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The following post was co-written with my colleague Nina Funnell. It was originally published by US website Feministing. 

Pointed hats, black cats, broomsticks, cauldrons: Halloween is a night for celebrating witches. It seems timely then to reflect upon our relationship with these complex figures in fiction, and our culture’s recent attempts to rewrite the witch figure as good, wise and strong. It’s a depiction which directly contrasts with traditional narratives where witches are presented not only as evil outcasts and temptresses, but often also as victims.

In the traditional fairytales witches are typically depicted as socially-undesirable interlopers seeking to cast wicked spells and destroy youthful innocence and beauty. In these tales, which often revolve around binary opposites, the heroines are pretty, young and chaste. The witch, meanwhile, is ugly, old, and may seek to seduce. A perversion of the idea of “woman as nurturer” these women engage in attempts to harm or kill children (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) and may even engage in cannibalism (Hansel and Gretel). Unlike the virtuous protagonist, who often aspires to little more than marital monogamy, the witch is presented as unmarried and non-maternal – a direct threat to the traditional family values upheld by the protagonist.

Variants of these stories, and of the role of the wicked witch-like figure appear in many cultures. In Native American folklore, for example, the tale “Basket Woman,” features a giant hag who creeps up on children when they are naughty or up past their bedtimes. After hitting them on the head with her walking stick, she collects the bodies in her basket, and later boils them in her pot for dinner.

Intended as cautionary tales, these stories provide clear messages about obedience, adherence to traditional gender roles, beauty and virtue, and the dangers inherent in being an ambitious woman who seeks any form of power.

And in the era when many of these tales were written, the dangers weren’t just theoretical. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, approximately 100,000 supposed witches were put to death across Europe. Women who rejected the rule of the church and other prevailing male power structures of the day were especially vulnerable, and older, unmarried, poor women were most at risk.

At one stage during the 17th century in France, the moral panic became so intense that people also took to burning cats (said to be a witches familiar) and for a period, pets-on-pyres took off as a morbid form of entertainment.

Throughout the early 20th century, witches continued to be painted as monstrous outcastes and villains. They also continued to function as a cipher for moral lessons about female power. In the opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dorothy is chased by a woman on a bicycle, who later reappears as the Wicked Witch of the West, now mounted on a broom. With the passing of time, much gets lost in translation. However for an audience in 1939, a woman mounting a bicycle was a well understood symbol of female independence and ambition. There was, at the time, an intense moral panic over women on bicycles, since the mode of transportation enabled women- and poor women in particular- freedom of movement and independence. The bicycle was such an important symbol of female empowerment that suffragette Susan B. Anthony once commented that bicycling has “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”

In fact men were so concerned that women might be enjoying their bicycles a little too much, that special grooved saddles were invented to prevent against the possibility of clitoral stimulation. It’s no mistake then, that the virtuous Good Witch of the North, floats around in a bubble: no mounting necessary.

Following on from Glinda The Good Witch, the 1960’s sitcom Bewitched, presented us with another blonde, attractive ‘good’ witch, through the character of Samantha Stephens. Here the witch was domesticated and sanitized, and although Samantha had powers, she viewed them as at odds with her identity as a wife, and would only resort to using them in order to please Darrin, her mortal husband, or to create domestic bliss.

Towards the end of the 20th century, however, we notice a sudden and radical shift in how witches are portrayed. As the Girl Power zeitgeist of the late 90’s took hold, suddenly youthful female power was celebrated, not feared. It’s no coincidence then, that at this exact point in time witches also suddenly receive more sympathetic and even favorable treatment within popular culture.

Shows such as Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch burst onto the scene, depicting witches as young, attractive and fashion-conscious. Through the character of Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer also presented witches in a positive, empowered light.

Harry Potter then introduced us to the highly principled and studious Hermione, perhaps the first witch to be held up as an exemplary role model for young women.

All of these later texts allowed girls to tap into different girlhood fantasies through the lens of supernatural powers. Suddenly girls were able to consume these texts and imagine what it might be like to outsmart your teachers (Harry Potter), defeat enemies (Charmed, Buffy) or even rotate through thousands of outfits with a simple snap of the finger (Sabrina). Through these likeable characters, girls could imagine what it might be like to have the power to control their own worlds.

Importantly, in these modern texts witches are no longer isolated outcastes, but crucially, they are connected to other witches through their covens. No longer victims, these witches all survive until the end of the story.

More recently still, Maleficent and the musical Wicked have both retold existing stories about witches (Sleeping Beauty and The Wizard of Oz respectfully) only this time around, the witches are painted as sympathetic, complex protagonists. No longer a cliché caricature, the witch has been embraced as a complex, multi-dimensional character.

What’s clear is that as social attitudes towards female power and independence have shifted over the centuries, so too, our depictions of witches have also evolved.

This Halloween there will be those who chose to dress like fairy-tale inspired crones, others who prefer the wholesome good witch look, and other still who prefer to dress as the sultry enchantress.

Regardless of which witch mounts her broomstick and patrols our suburban streets October 31st, what is clear is that our fascination with this evolving figure is enduring.

 

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

 

 

The following guest post is by my friend and colleague Nina Funnell. It was first published by Mamamia. Nina is a Sydney based journalist, author and speaker. Her writing has been published in academic journals, newspapers, magazines and on online news sites. She has authored multiple book chapters and co-authored Loveability: An Empowered Girls Guide to Dating and Relationships (Harper Collins, 2014) with me.

Ninaheadshot-300x314

Nina Funnell

I was ten years old the first time I attempted a ‘death drop’. Hanging upside down by the knees on the school monkey bars, a crowd of kids gathered around to watch. No-one we knew had ever performed a ‘death drop’ before and I was going to be the first brave soul to try. “Be quiet! She needs to concentrate” ordered my best friend, Sophie. “Give her space.”

For a few minutes I hung perfectly still, focused on what I was about to do. The plan was to release my legs, spin through the air and land on my feet. With adrenaline pumping, my courage spiked and suddenly I let go.

A second later I crashed to the ground. I had performed a glorious belly-flop and now lay winded, gasping for air. Of course this was all well before the days of AstroTurf, and kids were made of sturdier stuff. There was no way that a bad start was going to discourage me.

In the coming weeks both Sophie and I would learn the trick to the death drop: to complete the move successfully, one must first swing through the air like a pendulum and only release the knees when one’s body is parallel with the ground.

After that there was no stopping us. Before school, at recess and at lunch we would dominate the bars. Then late one afternoon when my dad picked me up from Afterschool Care, I took him to the monkey bars, eager to show him my new skill. Seeing his daughter beaming with pride, he asked me whether I would like a set of my very own bars at home. I was ecstatic.

That weekend dad and I headed to the hardware store to gather supplies. At home he showed me how to use the measuring tape, drill and saw. He explained why we needed to dig deep holes for the wooden pylons and he let me mark out the spot where I thought the bars should go. This was our special project, just me and dad working together.

In time we moved house and the decision was made to leave the bars behind. But I still look back at that afternoon helping dad build them as one of the great memories of my childhood.

I was reminded of those events not long ago, while out to dinner with a friend who had recently become a father for the first time. As we talked about the birth and the baby, he suddenly lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know,” he said, “I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty progressive guy. I mean, I’ve always believed in gender equality and thought that I’d treat a son or daughter exactly the same. Dinosaurs for the girls. Glitter for the boys. All that caper. So throughout the pregnancy we never asked about the sex of the baby. What should it matter, right? Treat the baby the same no matter what. But everyone kept predicting we were having a girl and I began to think so too… So when our beautiful baby girl burst forth sporting a nice healthy scrotum I was stunned.”

I laughed.

“But that’s not it. You see, I genuinely believed we were having a girl, and when I found out we had a son everything changed. In a split second my whole view of the pregnancy, my whole mindset shifted from thinking ‘I have to protect this little baby’ to ‘I have to enable this baby, I have to show him the world and teach him how things works.’ Isn’t that terrible? And here’s the kicker, I didn’t even realise that I had this completely different approach to parenting girls until that very moment.”

Now it was my turn to be stunned. It was such an honest, insightful admission and I couldn’t help but wonder what biases of my own I might be blind to.

Of course my friend is not alone. Research shows that right from birth many parents treat their sons and daughters differently, even if they don’t intend to. While boys are statistically more likely to die during infancy, and are generally more fragile as infants than girls, studies show that both mothers and fathers react quicker to a daughter’s cries than to a son’s. Studies also show that adults tend to cuddle girls longer than boys but are more likely to encourage boys to explore, try new things, and take risks.

Right from birth we fret about girls. We worry that when a girl comes crashing down to earth – bellyflop style- she won’t be able to get back up again. So we treat girls as precious objects in ever great need of protection. But there is a danger that when we wrap our girls in cotton wool, all we really teach them is to be afraid of the world around them.

And just like boys, girls want their dads to teach them things, to show them how the world works, to enable them in some way. I think back to my own childhood and my strongest memories of my dad involve him helping me to learn new things: how to ride a bike, how to read, and how to cook his legendary ‘daddy dinner’ (a cheese, tomato and carb extravaganza).

As an engineer dad was also constantly explaining how the world around me worked. Even when I was not particularly interested in a given object, his enthusiasm for the science behind things was contagious. His own curiosity about the world made me curious.

But perhaps his greatest parenting moments occurred when dad found ways to combine his interests and knowledge with my own hobbies and amusements. As a child, I remember that there were few things more validating than having my parents express a genuine interest in my world. But what was truly enriching was when they took the time to teach and involve me in their hobbies too.

And the lessons stuck. I recently purchased my first home, a true ‘renovators delight’, as they say. As dad and I headed off to Bunnings together for the first time in years, he was astonished to hear me parrot back at him some advice he had given me as a small child on the proper care of paint brushes.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have been all that surprised. For better or worse, kids absorb their parent’s words along with the wisdoms they impart.

So I am thankful for all the great dads who teach their children to be curious about the world, not afraid of it. I am thankful for dads who pick their children up, dust them off and tell them to keep trying, no matter how badly they may have bellyflopped. And most of all I am thankful for fathers who involve their sons and daughters, in equal measure, in learning about the world and how to embrace living in it.

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to provide a context for why young girls might chose to send their images to online Instagram pages that invite others to rate their desirability, termed “sprouter” sites as they promise to highlight those who will sprout into dateable adults, on channel 10′s The Project.

Seeking the approval of others as a way of assessing one’s own value is, as I say during this interview, nothing new. A colleague made the point that when she first started High School, the older boys at her school would refer to the “hot” new girls as being on “lay-by”; to be labelled in this way was considered a status symbol by her peers. What is new, however, is the technology being used to facilitate this phenomena.

Why might girls be complicit in this process? I’d argue they are groomed from a very young age by society to see their looks as their currency. Think child beauty pageants, magazines aimed at tweens that ask readers to rate particular looks, or consider who is “hot” who is “not”, beauty products and services marketed directly at children, the language we use with young girls in comparison to young boys (“pretty” versus “powerful”) etc etc.

So rather than panic, let’s aim to empower young people to know their real value, and educate them so that they make safe choices online. It’s important that we do not shame, nor seek to simply ban. There is a wide body of research that shows the number one reason young people do not tell trusted adults about things that happen in cyber space that concern them is that they fear their access will be removed and that they will be judged. The digital world is their playground and an important source of social connection.

Let’s keep in mind too that most young people do make great choices when on-line and can see platforms like this as both potentially dangerous and as sexist nonsense ( it’s interesting to note that despite this being a major news story, if you look at the visual shown in the segment of the actual sprouter site, there were only actually 85 followers of this page).

1907450_10152396106688105_6122534123557093794_nIt’s been wonderful to be back at Channel 7 this week on both The Daily Edition (discussing cyber bullying and the pressures placed on schools to address this), and The Morning Show. I had the chance to speak to Larry and Kylie about how parents can best respond if they suspect their daughter may be a “Mean Girl”. This is an interesting, and often overlooked issue as we tend to focus more on supporting victims of bullying, rather than exploring how we can stop “Mean Girls” in their tracks.

Warning signs that a young woman may be a Mean Girl include:

*Controlling and / or aggressive behaviour in social situations
*A lack of compassion for others
*Teasing or taunting others
*Being intolerant of differences.

There are a number of practical approaches discussed in this segment – take a look.

As always, love to hear your thoughts.

Wrote it - but can't read it!

P.S And if you are interested in reading my first book, “The Butterfly Effect – A Positive approach to raising happy, confident teen girls” you may purchase this at our shop: www.enlighteneducation.com/shop. This week I received my own copy of the version that has just been published in mainland China! What a thrill to see my work in Chinese.

 

This week I wish to share spoken word poet Madiha Bhatti‘s thoughtful piece on women in the music industry, an extract from which also appears below. Isn’t it powerful?

Mu(Sick):

So I heard this song the other day
That objectified women in every way
That doesn’t narrow it down much
But it was pretty depraved
The feminists are probably still rolling in their graves
It reduced people to parts, objects to be acquired
Turned hearts and minds into mere things to be desired
And as parts of my body were assessed and sized
I thought, “What a way to be dehumanized,”
These artists seem to be playing a game
Of how many times they call us the wrong name
Cuz I’m not a dime, those come a dozen
No I’m really not interested in all your lovin
I’m not your shawty, hoe, or trick
Your baby, lady, girl or chick
I mean can someone explain to me
How this counts as music? When you
Chant, you pant about windows and walls
Talk about a woman like she’s a thing to be mauled
Oh she got a big booty so you call her Big Booty,
If she had a big brain would you call her at all?
But it seems like I’m the only one appalled
That music can make me feel so small

 

 

You may also be interested in sharing my posts:

Claim back the music - “A British study found that watching video clips featuring skinny, semi naked gyrating women ( in other words, watching 99% of all music clips) for just 10 minutes was enough to reduce teenage girls body satisfaction with their body shape by 10 per cent. Dr Michael Rich, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Matters campaign has gone so far as to state that exposure to misogynist music that portrays violence against women and sexual coercion as normal may effect other areas of young peoples lives and make it more difficult for them to know what is normal in a relationship.”

No More Blurring The Lines – I’m Talking To You Mr Bruno Mars -  ”…you know what? I don’t want to hand out anymore free passes. I am calling “Enough!” ”

And one by Enlighten’s own Nikki Davis - An open letter to Beyoncé (from a bewildered fan) - “So my question is, as a woman with the power to educate girls and women on what it actually means to be a feminist and why it is so important in this world, ARE YOU WITH US OR NOT?”

The following post is by my friend and colleague Nina Funnell. It originally appeared in the Term 3, 2014 NSW Parents Council Newsletter. Nina is a journalist, author (she co-wrote my latest Loveability with me) and speaker. Find out more about her work here: www.ninafunnell.com

cover image from danah's book, "It's Complicated - the social lives of networked teens."

cover image from danah’s book, “It’s Complicated – the social lives of networked teens.”

To listen to the news it would be easy to assume that young people are simply running wild online. A constant stream of stories about cyberbullying, sexting and dangerous new apps, has left many parents feeling totally bewildered. But research into young people’s actions online paints a somewhat different picture. According to danah boyd, a leading scholar and author in the field, most young people use technology in responsible and pro-social ways. And while there are certainly some challenges associated with online interactions, panicking or despairing about young people does little to equip or empower them to make sound choices. So here are three of the most pervasive myths we need to stop perpetuating about young people and technology: 

MYTH 1: If you’ve made a mistake online, no one will want to hire you.

One of the most common messages told to young people is that any mistake they make online will haunt them forever. Reputations will be permanently ruined: colleges won’t accept them, bosses won’t hire them, future love interests will reject them. While it’s certainly true that it is difficult to control what happens to information once it’s posted online, it’s also true that one of the most dangerous things we can ever tell young people is that there is no hope, no help and no possibility of recovery. For teens who may have already made an error of judgment, this messaging is especially dangerous when combined with ‘cautionary tales’ about other teens who have committed suicide in reaction to an error they have made online.

Instead of catastrophizing young people’s mistakes, teens need help to develop resilience, by putting their setbacks in context and formulating a plan to manage any future fallout. For example, developing strategies of ways to respond if someone raises an embarrassing mistake, or ways to handle an awkward interview question helps a teen move forward and lets them know there is light at the end of the tunnel.

MYTH 2: Once a bully, always a bully

One of the common misconceptions about those who use bullying tactics is that they are intrinsically bad people who can never chose to change their behavior. The reality is that many individuals who use bullying tactics are in pain themselves, and so use bullying as a maladaptive strategy to gain social power, status or control. Research also shows that a considerable number of people who use bullying tactics have also experienced bullying or intimidation. This means that rather than trying to neatly diagnose and categorize the ‘victims’ and ‘villains’ (in order to assign help to one group and punishment to the other), we need to recognize that bullies also need help. This doesn’t excuse aggressive or cruel conduct, but it does recognize that aggressive behavior is always a choice, and that young people can choose differently.

MYTH 3: Bystanders fail to intervene because they lack empathy.

Research shows that witnesses are present in 93% of bullying incidents and that bullying incidents tend to last longer when there is an audience. While schools are increasingly focusing on how to empower bystanders to ethically intervene when they observe bullying, not all young people feel capable of speaking up. Yet rarely is this because young people lack empathy. On the contrary 85% of young people are troubled by bullying they observe. So why don’t they take action?

There are a number of reasons: fear of retaliation, audience inhibition, a fear that they might ‘bomb’ or embarrass themselves if they speak up, a perception that the bully is more liked than they really are, a belief that someone else should act, and a belief that they could risk their own social status if they speak up for someone less popular than them, are all reasons why people often freeze, despite the fact that they actually oppose what is occurring.

Factors which positively correlate with a bystander choosing to take intervening action include: noting a hurtful situation and interpreting it correctly, feeling personally responsible for the safety of others, feeling personally powerful enough to speak up and take action, having effective intervention skills or ‘scripts’ they can easily follow, and feeling that other bystanders will have their back if they do speak up. By focusing on these factors and by reinforcing that most students are actually opposed to bullying we can help young people feel empowered to take action and put a stop to bullying in our schools.

For more posts on cyber world you may be interested in these posts:

Cyber self-harming – also by Nina Funnell: “Last year, researchers at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre found that up to ten per cent of first year university students had ‘falsely posted a cruel remark against themselves, or cyberbullied themselves, during high school’…what could drive a teenager to attack herself and then put it on display? Why would anyone self-sabotage in this way? And are other teenagers doing this?”

Beyond Cyber Hysteria Part 1 – What is working?  - “When we hear disturbing news reports about children who have been tormented to the point of desperation by cyber-bullies, or groomed and exploited by online predators, it is tempting to want to simply shut the technology off! Yet whilst it is important to be alert and aware of the dangers, it is also important to take a balanced approach and recognise the huge opportunities that technology has opened up for us all.”

Beyond Cyber Hysteria Part 2 – Bully busting - “What can be done?”

Beyond Cyber Hysteria Part 3 – Dealing with more difficult truths - ” What messages will this generation receive about desirability if their emerging sexuality is largely shaped by p*rn?”

On Wednesday of this week the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life published a post I wrote with Nina Funnell that I wanted to  also share here. We received an incredibly supportive response; I trust you too will find the article worth sharing. 

Fans at a Keith Urban concert in Boston last week watched on as a 17-year-old girl was allegedly raped, apparently unaware that a sexual assault was taking place. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Fans at a Keith Urban concert in Boston last week watched on as a 17-year-old girl was allegedly raped, apparently unaware that a sexual assault was taking place. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Last week, it was reported that a 17-year-old girl was allegedly raped at a Keith Urban concert in Boston, while onlookers watched and filmed the incident on their phones.

In the same week in Australia, the story of a 14-year-old girl who was reportedly sexually assaulted during recess at her Adelaide school also broke. The girl is said to have been taped to a tree, bound with a garden hose and repeatedly assaulted by a group of eight boys who allegedly exposed and rubbed their buttocks and genitalia against her, while other students stood by watching and laughing. Images of the attack were later posted on social media exacerbating the trauma for the girl.

Have we become so incredibly desensitised to assault against girls and women that some now think of sexual violence as mere fodder for our phones? And to what extent do people even recognise sexual assault when they witness it, or know how to intervene?

In our discussions with young people around gender and relationships, we have learnt that many young people do not realise what sexual assault looks like, especially when it doesn’t conform to the knife-wielding stranger in an alleyway narrative. Tellingly, at the Keith Urban concert one witness told police he thought it was just “a couple having sex on the lawn”. Others who filmed the incident claimed they didn’t know what was happening so passed their footage on to police so they could figure it out. It was only once a lone woman approached the crowd and asked the girl if she was consenting, to which she replied “no”, that the alleged rapist was finally physically pulled away.

Confused ideas about what does and doesn’t constitute rape also impact on trials. Research shows that juries often expect to see signs of physical violence and injury, under the mistaken belief that all rape involves extreme physical force.

These myths – that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers; that all sexual assault involves physical force; that victims usually scream or fight back (as opposed to being paralysed by fear); that sexual assault always involves a penis and a vagina – are part of the reason that some individuals fail to correctly interpret incidents they observe.

One of the most revealing examples of this problem occurred last year during the now infamous Steubenville rape case, where two footballers were found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious girl at a party.

At the trial, witness Evan Westlake gave evidence against his teammates stating that he had observed one perpetrator smacking the unconscious girl’s hip with his penis while the other perpetrator inserted two fingers into her vagina. When asked why he didn’t intervene Westlake answered, “It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”

Yet earlier that night Westlake observed another party-goer prepare to drink drive and in that instance Westlake did intervene. He tricked the drunk teen into handing over the car keys, demonstrating a clear capacity to act as an ethical bystander in that context.

Westlake’s choices that evening reflect both the success of anti drink-driving messaging, and the need for stronger messaging about sexual violence and consent. Westlake’s decision to intervene in one context but not another also indicates that intervention skills are of no use, unless a person is also taught how to assess when and where they are needed.

According to research, the main factors which determine whether or not a person is likely to intervene in a situation such as a sexual assault include: noting the harm and interpreting it correctly; feeling personally responsible for the safety of others; feeling personally powerful enough to speak up and take action; having practical intervention skills and effective “scripts” to follow; and feeling that other bystanders around them will support them.

In other words, it’s not enough to simply teach “right from wrong”. Students need targeted education on sexual assault and informed consent combined with the explicit teaching of ethical bystander skills. It’s also important that we praise the positive stories of ethical bystanders, such as the woman at the Keith Urban concert who took action.

Focusing on positive stories is not only validating for those being praised. It’s also an important strategy in normalising ethical behaviour.

After all, when news reports focus primarily on the behaviour of those who mock or ignore the plight of sexual assault victims, this can end up creating a mistaken perception that this is the dominant social attitude. The reality is the exact opposite: most people are appalled by sexual assault and disgusted by those who ridicule victims. Reaffirming that support for victims is the dominant view discredits those who feel otherwise.  More importantly, it speaks to those bystanders who do care.

It lets them know they have numbers on their side.

* Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

To read the book Nina and I wrote for teen girls on dating and relationships, view the site here: LOVEABILITY. 

The following guest post is shared with permission from the author, the wonderful Matt Glover from MGA Counselling Services. Matt wrote this following a discussion I had with him and two other professionals I admire, Sarah McMahon from BodyMatters and Jacqui Manning, The Friendly Psychologist. Sarah has also put together an excellent resource on how to select a therapist for eating disorders which may be viewed here.

Recently I was having a discussion with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about what to look for when choosing a counsellor or psychologist.  In Australia, we still live in a culture that places some stigma on seeing a mental health professional, and so we are hesitant to ‘ask around’ like we do when looking for a plumber or dentist. If you’re wrestling with a mental health issues, a relationship problem, a personal issue, or just feel plain stuck, make sure you check the following before booking a session with a counsellor or psychologist.

1. Check the qualifications. While Psychology and Social Work are regulated industries, Counselling is not. Anybody can set themselves up as a counsellor and charge a premium without even a single hour of training. Online certificates and diploma’s abound in counselling, but these are little better than nothing at all. Many of them do not require any sort of supervised placement and barely scratch the surface of best practice when it comes to the different models of therapy. For counsellors, I would suggest sticking with those that have a Bachelor degree or above, from a reputable university. When you ring to make a booking, ask where the therapist did their training.

2. Check the accreditation. Make sure the counsellor you see is accredited at more than student level with one of the professional bodies. The professional bodies maintain a code of ethics for the industry and ensure that individual therapists are engaged in ongoing professional development and supervision. As a counsellor, I’m accredited through the Australian Counselling Association, but there are equivalent associations for Psychologists and Social Workers.

3. Check the experience. Regardless of your heart for helping people, it takes a while to become really proficient in the helping industries. I say to aspiring counsellors to try and get work with a larger agency before thinking about  private work or opening your own practice. I worked for 14 years for other organisations before opening MGA. When you ring a therapist, ask them how long they’ve been practicing. If they say “two weeks”, wish them well for their career, hang up, and call the next person on your list.

4. Check the specialty. Most of us have a field that we specialize in, based on our own interests and history. In my practice, we focus on sexuality, spirituality, and mental health, with individual therapists at MGA having more focused areas like relationships, eating disorders and the like. If you’re after some help with depression, for instance, make sure your therapist has experience working in that area. Associated with this point is the model of therapy. There’s lots of different ‘therapies’ – some will suit you and others won’t. CBT has been popular in the past but seems to be going out of fashion in recent years. Gestalt is still popular, as is person centered therapy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is the model we use at MGA, but each client is treated according to their needs, not pushed through a conveyor belt.

5. Check the “fit.” If you find you don’t really click with your therapist, find somebody else. I don’t have any research to back this up at all, but my feeling is that at least 50% of a good outcome in counselling depends on how well you get along with your counsellor. If you have a counsellor that is rude, irritating, talks about themselves all the time, seems uninterested, hurries you along, doesn’t listen or even smells funny, then you won’t get the most out of your time together. You may even miss some important, helpful suggestions because you really just don’t like them very much. Sometimes a good outcome does take time, but you want to take that journey with somebody who you connect with well.

6. Check the reputation. This is a little harder to do, but ask around to see what sort of reputation a therapist has. Personal recommendations are not a rock solid guarantee (you have to get along well with them remember) but it’s nice to know that there is some good reports about the person you are seeing.

7. Check the responsibility. By this I mean, check that you have responsibility for where the sessions go and what it is you cover. I do a lot of work with the transgender community and I’ve lost count how many times clients say to me that their previous counsellor talked about nothing but their gender transition, despite the client wanting to see them for an entirely different reason. (Eg, bullying at work) In sessions, make sure you talk about what YOU want to talk about. As things unfold, you may uncover other things that you need to work on – a skilled therapist will help you do this. But if your counsellor insists on making you talk about things that seem irrelevant and they won’t give you a reason why, think about whether you should continue with them.

8. Check the practical stuff. Ask how long the sessions are, what the fees are, whether it has disability access, whether it is close to public transport, is there parking available, what are the opening hours and so on. Whatever practical things are important to you, ask about them. Also check to see if your therapist has any long holidays planned – sometimes a break in momentum can set you back, so if they’re going to be away for six months, ask for somebody else.

The lovely Jacqui and I on the set of channel 9's Mornings show.

The lovely Jacqui and I on the set of channel 9′s Mornings show.

Jacqui offered a few final thoughts in addition to these I thought worth sharing here too: “Also, I’d say that if the work feels confronting, that’s OK, therapy is meant to make shifts and sometimes these can feel uncomfortable but it shouldn’t stay that way for long. The therapist should be skilled at going at your pace, but if they’re not, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask them to slow down. And if you don’t click with one therapist? Don’t give up on the process. It’s like finding a good hairdresser, it can take time to find the right person to trust, but you don’t stop getting your hair done if you have had one bad haircut.”

This week I was invited to join regular panelist, Principal of Southport High School Steven Mcluckie and three times Olympic champion Hockey Player Nikki Hudson on ABC Radio Gold Coast’s parenting panel hosted by Nicole Dyer. I think the discussion is well worth a listen.  My perspective on a few issues was quite different to the other panellists- particularly in relation to girls and clothing choices (an issue also explored at my blog here).  Your thoughts?

LISTEN: Role Models for girls and more – ABC Radio Gold Coast audio.
 

Last week I noticed a number of teen girls I am friends with on Facebook were lamenting their “winter bodies.”  I posted this on my Page for them; feel free to share and republish for the young women in your life.

FEELING THE WINTER-WEIGHT-WOES?

1. Don’t obsess over slight weight fluctuations. We are actually genetically programmed to crave foods that will make us heavier in winter as our bodies strive to store fat. A 1-3 kilo gain may feel huge to you, but honestly? No-one else will notice and your health will absolutely not be compromised by this – promise! In fact, a few kilos may increase your resilience to disease and allow you to recover from injury faster. Sadly, however, I cannot promise you that constant weight whinging may not annoy your loved ones to the point of giving you a Chinese burn. And it will absolutely steal your sense of happiness. So yeah…self- loathing? That is hazardous to your health.*

2. Your body is not designed to fit in with fashion trends. We have been conditioned by media images that demand a look that is so thin, very few of us are able to achieve this through healthy means. Further, this media ideal is often made even more unobtainable as it is artificially distorted through photoshop etc. When we are bombarded with messages like these, we may begin to think we will only be loved / successful / accepted if we are also very thin. Reality? Many studies find our peers, and the opposite sex, find us more attractive when we are slightly heavier than we think is ideal. And there is no study (I dare you to find even one!) that shows ideal photoshopped-model-types lead happier, more loving lives. In other words – we are absolutely our own harshest critics. Take your body loathing and divide it by 100. Then subtract this score by another 100. Then go eat something yummy and nutritious.

3. Show YOU the love! If you really think you need to manage your weight as you just aren’t eating well ( and we all know how to get this back on track surely? We have been raised on nutritional advice since before we could read) and you really aren’t moving enough? Fabulous! Good on you for calling time out! But don’t start with self-hate. When the body feels hated it craves comfort, and for most of us, comfort equates with food. Since birth we have been programmed to be comforted by eating hence why babies often suckle simply for security or a sense of serenity rather than out of hunger. Start – and finish – with LOVE. Always! Go for long walks in the winter sunshine, get a massage, paint your toe-nails, buy a cheap pair of larger sized pants so you feel good while learning to reconnect with your body (rather than feeling literally stifled) and tell you body all the time how much you appreciate it and care for it.

Our bodies are, after all, our best, and most, forever friends. Diets? Not so much.

* Obviously I am making light here – there are serious mental and physical health ramifications associated with excessive dieting / food obsession. 

Winter pampering.

Winter pampering.

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