Forced adoptions

I’ve recently completed some training in understanding and counselling people affected by forced adoption. This practice was still occurring into the 1980’s which means there are many people–children now grown, mothers, fathers and extended families–presently in the community around us who have direct experience of it. They may experience feelings of shame, anger, grief, depression and anxiety, and this can lead to difficulties in relationships, parenting of children, formation of identity and mental health disorders. For a long time people were told to keep quiet about their experience.

The then PM, Julia Gillard made an official apology in 2013 and although this goes some way in recognising the harm done, it is not sufficient for healing. For those who are still affected by forced adoption I would encourage you to seek out and speak to a professional about it, or if you have a family member or friend suffering, encourage them similarly. It’s never to late to heal from these types traumas.


Transition to Retirement

People often engage with a psychologist when working through a transition in life; leaving school, joining the workforce, becoming a parent. One transition that is often seen as a time to sit, relax and lay back is retirement. The difficulty with this approach to retirement is that when we leave employment we loose a part of our identity. This often results in feelings of sadness, frustration, emptiness and anxiety……unless a new identity if formed.

So what should you do when considering retirement? I would recommend building up social connections before retiring, perhaps work part time while you do this. When social connections are established and participated in, a new identity begins to form. You belong to a group and have activities with others to look forward to. You have a place. Added benefits include a reduction in risk of mortality (Umberson & Montez, 2010), memory decline (Ertel, Glymour & Berkman, 2008) and depression (Cruwys et al, 2013).

So those who are retired or planning to be, focus on staying active socially and get out there into our community!


Bought a scout Christmas tree?

Like lots of people I volunteer in the community and I’ve found the Scouts to be a fantastic organisation. I’ve been a leader there and found it very rewarding. Today I loaned them my credit card terminal to help them sell Christmas trees at a fundraiser on the corner of Pacific Hwy and Banockburn Rd; and if you purchased a tree there and used a credit card you’ll see ‘Rhona Barker Psychology’ on your credit card statement. Don’t be alarmed – you haven’t been scammed – it was just me helping out the Scouts.


What about Dads?

November 13-19 is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week. Check out the PANDA website for some great information on the signs and symptoms dads may show with the introduction of a baby into the family. Dads, please seek help if you are struggling.



Quote Book

There are many items people use to remind them of special moments in life; photos, letters and knick-knacks to name a few. But what about those special moments when your toddlers says something hilarious, insightful or intelligent? I guess if you are quick enough you may capture it on video but if not perhaps you could write it in, what I call, a quote book. We have done this in our family and it is full of all the stand out amazing things my children have said from when they could talk to .…..well we are still writing in it now when they are in their tweens. I love reminding my children of these, teasing that we’ll need to write that in the quote book and giggling at the words when we are going through a particularly difficult time. It is full of the memory of those special moments. If you are a parent of a toddler then now is the time to start one!



I read a story in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of days ago about a special needs teacher, Sophie Murphy, who was called upon to assist airline crew to seat a boy with downs syndrome, who was refusing to get up from the aisle, so the plane could land. Within the text of the story there was a particular paragraph that struck me……

“On the plane, I got down on the floor in the aisle with Shamran. If he was going to move, I needed to introduce myself, find out his name, connect, let him speak, listen to him, see what the problem was, and not panic him or be punitive. I knew I needed to lock onto his eyes and show empathy. I learnt his favourite books, not as an ice breaker or an introduction, but to construct a real relationship, however brief.” 

She did such a fantastic job of connecting with this boy and gently encouraged him into his seat. Shamran has downs syndrome but what struck me is that all children should be approached like this in a time of crisis however big or small that crisis is. Connection is so powerful in everyday interactions.


Importance of Play

I was once again invited to speak to the Berowra ABA group. This time we discussed the value of play and what exactly this looked like. As a mother myself, I do remember looking at my children when they were infants and thinking “what on Earth do I do with you” and “how do I play with you” and “what do I need to do this”. If only I knew what I know now!

Play is important for many reasons. It shows our children we are interested in them – especially when your child leads. It helps language development including conversation ie turn taking in play extends to turn taking in conversation. It means our attention in focused on our children in that moment – making them the centre of our universe – which is important for a secure relationship. It also helps build physical and cognitive capabilities.

Play doesn’t need to be a structured activity – something planned and with an aim. Play can actually occur just in the moment…..when we blow raspberries on a babies tummy when changing nappies, nursery rhymes, reading books, playing with toys on the floor during tummy time, splashing in the bath ….. play often happens in the moment without you realising it is occurring.

So don’t be so worried about the type of play or providing things to play with and just recognise when you do it and enjoy your child moment to moment.


Transition to motherhood

This week I spoke at the Hornsby-Berowra group of the Australian Breastfeeding Association about transition to motherhood. Two things that stood out for me was the consistency of the feelings of the group members and their openness and willingness to share their experiences.

Lots of new mothers feel that they don’t quite know themselves going from being a ‘single entity’ and making decisions with only yourself in mind to having to think of another, and often placing the baby first. And changing from being confident to ‘know what you are doing’, be it work, social life or family relationships – to a situation where you feel that not quite knowing if what you are doing is right.

This mismatch between expectation and reality can, in many women, create feelings of anxiety and depression; but acknowledging this, adopting strategies; including but not limited to, Mindfulness, can make a difference in the way that you feel.

It was wonderful to be asked to share, what I feel to be important information, with this group of women.


Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Week

This week, 17th – 23rd of November 2013, is Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week. Perinatal may be an unfamiliar term for some people but it refers to the period from conception through to 12 months after the birth of a baby. The perinatal period is considered to be a time of transition in life, which is wonderful and exciting but where families are also challenged and vulnerable to stress. The community often associates perinatal depression and anxiety with women but the truth is men may also suffer from it.

As parents or parents-to-be it is really important that you look after yourself so that you are able to care for someone else, your baby. Over this week consider how you have been feeling recently. Have you felt any of the following:
*Loss of enjoyment in activities you would usually enjoy
*Loss of self-esteem and confidence
*Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control or unable to cope
*Irritability or anger
*Fear of being alone
*Withdrawing from family or friends
*Loss of appetite
*Broken sleep (other than the baby waking you)
*Sense of hopelessness or feeling of failure
*Suicidal thoughts or ideas
*Anxiety symptoms (acing heart, changes to breathing, worrying thoughts, sick stomach)
*Fears for baby’s or partners’s safety or wellbeing.

The presence of perinatal depression or anxiety impacts not only you but also your relationship with others – placing a strain on your relationship with your partner and interfering with the developing relationship with your baby (bonding and attachment). For many woman the first week after having a baby will feel like they are on an emotional roller-coaster but if this persists longer assistance should be sought.

If you feel like you may be suffering from perinatal depression or anxiety or just finding things difficult please speak to your family doctor, birth support team (including your midwife), Maternal and Child Health Nurse or a psychologist (give me a call if you are nearby) – if you don’t get help, ask again or ask someone else.

In addition to speaking to a health professional you could do the following:
*Share your concerns with your partner or a trusted friend or family member
*Try to eat healthy meals, exercise, nap when your baby allows you to, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
*Take any offer of assistance – housework, cooking meals, doing the shopping or minding your baby while you sleep.
*Go easy on yourself and don’t overdo things – housework can always wait.
*If you are working (and this applies especially to men) don’t drown yourself in work.
*Don’t compare yourself to others – people will often only show you what they want you to see.
*Don’t read baby advice books – often give conflicting advice and may not suit you and your baby – read your baby not a book.
*Don’t rely on doctor Google – this is not something you need to go through alone.

Finally, if you are concerned someone else may be suffering then share this website, provide practical assistance, spend time and listen to them without judgement or needing to offer advice.

With this being Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week let’s not allow any parent to not be heard and to not be helped when help is sought.