Archive

for September, 2015

A Shout Out to the Life Promotion Clinic on World Suicide Prevention Day

Posted on September 9, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

World Suicide Prevention Day is 10 September 2015. The theme this year is Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives. This year’s theme encourages us all to consider the role that offering support may play in combating suicide, including reaching out to put people in touch with relevant services.

As a Clinical Psychologist, there are occasions when I have the deep privilege of working closely with someone who is in such personal turmoil that they are overwhelmed with thoughts and urges to take their own life. They may be feeling hopeless, isolated, misunderstood and desperate, and they may be suffering unbearable physical or emotional pain. And so, a part of them feels like death is the only escape.

This opportunity to work with such people is indeed a privilege because one of the greatest risks for people who are considering taking their own lives is that they feel faced with many insurmountable barriers, both internal and external, to seeking support. If they have come to see me, and they are willing to share their suffering and their tragic intention with me, then we have a chance to create a safe place to discuss it and explore the options for support.

One such option which I have found to provide an excellent service for people facing these life or death choices is the Life Promotion Clinic.

As described on their website: “The Life Promotion Clinic [supported by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention at Griffith University] was the first outpatient clinic in Australia to provide specialised treatment for suicidal behaviour. The primary goal of the Clinic is to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with suicidal behaviours.” Staffed by specialist psychiatrists, psychologists and a mental health nurse, referrals can be made to the clinic for intensive support for people either acutely or persistently expressing suicidal intention or behaviour.

According to the National Mental Health Commission (2014) Review of Mental Health Programmes and Services, Australia’s suicide rate has remained largely unchanged for the past decade, if not with a slight upward trend. Data from 2012 suggests that there were approximately 12 age-standardised suicide deaths per 100,000 people in Australia. Late last month, Lifeline Chairman John Brogden said that suicide is a national emergency, with 23,500 Australians taking their own lives since 2005.

Suicide is complex, difficult to predict, and people face barriers to accessing the support they need, especially when they feel the only option is to be admitted into inpatient hospital care. They often don’t know what services are out there to provide support. The National Mental Health Commission review made a number of recommendations, not least that we:

  • provide access to adequate services, ensuring that therapeutic interventions are tailored to the complexity and severity of individual need, and
  • ensure first responders and health professionals who are likely to encounter suicidal people are appropriately trained in communication and intervention skills.

From my experience, the Life Promotion Clinic is at the forefront of providing these kinds of expert services to people facing these life situations and decisions.

Life Promotion Clinic: www.griffith.edu.au/health/australian-institute-suicide-research-prevention/research/life-promotion-clinic

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Too Busy to Sleep?

Posted on September 7, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist, Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, &, Dr David Cunnington, Sleep Physician.

When asked the question “So are you busy?” most of us, unless on holidays, boastfully answer, albeit with complete exasperation, “Yes I am run off my feet!”. Although this response is considered ‘normal’ and being busy is seen as virtuous and productive, it’s not necessarily good for our long-term health and wellbeing.

In fact research has shown that ongoing periods of stress can lead to chronic health problems including insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington revealed in research published in 2014 ‘Sleep’ Christopher Drake and the team at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, showed a strong risk factor for the development of chronic insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep for more than 3 months) is ongoing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Whilst episodes of acute stress can throw sleep out for days, once those episodes pass, sleep usually returns to normal. But, if their acute stress episodes occur on a back of being busy, or chronic stress, people were more likely to develop chronic insomnia.

Keeping our busy lives in check is difficult but being mindful of the importance of sleep in general wellbeing is an important step in avoiding the development of chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith has treated insomnia for over 10 years, and she says seeking help from a health professional before sleeplessness becomes a chronic problem is a smart move, as early intervention can prevent the downward spiral of mental and physical health.

Ms Smith says “Understanding that a lot of the tiredness in insomnia is not from lack of sleep, but from worry about not sleeping or too much ‘nervous energy’, is an important concept and can shift the focus on to strategies that work, rather than continuing to get more anxious and focused on sleep”.

It’s easy to say ‘slow down’ but actually doing it is more difficult. Understanding that by reducing the ‘nervous energy’ that keeps us powering through the day we will improve the quality of sleep at night is the first step.

Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist and long standing facilitator of sleep programme Towards Better Sleep provides 5 tips for keeping our busy lives in check and sleep intact:

  1. Stop focusing on the night and start thinking about what you are doing during the day. Overanalysing the night routine and obsessing over how much sleep you’re getting exacerbates the problem. Focus on being more relaxed, healthy and mindful during the day and leave your work woes at the front door.
  2. Eat breakfast, it awakens the senses and lets your body know it’s the start of the day. Eating at regular times and not within an hour of bedtime is also recommended.
  3. Take 10 minutes during the day to be mindful of daily stress and pressure and try to put it in perspective. Take some time to yourself to sit, relax, take a walk or meditate.
  4. Take regular exercise but not within a few hours of bedtime. I’m too busy to exercise I hear you say? Even incidental exercise has been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep, so take the stairs or get off the bus one stop early.
  5. Lastly, take time out for yourself, even 10 minutes a day. ‘Time out’ comes in many forms and is different for everyone, you will know what is right for you.

If you are finding ongoing sleeplessness is affecting your health and wellbeing, talking to a Clinical Psychologist can be helpful in developing practical long-term strategies to manage insomnia. The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has proven effective in that it takes a holistic approach looking at social, emotional and environmental aspects of a person’s life to unfold what is causing the sleep problem.

Dr David Cunnington has been involved in ongoing research on using CBT for insomnia. Recent research published in June in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 16 minutes longer after CBT. This is similar to the effects of sleeping tablets but without the long lasting negative effects.

Group programs like Towards Better Sleep, utilise CBT and focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies. Group therapy in treating insomnia has proven effective as it offers participants the opportunity to share stories and learn from the experiences and ideas of other insomnia sufferers, in a private and confidential setting. It also allows therapists to treat more people in a cost effective way. To register for the next programme visit Towards Better Sleep 

You can also visit Dr David Cunnington’s website for more information on sleep, health and wellbeing http://sleephub.com.au

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Self-Compassion to Lessen Body Image Concerns and Eating Disorders

Posted on September 7, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0

This week is Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Australia. Many people I know have concerns about their body: how it looks, how it feels, how it moves and how it works. In fact, we can all relate to that feeling of self-consciousness, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration when it comes to our own bodies. Too tall, too short, too big, too small, too round, too flat..the list goes on.

Unfortunately, these body image concerns all too often develop into eating disorders and have a major impact on many Australians, both males and females of all ages. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimate that eating disorders affect approximately 9% of the Australian population. And the impact of an eating disorder on a person’s life can be devastating; including impaired relational, social and occupational roles, psychiatric and behavioural effects, medical complications, social isolation and an increased risk of death, including suicide.

Enormous efforts are being made to understand body image concerns and how they may develop into eating disorders, and one mechanism receiving specific attention over recent years is severe and harsh self-criticism.

Self-Criticism and Shame in the Development of Eating Disorders.

A 2008 study by Dr Silvana Fennig and her colleagues at Schneider Children’s Medical Centre of Israel found that self-criticism strongly predicted the severity of eating disorder symptoms in adolescent females. Canadian researchers, Dr Allison Kelly and Dr Jacqueline Carter, went on to discover in their 2012 study that this relationship between self-criticism and eating disorder symptoms is likely mediated through feelings of shame.

In other words, self-critical thoughts lead to feelings of shame, which in turn lead to disordered eating behaviours. Why might self-criticism and shame lead to eating disorders?

Well, to understand this, we turn to UK Professor Paul Gilbert’s Compassion-Focused Therapy model of affect regulation presented in his 2010 book The Compassionate Mind. According to Professor Gilbert, self-criticism is thought to activate an evolved threat system, yielding feelings of anxiety, anger and, in particular, shame. Feelings of shame then trigger self-protective, although sometimes maladaptive, behaviours aimed at reducing that shame.

With respect to eating disorders, Professor Gilbert and his colleague Dr Ken Goss suggested in a 2002 chapter they wrote for the book Body Shame that eating disorder symptoms, such as restrictive eating, excessive exercising, bingeing, and purging, might be self-protective attempts to regulate those underlying feelings of shame. And these symptoms are often effective at lowering the shame initially through distraction or temporary pride, however the feelings of shame return with a vengeance when the self-critical voice quickly escalates once again. An eating disorder is, in some ways, a representation of this vicious cycle.

Dr Goss, along with his colleague Dr Steven Allan, later suggested in their 2010 paper about compassion-focused therapy for eating disorders that the key to helping people with eating disorders change these maladaptive cycles and take steps towards recovery is self-compassion.

Self-Compassion as a Component of Eating Disorders Prevention and Treatment.

In a paper published earlier this year by another Canadian team of eating disorder researchers led by Dr Josie Geller, higher levels of self-compassion among a group of women was found to predict lower levels of concern about their body shape and weight, as well as less disordered eating. As such, targeting shame via self-compassion in eating disorders prevention and treatment is important. For example, programs presented to young people to develop practices in self-compassion may increase the likelihood of continued healthy eating.

But self-compassion is also proposed to be relevant in eating disorders treatment programs. A longitudinal study by Drs Kelly and Carter found that, across the timeframe of a treatment program, early increases in self-compassion predicted reductions in shame, and early reductions in shame predicted decreases in eating disorder symptoms.

Self-compassion seems to be somewhat of an antidote to self-criticism and shame, and therefore an important aspect of maintaining healthy eating. But what does this even sound like?

The Self-Talk of Self-Compassion

Imagine that a child you care about falls over and hurts their knee. What would you do to soothe or comfort them? Well, first let’s consider what you would NOT do. You would not scold, or belittle or humiliate them. You wouldn’t criticise them for being ugly, stupid or weak. What you would do is approach them, offer them physical comfort, and then, with a soft, kind, friendly voice, you would validate their feelings, reassure them that everything will be ok, and do something to make them feel better.

“Hey, come here darling,you might say with a kind voice to a child you love. “Up you get. Oo, that looks sore! Can I kiss it better? You’ll be ok. Here, lets get you some ice for that bruise.

And you know what? That’s exactly how to sound when you address yourself, especially when you are suffering! If you are feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, disappointed or frustrated about yourself, your body, or other aspects of your lives, then self-compassion is the very thing that can comfort you and motivate you to take positive steps.

“Hey, come here darling,you might say with a kind voice to yourself, who you also love. “Things feel pretty tough right now! It’s hard to feel confident and good about yourself all the time. Everyone feels worried about how their body looks or feels at one time or another. It’s a real human thing. But you’ll be ok. You can do this! Let’s just breathe, relax under the tree and then focus on what’s important for you to do next. 

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit http://www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Leadership in Action=Compassion in Action

Posted on September 3, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

I wrote an article recently called The Modern Leader: Introducing the “Alpha Plus”. I was trying to describe the characteristics of a modern leader, who has many of the important and beneficial attributes of the Alpha Male or Female, PLUS compassion. The traditional Alpha, often dominant and aggressive, has now been found to be a less effective leader than the person who is able to feel and act on compassion as an integral part of their leadership of others.

To my delight, I was watching the ABC’s 7.30 Report this last week where Leigh Sales was interviewing Major General John Cantwell about his new book Leadership in Action. His book draws on his vast experience in leadership while in the Australian Army, including several tours in leadership positions in the Middle East, culminating in his being the Commander of Australian Forces in the Middle East in 2010.

During the interview, he said a number of thought provoking statements regarding his efforts to be the most effective leader he could possibly be:

  • “I try to be a real human being.
  • “You can communicate and relate to people in ways that show you have some humanity.
  • “…you’ve got to make hard decisions…and you’ve got to sometimes be the disciplinarian, but as a general approach…open up a little bit, communicate, show you actually care about the people you’re trying to lead…”
  • “If you try to bully people into doing something, if you make them scared of you, if you impose consequences that are punishing, well, you might get compliance, but you won’t get loyalty.
  • “If you show people that you care about them, if you genuinely care about them as people, not just as a commodity, by showing them that you believe in them, giving them opportunities to excel by training them better, forgiving them their mistakes, helping them to learn to overcome their fears and concerns and helping them learn to be leaders themselves, you get loyalty.
  • “People who are loyal will do things that they otherwise would not do. They will choose to do what you want, you don’t have to tell them. It’s a really powerful idea.

While he didn’t use the word, a number of things Major General Cantwell said spoke to the compassion inherent in his leadership style. Professor Paul Gilbert, in his 2008 book The Compassionate Mind, defined compassion as “…an awareness and sensitivity to the suffering of others, with a motivation and commitment to try and alleviate it.

Cantwell refers to common humanity, openness, awareness and interest, care and concern, helpfulness, action, and forgiveness, all components of compassionate leadership.

Major General Cantwell exemplifies what it is to be an “Alpha Plus”!

To join the Charter for Compassion movement visit charterforcompassion.org

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists  at Psychology Consultants visit psychologyconsultants.com.au

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Self-Compassion to Lessen Body Image Concerns and Eating Disorders

Posted on September 1, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

This week is Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Australia. Many people I know have concerns about their body: how it looks, how it feels, how it moves and how it works. In fact, we can all relate to that feeling of self-consciousness, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration when it comes to our own bodies. Too tall, too short, too big, too small, too round, too flat..the list goes on.

Unfortunately, these body image concerns all too often develop into eating disorders and have a major impact on many Australians, both males and females of all ages. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimate that eating disorders affect approximately 9% of the Australian population. And the impact of an eating disorder on a person’s life can be devastating; including impaired relational, social and occupational roles, psychiatric and behavioural effects, medical complications, social isolation and an increased risk of death, including suicide.

Enormous efforts are being made to understand body image concerns and how they may develop into eating disorders, and one mechanism receiving specific attention over recent years is severe and harsh self-criticism.

Self-Criticism and Shame in the Development of Eating Disorders.

A 2008 study by Dr Silvana Fennig and her colleagues at Schneider Children’s Medical Centre of Israel found that self-criticism strongly predicted the severity of eating disorder symptoms in adolescent females. Canadian researchers, Dr Allison Kelly and Dr Jacqueline Carter, went on to discover in their 2012 study that this relationship between self-criticism and eating disorder symptoms is likely mediated through feelings of shame.

In other words, self-critical thoughts lead to feelings of shame, which in turn lead to disordered eating behaviours. Why might self-criticism and shame lead to eating disorders?

Well, to understand this, we turn to UK Professor Paul Gilbert’s Compassion-Focused Therapy model of affect regulation presented in his 2010 book The Compassionate Mind. According to Professor Gilbert, self-criticism is thought to activate an evolved threat system, yielding feelings of anxiety, anger and, in particular, shame. Feelings of shame then trigger self-protective, although sometimes maladaptive, behaviours aimed at reducing that shame.

With respect to eating disorders, Professor Gilbert and his colleague Dr Ken Goss suggested in a 2002 chapter they wrote for the book Body Shame that eating disorder symptoms, such as restrictive eating, excessive exercising, bingeing, and purging, might be self-protective attempts to regulate those underlying feelings of shame. And these symptoms are often effective at lowering the shame initially through distraction or temporary pride, however the feelings of shame return with a vengeance when the self-critical voice quickly escalates once again. An eating disorder is, in some ways, a representation of this vicious cycle.

Dr Goss, along with his colleague Dr Steven Allan, later suggested in their 2010 paper about compassion-focused therapy for eating disorders that the key to helping people with eating disorders change these maladaptive cycles and take steps towards recovery is self-compassion.

Self-Compassion as a Component of Eating Disorders Prevention and Treatment.

In a paper published earlier this year by another Canadian team of eating disorder researchers led by Dr Josie Geller, higher levels of self-compassion among a group of women was found to predict lower levels of concern about their body shape and weight, as well as less disordered eating. As such, targeting shame via self-compassion in eating disorders prevention and treatment is important. For example, programs presented to young people to develop practices in self-compassion may increase the likelihood of continued healthy eating.

But self-compassion is also proposed to be relevant in eating disorders treatment programs. A longitudinal study by Drs Kelly and Carter found that, across the timeframe of a treatment program, early increases in self-compassion predicted reductions in shame, and early reductions in shame predicted decreases in eating disorder symptoms.

Self-compassion seems to be somewhat of an antidote to self-criticism and shame, and therefore an important aspect of maintaining healthy eating. But what does this even sound like?

The Self-Talk of Self-Compassion

Imagine that a child you care about falls over and hurts their knee. What would you do to soothe or comfort them? Well, first let’s consider what you would NOT do. You would not scold, or belittle or humiliate them. You wouldn’t criticise them for being ugly, stupid or weak. What you would do is approach them, offer them physical comfort, and then, with a soft, kind, friendly voice, you would validate their feelings, reassure them that everything will be ok, and do something to make them feel better.

“Hey, come here darling,you might say with a kind voice to a child you love. “Up you get. Oo, that looks sore! Can I kiss it better? You’ll be ok. Here, lets get you some ice for that bruise.

And you know what? That’s exactly how to sound when you address yourself, especially when you are suffering! If you are feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, disappointed or frustrated about yourself, your body, or other aspects of your lives, then self-compassion is the very thing that can comfort you and motivate you to take positive steps.

“Hey, come here darling,you might say with a kind voice to yourself, who you also love. “Things feel pretty tough right now! It’s hard to feel confident and good about yourself all the time. Everyone feels worried about how their body looks or feels at one time or another. It’s a real human thing. But you’ll be ok. You can do this! Let’s just breathe, relax under the tree and then focus on what’s important for you to do next. 

For more information on Dr Steindl and the team of Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit http://www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

 

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