Insights from across the discipline

Jim Wood on recent content.

Reading the latest issue (February 2018) I was struck by slightly disparate items that reminded me of my longer-term interest in integrative approaches to understanding elements of human behaviour. For example, in his interview Paul Gilbert discusses rumination in compassion-focused therapy and the need to be more compassionate with ourselves, using ‘self-critics’ as an example of people struggling with acceptance of something they have done (or not, as the situation may be) and ruminating on this. On reading this I doubled back to the article by Stroebe and Schut (same edition) exploring a ‘rumination as avoidance hypothesis’ in grief. They also refer to issues of rumination becoming maladaptive if its function is to avoid the acceptance of loss that is too great for the individual. This is similar to Gilbert’s assertion that self-critics can find compassion and acceptance ‘too frightening for them to let go’ (i.e. of the beliefs about causality that they attribute to the circumstances around the issues they may need to face up to or confront).

Gilbert also refers to factors that may reflect long-term issues of potentially abusive relationships in childhood. It was at this point in my reading I recalled an article by Brewin and Andrews from June 2017 (‘False memories of childhood abuse’) in which they consider repression (i.e. direct suppression as an important adjunct in the difficulties surrounding validation of ‘recovered memory’). Direct suppression can be viewed as a comparable phenomenon to rumination within the grief framework outlined by Stroebe and Schut, and it strikes me that people who have experienced historic abuse are likely to go through episodes of mental health grief as befits a loss of personal identity – or the need to accept that what they (have been led to) believe over years was a normal childhood becomes a more tenuous belief under stressful life conditions, which can lead to seeking therapy or repeated unresolved feelings about the past.

However, the issues of repression/suppression as avoidance revolve around the core of identity requiring re-evaluation and change to how it has been defined, possibly for decades, making such change and crisis of grief a highly significant element in people returning again and again to unresolved feelings in an elongated time frame for rumination with similar consequences in all likelihood to those referred to in each article.

All of this just serves to remind me of the descriptive power available to psychologists and the potential for developing hypotheses about current behaviour that, ultimately, may be an aid to supporting individuals with mental health difficulties to yet come to terms with their ‘re-framed’ lives at some stage in their recovery. In addition, The Psychologist indicates a need for psychologists in professional work not to get too bunkered down but ensure they are able to keep up with knowledge, insights and progress across the many permeable boundaries that lattice modern psychology. For me as a retired member of the BPS, The Psychologist remains my main way of keeping in touch with our changing field. Thank you.

Jim Wood
Retired educational psychologist
Ottery St Mary

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