Supporting Your Child Through Divorce

Separation and divorce can be the most challenging time for a family. Although the break up is between parents it does impact on all the family and emotions can often fly high while trying to navigate through this period. The good news is that the majority of kids whose parents’ divorce do cope and the impact can be small if it is managed well. The following is some basic guidance;

How to tell your child

If possible both parents should be present to break the news. Divorce creates change and uncertainty for children which can be de-stabilising, before speaking with your children have an agreed way forward of how the new situation will work for all family members (e.g. living arrangements, contact with both parents, how parents will continue communication). Speak honestly and admit that is it sad but spare the child too much detail. Ensure they know the break up is between the adults and has nothing to do with them, this may need repeating a number of times to offer re-assurance.

Expect a mix of reactions

Depending on your child’s age and personality factors (e.g. coping skills, resiliency, communication skills, etc.), your child or children will process and express the news in different ways. It is not unusual for children to express anger, loose sleep, have anxiety, act out, loose appetite, etc. If you feel comfortable enough to share the news with school, teachers can monitor your child and update you on any change in behaviour. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling about the divorce and legitimise their feelings by showing you understand their perspective (e.g. ‘I know you feel sad that dad doesn’t live here anymore’).

Keep your child out of the disagreements between you and your ex

Even though you may be feeling hurt by your ex, avoid speaking badly of your ex in front of your child. Don’t fight or bring up disagreements in front of your child. Avoid confiding in your child or giving your child information about the details of the separation and don’t make them choose sides.

Maintain rules and boundaries

This period will lead to inevitable changes in the family, which can create feelings of anxiety and uncertainty for your child. As much as possible keep routines and boundaries consistent. Maintain similar rules across both households, even if your child is testing boundaries.

Put your child first

Throughout the process parents can get caught up in what is fair for them. It is important to focus on what is good for the children, even when this may not always be good for the parent. Look after yourself and seek help and support, if you are not managing your emotions then it is difficult to have the capacity to help your child through this period.

Written by

Dr. Jennifer Greene
Consultant Educational & Child Psychologist

Some further reading and resources:
‘Putting Children First: proven parenting strategies for helping children thrive through divorce’ by Joanne Pedro-Carroll
‘Joint custody with a Jerk’ by Julie A Ross and Judy Corcoran
‘The Invisible String’ by Patricia Karst (to read with children aged 4-8 years)
‘The Suitcase kid’ by Jacqueline Wilson (for children aged 9-11 years)

Supportive Psychotherapy – The Cinderella of Psychotherapies

Living in the current climate of evidence-based treatment, a multitude of psychotherapies have gained credibility because of positive findings in research studies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) and Dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT), just to name a few. It is not uncommon for clients to request for a specific modality of therapy that they had read on the internet. But rarely do clients come requesting specifically for Supportive Psychotherapy, one that is most frequently used in the real world of everyday clinical practice.

What is Supportive Psychotherapy?

Supportive Psychotherapy was once described by Jeremy Holmes (1995) as “the poor relation of the psychotherapies, a Cinderella stuck at home doing the routine psychiatric chores while her more glamorous psychotherapeutic sisters are away at the ball”. It is a misconception that supportive psychotherapy requires no special training or abilities beyond common sense, interpersonal skills, and a capacity for empathy. Experienced therapists use a mix of supportiveness and expressiveness matched to the particular needs of the individual client at specific moments in the treatment. The most effective therapists are those who are able to improvise and switch strategies flexibly in the immediate clinical moment, which mostly requires tincture of time, clinical experience, and personal maturation.

The main priority in supportive psychotherapy is to build a “holding environment” and foster an atmosphere of emotional safety and trust. This involves respecting and responding to the client with compassion, empathy and commitment, even if the therapist does not agree or endorse the client’s behaviours or thoughts. One of the goals in supportive therapy is to balance appropriate “containment” of the client’s negative emotions while promoting autonomy and independence. The supportive therapist works with the client to recognise, acknowledge and express one’s inner life through clarification of vague speech; and to tolerate and regulate a broader range of emotions. The therapist may use suggestions, advice or teaching to guide the client to see things from different perspectives but it is never imposed. Decisions are never made on behalf of the client. Instead, the therapist enlists the client’s input to clarify and develop shared goals, including the search for positive meaning, on their journey together. Existing adaptive coping skills are encouraged by the therapist, who also models more effective ways of coping to limit self-destructiveness and impulsivity. Beyond supporting a sense of safety, self-esteem, or hope, the supportive therapist also helps the client to improve on their interactions with others. This involves helping them to strengthen control over socially unacceptable behaviours, and to build healthier connections with others, both in and outside of therapy.

The supportive therapist treats the client the way they would want to be treated. Beyond active listening, the supportive therapist brings attunement, patience, effort, and an open and inquisitive mind into the therapeutic space.

Written by

Velda Chen
MClinPsych, BA (Hons)
Clinical Psychologist

References

J. Holmes (1995). Supportive Therapy. The Search for Positive Meaning. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 167, 439-435.

Preventing affair in marriage

Marriage is a source of happiness but in affairs, heartache and pain is most intense. Moreover, if it leads to divorce, its adverse ripple effects dwell long and deep in both partners and the children.

Like driving in a treacherous, winding road, when unwarned, we drive leisurely or even at high speed, negligent of danger. But when alerted to warning sign, we exercise caution, slow down and be extra watchful. Thus, we avert fatal accidents.

Usually people do not intentionally have affair. They are mostly caught unaware. Relationships developed in close proximity in office or business meetings. By and by, conversations deepened, feelings developed and before they know it, they are into an intimate relationship. So here are a few tips on being vigilant on the road of marriage and warning signs to heed.

1) Be aware of any distance that has developed between you and your partner. Identify your need and gently make your request known to your partner. For example, say “I notice that we are having tiffs about household chores often. I really like to have more peace at home. Can we sit down and talk this over and see what i can do to help you feel better?”  Notice this is not finger pointing nor a power struggle but stating your need and phrase it in a way that you want to contribute to the partner’s sense of well-being. Be a model of good communication rather than a critic. Affair usually meets an unmet need in marriage. An unaddressed dissatisfaction becomes long drawn likely causes the partner to look elsewhere to meet unmet need.

2) Build a secure sense of self. It is easier to blame our partner for our dissatisfaction with the relationship. But marriage is an interaction between 2 persons. The only behaviour we can change is ours. Our marital relationship mirrors our relationship with parents – is there a lesson or discovery to be made there from our family of origin?

3) One of the innocent ways of starting an affair is to share your marital dissatisfaction with your friend/ colleague of opposite gender. Resist that. Instead seek professional help.

As in early detection of cancer has higher success rate of treatment; similarly, early intervention in marital discord increases success of repair.

Written by:

 Tan Soh Hiang
Marriage and Family Therapist

Body Image And It’s Affect On The Child’s Self Esteem And Confidence

Body image is the way that someone perceives their own bodies and how others perceive them. In simple words, it relates to one’s shape, size, and weight. Body Image may vary from unhealthy to healthy or vice-versa at the different stages in one’s life. A healthy body image in early years lay the foundation for good physical and mental health.

Some facts pointed out by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

• Body size awareness tends to start around the age of 5 in children.
• 40-60% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys are
worried about weight gain.
• By preteens, 50% of girls are dissatisfied with weight, shape and start to
withdraw from activities because they feel bad about their appearance
• In middle school girls, start to actively manage their appearance (more than boys), and is particularly stressful for them because of the change in body shape, as a result of puberty.

Research data shows that body satisfaction may hit a low between the ages of 12-15, this means that obsession with “looks”, starts at a much earlier age. The need to look perfect is spreading across most age groups, ethnicity, strata and the influence seems to be strong and impossible to ignore.

Did you know that, 24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, who was credited to inspire a generation of young swimmers, reduced to tears feeling insecure during a conversation about body image after her retirement from the sport, on BBC breakfast?

Family life and culture tends to have a strong influence on the teen’s view about their bodies. Different cultures and families have varied views about ideal body shapes and sizes – some being more encouraging and realistic than others. The family pressures to look perfect, coaches’ expectations of “making weight” for the sports team, body changes during puberty may impact the child’s perception of body image. Interestingly, media has been defining the “ideal” size by bombarding us with unrealistic, airbrushed pictures, creating a negative influence on our children’s concept of body image. Health professionals have pointed out if a teenager is constantly seeking assurance on their appearance, overly obsessed with looks, shows a drastic change in food habits or experienced loss of considerable weight, might be struggling with body image issues.

Body Image plays a major role in defining a teenager’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about oneself if one is unhappy with their bodies and in turn appearance. Self Esteem, in other words, is the “real” opinion one has of themselves. It’s something that can’t be touched or seen but seems to be always following us around like a shadow. Some children may try to compensate the way they feel by manipulating (excessive exercise routines, using fad diets, counting calories etc.) their body images. Parents can play an important role in helping children form a positive body image.

Tips to Help Boost Your Child’s Positive Body Image

• Ensure use of positive statements around food, meal times, body sizes and shapes.
• Promote and model healthy behaviors, to ensure “fit” bodies with higher levels of self-esteem and healthier body images.
• Avoid practicing fad diets and introduce “Self-Attuned eating”, a concept of learning to pay attention to and trust feelings of hunger and fullness – this will help promote a healthy, normalizing attitude toward eating
• As a parent, appreciate and celebrate your own body for what it can do, not just how it looks
• Teach by modeling to accept and value people for who they are irrespective of their looks and appearance.
• Compliment children on their qualities rather than their physical appearance
• Enhancing the children’s knowledge on the authenticity of the images on screens and magazines projected by media around us
• Educate children on changes in body type and sizes, during puberty

Parents are increasingly concerned at the rate of dissatisfaction among children with their appearances. On seeing signs, they wonder whether they should ignore or be concerned as it could be the start of bigger body issues. If you think your child is experiencing any challenges with body image, start by talking about your concerns with them. If things don’t change, consider talking to a health professional to get some support.

 

Written by

Vinti Mittal
Director SACAC Counselling Pte Ltd
Clinical Member SAC
SAC Registered Counsellor
CMSAC, Reg, CLR, MSc (Counselling), Grad Cert. (Counselling)

Are people with a burn-out lazy people? NO, on the contrary.

First of all, what is a burn-out?

Having stress is not always bad or damaging, in fact it can even be helpful. It prepares us, helps us achieve things in life and to avoid and act on danger (Fight/Flight). If we don’t have energy left and we need that energy for something our hormonal stress system gets activated to make more energy available. We are usually not aware of this and don’t notice this. A feedback system in our body shuts down the hormonal system if there is enough energy made free.

However, stress is unhealthy if it lasts too long or if there is too little relaxation after stress (recovery time). The “income” and “outcome” of energy is not balanced. The stress system is activated all the time and you are living on your reserves. Slowly but surely the neurohormonal control system will get disrupted. This creates a downward spiral, the system needs to work harder (increasing stress physiology) in order to be able to continue to perform.

We usually only notice it when it is too late and are not expecting it. Compare it with a car: Your car drives perfectly well, until you don’t give the car fuel. You will first be able to drive a bit further on the reserve tank, but eventually when the spare fuel is used the car will not move another inch. No matter how hard you try the tank is really empty > exhausted > burned out.

Second, people with a burn out are not Lazy. On the contrary.

Usually they are people that like to work hard, are willing to help others, are very driven, wanting to do the right thing, can be strict/harsh/critical towards themselves and/or  have difficulty knowing where their limits are and acting on them. They are usually an ideal friend, colleague, employee and husband/wife. But the problem is they don’t think about themselves and their body.

How do we get that recovery time in this busy social society? In a society where everyone has high expectations of themselves and others, we are able to access everything on our phones and tablets, we are “on” all day long and our brain gets constant stimulation and information to process.

My biggest advise would be to act on the following quote:

“Listen to your body when it whispers, so you don’t have to hear it scream.”

My next blog will be about how to cope with a burn-out.

 

Written by

Flo Westendorp
Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate, MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)

 

Does unconditional love exist?

Could there be a debate between people who prefer dogs and those who prefer cats? We can be certain of one thing: the unconditional love we receive from our pets is good for our health.
Whether you are greeted at the door by your dog wagging his tail yapping happily or by your cat looking at you indifferently and seems to mean “Oh, it’s just you”, the fact is that animals give us as much love as we can take, and more.
Many studies have looked at the health benefits of pets, and the result is always positive.If you live alone, a pet can bring you the comfort of a friend or family member.  Pets have a very beneficial effect on our social and emotional well-being. Just knowing that “someone” is waiting for you at home at the end of the day is enough to help you feel good. Pets can also reduce stress and anxiety. Studies show that patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience fewer anxiety episodes when there is an animal in the house. Even those who care for these patients experience less stress and improve their well-being when a pet lives in the home.
People in high-stress employment areas were to find out that animals positive effect on high blood pressure. Playing with your dog and pampering your cat really lowers blood pressure. It also helps reduce high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
Some cat owners find that the sound of the purr of their cat is enough to inspire calm. Animal owners are known to be happier, healthier and more responsive people than people who do not.
Specifically, pet owners have greater self-esteem, are in better physical shape, are less bored, are more conscientious and more extroverted, and tend to be less fearful and less concerned than people who do not.
Dr. McConnell titled his research, Friends with Benefits: The Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership, and goes on to say that in fact dog owners show more feelings of belonging and self-esteem, and they have a happy life.

Written by

Saveria Cristofari
PGDip (MBACP), MBA
Counsellor & Psychotherapist

“WHAT IS EMDR? I hear you wave your fingers near someone’s eyes?”

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Many types of therapy exist and only handful of these have been scientifically rigorously tested, so it’s hard to make choices about what works. One therapy has drawn attention from the media, practitioners and mental health consumers. This treatment is a mouthful to say Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, so we call it “EMDR,”.

It was discovered by serendipity in 1987 by Francine Shapiro in the USA.  Initially developed to help clients overcome anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is now recognised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a first line treatment for PTSD.  It has been applied to other conditions including depression, grief, phobias and panic disorder.

EMDR works by helping you process stuck negative experiences that continue to affect you, even though the actual event is often long in the past.

It involves

  • Getting to know you, history taking, developing some trust, setting goals, using questionnaires and homework tasks.
  • Developing internal resources to strengthen your ability to connect to positive emotions.
  • Tracing back memories; For example, if you’re having anxiety problems, thinking back to the earliest time you felt this intense anxiety sensation. Exploring the emotions and body sensations brought up by these memories that are often quite strong.
  • Reprocessing using “bilateral stimulation. BLS is alternating between the left and right side of your body by moving the therapists finger back and forth while you follow with your eyes. It seems to facilitate information processing in a way that is similar to REM sleep. You go along for the ride and see what thoughts, memories, body sensations and emotions arise. Some people are quiet, whilst others talk. After about 2 minutes, the therapist will stop and ask you to share what came up for you. EMDR processing continues until the distress around the issue reduces. How many sessions this takes depends on the person and the memory. It can be very quick.
  • Where there used to be upset and a negative self-belief, the therapist will work on installing a positive belief about you and your abilities.
  • The therapist will do sets of BSL with you to clear body tension as the body can continue to hold onto negativity after your mind has let it go.

EMDR results often generalize, which means that once you’ve processed one upsetting memory, other related memories often subside.  We offer EMDR at SACAC.

 

Written by

Dr. Ronina Stevens
DClinPsych, BSc (Hons)
Clinical Psychologist

Supporting your Child with Mental Health Issues

Your child has been diagnosed with a mental health condition. What do you do next? 

As awareness of mental health issues in children and adolescents is increasing, more young people are accessing services and receiving diagnoses. But what happens next? Parenting support is vital for a child’s recovery, but it can be difficult at times to know how to support. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and strategies will depend on the individual child and issues, there are some general approaches that tend to be helpful.

  1. Create opportunities for connection and communication

While your child may struggle to communicate with you, it is important to continue to provide opportunities for them to do so. Invite them to spend time with you doing things they enjoy or healthy activities such as exercise or spending time with family friends. If they are resistant, try scaling down the activity such as a quick walk to the shops or even offer to drive them to an engagement – reduced eye contact in activities can feel more comfortable. Use 1:1 time to check in with how they are going, but don’t force the conversation if they don’t want to engage. Simply let your child know that you’re there to support them and that they can come to you at any time.

  1. Listen openly and validate their feelings

When your child does share with you, really listen to what they have to say. Focus on understanding things from their perspective and name and validate their feelings. Remember that even if their thoughts and feelings seem irrational, this is not the time to correct them or minimise their experience. Only offer your assistance with problem solving once they feel fully heard.

  1. Create a safe environment

Stress and change in the family environment can impact on the child. Maintain regular routines such as bedtimes to help make their environment predictable. Use calendars to mark activities and upcoming changes such as a parent travelling overseas. While supporting a child with mental health issues can be very stressful, it is important that parents can present a calm front in dealing with issues and that arguments are limited in front of the child. If you find that the process of supporting your child is impacting on your own health or relationships, seek your own support. Your child will benefit from seeing their parents model self-care and healthy emotion regulation.

  1. Create a support team

Remember that you don’t have to carry this on your own. It is important that all the supporting adults in the child’s life can communicate and work together to support your child. This may include school teachers and counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and parents.

 

Written by

Thea Longman
DClinPsych/MSc, BPsych (Hons)
Registered Clinical Psychologist

 

How does Visual Imagery work?

The therapeutic use of visual imagery involves creating vivid mental images of something, whether an actual past experience (like your 21st birthday) or making up something that has not actually happened (like giving a speech at an upcoming meeting, or imaging how it would have been to be able to tell a loved one how much they meant to you before they passed away).

Visual imagery is one of the most powerful therapeutic tools in my bag and I have found it to be immensely cathartic and helpful for clients and myself. The human brain is unable to accurately differentiate between vivid imagination and a real experience. This is how fears work. Most, if not all the things we are terrified of have not actually happened to us and most likely never will. However, when we imagine or visualize it, we experience the fear and adrenaline kicking in as if we were actually living through the horrid experience and our body and mind go through this simulation. This is why horror movies manage to scare us even though we are fully aware that it’s just a movie and is not “real”.

A similar impact is felt when we reminisce about past experiences – we can end up laughing over something that happened years ago and can also feel the anger of an old wound, even though it is no longer a part of our current reality or experience. Many of the therapeutic modalities I use – like hypnotherapy, regression, inner child work, schema therapy and others – utilise this natural confusion tendency of our mind to create healing experiences, work through negative or traumatic past memories and create uplifting images/expectations of the future. For e.g., even while the client is fully aware that he/she is only ‘imagining’ getting closure or ‘imagining’ feeling super confident and relaxed at an upcoming meeting – the brain experiences this as real, creates similar feelings and sensations for us and in essence lives through this imagined reality.

Athletes utilize this ‘positive visualization’ as part of their sports training. As they repeatedly imagine doing well and being successful/winning, the brain thinks that they have actually won those many times – and as they say, practice makes perfect –it’s no longer a new or unfamiliar situation, in your head, you’ve already done this a million times! This is not to say that imagination without the necessary action will yield real life success. Often the real demons we fight are in our minds in the form of horror stories we make up and tell ourselves repeatedly even though it’s the last thing we want. So this can help you be in the right frame of mind, complete unfinished business, let go past baggage, resolve internal conflict and set yourself up for success.

Our imagination is potent, magical and powerful. It’s up to us whether we use this power for good or evil, as a boon or bane. By being mindful of and consciously choosing which mental stories we create and focus on, we can use our imagination as our biggest ally instead of our enemy.

 

Written by

Mahima Gupta Didwania (M.A., MSPS, C.Ht., CRT)

Registered Clinical Psychologist (SRP), EFT Trainer, Integrated Clinical Hypnotherapist, 

Certified Regression Therapist (EARTh), Advanced EFT Practitioner (AAMET), 

Breakthrough Coach, Matrix Re-imprinting & NLP Practitioner

Therapist at SACAC Counselling

www.sacac.sg

Optimism

I am completely in awe of Martin Seligman’s work on Optimism and Happiness. He began his career working on conditioning and learning, as most psychologists did in the 60’s. But he and colleagues stumbled upon “learned helplessness”, a condition in which lab dogs and rats were “helpless”: many (not all) the animals had reached a stage, after being placed in situations where they could not do anything to avoid something bad happening to them, that they were passive in the face of shocks or the threat of shocks.

Seligman realized that the animals had expectations about what was going to happen, and for some of them, ‘despairing’ was better than trying to escape, which would be futile. This led in time to exploring how humans deal with expectations, and thence to optimism and pessimism about the future.

Seligman and his team found that they could measure optimism quite precisely, and that they could identify people who were more or less optimistic. They showed for one of the toughest jobs, with the highest drop-out rate, insurance salesmen, that the most successful were the most optimistic – indeed they had to be, because the proportion of positive calls and meetings for an insurance salesman is so low, only those with massive optimism about themselves could keep making the calls.

The measurements in turn led to better techniques to teach people to be more optimistic about themselves, using cognitive behavioural techniques. He wrote about this work in “Learned Optimism” in 1991.

In the last 20+ years, he and his collaborators at the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania have looked more broadly at happiness, and are steadily building their scientific database of interventions that can positively increase happiness. They suggest there are 3 kinds of happy lives, those with lots of pleasant emotion, usually enjoyed by people with a very sociable outlook; those who may not be very sociable but who are really engaged by some of the things they do, they “get into the flow” of these activities and don’t need ‘pleasant’ feelings; and those whose lives are meaningful, because they have discovered some of their strengths and can use them for the benefit of something or some people other than themselves.

Seligman is a persuasive advocate of ‘positive psychology’, identifying strengths and what works for people, rather identifying difficulties, however accurate this may be. I am looking forward to reading his new book, “The Hope Circuit” (2018). I commend everything he has written; happily the messages are positive but the style is not preachy or sugary. It feels real, too.

 

Written by

Tim Bunn
EdD, MSc, BA (Hons), PGCE
Consultant Educational Psychologist