What you'll learn in this podcast:
- Science Says—Learn how performing acts of kindness can impact your genetic expression.
- Life Hack—Explore what kindness means and how to show it more to others.
- Practitioner’s Corner—Barbara Santen shares how parents of newborns can keep their sense of connection with each other and their family.
Read the interview from the Practitioner's Corner:
Transcription provided by The Flourishing Center
Emiliya: Hello, everyone, and join me in welcoming Barbara Santen. She is a coach for women in relationships from Toronto, Ontario. We're so excited to have Barbara here with us to learn more about how positive psychology is being utilized in coaching and how she's helping people create thriving and flourishing relationships.
Something that you might not know about Barbara is she is an avid acro yogi, and if you're not familiar with acro-yoga, it is this profoundly impactful way of doing yoga that combines doing work with partners or within a group setting and is all about cultivating communication and partnership using people's bodies. I'm huge fan of acro yoga. I think it's so cool that Barbara is a practitioner.
Thank you so much for being here, Barbara, and tell us, how did you get started in positive psychology?
Barbara: Well, it was kind of in a roundabout way. I had been searching for years and years, actually, to build from and upon the career that I had at that time, which was being a registered midwife in Ontario, and being a midwife is part of the health care system, so we're like physicians in that we have autonomy, we have no one above us telling us how to manage our care and all of that, and I still felt quite constricted in my profession.
And my degree is in midwifery specifically. It's not as a nurse-first, and then a specialty. It's a direct-entry program, and so I felt a little stuck. I felt a little choked because I wanted to flourish and become greater than I was in that moment, and so I started searching for master's degrees in psychology because I always wanted to help people, and I'm always the one that people come to for advice and help in my family and in my friendships and in my professional life, and that's my passion.
I started searching for master's degrees in psychology to become a counselor of some sort or a therapist, and I just realized that that's not what I wanted to do. I … Just as midwifery is sort of a positive aspect of medicine—although it's very complex and there are complex parts to it and management and sometimes scary things that have to happen—it's mostly a positive and a growth experience.
Mainstream psychology and psychotherapy was more like helping people get back up from something really terrible. I was like, "But what I can do? What can I do?" and I really hadn't understood much about coaching or anything like that, and so long story longer, I stumbled upon the University of Pennsylvania through my partner. Actually, I was there for a 20-year reunion. He graduated from that university in something else, and I met someone who had completed the Master's Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, and from there, I just started researching, and I was so hungry and devouring all of the positive psychology stuff that I stumbled upon.
It just so happened that that very weekend that I was at UPenn, that very weekend, a certification program in applied positive psychology was started, was commencing. As I was not in Toronto, it was starting that weekend in Toronto with my now good friend Louisa Jewell who was presenting that course.
I emailed you, Emiliya, right away, and I was like, "Oh … " I was ready to make a compelling argument for allowing me to enter the course late, and I think we went back and forth a little bit, and you had said right away, "Yeah, totally. You're in. No worries whatsoever," and so I decided to go for it. That's how I completed my certification in positive psychology, and it's the best course that I've ever taken in my entire life. It completely changed the course of my life, and I'm on a hugely new trajectory now thanks to the world that that opened up for me.
Emiliya: Thank you so much for sharing that story, Barbara, and we're so excited that you are offering yourself and all of your wisdom to others. Tell us more about your actual practice of what you offer as a result of having had done the positive psychology training.
Barbara: As I said, I had always wanted to do more with my degree and my knowledge. In my practice as a midwife, I saw so many couples who were so happy and so excited to have this baby, then I would bring them through the birth, the labor and the birth, and then they would literally be sitting there with this baby, and life would take over taking care of this child. Our model of care is that we take care of the woman and the baby for six weeks after, and so for the six weeks after that, I would go into their homes and do home visits and help with breastfeeding and help with all the clinical stuff, and I would see them kind of looking at each other like, "Wow, I don't remember who you are."
I would have to leave them at the six-week mark, and then they would go off and get a family doctor, and I wouldn't see them again. I always wondered, what happens to these relationships. I really felt deeply that I wanted to help them beyond that point.
I thought, what better way to do that than go off and learn about coaching and how to even just do that because I'm from a medical field, so all I know is how to see something medical and fix it. I didn't really know at that point how to be a coach, so positive psychology helped me understand what coaching could look like, and it helped me understand the tools and techniques that we need to flourish. I started applying those tools and techniques to, slowly but surely to some clients that were my guinea pigs, I call them, to help them get through that initial period in their relationship that's really crazy with a new baby.
When I saw some things didn't work, some things did work, somethings worked at the beginning that didn't work when the baby was older, some things worked only after about three months and didn't work in the beginning, I started dabbling in that and mindfulness, self-care, gratitude, expressing gratitude to your partner—never mind viewing gratitude and doing a practice of gratitude daily about what you have now. Slowly but surely, it has flourished into a thriving coaching business where people are knocking down my door and people are like, "Can't spread the word enough." I had no idea that this would happen but I'm glad it has because I feel, yeah, I feel like I'm actually contributing to their lives in a really positive way.
Emiliya: That is just so incredible, Barbara, and I could just, I could feel the potency of you saying things like, "Here are two people that just birthed life into this world, and then after going through so much intensity together, this element of not even recognizing one another," such a powerful gift to give them that connection of them having a space to reconnect.
I'm so passionate about what you're doing, particularly because there isn't much out there for couples by way of a professional environment where they can build their relationships. Couples go to couples therapy when something is wrong, but the things that end up going wrong are made up of these micro moments of disconnect, and the fact that you're giving them tools to learn those micro moments of connection and this idea that they can make little contributions every single day to filling their buckets rather than only having their buckets be tended to when they're empty is just such a huge gift to be giving people.
Barbara: Definitely. Thank you, and that's exactly what my mission is, is to build upon what's working and to catch people before they go into that despair, broken place and then need fixing, to catch people when they've had the thought, "Wow, something's not working. It's not broken, it's just I would like more. I want to flourish instead of just function." It's exactly what I love to bring to my clients and couples, for sure.
Emiliya: Thank you, Barbara. Barbara, I'm curious, what are some ways in which positive psychology has personally supported you in overcoming some of the challenges that day-to-day life brings?
Barbara: As a whole, just the perspective that it takes. Like I said before, it's … What I loved and what drew me and still draws me to positive psychology is the concept that we don't just need to be neutral and be okay. I want to flourish. I want to flourish in every area of my life. I want to flourish my relationship, my primary relationship. I want to flourish in my relationships with others, my children, my colleagues, my friends, the barista at Starbucks.
Emiliya: On-site two!
Barbara: Okay, there you go. That was just like, "What? Like actually?" We can change our emotions by just moving our body or by just focusing on what we want instead of what we don't want, and so those practices have built upon themselves within my, every single day from the moment that I learned about positive psychology, and there is such a wealth of knowledge out there. I think I will never learn everything as long as I search for more information, like there's just so much. That, in and of itself, is exciting because I'll never feel stagnant, which is death, right?
Emiliya: Well, luckily, this field is ever-expanding as well, which is also what makes it so exciting is it's just constantly growing.
Emiliya: Barbara, what are some tips or some strategies that couples can use when they are going through some difficult challenges, let's say, as you mentioned, when they have a newborn. That's just such a stressful time where they're sleep-deprived and there's so much depletion happening. What are some of the tips or tricks that couples can use to stay connected during such difficult times?
Barbara: I actually work now, and before I worked with couples, and of course, I helped the couple by helping the woman, but now I solely work with women because my, I have to admit to myself that my passion is working with women and helping women. What I tell my women is to really get clear on what their needs are and really get clear on what they want and start focusing on the positive of what they want, not on the negative of what they don't want because whatever we focus on grows and flourishes because it's getting energy. That's one thing.
Included in that is gratitude, and I know there's, in positive psychology, there's a huge study on gratitude and how that can transform people's lives, gratitude for anything and everything that's happening in her life in that moment to help pull her out of whatever state she's in because of lack of sleep, because of lack of nutrition, because of pain, because of a screaming baby. That can then trickle into self-care. When we're feeling grateful and we're in a more positive state, we're much better able to take care of ourselves.
That is actually the number one key to getting through the first three months. I mean, there are different stages, but immediate newborn, the first two weeks is, you're in a fog and it's insane, like you don't even remember which way is up, but you can litigate that feeling of feeling out of control by really just focusing on everything that you need that you can do besides what your child is demanding of you, so your child is very demanding, and then don't also try to do all the laundry and all the cooking and have makeup on and high heels when your husband comes home, and then expect to not get postpartum depression.
So really focusing on getting enough sleep, which there's a whole science behind that in neuropsychology and neurology around not getting enough sleep and the connection to depression and all kinds of ailments, literal, physical ailments, and enough nutrition, so all of those things.
It's all so simplistic. Some of your listeners might be like, "Yeah, obviously," but you'd be surprised how quickly the demands of a newborn can make you just completely forget about what you need, and I teach the women to teach that to her partner in a way that's not bitchy, in a way that's not demanding, in a way that's not complaining. All of those life skills will set them up for success in their future relationship with this now child in the middle.
Emiliya: Beautiful, Barbara. Thank you so much for those specific strategies, and what a gift it is to even give people the permission to self-care. How often that is lost in our culture, particularly around parenthood, letting other people's needs crush our own and so just to remind people that self-care is health care and that it can, giving them this permission to put the oxygen mask on themselves, which most people do know, but how few us actually do implement and actually get to do.
Emiliya: One of the questions we've been asking our participants is what are some your rules to live by or guiding ethos that you've gathered that inform the way that you show up in the world?
Barbara: The common sense approach versus going it through things practically in my head, like, "Oh, this is why I want to do this, this is why I don't want to do this," and writing it out versus just going with my gut.
I remember there was a study that was presented to us that showed that more often than not, going with our gut is the better decision, and it just confirmed that that's how I need to live, and that's what I've lived by ever since. I've always been really, really intuitive, even as a child, and my mom would always tell me that I have something special with my intuition. It was nurtured, thankfully, because now as an adult, that part of me is very strong, but the world around me has always made me think that I should be less intuitive and less in that feeling place than I was.
I started creating this part of myself that was artificial to me, and it would get me into trouble. I would make decisions based on what looked best on paper and what was a better financial decision and what was a better decision based on how many pros and cons there were. I started making some of those decisions and really being unhappy, so learning about the actual science of decision-making has confirmed in me that the right way for me, and other people might not have that, but the right thing for me is to always go with my gut, and that is something that I live by every moment of every day. Even if I'm standing at an ice cream shop, I go with the gut of which flavor I want.
That's a simple thing, but that's what I teach my women is you start feeling unease when you're not living by what your gut is telling you you need. That's where resentment trickles into a relationship and, "You made me do this," and, "You caused this." Meanwhile, it was yourself not listening to your need, and so that is a principle that I've really nurtured and flourished in, and it's gotten me, in a year and a half of being exposed to positive psychology, it's gotten me farther than any other method or decision-making process ever has in my entire life.
Emiliya: Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Barbara. It's such an inspiration to hear you say that, particularly because I think so many people want to follow their gut, they want to follow their intuition, but they're not really sure what that means. In what I heard you say, there's such an important part of learning to listen in our ability to hear our own intuition, listening to what does our body need, and it's so interesting particularly with something even as simple as making a decision on what type of ice cream to have. Most people go to their brain rather than to their gut. "What should I eat? What decision should I make?" This opportunity we have to go inward for those decisions for that guidance is such a understated, powerful resource that we all have.
Emiliya: Thank you so much, Barbara. Tell us, how can people find out more information about their work, particularly if they're interested in bringing positive psychology into their relationships.
Barbara: Thank you very much. I have a website. It's called barbarasanten.com, super easy, and then my Facebook page is, you'll also find it under my name barbarasanten/positivecoupling. I actually have free video that I just put together, and I'm really excited to share it. It's some tips, actually, about three or four tips on how to start improving your relationship right now no matter where you're at, whether or not you have kids, actually. The link will be below, and yeah, your listeners can access that for free.
Emiliya: Awesome, Barbara, that is so cool. Thank you so much, Barbara, for taking the time to be here with us and giving us all of these ideas and strategies for how people might be able to infuse this unique area of their life with positive psychology. Thank you for being here with us.
Barbara: Thank you so much, Emiliya.
Emiliya: Thanks for tuning in to today's podcast learning about the science behind acts of kindness, how we can increase our sense of well-being in the world, and some simple ways that positive psychology is being put into practice.
To learn more about positive psychology and how you, too, can become positive psychology practitioner, visit our website, www.theflourishingcenter.com. Thanks for listening, and may you have a flourishing rest of your day.