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10 of the best: Products to aid sleep

January 29th, 2018

Sleep was the antithesis to my addiction. The concept of an assigned task to be completed in a specific time frame – simply unrealistic. The closest I came to restfulness was a mild neurological siesta, usually at the most inopportune moment.

For me, literature (specifically literary nonsense) glamorised the idea of a fantastical REM state. I believed that mind-altering substances would provoke a fictional prowess that would otherwise lie (ironically) dormant. In my stupor, I would find Wonderland or Hogwarts. Of course, this was not, in fact, the case and, more often than not, the sleep I did get would be short-lived and dreams rarely remembered.

Part of my recovery has involved making amends to people I have harmed, repaying my debts. The sleep debt I have reaped on myself and those closest to me is cavernous and, being intangible and evasive in nature, I cannot (yet) replace time lost or ill-spent. I can, however, look at ways of optimising the time I now have at my disposal – with a view to a really good snooze.

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10 of the best: Free-from beauty products

January 22nd, 2018

Once we’ve done the hard bit and banished the nasties from our bodies, we can start to be more conscious of what products we’re using on our skin – from the value of their properties to the repercussions of their manufacture. Here’s our pick of the 10 best free-from products, what they do and why we love them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Interesting perspective on depression

January 12th, 2018

We read an interesting article in the Guardian last weekend in which Johann Hari explains how his understanding of depression has evolved. He makes a good point that depression isn’t simply a biological problem to be treated purely by medication.

Unfortunately, Mr Hari isn’t a totally reliable source, having been involved in a plagiarism scandal, and he also now possibly overstates and oversimplifies the social and psychological factors but he is still a good read and enriches perspective and understanding of depression.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

September 13th, 2017

What can Psychology teach us? 

A series of short articles about useful ideas from psychology.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

This is a psychological phenomenon coined by the Stanford Psychology professor Lee Ross based on a psychology experiment by Psychologists Jones and Harris (1967).

The fundamental attribution error describes a tendency we have to excuse our own behaviour as being a consequence of external factors whilst at the same time blaming other people’s behaviours on their personality and internal disposition or character.
An example might be that while we excused ourselves for having a fight because we needed to defend ourselves from the aggression of others, we might describe someone else having a fight because they are by their nature aggressive and violent.
When we studied this in psychology at university there was a clever saying to describe this. It went: ‘I’ am a freedom fighter, ‘you’ are a guerrilla and ‘he’ is a terrorist”. In other words, the more distant our relationship to the people, the more likely we are to negatively judge their character as a result of their actions.

I think this is a really interesting phenomenon because you can see this play out in so many different situations. Think about international conflicts, for example. Our nation has gone to war to defend human rights, but that ‘other’ country has gone to war because they are an aggressive bad nation etc.

Putting this into the context of mental health then you can imagine that this may well be some subconscious process going on that mean that all the evidence that family, friends, therapists might bring to someone’s attention to evidence the existence of a problem might very well be being discounted and excused because of the fundamental attribution error. The individual may constantly discount all their concerns because, in their minds, all these things that happened can be perfectly reasonably explained by outside influences. “I didn’t crash the car because of my addiction ( arguably an internal personality disposition ), I crashed the car because the light was poor, the other guy didn’t get out of the way etc.

People who work in the field of addiction describe a phenomenon called ‘denial’ where addicts don’t seem to be able to recognise that they have a problem and, instead, keep blaming it on outside influences. It is worth considering that the Fundamental Attribution Error has something to do with this phenomenon and it may not be a phenomenon restricted to addiction but perhaps a piece of human nature which is brought into sharp relief in the context of the series of crisis that addiction often precipitates.

You may well wonder how someone can overcome something so seemingly instinctual and subconscious as this but one way to help people might be by bringing this phenomenon into their consciousness by showing them clearly that it exists. Once we have started to recognise this obviously in our own nature, it’s hard not to notice it more and be aware of it gradually so we become more prepared to consider that it is our own values and decisions that need to be reevaluated and real therapy towards changing can be done.

New maintenance team member Kayleigh drives the Hay Farm makeover

September 11th, 2017


Our newest maintenance team member Kayleigh has the best painting skills of the group and is doing a fantastic job with us already!

A clinic like Hay Farm has a relentless maintenance schedule that feels a little like trying to paint the Forth Bridge. No sooner do you get to one ‘end’ than you need to start again. Currently, the team is repainting the Annex and also replacing the lighting there too. The Guest bathroom has also been completely stripped out and replaced. Finally, new carpets are on their way and the Annex will be just like new again!

We have some exciting plans for the gym next 🙂


Therapeutic Collage

September 9th, 2017

Therapeutic Collage


What is a Therapeutic Collage?

A Therapeutic Collage is a therapy exercise we sometimes offer patients in treatment. In general terms, a therapeutic subject is considered and a title is given for someone to work to. Then some days are taken to create a collage around that subject. At Hay Farm we are blessed with a dedicated art room which is always open to the patients and you will usually find many pieces of gradually developing art in there. It’s not that everyone does a collage, far from it, but something about being in a treatment and delving into difficult emotions seems to act as a kind of creative stimulus. I know people often say that addictive behaviours trigger creativity but it is my experience that the opposite seems to be the case so when people come into a clinic, this is one of the many lovely facets of their recovery that their creativity and energy comes back and flourishes. I’m proud that we encourage this and other artistic and creative outlets as I think it helps people recognise some tangible measure of their recovery.

Why use art/experiential therapies at all?

Talking therapies are very helpful but sometimes we have talked about our problems many times it doesn’t seem to help any more ( in some situations, maybe it never did ). The problem can be that many things we want to recover from or consider in therapy, occurred to us through an experience which may not have had any verbal component. When we try and describe this back to someone via language, we are having to remove ourselves by one dimension away from that experience and therefore we will inevitably have to apply a form of ‘translation’, for which we may very well not have the appropriate vocabulary. Another problem is that our processing of these experiences via language will very likely end up having to be filtered by many layers of socially constructed interpretations and likely many distorted filters, as they put it in CBT. Therapies like CBT do a great job of exploring and trying to change these filters but also goes a long way to show how extensive and often ‘sub conscious’ or automatic these filters and distortions are. Then, in turn, the person listening to us will filter what they hear through their linguistic understanding of the world and apply all of their subconscious prejudices on it as well. This is why using any other medium other than language to explore problems has the advantage of bypassing so many of these limitations/distortions and can very quickly cut to the core of the problem. I think that’s the thing people will tell you who have used these other types of experiential therapies, they often say that the insight and the resolution they felt was very quick considering how often and for so many years they have tried discussing their problems, without seeming to make any impact. There are many of these experiential types of therapies but let’s look closer at how a therapeutic collage can work.

How does it work then?

I’m sure there are many ways of using any therapeutic exercise so I’m just going to describe a simple version here.  The therapists will think of a subject that might be best explored through a collage. An example might be, my past, present, and future. The individual then has a chance to go and look through magazines and online to find images that seem to have a personal resonance relating to this subject. Sometimes people simply draw onto the paper and sometimes they even stick larger objects to it. It’s great to see people’s creativity run wild with this. One lovely feature of the collage is that we don’t have to be artistic in any way to use it for therapy. If you think about the subject you want to explore and then flick through any source of images, all you have to do is find those that ‘means’ something to you and then arrange them. The way it is presented can be quite varied but typically the collage is placed in view for the group to contemplate and then the individual talks about what the different images mean to them. The rest of the group then have a chance both to talk about what they get from the images themselves relating to their own lives and also what they observe, knowing the person as they do. An example might be that, using the past present future title, they notice a very dominant figure from the past that the grouacknowledgesge is still a burning issue for them to work on or they may have a sense that they didn’t feel much hope in the future part. They might have created representations for all of their family but then left a family member out altogether, or one of the representations seems out of kilter with the others.  It’s hard to give you a sense of the feedback without raising the suspicion that there might be some sort of criticism there, which there definitely isn’t. One of the great features of a collage is the way that it brings into focus insights into our functioning that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent and the process of discussing this is all done via identification and with love and support. I feel the need to stress this as people who come to our clinics have already been on the receiving end of huge criticism, not least by themselves, and so therapy must be about building people up and helping them have insight and develop new confidence and new ways of coping, not being put down again, so all of this is done with a great deal of love and support.

What did I do?

I did one of these collages when I was in treatment some 26 years ago and I still remember it today as a very helpful exercise. I had the title above, the past present and future one, and my collage had a lot of, what I now see as being glitzy, showy, shallow things in the past section showing how my values had really gone awry as a result of my addiction. I don’t remember how I represented the present but I remember the future images were of having a family and living in the country, a much simpler life ( I was living in London at the time, working in the city of London ). What the collage showed me very clearly was the gaping difference between the lifestyle and the values that I was living, which were very enmeshed with my illness, in contrast to the values that I would say were more at my heart, or in my true nature. I am glad to say that in the next few years I was able to make that recovery and life transition and this collage still remains in my memory as a very vivid reminder of that conflict and contrast that using vs recovery represent.

Try it yourself?

I hope this has given you some idea of how these collages work. There is no reason you shouldn’t try this at home. Think of a subject you want to explore, or a decision you want to consider, and try making a collage out of it. You can interpret it all on your own or you can share it with someone close. If you want to share it with others, perhaps you can email it to me so I can share on this post and invite others to comment and compliment? The picture above and the picture below are both examples of collages people have done in treatment.

Alumni Cathryn Kemp does all she can to help others with painkiller addictions

June 21st, 2017

Alumni Cathryn Kemp has been working tirelessly to get better help and understanding for people who become addicted to painkillers after revealing her own experience of dependence and subsequent detoxification at PROMIS in her book
“Coming Clean: Diary Of A Painkiller Addict by Cathryn Kemp (Little Brown, £10.99)”

Cathryn has also founded a charity “Painkiller Addiction Information Network”

About PAIN

With the recent news of TV’s Ant McPartlin’s brave steps to seek help for his own painkiller addiction, Cathryn has spoken to the Daily Mail today to share her own experiences and to offer encouragement to others with a similar plight.

You can read her inspirational story here:


Check back here for a link to an interview Cathryn recently gave me for another website providing help and advice….

Alumni Michael McDowell stands up for the needs of addicts

June 8th, 2017

I was proud as punch to read of the brave and tireless work that PROMIS alumni, Michael McDowell, is doing in getting help and support for addicts on the streets of Belfast

In a piece today in The Irish News, Michael was quoted as saying:

Michael McDowell, of drug outreach group Belfast Experts By Experience, described the waiting list as an “absolute disgrace”.

“These people have gone through hell just getting to a point where they actually ask for help,” he said.

“To then be told they have to continue risking their lives taking drugs for over a year and a half is unacceptable. This inequitable treatment in comparison to other health trusts must stop before it’s too late for many of them.

“These people are on their knees desperate for help and are quite literally dying for treatment.”

“Support, not punish”

Michael has been working tirelessly to reduce the shame and stigma that addicts experience, and to promote harm reduction methods in helping addicts.

When you see people on the streets with addiction problems, you witness how futile the concept of addicts needing to hit rock bottom really is. At this point it is critical that this damaging idea is abandoned and instead a practical approach is adopted that allows a relationship to be developed with the addicts and then a bridge offered, to help them back into health and wellbeing.

In the past, there has been an unnecessary oppositional attitude between the harm minimisation approach and those promoting abstinence. I believe instead that these opportunities exist on a continuum offering different help to people at different stages of their recovery.

I have asked Michael if he would be prepared to be interviewed about the work that he does now and I am pleased to report that he has agreed so more to follow shortly!


Interview with Clare Kennedy, founder of Kennedy St & Co

June 6th, 2017

Robin Lefever’s Interview with Clare Kennedy, founder of Kennedy St & Co


For many of us in recovery, the idea of going out to a bar is a terrifying prospect. Will I be laughed at for ordering an orange juice? Will the shelves stacked with spirit bottles be too tempting to resist?

But Brighton based entrepreneur Clare Kennedy has found a solution in Kennedy St, a meeting point where the message of recovery can be shared over a non-alcoholic drink, as Robin Lefever found out when he visited.


Edited by Laura Cox


ROBIN: Thank you so much for the invitation to your meeting at Kennedy St & Co CiC
Clare. Can you please tell me a bit about how you got it going and what the evenings are like?


CLARE: At Kennedy St we aim to address a variety of needs, whilst also contributing to positively de-stigmatising recovery & impacting our social culture blueprint. We will offer community, healthy lifestyle information, a safe space to be yourself, involvement, retraining, employment, and self-employment opportunities, showing that recovery and wellbeing are fun, real and attainable. After all, not drinking and using doesn’t stop us living, loving and thriving).
We currently have no funding, bid writing is not my area of expertise, but people achieving their very best, is. So we run our drybar party nights 4 times a year and are so very blessed at the moment to have [Brighton restaurant] Skyfall as our sponsors. They allow us to run our drybar party nights without charging us a rental, but of course, there are still costs we have to cover, so we are currently looking for sponsors or partners to work with so we can grow our community ideas. Of which we have many.

The idea of dry bars began in the United States where there is a long tradition of sobriety clubhouses and hangouts, often associated with 12-step programs. People gather to share soft drinks, food, play games and enjoy each other’s company. Dry bars have popped up all over the States, such as The Other Side in Illinois, The Counterfeit Bar in Arizona and The Shine in LA and New York which regularly sells out on alcohol-free events involving live music, meditation and film. Read the rest of this entry »

Sweet Enough Book Review

April 18th, 2017

Lou Lebentz is a well-known addiction and eating disorders psychotherapist who worked for 10 years at the Priory. In this time Lou has developed a programme for people with eating disorders that is practical and simple to follow, but which integrates the best practice from the worlds of nutrition, coaching and psychotherapy.

For the moment Lou is making a book available for free on her website here which acts as a simple guide to her programme.

Lou fills the book with really helpful metaphors, she explains that by using metaphors we are better able to imagine our goals and thereby embed the knowledge most quickly. As a sailor myself I love the sailing analogies that Lou uses throughout the book and she has also peppered it with some really lovely illustrations.

There are 7 main steps to Lou’s programme:

1. Examine our beliefs about food.
2. Understand the effect that food has on us.
3. Visualise a clear goal.
4. Develop new skills.
5. Make the switch from unhealthy to healthy food
6. Take action and put the plan into practice.
7. Keep checking our progress against our goals and keep those goals in mind.

As I mentioned before, the best thing about Lou’s book is the way it draws from the different worlds of nutrition, psychotherapy, coaching and so on, and does so in such an accessible and common-sensical way.

The other great thing about this book is the organisation behind it. On the website,, you will also find recipes, an online show and a blog, all interweaving support.


This is quite a new service from Lou but I really look forward to seeing it develop.

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