Why has nobody told me this before? By Dr Julie Smith –
Review of talk at Henley Literary Festival
As in previous years Mental Health is high on the festival’s agenda and so decided to sign up to Dr Julie Smith, who is a clinical psychologist and vlogger. Having spent 10 years in the NHS decided to set up private practice when her children were young to help with childcare responsibilities.
Inspiration for the book
Dr Julie Smith explained to the Henley audience and those of us online that the book came about as many of the people who accessed her therapy services found the educational part of therapy useful. Understanding how the mind works helps to shift focus from feeling overwhelmed to ‘I can do this’. Her patients often mused to her, why has no one ever explained this to me before.
Dr Julie interestingly uses ticktock for her videos. Over recent years we have heard how children have been struggling with mental health and how social media has influenced their mental health in a negative way. This is what Dr Julie found, young people were expressing distress online but had no professionals on social media to help.
In the book Dr Julie Smith talks about Self-Esteem. It isn’t possible to have a high self-esteem all the time. In fact it could be counterproductive to have a high self-esteem all the time because it may mean that real feelings are being suppressed.
Research according to Dr Julie has changed over time, at one point it was important to always think positive, but it creates the illusion that we must always have a positive view of ourselves, but that isn’t honest. We need to be honest with ourselves. What is more important is self-compassion. At times it is inevitable we won’t be happy with what we have achieved or behaved. However, what is important is that we respond to ourselves with understanding and compassion. Shame shuts down progress as well as learning from mistakes.
Our founder member, Audrey has often said, we aren’t taught to understand our emotions and Dr Julie would certainly agree. As a society we are almost taught the reverse to shut down emotions like sadness, anxiety, but when we do, that is when poor mental health can occur. Feeling these emotions are part of what makes us human. This includes positive and negative emotions as well.
There are lots we can do to help our own mental health but society also needs to change. Our cultural reaction to mental health is slowly changing as many powerful role models, TV stars, or sports personalities are talking about their own mental health struggles but more acceptance from society is needed.
The stress response is important to help us to survive to enable us to get up and go. However, if we are constantly under stress and not giving ourselves something back which could be relaxation or social connections, we will burn out.
The basics to help mental health are
- Exercise moving your body – getting outside and into nature
- Routine – we need a balance between adventure and routine
- Social connections
Dr Julie explained what mindfulness is and what it isn’t. It’s not about sitting cross legged for hours on end. It is about distancing from our thoughts, being in the moment and focusing our minds on our breath or our feet on the ground. Our minds will wander, but it’s bringing the mind back to our breath or sound of our feet on the gravel. In the talk Dr Julie led everyone through a mindfulness practice.
- Notice the parts of your body that have to move to enable you to breath
- Notice the natural rhythm
- Notice the feelings you have at that moment, not trying to change them, just notice them. Even if uncomfortable feel it not squash it. Listen to our feelings.
- Notice where you feel the emotions in your body, how do you know it is there.
- If you can locate that feeling, it may be all over but it could be chest or stomach – place your hand on that body part. Let the warmth from your hand radiate to that body part and notice what it feels like.
- Expand awareness to how it feels to be sat in the chair, how it feels to have your feet on the floor
Sometimes people come to therapy who feel empty, explains Dr Julie and that could be because life has moved them away from their values. Dr Julie will gets out pens and paper and allows people to write down what is important to them e.g. family, friends, professional life or life-long learning. We should check in with our values from time to time.
Dr Julie gave an example, she set up private practice to work hours around the children. As her videos took off, it could have been easy to become side tracked from her values. She had to remind herself of the reasons she set up private practice by checking her values, re-thinking about the parent she wants to be as well as learning to say ‘No’. Checking values can help stop the self-loathing and self-criticism, which brought the chat back around to the need for self-compassion. To see a bad experience as a learning experience not one for self-loathing.
The chat was really interesting, the presenter had experienced struggles with her mental health over many years and had utilised the services of a therapist. Therefore, she was able to ask very insightful questions. It was affirming that we are saying the similar things to people who need the support of our group. It is always good to have a reminder about self-compassion or kindness and thinking about what we would say to a friend if they were in our shoes.
If you fancy visiting Henley Literary Festival in person or on-line check out the website https://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk/