Redbridge Talking Therapies Blog

A client's experience with our social anxiety group

Banner - a client's experience with our social anxiety group. Photo of 4 people on a hike with a man helping a woman up a rock

At first, I was hesitant to join the groups at Talking Therapies. I have in the past only had private counselling and had never spoken openly in a group about my feelings. A group session for treating social anxiety seems like a contradiction. However, without being in a group, I doubt the sessions would have impacted me as much as they did.

I have shared my struggle with social anxiety with my family and close friends, but I have never met anyone who really understood the challenges and what it feels like. During the first session I had, my social anxiety was too high to participate, I just observed, and the counsellors made me feel like that was okay. I wanted to understand the environment and witness how the sessions were run for the first session. Therefore by the second session, I felt it was a safe environment so I could join in.

Both counsellors were excellent, and I felt they knew a lot about social anxiety and could relate to how it feels internally and the types of challenges which are harder to tackle. As a group, we motivated each other to participate in the tasks. I felt at ease when another member of the group shared a thought that I have always felt throughout my experience with social anxiety it made the struggle a lot less lonely. I found the weekly homework and the exposures during the sessions to be really helpful.

The reality of the situation with social anxiety is that you need to put yourself in uncomfortable and difficult situations to get better. Then over time, you become more confident and can identify negative thought patterns which worsen your anxiety. Once I understood this process, it became a lot easier to recognise my thought process, and to dispute these thoughts to calm myself down. All that was due to the teachings of the incredible counsellors who encouraged me to dive deeper into those thoughts and challenge them.

I still do have weekly exposure goals to improve my social anxiety week by week. We celebrated wins as a group and improved together, which was really impactful. Now, when I find myself in a situation that triggers my social anxiety, I think of those I met in the group and the counsellors who would be cheering me on. 

Read A client's experience with our social anxiety group…

Am I ready for therapy?

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Blog post by Lloyd, one of our CBT Therapists. 

In last month’s article I introduced the topic of goal setting for those feeling overwhelmed and struggling with symptoms of depression and or anxiety. I ended by suggesting you may want to contact our service for further help. However, for many, contacting Redbridge Talking Therapies can be anxiety provoking in itself. For others with depression, it may be a goal which is added to the list of other goals and tasks, which you never appear to get round to. You may procrastinate in asking for help and for others, they may ask, am I even ready for therapy at all?

Therefore, this month I would like to explore what we in the service, as mental practitioners, describe as readiness for therapy. I will use the term therapy within this article, as a capture all term, for a range of psychotherapies and counselling interventions, and whether it be individual or group-based treatments. Put simply, I am going to describe the core ingredients needed to be present at the beginning of therapy, in order, to give you the best chance of recovery or at least provide some reduction in your symptoms. If you are thinking of attending therapy, let us now look at these ingredients which have been found to increase the chance of recovery for those suffering with poor mental health.

It may come as no surprise, as discussed last month, you need to have a specific goal or goals before entering therapy. Ask yourself, what is it I want to achieve by engaging in therapy. Maybe you want to be more assertive or be able cope with attending social events which may be causing you anxiety. For some people with specific conditions, like Obsessional Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it may be to reduce handwashing throughout the day, and only wash your hands when it is completely necessary. For others with general anxiety, it may be to reduce your worry throughout the day and then actually do something about the worries. If you are having difficulty finding goals for therapy, and your thoughts just lead you to wanting to feel better, ask yourself, what would I be doing if I was not suffering with depression, anxiety, or a specific condition? The answer is likely to be your goal or goals for therapy.

The next question to ask yourself is can I commit to regular therapy sessions? If you are found to be suitable for a talking therapy, dependent upon the level of intensity and type of therapy, you will be required to attend on a weekly basis for between 30 minutes to up to 2 hours. Although we generally offer between 6 to 12 sessions, your mental health practitioner may suggest more sessions, or that you return to therapy at another time to complete more work on other problems or symptoms. Put simply, there is a regular time commitment required.

Regular attendance of the appointments is not the only commitment required. A willingness to work on your problems, and a commitment to work on your difficulties outside the sessions is also needed. Many of the approaches we use in therapy require you to carry out homework between the sessions. The term homework may scare some people. However, it is the term mental health practitioners use for tasks which many involve monitoring your everyday thoughts or behaviours and then practising new ways of thinking or carrying out new behaviours during the week. Homework is likely to be specific to you, your goals and is likely to be challenging. Remember nothing which was ever worthwhile in life was easy. This said, you and your therapist will discuss and agree on the homework and will start with very easy tasks. Even if the homework appears easy at first, completing it, still remains a core condition of therapy.  

The next ingredient for successful therapy is very subtle, but nevertheless, is central to your success in therapy. This is being prepared for therapy sessions. I have discussed homework, which is part of the preparation, and attending at a regular time. However, you will be required to complete weekly questionnaires before the start of each session. Most of questionnaires are technically referred to as psychometrics; these are psychological measures of symptoms which we use in the NHS, and which have been validated through many years of research with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Your therapist is trained to read them, then adjust your sessions accordingly, which make them an essential part of the therapeutic process. They can take up to 10 minutes to complete each week, if they are not complete before the appointment, it will eat into the therapy time and affect the course of your treatment.

By now, I imagine some people may be reading this and thinking, this talking therapy sounds a bit like hard work! It may sound offer putting at first, especially when you are struggling with your mental health. Nevertheless, I can sum up the ingredients required for successfully therapy in two works, personal responsibility. No matter how experience, trained, qualified or skilled your therapist, if you struggle to attend, and are not completing homework outside of sessions. Then spending the first 10 minutes of the session completing questionnaires, you will be facing an uphill challenge. If any of these behaviours continue to be present in therapy, it may suggest you are not ready for therapy at this time.

Additionally, successful therapy is teamwork, between you and your therapist, which demands commitment by both parties. For example, I regularly ask people I work with to email their homework before the appointment, which I then read, and it helps me to prepare the sessions. Although therapy may feel a little dauting after reading this article, please remember as therapists we will always work within your capabilities. As part of the initial telephone assessment, we will gauge the appropriate level of therapy for you, which is likely to bring about the greatest success. For many, therapy is the development of the skills over time and clients can increase their commit to more intense therapies at a later date. Therapy is a process and is not about pass or fail, it is simply about giving it a go!

If you feel you may be ready or if you are unsure if you are ready for therapy, but want to discuss your options further, please contact the service on 0300 300 1554 option 1 or if you prefer you can self-refer online at https://www:talkingtherapise.nelft.nhs.uk/redbridge

Just recognise by contacting the service, you are actually showing personal responsibility and a commit to bring about a change in your life.

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New Year’s resolutions, the art of realistic goal setting for emotional wellbeing

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Written by Lloyd, one of our CBT Therapists

 As 2021 draws to a close, we begin to reflect on the past year. For many, 2020 and 2021 appear to have blurred into one year, losing track of time, opportunities and in turn missing the chance to achieve what we originally set out to do. These reflections can leave us feeling lost, a bit directionless, and for many, with feelings of hopeless. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we seek to address these feelings and try to give ourselves a new sense of direction. At this time of year, one way of giving ourselves direction, is the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

 

For many New Year’s resolutions bring a sense of dread, and memories of the previous experience of failing by the end of January, in activities or behaviours that we initially felt were at least within grasp. This lack of achievement can then leave us feeling more demoralised, less likely to set ourselves goals for the coming year and increase further feelings of hopelessness. It’s possibly no surprise that the feeling we are not achieving or struggling to find direction in our lives can feed into symptoms of depression and anxiety. Therefore, I like to explore some ideas and techniques we can all use to help develop successful New Year’s resolutions, which can give us a sense of achievement and new direction for 2022!

 

We need to understand and accept that New Years resolutions are basically the process of goal setting, whether you have specfic goals to be achieved or a change in behaviour you desire. It needs to be pointed out, at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve you will not magically develop a new set of goal setting skills. Therefore, it should no supprise that by the end of January many people’s ambitions for self improvement have gone awry. We need to understand the skill of goals setting, before we start to develp our resolutions by applying a set of simple but effective principles.

 

Firstly, resolutions need to be approach goals, in other words doing goals, and not avoidant goals. An avoidant goal, for example, may be to stop drinking alcohol over the month of January. Unfortunatly many activties linked to pleasure are very diffcult to stop, and leave the goal feeling like a chore or burden. And who wants a more chores or a burdens in their life? Therefore, ask yourself, if you were not drinking alcohol in January, what would be doing or more importantly what would you like to be doing instead? Then schedule in the acivities at the time when you would normllay be going to the pub.

 

Next, we need to think about activties we vaule. In other words, your approach goals should be working towards something you vaule. You are more likley to keep moviated if you value the goal. If your aim is to lose weight, then the value may be your health. An approach goal could be buying more fruit and salads, in turn eating more portions of health foods. In this instance, you will actively be achieving your goal every time you eat. Therefore, think about what do you actully value in your life? You are more likely to keep on track, when it’s an activity or goal linked to your vaules.

 

Another problem with goals setting is as the author of How to be Miserable by Randy J. Patterson highlights, that we tend to set our goals as VAPID. In other words Vague, Amorphous, Pie in the Sky, Irrelevent and Delayed. Whereas successful goal setting should be SMART or Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timebound. A specific goal, may be to walk or run your local 5km Parkrun. This can be easily be measured, and so you know when you have achieved your goal. For a goal to be actionable, one must question themsleves. For example, can I actually give the time to attend to training, I am healthly to start training, do I need to see the doctor first, do I have a pair of runing shoes or comfortable clothing, and or a place to safely train?

 

Then you need to consider, is this goal realistic, if not, is my first goal running 1km? Is it realistic to run on my own? Do I need help, guidance or support with this goal, like a running partner, or joining a running club and attending a beginners group? Finally, to stop procrastination, your goal needs to be timebound, set yourself a time when it will be completed by. Also set smaller time bound goals, for example, by the end of month I will run 1-2km two to three times a week. By the end of the second month I will run three to fours times a week, 2-3km and so on. You will set yourself up for failure if the goal is too far off, or there are no subgoals to follow towards end goal.

 

To stop goal being too far off, there is another way of achieving a SMART goals, and that is using the athletic technique of periodisation. In the book Marathon Running from Beginner to Elite, Richard Nerurker one of the UKs most successful marathon runners discusses the use of using periods of the year for specific types of training, with an end goal in mind. We can apply periodisation to our SMART goals. For example, from January to March your goal could be to dectorate or improve your home. Then from March to June you may want to set and work on goals for health and fitness. Periodisation works best with 1 to 3 month long periods focus on specific goals, as so to stops goals becoming stale and or going off track.

 

Nevetheless, I imagine some people reading this article may be saying I simply lack motivation to even start or may be unclear of their vaules and goals which would improve their life. If this sounds like you, then think about one task today you could do that would improve your life, just a little. Then think about one thing this week, you could do that would improve your life and make you feel a little better, even a small sense of achievement. When lacking motivation and energy, don’t tackle big projects, but start with simple and easy tasks. If you have a shed to clear out, maybe set just 15 minutes to work on clearing the shed and then stop. The next day do the same. By the end of a fornight you may have cleared your shed, and think how that will make you feel.

 

Nevertheless, if after reading this article the thought of applying these techniques for goals setting is leaving you feeling overwhellmed, due to symptoms of depression and or anxiety, then may be the resolution for you, is the goal of asking for help. We can accept self-referrals if you contact the service on 0300 300 1554 option 1 or if you prefer you can refer online at www.talkingtherapies.nelft.nhs.uk/redbridge. We will assess you via the telephone initially, and one of the last questions we will ask you in the assessment, is what are your goals for therapy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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