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Western Counsellor

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Coping with a Spouse with Dementia

Posted on December 18, 2019 at 11:46 PM Comments comments (39)
As 2019 draws to a close I have reflected on the past year and have been mostly involved with aged care and caring for those with dementia.  I would like to share with you the following article which describes some good tips of 'How to Cope when your Spouse has Dementia"

A part of marriage is caring for your spouse when they are sick or worried. Although a spouse with dementia can not visibly appear sick, this person is suffering from memory loss and confusion. Watching your spouse’s mental abilities deteriorate can be difficult. You can feel uncertain about how to help your spouse with dementia and how to adjust to this major life change. By redefining your marriage and accepting your new roles, asking for support, and taking care of yourself, you can handle this new season of your life. 

Accept that your marriage will change. Know that your marriage will not be an equal partnership anymore. Eventually, you will have to take on all of the responsibilities of managing your household, caring for your family, and even helping your spouse with the smallest of tasks. Your role as spouse will gradually transform into the caregiver, or even “parent” in the relationship.
  • For instance, you will likely have to do all of the household chores, make all of the decisions regarding your family and home, and provide constant supervision of your spouse

Educate yourself as much as possible about the particular form of dementia that your spouse has. Knowing what to expect going forward goes a long way in preparing you for the different stages as they occur. 

Understand your spouse’s behaviour isn’t intentional. People with dementia often take on new personalities and may lash out at their spouses and caregivers. Not taking these behaviours personally is difficult, but necessary. Understanding the cause of the aggressive behaviour may help you to not become offended by your spouse, and help them in the process.
  • Take a look at the situation and what is really making your spouse upset. This is where really knowing your spouse comes in handy. For example, your spouse may not appreciate being fussed over or having you speak for them. Engaging in an argument will likely only make the situation worse. Instead, try to shift the focus away from the matter, while speaking in a calm and reassuring voice.
  • For example, if your spouse says “I really don’t need you standing over my shoulder all day long. Go away,” rather than arguing, say “I’ll give you some space, then. But you can expect me to check in on you every half hour.”

Know that feeling resentful of your spouse is common. When you said your vows, you probably didn’t plan on marrying someone you would have to take care of completely. You likely envisioned a relationship in which you both put in equal amounts of work and when this doesn’t happen, resentment is often common. 

Understand that intimacy may change. Because of the cognitive decline of your spouse, you may not be able to experience the emotional and physical intimacy you once did. Along with physical impairments, your spouse may become depressed, which can also affect their sex drive. Additionally, you may not feel attracted to your partner anymore because of these changes. Don’t feel guilty about this loss of attraction; you can find other ways to connect.
  • New ways of connecting may include reading books together, going for walks, talking, and experiencing things together that you couldn’t before due to other obligations. Take advantage of all the time you spend together.

Focus on the positives. Although lots of things have changed since your spouse developed dementia, if you think about it, much is also the same. Perhaps your spouse always had a sideways grin when they were caught doing something naughty like drinking from the milk carton. Or, maybe your spouse still dances wildly to their favourite music like they did when they were younger. Take note of these small ways in which you still have your spouse rather than focusing on all that you’ve lost.
  • Being positive also means being optimistic about the future. Dementia is not a death sentence. Many people continue to lead healthy, fruitful lives with this condition. Of course, some modifications may need to be made, but your spouse can likely continue to engage in many activities that they once enjoyed.

Ask friends and family for help. Taking on the role of caregiver is an overwhelming and stressful concept for many spouses. However, understand that it is OK to ask for help. You don’t always have to do everything on your own, and asking help from your children, friends, siblings, and in-laws isn’t a sign of weakness.
  • Something as simple as asking someone to make you dinner once a week or helping you to clean your home can make a huge difference in your emotional well-being. Chances are, your loved ones will be more than happy to help.
  • Reach out by saying “Hey, dear, I know you have a lot going on, but I could use some help with your dad. Could you come by one day this week and sit with him while I run errands?”

Join a support group. No one understands what you are going through better than those who are experiencing it for themselves. Joining a support group allows you to talk freely about all of the emotions you are feeling and receive feedback and encouragement from those who are in the same place as you.
  • You don’t have to worry about receiving criticism or judgment from those in the support group, so you may be able to discuss exactly how you feel about these changes and your new responsibilities for the first time.

Hire a professional caregiver. Know that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help from a professional. Along with caring for yourself, you now have to take care of someone who is likely difficult, emotional, and physically and cognitively impaired.
  • Hiring a caregiver to give your spouse a bath, prepare meals, give medical care, and perform other tasks can help take some of the pressure off of you and make your life easier.

Seek professional help, if needed. Caregivers are often under constant stress and pressure, and it is common for them to experience depression and anxiety because of it. Experiencing grief over your changed spouse may also cause you to feel down. Talk to a doctor about seeking therapy or taking prescription medication to help treat your issue. Doing so will enable you to be in better mental health to take care of your spouse.

Participate in hobbies. Caregivers commonly lose touch with activities they enjoy, as they often feel they don’t have time for anything else except looking after their spouses. In addition to adding to the level of resentment you may feel, depriving yourself of activities you enjoy can also negatively affect the way you take care of your spouse. Make time to engage in your hobbies, even if it means asking someone to relieve you for a few hours a week so that you are able to participate.
  • Taking care of your mental, emotional and spiritual needs is just as important as caring for your spouse. Fortunately, many hobbies can be enjoyed without even leaving the home, such as reading, knitting, doing yoga, painting, meditating, and spending time with growing grandchildren.

Managing "White Anters" Socially and Professionally

Posted on December 16, 2019 at 4:30 AM Comments comments (1)
What is White Anting?
As the name implies, “white anting” refers to a form of sabotage which is so subtle, it can be difficult to identify or expose. It is a covert form of bullying that aims to undermine or discredit the achievements and influence of another. 

These white anting strategies might include:
  • Setting the target up for failure (for example with unrealistic time frames);
  • Micro managing;
  • Leaving the target out of emails and meetings;
  • Spreading rumours and false information;
  • Filtering work in other directions, rather than to the target;
  • Resisting new ideas and initiatives;
  • Forming alliances with others;
  • Stealing ideas and passing them off as their own.

An Example of White Anting
Amanda a keen sports person wanted to try a new social activity, so she went along to the local bowling club in her neighbourhood where she could also make new friends. After a period of learning the game, Amanda became confident and wanted to join the team to play competition bowls. 
Amanda made the bowls team and played a few rounds of competition with a few wins. Amanda was enjoying her social activity and getting along with the team. The next competitive game Amanda found herself isolated from the team and was being physically pushed out of the way and shunned by other team members. Amanda felt very uncomfortable and approached the person who claimed it was a accident  = however, the behaviour continued periodically.  Amanda was very disheartened and lacked motivation to continue with  playing competition bowls that she decided not to return to the Club the following season.

Later that year Amanda received a call from one of her friends from the bowling club who was surprised that she hadn't returned for the new season. In conversation, Amanda learned of a rumour  that she had four children ( 5-14) and left them home to fend for themselves while she played bowls.  This filtered through the Club to other team members  and led to Amanda's reputation being tarnished.

This was not true as Amanada has no children and worked as an Advocate in the Department for Child Protection.

The Effects of White Anting
It is hardly surprising that  "white anting" can have a toxic effect not only on a workplace but also on sporting teams, creating discord and dissatisfaction.
Many team members may simply move on (like Amanda), and management and sporting teams are left no wiser as to why they are losing some of their most valuable  and talented team members.

What Leads to White Anting Behaviour?
Like any form of bullying, 'white anting" stems from a lack of self-confidence. Feeling threatened, the individual turns to subtly undermining other/s, in a way to make themselves look and feel better.

Unfortunately, by the time anybody recognises the 'white ant's' activity, the damage has already been done. The target may feel that their story will not be taken seriously, or that *they* may in fact be seen as the problem, leaving them feeling discouraged and helpless.  The target can also experience low self esteem, lack of confidence and anxiety leading to, in extreme cases, depression.

Have you been the target of a 'white anter'? Share your experience and contact me for help on 0416189601.

Best wishes to all my readers for the Festive Season and 2020

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Posted on April 4, 2016 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (6)
The following is for people who are frequently angry at others when it may not be reasonable. If your anger has a valid reason some of the following may be helpful but it is also a good idea to try to problem-solve the situation. In other words, determine the reason for the anger and whether you can work with the other person to solve the problem.However, many people have problems managing their anger which can interfere with effective problem-solving.

Frequently, such people believe they don't have control over their emotions, especially anger. “It's how I feel! I can't help it!” And although this belief may be true in some ways, it is also very wrong.

Certainly, emotions are what they are. Emotions are reactions to events. However, our perceptions of events can change. I once worked with a man with serious road rage. If someone cut him off in traffic, he chased that person down and forced them to a stop. Fortunately, he was not physically aggressive against them although they didn't know that. However, he did get out of his car and start yelling at the person about their driving behavior. This was in the days before everyone carried cell phones, otherwise he may have gotten arrested for this. I asked him, “What is your purpose?” and he told me he wanted to let people know when they were wrong so they wouldn't do it again. I then asked, “Do you think your method of educating people is effective? Or, do you think that maybe people don't even hear what you are saying because they are terrified of this crazy man who chased them down?” He came to recognize that his behavior wasn't any better than theirs (and probably worse) and he wasn't achieving his goal of making the roads safer.

The point of this example is that he changed his perception of the situation, and as a result, was able to change his behavior. Now certainly, that doesn't mean he necessarily changed his emotion—perhaps he still became angry at people. But at least he didn't chase them down.

However, it is possible to change your perspective in such a way that you may not even feel angry. For instance, have you ever been angry about something and then realized you misinterpreted the situation or the intent? In such an instance, your anger may have disappeared once you realized you were wrong. In a similar way, we are capable of using the POSSIBILITY of misunderstanding to help change our perspective. In other words, we don't have to KNOW we are wrong. Instead, we can consider that we may be wrong and give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Let's look at a simple example based upon the guy with road rage. If he thinks, “That person cut me off because they are inconsiderate and don't care about putting my life in danger” he is more likely to be angry. However, if he even considers the possibility that they just made a mistake he is less likely to be angry. “Maybe that person just didn't see me in their blind spot.” And if he considers that there could have been a valid reason for their behavior, he may not only not be angry but he find feel very different, “Maybe that person had to swerve over to avoid an accident that could have involved me.”

The point of this is that every one of the thoughts I just described are speculative including his original belief that the person was just rude and uncaring. In other words, he has no idea which one may be true. Or, if the truth may be totally different from any of these possibilities. This illustrates that much of the time when people become angry it is because of what they presume to be the truth. We don't always know what the truth is.

Therefore, the first step in managing anger is when you are not absolutely certain, without a doubt, that your perspective is correct, you need to redirect your thinking: “I don't know why that person cut me off. If I need to make an assumption, I can choose a positive one and believe that there was a good reason.” By changing your perspective in this way, you are likely to reduce your angry reaction.

This method works for all sorts of situations. No matter how well you know another person, you are not inside that person's head. You do not know all the reasons for another person's behavior unless they tell you. Most of the time you are making assumptions. And if you are making an assumption, you are choosing among many possibilities which assumption to believe. Thus, if you want to control your anger, you can begin by choosing a different assumption to believe.

For instance, my husband is usually late. When we were first together I assumed that he just didn't care about my feelings. However, I came to realize that he is a very social person who enjoys talking to people and loses track of time when he is socializing. And socializing to him can mean a conversation in the grocery store. Something that could take me 15 minutes to do might take him an hour or more. But it had nothing to do with how he felt about me! It was just his nature. By recognizing this I changed my perspective and was less likely to be angry. In addition, if it was something important that I needed him to be on time for I would let him know that.

To change your perspective, you need to examine other people's behavior from their point of view, not just your own. A concept in psychology that we call “projection” is the tendency to attribute to other people the reasons why we would do something. For example, a person who tends to be dishonest is more likely to believe that others are dishonest. And vice versa, those who are honest believe others are likely to be honest. Or, in my example about my husband, my original belief was based on my own behavior--the only reason I would be late is an emergency. Therefore, my original assumption was that if there is no emergency it is inconsiderate of my husband to be late.

Projection is a natural tendency—a way to understand other people's behavior. However, it can very often be wrong. Other people don't behave for the same reasons we do. So, unless you want to be wrong in your assumptions, you need to look at other people's behavior from their perspective. The same behavior can mean different things to different people.

So the first step in managing your anger is asking yourself if there could be other reasons for a person's behavior. Ideally, you may be able to brainstorm some possibilities. But even if you are not able to do that, at least tell yourself, “My assumption may be wrong. There could be other reasons for this behavior.”

Sometimes the first step is enough to dissipate the anger. However, if it is not, you may need to take other steps. It can be very helpful, for instance, to learn relaxation methods so that you can calm yourself when you are angry. It is very difficult to be fully relaxed and angry at the same time because those two emotional states are opposites. The more you can relax yourself, the more clearly you will be able to examine the situation.

The next step if you are still uncertain and angry is to check out with the other person the reasons for their behavior. For some situations in which you may not have any further contact with someone such as the example of someone's driving behavior, you may not be able to check out your assumption. But if it is possible, you may want to ask the person about their reasons.

Therefore, check out assumptions and try to do it before you have built up resentment and start interpreting all of the person's behavior accordingly. Emotions reinforced over time are more difficult to change, even emotions based on inaccurate assumptions. This doesn't mean you can't change those emotions, it's just that you have to put more effort into it than simply redefining your perspective or checking out your assumption when a situation occurs.

What can you do about long-term resentments that may be based on inaccurate assumptions? It is still helpful to check out the assumption if you can. If not, at least try to determine if there are other possibilities for the person's behavior. You can even check with other people you trust to get their perspective. As a therapist, this is often a big part of my job when I am working with people who are overly sensitive to others' comments and behavior. I help people recognize that there could be other reasons so as to give them a different perspective.

In addition, if you have built up negative emotions about someone, you may need to deliberately create positive emotions. It is very difficult to genuinely wish positive things for someone else and to be angry at the same time. Those are different parts of our brain that don't interact well together. We can be angry or we can be loving but it is difficult for both at the same time. 

Finally, another aspect of managing anger is managing what we call displacement of anger. For some people, when they are angry or stressed they will take out these emotions on an innocent person who did not cause the problem. For example, a boss berates an employee and then that person lashes out at an assistant. I was bad at taking my stress home and being irritable with my husband. One way I managed this displacement was to stop at my front door and ask myself, “Am I going to take my stress in with me or leave it out here? I can walk in with a smile on my face or I can be irritable. What is my choice?”

Simply recognizing displacement and seeing it as a choice can make a big difference in how we act. When we take responsibility for our emotions we are more likely to take control of them. Instead of saying “I can't help it—it's how I feel” making a choice creates the awareness in us that it is under our control. It is very difficult to recognize the choice and choose to be angry at an innocent person anyway. For most of us that would create what we call cognitive dissonance which is the discomfort caused by believing one thing but acting in another way. In this situation, believing we have a choice and still hurting an innocent person means we have to recognize that we are being mean to someone who doesn't deserve it. For most of us, that is unacceptable. Therefore, recognizing the choice means we are more likely to not displace our anger onto an innocent person.

Usually the reason we take anger out on another person is because it is a powerful release of the pent-up emotion. Instead, find another physical release of your anger such as punching a bag, screaming in a secluded place, or intense exercise. By doing so you can release the anger safely without hurting someone else.

In summary, there are five things you can do to manage anger:

1. Change your perspective and your assumptions. Try to look at the situation from the other person's point of view or get assistance in examining your assumptions.

2. Learn relaxation methods. Practice the deep relaxation so that you can effectively calm yourself with the Quick Stress Relief methods when you need to.

3. Check out your assumptions. If possible, check with the other person to determine the accuracy of your assumptions.

4. Change your emotions towards the person. Take a different emotional attitude towards the person.

5. Recognize displacement. Try to be fully aware of when you are taking your anger out on someone who is innocent and make a choice not to do so. Find some other way to release your emotions.

Learning to control your anger takes effort time. It is necessary to practice these methods until you are able to use them in the moment.

Ageing with Integrity

Posted on March 31, 2016 at 12:43 AM Comments comments (13)
I want to share the following article as I know that this is a common feeling among a lot of people who have retired from full time careers or are approaching retirement. If you are interested in more information please email me -  [email protected]

"As people grow older, they are navigating new territory in their life. Most likely, those who are successfully navigating their older age are not listening to this audio so I will address issues for when people are feeling despair and regret as they grow older. In this audio, I will discuss coping with loss and addressing self-esteem issues in addition to productivity and achievement later in life to assist with reviewing your life with a sense of integrity rather than despair.

Aging is a time of grief as well as a time of joy. However, just about everyone experiences loss with aging. That loss may be a loss of health. It may be mental decline. It may be the loss of a productive and fulfilling career. It may be the loss of important relationships. Although everyone experiences loss, not everyone experiences despair with aging. In fact, it is more common for people to feel happier with a greater sense of overall well-being as they grow older.

So, if everyone experiences losses and change with aging, why do some experience despair whereas others feel a sense of integrity about their lives? The answer may be due to how they cope with grief and loss and how they feel about themselves as well as how they view productivity and achievement in older adulthood.

Although loss is inevitable with aging, some people have trouble grieving the natural changes of age. They may feel justified grieving a death, but they might not feel it is okay to grieve retirement or other changes in their life. For instance, it might seem like you shouldn't be grieving because you've had a good life. Maybe you have raised a wonderful family. Maybe you have had a productive career. You've accomplished many things in your life. And yet, you feel the loss. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the loss so that you can grieve and be able to move on. Many people don't acknowledge the necessary losses of life such as retirement. To enjoy retirement you may have to give up a career that was fulfilling to you. Too frequently people focus on how lucky you are to retire and don't recognize the loss that comes with this major change in life.

Another common loss is that many people have health issues as they grow older. Successfully navigating the grief does not mean ignoring it. Those who cope with loss are those who acknowledge it, feel it, and come to a resolution. Too often, people want to immediately resolve grief. They might say, for instance, “I can't do everything I used to do. That's okay because there are still other things I can do.” Certainly, that is a healthy resolution but prior to a successful resolution the individual needs to acknowledge the loss and grieve. Then, when they get to the resolution, they will fully feel it rather than just saying the words.

There is a natural tendency as people move into their older ages to look back and evaluate their lives. When people look back over their lives, their view is often colored by the lens of their self-esteem. In other words, people who generally have been negative about themselves throughout their life are more likely to respond with despair whereas those with high self-esteem are likely to feel a sense of integrity. For those who feel despair, it is necessary to recognize that it is not too late to change your self-concept.

Self-criticism is toxic. The people who probably should be critical of themselves such as criminals and psychopaths who have harmed others, usually aren't. They tend to see themselves as victims or to blame the victims. Therefore, most of those who are overly self-critical are likely to be inaccurate in their self-assessment. They usually tend to engage in negative filtering, only evaluating certain aspects of themselves and/or seeing only the negative when positive aspects exist. This is the reason self-criticism is toxic. It is often inaccurate to a large extent and poisons a person's self-concept. A reasonable self-assessment is healthy but is able to examine the positive as well as the negative. So, if you find yourself primarily negative in your self-evaluation, it is likely to be inaccurate. As a result, it only contributes to despair rather than to positive change.

If you examine yourself too harshly, change your self-perception. It is never too late to change yourself. Don't accept that overly critical self-assessment. Look at your life from all perspectives. Make a list of your positive qualities and accomplishments. Don't dismiss them as unimportant. For people who are self-critical, no criticism is too small to ignore. So don't ignore the positives by diminishing them. Build yourself up rather than tear yourself down. Once you can examine yourself more realistically, it then becomes possible to look at your life and what you want from life more accurately and enthusiastically.

Another issue for some people as they age is that they believe they haven't accomplished what they wanted in life. Others, who may have achieved a great deal during their productive years, are grieving the inability to do what they did before. They are no longer receiving the accolades or the financial rewards. It may be true that they can no longer do what they used to. However, does that mean they can no longer be productive or achieve anything? No, that is not true. You might have to go on a search of self-discovery to find the meaning in your life. But the search for identity is not limited to youth. Periodically, people need to revisit what their life means to them and what gives them a sense of purpose.

We live in a society that is youth-focused. Again and again you hear the stories of youthful success to the extent that it almost appears that if you are over forty there is no reason to even try. As a result, many people as they grow older don't even think of what they want to do with the rest of their life. They are told and believe, “You're retired. You can take it easy now.” That might be fine for awhile. But think about this, when you retire you can easily have 15, 20 or even 30 productive years ahead of you. That's almost as much time as you put into work.

The question is: how do you want to spend the time you have left? Research shows us that staying productive in older age is an important key to long-term health and happiness. You might think that there is nothing you can do. That you are too old. Or, that you don't have the capability you once had. But that is not true!

Age is an attitude. If you buy in to the youth culture, you might have the attitude that you can't accomplish anything after a certain age. You might think it is too late to pursue your dreams, to start a business, to write a novel, to invent a new product. However, age is an attitude. And attitudes can be changed. As Mark Twain, the American humorist said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter.” If you believe that you can still have a sense of purpose as you grow older, you can.

You are never too old to become an artist. Grandma Moses became a renowned folk artist although she didn't start painting until she was over 75 years old.

You are never too old to write. If you have ever played card games, you have probably heard the phrase “according to Hoyle”; Edmund Hoyle wrote the first rules of card games when he was in his seventies.

You are never too old to take care of your health. My grandmother, who was very active throughout her life but had never exercised, started riding a stationary bike in her seventies because her doctor told her it would be healthy for her.

You are never too old to invent something useful. My father-in-law invented and patented fishing rod holders including one for wheelchairs when he was in his seventies. He received an international award for his inventions.

You are never too old to start go to school and start a new career. When I was in graduate school I had a supervisor who was on his third career. After retiring from the military, he went to school for engineering. He retired from engineering and received a doctorate in psychology in his sixties. I remember reading a letter to Dear Abby from a woman in her forties who asked about the advisability of going back to college. Specifically, she lamented “I'll be almost fifty by the time I graduate.” Abby's response was “How old will you be if you don't go back to college?” Which reminds me of a quote from George Elliott, the novelist: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

People who do, do. They don't focus on regrets. They don't focus on “what could have been.” They focus on today. What are YOU capable of today? As John Barrymore, the actor said, “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.”

Now is the time to do what you always wanted to do. Sure, you might have to modify your dreams. Perhaps you can't get around as well as you used to. Perhaps you need assistance. Maybe you don't have as much energy. Or much money. However, that doesn't mean you can't do anything. Do what you can! As they say, “Rome wasn't built in a day.” Just doing a little bit at a time can accomplish a great deal. Tolkien was in his sixties when “Lord of the Rings”, a set of books over a thousand total pages, was published. It was said that he wrote only 250 words a day which is equivalent to about one page. Sure, it might have taken him fifteen years to write one of the best-selling novels of all time, but he did it by doing a little at a time.

You don't need to miss opportunities now just because you are older. Prove the youth-culture wrong. Do what you want to do. “Follow your dreams” is not just for the young."

Feedback and recommendation

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (8)
I sought Tricia’s professional help for a relationship and anxiety matter as I suffer from Bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress.  I found her to have a high standard of integrity, be extremely sincere, ethical and honest and felt empowered after each session.
During the time I have been ill, I have seen counsellors, mental health workers, psychiatrists and social workers and I would have to say that Tricia is one of the best Counsellors I have seen.  I see my Psychiatrist on a fortnightly basis and he has seen an improvement in my mental state since my counselling sessions with Tricia.
I would have no hesitation in recommending Tricia in the field of counselling
Mrs S
Largs North SA