Adopting a balanced view

Child and family psychologist and JKP author of the bestselling A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, Colby Pearce, on maintaining a balanced view when caring for children who have experienced trauma in their early lives.
This article first appeared on The Adoption Social‘s guest blog. 

I was born in January, which is the height of summer here in Adelaide, Australia. As such, I have always thought of myself as a “summer baby” and considered that this is why I enjoy the warmer months as opposed to the cooler months. I have a lifelong aversion to feeling cold and for many, many years I felt below my best during winter. I have questioned many people about this and have discovered that most people prefer either the warmer months or the cooler months. Many of them are just not happy until their preferred season returns.

About three years ago, and with the emergence of joint aches and pains during the colder months, I had the thought that it was a bit of nonsense really to consider myself a “summer baby” and defer happiness until it was warm again. I have always been a keen gardener and have a large hills garden. Looking after my garden is an act of looking after my self. Water is an issue as it is scarce and expensive, my garden is large and summer is hot (As I write this it is the fifth consecutive day of over 40C). So, I bought some rainwater tanks and now I pray for as much ‘bad’ weather as possible during the cooler months. I check the weather radar each day and feel let down if forecast wet and wintry weather blows south or north. I still have my aches and pains and look forward to the warmer months when they trouble me less, but I also look forward to cooler, wetter months now as it is a boon for my efforts to maintain a magnificent garden. And the garden? Well, with the additional water supply it has never looked better.

Strong FoundationsWhat has all this got to do with looking after children; particularly those children who experienced significant adversity in the first days, weeks, months and years of their precious lives? Well, it has to do with how we perceive them and the effects of this; both in terms of our own experience of caring for them and their experience of being cared for by us.
I am particularly interested in the idea of “self-­fulfilling ­prophecies”. In Psychology, these take the following form. I have a thought. My thought induces an emotion. My emotion activates a behavioural response. My behavioural response precipitates a reaction in others. The reaction of others often confirms my original thought.

Let’s try one. Thought: “nobody loves me”. A common feeling associated with this thought: hostility. Common behavioural responses to feelings of hostility: withdrawal and/or aggression. A common reaction to withdrawal and aggression: admonishments. An inevitable result: confirmation of the original thought.
Lets try another. He is damaged by his early experiences. I feel badly for him. I try to heal him. He keeps pushing me away. He is obviously damaged.
And, another: He is such a good artist. I am so proud of him. I support and encourage his interest in art. His skills develop and he is often affirmed for his artistic achievements. He is such a good artist!

Children who have experienced significant adversity at the beginning of their life are commonly referred to as “traumatised”. There is much literature about how early trauma impacts the developing child, including their acquisition of skills and abilities, their emotions, their relationships with others and even their brain. This literature focuses on the damage early trauma does and there is a risk that we, their caregivers, see these children as damaged.

One of my favourite allegories is the one that the author Paulo Coelho tells in his book, The Zahir. Coelho tells the story of two fire­fighters who take a break from fire fighting. One has a clean face and the other has a dirty, sooty face. As they are resting beside a stream, one of the fire­fighters washes his face. The question is posed as to which of the fire­fighters washed his face. The answer is the one whose face was clean, because he looked at the other and thought he was dirty.

The idea of the looking-­glass ­self (Cooley, 1902), whereby a person’s self-­concept is tied to their experience of how others view them, has pervaded my life and my practice since I stumbled across the concept as a university student. Empirical studies have shown that the self-­concept of children, in particular, is shaped by their experience of how others view them. In my work, this has created a tension between acknowledging the ill ­effects of early trauma and encouraging a more helpful focus among those who interact with so ­called ‘traumatised children’ in a caregiving role.

I am just as fallible as the next person, and I do not have all the answers. But as a professional who interacts with these children and their caregivers on a daily basis I strive to find a balance between acknowledging and addressing the ill­effects of early trauma and promoting a more helpful perception of these children. I strive to present opportunities to these children for them to experience themselves as good, lovable and capable; to experience me and other adults in their lives as interested in them, as caring towards them and as delighting in their company; as well as experiences that the world is a safe place where their needs are satisfied. I strive to enhance their experience of living and relating, rather than dwelling on repairing the damage that was done to them.

