Finding Space for Wellbeing

Christina Farrell (nee Wright), Class of 1991

This issue, we connect with psychologist Christina Farrell (nee Wright), Class of 1991, who encourages and  inspires us to notice the small things, embrace opportunities and change, breathe passion, and value people. In doing so, we inadvertently spark joy and make room for wellbeing.

The general rule that “a problem is not separate to its solution” has taken Christina Farrell on a 30-year journey into a career that helps others find solutions in life that spark joy and make room to be well.

“Psychology is a behavioural science,” explains Christina, who says we all can benefit from understanding human behaviour and how people function in the various pockets of life.

“The reality is, many of us can cope when one or two things fall out of alignment, but our wellbeing suffers exponentially when a number of areas slip – we need help.

“Working with people to help map a path back to wellness, using psychology and behaviour therapy, is my passion,” she says.

Christina now works in private practice to help adults and teenagers figure out what’s happening in their lives and establish strategies and treatment plans to get them back on track.

Christina is a natural detective and her inclination to creatively solve problems is the common thread across several careers before settling on psychology. Among these are a retail buyer, business analyst, project manager, corporate strategist, and Chief Financial Officer (for an NRMA subsidiary) – with each careers stage underpinned by a love of continuous learning and the accumulation of multiple tertiary qualifications!

“What is far more rewarding than the clinical aspects of psychology is the privilege a psychologist has to be part of someone’s life and partner with them through real challenges,” says Christina.

“I feel great joy when I witness people having the courage to change, then benefitting from the changes. The benefit ripples through their life to touch their family and social network – and their workplace, too.”

She says that in searching for solutions, her clients often find their own formula to achieve balance, wellness and hope moving forward.

Christina muses that she first thought about studying psychology after having children and seeing how humans develop through childhood.

“Psychologically, people are actually quite vulnerable,” she says. “The psyche has no skeleton, so to speak, and at certain times of life – given challenges, stress, loss… mental illness is a reality many of us do, or will, face.”

Importantly, in times of challenge, such as 2020 and the global COVID-19 pandemic, Christina believes that young people need the stability of family, friends and good teachers to inspire and uplift them and remind them to have confidence in themselves, their destiny and purpose.

With stability comes assurance that mistakes and wrong turns can be stepping stones for learning – that it’s okay – and stability enables us to navigate our path knowing that stumbling is not the same as falling, and when we fall, we get up again.

Christina says Roseville College was part of her stable foundation as a teenager, and acknowledges Mrs Megan Krimmer (past History and English teacher, and Principal from 2011 – 2016) as a bright influence on her self-confidence.

“Mrs Krimmer taught me in each of my six years at Roseville and I remember her fondly. Consistently, she reinforced that I could believe in myself and achieve above my own expectations; my parents, school friends and other teachers at Roseville echoed the same sentiment as well.”

Now, in her capacity as a psychologist, Christina acknowledges that this “stable foundation” has been shaken for many teenagers (and adults) by the unforgettable events of 2020 and the global pandemic.

“COVID-19 disrupted lives in ways no one could anticipate or control, and if your stable foundations are shaken like that, we begin to see increases in anxiety and depression across society, in fact, in a range of ways that cripple people’s mental wellbeing.”

How people respond to a pandemic is as much a result of their psychological resolve as it is a result of their personality and circumstances; some will thrive under conditions that might crush others, such as working from home, social isolation especially for those who live alone, “cabin fever” for those contained indoors for extended periods of quarantine, and extreme fears of infection.

“Social change – and time to ponder – can force people to reflect on the purpose of life. And this can be both daunting and exciting.”

For teenagers, it is vital they can resonate with a sense of purpose, or values or direction that they can fathom and “touch”.  Adolescence, says Christina, is by nature a period of development where questioning and testing your identity and purpose is essential to your approach to life.

“Adolescents may cause uncertainty, but they certainly don’t thrive in it,” says Christina, who emphases that while young people are busy questioning and testing everything around them, they are also trusting that their stable foundation remains, well, stable.

“No wonder so many adolescents have been overwhelmed by the uncertainty caused by COVID-19,” she says.

“But, there is a lot we can do and many ways to support each other as we reframe our wellbeing in a very different post-COVID-19 society.”

In her practice, Christina uses techniques known as cognitive behaviour therapies (CBT), which include mindfulness and being present to find pleasure in everyday things and experiences.

Right now, while health restrictions discourage an affectionate hug or caution us about face-to-face reunions, being present can be as easy as spending time in nature to watch a leaf fall or admire the contours and colours of a flower.

“It could be saying yes to an invitation or opportunity, or accepting change even if it was unexpected and unplanned. It might be doing something you’ve always wanted to try that might reignite a new or lost passion, like oil painting or orienteering. Or, it may be penning a handwritten note with a fountain pen, creating a gift of handmade craft or baked goods, or prioritising a telephone call “just to check in”.

“In life, we miss so much of our surrounds when we are rushed, busy, stressed or simply not paying attention. Pausing to reconnect with the ‘here and now’ is rewarding, surprising and refreshing – and will often give us the mental room to ‘catch up’ or ‘slow down’… to feel well, to feel better.”

Christina smiles as she thinks about her first session with a new client. She sees the possibilities and hope for them, but also recognises the importance of re-establishing the stable foundations upon which they will build together.

“One of the first things I workshop with a new client is the notion of grounding. This includes strategies designed to help the ‘whole person’ wind down, to calm, and to reconnect with the actual moment they are in,” she explains.

“Too often, we are tempted to fight or flight or freeze in a moment that either already happened or hasn’t happened yet! We get immobilised in imaginary conversations and hypothetical thinking, so we miss the ‘now’.  But, once we have grounded, we can get to work on our problem- solving and we can release our  ‘inner detective’ to create lasting change and breakthrough.”

Christina is thankful for the perspectives that psychology gives her as a mother of three busy children and a woman running her own business.

“I am really just like everyone else,” she admits. “I’m learning about myself and training myself to be present, and to make the most of this precious life – every minute.

“Imagine if we noticed the little delights and interactions that sprinkle themselves among our everyday routine. Imagine that pleasure and joy. Why don’t you take a moment, now?”

First published in The Rose Magazine, Semester 2 2020.