Maria Pieretti
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Blog – Why some children can thrive despite adversity

The Science of Resilience

Thought I would share this really interesting article on why some children can adapt after a trauma and why some live with lifelong issues.

Why some children can thrive despite adversity

When confronted with the fallout of childhood trauma, why do some children adapt and overcome, while others bear lifelong scars that flatten their potential? A growing body of evidence points to one common answer: Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela¬tionship with a supportive adult.
The power of that one strong adult relationship is a key ingredient in resilience — a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity — according to a new report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a multidisciplinary collaboration chaired by Harvard’s Jack Shonkoff. Understanding the centrality of that relationship, as well as other emerging findings about the science of resilience, gives policymakers a key lever to assess whether current programs designed to help disadvantaged kids are working.
“Resilience depends on supportive, responsive relationships and mastering a set of capabilities that can help us respond and adapt to adversity in healthy ways,” says Shonkoff, director of the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard. “It’s those capacities and relationships that can turn toxic stress into tolerable stress.”

Physical Implications
As a growing body of research is showing, the developing brain relies upon the consistent “serve and return” interactions that happen between a young child and a primary caregiver, the report says. When these interactions occur regularly, they provide the scaffolding that helps build “key capacities — such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior, and adapt to changing circumstances — that enable children to respond to adversity and to thrive,” the report continues. The developing brain is buffered by this feedback loop between biology and environment.
But in the absence of these responsive relationships, the brain’s architecture doesn’t develop optimally. The body perceives the absence as a threat and activates a stress response that — when prolonged — leads to physiological changes that affect the brain and overall systems of physical and mental health. The stress becomes toxic, making it more difficult for children to adapt or rebound.

Notable Consequences

The experiences of the subset of children who overcome adversity and end up with unexpectedly positive life outcomes are helping to fuel a new understanding of the nature of resilience — and what can be done to build it.
Here’s what the science of resilience is telling us, according to the council’s report:
• Resilience is born from the interplay between internal disposition and external experience. It derives from supportive relationships, adaptive capacities, and positive experiences.
• We can see and measure resilience in terms of how kids’ brains, immune systems, and genes all respond to stressful experiences.
• There is a common set of characteristics that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity:
o The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
o A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
o Strong executive func¬tion and self-regulation skills.
o The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.
• Learning to cope with manageable threats to our physical and social well-being is critical for the development of resilience.
• Some children demonstrate greater sensitivity to both negative and positive experiences.
• Resilience can be situation-specific.
• Positive and negative experiences over time continue to influence a child’s mental and physical development. Resilience can be built; it’s not an innate trait or a resource that can be used up.
• People’s response to stressful experiences varies dramatically, but extreme adversity nearly always generates serious problems that require treatment.

Blog – We’d all like to be a little happier

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

We’d all like to be a little happier.

The problem is that much of what determines happiness is outside of our control. Some of us are genetically predisposed to see the world through rose-colored glasses, while others have a generally negative outlook. Bad things happen, to us and in the world. People can be unkind, and jobs can be tedious.

But we do have some control over how we spend our leisure time. That’s one reason why it’s worth asking which leisure time activities are linked to happiness, and which aren’t.

In a new analysis of 1 million U.S. teens, my co-authors and I looked at how teens were spending their free time and which activities correlated with happiness, and which didn’t.

We wanted to see if changes in the way teens spend their free time might partially explain a startling drop in teens’ happiness after 2012 – and perhaps the decline in adults’ happiness since 2000 as well.

A possible culprit emerges
In our study, we analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders that’s been conducted annually since 1991.

Every year, teens are asked about their general happiness, in addition to how they spend their time. We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat or watching TV were less happy.

In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness. The differences were considerable: Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day.

Of course, it might be that unhappy people seek out screen activities. However, a growing number of studies show that most of the causation goes from screen use to unhappiness, not the other way around.

In one experiment, people who were randomly assigned to give up Facebook for a week ended that time happier, less lonely and less depressed than those who continued to use Facebook. In another study, young adults required to give up Facebook for their jobs were happier than those who kept their accounts. In addition, several longitudinal studies show that screen time leads to unhappiness but unhappiness doesn’t lead to more screen time.

If you wanted to give advice based on this research, it would be very simple: Put down your phone or tablet and go do something – just about anything – else.

It’s not just teens
These links between happiness and time use are worrying news, as the current generation of teens (whom I call “iGen” in my book of the same name) spends more time with screens than any previous generation. Time spent online doubled between 2006 and 2016, and 82 percent of 12th-graders now use social media every day (up from 51 percent in 2008).

Sure enough, teens’ happiness suddenly plummeted after 2012 (the year when the majority of Americans owned smartphones). So did teens’ self-esteem and their satisfaction with their lives, especially their satisfaction with their friends, the amount of fun they were having, and their lives as a whole. These declines in well-being mirror other studies finding sharp increases in mental health issues among iGen, including in depressive symptoms, major depression, self-harm and suicide. Especially compared to the optimistic and almost relentlessly positive millennials, iGen is markedly less self-assured, and more are depressed.

A similar trend might be occurring for adults: My co-authors and I previously found that adults over age 30 were less happy than they were 15 years ago, and that adults were having sex less frequently. There may be many reasons for these trends, but adults are also spending more time with screens than they used to. That might mean less face-to-face time with other people, including with their sexual partners. The result: less sex and less happiness.

Although both teen and adult happiness dropped during the years of high unemployment amid the Great Recession (2008-2010), happiness didn’t rebound in the years after 2012 when the economy was doing progressively better. Instead, happiness continued to decline as the economy improved, making it unlikely that economic cycles were to blame for lower happiness after 2012.

Growing income inequality could play a role, especially for adults. But if so, one would expect that happiness would have been dropping continuously since the 1980s, when income inequality began to grow. Instead, happiness began to decline around 2000 for adults and around 2012 for teens. Nevertheless, it’s possible that concerns about the job market and income inequality reached a tipping point in the early 2000s.

Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day). Happiness was then steadily lower with more hours of use. Thus, the happiest teens were those who used digital media, but for a limited amount of time.

The answer, then, is not to give up technology entirely. Instead, the solution is a familiar adage: everything in moderation. Use your phone for all the cool things it’s good for. And then set it down and go do something else.

The ConversationYou might be happier for it.

Blog – Kindness

This month I wanted to introduce you to kindness, and what it means to our wellbeing. I have been reading a lot on Dr David Hamilton a “PhD in organic chemistry and who spent 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry, developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Inspired
by the placebo effect, he left the industry to write books and educate people in how they can harness their mind and emotions to improve their health” He writes about the 5 Side Effects of Kindness, which I have listed below – from his website

Kindness is underestimated or ignored and perhaps something that we are all guilty of doing. For those of us surrounded by lots of people we don’t always appreciated how simple kindness can impact on an individual, and what we often don’t realise is the greater impact in can have on ourselves. Acts of kindness can relieve stress and improve mental wellbeing.

1) Kindness Makes us Happier
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, many people feel that this is because it is the right thing to do and so we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside of us that says, ‘This is who I am.’
On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain and so we get a natural high, often referred to as ‘Helper’s High’.

2) Kindness Is Good for the Heart
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and throughout the body. Of recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.
Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and therefore oxytocin is known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin and therefore kindness can be said to be cardioprotective.

3) Kindness Slows Ageing
Ageing on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are Free Radicals and Inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (that we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and so slows ageing at source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, as well as regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist’s ‘Loving Kindness Compassion’ meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

4) Kindness Improves Relationships
This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more ‘bonded’. It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.
Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater were the chances of survival and so ‘kindness genes’ were etched into the human genome.
So today when we are kind to each other we feel a connection and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5) Kindness is Contagious
When we’re kind we inspire others to be kind and studies show that it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends – to 3-degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.
A study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a ‘pay it forward’ type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The ‘domino effect’, as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.


I have heard many times from people that anxiety is a ‘modern’ illness, but I disagree. Anxiety has been around forever, but today it is talked about more (still not enough in my opinion), and more of us are aware of it, hence people thinking it is a new modern illness.
American journalist Daniel Smith points out in Monkey Mind, that Victorian novels are replete with characters – particularly women characters – who exhibit what we might recognise now as some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders, from fainting to hysteria: manifestations of inner turmoil that would, in real life, have had the phrenologists running to examine their heads, and the hydropathists rushing to welcome them to their new-fangled spas (cold-water remedies were particularly popular when it came to treating what our ancestors regarded as a form of madness).
The best description I have heard is that of Franz Kafka, who described his own paralysing anxiety as “the feeling of having in the middle of my body a ball of wool that quickly winds itself up, its innumerable threads pulling from the surface of my body to itself”
Thanks to improving diagnosis and official statistics, moreover, we can see just how common it is. Last month, a survey by the Office of National Statistics revealed that levels of anxiety in Britain had dropped by almost 1%. However, this was hardly good news: 20.9% of people still rate their anxiety levels at 6 or more out of 10, while the general consensus among psychiatrists is that between 10% and 30% of the population is likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder at any one time. The Guardian.
I see many clients with anxiety and have found using The Human Toolbox™ therapy helps them gain an understanding of their anxiety, and gives them to tools to deal with it. These tools are something we all have within us, we just need help in learning how to use them.
If you would like more information about The Human Toolbox™ therapy, please contact me through the contact page on my website

Grief, Loss and My Experience


Grief is a strange thing, something very hard to explain to people who have not felt it.
Not everyone grieves in the same way, and there is no wrong or right way to grieve. Some people quickly return to normal routines including going back to work, some take a long time, some want solitude, where others seek the company of others – some do all of the above, which is what I did. How people grieve is a personal journey – even if several people are grieving for the same loss, they will grieve in their own way.

Most people are familiar with the phases of grief as:
• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance

Most people experience at least two of the five stages of grief, and some people are known to revisit certain stages over many years or even throughout their life.

Psychologist J. W. Worden also created a stage-based model for coping with the death of a loved one. He called his model the Four Tasks of Mourning:
1. To accept the reality of the loss
2. To work through the pain of grief
3. To adjust to life without the deceased
4. To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life.

My personal experience with grief was that I oscillated between two processes (known as the dual model of bereavement – Margaret Stroebe)

1. Loss oriented activities, directly related to the death, which included:
Crying – lots of it, I remember asking the doctor whether I would ever run out of tears or if they would dry up, I was exhausted but could not find a way to stop them.
Yearning – such a strong feeling of yearning where every part of my body ached and at times thought my chest would explode from the weight that was bearing down on it.
Experiencing sadness – a bit of an understatement.
Anger and dwelling – for me this was low level.
Denial is also included in the loss oriented activities but I did not experience this, nor did I shun away from all restoration activities.

2. Restoration activities are associated with secondary losses with regard to lifestyle, routine, and relationships. These include adapting to a new role, managing changes, developing new ways of connecting with family and friends, and cultivating a new way of life.
I embraced counselling, managed the changes slowly and connected well with those family members and friends that were close to me and I trusted before the death. I can honestly say that friends were my salvation.

Grief Therapy
Therapy is an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with the loss and to manage symptoms with techniques such as relaxation or meditation.

Since becoming a therapist I have found that no two grief therapy sessions are the same. Each experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal, and I will tailor treatment to meet the specific needs of each person. For example, I might help the bereaved find different ways to maintain healthy connections with the deceased through memory, reflection, ritual, or dialogue about the deceased and with the deceased. Some will allow you to scream, cry and just sit quietly, which is what mine did.
In addition to individual therapy, some find that group therapy can be helpful for those who find solace in the sharing of thoughts and feelings, and recovery results are often quick in this setting. Similarly I can invite family members to a family therapy session, which can be suitable for a family whose members are struggling to adapt to the loss of a family member.

It is nearly two years since my loss, and I have learnt how to live with it. I visually see my heart with four chambers and one of those chambers is locked tight, with the key in the lock. Every so often I unlock it and go in and feel the love, it surrounds me like a fog, hugging me, loving me, comforting me. It is a mixture of sadness and happiness, but it is my space and no one can enter but me.

If you would like more information or help you can contact me through my website or my facebook page Maria Pieretti Therapy

Thought Field Therapy

Thought Field Therapy (TFT) is a fringe psychological treatment developed by an American psychologist, Roger Callahan. Its proponents say that it can heal a variety of mental and physical ailments through specialized “tapping” with the fingers at meridian points on the upper body and hands. (Wikipedia).

I like the way TFT does not fit in within people’s conventional way of thinking – I like the element of surprise from the client. I have found a way in working where I have seen positive results, and the fact that the patient does not have to believe in it for it to work. I also like that I can use it for so many issues.

Dr. Paul Ogilvie (What is TFT), has an interesting theory in that it is based on the fight or flight theory, in which he says “I believe thought field therapy TFT works by re-setting your body’s autonomic nervous system ‘fight or flight’ response to certain situations or memories” .  He explains that if you have a frightening experience then your autonomic nervous system is activated. He goes on to say that this then releases stress, adrenalin and cortisol to prepare the body for fight or flight. He thinks that these feelings or emotions stay with us and that TFT resets them. Being a doctor, Ogilvie has had to find a way of scientifically explaining it to himself how it works, and I really like his theory.  I find that a simpler explanation to a client is that by tapping certain meridian points and following my instructions (as silly/mad as they may sound), I am accessing different parts of their brain. This then helps to reset negative emotions ‘perturbations’ and the perturbations then collapse.  TFT is a great way of dealing with certain issues quickly.