For All Seasons hosted Dr. Stuart Ablon, the founder and director of Think:Kids in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, who presented a lecture, “Changeable: How Collaborative Problem Solving Can Help Anyone Change at Home, at School, and at Work” to a record crowd on November 14, 2019. The lecture at Temple B’nai Israel in Easton followed For All Seasons annual reception honoring its donors.
Based on more than 25 years of clinical work with some of the most challenging populations (juvenile offenders, convicted criminals, and other institutionalized individuals), as well as training teachers, police officers, and other professionals, Ablon presented a new way of thinking about solving our most vexing behavioral problems – and practical advice to put the ideas into practice.
Ablon started the conversation stating that it is important to answer the question what causes difficult behavioral problems. He stated, “Conventional wisdom usually guides the answer. It’s like how learning disabilities were viewed before. We still misunderstand challenging behavior today.”
He further explained that people often say that people behave poorly on purpose and use the carrot and stick approach to address challenging behaviors. A side effect of this approach is that it makes matters worse by decreasing intrinsic drive and sends the message that people are not trying hard enough.
Ablon pointed out that 50 years of research in neuroscience has proven that people lack the neurocognitive skills to behave better – specifically skills in flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem-solving.
He added, “Exposure to chronic toxic stress or trauma changes the brain. Skills delays can be caused by this. If we end the cycle of chronic stress/trauma with relational discipline, we will decrease stress and can build skills.”
Ablon’s premise is that we are all changeable and that skills determine behavior, not will. He also pointed out that the power of empathy is at the root of this approach, with empathy being the greatest human regulator. Ablon described the three options for problem solving. The first is Plan A where the person imposes his or her will to make the other person do what he or she wants them to do. The second is Plan B, which is collaborative problem solving. The third option is Plan C where the person drops his or her expectations for the time being and doesn’t try to solve the problem in that moment.
He pointed out that with Plan B, collaborative problem solving, both parties solve the problem in a mutually satisfactory way. He stated, “It is simple, but not easy.”
The ingredients of collaborative problem solving are empathy, sharing your concerns, collaborating, and brainstorming solutions together that are mutually satisfactory realistic and doable.
He added, “Through learning these new cognitive skills, people can improve communication, flexibility, impulse control, and brainstorming. This approach can be applied in any school, home or workplace.”
Beth Anne Langrell, Executive Director of For All Seasons, echoed Ablon’s remarks and stated, “Through collaborative problem solving we strengthen relationships in all of life’s arenas, from home to work to school. Our staff has benefited from these methods as we build connections with our clients and within our team.”
Langrell thanked For All Seasons donors for their constant support throughout the agency’s growth over the past few years. For All Seasons staff has grown from 28 employees in 2014 to over 80 employees in 2019.
For further information about collaborative problem solving, visit thinkkids.org or stuartablon.com. For further information about For All Seasons services, contact For All Seasons at 410-822-1018 or visit forallseasonsinc.org.
For All Seasons serves Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne, and Talbot counties. For All Seasons Rape Crisis Center offers certified sexual assault victim advocates; counseling and support groups, free and confidential services in English and Spanish, support in the hospital, police department, and court, and referrals to social and legal services. For All Seasons English Hotline is 1-800-310-RAPE (7273) and Spanish Hotline is 410-829-6143.
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