Changing styles (a workshop for therapists)

I presented a workshop at the TA Cumbria conference on Saturday 2nd March 2019. The conference theme was attachment. I wanted to talk about the way in which talk about attachment can influence us in various ways. Although I am interested in attachment theory as science and as a source of ideas about how to understand the ways in which people get stuck in their lives, I’m also interested in the way that it offers a set of general (or abstract) categories that can move me and the person seeking help away from the particular. Although such general/abstract categories can be hugely empowering – they can be tools for change – they can also be disempowering – at the extreme, weapons of oppression.

Whether we go with attachment-styles as a theoretical frame or something else – in the workshop I talked about core script beliefs from Transactional Analysis theory – the often more interesting question is how or whether I can change. Can I move from being stuck – in a way described by some theory or another – to being un-stuck? And, by so doing, reach a point where I am probably much more interested in getting on with other things as opposed to, say, describing how things stand with me in terms of a theory from the world of mental health.

Well, the above might not mean all that much if you weren’t at the workshop. And here is a link for the slides and the two handouts, for anyone at the workshop or for anyone curious:

Practice & performance – learning new life grooves

I’m facilitating a one day event for the Scottish Association of Transactional Analysis on August 20th 2016. The day will be exploring some ideas that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year to with some of the parallels between achieving (or struggling to achieve) therapeutic change and the challenge of learning complex practical skills, such as mastery of a musical instrument, a sport, or a second language.

My goal for the event is to explore the lessons therapists and their clients can borrow from the learning of complex practical skills, such as performing music, playing sport, or gaining a second language.

In music, sport, and second language learning, we know that acquiring skills takes deliberative practice. In order to establish new grooves, ones that we can rely on even when under pressure, we have to repeat them many times, often slowly, and we have to repeat them right.

Teachers and coaches have much experience of how unhelpful habits can impede a student’s learning and growth. And they know a lot about what it takes to unlearn bad habits and replace them with new and more productive ones. They also have a good understanding of how new learning that feels secure in rehearsal or practice, can collapse in the face of performance pressure.

If these ideas are of interest and you can’t make the event, then I very much hope to be writing some of them up here or elsewhere.

Update (Mon 22nd August 2016)

Slides from the day. Some of these won’t make much sense out of context! I’ve also put up the handout from the “plinth” activity.

Learning New Life Grooves (slides)

Activity #3 – Standing on a Box (handout for “plinth” activity)


Coaching vs Counselling

What is the difference between coaching and counselling? You’ll probably get as many answers to this as coaches and counsellors you ask. Both kinds of support are aimed at helping you achieve more of your potential and at removing obstacles in your way.

I think that good coaching does overlap in some ways with good counselling. Both approaches will explore some of the self-imposed limits that are holding you back and preventing you getting more of what you want out of life. And both approaches are prepared to ask important questions about emotions and values, supporting you if the asking of these is, for a while, uncomfortable.

If you are finding yourself constantly tearful, then counselling is more likely the help you need. On the other hand, if you have plans that you often think about but just, somehow, can’t realise, then coaching might be a better fit. Maybe your challenge is somewhere in between. In that case, you could do worse than give a counsellor or a coach a quick call and just ask.

A few minutes on the phone with a counsellor or a coach is going to be far more useful than any amount of online reading about the difference between the two approaches. If you contact me and I think coaching is more what you need, I’ll refer you on. And any good coach, if they feel it’s counselling you need, will do the same.

Here’s my Edinburgh colleague Mandy Day-Calder, with her own take on the difference between coaching and counselling:

Coaching differs from counselling in that we would concentrate on what is happening for you just now. Our sessions would involve an exploration of your whole life – I will ask you questions and then let you do most of the talking! Using some creative visual exercises we would define a sense of how you would like things to be, where you want to make changes and then we would focus our sessions on working towards your goals by creating mini-steps or ‘actions’. In doing so we would hope to uncover what’s important to you and how you want to live your life. All sounds very ‘big’ but we would take it step by step. Though we will be working together, I will never take over or tell you what to do – you know yourself better so you are the expert… in fact you are in charge!

Coaching isn’t always easy – what learning or process of change is? It is likely that you may feel resistance along the way as familiar patterns of thinking / behaviour arise. However, I will be there to guide and encourage you – challenge and keep you on track you if need be (not ‘nag’ – I save that for my partner!) My style is to make coaching fun as well as hard work!

If you came to this site thinking about counselling, but wonder whether coaching is what you need, you can contact Mandy via or give her a call on 07493 068 938.

Re-Writing Life Stories – Narrative Therapy workshop

Workshop at TA Through the Ages Conference, Edinburgh, November 2007

From the handout: “In narrative therapy people are invited to find new ways to tell their story… Through various techniques – such as ‘externalising the problem’ – the person is invited to discover alternative storylines that have been waiting in the shadows. The invitation is not just for different stories, but stories that open-up instead of limiting possibilities for action and for living.”

Grand Designs – insights from young people at risk of homelessness

grand_designsGrand_Designs‘ was an activity that I helped create for young people in 2007. We asked young people to come up with proposals for the design and operation of a supported accommodation unit. I was inspired by the young people’s creativity and focus on the day. The results are written up in this short briefing.

More on young people and homelessness can be found at

Review: two books on ‘Free Will’

TLSA book review I wrote for the Times Literary Supplement in 2003. From the review: “Science seems to portray us as complex lumps of matter, whereas common-sense sees us as rational, free, and conscious agents. Can we reconcile these two pictures?”

This version includes the spelling error that the sub-editor and I both missed, but one TLS reader and letter writer did not. Can you spot it?