“I enter the [therapeutic] relationship not
as a scientist, but as a person”

Carl Rogers

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Individual (One-to-One) Counselling and Therapy, Alsager, Cheshire

I offer one-to-one counselling and psychotherapy sessions for adults and young people, working through issues in a confidential, nurturing environment. Sessions last 50 minutes and I usually see clients once or twice a week for a given period. I am based in Cheshire, working from Alsager (East Cheshire, Junction 16 of the M6), although my client base geographically includes North Staffordshire, the Peak District and beyond.

To date I have helped individual clients in both short- and long-term therapy, dealing with issues ranging from anxiety and panic attacks through chronic eating disorders, phobias and relationship problems to bereavement, post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse.

My therapeutic approach is integrative, which means that I borrow freely from various schools of thought to use the techniques that will work best for each client. These include psychodynamic and transpersonal therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as less mainstream creative techniques including bibliotherapy and eco-therapy in cases where they can be helpful for the client. I have also trained in animal-assisted therapy (AAT) which can be very effective in some instances.

For more information about individual therapy or to make an appointment, please contact me at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk or call me on 07811 981645.



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Very good facilitation – encouraging and warm.

In Defence of ‘Conscious Uncoupling’

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have been subjected to all sorts of abuse from ‘media commentators’ today in the wake of their announcement that they are “consciously uncoupling”. But in the difficult process of calling a day on their 10-year marriage, they’re wise to seek a therapeutic way of exiting the relationship.

Let’s first think about the idea of ‘coupling’. Two people meet, they fall in love (in theory) and they decide to stay together and form a couple. Perhaps they get married and have children together, or bring existing children into the new ‘blended’ family. So far, so good – but the problem is, coupling, or the process of becoming a couple, is often done fairly unconsciously – falling in love with someone is not, after all, a rational decision. In fact, it’s often a pretty rash way of forming a couple or a family, but one that feels right at the time.

That’s all well and good in those cases where the couple grow together (importantly), stay together and end up being a solid unit for years, maybe even decades. They’re the lucky ones, and the envy of friends and strangers. That initial rush of falling in love develops into something else – something stronger and deeper, perhaps, but certainly something more ‘grown-up’. The relationship continues to evolve and survives beyond the inevitable erosion of heady excitement, of new romance and perhaps even of sex.

For couples whose relationships fall apart, there are many ways of breaking up – all of which are difficult, even when the break-up is mutually agreed. Whatever the tacit reasons for the break-up, there’s often a toxic compound of disappointment and regret, which can be exacerbated by feelings of betrayal or failure. When children are involved, the whole process can feel even harder, and the stakes can seem even higher.

‘Uncoupling’ is a way of looking at the break-up as part of a process: “we met, we fell in love, it didn’t work out in the end, but what we will always be able to cherish is X, Y and Z, and what I’ve learned is A, B and C”. Some examples … ‘X’ could be having spent good years with the partner, ‘Y’ could be having made beautiful children together and ‘Z’ could be having enjoyed a particular path together, perhaps even having survived tough obstacles together. Learning ‘A’ could be around how people change throughout their lives; learning ‘B’ could relate to one’s own personality traits; and learning ‘C’ could be to do with what attracts you to people in the first place.

Conscious uncoupling means embedding the decision to separate in the 360-degree reality of what the relationship was, its ups and its downs, and what can be carried forward. It enables both partners to appreciate the legacy and learnings of the relationship and to take stock of what happened – together – in order to then move on.

Uncoupling can benefit from a very considered and conscious process, lending a useful counterpart to the largely unconscious experience of falling in love. Where coupling was rash and impulsive, uncoupling is considered and reflective. It allows a feeling of ‘completion’ or closure, and in some cases of a relationship having come full circle. It’s not unknown for couples undergoing a therapeutic leave-taking to come back together again, but that’s of course not the aim at all. The aims include awareness, consciousness, taking stock, being in-the-moment and then being able to move on.

It saddens me that Paltrow and Martin are being mocked for what some have said is a “self-regarding” way to break up. If we had more self-regard in all aspects of our lives (in the introspective sense), things would certainly be better for us!

Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir has implied today that the conscious uncoupling statement is the couple’s way of saying that they even do break-ups in a superior way to everyone else. Well, I’m afraid it looks like they really do – conscious uncoupling is to be applauded, whoever’s doing it, because it helps people take stock and then move forward with their lives.

For more information about couples therapy, including the conscious uncoupling process, e-mail me at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk.

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Personal Development Programme 2014: Registration Now Open

Monday 6th January sees the start of the Personal Development Programme 2014, an eight-week group designed to help members remove emotional obstacles and maximize their strengths in order to move forwards healthily and happily in 2014.

Following participant feedback from last year’s group, I’ve extended the group from six weeks to eight weeks. In addition, there will be a ‘top-up’ session in May and a review session in the Autumn to further reinforce the ongoing support offered by the Programme.

In a psychotherapist-facilitated, supportive and confidential environment, participants will be encouraged to:

* Examine labels given to them in early life

* Measure their actual inner selves against their ‘perceived’ selves

* Explore their social networks and identify where they are positive, negative or neutral influences

* Create their own strategies for dealing with stress

* Develop a plan to ensure emotional balance in 2014

We will meet on consecutive Monday evenings from 6th January at the lovely, airy Studio at 100 Crewe Road, Alsager (the same building as my consulting rooms), with all refreshments and materials provided. The Programme is strictly limited to a maximum of eight participants.

Advance registration is essential; normal cost £180, Early Bird cost £160 (bookings before 10th December 2013); discounts available for unwaged. To book your place or for further information call me on 07811 981645 or e-mail jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk.

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‘Surviving Separation and Divorce’ group, Alsager, starting 24th October

In October and November I’ll be running a six-week ‘Surviving Separation and Divorce’ group at Alsager Therapy Centre on Thursday evenings.

Limited to six participants, this will be a very small group offering a confidential, supportive and non-judgmental environment. It is open to women and men who are either recently divorced or separated, currently going through the process or struggling to move from past significant relationships.

The aim of the group is to acknowledge residual feelings and fears from members’ past relationships, to explore learnings while enhancing self-awareness and to prepare to move on healthily and with self-care. There will of course be therapeutic input throughout.

Advance registration is essential; the full programme costs £190 including materials and refreshments.

For more information call or text me on 07811 981645 (office hours) or e-mail me at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk.

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New Monthly Drop-In for Bereaved Pet Owners

Wednesday 4th September sees the first of my free monthly drop-ins for bereaved pet owners.

Why run a group specifically for bereaved pet owners? Well, anecdotal evidence from my clients would suggest that some GPs, some counsellors and indeed some friends and family struggle to understand the grief that can occur following the death of a companion animal. Pet bereavement is very much a “real” bereavement – after all, companion animals often represent the most ‘honest’ and non-judgmental relationships in their owners’ lives, and in most cases they are bona fide members of the family who, on their death, are grieved for just as much as people. And like all bereavement, if unattended it can lead to depression and other problems.

We have a wonderful free phone and e-mail helpline that’s run by the Blue Cross‘s Pet Bereavement Support Service, but I haven’t heard of drop-ins specifically around this issue before, so I think it’s a UK first. I’ve no idea whether people will want to attend. I do know, though, that many people struggle greatly following the loss of a companion animal, so it’s worth offering the service.

It will offer a supportive, confidential environment where participants can learn to grieve healthily and with self-care, and where we can explore meaningful remembrance. Above all, we will be able to acknowledge the real grief of losing a companion animal and give voice to those feelings that are sometimes not taken seriously enough by health professionals who should know better.

Advance booking is essential. Owners of terminally ill or missing animals are also welcome.

Please spread the word if you think this group could benefit someone you know.

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‘Dealing With Stress’ Programme Begins 9th July

My Tuesday evening ‘Dealing With Stress’ Programme begins this month at Alsager Therapy Centre.

Over five weeks, we will be using CBT and relaxation techniques to deal with stress and its wider effects in the workplace, in the family and elsewhere.

This group is strictly limited to five participants; advance booking essential.

Other upcoming groups include: Emotional Eating group (July/Aug), Empty Nesters group (Aug/Sept), Emotional Wellbeing Programme (Sept/Oct), Surviving Separation and Divorce group (Nov/Dec) and the Baby & Us workshop (6th Nov). For further information about any of these, contact me at jcsmith@therapy-cheshire.co.uk.

Misty Scottish mountain

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Condensed Reads: ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman (1995)

Was it really way back in 1995 that Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence came out? Yes – and it’s still going strong, largely because of its very devoted following in the corporate world.

For Goleman, emotional intelligence (i.e., the various skills required to read situations and other people from an empathic and intuitive place) counts more than technical prowess, creative zing or any other skill to ‘get on’ in organizations. In the early 70s, Goleman’s Harvard mentor David McLelland had published a ground-breaking paper in American Psychologist proposing  that academic skill and IQ testing weren’t the best predictors of how well candidates would perform in given roles, and rather that competence testing should be used instead. Doesn’t sound so innovative nowadays, does it? But that just shows how receptive organizations were to McLelland’s theory. McLelland died in 1998, so he didn’t live to see the real fruits of his theories after they were popularized – his  ‘competences’ concept is what Daniel Goleman took further, and packaged so successfully, in Emotional Intelligence.

With well over five million copies sold globally, this is an undeniably influential book. The title packs a punch, and will certainly have helped raise interest in the mid-90s, when the search for a more caring, person-centred workplace was du jour. A former New York Times science journalist, Goleman was able to write about “EQ” very persuasively in lay terms, and he’s a prime example of what can happen when someone with great writing skills chooses to write about a subject hitherto only read about in journals.

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Dates Announced for 10-Week Personal Development Group for Women, Hale, April – May 2013

The next 10-week Personal Development Group for Women will be starting in Hale, Cheshire on Tuesday 16th April (the week after the Easter holidays).

This group will be held in the daytime and restricted to a very limited number of participants. We will be looking at a different theme each week including childhood, relationships, body image, life cycle and dreams.

The aim of the group is to help women of all ages unravel their motivations, behaviours and emotional stumbling blocks while starting to move towards positive and lasting change. Facilitated by a qualified psychotherapist and using structured personal exercises each week, participants will benefit from a safe, supportive, confidential and nurturing environment to explore their own issues.

This is a ‘closed’ group (meaning that it will not be open to new members once the group begins), so advance registration is essential.

If this group could be of interest to you or anyone you know, e-mail me at therapyincheshire@gmail.com or text me on 07811 981645 and I’ll get back to you with times, costs and further information.

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Top 5 Online Resources around Depression

1. The mental health charity Mind’s website has a wealth of useful information, including a very good symptoms-checking section which can be used for yourself or a friend or relative (there is also a great area on how family and friends can help).  A good starting point if you’re unsure is the section called ‘I’m worried about the way I’ve been feeling / behaving’. A range of information booklets available free online or for £1 by post includes How To Manage Stress, How To Cope With Loneliness, Understanding Depression and Making Sense of Anti-Depressants. Finally, the ‘I Need Urgent Help’ button on the top right of the home page sign-posts other useful resources that can be accessed quickly.

2. The Depression Alliance has some very useful FAQs online, including how to get help for yourself or someone close. The Alliance also offers a penpal-type support service and the site has lots of details about local self-help groups.

3. Some people prefer self-help to come from a book, and if that’s you, look no further than Dorothy Rowe as your starting point. Australian psychologist Rowe is internationally known for her books on depression, and her classic Depression: The Way Out Of Your Prison is now in its 3rd edition and also available as an e-book. Some of the podcasts featured on Rowe’s site are of interviews around depression, treatment and the use of anti-depressants.

4. The NHS Choices site has a decent depression section with a fairly quick self-assessment test as well as a well-chosen Real Stories section.

5. Finally, BUPA is worth a mention for its section on options around the treatment of depression, and is also notable for its video on depression in old age.

Note: these resources are all UK-based.

Icy country road and fields

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How To: Make Positive Change

1: Embrace the ‘Old You’

It might have been easier, New Year and all, to call this post ‘How To: Make Positive Change in 2013’, but the fact is, positive change can be implemented any time. If the New Year helps you as a tool, great, but beware of the “new year, new you” fallacy.

The very best way to make change is to take the “old you, new behaviours” approach – because whatever the changes you’re trying to make, you will still be some hopefully improved version or other of the old you.

2: Small Steps

Tempting as massive overnight change is, smaller, incremental change is much more sustainable. Ebenezer Scrooge may have jumped out of bed on Christmas morning full of the milk of human kindness, but most of us don’t get visited by incredibly useful phantoms in the night who give us a how-to for better living.

The ‘small steps’ philosophy isn’t glamorous and doesn’t sell as many books, but it works. Thinking about change as a gradual learning curve, and accepting the little hiccups along the way, will help you stay on the road to wellness and well-being – and that road is not only usually full of potholes, it’s also criss-crossed by lots of smoother, more inviting roads that lead off in a different direction. Accept the little setbacks, the little mistakes and the low moments, and keep on the road (and insert here any road-trip song you like, as further motivation).

3: Look to the Distance

The trick here is to balance a here-and-now, small steps philosophy with motivational goals in the near and not-so-near future. If you’re trying to stop smoking, your main focus needs to be on the present moment, taking it day by day, but it will also help to have goals and rewards that stretch into the distance, for example a treat for yourself at the end of the month, a trip or holiday in the Summer, and so on.

Use birthdays and anniversaries – and not necessarily your own – as milestones to aim for. And make sure you look back at appropriate moments to see how far you’ve come. As with all the best journeys, you need to relish your changing behaviour in stages.

4: Tell Someone – Or Something! – About It

It’s sometimes tempting to implement personal change unbeknownst to anyone else, but this is probably related to a fear of failure. In changing a behaviour gradually, confiding in a partner, friend, relative, diary or dog can really help. I said ‘diary’ because using a diary or journal works wonders for some people, and yes, I said ‘dog’ because what we’re after here is something that receives what you’ve said out loud, so that you feel you’ve said it out loud. To this end, any animal with large enough ears will do.

5: Help Yourself By Avoiding Self-Help

Self-help books fly off the shelves in January, which at least shows that lots of people out there want to change their behaviours. But the bad news is that most self-help books are only good for selected tips and insights. Use what makes sense to you, but don’t be a slave to a book. Why? Because no matter how knowledgeable or motivating the author is, he or she doesn’t know you personally, nor do they know your issues, your life, your problems or your own motivations.

There are some decent books out there, by authors who really mean well and can help you peripherally. But in trying to change your behaviour through using a self-help book, the best way to see the process is as ‘going it alone’ but using selected tips from someone who might know a bit about the behaviour in questions but doesn’t know you.

My own tips come under this umbrella – I think they’re helpful, and I know they’ve worked for myself or clients or other people I know, but you know yourself best. Here and anywhere else, take the tips, take the techniques, but be your own person – the person who’s doing the hard, important work of change.

Forest trees

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