Thursday, 31 August 2017

Bodymindfulness, physiology and self-regulation: An innovative research-informed learning system to support self-management for people with hard-to-explain chronic bodily symptoms for which tests, scans etc. come back negative

Bodily symptoms which are hard-to-explain medically have a significant physiological aspect which may not be effectively addressed by verbal/cognitive approaches, i.e. top down methods.


Many people who do try psychological therapy for their bodily symptoms do not find sustained relief, becoming symptomatic again 6 months after treatment.


The specific neuropathology of hard-to-explain pain symptoms queries the efficacy of talking therapies as the sole form of treatment. Research suggests that body-based approaches are important to consider because they appear to support the necessary neuro-plastic changes required to bring about short-term symptom relief and long-term effective treatment.


The BodyMind Approach™ is emerging as one of the most significant body based treatments. It was designed specifically for chronic unexplainable bodily symptoms due to its profound impact on the nervous system, combined with its focus on gentle and graded body awareness through mindful-movement. It is a form of bottom up self-regulation and, consequently, an integrative for body and mind, feelings and thoughts, imagination and creativity/expression.


Sit up, take a deep breath into your abdomen, let it out slowly…….and another…..feeling less stressed?


This treatment is a proven path of coaching to help you to learn how to cope better with hard-to-explain bodily symptoms such as ME; fibromyalgia; IBS; chronic pain; fatigue; palpitations; tinnitus; skin conditions; back ache; head ache etc.


As well as 12 sessions of group work there are individual coaching sessions, individual monitoring and non-face to face contact over 6 months post group. In as little as 2 hours over 12 sessions the participant is taken step by step through a carefully structured sequence of guided meditations and easy movement exercises.


Learn to master the proven techniques of a new method of bodymindfulness-based symptom distress reduction in this engaging course. Whatever the source of the distress whether it is the bodily symptoms themselves or work/family/financial/relationship pressures making them worse (or triggering them) this new approach offers tools to feel more in control and attaining a new level of physical and emotional wellbeing. Let your body do the talking! There are opportunities for self-reflection, gaining a new understanding and invitations to learn new coping skills and how to put them into action over the post group period.


Topics covered include:
• our relationship with, and attitudes towards, our bodies
• attitudes towards mental and physical distress
• the impact of distressing symptoms on the autonomic nervous system: what actually happens physiologically
• the freeze, flight, faint, fight responses, dissociation from our bodies and disempowerment
• stress-related dys-ease
• chronic pain - opening and closing the ‘pain gate'
• somatisation - what happens when feelings are not felt/expressed?
• body memory: the body remembers … but how?
• recovery and hope - what can we actually do?
Who is it for? People with hard-to-explain bodily symptoms such as headache; backache; IBS; chronic pain; ME; fibromyalgia; skin conditions etc,


Experiencing the inter-connection between our minds and bodies can help with the treatment of these unexplained ‘physical’ symptoms.


Our bodies and minds are profoundly inter-related, and complementary aspects of being human. Neuroscience research tells us that our thoughts are governed by our emotions, which are, in turn, grounded in our bodies. If we can learn to explore the emotional content of our physical symptoms, even understand their purpose perhaps, we are more likely to be able to self-manage them.


Our emotional distress, such as when we are fearful, anxious or depressed often disconnects us from others. We are told that these feelings mean we are unwell in our mental health, in our minds. This distress is seen as separate and distinct from physical symptoms in our bodies, our physical health. We have a mental and physical healthcare system, without a connection between the two. Symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, ME, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma or eczema are understood to mean that we are unwell in our bodies.


However, ground-breaking research demonstrates that there is a complex and dense inter- connectedness between the brain and the body, meaning that the split between body and mind in medicine is unhelpful. The brain is entwined with the whole body through the nervous system via the spinal cord for example, including all the systems, organs, musculature, liquids and chemicals constantly influencing the brain. There actually is no separation between body and mind.


Your whole being is ever changing; new pathways are forming in your brain as you read this. We are dynamically predisposed to all influences. We can become hyper- (over) aroused or hypo- (under) aroused at any one time. We can freeze – becoming rigid in body and mind, or be shut down and numb. When balanced in body and mind we can feel peaceful and connected with ourselves and others. Learning to listen to our bodies, to the signals termed symptoms, such as pain or other physical symptoms, can help us to regulate ourselves.


We can use bodily symptoms as a gateway to the self-healing/management of conditions by accepting that both body and mind are connected to the point of being one and the same. Awareness practices to support feelings of wellbeing and resilience to cope with unexplained symptoms such as pain, and life events including trauma, can help us to learn that both body and mind are connected, enabling us to feel more in control of our unexplained symptoms, pain and our feelings of depression and anxiety, promoting feelings of wellbeing. If we are able to re-connect our body with our mind we discover powerful insights and practical skills to help us associate intensely with our body as a source of effective knowledge and healing potential - our body wisdom. Accessing this source of wisdom can help us to transcend many common, yet challenging, physical and emotional issues. This embodied, enactive approach is a new and exciting, emergent field. Professionals including doctors, psychologists, neuroscientists, researchers, movement psychologists, counsellors/psychotherapists in the health care and wellbeing fields are becoming much more aware of the role our bodies play in emotional distress. The secrets for transforming our relationship with our body in a holistic way can be learned so that we can experience more life force energy, creativity and resilience on a sustained basis over time.


When we are not in alignment with our body’s wisdom, our bodies send us all sorts of ‘signals’ – both big and small.


Here are some of the many signals, termed ‘symptoms’, you may have experienced:
• Stress, anxiety/fear
• Lethargy and fatigue
• Over-eating & weight gain / under-eating
• Isolation, loneliness, depression
• Sleep disturbances/insomnia
• Other chronic, unexplainable physical conditions (e.g. IBS; fibromyalgia; chronic fatigue; headache; chronic pain; backache; numbness; skin conditions; dizziness; palpitations)


Research at the University of Hertfordshire has demonstrated that movement can help increase wellbeing and prevent pain. For example, if you stand, balanced between your two feet hip width apart with knees slightly bent, holding your head high, bending and stretching your knees and swinging your arms gently around your torso in a co-ordinated rhythm for a sustained period of time you will generate chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins zoom around making you feel less down so you can do more. This increased activity level then results in a spiral upwards towards feelings of wellbeing. Furthermore, these endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of physical pain, increasing still further your activity levels.


This and other insights into the body~mind connection have contributed to the development of a research – informed clinical service,


Professor Helen Payne

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Breastfeed for longer or share parental leave? This shouldn't be a choice couples have to make

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Employers should be doing more to support breastfeeding mothers. via shutterstock.com
Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, University of Hertfordshire
When it introduced legislation for shared parental leave in 2015, the UK was widely praised. The move allowed partners to split the entitlement to state financial support that is available to couples until their child’s first birthday.
But two years later, uptake has been disappointing. Although there are no official figures, a 2016 survey of 1,000 human resource professionals found only a fifth of organisations had received requests from male staff about shared parental leave.
Financial cost, concerns over negative perception in the workplace, difficulty in understanding shared parental leave, and a lack of awareness have all been identified as reasons why parents are not taking up the entitlement.
Little, though, has been said about breastfeeding. But my ongoing research surveying mothers about shared parental leave has found that most breastfeeding mothers find the idea of going back to work while their partner takes leave impracticable.

Six months recommended

Breastfeeding has been described as one of the most important contributors to infant health and child well-being. The World Health Organisation recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months because of the range of health benefits that it offers to both mother and child.
These include a reduced likelihood of mothers developing breast or ovarian cancer, and children’s enhanced psychosocial and emotional development. In the UK, the government has offered mothers in some parts of the country a £200 voucher to encourage them to breastfeed until their baby turns six months old.
Barriers in the workplace have been identified as the biggest hindrance to breastfeeding mothers who choose to return to work early after childbirth. Returning to work often means mothers must constrain their breastfeeding, which can mean some giving it up altogether.
Research has shown that early return to work by breastfeeding mothers negatively affects the initiation, frequency and duration of breastfeeding. This explains the noted decline in the number of breastfeeding working mothers who returned to work early after childbirth. One US study also found that if a mother plans to return to work within three months, there is a 16-18% reduction in the probability she will start breastfeeding.
This means that if mothers want to breastfeed for longer, some choose to delay their return to work. Of course, it is possible for mothers to express breast milk at work and store it in the fridge or freezer, but there may be issues of hygiene in storing the milk to guarantee that it is safe for the child’s consumption. Working breastfeeding mothers will often need to go to the breastfeeding room or toilet (if there is no designated room for breastfeeding mums) to express the milk to avoid engorgement, which is when the breast becomes overfull and painful.

What employers can do

There are facilities and policies that employers can put in place to support women who breastfeed at work. These include on-site child care and policies that allow mothers to leave work to go to the child, or to breastfeed in the office.
But employers should be doing more to encourage working mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding after returning to work to do so. One 2006 survey of 46 public sector employees in England investigated the support breastfeeding mothers experienced at work. It found that 90% of those surveyed were not aware of any support that their employer had put in place to encourage breastfeeding mothers returning to work.
Another 2007 study found that the longer a mother delayed her return to work after having a baby, the more likely she was to breastfeed for at least four months. The researchers argued that government policies to encourage mothers to return to work early after childbirth would not affect breastfeeding if the government also provided employers with increased financial support and incentives to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
Sharing the fun. via shutterstock.ccom

The importance of breastfeeding and the lack of adequate support at work for breastfeeding mothers pose a challenge to the effectiveness of the legislation on shared parental leave. There is currently no law which says that a mother has a right to breastfeed, or that employers must provide the relevant facilities at work. This means that for those couples who want to take shared parental leave, breastfeeding up to the recommended age of six months can be quite a challenge.
The ConversationThe UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, and the numbers could further decline if more working mothers give up breastfeeding to return to work within six months. If mothers who want to breastfeed choose not to return to work soon after giving birth, this sadly renders legislation on shared parental leave ineffective.
Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, Lecturer & Cohort Tutor, School of Law, Criminology & Political Science, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017


Ivan Phillips, Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching), School of Creative Arts, University of Hertfordshire

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There has been no shortage of opinions in the days since the announcement of Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th lead actor in the BBC’s science fiction drama Doctor Who. However people have responded to the imminent arrival of the first female Doctor, one thing is clear: it has got them excited, in the truest sense of the word, with few remaining entirely neutral on the subject.


Overall, the reaction has been enthusiastic, with parents posting tales of ecstatic daughters, the previously Who-phobic suddenly deciding that they are going to tune in, and the majority of fans welcoming either a sharply appropriate piece of casting (the best actor for the job), a long-overdue redressing of the balance (at last, a woman) or a necessarily radical shake-up of the format (a change is better than a rest). Nervousness among some, however, has escalated into profound and toxic fury among a minority. At the limits of negative opinion, there were ad hominem attacks, plangent howls of disbelief and a TARDIS-load of bad old-fashioned chauvinism. The angry bottom line for the savagely righteous and the frankly appalled seems to have been a belief, a gut instinct perhaps, that a 54-year-old institution had been destroyed in a moment of SJW madness.

 

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Not surprisingly, some of the most vitriolic resistance could be traced to those with a culturally conservative agenda, whether professional media goblin Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) – who jibed about the Doctor going on maternity leave - or US evangelicals like James Huckabee (@Hucksworld): ‘#DoctorWho died today. He didn’t die nobly as you might expect. He was murdered by Political Correctness.’ At times, the bitter aggression of those reacting against the news was terrifying in its barely-suppressed misogyny. ‘Not really a DW fan,’ raved Felix Ulrich (@BlackParagon), ‘but female DW can suck my D ffs – stupid ideology bullshit infesting everything’.

 

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Given the ferocity of such outbursts, it seems glib to reach for the no-publicity-is-bad-publicity argument but the revelation of Peter Capaldi’s successor has certainly generated discussion in a way that hasn’t been seen since the announcement in September 2003 that Doctor Who was to be resurrected by Russell T. Davies after years in the museum of TV relics. Despite Capaldi’s often astonishing performances, ratings have fallen over the last three years, as have sales of the all-important merchandise, and a cynic might be tempted to see the casting of a female Doctor as a last-ditch, all-or-nothing, kill-or-cure publicity stunt on the part of the BBC. The temptation is to be resisted, though, because it reduces a complex cultural moment to a petulant tabloid spasm, doing a disservice to all involved, and to the richness of the Doctor Who mythology itself.

 

Accusations of ‘political correctness’, whether ‘gone mad’ or otherwise, are really too lazy to dignify with a response. There have been enough critiques of Doctor Who’s inherent conservatism over the years – from John Fiske in the early 1980s to Lorna Jowett more recently – to justify a suspicion that, even if it did simply respond to the dreaded feminist-liberal-lefty agenda, Whittaker’s casting would still be a very correct correction. As it happens, my own view is that Doctor Who has never been as reactionary or paternalistic as its reputation suggests – indeed, I feel that it embodies what Paul Ricoeur identifies as myth’s ability to be ‘the bearer of other, possible worlds’. Does the fact that, until Christmas Day 2017, the main character will always have been played by a white man, pose a problem to this reading of Doctor Who as a radical imaginative utopia? Well, yes, of course it does. It is worth remembering, though, as many have in the last week or so, that the first producer of Doctor Who in 1963 was a 27-year-old woman called Verity Lambert and that the first director was a gay Asian man, Waris Hussein, also in his twenties. It has been pointed out, too, that Sidney Newman, the Canadian TV pioneer who probably has a better claim than anyone to be the originator of Doctor Who, commented in 1986 that the lead character should one day be played by a woman. So much for any PC betrayal of the show’s heritage…

 

In an ideal world, the casting of Whittaker would not have caused any kind of fuss, whether appreciative or censorious. Or, at least, it would have caused no more of a fuss than any previous casting of the Doctor, since there is always a period of unease, resistance, questioning, excitement, nostalgia, hope and fear. In an ideal world, Whittaker’s gender would not be an issue in the context of her successful audition for what she has called ‘the ultimate character’. But this is not an ideal world, which is why a narrative like Doctor Who – on television, in novels, in comics, in games, in fan fiction, and in millions of playgrounds around the world – is needed, to be one of those fantastical bearers of other, possible worlds. The current distance from the ideal (and who am I to say that it is the definite article?) can be measured not only by the extremes of joy and despair that have greeted the casting of Whittaker, but also by the ugliness of some of the events that have occurred. The prurience and shabby moral hypocrisy of tabloid newspapers publishing decontextualised nude stills from the actor’s previous screen roles, for example. Then there was the sorry spectacle of the 5th and 6th Doctors, Peter Davison and Colin Baker, being pitched against each other as representatives of the anti- and pro-Whittaker camps respectively. Again, context was everything and, again, context was lost, leading to Davison – a generous and tireless ambassador for Doctor Who for over 30 years – being trolled off Twitter.

 

Davison’s concern that boy’s might have lost a role model was widely reported – ‘If I feel any doubts about it, it’s the loss of a role model for boys’ (note the ‘if’) – but his enthusiasm for Whittaker was less prominent: ‘I understand the argument that you’ve got to open it up, so she has my best wishes and full confidence, I’m sure she’ll do a wonderful job.’ Colin Baker was surely right to argue that a role model is not intrinsically tied to gender – how many boys growing up in the 1990s had Buffy as an icon? – but Davison’s mild qualms that a non-violent, cerebral hero-figure for non-violent, cerebral boys might be slipping from view was not, in its qualified context, entirely unreasonable. Even so, those non-violent, cerebral boys (and men) will now discover that a female Doctor can be just as fantastic at saving the universe as a male Doctor. A female Doctor a bit like their mum, or their sister, or their girlfriend, or their wife. Or, come to think of it, their teacher, their pilot, their doctor…

 

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A recent story in the Daily Mail reports the ‘news’ of Whittaker shopping for groceries in ripped jeans: ‘She will be expected to smarten up when she emerges from the TARDIS.’ This is to bring her in line, presumably, with those sartorially elegant Doctors played by, say, Patrick Troughton and Christopher Eccleston (both shown above). Such ludicrous journalism gives an indication of why the casting of Whittaker is a risk for the series, although the risk has nothing to do with the quality or gender of the lead actor. Nor is to do with the sanctity of the canon (the canon, in this case, being a remarkably flexible thing) or the supposed volatility of fans (who, as Miles Booy recognises, have sometimes loved the series ‘in monstrous ways’). It is to do with the concurrent inertia and sensationalism of the surrounding culture, a temporal paradox if ever there was one. Outgoing show-runner Steven Moffat, speaking at San Diego Comic Con last week, was surely right to insist that the ‘backlash’ against a female Doctor was largely a media invention: ‘so many people want to pretend there’s a problem – there isn’t.’ Moffat, who has received a lot of criticism (some of it justified) for his depiction of female characters during his time in charge of the show, should be credited with establishing the groundwork for Whittaker’s Doctor in his casting of Michelle Gomez as Missy, a brilliantly witty female incarnation of the Master, and in his shaping of Capaldi’s final season. ‘Is the future going to be all girl?’ sneered John Simm’s Master in the recent finale, ‘The Doctor Falls’, to which our hero retorted: ‘We can only hope.’

 

As many have pointed out over the last fortnight, Doctor Who is a fiction, a story, with a modern mythic protagonist who – like Frankenstein’s Creature, Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple – will always be bigger than the actor who plays the part. (And, for the record, I see no reason why Holmes should not be played by a woman or Marple by a man, or either of them by a transgender or nonbinary actor: qualities of imaginative vision, writing and performance are the keys here, not predetermined gender categories.) Doctor Who is a fiction, a story, but it is a mistake to think of it as only a fiction, only a story: there is no only about it. Fictions are acts of make-believe but that does not mean that they are not real. They tell stories that have a reality – that reality of ‘poetic faith’ described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 200 years ago – that is fundamental to the experience of being human. Whether gritty realism or extraordinary fantasy, the stories we tell are always, ultimately, about ourselves. As Matt Smith’s Doctor said to a sleeping Amelia Pond in 2010’s ‘The Big Bang’: ‘We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’

 

This is why the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor – and the reactions to her casting – are so important. They extend the story, and they challenge it. If, in the process, as Jonn Elledge has suggested, ‘the right people’ become agitated, then that is a price worth paying and a gain to be made for the mythology. As Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell tweeted on the day of the casting announcement: ‘This is what Doctor Who has always been there to do.  This is what Doctor Who is *for*.’



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Jodie Whittaker understands this aspect of the show when she comments that ‘Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change’. She, along with Chris Chibnall (and let it be said, Steven Moffat), has seen the future and it works; the past and the present too, as Capaldi’s festive swansong, ‘Twice Upon A Time’, promises to show. The Doctor Who story will continue to be a good one – in the view of this writer, one of the very best.