~ Albert Einstein ~
“The only source of knowledge is experience”
Throughout our lives, all of us must deal with periods of intense change, stress, frustration and conflict. Each individual’s capacity to deal with these challenging circumstances will vary, with some apparently able to positively manage their thoughts and emotions in a healthy manner and others falling into destructive and repetitive thought patterns that prevent them from getting the most out of life.
From relationship problems, conflicts at work or school and bereavement through to specific psychological conditions such as anxiety, panic disorders, OCD and depression, Dr Carolyn Youren will work with you to provide an accurate diagnosis, build your emotional resilience, understand the triggers that cause you discomfort and arm you with the necessary skills to develop flexibility of thought and action. This will enable you to adjust your responses to the different challenges that arise in your life, rather than relying on automated, one-size-fits all reactions. For example, if friends give you a half-hour alert they are on their way, you have the flexibility and confidence to do a 20-minute tidy up, rather than insisting on performing a 4-hour super clean and putting the visit off.
When to See Carolyn
Carolyn’s extensive experience dealing with clients across a broad spectrum of age groups, backgrounds and circumstances means her services can be of benefit to people facing individual life stressors or specific psychological diagnoses as well as those who are experiencing a general feeling of unease or sense of being “not themselves”.
Specific Life Stressors
Couple and Family Relationships
As life progresses, relationships change and become exposed to many different challenges. Couples can face difficulties over time as a result of inflexible thinking and behaviour or as expectations and disappointments increase. The addition of children, blended families, ageing relatives and career aspirations can all contribute to couples feeling time poor, exhausted and in need of more support from each other.
Other situations which can take a toll on relationships include infidelity, dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol on the family unit, coping with unwell, disabled or difficult children, moving on from a separation or divorce, conflict among extended family members, social isolation or issues with friendship groups. Carolyn works with individuals as well as couples to identify the primary sources of relationship conflicts and provide practical tools to overcome them.
For most of us, work takes up a considerable amount of our time and experiencing obstacles at work can negatively impact other aspects of life. Difficulties such as underemployment, casualisation of the workplace, loss of a job or promotion, dealing with performance management programmes, executive stress, general career progression or conflicts with a boss or co-worker can be very distressing. Carolyn has worked with a broad range of clients across many professions and will provide an understanding of how to build resilience and overcome specific challenges.
School or University
School and university can be a stressful time for children, teenagers and young adults. Many experience anxieties over their general academic performance, nervousness in the lead up to or during exams, feelings of pressure to conform or be “popular”, a sense of inadequacy brought about by exposure to social media as well as difficulty dealing with social problems or bullying.
With a background in secondary school teaching prior to training as a psychologist, Carolyn has significant experience dealing with the unique challenges faced by this age group and has worked with many teenage and young adult clients to improve self-esteem and build flexible thinking.
Grief and Loss
Significant sadness, emotional instability and feelings of uncertainty can all be difficult to deal with following the loss of a family member, someone from within your inner circle or a valued pet. A sense of grief can also follow when the loss relates to a job, home, separation or divorce. These feelings can negatively impact appetite, motivation, energy levels, confidence, sleep and daily productivity.
Whilst grief is a normal human response to loss, if prolonged or not properly addressed, it can result in further challenges that arise from an inability to move on with life over time. Carolyn’s warm and empathetic nature makes her well suited to helping clients through periods of grief and loss.
Disability, Illness or Loss of Mobility
The sudden onset of an illness or disability or the gradual effects of ageing, chronic pain or becoming less independent can all have a detrimental effect on a person’s sense of well-being. Whether relating to an individual themselves, or another member of their family, the psychological impact of these physical changes is often significant and may require special attention. Carolyn has considerable experience counselling older adults as well as those facing major illnesses such as cancer.
Significant Life Change
For many people, a daily routine and knowing what to expect provides a sense of comfort and security. Major life changes such as the move to a new community, the creation of a blended family, children leaving home, financial problems or the need to make a major decision which will have far-reaching consequences are just some examples of situations that can cause emotional difficulties.
With more than 15 years of psychology experience, Carolyn has worked with a broad range of individuals facing a myriad of different challenges. She is highly skilled at identifying the root causes of a client’s problems and tailoring practical solutions to help overcome them.
Depression is often experienced as feeling low, general disinterest in your life, changes in appetite and sleep, lack of energy, feeling tired for no reason, difficulty concentrating, excessive feelings of guilt or thoughts of self-harm. There are many empirically supported psychological interventions that can drastically improve depression in a wide variety of clients to ultimately avoid or eliminate reliance on anti-depressant medications.
Generalised anxiety is characterised by feeling anxious or worried most of the time in relation to 2 or more aspects of your life over a period longer than 6 months. In addition to struggling to gain control over your thought patterns, you may feel physically and mentally tense and experience periods of insomnia. You may have difficulty concentrating and feel fatigued or irritable. Generalised anxiety can have a significant impact on all aspects of your life and can prevent you from effectively functioning at home, work and socially. Carolyn draws on her clinical experience as well as a variety of empirically supported psychological interventions to accurately diagnose anxiety and provide a flexible treatment programme tailored to each client.
People with social anxiety experience intense anxiety around their personal conduct in social situations such as going out for meals, attending parties, meeting new people or delivering presentations. You are likely to be disproportionately focused on what others are thinking about you and be convinced you will be humiliated, laughed at or negatively perceived in even the most casual of social settings. You may experience panic attacks when faced with the prospect of social interactions and actively seek to avoid these situations which can subsequently lead to social isolation. With an empathetic and caring approach, Carolyn will support you both in creating a plan for graduated practice of social skills and executing the repetition necessary to develop those skills, with a focus on learning.
Panic attacks are common at least once in a lifetime and can be understood as a “fight or flight” response. Designed to protect us from imminent physical danger, the fight or flight response occurs automatically and causes the body to react with a series of sudden physical changes such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing and release of stress hormones.
When a Panic Disorder occurs, the person has developed a “fear of fear” and as a result becomes hypervigilant to the fight or flight symptoms, such as increased heart rate. Panic attacks generally peak in a 1-10 minute time frame and often leave the sufferer feeling weak and exhausted. Fear of recurring panic attacks can then exacerbate the situation and cause the person to avoid any situation which they feel may trigger another attack. Some examples of situations that people often choose to avoid include scary movies, exercise, coffee, crowds, open spaces, bridges and flying. Carolyn’s tailored approach will provide you with a deeper understanding of why your body reacts the way it does and how you can regain control over your automatic responses.
A phobia can be described as an extreme, ongoing and irrational fear of a particular thing or situation which, in reality, poses a threat that is rarely experienced or is significantly less than that imagined. Phobias usually result in sufferers taking steps to actively avoid any environment that may expose them to the object of their fears which can, in some cases, cause significant disruption to their lives. Common examples of phobias include fear of spiders, moths, public speaking, elevators, heights, flying, confined spaces and crowds.
Being exposed to the source of the phobia often induces panic attacks which can ultimately lead to the sufferer dreading panic attacks as much, if not more than, the original object of their fear. A caring and empathetic therapist, Carolyn understands you may be apprehensive about seeking treatment due to the worry of being forced to confront your fears head-on. Carolyn tailors her treatment programmes to each individual, ensuring you will be slowly and gradually exposed to the source of your fear in a controlled and manageable way that you can deal with. Over time, you will learn how to manually override your ingrained thought patterns and draw on a range of flexible responses you feel in command of.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD can be defined as obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviours that interfere for a minimum of 1 hour in your day. Some themes of obsessive thinking are around contamination and self-doubt and the resulting compulsive behaviours can include excessive washing, continual cleaning, repeatedly checking appliances are switched off, dressing and redressing in the morning or lining up items in a specific order.
Often causing long delays in starting the day or completing tasks, OCD can also affect the sufferer’s self-esteem as well as causing frustration for, and conflict with, those around them. Recognising that it can often be difficult to break entrenched habits, Carolyn will help you develop more flexibility in the way you deal with your thoughts so that you can break through the automated thinking patterns and compulsive behaviours.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can arise after experiencing intense fear in a situation where your life, or the life of someone around you, is threatened or your sense of self is at significant risk. Examples of such experiences include witnessing an accident, surviving a fire, domestic violence, sexual assault, being robbed, a home invasion or fighting in a war.
Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks that force you to relive the event, emotional shut-down, panic attacks, hypervigilance and avoidance of situations, people or things that remind you of the event. Carolyn draws on her extensive clinical experience to accurately diagnose PTSD in a wide variety of clients and employ scientifically proven methods to aid in their journeys to recovery.
On the surface, or to outsiders, your life may appear to be under control, well balanced and fulfilled. You may feel you are achieving most of what you want out of life so can’t pinpoint why it is you don’t feel quite right. You may feel trapped, not yourself or that life is a struggle and should be easier. You might know others who are far less fortunate than yourself so feel guilty for not being happy, yet still can’t shake the feeling that all is not as it should be. Low self-esteem, performance anxiety, stress or weight management problems could also be contributing factors. With over 15 years’ experience dealing with a wide variety of clients from teenagers through to older adults, Carolyn has a deep understanding of how to uncover the primary sources of discontent and how best to address them using practical and proven techniques.
Low self-esteem is characterised by an ongoing lack of confidence in yourself or doubts about your capacity to achieve what you want in life and can relate to physical appearance, personality or ability. When relating to physical appearance, low self-esteem can cause sufferers to have a disproportionately negative view of their own appearance (body dysmorphia) and spend excessive amounts of time trying to correct or hide their perceived physical flaws.
When pertaining to ability or personality, low self-esteem can arise from the sufferer having unreasonably high standards as well as inflexible expectations around life challenges. Regardless of the cause of your low self-esteem, Carolyn will arm you with the necessary tools to gain control over your ingrained negative thought patterns.
Performance anxiety is characterised by significant stress associated with doing a particular task. This can include anything from sitting an exam, giving a speech, acting, dancing or playing an instrument on stage to delivering a final summation in court or performing surgery in a hospital. Performance anxiety is often experienced physically as butterflies in the stomach, headaches, mouth dryness or shaking of the hands and voice. This form of anxiety can have a debilitating effect on both home and work life but, with the right training and exercises, it can be significantly improved and ultimately managed.
Whilst some stress can be beneficial and motivating, periods of prolonged or intense stress can have a detrimental physical effect on the body and negatively impact performance at work or relationships with family and friends. Stress can be described as a feeling that arises when we perceive something of value as possibly being out of reach. It can also occur when situations in life arise that we have not previously been exposed to, or have been able to avoid, and therefore have little experience of.
Stress can manifest itself in the form of headaches, an unsettled stomach, tension in the major muscles of the body and disturbed sleep. With an understanding of which techniques will work best for you and how to apply them, you’ll be able to reduce stress, improve sleep and increase your overall energy and performance levels.
Many people across all age groups experience difficulties achieving and maintaining a healthy weight at some time in their lives. Often exposed to unrealistic ideals of appearance across mainstream and social media, some of us struggle with “information overload” and have difficulties making changes to ingrained eating habits.
Weight problems can also be symptomatic of other psychological issues. For example, depression can cause some people to “comfort eat” whilst low self-esteem can result in others starving themselves to achieve what they perceive to be the ideal body weight. Carolyn will help you recognise the triggers that cause loss of control and provide the necessary techniques to help you manage your response to these triggers.
Regardless of whether Carolyn is treating you to work through specific stressors, manage or overcome a psychological diagnosis or to address an overall lack of contentment with your life, she will tailor a programme designed to achieve the following outcomes:
Build Emotional Resilience
By educating you on, and increasing your experience with, all the different ways you may think, feel and behave in certain circumstances, Carolyn will teach you how to put your energy into becoming more comfortable with a broad spectrum of emotions instead of trying to shut them down. By gradually building your experience, you will gain increased confidence in your abilities to handle yourself across a wider range of situations.
Tackle Specific Challenges
Whether it’s a relationship breakdown, job loss or general anxiety, Carolyn will arm you with the necessary tools to identify and overcome your particular stressors. You’ll learn improved emotional problem-solving skills, how to set and achieve realistic goals for yourself, how to reconnect with your core values and practical methods to steer your life in new directions.
Carolyn will teach you to be aware of your own critical voice and how to manually override it. Ultimately, instead of constantly relying on other people for your comfort, confidence and re-enforcement, you’ll build self-esteem and learn to provide these things for yourself.
Through discussion, practice, trial and error, Carolyn will help you reduce avoidance and increase experience gently and with graduated risk, at a pace that works for you. She’ll help you move on from negative experiences that may have caused you to retreat in the first place and will guide you through the process of learning and building a variety of experiences.
Build Flexibility of Thoughts and Behaviours
Rather than always responding to certain circumstances in the same, often uncontrolled way, Carolyn will teach you to develop a variety of responses to the same situation. Instead of constantly worrying you will have the same, negative reaction to a particular situation, your confidence will grow as you master the ability to choose the way in which you respond to your surrounds.
In tailoring her treatment programmes, Carolyn draws on her more than 15 years’ clinical experience including the following proven psychological interventions. Having also regularly practiced these approaches throughout her own personal life, Carolyn has a deeper appreciation of the possible barriers to their application so can offer practical exercises to assist her clients with mastering the techniques more successfully.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most widely used interventions for improving mental health and has been successfully used to treat a wide variety of psychological and emotional health conditions for over half a century. CBT helps patients to identify their own automatic, negative thought patterns and learn strategies for challenging and altering these thoughts. CBT also includes Psychoeducation (sharing of the now vast psychology research and knowledge of human behaviour that has been collected) and exposure and response prevention (facing the things you have been avoiding in an ordered and graduated approach). The success of CBT is based on the foundation that negative thought patterns are a habit and, like other habits, can be broken.
By changing often ingrained, unhelpful thoughts, CBT can bring about immediate improvements in the lives of people suffering with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, phobias, relationship problems and a host of other mental health issues.
Research has shown that the average person can spend over 40% of their waking hours in “auto pilot” mode. In other words, instead of being focused on our current environment or tasks, many of us allow our minds to drift off and become overrun with distracting and often negative thoughts. Spending excessive amounts of time in this state can result in feelings of disconnection from those around us, as well as from life overall, and can also make us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness teaches the skills to break the “mindlessness” pattern and maintain non-judgemental awareness of your inner world (thoughts and feelings) and external world (the world around you as experienced through the senses) in the present moment.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT teaches the skills required to accept what is outside of your control and instead commit to actions that improve your situation and enrich your life. It does not aim to eliminate painful or difficult feelings but rather teach you how to deal with them more effectively to reduce their negative impact on you.
ACT also helps you reconnect with your core values and use them as a foundation to make positive changes in your life. By understanding more about unpleasant feelings, you’ll learn not to overreact to them and how to stop avoiding situations which may cause them, so you can embrace the life you want to live.
Positive Psychology is a relatively new form of intervention which shifts the focus from a person’s problems to those things in life which bring them meaning, satisfaction, engagement and overall happiness. A strong focus on uncovering individual strengths and values forms the basis of this therapy.
Whilst this may sound like a simplistic approach, positive psychology research studies have provided significant empirical support for the effectiveness of these techniques which include gratitude, reflection on things that go well on a day to day basis and providing assistance to someone else.
Theory and Practice
Whilst her treatment will involve much discussion and the provision of evidence-based information, Carolyn is also committed to providing one-step-at-a-time practical exercises. By gradually and successfully exposing you to a series of experiences, your ability to make significant improvements to your sense of well-being is greatly increased.
A caring and supportive clinician, Carolyn understands that, for some clients, exposing themselves to certain situations can be extremely daunting. For this reason, every treatment programme is tailored and practice exercises are set at an achievable pace that each individual feels comfortable with.
What to Expect from Your Treatment
Located in the Balwyn Medical Hub, Carolyn’s rooms are inviting and comfortable with lounge chairs and coffee tables to make clients feel as relaxed as possible. Carolyn is down-to-earth and easy going with a warm and understanding nature which immediately puts her clients at ease.
One of Carolyn’s primary goals will be to build your emotional resilience. In other words, to help you feel without fighting and help you acknowledge and recognise your emotions and behaviours instead of trying to make them go away.
A Typical Session
A typical session may include discussion of how your practice exercises went, whether any new issues arose for you, learning new mindfulness techniques, whether you have any pressing concerns, practice of any relevant psychological skills exercises and areas for you to focus on before the next session.
Sessions run for approximately 1 hour including 10 minutes at the end for Carolyn to consolidate notes and rebook appointments as required. Your first meeting is primarily for Carolyn to gather information but may also include you receiving something to practice in the coming days such as noting down moments of stress or a mindfulness exercise. Further background information is collected in the second and third sessions but at least half of each consult is spent on working through problems and practicing skills.
Carolyn likens fighting internal, emotional storms to fighting with quicksand. More struggling results in greater exhaustion, increased frustration and ultimately, sinking more quickly. Escaping quicksand, despite an initial sense of panic, requires patience and creative problem-solving. As a result of Carolyn’s treatment, you will find that more emotions are experienced in a controlled way and therefore become less intimidating and more manageable.