Lauenna Luddington

BACP accredited counsellor

Supporting you to become calmer and more confident – backup with contact info

Sometimes, we can get stuck in a state of alarm so it feels that we have a siren going off in our head. Or that we are walking through life frozen, like a deer in the headlights. When trapped in this survival mode, it can be hard to move forward and create the life you want. Therapy (amongst other things!) can help to settle the system and come back down into the safe zone, where you can interact with the world in a calmer way. Together, we can process experiences at your pace, and work towards the changes you want to see in your life.

Focused and constructive counselling can help to clarify the issues, gain a more helpful perspective and decrease the sense of isolation. By developing strategies that strengthen inner resources as well as reduce stress and fear, clients can increase their sense of personal power and take steps towards the changes they want to see.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.

Latest blog posts:

How to stay sane while supporting your child through a mental health crisis January 2018 -

Watching your child suffer with a mental health problem can be one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking experiences a parent can have. Every impulse in your body wants to “sort this out”, protect them, and solve their problems. Not being able to can feel incredibly disempowering and quite frightening. This article contains tips and perspectives from the counselling room, gained from working with parents and with young people in crisis. 

In tough times, it’s easy to become so highly focused on your child’s issues that you can start to feel obsessed and then overwhelmed. An increasingly anxious parent might experience a heightened sensitivity towards their child’s movements, behaviours and expressions which is all very understandable. However the difficult (but potentially liberating) truth is, there are some things a parent can control and some things they can’t. Sorting out one from the other can limit the amount of time spent banging your head against a brick wall.

Sitting down and writing a list of “controllables” and “uncontrollables” can help to clarify this. You may be able to offer your child the opportunity to go out with the family, but it is out of your control whether they accept. It might be within your control suggest getting some help, for example, speaking to the school or GP. However your child might not agree to go to the meeting with you. Clarifying this allows you to put your limited energy into what you can actually do, so your “controllables” list can be followed by an action plan. Some parents find it useful to do this exercise before bed to provide a sense of containment and order to all those swirling thoughts and get some well needed rest.

When your child is in the grip of a mental health problem, they may lash out in a way that feels more worrying (and upsetting) than normal adolescent behaviour. When I was a support worker for an eating disorders service, parents would come in, desperate to know “What should we say?! We can’t say anything right, everything gets a hostile reaction!” It was a relief for them to let go of worrying about saying the “right thing” and trying to avoid a hostile reaction. Parents need to give themselves permission to say what they need and want to say, accept that a hostile reaction may occur and carry on. Walking on eggshells doesn’t help anyone.

The hostility or emotional reaction comes from the part of your child that is feeling dominated by their mental health problem. Some parents found it useful to visualise the issue or condition as a separate part of their child’s personality, some even visualising a gremlin sitting on their shoulder. Parents can then choose to ignore that part and communicate with their child’s “underlying self”, the part that wants to recover and desperately needs to feel loved and receive their help. Every time they speak to their child, they address that part, inviting it to hear their genuine concern and support. Yes, they might cop an earful from the unwell part, but they can rest assured that on another level, their child has heard what they desperately needed to hear.

The cycle of change

Once you have a strategy that allows you to say what you want to say without fearing the response, have the courage and confidence to be clear and open about your concerns. It is very likely that your child is at a different stage of the cycle of change than you. Recognising where they are, and providing openings and nudges to the next stage, lets them know what help is available, what possibilities are out there, and more importantly that you are right there, walking alongside them. You might leave relevant leaflets lying around or send them links they can look at in the privacy of their own room. Then stay open, be patient and keep being there. Underneath, they will hear that you care, are concerned and more importantly, that they are not alone in this.

Young people who have come out the other side of a mental health crisis often report that just having their parents there, consistently demonstrating their interest, support and love, gave them a security and stability in the chaos. It was something to hold on to, even when the behaviour towards them at the time appeared pretty hostile and parents may have felt like they couldn’t put a foot right. Demonstrating a calm consistency and holding the hope that things will improve is what your child needs from you.

However, all this is pretty tough on the mental health of parents themselves. So the better you can take care of yourself, the more likely you will be able to provide that “light-house in the storm” type of solidity that you child needs. So, what keeps you from tearing your hair out? What keeps you from completely losing it in front of your child when you feel frustrated and desperate? Slow, calm breathing? A brisk walk?  A cuddle from a pet? A rant to a friend? What is it that helps you calm your nervous system in a heated moment and more generally? Taking care of (indeed “parenting”) yourself will provide you with the resources you need to do this difficult work for however long it takes.

So strengthen your support network. Who can you talk to about this? There can be a lot of fear about opening up and “burdening someone” but chatting it over with a trusted friend or member of the family, or potentially a professional, can reduce your sense of isolation and overwhelm. Having someone walking with you through the hard times is what you are doing for your child. Try allowing others to do the same for you, reminding you that you will get through this and you are not alone.  

How to support your child through exam season January 2018 -

As exam season approaches, the tell-tale signs of exam stress may be creeping into your household. Many parents already know that practical steps, like encouraging exercise alongside a well planned revision timetable, goes a long way to helping students as they approach exams. But with exam anxiety on the rise, it can be useful for parents and carers to understand what is going on in the nervous system of their child, so that they are able to provide the next level of support during exam season.

Revising for (and dreading) exams can start to take over a student’s world. Although an activated nervous system can provide us with drive and motivation, when a student starts to fear an exam, their nervous systems can go into overdrive, producing excessive anxiety. Unmanaged, this can have negative consequences for mental health and ironically for cognitive function and therefore exam performance.

In our human evolution, when sensing a threat, the nervous system triggered our “fight or flight” response and the body prepared for the huge physical feat of fighting or running. All the energy flowed to the part of the brain responsible for these functions, often referred to as the limbic system or the “back brain”. Analytical thinking and memory requires the pre-frontal cortex or the “front brain” ,however this goes off-line when we are in survival mode. If you are sprinting away from a predator, your brain is not worried about solving a complex mathematical problem, it’s only concern is priming the body for peak physical performance. This is what produces many anxiety symptoms and why it can be more difficult to think things through and to recall information under pressure. So, how can parents help their children back into the “front brain”?

Firstly, it can be useful to explain what anxiety is. Essentially, if the body is not under threat, anxiety symptoms (fight or flight mode) are a false alarm. The body starts to prepare to run away from a sabre tooth tiger and actually, we don’t need to, it’s just an exam! This in itself can be a reassuring thought, “OK, that’s why I feel like this!” By acknowledging this, we are already coming into the front brain. Calm, rational, reassuring thoughts can go a long way to helping to manage and calm anxiety.

Under stress, students (like the rest of us) often catastrophize, imagining a disastrous scenario.Upon sitting down for an exam, students often report thoughts such as “I’m going to fail!”, “I’m going to forget everything!” or “I’m going to ruin my life!”. Noticing and then challenging these thoughts, essentially invites us back into the “front brain”. Pausing to look at the reality usually paints quite a different and less stressful picture.

This could be described as coming into the “Adult” part of the self, the rational part of the personality that helps us calm down and come back into the “front brain”. Parents, of course, are the models for children’s internal “Adult” and modelling this around exam times is one of the most useful things a parent can do. Allowing children to express their fears and responding with a calm, rational and reassuring presence, shows them not only that a calmer perspective is possible but that it’s useful because it helps us to think clearly.

So draw attention to the catastrophizing thought and help your child come up with an alternative. “That’s a very stressy thought, let’s look at the facts,” or “I wonder what a more helpful thought might be?” invites the student to access their own inner “Adult” resources. We might look at evidence of previous “non-catastrophes”, or other reassuring perspectives. Adolescents can be helped into this state by asking, “What would you say to your friend or sibling in this situation?” It’s often easier to be calmer and reassuring when we imagine helping someone else.

Another frequently-identified negative thought that follows “I’m going to fail!” is: “I will let my family down” or “my parents will be so disappointed in me”. Parents might be shocked at how many of these thoughts go through young people’s minds. In the stressful lead up to exams, your child may benefit from being reminded of what may seem blindingly obvious to you, that their results do not equate to their value, and that they will be loved and supported regardless. Assure students that, although their exams are important for some practical reasons, disappointing results are not the end of the world, both child and parent will survive it. As we adults know, coping well with disappointment is indeed a valuable life skill. When it comes to exams, the less we fear them, the easier it is to stay calm and the better we are likely to perform.