All posts by The Would-Be Hypnotherapist

Blogging about books – The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet by Michael Mosley

Okay, so I have a confession to make.  I said I wasn’t going to buy any new books until I’d read everything on my bookshelves.  However, most of my books are currently in storage waiting for our new house to be habitable so I had to buy new ones.

And I just can’t help myself.

So on to The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet, helpfully subtitled “Lose weight fast and reprogramme your body”.  For most of my adult life, barring a few months after my cancer surgery, my weight has tended to be a few pounds higher than I’d like but not enough to be an issue.  But for some reason, diet books fascinate me.

This one, as is common in the genre, takes a very simple principle and spins it out over 272 pages.

Eat less.  Drastically reduce carbohydrate intake.   Move more.

That’s basically the entire book reduced to eight words.  Okay, it adds a bit of science, a few case histories and some recipes, but you could really save yourself £8.99 by being too busy to read the science, googling low-carb recipes, keeping to about 800 calories a day and going for a walk.

In fairness, there probably is a need for a book of this kind – the principles behind it are sound and, if followed, could greatly reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes.  It’s not the author’s fault that it’s so simple, and people are more likely to change their habits after paying £8.99 to be told to do so by an actual qualified (though non-practising) doctor than by getting the same information free (and considerably more concisely) by a pharmacist and hypnotherapist.

But what I’d really like to see is a book that would help Type 1 diabetics in the ongoing battle they fight with their weight as a result of their constant efforts to balance insulin with carbohydrate intake.

How about it Dr Mosley?

Mental health or mental illness?

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that mental health has become a big issue this year.  It’s practically impossible to turn on the TV, open a newspaper or even walk down the street without someone banging on about it.  The message put about by, amongst others,  members of the Royal family, sports personalities and rock stars is that mental health, and the problems associated with it, are subjects we should all be far more willing to discuss.

As a long-term sufferer from recurrent, but fortunately not incapacitating, depression I should welcome this focus on mental health.  So why does it leave me feeling slightly uneasy?

Because while so much attention is being given to mental health, the subject of mental illness seems to have been sidelined.  What were once referred to as mental illnesses have been rebranded as mental health problems.  But to the sufferer, a mental illness is so much more than a problem.

Given time, resources and relevant support a problem is something that can be solved.  Perhaps describing mental illnesses as mental health problems is intended to be empowering, telling sufferers that they can take control.  But there is an inherent difficulty here.

Inability to solve a problem is seen as failure, or not trying hard enough.  The stark truth, however, is that mental illness cannot be cured, the problem cannot be solved.  It can be controlled or relieved by medication and/or therapy.  It can remit.  But there is always, at the very least, the threat that it will return.

When I am in the throes of one of my recurring depressions, I do not have a problem.  I am ill.  I cannot solve this.  Does that make me a failure?

A survey of 5,000 UK adults conducted by the National Centre for Social Research found that 1 in 4 had been diagnosed with a mental illness.  Are all these people failing to solve their mental health problem?  Apparently so, as the same survey revealed that 1 in 5 people agreed that ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’.

In this, the second decade of the 21st century, there is still, appallingly, a stigma attached to mental illness.  While we may have moved on from talk of “nutters” who are “not right in the head” spending time in the “loony bin”, but the Mental Health Foundation reports that nearly nine out of ten people with a mental illness say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.  Fear of receiving a label which might have negative consequences in later life prevents many people from seeking help for their illness.

In this context, the increased publicity currently being given to mental health can only be welcomed.  But how can we tackle discrimination, shame and fear if we can’t even bring ourselves to refer to its cause by name?   Perhaps the first step in removing the stigma would be to openly and honestly go back to talking about mental illness as enthusiastically as we now talk about mental health.


Blogging about books – The Missing by C L Taylor

This is nobody’s favourite section of my blog (not even mine) but I said I was going to do it so here we are again.

I should start by saying that The Missing has nothing to do with the BBC TV series of the same name.  Instead, it is a psychological thriller about 15 year-old frankly unlikeable Billy, who goes missing one night, and his mother, Claire, who attempts to find out what happened to him.

This is stretched out (and I mean stretched) over 512 pages during which Claire suffers a number of dissociative fugue episodes, forgetting who she is, where she is and why she’s there.  This is far less interesting than it sounds.

The narrative is interspersed with WhatsApp conversations between two characters, one of whom we assume to be Billy, the other the person responsible for his disappearance.  These serve the dual purpose of showing us that the author is a thoroughly modern person with her finger on the technological pulse and revealing that, as is so often the case, naughty old sex is at the heart of things.

We eventually, and with some relief (remember the 512 pages) learn the truth about what happened to Billy, and I have to admit this is not what I was expecting.  Unfortunately it’s also not very believable.

This book has been very well reviewed by other authors in the genre, so maybe it’s actually a really good psychological thriller and I’m not the target audience.  But I had to force myself to read to the end because although I wanted to know what happened, I didn’t really care.

Never a good sign.

Can anyone tell me what Conservative voters want?

I am not a Conservative voter.  Never have been, probably never will be (by “probably” I mean “definitely” while considering the possibility that hell might, one day, freeze over).

However, I do feel that when Theresa May isn’t rubbing her hands in glee, Cruella de Ville-like, at the thought of bringing back fox-hunting, or barking out “Brexit means Brexit” (made-up word with no clear definition means exactly the same made-up word with no clear definition) she’s actually rather good fun.  I can almost convince myself that the knowledge that she stands to gain a landslide majority has sent her a tiny bit bonkers, to the extent that she’s now trolling her own supporters.

The latest evidence of this comes in her manifesto proposal to tackle the problem of funding for elderly social care by, essentially, making people who’ve got the money pay for it, even if that money is tied up in their homes.  And let’s make it clear, she’s not being a heartless, moustache-twirling Victorian villain here.  Elderly people aren’t going to be thrown out onto the streets, the cost of their care will be taken from the sale proceeds when the house is no longer needed.

This has caused considerable consternation among Conservative voters.  Apparently, people who’ve worked all their lives shouldn’t have to spend their savings on the care they need when they’re old.  Clearly I’m missing something here.  I thought the whole idea of saving for your old age was so you’d have the money to pay for the things you need in the aforementioned old age.  Like food, heating, lighting and … social care.  Let’s face it, if you need someone to help you wash and dress in the morning you’re unlikely to be spending your money on round the world cruises.

But this idea hasn’t gone down well with Conservative voters.  According to them, the state should pay for elderly care because they’ve “worked hard and paid our taxes”.  That would be the same state that can’t afford to properly fund the Health Service.  The same taxes that are insufficient to properly fund the Health Service.

As our lifespans increase so does the number of elderly people on the planet.  The elderly have expensive health and social care needs and they deserve to have those needs met.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting all elderly people to know that they will live out their lives in comfort and dignity without worrying about what will happen if they become unable to look after themselves.

So how do those complaining about this policy propose we pay for elderly care?  Higher taxes?  Fine by me.  Scrap Trident and put the money to better use?  Bring it on.  Close hospitals and schools, take money from the police and fire services?  Everything has a cost.  Improved government-funded services have to be paid for in higher taxes or reduced spending somewhere else.  Lower taxes have to be paid for in cuts to essential services.  What do Conservative voters want?

If I reach the stage of needing care then I’m happy to contribute towards that care if I have the money.  If I don’t then I hope the state will be able to pay for it. And if I’m a feckless workshy wastrel (which I’m not) well sadly that happens but a civilised society just accepts that some people are like that and looks after them because we moved away from the concept of deserving and undeserving poor long ago.

I’m not a Conservative voter but I’m not sure that I am a good fit with any political party, probably because I’m prepared to acknowledge the merit in Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and sometimes even Conservative policies.  And on this particular issue I have a degree of sympathy with Theresa May.


Where to now?

Coincidentally, Where To Now was the title of the debut album by late 70s/early 80s pop goddess Charlie Dore, forever remembered (by me at least) for her radio hit Pilot of the Airwaves.  As I recall, the title track was about people being told what to think by a Hitler-type political leader to the extent that they were unable to think for themselves.  Still relevant today but not actually what I’m talking about.

I started this blog because I wanted to become a hypnotherapist and the plan was that I would document my journey along that particular road.  Of course I diverted and digressed along the way but I think I have, somewhere along the line, described the steps I took in order to achieve my goal.

But now here I am, a qualified hypnotherapist.  I am no longer “the would-be hypnotherapist”, I am the genuine article.  So, in the words of Charlie Dore, where to now?

In one respect I am still, regardless of my qualification, a would-be hypnotherapist.  I have the certificate, the (voluntary) registration, the insurance, but I don’t yet have paying clients.  I’ve just moved house (not blogging about that, not even if you beg) so the launch of my professional hypnotherapy career has been delayed.  I have been offered premises and am working on a flyer and a website but can’t advertise my services until my domestic situation is rather more stable than it is right now.

So if a hypnotherapist is someone who earns money from the practice of hypnotherapy I can still describe myself as would-be.  Besides, I still own the domain name and the hosting so I’m going to keep blogging here while also working on my website which I’ll direct you to when it’s up and running.  I’ll ultimately run the two in tandem with the website focussing on promoting my hypnotherapy business while this blog will be the home for stories of the highs and lows of life as a hypnotherapist, along with book reviews, random thoughts and the odd political rant.  The website will (probably) also feature a blog but that will be devoted to serious material relating to hypnotherapy.

So where to now?  Wherever the fancy takes me – do you want to come with me?

Blogging about books – The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

About once a year, a book comes round that becomes a huge bestseller largely on word of mouth recommendations – like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train.  I don’t tend to enjoy these books – Gone Girl was deeply unsatisfying with its collection of unpleasant characters, the most unpleasant of whom comes out on top, and The Girl on the Train was just dull.

I was hoping The Couple Next Door might buck that particular trend but I was to be sadly disappointed.  The plot seemed promising enough – having been let down by their babysitter, Anne and Marco go to dinner with their next-door neighbours leaving baby Cora alone in the house.  Lest you think they are totally neglectful parents, they do take the baby monitor with them and go back to check on her every half hour.  It’s probably obvious that I’m not a parent when I say that this does not seem entirely unreasonable – okay the house could catch fire but it’s not very likely and any other problem would be identifiable from the baby monitor.  And while I don’t think it’s an unreasonable solution to the problem I find it hard to believe that a new mother would be emotionally capable of leaving her baby alone like that – I don’t have children, that doesn’t make me an inhuman monster.

Anyway, to get back to the plot, when Anne and Marco get home they find Cora has been kidnapped and there then follows the interminably slow tale of the police investigation into her disappearance.  This is all told by an omniscient narrator so the reader is party to practically everything any character thinks, says or does.  I assume this is intended to generate tension as we know things the other characters don’t but it actually has the reverse effect, slowing things down and rendering large chunks of the plot irrelevant.

Yet again we have a book in which it’s hard to like any of the characters – I can summon up a small bit of sympathy for Anne and I suppose Cora would be likeable if her parents cared enough about her to convey any hint of her personality, but everyone  else is just vile.  I don’t understand why it is that writers of thrillers, in particular, fail to recognise that readers need someone they can root for.  It’s much easier to appreciate a book if you can identify with a character and that’s just not going to happen if they’re all horrible.  Unless the reader’s a sociopath.  Maybe this books aimed at sociopaths.

Without wanting to give too much away, I can say that after many (too many) trials and tribulations Anne and Marco appear to be in with a chance of rebuilding their lives.  Only the author just won’t let them go, ending with the most ridiculously melodramatic twist it has ever been my misfortune to read.

I gave this book away.  Quickly.

Hypnotherapy Diploma – Module Three

We did it!

Three months ago, a motley crew of seven strangers started training to become hypnotherapists.  We were excited, apprehensive, and unsure quite what to expect. On Wednesday April 5th, seven friends reluctantly went our separate ways, proudly clutching our Diploma certificates.

It’s been quite a journey.

I was quite late setting off for Aviemore this time, arriving just after 5.30pm but I wasn’t too surprised to find I was the first one there.  I’d bumped into Andy and Lisamarie buying up food stocks in case of a zombie apocalypse topping up their alcohol supplies in Tesco and I knew Marta was waiting for Matthew to pick her up from Inverness airport.

I didn’t have long to wait, however, before they all arrived and we sat down to our first evening meal of this module, washed down with copious amounts of rosé wine.  We sat up talking well into the night (and possibly also the next morning) excited to be nearing the end of our training.

Saturday was devoted to reviewing the case studies we had carried out since our last module.  Again there were some amazing stories of positive change that had been brought about by my fellow students.  This time, however, I felt able to take a pride in my own achievements, another sign that my depression was no longer in control of my mind.  Matthew also took the opportunity to make us aware of a recent article in New Scientist, the main message of which he summarised as “hypnosis isn’t bollocks”.  He may have been preaching to the converted somewhat on the subject of hypnosis and its non-bollocksness – I lean towards the view that people who have paid a not inconsiderable sum of money to learn about a subject are more likely than most to believe there might be something in it.  However, it was reassuring to have that belief confirmed by such an august journal.

Saturday was also my birthday.  I’d accidentally let this slip in a reply to a Facebook comment asking me how I was going to spend it and my fellow students had eagerly picked up on this as an excuse for a celebration.  I was surprised to receive cards and presents, and Jan even served cupcakes with candles in them at lunchtime.

We’d planned to go out in 70s fancy dress, and earlier in the week I’d ordered my Bjorn from ABBA costume.  Unfortunately I was too mean to pay £8.00 for a Bjorn wig so ended up paying £20.00 for in Claire’s Accessories for a  long blonde one which a neighbour kindly cut and styled for me.  On the plus side this allowed me to cross shopping at Claire’s Accessories off my bucket list.  (I don’t actually have a bucket list – if I did, I’m pretty sure shopping at Claire’s Accessories wouldn’t be on it).

We were a motley crew that night – I doubt the Italian restaurant in Aviemore had ever seen anything quite like it.  We had three quarters of ABBA – Marina as Agnetha, Andy as Benny, and me as Bjorn.  Frida clearly had a prior engagement.  Gillian and Marta were 70s hippy chicks with a bit of a Fleetwood Mac vibe, while Lisamarie in a huge Afro christened herself Gloryhole Gaynor.  I think Lisamarie may have been a drag queen in a previous life.  John contented himself with wearing a cowboy hat and striking a 70s pose.  I should perhaps clarify – the cowboy hat wasn’t all he was wearing.

A good time was had by all and there were some thick heads and heavy eyelids when we got back to work the following morning.  The difficulty inherent in studying hypnotherapy is that you get hypnotised a lot.  That may not sound like a huge problem but when you’ve experienced it few times it becomes very easy to slip into trance.  All it takes is a couple of words from the right person and away you go.  Add that to the effects of a late night and watching a hypnotherapy demonstration can only end one way.  I don’t think a single one of us experienced the whole of Sunday’s training sessions in quite the way Matthew intended.

Somehow we managed to learn something about Ericksonian approaches to hypnotherapy.  Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist who used his own very personal style of hypnotherapy, involving storytelling and metaphor to great effect.  This had a certain resonance with me – I often use metaphors and similes in conversation which I strongly suspect make no sense outside my own head.

In the afternoon we were introduced to the RESOLVE model of therapy developed by a New Zealander called Richard Bolstad.  This is an approach to psychotherapy which uses NLP techniques to great effect in the treatment of mental health problems.  Although we could only skim the surface of the subject, this was something I found very interesting and intend to read up about.

That evening we had a real treat – Marina had invited us to her croft for a delicious meal of roast lamb.  I have no idea how she managed to cook this while simultaneously attending the course – I can only assume she has a team of elves who attend to her life while she is doing other things.  Either that or she is supremely organised.

We arrived to the sound of bagpipes being played beautifully by her 12 year-old son Kyle, who also plays four or five other instruments and can basically pick anything up and get a tune out of it.  Once inside the house we met Donald, Marina’s husband, who clearly has the patience of a saint, her beautiful little daughter Isla, and twin boys Jimmy and Murdo.  I think we all fell a little in love with the younger ones and were in awe of Kyle’s talent and ability to engage with a group of weird adults within minutes of meeting them.  Marina’s children were beautifully behaved and a real credit to her.  Donald was quite good too.

After dinner we sampled some of Marina’s gin collection and were introduced to the game Cards Against Humanity.  I’d heard of this but had no idea what it involved.  Sadly, although I know it was a lot of fun I have no clear memory of it so still don’t know what it involves.  Blame the gin.

By Monday morning we were becoming increasingly aware that our time together would soon be over.  We watched a video of Richard Bandler, one of the founders of NLP, working with a schizophrenic patient.  This was made some years ago, and the fashions of the time rendered it unintentionally hilarious, but Bandler showed an impressive ability to quickly produce beneficial changes to the patient’s response to difficult situations.

Later, Matthew did some work with Marta, who had a fear of learning to drive as a result of a car accident when she was a child.  It was fascinating to see her become upset as she relived the accident under hypnosis, then relax as Matthew helped her to let go of the distressing feelings.  He also showed us a video of him working with a mountaineer who was being held back by the trauma of accidents in which he had seen friends killed.  If we had any doubts about the power of hypnotherapy to produce positive change, they were quickly being swept away.

Tuesday was the last full day of the course and to describe it as packed would be an understatement.  After touching on the subjects of mindfulness and hypnosis in healing, Matthew spent some time talking about past life regression.

This is a subject the majority of, if not all, hypnotherapy schools teach, generally with the caveat that they are expressing no opinion on the reality of past lives.  This may sound like fudging the issue, but Matthew’s approach is that regression should be carried out in order to find the root cause of a present problem which can then be laid to rest, rather than simply to satisfy curiosity about past lives.  From this perspective it doesn’t matter if the past life experience is real or, as I tend to believe, a story created by the unconscious mind to explain the reason behind difficulties in “this life”.

We tried an exercise in regression, initially going back to our earliest memories, then going through a door to a past life.  This was where it got really interesting – I went back to 1896 at the end of my life.  I was blind, I was dying, and it was fine – there was nothing to fear.  Was this a genuine past life experience?  Did my unconscious mind create it?  Or did I consciously make it up in order to explain my difficulties with visualisation while also assuaging any fears I might have about death?  Maybe it doesn’t matter.

After a break, Matthew showed us a video of himself working to help Rogan, a student on one of his courses, overcome the psychological effects of a brain injury, with a follow-up video where the two of them discussed the results of this therapy.  Even without Rogan’s own description of the positive change he had experienced, it was clear from his demeanour that hypnotherapy had benefitted him immensely.

This was followed by a short session on Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).  This is probably best described as a form of psychological acupressure which works by clearing blockages int he body’s energy system.  It may sound like the worst kind of New Age mumbo-jumbo (Wikipedia dismisses it as a “psuedoscience”) but it seems to work, to the extent that it has been adopted by many therapists in the field of PTSD.  I read about it several years ago and thought it might help with my depression but was put off by the perceived difficulty of learning the procedure.  It’s actually surprisingly easy when you’re shown how to do it – after a couple of sessions it just becomes second nature.  And I’m pleased to report that it does seem to have a beneficial effect on my mood.

Finally on Tuesday, Jan gave us some information on joining the General Hypnotherapy Register, getting insurance and business development.  It felt like a long day but a very worthwhile one.

This being the last night of the module, we of course went to the Cairn at Carrbridge for a celebration meal.  Unfortunately it was very busy so the only table available was in a back room away from the atmosphere of the bar.  This took away some of the fun we had previously had there.  To make matters worse, the only rosé wine they had was Zinfandel.  Lisamarie and I have standards – they may be low but Zinfandel is way beneath them.  Once Marina and Gillian went home the rest of us decided to head back to Motivation Manor, stopping off to replenish our wine stocks at Tesco.

We sat up talking until far too late then crawled up to our beds.

We were a subdued group on the Wednesday morning – tired, hung over, and aware that we would soon be saying goodbye.  Matthew added to the things Jan had said about business development, advised us on pricing and premises, then handed out our certificates.  We had a group hug,Jan took a photograph of us and that was it.  The end.

Those of us who didn’t have to rush off went into Aviemore for coffee and more chat before reluctantly, and with much hugging and promising to keep in touch, finally going our separate ways.

I used to watch programmes like The Great British Bake-off and be a little cynical when the contestants claimed to have made friends for life, suspecting that was said for the cameras and they would actually have forgotten each other’s names within a week.  Now I know differently – I understand the power of an intense life-enhancing experience to form bonds between people who have only known each other for a short time.  Motivation’s first class of 2017 has a WhatsApp group on which we are all in regular contact, sometimes sharing success stories or asking for advice, at others having stupid conversations about ducks that no-one else would understand and I have no intention of explaining.

I enrolled on the course to learn hypnotherapy.  I came away with new friends and a new outlook on life.  I think that represents pretty good value for money.


Blogging about books – Evil Games by Angela Marsons

Evil Games was a book given to Iain by our cleaner and not really the kind of thing I choose to read.  However, I picked it up one day, read the first few pages and found myself hooked.

The second in the author’s series of D.I. Kim Stone novels, it begins with a raid on the home of a suspected child abuser.  While the investigation into this case continues, a sociopathic psychiatrist uses her knowledge of the human mind to manipulate her patients into committing murders.  This is not a spoiler – it’s made quite clear that this is happening very early in the book.

Kim Stone seems at first to be something of a stereotype.  A strong woman in what is still, to some extent, seen as a man’s world, she is tough, dedicated and as hard as the hammers of hell.  But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that this is not just lazy writing and poor characterisation as we learn about her background and the reasons she behaves the way she does.  And we do see small signs of softening – at one stage she adopts a murder victim’s dog.

The two cases – child abuse and murder – are unconnected and this adds a sense of realism to the book.  Contrary to the impression given by TV, the victim in one case does not generally turn out to be the perpetrator in the next.  However, there is a neat little link when something that happens during one investigation provides a serendipitous clue to another.

While I’m sure no-one would claim Evil Games could be described as great literature, it was an entertaining and satisfying read and I would certainly read further books about Kim Stone.


Blogging about books – Happy Money : The New Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

I’m not sure anyone ever reads this bit of the blog but I said I was going to do book reviews so it’s up to you.

I don’t really know why I bought Happy Money – obviously something about it appealed to me but I can’t remember what.  It’s quite a short book that basically tries to persuade us to change the way we spend our money in order to increase our happiness.

It’s a fairly well-established fact that once we have enough money to comfortably meet our needs, the impact of more disposable impact on our happiness is much lower than we would expect.  We might think a top of the range Mercedes would make us happier, but if we can get from A to B in an old Fiat Panda that added expenditure probably isn’t going to make a huge difference.  And if we’ve got one top of the range Mercedes is another one really going to make us happier?

This book suggests that money can buy increased happiness if we follow these five principles :-

  1. Buy experiences – good seats at a concert by your favourite band won’t last as long as a designer shirt but may well give you more pleasure.  Sometimes the reasoning behind a purchase determines whether it is a possession of an experience – for example, a book is an experience if bought to enjoy reading it, but a possession if it looks good on your shelves.
  2. Make it a treat – if you drink the finest champagne every day it just becomes routine.  Drink it on special occasions only and you’ll enjoy it more.
  3. Buy time – spend your money on paying someone else to do the cleaning, the ironing or any other job you hate.  That way you get time to do the things you enjoy.
  4. Pay now, consume later – the reverse of our “buy now, pay later” culture.   When you pay for something in advance, like you usually do for a holiday, it almost seems like it’s free when you actually come to enjoy it.
  5. Invest in others – it really is better to give than to receive.

These principles all make sense to me, and for anyone with more money than they need to be comfortable they seem like a good basis on which to make spending decisions.  The book is less convincing, however, when it attempts to apply the same principles to expenditure by governments.

Overall, the premise behind Happy Money is an interesting one, but the material is stretched too thinly.  There is a good magazine article here but it doesn’t quite work as a book.

Hypnotherapy Diploma Module 2

I was really looking forward to Module 2 of my hypnotherapy training course.  I’d had a great time on the first Module, met some great people, and learned a lot.  I’d been practising my skills with reasonable success and was starting to learn what did and didn’t work and to develop my own style.  I wanted to know more.

So it was with great anticipation and excitement that I set off on the first Friday morning in March, full of Monster Energy Drink, satnav set for Motivation Training near Aviemore.  Iain had decided to stay at home this time, so I was making the journey on my own, accompanied only by Ken Bruce on Radio 2 and a selection of CDs for when the Jeremy Vine show got too much for me (some of his phone callers give me exploding head syndrome).

The Monster Energy Drink turned out to be something of an error of judgement.  An hour into my journey I was desperate for the loo, and with no idea of how far it was to the next one was forced to pull off the Edinburgh City by-pass and relieve myself against the car (something I never, ever do) in what I suspect was a dogging car park.  Fortunately, 10.30 in the morning is apparently not peak time for dogging.

Bladder successfully emptied, I carried on to Aviemore, with a short coffee stop at Kinross services, arriving at about 2.00pm.  Having advised Jan at Motivation Training that I’d be there around 4.00pm, I had a couple of hours to kill in Aviemore.  I wandered up and down the main street, mooched around the small branch of Waterstone’s, then realised I’d forgotten about lunch so went into the famous Mountain Café.  This is an institution in Aviemore and it’s rare to get in without queuing but I was lucky.  Not being particularly hungry, I ordered a cheese sandwich (or “piece” as they describe it on the menu – somehow I find the self-conscious Scottishness of this a bit off-putting but that’s probably just me).

This was something of a mistake.  Stupidly, I expected neat little triangles made from thinly-sliced bread, maybe even with the crusts cut off.  A few crisps on the side.  A little salad garnish – you know the sort of thing I mean.  What I got was something the size of a small house – two thick slices of bread (about half a loaf in total) enclosing a filling of cheese, salad, mayonnaise, chilli sauce and probably the odd missing child.  All this with no cutlery and the tiniest of napkins.  I would have liked to ask for a knife so I could cut it into smaller pieces (no pun intended) but not wanting to seem like a soft Southern Jessie I struggled manfully and left needing a shower.

Soon afterwards I arrived at Motivation Training, to find that I was the first student to arrive.  This allowed me an hour on my own to unpack and enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures – a little lie down.  Unfortunately, at this precise moment an old adversary returned to my life, one I thought I’d just about escaped from forever.  Hello Depression – will you be staying long?

The full story of my battle with depression will have to wait for another blog post but it’s enough for me to say here that I’ve had depressive tendencies for most of my life and was floored by an incapacitating attack about 20 years ago.  Since then, with the aid of medication and support from various sources, other than a couple of relapses I’ve been able to keep my mood in a range somewhere between fine and a-bit-miserable-for-no-apparent-reason-but-still-able-to-function.  I fell through the bottom of that range shortly before John and Lisamarie arrived.*

I employed my cloaking technique – fixed smile, slightly brittle good humour, exaggerated gestures to compensate for the fact that my body feels like it’s closing in on itself.  This can fool most people for a while, but it’s exhausting for me.  However, it got me through dinner the first evening, during which Marta and Andy arrived, and with the help of a little rosé wine and the pleasure of being back in such lovely company I managed to push the depression away for a few hours.

The following morning, Marina and Gillian, the two non-resident students, arrived and Matthew welcomed us back.  Most of the first day was spent discussing the volunteer clients we had seen since Module One.  Matthew was quick to stress that there was no element of competition here – a simple relaxation session was just as valid as curing a long-term problem.  I tried to convince myself of this as Andy described the amazing work he had been doing with terminal cancer patients, John told us how he’d relieved a friend’s fear of being a passenger in a car, Gillian of how she’d cured a chocoholic.  Everyone seemed to have achieved miraculous results.

And what had I done?  Reminded someone of her ability to cope with life’s problems, encouraged my sister to stop and think before automatically accepting the offer of a glass of wine, totally failed to hypnotise my brother.  But not to worry – it’s not a competition.

Of course most of the others also shared stories of things that hadn’t gone so well.  John had phoned Matthew for advice after his first attempt at curing his friend’s fear had only limited success.  Gillian’s chocoholic needed a second session and a change of approach to bring about lasting change.  Andy had an unsuccessful session quite early on.  But my mind wasn’t having any of that – they were all wonderful and I should have been sitting in the corner wearing a dunce’s cap.  I can look back now and recognise that my own results were actually pretty impressive (apart from the failure with my brother) but I wasn’t thinking that way at the time.

The day ended with us practising hypnotic inductions on each other.  I worked with Andy again with Marta making up a group of three.

In the evening, the five of us staying in the house sat up and talked, the conversation oiled with more rosé wine.  Jan had clearly decided we were determined to behave like toddlers on a Haribo high and didn’t bother trying to send us to bed.

Most of the tuition in this Module was related to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).   I’ve blogged previously about the difficulties I had reading NLP for Dummies.  Matthew’s approach was to demystify the subject by explaining the jargon but using it as little as possible, and this certainly helped me to make sense of it.  Unfortunately, I was struggling to concentrate so I’m not sure that all of it went in, but combined with further reading I managed to make sense of it all.

For the uninitiated, I will try here to give a brief idea of what NLP is.  This is easier said than done, and I find myself having to use jargon and then explain it.  In a nutshell, NLP involves changing the submodalities of a remembered experience in order to change the clients feelings about that experience and thus bring about beneficial change for the future.  Crystal clear eh?  I’ll try to make it easier to understand.

Imagine a time when you were really happy, relaxed and confident.  Picture the scene.  In creating a visual image, you are employing the visual modality.  The qualities of that image – whether it’s in black and white or colour, large or small, flat or 3D, still or moving – are its submodalities.  Still with me?  Good.  Now if you magnify that image, brighten the colours, bring it closer, make it more lifelike etc your emotional response will be different from if you make it tiny, washed out, far away and flat.  By manipulating the submodalities of an unpleasant memory, for example, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate its negative impact on the present and future.  It may sound a bit bonkers and far too simple but it works.

Unfortunately, I have great difficulties with visualisation.  I think that internally I may in fact be severely sight-impaired.  If I try to picture myself, for example, in a situation that has caused me distress in the past, I might manage to create a vague image of one element of the scene but not to clearly see the entire scene in full colour.  And if I try to manipulate that image, the likelihood is it will just disappear altogether.  NLP does, in fact, recognise that not all of us process information visually; some of us display a preference for auditory processing, while others have a kinaesthetic leaning, processing their memories through the feelings they create.  However, all NLP techniques seem to start from the premise that we can all create beautiful vibrant pictures in our heads.

So my difficulty is that although I have no doubt that these techniques work, I struggle to experience them myself.  This obviously reduces my confidence in my ability to use them with clients.   Of course I must actually be able to visualise, otherwise I would be unable to make any sense of the world.  When we see an apple, for example, we compare what we have in front of us with the catalogue of images we have in our brain, taking a fraction of a millisecond to identify this object as an apple.  We’re visualising all the time without being aware of it; if I can identify an apple I have the ability to visualise a memory, I just have to develop it.  So eventually, if I work at it, I should be able to resolve this problem.

Over the course of the next few days we learned to apply these techniques in order to achieve a wide variety of results – to develop new behaviours, to remove the negative impact of unpleasant memories, to cure phobias and to minimise the effects of traumatic experiences.  We were able to practise some of these – while most of us could think of different ways we would like to behave or unpleasant memories we would prefer to exorcise, phobias and traumas were less common (and perhaps too personal to use in the context of a training exercise).

Light relief was created by Andy, who produced Donald Trump masks for us all.  Having created a distraction, we held them to our faces while Matthew’s back was turned and waited for the tirade of expletives when he found himself face-to-face with seven Donalds.  We were not disappointed.

One evening John took those of us staying at the house on a scenic drive around the area.  The highlight of this was spotting the Indian restaurant in Aviemore which we decided we would go to the following night.

During our evening meal the wine made another welcome appearance.  Lisamarie and I tried to give a heartrending performance of the song “I Know Him So Well”, only slightly hampered by the fact she didn’t know the words.  I, of course, know this song backwards but elected to sing it in the more traditional forward version.  I then gave a solo rendition of a song recorded years ago by the Irish singer Mary Coughlan, entitled “The Country Fair Dance”.

John and Andy gamely took on the roles of Porcupine Paul and Fearsome Fred Ford, while Lisamarie made a delightfully coquettish Pamela Pearl.  So what if we all seemed a bit bonkers – we were having fun and I was putting nasty depression back in its box for a while.  We were late to bed that night!

All too soon Tuesday evening came around – time for our second visit to the Cairn at Carr Bridge.  This was another evening of fun, laughter and too much wine.  Having managed to find “I Know Him So Well” on the jukebox, Gillian and I performed a word-perfect rendition, with Lisamarie helpfully contributing backing oooohs.  Marina filmed this and posted it on Facebook.  I used to like Marina.

The following morning, with thick heads, we tried to make sense of Matthew’s end of module test (sorry, quiz).  We sat around a table and tried to answer questions we could barely read, let alone understand.  I employed my crafty technique of writing completely illegibly so Matthew would just assume I was right.  It worked for Module 1 so it was definitely worth another try.

With much hugging and promising to keep in touch (aided by our new WhatsApp group) we set off for home, ready to put our new skills into practice.


*I’ve tried to find somewhere in the main body of this post to include this bit, but it just seemed to interrupt the flow, so I’ve added it as a footnote.

It’s very often said that depression makes people selfish and there is some truth in this.  In the depths of despair anything that makes you feel better seems like fair game – other people’s feelings can cease to matter as you desperately try to lift your own.  I know that in the past I have, at times, been viciously angry with people, not necessarily because they deserved it but because expressing anger felt so much better than staying locked inside myself.  I don’t do that any more.

Instead, I do guilt.  Guilt that I’m being such a wet blanket and threatening to infect other people with my misery.  Guilt that I don’t have the wherewithal to just shake myself out of it.  Guilt that I can sometimes have a good time while still claiming to be depressed.  And most of all, guilt that I’m depressed when other people have things so much worse.

Knowing what I do about some of my friends on the course, depression seems to me like the ultimate in self-indulgence.  I have no business being depressed.  And being far too self-analytical, living too much in my head, I then ask myself, is it self-indulgent to accuse myself of self-indulgence?

So I remind myself that it’s down to my faulty brain chemistry.  That I don’t choose to feel like this.  That many years ago, during one of my worst attacks, I told myself that amputation of a limb would be an acceptable price to pay for the depression to go away.

It’s not self-indulgence.  It’s just the way I am.  I’ve been kind to myself and it has passed – I feel much better now.

And one day I will beat it.