Services

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Psychological Assessments

The purpose of a psychological assessment is to develop a shared understanding about the area(s) of difficulty or concern. While the young person is viewed as the expert on their own experiences, assessments are an intentionally collaborative process that involve looking at the presenting situation from a range of perspectives (e.g. the young person’s, their parents, teachers etc.), in combination with clinical opinion. The initial goal is to gather all the ‘puzzle pieces’ together and then reflect on the picture that forms in order to provide recommendations and where relevant, decide on the most appropriate interventions.

While Verena is fully licensed to provide diagnoses and can understand why some clients may be eager for this (e.g. for added clarity or to access funding, resources, special assessment conditions), she views diagnoses as merely a means of communicating about a specific set of challenges. A diagnosis does not tell you exactly how these challenges play out for a particular young person (e.g. what sets things off, keeps them going, makes things worse or better), all their unique strengths or how to best support them. When providing a diagnosis, Verena consciously distinguishes between ‘the label’ and ‘the child/adolescent’, and can provide a range of practical, user-friendly information to enable both the young person and their caregivers to work towards their goals.

With that in mind, Lotus and Fern offers a range of specialised assessments that can be tailored to clients’ specific needs. Below are some of the common assessments that can be carried out alone or in combination with one another, depending on the identified areas of concern. Please note that none of these assessments are ever interpreted in isolation. Instead, all results are reviewed in the context of a comprehensive level of background information that is gathered from multiple sources.

Emotional Assessments
Feeling sad, worried or becoming irritable in response to specific situations is not only completely normal, but also adaptive. Our emotions give us important messages about what is going on for us, often before we have even consciously registered our needs. If young people are unable to experience their own emotions, they will also have difficulties understanding other people’s emotions. Together, these will limit the extent to which children/adolescents can express themselves, engage meaningfully with others or cope with challenges as they arise.

Assessing young people’s mood or emotional states can be particularly helpful when there are concerns about the impact of persistent anxiety or depression symptoms on their social, emotional or academic functioning. Depression and anxiety symptoms can look very different between one young person and another and it is common for the symptoms to overlap. Some of the common symptoms are summarised below.

Depression

Irritability
Fatigue or lack of energy
Difficulties paying attention, focussing or making decisions
Irritability
Difficulties with sleep
Decreased appetite
Decreased interest or pleasure in activities
Feeling consistently guilty, hopeless or worthless
Feeling consistently sad or empty
Having thoughts about death or suicide
Self-harming or suicidal attempts

Anxiety

Restlessness
Being very concerned about what others think
Physical sensations that are not due to a physical condition e.g. hot and cold flushes, shaking, difficulties breathing, pain, chest tightness, heart palpitations or stomach cramps
Picking skin or biting nails
Difficulties with sleep
Mind racing with thoughts
Avoiding specific situations, objects, people or places
Feeling consistently unsafe or in danger
Feeling really fearful in social situations
Needing to check that things are ‘right’
Needing to check that things are clean

Educational Assessments
Educational assessments involve the administration of standardised, psychometric tasks that can provide helpful information about a young person’s academic abilities across a broad range of areas (e.g. oral language, reading, writing and mathematics) as summarised below.

Oral Expression – The ability to listen for details and communicate meaning through spoken language.

Reading – The ability to read and understand words, letters or sounds.

Writing ­– The ability to use written language (including spelling and sentence structure) to communicate ideas.

Mathematics – The ability to solve verbal and written mathematical questions.

Educational assessments can be particularly useful when young people are having difficulties with school performance as the results can be used to help them as well as their parents and teachers understand their specific learning needs and in turn, modify learning materials or expectations accordingly. Educational assessments are usually used in conjunction with cognitive assessments to help determine specific areas of learning giftedness or difficulty in light of young people’s intellectual abilities and the performance of other children their age.

Cognitive Assessments
Cognitive assessments can be used to provide information about a young person’s unique pattern of intellectual strengths and challenges. This is especially useful if they seem to be having difficulties at school and/or struggling with tasks at home. It involves administering a set of standardised psychometric tasks that are designed to assess their performance across a variety of cognitive abilities as summarised below.

Verbal Comprehension – The ability to use words to interpret and express general information or concepts. 

Visual Spatial Reasoning – The ability to evaluate visual details and understand visual spatial information. 

Fluid Reasoning – The ability to understand the underlying conceptual relationship between visual objects and then apply that knowledge to solve problems. 

Working Memory – The ability to register, manipulate and retain information to complete tasks.

Processing Speed – The ability to make judgements by quickly scanning and discriminating between visual information.

Behavioural Assessments
Behavioural assessments are recommended when there are concerns about a young person’s behaviour. This may include (but is not limited to) aggression, hyperactivity, impulsivity and/or difficulties with sustaining attention. While there are a wide range of behavioural challenges that fall within the realm of ‘developmentally appropriate’ difficulties for young people, these assessments are designed to capture behaviours that go beyond this – behaviours that likely cause significant challenges across important life areas (e.g. difficulties with learning or relating to others).

Behavioural assessments require comprehensive information to be gathered from multiple sources (e.g. the young person, their parents, teachers etc.). The primary goal is to get a fuller understanding of the behaviour itself (e.g. what causes it, what keeps it going etc.) and then to come up with collaborative ways of supporting the young person. Verena views behavioural difficulties as a child or adolescent’s way of saying “I’m not coping!”. The challenging behaviour is therefore seen as a by-product or symptom of a young person’s inability to cope with certain demands or expectations. From that framework, interventions can then be specifically designed to ‘plug those gaps’. For instance, by supporting the young person and their caregivers to develop the appropriate coping skills, address the unmet need(s) and/or adjust the expectations.

Developmental Assessments
Developmental assessments are helpful when there are concerns about a young person’s ability to meet their developmental milestones or carry out everyday tasks that are considered appropriate for their age. This usually involves collecting comprehensive developmental information from key caregivers (e.g. parents, teachers), observations of the young person and administration of a standardised psychometric tool to review the child or adolescent’s development across multiple areas (e.g. communication, daily living skills, socialisation and motor skills) as summarised below.

Communication­ – The skills to speak and listen in ways that enable the young person to efficiently send and receive messages to/from others.

Daily living skills – The skills to carry out personal care activities as appropriate to the young person’s stage of development such as feeding themselves, putting their clothes on and maintaining personal hygiene.

Socialisation – The interpersonal skills that enable individuals to get along with other people, including being able to consider others’ emotions to a developmentally appropriate level.

Motor skills – The gross motor (e.g. walking/standing) and fine motor (e.g. pointing/using grip) skills that enable developmentally-appropriate movement.

The findings from developmental assessments provide information about a young person’s developmental strengths and challenges. They also inform recommendations about how caregivers can accommodate and further support the child or adolescent’s learning needs and enhance their involvement in daily living activities.

Treatments

At Lotus and Fern, individualised treatment plans are developed following a comprehensive assessment process. Treatments generally involve the integration of techniques from multiple therapeutic approaches (e.g. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Play Therapy and Narrative Therapy) to ensure that interventions are tailored to address clients’ unique needs.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a highly evidence-based treatment approach that proposes that the core aspects of ourselves (our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and behaviours) are all interconnected, with each part directly influencing the other. CBT focusses on helping clients change the way they think about things by teaching them coping skills that can be used to challenge any unhelpful perspectives. In learning to modify their own thinking in this way, clients can experience relief from emotional distress and engage in more adaptive behaviours, irrespective of their situation.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is another evidence-based approach that focusses on helping clients develop the skills required to live in the present moment, regulate their emotions, respond adaptively to stressful life situations and improve the quality of their interpersonal relationships. In addition to providing practical strategies to help clients cope with everyday challenges, DBT also enables some exploration of the issues that are at the root of clients’ difficulties, while emphasising the importance of validating all of their experiences.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that draws on elements from ancient wisdoms (e.g. Buddhism) to help clients discover and live in accordance with their personal values. Its techniques can be used to support clients with accepting the things that are outside of their control and committing their energies to the things that make their lives more meaningful. Rather than focussing on reducing clients’ symptoms, ACT emphasises that people are not governed or defined by their thoughts and emotions and proposes that practicing self-acceptance and mindfulness can enable them to live richer and more fulfilling lives, regardless of any symptoms they experience.
Play Therapy
Play Therapy is based on the well-established premise that play is not only the primary ‘language’ that children use to communicate with others, but also a means of healthy growth, learning and development. In Play Therapy, toys, activities and games are used to provide clients with a safe way of expressing their thoughts and feelings, particularly those who may be more limited in their ability or readiness to communicate these through words. Play Therapy can also be used to help clients develop and practice a range of adaptive coping skills (e.g. problem-solving and conflict resolution).
Narrative Therapy
Narrative Therapy is an approach that proposes that stories shape how we understand ourselves, others and the world around us. It assumes that our view of the world does not reflect its reality, but rather our own interpretation of it. In Narrative therapy, clients are positioned as the experts on their own experiences and are assisted to clearly distinguish between their identity and the difficulties that they are experiencing. The idea is to step back and examine difficulties from a different perspective. For example, rather than just focussing on the harm that these difficulties have caused, they might be encouraged to consider how these difficulties may have also benefited them. While clients generally begin therapy with a problem-focussed story about themselves or a particular area of their lives, Narrative therapy empowers them to change their thinking and behavioural patterns by providing them with the opportunity to ‘co-author’ new, more adaptive life stories for their future – stories that capture their identity, capabilities and purpose, outside of their difficulties.

Group Therapy

Coming Soon

Training and Workshops

Coming Soon

Contact Lotus and Fern

Thinking about seeing a Psychologist can naturally bring up many questions. Verena offers a personalised service that is respectfully tailored to support your unique needs and goals. Request a complimentary 10-minute phone consultation so that you can get an initial feel of her service, ask any questions you have and use that information to make an informed decision for your family.

Phone: 027 568 8733
Email: verena@lotusandfern.co.nz

Consulting Offices

Albany: 233 Dairy Flat Highway.
Browns Bay: Browns Bay Medical Centre, 13-15 Bute Road.

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