Wednesday, 30 November 2011

National Psychology - the limits of stereotypes

Happy St Andrew's Day! St Andrew's Day is, of course, Scotland's national day so we thought it fitting to take a look at national psychology, which dates back to the mid-19th century.

The Scots are tight, the French are romantic and the Germans are serious, or so they say. We've all heard these stereotypes and, whether or not they are true, stereotypes exist for a reason – to help us form opinions about people we don't have time to get to know. 

The psychological makeup of particular nations, ethnic groups or peoples is believed to be characterised by a combination of human attitudes, values, emotions, motivations and abilities. These are culturally reinforced by our education, upbringing, the state and media.

Closely related is national character which refers to the values, norms and customs which people of a nation typically hold, and in particular, how they habitually respond to situations. Indeed, reference is sometimes made to a 'national psyche' to explain why certain events trigger such strong reactions or why countries are enthused by a particular sport or cultural practice. In this respect, National psychology can be useful in explaining why political or economic events occurred as they did.

Although stereotypes seem unfair, scientists believe it is possible to observe and measure average national characteristics. This doesn't mean all individuals share all the characteristics, but the number who do are sufficiently large to be 'typical' in the country.

However, the concept of national psychology has been criticised on both political and scientific grounds.

Some argue it encourages racist generalisations and stereotypes which can lead to certain nations regarding themselves as superior.

In addition, psychologists have found subjects cannot accurately recognise or identify the ethnicity or nationality of individuals when observing a line-up of different people. 

People can, however, often recognise a representative stereotype of a certain ethnic group or certain national characteristics. So it seems stereotypes do have a purpose, but, of course, we need to look much deeper before we can truly understand others.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Positive psychology for improved wellbeing

It is a common human trait to dwell on things that go wrong rather than those that go right and  traditional psychology tends to focus on specific issues and problems too. However, since the late 1990s, a new branch of psychology which finds its roots in the humanistic approach has been gaining in popularity.

Positive psychology, as it is known, aims to help individuals and even organisations identify effective strategies which allow them to thrive, find and nurture genius and talent and make life more fulfilling. Coaches, therapists, counsellors, and even HR professionals, are using this new method to increase and sustain the well-being of individuals who are not necessarily suffering from mental ill health.

Below are some positive psychology coaching techniques, which can help to improve wellbeing:
  1. Three good things - at the end of each day, write down three good things that happened during the day. These do not have to be hugely significant events. They could be anything from a work colleague making you a cup of tea to a stranger holding open a door for you. 
  2. Gratitude visit - write a letter of thanks to a person in your life to whom you feel grateful but have never had the opportunity to express this gratitude. Once the letter is written, arrange to meet the person and read them your letter. 
  3. Savouring - this involves noticing and appreciating the positive aspects of life. Savouring encompasses different timeframes. If you enjoy anticipating future events then start planning early. If you enjoy reminiscing about the past then keep photos to remind you of past pleasures. However, if you enjoy experiencing the present then mindfulness is a good technique to keep your attention focused on the here and now.
If you would like more details about our coaching services for yourself or your organisation or you would like to book an initial coaching session with us, please contact your local first psychology centre:

Monday, 21 November 2011

New CPD course for counselling and psychotherapy practitioners

We are delighted to be working with The University of Edinburgh to deliver the course 'Cognitive-behavioural therapy: an introduction for counselling and psychotherapy practitioners'  next spring.

The course, which will be tutored by Chris Denmark, cognitive-behaviour therapist and couples counsellor at our Edinburgh centre, will offer participants the opportunity to explore current debates about the use of concepts and practices originating in cognitive behaviour therapy.

Sessions for this continuing professional development course will be delivered over a six week period from 20 April to 25 May 2012 at the Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh. For more details about this course, see page 13 of the prospectus at:!fileManager/client-copy-V11_web.pdf

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Dealing with workplace bullying

In honour of anti-bullying week this week from 14-18 November, we are focusing on a potentially common problem in every organisation - workplace bullying. Indeed, surveys by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggest between 3 and 14 million employees in the UK are subjected to bullying.

Bullying can occur face-to-face or remotely via email and other media and may take the form of abuse, physical or verbal violence, humiliation or simply trying to undermine someone’s confidence.

Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their employees which includes dealing with bullying at work.

It can be difficult if you are being bullied, but here are a few steps you could take to help improve the situation.

  • Talk to your line manager as they have a responsibility to resolve the issue. If the bully is your manager, then speak to your union/workplace representative or someone in Human Resources as they can accompany you to meetings with your manager. Alternatively, you could contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
  • Talk to the bully as the bullying may not be deliberate and they may not realise their behaviour is affecting you. Let them know their behaviour is unacceptable. If you don’t want to talk to them yourself then you could always ask someone to do this on your behalf. 
  • Record everything in writing - keep a diary and write down details (e.g. times and dates) of every incidence that occurs and keep copies of emails, memos and letters as evidence. 
  • If you can’t resolve the matter informally then you must make a formal complaint and follow your employer’s grievance procedure. 
Remember do not allow the bully to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. There is no excuse for bullying - you have the right to work in a safe and comfortable environment.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Dealing with 'debtpression'

With Christmas just around the corner and the chancellor due to announce his November budget in just a few weeks, many of us may be worrying about how we can afford all those parties, presents and festive trimmings,  particularly if our bank balance isn't looking too healthy.

Debt can make us feel depressed and when we are low in mood we are likely to spend money to make ourselves feel better which unfortunately leads us further into debt. So it seems there is a close link between debt and depression and this concept has been referred to as ‘debtpression’.

We've put together five tips on how to deal with debtpression.

  1. Understand your spending  You may think you spend money randomly but often your spending follows a pattern. Some people buy things to make themselves feel or look better. Identifying the triggers that make us want to spend money, by perhaps keeping a diary of thoughts, feelings and the situations, can help us feel more in control and better able to change our spending behaviour. If, for example, low mood triggers your spending you might want to avoid shops. 
  2. Identify your beliefs about money  Money is often linked to strong emotions and often debt can come from the unconscious beliefs we have about money. In order to change our spending habits we may need to examine our emotions and be more sensitive to our unconscious beliefs and assumptions about money. By placing a value on the money we earn we put a value on ourselves instead of thinking ‘it’s only money’. 
  3. Think positively about money  Some people believe they are no good with money and will always be in debt while others actually feel anxious about being wealthy. In order to free yourself from the hold of money, you must substitute your negative thoughts about money with positive statements and not feel afraid about attracting money. 
  4. It’s all in the words  Instead of using the word ‘debt’ to describe your situation, it is better to use phrases such as ‘working towards being financially free’ and set yourself goals with specific achievement dates. Sayings such as ‘cutting back’ and ‘going without’ do little but make you feel like you are depriving yourself of something rather than improving your future. 
  5. Create new spending habits  Habits can be hard to break. Many of our money habits have formed over years and are therefore not easy to replace with good ones. The best way to create a new habit is to link a desired new action with something you do regularly in your routine. For example, every time you check your email you could also check your bank statement online to track your spending. 
Feeling unable to spend can be a miserable experience, particularly at this time of year, but acknowledging when we are in debt and taking action to improve things is vital for making things better.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

FREE 'Stress Factor' event in Glasgow

Today is National Stress Awareness Day - a day aimed at raising awareness of stress and the impact it can have on our lives.

As an independent provider of counselling, psychology and coaching services we see many many people who are suffering the ill effects of stress in their lives. So what can we do about it?

We are running a FREE 'Stress Factor' event in Glasgow this autumn to help you manage stress and we will be giving away a free 'stress guide' to all attendees too.

For more details see