Category Archives: Psychotherapy

Creative Self-Therapy: How to get ready for the next chapter

By Lara Just, September 2020…

In the previous blog I shared my experience with the dead branch falling off a huge ancient oak tree right before my eyes while I entered the field with my dog on a walk. The symbolism of letting go or shedding something old is important in renewal and change work and very much linked to the process of self-care and therapy. We will explore the concept of ‘Self-Therapy’ more in this article.

Sometimes we do need to let go of the things that no longer serve us. These may be old or unhelpful habits, being stuck in familiar patterns that have the same obsessive thoughts and feelings come up over and over again. This could be patterns or issues in relationships also. Or perhaps we have set some plans that we want to achieve and somehow just never get around to it.

This could be anything from learning to play the piano, sign up to a course, learn a new hobby, or something bigger – change careers, industry, way of lifestyle, relationships etc.

What holds us back is often not the whole of us. There are often driven by conscious or unconscious fears that belong to ‘parts’ of us. These internal ‘parts’, that tend to originate from different ages, will be useful to work with. I will explain more about parts work in another blog. It is part of the ‘self-therapy’ concept as well as our ability to maintain ‘self-care’ for ourselves.

It is good to have a professional helping at times. They can guide us and are unbiased, explore different issues with us so we can find our own answers.  (So different to friends and family members, therapists don’t try to tell you what to do or give advice about what you ‘should’ do. That would defeat the object of you finding your own answers that are right for you.)

It is also important to learn some tools so that you can continue with the work, to maintain what you have learnt and to continue to thrive and follow your ‘path’.

‘Self-Therapy’ as a concept isn’t much different to ‘self-care’. Self-therapy sounds perhaps more ‘self-reliant’ in its connotations, in a way that we could do away with any help or support of others, which is actually not quite what it means. Asking for help when we need it is in fact part of self-care.

Learning about different concepts can be helpful, but in a way we need to try to keep an open mind. See what fits and what doesn’t. Then adjust it to what works for you. It is a process of travelling along a self-discovery path, a journey that can brings more self-knowledge, acceptance, healing and change.

Increasing Resilience

Creating increased resilience is part of self-therapy programme. Most of the time, we start by getting back to basics. Part of resilience in its simplest building block is learning breathe properly again through a variety of breathing exercises.

HeartMath® Institute has done many decades of research on the effects of breathing on our levels of resilience, stress hormones and our immune system. They have developed a useful app for your iPhone or iPad (“InnerBalance”, requires an external sensor – please get in touch with me for a discount!). This is a breathing-based training programme with direct biofeedback to help build resilience via changing your heart rate variability. (Read more on HeartMath® on my website here.) This can then be enhanced by using visualisation exercises. It is recommended to practice just once a day for 7 minutes.

Increasing Balance

Other breathing-based exercises like yoga, or swimming, or walking, singing are all good practices that could be alternatives.

Mindfulness-based exercises, like walking slowly in nature, taking everything in through our five senses, noticing, breathing, can be equally effective. But our mind wanders. So perhaps if we put a 10 minute timer on – see if you can focus just on your senses.

Enhancing Self-Expression

Any creative practice can be part of this programme, depending on your skills, talents, desires or dreams. Gardening, wood-work, leather-work, music, writing, drawing/sketching, painting, reading, listening to audio books or music, playing sports or team sports, outdoor hiking, or other exercise – can all create room for more space of mind. As can taking a bath and nourishing yourself with your favourite smell of essential oils.

Creative and Therapeutic Writing: This can be a more targeted, mindful and timed exercise practice. Keeping it up even just for 10 minutes per day in the morning, will soon create different thoughts and noticeable shifts. It can also help us to slow right down, when we hand write, something we don’t often do any more. Most people can touch-type as fast as their thoughts! If you want to learn a little more about this and why writing or journaling could be helpful to unclutter the mind, stabilise our emotions and even take action to follow our dreams, have a look at some of the books mentioned in the latest eNews here (e.g. “The True Secret of Writing” by Natalie Goldberg and “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron). The upcoming weekend workshop retreat is inspired and adapted from these books have a look here in case you might like to come along!

This will affect a range of things including communication skills, relationship skill, confidence and self-esteem. It is about creating a regular practice. And to also follow a bit of a structured process with support.

The self-therapy programme will bring in ‘prompts’ that can help us write to go a little deeper on working with our ‘parts’ (see the next upcoming blog). If you like to read up more about it, have a look at “Self-Therapy” and “internal family systems” by Jay Early). For example, we may explore some of our ‘inner child’, younger parts, conflicted parts, or think back to both positive or difficult memories, or call up dreams from the past and the future.

Hitting the Wall

The next step is usually that we will hit resistance.

We will never feel we have enough time. It may seem too much to set our alarm in the morning a little earlier. Then do some yoga, or read, or write, or sit or do any of the above mentioned exercises. These are ‘parts’ piping up that resist for various reasons. It is helpful to then explore these to help us through this impasse.

We can choose to take some time out, even just a short time. This can just be 10 minutes to start with in the morning.

That’s all.

It will come naturally later, once we start sticking to it that it may feel important and pleasurable to extend this time a little more. Little steps at a time.

The Challenge

For now, the only challenge I like to leave you with for this week, is:

Find ONE single realistic exercise from this list (something that you ‘love’ – or add another!). Something you could practice once a day for the next week – for just 10 Minutes:

  • Breathing or Sitting Meditation
  • Guided Visualisations (many are free available, e.g. sound cloud)
  • Writing / Journaling (free-flow)
  • Yoga, Walking, Running, Stretching – being outside for this
  • Standing still, observing the colours, breathing, smelling, being
  • Listening to a special piece of music
  • Choosing to read in a book of your choice
  • Paint or draw, sketch or make something
  • Gardening, making something, collecting something from the woods
  • Cooking something different for fun and pleasure and colour, not for need or must
  • Taking yourself on a date – go somewhere different or nice, even if it’s still only 10 mins (or more if you choose)
  • Take a bath, light candles, go for a swim

Choose one from this list for each day of the week.

Start with only 10 minutes of that exercise. It really doesn’t have to be more.

Then write down in a journal what you noticed during that, 5 minutes is enough. Just write about your experience (was it easy, hard, what came up…).

Chose a little paper journal, even just one of those cheap ones, just to keep the notes together to view easily. It is important to use your physical body – writing with a pen and hand – rather than digital notes in your phone. The days you miss, still record that day in your journal by marking it with ‘skipped’ or similar.

Review after a week. What did you notice in your writing? What did it feel like to give yourself some time for a practice that you enjoy? The following week try again. Keep the same timing. If you are starting to enjoy it or it went really well, you can extend it to 10 mins more. Try to stick though to short chunks and not prolong it yet.

See you how it goes. Do feel free to write to me with any comments.

As mentioned above, part of this will be included in the upcoming “Creative Writing and Self-Therapy” weekend retreat on the 2nd – 4th October. Do check it out on my events page or find the PDF flyer here.

If you like to come along to get a more intensive and deeper experience of what I have talked about here, do get in touch!

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Letting Go of ‘Control’ – or a Dead Branch

By Lara Just, August 2020

The events over the past six months across the world left many of us wondering how we can go on from here. What will happen next? What work will I do? Where will I get my clients from? How can I afford my life? Do I want to keep living (working, being in relation with xyz…etc) as before? Do I still want to be in a city? Do I want a different work-life-balance? Do I finally want to get a dog/cat, live in more natural surroundings?

So many questions. All are real questions that I have heard from clients during sessions, friends, colleagues, including myself particularly during and after the COVID-19 lockdown experience. So much uncertainty. So much out of control feelings that we desperately aim to control. Some of us still do this by means of working many hours, draft many plans on crumpled lists and post-it notes, or by binge-watch Netflix and excessive worry. And yet we still don’t know what will happen next. How do we cope?

Being really in touch with our fears of this uncertainty can be really difficult. The depths of it can make us feel exposed, raw even, and this vulnerability does not feel safe to most of us. Particularly in our western culture, we brush it off, laugh it off, make surface jokes, we divert, distract or talk about other less-charged material. Coming to terms with our own vulnerability and accepting our ‘powerlessness’ over uncertainty is one the most challenging aspects of being human, while living on this planet.

There comes a point when we realise that we are just not in control, even if we thought we were. And the truth is that we don’t actually have control over many things in our external worlds. For example, we cannot control the weather. You know that feeling? When it looked like sunshine earlier and then it rains on our walk and we wish we would have taken an umbrella. Oh, there are many “apps” for that now – true! But they appear to give us that pre-sight knowledge, and only give us the illusion of control. And did you notice? They don’t always work!

Or what about our neighbour next door, drilling and sawing relentlessly at random times, that could make our head pound in rhythm… Someone emailing or calling, interrupting us in mid-flow. A toothache. The postman delivering a letter we’d rather not receive that requires a response. Building works starting next door… Your big client choses to cancel your contract. Your mortgage falls through as your credit rating is no longer sufficient due to an error of an outstanding mobile phone invoice that should have been refunded. A family member calling you with another drama that you either pretend to listen to patiently or avoid by ignoring it in the first place – for as long as possible, in the hope it goes away. So many things – all out of our control.

We ingeniously create illusions to be in control though. Like the act of making lists, planning, risk management, spreadsheets, budgeting, insurance policies – now there are policies that cover nearly anything under the sun! With a fee attached. But the fact is – we are not in control. The weather can unpredictable, so can the world be – look at what happened this year with COVID-19 and the aftermath of it.

We cannot make anyone do anything, though we may try.

If we can make someone else try to do something different or be different, it absolves us from having to change something. Why? Because it is much more painful to acknowledge our part in it or that we may be wrong. We would risk our fantasy of control and safety.

As an example, if on the other hand we considered speaking out and saying “No” to someone’s wishes (“boundaries”), issue may rise up for us. We might deep down worry about hurting that person or we may be afraid that they think of us badly or get angry, in our busy minds leading only to unresolvable conflict. Therefore, we may chose not to say anything. This way, we can get into an old pattern and spiral into feeling bad, guilty, and ashamed even before we have actually expressed this. This leaves us feeling out of control and at the mercy of external circumstances. So we try and get control back again through other behaviours like brushing it off etc., and the cycle start again.

But guess what, we actually are in control of one thing – or person – ourselves.

How we react to the external world, is part of our decision making process, even if some of it is at times unconscious. We may not always feel that we are able to ‘control’ of our feelings or triggers. But we can take responsibility for our feelings. And the resulting reactions and actions that follow.

The hardest part for many of us is probably to acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions as valid. Learn to understand them and find compassion for them. When we work with that we have a better chance of reacting in a way that is truly authentic for us, and is congruent. This means that we are allowed to express anger, dissatisfaction, sadness or any other emotion, as long as it comes from a deeper true place, rather than from a place of fear.

Sometimes this requires a bit of help and exploration to get the hang of it (see more in my upcoming blog article on ‘Creative Self-Therapy’).

Many of us don’t even know what it would feel like when we are OK, happy and at peace (to ‘deserve’ and feeding into our self-worth). Notice how guilt could sweep in easily through the small unseen gaps and raises questions like ‘is it selfish?’ ‘would this affect someone else negatively?’ ‘how will they think of me?’, ‘who am I to … xyz?’ and so on.)

In the end, we can continue to do what others expect of us or we can start choosing to do what makes us happier, healthier, better, maybe even more refreshed and invigorated.

What has all of this to do with a ‘dead’ branch??

Last week something coincidental happened that made me reflect on ‘letting go’ and the painful process it can be, which was part of the reason for writing this article.

I was walking my dog that lunchtime between client sessions. On my way back, I entered one of the big fields with a large ancient oak tree in the centre. It has this beautiful natural wooden bench at its feet and I call it the ‘writing tree’ as I have spent many sessions writing there. Right in that moment of me entering the field, I heard a huge rustling noise which seemed surreal in that moment and what felt like a long time. One of the top branches fell off right before my eyes taking another branch down on the way. Everything was like slow-motion, and both my dog and I stood rooted to the spot while watching this. A huge branch hit the floor. For some reason, I felt I had to blink to see if I could trust my eyes. But right before my eyes, there now was a big hole left in the canopy (see the picture in this blog)! However, upon closer inspection, the branch was actually very porous inside – it was old, no longer healthy. It had to come off at some point. The tree ‘let it go’.

A little embarrassed to admit, I googled the various symbolic meanings of witnessing an oak branch falling, I guess I have just never seen a huge single Oak tree in the middle of a field shed a branch! Various esoteric meanings pointed to ‘death’ of a relationship or family member a quick search confirmed. Well, I wasn’t sure that I could confirm this, however, I was clearly curious enough to even google it. But the main point for me was the process of ‘letting go’ of something that is no longer useful. There may be a wound left even in that process. But the branch itself was no longer good to keep hold off, and now the leaves of the other healthier branches can grow and expand to fill the canopy again…

‘Letting go’ of something that no longer serves us sounds simple. It can be. But only if we have recognised the branch (part or parts) as trouble or no longer helpful.

If you like to know more, have any comments or would like some help, please get in touch!

Grief Work: New Things Can Grow out of Our ‘Compost’

Written by Lara Just – May 2020…

CHANGE has clearly been a theme this year so far. In and outside of sessions various losses and grief – and ‘stuff’ (old and new) has been coming up for many of us, particularly in these current strange lockdown times. Perhaps we have been more available for these to come up now. In all their different forms so that they can be transformed into the rich ‘compost‘ it is meant to become: to allow new things to form and grow from it. Compost needs to be digested properly, slowly broken down, over time – so it can become a rich base for new life to appear and new growth to occur. New things which we cannot yet see…

It is only after experiencing loss that we are challenged to live life. But that challenge is often covered up, hidden, gnawing away on our inner parts. To experience loss is a process that often cannot fully be metabolised without appropriate processing or ‘grieving’. Loss or losing some-thing (not just some-one), can also mean a loss of the ‘old ways’ or change in general, as a loss of something old when something new is put in its place. This may either be chosen or forced upon us. In our culture we are often told to buckle up, pull up our socks and get on and over with it.

Yet the grief process – or change process – is a process. That means it takes time and space (metaphorically and physically). There may not be a pre-specified limit on it. It is unique. And it will be different for each and everyone of us.

Isn’t it strange, that we find this so hard to accept? That it requires time but it is uncertain how long it will really take?

Many of us believe that at some point, even hope, we are truly ‘over it’, done with it, are ‘fine’ with it, moving forward, all is good. Tick. In a box.

Yet, every time again we may get surprised. Unexpectedly something comes up, that hasn’t been digested yet.

We have such fear of moving backward, or ‘downward’ into our grief. Frightened to be captured there forever. The previously impervious facade of “I’m FINE” can only held up for so long. At other times we only become aware of it, after we have pulled ourselves out of these depths literally by our own boot straps. To keep walking. Feeling movement.

It is important to understand that even the word ‘grief’, ‘loss’, or ‘bereavement’ have somewhat negative connotations in our society. It sounds ‘dark’. Like something that should be shunned into a small untidy box. Into that one room of our house where we store all that ‘stuff’ which we never really intend on tidying up. We could also just never open that door.

But a lot of our experiencing while living or being alive – the emotional ups and downs, or these niggling feelings under the surface of unsettledness, dissatisfaction, unease – could be well linked to underlying ‘grieving’ and ‘change’ processes yearning to happen. 

“Sometimes it’s OK if the only thing you did today was breathe.”

Yumi Sakugawa

I often use the metaphor of the sea with the waves washing, sometimes crashing, in to shore. Our grief can feel like that at times. At the point of extreme loss or trauma, like the loss of a loved one or pet, a sudden  relationship loss or divorce, loss of a friendship, a home, country, any of these and others can feel intense. The waves of emotions are literally crashing over us. One after another, after another, continuously. Keeping emotions at bay seems impossible at times. Or the opposite happens where we go numb, dissociate. Then only over time can we notice that the spaces between these waves become longer, more spaced out. Things are OK – just about. At times. Then they are not. We are surprised. Thought we had dealt with it. We may shun it, feel rage or anger with it, judge it. And yet all we can do is ride it out, let it move through us, watch it and observe, and stay safe and kind. Let them wash over us, through us, with us. We know now that there will be calm again. In-Between.

And the point isn’t to only get to the calm places in between the waves. Find numerous and new inventive ways to ‘get through it’ – over to the other side. To just ‘get on’ with our lives. It really does need its own time (and space). It is not just about waiting it out – for the waves to subside or the weather to change. But in time we can reach a place where our relationship to those waves (and the weather) is changed.

The loss(es) will never be erased from our storyline or history. They will always be there. These deep dark holes may never feel completely filled again. Random things can still trigger painful reminders. The aching in our heart and our core. It can hit us out of the blue. Yet, it is our relationship to them that will change. Painfully slowly. Over time and with time. 

In our time poor society this can feel really frustrating. 

And sometimes we all need to have a little help with that.

As a therapist I too have my own therapeutic support system in place. A valued therapist, supervisor, peer supervision group, some few close friends, an understanding and patient partner, a dog, animals, nature … etc whatever it is that could help. Even if it is complete solitude and alone-time at others.

A few years ago I went through some incredibly painful losses. All of them at once they seemed to come. And on top of it they activated old losses that hadn’t yet been dealt with. I don’t think I will ever be completely ‘over’ them. They still hurt at times – a lot. However, I now appreciate being aware of this pain more, my relationship to it has somewhat changed. Like a friend that has to be welcomed, and time taken to sit down with a cup of tea – and to be with. My trust has changed, that it will be ok again. In-between the waves.

The hardest part may be to meet ourselves, and these hurt parts, with patience and acceptance and compassion – for their needs. To hold our pains and emotions more gently, soothingly, and just go with it when the waves come. 

Then know that there will be the calm again to enjoy the floating and the sunshine in between the waves. 

I want to share with you a poem by Francis Weller that I found in his book “The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief” (here is the kindle or audible version). It may resonate with some, who feel something inside of them that wishes to break free, that wishes to be born or spring out to life anew. At a time when we have had to come to a pause and have been given space to reevaluate – in these lockdown months.

Poem by Francis Weller*

A Dream of Burning 

To lift this wanting up out of dead wood.
Something, someone reaches up to stop this rising
as though the movement up is treasonous.

This wanting has been frozen, caught in the grain
of the fallen log for ten thousand years: Memories
of ice ages and mastodons.

But in the wood is the dream of burning—of flames,
heat and tongues of orange/red—leaping up into
the night, warming those who come close by.

This wanting breaks open the wood. The sow bugs,
spiders, beetles and the invisible captains of decay
are relieved of duty.

This wood is for fire and it is time to burn.

*Out of his book: “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” (pp. 125-126). 

Have a beautiful May and start to Spring. ‘May’ beautiful things grow forth.

Warm wishes,

Boundaries and Trust

Written by Lara Just – January 2019…

Moving on from last year’s and our theme of “letting go” to be able to renew and “letting in” again, these workshops may be right for you!

If you happen to be near Cape Town in South Africa this March, and would like to visit the beautiful wine country of Stellenbosch, come and join us.

Letting go was covered a little in the last newsletter. We also need to let go of old beliefs, no longer useful thoughts that we hang on to, to make room for the new and ‘letting in’ again. This requires trust. To trust ourselves and others, we must also trust our own boundaries when others might challenge or invade them. Our boundaries can be transgressed on many different levels: physical, emotional, mental/intellectual, and spiritual, and this can be understood in different ways. Understanding them on the most basic physical level with the horses can be a helpful metaphor to understand what it means to have boundaries on the other levels. Horses often like to challenge our boundaries, especially if they sense that they are not strong enough in a person.

“People learn how to treat you based on what you accept from them.”

This time, in South Africa, we have designed the workshops around these themes, ready for the New Year and the new goals and challenges you may have that lie ahead in 2019. If you have any questions please do let us know (see below).

With this in mind, ask yourself the following questions in preparation:

  • What might be important for me to still ‘let go’ of this year? 
  • What would I like to ‘let in’ this year? 
  • What boundaries might I need to put into place or loosen instead and why (what are my fears)? 
  • Do I trust myself with my own boundaries and can I therefore trust others?

When someone disrespects you, beware the impulse to win their respect. For disrespect is not a valuation of your worth but a signal of their character.” Brendon Buchard

Self Love…

…and Sauerkraut. This is the motto of one of the hoodies that I borrowed from one of my colleagues and dear friends, that I can’t seem to let go of. I love that hoody. This picture was taken at a recent workshop with colleagues. The motto resonates with our theme, since if we do not start with accepting and loving ourselves, it will be hard to set adequate boundaries.


Having healthy boundaries is also difficult when we don’t know what we want (or don’t want). Trying things out for size can be useful, however, we need to know our own personal core values, our ‘negotiables’ and ‘non-negotiables’, to understand if saying ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to something is aligned with them. If we give space to something that isn’t, it will eventually feel like a boundary transgression.



For healthy boundaries we must also develop trust. In relationships, for example, not just trusting that the person opposite us means us well (as opposed to mistrusting). It is also trusting that no matter what the other’s intentions, known or not known to us, that we have the power and choice to fasten or loosen our boundaries as appropriate. That we can be intimate and boundaried – both at the same time.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.

Brene Brown


Getting to ‘know ourselves’ (personal and core values) and learning to love and accept ourselves are understandably important aspects around this work on boundaries and trust. Boundaries should not be as loose as sieves and they don’t have to be protective barriers of three miles of unbreakable walls. Understanding what boundaries even mean is a first step. Learning about our core values, having the ability to listen to our intuition and gut reactions will inform us. We can then make decisions to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and ‘let go of’ certain things that no longer serve us, or to ‘let in’ those new things that will be good for our soul.

Which boundaries would you like to make healthier?


Workshop Flyer

For more information on the workshops coming up at the beginning of March this year, please click here.

The first two workshops on the 1st and 2nd of March are about Boundaries & Trust.

The third workshop, preliminary planned for the 8th March will be on the theme of Dreams and our Connection to Nature – STAY TUNED!