How to talk to your kid about seeing a Psych

image-20160930_145105This would have to be one of the questions I’m asked most often by concerned parents.  They have reached the point of deciding psychologist support is a useful step for their child, but Oh!  How to broach that topic???  It’s Mental Health Week, and this is my guide for how to approach this with your child.

Compare Psychologists to Coaches and Teachers, not Doctors

Your Young Person is not broken.  They are not sick.  A psychologist will not make them better.  I have often heard, and in the past even used myself, analogies along the lines of “you go to the doctor when you’re sick; you take your car to the mechanic… ergo it’s okay to see a psychologist when you’re mentally unwell.”  These are well intentioned messages, but they all support the idea that something is WRONG with your child, and the magic psychologist will FIX THAT RIGHT UP for you.

Instead, remind your child that they are under construction – they are learning many, many life skills right now.  Depending on their age, they’re learning to read; or they’re learning algebra.  They are learning the rules of team sports, how to ride without training wheels, or maybe how to play an instrument.  Some of that – a lot of that – happens at school and through incidental learning.  However, sometimes the skills we need for a particular situation require more specialist attention.  I might teach my kid to kick a footy in the park, but if he’s serious about AFL, I’m gonna send him to Auskick.  Not because his kicking is broken and defective; not because there is something wrong with his hand-passes; but because kicking and hand-passes have become important to him and I don’t have the skills to teach him that myself.  Also, I’m his mum, there’s some things the boys just don’t want to learn from me!

Sometimes our kids find themselves in situations they’re just not developmentally ready for – maybe they’ve changed schools; social dynamics have unexpectedly left them feeling on the outer; mum and dad are a bit more stressed than usual; their amazing brains are making really scary / anxiety-provoking connections at a rate they’re not able to make sense of – any number of situations can emerge where suddenly your child needs some skills they just haven’t mastered yet.

Our teachers in our schools are amazing – and the expectations on them are high; and the demands of the curriculum leave little wriggle room for more.  It would be ideal if much of what is covered in a psychologist’s room was actually covered as part of the stock-standard school health curriculum (and people like Louise Hayes and Joseph Ciarrochi are working hard to make that happen). But it’s not yet.  So sometimes it’s really useful to spend a few sessions with a psych to do the essential stuff that teachers can’t cover when they’re forced to teach six year olds how to write persuasive text.

Let your child know that you’re looking at this as a skills development opportunity for both of you.

In the same way that your child is under construction, so are you as their parent, always.  Let your child know that you hope the psychologist will be able to guide YOU in how to provide better support to your young person.  As parents, some of what we do makes things better, some things make things worse  – but we are never, ever neutral.  Let them know the two or three of you are going on this adventure together.

Help them make an informed choice.

If your child is reluctant to see a psychologist, help them explore the pros and cons of what that is about.  Are they making assumptions about what will happen in the psych’s room?  How do they know those assumptions are right?  Have there ever been times they thought something would be dreadful and it turned out it was okay?  Let them know that it is normal to feel anxious, scared, uncertain, etc, and that you’ll be right alongside them.

My recommendation is to encourage your young person to come ONCE – meet the psychologist, find out what’s involved in the process, and from there the two or three of you can make an informed decision together.  Until you’ve had that first go, your child does not have enough information to make an informed choice.  Praise them for their willingness to be brave and vulnerable in the face of something that may feel really scary.  Talk with the psychologist for strategies for continued engagement if you believe further sessions are in your child’s best interests and s/he is still reluctant.

Use this same language with all Health Professionals

If you have an appointment with your GP to organise a Mental Health Care Plan and/or referral, use this same language (we are looking to build skills together and would like some coaching / guidance from a psychologist in how to do that), and help the GP to use that same language when speaking directly to your child.  If your GP starts using language to suggest brokenness and fixing, politely steer them back on course (NB you do not need a referral to see a psychologist; but you do need one if you want to claim the Medicare rebate).  Use this same language when you first take your child to the psychologist; and if there are significant details you would like to convey to the psychologist that may contradict that message, request that the child leaves the room before you share this information.

But is it too early?  Maybe things aren’t “bad enough” yet?

I can’t speak for all psychologists, nor all parents.  Here is my view on this:  As a mother, I would far rather jump in early and be told I’m neurotic than wait longer and discover my child has had to navigate a much harder road than was necessary, without the most useful equipment.  As a psychologist, clients coming in at the start of a potentially tough road are a joy and delight.  There is excellent “bang for your buck” when you come in for some strategies to support healthy development right at the start of difficulties becoming apparent.  Clients sometimes comment that they are worried about “wasting” my time on their issues, when there are people with “bigger needs”.  My view: Come now!  Be short-term, do a teeny bit of work together, and get on with your totally awesome life.    Send me an email five years from now to tell me how great things are.  Or better yet, forget my name all together because we seriously only met a handful of times 😉

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PS – if you seriously thought my last post WAS my “Last Post”, go back and read it again 😉

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Tasting Freedom – and why this is my last Blog Post ever.

There’s this moment when I’m flying down the hill, wind in my face, blue sky above me, and I notice this thought passing by – that this is it, THIS is tasting freedom.  It’s exhilarating, and not just because I’ve got all that lovely exercise endorphin flowing through me.  In fact, this freedom has nothing to do with the bike.

