Considering Divorce: Key Prep

Would you know what to do if your partner suddenly asked for a divorce? Have you been contemplating if being uncoupled would be better for you? We outline key preparation you might consider when divorce may be on the horizon.

manypeopleareinrelationshipsGetting divorced has been likened to undergoing open-heart surgery without anaesthetic. As a counsellor guiding several individuals through divorce, as well as working with couples on the brink of splitting, I can confirm it is an emotional and difficult process.  And because of this, considering divorce can also be very difficult. Why would you undertake open-heart surgery if you can avoid it. In reality whilst the process is painful, most people feel much better after divorce, especially after a few years.

If you are contemplating divorce there are various areas that you need to consider to be emotionally prepared,  practicalities which will help, legal guidance you can think about, and custodial considerations that you might like to mull on before you file a petition.


Emotional readiness

Imagine that you are going to participate in an endurance obstacle race. Preparation for divorce is a lot like this. The journey will be very challenging and you will need to be well prepared. A lot of the journey feels like you are just surviving, day-by-day, and that is sometimes good enough.

You get the divorce you get, not the one you want. Sometimes those contemplating divorce will come for an appointment and detail how they would like the divorce to go, what they would like their partner to decide. Divorce is not like an shopping trip on amazon, you don’t just click “save to basket”, and then head to the checkout. Rather much of the process is out of your control, and extremely testing of your patience, perseverance, sense of self, and your confidence. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, but if you like control, prepared to have this tested.

strength to move onI use to be indecisive, but now I’m not sure. It is common to consider divorce, change your mind, consider it again, and retreat from it again. This is normal. Indecision driven by fear needs to be explored, perhaps with friends, or in therapy. The decision to divorce not an easy one to make.

If you want to know who someone really is, divorce them. Many of my clients are horrified when they have to face how hardened their ex-partners can become during a divorce. Do not assume that your partner will be able to remain calm and constructive during the process. Whilst this would be wonderfully mature, it isn’t what usually happens.

Negotiation is compulsory, not optional. The process of divorce is a protracted negotiation between two sides. Do yourself and enormous favour and learn as much about negotiation tactics as you can. Treating a divorce less as the emotional rollercoaster that it is, and more of a deal that needs to be made, will help you get through the process in a much better way.

Build on your strengths, work on your weaknesses. If you experience depression, anxiety, or self-esteem deal with these before you start to divorce. Harking back to my analogy about the obstacle course, having emotional vulnerabilities would be like starting the race with an injury. Start counselling or join a support group. If you have a weakness that can be highlighted as part of the divorce process, such as occasionally drinking too much, I would also advise that you reign this in during the process. Even though it sounds ridiculous I see case after case where occasional drinking is highlighted as part of a collection of unreasonable behaviours.

Find sources of support and sunshine. You will need to have a great network of supportive individuals. In our benchmark assessment of women experiencing divorce the most useful sources of support were family, established friends and counsellors. You will need them. Do not, for a minute, contemplate going through a divorce in secret.


There are several practical actions that will help you decide to divorce or stay together. Practical preparations will help you process the decision to divorce with less regret.

grass is greenerAll relationships go through hell, some even survive it. Is the relationship over? Could it be recovered? Have you tried to reconnect with each other? You might owe it to yourselves to seek out a couple’s counsellor who can help you decide if a split would be in your favour. I hold sessions focused on the Exit vs Phoenix (the mythical animal, not the State). Can a relationship be pulled from the ashes of the marriage? Its not easy and the work to save the marriage may be challenging, but at least you can see how wide the divide between the two partners have become and what would be required in order to put the relationship back on track. Assumptions about a split can also be addressed. Perhaps the grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but perhaps reality is different from those assumptions.

Gain control over your money, or this lack of control will end up controlling you. You need to understand two things about your money. Firstly, you need to know all about your joint finances – the assets, the debts, the retirement savings. I find that only during divorce do some clients start to look at their financial statements. If you split, you will need to know the total financial landscape. Some partners try to hide money, and sometimes they are successful, and many times they are not. Courts are not usually forgiving towards those who have misrepresented their financial status. Secondly, you need to know how much you need. Without being practically informed on what you spend, what you need, and how much you will need (considering your goals) you can not feel comfortable about any financial split. It is common to catastrophise, and worry, “I will end up living on the streets”, this is not the reality of many of my clients. It does require that you know what you need. This also helps one decide if they should negotiate for a clean break or continuation of funding scenario in the split.

shebelievedshecouldDo something today that your future self will thank you for. Do not wait to split to consider retraining in another career, if you plan to return to education do this whilst you are married. Practically this means the cost of your retraining comes out of the marital assets rather than out of your share. Whilst sometimes this might mean that you seemingly may have a future income and potentially this may be raised as a reason to lessen any share of assets in your future, stay reminded all things, including a new career, take a while to take off.

It can take years to build a reputation, and minutes to ruin it. Reputation management will matter during the divorce process. Consider who needs to know what about you. Do you think it will reflect well on your if you post ugly tales about your ex on social media? It is upsetting when you hear that people have heard different reasons for your split than you agree with. A couple write the story of their marriage together, and the  story of the divorce individually. Regardless that there will be various alternative facts put into circulation, act in a manner that your future self will be proud of.


Legal guidance

I am a counsellor, not a lawyer, so my advice here is about dealing with the legal aspects, not providing a legal point of view.

Forewarned is forearmed. It is helpful to understand your legal position and worth having a discussion with a lawyer so that they can give you a legal perspective on what types of challenges you may face during the divorce process and how courts may look on you in terms of financial split and custody issues.

whatifwhatis.jpgMake the match that will make it work. There are several family lawyers in Hong Kong who can support you through a divorce. If you are searching for a lawyer you may seek a recommendation from friends, or join a divorce support group, as a divorce consultant, so as to hear the point of views of others further along the divorce process than you. You want to ensure that your lawyer is a good fit with your personality and style. That said, remember that your lawyer is not your counsellor. Utilise your lawyer appropriately, for legal advice. Additionally, be cautious of those people whose words don’t match their actions. If they quote you one price for a piece of work, then charge you double, challenge the bill. The service industry is only as strong as our promise to our clients.

Mediation is a must – within reason. In Hong Kong it is expected that you will try to consider mediation as part of the divorce process. From my observations, and in my individual opinion, you can reach an agreement via mediation it will be, usually, much cheaper, than the legal option. However, mediation requires agreement and if you are very far apart over the financial split and child custody, having more areas of disagreement rather then agreement, mediation can be a costly and unproductive exercise. In particular if one of the partner refuses to negotiate, stonewalls discussions, and ignores requests, mediation will be extremely painful and possibly fruitless.

Understand the process for yourself – spend some time talking to others who have been through divorce and reading legal websites about the process of divorce in Hong Kong. Some are in links at the end of this article. This way your time with your lawyer will be spent on your negotiation rather than educating you on the process.


Custodial considerations

It is not the question if your child will be affected by divorce, but rather how much will they be affected. There are a number of factors that you might like to consider.

Let’s stay together for the kids. This happens regularly, especially when the parents have children going through sensitive periods such a important exams. This may seem practical, but only in the short term. In the long term invest in the marriage, try to get it back on track, rather than just hang it in there for the kids.

Tied together – even when you split. Those individuals with children will forever be tied together because they share children. The younger the children are,  the more active and longer this connection may be. You may not want to have communications with the person who was once your partner, but you are going to have to. There are various tools to help when all communication breaks down (see Family Wizard).

First, do no harm. Even before couple’s divorce they may be causing harm to their children because of the conflict in their relationships particularly if they are being used as a messenger or a spy, are exposed to one partner badmouthing another, or they are used to score points against the other parent. If you are going to split, talk to a counsellor or psychologist about the requirements for collaborative co-parenting. Start any split with the child’s wellbeing in mind, and your intention to be the best version of a parent that you can be.

Enlist experts when required. If you are worried about your child offer counselling, or take them to a psychologist. Give your child another adult, besides their parent, to talk to. This legitimises their emotional experience, rather than telling them how you would like them to feel.


I hope this article has helped you in your pre-divorce considerations. Below are links about divorce in Hong Kong and other articles you may find useful. If you do decide to divorce, I recommend that you join our RED DOOR Surviving Divorce therapeutic support group. Recent research indicates that 100% of women who joined a support group found it a helpful support to get them through the divorce process.









Useful links to the legal situation in HK

Articles that you might find useful

When you might consider couples’ counselling

the best break-up books

Rules of modern marriages

the impact of divorce on women

Why you should join a divorce support group

Get in the GROUP: The benefits of therapeutic support groups.

group therapy

There are numerous benefits from attending group therapy or therapeutic support groups regarding challenges you may experience with your mental health.

Group therapy, or therapeutic support groups, offer a type of psychological therapy that is run with a group of people rather than between an individual and a mental health professional. Usually members of the group are facing similar issues such as anxiety, addiction, divorce, or bereavement.

Recovery or Reduced experience of psychological stress:  Psychological research supports that many mental health challenges can be treated within an group context.

The end of Isolation:  Hearing about other peoples’ experience of anxiety, depression, addiction, or even bereavement, will help you feel less isolated by your experience of those psychological stressors.

Learn more about yourself: The process of therapy helps an individual explore not just the root and treatments of psychological challenges, but also how to identify and celebrate your strengths and future proof your mental wellbeing.

Help others: Helping other people in the group with their problems may help you with yours. It also feels great to help other people who may be struggling with issues similar to your own.

One last benefit worth mentioning is that you receive the benefit of the therapists advice. Qualified therapists specialise in changing behaviours and mindsets around particular psychological challenges. Group therapy is an economic alternative to individual therapy, and can, even be used as an alternative or in collaboration to one-to-one therapy.


RED DOOR runs therapeutic divorce groups for the following individuals;

Divorce Survivors – our English speaking Divorce Survivors group has been running successfully for more than 2 years. If you are a woman going through divorce in Hong Kong join our group of women going through the process. I promise support and laughter, even when you have been crying. Run Monday evenings.

Anxiety Busters – our new group focused towards alleviating anxiety. You don’t need to suffer alone. Many people suffer from anxiety and therapy groups are often helpful to cope and recover from anxiety


If you would like to join one of our therapeutic groups, or provide information on groups that may be of benefit to you, please feel free to contact our reception for more details.










Modern Marriage Rules

marraige rules

Every marriage is unique but no marriage is without some troubles. Building a strong relationship helps you both weather the storm of stressful life events such as job loss, change in health, having (or not having) children, death of parents, with grace and support.

Here are our modern marriage rules in order to build the best long-term relationship that is possible in the age of the internet, business travel, and the future of work.


The TO DO list.

Laugh together

It is said that laughter is the best medicine, it is also the best glue to keep you and your partner connected. Even stressful horrible circumstances can be made more bearable when you laugh together about that problem. In therapy, when I ask couples when they were last happy together, it will almost always involve an episode where they were laughing about something.


Fight Fair

Quarrels do occur in all marriages, unless couples are actively avoiding conflict. It is important that you fight fair when you disagree. Do not include these derogatory weapons when you fight: name calling, stonewalling, gaslighting, or use of threats in order to win. The way to feel better with each other does not involve trying to make someone feel worse first. When you argue, focus on the topic at hand, try to share air time, spend as much time listening as you do speak, and if you can’t agree, take a break and then come back to the issue.


Stay intimate

This doesn’t just mean sex. When men talk about intimacy, they often seem to mean sex. For women, intimacy is broader including cuddling, hugging, small signs of affection, holding hands, as well as sex. When intimacy becomes only about sex, perhaps only one partner feels intimate.


Invest time and effort into your relationship

Your marriage partnership is probably the most important elective relationship that you enter in your lifetime. Regardless, many couples do not make time to be together, and drift apart over years and years. Dedicate time to your relationship (family time does not count). If you travel excessively put some dedicated time aside to talk to your partner, rather than squeeze in a call when you really can not talk or concentrate. Your partner needs to feel like a priority.

Having children can change the dynamic of your personal love relationship. Whilst it is important that you love your children, do not forget that your personal relationship is essential to the stability of your family.


Make a modern-day commitment

Commitment, and exclusivity, is important to remain close to each other. Even couples who have ‘open’ marriages have rules of what is considered an infraction of a commitment. Often what is expected from a commitment is not explicitly stated, and it may be of benefit to do so. Contacting old boyfriends, or having internet (Facebook) relationships, receiving special massages when you travel, all of these are possible infractions of commitment. Ask yourself, would your partner be happy if they knew all the details of what you are doing? If not, perhaps put yourself in check. Commitment also requires that you each feel like your partner is on your side with outside challenges. You may privately disagree, but if possible support your partner when they deal with conflicts at work, or even in their family of origin.


Learn from each other

Both of you can help each other become the best that you can be individually as well as a unit, and celebrate this. People’s career and personal goals change as they mature. . Remember the world of work is changing and you may need to prepare for multiple careers instead of one. Are you willing, able and flexible enough to support your partner in the new future of work? Working together as a business partners in your business of WE is just as important of your private business of ME



If you want a long life together, make sure that both of you take good care of your physical and mental health which will influence your ability to live a long life. If your partner is overweight, encourage them to lose weight by exercising with them. If your partner is experiencing job stress, encourage them to engage in therapy.


Express love everyday

Do not save expression of love for special occasions. Kindness, compliments and actions that make your partner feel special, even a text helps to maintain a positive atmosphere. Tell your partner why they make you proud, what you like about them most, what you admire about them. We often consider spreading kindness to others, but forget to focus on our partner first.


Understand your love language

The best way to convey your love for your partner is to express your love in the language of love that they prefer. The 5 languages of love include words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, time sharing and acts of service (you can conduct an assessment of your style on the website of author Gary Chapman ( . We want to receive love in the matter that we most appreciate. Understanding each other’s preferences is the ultimate form of respect.



Learn to communicate in a purposeful manner. Monitor your communication style. Are you nagging your partner rather than talking? Do you use silence as a weapon?  Do you

avoid important conversations? These tactics help propagate misunderstanding and feelings of resentment or disappointment in your partner.

Learning to communicate can help you better deal with crisis.   If you have trouble talking without arguing practice active listening. Active listening involves taking turns to speak respectfully, without interruption. Before your partner can respond to your views, they must first summarize what they heard you say. Then they get to speak, you have to listen, without interruption. This process slows communication down and take the heat out of an argument by insuring that both parties have the chance to speak, be heard, and acknowledged for such.



Marriage is not only about your happiness; it is about sharing the experience of living together. If one party in a marriage constantly gets their way, at the expense of the other, the relationship loses. Take turns picking vacation spots, taking a child to rugby, picking up dinner.




Just DON’T

Expect things to stay that same.

The world will change, and your lives will change, and your partner will change. Take note of the ways that you change and see if this can be aligned, or at least respected. Standing back and claiming that your partner changed and you didn’t, isn’t realistic or helpful.


Hate what you use to love

Often, we are drawn to people who are very different from ourselves. Sometimes after marriage we find those exact differences repel us instead of attract us. Appreciating that you are different people, and where you have come from, as we well as you are going, can help you respect each other’s’ differences again. Try to list 3-4 things you like about that difference rather than focusing on the things that you don’t like about it


Request perfection

Realising that your partner is not perfect, or as perfect as you once perceived them to be, can lead to criticism and unfair judgement. If your partner was once fit, and now isn’t, encourage them to be fit again, rather than tell them they are unattractive. We are all unique, and imperfect, as we should be.

If your best friend’s partner earns more, weighs less, is taller, stronger etc than your own partner, do not compare. No body every really knows what goes on in their friend’s marriages.


Resurrect and replay the past

The past is the past. Bringing up mistakes of the past is demoralising and detrimental. If you find yourself stuck repeatedly exploring old hurts you might like to consider counselling. You can learn from the past, but being stuck in the past, prevents you from building a positive future together.


Toxic negotiations.

When you argue with your partner using disrespectful descriptions of them will not help achieve your goals. Negotiation is not about complaining, blaming or bullying. If you want to negotiate appropriately, respect is an integral component if you want your relationship to benefit.


Rightly righteous.

Ask yourself, is it more important for you to win a fight, to be right, or to maintain a harmonious relationship. Being married involves some compromise rather than criticism. Delicate feedback is to be appreciated. Dial down the criticism. Admit and apologise when you are wrong.


Disparate division of labour.

Who does what, and when, is often the source of conflict in relationships? Not just cleaning, but also child care, organisation, bill payments, working outside of the home, all contribute to the labour that a family requires to keep running smoothly. When division of labour is uneven, or perceived to be unfair, resentment grows. Regular discussion and review of division of labour within the home is to be encouraged.


Me not We

Firstly, if one partner gets their way all of the time, or sets all of the family rules, this leads to an imbalance. A situation where what ME (I) wants becomes what WE do, leads to imbalance and resentment.

Secondly, it is said that marriage is the combination of two people who are whole in themselves, rather than the addition two people who are half of what they can be, making 1 unit. Whilst you must continue with your own self-development, you also need to understand that your relationship requires development as well. You need to make sure to develop as an individual, and spend time together developing a life together.


Substitutive intimacy

Seeking intimacy through pornography robs men of a real relationship and maligns masculinity within marriage. Marriage is for brave, real, and secure people. Accept no substitutes for real intimacy.


Your marriage is important, nurture it and it will flourish. Deprive it of attention, poison with criticism, delay sharing and caring, and it can not grow.


#marriagerules #romance #love #respect #intimacy #reddoor #rmentalhealthessentials

Boost your mental health

mental health

When we talk about mental health we refer to your psychological wellbeing. Mental health can be seen as a continuum, like you might see physical health. You may from time to time, have periods of compromised, or poor mental health. If you have poor mental health is not, necessarily, a permanent condition. In much the same way as you might have a physical issue such as diabetes, you can manage the underlying condition to such an extent that it does not impact your experience of health.

We may all experience a reduction in mental health at some point in our lives. Stressful life events such as divorce, family conflicts, financial problems, legal challenges, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or accidents, can have a significant impact on your ability to maintain positive mental health.

What can you do to help booster your mental health?

Just like your physical health you can protect your mental health with various practices such as

better mental healthEating well – eat well, and eat regularly. Make sure you stay hydrated

Exercise – moderate exercise is good for producing dopamine, known as the happiness drug

Kind words – use ONLY kind and growth mindset words with yourself. Do not label yourself as a loser.

Be grateful – being grateful keeps us grounded, and helps us realise we have, and are, enough

Live in the now – there is no point trying to relive the past, or worry about the future. All you have to control, and experience is today.

Build positive connections – our relationships to other people help buffer us from stressful life events.

Volunteer – helping others less fortunate than yourself will make you feel better about yourself, and help you gain some perspective on potential first world problems.

Calming activities – engage in activities such as colouring, journaling, mediation.

Sleep – make sure you get enough sleep

Get help – you don’t avoid the doctor when you feel physically unwell, so seek help if you feel that your mental health has been compromised.

Watch for the warning signs – monitor your moods over a few days, or longer. Everyone has bad days, see how long it takes you to bounce back. If you don’t seek help.

Avoid those chemicals and practices which compromise mental health.


#mentalhealth #selfhelp #counselling #reddoor #mentalhealthmatters

Divorce: the impact on women


impact of divorce image

Going through divorce is extremely stressful wherever you live.

In 2019, RED DOOR conducted a survey of women’s experience of divorce. As a Hong Kong based practice, we were particularly concerned if the experience in Hong Kong appeared different from that experienced from women overseas. An initial comparison of women from HK and other countries (United States, United Kingdom, Australia and others) indicated strikingly similar patterns, indicating the impact of divorce is not strongly contingent on where you live. Regardless of location, over 75% of the women reported that the experience was stressful, and over 90% of those experiencing divorce felt significantly changed by the process.

impact figures

What concerns women during divorce?

During divorce women face a number of worries. Regardless of the stage of divorce (contemplating divorce, divorce in progress, completed divorce) the pattern of concern remains the same. The highest rated concern regards finances. This is probably not a surprize and much of the divorce process is spent discussing, divulging and dividing financial assets.

The second highest concern during the divorce process was the potential impact of the divorce on the children’s emotional wellbeing. Children are invariably affected by the process of divorce but as divorce is much more common than it has been in the past, better support for children can be made available. Collaborative co-parenting, therapy and respect for the child are extremely helpful. RED DOOR has blogs on this topic.

concernsduringdivorceThe third highest rated concern for women is their own emotional wellbeing during the divorce process. The divorce process is extremely emotionally taxing and a lot of the negative feelings can not be avoided. These can include feeling overwhelmed, ashamed, anxiety and depression. Women need support during this time, from friends, family and potentially professionals.  Personally, I recommend to join a support group if at all possible. Seeing other women navigating this trying time can be strangely comforting.

Other highly rated concerns for women experiencing divorce include worries about lifestyle changes and career changes. Lifestyle concerns are proxy responses for financial concerns, as changes in lifestyle are directly related to change in finances. Career change may involve the need to earn more, go back to work, gain greater financial independence, or take control of finances again.


Changes that were experienced because of divorce

changes after divorceOur respondents were asked how they perceived that they were changed as a consequence of going through divorce. We expected financial changes to be the highest rated experience but it was not. We consider that financial changes are expected so, potentially, less stressful than changes that were unexpected.

The biggest change women experienced was their level of independence. Some women stated they felt controlled in their marriages, and welcomed this independence. Others expressed that they were uncomfortable with this new sense of independence.

Women reported that their ability to cope with change had been altered. Given the frequently stressful experience of divorce many women were proud to have survived the process.

Women also reported experiencing changes in their career because of the divorce. Again, this could be perceived negatively or positively. It has been suggested in research that involvement in a new career can help people recover from divorce more positively. 

A whole blog will be dedicated to friendships during divorce. Changes in friendships was frequently experienced. Divorce is a stress-test for friendships. Friends who are determined to remain neutral rarely can. Feelings of betrayal by friends are common.

Unsurprisingly, women reported changes in family relations as a common experience. During divorce families are redesigned, in a new format. In laws may now become a greater or lesser part of the picture. The breakdown of family connections may exacerbate feelings of grief and isolation.


The best sources of support during divorce

sources of supportWomen were asked about the best sources of support they encountered during divorce. They rated 17 sources of support including established friends, new friends, lawyers, work colleagues, church, support groups and the like.

The most highly rated source of support was existing friends followed by members of family (parents, siblings and even children). A counsellor or psychologist was the next most important source of support. Among professional services explored (lawyer, mediator, financial advisor, private counsellor, support group, and accountants) individual therapy was considered the  most supportive.

One third of those surveyed had had the opportunity to join a divorce support group during the process of their divorce. All of the women who attended a support group said this was an important source of support.


Essential skills.

knowledgeOur divorcing women were asked what knowledge they would have liked to have at the beginning of the divorce process in order to improve their experience of divorce.

Maintaining emotional strength, building and maintaining positive self-esteem, and better understanding how to reinvent themselves were rated as the most “have liked to have” categories.

Aligned to this, being able to forgive was also rated highly. The process of divorce opens a box of darkness within women, often forcing women to explore other hurts in their lives. If this is the case for you, you may find individual counselling helpful.

Many of the women wish they understood  the ability to negotiate and understand finances and investment better even after divorce. As trust may have been compromised in the breakdown of the marriage, learning to trust a financial advisor can be a new challenge. Financial literacy during and after divorce is an important service for women during divorce.


The period of divorce has been called “crazy time” for good reason. It is extremely stressful for women, regardless where they live. Support in the form of family, friends and therapy, are solid protective connections. There is a lot to learn for women going through divorce, and many benefits from sharing information in support groups.







Lost in the language of Intervention:


Know your EIP, from your IEP, from your IDP, and from your IVP.

eipiepidpivpMany professions, including education and psychology, use acronyms to describe processes performed. For the parent of a child with special educational needs, a new language needs to be learned. And in addition to the language you will soon become a pseudo expert in terms and intervention strategies. Here is our quick guide to what some common terms mean and what you need to consider.

EIP – Early intervention programme.

The early intervention programme is usually written around the time of initial diagnosis. It will typically involve a form of assessment of your child relative to their same age peers in regarding to gross motor capabilities, fine motor skills, language use and communication skills, social behaviours, number knowledge. At this point of the programme you are quite likely to be overwhelmed with the amount of work that has to be done, and where to start. That is normal. Take a breath.

You may have received a diagnosis from a developmental paediatrician if your child is under 4 years old. If your developmental paediatrician doesn’t help you write a plan you can seek a psychologist who has experience in special educational needs to help you. There is a lot to do, and much to manage, utilise support whenever you can.

Essentially the goal is to plan out a series of intervention steps to help your child catch up. Early Intervention is key to setting your child with special needs onto a more favourable performance path.

Your expert should help you decide on the priorities that you will work on (and what you can leave for later). Depending on the disability that is being explored in relation to your child there should be a series of benchmark areas you want to consider – for example if your child is suspected of having autism, the programme may focus on language and communication development, certain behaviour modifications, emotional regulation around sensory situations, gross and fine motor development.

The term ABA (applied behaviour analysis) may be suggested. ABA has a bad rap as a sometimes-mindless intervention technique which can be disrespectful to the purpose of a child’s behaviours (especially stimming). There are alternative therapies such as Floortime which use similar techniques. In general, your child always deserves respect, so you set the course of intervention. I personally like ABA but do not believe that children should be forced to stop stimming behaviours or engage in extensive eye contact. So called normal people stim and avoid eye contact and we aren’t getting them to sit on their hands or look at us intently when we talk. The goal of intervention should be to stretch with respect.

The whole EIP process can overwhelming. Use an expert to help you break down the intervention strategy into smaller steps. This helps you break down the seemingly insurmountable task of “catching up” into smaller discrete, less soul destroying, steps,

Traps: there are three traps that I would like to highlight to parents.

1) Snake oil salespeople. Learning that your child has a disability (or may have a disability) is extremely stressful. Unscrupulous ‘experts’ may offer treatments which will cure your child. It may be tempting to jump on the magnetic therapy bandwagon. Find a community, in real life or online, who have travelled the road that you now find yourself on. As them about therapies and their efficacy for their children. Be informed.

2) Take  Well-wishers’ wishful thinking with a grain of salt. Paradoxically, the worse advice I got when my coming to terms with my daughter’s autism diagnosis was the well-wishing thoughts of some friends. They recounted stories of children they had heard of who spontaneously developed full language, and told me to relax and things would be fine, she would speak when she was ready.  I understood their desire to wish for the best for us, but their words are not practical support. Early intervention, as the words suggest, is most effective when it is EARLY. Don’t delay on suitable, reputable treatments. Ethical treatments do no harm to your child.

3) Early Intervention doesn’t mean constant intervention. In Hong Kong at least, I hear recommendations for children to receive 20-30 hours of ABA a week. I am sceptical that this many hour is necessary for a young child. If you are told that your child requires this extent of intervention ask for more details, and challenge if less hours could not achieve the same result. Consider EIP a series of activities to try between 3-6 years old. In the teen years you might consider a second wave of intervention – a maturing intervention programme.


The IEP – get your Individual Education Plan right.

When a child with a disability enters the school system, they may be offered an IEP. IT would be ideal if this was the case. An IEP sets standards regarding the functional performance of students. This performance can be academic or non-academic (for example communication, social skills, problem solving abilities, on task behaviour). These reports are usually updated 2-3 times a year and cover goals related to communication, language use, numeracy, and behavioural challenges. They are not easy documents to write, but regardless they need to be as meaningful as possible.

I have seen a few IEPs in my time and many of them miss some very important details, and run the risk of becoming mandatory checklists that work it being done, rather than that work is being done right.

Here are some guidelines for parents to get the most for their child out of an IEP:

The importance of benchmarks and expectations: The IEP should have include a comment regarding the child’s present level of performance. How is the child’s disability affecting their involvement in general education and how do we expect a child a child with this disability to perform? In this way a child can be measured relative to his same age peers and also against developmental expectations within our knowledge of that disability.

Knowledge about the specific disability, its symptoms, and the way it typically effects children is important. This allows us to set the all-important benchmark of achievement for a child. I’ve seen benchmarks left of IEPs because educators believe that it upsets parents to see that their child is behind. Whilst I understand the desire to be sensitive, it is helpful to see where your child is so that you know what needs to be done. Understanding that your child reads at the level of a child 2 years below them, will make you focus on reading ability for longer than you might with a typical child, and even into adulthood. I see many older teen children who have not engaged in reading for several years. It was simply assumed that they should stop reading logs when they left primary school, when continuing this primary practice would have been of enormous benefit.

The pathway should be part of the plan: IEPs can get caught up with minute detail without a plan for the big picture. An IEP benefits from including short term goals, probable benchmarks and longer-term goals (that can be changed).

Particularly when a child enters high school the parent should have the opportunity see the general plan for a child, if they will be considered for standardised exams, what kinds of indicators would we explore on the way. The IEP is not just for today, it is part of a plan to tomorrow.

Educators may not want to highlight a pathway element within the IEP that parents may be disappointed. Whilst this may be true, I am yet to meet a parent of a special needs child who doesn’t appreciate empathetic pragmatism. We simply need to see if xx can do this task by this age, in order to determine if he can try this exam route, or another.  My fear is when this is not clearly stated there can be ‘drift’, we wait to see what the child can do and then determine what exam (or not) to give them, rather than pushing children with disabilities as we would with typical children.  This can set our SEN children up to think they do not need to strive to do well.

Helicopter parents of SEN children are the opposite extreme, and just as problematic. Overmanaging disabled children teaches them that they are not responsible for themselves. Additionally, setting parent driven goals for children can stifle the development of an authentic skill for that child. My own girl with ASD decided she wanted to learn to sing when she was around 14. Two years later she is an accomplished singer both inside and outside school. This was a skill that seemingly fell out of the blue. I needed to give her the space to demonstrate that this was her path.  Having a clear pathway with check in points helps everyone involved keep a health(ier) perspective on the potential accomplishments of their child.

Meaningful behaviour assessed in a step by step manner: In order for an IEP to be useful the parent should be able to clearly see what their child is doing well, and what are the next couple of steps that teachers would like to see in their performance of growth areas.

Performance never occurs in a vacuum – it is contingent on certain conditions so these should be included. For example, if a child needs to stay on task during a writing assignment, they may receive instructions from the teacher at the outset, a visual guide to follow stuck to their desk, and the occasional prompt to keep them on task. For written work they may have a working scaffold provided or a set of instructions and it is important for the parent to understand these components as part of their child’s success.

The goals and assessments on an IEP must be meaningful:  The goal behaviours should be clear to all working with the child, and the steps required to achieve those goals clear to parent and educators alike. It is no point to say that certain math tasks are in line with the curriculum. That does not explain why it is important. For example, I read an IEP that said, “XX is familiar with money and can give correct change”, having worked with that child I can tell you she can give correct change if she knows the amount of change to give, and the coins in front of her are all of equal value (ie all $1.00). The understanding outlined does not help us really understand the tasks that this child needs to understand with money numeracy. Money numeracy is an important life skill as well as academic skill so we hope all children can learn this at school

Discrete steps need to be made clear, rather than simple global understanding so that the IEP has meaning. For example. If we identify some of the early steps of money math to be the following what tasks can this child perform.

  • First identify that different units exist and represent different values of money.
  • Learn how to add different values of money (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Learn how to subtract different values of money (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Ascertain if you have enough money to buy a single object (ie is the amount of money I have more or less that the price of that item)
  • Determine using subtraction the amount of change that would need to be given to by this single object. (full dollars only, no cents)
  • Identify the different units to represent the change that should be given (full dollars only, no cents).
  • The next step would be to determine this process for either a) buying two objects or b) using coins, to be determined by the child’s readiness a that the task above.

Whenever possible the tools that are being used should be listed and shared with the home environment.

Measurements of success: Whenever possible use numbers and assessments to help determine progress. Having data helps decide if a problem is really a problem or mastery has been accomplished.

For example, if a child is experiencing issues around emotional regulation, in particular becoming angry and shouting at teachers and classmate, deciding to include a goal on the IEP should be included. It would not be enough to expect these behaviours to be eliminated immediately. Observations off a few instances should provide meaningful measurements that help.  The main elements or consequences can be measured and the goal will be to reduce these, over a particular time set. A behavioural plan may be used in coordination with an IEP to capture this data.

Celebrate the positive: An IEP might help parents and teachers document the strengths that a child possesses as well as their weaknesses within the school environment. Strengths become more and more important as the child ages. When children are young intervention does not need to focus on their strengths, but from the teen years on, these strengths offer keys to the future.

