Drawing of group therapy. I'm holding my head in my hands

That’s me, on the right

My story

I drew this immediately after my first group therapy session, having been admitted to psychiatric hospital.

I talked for a while, then burst into tears and kept crying for several minutes.

The people on either side of me put a hand on me.

I particularly remember that.

It felt good.

But I couldn’t stop crying for a while.

Afterwards, I was exhausted. But relieved too.

Mental, physical… you can’t keep them apart

About therapy

Years ago, when I was training as an executive coach (did I mention that before?) I was also training in theatrical impro.

Naturally, I was very excited to learn about the work of Fritz Perls, the therapist who used theatrical techniques he had learned as a young man.

In Gestalt sessions, Perls would not look into patients’ past or future but encouraged them to be entirely present, so that they might notice what he called the “civil war of inner conflicts”.

Rather wonderfully, you can watch Perls at work on YouTube.

“I disregard most of the content of what the patient says,” he explains in this video (below), “and concentrate most on the non-verbal level.”

I recommend that you watch all the way through, because his introductory remarks are helpful.

When you get to 4mins 20sec, you’ll see the first moment where he draws attention to a seeming conflict between 1) what a patient says and 2) what she does:

Do you ever do what Gloria did? I certainly do.

In my next post, I’ll share another thing Perls did which I subsequently used, often to tremendous laughter, in corporate workshops that were not “therapy” but straightforward impro.

It turned out to be incredibly valuable to me in psychiatric hospital. But that’s another story!

To be sure you don’t miss it, please sign up to my email list, here:

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Mental Health in Law Firms

Corporate, My story

If you run a law firm, or run the HR team, you might find it helpful to hear about what seems to have gone down well at Slaughter and May, Linklaters, Freshfields and many other firms in the City and outside London.

My next talk is at another Magic Circle firm. I thought it might help drum up attendance if I recorded a 1m video for the people there. If you’d like me to talk at your firm, I’m sure I could do something similar.

For a bit more detail, try this video:

Thank you for watching.

JP

International Men’s Day: Join Me

Events, My story
Highly professional video by JP Flintoff

Tuesday 19 November is International Men’s Day.

When I first started thinking what to do with my own experience of breakdown and recovery, I thought about publishing my drawings as a book, with the title:

How To Stop Your Man Falling Apart (and what to do if it’s happened already)

I haven’t published the pictures yet, under that title or any other. But I’ve shown them to hundreds of people, who seemed to find them interesting and helpful.

I am going to talk about my experience online on Tuesday. If you’d like to join me, you’d be very welcome.

Load More

What more can companies do?

Corporate

Every company says it cares about employee well-being. But if nobody would say the opposite, the statement is hollow.

So the real test is not what they say but what they do.

Too often, internal talks and training about well-being attract the same people again and again. Others, who perhaps need this most, stay away. I’ve lost count of the number of HR people who’ve told me this, and fret about how to attract a wider audience.

Well, if the people in charge don’t show up that sends a pretty clear message: it’s not important.

It says: we don’t want to hear about that stuff.

Which in turn becomes a major block for staff experiencing difficulty. Naturally enough, they assume that nobody wants to know.

Obviously, we’re all busy. The entire management team can’t come along to everything. But it makes a difference if somebody senior attends.

Yesterday, for the first time outside London, I gave a talk about my breakdown. The audience comprised several dozen lawyers at the large East Anglian firm Birketts – plus the firm’s two most senior partners.

At the end, one of those two asked me what else they could do to help normalise conversations about mental health.

I thought about it for a moment, then made a suggestion which elicited lively debate from people around the room. But my suggestion, and the lively debate, aren’t what inspired this post.

What really matters is that the man in charge came along to listen and, in front of all those employees, he asked that question.

How to describe yourself after breakdown?

My story

One reason (of thousands) why people may not want to go into mental hospital is because we worry about how we might be described, both then and afterwards.

“Nutcase,” for instance.

Of course, few people are as heartless as to say that. But still, we wonder how to describe the person we have become.

I did, anyway.

I was recently asked to describe myself so that a friend could introduce me to some influential people who might help me spread the word. I didn’t know what I could say, so I asked a handful of friends.

Here’s one of the replies, edited to protect other peoples’ identities:

It is helpful.

I have had mental health problems, but I was previously, and often still am, together and positive.

Taking my drawings on tour

Exhibition

I visited a major law firm in the City of London last week, to talk about doing an event with them – a talk, with my drawings on a slide show, like the events I’ve done elsewhere.

I realised that, like many other organisations, this firm is looking to do something to coincide with big national Mental Health Awareness campaigns. 

Which is wonderful, but I’m quite booked up in October. And I could do with spreading out my work relating to mental health. It’s quite exhausting!

So I’ve been wondering about creating a mini exhibition of (some of) the drawings I made, and writing captions to go with them, to take from one firm to the next for a week / fortnight / month at a time.

(Yes, I know lawyers aren’t all white men in pinstriped suits. But I’d like this work to reach men as well as the many women who are already, bless them, open to this kind of thing)

I could also take it to churches or other community groups.

As usual, I find the idea of starting something like this rather overwhelming, and wanted to put the idea out there to see what people suggest.

Do you think that’s something firms / churches / others could be interested in? (If so, what kind of ‘others’?)

Your suggestions gratefully received.

But I’ve closed comments, because I’m getting a lot of spam, and it’s stressing me out! My contact details are at the bottom of the Talks and Workshops page.

Mental Health Awareness Week

My story

Had a bit of a shock just now, but it’s sinking in, and I know I’ll be alright.

Got notified that I’m mentioned by name in The Bookseller online, as part of an event at HarperCollins (the publishing company).

It reads:

Over at HarperCollins, on 14th May author and journalist John-Paul Flintoff will talk at The News Building about how he went from being on top to having a breakdown and spending eight weeks in psychiatric hospital. 

Nothing wrong with that. So far as it goes, it’s correct. But I felt a bit exposed.

Not half as exposed, mind you, as I expect to feel when I go to do the talk, and share the pictures I drew – in hospital and afterwards – potentially with people I have worked with (at The Times and The Sunday Times, because they have been invited too).

Keep reminding myself: it’s not about me.

I’m doing the talk for people who may be feeling some of the distress I was feeling, to give them a chance to avoid the worst – and for others whose relatives may be going through something similar.

My story
While I was still in psychiatric hospital (but going home at night), I went to a reception at 10 Downing Street. It felt like another planet. Happily, a great friend recognised me…
…and we took a selfie at the front door, on the way out.

I’m posting these pictures because I’ve been in touch with my friend again today. I remember how wonderfully she responded to me telling her I had come straight from mental hospital.

She laughed, and shared a few things about her own various struggles, over the years.

I felt hugely grateful to be able to laugh.

And for her bravery in sharing her own stories.

The following day I was back in hospital again.

Next time I attend a glitzy reception (if anybody should invite me to one) I will try to remember that the people around me might include psychiatric patients on day release…

Postscript. Farah Tazeen Ahmad died on 6 November 2019. The world lost an award-winning broadcaster, her sons lost their mother, and I lost a dear friend.