Walk and Talk or… Walk or Talk?

I recently read an article about a psychologist who walks with her clients. A kind of walk and talk therapy. I was drawn to it for a number of reasons, not least because I love to walk myself. My own experience of regular walking has a number of facets. Perhaps you can relate to some of these benefits:

  1. It’s a quiet time to think. Blissful uninterrupted thought! No electronic devices alerting me to messages I’m expected to respond to, no children needing assistance and no knocks on the door or phone calls.
  2. It’s outdoors, in fresh air and natural light. A chance to get in touch with the weather, the seasons, and the changes in our local landscape.
  3. It energizes. Many a morning I’ve felt sluggish to start with, only to find after 20mins that I’m somehow walking faster or with more of a rhythm. By the time I get home, I’m significantly more motivated than if I hadn’t walked at all.
  4. Sometimes it’s social. A walk together provides a way of seeing a friend and exercizing at the same time. A win-win all round, which also provides a bit of accountability to either exercize or simply connect. A chance to ask that wonderful Mental Health promoting question “Are you OK?” [1]
  5. Sometimes it’s therapeutic. Whether I’m talking or thinking to myself on a solo walk or I’m with a friend and we’re talking and listening to each other; both have benefits. If I’m alone, I sense that I’m being heard in a spiritual sense and in the second case there is much value in simply being listened to in an accepting and non-judgemental manner (and doing the same for my friend).

A number of these listed benefits are also grounded in research. Thirty minutes of moderate exercize (ie: brisk walking or other) on most days of the week can be an adequate treatment alone for non-melancholic depression[2]. I even read somewhere that just 15mins of exercize per day can increase your life expectancy by 3yrs! Interesting also that the environment in which we walk can have an impact. For example, a recent study comparing walks in nature and walks in urban settings found that the brain was affected differently. Nature walks, by comparison, significantly decreased ruination, anxiety and negative affect and increased working memory’s performance[3]. This would explain the growing number of walk-talk therapists in New York’s Central Park!

It has got me thinking about different scenarios, and what might warrant a ‘walk and talk’ therapy session with a psychologist, versus a situation where a walk on one’s own or with a friend might simply be enough to lift our mood and help us to feel more OK. There’s no particular right or wrong answer here although there are some points I’d like to raise:

  1. Walking has a number of physical and psychological benefits all on it’s own. Taking the initiative yourself is not only going to make you feel more energised, it’s more likely to enhance your sense of control over your own well-being thereby raising one’s self-esteem with the feeling “I can do it”.
  2. Sitting with a psychologist also brings opportunities for the change we want to see in our lives. It’s fairly normal to get a bit stuck sometimes and this can also be a way of taking initiative.
  3. The two can work together well if a person is also struggling to get moving, reluctant to get out of the house or lacking in opportunities for fresh air and sunlight.

Other ways in which walking with a psychologist might be more beneficial than walking on one’s own or with a friend might be:

  1. If you’d prefer not to be alone or you find it difficult to find someone to walk with;
  2. If you find it difficult to talk very deeply about yourself with people you know. Confidentiality is a very important factor in these delicate moments of revealing one’s inner self;
  3. If you find that a session in an office is a little too formal or confronting and perhaps the relaxed ‘side by side’ approach is more appealing;
  4. Sometimes walking gets you talking and hopefully thinking out loud. In this case, a psychologist might be able to pick up some repetitive or unhelpful thoughts and challenge them, or guide you into more helpful ways of thinking;
  5. If you find it hard to stop and be still, take in your surroundings, and simply breathe in the fresh air then a psychologist can guide you in some simple mindfulness practices – giving your brain a lot more oxygen and a little mini-holiday – thereby showing you some techniques to practice that might enhance your own well-being.
  6. If you feel that you just need be heard. The non-judgemental and empathetic ear of somebody trained to listen can have more value than you might think.

Walking, as you know, is all about movement. The very act of putting one foot in front of the other symbolises a desire for movement or change; a hope that things won’t stay the same. The feeling of being stagnant or standing in the one place can make us feel like we’re going nowhere and this may frustrate us. Perhaps we don’t even realise that we are being stationary. Sometimes, there is so much going on in our head or our heart that it feels very busy or heavy and we just feel tired all the time.   At first it will be hard to get going but, usually, when we physically start to move then we create hope for movement elsewhere in ourselves.

So if that’s the physical movement, what other kinds of movement might we be looking for that a psychologist could help us with? Metaphorically speaking:

Cognitive: Perhaps our worries or thoughts are all consuming and we need to get unstuck.

Behavioural: Often we imagine that doing something different or changing our environment or routine might be good for us. We’re probably right!

Emotional: The Latin derivative of the word emotion is ‘out’ + ‘move’. So…idealistically speaking…if we’re out moving about then we’re creating space for emotional change. Seeing a psychologist could get both your body and your emotions out and moving.

Directional: In some stages of life, it’s normal to be unsure about what to do or where to go in life. Sometimes just getting going ‘somewhere’ can kick off the process of movement and get us thinking about the bigger picture of our own lives.

Walking as a form of exercize is one way to create movement in our lives but there are also others. One very specific way of walking which has been described as having therapeutic or stress relieving benefits is to walk a Labyrinth. This is an ancient construct and pattern used for meditative walking. It is also used in the modern day and in recent years is gaining renewed interest and momentum[4]. The contemplative journey of the labyrinth calls people to let go of their worries as they enter in, to receive a peace and calm as they pause at the centre, and to resolve to engage with the world in a new way as they walk out. Considering that the labyrinth is generally walked without talking, I’ll have to write a separate blog on that subject.

In the meantime, enjoy your walking OR your talking and if you decide you’d like to do both then suggest it to your therapist.

 

[1] https://www.sane.org/releases-2011/1026-are-you-okay

[2] http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/Exerciseanddepression.pdf

[3] http://walking.about.com/od/mindandspirit/ss/A-Nature-Walk-is-a-Great-Prescription-for-Your-Brain.htm

[4] for more information see http://www.sydneylabyrinth.org/faq/

 

Hope: The light in times of uncertainty

By: John Shin
Psychologist

On August 16th 2015, the world witnessed one of the most emotional and moving moments in sporting history. Australian golfer, Jason Day, was at the final hole at the PGA Championships and he broke down into tears, no doubt filled with a myriad of emotions. He had just won one of the world’s most prestigious golfing tournaments.

2015 Champion Jason Day

Photo: Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America

Jason Day was born to an Irish-Australian father and a Filipino mother. His family did not have a lot of money and Jason’s first golf club would be a cut down three-wood his father had found at a rubbish tip. Jason recalls seeing his mother cutting the lawn with a knife because his family could not afford to fix the lawn mower. He also remembers using the kitchen kettle to have hot showers as his family did not have a hot water tank.

At the tender age of 12, Jason would see his father pass away from stomach cancer and began drinking. In his own words, Jason became an alcoholic and would frequently get into fights. These events make Jason’s heroics a great story of hope, not only for Jason himself, but also for his family.

Hope researcher, Charles Richard Snyder, outlined that hopeful thinkers tend to be higher achievers and are more likely to be physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful thinkers. Hopeful thinkers are also more inclined to respond proactively to uncertainty and usually persist and seek different avenues to accomplish their goals when faced with obstacles.

In his extensive research on hope, Snyder proposed three key components of hopeful thinking (Hope Theory):

Goal directedness – Goals are based on one’s purpose and values in life and hold importance to take action. This direction provides clarity on the goals but generates uncertainty in how to achieve these goals.

Pathways – Pathway thinking refers to one’s ability to think of and generate different routes and strategies to achieve their desired goals.

Agency – Agency thinking refers to the belief one has that they can undertake the routes towards their goals, and the belief that they are able instigate change and achieve their desired goals.

The Day family’s actions exemplify hopeful thinking. Despite not having the finances to fix their lawn mower, Jason’s parents used other methods to maintain their lawn. And despite not having access to a hot water tank, they utilised unorthodox approaches to effectively access hot water for washing.

But the ultimate hope was perhaps displayed by Jason’s mother. Dening Day. In an interview following her son’s win in the prestigious PGA Championships, Dening stated that she felt “golf” was the only thing that would keep her son alive when Jason became a troubled alcoholic at the age of 12. Her goal was clear, and it was for her son to continue playing golf. And despite having recently lost her husband to cancer and needing to support her three young children as a single mother, Dening was thinking of different ways to financially support her son play golf. Soon after the passing of her husband to cancer, she sold the family home and worked long hours as a shipping clerk and sent her son to boarding school/golf academy.

Dening and Jason Day

Source: News Corp Australia

Being hopeful is not a form of wishful thinking. Hope is the psychological state that helps one proactively navigate through life’s difficulties by having clear goals (goal directedness), thinking of different pathways to achieve the goals (pathways), and believing that they are able to attain their goals (agency). Hope is about moving forward in spite of obstacles and times of difficulty. For Denning Day, the hope that she had when her son was a troubled 12 year old led to the unveiling of a new golfing champion.

 

John ShinJohn Shin is a psychologist at The Resilience Centre and is a researcher in the area of uncertainty, resilience and hope. John’s profile can be found here.

 

 

Do I Have an Addiction?

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Anyone can develop an addiction or exhibit addictive patterns of behavior. In our current society of instant gratification it is probably easier now more than ever to develop an addiction. There’s a lot of information and support available for more common addictions such as drug, alcohol and gambling however we can become addicted to many other things and that is what I’ll be focusing on.

Recent studies show that there is an increasing number of people who exhibit signs of internet addiction usually in the form of pornography and gaming. I’ve also noticed that even used as a social means of communication it can become addictive to the point where you feel that it is extremely difficult to disengage or set limits to the behavior. This of course affect us and our society in many ways. It changes the way we socialize, it affects our self -sesteem, sleep hygiene, eating habits, priorities, emotional responses and it even changes our brain chemistry.

Food and shopping can also become addictive. They are easily accessible in our culture and are basically a quick fix when you feel down or stressed. It is therefore important to deal with negative emotions appropriately, by doing this you learn to become more resilient and develop healthy habits that increase your ability to cope with life’s challenges.

You may engage in some of these activities and receive some degree of pleasure and enjoyment from them and it may not be a problem. However for others it is important to understand and recognize the signs that an addiction is on its way.

The following is a general list of some of the features of an addiction. It is however important to discuss it further with a professional if you feel that you have a problem.

  • Preoccupation and persistent desire/craving to engage in the activity.
  • A considerable amount of time is spent on the activity which may increase overtime to experience the initial thrill (i.e. tolerance).
  • You may feel that you are out of control. This means that initially you maintained control over the behavior with healthy limitations but overtime you have noticed an overriding need to engage in it often.
  • There is a decrease in the amount of time spent doing other enjoyable activities that you used to do.
  • There is an initial positive emotional response to the activity (e.g. excitement, relief) but it is usually followed by a negative emotional response (e.g. guilt, shame, anger, depression).
  • You experience repeatedly unsuccessful attempts at trying to create healthy limitations or stopping it all together.
  • There are withdrawal symptoms when trying to disengage from the activity.

 

What can I do about it?

  • The first step is to admit that there is a problem and that you may need some help.
  • Recognising the triggers. That is asking yourself- when and where am I doing it, who am I with, how am I feeling just before I engage in this addictive behavior.
  • Don’t keep it a secret. One of the reasons why an addiction becomes so entrenched in our behavior is because we try to handle it on our own without accountablility or help from a trusted other and so it continues for longer.
  • Set boundaries and limits. Recognize the pattern and avoid or restrict access to it.
  • Engage in health alternatives. Make a list of healthy ways you could be dealing with temptation or negative emotions and do this instead.
  • Get help sooner rather than later. If you leave it for too long your brain learns to engage in it automatically and it becomes harder to stop.

Remember these are just some tips to help you get started but you may need to get some help from a professional in order to change your addictive habits.

Arden, John. (2010). Rewire Your Brain.

Australian Psychological Society. (April 2015, Volumne 38). InPsych.

Being Positive and Resilient. What does it mean?

Positive Psychology and Resilience

Lyn Worsley

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Resilience Centre

Clinical Psychologist.

Over the past month I had the pleasure of attending two amazing conferences on the other side of the world. The first one was the Pathways to Resilience conference in Halifax, Canada, and the second one was the International Positive Psychology Association’s fourth World Congress in Orlando Florida, USA.

Both of these conferences focused on measuring what was working, and building on it. The Resilience Centre was well represented as presented the findings of our group programs, Connect-3 and Linked-up which are based on the Resilience Doughnut model. The findings were that clients attending the groups have positive changes in their self-esteem, social skills and personal competence. We were also able to show the positive changes in family functioning as a result of the group programs.

At each of the conferences it was great to be part of a growing movement of looking for strengths and measuring the positive changes. Speakers amplified the study of character strengths and pro social community engagement.

To kick off the congress in the USA, the prominent psychologist, Martin Seligman gave an opening plenary titled Unravelling Learned Helplessness: Fifty years later.” (Learned helplessness is the phenomena observed when someone is exposed to continual uncontrollable situations they become helpless and lose their ability to gain control even after the trauma is removed.)

Seligman discussed the findings from the lab rats data colleagues are currently collecting. He courageously announced new findings based on rat brain studies that suggest that his own theory of learned helplessness is NOT in fact correct.

So here goes ill try and explain it.

It has been found that in a section of the brain, (the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus, DRN) is linked to passivity. When the DRN circuit is inactivated experimentally, rats do not become helpless, even when shocked. When the DRN is activated even without shock the rats become passive. Thus the DRN appears to be both necessary and sufficient for producing the passive behaviours called learned helplessness.

 Now stay with me here, it actually does get interesting!

In the studies they also found there to be another area in the brain (the Ventro medial prefrontal cortex (VMPRC) that can inhibit the DRN in order to block the passive response. Seligman referred to the connection between the DRN and the VMPRC as the HOPE CIRCUIT. This circuit is now the interest and focus of much of the studies in positive psychology.

Basically, if the circuit is blocked, rats will be passive even if they are able to escape. If this circuit is active, the rats persevere even after being shocked. He also noted that the circuit can be strengthened.

Based on this work, Seligman concluded that alleviating catastrophe can’t fix people. Instead it is important to work on building expectations of control and mastery, that is, building the hope circuit. This relates to building prospection, where people are guided by their internal representations of possible future states and are thus drawn into the future, rather looking back at the past. These findings have implications for education and therapy.

So I became very interested at this points because…

 At the Resilience Centre we, as psychologists, practice therapy that builds hope, and focuses on the future possibilities rather than focusing on the problems. We have shown this to be helpful in achieving positive change for out clients, and our measures support this. Our groups are solution focused groups, and during our therapy sessions and in our professional development sessions we often ask ourselves, what is working and how can we build on this to develop control and mastery for our clients. We run solution focused training groups, hot topics where we show clients how to be solution focused in their approach and small groups where we can practice the skills of solution focused thinking. Presently we are working on whole school programs that teach the skills of speaking in a solution-focused way to students and colleagues. These programs are showing increased student engagement, and a more resilient school community.

So I found the findings of these rat studies confirming of why what we are doing at the Resilience Centre actually works.

Finally on a practical front, Selgman noted that there are simple experiments with people that have had dramatic effect. These experiments get people to choose positive words over negative words and say them out loud. He even showed a “wordle” based on the words used by hopeful people on their social media pages. Take a look at it.wordle

This got me thinking about my own face book posts. Are they positive? I might actually go and wordle it myself. What about yours?