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The “non-science” called DMIT   8 comments

The other day I ran into a friend who was really excited. She was going through the usual struggle trying to figure out what career would be best for her school-going children. This friend had just attended an information session on a new technique which uses fingerprints of children to help understand their natural capabilities better, basis which she could make a better career decision for her kids. So, should it be engineering or architecture, or law or journalism? A fingerprinting test would tell you all the answers, and this “science” is called “Dermatoglyphics Multiple Intelligences Test “or DMIT.

It sounded like a miracle cure, and I was very interested to learn more.

Being a clinical psychologist, and trained in the field, she had my attention. I am licensed in the US, and keep myself informed of the developments in the field. However, I had never heard of “DMIT”.

The first place I looked was peer reviewed research in the field of Medicine and Psychology, but nothing by way of research turned up about DMIT. The next place to look was Google. I looked in depth for any information on “DMIT”.  A few salesy websites turned up, but nothing of substance.  Evidently nobody involved in the rigorous scientific study of medicine or psychology has heard of, studied, or approved of this new science.

I knew about the theory of multiple intelligences, of course. That has been around since 1983, and widely accepted and used in academic institutions worldwide, although a few sceptics, as always, remain.  Paper-based tests which indicate which are the stronger intelligences in an individual have again been around for a while, and are seen as a good indicator, although not considered conclusive.  I also learnt about Dermatoglyphics, which has existed as a proper science per se for many years. However, the claimed correlation between the two – that your fingerprints can reveal things about your personality / traits / learning styles or types of dominant intelligence is a big question-mark.

Let me explain briefly how anything becomes accepted as “science”. Largely, the basis is peer-reviewed research. That means, in simple English, that a scholar researches a particular topic in depth, and publishes his/her research. Other colleagues review that research in depth – and come back with their opinion on that particular topic. This often spawns a whole new field of study, with many more researchers also getting into research of the same topic in further depth. Basis this, a body of knowledge and deeper understanding of that topic emerges, which is well understood and proven. This is then not just an idea or an experimental technique, but a well researched, well understood topic which then moves into the realm of being science.

Unfortunately, for DMIT there is no peer-reviewed research out there. In fact, what does turn up is rather scary. Any such concept typically has an originator. For Example, the theory of Multiple Intelligences was put forward by Dr. Howard Gardner, a Harvard scholar. Dermatoglyphics by Dr. Harold Cummins. DMIT’s origins are not clear. Nobody claims to be the originator of this “science”. The whole idea seems to have come out of ether. Nobody clearly lays claim to the theory being theirs.

The unfortunate thing is that this “science” has a lot of appeal to parents desperately looking for a quick-fix solution. DMIT can look like a saviour to many such pressured parents looking for an elixir, and one for which they are willing to spend good money.  Consequently, a lot of companies and commercial interests are now pushing this quackery as science. These tests are “packaged” along with a serious amount of counselling, etc., based on the highest profit which they can extract from each parent, rather than the purported benefit of the child.

Given the competition in Indian schools and colleges, all parents are desperate to see their kids succeed, and at the same time would like to understand (ideally, in clear black and white terms, and with no shade of grey) exactly what it is that their child has a natural propensity for, and interest in. Now, with this new technology, they can apparently get all the answers in one shot, and most importantly, it is supposed to be scientific! Surprisingly, many well educated parents get convinced by the sales pitch.

Let us start by asking a basic question: Is this a proven science? Why is it that nowhere in the world is this “science” being used as entrance criteria? If yes, why is it not included in exams such as the GRE / GMAT / LSAT etc? For that matter, why are the premier Indian institutes like the IITs, IIMs, and the Medical colleges of India not using this as entrance criteria? Given everything that is claimed about DMIT, it would be an excellent intake filter.

Second, again, would such a dependable scientific indicator not be used by mass recruiting companies, such as TCS and Infosys, which are at the cutting-edge of technology? All of corporate India is desperate for effective selection tools for the purpose of recruitment. Even things such as handwriting analysis have been used. Why not DMIT, especially if it is so effective?

Most importantly, have we thought about the consequences of getting it wrong? What if the report gives the wrong information and you keep pushing the child into something he or she is not suited for? The output provided to the parents is a “scientific report” which can be very detailed and impressive – and can be generated by a software in about 10 seconds. What it is doing is putting your child in a “box” basis certain correlations that have not been established beyond doubt.

As parents, the responsibility of understanding our children is ours. In many countries, the school system takes upon itself to expose children to a wide variety of experiences and fields, thus allowing children to discover for themselves what it is that they enjoy and have a natural talent for. In India, unfortunately, most schools do not do this, and so it falls upon us as parents to do so. While it would be great to have a simple, easy, out-of-the-box way to do this, I urge all parents to not take easy shortcuts in this endeavour without doing full and detailed research. The costs of getting this piece wrong are way too big – it is equivalent to taking a chance with your child’s future and happiness.

Note : I have no vested interest in saying this – I am simply voicing my opinion both as a parent and a psychologist.

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Posted September 7, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized

Educational Pressure and Exam Stress   2 comments

Board and school final exams are around the corner. This is the time to prepare, to think and plan, to help build your own and your child’s immunity to educational pressure and exam stress. We all want our children to be successful and happy, and it is high time we figured out how.

Teenagers, especially in India, go through immense pressure and stress related to their educational pursuits. Each child has his or her own personality, temperament, unique strengths, talents and abilities. While each child may be bright and capable in his or her own way, every child may not be interested in or suited to engaging in purely academic pursuits or becoming an engineer or doctor. Exposure is the key to helping a teenager find his/her areas of interest and once interested the teenager may develop enough discipline and motivation on his/her own to pursue his or her own goals without parents needing to nag! Openly discussing the pros and cons of different career options and ideally having them speak to someone engaged in a career they are interested in, or visiting that person’s workplace, provides a more realistic picture. The idea, therefore, is not to leave teenagers to their own devices. It is important to be actively engaged in helping children discover for themselves their own interests and then making it clear that you expect them to put in their best efforts towards realizing their dreams. There is no substitute for hard work, no matter what field – arts, entertainment, business, medicine, etc. Otherwise, try putting in a square peg in a round hole – it will never fit. There are unfortunately scores of adults and young people who have been badgered into making educational and career choices they were not keen on and are not happy with. Quite a few of these teenagers and adults go through life struggling with low self esteem, anxiety and depression as they do not find what they do satisfying and are unable to put in their best efforts. Everything they try to do is to somebody else’s standard, and that standard can never be satisfied.

In addition, a single minded focus on using academic performance as the only criteria for assessing a child’s worth is extremely damaging to the child and the society at large. There can only be a few “toppers” in a specific area, but there can be several “toppers” in many different areas, such as art, photography, philanthropy, furniture design, landscaping, dramatics, entrepreneurship, sports, etc. When we widen the possibilities of where success may lie, success becomes more possible. There are two problems that need to be addressed: wanting each child to be a “topper” as per set external standards (i.e., exam results); and, pushing each child to be that topper, whether the child is even remotely interested in it or not, and has the ability to do so or not. There are many successful and happy people who have carved out a niche for themselves in an area after having been average students and doing different things until they found that one area which really excited them. We do not have to make the next generation go through the same process and instead help them find their passion earlier in their lives.

Having said that, assume there is a child who is keen on academics and wants to excel in a given exam. Most likely as the exam approaches the child will go though some anxiety. Some anxiety is normal. It is what pushes us to work hard, focus on our goals and not become lazy or distracted. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that anxiety beyond a level is detrimental and affects performance negatively. Each person has a different threshold for anxiety, as for any other emotion. This level is determined by each person’s unique biology or temperament and socialization or learning from childhood. While we cannot change biology, it is the learning part that we can work on. Helping children and teenagers learn how to organize their time and plan, how to break big projects into small parts and tackle one part at a time, is sometimes all that is required.

