mental health

/Tag: mental health

APS White Paper

by Dr Aaron Frost

As many of you are aware, there is a major review of MBS services underway. The Australian Psychological Society has just released their vision for how MBS items should be remodelled as part of the present reforms. This information will be particularly interesting to psychologists but I also encourage those with the ability to refer for psychological services also to understand the APS stance on this issue.

These recommendations can be summarised as follows:


  • Child sessions to be reimbursable even if the child is not in the room. This is consistent with
    evidence-based practice to work primarily with parents in many disorders.
  • Specialist assessment items for Neuropsychologists and Educational and Developmental
  • Restrictions for group psychology sessions to be loosened to encourage more group therapy
  • Expansion of telehealth items to include people whose barriers to attendance are not geographical
  • Invest in infrastructure to collect outcome data (more on this later)
  • Item for case conferencing to encourage collaboration

Two treatment pathways

Standard pathway will be 10 + 10 sessions. The plus ten will be entirely reliant upon outcome measurement (psychometric or functional)

The Big 5 pathway 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 sessions for disorders where substantial clinical and economic evidence exists that greater treatment dosage is required, this pathway is only open to those with an Area of Practice Endorsement;

  • Psychotic Disorders
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Eating Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Treatment-resistant Depression


Obviously, there is a lot more detail in the document, which I would encourage people to read. The APS invested in getting KPMG to do extensive economic modeling for us to both show that this model will only be marginally more expensive than what we have currently, and also to look at the downstream savings associated with treating mental illness properly.


APS White Paper2019-06-10T14:16:22+10:00

Help! My teen has self-harmed. What do I do?

by Karien Hill

Finding out your teen is self-harming can be frightening. You may feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the situation, fearing you might make it worse. Finding out more about why teens self-harm and how to help them manage their intense emotions can be useful.

Self-harm - The facts:

  • Self-harm is defined as intentional harming of one’s body without suicidal intent. It is usually done in places not visible to others.
  • Approximately 12% of young people have engaged in self-harm previously.

Why do young people self-harm?

  • To cope with an intense emotion
  • To punish themselves if they feel guilty
  • To try and replace emotional pain with physical pain
  • To feel ‘something’, ‘anything’ if they feel numb, disconnected or alone
  • To feel in control
  • To express they need help

Signs someone may be self-harming:

  • Wearing long sleeved clothing in warm weather
  • Isolating themselves and withdrawing
  • Scratches, cuts, bruises, scars with inconsistent explanations

How is self-harm and a suicide attempt different?

  • Most young people self-harm as a coping mechanism, rather than to attempt to end their life.
  • However, people who self-harm are also more likely than the general population to feel suicidal and to attempt suicide.

How do I tell the difference?

  • Just ask - if you notice your teen is engaging in self-harm, ask them if they have thoughts about suicide. If they are, take them to a GP and psychologist for assessment and support.
  • Experts agree that asking and talking about suicide does not make someone feel worse or ‘put the idea in their head’ – rather it provides relief.

What to say:

  • Ask – have they been self-harming, what has been going on, how are they feeling about it, what are they thinking, what have they thought about what they could do.
  • Then listen – you do not need to give advice or fix anything, unless they ask for it.
  • Acknowledge their feelings - don’t minimise or tell them not to feel a certain way.
  • Keep your reactions in check – if you feel scared, shocked, angry or blame yourself – breathe slowly and deeply, relax any tense muscles and get back to listening and acknowledging their feelings. If you react they may be less likely to communicate with you in future. Find other parents to connect with and discuss this and get your own support.
  • Admit you may react or say something unhelpful. Admit you don’t have the answer. Tell them despite this, you care, you are there, you want to help.


What to do:

1.     Get them to talk or express their emotions in other ways. 

Whether to you, a friend, other family member, doctor or psychologist, teens need to express and make sense of their emotions.  Ways to express emotion include:

    • Talking
    • Writing/journaling
    • Singing
    • Drawing
    • Painting

3.     Teach them alternate ways of coping with intense emotions. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Take a cold shower
  • Hold an ice cube
  • Draw on their skin on their area they have an urge to harm
  • Intense exercise: push ups, star jumps, running
  • Stretching
  • Rip up paper
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Deep, slow breathing
  • Play a game

2.     Build their resilience. 

Young people build resilience through a sense of belonging. Help them to a join a group they may be interested in:

  • Team sport
  • Volunteering
  • Part-time job
  • Take up a new course
  • Book club
  • Chess club

4.     Spend quality time with them

  • Do something they love with them: play a game, sing karaoke, go to a skate park, shoot some basketball hoops. Teens equate quality time with being valuable and worthy of someone else’s time and attention. This builds self-esteem and ability to cope.

Where to get help:

  • Parentline
    • Free confidential telephone support for parents
      • 1300 30 1300
  • Calm Harm
    • Smartphone app to help manage self-harm urges
  • headspace
    • Free telephone counselling for youth aged 12-25
      • 1800 650 890
      • 9am-1am
    • Free face-to-face individual and group counselling with GP referral
Help! My teen has self-harmed. What do I do?2019-06-07T14:26:43+10:00

Make your vote count for mental health in the upcoming election

Benchmark Psychology

By Dr Aaron Frost, Clinical Psychologist and Director

In a little over two weeks, Australia heads to the polls to elect a new Federal parliament.  There are a lot of issues in play, but for those of you interested in mental health we have a guide of what the big issues are, and where each party stands on each.

Before looking at the politics, let’s start by outlining the key issues.

  • Australia’s suicide rate has recently spiked upward
  • There is a bed shortage for patients with acute and severe mental health conditions
  • People in rural and remote areas, low socioeconomic areas and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have low rates of access to treatment
  • The burden of disease for mental illness represents around 4% of GDP
  • Almost half of our mental health spending is “downstream”, ie: for dealing with the consequences of poor mental health (homelessness, welfare, criminal justice etc).
  • Australia’s “spend” on mental health is low by OECD standards

So good policy would do the following

  • Have some plan to reduce suicide rates
  • Increase mental health beds for patients with acute and severe conditions
  • Increase access to disadvantaged groups (rural and remote, low SES, Indigenous Australians)
  • Look to reduce the burden of disease by increasing treatment availability and effectiveness

Currently there are a number of existing programs that receive the majority of funding in order to achieve the above goals.  No party appears to be committing to any out of the box overhaul of these systems or any significant funding increases, so therefore it is useful to consider what these programs are and where they fit into the picture.


National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) - exists to provide long-term inclusive support for people with permanent disabilities.  While many people with mental illnesses make full or partial recoveries, permanent disability is exactly how the needs of many should be viewed.  However, currently the NDIS appears to have a poor understanding of mental health issues, and a general fear of opening up the program to mental illness as it risks blowing out an already stretched budget.

↣ Needs - Directing some additional funding into the NDIS to deal with psychosocial disability is almost a prerequisite of good policy.


Primary Health Networks (PHNs) - were developed to allow regional differentiation in health coordination, on the assumption that the needs of one area may be different from the needs of another.  While the PHNs do not provide treatment directly, they do receive substantial funding, which they can then use to purchase treatment services based on the needs of their local community.  While decentralisation has been a huge step forward in terms of regional differentiation, significant questions have been raised about the capacity of all of these regional boards to develop competent financial and clinical governance.  Large administrative overheads, both for the PHNs and then the agencies they tender work out to is proving to cost more and deliver less to treatment.

↣ Needs - Good policy in this space would probably see a commitment to improved governance for the PHNs (simply rebranding them from Medicare Locals is not enough).  Additional resources directed to the PHNs without such improved governance risks achieving very little other than blowing out a bureaucracy.


Headspace - Strives to increase access for youth.  Their accessible centres are designed to be youth friendly and inclusive.  They have been modelled on the centre for excellence in youth mental health treatment in Parkville Victoria (Orygen).  However, recent evaluations have suggested that Headspace has struggled to “scale up”, meaning that while some of their centres are providing excellent services, many of them are underperforming, and outcomes have been underwhelming.

↣ Needs - Headspace funding needs to be assured.  The short-term funding arrangements that have defined its recent history are damaging to long term sustainability.  However, Headspace also needs support in delivering on its promise. Simply examping the model does not address the underlying problems.


Better Access - This is the program introduced in 2006 whereby GPs can refer directly to psychological treatment services and clients can receive a medicare rebate.  This program has been a huge success in terms of increasing patient access (almost doubling over ten years), however the only evaluation done on this program in 2011 was very limited in scope and does not really provide assurance that increased access has led to increased outcomes. A recent review by Lee & Frost published in MJA found that Better Access had reduced the rates of those suffering high levels of psychological distress, but that the session cap introduced in 2011 had decreased the program effectiveness.

