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The gift of death.

What attracts us to our loved ones is what ends up repelling us.

psychotherapy coupleRelationships are funny things. No two are alike and yet, at the same time, all share many similarities as well. One such similarity we all share in are times of frustration with our loved ones.

I often speak with couples having hard times in their relationships or marriages and they often sound quite clear on what their partner is doing that is flaring up their frustrations. At some point I always ask what it was that first attracted them to their partners and what they initially fell in love with and, like clock work, their answers reveal that the things they loved and cherished in each other, as they fell in love, were the same qualities that frustrate them now.

For example, seven years ago John fell in love with Louise; he loved how care free she was and how spontaneous and in the moment she could be. He was much more ordered and practical and was more used to a life well planned out, a life without too many surprises. John was attracted to those qualities in Louise, which he himself would have liked to possess.

Louise, on the other hand, fell in love with John’s solidity. He was grounded, stable and practical, all qualities which she was attracted to which she wasn’t accessing in herself, and qualities which were needed to balance her out.

Now fast-forward seven years. John is frustrated with Louise and needs her to change. In his mind she is inconsistent with her commitments and responsibilities and he is angry that he can’t rely on her to do things when he feels they need to be done in the home. As a result he is feeling unsupported and let down. He wishes that she could be better planned and fly less by the seat of her pants.

Louise, on the other hand, is feeling squashed and forced to live in a way that doesn’t suit her style of being. She wants John to ease up and take more risks in life. She is bored with the blandness of their relationship and wants more excitement with him.

This is typical example of how the qualities that attract couples end up eroding the warmth they have for each other. As a result of this, the qualities which partners fell in love with often become the same qualities they try to change about each other.

In my line of work as a couple’s counsellor, I often find myself saying to one or both partners, “That’s not going to happen”, or “He is not going to give you that”. Couples are often startled to find that I don’t roll up my sleeves and help them change their partners.

When couples find themselves in the situation of trying to change their partners so they feel better about themselves the role of therapy is to interrupt this trance rather than empathise and support with their needs to change the other.

The undeniable truth with relationships is that those we love are also our burdens. Too often we just want to take the parts that work for us right now and leave the rest of them in the bottom drawer.

For many couples, the magic bullet to getting back on track with their marriage and finding more harmony again is to be able to look at their partner and say, “this is who they are, and this is who they will continue to be”. Once this is acknowledged, a different and scarier reality is seen by each of them.

At this point couples often see that they struggle to love each other for who they truly are; eventually this leads to a more useful and practical question to ponder, and that is “How do I learn to live with this person for who they truly are, while living with who I truly am too”?. And the answer to this is, of course, will be different for us all.


Can we really think our way out of unhappiness?

anxietyimageWe live in world filled with research from Neuroscientists proving that our brains are the cause of everything that arises within us. We are told to think differently if we want to feel differently. More and more we are given snippets of studies demonstrating that our thoughts are the cause of everything we do, say and feel. But have we really got the whole picture?

Neuroscientists neglect the scientific fact that the heart actually sends 3 times more mood altering signals to the brain than the brain does to the heart. And that the Vagas nerve, which is located at the core of the stomach, sends 9 times the mood altering signals to the brain that the brain does to the body. Scientists have now realised that more than 60% of the heart is composed of neurons with the same structure as those in our brains. We have also discovered that the Vagas nerve is largely comprised of these neurons as well. Does this suggest that both our hearts and our stomachs actually have the capacity for intelligence similar to our brains?

With this in mind, the research is starting to suggest that although there is much use in changing our thinking to improve the way we feel, we could get better results if we worked more on our bodies than our thoughts.


You can’t think away most feelings!

To make such a statement suggests that in fact our brains are not in complete control of our experience and unfortunately this is often true.

