Showing posts from 2011


What is a resolution? The dictionary defines it as a determination or decision. The new year is a time when people make resolutions because it is symbolic of a fresh start, the marker of a new beginning. But according to research from a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who interviewed 700 people, 78% fail to stick to their resolutions.
Why is this? Many of the goals that people choose focus on a negative aspect, on giving up something such as alcohol, cigarettes or fattening food, all of which are notoriously difficult habits to kick and rely mainly on willpower. Failure is dispiriting and can make you feel that you have no self-control. What about the 22% of people who are successful in sticking to their resolutions? It would appear that the answer is to set yourself a series of small realistic goals, focus on the positive benefits and reward yourself when you achieve one. Telling family and friends can help to motivate and encourage you. Perhaps the simplest of resolution…


Has romance ruined marriage? Do you still want to drift down the aisle in a cloud of white tulle? Is that first dance in front of everyone you know so crucial? Are you going to ride off into the sunset to some expensive tropical paradise? Are you going to live happy ever after? Never mind the wedding, what about the rest of your life? You are in love and in lust.  Marriage means commitment, security, monogamy. "In love" has to transform into "loving" and so does the sex. Can that kind of relationship survive for 50 or 60 years?
The post-romantic marriage is about companionship, shared values, equal roles. It requires acceptance, compromise, tolerance. The practicalities of everyday life have to be faced.There's not much time  for spontaneous anything, let alone sex. Our expectations are sky-high, we get disappointed. Some of us can work through it, others won't settle for anything less than perfect.
What to do? We don't have 10 year renewable marriage c…


Most of us are familiar with the Nativity story, the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, the 3 wise kings bearing gifts following their bright star to the manger in the stable. In Victorian times new ways of celebrating the birth of Christ came into fashion, with the evergreen decorated fir tree, the exchange of gifts and cards, the singing of carols, the snow deep and crisp and even, so different from the little town of Bethlehem in Palestine. Many cultures and faiths mark the dark midwinter with lights and candles, with festivals such as Hannukah, St. Lucia and St. Nicholas, better known as Santa Claus, the father of Christmas in his red furry suit popping down the chimney to fill our stockings.
Today Christmas is celebrated with boozing and flirting at office parties, a shopping frenzy for the latest consumer goods to exchange with our loved ones, and an orgy of cooking and eating with our nearest and dearest. Little wonder family rituals often end in tears. Too much drink, too much food, t…


NICE guidelines are recommending that women ask for a caesarian birth if they so wish. Many women would prefer to have a caesarian because they think it is quick and painfree, despite the fact that they are opting for major abdominal surgery. What is it about labour and childbirth that has put them off? Stories of 24 hour labours and poor pain relief abound, but we don't often hear about the shorter labours, with or without epidurals, or the women who choose to have a natural birth with a birthing pool and actually enjoy the experience. Then there is the psychological difference to both mother and baby between the apparent simplicity of a caesarian and the work of labour with its ultimate reward.


The Times' correspondent in Kabul, Jerome Starkey, organised a scholarship to his old school Stowe for a boy from an illiterate family. This was a brilliant feat requiring courage, the will to succeed and a lot of complicated bureaucratic paperwork.

Education should be a basic universal human right irrespective of gender. Unforunately in Afghanistan girls are so often excluded from school. It would be even more wonderful if Stowe School could now offer a scholarship to an Afghan girl.


Shopping is one of our major leisure activities, we live in a rich country where consumerism reigns supreme. There is a feelgood factor in walking down the street with a glossy branded carrier bag, it gives us gratification, entitlement and status. Shopping reinforces our sense of identity, and confirms our sense of worth. First we focus on the chase, on finding the right item. Then there is the ritual of paying, usually with a magic plastic card. Afterwards we get the satisfaction of success, the feeling of reward, like winning a prize.
Shopping can resemble bulimia when this behaviour becomes a repeated compulsion with only temporary relief. One experiences a pleasurable feeling of anticipation, the rush of an adrenalin surge, an endorphin high, a feeling of satisfaction and relief. However this may be followed by feelings of disappointment and let-down, guilt and shame, emptiness and anxiety. Then one starts all over again. That is addiction.

I found a packet of contraceptive pills on my 15 year old daughter’s bedside table. I feel shocked. She’s underage, how can she be having sex? Should I talk to her boyfriend’s parents?
The person to talk to is your daughter, however awkward that may be. At least she’s taking care not to get pregnant. Ask her if she is fully aware of sexually transmitted infections, in particular chlamydia. Find out what her true feelings for her boyfriend are. Explain to her that sex is not just about having fun. Ask her if she would like to ask you anything. Unless you think she is being used or exploited there is no point in confronting the parents. Your little girl is a young woman now, making choices of her own, you will have to get used to it.


Antonio Horta-Osorio, 47, who was brought in to sort out Lloyds Bank, has been signed off for the rest of the year with severe stress. Successful CEOs and leaders are usually high-functioning, intelligent, ambitious and driven people who often have a strong streak of perfectionism and obsessiveness. This is how they succeed, but their way of working can put their mental health at risk. They are often in denial of the strain they put themselves under and when they break down they feel they have failed. This comes with guilt and shame.
Major stress symptoms include depression, anxiety, insomnia, agoraphobia, tearfulness, panic attacks, mood swings, loss of concentration, impaired decision-making as well as headache, digestive problems, backache, palpitations, increased use of alcohol and drugs.

