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.

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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

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

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The Process of Therapy

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine go Down

(A Life Hack worth Knowing!)

A lot can be accomplished in a 50 minute counselling session. In order to keep the momentum of progress in healing, it is important to take some time to reflect on the session rather than shutting it out once you leave the safety of the counselling room and re-enter the busy-ness of daily life. For this reason, Counsellors often suggest “homework” to clients: small things a person can do between sessions that will help them to stay connected with their healing journey.

This is especially true when I am working with folks experiencing symptoms of anxiety. The “homework” I give is often about getting grounded in the present moment: a healthful way to cope with the strong emotions. We now live in an age where there are apps readily available to help with this. While many of these apps are fantastic, some cost money, and some are a little confusing to use. I’d like to share a strategy that I stumbled into – which is both free and user-friendly!

Many people use Instagram to stay connected with friends. However, what if every time you opened Instagram, you were flooded with beautiful words, uplifting images, motivational quotes, and messages of hope? It truly is that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down – in this case, the medicine is acceptance of the trials and tribulations that we as humans are bound to come face-to-face with at some point, and the sugar is our ability to cope with it – or ride the waves of strong emotion.

Want to give it a go? Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

  1. Create an Instagram account (skip this step if you already have one)
  2. Use the search button to add as many people and businesses as you can that reflect positivity. You may need to do a bit of research here, and don’t feel bad about removing someone if you discover they aren’t posting the positivity you had hoped for.
  3. Open the app daily and scroll through the posts to get your daily dose of happy!

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • dailyom (Mindfulness quotes)
  • brenebrown (Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection)
  • eckharttolle (Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher)
  • donmiguelruiz (Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements)
  • beherenownetwork (mindfulness quotes)
  • thichnhathanh.bot (Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes)
  • jack_kornfield (Jack Kornfield, (author, Buddhist Practitioner)
  • happy_maven (mindfulness and positive psychology quotes, therapy dog)
  • puppology (photos of dogs that, if you like dogs, is sure to make you smile!)
  • tarabrach (Tara Brach, psychologist and mindfulness teacher)
  • mygrateful.life (gratitude and mindfulness quotes)
  • insightla (mindfulness quotes)
  • drdansiegel (Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist, author, mindfulness teacher)
  • drpeterlevine (Peter Levine, author, somatic experiencing teacher)
  • stevefarber (motivational speaker)
  • melrobbinslive (motivational speaker)
  • theellenshow (Ellen Degeneres)
  • calm (mindfulness quotes)

Have more to add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Credits:
– “A spoonful of sugar” quote – Mary Poppins
– Instagram image – Thich Nhat Hanh
– Instagram image – Jack Kornfield
– Instagram image – Dailyom

The Process of Therapy

Three Little Things: Journaling to build Self-Worth

One key way we build self-esteem is by accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves. Every accomplished goal trickles into our sense self: it feeds our personal integrity, that sense of trust we have in ourselves that we will do what we set out to do. Our proven ability, even though only proven to ourselves, contributes to feeling good about ourselves. But what happens when a negative core belief such as “I’m not good enough” has a stronghold over our thoughts?

Negative core beliefs are false self-referencing beliefs, and they pack a pretty heavy punch. When a negative belief screams out in our brain, a powerful emotional response reverberates throughout our memory network and our body responds with much the same level of activation as when the negative belief was created – even though in the present moment we are safe. Experiences from childhood may have planted the seeds of the negative belief, and then additional life experiences may have strengthened them. Because these negative beliefs have been reinforced over and over again, they feel very true. “Negative beliefs come to create a perpetual filter through which we view ourselves and our world” (Parnell, 2007).

Negative core beliefs feel true but they are not true. Because these beliefs are capable of infiltrating all of our daily activities, social interactions, and inner dialogue, we need an equally powerful method for countering them. Counselling is an excellent way to heal early wounds and develop coping strategies for the present. There are also techniques we can focus on between sessions to practice being present with new, positive belief systems.

journal for self-worthThree Little Things: 

For this journaling activity, you are going to want to use a beautiful book: one that makes you smile when you look at. You won’t be journaling in the traditional style: this will be more of a ‘healing journal’, one that you are going to want to flip through often, to remind yourself of what you have written.

Each evening before you get ready for bed, take 10 minutes to sit down and reflect on 3 things you did well that day. These are the little things that we often over-look, that there are no accolades for. When we take the time to notice, we develop compassion for our selves. We start to see the evidence that yes, we are human and we make mistakes, but also that we are also inherently good and worthwhile beings. If you find that you are having trouble getting started, try reflecting on the list of prompts below.

Writing Prompts for Reflection:

  • What did I do well today?
  • How did I cope successfully with a triggering moment today?
  • How did I care for myself with loving kindness after a triggering moment?
  • What am I grateful for today
  • How did I demonstrate gratitude today?
  • How did I implement something I’ve been learning today?
  • How did I show kindness today?
  • How did I show up with courage in my life today?
  • How did I practice self-acceptance, or self-forgiveness today?
  • What daily goal did I follow through on today?
  • How did I live with intention today?

For more strategies on journaling to build self-compassion (and a really good read…) check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website: self-compassion.org.

Resources:
Parnell, L. (2007). A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR: Tools and Techniques for Successful Treatment. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Pursuing a Career with Abandon: Why I love being a Counsellor

When I first told my Nonna that I was going to be a Counsellor, I was 20 years old and had just switched out of an orientation to teaching stream in university to a Psychology major. With an appalled look on her face and an emphatic inhale, she stated in her thick Italian accent “Why you wanna sit and listen to peoples’ problems?” It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement laced with judgment and condescension. My response was something along the lines of “I can’t explain it”. I suppressed my headstrong must-fight-for-what-I-believe-in feisty inner warrior and simply hugged her.

But her statement sat with me. Not because I doubted my career choice, but rather because it gave me insight into how little my Nonna understood about asking for and receiving help. Raised in a farming family by parents who lived through the depression in southern Italy, then witnessing first-hand the impacts of the second world war, asking for emotional support had never become her go-to coping strategy. For every loss she experienced, (and there were many), she donned her symbolic black clothing and shut off the hurting part of herself. It wasn’t my place to fight with her. I could only love her fully, for she was coping in the only way she knew how.

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Yes, the job of a Counsellor is to listen – but it is also so much more. It is about motivating and inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves, to  learn how to invite in the change they are so desperately seeking. It is about helping people reconnect with hope after life experience has rattled it. It is about discovering the strength and courage they forgot they had. It is about cultivating resilience. It is about discovering how to be kind to one’s self, in a life where that was potentially never taught or even discouraged. The safety of the counselling office becomes a place to practice holding positive beliefs that just aren’t rooting due to the busy-ness of life. It’s a place to deconstruct shame, to grieve losses, to breathe deeply and fully, and to acknowledge ones’ worth. Every single counselling interaction is a chance to let someone know that they matter, that they are not struggling alone, and to foster hope.

That is why I choose this career, and that is why I love what I do.

The Process of Therapy

The Voice of Shame & The Experience of Abuse

Shame is a concept that comes up a lot in the course of working with people in counselling. Shame is that little nagging voice in the back of one’s mind, constantly repeating variations of “I’m not good enough” and “I’m such a failure”. Shame itself is a fear-based emotion bringing with it a fundamental sense of inadequacy and lack of belonging. It is a sense that everyone can see our internal brokenness, our inherent flaws. Shame often carries with it a sense of being worthless, unredeemable, unlovable, humiliated, less than, smallness, and weakness. It creates a distress within us that can be so activating, making us feel a dissonance from our authentic self; making us question our very sense of self.

When working with individuals who have experienced abuse, there is a significant level of shame that often blocks healing and moving forward. While the feeling of shame can be debilitating and confusing, thanks to people like Brene Brown, there are now You Tube videos and books and workshops that can help us through the experience of shame. To take it one step further though, I’d like to write about how shame comes to bubbles up in the first place, specifically in the context of abuse. My intention is that with a little theory, we can normalize the experience of this insidious feeling, develop action steps to process it, and thus help to dilute shames’ otherwise pervasive effects.

To explain this pervasive sense of shame that can result from abuse experiences, we have to draw on learning theory. Specifically, classical conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs!). In this case, we want to understand evaluative conditioning. Evaluative conditioning refers to “an attitude development or change toward an object as a result of that object’s co-occurrence with another object”. Complicated description, yes – but here is how it breaks down: when being abused, the abuse experience (which is recognized as “a very bad experience”) gets paired with the self, and the person thus (unconsciously) negatively evaluates themselves as “I am bad”. In other words, evaluative conditioning is an unconscious, automatic, and persistent transfer of one’s dislike for one stimulus to be transferred onto another.

In the case of sexual abuse, the disgust, shame, and fear associated with the abuse gets associated with physical touch, body odors, sex-related sounds, and even one’s own body; which in the language of shame says: “I am bad”. The disgust, shame, and fear associated with the sexual abuse can also come to be paired with physical touch and sex in general, which has the self-language of: “I am dirty and disgusting”. If the perpetrator was shaming during the abuse, one might come to pair the abuse with emotional experiences. This means feeling ashamed of your emotional experiences.

In summary, it is in this way that shame becomes a result of evaluative conditioning of the self. It is a voice within that quietly taints all daily experiences. The feeling of shame can be overwhelmingly debilitating at times, causing people to freeze or flee or become defensive in life and in relationships. Shame can create confusion, and fear, and anger. It it can inhibit joy, sexuality, sadness, and hurt. It can stop us from fully living life.

If you have experienced abuse and recognize these patterns as playing out in your life, please know that you are not alone and that there is help. Through counselling, which starts first with building trust and connecting with safety in the counselling relationship, you can develop new strategies for noticing and releasing shame. You can work on counter-conditioning the conditioned pairing (for example, unpairing self from disgust), and cultivating empathy and appreciation for all parts of self. That equals self-compassion.

Every single one of us is worth taking up a bit of space in this world – to live our life and fulfill our dreams. If shame is stopping you, please consider working with a Counsellor to heal.

