I believe I can; therefore, I am succeeding

I choose to start this article by sharing with you two quotes that illustrate the notion I want to cover below.

The first quote is by Dr Seuss from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes; you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!” 

The second is from a slightly different source of inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

These quotes illustrate the notion of self-efficacy described by Albert Bandura as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage any potential situations.” In other words, it is people’s belief in their own ability to succeed and influence events that affect their lives. It is determining how people think, feel, behave, and motivate themselves. Self- efficacy plays an essential role in how you approach every aspect of your life (academic, work, friendships, parenting, sports, hobbies, health, and wellbeing) and determines what goals you choose to pursue, how you go about accomplishing those goals, and how you reflect upon your own performance.

Self-efficacy is formed in early childhood, and its growth continues to evolve throughout the lifespan as people are confronted to new adversities, setbacks and frustrations.

Self-efficacy is a psychological skill that help you deal better with difficulties. You can foster and strengthen it by working on its four main foundations:

– “Mastery Experiences”: it refers to the experiences we gain when we take on a new challenge. By getting out of our comfort zone and trying out new things, we create an opportunity for growth. We are teaching ourselves that we can acquire new skills, improve and succeed. So it is important to celebrate our successes, big or small and reflect on how we made it possible like trough perseverance or continuous efforts.

– “Social Modeling”: According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.” Hence, find positive role models that are similar to you; observe them and get inspired. You can have several depending on your area of interest, and it can be anyone from your immediate environments like a parent, a teacher and a mentor to someone from the public sphere. 

– “Social Persuasion”: This refers to the positive impact that words can have on someone’s self-efficacy. Bandura explains that through encouragement and positive feedbacks, people are led to believe that they have or can develop the skills and capabilities to succeed. This drives them to overcome self-doubt and employ their resources to achieve the task at hand. So seek positive affirmations and listen to the encouragements and positives feedbacks you are getting.

– “Psychological Responses”: Bandura explains that “it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted”. This means that by learning how to manage your thoughts and emotions, you feel a higher sense of control over the situation and over yourself, which make you feel more capable of managing potential threats. This improves your belief of self-efficacy and decreases avoidance type behaviour like shying away from challenges.

By developing high self-efficacy, you are able to look at difficulties as challenges rather than threats. Struggle, step-backs, and failure don’t mean defeat; instead, they reveal an opportunity for growth, a chance to cope, to adapt, to learn and to find new ways to overcome.

According to Albert Bandura, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” He specifies that yes, “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.”

Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. New York: Cambridge University Press
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Worth Publishers

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist

Are you Playing? Play Therapy for Adults

Play is commonly acceptable and encouraged amongst children and as individuals develop across the life span, play is discouraged and frowned upon. Some of the key characteristics of play include spontaneity, the freedom of expression, and the provision of varied contexts (Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2005). Play is not goal-driven, threatened, or blocked by real-world consequences (Gordon & Esbjorn-Hargens, 2005). In my last blog post, I addressed play therapy for children, and for today’s blog post, I will be discussing the role of play in adults’ lives and its applications in therapy. 

Do Adults Play?

Even though play is not well-respected amongst adults, play is undoubtedly lurking in every corner of our lives. Play is manifested in board games, hobbies, team sports, theatre, and video games,  just to name a few. While we may not take to all forms of play, some play forms appeal to us more than others. Play allows us to make meaning of what is going on around us whether we engage in solitary play or playing with others. Play also provides a unique context for us to engage in symbols, stories, norms, and ethics, as well as varied perspectives.  

Play Therapy for Adults

When working with adult clients, I utilize different forms of play depending on their interests and preferences. For clients who are more inclined towards literary pursuits, we engage in poetry writing and narrative work through language to enable clients to craft and recraft their storied lives. For other clients who are predisposed toward experiential play practices, we engage in expressive art that allows clients to express themselves in non-verbal ways to process their issues in a safe way.  Clients learn a lot about themselves through different mediums of expression that words may not be able to express adequately. For clients who prefer to rehearse or engage in the discovery of different roles, regardless of whether these roles are make-believe or realistic, drama supplies creative ways for them to adopt multiple perspectives through role-play and improvisation.

Effects of Play Therapy on Adults

Play allows individuals to express themselves and engage with a part of themselves that is not bound by the constraints of everyday life. Based on Gordon and Esbjorn-Hargens (2005)’s integral model, different play forms encourage the development of varied capacities that in turn allows us to grow and stretch towards our fullest potential. Not only do we engage in various capacities to connect with our emotions, but we also figure out morality, make sense of our existence in the cosmos, develop our thought processes, and enhance our interpersonal skills to help us relate better to others around us. Additionally, play allows clients to navigate difficult terrain in therapy through non-threatening ways at their own time and space. In the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  

In my next blog post, I will touch on sand tray therapy, a play modality that can benefit clients of all ages and cultures. 


Gordon, G., & Esbjorn-Hargens, S. (2005). Are We Having Fun Yet? An Integral Exploration of the Transformative Power of Play. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47(2), 198-222. doi: 10.1177/0022167806297034

Written by:
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist for Individuals, Children, Adolescents and Couples

Radical Acceptance and how to get there

Radical acceptance is the practice of accepting things as they are and acknowledging that circumstances cannot be changed in the right now, including aspects that we don’t like and cannot control, when life is unfair and not as how it should be, when we fail to live up to our ideals of how we should live our lives, and the accompanying negative thoughts and feelings that come with any of the above. Radical acceptance is the act of giving in to reality as it is, and not adding further to our own suffering caused by our own reactions.

Sounds easy right?? Oftentimes this practice may seem easy in the beginning as we confuse it with the notion of tolerance, or just “putting up with it” or “putting it to the side” until it goes away. We often experience some measure of success as we start to feel better and an initial reduction in the negative thoughts and distressing feelings is reported. However where it begins to get harder is when we have been industrious in practicing radical acceptance as we understand it.. and “things are still the same” or “I am not getting better”!

So what went wrong?

Essentially, radical acceptance requires that the individual let go of all pre-conceived notions, judgments and expectations, that is, to accept things as they are now and more importantly, not place any expectations on when things may change, improve or pressure ourselves into being “better people”. As such it means acknowledging that we are “this person or this situation” right now, and to not place judgment or to ‘fight’ against our negative feeling or current reality as it is. Of course, this does not mean condoning behaviours or agreeing with things that run contrary to our values. It also does not mean giving up our needs or pretending that the situation does not exist or that changes are not necessary where they are possible. On a counterintuitive level, radical acceptance requires regular practice without expectation of success.

Radical acceptance is also about embracing ourselves as a whole, our strengths, areas of vulnerabilities, and everything in between. It involves acknowledging who we are at this point, and choosing to own our perceptions and reactions, and to forego judgment and the ever-present fear of negative evaluation of others on ourselves, of others by ourselves, and of ourselves on ourselves. Radical acceptance means making changes that align with where we want to be and what we want to be doing, rather than what we want to get rid of or feel pressured to do or become. Some steps that can assist us along this journey include:

  1. Seeing things for what they are – Identify your roles and that of others in the situation, and having a better understanding of how things came to pass. Refrain from blaming, judging or railing against aspects that you don’t like or seem unfair, notice when your own expectations or ideals are not met, or when there are fears involved.
  2. Consciously choosing to accept the situation, ourselves – Make a conscious decision to embrace and acknowledge the pain, not so much to stop it, but more because the pain is part of the process, just like how our vulnerabilities and parts of us that we don’t like are also part of us.
  3. Planning and making changes where we can in alignment with our dreams, desires –Make changes where is possible for a better outcome, to consciously begin to love the whole of yourself and to make changes that resonate with your values. Stop judging or castigating yourself on your flaws and beware the monkey mind that tries to stop you from trying things through ruminations, self-blames, catastrophisations, “what ifs” and “if onlys”.
  4. Making time to reflect on our choices and becoming aware of any expectations or judgments that we may unconsciously begun to place on ourselves, others etc – Take time out to identify any roadblocks or internal pressures that may have subtly begun to take hold especially after the first two weeks of practicing radical acceptance, and in the next three months that follow. Often we tend to feel that things don’t work when the emotions or negative thoughts do not abate or disappear. Remember, those are signs that we are not actually practicing radical acceptance in its intended form, but as a means to get rid of what it is we do not want.
  5. Repeat from Step 1 again.

    Those who are interested in learning more about Radical Acceptance and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) can read and try the exercises here:
    (on how Marsha Lineham, creator of DBT, came up with radical acceptance)

Written by:
Dr. Daphne Goh
Clinical Psychologist

Are you getting enough ‘strokes’?

How many exchanges of ‘Hello’ did you have today? Did anybody say ‘you are good’, or ‘I am glad that you are there’ ? If it happened, you must be feeling OK about yourself. If you had not talked to anyone, you might be feeling a little down. You might even be a little irritable and make a fuss about any little thing that your partner does. It is an unconscious way of seeking a stroke (a unit of recognition.)

Eric Berne talked about one of our psychological needs as ‘recognition hunger.’ COVID-19 has challenged us in this human basic need, through remote work and distancing. We see less people, hence experience less strokes. A word of “hello,” a smile, a hug, are called positive strokes, and a frown, a complain, are negative, but still strokes. They all show that our existence has been recognized.

When we do not get enough strokes, we seek negative ones, because it is better than nothing. It is similar to children’s bad behavior which is often regarded as ‘attention seeking.’ Expression of anger, frustration, or feeling sad may be signs of stroke deficiency.

C. Steiner identified unhelpful beliefs that restrict stroke exchange unknowingly. So let’s be conscious and make sure we get enough strokes.

  1. Freely giving strokes to others.
  2. If you need a stroke, ask for it.
  3. When others give you a stroke that you like, let’s receive and cherish it.
  4. When somebody gives you a stroke you do no like, it is OK to reject it.
  5. It is OK to stroke yourself.

Request your partner, or friends, to share with you ‘what you like about me'(#2) and when they do so, make sure you take those in (#4). You can also initiate positive stroke exchange by telling others what you appreciate about the person.(#1) All these contribute to better relationships, and a positive sense of self. Having an awareness of ‘shortage of strokes’ and creating a strategy to fill up those needs can change your life for the better.

Berne, E.(1964) Games people play. New York; Grove Press. 1964
Steiner, C. (1971) Scripts people live. New York; Grove Weidenfeld. 1974

Written by:
Rie Miura
Counsellor, M.S.W.

Self-Care: How do you take care of yourself?

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” – Michelle Obama

When was the last time that you took time off for fun? When was the last time you nurtured your own interests? Are you someone who spends much of your time giving and doing things for others, but feels guilty when taking time for yourself?

Practicing self-care is known to have tremendous benefits, such as reducing occupational hazards like burnout and compassion fatigue. It can also help you to fortify relationships and enhance self-esteem and resilience. Despite the benefits of self-care, engaging in self-care is a challenge for most of us. Barriers to engaging in these activities may be related to our perspectives, such as seeing these activities as a weakness or an indulgence. Others may feel guilty or struggle to manage their time/responsibilities in order to practice self-care.

There is nothing wrong with taking care of ourselves. Just imagine that our life’s journey is like a long-haul drive; self-care is comparable to vehicle maintenance, which helps ensures our vehicle can handle the long road ahead. When we are able to prioritize our own well-being, we can be our best selves.

You may wonder, how do I practice self-care?

The following are the five categories of self-care with recommendations*:

  1. Physical Self-Care
    Engage in healthy practices, such as diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, and staying active. Stay up to date with your health care and listen to your body.
  2. Psychological Self-Care
    Make time for self-reflection, be curious, nurture your interests, and say no to extra responsibilities. Learn ways to manage stress levels and seek professional help as needed.
  3. Emotional Self-Care
    Spend time with important people in your life, be kind to yourself, feel proud of yourself, and allow yourself to express your emotions.  
  4. Spiritual Self-Care
    Identify what is meaningful to you, make time for prayer, meditation, and reflection, find spiritual connection, spend time in nature, celebrate your milestone, express gratitude, and listen to inspiring music.
  5. Workplace/Professional Self-Care
    Foster work relationships (i.e. eating lunch with coworkers), set limits with clients and colleagues, negotiate for your needs (salary and benefits), make time to complete daily tasks, and make your workspace comfortable and relaxing.

Practicing self-care does not need to take a lot of time. You can find a balance for caring for yourself as well as others. You can start making self-care your priority by setting realistic and reasonable expectations for self-care activities. Creating a structure and routine may help you to develop a consistent plan for self-care.

*Source: Adapted from Saakvitne, Pearlman, and Traumatic Stress Institute Staff, Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization, 1996.

Written by:
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay
Clinical Psychologist

Attachment and Adolescents

The importance of attachment in babies and young children is commonly well-understood, as is the expectation that when our children hit their teenage years, they will begin to move away from their attachment figures. It is assumed that this is a key part of their growth and development into adulthood. It can be easy, (particularly when teenagers are testing our parental boundaries!)  to also assume that attachment is less important as children get older. However, maintaining a secure sense of attachment is just as important for adolescents – and Covid19 has shown us some interesting results that help highlight and remember what we can keep in mind for our teenagers.

John Bowlby, a renowned attachment researcher, helps to show us that attachment is “from the cradle to the grave”. It impacts us as children, through our teenage years and well into adulthood.  Brain development and our nervous system responds to, and is shaped by, secure attachments throughout our entire life.  We all, children, adults and adolescents, need to have a sense of a secure base and supportive relationships. Part of our ongoing role as parents is to actively and consciously consider how develops and remains important in our relationships with teenagers.

As adolescents begin to move away from their initial attachment relationships, they thrive when they are carrying with them a “secure base” from which they can reach out into the world and explore.  This exploration happens through peer relationships, connecting with other important adults (coaches, mentors and other relatives) and institutions (schools, clubs etc.).  A vital part of this healthy development, and a necessary condition, is a strong and secure base that remains available, and continues to be a space for children to return to. Adolescents thrive with both roots (secure attachment) and wings (growing independence and sense of purpose). In order to move towards independence, teenagers require a place of dependence. A place to be continually nourished, have their needs seen and met – an emotional space that is unconditionally accepting (but note this is not the same as unconditionally permissive!). 

COVID -19 lockdowns all around the world have facilitated a unique opportunity for many families to engage with, observe and reconnect with the adolescents in their lives.  As a result, in many instances, adolescents are reportingless stress, better sleep and often better connections with their siblings and their caregivers. Recent figures from student resilience surveys from researcher Dr Suniya Luthar during COVID lockdowns in the US have noted overall improvement in clinical anxiety and depression (compared to the same time last year). Bearing in mind the increased pressures most families have been facing in this chaotic time – ongoing work commitments, complexities of work from home arrangements, potential increasing financial pressures, anxieties about family around the world – it’s useful to ask what has been important about this unique period that has engendered improvements in mood and measures for good emotional health?

Time: Families though stretched in unforeseen and novel ways, have noticed the return of rhythms that in the past have been compromised in the unrelenting march of extra-curricular activities (before school, after school, weekend tutoring, volunteering – on and on it goes). It’s a reminder that spending time with teenagers outside of scheduling is an important factor.

Sleep: Adolescents have long been thwarted by a body clock that really prefers to sleep later – versus school times that are geared for early morning risers. The opportunity to gain the additional hour or two of sleep is important in physical and mental well-being. Parents too, have been able to travel less, with little or less commuting, less rush for school picks ups, extracurricular activities etc.  Finding ways of keeping healthy sleep patterns as we come out of lockdown is something to focus on.

Togetherness: A sense of being in it together – the embodied sense of safety and all physically being in one location, and sharing a common experience is another important component.

In many parts of the world, and certainly here in Singapore, families are balancing a return to activities outside the home, and in doing so are considering which parts of this lockdown worked for them. Given the choice, what would you like to maintain and protect in the future? There is still the reality of ongoing academic demands for students, college applications, community service, volunteering, sporting commitments. So what really matters? Resilience research has consistently shown that the key factor in being OK when things are difficult is close and robust relationships. Prioritizing parent-child, parent/ caregiver relationships (couple relationships) is crucial – without strong relationships teens are increasingly isolated, they miss the opportunity for conversations that help develop their reflective capacity. Robust relationships and secure attachment helps adolescents develop their sense of who they are:- at first within, then outside of the family unit, which is a protective factor against isolation, hopelessness and anxieties.

Given our collective experiences in lockdown, as well as what adolescents themselves are reporting – this time has been instructive. And time itself is necessary. Adolescents need time with their closest secure attachments, they continue to draw on and thrive with their support. Consider how you can protect some of your caregiving time – being able to share a meal, being present to ensure decent sleep patterns, being engaged in shared activities or interests. To assume that teens do not need or even want these things, because they are “growing up and becoming independent” is to diminish the ongoing importance of relationships  – which is a human need and especially important in the development of the adolescent brain.

Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss: Vol 1 Attachment. New York: Basic Books; 1969/1982. [Google Scholar]
Dr Suniya Luthar (http://authconn.com/research.html)   

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin

Cultivating Joy In Our Relationships

As we around the world have to get used to an ever-changing landscape of daily life, one aspect of what comes sharply into focus in how relationships tend to need some readjustment.  For most of us, we have settled into routines in our relationships; that could be with our partners, spouses, children, friends and anyone else that we love.  With any relationship, at any time, it is easy to take it for granted and expend less energy on maintaining connection.  This is oftentimes not even an issue, until something happens.  Something like a pandemic, betrayal, loss of life or even just minor inconveniences.  We forget to add a component of intention into our relationships and this causes them to suffer, we get irritated with our spouses when they are working from home, our children don’t pick up their socks or toys during times when they are on school holidays.  Little annoyances can turn into big feuds and hurt feelings and resentments become the norm.

During times like these, finding joy is not just a good idea it is essential; especially in our close relationships.  And to find joy, you have to cultivate it, tend to it and ensure that joy and subsequently love, grow.  We can reconnect with one another and ourselves by taking small steps daily to develop this greater sense of joy. 

Be kind and thoughtful:  Instead of an inward focus on ourselves, being able to focus our attention outward and acknowledge our loved ones helps to make us feel more connected to them.A simple “thank you” or checking in with someone is a simple way to be both kind and thoughtful.

Let go of blame: In our close relationships, we often will become frustrated with our spouses, our children, our parents even our friends when they fall short of our expectations.  Sometimes we want to find fault with others to alleviate our own sense of frustration and anger.  Blame is anger, accountability encourages acceptance and connection.  So when feeling like you want to blame a loved one for something, stop and think about what you are feeling, share that.  This will create connection and allow for more authentic connection in your relationships. 

 Practice Gratitude: During times when we are stuck together in close quarters, have been devastated by loss or are simply mustering every last bit of patience in our day, it can be helpful to take a pause and be thankful for our loved ones.  Even when we are hurt or challenged by their actions, finding gratitude for having them in your life can shift the perspective so that a little clarity can enter.

Written by:
Sanaa Lundgren
Counsellor & Collaborative Family Practitioner
MS Soc (Counselling

Philosophy and Psychotherapy

It is easy to forget that psychotherapy and counselling were once very much the business of philosophers. They also have religious and medical roots, but understanding yourself and how best to live your life was the business of Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, Epicurus and Aristotle. Like many other branches of knowledge, psychotherapy has grown up and become a separate discipline. But some therapists remain closely attached to their
philosophical roots, especially existential psychotherapists.

Philosophy as practiced in many universities in the West and around the world has also narrowed itself, becoming more academic and not much concerned with how people can best live their lives. But this is just one philosophical tradition. What of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other world philosophical traditions? Have they also become remote from the
concerns of people about how to live?

It was very refreshing to see a new book (2018) “How the World Thinks” by Julian Baggini, introducing western readers to a much wider range of philosophical traditions, and trying to see whether they have anything to teach each other. All philosophical traditions, western included, look back to their founding fathers for key ideas and principles, and in varying
degrees explain and reinterpret their ‘revelations’, in the Indian Vedas, Confucius’s Analects, Buddhist sutras, the Quran, and more. Baggini surveys modern interpretations of these ideas from around the world, and tries to reconcile them: are they talking about the same issues, do they reach similar conclusions? Who is right?

His approach is always polite; he wants to find out what his own western tradition has missed; how different are we in our beliefs? When I discussed the book with a group of people mainly brought up in a western philosophical tradition we were perhaps a little disappointed by his reluctance to say to other philosophers, “You are wrong.” But perhaps that is because, as Baggini suggests, we come from a “truth-seeking” tradition, rather than a “way-seeking” one. We want true beliefs about ourselves and the world (parallel to the western scientific tradition) from philosophy, rather than models of behaviour which will help us to lead better lives. Buddhists, Confucians, Daoists and Hindus are perhaps more interested in what we should think and do to escape from suffering, or karma, and achieve salvation, or unity with nature. Baggini suggests the western tradition has become too narrow.

Baggini’s book is perhaps part of a change in the western philosophical tradition, in which the concern with leading a good life returns to its proper place. Alain de Botton and many others now encourage us to think how our beliefs about ourselves and the world are an essential part of who we are and how we should live. Truth remains vital but so too does ‘the way’, ‘telos’ (our purposes and goals) and practice.

Written by:
Dr. Tim Bunn
Consultant Educational Psychologist

Let it go

The virus-which-shall-not-be-named is a most tempting topic for a blog. Although I am tempted, I am looking for something we all may have in common in our current experience, rather than squarely at the culprit. And I think I may have found it.

Imagine your child with an ice cream in hand. They are perhaps smiling and cherishing the thought of it. As they lift it to their mouth, you notice the blob shifting. Then, oh dear, it slips and falls to the pavement with a sloppy splat. Even with the enhanced cleanliness of Singapore’s constantly mopped pavements, I doubt it can be licked off. You may even have to stop them trying. So in the end, there it will sit, shrinking away like the Wicked Witch of the West. Oh, what a world.

What your child then experiences is a sense of loss, a sensation of having something taken away, something they liked. As well as the thing itself, it was the hope and the joy that was stolen, the associated experience. And though that experience took place in the outside world, it was also an internal loss. To mourn this loss – any loss – is a process, one which Freud (1917) long ago described as letting go of the individual memories, one by one. It is painful, but also part of development and our common humanity. It is necessary for recovery and the development of resilience. Kessler (2019) a century later, similarly sketched out a process of grief, noting how people move through stages which end with making meaning.

There perhaps is where your role as a parent comes in. Freud, and many since, also pointed out that there is a difference between this process of ordinary mourning and one which he called ‘melancholia’, what we would now call depression. In this state, it is less clear what is felt to be lost and the feeling becomes more personal – to paraphras in e Freud, a feeling that they themselves are poorer and emptier ( Freud, 1917 P.45). This loss of self-regard or esteem, or a growth of self-reproach in your child would be greater cause for concern. But it may not be immediately apparent, or distinguishable without some exploration.

So if you feel that your child is down, perhaps think with them about what they may be feeling sad about. They may need help in articulating the things they have lost, as well as the associated feelings. You do not need a psychology doctorate to do this. In fact, your own expertise as their parent will serve you well. Perhaps the main thing to consider is how much room to give them to explore, and how much to hold their hand while they do so. While listening and thinking out loud with them, you will help them to share their feelings, as well as be their company. Having feelings thought about with someone trusted is the essence of the therapeutic role but the heart of a parental role. And if you decide they, or you, may need some further support, you will do so with insight and a feeling of partnership in your next step.   

Freud, S. (1917 (1915)) ‘Mourning and Melancholia’’, in Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14: 1914-1916. On the History of the Post Psycho-analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. London: Hogarth Press, 1958, pp.237-258.
Kessler, D (2019) Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. Simon and Schuster, Scribner Imprint, New York.

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)


Is wearing masks getting in the way of social interactions?

Wearing a mask is becoming the new norm of the post-coronavirus society. With what consequences on our social interactions and our understanding of others?

Prof Ursula Hess, facial expression and emotion researcher, provide some answers based on her research in an interview conducted by Stella Marie Hombach.

In her research, Prof Ursula Hess observed that recognizing emotional expressions is no worse when our mouth and nose are covered. Thanks to our multitude of facial muscles involved in facial expression, the observation of the eyes area is generally enough to recognize someone’s feelings. Only fear and surprise caused confusion as we usually rely on the way the mouth is open to differentiate both emotions.  

Indeed, the eyes are a powerful vector of expression, but, being sad, scared, angry, or happy is also expressed by the way we speak and move. We are feeling and carrying our emotions with our whole body. Our attitude, gestures, rhythm and modulation of our voice are enough clues for the observer and listener to understand our emotional state. 

In her research, Prof Ursula Hess observed that covering mouth and nose does not seem to prevent social mimicry, which is when we naturally mirror the other’s behavior. This makes us feel closer and judge the interaction more positive. In the study, participants imitated the smile of another person even when this smile was hidden.

Children of primary school age are barely less able than adults to recognize emotions. However, for toddlers, seeing faces that look different, disrupts their bearings and can, therefore, be stressful. Parents can familiarize their children with the mask in a playful way, for example, by placing it in front of their face for a short time, then removing it again. Toddlers learn quickly and get used to the new situation.

Prof Ursula Hess suggests that wearing a mask as a sign of solidarity and as an expression of mutual consideration for others, can bring us together and create a sense of community.

Article based on an interview by Stella Marie Hombach in Scientific American’s German-language sister publication Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

Prof Ursula Hess is a facial expression and emotion researcher, deputy dean for international affairs at the faculty of life sciences at Humboldt University of Berlin.

To read the full article in English: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-behind-the-coronavirus-mask-an-unseen-smile-can-still-be-heard/

To read the full article in French: https://www.cerveauetpsycho.fr/sr/entretien/coronavirus-comment-voir-les-emotions-derriere-les-masques-19573.php

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist