Human Strengths

At times we can easily become fixated on what is wrong with ourselves and others, and can forget about what is right with us. With some 300 disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the study of Psychology and Psychiatry are not immune to this phenomenon of negativity, tending to focus on misery and how to get rid of it. Realising that we are getting caught up in our own shortcomings, it may be helpful to shift our perspective to the human strengths, virtues, and personal fulfilment.

At times, strengths seem to be inborn and temperamental, at other times strengths seem to be forged through adversity, while some strengths are cultivated through conscious effort. There also appears to be consistency across cultures about many of the character virtues which are held in high regard in communities at home and abroad. According to the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, there are 6 universal virtues which emerge consistently from philosophy and historical surveys:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperence
  • Transcendence

Attached to each of these virtues are a number of character strengths. For example, the strengths of wisdom are creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, and perspective. An individual may demonstrate 1 or 2 of those strengths and certain situations provide the conditions for the strength to be demonstrated. For example, courage may be displayed where some danger or adversity is faced, but not during times of safety and ease.

I also see fulfilment our innate human needs as a source of strength. Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow detailed a hierarchy of needs beginning with a broad base of basic needs (i.e. food, water, shelter) and extending to the top of the hierarchy with what he termed as “self- actualisation”.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

From Maslow’s perspective, self-actualisation occurs when basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled and one realises their full potential. From Carl Rogers’ perspective, self-actualisation is more of an ongoing process of exploring, maintaining, and enhancing our self-concept through self-reflection and reinterpretation which can help us to heal and grow.

If you would like to learn more about your own strengths and self-concept, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website

Personal Values

Our personal values (i.e. honesty, fitness, intimacy) and for some of us our faith, spirituality or religion are important sources of strength and meaning. They are powerful motivators which can help us to tolerate uncomfortable experiences and act in a valued way. When acting in a valued way, our lives become meaningful.

When acting in a valued way, we tend to work toward our goals even when we don’t feel so motivated in the moment. We are proud of our actions, and feel as though we are making progress. There is also congruence between who we want to be, and the actions that we are taking to actually be that person.

When we loose sight of our values, we can spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future, feel like we are on auto-pilot, different thoughts and feelings seem to get in the way, and we tend to give in easily, pack up, and quit.

It can be helpful to clarify our values and learn to keep them in mind throughout our day to day, and also when making big life decisions. I learned about the importance of values from leaders in the field of acceptance, humanistic, and positive psychology:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes, Russ Harris.
  • Client-Centered Approach, Carl Rogers.
  • Positive Psychology, Martin E. P. Seligman.

If you would like to learn more about your own values, you can make an appointment at one of the two locations listed on the welcome page of my website:

Human Suffering

As human’s, it seems that we are bound to suffer at one time or another during our lives. Uncomfortable experiences seem to be part of the human condition. We experience emotions and bodily sensations that are unchosen and often unwanted. Of course, when something is unwanted, our first reaction is to want to stop or change it. Unfortunately, with emotions and bodily sensations trying to struggle with them only seems to make matters worse and increase our suffering.

Trauma is also important to consider when we are talking about suffering. When we experience something traumatic, that experience seems to change us, and this includes how our nervous system is ‘wired’. The nervous system not only includes the brain, but also stretches right throughout the body from the tips of our toes to the tops of our heads and the tips of our fingers. In psychology and related fields we have learned that trauma is held in the body. At times our body and brain can send us accurate signals to engage in self-protection, while at other times ‘faulty’ warnings can occur.

I learned about these aspects of human suffering from several leaders in the field of acceptance, compassion, and trauma based therapies and research:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes.
  • Compassion Focussed Therapy, Paul Gilbert.
  • Trauma and the Body, Bessel Van Der Kolk.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness, John Briere.
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Pat Ogden.

If you would like to discuss your relationship with uncomfortable experiences and how you interact with them, you can make an appointment at one of the locations listed on the welcome page of my website:


What are traps anyway?

I first learned the term “life trap” when discovering Schema Therapy (Jeffrey Young) which was a user friendly term to describe Schema’s. A schema is a pattern of thought and behaviour (typically learned early in life) that organises information and generally makes processing that information a lot quicker, and often more efficient. The trouble with schema’s is that they can become outdated and maladaptive causing us problems later in life.

Currently, I have broadened my understanding of life traps to include several inward and outward behaviours/processes which inadvertently lead to increased suffering. Some of these behaviours and processes include:

  • Cognitive distortions.
  • Safety behaviours.
  • Schemas.
  • Cognitive fusion.
  • Avoidance.
  • Overcompensation.
  • Modes of being.

I learned about all of these different types of traps from several theories and therapeutic modalities which have a strong evidence base and have been adopted in large numbers in psychology and related fields including:

  • Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Aaron T. Beck.
  • Schema Therapy, Jeffrey Young.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Steven C. Hayes.
  • Compassion Focussed Therapy, Paul Gilbert.

If you are interested in learning more about the traps that might apply to you and how to manage them, you can make an appointment at one of the locations listed on my website:

3 Songs to Express Sadness, Sorrow, and Melancholy

broken heart love sad
Photo by burak kostak on

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem” – Anne Frank

Some songs touch us so deeply that they evoke strong feelings of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy. At once, one can also sense an eruption of heavenly magic. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, coined the term ‘peak experience’ to describe moments of rapture like this. Whether they were generated through music, visual art, or moments of sheer creativity, Maslow found that ‘peak experiences’ shared common components:

  • Total attention on the object.
  • Complete absorption.
  • Disorientation from time and space.
  • Transcendence of ego.
  • Oneness with the object.
  • Humility and surrender before greatness.

In their 1989 study of ‘Strong Experiences with Music’ (SEM), The SEM project (Gabrielsson) found that music of a variety of emotional tones could evoke peak experience in some individuals. While some participants reported strong feelings which were categorised as positive (i.e. joy, happiness, enjoyment, delight, sweetness, beauty), others reported negative emotions (i.e. unhappy love, illness, loss) and still others reported conflicting emotions (i.e. bitter-sweet, pleasant memories that will never be captured again).

Gabrielsson emphasises that any experience of music depends on a complex interplay between characteristics of: (1.) the music, (2.) the person, and (3.) the situation. Therefore while the following three songs may be experienced differently by different people, in different contexts, and at different times, their dynamics, tempo, phrasing, modes, themes, and lyrics lend these songs to the evocation of sadness, sorrow, and melancholy.

Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

“Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?”

Key: D Major – Hallelujahs, heaven-rejoicing

Tempo: 72 BPM – Adagio – Slow

Released in 1992, Clapton had experienced profound loss in the two years prior. In 1991 he lost two of his road crew and fellow musician, Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter accident. Then in 1992 his 4 year old son died after falling from a high rise apartment building in New York.

Dancing On My Own – Callum Scott

“I keep dancing on my own”

Key – Db Major – Leering grief and rapture

Tempo – Moderato – moderate

Originally an electropop ballad released by Sweedish artist Robyn in 2010, the Scott’s version is slowed down and smoothed out. Scott’s vocal performance and the repeating acoustic piano takes this piece to a new place.

Good Year for the Roses – Elvis Costello and the Attractions

“When you turn to walk away and the door behind you closes”

Key – A Major – Hoping to see ones beloved when parting

Tempo – 97 BPM – Andante – Moderate

This cover song released in 1981 was originally released by George Jones in 1970. The cover rose to number 6 in the UK singles charts in the same year as its release.

5 songs to spark joy, excitement, and reflection

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

— J. K. Rowling

The five songs featured here embody the structure of a happy and uplifting piece of music. They all have a moderate to fast tempo (>76 BPM) and a major tonality, that is, a happy, joyful feel. So to get a little bump up in your mood, take a listen.

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Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers

“Don’t worry about at thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright”

Key: A Major – Innocent love, satisfaction, youthful cheerfulness

Tempo: 76 BPM – Adante – Walking pace

The fourth song on the album Exodus, Three Little Birds was released in 1977. One theory is that Bob Marley was inspired to write the song about 3 birds which would sit on his window sill at his home. A long time friend of Marley, Tony Gilbert is quoted as saying that Bob “was inspired by a lot of things around him. He observed life”.


Hey ya! – Outkast

“Shake it like a Polaroid picture!”

Key: G Major – Rustic, idyllic, lyrical

Tempo: 158 BPM – Allegro – Quick, Lively

Topping the charts in 2003, PopMatters described the song as “brilliantly rousing” and “spazzy with electrifying multiplicity”. Some say that this clever song has a deeper meaning masked by a happy, funky exterior and that the song is really a comment on the state of modern relationships.

Clocks single.jpg

Clocks – Coldplay

“And nothing else compares”

Key: Eb – Love, devotion

Tempo: 130 BPM – Allegro – Quick, lively

Released in 2003, this song made it into the Rolling Stone top 500 songs of all time in 2010. It features a repeating piano melody with atmospheric synthesiser, a rock rhythm with plenty of cymbal action, vocal harmonies, and the breathy falsetto of lead singer Chris Martin.

How Deep Is Your Love.jpg

How Deep is Your Love – Bee Gees

“And you come to me on a summer breeze”

Key: Eb Major – Love, devotion

Tempo: 105 BPM – Andante – Walking pace

This 1977 beauty from the album Saturday Night Fever is a classic. With it’s intense harmonies, strikes of electric guitar, and bright keys, this tune is sure to please. Co-writers Blue Weaver and Barry Gibb pulled together the “most beautiful chords” they knew to compose the song which was eventually recorded in Château d’Hérouville, France.


Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

“Do you remember when, we used to sing”

Key: G Major – Rustic, idyllic, lyrical

Tempo: 120 BPM – Moderato – moderate with movement

From the 1967 album “Blowin’ Your Mind!”, Morrison states that he didn’t receive any royalties for this song. He also says that the song “is not one of my best” and that he has about “300 songs that are better”.

The Zones of Regulation

The Zones of Regulation is a cognitive behavioural approach aimed at children, young people, parents, and teachers. The program is designed to teach self-regulation and emotional control: students learn to be more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and find new ways to manage their sensory needs and improve problem solving.

As the Zones poster demonstrates, each zone has its own special colour which relates to our level of physiological arousal and emotional state. Each zone is accompanied by pictures which provide further explanation as to how a person might be feeling and acting in each of the zones.

In the blue zone we have low levels of arousal and feelings like tiredness and boredom. In the green zone we have an optimum level of arousal for things like classroom learning and healthy play. In the green zone we typically feel calm and focused. The yellow zone is a slightly higher level of arousal and we may feel excited, silly, or anxious while in this zone. Finally the highest level of arousal occurs when we are in the red zone. In this zone we are likely to be mad, out of control, or elated.

None of the zones are “bad”

In the zones of regulation, none of the zones are bad, rather, they are simply more or less helpful for our current situation. For example, if you had just won the lottery, you probably wouldn’t be in the blue zone, more likely you would be in the yellow or red zone which is associated with feelings of excitement or elation! Similarly, it isn’t helpful to be in the yellow zone when it is time for bed. It is more helpful at this time of the day to be in the blue zone, feeling tired, so that we can easily fall into a slumber.

Moving between the zones

Our aim here is to be able to move between the zones so that we can have some control over our feelings and behaviour and there are various tools that we can use to move between the zones to either regulate up, or regulate down do an appropriate level of arousal.

Some of the tools are sensory and involve providing individuals with the opportunity to regulate the different types of sensory stimulation they are receiving (through touch, movement, sound, light, weight, temperature, smell etc…) whereas other tools are more cognitive and involve teaching thinking skills (inner coach versus inner critic). Others tools are social involving connecting with trusted allies, receiving praise and support from adults for adopting healthy tools, and learning new social skills.

Learn more…

If you would like to learn more about the Zones of Regulation or anything else mentioned in this post, contact SQPsych.

Shannon – SQPsych

Why do psychology services cost so much?

Many clients and therapists don’t understand why a Psychology session costs $150, $180, $200 or more for 50 minutes of talking. Some people think “my Psychologist sits in an office with minimal overheads – why am I paying so much”?

At face value, a Psychology service looks like a low tech, low expenditure service, but in reality, a Psychology practice is an expensive business to operate. Administration support, room rental, professional registration, insurance, and professional development requirements are some of the largest costs and cannot be avoided when running an ethical, professional service.

The income that can be generated is also limited because an individual Psychologist has a limit to the amount of clients that they can see in any one day. On average, your Psychologist will spend 20 to 30 minutes of additional time per session completing client related activities such as preparation, case notes, scoring assessments, and writing letters or reports.

For these reasons, Psychologists carefully consider their fees to provide their clients with an affordable, professional, and effective service, while maintaining their own psychological, physical, and financial well-being.

Shannon – SQPsych