Monthly Archives: May 2016



Clichés surround us that say things like, ‘look on the bright side’, or, ‘count your blessings’. Like most clichés they can end up making us feel worse rather than better. Trying to force ourselves to see past our difficult experiences to either others whose lives are worse than ours, or to what may happen in the future if we just try harder can increase our sense of guilt and shame.

At the same time, there is increasing evidence that taking time each day to reflect and experience some sense of gratitude allows us to gain more perspective in our lives. The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein suggests that both envy and gratitude are very early ways of relating to the objects around us and especially those who care for us. Whilst envy for Klein is about seeking to possess, destroy, and grasp at, gratitude is the experience of open-hearted appreciation of, of love, and an ability to recognise and enjoy something or someone without needing to control. These ways of relating are always with us in various ways, and being able to notice them and slowly develop our capacity to express gratitude allows us to create space between us and those things which are important to us, whether a situation, person or object.

Developing gratitude is not easy. If a developing child is given enough in the moments when they feel most fragile, if their caregivers can respond in the ways that are needed, without giving too much, then we could imagine a child developing quickly the ability to be grateful, to allow their world around them to be without envying and seeking to control or be fearful of others. However this is rarely the case even with attentive parents who have the capacity and time to tend to there infants well, and we enter the adult world torn between envious ways of relating and grateful ways.

Ideally as adults we are able to enter into relationships where we receive what is lacking within us, and can slowly let go of the more intensely envious ways that we relate; our need for more things, people, money, praise etc. This can of course be found in counselling, and also in many caring relationships where the person can respond in ways that you can take in a sense of you being valued for who you.


We can however also help ourselves learn to be grateful through various activities. One of these is through keeping gratitude lists. This task takes five minutes a day, and involves writing down any experiences that you have considered to be positive. This could be the smell of someone’s perfume as they walked past, someone who smiled at you, the warmth of the sun, having had enough to eat, or anything that was a positive experience. Don’t force this or twist it to become a ‘I’m grateful that my boss wasn’t as nasty to me as normal’ comment; this is just an exercise in experiencing gratitude for the mostly small moments of joy in your life.

This in no way invalidates the difficulties in life, but rather allows you to begin to relate to yourself and the world in subtly different ways, allowing you to not be as bound up in less helpful ways of thinking. Practically, this involves keeping a diary or perhaps using one of the many phone apps called ‘gratitude lists’ that are now available. Try and keep what you write short, and the list to under ten things. this means that you are less likely to struggle to remember things that have happened. Through doing this daily not only do you have a regular activity that is designed to help you broaden your experience and way of being in the world, it also means that over time you can look back over your life and remember past good experiences.

If you would like to know more about counselling and how I practice, feel free to visit my website at:



journal pic

When I was a child I used to try and keep a dairy, it never lasted more than about a week! When I first trained in counselling, part of the training involved keeping a journal, a space for writing about the direct experiences that we have, and then seeking to explore why we experience things the way that we do. Over the years I have come to love this exercise. Unlike a diary journals are not supposed to just detail events, but rather what our emotions and thoughts are around them.

As an example I remember once being in a situation which involved a level of conflict. Like many people I can struggle with conflict. Through writing about this event however I found that I was able to work out what it is about conflict that I was seeking to avoid, and then learn to relate in more assertive, authentic ways in the future. Whilst I was aware of my dislike of conflict, through spending time writing about this I was able to focus on the difficult emotions, face myself and actively address this part of me.

Journalling works because it slows our brains down so that we can unpick what is actually going on for us without hiding from all of who we are. We are not generally good at being able to sit with difficult aspects of who we are without feeling things like guilt, shame, self recriminations and so on. Journalling allows us to compassionately look at the parts of us that we try and avoid, and so make conscious the more shadowy parts of ourselves. This allows us to accept all of who we are; those desires, fears, dreams and thoughts that we have which we see as not allowed can become part of how we learn to embrace life.

Practically Journalling involves having a secure place to write for about ten minutes a day. This could be a secure computer or a diary that you can be sure no one else will be able to get hold of. The more private you keep your journal the more honest you can be in it. I have found that writing toward the end of the day allows you to focus on the events of the day, and that writing at the beginning of the day can allow you to focus on your deeper sense of who you are, setting you up for living the day fully.

To write, whilst there are no rules, it can help to literally just write. it doesn’t need to be grammatically correct, just write about wherever your mind wanders. this is not supposed to be coherent; our minds don’t often stick to coherent narratives. Instead allow your mind to express what it sits comfortably with. You will find that past issues will often arise and that you will be able to link past experiences to the hear and now. At times you may find this frustrating, like you are ‘not getting anywhere’ – this is good! write about where you want to get too, why you become frustrated; everything that you feel is valid and can be helpful to a greater understanding. This way of writing also allows you to process difficult events, such as loss, and then be able to track your journey through this. Over time the journal can become a space where you know that your most personal experiences can be safely explored in a compassionate environment where you wont be critical of yourself, or if you are critical of yourself, you will be able to explore why you are attacking yourself. There are lots of ways of structuring your journal. I find that I have four different sections:

  • Daily journal
  • Important events (a space for more detailed reflection on whatever you feel is important)
  • Important people (a space for exploring your relationships with significant people in your life)
  • Poetry/drawing (I find that using other ways of exploring aspects of who I am such a through writing poetry can sometimes be more helpful with some strong emotions. As an example, if you struggle with shame, then try drawing it, or writing a poem about shame – this allows for a greater distance between you and the issue and more perspective).

There are various books that I have found over the years to be helpful. a good introduction though would be:

‘Journalling basics – journal writing for beginners’ – Lisa Shea

For information about the counselling I offer please feel free to visit my website on:


Happy Journalling!

Overview of this blog

I am creating this blog to offer suggestions for people who are seeking to explore life in new ways, and manage difficult emotions and experiences. I have trained in counselling, theology, psychology, psychotherapy, psychoanalytic studies and philosophy. Whilst as a counsellor I believe that change comes primarily through finding relationships in which we can be seen, valued and heard within a non judgmental setting, there are also various things that we can do that help us live more creatively. Some of these ideas wont work for you! Whilst we have got significant evidence of activities which can help us in various ways, we are all different and the ideas I write about wont suit anybody. If you are seeking to try and understand or change aspects of who you are, I would always suggest talking with someone that you can trust alongside these ideas. I welcome feedback around how you have found any of these activities! If you would like further information around how I work please feel free to look at my website: