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Interviews with Experts

Psychologist Marianna Legaki

Marianna is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and adolescents facing disorders or emotional difficulties at an individual or family level.

  • Child psychologist Marianna Legaki

    Centro Yoga Om, Vilanova i la Geltru Image

    You are Greek but have lived and worked in the Netherlands, London and now Barcelona. Can you tell us a bit about your background before coming to Barcelona?
    Certainly! I completed my psychology degree in Greece and my postgraduate studies in the Netherlands. My postgraduate studies focused in assessment and interventions for children and adolescents with developmental, behavioral and emotional difficulties.

    Upon graduation, I started working on various clinical settings, in different places in the world, including several International schools, Special need’s schools, International centers of psychotherapy, Orphanages, Hospital clinics and NGO’s. I gained experience handling a variety of cases with a wide range of diagnoses from Autism to less severe disorders.

    I also worked in multifamily programs, providing parent and family consultation in different clinical settings. For the past two years, I have established my private practice in Barcelona, and I am working with international families and private international schools.

    Your approach to therapy is integrative. Can you explain what that means?
    In my opinion every human being has different needs, every disorder needs a different approach and every age has its own challenges.

    I have been exposed to different therapeutical models such as cognitive and behavioral therapy, solution-focused and family therapy, and worked with different age-groups. I am synthetical in my approach, often taking elements of several different models and combining them to construct a personalized plan for children and their parents.

    What experience do you have working with children and adolescents?
    Through my work I have observed the diversity of approaches that parents use to discipline their children and guide their development towards becoming a better person. Nevertheless, there are children with behavioral and emotional problems that have a hard time realizing that some of their actions maybe wrong, even after they have been punished for them. This typically leads to spiraling problems between very upset parent, and very confused children.

    The root cause in my experience is a wrong interpretation of the word discipline. To discipline, is to teach not to punish and that is what we need to be doing with children. It is easier said than done of course but there exist many techniques for achieving this.

    What are the most common behavioral and emotional problems you treat in children?
    It depends on the age. Most of the parents that bring their child to my office have problems with what we call “Externalizing Behaviors”. Things like not staying put for a minute to more serious ones like yelling constantly, aggressive behaviors like cursing, disturbing and fighting, and of course ignoring teachers at school and not doing homework.

    Some other children have the exact opposite problem. — too little social interaction with others, anxiety, depression and mood disorders; what we call internalizing behavioral disorders. Children with internalizing behaviors are generally well behaving and this is often a danger since it makes it difficult to identify that there is a problem. Lots of adolescence fall in this category. Hormonological changes and mood disorders start setting in late childhood and adolescence period and make the things worse..

    How do the problems of adolescents differ?
    For both parents and young people, adolescence feels like a very confusing process because so much that happens is unexpected.

    For Adolescents this is a time of both disorientation and discovery. The transitional period can bring up issues of independence and self-identity; adolescents and their peers come face to face with difficult challenges regarding schoolwork, sexuality, and their social life, as well as with dangers such as drugs and alcohol abuse. It is also a period when adolescents question authority, argue against rules, and test the limits of nearly everybody around them. Things like peer membership, romance and external appearance increase in importance at this stage of a teen's journey toward adulthood.

    For parents, adolescence is a stage when the adolescent has become ruled by the need for immediate gratification and social belonging with peers, so their challenge is to take hard stands for his/her best interests against what the adolescent wants, generating more conflict in the process. Also their challenge is to respect decisions and allow consequences, to give mentoring advice (when asked) but not to rescue from bad choices, and to express faith in the young person's capacity to learn and recover from mistakes.

    How do you know if your child has a behavioral problem or if they are just going through a difficult phase?
    All children sometimes cry, hit others, and refuse to comply with requests of parents and teachers; but children with behavioral disorders do so way too frequently. Also, the antisocial behavior of children with behavioral disorders often occurs with little or no provocation.

    Most of the schools that referred to me children with behavioral problems mentioned one or more of the following signs:
    - aggression that makes the children loose the control of their behavior,
    - verbal abuse toward adults and other children,
    - physical attacks, prolonged conflicts and
    - aggressive outbursts that often lead to retributions  

    How can behavioral problems affect a child’s performance at school?
    Many believe that children with deviant behavioral patterns will grow out of them with time and become normally functioning adults. Although this optimism is often justified for children with withdrawal, fears, and speech impairments problems, my experience is that it shouldn’t be trusted for more difficult cases like children with consistent patterns of aggressive, coercive, and/or antisocial behavior.  

    Preschoolers with early signs of antisocial behavior usually do not grow out of it without help. During the latter school years such children are assigned the “naughty kid” label by teachers and then move on to embrace it and incorporate it as a natural part of their identity. This can follow them for the rest of their lives. It can be the root of low self-esteem, inferiority complexes, and feelings of wrongful blame and guilt that can linger for a lifetime.

    What have you found are the main concerns among parents in recent times for school age children?
    When children enter adolescent and start becoming independent of their parents they have to struggle with lots of boundaries and control issues. It is a time when the parental authority is questioned and thus disciplinary methods have to change.

    Also there are parents that cannot control behavioral issues. “He doesn’t respect me. He embarrasses me in front of other adults”. “The friends of my child are wrong models for him”. Parents with children with emotional issues also say “I want to be next to my child and advice her but my child has her friends, or she enters in the room and she doesn’t let me in”.

    For all these parents I want to highlight the importance of the early bond. Connection is the parenting key and this needs to be built early on from the very early years of development. How? Through simple things like playing, being present, and devoting the time to discuss and answer all, even the silliest, questions. This gains trust, creates laughs, release tensions, and builds a strong bond that will come very handy in future difficult times.

    What are the most common anxieties in children?
    Anxious feelings, worries, or fears are common among children and adolescents. Many children experience a normal amount of apprehension in certain situations, whether about an upcoming test at school or a thunderstorm.

    Some children, however, experience these types of situations with an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. Others can't seem to stop thinking about these situations and their accompanying fears. No amount of reassurance seems to help. These children can get "stuck" on their worries and consequently find it hard to perform normal daily functions like going to school, playing, falling asleep, or trying new things. Getting “stuck,” when it begins to interfere with daily functioning, is a key symptom to identify. This is what separates normal, fluctuating worries of childhood from an anxiety disorder that requires professional intervention.

    If left untreated can anxieties in children affect their social and educational development?

    It is a grave mistake, to believe that children with anxieties and emotional disorders have only mild and transient problems. The severe anxiety and mood disorders experienced by some children not only cause pervasive impairments in their educational performance—but can strain family relationships, impact social functioning, and lead to more serious mental and physical health problems for the child down the road.

    What treatments are available to treat childhood anxieties?
    The first step towards successful treatment is a comprehensive evaluation and assessment of the child. As part of the evaluation, I design with the parents an individualized treatment plan for their child. The treatment plan may include a combination of : Cognitive behavioral therapy, Solution Focused therapy, Family therapy or Parent education and support. According to my experience, the role of parents in their child's treatment is essential. Families play a critical role, helping to reinforce needed skills in the moment when their child’s anxiety is at its highest.

    One of the services you offer is family counseling. How does this work?
    Family counseling aims to involve parents, siblings or any significant other to child’s life in the treatment process. Through family counseling parents can learn to support the child and work towards minimizing or altering the conditions that contribute to the child's unwanted behavior.

    Personally I have found that once parents shift to “problem-solving mode” it is generally the start of positive change.

    What do you love about your work?
    Ever since the beginning of my career, I have been a passionate with an avid interest for working on challenging cases. My exposure to multiculturalism, my affection for children, and my sense of commitment to every case, are some of the guiding elements of my work.

    What I love most about my work is that I have an opportunity to be very creative in my approach to handling problems in various settings. Every case is unique and the satisfaction you take after treating a disorder, helping a child or a family coming through a difficult phase is priceless.

    What is the best way for people to contact you?
    The best way is via email: mariannalegaki@gmail.com
    Or calling me in 684325716

    ……Be a good role model. "We're not the only influence in our kids' lives, so we better be the best influence”

    (July 2015)