This article can be accessed here -

↣ Needs - Better Access needs session limits increased or scrapped.  There is no evidence that increasing session limits would cost more money as the workforce is stable (there are no additional psychologists left to do additional work), and increased session limits would allow this program to deliver support to clients with greater needs without risking their mental health by treatment disruption.  At the same time, money needs to be invested in the evaluation of this program.

Web based platforms - There are a number of hubs that have formed nationally whereby organisations have been funded to collate apps, websites, phone counselling services and other treatment that can be delivered at almost zero cost.  These programs are understandably popular, both for their ongoing running costs, as well as their ability to reach people in regional and remote areas such as a teen who might be 100km away from the nearest GP, let alone a psychiatrist or psychologist.  However, web based platforms have yet to crack the drop-out problem, with research suggesting that in some programs as many as 90% of people do not return after their first interaction with the website.

↣ Needs - More funding dedicated to basic research.  These programs are promising, and will definitely have a place in the treatment mix of the future.  However, until the dropout problem is improved markedly they are not yet ready to be considered frontline treatment resources.


Public Hospitals - As the graph below shows, in 1992 public psychiatric facilities used to make up 46% of total mental health spending, but it has dropped and has been relatively stable at around 12% since 2010.  Australia now has 39 psychiatric beds per 100,000 of population, compared to an OECD average of 68.  No one is calling for a return to the bad old days of the asylum, but perhaps there is a bit of wiggle room between 39:100,000 and 68:100,000 to add a few more beds around the place.  However this is expensive, both in terms of capital expense and in terms of running these facilities.  Big dollars require state and federal co-operation, which has been in pretty short supply in my observation of COAG meetings.


What are the parties proposing?

From my reading of the policy documents, none of the major parties are offering any out of the box solutions to the problems suggested above.  None are committing to increased expenditure (and no I don't consider expenditure commitments made with a commencement date of over a decade to be anything other than wishful thinking), and none are offering any money to be spent in ways that are substantially more innovative than the programs listed above.

Seeing both Health Minister Greg Hunt, and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King debate at the National Press Club last week, it appears both had subscribed to the ‘dog ate my homework’ school of policy development.  Both said little, agreed to listen to experts and quickly pivoted to other topics

The Australian Greens policy paper in mental health was light on details and heavy on ideals and principles, but I did note a commitment to funding the NDIS to be able to provide services to those with a mental health disability.  While this is not the answer to all of the problems outlined above, it is certainly a step toward a more inclusive and less disabled life for those with severe mental health issues.

I also noted a recent ALP announcement that the NDIS funding would be increased and assured by putting aside money into the future fund to ensure there is money to meet its long term needs.  This is the only serious attempt I have seen to consider how the fund will be sustainable in the long term.  The LNP announced on budget night that the NDIS was already fully funded, but the growth rates used in their economic modelling seemed so optimistic as to be fanciful.


In terms of specific details -

The Australian Labor Party - Their policy document has a lot of language around ‘regional’ driven policy, which I am interpreting as code for increased funding of the PHNs.  I am happy to be corrected on this, but my interpretation is that the ALP plans to put more resources into the PHNs in the hope that they will figure out how to solve local problems region by region.  There does not appear to be a plan to overcome the governance limitations of the PHNs.  This has the potential to be both costly and ineffective. The ALP has also committed to a target of reducing suicide by 50% in the next ten years.  This is an admirable goal, however the detail of how to do this are somewhat unclear.  It seems that they will be relying on the PHNs, and possibly another layer of regional structure to seek out and implement best practice solutions. Without more detail it is impossible to comment on this.


The Liberal National Party - The LNP made a commitment in the budget to a massive expansion of Headspace services.  These will be extended to an adult version of Headspace, and the total number of centres will triple.  This commitment was costed at $111 Million.  There is no detail of the minutiae of how this injection of funds will be used to deal with the patchy performance of some centres during an expansion phase that will be tripling their reach.  The LNP has aso committed money to trying to tackle suicide within Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander peoples, and importantly this money is to be managed and used by the communities in need.  While this doesn’t address the wider issue of suicide, this group of Australians are disproportionately represented in the suicide statistics, and the LNP are to be commended for this commitment.


One Nation Party - I was unable to find any specific One Nation mental health policies.  However, there was one policy designed to deal with the “Ice Epidemic”.  It involved life sentences for high level drug dealers, and empowering parents to institutionalised children regardless of age in specially built rehabilitation centres if they are addicted to Ice.


Palmer United Party - I was unable to find current information.  However, at the last election, they stood for increasing mental health funding by $4 billion dollars, and Indigenous health services funding by $5 Billion.  No details of how the money would be used were available.


(EDIT: I hadn't realised Clive Palmer had now rebranded his part as “United Australia Party”, who do not appear to have a mental health policy, but have a health policy that is similar to their 2013 mental health policy.  They commit to an $80 Billion dollar injection into the health system.  There were no details of what that $80 Billion would be spent on, and given that the only other economic policy of note was cutting taxes and raising the pension, it is hard to see how it will be funded, but I will leave economists to comment on that aspect.)


Overall - Unless there are significant announcements in the wings it does not look like any party is committed to a serious attempt at tackling the needs of the mental health sector.  Throwing more money into current systems and changing their funding mix slightly is unlikely to achieve any of the key goals of good policy.  Both the ALP and LNP are committing to outsourcing more of the problems to the PHNs and Headspace respectively, both of which are systems that hold great promise but are struggling with substantial teething problems.  The Greens probably have the most optimistic message and goals, however being so light on detail it is hard to give unqualified support for their platform either.


However you choose to vote on 18th May, make it count and enjoy your democracy sausage.

Make your vote count for mental health in the upcoming election2019-06-10T14:23:19+10:00

Burn Out

by Dr Julieta Castellini

We generally don’t wake up, one day to the next, feeling burnt out. Burn out is a gradual, insidious process. We often miss the somewhat vague warning signs, putting these down to feeling tired or just having “one of those weeks”. It’s often not until we’ve fully hit burn out station, or we have it pointed out to us by partners, family, friends or colleagues, that we recognise how depleted we are.

At a societal level, there is increasing pressure to do more and work harder, both at work and at home. We work harder and do more, and in the end lose touch with what happening for us, how we are feeling and our capacity.

I’ve heard of burn out, but what is it?

Burn out is the cumulative reaction to ongoing life stressors. It tends to occur when the resources we have (such as time and energy) are lost or not enough to meet all the demands we have at hand, or when our inputs don’t result in the output we had hoped for. Some factors that lead to a higher risk of burn out are uncertainty, stressful events, heavy workload and pressure.

Signs or indicators of burn out are:

  • feeling overwhelmed or unappreciated
  • cynicism or frustration
  • emotional exhaustion
  • avoiding or withdrawing
  • less commitment to activities, i.e. doing the bare minimum
  • feeling less satisfied
  • taking more time off
  • sense of ineffectiveness or failure
  • changes in attention or concentration
  • increased use of alcohol, drugs or TV/social media
  • changes in sleep or appetite

Many of us will experience some of these signs at one point in time or another, which may be completely unrelated to burn out. However if you are finding that these symptoms are ongoing or you are experiencing several of these, you may be burning out.

What can I do to manage burn out?

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re thinking, “help, I’m burnt out!!”, here are some things you can do to not only address burn out, but also take steps towards preventing it.

  1. Good eating, sleeping and exercise routine. If you can, try to aim for 3 to 5 meals per day, about 8 hours sleep a night and a 10 to 20 minute walk per day
  2. Saying “no” if you do not have capacity. If it’s hard to say “no”, try saying “maybe” and give yourself the time to think about whether you have capacity or not
  3. Give yourself breaks between demands or activities, and have some “quarantined time off “ each week, even if just for an hour
  4. Try to find a balance across the different areas of your life, you are not going to be able to give 100% to each area and that is totally ok
  5. Write out the things that are stressing you out. Make a note of the ones that are urgent or important (i.e. will this matter when I’m 85?) and which ones can be postponed or delegated to others
  6. Reconnect with your passions, the enjoyable activities that fulfil you
  7. Socialise with friends
  8. Use mindfulness based apps (such as Smiling Mind or Headspace) to focus more on the present, the right here and now, rather than the future or the past

If you are finding that your symptoms are significantly impacting on your relationships, work or other life areas, or you would like some support with managing burn out, check in with your GP and you may discuss whether seeing a psychologist could be worthwhile. You might also be able to access a psychologist through your workplace under an Employee Assistance Program.

Burn Out2019-06-10T14:24:17+10:00

Working with: The Existential Crisis

by Tessa Hall

Of the many reasons clients are referred for psychological therapy, anxiety in some form is by far the most common. While treatments like CBT are very effective in helping clients understand and manage their symptoms at a very functional and practical level, sometimes a reflection on the […]

Working with: The Existential Crisis2019-06-11T12:29:54+10:00

Helping children (and ourselves) respond to Media coverage of difficult events

by Dr Jasmine Pang

There has been a plethora of difficult news stories to hit our screens recently: from child abuse involving high profile, previously well regarded alleged perpetrators to mass violence resulting in multiple deaths. While the media can help to inform and educate, it can unfortunately […]

Helping children (and ourselves) respond to Media coverage of difficult events2019-06-11T12:52:34+10:00

Using e-Mental Health to Help Our Clients

by Dr Tania McMahon

As part of the Australian Government’s recommended stepped care model of mental healthcare, ‘e-Mental Health’ services (low-intensity online mental health interventions and resources) are becoming a much more important part of our mental health system.

With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing mental health difficulties, low intensity interventions can provide an ideal option for individuals with mild-moderate mental health symptoms where other options (e.g. psychologist referral, medication) might not be suitable. However, e-Mental Health services need not be an either-or choice when compared with face-to-face treatment. In fact, e-Mental Health services can fill multiple roles in the space between an individual seeking help from their GP and accessing treatment with a Psychologist, from initial psychoeducation and increasing acceptability of face-to-face services for first-time help-seekers, to crisis support between appointments, to providing interim support and brief intervention for busy periods where they may be on a waitlist.

Below is a brief guide to the range of e-Mental Health services available (Table 1), as well as an outline of the various roles e-Mental Health can play, and which services are most appropriate.

All listed programs have been developed by credible sources, such as the Australian Government, universities, and national nongovernment organisations.

Table 1. e-Mental Health Service categoriesHere is an outline of some of the ways e-Mental Health can be used to help our clients:


Head to Health

Previously ‘mindhealthconnect’, this is the Australian Government’s portal to mental health information and e-Mental Health services. It enables consumers to search for information and receive advice about their mental health needs.


Telephone and Webchat Telephone and online chat services, most often free and used for crisis support, information-seeking, or brief counselling.
  • Lifeline
  • Kids Helpline
  • eHeadspace
  • Suicide Callback Service
  • Beyond Blue Support Service
Psychoeducation Websites Freely accessible websites providing mental health information, and often general tips and strategies for wellbeing.
Online programs Online self-guided courses that are either transdiagnostic (i.e. targeting common core mental health symptoms), or address a specific problem (e.g. Social Anxiety, PTSD). Some programs offer limited guidance from a therapist via phone or email. The majority of programs are free, with a few being low-cost.
Apps Easy and convenient to use (as they are mobile- or tablet-based). However, due to the number of apps available on the market and the relative ease in creating them (compared to the more comprehensive online programs), many do not have experimental validation. As such, it is important to thoroughly check the content and credentials of any app before referring to it.
  • BeyondNow Suicide Safety Planning app (developed by Beyondblue)
  • MoodPrism and MoodMission (developed by Monash University)
  •  AIMhi Stay Strong App (developed by Menzies School of Health Research for practitioners developing a mental health plan with ATSI clients)


1. As crisis support:

  • Telephone and webchat services are a great option for clients to contact if they need immediate support out of hours or between appointments with their healthcare professional.
  • Apps such as the BeyondNow Suicide Safety Planning app can help clients and their healthcare professional create a strong, structured plan for dealing with ongoing crises and distress.

2.     Psychoeducation for first-time or hesitant help-seekers:

  • Head to Health, the government’s mental health information portal, is a great place to direct clients to in the first instance.
  • Psychoeducation websites are fantastic tool for providing information about general stress and wellbeing, specific diagnoses (e.g. generalised anxiety, eating disorders), or specific problem areas (e.g. parenting, relationship issues, work stress) to first time help-seekers.
  • Online programs (particularly the transdiagnostic programs that don’t focus on a specific diagnosis, such as myCompass) are a great option for help-seekers who are hesitant or uncertain about face-to-face mental health intervention.

3.     Interim support:

  • If clients are on a waitlist or aren’t able to access timely support due to situational circumstances, online programs and apps can provide a great option to help them start working on their wellbeing in the meantime (which also means they can hit the ground running when they are able to commence face-to-face intervention).

4.     To complement face-to-face treatment:

  • Online programs and apps can help build on the skills being taught in therapy, such as CBT strategies, mindfulness and positive psychology. Whilst using these resources as a complementary tool can involve a little extra work on the part of the clinician (i.e. to be able to get to know the programs available and find ones that complement their work), it can really help to strengthen and reinforce the work done in session.
Using e-Mental Health to Help Our Clients2019-03-27T13:59:30+10:00

Parent Self-Care: The Important Flow On Effect

by Dr Alison Bocquee

There is a lot written in social media and print about being a good parent, good enough parent, ‘the best you can be parent’.  We hear of the importance of looking after ourselves as parents before or so we can best look after our little people. Anyone who has travelled by aeroplane will have heard the air hostesses instructing parents to put on their own oxygen masks first before attending to their child.  It seems counterintuitive, but let’s look at the detail as to why this matters.

Self-care – who takes care of the parent? When the parent is constantly giving to others, do they ever think about how much they are giving of themselves? It’s probably not something that parents ask themselves or even consider often, until they are overwhelmed, feeling exhausted and irritable with their children.  Then comes the guilt because they are not being the parent that they ideally want to be.

Let’s put it simply.  We cannot give what we haven’t got. So if you, as a parent, are not looking after yourself, not showing yourself the love you show your loved ones, not treat yourself the way you want others to treat you (i.e., with respect), this not only affects you but potentially every member of your family.

Children can be viewed as the barometers of the parent’s functioning.  Their behavioural outbursts or emotionality or sensitivity may reflect their parents’ imbalance of ‘all work and looking after the family’ but not themselves.  When the parents are balanced (i.e., calm, consistent, non-reactive) there is a much better chance the children will be too. Hence the very important flow on effect of parent self-care.

Self-care includes aspects such as sufficient sleep, regular physical movement, nutrition, rest and relaxation, social connection, and engagement in pleasurable activities.  Self-care is giving yourself a break, to recharge, taking time off. Self-care shows you matter. It models to your family the importance of your needs, that each member of the family is important.  It reduces stress. Self-care is good for your well-being and that of your family.

Further engagement in each of these aspects of self-care demonstrates and models to your little people important life, coping and self-regulation skills.  This is much more powerful than anything you could say or ‘lecture’ your child about. Demonstrating to your child that when you’re frustrated you engage in deep breathing, or when you’re anxious you run a bath, or at the end of the day if you’re tired you go to bed a bit earlier, and so on, are invaluable life lessons.

Self-care doesn’t have to be time intensive.  Even engaging in breathing exercises for 2 minutes or watching the clouds, or listening to your preferred music is likely to shift your energy and provide you with a little joy.  Getting up a little earlier than your little people to plan or consider your intentions for the day, perhaps whilst you sip a cup of tea, is also important self-care. You’ll likely be more calm, and therefore more intentional in your interactions with your loved ones and less reactive overall.  

Our team of highly skilled and professional clinical psychologists are able to compassionately support your journey to being the parent you want to be, that makes your heart sing, a parent who prioritises their own self-care because they acknowledge their own importance and their own needs; and that ultimately flows on to a more contented family.  Opening yourself to growth by learning and incorporating skills such as relaxation and mindfulness of thoughts and emotions techniques, means you are prioritising your own wellbeing and that of each member of your family.

Parent Self-Care: The Important Flow On Effect2019-06-11T12:48:43+10:00

Freeing Ourselves From Avoidance

By Dr Jasmine Pang

As human beings, we are encoded to survive by avoiding things that are likely to cause us pain, which we have learnt in the past to induce pain or which is stressful or unpleasant: be it that giant spider sitting on the clothing line, that shoulder pain that has been ongoing for a while, or an article that you have promised to write for your upcoming practice newsletter.

In the initial phases, avoidance can work very well. By just using the part of the clothes line that the spider has not occupied, by not thinking about the article I need to write or by working around my sore shoulder, I can pretend that everything is ok and continue on my merry way. We work around it. The problem is that things very seldom remain the same. My resident clothesline spider decides to expand his territory and take up more and more of my clothesline, my shoulder pain worsens to a point that I cannot reach up beyond my shoulder and my practice manager starts sending me “reminder emails” that I cannot avoid anymore. Whilst some avoidance can be a very successful strategy to keep us safe from stressful situations, unpleasant experiences or threats, it can also become counter productive

So what have I learnt about avoidance?

1. Avoidance can be helpful when threats are real. If that spider on the clothesline turns out to really be that gastly dangerous “it’ll kill a grown man within an hour” species that Australia seems prone to having, avoiding it is probably a good idea. We can never totally avoid all the things that we want to avoid. It is seldom that avoidance makes things go away. The spider is still on the line, my shoulder still hurts and the looming newsletter article deadline is still there.

2. Avoidance feeds fear and is an all consuming voracious creature. The more we avoid the greater the problem often becomes. This is particularly so with anxiety. The more anxious I feel, the more I avoid. The more I avoid, the more anxiety I feel. As time goes by, our world becomes smaller and smaller and we feel more and more trapped.

3. Avoidance prevents us from learning that something different can happen or that what we were so fearful of is not as bad as we expected it to be. It prevents us from really experimenting and checking it out, to determine if something is really a threat or not.

What have I learnt to do about it?

1. Acknowledge the problem. We cannot do anything about a problem until we acknowledge it. For me, it was acknowledging that I had a problem in my shoulder (and in all likelihood had torn a ligament), that I was frightened of that spider and that the thought of having to sit down and write an article brought back traumatic memories of writing my thesis.

2. Start small. Be it writing notes on what you’d like to include in the article, finding out about physiotherapists or reading up about whether your resident spider is indeed as dangerous as you imagined it to be. Keep pushing yourself to be at the edge of your comfort zone. Don’t try to aim for the big wins. Small sustainable goals are more likely to get you there. Remember the tortoise and the hare.

3. Get support and help. Having someone to walk you through the journey can be invaluable. It helps give you perspective, keeps you accountable and gives you someone to whine to at the end of the day. This is particularly so if you have been avoiding a situation because of traumatic experiences. Until you stop avoiding, it will continue to intrude in your life and limit you. It might be uncomfortable but keep practicing and trying. Eventually it becomes the new normal.

To quote loosely from Vivian Greene, perhaps life is not about trying to avoid the storms but learning how to dance in the rain. Now excuse me whilst I get a broom to try to relocate my eight-legged friend for the fifth time before I head out for my physiotherapy appointment.

Freeing Ourselves From Avoidance2019-06-11T12:54:47+10:00

3 Ways To Tell If Your Child Might Have Social Anxiety

Written by By Dr Cate Hearn

Shy or Self-Conscious

Compared to other children their own age, socially anxious children appear shyer and more self-conscious. They may:

  • Find it hard to talk to other children
  • Find it hard to make new friends
  • Feel left out or awkward, or worry they’ll embarrass themselves
  • Have less well developed social skills than children their own age
  • Dislike being the centre of attention
  • Worry a lot about their appearance
  • Worry that their friends don’t really like them
  • Be quiet in large social situations
  • Speak softly to those they don’t know well



Socially anxious children fear and avoid a range of social situations. They may:

  • Avoid new social situations
  • Make excuses not to go, by saying, “I’m just a homebody”, “I don’t feel like going”, “I don’t like parties”
  • Dread sports days or swimming carnivals
  • Dislike giving orals or talks in class
  • Be too anxious to raise their hand/answer questions in class
  • Play alone often


Tummy pains, headaches

Anxiety and worry can manifest in physical symptoms, and socially anxious children may:

  • Report pains in the stomach, headaches, nausea or sore/aching arms/legs especially before school or social events
  • Become withdrawn or irritable before social events or before school


Won't they just grow out of it?

Research shows that a great many children with social anxiety do not just ‘grow out’ of it.

Left untreated, social anxiety can persist and cause significant interference in children’s lives. Child friendly cognitive behaviour therapy for social anxiety can help children overcome social anxiety.

At Benchmark Psychology, we have a number of therapists who can provide child friendly therapy to socially anxious children. Ask for Dr Cate Hearn (who’s PhD thesis was in child and adolescent social anxiety), Dr Alison Bocquee, Dr Kylee Forrest, Dr Jasmine Pang or Dr Leona Chun

3 Ways To Tell If Your Child Might Have Social Anxiety2019-03-27T16:11:02+10:00