Richard’s reflections as the year comes to an end

I have worked as a clinical psychologist for the last 38 years. Over that time, much of my work has focused on helping people learn the best skills to navigate through difficult times in their lives. In the latter half of this year, I have had some personal challenges that have brought me back to the skills and habits from a different perspective. As the phrase goes, I found myself having to “eat my own dog food” or “drink my own champagne” (whichever metaphor works best for you!).

As I reflect, I want to highlight some of the most powerful skills I have taught, and which now have renewed meaning for me.

Physical health and stress

When working with clients or running workshops, I’ve talked to others about the challenges of putting healthy habits into place and understanding the mechanisms of stress. In my present journey, one of the most powerful tools I return to is the ability to turn on physiological and mental calm – I call this “a base camp skill”. Over the years, I have taught hundreds of people how to make use of this key skill. Consciously activating calm states in my body has helped me to think clearly, make good decisions and focus my thinking in useful directions.

Emotional agility and mental fitness

Since 2007, I have worked with a model called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT” for short). This approach focuses on being able to accept your thoughts and feelings without struggling with them or trying to get rid of them. The skills and habits I have learned using this model have made a huge difference to my wellbeing, especially to focus on the things I can have an impact on, rather than getting “hooked” by my thoughts and feelings (they put up a good fight). This has also seen me coming back to the ability to “turn on calm”. By turning on calm, taking a step back and reflecting on the most useful path forward, I have been clearer and much more effective.

Another skill that falls into this area is Mindfulness. In practising, I have found it much easier to live in the present moment and to focus where it is most useful for me, rather than being pulled off into negative thoughts and feelings (or at least for no longer than it takes to accept them when they come up).

Meaning and purpose

This is another core base skill we advocate at Umbrella. Taking time and focusing on what is most important at this stage of my life has allowed me to move into positive action rather than procrastinating and getting stuck. Try this ACT exercise called “Leaves on a Stream”

Strong relationships

I lean in the direction of being a bit of an introvert. This means I often go it alone rather than seeking out support from others. Linking back to meaning, purpose and my values, I have pushed past my “habits” and, in a useful way, have strengthened relationships with some key people in my life. This has benefited me and those around me.

It is a good time of the year to reflect – and, more importantly, to take action and learn skills that enable us to do the best we can when times are tough.

Richard Whitney
Registered Clinical Psychologist