Doing psychology in the community

By: Hayley Haynes-Rolando (Educational Psychologist)

 

Working in the community had made me think a lot about the role of psychology in the community, and how relevant it is in being just that, community psychology. I suppose a more pressing issue then, is, what is community psychology? A loose definition of it may be that community psychology describes psychology as focusing on more than the individual. It suggests a focus on the individual’s context, which includes a focus on the relationships within the context and is also about creating change in the system. This is a complex and enormous task for any psychologist embarking on offering their services in a community context. One of the ways in which it can be tackled is through empowering community members. The empowerment approach allows one to learn about the participants through their culture, experiences and the way in which they see their world. It is about working with the people to understand their world and to meet them where they are at.

 

If the focus of community psychology is on the community, then the ‘community’s’ challenges or difficulties must be addressed. As in individual therapy, the ways in which the challenges of the client can be addressed, are often rooted in the past, and the way in which past experiences have been understood. Our South African society is plagued by so many social ills such as poverty, inequality, racism, housing shortages, and corruption that affect people’s lives on a daily basis. This conversation proposes that these issues need to be understood in terms of the past that has created them. Psychology in the community should also be about looking back at the past, and trying to understand its impact on the present, so that we can begin to envision a more hopeful tomorrow for our communities and children. Often the lens that we use to look at the communities that we work in is overwhelmed by these social ills, and it can be difficult to imagine or think about the impact that the community’s past has had on it. To understand the way in which people view themselves and others and the social issues that exist, it is important then to understand their context and make sense with them about what can be done.

 

This idea of community psychology, could also suggest many minds working together to understand a complex context, and how the difficulties in the context can be addressed. With this in mind, community psychology could also be about networking with other professionals, social workers, food banks, lobbying and advocacy organisations etc. In a way, community psychology suggests a shift in focus, not only from individual to community, but also from a therapist to a network of professionals.

 

Without going into too much detail about the complexities of working in communities perforated by unemployment, at times unreliable transport systems, multilingualism and often abject poverty, the model that is employed to think about, and begin to employ community psychology as a way of doing psychology must be different and innovative. Our exciting new work on the Ububele Ubuntu bus has really got me thinking about how the community can be reached, and how we can best use psychology in the community setting. Keeping all these social problems in mind, the existence of the Ububele Ubuntu bus and our efforts to bring mental health services to the community, feels like the beginning of a venture to doing psychology in the community.

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Whilst this brief discussion has only touched the surface, and has raised more questions than offered answers, the hope is that as we begin to see the community as our client, we will grow in our understanding of what is happening in the life of the community, and become better equipped to address its issues.

 

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How can I build a relationship with my child with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

By: Carla Richards (Intern Educational Psychologist)

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has become an increasingly common name in families all over the world, even in South Africa. ASD is a complex disorder affecting the development of the brain in children. This can be characterised by difficulties with social interaction (communication, language, play), as well as repetitive behaviours. However, the awareness about the characteristics, prognosis and treatment of ASD is still largely not spoken about in our country. This can make it very scary when parents find out that their children have been given a diagnosis of ASD.

The impact of ASD on relationships:

There are a number of factors which may make it challenging to focus on the relationship with a child with ASD: medical or health concerns, learning difficulties, school placements, and feeding problems. It may be difficult to think about ways to connect and bond with your child in the face of these more concrete and physical needs. While you may very well be concerned about these difficulties faced by your child, it is important to remember that children with ASD are just as unique as any other child, and your relationship with them as a parent is just as important.

Building a positive relationship with your unique child:

Now, you may be wondering about ways in which you can help to build a positive relationship between you and your child, and if it will be easy. Well, the answer is that it may feel extremely difficult at times! The basic ingredients for a good relationship however are simple: you and your child.

One step to take is to try and play with your child. Yes, play! Play allows for opportunities to bond with your child through physical touch such as holding, squeezing and hugs (which is a sensory activity that many children with ASD respond to). Play also gives the parent and child an opportunity to learn about each other’s likes, dislikes, weaknesses and strengths. Engaging with your child in activities which they enjoy opens up a space where you can learn to enjoy shared activities and delight in each other. It also gives you a chance to build up your child’s confidence, while showing your interest in them.

children playing ball

You can also add other ways to connect with your child more meaningfully into your daily interactions. This can include getting down onto your child’s level and talking to them face to face. This shows love and interest in communicating with your child. Speaking gently and lovingly may also open your child up to wanting to interact with you. Noticing and praising your child’s achievements and successes on a daily basis (no matter how small or basic) is essential. This will help to build a relationship founded on positive interactions, instead of constant negative interactions which are correcting or punitive towards your child.

Having a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a rollercoaster experience for many parents and families. Should you feel that you and your child need any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Ububele for help or an appropriate referral.

For some more information about ASD and support groups take a look at these local organisations’ websites:

What is Parent-Infant Psychotherapy (PIP)?

By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)

There has been an increase in awareness over the recent years that pre-natal and early infancy is a sensitive developmental phase. As such, it is well understood by professionals in the infant mental health field that early intervention or prevention at this early stage is of great importance. At Ububele, one of our central mandates is to support the early relationship between caregivers and their babies, and to prevent risk factors such as poverty, domestic violence and depression in mothers, from negatively impacting on the short and long-term outcomes for that mother and child.

Parent-infant psychotherapy (PIP) is one such psychological intervention aimed at facilitating secure and strong attachments between caregivers and their babies. By caregivers we mean parents (including fathers and mothers), grandparents or caregivers in children’s homes. PIP sessions are offered at Ububele and at our satellite facility, the Brown House at Alex Clinic. PIP involves weekly sessions with a trained psychologist, in order to support you in your parenthood, and help you to think about your unique baby.

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Ububele would like to encourage caregivers to seek the necessary assistance as soon as possible. If you are a caregiver who is struggling to cope as a parent, or if you are a family member or friend to a caregiver who is need of assistance, Parent Infant Psychotherapy may be a helpful service.

Below is a table that lists a few of the risk factors that may lead to a mother, father or baby that is struggling to manage with difficult feelings or experiences.

 

At-risk parents

At-risk baby

Post-natal depression (PND) A traumatic birth experience
Disability Disability
Unplanned pregnancy Sleeping difficulties
Lack of social support Premature birth
Teen pregnancy Feeding difficulties
Recent loss of a loved one Excessive crying
Previous stillbirths or miscarriages Stress signals such as avoiding eye contact with mom or dad, colour change, being easily startled etc.
Difficulty bonding to the baby Low birthweight
Marital conflict Failure to thrive
History of psychiatric difficulties Recurring health difficulties (e.g.: rashes, diarrhoea…)

 

If any of these symptoms seem to describe you or your baby, please do not hesitate to contact Ububele at 011 786 5085 for further assistance or an appropriate referral.

Maternal Distraction

By: Kimanta Moodley (Intern Educational Psychologist)

 

In our busy modern lives, technology can often distract parents away from being fully focused and preoccupied with their new babies. What does this mean for moms, dads and their babies?

 

One Sunday afternoon, I was reading through the Sunday Times Newspaper and came across a very interesting article. The first thing that drew my attention to the article was a picture of a baby lying on the bed while her mother was looking down at her ipad. I can’t recall the article word-for-word but I do remember reading something about how this mother was on her ipad and chatting to her sister on Whatsapp, at times when she was breastfeeding her little one or when she was lying down. This is something that this mother admitted to doing as it was one of the only times she had the chance to “catch up” with her friends and family. This image struck me, first as something that seems quite common in modern society. Working mothers, have lots to juggle and while baby is feeding and apparently settled; the opportunity is taken to “try get some work done”. This seems like the norm nowadays and I am not writing this blog to take that away from working mothers. Moreover, I am trying to open up thinking around the possibilities of what this could mean for baby.

Another article I read online, described a father sitting by the poolside, while talking on the phone. His little girl who is in her baby seat, at first seems content and smiling as dad is busy on the phone. However, she starts to become unsettled as time passes. Her dad notices this and shakes a rattle in front of her to try and settle her as he is still busy on his call. However, baby is still not soothed by this and eventually starts kicking and screaming to get her dad’s attention before letting out a loud cry. Only then does dad end his phone call. He then takes her out of her baby seat, picks her up and walks around the pool side with her, which seems to settle her almost immediately. The image of a father who is preoccupied by what can be assumed to be a business or personal call comes up. And again, I wonder, what happens to baby?

