What Can You Expect from Pre-marital Counseling?

Engaged couples hope for a long, healthy, and happy marriage. This is more possible if we start with open and an honest conversations; premarital counselling is a great avenue to have these conversations. A study at the University of Denver found that premarital education reduces the divorce rate of participants by thirty percent (Stanley, et al, 2006). So what could we learn during pre-marital counselling? Usually, the couples will be able to:

  1. Be more cognizant about the strengths of their relationship and realise reasons why they are together and wanting to build future lives in the first place. This heightened awareness and verbalisation will in turn reaffirm and strengthen the relationship.
  2. Gain better understanding on how personality, family history, and life experiences can influence the relationship. With proper assessment, couples will be able to learn about personal needs, values, and how those affect our views and attitudes toward many factors of marriage such as intimacy and sexuality, finance, and parenting to name a few. The similarities and the differences in the couple will be discovered more during this process. However, in pre-marital counselling, the couple will learn to manage those similarities and differences better so that they will be able to utilise them to their advantage instead of looking at those as something that could tear them apart.
  3. Be guided by the counsellor to plan for their future better by discussing and managing expectations. It is very important to be conscious about what we expect from our partner and the marriage itself. During the discussion about expectations, couples could discover what being a “wife” or “husband” means to them, including their expectations of roles and division of labour in their household, or even what sex or infidelity means to them. The counsellor can help couples set and accomplish financial or family planning goals.
  4. Find new information. The counselling sessions will give couple the opportunity to discuss issues that do not come up in normal conversations, such as their fears, dreams, desires, beliefs, values, and needs. Individuals might have different reference points in terms of familial history, ethnic, cultural, and religious views that might prevent them from openly discussing certain topics. That is why counselling could offer a safe space for individuals to share things that are difficult to talk about.

By the end of the program, couples should have a more in-depth understanding of their partner and a set of tools to help start their marriage on the same page.

By Natalia Indrasari – MA (Psychoanalytic Studies),  MS Counselling

Teaching Children Compassion by Rachel Upperton

Daily Opportunities for Teaching Compassion to Our Children

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them

humanity cannot survive” Dalia Lama

Surprisingly to me, my children and their peers at an Australian school were all abuzz about the recent US election.  I was in the playground after school the day the election results came in and was surprised how many children were following the results and expressing loudly their reactions.   As children, and many adults do, the kids were regurgitating the most sensational headlines from the campaign and disparaging Trump accordingly.  I am not naive enough to think that the opinions expressed were independent of parents views, however what struck me was how strong the children felt about some of the most outrageous comments that had been expressed in the campaign, particularly those that were portrayed as racist, sexist and non-inclusive.  This exhibition of preteen self-righteousness was heartening to me, realising that this next generation cared about these issues and felt a level of injustice around them.  Was this compassion I was witnessing? Talking about this with my daughter later in the evening she suggestested that people lack compassion when they are scared of what they don’t know. She then went on to give examples from a recently read book about a child who was mistreated because of his physical appearance, but once other kids got to know him this fear and mistreatment subsided. I think this discussion demonstrates how children are capable of compassionate understanding and behaving.  To this end I think it is important for us to create opportunities for our children to learn about the issues that scare them, opening their minds and hearts to become consciously compassionate, and kind citizens of the world.

Teaching our children compassion can occur in really simply ways on a daily basis in our own homes, below are some readily accessible examples that can be adapted to suit any family.  

1.Reading Together.  There are some fabulous books around that are entertaining yet thought provoking and prod children to look past the superficial. Reading these together provides opportunities for questions and content discussion. Some of my personal favourites include; Mr Stink by David Walliams,  Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio,  I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.  Each of these books encourage the reader to think about the experience of others and consider the impact of  actions.

  1. Encourage Inclusivity.  Talk to your children about what is happening in the classroom/ playground, are there any children who are being left out.  Encourage them to make an effort to get to know these kids.  When children talk about school friends they are having trouble with encourage them to think about what might be happening for the other child, what their perception of the situation may be, is the child experiencing anything challenging in their life. Considering the motivations and feelings of others helps your child develop empathy.
  1. Expression of Gratitude Expressing and feeling gratitude allows children to appreciate how fortunate they are and consider that many children around the world go without. Gratitude should not be limited to material items but also include things such as family, love, education, health, clean water, blue skies. This can be done as a family over the dinner table, in a gratitude journal or as a bedtime ritual.  
  1. Acknowledge Differences – Within your home acknowledge the differences in strengths and traits amongst each of the family members.  Teach your children that everyone is unique and individual and that these differences are to be celebrated and encouraged.  Observe how the diversity works and contributes to a harmonious, fun and exciting household. Talk about the blandness of sameness and expand this discussion outside of the family parameters and include different cultures, religions and beliefs.
  1. Encourage Compassion Toward Self – So often children and adults alike place very high expectations on themselves to do their best and as such be the best, with very little scope for error.  In order to be compassionate toward others it helps if we can be compassionate toward ourselves, let your children know that it is ok to make mistakes, or to do something just for fun.  Show them that you are able to be kind to yourself when things don’t quite pan out,  lead by example.  Let them know they are welcome to ask for help or nurturing.
  1. Have a Cause – Research has demonstrated that the positive areas of the brain that light up when receiving money are equally or more stimulated when people give money. Allowing children to choose a cause to support and save money for is a great compassion builder. Once kids have chosen a charity, they may wish to support this by donating goods or time, having a household “swear jar” or raising awareness.  Researching a cause at the beginning of the year and understanding how the contribution will be used is educational and thought provoking. This simple act of giving can generate a lot of warm fuzzy feelings.

Adopting one or two of the strategies above will allow your children to build on their empathy and compassion, which will also increase feelings of positivity and understanding within your home.  Each of these strategies also provide opportunities for children to feel connected to you as you engage in the activities and discussions together.  This connectedness provides valuable bonds that will allow your children to approach you if they are feeling fearful or scared of something they don’t understand. It is in these moments we can help prevent the development of prejudice, racism and sexism and hopefully instead instill, compassion, kindness and understanding.

Companions on the journey: The healing power of empathy by Yana Ricart

Can you recall a recent time when you were feeling upset?

Were you alone?  Were you able to talk to someone?

Can you remember how you felt afterwards?  

If you talked to someone that really understood you, you probably felt the touch of empathy.

Empathy (from the Greek empatheia: em – in + pathos – feeling) is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (Oxford Dictionary).

The American psychologist Carl Rogers, one of the founders of the humanistic approach in psychotherapy, did a lot of research on the topic of empathy. His research has influenced greatly the way that empathic listening is approached in the field of mental health today.     

Why would empathy be important to us?  Let’s look at these areas:

Ourselves:

“When someone really hears you without passing judgement on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mould you it feels damn good!” (Carl Rogers). Our feelings of wellbeing improve when someone truly hears us, so being on the receiving end of empathy is beneficial to us.

Interestingly enough, research shows that being really present and understanding another person also decreases the levels of stress of the listener, even if the story heard is painful and difficult. When we truly hear someone, even if we are only thinking for our own benefit, it is still a win-win situation.

Others:

“When a person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten… it is as though he were saying: Thank God somebody heard me.  Someone knows what it’s like to be me” (Carl Rogers).  When a person feels understood, apart from the individual feeling of wellbeing, a sense of connection develops with the person hearing them.  If we are that person, then we would also be benefiting from the connection.

Once people have felt this sense of empathy, they can pass it on and be role models for others, as we have been for them.

Organizations:

We can bring those feelings of wellbeing and connection to the organizations where we work. With decreased stress levels people in a work place will feel happier, which leads to increased productivity and better results for the company.  

This would be a good reason to encourage managers to consider their interactions with their employees, actively listening actually brings more financial rewards in the long run.

In summary…

We learn to listen to other people’s stories. Other times we talk about our own pain and happiness with someone that understands us (maybe a friend, a colleague or a counsellor). And through our connections in empathy, we allow our healing to unfold and help others in their own processes of healing.  

We become companions on the journey of life and we can continue to support others or be supported even from a different place and time… The memory of an understanding smile, a loving word or gesture can stay with us and bring back to life the healing power of empathy when we most need it.

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Positive Body Image and Impact On Teen’s Self Esteem – Written by Vinti Mittal

Studies have found that 1 out of 2 teens in Singapore, believe that they are too fat; 8 in 10 want to change the way they look; and 1 in 5 would consider plastic surgery. Research shows that there has been an increase in body image concerns and decrease in self-esteem among teens in Singapore. This is concerning, considering that a healthy body image in early years lay the foundation for good physical and mental health.

Some facts from National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), America

  • 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 their 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.
  • Statistic shows that, body satisfaction may hit a low between the ages of 12-15.

Body Image is defined as a way that one perceives their bodies. It relates to individual’s shape, size and weight. The need to look perfect is spreading across most age groups, ethnicity, strata and the influence seems to be strong and impossible to ignore.

24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, credited with inspiring generations of young swimmers, was reduced to tears feeling insecure during a conversation about body image after her retirement from the sport.

What influences Body Image?

Family life and culture tends to have a strong influence on one’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. A family’s pressures to look perfect, a coach’s expectations of “making weight” for the sports team, or body changes during puberty may impact a child’s perception of body image. Interestingly, media has been defining the “ideal” size by bombarding us with unrealistic, air brushed pictures, creating negative influence on our children’s concept of body image.

How Does Body Image affects Self Esteem?

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 or appearance. Self-esteem is the “real” opinion one has of them. 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.

How can parents help boost positive body image?

  • Ensure use of positive statements around food, meal times, body sizes and shapes.
  • 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.
  • Model to accept and value people for who they are irrespective of their looks and appearances.
  • Compliment children on their qualities rather than their physical appearance
  • Enhancing the children’s knowledge on the genuinity of the images on screens and magazines projected by media around us

When in doubt?

You may begin to wonder what is really happening, when you notice your teenager seeking for unusual assurance on their appearance, are overly obsessed with looks, drastically changing their food habits or experiencing loss of considerable weight  etc. ? Discuss your concerns with them, if things don’t work out, consider talking to a counselor/psychologist to get some help.