Anxiety is often related to the unknown or feeling that things are out of control or focusing on outcomes that one fears. While most students who are well prepared usually feel confident and less anxious, sometimes some of these students may undergo intense anxiety if they hold catastrophic beliefs around their results (coming second in an exam is the same as failure), have unrealistic expectations, and their entire self worth is tied to their performance (have to top each exam, else I am not good enough). The same thinking is sometimes at play even with children who are average or below average students either due to a learning disability or due to being ill prepared because they do not have the study skills required or the right educational resources, including good teachers. While universal good education should be a protected right, the reality is far from ideal. In addition, while some children are quite self-driven and competitive by nature, their anxiety also stems from the desire to excel by the standards set by their peers. In this scenario, pressure from parents to excel further adds to the anxiety, pushing it up to unhealthy levels.  In order to prevent children and teenagers from becoming overtly anxious, parents play a very important role by being realistic, and not reinforcing unfortunate beliefs. At the same time, helping children and teenagers build a stronger sense of self worth that is not tied so deeply to performance.

You can help a child who is highly anxious by discussing the worst case scenario so that there is a plan B in place and the unknown is not so scary. Parents can also help teach themselves and children ways to calm themselves, for example, through deep breathing and positive thinking, especially when they begin to feel anxious. And, in general, following age appropriate meditation practices, if possible.

It is important to pay attention and help your child now. Poor self esteem combined with unhelpful, unfortunate beliefs, high levels of anxiety, and pressure from parents or school to perform, is a deadly combination, which can lead to depression and/or extreme frustration and suicide. A life is too high a price to pay for someone else’s definition of success.

Here are links to some websites that give pointers to school and college students for improving study habits and reducing exam stress:

http://kidshealth.org/teen/school_jobs/school/test_terror.html 

http://www.cod.edu/people/faculty/fancher/study.htm

Posted February 9, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized

Talking to children about sex!   1 comment

Why

Children are often exposed to sex and overt sexuality quite early in life, whether it is in the form of popular songs, such as “Sheila ki javani”, or more direct and harmful ways, such as exposure to pornography and sexual abuse. While children do not have the maturity to understand what sex and sexuality are, they do experience some discomfort and/or curiosity when exposed to it. Depending upon how the situation is handled by the parents, they also have some feelings attached to the topic. Children and teenagers often have many questions, which they might try to ask, directly or indirectly, and if snubbed or evaded by parents, they may reach out to other sources for answers. The other sources, usually other friends or the internet, may further misinform or glorify sex and sexuality. The two real fears that most parents have regarding their child’s exposure to sex and sexuality are: 1) Will my child end up experimenting with sex too early? 2) Will my child fall prey or be lured into sexually exploitative or abusive situations? The only way to address these fears is by not evading questions around sex and sexuality, but by addressing them as and when they arise. The aim is also to help children and teenagers build their own ability to make informed and healthy choices around sex and sexuality.

What

Sex education is not that one interaction that you have when your son is turning 15, and you tell him about the birds and the bees. Sex education is also not just a program that your child’s school is undertaking. Sex education is education about an important aspect of life that you need to impart to your child, as you would education regarding healthy habits, eating right, etc. Sex education implies imparting information regarding ensuring ones safety and responsible behaviour in a manner that is age appropriate for your child. Sex education includes imparting knowledge and skills that would enable a child to engage in safe, satisfactory relationships – a skill for a lifetime. Sex education also means teaching children that they have a right to privacy and respect for their body and personal space, no matter their age, and so do others. 

How

Sex education works best when it is integrated into your overall approach towards raising and educating your child about various facts of life. With very young children, as they start speaking and start naming different body parts around the age of 2, you can help them name their private parts, including genitals, in language that is easily understood and widely used, e.g., “sussu”, “bum”, “bottom”. As you start teaching them about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, such as not to hit or push, you can also start talking about body parts that are private. The idea is not to label any body part as something to hide or be ashamed of, but to simply say that genitals are private and that the child can touch his or hers in an appropriate setting, such as while bathing, but not at other places/situations. You can also tell the child that as parents you may touch a particular body part, e.g., their bottom, in order to clean them after they have been to the “potty” or while bathing, but that at other times you will respect their privacy. Similarly, they should expect that others, whether adults or other children, should respect their privacy and not touch their private parts ever. They should, likewise, respect the privacy of other children and adults and not touch anyone else’s private parts. You can also tell them that if any touch, whether it is a shove or push, makes them feel uncomfortable, they can ask the person to stop and come to you or a teacher and report. In fact, you need to allow them to even ask a relative not to kiss them, if they do not want to be kissed. This helps the child feel empowered to listen to their instincts and know that you respect their private space.

All this information has to be imparted in parts, slowly, not all at once. And, it has to be repeated several times just as you would remind your child, again and again, to use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. The idea is not to make it a big deal but to handle such information in a calm, gentle, matter of fact manner. If they forget or test you, for example, by touching another child, remind them that it is important to respect the other child’s privacy, and do not scold them. While it is important to inculcate this sense in children, it is also important to recognize that some behaviour is absolutely natural and to accept it for what it is. For example, it is absolutely normal for little children to be curious of, and touch their own body parts, including genitalia.

As children grow older, there are many opportunities to teach them biology. The best times are when a child asks a question or shows curiosity, for example, when a relative is pregnant. You can teach even 4 and 5 year olds about the life cycle of birds and mammals. At this age, the curiosity is regarding where a baby comes from. And, you can limit your information to explaining that babies are usually born or hatched from an egg that the mother lays. As they grow older, between 10 to 12 years of age, you can provide a bit more detailed information about the human anatomy. It is always better to prepare girls for menstruation before it happens rather than talking about it afterwards. It is then an event to look forward to, and not something to suddenly deal with, dread or endure. However, as in all aspects of development, some children biologically mature earlier than others. Hence, it is important to assess the readiness of your child and then have this conversation. When talking to children and teenagers about sex and/or sexuality, it is always important to remember that our own attitudes and feelings about the topic get communicated to the child very easily. The best way to approach the topic is to keep it as matter of fact as possible so that the teenager, who will soon become an adult, can embrace their own sexuality free of your baggage.

Another aspect that determines how early one needs to have a conversation around sex and sexuality with an adolescent is their exposure to the internet. In some countries 9 year olds are now being taught about the dangers of using the internet. With 10 and 12 year olds having facebook accounts and access to the internet, it becomes important to talk to children about safety while using the internet. Then again, in India, children barely out of school are engaging in sex and so high school would definitely be a time to talk about sex, legal age for consent, contraceptives, implications of early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. However, as mentioned earlier, if your child has matured early, or has close friends who have matured early, you may want to have this conversation earlier. It is also a time to talk about relationships and reiterate your message regarding respecting their own bodies, and not getting coerced or pressurized into engaging in sexual activity of any kind. Teenagers also need to be encouraged to demonstrate an attitude of respect towards others in this context.

Most importantly, keeping channels of communication open and demonstrating your comfort with talking about sex and sexuality with your child, allows the child, no matter what age, to come to you when in doubt. That is the time when you can influence your child’s decision making. That is also the time when you can intervene actively if you think your child might be in harm’s way.

Posted February 9, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized

How to take care of your emotional health   1 comment

While we all do worry about and take care of our physical health, how many of us truly think about and try to ensure our emotional well being?  Our emotional well-being impacts how good we feel and how well we work. It even impacts our physical health in more ways than we realize – blood pressure, headaches, ulcers, etc., are all very often physical outcomes of psychological problems.  And all too often the cure we attempt fixes the symptoms rather than the cause.  

 

The blues can hit anyone, anytime – summer or winter. You have a big event coming up, like your wedding or your child’s wedding, a big promotion that gives you more responsibility, more visibility – all good things…. but then there is the anxiety that creeps up. Of course, if things don’t go your way – did not get the much anticipated promotion or a relationship ended – there is a bigger and more complex box of emotions to deal with.

 

All of us go through such events in life.  Sometimes we are able to maintain our emotional balance and sometimes things seem overwhelming. This isn’t about being emotionally strong or weak; it is often about how much stress we are under. So, how do we watch out for when the usual anxious pangs begin to turn into panic or even panic attacks? Or, the blues just don’t go away. Given below are some  general guidelines that work for children as much as they work for adults:

 

Diet and sleep. Take care of your diet and your sleep. Tired and hungry children are known to be cranky, and so are adults! Stick to a regular bedtime and bedtime routine, get enough sleep, and eat healthy.

 

Exercise. Exercise is a well researched component of the treatment strategy for mild depression and anxiety. Exercise helps the body secrete endorphins, the feel good neurotransmitters. It also tires the body and helps in cases where sleep is disrupted due to stress.

 

Interests and hobbies. Find some interests or hobbies that you enjoy pursuing. It could even be part of work that you do. Joy and wellbeing is experienced in what psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi, describes as “flow”.  It has been described as moments of “effortless concentration and enjoyment”.”Flow” is not passively watching TV or sitting in the sun (which can also make you feel happy), it is engaging in any activity which completely holds your attention, like reading a good book or connecting with a close friend. It involves actively pursuing some goals you set up for yourself – it could be at a game of chess or a business deal you are negotiating. 

 

 – Calm at bedtime. Bedtime or in general night time is usually not the best time to try and resolve conflicts or reflect on your worries. You will often only lose sleep and magnify you difficulties. In the light of day rationality prevails better and problem solving is definitely better after a good night’s rest!!

 

Mind-body connection. The mind and body are definitely connected. And Indians or Asians, in general, are known for somaticizing or expressing emotional pain in the form of physical ailments. Consciously or otherwise, we tend to allow ourselves our physical aches and pains and even seek help for them, but not so for our emotional pains. Watch out for the elderly relative who just lost her spouse and seems to be coping fairly well. Most likely her blood pressure and diabetes have worsened!! Severe panic attacks look very much like heart attacks. When there are no physical reasons for a medical condition, look at the emotional. Addressing emotional stress in such cases is of prime importance.

 

Meditation. Learn meditation or find ways by which you can get into a meditative state. An intense game of tennis or a long run can be meditation in action as it helps remove all thoughts and worries from the mind and compels one to focus on the immediate moment.

 

Voluntary work. Volunteer when you can. Nothing works better to put our problems in perspective than closely interacting with or witnessing how difficult life is for a section of our society, be it the terminally ill, street children or people less privileged than us. This is a strategy that also works wonders with teenagers. It also helps give life a greater sense of purpose and meaning.

 

Unclutter and prioritize. Unclutter your life. It is not important to be a super mom, super worker or super anything. Delete things from your to do list that you have a hard time juggling and are not essential to do. 

 

Love thyself. Finally, learn to love yourself!! Nobody else can be as critical of you as you can. Beating yourself up for small or big mistakes will only make you feel miserable. Also, perfection is an unachievable goal!! Develop some positive self talk and try to be your best advocate.

 

Professional help. Most importantly, seek professional help i.e., counseling or psychotherapy. If you are losing sleep, losing weight, or gaining weight, get help. If you are self medicating by using sleeping pills too often or using alcohol to uplift your mood or help relieve stress, get help. Depression preceded by the death of a loved one, separation, or divorce most often leads to suicides. If you are going through any of these experiences, consider help. Also consider help if you are feeling depressed after loss of employment or any such dearly held and significant goal. If you observe anyone engaging in uncharacteristic behavior or behavior that concerns you, get a consultation. Professional help benefits not only those who are suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder but also those facing interpersonal issues. In addition, it is not just for fixing problems: if you want to be proactive, and untangle some of the tangles before they become problems, seek a consultation. And, when you do seek professional help ask the provider about his or her level of training and experience.

Posted January 22, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized

Psychologist- Psychiatrist: what’s the difference?   1 comment

What does a clinical psychologist do, and what does a psychiatrist do?

As someone I know put it simply: clinical psychologists are like software professionals, and psychiatrists are like hardware professionals. Clinical psychologists work with people with a wide range of mental health difficulties and sometimes with people who have no major problems at all but are keen to further grow and explore their human potential. The problems that clinical psychologists help individuals deal with include relatively less severe problems, such as, dealing with stress/dissatisfaction at work, or adjustment difficulties due to a recent relocation, as well as more severe problems, such as, severe depression, or panic attacks that look like heart attacks. Clinical psychologists help individuals, couples, and families solve their problems through talk therapy rather than pharmaceutical interventions.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, step in only when mental health problems become more severe, which includes severe anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, etc. They focus on treating the chemical imbalances in the brain that accompany specific mental health conditions. Treatment is symptom based. So, the psychiatrists are the ones who will determine if medication is required, the kind of medication, and the dosage, whereas clinical psychologists will try to bring about change via changes in thought processes, behaviours, and emotions. Needless to say, psychologists need to work more regularly with their clients and often for longer durations than psychiatrists do. It is important to remember, however, that medicines alone cannot treat mental health conditions, at least not as effectively, or on a long term basis. Psychotherapy or Counselling is required in order to help individuals make long term and sustainable changes in their way of thinking so that they are better able to deal with various stressors in their lives, and lead more happy and fulfilling lives.

What are the qualifications of a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. In India, to become a psychiatrist, a person has to earn an MBBS degree, followed by an MD in psychiatry or a DPM or DNB credential. Child psychiatrists specialize in the treatment of children and teenagers who suffer from a mental disorder and need medication, such as ADHD, depression, OCD, schizophrenia, etc. Psychiatrists typically see their patients once or twice a month for follow up. General practitioners also sometimes prescribe psychiatric medication but they are not trained in this field and may not have the knowledge or experience to distinguish between the various mental health conditions to be able to make the correct diagnosis. Also, psychiatric medication needs regular follow up in order to ensure that the dosage is accurate. For example, weight gain or weight loss would require modifications to be made to the dosage as the dose prescribed earlier will not work in an optimal manner. Also, side effects need to be monitored.

What are the qualifications of a clinical psychologist?

In the US, clinical psychologist is a title that persons who have completed their doctoral degree in clinical psychology (PhD or PsyD) can use after they have cleared the licensing exams. Psychotherapist or therapist is a title that can be used by people who have completed their MA in Clinical Psychology, MA in Social Work, etc. It is a more widely and generally used title and does not require a person to have cleared any licensing exam.

Counselling degree is usually a separate degree in the US. People can do their Masters or Doctorate in counselling. The difference between a counselling degree and a clinical psychology degree is that counselling is more short term and focused on solving immediate problems, whereas clinical psychologists do more in depth and long term work with individuals. Also, clinical psychologists are the only ones trained to conduct comprehensive psychological assessments, including administering various IQ and personality assessment measures. For example, only a clinical psychologist would be able to conduct a comprehensive psychological assessment to determine whether speech delays in a child were due to learning disability or autism. Marriage and Family Therapy is taught at a few places separately as a Masters or Doctoral level program. However, marriage counselling or couples and family therapy is also taught as part of clinical psychology programs.

In India, however, clinical psychology training is in its nascent stages. There is no professional regulation in this field; hence, anyone can use any title with little or no training. “Clinical psychologist”, “counsellor”, “therapist”, “marriage counsellor”, “child psychologist”, etc., are all terms that are used interchangeably and often have little to do with a person’s formal training. The most important aspect of clinical psychology or psychotherapy training is the practical aspect, and that is often missing in most programs of study in India. The diploma in counselling programs often either do not have a supervised practical training component or it is just not rigorous enough. Even the MA and PhD in Psychology programs are largely academic and do not focus on supervised practical training. Most of these programs also do not have a very strong specialization component wherein students could be exposed to the latest theory and practice methods in how to work with children and teenagers or with couples. Hence, it is very important that you ask your child’s therapist or marriage counsellor about their training, qualifications, and experience before you decide to work with them.

 

Posted January 22, 2012 by enricheducation in Uncategorized