Jealousy: Can it be a good thing?

When people think about jealousy, it’s natural to assume that it’s only ever a bad thing. After all, we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others and should instead be happy with ourselves. If only this could happen so easily.

Thanks to social media, it has become increasingly difficult not to compare ourselves to others. But it’s easy to forget that people only put on social media what they choose to. It’s therefore not a realistic representation of their lives.

I have been thinking recently about how jealousy has the potential to be used as a positive; as a way of highlighting what you really want in life and in turn enabling someone to make the changes in their life in order to achieve it.

It can be so easy to just carry on with the way life is because it’s easier than trying something different and possibly failing. But what if you see someone else achieve their goals? Can it not make you feel as though you can also achieve yours?

Not all type of jealousy is so easily rectified though. If you’re jealous of the way someone looks or how much money they earn in comparison to you, this can’t always be changed. Therefore the way of combatting this jealousy is learning how to be happy with what you have in life, and unfortunately that’s not always as easy.

But turning jealousy into a positive can help create life goals and positive ways of changing. Jealously can perhaps be the mirror you hold up to your own life and realise what you want to change in order to be truly happy.

*Sarah Keeping is currently undertaking a Counselling Skills course in London and is looking to change her professional subject area to Counselling Psychology. Previous qualifications are in Investigative Psychology, Psychology, Applied Criminology, and Criminology and Sociology. Follow Sarah on twitter at @SKeeping_Psych

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

How to create the ultimate backyard oasis for children with Autism

Create the Ultimate Backyard Oasis for Children With Autism

by Danny Knight

For parents of children on the autism spectrum, spending time outdoors over the summer can be a source of both fear and fun. Nature play is calming for children on the autism spectrum, as well as educational and therapeutic. At the same time, your garden space also poses some safety hazards. When the weather starts to warm up and everyone migrates outside, eliminate the worry by making your backyard safe, accessible, and functional for everyone in the family.

Address Safety Concerns

There are some outdoor safety hazards that are a higher risk to children on the autism spectrum. For example, it is common for children on the autism spectrum to be fascinated by water, so they may be more likely to wander too close to a pool or fountain. Keep these general tips to keep in mind for backyard safety:

  • If you have a pool, the entire pool area should be fenced off so that children never have access to it without being supervised. Consider installing a pool alarm that will go off any time someone enters the water without warning. And while pool safety and preventing accidents is your primary goal, Autism Parenting Magazine recommends that children also learn to swim so they know how to manage in water.
  • Any chemicals that are used for pools, lawns, and gardens should be locked away. These include weed killers, fertilizer, pesticides, and gas for lawn mowers. Your best bet is to designate a single spot in your garage where you keep all of these items locked.
  • When spending time outdoors over summer, be aware of heat and sun exposure. If your child has difficulties with sensory processing or limited verbal communication, they may not be able to communicate while becoming overheated.

Maximize Function and Accessibility

As long as you’re aware of safety concerns, being outside in the garden can be incredibly rewarding for you and your child. Many children on the autism spectrum actually learn better and are more open to new experiences when they are outdoors, which has led some schools to create outdoor classrooms. You can create the same rich learning environment in your own backyard by setting up a space tailored to your child.

Children who are on the autism spectrum have unique sensory needs — they thrive when they have access to activities that engage the senses, yet they also need a calm and soothing space where they can disconnect from stimuli. The ideal outdoor space will have two distinct areas so they can go to a certain spot in the garden to meet each of these needs.

Set up your garden with these ideas in mind:

  • Create an outdoor space that feels safe and secure for your child. The American Society of Landscape Architects recommends setting clearly visible boundaries to create this effect. You can do this with a fence, landscaping, or some combination. Give your child their own space separate from activity as well, and make sure it is shaded so they have a calm and comfortable place to retreat.
  • Create an engaging space with outdoor sensory activities. When you set up sensory play outdoors, the options are limitless, and you can use all sorts of materials without worrying about mess. Try water activities, soap foam, sand, ice… even mud!
  • Create spaces for physical activity. Planting a vegetable gardening is an easy way for children to enjoy nature while getting some physical activity too. Be sure to have gardening gloves, shovels, and watering cans for yourself and children so the whole family can be involved. Children who are on the autism spectrum sometimes have challenges with motor skills, so this is a great way to practice those skills in a low-key and relaxing environment.

When the weather warms up and everyone heads outdoors, it can be therapeutic to get back to nature and away from the sights and sounds of “real” life. Don’t let worries about safety keep you and your child from enjoying the outdoors together! Your children will love having an outdoor oasis that provides sensory fun and a calming refuge.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Failure and rejection doesn’t have to mean that you have failed as a person

Failure doesn’t have to mean failure by Sarah Keeping- guest blogger.

Ever failed a driving test? Yep, I have. Twice. But I’m not talking about things you can easily re-take. I’m talking about things you invest a lot of time and effort in for it to come to nothing.

I started at university the first year tuition loans came in – so for anyone who went to university before this, my degree cost a lot of money. For any current students, my degree cost peanuts. But I was told in my second year that now ‘everyone’ has a degree, you should do a Masters to make sure you get a job over other candidates. I believed this to be the case and so in my final year I applied to do a Masters course and was accepted. I remember someone on my course saying how they were done with studying and couldn’t believe that I wanted to do more. But I did. I didn’t know what else to do so studying more would surely be the best thing?

I really enjoyed my Masters year, but when it came to doing my dissertation, I had lost all motivation for it. Maybe it was the topic, maybe it was because I still didn’t know what I was going to do after graduating.

One October morning, I was just about to leave for work (a retail job near my home) and my friend text me to say our grades had been released and were on the university system. I had a few minutes before I really had to leave so I thought I’d quickly check. Under the ‘dissertation’ column it said ‘F’. I thought, what does ‘F’ mean? It meant FAIL. I walked to work in a daze.

I’d never failed a subject in my life. I was so disappointed. I had the option to re-submit but I couldn’t face the prospect of re-doing a dissertation and not graduating with my friends. I decided to take the lower grade award and reassess.

For three years, I stayed in my retail job just wondering what I should do. At 18, I had naively thought that Psychology was all about the brain and therefore very science focused (I hated science at school) so I didn’t choose to study that at university. I got to 25 and thought, what have I got to lose? I applied to do a Psychology conversion course and was accepted. Two years later I was receiving my certificate at my graduation. Brilliant. What’s next? A Masters?

I applied to do a Masters course again and was accepted. For one year, if I wasn’t working I was reading for or writing an assignment. Then came the dissertation. I chose a subject that I was passionate about and really cared about. That was the difference. I was also extremely focused on history not repeating itself. In many ways, this course was also a righting a wrong. I don’t give up, I never fail (in the long run, anyway).

It’s easy to say this now, but I do think that it’s good to experience failure. Whatever you fail at, it spurs you on to try and never go through that feeling again. It definitely helped me – I was very happy walking across the stage as my name was read out at my graduation, having passed my Masters. With Distinction.

*Sarah Keeping is currently undertaking a Counselling Skills course in London and is looking to change her professional subject area to Counselling Psychology. Previous qualifications are in Investigative Psychology, Psychology, Applied Criminology, and Criminology and Sociology.

Follow Sarah on twitter at @SKeeping_Psych

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Bullying in the British Culture: Learn to stand up for yourself and your friends

I believe there is an underlying manner of bullying within the United Kingdom.  Through my experience, many Brits do not express themselves- they can either be quite passive-aggressive or just repress many emotions. I think many of them especially within the school systems are too scared to stand up and teach that bullying is not acceptable. In America, even though bullying does happen everywhere around the world we have a zero tolerance to bullying and ill-behavior.  Let’s see what Georgia Farrugia The Brighton Mental Health and Wellness Centre’s April’s Guest Blogger has to say about bulling. It’s always great to get new perspectives on things. After all, we only know what we experience in our lives.
LIKEABILITY
So here is the thing, we all want to be liked right. We compare ourselves to our neighbour in class, our friend or colleague – and most of all, the person we wish we could be like. See God made us unique. Every single one of us has a purpose, and every single one of us has a passion. I will start this with, it is OK TO BE YOU – You are perfect as you are. 
BULLYING
I know what this is like, to be left out, to not fit in. I went through it, with a total of five school moves and hating who I was and questioning why I was going through it.
However, look back at what I just said– that every single one of us has a purpose, and every single one of us has a passion. Even when I was going through some of my HARDEST times imaginable, I knew there must have been a reason. To help people possibly? And the passion – it is the very reason I have written this blog for you. To tell you that with your own inner strength you WILL get through the tournament. And so it is ok to not fit in the box of those who are doing the bullying – because you were put on this earth to create your own box. 
 
School bullying (or can be applied to any one aspect of life): SCHOOL IS NOT YOUR LIFE. The same way that your gender, religion, hair style or family background does not entirely define you, school is not your life (or your job/bullying in work). It may be what you know up to now or take up the majority of your time, but the same as when you were 7 you didn’t know what you’d achieve or how great you’d be at 17, great times will come and there will be triumphs that you just don’t know yet. 
 
You are going to reach milestones and your experience of life is going to evolve and once this period in your life has passed, you will have memories, but school itself, or the adversity you are facing, will not define you and eventually those memories will become the distant past. You are free to choose how to live your life and WHO YOU WANT TO BE. Make that decision count, not what the tormentors say. 
 
One day, life will revolve around new relationships and jobs, college or university, there may be friends, holidays or religion or a faith that may come into your life – what I am showing you is that your life will have other meaning and the nugget in this is, do not let your current or past experiences define who you are, how you believe in yourself or who you will become. 
 

It is that the hardest times in our lives that will make us the strongest people and enable us to achieve our best. I wish you the best. 

Would you like to get in touch with Georgia? Tweet her here: @mcrgeorgia https://twitter.com/mcrgeorgia

Have you ever been bullied? Do you need help establishing stronger boundaries within your own relationships? Please get in touch with the centre today! www.brightonwellnesscentre.co.uk.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Does achieving life milestones make you happier?

‘Life milestones make happiness’
Written by Sarah Keeping

At my 18th birthday party, someone asked me what I wanted from my life and I remember saying, with a big smile on my face that I wanted to be happy. But apparently, this answer was too general. I remember thinking, why? Isn’t this what everyone wants? Should I have said that I wanted to own a Ferrari?

When I was 19, I wrote down on a piece of paper everything I wanted to achieve in my life. For a person who prides herself for being an optimist, owning a house by the time I was 25 was probably a bit too hopeful! The list contained things like, visiting Paris, getting married and being happy. But now I look back and ask myself what actually is happiness? I would say that only you know what happiness is because it’s unique to you; what makes one person happy doesn’t necessary do the same for another person. Back then I think I thought that happiness just happens, just like life. Unfortunately, you have to make things happen in your life, opportunities don’t usually come to you.

In my experience, society has an expectation about what you do in life; you get your qualifications, you get a career, you fall in love, you get married, you have children. But what if that doesn’t happen? And what if you don’t want all of those things to happen? Or in that order? Are you then a failure? Of course not.

I watched an episode of Will and Grace the other day, and Grace (who is a single woman in her late 40s and has no children) was worried about going to a Baby Shower because of how people would perceive her. What was really interesting about this though was when the other women eventually found out about how she felt, they too expressed how they were worried about how she would perceive them as being mothers and nothing else. Even though this was fiction, it reinforced to me that the way we look at ourselves is not necessarily how others see us. As long as we are happy with our lives, that is all that ever matters.

HOW WILL PEOPLE PERCEIVE US IF WE DON’T HAVE CHILDREN AND ARE IN OUR 40’S? 

