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Isolde Ali Ghent: Builds healthier minds, brighter futures
“I have so many things to be grateful for. Every day, I wake up and express gratitude.”
Positive thinking from a woman who has spent her life teaching others to think positively. Clinical psychologist Isolde Ali Ghent was raised by former High Commissioner/Permanent Secretary, Her Excellency, Mrs Shastri Ali, back in the glamour days of diplomacy. She spent her formative years bouncing between Trinidad and several overseas postings, including Canadian and US cities. Apart from the cultural exposure, the experience allowed her to observe how an influential and powerful woman can manage career and family.
“My mother was the first female diplomat who was married with children to be posted abroad,” she reflects. “I had a very strong female role model, somebody who really pushed independent thinking and career, but also family values and community spirit.” At her practice at 39 Bengal Street, St James, she offers diagnostic testing and therapy, mainly to children over age six. “There are different reasons people bring children in for testing. Behaviour, learning…sometimes because they’re gifted. Sometimes parents just want to make sure their education level is correct, or to support their choice of college.”
Ali Ghent also holds training and parenting workshops, and individual and group therapy sessions with teenagers and young adults in collaboration with educational psychologist Allyson Hamel-Smith, another woman she claims among her role models. Also sharing office space in the small, old-fashioned house are psychologist Kim Rostant and social worker, Greer Grosberg. Ali Ghent, who spends much of her time catering to the needs of deeply troubled children, is married with two young ones of her own, ages five and eight. Like any other working mother, she starts her days by running the lunch-bag and school uniform gauntlet.
Here, her professional know-how stands her in good stead, as she’s trained them to do most of their preparations themselves, sparing herself the franticrushing and yelling that characterises early morning for most of us. “I do inspection, though,” she qualifies. At the office, she reserves her mornings for testing her young clients, since they’re usually well-rested and receptive at that time. Afternoons find her observing the children in their natural habitat, the classroom, conducting teacher workshops, or doing company training. Her group sessions are playgroup-friendly, with art, plasticene, and structured and unstructured sessions that help with emotional literacy and behaviour management.
“We try to bring about awareness of why they do what they do, and create a sense of accountability. The kids get a lot out of it. They learn a lot, and we learn from them.” To parents who think their child has a problem, Ali Ghent advises looking at main areas such as school and home. “What has the teacher noticed? What have you noticed?” Many children with issues have trouble sitting still in class, jeopardising their own learning while disrupting others. Tummy aches and headaches can be a warning sign of anxiety. The problem isn’t always a learning disorder such as dyslexia, ADD or ADHD; sometimes, it may be as simple as bullying by a classmate.
Aggravating underlying learning issues is the fact that the T&T system is not age-appropriate, and the excessive demands of preparation for SEA are too weighty for young shoulders. “The SEA is a giant race, and only 10 per cent of the population will get into the best spots.” The cost of psychological services for children may be out of the reach of some parents, but there are NGOs such as the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and groups like Families in Action and Caribbean Kids and Families Therapy Organisation who can provide them free or at a reduced cost. The Dyslexia Association is also a great resource, even for kids who aren’t dyslexic.
The Ministry of Education’s Student Support Services have also become proactive in helping children get diagnoses and follow-up support. Ali Ghent acknowledges the inadequacies in the system, but is certain that more resources will become available in the near future. “We don’t have much, but at least we have. Other Caribbean countries have nothing. And people who go abroad to train are coming back into these helping positions. These are very interesting fields.” She manages to balance the stresses of work and family by maintaining a pragmatic outlook. “You take little snippets of life. Women who give everything to career and family and leave nothing for themselves burn out.
If you do not take care of yourself, you’re not going to be good to anybody, because you’ll have nothing to give.” She practices Kundalini yoga, not just for herself, but also to eventually enhance her practice by including deep-breathing exercises in her therapy. “It helps me give something back. It keeps me grounded. It’s important to put aside ego, in order to be a vessel for healing, and yoga has helped with that.”
Parents can contact Isolde Ali Ghent at 628-4956.
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