Clinical Psychologist & Family Mediator

Welmoet Bok

Wynberg - Cape Town

Is it OK to have secrets in my marriage? Are secrets a form of infidelity?

Do you believe that you should tell your spouse or partner everything about yourself and your past? Or are there certain secrets that are “harmless” to your relationship?

Consider the following examples:


  1. Patrick and his wife Eve had made a pact to give up smoking together a year ago. Eve managed to stay smoke-free for about three months but after that she started having the odd cigarette in secret and now she is  smoking regularly but is not letting on to Patrick. She feels this is not a big deal because her marriage is strong.
  2. Is there something coming between us?

    Sipho is happily married to Neolitho but is also in regular SMS and e-mail contact with an old girlfriend. He says that his friendship is platonic and that it does not impact negatively on his marriage. He doesn’t tell his wife about it because he says it will only cause misunderstanding.

  3. Nancy is happily married to John but she has a secret retail therapy addiction. She regularly spends quite large amounts of money on clothes and accessories and hides her purchases from her husband as she feels that he will not understand or condone her behaviour.
  4. Mary has been married for five months and has not yet gathered up the courage to tell her new husband about the abortion she had as a teenager.

Which of these scenarios in your view are acceptable and which would qualify as serious breaches of a relationship?    


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After trauma – PTSD is not the only outcome to consider

A recent study by Australian psychologist Richard Bryant of the University of New South Whales looked at the outcome of traumatic injuries on 1084 patients 3 months and 12 months after admission to hospital. He found that of the 33% of individuals who suffered from some form of psychological disorder following the trauma, the most common problem was depression (16%), followed by generalised anxiety disorder (11%), substance abuse (9.9%) and PTSD and agoraphobia (9.7% each). Other less frequently occuring problems were social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. Bryan’s research  found that individuals who were suffered mild traumatic brain injury(TBI) were 50% more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD following a trauma than were individuals who did not experience a brain injury. 

What is important to note from this research is, firstly, that only a third of individuals who were subject to traumatic injury went on to develop psychological problems.  Second, psychologists and other mental health care workers should not concentrate on PTSD exclusively when they are treating survivors of trauma. Reference: American Journal of Psychiatry 167, no. 3 (March 2010): 312-20, cited in Psychotherapy Networker, Sept/Oct 2010. 

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How to prepare yourself psychologically for the upcoming exams

If you are currently a student or learner, you are probably studying hard for your exams. But have you given sufficient attention to preparing your body and mind for the task ahead?
Research has consistently found that the best and most dedicated students are prone to suffer the most from high levels of stress when it comes to exams. These students often report the highest incidence of “hitting a blank” in an exam, when high levels of stress and anxiety have the effect of blocking memory recall.
So what can you do about this?

1. Make sure that you have a reasonable and achievable study plan.
It is important that your study plan is realistic, otherwise this will be an additional source of stress when you find that you are falling behind. Put a plan together that is sufficiently flexible and affords you with enough breaks. Our brains are not designed to work for hours on end without a break. The ideal length of time for peak attention is 50 minutes.
2. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep, exercise and that you are eating a balanced diet. A lot of students start to cut corners on these when they become focused on their studies. This can be counterproductive as our bodies need to be looked after if they are going to deliver optimally in terms of energy, mental acuity and health. You don’t want to be sick and tired on the morning of an exam!
3. Your internal conversation with yourself is of vital importance in the weeks and days leading up to your exams. Because our thoughts directly affect our moods, a diet of negative self-talk will cause you to feel anxious and stressed, which will directly affect your ability to perform at your peak in your exams. Talk to yourself asif you are your own motivational coach. Use positive self-statements such as “I will give this my best shot”, as well as neutral statements such as “I will approach things one day at a time”. it is important, though, that you only say things to yourself that you actually believe to be true as the unconscious mind will reject statements that we know to be false.
4. Practice relaxation training, meditation and/or mindfulness to help to control and focus the mind.

In future posts I will talk more about preparing yourself for the day of the exam.

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Communication problems in relationships

Recently there has been quite a bit written about how men often feel at a disadvantage when it comes to communication in intimate relationships. This can often lead to frustration and unhappiness in both partners, causing conflict and eventually can lead to erosion of relationship satisfaction.

In future posts I will discuss ways to address problems of miscommunication in relationships.

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Talking Points in Psychotherapy

A number of interesting ideas and dilemmas crop up continually in counselling and psychotherapy. I would like to share some of these with you and ask for your viewpoints.

For example, can marriages survive infidelity? What would you do if you found out your spouse was keeping secrets from you?

Do you believe that your marriage counsellor should insist that all secrets between the spouses be revealed in order for therapy to stand a chance of success?

What do you think?

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