Sunday, 23 July 2017

Mary Makes Sense

A lot of meaning in so few words and that was the unique capability of Seuss, to condense a lot into a little. But what does this mean?  Our ‘me-ness,’ what or who we believe we are is as varied and unique as a fingerprint or an intricate snowflake.

Our children I believe do as Seuss did; cram a lot into a little. They process the messages they receive and make logical deductions about what these messages mean. They determine how worthy they are as people according to the sense they make of their experience. They are constructing their reality of who they are, parsing out what makes sense to them from the stuff that is non-sense. What happens when the non-sense makes sense and the sense is nonsense? And what are they missing out when condensing so much information into a one-word meaning - good, bad, smart, ugly etc? Who or what is the ‘me’ beyond the one word label we assign our person hood?

Seuss again says:
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; It's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life's realities.”
Nonsense, as a fantastic inversion of reality, a temporary world of fantasy and fun of our choosing contrasts with what we accept as true and we can revert back to reality; our reality when we choose to. But it is not a game or adventure when our worldview is built on nonsensical constructions that our reality tells us are true. It is a dark fantasy to learn that we are worthless or dumb and that no one cares about us. Douglas Adams reminds us:
“Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.”
Adams reminds us that the reality experienced is unique to the person who is living that experience. All we perceive via our sense experience (sight, sound, smell, feel) creates the universe we know. But it isn’t the same universe that others have created.

A child in the classroom will be as unique as the fingerprint we referred to earlier. How one sees the world will be particular to them, specific to them. They are constructing their version of reality according to their interpretation and understanding of their own lived experience.
… ‘people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.’
In an ideal setting our children are active participants in their learning. They do not only receive and automatically accept what is given to them but they process and test input against the evidence available and make informed decisions. It is the job of teachers to help children learn how to think; to enquire and test the hypotheses they are encouraged to make. What’s true or not at the time? How are these truths challenged by new evidence? Etc.

What of the counsellor who sits before the young person who seems to be living her ‘nonsense’ induced dark fantasy of her ‘reality?’ How does the counsellor know this is the case? What do we do? Why?

How do we know this? Her demeanour, how does she present? Is this usual or characteristic of her general behaviour? What have others observed? What is revealed in her talk? (No one likes me; I’m dumb, what’s the point)

What do we do? We work out together to find out the non-sense that we assume is causing the young person to feel and act as self defeatingly as she does. We listen to what she says and we isolate those ideas that we agree don’t sound right. We challenge those ideas with evidence and make new assessments of old constructs. We work hard to understand our new learning, to replace old habits of thinking with new more helpful, sensible ones.

Why? So the young person can help herself know when non-sense is gaining ascendency and to quickly relegate it to the non-sense files when needed and to be able to monitor emotions and mindset as a matter of course.

Albert Einstein reminds us that:

Mary is a student in a primary school. Her belief that she is worthless and unlikeable is a problem for her, a persistent illusion. What ‘thinking rule’ has she constructed that causes her to feel and act as she does? What opportunities does she deny herself because she believes she’s not worthy or that she is not good enough? These are questions the counsellor will explore with her young client. This is the ‘non sense’ to be teased out of Mary’s subconscious and placed in the clear light of day for very close scrutiny and examination.

Alfred Korzybski General Semantics says that we ought to be more thoughtful about the language we use and to be mindful of the messages we are trying to convey. Too many and inappropriate words can confuse understanding and he suggests we develop a ‘scientist sensibility’ for listening. He talks about creating a ‘verbal pollution free zone’ by asking three questions that encourage specific answers. They are:

1. What do you mean?
2. How do you know?
3. What did you leave out?

When applied to Mary’s situation this is how a discussion may unfold:

Mary – ‘I am dumb and no one likes me.’
Counsellor – ‘What do you mean? What is your understanding of ‘dumb’? What do you mean when you say no one likes you?’

Mary – ‘I can’t do anything! No one wants to be my friend.’

Counsellor – ‘How do you know? What evidence is there to prove you can’t do anything and no one likes you? ’

Mary – ‘I never get anything right! People don’t want to hang out with me.’

Counsellor – ‘What did you leave out? What things can you do? What have you ‘forgotten to remember?’  What can we find that proves you cannot be dumb and unlikeable and that this could all be non-sense?

Mary Mary
Please be wary
Of the nonsense you believe is true
You can act dumb and fail at stuff
But don’t let that define you!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Words Matter!

Words matter. Words are little units of meaning which when put together build sentences that enable people to communicate with each other. Words do matter and it is important to use words wisely as they can be received by others in ways that can be harmful. They can be construed as offensive either because there is an obvious intention to offend or the receiver has misread the message.

Words can be used inappropriately with little thought for how they may be received by others. If intentional the goal is to inflict discomfort on another person, to cause harm. Some would consider this OK, that free speech is a democratic right; we have the right to say things that people find offensive. It can also be said that people have the right to feel offended, that it’s a choice, a decision that one makes.

The degree of offense taken will vary from person to person. Some will feel more hurt than others i.e. the offender is not causing the strength of offense to the other person entirely; the offended has something to do with it.

Students daily relate how others use ‘mean’ words against them. Some are aggrieved more than others; they experience offence more keenly. Some students may apportion more ‘offense weight’ to a particular word or words than other students do. This can depend on who is doing the offending. Some people are said to be more ‘thin skinned’ than others. The challenge is to help those who are thinner skinned to become more psychologically robust than they are. It appears there are those who are easier to victimise and who may be more prone to bullying than others.

So the offended can take some responsibility for the degree of grievance experienced. This can be worked on at a school level and through personal counselling support; helping the student to learn to be more psychologically tough.

We take free speech for granted and it is a democratic right we defend. Consider the following:

1. Fred likes brussell sprouts. He thinks they are good.

Jane doesn’t like brussell sprouts. She thinks they are bad. She disagrees with Fred’s ‘estimation’ of them.

2. Jane says she doesn’t like brussell sprouts and those who do are feral. Fred is feral because he likes brussel sprouts.

Example 1 illustrates a difference of opinion. Nothing personal (though it could be seen that way!)

Example 2 is more personal. Fred is feral because he likes brussell sprouts.

An opinion doesn’t constitute fact, which can be dismissed as such, a mere appraisal not to be taken seriously. The offender has a right to say what she wants to say to another person who in turn has the freedom (right) to feel offended to a greater or lesser extent, and to do something about it.

People resettle in countries far from their own by design or out of necessity. They may possess a particular worldview very different to those in their host country. Cultural differences can seem strange and unusual. Others may appear more familiar and less confronting. These differences can be viewed as benefits, positive attributes, which value add to society and culture. The opposite view may also be taken.

Opinions and ideas shared in public forums attract attention some of which can be negative. A Moslem spokesperson, Yassmin Abdel-Magied said recently that Islam is the most feminist of all religions. She also said that ANZAC Day should be a time to consider the plight of all people who are victims of war. She made mention of refugees who are in holding camps on the islands of Manus and Nauru. These opinions were the subject of much public discussion and though she apologised for what many deemed offensive words she was fired from her role on television. She has since been the subject of much vitriol and condemnation and recently left for the UK declaring that she felt betrayed by her home country.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an author and social commentator. Yassmin’s opinions and ideas are a commentary on issues she believes are important. They are words that matter to her. Why is it that her person has been attacked to the point where she feels unsafe and at risk of harm?  Though her opinions may not be acceptable to some who find them offensive it is not acceptable to attack her for having them.

Educators teach students to engage with ideas and opinions, discuss and disagree with each other but never to demean a fellow human being for having contrary views. Yet this is what’s happening in the public arena.

Yassmins assertion that she felt betrayed inspired the following commentary by Sydney radio 2GB commentator Prue McSween:

“She has fled the country and is blaming all of us”, MacSween said. “She says she’s been betrayed by Australia and didn’t feel safe in her own country. Well actually she might have been right there, because if I had seen her I would have been tempted to run her over mate.” Radio 2GB Sydney
Prue McSween
Further to this McSween defended her actions in a tweet:

‘To all you festering, humourless Twitter ferals. Go tell someone who cares. Last time I looked this was a country of free speech. Get a life.’
2:35 PM - 12 Jul 2017

McSween’s comments attracted a fair deal of criticism and radio 2GB apologised to it’s audience for her behaviour.  Others have protested on various social media and mainstream media platforms about McSweens treatment of Abdel-Magied, that it was misplaced and inappropriate.

McSween dismissed the backlash to her attempt at ‘humour’ as excessive and unfair and that those who didn’t get her humour were ‘ferals’ and should ‘get a life.’ Is this kind of behaviour by journalists and social commentators acceptable? Does it demean the profession? Yes and yes! Should she be allowed the right to offend? Yes again. However it is also the right of others to challenge her views and opinions and present cogent and considered counter views. Challenge the ideas with vim and vigour but personal insults and put downs? Even kids in the schoolyard know the difference!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

No Stats Today But I'm Still OK! :)

I've been slack! Well not slack entirely as I've been on holiday for the past eight weeks but I haven't posted a post since my last post which was posted a while ago! Hence page views are down. Way on down!

So this is just a shortish item to revive this blog from its comatose torpor.

Mental health is the main topic of conversation of REBTOZ with a focus particularly on Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

REBE attempts to inform educators about counselling therapy theory as it can apply to the teaching context. Why do we act as we do and feel as we do when things happen? It's useful to have a theory to attach our practise to and REBE helps children to understand how their strength of emotion is linked to their own constructed 'thinking rules,' their personal philosophies.

So children are philosophers whether they know it or not and in the main they don't know! How would they if no one has taught them that they are? And where do these habits of thinking come from? Can they be changed if needed? How?

One thing to attend to would be the language we use when feeding back to students behaviour. We can unintentionally reinforce ideas that are unrealistic which can become embedded beliefs if we are not careful. Terms like naughty, good, bad (boy/girl) are unhelpful messages.

It is useful for students at all year levels to be able to differentiate between the the ideas of 'good person' and 'good deed'. Point out that if someone does something useful the action is what we are focusing on. Talk about what this means and that this in no way is an assessment of the person; the who is not the what!

Tell kids they can do good but that does make them good. Tell them they can do bad but that doesn't make them bad. We are human beings not human doings! This essential learning will allow students to assess what they hear as either person specific or behaviour specific. They can decide that if the information they receive is rational (evidence based) or irrational; helpful or unhelpful? E.g you say I am naughty. That means I am a naughty person who always does naughty things. That is not true because I have and do make OK choices. I accept what I did was naughty but that does not make me naughty.

This kind of reflection can be revisited and reinforced on a daily basis in simple ways. Here are some examples:
  • Doing and being are different; do you know the difference?
  • 'Can't do' now is a temporary condition unless you decide to make it permanent.
  • A persons opinion of you is just that; an opinion. It is someones idea about you. You don't have to accept it!
  • Remind yourself you are worthwhile no what I or others think of you. We don't give you your worth so we can't take it away from you unless you let us!
These ideas need to be kicked around each day at every opportunity so it is part of the culture of teaching and learning. It is a scientific approach to decision making about what makes a 'self' worthwhile or otherwise. It invites the learner to consider the evidence at hand.

Hope this useful to you!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Psychological Immunization - Albert Ellis, Jonas Salk and Martin Seligman

‘You can’t teach young students the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance and it should only be used by a trained psychologist in the counselling setting.’ Albert Ellis railed against this kind of misinformation put forth to preserve the status of the psychologist as ‘expert.’ Ellis of course wanted his ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance to be accessible to all, especially to teachers and students. Far better that young children learn why they feel and act as they do and to develop insights and skills preventatively and educatively in the school setting.

Jonas Salk who created the polio vaccine hypothesised that if we could ‘psychologically immunise’ students they would be less prone to mental health issues and would probably be physically better off too.
Dr Jonas Salk
Batfink, the cartoon character said to his enemies ‘your bullets cannot harm me, my wings are like shields of steel?’ He would wrap his wings around himself deflecting any harmful bullets from hitting him, thwarting those who would have him undone.  

Teaching students how to deflect psychological harm as part of daily curricula activities would be a useful thing. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education does just that by using some basic but essential counselling tools and ideas. To those who may think ‘I am not a psychologist and I have enough to teach’ consider the following and reap the benefits.

1.     Kids actions are determined largely by their constructed views (beliefs) about themselves, others and the world (as indeed our own are).
2.     These beliefs can be mostly helpful (rational) or unhelpful (irrational).
3.     Strength of emotion is also linked to these constructed views – ‘I want something and I must have it and I didn’t get it.’= anger. ‘I want something and I prefer to have it but I can wait.’ = disappointment.
4.     Thinking, feeling and behaving are connected – ‘Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!’ Hamlet.


1.     Teach how broccoli is only good or bad depending on what you think about it (replace broccoli with ‘maths’ ‘chores’ etc)
2.     Teach the Emotional Thermometer – words for varying strength of feeling.
3.     Teach the Catastrophe Scale – how to put the severity of problems into reasonable perspective (is a sore toe as bad as your favourite pet gerbil being eaten by a cat)
4.     Provide behaviour specific feedback to students not person specific (you did that well/badly not you are a lazy klutz!)
5.     You can do dumb but not be dumb, a very important distinction (you ARE NOT what you DO. You ARE NOT what others THINK of you). You can fail at something but never can you BE a failure (unless you believe you are – irrational)

Use the idea of Batfink deflecting harmful bullets and encourage students to consider information and evidence to draw their own conclusions about their self worth and rejecting (deflecting) errant incoming data. Can a person be bad? No. A person can act badly which does not cancel out the positive qualities that remain.  Failure also doesn’t define a person nor does rejection i.e. we are worthwhile because we are here! (Albert Ellis – Unconditional Self-Acceptance).


Teachers at Para Hills P-7 work hard to impart the Batfink philosophy to all students. Mindfulness!

Martin Seligman - Positive Psychology

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Call to Teach REBT/CBT in Schools - not a new idea!

Para Hills School P-7 in Adelaide South Australia is an anti depression school. It engages an arsenal of principles and practices designed to psychologically immunise students against the ravages of depression, anxiety and anger. As the great BatFink said 'Your bullets cannot harm me for my wings are like a shield of steel which deflect the harm that others may wish to inflict on me.' 

Educators help children develop psychological 'wings of steel' to ward off the potential harm of failure and rejection. This article CBT in schools advocates for CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) to be taught in schools. Para Hills P-7 has been doing this for several years through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education which is based on REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy).

Para Hills School P-7, South Australia

REBT is the creation of Dr Albert Ellis who supported this work in schools in South Australia up to his death in 2007 and continues to support us through 
The REBT Network

Dr Bill Knaus renowned REBT expert and advocate for Rational Emotive Behaviour Education provides his highly acclaimed school resource here Free REE Resource download for educators and counsellors in schools.

The call for REBT/CBT in schools is not a new one but perhaps now the time is right to capture the imagination of educational leaders everywhere!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Nice and Too Nice - what's the difference?

What is nice? One person’s nice is not necessarily another person’s nice. How do we know we are nice is another consideration. People might comment on how obliging so and so is, that they are always available and seem so selfless and caring. This feedback either directly or via others might be comforting or assuring; it may also be affirming. Is this healthy? 

Niceness can be healthy if there is no sense of unreasonable obligation to general others attached to it. That is, one has a healthy dedication to one’s own needs and wants. She knows what these are and tends to them without fear or favour. She is not addicted to the needs, demands and appraisals of others. She intuitively understands that her worth is not dependent on others (unless allowed!). As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

If we worry about how others view us and we learn to need the affirmation of others we put ourselves at risk. What happens when we don’t get the acknowledgement we seek? What happens when our niceness isn’t rewarded? What happens when we don’t get what we have learnt we must have, the affirmation of our niceness; of us? Michelle Martin would say that we would be living in the realm of the overly nice; where we are too nice. 

Self-esteem is a concept that is used in many contexts when discussing mental health and well being. It is used to describe how a person views oneself. She makes estimations of her worth and usefulness; she makes assessments of her deeds and accomplishments and may ascribe a grade to her total efforts.

Some like Dr Albert Ellis who created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy regards self-esteem to be detrimental to our mental health because it is conditional. How one esteems oneself is variable and can wax and wane depending on circumstances. This is self-defeating according to Ellis who asserts:

Ellis’ REBT talks about unconditional self-acceptance, the belief that our worth is not negotiable and can’t be attached to others assessment of us or how well or badly we may perform at tasks. This idea is taught to students in many schools and of course in the counselling context to help people develop a kind of ‘psychological muscle' or immunity to help deal with failure and rejection. Jonas Salk (creator of the polio vaccine) to Martin Seligman said:

"If I were a young scientist today, I would still do immunisation. But instead of immunising kids physically, I'd do it your way. I'd immunise them psychologically."

So are you a 'self esteemer' or a 'self-accepter' and how do these relate to niceness? Is there a healthy nice and an unhealthy nice?

Self esteemers may get caught up with pleasing others and ascribing self-worth to personal achievement. One may seek the approval of others and in doing so will ignore personal wants, needs and aspirations. This may in turn cause anger, anxiety, resentment and depression so strong is the need to please.
Self-accepters will not feel so obliged to others. They will consider their own needs and desires which reflect a healthy and unconditional sense of self-worth. They will not need (though they may desire/prefer) the approval of others nor will they always have to succeed at tasks (though they may want to) because they understand that their worth is inviolable and will remain intact even when things don’t go so well.

Are you a nice 'self accepter' or a too nice 'self esteemer?'

Friday, 10 March 2017

REBT and Growth Mindset

Nothing is new under the sun! Epictetus said it. Marcus Aurelius said it. And Buddha said it! Even Shakespeare proffered similar sentiments when in Hamlet, Hamlet said 'nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so!' This kind of thinking common to all of the above is incorporated in Albert Ellis' REBT - Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. Ellis took the wisdom of these great thinkers and developed the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Here Ellis provides a model which teachers and counsellors and carers can use to help others understand why they act and feel as they do.

The second workshop (of a series of 10 scheduled for 2017) examined the links between growth mindset theory and REBT. A large contingent  of counsellors, educators and preservice teachers met at the newly opened Centre4Rational Emotive Behaviour Education.

We considered how each complemented the other and decided that Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is 'on the mental health education/promotion money' when addressing whole school positive cultural change.

REBE is a student, teacher and parent friendly approach to behaviour education and mental health development and is well received by the teaching and counselling communities.

In workshop 3 we explore Franklin the Turtles situation when his best friend moves away. Does he 'get' sad and angry or does he 'make' himself sadder and angrier than he need be? Is he sad or depressed? These and other issues will be examined through the ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. Looking forward to it!