Recovery takes time and requires a fundamental re-think about priorities and work/life balance. It may involve a 2-6 week stay in a clinic where the use of laptops and mobiles is restricted. Health…


Lack of attention
Lack of affection
Lack of communication
Not feeling valued
Need for excitement
Need to rebel


I am a widower in my 50s and I have been lucky enough to meet someone of a similar age who seems to fancy me. After several weeks of courtship we both feel ready to sleep together. My question is: should I use a condom? I am seriously out of practice and never liked them much in any case.
Dear Joe
Yes you must use a condom. The fastest growing body of sexually active people diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections are in your age group. Antibiotics deal with most STIs but do not forget HIV. You and your partner may have been celibate for quite a while but better safe than sorry. Include her in the process. Perhaps she could help you put it on and you can have a laugh about it. Your first sexual experience with her will be a big step for both of you. Enjoy.


1)Show commitment, spend time together
2)Manage difference, accept each other as you really are
3)Listen to each other, feed back what you hear
4)Put blame and criticism aside
5)Negotiate, agree to disagree
6)Make suggestions, don’t give orders
7)Give up the desire to control
8)Apologise and forgive, from the heart
9)Compliment and complement each other
10) Keep sex alive, make love regularly


After 25 years of marriage my husband now wants me to perform oral sex. To be honest I am revolted by this request. What should I do?
It sounds as though your husband is trying to spice up his sex life. I suggest you tell him that you too would like to experience oral sex. Try this: first each of you take a shower. Then take a good look at each other’s genitals. Familiarise yourselves with every nook and cranny. Then start gently touching and stroking each other’s genitals. Try kissing the tip of his penis, then lick him very slowly. Experiment with taking his penis in your mouth, but not too deep. Now ask him to do the same to you. Continue exploring each other’s genitals with your mouths and tongues. Orgasms are not the goal but may occur, especially for you. You’d be surprised how pleasurable this is for women. Ask him not to come in your mouth if you don’t want him to. If you feel that none of this is right for you, just say no.


My Australian friend is in a state of constant grief. She has had to send her 13 year-old son to boarding school because her ex-husband threatened to take her to court if she didn't. It's a cultural thing, she just doesn't get it. And why should she? Why would anyone send their child away to what is essentially boot camp? We are the only nation in the world to do this, a nasty hangover from our days of empire, when army officers and civil service administrators were sent out to rule the red bits on the world map. Better for the boys to grow stiff upper lips, learn to be part of a team, hide their feelings and cope on their own away from home and family. Never mind the bullying, the secret tears, the latent homosexuality, the failure to relate to women. It's for their own good. Lots of sport too. Meanwhile a bewildered mother weeps because her boy has limited access to email and mobile and is having to suck it up.


My wife and I don’t make love very often, and when we do she seems to enjoy it. Recently she has started bargaining with me and now expects an expensive present or foreign trip every time we have sex. What’s going on?
This is not about love and sex, this is about power and money. Frankly she is behaving like a prostitute, exchanging sex for costly rewards. This puts you unwillingly in the role of client and her in control of the transaction. Not only is the sex devalued, both of you are as well. Her behaviour is demeaning. Regular sex in a loving marriage is a realistic expectation. Gifts and trips are an entirely separate matter. I suggest you sit her down and tell her quite firmly that the arrangement she has set up will no longer work. If she withholds sex you have a different problem, but at least you’ll regain your self-respect.


A friend of mine has committed suicide. I am shocked and devastated but I also feel very confused. Can you help me.

I am so sorry, suicide is always shocking. Bereavement is hard enough in normal circumstances. But when a partner, relative or close friend commits suicide there are additional emotions to deal with. Along with shock and sadness you may well be having overwhelming feelings of responsibility, guilt and anger. This is normal. Could that person have been saved? Those left behind may think that it could have been prevented and that they have failed in some way. But ultimately the decision was made by the person who killed themselves, you should not be held responsible in any way for that choice. Suicide is an immensely selfish act with lasting consequences. Those left behind may forgive but may not forget, the scars remain.


I went to a lecture hosted by Ruby Wax about depression and mindfulness, given by an Oxford professor of psychology. It turns out that mindfulness is just another word for meditation. So sit back, close your eyes, drop your shoulders, be aware of the sounds around you, breathe in and out deeply through your nose. Let the thoughts come and let them go. If your mind wanders too far from the present moment focus on your breath again. You can do this for 1 minute or 20 minutes or for however long you want. You can do it in bed, on a chair, on the floor, on a bus or a train. Just about anywhere. It can only do you good either as an emergency stress-buster or as something you do on a regular basis for long-term benefits. Give it a go, you've got nothing to lose.


I’m a divorced man in my late 60s. Why do I keep falling for beautiful women in their 30s who are unavailable?

This is the age-old story about the selfish gene. From an evolutionary point of view you still want to have sex with fertile women. The selfish gene in women is looking for someone who will provide and protect. It helps if you are rich and handsome. This explains why some young women do marry older men and become trophy wives. May I point out that there is a surfeit of wonderful divorced, widowed and single women in your age group who would love to be in a relationship but who can’t find any available men. Older women can still be sexy. Think Helen Mirren and Catherine Deneuve.


I have just seen a new film adaptation of “Jane Eyre”. As she struggles penniless and alone across the desolate stormy moors after the catastrophe of her wedding day she seems yet again to be the victim of patriarchy in a world where riches and class have not favoured her. But Jane is too strong, too determined and independent to ever be a victim. She is a great survivor of physical and emotional abuse. Plain Jane is intelligent and principled with a strong moral sense of what is right or wrong for her. She refuses to elope with Rochester but she also refuses to marry St. John Rivers. Jane asserts her identity against all the odds in a patriarchal world. She is true to herself and never loses her self-respect. This authenticity is what Rochester loves in her and when he calls for her in his moment of great need she responds. She does not submit to her circumstances, she makes a conscious choice.


When I read the book I could see why it was such a success. But the film was disappointing. The yearly date, such a clever device in the book, didn’t really work on film. The characters came across as losers. Emma wrote a children’s book but couldn’t get pregnant and fatally didn’t wear a helmet on her bike. Ian, failed comic, ended up in insurance. And Dexter, the glamorous bad boy, first divorced and then widowed, was working for Pret a Manger. The episodes in Paris were clich├ęs. And where was the sex? In my day if you shared your bed you shared your body, especially if you went away on holiday together. Immaturity, passive-aggressive behaviour and settling for second best – I am so glad I am not young anymore.


Because I speak French many of my clients are French. I love working with the French. They are on the whole logical, rational, analytical. They are also intellectual and cultured. Their attitude to sex, relationships and marriage is sophisticated. And no, they are not all having affairs. They are quite old-fashioned and strict with their children, who are expected to eat at table at regular hours and do their homework on time. Their year is structured round the school holidays which traditionally often involve both sets of grandparents, skiing in winter, South of France in summer. They hop on and off the Eurostar as though it were the Tube. Most of them love living in London (there are at least 300 000 of them here) but they never lose their inborn chic, their sense of style, the precision of their language. They may sometimes appear to be offhand, rude and arrogant, but then they have a lot to be arrogant about. They gave the world the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality, fratern…


I got up in the middle of the night and found my husband watching pornography on his computer. I am feeling shocked and betrayed. What should I do?  Sally

I do understand that you are upset. Whether we like it or not the internet has taken over from the printed word and now all kind of pornography is available 24 hours a day. I have to tell you that most men nowadays have accessed porn in this way. This is pretty normal behaviour as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. Men have their private fantasies (as do women) and can put their thoughts away in separate compartments. Your husband is not actually being unfaithful and it certainly doesn’t mean he no longer loves you. You are not in competition with some porn actress who is paid to fake it. It would help if you were able to talk to him about the incident and how you feel about it. I hope he can re-assure you and that you can forgive him.


I’ve been using Viagra on a regular basis with good results but a friend has told me it can have damaging side-effects. What should I do?

I’m wondering who provides your Viagra. I hope it is from your GP with a private prescription. If not, you should really check in with your GP who will explain the possible risks to you so that you can make an informed decision. Viagra has been around for many years now and works well if there are no underlying health or psychological problems. Its successors, Cialis and Levitra, take effect a little quicker. It’s a great shame that these life-enhancing drugs are not available on the NHS. But it is not a good idea to buy them over the internet because you can’t guarantee what you are getting. The side-effects of some unknown substance may be more dangerous than the real thing. Good luck and enjoy.


I sat down on the Tube next to a man on the phone. He was well-dressed, good shoes, expensive watch, nice tan, greying hair. It was obvious from his conversation that he was negotiating a difficult divorce and had children aged 8 and 6. He sounded anxious and stressed. When he ended the call he looked down and gave a mournful sigh. As a therapist I wanted to tell him that help was available. If I were American I would have said “Tough call!” If I were French I would have handed him my card as I left. Being English I said nothing and got on with my book. He took out his paper and started on the crossword, having completed the Sudoko. Did I make the right choice?


Abortion should be regularly available in any free society as it is in the UK.
Should abortion counselling be restricted to “independent” agencies, some of whom may be faith-based, and exclude organisations such as Marie Stopes and the BPAS who provide terminations?
Counsellors who are properly trained and accredited will abide by their professional ethics wherever they work. A good counsellor does not give advice or tell you what to do. We help you explore your options so that you can come to an informed decision.
A pregnant woman considering abortion is vulnerable and under time pressure. Abortion, like miscarriage, is likely to bring a sense of loss and grieving. There is often the added burden of guilt and shame. Talking about it with a non-judgemental professional can be very helpful, even well after the event.
Let’s not forget the men who are often excluded or bewildered. It’s your body but it’s their baby too.


Welcome to my blog. I am a psychotherapist and writer, ready to exchange ideas