Can reading improve your mental health?

reading

James Withey, author of The Recovery Letters, has written an article about the power of reading and how it can make a huge difference in a time of need. James was diagnosed with clinical depression, attempted suicide and spent time in psychiatric hospital and crisis services where he developed the idea for The Recovery Letters.

In my notebook where I record all the books I’ve read, 2011 has thirty books listed. I’ve scored them and listen my top 5 favourites. Sarah Walter’s ‘Nightwatch’ came in at number one, if you’re interested. Then turn the page to 2012 and it’s blank. Nothing. Not one book.

This was the year my depression truly hit, and I couldn’t read at all. Not one sentence. It was a massive loss. My life was built around reading. I went to reading groups, haunted musty second-hand book shops at the weekend, read on my way to work meetings (when I should have been looking at the previous minutes), and read by the river each lunchtime delaying the time when I would have to go back to my desk.

Depression is all about loss. Loss of concentration, loss of vitality, loss of happiness, loss of meaning and loss of hope. Depression takes away all your coping mechanisms just when you need them to fight the illness; that’s how cruel it is.

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Social Skills: Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down! by Shawn Amador

Shawn Amador, LCSW, is a school social worker who runs an after school comedy troupe, and is a part time therapist. Her new book, Teaching Social Skills Through Sketch Comedy and Improv Games, publishes this month.

 

Kids and teens with social cognitive deficits have difficulty seeing outside of themselves, which contributes back to having more social difficulty.  Due to their struggles, social skills training could possibly be a trigger or at the least, tap into insecurities.  We need to find ways to teach social skills in real time while interacting, thus also increasing ‘feel good’ brain chemicals which can increase positive feelings about interactions.

When adding theatre, improv skills, play-writing and sketch comedy to social skills training, it’s like adding spoonful of sugar to help the social skills go down!  Shawn Amador, LCSW, has created a program that adds all of these activities together, which makes “Social Theatre”™.  Participants in Shawn’s Social Theatre group therapy, say that it does not feel like therapy.  In fact, we make fun of ourselves through brainstorming socially awkward moments which we make into plays and correct with a more effective social skill  in the next scene.

In Teaching Social Skills through Sketch Comedy and Improv Games, there are activities that are adaptable to many social and intellectual levels from academically gifted, typical, to mild and moderate cognitive abilities.   Moreover, social skills sketch comedy scripts from the book can be utilized in teaching lessons or for performance.

If you would like to try some games that teach social skills, here are some popular games:

 

  • “Red Light Green Light” for Self Control
  • “Mother May I” for cognitive flexibility
  • “Yes, and” improv game for collaborative idea building
  • “Feelings Charades” for feelings recognition and expression
  • Acting out a familiar story, switching roles and acting it out again for perspectives

“Lap Therapy” Time by Beth Powell, LCSW

Beth Powell, LCSW, is owner of Beth Powell’s In-Family Services, an outpatient psychotherapy private practice specializing in trauma informed care. Her new book, Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt publishes this month.

Bye-Bye Baby Bunting.

Daddy’s gone a hunting.

To catch a little rabbit skin,

To wrap his Baby Bunting in.

                                       Mother Goose

When I was a small child being cared for by my aunt, she sang this song while rocking me to a slow 60-beat-a-minute rhythm.  My aunt took over my care when my mother’s mental illness made it unsafe for my sister and me to be with her. What a contrast in care! My aunt’s rhythm, voice, words, touch, and smell were so much more soothing than my mother’s.  With my aunt, I could relax. I didn’t have to struggle to get away or dissociate into a floppy, non‑moving, barely breathing, pretending-to-be-dead little girl.  My aunt exuded safety and calm that soothed my restlessness.

Resting against my aunt’s chest, I felt the slow, consistent beat of her heart.  I relaxed into the protection of her arms wrapped gently around me.  Her voice, vibrating from her chest into my ears, awakened the proprioceptive neural impulses in my face that told me where I was in time and in space.  Grounding me with her body, she held me so I wouldn’t fall.  Wrapped in her loving arms, I felt safe enough to close my eyes.  The sweet smell of my aunt’s skin pleasured the lower, emotional center of my brain, enticing me to lie close and be still just a little bit longer.

