THE HOUSE WITHIN – why we need to move beyond just anxiety and depression.

Here is an important question. If you are anxious, does applying that label for what you are feeling, help you to know how to become less anxious?
The word anxious helps us to describe a set of feelings and emotional experiences such as, fear, apprehension, and panic. It is useful in this way. Anxious feelings are a different set of feelings from sad feelings or angry feelings.
But the answer to the question is – No.

Sometimes the words anxious or anxiety may even make us feel more anxious because the term carries with it a sense of an emotional experience which is happening to us over which we have no control.

In the HOUSE WITHIN, the words “stirred up” are used to describe a similar but different range of feelings such as fear, apprehension, rage, stress, overthinking and excitement.

If you are “stirred up”, that label gives you an idea of what you need to do to feel better.
This captures the essence of The House Within Model. The language is simple, everyday language that embodies within it where we are located emotionally, and what we need to do to help ourselves. People know what it means to be “stirred up”. They relate easily to the language. People commonly know of things they can do to calm themselves down from a “stirred up state”. Therefore, we are helping people to utilise the skills and knowledge they already have.

The House Within Model also introduces the language of “stirred down” to describe another set of emotions or feelings such as hopelessness, resentment, “poor me”, bitterness, “its not fair”, and envy. This “stirred down “state is characterised by negative thinking. Grouping these feelings and thoughts under the heading of “stirred down”, gives us a sense of where we are and what we need to do to feel better.

The House Within model also incorporates some techniques to help us change our emotional state if we want to. You will learn about “the spiral staircase”, “spinning” and “how to stop the spin”, about “good dots” and about “the books on the bookcase”. These are all helpful and easy to remember techniques, and they are easy to use in every situation.

The visual aspect of the model helps people relate to and remember the approach. They can see the different floors in their HOUSE WITHIN. They can see the spiral staircase that spins, and the books on the bookcase that represent aspects of our emotional thought processes.

When people are introduced to the House Within model, they are relieved to find that it gives them structure in their emotional worlds where there was no structure before. Structure is incredibly helpful. The universal image of a house, and the easy to remember and identify 5 floors, are readily integrated into their understanding and rapidly applied with effective results.

Most importantly The House Within Model introduces us to the Ground floor. This is the floor where things work best for us. It is the floor of gratitude and compassion. On the Ground floor our relationships work better, our work is better, and we allow ourselves to be in touch with, and to attend to, what life is telling us we need to do next. Here we can have emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear but we do not have to become angry, sad or fearful. We can have our emotions without them controlling our state of mind. And the Ground floor is the only floor on which we genuinely think and make progress. Some people live their whole lives without ever getting to know their Ground floor.

Ground floor functioning is important for individuals, organisations, and communities.

The House Within model encourages us to look at what is happening to us emotionally from an outside or objective position. Rather than allowing ourselves to get caught up in each emotion we are asked to look from outside ourselves and get an overview of where we are in our House Within and what we need to do to feel better. In the House Within model, this is playfully called, Astronaut thinking. Only when we can step outside of our emotions, can a new way of managing begin. This is the key first step!

THE HOUSE WITHIN language, the visual images, emotional structure and techniques, give you a whole new toolbox to help you to live well, emotionally.

Pauline Pearson 

Pauline Pearson is a Mental Health Social Worker and Psychotherapist in Melbourne Australia


THE HOUSE WITHIN- we need to teach people how their emotions work.

Our most valuable possession in life is our state of mind.
The only thing we can control in life is our state of mind.
Our state of mind affects everything we do and how we experience our lives.
People have the right to be taught how their emotions work and how to manage their emotions.
We need to create opportunities for learning.

Traditionally, society has expected that as people grow older, they will develop good management of their emotions. Four year olds are expected to be able to wait, to share, and to manage their emotions, more than a two year old. Senior school students are expected to be better at managing their emotions than their younger counterparts. We hope that 40 year olds will be more emotionally capable than they were as teenagers. And we hope that advanced age will bring life wisdom and skilled management of emotions.

And yet, as we read these words, we will be thinking of many examples of emotional regulation skills not developing with increasing age. Older people often struggle with anger, sadness and negative thinking. Young people have issues with anger and insecurity. All ages report feeling anxiety and depression. We may also be thinking of our own shortage of knowledge and skill in this area.

Those who don’t manage their emotions well, may be offered treatments of various kinds such as medication, counselling and therapy, or punitive consequences. I believe passionately that we need to make room between society’s expectation of emotional development, and therapeutic treatment, or punitive responses, to teach people how their emotions work and how they can manage their emotions more effectively. All the above approaches are required in a well developed service system. Research shows that being able to manage our emotions is one of the major determinants of lifelong wellbeing.

I believe it is more important to know how our emotions work than it is to learn maths and reading. It is core. It is primary.

Every person has a right to know what is presented in this model and to be given the opportunity to manage their emotions, and their states of mind, because our state of mind affects everything we do in life. Our state of mind affects how we relate, how we learn, how we work together, how we build community, how we care for ourselves and each other.

Also, our psychology knowledge base is changing. Neuroplasticity and other scientific developments have changed our way of understanding our emotions and how we can manage them. We have a responsibility to pass on this information to the community broadly, and in very accessible language.

Recently, the emphasis in psychology has moved towards states of mind as a focus, where once the emphasis was more on what are you feeling and why. Both approaches are important, but the states of mind approach offers a new way of helping people understand and manage their emotions.

THE HOUSE WITHIN and mindfulness.

Everything around us is changing and while this is stressful for the community there are some good, new things emerging. One good thing is that we are teaching children about mindfulness. They are being taught to focus inward, to be in touch with their emotions, and to take responsibility for their state of mind. Mindfulness is the bridge to the future.

While some in the community are tired of the mindfulness approach, and may have doubts about how mindfulness is taught in some instances, if you are not part of the move towards a more mindful community, you belong to the past. As our old community structures crumble, mindfulness being taught to our children and grandchildren, carries within it, the chance to build new community structures founded on care and concern for our own mental state and for the wellbeing of others.

But traditional mindfulness approaches and meditation do not work for everyone or every situation. We need to offer a range of approaches to mindfulness, and for some in the community, what is presented here will be easier to put into practice than traditional mindfulness and meditation.

The House Within approach is like a form of mindfulness in the moment, always available to be used. If you are in the middle of a difficult meeting or the children are “driving you crazy”, common mindfulness techniques may not even be a possibility. But the techniques, or tools, in The House Within can be used at any time and in any situation, to help people become centred, emotionally responsible, and thoughtful.

Pauline Pearson

Pauline Pearson is a Mental Health Social Worker and Psychotherapist in Melbourne Australia



Author: Dusana Dorjee
Lecturer, Psychology in Education Research Centre, Department of Education, University of York

Schools are often where children’s and adolescents’ mental health problems are identified. While there is ever growing demand for mental health support for pupils, such as in-school counselling and mentoring, the focus now – just like for any health problem – should be more on prevention than intervention.
Prevention makes sense financially, given that specialist mental health services for children and adolescents are currently overloaded, with long waiting lists. More importantly, helping young people develop traits, skills and strategies to protect their mental health can have a lifelong positive impact. And if mental health skills are broadly taught in schools and applied by pupils in a supportive learning context (and where possible also involve family, and are put into practice outside school) the health improvements could, in time, benefit the whole population.
In short, mental health prevention in schools makes a lot of sense. But according to a recent report, it is largely insufficient in UK schools. This is despite well-being being high on education policy agendas.
There seems to be an imbalance between learning about physical health and mental well-being. Most children are taught about the importance of things like exercise, a healthy diet and the risks of smoking in school. But they rarely learn about the impact of stress on their body, symptoms of anxiety and depression, or healthy mental habits. They are not taught how to prevent anxiety and excessive negative stress, or how to work with these experiences if they arise.
So how could schools effectively contribute to mental health prevention? To answer this question, we first need to be clear on what mental health prevention should focus on. In recent years, “resilience” has been frequently emphasised as central to mental health. But there are disagreements about what resilience means and how to measure it.
Definitions often place resilience in terms of positive responses to adversity. However, both resilience and well-being are strongly impacted by two core determinants of mental health – determinants of mental health which schools should be focusing on first for problem prevention.
The first determinant, “metacognitive self-regulation”, is linked to reflective self-control – the ability to notice what is happening in our mind and body, and effectively manage our attention and emotions. This means, for example, that a pupil might notice they have repeated anxious thoughts about an upcoming exam. Or that they often get a tummy ache when they have to speak in front of the class. Noticing these initial signs can prompt the pupil to apply some strategies to reduce the anxious thoughts or stress. They may disengage their attention from repetitive thoughts, or apply techniques that help them feel less anxious. In this way, the pupil can prevent the early signs of mental health difficulties that they are experiencing from escalating into overwhelming clinical health problems.
The second determinant of mental health is a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Research shows that adolescents who have a better sense of meaning and purpose are less likely to suffer from depression.
The sense of purpose arises in various forms. It could be a career one is working towards or a motivation to be really good at something, for instance. But when it goes beyond mere self focus, this sense can have particularly protective effects on mental health. Instead of solely focusing on “my achievements” or “my career”, one can find deeper meaning and purpose in connecting with something bigger. This can be a connection with nature, religion, spiritual self-exploration or a contribution towards a larger positive cause.
Importantly, strengthening metacognitive self-regulation and having a positive sense of meaning/purpose in life is not only central to well-being but can also enhance academic performance. For example, chronically increased levels of stress associated with unhealthy sleep patterns and excessive anxiety can interfere with learning and negatively impact on exam performance. So self-regulating effectively will have a ripple effect on academic achievement. Similarly, having a clear purpose, such as wanting to make a positive difference or compassionately care for others, can strongly motivate a pupil’s learning.
For children to develop their own metacognitive self-regulation and a sense of purpose and meaning, schools need to teach the relevant skills from early years until pupils finish education. Brief programmes in which children learn a few strategies are unlikely to have longer-term impact. A variety of approaches should be integrated into this, too, including attention training, mindfulness, and stress education. As well as basic cognitive-behavioural therapy strategies and relaxation techniques, there should be development of healthy qualities of mind such as compassion and gratitude, and reflective exploration of purpose and meaning of life including its spiritual dimensions.
Teaching such a curriculum will require somewhat radical changes to teacher education, however. It will also mean greater emphasis on teacher well-being – chronically stressed teachers who are unwell themselves are unlikely to be able to effectively deliver such lessons. Policy guidelines and school curricula will need changing, too.
It may seem like a lot to ask from an education system which is greatly stretched as is, but it might be the best investment we can make as a society.
September 5, 2018



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