Dealing with the stress of Anosmia/Dysgeusia (loss or change in the senses of smell and taste)


Around 3m people in the UK are affected by some form of taste and smell dysfunction.

Some of them people suffer from treatable disorders such as chronic sinusitis or nasal polyps while others may have experienced permanent or long-term damage caused by ear surgery, injury to the mouth or nose, or as side-effects drugs such as captopril, lithium, procarbazine and certain drugs used in the treatment of cancer.

To get the medical terminology out of the way, Ageusia is the complete loss of sense of taste, Dysgeusia is distortion of the taste of things and Hypogeusia is a decrease in taste sensitivity. Anosmia is the inability to detect odours and as such, it  can either be an issue in its own right or else a major contributor to taste disorders.

Whether the problem is that of taste or smell or both, it can be extremely distressing for sufferers. Our enjoyment of food is focussed around taste and smell and without those we are just left with the texture and temperature of the food and the feeling of fullness it give us. Other than that, a large part of the pleasure is missing and many sufferers of Anosmia/Dysgeusia lose all interest and enjoyment in food and eating. And that is aside from the loss of enjoying a whiff of scent from a flower or a teasing hint of perfume in the air or the smell of fresh ground coffee or new baked bread or the scent of a new born baby’s skin.

With loss of these pleasures there often come feelings of frustration, anger, depression and grief. People with these problems will often withdrawn from socialising because so much of social life is focussed around celebratory meals, restaurant outings, enjoying a good glass of wine with friends, appreciating a gift of flowers and so on.

Impairment of taste and smell can also affect jobs and careers – the inability to smell or taste while working in hazardous environments where a smell of burning or taste of gas in the air is an early indicator of something being wrong makes employment in mining, gas, oil or chemical industries difficult. A doctor or paramedic being unable to smell alcohol on someone’s breath could lead to their misdiagnosing the reasons for a patient’s erratic behaviour and lead to serious errors in diagnosis and treatment. Any impairment of taste or smell can be dangerous not only for the sufferer but also for their colleagues and the people relying on their services.

Hypnotherapy cannot do anything to help restore functionality of sense of smell or taste but it can do a lot to help mitigate the sense of loss and anger and frustration at its happening. It can help those who have not totally lost their sense of smell or taste to optimise their remaining faculties so that they can make the most of enjoying what they can. It can also help stimulate their recall and enjoyment of those smells and tastes which they can no longer experience directly – the mere sight of a highly spiced meal bringing back memories of enjoyment and appetite without the need for the full taste/smell experience.

Post hypnotic suggestion can also be used to encourage those with partial taste/smell functions to remember all those times that they have a really satisfying taste/smell experience and to be far less aware of the unsatisfactory ones.

In these ways, quality of life can be optimised and feelings of loss, grief and anger minimised.

If any of my readers have any experience of these disorders or their treatment I would love to hear from you. Just leave me a Comment describing the causes of your problem and the emotions they engendered and how you found your own personal coping strategy. I’d also be interested to know whether or not you feel that the type of therapy described here might have been of benefit to and the reasons why/why not.

PS  update June 2017.  I have just come across an organisation called FifthSense (fifthsense.org.uk) which has beenmailinglist@fifthsense.org.uk set up to provide information and latest news on developments in the world of Anosmia.

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We should all have one of these….


This is a great idea.  If only we could get it miniaturised and slide it into our hippocampus and wire it up to our limbic system.  Bingo!  Instant sunshine every day…

http://www.psfk.com/2012/10/happiness-machine-internet-printer.html

How being a Perfectionist can damage your life


I attended a course last weekend which started me thinking about how much we all damage ourselves and our quality of life by indulging in Perfectionism.   We often think of Perfectionists as having some form of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) where all can labels in the cupboards have to face forward and the cans and bottles have to be ranked in size order and by colour and content.

Most of us have some element of the Perfectionist within us – liking a tidy home or desk or having a regular place to put the kitchen scissors.  This type of behaviour helps us have more efficient and pleasant lives and avoids wasting hours of effort trying to find a roll of Cellotape.

However, our Perfectionism can become a problem when we start to apply it to ourselves and how we feel the world should treat us.  For instance, when the mechanism of the subconscious (which builds our map of the world and the everyday rules for living), starts to create rules which build an unrealistic expectation about the world around us and the way it should (must) treat us.

If we aren’t careful, we can begin to construct unrealistic rules for ourselves and then try to live by them, expecting the world to treat us well in return.  Examples of these beliefs could be  “I should never turn down the chance of doing something” or  “It must be 100% right.  Not even a tiny error is acceptable” or “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he really values my contribution”.

The result of creating these types of rule is that you put a massive amount of pressure on yourself and those around you to deliver something which is, in reality, unachievable.

“I should never turn down the chance of doing something” means that instead of having a varied and interesting life you are manically running/driving from one event to another.  Getting up early to get somewhere; leaving that event early to get somewhere else; frantically changing clothes for the next activity;  driving furiously to get somewhere else; always looking at the clock, cursing buses, trains and planes for being late; fretting and agitated in traffic jams; dragging friends and family around behind you in a frantic hurry to get somewhere and do something else rather than the thing you are actually doing!

Many people also apply this same “never turn anything down” rule to their work lives by never turning down a job or a project.  Clients tell me “it’s because they know I’m the only one who can  do it,”  “It’s my area of expertise”, “no one else can meet that kind of deadline”.  What they are really telling me is that their employer is exploiting their mistaken belief.  The Manager handing out the work probably thinks that my client is a mug for taking on more and more work; that they don’t really care what happens to one of their team when they eventually break down.  That as long as the job gets done and the Manager looks good, they’ll keep on piling on the work.  If it all goes wrong, they can blame the overworked and Perfectionist who has moved heaven and earth to make sure that they deliver a 100% perfect job.

The self-delusion that one is valued at work and that a company cares still runs deep in the veins of many employees, despite the evidence in front of them every day.  They will tolerate bullying, abuse and overwork because they fear the effort of finding a new job and lack the confidence to rise to the challenge of being given tasks without the right training, timescale or resources.  The chances are that if your boss never has to say “do it or I’ll find someone else who will” when loading another massive burden on your already overburdened back, then it’s YOU who’s the one taking on the work others have already said is impossible to do in the time/for the money/without more resource etc!

Another corrosive belief is that “it must be 100% right, otherwise the rest of what I’ve done is useless and worthless and I am a useless and worthless person who doesn’t deserve thanks or praise”.   No amount of praise can be meaningful to his kind of Perfectionist.  It rolls off them as their subconscious mind rejects what it sees as hollow words from people who  “just don’t know how much better the result could have been if only I could have done a better job”.  This creates in the Perfectionist a deep well of frustration and dissatisfaction with everything in their lives.  They feel bad all the time.  They might turn to drink, drugs, sex or food for comfort in order to achieve that elusive feeling of control over their lives. They might begin to blame others for their lack of perceived achievement, or break up relationships or just work harder and harder until they eventually break down.

The payback which comes from all this manic behaviour is often the firm belief that “My employer must always treat me well because I am a such a good worker and he values my contribution so much”.  Perfectionists believe this of their families too “because I work until 2am every night cleaning the kitchen the family must love me more and show me their appreciation”.

But because everyone views the Perfectionist as neurotic and unreasonable, they don’t value that person more.  In fact, they probably value them less than they would if they just worked 9-5 in the office and spent their time enjoying relaxation with the family playing games and doing trivial things.

As I’m always telling my clients, it’s OK to want to do things to the best of your abilities, but only within the context of the time, energy and other commitments that you have.

If you find yourself under constant pressure, ask yourself why.  What are the beliefs which are driving you to be under that pressure?  What makes the rules you’ve created for yourself true?  What less pressing rules could you create?  Are the rules you are currently living your life to actually out of date – were they right for when you were younger but are they appropriate to life as it is now?

Try writing down the rules which trouble you most and think about them.  How much do they ruin your life?  What would happen if you didn’t obey them?  What would you lose  AND, more importantly, what would you gain?

Why not take a look at the Perfectionist in your own life, and see how your own work and home life could be improved?

Are you suffering from Burnout? Try this quiz…


There seems to be a worrying increase in the number of clients who visit me with all the symptoms of what used to be called “executive stress,” but is now more accurately described as  burnout.

To find out how well you are coping with the pressures of life, try answering the questions at the foot of this blog, giving yourself a score ranging from 0 for “Not At All” up to 5 for “All The Time”.

If your score is 0-30 then you are one of the lucky ones who enjoy their work and are able to cope with the pressures of life.  However, before you get too smug, just look at any of the questions which scored 4 or 5 and think about how you could improve things for yourself.

