THE MEN ARENA ATTACK AND BONFIRE NIGHT: Why trauma is more than a psychological issue

October 28, 2017

I will be using words in this blog that may be read by people who may have a “moment of remembering” upon reading these words so please be cautionary in reading and sharing of this blog. I do want you to share it and hope you will read it before using the acronym TW. I don’t normally use the TW word/phrase for reasons I’ll explain below and this word will be used in this blog, along with some other words that may evoke trauma memory revisits. Please seek support if you feel you are affected by this blog- I am attempting to share knowledge to implement change in favour of trauma victims rather than the blindsided behaviour of late.

I have spent the last few months working with some of the Manchester Arena attack attendees. During this time I have had my knowledge of trauma rewritten in many ways and I have been astounded at the bravery, courage and vulnerability of these clients. During the conversations, I became aware of the impending behaviours of the public around this time of the year.

Much of what I have learned is that as a society here in the U.K. we are nowhere near ready to deal with these levels of complex issues around trauma. Much of what happened post the 22nd May (the MEN arena attack) has been lacking the knowledge of trauma by the system and professionals and this has added to the trauma of the people who were there. Not forgetting many of these people are children and young people and the adults who accompanied them.

I’m attempting to avoid the phrases “trauma-informed care”, “trauma-informed practice” and “trauma-informed” as I personally believe that we could all become ‘trauma-informed’ and not do anything with this knowledge. I mean we are all gravity informed Yes? Apart from Physicists most of us are unlikely to use gravity informed knowledge to practice our roles in society? For me this is the issue, we can read about trauma, attend lectures, watch videos that talk about trauma and so on but to quote Jim Kwik “Knowledge is potential power, it’s only when you use it that it becomes power”

So my knowledge transfer here is about how trauma can be revisited by the body and memory systems. You see for all of the Manchester arena attendees their bodies felt the bomb blast no matter where they were situated in the arena. To reiterate; their bodies felt and now remember the feeling of a bomb. This does not require the thinking part of their brain to do this. This is a body experience. So to give you an idea of this, for those of you aged 18+ This is like the feeling of being stood in front of a nightclub speaker- its the feeling of soundwaves (in this case they are shock waves also), you don’t need to think about the sound you just feel it.

Furthermore, when someone is presented with a word (spoken or written) this can also provide a person with a moment of remembering. For example “Beach” or “Christmas” may have just evoked in you a particular memory (good or bad and I apologise if its the latter I can never guarantee that any word I use will not do this for everyone). So words that are often used by the trauma community and by people on social media are “TW” (which means trigger warning) which precedes some information or images that are indeed ones that will and do evoke and elicit trauma revisits; This is where the body and mind remember the trauma, also known as a flashback or retraumatisiation.

Why am I sharing this with you? Well here is the ‘trauma information’ i.e. knowledge…

When fireworks, particularly the large, loud booming ones are set off over the next few weeks leading up to and after the 5th November there will be a number of people around the U.K. who were at the Manchester Arena on the 22 May 2017. Guess what their bodies will remember and feel like when the big fireworks make their noise? Guess what their bodies are likely to remember and feel like if they smelled smoke that night and then smell a similar smell on the 5th of November? Guess what they will remember and feel like if they see the firework names in shops on the high street? Guess what they will remember if anyone talks or writes about ‘trigger warnings’ if they were one of the attendees that thought it was a gunman? (after Paris who could not think this might be the case?).

Well here’s the ironic thing about trauma-informed and the 5th November. ..Parliament (who were almost attacked on the 5th November) are/ought/should be trauma-informed? I believe they both are and are not. We as a country actually celebrate this near attack by having a day dedicated to this. In the U.K. we have Veterans and serving soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from war zones, we have people fleeing war-torn countries and we have an exceedingly high number of children (and adults) who have child trauma in varying formats and now we have MEN arena attendees with trauma.

How do we look after these people with legislation and laws? Well, it seems we allow the selling of re-traumatising, loud, large, booming fireworks to the public who can and do let them off at varying times during the year with a sales spike in November and the end of December. We support our traumatised individuals by reducing the number of organised displays, whereby they would have the option and choice to attend and would be able to plan for this. We remove choice, consent and autonomy in favour of sales that promotes the celebration of an attack that resembles those very ones we condemn from Parliament. This is considered trauma-informed politics, business and life in the U.K.?

Parliament has the power to change this. Parliament has the power to use the trauma-informed knowledge to change this for our population of traumatised individuals. You also have the power to not buy the fireworks and to share this message in order to inform people about trauma and yes there will always be those of us who abuse this power, however, we can make a difference by understanding trauma and choosing to take care of those who are traumatised.

Hopefully if you see someone that seems to be struggling around the fireworks perhaps it would help you think about how you would react to a scared puppy who might be shaking, trembling, whining, urinating and possibly running around barking. How would you handle this? What do you think would be helpful? Perhaps the human being who is also displaying these kinds of behaviours needs the same kind of approach. How about: Softness and compassion? Just an idea….?

DITTO Article September 2017 – Fear from the media and critical thinking.

Originally published 16 September, 2017

This article has appeared in the quarterly DITTO e-safety magazine which you can access through Alan Mackenzie’s page via my links page or by going to www.esafety-adviser.com

My last article talked about fake news, scare stories and critical thinking. This one is not so far from that in terms of the topic, however, I wanted to write something that feels more hopeful for you as teachers and parents.I took a number of small social media sabbaticals this year for a number of reasons. The main reason being for self-care. You see when you submerge yourself in something, such as a bath you expect to get wet. Well, so the same goes for social media and the incessant negative stories and topics that I research, means that I can become both overwhelmed or begin to view the world in a skewed manner if I don’t practice what I preach in terms of looking after myself. As a professional working with peoples stories of their traumas, negative life experiences and worries for much of my day, this can happen to me as a therapist in the real world, and so in turn researching, cybertrauma can also have this impact. I keep a very close eye on myself in this respect and know when to take some time out and regularly discuss this in supervision to makes sure I am not becoming vicariously traumatised. This is a (helpful) suggestion for you too. As I took these mini sabbaticals during late spring and summertime there were some awful tragedies occurring throughout the world and being shared on social media (no more so than at any other time I might add), however, I made a conscious decision to refrain from social media to see what happened for me as usual, this is one of the points when I research much more closely, it is after all my chosen topic of interest. In short, I found that I both managed the breaks and they were delightful. I am aware that this may cause some people to break into a cold sweat when thinking about taking time out from social media and this is not an article about the benefits of social media sabbaticals. What I did find out, what has interested me and is the remit of this article is that social media exacerbates the fear factor and this was apparent with my clients who brought their social media stories and scares into the therapy room for the entire time I was on my sabbaticals. So what I wanted to communicate is more about the psychology of fear, violence, crime and terrorism and how this is not actually as prominent as social media makes out (this is not rocket science here by the way and you should not be surprised by this statement). Firstly let me introduce two excellent researchers and academics who have studied humans and violence. Stephen Pinker and Gavin de Becker are world-renowned in their studies of human behaviour and violence and show that the incidences of violence are less in terms of prevalence and degrees of actual bodily harm since we began as a species to harm each other (Seriously good reads by both of these authors and I recommend them both).So what does this mean in terms of this article? Well as the new term begins, new pupils, new topics of ‘social media’ issues, well you may find your pupils talk about terror, fear, violence, graphic issues and terrorism much more. This is because Manchester, Grenfell, Barcelona and Finland, North Korea etc have been given much more ‘airtime’ through social media. The increase of this airtime is likely to increase the awareness of this topic into younger peoples lives (year 7-11) and their understanding of this topic is likely to be limited in terms of cognitive skills (reasoning, critical thinking and executive functions- see Pinker’s work). In turn, this may mean they can become fearful of a topic due to limited understanding and ‘gossip’ from their peers who are also in the same frame of reference. I’m sure you all have an understanding of this with the ‘ghost/zombie’ stories we all heard and participated in during adolescence; fear breeds fear.If this is applied to a social media frame then you should be able to see how the miscommunication of fear-based stories of violence create an anxiety in young people that is then further communicated in the hope of understanding it. As teachers I feel you can help your pupils learn to think critically and by challenging the facts around the news stories yourself and with your pupils. You may be able to appease the fear and anxiety somewhat by having these discussions rather than avoiding them. The hopeful news is, as a species we are actually less violent now than in the past. Due to the medium of social media, we can now discuss and share incidents much faster and become aware of issues that in the past would have happened, perhaps in another country (without our awareness). We are actually overloaded with this kind of information and this can skew our thinking in a negative way. What are the options? Perhaps this is the kind of educated debate we can have with young people to support critical thinking, challenge the status quo of fear-based news, create a balanced view of events and also provide ourselves with a reassurance that the world is not as violent as we think and that fear should be our intuitive gift, rather than our daily bread & butter served up with lashings of anxiety, worry and speculation. Let’s change the menu.

Holiday images: Its like the last six weeks haven’t happened?

Originally published 5 September, 2017

So the last two days, in terms of e-safety, have centred around back to school photographs of children. There have been media posts and many of my social media feeds have been acquainted with some parents challenging this as a ‘trend’. Hooray!!! I have written/blogged about this a number of times/years and feel that the e-safety companies, parents and newspapers can take this participle one on now as I have noticed something else that bothers me, which I find just as, if not more sinister.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not following a current path of over sensationalising cyber/internet-based issues, I am merely hoping to highlight an issue for consideration. This issue is not likely to happen to all users of the internet, however, it is a risk. A risk.

Let me elaborate…. Recently there has been a phenomena that occurs much like the yearly one that happens every 25th December. This phenomenon is called “summer holidays”. Last year I wrote a small piece for an internet safety company and I’d like to expand on it after noticing this upon my return from my annual leave. Again. (Facepalm)

Holiday pictures of children. In surprisingly enough…holiday attire. E.g. Swimsuits, hardly any clothes, no clothes and pictures of children posing with very little in the background (think beach pictures here). So what’s the problem? These are just holiday pictures? It’s the holidays Cath?

Indeed these are holiday pictures, however, if I was (which I am) a person who views these pictures for admiration, celebrations and being pleased for you having a wonderful time then that would be/is lovely. If perhaps the person I am referring to here is not like me and has no interest in celebrating your success and life then this would not be lovely? Perhaps this person would like to use your picture for a more sinister reason. For example, trading it, keeping it, doctoring it (changing or adding details that were not originally there) and then trading it etc. This could be on a social media site or perhaps other areas that the public does not necessarily have general everyday access to.

I hope to make myself much more clear so I will explain that predators of children’s images look for, find, download, sometimes change and upload and share these images. These predators look for pictures of children on the internet and where sexual gratification is sought they may look more-so in the direction of children in less clothing such as swimsuits/naked. The less background there is in the image the easier it is to ‘doctor’ the image or to superimpose further images in or out of it.

Your privacy settings matter and so do those of your children’s images and the only surefire way to protect the images of your children would be to stick with the old fashioned printed out photograph album in the cupboard. You only show these images to people who visit your house then and unless someone was to steal the album the pictures remain safe/private (to the degree that anything can be either safe/private). However, I am aware that in 2017 we want to share our pictures with our friends and family who live close and far away. (Or just for narcissistic reasons in some cases). Herein lies the issue.

I’m not saying that your images will be targeted, but they might. I’m not saying that you don’t keep your privacy settings to friends only, because you might. I’m not saying you have sexual predators on your friends lists, but you might. I’m not saying your public profiles are unsafe from sexual predators, but they might be. I’m saying you don’t really know who is looking at the images of your children and I’m basing this fact on the number of sexual abuse cases that appear with the known fact that in most cases the abuser/predator is known to the victims. It is unlikely that ‘strangers’ from around the world will actively seek out your social media profile looking for images of your children in beach/swimwear… but they might. I’m saying that people you already know/are friends with/follow you etc may just be one of those sexual predators. Your images can be seen by them, you know because you set the privacy settings. if you follow the advice of e-safety companies you may have done this just to ensure that only friends can see the images.

Your children cannot protect their images that you share, you can though. Your children cannot protect their privacy of the images you share, you can though. Fast forward in time and imagine for a moment what your children might say to you about the sharing of their images without their consent/privacy/protection surrounding them. Imagine for just a moment how you may feel if this was one of your images of you as a child, in swimwear that had been actively sought by a sexual predator and your parents were aware of the risks and decided to share it anyway?

One of the things I teach is about the moment of pride/excitement/happiness and general overwhelm of feelings which actually takes offline the rational, forward-thinking, reasoning part of the brain. (Neuronerds…this is executive functioning being sabotaged) It’s those moments of not thinking clearly that creates the issue in the first instance. Parents, I get that you are proud, excited and overjoyed at times and want to share this with your friends, after all, we are a social mammal and this is how we connect, by sharing (stories and in the old days (kidding) those holiday snaps that last all evening…). I get it and social media now allows us to do this ‘in the moment’ without taking a moment.

The ‘cure’? ..Breathe, take a little longer with your moment and consider the implications. If you don’t know what they could be…don’t risk it?

Mind reading and sharing on social media. The potential for misuse.

Originally published 30 June, 2017

Once upon a time… When we existed as a simple cavemen/women we had simple brains that perhaps had simple thoughts and consciousness. Language may not have been very complex, so what caveman/woman level of thinking was available is up to your imagination, if I began to discuss this here it would take away from the point I wish to make. Suffice to say we aren’t one hundred per cent sure of this fact.

So, consciousness and thinking, fantasies, desires and our wants were (assumed to be) simple, primitive yet always private or secret. Caveman did not discuss these with other apemen/women for a number of reasons, primarily the lack of langue skills I would guess.

And so the same goes for modern man/woman, what goes on inside our thinking minds is not and cannot be known by another unless we transfer that thought into language or behaviour. For today’s article, I’m not talking about non-verbal intentions where we can tell what another person is likely to do based on what we think they are thinking, for example, a child looking at an apple, whereby we are an assumption they will reach out and grab it. I’m discussing objective and observational explicit things we can ‘see’ or ‘hear’ and this will become apparent soon why I’m aiming toward this form of communication.

Alongside this increasing complexity of language came our personal narratives about families, tribes, expectations about behaviours, likes and dislikes, yet communication was the key to this shared evolution. Internal narratives that may have contained strong opinions, feelings, or lustful rages and desires remained hidden unless shared.

And that’s the centrepiece for this article. Hidden unless shared. So why wouldn’t we share our most primitive drives, fantasies or thoughts? Well that’s up for a lager debate really, however, I’m suggesting as much of the psychological literature does that this is due to shame, fear (of reprise or judgment), lack of language skills, taboo subject matters and shyness to name a few. However, the point behind this is being a human being is complex and there are social norms to what are considered ‘accepted’ disclosures and this pertains to the size of the group, who is in the group and levels of trust within the group. Its how we maintain what Cozolino recently referred to as; Sociostatus*, ie harmony within groups.

(This is a play on words of homeostasis which is how our bodies attempt to remain balanced)

Harmony, Acceptance, Tolerance and balance. The order of harmonious groups, whether that be cells in a body or large numbers of a tribe.

So fast forward to the age of the Internet. The tribe we belong to in terms of possible connections is difficult to ascertain for certain, but let’s stay for the purposes of this article its the number of users of Facebook per month, which is 2 billion or (as other social media apps exist) 50% of the world as they have access to the Internet. That’s 3.5 billion people. Let that sink in a moment.