What we have (or don’t have) in our lives is not put on a scale that shows how well we are doing at life. And if some people think there is such a scale, maybe it says more about them than us.

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Do you feel that by accomplishing life milestones you are a happier person?

*Sarah Keeping is currently undertaking a Counselling Skills course in London and is looking to change her professional subject area to Counselling Psychology. Previous qualifications are in Investigative Psychology, Psychology, and Criminology and Sociology.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Moving to another country is an experience to enjoy the present.

Moving to another country: an experience to enjoy the present.
By Citlalli Degollado*.

The first time I moved to another country was 8 years ago, I was 22 years old with a lot of emotions and expectations for the new adventure. Everything was new for me, I was decided to say goodbye to all my life back home: security, family, friends, comfort zone, everything that I knew was gone, and it was just me, my baggage, my flight ticket and all my dreams to live in France. I was there for 10 months, and although I can say today that it was one of the most exciting experiences that I have ever had, the path I had to walk was not always that easy. At the beginning I felt scared and nervous, I didn’t speak French and it was the first time I lived far from my family. The months passed and little by little I learned to speak French, the culture and the way of life. I still missed my country and all my life there, but at the same time I was enjoying the scenery, the weather and why not? All the uncertainty, not knowing anything about what was going to happen. Now, 8 years later, I am 30 years old and I left my country for the second time, in another situation but with the same dreams. After new experiences, there is a moment when you understand that change is inevitable and sometimes necessary, when the fear moves you instead of blocking you, like a spring that pushes you up and helps you to continue.

So, what happens when somebody moves to another country? First, it is important to know that it is a change, and as every change we live, there are many emotions present in this process: fear, nervousness, uncertainty, euphoria, happiness and hope, among others. Psychologically, this change is like a grief, because we say goodbye to life as we know it and we go through different stages, such as excitement, sadness, fear, one emotion after the other. When we move to another country, at the beginning it is the honeymoon, in this moment everything is perfect, we are excited about the new life, what moves us is the novelty and the desire to discover. After some weeks, the cultural shock shows up, the new way of life is not exciting, we have to learn some new rules and habits, and things like the food, the language and the weather start to have some influence in our physical and emotional body. But life continues and we keep going, after some months, we start to adjust ourselves to this new life and that includes trying to insert ourselves to activities and to meet new people. Maybe they won’t be as special as our friends back home, or maybe they will, but they will definitely help us feel accompanied, with someone to share time, feelings, thoughts, and to learn from the other. Finally, we arrive to the last stage, the adaptation is done, when we understand that even if we are not at our place, our identity is still with us, we can learn and change some things but the essential stays, it is an integration between who we are and all the things that we have lived.

Although the adaptation process is something everyone will live, each person will experience it differently and according to their situation, context and emotional and personal resources. For example, it will not be the same for someone who moves away with her family because of a job opportunity, with certain economic security, than to someone who is fleeing her country due to a social conflict. In any case, it is important to have in mind that adapting to a new socio-cultural context implies walking through different moments that require emotional work. Understanding that it is a process, a path and not the destiny, helps to enjoy it more and take advantage of the moment.

“Since we just have the present, let’s live it as best as we can.”

*Citlalli Degollado is Gestalt Psychotherapist.
She works with adults and couples.
Currently she lives in Brighton, and she is giving psychotherapy to Spanish people.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

MenTool Kit: Join Jonathan’s Monday Night Men’s Group in Brighton, East Sussex


Hi, I’m Jonathan and as I started MenTool Kit up I guess you may want to know a little about me. Most of my 20’s and early 30’s were spent on improving and finding myself. I would say this is a life long journey, but it was more so in those years. This involved lots of reading, experiencing and just being in order to learn as much as I could. The older I go, the more I became interested in sharing this others and helping people the best I could. I became a Level 2 Pilates matwork instructor to be able to help people physically (which then reflects in mental well being), a Level 2 Reiki Seichem healer to help people energetically and a Mindfulness based CBT therapist to help people’s minds. It is a lifelong learning journey with workshops and training regularly being attended in all manner of modalities. Even with all this I still felt that something wasn’t quite right. In Pilates I loved getting guys involved as it’s often seen as a female orientated exercise system (even though it was invented by a man). I would go to well-being events and see women talking about empowerment and setting up groups and again it didn’t feel right to me. I believed men need this just as much as women. In fact, when you look at suicide rates for example, you could say that men now actually need this more!!! So this is why I set up MenTool Kit. It’s time for men to connect to one another more deeply, time to support one another and time to grow together. We can evolve the modern man together!

Read more about Jonathan here: http://bit.ly/2rBDYea

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Marriage Counselling and Couples Counselling Online: Book Today!

Are you looking for help in your relationship? Are you feeling stuck? Has your husband or wife had an affair and it is something you just can’t move on from? The Brighton Mental Health and Wellness Centre can help!

 

I offer online counselling via SKYPE for couples. Chat with a Chartered Counselling Psychologist in the privacy of your own home. Confidential and private marriage or couples counselling in the comfort of your own home can be provided at convenient times that work around your work or family schedule.

 

Many couples have very young children and cannot make the time to meet with someone to talk over worries, issues and/or concerns. Also, by having the privacy of SKYPE sessions it can take away the embarrassment that some partners and couples might experience.  By booking a 60 minute marriage or couples counselling session you can save your marriage, have support through affairs, build confidence, talk about sex or lack of sex, parenting, and much more.

Have you ever wanted to jump start your relationship because it’s getting stale? Book a couples counselling session or course of sessions to examine how you can do this.

It’s easy, quick and convenient. Because after all, we live busy lives and it’s not easy to manage our relationships in a happy, calm, constructive way.

How do I book an online marriage or counselling session today? 

Simply email me: jessica@brightonwellnesscentre.co.uk and give a brief background on your needs and then we can book a convenient time for you and your partner.

SKYPE: JessValentine

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Learn how to break unwanted patterns in your relationship

www.brightonwellnesscentre.co.uk

Contact the centre today! 07810 744 821 (t)

 

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Mental Illness Stigma: Living with Others’ Judgements

whydopeoplejudgementalhealthissues

At Brighton Wellness Centre, we are well aware of the mental health stigma that pervades our society. Even today, with the many pioneering organisations and charities helping those with mental illnesses, the rise of medications such as anti depressants and mood stabilisers and an awareness of psychotherapy, there is still stigma. People can react negatively, be harsh or not understanding because they do not understand the complexity that is mental ill health and the effects it has on the brain and behaviour.

Common stigmatised reactions may include language such as ‘You aren’t crazy, why do you need to take those pills?‘, ‘You should be locked up’,’You are behaving so bipolar‘, ‘People with depression are weak’ and so on. Mental illness is still sadly associated by some (who have no experience of it) with doctors’ white coats, straight jackets, life long hospital stays and never making a full, complete recovery. It may take generations to change these attitudes, although we are beginning to turn the tide!

While these perceptions of mental illness may have been the case 60 or more years ago, today the mental health world in the UK and other Western countries has moved on. Since the 1950s, the rise of medications that worked to help illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, depressive/anxiety disorders and eating disorders have improved drastically. With the rise of SSRI medications that work on the brain as anti depressants as well as newly developed anti psychotic medications, mental illness sufferers are able, in most cases, to return to their normal lives. This coupled with psychotherapy can truly change lives. The policy of recovery is also a great shift from the past. Psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists don’t just aim to manage symptoms, they aim to set you on the path to recovery.

The feeling of judgement and of someone thinking you are ‘crazy’ is awful, sad and terrifying. For every person that understands and supports, you may get those who can’t and won’t understand you. You can lose friends or loved ones due to this, which is appalling. Support networks are badly needed for those with an illness in particular. So, don’t be stigmatised to those with an illness. Help and love your friend and loved one, give to them, provide a listening ear and a hug.

As someone with experience of mental health, I would say there is still a long way to go in terms of stigma. I talk and blog about my experiences, raise money for mental health charities and have just started reaching a wider audience. However, I still feel I cannot fully disclose my illness under my real name. This is due to the fact that it is still not hugely understood in society, so to be associated with it could be upsetting. Yet, I hope that within a decade or two, this will change. I blog to change attitudes and highlight awareness which is badly needed.

This is why I support Jessica Valentine at Brighton Wellness Centre. She focuses particularly on womens wellness and provides a therapeutic setting and a listening ear to all her clients. Psychotherapy of any kind is truly beneficial in helping you manage symptoms and difficult emotions. By taking the step to going to psychotherapy, you are battling stigma as well as helping yourself move forward.  Remember, there is nothing wrong or weak in talking to a therapist. In fact, you are being incredibly strong for seeking help and reaching out. Hopefully, any therapy you undergo will also help you to change your life for the better.  Reach out today.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
follow her on Twitter, FB and IG: @getwellbrighton

Why Do I Have Social Anxiety? Can Social Anxiety be Treated?

by Holly Woodley

Social anxiety is an intense fear or worry over social situations and is surprisingly common in the general population, although rarely reported unless severe.

One of the most influential explanations of the onset of social anxiety disorder is the cognitive model:

  • Faulty cognitions in the individual manifest during social situations that possess them to believe that they are in danger of being seen as inept, boring or stupid, which could lead to people disliking them or ignoring them.
  • The model begins with the social situation, which activates the assumptions of perceived social danger, and in turn, the processing of the self as a social object.
  • These cognitive processes can lead to behavioural symptoms, for example the patients’ avoidance behaviour, or somatic and cognitive symptoms, such as the intrusive thoughts of what others may think.
  • The theory proposes that people don’t initially possess the symptoms of social anxiety disorder, they simply have to believe that they do, and their actions of avoidance help to reinforce these biases, which in effect helps them to manifest.
  • Early maladaptive schemas affect the way the individual thinks and processes situations, and have been shown to be more commonly present in those with social phobia particularly, in the sense of disconnection or rejection, but also including self-focused attention, anticipatory processing and post-event processing.
  • Post-event rumination is suggested to be one of the main cognitive biases in those suffering from social phobia. It is suggested that socially anxious individuals negatively perceive themselves and the way they have previously behaved in a social situation, which takes over their attentional resources causing them to negatively over-evaluate . This in turn will influence avoidance of similar situations in the future.
  • In addition, the idea of pre-event rumination has been offered, which involves the individual negatively anticipating an event with obsessive faulty thinking, which may influence them to avoid it before anything negative has actually happened.
  • Those with social anxiety disorder also appear to have attentional biases to threatening stimuli, which may account for why they find social situations particularly intimidating. If all the focus is on the negative aspects of a situation, the individual will feel a heightened sense of fear. This has been shown in studies where attention is monitored, and individuals with social anxiety disorder pay more attention to relevant negative stimuli, for example threatening faces compared to neutral ones influencing a state of panic.

There is also an overall feeling of low self-efficacy that is suggested to result from childhood relationships, for example peer rejection or overprotective parenting styles. This could potentially arise through acts of conditioning, for example observing others being embarrassed or humiliated in social situations. It has been suggested that because shyness has a negative stigma, this promotes social avoidance.

Genetics and biological processes are also proposed theories of the manifestation of social anxiety. Evidence has been suggested to support a biological explanation of social anxiety in terms of neuropeptides. Oxytocin is believed to be a peptide linked to social behaviour as it facilitates approach behaviours, and impacts on social bonding and trust, by linking the amygdala to socio-emotional areas of the cortex. It has been observed that those with social anxiety possess lower levels of oxytocin than controls, due to a variation in the CD38 gene that regulates its secretion. A-allele carriers on the SNP rs3796863 appear to have higher levels of trait anxiety with particular vulnerabilities to developing social anxiety than the C-C allele.

