Conflict Resolution  for Siblings

Sibling rivalry is a typical part of growing up and childhood, but that doesn’t mean that there always needs to be loud and constant bickering and arguments. With a few conflict resolution skills, siblings can learn to communicate effectively, express their needs in a healthy way, and find solutions that work!

Here are 5 conflict resolution skills for siblings:

  1. Cool down. It’s hard to have a productive conversation when you’re both angry or upset and in the Red zone. Take some time to cool down before trying to talk about the problem. Take a few long and slow deep breaths, go for a walk, or listen to calming music.
  2. Listen to each other. When you have had your turn to talk, really listen to what your sibling has to say. Try to see things from their perspective and avoid interrupting.
  3. I-statements. Use “I statements” to express your feelings without blaming or coming across as attacking to your sibling. For example, I feel…..when…… Instead of saying, “You always take my things!”, try saying, “I feel frustrated when I can’t find my things.”
  4. Problem Solving. Once you’ve both had a chance to talk, it’s time to start problem solving solutions. Come up with a few different ideas and be willing to compromise.
  5. Agree to disagree. Sometimes, you won’t be able to agree on a solution. That’s okay! Just agree to disagree and move on. You can always revisit the issue later when you’ve both had some time to cool down.

Remember, learning effective communication is key here. The more you talk to each other, the better you’ll understand each other and the easier it will be to resolve any conflicts.

Here are some further additional tips for resolving conflict with your siblings:

  • Avoid name-calling and put-downs. These will only make the situation worse.
  • Be respectful of each other’s belongings. Ask before you borrow something, and put things back where you found them.
  • Try to use 2 conflict resolution tools before going to an adult when having an argument. For example: If you have a problem with your sibling, talk to them directly and try I Statements. 
  • Spend some quality time together doing things you both enjoy. This will help you build a stronger relationship and make it easier to resolve conflicts.

With a little practice, you and your siblings can learn to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts in a healthy way. So give it a go!

References

https://www.verywellfamily.com/solutions-for-sibling-fighting-and-rivalry-620104

https://biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/key-strategies-manage-sibling-rivalry

https://kelsoschoice.com

Written by:
Renee Butler
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Adlerian Therapy’s Goals

What was Alfred Adler’s role in the world?

Alfred Adler was a physician, psychotherapist, and the founder of Adlerian psychology, also known as Individual Psychology. In his early career, he was one of Sigmund Freud’s colleagues, but later diverged to develop his own psychological theory. In contrast to Freud, who emphasized the role of unconscious drives, Adler focused on conscious factors such as social interests and lifestyle choices. Modern approaches to psychotherapy were shaped by Adler’s theories.

According to Adlerian theory, individuals are interconnected beings influenced by psychological, social, environmental, and physiological factors. According to Adler, the perspective is based on the concept of “Gesellschaftsfühl,” or “community feeling.” The therapist considers how multiple aspects of the client’s life interact to contribute to the current issues rather than treating individual struggles as isolated problems.

It can be useful to understand the dynamics of early family experiences and how they shape an individual’s lifestyle and coping mechanisms through techniques such as the “Family Constellation.”

As a result of using a holistic approach, clients gain a better understanding of their current struggles, allowing them to develop more effective coping strategies.

Adlerian therapy emphasizes the importance of understanding each individual’s unique personality and lifestyle, and the power of human relationships in fostering personal growth. It also emphasizes the importance of understanding and accepting one’s flaws, and the potential for personal growth through self-reflection and self-motivation.

Adlerian therapy is based on the idea that everyone is born with an innate drive for personal growth. It encourages individuals to challenge their assumptions and to develop a sense of self-confidence. It also encourages them to become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. In contrast to other therapies that may focus exclusively on alleviating symptoms, Adlerian therapy utilizes a holistic approach. By addressing underlying beliefs and life goals, it seeks to bring about deep-seated change in an individual’s social context.

Adlerian therapy encourages the individual to become more self-aware and to develop a sense of purpose in life. It also focuses on improving communication and problem-solving skills. Finally, it seeks to empower the individual to take control of their own life.

Adlerian therapy focuses on helping people gain insight into their own behavior and motivations, as well as helping them to develop healthier attitudes and behaviors. It also emphasizes the importance of understanding the individual’s unique social situation and cultural background.

Nevertheless, further research is required, but Adlerian therapy has proven effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, interpersonal problems, and anger issues.

The first goal is to promote personal growth

A key component of the approach is the need for individuals to feel competent and independent, emphasizing their unique abilities and potential. In addition to overcoming challenges, it is also important to realize one’s potential and achieve one’s goals.

Therapy Techniques to Facilitate Personal Growth

The Socratic Method: a method for exploring an individual’s beliefs, values, and setting meaningful goals (Advancing Theoretical Foundations of Adlerian Psychology, p. 162).

Guided imagery: This technique helps individuals visualize situations in which they have overcome challenges successfully, which boosts their self-confidence.

Using role-playing scenarios, individuals can practice different responses to situations, resulting in increased flexibility and adaptability.

Early Recollections: An innovative approach to understanding a person’s present lifestyle and coping strategies based on their earliest memories.

Goal 2: Fostering a Sense of Belonging and Community

Goal 3: Promoting Self-Awareness and Self-Understanding

Goal 4: Encouraging the Development of a Healthy Lifestyle

Goal 5: Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills

Goal 6: Cultivating a Positive and Optimistic Attitude

References

Adler, A. (2013b). Understanding Human Nature (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.

Adler, A., Jelliffe, S. Ely. (1917). Study of Organ Inferiority and its Psychical Compensation: A Contribution to Clinical Medicine. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company.

Capuzzi, D. & Stauffer, M. D. (2016). Counseling and Psychotherapy: Theories and Interventions. Germany: Wiley.

Stein, H. T. & Edwards, M. E. (2002). Adlerian psychotherapy. In Herson, M. & Sledge, M. H. (1st Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy (Vol. 1, pp. 23-31). Netherlands: Elsevier Science.

White, W. A. (1917). The theories of Freud, Jung and Adler: III. The Adlerian concept of the neuroses. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 12 (3), 168.

Written by:
Leah Selakovic
Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Psychological research and practice

There is an extremely intricate relationship between psychological research and practice. Psychology borrowed scientific methodology to study non-animate objects like rocks for the exploration of the human mind, akin to natural sciences (Giorgi, 1970; Valle & Halling, 1989). However, this mainstream tradition encountered many difficulties because, unlike other disciplines such as physics, psychologists encounter “very messy” data sets due to substantial individual differences in their research. Furthermore, psychology is currently experiencing what is known as a “replication crisis” (Amrhein et al., 2019; Earp & Trafimow, 2015; Maxwell et al., 2015; Shrout & Rodgers, 2018; Stroebe & Strack, 2014), where the replicability of famous experiments that underpinned the theories taught in psychology textbooks is being questioned.

This crisis prompts us, as science-practitioners, to reconsider the trade-off between experimental control and real-world application, also known as ecological validity (Matthews, 2000). Often, the more relatable a psychological phenomenon is to everyday life, the less replicable it becomes in a laboratory setting because our daily lives are filled with numerous latent variables that potentially create different relationships among them (e.g., additive, interactive, correlating, etc.). Thus, the replicability of the investigated phenomena significantly improves when we focus on “dry” topics, such as the millisecond bottleneck of visual selective attention (Raymond et al., 1992).

Despite the current state of affairs, I am cautiously optimistic that the deliberate shift towards experimental control will reveal more about the causality of pressing mental health issues than ecological validity theory suggests. For instance, we are beginning to reexamine how we analyze data even for highly replicated phenomena, such as attentional capture (Turatto, 2023). This trend might help us better understand the origins of critical individual differences in how we interpret the world, as seen in cases like autism (Sinha et al., 2014).

Please stay tuned for the latest developments in research on this front. I believe that a careful return to basic science will help unravel some of the puzzling phenomena we encounter in everyday life.