How or where do we find the sociostasis for this? What’s actually acceptable to disclose in a circle that is this large? What social norms exist? Surely there are many people who are both alike as there are different? Well, what we do know is there is as much variation on the internet as there is in real life, with one difference…….

Your thoughts (desires/opinions/feelings/lusts) once shared on the internet are now explicitly available for others to see, find and share if they so desire. Welcome to social media in one of its many forms. I’m sure from reading my blog you may well know by now that I keep the content real and yet protected somewhat, so following form I will introduce you to why this may be an issue. Many sexual fetishes are misunderstood by the layperson, however, there are some that border criminal intent as well as the bizarre. This may ‘pop up’ on your timeline without warning (sorry for the badly timed pun there). Again much of my research on social media has ‘introduced’ me to things I may never have known about IRL.

Why this is worrying is for these reasons; people have many sexual likes and dislikes, after all, we are all different. Once these are posted, for the prude, naive or uneducated this can create shock and outrage. For those who are more comfortable in their sexual preferences, likes and knowledge these types of post just pass them by, mostly. Discussions and perhaps humour is had and the post becomes a distant memory as the next post on social media displaces it (after all it really wasn’t that important was it?)

I will now briefly discuss some material that may be distressing so please be aware that this may evoke some strong feelings in you. Please take care of yourself.

There comes a cost of some fantasies and fetishes that are at the periphery that are shared on social media and this can cause distress to ‘ordinary folk’. For example, learning that there are men who actively seek out pictures of heavily pregnant women on social media to masturbate to may indeed raise questions about why? (I do not intend to answer this here). Outcries of rage and misunderstanding may even follow this disclosure and I understand that some of you may feel this way. I am not responsible for the content of the internet and this content exists in/on this internet.

Why is this even a cause for concern or worry though? Are you likely to see someone’s sexual preferences or fantasies online? Do you really care about what others like? Did you even need to know? Perhaps not, however, your sharing of your posts (in this instance photos) are in this very same internet. Does It then follow that we should keep all photos private? Perhaps? Does this limit you? Again perhaps? However, I want you to think about the fact that as you wander around public spaces that you’re unlikely to ever know what somebody is thinking or in this case, sexually fantasising about. It has always been this way.

So what is my actual point? In short, this is about being aware of what you share on the internet and how it COULD be used or sought out. Imagine if you were to find your photo on someone else’s site/forum/page and it was being used in a sexual way? For adolescents this may highlight why and where your photos may end up and for the adults reading this, you or photos of your family or children may be used in this way. I’m not saying don’t ever post your pictures up on social media, though I do say for pictures of infants and children that this is definitely my advice. If the pictures are not online how can they be shared?

I am fully aware that some of you may be angry about or with this article and I have encountered a number of parents who have ‘vented’ this on social media, and again I say I’m not responsible for others behaviour, intentions, feelings, lusts or the internet, people have these feelings and you do not know who they are, unless or until they tell you.

#Livestreaming and the potential for vicarious trauma. A young girls suicide. What next?

Originally published 7 January, 2017

This blog may contain distressing and possibly traumatising material. There are no pictures or videos, just words to minimise vicarious trauma, however, the content contains a detailed reference to suicide and young people.

Yesterday (6 Jan 2017), I happened to see a post about a young girl who completed suicide. Let me explain why this particular post has many levels of impact. Indeed theses posts always have a profound effect on me due to a number of factors. These are my empathic and compassionate world view, my place in the world as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, enemy….well to put it another way; human being and my role as a child trauma therapist.

In today’s society and the availability of here and now immediate news, it probably isn’t that uncommon to ‘happen upon’ news like this on social media. Especially when numerous contacts share it voraciously. Gone are the days of next day news or even weekly roundups from your local community. Today is about now. Right now.

As this immediacy effect is becoming part and partial of most peoples lives, in regards to social media, developers of this technology are finding ways to ‘feed’ this. Obviously, this is business-driven (money/greed you decide) and perhaps morals and ethics are laid to one side in order to ‘maximise impact and growth for our platform ‘ “mwahahahaha” (BTW I’m just guessing with a little artistic licence this is what is said). And so the need to be ahead of other developers is, well ahead of the game. Cue parable about the industrial revolution etc.

So apps like Meerkat, Periscope (Twitter) and Facebook Live (other apps exist also but these are the popular ones) have appeared to allow users to stream live to you. One of the remarkable things about these apps is they often have a geotagging service where you can ‘tap into’ anyone’s live stream when they are available. (For those of you who are not technologically minded this means you can click on a highlighted spot and see someone’s live feed).

The worrying thing about this technology is you have no power/consent/pre-watershed warning about the content of the live feed. You could see a fairly mundane video or you could see some of the following: Masturbating, Violence, Abuse, Torture, Domestic Abuse, Child Sexual Abuse (a top concern for the Police BTW), Rape, Murder or even a young girls Suicide.

No, I’m not kidding. THIS HAPPENS FOR REAL.

What’s so difficult about this subject matter is on a number of levels. I will try and limit the blog to highlighted points and try to refrain from using too much ‘jargon’.

