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To recover from illness: prioritise self-care, choose the right thoughts and nourish well.

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Life takes a turn when illness hits. While often times, illness comes and goes without much disruptions; there are times everything has to stop and life has to change drastically for recovery to happen. The illness I had recently belongs to the latter. I have a persisting lung haemorrhage that will recur upon physical exertion, and I have triggered a big episode this time round. Weakness runs through my body, stamina depletes, life has to slow down for weeks. I’m walking on eggshells, not knowing when the next relapse is. I’m lucky to have made the choice to slow down.

At this moment, I am still in the journey of recovery. I have trudged this journey long enough to derive some meaning as to what this illness has shown me. I believe every life experience has a meaning for us, and for such specific life-changing events, the meaning is huge. As I reflect on this meaning, I grow a little wiser.

Illness signals self-care. Put ourselves first, priorities needs to be readjusted.

I believe that illness hits when we neglect our needs for too long. Our needs to be rested, be nourished, be listened to, be cared for emotionally, be seen and be balanced. Such neglect happens, priorities get readjusted even without us knowing it. Illness is a sign for us to reconnect with ourselves and listen to what really matters to us. True recovery happens the moment we stop, reflect and re-prioritise ourselves to the forefront.

Illness gives a myriad of thoughts, choose the thoughts that empowers and gives hope.

When this big episode happens, just like the previous episodes, I had an onslaught of negative thoughts that weren’t so helpful to my recovery. When illness sets, our thoughts can have a life on its own. I have thoughts like, “why me again?”, “this won’t ever go away, no point trying”, “my body is just too weak for anything”. These thoughts were not helping – they took hope away, put me in a victim mindset. And I know that psychophysiologically, these thoughts impede my healing.

I began to choose and create positivity, by starting with myself. Someone really close to me reminded me to work through gratitude, and said “think of the things that are happening well for you right now”. I did that and began to realise that things are actually getting better, albeit minor episodes of relapse. I began to garner hope that things are turning out well. At the same time, I grew more sensitive to others’ pain in their own versions, compassion began to grow within me. They were afraid, tired, confused and unsure, just like me. It hit me when I realised that at the most fundamental level of living, we are all the same. That gave me strength to trudge on because they didn’t give up either.

Illness often needs wholesome food for recovery. Food and rest comes together.

Rest is the time for the body to reconstruct and repair itself, food is the building blocks for this process. When I was really ill one day, a meal that was well-prepared made a tremendous difference compared to a shoddy meal. Nutrition matters, and it can be felt from the inside out. Ensure our food has high levels of growth and repair nutrients. Couple good food and rest, re-prioritise our personal needs and shifting to a positive mental state, the recovery process will be amped up to a higher frequency.                                               

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

We seldom notice our contribution, till the closing chapter.

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We all have a platform to contribute, in each of our lives, in a way that is uniquely us. This platform can be in our work, family, relationships or community. Amidst the hustle and bustle of our lives, we sometimes do forget to realise how we are needed in the larger picture, that our presence is holding a structure in place. In any role or relationship, we are needed, and we influence the environment around us.

Recently, I reflected on the platform of my professional work, knowing that I am leaving this working community, I realised how much I have forgotten along the way. I worked too hard, and I did not acknowledge the little successes I have accumulated along the way. Until the last week of my work, when my clients and ex-clients came back and said their thanks to me. I realised all these little successes, when added up, were quite phenomenal.

As we said our farewell, some of them have found independence from their pain, and they no longer need me. They found their strength, to be a more assertive person, to be more aware of their pain, to know that they have control over their circumstances, to have grown and did not regressed. I am very happy for them. While others still need my help in freeing their pain, I believe they could do it eventually. But there is only a sense of pity that our work cannot be continued. We have to say our goodbyes.

It is at this closing chapter, I understood the reach and importance of my work. I think it is a little too late.

We do not have to wait till the closing chapter, to recognise our own work.

Often, I absentmindedly overlook the work I should give credit to. I think it will be beneficial for us to personally recognise and acknowledge to ourselves the work that we put through our platforms. I believe it is a strong motivator to our morale. To know that every day we are adding value to the lives of others, to empower the structure around us, is a powerful thought. To know that we are an asset of something bigger, is a recognition that we are needed in the community. The work we do matter, and we as people of the community matter.

This closure has to happen, for me to move to something bigger.

In hindsight, albeit I have seen my work manifesting into a ripple effect of positive outcomes in reality, I need a bigger space to grow. I believe that life consists of a series of milestones, each of which gives us the learnings and experience, to make us stronger to move closer to who we want to be. We have to actively progress and utilise our acquired strengths. The space around us has to evolve as we evolve, may it be a spontaneous evolution or we change the environment to meet our needs. I am extremely grateful to this chapter of my life because I have developed tremendously in these 5 years. But it has come to a point where only a full closure can set me on a wider path to fully expand my abilities. The end of one chapter, is also the start of another.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Know how to Get in the Zone: Skill, Challenge and Motivation

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Flow, or “in the zone”, is a psychological experience that can be an asset to our growth. Many would think that being “in the zone” applies to only sports, but it happens to us more often than we realise, whether we notice it or not. Classically, a tennis game involving two equally skilled players would involve flow, whereby each pit individual skills against the challenges posed by the other, each holds clear goals to win the match, and each enjoys the game. Putting this experience in your context, in the past week, have you done an activity with a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment? If you have, then you have contacted flow. This post will discuss flow as an asset to growth and how you can access flow states with precision.


Key Notes:

  1. The Benefits of Flow
  2. The Flow Experience – Skills, Challenge, Motivation & Attention
  3. The 7 Flow Conditions

The Benefits of Flow

I choose to talk about flow because it has strong relevance with my work. At some part of the coaching process, I will certainly work with my client to create more flow experiences, which is integral to the change process. Flow immediately immerses my clients in valued-driven activities that they can easily commit to. Flow activities present challenges to the clients in a way that matches their abilities and interests. Hence, when clients detect dysfunctional thoughts and feelings that can debilitating to them (e.g., this is completely hopeless [depressive], there is just too much going on for me to even think [anxious]), entering flow is a diversion strategy at its finest. Entering flow is a whole-sensory behaviour that leaves little “bandwidth” for the client to entertain thoughts and feelings that have negative value to them, breaking that psychological reflex to spiral downwards.

Other than using this flow experience to enter optimal functioning states, research has shown that contacting flow on a frequent basis has been associated with increases in:

  • General life satisfaction and positive feelings
  • Self-efficacy and confidence
  • Creativity, performance and accomplishments
  • Resilience and coping
  • Motivation
  • Personal growth and flourishing

Knowing that flow is an enhancer to our living experience, let us understand the conditions to better access this state and reap its benefits.


The Flow Experience

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The flow model primarily consists of the balance between perceived personal skill and perceived challenge, with an undercurrent of attention and motivation.

Perceived skills relates to the ability, self mastery and confidence to complete the tasks. Perceived challenges relate to the demand of the goals set ahead. When we have high skills, aiming for goals set at a high margin, when accompanied with absolute focus and motivation, this optimal experience will generate a process of growth, regardless of the outcome. The importance of the flow experience is that once we enter this optimal experience, the process itself is already the reward, as we exercise our self-mastery to attempt a worthy challenge. If we succeed against the challenge, it is furthermore an icing on the cake.
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When skills mismatch challenge, there will be  other possible experiences that are less optimal. Generally, when challenge exceeds skills, the feeling of less than adequate usually arises; when skills exceed challenge, we slowly disengage from the experience.

The 7 Flow Conditions

The optimal flow condition is likely to be achieved when the following conditions are met (Schaffer, 2013):

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you are doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions

Flow is an experience that revolves around how our self-mastery interacts with the demands placed on us, and how we cognitively engage with this challenge. When the conditions are all met, and when flow is frequently contacted, our lives will naturally be filled with meaning and opportunities for growth. As a personal experiment, try to test this out in your own life.

Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

What to do with a Friend in Need? Hold the Space, then Allow what Comes.

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When we see people in need of help, we will want to help them. That’s natural, we have compassion built into us as social beings. But when we see people in need, especially when they start talking to us, what we think as helpful may not be helpful to them. The way we should deal with their upset is very different from the way we deal with our upset internally. For instance, when we experience trouble, we will try to find a way out, find solutions to match the problems. When it comes to other people’s issues, they first want to be understood, heard and seen, before any other process happen; rather than be problem-solved. I will detail a 2-step process to begin the helping relationship with a troubled friend.

Step One: Hold the Space

Be present, curious, understanding and compassionate. This is a skill we get drilled on repetitively in our training as therapists, counsellors or life coaches. We learn to hold the space for the other person to unfold. Think of the last time you were really interested in getting to know someone because that person intrigues you. You already know how to do this. These are some of the many strategies that we professionals use:

  1. Reflect the meaning – reflect the essence of what is being communicated as we experience the other person fully.
  2. Communicate empathy – let the other person know that we can relate to what he feels, because somehow we have encountered such feelings before. Contexts can be different, but feelings are universal.
  3. Be curious, don’t judge – ask questions to gather more about this issue and let the person tell the story.
  4. Show up and be real – be yourself skillfully, and disclose what you truly feel about the situation, but not to give any advice or judgments.

Through these strategies, the other person would know that we are genuinely concerned, and we understood them. And sometimes, this is all they need from us, just for one other person in this world to know that they are struggling – an immense therapeutic outlet.

Step Two: Let them Decide where to go from here

After holding the space for the other person, for more complex issues, the other person may need and will be receptive to a more involved conversation. Generally, these are the 3 ways the conversation could turn out:

  1. “I can handle it eventually” problems: For these problems, the other person just needs someone to talk to. If we hold the space well, that will clarify the person’s thoughts and give comfort to the person. We have done our helping role here. No advice needed, therapy done.
  2. “I’m lost, confused and torn” problems: In this context, the other person is probably torn between options or even have no idea how to move forward. But the problem is potentially manageable. In this context, advice may expected from us, before which we should always ask for permission to advice. Then, give your opinions and thoughts, some of which may be taken, others may not. Then disengage, while holding the space all the time.
  3. “This is totally hopeless” problems: Sometimes, people encounter problems that are too large to handle, and they give up hope. This is when people start showing self-defeating thoughts. Sometimes, we cannot see a way out for them too. In these situations, we help by shining positive light of hope, and trust that they have the internal resources to cope through. Highlight the good things they have been doing well in moving this problem and ask them what could they possibly explore from here (extracted from solution-focused therapy). Do positive reframe and highlight what positive outcomes they can perceive at this point, flip the problem to an asset (extracted from neurolinguistic programming).

Of course, there are a range of other problem types, which needs different strategies and some can be very complex to explain. Most importantly, bear in mind that in many conversations, if we are highly skillful in holding the space for the other, we can already see a shift in other person. That could be all they ask for.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

How to Cultivate Emotional Intimacy? Correct the “4 Horsemen” in Relationships.

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The positive signs of a consummate relationship are: intimacy, passion and commitment, as mentioned in our previous post. Also mentioned in the article:

Like the Circle of Security with a child, an intimate relationship should have the Secure Base where each can explore and venture the world, and come back at the end of the day into a Safe Haven to recharge and gather strength.

Emotional intimacy is the shared psychological experience most encountered by the couple on a daily basis. It is the space where the couple share how their days went, the troubles they had and their deepest hopes and dream. It is also the space where the couple talk about how they feel about each other and about the relationship in general. Emotional intimacy is the ground to hold such conversations, so it is important to ensure this ground is fertile for growth.


 

Key Notes:

  • Destruction vs. Construction
  • Criticism: Correction of blame placement.
  • Defensiveness: Correction of rejection and nonacceptance.
  • Contempt: Correction of overt judgment and condescension.
  • Stonewalling: Correction of escape.
  • Lean towards authenticity, vulnerability and solution-focused conversations.

Cultivating emotional intimacy is largely a communication process – verbal and non-verbal. In the discussion of the following destructive behaviours of relationship breakdowns, bear in mind these behaviours involve what is said, observed and felt by each person.

Classic relationship research has shown that relationship/marital dissatisfaction and separation/divorce can be predicted by the presence of these “4 Horsemen of Relationships”: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling. These destructive processes have the tendency to degrade the quality of the relationship, restricting authenticity and personal vulnerability from showing up – leading to emotional withdrawal. Nonetheless, these behaviours are commonly observed in relationships because their negative effects are seldom thought upon. Effective couples promptly deescalate such processes, while ineffective ones feed on each other and involve furthermore of the other listed behaviours.

Each of these processes are explained and suggestions for more functional reactions are provided to cultivate emotional intimacy.


1.Criticism

Criticism is about blame placement. Blame in a relationship can be placed on the problem or the person. Criticism is when the blame is placed on the character of the person, such that the person can feel devalued and rejected. When the core of a person is judged, the person will naturally feel the need to defend and protect the sanctity of one’s character, which leads to the next destructive process: defensiveness.

Solution: Refocus any blame on the problem, not the person. If there is a problem, comment on the problem and how the problem affected you, and describe what could be done better to help you in the relationship next time. And check-in.

Do this, “When you arrived late for dinner just now (problem), I felt worried and scared that something could happen to you, and I also waited for a long time (effect on me). I’m thinking if next time you can inform me that you’re coming late so at least I can have a peace of mind (suggested solution & effect). Do you think that is possible? (check-in)

This is a constructive process to create space for empathy and ideas for improvement. Both can work on the problem, and the receiver is less likely to take it personally. Eventually, the relationship will function better for both.

Rather than, “You are late again, same as last week. I wish you can be less inconsiderate.”

Steer away from character judgements, such as “you are inconsiderate/ illogical/ unreasonable”, and absolutes, such as “you always…” and “I’ve never…”. Such usage will only attack the other and close the conversation down.


2.Defensiveness

Defensiveness is about nonacceptance and rejection. Defensiveness can occur for legitimate reasons, such as when unfair comments are made about us, or non-legitimate reasons, such as not willing to take ownership for our contribution towards a problem. But the issue here is not whether it is legitimate or not, it is whether defensiveness is destructive or constructive.

Defensive actions imply “don’t put all this on me”, telling the other person “you might want to take a look at yourself”, and “I’m not listening to you now”. You can imagine how easily criticism can spawn defensiveness. The process of mutual understanding and constructive conversations will cease. Resolution to this conflict is to depersonalise the comment and refocus the issue from person to problem.

Solution: Explore the rejection and nonacceptance, instead of rejecting at the outset upon making assumptions about the other. When you feel the need to defend, comment on how you are affected by the comment, check with the other is that what was meant. Then, refocus the comment on the problem, and discuss what could be done better.

Do this, “When you said that I was inconsiderate (criticism), I felt that all that I have done for you were discounted, and I felt devalued in this relationship (effect on me). Is that what you meant? (Check-in). I know that you’re unhappy with me being late (refocus comment on problem), what would work for you next time if I’m late again? (discuss solutions)?

The receiver redirects the conversation from person to problem, and begins the constructive process by offering understanding and empathy for both.

Rather than, “You know that the traffic is always heavy after work. After going through all that, now I’m being blamed. If you can just be a little less demanding…”

Steer away from reacting to the emotional trigger to defend, and express the feeling underlying that defense, before the trigger (e.g., hurt, devalued).


3.Contempt

Contempt is about overt judgment and condescension. It carries heavy judgment on the disliked qualities of the other, and shows up as disrespectful behaviours, such as name-calling, ridicule, sneering and eye-rolling. It also connotes a “I am better than you” message, forming a distance of higher-up of self and lower-down of the other. Contempt immediately breaks the equality and trust in the relationship, whereby one attempts to degrade the other, by imbuing verbal and non-verbal judgments.

Solution: Resolve the core of such strong judgments. The opposite of judgment is curiosity. Usually, in a relationship, each person presents some qualities that can be challenging for the other. Be very aware of this list of qualities that gets to you. When they show up, be curious about how it is showing up in the other and let the other know how it affects you. It will begin the process for you to come to terms with it, or to effect some positive changes. Heavy judgments to degrade is unlikely to shift such behavioural patterns.

Do this, “You know I have a problem with you being late in the past and it shows up repeatedly these days (negative quality), I would like to understand what you’re struggling with recently, it must be straining for you (curiosity & empathy). This consistent pattern just makes me feel like you’re not interested in how it affects me (consequence of quality). Can we talk about how to make this better?

Rather than, “Well the traffic is apparently more important than me (eye-roll). Seriously, not even a text message? I would have done better if I’m late.”

Steer away from acting on the judgment triggers. Reduce any behaviour to widen the relationship gap. Stay with curiosity and explore the internal judgment.


4.Stonewalling

Stonewalling is about escape. It is about withdrawing any further physical and/or emotional interaction from the other. Stonewalling is usually one of the last resort when the interaction is spiraling downwards for too long, and there is no hope in further discussion. While its intention could be to prevent further damage or resistant to change, stonewalling cuts the relationship metaphorically into two – neither one is able to communicate with the other. Stonewalling places the relationship on eggshells because neither party can hold the space for constructive problem-solving.

Solution: Stonewalling is about escape and experiential avoidance of the negative processes. For certain, the previous three processes would have been showing up repeatedly unaddressed. To resolve stonewalling, both parties have to stop, cool down emotionally, and re-address the damages they have done to each other. Use the above-mentioned solutions to go through each of them. Both parties were hurt, and each party has to be given the time and space to clarify and explore the hurt.

Do this, “We have been hurting each other with no end in sight. What I am feeling right now is to end this conversation and leave. But I know it will hurt us even more. Nobody wins here. Can we take some time to cool down and talk about how hurt each other all this time? I think we need to work this out.”

Rather than, “There’s no point talking further. Just go away.”


Final notes

These 4 processes are known as the “4 horsemen of relationship apocalypse” because they have huge destruction value. To correct each of these processes, the common thread is to lean towards authenticity, vulnerability and solution-focused conversations. Showing up as being real creates the space for both to empathise and care genuinely, while having solution-focused talks help to progress the relationship, rather than dwelling on the negatives. Working through these processes may not be straightforward, it is almost a new skill to acquire. I strongly believe these processes apply to any relationship and not just intimate ones. Come back to this post to be reminded, and keep practicing to cultivate emotional intimacy.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Depressive Reaction & Reactive Depression: Only One is Worrying.

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Throughout our lives, we experience a range of moods. Some of these mood states are more activating, while others are deactivating. One of the most deactivating mood state is depression. Depression is a cause of concern in societies around the world. It is one of the most common mental health issue faced by many people, regardless of gender, occupation and age. Less known to the population is that depression can be classified across a spectrum, from milder levels (depressive reaction) to critical level (reactive depression). It is essential to know the difference along this spectrum, as when the critical level is reached, professional help is often needed. I have seen many people keeping serious depression in the closet and try to self-cope. Many times, for them, the struggle remains recurring, as Winston Churchill said, “when the black dog comes to visit”.

Depressive reaction is a mood-related response most people can exhibit in a challenging situation. Like any mood state, such as feeling anxious, happy, sad and grieve, depressive reaction is temporary, and will come and pass in its own time. It feels like a flattened emotion, with little positivity present. Like depression, depressive reaction will also generate self-defeating thoughts (e.g., hopelessness, over-generalisation) and negative attitudes. But, unlike depression, depressive reaction does not last long, and the person will regain functionality as the mood passes.

Reactive Depression is a conditioned involuntary responses in the face of adversity, stemming from personal belief system and schemas. These responses are likely to be episodes when the depression comes in and stays over time. Reactive depression is likened to a knee-jerk reaction that got triggered, and stays triggered due to cognitive and emotional regulatory reasons.

To properly identify a reactive depression, these are some of the major symptoms:

  1. Duration: Can potentially last from days to months-on-end to even years. It is not a mood, but a state of being that carries the depressive emotion consistently as the norm.
  2. Functionality: The person has difficulty functioning normally or effectively on a daily basis. Activities that were once enjoyed or done easily becomes difficult.
  3. Intensity of thoughts: The person is strongly influenced by the negative thoughts in the head. These thoughts has control over the person, can be irrational and seldom challenged.
  4. Experiential avoidance: The person is resistant towards new experiences, new ways of thinking, behaving and exploring.
  5. Physical exhaustion: These negative mental states will eventually affect the physical state. Other symptoms such as insomnia, weight loss and bowel problems may result.

With these criteria as benchmarks, if you recognise these symptoms in the people around you, it is advisable to help them approach mental health professionals, click here to explore which is an appropriate profession. However, if it is only a passing mood state, do sit down quietly by yourself with the depressive reaction and ask why is it here? And what meaning it has for you? Such exploration will surface some personal truths and foster growth.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Value of “Us”: 1+1 = 3

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When two people come together in an intimate relationship, a psychological enmeshment process occurs, which not many people are aware of. A third entity is formed: “Us”. This idea of “Us” is often forgotten, as one thinks of how one is interacting with the other person. The relationship is personalised into the other person, how Person A is giving and loving to Person B, how Person A has disagreements with Person B, how Person A forgives Person B. While this is a very logical way to perceive the relationship, since it is the person who attracts us at the start of the relationship, it is slowly gaining importance to recognise the combined entity of “Us” as the relationship matures.


“Us” is the medium each person derives the meaning of the relationship.


What is “Us”?

Every relationship is dynamic. It is the combination of what each person brings into the relationship, from stable trait factors, such as personality, beliefs and morals, to more fluid experiences, such as the tiredness after work, a positive state of mind, a distracted mind, and energy in general. All these factors interact, with each reacting and responding to what the other brings to the table. This dynamic psychological space is “Us”. In long-term relationships, immersing in this dynamic flow of states and traits in the couple relationship becomes an everyday occurrence. We have to be aware of its workings.

“Us” is the medium each person derives the meaning of the relationship. It is a third entity that almost resembles a bank account, as relationship expert Dr. Gottman explains. This “bank account” contains the deposits (positive traits & states) and withdrawals (negatives traits & states) of the relationship. The state of this account would give each person the perceived relationship satisfaction, the health status of the relationship.

The meaning of “Us” for the couple.

It is through “Us”, we are influenced by the relationship. When relationship questionnaires are designed, the items are phrased in terms of “how are you perceiving the relationship?”, and less of  “how are you perceiving your partner?”. The idea behind this is because we derive our relationship meaning from the interaction with this psychological space, less of the person because we will also consider our personal input.

What we think we are doing to each other, is actually what we are doing to the relationship that impacts the other. For instance, a negative experience, when Person A accidentally criticises Person B “you could be a little more involved when I’m at work.” What is actually happening is that Person A has withdrawn value from “Us”, which in turn affects how Person B perceives the relationship as blaming. Person B will feel hurt, not because the self-worth, self-concept or self-esteem of Person B is impacted, which some people may think so, but the hurt comes from the evaluation that now the relationship is not as supportive as before. The same occurs for positive experiences as well.

Think of relationship as “Us”.

This post highlights that each person in the relationship has the control and power to influence “Us”. The more deposits made, the higher the quality of relationship. Keep it in mind that any withdrawal made to the relationship will not just impact the other person, but it will eventually come back to its originator. A relationship is always dynamic, a standard rule is that positivity breeds positivity, and negativity breeds negativity. In a future post, I will share how knowing “Us” well enough can solve many relationship problems in an amicable way.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

Tips to change our work to our calling

dave_isay_calling_ted“Finding your calling — it’s not passive,” he says. “When people have found their calling, they’ve made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to do the work they were meant to do.”

~ Dave Isay, StoryCorps Founder

An interesting read to understand how to earn a value-driven living, that is enriching and meaningful to us.

7 lessons about finding the work you were meant to do,  by Ideas.Ted.com

 

Life Coach, Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist: Which one to approach when distressed?

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Mental distress is a human experience that can range across a wide spectrum. It can be a depressive episode that comes and goes regularly, a relationship argument that triggers anger issues, or suicidal attempts to end all the struggles right now. When a person is struggling with such distress, it can be confusing to know who to approach to resolve these issues. In my work, I have seen clients who have sought each of these professions, and they turned out very differently, with horror and success stories. Hence, I write this post to highlight the differences between each of these professions, in the way they are trained, and the likely approaches they adopt to help. Share this post with people whom you know will benefit from this knowledge.


1.Psychiatrist / GP – The Medical Professionals

This is the most common go-to I see in my clients. When someone is in psychological distress, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, they see a doctor, thinking that psychological and physiology can be treated the same way – through medications. Psychiatrists are trained first as doctors, through a typical medical degree, and specialised into mental health. The primary mode of treatment from the medical system is medications, such as antidepressants and mood stabilisers.

Pros: Medications are highly effective in reducing psychological distress on a biochemistry level. This approach is highly suitable when an immediate treatment is necessary, such as to prevent drastic self-harm or suicide. The medications increases the concentration of “feel good” hormones that balances the activity of the brain, so negative thoughts and behaviours get reduced.

Cons: Medication are just temporary stop-gap measures, with possible chances of forming dependency and addiction. I have clients experiencing severe mood swings and insomnia once the medications are reduced, which is not surprising because medications does not change the internal cognitive and emotional processes. The same patterns of thinking generating the distress will still happen once the biochemistry is reverted.

Indeed, research has shown that interventions using medications and therapeutic sessions have significantly higher improvements and less relapse rates, as compared to using medications alone.

I believe that a psychological distress is contributed by both biochemistry and dysfunctional patterns of thinking. And once formed, these 2 factors self-perpetuate into a negative spiral. Hence, the best way forward is to include therapeutic sessions. The latter three professionals are trained to provide these therapies.


2.Psychologist – The Scientist-Practitioners

My doctorate is in the field of psychology. Psychologists are first trained as a scientist of human experience, then a practitioner to help. Most psychologist have no practical experience in helping during the undergraduate years. Their orientation is to approach a client as a scientist-practitioner, and will be unethical to practice any therapy that has not been supported by science.

Pros: Any strategies adopted by a psychologist are backed by science and has been tested with many subjects. The chances of treatment success is high. Treatments are also highly based on scientific approaches, where pre and post-intervention assessment scores are systematically obtained and compared to determine treatment success.

Cons: Many psychological experiences cannot be generalised. What is supported by science may not work on the specific client. Under a psychologist, the client can only be treated with strategies that work on the majority of the population. There is a chance that the client can be better helped with an alternative therapy, which is hard to research on and so cannot be adopted by the psychologist – which encompasses many useful therapies other professions use (e.g., Hypnosis, NLP and Narrative Therapy). Counsellors and life coaches, as elaborated later, are not confined by these requirements.


2.Counsellor – Past & Present Orientation

Counsellors are getting to mainstream psychology. Counsellors are trained primarily as experiential practitioners, and less of being a scientists; hence, they are more flexible to attend fully to a client’s experience without the red tapes. They focus on helping an individual come to terms with life challenges by focusing on the past and present. They have wide access to many different approaches that have shown treatment success, which may or may not include those adopted by psychologists. Counsellors also treat milder levels of distress, such as time management, confidence, forgiveness, as well as tougher distresses, including mood dysfunctions and relationship problems. GP/psychiatrists and psychologists are more inclined to treat at-risk and near-clinical cases.

Pros: Counsellors provide a more personal touch to the treatment process. Some of my clients detest to the process of scientific measurements because those numbers do not represent how they really feel inside. A change in the numbers did not necessary make them feel okay to be let off the therapy. Some clients prefer a more personal approach.

Cons: Counsellors focus heavily in the past and present, including heavy exploration of the past. My experience as a life coach demonstrates that the conversation about a past problem is very different from the conversation about a positive solution-focused future. I have clients who relate to me counselling experiences that were so invested in past abuses, that they left the session not knowing how to move forward. And over time, it becomes a negatively geared therapy process. Life Coaching provides the “what now from here?” answer.


2.Life Coach – Present & Future Orientation

Life coaching is my preferred profession because I believe true treatment success has to be one that is unrestricted and authentically personal. It has to also include invested growth elements so that the clients not only improved from a -5 to 0, but also from 0 to +3. The client will leave being a stronger and more resilient person.

Life coaching has most of the skills and therapeutic knowledge a counsellor has. But a life coach focuses on creating a positive future, from a distressed past and present. The focus on moving forward is intense, and the client will be consistently challenged to be empowered. A frequent question we use is “knowing all these are happening or have happened, what is one small step you can take right now to change your future?”. Life coaching is a thoughtful and challenging process because the client has to truly show up authentically and start climbing up the rut.

Another key strength of a life coach is that we produce clients who can eventually self-coach. I see most clients not more than three sessions, with efficient treatment success, and little relapse rates because they know how catch themselves as they realised they are slipping.

Pros: A truly empowering and personal therapeutic process to restructure the thoughts and emotions to be more functional, without needing the use of medications.

Cons: Life coaching is not suitable for highly unstable or clinical clients, with a thick traumatic past.


Mental distress can be seen as mild or severe, and its treatment approaches can be taken from the medical or therapeutic processes. Also, both biochemical and psychological processes have to be accounted for, if applicable. Depending on what a client is experiencing, the right professional has to be selected to obtain the best care.

Share and spread this knowledge, and raise the global awareness.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.

 

It all Begins with Acceptance

12534161_522912274554363_1749498935_nAcceptance is the release of a broken reality,

of the hurt, anger, disappointment, the “what ifs” and the “not good enoughs”.

Reborn with acceptance,

we can move on,

to see a new commitment where hope lies,

a commitment to chart a new path.

Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.