other things that cause depression, which means it’s difficult to say for certain that when depression improves it is vitamin D that is causing the improvement.
However, since vitamin D can greatly benefit your immune system, there is no reason why you should not supplement your diet with it, especially during winter months.

How to prevent a panic attack?

panicattackHow to prevent a panic attack?

So you suffer from high levels of anxiety and have experienced panic attacks before? You can talk to your GP about the variety of treatments available – medication, counseling, CBT etc. Choice of treatment will probably depend on the severity of the attacks you experience.
But whilst you are waiting for the treatment to work (both with medication and with psychotherapy it might take a while), could you do something to help yourself? How do you pre-empt the panic attack?

Here are four simple steps you can go through if you feel that you might be about to experience a panic attack. Each step offers a different strategy and if one does not work, you should move to the next step.

Be aware of the here and now

We feel anxious because we are thinking about either the past or the future events. Being aware of the here and now will help you feel grounded. You could use mindfulness technique, by telling yourself what you are feeling right now, focusing on your breathing and, if your thoughts wander – bring them back into the present.

Remind yourself of your positive qualities

When we are feeling anxious it is all too easy to blame ourselves, which, in turn, makes us feel even more anxious. If you can turn on a positive internal voice you might feel more confident and relaxed as a result.

Remind yourself that a panic attack is not inevitable

You might be associating a panic attack with a certain feeling. This feeling might become fixed in your consciousness and appear immoveable. The reality is that we can choose how we feel, think and behave in different situations. It could be very helpful to realize that you can choose not to have a panic attack.

Think of the best scenario
If a certain situation is making you anxious, it may be helpful to visualize it developing in a positive way and then memorizing this visualization. Research demonstrates that our brain makes no distinction between a situation that really happened and the one that we imagined. By imagining ourselves being confident, for example, we can train our brain to always feel that way.

Who is talking in your head?

talking in yourheadMy clients are often surprised to hear that most of us have some sort of internal dialogue going on. “Hearing voices in your head” does not necessarily mean you are going mad – it just means that you have become aware of your internal dialogue.

Transactional Analysis regards this dialogue as an internal communication between ego-states. An ego-state is the set of related behaviors, thoughts and feelings. It is a way we manifest a part of our personality at a given time.

If I am behaving, thinking and feeling in response to what is going on around me here and now, using my resources as a grown-up person, I am said to be in my Adult Ego-state.

At times, I may behave, think and feel in ways which are a copy of one of my parents or parent figures. On this occasion, I am said to be in my Parent Ego-state.

Sometimes, I may return to ways of behaving, thinking and feeling which I used when I was a child. It might indicate that I am in my Child Ego-state.

The internal dialogue between ego-states might be experienced as thoughts; for example, self-critical thoughts might come from Parent to a Child ( «You could have managed this situation better!» «You ought to have apologized first»). Although if the criticism is valid and relevant to the situation the message might be coming from Adult.
Child may then comply and accept the criticism («Yes, I should have managed it better. I am no good.») or rebel against it («I have done my best!») Self-pitying thoughts can be directed from Child to Parent(«Nobody likes me») to which Parent may respond in a supportive («Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you») or in a punishing manner («You brought it upon yourself!»)

Sometimes you can hear your actual parent’s voice talking in your head or it can be a voice you don’t know or can’t remember.

Learning about the content and quality of your inner dialogue allows you to bring confusing thoughts and feelings into your Adult awareness. Once unraveled, your inner voices will loose their power and will stop interfering into your daily life.

Vitamins and supplements to alleviate stress


In my practice as a counsellor I often meet people who were advised by their GP to take an antidepressant, but are reluctant to do so. Counselling enables you to address the issues that make your life stressful, but I would also suggest small changes in your diet and lifestyle, that will make a big difference.

These are the vitamins and supplements you might consider taking before starting on a serious medication.

Research indicates that the majority of mentally and emotionally ill have deficiencies in B-vitamin complex. The recommended daily dose is 25-50mg daily. Even completely balanced and happy people tend to become depressed and experience other symptoms of emotional disturbance when made niacin or folic acid deficient.

Another mineral, essential for our mental wellbeing, is Magnesium. It is important for proper nerve functioning. Recommended dose – 250-500 mg daily. Calcium alleviates tension and promotes relaxation, recommended daily dose – Calcium, 500-1,000mg.

Omega-3 is another great mood booster – it contains DHA, which forms about half of all the fat in brain cell membranes. It is needed to build and preserve pliable brain cell structures so the brain can work effectively. DHA is shown to improve mood by boosting serotonin levels. You need to take a supplement for at least a month before you will feel the difference. When you buy a supplement, make sure it contains both EHA and DHA.

Give these vitamins and supplements a try and enjoy increased levels of energy and vitality!

How Are You Talking to Yourself?

We sometimes get upset at how other people treat us – somebody pushed you on a bus, your boss told you off for not finishing this report on time, your partner shouted at you for no reason. All of this can be really upsetting, but have you ever thought about how are you treating yourself?
When you are feeling down, upset or agitated, stop for a moment and listen. What is going on inside your head? How are you talking to yourself right now? What is your tone of voice? What are you saying?
More often than not, you will find that your inner voice is rather critical, sometimes more so, than your boss or your partner can ever be. You will be surprised to discover that you are often more “unfair”, negative and generally harsh with yourself than anyone else can ever be with you.
If we are constantly criticizing ourselves internally, we will usually take any external criticism very personally. On the other hand, if we are used to talk to ourselves in a positive and supportive manner, negative information coming from the outside will not affect us as much.
We can’t change the way other people think, feel or behave. If we don’t like the way someone is treating us, the only secure way to stop it happening is to cut communication completely. What we can change though, is the way we view ourselves. If we will stop criticizing ourselves and instead learn to give ourselves support and encouragement, our confidence levels will increase dramatically and we will be better prepared to deal with any external criticism.
Transactional Analysis understands internal dialogue as a communication between ego-states. I will talk more about it in my next post.

What do your children need?


Do any of these complaints sound familiar?

My Marcie whines and demands, especially when I don’t have time to give to her.
Andrew just seems flat. I offer him the same thing over and over and he doesn’t respond, so I leave him alone.
My Elena flouts the rules and laughs at my anger.

If you have a similar lament, it may be time to try out some different ways of parenting or of understanding yourself.
Hearing these laments as part of the “SRC triangle” can help us deal with them. SRC stands for the psychological hunger for stimulation, recognition and certainty. These three human hungers can at times push aside needs for sleep or for food.
We need to feel alive(stimulated), acknowledged (recognised) and safe (certain).If we can’t get the one we need, we try to make do by substituting one of the others, but it is never quite satisfying.

So the three points on a triangle are:

Let’s do something! – Hunger to be energised and vital.
Look at me! – Hunger to be acknowledged and considered valuable.
Who’s in charge here?- Hunger for a framework in which to feel safe and confident and to get stimulation and recognition safely and appropriately.

As a parent, you can think about the following questions:

• Am I providing a balance of stimulation, recognition and certainty for my children?
• Is one of them easier for me to offer so that I offer it at the expense of the others?
• Is one of my children clamouring for me to meet one of the hungers because she is not getting enough of another?
• When children are not responding well to our offers, we can remember that children, like adults, have widely different temperaments. The book by Helen Neville and Diane Clark Johnson Temperament Tools, Working with Your Child’s Inborn Traits helps us to do just that.
• Am I putting one of my unmet hungers onto the children instead of noticing what they need?
• Do I have stimulation, recognition and certainty balanced in my own life?
• Am I accepting the satisfaction of one hunger in place of another when I could do something to get that hunger met directly?

The three hungers are equally important. It is safest to offer a balance of all three.
My Marcie whines and demands, especially when I don’t have time to give to her.
Marcie whining and demanding may be saying “ I need more recognition from you. I feel scared and angry when I am not sure if you value me”. The response: more time with Marcie, more loving and more noticing and commenting on what Marcie does.

Andrew just seems flat. I offer him the same thing over and over and he doesn’t respond, so I leave him alone.
Babies who are not touched and talked to languish or die. Andrew went flat.
We all need variety, action, challenge, excitement, touch. Andrew may need all of those.

My Elena flouts the rules and laughs at my anger.
Elena might need a better structure. Her parents could develop consistency if the structure has been lax. Or they can loosen up the rigidity, if the structure has been too rigid. Too many limitations often result in rebellion, passivity, or manipulation rather than safety.

If you would like to explore this topic further, you are advised to read
Growing Up Again by Gean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson.

How authentic is your anger?


So you think you are an angry person, but are you really? Try this exercise:

Imagine that tomorrow is the beginning of a holiday period and all the shops are going to be shut for several days.
You have no food left in a house and have just enough time to run to the supermarket and stock up before the shop closes.
You quickly fill up your trolley and go to the tills. There are just a few minutes left before the closing time.
You get to the checkout desk, the person at the till enters your purchases on the cash-till and tells you the total cost.
You reach for your wallet and can’t find it. You search and search and it is not there. You remember now that you left it at home.
As the line is building up behind you, you ask the shop assistant if it would be ok to leave your name and address, take your shopping and bring money after the holidays. The shop assistant replies that it is not possible.
So you can’t take your goods home and there will be several days before the shops will re-open.
As you realize this – How do you feel?

If you will do this exercise in a group, you will notice that different people will report different feelings.
The feeling that you will report is the one you are experiencing quite often in all sorts of situations.
This feeling will also be the one that was “allowed” or encouraged in your family of origin.
The emotion you felt did nothing to help you find a solution to your problem.

These characteristics are typical of what Transactional Analysis calls The Racket Feeling.

The racket feeling is usually a substitute for an authentic feeling. For example, you might get angry when you are really sad. Feelings substitution is happening out of awareness, so you might not even notice what you are really experiencing.

So next time you get angry, you might try to stop and think for a moment – what are you really feeling? Could you find ways of expressing that real feeling (fear, sadness etc.) instead of getting angry? Becoming aware of your real feelings and finding ways of getting your needs met will help you manage your anger and use it in constructive rather than destructive ways.