Do you need anger management, a men’s behavioural change program, or individual/couples counselling? And the difference.

The treatment for a child/young person who struggles to control their behaviour is very different compared to treatment for an adult who has explosive harmful behaviours. I will be talking about adults (and mostly men though women can also use power and control in relationships) as that is my main client group. I will see adolescents and families but not children (8 or younger). I will be using gendered language for ease of reading. Treatment for adults can also be different depending on the level of motivation and buy-in from the person.

If you are searching for ways to control your own anger, of if you’re part of a couple that’s trying to find anger management for couples then I respect and applaud you for being proactive identifying the issue and looking for help. It’s hard and confronting to admit you have a part in the pattern. I welcome and encourage you .

Or are you looking for an anger management service for your partner, your husband, your wife? That’s a lot trickier. Will they be open to your suggestions or will they tell you to just bug off?

There’s a difference between anger management programs and men’s behavioural change programs. There’s a little bit of overlap (barely) but the biggest difference is that men’s behavioural change programs are specifically designed for men who use power, control and violence (including psychological, verbal, sexual or physical). Often attendance is court ordered but other times it’s voluntary.

Anger management is for a man who cannot stop lashing out at his parents, partner/s, kid/s, boss, co-workers, strangers, everyone in their life because they have not been taught how to self-regulate their emotions and self-soothe. This man has a problem controlling his anger.

Men’s behaviour change programs are for a man who can bottle up all his stress and anger from work to explode at home at his family because he knows if he explodes at his boss/co-workers he will be hold accountable. This man is abusive.

Do you see the difference? There’s intention and choice for the man who’s abusive towards his family.

Things like drugs and alcohol, stress, childhood trauma, etc are factors that do not cause domestic violence. They are excuses for conscious choices to behave badly.

You might want to bring your angry or abusive partner to couples counselling because you love them and want to keep your family together. It would be best for the angry/abusive partner to both go to their own individual counselling AND a group program (I will provide links to NSW programs below.)

However, I know things aren’t so straightforward. Maybe your partner doesn’t think he has a problem – maybe he thinks you’re just overreacting and that you’re the problem! Maybe the only way you think you can get him into therapy is to bring him to couples therapy.

That can be a good way to get him into therapy but be careful to find a therapist who is trained in men’s behaviour change. Otherwise, the therapist may miss the signs and do “normal” couples therapy which won’t support long term change as it’s not address the underlying abusive behaviours and beliefs. There’s not a lot of counsellors who have specific training in this so you should ask them directly if they have training or experience with men who use power and control.

I do have the training and experience, and I believe that these men (or women) are not inherently bad or beyond hope.

To other services looking for referral pathways: I welcome refers for individual counselling for men who are already attending behaviour change programs as best practice is to attend both individual and group therapy.

To clients: Come as you are. As long as you’re open to exploring and being curious about yourself then you are welcome. Therapy is not meant to be easy.

List of Accredited Men’s Behaviour Change Programs within NSW: https://www.ntv.org.au/get-help/list-of-mens-behaviour-change-programs/

Be careful that the program you or your partner is signing up to is an accredited program. There are many programs out there that are not accredited and therefore not evidence-based or regulated and may do more harm than good.

Just another bio…

It’s always such a dilemma when writing up or choosing a professional biography/write up. I like the first person casual atmosphere (as you can probably tell from my Who Am I? page) but recently I was asked to write up a bio for a new workplace and I tried to follow their style. I’m interested in getting feedback of  what you think would be more welcoming/encouraging for the clients to message for an appointment:

Michelle is a qualified social worker and relationship counsellor. She specialises in issues of self-growth and identity, family and couples therapy, parent-child bonding, working with the LGBTIQA+ community, family of origin exploration and issues, relational and complex trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect, working with men who use violence, and attachment issues. Michelle enjoys working with individuals and couples to really unpack their experiences of relationships and sense of self. She is interested in how our families of origin influence how we think and act in our current relationships.

Michelle also enjoys working with carer-child relationships to facilitate a secure attachment and deeper connection whether this is with an adolescent or a toddler. She has experience working with children and families that have been impacted by trauma such as domestic violence or intergenerational neglect. She approaches these issues with an empathetic non-blaming lens.

Michelle’s practice framework is developed from a variety of models and theories but the she would say she is most passionate about attachment theory, narrative therapy, family systems therapy, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, trauma-informed, and Open Dialogue/dialogical practice. However, she doesn’t think that all that is as important as the relationship between the therapist and client.

She also co-facilitates a monthly parent’s support group for gender-diverse youth at the Gender Centre, and is interested in running workshops/groups for both clients and practitioners.

Hello and welcome!

Hello, I am Michelle. I’m glad something about me resonated with you so you clicked on my profile. I don’t know how I could possibly summarise me as a professional or a person on using words on a page. I think the therapist-client relationship and chemistry is more important than a list of credentials or a fancy spiel.

A little about me: I am a social worker and a relationship counsellor. I am a queer Chinese-Australian woman that loves dogs and reading.  I believe that relationships are key of living a rich life (including friendships, and relationships to yourself if no one else). I am the same as you – human.

I am an individual, couple and family therapist. My interest is on self-growth, relationships, attachment-based therapies, family and couple therapy, groupwork, narrative, systemic, and intergenerational trauma/legacies.

I love working with you to really unpack your experiences of relationships and sense of self. There’s so much we carry from our families of origin and what we believe about relationships that is subconscious that impacts our sense of Self, identity, self-worth, romantic relationships (attachment styles, communication styles), friendships, the way we parent (insecure/secure, punitive/passive, authoritarian/authoritative), the way we communicate, and the way we see the world (safe/unsafe).

I am currently work in private practice and at an NGO offering therapy, consultations and training for individuals, children and young people, couples, families and practitioners. I’ve worked at the NGOs e.g. Gender Centre (transgender and gender diverse service) and Interrelate Family Relationship Centre, among other organisations.

I don’t believe any of this means I am more of an expert than you about your lived experiences or relationships – I am here to talk with you, not talk at you in a monologue.

I want to be explicit in saying I am inclusive and warmly welcome all LGBTIQA+. CALD, poly, any other diversities you might be wary that therapists may not understand.

I work with people on a human to human level and believe that therapy is about the relationship between us, not me telling you what to do or any specific model. We might try specific things from specific models but overall I work holistically and tailor my approach to you.

External supervisors and the small world therapists live in

Supervision is a topic I am super passionate about. I believe you should get a minimum of 1 hour of clinical supervision every month. I’m getting 1.5 hours of line management every month, 1 hour of work funded external supervision every 6 weeks, and 1 hour of self-funded external supervision every 4-6 weeks. I used to attend a monthly group supervision (that has since been discontinued). I also co-facilitate caseworker group supervision across 3 offices (but I’m not counting that since I’m not a supervisee).

That’s a lot of supervision. I know.

When I used to work full-time in two separate organisations I had another 2 supervisors on top of that. Messy!

In my speciality of relationship and systemic therapy (with an attachment lens) there’s not a lot of options for supervisors with a degree (mostly Masters due to the limited study options too) and at least 10 years of experience under their belt. I also had some additional criteria – I needed them to have enough degrees of separation from my organisations I want to work for in the future, my current managers, most of my co-workers, etc. You get the picture.

When I was researching potential clinical supervisors in Sydney I had a very short list. I think it was about 6 names – maybe less. I had to cross someone out because they literally worked in my role previously and my line manager was not keen. I crossed off another two people because they lived too far north for me. I crossed off another because they were running group supervision for one of my workplaces. So I had 2 people left over.

It’s been about a year since and through training/work/etc I’ve noted a few more names but it’s still a small group. I’ve attended enough state-wide and national conferences/trainings to know the key players. Word of mouth is both a huge advantage and also very dangerous! A trainer I liked recommended a supervisor I loved, and on the other side at the national conference a group of family therapy leaders recommended a supervisor I had tried earlier and totally flopped with.

Supervision IS NOT just about finding solutions, solving problems and double checking what you’ve done.

Supervision IS about building a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Supervision is a relationship where you are supported to grow.

Supervision’s goal is to create and maintain a long term relationship where you feel emotionally safe enough to expose your vulnerabilities as a person and as a professional, where you are open to be challenged, and comfortable to ask questions about what your supervisor said. It’s about having passionate theoretical and ethical debates, unpacking a session where you would have done everything differently, having someone who you see as an expect recognise your skills and identity as a therapist, where you can grieve and celebrate cases.

It’s about finding the right fit like Goldilocks. Trial and error. I definitely feel different levels of comfort and trust towards different supervisors. Some supervisors are more structured and holding in their approach which can create a sense of safety and security in the space you share. You trust in their ability to contain you. Some are more practical and task based, and provide less emotional support. In contrast, others may not have strong enough boundaries and try pull you into being their emotional drama. In the supervisor-supervisee relationships there can be a variety of dynamics and dangers that occur in any dyad.

I also love peer supervision which I don’t have in my current role – I’ll take a look at options out there or even look at starting my own peer supervision group where we can meet up once of month after work or on the weekend.

Australian Association of Family Therapy Conference 2019 at Melbourne

Hello there,

I’m currently in the middle of day 2 of Australian Association of Family Therapy’s Conference hosted in Melbourne. I’m originally from Sydney so there was some uncanny valley when I stepped out of the airport. Are the streets differently sized to Sydney or am I imagining it?

As a giant introvert I was not looking forward to the amount of people and hours I’ll have to be internally switched on. As a therapist I was peachy keen to get into the presentations and talks. 1.5 days in and I am wiped!

I came with a colleague so there’s also the interesting navigation of spending so much time together in a (semi-)social setting of breakfast, breaks, lunch, dinner, etc. Luckily, we’re both big introverts and also fans of talking about talking about so we can speak openly about when we need some time alone.

This trip has also made me reflect on the evolution of my now as a person and as a professional compared to me as a person and a professional only a few years ago in terms of social anxiety and imposter syndrome. I used to be anxious about finding someone to sit with or appearing busy, preoccupied with appearing to know more than I do, and a whole variety of insecurities related to feelings of inferiority.

Now I pick a spot, sit down and do my own thing. I’m more comfortable with quiet, even silences, and that has been something I’ve consciously cultivated over the last few months. I am a stereotypical Sydneysider who is always on the go, always doing 3 things at once, and over-committing myself.

I’m very consciously slowing myself down for personal and professional development. I think the therapist’s Self cannot be separated from their practice so every change I make in my personal growth has an impact in my practice. I’ve moved away from very cognitive “building insight and reflective capacity” (isn’t that a patronising phrase?) and moved towards processing and experiencing. Emotionally-Focused Therapy’s Sue Johnson’s key phrase “slow down” has made itself home in my couple’s work.

There’s always something interesting both to unpack intellectually and watch in basic fascination of the posturing and negotiating of egos/beliefs/insecurities in a room full of therapists. Most of the attendees are professionally trained to some degree (social work, psychology, psychiatry, etc), some have even worked in this area for decades but no one can escape the insecurity and vulnerability of being human and wanting to be admired.

I love the growing trend of emphasis and recognition of Self of the therapist. This was something that was seen as unprofessional when I was at university. I was taught to cut off the part of me that was human so the only part the client saw was the professional. Bullshit! Evidence now shows that the therapeutic alliance, the being with, the Self, the authenticity and human connection is the biggest part of whether therapy works or not.

I’ve booked into an Open Dialogue / Dialogical Approach training next week and I am excited to see how it can support me in being present, curious and open.

For the conference so far the interesting sessions were about: Attached-Based Family Therapy, Parenting Project (Bowen-based manualised program for parents in CAMHS), and working with transgender/gender diverse families.

Speak soon,
Mish

Controversial Question: Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

This is a question that’s come up a few times in the last month in my readings, audiobooks, discussions with colleagues, and now in my thoughts.

I can cite a bunch of blahblahblah this theorist says this, that theorist says that – but really what is your immediate visceral reaction?

Where do you think your belief came from? Your parents? The media? Has it ever caused any problems for you or your intimate relationships?

I won’t lie. I was a fierce proponent of “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else!” I think it is 200% true that you should focus on self-compassion (which is different to self-esteem; post on that to come) and prioritize self-care in this fast-paced chew you up and spit you out society.

However, does that mean you should avoid being vulnerable and dating until you’re 100% settled in your own skin?

Maybe. Maybe not. Context, as always, matters.

One of my core principles as a therapist is working transparently (translation: no bullshit). I’m going to throw out another controversial idea! Haha! I think dating is one of those things that may not be for everyone.  I think it’s fair enough for people to make a conscious decision to stay single.  Some people who do not have the emotional energy to give to a romantic partner with existing needs (e.g. mental health; children) and it’s best for their stress and wellbeing to focus on themselves. 

But!

If you’re using something like that as an excuse and not a genuine reason that it’s time to challenge yourself on what you really want, what you’re scared of, and what you want that you don’t even know you want.

If you are interested in the theoretical side of it look into Stan Tatkin (PACT), Sue Johnson (Emotionally Focused Therapy), Dick Schwartz (Internal Family Systems), Gottman, Brene Brown for modern theorists’ view on it.

The (historical) pioneers of attachment theory were Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby.

My reflections on Emotionally Focused Therapy

I’ve been brushing up on my Emotionally Focused Therapy with Sue Johnson’s online course and her book/s. I’m far from an expert but so far it’s a model that really aligns with my main homeboys Attachment Theory and Family Systems Theory.

If I had to take only one thing from my study into Emotionally Focused Therapy, it would be to not get distracted by the content couples come in with (we never have sex anymore! the house is a mess! you’re rude to my mum! you had an affair! I don’t like the way you speak to me!). Under all this content is the root of the problem – disconnection.

Of course, the other things problems – but the root of ALL problems is the lack of emotional safety and security in your connection to each other to openly and unabashedly talk about it without anger, hurt, sadness or defensiveness.

The root of all discontent is disconnection.

The solution is safety and security in connection with another (your lover, your child, your mother, your Self).