A small difference can make a big difference when trying to reduce stress – 8th September 2017

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Victor E. Frankl.

A great quote from an incredible existential psychotherapist/ author on reducing stress by widening the space space between stimulus and response.

When you say ‘I am stressed’ – you are identifying all of you with being stressed. When you say ‘I’m noticing that I am feeling stressed’ – you are noticing a current state rather than your identity.

This small difference can help to widen the space between the impact and how we choose to respond.

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Steps to ease stress – September 2017

When clients ask about what steps they can take to ease stress, we tell them that it’s as easy as ABC…

  1. Adjust your daily routine
  2. Be Kind
  3. Connect

Adjust your daily routine

Plan your day to ease the chaos by knowing when you are most productive and least productive. Write down your basic daily tasks and then map your daily schedule to match your energy levels.

For example, arrange your most challenging tasks to be done with your morning coffee and your easier, mindless tasks for later in the afternoon when you feel like you could do with a nap.

 

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Be Kind

Even when we are feeling irritable – if we can treat ourselves and others with kindness rather than judgement and criticism – and transform how we feel.

We can then put our experiences in perspective rather than letting them overwhelm us.   When we are having a bad day we orientate towards the negative and forget the good – this negative bias can be reversed but this requires practice.  Each of us has good qualities and remembering these qualities can improve our relationships and remind us what we liked about ourselves and others.

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Connect

Take a moment during the day to notice your landscape –

  • look out the window
  • walk barefoot on grass
  • close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you
  • go for a walk and take up to see and hear your surroundings

Connecting to others also helps us to ease stress.  This could be simply to spend time with your colleagues to ask them how they are, to share lunch with someone who is important to you, to share a joke together. Sometimes we also need to connect with others who can support us with our stressors of work and life.

All Northern Territory Government employees and their families are eligible for  Employee Assistance Program counselling sessions to assist with work and life issues.  These include but not limited to:

  • stress and anxiety
  • workplace relationships
  • conflict and harassment
  • work life balance
  • couple, family and parenting issues

Relationships Australia NT work with individuals, couples, children and families.  Please note – all individuals are eligible for 3 counselling sessions; couples –are eligible for 6 counselling sessions.

All our counsellors are suitably trained and qualified from our Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs office – via face-to-face and electronic devices (audio and visual).

We are able to provide an appointment within 5 working days.

Facing Father’s Day as a separated parent – 1st September 2017

Some Thoughts for Separated Dads on Father’s Day.

Regardless of your individual circumstances, significant days such as Father’s Day can be difficult for separated dads.  Our feelings and reactions as a dad who may not see his children, or who may have to share the care of his children with their mother, on Father’s Day can quickly become negative if we let them.  A little preparation prior to Father’s Day can make a big difference in helping separated dads not only get through the day but in enjoying it as well.

So, depending on your circumstances this Father’s Day, here are a few tips in helping to plan for the day.

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For those dads who may not be able to see their kids on Father’s Day you may consider the following:

  • Prepare yourself mentally – a major part of being without your kids on Father’s Day and getting through it has to do with preparation.  As far as you can, predict what thoughts and feelings you may have on Father’s Day and prepare an ‘escape route’ if that is useful.  This can take the form of planning to be busy with enjoyable activities on the day – think about engaging distracting activities you could plan and fill your day with those.
  • If possible plan to telephone or Skype your kids and plan this with the kids beforehand so they are prepared.  Depending on ages of your kids and their interests there are a range of activities and games that can be shared over Skype and similar technologies.  Again, depending on their ages, you may plan a story to tell them or prepare a list of things to talk about – they will appreciate your special interest in them and what’s happening in their lives.
  • Write a special Father’s Day letter or email to your kids. Tell them how much you love them and about your best memories with them. Talk about your hopes for the future for them and how committed you are to your relationship with them.  Even though you can’t be together, you can still share your feelings with them.  If you have more than one child write to each individually so that they can feel special.

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 If you will see your kids part of the day the following may help:

  • Have a plan for the day – plan for the time with the kids as well as for the time without them.  For the time with the kids, plan activities that will allow you maximum interaction to make the most of any limited time you have: don’t just sit down in front of the tv or go to a movie.  For that part of the day when you are not with the kids, plan some things to do on your own that are enjoyable and distracting.

Whatever your situation if you are a separated father on Father’s Day, it can take an emotional and mental toll so remember:

  • Plan ahead – this is by far the most important thing a dad can do to make sure you get the most of your time with the kids.  Alternately, planning the day if you won’t be seeing your kids will give you some strategies to ‘get through it’ in good shape.
  • Use technology where you can to help you have contact with your kids on Father’s Day and other days as well.

And don’t forget to:

  • Listen to your self-talk – be alert to signs of self-pity or hopelessness and be prepared to act on these signals to change the self-talk
  • Be prepared to talk to others about your concerns, including speaking with a professional (counsellor or psychologist) if you feel that would be of benefit
  • Be clear about where you have choices and where you don’t, and don’t get stuck ruminating over things you can’t change
  • Commit to looking after yourself – both on Father’s Day and for the longer-term
  • Think about getting fit – being physically fit can really help how we think and feel about things
  • Go easy on the alcohol and/or drugs – they are not the answer
  • Eat well – maintaining a healthy diet benefits us both physically and mentally
  • And remember to speak with your GP if you have concerns about your physical or mental health

Our Languages Matter – Staff NAIDOC Exhibition in Darwin 7th July 2017

On Friday 7th July 2017, Relationships Australia Northern Territory Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisers (AICAs) – Kathy, Eddie, Valarie, Jeff & Ruth – created an exhibition entitled Our Languages Matter for Darwin staff in the Barramundi Room to mark NAIDOC week.

This exhibition allowed the AICAs to share different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories and music, as well as their culture with staff members.

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Our Languages Matter featured Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island artefacts including baskets woven from Pandanus from Arnhem land.

These baskets are made when young pandanus leaves are harvested and sliced into fine strips. This is followed by a colouring process, in which the strips are placed in drums of bush dyes, roots and leaves from different plants sourced in the area. Dye is extracted through bashing and crushing techniques, and then added to the water with the pandanus to create vivid colour. After dying, the strips must hang and dried out for at least three to four hours before preparing it to start the weaving process.  These strips are then woven into intricate baskets and mats or rolled into ropes for other designs.

Dilli bags are prepared slightly differently however.  Vines from Banyan trees are gathered and rolled into long thin threads and woven to make the bags. These bags would have been used to carry items for everyday use or for long journeys depending on the size. Sometimes the same colouring as baskets is used.

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Coral and turtles, which represented Torres Strait culture, were also featured. The Torres Strait Islands have the world’s largest population of green, hawksbill and flatback turtles.

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Murray Island is a small island, to the east of the Torres Strait, just north of the Great Barrier Reef and is where Eddie Mabo was born.

The contribution of Eddie Mabo in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title was also recognised.

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The exhibition also featured information about The Barunga Statement. This statement of national Aboriginal political objectives issued to the federal government in June 1988. Written on bark and presented to Prime Minister RJL Hawke at that year’s Barunga festival, it called for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination, and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

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Another display featured spears from the Tiwi Islands. These spears were designed for close combat and would be thrusted into the enemy and this twisted and pulled out. Female spears are smooth on one side and serrated on the other. The male spears are serrated on both sides. Thankfully, these days, the spears are used for art.

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Relationships Australia NT staff who visited the exhibition heard a mix of both traditional and contemporary Aboriginal music.

The exhibition also featured a collection of books including Stan Grant’s book, Talking to my Country, a powerful and personal meditation on race, culture and national identity.  Another book on display was Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. This book gives readers an understanding of why the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land face the greatest crisis in health and education since European contact.

A book on the history of the Kahlin Compound in Darwin and the experiences of the children who grew up there was also on display

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Feedback from the staff was overwhelmingly positive with the majority of visitors saying how much they enjoyed it and how sorry they were that the exhibition was on display for such a short time.

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9th Anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations – Feb 13th 2017

A genetic study has found that Australia has the oldest living culture in the world passed down from generation to generation for the past 40,000, confirming they may have the oldest continuous culture on the planet.

By 1911, every mainland State and Territory had introduced protection policies that subjected Indigenous people to near-total control and denied them basic human rights such as freedom of movement and labour, custody of their children, and control over their personal property.

Between 1910 and 1970 many children were forcibly taken from their families when the Australian Government initiated the removal of Aboriginal children under these protection policies. These children were taught to reject their heritage and forced to adopt the non-indigenous culture. Their names were changed and they were forbidden to speak their traditional language.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 13: (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Rhonda Randall and Sharon Mumbler stand proud with their "Sorry" scarf as Kevin Rudd's Broadcast apology to Aboriginal Peoples of Australia at Penrith Council on February 13, 2008 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by David Hill/Newspix/Getty Images)

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 13: (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Rhonda Randall and Sharon Mumbler stand proud with their “Sorry” scarf as Kevin Rudd’s Broadcast apology to Aboriginal Peoples of Australia at Penrith Council on February 13, 2008 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by David Hill/Newspix/Getty Images)

Almost every Aboriginal family has been affected by the forcible removal of one or more children across generations. For many Aboriginal people; their family and community are still coming to terms with the trauma which has caused suffering, loss and heartache.

On the 13th February 2008, Australia’s then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tabled a motion in parliament to apologise to the Indigenous people of Australia and in particular to the Stolen Generations for these laws and policies.

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The apology included a proposal of “closing the gap” between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians over a range of issues including life expectancy, education and economic opportunities.

“We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendant and for their families left behind”

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Does the brain hold the key to violence prevention? A reflection for White Ribbon Day by Lucy Van Sambeek. 25th November 2016

White Ribbon Day is all about the prevention of men’s violence against women. Men are key to this prevention project. I see men standing up to say enough is enough. I see men linking arms in solidarity. And I hear of men starting to question the actions of others which denigrate women in public. This is fantastic and necessary. Men must be part of the solution. But the reality is that there are still women and children being exposed to violence at this very moment.
I dream for the day there is no violence. But in the meantime what can we do to prevent the cycle of violence being passed on to the next generation?

If we are talking about real prevention then it begins in conception. It begins in the first 1000 days of the child’s life when the brain is establishing the pathways of connection for life. This is the most critical time in development when a baby growing up in a nurturing, caring, responsive relationship is creating the hardware for a healthy, stable and secure life. It is also the same critical time that a child in a violent family with unsafe or unreliable relationships comes to know what it is like to live with toxic stress.

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Science now confirms that events and experiences in the first 3 years is a reliable predictor of the child’s future. Exposure to violence in early childhood increases the risks of the child later dropping out of school, going to jail, turning to alcohol or drugs and even killing themselves.
There is a lot on the line. And to think if we could just keep children safe from violence, they might have the best possible chance of growing up into strong and healthy adults?

This is precisely the kind of work that the Healing Our Children project aims to do. Over the past 16 months HOC has been working on the Tiwi Islands working with groups of women who are pregnant or care for children, who have been exposed to or at risk of witnessing violence. Our group program aims to invite women into a safe and non-shaming conversation about the effects of trauma on children, think about ways they can actively protect children if violent conflict was to occur and explore healing ways to promote recovery, from a neurological and relationship perspective.

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It is inside the human brain that the best prevention work can be done and where sometimes irreversible damage can be prevented.

By all means, let’s support and encourage men to continue speaking out about violence against women. Meanwhile, let’s also think of the children. We can stop the cycle by protecting our unborn children and babies from ever knowing what it’s like to feel toxic stress from violence.

For more information about Healing Our Children go to http://www.nt.relationships.org.au/services/healing-our-children-hoc-project

Thoughts on making your children’s needs a priority – September 2016

A concern that often raises its head above others is when parents, step-parents and de facto partners don’t make the needs of their own children, and the children in the new relationship, a priority. The resulting emotional and physical neglect impacts severely on the child’s ability to build a true sense of identity.

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With the high incidence of separation and engagement in new relationships, the new partners often make each other and their new relationship a priority rather than prioritising the needs of the children. Often the complexity of the changing relationships and roles results in emotional confusion for the children involved and these internal conflicts often manifest as behavioural issues.

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In our work we often observe the following:

  • A new partner competing with the children for attention.
  • Conflict in the new relationship because of the focus by one parent on the needs of the children
  • Financial conflict because of the financial obligations to children of previous relationships
  • Conflict with former partners because of engagement in a new relationship.
  • Children being used by both the separated parties and the new partner as a way to manipulate each other.
  • An ongoing conflict between the separated parents where the children are used as an excuse to punish each other.
  • One parent using any excuse to make the other party’s parenting style appear wrong whilst looking to gain a custodial advantage over that parent.

Some of the needs to focus on to support children to build a healthy sense of who they are:-

  •  Safety: Both a physical and emotional.
  • Learning support: To build the ability to engage in learning.
  • Trusting relationships: Love and connection that is emotionally safe.
  • Predictability: Patterns and routines that are stable and predictable where transitions         are well  managed.

Each child is a unique and valuable developing human being. You teach them their worth in the mirror of your relationship with them. They deserve the best.

Are you doing that?

Family Relationship Centre marks 10 years in the NT

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A mediation service designed to assist families going through separation has marked ten years in the Northern Territory. Set up as one of the first fifteen Family Relationship Centres in Australia, the Darwin-based service has been run by Relationships Australia NT since it was established by the Australian Government following changes in the Family Law Act in 2006.

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These changes meant that from July 2007 onwards, family dispute resolution was compulsory in all suitable cases prior to applying to the courts for orders. The development of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients has been extremely important and Northern Territory staff have lead the way with research and modelling for best practice in mediation with Aboriginal families. Relationships Australia marked the tenth anniversary of the Darwin Family Relationship centre with a special lunch on Monday 29th August, featuring guest presenter acclaimed clinical child psychologist, family therapist and research consultant Professor Jennifer McIntosh.

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Professor McIntosh outlined the latest research on divorce and its impact on children in her presentation ‘Children’s Outcomes in conflicted Family Separation and Pathways of Prevention: the Current Evidence’ This presentation outlined current research on the complex relationships between divorce and conflict exposures in childhood, and life-course outcomes, and emphasised the place for timely intervention in supporting parental focus and responsive co-parenting through child inclusive practice.

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Professor McIntosh also held a one day Young Children in Divorce & Separation workshop with child-inclusive teams from Relationships Australia NT and Anglicare Resolve. This program, developed by Professor McIntosh and Children Beyond Dispute, provides information about early development and targets the important developmental considerations for separated parents. It also provides insights into the complexities for children of living in family conflict and separation, the range of challenges these children carry with them into the learning environment and opportunities for parents in accompanying the child through the separation journey.

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Andrew Harkin’s Body Centred Trauma Work – September 2016

Andrew Harkin is a clear thinking practitioner with decades of experience as a GP and psychotherapist in Ireland, Europe and America. He now works at a clinic in Western Australia. He is devoted to body centred practice, a bottom up collection of practices that can be used to complement existing top down therapies to support integration for clients who experience hyper or hypo arousal. Andrew is committed to helping clients learn more about their symptoms and use body work to help shift trauma. He works to help them expand their window of tolerance and increase the quality of their daily lived experience.

Andrew Harkin pictured here with RANT CEO, Marie Morrison

Andrew and Marie

He presented a 3 day training Darwin in early March 2016 Working with Trauma – An Advanced Therapeutic Workshop for Counsellors. On the first day Andrew covered the theoretical frameworks, understandings on which we could then base some more practice centred ideas. He is a unique practitioner in that he has the education, experience, and knowledge to scientifically prove why and how previously thought ‘alternative’ therapies including tapping, meditation and mindfulness tangibly help clients. He skilfully lead us through exercises we could practice first for ourselves, then with our clients.

As a body centred trauma practitioner, his focus is on symptoms and evidence. His favourite question is How do you know that? He then investigates further…What in your body tells you? Where exactly do you feel it? How does it feel? What would you describe it as? Pain, emptiness, pressure? Heavy or light? dark or bright? Round or square? Smooth or rough? In this way, he helps the client very specifically describe the sensation in the body where the trauma is being held. This awareness helps the body begin to know how to heal itself. The body work can help the client to start to integrate the traumatic experience without having to talk about the trauma itself.

Andrew is a charismatic and dynamic presenter with a humour all his own, from fire fighting stories to bird metaphors. Clinical staff attending said the training was “inspirational” and exceeded their expectations. Participants said they enjoyed the opportunity to look at trauma through a body centred lens. Useful learning included the biology of trauma, symptom tracking, mindfulness, experiential exercises and the window of tolerance as a tool for work with clients. One participant noted

“I will pay more attention to what is happening in my body as well as the body in front of me in the counselling room.”

In addition to relevant theory, the training was full of practical tips and suggestions for ways to work with clients living with the effects of trauma. Clinical staff spoke of deep insights and a fresh understanding of the value of body work. Many expressed their enthusiasm for Andrew to come back to present phase 2 work for us. Bringing Andrew to Darwin to share his knowledge with us was a valuable exercise and we would recommend Andrew Harkin to any other Relationships Australia.

Darwin staff cultural tour August 2016

The Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisors (AICA’s) from RA NT lead the Darwin staff on a cultural tour of Darwin which included places of importance to the Larkaia People, the traditional owners of Darwin.

’The aim of this tour was to educate non Aboriginal staff about the intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal clients by taking them to see places like the old Kahlin compound & site of the Retta Dixon home. We wanted the staff to feel and see these places and to remember these stories – to give staff an understanding of how angry, sad and frustrated the residents would have felt – and to help staff engage with Aboriginal clients on a deeper level‘’ – Valarie Tambling, AICA.

The first stop was Police Paddock. It is now the site of Stuart Park Primary School. The AICAs told the staff about how in the years before the Second World War, this site was used to home many of the Immigrants who had built the railway in the early days of Darwin. Police Paddock was also used to home married Aboriginal families and the conditions were harsh. There was no electricity or sewage and the huts were built from bush timber and sheets of iron. No legal right or title to the land was given to Aboriginal people living in Police Paddock

The second stop was Silas Roberts Hostel for Aboriginal people on Packard Street is named after a man who was highly respected by both cultures. Silas was a missionary-educated man from Ngukurr who was the first Aboriginal person to be made Justice of the Peace, and Special Magistrate. In 1974, He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his services to the welfare of Aboriginal people as well as being elected as the first Chairman of the Northern Land Council – which is the building we are currently working in, 43 Cavenagh Street! Silas was known for always putting up people in his house and giving support, guidance and cultural advice to them.

Silas Roberts

(The Yirrkala Bark Petitions being viewed at Parliament House by Silas Roberts (on the left) then Chairman of the Northern Land Council and Galarrwuy Yunupingu (on the right) then Manager of the Northern Land Council in1976)

The next stop was the Darwin Oval. The Oval is now the open space along the water’s edge on the esplanade, but right up to the 1950’s it was one of the most important recreational areas for Aboriginal people in Darwin. At that time in the NT, AFL was the only sport at the time where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people could play against each other. AFL was a source of pride for Aboriginal men, who were very talented on the pitch and could showcase their skills in front of their families and friends. In those days, footy was a way for Aboriginal men to release their frustrations towards the white men who they felt were their tormentors off the pitch

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We then visited the site of the Retta Dixon Home. In the 1930’s a missionary couple founded the Retta Dixon Home. It was home to part-Aboriginal children, single mothers, and some adult women. Many of the children there had been forcefully taken from their Aboriginal mothers. The government at the time had a policy of assimilation meaning that ‘’half-caste’’ children would learn to be white. There has been a Royal Commission into the sexual and physical abuse which was carried out by the staff towards the residents of Retta Dixon.

Pictured below in the 1930’sRetta Dixon in the 1930s

The Site of the Retta Dixon home today:Retta Dixon today

Laying flowers

The next stop was the Gurrambai trail in Rapid Creek. Gurrambai is the Larkaia word for elbow, which is the shape of the creek’s mouth. It’s an important place for the Larakia people with two sacred Baynan trees as well as Old Man Rock who sits out at sea – just north of Rapid Creek. Larakia people believe that if Old Man Rock is disturbed it will cause a natural disaster.

Eddie McKenzie (AICA) explained that Gurrambai has been a source of water for thousands of years and known as a good hunting and fishing area for Aboriginal people. In the late 1800’s the early missions used the creek for irrigation and since the arrival of Europeans in the 1930’s, it has been a popular spot for picnics and swimming.

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After lunch, the AICA’s had prepared a number of group activities for the staff to complete. We designed these activities to see what information had been retained by the staff and how they could use it to better communicate and engage with Aboriginal clients. The staff were split up into groups and given a question to think about so for example ‘’What are some of the important things to be aware of when speaking with an Aboriginal client’’ The groups were asked to present their answers to the whole group at the end. That was the end of our tour.

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‘’I had a wonderful day, I now know so much more about Darwin’s history and most importantly – how many of these changes have affected our Aboriginal people – both in the past and in the present. I can’t thank the AICA’s enough for a great and meaningful excursion! Thank you!’ – Janet Langley, Children’s Counsellor when asked for feedback on the cultural tour.