The more my caregiver sang and rocked me, the more her song and her rhythm calmed and relaxed her.  As she calmed and relaxed, so did I.  We shared a pleasurable experience.  We connected in a happy, healing way.  My receptive language was developing.  Her words and touch assured me that there was someone much bigger and stronger than I was who had my best interests at heart.  She was unafraid and confident in her ability to nurture.  She put me first.  By her loving actions, she was forming a template in my brain of safety–security–protection–trust in a higher power through a concrete, much-bigger-than-myself human being.  The safety and security I felt in her arms paved the way for my future belief and faith in a loving, abstract, not-of-this-earth higher, heavenly power.

Adults create healthy, secure attachment in children through positive “real” non-virtual, physical interaction with them.  Caregivers are able to instill in children safety–security–protection–trust because loving, protective adults instilled it in them.  My birth mother couldn’t instill that in me.  But my aunt and uncle, my grandma, and my first‑grade teacher, Miss Beetles, could. They were the human caregiving angels God sent my way. Thus, in spite of the hard beginnings I had, the template was established, in childhood, for the “me” I am today because of caregivers like them who somehow understood what I needed and were able to provide it when I needed it.

Internalized safety–security–protection–trust is the base from which self-esteem, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-strength, and altruism develop. It is the support upon which mature character or the internalized Fruit of the Spirit must build.  Without an internalized secure base, children develop anxiety and self-deception.  When a child has a secure base in childhood with positive attachment to a preferred, stable, protective, and physically present primary caregiver, then a healthy relationship with God, whom we cannot see, is much easier.

Insecurely attached and developmentally traumatized children often succumb to unhealthy control, anxiety, mistrust of those who love them, and abusive behaviors.  As adults they either become their own God (unhealthy narcissism) or they may find God in substances or toxic behaviors. Reversing unhealthy belief systems is difficult but not impossible. It’s work that is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for parents who take a child’s antics personally, as if it is “them” whom the child is out to get by interpreting their“can’ts” as “won’ts.”

Therapeutic caregivers of hurting children seek the sources of the unpleasant symptoms that they see, and they address those sources from a psychological, neuro-behavioral, socio-emotional and spiritual growth perspective.  Children need to trust that adult caregivers can and will protect them.  This trumps any other socio-emotional need in childhood.  This is the base upon which the quality of the relationship with self, with others, and with God is built.  A child who has experienced significant neglect, abuse, loss, and chronic and acute stress has an even greater need for safety-security-protection-trust experiences with loving, mature, and stable adults.  They have a harder time developing trust because it has been broken, sometimes again and again.

Below is a therapeutic activity that caregivers can share and enjoy with the children in their care to help them establish an essential base of safety–security–protection–trust.

Caregiver–child rocking chair time to help calm brain and body

It’s not just about rocking infants any more.  Larger children who hurt can benefit from rocking, too.  And so can the caregiver.  This comforting act helps regulate children when they are fretting and need help regulating themselves.

It also provides caregiver–child quality “love and bonding” time.  How comforting rocking feels for both parties involved.  Caregivers can even rock themselves when they feel out of sorts, and it helps to re-set their brain.

Rocking caregivers should add a slowly-sung comforting song, hum something spiritually soothing, or just gently make a “shush” sound with their lips and tongue while taking slow, long, and deep breaths to not only better regulate themselves but to give the child something to match.   A regulated parent helps regulate a child.  The drawn out “shush” sound and the slow, rhythmic rocking replicates the sound and the movement the gestational infant at least should have received in utero.  This movement and sound helps the baby’s lower brain develop in a healthier way to better manage stress.  It also helps the older brain do the same.

Caregiver-initiated knee-bouncing games to help install rhythmic synchronicity and nurture trust in children

One of my favorite close times with the adults who loved and enjoyed me as a child was to “Go See Mr. Brown.”  I’m not sure where this knee-bouncing game originated, but it could have been passed down generationally through my South Mississippi maternal ancestors.

To perform this adult-activated activity, the child first sits, facing the adult, on the adult’s knees.  It’s important that the adult’s face and body language convey confidence and fun with lots of facial expression and eye contact.

The adult securely holds onto the child while the child securely holds onto the adult. Then the adult bounces the child slowly and consistently up and down on the knees in synchrony with the words and the 60-beat-a-minute rhythm of the following song:

Mr. Brown went to town

Riding a goat and leading a hound.

The hound barked; the goat jumped.

Threw Mr. Brown right down on a stump!

Surprise! The child does not tumble onto the floor.  Instead, the adult gently, slowly, and securely tilts the child backward as far as the child can comfortably tolerate without showing signs of anxiety and fear.  Then slowly, the adult returns the child to a sitting position on top of the knees.  The adult then asks the child, “Who kept you from falling on that stump?”  “You did!” is the desired answer.  “And I will every time!” can be the adult response.

As the child grows in trust that the adult performing the activity will keep him safe from falling, and will stop if the activity scares him, then the adult may gradually increase the speed and the depth to which the child is tilted back.  In the situation of a hyper-vestibular child (child fearful of too much movement), that may not be by much because the part of the brain which reads and adjusts to movement isn’t working as optimally as it should.  Heed the expression on the child’s face and take notice of resistance in the body to the tilting back movement.  Ask children if they are ready to tilt back.  Don’t force a child to tilt back farther than he or she is ready to go.  That doesn’t build safety-security-protection-trust.

“Lap therapy” time is supposed to be pleasurable and bonding.  It should be mutually enjoyable with lots of eye contact and joyful, loving facial expression on the part of the caregiver!

Simon Faulkner’s 2018 Rhythm2Recovery USA Tour

Simon Faulkner, author of Rhythm to Recovery, will be holding three workshops in the US in April! Learn how to utilize rhythm and reflection in both therapeutic and educational settings and familiarize yourself with a model of practice that has a proven track record for social and emotional development. For anyone interested in fun, interactive rhythmic exercises to use with both individuals and groups, this is the workshop for you.

For more information and to register, visit:

American Rhythm2Recovery Workshop 2018 (10) (002)

Making therapeutic board games with kids

feelings

Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett, authors of Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings, are clinical psychologists who currently work in successful private practices in Melbourne. They each have over 15 years’ experience working with children and families. 

Spider Squash, Temper Trail, Goodbye Worry Monster, and Beat the Anger Volcano are some of the board games we’ve created to help children with emotional difficulties. Board games are a great thing to make in therapy with children. While there are a number of excellent therapeutic board games on the market, making your own allows you to personalise them to meet the needs of the child you are working with. You can incorporate their interests and reflect on their individual strengths. Children often talk much more freely when engaged in play and the process of making the game together provides the opportunity for many helpful discussions. They require few materials, can readily be taken home, and are easily adapted for use with children with a wide range of emotional issues. Perhaps most importantly though making board games is fun.

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How do we relate to “old age” and aged care?

old

Felicity Chapman, author of Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care,  is an accredited mental health social worker who has extensive training and experience in psychotherapy and specialises in work with seniors both in the community and facility settings. Here, she talks about the importance of senior-friendly practices and redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care.

We know about our ageing population. We know that, soon, it won’t be a skateboarding teenager that we’ll have to look out for while taking a stroll outside but a speeding mobility scooter – but what about our relationship with “old age” and all those who represent it?

Is it a passionate love affair or something we just do? Or maybe it is something that we can’t even fudge an interest in. Too “urgh” to even think about. If that’s you – I hear ya’. What’s a person to do when all that is blaring in their ears is to “fight the signs of ageing”? Beat that “old age” monster back (only with a certain product of course).

And what about our throw-away society? Much as we might not want to replace and dispose, many of us have little choice. Your eight-year-old washing machine stops working. What to do? Shell out a lot of money to try and fix it or spend not much more on a brand new one? Yep, planned obsolesce is certainly in-built in our life.

You see, even if we have the best of intentions, “old” can become synonymous with “urgh” or “obsolete”. What does this mean for how we view other things when they are old? People when they are old?

I’m not wanting you to hug every grandma you meet or guilt you in to acts of service for older adult populations. I am just appreciating the social milieu that surrounds our Western world when it comes to how we view this thing called “old age” and how much we value, or not, our elders.

My question to you is this – is it time to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care?

It seems like a good time to me. We know the clock is ticking and our cohort of seniors is growing day by day, and living longer. I don’t like being affected by dire warnings of a “grey tsunami” but I do think that now is the time to see our ageing population as an opportunity to celebrate age and all those who represent “old age”.

So, what does it mean to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care or older adults?

I’m sure Justin Timberlake did not have older adults in mind when he sung “I’m bringing sexy back…” Sexy is often everything that aged care is not. But by using the word “sexy” I am not referring to the high octane experience of being intimate with someone. Who knows though, older adults may well want to talk about such things! How senior friendly to encourage this?

What I mean when I talk about “bringing sexy back” is bringing a sense of spice or pizzazz associated with respect back to our Western society that appears to have lost its way in valuing seniors. I am a social worker before I am a psychotherapist. It seems perfectly natural to me to examine systems at all levels and not accept the status quo if it is at odds with a senior-friendly practice.

Nothing, I believe, should be exempt. From community attitudes, to what governments will fund, to social policy, our learning institutions, organisational mandates and the field of geropsychology – all should be fodder for our discerning eye as we look through the lens of valuing seniors. Bringing sexy back for me means to ensure that, as a society, we are senior friendly and celebrate age in all that we do.

This is not limited to healthy ageing campaigns or practices, as good as they are. As a social worker and a gerontological psychotherapist I am interested in models that extend the good that already exists and challenges what has not yet been challenged. From the way that older adults are engaged with psychotherapeutically through to how our governments and industry prioritise senior health and emotional wellbeing. All systems need to be scrutinized for how senior friendly they are.

For the sake of the current group of advanced seniors – and all of those who will surely follow – it is in humanity’s best interest to develop senior-friendly practices and be excited about the opportunities that await us when we turn our personal and professional energies toward redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care. In the field of psychology, experts are lamenting a lack of interest in aged care, worldwide.

I hope that my book Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care: A Support Guide can go some way toward exciting and equipping workers – not just psychologists – who are either thinking of “dipping their toe in” to the aged care sector or who are fully immersed already. I also hope that it offers new horizons of thought in how we, as a society, relate to this thing called “old age” and aged care. Whether you are in to aged care or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that everyone on this planet deserves respect and dignity – especially when we are at our most vulnerable.

And if you think that psychotherapeutic work with older adults or aged care is staid and boring. Think again! What a rich mix of things to navigate. It’s seriously interesting!
It is – I think – a little bit sexy.

A Crash Course in Widowed Single Parenting – Top Tips for Keeping It Together

Things Jon Didn’t Know About: Our Life After My Husband’s Suicide is an honest and moving account of the day-to-day practicalities of raising a family as a single parent survivor of suicide with advice on how to talk to children about death and how to support them as they grow up. Author Sue Henderson draws on her experience as a social worker to discusses theories of grief and men’s mental health. Here are her ‘top tips for keeping it together’, taken from chapter 2, ‘A Crash Course in Widowed Single Parenting’:  Continue reading

Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings

Help children to stay on top of “big” feelings like anger, sadness and anxiety with this ingeniously easy-to-use therapy toolkit, Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings. Focusing on making therapy for children both purposeful and playful, the book provides 47 activities to transform your sessions using everyday materials and a variety of tried-and-tested therapy models. We have provided four downloadable examples of these activities below for you to try.

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Download example activities for psychotherapeutic work

psychotherapeutic

Suitable for adults and young people, The Art Activity Book for Psychotherapeutic Work will help clients to raise self-esteem, cope with change and adversity, and manage complex emotions with 100 ready-to-use illustrated worksheets and activities. Here we share 7 example worksheets.

Drawing on psychotherapeutic approaches including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), these worksheets are ideal for use in therapeutic work, for starting conversations and addressing problems that clients face. Each worksheet is designed to encourage clients to express their thoughts and emotions creatively in a relaxed way. The book also includes activities that centre on visual diary keeping, to help clients gain perspective on their unique issues and learn to solve their problems in a positive, healthy way.

Jennifer Guest is a clinical supervisor and counsellor for Relate, a charity that provides counselling services, and has her own private practice in Yorkshire.

Click here to download some examples 

The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

health

Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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