for May, 2015

If anti-smoking laws make you angry, try ‘reframing’ the problem

Posted on May 28, 2015 in Uncategorized -

747px-Smoking_AIGA_symbolBy Dr Mark Wetton, Clinical Psychology Registrar, Psychology Consultants Pty Ltd

One of the common techniques used by psychologists is called ‘reframing’. Put simply, this means to look at a problem in a different way. The idea is that by doing this you can usually either: (a) find a different solution to the problem, or (b) cope better with the current situation so that it is less of a problem for you.

State governments around Australia have been gradually introducing increasingly strict ‘anti-smoking’ laws governing where people can legally smoke tobacco. One way to view anti-smoking laws is that they unfairly restrict the personal freedoms of tobacco smokers. But, if a tobacco smoker thinks about the laws in this way, it is more likely that he or she may be frustrated and angry due to these laws.

To cope with this frustration and anger, tobacco smokers have a choice. They can either: (a) attempt to change the laws (unlikely to work, even if you are a politician); (b) ignore the laws (possibly resulting in hefty fines and trouble with the police); or (c) reframe their viewpoint on these laws.

To use the ‘reframing’ technique in this case, a tobacco smoker can try asking him or herself a few simple questions:

1. How would I benefit if I was to quit smoking in the future?

2. Have I ever tried to quit smoking before, or am I planning to quit smoking some time in the future?

3. How will these new anti-smoking laws make it easier or harder for me to quit smoking? 

After answering these questions, a tobacco smoker might be able to take a different view of the laws, for example:

‘The new laws make it more difficult for me to smoke where I want to, so if I want to quit smoking in the future, it is probably going to be easier now than it used to be. The government is actually helping people to quit smoking.’

Hopefully the result of using the ‘reframing’ technique in this case will be that the tobacco smoker will actually feel more motived than ever to attempt to quit smoking. If they are able to quit or reduce their smoking, they will reap the health benefits much earlier in their life, not to mention saving money. And finally, they may not be as angry or frustrated day-to-day, which is likely to change their life for the better.

World No Tobacco Day is held every year on 31st May, this year the World Health Organisation is calling on countries around the world to help end the illicit trade of tobacco. For more information on advocating effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption visit:

To read about Dr Wetton and the team of Psychologists at Psychology Consultants visit

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Compassion and New Year Resolutions

Posted on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized -

New Years Resolution & Self-Compassion

By Clinical Psychologist Dr James Kirby

When the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve we all celebrate and enjoy the moment. However, not long after, we get met with that dreaded question?

So what are your New Years Resolutions?

This can lead to all sorts of responses, such as: lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with my children, save more money, drink less, or even find a new hobby. Sound familiar? Our New Year Resolutions really can be quite diverse. However, one common element to all of these resolutions is that they require a lot of hard work. All the resolutions I listed are also quite vague and not that specific, yet we hear them all the time, indeed many of them are ones I have set myself.

I set lose weight and exercise more as my New Years Resolutions for 2015.

It has been about three weeks since New Years Eve, and around this time many of us can feel like we have failed with the resolutions we set ourselves. Some of us may have even forgotten exactly what we did choose as our resolutions. For example, some research estimates suggest that about 60% of New Years resolution gym memberships go unused, and that these gym memberships are rated as one of the biggest money wasters for our back pocket. Despite this knowledge, joining the gym is still one of the most common New Years resolutions.

One of the problems with New Years Resolutions is when we don’t meet them this can make us feel depressed, frustrated, and sometimes angry, as many of us see it as a sign of failure. Since New Years Eve I have exercised more, but losing weight, well that hasn’t happened yet. One of the problems with these New Years Resolutions is that often they aren’t specific, and research has shown that we are more likely to succeed or come close to success if we set short-term specific goals (Locke, Shaw, Saari. & Latham (1981).

So instead of setting a resolution such as exercising more, what would be better is setting a setting a specific goal such as:

I will aim to exercise three afternoons a week for 30 minutes for the first month.