Generalisation is considered: An IEP is usually written inside the context of a school, but opportunities to change behaviour and learn skills exist in more than one environment. The home and the school environment both need to be involved in planning activities. Mastery in one setting can not be assumed to generalise (ie be transferred) to another setting, or be treated as an afterthought. In the example above, where money skills are being taught, this should be echoed in the home or out of school environment. The child given chances to pay for a drink with coins at the store, to reinforce the behaviour learned at school.


The big picture – the IDP – Individual Development Plan

The IEP is usually a school-based document. The IDP is a general setting document. The IDP is like an extended IEP to include a snapshot of skills in multiple settings, more global goals, and additional categories. Usually a school contributes to an IDP through the IEP. The IDP will use that segment as a snapshot of education, but may add a variety of out of school classes depending on the child’s skills.

Comprehensive: An IDP will assess elements such as self-care, independence, emotional and behavioural regulation outside of school, social skills, theory of mind, and additional education to be considered.

Age related: As such an IDP may be written by a psychologist outside of school. Assessments such as measures of personal functioning, emotional wellbeing, intelligence, may be included. The purpose of an IDP is to ensure that the child continues to develop towards their greatest level of independence in life, future education, employment. As such an IDP is recommended when your child becomes a teen rather although they can be used at a earlier age as well. As part of the shaping of and IDP you may write an updated intervention plan, a maturing intervention plan. Additionally, you may consider to explore a discussion with specialists who focus on teens and adults rather than children. For example programmes in childhood may be focused towards compliance and control of stimming behaviours. As SEN teens develop they need to be more actively involved in the process and they may need to focus on essential executive functioning skills such as  maintaining appropriate friendships, understanding your strengths, communication in different contexts, self-confidence,  social focus, and expressive skills.

deficit vs strengthsChange of model of focus: As a psychologist working with children with special needs at all ages, I believe in working on a deficit model of interventions before the age of 13, and sometimes after that age moving to a strengths model.  What that means is that for younger children we look at how their performance (in any category) differs from their same age peer and we work to try to bring them within the expected boundaries of performance. We focus on the areas of DEFICIT. A strengths model expands our focus, and is more appropriate with older children when strengths have had a chance to appear. We do not stop looking at the areas that the teen needs to catch up, but we spend some of our resources expanding their STRENGTHS as well. This involves identifying areas of strength. When a child starts high school you may want to consider a maturing intervention plan, one that uses the strength model to help you decide new, and updated, areas of intervention.  A psychologist may help you identify these areas if you are not aware of these for your child.

The focus for an IDP are generally more global than an IEP, however the guidelines are much the same. Detail, data, and benchmarks remain essential. The focus on strengths and the pathway aspects are more important than they are in an IEP because the IDP creates a backbone of potential career and future education pathways.


The long-term plan – the Individual Vocation Plan

The IVP is sometimes referred to as an IEP (particularly in the United States) which can be very confusing. For the purpose of simplicity, I will use the term Vocation rather than Employment as this also incorporates what we know about the future of work, as well as the use of hobbies as well as job training to help build a career.  Many young adults and teens with disability leave school before they are fully cooked, and need support to decide what to do next, even if this includes going onto tertiary education.

 The need to plan. To better prepare the next generation of special educational adults, we as parents and educators need to provide ample services to those young adults as they launch from high school into the next stage of their careers. The majority of areas in which disabled individuals in Hong Kong find employment (hospitality, some retail, office work) unfortunately also carry a high risk of redundancy according to future of work analyses.

In Hong Kong, at this time, there is a gap for young adults who have different areas of strength and varying levels of motivation from those covered in the vocational channels on offer – perhaps they are great artists, mathematicians, photographers, early childhood teaching assistants, even have extremely good knowledge of music or ability to sing.

The IVP details: The Individual Vocational plan builds a customised plan around to help these young adults in particular*. It includes the following aspects:

  • The strengths of the person and potential careers which utilise these strengths. There may be more than one.
  • The future of work assessment for these careers – so that we focus on evolving or permanent jobs. Different formats of these jobs.
  • The soft skills and hard skills that are required for the jobs identified.
  • The performance of the child in these soft skills and hard skills. This will then include a lot of details regarding the process that the young person will need to undertake. What the learning mechanism will be. What will the key steps, assessment techniques be involved?
  • Prioritising skills (academic, professional, personal, organisational) that this young adult needs to develop to achieve these goals.They may need a basic entry level of English or Math in order to start their career in a suitable arena, and this needs to be made possible within a setting that also teaches the requisite social skills and independence skills. Private tutoring provides the content but not the context.
  • A timeline and proposed plan including potential work experience, future exams and key goals.
  • Certain independence and self-care skills may also be included, and these may be part of the IDP or the IVP depending on who is running the programme.

We launch teens and young adults into a world of work which can be overwhelming to navigate. We need to plan customised programmes that offer opportunities that fit with the future of work. For more information see our article on this topic.

I hope that these terms are clearer to you now. Becoming a special needs parent will entitle you to an education that others never have to navigate. If you get confused reach out for professional support and the input of other parents. You are not alone.

*These kinds of plans are not frequently offered in Hong Kong by psychologists. I am happy that the RED DOOR team can provide this service, and does currently.

Other key articles you might find useful

About education of adults with SEN:




#futureofwork #reddoor #mentalhealthessentials #individualeducationplan #earlyintervation #individualdevelopment #individualvocation #specialeducationalneeds #autism

What Mums worry about


Following our recent assessment of mental health among women in Hong Kong, we explore what HK mothers are concerned about for their children.


Ninety-seven mums answered questions regarding their level of concern, with any of their children, regarding different psychological issues including eating disorders, depression, learning issues, poor self-esteem, experience of bad stress, friendship challenges, and even feeling suicidal.

The highest rated psychological experiences that mums worry about include:

mums worry 2

We’ll explore the top 5 of these conditions in this piece and provide some advice for anxious mums out there. We will write separate articles on each of these 10 issues in due course so watch out for these.

More than half of the mums sought professional assistance (from the school, from counselling, a doctor, or psychiatrist) if they had concerns. If you have persistent worries about your child, do consider seeking assistance.



Anxiety was rated as the strongest experienced among our mums, with a rating of 72/100. Over 3 quarters of responding mums mentioned that they were concerned about their child’s anxiety occasionally or frequently. Forty-three percent of our mums said that they frequently were concerned about their child’s experience of anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal experience in life, which can become problematic if kids become stuck feeling this way or experience excessive episodes of anxiety. Simplistically, most common psychological anxiety disorders among children include generalised anxiety disorder (when worry gets out of control), social anxiety disorder (afraid/embarrassed of being judged by others to a disruptive extent), and panic disorder (when fear overwhelms through panic attacks).

If you feel your child’s anxiety is becoming problematic you might like to seek help from their school or a counsellor. Other practices to remember include:

The goal is to manage anxiety, not eliminate it. Avoiding the thing that elicits anxiety reinforces the anxiety.

Set realistic and positive expectations for your child. If your child is avoiding school because of anxiety, work towards full attendance again from where you are. If they miss one day a school, first aim for one day a fortnight, then one a month, then none at all.

Respect your child’s feelings. Don’t tell them to just get over it. At the same time, help them review the situation. Help them explore ways to reframe situations and check their faulty filters.

Get the basics right – makes sure that their health is not compromised as this will exacerbate their experience of anxiety – make sure their diet, consumption of water, health amount of exercise and sleep are optimal.

Help your child develop a safety card or a coping kit of activities that help them calm down. For some ideas see our quick calm recommendations

Model a healthy response to anxiety for your child to learn from. Please review your own anxiety responses, and work to show your child that you can overcome and manage anxiety,


Overuse of technology*

Mums were asked if they were concerned about their child’s use of technology, undertaking surfing or gaming activities for 2 or more hours a day. This separates the use of the internet for schoolwork from more casual use. Of the mums who responded to our survey, 69% of mums are concerned about their child’s overuse of tech, and 31% were frequently concerned about this.

The impact of so much unfettered access to technology over the long term has not yet been properly determined. It has been suggested that overuse of technology can rewire the brain and affect our ability to communicate. Too much use of technology can impact the sleep of your child, especially if they sleep (or don’t sleep) with a device in their room.

The silent addiction of social media, including virtual lives through Instagram can lead to confusion of sense of self, self-acceptance, perfectionism, loss of creativity, and potentially compromised safety. You might consider limiting social media time if your teen spends more than 1 hour a day on this activity, or seems to experience problems around their self-esteem.

Other problems that warrant attention or intervention include your child falling behind with schoolwork as a consequence of their time on devices; child seems to be escaping reality using the internet, your child frequently, avoiding face to face social activities in favour of internet time; aggression when devices are removed from the child; preoccupation with their social profile; child being ‘bored’ by any activity which is not online; or starting internet conversations with people they do not know.

Contrary to what your child might tell you, tech free time is not a form of abuse of deprivation. We need to teach our children to use technology responsibly. Family internet agreements and courses in cybersecurity may also be helpful to set boundaries, but these need a firm hand by the parent as children and teens are notoriously lax at maintaining time away from tech.

A word to the wise, children learn from their parents. We can’t ask children to do as we say, not what we do. Check your own mindless use of technology.  Demonstrate that you are able to put away your phone and have a face to face conversation.

* This is a significant topic and we promise a dedicated article on this topic in the near future.


Friendship challenges 

Friendship challenges were a concern for 69% of the mother’s surveyed. Over 29% of our mums are frequently concerned about their child’s experience of friendship challenges.

Common friendship challenges include:

Being excluded – being left out or suddenly excluded from a group. This may happen because of the dynamic of the group, or the skills (or lack of) within the child.

Being bullied – a major worry in schools in Hong Kong. We need to help children learn that good friends don’t bully.

Friends gone wile – as friends develop, and especially during the teen years, your child may become at odds with their friend’s behaviour. Drinking, drugs, self-harm can break relationships and create peer pressure. Helping children realise they don’t have to do the same as their friends can be a challenge.

Loneliness and trouble making friends – some children do not seem to know how to make more friends, and will require support to help them learn these skills.

Some advice: Conflicts with close friends are inevitable. Experimentation with social power will be a natural exploration of your child, and their friends.  This means that friendships, particularly between 10-16 years of age, can be quite rocky. Resiliency and social skills are extremely important skills to help develop in your child.

Remember your kids and even your teens need their parents. Know their friends, check up on their perception of friendships, encourage them to have a broad friendship base, teach them the rules of good friendships and model good friendship behaviours yourself.


Poor self-esteem 

Self-esteem starts to be demonstrated by children between the age of 5-7 years of age. Based on their perceived competency at school tasks, extra curricular activities, friendships and their place within the family, young children tend to hold rather inflated views of themselves. Over the following years, a child’s view of their value and competency help them navigate learning and life challenges.  Good self -esteem helps children take on risks. Conversely poor self-esteem can make children see themselves, and their competency, and their opportunity to conquer situations more negatively. no one is perfect, and we should be careful to imply to children that perfection is possible.

Building a healthy self-esteem is often the product of helping your child see themselves realistically and positively. For that purpose praise for your child should be specific, and around the effort behind success more than the result. Let your child fail occasionally, getting over disappointment is helpful to help your child realise they can be knocked down, and get back up again.

In Hong Kong children can be become entitled because they often do not need to contribute to the household. Having your child contribute to the house, via chores such as cooking dinner, looking after their rooms, learning to care for their own clothes, helps them develop a stronger sense of their self-worth.

Foster a growth mindset among your children. Let them learn to use the word ‘YET’. Rather than “I’m not good at math”, learn them to use the phrase “I am not good at math YET”.  Challenge any limit your child puts on themselves.

Additionally, let your child be a CHILD as long a possible. We can be mesmerised by our child’s desire for independence. Whilst your child can gain independence, remember and remind them, that they are still kids, and that there is no rush for them to grow up. They will be grown ups for a very long time.


Sad Mood 

Sad mood is different from depression. Our mothers could indicate depression or sad mood as a concern. Among our HK Mums, 66% sad that they were concerned about their child’s experience of sad mood, and 43% said they are frequently concerned about their child’s sad mood. Sad mood is considered a precursor to depression and as such you might want to consider a checklist of depression (below) to see if your child may be depressed rather than just sad.

Children, especially teens can experience sad moods due to disappointments over grades, friendships, and performance. They may struggle with feelings created in response to physical changes around puberty. They may feel sad due to issues around acceptance especially if they are working to build a stronger concept of who they are (their identity). Some kids are oversensitive. If your child is oversensitive, and frequently sad you may like to keep a closer eye on them for signs of depression.

Signs of depression – if your child experiences 3 or more of the following for more than a few months you may like to consider private or school counselling.

  • Your child expresses feelings of sadness/hopelessness
  • Your child is frequently irritable, hostile or expressing anger
  • Your child is frequently teary
  • Your child is withdrawing from friends and family
  • You notice changes in your child’s eating or sleeping behaviours
  • Your child is often restless or agitated
  • Your child expresses feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • You’ve seen a drop in your child’s performance at school
  • Your child seems to lack motivation or enthusiasm
  • Your child seems to suffer from lack of energy or fatigue
  • Your child has difficulty concentration
  • Your child often has unexplained aches and pains
  • Your child expresses thoughts of death or suicide

Let your child express their feelings freely. Don’t tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way. Encourage therapy, actively listen, help them build coping strategies, and build strong support systems – within the family and their friends.


Mums worry about their kids. We are grateful to the wonderful mum who shared their concerns with us, and use the advice that we can provide to them.


#sadness #technologyoveruse #anxiety #mum #sadness #friendship #reddoor #mentalhealthessentials









The Write Way – get free daily journal pages from RED DOOR.

journal image

Research indicates that those who express themselves in a journal require less visits to the doctor for their health, than those who don’t. How about you give it a try? RED DOOR is willing to supply 30 RED DOOR Journal pages to people enrolling in our Write Way project before the end of April 2019.*

Expressive writing (writing about your thoughts, reactions to situations, experiences, negative life events) is a self-reflective tool with tremendous power. By exploring emotional moments in our lives, we are forced to examine who we are, our values, our relationships, and ultimately, who we want to become.

*All you have to do is write to us to register. We will send you a brief questionnaire to complete at the beginning, and again at the end of your 30-day journal writing exercise. We believe that writing a journal for 30 days may help you achieve a greater sense of self-reflection, kindness towards yourself, and higher sense of contentment. All you need to do is commit to 30 days of journal writing. You don’t have to share your writing with anyone. These pages will be just for your private thoughts. It is important that you write only for yourself, and that it is kept in a private secure place.

The Write Way project uses specific journal prompts to encourage particular types of reflections around specific issues such as coping with anxiety, going through divorce, dealing with stress, desire to learn more about yourself, and overcoming depressed mood. Some examples are featured within this article.

Here are some of the potential benefits of writing a journal.

Cheap therapy: Without putting counsellors out of a job, the first benefit is that journaling is that it is a form of free therapy for which all types of people can benefit emotionally. Writing about stressful events helps the writer experience the event at a distance, with some much-needed detachment, which helps one review and come to terms with unsettling events. You can rewrite your experience from various perspectives, you can use the reflection to re-examine your feelings.

Resolve conflicts: Writing about your unresolved conflicts with others can help to clarify your own perspective on events, as well as leave you open to reinterpretation of your views, and those of the other party/ parties. Even writing about your emotional reaction inside a dispute is helpful therapy for yourself, as long as you are kind to yourself and non-judgemental. Even if you realise you have done “wrong” inside a dispute, you can use this format to look for reasons for forgiveness or reconciliation.

Access all areas: Journaling increases your self-awareness and your ability to reflect on your decision-making style. For example, you may start to see your internal voice on the page telling you that you MUST and SHOULD be doing things in a certain manner. Ask yourself, especially if you are an adult, why should you or must you do anything? If you record your mood over the course of many days you will be able to assess when you feel better or worse, and how many days you have felt strong and capable as opposed to sad or disconnected. This can help you decide if you can change those behaviours alone, or you would like to search for some additional help.

Stress Buster: When we have too many to dos running around in our heads, as well as heavy expectations that we put on ourselves, we can become overwhelmed. Writing a journal at this time will help you focus, calm your heart rate, and allow you to negotiate with your inner “shoulda-coulda-woulda” voice to help you challenge what items you really need to complete to keep you on your life plan, versus what is just ‘noise’.


Problem solved: When you write out a problem your analytical mind is able to reinterpret the situation from a less emotional perspective, hence we are likely to be able to see different opportunities to challenge situations. If you have a problem to solve, challenge yourself to write of five different solutions to the problem, even include the ludicrous. Even consider to challenge your view of the “problem”. Could it be reframed into an opportunity for you? To grow, to learn, to get ahead, to accept? Simply processing ideas has a way of helping structure a liveable solution.


Increase your sense of gratitude: A positive by product of recounting your experiences is that you also get to acknowledge the sources of support that exist in your life, and the parts of life which are good. If you don’t find this naturally occurring, you can even add a section in your journal – to celebrate three things that you are grateful in every diary entry.


Sounds promising? Then give the RED DOOR Write Way project a try. Send your email to Angela at to enrol. The Write Way project uses specific journal prompts to encourage particular types of reflections around specific issues so you might like to inform Angela which issues you would like help with so we can send you the best set for your circumstances.

Topics covered include: coping with anxiety, going through divorce, dealing with stress, desire to learn more about yourself, and overcoming depressed mood.




  • RED DOOR  reserves the right to refuse to send journal pages to individuals if their problems are beyond the scope of journal writing, or we have exceeded 100 applicants for this project.


Change the View. Challenging your thinking filters.

filtersContentment is, in part, a matter of perspective. Those whom are content are more likely to be able to respond positively to change when it is required, accept that some events are beyond their control and allow situations to be different than their expectations. This is because they can approach challenges with a rational perspective.

It is possible to change your thinking and be happier.

Famous psychologist, Albert Ellis, identified a plethora of irrational beliefs that we develop as part of the way we are raised, see the world, and believe about ourselves and other people. These beliefs are filters that, like a pair of glasses, interfere with the way that we see situations. Wearing faulty filters may cause people to engage in self-defeating behaviours such as experiencing self-hatred, jealousy, self-harm, accepting abusive relationships, procrastinating, and anger.

You can stop help yourself and remove your faulty filters by creating a constructive dispute with yourself, or even have a counsellor lead this discussion for you. The dialogue will depend on the filters that you use most frequently. Experiencing faulty filters is quite common, if you discover you have been experiencing faulty filters, you can change the view.


Change the view from your faulty filters.


black and white thinkingThis type of thinking occurs when you look at situations in a polarised way – situations, people, activities are either good or bad, nothing in between. Most situations are neither complete disasters or beyond fantastic, often situation have both good and bad aspects. Most people have some attributes that you find challenging, but this doesn’t make these people totally bad or good.

When people wear these black-and-white-thinking filters they can respond in an inflexible way to challenges – “I didn’t get an A in that test and now my future is ruined “or “I submitted that assignment but I made an error in the first paragraph so the whole article is now rubbish”.

In particular people who have black-and-white-thinking in relation to people find themselves caught in judgement loops – these people are all bad, and therefore my poor behaviour towards them is acceptable, or they need to be brought down.

If one has black-and-white-thinking in relation to situations, a person can end up with lowered resilience. Every set back can become a tragedy, rather than a minor bump in the road.

Change the view: If you feel you may be one who experiences black-and-white-thinking actively force yourself to find the shades-of-grey in situations, or with people. Can you recall a time you thought something would be a tragedy and it ended up being ok? Perhaps you fall into the practice of judging a situation too quickly. The next time this happens, before you define a situation as a disaster, let your emotions, and the situation play out a little further. See where more evidence might lead you.



Should-ing and Must-ing.

This is perhaps the easiest filter to catch yourself or others utilising. It is irrational to believe that most things are absolutely necessary. Believing that acts should be performed in a particular way, at a specific time, or in an exact order, creates a tyranny of should – a condition where you live life dictated by a list of thoughts which are not really rational.

shouldWhilst everyone has lots of things that they should (or could) be doing, some beliefs are irrational in their detail and in their believed consequences. For example, if everything needs to be perfect, this creates a lot of pressure on a person to perform a task to a (sometimes) unrealistic standard. Believing that you need to be the perfect student, parent, worker, lover, or be in control of all events in your life, be slim and attractive at all times, always be interesting, always have a friction free family – are unrealistic.

Being influenced by excessive should-ing and must-ing can have a multitude of psychological consequences including:

Self-doubt: feeling like a failure because you can not maintain your own (self-imposed) impossible standards,

Procrastination: too frozen in fear to start a project without already being an expert, or knowing you will be perfect at it.

Strict expectations: that others will live up to the same standards of you, or should not settle for less than perfect. You may find, without really wanting to, that you bully others to live up to your expectations.

Change the view:  If you suffer from ‘must-tic-ation’, the cure is to create a dispute. Do you REALLY have to be a perfect parent/child/partner/etc? is this realistic? What happens if you are not perfect? Do activities need to be conducted in a particular order? What might happen if the order can not be observed? Try to substitute the word “can” for the word “must”. This will help you remember that you have a choice in every situation. If you find that you respond with a high degree of anxiety to a need for order, you may have some early symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and may benefit from talking to a therapist.


Jumping to negative conclusions.

negative conclusionsWe all have the tendency to occasionally jump to conclusions. We may assume that someone deliberately performed an activity that hurt our feelings, or event assume and intent to their inaction (e.g. they don’t like me). In these situations, limited information or evidence can be used to support negative conclusions. This may be the case when we fail to get success at work, thinking that others are not supportive, when they are sometimes just too busy or not focused on our priority.

This type of faulty filter can lead to inaccuracies regarding our perception of people and situations.

Change the view: If you find yourself typically jumping to negative conclusions ask yourself the following reflective questions, “do I have solid evidence that my beliefs are true?” and, ”Is there a possible, alternative, view of this situation?”. If you jump to negative conclusions quite frequently you may even start to feel quite paranoid about other people’s motives. You may like to consider counselling in that situation. At least start a daily practice of reflection such as journaling so that you can capture and explore your emotional relationship with events at a time that may be willing to appraise your reactions.



overgeneralising.jpgOvergeneralising is a special type of jumping to conclusions – both negative and positive conclusions. Overgeneralising is often reflected in our language choices – we use extreme frequency terms to describe behaviours – “they ALWAYS forget”, “Things NEVER go right for me in love relationships, EVERYBODY is happy except for me”. “Now that I am separated, ALL my married friends won’t want to see me”. Occasionally we may even do this after a single instance – one rejection letter leading to the assumption “I will never get a job”.

Change the view: When we overgeneralise, we can make decision that are self-defeating such as giving up on applications, feeling bad about ourselves, and limiting our experience of life.  Try to ban words such as always, never, and everyone from your vocabulary, especially during self-talk. It is highly unlikely that an absolute term will be an accurate description of a situation.



mindreadingMind-reading is a special type of jumping to negative conclusions. Not only do we make an assumption about people in the absence of complete evidence, but at some level we feel certain we know what they are thinking. Whilst on some occasions we may guess this right, we may also get this wrong. I often talk with clients who assume people talk about them negatively or think a particular way about them. In my experience we greatly overestimate how much people talk about us, and how judgemental of us they may be. Most people are usually worrying about their lives and what they need to do, rather than the role we play.

As a consequence, mind-reading can lead to self-limiting or self-defeating behaviours. We may not sign up for an activity because we know what people may think. For example, we may not go to join a dating event because you think others will think you are desperate. Or go to a family dinner because your cousin may negatively judge you.

Change the view: People who practice mind-reading will benefit from an automatic Anti-mindreading reminder that people do not think about you as much or as negatively as you think. Additionally, worrying about what people think may be indicative of your own challenges with self-esteem. When you love yourself enough, what other people think will not matter so much.



catastrophisingCatastrophising refers to the faulty filter we apply when exploring the future of situations in regard to negative outcomes. Whilst it is typical to occasionally feel a negative outcome, when we go for medical checks and such, excessive worry is of no help. If you tend to catastrophise regularly you cause yourself immense distress. Imagining that all situations will end in disaster is exhausting. Worrying that people will die or leave you will not make those situations any easier when they do happen, it just makes you experience the situation, virtually, again and again.

Change the view:  People who catastrophise need to challenge their thinking with more ‘realistic’ thoughts, and remind themselves how many times in the past situations have turned out OK. Often the worry caused by catastrophising may move people to seek out reassurance from others, and this in itself can become a problem. Try to do nothing for a while first. Whilst the anxiety you feel is unpleasant you can work to distract yourself from that experience with anxiety relieving activities.



personalisingWhen we personalise we feel responsible for events or situations that are not our fault, or we assume that it is our fault. It can lead to us feeling offended when it isn’t necessary. If a friend ignores your text may not mean that you’ve offended them, instead it may mean they are busy. They may not be trying to offend us, or even be having an emotional reaction to something we have done.

Personalising can be a component of co-dependency in relationships. I once had a grumpy boss, and many of us who reported to him walked around on eggshells, torturing ourselves over what we had done wrong to upset him. Rather than wasting valuable energy on this worry, it might have been more constructive to let him have his time being grumpy (after all his emotions are his responsibility) and get on with the work that needed to be done.

If you have performed an act, either selfishly or unwittingly, where another person was hurt. You can take responsibility for your role in a situation, and apologise or try to make amends, but leave it to that situation. Whilst we can take responsibility of for our own behaviour and thoughts, we do not need to take responsibility for the choices of others.

Change the view: If you personalise you may want to review your thought process to see how a situation could be viewed differently. If you are taking responsibility for someone in addition to yourself you may want to ask yourself if you have become co-dependent –. When we are co-dependent, we see ourselves through the views of our significant others – if they say we are ok, then we are ok. IF they are angry or not operating properly in life, we need to change our behaviour in order to save them. Counselling is a great way to break out of co-dependent patterns.



We all filter sometimes. Imagine you are in a group and each is providing feedback on your work. Nine of the 10 people say you did a wonderful job. One person says they thought your contribution wasn’t good enough. Which do you remember – the 9 positive remarks, or the one negative. That is filtering.

filtering.jpgFiltering becomes a threat to our self -esteem if you use this faulty thinking style frequently. In the era of the internet where people can feel more willing to troll other people and say horrible things on line, selecting what you choose to believe and reinforce as regards you sense of self, is extremely important. This is especially true for teens who use internet vehicles to test reactions to their world views – and perhaps do not yet have the resilience to rebuff negative feedback.

Change the view: it takes time to build a solid sense of self, and it is a worth while activity. Catching the filtering you do in your life is one way to eliminate negative self-perceptions.  If 9 people say you are great, say thank you 9 times. To the person who gave negative feedback, say thank you as well (provided the feedback was given in an honest and with improvement in mind), but move on. One negative review does not define you, but it can help shape you. You will make mistakes in life. That is actually part of the journey. If one person says you are ugly, stupid, lame, vulgar, it is the opinion of ONE person, and quite possibly says more about them than it says about you. Be realistic, you will not receive 100% consensus on any topic, even how fabulous you are. There is only one vote that counts, and its yours.



comparingIt is common to consider our own attractiveness, status, success, and personal worth relative to others. Comparing oneself constantly can become quite negative, especially when we assume elements about the other person and ourselves. For example, thinking a person who gets a better pay rise than you is an overall better person than you is not only unrealistic, it is unproductive. Please see our article on the strong relationship between comparing and feeling miserable.

Change the view:  Catch yourself comparing and making assumptions about others. If your friend has a success, this says nothing about you. Repeat to yourself, “ I am enough, I do not need to compare”.



blamingOccasionally people let us down, even hurt us with their actions. Sometimes these actions are intentional. Many times, they are not.  It is good to be able to accept disappointment and imperfections in others. If you find that you become stuck and blame others for your position in life, or in a situation you give away some of the power to fix that situation. Accepting someone’s behaviour is not an endorsement of that behaviour, it is simply acknowledging that bad realities exist, and that life can be unfair.

People can get become stuck in the hurt they feel – for example if they are forced out of a job, or their romantic relationship ends. It is up to us to help ourselves move on from painful events, even if they were initiated by the action of others.

Change the view: keep moving forward in life. There will be set backs. Overcoming them is a part of life and building resilience. If you are having trouble getting past a pain caused at work our article on career crisis might help {blog career crisis), whilst if you are stuck from the pain of a hurt in a personal relationship our blog on recovery may be of assistance.



We all make mistakes or act foolishly sometimes. When we label ourselves, rather than our behaviour we diminish ourselves. For example, if you made a mistake on a report you could say, “I made a mistake”, or you could label “I’m so stupid”. The latter response does nothing for your self-esteem. Acknowledge mistakes and bad choices as part of life, that can be forgiven.

labellingIt is also illogical to label others, on the basis of one inference or observation. One fight with a colleague does not make her a “bitch”. When we label others, we not only diminish them, we provide rationalisation for further retaliation, “its okay to do xyz, because she is a bitch”. This is clearly not rational, and can often become prejudicial.

Change the view: Catch yourself when you use labels for yourself and others. Label acts and behaviours as problematic, not the person. We all need forgiveness sometime.


Where to next – did you notice if you have been wearing filters? Its time to take off those shades, and change your view. Follow our advice and I hope you will feel more self-accepting and content.


#catastrophising   #commonthinkingerrors  #faultythinking #blackandwhitethinking  #comparison  #blaming  #filtering  #personalising    #mindreading #reddoor  #mentalhealthessentials

Warning signs: when to consider couples’ counselling.


warning signs

Can counselling save your marriage?

Whilst most counsellors would like to say an unequivocal “YES” to this question, reconnection is very dependent on the couple, the history of their relationship, the degree of contempt in the relationship, the commitment of both parties to try to work at the relationship, and of course, the involvement of other parties.

When couples come to me for counselling the first diagnostic that I look for is the “sign of life”. We’re these people happy together once? If they were happy once, and both believe this, this is a promising sign of life and hope for the relationship. There will still be a lot of work, but you cannot make something that was never good into something great, but you can, again, like someone who you once loved.

The reality of couples counselling is that some couples  come to counselling after a serious disruptive act – such as having an affair, long standing contempt, and the echo of other significant life events (death of a parent, loss of work).  Whilst walking back from those challenges can be accomplished, it may be better to consider counselling when there are warning signs, rather than war wounds.


You are having the same argument again and again, for more than 6 months. Sometimes these arguments are a cover for other, even more complicated issues. Counsellors can help couples learn to communicate more effectively, and also dissect underling issues.

You live separate lives from one another. If you feel like you are more like flatmates than life mates. The process of counselling may help you build positive shared goals and set rules of engagement to help you reconnect Sometimes marriage partners feel determined, because of past hurst (inside or before the marriage) to express their independence from their partner. Counselling may help you face and resolve the opportunity to reconnect and enhance your shared feeling of like, and love.

You want different things out of life from your partner. Once upon at time you may have been best friends, and shared everything. As we grown, partners can become disconnected, especially as children enter the equation. A love relationship requires investment. People can change, and you may believe different things, but could an remain connected. A counsellor could help you navigate your shared values and help build better connectivity.

Intimacy is lacking. Intimacy is not just sex. All affection – hand holding, touching, kissing, and sex, matters. Couples counselling can help partners describe and discuss the reasons behind their challenges to intimacy.

You or your partner is tempted to have an affair. Relationships can be significantly damaged by disruption to expectations of exclusively. Even harmless Facebook flirting with ex-partners. Couples counselling can help individuals connect and consider their needs of their ego, and their current relationship.

The trust is gone. Trust is the foundation of a healthy relationship. When we do not trust our partner, we may try to build defences around ourselves and these compromise our future of the relationship in our relationship. Trust is an essential, yet fragile, component of relationships. Counselling can help couples explore reasons to trust (or not) and their own personal values and viewpoints that compromise their barriers to trust in the future.


Counselling can help couples reconnect. If you don’t feel ready, or your partner will not go to counselling, you might consider reading relationship building books

I personally like Gottman & Silver, “The seven principles for making marriage work” and M. Kirshenbaum’s “I love you, but I don’t trust you”. For some quick ideas to reconnect, please see our blog on making your relationship better:

Best of luck keeping your relationship on track. Please remember the words of American relationship psychologist Barbara De Angelis , “Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It is something you do”.


#reddoor #couples #relationships #trust #mentalhealthessentials