Nine-ish years ago, a close relative was having a hard time.  I rang one of my senior colleagues and asked if he would help.  I told him my loved one probably just needed some really good Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  My colleague respectfully replied, “Sure, but I think I’ll try ACT first.”  Okay, whatever, if you say so…  I have heard of this Acceptance & Commitment Therapy stuff.  And then as I watched the most beautiful transformation occur in the life of someone I loved so dearly, I realised my colleague had something in his toolkit that was far more powerful than anything I knew I had in mine.  I needed to get me some of this ACT (said as one word).

Though when I went to my first ACT workshop eight-ish years ago, it wasn’t my professional toolkit I was thinking about.  I was busy raising our first precious son, recovering from my unrecognised and undiagnosed post-natal OCD , and all I knew was I was seriously missing out.  This beautiful, precious child was growing up before me, and I could barely get out of my head long enough to be there with him while he did it.  My mind was holding me prisoner, and it was time for me to find my way free.

What’s that freedom all about?  Oh gosh, the words sound so simple, and yet it reflects years of practice, stumbling, and many, many more of those still to come. I’ve learned and I’m learning to take my mind less seriously.  Like all of us, my Beautiful Mind is hell-bent on protecting me and keeping me alive.  She just doesn’t care too much whether I’m having a fun time – so long as I’m not dead, her evolutionary purpose has been achieved.  She’s a bit like that gloomy friend who sees the downside of everything.  She loves to tell me who I AM, to define ME, give me my box DO NOT GET OUT OF THE BOX IT’S NOT SAFE AND YOU WILL DIE OUT THERE AND PEOPLE WILL LAUGH AT YOU WHICH MAY, IN FACT, BE WORSE.

My Beautiful Mind tells me I never finish anything.  She tells me this the whole time I’m methodically stepping through each step in any given project.

For many years she wanted me to know I wasn’t athletic, and because of my eyesight deficits and lack of coordination that I would never ride a bike.  Besides, everyone knows you can only learn that in childhood.  She often tells me it’s better to sit on the couch or drive the car than be physically active.

She thinks it’s terribly important that I check my phone for news updates rather than connect with my children.

Then she berates me for not being a good enough mum.

She tells me I have nothing of value to say, and even if I did, others say it far better than me, so this (and every preceding post) will be my last blog post EVER.  For real this time.  Totally.  She thinks it would be safest if I stopped writing this one now (and she can be pretty convincing, it has been three months since my last post).

She tells me that it’s pretty bad news that I’ve taken on a research project with Telethon Kids Institute because I’m dreadful at statistics and this time FOR SURE everyone will discover how rubbish I am.  The results won’t be significant because I will mess up by not being a good enough therapist while presenting the two treatment conditions.  This means I will let down the whole Contextual Behavioural Science community AND Telethon Kids Institute all in one swoop.  I will probably have to wear a dunce hat.

She tells me these things, and I love her so much for the way she looks out for me.  And I love that whilst she tells me all of those things, she and I can walk hand-in-hand and choose actions that reflect who I- we – WANT to be.  I don’t need to argue with her (okay, sometimes I try anyway) – she can just chatter on while together we go ahead and do the things that actually matter.

This morning she was so convincing – the clouds were threatening, the weather was cold, my muscles were aching, surely today, TODAY, it would be better if Hiccup and I just stayed home??  She natters away to me while I put on my cycling gear; and I notice a similar voice is chatting away to Hiccup while he puts on his.  We are 30seconds into the ride – 30 seconds, and already pumping our quads to make it up our first hill – and my boy calls out behind me

“I love this, mummy!  I am with one of my favourite people in the world, doing one of my favourite things in the world!!”

OH GOSH, FOR THIS.  I will carry my nay-saying negative know-all a thousand miles and more for THIS moment, right here.

So I ride my bike. I start a research project. I learned to quilt (you can’t sew, don’t you remember the leggings from Year 9?). I started singing lessons. I post another blog entry.  I wonder in amazement at this life I’m building that looks nothing like the future my Beautiful Mind had mapped for me.

I’m not alone in this.  I watch my inspiring mother as she uses her retirement to commit to volunteering work; to take assertive action in standing up for our refugees; and lobbying Australian politicians to support evidenced-based programs to foster nurturing communities.  I follow my little sister’s adventures as she gets described on the radio as a “Fitness Guru” (A WTF??  We’re the family that were relieved if we managed a “C” in sport).  She runs events at Fringe, champions to reduce mental health stigma… the list goes on.  My father, who in his retirement started a whole new career in Mental Health advocacy; and warmly, lovingly, passes his musical legacy to his grandsons in teaching them piano.  My older sister and brother-in-law, who bravely retrained to follow their calling in teaching.  Stoick, who never lets anything block him from reaching his dreams, who I think lives by the motto ‘If anyone can do it, so can I.”  Professionally, I am inspired by personal stories such as the one Steven Hayes tells in this TED talk, or this blog by Kelly Wilson, two of the co-creators of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and it’s wider family of Contextual Behavioural Science.

It’s not like we weren’t already each challenging the limits our minds set for us.  The skills in the ACT process are not a silver bullet.  However, they’ve given me ways to attend to the things that matter in my deepest heart on purpose, and with greater consistency, building skills over time with repeated practice.

Also, just word up to my Beautiful Mind – she’s not just full of useless hurdles and insults.  She was the one who pointed out to me that the recent difficult time I was having with my son was probably related to how short and impatient I was being with him – and that maybe if I did something about THAT, things would improve for us.  She was right.  I could’ve done with less of the “bad, bad, bad mum story,” but I’m getting more compassionate with her and my greater self, looking for the useful information she has for me, unhooking it from her criticisms, and connecting back to the actions that matter.

Kelly Wilson has a powerful Yoga metaphor he uses, and it sits with me every day.  He says, “What if we consider falling as part of the pose?”  What if every time we stumble, we consider it as part of – not a failure in – the process; a wonderful opportunity to come back to the practice again.  Sometimes my mind convinces me to move away from my values – to shout at my children when I care to give them patience and nurture; to sit on the couch; to put foods that are not good for me into this body that I would rather treat healthily and respectfully. But I love that this is a choice now.  I love that there’s this moment, every time, where I can choose to come back to the pose.  Where I can choose to unfold my life with my values, not with my Beautiful Mind’s concept of who I should be.

That’s my freedom.

The book and workshop that got me started on this (very much unfinished) journey are here.  There’s a bunch of other resources I think are really useful here.  You can find me and other ACT therapists at The Charles Street Clinic, or find an ACT therapist in your local area by searching here.

See you next time.

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stuff that Definitely Doesn’t Suck – a review of Ben Sedley’s “Stuff that Sucks”

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Good things come in small packages – and this is very, very good!

I don’t know what your reading list is like – maybe it’s a little like mine. Last year, I was super excited to hear a colleague of mine had his book published.  What a magnificent achievement.  Then I looked at the pile of books beside my bed I was slowly making my way through, and committed to finishing them before I would move on to this one.  That was my mistake. Don’t make the same one.

Today, Clinical Psychologist Ben Sedley’s book, “Stuff that Sucks”, arrived in my mailbox, and by the time I had finished reading the first page, I was hooked.

Stuff that Sucks is a book written for teenagers, and across 89 succinct, well laid-out pages, Ben takes the key elements of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and presents them in ways that are immediately accessible, relatable, and actionable.  On page 8, Ben writes “I don’t know you. But I do know a few things about you.” As I read on, I see he’s absolutely, unequivocally right.  Over the following pages he lays bare exactly the thoughts and feelings I had in my teenage years. His tone is caring, his text in plain, and it’s clear that this is the human experience – that we are not alone in this, there’s a bunch of us (okay, the whole human race) in this together.  He doesn’t hold back from the hard stuff either – touching on the very hardest issues and darkest, most painful thoughts teenagers (and the rest of us) face.  With humility, Ben invites his readers not to take him at his word, but to try offered ideas out for themselves, and use those which are helpful.

I admire Ben for what he’s achieved with this book. In my view, adolescents are a really tough audience to write for.  Potentially the harshest of critics, teenagers can detect a patronizing, condescending tone a mile away, and yet many books aimed at this age group hit exactly that.  Ben writes for his adolescent readers with dignity and respect, and I found myself longing to have had such a book in those tough years of my own.  Indeed, as I turned the pages I found myself thinking of each of my current teenage clients in turn – and what a useful resource it could be for them right now.

And whilst I’ve left it to last to mention it, this final point is not insignificant – it is EASY and FAST to read! I unwrapped my parcel at 3.30pm this afternoon, and by 7.30pm I had hosted a play-date for the boys, supervised sight-words and home reading, listened to music practice, washed the dishes, cooked dinner, read a bedtime story to Toothless and… read this book from cover-to-cover.  Not, might I add, because I wanted to rush it – but simply because I couldn’t put it down.  I would encourage the teenage target audience, however, to take it a little slower to make time for the brief exercises that are scattered throughout the text.

Readily available to purchase online, this book retails for $15-$20ish and at that price is exceptionally good value.  Relevant to all teenagers, this is one I’ll be recommending both in the therapy room and over the school-mum coffee table. Judging by this article, I’m not the only one.

Other excellent ACT resources for teens:

 

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Book Review, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s not the boundaries that matter

I’m at a business lunch talking with a stranger.  He’s a father of two, and he looks at me intently and asks “How do we keep our children safe?  How do we protect them from all there is out there?”

In a memory, I’m nine years old and the fire is crackling in our lounge room.  We’re all in our jarmies, squished together on the couch.  Mum’s in the middle, she opens our new story – this time it’s Seven Little Australians.  I’m an independent reader, and have been for some time now – but my Mum, she reads to us from this big, hard-covered, fully-illustrated tome and there is nowhere else I would rather be.

I’m talking to this guy who is tough and tattooed, but this day I see something else.  A quiet boyish smile plays on the corners of his mouth, and his eyes mist as he lets a memory spill out.  He’s a small boy arriving at Nanna’s and can smell the baking from her front door.  She wraps him into her arms, and there’s a delight in her laughter that is just for him.  Later that afternoon, he snuggles next to Pop and they watch cartoons together.

“There is this thing we’ve always done,” another man explains, with a shy look across to his wife.  “We dance in our kitchen.  It starts out with just us, but then all the kids come in and join us.”  They giggle, and for a moment they forget I’m even in the room.

How do we keep our children safe?  As parents we set boundaries, of course – we teach our children parameters of behaviour, and hopefully we go with them as they explore the edges and make decisions for themselves, using us as a guide, a credible source of information.

AND there is something else, both powerful and enjoyable, that we can do.

The biggest predictor of kids engaging in risky, antisocial, dangerous, delinquent behaviour is that they have done so previously.  We can’t do much about the past (until my son achieves his ambition of inventing time travel).  The next biggest predictor of delinquent behaviour is hanging around with the “wrong crowd” (see here).  The two biggest predictors of children hanging around with the “wrong crowd” are:

  • Disengagement from school, and
  • Disengagement from family
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Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The way we keep our children safe?  We have to make it worthwhile to hangout within the boundaries.  We can concentrate on making sure HOME is a good place to be (and school, but let’s tackle that another time).

I look to my parents as awesome role models on this.  My school years were tough years, and my 9-3 Monday-Friday was filled with taunting, being spat on, a soft place to land a kick or a punch – or, worst of all, exclusion.  The factors that contributed to me being bullied aren’t as important as the factors that ensured I survived.

Outside of the schoolyard, I felt wholly loved, and my home was my sanctuary.  Our weekends and holidays were full of picnics, camping, Sunday roasts and board games.  Our opinions were heard and encouraged; my high school days began with a cup of tea in bed; and there was always time for a cuddle on the couch.  My Mum made my school lunch Every Single Day through to year 12 – a little care package and reminder she loved me right there in the middle of my day.  We ate dinner every night around the table together.  Our achievements were celebrated, and our losses were supported.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of conflict and imperfect moments too.

But what my parents did was enough to hold me.  It was enough to keep me safe.  And through all of it, they were reliable, up-front, trustworthy sources of information about the world.  It wasn’t always easy to talk to them about “stuff” – but when I did, I always got all the information I needed, and I wasn’t judged for asking.

Except for when I got my tattoo.  Dad definitely judged me for that 😉

Here are some things you’re probably already doing a lot of the time, that help create a home environment worth hanging out in:

  • Talk openly with your children, and with others, about the things you value, love, and appreciate about your children.
  • Family mealtimes (with no TV or other devices).
  • Work on projects together – whether it be home renovating; planting a garden; geocaching – or ask your kids for their suggestions.
  • Find interests the whole family can share in.  Personally, I would never make the choice to go fishing.  But when I go with Stoick and my boys – the joy on their faces is like nothing else.  I go, just for that.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of times when all of and only your family are engaged in pleasant events together.
  • Speak kindly to each other.  Sarcasm, insults, name-calling: they have no place in healthy relationships.  Ever.
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Our children need to be able to trust us as credible, reliable sources of information.
  • Model the behaviours you want from your children.  It’s not sufficient to tell them – they watch us, and actions teach louder than words.

I know I’ve raved about his book before, but for more on how to (and why you would want to) create nurturing environments for our children, I implore you to read Anthony Biglan’s “The Nurture Effect”.

Meanwhile, we are a village raising children together – what do you (or your parents) do in your home, to create an environment worth staying in?  Comment below 🙂

 

 

 

 

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Parenting | 2 Comments

The Jacarandas are Blooming – The Importance of Stories

It’s the eve before Toothless’ birthday and we’re enjoying a goodnight snuggle as I start to tell him the story of his birth.  He wriggles and giggles with anticipation – he’s heard this many times before, and he delights in this special tale that is all about how incredible it was that he came to join our family that day.

It’s a story I love telling him.  Partly to remind him how much he has always been loved; and partly because I remember when I was his size, on the eve before my birthdays, and how loved and cherished I felt each time mum told me MY birth story.

Our parents were always tellers of stories and our family folklore takes on a life of its own.  I know that mum scratching her leg will turn on the light; that even if my little sister “did it she wouldn’t have”; and how the kind ladies gave strawberries and fish to my dad until they mistook my mother for his mistress.  I know what happens in a kitchen floor episode; we still tease dad about the bits and pieces; and my cousins will attest to the Evil Uncle with his glasses falling down his face who actually Peeled Back the Roof of the Tent whilst we were Astral-Traveling.

As I said, it’s now folklore.

It turns out that what my parents did instinctively – as many others have for generations – was incredibly important to our development throughout childhood.  Who knew, huh? Thanks Mum’n’Dad.

The importance of telling family stories:

jacaranda-268926_1280The jacarandas are in bloom again.  In my family’s stories, we know the jacarandas herald the arrival of my big sister.  The whole country blossoms to celebrate her birth.  Toothless doesn’t get to have the jacarandas in his story, instead he hears of how his jacaranda Aunt was the one who made his belly button so his bum won’t fall off.  She lives a long way away, my sister.  I hope her street is full of stunning purple blossoms, and if she can’t quite remember her birth story, I know a special lady who tells it really well.

 

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Mental Health – More than an absence of illness

It’s Mental Health Week – and the fact that it’s not called “Mental Illness Week” is not insignificant.  We will hear a lot about mental ill-health this week, and so we should – but mental health, mental wellness is more than the absence of illness.

Me & Sig - we were both younger then!

Me & Sig – we were both younger then!

I’m considering this topic against a painful backdrop for our family.  On Sunday night our family dog died after a brief, severe, surprise illness.  He was 11 years old, and this is our children’s first real experience with grief and loss.  That they – and we – are taking the time to experience that grief is part of us taking care of our mental health; and no matter what we do, we are also shepherding our children as they learn life lessons about pain.  None of us want to walk through this week – the house is empty; the routines are wrong; a large part of our family is missing and we hurt so much.  But we hurt because we loved – two sides of the same coin, a package deal.