Most of all, I see precious little humans whose potential is still yet to be discovered. eyes

Eyes are mirrors for a child’s soul. What do children see in your eyes?

References
Coelho, P (2005), The Zahir. London. Harper Collins Cooley, C.H. (1902). Human Nature and the Social Order. New York. NY: Scribner
Publishers

Prepared for The Adoption Social by Colby Pearce (Clinical Psychologist and Author), ©2014
You can read the original blog post here.
You can keep up with Colby’s blog posts on his website, here.
You can also follow him on Twitter @colbypearce

 

The Inspiration behind ‘How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?’

Trauma Parenting Specialist and author of  How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear? Jane Evans explains the inspiration behind the book.

Why I wrote How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?

From the time I was a little girl I have loved children’s books and, for the past 22 years since becoming a parent, step-parent and grandparent I have totally loved children! My professional life has been an extension of this love for them.

My work has regularly brought me into the lives of families living through the most difficult of times. For many this has been domestic abuse and violence, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, poverty and child abuse. It has always been a privilege to sit alongside them and to learn from them. My life has been full of ups and downs, my battles with mental illness and beyond domestic abuse and through it all, in one way or another; it has always been children who have been the light at the end of the various dark tunnels.

How Are You Feeling Today baby Bear? cover

For many, many years I have had a burning desire to write a book for children which would be of real use to them. In my work with children I have used story books to give them chances to explore, in a gentle way, how they might feel about complex issues they have no words for.  When I worked as a Parenting Worker with families affected by domestic abuse and violence, their parents and carers kept asking me for a suitable book to share with their youngest children who had seen and heard  arguing, fighting and other abuse.

Sadly, I have repeatedly been struck by how much the children I have worked with have struggled to find the words to describe their feelings. For most of them it has been like learning another language and has been a slow process of trying to make up for a vital missing part of their developmental journey. Similarly their parents have often shown and told me how they too have found this difficult both for themselves and with their children.

Never was this more evident than when I was working alongside families’ post domestic violence and abuse, especially those with very young children. “Is there a book I can read with them?”, parents and carers would ask me; I struggled to find the right one which would give a child opportunities to learn about the words for their feelings without being scared, or without being ‘told’ how they  might feel.

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

Finally the time came to put the words and images I had created in my mind, from thinking about how a very young child feels during and in the aftermath of domestic violence, down on paper! Baby Bear was ‘born’ with two Big Bears who are having a difficult relationship, which often erupts into arguing and fighting, all of which is heard and felt by Baby Bear.

My hope is that How are you feeling today Baby Bear? will help families and young children post domestic violence and abuse to put feelings into words, rather than feeling their only option  is to express these difficult emotions via their behaviour.  Happier, healthier children with a closer connection to caring adults will offer them the onward journey they so deserve.

You can find out more about Jane’s work, upcoming events and read more of her blog posts on her website: http://www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk/

You can also follow her on twitter: @janeparenting

Assessing emotional awareness after trauma

Grasso_Clinical-Exerci_978-1-84905-949-7_colourjpg-webThis extract taken from Clinical Exercises for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents by Damion J. Grasso gives practical guidance to assessing and enhancing a child’s emotional awareness and vocabulary prior to therapeutic exposure.
‘These skills are essential for fully engaging in the therapeutic exposure and for processing the emotional content of the trauma memory.’

Read the extract here

 

How to manage adolescent anger

Pudney-Whitehou_Adolescent-Volc_978-1-84905-218-4_colourjpg-webHelp adolescents identify the early warning signs of anger and how to express it with these practical worksheets taken from Adolescent Volcanoes by Warwick Pudney and Eliane Whitehouse.

Download the worksheets here

The book contains many more practical handouts and resources for helping adolescents and their parents to manage anger in a more positive way, including how to adjust styles of parenting and situations that may exacerbate these emotions, as well as how to tone down confrontations and improve relationships.

 

Helping people through the holidays.

In this blog post, John Wilson, bereavement counsellor and author of Supporting People through Loss and Grief, shares some thoughts on how grieving people can cope with the difficult holiday season, and how those around can try to help and support them.  

Supporting People through Loss and Grief cover

Supporting People through Loss and Grief

This Christmas will be Sophie’s first since her husband David* died in early Spring 2013. Her eyes filled with tears as she recalled a long-standing family tradition. Each year since the children were small, the family would drive to a plantation in a country park and select their Christmas tree. They would all sing along to festive music on the car stereo, and once home, would decorate the tree together.

In her grief counselling session, Sophie and I, her counsellor, were discussing how she and her three children should buy their tree this year. Should they try to continue the family ritual as if Dad was still with them, or should they do something entirely new? Sophie had talked to her children, who were certain that they wanted to continue the tradition.

At times such as this, there is no escaping the reality of a loved-one’s absence; a situation rendered even more poignant by a holiday others are celebrating. Be it a religious or secular holiday, a birthday or an anniversary, the loss of those we loved and continue to love, evokes bittersweet memories.

Of course David, husband and father, will be with his family when they choose their tree. He will be in their hearts and thoughts; more so perhaps, if they are brave enough to continue this and other rituals in his fond memory. One of the many things my bereaved clients have taught me is the power of symbolic meaning. David will be with his family symbolically. This is not at all the same as pretending that nothing has changed, because for this family, a lot will be different this holiday and on all future holidays.

Not so very long ago, it was believed that to overcome grief, the bereaved needed to relinquish the lost loved-one. “Let them go and move on”, we were told. We accept now that bonds with the deceased can continue. This does not mean clinging on vainly to the past, but it allows the life of our lost parent, child, sibling, lover or friend, to become part of our future. The lessons they taught us, the examples they set us, the values they lived by and the jokes and stories they shared, become immortal; family lore which we can choose to bequeath to each new generation.

Symbolism and ritual are valuable human activities. At festivals and holidays we will inevitably be drawn to think about those no longer with us, whether we like it or not, so let us deliberately and consciously embrace the opportunity to recall the ways in which they continue to affect our life. At the hospice where I work, and at many hospices, relatives can sponsor a light on a tree at Christmas. We call it “Light Up a Life”. The switching on ceremony is emotional, but both happy and sad thoughts are evoked, and in many cases shared. Whoever it is you have lost, there is something helpful in knowing you are not alone in your grief; a reason why collective memorial events serve to heal. You may consider lighting a candle or taking flowers to a grave or to a special place significant to your loved-one. Perhaps you might make a donation to a charity in his or her name.

Not every bereaved person has close family nearby. Childless people bereaved of a spouse often struggle when they lack the continued sense of purpose and meaning which comes to those lucky enough to have children, or even grandchildren. It is easier to maintain a sense of purpose when you have this motivation to “keep cheerful”. Bereaved spouses with no dependents have to find novel, symbolic ways to continue a bond with the partner they have lost. One of my clients would retrace the steps of a favourite moorland path she and her late husband had often walked. At holidays and anniversaries she felt that this brought them closer together. It was important to her that she walked the route alone, to give herself time for reflection. This need for solitude can be very important. For many newly grieving people, December marks the end of a sad year and the hope of a new start. Many bereaved spouses have told me that they would like to have some time on their own on Christmas Day, but that well-meaning relatives will not allow it. If you have a recently bereaved friend or family member who has asked to be alone, at least for some of the day, please try to support this wish. Remember that being alone is not the same as being lonely, and that sometimes the loneliest place to be is in a room full of happy people.

When I see my clients for the last time before New Year, generally in mid-December, I say to them ”Try to have the best time you can”, because to say, ”Enjoy yourself” would be insensitive and unhelpful. There are ways to make a difficult time of year more bearable, and I hope that here I have provided a few pointers.

*Sophie and David are pseudonyms. The real ‘Sophie’ has read this text and has given consent for her story to be told.

 

John’s book, Supporting People through Loss and Grief, will be published 21st December 2013. You can read more of his expert advice by following @JWilsonOnline on Twitter.

Incorporating creativity in supervision

Chesner-Zografo_Creative-Superv_978-1-84905-316-7_colourjpg-print Anna Chesner, co-author of Creative Supervision Across Modalities, explains why using creativity in supervision sessions can benefit both the supervisor and supervisee, and gives her top tips for any therapist or helping professional new to using this approach.

Why is the use of creativity so effective in supervision sessions?
Creativity helps to link right brain and left brain understanding of practice. Often as practitioners we may have a feeling of stuckness, or going round in circles. Using creative methods helps us to facilitate new perspectives and fresh energy.

How can creative supervision ensure that a fresh perspective is maintained in supervision sessions, and how does this benefit the supervisor and supervisee?
Creative supervision can bring a new perspective and fresh energy to reflecting on our clinical or other professional practice. This in term can bring fresh energy and clarity to our sessions with clients. If supervision itself lacks vitality it may become part of the problem, rather than facilitating possible solutions.

In chapters 2 and 3 of your new book you write about the importance of roles in creative supervision – why is this? Which of the roles you mention do you think it is most difficult for a new supervisor to take on? Is there one that they tend to slip into more easily?
Not so much roles as an understanding of role (singular). The concept of role helps us to think about our “way of being” and our clients’ way of being. It is a practical tool for looking at patterns of behaviour and relating. Supervisor’s need an awareness of the multiple roles they may inhabit as a supervisor, and in the best case some role flexibility. Similarly, practitioners from all fields can benefit from thinking about their own roles in their practice, and indeed the roles of their clients within their various systems.

What is the most challenging thing you have to cover with trainee supervisors? What is it that they usually struggle most with in terms of incorporating creativity into sessions?
Supervision trainees have firstly to meet the challenge of getting to grips with the role of supervisor, which is distinct from their more familiar roles as clinician. There is an added challenge in learning how to use creative techniques in a way that is a spontaneous response to the supervisory question or focus and remains firmly within the frame of supervision.

Why is it that ‘irrational’ thinking can be such a crucial part of the creative process?
Not so much irrational as out of awareness, or known only implicitly. Face to face clinical work involves the practitioner in complex, multi-layered interactions, where physical or felt sense, and imagination are as important as the actual words spoken. Our right brain awareness can be brought to light particularly well through creative approaches to supervision.

You mention several times the importance of establishing a clear focus in the supervisory session – why is this?
A clear focus or supervisory question is helpful for a number of reasons. It ensures transparency about what kind of help or reflection opportunity is being sought. It supports a collaborative approach between supervisor and supervisee. It reveals the level at which a supervisee is able to reflect on and articulate their process.

What are the top tips you would give to a supervisor who is new to using creativity in their sessions?
- Reflect on your own interventions in the light of supervision theory
– Bring your creative supervision practice to your own supervision space
– Remain open to new learning
– Undertake training in the use of creative supervision methods

 

How well do you know yourself?

Bolton_Writers-Key_978-1-84905-475-1_colourjpg-webWe make assumptions about ourselves all the time, but how much do we really know?

As Gillie Bolton says in the opening chapter of her new book The Writer’s Key, ‘The simple action of putting words on a page can begin to help us find out what we think, believe and know’.

This exercise taken from the book is a great way to begin to explore ourselves through writing; our worries, our fears, our hopes, and our aspirations.

All you need to have a go is a pen and a piece of paper. You might be surprised by what you discover!

Download the free writing exercise here

 

 

Celebrating the launch of School Counsellors Working with Young People and Staff

Nick Luxmoore shares some pictures and stories from the launch event for his new book ‘School Counsellors Working with Young People and Staff’, and gives us an insight into why it is so important for counsellors to immerse themselves fully in school life.

image2Can you explain a little bit about what first prompted you to write about the school counsellor’s role in the whole life of the school?

The work that counsellors do in schools with individual students is great. But the prevailing culture those students experience in school – five days a week – is at least as therapeutic or anti-therapeutic as their individual sessions with a counsellor. Counsellors must therefore try to affect that culture and, to do that, they need to involve themselves in school life beyond the confines of the counselling room. To do that, they need to be confident about boundaries, able to manage both formal and informal relationships. Counselling should never be a furtive or shameful activity. Counsellors need to be out and about, therefore, talking to all sorts of people, most of whom will never use the counselling service themselves but will happily recommend it to others as long as it’s not presented to them as mysterious or weird.

image4Are people often surprised when they realise staff can seek support from school counsellors as well as students?

Not all school counsellors see staff. Some schools don’t allow it and some counsellors choose not to see staff, believing that there’s a conflict of roles. I disagree with this. In their own ways, members of staff are just as needy as students; potentially, their behaviour is just as disruptive and they affect the prevailing culture in classrooms and corridors just as powerfully as students. Counsellors have to make the processes of counselling as normal as possible, getting rid of any shame and, in the long run, helping everyone to feel more confident about supporting each other. It’s much harder to do this if counselling is only for students because it implies that grown-up people never feel angry or sad, disillusioned or vulnerable. It implies that counselling is just for wimps.

image3It looks like you had quite a crowd in attendance at the launch – what was it like organising the event?

Organising a book launch is a military operation! I spend a ridiculous amount of time beforehand worrying about whether there’s enough booze, whether people will like the food we’ve made and whether they’ll come! Exactly 100 people came to this event, including old friends from teaching, headteachers, lots of the counsellors I’ve supervised and worked with over the years and some of my current team of Peer Supporters. They’re Year 13 students who support younger students in the school. Halfway through, I made a speech, explaining why I think the book matters and hopefully whetting people’s appetites to read it.

image5image6A couple of the pictures show you reading from the book during the launch – can you tell us which section you read and what in particular made you choose it?

I’m reading from the beginning of the second chapter, called ‘The Idea of a Counsellor’. It’s about a counsellor starting work in a school and the very mixed feelings that the school will have towards her. I chose it because it’s about the way counselling provokes both hope and fear in a school, with counsellors idealized and demonized. In the extract, the counsellor talks with apparently enthusiastic staff who are testing her out and tries to make a relationship with her first, impossibly difficult client. I imagined that a lot of people would recognize themselves in the story!

 

Enhancing working relationships – an extract from ‘Mindful Co-working’

Image not available

Mindful Co-working by Clark Baim

In this extract from Mindful Co-working, author and training consultant Clark Baim explains how leadership teams can introduce mindful co-working practices to their organisations through leading by example, and outlines perhaps one of the most important five principles of mindful co-working; mindful co-workers help each other to develop and improve.  Here we see how successful co-workers are those that are willing to learn and advance from one other in an environment where an awareness of the success of the team is more important than individual competition.

Read the full extract here.

Learn more about how to create mindful working relationships, read reviews and order your copy of the book here.

Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

JKP author Julie Sutton was invited to speak at the Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War conference held in London’s Mansion House at the end of June. In this interview, she describes her experiences of working in the areas of trauma and conflict after the Bosnian war and the many diverse and inspiring approaches for dealing with the results of trauma covered by different speakers at the event. She also explains why her upcoming book, co-authored with Jos De Backer, will focus on promoting an awareness of an integration of musical thinking and theories of the mind.

How did you originally become involved in speaking at this conference? What does the theme of the conference mean to you personally?

I was invited because of my experience in the areas of music therapy, conflict and trauma. During the immediate ceasefire relating to the Bosnian war, I was invited by Prof Nigel Osborne and Ian Ritchie to visit Mostar and Sarajevo, to discuss the possibility of using the shell of a building in Mostar to build a music centre, including a music therapy department. They were interested in me because of my experiences in Belfast during the conflict, and my publications and conference presentations relating to psychological trauma (e.g. my work leading up to the book Music, Music Therapy & Trauma, which was the culmination of a Millennium Award I received). This first visit to Bosnia made an enormous impression on me, when I met some extraordinary people who were living in circumstances beyond the ordinary.

To make this trip from Belfast only served to heighten this experience and particularly to see what had happened to Mostar, a city with two different religious groups. While Belfast had and was still experiencing violent, destructive events, in Mostar I discovered how a functioning society that had been providing a full education programme for its children was now struggling to maintain and support its population, as well as trying to come to terms with the horrific impact of war. The special school children and staff I met and worked with were based in a bombed out hotel. Another school building was being shared by three different schools on a daily rota system. The memory of the extent of the destruction in Mostar and Sarajevo and its effect on the people I met stays with me to this day.

The Pavarotti Music Centre then grew out of the ruins of the building I had seen and music education, therapeutic experiences of music and music therapy were provided. I learned a great deal from this first visit to Bosnia, and from being a consultant for the Pavarotti Centre across a number of years, and working with the music therapists who were based there and who had travelled from different areas of Europe and N. America to take on the work. Because of this link, I had a very personal connection with this particular conference.

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General's Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Could you describe a little bit about the day at the conference itself – what did you particularly enjoy or find interesting or surprising about any of the presentations and discussions?

I attended the first day of the conference.  Perhaps the most striking thing about the day was the range and diversity of approaches to the trauma of war, such as from psychiatry, psychology and applied psychological approaches such as music therapy. To have eminent speakers providing an interdisciplinary perspective is always a rich experience, but at this conference there was also the involvement of the army, who began the day with a lively presentation by Major Guy Booth, about the work of the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. The Band has a number of contemporary ensembles supporting both civilian and military events, including playing for soldiers in fields of war. As well as enjoying and being touched by the music they played, it created a different atmosphere to have serving soldiers as part of the audience, and also knowing that these were musicians as well as soldiers. Through their own experiences, these young men and women also knew about the therapeutic impact that music can have, in ways that speak more deeply and directly to us than the very necessary and valuable research and theory building.

 

Your upcoming book, co-edited with Jos De Backer, will emphasise how essential the music is within music therapy. Was this a theme covered by many of the other speakers at the conference and why do you think this is such a crucial aspect of music therapy?

Jos and I believe that there should be awareness of an integration of musical thinking (detailed awareness and experiences of music in the clinical setting as well as the therapist’s own awareness of their musical identity) and theories of the mind (mental structures, in particular a psychodynamic frame of thought that connects the mind to the body,). My contribution to this conference was from this stance, something that acknowledges and also goes beyond neurological ideas, developmental theories or a medical music therapeutic approach to trauma.

We know that music exists on the same level where the central difficulties experienced by psychiatric patients can be located.  The relationship between music and psychopathology gives music therapy a crucial place in the treatment of psychiatric patients. A detailed and layered thinking about the impact of music upon us and upon psychopathology is at the centre of our thinking.

In our book we describe clinical material that demonstrates the fundamental significance of therapists’ listening to and thinking about music. While many authors have written about the art and science of music therapy, we propose to detail the central musical components of the work of a music therapist, as this is integrated into clinical practice. Some presenters at the conference did give information and included literature and research from psychology and neurology in relation to the brain and music, but apart from my paper there was no mention of the kind of integration that Jos and I focus on in our book. We hope very much that the book will serve as a first platform for this way of thinking about music and music therapy in this integrated way, as practiced in countries across Europe.

 

Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Can you explain a little bit about your talk and how music therapy has been used in ‘the theatres of war?’

There is not sufficient space to summarise the complexities of this area here, because when one is living within a ‘theatre of war’, one is at both a physical and emotional limit (and at times beyond) what the human embodied mind can manage. These are experiences beyond the ordinary, and which take us to the edges of what it is possible to experience and process. It is impossible not to be affected by these experiences. Because music is an incredibly powerful medium, speaking so directly to the body and mind, I believe it should be used with great caution and delicacy for those post-traumatised. A detailed and careful theoretical integration of theories of music and theories of mental structures (the mind in action) is thus essential. For my presentation I focused on one aspect, on experiences of time in the consulting room, where both patient and therapist may have varying senses of themselves in or out of time. I explore this further in a chapter in our book, because it is also one central aspect of music, and another way of thinking about what music therapy can bring as a treatment for those in distress.