In the field of Psychology, Schemas have been defined in various ways over the years. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy used the term schema to define a collection of negative beliefs, and other researchers and authors (i.e. Piaget) have introduced the idea that individuals experience a mix of adaptive and maladaptive schemas which usually develop in childhood and are elaborated upon throughout ones life.

More recently, Schema Therapy (initially developed by Jeffrey Young) focussed in on early maladaptive schemas. He described them as self defeating emotional and cognitive patterns developing from adverse childhood experiences where the child’s emotional needs were not met. Young’s schemas are grouped into 5 domains:

  • Disconnection and rejection.
  • Impaired autonomy and performance.
  • Impaired limits.
  • Other directedness.
  • Over-vigilance and inhibition.

The disconnection and rejection domain is characterised by a lack of safety and reliability in relationships. In childhood, important others may have treated the individual in a cold and rejecting manner, provided little support, or they could have been unpredictable, uninterested, or abusive. The schemas in this domain are: abandonment, mistrust/abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness/shame, and social isolation/alienation.

Individuals who score high in the impaired autonomy and performance domain generally hold a belief that they are incapable of functioning independently. They may have come from a family who were overbearing and didn’t allow sufficient opportunity to develop independence. They may have been repeatedly discouraged or talked down to. The schemas in this domain are: dependence/incompetence, vulnerability to harm or illness, enmeshment, and failure to achieve.

Impaired limits typically manifests as poor boundaries and a lack of responsibility. Individuals who score high in this domain may have difficulty applying consistent effort toward long term goals and may have difficulty working with others. They may have come from a family who provided little supervision or corrective feedback, or may have encouraged the child to believe that they were superior to others. The schemas which fall under this domain are: entitlement/grandiosity, and insufficient self-control/self discipline.

Individuals who score high in the other directness domain push down and repress their own needs while elevating the importance of the needs of others over their own. They may have come from a family where love and acceptance were conditional and the child may have had to suppress their true desires, thoughts, and emotions to gain love, attention, or approval. The schemas associated with this domain are: subjugation, self-sacrifice, and approval/recognition seeking.

Over vigilance and inhibition is the final domain and is characterised by a lack of spontaneity and play. Individuals who score high in this domain may suppress spontaneous feelings and impulses, and may tend to focus on meeting rigid expectations at the expense of happiness, health, and healthy relationships. The family of origin may have been tinged with high demands for performance and obligations. The child may have had to hide their emotions and strive for perfection. The schemas that apply to this domain are: negativity/pessimism, emotional inhibition, unrelenting standards/hyper-criticalness, and punitiveness.

If you would like to explore your own schemas and how they apply to your relationships, I recommend purchasing the self-help book Breaking Negative Relationship Patterns: A Schema Therapy Self-help and Support Book (Stevens and Roediger). A related text which may interest you is Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns: A Schema Therapy Self-help and Support Book (Jacob, vanGenderen, and Seebauer). The latter text has less of a focus on schemas and instead focuses on ‘modes’ which I will cover in a later post.

Of course, self-help texts do not replace good quality therapy with a registered professional. If you would like to explore your schemas further, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website:

Communicating Compassionately

All too often, relationships of all kinds can be coloured by disconnection, alienation, and hurt. Loved ones, children, parents, friends, and colleagues can and do fall into negative patterns of communication that cause conflict.

A few years ago, I was thankful to discover Non-Violent Communication (NVC) which helped scaffold my understanding of how to think about the way I am communicating with others, particularly in situations where emotions are running high and it feels that there is a lot at stake. NVC helps us to remember our common humanity and strengthens our ability to remain compassionate, even under trying conditions. There are four parts to the NVC process:

  • Observing
  • Expressing and receiving feelings
  • Expressing and receiving needs
  • Requesting

NVC is about giving and receiving from the heart. It is also about being able to observe our own and others behaviour without evaluating or making judgements. Of course, sometimes we can fall into traps which block our communication and founder of NVC Marshall Rosenberg identified three main types of communication that block compassion: Moralistic Judgements, Making Comparisons, and Denial of Responsibility.

  1. Moralistic judgements imply wrongness or badness instead of recognising there is misalignment in our values and the values of others. Examples of some words that may convey a moralistic judgement are: ” The problem with you is that you are just so selfish”, “He is such a trouble maker”. This type of communication promotes conflict and differentiation rather than harmony and commonality. It is sometime also called blame, insult, put-down, labelling, or criticism.
  2. Comparisons are another form of judgement that alienate us from one another. Comparing ourselves with others is a sure way to make ourselves miserable. Dwelling on differences in physical appearance, intelligence, achievement and so on leads to unnecessary suffering.
  3. Denial of responsibility clouds our awareness that each person is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The way we use speech is important and can displace responsibility. For example: “you have to do it” or “you must stop that” conveys that the individual receiving that message is not in control or responsible for their own behaviour. Similarly, responsibility for feelings can often be misplaced when phrases such as “You make me feel terrible about myself” are used. It is untrue to say that anyone has a direct channel to another persons feelings or can make another person feel a certain way.

The spirit of non-judgement intended by NVC is perhaps best communicated by Ruth Bebermeyer’s lyrics from the song ‘Lazy Man’:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

I’ve never seen a stupid kid;
I’ve seen a kid who sometimes did
things I didn’t understand
or things in ways I hadn’t planned;
I’ve seen a kid who hadn’t seen
the same places where I had been,
but he was not a stupid kid.
Before you call him stupid,
think, was he a stupid kid or did he
just know different things than you did?

I’ve looked as hard as I can look
but never ever seen a cook;
I saw a person who combined
ingredients on which we dined,
A person who turned on the heat
and watched the stove that cook the meat –

I saw those things but not a cook.
Tell me when you’re looking,
is it a cook you see or is it someone
doing things that we call cooking?

What some of us call lazy
some call tired or easy-going,
what some of us call stupid
some just call a different knowing,
so I’ve come to the conclusion,
it will save us all confusion
if we don’t mix up what we can see
with what is our opinion.
Because you may, I want to say also;
I know that’s only my opinion.

If you would like to learn more about how to apply Non-Violent Communication in your own life, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website

Cognitive Distortions

Our mind does have some pretty neat tricks. A lot of the time it is very good at categorising, problem solving, and working with information in its different forms. At times though, our mind can lead us down the garden path without us being aware of it. Cognitive distortions are one such way that our mind can perform its neat tricks. When our mind processes information in a distorted way, our thinking deviates from normal rational judgement. In a way, we are mildly disconnected from reality and this disconnection can inadvertently lead us to a pattern of negative thinking, behaviours, and emotions.

Cognitive research has tested and described hundreds of cognitive biases with implications for business practices, social reform, and mental health. Here I want to focus on some of the cognitive biases which have been applied to the treatment of a number of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (and related therapies like Schema Therapy/ACT/CFT to a degree) is concerned with cognitive biases characterised by extreme thinking, selective attention, over-reliance on intuition, and self-reproach which can inadvertently lead to increased emotional distress. Several common distortions are regularly referred to and include:

  • Black and white thinking
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Catastrophising
  • Over-generalisation
  • Mental filter
  • Disqualifying the positives
  • Magnification
  • Minimisation
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Taking things personally
  • Self-blame
  • Name calling (self)

For example, when we become over-reliant on our intuition, we can “jump to conclusions” and make assumptions without facts to support those assumptions. Practically, this can present itself as negative thinking during social situations (mind reading), where we assume that we know what others are thinking about us. In these situations our mind can say things like: ” I know that behind their smiles, they are laughing at me and thinking that I am a fool”. Of course with these types of statements running through our mind unchecked, we are likely to experience a whole lot of negative emotions.

At times, simply noticing what our mind is doing can help us to deal with cognitive distortions. When we can see what our mind is doing and label the process, this can help us to create distance from the content of the thoughts, and reduce the intensity of the emotions. At other times a different approach may be helpful. For the example above, rather than trying to guess what others are thinking, it may be helpful to clarify how the other person is generally thinking and feeling by asking them. Alternatively, some people find it helpful to begin developing a new habit of listing a couple of other possible thoughts and feelings that the other person might be having, and noticing social signals (where the other person is looking, body posture etc.) which are in support of that alternative view.

If you would like to explore your tricky mind and how cognitive distortions apply to you, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website:

Human Strengths

At times we can easily become fixated on what is wrong with ourselves and others, and can forget about what is right with us. With some 300 disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the study of Psychology and Psychiatry are not immune to this phenomenon of negativity, tending to focus on misery and how to get rid of it. Realising that we are getting caught up in our own shortcomings, it may be helpful to shift our perspective to the human strengths, virtues, and personal fulfilment.

At times, strengths seem to be inborn and temperamental, at other times strengths seem to be forged through adversity, while some strengths are cultivated through conscious effort. There also appears to be consistency across cultures about many of the character virtues which are held in high regard in communities at home and abroad. According to the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, there are 6 universal virtues which emerge consistently from philosophy and historical surveys:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperence
  • Transcendence

Attached to each of these virtues are a number of character strengths. For example, the strengths of wisdom are creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, and perspective. An individual may demonstrate 1 or 2 of those strengths and certain situations provide the conditions for the strength to be demonstrated. For example, courage may be displayed where some danger or adversity is faced, but not during times of safety and ease.

I also see fulfilment our innate human needs as a source of strength. Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow detailed a hierarchy of needs beginning with a broad base of basic needs (i.e. food, water, shelter) and extending to the top of the hierarchy with what he termed as “self- actualisation”.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

From Maslow’s perspective, self-actualisation occurs when basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled and one realises their full potential. From Carl Rogers’ perspective, self-actualisation is more of an ongoing process of exploring, maintaining, and enhancing our self-concept through self-reflection and reinterpretation which can help us to heal and grow.

If you would like to learn more about your own strengths and self-concept, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website

Personal Values

Our personal values (i.e. honesty, fitness, intimacy) and for some of us our faith, spirituality or religion are important sources of strength and meaning. They are powerful motivators which can help us to tolerate uncomfortable experiences and act in a valued way. When acting in a valued way, our lives become meaningful.

When acting in a valued way, we tend to work toward our goals even when we don’t feel so motivated in the moment. We are proud of our actions, and feel as though we are making progress. There is also congruence between who we want to be, and the actions that we are taking to actually be that person.

When we loose sight of our values, we can spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future, feel like we are on auto-pilot, different thoughts and feelings seem to get in the way, and we tend to give in easily, pack up, and quit.

It can be helpful to clarify our values and learn to keep them in mind throughout our day to day, and also when making big life decisions. I learned about the importance of values from leaders in the field of acceptance, humanistic, and positive psychology:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes, Russ Harris.
  • Client-Centered Approach, Carl Rogers.
  • Positive Psychology, Martin E. P. Seligman.

If you would like to learn more about your own values, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website:

Human Suffering

As human’s, it seems that we are bound to suffer at one time or another during our lives. Uncomfortable experiences seem to be part of the human condition. We experience emotions and bodily sensations that are unchosen and often unwanted. Of course, when something is unwanted, our first reaction is to want to stop or change it. Unfortunately, with emotions and bodily sensations trying to struggle with them only seems to make matters worse and increase our suffering.

Trauma is also important to consider when we are talking about suffering. When we experience something traumatic, that experience seems to change us, and this includes how our nervous system is ‘wired’. The nervous system not only includes the brain, but also stretches right throughout the body from the tips of our toes to the tops of our heads and the tips of our fingers. In psychology and related fields we have learned that trauma is held in the body. At times our body and brain can send us accurate signals to engage in self-protection, while at other times ‘faulty’ warnings can occur.

I learned about these aspects of human suffering from several leaders in the field of acceptance, compassion, and trauma based therapies and research:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes.
  • Compassion Focussed Therapy, Paul Gilbert.
  • Trauma and the Body, Bessel Van Der Kolk.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness, John Briere.
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Pat Ogden.

If you would like to discuss your relationship with uncomfortable experiences and how you interact with them, you can make an appointment at one of the locations listed on the welcome page of my website:


What are traps anyway?

I first learned the term “life trap” when discovering Schema Therapy (Jeffrey Young) which was a user friendly term to describe Schema’s. A schema is a pattern of thought and behaviour (typically learned early in life) that organises information and generally makes processing that information a lot quicker, and often more efficient. The trouble with schema’s is that they can become outdated and maladaptive causing us problems later in life.

Currently, I have broadened my understanding of life traps to include several inward and outward behaviours/processes which inadvertently lead to increased suffering. Some of these behaviours and processes include:

  • Cognitive distortions.
  • Safety behaviours.
  • Schemas.
  • Cognitive fusion.
  • Avoidance.
  • Overcompensation.
  • Modes of being.

I learned about all of these different types of traps from several theories and therapeutic modalities which have a strong evidence base and have been adopted in large numbers in psychology and related fields including:

  • Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Aaron T. Beck.
  • Schema Therapy, Jeffrey Young.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes.
  • Compassion Focussed Therapy, Paul Gilbert.

If you are interested in learning more about the traps that might apply to you and how to manage them, you can make an appointment at one of the locations listed on my website:

3 Songs to Express Sadness, Sorrow, and Melancholy

broken heart love sad
Photo by burak kostak on

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem” – Anne Frank

Some songs touch us so deeply that they evoke strong feelings of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy. At once, one can also sense an eruption of heavenly magic. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, coined the term ‘peak experience’ to describe moments of rapture like this. Whether they were generated through music, visual art, or moments of sheer creativity, Maslow found that ‘peak experiences’ shared common components:

  • Total attention on the object.
  • Complete absorption.
  • Disorientation from time and space.
  • Transcendence of ego.
  • Oneness with the object.
  • Humility and surrender before greatness.

