Introduction to Hypnosis

As the famous psychologist Professor Hans Eysenck stated, “Very few topics in the whole history of mankind have given rise to so many absurdities, misunderstandings, and misconceptions.”

There are many myths about hypnosis, mostly coming from stage and media presentations, however, setting aside pop culture clichés, hypnosis is a well-studied and legitimate form of treatment for conditions ranging from obesity and pain to anxiety and stress. The word “hypnosis” has many connotations: for some people, it conjures up visions of a stage entertainer who uses hypnosis to make volunteers behave foolishly for the audience’s amusement. At the other extreme are those who, in our self-help era, see hypnosis as a quick and easy cure-all for their problems, from smoking to chronic back pain. Hypnosis is neither a tool to control others’ minds nor a panacea. It is, rather, a natural phenomenon that helps people harness their inner resources to improve their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

The ability to hypnotize or to be hypnotized is latent in everyone. Hypnosis can be naturally induced without a formal induction procedure and is part of everyday human existence. When we become so absorbed in a book or a film that we are oblivious to external stimuli, we have put ourselves in a light hypnotic trance. When a mother kisses a child’s hurt to “make it better,” she is using the principle of hypnotic suggestion. In a clinical setting, these principles are applied in such a way that their effects are heightened and directed to specific problems.

Clinical hypnosis is entering a modern renaissance. In 1955, the British Medical Association formally approved hypnosis as a valid and supported therapeutic technique. In 1958, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association sanctioned its use in treatment. Research continues to explore the brain functioning in hypnosis and to support its efficacy and ways for it to be used more widely and effectively in clinical settings. We now know that hypnosis works by modulating activity in brain regions associated with focused attention, and several studies offer compelling new details regarding neural capacity for hypnosis.

When hypnotized, a patient is not asleep (recurrent misunderstanding) but in a state of relaxed attentive alert, able to hear, speak, move around, and think. The electroencephalogram (EEG) of a hypnotized person is that of someone who is awake rather than asleep. Reflexes, such as the knee jerk, which are absent during sleep, are present under hypnosis. It is common for persons who have achieved a light trance to argue that they haven’t been hypnotized at all.

“While most people fear losing control in hypnosis, it is in fact a means of enhancing mind-body control,” Prof. D. Spiegel (Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine) says. Instead of allowing pain, anxiety or other unhelpful states to run the show, hypnosis helps people to exert more control over their thoughts and perceptions. How does hypnosis do this? Spiegel’s research has shown it can act on multiple brain regions, including some linked to pain perception and regulation. Hypnosis has also been found to quiet parts of the brain involved in sensory processing and emotional response.

Hypnosis is not an otherworldly phenomenon, but a natural, fascinating, and valuable resource available to each of us.

Written by:
Laura Spalvieri

Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Transactional Analyst &
Hypnotherapist

SACAC Counselling

References:

https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/10/not-getting-sleepy-research-explains-why-hypnosis-doesnt-work-for-all.html

https://www.drgeorgepratt.com/hypnosis-myths-realities-from-a-clinical-hypnosis-primer/

https://www.ukhypnosis.com/2019/08/08/cutting-through-the-5-myths-of-hypnosis-part-1/

https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/january/hypnosis

What is EMDR?

What and Who is EMDR for?

EMDR, also known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy was first developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro. It is a well-supported, extensively researched, and efficient psychotherapy approach used to treat a variety of distressing life events and issues. This clinical treatment approach has been endorsed by many international organizations as an effective treatment modality including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the World Health Organization (WHO). EMDR therapy can benefit clients exposed to trauma, violence and who experience stress-related difficulties, mood issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and panic attacks, eating disorders, as well as grief and loss, chronic medical conditions, and pain. 

How EMDR Works

EMDR is a complex, systematic and integrative psychotherapeutic approach that draws upon multiple psychological orientations including cognitive-behavioral, motivational interviewing, somatic and psychodynamic therapies. 

EMDR is an eight-phase model that takes the client through a process that is thoughtfully and intentionally developed for clients to work through the alleviation of distress associated with their memories. Some of the eight phases include history taking, client preparation, assessment and desensitization. 

At the crux of EMDR treatment is the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model that allows information to be adaptively processed to a point at which the associations made to a distressing incident are integrated into positive cognitions and emotions. With the use of directed eye movements, the information processing system is activated. Eventually, clients may find resolution in that helpful learnings are made available for use in the future.

What Clients Need to Know about EMDR

It is important to consult with an EMDR-trained therapist as this is a mental health intervention. You could ask your therapist questions about whether EMDR would be an effective approach for you and address any questions or concerns you may have about it. It is also important that you feel comfortable collaborating with your therapist.

Written by:
Isabelle Ong

Clinical Mental Health Counsellor for Individuals & Groups, Children, Adolescents and Couples
Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
SACAC Counselling

References:

EMDR Institute, Inc. (2020). Retrieved from: https://www.emdr.com/

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. (2017). American
Psychological Association. Retrieved from:
https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing

“I need closure!”

“Need for closure” first coined by the social psychologist Arie Kurglanski in the 1990s refers to a framework for decision-making that allows us to resolve ambiguity, obtain clarity and achieve serenity. Obtaining closure means knowing why something ended, and no longer feeling any emotional distress associated with the event. This is oftentimes not something that can be easily achieved during a relationship break-down. Within the period of that phone call, dreaded conversation or the split-second of reading a sent text (or even being ghosted!), your world could metaphorically fall apart, and your mind begins searching for reasons as to why and how this even happened.

The need for closure can be explained by several cognitive phenomena. Firstly, a relationship breakdown results in cognitive dissonance – that is, the sharp contrast between what you thought you knew (e.g., loving relationship, being a ‘significant other’) to the sudden reality of your new single status. The disparity between both realities is oftentimes very jarring which leads to the search for answers and meaning. Our tolerance or intolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity is a second cognitive factor at play as we try to make sense of what has just happen, why did the relationship end, and there is the need to understand if the relationship was truly significant or special, and for ourselves to be validated. Individuals who report a greater need for order and predictability usually report more emotional distress than those more comfortable with ambiguity and the sense of not-knowing.

Relationship dissolution results in a chasm where our lives as we knew it once stood, and we often feel bereft. Yet this makes perfect sense when we think of how much of our lives were previously entwined with that of a significant loved one – your sense of self, your friendship groups, maybe you were close to each other’s family, or were perhaps cohabiting or planning the rest of your lives together when that relationship bombshell goes off. Our self-concept takes a real hit when the relationship ends, especially if there had been self-expansion or a sense of growth as the result of being in a relationship with someone else. The loss of sense of self can result in a sense of loss of control, and achieving that closure becomes the way to feel more in control.

In trying to achieve closure, it can be useful to ask ourselves:

What did this relationship mean to me, and therefore what does the end of the relationship signify, and to grieve for that.

The dissolution of any relationship, no matter how welcomed, is tinged with sadness due to the loss of an attachment relationship. Giving yourself time to grieve and not judging yourself for that is important for recovering from a relationship break-up. Take your time to heal from those losses.

Acknowledging that the dissolution of a relationship is never one party’s fault – rather it is a combination of you, me, and the dynamics that take place between us and with our environments.

Research has shown that negative beliefs about the self and cognitions reflecting self-blame were the strongest correlates of break-up related emotional distress. Recognising that it is not “all my fault” allows us to begin to repair that self-narrative and rebuild our self-identity, even though it can be hard especially when it was the other party who broke it off first.

Look for patterns in my relationship history and reflect if these patterns might be getting in the way of finding sustainable love, and learn from those experiences

Oftentimes the lack of closure results in us wanting to make things different, to figure out why the relationship ended, and blaming ourselves paradoxically gives us that. Looking for these patterns in a more wholistic manner can be an alternative for repairing that cognitive dissonance and can help us not only begin to make sense of the relationship dissolution, but also to begin to feel more in control, and therefore in a position wherein we can begin to make a difference for ourselves and to plan our lives, rather than to figure out what it was that we may have done.

Finally, find purpose in the pain.

Research has indicated that when people adopt ‘redemptive appraisals’ or positive appraisals to negative situations, they reported reduced emotional distress. However, this effect was cumulative and occurs over time. Hence, while it is essential to give ourselves time, it is just as important that we reappraise the situations and reappraise ourselves, and to make meaning of what happened in the way that makes sense and allows us to begin to see that silver lining.

Fortunately, research has also shown that we get better at choosing partners with age.

Written by:
Daphne Goh

Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

References:

Boelen, P., & Reijntjes, A. H. A. (2013). Negative cognitions in emotional problems following romantic relationship break-ups. Stress and Health, 25(1), 11-19. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.1219

Harman, J. J. (2013, October 21). “I need closure!” Why it is not possible to get it. Luvze.  https://www.luvze.com/i-need-closure-why-it-is-not-possible-to-get-it/

Lewandowski, G. W. Jr., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self-expanding relationship: Implications for the self-concept. Personal Relationships, 13, 317-331.

Ramsden, P. (2018, October 9). The psychology of closure – and why some need it more than others. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-of-closure-and-why-some-need-it-more-than-others-104159

Slotter, E. B., & Ward, D. E. (2014). Finding the silver lining: The relative roles of cognitive appraisals in individuals’ emotional distress after the end of a romantic relationship. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,32(6), 737-756. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514546978

Creativity, Leadership and Psychological Safety

We want to make good relationships with others, and want to lead people well. This applies not only to an organization, but also small groups including families.

You may have heard about Google’s research done a few years back, interviewing hundreds of executives, managers and team members, where ‘psychological safety’ was found to be the most important factor in the team effectiveness. (Inc.com)

When ‘Psychological safety’ is promoted in a team, an individual feels safe to take risks, i.e. sharing new ideas, making mistakes, and asking questions, without having fear of being looked at as ignorant, incompetent, or disruptive. It is an environment where team members feel comfortable to be true to themselves, become creative, and feel free to put positive energy towards one’s inner child of playfulness.

A few of our counsellors have talked about importance of play for both children and adults. (Oct.,2020 by R. Leveson,  Sept. 2020 by I. Ong.) Play is a creative process in which one’s yet to be discovered talents, curiosity, and capacities flourish. It is the source of human development.

As a leader of a team, family or an organization, you would want your members to be effective; for instance, you may want them to think, and perform better, to be in better relationships with others, to increase sales, and to be enthusiastic about developing new products. Therefore, it is essential for you to create an environment to secure members’ psychological safety.’  Think of the place where you feel comfortable voicing out your mind.  It may be where (1) curiosity is encouraged, (2) there is healthy debate (without blame), (3) failure is taken as a sign of growth, and (4) asking for help when needed is regarded as a strength rather than a sign of weakness.

Those are the important factors to make a good team or family. Children need this ‘psychological safety’ to be successful members of a family, community, and school. We can ask ourselves as parents or leaders of a group: are we encouraging play and creativity? Listening to members’ opinions without scolding or judging? Celebrating members’ failures, and providing support when they ask for help? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” we know we are building a good team!

Written by:
Rie Miura

Counsellor
Masters in Social Work

SACAC Counselling

Shall we talk about sexual intimacy?

First of all, this entry is not meant to judge whether you do or don’t talk about sexual intimacy. This entry is written to motivate you to reflect on yourself regarding this topic.

Why do you like or not like to talk about sexual intimacy?

Most people don’t talk openly about sexual intimacy with friends, family or even their partners. Even though research shows that people would like to express their sexual preferences. Some of the reasons can be:

* It feels too vulnerable to open up about these desires, needs, feelings or maybe people are scared to feel rejected.

* Don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings or create an argument.

* Maybe we’ll realise we both want something different.

* We haven’t learnt to talk about sexual intimacy in our upbringing or our culture.

* Someone could find it difficult to express what he/she wants/likes/needs.

* Learned that it is something you don’t talk about and should come naturally.

Is it something that we shouldn’t talk about and should come naturally?

Can we know exactly what someone wants or needs or feels or likes or expects if we have never spoken to the other person about it? In a lot of relationships we think we know this exactly, but research shows that a lot of the time we don’t know.

How can we know what someone’s favorite color is, or their favorite food is, or their favorite drink is? We know this because we communicate about our feelings, wishes, thoughts, needs, desires.

Talking about sexual intimacy is something we can learn to do. We can give it a try and open up to your partner about your sexual preferences and pleasures. When we give it a try; talk in a respectful manner to create a safe environment, be curious, also talk about what you like, give each other compliments, if you want something different try to formulate that as a wish or something you like instead of being critical. Say what you would like (desire/wish) instead of what you miss (blame). Talk with the “I”- message (desire/wish), not with the “you”-message (blaming). Plan in time if it is a difficult conversation.

Written by:
Flo Westendorp

Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate

MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)
SACAC Counselling

Together is Better: The Social Nature of Learning and Problem-Solving

The research is abundant regarding the superior results of working, problem-solving, and studying together. When faced with multiple assignments, exams, and/or problems with friends and family, teamwork always makes things more manageable, and the determined results more efficient and effective.

Knowledge is gained and created both faster and better when we participate as members of a team. Socially guided problem-solving
results in solutions which are of better quality.

Over this past year, we have been separated from family, friends, colleagues, and fellow students. Within only a few weeks my students went from viewing the lockdown as an extra holiday to realizing how many benefits they were losing through learning in isolation from their classmates. They reported that they were experiencing increased difficulty in thinking and in studying in isolation.

Many fellow educators believed that because of the technology available, students would not suffer any real harm because of the lockdown. While educators were trying to convince themselves and others that learning in isolation would not cause any negative impacts, the students themselves, talked about learning being constructed through active engagement. They remembered what we had told them about the exploratory nature of building knowledge. They did not require a degree in psychology to remind us of the sociocultural aspects of coming to know something new. They surprised me with how quickly they told me that because they were lacking the collaborative processes, their learning was not going deep. Without the discussions with others, without hearing multiple perspectives and ways of solving problems, they were losing confidence in their ability to find novel and creative ways to move forward. They were finding the quality and strength of their solutions to be lacking.

One student told me that only a few months before the lockdown had they come to realize and appreciate their infinite capacity to learn. They continued by saying that it was likely they would have never come to this understanding without the collaborative work that they had done. They saw that their personal evolution into a thinker and a problem solver was being shortchanged by the epidemic. The student lamented the fact that they only had a few of the answers. The process of refining ideas and skills they saw as a continuous learning and relearning, a process of making connections between themselves and their world. The changing, adapting, and improving was slowed by not learning together with peers. They were adamant that coming together through technology was a poor substitute for the real thing. The attitudes that are known to promote learning, such as perseverance and organization of thoughts, assignments, and materials were also more difficult to gain outside of the social context of the classroom. The students went on to tell me that self-esteem and self-confidence came more quickly and effortlessly when observed in others. They reported that enthusiasm is contagious. Getting along with others is something that they are being told is now indispensable. Social development and social responsibility are only learned through social interaction.

Another girl shared that it was through discussion that she became brave enough to share her own beliefs and values. Hearing others ask for clarification of concepts and requesting help provided her with the courage to do the same thing. She then smiled and added, that it was only through the support of teachers and classmates that she became able to clarify, elaborate, and dig deeper into ideas.

It will be years in the future before we have an accurate accounting of all that has been lost due to our planet-wide epidemic. The lost opportunities to learn and think as members of a team is something we need to work to limit in every way possible.

In closing, I want to remind us of the well-known dangers to our student’s learning in isolation. Students working alone are more prone to acquire mental illness. Multiple surveys tell us that seven out of ten teens reported mental health struggles. Being isolated impairs executive functioning skills. Social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia. Learning in isolation has many negative, and cognitive consequences including difficulty in thinking and remembering information. We are a social species. We really need each other to survive.

Written by:
Ms. Vivian Colvin
Tutor & Mentor
SACAC Counselling

Restoring Positivity for 2021

2020 was a year that posed monumental challenges for all of us. The Australian bushfires, Beirut explosion, police brutality exacerbating racial tensions, and of course, the pandemic – the list goes on. Even among those whose health and safety was not compromised by the circumstances of 2020, many experienced loss of job, family/relationship conflicts, mental health struggles, and more. Although we have entered a new year, the negative experiences gathered from 2020 still weigh heavily on us. When combined with our natural proclivity towards negativity bias, this can make us feel defeated by 2021 before it has barely begun.

There is an evolutionary rationale behind negativity bias, the human tendency to focus on and remember aversive experiences. In our primitive days, it was crucial to remember that time we were bitten by a snake, or fell ill from eating a poisonous plant so that we could recognize and avoid these dangerous stimuli in the future. We lean into this bias because it protects us. However, if left unregulated, negativity bias can ultimately cause more damage than good by developing into maladaptive thinking patterns. We may become hypervigilant when there is no real threat present, positive experiences slip by without the acknowledgment they deserve, and we lose our sense of hope. So how do we counter negativity bias as we proceed with 2021?

  • Gain awareness of positive experiences as they happen.
    Sometimes the enjoyment of an experience may be very obvious, such as if you were to laugh so hard that your abdominal muscles cramp up. Sometimes your enjoyment maybe more subdued, such as if you were to notice the smooth velvety texture of a chair that you are using, or if your regular coffee shop barista greeted you by your name and with a smile. No matter how small, it is important to consciously register these experiences, otherwise your mind may distort the day to seem much more negative than it really was.
  • Practice fair reflection on a daily basis.
    Think of your positive and negative thoughts as two children in your mind, each itching to tell their stories from the day. Your job is not to decide who has the best stories, instead you play a role of ensuring that each child feels heard and acknowledged. If you notice the child sharing negative experiences is highly distressed, take time to assess and tend to needs as you deem necessary. However, do not dismiss the contributions of the child who shared positive aspects of the day.
  • Be proactive to incorporate activities that will make your day more pleasant.
    Try to set aside some time purely to engage in activities you find relaxing or enjoyable. This might be that regular run that gives you a rush of endorphins, or your daily soothing skincare routine. It could also be something new to you, like trying out rock climbing, pottery-making, or a live online concert for the first time. Having some variation in your arsenal of pleasurable activities helps keep things stimulating. On days when free time seems nonexistent, small adjustments can enhance the experience of tasks on your to-do list. Play a podcast or music at you enjoy as you do your chores, or throw on that shirt that makes you feel like a million bucks when you wear it.

Entering 2021 when many impactful factors remain out of our control, it is crucial to empower ourselves through the factors within our control. This can make a significant difference in how we experience challenges that all of us are subjected to. Every time you try out one of the aforementioned suggestions, give yourself a mental note of appreciation for taking a step (regardless of how big or small) towards enhancing your quality of life. Lastly, remember that you do not have to face these struggles alone. Reach out to social support, such as family members and friends, and seek professional help when necessary.

Written by:
Ms. Michelle Chak
Clinic Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

ACT on Self Compassion

There is a saying that “What we resist persists”. It basically means that by resisting thoughts and feelings that we don’t want, they tend to hang around. This resistance refers to any efforts we undertake to avoid pain. This is a common strategy for dealing with pain, which, unfortunately, is not effective in the long run. We actually prolong suffering. ( CK.Germer PhD. )

During the CoVid period you may have noticed an increase in reminders that we should practise Self-Care. Which means undertaking behaviour to improve our own wellbeing. This is a great idea, but is it enough? More and more people have started noticing a general sense of unease, despite practising Self-Care. So how about taking it up a notch? And practise Self-Compassion. 

There are many definitions of Self Compassion. One that I particularly like is very simple. Self compassion means Acknowledging Suffering and Responding with Kindness. In other words, extending the same warmth and kindness to self as you do to others. ( Dr. Russ Harris)

We all hurt at times and now during CoVid, we’re becoming aware that we have to find new ways of dealing with our thoughts and feelings, as our old ways, such as favourite past times, are not available anymore or are not as effective anymore.

There is a lot of research indicating that Self Compassion is a great antidote to depression, anxiety, trauma, feeling disconnected and experiencing self-doubt. It plays an increasingly important role in psychotherapies. In ACT, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, (the acronym is pronounced as one word to highlight the importance for behavioural change), it is an intricate part of each step of the process.

For many people Self Compassion may be new, as we often don’t take the time to stand still to experience the impact of certain events, thoughts and feelings on ourselves. People may think it is not so important and prefer to skate over thoughts and feelings rather than taking a moment to stand still with them.

Funnily enough, when we do stand still, we often feel lighter, freer and more in tune with ourselves. You may feel that this is not your cup of tea. You may have even tried meditation and you’re just not cut out for that. The good news is that you do not need to meditate, be aware of your breathing or close your eyes.

Just sit quietly for a few minutes. Remember a time when you cared for a loved one and recall that feeling. You can look at your hands that provided the care for your loved ones. Now extend that same feeling to yourself. Simply by placing your hands on your opposite upper arms or on your chest. Feel the warmth of your hands and how you are present in that moment.

As you feel your body, how you sit in your chair, be aware of whatever shows up in your mind. Continue to extend the same kindness to your thoughts and feelings without pushing them away or engaging with them. Even thoughts of resistance to this exercise are great to practise with. Just give it a go and see what happens.

Now this is a more structured exercise, there are plenty of other ways how you can acknowledge suffering in your life and respond with kindness. Feel free to reflect on how you can bring more self-compassion into your life. When you put it into practice be aware of how it makes you feel. This is a great way to lay the foundation for experiencing more self-compassion in your daily life.

Written By:
Allard Mueller
Psychotherapist  and Counsellor

Sources:

• The mindful path to Self Compassion, Christopher K. Germer, PhD
• How to develop Self-compassion – in just about anyone, Dr Russ Harris

Emotion Response Types

This blog is related to the previous blog: “Why is emotion important and what is Emotion Focused Therapy?”.

In therapy it can be helpful to reflect deeper upon what emotions we are experiencing in response to a certain situation.

Emotion responses can be categorized into four broad types:

•  Primary adaptive emotion responses
This is an unlearned, spontaneous and direct emotional response that is beneficial/adaptive and fits/matches the current situation. For example:
When there is a violation or an attack on ourselves or loved ones (situation), we will feel anger (emotion), and we will want to protect/assert/defend (adaptive action).

• Maladaptive emotion responses
This is a learned, direct emotional response that fits your deeper emotional experience but that is not beneficial and got triggered by a past experience and does not match the current situation. For example:
Someone in your environment offers genuine caring or concern (situation), my perception of caring or concern = potential threat because this is what used to happen in the past (activation patterns due to past experiences), we will feel anger (emotion), and respond on that – for example we might break contact with that person (even though there is no violation or threat in this current situation) (maladaptive action). So the emotional response anger is understandable if we look at the past experience, even though it is not helpful for this person in this current situation.

• Secondary reactive emotion responses
This is an emotion about another emotion which is not beneficial and does not match the current situation and your actual deeper emotional experience. For example: When someone experiences a loss (situation), that person can feel sad (primary emotion), which can be followed by anger that we feel sadness (secondary reactive emotion), and we will react with attack or punishment to ourselves or others (maladaptive action).

• Instrumental emotion responses
This is a strategic emotional response to get what you want, but doesn’t fit your true deeper emotional experience. This can be consciously intended but can also be unconsciously learned. For example:
When you are not getting what you want (situation), but you want attention or your way (intention), you show sadness “crocodile tears” to get what you want (instrumental emotion display).

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

Social Support

Is there anyone in your life you can reach out to when you need to talk to someone?
Is there someone you can rely on if you need a helping hand?
Is there someone you can call when you have good news to share?

Have there been times in your life, when you searched online for information on how to handle a particular issue, reached for the phone to talk to someone when you had a bad day, or accepted help from someone when you felt overwhelmed? We all, at one time or another, and particularly in times of stress, look for ways to ameliorate stress and negative feelings. Social support can help to manage stress and we all need a good social support network. There are, however, different ways in which our support system can be helpful and it’s important that we learn how to ask for the type of support that we want/need at any given moment. For example, having a listening ear from an empathic friend feels different from getting advice from a friend who is an active problem-solver. We may feel overwhelmed when the support does not match what we need at that moment. Understanding the type and/or amount of social support we need at any given time is an important skill to have and helps us to have our needs met more effectively and efficiently.

Types of social support
• Informational Support: provides advice, suggestions, and information to help you problem-solve or explore potential next steps that may work well. For example, reaching out to your doctor to get information related to your medical condition or reaching out to someone who has previously lost their job for tips on coping with the changes.
• Emotional Support: offers empathy, trust, warmth, care, and nurturance. Taking into consideration your emotional wellness, listening to your concerns or challenges, allowing you to express your feelings and emotions, or providing you with physical comfort (e.g. hugs or a pat on the back). For example, reaching out to a friend who you can confide in and express your concerns to, without being judged.
• Practical/Instrumental Support: offers tangible aid and direct ways of support. For example, someone who can take an active stance to assist with specific tasks or responsibilities, helping with chores, or providing transportation. This kind of support helps to ease some of the daily stressors you may experience.
• Companionship/Esteem Support: provides a sense of social belonging and engages with you in shared social or self-care activities. For example, someone who would join you in different activities, including going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or watching a movie together. It could also be someone who reminds you of your strengths or let you know that they believe in you.

How to utilize your social support system?
Many people in your life can offer social support. These can include your parents, spouse or partner, children, siblings, other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, health professionals, religious or social support groups, and sometimes even strangers. Different people may offer different types of support, so it is very likely that you will need to rely on different people for different types of support. Before reaching out for support, you may want to take a moment for self-reflection and think about what you need to feel supported and empowered.
•  What would be most helpful?
•  What types of support do I need?
•  What type of support am I most comfortable with receiving?
•  Who can I reach out for the support I need?
•  Am I comfortable with asking for support?

After reflecting on your needs, tell the person exactly what he or she can do to support you. You might think, “If my partner/friend really knows me, he or she will know how to help me.” The problem is that your partner/friend cannot read your mind. By waiting for them to offer their support is not the best way to approach your social support system and might lead you to feel frustrated for not getting the types of support you need. Be specific, clear, and concrete when you ask for what you need so your support system is more likely to provide you with exactly what the support that matches your needs. Similarly, do not assume that you know what types of support your partner, friends, or others need, it is always best to check-in with them.

Social support is associated with increased psychological and physical well-being. Many may find it hard to ask for help or to utilize social support system during difficult times. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength. Just imagine that if your loved one or close friend is in need of help, would you rather them reach out for support or isolate themselves and face the issues themselves? When you are reaching out for social support, you are allowing people in your life to have the opportunity to extend their help and feel that their help is valued.

Written by:
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay
Clinical Psychologist

SACAC Counselling