Time to Get Off the Couch

I love this cartoon of a drowning man shouting to his dog on the bank, “Lassie, get help!” In the next picture we see the trusty dog lying on a psychiatrist’s couch.

We all encounter many and various frustrations that we can’t always deal with on our own. But the idea that to ‘get help’ involves a tortuous process of introspection and confession is way out of date. It was based on the medical model of a patient-doctor relationship, and on Dr Freud’s psychoanalytic style in particular. His patients lay on his elegant couch, several times a week for years, while he sat invisibly behind them, puffing on his cigar and telling them what was wrong with them.

This woeful misconception lingers on in the popular imagination. People who would not think twice before phoning a breakdown company when their car won’t start on a cold morning, or a decorator when their house is looking tired, are still reluctant to ‘get help’ for themselves when they are unhappy or overwhelmed.

There is a welcome change in the way we ask now for professional help. We are customers rather than patients. We can choose between a wide variety of services on offer. We expect to feel better, sooner. We want the process to be safe, effective and empowering. But the client-therapist relationship is far more than a consumer-supplier negotiation. The analogy is more like finding a personal trainer with the skills to help you feel fitter.

As a cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, like a personal trainer, I do not need to know about your past or private life: only your present situation. At a difficult moment, it does not help to ask ”Why?” so much as “What to do about it?” Lassie saves the day every time, by being resourceful, practical and coming straight to the point.


Making changes that make a difference: please subscribe to my blog or see www.annapowell.com

This article appeared in the Test Valley Forum magazine March 2018


When It’s All Very Trying…

When you so much want something to happen and it just doesn’t, or when you have ‘tried everything and nothing works,’ the first step towards relief may be to stop trying. So many frustrating situations and stress-related disorders arise from trying too hard for too long, or trying the wrong way, or both.

Sleep is one of those many essentials of the good life that can be invited, but absolutely can’t be pushed. In an experiment, one group of healthy students were asked to fall asleep “in record time.” Another group was told to go to sleep “whenever you like.” Not only did the first group take much longer to get to sleep, but for the rest of the night they kept waking and finding it difficult to sleep again. To want something really badly is a really bad way of going about it.

Insomnia – like infertility, like exam nerves, like writer’s block, like feeling inadequate, to name a few – often begins as a temporary symptom of anxiety that becomes more entrenched as you worry about it on its own account.

When something does not work out, it is only disheartening to be told – or to tell yourself – to try, try, try again. But nor is it helpful to be told “Try to relax.” Trying is the opposite of relaxing. A little tea and sympathy would be more practical. As soon as you begin to feel exasperated, it’s time to stop and do something different.

If we did not try, we would never learn anything new. If we want to acquire new skills and develop existing ones, we do need to apply effort, sustain attention, challenge ourselves, ask more searching questions, experiment with possibilities. But studies in how we learn have shown that this is only half of the story.

It is when we alternate concentrated trying with not trying at all that the brain gets really creative. Trying too hard for too long is like only breathing in, forgetting to breathe out. Relaxing, sleeping, playing is not time wasted or just time off. These are the times, while you are looking the other way, when your brain joins the dots, learns, consolidates its gains and discovers new understanding.

When you are trying to force or hasten an outcome, trying only means stressing. Trying becomes empowering when it means inviting, experimenting, discovering what works, and what works even better. Sleep comes naturally and inevitably when there are no tensions preventing it, and so do all our creative solutions.


Thank you for reading my blog.

I help people to learn, sleep and relieve problems creatively and effectively. If this would be of interest to you, too, please subscribe to my blog above, or visit www.annapowell.com.



David Randall, Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep 2012

Coursera online course, Learning How to Learnhttps://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Images thanks to Mubariz Mehdizadeh on Unsplash , Rob Mulally on Unsplash

Don’t lose any sleep over daylight savings time

Every year we set our clocks forward an hour to Summertime. Every year, people complain of losing an hour of sleep. And indeed, hospital records show a spike in heart attacks, blood pressure and accidents when the clocks go forward: all typical effects of sleep deprivation. In the autumn, there is a corresponding drop when the clocks go back and we gain an hour of sleep.

We may grumble once a year about having less of a Sunday lie-in, but the real problem is that all the year round we are sleeping so much less than is good for us. As a society, we still overwhelmingly lean to the idea that sleep is a self-indulgent waste of time, a third of our lives lost to idleness and oblivion. Despite the increasing flood of books and articles warning that sleep deprivation is a serious side-effect of our 24/7 globally-awake modern lives, a majority of us routinely override our own body’s signals, and are still so ignorant of how sleep works that some even boast how little sleep they need to ‘get by’.

Too little sleep is known to affect your capacity to learn, and to remember; to make rational decisions, solve problems, cope with emotional and physical shock. It substantially adds to the obvious dangers of driving and operating machinery, and makes you less productive, not more. Too little sleep makes you at once more reckless and less in control than you think you are. It substantially raises your risk of a host of health problems, including obesity, cancer, diabetes and dementia; and undermines your wellbeing in every way.

You can make the clock change less abrupt by preparing for it. For a few days in advance, get up a little earlier, bring forward your mealtimes by fifteen minutes, go to bed a little earlier. In the autumn, reverse the process, delaying your routines a little: so that your inner clock has time to align itself serenely with the time on the outer clocks.

But for a far more radical and beneficial change, make your sleep too precious to so casually clip it short. Make time for the creative, curative processes in yourself that enable you to feel more fully alive during the daylight hours. Love your bed, love the dark, love the secret world of sleep.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

I help people to sleep better as part of their general health and wellbeing. See http://www.annapowell.com or email me at anna@annapowell.com



Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep (2017), Penguin
Guy Meadows, The Sleep Book (2014), Orionbooks

Images: thanks to enrico-carcasci-200829-unsplash & jordan-whitt-78672-unsplash


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