Daily Archives: June 3, 2019

Searching in therapy for the positive

Happiness. Did you know there is score for your Countries level of happiness? Finland is the routinely the happiest country. Ireland was 14th on the world’s list; USA 18th and the Uk 19th in 2018. It might be surprising to consider that the levels replicate year on year. It leads to more questions than answers really. What makes a country happy? What influences those levels?
Dfarhud et al (2014), reviewed various studies and concluded that results of studies on genetic factors for happiness indicated an average effectiveness of genetics at about 35 -50 percent on happiness. So at least part of the capacity to be happy is influenced by our genes.
Research in the field of positive psychology and happiness often define a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005) The conclusions of this study demonstrated that what precedes numerous successful outcomes, influences the human behaviours which correlate with success, and describes the positive effects of happiness as the hallmark of well-being.
I have followed Michel Odent with interest as my midwifery journey has transitioned. He turns the argument regarding the capacity of stress hormones in pregnancy to affect a developing fetus on it’s head by questioning the lack of interest in research on the influences of positive hormones in pregnancy. In his article ‘The Function of Joy in Pregnancy (Odent 2006). While recognising the enormous growth in positive psychology research it is important too to be practical.

happiness is life experience marked by a preponderance of positive emotion. Feelings of happiness and thoughts of satisfaction with life are two prime components of subjective well-being. TWEET
The counselling assessments which we use to provide measurements predict a preponderance to symptoms of anxiety of depression or risk. We look for the worst that a person has been feeling. Measurements for happiness are not in any way a routine construct of establishing wellness levels. The Epigenetic Institute recognises that numbers of studies indicate that the question of happiness is multidimensional, and demonstrate that much has to do with expectations and beliefs alongside relationships and values.
Mayers, (2007) in his concluding comments on DNA and happiness genes remarks that managing the mind is very effective and can rapidly improve well-being.
While Dr Mayers is primarily referring here to the practice of meditation the principal is the same. We all have a baseline for contentment or joy or happiness. A level almost that remains fairly stable throughout the day. The quantity of happiness being influenced by life’s seasons and events. Seasons may come and go but those levels, day by day may stay the same.
It is hard if the life a person leads or is influenced by factors based in biology or circumstances has not provided a baseline sense of every day contentment. If you are depressed or severely anxious and afraid it may seem unfair to believe a greater degree of happiness is possible in the routine of life for many around you. Clients who have baby’s in the midst of life turmoil may even describe this sense of happiness, co-habiting with the emotional turmoil of their birth experiences as jarring and uncomfortable. It can seem crass to recommend that pregnant women or new parents ought to seek out the way of joy, when life circumstances draw the heart inwards or down.
So much can be done. Often simple acts of kindness from you to you can change expectation. Expectation igniting hope and some (potentially fulfilling) hard work can begin to change that chemistry. This is what the research says. It provides encouragement to those who feel able, to start to seek the more content road whatever the circumstances. Realistic truth, honest connections and some hard work might germinate the seeds of hope for a richer happier life in the future.

Resources below.
https://www.wikihow.com/Be-Happy This is a very practical look at growing happiness
Suggestions for a happier life: http://www.davidmyers.org/Brix?pageID=46

DNA and Happiness Genes

holarpedia is supported by Brain Corporation
Psychology of happiness
David Myers (2007), Scholarpedia, 2(8):3149. doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.3149
revision #37099 [link to/cite this article]

Post-publication activity

Curator: David Myers
• David Myers, Hope College, Holland, MI

Trauma: It does not occur in isolation to the community of a traumatised individual

Looking at trauma evolving in the context of local community influences

In 1992, Judith Lewis Herman published her book Trauma and Recovery. “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.” 1

I live in Northern Ireland, born in the South. In 1998, I was in Stormont, waiting with family and friends for the signing of The Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement because it was reached on Good Friday, 10 April 1998) and I remember my 3-year-old daughter escaping under the barrier to greet the politicians. There were stark predictions, by academics after the agreement was signed, of concern for the mental health of the next generation in Northern Ireland. In 2016, The Mental Health Foundation reported that Northern Ireland had a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental health problems than England. Previous to this, in 2014/15, according to the Northern Ireland Health Survey, 19% of individuals showed signs of a possible mental health problem. More women (20%) than men (16%) reported signs of mental health problems.2

Also in 1998, the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) was yet to be published in America. This was a study of 17,337 people of which 75% had attended college and all had access to good health care. The results were astonishing, and have influenced the basis of much of mental health planning globally. Clear links between adverse childhood events, life-time illness and early death were established.3

This information formed the basis of many initiatives in health and education. I sometimes work with teachers who are able to describe programs which equip little children to self-regulate. Setting a foundation for life in terms of being able to recognise symptoms of stress and developing a core belief that small interventions can bring relief in the moment.

The Atlantic Philanthropies, invested over 8 billion dollars in promising programs. They invested in people and places where they saw the chance to create opportunity and promoted greater fairness and equity. They have invested in 8 areas of the world, and spent a great deal in sponsoring community and peace initiatives in Ireland, North and South. 4

Chuck Feeney, founder and entrepreneur and this organisation, remained anonymous for many years in their investments in Northern Ireland which began in the early 90’s. Their stated ethos is ‘a belief in addressing deeply rooted problems sooner rather than later,’ giving grants to “big bets” designed to produce lasting results. The Atlantic Philanthropies founded Giving While Living and has inspired many individuals and companies to give a portion of their profits away to research-based projects in their own lifetime. (ATNI following suit at training programmes. More later.)

The Early Intervention Transformation Programme (EITP) is a Delivering Social Change (DSC)/Atlantic Philanthropies Signature Programme which is funded jointly by five government departments (DoH, DE, DoJ, DfC and DfE), DSC and Atlantic Philanthropies. This evidence-based programme starts early in a child’s life by initiating interventions for parents to use when baby is still In Utero5

There are 4 workstreams within EITP:

  • EITP Workstream 1 aims to equip all parents with the skills needed to give their child the best start in life and will focus on key parenting stages through the Getting Ready for Baby, Getting Ready for Toddler, Getting Ready to Learn; and Play Matters projects.
  • EITP Workstream 2 aims to support families when problems arise before they need statutory involvement and will focus on the delivery of an integrated regional model of early intervention for these families through the Early Intervention Support Service.
  • EITP Workstream 3 aims to positively address the impact of adversity on children through a range of projects including Home on Time, Edges, Building Better Futures, Raising the Educational Outcomes of Looked After Children, Early Intervention Child Care (Thrive), Children of Imprisoned Prisoned Parents, and the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC).
  • EITP Workstream 4 consists of a Professional Development Project which aims to strengthen the culture of inter-professional working practice, with a particular focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences by supporting professionals to train together as well as embedding commonality in prevention and early intervention approaches.

In 2018, Belfast had its first trauma summit. It was organised by Action Trauma that was founded by Clive Corry in memory of his late wife, Gillian. Clive’s vision is to spread the word and make Belfast a trauma information hub, driving research, improving understanding and disseminating information on every aspect of trauma. This was the ethos behind the investment in the International Trauma Recovery Summitheld in Belfast last year. It was a not-for-profit event, held in the Waterfront Hall and was full to the doors each day. Therapists were able to meet international leaders in trauma psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy. More importantly, a one size does not fit all strategy for trauma was apparent in the variety of ways of working. 6

The world of knowledge is changing faster than policy can be developed to guide process. Dr Dan Siegel’s forward to Robin Shapiro’s book ‘The Trauma Treatment Handbook’ reflects this new dimension. Dr Siegel identifies that not all approaches are scientifically proven. He balances this in recognising that the range of interventions described in this book enable a diversity in ‘ways of working’ with individual experiences of symptoms. 7

Therapists will have a list of tools they can use in a variety of different scenarios. All will be able to define the way they work to enable a new client to understand what the journey they are embarking on might look like.

If I say I am a Person-Centred Trauma Focused Therapist and use a variety of tools drawn from many other disciplines, a client might hear ‘you will be looking at me as an individual and will be happy to structure this counselling process to my own personal needs’. If I explain that I am also a midwife, clients will feel able to share a birth-story in the knowledge that I will understand the complexities of that journey. If a therapist defined their therapeutic approach only in those terms a client who needs to work with relationship issues or grief perhaps might look elsewhere.

The National Counselling Society and the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (see resources below) give a profile of therapists who give the public a very clear list of subjects that they are happy to work with. This makes it easier for members of the public to source a therapist to suit their own needs.

Whatever the approach or discipline practiced by a therapist, the needs of the client for understanding the complexities of their issues in regard to their current state of mental health are paramount. Processing and travelling through this journey will depend on the therapeutic approach of the therapist. It is worth considering travelling a little distance to see the therapist that might best meet what a person feels instinctively would help them on their own personal journey.

Therapists normally have, what we fondly refer to as, a tool bag. If a client presents with panic or anxiety or depression, our way of working will be altered. Specific helping tools might be adapted to individual needs. A principal in trauma care is to hand back, or develop, control in the client. Being able to manage symptoms, work directly with PTSD as a result of birth or life’s experiences, and resolve and restore equilibrium is the ideal. Clients should leave a therapist with some tools to access later and feel a stronger sense of autonomy in their own capacity to relieve symptoms themselves in the future.

The profile presented here, is of a ‘community narrative’ peculiar to Northern Ireland. The unspoken whyand the precise reasoning for the need in this new generation for particular consideration is reflected in the local community narrative that you belong to. Growth, wellness, personal pain, and the wounds of the new generations are found in whatever the community looks like where you, the reader, live. Knife crime at one end, loneliness and isolation at another, integration and community identity, in another. This is where families are born and babies are made. Women and men carry their own story and growth and pain to the conception and birth journey. A simple trauma in a birth trauma response is embedded in this rich history. This capacity to open a door, to the paths that led to this moment in therapy, is created in a place of holding. Appreciation of how the journey made the difference might be lost in a counselling journey that seeks only to work with symptoms.



  1. Herman J.L. 1992, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
  2. Mental Health in Northern Ireland: Fundamental Facts 2016
  3. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study)
  4. The Atlantic Philanthropies (Northern Ireland Region)
  5. The Early Intervention Transformation Programme
  6. Action Trauma
  7. Shapiro, R. 2010, The Trauma Treatment Handbook: Protocols Across the Spectrum. W.W. Norton and Company, New York-London


A growing list of other support, weekly:

The National Counselling Society

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy


Part 7 → Birth Trauma: Part 3 of 3

Blog series on Perinatal mental health and psychological birth trauma

For every year of births, the estimate long term cost to society of Perinatal Mental Health in the UK is 8.1 billion pounds (Bauer, 2014). 1 This estimate is based on the costs of mental health care of women through pregnancy and beyond, and it follows the trajectory of the cost of health-related ‘quality of life losses’ over the lifetime of mothers and their children’.

NHS England defines perinatal mental health problems as occurring during pregnancy and in the first year following the birth of a child. This NHS definition embraces a wide range of mental health conditions and it is estimated that 1:5 women will be affected.

A wealth of research recognises that if women who are having babies suffer from conditions such as anxiety or depression when they are pregnant or after their baby is born, that their children may need additional help as they too develop. There is a push to help parents understand the very real benefits of healthy attachment behaviours, which facilitate the growth of neural pathways, benefiting baby’s development.

This is hard news if you are a mum or dad who finds themselves in this position. Knowledge initiates opportunity for change. There is also wonderful research on the benefits of interventions. Power to enable growth and stimulate a secure base in little ones is in the hands of mums and dads, the wonder of siblings and the extended family. See – 4 Ways to Promote Healthy Attachment in Infants 2

The action of looking forward and considering the cost to infants beyond the labour ward creates the opportunity for voices and agents of change in the story of birth and mental health recovery to be heard. The report in 2014 mentioned above led to an increase in active caring services throughout the NHS for women whose mental health is discussed on booking, or diagnosed at a later stage. Perinatal mental health took on a higher profile with streamlining of services. New support and treatment pathways exist now as a result, provided within many UK and Irish maternity services to women with mental health concerns during pregnancy.

The Birth Trauma Association, a charity which supports women with trauma symptoms post birth, estimates that 30,000 women in the UK experience symptoms annually. The Birth Trauma Association define Birth Trauma as a shorthand phrase for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. This is also used for women who have some symptoms of PTSD, but not enough for a full diagnosis. Follow to their website for further information. Link below. 3

Almost 3.5% of women are estimated to already have PTSD when they are pregnant, 4% to have PTSD after childbirth (Yildiz, 2017). 4 Women are individuals, with complicated life histories. As therapists, it is important to see the whole person when we consider working with the various presentations of both trauma and other psychological responses; before, during pregnancy and beyond.

In each of the following weeks various aspects of perinatal mental health conditions will be explored.

Opinions expressed here are my own.


We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to. – Brené Brown



  1. Bauer et al. (2014). Costs of perinatal mental health problems. London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
  2. 4 Ways to Promote Healthy Attachment in Infants (The Urban Child Institute)
  3. What is birth trauma? (The Birth Trauma Association)
  4. Yildiz et al. (2017). The prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder in pregnancy and after birth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affect Disorders. (source; PUBMED 2019)

A growing list of other support, weekly:

NCT – 1st 1,000 Days New Parent Support 

Nurture Health – Breaking the Silence of *Conception *Pregnancy *Childbirth

ATNI – Counselling and Training


Part 2 → Creating the Biology of Courage