Gill Oliver talks to the Watford FC-supporting Oxford University Professor of Clinical Psychology

If you ever find yourself in the stands watching Watford FC, look out for two blokes in their 40s discussing mental illness.

One of them might be Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, and the other his brother, Jason.

They have co-authored a string of popular books on mental health, two of which How To Keep Calm and Carry On and The Stressed Sex, were published this year.

Others are You Can Be Happy, Use Your Head, Anxiety and Paranoia.

The collaboration is an inspired one, because it produces books that are science-based without being too technical.

He can trace it back to November 17, 2002, when they were watching their beloved Watford FC lose at home to Ipswich Town.

“I’ve long since forgotten the details of the game but what really sticks in my memory is a discussion of my research into paranoia, and particularly the discovery that a far greater number of people regularly experience such feelings than had previously been assumed.”

They started talking about a book that could help people cope with their paranoid thoughts and it seemed obvious to knit Daniel’s clinical expertise with Jason’s editorial and publishing experience and pen it together.

Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts was published seven years ago and their partnership has flourished.

“I think we get on reasonably well for brothers,” he said cautiously.

And they still go to matches together.

“A few people sitting around us on the terraces have had to put up with us discussing scientific concepts over the years,” he said.

“Many clinical psychologists don’t write these books because they don’t have time.

“Our aim is to make the very best psychological research and treatments for mental health issues available to the general public.”

There’s no doubt he knows what he is talking about.

A Medical Research Council (MRC) senior clinical fellow, he is also an honorary consultant clinical psychologist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

“The way we think and behave and feel is so important to our lives in understanding what is going on around us, so any insights into human behaviour will always be appreciated,” he said.

“I am interested in where things go wrong.”

He says mental health issues are incredibly common and the problem has been dramatically underestimated.

“Look around you on the bus and the likelihood is that one in four of those people will have mental health problems of some type,” he pointed out.

Paranoia, one of his particular areas of expertise, is a form of anxiety, he explained.

But there is a huge difference between that and social anxiety.

“With social anxiety, you think people think you are an idiot.

“Paranoia is when you think others are deliberately trying to harm you but there is an overlap and a blurring across the boundaries, which is one of the main challenges.”

The spur for writing his books is to get people to talk about mental health issues.

“Often we get things wrong and are a bit paranoid.

“The difficult part is getting people to talk about it and acknowledge it “We often make judgements about the people around us and we can get mind-reading judgements wrong.

“We guess what the other person is thinking and that’s when difficulties occur.

“There is evidence that suicide rates have increased due to economic fall-out from the credit crunch and the fact that more of us are living so densely packed in cities.

“The closer we are to other people the further we are socially, sometimes,” he pointed out.

“There are often looser bonds now between people.”

Growing up as one of three — he has another brother who is a musician in Sheffield — he leaned towards the science side at school but has a strong appreciation of art.

His mother was a nurse, although he does not think that particularly influenced his choice of career.

There are mixed reactions in social situations when the 42-year-old reveals what he does for a living.

“It’s not easy admitting you are a clinical psychologist but I reassure people I am there to enjoy myself.

“People are interested, before they quickly move away,” he joked.

So does he use the techniques he has developed in his own life?

He cites the example of his daily 45-minute walk between the Warneford Hospital and his Jericho home.

“There’s a technique called ‘savouring’, which is about enjoying the moment you are in.

“I notice things around me, lovely things.

“And sometimes, part of that is turning things over in my mind and putting them to bed.”

He recently flew out to a therapy conference in Marrakesh, after which he travelled on to Valencia. He deliberately chose the slower, but more enjoyable, option of coming back by train.

“I took a couple of books with me, read and looked out of the window,” he said.

He says the fact there are so many self-help books out there, many of them written by non-experts, is not necessarily bad.

“There is a strong focus now on mental wellbeing, rather than just economic success.

“It’s good that we think about quality of life for people and their psychological wellbeing.”

Developing treatments for mental health conditions is his main focus.

His role includes conducting clinical trials, devising experiments, looking at data, one-to-one sessions with patients and co-writing books.

He sees one or two patients a week but mainly supervises the work of other therapists.

“I love the one-to-one work,” he said.

“Clinical psychologists are in a very privileged position, in that people open up to me and my teams.”

He says, despite those best-selling books designed to appeal to a mass market, his focus is and will always be on the science.

Here in Oxford, he and colleagues are carrying out ground-breaking research into all types of mental health issues, including circadian rhythms and sleep disruption.

Compared to other areas of health, our understanding of mental illness is lacking, he says.

“There is no doubt that understanding of many parts of the mind is fairly opaque.”