Raising Healthy, Resilient Kids with Dr. Sarah Bren | POP 873

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Raising Healthy, Resilient Kids with Dr. Sarah Bren | POP 873

How can you raise healthy and securely attached kids? Do you want to improve the relationship that you have with your kids? Why should you always commit to repairing after a rupture?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about raising healthy, resilient kids with Dr. Sarah Bren.

Podcast Sponsor: Blueprint

A photo of the Blueprint podcast sponsor is captured. Blueprint sponsor the Practice of the Practice podcast.

Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging – even for the best of us!

At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools – things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments – that are designed to help you and your clients can stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so that you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter.

To learn more and request a free 30-day trial, visit blueprint-health.com

Meet Dr. Sarah Bren

A photo of Dr Sarah Bren is captured. She is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

Dr. Sarah Bren is a licensed clinical psychologist and mom of two, whose passion is helping parents find their inner confidence and raise healthy, resilient kids. Dr. Sarah is the host of the podcast Securely Attached and the co-founder of Upshur Bren Psychology Group in Pelham, NY where she treats parents, children, and families.

Visit Dr. Sarah Bren’s website, connect on Instagram, and listen to her podcast.

In This Podcast

  • Attachment theory versus attachment parenting
  • It depends on the family too
  • Tips for therapists working with attachment
  • Dr. Bren’s advice to private practitioners

Attachment theory versus attachment parenting

All [attachment theory] says, in a nutshell, is that human beings from birth are hard-wired to form an attachment bond with their primary caregiver as a mechanism to increase their chances of survival.

Dr. Bren

Since attachment theory was first suggested in the 1950s, it has blossomed and been extensively researched up until the present day.

Therefore, “attachment theory” has become an umbrella term and within it, there are different schools of thought and research possibilities that have branched out. One of these schools of thought is “attachment parenting”.

[Attachment parenting] is one way to parent a child and I don’t want to diminish it because I think for some families it works very well. My problem with it is that it’s a very highly demanding ask for the parents.

Dr. Bren

The difficult truth is that attachment parenting is not guaranteed to create a secure attachment between the parent and the child.

It depends on the family too

I think there’s a bit of a … dichotomy in the world of parenting where it’s like sometimes people are really focused on helping parents learn about child development [but] don’t think about the … parent’s mental health.

Dr. Bren

It is important to explore ways in which parenting can be beneficial for the child. However, it’s equally important to consider the parents or caregivers in the context because the approach to parenting also has to take their needs and strengths into consideration.

The parent is then feeling like they’re failing and it’s affecting their ability to show up confidently, and then that’s not a good alignment for that family.

Dr. Bren

So, there’s a space between a child’s development and the parent’s mental health. In that space, there is an overlap, and that’s where the secure attachment can be nurtured that benefits both the child and their caregiver.

Tips for therapists working with attachment

If you are working with a child, teenager, or adult about their attachment styles and needs, you need to observe their whole family system.

A person does not develop their attachment style in a vacuum because it is impacted by family dynamics from their youngest years.

You cannot look at a person without understanding this relational context … even if they’re an adult, you have to go and look at what their early attachment relationships [were like] because those relationships create the blueprint that then all of us subsequently use to anticipate how other people are going to respond to us, or how we imagine they will respond to us, which shapes how we show up.

Dr. Bren

Additionally, therapists can work with their clients – especially parents that want to improve their relationship with their kids – to understand that some of the healthiest relationships have a rupture that is followed by a repair.

So, if there is a rupture and the parent yells at the child, don’t leave it there, they need to repair that connection.

Relationships that have no rupture are nice but … they’re usually pretty superficial … really intimate relationships do have rupture because there is closeness [and so the risk] of missing the mark.

Dr. Bren

When there is repair after rupture, those relationships are often more intimate with a deeper level of knowing one another and a sense of trust.

Dr. Bren’s advice to private practitioners

Recognize your role as the relational piece, as a therapist, when you are working within a family dynamic. Realize that relationships are tools to gain self-awareness.

