By Amy Campbell, Psychologist, ANZACBS Member
Each month, the ANZACBS Communications Team will highlight the work of one of our members. Today we introduce you to Sharon Jeyabalan, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, Western Australia
The Low Down:
Sharon’s thesis focused on ACT for children with anxiety and their parents
Sharon is continuing her work running her “superhero” groups for children and their parents
Sharon comes from a background of Early Intervention for children on the Autism Spectrum. She has recently completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology, with a focus on group therapy for children with high anxiety and their parents. She hopes to develop a protocol for ACT with children who experience high anxiety in collaboration with her supervisor, Darin Cairns.
As we sit down to talk Sharon is trying to squeeze in a lunch break and multitask giving me her time, a well known balancing act to many health professionals. But she does so with a smile and finds moments to laugh and relive the joyous moments of her work. So grab yourself a cuppa and join our chat…
How do you describe your job to a 5-year-old? I talk about helping them, everyone needs help sometimes, I am just here to hang out with you and talk to you about things… things that may be a bit hard to talk about. And help you with things that you find hard and to talk about things that you find easy and fun as well… so they don’t think you just come to someone to fix your problems and talk about bad things. I don’t talk about fixing problems actually ever.
How did you get involved in ANZ ACBS? Probably when I started at Charles Street, Darin (Cairns) was the big key I think. The way he explained things made sense and I then did research based on what he talked about. The more I saw clients, the more the model fit, the more it made sense. I went to Russ Harris’s work shop and then went to see Louise Hayes… and they were amazing really really good. At uni I didn’t even know this existed…
What inspired you to start groups for children with high anxiety? I wanted to do research, not just for the sake of finishing my thesis, but I wanted to do something I was interested in and wanted to know more about. We obviously have a lot of kids here with anxiety (Charles Street Clinic) and the numbers are just growing, those kids who have that degree of anxiety. Often they’ve said they couldn’t find people who work with children who have anxiety and their parents or they have not found effective psychs. I had been using the ACT approach already with children I was working with and through our Early Intervention program and found it effective with them, so I was interested how it would work in groups.
The kids have their sessions, but as we know with children if the system does not work the intervention is ineffective, so there was a parent component. The parents got taught mirroring what the kids were learning… changing the relationship with anxiety. Interestingly the results showed that the parents own coping was significantly better, they were learning how to manage their kids anxiety, but learnt to cope themselves better.
What is the most surprising response you have had from a child to an ACT process? The one that gets the most responses is when you talk about getting used to having that feeling and carrying the feeling. One in particular started crying when we discussed carrying his anxiety, he screamed, “why would you want me to do that,” but he actually got really good at it and was an inspiration for the groups.
Do you use any other approaches in your work? I use a lot of the attachment basis when I am doing conceptualisation, making it functional, talking about the information source as the attachment figure and the safe haven as a basis, drawing on Circle of Security work. I ground the Circle of Security with parents that I work with. Many of the kids I work with come through using Zones of Regulation, so I will use that… many children are adverse to the red zone, so I merge my work and teach that you can have a relationship with the emotion, to still make it work. Explore when it is ok to be in different zones, how to make it functional.
Sharon is hoping to run another set of groups in Term 4 of this year. She hopes to keep collecting data and refining her groups to build a ACT based protocol for children with high anxiety and their parents “…If the system does not work, the intervention is ineffective.”