Sunday, 24 June 2012

William Shakespeare and Mental Health

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) is the application of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy principles in teaching practice across all curriculum areas. Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance is tailor made to help students understand an event is not the sole determinant of their emotional and behavioural response to it. This is not a new idea, stoic philosopher Epictetus in around 100 AD observed:

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

Educators comment daily on the ‘culture of blame’ in schools where students claim:

‘He made me angry so I hit him.’
‘The teacher made me angry.’
‘My mum didn’t set my alarm, that’s why I’m late.’
‘Maths makes me angry.’

How do you teach the average high school student that ‘nothing or no one’ can make anyone angry?

The goal of REBE is to challenge the philosophy that A (Activating event) directly causes C (emotional and behavioural Consequences) i.e. A=C. The aim is to alert students to the idea that their thinking (Beliefs) about the event has a lot to do with it! i.e. A+B=C

Where does the ‘Bearded Bard of Stratford’ come into this preventative mental health caper? What has Shakespeare got to do with it?

I was asked to talk to a group of year 9 students about constructivism, how we construct our philosophical views about the world, others and ourselves. These internalised ‘rules’ for living to a large extent determine how we respond to daily happenings. Students were very receptive to ideas that we construct these philosophies according to how we are genetically made and how we are socialised through family and friendships.

We studied this excerpt from Hamlet, students taking turns to play each part and then we spoke about it’s meaning, what is Hamlet saying in the last statement?

Act 2, Scene 2: A room in the castle.

Hamlet: Then is doomsday near: but your news is not true.
Let me question more in particular: what have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of fortune that she sends you to prison hither?
Guildenstern: Prison, my lord!
Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Students understood Hamlet’s assertion that nothing is good or bad in itself but our thinking ‘makes it so.’ As stoic, Marcus Aurelius said, it is our ‘estimation’ of an event that makes it ‘good or bad’ (see previous post) not the event itself. This is an important insight for students as they begin to explore an alternative view to the ‘blame everyone and everything’ philosophy. If they can understand this they can start to take control of their lives. As Albert Ellis said:

‘The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.’

So back to Hamlet! I took the liberty of reworking Act 2, Scene 2 from Hamlet (apologies to the Great Bard) to give it an Aussie flavour on the topic of vegetables as follows.

An Aussie take on Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2 – a dining room in a house.

Bruce: What bad luck that you are served such yucky food!
Digger: Yucky Bruce?
Bruce: Broccoli is yucky!
Leeanne: Then are all vegetables so Bruce?
Bruce: Yes all vegetables are yuck and broccoli is the yuckiest!
Leeanne: We don’t think so Bruce.
Bruce: Why then is it not true for you? Because there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is yuck!

Students were then asked to re enact the parts and a lot of fun was had by all! We replaced the word ‘broccoli’ with other words and reread the reworked Act 1 of Hamlet. We established for instance that:

‘He/she is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’
‘The teacher is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’
‘My mum is not good or bad but thinking makes it so’
‘Maths is not good or bad but thinking makes it so.’

This was a useful activity to acquaint high school students with the idea that nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Thanks Mr. Shakespeare and Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus and Albert Ellis and Karen Horney and ............. Thanks!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Sams Progress – It Ain’t So Awful Sam!

Sam’s teacher has introduced the Emotional Thermometer to the class and the students know now that irrational thinking is hurtful, its makes strong unhealthy emotions and poor behavioural choices. They know its Brain Bully (BB) trying to trick them. BB is saying: ‘I can’t do this! It’s unfair. I’m dumb.’

Teacher: ‘These are not true! Are they children?’
Children: ‘NO THEY’RE NOT!
Teacher: ‘We won’t let Brain Bully win will we?
Children: ‘NO WE WON’T!’

They also know that Brain Friend tells the truth and makes healthy, manageable negative emotions. BF says, ‘this is hard but I can try.’ ‘I’m not dumb if I make a mistake.’ ‘I’m always OK.’

Teacher: ‘These are true! What do you think children?’
Children: Yes they are. We want BF to win! GET LOST BRAIN BULLY!’

This kind of learning is reinforced across all teaching/learning curriculum areas or if you are a parent the same applies at home at every opportunity. The idea is to reinforce the idea that what you think, how you feel and how you act are all related. When our children understand this they will learn to take responsibility for how they feel and behave (young children pick this up very well)
The next item to introduce to children is the idea that when we think something is ‘bad’ and we tell ourselves that it is the worst thing ever we don’t feel so good. We may feel highly anxious or angry or sad (Check the Emotional Thermometer). We may tell ourselves that ‘its so awful that we can’t stand it!’ This is called ‘Icantstandititis!’ a debilitating condition that can be treated by understanding and using the Catastrophe Scale (CS). The CS is a list of possible/actual concerns which are organised according to how ‘bad’ they are. Children will then be able to see at a glance that an itchy nose is not as bad as the earth being blown to bits!

Teacher: ‘I lost my pencil. This is so awful I cant stand it!’
Children: ‘Watch out Brain Bully will make you mad and sad. Don’t let him win!’
Teacher: ‘But I need my pencil. This is terrible!’
Children: ‘Oh oh! Brain Bully is tricking you. This is not a big problem. It isn’t as bad a sore throat. It is a small problem.’
Teacher: ‘You’re right kids I won’t let BB win. Can you help me?’
Children: ‘BF says this is a pain but not a huge problem. Let BF win and get rid of BB!’

Children respond well to this kind of learning and is a preventative mental health measure, teaching them that unhealthy negative emotions are made by irrational thinking (BB). If they know this they can help themselves to regulate how they feel and behave by themselves. This is what Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is all about.
Sam will learn that when she believes small problems are not so bad after all she will be less inclined to anger and will be a happier little person.
Brain Friend and Brain Bully are characters introduced in my program for young learners ‘Have a Go Spaghettio!’


Big ones, little ones,
In between ones too
Problems, problems
Whatever can I do?

I can’t find my hat
Wherever can it be
This is so awful
It’s a catastrophe!

It’s not fair
I'm sick in my tummy
I want my hat
It’s not funny!

My friend is sick
And she is sad
Losing my hat
Isn’t so bad

I can handle this
I can change how I feel
I think ‘this isn’t so awful
It isn’t a big deal’

Big ones, little ones
In between ones too
Problems, problems
I know what I can do!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Sam Feels Angry – Stew, Stew, Stew!

Sam feels angry in class when she can’t get something she wants. Sam is six and has been at school for just a short time and her anger is stopping her from being successful. She gives up on tasks and just ‘has to have’ her friends hat which is newer than hers and she snatches it away! She isn’t making friends too readily and it’s hard to hold on to them when she does! She is bossy with others and is very insistent and demanding.

What are her rules? What beliefs has she constructed that drive her unhealthy emotions and behaviours? What can the teacher do to help her in the classroom?

Her teacher referred her to me (school counsellor) outlining her concerns for this student.

I spent some time in Sam’s classroom and observed her at work and play. I could see why the teacher had concerns for her and so I met with her after school to talk about a plan to help Sam.

As a Rational Emotive Behaviour Counsellor I consider Sam’s behaviour to be the expression of some irrational rules that she has formulated as follows:

- I must get my way
- I can’t stand not getting what I want
- It’s not fair when I don’t
- If she won’t give me what I want she is bad

I suggest to Sam’s teacher that I take some lessons in her class so others can benefit from some REBE learning and so I don’t withdraw Sam from her class and classmates.
Over a series of five lessons I talk about helpful and unhelpful thinking. I call unhelpful thinking Brain Bully and helpful thinking Brain Friend. We make puppets and play games like Who’s Talking BB or BF? I make thinking statements like the following and children show if BF is talking or BB is talking e.g.

- I am dumb. I can’t do it!  (BB)
- This is tough but I will try (BF)
- She is mean! (BB)
- She did a mean thing (BF)
- I must get what I want! (BB)
- I don’t have to always get my way (BF)

We use the Emotional Thermometer to show how thinking is connected to our feelings and behaviour. So for example I teach students that when BB is talking in my head I feel angry (I don’t get what I must have!) and we point to the top of the thermometer to show angry. When BF is talking (I can handle this. It isn’t so awful) we point to the lower end of the thermometer. This is a great way to teach young learners that:

- There are helpful and unhelpful habits of thinking
- BF makes manageable feelings
- BB makes unmanageable feelings

This is an early introduction to Albert Ellis’ ABC theory of Emotional Disturbance for young learners. Ellis’ model shows the relationship between what happens, A (Activating event), my constructed beliefs, B and how I feel at C (Emotional/behavioural Consequence). Young Sam doesn’t know that her strong feelings and inappropriate actions are not so much caused by A but it is Brain Bully at B that’s causing her angst. This insight will help Sam learn how to control her feelings and make better behavioural choices.

To summarise the last paragraph: A+B=C.

The above will be covered over a few lessons in a fun way but the learning is profound! Sam and her classmates will learn that:

    - They experience unhealthy, strong feelings
    - They can make poor choices when they do
    - Their unhelpful thinking makes these strong feelings (BB)  
    - BB is not true and unhelpful, BF is true and helpful
In the next post we will see how Sam and her classmates are going and how the teacher will maintain the momentum of this learning into the future.
The song below is about anger and what students can do about it.

I feel!

I feel angry
Stew, stew, stew
I feel angry
Stew, stew, stew
I feel angry
Stew, stew, stew
Oh me oh my what can I do?

Don’t feel angry
Don’t you stew
Don’t feel angry
Don’t you stew
Don’t feel angry
Don’t you stew
There is something you can do!

Use Brain Friend Thinking
And take deep breaths
Brain Friend Thinking
Take deep breaths
Brain Friend Thinking
Take deep breaths
This is something you can do!

I feel better
More relaxed
I feel better
More relaxed
I feel better
More relaxed
Now I don’t feel so blue!

Have a Go Spaghettio!

Sing to the tune of ‘Skip to my Lou’.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Good Old Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was a Roman philosopher and emperor who said:

 "If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it: and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.’

Easier said than done you say especially when we are told that we are not responsible for how we feel on a daily basis. Listen to the news and it isn’t uncommon for an interviewer to ask an interviewee ‘how did this or that make you feel?’ Listen to the student at school who declares on leaving the classroom ‘I hate this subject it makes me so angry!’ or indeed the teacher who says ‘that kid makes me angry!’ This would reinforce the philosophy that distress is caused by things and events external to us i.e. you, it or events make our distress! We remain unenlightened by the wisdom of the stoic philosophers it would appear though we have had the educational tools and the opportunity to challenge the prevailing ‘not my fault’ modern day philosophy.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education (REBE) helps students examine whether someone or something can indeed make them feel anything! After all maths is maths and whether it makes you mad, angry or otherwise is up for debate. REBE provides the opportunity for students to explore why they feel and act as they do on a school wide basis (see previous posts).

Recently at school a student excluded herself from the classroom because she didn’t want to work with a particular peer and declared:

‘I felt really angry because I didn’t get my way and it’s just not fair!

After some discussion she acknowledged that her distress was due to her estimate of the situation, which was that it was not fair that she didn’t get what she wanted (it was making her mad). She understood that her anger was precipitated by her expectation that IT should not happen! This is progress in the ‘whose fault is it’ debate in the school context.
We talked about cultivating a better way to estimate a situation, to think that it isn’t a catastrophe when you don’t get what you want and that you can stand it! She chose to revoke her belief that life must be fair and that sometimes you don’t get what you want. She changed her estimate of the situation and changed her distress.
Marcus Antoninus would be heartened to know that Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is promoting his philosophy in schools.

Friday, 15 June 2012

That's Silly

Young children have a great sense of the ridiculous and hence have fun with rhymes and expressions that are nonsensical and whacky. Appealing to their seemingly innate sense of the quirky helps to get across useful ideas and strategies that can help them in life.

Having fun is important for you as well as your students and delving into the ridiculous is an end in itself I find! As an educator and counsellor working in the early childhood sector I have been known to dabble in the daft, query the quirky and to ponder peculiar prose!

Spike Milligan was prolifically nonsensical and left us with classics like the Ning Nang Nong, which somehow appealed to our sense of fun. I never tire of the old Maxwell Smart reruns, laughing heartily at the antics of the eccentric Agent 86! And Tommy Cooper (if you’re old enough to remember) was altogether a unique individual who was a master of the absurd.

Cooper: ‘Can you give me something for wind?’
Doctor: ‘Here’s a kite. Go and fly it.’

Appealing to children’s ‘sense of the silly’ is a useful way to help young ones explore the topic of bullying in a fun way.

The poem below is one I have used to show students how humour can offset the debilitating and hurtful effects of bullying. It is a teaching tool to:

·      Introduce the topic i.e. what does it (bullying) look like, sound like and act like?
·      Why do others do this?
·      What can we do about it (explore all options)

Perhaps you can try this with my poem ‘You Are Dumb!’ and see how you go.

You are dumb!

You are dumb
She said to me
So I said
Dumb, diddly
Dumb dumpty dee!

You are stupid
They said to me
So I said
Stupid dupid
Fiddly Fee!

You are a nerd
He said to me
So I said
Nerd niddly nerd
niddly nerd nernee!

You smell
They said to me
So I said
Smell jelly smelly
Smell stinky pee!

My friend Max
She said to me
You are my pal
Cuddly dee dee
Cuddly cuddly dee!

For whatever reason people can behave unkindly and this is to be expected for life is unfair. Whilst we would like everyone in the world to be respectful and kind we can learn to accept that this cannot be so and we can practice Unconditionally Accepting Ourselves (and others).

The poems message is that not everyone is mean, you are ok anyway and how people view you does not in the end define you!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Six Year Old Max Feels Anxious

Little Max is a 6-year-old boy whose teacher has referred him to the school counsellor. His teacher is concerned that he seems agitated a lot of the time especially when other kids are not 'being good.’  When the teacher appears to be angry his concern is heightened. Max’s anxiety is stopping him from engaging in his learning and it is effecting his overall school experience in a negative way.

Is that the way ‘he is’, his nature and he can’t do much about his natural tendency to experience anxiety a lot of the time? What is driving this extreme emotional discomfort and what can be done about it?

He may have inherited a genetic predisposition towards anxiety and it may be a characteristic of other family members to a lesser or greater extent.  He will also have ‘learned’ how to feel anxious, he may have been taught how to feel this way.

As a counsellor I want to know what core philosophical beliefs has Max constructed that drive his anxiety, what does he believe? Where do we start?

The teacher is on the ball and has raised her concerns about Max and the next step is for me to have a chat with he young person. It turns out that Max is a high achiever and wants to do well. He wants his teacher to think well of him and he feels upset when ‘bad’ kids ‘make’ her angry.

What have I learned that could possibly cause Max’s anxious demeanour?

·      He really must get 10 out of 10 and feels bad when he doesn’t
·      Kids can ‘be bad’ or ‘good’
·      He can be ‘bad’ or ‘good’
·      He can ‘make’ the teacher angry
·      Kids can ‘make’ the teacher angry

According to Rational Emotive Education Theory Max is making himself unhealthily anxious. He does this because he has constructed unhealthy core beliefs such as:

·      Other people and events ‘make me’ mad/anxious/angry.
·      I must get 10 out of 10 or I’m hopeless
·      I ‘am’ bad when I ‘do’ bad and good when I ‘do’ good
·      Others ‘are’ bad when they ‘do’ bad and ‘good’ when they ‘do’ good

Max could do with some help to challenge and change these unhealthy, irrational core beliefs.

Max is a character in the popular early childhood Rational Emotive Behaviour Education resource ‘Have a Go Spaghettio!’ You will find many useful strategies in this program to help Max feel and act in helpful ways in the longer term.