David Jockelson

Thoughts and ideas

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Complex (or childhood) PTSD – Adverse childhood experiences

Complex (or childhood) PTSD – Adverse childhood experiences.

And how universal they are.

And why – in what way our culture and societies have slowly become increasingly and invisibly unhealthy or adverse for children growing up.

This note is long – and yet also too short – as it is extremely compressed. So compressed as to be unreadable by most people – but  it will be Ok for some people .

It is adapted from an email I sent to an eminent psychiatrist and psychotherapist who responded very positively – so I reckon it’s not too bad.

I have put [Square brackets] where I have explained terms and acronyms for this posting. .

But as a quick intro to the subject: 

This is not PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – as classically understood. That is when an adult, who was otherwise fairly healthy, experiences a dramatic single traumatic event or short period of trauma which then disturbs them into the future.  That is PTSD.  This is a concept that was developed in dealing with Vietnam veterans.  

The letter C in C PTSD officially stands for Complex. However the essence of it is that it is Childhood PTSD. I.e. not necessarily gross trauma and abuse but more what is now called Adverse Childhood Experiences which can include parents with mental health or addiction problems, divorcing, conflict in the home, as well as traditional physical sexual or emotional abuse. 

The point is that children have soft, impressionable brains and even fairly moderate levels of adverse experiences form the developing brain in a way that lives with them for the rest of their lives.

That sounds a bit hopeless but it is good to say that  it is possible to moderate the affects of them in ways that we are now beginning to explore.

In my email to the psychiatrist I started by explaining…..

Law. For 30 years I have been a solicitor practising in the area of child abuse and neglect. In dozens of cases every year I am involved in the incredibly detailed exploration of family dysfunction through the court process. I truly see the evidence of CPTSD – in the state of the parents accused of abuse and the neglect, in the origins in their childhoods and in the trauma inflicted on their children and therefore the likely or actual development in them of their own CPTSD. What is often referred as “transmission down the generations” – as well probably as the epigenetic aspect. A subject that my legal world is only beginning to hear about!

For me what is of growing importance is that although many case are often quite extreme, there is a considerable range or spectrum of degree from gross physical or sexual abuse through less obvious emotional abuse, neglect and sheer attachment disorders shading into what is seen as acceptable and normal parenting. This normal ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences], is really important in care cases as Children’s Services are now so risk averse that they think in very black and white terms and flinch away from the shade of grey the spectrum aspect of ACE.

Therapy. I have also been a practising BACP psychotherapist for the last 12 years and I have fortunately had a more creative and therapeutic relationship with adult survivors of dysfunctional childhoods – and my work again involves a wide range of spectrum in the degree of severity of their experiences and of the consequences.

CPTSD seem to me to be a particularly valuable issue as it identifies both a set of symptoms and identifies the causation of many other conditions or disorders so elaborately identified by DSM-V and ICD-10 /11. [International systems for classifying mental illnesses by diagnosis]

However, practising in both my areas of work, has make me somewhat dissatisfied with the whole approach of identifying disorders in the way that those two systems do. I would like immodestly to offer some ideas.

Perhaps because of my occupational roles I start with some ideas which may be close to familiar material but broadening to wider perspectives that may strain a reader’s tolerance.

The problems with symptom identification of disorders. Defining conditions and disorders by listing their symptoms in a checklist such as DSM-V or ICD-11 I suggest has certain drawbacks.

Unscientific. Firstly, conventionally and as has been challenged by NIMH, [National Institute of Mental Health in the US]on the basis that it doesn’t help identify the objective organic substrate.

Describing physical symptoms such as having a high fever does not assist as much as identifying the bacteria or virus causing that symptom. Therefore does not lend itself to the most accurate therapeutic interventions.

Obviously fMRI scanning is now making ever-increasing progress but there remains many questions – for example if PTSD has been correlated with among other matters to reduced hippocampal volume can it to some degree be identified in that way – with potential implications for treatment? See below.

Spectrum disorders. Secondly the system for diagnosing disorder by identifying the existence of a certain number of symptoms for a certain length of time is precisely a process not only of box ticking but of putting disorders into boxes with firm sides or limits.

It ignores what I see as clearly the reality that many disorders are spectrum disorders that I have mentioned and which I find really important in practice. .

Obviously ASD made this transition into embracing the spectrum nature of that disorder some years ago but does not the same logic apply to EUPD or GAD? [Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, previously called Borderline Personality Disorder. And Generalised Anxiety Disorder.]

The advantage of this, apart from the fact that it reflects reality more closely, would be a more humanistic approach – that people with disorders are not in a wholly separate category to others who are seen as not having that disorder.

Indeed even more challengingly, people with disorders are seen on the same spectrum as those of us seeking to assist them?

This not only perhaps increases the humility of those of us who are attempting to perform a therapeutic role but also, by ameliorating the stigma associated with the concept of fixed boundary disorders, increases the confidence of those who present as patients or as clients.

This confidence is perhaps not only a healthier place for them to be but would make them far more receptive to therapeutic interventions. And receptive in a more healthy way – of a collaborating patient rather than helpless recipient of interventions.

Would it be impertinent to suggest that our desire to put diagnoses and disorders into firm edged boxes is a reflection of our need for order, categorisation and perhaps distancing from the conditions and therefore from our patients or clients?

Overlapping disorders. A further perspective from the symptomology model of understanding disorders is to see that using the boxes approach for symptoms not only ignores the spectrum dimension but also ignores the degree of overlap between various conditions; most obviously GAD and EUPD but also possibly many others particularly, in the area of personality disorder. I see you mention comorbidity but you also hint that it goes much further than that and I am looking forward to hearing about that.

The advantage of CPTSD perhaps is that by focusing on the causative aspect, it is possible to be more inclusive and open-minded about the symptomology?

If a number of different presenting disorders are best understood by reference to the causative factors, this surely sits alongside the move to identify the neurological correlatives of those disorders and the extent to which adverse childhood experiences is again a spectrum of trauma of abuse and neglect.

“Adverse childhood experiences“ is I find a profoundly useful phrase; as it is innately spectrum aware? It does not limit itself to what we would all see as obvious trauma but includes neglect – as I say above – all the way through to a simple lack of love and skill from parents and carers.

We can then focus our attention on the neurological consequences of those adverse childhood experiences in terms of overdeveloped parts of the brain, probably HPA axis and amygdala hypertrophy or the developmental deficit in other aspects of the brain, perhaps hippocampal volume?

We can perhaps categorise this developmental impact during the sensitive growth periods of childhood as “firm-wired“? In contrast obviously to the innate predispositions and neurological basis for that as being hard-wired and later, the more malleable learning and brain formation as being “soft-wired” or informational.

Plasticity and therapy. The question then arises as to what degree of plasticity exists among what aspects of the firm-wired over-developments or under developments neurologically.

Is it likely or possible that overdeveloped neurological structures can modify downwards in terms of benign atrophy by the selective non-using them? Reversing the classic “use it or lose it“, is it possible to some degree to lose it by not using it?

And if the disorder is one which causes the repetition compulsion that some have labelled ““stressaholic behaviour“, then becoming aware of that and modifying one’s reinforcing behaviour might represent a bridge from CBT into some fundamental neurological healing?

Probably more plausible is the focus on the development of compensating offsetting neurological structures such as work to increase the power of the frontal lobes and even possibly hippocampal volume?

I see a growing interest in EMDR and I wonder if that has some effect in loosening up /developing the functioning of the corpus callosum and might find some resonance in this area?

Attachment issues. If one includes in this debate the whole concept of attachment disorders and again applies a spectrum model to this thinking – such as is now more accepted with the use of language such as “attachment styles” – one can look to both the underlying neurology of adverse childhood attachment experiences and also investigate the concept of working with that neurological substrate therapeutically to compensate for deficiencies.

Unconventional therapeutic approaches. And if I am presuming to broaden the terms of this debate generally, may I suggest that we explore the connections between the medical therapeutic model that is discussed above with its questions about possibly unconventional therapeutic approaches to progress that is made both from traditional resources such as yoga and breathing practices?

Endocrinological aspects. We could perhaps connect them through the endocrinological approach of examining the hormonal consequences of various traditional practices and the impact of endocrine changes both on immediate mood, perception and behaviour of people but also examining whether chronic or at least longer term endocrinological conditions can have an adverse or a positive impact on neurological functioning or even structures?

In my work with therapy clients, I limit myself currently to suggesting and encouraging their work with breathing by explaining the Sympathetic and Para Sympathetic Nervous Systems and the benefits of the release of natural serotonin and oxytocin. I simply work with visualisations of scenarios of shock or threat – which cause the gasping in breath and then breath holding with closed throat. And tense muscles and body posture. And then visualise coming out of that state with the release of the breath – sighing, shouting etc with open throat and the changed body tension and body language.

This is my current most active area of exploration – for clients and for myself, who as you may have guessed is pretty well up the spectrum of CPTSD. Personally, after five years of analysis with Jaffa Kareem until his death, and then other purely talking therapies, I have been working with a body therapist with whom I do talking, insight and emotion work but also body work.

My body certainly remembers very early, baby aged loss and trauma which is far too deep for words. I assume my HPA axis is overdeveloped and my cortisol release is over eager and over intense. Having antidoted it with adrenaline and testosterone for many years I am now working with breathing, yoga and other ways of increasing serotonin and oxytocin. Those ways include, fairly obviously perhaps, socialising, especially eating socially, moderate exercise, music, dancing, rocking, massage, hugs and sex, creativity, generosity, gratitude, meditation.
All seem to trigger PSNS [Parasympathetic Nervous System], hence the serotonin and oxytocin and speaking more radically seem to move me from the action mode of Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Search – into the Surrender and Grief mode. And I think maybe Healing lies in that grief?

Repression by normalisation.

And in dealing with some middleclass therapy clients I begin to see that the degree of damage ultimately caused by adverse childhood experiences is dependent not only on the degree of adversity but by the degree of repression ie lack of acknowledgement of the adversity.

To create what is perhaps a rather contrived heuristic system of measurement: A normal or “respectable” home – precisely because of its conventionality – may have only 2 units of ACE x 8 units of denial > 16 units of adverse outcome?! Whereas 8 units of ACE more recognised as traumatic but fully acknowledged may produce only 10 units of adverse outcome?!

This could be the difference between eg ACE privately inflicted by a child’s carers – as against a public trauma eg of a car crash, even the chronic trauma of physical illness.

This has the paradoxical outcome that ordinary levels of adversity can be fully repressed especially with a degree of “over parenting” prevalent and admired in an ambitious family and this causes adverse outcomes that are puzzling to the adult.

So many times have I had clients tell me they had happy childhoods and then recount stories of what in fact amount to serious emotional abuse and neglect. The “false memory syndrome” in fact goes that way.

Nuclear family life. Added to which is the issue of the nuclear family, over intense, private to the point of being secretive – without the benefit of an extended family or a fully functioning “village that raises the child“.

In fact rather than the classic trick of idealising parenting with a model of the perfect nuclear family, we might do better to revert to a picture which is more realistic of the natural childhood experiences throughout many “less-developed“ parts of the world and throughout millennia of human familial history.

Adolescence.  Finally, to stretch the receptivity of any reader even further, may I suggest a sociological or even philosophical perspective – namely that adverse childhood experiences in fact relate to a child’s attachment and the neurological underpinnings of that. The lack of secure attachments will inevitably generate attachment anxiety and separation from the caregivers.

Such separation and associated anxiety is typical, inevitable and necessary at puberty and adolescence. However in our society actual separation at that age is not practical given our extended childhoods and educational demands as well as the practical issues of accommodation and this converts adolescence from being a moment of freedom into a period of conflict.

Nonetheless I think it may be useful to think that this pubertal or adolescent experience of separating from attachment figures is available hardwired to all children and may be triggered prematurely by adverse childhood attachments.

If a pre-adolescent child actually enlists the adolescent separation behaviour and attitudes prematurely, can that premature adolescence in fact become fixed as a way of responding and carried through into adult life?
(I wonder to what extent the separation is driven by the premature independence impulse and consequent necessary separation anger which makes the anxiety it self-generates particularly problematic to process?)

If we were to list, perhaps in exaggerated or caricature terms the qualities of adolescence, does one not find an echo in some of the disorders that we identify?

And, even more fundamentally, in the prevailing culture in our societies where acquisitiveness, consumerism, hypersexuality (which in fact means courtship behaviour – ie attachment invitation, implied acceptance) , competitiveness, over-reactivity, neophilia, adrenaline addiction – is both reinforced by a culture and may be seen as being a part – indeed perceived as a necessary part -of an economic model that has serious negative consequences both on an individual basis and in terms of a global impact?

Linking this back to the endocrinological perspective, can we characterise it as the adolescent response to the cortisol of separation anxiety being the natural and exaggerated increase in testosterone (in boys and girls?) and adrenaline which has now becomes socially and culturally the norm in some cultures?
This has obvious implications in gender issues: the linkage between anger, dominance and sex; male adolescent sexuality as effectively being early courtship behaviour, pre any real intimacy and accordingly potentially impersonal, even predatory sexuality. This is obviously a very topical issue but one where there is very poor level of discussion.
I do find this perspective of ongoing adolescence can be valuable with clients: – with some therapeutic clients it is possible to help them explicitly see the degree of adolescence that they still operate in. But with others and but also with the more receptive legal clients – simply using language of moving from immaturity to maturity is acceptable and effective.
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The style of this note is perhaps ironically marked by some of the characteristics described above and may seem not only amateur, naive and arrogant but also breathless and series of disconnected ideas.

That may be one of the perils of thinking or discussing matters outside of the boxes. I would suggest a more favourable perspective is one of the integration of the number of approaches, joining the dots.


A general statement could be that emotional unhealthiness can be seen as predominantly the result of adverse childhood experiences during the formative years, but those adverse childhood experiences do not need to be gross and obvious examples of abuse or neglect but lie on a spectrum – possibly an all-inclusive spectrum – with the perfect happy childhood experience and attachment experience being almost mythical.

The adversity of the outcome is a function of the adversity of the experience plus the completeness of the repression, normalisation, denial. This produces a wide spectrum of disorders, some of which have been labelled or medicalised as overt pathologies but the remainder of the spectrum sometimes dismissed as the “worried well“ which in fact represent the basic unhealthiness of the majority of our population. Indeed that unhealthiness may be both admired and high functioning in an unhealthy culture.

The model of the premature and then permanent state of adolescence may be useful, responding to attachment anxiety whereby the cortisol infused anxiety is antidoted by the typically adolescent cocktail of testosterone and adrenaline.

The growth area may be in the attraction of naturally produced serotonin calmness, rather than the artificially sustained serotonin from medication – together with oxytocin which, although not without complications, does have a pro social component relevant to attachment and maybe even has a component which encourages the making of connections intrapsychically? If so maybe ameliorating therefore both social alienation and internal alienation from a person’s emotional needs and resources.

I have a personal anecdotal experience about this. Some months after I started analysis I was meditating and breathing and had what I now see as a huge surge of oxytocin which led to an ecstatic state of connectedness and attachment – aka love – not just for my family but for almost everyone and everything!

Sadly it waned over the next few weeks – but the essential trigger experience was one of huge and unnamed grief. I can only suppose it was for the loss at 5 months of my mother and my subsequent abuse by brother, father and school. If so, oxytocin was both produced by the grief but also I suspect opened my mind to the grief.

I have never again had that intense experience but try in a much more moderate way to enlist oxytocin in my grief and healing process. In the meantime, I also work at a Bereavement Service once a week! No coincidence.

I return to something I have written above: The practices mentioned above under oxytocin all seem to trigger PSNS and speaking more radically seem to move me from the action mode of Freeze, Fight, Flight, Flirt, Search – into the Surrender and Grief mode. And I think maybe Healing lies in that grief. Does that sound right to you?

I am looking at the extent to which the developed wisdom of Bereavement processing can apply to grieving and processing the reality of the ACE? Models of bereavement – eg: although they are definitely not Stages – the identification of Aspects of grief – numbness and denial,. Searching, etc And the concept of tasks. And Continuing Bonds… may all have an equivalent application?

Many thanks if you have reached this point in the note.

I look forward to hearing from you if you have time for any responses

Best wishes

David Jockelson

Our culture of permanent adolescence – anger, stress and other addictions

This is adapted from a talk I was invited to give at the Manchester and District Medico-Legal Society. 15 February 2012.

It is probably considered too long for an article on a website …. although I know people do in fact read entire books online… so I have prepared a brief summary.

The thesis is quite simple and probably very unattractive or even unacceptable for many people.

We have two massive crises in the world at the present moment: Firstly the environmental one where human greed and consumerism has depleted resources, created pollution including carbon dioxide which has caused global warming with terrifying consequences.

Secondly, in parallel with this there is crisis of mental health with extraordinary levels of anxiety, depression, violence including self directed – self harm and suicide as well as a widespread general dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

I think the two crises are linked by the simple fact that the dominant culture is now one of the a massively exaggerated acting out of adolescent impulses, values and behaviour.

Normal adolescence – at the appropriate age of puberty – is a time of separation of the child from their parents or carers – their attachment figures. It is a time for the young person to seek to make new attachments in romantic and sexual terms. It is a time therefore marked by anxiety at separation as well as self-consciousness, vanity, competitiveness and consumerism.

How can it be that we have an epidemic of ongoing exaggerated adolescence? My answer is that unsatisfactory childhoods, the early problems or even failure of healthy attachment between child and parent cause a child to be anxious and rejecting.

Those are appropriate emotions and behaviours at puberty however that adolescent state is being triggered prematurely and in an exaggerated form. It is massively encouraged and has been institutionalised as the norm in by our current culture with advertising, role modelling and social media.

Perhaps because it starts prematurely and is encouraged in this way, institutionalised by the culture, it becomes a permanent, on going state. No value is ascribed to post-adolescent maturity – in fact the concept is hardly spoken of – and people have become locked into this ongoing state of exaggerated adolescence.

A curious but effective way of addressing what our current social norms and encouragement is to look at the shelves in the newsagent. There the adolescent “needs“ of men are being catered for with hyper-sexuality, divorced from real intimacy, fascination with power in the form of cars, planes, guns, hunting as well as self-consciousness in the form of bodybuilding. And the adolescent needs stereotypically of women is catered for by a phenomenal degree of encouragement of vanity with the emphasis on remaining young – effectively adolescent – as well as a fascination with other people’s adolescent behaviour – particularly with a focus on role models in the form of celebrities and their romantic and sexual behaviour or of imaginary figures in romantic literature .

There is also a great deal of focus on home-building and food preparation although even that has a strong streak of competitiveness and self-conscious showing off.

The next question then becomes: how can it be that there is such general dysfunctionality in family life?

And my answer is the second unattractive thesis presented here – the isolated, nuclear family is innately unhealthy.

There is general intuitive understanding of the wisdom of the old saying “it takes a village to raise a child.“ That can be modified slightly to seeing that it takes an extended family within a village to raise a child in an emotionally healthy way.

But the model of the village and the extended family has been destroyed, with urbanisation, population mobility and contraception, leaving as a generality only a nuclear family of child or children being largely parented by one or maybe two parents or parental figures.

Those adults have the task of giving the unconditional love that the child needs for a secure base but equally the burden of socialising – which is ultimately one of restriction, control and often disapproval.

Compare that with a wider family or a village where the socialising is effectively done by a wider circle of adults but largely in play with other young people. In that situation a child is told what is not acceptable by older siblings, cousins, friends. Equally importantly those young people give models for a child to imitate which can sometimes be unhealthy but can also be healthy especially with benign and concerned adult input.

The socialising, the checking and the learning of social norms – which has a cost in terms of the child’s selfishness – is carried out socially then the relationship with the parents does not carry the exclusive or excessive burden of that socialising.

A second major point is that in such an extended family / village situation, the child themselves soon has the responsibility and the healthy power to help care for and socialise younger children – a real role and quite different from being the relentlessly powerless role in a home with parents or at school.

To describe this as innately unhealthy is not to suggest some universal traumatizing of children. The language of therapy has now moved to broaden the question from only obvious trauma of abuse and neglect to looking at Adverse Childhood Experiences which also includes much more common problems in the family such as parental conflict, substance abuse etc. We can now broaden that further to include the innate disadvantages of the nuclear family.

Whether you accept this second thesis or not, the first thesis of the predominance of the ongoing, exaggerated adolescence must surely be confirmed by the deeply alarming and depressing evidence of catastrophic social and worldwide dysfunctionality.

Any ideas for a solution?! It would be reasonable to ask what I suggest can be done to assist us in moving out of adolescence and into a state of greater maturity.

On the logic above it looks like we need to be able to process the Adverse Childhood Experiences that we have had.

Some of those are relatively obvious and would qualify as abusive and even traumatic. But many people have not had such clear experiences and the problem lies in the much more pervasive, normal as explored above – and therefore much harder to notice – issue of over parenting and the claustrophobic nuclear family situation.

It is generally understood that the ongoing damage resulting from an adverse childhood experience has to be understood as the severity of the damage multiplied by the degree to which it is covered up, denied and ultimately repressed by the person themselves. This covering up does not need to be oppressive and brutal – it can be the result of the sheer normality of the unhealthy situation as outlined above.

The obvious analogy is with a physical wound. The ongoing consequences reflect the seriousness of the wound in the first place and then the degree to which it has been covered up and allowed to fester and go gangrenous. And the obvious implication of that is that the healing begins when we uncovered the wound very carefully and let light and air get to it – and drain off the pus.  This is otherwise known as therapy and involves saying the previously unsaid and unsayable and thinking of the previously denied and unthinkable and feeling the previously numb.

I am working on ideas about how therapy can address these issues and I’m still in working on an unobvious idea which starts with bereavement counselling, which I have done for many years now, and how the lessons I have learnt from that are valuable in therapy in general.

I am working on writing a couple of articles on those issues which I will add to this website soon I hope.

Below is the talk I gave in Manchester rather a long time ago but it seems more relevant than ever. Warning – it is long, exploratory and get into the historical aspects and the political consequences. ———————————————————————————

Crisis:  Our culture of permanent adolescence –  anger, stress and other addictions.

This is ambitious – very general and only from my own thinking – not relying on other writers, texts etc.

So how dare I? Answer – I think it is necessary: As a culture – there is an undeniable, urgent crisis facing us. Things are going wrong. People are suffering – unnecessarily. It is not too extreme to say that people are dying – unnecessarily.

In my world – the world of the lawyers here: In the home – people are suffering and dying in domestic violence, of child abuse and neglect. On the streets – other crime, of drugs and alienated youth and gangs – a huge and rapidly growing problem in all our cities that I will come back to in more detail. And I think I can offer some ideas about that subject. And wider, much wider – throughout the world – fundamentalism, hatred and wars.

For the doctors here – dealing with the victims of this violence and the self inflicted violence – overt self harming, drugs, as well as self harm in smoking, food eating disorders, the obesity time bomb, etc. All in all – We are talking gross dysfunctionality.

Before moving on please note holding in the mind both acute, extreme cases (murder and suicide) and widespread disfunctionality, normalised in society (from obesity through to family breakdown, parenting problems, unhappiness – etched in the faces of so many of us) .

So it’s zooming up and down this spectrum of symptoms: Acute and chronic. That could make us dizzy or confused. Actually it’s not that hard. For doctors: heart attacks are embedded in the extreme symptoms of unfitness, poor diet. For child care lawyers: abuse is rooted in lack of love, which also produces chronic neglect of all degrees. Hate and anger is rooted in lack of care and love. Lack of the inclination – perhaps the ability to love.

Another huge issue underlying disfunctionality is the fact of our greed, relentless, insatiable appetites; making so many people simply unhappy, frustrated, feeling failures. And globally -trashing the planet for our descendants. Insatiable. We will come back to that important word.

Why? Why, when we have solved some of the concrete, physical problems do we self-inflict new problems – or exaggerate old ones? This surely calls out for an urgent answer. An answer which explains attitude and behaviour, lack of love and care, too much aggression. And too much greed. I think I have it. Hence the tough subject matter. What can I possibly offer? Indeed – Why was I asked at all?

Well you have heard my background which maybe can establish my credentials and may explain where these ideas come from:- I assume I have been asked here as I have been a legal aid solicitor for 30 years, a therapist for 15 years with particular emphasis on bereavement and then running parenting workshops for 10 years. (and I am blessed with two daughters in their 20s. [now 30s] )

I have found that these areas of professional work and my family life do connect: As a solicitor for the first years of practice I was dealing with clients in crime and mental health, family breakdowns and acting for clients on both sides of Domestic Violence, victims and perpetrators. And then care cases – care here meaning abuse and neglect. All of these dealing with the symptoms if you like – the acted out dysfunctionality.

I could talk all evening about those behaviours; those symptoms of dysfunctionality. Possibly interesting, even amusing in a bleak sort of way.

After a few years in practice I began to specialise in child care cases – working for the children and for parents. Involving violence and neglect. Seeing dysfunctionality from both sides. Within families. Digging down a bit more into the history and the causes. The cases involve studying the history of people and families, lengthy observations, enquiries and psychiatric and psychological reports. It is really useful to see the roots in the lack of attachment, love, care. Seeing that connecting up with overt aggression and callousness to others and to self. That’s where I come from.

Let me say now that the talk has three subjects: Firstly stating and exploring how it is that many of the problems of society and for individuals are caused by a culture of permanent and exaggerated adolescence. Distorted adolescence.

Secondly I will explore how that distorted culture has developed over history. A sociological perspective.

Third I will explore exactly what happens psychologically in adolescence and how that has gone wrong. How and why adolescence is a very vulnerable moment and why it has therefore been so easily distorted. Integrating the personal psychological perspective with a historical, sociological perspective is another challenge. To see how they feed into each other.

And there is a fourth stage – we can see if these theories produce any useful suggestions for changes and solutions. This is an area of development. I have no complete instant solution.

The next and final challenge: not only is this not polished. It also deals with some deeply unattractive matters. And the thesis is quite resistible. And I have found from discussions that it is especially unattractive to women. Because it is most obviously about Men … Behaving Badly – and my trying to understand that – explain it. And that could be seen as excusing it. It’s not. It really is about understanding – in order to challenge and change.

I will really appreciate your feedback. At the end – or by e-mail.

How does this relate to adolescence? Let me explain this by saying how this thesis developed?

Stage one: I noticed many years ago dealing with youth crime, then with young parents… no prizes … their behaviour and the attitudes behind them were immature. Adolescent. Aggressive, callous. Lacking care for others and self – self-destructive.

That was easy. Young and working class. Or underclass to use an accurate, unpleasant word.

Stage two: then I saw that with older clients in crime and family. These adolescent characteristics continue. Anger, violence.

Stage three: Then for 15 years as a therapist trying to mend the damage that adult individuals are left with. Mainly middle class and apparently well functioning people. Who struggle with their anger – and with their inability to love fully. To be warmly intimate. Getting close to home.

Stage four: Running parenting workshops for very well intentioned, concerned, middle class parents determined not to pass on emotional damage to their children and appalled to see they are.

Especially as the parenting workshops attract parents of actual adolescents – I had to examine explicitly the struggles, the characteristics of adolescence. The parents so often reported a shocking change ‘as the hormones came in’. “I have lost my son or daughter.” Especially – but not only – boys. Moving from warm, affectionate, reasonable, loving to parents and siblings – to being cut off, rejecting of home, obsessed by his peer group, angry, anxious, sexually obsessed in the most alienated, aggressive, pornographic, unpleasant way. Real shock and distress for parents. Angry and unloving.

Stage five: the way the parents dealt with the problems of adolescents led me to begin to see also the conflict between the immaturity of the child and the less than complete maturity of the parent. Adults with adolescent qualities.

Stage six: That points to a socially very widespread, milder dysfunctionality of adolescent characteristics . A spectrum disorder. Quite hard to keep a clear focus because now we are talking about acute cases embedded in a chronic emotional unhealth. So widespread, so universal and culturally normal – that it is hard to notice it, it is almost invisible.

Not just our clients and patients but even in ourselves.? Dare we look at that tonight? You may be glad to know there is no time to look at that tonight. We will just talk about Other People. If the ideas seem useful you may like to see if they in any way apply to you. They do to me.

As you know – my answer is – Adolescence. The title of the talk: “Our culture of permanent adolescence – sex, anger, stress and other addictions”: This was slightly misleading – to avoid using the word “Hyper-adolescence”. Hyper-adolescence is a more accurate but an unattractive word.

I say hyper-adolescence because I will explore with you the idea that many of our major problems as individuals and as a society come from the fact that we live in and are formed by a culture of 1. premature adolescence, 2. exaggerated adolescence and 3. extended, continuing adolescence. Unnatural, pathological, hypertrophied.

How can I say these are problems of hyper-adolescence?

This is where we come to the psychological bit. We need to put it in place before the historical.

Let’s ask what is the essence of adolescence? – Is it not the psychological and social changes that arise from puberty? The moving out of childhood.

And this is a traumatic transition period. Not usually recognised as such.

Because psychologically the issue is leaving the main attachment to parents and siblings – severing those bonds – Separation and loss of the relationship that ensured your survival as a child. Pushing away Care and Love and safety . How scary is that? How crazy? Why do it?

Answer: This is in order to become an adolescent who, from a Darwinian perspective, has one purpose in life – to form new attachments – first to peers – to form very, very powerful peer groups, friendships groups. And then to seek new sexual attachments. And procreate. Darwinianly – that is the Imperative. You can’t put it any higher than that.

Sorry to be reductionist but we are only here to reproduce – as parents or to support other people who perpetuate our genes. We are only here because our ancestors succeeded in this.

And anyone who is around teenagers knows this behaviour. First the obsessive peer relationship struggles. Friendship issues. Friends vastly more important than family.

And then love sick, sex crazed. And any of us who dare to remember those times ourselves ….. the all consuming obsession with mate choice, fancying, hoping, rejections, sorrow, joy.

Adolescence is a huge step, dangerous. Surely how that transition, this separation is handled is crucial. Crucial to the immediate issue of parenting and family relations …. and crucial to the long term future of each child. Adolescence is about insecurity.

So we are talking about separation and loss. Like a bereavement. This is not obvious but please give this a chance. Having specialised in work around bereavement for some years I am aware that some bereavement losses are more easily processed and others are not. The signs of the ones that are not are often those marked by exaggerated and ongoing anger, guilt, anxiety, pain. Which leads to the use of pain killers – anaesthetics – which is the root of addictive behaviour: either the obvious ones of drugs and drink or the less obvious of hyper-busyness, workaholic, pursuing complaints, campaigns.

And these are often the result of certain sorts of deaths: unexpected deaths, suicides and murders, or the opposite where death has been drawn out for too long. Where there has been conflict with the deceased person. Or with the family. Ambiguous circumstances. Unclear – a disappeared person. Or where there has been no funeral or a confused conflictual funeral and situation after the death. . The ceremony spoiled. These are messy, ‘bad deaths’.

We know what makes a ‘good death’ – To be very clear these are no less deeply painful wounds – but they are cleaner and more healable. Answer: Good feelings with the person who died , death not too fast, not too slow, good family harmony, joined in grief, ceremonies, acknowledgement from many people – the tribe. Rituals and symbols – connecting to deeper emotional parts of the brain. Not too rational.

OK so in light of that – how about adolescence? The separation and loss of childhood? Of childhood attachments? Is that separation and loss handled elegantly? Calmly? Lovingly? Easily? In a structured, socially blessed way? Blessing rituals. Rites of passage. Is it complete?

Or is it resisted? Is it impractical in our society? At a time when an adolescent should be leaving home, does he or she have to stay and take A levels? Trapped? Does that mean it has to be fought for? Does it require powerful rejection behaviour by the child? Who denies any regret? Who needs to elicit rejecting behaviour in the adults? Is it a time of conflict and bitterness? Is it a process that may be not only unhappy but incomplete? With ongoing consequences – an incomplete grieving process continues indefinitely. The answer has to be yes – it is all those things. We could ask – what can we learn from bereavement to import into the adolescent loss and separation?

The culture of permanent adolescence is an attachment issue, almost a widespread attachment disorder. A process which should be transitory but has got stuck.

In fact we have made it so much more messy, confused, difficult, unsatisfactory that adolescence is now actually a danger to us all.

As I have said, this talk is unhappily mainly about men – or males. As we are the main problem in terms of antisocial behaviour. It is very difficult, maybe impossible, for me as a man to talk about women as collusive in any way with in this charade.

This is not an excuse for bad male behaviour. nor is it a statement that it is all in the genes, irresistible, hopeless. The point is to understand what is going on and find a solution to the problems,

So – to repeat – the basic thesis — we have not just permanent adolescence but premature…… exaggerated ….and permanent adolescence. Pathological adolescence.

We can look in a moment at why this has come about and the history of this confusion but first can we look more closely at the “qualities” or characteristics of adolescence: of what is classically the preadolescent child and then the adolescent.

Please note: Some problematic characteristics . But crucially some very good – very necessary. As we will see – it is because they are necessary that they have grown to become overdeveloped and bad. I am not saying adolescence is Bad. Any more than someone would say Fire is bad. It can be dangerous and destructive. It can be good – providing warmth and light – if understood and controlled and worked with skillfully.

I have to say ‘classically’ because now, precisely because it has recently become premature, exaggerated and permanent it is no longer occurring in such clear distinct stages – the picture is confused, the stages are mingled. It is necessary to go back to a time a few decades ago when these divisions were more clear.

Preadolescent child
Not all good qualities – the terrible twos are a rehearsal for adolescence but generally more moderate:

More natural and unselfconscious


Sensible Cooperative, keen to please

Integrated, intact

Moderate  Warm


Engaged and affectionate – loving

And in adolescence they become far more:

Not all bad qualities – but generally – extremes so anything you say – the opposite is often also true.

Acutely self-conscious, showing off,

Often false and pretending. To be tough.

Risk taking, brave, masochistic, self harming, self denying, Heroic.

Absent minded – and sometime hyperfocused.

Defiant, oppositional, challenging of conventions and mores

Pulled in different directions and erratic extremes of laziness and hyperactivity, – games.

Hot headed Passionate and sometimes strangely cold-hearted.

