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Matthew McKenzie

Matthew McKenzie

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“Don’t Worry About a Thing”

As my home country, Jamaica, recently celebrated 57 years of Independence I celebrated with them – putting on some Bob Marley music that the whole world knows and loves. One of the songs (Three Little Birds) had lines therein that inspired the title of this post. He sang, “don’t worry about a thing, because every little thing is going to be alright”. For so many of the clients I see who experience high levels of anxiety (the emotion), there is often the accompanying experience of worry (the thoughts). The combination of the two often leads to the individual’s experience of significant levels of distress and can result in a number of serious mental health concerns.

In psychology, there are different ways in which we understand the nature of anxiety and worry thoughts and there are as many varying viewpoints on how we treat with them. Anxiety is most simply defined as an internal experience of stress, which may involve feelings of nervousness, fear, worry and apprehension. It is also important to know that Anxiety is a future-based emotion – meaning that the focus is always on something that has not happened yet. You may reflect, for a moment, on an experience of anxiety (it can be recent or one further in the past) and notice that while it may have been triggered by something in that moment it was really about something that you believed was going to happen or that you believed could happen.Anxiety is an emotional experience created and made stronger by the nature of the thoughts that we have and usually these thoughts are negative.

But, is all anxiety BAD?

The truth is, some amount of anxiety can be useful in that it gives us information about things in the future that are important to us. Take a job interview, for example, and the anxious feelings about that which may arise. First, we acknowledge that the anxiety is present in this situation because of our thoughts about the future (we might be concerned about whether we will get the job). Secondly, it is giving us some information, which is that this is a job you really want, or it is important to you. Some anxiety can help us to perform well, but too much anxiety can get in the way of us being our best selves in the present.

Worry takes a toll!

Worry tends to go hand in hand with anxiety and it is the thought process, the self-talk that keeps running on a loop in our mind when we are anxious. Anxiety can also result in physical symptoms and these tend to vary across different people. Noticing what happens in your body is an important first step in coping with anxiety, because you can be alerted to the warning signs of when you are becoming anxious.

 

Get out of your worry loop and back into your body

To get out of the mind, sit or lie down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and feel your body – focus on where the sensations are and bring awareness to them (you do not have to do anything about them, all you have to do is notice them). Even though these sensations are not pleasant, rest assured, they want to go out. Take deep breaths. Draw the air down into the pit of your stomach, then easily and slowly release it again.

Dealing with anxiety and worry can be a challenging experience and there are different approaches and tools that can support you towards living a better quality of life. If you believe you could use support in terms of managing your own experience of anxiety and worry, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

 

By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)

Registered Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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Don’t be Cruel, Be Kind: Developing Self-Compassion

In reflecting on my own experience growing up, and also reflecting on the personal histories that many of my clients have shared with me, I have noticed a common thread – a shared experience for many of us. I have noticed that for many of us the development of virtues such as being responsible individuals, being goal-oriented, hardworking and motivated towards success, came with the indirect message that we needed to be hard on ourselves to establish these virtues and keep them alive. We confuse the good practice of holding ourselves accountable with punishing ourselves for our inherent imperfections. We lose compassion for ourselves, though we maintain compassion for others. For many of us, our suffering is a result of the poorly developed relationship we have with ourselves; we have either forgotten or we never learned to be kind to who we are. In my own life’s journey and with the clients I see for psychotherapy, I often integrate the good practice of developing self-compassion.

Self-compassion is the act of being kind and understanding toward yourself. Rather than being highly critical of yourself because of shortcomings and mistakes made, Self-compassion encourages you to accept that you are human and imperfect. It seems strange that we would struggle to be kind to ourselves, but part of the reason for this struggle may be our misunderstanding of kindness to self as a code phrase for self-pity; which many of us are understandably averse to. But self-pity is, what self-compassion is not! When individuals feel self-pity, they become immersed in their own problems and forget that others have similar problems. They ignore their connections with others, and instead feel that they are the only ones in the world who are suffering. This takes the “normal-ness” out of the experience you are having, and this tends to make the suffering worse.

Many people say they are reluctant to be self-compassionate because they are afraid they would let themselves get away with anything; being overly indulgent. Being kind to yourself also means holding yourself accountable and doing what is healthy for your present and your future self! Remember that being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy and healthy in the long-term. In many cases, just giving oneself pleasure may harm well-being (so we definitely would not want to confuse having an entire tub of ice cream with the process of self-compassion).

The truth is many of us already know how to be compassionate, because we are to others. With others, we are able to see their suffering and then respond to it with kindness and help. This is the process we must engage in with ourselves – noticing our suffering, identifying where it is coming from and then helping ourselves as we would a good friend.

These things I leave for you to contemplate, and until next time – Be kind to yourself and look out for your neighbour. If you would like further support on your journey to self-compassion, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

 

By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)

Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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Changing Challenging Behaviours in Children: How Do We Respond?

A good friend of mine recently told me a story from his childhood of being a youngster with challenging behaviour at school. He was, and still is, one of the brightest minds I know, nevertheless teachers found him difficult to manage at times. In reflecting on his experience, he shared that being “good” consistently got him nowhere and nothing, whereas when he behaved poorly and then improved on his behaviour for a day he would be rewarded immensely. As a young boy he figured out how his environment would respond to different patterns of behaviour and his behaviour became influenced by that.

As I listened to his story I thought of many families I had seen wherein parents seemed to miss opportunities to consistently notice, praise and reward good behaviour. In many instances, this occurs because we are programmed to expect good behaviour naturally and actively respond to undesirable behaviour. However, if we step back we might ask ourselves: What motivation would a child have to demonstrate good behaviour consistently if that behaviour is seldom noticed and reinforced by those around them? Additionally, we should also recognise that even when parents respond to undesirable behaviours with anger, this negative response represents some form of attention, which they have been eager for and not in receipt of when they have behaved well. It seems then that balancing the scales in terms of paying more attention to desirable behaviours and reinforcing those behaviours is a key element for parents to consider taking on board.

Does Punishment have a place?

While punishment may not be the primary disciplinary strategy that we suggest to our parents, we are certainly not saying that it does not have its place. However, to be effective it has to be delivered in a particular way – otherwise, it could do more harm than good to the child’s psychological well being. For example, in some families I have worked with, parents may have allowed inappropriate behaviours to go unchecked for extended periods and then at their breaking point of frustration they crack down all at once with often excessive forms of punishment that may not have been proportionate to the most recent display of challenging behaviours. It is as though the parents were saving up the punishment and then made the decision to spend it all at once.

Parents, of course, have the best of intentions even when life seems to get in the way – however, the key to developing greater consistency in the child’s behaviours is by increasing the consistency in the parental response as well. In fact, the research tells us that inconsistent parenting may place children with oppositional tendencies at risk of greater anti-social behaviours in the teenage years and later in life.

Relying too heavily on punishment tends to create more challenges than it solves problems. When parents overuse punishment, children are less inclined to be honest about their behaviours and their motivation shifts from striving towards more desirable behaviours to avoiding punishment at all costs. What I find most unfortunate about an overreliance on punishment is that it also has negative long-term implications for the parent-child relationship whereby fear becomes a feature of that relationship, which in many instances is not what parents intend.

For punishment to be effective it has to be used as little as possible; occur immediately after the child displays unwanted behaviour; be carried out in a similar manner each time; be handled in a calm business-like way (making it about the behaviour and not the child being “bad”); and be of short duration.

The take home message here is that focusing on children’s positive behaviours and consistently reinforcing those efforts goes a long way to increase the frequency of those desired behaviours. Often times within this process, undesirable behaviours lose their strength and the frequency of such behaviours decreases. Changing our parenting perspective can go a long way in helping us win greater cooperation from children. If you believe you could use support in improving your parenting response or would like support in managing your child’s challenging behaviours, contact our team at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

By: Matthew McKenzie B. Psych. (Hons.), M. Psych. (Clinical) (Dist.)

Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

 

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Overcoming Childhood OCD: The Family Facing and Fighting Together

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)is a common and debilitating disorder that affects many children and adolescents (roughly 1-4%). The disorder usually involves the child’s experience of obsessions which are intrusive thoughts, images or impulses that are quite distressing and for some children this leads to compulsions which are rituals that are performed repeatedly in an effort to alleviate the distress that comes from the obsessions. Both obsessions and compulsions can take up a significant amount of the child’s time and often gets in the way of daily functioning at home, school and in their peer relationships. 

OCD, even more so than other anxiety-based disorders, tends to impact significantly on families and this is particularly because so many of the obsessions and compulsions often take place within the home environment. Parents often get pulled into the OCD experience with the child, whereby they begin to perform rituals with the child or for the child. This process is called Family Accommodation. Parents and other family members do not accommodate because they believe the OCD rules are true, however in an effort to prevent high levels of distress and an often chaotic response from the child suffering with OCD, they make massive adjustments to the way the family would typically function. Family accommodation increases the experience of stress within the family and unfortunately makes the child’s OCD more severe over time. 

Fortunately, there have been significant advances over the last decade in our understanding of OCD, the factors that maintain it and how best to approach treatment. In working with children with OCD I take an evidence-based approach which is Cognitive-Behavioural Therapythat specifically involves Exposure and Response Prevention. In this form of therapy, I work with the child to take small gradual steps towards facing their OCD fears (the Exposure), while not engaging in the rituals which OCD tells them is necessary to alleviate the distress (the Response Prevention). In the process of treatment, children learn to tolerate distress and they also learn to let go of beliefs they may have about their responsibilityfor things that in reality are not within their control. For example, through treatment a child may learn that engaging in a 1-hour bedtime routine will not prevent something bad happening to a beloved parent, the child will also learn to tolerate the anxiety that comes from such a thought, and they will learn that the anxiety will pass on its own without any need for rituals. 

Because OCD impacts so much on family functioning, I get the whole family on board from the very start, providing good education about OCD and how it works, then getting the whole family to make a commitment to work together as a team to fight the OCD. This treatment approach is dynamic and flexible and very often can be incredibly fun for the young person even while they face some of their most challenging fears. At times, I may do sessions in the child’s home since for many children the OCD is centred around the home environment. We want to make the treatment experience as similar to the child’s daily experience with the OCD as possible.

The role of parents and other family members in treatment is just as important as the role I play as a therapist. It can be challenging for parents to decrease accommodation, especially when it has become an automatic part of the way the family works. However, even making small changes every day makes a big difference in the long run. It is often an incredible experience for children with OCD and their families to re-discover aspects of life which they had been missing out on for so long because of OCD. OCD is challenging, but there is solid evidence that a good dose of treatment can go a long way and overtime it is possible for a child with OCD to be OCD free! For more information about OCD and treatment options please feel free to contact us at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

 

By: Matthew McKenzie, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.Sc. (Dist.)

Provisional Psychologist, Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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