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    Recently we had an 8-year-old child at our Smart Therapy centre who pushed her mother over onto the floor and was kicking her in the head.  The mother curled up and cowered on the ground.

    The shocked therapist instructed the child to stop and sit down immediately.  The child then proceeded to tell the therapist that she would tell child protection that she was being abused if any action was taken to curtail her behaviour.  This is not the first time we have seen children like this one.  It is becoming increasingly common.

    In earlier times this behaviour would be unimaginable. The dominant parenting style then was authoritarian: children were expected to obey their parents without question. At best this parenting style was a benign dictatorship. At worst it was a reign of terror.

    We have now swung to the complete opposite. The dominant parenting style now is permissive. Parents are anxious, guilt-ridden and desperately seek the approval of their children. At best this style creates rude, sulky children who treat their parents like servants.  At worst it creates narcissistic and violent children who go on to become dangerous adults.

    Ironically authoritarian and permissive parenting styles have much in common. Both are part of the aggression-compliance framework, which I wrote about in last week’s blog. And both lead to dysfunctional lose-lose outcomes once children hit the real world.

    The optimal parenting style is authoritative, which is consistent with the assertion framework. An authoritative parenting style neither bullies children, nor seeks their approval. It provides clear authoritative guidance with consistent consequences, directed towards the long-term welfare of both parents and children.

    In circumstances such as the one described above, the 8-year-old child is not strictly the problem. She just needs authoritative parenting. It is the parents who need to attend the centre to learn the nuts and bolts of how to parent their child in an authoritative manner.

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    In previous blogs I have written about how anxiety nearly always arises from stressful life events (SLEs). These SLEs often have their origins in childhood, when we have little control over our lives.

    In such circumstances, children learn that the way they can best survive is through a combination of compliance, secrecy, deceit and manipulation. As they move into adolescence and become stronger and more capable, these strategies often flip into aggression. This occurs, for example, when there is a severe altercation and the teenager is physically large enough to fight back against an abusive parent.  Under pressure, the adolescent suddenly ‘digs deep’ and comes up with another strategy.

    In this sense, compliance and aggression are two sides of the same coin. It is one framework, but that framework is based on fear and powerlessness – despite the outward show of aggression.

    In my work with anxious clients, I find that the aggression-compliance framework is not only widespread, but it contributes towards anxiety.  Since powerlessness underlies the compliance-aggression paradigm, where anxiety follows a SLE, people often feel powerless and truly believe that their anxiety thoughts take them over, as if they have no control at all.

    As I have explained in earlier blogs, nothing could be further from the truth.  We always have 100% control over what we pay attention to, simply because we have a human brain.

    In my work I teach people how to become assertive (which is a completely separate paradigm) and it takes some time to learn and practise.  Clients usually struggle with the assertion framework because they confuse it with aggression. So often I see people who think they have ‘discovered’ assertion whereas they are just actually rude, inflexible, oppositional, angry but terrified underneath. They have clearly not switched paradigms.

    Assertion is about never seeing others as the ‘opposition’. Rather, it is about seeing others as on the same side as you. In other words, you both have a problem that will not be resolved until it is fully discussed and until all parties are genuinely happy with the result.  This requires that you become persuasive, thoughtful, respectful and imaginative. Assertion means being able to persuade others of the merits of your case, but at the same time doing so in a way that is friendly, constructive, open and flexible to new (and possibly better) solutions than your own.


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    Anxiety should never lead to hospitalisation


    A study released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare this week shows the extent of anxiety in Australia. Anxiety disorders are now the leading cause of ill health among girls and women aged between 5 and 44. The report in The Age was illustrated by the story of an 18-year old woman who had been hospitalised for her chronic anxiety (The Age, Friday 22 June 2018, pp. 6-7).

    Stories like this break my heart. When anxiety is properly treated, it can be nipped in the bud. It should never lead to hospitalisation.

    During stressful life events our bodies produce large amounts of CRF (Corticotrophin Releasing Factor), which make our neurons more agitated. This results in frightening and threatening ‘mentations’ – that is, sensations, emotions, thoughts, images and memories. This is a normal response to stressful life events.

    Regrettably many therapeutic approaches encourage people to explore and engage with their frightening mentations, which escalates anxiety. The more we pay attention, the more we engage our normal learning cycle, resulting in more brain synapses devoted to the frightening mentations, and more long-term consolidation and retrieval. In these circumstances, it is no wonder that people in the mental health system end up becoming hospitalised for anxiety.

    The key therapeutic strategy for anxiety is not to be drawn into the very powerful human learning cycle, which is activated when we pay attention. In my Smart Therapy approach, I teach people how not to pay attention to their frightening mentations. This stops anxiety in its tracks and prevents hospitalisation and the revolving door.

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    I have been watching interviews with a Canadian kidney specialist called Dr Jason Fung about the diabetes epidemic in the western world. He argues that the mainstream cure of diabetes is part of the problem. He puts a pretty strong case.

    Fung compares the progress of diabetes treatment to computers. A mobile phone today has ten times the computing power of a computer the size of a room in the 1960s. By comparison, if we imagine that the diabetes problem in the 1960s took up the space of a room, then it takes up an entire office block today. In other words, we have gone backwards.

    It is the same with anxiety. Governments and the mental health system throw more and more money at anxiety, but the problem keeps getting bigger. Perhaps the cure is part of the problem.

    We no longer tolerate normal sadness or discomfort in our lives. Patients demand medication for their unhappiness, and doctors prescribe it. But medication frequently makes things worse by either excessive sedation or by the opposite: increasing mental agitation. In 25 years of practice, I have never seen a case where medication leads to long-term recovery.

    I dream of a world where we have the wisdom to come to terms with the things that make us sad without reaching for a prescription. That way we might have the mental clarity to learn from our experiences and make some true progress on anxiety recovery.

    For help, assistance or life coaching please contact the Smart Therapy Centre

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    Exercise your way out of anxiety


    One of the first things I do with every client is to put them on a regular exercise regime. It’s healthier than drugs, it’s cheaper than drugs, and in the long term it’s more effective than drugs.

    When we experience stressful life events, our brains release Corticotrophin Releasing Factor (CRF), a hormone which speeds up the neural firing in our brains.  Our brains do this to help us become more vigilant and motivated. In the distant past this was helpful because we needed to become more motivated to find solutions to stressful life events like food or water shortages.  However, nowadays our stressful life events are more likely to be psychological rather than physical, so brain agitation often makes things worse, suddenly giving rise to anxiety.

    Exercise produces endorphins, which make us feel euphoric and relaxed, directly countering the effects of the CRF.  This is like a temporary re-calibration of our mental state.  Exercise does this without producing addiction or dependency.  Exercise also has other benefits like making us feel strong, powerful and in-charge as well as enhancing our cardiovascular system and improving coordination, flexibility and balance.

    The exercise regime can be very relaxed.  First, I ask people to walk regularly and slowly build-up until they can easily manage 30 mins. Then I encourage them to replace some of the distances say, between electricity poles or trees with a very slow jog that is NEVER hard or gruelling.  Gradually the slow jogging distances increase, while always keeping a walk at the start (for a warm-up) and a walk at the end (for a cool-down).  Alternatively, I might ask people to swim a couple of slow laps of a 50m swimming pool (resting as often as necessary) and then very gradually add laps as they feel stronger and fitter.   It is remarkable how quickly mood and anxiety improves with a little exercise.

    Exercise is only one measure required to recover from anxiety, but it goes a surprisingly long way.

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    In my experience, many people first seek professional help for anxiety when they have experienced panic attacks, which often involve feelings of dread and terror. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fast heart rate, sweating, shakes and dizziness.

    In my Smart Therapy (ST) approach, people must learn to stop paying any attention whatsoever to their panic attack symptoms. All awareness of rapid heart rate, sweats or shakes is slipped immediately out of focussed attention and into peripheral attention. It is essential to show complete DISINTEREST in the panic attack symptoms. Instead people must immerse their full focussed attention into constructive activities like mental maths, crossword puzzles, vigorous conversations, going for a run, or (if you are in the car) listening to talk-back radio.

    The central tenet in ST is that when we direct our brains to pay attention then we are telling our brains to LEARN - which involves building brain synapses, consolidating memories and more readily retrieving the information to which we have been paying attention.

    If we want to eliminate unwanted brain habits like panic attacks, then we must stop paying them attention and allow the synapses to break apart (from lack of use) and the dendritic spines to retract and lose their input capacity. This leads to permanent recovery.

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    I am astonished in my practice at how many people come to me having been placed on anti-depressants because they are unhappy. Their unhappiness arises from understandable causes –stressful life events such as the break-up of a relationship, death or serious illness, physical or emotional insult, and even the experience of blocked opportunity and being unable to progress in a career.

    Sadness is normal. It is part of the human condition. It is the other side of happiness. If we do not know sadness, we cannot know happiness either. Yet nowadays there is very low tolerance of sadness. People expect to be happy all the time. As a result, sadness is increasingly treated as a condition or pathology which requires medical intervention, such as anti-depressants.

    Regrettably, my experience is that anti-depressants do not help people recover from their sadness. They might dull the pain, but they also dull the ability to experience sadness and find a way back to happiness. My added challenge as a therapist is that very sad people often do not even realise that they are sad, and struggle to connect with their sadness – especially if they are on medication.

    Good therapy helps people to connect with their sadness and experience it in a controlled way. Crying is a good start. I recommend to clients that they act out crying in front of the mirror, even if they don’t feel the sadness. The feeling will follow. And sad movies or books are another effective way to tap into sadness. In my experience, sad movies are far more helpful in recovery from stressful life events than medication. So cry your eyes out!

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    I have been seeing people for anxiety now since 1994. That is, almost 25 years of clients. I’m not sure how many people that amounts to, but it is in the thousands.  In all of these years, I have never seen a single client who has not had some type of stressful life event that was associated with the onset of anxiety. Sometimes it is childhood bullying. Sometimes it is a death in the family. Sometimes it is a relationship breakup. Sometimes it is a blocked career.

    But there is always something that caused the client deep distress and led them into the cycle of behaviours that we understand as anxiety. The strange thing is that clients themselves are often unaware of this connection. More than this, they do not even realise that they experienced a stressful life event.

    Here is an example. One woman I saw insisted that there was nothing traumatic that occurred at the time of onset. But then 30 minutes later it transpired that her sister was kidnapped just before onset. Bingo!

    For me, the first step in treatment is helping people to understand that their anxiety is not some kind of pathological condition.  It is something that arises from their experience of the world. And just as it comes from their experience of the world, so it can be fixed by smart behavioural therapies. Anxiety is not a life sentence!

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    There are always solutions

    As hard as life can be, there is no need to take actions from which there is no return!



    Many years ago, I saw a young police officer in my work.  He told me that he was called to a bridge with no safety barriers, because a man was on the outside of the railings, completely out of control, screaming ‘I WANT TO DIE, DON’T TRY TO STOP ME, I’M GOING TO JUMP’.  The young police officer gradually moved closer and closer until he was right near the suicidal man.  At that point the man either slipped or stepped off and started to fall.  The young officer desperately grabbed him and he was dangling in mid-air.  The man was now hysterically screaming and begging the officer ‘NO!  PLEASE DON’T LET ME GO – I’VE CHANGED MY MIND – I WANT TO LIVE – PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T LET ME GO’.

    The young officer was fit and strong, but it was not like the movies where people seem to be effortlessly pulled to safety.  The officer tried and tried to hold him.  He used every ounce of energy in his body and held the man for as long as he possibly could - but in the end, he could hold him no longer.  Tragically, the man slipped from his grip and fell to his death.

    No matter how desperate you feel, it is important to remember there are ALWAYS solutions if you look for them.  But there are some actions from which there is no return, and your resolved ‘future’ self will thank you for not taking them.

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    Letting ourselves lose control is often why we’re miserable.



    After more than 20 years working as a clinical psychologist at the Smart Therapy Centre, I find the single main reason why people present for help when they are unhappy and often miserable is because they (over and over again) give themselves permission to lose control. It might be allowing themselves to scream, overeat, kick someone, collapse when things get hard, drink excessively, hide and refuse to go out, take drugs or allow their anxious and depressive mentations to escalate into panic.

    Whatever the behaviour – the cause is the same. If you want to cope better with life and feel much happier, then stop giving yourself permission to lose control. Otherwise, over time you teach your brain to lose control at the tinniest, most miniscule things. We need to do the opposite. That is, train our brains that we are more than capable of NOT losing control when things go off the rails. So, next time you ruin your party dress, smile and take it in your stride.

    Please contact the Smart Therapy Centre for coaching:

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    In the end, all of us, are the sum of our decisions. 



    Take a look at two 60 year-old men. One is a dreadful role model: unwell (almost dead), overweight, boring, lacking in curiosity, retired and isolated and narrow-minded. Unpleasant to be around. The other is an inspiring role model: fit, healthy and full of vitality, interesting, a repository of knowledge, working, engaged and open-minded.  An inspiration to be around.

    Some would say they were born that way. I’d say they made different life decisions.

    One was accountable to himself and the other one was not. No excuses! Don’t take the easy way out – expect more from yourself and then deliver it – In short, be accountable.

    Please contact the Smart Therapy Centre for coaching:

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    We often give up when we feel scared – but it is important to examine our motives.



    When we get really frightened, we usually don’t want to know that we feel scared, so we fabricate stories to tell ourselves. The smarter we are, the smarter and more persuasive are our stories.

    For example, women often suddenly decide that they want to have a baby when they get stuck in their careers. Men often abruptly leave relationships for younger partners when they are challenged to face their own aging process.

    Don’t be fooled – we should NEVER GIVE UP without a thorough examination of our TRUE motives. If we give up then we stop learning (because the new stuff, like ‘career advancement’ or ‘aging’ is always scary to learn). If we stop learning this new stuff, then we can get stuck in our tracks in a repetitive, self-sabotaging pattern making us unable to move forward in life! In other words, GIVE UP, GIVING UP!

    Contact the Smart Therapy Centre for coaching.

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    We all experience up's and down's

    Feelings come and go, try not to take them personally!



    I saw someone in my work yesterday who had felt a bit nervous about a social event the week prior to our session. She normally didn’t drink but on this occasion, she had three drinks to help her relax. The next morning, she felt low in her mood and slightly anxious (alcohol has this effect). Instead of just getting on with her usual day and not paying it any attention whatsoever she spent the next week worrying about what was ‘wrong’ with her and ruminating on whether her symptoms would ‘get worse’. Of course, they became worse because of her paying them so much attention.

    Try to remember that everyone feels up and down during life - so try not to take it personally. Feelings are transient, and they come and go for many different reasons. Mostly try not to pay attention to them. Despite what many people say, keep your focus more on what you ‘do’ in life rather than on how you ‘feel’ about life.

    Contact the Smart Therapy Centre for coaching.

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    Choose to be strong

    We all get scared – it’s not much fun, but it’s normal.

    On the other hand, because we are humans with large frontal brains, we always have the power to decide how we will behave when that fear occurs.

    Do we collapse and lose all control; do we get drunk; do we over-eat for comfort; do we take drugs; do we focus on the fear so much that we have  panic attacks; do we scream at someone else and blame them or do we tell ourselves we are simply victims of our own pathology and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves?

    Or, do we decide to be strong, stop collapsing and make ourselves accountable to our future selves?

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    The need for Self Rescue: we have to dig deep and save ourselves!

    It is hard being anxious or depressed, but in the end we must all decide to take charge.

    I have worked as a clinical psychologist now for over 20 years at the Smart Therapy Centre and I have seen thousands of people in that time, and there is one thing of which I am sure.  People only recover when they stop being passive and waiting to be rescued.

    It is crucial to decide to stop the rot (the anxious or depressive rumination), no more excuses, take charge, dig deep and save yourself.  No matter what anyone tells you, there is no one coming to save you – there is you and only you!

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