I Swear I Will Turn This Car Around

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Undoubtedly if you are reading this, you are currently or once were a child; and possibly one of the lucky ones to have siblings. Now, while having siblings can be great in many aspects, it also has its downsides. You have to share with them, they have seen you at your worst, they usually know how to push your buttons and you have to share. All joking aside, those very same aspects of having siblings contribute to a very common and much more arduous aspect, fighting. There is not a parent in the world who hasn’t wished their children would stop fighting with each other. Fighting children is the quickest way to grate on parent’s nerves. It can be “he took that from me” or the ageless “she’s looking at me weird”, either way, Dad is screaming at the end. So what can a parent do to keep these arguments to a minimum? How can your children be more like “The Cleavers” and less like “The Simpsons?” Below are five tips to help limit the fighting and increase the sanity.

1) Penalty Box

I’m actually stealing this from a former client as it was very effective and ties in sports. When arguments broke out in the house, Dad, and hockey fan, would simply take the two offenders and place them in opposite corners. This eliminated the “he started it” argument and also provided a set in stone result: If you got into the fight, whether you started it or not, you were going to the box. Obviously this can be tweaked in many different ways, but the only alteration I would think to make would be an instigator penalty. If there is a definite instigator, or someone who went out of their way to start the fight, then add on an extra two minutes. This is an effective technique because it takes two to fight and this deals with both of them.

2) Daily affirmations


This is an effective technique that helps change the thinking. Daily Affirmations are written letters or verbal expressions to show an individual their value. When children fight, they get wrapped up in the moment and react, most of the time in a hurtful manner. By using daily affirmations, they have to think differently about that sibling and write or tell the sibling something they cherish about him or her. The key is parent proofreading. I worked with a family that tried daily affirmations, but Mom was not checking what was being written. After two weeks of the fighting only escalating, I asked to see the daily affirmations and found they were veiled insults such as “I guess you’re not that ugly” or “you smell slightly better than raw sewage.” Obviously, we tweaked the system and had Mom check the messages before they exchanged hands. After a week things started to improve.

3) Team Building


What better way to stop an argument between two kids than to put them on a task that requires teamwork? Chances are they will fight more at the start, but eventually they will figure out that they need to work together and the fighting becomes secondary…if they don’t kill each other first. The key is to make sure that the task is at least a two person job and it has to be carried out. If one is left doing all the work, then it will just make the fighting worse in the long run.

4) School is in session


This idea is rooted in a threat my father made to me and my siblings years ago. He never actually carried out with the punishment, but I have always been intrigued by its potential. When me and my siblings were fighting, my father told us we were each going to write him a 600 word paper entitled “How not to be an ass.” We never actually had to write the paper, but at the very least, it was an intriguing idea to me. Most children don’t like writing or anything that resembles school work, so it would act as a deterrent for future fights and it would also provide practice for children to help them become more proficient in writing. One of the necessities for this is a proactive parent that would read and possibly correct the papers. Parents will also have to be creative with new topics to write about, but that could put a funny spin on the punishment.

5) United Against a Common Enemy


If all else fails, you can always use the Herb Brooks approach. In 1980, Brooks was the coach of the US Men’s Olympic hockey team. The team was made up of college players who just months earlier were on opposite sides of storied rivalries. The team was in disarray and players were constantly fighting with each other as they were taught to do for their college. Brooks was struggling to find a way to unite his team. How could he get Boston College players to play effectively alongside Boston University players, or Minnesota players to play alongside North Dakota players? Brooks decided that the best way to unite his team is to unite them against a common enemy, himself. Brooks began to work his team to the bone. Frequent, hard hitting practices that would go on for hours. He would never compliment his players and would often criticize them. They eventually bonded together over his tyrannical reign and eventually won the gold medal, as portrayed by the movie “Miracle.”
This is an extreme measure for a parent to take, but it can be effective. If your children are fighting with each other, it is sometimes effective to take on the bad guy/girl role and exert your will. It ties into number three on the list nicely. If your children are fighting and the bad, evil parent makes them take on a large project, they can bond over how bad or evil the parent is. If it’s not done effectively, it could lead to more arguments than before, but at least your attic will be clean!
Christopher Curran M. A.

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The Art of Fighting: 7 Ways to Resolve Conflict

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

As a family therapist, one of the major concerns families have is the amount of arguing that occurs in the home. Sessions tend to focus on how family members get into disagreements which then rapidly escalate into verbal fighting. Mainly, families report that a simple disagreement over either an idea or action tends to follow a particular path: disagreement à anger à shouting à complete disregard for finishing the conversation. I argue that this path leads to neither cooperation nor resolution. How then, do we express our difference of opinion without getting into shouting matches while at the same time getting our point across? Below is a list, with explanations, of how to handle the art of fighting.

1.)    Stay in control.

No matter how hot the issue gets, stay calm. Mindfulness, your ability to focus on the present and be in control of your actions, plays a key role here. You have very little, if any, control over other peoples actions, but you have complete control over your own. Understanding that concept will enable you to remain cool, calm, and collected. Do not allow emotions to take control of your actions, no matter how upset you become.

2.)    Be Respectful.

Whether or not you like, or even respect, the person you are in conflict with, be respectful. This is not only a good practice to maintain a level of civility and organization within the moment, but will also make you feel better about how you handled the situation later on. It is easy to say, “I said what I said because that person pushed me to it,” or, “I said it because I don’t respect the person, so why should I care.” This may make sense to you in the moment, but what about after? Telling someone off or degrading them simply because you are in conflict may appease the instinctive Id inside us all, but does little for our sense of morals and sense of self. If you treat the other person with respect, you will respect yourself later on for taking the high road.

3.)    Don’t Yell!!!

Easy to say, but difficult to accomplish. I begin this section by asking a question (a question I pose to all families I work with when discussing argument behaviors); why yell? Why is it that when we get into conflict we feel we need to yell at the other person? From a biological standpoint, yelling can release tension and excess energy. Yelling can also be a good stress reliever. When angry, sometimes we just want to scream. I’m not arguing against yelling, in fact, I believe it to be a good coping skill when used appropriately (maybe the topic of another article). However, when fighting with another person, yelling at that person has the adverse effect. If yelling to release stress, do it in an environment that is safe and give others fair warning (so as not to panic them). If yelling at someone, only one thing can happen, that person’s defenses go up. With defenses comes the opposition both intentional and unintentional and reciprocal yelling ensues. However, yelling from a behavioral standpoint suggests that the person is simply trying to be heard. We yell because we feel the other person is not listening to us. Therefore, subconsciously we feel that the louder we yell the more likely the person will be forced to listen to what we have to say; also a misconception.

Understanding why we yell is only a piece to the puzzle, however. Next is taking that knowledge and applying it to the art of fighting to understand why we SHOULD NOT yell. If we do not yell, we force ourselves to remain in control and mindful rather than be ruled by emotions. Second, if there is no yelling there is no reason for a person’s guards to go up, which then translates into more openness for discussion. Thirdly, if there is no yelling it forces you to listen to one another and be heard. If you feel your side is being listened to then you don’t have to get loud to make others hear you.

4.)    Listen to what the other person is saying.

If you are in conflict with someone, it’s probably because you disagree, at least somewhat, with what that other person is saying or doing. However, there is a reason behind why the other person feels or acts in a particular way. Listen to that “why.” Validate the person and where they are coming from, which may be difficult depending on the subject matter of the conflict. Staying strength based and looking for meaning within the language of their behavior is a healthier perspective to take. Perhaps there is an angle that you have overlooked that may put some sense to their thoughts or actions. Just because they think or act differently than you doesn’t mean they’re inherently wrong.

5.)    Keep the argument in the present

What you are arguing about is reflective of the current issue in the current moment. There is nothing worse than arguing about an issue just to have past conflicts thrown in your face, so why do it to the person you are fighting with? Making a reference to past issues is used as a means of one-upping a person to prove how right you are and how wrong the other person is, collectively. By using historical ammunition against the person you are fighting with you are simply trying to prove that you are overall “more right” than that person. This distracts from the current argument and blurs the conflict. Keep the argument focused on the current issue. If you find that you are using past arguments and conflicts as a means of proving your righteousness in the current conflict, maybe it’s because you have unresolved issues that need to be handled at a later time.

 

6.)    Do not use “YOU Statements”

“You Statements” are another way of throwing blame at another person and cause the person you are having conflict with to raise their defenses. “You Statements” equal blaming and make the person feel in the wrong. They are a way for the individual to not take any ownership of their part in the argument. As stated in a previous article, “5 Ways to Get Your Ideal Family,” every person in every argument has to take some type of responsibility for the argument. As a means of doing this drop the “You Statements” and replace them with “I Statements.” Instead of telling the person what they have done wrong, discuss how the incident or conflict makes YOU feel. Take out anything from the argument that even uses the word “You.” In doing so, the person you are in conflict with does not have their defenses raised because they are not feeling entirely blamed for the conflict.

 

7.)    Commit to resolve the issue

This final piece can be the hardest to commit to because sometimes it is harder to resolve a conflict when people feel strongly about their position. However, make a personal commitment to resolve the issue, and let the other person know this, both verbally and through your behaviors. This may mean that you win the debate, but it also may mean that you both agree to disagree. The key, however, is to not let the issue linger by not finishing and defining the end of the discussion or walking away. Walking away is easy because it provides a behavioral statement that says, “I’m done with this conversation,” but it also communicates that the other person is no longer worthy of your time. Also, by not finishing the conversation it adds to the historical ammunition for later arguments. Commit to resolve the conflict so both parties know where they stand and can move forward in a healthy manner.

In conclusion, fighting is something we all do. Fighting is inherent in relationships and at some point you will find yourself in a heated argument. If used properly, the points above can help you remain in control and ensure that a healthy relationship remains intact when all the smoke clears.

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Strength Based Believer

January 31, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the first things I learned at my current workplace is to be “strength based.” Strength based is the idea of focusing on the positives to empower the clients rather than the negatives which can tear them down. It may seem simplistic or even idiotic, but it does have some merit. When I first heard of strength based, I used to think it was ludicrous. I understood that staying positive would empower clients, but what if their actions did not warrant empowerment? How can you empower a child who just drew a picture of a classmate dying a horrible and graphic death? The answer comes from a twist in thinking. Instead of looking to punish negative behaviors, you must reward positives. In theory, rewarding positives encourages those behaviors while negative behaviors fade away. So when Tommy draws a horrible picture, use it as an opportunity to talk about his thoughts, compliment his drawing style and his use of drawing as a coping skill.
It is hard to be strength based because it is often the theme within our culture to just fix things or people. When I first started in the field, my main focus was to fix the problem, but often the problem I was trying to fix was a perceived problem by the social worker and a non issue for the family. When I get a referral for services, I get contact info, providers involved and a few little blurbs on the presenting issues. The presenting issues are the referral writer’s interpretation of the problems. When I first started, I would develop a game plan for myself. Sometimes I did so consciously, sometimes subconsciously, but I was not taking into account the families view. One example was a case I had involving a family of five, the two parents and their two younger biological children as well as an older child from father’s first marriage. The older child was the identified client and my referral sheet stated that I was to do psychoeducation around Aspergers because that was his diagnosis. I went into my first meeting with a large stack of papers and articles dealing with Aspergers, but realized I had jumped the gun. Upon entering the home, the mother was in nurse’s scrubs and explained that she was a nurse on the adolescent floor at Mass General and was well educated about Aspergers through work and her own research upon learning about the oldest son’s diagnosis. For a while I tried to stick with the psychoeducation piece as it was the presenting issue on the referral, but with time I learned it was fruitless. After multiple sessions that lead nowhere, I finally asked the family what they felt they needed to work on. From there on out I was able to help the family address the issues they wanted to work on. There was finally some improvement within the family after working on the issues they felt were pressing. By acknowledging the family as having strengths and not focusing on the problem, I was able to be much more effective.
From my personal experience and in my professional opinion, being strength based is a very effective method in helping others. It shows clients a side of themselves they can take pride in. It also limits the emphasis on the negatives within the family. By focusing on the positives, clients can build self esteem, learn positive behaviors and address problems without putting an emphasis on the negatives. It can be hard to see a silver lining, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Sometimes the positives can be absurd on the surface, but it is important to find the light in the darkest times. Think about it, if you had someone telling you how great you are as opposed to pointing out your mistakes, you might have a better outlook on life yourself.

Christopher Curran, MA

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How parents and counselors can communicate effectively with young children: Developmental theory as a guide

January 30, 2012 3 comments

First Psych Nerds Post by Dr. John Calicchia.

As a counselor of young children many parents frequently ask me how to communicate effectively with their children.  Similarly, as a counselor educator students often ask me how does developmental theory inform and guide counseling practice?  These seemingly disparate questions essentially have the same answer: developmental theory is necessary to understand critical stages but, more importantly, what modalities of expression and communication the child is able to use.  In order to effectively communicate with children and to permit developmental theory to guide our practice we must understand the “languages” children speak as they mature. The purpose of this article is to share with the reader a framework for understanding and using developmental theory to speak to children in the nonverbal language they know best: action based play and fantasy.

In order to simplify the multidimensional complexity of human psychological and physical development, theorists have attempted to describe maturational processes in one domain at a time. Students routinely study developmental theorists that have examined cognitive, psychosocial, moral, psychosexual, and interpersonal development to name but a few.  The problem students have with developmental theory is they tend to view only a single domain of the child’s development at a time. As good counselors we seek to view a child from a holistic lens and understand a child’s thoughts, emotions, personality, and worldview concurrently.  If we ask ourselves what commonalities do most or all of the developmental theorists share in their view of children we begin to understand and conceptualize a mega-developmental model to guide our work with children as parents and therapists (for further information on this perspective please read Santostefano & Werner).

If we look at the world of the very young child between birth and two years of age we see a variety of maturational progressions that theorists have described using stages and issues. Where theorists share common ground is that the child experiences all of these developmental issues in the same modality of body based action.  During this early developmental level a child does not have access to language or to play, therefore, they experience and construct meaning of the world through rituals of physical action.  Regardless of the developmental issue being negotiated the child of this age has only one venue from which to engage the world.  In order to effectively communicate with a child of this age we don’t need language or even pretend play. We need to physically interact in a nonverbal manner to communicate with the child.  We tend to forget that we experienced the world from our caregivers for two years without using language or play. This nonverbal action-oriented mode of expression in understanding is available throughout one’s lifetime but is dominant during this phase of development.

Around the age of two children are beginning to understand and use language, however, the preferred mode for engaging the world is based in fantasy and pretend play. During this period children are compelled to symbolize and animate as they construct meanings of the world around them. Eventually, children of this age began to use the rich environment of pretend play and fantasy to learn and negotiate developmental challenges. During this phase children still actively make use of the action based mode previously discussed and they also have access to some use of language although this mode does not become fully dominant till the teen years. If you observe children in the two through six age range it is obvious that action and imaginary play are the preferred languages that they “speak”.  In order to effectively communicate with a child of this age we don’t need much language. We do however need to recall and use our earliest forms of communication: action and imaginary play.  As with the nonverbal action-oriented mode this “imaginary play” form of expression is available throughout one’s lifetime but is dominant during this phase of development.

Around the age of six, when children are entering first grade, they become more focused on the outer world and are dominated less by play and fantasy themes. At this age children have developed solid language skills and become enamored with industry and production as they advance in school. However, the modes of action and imaginary play are still very active.  Children of this age will rarely sit idly and talk, they still prefer to speak and to communicate while in action and play. In order to effectively communicate with a child of this age we need to be able to integrate action, play, and language.

As a parent or counselor we now see the world of the preadolescent child filled with developmental stages that all need to be negotiated through action, imaginary play, and language.  Children have little difficulty speaking these three languages because they are developmentally pre-wired to do so.  In my experience it is often adults that have been so long dominated by the language mode they forget their abilities to communicate in other ways.  Parents and novice counselors of young children often don’t realize that their dominant use of language is not effective in communicating with young children.  Children I have worked with often express their understanding of the adult world as being filled with language they do not understand.  Often children will draw pictures or play to show that adults are speaking to them in a language they do not understand.  Do you remember the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoon? Do you remember the voice with unintelligible fast-paced droning language? Children I have worked with have drawn pictures of adults with “big mouths” that are perceived in the same way.  Is it any wonder that I frequently hear from parents “I don’t understand… it seems as if they’re not listening to me or don’t understand what I am saying”. Could it be that we are not speaking to children in a language they can understand.  I frequently tell my students that using only language, without action/play, to speak to a child would be akin to counseling an adult using a foreign language they did not understand.  Let us turn to a brief commonsense strategy that counselors and parents can use to effectively communicate with young children.

First, when you’re attempting to communicate with a child don’t focus on language, in fact, don’t say anything. Observe what the child is doing by attending to their actions and imaginary play without speaking. (As a guideline I often tell beginning counselors to observe themselves on tape and limit themselves to the same number and type of words the child is using.  The tapes usually reveal the adult counselor using far too much language and not enough action and play.) As you observe the child you should easily be able to determine what developmental modes of expression and themes a child prefers using.  Second, using body based actions and imaginary play, naturally integrate the issues you wish to convey to the child without resorting to language or rupturing the child’s interactive play.  Let me share with you an example from a personal rather than clinical perspective that illustrates these two points.

I recall when my firstborn daughter was two and 1/2 years old and, as parents, my wife and I were attempting to persuade her to relinquish her pacifier. We tried “speaking” to our daughter about the various reasons why a big girl should not use a pacifier.  Despite our well-intentioned and creative verbal attempts we were unsuccessful and became frustrated.  As I thought of the situation from the perspective of a professional counselor I felt foolish.  I also felt that my daughter was ”tuning me out” since I had not the courtesy to speak to her in a language she understood. The next day I sat down for five minutes and just watched my daughter play with her animal farm. She was taking the farm animals and other assorted toys, showing them the way home, and making them a proper bed on the farm.  After my daughter understood that I was not going to say anything (much to her relief I might add) she invited me to play with one of the farm animals. We had fun and I also felt connected with my daughter. However, I still needed to promote my agenda for discontinuing with the pacifier but now I had a new modality to communicate my concerns.  Rather than saying a word, I looked for a way to use the play farm characters and the theme of taking them to bed.  A small brown Beaver with large front teeth grabbed my attention.  I aptly named him “Bucktooth Beaver” and grabbed a play pacifier from a doll’s crib.  We made a bed for him on the farm and I put him to bed while imploring “Bucktooth” to give up his binki (pacifier) like a big Beaver should.  Soon Bucktooth began spitting out his binki before he went to bed since it was bad for such beautiful teeth.  Needless to say, my daughter thought this was hilarious and entertaining.  She recruited me daily up to her farm to play “Bucktoothed Beaver”.  Not surprisingly, after a week my daughter relinquished her pacifier noting that it was bad for her teeth.  In retrospect, had I noted her developmental need for play early on I would have had much better success and less stress trying to rid her of the pacifier habit.

In summary, developmental theory not only informs us of stages, issues, and needs, but of the child’s ability and preference to communicate in a modality other than language.  Children negotiate developmental issues through action, imaginary play, and language.  Each child’s unique makeup determines the balance and preference for these modalities since development is inescapable and all children will need to act, play, and speak as they construct meaning of their world.

 

Dr. John A. Calicchia began at Bridgewater in 1993 in the Department of Counselor Education where he served as a faculty member, Graduate Program Coordinator and Department Chair before joining the Psychology Department in the Fall of 2007. He has taught a variety of courses including applied pre-adolescent counseling, research methods, and legal and ethical issues. Over the past 20 years, his research and clinical practice have focused mainly on children and adolescence and Dr. Calicchia has an eclectic array of peer-reviewed articles, presentations, and a co-authored book. Dr. Calicchia is a Licensed Psychologist/Health Service Provider in the state of Massachusetts and has special training in child and adolescent psychology. He completed his pre-doctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship in clinical child psychology at McLean Hospital and served as a Child & Adolescent Psychologist at McLean Hospital & Harvard Medical School.

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5 Steps to Get Your Ideal Family

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

We all want the perfect family. We all want to be able to come home to a relaxing environment and be able to expect to have some predictability as to the behaviors and structures of the homestead. We wish to have our spouse available and ready for insightful and engaging conversation (and the occasional empty sink without asking). We wish for our children to have their homework done, teeth brushed, and in relatively good mood. When we break from these ideals, and when our expectations when entering the home are of isolation, distant communication from our spouse, opposition and arguments from the children, and rather than teeth brushed and relative cleanliness, we are amazed that the children survived the physical onslaught brought on by older or younger siblings, it may become a possibility that things may need to change. Being overwhelmed is a realistic feeling and not knowing where to even begin is also a key issue for families.

Here are some steps to take to help get you to where you want to be:

1.)    Identify what a family means to you. Whether you write it down on paper or begin the internal monologue, you need to organize and identify some of the weaker areas of the family dynamic. This involves slowing down and taking a step back from the chaos. You must be able to step back for a moment and not become enmeshed in the current issues. It’s hard to gain perspective when your head is spinning in every direction. There’s more information on this if you  Click Here – A Family is What YOU Make it

2.)    Identify what your family strengths are and what are the weaknesses.

Although your family might have some trouble communicating, is there respect between family members? Is there love? Is the family motivated? Although communication may be an issue, is there communication at all? Maybe it’s the delivery of the communication style that needs work, not the respect between family members.

3.)    Make a choice to alter the behavior.

This piece becomes complicated because it involves a lot of “stuff.” From here, the individual making the commitment to progress the family towards a healthier dynamic must make the decision and commitment to first alter their behavior and admit that, to some degree, part of how they interacted with the family contributed to the ongoing issues in the home. From the individual’s perspective, you may feel that you have done everything right, but in every conflict all engaging members share some of the blame-so start there. Second, begin to model the behaviors in the home and in the community. Don’t be quick to yell or blame others. Use coping skills when in a bad mood. Involve others in your struggles and allow others to help. It may not seem like a lot, but when people feel involved and irreplaceable, they tend to be more attentive and appreciative. Side note: For some families, contracting as a starting point for growth works. Some families simply do not know where or how to begin the process so developing a definitive starting point can sometimes help. Write up a contract stating that we are going to work towards a goal and have all the family members sign it. Sounds silly, but you can keep it as a reference and reminder of the commitment.

4.)    Map out what progress looks like.

How will the family know they are making progress? Write down the ideal family as the end goal and make subgoals that are achievable in the short run as well.  People like to make achievements. They want to know they are accomplishing something and the positive reinforcement gained from these accomplishments both motivates and encourages further achievement.

5.)    Maintain the progress.

Just because you’ve made your goals and achieved the milestones does not mean you’re in the clear. Continue with the maintenance portion. Families can easily slip back into maladaptive patterns because it is sometimes the path of least resistance. This piece requires that all family members be mindful of their thoughts and actions. Behavior is difficult to change because it can become engrained in our personalities. Therefore, if there is a pattern that you wish to see altered, you must make the commitment to be mindful when the behaviors begin to revert back.

If moving the family towards a specific goal is what a family is looking for these steps can help. However, the entire family must be onboard. The idea is not to make a family EXACTLY how you want it, but rather move the family towards a state of contentment that all family members can enjoy. The point is not to change anyone or fix the family. That is neither fair nor a realistic expectation. Rather, we want to work on behaviors and thought processes that the individual and family feel are maladaptive. Work together and listen to one another, you might be surprised with what you hear.

I’d like to hear some of the tips and tricks you use to motivate and maintain your family. Leave some suggestions in the comments box!

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The Helper and the Help-ee?

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the biggest issues people have with psychotherapy is that it’s an inexact science. A lot of people question the motives, expertise and compassion of therapists due to the media portraying them as being insensitive and distracted. An even bigger aspect is the amount of work clients have to do for therapy to be effective. Although therapists can be very helpful, their role is contingent upon the clients they see. If a client is open with the therapist, and is able to look at themselves with a critical eye, therapy can be very effective. If a client holds back from the therapist, or even sabotages their sessions, then a therapist is essentially useless. A therapist is a vehicle for the client to use, and its success is dependent on the honesty and openness of the client. For example, you don’t go to a mechanic and complain about the odd noise you have been hearing without mentioning your wrong turn into that swamp last week; that doesn’t give the mechanic the tools they need to fix your car. Similarly, if you go and see a therapist and neglect to bring up a traumatic event in the past, or a current stressor, then you are not allowing them the tools they need to be effective. Now I don’t want to give off the impression that nobody out there tells their therapist crucial information simply because a lack of trust, there are other factors which lead to the breakdown. Some people struggle with the intimacy of therapy. It can be very hard to walk in and talk to a complete stranger about the biggest issues in your life without knowing anything about them. Most therapists prefer relative anonymity in the therapeutic relationship as it keeps things professional and preserves the helper – helpee relationship. For example, it would be incredibly hard, if not completely impossible, to talk about your own problems when you know your therapist is going through a divorce, a death in the family, or another crisis in their life. It is hard to see a person in need in their own life as an effective helper in yours.

So there is a definite need to have a break between therapist and friend, but what happens when that break creates a seemingly unbridgeable gap between therapist and client? How can you connect with your therapist without violating the therapist’s privacy and preserving the professional relationship? I have often had this conversation with teenage clients who struggle to make connections with their individual therapists. The best way to combat this is to take control of the situation and ask your own questions. Ask questions that will let you know more about the therapist without compromising the professional relationship. Below is a list of questions former clients have used on me and other therapists, to build rapport:
1) What type of music do you listen to?
2) Favorite sport?
3) Favorite book?
4) Favorite Movie(s)?
5) Who would you pick to save the world, Batman, Harry Potter or Jack Bauer?
6) What would be your weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse?
As you can see, I mostly work with kids and teens, but it doesn’t mean the questions are invalid for adults. Simple alterations can make these questions viable for adults, it just takes creativity. It is important to remember that personal, identifying questions will compromise the professional relationship, so be aware of boundaries. At the end of the day these questions can be more useful than a biopsychosocial assessment, because who wouldn’t want to talk about the effectiveness of Harry Potter’s wand in a Zombie apocalypse?

Christopher Curran MA

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Take a Deep Breath and Count to Ten

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

As any person in the field of therapy can attest to, coping skills are a fundamental tool in reaching goals. Coping skills are essentially tricks and techniques to help a person deal with emotional and behavioral issues in the moment. In simpler terms, a coping skill is something to soothe, distract or reset a person in a time of need. For example, everybody has heard that when you are angry, take a deep breath and count to ten. Although most out there will refute its effectiveness, the fundamental idea behind it is simple and useful. Counting to ten takes the person out of the situation, allows the mind to properly assess the situation and then properly plan how to deal with the situation. The issue with counting to ten comes in its follow through. A prime candidate for this lapse is my younger brother. My younger brother had a little bit of a temper growing up so of course he was instructed to use the counting method. My brother simply saw it as a preliminary step before he would wildly throw haymakers. To this day, I have never heard anyone count to ten as fast or with such focused rage as my 8yr old brother. Obviously, everyone knows a person like this; a person who gets wrapped up in the moment and has a hard time staying within themselves. With the commonality of this raging person comes an understanding of what will calm them down. “Joey is mad he didn’t get a second slice of pizza” “oh just throw him a bread stick, he’ll be fine.”  “Laurie is upset her favorite contestant on American idol got voted off.” “Just put on her soaps she will be fine.” “Tony is pissed the Patriots took 6 offensive lineman in the draft and no linebackers.” “Oh just rub his tummy, he’ll be fine.” People have certain things that will make them feel better, and it simply takes the manipulation of these things to develop coping skills.

When I begin discussing coping skills with children, there are a couple questions I make sure I ask. The first is always if they have coping skills already. If they do, I assess the effectiveness of the coping skill. Coping skills can be ineffective because they are not suited to the child or they simply are overused and thus become “old” or “boring.” After talking about current coping skills, or lack thereof, I move into new coping skills and avenues where skills can come from. I put an emphasis on having the child direct the conversation because it is their skill and they should feel ownership of it. Music, sports and art are the three main avenues where coping skills are generated from. Listening to a favorite CD or writing a song is a great way of dealing with emotions for kids who love music. Anything from playing pick up basketball to simply throwing a tennis ball is effective for kids who enjoy sports.  Simple drawing or photography could be the secret to an artistic child dealing with a tough situation. When trying to develop new coping skills there are two main rules to follow: will it help and is it interesting or fun? A lot of things are one or the other, but the best coping skills are both. It must be effective enough to keep someone from escalating and also interesting enough to be utilized when things are not going well. The point is that although coping skills sound clinical and regimented, they are meant to be soothing and supportive. Anyone can come up with coping skills, it’s just a matter of being honest with yourself and having some creativity. If you have a hard time being honest with yourself and are not creative, you could always just count to ten.

Christopher Curran, MA

Categories: Uncategorized
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