What are your objectives?

I can help you meet a number of goals as part of your journey of psychological therapy and/or personal development. This page shows a selection of typical objectives which clients often formulate when they come to see me. Your own objectives may not be listed but, if this is the case, do not worry as there is every chance that I will also be able to help. Drop me an email, text me or call me, and we will discuss this.

On this page

 

​​Dealing with generalised anxiety, depression and negative feelings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often, the most difficult step when you are feeling deeply anxious or depressed is to reach out for help. It can feel incredibly difficult to get motivated to seek help or reach out to others. Feeling hopeless and helpless, having a tendency to isolate and withdraw, low self-esteem constitute some of the obstacles which contribute to keeping one away from actively seeking help. To compound this, one faces the challenge of identifying suitable help, a suitably skilled and qualified professional in the case of psychological therapy. But the first challenge that one often faces is to actually identify generalised anxiety and/or depression, so that the motivation to make sense of them and look for a resolution can develop. It is this challenge that I would like to help you address here, or at least start addressing.

To identify generalised anxiety and depression, we rely first on a long list of signs or symptoms, including low mood, sadness, unhappiness, a sense of hopelessness and being helpless, feeling of emptiness, low self-esteem, anger turned towards oneself and others, restlessness, irritability, isolating, anti-social and withdrawing behaviour, suicidal tendencies, negative and self-depreciative thought patterns, generalised pessimism, lack of motivation, interest, purpose and enjoyment, sleep and eating disturbances, low energy levels, difficulty to concentrate, remember and/or make decisions, diminution or absence of sex drive, breathing difficulties, digestive problems. These lists of symptoms are useful to help us identify depression, as many sufferers are actually unaware that they are depressed. This lack of awareness is usually due to the fact that depression usually develops over long periods of time. As time passes, one does not easily notice how radical the changes which take place in one’s psychological and social life actually are. Also, with the passing of time one develops a sense of familiarity with how one feels and lives, which in turn generates a sense of normality. It feels as if things were as they should be.

Having a collection of possible symptoms is a useful start. However, the identification of generalised anxiety and depression benefits from clear and meaningful definitions of the two conditions. Unfortunately, such definitions are hard to find. A look at the sources available reveals that generalised anxiety is most often defined as regular, uncontrollable, excessive and sometimes debilitating worry about various things in everyday life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, for example, “Generalized anxiety disorder involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities”. As for depression, it is most frequently defined as a “low mood”. The medical world defines it as a “mood disorder”, the NHS describes it as prolonged “sadness”. Such definitions are obviously far too rudimentary and commonsensical. They fail to even start describing generalised anxiety and depression. It is true that the subject is vast and complex. However, without going into too much detail, it is possible to capture some of the fundamental elements which account for generalised anxiety and depression. Below is my suggestion for a definition.

Generalised anxiety and depression are caused by the experience or the perception that a breakdown is occurring or threatening to occur concerning one or more of the fundamental components which structure our everyday existence, and/or that of a loved one. Breakdowns in the structure of our everyday existence may concern our physical integrity (health issue, accident, ageing, disability), our relationships (separation, divorce, loss, lack of boundaries), our personal and/or professional involvements (personal: bullying, domestic abuse; professional: loss of a job, change of career), our social identity and participation (rejection, exclusion, alienation, fear of death, fear of dying) and/or, more radically, our relationship with the world (general sense of disconnection and homelessness, estrangement, derealisation, depersonalisation, loss of meaning). Generalised anxiety and depression develop as a result of the uneasiness, unsettledness and psychological pain that the breakdowns in the structure of our everyday existence introduce in our experience of life.

Finding out why and how specific existential breakdowns are affecting you, helping you overcome the breakdowns or, if not possible, their implications, is the goal of therapy as I practise it.

I can also help you make sense of the following feelings: unhappiness, emptiness, frustration, anger, sadness, fear, guilt, hopelessness, lack of meaning and purpose, lack of interest, lack of motivation, depersonalisation and derealisation.

All the feelings listed above are perfectly normal and acceptable when they are only temporary. However, they become a plague when they settle into our lives and colour all our experiences. But note that contrary to what is sometimes assumed, recovering a sense of normality does not entail searching to attain their opposite, namely happiness, peace, joy, innocence, satisfaction and faith, but precisely just that, namely a sense of normality, a feeling of being ok.

Dealing with low-self esteem and lack of confidence

The complaint about low self-esteem and lack of confidence is a very common one. However, what I find time and time again is that individuals often lack of clear picture of what self-esteem and confidence are really about. So a little bit of clarification may be useful to start with.

The connection between self-esteem and worth is clearly indicated by the etymology. Indeed, the verb “to esteem” comes from the French estimer, itself based on the Latin aestimare which means “to value, determine the value of”. Understanding self-esteem requires exploring the notion of personal worth. Personal worth rests on the possession of certain attributes. These attributes can be of different sorts, physical, emotional, moral or intellectual. Our abilities often form a part of the list of attributes, but this list extends much further as to include all our personal qualities or traits and dispositions. Let’s take an example. A leader with low self-esteem may question their adequacy with their role because they feel that they do not possess the necessary abilities. However, they may also do so because they consider that they lack the proper moral standards. Obviously, in this case we have moved beyond the question of the person’s abilities, as what we are considering is their possession of a moral compass.

With a clearer view of what self-esteem consists of, we can now move towards an adequate definition of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem has to do with the internalised or internally imposed disqualification of one’s self from the right to participate in certain or most situations in the world, due to a perceived lack of worth which itself derives from the perception that one does not possess the required attributes. Low confidence will frequently result from having low self-esteem, which may be the reason why they are so often confused. Indeed, once one perceives oneself as lacking the attributes which are necessary to take part in a given situation or action, one will often also feel unable to perform. In other terms, the way we see ourselves impacts our level of performance.

The above definition of low self-esteem provides various clues concerning how it can be addressed. One first needs to examine whether it is contextual, therefore linked to a particular setting and/or activity, or pervasive, therefore experienced all the time and everywhere. If low self-esteem is only contextual, then one needs to reflect on one’s relationship with the context which is concerned. This reflection will highlight one of two options. In the first option, one needs to develop and acquire the attributes which are necessary to make one a suitable candidate to take part in the given context, and design a suitable plan of action in order to meet one’s developmental goal. In the second option, one needs to accept that a re-contextualisation may be the best step forward. If, on the contrary, low self-esteem is pervasive, then one needs to go deeper into the examination of one’s psychology and explore issues of self identity and the nature of one’s relationship with the world. This exploration usually takes more time and has wider implications.

As for the issue of low confidence, it often hides behind the issue of low self-esteem. Therefore, it is usually addressed by way of addressing the latter.

Dealing with identity issues

 

 

 

Change or loss of identity can occur in a great number of circumstances. However, uncertainty and/or change surrounding one’s identity can pose a major challenge. Many of us will feel terribly unsettled and lost, if not threatened, when it happens. Identity issues often result in a sense of emptiness, loss of meaning, increased levels of anxiety, social anxiety, isolation, low self-esteem, depression, loss of confidence and feelings of inadequacy, amongst other things.

The question of one’s identity may pose itself in different ways. One may grieve an old identity and find it difficult to move on without it, feeling unable and possibly unwilling to redefine oneself. One may be engaging into a new identity or undergoing a reconfiguration of one’s old identity, but find it unsettling and difficult, as it raises all sorts of challenges, questions and doubts. On the other hand, one may never have had a strong sense of identity and question whether one really has an identity at all and what it could be. This kind of situation is typical of those who have not found their way through socialisation, for whatever reason, or those who question their socialisation, finding it insufficient to define who they really are (socialisation is the process through which one becomes a participant in a particular human world). At the relational or societal level, one may face the challenge of making one’s identity seen and known by others, and respected by them. Additionally, in this context, one may face the challenge of having to redefine one’s boundaries and learn how to manage these effectively.

The theoretical framework which informs my work with clients is of tremendous help to clarify and overcome identity issues. A significant part of my research has focused on uncovering the structure of the human self and the typical changes which the human self undergoes through the life-span. Three processes are particularly relevant here, namely socialisation (otherwise called “primary socialisation”), re-socialisation (usually called “secondary socialisation”) and individuation (this is Carl Young’s terminology) or self-realisation (this is the terminology used by Abraham Maslow). Through socialisation, the individual becomes a member of a particular human world (e.g., family, work, club, political party, religious group). Through re-socialisation, the individual changes membership or the terms of the existing membership. Through individuation or self-realisation, the individual finds an identity which is independent of any membership in a human world, switching from identification with an outer or false self to identification with an inner or true self.

Practically, when we meet and work together, our conversations will involve exploring in detail your sense of self and identity or lack thereof, then what it means and what it entails from the point of view of the journey which lies ahead of you. As well as helping you clarify issues of identity, I will be able to accompany you on your journey towards finding and/or claiming who you are, and expressing your identity in the world and within your relationships, with lots of practical tips which you will be able to put to the test.

Finding your true self

 

 

 

 

In everyday worldly life, our true self, the human being who we are within, is usually not altogether absent but it is subsumed and very often repressed to a large extent. The status quo gets challenged once the inner self gets tired of this arrangement. This can come very early in one’s life, or much later. It can come rather suddenly but it is more often a gradual process which one can identify retrospectively.

The process of self-emergence has to do with liberation. It concerns the journey of the inner self from a place of hiddenness and restraint (hence our frequent obsession with control) to a place of visibility and expression in the world. Undertaking this exciting journey presents itself as a great psychological and life adventure, but it is also often a scary and uncertain one which is best undergone with appropriate support and guidance, where possible. The skilful accompaniment that I offer to my clients on this particular journey of self-emergence and liberation primarily rests on my own personal experience of this journey. In my case, it has been a long, complex and painful one, but it has led to rather radical changes and new understandings which have taken me to what I consider to be a higher state of being.

Some of us hesitate to embark on the search for their true self, usually for one reason in particular, which is that such a journey appears to obey an inherently selfish goal. However, one needs to realise that it is the opposite which is true. Finding oneself is the most altruistic act that one can engage in. Only by knowing and being who we truly are can we then offer the most valuable and useful person to others and the world around us, the best partner, parent, friend or colleague, in a word the best human being.

Raising your level of awareness and understanding about yourself,
your life and your relationship with the world

 

 

 

 

Bringing one’s level of awareness and understanding of oneself, others and the world to a higher level is often difficult to achieve on one’s own or by simply using traditional resources such as books or websites, due to the lack of feedback and guidance. To help you efficiently deal with important questions or indeed help you properly formulate as well as answer these questions, it may make sense to call on the support and guidance of a professional who has devoted their life to better understanding human beings and their psychology, as well as the world around us. I am particularly well equipped for this type of work, as I possess a wide knowledge base which encompasses all human sciences, philosophy and the spiritual traditions. In that, I am actually rather unique on the market of personal development. As with everything else, my approach is conversational and the conversations are client-led.

Better understanding your relationship(s) and what you can change

Few of us live like islands. We are usually involved in various relationships, out of necessity but also because we need and want them to enjoy life to the full. However, relationships throw added complexity into our lives. They raise all sorts of questions, concerning for example whether and how our emotional needs and, where applicable, our sexual needs are met, whether and how our needs for intimacy and support are met, whether there is mutual understanding and effective communication going on, what and how much is shared in terms of values and ways of thinking, whether our boundaries are respected and whether we feel respected, whether we are allowed to fit into a social role which corresponds to our conception of it and our personality or whether we feel forced into a role which fails to achieve this, whether the way we see and identify ourselves and others corresponds to how they see and identify us and themselves, whether a sufficient consensus around the idea of how to live one’s life is achieved and provides solid foundations for a community and a partnership, whether and how trust, constancy and loyalty are achieved. The list is long and could go on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever your situation and circumstances, I offer both individuals and couples an opportunity to express and reflect on what is going on in their relationship(s). Whether you come alone or accompanied, you will be able to communicate your feelings and your views concerning your relationship(s) in a safe environment. If you come as a couple, you will be able to initiate a conversation involving your partner and myself, and maybe at this occasion revive a dialogue between you and the other person. My role will be to facilitate the expression of your thoughts and feelings in ways which contribute to the opening and unfolding of this dialogue. By adding a professional and external point of view to your own, it will also be to encourage the growth of your understanding concerning your respective perspectives and why they differ, as well as the internal dynamics of the relationship. In addition, I will help you assess the impact of individual factors on the relationship, such as personality traits, cultural backgrounds, past history and mental health issues. On some occasions, this assessment may lead to the recommendation that you, or your partner/ spouse, or both, engage in individual counselling rather than couple counselling, at least for a period of time, in the short or longer term. In any case, the decision will always be yours. As well as helping you to engage in a constructive dialogue with your partner/ spouse, and to make sense of what is going on in your relationship as well as within yourself, I will provide you with numerous practical tips and strategies to help you improve the workings of your relationship.

Dealing with hurt and trauma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, one may eventually feel the need to let things out and experience some catharsis, or at least to voice one’s pain to another human being who is able to understand and listen empathetically, without judgement. One may wish to go further and, where possible, treat the pain and address it somehow, or adopt a different attitude towards it and be active rather than passive in one’s relationship with it. I offer a space and a very humane and caring relationship where this can happen, safely, confidentially and with no judgement. Beyond offering you empathy, understanding and support, I can also help you explore the psychology of your suffering with a view to overcome it and/or change your relationship with it and allow you to manage it better.

Dealing with troublesome grief

Grief is a type of pain which stands out from the others, as chasing it away may not be possible or desirable. It is perfectly natural, one would even argue that it is actually healthy, to experience a great deal of pain after losing a loved one, either human or animal.

 

 

 

 

 

It is not grief but troublesome grief that counselling and psychotherapy try to address or help with, that is a type of pain which is so deep that it becomes you, or you become it. Troublesome grief is a powerful feeling, but with it come many thoughts as well, many questions and many doubts about oneself as well as about others and the world around us. Dealing with troublesome grief entails voicing and exploring these thoughts and, if possible, trying to answer some of questions which have emerged and address some of the doubts. Although, for obvious reasons, clients do not envisage that dealing with troublesome grief should constitute an opportunity for personal development, they frequently end up achieving real breakthroughs which have a significant impact on themselves and their relationship with others and the world, if not on the grief itself and their approach to death.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

You may have reached a point in your life where everything feels dark or, if not everything, just too many things. You may have reached this point recently or a long time ago without experiencing any significant shift, and dream of a change. However, you may feel unable to figure out by yourself how to get out of the dark place where you have ended, and possibly even unsure as to how you exactly got there in the first place. Fortunately, in most cases, generalised anxiety and depression can be overcome with suitable professional help. Maybe help will start here for you. In what follows I am giving you some information which will hopefully give you greater clarity and help you decide what your next step should be in your journey towards a resolution.

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Self-esteem and confidence are often treated as equivalent. One can read that low self-esteem is about “lack of confidence and feeling badly about oneself” (this comes from a psychology website). The Webster dictionary gives a similar definition of self-esteem: “lack of confidence and satisfaction in oneself”. The Cambridge English dictionary is slightly more open to a different meaning as it includes the notion of value, but still refers to confidence as a key concept: “belief and confidence in your own ability and value”. However, the notions of self-esteem and confidence deserve to be clearly distinguished. Confidence has to do with the faith or trust that one places in one’s ability to do something, e.g. to stand in front of a public or to run for five miles. In contrast, self-esteem concerns our entitlement to do or be something, which is based on the measurement of our worth.

Becoming an adult, studying, getting married, having children, changing career, retiring, losing someone close, being depressed, having a severe illness, changing location or residence, going through the reconfiguration of one’s family structure (e.g., through separation or the departure of a child from home), lacking boundaries in one’s personal and/or professional life, going through a mid-life crisis, changing gender, discovering and/or opening up one’s true sexual orientation, not fitting in the world, having a different culture, are some of the circumstances which can bring to the fore the dreaded question “who am I?”

Resolving your identity issues may entail embarking on a journey of self-emergence and realisation. The decision to do so is often not left to you. It belongs to your inner self, who may let you know that it cannot wait any longer to be considered and find its way in your life. Anxiety and many other signs of psychological disturbance and unsettledness may put you under pressure to listen to its voice. And depression, sometimes even physical illness, awaits you if you fail to answer its call.

The true self usually hides and lives behind a false self or, rather, a series of false selves which do not just serve to dissimulate who we truly are but also to allow us to take part in the world around us, which makes use of these false or artificial identities, whether this concerns the portrayal of gender, age, profession, social class, culture, nationality or ethnicity.

Most of us go through life with a workable level of awareness and understanding of ourselves, others and the world around us. This level of awareness and understanding often proves sufficient to get by, allowing us to go about our everyday life, make decisions, solve problems and overcome various challenges that life throws at us. However, circumstances or simply the passing of time may highlight insufficiencies, therefore also the need to increase our level of awareness and understanding, sometimes quite significantly. One may require some new breakthroughs, maybe even new foundations. Alternatively, you could be one of those who have started off and got on with their life journey in a state of relative confusion, and you may now feel under pressure to finally get out of this rather inefficient and uncomfortable posture.

A lot is at stake, as how we think, what we know and understand not only allows us to live and function in the world but also conditions our ability to live life more fully and in a more meaningful and fulfilling way.

Relationships are subjected to so many variables that it is not surprising that they sometimes struggle and cause suffering to those who are involved in them. The struggle can manifest itself in many ways. At the level of the relationship itself and its dynamics, there can be increased distance, expressions of disagreement, tensions, frequent and violent arguments which cannot be resolved or only with difficulty and after much hurt has been exchanged, loss of interest and/or intimacy, poor sexual life, breakdowns in communication. At the individual level, we will frequently find unhappiness, moodiness, tiredness, low self-esteem, general dissatisfaction and frustration, sometimes resentment and anger which may lead to impatience and intolerance.

Life wounds and causes all sorts of suffering. One may be experiencing and/or have experienced abuse, bullying, relationship breakdown, betrayal, loss, social isolation, rejection, moral condemnation, illness, burnout, or any other challenging, hurtful and traumatic circumstance which life can throw at us.

It is often difficult to share our suffering with others and be open about it. The opportunity may not be there, we may not know how to express it, we may fear to burden others or simply find it difficult to show our vulnerability, which we often see as a weakness. So we tend to keep our pain to ourselves and we strive to find ways of coping on our own.

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© 2019 by Guy Van de Walle