Please introduce yourselves to our readers briefly. What would you say about yourselves?
Ákos: Hello, my name is Ákos Majláth, and I graduated from ELTE as a child psychologist. Among other things, I have worked in educational counseling – which is where Lili and I actually met. Currently I work as a school psychologist, alongside which I am studying fairy tale therapy and family therapy, as well as holding sessions for individuals and groups.
Lili: Hello, my name is Lili Horváth, and I also work as a psychologist. I graduated from this major at ELTE, where I also worked in the field of research and education in the Research Group of Childhood Mental Disorders. In the last year and a half, I also worked in educational counseling, primarily with children. My education was also in family therapy and child psychodrama, so individual and group-based work with children and teenagers is close to my heart as well.
Where did the idea of the Moomin self-knowledge group come from?
Lili: The project started on two threads that later got intertwined. The first thread was me and Ákos leading a group earlier at our workplace, and we have realized that we really like working together, and that we can really think together well in this area. The other thread came from personal motivation, as these tales have been very important to me since my childhood, and for a long time I wanted for these stories to show up in my work too. When I raised the idea to Ákos – trusting him and his attitude towards tales – I immediately felt understood.
Ákos: What was very exciting for me in the realm of fairy tale therapy was to see how a group like this would work with contemporary texts and tales. When Lili recommended the Moomin stories, the characters were familiar to me primarily from the animation world, but upon closer research the stories have captivated me as well. I became very enthusiastic about what kind of common journey we could create from these for a group.
What are your experiences of the group so far? What impressions have you had?
Ákos: This group was planned to have ten occasions; tomorrow will be our seventh session. We fundamentally have very positive impressions so far. It might be important to note here in terms of methodology, we work on a fairly wide scale. We don’t only employ fairy tale therapy, we also attempt to bring color to the sessions through the use of art therapy tools and dramatic tools. What really feels exciting to me is that the Moomin stories and characters tend to be more bittersweet than classic folk tales, which begets very interesting work in the group too. In the well-known folk tales, the good and the bad characters usually are delineated quite clearly, and there is not a lot of common ground between the two. In the case of the Moomins however, these two extremes are mixed in a really interesting way, which adds a lot of extra layers to these sessions.
Lili: Another interesting thing about the stories and the group is that we figured out fairly early in the planning process that we would target the young adult age group. The stories often involve undertaking a journey, connecting with others, defining one's self, as well as the themes of loneliness and togetherness. We thought of this particular age group for the complicated web of relationships between these themes. We feel like this was a good choice, as the themes fit the changes of young adulthood perfectly.
The name of the group is ‘The Invisible Inner Child.’ Why is it important to deal with our inner child?
Ákos: The way I would start answering this is that the inner child is important in the context of young adulthood, because being on the way towards adulthood is the backdrop throughout these years in one’s life, as people set out toward adult life with a great pace. And during this, we have to redefine things, sometimes figuring them out as we go. We need to think about what it means to be a child or an adult. The experiences of childhood are obviously carried with us throughout our lives, and so they have an effect on what kind of adults or parents we will become. Therefore it is important to deal with the inner child, even if becoming an adult is what gets emphasized.
What do you think of young people’s mental health in Hungary currently? Where are we at with this compared to other countries?
Lili: I can talk about my subjective impressions on this. This has been affected by a lot of factors lately, such as Covid, and several other types of societal pressure that are hard to break free from. I think that the last few years really had an effect on everyone, including adults. Today’s youth lived through Covid largely as teenagers. In this age group, it can be a particularly sensitive thing to be isolated, to not be able to connect, and to get stuck in whatever state we happen to be in, be it our physical or our emotional development. When someone would like to take a journey, but regulations force them to stay at home, that can generate a lot of tension. There is a lot of lost ground to make up for for those who have been affected by external and internal events in this way in the last few years.
As topics, self-knowledge and mental health seem to be more available to Gen Z than ever before (through Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, articles, etc.). Do you see that these young people have a more conscious attitude towards this topic, as compared to previous generations?
Ákos: I also have subjective impressions on this. When we were recruiting young adults to the group, that was a very interesting period for me. I found a lot of online communities and spaces that discuss this topic. I see that there is a strong sensitivity and awareness toward the fact that there are mental challenges present in everyday life that directly affect our lives. At the same time, I also see that this topic is really getting wide-spread, therefore there is sometimes bad information out there, and various concepts and care methodologies get blurred and mixed up. There is often confusion in Facebook posts or other online content. There is surely a great need for psychoeducation, so we need a lot of Instagram pages, YouTube videos or even people who take the time to explain what a particular diagnosis or therapy means, even in comments. Or when we can talk about anxiety, things like that. So, there is indeed a greater awareness, but there is a lot of confusion between concepts at this point.
Lili: There are also huge differences in what portions of the Internet young people have access to, in terms of societal differences. By that I mean what kind of information or content is available, and whether these fall on the type of soil where a young person can reach out to someone around them when faced with these challenges and questions. By itself, the fact that the knowledge is available out there does not necessarily mean that it can be reached by everyone in the same way. Young people arrive on these platforms with very different backgrounds, if they even arrive. Making psychoeducation equal would be very important in this area, to make sure that information can reach even those young people who are in a context where such topics are still considered taboo, or don’t even get noticed. Information can be a great first step, but this needs to be channeled into real connections, so that if someone begins such a journey, they shouldn’t immediately run into walls, waiting lists and full houses in the care system. If someone makes the decision, they should be helped, and not hindered.
What typical problems does the youngest generation face? How can we help them?
Lili: This is really dependent on the age group. However, in our purview, a fairly common phenomenon is the use of smart devices which has effects on a lot of other things in young people’s lives. Even those parents who are more aware and who would have wanted to keep their children away from these devices couldn’t do as they wished because of Covid, as these devices could not be completely avoided. On the other hand, we can see that in every point of the care system, severe problems are the most common, and the system itself is experiencing a lot of tension.
Ákos: I support this fully. As a school psychologist, obviously the types of problems are somewhat narrower, as is the age group. But I also see a growing tendency in the difficulties caused by the use of smart devices and the effects thereof. Like Lili mentioned, I also sense a tension in the system. It would be important not to always face waiting lists wherever one goes. Professionals are also incredibly overwhelmed, and it is hard to provide timely care of appropriate quality in such circumstances.
When it comes to minors, the parents’ responsibility is especially important. Do you see parents being good partners in developing the mental health of their children?
Ákos: I think we are in a special situation, given that those parents whose children end up with us are already committed and motivated in this way. I think this topic is becoming more important for more parents. Mental health is getting increasingly more emphasis in the media, too. By the way, this also makes me sense some amount of over-worrying from the parents. Psychoeducation can help with this too. I believe that it's better to have everyone go to a psychologist or a helping professional once, let's say, unnecessarily, than to say that everything is in perfect order, and there is no big problem present. It’s better to talk these things out than to skip a necessary round.
In what way can culture and art help our mental health? Can we say that creation has a healing power?
Ákos: Several things come to my mind in this area. Even just consuming art or getting to know culture more may lead to deeper self-knowledge, but surely deeper empathy. So art itself, and one’s immersion in it develops a system of symbols in us through which we can position ourselves into others’ points of view, think about ourselves, even unconsciously, and thereby better navigate this complicated world. Creation itself is a major driver of humans, and a very important part of life. Just the act of creating itself is a good feeling, whether it is painting a flowerpot or writing and playing music just for the sake of it. These acts improve one's quality of life on a fundamental level. What is important from a psychological view is a process guided by an external spectator in a controlled environment, such as this group. We are there so that we can help in this journey with our questions, insights or simply with our empathy skills.
Lili: When reading a tale or a story, often it can be a liberating or strengthening feeling to have somebody express feelings and challenges similar to ours, maybe with symbols that make living or articulating such emotions more approachable. These works of art can have a distancing effect, so we can get closer to those things towards which we would not dare to take steps in their raw, original forms. However, we can still work with them in this manner, and we can get going in a direction that is liberating and helps to connect with others.
What inspiring examples do you see abroad, maybe even in Finland, that would be worth implementing here in Hungary?
Lili: Although this is not strictly a professional/methodological thing, a very inspiring thing for me was a Moomin themed exhibition aimed at kids that was primarily about emotions. Children could have adventures in Moomin World, and learn about emotions in a psychoeducative manner. Unfortunately I have only read an article about this project, but even that made me really want to check out this exhibition. If such exciting and meaningful things on the boundaries of psychoeducation could be held for children here in Hungary, that would be very inspiring to me.
Nowadays we live through a ton of uncertainty, anxiety and even fear, collectively. How can we reduce these?
Ákos: Just today, I had a figure in my hand several times, which I often talk through with the kids that come to me. This is from a workbook that is available as a free download, titled Érzelemszabályozás a gyakorlatban (Emotion Regulation in Practice). The figure shows two sets: one containing things that can be controlled, and the other containing things that cannot. With the children, we fill this out together from the point of view of the things that affect them, that are important to them in life, what are the things that cannot be swept away, yet we do not have a say over them, and how can we try to be less involved in these, for example. We also look at the things that are dependent on us, such as our own attitudes and activities that are worth focusing on. We use this lens to think about the exhausting days that reach a lot of us by the beginning of December. It is important to note that obviously I am not outside this circle either. Fatigue and exhaustion can strongly sweep me away, too, but we have to try to focus on the things that we actually have control over.
Lili: I think it’s important to understand that there is pressure on people about the end of the year being a joyful, beautiful period when everyone is happy and everybody must feel good. We should also remember that every other emotion is valid as well. These can be negative or mixed emotions, which is what makes this period feel complicated to many people. It might help to think that when such difficulties arise – whether we are talking about the end-of-the-year period, or the societal topics affecting everyone – we are in fact connected to each other, and a lot of us share the experience of living through these things. Moreover, this period can amplify the situations that we carry with ourselves throughout the whole year, which can press anyone into a critical state, regardless of age. Among other things, this happens because this is quite a dense period emotionally, where it is especially important to pay attention to both others and ourselves. If someone feels like their situation has developed beyond the boundaries of what we could call a general grumpiness, it is worth asking for help. This is somewhat diagonal to the fact we mentioned earlier about the care system being overwhelmed. However, there is help available even during these critical situations, and it is always worth utilizing these opportunities.
What plans do you have for the future?
Lili: I would really like it if there were opportunities for similar groups in the future. I would like to mention that we are very thankful for FinnAgora’s support, in terms of the practical aspects, as well as your openness. Outside of work, my other big plan for the future is to be able to incorporate more rest into my everyday life.
Ákos: I can relate to Lili on multiple fronts. On the one hand, we are still very much in the middle of this group work. There are a few occasions left, and we are planning for the closing of the group now, as well as what else could be incorporated into the meetings. I would also like similar groups in the future, but it would also be nice to relax, too. I think this topic is also present in the Moomin stories, whether through quiet theme parks, or through retreating into a hibernation, and having a cozy relaxing time. These stories can inspire us adults as well to occasionally turn inwards and recharge before our next journey.