Monday, October 6, 2014

How to tell your child

Can you remember the most awkward conversation that you have had with your parents? Yes, it probably was about puberty or reproduction. Don’t you wonder why when we equip our 2 and 3 year olds with iPads, we fall short when it comes to educating them about our own bodies.
As awkward or tough as this topic may be, it is very important that our children know, understand and respect their own bodies and that of others. Lack of knowledge and understanding could make them victims of fear, uncertainty and even sexual abuse.
I am Deepa, a mom to 2 little girls. Whenever I attempted talking to my girls on these tough topics, I brought in a lot of apprehension, which invariably brought in fear and confusion in my girls. My conversations on these topics would almost always be pre-empted by a very sad story in the news on child abuse. 
Wanting it make it easy for myself and parents alike world over, I roped Ms.P & Mr.P, the friendly dragons to create a platform called “How To Tell Your Child” which are a series of videos and books. These dragons make these exact awkward lessons positive, empowering and even fun to learn.
In the video on Child Sexual Abuse a group of very young children get to win a super-cool star, as long as they can answer the safety quiz. They learn to identify ‘Touch Alert’, ‘See Alert’ and others with the help of visual cues and a story. These ‘alerts’ provide 5 levels of protection. Abuse is often viewed as just the physical act. What people don’t realize is that most abusers work up to it, beginning with finding ways to be alone with a child, saying provocative things to them, and performing small tests like asking to see or offering to show, before they finally begin to touch them.  Making lists of circles of love and recognizing the five alerts with the help of fun visuals, as shown in the video is a playful challenge and you’ll be surprised at how children rise to it. And when the children do the workbook, the concepts get internalised and they master it.
Few parents are without worry when it comes to talking to their daughters about puberty. Here’s help, in the form of Ms. P, a pink dragon who likes to sing. True she sings about breasts and pubic hair and other uncomfortable aspects of puberty, but that’s exactly why young girls love her. Ms. P makes conversations around coming of age easy. She’s sassy and fun, and has all the answers from menstruation to underarm hair. You could watch the videos with her, to help her get information that is age-appropriate, medically correct, and non-threatening. Ms.P’s Guide for Girls is the perfect companion to the video where growing up is discussed in greater detail.
Now, how do you tell your pre-teen son about wet dreams, hair in places he never wants to acknowledge, and all the weird, crazy, happy, angry thoughts running around his head? Unfortunately, most people believe that boys will pick up what they need to know about puberty and sex from their friends. This is dangerous because they can absorb misconceptions or develop a perverse view of sexuality. He needs to be spoken to in a safe, non-threatening way, about what is happening to their bodies. So, you could enlist the help of a quirky green dragon called Mr. P who’s got it all figured out. It’s not a lecture on biology. It’s a casual chat between a boy who knows it all and a dragon about his body. For parents who really don’t know how to have this conversation with their sons, the video and the book - Mr.P’s Guide for Boys, takes the pressure off, and may even begin a positive interaction between a parent and child.
Now all that you will have to do is watch a fun video with your children and give them a book to read.  With that you will know that they know all that they need to know.  You will know that they are empowered. It’s that easy!
These videos and books are at How To Tell YourChild.

And I can assure you that after watching these videos and reading the books, you will have a smile on your face. And your children will have a larger smile.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sex education demystified

I was sharing with an elder about how important sex education is, and to my surprise, she seemed vehemently opposed to it. She felt that when the time came, the children would know automatically. And, that is when I realized that for her and most of you, sex education meant exposing your children to the facts of SEX!! The topic was being narrowly interpreted.

Sexuality and Safety are important parts of our child’s education. In the light of the recent horrifying events at a local school in Bangalore, it is clear that we need to take proactive action to prevent exposing our children to any harm or abuse. Parents play an important part in conveying this information. Not only is ‘prevention of sexual abuse’ information an important part of this discussion but how is this communicated to your child is equally pertinent. Children at different ages understand and process information differently and a professional can guide you to handle this dialogue effectively and with ease.

Sexuality and health sessions for children are the right way forward to orient them to the dangers present around and to equip them with skills needed to protect themselves. Counseling India conducts Sexuality and Safety sessions for children of different age groups. Children are grouped according to their ages and are given this information with the use of audio video aids, power-point presentations, role play and group discussions. The topic details and the depth of information is modulated according to the age of the child. For eg: younger children will be taught about good and bad touch while adolescents will also be oriented to the relationship between sexuality and self-esteem, gender stereotypes etc.

It is important to understand that the act of sex is a culmination and integration of so many different things. Our self-esteem, self-respect, body image, covert messages received from parental relationships, peers and media etc. influences our attitude towards sex. Gender roles, parental control, education, knowledge of anatomy, and understanding of our natural biological urges play a role in sexual health.

Sex education talks about the relationship between physical changes, cognitive development, emotional traits and social tendencies and how these affect our behavior. Sex education also talks about the tight bond between sexuality and self-esteem and how they affect each other. It touches upon the benefits and challenges of growing up. It explores the relationship between your actions, your choices with its inevitable consequences. It tells you about personal safety and your responsibility towards it.

But more importantly, sex education takes away the taboo from talking about sexual topics. It prevents the girl from shying away from talking to her mom/dad about that teacher who was making advances towards her. It gives power to your young child by teaching him to say “Stop, Go away and Tell a trusted adult”, thus decreasing the chances of abuse. It prompts a boy to stop teasing his female classmates by enlightening him about its far- reaching effects on her self-esteem. It promotes a healthy friendship between the opposite sexes that is not biased by gender stereotypes. It encourages your child to be responsible and accountable towards self and others. And, it also talks about sex……………

Monday, June 23, 2014

The joys of being dyslexic

As a young psychology student, I remember reading about Dyslexia and going for an observation in a clinical set up to see the cases first hand. I remember looking at the child's parents and wondering how they felt about their child being academically challenged. Having grown up in a family where education was regarded as the highest value, I felt a twinge of pity for them. I came back from that observation feeling pretty sad for the child and his guardians.

It was years and many clients later that I realized how immature I had been, in coming to this conclusion. A client helped me realize this. She was a 14 year old girl studying in an International school. She was the most innocent child I had met. She was trusting and naive.......very easily accepting of her diagnosis and ready to work hard to compensate for it. Remedial classes, additional hours poring over prescribed study material, practicing social skills till she got it right...nothing tired her out. And, she was always cheerful, forever ready to help classmates and assist teachers. She always brought a smile to my face when she walked in into the session. She managed to take away my mental fatigue by her very presence. The lack of awareness of social pragmatics made her a very easy person to get along with. She did not compete to get attention. Her capacity to stay positive while learning in a competitive study environment and her drive to overcome her disability was very inspiring to me. Her ability to come up with out of the box solutions was amazing and motivating to someone like me who had undergone a very traditional rote learning education. She managed to teach me far more than my teachers ever could.

If this is what learning disability did to a person, I wanted to be learning disabled. Till date, when I diagnose a new client with dyslexia, I think of her. And, I always share the story with the parents.

      

Over protection and segregation

I was talking to the coordinator at an Indian school where I conduct once a week Sexuality and Personal Safety group sessions, for children. I was there to give them an idea of what the content of the sessions would be? While I was briefing them about it, I could see their discomfort about using medical terms for our body parts, during my group sessions. One of the coordinators said that we have raised our children in a protective environment and do not wish to expose them to this terminology. I explained my perspective to her and we found a workable compromise.

Another incident which stood out for me happened only a few days later. A European friend told me about her Indian neighbours who did not allow their kids to mingle with the Americans, because they did not want their kids exposed to western influences!!

Both of these conversations got me thinking. I have lived in India for the most part of my life and have seen similar attitudes being fostered in families around me. But, is this the right way of bringing up our children? Is holding on to our traditional thoughts and deeds, the only way to inculcate good values in our child.

Underexposing and (over)protecting the child from matters of sexual safety, in the name of protecting them from dirty and pornographic expression that is incongruent with our ancient traditions, could mean exposing them to far more harm than any parent could ever be prepared for.

Will racial segregation help our kids or really prove detrimental to being global citizens......because like it or not, that is the way forward. Even if I ignore this almost blatant discrimination policy of raising our children, this kind of segregation will make our children unaware of what other cultures and ways of living have to teach us. We can benefit from different values inculcated by different cultures, just by being open to their views. If only we spend time with our non Indian friends, will we realize that they are so vastly different from the debaucherous stereotypical westener potrayed on screen and accepted as the norm by most of us. They, too, have strong family ties and religious rituals and their lives revolve around their children, just like ours do. Their ways may be different but the same drives, desires and goals motivate them.

I am ready to concede that not everything is right about the western point of view but then not everything is perfect with the eastern way of living, either.   

By segregating our children from the mainstream and not allowing them (and us) another perspective, can prove to be detrimental to their growth. Most modern thinkers as well as spiritual leaders advocate acceptance and tolerance while walking down the path of growth. Mingling with people from different races, backgrounds, genders and taking a more pragmatic view of the different approaches to life, will help us find our way forward far more efficiently, not to mention raise our level of conciousness.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Consequences

I was talking to a fellow counselor about how the school policy dictates that all kids at elementary/primary level be promoted, irrespective of their performance. Often, the deadline for an assignment/homework to be turned in is extended for a few kids who aren't able to submit it.

While I agree with the school's good intention of giving students a second chance, I am not sure, this is the right way to do it. By extending a deadline for a few students, we are being unfair to a majority of the kids who were organised enough to get their work done on time. More importantly, we are teaching the students who have been given another chance that life will give them second chances to make good on their mistakes. Often, as we all know, this is seldom true in real life. Your boss is not going to pat you on the back and say, " Its alright", for missing the last date for tender submission.

Far more worse, is promoting a child who clearly does not fulfill the criteria to move to the next grade. This child is going to grow up into an adult feeling entitled to a promotion or pay hike, just for showing up at work, everyday. Careful planning and organization at work and home, diligence, perseverance and sheer hard work are the values, students should learn at school. An automatic promotion to the next grade can make all of the above values redundant in the student's life.

And what happens, when the promoted student is incapable of understanding the advanced syllabus, of the next grade? Will he work hard at something that he has difficulty grasping? Inability to perform or even understand peer level academic curriculum can have devastating effects on his self esteem. So how is this policy of indiscriminate promotion to the next grade helping?

I am 100% on board, for applying different criteria of assessment for differently abled students but a complete disregard for the assessment process or overt guidelines, is way too much mollycoddling for my comfort.

As teachers and parents it is our job to prepare the children for the tough road ahead. We would be utterly failing in our duty, if we are focused on making the path easier on them. The message we need to send to our children is that if you follow the guidelines and work hard to achieve your goals, success will be yours but if you chose to ignore hard work, there are repercussions to it.

Every behavior has a consequence and its up to us to guide our children towards the right habits and behaviors.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Core beliefs and relationship conflicts

As a student of psychology as well as a married woman, relationships and their dynamics have always intrigued me. More specifically the causes behind the conflicts in a marital relationship fascinate me. Often they are clues to the partners psyche revealing the insecurities, childhood impressions, super ego messaging and so on and so forth.

Most of the time, relationship arguments are about our own issues projected onto our partner. If the message we heard in our childhood told us that we are unworthy of love and attention, more times than not, one will get upset at the spouse for not providing the TLC. The spouse could be showing his love through different ways.....by helping around at home, giving you some time off from the kids, providing for the family.....but if you don't believe you are worthy of love, you will not see your partner's love towards you.

Growing up, if you were frequently criticised, even a suggestion coming from your spouse can seem like disapproval. The truth is your childhood messages have lead you to wrongly believe that you can do nothing right so when your spouse makes a suggestion for tweaking something you have done, you see it as fault finding and get defensive. Your poor partner has no choice but to retreat or get defensive himself, leading the path to another fight.

It can be hard for the person involved to see how his self beliefs are causing the friction in the relationship. Our innate defense reaction is to assign responsibility elsewhere.
If you find yourself questioning your partners love, trust, respect or care towards you, first dig deeper within yourself. If you have questioned other significant people in your life, of these very same emotions, be aware of the pattern and tackle it head on. Take responsibility and seek help.

Core belief work is offered by many professionals trained in CBT and that is a good place to start the journey of self awareness and acceptance. It frees you up to take control of your life instead of tying you up in the blame game where no one wins.

Core belief work helps you assess your negative conclusions about events by investigating its deep rooted origin. It provides present day evidence against the erronous self belief, thus making it irrational and irrelevant. This kind of therapeutic work can be revelatory for some. Often, it can change your perspective towards life. And the effect it will have on your marriage can only be seen to be believed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Three pieces of advice

My mother in law once told me about three things that had helped her get through rough patches in life.
1. Never say I am tired
2. Never say I can't do it
3. Never say I am bored

Sounds simple when you hear them for the first time. But, when I began counting the number of times I said, I was tired or bored or that I couldn't do it, I was taken aback. Then I began to observe what these statements did to my thoughts and how they affected my behavior. I found to my utter surprise that I began to feel those feelings with a much higher intensity every time I said it out loud.

As we go through our daily ups and downs, these three statements can help us avoid reinforcing our negative emotions that would otherwise send us on a downward spiraling path. I was struggling with my undesirable emotions last week and when I stopped saying I couldn't do it and started telling myself that I am strong enough to handle anything that comes my way, I felt empowered and energetic to carry on.

These three statements are an example of how to sidestep negative self talk that could be detrimental to our mental health. But does that mean we should not acknowledge our sadness or disappointment or fatigue or boredom. Not at all. It is important to be aware of our emotions. However be warned that the next logical consequence of emotional awareness is indulging in them and wallowing in self pity. That is where we need to draw the line. Positive self talk will alleviate the mental stress and also nudge you towards solution seeking, which by its very nature will decrease your negativity.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Positive thinking

I met an old acquaintance last week after a few years. She had been through a tough time in the last decade. Financial troubles, a failing marriage and two school going kids had forced her to venture out in the working world at the age of 45 years. She had never worked before, always preferring to take care of her children and  her house. Family was her first priority. In this testing time, she worked like a slave, came back from her job and made sure she had hot food on the table for the family,every night. She also discharged her duties towards the extended family members with a smiling face. She participated in every family activity, wholeheartedly. The bitterness, if any, about her personal situation was never on display and she kept a dignified profile.
Last week, I asked her how she had coped with it all and yet maintained her love for life and child like enthusiasm for new experiences. What she said touched me to the core. " I can't change what happened in the past and I don't know what the future holds but I can certainly enjoy my present. I have two lovely kids, a house over my head and I am healthy. Life is good."
To me, she became the living proof of positive thinking......a stress busting technique that most of us have a hard time implementing in our lives.
An easy way to focus on the positives and leave the negatives behind is to wake up every morning and count on your fingers, the blessings in your life....your children, healthy parents, good career.....and do the same every night. This twice a day habit can become a transformational tool for a happy life. Try it out. I plan on doing it, too.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ferberization- Is it healthy for your child?

Quite a few pediatricians in India have begun recommending Ferberization as a way of encouraging babies to sleep independently.
Here is the outline of his methods (from his book)
Dr. Richard Ferber discusses and outlines a wide range of practices to teach an infant to sleep. The term ferberization is now popularly used to refer to the following techniques:
  1. Take steps to prepare the baby to sleep. This includes night-time rituals and day-time activities.
  2. At bedtime, leave the child in bed and leave the room.
  3. Return at progressively increasing intervals to comfort the baby (without picking him or her up). For example, on the first night, some scenarios call for returning first after three minutes, then after five minutes, and thereafter each ten minutes, until the baby is asleep.
  4. Each subsequent night, return at intervals longer than the night before. For example, the second night may call for returning first after five minutes, then after ten minutes, and thereafter each twelve minutes, until the baby is asleep.
A host of different academic research institutes have supported this method citing research that Ferber's method helps children sleep longer and through the night.  It has been a popular method in the USA for many years now. (http://www.med.umich.edu/pediatrics/ebm/cats/ferber.htm)

I find myself very anti- ferberization and fortunately, recent research supports my point of view. While the method does help the  children to sleep through the night, it is also teaching the child that he is alone without a back up.... leading to insecurity and separation anxieties.

When you leave a child unattended, crying for you, his cortisol level shoots up. Cortisol is a stress indicator. What is even more surprising is that the cortisol level shoots up every night even when the child is not crying. What that means is, while you have trained the child not to cry, his distress is very much present. Distress at such a young age is an important factor in adult anxiety, panic disorders and other mental conditions.

So then, does the intermittent reassurance by the parent (as suggested in the Ferber method) bring down the anxiety. On the contrary, I believe it doesn't. Because there is no comforting or picking up the child when he is crying, it leads to more distress. Seeing your parents make an appearance when one is evidently upset but watching them do nothing before disappearing, again, can feel like betrayal. And because this sleep method is employed in the pre-verbal stage, its processing and impact on memory could be devastating. 

Researchers at Harvard who examined emotional learning, infant brain function and cultural differences claim that babies who are left to cry themselves to sleep suffer long-lasting damage to their nervous systems.
By employing the Ferber method, you are teaching your baby that you cannot be depended on and that you cannot be trusted to help her when she needs it.

Now, even Dr. Ferber, in the 2006 edition of his book, advocates co-sleeping as a better solution and accepts that different strategies work for different families!!

As a psychologist, and even as a parent, it seems like the method does not take into account the child's emotional well being. While it seems to get the job done and puts your child to sleep, there is no way to know what collateral damage it has done.  To me, that's a big risk to take with your precious one.




Acceptance

Growing up, at home, I sought my parents approval. At school and college, I needed validation for my hard work. When I started working, I wanted my seniors to appreciate my efforts. A pat on the back, a gold medal, a good appraisal followed by a decent hike in my take home pay were all indications of bring approved of. I was hooked. My self worth was inextricably linked to my achievements and every little setback or failure caused me feel worthless. If I don't achieve, I am a failure.

I have heard these words and seen them in deeds, so many times. I wish it wasn't so. So many of us have been scarred by this one thing that was drummed into us in early childhood. Unconscious comparisons with the better behaved cousin or the high achiever classmate by our parents, teachers and society, at large, meant that every average Joe was not approved of..........and accepted.

One had to be a somebody to be successful. Why? Aren't all children specially gifted. One may be better at academics, the other at art, another at social skills and someone else at coming up with out of the box ideas. Each one has a unique talent. And it is job of a good parent and teacher to help the child find it. 

The first step to that is the acceptance of the child for who she/he is, with all the seemingly odd tendencies and quirks. This acceptance can go a long way in building self esteem and self worth. This acceptance also serves as the reserve strength to tackle difficult life phases, inevitable failures and other setbacks. It provides the child and later his adult self, the encouragement to continue walking optimistically on his life journey reaching for his goal. And because his self worth is not linked to someone else's approval, he accepts life's ups and downs as inevitable companions of his journey. His self worth remains intact and he accepts himself, with his strengths, weaknesses and eccentricities.

A child who seeks validation and approval is a result of an unaware parenting style. As a parent the most important thing you can do is accept your child. Everything else will follow.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Empty Nest Syndrome

Till now, as a mother, I was the most important person in my son’s life. But now that he’s a teenager, he only comes to me when he needs something. While I understand his need to be independent, I have begun to feel the twinges of grief… When it gets to a point where he leaves home for good, I don’t know what I would do then!”
That’s my client’s story but it could be yours, too.
I have dealt with ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ [ENS], as it is referred to by most clinicians, with a lot of my clients. ENS is characterised by feelings of grief and loneliness that parents or guardians feel when their children leave home for the first time to attend college, a job in another city or just to move to their marital home after they get married. While mothers seem to be affected the most, by no means are fathers spared. While ENS is not a psychiatric disorder, it often needs therapy and support just like any other ailment.

Getting through the grief

It seems almost inevitable that parents would go through some feelings of desolation as their last child leaves home. While most parents understand and accept the need of their child to move out for work, education, marriage or to live independently, the emotions evoked by this event are hard to control and manage. The sadness at seeing their child go away, being powerless to have a say in most aspects of their lives, worrying about their safety, being concerned about their ability to manage without parental guidance, and the sudden emptiness in their lives and homes, can be very hard on parents.
Stay-at-home parents, women experiencing menopausal symptoms, parents who have recently retired and single or separated parents may feel the loss much more than others.

Preparation is everything

You can’t prepare for it just a few months before your children are ready to go out in the world. Preparation starts much earlier… in fact, from the time your children are young kids.
  • Raise independent and self-assured children: It is important to integrate certain practices in your everyday interactions with your kids. Provide them with acceptable choices, allow them to make decisions on their own, respect their selection, provide support for any [potential] negative fallout. Show your children that you are with them and their preferences. The warmth that you create by doing this stays with them throughout their lives and they will continue to be in touch with you.
  • Encourage independent thinking: Listening to your children’s ideas and allowing them to interpret their environment as they see fit can do wonders for their thought process. Follow some rituals that engage your children at the family level. For instance, watching a movie together, sitting down for meals with each other, and having a brief chat before bedtime can a long way in creating strong attachments between you and your child. The combination of independent thought and family rituals will ensure that your child will be able to live independently and but will still reach out to you for guidance and love.
  • Keep the channels of communication open: Regular, non-intrusive conversations about their state of mind and their feelings help promote a continuous dialogue between you and your children, even after they have moved out. By doing this, you ensure that your child will keep in touch with you and keep you in the loop about any concerns in his life. This knowledge can help in cutting down your anxiety.
  • Accept the facts: Accepting that your children’s need to live their life cannot be based on your personal experiences may sound scary but is actually a freeing experience. Once you are able to accept and trust your children, you can help, support and encourage their endeavours. In this way, they will still need you but in a different way than before.
  • Live your life: I cannot stress enough the importance of living your own life. Cultivating a hobby and involving yourself in meaningful work can be a life saver when your child’s departure leaves behind a sense of emptiness. Involve yourself in a home or work project or sign up as a volunteer at the local school or charity. A fellow counsellor, whose kids have left for another country, has learnt to sidestep her anxiety by devoting many hours teaching English at a girl’s orphanage. She says it makes her feel wanted and it keeps her too busy to feel lonely.
  • Focus on your partner: Children moving out is also a wonderful opportunity to reach out to your spouse. There was probably no time to devote to each other when both of you were busy bringing up the kids and working towards their future. Plan some activities with each other, go for walks, and watch that movie you never found time for or read together daily. Going on a holiday together will also help you deal with the feelings of loss.
  • Change your point of view: Look at the children’s departure from a different perspective. It’s time you patted yourself on the back for all your efforts through the years. Relax, sit back and enjoy the results of your labour. A lot less housework, more time for your hobbies and significantly reduced financial burden can be very liberating.

ENS and the single parent

A single parent can get badly bruised by the empty nest syndrome. In most cases, a single parent has worked overtime to raise his/her children. Working a full time job to meet the financial demands of the family and often doubling up as the cook, housekeeper, tutor and nanny to the children can be physically and mentally demanding. But you are also rewarded by the child’s undivided love and loyalty. Due to the lack of a partner, this relationship often takes the form of a friendship and can be extremely rewarding for both the child and the parent.
To find yourself suddenly alone after the kids have flown the nest can bring on feelings of isolation, exclusion, melancholy and agonising concern for the children. These are some of the things single parents can do:
Reach out to friends: Especially other single parents, irrespective of the stage of life they are in. They can empathise far better with your state than others.
Become part of a support group: Ask a therapist to guide you to one. Online communities can also be an effective support structure. This will tell you that you are not alone and provide you with someone to talk to when you are going through a tough time.
Rediscover your hobbies: Pursue them diligently. You now have the time to focus on yourself. Take advantage of it.
Volunteer your skills at an orphanage, old age home, centre for the blind or at a school: This gives a symbiotic opportunity to someone in need and provides you with a feeling of being needed.
Start an exercise programme: The endorphins released during a workout help in keeping negativity at bay. There is also the added advantage of keeping yourself healthy and in good shape

Watch for signs of depression

Allow yourself to mourn the loss of the relationship you enjoyed with your child. But if you find yourself indulging too much in nostalgic rumination and weeping about it for more than a couple of weeks, a visit to a therapist might be a good idea. A few counseling support sessions will do you good. Depending on the severity of your condition, your therapist may put you on medications ranging from the innocent Bachflower remedies to stronger anti-depressants.

Not all’s doom and gloom

Empty nest syndrome is definitely difficult to cope with, though some studies have shown that parents whose children leave home do not necessarily experience the level of grief normally associated with this syndrome. A study done on British, Chinese, Southern European, and East Indian families living in Vancouver found that although parents felt some sadness at their children moving out, a majority experienced increased marital happiness and joy from extra leisure time. The study found that the anticipation of children leaving home was more frightening than the actual departure.
And, just to put things in perspective—empty nest syndrome means that your children are independent and capable of taking care of themselves without your daily support. It means you have done a great job of raising them. Rather an Empty Nest Syndrome than “Boomerang Kids” who come back to live with you!
Reproduced from Gaurai Uddanwadiker's article in the August 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing

Monday, April 14, 2014

New parent for your child: Steps to follow when introducing a step parent to your child

Unlike the negative portrayal of step-parenting in fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White, the real life experience can be a positive one. The basic parenting guidelines remain the same—provide the child with a sense of belonging, security and unconditional acceptance. But here are some additional steps to follow when introducing a step-parent into your child’s life…
Communicate: Talk to your children about the new person in your life. Based on their [favourable] response, give them the details about where you met, why you like him/her, etc. Give your children the space and time to evaluate their feelings. Also, give them the freedom to express their feelings and opinions. If they seem upset, allow them to vent their feelings and wait for them to get used to this new development.
Be honest: Being honest about your relationship and where it is heading is important. It takes away the surprise element from the picture, allowing your children the time to mentally prepare themselves to accept the new parent. Try to respond to all queries calmly to allay any fears. Remember, it is normal for a child to have reservations. Do not react with anger and counter his/her response with over justification in defense of your relationship.
Have an informal introduction and casual meetings: Provide multiple opportunities to your child and your partner to interact with each other in low pressure situations. Busy workdays and large family gatherings are not the right choices. Weekends or holidays, half day picnics or quiet dinners at home are a great start to getting to know each other. As they get comfortable with each other, progress to having your children spend the entire day with your partner, sometimes in your absence.
Spend time with your child: This is especially important after your children have met with your partner. Answer their questions in the best possible way. Allay their fears of abandonment by stressing on the fact that you will always be their parent, no matter what. You will be there with them every step of the way and now they will have another parent to share their thoughts and feelings with.
Talk about the logistics of the decision: Here is a list of some of the things that you should go over with your child [after a discussion with your to-be-spouse]:
  • Where will you stay?
  • If you move into a new house, will your child be able to take his/her belongings along?
  • Will he go to the same school?
  • Who will drop and pick him from the school/ bus stop?
  • Will he have new rules and a new structure with this change?

A word of caution

You might come across an increase in emotional demands and associated tantrums. Your child may sulk more often or become unnervingly quiet for a few weeks to a few months. S/he may even ignore the new parent or deny their very presence. All of this is normal and is a part of the process of acceptance. Keep your cool.
Once you and your partner are married, continue to communicate with your child. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a continuing dialogue through this transition and thereafter. Remember, your child is an individual with his own mind. Respect his needs and he will respect you. Listen to what he says and keep the channel of communication open.
In your enthusiasm to ensure everything is going well, remember to take a back seat once in a while. Take a hiatus from some of the daily activities that you did with your child. Let your partner take over. Setting new daily rituals such as a game of scrabble before dinner, a walk in the evening or reading bedtime stories go a long way in creating a bond.
Do not shield your child unnecessarily from your partner. Have faith in your spouse and allow him/her to discipline ‘your’ child. You are now a family and you need to give your spouse the freedom to have a one-on-one relationship with your child. Beside, it sends out a consistent message. Only then, will you function as a cohesive unit.
This was first published in the October 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing. This article is written by Gaurai Uddanwadiker

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spirituality and Religion in the therapy room

For most of us in India, irrespective of our religious affiliations, rituals and other spiritual practices have been a large focus of every festival and for many an inevitable part of their day. It has shaped our views, bound us to prejudices and for some, liberated us from the race to be at the top.

As adults, most of us follow some rituals, at least partially. Sometimes to seek comfort in the nostalgia, often from force of habit and sometimes succumbing to the demands of the extended family. A small percentage of us have felt disgusted by the superstitious or irrational processess and have completely shunned any spiritual practice. But, whatever the reason, it is difficult to escape the influence of the Higher Power.
 
The influences of the superego and the resultant dynamics are shaped in some part by our spiritual and/or religious experiences.  Our behavioral responses are often rooted in it. And yet, surprisingly, it took counselors many decades to start using it for and in therapy. The journal of American Psychologists Association, recently had multiple articles based on Religion and Spirituality. It couldn't have come sooner.

Let me tell you a story about a woman. One of the biggest influences in her life ( let's call her Preeti)  was her time with her grandparents. Both of them spent the early morning hours in devotional rituals in the family temple. Preeti, as a young child would often join them, without brushing her teeth or finishing her morning ablutions. A sacrilege for a Hindu:) Being the favorite grandchild, she had a lot of equity with them and was indulged. This shaped a lot of her concepts of right and wrong. Her grandpa bumped her ahead on the Kohlberg scale- "Rules could be changed  under certain circumstances", by just allowing her to sit in on the rituals without the prerequired hygiene rituals. As a result her relationship with the Higher power was not defined by a strict set of rules that she needed to follow. Preeti thinks of God as her friend Who she confides in, Who helps her through her downs and most importantly who does not stand over her in judgement. Over the years this has influenced so many other areas in her life. Her ability to think outside the box and look for alternative solutions at her advertising job is partly a result of her religious experiences. In her personal life, Preeti is flexible about making changes and very tolerant of friends and family who are different from her or who hold contradictory world views. Because she knows that there is more than one way to look at life. She accepts that there is no single set of rules to accomplish a task but that you can make your own rules as you go along.

I very strongly believe in using spirituality in my therapy practice. I certainly make an effort to understand the client's spiritual leanings. While I will not bring up the discussion unless the client prompts it, but if he does, I do like to spend some time on understanding the client's perspective of it. It is always a welcome input for me as a therapist because it helps me to understand the underlying inflences and resultant associated behavioral tendencies. It helps me make sense of the client's  motivations, guilts and other components of the his mind. Like I said, I am glad about APA endorsing it. It is one more tool in the therapist's arsenal.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Does my child have ADHD?

There has been a sharp increase in kids getting diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Many medical professionals believe that it existed in high percentages even before but the primary healthcare professional wasn't aware of it and hence did not refer the child to an expert. There are others who insist that the percentages are high because of overdiagnosis or wrong diagnostic criteria applied to high energy kids.

A host of factors including  low birth weight,  intake of alcohol or smoking in pregnancy, neglect and abuse, ingestion of toxic substances or food coloring , sustained and repetitive sensory bombardment by electronic gadgetry and media, lack of unstructured free play has been blamed. Whatever the cause, we are looking at ADHD and ADD in gigantic proportions. 

So, as a parent what should we look for if we suspect our child of having the disorder? When should a parent seek professional help?
1. If your child shows activity levels higher than what is seen in kids of his age
2. If the increased activity is serving no purpose. Eg. Running from one student to another without a specific goal such as conversation or borrowing school supplies, instead just touching them.
3. Picking up everything they see to touch and play.
4. If the activity levels interfere in doing his developmental tasks such as Sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, reading a bed time book, making and sustaining peer level friendships.
5. If your child is easily distracted by the slightest sensory input in a very structured environment.  E.g. Getting distracted by another child coughing during a structured activity in a classroom.
6. If he fidgets and squirms a lot.
7. If your child shows low impulse control. He/ she talks a lot, interrupts people and blurts inappropriate comments.
8. If your child has trouble controlling emotions.
9. Moves from one task to another without completing it
10. Has trouble with directions and multiple instructions.

If you see some of the these signs in your child,  it is time to get an expert opinion. Because the sooner the diagnosis is made, the earlier you can start therapy and remediation. A combination of medication and therapy is prescribed for severe cases though most mild to moderate cases can be treated with behavior therapy, alone.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The joy of learning

I was at the University of Washington campus for the annual event of watching the cherry tree blossoms in all their glory all around the Quad. It was a beautiful sight, indeed. But, far more inspiring were the old heritage buildings beckoning me with their promises of hidden knowledge and unexplored learnings. I wanted to go back to being a student, sitting in a lecture hall with a talented teacher waxing eloquence on the theories of Sigmund Freud and such. I was motivated, inspired and hopeful. The lure of education and learning does that to me.

Hours later, I came home to an email with a powerpoint attachment, very professionally made, with just the right amount of content and hook to intice young teachers, for whom it was meant. It was a delightful way to end my day.

Most of us have graduated and even gone on to do our post graduate studies, often with the sole purpose of landing that dream job that would take care of our existential and utilitarian needs. How many of us have experienced the liberating feeling that comes from learning a new precept without the worrisome assignment//exam, in the near future. I had very ordinary teachers ( barring a couple) throughout my school and undergrad days. I performed well but did not learn much.

It was only later in life when I realised the importance of great universities housing talented teachers. These teachers were inspiring, mentoring and guiding us to find our Chosen path. They motivated and encouraged me to be curious and explore my way through the curriculum. This time round, not only did I do well but I gained a lot of insight into the subject.

Even today, I continue to learn from my teachers. Its just that they have now taken the form of an elder, a parent, a friend, a book. I search for them in every interaction and drink up from their exhaustive reservoir of experiences, knowledge, supervision and advice. I derive clarity from them, I get a new perspective and I grow calmer and more introspective. What more do I want from life?

If there is anything I would wish for my young school going clients, it would be to be blessed with a good mentor, guide and teacher. Everything else will fall into place.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Marriage myths

If you are married and feel disillusioned with the way things are between you and your partner, read on………you will relate to what I am saying. Go back and remember the moment you share your happy betrothed state to a friend. I am sure you were bombarded with a varied mix of definitions of marriage and the (fairy?) tales involved. If you had paid close attention you would surely have fathomed the myths mixed up in that salad of anecdotes and classifications.

Inspite of the abundant collective experience of marriages that mankind has, it is surprising that the myths surrounding it are copious and profuse. Myths…because they seem so real but in reality are just inventions of the fertile mind and heart. Many myths that surround marriage give couples unrealistic expectations. 
Some of the myths can be very misleading and could very well set your relationship up for a lingering dissatisfaction or a disappointing end.

I am whole when I am with him……She completes me....Together we are a whole: Haven’t you heard this many times? If you do not perceive yourself as a whole self sufficient stable entity, you will go looking for someone who will make you feel (feel being the operative word) whole. Isn’t that too big a burden for your partner to carry? If s/he is busy making you feel whole, then how is s/he to feel fulfilled in your company. What are you adding to the alliance as his/her partner? Find yourself first and you could be two wholes in one relationship. Now, that is a good marriage.

I only need love: Really???!! Most couples will tell you that the overt gestures of love disappear in a few months of the marriage. And even the covert ones aren’t enough to sustain the relationship. What good is a partner who stays up with you when you are sick and misses his professional deadlines the next day because he did not get enough sleep…worse it’s a trend. Will love pay the rent and put the kids into college (well, I am assuming you are going to have kids)? Love is never enough. You need trust, stability, dependability, faith, honesty, reliability and so much more for a successful happy marriage.

Never take your partner for granted: I admit I am guilty of believing this one myself and would take offense to my partner taking me for granted. But, it is still a myth. If I cannot take my I-will-love-you-even-with-your-morning-breath soul mate for granted then who am I supposed to count on in my hour of need? With overly individualistic family members, unreliable maids and vacillating body mass, he is the only enduring truth in my life. I say, you should take the middle path and lean on your partner when you need to……without allowing it to become an everyday occurrence.

Marriage will make me happy: No marriage can make you happy. The unhappiness that probably you feel now is a function of your mental perceptions and conclusions that you draw in a given scenario. Unless you change your point of view, the sadness/frustration/disappointment will remain. Change your glasses, look anew at the source of your feeling and happiness will be right at your door. As a bonus, you will be rewarded with happiness in your relationship.

Gods and their feet of clay: I have heard my friends boast about how perfect their partner is. They even say so to their other halves in a misguided attempt to compliment them. The truth is all of us have our imperfections….small blemishes and big flaws. That is what makes us human….. and unique as well. To have a partner deny that and look at you as a demi-god can be powerful….. for a second, but too big a responsibility, the next. I mean, it involves being mature and right all the time. How many of you will survive this label……will you act out against it or meekly accept a role that is not you….can never be you? And, more importantly, will the marriage survive it. See your partner for who he/she is and love the human quirks and idiosyncrasies that are uniquely his/her.

Happily ever after: The fairy tale ending is just that …a fairy tale. In real life there are chores at home, traffic jams, office and family politics, bills and EMIs, cranky kids…..the list goes on. Any marriage based on the precept of Cinderella and her Prince will bite the dust. A more realistic way of looking at a marriage is that, now you have a partner to share that load with and find solutions for. You will have happy times and there will be challenges along the way. If you are pragmatic about it, you will have a better shot at a good marriage.

Don’t make a big deal out of sex: We live in an age when sex is discussed more easily, is depicted very often in movies and is talked about openly ….. but I have often seen it dismissed as just sex. In the marriage, sex or its lack therein can mean disappointment, stress at work, physical and mental fatigue, anxiety, hurt and so on. Examine any change in the sexual rhythm and communicate with your partner about it. Just that dialogue could set it right. Sex is very important in a marriage. Never forget that.

Kids will bring us closer: I have heard this one so many times, its no longer funny. Anyone who has kids can tell you that the arrival of a child though very joyous an occasion can be tiring and tedious and catch your marriage by the coat tails. The feeding cycles, diaper duty and house chores can keep you too busy to even notice your partner…forget feeling close to him/her. Most couples I know and see in my clinic call those days a roller coaster of emotions interspersed with thunderous arguments and vociferous accusations. If you are planning on starting a family, do so with a healthy dose of reality. Your relationship will now function on a different plane and as is the case with every new job, it will take some time for things to settle down. Till then keep the faith 

There are many other myths floating around….supposedly based on empirical evidence. That itself should alert you to their presence. Every marriage is special and unique and so are the two people involved in it. Empirical evidence in this scenario is bound to be flawed.
Enjoy the fact that you have found someone special to share your life with. Don’t downgrade your relationship by subjecting it to the generalities and fables at hand. By doing so, you have everything to lose.

Reproduced from Gaurai Uddanwadiker's article- Complete Wellbeing August 2012


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy Woman's Day

Its International Women's Day. I saw atleast a million generic messages congratulating me for being the gender I am or thanking me for what I a difference I have made in their lives. I don't know if I should be thankful or dismissive of this gratitude showered on my sex.

I feel unaffected by this yearly hoopla around celebrating women and their womanhood because on other 364 days, I find a complete lack of regard for her. And I am not even talking about severe cases where abuse, violence and total disregard for her personal space and person is the norm. I am talking about how women are taken for granted in seemingly happy, well adjusted families.

A typical Indian girl from an educated middle class family is raised with the same expectations as her brother. She is expected to study well and find herself a satisfying career that allows her to provide for herself. The focus is on academics and not so much on learning household activities. She is free to pursue her dreams while being provided with material means to do so. All is great till this point.

Then she reaches the marriageable age....and parents suddenly do a volte face. She is now expected to take an interest in cooking, traditional religious activities, and wear age appropriate clothing (read non western clothing!)  If she chooses her own partner (God forbid), she will also have to go through an acid test of being vetted by his family and other sundry well wishers. Her past life will be put under the microscope before she is approved of. An arranged marriage, in addition to the scrutiny, will mean being subjected, a few times, to rejection in the marriage market for a seemingly present flaw in her physical appearance.  The compromises and adjustments will continue after marriage, too. After all she is the one entering the new family. She has to change. The concept of making her feel welcome or giving her time to adjust to the new way of life is not under consideration.

The husband, now, has the responsibility of keeping his parents happy and their wishes fulfilled, his wife's dreams/ family be damned. So more changes for the girl woman. All this while, she is trying to work her way into a good career. Managing the balance of running a house, different expectations from the new adopted family, her own desires from these new relationships, her career aspirations is supposed to come easy to her. Any outburst, any bout of anger, any expression of  unfettered thought is dissected, judged and commented upon or filed under a stereotype. In all fairness, many partners lend an ear to their wives. But, they too continue to sit on the fence, lest they hurt either their families or their wives. All the promises of support, protection and giving happiness made during the marital rituals are forgotten in the name of family harmony. The girl women is alone fighting her battles , often keeping her priorities aside to keep the new family happy.

Parenthood brings more challenges for her. Raising the children is primarily her responsibility. Vaccinations, illnesses, school activities are her domain for which she makes changes in her work schedule. The mother is better capable of handling and raising the child......maternal instinct and all that!!! The father is busy earning the money for the family's comfort and security. By this time , the woman has made so many compromises in her career that she can never provide for the family as well as her husband or climb back on in the driver's seat, professionally. Those who chose to continue at full blast in their professional lives are accused of neglecting their children. Its a no win for her.

This is the ground reality of today's young middle class woman in India and till this unconscious, unintentional neglect of her inner self continues, celebrating her womanhood for a day is meaningless.




Monday, March 3, 2014

Structure and Routine

I cannot emphasize enough on Structure and Routine in a child's life. Structure is about having a planned day, divided into meal times, study times, structured play times, unstructured leisure and sleep times. Routine is all about doing these things at a specific time, in a specific way.

Let me explain further. Infants, toddlers, young children and adolescents have a very high need for exploration fueled by their natural curiosity. This tendency allows them to learn new things through experience and master some age appropriate skills (playing peek-a-boo teaches a toddler about object permanence, searching for toys teaches the preschooler figure ground perception, learning numbers at school allows him to count his toys, taking part in sports teaches a teenager team spirit etc). But like any exploratory activity, it has risks of the unknown (will my mom who is hiding behind the chair come back? or will I ever find my favourite toy in the toy chest? or will my classmates laugh at me if I don't say the numbers in the right order, will I become a laughing stock with the girls if I don't score a single goal). It may seem like an insignificant thing to an adult but it causes unconscious anxiety and fear in the kids. The automatic response to anxiety (or any stress) is to seek to decrease it.

Feeling safe and protected brings down the anxiety. As parents we provide that through hugs, reassurance and love but it also makes them dependant on us. And, we may not be around all the time. Mom and Dad have to go to work, the kid needs to go to day care or school where the teacher may not have the time to attend to every child. The resultant anxiety could manifest into clinging behavior, frequent crying or temper tantrums, defiant behavior, truancy, experimentation with addictive substances etc.

The only way to decrease this anxiety and help the child cope with the daily struggles of navigating the complex world is by providing the safety net of sameness of routine and structure. Knowing that Mom will pick me up from school after lunch, Dad will read me a story at bedtime, we will have a meal together every night or that I will go for swim lessons every weekend after breakfast can be very reassuring to a child.

Predictability is encouraging and adds to the reserve strength to deal with the other unpredictable inevitabilities of life.

Sameness breeds security, develops confidence to explore new things and take risks. The presence of routine and structure is like a launch pad for the child to learn new things, understand his strengths and explore his potential. Does it then mean that if we have structure and routine in our lives, we will raise confident and successful kids? No. But we will certainly raise kids who are confident enough to try new things, who seek resolution of their stress in adaptive routines and who will focus on reaching their potential.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can we have it all?

I read an article by Anne Marie Slaughter titled 'Why women still can't have it all". She seemed to have it all…..a fantastic career, a supportive husband who was ready to take on the lion’s share of the parenting responsibilities, two healthy kids and the potential to grow more in her professional life as a full time career woman and a regular writer.  However, her article was an eye opener for me. She decided to go at a slower pace in order to deal with the hard time that her teen was going through.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had read a real story about the real life of a career woman.

I grew up with a feminist and a super achiever all rolled into one mom. She had a fabulous career and kept a tight leash on things at home and on both of us, sisters. Well, that’s the accepted version, anyway. She believed it. Our extended family celebrated her for it and as her daughters we lived it. But the truth is, she struggled with it, as did most women of her generation and mine, too. It was a tightrope walk most of the time and I have been guilty of blaming her for not being around when I needed her. I can only imagine what she must have felt by that allegation.

Most young women with average intelligence and a modicum of ambition hope to have a career. In my growing years, I was fed on a diet of the importance of a career in a women’s life and how it was the most crucial element to our identity.  I am pretty sure; a lot of other women heard it multiple times from their female role models. Just like the woman in the article, we believed that we could do it if we tried hard enough. We could have a career and a great family life if we put in our best effort. Even as I write this article, I continue to believe in that myth…..but I am beginning to realize that I am wrong.

The flaw in this theory is the assumption that it is all about “Me”, that the woman with her supreme will can have it all. In this form, the precept mocks the presence of real human beings in her life and does not make concessions for their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. I may work hard to be successful at my work and put my best foot forward at home. But I cannot forget that my partner is human, too. He and my children could have differing and conflicting expectations from me. My boys, like all kids have their own personalities with the accompanying joys and foibles. The result adds some unpredictability in my life for which I cannot plan ahead.

The other hole in this superwoman theory is that it does not make any room for a woman’s emotional reactions to different variables in her personal life. That’s a big loophole. Most women are mentally much more involved and affected by the smooth running of a house and raising of children than their husbands. Ergo, anything upsetting the family balance will generate a host of negative emotions in her. Guilt, sadness or anger are not exactly conducive to seeking and sustaining a high flying career with a well adjusted, effectively functioning personal life. 

I think its time we set new standards and expectations from ourselves and our young women. It is important to talk openly about the real struggles of juggling a career and a family life….lest we continue to feel like failures for the inability to manage both, simultaneously or be miserable that we have lost our identities because we take a break to give birth and raise our children.

It’s important to talk about this issue to allow women to have the freedom to make choices for or against their career aspirations and feel equally fulfilled and content with it. Till then, the real liberation of women is a far dream.

As far as I am concerned, a career being equal to my identity is pretty much hardwired in my brain and its going to take some time and effort to get it out of my DNA. But, I live in the hope that the future generation of women don’t get chained down by this model of assessing self worth.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Self Awareness

My client recently said to me that her complaints about her partner are just a reflection of her own inadequacies. I have learnt it to be true in many personal conflicts. But it was only when she put it so succinctly that I ruminated over it. (For a moment our counselor-counselee relationship reversed)
Ask yourself the same question- How many of your complaints about family members, co workers and friends are in the same category. Are you really upset at your boss for not showing you enough respect? Or don’t you respect yourself enough and hence the need for reverence from someone else.
Here is my theory on this-
We know who we are to a large extent at a subconscious level. We know our faults, our strengths, our limitations and our skills. But to function in a fairly effective and efficient manner, we live in denial about a few weaknesses. The awareness is just below the surface but not yet out in the conscious mind.
It all starts in our childhood. We pretend to be better in order to be accepted and to live up to the so called social/family/moral standards. By the time we are adults, the pretense becomes our reality. This gap between the real self and the projected image is good to a large extent. I look at it as an evolutionary change. It allows us to function successfully and be masters of our destiny. But larger the distance between the two, more the stress in your life and more the conflicts in your relationships.
So, what is the prescription here? Does one express one’s inadequacies explicitly? That clearly wouldn’t do. Imagine talking about your diffidence in a yearly appraisal meeting! For a common man motivated by the usual human drives, it is difficult to be completely honest outside of self. Only a Gandhi can write “My experiments with Truth”.
What would help is being aware of these failings and living with that self-awareness. Being conscious about this knowledge while the required, almost obligatory pretence goes on, is the first step. Responding with that awareness in personal interactions is the next. The resultant change that you see in yourself is the seed for evolved living.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My leap of faith

I recently read “Code Name God” by Mani Bhaumik. It is about the spiritual voyage of a man of science. Mr. Bhaumik, (a Nobel Prize winning physicist) has tried fairly successfully to give scientific evidence for the existence of God using the precepts of Quantum Physics. I can almost see you nodding off but it is really not as esoteric as it sounds. It has been beautifully written. Though dizzyingly confusing at times (you can’t help the light headedness when the subject is such) it achieves its purpose.
I am a believer in God myself though I confess to needing a scientific explanation for pretty much everything else in life. My interactions with people have shown me that a majority of them think similarly. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to question the validity of this practice.
Are we so shackled to the rational and cogent part of our brain that we don’t acknowledge unsubstantiated things around us. Do we only look at the demonstrated truth because the untested is too much of a leap in the dark for us? In short, are we scared to believe the unusual inspite of the alleged extraordinary results/benefits?
I deal with psychological problems everyday in my work sphere. I have always depended on the psychiatrist and allopathy to take care of the all consuming symptoms through medications. All these drugs come with a lot of side effects. On one hand they take care of the offending symptoms but on the other they cause blunting of natural tendencies and emotional responses.
I had never really thought about exploring new/different categories of treatments. My conventional educational training did not agree to that. But, working on my own (without the fetters of a job in a traditional system) has led me to be more curious. And some innovation has followed. That was my leap of faith.
I now take the help of an ingenious homeopath who has worked wonders with some of my clients with anxiety, panic attacks and depression. She is also very resourceful when it comes to the treatment of insomnia. Her remedies give me the opening, for therapy to begin healing. My leap of faith in the direction of homeopathy has made me curious about other alternative therapies.
I no longer follow the classical therapeutic approach during counseling. I have often been asked about my methodology. I don’t have one. I don’t even have a favourite approach. I use a blend of different therapies suitable for the client. And as long as the client goes back more sorted and contemplative, I have done my job. For therapy and counseling is not about giving solutions but about setting the client on a path of self discovery and consciousness. Awareness is what I am aiming at.
Bhaumik did that to me.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ambiguity

As children, many of us had decisions made on our behalf. Choices and options were not easy to come by. Well meaning parents and guardians nudged us in the direction, they thought was best for us. Maybe it was. But for us, as teenagers, it was frustrating and stifling. As adults, it has rendered many of us incapable of taking decisions due to the lack of practice and dependence on the guidance from significant people in our lives.

But the bigger debilitating consequence is our inability to live in ambiguity, which is what life can be most of the time. New situations and evolving friendships come without any clear cut path of navigation. The lack of guided direction and the absence of the associated approval for following on it can be a confusing, unstable time and an emotional roller coaster for many. Primarily because they have never done it without the crutch of another friend/parent/partner to support, validate and approve. 

Imagine a situation when you are on the phone with your dear friend. She has been sounding preoccupied and distant for the last couple of weeks. Some calls have been comforting and encouraging but some like the one today are confusing. You wonder if she is upset with you. Did you say something to make her angry? Or is she just not so into you? Its disconcerting for most of us to not know. But if you move away from your own emotional reaction, you will know. Most of us confuse our own distress (in this case)to the fear of losing a friend but it is really about our inability to live in this ambiguous state, something we need to learn to live with. In this case, you will be able to ask your friend to clarify but its not always possible in other life situations. Life is anything but clear or stable. Things, people and relationships with their own priorities are often in flux, which causes ambiguity to evolve. It is important
to stay calm 
to allow the experience to take its course
be aware of your own emotions
to draw your inferences from the experience
Improved learning can be measured in your own decreasing emotional reaction
Growth can be measured in how you respond vs react to the next experience

When we have  clear instructions given to us, it is easy to follow thru. Much like using your Google Maps app on your smartphone. But it also handicaps us by making us dependent on it for directions. We fail to notice different landmarks and geographical features which will serve as markers for us to find that address again in the near future. And so, if we fail to bring our auto navigator app the next time, we will have a very difficult and maybe an almost impossible task of finding the way. 


 No matter how many instructions you have received, how much empirical data you have from non-self collective experiences, life has a way of throwing a curveball. Supportive elders get old and pass away, relationships go sour and friends move away to other cities. While it is important to learn from others' experiences, it is equally necessary to generate our own. You may falter, you may slip but after a few attempts, you will learn to stand up on your own feet......You will become stronger mentally, you will develop your coping mechanisms, you will be able to live and survive in ambiguity. And you will thrive on your own, independent of a crutch.

Ambiguity offers us a learning opportunity.....to grow, to learn and to live a life with self growth.You just have to embrace it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Self Esteem

A positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Children with high self-esteem feel loved and competent and develop into happy, productive people. To help build your child's positive self-image as he grows, consider these dos and don'ts.
Do give children choices. Giving children choices, within a reasonable set of options preselected by you, makes them feel empowered. For example, at breakfast you might offer your child the option of eggs or dosa. Learning to make simple choices while he's young will help prepare your child for the more difficult choices he'll face as he grows.
Don't do everything for her. Be patient and let her work things out for herself. For example, it may be faster and easier to dress your preschooler, but letting her do it herself helps her learn new skills. The more she meets new challenges, the more competent and confident she'll feel.
Do let him know no one is perfect. And explain that no one expects him to be. The way you react to your child's mistakes and disappointments colors the way he will react.
Don't gush or offer insincere praise. Kids are masters at detecting insincere praise or baseless compliments. Praise your child often, but be specific in your compliments so your words don't ring hollow. For instance, instead of reacting to your child's latest drawing with, "Wow, that's great. You're the best artist in the world," try something like, "I really like how you drew the whole family. You even included details like Daddy's beard."
Do assign age-appropriate household chores. Give children responsibility for tasks such as setting the table, walking the dog, and folding laundry. They'll increase their feelings of competency and bolster their problem-solving skills.
Don't draw comparisons between your children. Instead, appreciate each one's individuality and special gifts.
Don't call children names or use sarcasm to make a point. Never belittle your child's feelings. When you get angry take a short break so you don't say anything you'll regret. And keep in mind; you can dislike a child's actions without disliking the child. Be sure to illustrate the difference to your child.
Do spend one-on-one time with your child. Whether it's grabbing a bite to eat or taking a bike ride, try to schedule some alone time with your child at least once a week. This is a great opportunity to talk about what's on her mind and to cement the bond the two of you share

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The role of assessments in therapy

I have a young idealistic counselor on my team. She is new to the field of clinical psychology but has been a counselor for some time now. For over a year now, she has been questioning the need of assessments and their use in our clinical practice. Assessments are expensive and also delays the start of therapy. This blog is an explanation for her ( and for our clients), in the importance of an assessment inspite of the added cost and supposed delay.
          The usual process followed in my clinic with any new client starts with a client interview to understand their issues. The counselor will typically make notes and summarize what she felt were the key issues, at the end of the session. She will also outline a plan of action for seeking resolution of these problems. An additional step of assessment is often recommended to get an objective sense of the problem areas. Here is why this step is important:

When the client talks to us about the issues he is facing, the self analysis of the personal situation is governed by his values, life experiences, personality, education, social and economic background etc. As a counselor, it is our job to fill in the gaps, look at this data with a comparitive population in mind and arrive at a clinical conclusion. Is the client history yielding any significantly different symptom than seen in other people in  similar situations and with similar personal history? If it is then, there is a chance of a clinical disorder/ mental health issue as opposed to just a difficulty in managing a certain life situation. An assessment makes that differenciation.
        With a lesser experienced counselor, who has not seen too many similar cases, the comparitive population data is minimal or non existant. This is where a test battery helps. Most test batteries are based on data available from hundreds of other clients with matching biographic details of age, sex, race, socio-cultural-economic status etc. No counselor can match this amount of detailed information irrespective of the number of years in this profession.

The second reason for this testing, is to find out the clinical diagnosis. Is the client suffering from a mental disorder? Most experienced counselors and psychologists will arrive at a conclusion within the first session. But, there is a small chance that the counselor's biases are at play in making that diagnosis. Good counselors are aware of their personal prejudices and will step away from it and look at the case objectively. If they fail to do so, they will refer the client to another professional (well, the ethical ones will). But, there is another kind of bias that creeps in, uninformed. It is caused by experience!!!! It leads to a case being stereotyped into a diagnostic category with complete brushing aside of small details that do not conform...often leading to a completely wrong diagnosis.
                                A standardised test will never have this bias. It will use the information, file it in neatly and integrate it objectively to give an indication of the right conclusion.

Well then, why not just do the test and get the counselor in, only after it is done. Sounds ideal, right? Not really. the assessment will indicate one or more inferences. The clinical observation of a counselor is very important. Every test has its limitations and does not use all the details of the client history. It is the counselors job to take the remaining data into account.
Psychological assessments are an important tool, one that complements the counselor's experience and gives unbiased data. A good counselor just needs to know its importance.