Wednesday, 15 August 2018

How to manage the first week back at school

It seems to have gone flying by, but the summer holidays are drawing to a close and the kids are going back to school. Indeed some children have already gone back. So what can you do to make the transition easier for them?

Early to bed, early to rise

Late nights may have been the order of the day in the holidays, but getting back to routine again can come as a real shock to the system. While children may have had the opportunity to get up late in the holidays to make up for late nights, the school day demands an early start and a clear head. Lack of sleep leads to irritability, non-compliance and hyper-sensitivity so it's important to get them back into their usual sleep pattern and routine as soon as possible. If your kids are struggling to go to bed at night after going back to school, get them outside and using their energy so they're tired and more likely to sleep earlier. The sooner you are back into the routine the easier it will be for them.

Enable and empower your children to do things for themselves

Holidays are usually a highly organised affair. All we expect of our children is for them to turn up and have fun! Sometimes, getting back to school and taking more responsibility for themselves again can be quite a transition. Giving them back more control over their own lives before and during their first week back can really help them adjust. Ask them to choose their own clothes and sort out their own laundry as well as helping with other household chores so that they are prepared to take over responsibility for themselves at school too. Enablement and empowerment are two life skills that should be encouraged and reinforced even during the holidays.

Keep communicating

We appreciate that the last thing your child wants to talk about when they are away from school is school. However keeping the lines of communication open during the holidays and first few weeks back can really help to prepare your child mentally for the weeks ahead and gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns or anxieties they may have. Try and support your children's friendships too by arranging meet ups with friends outside of school.


The end of the summer can be a stressful time for children - and their parents - but for different reasons. For parents it's the return to the daily juggle between school, home and work and sometimes, in our eagerness to 'get back to normal', we can fail to spot the signs of anxiety or nervousness in our kids. Make sure they retain some of the 'freedom' of the holidays and give them some space to readapt to their school routine while also supporting them to explore and express their feelings.

And if you're getting your child ready to start school for the first time, Pacey, the professional association for childhood and early years, has come up with some handy factsheets. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Book recommendations for Book Lover's Day

Every day our practitioners work with people dealing with anxiety, stress, anger and phobias; issues with their families, children or young people; relationship difficulties; and many other issues and problems.

We asked them for their recommendations for books that may be helpful when dealing with such issues.

Here are their suggestions. We will update with more books throughout the day!

Books on anxiety, stress and phobias


The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, 1990, by Paul D MacLean
(Recommended by R. Victor Morton, Senior CBT Psychotherapist)

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free From Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, 2016, by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, 2013, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress, 2014, by John Teasdale, J. Mark G. Williams, and Zindel Seagull
(Recommended by Rebecca Knowles, Psychological Therapist)

Books on relationship issues


Hold Me Tight: Your Guide to the Most Successful Approach to Building Loving Relationships, 2011, by Dr Sue Johnson
(Recommended by both Roger Kostick, Psychologist Therapist and Senior Couples Therapist and Rebecca Knowles, Psychological Therapist)

Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, 2016, by Eric Berne
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing, 2003, by Beverly Engel
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

Come as You Are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life, 2015, by Dr Emily Nagoski
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Books on children and young people issues


The Thriving Adolescent: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Positive Psychology to Help Teens Manage Emotions, Achieve Goals, and Build Connection, 2015, by Louise Hayes
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Raising Children Compassionately; Parenting the Non-violent Communication Way, 2004,
by Marshall B. Rosenberg
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Anh's Anger, 2009, by Gail Silver
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

The Hate U Give, 2017, by Angie Thomas (This is a fiction book)
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

General books


Nonviolent Communication -A Language of Life (Nonviolent Communication Guides), 2015,
by Marshall B. Rosenberg
(Recommended by Tasim Martin-Berg, Consultant Counselling Psychologist)

Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain, 2014, by Sue Gerhardt
(Recommended by Maisie Hennessey, Senior Counsellor / Psychotherapist)

Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance, 2016, by Matthew Syed  (A good book for learning constructively from mistakes!)
(Recommended by Maisie Hennessey, Senior Counsellor / Psychotherapist)

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, 2007, Pema Chodron
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

Beyond Anger: A Guide for Men: How to Free Yourself from the Grip of Anger and Get More Out of Life,  2000, by Thomas J. Harbin PhD
(Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

I'm Ok, You're Ok, 2012, by Thomas A. Harris (Recommended by Sharon Laing, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist)

The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy), 2010, by Paul Gilbert(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

The Compassionate Mind Workbook: A step-by-step guide to developing your compassionate self, 2016, by Chris Irons and Elaine Beaumont
(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, 2013, by Susan Cain
(Recommended by Paul Kirsten, Senior Psychological Therapist)

Paul Kirsten also recommends the 'overcoming series'.

What Do You Say After You Say Hello, 1975,by Eric Berne
(Recommended by Kate Boyd, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist)

We hope you enjoy selecting and reading books from this list. Do let us know if you enjoy them!



Sunday, 5 August 2018

Forgiveness - steps to forgiveness

Following our post earlier today about International Forgiveness Day, we now take a look at some self-directed steps that you can take to get to the point of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about putting aside old differences, moving beyond past grievances and starting afresh.

Psychologist Bob Enright pioneered the study of forgiveness. He believes that true forgiveness is the offering of empathy, compassion and understanding (towards the person who has hurt you).

Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to positive outcomes such as reduced anxiety and depression. Holding on to feelings of anger and resentment can be stressful and when we are able to let this go, our muscles relax, anxiety levels decrease, and we have more energy to focus on the more positive aspects of our lives. Forgiveness can be especially relevant in relationships, where things like betrayal and resentment can often occur.

Psychologists have developed a 20-step system to move people through the phases of forgiveness, however there are also self-directed steps that can be taken to get there:

1. Write it down

Let it all out. Why are you upset and who are you upset with? Get all your negative emotions down on paper and try to pin-point exactly what it is that you can't forgive.

2. Put yourself in the other person's shoes

Practising empathy can be very healing. Have a think about potential reasons for this person acting in the way they did and you may even find yourself feeling compassionate towards them.

3. Wish them well

This part takes a great deal of strength. Visualise a gift that you could offer to the person that has wronged you and let go of any hurtful feelings that may still be there. If you feel ready, extending kindness and goodwill in person towards them is a huge step towards forgiveness. If not, wishing them well - even in your head - can still be beneficial.

4. Remember that you deserve happiness

Forgiveness is often a two-way street and sometimes we can place a level of blame on ourselves, as well as dragging around anger and sadness. Remember, everyone deserves happiness. Be kind to yourself and show yourself the same forgiveness that you would like to be able to show another.

Read our earlier post about forgiveness here >

How to practise forgiveness

It's International Forgiveness Day today, so we wanted to take a look at the ways in which we can practise forgiveness and the benefits that this can have on our overall wellbeing and happiness.

Before we do that, let’s spend a moment to think about what happens when we don’t forgive. Like most things in life, if not cleaned up and put away, our thoughts and memories can fester and tarnish. If we don’t deal with things that are bothering us – if we don’t practise forgiveness – the only person who suffers is ourself. We become bitter and self-absorbed, our issues become part of us and this can dampen any enjoyment and happiness we would otherwise feel.

Forgive for yourself, not for others


We may sometimes think that by forgiving another person’s actions we are actually letting them get away with bad behaviour. The truth is, forgiveness is only beneficial to one person – and that is you! When you forgive, you give yourself permission to move on from the events and actions that caused you pain. You free your mind from thinking about it and going over events in your mind. You find peace. Forgiveness provides closure.

Say ‘no’ to negative feelings


Sometimes you need to re-programme your mind to free yourself from negative feelings. Going over and over events in your mind is seldom productive so you need to find a way to process whatever it is that is stopping you from moving forward. There are a number of ways of doing this. The first is by sharing how you feel with the person who you believe has ‘wronged you’. Often once you have expressed something  out loud, it allows your mind to free and you are able to move forward. If this is not possible, the next best thing is to write down how you feel in a letter. You don’t even need to share the letter, once written you can rip it up and burn it if you want - you will still have freed your mind from the burden and be able to move forward with your thinking.

Let go


Have a good deep look at yourself and answer truthfully: how is your life being affected by your inability to forgive? Has it stopped you from living the life you once had? Picture what your life could be like if you were able to process your feelings and forgive? Would you feel lighter, freer, happier, even? We can't change what has happened to us in the past, but what we can do is refuse to be burdened with feelings and emotions that weigh us down. When you make a conscious decision to forgive, you allow yourself to let go and that can only have a positive impact on your life, as well as those around you.


Remember, forgiveness is a process and it does take time. It is too easy to brush over events that have hurt us – file these feelings away and think that all is forgotten. However, it doesn’t do us any good. Although it is hard, we really need to take the time to work through our emotions. Only when we truly forgive others can we start to heal. We owe that to ourselves.

For more information on forgiveness - and how it helps us grow and move forward – read this article from Psychology Today.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

How to build friendships that last


Next week is International Friendship Week and as this article from Psychology Today says – friendship is the best medicine. We find as we get older that friends will come and go throughout the various stages of our life and that are friendships are important for many reasons, not least the fact that they help us define our priorities and steer our thoughts and behaviours in a positive direction.

Another article from Psychology Today outlines 15 reasons why we need solid friendships and how they can help shape our lives and we’ve also compiled a list that will help you build friendships that will last the course of time.

Be yourself

True friends can see through the facade to get to the authentic person that lies beneath. Rather than try and be someone that you're not in order to make friends, concentrate on being true to yourself so that you will attract the right kind of friends that will stick with you no matter what.

Put others first

Lasting friendships are based on give and take. In order to build strong friendships you need to be a good friend yourself. Think about what you can do to be a better friend to others and explore the ways in which you could make their lives easier.

Ask yourself what you look for in a friend

Words such as loyal, kind, understanding, dependable will probably feature. The reality is that the qualities you’re looking for in a friend are the same qualities that they will be looking for too, so try and be the kind of friend you seek.

Spend time together

It’s difficult sometimes to find the time needed to nurture friendships – maybe due to work pressures or stresses at home – it’s easy for us to take friends for granted or neglect them. Like all relationships, friendships take effort, so make sure you carve out time in your schedule to spend with your friends.

Don’t be one of those friends

You know the ones? They only contact us if they want something... Keep the lines of communication open and be available for your friends, all the time, not just when it suits you. It’s fine to call upon our friends for things we need from time to time – and them us – but make sure it’s not all the time!

Keep it positive

We rely on our friends to pick us up when we’re feeling down. They should lift our spirits and guide us to make positive decisions. Try not to burden your friendships with too much negativity or stress. If you are facing challenges do so together, but try and do so from a positive viewpoint.

Honesty is always the best policy

Friendships falter if based on anything less than complete honesty. If misunderstandings arise, tackle them head-on and never let disagreements damage a friendship, try and sort it out. Being open, honest and kind - it's central to building long-lasting friendships.

Have fun!

The friends that laugh together, stay together. Keep your friendships fresh by having fun together. Try new things and visit new places. Connections built on shared experiences are the ones that will stand the test of time.


For some tips on how to find new friends in a digital world, read our previous blog post.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

How to keep the spark alive in your relationship

Ah, remember the days when you and your partner first met? The butterflies in your stomach and excitement at the very thought of seeing them again. The longer our relationships go on for, the harder it can be to maintain the same level of exhilaration that we experienced when we first met. It’s not impossible though – all it takes is a bit of time and effort, along with a commitment from both of you to keep the spark alive.

We’ve already talked about the secrets of lasting love but it’s no secret that these top tips will go a long way towards helping you re-light the fire within your relationships.

Be selfless

As we grow older our interests change. Make a promise to yourself to find out what makes your partner tick and spend more time doing it with them. Remember when you first met and you’d spend hours finding out what made your partner happy? And be prepared to share more information about your current interests with your partner too. Individuals grow and evolve, don’t leave your partner out of these changes – encourage them to join you on your journey instead. Be interested; be selfless.

Check in – don’t check out

There is a temptation to put less into our relationships the more we get to know someone. We take them for granted and assume things about them, thinking that ‘they wouldn’t be interested’ or ‘they already know’. This is one of the biggest causes of relationship dissatisfaction in long-term relationships. Take the time to connect with your partner – even if it’s just for five minutes at the end of the day – speak to them as if you’d never met them before. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical to keeping the spark alive.

Go phone-free

Admit it or not, we are more tied to our electronic devices than we think. The problem with this is that it distracts us from the people who are sitting right next to us. Imagine if on your first date, you’d interrupted the conversation to look on Facebook; or had taken more interest in your phone than you had in the person you were with. Agree to go phone-free for just an hour a day and spend that hour doing something together – even if it’s just watching a TV programme or talking. Showing that you have time for someone helps to stay connected.

Remember the good old days

Reminiscing is a great way of keeping the memories alive in a relationship. Yes, people change and what was once new can begin to look tarnished, but by focusing on what brought you together can really help strengthen the ties that you have. Take a trip to an eating place you used to frequent, recreate a mini-break from your early relationship days, plans dates in the same way you would have done when you first met. Just because the relationship is older, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t actively enjoy your time together.

Try new things too

You’re never too old to learn new things – taking up a new hobby or trying something new together is as exhilarating as it is terrifying. What it will do for your relationship is provide you with a new topic of conversations and catapult you both out of your comfort zone. The more you have in common, the stronger your relationship will be. Just the thought of trying something new will get the endorphins going – and that’s great news for your relationship and summer's a great time to start!



Wednesday, 20 June 2018

From Xbox to exercise – how to encourage your children to be more active

There are many blogs that outline the virtues of spending more time outside, indeed we have written some ourselves – take this one, for example: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/2017/03/exercising-for-health-and-wellbeing.html.

Given the ever increasing pull of electrical devices, it’s even more important to do all we can to get our children outside whenever we can. It won’t be easy, but with a bit of effort it can be done – and the kids will really thank us for it! And with National guidelines suggesting 30 minutes exercise, five days a week, the sooner we start, the better.

Do as I do – and as I say

We're all guilty of staring at our phones a little bit longer than we should – is it any wonder that our children follow suit? The key to unplugging our kids and getting them outside is to provide a positive role model for them to replicate. Set yourself certain screen times during the day when you can check your own devices – and make sure you dedicate some time to exercise too, preferably when your children can see. Perhaps there are exercises or activities that you and your kids could do together?

Find me in the club

There are an array of organised clubs and exercise groups for kids, many of which offer free trial sessions before you have to sign up. As much as time allows it, encourage your children to try as many different activities as they can until they find something that they really enjoy. If your children like football, rugby and cricket, it will be easy to find something that peaks their interest. But it doesn’t have to be traditional sports clubs, there are lots of activities that will get your child moving – try street dance, cheerleading or children's yoga and see what they think.

Take advantage of the great outdoors

Exercise classes and teams can take a lot of time and money. If both of these are against you, then it’s time to look closer to home for your kids’ daily exercise fix. It could be that your work means attending groups at the same time every week is difficult, or maybe the equipment needed and class fees make joining an organised group difficult, however there are plenty of way of building exercise into your child’s daily routine, it just takes a bit of creativity and effort. Here are some suggestions:

· Play in the park – most are free to visit and you can usually find one within a reasonable distance of home. If you have to walk there, why not consider either walking with a purpose or organising a nature treasure trail en-route. Find out how here: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-benefits-of-getting-closer-to-nature.html

· Choose some chores – you’re never too young to do chores and most provide excellent exercise too. What’s better is that you can use the chores to reward your children with appropriate, time-limited screen time once they’re complete. We’ve outlined some child-friendly activity chores here: http://firstpsychology.blogspot.com/2017/07/surviving-summer-holidays-on-budget.html

· Step back in time – set some simple equipment aside (like a tennis ball, some hoops and some chalk, for example) and encourage your kids to play outside, like children used to way-back-when. Don’t tell them what the equipment is for – leave it to them to decide what to play and how to organise themselves. You can find some ideas and inspiration here: https://www.wired.com/2013/03/30-classic-games-for-simple-outdoor-play/


We hope these ideas will help you to not only set aside some electronic-free time for you and your children, but also discover some fun and frivolous activities that will get your heart rate going and put a big smile on everyone’s face!