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Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] You’re someone with a vision for your practice, for your side hustle, and for your personal journey, but when it comes to establishing your path and how to get to where you want to be with your practice, things get a little messy. You’re also someone who’d prefer to go in-person instead of to groups and listening to everyone else’s story. To me, it sounds like you could benefit from one-on-one consulting with our experienced Practice of the Practice consultants. From $595 a month and up, you can work with a consultant that will give you more direction and practical tried and tested tips matched to you and your goals. For more information, visit practiceofthepractice.com/apply. Again, that’s practiceofthepractice.com/apply. This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 873. I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. I am so excited that you’re here with me today. We, over the last month and a half or so, have been covering specialties, really diving into the clinical side of the work that we do, sort of these like mini master classes on a number of just different things that folks in my audience are doing, and it’s been awesome. In the last episode, we talked with Beth about grief and pet loss. Before that we talked with Carly about EFT and helping people with cancer, before that, we talked with Cordelia about social anxiety and before that Anna and trauma and then before that, Jessica with first responders and the trauma of therapists, so many awesome things. I could go through all the whole list, but I’m not going to, because you got to go back and just listen to those awesome episodes. Last night was honestly like a really tough night for me with parenting. I’d had a full day of Practice of the Practice, tons of consulting, tons of podcasting. Then the girls had a play date with one of their best friends, so I was like getting food for them and then after that I had Improv here at my house because I couldn’t find a sitter, so we had Improv here, which was fun, but I knew I had a lot to do. Then by the time it was bedtime, my eight-year-old was having the hardest time falling asleep. It was like 10:30 by the time she fell asleep, all because some kid at school had told her some urban legend about dead people in the high school next door, like roaming the hallways and she just was like so scared and I was at my wit’s end as a parent. [JOE] That’s why I’m excited to have Dr. Sarah Bren with me today to help me as a parent, but also, we’re going to be talking all about the clinical side of what Sarah does. Dr. Sarah Bren is a licensed clinical psychologist and mom of two whose passion is helping parents find their inner confidence and raise healthy, resilient kids. Dr. Sarah is the host of the podcast, Securely Attached and the co-founder of Upshire Bren Psychology Group in New York where she treats parents, children, and families. Sarah, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. [DR. SARAH BREN] Thank you. So happy to be here. [JOE] Yeah, I love when people that listen to the podcast are on the show and people that are podcasters, because they always have a good mic. They know how to have a conversation. It’s just so killer. And we were just talking and I’m excited to be on your show also at some point so that that’s pretty cool. [DR. SARAH] Yeah, absolutely. [JOE] Well, let’s start with how did you get into parenting work? Was that something you knew from the get go in grad school like, I want to do this work or did that emerge over time? [DR. SARAH] Yeah, actually no. If you had asked me in graduate school what I wanted to do, that would never have been on my radar at all. It’s interesting because I really started out working with a lot of adult trauma. That’s my background. My background is in psychodynamic relational based psychotherapy from a real attachment lens. I’m a trauma-informed therapist and I was working with adults for a long time who had sort of really chronic childhood trauma experiences and then would come to me as adults and we would do a lot of work in helping them to consolidate those experiences, create a new, new healthier relationships, help them build their sense of self, their emotion regulation skills, all this stuff that can be the fallout of having attachment ruptures in childhood. That was what I thought I was totally meant to do and I loved that work and I still do that work but then I had my own kids, I have two and when my son was born, I started getting really interested in parenting and like the psychology of parenting and child development, just as like a parent. I started to think about the way I was parenting my son and I was very informed by a parenting philosophy called RIE, which stands for resources for Infant Educators. It’s not a clinical model, but it’s very attachment informed, attachment theory informed different from attachment parenting, attachment theory. [JOE] Let me just pause you real quick. Differentiate those two for us because like I, the at attach, “attachment” parents that I have known, basically it was like their child never left their body for like three years. So dissect that and give some accuracy to it because I definitely probably have my own point of view based on very interesting parents that I knew that were “attachment parents.” [DR. SARAH] I think it’s important, I always like to say like attachment theory, think of it as like the umbrella. The attachment theory was a theory posed by John Bobby in the 50s and 60s. He was doing research about this attachment theory and basically all it says in nutshell is that human beings from birth are hardwired to form an attachment bond with their primary caregiver as a mechanism to increase their chance of survival. That’s it. That’s what attachment theory is and subsequently been like deeply researched and then come up with all these ways to measure it in childhood and then subsequently measure it in adulthood with the adult attachment interview. And a lot, a lot of research has come out around how do we measure the security of that attachment relationship, whether it’s insecure, secure, and we can get into all that, but the idea is that’s the umbrella. Then lots of different schools of thought have come out of that theory, one of which is attachment parenting, which is one way to parent a child. And I don’t want to diminish it because I think for some families it works very well. My problem with it is that it’s a very highly demanding ask of the parents. It’s a, you can support attachment in that way, but that’s not actually how one creates a secure attachment relationship with their child. There’s like many, many, many, many, many ways to create a secure attachment relationship with your child, specifically through like accurate attunement, meeting their needs for closeness and feeling seen and soothed and safe most of the time, not all the time. So attachment parenting is one very specific way, and not all people, that doesn’t not work for all families and so I feel like it’s super important to help people understand that you do not have to do attachment parenting, develop a secure attachment relationship with your child. There’s so many wonderful ways to do that, which is why I want to make that distinction. I often have to, because I think people do conflate the two sometimes inadvertently. They just don’t understand that there’s a distinction. [JOE] Yeah, that’s super helpful. Now, so you start going into parenting as more specialty, what were some of the trainings, books, mindsets, things that really helped you feel confident in getting into that niche? [DR. SARAH] Yeah, so it was interesting. Again, like I was learning about this parenting philosophy. I was learning about parenting strategies and I was starting to see overlap in the work that I was doing with my patients who had trauma as children and the way that I was, how that informed my parenting towards my son specifically in the sense that I was like when I’m working with an adult who has this trauma background, I’m trying to help them understand their internal sense of self. I’m trying to reflect their experience back to them more accurately. That’s that attunement that we were just talking about it, with how you create that secure attachment trying to become this sort of new attachment figure in a way, not in the bounds of the therapeutic relationship, but this good object that then becomes internalized by that person who then uses that as part of their new sense of self that’s more consolidated and healthy. So when I’m parenting my child and they’re having a big feeling, I want to reflect that feeling back to them with accuracy, with empathy. I don’t want to necessarily solve the problem for them immediately. I want them to be able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and learn to regulate their emotions through that co-regulation. I could go on and on, but the idea that I sort of, I was like, whoa, if I could help parents start to understand some of these core building blocks of like secure attachment, safety and relationships, emotion regulation, how to support child’s emotional and psychological development in a healthy way from birth then perhaps we’d, I would be seeing fewer adults with chronic childhood attachment ruptures in their 30s and 40s in my practice. So I sort of pivoted and I really started looking at ways to help parents understand attachment theory, child development, maternal and paternal mental health because I actually think that there’s a bit of a sort of a dichotomy in the world of parenting where it’s like sometimes people are really focused on helping parents learn about child development kind of, and don’t think about the piece of the parent’s mental health. Like if attachment parenting, for example, if you’re teaching people to do all these things but doesn’t work for the parent, and then the parent is feeling like they’re failing and it’s affecting their ability to like show up confidently, then that’s not a good alignment for that family. So it’s like that looking at that space between where we’re, where that the sort of, if you think of like a Venn diagram, like what’s in the middle child healthy development and parental mental health, and where those two things can live together, where they overlap, that’s what I’m trying to get parents to kind of, that’s the space I want to work in. [BLUEPRINT] Providing great therapy day after day can be challenging even for the best of us. At Blueprint, they believe that nothing should get in the way of you doing your best work, which is why they created a platform that provides therapists with an array of clinical tools, things like therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, and digital assessments that are designed to help you and your clients stay connected and confident throughout the care journey. Even better, Blueprint helps streamline your documentation so you can spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that matter. To learn more and request a 30-day free trial, visit blueprint-health.com. [JOE SANOK] Now, if you were to think about the average clinician that’s listening right now, and they’re presented with parenting issues from someone as just part of the, what the client’s looking for, so they’re not necessarily needing a specialist, but you were able to say, here are the three or five things that I would love for any clinician to have in their toolbox, for their intakes, for their sessions, just to be better at helping parents, what would be some of those things you’d want to teach them? [DR. SARAH] Yeah, so one is I think you have to look, if you are, even if you’re treating a single person, you really need to look at the whole family system. This is especially true if you’re treating a child. When I work with kids, when people come to my practice with the request for me to work with their child, I will always say, I can work with your child in the context of the family system. That sometimes means working with the child and the parents. Sometimes it means working exclusively with the parents in the service of helping support the child’s mental wellness. So you cannot look at an individual person without understanding sort of this relational context, who are the attachment figures in this person’s life? Even if they’re an adult you have to go and look at what are their attach, what were their early attachment relationships, because those relationships create the blueprint that then all of us then subsequently use to anticipate how other people are going to respond to us or how, how we imagine they’ll respond to us, which then shapes how we show up. So we really have to look at the attachment systems in a person’s life, whether they’re a child or an adult. That’s one thing, is to really understand that relational context and what is the blueprint? How secure are those original attachment relationships that have become internalized or are actively happening if you’re in, if you’re working with young kids. Then if they’re not solid, how do we work to improve it? How do we work to improve attunement, to improve the parent’s capacity to meet the child’s needs where they’re at? Sometimes it’s working with parents to help them regulate their own affect, their own anxieties, their own emotions, their own reactivity in the face of a child’s challenging behaviors or troubling emotional expressions. So it’s looking at the dynamic interactions between all the players, not just the one patient. That would be something that I think is really important. [JOE] As you say that, you know I was thinking last night that quick story I shared at the beginning where my eight-year-old had no responsibility for the fact that my schedule was full that day. it’s like I had made that choice to have a really busy day and the fact that she then had this anxiety, this fear from a story that the kid told her, it clicked last night when I was just like, I just want to be done parenting for the day. Oh, my word. Then like she’s like, I’m so sorry, but I’m only eight years old, I’m so scared. It was just this moment of what the f am I doing? Oh my gosh. Like, this kid just needs hugs and needs like some soft music or like meditation or like, she just needs help going to sleep. It was one of those moments of suck it up, Joe. This is what your kid needs and that real attunement for myself to just recognize that she had no responsibility for the fact that I had a busy day and wanted to just peace out and be done. [DR. SARAH] But I think you described something that’s so relatable and so real and does happen that like we as parents are humans too, and we do have things that pull us in either in our environment or just even in our minds in the moment that pull us away from outside of our role as like parent child. That we, so sometimes we’re showing up in that self-state of like, I am the parent, I am attuned to my child, I am here and I’m present and I’m fully with you. That’s fantastic. That’s a great place to be. We are not always there because, hi, we have lives and we have our own internal preoccupations and our own stress and our own things pulling us away from that and that’s totally fine, totally normal and it absolutely happens. So one, I really always try to help parents have a realistic expectation for themselves. I was working with a mom yesterday who was like, “I screamed at my child and I feel like the absolute worst mom. I am a bad mom. I didn’t do the thing I’m supposed to do, which is not yell at her.” I was like, “You’re not a bad mom. You are a human who lost it. That’s not a problem. We can repair that, we can repair that with our child.” [JOE] And we can demonstrate what appropriate repair looks like so our kids don’t become conflict avoiders. [DR. SARAH] Exactly. I was actually trying to help this mom realize like, one, give yourself some grace because you’re tired and you lost it because you’re a human and now you have this really wonderful opportunity actually to repair with your child. I always say like, the best and most healthy and most intimate relationships have rupture followed by repair. The relationships that have no rupture are nice, but they’re usually pretty superficial. They’re usually like reserved for like a nice acquaintance. Really, really intimate relationships do have rupture because there’s closeness. We are going to miss a tune. We’re going to hurt one another, we’re going to miss the mark, we’re going to be human and lose our own cool. And going back and repairing is actually what makes relationships healthier, more intimate. There’s deeper trust, a better sense of knowing one another and feeling seen by one another when you can say, “Hey, I yelled earlier. I think that might have scared you when I did that. I’m really sorry I lost it and I’ll work on that. But I just want you to know I love you and I saw that that didn’t feel good and I’m sorry.” [JOE] That, that’s, it reminds me, it reminds me of a metaphor I often bring up on the show and that’s, I forget which book it was in. I think it was a Malcolm Gladwell book where he was talking about the healthiest part of the Great Barrier Reef is the part that gets hit with like just the right amount of waves. So it’s not the still calm part, it’s not the part that’s just getting totally beat up by the waves, but there’s just enough tension going on there that it forces it to grow faster, it forces it to be healthier. That idea that in relationships, like yeah, the closer you are to someone, the more likely there is to be some of those mismatches because you’re just around each other more. I love that. Now you’re a mom. Sometimes when we do this work it’s really easy to apply it in our lives and sometimes it’s really hard. It’s like being a Gottman Level Two therapist. I’ve gone through that. I know that knowledge, my ex-partner, my ex-wife, like did not want to go through a lot of that stuff or apply it and so that was very difficult for me to know all this stuff. Then it’s like, oh, I just want to use it. As a person that’s an expert in parenting and doing this all day long and then gets to also apply it to your own life, I would love to just hear what does that look like as a parent at home? Like what do you have as core ideas, core things that you work on? When do you just let yourself let your guard down, any of that? [DR. SARAH] First of all, I think it’s super important and I actually, it’s interesting because like as a therapist we are very mindful of self-disclosure in our work. And when I’m doing parenting support, I find I self-disclose intentionally and mindfully a lot more as a therapeutic tool because I think it’s very important for parents when they’re interacting with a parenting support person who is a parent to know that we’re humans and I might be teaching strategies that in theory are optimal but are absolutely impossible to do at all times all the time. We’re just never going to, and we’re not supposed to. I think it’s very important. Winnekot has this phrase called the good enough parent and I think it’s very important that we remember that the mis-attunements and rupture and repair are important and they’re actually part of creating a healthy relationship with another person. And the good enough parent is the optimal goal. That’s optimal. Perfect parenting not possible and not optimal. It doesn’t create a healthy relationship if it were to be possible, which it’s not. That’s one thing, first of all is, it’s sort of a caveat, is to say like, I’m not a, I don’t want to be a perfect parent. I don’t expect myself to be a perfect parent. I definitely lose it with my kids. I definitely mistune to my kids. I definitely have days where my stuff comes in and it just gets in the way of my parenting. But as a general principle, when I do lose it with my kids, repair is like my number one priority. There’s lots of different ways to repair, but it usually starts with your own regulation, your own mindful awareness that something has happened. You’ve got to cool yourself down, you got to fill yourself up and then you go in repair. Another thing as a sort of core value in my, that guides my parenting is really seeing my children as whole people from the day they were born. They’re not my empty vessel to fill or my raw clay to sculpt that they’re already who they are and my job is not to be like the creator or the person who makes the child, but I am a curious observer. I’m there to be taught by them to help them show me who they are and to create an environment where they’re able to do that in a way that feels good to them. So using that parent-child relationship, using that safety, that relational safety is like prime for me. Yeah, that guides a lot of — [JOE] How do you find that balance, like I totally agree kid, my kids and anyone is whole how they are. And how do you, like for example my kids have needed tutoring around reading, like how do you find that balance between like, okay, I want to push them to have adulthood be easier. Kids obviously need to know how to read and we want them to try to be somewhere around grade level, but there’s all sorts of things that are all over the map, especially post Covid. Like how do you find that balance between there’s practical needs that maybe they need to, like, things they need to learn, things they need to get better at, and also see them as whole? Are there any mindsets or ways you think through that? [DR. SARAH] Yeah, I think importantly is separating knowledge acquisition and like our role as teachers sometimes versus our role as like this sort of container for our child and this, our job as parents, if my kid needs support in like learning a skill, I can teach them that skill or I can get them support in learning that skill. That’s not changing who they are as a person. That’s just supporting growth and development. That’s scaffolding If my child has a learning disability and I don’t, and I refuse to accept that and I want to, and I expect that their abilities need to be at a certain level and they’re not and I have a hard time sort of seeing my child for who they are and where they’re at, even if they don’t have a learning disability. Like, even if it’s just like skill acquisition, it’s like having developmentally appropriate expectations for a kid and saying like, I can help support you to stretch past that place you’re at now, but only to that sort of zone of proximal development. Only I don’t want to push you, I don’t want to hold this bar up so high past where you can go right now because that’s what I want for you. I also think it comes out in terms of like, well, how do we support learning and how do we support growth and development? Perhaps it’s not quite the, like, I think sometimes parents think, well I want my kid to achieve this thing and that is how they’ll learn. I think of it as like, how do I support learning, but my child’s got to do the learning. How do I create an environment that’s optimal for their learning where they’re feeling safe and regulated because we can’t really learn if our prefrontal cortex isn’t engaged, the part of our brain that is on when we’re feeling safe, connected, regulated; when we’re feeling anxious, when we’re feeling overwhelmed, when we’re outside of that space of like we can push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, but if we’re so far out past our comfort zone, we’re in a place where learning really can’t take place because that hijacks the prefrontal cortex. [JOE] So awesome. Well, the last question that I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know? [DR. SARAH] I think that recognizing our role is the relational piece of a, as a therapist, like whether you’re working with a family, trying to help parents understand their relationship with their child, or we’re working directly with an individual, an adult, or a child. The relationship is a tool to help people gain awareness and reflect on how do I show up in different relationships and how do I use that information to either modify or enhance or continue things that are healthy and use that as like a real tool in the work. [JOE] So awesome. Well, if people want to connect with you, if they want to listen to your podcast, where’s the best place to send them? [DR. SARAH] My podcast is called Securely Attached because it’s a lot about attachment theory and parenting and child development and parental mental health. You can find that wherever you stream podcasts. My website’s drsarahbren.com and if you’re interested in looking into clinical work, I have a group practice called Upshire Psychology Group, and that website is upshirebren.com. [JOE] So awesome. Well, Dr. Sarah Bren, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast today. [DR. SARAH] Thank you so much for having me. [JOE] One of the awesome things about having a podcast is you get to just choose experts you want to interview and you get to know them and you don’t have to pay them, and you get to help them get their message out. And even just for me personally, to have some gentleness for myself as a parent feeling that I did a good enough job last night in helping my eight-year-old. It wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t clicking on all cylinders, but you know what, at the end she fell asleep, she felt loved and I had some grace with myself there. It’s just such an awesome thing to have a podcast. Something we haven’t talked about in a while is Podcast Launch School. If you are interested in starting a podcast, we have a free email course that will walk you through the very beginning stages of starting a podcast or even exploring whether or not you should start a podcast. That’s over at podcastlaunchschool.com. It’s a great resource we’ve put together that’s totally free for you if you’re interested in just looking at, well, do I want to start a podcast, is that even something like how much work goes into it. Also, we couldn’t do this without our amazing sponsors. Blueprint’s our sponsor for today’s episode. Blueprint has therapy worksheets, intervention ideas, digital assessments. I mean, they really try to help you streamline your documentation so you spend less time on your notes and more time on the things that really matter. And you can try them out totally for free over at blueprint-health.com. Again, that’s blueprint-health.com. Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publishers, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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