Reason or Excuse?

In the Counselling Room I often have people come along who are troubled by an activity they are doing which they feel is counterproductive to their wellbeing. Some examples of this are: getting into bad relationships, abusing alcohol, over spending, using illegal drugs, overeating or getting little or no exercise. Maybe not surprisingly I view these activities as more of a symptom of their issues rather than the root cause. 

Over the past two years we have experienced a threat to our health, unheard of in our lifetime. Lockdown forced us to stay at home, isolate ourselves and abandon social and group activities. For many it felt as if they were prisoners in their own home, with little or no contact with the outside world. To help many of us to get through those unpleasant times, coping mechanisms established themselves and new habits were born. The most obvious of these are comfort eating, sedentary occupations like watching daytime TV and screen time and an increase in alcohol consumption. The result of these excesses has been mirrored by an increase in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and motivation and self esteem concerns.

For many attending counselling sessions there appears to be a trend: A move by clients to feel they have `lost their mojo` in other words their confidence, energy or enthusiasm. This often goes hand in hand with weight gain which just strengthens the unhappy cycle they are locked into. In therapy of course we look at ways to break that cycle because as we know, if we do the same thing every day, then things will always be the same. Albert Einstein said it wonderfully with “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

What readers may find surprising is the severity of the self criticism that some people levy upon themselves over what they have done or what they are doing. One question often asked by therapists is “Would you be as harsh on other people as you are on yourself?” The answer is predominantly “No”.

In CBT, we work with the theory that it’s our belief about something rather than the actual event itself that upsets us. For example, we are late for our doctor’s appointment and so we get put at the back of the queue, which causes us to get angry. It’s possible that we have a belief about the situation that causes the anger i.e. there’s too much bureaucracy and red tape about seeing the doctor rather than the fact we were late and got placed at the end of the doctor’s list.

With this in mind we might look closer at the viewpoint of clients who see their coping mechanisms as personal failures and label the actual events behind them as `excuses` and not `reasons`. Take the person who has suffered bereavement. This person might take solace in eating chocolate regularly but begins to feel bad because they believe that the loss they are suffering is just an excuse to eat the confectionery. I view the bereavement as the `reason` not an excuse.

Reason or excuse – what’s the difference and if there is one, what is it?

According to my source a `reason` is simply an explanation or justification for something.`1  I take this to mean that the reason we might have an apple fall on our head when walking in an orchard is because of gravity. The same source says that an `excuse` is `a reason or explanation, not necessarily true, given in order to make something appear more acceptable or less offensive`. An example of an `excuse` could be someone oversleeping and being late for a meeting at work. To avoid ridicule and derision from colleagues, they might say that there had been an accident which blocked the road for a while. This of course shifts any blame onto others and exonerates them from any responsibility.

So there we are. Reasons are solid and genuine explanations as to why we do something or why something has happened. While `excuses` are wobbly, shaky justifications to help us wiggle off the hook or to save face. It’s clear that `reason` and `excuses` are definitely not the same thing. With this in mind, if we find ourselves self soothing because of some unpleasant event, let’s be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up quite so much. There’s a reason behind the chocolate eating, it’s not an excuse. 

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

©2022 David Trott

Encarta World English Dictionary. 1999. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc London.


Stress at the Top and the Benefits of Employee Assistance Programmes

It’s likely that in this affluent and flourishing country of ours that many of us will know someone who has risen to dizzy heights in the business world or professions, we might even be one of those high achievers our selves. If however we observe this elite world from the outside we may feel it’s straightforward to spot the outward trappings and signs of the archetypical successful person as we view the expensive car, nice house and exotic holidays of that person.

However this is the external view that is presented to the world and can deceive us into believing that this high flying world is one that is without problems and is to be envied or desired. We watch but maybe we don’t really see.

What is the reality of success and what does it bring? Well foremost is the fact that hardly any-one is safe in their job these days. This is in stark contrast to bygone years when one might expect to be settled in a position until the day of the clock presentation and the company pension. In recent times we have witnessed long established and well respected companies and financial institutions crumble and fall, throwing employees on to the unemployment rubble pile.

Although not confined to high achievers, there are many aspects of employment that when added to possible personal issues can bring anxiety and stress to the employee.

