Singing the Same Song – Advice for Couples

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Today I want to focus on couples – married or not.

As many of you know, my practice is geared toward working with adults and adolescents, and a special passion of mine is working with couples. It’s an interesting job, really, because the more I work with others in relationship – the more I learn about my own and I often find myself imparting advice that I could actually rather use myself! In this exciting journey into couple’s therapy I am learning a very important lesson and I thought I’d share this with you all…

Friendship and Positive Sentiment….

At the very basis of a healthy relationship lies a friendship – that is, an ability to like the person you’re in love with. I have seen many people take this for granted and somewhere a long the line they have simply stopped liking one another  – They are still in love, but they can’t see why. Friendship is the part that keeps you interested in one another, that keeps you complimenting one another, watching out for one another, playing with one another and, most importantly, laughing with one another. Friendship is the part that allows for argument, but respects differing opinions, that stays involved in creating joy together and is interested in generating common goals together. In relationships, or marriage, couples somewhere lose sight of this – life becomes routine, differing interests develop, separate friends are made, partners stop complimenting one another, they stop playing and laughing together, they stop discussing common goals, and sooner or later they are on different trajectories where arguments become laden with resentment and contempt instead of an appreciation for different viewpoints. Well, at least this is the journey of isolation if the friendship isn’t maintained.

Friendship inevitably leads to fondness and admiration of one another – a sense of “we” instead of “me” and with all this comes positive sentiment. What is positive sentiment and how is this different from negative sentiment? Well, lets give an example – John gets angry with Jane after a hard day at work, effectively he is simply taking his frustration out on her. Jane, while slightly offended and hurt, quickly realizes he is stressed and thinks to herself “Oh, he is stressed. Just let this go – tomorrow he will be fine again.” If this relationship was shrouded in negative sentiment, Jane would probably have thought “He is always going off at me, when will things change?”. When John eventually apologizes and explains his stress, Jane (in negative sentiment override) will think “He is just saying this so I can make him dinner – this is how he manipulates me”. However, if Jane was coming from a positive sentiment position she would be thinking “Shame, he really needs support”. So you can see how positive sentiment keeps the relationship in a supportive, content space, whereas negative sentiment begins to cloud and overshadow judgement – making it all the more difficult to reconnect.

Many couples facing ‘stuck’ conflict, relationship difficulties, continuous arguing and communication breakdown are in various stages of negative sentiment override – They have lost their fondness and admiration for one another, they have lost the friendship. Their communications have become laced with criticism, defensiveness, contempt and isolation and they are struggling to get re-connected. So, what can you do if you are headed down this path???

 

 

 

 

 

Revisit the friendship I say! Here are some ideas to get that fondness and positive sentiment flowing again…

  • Every day make a point of it to find one thing about your partner that you admire or appreciate – COMMUNICATE this to them
  • Try to incorporate a “date night” once a week where you re-connect emotionally. This doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a restaurant, it simply has to be a break in routine. Lovely ideas include:
    • A picnic on the lounge floor
    • Playing board games instead of watching T.V.
    • A walk on the beach and an ice-cream afterwards
    • A trip to the Botanical Gardens
    • Simply have dinner around the table instead of in front of the T.V
  • Try to take 10 minutes every day after work to ask your partner about their day (and truly listen to what they have to say)
  • Think about your relationship and how you have weathered certain bad times – reminisce together about these victories
  • Take time out to discuss your goals – where do you see yourselves in a year, 5 years, 10 years, retirement? – plan together, create some dreams together – start singing from the same hymn sheet!
  • Find common interests and do them together – join a ballroom dancing class, take up fishing, or cycling, or hiking, or camping – basically anything that could become a common hobby
  • Plan getaways together. Get some quality ‘away’ time where you are both relaxed.
  • Once a month, go somewhere where you can dress up and be beautiful for him, or handsome for her. Make an effort to do your hair, smell nice (and maybe get some nice underwear again!)
  • Laugh together

Healthy relationships also have problems… they exist in all dynamics. The way in which these problems are handled makes all the difference and the way in which you handle a problem will always depend on the sentiment you’re in. Try not to tackle perpetual issues when in a negative sentiment override – chances are you will not hear your partner, nor will you feel heard. Build on your friendship first and you will find a shift in the way you handle difficulties…

In future posts I will visit the techniques used in gently and effectively resolving issues, but for now – remember:

To love someone is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten” – Anonymous

Something “Special”

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When I started my journey down the path of psychology I was granted an amazing opportunity to work with a little 5 year old that had been diagnosed with Autism. At the time (I was only in my 3rd year of varsity) I didn’t really have a clue about the disorder, but was told to watch “Rain Man” and get an idea. Well, that little boy was nothing like Dustin Hoffman in the movie – for one, he was gorgeous (and I cant say the same for old Dustin), but mostly he was in a world of his own and could not count all the millions of gumballs in a gumball holder merely with a glance. No, he struggled daily simply to make eye contact, let alone engage in a game. He got scared or upset and couldn’t verbalise his feelings, and he did not like to be touched though you could see he longed for comfort.

This was the first of many experiences working with children with special needs – from Autism, to Down’s syndrome, to the hearing impaired. While I simply loved being a part of their developmental journey, and having a hand in their growth and learning, I was also acutely aware of the fact that I only “handled” them for a few hours a day. Their parents took over for the rest. And yes, it was through these special kids that I met their even more special mothers and fathers and gained a glimpse of what it means to parent a special needs child. So in today’s post, and as per request, I thought I’de take a deeper look at how parents cope with their child’s “special needs” diagnosis.

I think the most difficult part is the knowing, right from the start, that your child is different. It takes a while to muster the courage to take him for a consult, and you normally start at the GP. Unless the problem is obvious, most doctors will be loath to give a diagnosis so early, and will send you home with the words “developmentally delayed”. As time goes by, the problem becomes more pronounced and eventually you find yourself in a variety of offices with a range of professionals looking for an answer. When you are eventually slapped across the face with a diagnosis, the result is devastating, confusing and sends you reeling into a state of shock. Relief at finally knowing you were right all along, but despair at realising the magnitude of what has been said!

  • Families often slip into a state of disorganisation and neglect at this point. Questions regarding what you did wrong, how you will cope, whether you are adequate as a parent and what the future will be like all tend to surface at once. The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is ASK FOR HELP! Speak to relatives to pitch in and assist with lifts to school, meals etc. JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP and get as much information from others as you can.

Disbelief and denial are quick to follow. “Tommy can’t be Autistic, he doesn’t behave like Jane’s little boy” are some of the thoughts that may come to mind. Your child doesn’t fit the description 100% so maybe there was some mistake? Chances are there isn’t a mistake, but go get that second opinion if you need.

  • Try not to compare your child to others’ or to children you read about in books. Focus on the unique nature of your child – s/he will be different. The sooner you are able to acknowledge there is a problem, the sooner you will be able to find ways of coping with it and assisting your child.

But acknowledgement will bring anger, sadness, shame, anxiety and grief. You will mourn the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for your child. You will fear whether or not you can survive what it takes to parent this child. You will be angry that this happened to your family and ashamed at the (irrational and untrue) thought that it is because of something you did / did not do.

  • The best advice here is, do not be too hard on yourself. Cry if you need and get angry every now and then. See a professional if you need to talk. Start early on reminding yourself that you are just human and do not possess super powers – you will find yourself reminding yourself of this regularly in the future – you are not perfect and you do  not need to be! You just have to be good enough! You are allowed to cry and you are most definitely allowed to have a bad day every now and then.

Processing the emotion really assists in reaching a stage of adaptation and will also lessen the intensity of your emotions. Now begins the task of finding the best help there is for your child. You have accepted his/her condition and you have processed some of your emotions, so it easier to start doing what it takes. In researching the help there is, finding the right professionals and getting your child to the right schools – make sure of one thing:

  • That you don’t lose sight of yourself in all this. Focusing 100% of your energy on your child leaves very little for yourself and, if you and your family are to make it through this, then you have to be good to yourself too. There is nothing wrong with finding a competent and trustworthy baby sitter and getting out. There is nothing wrong with letting your hair down every now and then, or getting away without your child / children. You need some time to unwind and relax. Take care of yourself as well!

In all of this, remember too that professionals are quick to tell you what your child cannot do, how they will not be normal, how they can not speak etc. Keep focus on the things your child CAN do. Again, take stock of the unique attributes and character your child has, keep in mind the joy he/she brings and never lose sight of how well you have coped thus far!

I am not sure this post does the experience of parenting a child with special needs any justice. I do not have first hand experience of it, merely some “professional insight” (for what that’s worth) and a limited understanding of what it must be like to live with, care for, love and enjoy a child with special needs. As usual, please do feel free to add to the post – those with the experience are more in the know and I am sure have far more to share!

Untill next time remember:

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Albert Einstein)

The “D” Word – Dealing With Divorce

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Recently, I have found that the topic of divorce has been popping up in various conversations. It’s strange how you can go for months without hearing anyone talk about it, and then suddenly, it’s all you hear about – the “D” word. So I thought it would be relevant (and useful) to discuss some issues relating to the process of divorce and how to help children deal with it – because, lets face it, the kids are the victims here.

No one gets married with the option of divorcing – we all have stars in our eyes and huge hopes for the future when the knot is tied. Down the line, we even have kids and continue to hope and dream about their futures. However, in some cases (more these days than in the past – but that’s another topic for another day) these dreams and hopes begin to dim as the discord in the marriage increases. Today’s post is not going to deal with why and how this happens – but suffice to say that more and more marriages these days are on the rocks and headed for divorce, leaving a wake of collateral damage called children. So how can we make things easier for them?

In 8 easy points I will sum it up for you:

  1. First things first – be honest and communicate clearly! Depending on the age of the child, it is essential that you explain to them from the start what is happening and ensure they understand that it is NOT THEIR FAULT! This is something that you are more than likely going to have to repeat, because for some reason, kids always think they are to blame – so keep reassuring them that this is your mess, not theirs.
  1. Clearly explain the changes that will be taking place – everything from where they will be living, to whether or not they will still get to watch Ben10 on T.V. They need to be fully aware of the transition to make it less scary for them.
  1. Allow them to discuss their feelings with you. Create a space where it is OK for them to feel sad, scared, and even angry at you or your ex. Validate their feelings and reassure them that none of this changes how much you love them. Allow them to express wishes for you to reunite again – validate this wish, but make sure you also explain the finality of the decision.
  1. Remain civil and polite with your ex, especially in front of your children. This is a really important one, so listen up. Do not bad mouth your ex to your kids, do not blame, be angry at or lay guilt trips on your ex in front of the kids. Do not ask your kids to “report back” on your ex after visiting them and, ultimately, do not ask them to choose sides, or who they want to live with! Again, the dissolution of your marriage is your own doing and has nothing to do with the kids – they love each parent equally and should not be put in a position of having to break loyalty with either.
  1. Another really important issue – do not use your kids as emotional support. Having lost your partner and now, possibly, being on your own, makes it easy to lean on your kids for support. This often results in lasting damage and goes against the grain of parenting. Your kids need you to be the emotional support. They should not see you cry, they should not have you confide in them – let them keep the illusion that you are superhuman and can heal all hurts! They will need this especially during this time.
  1. Keep consistency in routine, rules and discipline. Make sure that homework times, meal times and bed times are adhered to. Ensure that rules that once were in the family unit still remain, as should methods of discipline. If you grounded your children before for coming home after a curfew, then continue this! Leniency and being spoilt does not make things easier for kids. Ensure that both you and your ex instil these consistent boundaries. While children often kick up against the rules, consistent boundaries and routines enable them to feel safe and secure, so you will, in fact, be doing them a service!
  1. Never ever say things like “you are so naughty – no wonder your mother left!” or “if you do that again I will send you to live with your father, he can have you”. If you are saying things like this, you might need to examine your own management of the situation and ask whether you are taking it out on your child.
  1. Lastly, seek support for yourself. This is a stressful time and a transition that is fraught with pain and guilt. If you do not seek help, or support, you are likely to let the emotional stress from the divorce spill out and over into your relationship with your kids. You might find yourself irritable, snappy and even saying hurtful things. This is a vulnerable time for you as well as your children and it is essential that you deal with it gently and sensitively.

And as a survivor of divorce has also noted:

If, despite your best efforts, you fail at some of the above, some of the time – don’t be too hard on yourself, you are only human after-all! Pick yourself up – get the support you require and try, try again…

So, if you are getting a divorce, have had a divorce, or simply know someone that is going through a divorce – keep the above in mind. They are simple guidelines that can make the world of difference and spare kids unnecessary heartache.

Till next time, remember…

“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.”
Francois De La Rochefoucauld

P.S. as usual, please feel free to post comments, or questions – or even ideas for future topics!

Really – they study for 6 years? What for?

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I thought a nice follow on to the last post (What actually happens in therapy?) would be to look at the different models / theories that are used to guide the therapy. Yes, folks, this is where the “work” lies and the bits that keep psychologists studying for 6 years!!! As mentioned, we’re not all about the “chatting” in therapy – there is some very real work that happens, some deep talking that occurs, but just what you talk about is very much informed and guided by the therapist’s choice of theory.

So here is the breakdown.

There are many methods / models of therapy. To name a few, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Emotion Focused Therapy, Strategic Therapy, Narrative Therapy and many more. For the purposes here, I am really only going to discuss the ones that I use most often, but you would be well within your rights to find out what your psychologist uses and how it all works!

(Disclaimer: what follows is a very simplified version of what actually goes down in the session)

CBT = Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

This is a very common form of therapy and extremely useful in treating conditions such as Anxiety, Social Phobia, Specific Phobias, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Stress Management and many many more. It is a far more directive form of therapy that includes homework assignments and ‘experiments’. In fact, CBT is a time limited form of therapy that has a very specific goal and definite steps in attaining this goal.  The focus here is on your thoughts (the “cognitive” part of the name) and how these affect your feelings and in turn your behaviour (the “behavioural” part of the name).  It all looks something like this:The Cognitive TriangleSo, if our conditions such as Anxiety, Depression, Phobias, Panic attacks etc all manifest behaviourally, then it would make sense for us to target our thoughts first, right? Need an example?

OK, let give an example of Depression… some thoughts you may have had could be: “Im not coping in my job” “I’m a useless mother”, “Im a useless father / wife / husband etc”, “No one likes me”, “I cant do this” etc etc etc. Feelings that would automatically follow thoughts like these would include loneliness, sadness, feeling useless and unloved etc. As a result, your behaviour would not be one of prouncing joy – no, you would probably stay in bed, cry, not want to go out and see people, not try very hard at work, become demotivated etc. Now, here is the important part – this behaviour CONFIRMS your thoughts – i.e.: not trying hard at work would probably lead to you not getting everything done and, therefore, feeling like you cant cope. Not getting out of bed, crying a lot and not wanting to see people would lead to you isolating yourself, not looking your best and essentially feed back into thoughts such as “no one likes me”, “I am a useless mother / father / wife / husband”… AND THUS THE CYCLE BEGINS! CBT therefore focuses on breaking this cycle by examining your thoughts and exploring how these are affecting your feelings and behaviour! Your psychologist will give you homework assignments designed to train you in “catching” your thoughts and challenging your beliefs, as well as relaxation training excercises, thought/worry stopping techniques and stress management methods.

So the next big one is Psychodynamic Therapy – yes, the father here is Freud, but he lost favour years ago and the theory is now informed by more recent theorists that do not place all that much emphasis on the Oedipus Complex 🙂 Where CBT  is a more goal directed form of therapy, Psychodynamic therapy is less time-limited and guided more by the client and his/her associations (this is a fancy word for “talking about whatever comes to mind”). The aim of this model is to uncover how early childhood and formative experiences have shaped how we react and feel about current situations. So the therapy here would require you to talk as freely and openly about your current circumstances, while your psychologist tries to link these experiences with earlier ones and places an emphasis on how you have been shaped by those experiences. Essentially, by uncovering the source of our frustrations, we are often able to think differently about them and, ultimately change the way we feel and react to current ‘curve balls’.psychodynamic cartoon

This is a great form of therapy if you are wanting insight into why you feel or behave in certain ways, insight into your relationship dynamics with your partner, insight into why you keep having the same sort of experiences (you know the case of getting involved with the wrong kind of partner over and over and over again?), or just want some personal growth experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is very explorative and while it has moved on from the “lying on the couch” experience, it still aims to probe the deeper recesses of the mind and uncover the anxieties and defenses we have hidden there.

I think this gives you a pretty good idea of what lies behind the practice of therapy and I certainly don’t want to bombard you with any more information… as usual, however, please feel free to post questions if you are interested in other forms of therapy, or have any comments you would like to make…

Great chatting to ya, until next time remember:

There is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.” (Erich Fromme)

So, what actually happens in therapy??

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This is a good question, really. It seems the whole concept of “therapy” is shrouded in mystery – not very much information out there regarding what actually happens when you see a psychologist, and those that are in therapy are not likely to discuss it in much detail. I have often been told by others that they would love to have my job as a psychologist – “you get to sit around and chat all day!”

Well, for the most part, there isn’t much “chatting” going on in a therapy session. And it certainly isn’t about making friends! – not for the client and not for the psychologist. In fact the relationship between the client and the therapist is a tricky one, quite different from all other relationships. Firstly, it is a pretty intimate relationship, one where the psychologist gets to be part of a very personal journey of self discovery that is often not shared with others in the client’s life. Very personal thoughts and feelings are explored with the therapist in an entirely confidential and non-judgmental space. As a result, the therapist often gets to know the client in a far more intimate way than others have done in the past. Secondly, it is not a reciprocated relationship. The therapist does not share their own personal stories with the client – in fact in most cases, the client actually knows precious little about the therapist and his/her life. As a result, the relationship can feel quite  one-sided.

So, what actually happens in the therapy session if we are not “chatting” and making friends?

Well, as you can see, the relationship is a very important one, so a large part of the first few sessions is about establishing this relationship. Forming a “working alliance” we call it. Basically the psychologist gets to know the client, while making every effort to leave the client feeling well understood and accepted. This is possibly one of the most important factors in establishing whether therapy will be effective or not. Many great theorists have surmised that the success of therapy is based entirely on the therapeutic relationship and whether or not the client and therapist have made a connection. So, folk, this is important to remember – its no use continuing with a psychologist if you dont feel you can establish a “working alliance” with them.

OK, so now we have the relationship – what else happens?

We TALK! Psychotherapy is known as the “talking cure” and as such, talking forms the basis of what you “do” in therapy. Its what you talk about that makes the difference and this depends largely on the type of therapy being used. (I will deal with different therapy models in more detail in future posts). For now it is suffice to say that the therapy model often depicts the focus of the therapy and what is spoken about. Having said that, however, there is no right and wrong regarding what may and may not be spoken about during therapy. This is YOUR time, an hour that is dedicated solely to you and, consequently, you get to be the leader here. Your therapist might guide you in certain directions, but you have the power to talk about as much or as little as you like. And NO! Your psychologist cannot mind read, or magically pull out your deepest darkest secrets. No, therapy is based on honesty and trust – a space where you come be as honest as you can about things, and in the process learn to trust again… and isn’t that what we all want?

I guess its in the talking, the being honest and the forming of a really important relationship that the details are sorted out. This is where the problems find solutions, the significant relationships with others are restored, the wounds of the past are healed and new coping skills are learnt.

Hopefully this has de-mystified the therapy process a bit for you and given you some encouragment in taking the next step and getting involved…

Till my next post, remember

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”

And Psychminded Blog Begins…

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Hi there and welcome…

I’ve heard and read so much about “blogging” and “bloggers” and have always been secretly intrigued by this new cyber-world of journalism and writing. I have always wanted to be part of this, but never really put A into G and done anything about it…So here we are, about to embark on a very exciting journey *big breath in….and out!*

Ok… so I have been told on various occasions that in order for the blog to be successful it has to be geared toward a specific theme or topic that is relevant, interesting, useful or just plain funny. So, by process of elimination (as I am far from being a comedian, am useless at cooking so wont be writing about recipes and simply do not want to air my political views for public scrutiny), I decided that this blog could be ‘useful’ and ‘relevant’ if I write about what I know – Psychology!

Yes, I am a Clinical Psychologist with a practice in Ballito, KZN (please view my website) and so, in this field, I will have tons to write about. My aim – to provide some really useful tips and advice regarding a range of topics and issues (please feel free to post questions or topics that interest you), as well as to provide some insight into therapy and the process thereof.

I think “therapy” has this dark stigma attached to it and is shrouded in mystery that makes the very idea of phoning a psychologist for an appointment a frightening endeavor. One that requires hours of preparation and ‘self talk’ to muster the strength and call for ‘help’. So, not only for us in the profession, but also for all those out there that have briefly considered going for therapy only to very quickly and very nervously laugh off the idea and move on, I think it would be useful to ‘de-mystify’ psychotherapy and give it the credit in deserves!

ok, so without further ado.. thank you for joining me on the site and reading this introduction. Again, please feel free to post comments, questions or ideas on this site – anything that could generate a discussion that is useful and relevant… thats what we’re going for here folks – “useful” and “relevant”.

Lovely to meet you!!