Monday, January 29, 2018

The Common Link between Stoicism and CBT ...

My presentation at the Weekend University 28/01 on Stoic Philosophy, CBT and Behaviour Change can be downloaded from here

Picture source: Wiki Commons

Sunday, November 26, 2017

What are your personal reset buttons?

James Herriot Country - 2 of my reset buttons - being in nature and relaxing TV
By Kreuzschnabel - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

"Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. It works  like a reset button”Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity

When a computer is not responding properly, you often need to press the reset button. When we are stressed, angry, down, sad or upset, it can be really helpful to engage in our personal reset button activities. Here is a personal story which shows how useful reset buttons can be.

Was it just my family, or do others sometimes find Xmas stressful? I remember when I was growing up  that Christmas time was not always far from being cutesy come-together paradise portrayed in John Lewis adverts

I recall one Christmas -maybe around 1983 - being particularly rocky. It all kicked off around the pouring of the sherry. By the time we got to Xmas pudding it was more Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now  than Merry Xmas Everbody.  It could easily have escalated into ruining the whole day - let's face it, the whole year - but fortunately we retreated to our own spaces and then reemerged to watch  the must-see family TV of the year, James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" 

Someone, becomng immersed in an hour of warm and fuzzy  TV transformed the whole atmosphere.  We forgot our differences and reconnected.  We had found our family reset button.

What are yours? A group in a London workshop on Positive Psychology and Happiness yesterday came up with this list.

•Playing or watching Sport
Stroking a pet
Having a cup of tea
•Talking to or texting a friend
•A sitcom or funny  TV programme
Writing the problem down
Create some distance from what is stressing you out - such as going to a different room
•Doing  a jigsaw puzzle
Chocolate (in moderation!)
•Playing a Game
•Uplifting or energising Music
Cleaning & decluttering

Would any of these work for you?

Reset buttons can helpfully be grouped into five categories.

  • Doing something physical
  • Making a connection with those I care for
  • Doing something to make my body feel calmer
  • Doing an activity that I can get involved in that takes my mind of things
  • Thinking about things differently

Is there something that might work for  you in each category?  If it helps, have a look at the longer list of reset button activities in my book, Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology. 

What works for you may not work for someone else. For example, what effect does watching 15 minutes of John Lewis Christmas adverts have on you?

Possibly a bit too much?  In yesterday's workshop, it turned out there were  a number of fans of 1970s New Wave group The Jam, so playing this little clip proved to be uplifting  and energising.

I suspect These reset buttons can be useful not just in moments of stress, but to raise your mood and raise your personal energy level, which is why I chose to play this clip towards the end of a long day.

What are your personal reset buttons? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Series #2) Why is CBT a good approach?

There is considerable evidence that  CBT can be helpful  for many common mental health problems.

If you happen to be suffering from low mood, panic attacks, overthinking, worrying, OCD, PTSD  or stress, anxiety then this is good and important news.


If you had a bad back,  would you would want to choose a type of treatment that had a good track record for helping with bad backs. So if you have a common mental health problem you want to choose a treatment with a good track record with helping sufferers.

How does CBT achieve this?  Over the last 20 years or so,  psychologists have undertaken a lot of research about these common mental health problems. The focus has been on discovering the patterns that keep people stuck with these problems.

This is very helpful. If you were a tourist new to London trying to get from Liverpool Street to Buckingham Palace, you would prefer to have as your guide someone who had a map and who had accompanied people on that journey before. A guide without a map might get you to the Palace eventually, but  then again we might end up in the suburbs and never reach our intended destination.
In the same way, a CBT therapist knows the territory of common mental health problems and so is more likely to be a reliable guide than someone who does not.

Researchers have also designed treatment packages which are most likely to work efficiently, given their understanding of the problem. Your experienced and reliable guide will have a map of ways to get from Liverpool Street to Buckingham Palace. Like google maps or a good Satnav they will also understand whether tube, bus or taxi or foot or some combination - is most efficient.  A good CBT therapist will understand, for example, that at the beginning of threapy behavioural techniques are more likely to be effective for low mood, whilst a  cognitive intervention will be vital in the early stages of therapy to help someone panic disorder.

Researchers have tested out  treatment packages for each common mental health problem mentioned above. CBT therapists learn in their training which packages are most impactful for which disorder and how to implement these treatments.

CBT is also committed to continuously refining and improving these packages - a bit like getting a software upgrade to your Satnav.

It is these two elements - a map of common mental health problems and associated, tested and effective treatment packages - that in my view make CBT such a good approach if you do have a common mental health problem

Of course there is a lot more that could be said.  We are all different, and the map of your depression  may not exactly fit the most common pattern for depression. A good CBT therapist will be informed by the  map of the territory but will not be constrained by it. They will tailor the treatment to your problem,

Equally, not everyone who could benefit from CBT has a common  mental health problem. But if you do have one of these problems - depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (worry), OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, health anxiety, phobias - then CBT is likely to be particularly effective.

My experience as a therapist though suggests that the reverse is more often true. Many people are suffering from a mental health problem but are not aware of it. If you are reading this and suspect you may be suffering from one there is a strong case for seeing an experienced CBT therapist to see if they can help.

In the next article in this series we will look at each of these problems mentioned - what they are and how you find out more about them.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Series #1) What is CBT?

CBT is an evidence-based talking therapy therapy that can help with a wide range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, procrastination, stress and anger management 

In many ways going to see a CBT therapist is as much like going to a yoga teacher or language teacher as it is going to see a traditional counsellor. The emphasis is on understanding your issues in a new way and then teaching you skills to help you manage it, given this new understanding.

Does that make sense?  This short video produced by the charity MIND explains CBT particularly well.

CBT is usually short-term. Some anxiety disorders can be treated very quickly -for example panic attacks and phobias can very often be treated in 3 or 4 sessions. Other problems take longer . It's part of the CBT process to regularly review how treatment is going and to reflect on how to make it more effective or suggest alternatives if necessary.

CBT focuses mainly on the here and now. If there was a fire you wouldn't want to spend a long time searching for the match that started it. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress you need to work on  alleviating it. So the focus is usually on what's keeping it going now and on changing that. Sometimes it is important to talk about the past, and in these cases CBT will delve into the past. but only as much as is necessary.

CBT is very practical.  Your therapist will help you find practical ways to alleviate your distress,rather than just providing a listening ear.

CBT also involves exercises to be done between sessions - just like yoga and learning a language would.  This is often called "homework". I prefer to avoid this term as whenever anyone asked me to do homework, I left it to the last minute possible. The point of CBT home practice is to check in and learn something new or try something new every day.

CBT is structured.  Sessions usually follow a set structure - quick check-in, setting agenda for today, review of home practice, 1 or 2 main items for today, then setting home practice for next time and summary of main points from session. Don't worry, it's not your job as client to set this structure. Like a good talk show host, like Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton (or Michael Parkinson, if I dare show my age), your CBT therapist will be in charge of the process, so you can focus on your issues.

CBT involves teamwork. You know about yourself, your goals and your problems. Your CBT therapist knows about your condition and about proven ways to help.

Does all that make sense? Here is David Clark, a leading CBT researcher, with his explanation of what CBT is all about.

This is the first in a series of articles about CBT.

Other articles are planned to cover questions such as
- does how you think affect how you feel?
- does what you do affect how you feel?
- is CBT all about techniques? (the answer is no, it's about understanding your problem then learning and applying techniques)
-  what problems can CBT help with?
- what can't CBT help so much with, and what other treatments are likely to help?
- can CBT help me or someone I care about?

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS. #6) The need for wise leadership: Can Dubai be the Florence of the 21st Century?

"Until philosophers rule as kings in their cities or those who are nowadays called kings and leading men become genuine and adequate philosophers ... cities will have no rest from evils." Plato The Republic

In the USA, instead of a philosopher king,  we have a president who as Josef Stiglitz  pointed out,  is questioning science  and has  chosen to appoint no economists whatsoever into his cabinet.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who brought all these thought leaders to Dubai for the WGS and in 2016 appointed the World’s first Minister of Happiness, provides a contrasting positive role model of leadership.  

Yet he  makes no claim to be a philosopher king. In his book,  Flashes of Thought, he says

“I would like to point out that I am no scientist. Nor do I claim to be a wise philosopher. This is simply a collection of concise messages, experiences, ideas and thoughts, whose sole aim is to serve our nation and to bring some happiness to our fellow citizens.”

Nevertheless in a 2015 article journalist Faisal J. Abbas in 2015 compares Dubai to Renaissance Florence. “Both cities”, wrote Abbas,  “managed to overcome their limitations, exceed their natural boundaries and achieve a ‘global status;’ mostly owing to the visionary ruling families, namely the Medicis of Florence and the al-Maktoums of Dubai”

The World Government Summit, Global Dialogues on Happiness,  Museum of the Future and the Emirates  Mars Mission are all examples of Dubai’s role in trying to build a better world future.  

 I do not know exactly what form future World Government Summits or Global Dialogues on Happiness will take, but I hope that what we saw in Dubai this month is just the beginning. 

The world may be at an inflexion point. We face either unprecedented wealth, happiness and technological advance – or a return to the dark times of the 1930s or worse -  technological Eden or Destruction. 

In these most interesting of times, the world urgently needs wise leadership.

Monday, March 06, 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS - #5) The need for scientific knowledge - and wisdom

“Knowledge without action is wastefulness. Action without knowledge is foolishness”
(Al Ghazali , quoted by Sheikh Mohammed at the WGS)

Imagine that your town is likely to be hit by a hurricane next week. 
You have four options
1 Business as usual, hope for the best
2 Take a vote on what to do. Let democracy rule
3 Hope that  the free market will sort it out
4 Gather together those with the most knowledge and understanding about hurricanes and act on their recommendations

Which option should you choose?

The challenges we as a world face are potentially even more serious than even a hurricane.  
The expertise on show at WGS was truly dazzling. 

Engineers like Musk and  Kalanick informed us of advances in technology. 

Psychologists like Seligman, Diener and Csiksentmihalyi told us about important developments in the psychology of human flourishing, Positive Psychology.

Economists  Stiglitz and Schwab shared their understanding of  the  economic impact of globalisation and technological change. 

Psychologist Arie Kruglanski   even shed light on such important matters as how to be smart at  fighting terrorism

There is an enormous and growing amount of scientific understanding and  knowledge available to the world now – we need use it, wisely,