Welcome to Edition 225 of Institute Inbrief! This edition marks the 10th Anniversary of Institute Inbrief, and on behalf of the Institute and everyone involved in this publication over the past decade, we’d like to thank you for your readership and support over the years! It’s been an immense pleasure to bring you regular mental health and counselling news and updates!
If you have recently joined our readership, you can access all our previous 224 editions via our online ezine archive page at www.aipc.net.au/ezine. And of course, we encourage you to share the link with friends or colleagues who may be interested in subscribing to our newsletter. Sharing is caring!
In this commemorative edition, we will focus on a concept that is the linchpin of many philosophical schools and approaches to life, and a highly relevant area for counsellors and therapists wishing to help their clients build resilience: how to gain strength from adversity.
Also in this edition:
- Latest news and updates
- Articles and CPD information
- Wellness tips
- Therapist Q&A
- Social media review
Enjoy your reading!
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Diploma of Counselling
Imagine Being Passionate About Your Work
And Assisting People Every Day Lead Better Lives
It’s rare these days to hear people talk about their work with true passion. You hear so many stories of people working to pay the bills; putting up with imperfect situations; and compromising on their true desires.
That’s why it’s always so refreshing to hear regular stories from graduates living their dream to be a Counsellor. They’re always so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. There’s no doubt that counselling is one of the most personally rewarding and enriching professions.
Just imagine someone comes to you for assistance. They’re emotionally paralysed by events in their life. They can’t even see a future for themselves. They can only focus on their pain and grief. The despair is so acute it pervades their entire life. Their relationship is breaking down and heading towards a divorce. They can’t focus on work and are getting in trouble with their boss. They feel they should be able to handle their problems alone, but know they can’t. It makes them feel helpless, worthless. Their self-esteem has never been lower. They’re caught in a cycle of destruction and pain.
Now imagine you have the knowledge and skills to help this person overcome their challenges. You assist to relieve their intense emotional pain. You give them hope for the future. You assist to rebuild their self-esteem and lead a satisfying, empowered life.
As a Counsellor you can experience these personal victories every day. And it’s truly enriching. There is nothing more fulfilling than helping another person overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.
How to Gain Strength from Adversity
Most of us would have heard the saying, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” While the optimist in us will hope this saying holds true, it now seems there is some more veracity to this claim. Since the 1990s, there has been huge interest in the question of whether, after a trauma, we must succumb to post-traumatic stress, or whether we are able to instead experience post-traumatic growth. The question isn’t new, as all of the world’s major religions have told us about the transformative power of suffering. But the new emphasis is more scientific, so we need to ask: what counts as trauma? What would growth look like? And what do we need to watch out for, post-trauma, to ensure we experience growth?
What is trauma?
“Trauma” can refer to any major adversity. This could include being in the midst of a natural disaster, serious illnesses or injuries, or deaths of friends or family. Traumatic experiences could also include any form of assault, abuse or violence as well as things like damage to or theft of our property. In fact, any adverse event can be traumatic, depending on the situation and our circumstances.
Dying, surviving, resilience, and thriving
Health researchers have previously asked whether people can recover to pre-trauma levels after a serious adversity. Researchers created three broad categories for people recovering from trauma: those who would succumb completely (death); those who would survive in a greatly reduced capacity; and those who managed to return to pre-trauma functioning were deemed resilient. Those three outcomes seemed to be the only choices.
Now positive psychology proponents have added a fourth outcome: thriving, by which they mean going beyond the level of functioning the person was at before the catastrophe struck. The distance between resilience (equal to pre-trauma functioning) and thriving (a higher level of functioning, beyond where the person was before) is the measure of post-traumatic growth, or PTG.
Areas of growth
You might ask, “What kind of growth are we talking about here – and how would it be measured?” Excellent question! Health scientists are developing the various tests that will help quantify PTG scientifically. The good news is that the cases of growth after traumatic events are far outweighing the reports of disorders. The findings are showing five areas of growth for those who have experienced traumatic events:
- Discovery of new opportunities not available before
- Closer relationships with others, especially others who suffer
- Greater appreciation for life
- Greater sense of personal strength
- Spiritual growth
Busting the myths
We probably can’t avoid most of the traumatic events that come our way – life happens, after all. But researchers are careful to remind us that growth comes from the struggle to cope with the trauma, not from the event itself. So let’s look at a few of the misconceptions around resilience and thriving.
Resilience is a given – you have it or you don’t. Well, not exactly. Resilience is not a trait; it’s a capacity, one we learn and develop. We can all be more resilient than we were before by learning to use our strengths and supportive resources.
Thriving people are independent, tough, and self-reliant. It’s a great stereotype in Western cultures – the rugged individualist – but the reality is that resilient and thriving people know how to tap into their resources. Their social networks – friends and family – are some of the most important resources. Thrivers are able to ask for help when they need it.
Thrivers are immune to stress and negative feelings. People experiencing PTG have just as much stress and negative emotion as anyone, but they are also able to feel positive emotions, such as joy and gratitude. Thrivers find meaning and purpose in their lives even as they face loss and trauma.
Adversity makes people stronger. Many people do experience positive changes after struggling with a crisis. But it’s not the adversity itself that makes the difference. If it were, all people experiencing the same adverse event – say, surviving a terrible cyclone – would have equal post-traumatic stress or growth. Most will have post-traumatic stress for a while. The thrivers will also maintain positive emotions as they persevere with adaptation, explore the new environment, and learn things that will eventually enable them to build new resources to overcome the difficulty – in the process, they will experience growth. So it’s not really a question of stress or growth; for thrivers, these both may be present in the recovery process.
All this talk of growing because we’ve been through tough times, rather than in spite of them, is exciting. There is a word of warning, though: believing that we can overcome trauma and be stronger than before is probably helpful to our development but if we take growth as a given, we may have unrealistically high expectations for ourselves and others.
These types of expectations can do more harm than good, so it is important to take a balanced approach to any traumatic situation. For example, many cancer patients complain about the “prison of positive thinking”, and we are guilty of a profound lack of compassion if we assume that growth will always occur and crisis-stricken people should just “get over it.” We honour people by acknowledging what they’ve been through. After all, the saying that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” contains two possibilities; becoming stronger is only one of them.
Written by Dr Meg Carbonatto B.S., M.A., and Ph.D.
This article was originally published in Asteron Life’s Balance Blog. AIPC regularly contributes to Balance’s wellbeing blog category.
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Practicing unconditional self-acceptance and compassion
When discussing happiness, one attitude/belief that deserves special mention is the art of accepting ourselves on an “as is, where is” basis. For us to be peacefully in relationship with our own humanness – our own combination of strengths, growing edges and unique quirks – means to have less stress from the source of our own critical voice. You know the voice: the one that yells at us that we are not _____ (fill in the blank: “slender”, “clever”, “good at business”, etc), or that we have not achieved enough. The more we can truly live from a genuine sense of “I am ok”, the more that we can be in compassionate, accepting relationship with helpees and others.
The more we manage to fund a deep sense of esteem from our own internal resources, the more we develop the autonomy and inner authority that prevents us crumpling from criticism, or needing acceptance and approval from others. It is not a short-term strategy, but there are few efforts that yield greater happiness and hardiness. The skills of self-awareness and self-regulation can work wonders here. Our increasing awareness of when we fail to accept ourselves can lead to increased ability to regulate our minds towards compassion.
On a scale of 1 – 100, how accepting of yourself are you? Which specific areas of yourself do you identify as really hard to accept? This could include anything from physical characteristics (e.g., “I hate my nose”) to mental skills (“I am a terrible salesperson”) to global put-downs (“I’m a loser; I haven’t done anything with my life”).
How willing are you to choose one of these areas and re-write the negative self-talk you are giving yourself?
What does resilience look like?
Most of the time when mental health professionals talk about resilience, they are referring to psychological hardiness, primarily, and physical toughness secondarily. Yet the term “resilience” was first used in the physical sciences to describe the behaviour of a spring (Plodinec, 2009). In fact, the word “resilience” is derived from the Latin resalire, to spring back. In the 1970s and 1980s, the term began to be co-opted by ecological and psychological communities.
The ecologists used it to describe ecosystems that continued to function more or less the same in spite of adversity (Holling, 1973), and the psychologists noted that groups not changing their behaviour in spite of adversity were resilient ones (Masten, 1990). The engineering community also got in on the act, referring to physical infrastructure as being resilient if it was able to absorb and recover from a hazardous event (Plodinec, 2009).
Fostering Resilience: In-session boosters to help clients bounce back
Suppose someone asks you, a mental health practitioner, “What is the most important thing you do as a counsellor (psychotherapist/psychologist/social worker) for your clients?” Your response might go along the lines of “helping them sort out their problems”, “educating them and inspiring them to make their lives work,” or possibly “providing support and a safe container while they explore new [presumably more effective] ways of being”.
Whatever your particular way of framing the answer, the chances are that you have identified a role of supporting and helping build your clients’ resilience, even if you never call it that when you are with them. Indeed, fostering resilience – the great art of helping others to bounce back – is the foundation of what we do as mental health professionals. But just how, exactly, do you do it? What tools or techniques have you got in your bag of tricks to foster resilience at the very practical level of in-session work?
Q&A with Toula Gordillo (Clinical Psychologist)
Q. I have heard that my client’s parenting style can influence how much their child uses the internet. As a counsellor, how can I explain this to my client?
A. As their counsellor, you can use stories or narratives from other clients (names withheld of course) who have had difficulties with problematic internet use and how these were overcome. You can also show your client the latest research (written very clearly, simply and highlighting the important points) to tell them the ‘story’ of how they can be a more effective parent and the impact that their parenting style can have on their children long-term.
You can tell them about research published last year* in Crete, Greece, for example, that found that young adults who remember their parents as being overly strict, demanding, and not affectionate, were more likely to have problematic internet use (otherwise known as Internet Addiction).
This research identified that young people with very demanding or unaffectionate parents may experience mood problems, have difficulty relating to peers in person, or may find it difficult to make friends in general, causing them to ‘retreat’ to online games for comfort and support. The study of 700 adults also concluded that almost 2% of men and 0.6% of women could be classified as “severely addicted”. The authors did not find a direct link between anxiety or loneliness and Internet addiction, nor could they directly link any particular parenting style with addiction, but Kalaitzaki and her colleagues did find indirect connections.
The young people who remembered their fathers as controlling and not affectionate tended to have more trouble relating to others as young adults. Those who had trouble relating to others were more likely to be addicted. Those young people who remembered their mothers as ‘just not very good parents’ were more likely to report sadness as young adults, which was also linked to Internet addiction.
"Parents should be made aware of the harmful impact that a potential negative parental rearing style may have upon their children in later life," Kalaitzaki told Reuters Health. This is where counsellors can help. They can help parents understand the importance of their parenting style and how this can influence their child’s development, particularly in terms of their technology use.
These results highlight the need to be an authoritative (high parental warmth and involvement), not an authoritarian parent (high strictness/supervision). Being an authoritative, loving parent may protect your clients’ teens and pre-teens not only against Internet Addiction, but also likely prevent a plethora of other problems (both online and offline) as well.
*Study conducted by Argyroula E. Kalaitzaki and colleagues of the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete. For more information, see Parenting style linked to kids' Internet addiction by Kathryn Doyle, New York, Jan 16, 2014 at hyperlink.
Toula Gordillo is a Clinical Psychologist, AIPC private assessor/tutor and regular contributor for Institute Inbrief. Toula has an extensive work history as a Clinical Psychologist, Teacher, and Guidance Officer. For more information, visit www.talktoteens.com.au.
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The best gifts for your mother
Whether you love it or hate it, most people will agree that the mother-child relationship is one of the most significant relationships in a person’s life, affecting your wellbeing throughout your life.
At the same time, many of us will not have the perfect relationship with our parents. In fact, one psychologist estimates that 85% of families are dysfunctional. More optimistic estimates say that about half of mothers are “good enough” (not perfect, but adequate). Either way, there are many of us whose maternal interactions were not the intimate safe haven idealised by Hallmark.
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"Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths. Prudent people look beyond the incident itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use. On the occasion of an accidental event, don't just react in a haphazard fashion: Remember to turn inward and ask what resources you have for dealing with it. Dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realize you have. Find the right one. Use it."
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