The function of this neuropeptide is to reduce excessive amygdala activation to threatening stimuli, therefore with a reduced amount, this repression is dampened, increasing the fear that those with social anxiety feel. In addition, there is also reduced functional communication between these areas of the brain during stress inducing situations, reducing the positive emotional effects that the peptide has on social behaviour.

An additional biological perspective is associated with genetics and heritability. Data has shown that direct relatives of those with social phobia manifest higher rates of the same disorder than control patients do. For example, it has been found that the phobia is more likely to manifest in children when one or both of their parents suffer from the disorder also.

Risk factors for social anxiety have been found to be highly hereditable (66%), which appear to have higher impact in young people, suggesting that genetic risk factors have higher influence in those who develop social anxiety in their youth.

It is suggested that the overall process is that genetic vulnerabilities make those more susceptible to environmental influences concerning the onset of social anxiety disorder, which integrates both explanations of the manifestation of the disorder. There have been significant gene environment interactions found in terms of stress or attachment types for example, suggesting that this interplay between nature and nurture is a solid explanation for the onset of social anxiety disorder.

One of the most common form of treatment of social phobia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Patients can attend between 8 to 12 sessions with a therapist in a one on one setting. The therapy involves forms of exposing patients to their feared situations with support, and should aim to help the individual understand the irrationality of their fears. This individual therapy may also involve teaching different types of social skills, either verbal or non verbal. These may involve anything from keeping eye contact and retaining posture, to specific word use, voice, volume and tone, or easy conversation topics. Methods of relaxation are also taught, to help diminish feelings of apprehension or the general physical arousal induces from social situations. What is described as ‘cognitive restructuring’ is another tactic used which aims to correct faulty cognitions within the patient. This works by getting the individual to analyse their own statements or social expectations to understand why they may be irrational, which may in turn aid in reshaping the maladaptive schemas.

Once someone appears to be making some form of improvement, cognitive behavioural group treatment may be suggested, to help ease them into a welcoming social situation with others who have the same feelings as themselves. This gentle ease may drastically help the treatment process. Sessions may include discussing various social skills techniques with others, and learning interaction techniques with each other. Group members may also find themselves being exposed to anxiety provoking situations in a structured and graded way, starting with minimal exposure which gradually increases once the phobic becomes at ease. The efficacy of group therapy for anxiety has been shown by Mychailyszyn, Brodman Read and Kendall (2012) who found that 64% of children who participated in the FRIENDS (a specialized form of CBGT for adolescents) programme no longer met clinical criteria for social phobia after treatment.

An emerging form of group therapy that may also be an option is mindfulness and acceptance based group therapy. In these therapy session mindfulness strategies are used to increase the feelings of acceptance of unwanted physical symptoms, for example trembling, or anxious thoughts, such as feelings of embarrassment. This in turn reduces the feeling of panic that a phobic will experience when they sense their face blushing or their hands shaking. There has been an effect size of 43% observed for the success of this treatment in those with social anxiety.

Trials have shown group therapies to have a positive effect on the reduction of symptoms in social anxiety, for example decreases in subtle avoidance behaviours, cognitive distortions and attention focusing and rumination. However, there do appear to be more issues with group therapy as opposed to individual therapy, for example, a group first needs to be formed before therapy can begin therefore potentially taking longer to initiate. It has been suggested that overall individual therapy is more successful for those with social anxiety disorder, as a majority of patients find the group setting too intimidating to handle whilst still going through treatment, which could potentially worsen their feelings of fear. More feelings of self-consciousness may be induced with feelings of scrutiny. In addition, individual therapy allows the therapist to form a more careful and personal assessment of the patient, in turn catering for a more effective treatment system.

Both therapies have their advantages and disadvantages, however the right programme should be based on the patient’s individual progress and preference.

To see references, turn to the next page.

Jessica Valentine is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who supports people within the local community and worldwide online. She offers online Skype therapy and face-to-face counselling in East Sussex, Brighton-Hove.

skype: JessValentine
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