It’s the little things – What I learned in therapy part 2


Can you think of a moment that defined your life? Recently, I’ve had cause to reflect. My partner and I have been together ten years this October. The other day I found myself trying to recall the moment when I knew how special he was to me. Like many important relationships in my life, there wasn’t an event or an incredibly clarifying conversation where we moved from a state of not being something into being something. Rather, there was a collection of small, mundane things that consecutively built up to the same truth: we mattered to each other. I particularly remember driving to work in 2007, coming to a roundabout in an industrial estate that I passed every day, and having a very clear realisation that I was thinking about a future with him and that I had assumed he was thinking about one with me too. I made myself a mental note to find out if that assumption was true. I crossed the roundabout. Six years, two universities, and one engagement in Crete later, we got married. It was a considerably larger and more public defining moment in our shared life, and yet that small moment, crossing a roundabout in 2007, is still just as important to me as the memories I have of our wedding day. The little things matter.



The little things matter in therapy too. Part of my therapy was learning to practise flexible control, which is basically when someone with over-control tries to lessen their control in small, non-threatening ways. It sounds bananas when you’re doing it – after all, why would wearing different shoes ultimately enable me to cope better with illness, sickness, and an eating disorder? Well, it’s the same principle of learning anything – Practice makes perfect. There is often a disconnect between the first stages of learning something and the final stages – when I teach dance to beginners, a lot of what I teach is learning to understand rhythm and music – the steps come later. Everything has to be built on something.

So the parking in different places, wearing different shoes, changing my brand of juice, trying different restaurants, dyeing my hair, it all helps me get to a place where I can challenge the over-control behaviour that unhealthily governs parts of my life. It helps me minimise my over-control habits and compulsions, each practice making me more and more comfortable with challenging my long-held views about myself and the world. I’ve seen it work – I am more capable than I was before therapy – but it has also given me a sense of enrichment that I didn’t have before. Sometimes it can be a chore, forcing myself out of my comfort zones even in little ways, especially when I find it aggravating that I have to drive back home the long route rather than the short route just to prove that I can do things differently, but it’s actually also been surprisingly empowering. In the road of recovery, so much of what is achieved isn’t really quantifiable. Learning to respect yourself, learning self-care, learning self-belief – these are not things you can measure in a series of actions. It is more likely that you will never be 100% sure that you have achieved them. Rather, you will trust the words and observations of others, notice gradual changes, and choose to believe that maybe, just maybe, you have become a different person. It can be a long, bleak slog, but logging those little things has a wonderful upside to it. Every day I have done something, a tangible, physical thing that goes towards my recovery. Strangely, by challenging my over-control I am actually gaining something better. I am gaining power.

Power is different to control. Whilst control seeks to contain something that it can’t really change, looking to bind it and cage it with various techniques to keep fear and anxiety at bay, power stands up to it. Power is what allows me to think that I am maybe strong enough to manage the things I am frightened of, that I might be able to manage them without my over-control behaviours. That power, power that comes from turning towards the fear rather than away from it, from relinquishing control rather than tightening it, is slowly and gently setting me free.

It could set you free too.

Practicing flexible control isn’t difficult, but it does take thought and work. If you think that maybe flexible control might help you and you want to chat about it, do get in touch. Instagram me, message me, or Tweet me. We can walk it through.

When my older sister got married her first dance was to one of the cheesiest songs of the last ten years: “Little Things,” by One Direction. My other sister and I laughed when it came on; it was so typically surprising of our sister and her partner, who are full of dry wit and humour and have been through hell and high water between them, to express their feelings in this overt, emotional number from a teenage boy band. They sang tipsily to one another, and it was tender and lovely. For a moment, I almost forgot it was One Direction. Until the DJ started playing “You don’t know you’re beautiful,” and the Groom went bonkers. However, an unexpected consequence of that song choice has been that the words to the song always come back to me when I use the hashtag #thelittlethings on posts about mental health:

“All these little things, it’s you they add up to.” 

That is the wonderful thing about practising flexible control and the great hope of the whole process: it’s cumulative. All of the hard work we do, all of the little things that we do to challenge our controlling tendencies and face our anxiety and fear, it all adds up to something. Recovery.


instagram @elphreads

Twitter @EmmaLouisePH



What I learned in RODBT therapy


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I finished therapy again.

It’s awkward, finishing therapy. I’ve never known it not to be. This might be because therapy is nothing like what you see on TV. The therapists I’ve seen on TV say goodbye to their clients with tears and moving movements where the client walks out into the sunshine, gulping back grateful tears, marching into their future with their head held high. My experience is not that. Instead, I mumble through an awkward conversation, saying “thank you,” too many times and shuffling out of the door without making eye contact. Granted, I am not great at goodbyes even with people I sincerely love, let alone with strangers I have spilled all my secrets to.

My therapist never feels more like a stranger than at the end of the journey. That’s not really a bad thing, in fact, I’m sure it’s how it’s meant to be. A therapist’s job is not to be someone who will be missed and longed for, that is the opposite of what their job is. Their job is to enable you to manage your own life without their constant input. Consequently, the feeling at the end of therapy is just like that. It’s awkward because you are essentially standing in front of someone and admitting that you might not need them in your life anymore. That they are dispensable to you.

There is fear in that, too. Fear that maybe I do need my therapist still. Fear that one morning I might wake up and need help again, that the sunshine I am currently standing in will fade to darkness and I will be alone and afraid again.

But I have learned that I cannot live my life in fear of a relapse that might never come, so I finished therapy.

So what else have I learned?

Well, I am hoping to blog about what I have learned quite regularly. My hope is that this will not only be helpful for others who might be struggling, but it will also help me remember what I learned, and to live in it. First, however, I need to tell you a little bit more about the type of therapy I’ve been having.

I’ve been having RODBT therapy. This is (ready for it?) Radically Open – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.  This is based on DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) which is a type of CBT that was developed for patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. RODBT was developed specifically to help people with difficult to treat Over Control Disorders. Examples of over control disorders might be: anorexia nervosa, chronic depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Basically, it sums me up!

That tells you what RODBT is for, how it used, but it doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. So what is it like? What is like to be having the type of therapy that, when you type it into google, throws back a long list of academic and medical articles? Well, sometimes, it was like a lesson. One thing about all CBT based therapy is it is essentially re-informing a person’s understanding of themselves- there’s a lot of learning there! RODBT is no different. There were a lot of worksheets, a lot of “terms,” a lot of re-learning what it means to be me and live in my brain. For people who think that therapy is easy, that you simply show up and recount your day and your shopping list to a friendly face, it could not be less true. Therapy is hard work. RODBT is hard work.

It is also very illuminating. In so many ways it has completely opened my eyes to my own behavior, but let’s just focus on one for today. So here it is: One thing I learned from RODBT.

Forcing myself to change doesn’t work

Something that happens a lot with mental health is people on the outside will say; “why can’t you just try to eat something/go to an event/not be anxious and see if you get through it? Can’t you just push through?” 

RODBT taught me that the answer is No. No, I cannot. A person with my temperament, someone with over-control can push through, but they shouldn’t. It will do nothing for them. They will get through it, but they won’t get better. In fact, they will only get worse.

That probably doesn’t make sense, so let’s take an example, something that’s reflective of my experience. As a child, I was frightened of going to new places. However, I often had to, even if I was frightened. My brain would identify that this was something that threatened me, something that made me unsafe. However, since I would not have the power or control to leave the situation, I would emotionally detach and shut down. This would result in minimal communication. My Mum and I once went on a day trip to Israel from Egypt where I barely spoke two words to her the whole trip. At the time she probably thought I was being a grumpy teenager, (and yes, there was probably something of that in there) but inside my mind, I was threatened by all these new factors that I could not control, so I had withdrawn. I got through the experience, of course, I did, but I did not have an enjoyable time getting through it. I came away from the experience reinforced in my own mindset that I did not enjoy traveling to new places that much. What does this mean? Well, it’s strangely simple:  Exposure therapy does not work on people with Over Control disorders.

A person with Over control will simply withdraw and survive and learn nothing from the experience. In fact, their misconceptions will only be reinforced. An anorexic forced to eat will not heal. A person with OCD cut off from their routines will not heal. They will indulge their enforcers, they will eat and they will stop, but only for the time that they are made to. Then they will breathe a sigh of relief, thank God they survived, and go back to their over control.  They will not have learned from the experience.

So how does a person with an over-control disorder learn?

Well, instead of being forced out of their control, feeling threatened, and then withdrawing, they can learn to relinquish their control in small moments. Instead of being forced to eat a whole meal, they can choose to do something less threatening to them, something that challenges their control but not in a way that is very threatening. If someone had told me that I had to eat everything they said, I would not be able to do it. But I chose to challenge my control in areas near to food. I chose to try a different brand of the juice I always drink. I chose to eat the same dinner I always eat in a different place. I learned to challenge myself without triggering my threat response. (For the full journey of this, please check out my instagram @elphreads for my #OCDchallenge)

In my mind, I characterize it like a zookeeper winning over a timid sloths affection by introducing them to very small pieces of fruit, one at a time. Then maybe one little stroke, one little petting session. As someone with over-control, I need recognize my sensitive threat trigger and try to work with it not against it.

So no, unhelpful, ignorant person who asks me if I can just push through. No, I can’t. Because whilst that might put my idiosyncrasies, my needs, my strange behaviors out of view, whilst that might solve your problem of having to deal with all of those things about me, it won’t help me. It won’t help me build up the positive associations I need with this thing in order to grow into a healthier human being.

Forcing myself to change doesn’t work, and I’m not going to pretend to do it just to indulge an unnecessary, cruel stigma.

That’s one thing I’ve learnt from RODBT.

Tune in next week for the next thing I learned from RODBT.



If you have questions about RODBT, or about CBT, or perhaps you are currently going through the therapy yourself do drop me a line at @elphreads on Instagram or @EmmaLouisePH on Twitter. I want to hear from you! Let’s go through it together.