Life does this to us all the time.  This isn’t my first major loss, and of course it won’t be my last – and you, reading this, you will know my family’s pain this week, because you have been here too, and life will ask you and I to go there again and again.  There isn’t a pause button we can press while we regroup, there is only putting one foot in front of the other.

Some of life’s trials we can predict, and many others come from seemingly nowhere.  How important it is then that we look after our physical and our mental health to the extent we DO have control, to give us greater resiliency in those times we are most tested.  Again though, mental wellness is MORE THAN avoiding mental ill-health – in much the same way that people don’t strive to be physically fit purely to avoid physical illness.  Mental health is about thriving, more than surviving.

Here are some things I do to look after my mental wellness.  Some I do very well, while others I forget and need to regularly bring myself back to (hopefully with kindness and self-compassion).

Some I can do on my own:

  • Eating well
  • Getting a good night’s sleep every night (which means I have to limit screen time  before going to bed)
  • Keeping physically active
  • Limiting the time I spend internetting and facebooking

Some you would predict a psychologist (particularly an ACT therapist) would say:

  • Formal and informal mindfulness practice
  • Staying connected to my values and choosing actions that line up with them
  • Having a flexible relationship with my thoughts
  • Making room for my emotions to be as they are

Most involve being with others:

  • Playing and just being present with Hiccup and Toothless
  • Being intentional in the way I care for my relationship with Stoick
  • Hanging out with my family and in-laws
  • Making time to regularly catch up with my dear friends
  • Plenty of time to be playful
  • Singing and dancing
  • Risking being open, genuine and vulnerable with my loved ones when they ask me how I am
  • Accepting love, support and gestures of kindness

When these things fall out of balance, I fall out of balance too.

Let’s add to the list.  What helps you nourish your mental health?  What ideas can you share below?

Posted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

I Want to Change the World. What about you? Can we do it together?

Me with Giving West CEO, Kevin MacDonald. A very special moment. Shame about the bad hair day ;-)

Me with Giving West CEO, Kevin MacDonald. A very special moment. Shame about the bad hair day 😉

I’m reflecting on the amazing five weeks I’ve just had traveling abroad with my family, an opportunity which was made possible by a generous scholarship I was awarded by the Perth Convention Bureau and Giving West.  I had an incredible trip of planning research, attending workshops, networking, and a brilliant conference interspersed with gelato, volcanoes, ancient monuments and Disneyland.  I’ve got pretty much nothing to complain about right now.

The trip was absolutely jam-packed full of blog-fodder, and I have written to you all a thousand times in my head.  Various themes will probably make their way through in my coming posts.  But as the dust begins to settle, here are the things I’m sitting with:

  • I still want to change the world.  I care about reducing suffering, and not just in a 1-by-1 approach as people’s suffering becomes so great that they seek support in my therapy room.  I want to use what we know from decades of research in contextual behavioural science to support change in families, schools, communities, corporations.  I want to help create and sustain environments that are nurturing, where people may experience pain (can’t get through life without it), but will not need to experience suffering.
  • I can do a lot, but I can’t achieve all that alone.
  • Thankfully I’m already not doing it all alone.
  • You’re already doing your part, and what if we do MORE, TOGETHER?
Some of the Australian and New Zealand Conference delegates

Some of the Australian and New Zealand Conference delegates

I used my scholarship to attend the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) World Conference in Berlin – a phenomenal opportunity to learn from, and break bread with, world-class prominent researchers and clinicians who share this common purpose and vision.  One of the things I love about the ACBS Community is that these people, on the whole, WALK the WALK as much as they TALK the TALK, and that’s a pretty special thing.  It builds a sense of community akin to a family, a tribe, and it’s a lovely place to belong.

If you’re not a part of it already, I want to invite you into that space with me.  It’s the main reason I write this blog.

And we can do more – if you’re willing.

I am so excited, because some of my favourite trainers are headed to Perth.  Their workshops, presented around the world, are accessible not just to psychologists, social workers and other mental health geeks – they are targeted far wider, for TEACHERS, NURSES, SPEECH THERAPISTS, OCCUPATIONAL THERAPISTS; and other ALLIED HEALTH.  This is so incredibly important.  If we are really serious about changing the world, we cannot make psychologists and psychiatrists the gatekeepers of this information.  There’s not enough of us, and we’re too darned expensive.  We need this main-lined and these trainers are making that a reality.

So I am inviting you to some upcoming workshops, and you can pick and choose what might be most relevant to you 😉  Or perhaps none of these are suitable for you right now, but maybe it might be of interest to your children’s teachers, therapists, or other people in your network.  Many of you have been traveling along reading my blog for a while now, and I really appreciate your feedback on the topics I write about.  If there is stuff that is meaningful to you in the way I write about topics, you will love the chance to go deeper through these incredible upcoming workshops.

PS – these guys do not fund me in any way to promote their gigs.  I’m just a little bit excited that people I respect so highly are bringing their stuff to the West.

Dr Louise Hayes, ACT for Children (and their Parents), Sept 21-22

Louise is the current president of the Australian/New Zealand ACBS chapter, co-author of the best-selling book, Get Out of Your Mind and Into your Life for Teenagers: A Guide to Living an Extraordinary Life, and the forthcoming book for teachers, therapists and counsellors on ACT for young people, The Thriving Adolescent. Louise uses ACT with young people in schools and clinical settings. She is a clinical psychologist, peer-reviewed ACT trainer, an academic, author and speaker.

All workshops should be conducted against this backdrop!  Bressanone, Italy

All workshops should be conducted against this backdrop! Bressanone, Italy

Louise was presenting one of her workshops in Bressanone, Italy, whilst I was there. During the tea/lunch breaks I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the reflections of the students on their experience of Louise’s workshop, the skills they were learning, her awesome presentation style, and just how much of a wholly beautiful, compassionate human being she is. Being the only other Australian there, people may have thought me kinder and smarter just by association;-) The glowing feedback continued as she presented throughout the ACBS world conference the following month.

The workshop will present a new developmental model developed by Louise and Joseph Ciarrochi for applying Acceptance & Commitment Therapy in work with children (and their parents). From her website: “ACT’s approach to families can help them learn to manage their emotions using acceptance and mindfulness, as well as try new behaviour connected to values. It is perfect for helping parents and their children.”  No prior experience in ACT required – it is a great introduction, and suitable for all allied health professionals and teachers.

Dr Russ Harris, ACT Two-day Introductory Workshop, Sept 10-11; and ACT Two-day Advanced Workshop, Oct 22-23

Best selling author of The Happiness Trap (and a long list of others), prominent peer-reviewed ACT trainer Russ Harris faithfully makes the trip out West generally once or twice a year (he even lived here for a while).  He’s responsible for the initial training of just about every ACT-therapist Australia has 😉  Once a stand-up comedian (and a GP), Russ has an entertaining, warm, and jargon-free, accessible presentation style.  Russ provided my initial introduction to ACT and the wider ACBS community, and it’s not over stating it to say the experience was life-changing.

Dr Eric Morris, ACT for Psychosis: Recovery through Psychological Flexibility, Sept 14

Okay, so this one is advertised as an advanced-level course, but if you are a psychologist/social-worker/psychiatrist/mental health nurse working in this field – or if you know someone who is – this workshop will be incredible.  Eric is a member of the ANZ ACBS Board, and is a warm and charismatic presenter, researcher, clinician, academic, DJ (in his spare time), and co-editor of a new textbook, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness for Psychosis.  Although now working in Melbourne, after a decade in the UK, he is originally home-grown here in WA and is a fellow Murdoch alumnus.  Click here for more details on the workshop and Eric’s long, interesting, and relevant bio.  I’m thrilled he’s bringing his work back home 🙂

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PS: Thanks to Stoick, Toothless, Hiccup, and my beautiful Mum and Dad, for sharing the journey, and being the most awesome support crew on the road. Love you guys xxx

I am so grateful to Perth Convention Bureau and Giving West for enabling me to travel abroad to experience rich, diverse, inspiring professional development – and I’m grateful to the incredible presenters above that you don’t have to travel, since they’re bringing it all to us 🙂

Posted in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Answer to the “War on [Pretty Much Everything]” – reviewing Anthony Biglan’s “The Nurture Effect”

There’s this mother sitting before me and she tries to stem the tears. It’s been weeks since her son has been to school. We’ve been tracking this for a while, her and I – and today her exhaustion is palpable. This mother who would move the heavens and the earth for her children; whose resources are stretched beyond breaking point. He’s slipping through the cracks, and she’s doing all she can to hold on.

A lot can be achieved in an hour a week – but when the risks are high, and the complexities are many, progress can be dangerously slow. I ring the program with the resources to provide this family with wrap-around intensive support that will secure a positive future for this young man.

“I’m so sorry” says the voice on the end of the line, “they’re outside our catchment area.”

There is an award-winning evidenced based program that saves the economy $5 for every dollar spent, and this child will miss out because he has the wrong address. The part that breaks my heart? His address used to be in a catchment area – MY catchment area, back when I was a clinician in the program I know can help him – Multisystemic Therapy (MST). Unfortunately, Corrective Services cut the funding to that program in 2010. The Department of Health has continued with MST – but not for his address.

An MST Clinician has flexibility to engage and support the entire system around a child, including parents and other family “stakeholders”, collaboratively designing strength-based interventions and providing support to overcome barriers across home and school environments.  MST programs work around the clock, seven days a week to maximise pro-social connections, including academic engagement, for the child.

Without those resources?  It all falls to me and mum, and the plans we can make in one hour a week to change an entire system that was years in the making.

Against that backdrop, I have been reading Anthony (Tony) Biglan’s The Nurture Effect and my heart is jumping with possibilities. I remember well a chance dinner I had a couple of years ago with Tony and his colleague Dennis Embry; giants in the world of prevention and behaviour science. I was filled with excitement and hope as they shared their visions, based on hard science, for a better tomorrow for entire communities. THIS is why I became a psychologist. I still want to “save the world” – and Tony, he’s bringing it all within our reach.

The Nurture Effect gently steps readers through over 40 years of research in behavioural sciences, sharing how the accumulated knowledge can be applied at all levels of society (family, school, corporations, policy-makers) to

“create a society where it is unthinkable that a child suffers abuse, fails in school, becomes delinquent, or faces teasing and bullying… a society in which diverse people and organizations work together to ensure that families, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods are nurturing and that our capitalistic system functions to benefit everyone” (Biglan, 2015, p3)

It sounds somewhat utopian, doesn’t it? And yet throughout each chapter Tony outlines time and time again the research evidence that shows both how this is possible and why it is necessary – including the economic value for the holders of the purse strings (and there’s an inspiring review of MST).

376809_10150897344610064_886566565_nIt comes at a time when society needs it most. My whole body shuddered recently when I saw the statement pictured left.  It had been shared on Facebook 111,654 times.  How often our society, in desperation, reaches for coercive tactics again and again in an attempt to solve problems and yet only making them worse. As he draws upon the research, Tony asserts:

Children raised in coercive families are more likely to act aggressively, fail academically, begin smoking, develop drug and alcohol problems, and become delinquent.” (Biglan, 2015, p28)

In contrast to:

“We can boil down what we have learned in the last fifty years to a simple principle: we need to ensure that everyone lives in a nurturing environment.” (Biglan, 2015, p18)

Tony not only presents the research, much of which he has been a key part of, he constructs a blueprint for action. Each chapter concludes with strategies that can be applied at the individual, family, school, community, and policy level to create the nurturing society that he envisages. Easy to read and accessible, this is Tony’s life’s work. The implementation is up to us – ALL of us.

This is a book worthy of your time. Please read it – and if, like me, you are also refreshed and reinvigorated, be part of the solution! Whilst you take on board recommendations from each chapter, here’s something else you could do: put it on book club reading lists; gift it to school teachers and principals; send a copy to your local MP; use it as a stocking filler for all your loved ones (if you can wait that long).

If there is only one book you read this year, make it this one.

With grateful thanks to my client for permission to share a little of her story.

Posted in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mental Health, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Ways to Prep our Kids for Porn

This is what I hope for my children: that they reach adulthood before they stumble across or seek out pornography.

I remember what it was like to be almost-holding-hands with a boy for the very. first. time. I remember the butterflies, the excitement, the anticipation – and Oh My Word, when we actually HELD hands –

Image courtesy of noppasinw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of noppasinw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

FIREWORKS!!

Next – some time later – came the anticipation and the transition to the first kiss. Holy crap, does it get any better than that? I nearly fainted with my first kiss. I will encourage my boys to slowly savor each and every new experience, lingering as long as possible before proceeding further – because once you take that next step, that which came before is never quite as magical. I want them to have all of those intense experiences, heightened emotions, rushing hormones, and intense arousal all FIRST HAND, with a real, live, consenting human being.

I don’t want porn to get there first.

I am raising boys in the age of information.  I am not naive. A staggering 90% of children aged 8-16 report having watched pornography online, and whilst I’m concerned, I’m not really surprised. It’s not like fascination in sex is a new thing for this generation. It’s just that when people of my vintage were tweens/teens and curious about sex, society looked after our access to information. We could ask our parents; or our friends; or access carefully selected books in the library. Maybe some encountered magazines stashed under beds; and maybe some found a couple of blue videos. To seek out porn, one had to be determined. Now our children have the same inquisitiveness about sex – and the entire world wide web at their fingertips. Where the onus used to be on society to safeguard our children, now the responsibility is on our CHILDREN to be savvy consumers – to be mature enough to know that just because they can doesn’t mean they should. And how are they to know the difference?

A tween explained to me why she had been accessing online pornography – she said she thought it would help her to be a better girlfriend – that she would know what to do, and how to act.  Recent Australian research found that many young men actually believe that what they watch in pornography provides an accurate template for sexual activity (Crabbe & Corlett, 2013).  What template are they learning? An analysis of 50 randomly selected films from the top 250 grossing pornography movies released in 2007 found over 3,300 acts of verbal and physical aggression (11.5 acts per scene analysed), of which 94% were perpetrated against women – and in over 95% of those scenes, the women responded with either neutral or pleasure expressions (Wosnitzer & Bridges, 2007).  The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has expressed concern that “much pornographic content depicts unsafe sexual acts that are harmful for sexual health, and frequently overlook crucial notions of mutual pleasure, respect and negotiating consent”(Sampson, 2015).

I think we need to prepare more broadly than simply having “The Porn Talk”.  I think there’s a lot we can be doing – and are already doing – right from the get-go that will help prepare our children to navigate a porn-filled world.

  1. COMPUTER-GEEK-TECH SOLUTIONS

Yes, there are Net Nannies, etc, that can be part of our solution. I advocate for parental controls on computers and devices, if not just to stop kids accidentally installing viruses and shopping on e-bay. But their use is limited, and any teenager will have a work-around for every barrier we put in place. We need to equip our children, rather than just try to fence them.

  1. KEEP DEVICES IN OPEN LIVING AREAS

Like many parents, we have a rule that prohibits the use of devices in bedrooms (and it applies to us too). At a young age, this helps in monitoring the safety of our children from on-line predators or viewing inappropriate material; but it also helps in the setting up of healthy computer habits. The blue light emitted from devices interrupts melatonin and therefore sleep cycles; and it’s useful to model and teach “unplugged” time. By the time they hit tweens, devices outside of bedrooms is part of a family culture, rather than a newly imposed rule.

  1. BE A CREDIBLE SOURCE OF INFORMATION – ALWAYS

My children can’t have preservatives and colours (Oh My Word No They CANNOT). Sometimes, well-meaning others would attempt to help our children with their restrictions – “Oh, these cupcakes actually aren’t all that nice.” I would take a deep breath, “Actually, they taste really good. That’s why everyone else is eating them. Whilst you would enjoy eating them, this is what else happens for you when you eat Bright Red Icing…” Because one day, my kids will pick up a cupcake; they will bite into it; that sugary, buttery goodness will hit their palate; and they will like it. When that happens, I want them to know that it was exactly as I said it would be. Because when they’re older I’m going to talk to them about porn.  I will tell them that porn will most likely arouse them, and they may well enjoy watching.  It may also screw up their natural sexual arousal and give them some pretty inaccurate ideas about sex and relationships.  By the time we get there, I want my children to have a huge database of things playing out exactly as mum said, so that it is worth trusting mum on this one!

