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Mental Health in a Nutshell- National Psychology Week 8-15 November 2015

Posted on November 11, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

By Dr Jillian Millar, Clinical Psychologist

It is National Psychology Week and this year’s theme is: ‘think well, be well’. Often when we discuss mental health issues there is a tendency towards viewing it from a negative or unwell perspective. Statements like “He’s gone crazy,” or “She has a mental health problem,” demonstrate how many of us do not take an active role in maintaining our mental health, at least not until it reaches breaking point. This year’s theme attempts to get people talking about and reflecting on mental health and the need for our focus to shift towards wellbeing.

I have often described seeing a Clinical Psychologist as similar to going to a Personal Trainer. People visit PTs for a variety of reasons ranging from trying to lose weight and get into shape, through to rigorous training for accomplished athletes. So why wouldn’t we visit a CP to help us examine our thinking patterns and help get our minds into good shape? Psychotherapy isn’t just for when we are experiencing problems; it’s also about reaching your full potential, improving your relationships with others and with yourself; it’s also about self-discovery, insight and awareness of oneself. In the end you are the one individual you have to spend the rest of your life with – so why not gain a greater understanding of yourself.

There are a few fundamental actions we can all take when striving to improve our mental wellbeing. Firstly, make sure you are getting some exercise. This is crucial to regulating our moods, improving the quality of our sleep, helping us become physically healthy as well as mentally healthy. Getting a good amount of sleep is also important. There is a Goldielocks aspect to sleep, not getting enough rest can cause difficulties, but oversleeping can also be problematic and make us lethargic. Then there is ‘just the right amount’ of sleep, which allows us to function at our best. This does vary from individual to individual and generally falls somewhere between 6-8 hours a night for an adult. Under or over sleeping wreaks havoc on our moods and tends to heighten most emotions and stress, while reducing our concentration and tolerance levels.

Next on the list of ensuring mental wellness is good nutrition, eating a relatively healthy balanced diet with occasional treats is the aim. We’ve all heard about being ‘Hangry’ (hungry angry) and an unhealthy diet can make us feel rather unmotivated. Another very important step for maintaining mental health is to get involved in life and activities: be an active participant in your family, friendship circles, local community, and socialise! Yes that’s right, feeling like you are a part of something helps us experience a sense of belongingness and contribution, which are great mood lifters. Plus it allows us to create positive memories and build support networks that then help us through the tough times. Lastly, try to approach life with openness and curiosity. Perhaps if we shift our focus from judging and critiquing things towards experiencing and understanding them we might feel a lot healthier and happier.

It’s time we all started prioritising our mental health just as much as our physical health. You don’t need to be sick to benefit from psychotherapy. Visiting a Clinical Psychologist gives us a chance to reflect on how our lives are going and the choices we are faced with, the decisions we make and the patterns that eventually emerge in our functioning. Psychotherapy provides a space for us to examine and explore our internal experience of the world and develop our self-knowledge.

Here is a link to a brief 3 minute YouTube clip elaborating on the benefits of psychotherapy for everyone in achieving good mental health. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxuZiqY5ypU

Take the time to value your mental health! 

For more information on Dr Millar and our team of Clinical Psychologists, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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CONVERGENCE: Cultivating compassion through meditation and musical accompaniment

Posted on November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized - 1 comment - 0

By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

Finding ways to cultivate compassion in society remains an important priority. Over recent years, spirituality, science and the arts have converged to discover just what might work. Guitarist, Dr Anthony Garcia, and myself have begun a collaboration to explore this convergence, drawing on ancient meditative practices and the emotional potency of music to enhance the cultivation of compassion and self-compassion.

Convergence_CB Sleeve Art Proof (1)

The findings of an early pilot study of CONVERGENCE were presented at the recent UQ Compassion Symposium. The study included 28 participants, mainly tertiary-educated females, who took part in a 2-hour workshop of compassion meditation to live musical accompaniment. I provided the spoken word meditations and Anthony performed the musical accompaniment. The three meditations were Affectionate Breathing, Loving-Kindness to Others, and Loving-Kindness to Self. The participants were assessed in terms of motivation and commitment towards compassion and self-compassion using a brief questionnaire developed specifically for the workshop.

GraphConvergenceInterestingly, while all participants were highly motivated towards both compassion and self-compassion prior to the workshop beginning, it was found that participants’ sense of their ability or confidence regarding both compassion and self-compassion were lower than other aspects of motivation. It was also found that motivation towards self-compassion generally, and ability or confidence specifically, significantly increased from pre- to post-workshop. This suggested that the CONVERGENCE workshop may help to increase ability and confidence towards self-compassion.

These were very encouraging results, although a few limitations of the study are acknowledged. It was a pilot study with a fairly homogeneous sample. Also, the measure used to assess motivation and commitment towards compassion and self-compassion was not psychometrically developed. In fact, there is a need in the area of compassion research to develop reliable and valid tools for assessing motivation and commitment towards compassionate and compassionate action. Nevertheless, CONVERGENCE did seem to offer many possibilities as a novel combination of meditation and live music to help cultivate compassion and self-compassion, especially confidence, and is well-worth further exploration.

If you are interested at all, you can find the slides for the little presentation I did with Dr Anthony Garcia at the UQ Compassion Symposium on Convergence here:

https://www.psy.uq.edu.au/compassion/pdf/compassion_2015_steindl_garcia.pdf

For more information on Dr Steindl visit our site http://www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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It’s the Thought That Counts

Posted on October 6, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

By Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

It’s Mental Health Week again and we are all reminded that we need to take care of our minds. But what does this really mean?

If I stopped the average person in the street and asked them what it means to be healthy, a typical response would involve the importance of regular exercise, maintaining a good diet, sleeping well and being within the healthy weight range. Rarely does the average person mention the importance of healthy thinking.

According to Beyond Blue around 1 million Australian adults will experience depression and 2 million will experience anxiety within a year. These are staggering statistics! These disorders can then go on to have a significant impact on our family and loved ones, work place and health care system.

No one is immune.

Depression or anxiety does not discriminate on age, gender or socioeconomic status. It has even impacted well known celebrities including Johnny Depp, Emma Stone and John Cleese. Closer to home, this year we have seen Troy Luff, a former Sydney Swans player, and Darius Boyed, an NRL player, both declare their battle with depression. Even those we may perceive as having it all can be affected. 

So how can we avoid being a statistic?

This is probably not as easy as it sounds as there are a variety of influential factors which may predispose us to these problems. Often at the core of these illnesses, is our thinking. We are frequently kind to others but have a tendency to be critical towards ourselves. Sometimes our thinking does not quite match what is actually going on and we can lose perspective. We can easily blow things out of proportion, jump to negative conclusions or beat ourselves up for not achieving the “perfect” result. When we begin to rehearse this thinking style, it becomes a well learnt script and we begin to apply it to everything until our daily life appears bleak or fear provoking. We then begin to act as if these thoughts were true.

I think, therefore I am…

As a Clinical Psychologist, one of the number one rules I attempt to instil in people I see with depression or anxiety, is to not say anything to yourself that you are not prepared to say to a friend. When someone tells me the story about how they did a terrible job and they may as well give up as there is no point to trying and that they are an absolute loser, I will ask “will you say that to a friend”? Of course they say “N0”! When asked why the answer is “no”, they will reply because “it will upset them and hurt their feelings”. Well, different rules don’t apply to us. It’s not okay to say mean things to ourselves and expect to feel good.

Here are some simple tips to mind our thinking….

  • Speak to yourself as a friend. Be kind, forgiving and loving.
  • Ask yourself are your thoughts in proportion with what is actually going on? Can you think about this in a different way?
  • Are you being too critical and expecting perfection when good enough is okay?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions and allowing these negative assumptions to impact on your decisions? Maybe you need to wait and see.
  • Make a daily gratitude list. Name three things that you appreciated during your day.

If all else fails, its okay to ask for help. We are all human after all…

If you are feeling depressed or need help, call Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline 13 11 14

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist

For more information on Kathryn Smith and the team of Clinical Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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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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The Modern Leader: Introducing the “Alpha Plus”

Posted on August 17, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0


Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist 

The Alpha.

Donald Trump is everywhere at the moment. He’s an alpha male! He’s all over the real estate in America and around the world. According to his official biography: “In September of 2011, Mr. Trump gave a two city speech in Australia for over 3 million dollars.” And he’s also all over the news, as he pushes forward in his bid to be President.

“You’re fired!” is Mr Trump’s famous line from his reality television show. He’s a self-proclaimed “archetypal businessman”. Some people laud his success, while others call him arrogant, opinionated, single-minded, tough, intimidating, aggressive and ruthless. His business tactics are examined in the 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped.

Now, in the race to be the Republican Party nomination for the next Presidential election, Mr Trump is making all sorts of inflammatory racist and sexist remarks. Even his fellow Republican Party members are not immune. He has belittled Congressman John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years, saying “He’s not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

It seems Mr Trump is an alpha male: confident, decisive, creative, focussed and productive. However, he also exhibits the downside to being an alpha male. He can be close-minded, demeaning of others, unappreciative, self-focused, lacking of empathy, intimidating and aggressive. And right now, with the stakes so high, he’s lashing out left, right and centre, attacking all those around him, friends and foes, to be the top of the pack. His desire for alpha status causes him to be ruthlessly dominating and aggressive in his dealings with others.

And this makes him a great leader, right? Survival of the fittest and all that? Maybe not.

The Alpha Redefined.

I’ve looked into this term “alpha male”, and have discovered that it originates in studies of wolf packs by Dr L. David Mech, a scientist at The US Geological Survey, who uses the term in his 1970 book The Wolf. In that context, and at that time scientifically, the alpha males and alpha females were considered the leaders of the pack.

However, I was surprised to also learn that Dr Mech has been trying to distance himself from the term for many years, arguing that “alpha” does not accurately describe what happens in wolf packs. As he says, the term implies that the wolves had to “fight and compete strongly” for their position in the pack, and that aggression and dominance over the others brought them into their positions. He says that this is not actually how they get there.

The reality is that wolves get into positions of leadership in the pack simply by producing offspring. Just as human families create roles and responsibilities amongst family members through a couple having children and becoming natural leaders that way, so it is in wolf packs. In fact, Dr Mech argues that more accurate terms for these wolves in positions of leadership would simply be “father wolf” and “mother wolf”.

This prompted me to come to a realisation: the defining features of the leaders in a wolf pack are not aggression and dominance over the others, but nurturance, care, protection and provision, especially for the young offspring, but also those who are subordinate in the pack.

The alphas are, in fact, the nurturers!

What Really Makes an Effective Leader?

Mr Trump is a bit of a relic from a bygone era, the heady capitalism of the eighties, when greed was good, and aggressive, ruthless business won the day. But just like our understanding of wolf packs has changed, things have also moved on in leadership, both in business and politics. No longer are aggression and dominance signs of an effective leader. Now, effective leadership is seen as more in line with the kind of leadership a good parent might demonstrate with their family.

Dr Emma Seppälä from Stanford University’s Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) has summarised in a recent Harvard Business Review article the research that supports the idea that “compassion is a better managerial tactic than toughness.”

Managers who are compassionate at work are more likely to have loyal, trusting, committed employees who feel increased happiness and well-being, as well as vastly improved performance on the job. Anger, hostility and aggression from managers tend to have the opposite effect, eroding loyalty, damaging trust and creating stress, thus contributing to far less optimal performance amongst employees.

The Alpha Plus.

So, how can we have the confident, decisive, creative, focussed and productive side to being an alpha male or female, without the aggression and dominance? The answer is COMPASSION.

I propose the concept of the “Alpha Plus”. The “Alpha Plus” is the alpha male or female who is confident plus compassionate, decisive plus compassionate, creative plus compassionate, focussed plus compassionate and productive plus compassionate. And these “Alpha Plus” leaders and managers already exist. There are the famous examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and other prominent figures of this ilk.

But big business is now seeing more of these “Alpha Plus” leaders…wildly successful AND compassionate at the very same time. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has made the practice of compassionate management a core value at his company, presenting at Wisdom 2.0 about the importance of compassion in business. Also, at the 2014 Mindful Leadership Forum in Sydney, Mr Weiner said, “Nothing is more important than the ability to be wise and compassionate.”

At the 2014 University of Queensland Compassion Symposium, Dr Sarah Kelly from the UQ Business School said that the social engagement and immersion programs UQ offer their MBA students are aimed at “improving global mindset, personal development, improved empathy and compassion, and long-term behavioural change” among these current and future business leaders.

The “Alpha Plus” leader is now at the top of many of the most influential businesses. At its heart is the commitment to not causing suffering, and, where suffering may exist, doing all one can to relieve it. This isn’t pie in the sky. It’s not meant to suggest that leaders have to fix all the ills in the world. They can’t. But it is about awareness, intention and taking compassionate action — doing good where possible. And, the thing is, it spreads. When “Alpha Plus” leaders are compassionate towards their staff, then staff themselves become more compassionate at work, at home, and in their broader communities. Slowly but surely, compassion spread from there.

What about you? Are you an Alpha? Or an Alpha Plus!?

To read more about Stan and our diverse team of Clinical Psychologists, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au

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The Daily Compassion Audit: A Self-Check to Minimise Inadvertently Causing Suffering to Others.

Posted on August 10, 2015 in Uncategorized - 0 comments - 0

Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

Compassion is the sympathetic and active alleviation of suffering in others. At the other end of the spectrum is malevolence and cruelty, intentionally causing others to suffer. But what about all the murky waters in between?

First a little story.

I’m that guy who drives right on the speed limit. I know, I know! But it’s just what I do. One reason is that I don’t want to get any more fines! But also, I figure that it’s probably safer, especially now I carry around precious cargo.

Today, I was driving along a main street on the outside lane when a hotted up, lime green ute came speeding up behind me and then sat aggressively right on my tail. I could see the driver in my rear vision mirror yelling angrily at me through his goatee, but I couldn’t move across straight away. I must admit, I got my back up a little bit and rather stubbornly stayed on the speed limit (well, maybe I slowed just a little) in front of him. He tried to dodge and weave, changing lanes suddenly, but then got stuck behind a bus while I continued to cruise along. At the time it felt almost satisfying.

But it only took a few minutes for me to start to think about what might have been going on for him, why he might have been driving fast, where it was he needed to go. I started to regret my actions. Maybe I should have simply moved out of his way and let him pass.

A little further into my journey, on the highway by now, I was once again on the outside lane driving at the highway speed limit. Again a vehicle came speeding up behind me, this time full of four young men and stacked high with surfboards. Given the earlier experience, and following a deep, calming breath, I moved out of their way and watched as they went hurtling past.

Then I got thinking again. They really were travelling fast. What if they have an accident? What if on this occasion I should have stayed in front of them, kept to the speed limit and kept them more safe? Doing the right thing can be complicated sometimes.

So here we are, in the murky waters between compassion and cruelty, the “in-between”, where one human being might inadvertently, accidentally, thoughtlessly or perhaps carelessly cause suffering in another human being.

I’ve been wondering that perhaps this “in-between” is a result of the constant conflict that we all endure between living a good life and a life that feels good.

I can only assume that by far the vast majority of people don’t want to cause suffering in others? I suppose there is a small and unfortunate minority who may enjoy causing suffering, but mostly we want to live a good, decent, moral life. But we also want to live a life that feels good. We have aspirations and seek gratification, and generally these are driven more by self-interest or interest in those very close to us, rather than an interest in others.

Self-interest is not inherently bad. In fact, it’s inherently human, and got us where we are today. But self-interest does motivate people to persist with certain behaviours despite the possible harm they cause others.

There are many day-to-day examples of putting self-interest ahead of interest for others: parking in a disabled parking space, putting rubbish in a donations bin, yelling at the teenaged waiter for the food not being cooked right, or opportunistically jumping a queue because someone wasn’t watching and left a gap…just to name a few. And there are societal concerns as well. Fast food causing obesity, tobacco smoking causing cancer, alcohol misuse causing accidents, poker machines causing financial devastation and legal problems. In all these areas, one person’s gain can be (often is) another person’s suffering.

In that vast range of possibilities between compassion and cruelty, I began to wonder, how did I do today? I certainly wasn’t perfect, but nor was I the other extreme. So, bearing all of this in mind, let’s do a bit of a compassion audit and check to see whether your day was in the black.

The Daily Compassion Auditgraphic

So, how did you go today?

STanFor more information on Dr Steindl visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au or if you would like to join The Charter for Compassion visit http://charterforcompassion.org/

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