Unfortunately what most of us try to do is to think our way out of feeling what we don’t want to feel, such as sadness, anxiety and anger, and by trying to figure out the cause of the feeling, or how to fix the feeling, the person loses contact with the feeling momentarily, only to have the experience re emerge later, and then the cycle of thinking kicks in and the cycle continues. Many people who try to fix their emotions like this find themselves waking in the night with that very same feeling back to haunt them for hours on end before getting back to sleep.

I see this approach to attending to our experience a little like trying to wash one’s car by watering their plants. No matter how much watering one does, the car still remains the same.

Similarly with situations where we want to change the feelings of sadness or anxiety and others, rather than moving our awareness away from the feelings and to our thinking, what ultimately transforms our felt experience is moving our awareness towards and into the feelings.

For example, when we are sad, rather than thinking through how to be happy, sit with and fully experience the sadness. Allow the feelings to pour through your being without judgement or resistance. It can often be easier than you think, and by doing this the sadness shifts and changes and the body’s innate wisdom of the sadness (the what’s and the why’s of the sadness) are realised like flashes of recognition giving rise to new ways of being with sadness. And we often realise truths about our sadness that all the thinking in the world wouldn’t achieve. When one sits with their experience without trying to change it a very strange thing occurs. The experience actually changes. In Gestalt therapy we call this the paradoxical theory of change. The paradox being that when we accept what is and allow what is and fully be what is within us, change occurs.

So next time you feel blue, angry, anxious or lonely try this out. Remember, allowing the feeling is the key to transforming the experience.

Why “Not Being Like Our Parents” is hard to achieve

psychotherapy father sonIn my sessions the thing I hear from many clients is “I don’t want to turn out like my father”, or “I am not going to treat my son like my mother treated me”.

It’s common for people who had difficult relationships with their parents to hold such views. The challenge for many people is that “not being like one’s parents” can be a difficult task to achieve.


What makes us similar to our parents?

There are many influences to the development and forming of an adult personality and genetics aside, much of this influence comes from those who raise us.  In family and systems therapies, there is a term called “Multi Generational Transmission process”; this is a term that describes the process of how a developing person takes on attributes and qualities from their family of origin and makes these qualities and attributes their own.  Most often the qualities of a parent, which they are not aware of, are the qualities the parent tends to project onto their child. For example, a mother, who is not aware of how they may manipulate their spouse, could begin to see these same learnt manipulative qualities in their child and then come to the conclusion they have a manipulative offspring.  The offspring, being told over and over not to be so manipulative ends up swallowing the fact that they must be the manipulative one in the family and they begin to view themselves in the same light as the mother does.  Typically this locks into place a dynamic where the mother and child only see the child to be the manipulative one and in this, the mother’s own manipulative traits stay out of her awareness.


The shadow of the unseen parent

When we vow never to be like our parents in some way we deny the fact that we hold the same capacity to do the same things that they did. Often this stifles much more of the person than only the parts they are trying to avoid. For example, a man who grew up with a father who was very angry may vow never to be angry for they know how damaging this can be to a child. Over time, this person loses their sense of power, as power cannot be developed in a person without the correct use of their natural anger. In negotiations they are more likely to back down whenever things get tense, for fear of being angry, and in doing so they set up a pattern of not getting what they need. The tail end of this is that the longer they go without getting what they need, the angrier they are likely to become. And eventually the person will explode, allowing their anger to rise. After this they typically feel remorseful for the way they showed their anger in negotiating their needs and they vow never to be angry again, which leaves the anger once again building and building and thus the cycle continues.

Unfortunately, denying these aspects of oneself is like shaking a bottle of Pepsi and leaving the lid on. The pressure builds and when the lid is twisted just a little bit, half the can fizzes out and it makes a real mess, just as we do with blocked anger, fear, grief and other disowned feelings and aspects of ourselves.

The real tell tale sign this is happening is when I hear somebody say “ that wasn’t like me at all to get so upset/scared/angry about this” . This statement reveals that the parts of the person that “fizz over”, to use the pepsi analogy, have not been recognised as part of who this person is.


How can one move on from unliked and unwanted family traits?

As I mentioned, the aspects of oneself that are resisted and denied become interrupted in their organic development and are misunderstood and lost to their owners. Many people think that by accepting those traits similar to our parents will mean defeat, giving in, or it will be a cop out to just accept being like them.

What is often misunderstood in these situations is that by accepting those parts, we don’t end the journey we actually begin the journey.

When we meet those parts that are like our parent, without trying to change or judge them, we then have the opportunity to move and grow as a person, which often means those traits actually change over time as the person, and those aspects within them, develop.

So the paradox is that if one wants to truly change the parts of them selves that are like their parents, the first step is to accept the ways in which they are like their parents.

When we deny these parental traits, it’s like trying to travel somewhere by reading a road map while not knowing where we are starting from. It becomes impossible to take the first step. And the first step, as it is in many forms of personal development and healing, is to accept it.

Its only when the disowned parts of oneself are acknowledged and accepted that there is then room for these parent-created pasts to move and change. Once the denied aspect is allowed a voice and a place in oneself, the true needs and requirements of that aspect typically emerges.

For example if it’s the parental anger which has been finally owned and accepted by the off spring as their own, what typically occurs is an understanding of what the person was really trying to achieve through the anger. Once this is realised the anger changes form and the person becomes different with their anger in themselves and behaves differently with their anger in relationship with others. Ultimately, the more we resist those parts of ourselves that behave similar to our parents, the more we actually stay like them. And the more we can accept these parts as our own the more likely we can grow and evolve them.

Teenager boys – Anger, powerlessness and rage.

psychotherapy teenage boyTeenage boys face many challenges as they navigate adolescence and one of the biggest is how they navigate their emerging anger and aggressions.

Often, as a teenagers testosterone levels increase and biologically they are faced with an increase in their aggression and anger; how well they have been set up through their life to navigate these often primal and powerful feelings will determine whether they assimilate this energy as an adult ; either in a positive and assertive way, or whether they become stuck and powerless or rage-full and uncontrolled.


The Primal disconnection.

There are many ways in which a coming of age male learns to disconnect from their anger. Helping them to understand how this came about and facilitating a safe and constructive way of using it, allows new choices for them which ultimately has them once again accepting their anger and being able to assert themselves to get what they need in life.

So how is it that boys disconnect from their anger in the first place?

Some of the main ways this disconnect occurs comes from their own experiences of anger, how they experience anger from others and what beliefs come from this.

One belief I face often from teenage boys is that anger is wrong, or not allowed.

If a child has experienced their parents fight in destructive and even violent ways, or if the child has been victim of misplaced anger or rage from another, then the boy often creates a rule in himself that will ensure such situations do not occur again in their own life. This rule is generally “ anger is bad, if I become angry then I am bad”, or “ I must stay away from anger because it’s dangerous”. Such a belief underpins their anger and stops them from accessing it. Even when the anger is accessed they will typically move away from it quickly to avoid, in their estimation, “being bad”, or that they feel suddenly “too dangerous”. The result of such a block is that the boys lose something of their own personal power. So in the school yard, this boy will end up conceding in all manner of ways to the boys who are in full charge of asserting their will and their needs. Ultimately this results in a teenager who struggles to both ask for what he needs and to stand up for what he believes.

The flip side to this block can be like a rage filled pressure cooker where the boys anger, although not allowed, grows and grows until a single instance brings all the anger out at once. Typically this is experienced as uncontrollable rage and the boy, rather than feeling in control with his anger, feels powerless to his anger, which further confirms their belief that anger is bad. The more this cycle continues the worse the rage gets and the stronger their belief anger is bad.

In either case, the way forward is in helping the teenager experience their anger in new ways. In therapy, talking about the rules and beliefs of their anger is often a starting point but its typically not enough. What I’ve often found is that the teenager needs to have an actual experience of their anger that produces a different and positive result, so they can start to understand anger’s usefulness when used assertively.

This approach requires the therapist to be in a solid relationship with the young man while they access their anger, to be able to truly hear the needs under then anger, to demonstrate that their anger can be held and that they are still accepted once their anger arises. Being able to provide this setting allows quite a sudden and powerful reframing of anger and typically frees the teenager to be in control of his own anger.

Once it is achieved the teenager has some quite predictable changes in their life. They feel more comfortable with peers and less focused on pecking orders within social groups. They feel less anxious in themselves and become more expressive in social settings, and they are also free from recurring angry thoughts, which were previously caught up in their blocked anger.

What I find most interesting about this process is that once they have finally experienced their anger in more positive ways, within 1 or 2 sessions they share that they do not need to return and that life is now somehow back on track.

The eternal parenting challenge

parenting2When our children face adolescence and the inevitable struggle with this transition, the best way we can help them is often to help ourselves!

A famous poet wrote :
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”

Surprisingly, this was written in the 8th century by Hesiod, a greek poet.

It seems that just as our Gen Y children think that they are the first generation to break free of the status quo of their parents ways of life, the parents of today’s children think they are the first generation to face such a prolific generation gap with their children. The truth is neither are the first to face this. The truth is ; this gap between parent and child has occurred through all previous generations ; it is inevitble and this gap grows during adolescence.

Ultimately this coming of age process, that adolescents and parents both struggle with, is less of a problem to be fixed and more of a right of passage that parent and child need to acknowledge as an essential and unavoidable phase of development. To the degree it is negotiated well, it forms the foundations of adulthood within the child.

The task for parents here is finding useful ways of negotiating through what can often become a very charged and confusing period of parenting.

Of course there are as many ways to negotiate adolescance as there are children ,and yet regardless of a parnet’s approach, there are some useful dynamics to consider through this process.

To put the teenage to adult transition into perspective here are some of the major milestones and developmental tasks faced by adolescents.

  • Aquiring more mature relations, same and other sex, in their age group.
  • Resolving their masculine or feminine roles.
  • Accepting the physical changes they experience.
  • Finding emotional independence.
  • Identifying and working towards their chosen career path.
  • Crystalising a set of values and ethics – becoming consistent in their approach to life and others.
  • Becoming socially responsible.

With these milestones in mind, there are many ways in which parents are challenged and confronted with how best to negotiate with their adolescent to achieve these tasks safely and without interrupting their child’s development.


parenting1The best way to raise a child to adulthood is to ensure that you you yourself are sufficiently raised first.

Parents don’t fail teenagers in adolescence through lack of trying; parents typically fail teenagers when their own triggers and issues get in the way of healthy negotiations with their coming-of-age teenagers. When a parent negotiates with their teenager on an aspect of this transition to adulthood well the coming of age process is supported. When it is negotiated poorly, with shouting and rigid positions, coming of age is thwarted.

We now know that issues that are unresolved in paretns typically transfer down to the child and although they can lie dorment in the child for many years, when adolescence comes this can often be the time that parents realise their child has these same issues. This can be a very confronting and tomultuous process for parents and can leave them with a tricky dilemma ; how can I show my child how to accept these parts of their own growing adulthood when I have not accepted them in me?

The pendulum swing- do parents know whats best for their children.

Its reasonable to say that one part of learning how to parent is taking and using what worked from when you were a child and leaving what didn’t work for you as a child.

We all know parents, maybe its even ourselves, who have looked back on the shortcomings of how they were raised and after some consideration have decided “ I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents made with me”, or “I’ll never do to my kids what my paretns did with me”.

I call this the pendulum swing. Parents who were raised in overly restricture and conforming families often raise children with a lot of freedom and too few constraints. Alternatively, parents who were raised with too few rules, leaving them unguided or unboundaried, can often end up with a parenting approach that’s over-controlling and over imposing on their children.
I call this the pendulum swing because what happpens is an arbitrary and total spitting out of their parents approach to parenting. Resulting in a polarised or opposite approach to raising their children than the way they were raised.

This pendulum swing decision can lead to blindspots in ones approach to parenting. These blindspots typically go unnoticed in childhood, yet they are quickly pointed out once children reach adolescence.

The risk with this approach is that the parent decides on whats best for the child, based on needs that were unfulfilled in their own childhood; I call this fulfilling phantom needs. The needs are phantom because they are assumed to be important for the child, because they were important for the parent. What is often left unexplored is how important are these needs for the child and their own unique development.

So how do you get this right?

The easiest way to be able to negotiate what’s right for your child, as well as for you as the parent, is to face how you feel about the way you were raised. To understand which emotional thirsts were not quenched and what that has meant for you in your life. The more a parent understands their inner world, their unmet needs, their fears and their buried feelings towards their upbringing, the less these concerns will get in the way of seeing their children and the more they will be able to really respond to their child and see what the child truly needs.

parenting3The best and the worse in us. – How to change their behaviour through changing ours.

When parents feel that the behaviours their teenager is displaying is beyond their understanding or control, they often turn to psychologists and counsellors for help. Typically the conversation starts with “ can you see my child, theres something not ok going on”. You can imagine their surprise when they hear the therapist say “ so you think theres something wrong with your son?, ok , when can you and your spouse begin couples therapy then?”

A common dynamic when a child goes off the rails is for the parents to focus their energy on fixing the child. What goes unnoticed in this process is that typically the child is acting out due to whats going on in their parent’s relationship. Often this is hard for parents to hear, and usually its not the case that the parents have been bad or neglectful parents; its often that theres just some kind of dynamic that exists in the family that the parents may be OK with, but the child is not.

For example when there is extreme hostility between parents a child often becomes naughty or sick to unsonciously change the focus away from the fighing and back onto the child.

There are as many examples of how this plays out as as there are parents with children. Whats important to remember is that to shift the responsibility for things to change onto the parents allows the child to no longer be “the problem”. As such the child is able to then stop identifying themselves as “the problem” which of course is a very empowering shift in a child/adolescents self view.

This also allows parents to look at their children’s unwanted behaviours as clues to what may be occuring within themselves and their spousal relationship, providing them ample opportunity to grow in themselves and in their marriage.

Some basic questions to ask yourself when you are considering taking your child for counselling , or where you feel your child is behaving inappropriately , are :

  • What is it that my child is doing that I don’t accept? Where doesn’t this behaviour or dynamic play out in myself and/or my marriage?
  • What am I trying to change in them? Where have I not made this change myself ? How can I make that change in myself to show them how its done?
  • Which rules or boundaries that my child breaks make me the angriest? When these rules are broken what feelings are under my anger? ( often its sadness, fear and powerlessness ). How can I get to understand these feelings in me?



DepressionContemporary research suggest there are several factors linked to depression. If depression runs in the family, then this increases the risk of experiencing depression at some stage of life. Our biological make up can also influence depression; for instance , the can be genetic and neuro chemical influences that increase the likelihood of depression such as a pre disposition for lower levels of serotonin. The way a person thinks, makes meaning of themselves and the world and their self talk can also influence depression. Absolute thinking like “ things will never get better” or “ I always end up in this place” can also increase the likelihood of depression.

Our approach to depression includes CBT where we challenge the thinking and beliefs that may contribute to depression, as well as work with the stuck energy and emotions within the person , which when released, can assist in moving out of depression.



Health In The Bay Anxiety HandsRoughly 14% of Australian adults suffer from some form of anxiety that has become an anxiety disorder.

Does everyone have anxiety?

Anxiety is a necessary biological response to perceived or real threats from the environment. Having anxiety, to a degree, is both a necessary and healthy aspect of living. Everyone has anxiety to a degree.

When does anxiety become a problem?

Anxiety becomes a problem for people when the experience of anxiety continues well past the perceived threat or problem that caused it; when the anxiety you feel about a problem is disproportionately larger than the problem actually is; when the anxiety one experiences inhibits them from moving forward; where fears prevent people from doing what they need to do;

What is an Anxiety Disorders?

An anxiety disorder is a medical condition.

Anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Common to all of these is a level of anxiety that can, and does, interfere with a person’s ability to cope and function and this can completely interrupt their lives.


How do I know if anxiety has become a problem for me?

A person with an anxiety disorder will feel distressed and anxious a lot of the time, and often for no apparent reason. Some anxious episodes can be so severe they become immobilising.
Regardless of the type of disorder, the typical symptoms include….

  • Excessive, exaggerated or unrealistic worries (generalised anxiety disorder).
  • Compulsions and obsessions which they can’t control (obsessive compulsive disorder).
  • Intense excessive worry about being judged by others (social anxiety disorder).
  • Periods of intense apprehension, fear, terror or impending doom. These periods can occur suddenly (panic disorder).
  • An intense, irrational fear of everyday objects and situations (phobia).


What other symptoms can come from Anxiety?

  • Dizzy spells leading to panic.
  • Feeling overly jumpy and on edge.
  • Inability to relax or increased irritability.
  • Tightness in throat and chest- shortness of breath.
  • Feeling faint or shaky.
  • Racing heart with tingle sensations.
  • Fear of losing control or being rejected.
  • Hot flushes followed by waves of anxiety.
  • Tiring easily.
  • Obsessive worries and unwanted thoughts.
  • Not feeling connected to what is going on around you.
  • Stomach problems, nausea, diarrhoea.
  • Overwhelming fear that the anxiety can push you over the edge.

What causes anxiety disorders?

Physiological researchers suggest that an anxiety disorders is due to an in-balance within the chemistry of the brain. Behaviorists believe that anxiety disorders are a learnt response to stimuli. Branches of psychotherapy believe anxiety disorders stem from unresolved needs and issues, or repressed feelings or aspects of ones self. Attachment theories suggest that anxiety often results from poor bonding with the primary care giver as a child (attachment anxiety). It is also likely that psychological traits and genetic factors and environmental influences all play a part in anxiety.
Regardless of which theory one subscribes to, its important to note when persistent anxiety symptoms are not acknowledged and managed, then an anxiety disorder is more likely to occur.
Having strategies and techniques to help manage your anxiety is an important factor in whether the anxiety becomes a disorder or not. These strategies can include education, medication, exercise, yoga, meditation and psychotherapy.


How I treat Anxiety issues?

In the treatment of anxiety and anxiety disorders, I use a multi modality approach and attend to:

  • Beliefs: the beliefs people hold can cause anxiety in themselves , i.e. “I cant trust anyone”, or “ I must get that promotion or I’ll never be happy”. Understanding how our beliefs influence our behavior and our well being, and how they may be increasing pressure on oneself, can be an important aspect of anxiety management.
  • Family constellations; Anxiety is often passed down through the family. Often the anxiety within a family is transmitted from one generation to the next generation, and so on. Understanding what types of patterns one has unconsciously taken on from an anxious family can provide powerful insights into resolving and regulating anxiety. Through the process if the counseling relationship, such patterns begin to reach awareness and can then be changed.
  • Containment and regulation: the ways in which a person contains their own emotion and energy can be an important factor in anxiety. Often when one has not been adequately emotionally contained in their upbringing, they continue through life without an ability to contain themselves, which can be a painful cause of anxiety. It is useful for such a person to learn how to regulate and contain themselves more effectively through the course of counseling.
  • Blocking: people who have faced a difficult upbringing have often disowned aspects of themselves and certain feelings. Repressed and blocked feelings can create an enormous psychological pressure within a person, resulting in anxiety. Through the process of counseling, such aspects of one’s self are finally renowned, and become integrated back into the person, reducing ones inner conflict and anxiety.


How long is treatment?

As anxiety is unique in every instance, treatment types and durations will vary with every individual. For more information on your particular situation, please call Robbie on 9904 1333.