Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Dr. Debbie Joffe Ellis reflections on her husbands life and legacy

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The masterful and great Albert Ellis PhD passed on July 24th, 2007. The years have flown by, and I wonder what he might think if he were still alive. I think it is highly likely that he would enjoy the remarkable progress of neuro-physiological research and findings, and the continuing embrace of the cognitive approach in psychotherapy (he heralded in the cognitive revolution in psychotherapy in the 1950's). I suspect that journalists would be clamoring to hear his views, on a regular basis, about the current state of our country and the world - and his responses would be sharp, rational, direct, and interspersed with his fine and piercing wit! He might regret that some of the people who, in his lifetime, championed the REBT approach are in recent years merging their work with a more general CBT approach, for as much as he immensely respected CBT and the outstanding research associated with it, it does not, as much as REBT does, emphasize the humanistic and philosophical elements seen in REBT: such as the importance of choosing to experience greater unconditional acceptance, tolerance and gratitude - most especially during times of challenge. Nonetheless, there are many fine practitioners and teachers out there keeping the flames of REBT alive, as I strive to do with joy and gratitude. And the numerous books and articles written by Albert Ellis continue to help countless numbers of people, directly and indirectly, to suffer less emotional misery and to experience greater happiness in life. Remembering you with great love Wondrous Al. Thank you forever - for you. 
_______________________________________

(Albert Ellis' work continues in Australian schools, helping children to optimise their psychological health through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education)

Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis opens the world first Albert Ellis Professional Learning Centre
Dr Debbie can be contacted here Dr Debbie Joffe Ellis 

Saturday, 21 July 2018

'Performativity, Identity and Teacher Mental Health


Since NAPLAN was introduced ten years ago reading and numeracy have improved slightly and writing skills have gone down and despite all the resources that have been invested in our system of education we haven’t hit the lofty heights of excellence we were hoping for. School performance in NAPLAN it is accepted, reflects best teaching practise so teachers and students are under considerable pressure to perform.


NAPLAN was the solution to a declared ‘crisis’ in education so we wouldn’t be ‘left behind’ our international peers. Educational discourse centred on concepts of ‘failure’, ‘crisis’, ‘measurement’, ‘benchmarks’, ‘assessment’, ‘reporting’, ‘good/bad teacher/student.’ Teacher’s professional worth was and continues to be questioned and discussed in the public arena. What makes a ‘good’ teacher? If teachers aren’t ‘good’ then are they ‘bad?’ ‘Bad’ teachers are the cause of falling standards etc. Greg Thompson asserts in The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives:

‘In Australia, one of the key motivations for a national testing regime has been the various discourses surrounding the “quality” of teachers in Australian schools, and a sense of some real or imagined crisis impacting on Australian education.’

Continued and persistent focus on what a ‘good’ teacher is and how can we lift ‘teacher capability’ to teach will weigh heavily on the minds of teachers in every school and in every classroom. An established regime of accountability has promoted what Susan E. Noffke describes ‘a culture of performativity’ in education driven by neo- liberal policies:

‘… the widespread influence of neo-liberal policies which have resulted in a culture of ‘performativity’ (Ball, 2003). One prominent example is the attempt to reduce the parameters of educational work to doing only that which results in gains in the narrow band of standardised achievement test, and the ‘mapping’ of curriculum and instructional strategies against that which is tested.’

Teachers are under pressure to perform according to set guidelines and this can be confirmed in casual conversation with educators in any school setting. I won't expand on the link between neo liberal policies and its effects but suffice it to say I do believe that the work of the teacher is very much linked to an agenda that is far removed from the classroom and the experience of the teacher and learner in the school setting.


How does this continued spotlight on the teacher effect general health and wellbeing? I would like to consider this in the light of the REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) counselling model. Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance embodies the wisdom of many thinkers over the millennia e.g. The Stoic Philosophers, Karen Horney, Alfred Koryzybski and others. 
 
The ABC Theory is a philosophy based counselling model which posits that when something happens (A) there is a behavioural and emotional consequence (C). The children I work with often have an A=C philosophy which says ‘I am angry (C) because she said I couldn’t join in (A)! Ellis said that how we feel and act at (C) can be regulated by how we interpret/perceive/estimate what has happened at (A). This part of the equation (B) alerts us to the cognitive component which drives the strength of the emotion we feel and the kinds of behavioural choices we make.
Dr Albert Ellis, creator of REBT

In the counselling situation we want to help the student move form an A = C philosophy to an A x B = C philosophy or way of thinking. This helps the child/adult understand that he/she is an active agent in making feelings and choosing behaviours.

If a person’s worth is challenged and questioned incessantly either explicitly or by implication this can begin to unsettle a person’s view of self. This in turn will affect how the person deals with difficult and challenging situations, the (A) part of the equation.

Confidence is an essential personal quality that is a buffer, a protective factor against the adversities that we all inevitably are called on to deal with. It is constructed over time and like a wall which is well constructed it will be tested by all manner of assault and if it’s strong it will prevail. However even the strongest of walls can be breached and compromised to the point of failing.

What is confidence? It’s a way of behaving, a projection of a certain sense of comfort with oneself that allows for healthy risk taking to work towards set personal and professional goals. She who feels confident will also deal with adversities constructively. What we see behaviourally and emotionally and which we call confidence is underwritten by an internal, deeply placed habit of thinking/believing. It is what Ellis calls ‘unconditional self-acceptance’ a steadfast belief that one cannot be defined by the opinion of others or how one performs in a general sense. In other words someone’s idea about you does not and cannot define the essence of who you are. Nor can failing at a task define you as a failure. This is the ‘psychological wall’ of self-acceptance constructed over time.

Unconditional Self Acceptance - Albert Ellis

However the foundations of this belief can be rattled under the weight of persistent judgement and appraisal based on ‘key performance indicators’ in a regime of testing and accountability which is so much the reality of the teaching and learning experience according to many.

Can someone’s idea of self-worth be rearranged, reconfigured under such relentless pressure? It seems this can be the case according to many who feel they are performing to the beat of someone else’s drum. They do not feel in control, they lack autonomy in what they do.  Stephen J Ball in The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity says that the teacher is left to question her worth as a teacher experiencing:

‘…. guilt, uncertainty, instability and the emergence of a new subjectivity. What Bernstein (2000: 1942) calls ‘mechanisms of introjection’ whereby ‘the identity finds its core in its place in an organisation of knowledge and practice’ are here being threatened by or replaced by ‘mechanisms of projection’, that is an ‘identity is a reflection of external contingencies’ (Bernstein 2000: 1942).’
 

I regard this ‘new subjectivity’ to mean a shift in the foundation belief of unconditional self-acceptance to a new and shaky assessment of self to be a conditional one. This habit of thinking /believing i.e. ‘I am only OK if … my kids perform well, if my line manager thinks I’m going OK, if the regional director is happy with how the schools heading etc. Self-doubt may creep into her mind about her ability to ‘be’ a ‘good’ teacher. What do her colleagues think of her? Will she be asked to enter into some capability building exercise to bring her up to standard? And how will others view this?

Albert Ellis would say that the teacher has shifted from a position of strong self-worth to one of conditional self-worth where she only feels validated when she meets the expectations of a teaching regime that is laid out before her. What can she do? She can challenge the status quo and articulate her concerns about how things are going and how she feels about things. But how will this be received? She may think that she will be regarded as ‘the problem’ and that she will have to lift her game. She will have to lift her level of expertise to that of the ‘good,’ the ‘quality’ teacher. Is there a place for constructive criticism to be expressed without fear of judgement? Is there a sense that what people have to say is valued?

Teacher mental and overall health and well-being is challenged in the present climate of teaching and learning. The culture of performativity can for some, undermine their sense of confidence where their view of self is challenged because the system says they’re in effect no good!

In conclusion concerns are held for personnel at every level who suffer under the weight of the ‘reform solutions’ that have been determined for them in response to the ‘crisis’ we have in education. The Conversation reminds us that:

‘Over the past decade, the policy landscape has become riddled with reform “solutions”. These subject students, teachers, administrators and policymakers to mounting levels of pressure and stress. The short-term cyclical churn of today’s politics and media clearly exacerbates these problems.’

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

OK Fred

This is typical of conversations I've had over the years working with young people. From early childhood to senior high school age the theme of most topics relates to the idea of 'being' and 'doing.' This exchange serves to illustrate the point that somehow Fred has decided that what he does is indeed who he is.

Dr Albert Ellis in his Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture 1961 on General Semantics and Rational Emotive (Behaviour) Therapy acknowledges that Alfred Korzybski, the originator of general semantics heavily influenced his own pioneering work. Korzybski spoke of the 'is' of predication and Ellis explains this here saying that:


' ... statements like, "I am good" and "I am bad" are inaccurate over generalisations, because in reality I am a person who sometimes acts in a good and sometimes in a bad manner.'  

The notion that one 'is' good or bad is an errant one which can harm the emotional and psychological well being of the person who holds it to be true. Ellis seeks to remind us that we are human beings who can act in ways that are 'good' or 'bad' but we are not what we do.




OK Fred is not OK!

Counsellor: How’s it going?
Child: Not good.
Counsellor: Why?
Child: I’m naughty.

Fred's condition of naughtiness is problematic because this is why he has been excluded from the classroom and he feels bad.

Counsellor: What does that mean?
Child: I keep interrupting. I'm bad.
Counsellor: You are naughty for interrupting? That makes you bad?
Child: Yes
Counsellor: So you are naughty Fred? You are bad Fred?

Fred has decided that his naughtiness is linked to badness. Doing is being!

Child: I’m bad Fred because I do bad things.
Counsellor: How does that make you bad?
Child: I am bad because I interrupt a lot and the teacher doesn’t like it.
Counsellor: If you do things people don’t like you are bad. Can bad Fred be good Fred?

Bad Fred does things the teacher doesn't like. He wants the teacher to like him because what he does is who he is.

Child: Yes. When I don’t interrupt I am being good.
Counsellor: So there is good Fred and there is bad Fred. Is that right?
Child: Yes. When I’m good the teacher likes me.
Counsellor: People like good Fred but they don’t like bad Fred? It sounds like you are two people, bad Fred and good Fred.

Fred is saying that there are two of him. His sense of self worth ebbs and flows between feeling OK when others like him to feeling bad when they don't! (conditional self acceptance)

Child: I’m not two people at the same time am I?
Counsellor: Well no. That’s why I am trying to understand what you are saying about yourself.
Child: I am Fred and I can be bad and I can be good that’s what I mean.
Counsellor: So when you do something the teachers like you are Good Fred but when you do something she doesn’t like you are Bad Fred. Is that right?

Here we are trying to get a sense of what doing is and what being is. Are they the same?

Child: No I’m just Fred!!! I am Confused Fred!
Counsellor: You are Confused Fred who can be Bad Fred and Good Fred! That’s three Fred’s! Only joking Fred. When you said ‘I’m just Fred’ I think you speak the truth. There’s only one Fred and you are he. There’s no other like you.
Child: I know that.

Fred is unique. It is impossible to rate his worth totally good or bad based on a particular characteristic or behaviour.

Counsellor: Ok. Doing something ‘naughty’ like interrupting is a behaviour. It’s something you do. It’s an action. Does that make sense?
Child: Yes I understand what you say.
Counsellor: When you say ‘I am bad because I interrupt the class you believe YOU are bad because you made a bad choice. Doing something is not the same as being something.

We are making a clear distinction between doing and being here.

Child: So I am not bad but my actions might be bad is that what you are saying?
Counsellor: Yes. You are OK even when you ‘do bad’ or when you ‘do good.’ So can you be Good Fred and Bad Fred?
Child: No. I am Fred. I am worthwhile Fred. I am OK Fred who makes mistakes but I'm always OK.

This establishes that Freds worth is never contingent on a particular behaviour or personal quality or characteristic. 

Fred is on the way to feeling better about himself but where did he get these ideas in the first place? When others judge your behaviour they connect what you do with your being or your 'essence' or as Ellis says your 'you-ness.' Who is doing this? The childs parents and teachers and other people in Freds life reinforce these ideas via the messages they send, verbally and otherwise e.g. simply by saying 'good boy' to someone who has done something well is conveying the idea that doing good equates with being good.

Michel Foucault a philosopher and social theorist considered how power and knowledge is used to assert control over the individual in society via its institutions. He asserts that:



‘Children learn to ‘recite the repertoire of technologies of the self which constitute the ideal student of their literacy classrooms.’(Foucault 1988)

The ideal student is one who does as he is expected and has the qualities and competencies desired to 'be' successful and to reach full potential. What are the 'technologies of the self' and whose 'repertoire' is the child reciting?

I take this to mean the kinds of discourse that characterises the culture of the classroom, this will include the types of feedback the teacher provides to behaviour observed, the attitudes and actions that the teacher responds to and therefore reinforces. The idea that a student could conflate being with doing is possible if a student is said to 'be good' when they 'do' something acceptable to the teacher. This idea is conveyed by telling children they 'are' good for 'doing' good.

We can all take care to be aware that what we are saying when we are saying it is correct and conveys an accurate and useful message i.e. 'You did that well. Good job.' This refers to the actions of the person and not the 'essence' of who that person is. 





Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Have a Go Spaghettio!

Have a Go Spaghettio! is a program I wrote several years ago. It is based on Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy of Dr. Albert Ellis fame. I sent the draft to him not expecting a response but lo and behold he did reply! This is what he said:

“I read your presentation on ‘Have a Go Spaghettio!’ a resilience building program for young learners. It seems to hit the spot and be excellent for your young audience.”

I was well chuffed of course and I remain very thankful that he saw fit to take the time as he did to write back to me. A very generous gesture I thought which continues to inspire me in my work as a counsellor in schools here in South Australia.

The program has been well received in the early childhood teaching community as it presents key ideas of REBT to young learners in a fun way. It acquaints young learners to the idea that their individual thinking constructions impacts their ability to manage themselves effectively in daily life emotionally and behaviourally.

There are six competencies that children can learn about through the program. These strengths and capabilities are represented by certain colours which have been assigned catchy, quirky labels. This is the Have a Go Spaghettio! chart:

Have a Go Spaghettio!

The six Have a Go Spaghettio! success helper capabilities chart reminds children about the helpful choices they can make. These helpful choices (help us achieve our goals and desires) are linked to helpful habits of thinking or as I call it Brain Friend thinking. 

Teachers feedback to the behavioural choices the students are making thus e.g.

'You are working hard. Give it a try ... and the students respond ... banana pie!'

Another student is waiting patiently in line and the teacher says e.g.

'You are showing great patience and adds 'You are keeping coolio ... and the students will say ... at schoolio!'

The Have a Go Spaghettio! resource is full of ideas and strategies to help teachers help students develop the six capabilities mentioned in a fun way.

I will explain the 'I'm worthwhile crocodile' red success helper capability in my next post. But this short item is to acquaint you to the Have a Go! framework for early childhood.

If you want to know more about the program please feel free to contact Giulio at lozzog@gmail.com for more information.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Arthur Is On the Spectrum

I am a school counsellor and one of many great delights of my working day is the opportunity I have to work with students in the 'special class.' This term will mean different things to many people but to me 'special' is the time I get to spend with children from ages 5 -12 who present with a range of predispositions and learning and developmental needs.

One such student who is on the autism spectrum, will often seek me out for a chat as we call it. I might say I seek him out just as much because it is always a fun time. We met recently over an issue that he had been dealing with which I will refer to in a moment.

On the way to our meeting place we will speak casually about things and then Arthur will burst out laughing about something obscure but which connects to what we are saying but as yet I'm a step behind on the pick up!

On this occasion he asked if he could chat with me and we got onto all the different words we could think of that had a similar meaning to 'chat.' Like 'yarn' or 'let's have a yarn' which he was familiar with and he chuckled when we said the words accentuating our Aussie nasal twang! I introduced him to the word 'blather' a Scots word which has similar meaning to chat and yarn. I put on my best Scottish accent and said 'C'mon Arthur let's have a wee blather!' More chuckles. 'Heart to heart,' and 'chitter chatter' were also terms raised and which Arthur found amusing.

Arthur though was dealing with an issue of great import to him and his family and he found himself in psychological and emotional knots over the prospect of moving house. Arthur tended to overthink things to the point where it would effect how he felt and acted. As quickly as we had joined in laughter before his face was now transformed as his thoughts returned to what had become a rather large problem for him.

We had over recent years talked about how our thinking is connected to our feelings and actions and that we can make ourselves more upset than we need to be. Arthur agreed that many of his 'trains of thought' were leading up the wrong  'railway track' if I can use a railway analogy here. He knew his thoughts were unhelpful or Success Stoppers as we would call them. Brain Bully (his thinking) was making him uncomfortable; sad, angry and scared.

*Brain Bully (*Success Stopper) thinking can be challenged by evidence and his catastrophe scale told him that there were many worse things that could happen. We talked about the positives of his family moving house and he began to feel a little more at ease. He understood that changing his estimation of how bad his situation was, changed the way he felt about it. Arthur is an expert at self regulation and these yarns we have help him to re calibrate his thinking, fine tune his 'mind motor' which gets him back on track. 

Of course he will return sometimes to the black and white thinking world that will bring him temporarily undone and it is then he realises it's time for another 'wee blather' where again we visit a more rational world where the many shades of grey demand that we adjust our 'thinking sails' to the prevailing 'winds of change.' 

Arthur is learning that when he cannot change a given situation he can change his perception of it. And this is a very positive thing I tell Arthur and he says 'thanks for the yarn' as he chuckles his way back to class!


*Brain Friend/Brain Bully and Success Helper/Success Stopper thinking are copyrighted terms used in the authors resource materials 'Hav a Go Spaghettio!' and  'People and Emotions.'




Monday, 19 February 2018

More Resilient & Less Self Disturbable Students

I had the pleasure of working with a group of educators at a high school in the northern suburbs of Adelaide recently. The school has set up a well being hub where students can go for support if needed particularly of a social/emotional/behavioural kind.


The 'Hub'staff is sourcing ideas to support their students and one staff member who attended several of my workshops last year considered that REBT would value add to the 'Hub'mission to help students better manage themselves in day to day life especially when things go awry.


Craigmore High School
It is always a challenge when presenting to 'hit the spot' as it were so that people become engaged and interested in the message. Is this stuff useful to my practice as a teacher/counsellor? Will it benefit my students? What will be my strategy, the hook used to get everyone 'in?'


To start we looked at the philosophical underpinnings of the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. One significant influence on Albert Ellis' REBT was the work of the StoicsEPICTETUS in 100 AD declared:


'People are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.' 


People agreed that these sentiments resonated with them and that indeed it would be folly to believe that events were the sole cause of emotions experienced. Yes it was clear that people had some responsibility for their own emotional and behavioural foibles by dint of the views, entrenched habits of thinking that they possess. But they also readily admitted that they often reacted to events in an unhelpful and self defeating way. In other words they tended to attribute their emotional and behavioural discomfort to a thing or event.


So presence of mind or mindfulness is called upon in times of emotional stress. This entails checking in on what it is we might be telling ourselves about a situation. It may be bad but is it the worst thing that can happen? Can you handle the discomfort and see yourself through this impasse? Does our sense of self worth remain in tact?


People acknowledged that though we might understand the idea of mindfulness and mental health self care it was harder to constantly 'walk the talk'as they would default to old habits when their mental health guard was down. This we agreed needed constant attention as habits are hard to break. The hook of 'if this relates to our well being how important would it be for our students' had done the trick? Constructivism tells us that:


'... meaning (or truth) cannot be described simply as 'objective'; that is, knowledge does not exist independently from knowers but is socially and historically constructed. http://www.decs.sa.gov.au

What habits of thinking have our students constructed and are they by and large useful, rational ones? Can they negotiate a world of change and challenge? Is their idea of 'self' robust and healthy and hard to breach? What meanings have they made of their experience; what is their truth?


These are questions that the students themselves can learn to explore. Do they know that knowledge is co constructed in the contexts in which they are socialised? What are these constructions and are they beneficial or dead weights that drag them down sometimes to despair? Can they learn to unlearn these habits of thought and build new more helpful ones?



Anais Nin reminds us that there are as many truths as their are people whose meanings will be the engine which drives them towards their goals and desires to be happy and successful. There are those whose realities are based on rational assessments of themselves, others and the world and then there are those whose irrational beliefs contrive to stymie and hinder their progress.


“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”  Anais Nin


REBT and the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance is a powerful tool with which to acquaint young people with their thinking nature. Is school bad? Some would say yes and others would say no. Am I dumb and hopeless? Yes if you believe you are because as Shakespeare's Hamlet is known to have said.

'Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!'



It all comes down to how we view(assess)ourselves, others and our world because when all is said and done the world is neither for us or against us; as Albert Ellis said 'it doesn't give a shit!' It's how we respond to events and others that is key and if we have a healthy rational perspective on the world we are in better shape to forge ahead. As Dr. Ellis said:


"REBT consequently specialises in showing people what their own basic theories about themselves and the world are and how these hypotheses often lead to destructive feelings and actions, how they can be forcefully falsified and replaced with more workable philosophies.”


It's time to teach this to children of all ages, as Albert Ellis reminds us:


'I think the future of psychotherapy and psychology is in the school system. We need to teach every child how to rarely seriously disturb himself or herself and how to overcome disturbance when it occurs.'

Monday, 12 February 2018

Workshop 1 2018 The Centre 4 Rational Emotive Behaviour Education

The topic was Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), it's philosophical and theoretical influences and underpinnings. The temperature outside was 36 degrees yet people still drove from their places of work to attend the workshop.

This foundation workshop is one of 10 scheduled for the year. Each session builds on the last helping educators and counsellors develop proficiency in applying REBT principles in their practise.
Brain Bully

Workshop 2 will suggest a fun and student friendly way to teach Albert Ellis' ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. It entails using catchy expressions that represent the kinds of thinking that is helpful or unhelpful. The idea is to acquaint children with the think - feel - do connection.

Workshop 3 considers how we can utilise the ABC theory in counselling early childhood students. How can young children learn how to regulate their feelings and behaviours by monitoring their thinking? Brain Bully thinking makes bad feelings and Brain Friend thinking makes OK feelings and behaviours.
Brain Friend

Following workshops continue this trend as it relates to primary and secondary teaching and counselling.

Feedback is generally very positive. Workshop 2 is schedule for Thursday 15th February at the Centre 4 Rational Emotive Behaviour Education. Register at: