The Feast

After yet another disastrous project that resulted in higher taxes and more hardship imposed on the people, a wise man let it be known at court that he was a master chef. One day he announced a feast at which he would prepare the most delicious new food. The King and all of his advisers were invited.  When the various dignitaries arrived, full of anticipation, the food
was presented in great style. But it proved to be horrible and unpalatable.
“What is this abominable, poisonous mess you are asking us to eat?” cried the outraged guests. “You’re making us all sick!”
“This is my latest recipe. I made it up as I went along, putting in at random anything that came to hand – if it seemed like a good idea.”
“That’s absurd!” the King and all his advisors shouted at once.
“That’s no way to prepare a meal.”
“I agree,” said the wise one before making a hasty exit, “But I thought it would be interesting, nonetheless, to try out a recipe based on your way of doing things.”
from The Human Givens Charter at


Meet Your Needs – The Garbage Collector and the Sweet Smell of Success

When I mistook him for a dead body he was at the end of the line.

It was cold and dark, and I was tired, so I went in search of my hotel, and that’s when I tripped over the bundle of rags that turned out to be a human being – a man, dishevelled, freezing and at the very, very end of his energy and resources.  I stood him up and helped him inside, but the small-town hotel was not welcoming to him, or me.

His name was Tim, and I took him into the reluctant hotel, gave him a room for the night, and asked him to get bathed and shaved and meet me for supper.  He was stone cold sober, unlike many who have suffered a similar fate, and he couldn’t believe that life was going to give him his first break, ever, despite his suspicions at my motives.  I walked a block to a surplus store and bought him some new boots and clothes.

My day had started in a tyre factory in an unremarkable town in the mid-west of the USA, helping to rescue a company and its workers from the command and control culture perpetuated by an ex-Army major who managed the plant.  That’s another story for another day, and with a happy ending.

Tim had been a soldier.  Nothing special – just an ordinary, everyday grunt (his words) who had done his bit for his country, fighting the war on something or other.  His parents had been ordinary folk, but without the skills to help Tim achieve his potential.  They had meant to be good parents, and tried everything they could, but Tim just didn’t smell the sweet scent of success in time.  In fact, Tim had got to nearly forty years of age and never discovered one thing he was good at.  Every school report and every army record on him suggested he was mediocre, at best.  Every signal that Tim ever received in life from anybody suggested failure, in Tim’s eyes.  His first wife had left him three years earlier after a series of job lay-offs, and Tim had recently lost his place at a men’s hostel.  He had held it all together until a couple of weeks before I met him, but his depression had got the better of his punctuality and he’d been fired from the garbage collecting company he worked for.  Tim quickly became a bum, a hobo, a down and out, living in the hostel, and with the help and support of a few passers-by.

He had previously been offered counselling for his depression by a Veteran’s organisation, but when they discovered Tim had no trace of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder he was sent on his way.

We talked long into the evening, and after hearing his life story I told him, yes, told him, to meet me for breakfast at 07:00, and that I had a plan which stood a chance of defeating his depression for good.  I also suggested he would feel good about himself if he had the shiniest shoes in the world.  The boot polish and rags we bought were put to good use that night, as Tim arrived for breakfast with a ramrod straight back, and shoes I could use as a mirror.  Tim reported the best night’s sleep he’d had in a long, long time, and he was every bit as proud of those shiny shoes as I had ever seen a man.

A quick haircut, and we set off to visit his previous employer, and I asked them to give Tim another chance.  They readily agreed, as Tim had previously been reliable and punctual.  They told me Tim had simply become more and more depressed, and fallen by the way side, becoming isolated and gaunt looking.  I thanked them, and told the boss I would keep in touch.

A quick last chat with Tim and I suggested his depression was perhaps caused by the fact that he had not yet found a way of meeting that innate need we all have – to find something we are good at, or to at least get the signals from those around us that we are achieving something, and finding the status in our tribe which our human nature craves.  Tim had been under-stretched as a garbage collector, and it was my belief he had also been under-appreciated.

I strongly suggested to Tim that he turn up to work every morning on time, and with his shoes highly polished.  I hinted at his, as yet undiscovered, leadership qualities, and Tim’s shoulders noticeably widened.  My other request was that he dress smartly and cleanly every day, and that he assiduously clean his garbage truck at the end of each shift, and I’d be back in two weeks to see how he was doing.

Two weeks to the day I arrived back in that small town, keen to see how Tim was doing.  The manager at the garbage collection asked me to sit down, and with a very serious look told me he had never seen such a transformation in any human being before.  The change actually came after nearly a week when Tim’s colleagues started turning up early to clean their garbage trucks too, and many had started wearing formal black boots, all of which were highly polished.  Having people copy his actions and his dress code was all Tim needed to signal he was doing something right.  He bagen to connect socially with one or two of the crew, and he started the road to recovery.  The Tim I shared a lunch with that day was a very different human being to the pile of rags I had tripped over just two weeks previously.

That all happened in 1999.  Today, Tim is an executive and manager in an organisation in California, charged with keeping part of a city clean and free of garbage.  Tim manages a team of around 1800 people, he has a wife and two young daughters, and he has the sweet smell of success in his nostrils every day.

Tim is kind enough to keep in touch, and he tells me that he’s very careful when managing his own teams of people to ensure each one of them feels fully appreciated for their efforts and their achievements.

One of our innate emotional needs is to have status which is acknowledged by others, and also to feel we are achieving something, feeling competent and appreciated.  Each of us has many innate emotional needs, and if we get those needs met in a healthy and balanced way we will not suffer distress and emotional illness in our lives.

Quit Quitting Quitting

Some years ago I helped an organisation in California to counsel youngsters who had been brainwashed into joining a cult, and indulging in some fairly dangerous activities.  After being ‘rescued’ and starting to join the real world again most of those people couldn’t believe how easily they’d been sucked into the strange world of this cult.  They told us how their behaviour, although dangerous, antisocial and clearly very bad for their mental and physical health, had seemed to them to be totally normal and acceptable.  Later, after realising how they had been drawn into living a lie for the financial profit of a few unscrupulous individuals, they realised they had been wrong, and life would now be better for them as they had been released from that brainwashed mindset.


I smoked cigarettes for many years, as I had grown up watching advertisements telling me I would look cool and rebellious if I smoked, that I’d get more girls if I smoked and that I’d be amongst the rich and successful people.  I swallowed the lie, hook, line and sinker.  I believed it was acceptable to smoke in the company of children and of non-smokers, and that those who didn’t have the courage to smoke were just not going to be anywhere near as successful as me in their quest to be a rebel.  I haven’t had a cigarette for about fifteen years, and I now spend much of my time helping people to escape from the smoking cult.  Maybe you’re one of that group of people who believe that they enjoy smoking, that they could quit whenever they want to (just as soon as they’re in the right frame of mind and they have no stress in their life), and that they are totally in control of their own life.  They are convinced that smoking is just a habit, and they’ll get out of the habit just as soon as the moment is right.  Of course, they’ve swallowed the lie, perpetuated by the cigarette manufacturers who have had lawyers and courts in the USA tied up for years trying to agree whether or not nicotine is addictive. They’ve spent the first ten years fighting to agree a definition of the concept of addiction, and the cigarette manufacturers pay the lawyers with your money.


I’ve watched bemused by correspondence in the press where smokers write very articulately in defence of their right to stay in the cult.  Smokers are without doubt the most clever group of addicts in our society.  They invent a thousand different reasons why they will quit tomorrow, and not today, and how it is their absolute right to not be lectured to by the anti-smoking do-gooders.  It’s always fascinating to read pub landlords telling us how the fabric of society will crumble because they’ll go out of business if smoking is banned in pubs.  Of course, we wouldn’t dream of entrusting the judgement of a heroin addict as to whether it’s acceptable to inject heroin, and it would never occur to us to allow somebody who is drunk to decide whether they need another drink before driving home.  They’ve been sucked into different cults whilst under the influence of drugs – alcohol or heroin. Nicotine, plus the hundreds of EU approved additives put into each cigarette by the manufacturers, is a drug.  It changes your perception and it impairs your judgement, just like heroin or alcohol, but it’s OK to use it because a nice chap in a corner shop sells it to you with a message from the government.  In the UK for one tax year recently the total tax revenue from smoking products was around £9,000 million.  The estimated cost to society for healthcare, education, etc. was around £3,000 million.   That left £6,000 million for the government to spend on whatever else it wanted.


I smoked for many years, but now I would rather chew wasps.  So, what changed?  Actually, the real difference in me now is that I went past my tipping point.  I went from believing that I enjoyed sucking acrid smoke into my lungs to being desperate to quit. I would have tried anything to seize control of my life back from the cigarette companies and the narcotics they sell.


Let me tell you how to find your tipping point – if you’ve got the courage, and if you’ve given enough of your life to faceless people in grey suits in cigarette companies.  Just stop – do it now.  Don’t ever buy another cigarette, don’t ever light another cigarette, don’t ever inhale smoke from another cigarette.  Just choose to quit now and be so much happier and healthier.  Don’t give another penny to the cigarette companies who have cashed in on your misery by sucking you into their cult.


If that doesn’t work out for you call the health services. They have a great pile of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), but remember a recent analysis by Harvard School of Public Health of a large number of trials of NRT, concludes it is useless.  I have to say, I’ve always wondered why you would give Nicotine to somebody if you are trying to help them over their Nicotine addiction, unless you make patches or gum for a living, of course! Most healthcare providers have a team of people who can help you with the latest chemistry and support to help you quit, and many have quit successfully and permanently that way.


Whichever method you choose needs to achieve two things.  You need to overcome your Nicotine addiction, and you also must separate smoking from pleasure, as they are nothing to do with each other, unless you are in the cult.


However, it can be a lot easier than you think, but nobody has any kind of magic wand just to make it go away. In your quest to quit, if you come across anybody offering a guarantee that they can cure your smoking, just walk away.  There is no guarantee of anything, particularly to do with health and the workings of the human mind.  Just like all cult members you will need a period of adjustment to your new healthier, happier lifestyle where you are once again in control of your own life, and you can stop donating your hard-earned money to the owners and beneficiaries of the cult.  Yup, it’s a great thought, isn’t it?  So, just do it.  Choose to overcome that fear of failure, that fear of what kind of person you’ll be as a non-smoker.  Ignore the subliminal and expensive campaigns by the cigarette companies, paid for with your money, that keep you believing it’s going to be so tough.  I’ve helped thousands of people to quit, many of whom found it much easier than they thought it would be. 


Millions of people successfully quit smoking every year, and they are richer, healthier and happier for it.  You might want to join them now.  Whatever you do, quit quitting quitting.

Be Sure to Be Confident

“Your chances of success in any undertaking can always be measured by your belief in yourself.” – Robert Collier

I’m always interested when a client tells me they have no self-confidence. I usually ask them how they will know once they have got it – what will be different if they wake up tomorrow brimming with it. Self-confidence could be thought of as having a strong belief in our ability to cope with whatever challenges life throws at us. Perhaps others perceive our self-confidence as particular qualities in us such as enthusiasm, emotional resilience, optimism, independence and the ability to accept criticism and make mistakes, and maybe we are aware of some of those characteristics in ourselves.

Confidence is obviously learned, but it can also be eroded quickly once you have it. A lack of self-confidence may just mean that we haven’t yet found those all important feelings of success, purpose and meaning which come from being stretched. Of course, being over-stretched may lead us to continually fail, thus reinforcing our self-confidence deficit, but not being stretched will always leave us short of that vital feeling of success and achievement. We could perhaps wonder why we don’t feel we have self-confidence. Was it never built in the first place due to people around us who continually criticised us and made us feel bad about ourselves, or maybe we had oodles of it, but then it got eroded by a partner who speaks in very negative ways to us. Or perhaps we suffered an unforeseen change in life’s circumstances. Whatever the reason, it is quite possible to build or rebuild our self-confidence.

Those of us with self-confidence have great faith in our future, and we also have a good sense of having control over a good proportion of our lives. Importantly, we have a realistic picture of our limitations and we can accept those realities with good grace. Hubris, or arrogant over estimation of ability, is equally dangerous, so self-confidence needs to be tempered by a degree of humility and the ability to honestly reflect on mistakes and shortcomings without feeling emotionally damaged.

The most useful question, of course, is how we can lift our self-confidence, and to have the confidence that it can be lifted. There are many, many simple things which can help, but I always like to start with helping somebody develop a confident walk. Have you noticed Dirty Harry always walks as though he is about to arrest the bad guy? Stepping out a little more quickly and confidently tells the world that you are feeling self-confident, and this serves to open new neural pathways which will reinforce that message. Also, your posture will tell the world, including you, exactly how you feel, and your slow, clear speech patterns will speak volumes in establishing how sure you are. Try changing just one small thing in your life; a habit that you’ve been meaning to break for a while. Just do it, and see how good you feel after a few days. You could also try getting your first acting award, and make up your mind that you are going to ‘act’ as though your are self-confident. After a week of acting, just see how much of that pretence has rubbed off on you. You may be surprised.

The Anxiety Epidemic

Feeling Anxious? Why?

In 2003, about three weeks after arriving in Guernsey from my previous life overseas, I picked up the Guernsey Press, and a large item on the front page read “man fined £75 for cycling on pavement”. I smiled to myself and shared the moment with my wife, agreeing that we had moved to the right place, and this was clearly a wonderful place to bring up children, to live happily and peacefully without anxiety or fear.

Over the intervening years I have watched those same headlines deteriorate in mood, with growing fears of financial ruin and starvation for all of us. I’ve also had the option of watching the news every morning with a background of large arrow pointing downwards, and the glum faces of BBC presenters placing their own value judgements on the news, and giving us a sense of grief and bereavement, with the loss of well known names in the high street retail sector disappearing off the planet. A sense of doom and gloom about it all seems to make life somewhat devoid of optimism and hope for the future. I no longer get the UK national papers, and nor do I watch TV news in the morning. I am not an economist, but to a simple soul like me it seems that economics is about keeping money moving around the system, passing from one person to another, and the only way to have that happen is if people have enough confidence to spend money, knowing they’ll be able to earn some more. In our house our main source of information about the economic situation is the aforementioned news, so we have decided not replace our six-year old television with a large flat screen. We have decided not to have that new carpet put down; instead we will just shampoo the old one and see how things go. We’ve held back from booking a summer holiday this year, and perhaps we’ll stay and enjoy the beaches in Guernsey, although headlines about sewage may make us anxious about that.

Our fears and worries about the future are also greatly fuelled by the prospect of a ‘black hole’ not being filled. To write this article I’ve had to swat up and read the definition of a black hole, which is an unproven phenomenon related to speeds and densities of large objects in space. Where I live in Guernsey we don’t have a black hole – what we do have is a potential budget deficit – not enough money to pay for the things we need unless our clever and astute politicians do something about it. I suspect they will do something about it, and I suspect that the island will survive very well. Of course, at the moment, we are relatively sheltered from the difficulties faced in the UK and much of the rest of the world. The “Global Economic Crisis” is something that affects us all, and I’m not pretending it doesn’t exist, but I’m not anxious about it. So life continues, but unfortunately it does so with a high degree of mental anguish, anxiety and fear for many people who are deeply affected by powerful metaphors such as ‘black hole’.

A client came to see me recently, deeply depressed. After some discussion, it became clear what external stressor had fuelled her anxiety. She had worked for the States of Guernsey all of her life, always reliant upon having a wonderful retirement with that very healthy pension that the States of Guernsey has always managed to supply. What had initially triggered this depressive episode was the news that her chances of getting a good healthy pension were fast diminishing due to the falling value of the pension fund, and the way in which this had been announced in the local media.

It all set me wondering about the question of cause and effect. What would happen if tomorrow all of the TV news stations, the UK National Press and our local media decided to start talking about possible economic recovery sooner than anticipated, and if there were headlines about the potential of improved trading conditions. I would not wish you to think that I am critical in any way of the people who run our news media, as on the whole, they are doing their jobs well. Having lived for a number of years in countries where there is no free press, I am very grateful that we have a critical, questioning and incisive Guernsey Press and local radio and TV. It is one of the great institutions of our island life, and long may it remain so.

In New York, after the difficulties they suffered in September 2001, a cover of Newsweek, or a similar publication on sale in Manhattan, had a man walking through Times Square, carrying a brief case and wearing a very sinister looking chemical protection suit, complete with gas mask. On the front cover was the question, “Is this the New York of the future?” By the time you got to page 37 you realised that the answer was, ‘no’ but the picture and the headline sold an awful lot of magazines. What it also undoubtedly did, was fuelled the sale of a lot of gas masks and chemical suits. I met many, many people in New York during the latter part of 2001 who had actually gone out and spent their hard-earned money on chemical suits because of their fears and anxieties for the future resulting from that article.

If you board any commercial flight these days, having run the gauntlet of being assumed to be a terrorist until you are searched, questioned and declared ‘clean’, you will be met by smiling cabin-crew letting you know that they have thought of every possible thing that could go wrong. They demonstrate what they will do, and what they will ask you to do, in the event of any of those anticipated disasters. You rehearse dreadful things going wrong. Immediately after that the pilot happily chimes in and says that we “expect” to land at our destination at the appointed hour. That expectation is the vitally important element in maintaining a low level of anxiety in our everyday lives.

To maintain my own emotional health, and to remain free of anxiety about the future, I choose to imagine that they have all got it wrong. The experts’ predictions, that the end is nigh, will turn out to be unrealistically pessimistic. Irresponsible lending will be consigned to the past, and within a few months the days will be brighter, the flowers will be out in Sausmarez Park, and the ‘black hole’ will have been filled in, replaced by a wonderful new phenomenon called ‘the warm glow’, a feeling given off by people who live without fear for the future. My morning cuppa will be interrupted by smiling newsreaders sat under an arrow which points upwards with the word ‘recovery’ typed boldly underneath.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, John Halker is a qualified Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist, using the Human Givens approach to help people change their minds. You can find out more about John and his work at and you will find much of interest at In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

Psychotherapy that works

The Human Givens

A positive approach to better emotional and mental health

I’m always fascinated by the fact that large numbers of people spend a great deal of time working hard to maintain or improve their physical health, yet it seems almost a rarity for people to take proactive steps to improve or maintain their mental health. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay much attention to our emotional health until we are suffering some sort of distress.

From psychoanalysis to group discussions about one’s problems, there are now over 400 different approaches to psychotherapy, with each having its own set of dogma and beliefs. In the last ten years however, thanks to the organising ideas of two innovative psychologists, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, we have come to a new and deeper understanding of the ways in which the human mind works, and how to help it heal when it is not in the best of health. This has given rise to what is now known as the ‘human givens’ view of psychotherapy, where the focus is on helping each individual to develop their skills so they can meet their own emotional and physical needs with the innate resources with which they were born.

Our ‘given’ needs naturally look for fulfilment through the ways we interact with our environment and through the use of the resources that nature gave us. However, when our emotional needs are not fulfilled, or when our resources are being used incorrectly, we may suffer considerable distress. Of course, those resources may have been damaged, in some way, by events in our lives over which we had no control, so we may need help in developing those resources and ‘repairing’ the damage that was done.
There is now widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs. The main ones are:

• Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

• Attention, to give and receive it — a form of nutrition

• Sense of autonomy and control — having the ability to make responsible choices

• Being emotionally connected to others

• Feeling part of a wider community

• Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, so we can just be ourself

• Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

• Sense of status within social groupings – acceptance within the tribe

• Sense of competence and achievement – feelings of success

• Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think, having people who need us, or perhaps having philosophical or spiritual meaning.

Along with physical and emotional needs, we have been given guidance systems to help us meet those needs. These ‘given’ resources which help us to meet our needs include:

• The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge, and to learn

• The ability to build rapport, to empathise and to connect with others

• Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, to use language and to problem solve more creatively and objectively

• A conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, question, analyse and plan

• The ability to ‘know’ — that is, to understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching

• An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning

• A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.

Over hundreds of thousands of years our ‘human givens’ underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution forwards. They could perhaps be thought of as inbuilt, biological templates that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) look for their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive and thrive together as individuals in a great variety of different social groupings.

It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use those wonderful resources, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of any individual. If we are getting the emotional nourishment we need and it is being absorbed into our brain and our mind we will not suffer emotional disturbance.

As such, the human givens are the benchmark position to which we must all refer, in education, mental and physical health and the way we organise and run our lives at work, at home and in our leisure pursuits. When we feel emotionally fulfilled and when we are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be emotionally and mentally healthy. But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer great distress, and so do those around us.
From the therapist’s couch to the classroom, from the HR department to the social worker, and from the prison to the residential home each and every person concerned with the emotional and mental well-being of others should be addressing whether or not their innate needs are being met by their given resources. Much of my own work is in helping people to develop the necessary skills to ensure they are able to do exactly that.

Use of the imagination to rehearse success is a powerful and effective way to overcome the continual negative rumination which can lead to depression, addiction or anxiety. Using that imagination to build resilience so as to deal with real stressors is proving to be one of the most successful therapies ever.

John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Senior Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in executive and business coaching coaching. John is the Clinical Supervisor in the Channel Islands for the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council. John and his colleagues also apply these organising ideas to his work with companies and organisations through You can find out more about John and his work at In Guernsey call 01481 265009 or in London call 020 7193 2842. You can find out more about Human Givens at


One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important – Bertrand Russell

Ask yourself an important question. Are you a Meerkat or a pussycat? After seeing a particularly stressed client today it occurred to me that the process of relaxation is a dying art form. Pussycats tend to have mastered it, but Meerkats have some way to go. Much of my work involves asking people to relax, and then talking with them, either directly or by getting them to pattern-match, and then having their subconscious mind figure out quite quickly the solution to the problem. I should say at the outset that relaxation has nothing whatsoever to do with hypnosis, even though there are many relaxotherapists out there who call themselves hypnotherapists. In my own work I like to associate relaxation with hypnosis because it is helpful for people to leave my rooms having an immediate sense of well-being and comfort, and that something ‘nice’ happened to them. That means they’ll come back and pursue treatment until they have achieved their goals.