Firstly; Vicarious trauma is a real thing. It happens almost like wifi and is transmitted to you and you ARE affected by witnessing a traumatic event. You may think not, however, there is a large amount of research that can dispute otherwise. (To keep this simple we have lots of biological reactions that we can measure). You may even be affected by these words to be fair and for that, I invite you to talk to someone about this blog to help you manage and soothe your distress. This is a research-based tool and its why therapy really exists because we know that putting a narrative (story) to our experiences is healing.

Secondly, we are fascinated by the horror of another’s suffering. It is said when we enjoy this its called schadenfreude. This is why ‘You’ve Been Framed’ was successful and video compilations called ‘Fails” exist. We are drawn to watch, yet horrified for doing so. Another fun-filled fact is Animals are not. This is part of being a human being. Some people like it more than others and some people don’t want to look. Those who don’t want to look/watch tend to do much more cognitive processing and have empathic thinking around the content/future of the event. No that is not to say these humans are superior, it is to say they think and feel differently.

Thirdly, we are drawn to shock others, and this is about connection. Let me explain briefly, its why art can exist in the way it does. It’s why the news has the impact it does. On social media, we often share things that we dislike in order to have a conversation and to put a meaning and narrative to our experience. In the case of this young girl who completed suicide, there was an attempt to connect. As I didn’t know the girl either personally or professionally I can only speculate that she wanted to connect in some way about her current state of being. I will not be posting the details or link but I will say that she suffered depression, not just sadness, real depression (Yes diagnosed as she was reportedly taking medication). Depression is a hopeless, futile and lonely place. For a child, this is reportedly much more difficult due to the way in which the brain works and to be using medication may well have complicated this all the more. What I do know is she live-streamed the setting up of the scene as well as the act itself. She talked to the phone camera in an attempt to connect. I wonder with whom?

Anyone of us can speculate that this may have been about the stereotypical; “a cry for help” and perhaps she did really want someone to save her. Perhaps she wanted to use this as a piece of art, a legacy, a lesson, a rebellious ‘fuck you’ statement or perhaps this was about something else? We will never know. What I definitely can say is this must have been devastating for her parents who are heard calling her name almost 20/30 minutes after she died in the background. I wonder if the location was important. I wonder if she had been missing beforehand or if this was because of something in particular that had happened. I know this is terribly, terribly sad.

I wonder who the people were that watched and why? I wonder how long they watched? I wonder how much people were shocked, appalled, traumatised, enjoyed, revelled in this? (and other psychologically imbalanced acts that I will omit from this post) I wonder who shared it and why? I wonder why this platform. I wonder how many of you may even go to look for this post elsewhere.

I wonder what will become acceptable in the future for us to watch and share?

I have deliberately not discussed desensitisation here as this is a slightly different tangent, although relevant. Ive already written 1000 plus words. Go grab a cup of tea and talk to someone about this. Share this post. Let’s start asking about the potential risks/dangers/implications of #Livestreaming

Forces: digital banter or future safety & employability?

Originally published 31 December, 2016

Forces banter is like no other (Mostly). I’m not entirely sure that many ‘civvies’ will ever truly understand the nature of this connection, respect and humour which from the outside may look like anything but humour, respect and connection. Savagery, disrespect and a sick slanted language are the glue that holds this phenomena together. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted and that’s exactly why it works in the way that it does.

However, this camaraderie used to be between troops, talked about in a manner that ‘outsiders’ maybe wouldn’t understand (a bit like all the acronyms used such as BFT or PFA as it now is) and titles such as Remf, crowbag or craphat could be exchanged without revealing the intricacies of these insults, yet understood by those who use them and enjoyed for these very reasons.

So what’s the issue? What point am I making here and why is this about Forces humour? Well, in short, this humour used to be face to face, person to person and the general layman or ‘civvie’ may not have ever encountered this, seen or understood it, until the advent of the internet and/or reality TV. As a cybertrauma researcher, I spend a considerable amount of time watching behaviours on the Internet and how these behaviours are influencing social and emotional intelligence or in this case the future employability of serving and veteran members of the Forces.

In short, I have watched a number of websites, social media accounts, groups and pages that are devoted to the humour of the Forces increase in both numbers and volume. This is not actually my point here as the internet provides the very platform for this expansion and growth. What I am considering and writing about is the evolution of ‘lack of foresight’. By this I mean; Yes we have freedom of speech (to a degree), yes the Forces humour and banter is a real thing and I believe that this should not be quelled and I don’t propose that as a solution here. But, here is the issue; when you post this on a public platform such as social media, it can be seen by the Forces staff and general public who WILL and DO include your future employers, romantic partners, their parents, new friends, enemies and maybe your children. This can be seen at any time now or in the future.

What is funny now and retrospectively at the time may affect you in your future. For real. It’s almost like battlefield incidents becoming something you are judged for in your future, by people who weren’t there and don’t understand why you engaged in the behaviours that you did. I’m sure those of you who are veterans and currently serving will see the irony in that last sentence (It’s rather topical right now don’t you think?). However, I am likening your social media posts to your future.

I don’t know if you saw the SAS Who Dares Wins TV series that showed the kind of behaviour that I’m discussing here, so here’s a short example. The ‘Staff’ on the program looked into the “very traceable” histories of the competitors and used this to ‘educate’ and ‘have a chat’ with them. Obviously for very different reasons in the program, but the principle is the same. This ‘checking’ behaviour was done to reveal psychological sides of the competitors that could be used to provoke, motivate or indeed persecute against. So, let’s extrapolate from this just for a moment and I’ll suggest that a person in the near future checking your social media history could be either:

Current social media accounts (not naming them here) who do exactly this to expose ‘Persec’ or just for the laugh at your expense or,

Your future employer who in a few years time decides to offer the job to someone who didn’t post a sick/misogynistic/misandric/homophobic joke/banter on a public forum. Would you even know that this was the reason for not getting the job?

Your Cpl, Sgt, Staff etc….

Forces banter is great at times and yes I appreciate the intricacies of it and can indulge in it, however, I know because of my job and role in life that I choose whom to share this with and when. I know my digital reputation, footprint and future can all depend upon this. I use foresight to pause and consider my options (yes this is annoying as it means I don’t join in on conversations I would like to) and to be honest I worry about the younger end of the population who are currently posting online without (or without caring about) this momentary pause and consideration.

Neuroscience tells us this is probably due to maturation of the brain, occurring at approximately 25 years of age (slightly older for males) and this could be an underlying explanation. Perhaps even an excuse. I wonder what the New Year will bring for those posts that will appear from those who are even less in control of their executive functions due to alcohol (Executive functioning is the sciencey word for thinking, planning and reasoning). How will this affect their future, both in and out of the Forces? I am aware that a (probably singular) briefing about digital footprints & Persec is now part of Basic/Phase 1, however, I am still seeing an increase in the number of posts that I’m quite sure I will be using in my research in future. So my questions are twofold here.

Why are the Forces not discussing this with their employees as a means of future career prospects and safety? (I mean more than just Persec) If they are, why is it not working?

Surely you wouldn’t have a problem being a part of my research seeing as your posts are public? I wonder?

2016….The year we blamed ‘a year’ for our existential angst

Originally published 28 December, 2016

2016 the year that was …. Pretty normal to be honest. It’s just social media that convinced us otherwise. There have been some strange occurrences happening online that mirror real life, however, the platform is larger, wider and resembles a lymphocyte which is encompassing many social media sheep. Let me explain what I mean…

This year, like any other, the world kept on turning, seasons followed in their natural order and days of the week, hours, minutes and seconds continued their disciplined routines. Babies were born and people died. I feel like maybe I should burst into song with “The circle of life”, however, I’ll spare you that. (You wouldn’t be able to hear me anyway as this is text but through the magic of psychology, you now probably have an earworm)

Back to the matter in hand, I was talking about the fact people have died and some of these people happened to be celebrities or well known to the public. What has been different about this fact in 2016 has been the emergence of a phenomenon akin to when Princess Diana died and the nations response to that. There has been a “social media mourning process”. RIP Tweets have trended, people have changed their profile pictures to match flags of nations where a large number of people were killed, Facebook has an “I’m safe..” feature (which is entirely brilliant considering Facebook’s signal can survive the features that Mother Nature/bombings and many other large scale issues could wipe out) and people have rushed to post and highlight their passion, connection or hatred of said celeb or groups. (Yes, even I joined in on this with Carrie Fisher #SWPrincess. I have abstained from others and just watched). Newspapers or should I say SocmedPapers have printed articles and posts about these celebs when they previously berated or shamed them and people have used this to focus their grief/mourning process on. In short Social Media has increased the awareness of death. Now I don’t mean that we were previously blind to this fact, I mean that this is possibly becoming an existential knowing and awareness. This can unsettle people as most of the time we are busy pushing this thought out of our minds. This existential angst is what Irving Yalom describes as a feeling that we try to ignore and turn away from. Yet it is an inevitable part of life that stirs up in us a move towards connection to alleviate the loneliness that death encompasses.

I wondered if this was what I had been watching on social media and I would like to propose the following: Social Media has been the bread and butter of virtual interactions between people for a number of years now. This is not new information. However, I have noticed that people have become wise (thanks to many blogs and research) that people tend to promote their ‘ideal’ or ‘false’ self in this public domain, hence interactions and relationships don’t feel as real, perhaps even forced. I have watched Twitter/Instagram cliques emerge and Facebook groups increase in both numbers and types. I have watched competing ‘status’ about success stories and I have watched the brown nosers and bullshitters hail and (what seems to be falsely) commend others. I see hypocritical posts where the feel is very much about ‘my success (on social media) is about self-promotion by trashing someone else” I have seen many psychological games that match real life and many of those proposed by Berne (Transactional Analysis Theorist).

I have noticed that para-social relationships, (and those where people have never met real life), in/on social media feel less real and connected, yet the behaviours that I see are no different to those in real life and ones that my clients in therapy struggle with. Are people trying to connect more through social media and is this causing a disconnect? I think so in a roundabout way. I think that people are feeling isolated, lonely, alone, ignored, false, rejected, disconnected and the increased use of social media is intensifying these feelings, albeit on an unconscious level and out of our awareness. We are attempting to connect in a way that is unsatisfactory, not meeting our needs and without the ‘real’ness that comes with knowing people directly. We don’t really know anyone via social media and it probably taps into that childhood feeling of wanting to meet/know our celebrity idols….would they have been how you imagined? Would anyone if you took their Social media profile. Are we all trying to be that little bit celeb?

We are all doing our best in a virtual world. It’s only time (and good research) that will retrospectively give us the answers.

Counsellors, Psychotherapists and the Internet. Devices, Ethics, Social Media

Originally published 27 September, 2016

There are many approaches and guidelines on how to use the equipment you find in the kitchen. Call them directions, user guides or instructions, aka destructions in my household as no one ever reads them. Therein lies the problem…#skimming or #ignoring or #doesntapplytome (I’m using hashtags # to highlight the fact that this can be trend/pattern)

So if there was indeed a user guide for cyberspace would you ignore it? Skim over it? Throw it in the bin or digest every ounce of the contents?

Did you know a document such as this actually exists for counsellors and psychotherapists and has done for a while?

Ethical Framework for the Use of Social Media by Mental Health Professionals

That’s the one. Have you read it?

What do you think about it, what are your reflections and what rights do you think you have for using your social media accounts as you see fit? What do you think about your clients and their social media usage?

Do you have rights? Do your clients? What might these be? What do you expect from the sites and applications (programs) that you use when it comes to privacy, harassment, location services and your right to express yourself as a human being on the Internet?

Ethical dilemma after ethical dilemma right?

What about the question that can often go unnoticed… What happens about your past or your opinions of today becoming your future?

(or future past for that matter)

What effect will this have on you or your clients?

I have deliberately put questions forward in this article to get you thinking. Please feel free to feedback and let’s open this up for debate, I’m sure you will be surprised at both your response and others too. (I should also insert a comment about trolling and respect for each other, however, the point is exactly that- – you never know the response that will occur after posting)

Now onto working with clients who bring technology into the room, again what rights do you have a counsellor to insist that the device is turned off or not brought into your room? Why would this be ethical or unethical? Do you know about geolocation and tagging? (go and google these terms if you’re not sure)

Would this have an effect on your practice? Do you have a right to have your device in the room?

What about access to the Internet? What about the content a client may show you that is on their phone? (Think #sexting and #underageconsent). Do you know enough about the internet to know what apps are safe, underage, ethical, secret or indeed coercive?

Should you be asking your clients every session to turn their phone off before coming in? What about new clients? How do you ask this question? Does it become part of your contract? What about beforehand, do you ask them to turn it off before driving/walking down the street to your practice?

Do you allow it? What do you say to clients who have a phone that buzzes and they pay attention to that and not the session? Do you ask them to turn it face down, put it away? What about the phone that rings and the client answers?

What about the clients that add you on social media accounts or follow you on public forums?

What about clients that text you, for example asking to change appointment times and then start a ‘text session’ or ‘email session’. How do you put your boundaries in place?

For those of you who work creatively (with adults or children) is it ethical to share pictures of your clients work? Do you have to wait for a reasonable amount of time between the session and posting? Do you need written permission to share (after all data protection and client identification?) What about if a client retracts that consent in years to come?

These are only a few of the questions I ask/teach and answer in my training. Ask me about this via email.

Do you have enough knowledge about this?

Are you safe online? What about your clients?

This really is a subject you need to engage with. It isn’t going away. (even if it did it will be in virtual existence for a long, long, long time)

Why are counsellors scared of Cybertrauma?

Originally published 2 June, 2016

What is Cybertrauma and why does it seem so scary?

Why are counsellors currently turning a blind eye to an issue that is only going to increase?

Why is this not a compulsory part of all courses and modules?

Will it affect you?

These are some questions I have both mused over and directly asked counsellors. Currently, the answers to this seem steeped in fear. The same fear that is preventing Parents and Teachers from acknowledging the darker side of cyberspace, the internet and digital devices/communication.

How is this important for counselling? Well if you a) see clients, b) use digital devices (I wonder how you are currently reading this?) and c) work with anyone who owns, has access to a device or cyberspace then this is a topic you need to know about.

This is not esaftey, this is what can happen and why and how this is imperative to your work in sessions.

I am currently writing academically on one small portion of Cybertrauma and the results have been quite stark and interesting in this area alone. Needless to say, counsellors are now being asked to be esaftey experts, provide advice around cyberbullying and how to collect evidence by the clients (mostly children or young people I may add at this stage) and also what seems to be a deficit of knowledge in counsellors about the harm that can occur through the medium of cyberspace.

So to answer the first question what is Cybertrauma? : This is the effect upon a person of any traumatic or stressful event that occurs through the medium of an electronic device, which may be self or other-directed. This may be limited to the present or may include past or future incidents and reoccurrences.

Why is it scary? Because anonymity exists in cyberspace in many forms.

Lastly, will it affect you as a counsellor? Well, truth be told any aspect of it could. It depends on the way you communicate using your electronic devices, what settings you have or do not have set (including default manufacturing ones), your presence on the internet and yes you probably are on Facebook somewhere; because there will be photographs of you in existence. This also depends on what devices your clients are using and bringing to your counselling room and something called geotagging. (whether they are switched on or not). If you see high-risk clients this can be a very important issue.

Then there are the issues that directly affect your client and what this means to them and how you work with these in sessions. “You see cybertrauma is a time-travelling issue” (my words). It is not limited to the here and now. It is not limited to the 6, 10 or even a few years worth of sessions you have with a client and each and every issue from cyberbullying to stalking, revenge porn to grooming, underage gaming to radicalisation is going to appear in your room. (I have listed over 25 separate issues so far in the last 4 years and its growing)

Do you know how to help your client? How the event impacts them? What they are even talking about? Generation Z, Millennials, Digital Natives and all other names we have for the younger generation using these devices one thing is for sure. You need to know this stuff, the whys and hows. Perpetrator and victim behaviours and how to help your clients.

These children will become the adults that bring these issues.

This is not going to go away. I have only mentioned the accessible internet in this article. There is also the Dark Net and what this means for you and your clients is even more scary.

Dick Pics and online dating

Originally published 27 March, 2016

Dick Pics and dating sites.

Just what I needed to receive just before eating my dinner; not! (I just vomited a little there, sorry!)

How many messages before I get sent one? The current record is 3 and still stands at this from 2010.

It kind of went a little bit like this:

  1. HI, nice profile,
  2. Hi,

DING…..(insert picture in your own mind as this is NSFW)

Well, that leaves nothing to the imagination and so I told him. I then stopped using dating sites for that purpose and began to research why this was happening in 2010 and had I just chanced upon a random ‘flasher’?

In short, no and it can get worse than that! ( I won’t be covering that in this blog though so you’re safe)

But that’s not the ulterior message I am going to highlight here; You see I have been researching dating sites for some time to watch the behaviours of men towards women on dating sites as this is the only research I can carry out (for the time being). The things I have noticed have left me saddened, speechless and I have a lot of sympathy for the genuine guys out there trying to get a date or lifelong partner.

So yes “dick pics” are a part of this and whilst this is probably not the way to win a woman by early displays of your erect genitalia (I’ve never knowingly been sent or been told about pictures of flaccid ones btw) there are a number of sites that no longer/do not allow these to be sent in chats on the site. Rightly so! It’s the process around this, and how that happens that I have been interested in because it’s not being talked about enough.

So let me introduce you to the ‘Romantic guy’, you know the one whom many women are looking for on a dating site? I am going to make a big presumption here and say that this may because the women are looking for someone that isn’t their ex (you can now insert your own prejudices about” he was a….” whatever). So yeah they’re looking for a nice guy…..

Herein lies the deception. I have watched a number of profiles whereby the story behind them seeking love is a wife/gf who treated them poorly and they have been deeply affected by this and they are looking for a soulmate…. Someone they can trust, just cuddle up with (not meaning sex) and have deep and meaningful conversations with etc…etc; all of the things that women are drawn to in Romcoms and Mills and Boons books.

  1. Genuine guys who have had this happen and who have real profiles like this are now seemingly going to get the bad end of the stick here, however, they are not the ones I am talking about.
  2. I’m talking about ‘the deceptors’ who are baiting the women out.

You see what happens now is called a ‘psychological game’ (Eric Berne and his theory: T.A. describes this as a set of transactions leading to a payoff whereby one or both parties are left with a particular feeling)

This dating game follows a pattern of contact, in this case viewing his profile either by looking in the first place or because he looked at yours so it’s only fair to look at his, which has been carefully edited. The conversation is struck up and moves onto sharing details that are outside the dating sites, eg phone numbers, kik/snapchat/whatsapp handles or numbers.

It is at this stage that you receive the unsolicited sexting picture. ‘The payoff’ for the woman is disgust/surprise/maybe even a giggle, or two. The payoff for the sender; gratification at the very least. Obviously, I don’t know what they do at this stage and the women I have spoken to about this don’t tend to hang around to find out either!

Also, dick pics is not a conversation that is happening enough with women or men, the point I am attempting to make here is this is not okay on a number of levels and we speak to young women/men and girls/boys about this and we make adverts and have conferences about it. This is behaviour that is sexually intrusive, without consent, its sexting and grooming/stalking behaviour.

Why am I talking about this? Well, it seems that both men and women are mostly embarrassed to talk about this and when they genuinely get a chance to discuss it they are angry and do not like it. I think that perhaps there is a misconception that grooming only happens to sexually exploited young people.

The game I talked about in this blog is also known by its more popular name: “grooming”.

This is to say women and men can be and are groomed on dating sites and this is one of the ways it happens. It’s not so long ago that a man was arrested and charged for date raping women he had met via online dating sites. This is how it happens. Grooming.

This does not just happen to women, I know as I have seen some homosexual men in therapy and one disclosed that he regularly got sent dick pics in this way and had not asked for them.

However whilst this subject remains taboo/embarrassing then the full extent (pardon the pun) of this issue will remain hidden also. Dating sites need to be treated with the same caution that we advise to younger people about accepting ‘friends’. You are only dealing with a picture and some text, to begin with, treat it with caution. You genuinely do not know who you are talking to.

If you’re reading this and would be interested in sharing your experience anonymously for some research into cyberstalking/harassment please contact me. I will treat any contact regarding this issue with confidentiality.