Archives for posts with tag: psychology

A great article on the benefits of reading. Oh, joy!

Get lost in a good book. Time and again, reading has been shown to make us healthier, smarter, and more empathic.

Source: How Reading Rewires Your Brain for More Intelligence and Empathy | Big Think

As a translator, I couldn’t resist this article. Fabulous! And if you have any suggestions, they’re looking for new words.

Learning to identify and cultivate these feelings could give you a richer and more successful life

Source: BBC – Future – The ‘untranslatable’ emotions you never knew you had

Hi all:

As you will remember I told you that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this November and that would not let me much time for original content so I would be sharing some of my old posts. (Yes, I keep writing. I think it’s going well, but at the rhythm I’m going I won’t know for sure until I reread everything…:)

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from Juliette Forster who thought I could be interested in sharing her post/resource about Mindfulness. As you’ll know there has been a fair amount of research about the benefits of Mindfulness in recent (and not so recent times).

I agreed and I thought I’d take the chance to remind you about two previous posts I had written discussing my personal experience with Mindfulness (I continue to practice it, just in case you wondered).

Here is Juliette’s introduction:

Mindfulness has become the latest mental health watchword, with more and more healthcare professionals as well as patients regarding it as something to be taken seriously rather than a flash in the pan treatment that has no basis in scientific fact or research. Whilst it is true it uses some techniques that are grounded in Buddhist meditation, that’s not the whole story. For more information on this interesting topic, you can read on here.

And here I bring you my two previous posts (but if you don’t have time, just check Juliette Foster’s post).


Hi all:

I wanted to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing over the last few days (this was in September 2013). I went on holiday to see my parents, in Barcelona, but when I came back I attended a retreat organised by Dr Russell Razzaque, a consultant psychiatrist who works in a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) in London. The retreat took place at the Carmelite Priory in Oxfordshire (a lovely and secluded place with great views of Oxford), and its remit was to offer training to a number (26 plus the organiser) of psychiatrists on Mindfulness.

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The grand Meditation Hall of the Burmese Buddhist Temple, Singapore. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Wikipedia (yes, I know, but’s it’s a brief definition):

Mindfulness as a psychological concept is the focusing of attention and awareness, based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It has been popularised in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is often taught independently of religion.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry since the 1970s have developed a number of therapeutic applications based on mindfulness for helping people suffering from a variety of psychological conditions, and research has found therapy based on mindfulness to be effective, particularly for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.

I had been reading about Mindfulness, even tried some of the guided meditation audios provided on-line, but found it a bit difficult to make full sense of it by myself, or get any idea of how well, or badly, I was doing.

Although there’s a growing body of research on the use of Mindfulness (and Mindfulness based therapies, like Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Cognitive Therapy) as a therapeutic approach, I must confess I was more interest in it for its own effects on myself, or in recognisable parlance for my own ‘professional development’.

We had a number of talks and instructions as to what Mindfulness was or could do, but most of the stay was focused on practice. We had 24 hours of silence (including not only not talking to each other, but not reading, writing, using the phone, social networking or any other ways of communicating), and engaged in plenty of exercises of meditation, including sitting meditation, standing meditation, and walking meditation (that as quite a few participants noted, and I also thought, because you walk very slowly backwards and forward in the same stretch it makes you look like a very slow zombie), mindful observation (observing a raisin for 5 minutes and then eating it and trying to notice all flavours, sensations, texture in another five minutes) and mindful eating.

The focus (as I understand it, and as you see I’m no expert) of mindful meditation is the breathing. You focus on your own breathing, or a particular part of your breathing (we were trying to focus on our abdominal breathing and a particular point of the abdomen) and whilst meditating, every times thoughts came to our heads, we acknowledge them, let them go, and focus back on the breathing. It is a mode of acceptance. Yes, we have thoughts, and we might be distracted by them, but should not feel bad about it. It’s normal, it’s natural; we contemplate the phenomenon and go back to the breathing.

It is an attempt to try and swift the balance we have of allowing our rational and conscious mind to take over, with its worries, its anxieties, etc. One of the quotations I liked (not sure I can live by it but…) is: ‘thinking is overrated’. We might have silly, bizarre or weird thoughts, but they are not all we are. We are the context and the thoughts live within, like fishes in the sea (we’d be the sea), or passengers in a bus (we’re the bus and our thoughts the passengers).

We started the sessions with 10 minutes meditation sessions that increased up to 20 minutes and we would do the three types of meditation in a row; we would be doing periods of 1 hour by the end of the second day.

How did it feel? Well, I don’t know. Thoughts come to your head, but you are just supposed to contemplate them and let them go, and it’s Ok if you get distracted, you just go back to your breathing and acknowledge that happened. There’s no judgement of that being good or bad. Not easy to do. Or rather, yes, after a while you might get better at letting the thoughts go and trying and focus on the body and sensations. It’s a very strange feeling and I understand it takes practice.

I can’t say if it’s for me or not. Russell’s advice is that before you can recommend it to other people (Mindfulness itself, other techniques based in it might be useful and can be run without that much experience) you should be a seasoned practitioner yourself, and his suggestion was to make meditation a routine, and if we manage to keep going for 100 days in a row, then we can consider ourselves practitioners. I guess like other things that become habits, it requires commitment. I have started with it, downloaded an App: called Insight Timer ( that allows you to not only keep a log of your own meditation but also connect with other people and I’m intending to have a go. I’ll keep you posted, but as a concept I found it very interesting and can see how it could be helpful to some people.

For more information about the organisation that Dr Russell Razzaque has created, check here:

Although it has mental health practitioners in mind, it offers interesting information about therapeutic uses, where to go for retreats, research…so have a look!

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or are interested (or have plenty of experience that want to share) please, like, comment, and share!

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Zazen cushion used by Soto-zen school. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Today at Sarvodaya’s Early Morning meditation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You’ll remember a few weeks back I wrote a post about my experience during a retreat organised to teach Mindfulness to a cohort of psychiatrists. I’ll add the link at the end of the post, just in case you didn’t see it (or you want to refresh your memory. Not that I’m saying it’s the most memorable post ever written on the subject but…).

I thought that I’d probably be back to talk more about it. As I explained, to be considered a ‘practitioner’ by the College of Mindful Clinicians you had to practice mediation continuously, every day without a fault, for 90 days. So far, I haven’t failed a day. I got a message that I had reached 30 days last week. (As I review this post on the 4th I’ve gone over 40).

How am I finding it? Well, as I said in my first post, I wasn’t sure if it would be for me. I still don’t know. Some days I realise by the end of the meditation that my mind has been wondering all the time (or it feels like it), others, not so much. More recently I’ve been trying some of the guided meditation routines, as I find it easier to try and focus my mind on what the person is saying, and I’ll keep on checking. Interestingly enough, through Insight Timer I got a message of thanks this week (I think it was Tuesday) when somebody thanked me for meditating with her. It was a nice detail.

Life has ways of putting you to test. Today (27th of October, as I write posts in advance and schedule them when I can) was one of those days. I had agreed to do psychiatric assessments out of hours and somebody called me to ask me to do one. I’m going to be leaving my job in the next few months and it was the last thing I wanted to do, but didn’t think I could say no as I had offered and forgot to withdraw the offer. Who else were they going to find on a Sunday? Broadband wasn’t working, so could not let people know what I was doing. I had to go shopping in a hurry because shop would not be open when I came back. The assessment itself proved a bit problematic, but we eventually reached a resolution. In the meantime I had managed to connect via phone and been not very kind to somebody who caught me on a bad moment. I got home, tried to do something I had been working on yesterday (and spent some money on too) and realised it would not work. And then, of course, my printer run out of ink and when I went to change it, I had two cartridges that were the wrong type. I might try to return them, but have no idea where the receipt might be after all this time. Nothing major, but enough to put me in a bad frame of mind.

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PemaChödrön: At the Omega Institute, May 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I visited Hay-on-Wye (yes, I’ve also written a post about that too), I bought a book by Pema Chödrön, called ‘When Things Fall Apart’. Her works had been recommended at the retreat and I thought maybe this was the time to have a look. I’ve only read a few chapters but she encourages us to look at things and stay with things when they are irritating, collapsing around us, and cause us fear. Not running away from them will make us more aware of ourselves and who we are. Not necessarily happier, but I guess more us, and maybe we’ll learn to be kinder to ourselves, and with that, to others.

She mentions the story one of her teachers used to tell when asked about fear. He explained how his own teacher encouraged him to confront things that made him afraid. One day he was going with two other students to a monastery and there was a huge dog chained by the door. It was pulling at the chain and appeared intent on attacking them. Suddenly the chain broke and the dog leaped forward running towards them. The other two students froze and screamed in fear. Pema’s teacher explained that he started running towards the dog. The dog was so surprised that it turned around, its tail between its legs.

As she writes:

‘We can meet our match with a poodle or with a raging guard dog, but the interesting question is — what happens next?’

In my case, I think I need to learn to say no rather than spend my life feeling aggrieved by things that I don’t need to do. I also need to be realistic with my expectations (of other people, sure, but mostly of myself). And I need to give myself some space and take it a bit easier… And, of course, check the type of cartridges I buy. Let’s hope broadband will be back once the storm is over…Or I can always change providers…

Thank you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or it has made you think, please comment, share, like…And you don’t even have to click today (unless you want to read my previous post). (And update as I’m checking this before publishing it… The supermarket took the cartridges back. The broadband thing… seems to be a problem with the phone installation inside of my house, so nothing to do with the provider).

Here links to my previous posts:

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English: Image for mental health stubs, uses t...

English: Image for mental health stubs, uses two psych images – psychiatry (medicine) and psychology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


After weeks of talking about my book (and yes, there will be links at the end of the post, of course) I decided to try something different. I’ve just noticed that when people read my profile, in Twitter or Facebook, they are always interested in the forensic psychiatrist thing. I must explain. Forensic in this context does not have much to do with crime labs, CSI and all those thing. It is a subspecialty of psychiatry that deals with people who in their majority have a forensic (criminal history) and are felt to be too dangerous or risky for standard psychiatric services. So forensic psychiatric hospitals normally have more security measures than a standard psychiatric hospital (alarms, fences, locks…), staff numbers tend to be higher, staff members are trained in how to deal with certain risky behaviours and there is an emphasis placed on producing good risk assessments and plans to manage difficult situations.


There appears to be some confusion between psychiatrists and psychologists. To become a psychiatrist you have to study Medicine first, so we are doctors who then train to become psychiatrists. All doctors will study Psychiatry as one of the subjects during their degree, but like with any other specialties you will need further training if  you want to work in psychiatry (in the same way that a surgeon or a cardiologist needs to train on their branch of Medicine). Psychology is a completely different career and although we work closely together with clinical psychologists (and sometimes Forensic psychologists in my line of work) our training is different. Psychologists can work in a variety of fields, not only related to clinical matters, and I’m sure that all of you who have children are aware of psychologists attached to schools, working to assess children’s needs and help with any difficulties. They also work in recruitment for big companies, in sports…They do assessments (like IQ assessments, assessments of risk of violence, assessment of cognitive difficulties with somebody who has suffered a stroke, for instance), and also therapy and treatment, depending on their specific training. They do not prescribe medication (unless they have had other training and qualifications) and deal with how the mind works, but not from an organic point of view.


I work in the UK, and here people suffering from a mental disorder who come in contact with criminal justice system are subject to a different subsection of the Mental Health Act (1983 but amended in 2007). I’m not familiar with the Mental Health Law in many other countries (not even in Spain, where I come from, as I haven’t worked there for years and have no contacts with psychiatrists in the country) and can’t comment on exact details but here somebody can be detained if they are deemed to be mentally unwell and be risky to themselves or others. They can be taken to hospital and treated against their will. Issues of Human Rights come into play, but such matters are accepted, not without debate.


How is the work? It is not really that different from standard psychiatry. I work in a public hospital, and don’t focus on talking therapies, so I’m nothing like the psychiatrist in the Sopranos or Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting (that I love). Luckily it isn’t like in Someone Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Quills. Yes, ECT (what people used to call electroshock, now electroconvulsive therapy) is still in use, and works very well in extreme cases, with people very depressed and with risk to their lives due to not eating and drinking. Of course it is not like used to be now, and people are asleep. In summary we see people, listen to them, talk to them and prescribe them medication if they need it. We also have to prepare reports for the courts to give them our opinion about somebody’s mental health state and how their crimes might be related (or not) to their mental health. As I explained in forensic psychiatric hospitals the security measures are greater, and although sometimes we have to deal with people who are very unwell in general it does not result in the job being personally more risky than many others.


I work in a hospital and that means we work in a team with many other professionals who do a great job in trying to return people back to independent life in the community. We have nurses who are always by the side of the patients, occupational therapist who try to encourage them to engage in activities, look at college, work, practical skills for everyday life, psychologists who help assess specific problems and offer counselling and therapy for particular difficulties (anxiety, substance misuse, psychotic symptoms…). And housekeeping staff, administrative staff, and gardeners, maintenance…Patients have a lot of people around them, and sometimes that is a big part of the change and therapy, as unfortunately many have lived isolated lives in the community.


There are many sad stories, some entertaining ones, a few success stories, some less successful Who is to judge though? Now people are talking less about ‘cure’, quite difficult in some mental illnesses that are chronic and can be managed but not eradicated, and more about recovery. Recovery is about trying to bring people to their ideal level of functioning and well-being. And who could aspire to more than that?




And now, as promised, the links to my book. And TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS. This Friday, the 23rd of November, author Simon Jenner, will be talking to us about his writing and his new book, first on the series of Ethan Justice. I’ve read it and can truthfully say I can wholeheartedly recommend it!


Second announcement is that I’m going to feature in my friend and very successful author (The Undeparted Series) Deborah Palumbo’s blog on the 24th of November. I’ll remind  you, but I’m giving you the link now. She always has fantastic guests and her own posts are fascinating. Have a look:




The link to The Man Who Never Was is:


You can access the book trailer for The Man in my author’s page in Amazon, or directly in U-tube but if you wish to use links, please use the one above:


Thanks so much!