Thursday, May 31, 2018

Be Your Own Therapist: Support System Mapping 101


There are some common techniques and practices in the mental health professional toolbox that anyone can (and should!) use. Here’s one of my faves: the support system map.

We are very social beings, and when we don’t feel supported, we feel lonely and this fuels depression and stress.

As a first step to happiness, it makes sense to know how you stand in terms of support. This is why it is one of the very first things I tend to suggest in sessions.

Now, the support system map is dead simple to set up. You sit down with a sheet of paper and ask yourself, “Who makes me happy? Who can I call, visit, or see when I need support, advice or just a giggle?”

Some clients resist this exercise, saying, “I know who I can go to, and don’t need to write it down” but when they start, they inevitably discover it is incredibly useful because it highlights support strengths you may have overlooked and identifies areas you need to beef up.

This is one of the fundamental principles of therapy: just applying structure to the chaos can be enlightening.

Blog posts work best with examples, so I’m going to share my support system map.

Do note I work very hard on my connectivity because I work from home, and I live very far away from my family in a culture that I wasn’t born into. That’s a triple whammy (my choice!) and I love my life but I’m aware I need to be super careful.

So, here’s what I have

People I can say anything to at any time, and call in the middle of the night in an emergency
Tom, my husband
Ian, my brother
My mum
Plus four friends I’ve had for over twenty years, and two close friends I’ve had ten years

Friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message anytime without an appointment
Two

Author friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message
Seven

Therapy friends I have a ‘mutual moan’ pact with whom I can Skype or Message
Problem area: up until six months ago I had two but they left Malaysia. Needs beefing up.

People I’d trust 100% to give me solid advice and counsel on either love or career
Seven friends

Friends in the neighbourhood I can go for a quick morning coffee with
Two friends

Lunch friends who always inspire me
Too many to mention

Friends to go to the pub with in the evening
Problem area: five years ago that was over a dozen people, but most have moved away and one passed away. Needs beefing up.

So, if you’re stressed and you’re not at the point where you need someone like me to talk to, create your own support system map and beef up all the bits you feel are lacking. Honestly, it’s a great help. Also, if you are unhappy at work, here’s a post onhow to use this together with self determination theory.

I’m off to see my mum for my annual holiday. I will be seeing my present clients but I won’t be taking on new clients until July 1st. 




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On being a personal cheerleader, because we all need to hear it, “You can do it. You are also a hero.”


I realised last week that when I was little, I read fantasy books that were rich with strong, interesting and capable heroes and where female characters were one dimensional caricatures.

As I said in my sweet romance blog post, it didn’t bother me at the time. Ever since I wrote that, I’ve wondering why. I think I’ve come up with the answer and curiously, it has a lot to do with my therapy work.

I grew up in Amsterdam in the late 1960s and early 1970s (yes, I’m THAT old!). The Netherlands has been an egalitarian society for a very long time, and all the adults around me were solidly supportive.

When I didn’t do great on my schoolwork, my teachers didn’t scold. I was told, “If you’re trying, that’s good enough. It will come.”

My ambitions to be a pilot, or maybe a vet, elicited an, “Awesome!”

No matter what, it was dinned into me, “You can do it.”

When we moved to Scotland in the late 1970s, that support was spotty. My parents were rocks as were some of their friends and some of our teachers, but there were a lot of others who, frankly, were absolutely toxic.

For the first year, the bullying was stellar. In the school I attended, the teachers encouraged the kids to throw stones at me because I didn’t speak the language or share their religious beliefs.  

After I switched schools, the bullying disappeared. However, sexism was rife. One moment that really crystallized that attitude for me was the deputy headmaster who advised me that I should be a shop girl “because careers are for boys.”

So, what does this to do with my enjoying fantasy novels that have great male characters and few or no females? Just this: because of my early experience, I never associated strong and capable with being male.

From my earliest days I was taught that anyone could be a hero.

So, when I read Lord of the Rings, I was Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn as easily as I was Galadriel. Reading the Rift War saga, I was Pug and Arutha as happily as I was Anita (although TBH I preferred the Valheru over all of them!)

And this leads me to my therapy work. I’m aware that my early training gave me the confidence and resilience I needed to reach for my happiness. It’s not always easy but that foundation has been a tremendous help.

Not everyone is as lucky. There are those who aren’t treated well by their parents, their families, their bosses, or their communities.

When they have a personal crisis, they feel they can’t open up because they would be judged.

“I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”
“If they knew, I’d lose respect.”
“I just need to talk through this, without being lectured.”
“It’s embarrassing, I don’t want anyone to know, but I need a second opinion.”

Back when I first signed up to do my Masters, I thought practice would be all about helping clients work through and manage issues. But over time I’m beginning to learn that for some people, it’s about needing temporary support, a personal cheerleader, if you like. Someone whose professional code means she will never tell.

I’m okay with that. I think we all need to hear it, “You can do it. You are also a hero.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cultural Appropriation, Cats And Anger


Keziah bought a prom dress and naturally showed it off to her friends on Twitter. Hours later, the young American girl was inundated with by mobs of haters screaming at her. Why? Because she was wearing a cheongsam.

What constitutes good manners is very much a matter of time and place. When I first went to Indonesia, back in the 80s, my good friend Mr Toebe gave me a dress from his native island, Savu.

“Wear it when we go to dinner,” he said.

I thanked him, and the next time we went out, I put it on.

Now, Savu ladies are petite and I’m a hulking great big European.

The dress was gorgeous, and Mr Toebe had taken the precaution of having two skirts sew together so it would cover me properly, but I looked as if I’d been stuffed into a carpet.  Fashion fail was putting it mildly.

Mr Toebe met me in the lobby of my hotel, took one look, and said, “Absolutely lovely.” Then, just as smoothly, “Better get changed. The restaurant is a little cold.”

Told you he was a nice man!

The thing is, over the years I have been given saris, kebayas, and a tonne of tops, hats, shoes and other fashion items. I’ve been grateful for the gifts and I’ve worn them to make my friends happy - whether they suited me or not.

I know that manners and customs change, and that’s fine, but I’ve been watching the spread of ‘cultural appropriation’ with dismay. 

“You can’t wear that dress!”
“You’re not allowed to get that haircut!”
“That coat is only to be worn by my people!”
“How dare you look the way you do!”

When I hear these sentiments, I think of my cats. When they’re in a bad mood, they start fighting over who gets the big comfy chair, over who gets the corner sofa seat, and who is entitled to getting lap time. 

They’re cats and they’re territorial because they can’t help it. But we are people and we should know better.

I get that anger is a problem. We're all frustrated by bad economies, by unmitigating unfairness, and by constant overcrowding and stress.

But I don’t like this trend. Policing how others look is the tool of controlling bullies. It’s not nice.

As for the mental health aspect of this, let me say this: if the sight of someone feeling beautiful and happy enrages you, there is something very wrong. And not only does that rage hurt others, but it's going to hurt you, too.

Note: I am a private counselling psychologist helping my clients manage stress and depression. I work online via Skype and Facebook Messenger. Email me via happy@lepak.com. My current charges are RM100 or US$30 over Paypal per session. The first 20 minutes are free.