Difficult, Irritating. Aggressive. Rejecting and provoking rejection.

Disengaged, alienated, losing affection in gaining sexuality, often predatory. developing a callousness and cruelty to others and to self

Not your children? Not mine? Just caricatures? Ok – easier if I say : I remember this well – in me. And I see it in clients. Don’t you?

The reason of so much of this is simply the need to assert separation. the terrible twos are a rehearsal for adolescence – the first great separation, pushing away.

Yes, modern pre-teens show many of these adolescent qualities . That is the point. Premature adolescence. So we need to use somewhat dated examples – stereotypes to identify the essence. Leave it with you.

Two big questions:

1. How can we encourage and harness the good qualities of adolescence and minimise the problematic ones? That can only be answered by answering the second big question:

2. Next: why is it exaggerated and how long does this last?

Answer to the question of how long it lasts: — It should be a limited duration transition period It can be a move from sanity to a form of madness, antisocial attitudes and behaviour, outside of the tribe, tolerated for that time. Then the mating game. And then when they are paired up and possibly pregnant, return to the tribe and sanity. The model looks like this:

A blip ____n__________ at age ? 13 – 15? For 2 or 3 years? Off on their own peer group. Then a return to sanity. To the main tribe.

But no longer. My thesis is that it is premature, exaggerated and perpetuated

like this: __/ ¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯ from age 7 or 8? For…? 20 years if lucky….or 60?

The adolescence characteristics continue into adulthood – and to look at the list of them – it is pretty obvious these are problems – for the society and for each individual.

Yes also the hyperfocus, obsessional traits and the self-sacrifice, heroism are important and we will return shortly to that but so many of the characteristics especially the interpersonal ones are the source of real problems.

To remedy or help with these problematic behaviours – we need to ask why should this be? How has it happened? What’s gone wrong? What can be corrected or compensated for?

The Origins of this hyper-adolescence. 

It is not just a 21st-century phenomenon involving computer games and television. I will give a very brief run through of history in this subject: 1. to convince you it is real. 2. To identify causes – as per medicine – in order to find a cure. 3. To explore which are the healthy and useful behaviours and which are the unhealthy and dangerous ones.

1. This tendency is pushing at an open door: neoteny is the only technical work I will use all evening. Neotony is retaining into adulthood the originally juvenile features of a species – i.e. delayed development – if that benefits a species.. . Haldane stated a “major evolutionary trend in human beings” is “greater prolongation of childhood and retardation of maturity.” Physically and behaviourally we are neotonous apes, adolescent chimpanzees. Playful, inquisitive, innovative: qualities that make us successful. So it’s not just 20th century TV and media – the roots of the problem lie some 6 million years ago. Inquisitive, innovative, adaptable. reflecting the huge growth in neurones at adolescence is the secret of our success as a species so we could count this as a Good Quality. So where – and why – has it gone wrong?

2. But it is not a simple fact – humans are immature. It is more that they have the capacity to switch on or leave switched on some of the qualities of a certain immature phase – of alienation, detachment, callousness. Why? What is this selectivity?

The really crucial fact is that adolescent madness and the qualities listed here are not always just a blooming nuisance and danger – they are useful and necessary in other ways to a tribe because – especially in boys – they are warrior qualities: risk taking, showing off, hungry for status, competitiveness, ready to suffer, callousness to others and self,.

It is hard for people like us in times of peace really to appreciate the need for this madness in war.

The warrior needs to be prepared not only to kill another member of his own species but also to face the very high risk, sometimes certainty, of dying or being mutilated. For the tribe.

Nobody in this room has that challenge.  It is hard to let it in properly.

This is a huge paradox in Darwinian terms. It goes much further than the long discussion about altruism. It means in fact the tribe with particularly crazy boys, spoiling for a fight, aggressive and competitive, who want to form a group or band usually with identifying marks, badges, uniforms, with rituals, who see members of another tribe as nonhuman, ok to kill and who are themselves willing to risk death — that tribe wins out. Obviously. Those genes become dominant. Think for a second. They kill many of the other tribe. They take their women. (gross – sorry to say that…) More children. And their genes become dominant. Establish the potential – not the inevitability – of this gross warrior mode..

But turn the viewpoint just a bit and see other points on that spectrum of behaviour – necessary and admirable. Some of those qualities – risk taking, ready to suffer are present in Fire-fighters, lifeboat crews, police officers, medics, nurses. praise be,,,. . those are the peace time heroes and heroines. And note how they also wear uniforms, badges of rank: symbols of unity and common purpose. Even lawyers try and tag onto that pattern. We have milder uniform and rank signals – and a proportionally milder sense of duty and self sacrifice?

So buried in the warrior spectrum is simply Duty: preparedness to work for others, sacrifice not necessarily one’s life, but one’s time and energy and money. That is benign, admirable.

Another good quality of adolescence is hyper-focus, obsessional behaviour. Seeds of genius. Even possibly the dedication any of us required to sit and pass professional exams?

So – lots of good stuff here. Mixed blessings.

But to return to the origin of the problematic qualities – in war we need Warriors – with the adolescent characteristics of callousness to others and self, risk taking, ready to suffer, showing off, hungry for status, competitiveness.

So these are Bad Qualities. But why isn’t the human race totally, continually warlike and crazy…? Or perhaps I should say – why wasn’t it once? Because it is beginning to look more like that now…

The answer requires us to make a distinction: This is the warrior impulse. And warrior is fine for skirmishes, raids, battles.

You can switch on this behaviour for those occasions and then switch off to become more sane, revert to being caring and cooperative, because this reversion to care mode also increases your gene heritage. If you care for your family in times of peace – you end up with more children. Simple. Switch on warrior in blips. ____n__n___n_____ Switch off and go back to care.

That is the way behaviour – instinct if you like – becomes hardwired, innate in the genes. Switch on and switch off. We need to understand the on off switch. Especially the off switch on aggression. The on switch for care of others and self. Maturity, care – love.

What’s gone wrong? To what extent have we lost the switch to turn off the warrior mode.? And turn on the care mode? If this is true – then Why ? This is where the problems begin.

Where did we lose the switch that moves us from warrior to carer?

3. Soldiers. If you move into Recent Times, ie the last 10,000 years since the Neolithic revolution, we have settlements and towns. And with them — permanent armies ie permanent soldiers. They are very different from warriors.

For soldier in armies – we need to institutionalise those qualities – encourage them, exaggerate make permanent, long lasting, (no off switch) ….and then control them. Stoke up and also clamp down.

An image I will return to: A pressure cooker – or boiler for steam and energy. Power. And, as in the early days of steam, the danger of leaks and explosions. But only in the early days of steam when they didn’t quite have the understanding and techniques…. Of which more later..

Chaotic warrior competition becomes a strict hierarchy with a system, symbols of rank. Tribalism and group dynamics become institutionalised into regiments and battalions. Uniforms, symbols totems become developed, exaggerated. Think of Rome and Greece and Sparta. Institutionalised showing off, public notice, recognition and acclaim: Rank, medals and reward risk taking and self-sacrifice: purple hearts medals for suffering injuries. Immortality is promised in exchange for death.

Military cultures: Institutionalised deliberate adolescent severing of attachment: Sparta. Israel’s kibbutzim. Boarding schools.

Loss of attachment: with no grief allowed. Turn grief into anxiety and then that into anger, searching, energy. As a bereavement counsellor I am familiar with failed grieving and the mad energy that can bring – energy which can be channelled and used. Brutalisation. US marines.. Abu Ghraib

So we have soldiers with those qualities but controlled – who are a large part of the ruling elite that set the moral culture and tone. The assumptions so widespread they are invisible.

Crucially for what we see as normal and admirable – That tribe gets to write the history books. Greece and Rome – these dynamic cultures. Peaceful, pastoral agricultural societies have not written the history books and are overlooked – possibly despised. Classicism is totally taken for granted. Yet the history of Rome is one of almost pathological expansionism and aggression, slaughtering opposing tribes, incredibly sadistic treatment. Held up for admiration. British Empire building may be over but the assumption of macho culture remains.

4. With organised religion – in contrast to the individual tribal priest or shaman, organised religion is another hierarchy, with uniforms, clear signs of ranks, and later with severing attachments, celibate priests, monasteries, seminaries. Alienate. Self sacrifice. Exaggerate the adolescent experience, and then need to impose controls – which in religious orders we all know sometimes fail horribly. Pressure cookers – which leak or explode. Later we will talk about other more positive aspects of religion itself – ie not the institutionalised, organised aspect.

5. Sex at last – let’s talk about sex….. sadly – not in a nice, exciting way: Consider this: Previously in a small tribe or clan – you knew everyone, you had been raised with the opposite sex (or same sex if that is your taste). They were largely your cousins. There was the damper on sexual response. Incest taboo and even when not blood related, a sort of incest taboo: clear example is that reported in Kibbutzim. You don’t fancy the people you shared a dormitory with.

On the other hand – the sexual interest in strangers is obviously, from a Darwinian perspective, a Very Good Thing in terms of avoiding in-breeding and enriching the gene pool.

So strangers, new faces are interesting, attractive. Sexually exciting. To meet a stranger puts you into a possible courtship mode. Sending and receiving messages of sexual attraction.

And then you go and live in a city and what happens? Towns and cities are full of strangers – of course. All day long you meet strangers: excitement, stoking up excitement levels. Of course we take it for granted but it is huge. An obvious fact. An unobvious outcome:

Rather shocking outcome: This puts us into continuous courtship mode. Which consists of?

1. The beauty and fashion industry. Historically in women initially. Though now both genders.

2. And if men display their courtship fitness by power and success – then the endless and relentless will to power and successaholicism. Women catching up there too.

3. Enlist the hunting instinct. Even the enemy fighting. Warrior. Dehumanise the prey, the target.

4. Grasping, intruding, illicit. Sexual addictions.

5. Arrested at the visual stage in the courtship process. Have a look at Kurt Freund.

6. Adolescence is antithetical to fidelity. Happily married, but strongly attracted to other women / men? How terribly common. And a source of tension at least – tragedy quite often.

And this is almost invisible because it is universal. At least in this culture. A few weeks in Kenya last year made us realise something: it was on our return that we were struck by the extraordinary sexualisation of our culture.

I could make this evening really memorable and myself very unpopular by asking us to look at each other and ourselves in this light. Courtship display, visual, fashion, beauty, achievement, status. Men showing off?! Moi? But I won’t….

That is a part of sublimation, acceptable acting out. Because, with this stoking up of adolescent sexual excitement, there is a need for control. Another pressure cooker.

6. Enough about sex…. moving swiftly on to Capitalism: go to the 19th century: driven by alpha males who turn their military impulse into commerce. Not for nothing are they called Captains of Industry. Power, competition. Hierarchy

And they need customers. The qualities of adolescence suits that. Grasping. Acquisitiveness, competitive status, keeping up appearances. Insatiable.

So the military-industrial complex emerges. There was a phrase invented as a warning as to its corrupting power by outgoing President, ex-general Eisenhower: breaking cover, warning America – and perhaps he knew what he was talking about in this field.

7. 19th and 20th century. Smaller families, no real work for children compared with the old agricultural world. Smaller, nuclear families. No real childcare responsibility for young people which was previously the norm. Extended childhood because of the demands of education. And later, contraception. Delayed parenthood. Teenagers at some level infantilised in terms of responsibility. This is central to my work with families who struggle with adolescence.

8. Late 20th century. So there are many reasons to encourage, inflame and exaggerate adolescent characteristics and this is not just because of modern television, media and advertising.

But they do join in and add a massive further exaggeration. Some of the finest minds and the largest budgets in our society are dedicated to promoting adolescent characteristics. Link this to industrialists, business lobbyists, party donors. Real power.

Extended adolescence and commercial interests. Advertising including magazines and hyper sexualisation. For men War books, films. Violence. Computer Games. A new vast industry. Pornography. And old vast industry. For women the pressure to be beautiful, desirable, young. Hair, face, body.

9. And whereas previously institutionalised exaggeration of adolescence was linked with control – military religious or industrial – that control has now been reduced by the loss of military and religious plausibility.

10. Addiction and Religion –some positives. If only we had another evening…. We have explored the fact we have an exaggerated, inflamed, over-heated sexuality especially the desire to display. And an exaggerated, inflamed, over-heated acquisitiveness or greed.

Both addictive and insatiable. Because the appetite is not functional. It is neurotic; symbolic. We are trying and failing to fill an emptiness, a hunger. With images of food with images and gestures of attachment. Comforting an anxiety but not resolving it. Anesthetising a pain – but when the anaesthetic wears off the pain is there. Hence addiction.

Hence religion. Which attempts to control, limit sexuality especially sexual display. And control or limit acquisitiveness or greed.

And also religion – curiously less written about, less obvious – worship. A place of childness. Relation to and love for and love from a parental god or goddess. Safe surrender. The image of the Bedouin bowing down 5 times a day into that relationship and rising as a true adult to face the bitter hardship of the desert with calm courage and resolution. Very un-adolescent.

11. Finally — the flipside — the loss of valuing age, wisdom. Once the elders held the knowledge, the wisdom. Gray hair indicated wisdom and commanded respect. Now – knowledge, facts, cleverness and the answers are in books and now on the Internet. Who needs the wise elders? Grey hair is dyed away and made invisible. We are all young. We are all adolescent.

BUT – deep breath: now the 21st century and the future: There is a real possibility in times of change – that maturity could still have wisdom: have a different form of knowledge. Not facts but skills, emotional resources, interpersonal skills, capacity for affection and love. For contentment.

That brings us on … what is to be done? This is not doom and gloom. This could be ‘ah ha’ time.

But you could ask what could possibly stop this tidal wave of adolescence, rooted 6 million years ago, 10,000 years ago, post-war, fed by military, religious, industrial, commercial, advertising industries and their paid politicians in Westminster. Formidable foes. What chance of a culture change?

Consider John Snow, the Victorian doctor with his simple, outrageous act of removing the handle of the pump in Broad St Soho as he could see, as others could not, that cholera was waterborne. Very simple. Very effective. Ignored for years. Simmelweis – ‘if doctors wash their hands more you will cut puerperal fever deaths’. Ignored. He went mad with frustration. Richard Doll – smoking causes cancer. Massive opposition from well funded lobbyists for the tobacco industry. But finally successful. Simple ideas can change cultures.

But these medical analogies help us see that the way forward must be two parts: first by the society – social, political change and second: one of personal choice and change. Public health measures to reduce smoking and personal responsibility to quit.

But smoking is pure poison. We have identified adolescence as having some historic benefits. At least in times of war etc. But we have lost the knack of turning them off.

Consider junk food: we cannot turn the clock back to a Stone Age diet but we can become aware of the dangers of a modern diet and do something to ameliorate those dangers.

I suggest this is a fairly precise analogy which is helpful: A taste for salt, sweetness and fat were survival skills in the Stone Age. With modern technology producing unlimited salt, sugar and fat, they become lethal tastes. Are they true addictions? Or can we do something about it?

We can reduce the salt, sugar and fat content of food. We can reintroduce roughage and fruit and vegetables.

Notice two approaches: 1. as a society – by political will and regulations (banning transfats, lowering salt in processed food etc) and by education and then 2. on a personal, individual level each person’s choice in diet.

If culturally our taste for adolescence, our impulses, compulsion was functional and some of them have now become lethal and destructive, what is the equivalent in terms of removing from our emotional diet the elements that increase and inflame adolescence? High levels of salt and sugar desensitise the palate. If you reduce those ingredients, food at first tasteless, bland and boring. But only at first. After a few weeks the palate regains sensitivity and healthy food tastes good again. But you need to see that. Go through a period of mild discomfort.

And as a society? Massive question. Difficult issues. Censorship? Tricky. Against our liberal instincts and with the internet how practical ? ….although we now accept censorship on race hate etc.

Restrictions on advertising would be easier to promote. Or a hefty tax….

But huge vested interests would oppose it. Remember huge vested interest opposed control on smoking, alcohol, salt, sugar and fat and continue to fund lobbyists to promote these poisons.

If you think about it, there are huge vested interests in promoting adolescence – advertising, consumption drives the whole economy.

And then competition with other nations. Is it possible to have a revolution in one country? Is it possible to have carbon reduction in one country if it puts that country at a disadvantage? Or adolescence reduction in one country if it reduces consumption and competition?

Ok – simpler – move onto the individual level. Each of us can choose to change our physical diet. And behaviour. Each of us can choose to change our emotional and cultural inputs and behaviours and those of our children. Will we? Can we do either – social change or individual choice?

Is it simple and easy? The title of the talk is about addiction to sex, anger, stress.

Again a slight deception, over-simplification: Truly addicted, compulsive behaviour is strong and hard to change. Habitual, unchallenged expectations, culture is weaker, easier to change. To be controversial – the latter is susceptible to CBT the former needs deeper therapy.

Which is the picture here? Answer: both

Addiction: what I said earlier about soldiers, military culture, boarding schools, kibbutzim – early enforced separation from carers – loss of attachment: but no grief. Turn grief into anxiety and then that into anger, searching, energy.

As a bereavement counsellor I am familiar with failed grieving and the mad energy that can bring – energy which can be channelled and used. And ways in which this can be healthily resolved and healed.

I offer 6 reasons to be hopeful:

1. It helps to see the enemy, the opposition: Whose interests are served? Who is exaggerating it? Premature: who sells make up for toddler, padded bras to 8 year olds? Argos. Tescos. Irresponsible business. Uncontrolled free market economy.

Who pumps up adolescent qualities – in war games? In porn? In the beauty industry? Irresponsible business. Uncontrolled free market economy. Who controls the media, the culture? So people believe in there being no alternative. Who funds lobbyists who control our bought parliament and civil servants?

2. Change is possible Consider the analogy of public health resistance and progress. Resistance to the truth about the poor lung health that developed in the industrial revolution. People literally could not afford to notice the effects of pollution from a factory or mill if the livelihoods of the town, the whole economy depended on it. They were in denial. Classic resistance.

Three things cracked the blockage which we could learn from:

1. it was only when death rates rose in early 19th century that the Acts were brought in – only when the chronic became acute. When it was perceived to be a crisis. As it is now in our culture with the pollution of adolescence.

And 2. when the epidemiology showed the cause and effect. Which this theory does. Modest? Moi?

3. Technology allowed cleaner factories. If there is a solution people may be prepared to see there is a problem. (I don’t have the equivalent of that right now for adolescence.)

And smoking leads me to point out that change is possible: what seems absurd or naive to hope for or expect has in fact happened in some areas: attitudes to gay issues, race, seatbelts…. and the simplest: the smoking ban. 10 years ago if you had suggested it you would have been laughed at. What changed? This is really worth looking at isn’t it? Serous change in perception, common sense, taken for granted. People smoked on the London Tube!! Unthinkable now. To ban it was unthinkable then. Change in thinkableness – a hugely important issue.

The realisation of damage. Initially resisted and denied both at a social, political, business led campaign level – and at an individual personal; level of denial. But the truth gradually soaked in and softened opposition to the change – which in fact came easily and quickly. Richard Doll 1950 – smoking ban 2010 = 60 years. Do we have to wait for 60 years? I shall be a bit old to enjoy it.

3. Consider a conjuring trick. If you cannot see how it is done, if it is baffling and impenetrable then it is convincing and the mind easily goes to thinking something magic and unknowable is going on. But once the trick is explained or understood, the magic disappears and the power goes with it. Same with a con-trick… which is closer to our subject. Can we see through the adolescence culture con-trick?

4. A culture in crisis is ripe for change. A backlash is forming — what sort of backlash? Reactionary, authoritarian, closing down debate? Saying keep the adolescence but impose more controls. A tighter lid on the pressure cooker?

Or turning down the gas? Lowering the pressure? There is a Buddhist concept of wisdom being reducing the fire. Reduce the force of adolescence. The assumption. The values.

Some of us are baby boomers. Always accused of trying to run the show. Now we are reaching our 60s. We can value maturity. Make it fashionable at last.

5. There is in fact a movement afoot. Possibly a bit of a rag tag army of change already here: Emotional intelligence. Awareness of stress, pollution. The happiness debate: Lord Layard. Questioning the capitalist model. Questioning gross inequality: Richard Wilkinson’s The Spirit Level. Yoga, meditation, downshifting.

Certainly it is rag tag and confused and much in society is going the other way toward greater adolescence. Is that confusing? A picture may help: a column of ants — or lemmings — the mass is still heading towards oblivion but some parts at the head of the column are turning aside and exploring paths to avoid total chaos.

Closer to home – both personal therapy helps break the cycle of dysfunction – but most effectively parenting workshops and courses have an enormous beneficial effect. A lot of what I have said here comes into my parenting notes and courses on coping with a teenager. If we can help at that key moment, it would make a huge difference. Explore the skill at dealing with adolescence – of giving responsible independence we are dealing with the very root of the problem.

Can we bring to the debate information from other countries, other cultures, other times? Rites of passage. The public acknowledgement and blessing of the transition moment from childhood to adulthood. We have creativity now in humanist burial services, marriage, naming ceremonies. The Jewish Bar Mitzvah is the only rite of passage I am aware of. What does a creative, humanist coming of age ceremony look like? What ones already exist? Which may include that peer group element? American Summer Camps? Gap Years? The old National Service? Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. The Scouts etc.

6. Personal individual approach: a lot of the above is social, abstract, general and political. I suggested there were two approaches – like reducing sugar and salt in the diet. Government control and personal choice. Let me offer an example on a personal basis:

Let me quote one example of one client I worked with. She was in her 60s. All her life she’d been anxious about her domineering older sibling and appeasing towards her. And equally – defiant, provocative. Prone to depression and finding it difficult to be a mother and grandmother because she was resentful of the demands of children.

We worked towards a realisation that she was stuck in adolescence with its characteristic insecurity and anxiety mixed with defiance. And a resentment of the demands of children.

She saw the problem. Ah ha. But her initial reaction was that she would have to become ‘mature and boring’ and ‘put away her colourful clothes.’

We worked that one through – maturity is not boring. It is stronger, more serious and present minded but also allows room to be playful in a happier way. She is now stronger and confident around her older sibling and a more playful, relaxed and far happier grandmother.

Myself also. The confused state being an adolescent has to some limited extent resolved with more seriousness and more playfulness. Work in progress but it’s rather nice. I recommend it.

And adolescent hypervigilance about threats can transmute into hyper-alertness and alertness of positives with the capacity to notice and to enjoy. To relish. To connect. Camus said maturity was moving from passion to compassion. Outgoing energy and incoming receptiveness.

7. To end the list of possibilities – at the risk of losing you….Going one level deeper — death.

May we talk about death – please? We have seen why adolescent characteristics include with Warriors – risk-taking and the denial of death.

The belief in one’s immortality. We see this in clients and many of you will see it in patients. Unrealism. The devil may care. “I will be ok – if I smoke – if I climb high walls to burgle…” Mixed mysteriously into “Anyway I don’t care if I do die”.

These two beliefs are a key part of the adolescent delusion, the con trick. Totally necessary for Warriors in the time of war but in peace? The denial of death is now totally widespread so widespread it is hard to see it.

It is made visible when it is not there. Hospices. I have friends who work in hospices. They are always asked “Isn’t it rather grim?” The answer is always “No – it is uplifting. A privilege. Something very special happens in hospices. People accepting death. The struggle is over. The denial is over. Some special truthfulness comes in. Some arrival. Some peace. Something … sacred.”

I don’t think we are very good at talking or thinking about peace ….or about sacredness.

And what loss is there? I am still working connecting this to the general thesis but it is obvious to me that mad heroic struggling of adolescence is the opposite pole from the peaceful, calm acceptance of death. It may be that if we import into our culture a more mature and courageous and honest attitude to death, it would be some antidote to adolescence. And as baby boomers reach the threshold of death, they / we may take it in and work with this to alter the culture?

So building on that and finally to end on an upbeat note: What would progress look like?

If the preferred transition is from sensible child to silly adolescent then to sensible mature adult. Take it further. what happens with very sensible , very mature. Completely mature? What does that look like? The move from unselfconscious as a child to self-conscious adolescent – then less self-conscious: what does very unselfconscious look like?

In exploring strong and deep maturity are we exploring what some religions have called enlightenment? Whoa! Grandiose? Maybe but I like to end on an upbeat note.

Consider the qualities of the pre-adolescent and then increase them again as an adult:

Mature Adult age and experience and wisdom PLUS:

Natural and unselfconscious. Genuine. Cooperative, keen to please. Integrated, intact. Sensible.
Moderate. Warm. Loveable. Engaged and affectionate. Capable of Love.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a bit more of that – each of us – and socially?

John Snow removed the poisonous Cholera laden water supply. In time people stopped getting ill. Smoking has been cut down, transfats removed – and heart attacks have declined.

Can we remove or reduce the toxic effects of hyper adolescence? Can we learnt to use adolescence – like fire, with thought and skill? To reduce the unhappiness, the problems, danger and damage it causes. Or to put it positively – to allow people to be happier and better?

I look forward to hearing your responses. This is a lot to chuck at you. I hope somebody here may consider the idea, allow in explore possible and use. Let me know. Thank you very much.


What are the brakes on therapy and emotional healing?

What are the brakes on therapy and emotional healing?

Identify them and release them.

A note for my Spectrum postgrad group about possibly making therapy more effective.

I suspect we have all had experience of mentioning psychotherapy in a social situation and having people tell us why they would never do psychotherapy and/or why they think it is a bad idea for anybody to do so. Remarks like “It’s very self-indulgent” or “Self-pity is pathetic” or “You’d be opening a can of worms”.

I have compiled a list of some reasons that people give and I would like to examine that list with you and extend it and look for ways to respond to those objections.

But this is not a marketing issue. It is not about trying to persuade people that they should start therapy. It is I think something more important and perhaps less obvious than that.

Because it is my growing experience that even in people who have started therapy or are deeply engaged with it, these prejudices and objections against it in fact remain at some deeper level in the mind and unconsciously but significantly inhibit progress. They cause resistance and ongoing ‘self-repression’ which blocks healing.

To step back and start at the beginning: I assume we all believe that the mind has a great capacity to heal and to change – but I am puzzled and frustrated at the sometimes slow pace of this in therapy and the blockages that I meet in both my clients and in myself.

It is as if we are trying to ride bicycles which should be able to move freely but are not doing so. We may put a lot of effort in and pedal harder and achieve some jerky progress but it still feels wrong.

But I ask – what if they have their brakes stuck on? That would explain the difficulty in making smooth progress.

If this is true and if we could identify those brakes and release them, then the bicycles would run freely. I.e. a small intervention at that carefully chosen specific point of the brakes would have a disproportionate effect.

In terms of therapy – If it is true that some beliefs and habitual ways of thinking are applying a brake to therapy then a small intervention at that specific point would have a disproportionate effect and healing could be achieved much more effectively.

In fact healing could become more natural and not require so much outside assistance. It would give people more power to heal themselves.

Therefore I would like to look at some of the reasons that people give why they would resist or object to therapy and see what work we can do on those beliefs which, as I say, I believe remain powerful at some unconscious level for many years.

To put it in terms of styles of work, it may be that using some CBT to deal in an accurate and focused way with some attitudes, beliefs and habits may unlock the potential for a more successful psychodynamic way of working.

I will spell out the list first and try and identify different categories. And I will see what we can do in terms of working with those resistances.

Obviously as soon as you start to list them you see that some are simple rationalisations and denial; some articulate anger and /or fear – or perhaps anger reflecting the fear beneath. And, as we go down the list I have arranged, some are about showing more insight.

It’s not a question of working out arguments to use against them. For me there are two aspects of the work: firstly simply getting people to spell them out, hear themselves saying it, think about whether they really believe that – and if so why? Go a bit deeper into what they think.

But secondly there are some interventions which I have found to be effective and I add them to some of the items on the list. But there isn’t an intervention to each point.

As I write this I realise that in some degree this is my exploration of my whole therapeutic approach. I would be really interested (and quite anxious) to hear people’s reactions to these interventions and to hear of ones that they find effective. Some people may find me excessively interventionist. I can only report what my clients have told me and shown me that they have found useful.

[What is also interesting to me is that I have found it surprisingly hard to think about this. As if the blockages I am writing about – block me. Obviously a lot of this is me talking about my longest serving client – myself – and I acknowledge that and it is probably why I am doing this.]


• I can’t afford therapy. I haven’t got time for therapy.

Cost of therapy is a real issue for some people. For others it might be as cheap as some of their extravagances and in terms of time, it is interesting how much TV many people watch.

One advantage of working for eleven years with the Camden Bereavement Service is that the service is free so the first objection is missing. And people come who are in some senses ‘naiive’, coming because of a death which ‘gives permission’ to people to seek counselling who would otherwise not have done so – for precisely the reasons explored in this note. And they retain those beliefs more explicitly perhaps than the usual client who has chosen to come for counselling or therapy for what they perceive as problems that they want to address.

• I don’t need therapy. I had a happy childhood.

I have a client who came for therapy “even tho’ he had had a happy childhood…” and then with almost no prompting told me multiple horror stories of his early life. I was not going to challenge his failure to crystalize the fact that what he in fact knew was so different to what he was prepared to admit* explicitly. I let him notice the mismatch over time. See below for more about this.

But interestingly he still has that taboo on admitting the reality and scale of his abuse. It is still work in progress four years on although many of the actual symptoms / reasons he first came have very much reduced. I think he could go further if he was able to admit it.

[* my current favourite word is “Admit”: strong double meaning: Confess or state something shameful and to let in.]


• Even if I had problems, I am dealing with them successfully.

This often refers to being successful in a worldly, career sense. Any problems in the emotional field are maybe too sensitive to air. Given time they come out. See below.

• You don’t need therapy to deal with problems, you just use willpower and self discipline and control of any negative behaviour or feelings.

Gently exploring if this includes the inability to relax? To love?

• All I need to do is to understand where certain problems come from and I can do that by reading books and by thinking about it myself.

• And when they start therapy it is all about gaining insight, rational explanations.

It may be good to explore the role of emotions in processing events and the modern science about this. And I find that reference to bereavement are really valuable here and in many places.

Bereavement has the value that it is simple in the sense of being unequivocal. There is no doubt that the person has died. This cannot be fixed and it is good to note the powerful instinct – symbolically but futilely to try to fix it by the equivalent of insight – enquiries, explanations, blame and campaigning. It may help with short-term anaesthesia – it doesn’t heal and in fact if it is prolonged can hinder healing, which – crucially – requires emotion.

Secondly the bereavement grief process has some respect given to it and there are some traditions or ceremonies in our culture. People are allowed to grieve. Exploring bereavement and the legitimacy of grief is a start in legitimising sorrow generally. Grief – a processing emotion; not the fixing emotions of fight and flight: anger and fear. Or searching.

• There is no evidence that talking cures work.

There is. And it’s quite useful to have it handy.

• I need my neuroses. They drive my career and my success.

Black and white thinking. All or nothing. Explore the cost to the client of the pressurised workaholic perfectionism. Is it really optimum? And if you were less neurotic what are the possible advantages? Could you imagine a calmer, more measured style? Better with people? Avoid burnout?

Disgust – to some extent directed at themselves.

• It is boring to blame my upbringing. It is negative and pointless.

• It is self-indulgent to talk about oneself. Other children had it worse. My parents had it worse.

• You should take responsibility.

• It is a sign of weakness to need therapy.

I find it is effective to introduce the idea that doing therapy requires considerable courage.
Equally I use the expression “emotion work” quite a lot. Which is a shock and a paradoxical reframing for people who see work as good and noble whereas emotions are bad and shameful.

• I do not wish to appear “needy”.

I explore the language which incorporates values: the pejorative tone of “needy” and how it compares with simply saying ‘having needs’… Sometimes asking a client to state what every child needs just highlights what they didn’t have. And can trigger real grief.

I am working with a woman sent away to boarding school quite young who is so far unable to feel any emotion about that and the bullying she received. But she can look at young children in the street and feel horror at the idea of them being sent away.

Talking about other children who had a similar experience causes empathy and sorrow – but as soon as it come close to one’s own experience – bang comes down the steel shutter of self-repression. This is work in progress. For her and me.

Feeling sorry for yourself and self pity are the worst things.

An approach I have in my mind is again a language issue – although I rarely share it explicitly: Some people (eg my step mother) do / did in fact feel very sorry for themselves (although they may be highly critical of others who they accuse of this) What they have not been able to do and need to do in fact is to feel real sorrow for themselves as children.  


• If I start to cry, I will never stop. I never cried.
• I wouldn’t want to go there. It is a can of worms. It’s too complicated.

Explicitly reassuring a client that one is experienced and other clients have had this fear which was misplaced. See below re Crying.

Also I find that, working with a client who feels their history is impossibly complicated, it helps to have a family tree and a life chronology. One hugely abused and traumatised client I am working with has a simple A4 sheet – a chart of dates – and even looking at it is triggering memories and she is saying the unsayable… feeling what was forbidden to feel.

• If I told my therapist what is really going on in my head they would be disgusted and would reject me.

• If I tell a therapist my shameful secrets s/he will tell others.

There are things that we can say to reassure a client in this area. I am currently working with that same client who is still suffering serious domestic emotional and sexual abuse. She was very wary and inhibited in disclosing. When I mentioned that I have worked for many years with people in domestic abuse situations she started crying with relief and in her words ‘the floodgates opened’. And she didn’t drown – it just washed away some of her shame.

• I would overload the therapist and stress them out and damage them.

Reassuring a client that one is experienced and well supported can offset this fear.

Fear /anger at therapists:

• Are you saying I am mad, needing therapy?

• I know you therapists, you are going digging into people’s brains and cause damage.

• You try and control people and tell them what to do.

One image I use in my head to be more skilful and less interventionist and interpretive is that if there is an unhealed wound there, then going digging is counter productive; ripping off bandages is dangerous, retraumatising.

Slow softening of the cover and creating a warm partial vacuum over a wound draws out the pus and infection in the safest way… ie patient listening and sometimes long warm silences are needed. I always remind myself of this, to offset my tendency to be too quick, clever and interpretative. .

• You therapists want us to hate our parents but they are dear old people now. They are nice people. There’s no point in attacking them. I can’t believe they were nasty to me (even though I have those memories.)

• It is all on nothing. Either you love someone and respect them – or you hate them.

It may not be obvious and we can explore the possibility of being angry with someone that you love. At Spectrum many years ago there was an article on the notice board which simply explored the hugely important fact that Anger is a Feeling; Aggression and Violence are Actions. Two very different things. But in our culture it is curiously hard simply to feel anger and not act on it. Hard but healthy?

This may seem strange but quite an effective and surprising intervention is that, rather than quote proper psychology books etc, I quote Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts says “Your father must be very proud of you” and Richard Gere takes a deep breath and says “I am very angry with my father. And that’s $20,000 worth of therapy speaking..” It can lead to good exploration of this issue of how hard it is to dare to be angry with one’s parent. (And the son and father were reconciled by the end of the film.)

But at the same time it may help to notice that we come from a blame culture. I sometimes think that we run our minds on criminal models – Goodies –v- Baddies logic.   Much healthier is the classical concept of Tragedy – to let go of blame and just see the Sadness. Yes parents did what they did because of what they had experienced. Yes, you can leave blame out of it – it’s a different matter – It still wasn’t what you as a child needed. It’s simply sad. It’s OK to sit with anger and sadness. Ignore the ‘call to action’. Just feel the feelings.

• I like my neuroses and my neurotic behaviour. It is my character. I do not want to become average and boring.

A client said exactly that to me recently. More anxious, black and white thinking – although in fact it just dissolved as she simply heard what she is saying and thought that one through.

Impatience once started: 

• Ok we have started…but … it’s not happening instantly. I feel worse… I need medication.

I use metaphors from organic processes and clients seem to work with them. It is worth pointing out that in our culture there may be a tendency to think of our brains as computers and expect instant change. I offer a gardening metaphor. Clearing dead grass, opening up old, maybe fetid compost heaps and letting the air turn it into soil. Plant seeds. It’s often a mucky business, maybe smelly, but it is safe. And crucially it needs time and patience to see results.

Getting more insightful – ie what people don’t say or not initially:

• Emotions are silly, pathetic, irrational, contemptible.

I sometimes ask a client to do a thought experiment: “If I tell you there is an emotional person in the next room – what is your picture of them?” and explore the fact that Emotion is often identified with what they see as negative emotions – anger, hysteria, danger…and let the client explore other emotions of grief or joy or hope.. And become aware of what their assumptions are.

I have found it useful to ask a client to say what their parents told them about Emotions… I don’t usually need to point out that in some part of our mind we still believe what we were told, even if our adult part rejects that.

• The Taboo on self-pity. “Survivor pride.”

Crying: One client I am working with apologised in the first session for getting tearful. She was usefully shocked when I told her “Crying is not exactly compulsory here – but it is entirely accepted and welcomed.”

I also mentioned that one of the best simple books on bereavement work is called “The Gift of Tears”. Crying is healthy. Since then she has cried a lot about subjects she has never talked about before. And says she feels two stone lighter.

I sometimes tell the story from many years ago of a very disturbed client (in fact a legal client) who had been hideously abused by Irish monks. He leant forward in his chair and fiercely told me “But I never cried.”

The client I am telling this to now can usually see or be helped to see that he meant he never cried at the time – which was necessary to maintain pride and was probably safer. And he “wouldn’t give them that satisfaction.” And that he has never cried since – hence why he was still so disturbed.

He so needed to cry. He was so unable to let himself. He is hanging onto what I call Survivor pride.

(I referred him to a counselling service provided by the Irish state for victims of that abuse. )

For me maybe the central task of therapy is to: Say the unsayable. Think the unthinkable. Feeling the… forbidden.

Cry List. As a humanistic practitioner I give myself permission to disclose quite a lot to clients if it is genuinely in their interest. Not my history, but what I find useful in practice and this includes the Cry List. A list of things that make you cry – not sad ones but positive ones…

I had a client who claimed she never cried – and nor did her macho husband who sets a certain culture in the home. (He told her before coming for sessions “Don’t display any weakness”).

When I got her to write a Cry List she ‘admitted’ that she cries at standing ovations, achievements. And when I mentioned the classic Susan Boyle Youtube she said her husband watches that quite often and he always cries….

Because it is short term therapy and she has her macho husband at home I had to tip- toe around the real message here. That you cry about seeing other people getting affirmation, praise, rescue … love. Ie what you needed – didn’t get and crucially learnt not to want.

If I ask “I see you cry for others. . is that about you?” … again – crash – down comes the steel shutter, the taboo on self compassion.

Current work in progress is exploring these double standards – “yes other children need and needed those things but me? I was ok without them. In fact I didn’t need them. And I don’t deserve them now…”

Neurotic traits. I powerfully salute the client as survivor including the sometimes uncomfortable or unattractive neurotic structures and thought habits that they have created to survive. The bunkers they have built to stay in. So often those structures, habits and bunkers are a source of shame to them.

So to salute them is another shocking reframing. Only if they have been named, acknowledged and valued can they be let go of, reduced. Or simply accepted as a part of the person – not the whole person.

A description of oneself as “superficially functioning but under that false mask really terrified or furious or to have fantasies of persecuting others or surrendering and welcoming victimisation” is not an accurate way of describing it with the implication of guilt and fakery.

It is possible to be really terrified or furious and at the same time to be functioning well as a family person, friend and professionally. It is not fakery or a cue for shame. It is heroic and work in progress.

Going into the roots:

As I have mentioned I sometimes I ask them to tell me simply what they were told by their parents about Emotions… about anger, fear, crying etc. But going deeper to explore the original articulated apparently calm repressive messages, so often from the parents: “This is normal. You have nothing to complain about. When I was your age I had it worse … Boys don’t cry. Girls don’t get angry.”

Parents’ messages especially many years ago may have been that emotions were “unmanly”, “unladlylike”, “hysterical” even “un-English”.

Absurd though that may sound, at some ashamed level we may still believe those messages and getting them articulated may draw the sting of it.

But the most powerful roots are the much more charged, secondary abuse of repression

• “Don’t you dare be angry with me or complain or be sad or sulk or be anxious.” An old and very disturbing expression “if you cry about that, then I’ll really give you something to cry about.” i.e. being punished for having a natural response of fear of protest or anger or sorrow. Creates the hugely important conditioned reflex to self-repress.

The really traumatised client mentioned above actually reported that experience word for word. Emotion work there is much more profound than what I have referred to as the CBT approach.

Focusing in therapy on the fact, the moment of repression as well as or more than the fact and experience of abuse and neglect I suggest may be key. The deeper side of releasing the brakes.

Body work.

I have worked for many years on body issues and continue now with my current therapist . I am making links to the development of trauma work like Peter Levine, Babette Rothschild, Le Doux, and best of all Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps The Score.

I am exploring in myself the trauma-induced body state of breath held / closed throat / shallow breathing, the physical / muscular tensions and the blocked body language. I am coming to see that all of these amount to continuing ‘self-protection’ which is in fact now self-repression.

I have worked on a note on this area which I have given to colleagues and some clients. This explores the possibility of reversing the flow – undoing the body states and releasing the emotions that have been blocked and held in the body.

There is nothing very new here as much of it links back to thousand year old wisdom of yoga and Tai chi but putting it into my own words and involving modern information about the autonomic nervous system and the hormonal implications of breathing is maybe my CBT to reduce self repression; taking the brakes off and freeing up healing.

This note on the subject – stress body, breathing, body release – some clients and colleagues say they have found unreadable and some have said has been very helpful. One social worker colleague said it was the best thing he had read on the subject. Useful pink envelope encouragement.

I wonder if some people resist any physical, eg endocrinological explanations for things because it seems humiliating. It implies there are things going on that they do not understand in their bodies and minds. The same applies generally to unconsciousness which is resisted.

Certainly there is a snobbery around physical work because of the supremacy of the rational model and willpower. If the client is receptive – bibliotherapy can be effective in helping them see that this is a part of a well accepted and growing body of evidence and good practice. Like the books mentioned above.

If they come from a more spiritual side or are more open to wisdom from older culture in India and China then linking modern understanding of body systems with Yin and Yang and with the qualities from the Yogic system of Gunas – Rajasic, Tamasic and Satvik is really interesting and may give motivation to work on breathing and other body work. This is my current area of work. And is explored a little in the note.

What I have not approached is the issue of…

• Do you really want to change? To heal. Addictiveness to the neuroses. Repetition compulsion.

I know from my own experience that there is a strong pattern which can be summarised in three words that morph into each other: Adapt. Adopt. Addict.

If you adapt to a negative experience – childhood abuse and neglect – then you somehow adopt that as the norm, the familiar, the Home. And then there is an addiction to it. A repetition compulsion.

The same phenomenon when labelled the Stockholm syndrome is noticed in certain adult traumatic situation like hostage taking or kidnapping etc. which echo an abusive, powerless childhood

I have often felt defeated by that. It seems such a powerful force.

But I am beginning to think (and doing this note has helped) that this compulsive and addictive return to the familiar abuse is triggered or emphasised by deep anxiety especially separation anxiety. The repetitive, stuck, addictive behaviour can be reduced by working with that, going back to the original rejection and abuse and raising the steel shutter, letting it in – admitting it – and feeling grief for the child.

And body work and meditation open the door to that.


Some ideas about parenting



Parenting really has arrived now. 10 years ago when my partner and I did a parenting course people looked doubtful and spoke about it with sarcastic heavy inverted commas “Parenting”?! Surely it’s just common sense? Or instinct? … You can’t really teach parenting can you? Who needs a course anyway?”

Well – we did. For all our good intentions and principles we were really struggling with our children. Terrible tensions, conflicts and unhappiness. Then we did a parenting course and it transformed the way we behaved and transformed the family culture. There was an outbreak of peace and friendliness which took us right through the teens with basic goodwill and only moderate problems. So it is possible!

Now, as a nation, we all seem to have woken up to the fact that parenting is a skill. And it can be very hard …… and many of us are struggling. But it is possible for it to be great. . In fact at some level many people resent the idea that they need to think about this – to develop a skill. “It ought to be common sense or instinct. Children should just obey their parents….. it’s all very simple.” If that really works for you – then maybe you don’t need to come to the workshop. But if you do have some problems… please do come along, get some ideas and share your experiences.

It seems too obvious to say but…….parenting is very, very important. We are creating the next generation. It is the most important thing we do in our lives. Hearing that is quite shocking to some people apparently. It is only too easy for them to see it as something to be squeezed into the busy schedule of work.

And we have very little preparation for being a parent or opportunities to improve our parenting once the whole scary roller coaster has started.

Of course Parenting is now the TV phenomenon of the age. Although many parenting programmes are quite often awful and sensational, they do raise the whole issue and give some ideas to millions of people.

I find it really encouraging that so many schools, communities and even major companies are having parenting support groups and are running workshops.
Every family is different and some of these notes may seem irrelevant to you. That is inevitable. In the workshops I run I find some parents who do not even recognise the problems I discuss and seem to have peaceful, happy relations. . Other families are struggling and unhappy but believe they are the only ones doing so. It is a relief for them to hear they are not alone.

Please only take what is relevant for you. But perhaps realise that your children are living in a world where many of their present and future friends will be in conflict at home and it is good to be aware of those issues and ways of resolving them.

THESE NOTES ARE DIVIDED INTO TWO SECTIONS: First four ideas that have proved really useful to my family and to others and then 14 techniques or tips that have also proved very useful and practical.

Please note: although once we had worked them out, we found the ideas very useful, some people may find the abstract ideas rather theoretical, unhelpful or even off-putting – especially to begin with.

If that is true for you – then fine – just skip them and go to the techniques section and see if anything there is useful. Maybe just one or two may work for you.
Now I believe strongly that written material can only be of limited help. Parenting is not simply an information thing. It’s not just about facts. It’s about changing perceptions and feelings and behaviour.

To be effective in that way, these notes need to be expanded on and made real at a session or ideally in a course. I have tried to cram a 12 week course into 12 pages – too ambitious by far – but I hope you can make some use of them.

The point is that it’s a bit like diet or fitness or sports training. You can read the book but that’s not quite enough, is it?! Knowing the ideas or the facts about diet and fitness and sport doesn’t really achieve anything. You have got to get the motivation to change behaviour and sustain it. That’s why you have Weight Watchers groups or you go to the gym and have a programme and ideally have a personal trainer. So please come to the workshop on 17 January we can do make a modest start at really working with these ideas.

The notes are outlined in a terribly compressed form – painfully simplified. Also they are general and some may not apply to children of the age of your own children. They have arisen mainly from the really difficult problems that seem to arise at adolescence. However I am sure you can adapt them to your own family situation.

David Jockelson .
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Let’s first take IDEAS and attitudes, then later look at some TECHNIQUES.


Out of a mass of ideas and insights available about parenting, I will mention just four ideas we learnt, we have found useful and we wished we’d had earlier:


Parenting is hard. It probably always has been. But it got much worse with certain specific historic changes in society and culture.

It is worth looking into this in order to understand the problems and see how we can work through them. If you can accept that parenting is really hard for objective historical reasons then it means that having problems is much more common than is usually admitted. It also means that, if you are struggling, don’t feel too awful. Your children are not difficult and you are not a dismal failure!

This idea is most necessary in working with parents of teenagers. If your children are younger these ideas may still be of value. After all it seems to some of us that adolescence run from about the terrible twos and carries on until the mid-twenties!

The behaviour that comes up in children at adolescence and the conflicts that come up in families at this time are incredibly powerful and fairly universal. Children can turn from possibly being loving, co-operative, calm, generous people into ones who are self conscious, status conscious, showing off, grasping, selfish, rejecting, demanding, non liberal, sexist, aggressive. Some parents come to groups very bewildered, hurt, worried and angry.

“What on earth is happening? Was it always this bad? Is it this bad in all countries?”

Answer: No. The key point is this: We are trying to raise children in an extraordinarily unnatural situation. Over-intense and claustrophobic.

These problems are so serious that it is worth the risk of doing what might be seen as pop social anthropology or history and to see parenting in a historical context. When and how has the situation become so unnatural?

Those changes can be seen in two time frames: the first very long – hundreds or thousands of years; the second more recent – changes that have occurred since we were children.

The long view: start with traditional society. Take it back as far as hunter-gatherer groups where we evolved and for which our brains are still best fitted. Or through to the social life of children in small villages. Compare that with the here and now.

Consider the differences in two ways – Who raises the children? and How long does childhood last?

1. Who raises the children?

In a traditional culture children were not mainly raised by their parents. They were raised by the wider family or the village: The much quoted African proverb is “It takes a village to raise a child.” Aunts and uncles and grandparents relieve pressure on parents. They provide different places to go when children are upset or puzzled and they provide different role models.

But also to an even greater extent children are and were being cared for and socialised by their older siblings and cousins. Parents and adults would focus more on the new babies. Older children would be socialised by each other – in a group situation.

They would also have real, meaningful, necessary work to do for the family which gives them a sense of purpose and value (although of course it can become exploitation)

Compare that form of child rearing with the pressures in a modern, western nuclear family: One or two parents – often one or two children. Living in a physically small space. Maybe it’s not safe to ‘play outside’ at all. Maybe little contact with the wider family to provide those different places to go when upset or puzzled or to provide different role models and relief for pressurised parents. Even with playgroup or nursery, home life is a claustrophobic pressure cooker. Happy parenting can be incredibly different. Congratulations to anyone who is even half succeeding.

We sometimes notice this and mention it when thinking of single parents isolated in high rise flats but it is also true to a significant degree of most of us. For you?

From a child’s point of view – they also miss out because they often don’t have that valuable role and healthy responsibility of caring for younger children. They are always on the receiving end of care and socialisation, of exhortations and prohibitions – of control. They are powerless. And powerlessness breeds resentment, anger, fear, dependence and defiance. Do your children, by any chance, show any of those ‘qualities’?

2. How long does childhood last?

Answer: In very early societies childhood was shorter in two ways: First children would have gone through puberty and fairly soon been ready to leave the family group and set up their own family. Secondly, as mentioned above, they would have already been doing those necessary, useful, responsible tasks of caring for younger children.

Childhood is now greatly extended – by 5 or 10 years. Teenagers do not leave the nest when they would naturally have done so. Education means adolescents have to be dependent on their family and home far beyond puberty. Far beyond the time they are ready and hungry to leave home. That creates inevitable conflicts.

Their ‘work’ is school work – abstract, set by adults, imposed, based on a value system and expectations they may not share or may at least doubt.

SECOND IDEA: In this unnatural context of extended childhood – next question….

What exactly is going on in adolescence? It’s not obvious because of the confusions mentioned above about life timing.

Adolescence is essentially a time of stressful transition. It should be about a transition from childhood with dependence and their main attachment to a parent – to adulthood with independence and their main attachment to a new partner.

Rejecting: They need to escape, to push away their childhood homes, to distance themselves from their attachment to parents. . It helped me to think that it is their job to be rejecting and to invite rejection – ie be annoying! A mantra in our group was ‘Don’t take it personally – it’s just the hormones’. It’s worth extending that to ‘Don’t take it personally – it’s their job to push us away.’

That would be hard enough for us to cope with – but as well as being rejecting and provocative, they are also anxious and demanding. Anxious because they now have to make their own position in life.

As children they are defined socially by their parents. As adolescents they need to establish their own place in the world and in the pecking order.

Some adults may be uncomfortable with frank discussion of class, status, hierarchy and competition. Revealingly our children usually are not. They are completely aware of status issues. And its role in sexual competition.

This may have been inflamed by the media and we will discuss that later but it is totally real for them. It is a time of enormous insecurity. “ I’ve got to make my own way. Make a mark, pose, pretend. What will people think? Will I get a girl/boyfriend? “
This is all very stressful. Scary.

So adolescents combine rejection with anxiety. Defiance with dependence.
And that paradox, that contradiction is really hard to handle, to respond to calmly and constructively. The old joke: “You’ve ruined my life. You’re useless. I’m leaving home. Give me the train fare and make me some sandwiches.” Being aware of this paradox can really help parents to understand and not be so threatened and irritated. That really helped us.

THIRD IDEA: One that seems to be widely recognised and was important for us to take further and work with: We have an instinct / impulse to parent as we were parented. There are good Darwinian reasons for this which I’d be happy to discuss some other time …

The old cliché is: “I was determined not to bring up my kids as I was brought up and then ……… I open my mouth and out comes my father’s/mother’s voice.”

And this is wider: automatically, unconsciously our whole style, expectations, attitudes are likely to be more like our parents than we realise – unless we become conscious of it and challenge it. They are not consistent with what we really believe or want to believe. The result is that we don’t ring true and we are not consistent. One automatic reaction is to think or even say “When I was your age…” And how helpful is that?!

In my case – My own anger, rigidity and instinctive authoritarianism learnt in childhood were hidden under a nice, liberal facade. That facade wasn’t simply false. It was what, in my head, I really believed – but it wasn’t true all the way through. This was very confusing for the children. The result – they pushed me to show my true colours. ‘Provocative’ is an unattractive, blaming word. But that was how it felt until I realised what was happening. Then things became much easier.

It would be worth a whole session unpacking that one – discussing how we were parented, remember what we hated most, what we loved most. And then see if some of the negative behaviour and style of our parents is coming through now. And if so, what can we do about it. How can we hold onto the best bits and develop and use them.

The point about saying “When I was your age…” is really important if we return for a moment to the more recent historical view of parenting:

FOURTH IDEA: culture has changed dramatically since we were their age. This is obvious – but it really needs to be looked at and the implications absorbed.

There is a huge bombardment of children by images of consumerism, greed, violence, sex, and the consensus that responsible, calm, generous behaviour is somehow sad and that it is cool to be angry, aggressive, resentful, greedy etc.

As Mrs Tuck has recently said “ Botox and bingeing…. it’s easy to feel we lead in a moral vacuum …… the conspicuous and ultimately unfulfilling materialism of the me, me, me society.” ‘Toxic Childhood’ by Sue Palmer is a dramatic view of this issue.

It seems as if the culture is reinforcing all the problem aspects of adolescence. Not just seems to be that – it’s true: our national culture is now an adolescent one.

Previously adolescence was a blip. Crazy behaviour by the young ones for a few years, tolerated by the mature ones. Now it’s permanent – celebrated as a way of life, our national culture.

It starts much earlier, it’s exaggerated and it carries on until when? – old age? Do we ever grow up?! What pressure is there for men to be boys – and women to remain girls? There could be a whole day’s workshop just on that….

Anyway.. put these ideas together and the total outcome for parents may be:

Overage, uncontrolled, confused adolescents who should have left but are still in the home, cutting off from parents; often defiant, rejecting; but still dependent and demanding; in a small home without the wider family as a support or release valve and now being bombarded with reinforcements from a sick culture. I will repeat: happy parenting could seem an almost impossible task. It is hard for everyone.

And remember adolescence is not just extended – it is also now premature – it starts at a very young age– so this perspective is of almost universal application.

If we can see things in this way it is possible to realise that the problems are not simply the personal fault of ourselves or of our children. So that may help with feelings of panic and blame.

And that can really help. And if it results in a major reduction in panic and blaming, then we are more ready to start thinking about parenting, learning and practising news skills.

Because in one way we are fortunate. At the same time as the problems of parenting have become worse and worse – we are also beginning to think about and understand what is involved. There is new information and ideas. We are developing new skills and techniques to compensate for the problems:


Some short tips – for all ages. Some more appropriate for younger children. (‘Tips’ may sound a bit trite but it reflects how compressed they are here.)

Each one could might be a topic for one session in a course or be the subject of a workshop to explore, discuss, internalise – so we could go away and try it during the week and come back and discuss it next week. That’s how it worked for my partner and me.

1. Listening. This is the really big one and we will do an exercise in workshop which works really well and makes this very real.

Listening sounds passive and weak. It isn’t. It is incredibly powerful. If you really listen – they will listen to you. It can be magically effective with children and with adults.

“But they never tell me anything”. Oh? Really? How well do you listen? We all think we are great listeners. It’s worth the pain of checking that out.

How do you listen? Do you listen while you cook? Read the newspaper? Watch TV?

Or do you stop and quietly listen and look at the person? Come down to their level if they’re small?

What do you do when they speak? Do you interrupt? Do you give comments like – “If I were you I’d do x…. you should have done y… when I was your age I… or never mind – have a cup of tea…” Do you go into fixing or distracting mode?

Or do you let them finish? Do you nod and say very little? Do you let them know you have heard and understood? Do you acknowledge their feeling about what has happened? And wait to see if they want you to offer advice or fix things?

That’s so hard – we think it’s our job to advise, fix, help, guide…. or maybe in their perceptions – interfere and control.

If they get some quiet supportive listening, the problem often seems half the size and then it doesn’t need fixing. And they learn to cope with it themselves and build their skills.

Now this is at the heart of practically every parenting book. We all read it and nod and then…. do we change how we behave? If not – why not? Are we threatened by their emotions? By their discomfort? We will do a ‘listening game’ in the workshop.

This discussion is to emphasise the aspect of emotional support. But it also works really well in terms of setting boundaries, getting results… Listen first, tell them later. It works. See next technique:

2. Assertiveness:

There are plenty of good, well-established ideas about assertiveness: The distinction is usually : aggressive –v submissive (-v- sometime manipulative) –v- assertive.

How assertive and skilful are you? How calmly strong? Or how dominated by fear or anger are you? (You could ask – How good or bad is your stress management?) How to develop and practice assertiveness?

In parenting this is made more complicated because established parent/child roles are already there. We think we know what the choices are: authoritarian which sceptics see as aggressive –v- liberal which sceptics see as submissive.

This is explained because we think we know what this all means:

cold and tough ———————– V ———————– warm and soft

We could spend some time discussing in those terms how we were brought up and how we plan or hope to bring our children up.

And this usually comes home to roost as being about what you allow the kids to do. Endless discussions about bedtime, time home from clubs, where they can go, films, friends, sex, drugs etc. ‘Boundaries’ as the social workers love to talk about.

Let’s try a new tack. Let’s really think about one of the oldest clichés in the book.
“It not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Let’s runs some imaginary stories for ourselves first: Imagine being told by a person in a uniform to ‘park over there’, ‘get in line here’ etc. Spoken abruptly. The immediate impulse is to resist, to tell him to….er…go away? Even when it is entirely sensible to park over there or form a queue here.

And then imagine the same situation with a warm, polite request, with a reason given. How different our reactions are. So very obvious? So very useful.

Applying that to parenting. See that in fact the choice is not authoritarian versus liberal on a simple line – it is more interesting and promising than that. Try this map:   [sorry I have not worked out graphics in WordPress]


1.                        tough                         4.


Cold    ——————–/——————————-  Warm


3.                            Soft                                  2.


1.Top left is tough and cold: traditional authoritarian / possibly aggressive. 2.Bottom right  is warm and soft: liberal possibly submissive / soggy / nervously giving in. 3. Bottom left is cold and soft – which I see in sad, depressed, neglectful parents. But top right, 4, is new territory. Warm and tough.  We can be tough and set clear boundaries and give tough challenges and it will work if we are warm and skilful. This is what ‘tough love’ really means.

This is based on the ideas of Steve Biddulph. He is now rather controversial for his later book on ‘Raising Babies’ and his earlier books are really popular and helpful. In most workshops I find there are some people who have read and been really helped by them. (I have in fact run these notes past him and he approved them. And my own daughters.)

If we have time we will look at these ideas in a workshop and get your ideas into discussion. Exploring what that might mean in practice.

And here is one suggestion of what a tough, warm challenge in practice looks like……

3. Challenge behaviour, don’t insult the person. Be precise, don’t fire a broadside.

Do you say ‘Please don’t leave your dirty shoes on the carpet.’? Or do you in fact say ‘You are so messy…you are always leaving your shoes on the carpet…’ ?

Consider that last sentence: First slap a label on her, and then a generalisation.

You may feel it’s justified. S/he is always doing that. Justified – yes. Helpful? Effective? Skilful? In your own long-term interests? Probably not.

Verbal slaps. Words can slap just as hard as a physical blow. They are not a good starting point for co-operation. And if s/he doesn’t seem to notice the slap – what does that say? What would you think if a child didn’t seem to notice a physical slap? that she had become rather desensitised to this? Not good news.

Labelling a person is unhelpful and destructive. Commenting on behaviour is much more effective and useful. It’s worth exploring this in some detail.

This connects with another tip that many people have found very practical: the three part challenge:

When you do x…… I feel y…… What are we going to do about it?

“When you leave your dirty shoes on the carpet I have to clean it up and I feel disregarded and hurt by that. What are we going to do about it?”

The reactions I have had on courses have included: “Oh God. They’d just laugh at me. They’d say ‘So what? That’s your problem.’ Or ‘why are you talking strange mum – been on a course?!’ etc. “

Maybe. Maybe not. In fact people find that that if they stick with the drill it does get through. It is honest. It acknowledges how their behaviour affects you – rather than pretending and playing some silly dishonest adult / child role game. Yes, it gives them power. It trusts them to respond responsibly. It works. And it needs faith and motivation.

4. Be an emotion coach. You are teaching them how to live and behave and feel. ‘The Heart of Parenting’ by Gottman is good on this. And a new book which has a irritating and unrealistic title ‘Superpowers for parents’ Stephen Briers but is quite good on this.

Problems and what seem to be negative emotions are also a chance for the child to learn skills in coping with life – not just a chance for you to fix things as powerful parent but to give them their own power. Teach them to notice their stress, listen to themselves, their emotions, name them if that’s useful and work out their own ways of dealing with them.

And you are modelling all of this of course…… Or are you? You tell them you want them to be calm and kind. But do you snarl and swear at other motorists?

You want them to cope with stress well? What are you doing about your own stress? Glass of wine.. or two? Or…..

“Do as I say, not as I do” – is both not effective and it leads to loss of respect. And with it, the loss of the real, legitimate authority you need.

5. Work as a family. Maybe if the reasons for the problems are understood – it’s more possible to be honest? Don’t pretend it’s OK. Don’t just ignore and move on from last night’s row. Don’t just blame each other for the tension and conflict. Openly admit that parenting is hard; living in a family is hard, there is a problem. Pretending there isn’t makes everything a lot worse. The message otherwise is that it’s so bad that it’s undiscussable.

Get the subject out into the open and discussed. We have a problem. What can we do about it? Level with them, trust them. If they feel respected, trusted, they contribute to solutions and things work much better. In discussing things later with my children, this is what they said was the most valuable thing we did.

6. Catch them doing good. Warm appreciations may sound contrived at first. They are still very effective. Precise praise is a real skill. Not just the general loving remarks – “you’re a lovely girl” etc but precise: “Thank you for helping out with supper. … or for noticing your grandmother was unhappy … or for not complaining when we were late for the party….” Quite a good exercise is remembering praise we received as children and how important it was to us.

What you think and say is still very important to children – privately. It is so important that at certain stages they have to pretend very hard that it’s not!

Ignore or go cool on their ‘bad behaviour’ unless it’s causing immediate harm. Bad behaviour may be attention-seeking behaviour. Because is that when they get the real, warm attention from you? If so – are you effectively training them to misbehave?

7. Work out what is really important. Is it worth a row? Is having a messy room actually your problem or theirs? What ego is involved here? Don’t sweat the small things.

8. Don’t let yourself be isolated. You are having problems. Who else is? People are ashamed of having problems at home. They may either say nothing or they make a joke out of them. We can create a tragic pretence, each of us suffering alone.

Other parents can be a great resource. Sharing problems, solutions. Making sure the children don’t play one home off against another – “But Sam’s parents let him stay out ’til 2.00 am.. etc” Do they? And, if so, is it because they’ve been told you do?

Pick up the phone to Sam’s parents? Set up a parents group; formally or informally? How to achieve that? Online? What ideas have you got?

9. Parenting and the world of work don’t mix well. One problem is that many parents spend all day at work where there may be strong emotions but they are usually very well controlled.

And everything is black and white and at right angles and A4 sized.

And then you come home and, especially with younger children, everything seems soft and squidgy, coloured and noisy, inconsistent and symbolic, emotional and silly, trivial and just damn messy and human…… “Hang on there. This is home. This is my family. This is why I’m doing it all.” No? – Yes. But it is so hard to change gear, to let go of the adult, work based literalness, the expectation of reasonableness etc.

What can be done? Acknowledge the problem in the family. Discuss it. Agree there needs to be a time to change gear.

For yourself possibly a ‘transition ritual’. Not just the glass of wine on getting home but something (bit new age-y?) like on the way home reciting a bit of a mantra: “I am leaving behind the world of work with all that implies and I am coming home to the family I love. And it’s going to be difficult – different and messy and and …. this is real. This is what human life is about. And it’s hard to change gear but I’m going to concentrate and do it because I love my kids and they deserve this effort.” (And I’ll have a much better evening if I do.)

10. Don’t be rushed – take some time. “Dad, can I go out bungee jumping with Sophia?” You don’t have to give an immediate answer. Especially when just in from work. Or before consulting your partner if you have one.

“Let me think about that one” is a good start. It gives you time to think about it. Go back and ask for fuller details. Then even if you say no she knows you thought about it. You may say: ‘That won’t work’? I can only say – It did for us and for others.

11. “Anxious? – of course I’m anxious. It’s because I love you.” Do we sometimes almost use anxiety as a measure of love? As a demonstration of love?

And – “If I worry enough they will be safe. If I don’t worry – what sort of parent am I? I obviously don’t care and will be punished by something terrible happening to them.”

In fact focusing on anxiety, constantly warning children makes them anxious and possibly irritated at what is in fact control, and they are more likely to do silly things. Trust them; especially with adolescents – they know the streets better than you. Don’t give them warnings – give them information and trust them to use it. You can’t be with them all the time. In practice you have to trust them. If you grudge that, you achieve nothing other than resentment. Why not embrace it and make a virtue of it?

12. Distinguish emotions from behaviour. This is getting into some interesting, more challenging psychological areas.

Try this: ‘Emotions are OK, safe and healthy. It’s OK to be angry. Behaviour is different: It’s not OK to be aggressive or violent.’ That’s quite a hard distinction to see fully and work with – but very useful. There could be a good evening’s work here.

My daughter made a great discovery. “I now realise that it’s OK for me just to say I am feeling really fed up today. I don’t have to know why and explain it. I don’t always have to find someone to be fed up with.” That was quite a relief for us. And it was very useful for her.

But – question – how comfortable are you with emotions? What messages were you given about emotions when you were young. Write them down. ‘Anger is bad because…. Fear is bad … etc.’ That’s what, at some level, you still believe. And the children are brilliant at picking up from that level.

Get the subject out into the open. Stage one: I believe that emotions are OK and expressing them carefully and accurately and honestly is good. Acting them out is not. Converting them into blame and attack is not. Stage two: And I have problems with other people’s anger, or distress or sorrow etc. How can we work with this?

13. Try using ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. That sounds strange and it works. Example with a young child: “I know you want to go out to play but you can’t because it’s late and dark.” That sounds reasonable to us but in fact to the child has a dismissive feel to it. Try it with an ‘and’: “I know you want to go out and you can’t because it’s late and dark” doesn’t seem to cancel out their position so much. You are putting the two statements side by side. This is actually much more effective than it sounds here!
14. Research. Get information and ideas about children. Treat it as a real project.

If this is the most important thing we do in our lives – surely we should treat it with as seriously and systematically as – say a client’s business?!

Read books. Go online with Young Minds, Positive Parenting, Trust for the Study of Adolescence, BBC and then follow the links.

For example: Recent brain research into teenagers: – it looks as if the prefrontal cortex which is the bit if the brain that works out consequences and controls impulsivity, is not fully developed until the early 20s! Also in early teen years, it is particularly true that emotions interfere with memory – so they are less likely to remember things when stressed, or remember more than one thing at a time – useful for parents of teens who forget/lose things all the time to hang on to. Easier to be patient. Skilful to choose unstressed times to give information.

‘Why are they so Weird’ by Barbara Strauch is also a good source for this. She also points out that puberty is earlier now (probably because of improved nutrition) so physical changes are happening before the brain is developed. This may mean we expect more of them and are more frustrated.

Get information about problems – like drugs. If you actually know what you are talking about, then they may discuss the subject. If you don’t then your ideas are based on fear and ignorance. Why should they respect that?

Drawing those threads together and at the risk of creating a pious homily:

Parenting is hard. In some ways harder than ever. But it is possible for parenting and family life to be good: successful, loving and rewarding. To achieve that we need to think things through consciously and work hard on the task. First to admit there are problems. Think about them, find out about them and discuss them openly in the whole family.

Be aware times have changed. We may tend to parent as we were parented but authority based on simple parental dominance is not an effective option. We may need to challenge our old automatic patterns and attitudes. We may need to develop new, more equal habits, family styles. Explore new ways of relating: strong and warm parenting.

Respect and affection are earned by our respect for children and our skill with them: Listening, valuing, appreciating what is positive. Calm, firm, fair, warm discouraging of what is negative.

And by simple good manners. We can gain their respect and acquire healthy authority by acting as we ask them to act; by demonstrating qualities we would like them to adopt

There is a terrible paradox for anxious parents. The desire to protect can become an impulse to control which can be horribly counterproductive. If that is what is happening…. don’t try and overcontrol them. Back off, give them space but stay near.

David Jockelson.

New Scientist letter: Memory recovery and therapy

Published 4 November 2015

From David Jockelson

Doubtless there are some therapists guilty of instilling false memories (10 October, p 8). But it would be tragic if this occasional bad practice makes us doubt the value of psychological work and the need to listen to victims. The experience of church abuse shows that the pendulum of belief is firmly stuck in denial in many powerful quarters.

I am accredited with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and am also a solicitor involved with childcare cases. Ironically, I encounter a lot of false memories in my therapy clients. Frequently, they come to me with serious emotional problems but initially tell me they could not be anything to do with their “happy childhoods”. Over the next few sessions, without any pressure or suggestion, they will often disclose events in those childhoods which are clear examples of neglect or abuse.

In my role as a solicitor, I have the painful advantage of seeing intergenerational abuse and dysfunction. I frequently deal with parents who are in complete denial about their own childhood experiences, actually having no memory of it. However, also in the case papers is full evidence of the abuse that person suffered as a child, and which they are often now repeating and inflicting on their children.
London, UK

Newsnight programme on Expert Witnesses in Care Cases

Newsnight on 9 Dec 2013

BBC Newsnight’s Sanchia Berg investigates whether expert witnesses will refuse to continue appearing in court, because the money they’re paid to do so has been cut by the government.

I tried to make the point that it is not just the hourly rate of payment but the fact that the Legal Aid Agency is restricting the number of hours that an expert is allowed to spend. For example 20 hours on the assessment of a complicated family.  And that some good experts are saying that it is not possible to do the work properly and it would be unethical to agree to take the referral.

I also mention a recent case where I was for a mother and the social workers wanted to separate her from her baby.  The baby was 10 day and had been cared for very well by her in hospital and was breastfeeding.  The court ordered them to go into a mother and baby assessment centre, a form of expert witness, where she was doing very well.

A review of where care proceedings have got to. ALC conference 2013

A review of  where care proceedings have got to.  

26 weeks –v- Re B-S –v- Children and Families Bill. The power struggle over adoption.  

Practising lawyers have a strange relationship with real politics. The courts and those who work in them pretend that we accept the laws made by Parliament and are simply interpreting or enforcing them. Clearly something quite different is happening around the subject of adoption.

First comes the 26 weeks rule – partly driven by a genuine dissatisfaction with delays and partly as a result of government threats to remove care proceedings from the court system altogether. However the government’s attitude is explicitly and powerfully driven by an ideological commitment to increase adoption. This drift towards social engineering has alarmed a number of commentators and one assumes has alarmed the senior judiciary.

So this was countered by the cases commencing with Re B and going through most famously to Re B-S with the hugely important explicit message that adoption is the last resort and that all other option should be carefully considered at the same time as the assessment of the parents’ capacity.  In some senses the emphasis on “frontloading” of cases in which far greater preparation is required from Local Authorities squares the circle or solves the apparent paradox between the first two elements. Pre-proceedings have to be not just PLO compliant but Re B-S compliant.

So what is the 26 week court process then about?  Emergencies and other disputed thresholds?

Sexual and physical abuse / NAI – Late discovered acute and serious physical neglect. If evidence warrants it, immediate removal is required.  If disputed then forensic investigation is court business.   But in non emergencies – emotional abuse and chronic neglect are on spectrum and are opinion matters about parental inability to provide good enough care.

Distinguish two very distinct aspects of “Re B-S compliance” – compliant assessment of parents  ie to establish threshold or compliant future care planning ie what happens if the court find threshold established.  Have all alternatives to adoption been fully assessed?

B-S compliant assessment: Is this a stitch up?  Parents and children are not represented in pre-proceedings. The current pre-proceedings letter triggers some basic legal aid for advice, some minimal involvement in the pre-proceedings process. But not for the child and there is no Guardian input.  And so far there is no protocol for minimum standards – eg how the assessment is chosen or set up. No time for parents to be advised by those they trust to engage. No time for parents to change even in terms of hearing the concerns. If they are failing at the outset – then that’s it.


Decision by experts. ‘Social workers are experts?’  Really?  Some are 18 months qualified, overloaded, trained in another jurisdiction.  And the issue of what could be done to assist the parents?  A social worker who is set on removal – is this the right person to elicit co-operation and good motivation?

The factual basis of these sorts of thresholds is rarely in dispute. The court becomes a retrospective assessor of the social work practice – the allegedly Re B-S compliant assessment.

Problems: The lack of time allowed to Guardians to investigate parents and social work practice and be able to advise the court.  The loss of many of the most experienced Guardians.  The limitation on ISWs. The ‘necessary’ rule and the LAA. The 26 weeks. So – no full solution.

But all this ignores the government trump card: Clause 1 of Children and Families Bill tells local authorities not to prioritise placing a looked after child with a suitable wider family member over a prospective adopter. Once adoption is even considered local authorities must consider placing a child with prospective adopters (who are temporarily approved as foster carers) Including placing the child out of their local area. This includes s20 children for whom no judicial decision have been made. We can anticipate the dynamic privatisation of all of this.   Re B-S would be negated.

If the President in unable to protest  – Should we not hear it from this conference?

An email to the President for the ALC conference 2013

Opening up the Family Courts.           

The battle of adoption and the government’s attacks of justice (including the proposed abolition of the already weakened Family Justice Council) is a situation where we are on the defensive trying to protect what we have got from a destructive government.  But your desire to “Open up the Family Courts” – to increase the transparency of the court – may be prove in the end to be a self-inflicted wound.

Your lecture on 11 November was to the Annual Conference of The Society of Editors ‘Freedom to Inform’. You say that your motivation is to improve the quality of justice by exposing the proceedings to the jealous vigilance of an informed media which you associate with “the disinfectant power of exposure to forensic sunlight”. However you go on to acknowledge that the actual reporting may well be exaggerated, provocative and distorting. The protection you mention through actions for defamation you will know is a hollow one for all but the very rich.

In fact you make it clear in your conclusion that a major part of your motivation is to avoid criticism.: “I am determined that the new Family Court should not be saddled, as the family courts are at present, with the charge that we are a system of secret and unaccountable justice”.

I appreciate that you have a long history of valuing the importance of a free press and you may have a belief in the ultimate impact of publicity being benign notwithstanding the immediate damage done by sensationalist stories.

However we have to ask if your commitment to this value system is overriding your often stated and your undoubted commitment to the welfare of children and to the improvement of the process of care proceedings.

As you well know, in 2010 work was commissioned by the Office of the Commissioner for Children; it explored the views of children and young people in private and public law proceedings (Brophy et al, ‘The views of children and young people regarding media access to family courts’, OCC, 2010).  The findings present a clear challenge to your plans.

Almost all respondents (79% in the public law sample, 91% in the private law group) were opposed to the decision to permit reporters into family court hearings. The major reason was that children/young people said court hearings address issues that are ‘private’. They concern events that are painful, embarrassing and humiliating for children and an overwhelming majority said this detail was not the business of newspapers – or the general public.

Even more important perhaps is that almost all young people (96%) also said once children are told a reporter might be in court [or obviously if documents are disclosed] they will be unwilling/less willing to talk to a clinician about ill-treatment or parental disputes about their care, or about their wishes and feelings.

The proposal to allow documents to be disclosed to the press will have an evcn greater adverse affect on the welfare of children, their ability to be open with clinicians, to heal the wounds of abuse and on the proper conduct of care cases.

It may have other more dramatic consequences. With the recently revealed tactics of the press it is fair to anticipate ruthless behaviour by the press. You may go down in history as the judge that opened up the courts and documents to sensationalist media-led witch hunts leading to the harassment, even assaults of not only alleged abusers but of social workers, foster carers and adopters, which will have a devastating effect on recruitment of these vital people.

That leaves aside the same treatment towards expert witnesses, lawyers or even judges.

Please reconsider your total commitment to opening up the courts and publishing documents – and abolishing the privacy that the children and families have asked for, need and deserve.

David Jockelson  (writing as a private citizen – not on behalf of my firm or any organisation.)

A note for the President’s meeting on Monday 22 April

A note for the President’s meeting on Monday 22 April – this is about much more than changes in procedure. 

We can all agree on many facts: Yes – many cases can be completed in 26 weeks –with the right resources as mentioned by the President. Yes – many cases currently take too long – although research shows this is mainly because of Local Authority inefficiency or lack of court time – both due to huge government budget cuts.  Yes – there have sometimes been unnecessary assessments and experts, historically overpaid.

Most thoughtful and conscientious family justice professionals really are prepared to work hard to shorten cases where it is genuinely consistent with justice for children and families. But, firstly, many of usstill have some serious concerns that the plans will not deliver that and we are mainly not enthusiastic.

Secondly and more importantly some of us wish to flag up not just anger at past developments but much deeper concern and anger at the future directions and threats which are just becoming visible.

We need to discuss details but it is naive to focus only on details.  We need to hear the basic message because these procedural reforms can only be understood as a part of a much bigger and more ominous process. And we are being asked to play a part in that bigger process – without protest and with enthusiasm.  Our argument is not with the judges but with the government. 

We need to notice and discuss this bigger process. This is the perfect storm in the coming together of a large number of other attacks: The astonishing and brutal decimation of legal aid in all areas, depriving large numbers of people from access to justice. The destructive cuts over many years to courts, judge hours and Local Authority budgets. The promised future cuts – with no real economic rationale. (See the IMF’s comments)

Perhaps most relevant for us – and the subject of astonishingly little public debate – The Children and Families Bill which contains highly ominous and totally unacceptable provisions including that if the Local Authority even thinks about adoption, even for a s20 child, then it triggers a Local Authority duty to place with ‘fostering to adopt’ – anywhere in the country. This means that a mother who signss20 shortly after birth (when her consent to adoption would be invalid) could have her child placed with a family who wish to adopt – anywhere in the country. This can obviously destroy any possibility of rehabilitation.

All this taken together discloses the fundamental attitude and plan of the government – not merely contempt and horror for what they see as the underclass but overt social engineering.  These ugly words are now unavoidable.  And if that is true should we not ask if the legal reforms we are involved with are in fact playing a part in that social engineering? Would that not alter our view of them?  

To mention anything political sends a shiver through many people in the legal world.  We try and keep law and politicsseparate.  Using political arguments is usually a mistake. It is to trespass on a taboo. Judges have said they are prohibited from making political remarks. 

This is very convenient for the government as well informed and influential voices are then silenced. But we need those voices. Judges and lawyers cannot and should not ignore politics.  Nor do we have to:

1.  Judges have spoken out recently : The previous President, Lady Butler-Sloss, on adoption and Lord Neuberger on legal aid. DJ Nick Crichton CBE on several subjects from the grass roots.

2.  This whole process is embedded in the political. It is a part of cuts and the government’s war on the poor – and on ordinary people. Privatisation: Capita, and other big businesses taking over the role of the state. Funders of political parties buying the right to privatise.

How can we ignore this and pretend this whole process is not part of an extremely right wing agenda with the typical hallmarks of social intolerance and authoritarianism?

3. It is political with a capital P: it is a constitutional attack in a way that lawyersshould see and protest about. If not us – who? The Executive is grabbing power and manifesting its contempt for lawyers, including for judges. Indeed for the rule of law itself. Again – hallmarks of an authoritarian state.

In this context and with this awareness – let us come back to our area of law and look at the attack on Family Justice and the underlying political motives for that.

Firstly this reform seems to be driven by clear government threats articulated to the judiciary and now conveyed by them to us. Surely we are entitled to more information about that?

Secondly they are also founded upon certain obsessive, simplistic prejudices or gut instincts of this government and its employees in particular influential members like Gove, Timpson and Douglas, with personal histories and agendas and supported by the media, which have gone unchallenged:

Essentially Adoption is the Answer. Logic: 1. There is an ample supply of nice middle-class families waiting to adopt children. 2. Care cases involve the demonised, dysfunctional, squalid underclass, ‘the skivers who shouldn’t have had children anyway’.  So you could happily put those two things together in a piece of neat social engineering except…  3. The lawyers and judges are spoiling this process, holding things up, making cases last too long and with unnecessary experts (and riding a gravy train.) So cut that obstruction down.

These are dangerous myths which we can and must challenge.  

1. As has been pointed out before and been simply ignored, traditionally adoption has depended upon a good supply of childless couples. Even with current IVF that supply is drying up. Advances in assisted conception will probably, within a few years, abolish infertility. The traditional supply of adopters will vanish and the entire structure of the social engineering that is the hidden agenda of these reforms could be discredited.  Children would in fact be in long term fostering at huge personal cost to themselves – and to their children in turn – and financially to the Local Authorities.

Possibly as a response the children’s minister, Edward Timpson, hassaid that councils ‘which take too long to find families for children in care would be stripped of their powers, the task handed over to private agencies and charities’.  The £150m set aside by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to fund adoption support, has been taken out of council budgets for Sure Start children’s centres and family support projects leading to the possible closure of services designed to prevent children being taken into care in the first place.

So more children are to be taken into care more quickly – (with our help?) – so as to match more adopters. If this isn’t social engineering – what is?   Indeed – Privatised, profit driven social engineering.

2 and 3.  Cases like those of Sally Clark and Al-Alasshould remind people that any of us could be the subject of mistaken allegations of abuse. Al-Alas was the baby with rickets whose siblings would have been removed permanently from their family if there had not been many experts involved, including some from overseas, in a way that would now probably be considered excessive and disallowed under ‘robust and vigorous case management’

Experts may not be available anyway with the proposed arbitrary cuts to experts’ fees that have not been justified and which some observations of the President could be misused to support.

Turning to our immediate world – once in proceedings there is a danger that simply in order to meet the government’s 26 week deadline some cases will be refused fact-finding hearings or assessments which are fundamental to the case and which would have been insisted upon by the court a year or two ago.  True – many cases can and are being dealt with in 26 weeks.  The question is – how are the other cases to be identified and treated?  What faith should we have? Already the 26 week rule is being applied rigidly. We have all had cases where a late, skilful ISW re-assessment of a family member has allowed a child to remain in their family.  But not in the future?

There is also the undebated culture change that parents will not be given any real chance to learn and develop; vital for young parents, for those who do in fact come off substance abuse.  Why not?

Crucially, well functioning family members may not be assessed if they come forward “too late to meet the target” through having been kept in the dark by the dysfunctional parents. Children will then be denied possible placements in their own families, freed for Adoption.

The President asserts we will need fewer ‘Experts’ because there are already two experts in court. These apparently are the overloaded, overwhelmed, under resourced and sometimes inexperienced social worker. Possibly the second or third during the course of the case.  And the Guardian. The proposal is that ‘CAFCASS must be in a position by the first hearing to provide an analysis of what the case is about and to advise the court on evidence and assessments.’ Cafcass has been so compromised and debased that many excellent Guardians have left. Those that remain are being absurdly overloaded with more cases than they can properly or ethically cover – in order to meet targets.  Many are not even available at first hearing. And later in the case – their Final Analysis and Recommendation?  Guardians are currently being told they must limit visits to children and then only if the travel is not too great and that their enquiries and final reportsshould be much reduced.  Are we really being asked to rely mainly on those two experts?  

Why are we being asked this?  By way of answer we are being given reasons which are a mixture of reassurances and barely veiled threats.

The upbeat reassurances are not convincing. Previous reassurances have included the public statement last year by Ernest Ryder LJ that the 26 weeks was not set in stone, was aspirational and that there would be real exceptions and discretion would exist in terms of a delayed hearing of placement order applications.   The goalpost has now abruptly, officially been moved by the present statement by the President that this is a deadline. How many more reassurances will prove hollow?

Threats: The President tells us that we have no option and that if we do not obey and conform to the new regime,”the government and society will finally lose patience with us”.  Andrew McFarlane LJ at a recent conference confirmed that there was a strong body of opinion supporting the idea that care casesshould be taken out of the courts altogether. HHJ Simon Oliver, CJ at  Reading, has publicly made the statement “The Government will expect results and has had in mind for a long time the removal of the Public Law work from the courts to a tribunal. Indeed, the tribunal of which I was Deputy President (Care Standards Tribunal) has been earmarked to take over the work.”

Clearly the judiciary have been the subject of very clear private threats by government. Why private? Why are these not explicit? If this is what is driving the wholesale reform of our system which has hitherto been functioning effectively and dealing with the most serious cases that come before the English courts, then the threat should be explicit and examined democratically and be open to challenge.

Battles have apparently been ‘fought and lost’. We can trust that the judges fought their very best for justice and families but that was behind closed doors. Why was this not made public and an opportunity given for contributions from others who know and who will be affected?

To remove care cases from court would require primary legislation which would be debated properly in the country and in the House of Commons. As it is, such debate is being circumvented by this process of threat and responses by those who should be guardians of justice for children.

Another part of the obscurity and the veiled quality of the threat is that it may well be that some elements of the judiciary subscribe to this authoritarian, anti-justice stance. We are told that some years ago meetings were addressed by senior judges in which it was indicated quite happily that oral hearings might well be a thing of the past. What is the truth of that? Who supports this move?

However it may be said that there is no point in protesting against this programme of change, however dangerous and destructive it is for justice. It is just too late.  Another ‘done deal’. 

Maybe . But: there will be a swing back. Over the next few years, when the stories begin to emerge, when real injustices are seen to have been done in the name of hurried justice and to meet targets, then public opinion and the media will move rapidly and angrily in the opposite direction. A few years ago Camilla Cavendish from The Times was championing the interests of “innocent families wrongly accused by stupid social workers and prevented from having a fair trial.”  The public, journalists and politicians will do so again.

Questions will be asked: When these reforms were pushed through did you protest and point out the dangers? Did you demand a proper debate? Or did you cooperate and collude?

Answers are needed now: What are these threats?  What battles were lost in secret? Why were they not openly debated?   Why are the current connections between these many different attacks not being made? And the underlying government prejudices, myths and social engineering agenda not being challenged by those who know the facts?  Are we working with the government to implement dangerous and damaging reforms – introduced in a totally undemocratic way?

Are we being used?  The virtuoussounding ‘war on delay’ could be effectively a part of social engineering. Not the modern meaning which is apparently about online hacking and fraud etc but the traditional one of intervening drastically to change the social makeup of a country.

Traditionally totalitarian regimes have removed children from ‘undesirables’ and placed with families approved of by the regime. Is this an outrageous, far fetched comparison? Too shocking? Really?  Too close to the bone? Or a useful warning? Which may highlight the dangerous path we are being invited down?

It has been said that to criticise is unhelpful, obstructive.  Not true. It’s not a question of either / or.  It’s not that if we protest then we will not do our best. That is grossly simplistic.  Our duty to children and their families requires us to do our very best with what we will have, to salvage, etc  AND to protest, warn and resist further vandalism. That is not a difficult piece of intellectual inclusiveness.

We are not crying for the moon or for more and more money.  To suggest that is unfair and irrelevant. We are simply trying to protect the interesting of children and families and preserve justice.

Many of us will continue to use what we are left with. For example one way of improving the system that has been suggested is the need for a more dynamic, proactive early action by Local Authorities in tracing promising family members rather than relying on the delaying problematic parents. (A response is awaited to thissuggestion.)

What can we do? While working together for this we should not acquiesce so meekly and accept further cuts so readily that the government is encouraged to see us and the families as soft targets. Let us say: “This far and no further.” We have been told to steel ourselves for more cuts.  Should we not steel ourselves to fight cuts?   Should we not work together to use and preserve what we do still have but also to expose thissinister and objectionable agenda , publicise and argue and protest loudly against the bigger vision?

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  So what are we good people going to do to expose and challenge this agenda of social engineering and injustice?   Can we hear the message loud and clear from judges, practitioners, from the ALC, the FLBA and The Law Society and BAAF, ADCS and others who know the facts and can see these new dangers?

Letter to senior judges about the closure of Wells St Family Court 15 June 2012

David Jockelson

c/o Miles and Partners

88-90 Middlesex Street

ellLondon E1 7EZ

DX: 124407 CDE



15 June 2012


Sir Nicholas Wall

Mrs Justice Pauffley

Mr Justice Ryder

HHJ Altman

Senior District Judge Waller


Via your DX addresses



Dear Judges

We are writing to you because of the news that Wells St is to close and the Inner and City London Family Proceedings Court (Inner London) is to be absorbed into the PRFD.

We are a group of child care solicitors both in private practice and in Local Authorities as well as Guardians and counsel who work in this court. We are anxious to see how the identity and special qualities of Inner London can be preserved following the transfer; and even to hope that the Registry would be prepared to adopt some of Inner London’s many qualities.

Most people appreciate the enormous strains on the MoJ and court service to save money and that the premises in Wells St must be expensive.

That needs to be put into the balance with the fact that Inner London has rightly been hailed by many people, including international observers, as a centre of excellence. It is a great worry that its strengths and qualities could be lost if Inner London is simply absorbed into the Registry.

The Registry itself has great strength in the experience of the judges and the ability to deal with the longer and more forensically challenging cases. The staff – associates, ushers and counter staff – are helpful and sympathetic although clearly working under great pressure.

However there are qualities of Inner London that people are very keen are preserved following any move and these are some of the comments we received.

Please forgive the detail but we fear some of those who decide these matters will not be aware of the real practical facts that may seem trivial but we, as practitioners, know make a real difference to the quality of justice. To follow a client through the process:

  • At Wells Street clients arrive and security staff screen them and check their details. They refer them politely to the correct court – and refer them to the office or the duty solicitor if appropriate. The duty solicitor system has been functioning for years to the great benefit of clients and the court and at no cost – because the ethos of Inner London encourages volunteers.    
  • The waiting rooms are pleasant and – a very small detail some may think – have magazines on the tables.  
  • There is a pleasant well equipped children’s play room. This compares with the many rather bleak and empty ones at the Registry which do not reflect a child centred approach. 
  • Ushers are polite and helpful. The legal advisers come out and interact with us and can often get cases progressed or even sorted out smoothly. Litigants in person, an ever- growing issue for the court, are properly assisted. The office staff, under enormous pressure, remain polite and helpful.   
  • The magistrates and judges are respectful: receptive, polite and showing a real interest in the cases.   
  • In court the clients sit next to their advocates so they can be helped to understand and feel a part of the proceedings. This enormously aids their comprehension and therefore the legitimacy of the process. That legitimacy is surely central to the purpose of the court? 
  • One highly significant and symbolic matter is FDAC: this is an example of a humane, proactive, creative approach which gives parents a real chance but also puts strong, robust pressure on them so if they fail, they fail quickly – which is in the interests of the children. It has won awards and applause. 

Surely it fits perfectly with the modernisation ethos of powerful case management and swift progression?

Modernisation without resources and without this ethos could produce a mechanistic, crude process which reduces the chances for children of remaining with their parents or wider family in a rush to adoption – in parenting terms a cold, hard, authoritarian model.

Modernisation with the right ethos would in parenting terms be an example of that combination of warmth and firmness that is properly called authoritative.

DJ Crichton was the initiator of FDAC and we have heard it said that it relies largely on his personal qualities. However that argument is belied by the fact it worked perfectly well during the six months he was away when he was ill. .

That leaves aside the immediate questions everyone asks: how can seven courts, with waiting rooms, interview rooms, FDAC rooms, magistrates’ rooms and library be accommodated at the Registry?

Many people feel it is vital that FDAC and the qualities of Inner London survive and flourish at the Registry and we would hope to work with you to ensure this.   We look forward to hearing from you with your response to this letter and proposals for such work.

Yours faithfully


David Jockelson Miles and Partners

Kate Hammond Miles and partners

Sarah Cove Miles and Partners

Amanda Dench Miles and Partners

Pauline Lloyd Ewings & Co

Peggy Ray Goodman Ray

Gwen Williams Goodman Ray

Hilka Hollmann Goodman Ray

Joanna Bosanquet  Goodman Ray

Michael Bourdages Goodman Ray

Christina Blacklaws  TV Edwards

David Emmerson T V Edwards

Lorraine Green TV Edwards

Susan Fitzgerald TV Edwards

Valerie Greenfield  Fisher Meredith LLP

Elisabeth Harris Freelance Solicitor Advocate

Nina Hansen Freemanssolicitors

Liz Dronfield Bindmans

Sheila Donn Philcox Gray & Co

Judy Bishton Fisher Meredith LLP

Viviane Thatcher Children & Families Law Firm

Libby Bower Children & Families Law Firm

Susan Eskinazi Eskinazi & Co

Helen Shaw Eskinazi & Co

Jerry Bull  Atkins Hope

Heather Vassie TV Edwards

Rokeya Dangor TV Edwards

Maria James  Miles and Partners

Dee Aktar Miles and Partners

Ritu Sood Miles and Partners

Stephen Talbot Miles and Partners

Michelle Uppal Miles and Partners

Sarah Lumsden  Lawrence & Co

Nilouka Peiris Lawrence & Co

Jeni Styring  Ewings & Co

Lona Haddadi FMW

Richard Hansom Nicholls Christie & Crocker

VyVy Lewis   Edwards Duthie

Lorna Cservenka Hanne & Co

Jackie Pearce Hanne & Co

Caroline Little Hanne & Co

Claire Holland Lawrence Davies & Co

Elen Davies  Lawrence Davies & Co

Olawumi Olanrewaju Lawrence Davies & Co

Kate Tindale    Lawrence Davies & Co

Sarah Bold   Hopkin Murray Beskine

Elizabeth Beckett Ezkinazi & Co

Angela Campbell  Campbell Chambers

David Barnes Vickers

Beth Prince  TV Edwards

Lawrence Lederman  Lawrence & Co

Stephanie Marshal  Burke Niazi

Ros Dunning  Dunning & Co

Susan Jackson Dunning & Co

Denise Hoilette Venters Solicitors

Rob Watson  KKLaw Solicitors

Barbara Hopkin  Hopkin Murray Beskine

Philip Eldin-Taylor Frank Brazell & Co.

Keith Tallon Cook Taylor

Caroline Landes   McMillan Williams

Helen MacDonald Aitken Associates

Martin Wray Aitken Associates

Kelly Wild   Aitken Associates

Peter Harris Harris Temperley

Caron Theobalds Harris Temperley

Stewart Hughan Harris Temperley

Nina Shaw  Harris Temperley

Philip Wilkins  Hudgell & Partners

Elizabeth Bendall Sternberg Reed

Gordon Reed Sternberg Reed

Darren Ward Sternberg Reed

Jenny Morrison Morrison Spowart

Karen Forrester Mackesys

Caroline Flaherty Mackesys

Pat Monro

Boyd Carter Boyd Carter solicitors

Joan Vis Tyrer Roxburgh

Joyce Hitchman Hitchman & Co

Anthony Morris  Anthony Morris &Co

Jackie Pearce Hanne & Co

Janice Kaufman Steele and Shamash

Paul Ewings Ewings & Co

Barbara Hecht CLP

Denise Lester Moss Beachley Mullem & Coleman

Ann Thompson  Goodman Ray

Kate Claxton MK Law

Myria Pieri Myria Pieri & Co

John O’Callaghan Ronald Fletcher Baker

Kim Speller Frank Brazell & Co

Paulena Panayioutou Hanne & Co

Samantha Cook Hanne & Co

Michael Brierley Hanne & Co

Sue Pryse-Davies Amphlett Lissimore

Jenette Carey Fisher Meredith

Maria Jones Maria Jones

Rosemary Parratt  Mackesys

Petrina Roberts Fisher Meredith

Sarah Fleminger Harters

Patricia MacAvock Harter

Vinod Sharma BKS Solicitors

Andrea Dawkins  Venters

Dawn Staple Hodge Jones & Allen

Sara Upton Hodge Jones & Allen

Douglas Taylor Creighton & Partners

Lucy Verity Hornby and Levy

Bridget Thompson Osbornes

Maria Kitsiou Osbornes

Simone McGrath Osbornes

Anest Mathias Osbornes

Tofiq Aslam Hodge Jones & Allen

Julian Hayes Hayes Law

Claire Thorpe Creighton & Partners

Louise Creighton Creighton & Partners

Tracy Chester Creighton & Partners

Tony McGovern Creighton & Partners

Deborah Marsden Creighton & Partners

Jonquil Houghton Creighton & Partners

Sarah Hindle Creighton & Partners

Katrin White Creighton & Partners

Kathryn Cooper Creighton & Partners

Jane Quantrill Creighton & Partners

Dawn Wilson Creighton & Partners

Mary Ann Harris Steele and Shamash

Anna Ponting Steele and Shamash

Geeta Manglani Steele and Shamash

Angela Gaff Covent Garden Family Law

Alison Burt Covent Garden Family Law

Bindar Dosanjh Fort & Co

Michelle Flynn Wilson

Mary Ann Edwards TV Edwards

Melanie Crank TV Edwards

LynnVernon TV Edwards

Neil Perôt McMillan Williams

Stella Sweetman MK Law

Emily Iles Venters

Stephanie Marshall Burke Niazi

David Marcus Burke Niazi

Kathy Walker Atkins Hope

Mark Smeed Atkins Hope

Sarah Newens Atkins Hope

Maurice Guyer Vickers

Julia Cooper Cooper & Co

Celia Thurman Goodman Ray

Peter Coutts Islington Council

Androulla Hadjisimou Islington Council

Ann May Islington Council

Bhavina Vara Islington Council

Emma Glover LB of Newham

Farducy Yeahia LB of Newham

Ruma Saha Wandsworth Council

Jay Shah LB of WalthamForest

Chris Aniche  LB of WalthamForest

Sahdiah Ikram LB of WalthamForest

Donna Ferguson LB of WalthamForest

Angela Nolan Islington Council

Graham Keating LB Redbridge

Sarwat Ashraf LB Redbridge

Courtney Plank LB of Wandsworth

Nneka Oroge  LB Tower Hamlets


Jo DelahuntyQC 4 Paper Buildings

Teertha GuptaQC 4 Paper Buildings

Rex Howling QC 4 Paper Buildings

Cleo Perry  4 Paper Buildings

Dorothea Gartland 4 Paper Buildings

Jane Rayson  4 Paper Buildings

Barbara Mills  4 Paper Buildings

Sally Bradley  4 Paper Buildings

Cyrus Larizadeh 4 Paper Buildings

David Bedingfield 4 Paper Buildings

Ceri White 4 Paper Buildings

Catherine Wood 4 Paper Buildings

Rebecca Foulkes 4 Paper Buildings

Ruth Kirby 4 Paper Buildings

Matthew Persson 4 Paper Buildings

Martha Cover   Coram Chambers

Catherine Nicoles Coram Chambers

Susan Gore Coram Chambers

Meena Gill Coram Chambers

Tracy Chapman Coram Chambers

Sarah Branson, Coram Chambers

Sharon Sawyerr Coram Chambers

Bronwen Jones Tooks Court

Elizabeth Woodcraft Tooks Court

Rebekah Wilson Tooks Court

Christopher Poole New Court Chambers

Dinali Nanayakkara New Court Chambers

Ranjit Singh New Court Chambers

Stephanie Hine New Court Chambers

Pauline Troy 42 Bedford Row

David Bannocks 4 Brick Court

Tali Michaels New Court Chambers

Henry Drayton Garden Court Chambers

Rachael Rowley-Fox Garden Court Chbrs

Paul Murray Garden Court Chambers

Liz Veats  Garden Court Chambers

Judith Trustman  Garden Court Chambers

Angela Bennett 3 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings

Malcolm Macdonald 36 Bedford Row.

Geraldine More O’Ferrall Renaissance

Gill Honeyman  Coram Chambers

Fiona Edington Thomas Moore Chambers

Malek Wan Daud Garden Court Chambers

Amina Ahmed  Renaissance Chambers

Neil Bullock Coram Chambers

Chris McWatters Garden Court chambers

Ravinder Rahal Garden Court Chambers

Smita Shah Garden Court Chambers

Ed Elliott Garden Court Chambers

Celia Graves Garden Court Chambers

Julia Gasparro Renaissance Chambers

Jenny Boswell Tooks Court

Matthew Fletcher Renaissance Chambers

Mark Calway Renaissance Chambers

Paul Cregan Renaissance Chambers

William Metaxa Renaissance Chambers

Shiva Ancliffe Renaissance Chambers

Chris McWatters Garden court chambers

Mark Twomey Coram Chambers

Rona Neathey 6 Kings Bench Walk 

Guardians present or past, social workers.

Susan Bindman

Eva Gregory

Christine Holleran

Beverley Clarke

Jaswin Kaur

Alison Paddle

Kathy Butcher

Shannon Smart

Lara Bloom

Sheila Pankhania-Collins

Elizabeth Heap

Diane Jackson

Raya Tibawi

Kathy Pring

Michael Griffith-Jones

Gill King

Patricia Morrison

Magdalen Fry

Janet Walker

Jane Powell

Jo Murphy

Titibele Ncube

Gill Timmis

Jane Dambe

Pat McLoughlin

Julia Hughes

Aminah Husain

Colette Curran

Anne MacKenzie

Nicci Murphy

Paul Levy

Rose Dagoo

Gerith Eden

Joanna Smiths

Lilian Odze

Khalil Campbell

David Abrahams

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