Tag Archives: Relationships


Photograph by Angela Barnes

I see you

I see your skills

Your skills are our skills

My skills are our skills

When we play together

When we play in tune

There is nothing we can’t achieve

Our power is to do

Our power is to be

In a team

Our strength is to do

Our strength is to be

In a team

Two bodies live here

Two hearts live here

Two minds live here

Two souls live here

Creativity lives here

Love and laughter lives here

This is a good place to live.



This is for: couples, families, neighbourhoods, workplaces, towns, countries –  all of us really.


In 1977, I began my counselling training with the, then Marriage Guidance Council, now Relate.  It was a very thorough training, but there was one section I thought I had failed.  It was a session, entitled, ‘Sexually Speaking’.  Our group sat in a silent circle with no idea what to expect.  The tutor sat down, introduced herself to us and asked me to begin by talking for 5 minutes on Male Arousal.  My mind went instantly blank. My dry mouth attempted to mutter a few inane comments about things that might achieve an erection for a man. Then, I froze into four and a half minutes of silence.  As we went around the circle, most people seemed to manage to find something to say about different sexual topics, men being asked about what happens for women and women being asked about what happens for men. I was convinced I would be failed on this section of the course.  Near the end, someone was asked to speak about Impotence. After their allotted 5 minutes, I found my voice, saying, “I know exactly how that feels, because my fear of performance at the start, rendered me totally impotent”.  This seemed to be enough to redeem my poor efforts earlier and I came to appreciate these sessions enormously throughout the three years of my training.


I believe it was important for us as counsellors to get used to hearing ourselves and others speak about all aspects of sex in a mixed group. We learnt a lot. I decided to create something similar, specifically for clients who acknowledged that they had never felt particularly comfortable about their sexuality and sexual relationships. It was such a valuable tool, especially for younger clients but many of us can feel inhibited about this, at any age!

This was not something I would do early on in the counselling until I assessed that it would be useful and that there was a high degree of trust in the client counsellor relationship.  I would explain what would be involved and if the client wanted to go ahead, we would put aside a whole session to focus on sexuality.  I don’t think there was anyone who approached it without some anxiety but rarely did anyone drop out.

I would begin by asking the client to tell me about how they learnt about sex, who from and what they had understood and felt about it.  I checked out if there were any questions they still wanted to ask, anything they felt unsure about or wanted to discuss. We would move on to how they had felt about the relationships between their parents, other family members, what information and messages they had taken on board about sex, love, relationships, marriage, separation and divorce.  The discussion would then focus on their own developing history, sexually, physically and emotionally, including their values. This would lead into what they wanted out of a relationship in the present; what might be holding them back; what their anxieties might be and most important of all what their strengths were.

I would never know how the session would develop and this would be led by what the client disclosed and discussed.  There were some times we would get into a discussion of flirting,  leading to a homework of watching how other people do it, for clients who were afraid to even look at people they were attracted to; other times it led to clients going shopping for clothes that felt more ‘sexy’ – one moving occasion was when an older client decided to buy some sexy underwear to express their sexuality to themselves, albeit that they had chosen a way of life that included celibacy; one young man asked what was meant by ‘the Change’, he’d heard his mother talk about it but hadn’t felt able to ask what it meant; another session resulted in a female client disclosing and accepting their erotic fantasies, about which they had been carrying an enormous amount of guilt –  they ended up buying and enjoying Nancy Friday’s book, ‘My Secret Garden’, a book reissued several times since then. There were other sessions when clients talked about sexual abuse or even a sexual attack that they had never previously spoken about to anyone.

What felt important about these sessions were two things.  The first was that this provided a space and permission to speak about an area about which some people feel inhibited. The second thing was that I noticed how clients became more confident and more comfortable from just using words about their sexuality, about every aspect of their body and about sex generally. I noticed how both their own use of sexual words and hearing me use the same language back to them gave permission and built an increased acceptance of sex as a natural part of life. I worked with clients from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds and for some of these clients, such sessions gave them an opportunity to talk about how they were affected by differences in sexual behaviour and sexual values living here in the UK.

Even in 2014, sex can be a daunting subject to talk about and I found these sessions helpful in my own training and most especially in my counselling. It was particularly helpful working with a young client group of university students who are not always as confident or informed sexually as we might assume.





Available now from www.karnacbooks.com, postage free worldwide

 ‘This rich, practical, and potentially transforming book provides the lay reader, as well as the counsellor, psychotherapist, and student of counselling, with a clear, practical guide to insightful dialogue, and the effective use of innovative techniques in counselling. Devising relevant case stories from her extensive experience in this field, Maggie Yaxley Smith offers us a fluent, personable, and compassionate approach to the struggles, vulnerabilities and previously undiscovered potential and strength of human nature.  This creative, illuminating, intimate, and authentic account makes an immensely significant contribution to personal growth, helping us to break from old patterns that limit us and allowing us to realise our potential and live life more fully.’           Brian Graham, clinical supervisor, counsellor, therapist and international educator.

‘This is a beautifully written and multi-layered insight into the counsellor/client relationship. With each in-depth case study, the author reflects on the emotional and psychological subtleties and complexities that clients bring into the counselling room. Her honesty, warmth, sensitivity, and skill with each client shines through on every page as she invites you to share in each person’s internal struggles, breakthroughs, and ‘a-ha’ moments as they journey from past hurts to self discovery.  This is an engaging and positive book.  Whether you are a seasoned therapist, someone thinking about having counselling, or simply curious about what the counselling experience is like, then this book is for you.’        Anjula Mutanda, relationship psychologist, presenter and author.

Lan-li returns to the painfully self-destructive behaviour of Anorexia that nearly killed her at 15. In order to survive in her world, she is allowing herself to be dominated by what she believes others want from her.

Shirley and David’s body language in the waiting room shows a marriage destined to become ink on a divorce petition. They have stopped listening to each other and are filled with a bitterness and frustration ‘iced’ with a veneer of being ‘right’.

Michael is 25 and is burying himself in a career as a lawyer, resigned to becoming his father.  He has nightmares of being buried alive and has dark thoughts of killing himself when driving on motorways.

Karen, a successful investment banker, is living in a crazy world of cocaine addiction which mirrors the craziness within the abusive family that she grew up in.

These characters are entirely fictitious characters but as their counselling unfolds, they grow into themselves in a very real way.  There is something of all of us in these clients who, once they find the ability to see their own strengths can create a more positive way forward in their lives.  I’ve worked with many clients, over 35 years, who’ve said, ‘I wish I’d come for counselling sooner.’ It is hoped that this book may encourage people who would benefit from some counselling to do just that.

Finding Love in the Looking Glass: A Book of Counselling Case Stories,

ISBN: 978-1-7822012-4-3

by Maggie Yaxley Smith MA MBACP (Accred.) Senior Practitioner. BACP reg.



Anjula Mutanda, (2013).  How to do Relationships: A step-by-step guide to nurturing your relationship and making love last, Vermilion, London.

 ‘When relationships are going well we feel good about ourselves, connected and supported, but when things are going badly we can feel dissatisfied, anxious and sometimes very lonely.  Clearly, feeling loved is very important to us.(page 1).

This book is full of valuable information and tips about relationships; it is clearly written and easy to understand; it is a book that I wanted to read from cover to cover but it is also something I could imagine keeping and dipping into at specific times when it would prove helpful again and again. It is refreshingly full of common sense and wisdom AND it is the accumulation of many years of study, experience, insights and intuition from a very experienced therapist with a deep level of sensitivity, compassion and understanding about human nature and how relationships work.  This book is an invaluable resource for all ages and every type of relationship.

Anjula begins by assisting us to develop an awareness of who we are before considering what kind of relationship we want. There are many questions, exercises and thought provoking case studies that enable us to discover more about ourselves and our partners. This is a book that shows rather than tells us how relationships can be improved, enlivened and enjoyed but it does it by giving us the power to do it for ourselves with the use of tips, questions and authentic and relevant case studies.

 ‘Getting to know yourself better is the cornerstone of a happy and positive relationship with another person, and that means having a healthy level of self-awareness.’ (page 11).

It is important that this book normalises and accepts the layers of difficulty that can occur in any relationship:

 ‘Recycling feelings from your past happens in relationships; it’s a by-product of living with another human being.  What this means is that you may sometimes unconsciously redirect feelings from an influential person in your past – like a parental figure – to your present-day partner. You bring to the table significant others who have influenced your beliefs and you will bring a wide range of internalised emotions about yourself, relationships and the world in general…We do this whether or not our experiences were great or dreadful. Becoming aware of this process is key to working through problems.’ (page 35).

 I remember the film, The Story of Us, with Bruce Willis and Diane Keaton playing the parts of a couple going through a divorce. There was one fantasy scene where they were filmed talking to each other in bed, with each set of parents in the bed with them; it was chaos with everyone talking at once!  It was funny but also poignant and a great truth about what happens in terms of the role models and luggage that we take into our relationships with us.  Often, we hear our parent’s voice emanating from our partners instead of what our partners are actually saying, both positively and negatively. That’s how things can become more confusing and complicated than they have to be and this book helps to explain and build an awareness of that process. I believe this book has a relevance to other important relationships as well, with friends, family members, colleagues and even our relationship with work, study or our creativity.

Anjula leads us, step by step, through our most intimate relationships from the early days, through decisions to move in together; commitment, marriage or not; starting a family and coping with blended families, which I think is a really positive term for the many different realities of modern day family life. There are interesting highlighted paragraphs with up to date research and genuinely helpful information and tips that give us short cuts to assess what is going on.  The book moves on to question how we survive crisis and learn to manage the ‘Bumps in the Road’ and ends with a sensitive, practical and poignant look at ‘Growing Older Together.’  At the end of this book, I felt there were very few stones left unturned and there was a satisfaction in the breadth and depth that was explored and achieved.

 ‘By learning how to increase your self-awareness, exploring your relationship journey so far and then rolling up your sleeves and doing the practical exercises, you will have the best ingredients to help you towards creating, nurturing and maintaining the positive relationship that you’ve always wanted.’ (page 6).

I felt the real gift in this book was that it set out to help all of us understand more about ourselves and our partners.  I remember reading a book called, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter, (2001) University of New Mexico Press) about a Cherokee Indian boy and the word for love taught to him by his grandfather was the same as the word for understanding.

The many questions and exercises here challenge us to take responsibility for thinking deeply about what we want.  It is one of the strengths of this book that the case studies normalise the difficulties that we can all experience in relationships and enables us to take an honest look at what might be holding us back.  Relationships can be a way of accelerating learning and understanding about ourselves and a way of helping us to make more positive choices in our lives, this book really does show us, ‘How to do Relationships’.