References

Amrhein, V., Trafimow, D., & Greenland, S. (2019). Inferential Statistics as Descriptive Statistics: There Is No Replication Crisis if We Don’t Expect Replication. The American Statistician, 73(sup1), 262–270. https://doi.org/10.1080/00031305.2018.1543137

Earp, B. D., & Trafimow, D. (2015). Replication, falsification, and the crisis of confidence in social psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00621

Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science; a phenomenologically based approach (1735391). Harper & Row.

Matthews, G. (2000). Human performance: Cognition, stress, and individual differences (11867987). Psychology Press ; Taylor& Francis Group. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0648/99087641-d.html

Maxwell, S. E., Lau, M. Y., & Howard, G. S. (2015). Is psychology suffering from a replication crisis? What does “failure to replicate” really mean? American Psychologist, 70(6), 487–498. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039400

Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: An attentional blink? Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, 18(3), 849–860.

Shrout, P. E., & Rodgers, J. L. (2018). Psychology, Science, and Knowledge Construction: Broadening Perspectives from the Replication Crisis. Annual Review of Psychology, 69(1), 487–510. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011845

Sinha, P., Kjelgaard, M. M., Gandhi, T. K., Tsourides, K., Cardinaux, A. L., Pantazis, D., Diamond, S. P., & Held, R. M. (2014). Autism as a disorder of prediction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(42), 15220–15225. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1416797111

Stroebe, W., & Strack, F. (2014). The Alleged Crisis and the Illusion of Exact Replication. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(1), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613514450

Turatto, M. (2023). Habituation (of attentional capture) is not what you think it is. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0001139

Valle, R. S., & Halling, S. (1989). Existential-phenomenological perspectives in psychology: Exploring the breadth of human experience: With a special section on transpersonal psychology (3384781). Plenum Press.

Written by:
Takashi Obana, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

School Refusal

School refusal can be a common concern that affects children of all ages. It is defined by a child’s repeated refusal to go into school. There are many reasons why a child may refuse to go into school These include but are not limited to anxiety, bullying, learning difficulties, and social concerns.

If your child is currently struggling with school refusal, it is important to be patient and understanding. It is also advisable to seek professional help if your child’s refusal to go to school is causing significant disruption to their daily life.

Here are some top tips for helping children who are struggling with school refusal:

  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Let them know that it is okay to feel anxious or scared about school. Listen to their concerns and try to understand what is causing their anxiety
  • Create a safe and supportive environment at home. Make sure your child feels loved, accepted and heard. Avoid arguing or fighting with them about school
  • Work in collaboration with the school to develop a plan for your child. This plan may include in school counselling, a limited timetable, support when arriving to school in the mornings, academic support, or social skills training classes
  • Seek professional help if needed. A therapist can help your child to manage their anxiety and develop healthy coping skills

Here are some additional tips that you can try:

  • Help your child by writing down things they are looking forward to at school the next day. This could be a favourite subject, a teacher or a friend
  • Help your child to develop a positive morning routine. This could include getting dressed, eating a healthy breakfast, and mindfulness
  • Set small, achievable goals for your child. For example, you could start by setting a goal of getting your child to go to school for one hour per day
  • Praise your child for their efforts. Even if your child only goes to school for a short period of time, let them know that you are proud of them
  • Avoid forcing your child to go to school. This will only make their anxiety worse

It is important to remember that school refusal is a complex problem. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, by following these tips, you can help your child to overcome their concerns and return to school

Additional tips:

  • Encourage your child to stay connected with their friends and classmates. This could involve inviting friends over for a playdate, participating in hobbies or activities together, or using social media
  • Help your child to develop healthy coping mechanisms. This could include relaxation techniques, mindfulness, exercise, or spending time in nature or with a pet
  • Be patient and supportive. It may take time for your child to overcome their school refusal

References: 

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/06/you-cant-fix-school-refusal-with-tough-love-but-these-steps-might-help

National University Hospital: https://www.nuh.com.sg/our-services/Specialties/Psychological-Medicine/PublishingImages/Pages/IPMDA/School%20Refusal.pdf

Written by:
Renee Butler
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

To Stay Or Not To Stay In A Relationship

Someone asked me for advice on whether she should stay or leave her relationship. Her partner is affectionate and loving. He makes her feel cherished and loved. But on the other hand, she is confused and stressed by her partner’s possessive and controlling attitude. He gets upset and threatens to end their relationship when she wants to spend time with her family and friends.  

Her situation led me to reflect on the following questions: 

  1. When does a relationship become unhealthy?
  2. What signs should prompt a person to consider leaving such a relationship? 

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship:

  1. Insecurity

Insecurity in a relationship may manifest as a lack of trust. It can result in possessive and controlling behavior. It may cause a person to hide things from their partner because they are afraid of the possible consequences of openly sharing their thoughts and feelings.

  1. Walking on eggshells

A person may feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” around their partner. They may even feel like they are always giving in and giving up on things they like or want to do to keep their partner happy.

  1. A one-sided relationship

A person may feel like they are in a “one-sided” relationship. They feel like they invest more effort, energy, and emotion to keep the peace in their relationship. Thus, the person can often feel drained because they feel like they are always “doing all the work” without the support of their partner.

  1. Disrespect 

Mutual respect is key to a secure and intimate relationship. Disrespectful words and behaviors can leave a person feeling rejected and hurt. It may foster emotions such as hurt, shame, guilt, loneliness, and embarrassment.  This kind of treatment often includes dismissing someone’s feelings or thoughts without trying to understand them. The spectrum of disrespect can span from outright ridicule to making fun of their opinions to the use of dark humor or hurtful remarks, all aimed at belittling and exerting control over the partner. 

  1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting and manipulation can confuse and cause a person to think that they have done something wrong or that something is wrong with them. It uses past matters, memories, and mistakes to cause the other person to doubt themself.

  1. Loss of self-worth and confidence

Another “red flag” is the loss of one’s self-worth and confidence. In an unhealthy relationship, individuals can feel small, accompanied by increased self-doubt and multiplying anxieties. This can manifest as a decline in confidence, particularly in decision-making or engaging in activities that were once routine or enjoyable.

The Takeaway

If one or more of these signs resonated with you in your relationship, please take some time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Confide with a close friend, journal your experience(s), or consult a therapist if needed. Going through this process can clarify any doubts you may have. Being honest with yourself is the first step in discerning whether you should stay or leave a relationship. If you choose to stay, you still have to work through the things that caused you to have these concerns in the first place. If you need professional advice or help, please contact our counselors at SACAC Counseling.

Written By:
Joyce Ng
Clinical Psychologist
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
SACAC Counselling

Understanding the challenges of expatriation for children

Looking at expat child, one may easily only look at the exciting lifestyles they are privileged to enjoy, jet setting around the world. However, we should not neglect the many difficulties that they could experience as a young person going through major developmental growth while experiencing important transitions. For a child, major changes in life could be overwhelming. 

Expat children have to navigate change as well as cultural integration whereby they have the first culture of their parents’ home country and the second or multiple cultures that they grew up in. One of the challenges they may face is that they are constantly adjusting their norms and social behaviour to adapt and maneuver around the new environment they live in. Expat children spend part of their identity formation years in a unique manner that is different from monoculture children. They may go through the important developmental stages navigating between cultures as they travel back and forth between their home country and that of the society they currently reside in. These children could be spending those important years feeling displaced in the new culture while attempting to construct their own identity. They require constant support and processing to successfully negotiate their way through these developmental stages and emotional stressors. 

One of the biggest challenges for these children comes in the forms of identity formation while dealing with the constant change that occurs in their lives during their developmental years.  This is especially troubling during the schooling years of age when peers start to become more important and the search for identity becomes central to their developmental growth. Moving across different cultures and living in an environment where one is faced with a change of cultures constantly, e.g. moving between cultures a few times a year as one travel back to forth to their home country to visit family during vacations as well as having friends who come and go, may makes it harder for the children to gain a stable sense of self or feel secured with the friends around them. Another area of challenge could be the issue of unresolved grief. In the life of expat children, they may encounter an unnaturally high amount of mobility compared to other children, either through their own transition or the coming and going of the people in their lives, especially that of friends within the international school circuit. With each act of leaving, either that of the child or of a friend, the child experiences multiple losses. When the child first leaves his or her home country, they experience the loss of the familiarity of their home which includes the neighbourhood they are used to, their favourite playground, the shops they go to all the time etc. In addition, they may also go through the loss of the people they had been close to outside of their immediate family; possibly grandparents, friends, nannies, babysitters, teachers and friends. If this grief is unresolved and ignored, the child may exhibit behaviour issues, being in denial or withdrawal or anger or rebellion; or in others, depression, vicarious grief or delayed grief.

Understanding the challenges and issues that expat children could face, it is important to look at how we could better support them. These support should be multi-facet and holistic involving the family and school. In some cases, help through a therapist or support group may facilitate the healing process.

A strong familial support is crucial. It is important for parents to understand the stressors that children would face in an international move and therefore be prepared to help their children work through these potential challenges. A strong and cohesive parental relationship as well as an empathetic parent-and-child relationship is essential. The child’s ability to manage the distress could be aided by a parent who is sensitive to meeting the child’s needs. Providing a stable and nurturing home environment provides for a sense of belonging to the child especially during the transitions. In addition, being present with the child, providing an empathetic listening ear as well as providing a healthy closure for losses would be helpful. Another important support should come from the school. In many cases, expat children would attend international schools in the country of expatriation. Educators and school counsellors could play an important role in helping the child process the loss as well as provide skills on emotion regulation through this high stressor experiences. Teachers could help notice change in behaviour such as a decline in grades, withdrawal from activities and friendships, increased absentism etc and provide timely support.

In some cases, parents may feel helpless to support their children when they themselves are overwhelmed with the relocation and are having difficulties settling down. In such cases, seeing a therapist may help the children work through the identity integration and resolution of grief, or help with emotion awareness, regulation and transformation. 

Written by:
Sandra Tan Lastennet
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Preparing for Parenthood: Why Counselling for Expectant Parents Matters

Being pregnant can be an exciting but also kind of scary time for couples. Nowadays, we have a lot of information available about pregnancy and parenting, but it can still be overwhelming. Amidst the excitement and anxiety, counselling for expectant parents emerges as a crucial resource, offering couples the opportunity to delve into their emotional odyssey, foster deeper connections, and understand how to be supportive partners in the marriage and family life journey. 

Here’s what you can expect from counselling for expectant parents: 

Understanding the Changes: Pregnancy brings both physical and emotional changes. Counselling helps you make sense of these changes, like how hormones can affect mom’s mood. This awareness helps couples navigate the emotional landscape with empathy and understanding.

Changing Roles: Parenthood often entails a shift in roles and responsibilities within a relationship. Counselling provides a platform to discuss and adapt to these changes. It encourages couples to redefine their roles as partners and parents, ensuring a harmonious balance. 

Family Backgrounds: Your own upbringing influences how you’ll parent. Counselling helps you to reflect on your distinct family backgrounds, recognizing how these influences might impact your parenting expectations and approaches. Open dialogue about these differences can lead to a harmonious parenting strategy. 

Getting Support: Raising a child is a team effort. Counselling helps you identify who’s on your team – like family, friends, or community resources. This support network can make the early days of parenthood a lot easier. 

Strengthening Your Relationship: A strong relationship is key to dealing with the challenges of parenthood. Counselling for expectant parents gives you tools to improve your connection. It helps you talk to each other, ask for help, and handle disagreements in a positive way. 

In today’s world, where there’s so much information and high expectations, counselling is like a guide. It helps you feel more ready for pregnancy and parenthood. By taking part in this process, you’re not only preparing for your new baby but also growing as a couple. It’s a way to boost your confidence and set the stage for a happy family life ahead.

Written by:
Elizabeth Pan
Psychotherapist & Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Gratitude – Your Own Sunshine

Gratitude is strongly and resolutely associated with higher happiness. When we are grateful for the positive aspects of our lives we are less likely to focus on the areas wherein we may not be living up to our full potential. Gratitude encourages individuals to experience more positive emotions, enjoy good experiences, improve their health, cope with adversity and engage to build strong relationships. Benefits of practicing gratitude are in plenty, some them of them are listed below.

Emotional benefits

Expressing gratitude relieves stress, lessens anxiety, improves sleep, supports heart health. Gratitude helps individuals to regulate their emotions of fear, anger, disgust, guilt, loneliness, helplessness to name a few. Complaining and negative thoughts are mental habits. These habits involve ruminating over worries which get amplified by lamenting in discouraging thoughts. Individuals get stuck in the negativity and experience strong sense of hopelessness. It is helpful to try gratitude instead to break out of the cycle of complaining and negative thoughts. Gratitude can help individuals to control their reaction to negative thoughts. Adopting a daily gratitude practice is helpful. Individuals can improve their mood and there by boost positive emotions. Expressing gratitude helps us to target on positive attitudes which are uplifting. Grieving with gratitude helps individuals overcome remorse, unhappiness or sadness. Experiencing grief is distressing but by considering gratitude, individuals can see memories in positive light. We learn to appreciate what we have. 

Several studies have highlighted adopting gratitude as a daily practice enhances happiness. Research has shown individuals who feel grateful tend to display more positive feelings. Gratitude can help readjust your emotions and elevate your mindset.

Social benefits

Practicing gratitude helps improve relationships within family, with friends and at work. It can help you feel more connected with others.  According to a study, the receiver of gratitude projects “relational growth” with the other person expressing gratitude (Algoe et al., 2013, pp.605-609). It has been observed that the quality of relationships gets enhanced. Individuals within family, friends or colleagues’ bond better and picture others positively. Resolution of possible tricky issues can be initiated using gratitude as a springboard. Gratitude can make us feel more connected. Individuals can maintain strong bonds and help reduce feelings of loneliness. Individuals find it easy to reach out for social support and scale down emotions of disconnectedness. 

Few tips to adopt gratitude in our daily practice

Maintain a gratitude journal. Simply jotting down what you feel thankful for works wonderfully to uplift our spirit. Be in the present to notice and acknowledge joy. Practice kindness. Gratitude is a tool to use to help us to manage our emotions. The goal is to tap into ourselves to find our very own sunshine. 



Written by:
Vrushali Paradkar
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Managing Attention

In Psychology, attention refers to one’s ability to select and focus on relevant stimuli. Attention can be an element of concern for parents, when it comes to their children’s school performances, or for grown-up individuals, when they realize that they tend to be more distracted and unfocused than other people. When a diagnosis of a specific Attention Disorder is provided, the individual may benefit from the prescription of ad-hoc medications and/or from applying specific strategies.

However, if we consider ourselves ‘neurotypical’, we tend to underestimate how important attention is and how we can make an effective use of our focus in our everyday life. We often forget that – like any complex brain activity – attention consumes a considerable amount of mental resources, is finite, is influenced by mood and needs to be restored with time.

Often, to maximize our productivity, we may resort to ‘time management’, a series of strategies that can help direct our attention to the tasks that need to be done. However, we may discover that it is not enough to allocate time to each task in order to have things done properly. Sometimes we actually do not have the necessary focus to go through the whole list of tasks we planned so accurately. Some authors suggest that we should also look into what can be called ‘Attention Management’ (Thomas, 2019). This means that we need to understand better what attention is and how we can make a better use of this essential resource.

There are different types of attention and each of them serve different purposes. Selective Attention happens when we focus on a specific stimulus, like, when at the restaurant, we listen to our guest and ignore the background noise. Sustained Attention implies concentrating on a certain task for prolonged time. We do this whenever we watch a movie till the end. Alternate Attention is the ability of switching focus from one task to another. It happens when we listen to a lecture and we take notes at the same time.

In addition, some experts suggest that we can be in different mind dispositions or ‘modes’ in relation to how we pay attention to our environment. For example, we can be intentionally distracted – when we open our office computer and see what pops up from the various windows and applications; or we can be vaguely unfocused but ready to react – like the nonchalant security officer at the gate. We can be immersed ‘in the flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1998) – like a pianist rehearsing his concert part. Or we can reach an enhanced state of mindfulness where we are fully present and in control of our focus – a doctor examining a patient, for example.

There is not much applied research about how to effectively manage attention, however, some basic strategies can be extremely helpful. 

To free our work environment from distractions is a golden rule. There are external distractions (things happening around us) and internal  distractions (our inner dialogue, thoughts about things happening in our life) (Goleman, 2015). It is important to learn how to keep at bay our hi-tech devices when we need heighted focus. Similarly, we can learn strategies to keep under control intrusive thoughts, ruminating habits, self-judgmental internal dialogue.

Taking breaks and breaking down tasks into smaller chunks help us get the most from our attention span and give time to our brain to recharge.  Sleep restores the brain energy and maintains its functionality. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve attention performances. 

We should avoid falling in the trap of multitasking. Multitasking, as we often intend it, is a myth and it is just an overuse of alternating attention. It impedes flow and sustained focus, and burns-out mental energy (Comer, 2022). 

At a more advanced level, we can commit to developing our mindfulness skills. Regular mindful exercises can considerably boost our focus and our ability to be present here and now when we most need it.

References

Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848. 

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. Basic Books.

Comer , J. (2022) The fallacy of multitasking, Psychology Today

Dzubak, C. (2008) Multitasking: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown. The Online Journal of the Association for the Tutoring Profession, 1.

Goleman, D. (2015) Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. New York: Harper.

Rassovsky, Y. and Alfassi, T. (2019) ‘Attention improves during physical exercise in individuals with ADHD’, Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02747.

Schumann, F. et al. (2022) ‘Restoration of attention by rest in a multitasking world: Theory, methodology, and empirical evidence’, Frontiers in Psychology, 13. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2022.867978.

Thomas, M.N. (2019) Attention management: How to create success and gain productivity–every day. Naperville, IL: Simple Truths, an imprint of Sourcebooks. 

Written By:
Claudio Moroni
Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

Hardwired for Connection

Attachment science has found that the longing for a felt sense of connection is a primary need, especially when threatened. Isolation is inherently traumatizing. Many people experienced this during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Just as losing connection with loved ones is traumatizing, disconnection with ourselves is so too. 

Our survival-oriented response may kick in and when it does our higher brain functioning is no longer “online”. When it does, we often start reacting in ways that are familiar to us and provide relief in the short run. However, in the long run we become more disconnected from ourselves and our ability to give direction to our lives. 

“A felt sense of safe haven connection calms the nervous system and primes emotional balance” (Johnson & Campbell, 2022). From this secure base, one can actively explore and learn. The more securely attached a person is, the more autonomous one can be. Securely attached people tend to be more emotionally healthy and resourceful.  

Separation distress is what comes up when connection is lost. As a result, there may be protesting (in the form of anger), or clinging behaviour. And if an attachment figure does not engage, depression, despair and detachment may come up.

Key questions in love relationships are “Are you there for me?, Can I count on you?, and Do you feel for and with me?” When these needs are not met, a person can develop an insecure attachment strategy, of which there are three: anxious, avoidant or dismissing and fearful-avoidant. 

Our past experiences tend to shape how we experience the world and ourselves in it. Insecure attachment leads to mental health issues. We can continue to react in an automated way based on emotional experiences of the past. And continue to reshape the future on our model of the past. Or we can decide to free ourselves from the bonds of the past.

Through corrective emotional experiences a person can become securely attached and have lasting change. One can become more open, responsive and engaging with self and others. This will enable a person to better deal with existential life issues and feel more alive. 

The process of becoming more psychologically flexible means that one becomes less reactive to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This enables a person to focus on what is more important and build a more rich and meaningful life. It entails that we become present thoughts and feelings that are alienated, frightening and acceptable within us, find rationality and order in it, not pathologize it. This process creates connections within a person that dissolves blocks and lets organic growth happen.

From that more secure base a person will experience the world with a greater sense of ease as the fight/flight response is not triggered. There is more resilience and sense of agency to give direction to one’s life. 

References

Johnson, S. M., & Campbell, T. L. (2022). A primer for emotionally focused individual therapy (EFIT): Cultivating Fitness and growth in every client. Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/A-Primer-for-Emotionally-Focused-Individual-Therapy-EFIT-Cultivating/Johnson-Campbell/p/book/9780367548254

Written By:
Allard Mueller
Counsellor & Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling