The Woes of Sibling Roles

I’m a media ambassador for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and I was lucky enough to be asked last year to contribute to an article for Psychologies magazine that was published in the January 2019 edition.

It was a great experience, I chatted with the writer for about an hour about research, theory and my thoughts on how sibling relationships are developed and maintained. We talked about how birth order can play a part in this, as well as family patterns and personalities.

She told me a bit about something she wanted to shift in her relationship with her siblings and I suggested some ideas of things to think about that she went away and tried. A week later she told me she’d been surprised at the shift that had happened and that she was planning to keep going with the changes she was making.

You can read the article here, I hope you enjoy it!

Online Digital Counselling

I’ve been spending this summer honing my skills in online counselling, working on the Relate Live Chat service. It offers 30 minute chats with highly qualified and experienced relationship counsellors.


It’s been a while since I’ve had to type quite so much, and fast, and it’s also been incredibly motivating! Often I’ve been able to help people who would never book a traditional face to face counselling appointment because of isolation, or mobility issues, or sometimes because of the nature of what they’ve wanted help with.

Online counselling, in the form of web chat or email counselling, can be a godsend for new parents, airline crew or anyone working shifts because it’s on demand and people can engage when and how they want to. I’ve spoken with many more young adults than I would when I’m in my counselling room and they’ve told me that our chats have been helpful.

I’m so excited about adding online counselling to the ways I can connect with people because of the frustrations I’ve had in the past in not being able to provide a service for people who can’t turn up to a face to face session regularly. We have a lot of people here in the North East who work offshore so I’ve had many conversations about different ways to access support and this feels like a big step forward.

And of course it’s good for me to keep fresh and challenged, to continue to grow just as I encourage my clients to do!

Email Counselling

I’ve just completed a fascinating course in using digital technologies in counselling and therapy.

Some of it was a refresher as I’ve been offering telephone and webcam appointments for some time, but it’s always nice to take a full day to work with new and existing colleagues on our clinical practice. There were Relate counsellors in our group from as far south as Devon. Luckily I didn’t have to travel as far.

I’m excited about reaching people who can’t schedule appointments at specific times by offering email counselling. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and now I have some practice under my belt this way of working is available to all my clients.

People who can really benefit from this way of accessing support are those like new parents, carers, people who work away, or maybe those who just don’t feel comfortable speaking with someone for any reason.

There’s a £55 charge for each email you write, and I spend an hour reading and responding to your email. I guarantee that you will receive a reply within 3 working days.

Get in touch if you would like more information.

Calling Scottish Couples

I had to blog about Relationships Scotland’s current project: they’re looking for couples to take part in a couple counselling documentary.

The charity say on their website .. “.. we are interested in dispelling myths about relationship counselling and, where appropriate and with permission, telling the real life stories of the couples we support.”


Relationships Scotland are working with Zodiak Media on a new six part series following couples through the process of relationship counselling.

They plan to look at the very different issues that bring people to couples therapy, with couples across age groups and in different stages of their relationships, with the intention of removing stigma around couple counselling. Hopefully the project will show that therapy is something many couples could consider to improve their relationship before it reaches crisis point.

Both of these goals are hugely important: statistics and my experience suggest that if many couples accessed counselling earlier they would save themselves a lot of money and heartache by looking at making small changes that would make big differences in the quality and trajectory of their relationships. I personally am a strong believer that universal funding for short courses of relationships education and therapy at key stages, like high school, making a commitment, having a baby, moving to an empty nest and retirement would improve wellbeing throughout our nation now and for future generations.

Relationships Scotland’s next step is to find appropriate Scottish couples willing to discuss the opportunity further – they stress that there is absolutely no commitment at this stage.

If you would like an informal chat about taking part please email Ross McCulloch, Head of Communications at Relationships Scotland, or call 0845 119 2020.

I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for the documentary when it comes out. What do you think, will this project be realistic and / or useful?

Choosing a Relationship Therapist

When my marriage was in trouble we decided to ‘go see someone’. Our daughter was very small and it was hard to find time to meet together when we weren’t both exhausted and stressed out, let alone someone to babysit while we went for couples counselling, so I found a counsellor round the corner who said she ‘did’ relationship counselling.

We met our counsellor, a charming and empathetic woman who works successfully with individuals to unpack and look at their issues. Unfortunately as the weeks progressed it became clear that unpacking and looking at our relationship issues was making us feel even more miserable and helpless, without giving us any idea of how we could improve things.

We ended counselling further apart than we had begun. It had taken a huge leap of faith for my husband to attend the sessions at my urging and it proved to be another nail in the coffin of our failing marriage as it convinced him further in his conviction at the time that ‘nothing could be done’.

Currently there’s nothing to stop any counsellor saying they can work with relationships, and unfortunately some misguidedly think it just means having an extra person in the room. Or maybe they qualified as an individual counsellor then went on a day’s workshop on working with couples.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Eventually we made it to Relate, but by that time all they could help us with was making sense of our separation, my husband’s new relationship and moving forward together as parents.

So how do you find a trustworthy, qualified relationship counsellor? And what questions should you ask to make sure that you’re about to spend your precious time and money on a service that supports you as individuals and strengthens your relationship?

Couple with question marks

1. Do you get a good feeling from this person? This goes for any counsellor, they can be well qualified, experienced, trustworthy, but sometimes the fit is just wrong. If you’re attending a counselling centre they’ll be used to couples requesting a different counsellor without needing any explanation, if you’re seeing someone who practises on their own it’s perfectly acceptable to say you might feel more comfortable with someone else and to ask if they would recommend a colleague.

Sometimes it can be useful to ask yourself why you’re feeling this way and to be open about it if appropriate. Does the counsellor remind you of an ex girl/boyfriend, the teacher you hated, your boss? Do you feel the counsellor took sides between you and your partner? A good counsellor will listen and accept your reasons, and help you make a decision about your next step.

2. What training has the counsellor undergone specifically in relationship therapy and what qualifications do they have? Was this over a number of years or just a few days? Do they continue to attend regular professional development sessions?

3. How long have they practised relationship counselling? Remember to ask not only how many years but how many couples they’ve seen over their career and on average how many hours a week they practise couple counselling.

4. Can they explain the way they work in a way that you understand? Most counsellors will have studied a LOT of theory, but an excellent counsellor will also be able to connect with you on an equal footing.

5. How affordable are sessions? Having a happy relationship is priceless, but in the real world cashflow can be tricky. Does your counsellor offer options such as longer gaps between sessions to spread the cost?

6. Do you need to find someone with flexible availability or could you realistically commit to a regular slot to get in earlier? For most people work and childcare are the issues which make attending couple sessions tricky. It’s often worth having a confidential word with your boss and/or close friends or family to see if they can support you here. Some counsellors offer flexible timings but you could wait longer to be seen.

7. Does the counsellor discuss how long things may take, ask you to set clear goals and flag up regular review opportunities? Relationship counselling is about looking at how things currently are, why this might be, and also how to effect the changes you both want. A good counsellor will take on board your wishes and give the work a structure so you can keep moving forward to achieve the relationship you want.

What do you think? Have I missed anything out? Have you had any disappointing experiences with counselling? I’d love to hear from you.