Mindfulness Techniques to Fight Self Harm

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression, suicide

Self-harm is a taboo topic, even in today’s world of acceptance of Pride and no prejudices. When we hear that someone self-harms, 70% of the time, the first reaction we’d have is one of horror. Not even disbelief, pity or anything else, just plain horror, followed by a poor attempt to empathize. Very few of us try to help the person out, mainly because we don’t understand what they’re going through. But that’s just our conditioning. We’ve been taught to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable and go with the crowd. It’s time to have a breakthrough. 

What is self-harm?

Self-harm or self-injury means hurting oneself intentionally. Self-harm is not a mental health illness in itself. Rather, it displays an inability of the person affected to cope with a certain illness, most often something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder

To the people who self-harm: know this. You are not going through this alone. Self-harm is not something you have to live with all your life, and there are loads of people to narrate their experiences and support you. You need only reach out to seek help.

Why do people self-harm?

There is no scientific answer to this. Some people say they do it to relieve stress. Some others say they do it because the physical pain is better than the mental pain. It is a sign of great emotional distress, and the person is often engulfed by feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, and pain. Some common reasons that people reported include:

  • Relapse from alcohol or drug use
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying
  • Family issues

But there is no weakness in asking for help. In fact, it takes great courage to open up and talk about your feelings. If you do feel overwhelmed by these negative feelings, please, reach out to someone. 

Who are the people most prone to self-harm?

Though self harm is something that can affect anyone, this practice is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, starting especially from one’s teenage years. People from unstable homes or those who have experienced trauma, neglect, and/or abuse in their early lives are also prone to self-harm. 

If you are a loved one of a person who self-harms, it is important to note that self-harm is not a cry of help or a demand for attention. But this does not mean that people who self-harm don’t need care and compassion. When someone opens up about their pain, chances are that it’s not your opinion they seek; it’s your acceptance. A simple smile goes a long way!

How can we fight the urge to self-harm?

While there are no tablets or tonics for it, psychologists and therapists all over the world do commonly recommend some grounding techniques and on-the-spot hacks that can help a person relieve their urge to self-harm.

Some of the most popular grounding techniques prescribed by therapists are:

  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:  This is a very simple deep-relaxation technique prescribed to reduce anxiety, stress, insomnia, and many other illnesses. Here is how it works:

While inhaling, clench/contract one type of muscle in your body. For example, your biceps, for 5-10 seconds, and then when you exhale, unclench it. After relaxing for 10 seconds, move on to another group of muscles, and repeat the same. 

TIP: Try to visualize the contraction and releasing of tension of the muscles in your body, so that it adds more focus to the activity. Also try visualizing all the stress and pain leaving your body with each release of tension. That helps a lot!

  1. 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: This is an interesting alternative focus technique. Look around your surroundings and answer the following questions:
  • What are 5 things you see (in a particular colour)?
  • What are 4 things you feel?
  • What are 3 things you hear?
  • What are 2 things you smell?
  • What is 1 thing you taste?

Other informal mindfulness/grounding techniques you can try include:

  1. Mental Grounding exercises: 

i) Describe an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, in detail, to yourself
ii) Try to think of as many things in one category, like dogs or plants or musicians, as you can! Tests your knowledge, too.
iii) Count 1 to 100, but spell out the alphabets. O…N…E, T…W…O, etc.

  1. Physical Grounding exercises:

i) Run warm or cool water down the place where you usually self-harm
ii) Alternatively, try to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can
iii) Jump up and down

You can also carry a grounding object with you, a small pen, a rock, a ring, a marble…anything you can touch and take comfort from when you feel frustrated or anxious or stressed. As with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, you can also visualize your object drawing the negative energy away from you, in order for it to be more effective!


Do you feel like you have no one who listens to you? Do you want someone to vent to? Talk to a LonePack Buddy today!

What makes you, you?

Identify your values to lead a meaningful life

As we grow up, Life can seem to become more complicated. We’re faced with difficult decisions where the “right” choice might not always be easy or apparent. Choosing to pursue your relationship when your family is against it. Ending an abusive and toxic relationship. Being open about your gender or sexual identity. We might end up feeling stuck, with no way out of the situation. In those cases, a strong sense of who you are and your core values, can empower you and give back control of your life.

Lessons from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies mixed in different ways with commitment and behavior change strategies to increase psychological flexibility. In ACT, identifying your values is central to enforcing commitment and, the more personal the values, the better you are able to enforce them. This awareness allows you to be mindful of your actions and damaging behavioral patterns and correct them. Following are a few examples by which this therapeutic approach may be applied for common disorders.

One of the symptoms of anxiety is overthinking. We don’t have control over other people’s decisions, past or future circumstances or even our own emotional reactions to situations but we do have control over our own decisions. In order to break the fatalistic overthinking pattern, it would be helpful to identify your values and if your actions in these make-believe scenarios conform to them.

People who suffer from Depression might feel unenthusiastic about their life because they’re stuck. While it is true that there are a lot of factors that lock us into these situations which feel inescapable, having the mental fortitude can lend an inner strength. Starting small, with just one value and how to improve your life around this value can be the breakthrough strategy to realizing the infinite possibilities to change your life.

Note: The above examples are simplified for easier understanding, however, they are in no way a representation of the entire scope of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as practiced in a professional setting.

Identifying Your Values

The following is a list of common values. This is in no way an exhaustive list and it is encouraged to add or edit these values to suit your personal experience. You may mark a ‘V’ for very important, ‘Q’ for Quite important and ‘N’ for Not that important across each of the goals.

  • Acceptance/self-acceptance: to be accepting of myself, others, life, etc.
  • Adventure: to be adventurous; to actively explore novel or stimulating experiences
  • Assertiveness: to respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want
  • Authenticity: to be authentic, genuine, and real; to be true to myself
  • Caring/self-care: to be caring toward myself, others, the environment, etc.
  • Compassion/self-compassion: to act kindly toward myself and others in pain
  • Connection: to engage fully in whatever I’m doing and be fully present with others
  • Contribution and generosity: to contribute, give, help, assist, or share
  • Cooperation: to be cooperative and collaborative with others
  • Courage: to be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat, or difficult
  • Creativity: to be creative or innovative
  • Curiosity: to be curious, open-minded, and interested; to explore and discover
  • Encouragement: to encourage and reward behavior that I value in myself or others
  • Engagement: to engage fully in what I am doing
  • Fairness and justice: to be fair and just to myself and others
  • Fitness: to maintain or improve or look after my physical and mental health
  • Flexibility: to adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances
  • Freedom and independence: to choose how I live and help others do likewise
  • Friendliness: to be friendly, companionable, or agreeable toward others
  • Forgiveness/self-forgiveness: to be forgiving toward myself or others
  • Fun and humor: to be fun loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities
  • Gratitude: to be grateful for and appreciative of myself, others, and life
  • Honesty: to be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others
  • Industry: to be industrious, hardworking, and dedicated
  • Intimacy: to open up, reveal, and share myself, emotionally or physically
  • Kindness: to be kind, considerate, nurturing, or caring toward myself or others
  • Love: to act lovingly or affectionately toward myself or others
  • Mindfulness: to be open to, engaged in and curious about the present moment
  • Order: to be orderly and organized
  • Persistence and commitment: to continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties.
  • Respect/self-respect: to treat myself and others with care and consideration
  • Responsibility: to be responsible and accountable for my actions
  • Safety and protection: to secure, protect, or ensure my own safety or that of others
  • Sensuality and pleasure: to create or enjoy pleasurable and sensual experiences
  • Sexuality: to explore or express my sexuality
  • Skillfulness: to continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully
  • Supportiveness: to be supportive, helpful and available to myself or others
  • Trust: to be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere, and reliable
  • Other:
  • Other:
    Russ Harris, 2013 Adapted from The Confidence Gap: From Fear to Freedom, by Russ Harris, Penguin Group (Australia), 2010.

The activity of identifying values can seem daunting at first glance. It might be made easier through the following activity.

Imagine you are 85 years old and all your friends are gathered to celebrate your birthday. One of your friends gets up to give a speech about your life.

If you had lived your life as you currently do, what are the most memorable qualities in the speech?

Now, take a moment to reflect upon the list of values. 

Imagine that you have made changes to how you live your life that revolves around your values. Now, if your friend made a speech, what are the most memorable qualities in it?

myStrength

How to Live your Values

While becoming aware of your values is a big first step, choosing your everyday actions to reflect them takes dedication and explicit intention. To make it easier, it might be useful to come up with 5 goals that aim at improving your lifestyle around your core values. Then, think back on how these values have been disregarded in the past, the more specific the experience the better. Now, with these memories in mind, come up with enforceable daily, weekly and monthly goals. It is key to start small and be specific when creating this list.

With commitment to your values, you can start to live your life with intention. However, it is unavoidable that we may sometimes slip back into unhealthy behavioral patterns. In those situations, you can reset your internal compass by becoming aware of your values and the reasons why they’re important to you. If the values are truly what make you, this exercise can jolt you back into control of your life.

Finally, Your values might be different in different aspects of your life such as family, relationships, work, community, religion, spirituality, etc. It is essential to make the distinction between beliefs and values. Beliefs might be imposed or imparted and are subject to change relatively frequently. However, values are central to your life’s purpose and generally become stronger when you overcome your mental health struggles. In conclusion, an awareness of your values helps in decision making and allows you to take control of your life and enforcing these values in your day to day life can impart a sense of meaning and direction to your life.

LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Sound Therapy ft. Suzy Nairn

At some point in our lives, a lot of us may have turned to music to make ourselves feel better, but did you know that mere sounds can have an impact on our mental health as well?


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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

Today we’re talking to Suzy Nairn, a singer, sound therapist and educator. She’s the founder of Soundsphere and the co-founder of ANSU School of Sound. She is also a member of the board of the International Therapeutic Sound Association. 

Hey, Suzy!

Suzy-  Hi, hello!

Valerie- It’s good to have you here today.

Suzy-  It’s good to be here. Lovely to be invited, I’m very keen to talk about Sound Therapy and how it can help people.

Valerie- Sure. Suzy, by profession, you are a Sound Therapist. You’re also a singer and a songwriter. What is the difference between sound and music, and between the alternative therapies of the same?

Suzy-  Yes, absolutely. When we’re working with music, we tend to be working a lot with rhythm, melody, lyrics, words, etc. When we’re working in Sound Therapy, we might bring in a little bit of rhythm and melody but actually, it’s a very much more open soundscape so we would use toys or undulating pulses and that can help bring a person into a relaxed state whereas singing and song-writing involves singing and writing songs, people are moving, people are engaged, they’re listening and maybe singing along in their head or tapping their foot. Within a sound journey, they tend to be resting in Sound Therapy. 

So the difference as well between Music Therapy and Sound Therapy is that Music Therapy is much more of a two-way process, so a music therapist would be talking and speaking with a client, where they would be using instruments to help express emotions that someone may not be able to express in words so it’s more of a communication tool whereas Sound Therapy is very much a treatment. The person is lying down, eyes closed, under a cozy blanket, etc. and they are receiving the sound. Although they are listening, they may actually drift off into a dream-like state. They are not required to be actively engaged, so it’s much more like a giving from the Sound Therapy, and the person is receiving it.  

Valerie- Yeah, it is quite interesting to know that on one hand when you have music, it’s something that’s more active, where you have participation from the person and Sound Therapy on the other hand is more on the basis of receiving sound and in terms of that, could you tell us what the therapeutic effects of sound are and how it relates to mental health?

Suzy-  Yes, so continuing on from that, when we were actually consciously working with the brainwave states, in music, our brainwaves are in the natural state of beta, where we’re active and engaged and there’s four main brainwave states that we’re all in at different times throughout the day, the beta state is what we’re in right now, where we’re talking, listening, and engaged whereas when we’re working with Sound Therapy, we’re using sounds and tones and different effects to slow the brainwaves down so that the person reaches a natural state of relaxation and it’s sometimes a state that people can’t reach themselves, especially if they’re worrying or anxious, if they’ve got very over-active minds or constant chronic pain. All of these things make it very difficult for a person to access a state of relaxation. 

What happens is when they are gently lulled into this natural brainwave state which we call the alpha-theta border, which is a bit like the moment when you’re just dropping off to sleep at night or you’ve just woken up and you haven’t really fully got onto your mind and what’s happening in the day, you’re in a sort of unknown physical state, almost. When a person reaches that natural brainwave state, we aim to keep them in that a little bit longer. Normally, it’s a brief moment while we’re there and they’ve shown that when people are in that state, the body actually undergoes their own physical self-repair so it’ll balance hormones, it’ll release tension that’s been held in the physical body, and all of these benefits can help people lessen their worries, help them gain a sense of peace and also which then helps them be more able to cope with life’s challenges, and we’ve seen that it can bring about pain relief in people, they might not need as much pain medication if they’ve got a chronic illness. 

I’ve got clients who have had very high blood pressure and after a number of sessions, that has completely stabilized. So there are all these different effects that are going on. It’s also the sounds and the way we weave these sounds. They also soothe the nervous system, it very much works with the vagus nerve, which is the biggest nerve in the body, and the vagus nerve is connected to our ears and travels all the way down through the body and connects with all the internal organs of the body, so when we’re giving that somebody and they’re receiving it, it’s soothing. It can soothe their frazzled nerves and wash away some of that tension. When people are tense and worried and are holding themselves tight, it helps the body to naturally start to relax and that process in itself can just be so beneficial for people. 

A lot of people say to me, after they’ve had a session, especially after the group ones, that they have a brilliant sleep. It’s amazing, the power of how it can really help people, and it does require skillful playing and that’s why I’m a real advocate for training in Sound Therapy because it’s really easy to just buy the instrument. Just like music, you can teach yourself to a point by watching and listening to other people but there’s actually a whole process of being a therapist, which is not something that you cannot just teach yourself. That is something that needs to be taught because sometimes, people can have really big emotional releases and you need to be able to handle that as a therapist.  Yeah, so there are a lot of ways that it helps people.

Valerie-  Right. Suzy, when you were telling us about this, you did talk about how sound helps release tension and help people reach a point where they relax to a point where they probably couldn’t by themselves and you talked about how it’s important to have a therapist with you so that if there are emotional releases, you have somebody who can help facilitate that. Is talk therapy at all a part of Sound Therapy? What exactly did it mean when you talked about “emotional releases”?

Suzy-  As a therapist, I will have a consultation with a client and whatever comes up in that is relevant to the person. We’re not necessarily trying to dig around but counselling and talk therapy does have a place, however in a one to one situation, we would have a consultation and discuss what the main issues for the person are, and then sometimes that process itself is very healing in itself and then they receive the sound. When we’re working on a one to one level, we’re working with the chakra system where we scan the body, the energetic system of the body, and there’s a bit of intuition as well, as to where the sounds need to be. We might even place instruments on the body, we might put the singing bowls on the body and ease tension in the body. 

So there’s a balance within talk therapy and within the sound in a treatment situation. When it’s a group situation, it’s a more general “sound journey” or a “sound bath”, so it’s not tailored specifically to one person, it’s more general but it might have a theme. So it might be for relaxation or it might be for energizing, or it may be connected to a specific season of the year, like we’re just coming into spring here in Scotland so I was just doing one last night connected to Spring and that was lovely! So we’ve taken some of those nice themes and then focused on a general soundscape that is designed around that.

Valerie-  Right. So, what was the inspiration behind founding Soundsphere and ANSU School of Sound?

Suzy-  Well, I first heard about Sound Therapy around about thirty years ago, a friend gave me a book on healing through sound and I was at the time interested in music but it was just a hobby of mine, and I liked singing, and this book sort of opened my eyes to the potential that there was in something such as Sound Therapy, and it wasn’t until around 2006, that became the time that I chose to train and that was because a close family member actually got very ill and I wanted to help her and lots of things like mainstream medicine weren’t able to support her in a more holistic way. They would give her the medicines but there was no other support, so I started to do more research. 

I’d done a little workshop a few years previous to that and I started to use my voice with her, I was doing relaxation sessions and she really responded so well that I decided to then go and train, and I did a two year practitioner level training course, and through that time I worked with my niece very closely and gave her a lot of sessions and it really helped her. Sadly, she did die because she was seriously ill, and it was a very very tragic situation but what I did see from it was how much benefit she got out of the Sound Therapy treatment and that after that time and when I completed my training, I felt so inspired to help others and since then, I have worked with terminal clients as well as people with stress or people who want relaxation, or even prevention – you can sort of prevent illnesses coming around. 

So that was why I started Soundsphere and I started running workshops and sound journeys. And then a number of years later, I’d been working with a colleague who trained together with me, Anthar Kharana, and we wanted to train more people because people kept coming to us asking if it could help children with autism, adults with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and many situations, and I felt strongly that yes, it can but there’s only two of us here and at that time, Sound Therapy was still breaking through over here and it wasn’t that well known, it’s become a lot more well known and a lot of people training in it now, a lot of people offering sessions. So we started an annual course to be able to train more people to spread the word, and to be out there spreading the sound, so we’ve got students who are graduates now, who are working within mental health or with addiction groups or adding it into yoga classes, or many different things so that’s what we wanted to do. 

We wanted to see it in schools and hospitals and we’ve got a new school program that’s running this year and some of the schools in Scotland where we’re actually going to be teaching the children how to play some of the singing bowls and give some support to the teachers as well because obviously, we’re in this very stressful situation at the moment, so we want to offer some therapeutic sound but it’s also under some sort of music connection, so that the children will also learn to play these instruments because technically, they are quite simple to play but there is a bit of skill within that and extra techniques and it’s to do with how you blend the instruments and when you use different instruments. That’s where the skill and training comes in.

Valerie-  Yes. Well, thank you for sharing an experience so personal to you and actually letting us know that despite it being a tragic experience, you took that to help other people when you saw how it benefited your niece, and that it became just as important for you to make other people aware of the benefits of Sound Therapy and founded a school that trains people on how they can help do the same for other people.

Suzy-  Yeah, thank you. Absolutely, I get feedback from people all the time about how it really helps them with their anxiety and their headaches, it can also be really supportive when people are going through major transformations in their life, whether that’s a house-move or the end of a relationship, or they’re grieving, it can really help them in all sorts of different situations. There’s really so many benefits and it works. So when people ask if it can help with health issues, yes, it can sort of help everything because you’re working beneath the symptoms, you’re working underneath and behind and you’re not getting involved in the outer world situation such as a marriage breakup or the illness, you’re working behind that to support them and give them that sense of peace, to be able to cope with these things.

Valerie- Yes.  Personally, what is it about sound that brings you peace?

Suzy-  Well, I just love the different sounds and it gives me a lot of peace to actually know that it’s helping a lot of people and for my own personal experience, when I’m delivering sound or working with instruments, it’s a really creative process. It’s that feeling of getting in the zone. I actually get a lot of benefit out of it as well. I feel calmer afterwards and when you’ve been creative and when you’ve produced something, it’s quite a rewarding feeling in that way. 

I’m very conscious when I’m creating sound, I’m very engaged and I’m not going into the relaxed state, and I’m very intuitive as well, sort of creating and guiding and weaving the sounds together so I think all of that that gives me a sense of peace, and just helping and seeing the benefits that people feel. A lot of people have an experience of weightlessness, or they see colours or they get images, clarity and insight and a lot of different benefits that come from it. I’m sure that I get some of those benefits as well!

Valerie-  Well, Suzy it’s been really great talking to you and more than understanding what Sound Therapy is, it’s been inspiring to know your story and the fact that it’s so important of you to look at how other people have benefitted from sound therapy and what you provide them with, and that’s what helps you be peaceful and that’s what keeps you happy. Thank you so much for talking to us and giving us an insight into what Sound Therapy is, how it’s used. Thank you, Suzy.

Suzy- You’re welcome, Valerie. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m delighted to be part of your podcast series.

To know more about Suzy Nairn’s work, head over to:

ANSU School of Sound

Soundsphere

Ain’t Silly If It Works

trigger warnings:// self-harm, suicide

When I read O.Henry’s “The Last Leaf” in school, I never imagined a parallel version would play out in my own life. In the book, one of the central characters, in a moment of helplessness, links the falling of the leaves in a nearby tree with her own life and believes she would die once the last leaf falls. Without spoiling much, let’s say, a small miracle occurs  and helps her find the motivation to live.

        Around 4 years later, during a particularly tough time in my life, I found myself utterly uninterested in any of my previous hobbies, unsure about the future and in general very disillusioned. Coincidentally this was also the time I brought home a plant which stubbornly refused to show any signs of life for days together. A completely random thought hit me – If this plant survives and grows leaves, I would be okay too. I religiously made sure it got sunlight and fresh water everyday, sat beside it whenever I needed some quiet time and surely enough, the plant survived. And in some sense, So did I. It may not seem very drastic to some but this small plant eased something in me during those tough times.

           Here’s the picture of this resilient li’l plant.

    While I had stumbled onto this way of coping, I later learnt it wasn’t all that rare. I read several posts on Reddit about people delaying self-harm by waiting for the release of their favourite movies/books/video games. Let’s think about it for a minute. This kind of concrete expectation gives us something to look forward to while also seemingly providing a specific date, lending some amount of certainty in an overwhelmingly confusing world. These survivors didn’t stop with one date though. They settled on another one and delayed their suicidal plans for a few more months or years and so on. A kind of useful procrastination, if you think about it. 

               Does this really make a difference though? Our social media feeds are filled with alarming news one after another. About the planet, the economy, the country – all of it. Notifications pile up about all the cool stuff everyone else is doing and the comparison game seamlessly begins. At times caring, well-meaning friends or family are not quite sure what to say, assuming they are available to listen and understand. In such times, a specific date on which you get to reconnect with a beloved character or story seems awfully reliable. 

                  If you are in fact considering self-harm, you can try some of the following distraction techniques as a form of emotional first-aid :

  • Exercise
  • Spending time in nature or with pets
  • Journaling
  • Temporarily stepping back from people or situations that act as triggers
  • Finding a creative outlet 

Find more here

But a very important thing to note is that these kinds of distraction strategies can be maladaptive as well — this interesting study talks about how distraction methods can be adaptive or maladaptive for emotional regulation based on the intent of the distraction. It can be adaptive if it is done with acceptance but can turn maladaptive if done with avoidance. So it is very important to take into account what your emotional state is and to act accordingly. 

      This is in no way to suggest that we do away with professional help or that this method can effectively replace therapy. Seeking professional help and working on sorting out the underlying issue is of utmost importance and is what will help in the long run.. These distraction methods only provide us with some more time and drive to seek help. The idea isn’t to latch on to short-term fixes like these forever but to to utilize this time to seek help from a qualified professional who can understand the specifics of your situation and aid in recovery and help build resilience even in the face of future adversity. I realize that to several people, this might sound ridiculous or trivial. I mean given all the problems in one’s life, how would a new movie or show even matter? You might be tempted to say that life’s purpose isn’t such “silly entertainment” and needs to be aligned with a higher calling. A noble thought indeed. But for a person who is struggling to find the will to wake up each day and even get dressed, if a new comic book makes it easier, why not? 

           Recovery is a process and it can’t be solved or fast-forwarded through such hacks. Each individual needs to take their own time and have a  sound support system in place. While methods like this can help make things slightly easier,it is not a long-term solution. We absolutely do need to invest time and effort to work though the underlying issues.  But for the short term, even if it’s silly, even if no one understands it, if it makes the daily grind of life better at least for a while, it may be worth a shot.

(You can check out the story here http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/LasLea.shtml)

Habits Pt2 – How to maintain habits

In the last article, we talked about how to form habits and a little bit about the science behind them. Well, in this follow-up, let’s dive a bit deeper and talk about how to maintain habits. 

Most of the time, the hardest part in forming a habit is staying consistent. There is often a slow build-up of resistance after the initial high of the habit formation process wears off, which in the end, is what forces us to break routine. Doing the task will start to look like a chore and when that happens, most of us stop doing what we set out to do. This is a very normal and common obstacle that we face while forming habits. So let’s take a look at a few things that might help with tackling this resistance and overall, will help in effectively building habits. 

1.Accessibility – James Clear in his widely talked about book Atomic Habits, talks about how humans are wired to take the path of least resistance. If we think about it, it makes a lot more sense that this would be true and applicable not only to habit formation but to other things in life as well. 

So how do we use this tendency to our advantage while building habits? By making sure that the tools we need to build the habit are extremely accessible. If you are set out to work out every day, keeping your workout gear where you can see them instead of in a place where you’ll need to actively go out of your way to reach for them can do wonders for your motivation. Choose the path to the least resistance.  

2. Discipline over Motivation – Although everyone might encourage us to keep being motivated to incentivize habit formation, motivation, in reality, only will last us for so long. So instead of relying on intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to push you to build the habit, choose to be disciplined. Set a routine for yourself and stick to it. Even on days where you feel the most unmotivated, challenge yourself to do at least a little bit. Being disciplined in the end will also serve as a form of intrinsic motivation that will feed into a positive loop. Here is an article that talks about discipline over motivation in a bit more detail. 

3. Realistic goals – Set a routine for yourself and stick to it is easier said than done. However, we all have to start somewhere in our habit formation journey. The best thing to then do would be to start small. It can get overwhelming to start with a big task and try following it through every day. Setting realistic, small yet attainable goals is key to maintaining a positive feedback loop and keeping ourselves invested in the habit we’re trying to develop. If you’re going to start working out, instead of overwhelming yourself with an hour of working out everyday, start small — a 10minute workout for 5 days a week. By this time, the sense of achievement of having done the workouts will serve as the motivation needed to keep going and challenge yourself. Then you can build upon those 10 minutes and effectively turn working out into a daily habit. Here’s how you can set realistic goals.

4. Build a healthy system – This is very important. Sticking to routines is important but it is more important to listen to your body and mind’s needs. If you just don’t feel your best on certain days, don’t force yourself to push through the discomfort and complete the task you set out for yourself. Try to listen to your body and mind and understand the differences between resistance to doing something and genuinely not being able to. Also, keep in mind that doing one thing a day well is better than feeling overwhelmed with wanting to do 5 things in a single day. A healthy and intuitive system that focuses on holistic well-being will do wonders for your overall growth. An interesting article on time vs energy management to build healthy systems.

5. Patience – Last but not least, be patient and kind to yourself. No growth is ever linear so it is fine if you miss a few days in between or indulge yourself in something else over the habit you’re trying to develop. Do not feel pushed to do anything, instead, look at it as an opportunity to better yourself. Habits take time and are not easy to form or break so take all the time you need with them. 

Whether it be forming new habits or breaking bad ones, it is important to be mindful of both the environmental effects and to your own inner workings. With time, effort and patience there can be no habit impossible to form or break. All the luck to you!

Further reading

[1] Three step habit change – James Clear 

[2] Habit formation 

[3] The science of habits

LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Music Therapy ft. Dr. Katrina McFerra‪n‬

They say “where words fail, music speaks.” Today let’s explore the power of music and the impact it can have on our mental health.


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Valerie-  Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie. 

Let’s introduce ourselves to Music Therapy with Dr. Katrina McFerran, a Registered Music Therapist and a Professor of Music Therapy at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is an international expert on the topic of music, music therapy and adolescents.

Welcome, Dr. Katrina!

Dr. Katrina- Hi, Valerie. Lovely to meet you. 

Valerie-  First off, could you explain to us what music therapy is and how it’s different from listening to music in order to calm down or lighten our mood?

Dr. Katrina- Yeah. Well, I think that the term or the idea of Music Therapy has meant many things over many centuries but at the moment, we have taken it as a description of professional practice- of a career that you go to University and study the theory and methods and the research and then you’re able to be qualified to practice. It has become one of the many allied health professions in my country and in many countries around the world where people work in hospitals alongside speech pathologists and occupational therapists and physiotherapists and psychologists, and therefore that requires training about different diseases, disorders and understanding within that, how music can be helpful. 

So normally what people do is that they’re intuitive. You know the kinds of music that you love and you select it, with or without thinking about it, to make yourself feel better and that’s often really successful, whereas Music Therapy is about really identifying exactly what the purpose of using music would be for therapeutic purposes, what benefits there might be and making a plan saying if that’s what you’re trying to achieve, here’s a way that we could use music that’s based on research and evidence, that will help you achieve that goal and so therefore it’s more like a treatment planning model rather than just an intuitive process that you undertake for yourself.

Valerie-   Personally, what does music mean to you? What got you interested in the field of music therapy?

Dr. Katrina- Well, as you said in the beginning, my specialization within Music Therapy is on adolescent identity and the ways that young people use music as a way of exploring their emotions and expressing something about their personality and about their hopes and aspirations for their lives and the ways that different types of music can say something about who we are. So not surprisingly, I became interested in music therapy myself because that was the role that music played for me in my own youth. As a classical musician, I grew up on the edge of the desert in a small town in Australia and there wasn’t a lot of classical musicians in that town and so it was a way of marking out my territory in saying that this is the kind of person I am, this is my aesthetic and cultural value, my discipline and my focus. But of course, what music means to me, I would say is entirely personal and different to what it might mean to you, for example. I don’t know if you want to tell us what music means to you?

Valerie-  So for me, if I had to think about it, I don’t think of myself as someone who’s very artistic, right? So if I’m ever low or if I ever need to think about something, I always have a song that I’m constantly humming just so that I calm down and it’s always my go to. I don’t sing very well but it’s still something I choose to do over any other thing I’d rather be doing. 

Dr. Katrina- Perfect. So the difference between music that we use for our wellbeing and music as a kind of high culture performance, which has to be perfect, I think is really important. Interestingly enough, I teach a lot of music students at University and they often have the worst relationships with music in a way because for them it’s associated with pressure and perfection, whereas the rest of us, who are not music performers, are able to have this nurturing relationship with music where we can just hum and it can just soothe us during difficult times because we’re not putting pressure on it to earn us an income or to do other things. 

Valerie-  Right. You did say that one of your major fields of expertise is adolescent mental health. How have you found that music therapy impacts the mental health of adolescents?  

Dr. Katrina- Well, I think the way that you just described your relationship with music is actually typical of many young people and you know, young people get old and our relationships with music don’t really change for people generally but the passion and the time commitment really starts during adolescence and often during more challenging times in our lives, we turn back to music again in that same way. 

To my interest in how music can be used by adolescents has been really informed by the practice, I worked in children’s hospitals and in palliative care, we had people who were really mentally or physically ill and I learnt from them that they use music in really different ways- for some people it was to soothe and calm, for other people it was to get energy, for other people it was to express their emotions and try to understand them and almost help get rid of something so that they were done in a way that didn’t hurt anybody. 

So I noticed that there were very different ways that teenagers in particular use music depending on what else is happening in their lives and I started to think that it’s not so much about music doing something to you as a teenager, it’s not that you choose this particular kind of music and it will calm you. It’s much more about how teenagers choose the music of their preference and they use it to do whatever they want. So you could use the same piece of music to help you go to sleep that you might also use to do your homework or use to travel in public transport to distract yourself from how boring it is. The way that teenagers are so passionate about music helped me understand that they could use music in any way they wanted, towards their mental health. 

What I also learnt is that when we’re really depressed and ruminating on an issue, that we can also use music to make ourselves feel worse. We can accompany really negative thoughts with songs that reinforce those thoughts and we don’t feel better at the end, we feel even more angry. We might use music to accompany substance use or drug taking, which might be fun for some people but could be associated with a really unhealthy habit of addiction for other people. I started to realise that not only did everybody use music in different ways but sometimes it was really helpful and other times it was really unhelpful. So my role as a music therapist is often to touch base with young people and say “So how is that going for you? Is it working? Can we strengthen the way that you’re using music and make it even more powerful or do we need to have a look and see if it’s actually backfiring and making you feel worse, then let’s talk about that and if there are other decisions that you could make.” 

Valerie-  It’s really interesting that while talking about how music can really help somebody, you also brought out that it has a potential downside to it which is honestly not something I thought about! I did hear a few of my friends telling me they were upset and so I listened to songs that made me even sadder but I did not know that it had such a potential downside to it as well so thank you for bringing that up.

Dr. Katrina- You’re so welcome and did you know that sometimes, it’s so great to feel sad. You need to feel sad and you need to cry and music is the perfect friend for that. But it’s when you make it a habit, what I discovered is when young people get into habits, initially they hoped they would feel better afterwards because they got to vent, we need to vent out our emotions but if you notice over time that you actually feel worse, it actually deepens your relationship with negative emotions and you don’t feel better, that’s a really qualitative difference. Instinctively, we do think it helps, because normally it does. Just not always. 

Valerie-  True. You were telling us about the positives of music and you also said that it’s important that you touch base with the people you interact with when it comes to your music therapy sessions. For someone who does not have much knowledge about music, how does a music therapy session start? How does a music therapist understand them and help them through their problems, through music?

Dr. Katrina- That’s a great question. As I said at the beginning, music therapists work in a kind of treatment model- which is you begin at an assessment of what people’s needs are and what their musical interests are, and then you make a plan, you undertake the plan and then you evaluate it. So an assessment can be formal or informal but for me, when I work with teenagers at least in Australia, they usually are a little bit hesitant about what this music therapy thing is, so I usually start pretty casually and ask them what kind of music they like, because the basis of our relationship is going to be their music. 

It is an assessment which is casually offered and it allows the young person to know that I’m interested in their music and that I’m not here to tell them to listen to my music or to comment on their music or any of those things that they’re usually worried about. So then once I know what kind of music they’re interested in, then I need to know about what they need and why they’re in therapy. Often if I’m working in a hospital then I might  already know from all of their notes about what illness they’ve got, what they’re struggling with and I may have been referred in to address anxiety or insomnia, for example and if I don’t know, then I need to talk to the young person about that and then from there, I’ll make suggestions. 

So if it’s a young person who’s struggling with depression and they love listening to hip-hop music, to choose the most common and most popular music, then I have a basis. I know they’re struggling with depression and I’d say “okay, do you feel like it would be helpful to potentially write a song where you can express to me what’s happening to you and how you’re feeling about yourself right now?”. I’d say that I could produce some beats and we can choose those beats together and then we could write the words and maybe record it or something. I might offer that as an option. So you love hip-hop and you’re feeling depressed. Let’s have a look at that with music. 

If they’re feeling so depressed that they really don’t want to do anything so active, then I’ll ask them to start off by playing me a song, one of their favourite songs or something that can tell me about how they’re travelling, letting their music speak to me so that I start to get an understanding of where they’re at and I might be able to be helpful to them. So I might suggest writing songs or I might suggest listening to songs, or if I’m working in an institution where somebody’s so depressed that they’re just struggling to even get out of bed and they’re hospitalized, then I might not go with words at all. I might just pass somebody a drum and I might have a guitar or an instrument and I might say “let’s play”. Together we might just improvise and be together in music and I would analyse the way that they’re playing and amplify certain things that they do and they don’t have to be a musician, it could be a guitar they’re just fiddling with, and then we analyse that as you might do in psychoanalysis. So it’s like “Okay, this is what I’m hearing. Is this how you’re feeling right now?” and so we might be able to talk about it after but not leading with talking for someone who’s not really in that kind of a state. So you can hear how it’s really different depending on where I meet somebody, what they need, what kind of music they like, and what they’re willing to do, at the end of the day.

Valerie-  Obviously because each person differs, you have to have different approaches but all of them really sound very interesting in terms of the fact that you make music with them, regardless of whether they’re with lyrics or without, you really sit down and make music with them and analyse what they’re feeling through that one bit.

Dr. Katrina- It’s so fun. It’s a great job.

Valerie-  It sounds like a lot of fun!

So Dr. Katrina, why don’t you tell us what the therapeutic benefits of music are? Does music play a therapeutic role in your personal life?

Dr. Katrina-  Music does play a therapeutic role in my life and there is no doubt that at times of struggle or pain, that I turn to music and I listen more during those times. I play more during those moments in my life whereas when everything’s going about just fine, then I have music run in the background and it certainly brings me pleasure but I don’t feel so drawn to it, so it varies and I think that is true of most people. 

I think that the therapeutic benefits of music are tied up with that too because music is so vast and so magnificent and so much potential is inherent in music. It can go in so many directions that the therapeutic benefits can be anything, but they can’t be everything. If I was to talk to you right now and find out what your problems were, we couldn’t fix all of them through music. We would have to go okay, which one of those are we going to focus on today? And then we can work out which kind of music would be best for that. It’s not a drug, it doesn’t just come into your system and make you happy. It’s really, music has what you might call potentials that are therapeutic and the fact that we choose to use music can achieve joy, peace, love, connectedness, expression, authenticity and so many things, but it doesn’t happen at once. 

If you sing in a choir, for you it might be the pleasure of the sounds of harmonies all around you, for another person it might just be great to be out of the house and doing something which isn’t domestic duties, and for another person it might be about the conversations that happen before and after choir because they’re lonely. We can all be sharing in one the experience and music can be affording us different therapeutic benefits depending on what we need. 

Valerie-  Dr. Katrina, thank you so much for agreeing to do this and talking to us about music therapy. Without a doubt, it’s been one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had and there’s been so much to learn from what you’ve talked to us about today. We’ve learnt that music means different things to each and every individual even if you’re all part of the same thing, and that you can express yourself and say stuff about who you are through music. And while it may not solve each problem, you can work through whatever you’re facing through music and I think that is a beautiful note to end this on and I just want to thank you for talking to us about so much and allowing us to learn so much from you today.

Dr. Katrina-  I want to thank you for asking and being interested, I think it’s a great topic to talk about.

Valerie-  Thank you.

How to reset your elusive sleep schedule

Sleep is a biological necessity. Contrary to what many people say, sleep  deprivation is not a symbol of hard work , and sleep is not a luxury that can be traded for more work or sadly, even for parties. Name any bodily system- digestive, endocrine, immune- chances are, it is going to be affected by problems in sleep.  Apart from the quality and quantity of sleep which are more frequently discussed, the regularity of our sleep-wake cycle is important too. It is ideal to have the required hours of sleep around the same time everyday, rather than sleeping at 10 p.m one day and at 2 a.m the next. 

Circadian Misalignment

To maintain the rhythmicity of our sleep, body temperature, blood pressure and other biological activities, our body has an internal clock called the “circadian clock” that is primarily handled by the Suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain (It is a mouthful, so let’s call it SCN). In a way, it is the internal representation of the 24-hours cycle that is calibrated by a lot of factors around and within us. It is ideal to have this biological clock synchronized with your social clock, because major incompatibilities between the two clocks can be distressing and can have negative effects on functioning. These incompatibilities which include “delays, advances and/or complete dysregulations of someone’s sleep-wake cycle”, if clinically significant, can be diagnosed as a disorder under the umbrella of “Circadian rhythm sleep disorders”. Find more information on the disorders here.

But why fix it?

Even if many of our cycles are not disrupted enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis, there is no reason to not fix it nonetheless, given there are evidence-based ways to do so.

The importance of a good night’s sleep has been outlined in a previous lonepack post. An irregular sleep-wake cycle takes a toll on our mental health too and we will be left to navigate through the day feeling irritated and unable to concentrate. There will be difficulty in fulfilling social obligations and a lot of time will go wasted in failed attempts to fall asleep. We will also feel a loss of control and predictability which would lead to frustration. To top it all off, motivation and productivity also will plummet. Research studies link this circadian rhythm disruption to Depression-like symptoms, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, and Schizophrenia. Note that this does NOT necessarily mean that irregular sleep cycles lead to these disorders, or are consequences of having such disorders; it just means they have a tendency to co-occur. 

Now, the “HOW”

It is pertinent and fair that we clarify a few things at this point:

  •  The following steps will probably be more helpful for those who wish to realign their sleep-wake pattern than for those who wish to sleep more. 
  • There is also a real chance that some people might require professional help based on their personalized needs and history. 

1. Light

Light is the most important cue by which our internal body clock estimates the time of the day, which in turn translates to the time of our sleep or wakefulness. Recent research by Dr.Andrew Huberman and his team suggests that there are specialized cells in our eyes that can detect the yellow and blue wavelengths of the sky and communicate it to the SCN (the timekeeper that we talked about). In other words, our subconscious processing of the sky colour has the potential to adjust our internal clock. Leveraging it, approximately 8 minutes of watching the evening sky that transforms from light to dark can be a strong cue for our SCN. So take a look outside for a bit everyday to help with the cues for your SCN. 

However, unlike our ancestors, the technology that we have has provided us with many sources of light other than the sun, which can confuse our brain clock. Although any light during night can be off-putting to our sleep, blue light has the highest capacity to suppress melatonin secretion (Melatonin is a hormone which is involved in making us sleepy). Now, apart from the obvious but difficult option of avoiding devices close to bedtime, there are other alternatives to iron this out. There are several applications out there that filter out the blue light from the devices and some phones have a built-in “Night mode” option that can help with this. So, use blue light filter applications or better yet, minimise screen time at night to help reset your sleep cycle.

2. Exercise

Exercise and Sleep have a mutual, give-and-take relationship between them. Enough quality sleep is necessary to undergo exercise and appropriate exercise can help with sleep. It was found in a study that every hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity above an individual’s average can advance the onset of sleep by 18 minutes. So, make sure to get some optimal exercise in but also be aware that it is advised that people with disrupted sleep-wake cycles do not perform exercise close to bed time  (5-6 hours before sleep) , as it may stimulate our nervous system and increase body temperature which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.  

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is ingested by most of us on a daily-basis in the form of tea, coffee or chocolates. But there are at least three ways by which caffeine interrupts sleep. It increases dopamine making you more alert, it suppresses melatonin and blocks adenosine, both of which play a role in making you sleepy. So, make sure to take caffeine only in the initial part of the day, as it has a long half-life period of around 6 hours, meaning it takes 6 hours for half of caffeine to get metabolized in your body.

4. Diet

We all have heard at some point that eating heavy before sleeping is bad, but how? Our digestive system does not actually turn off when we are asleep, but it does tend to slow down. So a heavy meal during the later part of the day may cause indigestion and/or the regurgitation of food and stomach acid which we call “acid reflux”. We might not realize that our sleep is affected by this but it does prevent us to enter deeper stages of sleep. So begin the day with larger meals  and proceed to lighter ones as we near our desired sleep time. 

5. Calming the nervous system 

Apart from these, anything that has the tendency to calm our nervous system might work because a hyperactive brain and body are the villains of sleep initiation. Keeping the temperature a bit lower, meditation practices, or anything from music to weighted blankets can help in this regard. Using the bed only for sleeping and not for anything else allows us to form an association between the bed and a relaxed, sleepy state.   

However, if certain factors like anxiety and stress have been playing a role, then you probably need more intervention to address the issues. Always remember, you gotta get the ZZZs, the right amount at the right time, to feel the YAYYs as you spring out of bed.

REFERENCES:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44059-9

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-020-0694-0

http://www.hubermanlab.com/publications.html

https://www.circadiansleepdisorders.org/index.php

Masks

I’ve always wanted,

For everyone to like me.

I want to have someone to look to,

And someone who’d look to me.

You can’t be someone’s friend, 

Without being someone’s foe.

No two people like the same.  

And one personality can’t fill in two roles.

Masking myself seemed easy.

Although people say it’s hard.

Morphing your voice in a way,

For it to warm someone’s heart.

Changing you and your personality,

Along with the things that changed around.

Stepping in and out of the way,

Taking a chance, trying everything in a trance.

Masks lying on the bedroom floor.

One glowed up, another that’s worked sore.

So many masks, you’d think I lost myself,

The dead girl behind the masks I wore.

You’d think I lost a piece of me.

With every mask that I tore off of my face.

But, I’m not the girl, I’m the mask.

And no part of me is fake.

Wear the traits I like,

Trample the traits I don’t.

I don’t pretend, this is just me.

And I simply have a lot of personalities.

You like my mask, keep seeing it.

Don’t see the rest and change your mind.

There’s a reason that mask is still there.

And you’re no reason for me to leave it behind.

Throw punches at me,

Make my mask crack a smile.

A cracked mask, that’s hollow within.

A cracked mask, built by truthful lies.

Tears can’t spill over my mask.

And its eyebrows can’t crinkle and frown.

You see, there was never my “true self”

It’s just another mask when you tear this one down.

LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Dance Therapy ft. Tarana Khatri

There’s a song titled “Dance your troubles away”. Interesting, isn’t it? How dance is considered a means to help put our minds at ease. 


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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie. 

Today let’s talk about dance therapy with Tarana Khatri, a Dance Movement Psychotherapist. She is the co-founder of Synchrony, a founding member of the Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy, and part of the Cambridge Medical Centre, Dubai.  She encourages exploration and learning about the self through creative and reflective interactions.

Hey, Tarana!

Tarana-  Hello! Hi, Valerie.

Valerie- How are you today?

Tarana- I’m doing good, how are you doing?

Valerie- I’m great as well. 

Tarana- Great.

Valerie- Tarana, why don’t you start by telling us how dance and movement relate to our mental health? 

Tarana– I think it’s important to note that in Dance and Movement Psychotherapy, movement is the medium but the instrument that we’re working on is the body. So, if you were to ask me how the body plays a role in mental health, that’s something that I can clarify for you. We believe that the body and mind are interconnected and our bodies collect, process and store information just like our minds. If we had an experience, just the way your mind collects it, processes it and stores it as a memory, your body does that as well. So if at a later stage you’re trying to understand that experience or the pattern it creates, it’s important to understand it both, from the experience of the body as well as the experience of the mind. That’s where Dance Movement Psychotherapy plays a role in allowing us to explore that experience of the body and relate it to the experience of the mind, which eventually helps us understand our mental health and how we can make it more efficient.

Valerie- Can you explain to us what Dance Therapy is and how it compares to conventional Psychotherapy?

Tarana- Yes, ofcourse. Dance Movement Psychotherapy is the therapeutic role of movement to work towards cognitive, emotional and social wellbeing, The role of movement can vary. For example, it could be really working with engagement of the body in lots of dance-like movement patterns. It could be working with breath. So it’s this idea that the level of body engagement can vary but it uses the body in different capacities to understand our personal behavior patterns and emotional patterns and how we can develop coping patterns that work for our environment. 

I think the most important thing to note is that this word “dance” comes everywhere. Most often, there is a misconception of what Dance Movement Psychotherapy is in terms of quoting dance to feel better or “I don’t dance so this is not for me”. I think it’s very important to note the difference between dance and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. Dance is where you basically learn steps of any cultural style or to a particular kind of music, where your intent is either to learn a skill to perform, or fitness or because it’s something you enjoy. But in Dance Movement Psychotherapy, it’s a very intentional, explorative process wherein you get into it in order to understand yourself better, to understand your patterns better and to learn your emotional behavior response patterns. 

Valerie- Okay. While you were giving us this answer and talked about Dance Therapy, you said that movement is the medium and your body is the instrument. Now when you talk about movement and using movement to express yourself, Drama Therapy does that as well. Drama Therapy is also about expressing with your body movements. So how does one understand what kind of therapy they should try? I mean, how does dance differ from drama therapy and stuff like that?

Tarana- There are a lot of overlapping patterns amongst all the creative arts therapists. I think within each therapy also, each therapist as their own personal approach. But drama extends to include a very theatrical perspective, bringing in the narrative or the story, bringing in roles. Whereas in Dance Movement Psychotherapy, engagement of the body is one element. Movement expression can be spontaneous, it doesn’t always have to be continued into dialogue or voice being engaged as well. So, it depends- you have role theory, you have adaptation of narratives. 

In both cases, the body can be an instrument but the medium of drama and movement is what would differentiate it.  I’ll give you an example- in movement therapy, we believe that when you grow up, you have different patterns of development. You have your cognitive development, you have your physical development which is your motor movement, and you have emotional development, amongst many other forms of development that happens. There are some theorists that say that along with all of this, there’s a movement development that happens wherein a combination of cognitive skills, emotional capacity and physical ability integrate to allow you to perform certain movement rhythms- how slow your body moves, how fast your body moves, how you switch between different phases. All of that is a combination of these capacities and that’s the realm that movement therapists work with. 

Valerie- Alright. Thank you for spreading light on that for us. 

Tarana – Yeah.

Valerie- Tarana, when did you realise that you wanted to become a Dance Movement Therapist?

Tarana-  That’s an interesting question! It was 2008, I was doing my undergrad in Psychology when I came across an article in the paper that spoke about Dance Movement Psychotherapy. I was like I love to dance, I’m really passionate about Psychology. If I had the opportunity to put it together, why not? So I set on my course to be a Dance Movement Psychotherapist, not realizing that I didn’t quite understand what that really was. I think it was a very intense and beautiful journey of me not only learning about the field in itself but learning about how I wanted to adapt to being a Dance Movement Psychotherapist and understanding what it meant in the larger world but also more importantly, what it meant for me.

Valerie- Right. So what did it mean for you?

Tarana- So there are certain things. While growing up, my exposure to dance had been very structured. It was always a particular style with a teacher teaching you steps. It was expressive in terms of I enjoyed it. I loved the experience of learning to dance, I loved the experience of performing but when I explored Dance Movement Psychotherapy, I really understood how to reflect on the sensation of the body and how to really look on the inside and know what story your body has to say from the life that it has lived, what you’ve held onto in your body without really being aware of it, in your entire life’s experience. 

I think that insight is what I carried out in my work. Even if I have a session where I’m primarily doing verbal conversation, I always find a way to bring that body experience into that conversation because it’s important to know that Dance Movement Therapy isn’t just to come, move and finish the session. It always culminates into a verbal reflection and a discussion and kind of integrating that to say this is what we’ve learnt, how do we take that forward?

Valerie- I love that you said that it’s a reflection into what you’ve been holding onto without being aware, in terms of an experience or anything else, and you help release that and understand that through movement therapy.

Tarana- Yes, ofcourse. I think “release” is a very strong word there because it’s important to become aware of it and then process it and of that process involves releasing it, then that’s something that you do. I think that’s why it’s so important for this process to be facilitated by a trained professional because if the release happens before you or your body is ready for it, it can be a very overwhelming experience that might do more harm than be helpful.

Valerie- You’ve been talking about dance therapy sessions. Could you tell us what goes on in one of your dance therapy sessions? Also how do you analyse someone’s emotional state through their movements and help bring them to a state of well-being through dance movement therapy?

Tarana- We don’t interpret the movements to say oh, you’re moving fast so it means this, or your body is small so it means this. But it’s important to say okay, if this is what we’re observing as a movement pattern, where could it be coming from? Why is that pattern comfortable for you? I think that’s where the analysis happens. To bring awareness to the existing pattern and identify why it’s working for you and if there’s an efficient way to carry that pattern forward wherein it helps cope with challenges and helps you move forward if there’s anything in particular that you’re choosing to process or move away from. So that would be the role of how one would look at the movement element. 

There are different tools of movement, observation and analysis that we use- some are more systematic and rigid, some are more flexible and observational but it depends on each individual therapist and their training to know how much of these analysis tools they use and how they integrate it into their work. For example, I work very developmentally- I apply an understanding of how the body grows from childhood to adulthood and how we can look to learn from that process of growing, adapt to what we really need and apply that in our daily life. Looking at the session in itself, it’s very different for each therapist but I can tell you how my sessions usually are. 

It’s a three part session- you start with an opening ritual, which is usually a transition into a therapeutic space. It could be just a verbal check-in, a body check-in or maybe some breathwork. Then there’s an exploratory part of a session where you really go into what it is that we want to look at in that particular session. With children or even with adults, it could be just playing. It could be pure spontaneous playing, it could be in-depth processing of trauma, it could be identifying a person’s response to stress or identifying triggers of one’s worry and concern. 

So the exploratory part of that session is about really exploring and expanding the experience that the person is in therapy for. The level of movement engagement in that section can vary depending on the comfort of the person that you’re working with, how open they are to movement engagement, and what their range of mobility is. It kind of translates into a verbal discussion, acknowledging the realizations and insight that may have come in during the exploration and how that can be integrated into their learnings about themselves and how that could be integrated into their behavioral responses from then onwards. 

Valerie- So it’s basically you looking at their movements or something that they’ve initiated and then asking them questions that would help them gauge a deeper meaning to what’s happening in their life and how they deal with it?

Tarana- Yes, it’s a very similar pattern to that. Sometimes, it comes out of spontaneous play, sometimes it comes out of a movement initiated by them, sometimes a more directive activity that may have been introduced during that session. It could be purely spontaneous, it could be initiated by the client saying what they want to do. Although for some people that can be very scary so some people prefer to have some direction or intentionality and ask for a boundary to work with, to explore within. 

The last part of the session is usually a closing. I think if you talk to any creative arts therapist, for most of us, rituals are so important. So is the closing and winding down of that shared space because in the exploration session, it is a shared, co-created space. It’s not me saying let’s do this and it’s not the client telling me to listen to all their troubles. It’s a very co-creative space. It’s this dialogue. Even if it’s in the body, there’s the concept of a dialogue. There’s a concept of give and take. So it’s important to finish that integration and prepare them to carry that forward into their lives.

Valerie- Right. So Tarana, working as a psychotherapist, you told us what happens in a dance therapy session and you did say that it is a co-creative space but it is also true that working as a psychotherapist, you probably do carry the burden of the problems your clients share with you. How do you care for your mental health? 

Tarana- – For me, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a burden but sometimes you do absorb some of their emotions and some of the experiences and that’s so vital for the efficiency of the process in itself, which is why I think there are three parts that I have followed and I think is important for any professional. One- your training. Your training equips you to create boundaries and awareness of how much you’re absorbing and how much that’s influencing the process that you’re facilitating for the client. 

The second- supervision, wherein you go to a senior therapist, no matter how senior a therapist you may be. You always go to a supervisor who kind of offers you a space to reflect on your personal work, see how much of your personal self is coming into your professional world and how much of your professional self may be affecting your personal world. Third- personal territory. I believe every therapist should have a therapist. I think there’s a misconception that if you’re a therapist, you’re very calm, you don’t argue, you’re always able to have a very mediative conversation but in reality, we’re all humans. We get angry and upset and so I think it’s important to have our own space, being held by somebody else that allows us to explore all of that. That’s basically what I do. 

I was blessed to have a sufficient amount of training which I continue to pursue to keep up to date, I am in supervision, and there were periods of time when I was also in long-term personal therapy and now I access my personal therapist as and when I need it. It’s also two-fold, right? It’s not only protecting myself but it’s maintaining a safe space for my client because if I don’t feel regulated in my own body, in that shared space, a lot of it could come out in the work that I’m doing and it would be unfair to the person who’s coming to me if a lot of my work was more about me than them.

Valerie- True.  

Tarana- Especially with the Pandemic, I think it’s really proven and re-humanized therapists in a way to say that we feel it too. We feel the fear, we feel the anxiousness, we feel the stress.

Valerie- So true. Tarana, thank you so much for talking to us today, for spreading so much light on what Dance Therapy is, how it works and for telling us that Dance Therapy is something that helps us understand our experiences from the body and relate it to the experiences of the min, and to tap into those emotions through dance and movement. I think it’s really helped us gain a greater understanding of what Dance Movement Therapy is, and also your final bit telling us how you unwind and how you keep yourself fit in order to ensure your clients are given due justice as well. Thank you so much.

Tarana- Thank you so much for inviting me and having me on this series, Valerie.

Valerie- Thank you.

Therapy 101

How does therapy work?

Have you ever wondered, what happens in therapy?

Would it just be a person sitting on a couch and pouring their heart out to a stranger? Or is the therapist going to swing a shiny crystal, making the client  spill all of their past memories and unconscious thoughts ( suddenly, you recall reading about a peculiar theory by Sigmund Freud) . Well, the possibilities are endless and now you’re just really confused and nervous.

The society’s notion of therapy varies greatly, resulting in a lot of myths and confusion about what it really is.

What really is therapy? 

 Most psychological therapies are talk therapies, where the therapist tries to get an understanding of what is troubling the client and then uses different ways to approach and help with the issue. 

Who should go to therapy?

Therapy isn’t only for those who have mental illnesses, but also for those coping with new environments, major life transitions, stress or even for those finding difficulty in maintaining relationships or not finding joy in things as they did before. The goal is not only to treat illness, but also to promote wellbeing in everyday life.

Now one might ask, how is therapy different from taking advice from a friend  or a family member?

1. Therapy provides a safe space and is confidential. One does not need to worry about any judgement or the feeling of burdening someone. The  therapist is there only to help us.

2. Therapists go through a lot of training to identify maladaptive thought patterns and help in the process of healing, helping the client in the process of self-reflection and recovery. The therapeutic relationship is very different from friendship.

3. Therapy is more scientific than being a product of opinions and biases. It  provides long term value on how to deal with future situations, analysing various perspectives in making long term decisions. Also,there is a lot of research proving how important and helpful therapy is.

It’s also important to understand that therapy is of different types. While there might be different schools of thought when it comes to psychological therapies, they are all well-researched and are proven to aid in the process of well being.

Some of the different types of therapies are:

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

This therapy revolves around the belief that one’s negative thoughts affect behaviour, causing trouble. The therapist works along with the client to help rewire these negative thoughts and beliefs, focusing on solutions to overcome them.

2.Psychodynamic therapy

The therapist will try to explore how past experiences might influence one’s current troubles. The focus in this therapy is to identify hidden patterns or meanings in what the client says/ does, that might be contributing to the problem. The client and the therapist, together, work through these, focusing on emotional understanding and re-education.

3.Humanistic Therapy

Here, the therapist provides a supportive, empathetic environment in which the client can look at themselves in a non judgemental way, with honesty and acceptance, helping them maximize their potential.

This isn’t an exhaustive list ;there are  so many other types of  therapies as well, a few being dance and movement therapy, art therapy (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be good at dance or art for this) which stem from the belief that creative expression can help in the healing process and also help develop self- awareness. There are also family therapies and group therapies.

Therapy just aims to create a safe space, free of judgement and opinions.  Ultimately, it is a tool which really helps individuals  in trying to navigate difficult emotional and mental situations in the long run. Going to therapy is perfectly normal and it is for anyone and everyone.