Punk Rock Doesn’t Give a Shit about Your Inner Critic

I’ve been listening to a lot of punk recently, bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Bikini Kill. This is a natural progression from the punk that has populated my music taste since I got into the Stooges and the Ramones at the age of 17 and never looked back. Punk can be almost simultaneously silly and serious, political and personal, high-stakes and throwaway, but whether it’s the Sex Pistols seeking to dismantle the monarchy, Kathleen Hanna refusing to let anyone dictate her choice of best friend, or the Replacements advocating running a red light, the common thread is nearly always some overarching element of rebellion.

There is a great clip of punk-precursor legends the New York Dolls playing BBC music show The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973 (watch it HERE). They perform ‘Looking for a Kiss,’ a swaggering sneer of a song that draws on the badass attitude of ‘60s girl group the Shangri-las, filters it through the glam rock of Bowie and Bolan and then coats liberally in NYC grime. As with the entirety of their Todd Rundgren-produced self-titled debut album, it is a defining moment in the evolution of not just punk, but rock music in general. And yet at the end of the performance, host Bob Harris appears and dismisses the band as ‘mock rock’ with a self-satisfied smirk. This kind of reaction is exactly what punk exists for. It says, we may not be as proficient as those beardy musos over there or have a ton of 12-string guitars, mandolins and Moog synths colonising our stage but we believe in what we’re doing and we won’t let you tell us otherwise. In other words, a giant fuck you to the status quo and a clear message to it that things are changing and it better watch its back.

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So what are the benefits of a punk attitude from a therapeutic point of view? To me, whether it tangibly feels like it or not, therapy itself is often an act of rebellion, particularly when it comes to things like self-worth and the desire to live authentically. You’ve been raised in a certain environment. You believe you should be and act a certain way. You’ve internalised messages about yourself from the people around you. You end up believing some of these even though they are self-critical and have a corrosive effect on your self-esteem. You’ve learned what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the eyes of social and/or family norms. You fear what would happen if you were to step outside of these. You self-censor. Or, you mentally challenge these ideas and then feel guilty for it. You cultivate an invisible and deeply personal antenna that alerts you to when you have committed a transgression. You listen to the little voice from your past that tells you that you’re bad, stupid, weird, awkward and unworthy of love. You get stuck in a place that isn’t authentic to what you actually want for yourself, and life goes on around you. Damn.

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What does punk say about all this? Punk challenges you to say NO. Punk challenges you to identify a status quo that no longer serves you and stand up to it. Punk challenges you to be and act and do in a way that feels right for you. Punk challenges you to be visible and unashamed. Punk challenges you to get angry for what you’ve gone through and put up with and settled for and had to listen to and then channel that feeling into creating something better for yourself. Punk challenges you to be friends with who you want and to consign the people and things and inner voices that hold you back to the trash can. Punk challenges you to be goofy and stupid sometimes and just go with it. Ultimately, punk challenges you to resist, rebel and reclaim, and this is what also makes therapy punk. So the next time your inner critic starts up with its usual cyclical crap, maybe try reaching for your inner leather jacket and shades and tell it where to go. Or to quote Minor Threat:

Before you take another crack
And slap yourself on the back
Before you tell me what you heard
And sum it up in one word
Before you start talking shit
Before you throw another fit:

THINK AGAIN.

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Simon

Workshop! Creative Writing for Self-expression and Mental Wellness (Sat 15 September)

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Following the success of our first foray into the world of co-facilitation, I am delighted to announce that myself and author Claire Hennessy will be holding another ‘Creative Writing for Self-expression and Mental Wellness’ workshop on Saturday 15 September.

As before, it will take place at Big Smoke Writing Factory (Harcourt St, Dublin 2), and aims to marry myself and Claire’s dual passions for creativity and good mental health. Various writing forms are used to explore and expand one’s emotional vocabulary, offering a supportive environment for creative experimentation and sharing.

The workshop will run from 11am to 4:30pm, with a lunch break, and costs €70. No previous experience is required.

Students on PCI College’s BSc (Hons) in Counselling & Psychotherapy can count attendance as 4 CPD hours – if this applies to you, just flag with me on the day and I will organise an attendance certificate.

For further info or to  book a place, please visit Big Smoke’s website by clicking the text below:

Creative Writing for Self-Expression and Mental Wellness

Please feel free to share with anyone who may be interested!

Simon

Workshop! Creative Writing for Self-expression and Mental Wellness (May 19th)

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It will be my pleasure on Saturday 19 May to co-facilitate a one-day experiential workshop with long-time friend, old work colleague, and fabulous writer Claire Hennessy. Taking place at Big Smoke Writing Factory (Harcourt St, Dublin 2), the day aims to marry myself and Claire’s dual passions for creativity and good mental health. To quote from Claire’s post on the Big Smoke website:

This one-day experiential workshop… is ideal for anyone interested in creative writing as a tool to help express themselves and as an activity that can contribute to mental wellness (as well as being fun and rewarding in its own right).

Co-facilitated by writer Claire Hennessy and counsellor Simon Forsyth, this workshop invites participants to engage in a variety of exercises with an emphasis on:

  • demystifying creativity
  • finding a vocabulary for emotions
  • becoming more comfortable with committing words to the page
  • sharing (if so inclined) creative work in a safe and supportive environment

No previous experience is required.

For further info or to  book a place, please visit Big Smoke’s website by clicking the text below:

Creative Writing for Self-Expression and Mental Wellness

Please feel free to share with anyone who may be interested!

Simon

 

‘I don’t think I understood how dangerous hopelessness is.’

Hayley Williams The Fader Jason Nocito
Photo by Jason Nocito

Continuing with this blog’s focus on articles that link music and mental health, I recently read an interesting interview from The Fader with Paramore front-woman Hayley Williams:

Paramore’s Hayley Williams discusses depression, redemption, and adult angst

I’ve been aware of the band for several years but am not really familiar with their music – as such, the article gives a good overview of their evolution from emo icons to current Talking Heads-enthusiasts. More relevant to the world of counselling and psychotherapy, however, is Williams’ discussion of her mental health difficulties in recent years. Early in the article she says:

For the first time in my life, there wasn’t a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel. I thought, I just wish everything would stop. It wasn’t in the sense of, I’m going to take my life. It was just hopelessness. Like, What’s the point? I don’t think I understood how dangerous hopelessness is. Everything hurts.

I particularly like this quote because one of the main reasons I chose the name ‘Nozomi’ for my practice was its link to the idea of hope. As Williams says, an absence of hope (for the future, for one’s situation, for change) is dangerous, and once someone goes down that path it can sometimes seem insurmountable. The instillation of hope that things can get better is often instrumental in getting someone back on track.

Later, the piece takes an interesting turn when the interviewer, Alex Frank, is confronted with the fact that his questions on a previous day of speaking with Williams ‘triggered’ her to the extent of having a panic attack. I admire Williams’ honesty and openness on this front, and indeed this is the reason why I am so passionate about the idea of public figures discussing mental health issues, and particularly their own struggles – the more people talk about it, the less scary it seems.

This is especially true for younger people like 28 year old Williams – role models for a generation that are embracing that idea that looking after your mental health is not something to be ashamed of or afraid of talking about. On the contrary, it should be applauded, or even just seen as par for the course when confronted with difficulties that can’t be dealt with on one’s own. Here’s hoping this shift in societal perception and the stigma attached to seeking counselling and other forms of mental health aid continues apace. We’re not there yet, but things do seem to be moving in the right direction.

Simon

Paramore’s latest album, ‘After Laughter,’ was released in May of this year.

‘There truly is no weakness in admitting you need a hand through the darkness.’

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This being LGBTQ Pride week here in Dublin, I’ve decided to post a few articles that marry pride with my personal passions of music and issues related to counselling.

To start, here is a good little article about the mental health of young people featuring Tegan Quin of Canadian musical duo and queer icons Tegan and Sara:

Tegan & Sara on mental health: ‘Being a young person can be overwhelming – it’s normal to struggle’

As well as being something of a cherished institution for their musical output (which has become increasingly high profile in recent years), the pair are tireless advocates for LGBT+ rights.

More to follow in the coming days!

Simon

Tegan and Sara’s latest album ‘Love You To Death’ was released in June 2016. 

The Persona & Shadow of Being Gay

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In the final year of my counselling studies, I wrote a dissertation called:

‘Coming Out or Staying In?: The Persona & Shadow of Being Gay, and its Relevance to Psychotherapy in Modern Ireland.’

This work sought to map the concepts of Persona and Shadow, as put forward by Carl Jung, onto the lived experience of being a gay man or lesbian in modern Ireland.

The Persona can be seen as a mask that we wear to navigate through society and interpersonal relationships, while the Shadow is like a private backroom full of things that we would rather most people not see. For me there were many parallels here with the experience of being gay, so, inspired by people like Panti Bliss and Ursula Halligan, I decided to explore further. With the Marriage Equality referendum of May 2015 as its backdrop, the piece examined concepts such as internalised homophobia, ‘passing’ as straight and coming out, from an Irish perspective.

Some months later, I was honoured to learn that my work had been selected to receive PCI College’s annual Martin Kitterick Award for academic excellence for 2016. An edited version was subsequently published in Éisteach, a quarterly journal published by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP).

You can read this shortened version by following the link below:

Éisteach Winter 2016

All comments welcomed!

Simon