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Catherine MacLaren

Catherine MacLaren

Following a break, the Friday afternoon session continued with an appearance by Catharine MacLaren, a Fellow with the Albert Ellis Institute for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy in New York . MacLaren spoke on “Tools & Advice for the Atheist Family Coping with Isolation and Harassment.”

Ms. MacLaren (M.S.W., CEAP) has worked extensively with families and adolescents in crisis. She is coauthor, along with Dr. Albert Ellis of “Rational Emotive Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide (1998).

MacLaren began by distinguishing between rational and irrational beliefs. “This is disappointing,” might express one’s healthy reaction to an unfortunate situation; whereas “How AWFUL!” represents a negative, irrational impulse -- part of an unhealthy monologue which we have running inside our brains. Similarly, “I can put up with what I don’t like or I can lobby for change” may be a more positive and constructive response, as opposed to “I can’t stand it!”

Another important point made by MacLaren is for people to realize that none of us can be “liked” all the time by everyone under all circumstances.

All of this is part of a “belief” structure; rational “beliefs” prove to be helpful, flexible whereas something irrational is rigid, unhelpful.

What about dealing with unfair behavior? This becomes an important issue, especially for youngsters who might be experiencing discrimination or some other form of negative behavior. She provided a check list of ten items...

  1. Talk about it.

  2. Separate behavior from the entire person.

  3. Provide a “safe” environment.

  4. Don’t automatically run to the rescue.

  5. Ignoring the behavior may or may not work.

  6. De-catastrophize.

  7. “Sticks and stones...”

  8. Labeling doesn’t make it true.

  9. Practice, practice, practice!

  10. Accept yourself.

MacLaren told parents that we are all “fallible human beings,” that sooner or later children (and adults) make mistakes, but that we must learn to separate incidences of specific behavior for the person.

In terms of creating a “safe environment,” MacLaren suggested that parents facilitate a situation where children feel free to express problems to their parents without eliciting a harsh, even hysterical response. Parents also need to avoid the temptation to “rescue” youngsters by directly intervening into a situation; this can sometimes lead to alienation because of the behavior of the parent.

“De-catastrophize” means to not automatically assume that the worst will happen; this is important in connection with teens and youngsters who often exhibit “all or nothing” patterns of thought. “Not matter what, it’s usually not the end of the world.”

Since youngsters often internalize things which are said, it is important to point out that insults, name-calling and other forms of ad hominem attacks don’t make you what you are.

Finally, MacLaren suggested that the best thing parents can do is to create a nurturing and positive environment which children can, in turn, pass on to their offspring.

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