Students learn about developmental psychology through Wellness Wednesday workshop

Hannah Katzke, Staff Writer

Students explored developmental psychology and maladaptive defenses in Scarlett Goldberg’s (11) Wellness Wednesday workshop, “Feel Your Feelings: A Peer-Led Intervention to Reduce Self-Destructive Behaviors in Teens.” Goldberg hosted the workshop as an extension of her Independent Study project, in which she is creating a series of modules to teach others about self-destructive behaviors, she said. 

The workshop centered around maladaptive defenses and addictions, which are unhelpful subconscious defense mechanisms that a person can develop from their environment during childhood, Goldberg said. She chose to study this topic because these addictions are prevalent in the school community. “I think there’s a lot of work addiction, a lot of eating disorders, a lot of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and overachieving at the school, and I think we neglect our basic needs like eating healthy and sleeping,” she said.

Megumi Iwai-Louie (11) previously thought of addiction in terms of material things like alcohol, drug, and caffeine addictions, she said. She was surprised to learn about behavioral patterns and maladaptations that become addictions like people-pleasing, caretaking, and gift-giving.

Conversations on addiction at the school typically focus only on drugs and alcohol, Goldberg said. Therefore, students do not have the proper resources to learn how to cope with their feelings in healthy ways, she said. She decided to host a Wellness Wednesday workshop to help other students understand self-destructive coping mechanisms, how they manifest in their childhoods, and how they can better connect with their feelings, she said. 

Goldberg hoped that students gained compassion by learning that subconscious defenses are a product of their environment, she said. “When you learn about child development and psychology, you realize that people are just doing the best they can with the tools they were given. And so it’s not about blame. It’s about understanding,” she said.

The workshop also featured a case study from Lynn Greenwood’s “Addictions from an Attachment Perspective,” which students reviewed and discussed. Malcolm Furman (11) enjoyed reading through the case study, he said. “We could analyze seemingly normal parts of everyday life, but with the context of the psychological concepts that Scarlett was talking about.” After reviewing the case study, Furman understood the greater concept of self-harming coping mechanisms and how they can be applied to more practical scenarios, he said.

The students also discussed how society views some maladaptations, like people-pleasing and perfectionism, as admirable traits, Furman said. However, these traits are actually harmful when taken to an unhealthy level, because they can be destructive to peoples lives, he said.

Patrick LaFrieda (11) learned the importance of being mindful and considering the defenses that others may have gained as a result of their environment during childhood, LaFreida said. “It opened up my mind about a person’s development at an early age and how negative aspects of someone’s life [when they are young] can lead to negative aspects in how that person lives their life later on.” 

In the future, Story Sossen (9) wants to always be there for her friends and family as someone they can open up to, she said. “[I now] understand that if they’re not opening up that they can be going through something, or it can be because of a reason outside of yourself.”

Iwai-Louie gained a different perspective of the world and of her everyday interactions with people, she said. “The person I might interact with every single day, the reason why they kind of act or think like they do, is shaped and influenced by experiences they might have had in the past,” Iwai-Louie said. “Many aspects of our lives are interconnected, even if we may not remember them that well.”