Liv Downing and Caroline Weinstein from the Mind You Program

Episode 5 is brought to you by the Mind You Program. Co-founders and Psychologists, Liv Downing and Caroline Weinstein talk about their passion for mental health in the workplace.

Speaker You’re listening to Allied Health Podcast, talking all things Allied Health with your hosts, Danielle Weedon, physiotherapist and Clare Jones, occupational therapist.

Clare Jones Today, we’re joined by Liv Downing, registered psychologist, and Caroline Weinstein, clinical psychologist. They’re co-founders of The Mind You Program, a mental health program for the workplace. Welcome and thanks for joining us both.

Liv Downing Thanks so much Clare, and hey Dan.

Danielle Weedon Everyone. Hello. So, with mental health in the workplace gaining more and more spotlight, it’s a very important and interesting time to be in your sector. So we wanted to run through a few questions to get a better understanding of who you are, what you do, the Mind You program, and some practical tips for our listeners to bring into their workplaces right now.

Clare Jones So to kick things off, can you tell us a bit about, Mind You, how it came about and why you’re so passionate about mental health in the workplace?

Caroline Weinstein So Liv and have been friends for about 25 plus years. We met at university, so we have a very long history together. We met studying psychology a long time ago and we have brought together our 40 plus years of combined professional experience and 80 plus years of life experience to this program. It really came about because working one on one with clients has been really my bread and butter, Liv has worked more with groups and she can talk about that a little bit more. But what we’ve really seen, especially over the past couple of years, of COVID, is that the need is so great for mental health in so many areas and one on one we can do a lot of great work, but groups really need so much more and we can’t do more than one person in a chair at a time and workplaces are crying out for it and we’re seeing that in some areas. And there’s been changes in legislation that is come in in Victoria at the moment, which we’ll talk about, which is really looking at problems in the workplace in terms of mental health and mental health injuries going up exponentially. So that’s really where the idea came from.

Liv Downing And it was really interesting, wasn’t it, Caroline, how during COVID we were inundated with requests from workplaces and we would go in and we do these wonderful workshops, but then we’d leave and it occurred to us that we needed to be able to create something that workplaces could really wave into the tapestry of their organisation, something that could really fundamentally give people not only the skills and tools to manage their own mental health, but the opportunity to connect authentically as a team and to really create an environment of psychological safety with, as you said, you know, having the benefit of that being that it becomes a preventative mental health measure. So we don’t have to see as many potential clients or patients turning up to our clinic that we action before that point.

Clare Jones I was going to say it’s that it’s changing that concept that therapy exists between the start of the session and the finish of the session. It needs to be integrated into everyday at home, in the workplace, in everyday life, doesn’t it, for it to be really effective and preventative as well?

Liv Downing Absolutely. We would we say that at the beginning of all of our times working with a client, you know, there’s only so much we can do in our session. It’s what you do between sessions that’s going to make the difference. That’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s, you know, it’s where you’re in your relationships, where you’re learning to set boundaries in your workplace, where you’re learning how to parent more effectively, your exercising, your eating. Well, that can’t happen in a therapy session. And so we’ve really wanted to give people all of those tools to really weave them into their lives.

Caroline Weinstein Yeah. I always talk about being a gardener. In the session we plant the seed. And then outside of the sessions, this is where you have to water them, give them sunlight and fertilize them. And that’s where the work is done. And it feels like with this program, what we plan to do is take the psychologist to the workplace rather than sending many people from a workplace one by one individually to go and get therapy, which we know they just can’t do. Our waitlists are so long and it’s so hard to get in with anyone. Let us bring the psychologist to you. Let us give you the tools and then work through it as a team. Give you the individual tools that come together and connect as a team to work through the program.

Liv Downing And I know and our vision for this program, what we’re really we’re hoping will be the impact of this program is that we end up with workplaces filled with individuals and teams who have that psychological safety so that they’re mentally well. And therefore, they’re in a position to contribute meaningfully both to their work and to their families and to the broader community. So we’ve got big goals, you guys. It’s ultimately world peace paced, let’s be honest, and exercise, nutrition and all those things.

Clare Jones Can I just come back to another part of that question? Why are you so passionate about mental health in the workplace?

Liv Downing Great question, Claire. So I guess for both of us, we see people come into the clinic and they have, you know, work. It’s a lot of our life. A lot of our attachment styles, a lot of our the ways we manage our emotions, it presents itself in the workplace. And so there’s that kind of general motivation that we think if we can actually give people these tools at work to be able to manage themselves more effectively, they’ll be happier and healthier. And together with that, part of my motivation is quite a personal motivation in that, you know, being a psychologist, being a naturally big hearted person, I do have a tendency to work too hard and to push myself too hard. And a couple of times I’ve really found myself at the point of burnout where I wasn’t able to manage myself as well as I could within the work environment. And so, you know, part of my motivation is to really give people the tools I wish that I had had, both as workplaces and as individuals.

Caroline Weinstein Yes, I agree with that, absolutely. And I think I’ve been that person as well that has to really work very hard to separate myself from my work and my life. And I think it’s become a lot harder with people working from home now. And so I say with my clients, you know, one of the major stressors that they talk about when they come to sit in front of me is about work. And they talk about that being a huge stress and now the divide between work and home has become so blurred that I think, you know, we really have to be talking very much about how we can manage ourselves in all our environments and work has time really taken over for a lot of people. And the work environment, we have to be honest, has changed. Everything has changed. Post-COVID, I mean, so many ways. And this program was actually something where the seeds was sown for this program way before COVID. And COVID was, you know, ticked over that someone came to us and said, my, my business is suffering. My people are suffering. Can you help us? And that was the little kicker that we needed to start to put it together. And then we said, okay, actually, we’re ready for this. But the seeds were there already.

Danielle Weedon Yeah, great. And Caroline, you touched on it, but we understand WorkSafe in Victoria is bringing in some new mental health guidelines and regulations for organisations with over 50 employees. Is that right?

Caroline Weinstein Correct. We get about eight. What we know at the moment is that Victoria is leading the way out of all the states, that there is proposed legislation coming in July 1, very, very soon around psychological safety in the workplace. So it’s a preventative measure and it will be for workplaces of over 50 employees that they will need to have as part of their occupational health and safety program. They will need to have and I think it’s called… Liv you might want to jump in here. It’s around risk to psychological health. They’ll have to have a program in place that targets psychological health and keeping their people safe because what they’re predicting is by the end of the decade, over 50% of workplace WorkSafe claims will be for psychological injury and not just physical injury, which is just huge. So we’re waiting to see this actually come about.

Liv Downing And it’s really interesting the way WorkSafe is presenting it I guess, and so they’re really presenting it that they’re wanting organisations to make sure that there’s no opportunity for psychological injury. So, you know, and of course we support that. So reducing bullying claims, any kind of harassment, making sure role clarity is really apparent for people, that the work expectations are reasonable so that, you know, not given too much work or too little work. But, you know, Caroline and I agree that ultimately, while the organisation has a major responsibility and that’s a no brainer for us, you know, of course, our workplaces should be safe. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to manage their own mental health because we all interact with our environment both internally and externally, very individually, based on our genetics, our history. You know, so many factors. And so it’s a big I think it’s a big responsibility to put on workplaces. And, you know, some of the HR directors I’ve been speaking to about this are really worried about what this will mean for just the OHS claims that will come up. So we really hope that, Mind You, as a program, is something that can both empower individuals to become more responsible and more aware of what’s going on internally and therefore potentially reduce the burden on organisations. While, of course, it’s organisations responsibility, it’s not only their responsibility.

Clare Jones It’s interesting with mental health, isn’t it, coming from an OT perspective and ergonomics, you know, in terms of injury prevention in the workplace, you can put a seat at the correct height and a computer at the right height and a keyboard at the right height. But you can’t actually touch a mental health structure, you know, in the workplace, can you? But that’s what it’s about. It’s putting that structure in place, that awareness, that and knowledge around mental health so that people have resources to call on and the knowledge to call out, I guess, inappropriate behavior from a mental health perspective in the workplace.

Caroline Weinstein And what we can do also, Clare, is create an environment of psychological safety. And that means that people feel safe to be able to speak up and to feel heard and to voice their opinion without fear of retribution. And that was a study, a Google study, that Project the Aristotle study, that showed that individuals do the best at work when there is psychological safety. And I think that has to be what workplaces take on, that is psychologically safe environment where workers and employees feel that they can do that. And so the burden kind of sits individually and as sits within the organisation. So but yes, it’s huge, isn’t it? It’s really huge. And I think we have to start with a conversation of taking away the stigma of mental health and talking about it like you would as an OT. Talk about our physical health. Let’s talk about posture. Let’s talk about seating and ergonomics and let’s talk about your mental health. Let’s talk about signs of depression. What does that look at? What does burnout look like? I think that’s where we say we have to start to have those discussions. And that’s one of our values, is to be authentic and to be open and take the stigma out of mental health. That’s one of our core values of the Mind You program. That’s what we want to change.

Clare Jones Just talking about connection. I know this is something that you’re both very passionate about. Can you tell us a little a little bit about the science and the power of connection and what you mean by connection and why connection is so important for mental health?

Liv Downing Great question, Claire. So it was really interesting when we were sitting down to really design this program. We grappled for a couple of months around what’s the foundation, what’s the framework? And interestingly, we both came to connection as the framework. So Caroline, given her background, is much more in the neuroscience, neuroscience, psycho physiology side of psychology, she came to it with the research around Polly Vagal theory and really looking at – which is a whole another podcast –

Clare Jones We look forward to it.

Liv Downing about the central nervous system and how we can connect or disconnect. And me with my meditation and mindfulness background, I came to this concept of connection really with connecting to myself, ourselves and to connecting authentically with each other. And then tying all of that together, we started looking at all of the research around the strongest predictors of good mental health and all of the studies that are out there, there’s one done called the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and over 80 years they’ve tracked mainly men, it started with men, but it’s extended to both genders now, they’ve tracked the health and well-being of these people, and they actually found the strongest predictor of both mental and physical health is the quality of our relationships. And so it just all slipped in beautifully. So we both can come to it independently and all the research supported everything that we were wanting to teach and had been teaching for so many years. So what we mean by connection is really across three pillars. So it’s connecting to our body, understanding that our body needs to be fed, it needs to be rested, it needs to move. Connecting to our mind, so understanding that how we relate to our thoughts and emotions impact our behavior and impact our overall mood, how we manage our stress, how we connect to our values. And then finally connecting to our heart. So connecting to ourselves, understanding our intuition. So it’s getting into intuition of values again, as well as connecting more authentically with other people and that, you know, really building the quality of those relationships. So it’s a big concept, very rich, very backed by science, and you can really approach it from many different angles. But if I was to boil down everything that I’d learned in this space for a career of 20 years and as a human for over 40 years, and I think Caz would agree, connections the number one.

Danielle Weedon can give us some practical tips about how we can be cultivating connection in our lives?

Caroline Weinstein Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of, you know, connecting to ourselves, as we said, in terms of maybe eating more mindfully, if you sit down to eat don’t eat with your phone, don’t eat with the television, just sit down at your food and enjoy it, taste and smell it, feel the texture in your mouth. It’s more just to connect with, you know, I talk about nutrition as medicine what we’re putting into our body. Making sure that you connect with people in a full way put your phone down. I know often you see people on the phone talking to someone, actually look them in the eye, don’t text them, find them, have a conversation, because there’s different neurons that actually get fired when you’re having a conversation, if you’re, you know, speaking like this and I’m looking at your expressions, this is what we call mirror neurons that are lighting up. And so that’s how we get empathy for each other, so that my neurons mirroring yours. And so that’s how I’m feeling. If you’re feeling hurt, I’m feeling the hurt. And that’s how I’m feeling. Empathy. So there’s ways that we can connect like this everyday that we can start to connect. Connecting to nature, go outside, stand outside for 5 minutes instead of in a break, you know, being on your phone, stand outside, look at the clouds, look at the trees and notice the different colors. There’s so many ways that we can connect in, check in with your body. What’s my breath telling me about what I’m what I’m feeling at the moment? Or my posture, that will tell me what’s happening with my nervous system. So there’s many ways that during the day we can take a few moments to check in and connect with what’s happening internally, with myself, with my breath, with my body, with my posture, what’s happening around me, with my relationships, the way that I eat, the way that I move. So there’s ways that we can do that every day and we can make little associations. I like to say to my clients, every time you go to the toilet or every time you add a red light or a train stop, a tram stop, just stop and notice. Take three breaths. Notice where you’re at, maybe look around, see what’s going on around you and you start to create some good habits and some strong associations, and you can create new habits and new neural networks in your brain.

Clare Jones It’s amazing how difficult it’s become to be present in a moment, isn’t it?

Liv Downing Yes. Oh, interesting. Clare, there’s some research that’s just come out around level of distractibility. And it’d be easy for us to say to blame technology for that. And I certainly have for years, you know, these damn devices. But actually the conclusion has been that when there’s more information in the environment, that’s where our attention reduces. So, you know, when radio started, people’s attention spans reduced, television, people’s attention spans reduced. So it’s all about information. If we can be more conscious and more mindful with how we consume this information, we can start to manage our attention more effectively. And as you all know, I’m a big a big supporter and teacher of meditation. So that’s another way that we can support ourselves to manage our time and be present in that. And that’s where we connect. That’s where we connect with each other and with ourselves when we’re present and really showing up with our whole self.

Clare Jones Yeah, we really have to work on being attention fit, aren’t we? And building up our endurance for attention because it’s almost like we started a baseline, now with very limited capacity to attend and be present. You need to work on that like you would any sort of physical fitness program.

Danielle Weedon I think as well, it’s very much a catch 22 because I think we don’t talk enough about our internal lives. And if you can get your internal life, if you can understand who you internally and what your drivers are, then the external of life will follow. Like we focus on external, quite simply. But yeah, that that digresses a little bit. But I agree with the attention.

Liv Downing Spot on Dan. We do that. But so many of us feel uncomfortable attending to our internal life. Yet for a variety of reasons, childhood, genetics, inherited trauma. You know, there’s so much, but we need to kind of make friends with this internal space because this is our home. You know, this is the longest relationship we’re ever going to have in our lives. So let’s invest time in that. Look, it’s been said that we’re living in an attention economy. And if you think about, you know, the advertisers, they’re vying for our attention. One of the best things we can do as Caz was indicating earlier is really start to pay attention to what’s happening internally. Where am I focusing? Where am I investing my energy? Yeah, look, we could talk about this forever.

Danielle Weedon Have you read the book Stolen Focus?

Liv Downing I have. I have. Another episode!

Clare Jones All right, let’s get back to the Mind You program. Are you happy to give us an overview of the program and tell us how does it differ to other mental health programs out there designed for the workplace?

Caroline Weinstein So and our program is different because it actually designed and run by our psychologists. And we feel that it brings a psychologist to the workplace, which is different to other programs. A lot of the other programs are a bit off the shelf and there’s animated characters and things like that. While ours are quite live, they are us and we’re very real and very personable and like you’ve seen us today, we are like that in the program. We think it’s preventative in nature. So that’s the aim of it, is that we really want to prevent more and more people having to come into our practice. Of course people are going to go and do therapeutic work and it’s fabulous. But there will be those that will get the tools that we will teach in therapy from our program, and that might be enough for them. And that’s wonderful. And we think that that is excellent if we can if we can supply that. I think one of the great differentiating factors is that it is based on evidence based practice and it’s based on the science of connection, as we said. So it’s all about experiential learning. And so as people move through the program, they’re learning the power of connection through doing it in a team environment. So they’re connecting with the program and connecting as a team. And there’s something very special about that dynamic that’s happening whilst they’re doing it. So they’re experiencing it as they go through it. And I think that is a really key difference to other programs. And so it is an individual program but done as a team, it really gives the workplace an experience of connection.

Liv Downing One of the goals that we had was really to create a very holistic program. So we’ve both been involved in designing and delivering other mental health programs in the workplace. And I think that some sometimes if we just offer one or two tools, it’s not realistic and it can actually be quite demotivating for people. And I think I can say that with some authority because for years I was offering meditation and mindfulness as a tool for good mental health in the workplace. And while that’s a very fabulous tool, it’s often not enough and often not appropriate for people. So we came up with our model, which is across three core pillars. So it’s really looking at the body, the mind and the heart, as I indicated earlier. So we think that that holistic nature is, is really important. And then we’ve got beautiful videos. We’ve got some gorgeous meditations that I’ve recorded. What else do we have Caz?

Caroline Weinstein We have scoop sheets, so great information, sheets of the information as they can keep referring back to them. We have review questions at the end of every module so that every pillar has three modules as part of it. Tips for managers to roll it out, so there’s different ways that you can roll out the program within the organisation.

Clare Jones So the workplace owns the Mind You program as a resource, employees go through the program, and then can they come back and revisit modules? Is it in modules of the program?

Liv Downing That’s the goal. Really wanted to empower workplaces with our skills and knowledge. So we wanted to, you know, really give the responsibility. To integrate the program into an organisation’s existing learning and development initiatives. So luckily we found a wonderful technology partner, and the technology that we have can be put

Caroline Weinstein Onto their learning management system.

Liv Downing  So and the cool thing about it is we can actually tailor components of the program for the individual organisation. So we can incorporate colors and we can have an introduction from the CEO or the HRD and we can apply the learnings to the individuals or the organisation’s specific values. So the the frameworks there, but it’s very flexible. So we’re happy about that.

Caroline Weinstein And another difference is in between, halfway through the program, we can offer also like a live mental health help desk. So it’s a zoom call with us live, to answer questions and so we’ll be there online with anyone who wants to turn up and ask any questions. So it brings it to life.

Clare Jones Builds that connection.

Caroline Weinstein Absolutely. So we’re real life people that really matters and to have a real life discussion.

Clare Jones Yeah, I like that point you made about personalising the programs and customising it to the workplace as well, because again, that comes back to connections, so if it’s the head of your workplace, whether it be a CEO or a practice director, you know, opening the program with a short speech or whatnot. Again, it builds that connection and that trust, doesn’t it, in the workplace. I like that feature.

Caroline Weinstein We take mental health very seriously and we’re not just putting something on our platform and you can access that when you want to access it. It’s we’re taking it seriously and we’re going to work through it all together. And I think that’s very important.

Clare Jones Yeah, very, very important. Yeah. And how can people get in touch with you to find out more about the program? Purchase the program?

Liv Downing Well we have a website and it’s It’s not AEW because we’ve decided we needed to take the program globally because remember world peace. We’re also on all of the Insta books. So on LinkedIn you can connect with Caroline and I on LinkedIn, Liv Downing and Caroline Weinstein and Facebook, Instagram, and then we have a company page on LinkedIn again, which is the Mind You program. So lots of ways to get in touch.

Clare Jones It’s fantastic.

Liv Downing Would you like my phone number as well?

Danielle Weedon Well, thanks again for joining us. As the profile of mental health in the workplace continues to rise, it’s certainly a really interesting time for both employers and employees. So a big thanks for introducing us to your Mind You program and for sharing your valuable knowledge and expertise.

Clare Jones Thanks, Liv. Thanks, Caroline.

Liv Downing Pleasure.

Caroline Weinstein Thank you so much.

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