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: