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Dr. Kristie Craigen, Clinician and Child Advocate of Drs. Cook & Craigen Assessment Services

In this spotlight profile, we are speaking to Dr. Kristie Craigen.  Dr. Craigen is an internationally experienced clinician, psychometric testing and assessment specialist, child inclusive mediation consultant and child advocate.

Dr. Craigen is managing director at her clinic Drs. Cook & Craigen Assessment Services in Hong Kong and she provides a variety of in-person assessment and evaluation services to assist individuals in their healing process.  Dr. Craigen uses psychometric testing as a platform to maximize human potential which in turn yields improvements in functioning and/or removes obstacles to learning.

In addition to the above, Dr. Craigen is a child advocate, particularly with respect to children with learning differences and disabilities.  Dr. Craigen helps identify their unique set of challenges in order to develop needs-specific recommendations and align with children’s best interests, improve their well-being and increase their chances of living their best lives.

Dr. Craigen, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and training?

I’ve held management positions since my early 20s, therefore I now have more than two decades of leadership experience in both clinical and corporate contexts. Having completed a Bachelors of Science with Psychology and Management majors, as a young woman I didn’t really know which profession to pursue. Yet looking back it seems that I gravitated to roles in which I could assist people develop and/or reach their potential. In the Human Resources, Marketing, and Leisure Industry Executive roles I have held, I was dedicated to supporting the personal and professional growth of every employee via the development of needs-specific training and development programs, coaching, and creating a “Growth Mindset” culture. Subsequently, it was the need to determine the efficacy of training and development programs, by measuring change in employee performance, that led me to discover the predictive utility and increased certainty of data-driven methods. Basically, I fell in love with psychometric testing.

I have always had a passion for lifelong learning and the desire to deepen my knowledge about the use of psychometric testing as a platform to maximize human potential led me to complete post graduate degrees in the field of clinical psychology. I now have both a Masters’ and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology. I also now know that data-driven methods can be used, not only to maximize potential, but to solve problems and change lives.

You are a child advocate. What does that role entail and what impact do/can you have on a child’s life as an “advocate”?

Most people, both young and old, with mental health difficulties and/or disabilities are in a vulnerable position either in society or in specific situations (e.g., school). Being a child advocate means actively promoting and defending the rights and best interests of children, who are too young to make informed decisions for themselves, may be at risk of harm, aren’t having their needs met, or are in a situation where their rights are being denied.

Being an advocate involves understanding their specific issues on a case-by-case basis, thinking about their needs with particular reference to their developmental stage, and presenting solutions to parents, caregivers, guardians, teachers, and sometimes even the authorities.  Part of this role entails ensuring children’s voices are heard but it runs much deeper than that. Dr. Cook and I gain a lot of personal meaning and satisfaction from helping adults, with the responsibility and power to make decisions that will impact a child’s future, develop and implement a course of action that is in the child’s long term best interest. Being mothers ourselves we obviously adore children and there is no better feeling than watching a child who was struggling begin to blossom and thrive.

Children go through their own struggles when their parents are in the midst of a divorce.  One of the things you advocate for is “child inclusive mediation.”  What do you mean by that and how is that beneficial to children going through the difficulties of divorce?

Child inclusive mediation is a dynamic and powerful evidence-based approach aimed at building co-parenting quality and forming responsive parenting arrangements. This method places the child(ren)’s needs at the center of the divorce arrangements rather than parental conflict. Guided exploration and careful consideration of “what’s best for my child” is more likely to encourage disputing parents to refocus on and plan more cooperatively for the needs of their children post-separation.

The United Kingdom is now seeing the implementation of “no fault divorce.”  How does child-inclusive mediation fit in with this idea of “no fault divorce” and avoiding high conflict litigation?

The words “no fault divorce” are like music to my ears! Anyone who’s been through a divorce can tell you that it’s often a devastating process. The breakdown of a marriage is difficult in itself often conjuring feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, failure, grief, and even anxiety about the future. Going through litigation and court proceeding takes the stress and negativity to another level.

No fault divorce gives divorcing couples the opportunity to divorce ‘well” by reducing hostility and avoiding unnecessary character assassinations while also encouraging parents to participate in alternative dispute resolution and mediation channels.

One of the key issues seen in a divorce is parental alienation.  First and foremost, can you explain the effects parental alienation can have on a child including the “father effect”?

First of all, it’s important to note that parental alienation isn’t listed in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so we need to be mindful about the way in which we use this term. Dr, Cook and myself acknowledge parental alienation to be a symptom (of many) associated with pathogenic parenting.

Parenting attitudes and behaviours can be thought of as lying somewhere on a continuum from very facilitative to very restrictive gatekeeping. Very facilitative parenting behaviours manifest as both parents being:

  • Proactive towards the other parent,
  • Inclusive of the other parent
  • Integral to boosting the image of the other parent,
  • Continuously committed to communicating with the other parent,
  • Flexible with time-sharing,
  • Supportive and facilitative with respect to the child building a relationship with the other parent.

Parental alienation is a very restrictive gatekeeping behaviour. It is a form of child abuse and is often part of a wider set of pathogenic parenting practices. Pathogenic parenting creates significant psychopathology in the child through aberrant and distorted modes of parenting such as derogating the other parent in front of the child, marginalizing the other parent, refusing to communicate with other parent, and being extremely time restrictive with respect to the time the child spends with the other parent.

Research demonstrates that children of divorce show the best long-term adjustment when they have a relationship with both parents. While there has been countless studies on the positive effects of maternal involvement on children’s psycho-social development, the benefits of an engaged paternal presence are only just beginning to be understood. For example, there is a reliable correlation between a lack of aggression and children with a father figure. In general, children raised with a father tend to get better paying jobs and the presence of a participating father also reduces female delinquency.

What advice do you provide parents who may have a tendency to engage in parental alienation?  And what coping/healing mechanisms do you suggest for children who may be experiencing parental alienation?

Unfortunately, most individuals engaging in pathogenic parenting practices lack insight. All too often they feel their campaign of denigration towards the other parent is justified or they may be unable to separate their marital conflict from the parent-child relationship and continue to focus on their own pain and hurt rather than the child(ren)’s needs. All divorcing couples should make the effort to stay acutely aware of the messages they send their children about the other parent and constantly question their motives should they find themselves highlighting the faults and minimizing the positives of their ex-spouse to their child(ren).

Children are vulnerable and their sense of security and trust are shattered when they become pawns in their parent’s conflict. They need to be sheltered, as best as possible, from their parent’s acrimony, allowed to continue to develop their own separate relationships with each parent, and reminded at all possible opportunities that they aren’t required to “take sides”. Seeking the assistance of an appropriately qualified mental health professional is greatly encouraged.

When families are involved in high conflict divorce, is there a way to backtrack and bring it back to a place of peace? How can parents bring their divorce from high conflict to more peaceful negotiation and resolution?

Divorcing “well” takes a lot of emotional maturity. It is also a joint effort. Too often we see ex-spouses “slinging mud” at each other yet they rarely stop to consider their own behaviour and how that contributes to the dynamic.

Emotionally mature individuals are flexible, solution-focused, aware of their own limitations, look for opportunities for self-development, and take responsibility. If you find yourself embroiled in a high conflict divorce, first take a step back and determine if there is anything you can change about your own actions and/or reactions that might facilitate even the tiniest bit of positive change. If you can go the next step and get professional help (i.e., family therapist or a parenting coordinator) then even better and your children are likely to benefit the most.

In addition to your work as a clinician, you also provide psychological assessments/evaluations to the Courts related to children and their development.  What is at the forefront of your mind when you are in the midst of preparing these assessments/evaluations?  What is the overall goal when providing the Courts with these assessments/evaluations?

We produce comprehensive data-driven reports that strive to understand and explain:

  • The quality of each parent’s relationship to each child
  • The relationship between the parents and their ability or willingness to support their children’s ongoing relationships with the other parent
  • The parenting skills and capacity of each parent
  • Each parent’s psychological health and any drug or alcohol abuse
  • The children’s psychological health
  • Any evidence of abuse or violence

By getting a clear picture of functioning and possible risk we can then make informed recommendations to the Court in the child’s best interest. Our general guideline is to distinguish between marital problems and parenting issues, and focus on the latter.

About Cook & Craigen Assessment Services

With more than thirty years assessment-specific experience between them Drs. Cook & Craigen have provided a variety of in-person assessment and evaluation services, of the highest quality, for over a decade to individuals based in Hong Kong. Recently, in response to travel restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cook & Craigen Assessment Services have expanded their offering to include online psychoeducational testing to students attending geographically remote or underserviced English-medium international schools across Asia.

About Dr. Kristie Craigen

Dr. Craigen is an internationally experienced clinician, psychometric testing and assessment specialist, child inclusive mediation consultant and child advocate.

Dr. Craigen is based in Hong Kong and is the managing director at her clinic Drs. Cook & Craigen in Hong Kong and she provides a variety of in-person assessment and evaluation services to assist individuals in their healing process.  Dr. Craigen uses psychometric testing as a platform to maximize human potential which in turn yields improvement in functioning and to remove obstacles to learning.  In addition to her work as a clinician, Dr. Craigen is a child advocate and has assisted the Courts in providing psychological evaluations and assessments.

About Dr. Alison Cook

Dr. Alison Cook received her medical degree from London University. She then specialised in Family Medicine, and worked as a GP and schools’ doctor in the UK, gathering a deep understanding of the cognitive, physical, and emotional milestones that children achieve throughout their development. She augmented her knowledge and training with the British Psychological Society and has worked for more than a decade in Hong Kong to provide clients comprehensive psychological assessments. Her expertise encompasses Psychoeducational Assessments, as well as Custody Assessments for families undergoing divorce proceedings in the Family Court. She has a strong interest in supporting children to achieve their full potential and to be best supported during a parental separation or divorce.

In addition, Dr. Cook served for 11 years on the Executive Committee of the Psychotherapy Society of Hong Kong and she is a past Vice-President.

Non-Molestation Orders

One of the most recognized celebrities, Kim Kardashian has recently been going through an ugly divorce with Kanye West in Los Angeles, California. Throughout her very public divorce, Kim Kardashian has been publicly harassed by her ex and over a period of time, the harassment has extended to Kanye West publicly harassing Kim Kardashian’s new boyfriend Pete Davidson.  Kanye West claims through his social media forums that he is simply trying to win Kim Kardashian back.  Yet, in one of his released music videos, Kanye West’s character chops off Pete Davidson’s head.

There is much debate in the public forum about whether we should feel sorry for Kim Kardashian who is seen as one of the most privileged celebrities of all time.  Yet what Trevor Noah rightly points out, is that the situation played out in social media between Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Pete Davidson highlights the harassment that many women face when they try to leave a relationship.  Even Kim Kardashian, one of the most recognized and richest celebrities cannot escape the harassment.

To date, Kim Kardashian has not filed a Restraining Order against Kanye West, although this could be an option for her in the Los Angeles County Courts. In Hong Kong, if you are met with a similar situation, you can consider filing a Non-Molestation Order under the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance.  It is important to note that in Hong Kong, domestic abuse orders are referred to as “non-molestation” orders.

The Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance applies if:

  • You are a person who has been molested by your spouse or former spouse
  • You are a person who has been molested by your partner or former partner in a cohabitation relationship, who is of opposite sex
  • You are a person who has been molested by a relative. A relative is defined in the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance and should be clarified to see if the other party fits into the definition of “relative.”

A Non-Molestation Order remedy can be as follows:

  • A provision restraining the other party from molesting (abusing) you
  • A provision restraining the other party from molesting (abusing) a minor
  • Prohibiting the other party from entering or remaining in:
    1. Your residence
    2. A specified part of your residence; or
    3. A specified area whether or not your residence is in that area
  • A provision requiring the other party, where you reside with him/her, to permit you to enter and remain in the common residence or matrimonial home of you and the other party.

If you are granted a Non-Molestation Order you may want to discuss with your solicitor about also asking the Court to grant an order that the other party participate in a program aimed at changing the attitude and behaviour that lead to the injunction.

Importantly, you may also want to discuss with your solicitor about obtaining a variation/suspension of custody/access orders especially in cases where abuse/danger is present.

If you are involved in a situation where you are being abused and/or need to protect a minor in an abusive situation, it is imperative that you keep all documents in support of the abuse including text messages, photos and any other supporting information so you can submit this evidence to the Court in your application for a Non-Molestation Order.

As in the case of Kim Kardashian, domestic abuse does not always equal physical violence, it can involve emotional and psychological abuse which should be detailed to the Court if you are seeking a Non-Molestation Order.  Speak to your solicitor so he/she can assist you in obtaining the protection you may need.

Tips for a Healthy Marriage

In a recent article published by the South China Morning Post, it was reported that marriage counsellors in China claim that mobile phone addiction is responsible for up to 30% of failed marriages in China. The reasoning, according to the article published by SCMP is that mobile phones occupy so much time and as a result, partners are no longer spending time communicating with each other and involving each other in day to day tasks such as household chores and children’s duties. This ultimately causes conflict among couples.

Whilst we might know what causes conflict in relationships and marriages, what can be said about what results in a healthy happy marriage?  Here are some top tips on how to maintain a healthy marriage and a good way to avoid a trip to a divorce lawyer’s office.

1. Act Like You Are Dating: Just because you are married, does not mean dating goes out the window. It is easy to find yourself in the same monotonous routine once you are married, especially given all the new responsibilities you may face as a couple and as parents. However, that does not mean you should neglect each other. Many couples divorce because they do not spend enough time together. Or, couples divorce because their attention is focused on other responsibilities, including children and work. Like seasons, priorities change and spouses may feel neglected. So do not forget that your spouse needs attention and care, and priority should be placed on the relationship. Spend time alone, go out on dates, continue to nurture your friendship with one another and then you are less likely to even consider divorce.

2. Respect and Kindness Through Words and Actions: By the time a couple is ready to divorce, their relationship is so broken, that couples are unable to communicate with one another, much less with any mutual respect and kindness. Respect for one another and kindness through words and actions go a long way when you are in a relationship, whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship. If you can respect your spouse and express your love through kind words and actions, you are creating a healthy dynamic that will reap rewards throughout your marriage. Moreover, if the relationship is beyond repair, clients who at least recognize the importance of respect and kindness, can maintain a more level-headed approach to divorce. This in-turn allows for a more civil, reasonable (and cheaper) divorce process.

3. Transparency and Communication: There is something to be said about “mystery” and its allure when you are in the beginning stages of a dating relationship. However, when you are married, keeping big secrets from your spouse can be damaging to your marriage. Many marriages fall apart because an individual’s struggles related to finance, and addictions including alcohol, drugs and sex are kept secret. Being transparent and genuine about your struggles is never easy because it forces you to be vulnerable. However, if you value your marriage, you will work on and build upon your communication skills to maintain the relationship.

The underlying thread weaved throughout all the tips shared above is this: place priority upon your spouse’s needs. Marriage is a big commitment and once you take the step towards marriage, it is definitely worthwhile to make efforts to nurture it and hopefully it will also help you avoid a trip down the dreaded divorce highway.

Round-Up of Divorce News

Here is a round-up of Divorce news circulating the news across the world wide web!

Mobile Phone Addiction

In an article published by The South China Morning Post, some marriage counsellors in China are claiming that mobile phone addiction is responsible for up to 30% of failed marriages in China. The reason behind these claims is that couples are spending more time on their mobile devices which should instead be used to communicate with their partners, perform household duties or educate children. This causes conflict in marriages and which ultimately leads to divorce. The neglect a partner may feel due to the other partner’s attention to their mobile phone made some partners in China feel as if their partner did not care for them, their home or their children.

Couple - Mobile Phone Addiction

The Zodiac Sign Most Likely To Divorce

According to an article released by BestLife, the top three (3) astrological signs to split with their partners are as follows:
1. Aquarius: Due to its free-spirited nature, an Aquarius hates to be tied down and is the least likely to get hitched in the first place.
2. Sagittarius: Sagittarians love to view life as one big adventure and are in a constant state of wanderlust making it hard for them to stay settled in one spot.
3. Pisces: The most romantic, Pisces can become bitter and distant when they feel their partner is not providing them with unconditional love and support.

Couple Relationship - Divorce

Kim Kardashian Is Legally Divorced

Kim Kardashian is now officially single after being granted a divorce from Kanye West. As part of her divorce, the celebrity also dropped “West” from her last name.
Kim Kardashian’s divorce is “bifurcated” meaning that whilst her marital status and legal name have been resolved, the other issues related to divorce, namely custody and finances have yet to be resolved between herself and her former spouse.

Kim Kardashian is legally divorced

Newlywed Divorces After Being Blocked on WhatsApp

A Saudi national filed for divorce in Jeddah and in his Petition for Divorce stated that he wanted to part ways with his wife after she blocked him on WhatsApp. The Court issued a verdict in favour of the newlywed husband and the woman was ordered to return the dowry and gold given to her at the time of marriage.

Whatsapp - block contact

Divorcing Couples Fight Over Crypto

The New York Times reported that divorcing couples are fighting over children, the house and now Crytpo. According to those in legal circles in the USA, marital disputes over Bitcoin is becoming increasingly common and it is now a major source of contention with estranged couples trading accusations of deception and financial mismanagement.

According to divorce lawyers, spouses underreport their holdings or try to hide funds in online wallets and this can be difficult to get to. As a result, forensic investigators are called in to assist but they can charge tens of thousands of dollars to track the movement of cryptocurrencies.

Couple fight

Spotlight Profile – Dr. Ida Ng, Licensed Psychologist

In this spotlight profile, we are speaking to Dr. Ida Ng, licensed psychologist based in Hong Kong and trained in United States of America and who received further accreditation in London and Australia. Dr. Ng has a successful clinical practice in Hong Kong and specializes in providing clients with holistic treatment focusing on mind-body-spirit and thereby mixing clinical psychological therapy along with mindfulness and spirituality for whole-self healing. The aim of Dr. Ng’s practice is to reduce psychological distress and anxiety while at the same time enhancing an individual’s quality of life.

Dr. Ng, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and training and how it has evolved into your current practice today?

I have had different experiences throughout my career in the psychology field and have trained in various countries. I received my psychology degree from Ohio University in the United States of America and have received certifications from various professional bodies recognized in the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom. My interest is now in China and the well-established systems there.

Your practice focuses on holistic healing thus bringing together psychological therapy together with mindfulness and spirituality. Can you explain this further and how this type of therapy can bring about healing of the whole self?

In my first 5 years of practice, most of the focus of my practice was on the problem and corresponding treatment. This type of treatment helps clients understand cognitive behavior and treatment for that behavior which results in learned behavior. Changing behavior however, only results in robot-like learned patterns because you practice the learned behavior and it thereafter becomes habit. However, what’s missing in this is what’s from the heart. Learned behavior is not what naturally flows from the heart where emotions reside and by not addressing the emotions, the issues are not able to resolve.

With that information on hand, I have focused my therapy on heart healing by allowing clients to look at things from a different perspective. Accompanying therapy, I also include meditation, spirituality, modality and reiki. By understanding these different modalities, I am able to attempt to understand my clients and where they are coming from. For example, when I spent my time training in the United Kingdom, I spent approximately 5 to 7 years focusing on chakra healing so now when I meet with clients, I speak to them about their chakras and activation of the chakras to assist in the healing process.

By looking at a client’s aura and chakra, I can see if there is anything blocking their healing and whether they are aligned or not. By doing this, we can see where the problems arise from. I notice this so I can help the client with their problems and identify the root issue. Most of the time, clients are willing to talk about the problem when they are in realization of what that is. This process focuses on helping individuals connect inside and that in itself takes time and patience.

In your practice, divorce and family issues can be at the forefront of psychological distress and anxiety. Tell us more about the issues you are seeing with those individuals going through relationship issues and/or divorce.

The issue that I see in many relationships is that there is a lot of expectation, not only from within but from society. The problem with expectations is that it shadows how an individual may feel about themselves. But the problem here is that it clouds a person’s ability to understand what they truly want in life and with each other in the relationship.

In my therapy sessions, I always like to clarify with individuals what they truly desire. I try to help them understand what they want and their purpose and I ask if they can learn something from this relationship. I like to get to the core of what an individual wants from the relationship, whether the focus is truly on what they want from their partner or if they only want a picture-perfect version of their relationship that is acceptable to those looking from the outside.

It’s important to focus on the root of the issue because curiosity is important in order to understand how to heal. This requires work in communication not only with yourself but with one another as well.

Has the recent Covid-19 pandemic played a part in the psychological distress you are seeing in clients and if so what kind of issues are consistently coming up?

I think even without this Covid-19 pandemic people lives are busy and they don’t want to deal with problems. When they have free time, individuals prefer to travel and go on holidays rather than talk about their problems.

When the Covid-19 pandemic happened, people were forced to work from home and time kind of stopped. A lot of business trips were cancelled and many people could not attend to their overseas lovers and maintain those relationships. We can see during this Covid-19 pandemic that people have had to really sit down and face problem and this requires facing your partner every morning and night and it’s not something you can hide from.

Can you give us an example of the type of healing work you would recommend to those individuals going through an exceptionally difficult divorce and are dealing with the vast array of emotions that may come up in a divorce such as relief, anger, grief and even loneliness?

In my practice, I work with couples through couples therapy workbooks that helps couples revisit the relationship. It’s not about remembering the first date, but talking about spending time to ask questions and show empathy and demonstrating to each other that you want to communicate with one another.

In relationships, there’s a lot of anger, assumption, fear and frustration. This places a large barrier in the relationship. My job is to help couples understand that their relationship can and will change over the years and how each person views the world may be different. Now with the passage of time, it’s okay to revisit the change in each individual and help couples communicate the changes they are seeing and how they can heal the pain of the past. It can even come down to a simple question of: do you still like your partner?

Have you worked with children who are going through a particularly difficult time when it comes to divorce? What kind of healing work would you recommend for children who are going through the breakup of their parents and the family?

There was a case where I worked with a couple who were struggling on deciding whether to stay in Hong Kong or move back to the United Kingdom. The couple struggled with infidelity and they had children to attend to as well. Both parents struggled as they wanted to keep the family together for the sake of the children. Children are like glue in a family. It’s important to remember that even if parents don’t share too much about their problems with the children, children are very smart and they can sense/feel that something is not right. Parents on the other hand always assume children are just too young to understand, but this is not the case.

Children are very intuitive so when I work with them, I try to help them understand their energy and the energy flow within the family. When speaking with parents dealing with struggling children, I always also try and remind them that it is not a child’s job to glue the family together and the focus should be more on helping the children learn about their emotions in dealing with these struggles rather than carrying the burden of keeping the family together.

There seems to be a real push on focusing on mental health and working towards inner healing. Why do you think it’s especially important for individuals to focus on mental health?

When an individuals’ mental health is not strong, they are easily shifted by circumstances. If you understand what you want and are well connected to your feelings, you are better positioned to both your heart’s desires and rationality to make better decisions in life during times of adversity.

That is why I always ask my clients: what is your mind thinking and what is your heart telling you? This then helps individuals to know how to connect the two so that it results in better decisions. You are essentially sewing together rationality with the soul.

What do you think business/companies can do to support their employees in this push for mental health awareness and healing?

From my perspective, more companies are starting to focus on awareness of mental health in the workplace. I have consulted with many companies on what procedures and exercises can be in place to help employees during tough times. Companies should be focusing a lot of energy on bringing together colleagues so they can be a support system to each other and during Covid-19 times, that may include online gatherings to de-stress and enjoy each other’s company and to keep each other accountable.

It’s important for employers to understand that individuals struggling with mental health issues can be easily overwhelmed by stress and it’s difficult for them to function under stress. When stress is too much, it no longer motivates an individual and they cannot be a participating member when they are de-motivated. And it is this sadness that affects the whole team and company. That is why it’s important for colleagues to support one another.

About Dr. Ida Ng, Licensed Psychologist:

Ida is based in Hong Kong and has over 20 years of clinical experiences in psychological and life enhancement cases and has worked with clients come from all over the world. Ida has practiced in the USA, UK, Singapore, Japan, Macao and Hong Kong. The scopes of services covered by her range from psychological assessment, therapeutic treatment and mindfulness and into life purpose understanding, connection to higher self and spirituality counselling.

Ida has well integrated science and art into her works, teaching and clinical practice.

Ida obtained her psychology degree from Ohio University in the USA and has received further accreditation in psychological counselling from professional bodies in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Ida’s psychology practice is located in Central and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong.

Coping With An Impossible Spouse During And After Divorce

Divorce is already a traumatic experience for most individuals and their families. Dealing with a toxic spouse who has it out for you makes the divorce process even worse by dragging out issues that could easily be resolved with compromise and agreements outside of the courtroom. If you and your spouse have children, child sharing might prove to be challenging even after the divorce if you are not able to get along and there is lack of cooperation from your spouse.

So what options do you have when you are dealing with a toxic spouse? Well, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone in this journey. There are many individuals who are dealing with similar struggles and who are learning to cope. While it is not an easy process, it is a workable situation especially if you are committed to living a more peaceful co-existence with your ex-spouse.
Here are a few helpful suggestions to help minimize the stress of a difficult spouse during the divorce process:

1. Document Everything: A spouse that fabricates the truth puts you in a very difficult position, especially if there is no hard evidence to back up your side of the story. That is why it is important to document everything in writing. This includes the time your spouse spends with the children, the monies that you notice he or she is taking from your joint bank accounts and any other issue of importance. If you document everything, including your communication with your spouse and there is any question as to the history of events, you will have a clear record of everything that has occurred up to that point in time. Stay organized during your divorce. The more organized you are and have complete logs of your finances and communication, the easier it will be to refute any lies that are thrown your way by your spouse.

2. Hire A Solicitor: When you are dealing with a difficult and controlling spouse, you may want to consider hiring a solicitor. Having a solicitor to neutralize the situation may prove to be helpful when you and your spouse are having problems communicating related to day-to-day activities, in addition to legal issues. However, make sure you do your due diligence in hiring a solicitor that is the right fit for you and your situation. If you are tight on financial resources, hiring a solicitor that is highly litigious and not resolution focused, may put more stress on the situation and may also drag out your divorce longer than needed.

3. Keep The Past In The Past: One way to diffuse a situation is to keep the past in the past. While divorce is painful, it is more painful when your focus is on the past and not on moving forward. One of the reasons why your spouse may be making this a difficult process is because he or she is holding onto the past. By focusing on the issues at hand and moving forward, it could be that extra nudge your spouse needs to also move forward.

4. Talk To A Therapist: It is helpful if you talk to a seasoned professional to help you through the divorce process, but more importantly to talk about how to deal with a controlling and manipulative spouse. A therapist will provide you with helpful tools on how to respond to a difficult spouse and allow you to vent about some of the concerns and frustrations you are dealing with during this transition time. It will also help you keep in check your own actions and help determine whether you are contributing to the situation as well. By hiring a therapist, you may avoid excessive solicitor fees, especially if it has become your habit to vent your emotional frustrations to your solicitor.

In a divorce, sometimes it is not about “winning” but rather letting go of the past and focusing more on what’s ahead. This will allow you to not sweat the small stuff when your spouse is making things difficult. Overall, if dealing with your ex is too much to handle, you can speak to your solicitor and ask that he/she handle any and all communication related to the divorce and thus allow you to create boundaries with your ex-spouse.

Spotlight Profile – Dr. Ken Fung, Clinical Psychologist

In this spotlight profile, we are speaking to Dr. Ken Fung, a clinical psychologist and a relationship therapist from the Jadis Blurton Family Development Center in Hong Kong. Dr. Fung was formally trained in California, USA and earned accreditation in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.

As a Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Fung focuses on assisting individuals, couples and families with relational and emotional issues. Dr. Fung uses the Gottman Method, Psychodynamic, CBT and Systemic approaches in his practice which we will dive in more deeply with Dr. Fung below.

Dr. Fung, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and training?

I am a Clinical Psychologist and Relationship Therapist. My work is focused on relationships and treating or working with couples who are going through relational and/or emotional problems.

In terms of my background training and education, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in New Zealand and a Master of Social Sciences in Criminology in Hong Kong at The University of Hong Kong and also earned a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in USA.

Your practice focuses on the Gottman Method, Psychodynamic, CBT and Systemic approaches. What is this, can you explain what this means and how this is incorporated into your clinical practice?

So, the Gottman Method is the main method of therapy of which I focus on. This method was developed by a pair of renowned psychologists and therapists based in Seattle. This method is based on more than 40 years of research experience as to why couples work and why they don’t work. The Gottman Method focuses heavily on emotions and how people connect. This is how I frame my clinical approach – many times couples in Hong Kong do not know how to express their emotion and rather they talk cognitively and intellectually with each other with very little emotion expressed. The Gottman Method embraces a lot of emotion and that aspect of a relationship. It’s a very comprehensive model and I embrace a lot of the techniques used in the Gottman Method.

The Psychodynamic Method is one that has a very long history. This approach focuses heavily on previous life experience and on the understanding of the intra-psychic conflict and hence defenses and different attachment and relations which we have with our parents and other significant others. This method emphasizes the unconscious processes and it is a complicated and complex approach.

CBT is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and is one of the most commonly used approaches in modern psychotherapy. It is vastly symptom-oriented and the aim is to help clients alleviate their presenting symptoms and identify the factors maintaining the problems. The focus tagline of CBT is that if we change how we think, we can change how we feel.

Many individuals who are going through divorce are challenged with the emotions associated with divorce. What are some of the central themes you are experiencing in your clinical practice with those going through a divorce?

Many individuals seek counseling and psychotherapy as a last resort. It is a last resort after trying everything else. In a divorce process, there are a lot of emotions including, but not limited to anger, frustration and depression. My approach is to try to help them understand where they are in the relationship. A lot of couples think that my role is to help them get back together. However, couples’ therapy is more than that. Yes, getting back together may be one of the goals, but a key goal is to try to help individuals see what they really want in the relationship and so they could be more informed in deciding their future. Couples therapy is a tool/platform to create a safe, comfortable and natural platform for them to communicate with each other. It is a way for couples to connect emotionally because many couples have been talking intellectually but that didn’t work out so in my sessions, I help them connect emotionally.

What practical exercises can individuals do to emotionally connect and get through times of distress (eg. divorce and the Covid-19 pandemic)?

One of the key exercises I suggest to couples is to engage in “stress reducing conversation” – This requires couples to take turns to be the speaker and the listener and the key is to talk about their feelings about anything other than the relationship and relationship issues. This exercise allows the listener to emotionally engage with the speaker and vice versa. This exercise helps couples connect emotionally rather than get caught in the loop of discussion where the focus is only on the relationship and relationship issues. By talking about other things, the couple can start to rebuild healthy conversation. I also suggest that couples use “I” statements when talking about things rather than “you.” Couples should practice this every day for 15 to 20 minutes and try to make some peaceful conversation so the brain can learn that they are each capable of creating non-stressful conversation. This creates the basis for the couple to talk about something more serious.

What advice do you have for parents who are trying to co-parent amidst a divorce? What do you recommend for parents so that they can successfully navigate healthy parenting post-divorce?

First and foremost, it is important for parents to talk to each other first to try to understand each other and then to compromise. Healthy parenting post-divorce requires compromise but a lot of people misunderstand what compromise really means. Individuals think that compromise means that you have to sacrifice and give something up to please the other person but that is not compromise. Compromise can be seen as you and your partner each being a part of your own planet but you both have to come out of yours and meet halfway. In our sessions, I assist couples to identify the areas where they are flexible and where they are inflexible. Compromise can only be accomplished in the common areas identified as “flexible.” However, it’s important to recognize that before entering into successful compromise, each person needs to hear why the other person is inflexible in certain areas. A lot of inflexibility stems from a person’s upbringing and it is deeply rooted in childhood experiences so when a partner tries to move something that was so deeply rooted it’s difficult to change and that’s why it’s so important to understand where the inflexibility is coming from. Change comes after understanding.

You also work with children and the complex emotions they may feel during a divorce and the loss of “family” that they may be feeling amidst a divorce. What can parents do to bring healing and help their children communicate the complexity of emotions they may be feeling?

According to research, children as young as 6 months old can sense a parent’s emotions. A child at this young age may not know the reasons behind it but they can feel a parent’s emotions so parents need to be aware of this. What helps a child is when parents are aware of their own emotions. A parent’s emotion can be very intense even if they decide to use silence as a coping mechanism. Silence sometimes hurts more than when parents fight because silence creates a deep sense of confusion in children. My first suggestion is to not assume that the child(ren) do not know what is going on and instead try to be genuine in terms of your emotions. Emotions are powerful and parents can decide the depth of details they wish to share with a child with respect to the problems they are having and wisdom should be used by a parent when it comes to sharing such details. However, when it comes to emotions, a parent should be genuine with the child. If you’re not happy, you can tell your child you are unhappy but not necessarily have to disclose what exactly happened in terms of details.

You created an online platform called “Your Relationship Clinic” on social media. Can you tell us more about this platform and how you are helping individuals through this online platform?

The “Your Relationship Clinic” was a platform I created in 2013 on Facebook. As time went on, I wanted to reach out more to the younger generation in Hong Kong and I switched the platform to run on Instagram. This is a platform where I share a lot of information and thoughts as a psychologist and a relationship therapist on issues related to relationships. Rather than focusing on academic research, I value sentimental and emotional perspective to allow me to interact more closely with my followers. Each day I run a Q & A and am there to listen to those going through difficulties and my role is to help them understand that there are people out there willing to listen. My platform is run in Chinese but English speakers can also reach out to me should they have any questions or concerns or wish to have a listening ear. My Instagram can be found at @yrrelationshipclinic.

About Dr. Ken Fung, Clinical Psychologist:

Dr. Fung is a Clinical Psychologist and focuses on helping individuals, couples and families with relational and emotional issues using the Gottman Method, Psychodynamic, CBT and Systemic approaches.

Dr. Fung graduated with a Doctor of Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, USA and he also received a Master of Social Science from The University of Hong Kong and Bachelor of Sciences from The University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Apart from his role as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Fung is the creator of the platform “Your Relationship Clinic”, an interactive channel allowing open discussion and emotional support to traditional Chinese-speaking individuals with relationship issues they may have with partners, family members, friends, colleagues and pets.

Dr. Fung’s practice emphasizes the importance of communication as a tool to meet expectations but also a vehicle to express genuine emotions through the establishment of a “safe space.”

Dr. Fung is based in Hong Kong and his clinic is located at the Jadis Blurton Family Development Center.

Spotlight Profile – Sanam Ramchandani, LCA Solutions

In this spotlight profile, we are speaking to Sanam Ramchandani, Deputy CEO and Founder of LCA Solutions. LCA Solutions is an award-winning multi-family office based in Hong Kong that services its clients overall needs as a “One Stop Solution center”. Originally focused primarily on financial issues they also provide a forum to discuss and source answers to the numerous non-financial issues clients may face including topics such as succession, generational transfer, matrimonial structuring and family governance.

Sanam, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to create your own Multi Family Office?

For the last 30 years, I have been in the financial industry and actively participated in growing the Asian Private Banking space that we see today. Before founding LCA Solutions in 2010, I had been in senior management roles within international banks directly servicing the needs of High-Net-Worth clients but also answering the requirements of the bank itself.

Following the financial crisis, I felt that a boutique approach was more conducive to offering the style of services I felt was needed for clients and hence started LCA Solutions, which combines the quality of the process driven models of leading international banks with the attention and tailor-made approach that only a boutique can afford to provide by servicing a limited client base. Quality and Passion is not easily scalable.

Can you expand on the link between your service offering and the need for succession and family planning advice?

We believe too much focus is put on investment related topics by Asian families while communication and succession issues are not appropriately dealt with, thus increasing the risk of future destabilisation within the family.

As human beings going through life, we all face issues and sometimes are overwhelmed by them thus procrastinating on our reply.

By facilitating discussions, we provide a forum to source answers recognising that starting the process is not always easy without external help.

In your line of work, you need to take into account various family issues, one of which being marriage and potential divorce; How do you approach these situations with your clients?

Many patriarchs and matriarchs are extremely worried about their sons or daughters getting married to individuals that may be less wealthy than themselves. From our experience, they most commonly ask about trusts, prenuptial agreements or postnuptial agreements to protect their children from potential “gold-diggers”; but also protect the overall family assets from future issues arising through the actions of a specific family member (like Divorce).

This might sound really “unromantic” but parents, especially wealthy ones, will always have a legitimate concern about the intentions of their children’s future spouses.

Our advice is hence to always start these types of discussions early with all family members and not when they bring someone home for whom they have serious feelings or are in the process of divorcing. You need to discuss concepts without a specific person, or event, in mind in order to avoid being perceived as targeting that specific individual or issue.

We advise the family that to succeed, such discussions must rely on the buy-in of all those concerned and must be perceived as transparent and fair (or at least with adequate explanations on the reasoning behind the potential contentious decision) in order to have the highest chance of long-lasting success and avoid future destabilizing issues within a family.

Specifically speaking, I know you focus on assisting women with their respective financial issues. Can you explain more about what you’re seeing especially in Hong Kong and how you’re trying to empower your women clientele to take charge of their lives and give them financial freedom?

During my career, I noticed that many women in general leave financial matters to their spouse as they feel that it is a world that is too complex for them. Many times, women feel that their time is better spent in either raising a family or advancing their career and really burrowing down doing so. That is why women do very well in general.

Although I do not focus on women as such, I have come across various situations and have noticed a common thread of anxiety that women seem to have when they have to deal with financial issues.

It is with this is mind, that I feel that being a woman myself who has been in the financial arena for over 30 years, my experience may be valuable to other women. As a wealth manager, I see my job as someone who can definitely minimize the anxiety as a result of the “unknown”.

Financial freedom stems from the fact that you know you will be able to continue a certain lifestyle that is comparable to what you were used to.

Why do you think it’s especially important to educate women about financial freedom especially in Hong Kong?

Whether it is in Hong Kong or elsewhere, women should feel comfortable when discussing financial issues. To achieve that, it is important that they have the opportunity to understand the various concepts at hand in the financial markets and not be taken aback by the “jargon” used that makes it look more difficult than it is.

As mentioned before, most believe that financial freedom is obtained when your financial income provides enough to cover the needs of your lifestyle.

Since you should not spend what you do not have, it is important to be honest and realistic about financial expectations and hence the most important element is to have the client understand when the capital amount at their disposal is not enough to generate their required cashflow.

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world so when talking about the financial impact of divorce, the hardest talks are often the most important ones to have. Discussions such as moving to a less expensive city or, in the case of a housewife, re-entering the workforce in one way or another should always be discussed as a potential solution; even if not the preferred choice for some.

But it is important to have an honest and realistic discussion; only then can someone feel they can make the right decision for them and regain control.

What tips can you provide women who are going through a divorce and how to uncouple in a way that brings financial freedom and independence?

When heading towards a divorce, you sadly need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best; thus, I advise clients to map their assets, so they know what they could expect from the proceedings.

Too often we see that the wife has limited knowledge of the intricate details of the couples’ financial situation. Hence it is important for them to obtain that information, or at least gather as much as possible of the available information.

Emotions, by definition, are always going to be high and as financial advisors, it is important for us to try to defuse the situation as much as possible so the client can focus on the financial facts.

Staying calm and objective, is easier said than done, I know. Once the decision is made then it is imperative to look at the situation objectively and “keep calm and carry on”.

The emotional toll of going through a divorce is bad enough without having to worry about how to manage your finances. But it is important to always remain realistic about financial issues.

Our goal is to ease part of that burden by answering four action points for our clients: understand what level of financial freedom they can expect from their divorce settlement, open new private bank accounts for them to start afresh, formulate the investment strategy that will be required to achieve their financial objectives and finally implement it while reporting back to them in full transparency so they can have peace of mind to focus on other issues.

Independence is also a frame of mind which can only be achieved if one feels at ease and in control. To know exactly how much you have, and how much you can spend, is definitely a big part of that control.

About Sanam Ramchandani:

Born in Hong Kong, Sanam has over 30 years of experience in the International Financial Industry. She co-founded LCA Solutions, an award-winning Hong Kong multi-family office, whose primary focus is providing wealth management services to individual clients, families and their family businesses. As an SFC regulated multi-family office, LCA Solutions provides a complete range of investment services but also a forum to discuss non-financial issues such as family governance, succession planning, matrimonial structuring etc. Through her own experience and network, Sanam can answer all your financial needs as well as help source answers to issues such as prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, divorce proceedings or family matrimonial structuring.

For more information about Sanam Ramchandani and her company, LCA Solutions, you can visit their website: https://www.lcasolutions.asia/
Spotlight Profile – Sanam Ramchandani, LCA Solutions 1

4 Questions To Ask Your Divorce Solicitor

In a divorce, there are a million concerns that are swirling around in your head as you embark on this daunting and overwhelming process. One of the ways to ease your concerns is to be educated about the divorce process, and this requires you to ask the right questions before you begin this journey.

In your divorce journey, there are benefits to consulting with a solicitor to obtain the answers you need for your divorce. So what kinds of questions should you ask a solicitor before you get started?

1. What Costs Can I Anticipate? A divorce is a costly process. Even if you are a multi-millionaire with endless resources of cash, the costs associated with divorce should still be a concern. Your goal is to save your money and use it for you and your family going forward, and not necessarily on legal fees and unnecessary litigation. Each and every law firm will have its own legal fees and costs structure so you need to ask how that fee structure works so that you are aware of how your money will be spent and you can then plan to put aside necessary funds for the divorce process.

2. What Exposure Do I Have Related to Maintenance? One of the main issues you will want to discuss in an initial consultation is your exposure for maintenance for your spouse and/or your children. Whether you are the payor or payee spouse, you will want the solicitor to explain how maintenance is determined by the Family Court in Hong Kong and if possible, give you a general idea of what your exposure is based on the information you provide to the solicitor. It will be important to bring as much financial documentation/information with you to your initial consultation so the solicitor can review your family’s overall financial picture.

3. How Is Child Custody and Care and Access Determined? If you are concerned about child sharing, ask the solicitor what the Family Court will consider when making a determination related to child custody and care and access. It is also a good idea to be transparent with the solicitor on how childcare is currently shared between you and your spouse and what you envision or wish it to look like upon a divorce. Your solicitor can then set out a plan with you on how to achieve your goals with respect to child custody, care and access.

4. What Information Is Needed From Me? When you are consulting with a solicitor, you should be provided with helpful resources on how to get started, in addition to a list of information that you will need to gather to prepare for the process ahead. Initially you will be required to provide a lot of information regarding the children and financial disclosures in order to submit to the Family Court. These documents are mandatory in order to prepare for the process necessary to divorce.

What they say is true, “knowledge is power” and by asking the right questions, you will be educated and armed with information that is beneficial in helping you meet your goals and moving your case towards resolution.

Silver Linings in Divorce

It is a new year and we can never predict what lies ahead, but there are definitely many adventures to be had. If you are going through a divorce, there may be many challenges ahead, but regardless of the challenges, there is always a silver lining in every difficult circumstance.

With that being said, I have listed some of the common challenges you may face dealing with divorce this year, but alongside that I have also listed some of the wonderful accomplishments and adventures you may gain along the way:

1. Heartbreak Over A Failed Relationship. When divorce happens, there is heartbreak, especially if you are the spouse that wanted the relationship to work. Understandably, heartbreak is emotionally and physically taxing and can be magnified in divorce. You and your spouse have invested considerable time into each other and there are many dreams you both had for your family. While it is normal for individuals to go through a grieving process, this is also a wonderful time for you to focus on what is ahead. Set new personal and professional goals, think about some of the hobbies you have always wanted to master and the places you have always wanted to see, especially if Covid-19 restrictions are on its way to being eased in Hong Kong and around the world! For many of you, this could also mean a new start in building new relationships and getting back into the dating scene. Divorce is not the end and there are many wonderful experiences and memories you will encounter over your lifetime.

2. Finance Woes. Divorce can wreak havoc on your finances. For example, a court may order you to pay monthly maintenance for your spouse and for the children, which will cut into your monthly income. In a divorce settlement, you may be required to pay out a significant sum to your ex-spouse to equalize the division of assets and debts. The nest egg you saved in your retirement accounts may also be cut in half as part of a divorce settlement. While the financial pressures associated with divorce can cause great stress, this is also your chance to become empowered to take charge of your finances and create a roadmap for your future financial success. It is during this time that it would be beneficial for you to meet with a financial expert to plan a budget and manage finances following divorce. If you are the receiving party to maintenance, it is not wise to squander your monthly support cheques or your lump-sum divorce settlement with no thought to your financial future. This may also be a good time to think about entering back into the job market and should be discussed with your solicitor about how this will play into your divorce.

3. Co-parenting Rocky Road. In divorce, you and your ex-spouse will begin to co-parent. For some parents, co-parenting is easy with no issue. However, other parents find co-parenting a nightmare and have difficulty communicating with each other. Co-parenting may be difficult for parents, but this “new normal” is also very difficult for children and pets. Remember that this is difficult for everyone involved, especially when you and your ex-spouse are sparring over co-parenting issues. While co-parenting can be rocky, it is a great opportunity for you and your ex-spouse to work on communication skills with one another and with your children. Talk to your children about what the divorce means for them and how it will affect their relationship with you. Ask your children how they feel and what you can do to make the transition easier. Using this difficult situation as an opportunity to build communication bridges with your children will be rewarding in the long-run. Remember that it is important not to use your children as a weapon against your spouse during divorce proceedings. Avoid talking to your children about adult issues related to the divorce. Finally, now that a new family dynamic is being created, this is also a great opportunity to create new traditions and new routines for your family.

With the start of the new year, consult with your attorney about how you would like to proceed in your divorce and the goals you would like to see by the end of the year. Setting goals for your divorce will help you overcome every challenge you face during divorce. Once you get past the challenges, you can then look back and be proud of your accomplishments.