What hat are you wearing?

Can you list all your roles you are taking in everyday life?  For me, I am a counsellor, a mum, a partner, a friend, a trainer, a committee member, etc…. the list goes on. How about you? How many hats do you have?  You might feel overwhelmed when you look at the list, realizing the multiple roles you are taking, even simultaneously at times. There is a reason why you sometimes feel worn out, confused, or misunderstood despite all your good effort and intentions.

“A person is described as a portfolio of his or her roles played on the stages of his or her world… A role is a coherent system of attitudes, behaviours, perspectives on reality, and accompanying relationships.” (B. Schmid, 2008, p20)

Roles are categorized into 3 areas :

(1) Private roles (being a mum, a son, or a spouse)

(2) Professional roles (being a school teacher, a doctor, or a financial advisor)

(3) Organizational roles (being a manager, or a team representative.)

When we categorize our roles, we will see clearer boundaries of our roles. 

We ‘inhabit’ roles and they become part of our psychological meaning making. Each role has expected behaviours, thoughts, feelings and relationships attached to it. A lot of difficulties that arise in life are due to issues regarding role boundaries, and differences in understanding a role.

How often do we hear a spouse say ‘I just want you to LISTEN’ while the other, in the best of his/her intention, tries to SOLVE the problem just as he/she does at ‘the workplace’ as a result of keeping ‘the company worker’s’ hat, rather than wearing ‘the spouse who expresses support’ hat. 

Thus, the sense of not feeling good, or insufficiency of self may not be anything to do with one’s capability. Rather, it might just be a misunderstanding of a role among the people involved in. So when you feel confused, take a moment to reflect what hat you are wearing at that given moment, and what it entails in its relationship. It will help you clarify some of the confusion and uneasiness.

Written by:
Rie Miura
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

References:
Bernd Schmid (2008) The Role Concept of Transactional Analysis and other Approaches to Personality, Encounter, and Cocreativity for All Professional Fields, Transactional Analysis Journal, 38:1, 17-30,

Why question the positives you hear about others and believe the negatives?

Gossiping is something that is done all over the world, in every country, in every generation, in the workplace, at school, at social events, within families, within friend groups, at the sports clubs, etcetera. But why? And is it helpful?

A few reasons why people gossip are attention, boredom, feeling better about themselves, jealousy, sense of belonging, acceptance, revenge, and gaining power. The critical thing is usually putting someone down and lifting ourselves in an (in)direct way.

“Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” ~ Sean Covey

If we want to talk about others, can we also do that with nuances, a less judgemental attitude and show the complexity and perspectives of a situation? For example, talking about others could give us room for reflection and growth instead of a temporary sense of superiority.

Let’s start reflecting on our behaviour of talking about other people. With what purpose am I talking about someone else? What is my intention/motive? Is it because I am interested or do I make myself feel better, stronger, more confident and more secure? Ask yourself if jealousy plays a role and that you secretly wish you could be able to be there/do that or be like that person?

So does gossiping not say a lot about myself, my state of mind about myself, and my insecurities?

Will this gossip reflect well on me? Or can I focus on what matters to me in life and therefore live a more fulfilling life? Can I see the positives of others and share them instead?

When we have the urge to gossip, we can instead pay attention to what we are feeling (underlying)? Am I sad about me not having something? Do I feel not worthy? Do I feel insecure? Can I put all my energy into processing my emotions instead of avoiding that by putting the energy into gossiping?

How would your life be different if…Did you walk away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…You speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.” ~ Steve Maraboli

Written by:
Flo Westendorp
Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate
MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)
SACAC Counselling

Self-Compassion

In the moment of suffering, how do you deal with stressful experiences? Have you tried to ignore your experiences and feelings? Do you tend to be very critical of yourself? Have you heard about cultivating self-compassion?

When we take a compassionate stance towards ourselves when dealing with distressing experiences, we are practicing self-compassion. Studies indicated that increased levels of self-compassion are associated with increased psychological well-being.

Self-compassion consists of three pairs of components: self-kindness versus self-judgment, common humanity versus isolation, and mindfulness versus over-identification.

  • Self-kindness is the ability to offer kindness, patience, and understanding rather than being judgmental or harsh to ourselves during times of perceived suffering, failure and inadequacy.
  • Common humanity emphasizes that all human beings are imperfect and may engage in unhealthy behaviors when facing negative life events. When we are able to connect with people with similar experience, it decreased the sense of loneliness or isolation.
  • Mindfulness entails the awareness of the present moment. Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling onto the past, we are able to live in the present moment and be consistent with our values.

During difficult periods, if we are engaging in negative self-judging behaviors and attitudes, it may lead to over-identification with our short-comings. As a result of the over-identification, we may feel isolated because we are unable to understand that everyone goes through this similar process. Through the practice of self-compassion, we learn to acknowledge that life is imperfect when facing life challenges. Instead of ignoring or engaging in rumination of our shortcomings, we approach our personal flaws and shortcomings in a balanced manner during difficult situations. Additionally, we learn to adopt a healthy and positive attitude toward solving problems in life and showing affection to ourselves. When interacting with others, we are able to relate or empathize with the experiences of other people.

Practicing self-compassion can be easy but challenging, especially if you are used to being critical of yourself. Can you think about when you are not critical and when you are able to extend that compassion towards yourself? For instance, having a lower expectation of yourself or allowing yourself to have a break. These small actions, as simple as they may be, help cultivate a sense of self-compassion.

With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.” (Neff, 2019)

Written by:
Dr. Ting Huay Ooi
Re
gistered Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

References:

Barnard, L. K., & Curry, J. F. (2011). Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates, & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15(4), 289-303.

Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure Self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223–250. doi:10.1080/15298860390209035

Neff, K.D. (2019). Tips for Practice. Retrieved from https://self-compassion.org/tips-for-practice/

Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., & Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 139–154. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2006.03.004

Attached: To Their Screens?

Attachment is a necessity for human life – across the lifespan. Attachment is connection and compassion, it is the relationships with people you trust and who care about you. This blog post explores how screens (including our own) interfere with attachment behaviours and as such can leave children and young people in an attachment void, increasing their peer orientation and peer attachments. Physician Dr. Gabor Maté and Clinical Psychologist Gordon Neufield help put a context around what is biologically required for children and young people, to attach and the challenges for parents “in the digital age”. 

Screens and our reliance on them is one of parents, teachers and all who love and care for children and young people’s biggest concern for them. We are concerned by what our young people tell us, we are concerned by what we see on Netflix (Social Dilemma anyone?), we notice it in ourselves and our addictions to screens, work and social media. We are most concerned by the behavior changes we notice. Parents and professionals are concerned about increased addictive behavior, increased mental health concerns (Anxiety, Depression, suicidality), and decreased adult and intergenerational connection and influence in their young person’s life, and the reality is – it is complex. There is a tremendous amount we do not know about the brain, brain development, there is luck, genetics, the environment, the peer group, maturational factors, school, sibling order; the list could go on. However, we can take an approach of trying to understand, with some empathy and nuance, why do children and young people sometimes find themselves in situations where they are practically strangers to the people who care deeply about them and want to connect, and they are overly connected to their peers – much of which is online?

There is a never-ending round of discussion in any parenting group you would care to join on how, when, and what media we should allow access to for our children. Furthermore, this may not be solely a family decision – children may be required to have a device for school, parents may feel it is important to have a phone for safety and/ or accessibility. It is very much a case that the “horse” has well and truly bolted from the barn – so how can we help make it safer for children and young people, for their brains, their minds, and their emerging sense of self?

Here is a typical parental concern you may hear at any gathering of parents with adolescents: “I don’t feel as though I know them at all anymore”, “they come home from school (or spend the day during home learning) and then they are in their room, are on their phone/ laptop/ device – chatting, doing homework, YouTube, online gaming from the minute they get home until they go to bed. I barely see them for dinner.” These struggles have been normalized through our culture – however, my sense is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, the young people themselves do not like either. They are uncomfortable, scared, lost, and confused and that is why they turn to the screens in a never-ending loop of attempting to connect, to feel safe, and to sometimes numb the painful feelings they are experiencing.

But first – what is the problem if an adolescent is overly focussed on their peers? The problem is that with the never-ending access to screens and expectations young people have of themselves to be constantly available (via Snapchat, Discord, Messenger, etc.) that this can interfere with their primary caregiver attachments and relationships.  Certainly, teens are empathetic, they are kind and thoughtful, they can be fun, delightful, interesting, and intelligent. They however still need an adult, a secure safe trusted caregiver who has wisdom through context, who loves and values them unconditionally, who can help them problem solve, who they are not overly reliant on for their emerging ego development. In other words – we all can benefit from peer relationships, but for a child and a young person, this can become mutually exclusive to the adult caregiver attachment. If at the exact moment when our teenagers need to be held gently, to be contained and celebrated – if they are only left with a culture of fear of exclusion, desperate needs to fit in, to be fulfilling their attachment instinct with their peers rather than a parent or trusted caregiver then we are creating environments that are unsafe for them.

What can we do?

1.) Prioritize family time. Dr. Gordon Neufeld believes that children spend plenty of time with their peers at school. Time outside of school and work (holidays, weekends, etc.) need not to be always socializing with peers. This helps them stay attached to the family and caregivers.

2.) Proximity and connection with all our senses. This means that we adults need to be physically and emotionally available. We as caregivers need to be aware of our own divided attention and screen usage, turn our full attention to them, show and develop an interest in what interests them.

3.) Have shared experiences, both on and off screens. Cultural practices and rites of passage are important for adolescents, it can help anchor them with roots to the community and support emerging identity development.

Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufuld have many resources including “Hold Onto Your Kids” and various lecture series for parents and professionals. 

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling


References:
Gordon Neufeld: https://neufeldinstitute.org/
Dr. Gabor Maté : https://drgabormate.com/

Waiting for the New Normal

We are waiting for things to go back to normal; or maybe, not exactly how they were, but a slightly different set of routines and expectations, the “new normal”. The pandemic has stressed everyone, whether or not loved ones have been lost; many people have lost jobs and have had to switch to something new. Many have volunteered to help in the health crisis, with all the attendant strains. We are tired of it and want our old lives back. But will that happen?

I was shocked to discover a few days ago that one of the most common ways of thinking about the world was completely new to me: VUCA. It is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity, originating in the US from business and military strategy, it suggests the world is getting harder to predict and understand because things keep changing in complex ways. Have things really changed or is it just that we have more sophisticated ways of looking at them? I don’t know, but it seems to strike a chord with many people. It suggests that any new normal will not be straightforward.

I grew up in the post-war world dominated by the danger of nuclear war and the conflict of values between capitalism and communism. The planet was expected just to chug along – we didn’t know much about plate tectonics or greenhouse gases. After the collapse of the USSR in the early 90’s, for a while things seemed to be settling down to a new global normal. But the rumblings of climate change have got louder and louder, then there was the Wall Street housing finance crash and then the pandemic threw us into a spin. It does all seem to be changing too fast.

We want stability and predictability but we seem to be in “exciting times.” Can we transition to a sustainable world, in which most people are safe enough and have their needs met, without too much fighting, without too much loss? I am not sure but I hope we can. A lot rides on that word “hope.” We undoubtedly need it, but it has to be intelligent hope, based on the reality of what we can achieve. We have seen how bioscience has achieved minor miracles to vaccinate us quickly. We need many other scientific breakthroughs in food, materials, energy, and transport. We also need leadership, vision, and solidarity. We need good people to share their visions of how we can create a new world. It won’t be the old normal. It has to be better.

Written by:
Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Healing Trauma in a Flash

Experiencing traumatic events can be so bad that we do not want to go through them again by talking about them in therapy. Painful emotions would have to be relived, so it is only understandable that people prefer not to go through them again. Not only are these memories uncomfortable, but they are also, from a survival perspective, identified as a threat. And our mind may very well want to avoid them at all costs.

What if these memories, caused by single events, could be processed without going through them, without having to talk about them, and without reliving them? It would be possible to significantly reduce the disturbances caused by the traumatic event and, therefore, impact our lives by using the Flash Technique developed by Dr. Philip Manfield (Ph.D.).

This technique can often be completed within a single session. It was developed as preparation for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). The procedure is straightforward and similar to EMDR as it uses eye movements and tapping. At the start, the client will share a traumatic event. If it is unclear what memory caused the client’s presenting symptoms, the therapist will help the client identify the ‘target’ memory.

The therapist will ask the client to focus on a person, pet, or activity that provides an immediate pleasurable experience, otherwise known as Positive Engaging Focus (PEF). In as little as 10-15 minutes, PEF can significantly reduce the impact of the initial disturbance.

While working with the trauma, the client does not need to keep thinking about the trauma; this makes the procedure less scary and daunting. In the end, the disturbances may be gone entirely or reduced significantly. This means that the client is well-prepared for other models of therapy to improve their wellbeing further.

It is essential to highlight that the Flash Technique (FT) should only be used by certified therapists to ensure the client’s safety. Both adults and children may benefit from this process, and the technique has been used to treat a wide variety of presenting complaints, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Written by:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

Who are you and who are you becoming through COVID?

We may all agree that the topic of COVID is getting tiring and exhausting,

I understand that you all may not want to talk about COVID anymore. We are all soaked about it. It has lasted too long, impacted too much, and taken too much of our energy and time. But believe me, it can be beneficial in some ways.

Maybe to start with, we can put COVID aside for a while and let you take place first. Let’s talk about you, your personality, and your identity. 

You have probably asked yourself before about who you are. Identity, contrary to what some might believe, is not a fixed category. It evolves all the time and is continuously changing, although it can sometimes seem predetermined or predictable.

According to behaviorism and other contextual behavior sciences, personality is not something that dictates our behavior, but it is part of it. The dichotomy between mind and body is outdated. What makes a person unique and singular results from her/his relationship with culture, including ontogenetic and phylogenetic processes. Therefore, identity is what we do, how we react, how we feel, how we think, and how we process things.

Besides behavioral psychology, the ideas of Social Psychology, the Materialism Historical, and the Dialect Method point out that human action in the world changes the material simultaneously as it changes the subject. Object and subject become a unity of contrary, moving culture, history, and human condition forward. “(…) All sensation or perception is an interaction between subject and object; the bare object, apart from the activity of the percipient, is a mere raw material, which is transformed in the process of being known. Knowledge in the old sense of passive contemplation is an unreal abstraction; the process that really takes place is one of handling things”. (Wambui, 2011, p.3)

Now that you know that your identity is mainly a social construct that evolves along with life, we can (sorry!) go back to COVID.

Like it or not, COVID has brought the emergence of unique needs, distinct ways of doing things, and new rules. The world is now different. As the theories above explicate, COVID has changed not just our environment but how we are as individuals too. We have been lonely, down, committed, open to new things, insightful, missing our family and trips, feeling hungry, feeling different, depressed, marginalized. And it depends on where in the world you were when it all started and where you are now. And I don’t just mean the physical world. It depends on what you choose to be when COVID happened and as it continues. Determinations are constant, but they are not everything.

Even if you can’t acknowledge these changes, COVID has impacted you somehow. And to overcome and find your journey in COVID times, I invite you to look deep within yourself and embrace this new context, not in a passive way but in an active, intentional way. It is not about being positive; it’s about being realistic. It’s not about being altruistic; it is about being human, being you, your only you. This period is about understanding your role, the power of your actions, and the power of your being. It’s not about denying determinism; it’s about accepting it and finding your best version of yourself. In the end, it is about giving yourself your best. And as a result, it is about giving others your best. It is to learn how to exist and co-exist.

All in all, we can only be ourselves because of others. And you can choose your path wisely, even knowing that freedom is not absolute and there is no control for all that affects us. But there are choices, there are fruits, and there is happiness, even in dark times.

In the end, I hope we can all look back on this period with some sense of relief, something to own, some new insights into ourselves, and maybe even something to smile about. Perhaps even being able to say, “I did it my way,” as Sinatra sings.

Just one last thing: if you need guidance in this process of deciding for your best version of yourself, please feel free to contact us. We are here to help.

Wishing you good luck and tenderness through this inevitable journey.

Written by:
Andrea Fernandes Thomaz
Counsellor & Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

References:

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wambui, M. W. (2011). Dialectical Materialism and Historical Dialectics of Karl Marx. Munich, GRIN. Verlag, Retrieved from: https://www.grin.com/document/703506

The benefits of artistic expression in this uncertain time to express what we cannot name

In this time of uncertainty, returning to a creative activity gives us, parents and children, the opportunity to take the time to welcome our emotions, to explore them and to enrich each other. It is useful and recommended to find a few avenues to explore in order to support your child’s voice.

In the context of COVID, children need to express what they are feeling. Exposed to the media and to the conversations of adults, they must be given the opportunity to reconnect with their own critical capacities and to put prejudices, classifications and speculations aside.

The trace

Arno Stern, creator of the Clos Lieu and founder of “le Jeu de Peindre,” insists that drawing, in Italian as in German, means “to show,” “to designate.” A sketch is better than a beautiful speech! Drawing is a means of communication for the child – it has meaning and it leaves a mark. This trace is used to contain emotions without having to verbalize them. It is a way of representing “outside of yourself” what we experience with the environment. This allows us to de-dramatize and defuse, without trivializing.

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The transformative power of writing (narrative practice)

Helping our child to tell his story can certainly contribute to his well-being, in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing. Supporting him is offering him the opportunity to transform his emotions and for him to become aware of himself: Where am I? How did I get there? Where am I going? It allows him to situate himself in relation to his relationship to others and to the current context.

As a parent, it is by no means the quality of the drawing that is sought, but the quality of the time spent together recounting what we observe, what we have heard during the day.

It offers us a potential space for:

– To make time for a break

– Accept difficult feelings if there are any

– Find a place of safety, security, serenity, joy to express

– Claiming our voice to tell

– Transform feelings

– Enrich and deepen our understanding of our community

So, how do you facilitate artistic expression?

–  Remain concrete, authentic, and rich in details

–  Listen

–  Do not try to justify or over-analyze when writing, drawing, etc.

–  Recognize and balance negativity with positivity

–  Use metaphors to represent concepts instead of trying to define everything

– Do not worry about grammar

– Do not exceed 1 hour per day

– Enjoy the process!

Written by:
Saveria Cristofari 
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Mental Health Maintenance in Repeated Lockdowns

Until tightened restrictions took effect over the past weekend, many in Singapore were just regaining their sense of hope and ability to thrive. Since the end of December, we were blessed with near-normal lives that allowed us to dine in at restaurants, gather with family and friends in groups as big as 8, and return to working in offices. With new safety measures in place through at least the next month, concerns about ability to cope are bound to shroud the minds of many. In order to maintain mental health as we enter another lockdown, we can aim to achieve a balance in 3 key dichotomies.

Virtual World and Real World

We cannot deny the internet’s multitude of wonderful functions; it keeps us connected with others, it is a rich sea of information and learning resources; it provides us with vicarious experiences we are otherwise unable to access, and much more. However, excessive or maladaptive device usage can contribute to feelings of isolation, derealization, lower self-esteem, anxiety, and unhealthy misconceptions stemmed from misinformation. Be mindful about how much time you spend on devices, and what need you are trying to fulfill by being on your device. Make time to regularly engage in real world activities like going for a walk outside, preparing an enjoyable meal, or doing some arts and crafts. If you have difficulty feeling connected with real life activities, try to incorporate mindfulness to enhance your level of engagement.

Individual and Social Activities

Loneliness and feeling stifled living in close quarters with others are difficult, yet common experiences in lockdowns. Opportunities to socialize with people of your choice can ward off feelings of loneliness, boredom, and provide a refreshing change of social scenery for those who live with others. While it may not be advisable to meet in person, we can still arrange time to regularly socialize with friends and family virtually. If you get bored of simple video calls, get creative by asking each other to participate in online games, quizzes, simultaneous movie streaming, playlist collaborations, or learn a new skill together through an instructional video. For those who live with others, it is important to draw boundaries to retain your sense of autonomy and individuality. Safeguard your “me time” by letting those you live with know you won’t be available at that time.

Productivity and Rest

People tend to bounce between extremes of productivity and rest during lockdowns. Sometimes, work bleeds into what is meant to be our personal time off, causing disturbance to sleep routines, impairing our ability to engage and enjoy personal activities, and preventing us from feeling sufficiently recharged. All of these can quickly lead to lower work performance and burnout. On the other extreme, some abandon all duties and fall into a state of stagnation. We may feel frozen when overwhelmed by so many limitations around what we do and how we do it. Motivation can also wither away when usual sources of accountability are no longer present. Maintain a healthy work-life balance by setting regular work hours for yourself. Consider having accountability partners for both work and your personal time. This way, you can encourage each other to remain consistent with starting/ending work on time, and have meaningful engagement with time spent either working or resting.

As difficult as this period may be, we must remind and accredit ourselves for persevering through the lockdown last year. Let this fuel a sense of hope that we can withstand another one. Give thanks to yourself for every effort exerted to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing, and have self-compassion on the days when those efforts fall short.

SACAC Counselling wishes for everyone to stay safe through this trying time. If you have difficulty coping, please reach out for professional help.

Written by:
Michelle Chak 
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

“It Takes a Village…”

As the adage correctly states, it takes collaboration between various parties to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. This is especially so if a child is going through a challenging time and demonstrating behavioral and emotional distress.  

Research has shown that parental involvement is essential to positive therapy outcomes for most children, regardless of age. Typically, the younger the child the more involved a parent should be. Parental involvement is especially important in the translation of therapeutic skills from the clinic to real-life situations in the child’s life.

In short, it is crucial that parents act as drivers of prescribed therapy at home. Active participation is key. As a parent, how can you actively contribute to your child’s therapeutic journey? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be engaged in your child’s therapy session where possible. Take notes and ask questions when in doubt. It is appreciated when a parent shares concerns about various skills or strategies taught in session and provides honest feedback about their child’s responses to the therapy. This enables the therapist to accurately pinpoint issues and appropriately adapt the therapy sessions to better accommodate the unique needs of the child.
  • Be prepared to do “homework”. One of the most important roles of a parent in therapy is to ensure that their child practices the skills learnt in session and to facilitate generalisation of these skills while in a home environment. This may involve parents taking some time out of their schedules in order to engage the child in some exercises. In addition, the parents should note any questions which may arise and document progress so that it can be readily addressed at the next therapy session.
  • Facilitate necessary communication between your child’s therapist and other stakeholders. Sometimes, it is important to engage other stakeholders in the child’s therapy such as the school and teachers. It is very helpful if parents take the initiative and open up the communication between all stakeholders. This will help everyone better understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses and how to better support in various settings.  
  • Finally, while it is encouraged to be involved, be careful about being over-involved and attempting to dictate the direction of therapy. As a parent, one might experience anxiety or impatience and feel the urge to act on these emotions. Should this occur, it is important to address these concerns with the therapist and work together as a team.  

Remember, while the therapist is the expert of the relevant theoretical knowledge and therapy process, the parent is ultimately the expert of the child! When parents and therapists collaborate, progress and empowerment inevitably results.

Written by:
Jamie Ong
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling