So we're back from conferencing in Hobart down in Tasmania! Three of our clinicians were privileged to present at the conference of the Australian Psychological Society this year. Dr Sarah Egan and Dr Victoria Miller were up first, and presented a "How-To" workshop to our colleagues on managing Early Psychosis. Up next was Dr Celin Gelgec, who also presented a very well received "How-To" work shop on treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). A lot of preparation went into both of these presentations, and it was well worth it as they received some wonderful and constructive feedback. The challenges of public speaking were not obvious during the presentations, even though some nerves prior to the presentation were reported (understandably!).
Some key messages came through each of the presentations. Dr Sarah Egan emphasised that recovery from psychosis is like a dance. You'll take two steps forward and one step back. At times you'll sway and feel like you're losing your balance, but with practise your confidence will grow. This message resonated with a lot of the audience members who reported that this is often the case with many situations in life. Rarely does anything ever occur in a "straight line".
Dr Victoria Miller highlighted the importance of including family members in treatment when possible. Now of course involving family members may not always be helpful for many reasons, but if possible, it can be quite powerful. The key theme emphasised was that when someone becomes unwell or begins to struggle with a mental illness, then they're not the only ones who become affected. Family and friends are also impacted. As the person's behaviour changes, their ability to relate to others may also change. When this happens people can become quite aware of the difficulties that are occurring and therefore endure grief about the change. Over time, the person usually notices the behaviour changes within themselves and within their world. This awareness can happen for friends and family too! Being aware that things have changed does not always mean that people are ready or willing to do something about it. This is why it is important to support families in making the changes needed so that they can all start living the life they want to live again.
There was a high level of interest in our very own Dr Celin Gelgec's "How to" treat OCD talk. Even with 20 extra chairs it was standing room only for her presentation, suggesting that mental health clinicians really want to know how to treat OCD. Have you ever seen a child playing in a playground and experienced an intrusive image of them falling? Have you ever looked at a door handle and thought it looked "gross"? Have you ever left for work in the morning and been unsure about locking the front door? Then you have experienced random unwanted intrusive thoughts and images. Most people can tolerate these thoughts, and will be able to let them go without following through with a behaviour. It's when we pay these thoughts more attention than they deserve do they start to become a problem. Dr Celin Gelgec's main message from her presentation was that experiencing unwanted intrusive thoughts and images in our mind is normal for everyone. However, it is much more common and occurs more frequently for people with OCD. Helping people to understand that these types of thoughts and images are normal, is an important part of OCD treatment. When people with OCD are aware that everyone experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts from time to time, it becomes one tool that allows them to gain control back in their lives. This message is also important to help families who have been affected by OCD. Working with families in treating OCD is crucial, because people do not exist in isolation. People are one part of a wider unit irrespective of who is a part of that unit. When we work with people affected by OCD, this means that we often too work with their family unit. It's through this work that change occurs.
What these presentations highlighted then was that mental illness not only affects the person, but also their wider family unit. As Dr Egan mentioned, recovery from these difficulties truly is a dance because therapy is effort-full and takes time. The therapist is like a skilled choreographer who assists people and their families in coming together and working together. With practise, the person and the family become more confident and skilled in managing with their difficulties to the point of reaching autonomy. Expectations are re-set and unity is reached. That's not to say that there won't be times when some people will fall out of step or lose time, but when people are working together, these too can be overcome.
Until next time... Dr Celin Gelgec and the Team at Melbourne Wellbeing Group.