 

It is important to think about the experience of the baby:

When mom or dad may be distracted by external things, it is important that we think about how this may be experienced by the small baby. Work is something that has to be done to survive and take care of our families. However, the moments in which a mother or father are preoccupied with their cellphone or ipad or some form of technology may actually occur at a time when they think baby is not really present, i.e. because they are feeding or playing with a toy. However, this may not always the case. It may come across to a baby when they are feeding or sitting in their baby chair playing with a toy that their mom is not present or disengaged at a time that they may be trying to connect. Why? Because mom is on her cellphone chatting to a friend or relative or putting a project together for work and their attention is elsewhere and therefore not on baby. They are “preoccupied with something else”.

It’s difficult for parents to divide up their own internal emotional resources:

Another example that comes to mind is a working parent who comes home from work. She is tired and she still has to cook dinner. The children are home from school and they are all hyped-up about their day and wanting to show and tell mom all about this. Mom or dad is not only tired from her busy day at work but they also have to think of preparing supper and getting the rest of the things sorted for the evening. They have a lot on their minds and when children come bouncing in and wanting to tell or show mom and dad all about this; it can feel very overwhelming. There may even be a moment in which it feels like it’s too much and mom or dad may explode with “don’t bother me now; I have so many things to do!” It is so hard for parents to divide their emotional resources between too many people and the demands of their day-to-day lives. However, this explosive reaction is not useful to children; because it gives them the impression that mom or dad has so much going on that they can’t share the excitements and challenges of their day.

What messages are we giving to our children when we are busy?

Using some theory to help us think about this more, an article by Claudia Gold comes to mind. She speaks about Winnicott’s concept of “Maternal Preoccupation “which “captures the way in which parents in a healthy way are completely absorbed with their young infant and attentive to his every nuance of expression. It is through this kind of mirror role that an infant begins to make sense of who he is.”(Gold, 2010). This is so important for a child’s development. If we think about the examples above, a baby, who experiences their mother as being preoccupied with a cellphone or some other form of technology, may not develop a good sense of themselves as their experience of their mother is one who is not present. “When the infant looks at the mother’s face, he can see himself, how he feels reflected back in her expression. If she is preoccupied by something else, when he looks at her he will only see how she feels. He will not be able to get ‘something of himself back from the environment.’ He can only discover what he feels by seeing it reflected back. If the infant is seen in a way that makes him feel that he exists, in a way that confirms him, he is free to go on looking.” (Winnicot as cited in Gold, 2010). This may be internalized as a poor sense of self. This is something important, especially for new parents to think about when it comes to their babies. What am I doing now that may affect my baby’s development, self-esteem and self-worth? Can I not do this at another time and spend those extra minutes focused on my baby?

Some tips to help parents be with their babies in a busy world:

  • Take a moment for yourself:

Finding a place of serenity in the hype of everyday life can be useful, especially in stressful times like this. Allowing yourself a moment or two to settle your own thoughts and feelings can do a lot for you, especially when you have a million other things do to and children who require your undivided attention and love.

  • Set a rule in the house that prioritizes relationships:

For example, ensure that every day when the family returns home, you have special time to be with family members, despite the to-do list.

  • Choose when to focus on work:

Try to get work done, especially if you have a small baby. Try do your work when baby is sleeping or at crèche so that during feeding time or nappy changing time you are not focusing elsewhere, but can instead be with your baby in a more intimate way.

 

Ububele hopes to continue to nurture and support the relationship between caregivers and their babies!

 

References:

Gold, C. (2010). Cell Phones and “Primary Maternal Preoccupation”. Retrieved from: http://claudiamgoldmd.blogspot.co.za/2010/05/cell-phones-and-primary-maternal.html

Spencer, P. (n.d.) Positive Reinforcement: 9 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Child. Retrieved from: http://www.parenting.com/article/things-you-shouldnt-say-to-your-child.

Farber, T. (2016-01-17).Smartphones may be retarding your baby’s development, new study shows. Sunday Times News.