Showing posts from 2012


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 resolutions…

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 mu…


“There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereotypically feminine. Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation's sake, and stereotypically masculine. The classical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally puritanical; the baroque mentality taken to an extreme is pornographic and finally obscene. Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears. Lovemaking cannot be totally classical unless it is also totally baroque, since you cannot abandon all restraints and so attain a classical intensity. In practice, however, most people are more inclined to one mode than to the other. A very classical person will be incompatible with a very baroque person …


How are ambitious professional women expected to handle motherhood in terms of their career? It's the women who carry, give birth and feed the babies. Our bodies are made for that. We also know how important it is for mother and baby to bond, which doesn't always happen overnight. In the first year of a baby's life he or she learns through the experience of continual care and feeding about trust and intimacy. Psychologically this is a crucial time in the baby's development and will influence their future relationships.
What is a woman to do? In an ideal world she would take a year off but in the real world her career won't wait for her. She can pay another woman to look after her baby, leave it with a childminder and other babies, or go to a creche with several carers. These options are hugely expensive, but so are our mortgages and lifestyle.What about fathers? Will they take a year's career break? Unlikely.
Being a parent is for life. There is the relentless…


The issues around sexual abuse are both murky and mucky. It’s a nasty business. Victims experience many conflicting and confusing feelings and are often too ashamed and fearful to speak out. The abuser exercises power and control in order to get his sexual needs met, usually in the form of manipulation, exploitation and emotional blackmail. The victims feel paralysed and powerless. The psychological fallout for the victim can last a lifetime and may include feelings of shame and guilt, post-traumatic stress, loss of trust and security, fear of intimacy and commitment, to name but a few. Physical symptoms such as depression, eating disorders, addiction, co-dependence, self-harm, sexual and gynaecological  difficulties,  as well as inappropriate behavior and suicidal feelings may occur in their adult life. These are vulnerable people who have been damaged. Coming forward and speaking out about their abuse is an act of enormous courage. The risks are that they won’t be believed or taken ser…


Having It All?
How old are you?
How old were you when you got married?
What was your professional situation at the time?
How many children do you have?
Were all your pregnancies planned?
How much maternity/paternity leave did you have for each child?
Would you have liked more?
How was your career affected?
Did you/do you employ domestic help (cleaner, au pair, childminder, nanny)?
How did/does the relationship with that person affect the family?
How do you manage your children’s timetable and your career?
Do you bring work home?
Can you switch off your phone and laptop during evenings, weekends and holidays?
How often do you go out alone with your partner?
How often do you spend a weekend away with your partner?
How much time in a week do you have for yourself?
What do you find difficult in your daily life other than time management and tiredness?
What changes would you like to make?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
What other question do you need to ask yourself?

Last updated Friday, Octob…


Someone I know in her early 60s with adult children and grandchildren is in a relationship with a man 15 years younger than her. He wanted to have a baby. So money being no object they found an egg donor, an American surrogate mother to carry the baby and a lawyer to sort out the payments, the baby's passport and legal documents. They brought the baby back to the UK and hired a nanny.  

This child has a genetic mother, a biological mother and an adoptive mother. Will she have identity issues? How will she feel with an old mother compared to her peer group? Will her adoptive mother die when the child is quite young? Was the mother's decision made out of fear of losing her partner to a younger woman? What were her real motives? Whose interests have come first?

There are several disturbing issues about this situation. It raises new questions about the uses of IVF and the meaning of motherhood. Is motherhood a right in any circumstances? At any age? At any price?
As this practice bec…


A crisis is often a diversion from the real problems. It’s a way of putting off a choice or a decision. A choice very often means loss. A crisis keeps the drama and adrenalin going which is exciting. It’s a way of drawing attention to an underlying problem. There are only 3 ways through a couples crisis. You can both agree to work together on the real issues in the relationship You can agree to split up. You can agree to stick to the status quo. All 3 solutions will have consequences.
Over 25 years’ experience as a couples and sex therapist the most common sexual problem that comes up in my practice is loss of desire. Many young people in marriages or committed relationships are not having sex.                                                                     For a pleasure-giving activity that is free and can take less than an hour the excuses sound flimsy. “Too busy” “too tired” “no time” “too much to do” “the baby” “the kids” “work” “stress” “I have to go to the supermarket, the gym, the school run, my parents”. This is real life, but why no sex?                                                                               People have unrealistic expectations about being in love, true romance and the passionate honeymoon phase. After a while this intense and exciting time has to transform into something a little calmer, from “in love” to “loving”.  You cannot maintain the pace year after year. You have to be a…


What made you decide to become a psychotherapist?
A close friend of mine had to leave her partner in dramatic circumstances and go to a secret address. I saw them both separately a couple of times and said to her “I don’t really know what I am doing”. She replied “Go and get some training, you’ll be really good at it”. So I applied to London Marriage Guidance which was part of Relate at the time. That was over 25 years ago. I still have doubts about psychotherapy.
What gives your life purpose?
Trying to make each day meaningful because it may be my last.
What is your earliest memory?
Learning to thread and tie a bow on a piece of cardboard at my nursery school. It gave me a sense of achievement. I realised I had the power to change one thing into another.
What are you passionate about?
People, friendship, good literature and art, rhythm and blues, London, Paris, sunshine, delicious food, the sea, dramatic landscapes, colour.
Do you always tell the truth?
No, of course not, does anyone?
What has…


On December 31st I took my car off the road, got a SORN, cancelled the insurance and parking permit and joined a car club. The idea was to save some money. My first outing was less than ideal. I had a choice of 3 cars within walking distance, all of them large 5 door VWs. I own a small tatty Renault Clio with 2 ½ doors (small boot). My chosen car was parked off the pavement facing a brick wall and it was dark. I struggled to find reverse gear, panicking somewhat as the car kept inching forward towards the wall. Full insurance is included in the price but the driver is responsible for the first £750 damage. The inside of the car was full of electronic touch switches. As I adjusted the rear view mirror 2 lights came on. I never did figure out how to turn them off other than running my fingers over the general area above the mirror. Nor could I adjust the seat despite various knobs and levers. So I set off in some discomfort. Then there is the problem of returning the car on time because t…


This is the fascinating true story of a 19 year-old intern who had an 18 month secret affair with President Kennedy. Mimi Alford arrived at the White House in 1961, a bright dutiful girl from a well- to-do conventional family, her virginity and innocence intact. Within 4 days she was in bed with the President. This was a calculated seduction by a skillful and charismatic manipulator who was used to getting his own way. Mimi felt overwhelmed but flattered. The aphrodisiac of power proved irresistible. He was charming and playful with her, but there was no romance or love. He never kissed her and she never called him anything but Mr. President. She was at his disposal and spent a lot of time just waiting. There was a darker side. He administered an amyl-nitrate pill at a party, watched her give oral sex to his assistant and arranged an illegal abortion when she thought she was pregnant. Mimi had no moral qualms until she met her future husband. Kennedy backed off when she got engaged. The …


As a couples and sex therapist with over 25 years experience I have heard some fascinating stories about the many sexual difficulties that pre-occupy people.
There was the cross-dressing hairdresser who was turned on by the salon dryersThe sex addict who was juggling 4 relationships plus his one-night standsThe rape victim with post-traumatic stress who came out as a lesbianThe 30 year-old virgin who was physically unable to have sex
But by far the most common problem is loss of desire. Desire is complex and mysterious. Is it a thought? A feeling? A sensation? An instinct? All that and more. Desire involves communication and feedback between mind and body, all our senses come into play and connect with the brain.
Unfortunately desire can be affected by events such as illness, stress, work and family problems, to name but a few. More complicated are feelings such as anger and anxiety, guilt and shame. Some people are too busy to make time for sex. Others have unrealist…


In these hard financial times you don't have to take your beloved to an expensive restaurant or for a weekend away.
Why not celebrate at home? Buy some really good food and wine or order a posh home-delivery meal. Light many candles, not just 2 or 3. Take a bath or a shower together. Buy her or him your favourite scent with matching body lotion for a mutual massage. Change the sheets and towels. Sprinkle some rose petals on the pillows, add a couple of classy chocolates. Make a romantic playlist from your iPod, download "Casablanca".
Most important of all share your intimate thoughts and feelings and give each other lots of warm hugs.


The Prime Minister's weekly audience with the Queen has been compared to psychotherapy. What an intriguing thought.


It's reassuring to know from neuroscience investigations that men and women's brains react differently to various stimuli. So much for cultural constructs, let's hear it for evolutionary psychology. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus is not just an empty cliche after all. Gender equality is a nice idea in theory but not very real in practice, especially in the developing world where men still have the real power and fight real wars while women have babies and work in the fields. Let's keep working towards recognising and reconciling difference.


Trains come and go in the New York subway. Brandon plays his predatory game with a pretty woman. Elevators rise and fall in sleek glossy buildings. Brandon waits silently, consumed by rage and anxiety. He pounds out his anger and frustration on the dark New York streets, block after hard grey block. In his over-orderly glassy bare apartment his neurotic, messy and needy sister reaches out for him but he cannot face her loss of control and he rejects her with violent consequences.  Their shared damage and abuse is merely hinted at but their self-destructive and compulsive behaviour tells the story. This intense and beautiful film pulls no punches. Brandon is driven by his sexual need. Masturbation, internet porn, pick-ups, prostitutes, nothing brings relief. He cannot connect emotionally, he is cold and remote, incapable of any intimacy. A date with a colleague who offers him some closeness and tenderness ends in impotence. He can’t do sex and feelings. He picks a drunken fight over a woman, …


Sex addiction, is there really such a thing? Isn’t it just an excuse for faithless footballers and spoilt celebs to have sex whenever they feel like it? Does it justify the tabloid headlines and re-hab fees?
Addiction is not a question of weakness or willpower. It’s a very complex psychological and physical condition driven by dependence and compulsion. One can be addicted to a substance such as alcohol or heroin, or to an activity like gambling or sex. Addiction takes one from reward to relief. But what once gave pleasure and enjoyment becomes something one has to have more of in order to function without constant feelings of anxiety or panic. Craving often goes along with denial and a false belief that one is in control. The addict’s behaviour becomes destructive, relationships are harmed, lives are ruined. The drug is no longer recreational. Need becomes obsessive, enough is never enough.

Cliff’s story: “Can’t get enough”
“I live with my partner Marilyn but actually we don’t have sex …