And then after that first month review how you have been going. If it hasn’t been going as planned you can try to work out how to overcome any obstacles, you might even need to modify the goal, and then try again for the next month. Alternatively if you have met that goal, make sure you congratulate yourself for the efforts you have made. Setting achievable and specific short-term goals are often better than vague, open-ended goals, because we can gauge how we are going. However, when we take a moment to review how we have been going it is important to have a little bit of self-compassion with these resolutions.

But what is self-compassion?

Self-compassion has been defined as involving three important components (Neff, 2003), and I will use exercise as an example of how to apply self-compassion to your resolutions.

  1. Being mindful as opposed to over-identifying with the problem. For example, being mindful that you are struggling with exercise at this present time, as opposed to seeing yourself as a complete failure always with exercise.
  2. Connecting with others as opposed to isolating yourself. For example, realising that you are likely not the only one struggling with exercise, indeed many others struggle with exercise as well.
  3. Being kind and loving to yourself as opposed to being judgemental. For example you could say to yourself, “May I be forgiving of myself, and continue to try and exercise.”

We know when we are more self-compassionate as individuals; it helps with our own psychological health (Neff, 2003). We also know that individuals with greater self-compassion have been found to have less anxiety and depression (Neff & Dahm, 2014). People with higher levels of self-compassion also have been found to ruminate less (Neff, 2003), and tend to have fewer negative emotions such as irritability, hostility or distress (Neff, Rude, & Kirkpatrick, 2007).

So as you can see much can be gained by being a little more self-compassionate. I do a lot of research and clinical work with parents. And often parents will come to the clinic with the problem “I just don’t know if I am doing it right?” In these situations often parents are looking for a little bit of reassurance that they are actually doing a good job. To me it would seem parents would benefit greatly from some self-compassion. For example if you are a parent struggling in a particular situation with your child the following may be useful:

  • I am noticing this is a moment where I am struggling with parenting
  • I am not alone with my struggle, others also struggle with parenting
  • May I give myself the compassion that I need in this moment

Self-compassion is something I think we can all benefit from. It just involves those three important points: (1) being mindful, (2) connecting with others, and (3) be kind and loving towards yourself.

So have a look at your New Years Resolutions. Do you need to change them to specific goals and start again for February? And when reviewing them, be sure to do so with some self-compassion.

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Sleep and PTSD

Posted on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized -

Trying to forget the unforgettable- musing on PTSD and sleep

By Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith

Lest We Forget will be pledged across the nation this Anzac Day as we approach 100 years since Gallipoli but for many of our veterans and ex-servicemen, forgetting the unforgettable seems a challenge too great.

Trauma regularly touches our community. Watch the evening news and you will witness traumatic events like car accidents, assaults, hold ups, natural disaster, terrorism and war.

Experiencing a traumatic event or the atrocities of war can have a marked impact on people’s lives.  While most people are able to recover from trauma, others go on to develop psychological disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is characterized by sufferers persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event, through intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, or flashbacks. Sufferers may also try to cope through avoiding things that may be associated with the event, or memory. They may also experience mood and other changes such as irritability, anger, concentration difficulties, hypervigilance or being startled easily.

But consistent amongst PTSD sufferers is disturbed sleep with symptoms of increased arousal, nightmares, dream re-enactment on occasion, and excessive movements during sleep. Many of these problems contribute to insomnia.

Recent studies by University of Calfornia’s Berkeley research team led by Prof. Matthew Walker found that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the vivid dreaming stage of sleep that comprises 20% of a normal person’s sleep cycle, is compromised in PTSD sufferers. This has significant implications for well-being and recovery.

“The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day’s emotional experiences,” explains Dr Walker.

The good news is treatment can help to improve sleep disturbance in PTSD, particularly taking a holistic approach that combines psychological treatment like cognitive behavioural therapy and image rehearsal therapy with medication for sleep.

Reducing feelings of stress is imperative when on the road to emotional and mental recovery after experiencing trauma. A few simple ways to help improve sleep health include:

  • Making sure your sleep environment feels safe and comfortable. If darkness causes feelings of anxiety, which is common amongst PTSD sufferers, try keeping the room dimly lit.
  • Avoid watching the news before bed.
  • Develop a relaxation routine before bed.  This can be as simple as a warm bath or listening to relaxing music.
  • Avoid stimulants like coffee after 3pm.
  • Try not to consume more than one alcoholic drink within 3 hours of bed.

Psychology Consultants run a long standing group programme for insomnia sufferers called Towards Better Sleep, a cognitive behavioural treatment programme that uses evidenced based techniques that focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correction of unhelpful thinking about sleep and insomnia, and relaxation strategies.

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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posted on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized -

Therapy Dogs and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

By Dr Stan Steindl

As the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli approaches, we are inspired by the great heroics of soldiers in combat serving and protecting our nation, and we are humbled by the enormous sacrifices they’ve made. Many men and women over the last 100 years have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and we remember them. A great many other men and women who returned from the various wars and overseas missions have gone on to live under the heavy burden of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Though for a long time not formally recognised, the psychological effects of combat-related trauma have been observed and documented throughout the twentieth century. ‘Shell shock’, ‘combat fatigue’ and other more disparaging terms have been used to describe combat veterans suffering from PTSD. References to this condition can be found in many writings from Ancient Greek texts through to Shakespeare’s works, through to articles at the time of the American Civil War. However, PTSD became a recognised psychiatric condition in the early 1980s after our experience of veterans returning from the Vietnam War.

Since then, we have developed a number of evidence-based treatments for PTSD. Multidisciplinary approaches, incorporating medicines, psychological counselling, coping skills development and exposure-based therapies seem to help with this condition, making things more manageable and aiding the veteran to return to higher levels of functioning and quality of life. However, PTSD does not yet seem to be something that can be ‘cured’ and constant efforts are being made to improve treatments and services for supporting veterans.

I have now had the opportunities to work with hundreds of veterans over about the last twenty years. They have always impressed me with their ingenuity and advocacy, and to be frank many of the veteran support initiatives have come from the veteran community themselves. Over recent years I have started to notice the latest in such initiatives: therapy dogs.

Many veterans now have therapy dogs, designed to offer companionship, support and comfort to veterans with PTSD. One veteran and defence force personnel support organisation, Young Diggers, has set up The Dog Squad, which connects veterans with puppies and rescue dogs. An intensive training program is undertaken so that these dogs and their owners become very well-trained and disciplined with one another.

So, how might a dog be helpful for veterans?

Well, dogs are vigilant and protective. They can wake a veteran from nightmares or reassure them during flashbacks. They respond well to authority, which many veterans and military personnel are used to. They love unconditionally and uncomplicatedly, welcoming the veteran home every single time, and not playing complex emotional games. They can help the veteran to relearn trust and safety, and to relearn how to love and be loved. And they offer the veteran meaning, purpose, connection and a reason to get into the day.

None of this has been empirically validated as yet, but it seems to have a lot of face validity. Dogs are our best friends after all! But also, I have seen it work. Veterans, who soften, relax, smile and simply become comfortable in a situation where a well-trained therapy dog is present. I hope that this approach can continue to be explored, and properly developed, into a program that can really add value to veterans’ PTSD treatment.

For more information on Dr Stan Steindl and the team of Clinical Psychologist at Psychology Consultants, visit

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Cultivating Compassion

Posted on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized -

Courage: The Heart of Compassion

By Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologist

Compassion is a feeling AND an action.

Paul Gilbert, in his 2009 book The Compassionate Mind, emphasises this action component of compassion:

Compassion can be defined as behaviour that aims to nurture, look after, teach, guide, mentor, soothe, protect, offer feelings of acceptance and belonging – in order to benefit another person.

Many people feel compassion for another who they see is suffering. However, it seems that a fewer number of people act compassionately, especially when the person suffering is a stranger or someone from outside their family, friendship or cultural group.

It’s easy (or at least easier) to act compassionately towards someone we love. Picking up our own child when they fall and scrape their knee comes very naturally. So too, offering our best friend support during their time of need. Much more difficult is acting compassionately towards a stranger, let alone someone we actively don’t like or perhaps is our enemy.

But here in lies an opportunity for us all. As the Dalai Lama wrote:

And who creates such opportunities [to practice compassion]? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, so if we truly wish to learn [compassion], we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!(

How can we cultivate compassion in our society so that we are all acting more compassionately, even if it is to people we don’t know or don’t like?

Many people would like to act compassionately, the desire is there. The reasons to be compassionate are many and varied, and we now know that compassion can benefit the person giving, as well as receiving, the compassionate action. And many people see helping others as important. In fact, lots of us would list kindness, helpfulness and compassion as important parts of our values system. We probably even often know what to do:

“I should just walk up to that man and see if he needs help!”

What quality, at the heart of compassion, helps us to move from feeling compassion for another human being who is suffering to taking action to relieve that suffering?

So often, the quality required to go ahead and take committed compassionate action is confidence, or more pointedly, courage.

The idea of stepping forward to help someone, especially a stranger, can evoke all sorts of fears: How will they react? What if they get angry at me? I might get abused or attacked! What if people think I’m being silly? They might judge me or laugh at me. What if it makes me late and my boss gets annoyed? It all might go bad for me.

Compassionate action takes a lot of courage. As Aristotle said:

Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.

Honesty can take courage. Loyalty can take courage. Authenticity can take courage. So too, compassion can take courage in order to push through our fear. We never really know what might happen next, and it can feel like there could be some sort of negative consequence. Once a person has a feeling of compassion, often the blocks to action are low confidence, self-consciousness, anxiety and fear. But as the Cowardly Lion learned in the Land of Oz, courage means taking action even in the face of fear.

And so it is with compassion: planning for little gestures to begin with, taking little steps, gradually building confidence with some small success, and taking opportunities that present around you for spontaneous acts of kindness, helpfulness and compassion. So why wait? Let’s get started!

10 small steps to build the courage for compassionate action:

1. Smile to a stranger in the street

2. Say “good morning” to the next person who crosses your path

3. Express sincere appreciation to a shop assistant

4. Let an anxious looking driver merge in front of you in traffic

5. Be patient with airline staff when planes are delayed

6. Offer help to a stranger struggling with a heavy load

7. Give directions to someone who might be lost

8. Write a note to someone, or their boss, about the great job they did

9. Offer some change when the person in front of you can’t quite pay the bill

10. Ask someone “Are you ok?” – and then really listen to their response.

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Cancer- How Psychologists and You Can Help

Posted on May 22, 2015 in Uncategorized -

By Danielle Corbett, Clinical Psychologist

morningteaEarlier this month, The Project host Carrie Bickmore took home the Gold Logie on her fourth attempt. In accepting the Gold Logie, Bickmore donned a beanie and used her acceptance speech to raise awareness of brain cancer, which her husband died from in 2010. Most Australians will either be affected personally by cancer or be affected through friends and family. The Cancer Council expects that this year alone will see 128,000 new cancer diagnoses.

Consulting a psychologist has been shown to improve treatment and disease-related symptoms for adult cancer patients. Many cancer patients can experience depression related to their diagnosis and treatment. Researchers have identified that depression can inhibit anti-tumour immune responses, so effective treatment of the mood disturbance in addition to cancer treatment may be of benefit. Psychological interventions also reduce psychological problems experienced by people with cancer which can range from mood disturbance to body image adjustments. Additionally, researchers have found that early psychological treatment in cancer patients reduced overall distress and predicted more positive emotion, higher quality of life, and less depression which had lasting benefits when researchers reassessed patients, even up to 8 years later.

The Cancer Council estimates that 1 in 3 cancer related deaths are preventable. Psychological interventions play an important role in reducing risk factors for cancer. Tobacco use is thought to be the leading cause of preventable cancer related deaths in Australia. Psychologists can assist people to cease smoking and reduce their cancer risk. Similarly, excessive alcohol use has been associated with an increase in cancer risk. Psychologists are trained in helping people develop a safe drinking level and reduce their cancer risk.

Socialising with family and friends is also beneficial for reducing stress, so why not host a morning tea to raise funds for cancer treatment. Chances are that you, or someone you know will benefit. Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea is on May 28th 2015, however you can host a morning tea at any time during May or June.

More information and a list of useful resources is available at: or

DanielleCorbet250For more information on Danielle and our team of experienced Psychologists visit:

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