  1. USE PROPER NAMES

From a protective behaviours perspective, we need to be teaching our children the words penis/vulva/vagina, rather than cutesie nicknames. When we don’t use proper names for body parts, we are already sending the message that there is something awkward about those bits. Something we’re not so comfortable to talk about. If our kids pick up on our embarrassment, they will run a mile from talking these things through with us.  They will source their information elsewhere.

  1. STEEP OUR CHILDREN IN REAL LOVE STORIES AND MODEL A RELATIONSHIP THEY CAN ASPIRE TO

We need to steep our children deeply in a tradition where violence plays no part in a sexual and/or loving relationship; where sex is connected to a narrative of relationship building, respect, and consent.  I grew up knowing many rich narratives about the great loves (and losses) of my wider family.  I know the story of my great-grandfather swimming the Swan river to court my great-grandmother; the courtship, engagement and marriage of my parents; and those of my aunts and uncles.  These, in turn, shaped my expectations of love, sex, and relationships.  In life we will break hearts, and we will have our hearts broken, we will have love that is unrequited and that which is reciprocated.  Our children need to have real life stories within which to make sense of their own experiences – not the scripts of Hollywood, and certainly not the reductionist view of pornography.

Similarly, we know that children learn not from our words, but from our actions.  Raising boys, I’m acutely aware that they are learning how to fulfill their future roles of father, partner, and man by observing Stoick.  They are learning lessons about partners and mothers by watching me.  Knowing that our children are learning by our examples is one of the many reasons to choose to be intentional about the care we take of our partnerships, and ourselves.

One day my boys may well fall within the 80% of the adult population who use pornography at least once (Traeen & Daneback, 2013).  As long as it is against a backdrop of a life full of love and richness, after a time when they’ve been able to learn about their sexuality in healthy and respectful contexts, then that will be okay with me.

References

Crabbe, M., & Corlett, D. (Directors) (2013). Love and sex in an age of pornography. Australia: Rendered Visible and Looking Glass Pictures.

Træen, B., & Daneback, K. (2013). The use of pornography and sexual behaviour among Norwegian men and women of differing sexual orientation. Sexologies, 22, 41-48.

Sampson, E. (2015). APS highlights concerns about the harmful impacts of pornograpy. In Psych, 38/2, 18-19

Wosnitzer, R. J. & Bridges, A. (2007). Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography: A content analysis update. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p170523_index.html

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

My son wanted to lose weight. When he told me why, I was speechless.

My son is lanky and lean – a rippling body of bones and muscle and not a skerrick of anything else.  So when he told me he really wanted to drop a couple of kilos, I was ANGRY.

My mind screamed:

  • WHO HAS CRITICISED YOUR BODY?
  • WHAT HAVE THEY BEEN TEACHING YOU IN HEALTH?
  • WHO WILL I HOLD RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?

The thing about conversations with boys is that you have to pick your moment.  I let his comment hang – made some brief remark about his body being perfect as is, and waited to see if it meant nothing at all.  Over the next few days I heard it several times over – different variations, but all on the same theme.  My son wanted to lose weight, and my heart was aching.  I didn’t see this coming…  and I didn’t anticipate what would come next.

Hiccup talks best when we lie side by side on his bed; or driving along in the car, just him and me; or when we go swimming at the local pool.  This night, we’re driving, and the moment is right.

“So, how come you want to lose weight?” I ask, with as little loading as I can.

His reply frightens me: “Well, it’s really good to be skinny.  I want to be as skinny as I can be.”

I breathe, and ask gently “And what would be good about being more skinny?”

His answer isn’t thought-out – he pauses and says “Well I could fit into tight spaces that no one else can, and be really flexible.”  It’s something he’s coming up with on the spot, and I’m no clearer.  We talk a little more and I let some silence hang for a bit.  After a time, he speaks.

“I’m just a bit confused, Mummy,” he says.  I wait.

“How come when you’re talking to other adults, you seem really happy if they think you’ve lost weight?  How come it’s good if you lose weight, but not if I do?”

BANG, there it is.  Oh My Freaking Gosh The Problem Is MEEEEEEE.

Hiccup and I, we talked a bit more.  I think we got it squared away okay.  It’s been about a month since then and he’s stopped trying to get “skinny”.  Also, I’ve asked family and friends not to comment on my weight around him anymore.  I suffer the same condition as just about any woman – either too heavy or too light, never just right, but in the context of my life it’s a rather insignificant metric.

But it served as a reminder to me that little ears are always listening – even when we think we are using our “adult” voices in “grown up” conversations.  When we tell our embarrassing/difficult-child-anecdotes; when we speak tensely to our partner; when we have hushed conversations with the teacher – those little ears are listening, and we can’t always know the sense they’re making.  The wider context is not always salient to them.  When people would commented on my possible weight loss, he would hear me sounding happy.  I never thought to say “by the way, it really doesn’t matter”.

Posted in Diet, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments