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“Being a leader is all about transparency” With Beau Henderson & Rachel Tomlinson

For me, being a leader is all about transparency and accountability. I would never ask my staff to do something that I wouldn’t jump in and do myself. I am also just as accountable to them, as they are to me. I encourage them to call me out if I have done something wrong and […]

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For me, being a leader is all about transparency and accountability. I would never ask my staff to do something that I wouldn’t jump in and do myself. I am also just as accountable to them, as they are to me. I encourage them to call me out if I have done something wrong and we talk openly about how to fix it. I create an environment of openness and transparency so we all feel comfortable talking about the uncomfortable stuff. This way we address tricky things, rather than avoiding them and mistakes become learning opportunities rather than criticisms.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Tomlinson.

Rachel Tomlinson is a registered psychologist who has worked with adults, families, and children (birth through eighteen years old) in a variety of settings. She has presented at national conferences on mental health topics (including trauma and play therapy) as well as guest lectured about domestic violence and relationships at colleges and universities. She also serves as a subject matter expert for journalists on topics such as mental health, parenting, child development, and relationships. She resides in Perth, Australia.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I knew what I wanted to do straight out of high school. I started my psychology degree, and I felt like instead of learning I was “remembering”, the information and theories just clicked. I knew I was in the right place. So as soon as I was able, I started working in community settings, in a women’s refuge, a disability care home, children’s residential home, a homeless hostel and in drug and alcohol counseling. I wanted to get as much experience across different settings as I could get so that I could help the most amount of people. I’m now an author and want to share insights on mental health topics with an even wider audience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I would have to say getting my publishing contract. I approached an editor at a publishing house to inquire about a call out she had placed for an expert to get in contact about an upcoming book the publishing house she worked for wanted to release. We ended up talking and within a month I had a publishing contract to write my first book “Teaching Kids to be Kind” which was published in January 2020. It was not a typical story of publication and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity. I now have a children’s picture book due for publication next year dealing with the topic of depression.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I don’t know about humorous, but I’ve certainly had a few cringey moments and mistakes over the years. Sending group emails to my team where I’ve asked them to checked their upcoming shifts (but the word shift was missing a critical letter “f” in the middle). Mispronouncing words when working with clients and getting some funny looks. I am certainly not above making mistakes, but I can’t recall any rib crackingly hilarious stories.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. He has just had utter faith in me, whatever path I have ever wanted to follow. He 100% believed that whatever I wanted to do, that I would achieve it. When someone has that kind of faith in you, you believe in yourself. Becoming a psychologist is a pretty lengthy and arduous process, during that time he helped me emotionally and also practically. I’m an Australian, and while I was still studying we moved to England for a few years. I continued my studies with my Australian based university, but the time came to sit my final exams. My husband approached a colleague at the school he was working with to be the invigilator for my final exam and I ended up sitting in the squash courts of the high school he worked in to do my exams. He literally made that happen so I could graduate.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

As a psychologist you are privy to peoples distress all day. It’s a privilege to be invited to hear their stories, but the act of being empathic can be exhausting and emotionally draining. Its important as a psychologist to seek your own place to ventilate and also have some great strategies in place to switch off. For me it’s the “cone of silence” — when I finish work I need some quiet time, where no-one is asking anything of me. I spend my day talking and giving to others, so when I finish work I need a bit of time to re-center and have a little bit of quiet.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

For me, being a leader is all about transparency and accountability. I would never ask my staff to do something that I wouldn’t jump in and do myself. I am also just as accountable to them, as they are to me. I encourage them to call me out if I have done something wrong and we talk openly about how to fix it. I create an environment of openness and transparency so we all feel comfortable talking about the uncomfortable stuff. This way we address tricky things, rather than avoiding them and mistakes become learning opportunities rather than criticisms.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

We work towards retirement, it’s a reward for a lifetime of hard work. But we often don’t think about what will happen after we retire. A lot of us build our sense of selves around who we are as employees or align with our profession. For example I get a lot of esteem from being a psychologist, it’s a sense of pride. However when we finish our working lives, we don’t get that sense of esteem any longer…so we have to find other feelings of achievement in other ways. I worked with an older gentleman many years ago, he had recently retired and was feeling a sense of loss and depression. We worked out that he had felt a sense of pride completing work (he had been a carpenter) and seeing the look on peoples faces when they saw their commissioned pieces. So we connected him to a local men’s charity where he gave woodworking classes to men struggling with their mental health. He re-connected with something he loved and regained a sense of purpose. So retirement is all about planning and looking for purpose in other areas outside of employment that has defined us for most of our lives.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

I’ve worked for many years in counseling with school aged children and adolescents. For young people learning how to communicate their needs is a massive skill that needs to be developed. Often they express themselves in maladaptive or challenging ways, as they don’t feel they will be listened to, or their needs respected. I recall working with a teenage girl who was having conflict with her mum. Neither felt that the other was listening to them, so I brought them in for a family session and helped the teen girl to express her needs in a non-confrontational way. We used a typical sentence structure (I didn’t make this structure up, its well known, but oh so good) “I feel (insert emotion) when you (insert that behavior or action that impacted the feeling) because (why does it feel that way) and I would prefer (insert need here)”. For example “I feel frustrated when you ask me to do the dishes multiple times, because I know I have to do them, I’m just not ready yet. I would prefer that you trust me that I will do them before I go to bed”. This kind of communication is non-blaming but allows people to express their feelings and feel heard at the same time. For our teens, having a template to help them express themselves reduces confusion and feeling heard reduces frustration/anger/sadness which means there is less negative emotion underpinning communication with people around them, leading to improved relationships and a better sense of self-esteem in the teen.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a children’s picture book that deals with grief in a raw and real way. It was the first time I had really seen a book for children that dealt with such a big topic and what inspired me to write my own books. Working in counseling I often used bibliotherapy with adults, but found less books for children that dealt with the kind of issues I saw coming through my door, things like grief, depression, anxiety etcetera. I used to write specific stories for the kids who came into counseling that showed characters of the same gender as them, with similar stories as their own. The stories built in coping strategies we had been practicing in counseling and the kids loved to see a main character they connected with coping and adapting to challenges they faced. I recall one little boy reading the story I had written saying to me “I’m not alone, someone else feels like this too”. It was such an emotional moment because everyone needs to know they are not alone, regardless of how old they are.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Random Acts of Kindness are the way to go! Kindness is catching, and either witnessing or demonstrating kindness spreads compassion in our communities. But engaging in acts of kindness also improves our physical and mental health, being kind has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve heart health, improve immunity, decrease stress and helps with general mental well being. I recommend that everyone practices kindness in their daily life, or set a weekly/monthly challenge to do one kind act per day. Kindness doesn’t need to mean giving money or sharing belongings, it can also be showing emotional compassion or regard for others. Let someone in front of you in the line, taking a shopping cart back to the store that you find in a car park, give a stranger a compliment, the possibilities are endless. Give it a try and see just how good it feels!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

There are some arguments about where this quote originated from, but I think applying this rule when communicating is important “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”. It keeps us in check and keeps us focusing on empathy and connection rather than being right or unintentionally hurting others with our words. These rules can be applied to adults and children alike. I have shared this quote in counseling, in my book and also in my personal life.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram @towardwellbeing

Twitter @RachLTomlinson

Facebook @psychologistracheltomlinson

Website www.towardwellbeing.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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