But learning to relax is likely to have a significant positive impact on your emotional and physical health. Worryingly, when asked how they relax at home, many of my clients tell me that they watch television. I do realise that the goggle box in the corner of the room plays a major part in many people’s lives, but it may be worth considering what is actually happening to your brain when you are sat in front of a TV screen. Your orientation response is firing rapidly and continuously, in a bid to hold your attention in an almost trance-like state so as to avoid you chopping channels. It’s designed that way, just to hold you into the programme, and some modern camera and editing techniques were developed with exactly that in mind. Interestingly, the process is making you weary but it is also heightening your arousal, not relaxing you. You may wish to consider what this may be doing to children’s brains just before bed time, let alone your own.

There is a strong argument for seeking out ways to relax which are useful to the brain and the mind, and which promote physical well being at the same time. I’ve been teaching mantra meditation for many years as a useful path to mindfulness and a simple way of enabling the body to relax. It does take a daily investment of time, usually a minimum of twenty minutes each day, but it can be a most helpful path in the pursuit of contentment and peace of mind. It is a very easy and simple process, and it is nothing to do with any kind of mystical religious belief, or anything like it. I can highly recommend it, and I am increasingly encouraged by research demonstrating clear benefits in the use of mindfulness meditation. I have taught it to hardened prison cons, to children in schools and in boardrooms in the UK and the USA, and it is probably the single most powerful tool that anybody can take away with them and use for the rest of their lives. It is not easy, but it is very simple, and merely requires a daily commitment.

Regular readers, or those that listen to my radio interviews, will know that the simple art of breathing consciously and proactively can promote the parasympathetic nervous system into allowing the body the luxury of relaxing, whilst the mind is busy focusing on the simple and natural act of breathing. The technique I suggest to my clients is called 7/11 breathing, and any reader is welcome to email me to get their free and easy breathing instructions.

Another very effective method of letting go of the day’s stressors and tensions is through progressive relaxation. This involves various different methods of tensing each muscle group in turn and then consciously releasing that tension. It can be very effective in helping you to just physically unwind, allowing your body to begin the natural process of repairing and restoring itself.

There is always the option to use alcohol or other drugs to relax at the end of each day. I greatly enjoy a glass of good wine or Champagne if the occasion arises, but for some the self-medication trap is a dangerous one from which it may be difficult to escape, and when you realise the damage it’s doing it may be too late. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy but the quality of your sleep after just a couple of glasses of wine could be compromised. If your default position is to have a drink at the end of each day just to enable you to relax, you may already be some way down a rather slippery slope. Just make the decision when you want to get off that slope, and do it. Are you in control, or is it controlling you? Either way, it’s not doing a lot for your relaxation skills. Importantly, alcohol suppresses R.E.M. sleep, that part of the night when you are discharging your otherwise undischarged emotional arousal of the previous day. I am never at all surprised when I get calls from young men in their early twenties suffering from panic attacks, with the first attack usually presenting the day after a heavy night of binge drinking.

Of course, you may be of the persuasion that exercise is the panacea to help you, so a good brisk walk for twenty minutes each day will leave you feeling relaxed afterwards. Or you may prefer one of the many guided-visualisation CDs on the market, which will lead you through a very relaxing journey, during which you may well fall into a deep and restful sleep. Again, email me if you would like advice on what and where to buy.

It really will be worth investing in a method of relaxation that works for you, and do please enjoy it. Don’t wait until you need an appointment with me to deal with unexplained and frightening phenomena in your own life, fuelled by stress. Take a preventative stance to maintaining good emotional health – just relax – that’s right.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Solution-Focused, Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in coaching and relationship counselling. You can find out more about John and his work at In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

Interview about psychotherapy

For many months we’ve read John Halker’s articles in The Guernsey Life and we finally got him to keep still long enough to ask him some questions about his work.

Q. In the two years you’ve been writing for us we have seen you described as a psychotherapist, a clinical hypnotherapist, a relationship counsellor and a corporate advisor. What are all these things and what is the difference between them?
A. The dividing line between all the headings is blurred, but what I really do is to help people change their minds and to design and build a life for themselves that will work. People can use whatever title they want and which may suit them. Each of those words conjures different things for each person but they are all areas in which I have skills, qualifications, success and experience. Of course, they all mesh together very well and it’s just a matter of reaching inside the toolbox to use the right tool at the right time. Hypnosis is a tool that I use and I’ve seen that it can have a powerful effect if used in the right way. The foundation for my work is the Human Givens philosophy of psychotherapy, which is the first real scientific approach to understanding and improving mental health.

Q. What about the corporate work?
A. I used to be President and CEO of a US corporation involved in software development for the medical world, so I know what is involved in running a company and employing people. So, my colleagues and I are eminently qualified to offer pragmatic solutions which work – there’s no place for airy-fairy ideas in the boardroom, and companies steer a very wide berth around some of the more weird ideas to help companies and people. I’ve done this kind of work in the corporate world for many years and it’s usually so easy from the outside looking in to see some of the problems in a company’s culture. Very often the problem can be people in the team competing with each other instead of competing outside, so my colleagues and I do quite a lot of work in building original ideas to get everybody sharing the common goal. It’s OK to compete at being the best batsman as long as everybody is batting in the same direction. We also do individual and executive coaching at senior management level, both here in the Channel Islands as well as in the UK. I think of it as Just-In-Time training in some instances, but it does have wider application.

Q. How do you juggle family life with all your trips to work in the UK?
A. My colleagues in The Grove Consultancy now do much of the corporate work in the UK, helping all sorts of organisations and companies including some significant global players to improve the way they help their people to help the organisation. For me personally the UK end of things is really only a couple of days every few weeks, and I can fit in two full days’ work and only be away for one night.

Q. There is always a lot of mystique surrounding hypnosis and what it really is, and searches on the Internet show thousands of web sites that disagree with each other. Can you explain what hypnosis actually is?
A. I wish I could find a way to explain exactly what is happening when somebody is hypnotised, but it is somewhat difficult to get one’s head round, and each person’s perception is different in terms of what happened to them and what it felt like. To hypnotise somebody you need to get them to suspend their critical faculty, and to then accept selective thinking. How that’s done is a bit like asking a surgeon how he does an operation. He or she knows he needs to make an incision, and he knows that no two people will look exactly the same when he gets inside. So he has a body of knowledge and a wealth of experience to dip into once he has made his cut. Once there he may well find other things that had not been identified as problems before but they must be dealt with for the job to be finished. Think of hypnosis as accelerated learning – I can give some information to somebody to help them change their life, but using hypnosis I can take away much of their fear of using that new ‘tool’ and give them a much clearer picture of how good life will be once they have made the necessary changes. Try not to get too caught up in how it’s done, but you could get mesmerised by how powerful it is in the right hands.

Q. Can hypnosis be dangerous?
A. There are many people who have attended ‘learn how to be a hypnotist in one weekend’ courses. Mostly, they simply end up using it to entertain their friends, but it is worth remembering that you can do serious psychological damage, much more so if somebody is stressed and also a good hypnotee, and it would be too easy to put somebody into an artificially psychotic state without realising it. If you are going to see somebody to help with changing your mind in some way, just make sure the person has received many years of training in general psychology and psychotherapy as well as hypnosis, so they can just use hypnosis as one of a numbers of tools in their toolbox.

Q. Hollywood has given us an impression of what psychotherapy is all about. Is that an accurate depiction of what will happen to a client?
A. Far from it, in my experience. There are simply too many therapists and counsellors asking clients to tell them all about how bad they feel, how angry they feel and how badly it is all affecting their life. That approach can be very damaging indeed and it is now generally recognised that the psychodynamic approach or the psychoanalytic method can simply exacerbate the problem. I often get chatting to people at social or business events, and they freely exclaim that they have been in therapy for many months, sometimes years. When I ask them if they are feeling better yet they mostly say that they are making progress but they hope to feel better soon. Where I come from we call that patient abuse, and it is such an old-fashioned idea of how to help somebody. It’s as daft as telling somebody to punch a cushion or to do primal screaming to let out their anger – it just makes things worse. The simple act of sitting down with somebody who is a good reflective listener, and trying to explain the problem, can be a healing experience in itself, but it is vital that anybody involved in counselling is trained in reflective listening so that the client is not dwelling and ruminating on an age-old problem, and how their every waking moment has been blighted by the fact that their mother spoke to them sharply when they were very young. I’m not in any way belittling people who have suffered difficult lives for those kinds of reasons, but it is vital that the client’s focus is steered towards finding an answer to the problem, and using their imagination to experience the day when the problem is gone, and what their world will look like when they no longer have that problem. They are standing in the station telling me about their problem and the cause of it, so I ask them to buy a ticket to a destination of their choice and to tell me how they will know when they’ve reached it, and how we can measure progress towards it. That’s the very basics of solution-focused therapy. I believe everybody needs to leave my room feeling better than when they arrived, and that should continue for every visit. Quite often we are able to find a solution in one or two sessions, leaving the client to do their homework for a few weeks before coming back to me to make sure that he or she has achieved their goal. It may also be helpful to mention something about men and psychotherapy – sadly, we are still at a stage where many men see psychotherapy as a matter for women, as men are not in touch with their feelings and do not express themselves in the same way. Many men end up on my couch only after many years of suffering when they could have been helped much sooner, if only they had asked. If I could make a change in the world of therapy I would simply get men convinced that they can be helped to lead much more fulfilling and rewarding lives if they were to ask for help a little sooner rather than suffering in silence.

Q. There still seems to be a stigma about mental and emotional health matters. Why is that, and what can be done about it?
A. I believe that much of that stigma is to do with fear of the unknown and the very old idea that mental illness is to do with a weakness in character. Very recently I was chatting with a group of people about exactly that issue. A very well educated and intelligent local men’s group believed that depressed people merely needed a good talking to and to pull themselves together. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having something wrong with your mind is exactly the same as having a broken leg – it’s a real problem which needs good help and support to fix it. In most cases both can be fixed with the right treatment and a little patience and understanding. It is quite natural to fear that which we do not understand so some basic information about emotional health issues will serve to bring it out into the open. I am not exaggerating when I say we are in the middle of an anxiety epidemic, fuelled by the media in many cases, but also primed by the use of clever psychology in trying to sell us products and services.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
A. There is so much that I enjoy, and it is a brilliantly rewarding profession to be involved in, but I do get most satisfaction from dealing with children, as kids have such an open and vivid imagination. It is always so sad to see children as young as six or seven being brought to me because of their anxiety or their phobia. Happily, much can be done to help children and it is always so fulfilling to see results in that way.

Q. If you could change one thing what would it be?
A. I couldn’t just stop at one I’m afraid. I do believe that we can all have much better emotional and mental health with very little effort and negligible expense. It’s really time to embrace the concept of us all taking a proactive approach to our mental health. Youngsters need to be offered basic anxiety management tools when they are still at school, using simple, basic tools such as mindfulness exercises. We are all told we must keep our bodies fit through good diet and exercise, but we tend to wait until we are greatly distressed be fore we ask for help to sort out our emotional health. A great deal could be done to bring emotional health issues into the open at school, university and in the workplace so that we can all start to take a proactive approach to maintaining good mental health.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in coaching and relationship counselling. You can find out more about John and his work at In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

Red Card Riot

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

My sons both go to nice schools. In fact, ‘nice’ is a perfect word with regard to both their schools. If you sit nicely, read nicely, play nicely and do everything nicely you will get nice results in your eleven-plus exam (yes, we still have that in Guernsey), and you will go on to another nice school. All very nice, you may say. For children like my eldest the notion of ‘nice’ is somewhat different to that of the school, so the teachers have a word with him from time to time, they tug his choker chain and he is suitably admonished. In his school they have the ‘red card’ system of discipline, which they have told me they find very useful. In fact, they tell me this every time my son gets given a red card. It signifies to him that he is a naughty boy, but he’s not actually interested in that, as the main consequence to him is that he will not get his platinum behaviour award that gets given to every good child at the end of the school year. Now, rather than have him ritually humiliated on the last day of every school year we just give him a day off that day. He has had a red card pretty much every year since he started at that school, and his behaviour doesn’t seem to have improved much at all, so the head teacher’s argument, that it is a useful tool for the school, doesn’t really hold much water for me. Perhaps he believes that all the nicely behaved children are only nicely behaved because of the threat of the red card hanging over them, or perhaps it’s the thought of that platinum award at the end of the year. Interestingly, once you have received a red card there is no way out for you. Done, finished, kaput, not fixable, you’re just not nice enough.

On a number of occasions I have been called in to help offenders, many of whom have ended up with so many red cards that they are invited for a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Whatever the sentence each and every one of them has an opportunity to redeem themselves in some way – to admit their guilt, work towards a better life and to behave well during their penal servitude. Each one of them has the chance to give their red card back and to ‘downgrade’ to a yellow card.

After one red card incident at my son’s school I was moved to write the article below, which was published in a local lifestyle magazine here in Guernsey. After the article was published I had one local lawyer call me up and ask me if I wanted to take matters further with regard to my son’s human rights, but we demurred on this occasion. We did however get many emails and calls from people who thought it equally unjust. It all brought to mind the crisis in 2009 when the scandal of MP’s being greedy at the trough was in the press. In order to have one of our basic needs met, to feel safe and secure, we need to have faith and trust in those who lead and guide and govern. If we can’t, and if there is not a fair system of justice in place, those who populate the institution, be it school, prison or country, will suffer emotional distress.

I had the privilege recently of talking to a group of teachers who work at a school in the UK that specialises in helping children who don’t fit into the same behaviour patterns as we may wish. They run a school for kids with emotional and behavioural difficulties, but they are having a spate of exclusions where kids are not allowed to attend their school due to bad behaviour. I’m not qualified to teach them how to teach, but I was able to help them explore new ways to help children fit in, and to enjoy the process of learning, once they are receiving the emotional nourishment they need. We looked at ideas which say that youngsters, and teenagers in particular, are different to the rest of us. It’s their brains you see – they are very, very different to ours, and we need to understand why and how in order to negotiate our way around them.

If you ever have the privilege of studying psychology I hope your tutors linger for many weeks on the first lesson, which should always be about perception. Understanding how each of us greatly differs in the ways in which outside stimuli get to the brain, and the patterns which are made from that input, is vital to every student of human thought, feeling and behaviour.

Going back a little in time, well quite a bit actually, it was easier for my teachers. Their options were somewhat limited, particularly with me, it seemed. In those days it was merely a matter of how hard they beat us, and with what. It did hurt quite a bit as I recall, but I soon decided not to do anything that would get me beaten. I didn’t improve my learning skills as a result of that brutal regime, but it was effective in keeping an orderly classroom, and our parents never challenged the word of a teacher. I hesitate to write about child discipline today, as my own little angels are somewhat less angelic than I had hoped for, but I am very optimistic for their future. I decided to try to get them to be really great adults, and they could only do that by making some mistakes in childhood.

There seems to be a common thread which runs through all the ‘new’ ideas of how you get cooperation from children, particularly when their emotions are running high. It’s the notion that chastising a child is a waste of time. Ignore bad behaviour and praise good behaviour. Withdraw attention from naughty youngsters and shower attention on those who are well behaved. I’ve just interrupted my typing of this article to go upstairs and ask one of my kids to stop shouting at the other. He’s annoyed because his brother didn’t put one of his toys away, so he decided to yell until he gets the sympathy and attention that he thinks he deserves. Should I leave him alone to shout and scream, and shower lots of attention on the other boy? But it was him who failed to put his big brother’s toy back? Hmmmm…. whose needs are not being met?

Violence is not the done thing any more, and quite rightly so, so we need to find more powerful tools. My own method is to always try to keep the three Ps in mind. Pre-empt Violence, Prevent Deterioration and Promote Relationship. Whatever happens, DO NOT SHOUT.

Parental guilt and anxiety, and teachers’ stress are problems that I deal with more and more frequently in my consulting room, so I do know that it is futile to beat yourself up when the outcome isn’t what you hoped for. My own policy is to make it as clear as I can to the child that his or her behaviour is unacceptable, and I try to quickly calm the situation, as we all know that emotionally aroused people make poor choices. I then try to quickly engage their imagination in how good life could be once they behave themselves, and with just a very slight hint of a threat as to the dire consequences if their behaviour deteriorates. I try to think of it as 98% carrot and 2% stick. Here’s the important bit – I always make sure I leave them a way back, as we don’t have the death penalty any more, and no child is beyond redemption, no matter how bad their behaviour. Just separate the bad behaviour from the child, and tell them it’s OK to make mistakes, but make sure you set them free to make those mistakes without too much fear.

Maybe I was lucky, as my mum and dad never hit us, and bad behaviour was disapproved of subtly, without making us feel as though we had failed. We were then helped to understand the basic and simple principle that mastery of our own behaviour and our own primitive feelings would give us great reward on its own.

Attack Panic Attacks

“A wave of panic passed over the vessel, and these rough and hardy men, who feared no mortal foe, shook with terror at the shadows of their own minds.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

Many clients who come to me for help for all sorts of different problems eventually find the start of the problem can be traced back to one single event, and an event that they didn’t understand, which left them very frightened. It was quite possibly their first panic attack. That one episode often results in phobias or fears developing, from flight fright to claustrophobia, from agoraphobia to anxiety, from insomnia to fear of crowds. These can very often be traced back to an event during which your clever brain decided that you were in imminent danger. Adrenaline was released, your heart rate was automatically raised and you were hyperventilating, you felt as though you were having a heart attack, your blood pressure increased, your legs and hands may have shaken, your feet and palms perhaps sweated and you felt absolutely terrified. Perhaps you even ended up at casualty, thinking you were having a heart attack, and you were too terrified to mention those thoughts to the doctor because you feared that even discussing them would bring on another attack. In fact, something very clever has happened, and this important mechanism should be one of the most important facets of being human – a very efficient survival response and a reaction to danger. It’s all happening in your Amygdala.

The Amygdala is that part of the brain that we could think of as our ‘security officer’ and which is in charge of our ‘Fight or Flight’ response. Hundreds of thousands of years ago our ancestors wouldn’t have slept quite so well as we do, as their level of vigilance had to be constantly attuned to anything with large teeth that may have wanted to eat them, and that very primitive part of ourselves is one of the main factors that cause panic attacks. It’s the same part of us that acts without logical thought so our ‘thinking brain’ is bypassed when something threatens us, or appears to be threatening us, because our brain has ‘pattern matched’ to a set of circumstances which, in primitive times, would have set us ready to stand our ground and fight, or to run like mad from danger. Of course, all these reactions had a really valuable place when we needed to be alert to sabre-tooth tigers, but when our primitive self senses a set of circumstances in which it believes we are being threatened it reacts in a very primitive and inappropriate way, without us thinking. So, it’s useful to have a smoke alarm fitted and working, but it is unhelpful to have it so highly attuned that it sounds an alarm when the next door neighbour burns their toast.

Most who have suffered a panic attack report that it “just seemed to come from nowhere, for no reason” and that’s quite an accurate description when you fully understand what’s happening. There are other major contributory factors, one of which is to do with the amount of oxygen we have been taking in. Thus, hyperventilation, where you have too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide, is often the forerunner to a panic attack, and which can trigger the attack and add fuel to it. What is also clear is that unusually large amounts of stress, either internal or external, can be the final trigger that sets off the panic attack. It is the human reaction to stress which finally puts the last piece of the jigsaw in place, and which offers the perfect scenario in which panic attacks, can thrive.

It’s worth understanding that all of this is a function of your unconscious mind, that part of your brain which cleverly looks after so many different things for us whilst we are busy being conscious. A panic attack can even occur in your sleep, as it’s not uncommon for people to wake in the middle of the night, bathed in sweat and very anxious about something they can’t explain. It seems as though you’ve been through some terribly frightening experience, but you’re not sure what, and any attempt to put your head on the pillow again sets the pulse racing and the same fears coming back.

It’s also worth realising how common these episodes can be, as it’s not the kind of thing you easily share with friends. At a recent seminar of nearly 600 GPs I asked how many in the room had ever had a panic attack, and around half the audience admitted to at least one.

Remember this; nobody ever died or went mad from a panic attack.

Happily, if you have suffered, there is much that can now be done to completely eradicate panic attacks from your life, as we can train the panic response so that it takes a more appropriate place in our armour. An in-depth understanding of all the factors that have caused your panic attacks will be very helpful in dispelling your fear, as is talking to the unconscious mind through good clinical hypnosis. We have simple but effective programmes to reduce stress levels, proven interventions to help you recognise the early warning signs, all combined with well-tried breathing techniques, which successfully assure your Amygdala that all is well, and which recondition your response to more appropriate levels. Importantly, desensitising your unconscious mind from a particular set of circumstances can be effectively completed, sometimes in only one session. This can quickly result in all the other symptoms just disappearing, allowing the sufferer to live a ‘normal’ life again, sleeping easily and living without fear. Of course, the benefits of greatly reduced stress levels will also improve health and life in many ways.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, John Halker is a qualified Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist, using the solution-focused human givens approach to help people change their minds and their lives. You can find out more about John and his work at and you will find much of interest at In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842

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