Sarah Bateup

Retrain your thinking

By Samantha Dalton - 31 December 2013

Improving your mental wellbeing is an achievable resolution for 2014, according to psychotherapist Sarah Bateup, clinical lead for PsychologyOnline. She says that refocusing on what is truly important in our lives might be more meaningful than setting a resolution that is given up or dropped after a few weeks.

Sarah explains: “It is very easy to be caught up in thinking ‘I would be happier if I was a size 10 or if I gave up chocolate’. The New Year is a chance to stop and ask yourself, deep down, if this is what you would want to be remembered for.

“We all have a different idea of what is really important in our lives, whether this is friendship, being a good parent, creative expression or making a difference. Cognitive behaviour therapists call these concepts, values. When our behaviour moves us away from our core values this is when we tend to experience emotions like guilt, sadness and distress.”

Sarah says that recognising personal values is the first step towards creating meaningful change in our lives.

“Values are different to goals, in that we can’t just tick a box when they are done. If you value being a loving partner, it’s not a one-off action like not drinking on a Monday. It’s an ongoing activity.”

Aligning behaviour with values helps to maintain mental wellbeing. Cognitive behaviourial therapy (CBT) works by retraining the brain to perceive situations in a different way, so the person is better able to cope with stressful situations. It is proven to be very effective and is recommended by NICE to treat a range of conditions; from mild anxiety to severe depression.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of trained therapists, so PsychologyOnline was set up by NHS psychologists to reduce the waiting times. It offers one-on-one CBT over the internet with a UK accredited therapist either free via your GP in some areas of the UK or as the private service Thinkwell, without a GP referral.

An unexpected benefit of delivering text-based CBT is that it has proven to be even more effective than face-to-face therapy.

Sarah says that writing things down and reflecting on them is a good way of improving mental health.

“The act of answering a therapist’s questions by text is extremely beneficial. This can often result in ‘light bulb’ type realisations that can bring more rapid resolution to problems. By having this moment recorded in a transcript the benefit is captured and can be accessed again whenever required.”

Sarah believes that everyone can benefit from exercises that improve their mental health. She identifies some common values (see below) and suggests that we all start the year by picking the ones that are important.

“Of the values that are important to you, what mark would you give yourself out of ten? How does that make you feel? Now choose one value you want to work on and consider what you would be willing to do this week to move towards it.”

She says that engaging in this exercise creates a win, win situation: “Try to keep in mind why you are willing to do this. As Yogi Berra once said, ‘if you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else’.”

Which of these values are important to you? What would you mark yourself out of ten? What could you do to improve your score?

Intimate relationship; Friendship; Parenting; Family; Employment; Spirituality; Creativity; Health; Culture; Nature/animals/environment; Sport/activity; Education/learning; Exploration/travel.

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