Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy

Protective Figure Imagery

The Courage, by Lora Zombie

The image feature in this article is titled The Courage. When you look at it, what qualities do you see? Power, strength, fearlessness, confidence, protectiveness, loyalty? For years I have had artist Lora Zombie’s work in my counselling office. Everyone asks about the art, and for many, the artwork is equally as powerful for them as it is for me. But when The Courage came out (the image featured in this article), I felt the need to share why I find some of Lora’s art so powerful.

When working with trauma in counselling, it is important for individuals to feel emotionally prepared. In EMDR therapy, preparation is done with information sharing and psycho-education, collaboration and transparency, and emotion regulation strategies such as distancing, containment, and resourcing. It is resourcing that I am going to be specifically talking about in this article. 

Resourcing, (also referred to as Resource Development, and Ego Strengthening), is about cultivating strategies that will enable clients to shift out of overwhelming emotions and also to connect with positive resources within themselves. It is the “secret sauce” in trauma work because in order to do the work, clients must be sufficiently stabilized and they must have some ability to regulate emotion

There are many strategies used to assist individuals in developing these abilities. One such strategy is about connecting, through visualization, with a protective figure. A protective figure can be real or imagined, and it is unique to each individual. When we connect with an image of our protective figure being ferociously protective of us, we take the time to notice all the qualities our protective figure possesses. We connect with the sensations in our body that shift as we connect with the image, the emotions, and the positive cognition that goes along with it. As we focus on the protective figure image, emotion begins to settle. What is really happening, is that we activating all those powerful qualities within ourselves. Not only does the image strengthen our ability to settle strong emotion, but it also fosters a sense of empowerment, and cultivates love and compassion

When we lack actual internal resources for processing trauma, the stored negative experience of the trauma can overwhelm our capacity for positive experiences, self-esteem development, and resiliency. Regulating emotion becomes very difficult. Once we have developed the protective figure imagery in counselling, we can later bring up the image in our imagination (in our mind’s eye), perhaps when feeling vulnerable, threatened, or fearful – even during trauma processing. The image becomes an anchor and a source of strength to be drawn upon during healing. (Please note: the resources used during the preparation phase of EMDR are unique to each client).

Lora’s latest artwork The Courage is such a beautiful depiction of the protective figure. I highly recommend it for any counselling space. Check out more of Lora’s work here: https://lorazombie.com

References:

Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR: Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Parnell, L. (2008). Tapping in: A step-by-step guide to activating your healing resources through bilateral stimulation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Teal, A. (2018). Super resourcing: An integrative protocol for healing early attachment wounds. (EMDRIA Approved training)

The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy

EMDR in your Therapy Session, Part 2

Ever wondered what EMDR looks like in a counselling session? EMDR – which stands for eye movement desensitization and processing, is a therapeutic approach with a wide range of applications. Research has demonstrated that EMDR is effective for working with experiences of trauma (and post-traumatic stress), anxiety, phobias, addictions, to name just a few. To learn more about the components of EMDR, please read Part 1 by clicking here.

There are eight stages to the process of EMDR therapy. It begins as many therapies do: building rapport, gathering intake information (your backstory, so to speak). Knowing your story helps your counsellor understand your needs in counselling, any troubling symptoms that need immediate attention, and also helps you both collaboratively create a treatment plan.

The next stage shifts into preparation, or resourcing. “Resourcing” is the common name for developing those emotional coping skills. It involves helping folks develop the tools they need to self-regulate. This phase involves learning to notice and move through strong, over-whelming emotions as they arise. It’s the part of therapy that works with the treating the symptoms (the pounding heart sensation of anxiety, excessive worry cycles based on past experiences, sleep disturbance, etc.). In EMDR, we work with a rating scale called the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS for short). It’s a rating scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the most distressed you’ve ever felt and 1 is no distress at all. The scale is a helpful way for therapists to attune to their clients, and also for client’s to notice their own progress in a session.

Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 6.24.47 PM

Developing and strengthening emotional coping skills is important, because moving into processing trauma too soon could cause a person to feel unsafe and emotionally flooded. Our job as your counsellor, is to help you be present with emotion without being over-powered by it; learning to turn down the volume on some emotions as you need to, and ultimately helping you feel safe with the counselling process.

Many folks who have experienced trauma have an overall feeling of being unsafe, so cultivating a sense of safety has to be a primary focus.  You need to feel comfortable with your therapist before you disclose all the tough stuff. And, it is super important that you build the emotional coping skills to be okay after and between sessions. EMDR respects these important features of trauma work. 

With the ability to regulate emotion and connect with a degree of internal safety developed, we can begin the next stages of EMDR: Desensitization.  I know you remember what that means from Part 1! This is where trauma processing begins. For those of you wondering what on earth this part of therapy looks like, let me demystify it for you. 

During this trauma processing stage of EMDR, a session starts out with resourcing, then moves into target selection (which just means you choose what the session focus will be). Because I work with trauma, that often means we want to start out with the first traumatic memory or the worst traumatic memory. Wait! Please don’t slam your laptop shut and storm off – I know that can sound frightening, but you will be ready for this stage because of all your hard developing and practicing emotion coping skills during the preparation stage! 

Once we’ve got that memory selected, we connect the negative belief that goes with it, the emotion it evokes, and where you feel it in your body (the sensation of the emotion). 

Side Note: Why do we Need to Cultivate Awareness of the Felt Sense of Emotion?

Cultivating awareness of how we feel emotion in our body is super important. Trauma can often leave folks feeling disconnected from their body. They can get caught up in staying in their head (thoughts), because perhaps it feels safer. However, our body still carries all that tension. Maybe it gets experienced in the form of stomach aches or digestive problems, holding the breath/shallow breathing, muscle tension, or a clenched jaw. This disconnection from the felt sense can become so habitual, that many folks stop noticing it. But all that tension and unrecognized dis-ease can cause all kinds of health problems. 

So, with the pairing of the trauma memory, with the negative belief, the emotion it evokes and how distressing it feels, and how you sense it in the body, we add BLS and start processing that old memory. Whatever your distress level was at the beginning of the session, your therapists goal is to guide you through the processing to get that number down so that you are anchored in a sense of internal safety when the session ends. 

And here is the amazing part: as the BLS is repeated, the brain is processing the trauma to reconcile it as a past event. When your brain and your body can reconcile trauma as a past event, it means you can anchor into the present moment. You shift out of survival mode and can more accurate attest that you truly are safe now. 

Emotional Activation (Feeling Triggered):

Have you ever noticed that when something in the present moment reminds you of a trauma you experienced, the emotion that arises feels completely raw and overly-excessive to the present situation you are in? That is what unprocessed trauma can feel like. There is an amazing little brain system we all have, called the limbic system. Its sole job is to keep us alive. Experiencing trauma can keep us popping into that limbic system survival mode way too frequently. Constant survival mode living can leave people feeling emotionally reactive (as though we are constantly in fight, flight, for freeze), and emotionally exhausted. The brain just doesn’t recognize that the trauma is over, that you are safe now. That is why counselling is so important for your overall health and functioning.

During processing with BLS, emotion becomes less intense. One of the session goals is to keep reducing activation – getting your SUDS number going down, so that you are shifting more and more out of distress. 

EMDR_Congition_ListAs a result of all that emotion process, you are able to connect with a positive belief, and we install it with BLS (the next stage in our 8 stage model). Instead of the negative belief a person started the session with, such as perhaps “I am not enough”, folks now get to decide what positive belief is more preferable, (such as “I am worthwhile”, or “I did the best I could”). We link the positive belief in with BLS so that when the client thinks about the past experience, he or she is no longer washed over with thoughts of being not enough – and in fact, that old negative belief feels distant. The past event really does feel over and anchored in the past, and linked with the positive belief. It may still evoke a degree of emotion (after all, we can not erase the past from having happened), but the sadness or fear that arises going forward when the memory is recalled, will be less intense, and will fit the situation you are in.

Containment metaphors amight be used at the end of a session, as well as a body scan. The body scan is a super useful tool to strengthen the positive sensations associated with the positive belief, and also for identifying any distress still present. The final stage of the session (but not yet the 8th stage of EMDR), is a debriefing of sorts, where we can review strategies for anchoring in the present moment, handling emotion as it comes up, and discussion what to expect after the session in terms of emotions percolating and taking care of self between sessions. 

The subsequent session starts out with an exploration of anything that came up between sessions, and a re-evaluation of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and sensations connected with the work from the previous session That’s the eight stage of EMDR, and then the process continues until folks feel as though they have worked through the pieces they entered into counselling to address. 

I hope this summary of what EMDR in a therapy session looks like has been helpful. Remember,  while we can not erase traumatic experiences from your memory, with EMDR the brain can reconcile it as a past event. We can lessen the intensity of the emotion the memory evokes, as well as the meaning attached to it. We learn to notice when we are shifting into the limbic system and either act to maintain safety or anchor back into the present moment acknowledging the memory as well as our present moment safety.  

If you want to learn more about EMDR, please check out the EMDR International Association website, or EMDR Canada. Both of those websites also list EMDR therapists by location, so you can even tap into those resources to find a practitioner close to you. 

Be well.

The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy

EMDR in your Therapy Session

Part 1

There are many therapeutic approaches Counsellors can use when working with clients on their goals. This article is about EMDR therapy, which is an approach for treating trauma, but has tons of other applications. The letters stand for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – which I am going to describe in more detail in this article. The second article will explain what a typical EMDR session might look like

Disclaimer: please know that no therapy is one size fits all. There are many layers to therapy, and to the complex issues people bring forth into their counselling experience. My intention in this article is to provide a simple overview of EMDR. Think of it as a brief summary, and know that there is much more to it. Kind of like the sign at the local gas station that reads ‘Car Wash’.  When you go through the carwash, your car will receive the wash, along with the added bonus of an under flush, foaming polish, clear coat sealant, and air dry. There is so much more to the car wash that that sign mentions! Similarly, there is so much more to EMDR than this summary will include. My aim is to make this informative and brief, leaving you with a solid understanding of what EMDR is, so that you can feel you understand the process prior to starting therapy.

EMDR was developed by clinician Francine Shapiro. The approach has been researched and modified for many diverse applications. In this article, I am going to be describing the variation attachment-focused EMDR, which was developed by Laurel Parnell. 

Originally developed for use with post-traumatic stress, EMDR therapy is also an effective approach for working with fears and phobias, addiction, and anxiety, It also works to strengthen feelings of calm and confidence.

The Body Holds Emotion

EMDR is a somatic approach to therapy, which means that while we do look at thoughts and emotions, we also look at how the body is holding emotion (that’s “the felt sense of emotion”). 

When a traumatic event happens, we humans tend to become flooded with emotion and our brain doesn’t process and store the memory properly. What happens is that parts of the event (thoughts, emotions, body sensations, images, and smells) stay unprocessed in the brain. What this means in daily life for folks, is that reminders in day-to-day life can activate those unprocessed memories. When this happens, it can feel as though the trauma is happening all over again. You know in your rational brain that it isn’t – but the felt sense of emotion that spikes up so fast that makes it feel as though danger is very real and present.

Using EMDR, we work with the memories that are causing the present-day distress and we “reprocess” them. This means we are working with all the elements of the present, past, and even future. 

Let’s look now at what the name EMDR stands for in more detail, and then I’ll explain what you can expect when you start up EMDR therapy. 

EMDR-2
It’s All in the Name:

As you have already learned, “EMDR” stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a bit of a long and complicated name, so let’s deconstruct it. 

EMDR incorporates eye movements, which is a type of bilateral stimulation (BLS). This is a core feature of EMDR. The term ‘bilateral’ refers to two sides: eyes moving back and forth in a rhythmic side-to-side pattern. Thanks to research and new technologies, we now know that the bilateral stimulation used during EMDR can be visual (the eye movements), auditory (sound), or tactile stimulation (touch). The bilateral stimulation ensures both hemispheres of the brain have an active role in memory processing. 

Visual bilateral stimulation can be created by the therapist moving their hand back and forth, or with a light bar. A light bar looks exactly as it sounds: it is a sleek bar of lights, and a light flashes on one end of the bar and then the other, and back and forth it goes. The client follows the lights with their eyes, side to side in a rhythmic pattern, thus the term “bilateral”.  

Auditory BLS is facilitated with earbuds, with a sound being played alternating from one side to the other.  Mark Grant has developed a powerful app that utilizes EMDR with auditory BLS, called Anxiety Release.

Tactile BLS can be facilitated with tapping rhythmically from side-to-side.  I use a little hand held device with 2 parts that a client holds, one in each hand, and it facilitates bilateral stimulation (BLS) with a brief pulse, or vibration back and forth. It kind of feels the way your smart phone does with the silent mode vibration.

More about Bilateral Stimulation (BLS)

You may be wondering, why is this strange BLS thing so important in therapy??

Bilateral stimulation is a core feature because through repeatedly activating the opposite sides of the brain, it harnesses the power of the accelerated information processing model and aids in releasing emotional experiences that feel ‘stuck’. It can be said that this process mimics REM sleep. You may have heard of this before: when we are sleeping and in the REM stage of sleep, our brains have a chance to process the events of the day. In trauma, we know that memories get stuck – they don’t get processed and worked through. So by using BLS as part of the trauma processing, we help our brains to finish processing those distressing events. As the troubling images and emotions associated with the disturbing/scary/upsetting event are processed while paired with repeated alternating activation (BLS) the memory consolidates, the distressing bits feel resolved, and a more peaceful emotional state is achieved.

There is a lot of emotion packed into the trauma memories.  As you read this, you might be feeling worried that if you start working with a past trauma, the level of emotion it evokes might be too much to handle. In EMDR therapy, therapists are trained to help folks through the process. So while working through distressing memories does evoke emotion – we go slowly, and keep our focus narrow. This way emotion can feel more manageable, and the body can start to regulate.

Here are a few more neat facts about BLS:

  1. BLS can help the body relax (all those muscles that were tense without you even being aware they were tense suddenly relax a bit)
  2. It can help our unstick our thinking so that we feel a great sense of cognitive flexibility (thoughts flow and feel less stuck and rigid on the troubling topics)
  3. It can help improve our concentration 
  4. And, my favourite effect of BLS: it helps us ease into the awareness of the distance between the present moment and the upsetting event. This means that the issue or event worked on during the counselling session feels smaller and further away; more anchored in the past and not so volatily-active in the present

Desensitization means that we’re working with the intensity of emotion felt when recalling a disturbing/scary/upsetting event.  Desensitization refers to the process of becoming less and less distressed with the memory of an event that was disturbing/scary/upsetting but that is now over. In it’s most simple terms: a memory that was once a super sore sensitive spot becomes less and less sensitive during the course of EMDR. We can not undo the past or erase the memory of it, but we can learn to turn down the intensity of emotion felt when recalling it. 

Reprocessing means that some memories of the disturbing/scary/upsetting event weren’t processed at the time the event occurred. There are many brain systems that are involved during trauma, and many more that are shut down, or suppressed, during the event. This means that the traumatic moment isn’t stored in the brain the way a non-traumatic event gets stored. Through EMDR therapy, reprocessing means that we work on understanding the memory so that the memory of the disturbing/scary/upsetting event becomes useful instead of so disturbing. By reprocessing it, in a very titrated and strategic way, the memory comes to be stored as part of an integrated memory system.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, regardless of the therapy you choose to access in your counselling session. 

  • Going slowly is important. Building up emotional coping skills prior to working through trauma is a helpful way to ensure sessions feel more manageable 
  • Therapy is rarely one size fits all. Your therapist will work on getting to know you, your story, and your needs, in order to best help you work through your goals in counselling.

In the next article, I will go over what a typical EMDR therapy session may look like. Stay tuned for it!

–> Click here for Part 2: What EMDR Looks Like in a Therapy Session

Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy

Calm in the Storm – The New Book on Settling Strong Emotion!

004-Stacked-Paperback-books
Before we can heal from trauma, we need to develop the ability to be with the strong emotions associated with trauma memories. These skills are taught in counselling, but what about all the folks that haven’t yet started up counselling? I have been working on that resource, and I am so pleased to tell you that it is now available!

Calm in the Storm is collection of simple emotion regulation strategies that can be used by anyone who experiences anxiety, panic, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress – to shift them out of intense emotion and back into a place of internal safety. The book is written in a way that can help folks develop a new relationship with emotion, one that lets them off that roller-coaster ride of emotional ups-and-downs, that enables them to feel more in control.  

When it comes to symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress, we need to know how to regulate emotion – those are all those grounding and containment skills designed to bring us back to the present moment and enabling us to shift out of high motion. Healing the trauma or underlying reasons that spike us into anxiety is important, but folks need a starting point. This book is that starting point. It will ignite hope and spark a renewed belief in one’s inner potential. It isn’t meant to replace counselling, but the book is a great starting point for folks who need to develop some basic regulation skills before delving into trauma work with a therapist.

bookoutline

“Once we discover the ability to settle strong emotion, the emotion itself becomes less frightening” – Susan Guttridge

Pick up your copy of Calm in the Storm today, and please check back and let me know which strategies worked best for you.

For sale now at the following locations:

 

 

The Process of Therapy

How to Talk to Someone who is Struggling

letstalk_43716310Have you ever been at a loss for what to say when someone you know is having a hard time? Show you care by speaking from your heart. Try one of these statements:

  • If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m still going to be here for you
  • I care about you
  • Take all the time you need. I’m here for you
  • I’m available to go with you if you need support (to doctor appointments, to buy groceries, etc.)
  • I’m bringing dinner over (or any other act of kindness that will alleviate pressure)
  • I wish I could take the hurt away. But since I can’t, I’ll just hang out here with you.
  • I’m sorry. I’m here to listen

Show up, be available, talk about the tough stuff.

The truth is, at any time in our lives, any one of us may struggle emotionally. What would you need if it were you? Thinking about what you might need to hear can help you if you aren’t sure what to say.

Remember, not everyone who is struggling will show that they are struggling. As a general rule, treat people with kindness and seek first to understand before making judgments.

Any ideas to add to the list? Please share your suggestions in the comments – helping each other will ripple out to help the people we encounter.

The Process of Therapy

But What are We Going to Actually Do?

Trauma Therapy Explained

People tend to know they need counselling for a long time before they reach out to start it up. Making that initial phone call can stir up fear and uncertainty. And once an appointment is scheduled, actually attending it can stir up anxiety and doubt. I believe it does take a tremendous amount of courage to start up counselling: to entrust your story to a stranger invites vulnerability. Yet for each courageous soul that takes the first step, there is hope. Hope says “This will help”, and “I can get through this”.

So for all the folks out there wanting to take that first step but feeling weighed down by uncertainty, I’d like to demystify the counselling process.

When it comes to working with trauma, I use the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model, which was developed by Judith Herman in the 1980’s. I use the model as a framework within which all therapeutic interventions launch from.

Please Note: Each client is unique, and therefore counselling is not a one-size-fits-all service. While you read the following information, please know that it might look a little different for each person. Also, rarely do we move through the model in a fully linear manner, (stage 3 often initiates during stage 2 work).

Stage 1 – Safety and Stabilization

Counselling often begins with history taking. I typically ask about what brings a person in for counselling, and gain an idea of their history in a “newspaper headline” manner. I use the newspaper headline approach because at this point, I am still a stranger to the client, and he or she may not yet feel comfortable sharing a detailed portrait of their life. Then, we collaboratively develop treatment goals.

Within the first stage, the focus is on safety and stabilization. That refers to external (living environment) and internal (emotional safety). Elements in this stage may include:

  • External safety: advocacy, growing a support network, information-sharing on topics relevant to the individual client
  • Internal safety: Resourcing to tap into and foster inner strengths to shift out of strong emotion. This involves learning to regulate emotion and manage symptoms that may be causing suffering or causing a person to feel unsafe
  • Information sharing to assist folks in understanding symptoms, their felt sense of emotion, and the effects of trauma
  • Exploring impacts to core beliefs
  • Developing and strengthening skills to manage painful and unwanted experiences, and minimizing unhelpful responses to them.

According to Judith Herman (1982) the goal of stage 1 trauma work is to create a safe and stable life-in-the-here-and-now, which can enable folks to safely remember the trauma, and not continue to re-live it.

I often have folks tell me they want to jump right into trauma processing. They feel a sense of urgency to “feel better” or to “heal this right now”. However, there is great importance of stage 1 work, and we can not skip over it. Think of it this way: If you had a car with shoty brakes, no seatbelts or airbags, no horn, bald tires, and a foggy windshield – you could still get from point A to point B. However, you would likely feel terrified the entire way. The resourcing and affect regulation strategies of stage 1 are like the safety features in a car: they enable you to get from point A to point B without full-blown panic and emotional overwhelm.

Stage 2 – Coming to Terms with Trauma

Once an individual has developed the ability to regulate emotion and achieve a level of internal emotional safety, trauma processing can begin. As we work through a trauma, I keep a keen eye on resourcing to ensure a client isn’t become too flooded with emotion. Techniques are used to modulate this process, and I employ several end-of-session strategies to assist folks in stabilizing emotion prior to leaving the office. Here are some elements stage 2 may include:

  • Trauma processing using EMDR
  • Art, play or sand tray-based approaches (for children and teens)
  • Exploring and re-working the inner trauma narrative
  • Working with negative cognitions resulting from trauma and movement towards installing positive adaptive beliefs and cognitions

Stage 3 – Integration and Moving on

As we work through trauma processing, elements of the third stage begin to show up. Some of these elements include:

  • Working to decrease shame
  • Developing a new narrative and life goals that reflect post-trauma meaning making
  • Working to foster a greater capacity for healthy attachment and decreasing alienation

As a result of doing the work of trauma therapy, the trauma starts to feel farther away, as something that happened but that is no longer a daily focus disrupting life.

If you are thinking of starting up therapy, and have some questions, please feel free to reach out and ask. The decision to move towards self-growth and healing can be empowering and freeing. I hope you give it a go!


If you’d like to learn more about the Three Stage Trauma Recovery Model by Judith Herman, check out these resources:

The Process of Therapy

Choosing the Right Counsellor for You

There can be a lot of worry and apprehension mixed in with the decision to start up counselling, and wondering how to choose a Counsellor can add to that. If you do a Google search of Counsellors in your area, it is likely that a lot of names will come up. So how do you decide which one to work with? In this blog, I’d like to share some questions you can ask the Counsellor you are considering working with, to ensure you are making the right choice for you.

savingPNG (3)

Getting Started:

  • Check out their Website. You can learn a lot about a Counsellor’s education, experience, and expertise by reading their website, so that can be a great starting point.
  • If you have coverage for counselling through you Employee Assistance Program (EAP), consider giving them a call. Some EAP’s have a list of Counsellors which they have pre-approved, so start by checking in with your policy. Some policies might specify the credentials of the Counsellors they will reimburse you for, such as a Psychologist, or a Master’s level Counsellor. It can also be helpful to get a sense of how many sessions will be covered.
  • Is the Counsellor Registered with a Governing Body? It is important to make sure the Counsellor is registered with a college or governing body. These are designed to regulate the professional practice of Counsellors. They accomplish this by certifying credentials and ensuring the Counsellor has obtained a high standard of professional preparation, education, and supervision requirements. They provide a Code of Ethics and Standards of Clinical Practice which the Counsellor must practice within. It also means the Counsellor must engage in continuing education and supervision, pass a criminal records check, and carry liability insurance. Being registered often helps clients relax in the knowledge that they are in the hands of a competent professional. Click on one of the the following links to learn more about the governing bodies for Counsellors in British Columbia: Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association, BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, BC Association for Marriage & Family Therapy
  • Here are a few additional questions that you will want to know:
    • Does the Counsellor have a wait list, or could you start up right away?
    • What is the cost per session?
    • What is the length of each session?
    • How frequently will the sessions be?
    • Where is the office located?
    • Is their wheelchair access (if it is needed)?

Will the Counsellor be a Fit for you?

Once you have a couple candidates for whom you think you might like to work with,  consider asking these additional questions to help you firm up your decision.

  • What is the Counsellor’s therapeutic approach in counselling: A therapeutic approach is basically the philosophical way a Counsellor approaches counselling, understands problems, and attends to the resolution of those problems. Often a Counsellor will post this information on their website. I always recommend asking in person because any questions you have can be answered on the spot. As you learn about the lens through which the Counsellor will be working, make sure it feels like a fit for you and what you want to work on.
  • What formal education and training does the Counsellor have AND What is their experience in the field of counselling? You chose to start up counselling likely because you are struggling with something and you want help with it. Asking about credentials enables you to ensure the Counsellor is qualified and competent. Asking about their experience enables you to ensure they are skilled in what you want to work on. For example, I frequently receive referrals from couples wanting to work on their relationship. However, I am not trained or experienced in this area, so it would not be ethical or helpful for me to work with them. Therefore, I have a list of highly skilled Counsellors who are experienced in couples counselling, which I provide to those inquires.
  • What is their confidentiality policy? You need to know that your personal information is going to be treated with the utmost respect to your privacy. Most Counsellors will share this with you during your very first session. If they haven’t, please take a moment to ask how your privacy will be maintained.

What is your Gut Feeling? 

Let’s not underestimate the importance of hearing your intuition. When you meet with the Counsellor you have selected, do you feel comfortable in their counselling space and in their presence? When you talk with the Counsellor, does it feel collaborative, like you will have an equal role in the therapeutic relationship, goal setting, and direction of the work? Do you feel heard, respected? It can be intimidating to start up counselling, and some nervousness is to be expected. But overall, for counselling to be successful you need to feel safe, heard, and relatively at ease in the counselling room.

Take your time in finding the right fit for you, so that you get the most out of your counselling experience. If you have found a Counsellor and asked some questions in your selection process that I didn’t list, please add them to the comments.

 

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Hello Spring, I’ve been waiting for you!

RENEW

Spring is one of my favorite times of year. I love the way the snow melts away and reveals tiny buds, slowly and determinedly pushing their heads through the earth, to bloom in the warm rays of sun. April represents a month of growth, of rebirth, and renewal. So why just leave January for the month to review goals and get back on track? Let’s make April our new January. Take a moment and Review-Recharge-Renew-Restart!

Review: Remember that goal you set earlier this year? How have things been going? Have you been getting off track on any of your goals? Or maybe you haven’t checked in on your progress lately. If you have been getting off track, what is the smallest step you can take today to get back on track?

Recharge: Give those goals an energy boost! One of the best ways to make your goals a reality is to write them down. What is it exactly that you want to achieve? How will you go about achieving it? In what time frame? And how will you notice your progress towards it? Re-writing your goal based on what you have learned since the time you set the goal can help recharge your motivation for working towards it. Click her to learn more about setting SMART goals.

Renew: Sometimes when we review our goals, we realize that we stopped working on them because they no longer matched our needs, values, or situation. If you reviewed your goal and realized it no longer was a complete fit for you, take a moment to re-write it to be a better fit. Or, scrape it completely and start out fresh.

Restart: You’ve got your goal, you’ve got the steps written out of what you need to do to achieve that goal. You’ve got a timeframe – now just start. Right in this moment, commit to start.

Check these out additional tips to stay on track (and feel free to add more of your ideas in the comments).

  • Find a cheerleader (a positive friend of family member that can cheer you on when you start to lose momentum). Ask them to check in with you every now and then, to be your accountability partner of sorts.
  • If you use a paper agenda, flip ahead and set reminders to check-in on your progress
  • Set reminders in your on-line calendar to go off periodically to remind you to check in on your progress.
  • Put sticky notes in your home, in places you will look to remind you to stay on track

If you started to get off-track on any goals you set for yourself earlier this year, let April be the month that you review them or rewrite them so that you get back on track with being your courageous, unstoppable self.

Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Self-Talk for Self-Love

The way we speak to ourselves (also called self-talk) can build us up or leave us deflated. The words, the tone, and the overall message in our words can either motivate or tear down, lighten or depress. We may not always feel optimistic in this life, and in those moments our self talk needs to help us persist – enabling us to come out the other side with as little wounding as possible.

How would your mood shift, your perceived stress dissipate, or your day change if you spoke to yourself the way you would speak to a close friend? How would your mood shift if you spoke to yourself as kindly as you would to a young child?self-talk for self-loveWhatever your life experience, whatever has caused you to feel down on yourself, in this moment, try choosing kindness with your inner words. Not sure how or even what to say? Take 5 seconds and try these simple steps that I refer to as Catch – Anchor – Encourage:

  1. Catch yourself when your inner words are negative. Notice with kindness “Whoops, there I go again…”
  2. Take a deep breath, allowing yourself to get present in the moment.
  3. Insert something positive, such as “Ok, I can try again.”

“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.” (Dr. Kristin Neff)

If you have a tendency to use negative self-talk, be patient with yourself as you learn to turn it around. Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ of positive statements you use when substituting out the negative – think of this as a starting point as you learn to substitute your own.

  • I am not alone in my struggles
  • I am strong
  • Every breath I take anchors me in this present moment
  • I can do this
  • I can get help if I need to
  • I am doing the best that I can
  • I can’t blame myself for everything
  • I will learn from this mistake
  • Emotions are just visitors and I can let them leave
  • I can connect with calm again
  • I am going to be okay
  • I am able to calm my mind and my body
  • This too shall pass
  • I am able to persist
  • This is just one bad day
  • I believe that everything will work itself out somehow

Okay – now it’s your turn. Practice Catch-Anchor-Encourage as you go about your day today. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know how it goes!

Reference:

Neff, K. (2015) Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Process of Therapy

Lessons in Grieving

Grief does not have a definitive ending. There is no moment in time you arrive at with a sigh of relief and a renewed bounce in your step. Instead, grief sets us upon an atelic journey through emotion, winding us along a new path of life where we have memories instead of phone calls, and pictures instead of hugs. One of the tasks of grieving is certainly to discover new ways to hold the memory of the person you have lost so as to appreciate of the continuity of your relationship with them.

I think of grieving as a dance between sorrow and longing, love and remembering. Feeling the gift of a memory and allowing the accompanying music of emotions to wash  over you – letting your heart fill with love, allowing a threshold of pain, a tear of sadness – all the while keeping your feet on the dance floor of the present moment. Do not walk backwards through time and live in the pain of loss. Step forward bravely, holding the memories in your heart, and finding a new way to honour your loved one.

There are lessons to be learned in grief, if we tune in and allow the process to unfold: that loving means we will one day experience loss, and that living means we will feel both joy and sorrow. That each bittersweet memory is like a gentle kiss, lingering and leaving you wanting another. And as each memory brings with it sadness, or anger, or regret, so too can it bring joy and laughter.  We all have the capacity to stay grounded in the present moment, to love those that are still with us, and to learn and accept our shortcomings and try differently. Grief demands that when we turn to the past to mourn, that we also remember to return to the present moment – because we are here, living this life. By living it fully and honouring memories as they arise, we honour the ones we have lost.

If one of your loved ones has died, and you are touching into the profound pain of loss, I’d like to share a strategy that can help you navigate through those strong waves of emotion. The following questions can be used for reflection in whatever means works for you (such as journaling prompts, a point to reflect, or a story to share with a trusting friend or family member). Take your time with your responses, reflect on them, and allow them to grow as you need. The inner reflection prompted by these questions aids in grieving as they are designed to spark remembering, a continuity of your relationship with the person you have lost, and a bringing of your story forward in order to transfuse it with new meaning.

Personal Reflection Questions:

  • How was my life shaped or influenced by this person?
  • What stories do I want to carry forward in my life, to keep the legacy of this person alive within me?
  • What will my practices of remembering be?
  • What stories, strengths, and attributes do you believe this person would have wanted you to carry forward from their life, in your daily life?
  • What teachings did this person bestow upon you, that will continue to live by?
  • What memory stands out for you today of this person?
  • If you could talk to this person right now, what would you say?

This article is written in honour of my Nonna, who was always wise, strong, and beautiful
Giuseppina “Nella” Di Staulo,
Oct 12 1928-Jan 28 2019

nonna_mom_zia