ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
I'm lucky to be physically fit and have a roof over my head, but the rest of my life is bleak. I'm recently divorced, my wife isn't interested in friendship and we have no children. Someone said I might try laughter therapy, but I defy anyone to tell me how it could help.

Perhaps you don't see much to laugh at, and I can sympathise, but my laughter work is not about achieving mindless mirth. In the workshops and counselling I run, my approach is intended to be life-enhancing. While psychotherapy tends to dwell on the problem, I look at the goals people want to achieve and help them to see new possibilities in what has happened. We have playful exercises in the workshops; there is one where you are asked to define happiness, then look at how you can be proactive in achieving it. My approach might not have you roaring with laughter, but it could help you feel there is a bit more to smile about than you do right now.

Robert Holden, Laughter Medicine, 34 Denewood Avenue, Handsworth Wood, Birmingham B20 2AB, tel: 021 551 2932.

I am 37, and still have skin problems that I despair of ever being able to control. I have very fine, sensitive skin with the usual oily patches on my face; it's getting dry now, but I still have a tiny blackhead in almost every pore on my chin, nose and cheeks down to my jawline. I work in a dirty environment and travel on the Tube, so my skin does get filthy. My diet is healthy and I exercise regularly, but is there anything else I can do within a modest budget?

It sounds as though your skin needs some specialised treatment to get it thoroughly cleansed and for the blackheads to be removed, before you can start caring for it properly yourself. You need to find a salon where they are used to dealing with blackheads and blocked pores, so ask about this when you make an appointment. Choose a place which is a member of the British Association of Beauty Therapists; this means the staff have been trained to the association's standards and have diplomas. There are two kinds of treatment I would recommend. One is compression or simple steaming, which relaxes the pores so that it is much easier for the blackheads to be extracted. The other is a treatment which uses mild electrical stimulation, making the skin more permeable so that you get a much deeper clean. If you are worried about the cost - and this often mounts because people are talked into all sorts of extras and into buying products - make it plain that you want just the basic treatment and some advice, and check before you make the appointment precisely what you will pay.

Joan Price's Face Place, 33 Cadogan Street, London SW3 2PP, tel: 071-589 9062. The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology has lists of its member salons. Send an SAE to BABTAC, Parabola House, Parabola Road, Cheltenham, Gloucester GL50 3AH, tel: 0242 570284.

My husband and I watch TV rarely - but recently, being keenly musical, we settled down to watch a performance of the St Matthew Passion which was to last nearly three hours and give us much pleasure. Halfway through, the doorbell rang and in walked two family members who were 'just passing'. They would not have been interested in the programme. Do we have to deny ourselves deep pleasure and exchange it for pleasant but trivial family chat, or dare we ruefully suggest their timing is unfortunate? What does one do in these situations?

Of course you and your husband have the right to decide when you want visitors. You do not have to keep open house, particularly when you have planned an activity special to yourselves. While it can sometimes be difficult to respond to another's need with a clear 'No', I am sure that in retrospect you can think of many ways of saying 'Not now' which are neither hostile nor rejecting - and which, if you reversed the situation, would seem quite acceptable to yourselves. It is paradoxical that in an age when the rights of the individual are so highly valued, looking after your own needs can be seen as selfish or anti-social.

Margaret Nelson, psychotherapist and counsellor, 37 Annesdale, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB7 4BN, tel: 0353 662659.

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