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Wendy

Wendy

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How to Help Your Child Cope with Bullying

Friday the 15th March is the national day of action against bullying and this gives us the opportunity to think about this harmful activity at schools that unfortunately a large amount of children have to deal with on a daily basis. Statistics indicate that 1 in 7 school aged children report being bullied at some point in time during their school years. Nowadays, cyber bullying has also become a common phenomenon, which has led to children not only being bullied at school but also in their home environment.

For parents it is often a difficult situation to manage as every parent wants to protect their child from harm but usually it will happen when they are not physically present and therefore parents are not always aware of the bullying. In order to recognize, prevent and respond to bullying in schools, it’s important to understand what bullying actually is and what the warning signs are to look out for.

The national definition of bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. This can include a group or an individual mistreating and violating someone else’s rights. This usually involves people that feel as if they can’t stop it from happening. As mentioned above, bullying nowadays happens not only in person but also via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). What separates bullying from being mean is that bullying behaviour is repeated over time.

For children, bullying can be extremely traumatising and can therefore have immediate, medium and long-term effects on them, including bystanders. For example it can impact on their sense of self, their self-esteem and they are at greater risk for both mental health and behavioural issues such as anxiety and depression.

Children who are being bullied often are reluctant to tell their parents or teachers about it as they may think it’s their own fault and/or that adults won’t do anything to stop the bullying. For that reason, it’s key to learn to recognize the following warning signs that might indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • Has frequent nightmares
  • Acts aggressively
  • Loses or has damaged possession
  • Doesn’t want to go to school
  • Has no friends or party invitations
  • Gets hurt or bruised

So, what do you do when you notice that your child is being bullied? Watching your child struggle is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It can be easy to feel helpless as a parent when it comes to helping your children with bullying whether it is  at school or online. There are different tools that can be applied to help you support your child to deal with bullying:

First of all, try to remain calm when your child is ready to tell you what has been happening for them at school as you want your child to feel comfortable. Questions such as “What happened next?” are helpful to let your child feel heard. Try to avoid negative comments by telling them to stand up for themselves.

As a parent, discuss with your child what reactions bullies are looking for, which are for example getting angry or upset. Develop a plan together with your child of how to respond in a way to defuse the situation. Practice makes perfect and therefore role play is a useful tool to  allow your child to practice their responses and to gain confidence doing so.

Another important point is that it helps your child to understand why someone bullies as this externalises the problem and will give them that reassurance that the bullying has nothing to do with them. Explaining your child that the bullies might need attention to make themselves feel better or copies other children’s behaviour will contribute to your child’s self-esteem.

Another step to take is to talk to your child’s teacher or a school psychologist about the bullying.

Besides being bullied at school, bullying may extend now through social media. Therefore, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on your child’s online activities.

A psychologist can provide you additional emotional support and tools to get your family through this challenge. Psychologists can help with: realizing and acknowledging the damage and humiliation that has occurred, dealing with the events associated with the bullying and making sense of what has happened.

If you feel that your child may need to speak to a professional about their experiences being bullied or if you need support on how to navigate this situation in where your child is being bullied, book an appointment with Wendy or one of our other wonderful psychologists at Drop Of Life. 

 

Wendy Pol

Registered Psychologist Drop of Life Psychology Clinic

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The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

My therapy dog Gizmo has shown me how helpful animal assisted therapy can be. Gizmo will greet his visitors enthusiastically and instantly becomes friends, especially with children, though he also tends to warm the hearts of many adult clients. It’s a fact that owning a dog can change an individual’s life by giving them a reason to stay active while reducing stress and improving their general health. Interacting with dogs can have a direct influence on health, from lowering blood pressure and increasing levels of serotonin to help feeling emotionally better. Therefore, it is no surprise that dogs in clinical settings can be beneficial for a client’s well-being and can have a positive influence on his or her therapeutic progress. Therapy dogs

So what exactly is a therapy dog?Well, a therapy dog is a dog that unlike service dogs, provides people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning. Typically, therapy dogs’ training and certification enables them to work in public places. Therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service dogs, but can be one or both with some organization. The systematic use of therapy dogs is attributed to Elaine Smith, who noticed that patients responded positively to his Golden Retriever, after which she founded Therapy Dogs International (TDI) in 1976 in order to train dogs to visit institutions such as hospitals.  

Being around therapy dogs has been shown to have beneficial effects on people’s mental and physical health. For children as well as adults who struggle with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, being able to spend time with a dog or other animal can help improve their quality of life. Research has shown that just 15 minutes of bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin.

Some therapy dogs for children with autism are even trained to recognize and interrupt self-harming behaviours or can help to de-escalate an emotional meltdown. To illustrate, the dog might respond to signs of agitation or anxiety by gently laying on his or her lap or leaning against the child. Animals in particular can be soothing for those with difficulty using language. They communicate with children and adults on a non-verbal level, and that connection helps to improve their feelings of self-worth, confidence and self-esteem.

The use of therapy dogs in psychology clinics
Animal assisted therapy is one form of animal based therapy that is commonly used within psychology clinics. AAT is a guided interaction by a trained professional between a client and an animal of which the purpose is to help someone cope with a health problem. Academic research supports the following potential benefits of therapy dogs in psychotherapy: 

  • A therapy dog facilitates rapport between clients and the psychologist. 
  • The dog’s non-judgmental nature may help clients feel more comfortable trusting the psychologist. This can aid clients to disclose more during therapy sessions as they perceive it as a safe environment. 
  • A therapy dog can act as a transitional object for clients. This allows clients to convey feelings through the animal rather than addressing the psychologist directly.
  • Therapy dogs can lower anxiety and therefore motivate clients to fully engage in therapy sessions. 
  • The interaction with a therapy dog might encourage clients to get in touch with their feelings. 
  • The dog’s presence may reduce perceived physical as well as mental pain.
  • They provide unconditional acceptance, which can reduce stress and anxiety for the client and the client’s family or friends. 

(Braun, Stangler, Narveson, & Pettingell, 2009; Havey, Vlasses, Vlasses, Ludwig-Beymer, Hackbarth, 2014)

I hope you’ve found this blog useful. If you have any further question or would like to experience a therapy dog assisted session, please call Drop of Life and book in an appointment with Wendy. 

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Benefits of Intelligence Testing for Children

At Drop of Life we are now offering psychometric assessments for children and adolescents. You might wonder why children or students need to undergo an intelligence test and what the advantages are of taking such a test. First, I will begin by explaining what an intelligence test measures. An IQ test measures the cognitive and intellectual abilities of a person which are compared to the average population of the same age. The letters IQ, stand for Intelligence Quotient which includes a list of domains such as problem solving, analysing situations, reasoning, planning, learning and visuospatial abilities.

One of the most proven cognitive ability tests is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV) developed by David Wechsler which is often used for children at the beginning of their school career as it can estimate their intellectual functioning through standardized testing with norm-referenced tests. The WISC-IV is the gold standard when it comes to cognitive assessment and measuring intelligence performance, and therefore we administer this intelligence test at the Drop of Life practice. The components of the WISC-IV are verbal comprehension, working memory, perceptual reasoning and processing speed, and these four components generate the general full scale intelligence score.

The WISC-IV can be used for children and adolescents between 6 and 16 years old and provides a profile of their strengths and weaknesses. Seeing that the IQ test can be used as an indicator of academic performance, schools can take advantage of this by determining what educational needs their students require to reach their full potential.

Another advantage of the WISC-IV is that it can address specific learning disabilities (SLD), which could be a leading cause for under-achievement at school. Moreover, behaviour problems and/or mood disorder are often strongly associated with SLDs. The sooner problems like these are indicated, the better the child’s educational and future outcomes. Therefore, cognitive assessment is so valuable for school-aged children.

Overall, the benefits of a WISC assessment are:

  • Provides a full picture and understanding of an individual’s learning profile and how they approach problem-solving
  • Assists schools and educators in developing educational strategies for individual educational plan development for students
  • Determines the student’s strengths and weaknesses which may impact the student’s academic performance
  • To rule-out or identify the presence of a mental disability and to diagnose a learning disability
  • Identification of intellectual gifted children
  • Early recognition of learning and reading deficits.

How to apply for a cognitive assessment?

Drop of Life provides psychometric testing such as the WISC-IV for children from the age of 6 to 16 years old. For further information about cognitive assessment please contact one of our wonderful psychologists at Drop of Life.

Reference: Wechsler, D. (2003). WISC – IV Australian Administration and Scoring Manual. Harcourt Assessment.

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The Aversion to Homosexuality and Transsexuality

May the 17th is a significant day for promoting equal human rights as its the international day against homophobia, transphobia & biphobia. This day tries to raise awareness of violence and repression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities worldwide. This raises the question, what impact homophobic & transphobic people actually have on vulnerable adolescents who are LGBT.

Homosexuality, after having been described for decades as a mental illness in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), finally got removed from this manual in 1973. Following this, the psychologist George Weinberg introduced a new term, namely homophobia which stands for a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards LGBT people and homosexuality in general. Those with homophobic views see homosexuality as a violation of traditional masculinity. In addition, transphobia and biphobia are specifically focused on the negative feelings and attitudes that people experience towards transsexuality and bisexuality respectively.

Since 2013 the Sex Discrimination Act 1985 has been enforced to make discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity finally against the law. Even with this important step forward LGBT people in Australia still have to endure discrimination, harassment and hostility in everyday life. Young people during their adolescence who are questioning their sexuality can feel threatened, fearful or disgusted of themselves when peers are using hurtful labels and make them feel not accepted. To give you an example, in school, boys can be seen as week when they don’t comply with masculine gender roles and can be called names such as gay and homo, words that also can be interpreted as lame, dumb or stupid. As a result young individuals can feel isolated, misunderstood, ashamed or even have homophobic feelings but directed towards themselves.

There are different factors that lead to people developing homophobic beliefs and attitudes. One of those factors resolve around the idea that homosexuality contradicts gender roles in both men and women. Studies have shown that there are common traits to be found for people who are exhibiting homophobia or transphobia by having attitudes of intolerance and sexual prejudice. So what are those common traits exactly? Well usually they are less educated, conservatively religious, lived in rural areas, they are less likely to have experienced contact with anyone who is LGBT and have a strong belief in gender roles and traditional values.

Overall, homophobia can be damaging to those who are affected by it, especially the young generation who are already struggling with their self-identity. Therefore it won’t surprise you that a large amount of LGBT adolescents are dealing with depression and anxiety, caused by their discriminating environment and by applying negative stereotypes to themselves.

At Drop of Life we can help in different ways to not only support those young adults who are struggling with their sexuality but also their families who might be involved. Some examples are:

  1. Information about homophobia as well as information about the anxiety or depression that is a result of homophobia.
  2. Cognitive behavioural therapy that will focus on the reframing of thoughts and will help to develop coping strategies.
  3. Relaxation and breathing strategies.
  4. Strategies to gain a stronger sense of self.

If you have any questions or would like more information on this matter please visit one of our psychologists at Drop of Life.

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Autism Awareness, Because it Matters!

This month is officially the National Autism Awareness month in Australia and to contribute to Autism acceptance and awareness, I will be writing about this serious disorder and take one moment to focus on all the Australian families who have children on the Autism Spectrum.

So first of all, what is Autism exactly? There are a large number of misconceptions when it comes to Autism, to illustrate, some people think that Autism is caused by bad parenting others think that Autism is caused by vaccination, both these statements are myths. Autism is complex and seems to be caused by many different combinations of genes and environmental factors and is often described as a brain disorder.

If we have a look in the DSM-V, the Autism Spectrum Disorder is described as ‘a developmental disorder with persistent impairments in social communication, social interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. These symptoms must be present in the early developmental period and cause significant impairment in social or occupational functioning.’
Interestingly to note that the DSM-IV diagnosis of Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) are now given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Research shows that 1 in 100 children in Australia have been diagnosed with Autism, which reflects how many people and families are dealing with this lifelong developmental disability. With the NDIS scheme starting in July things are about to change for families who can’t afford the necessary extra care for their children. This extra care is needed as children with Autism can progress and improve with the right tools and support, to reach a better quality of life for themselves as well as for their families who love them.

The effects of Autism can often be reduced by early diagnosis and with the right interventions.

So ….what to do? Well, the good news is that there are effective interventions that can help create the best opportunities for children with ASD.

  1. Parent education and training
  2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, this is a very effective evidence-based therapy that improves very specific behaviours and challenges in children and young adults. It is used to help regulate emotions and develop impulse control and improve their behaviours as a result.
  3. Behavioural interventions such as the applied behavioural analysis (ABA), is an effective evidence-based method that targets the learning of skills and the reduction of challenging
  4. Therapy based interventions such as Speech Therapy to develop a child’s communication and Social Skills, and Occupational Therapy to develop a child’s motor skills and stabilize their senses.

The interventions mentioned above are just a range of available treatment options, which can significantly improve the quality of life for children with Autism and their families.

So, behaviour can be changed and improvements can be achieved by taking small steps!

If you would like to receive more information about Autism in respect of diagnosis and treatment please come and visit a psychologist at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic!

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