If you scored 31-55 then you need to start looking after yourself.  Think about how you might change what’s happening.  You are very rarely without the power to effect change, you just need to find the right levers to pull.  If you really do feel helpless, then it’s time to seriously consider a change of job, career or circumstances.

If you scored 55+ then you are definitely at risk.  Now is the time to do something about it.  Take back some of the time the company is stealing from you.  Don’t get in quite so early.  Take a lunch break, even if it’s only half an hour.  Leave a bit earlier every day.  Make it a rule to only work a set number of hours at the weekend – and then only if you really have to.  Weekends should be for you, not your employer.  If you don’t make changes, then you are running the risk of burnout.

I always explain the process of burnout to my clients in terms of our personal energy being like petrol and diesel oil.

Our everyday energy is like petrol; it is lighter, more easily consumed but is easier to regenerate with a good night’s sleep.  It’s what nature provides to keep us fit and healthy, both physically and emotionally.

By contrast, the heavier energy is thick and oily, like diesel.  It is the energy which we need to dip into at times of prolonged stress and difficulty.  It burns more slowly and we have deep reserves but it is replaced only very slowly.  So working longer hours than are sensible, worrying and fretting continuously, feeling frustrated and trapped leads eventually to this heavy energy becoming exhausted, creating a feeling of being unable to cope with anything at all.  At this point the brain goes into a self-defence mode which creates a state of exhausted torpor.  I experienced this years ago and for a week couldn’t make the decision between wanting a cheese or a ham sandwich for lunch.  I was physically too tired to even think about it.  I just wanted to sit and either cry or sleep.  After a week or so my heavy energy began to reassert itself and my brain began to come back on-line, but for weeks afterwards it was very difficult to do more than just go through the motions of daily life while my body continued to replenish my energy store and restore my normal vitality.

If you wonder if you are close to burnout, then perhaps this questionnaire will help you take an objective view of life….

Do you find yourself feeling increasingly tearful or sorry for yourself?
Do you have repetitive negative thoughts  running through your head, especially relating to your job?
Are you increasingly impatient with the people you work with?
Do even trivial problems become huge ones in your mind?
Do you feel that you are doing other people’s work for them and that you can’t take on any more?
Are you feeling trapped by the need to earn money but not being able to find another job?
Do you feel bullied by senior staff or that you are given unachievable targets/tasks?
Do you dream of getting a new job or a new career with less hassle and stress?
Do you work evenings and weekends to the detriment of your family & friends, and yourself?
Do you feel unfilled by your work?
Are you  frustrated your job and the management structure around it?
Are you angry at having to take short cuts or having too little time to do a thorough job?
Do you find that you are too busy dealing with today to plan properly for tomorrow?
Do you find that you sleep poorly and/or have stress dreams (eg. trying to find your way to a meeting through a maze of corridors, wearing only a bathrobe to work, being anxious to get somewhere but being frustrated at every turn etc)?
 Do you feel totally exhausted at the end of each day?

Can Anger Management therapy really work?


I’ve worked with several people lately who have come to me with Anger management issues.

Sometimes they had already lost people they love or jobs they really enjoyed because of their flashes of anger or uncontrollable and intimidating outbursts of physical or verbal abuse.

Others have arrived looking stunned and in a state of shock.  Often they’ve been told by a court or a partner that they have to seek out treatment to deal with their problem or suffer the consequences.  They often have only just begun to realise the devastating consequences of their actions.

Some people realise their problem; others are in denial, claiming that they just have a quick temper – “I just have an outburst and then it’s all over” – without realising the damage it is doing to the recipient of the outburst.

As I therapist I have no magic wand that tells me who’s telling me the truth about the extend of their anger or its true causes; all I can do is work with what I’m told at our first consultation and then explore possible causes arising from upbringing, life experiences etc.  as we progress.

Anger has many causes.  Sometimes an individual might have an ongoing psychotic mental health problem (paranoid schizophrenia for example) which requires specialist diagnosis and the help of psychiatric healthcare professionals who are able to create drug and therapy programmes designed to help patients control their illness and return to normal functioning.   I refer to this as a functional problem, and is beyond the remit of therapy to resolve.

In many cases, however, anger can be the product of emotional trauma, such as being betrayed by a trusted partner in business or in love, or the sudden loss a parent or child resulting in unresolved grief, or the outcome of a sudden traumatic event leading to creation of symptoms of (or even full-blown) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

In other cases it can be a learned behaviour – the result of being raised in a chaotic or combative family where aggression is the norm, or is the only way of protecting personal possessions or avoiding being picked on.

I therefore start therapy by taking a thorough Case History.  This is only a three page questionnaire but by the end I know everything I need to about the client’s life, family relationships and major life issues.  From this information I can begin to isolate and investigate those issues/events which might be driving anger.

In effect, what I do is identify “buttons”.  The buttons which get pressed by a partner, or an innocent customer standing in a pub.  The words which, when spoken, provoke an instant and frightening verbal or physical attack.

Couples who’ve been together for a while know all about buttons.  They know exactly what to say  to provoke an instant fight – “You’re lazy”, “You’re selfish”, “It’s no wonder the kids hate you”.  But while their arguments might be loud and unpleasant, most couples arguments don’t end up in the casualty department of a local hospital or in the police being called.

My job as a therapist is therefore to identify the buttons and then to help defuse them.  To drain off the emotional fuel which drives them so they no longer cause volcanic eruptions of rage. 

I therefore approach Anger Management in two main ways:-

i)  To straight away teach a client a number of methods for becoming aware of what drives their anger (the Buttons) and then fast ways of controlling rising anger – in effect, changing the response to the things which make them angry – thus teaching a client right from the outset how to keep themselves and others,  safe in stressful situations.

ii)  At the same time, I try to establish the reasons for a client feeling angry.  Often this is obvious; at other times it has been blocked and needs exploration before it emerges in conversation.  Either way, I look to deal with the emotions and feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety etc which have led to the anger emerging.  These unresolved emotions are the fuel for anger. If we remove the fuel, the anger just evaporates.

iii)  Having done this, I then help the client to see their lives in a new way. To notice the change in the response of loved ones, friends and workmates to this new calmer person.  How new opportunities arise in their lives.  How they become more secure, more loved and valued.

And the therapy need not take lots of sessions.  I have completed work with one client in five sessions – the last of which was a session to explain to his partner how we had managed to bring about such a dramatic (and hopefully) lasting change in his behaviour!

One last word.  To all those women who think they can change a violent or abusive man.  You can’t.  Leave the relationship and put the experience behind you.  Protect yourself and your children.  You must understand that you are a catalyst to your partner’s anger. Whatever you do, whatever you say, you are part of the problem. You will never be able to effect change alone.  Your partner needs to be evaluated to eliminate functional causes and then to work with someone independent of your relationship who can use the therapies needed to bring about change – if change is possible.  The best thing you can do for your partner and yourself is to remove yourself to a place of safety and to urge them to seek professional help and resolution before it’s too late. 

Five things that people regret on their deathbeds


Later on this year I plan to write a blog article on death, fear of it and coping with it.

However, for those of you who wonder what regrets you might have when your turn comes take a look at this brief article on the five greatest regrets express by people with only a few days of life left.

After reading the article, take a few moments to consider how, armed with that knowledge and insight, you might change your own life to avoid having the same regrets.

http://m.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying?cat=lifeandstyle&type=article

Introducing Eye Movement Therapy (EMT)


Introduction to Eye Movement Therapies

As part of my regular Continuous Professional Development  I  attend weekend courses at the  ICH in London.  The latest course provided a fascinating introduction to the latest EMT  techniques.

Developed by Francine Shapiro PhD at the Mental Research Institute in  1987,   EMT has proved to be a highly effective way of engaging the brain’s innate memory processing system  to deal with memories of traumatic events.

It uses bi-lateral stimulation of the brain – either through eye movements or left hand/right hand tapping.

The constant shifting of attention from left to right through movement of the eyes or tapping of the hands, together with the client’s simultaneous, controlled replaying of  the memory and negative emotions it produces, provokes an increased flow of  neuronal activity between  right  and left brain memory centres via the corpus callosum.  This flow facilitates the dissociation of the  link between the trauma and the emotions which it engenders.  Thus, as the memory is processed, the negative emotions fall away, rendering the memory less and less painful.

While originally used for Trauma with a big “T” (PTSD, rape etc)  where it was found to eliminate 77-90% of civilian  single trauma PTSD  within three 90 minute sessions).  Variants of EMT are now used for dealing with a whole variety of issues including events from childhood which have resulted in feelings of self-blame or inadequacy, creation of fears and phobias, anger and relationship issues.  I recently used one of these variants, called WHEE, to break a client’s fixation with chocolate (to facilitate weight loss) in just a single session.