Category Archives: London Counselling Collective

The Curious Counsellor – May


Who and How to Trust

Earlier this month, many of us took a leap of faith – we stepped into a small box in a local town hall and cast our vote. Sure we voted for ideas and policies but beyond that we voted for the person we felt most likely to deliver what they promised, in other words the person we trusted most.

I’ve been wondering what we base that decision on. How do we choose who to trust – whether it’s a politician, our child’s teacher, the man who fixes our car at the garage or a person who speaks to us on the train (see below for rankings).

For a long time researchers looking at trust focussed on facial expression and other non -verbal communication. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian famously suggested that three things determine what kind of impression we make and in particular whether people like us. He said that tone of voice accounts for 38%, body language 55% and our words for only 7%.

This emphasis on non-verbal communication had a certain appeal because it seemed to be something we could learn to read in others and change in ourselves. We would know we could trust someone for instance if they looked us straight in the eye, sat with an open posture or even mirrored our physical behaviours. Similarly we could command trust in others once we learned the rules; selecting certain clothes to convey a particular message or assuming a particular posture or tone of voice to convey it more effectively.

There were also practical applications. Social psychologist William Maddux looked at the impact of non-verbal communication on business success. He asked one group of volunteers to subtly mirror the actions of the person they were negotiating with  – elbows on the table, head tilted etc – and the other group not to do this. Where behaviour was mirrored, 67% of those in the group clinched a deal whereas only 12.5 of the non-mirroring group managed to do business. It’s easy to see why politicians are trained to rethink their non-verbal communication.

The other take on trust is more complex. According to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, trust is absolutely fundamental to who we are. It is something we internalise early that is not as amenable to simple manipulation as non-verbal communication

In Erikson’s model of psychological development, the development or failure to develop trust is our first task as infants and will depend on how well our needs are met by our caregivers, usually our parents. Are these caregivers consistent in the provision of food, comfort, care and love or are they unpredictable, unreliable, absent or neglectful?

According to Erikson, the extent to which we successfully learn to trust those closest to us as infants, effects whether we grow into secure or insecure, optimistic or pessimistic adults and provides a working model for the way we see the world and the people in it.

Over the years we will have additional life experiences that undermine or bolster our sense of trust – people will betray us, criticise or leave us, others will stick by us, meet expectations and support us – but those with a healthier sense of trust in themselves and others will be better able to contextualise and make sense of those experiences

So what about those who have had a bad early experience – can they learn to trust? If so it certainly seems worth it. Trust is of lifelong importance. It’s a key predictor of subjective well-being and vital to the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships. It also fosters a sense of community because it allows people to work together. Certainly most therapists would say yes. The ability to trust and feel trusted may be rooted in early childhood experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to access these unconscious processes and begin to change them if we choose. Therapy can help to identify patterns in the way we perceive and interpret the world and to notice when we are responding automatically to deeply internalised scripts and ideas. Once we can bring these patterns and beliefs into conscious awareness we can start to re-evaluate and challenge them.

One way to challenge outdated negative beliefs is to create positive new experiences and to do that we have to be willing to take a chance. It’s like the lift analogy. We probably travel in a lift a hundred times a year and 99% of the time it’s fine but one bad experience of being stuck in the lift can overshadow all those trouble-free trips. We then have a choice – avoid the lift, take the stairs and continue to reinforce the belief that the lift is a dangerous place, or, get used to taking the lift again and give ourselves the chance to find out that it’s ok.

So am I willing to challenge my negative beliefs and give Cameron a second chance? Mmmmm, that may take more than therapy.

Most and Least Trusted Professions

(Ipsos Mori 2014)

Doctors                           90%

Teachers                         86%

Scientists                        83%

Clergy                             71%

TV news readers          67%

Police                             66%

Man/woman in the street  62%

Civil servants                55%

NHS managers               49%

Business leaders           32%

Bankers                         31%

Journalists                     22%

Estate agents                22%

Government ministers 19%

Politicians generally      16%

The Curious Counsellor

The Curious Counsellor – April

With spring in the air, I’ve been considering a break with tradition – instead of the annual call to action, to clean up and clear out, I’ve been wondering about the psychological benefits of doing nothing.

Not reading. Not sitting around watching telly or even listening to music but doing absolutely nothing. Just thinking, reflecting and letting the mind wander.

Last year, a psychologist at the University of Virginia called Timothy Wilson, noticed there was little research on letting people just go off on their own and spend time with their thoughts. So he set about conducting 11 studies, involving over 700 hundred people and this is what he found – people don’t like spending time in their own heads. In fact many will go to painful lengths to avoid it.

The student participants in the studies were asked to spend just six to 15 minutes alone in a room with only their own thoughts for company. The majority described this as an ‘unpleasant experience’. Wilson tried the same experiment with people from a broad range of backgrounds and aged between 18 and 77 – and he got the same result.

Seeing how hard people found it to do nothing, the researchers took their study a step further. Would people prefer to do something unpleasant rather than do nothing at all? To test this, participants were given the option of administering a mild electric shock to themselves by pressing a button. Incredibly, 64% of men and 15% of women preferred to give themselves an electric shock than spend time alone with their thoughts.

So what are we so afraid of? Without our TVs, laptops, ipads and mobiles to distract us, it could be that our minds turn to our problems; unhappy relationships, unprocessed loss, the leaky tap we still haven’t fixed and that doesn’t feel good, so that we would rather keep busy, or even shock ourselves, than be with those difficult feelings.

So, if doing nothing is such hard work, shouldn’t we just avoid it and keep busy? After all, keeping busy is something our culture encourages. From a young age we are told to stop daydreaming and get going.

Maybe we are missing a trick. Maybe doing nothing is extremely valuable because it allows us to reflect on that unfinished business, consider new perspectives and maybe even start to resolve a few things. Suppressing problems with busyness places a huge strain on us and isn’t sustainable  – think insomnia, OCD, addiction, dissociation, anxiety. In addition, doing nothing is associated with a greater capacity to empathise. ‘The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind’ says Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist from the Centre for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy.

And finally, as anyone who has their best ideas in the shower will know, a wandering mind is a creative mind. When our mind is free to wander with no purpose or focus, we can be more creative, more innovative, less bound to the concrete realities and limitations of the external world (Baird and Smallwood, Inspired by Distraction). So, consider switching off the TV, ditching the duster and put your mind to doing nothing instead.

How To Beat The Winter Blues

How To Beat The Winter Blues

Winter can feel like a long time, especially when it’s cold, dark and rainy. It’s hard, even for the most positive of people, to remain upbeat and hopeful. Here are a few hints and tips of how to help yourself feel a little better during the colder months.