These can include:

  • Colleague tensions and uncertainties
  • Communication difficulties
  • Technical frustrations
  • The daily commute and travel
  • Sales target expectations
  • Increased sales areas
  • Restructuring and relocating

To help their employees cope with the worries and concerns that may be impacting on and affecting their ability to do their jobs, organisations are increasingly providing `Employee Assistance Programmes` (EAP) which centres around the employee being provided with personal counselling support.

In the United States, Employee Assistance Programmes have been used for some time where the value of looking after the employee as a whole has been recognized and appreciated in the workplace. Now the concept has crossed the Atlantic and is gaining popularity here in the UK where we see employers offering EAPs in addition to the usual benefits package.

Research has shown that a surprisingly large number of employees in the UK now have support from these schemes and it’s easy to see the benefits of an EAP scheme within a company for employees and employers alike with staff having support from an independent counsellor over issues such as stress, bereavements, relationship upsets and addictions. However, it’s important to keep in mind that EAP counsellors have in effect two clients – the employee themselves and the employer and have an equal duty to both.

In the world of psychotherapy we see some counsellors specialising in this type of work while others integrate it into their practice alongside their general client work. Here at my practice, I have experience of Employee Assistance Programmes and often get approached by companies wishing to acquire support for an employee.

These arrangements run very smoothly with the company stepping back from the proceedings and the client engaging in the process, knowing that the financial side of things is taken care of for them. Of course the resources of any company are not endless and it’s important to liaise regularly to keep the employer informed about the number of sessions that may be required.

Here a delicate balancing act takes place of care for the client and the maintenance of confidentiality while fulfilling one’s obligations to the company.

In conclusion, Employee Assistance Programmes appear to be a positive and helpful tool in company/staff relationships and generally works well for the interests of both. I would encourage any firms that have not yet put in place such a scheme to do so and likewise any employee who is suffering anxiety which impacts on their working life to seek support wherever it is available.


We humans, the games we play:Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is built on the theory that there are three areas or states of the human personality and these are represented in diagrams and text books by three vertical circles. The top circle is the parent, the middle the adult and the bottom one is the child. A Transaction is an exchange between people – a person says or does something and the other person says or does something back. A simple Transaction between adults might be:

First person `Good morning, it’s a lovely day`

Second person` Yes, they say it will be nice all week`.

It is said that all of us are three persons in one. Sometimes we are the child that we once were. Other times the parent with attitudes and influences absorbed from our own parents and then another time we are the adult that navigates their way through this busy and ever changing world.

So far this may sound simple but where it begins to get complicated is when we realise that transactions can come from any one of the three states in ourselves and get a response in another person from any of their three states and vice versa. For example I may make an observation from my Adult state to my neighbour and get a reply from his Child state. This is likely to feel unsatisfactory.

So simply put, Transactional Analysis is the study of people’s interactions together, the states they come from and where they are directed to in the other person.

All of us at one time or another play games with each other, not so much physical games like cricket or football but mind games. An expert in this field was Eric Berne (1910–1970) who wrote `Games People Play – The Psychology of Human Relationships`. In this brilliant book Berne explains Transactional Analysis, the definition of `Games ‘and the `payoff` that always goes with them. Although written for professionals the book took off and became a bestseller. The book clearly presents common examples of the ways in which humans are caught up in the games they play. Berne gave these games superb titles such as `Now I've got you, you son of a bitch` and `Let's you and him fight. `

In my work as a counsellor I have experienced many mind games and relate a generalised version of one of them below. I call it `Look how busy I am`

Therapist. Shall I book you in for next week?

Client. Thursday again?

Therapist. Yes.

Client. Good, I’m glad it’s Thursday again because I’m seeing my Mother on Friday.

Therapist. So Thursday’s ok?

Client. Had you said Wednesday, I would have to have said no because it’s my Yoga class.

Therapist. I’ll put you down for Thursday then?

Client. Tuesday’s no better either because I help in the charity shop and always go shopping afterwards and I can’t change that.

Therapist. So, it’s Thursday then?

Client. I can never do Monday, so don’t ask me, clearing up after the weekend, washing and ironing.

Therapist. I wasn’t going to offer you Monday.

Client. Do you see clients on Saturday?

Therapist. No.

Client. Good, because that’s the weekend and I’m always busy then.

`Look how busy I am` is a game of power which is designed to show how busy the client is. She wants to see the therapist but only on her terms. It assumes the therapist is less busy than her.

The games must include all the activities the client does and all the days she is busy. The game wouldn’t work if she accepted the Thursday appointment straight away, although that is all that is required in an adult to adult exchange.

A useful prop in this game is a diary or a phone with an organiser on it. The process of consulting this is often slow and reinforces how much the client is in demand and how she is squeezing the other person into her busy agenda.

The payoff could be two fold – firstly the client will enjoy displaying her busy life and how much she is in demand. Secondly the payoff could be seeing the therapist squeezed into a tight time slot and unable to move. The game could only be improved if the therapist was unable to do Thursday for some reason, then another game, probably called `The end of the world` or `Disaster` would be played out.

Another popular game `Now I suppose you want some money – the horror of it`.

The subject of our second example of a game has a service done for them, maybe a washing machine repair, car service or a delivery of shopping from the supermarket. Our subject knows very well that this must be paid for, however when the point of payment arrives he makes no attempt to pay. Instead, time wasting delaying tactics are used like idle conversation or questions about further services that may be available. When it’s clear our subject cannot put off paying any longer he will say `Now I suppose you want some money?`

The poor tradesman is forced to agree and show some appreciation for the long awaited money he is owed. A look of horror may appear on our subject’s face at this time, maybe because he believes the honour of serving him should be enough and he is mortified this upstart wants money as well. The next tactic our subject uses is to look for his wallet/purse/cheque book. Much delving and searching eventually produces the necessary and if its cash, long methodical counting follows or if a cheque slow meticulous writing and scrutiny will ensue.

Our subject may pretend to not want to let go of the payment, holding on to it with a tight thumb and finger hold. Doubtless Freud would say that this apparent bit of fun subconsciously is no joke but a real desire to keep it. He believed our subconscious reveals itself in many ways including through our jokes and humour. This teasing may show a need by our subject to make our tradesman almost beg like a dog for a biscuit.

The payoff for this game is partly about control, he who pays the piper calls the tune and in this case our subject holds the purse strings. It’s clear our subject does not want to pay for the service that has been provided but tries to cover this up with the long drawn out conversation, the difficulty in finding his wallet and the attempt at a joke. In here somewhere are status issues also, calling the tune, being in charge, expecting gratitude, the threat of the working classes rising above their station by being paid and the knowledge that the head of our nation does not actually carry money herself.

So in it’s simplest form Transactional Analysis is a study of the interactions between two people. In it’s more complex structure it’s intriguing mind games on a par with world class chess. If you found this piece interesting I would recommend you look at the actual work of Eric Berne, the flavour of which we have briefly touched on here.

© David Trott 2013


Somerset based Integrative Counsellor David Trott MBACP Dip couns on Integrative Counselling

In his most recent Counselling and Psychotherapy blog, Somerset based Integrative Counsellor David Trott MBACP Dip couns, talks about Integrative Counselling, Counselling, and Psychotherapy. David has a specific focus on integrative counselling, integrative counselling and psychotherapy, the integrative counselling model and the integrative counselling approach. Keep up-to-speed with David's integrative counselling and psychotherapy blog that explores integrative counselling case studies, integrative counselling in action, integrative counselling courses, integrative counselling skills in action in pdf and sequentially planned integrative counselling for children.

Find out about in Davids most recent Counselling and Psychotherapy blog where he talks about:

The Advantage of Integrative Counselling

Integrative Counselling Framework

What Is Integrative Counselling?

How an Integrative Approach to Counselling Works

The 7 levels of functioning

What are the Five Relationships?

The advantage of the Integrative Counselling Model is that it draws from all these major orientations and includes them in a counselling method which treats the person as a whole. This wider view is in contrast to some Psychodynamic purists who will generally look towards the client’s younger years and symbolism like dreams and Freudian slips to attempt to unravel the person’s unconscious.

To read the complete article, Somerset Counselling: What is Integrative Counsellingclick here.

What To do Next

If you feel counselling is maybe what you are looking for, or if you require further information the next step is very simple. Visit the Contact page and drop David a message via email, or call. 

To book a counselling session with David, or to request further information, please call in confidence 01823 443022.

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