In their 1989 study of ‘Strong Experiences with Music’ (SEM), The SEM project (Gabrielsson) found that music of a variety of emotional tones could evoke peak experience in some individuals. While some participants reported strong feelings which were categorised as positive (i.e. joy, happiness, enjoyment, delight, sweetness, beauty), others reported negative emotions (i.e. unhappy love, illness, loss) and still others reported conflicting emotions (i.e. bitter-sweet, pleasant memories that will never be captured again).

Gabrielsson emphasises that any experience of music depends on a complex interplay between characteristics of: (1.) the music, (2.) the person, and (3.) the situation. Therefore while the following three songs may be experienced differently by different people, in different contexts, and at different times, their dynamics, tempo, phrasing, modes, themes, and lyrics lend these songs to the evocation of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy.

Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

“Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?”

Key: D Major – Hallelujahs, heaven-rejoicing

Tempo: 72 BPM – Adagio – Slow

Released in 1992, Clapton had experienced profound loss in the two years prior. In 1991 he lost two of his road crew and fellow musician, Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter accident. Then in 1992 his 4 year old son died after falling from a high rise apartment building in New York.

Dancing On My Own – Callum Scott

“I keep dancing on my own”

Key – Db Major – Leering grief and rapture

Tempo – Moderato – moderate

Originally an electropop ballad released by Sweedish artist Robyn in 2010, the Scott’s version is slowed down and smoothed out. Scott’s vocal performance and the repeating acoustic piano takes this piece to a new place.

Good Year for the Roses – Elvis Costello and the Attractions

“When you turn to walk away and the door behind you closes”

Key – A Major – Hoping to see ones beloved when parting

Tempo – 97 BPM – Andante – Moderate

This cover song released in 1981 was originally released by George Jones in 1970. The cover rose to number 6 in the UK singles charts in the same year as its release.

5 songs to spark joy, excitement, and reflection

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

— J. K. Rowling

The five songs featured here embody the structure of a happy and uplifting piece of music. They all have a moderate to fast tempo (>76 BPM) and a major tonality, that is, a happy, joyful feel. So to get a little bump up in your mood, take a listen.

Bob Marley Three Little Birds.jpg

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers

“Don’t worry about at thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright”

Key: A Major – Innocent love, satisfaction, youthful cheerfulness

Tempo: 76 BPM – Adante – Walking pace

The fourth song on the album Exodus, Three Little Birds was released in 1977. One theory is that Bob Marley was inspired to write the song about 3 birds which would sit on his window sill at his home. A long time friend of Marley, Tony Gilbert is quoted as saying that Bob “was inspired by a lot of things around him. He observed life”.


Hey ya! – Outkast

“Shake it like a Polaroid picture!”

Key: G Major – Rustic, idyllic, lyrical

Tempo: 158 BPM – Allegro – Quick, Lively

Topping the charts in 2003, PopMatters described the song as “brilliantly rousing” and “spazzy with electrifying multiplicity”. Some say that this clever song has a deeper meaning masked by a happy, funky exterior and that the song is really a comment on the state of modern relationships.

Clocks single.jpg

Clocks – Coldplay

“And nothing else compares”

Key: Eb – Love, devotion

Tempo: 130 BPM – Allegro – Quick, lively

Released in 2003, this song made it into the Rolling Stone top 500 songs of all time in 2010. It features a repeating piano melody with atmospheric synthesiser, a rock rhythm with plenty of cymbal action, vocal harmonies, and the breathy falsetto of lead singer Chris Martin.

How Deep Is Your Love.jpg

How Deep is Your Love – Bee Gees

“And you come to me on a summer breeze”

Key: Eb Major – Love, devotion

Tempo: 105 BPM – Andante – Walking pace

This 1977 beauty from the album Saturday Night Fever is a classic. With it’s intense harmonies, strikes of electric guitar, and bright keys, this tune is sure to please. Co-writers Blue Weaver and Barry Gibb pulled together the “most beautiful chords” they knew to compose the song which was eventually recorded in Château d’Hérouville, France.


Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

“Do you remember when, we used to sing”

Key: G Major – Rustic, idyllic, lyrical

Tempo: 120 BPM – Moderato – moderate with movement

From the 1967 album “Blowin’ Your Mind!”, Morrison states that he didn’t receive any royalties for this song. He also says that the song “is not one of my best” and that he has about “300 songs that are better”.