Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Albert Ellis and the Dalai Lama on Kindness

The Dalai Lama says to be kind wherever possible and that it’s always possible. He talks about ‘cultivating’ attitudes of kindness and to practise empathy and sincere concern for others. Then there’s ‘mindfulness’, practising awareness of our feelings and actions and our underlying attitudes. What are we doing? How are we feeling? How are we behaving?
Kindness is catching!

Albert Ellis talks about unconditional acceptance of others (UOA). This entails consciously and intentionally being aware of our prejudices and dislikes when considering others and not judging them totally on the basis of a disagreeable (to you) quality or characteristic.

Random acts of kindness it is said is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver (givee?) because it engenders feelings of empathy and concern. It enables the release of endorphins which produce the ‘natural high’ we may experience.

We can choose to act kindly towards others and the trick it seems is not to accept anything in return. There’s always a payoff of course. Even the most altruistic among us would acknowledge that we get some kind of reward even if it’s just an endorphin fix! This is my take on Ellis’ UOA. Treat others respectfully, with kindness because they are fellow human beings (like me) and are worthy of respect. At the same time I can choose to dislike aspects of their character/personality that leads me to decide not to want to associate with them. That’s my choice but I won’t damn them totally.

The Dalai Lama presented a blessed white silk scarf to Albert Ellis on his 90th birthday a gesture underpinned by a strong mutual respect and understanding. Ellis’ REBT offers a philosophical based counselling model of mind to teach children about thinking, feeling and behaving. This marries well with the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and is therefore of great potential benefit to students of all ages.
Dr. Ellis and The Dalai Lama on the same page
These principles are taught in daily teaching practise through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education in many schools in South Australia. Students are taught about helpful ‘habits of believing’ that direct healthy behavioural choices and emotions. One of these is Unconditional Acceptance of Others, the underlying philosophical belief of the act of kindness – no conditions, no strings.

Kindness based on the conditions you may place on the other is a different kettle of fish. This is the ‘what’s in it for me’ approach to kindness and is largely what fair weather friendships are made of. And of course there is the principle of ‘enlightened self-interest’ where a relationship is based on a give and take understanding, which is a healthy situation, where each know the rules of engagement.

But that’s all for another blog item but remember it’s cool to be kind!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Parenting and Mental Health - be careful of what you say!

The young student was sure he was a bad kid. ‘How do you know that?’ I asked. ‘I make my mum angry all the time’ he said. ‘Tell me about the last time you made her angry’ I enquired. ‘The other day when I wouldn't brush my teeth. I wanted to watch the TV longer and she got madder and madder. It’s my fault. She said I made her mad. My mum would be happier if I was a good kid.’
I'm a bad kid!
This is typical of this student who believes he’s bad based on the evidence he has had before him. What evidence might that be? What sense (or non-sense) has he made from his experiences to date? What conclusions has he drawn about himself, others and the worlds (life)? Not very helpful or healthy ones it would appear!

Constructivist theory would say that our young subject has constructed some unhelpful ‘habits of thinking and believing’ and he has concluded:
  • He is bad because he does bad things (I don’t like me)
  • He makes his mum mad (She doesn’t like me)

Where do you start, counselling wise with this young and intelligent student? What thinking/believing rules does he possess that accounts for his ongoing anger and depression?

Let’s consider the ‘I am bad’ theory. He has made and makes poor choices. We can call those choices bad if we like but he is not bad as he believes he must be. He will feel depressed about this unless he learns how:

For the child
  • His thinking is connected to how he feels and behave
  • Some thinking rules are not helpful (irrational)
  • To dispute/challenge those habits of thinking

Knowing this and believing it i.e. ‘I am not my behaviour I am OK but my behaviour isn’t’ takes a bit of effort and he can’t do this by himself. He needs help.

Let's think about this
For the parent
  • Stop telling him he is bad/naughty/a pain – he is none of these
  • He does not make you mad. Take responsibility for how you feel and behave - you make you mad!
  • Start using feedback that is behaviour specific and avoid global rating terms like naughty/lazy/bad/good
  • Work on your own self-worth and tell the child what you are doing e.g. ‘I am practising my helpful thinking rule of I’m OK even if I make a mistake. I am reminding myself about this.’
  • Tell him that your love for him is unconditional and never at question

The kind (quality) of language used in interactions between parent and child is critical as briefly outlined above. Be warned that children will start to rate themselves good or bad if they conflate behaviour with being – they are not what they do!

I am not what I do. I'm OK!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Behaviour Education in Schools Workshop - an REBT based approach

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was developed in the 1950's. It is the original cognitive therapy which has many derivatives e.g. Choice Theory (Glasser) Cognitve Behaviour Therapy (Beck) Positve Psychology (Seligman). This 1 hour workshop looks at REBT, its philosophical underpinnings and the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance, the counselling model used by psychologists and counsellors the world over.

''The future of psychotherapy is in the school system.'' Albert Ellis, creator of REBT
Para Hills School P-7
Graduate teachers will say that amongst their main concerns when beginning their career is how to establish and maintain an effective behaviour education program. What models are there to base their practise on? How is their philosophy of learning reflected in their practise? Do they use a punitive approach to behaviour education or an educative one?
Bugs Bunny is self accepting!
The workshop (above) is the first of a program of learning designed to help educators, counsellors and parent/carers provide a counselling based approach to behaviour education which helps students learn how to manage themselves constructively especially in challenging situations.

Albert Ellis may not be with us anymore but his work is as relevant as ever especially in the school setting!

Albert Ellis

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education - dealing with disappointment healthily

There’s two students in the yard (kids 1 and 2). They’re playing one on one basketball. 

A game of one on one
Another person (3) approaches and asks to join in. He’s told as it’s a one on one game so another player isn’t needed. He waits a while and moves on. Another child comes by (4) and asks the same question and the basketball players say it’s a one on one and another player is not required. This is said respectfully and assertively to the third person. The news is not received well. This student (4) goes into a rage and throws their basketball away which ultimately comes to the notice of the teacher on yard duty. Student 4 is asked to sit out and is talked to for his behaviour.

Something happened in the lives of Kid 3 and Kid 4. They were both declined their request to join in the basketball game with 1 and 2. This is called the activating event, situation A.

So A = they didn’t let me join in.

Person 3 Felt OK about this. It (A) probably rated a 2 on the emotional thermometer. A little upset and disappointed perhaps, still in control. No hard feelings. He moved on after a while. No big deal.

Person 4 felt angry. It (A) rated an 8 on the emotional thermometer. It was a big deal. Catastrophic even. He made some average behavioural choices and was taken to task for it.

Did the situation (A) make the children do and feel as they did? If this was the case surely they would feel and act the same way? But we know person 3 was calm and person 4 was angry so A didn’t make their feelings and behaviours. We will call feelings and behaviours C i.e. the emotional and behavioural Consequence of A.

Person 3 said to another student that they didn’t let him join in. They were playing one on one. Three would be too many and that’s OK. This person accepted the situation calmly.

The emotional thermometer
Person 4 said to another student the kids wouldn’t let him join in. They made him angry. It was their fault!

Why the difference? Kid 3 is OK and kid 4 spat the dummy! What’s going on here?

According to REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) theory kids 3 and 4 have constructed contrasting philosophical perspectives. They have different thinking rules. We will call these thinking rules B for beliefs. What are they?

Kid 3 we would speculate has the following philosophical rule:

I don’t always have to get my. It’s rarely a catastrophe when I don’t. I can handle disappointments.

We would say that is a rational/reasonable/helpful/healthy view.

Kid 4 we would suggest according to REBT theory has the following philosophical rule:

I must always get my way. It’s a catastrophe when I don’t. It’s not fair and I can’t stand it!

We would say that is an irrational/unreasonable/unhelpful/unhealthy view.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education teaches students that thinking feeling and behaving are interconnected and that people’s experience of a situation emotionally and behaviourally is linked to their beliefs; their thinking rules.

According to REBT Kid 3 has the following perspective on life:

A + B = C where he will account for how he feels and behaves not solely as a consequence of A but my thinking B (me) has a lot to do with it.

According to REBT Kid 4 has the following perspective on life:

A=C When A happens IT (A) makes my feelings and behaviours. It's is not my fault!

One kids way of looking at things is healthy and the others is not so.

The ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance was created by Albert Ellis and is a very useful teaching tool.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Screwballs, Nutters and Faulty Bits

'There's enough there for an entire conference!' the psychiatrist guest was heard to say to another on witnessing the behaviour of hapless Basil of Fawlty Towers fame (BBC TV UK).
'There's enough there for an entire conference.'
This quote comes to mind whenever I experience behaviour that is beyond the generally agreed norm of what constitutes civility in the workplace. A persons general demeanour and actions can have a positive effect on others; encouraging, supportive and respectful or they can have an otherwise entirely negative effect on them!

Basil's behaviour invoked feelings of frustration and anger from others (how can anyone be so inept) but it was counter balanced by other more 'reasonable' characters like Sybil and Polly who would challenge Basil who it seemed was incapable of any insight in to how his behaviour effected work colleagues! Poor Manuel would cop it mercilessly from Basil who always remained loyal and respectful of his malevolent boss.

Please don't hurt me!
An REBT perspective on Basil's emotional and behavioural status would (and probably has already!) take up 'an entire conference!' What are his 'mustabatory' demands on others and the world? What is he getting (or not getting) that he must not get. And why is it so awful when the world doesn't deliver what he must have and why is it never his fault (Faulty) when things go awry?

Have you ever worked in a situation that would provide 'enough material for an entire conference?' Do you work in an environment bordering on the toxic where a particular individual has hijacked what would otherwise be a pleasant and cordial and more productive workplace? Do you find it difficult to be in the same proximity of this individual (s)? How do you manage yourself and how do you maintain your own sense of worth and dignity?

Any ideas would be most welcome!

Basil and his counterfoils Sybil and Polly

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Lost in Translation - meanings and feelings

Learning an additional language to your own has many benefits; the insights you acquire of other cultures and the nuances of word meanings in that language are a couple. We say in my language things like 'I'd love a nice cup of tea' or to others we might say 'Would you like a nice cup of tea?' What do we mean by 'nice cup of tea?'

My 'nice' may not be your 'nice' but we don't stop to think 'we'll see whether it's nice or not when I get it.' That phrase 'a nice cup of tea' has meanings beyond the literal. It's wrapped up in the tradition of tea drinking, the rituals surrounding the great Irish past time (in my case) of having a nice 'cuppa tae.' Taking tea or having tea' may mean taking a chance to rest a while and ponder or engage with other folk, to have a chat. In my mind the 'niceness' of having a cuppa is not entirely to do with how the tea meets my personal tastes but more to do with the other stuff surrounding it. 

'Sit down and have a nice cup of tea' is not so much an invitation to rate the quality and taste of the drink itself but to stop a while and join in some banter about whatever. The tea can be average to exquisite but the niceness of it is considered in the context in which it is consumed; the context of culture. In this sense the meaning we make of the 'a nice cup of tea' is more than literal.

The niceness of a nice cup of tea to me is the stuff going on around the drinking of it. I have memories of coming down to the 'scullery' of a morning and seeing my granda' sitting at the table drinking his tea with a slice of bread and 'buther' reading yesterdays Írish Independent (the Indie). He would say 'sit yourself down child and I'll get ye a cuppa tae.' The tea was always nice (though sometimes stewed) but not because of the tea itself. It's niceness is all wrapped up in memories of times and people past - dear old granda!

Go on Father Go on go on go on!

I'm now as old as he was then and Dublin of the 1960's is a million light years form Adelaide in 2015 and I still think to myself 'It's time to have a nice cup of tea.'

I was in the City the other day and my partner and I stopped by a restaurant for a cup of something. I pondered the menu a while and decided to have a cup of tea. The waiter (whose first language was not English) asked me what I would like and I said 'I'd like a nice cup of tea please.' His demeanor changed somewhat as he looked at me quizzically and said 'define nice!' It wasn't a question borne of curiosity but more in the tone of 'are you suggesting that you would get anything but 'nice' at this fine establishment. Are you comparing us at all with other places who may not place as much importance on quality of product and service as we do!'

Something had been lost in translation. The intended meaning of what I said didn't match his received interpretation of it and the waiter had taken umbrage. Whether this was right or wrong, professional or unprofessional is not the point here. It wasn't until after the event that I worked out what may have happened and I can only put it down to that one little word 'nice' and how it is wrapped up in all manner of meanings in my experience, in my culture. 'Would ye not sit down and have a nice cuppa tae child?'

Have a nice day!

The Vinehouse, Banagher Co Offaly