References:

  • The Haunted Self: Structural Dissociation and the Treatment of Chronic Traumatization, by Otto van der Hart, Ellert Nijenhuis, and Kathy Steel
  • I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Telling the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy, and power, by Brene Brown

Disclaimer:  This is a very simplified overview of evaluative conditioning / learning theory and the shame that stems from abuse experiences. 

Animal-Assisted Therapy · The Process of Therapy

Following a Dream: Animal-Assisted Therapy

The Beginnings of a Counsellor:
My burning desire when I entered the field of counselling was to be of service to people who felt stuck. The first job I had in the counselling field, when I was fresh out of university, was for an employment counselling agency. My role was to work with clients who were unemployed, and assist them in securing employment. Sounds straightforward enough, right? What I actually discovered very quickly was that my clients were without work for very significant reasons: depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety, to name a few. Many of my clients had immigrated to Canada from countries in war, extreme poverty, and chaos. These folks had witnessed and lived through horrors and tragedies beyond description. It didn’t feel right to keep the focus on work-related goals when their emotional life was in need of nurturing. It also didn’t feel right to refer them to someone else after they had already been bounced around to so many workers. But ethically, I didn’t have the skills to provide mental health counselling. An undergraduate degree in psychology doesn’t fully equip a person with the necessary skills to be a Counsellor. While I had a very good work relationship with my employer, she was constantly reminding me to keep my focus with clients on work-related goals, and to refer them out for everything else. Needless to say, employment counselling wasn’t the profession for me! I applied to the University of Calgary and after 3 brilliant-laborious-inspiring years I graduated with a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology.

It’s hard to talk about the tough stuff!
It is so much easier to talk about the things that make us feel comfortable, to stay within our comfort zone and not push the limits of our window of tolerance. Suppression and denial can become habits and if we stay disconnected from our strong emotions for too long, eventually we start to fear having emotions. But connecting with emotions (in titrated ways) and pushing the limits of our comfort zone is exactly how healing, insight and awareness, and change start to happen.

My next burning desire as a Counsellor was to make it not so 12188172_10156137948155142_6567896615004368019_odamn hard for people to connect with the tough
stuff. I love animals, and animals have always been a source of comfort for me during difficult times. Perhaps an animal in the counselling room would be comforting to clients. Over the years that followed, I researched and learned about animal-assisted therapy, eventually concluding that a service dog would be the route to follow.

Enter 2015: the year of the dog
Okay, not really. In the Chinese zodiac it was actually the year of the sheep. But in my family, it was the year of the dog. I had decided on a breed and a trainer, and flew all the way across Canada to adopt Maven, a Shiloh Shepherd.

The adorable fluff-ball… with razor sharp teeth!
Maven was a super cute rambunctious ball of fluffy fur. But looks can be deceiving! At 3 months old, Maven nipped excessively, jumped up, and defecated in the house. Everyone wanted to cuddle her but no one dared get too close! I am FullSizeRenderpleased to say that by 4 months, Maven had settled down and was no longer nipping (and was successfully doing ‘her business’ outside). By 6 months, I began working with 2 fantastic trainers: Cheri Kolstad, a service dog trainer based out of Penticton, and Vernon’s own The Crate Escape obedience dog trainer Vanessa.

When Maven was 1 year old, I began taking her to work with me. While she was largely still in training, it was amazing how transformative sessions became with her present.

Training is still on-going, but at least 2 days a week Maven joins me at work. Having a dog in session isn’t for everyone, and I always ask a client’s permissions prior to bringing Maven in.

Stay posted for more details about Maven’s training, and about her (eventual) crisis dog testing.

 

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

What does Change mean to You?

If you are like most people, change can feel over-whelming. Change is about moving beyond the familiar, the predictable, the traversed terrain. And to be honest, that can evoke a little fear. And a whole lot of uncertainty. What do we most often do when we feel fearful and uncertain? We proceed with caution. In the face of change, that might look like vacillating between options with indecision; it might look like clinging to the past; or worse, seeing the past as all good through those delusory rose-colored glasses. Fear kicks our survival instincts into action, which might just leave us sticking with what we know, leaving us fleeing from change.

A sense of loss is another emotion that accompanies change. We often associate loss with emotional suffering. When we allow ourselves to fully experience and allow all of our emotions, we find that it’s less about ‘suffering’, and more about processing, letting go, and kindling hope. We need to feel our emotions, and allow ourselves to embrace the hard work of planning and implementing and revising that new life directions invite.

A Recent Big Change

After several years having an office at Arise Chiropractic, I found myself in for a change. I was in need of a new office location. And like so many of us, I experienced strong emotions as I encountered uncertainty, hesitance, and doubt. Eventually, uncertainty melted away as a new opportunity unfolded, and hope began to re-ignite. As the move became a reality I felt a bittersweet sadness: excitement for the new opportunity combined with loss as I said goodbye to the Team I’d spent the last 3 years being a part of. I took my time: having the important conversations with others but as well as with my own emotional processing. I do believe that change can make us stronger. We come face to face with our doubts. Moving out of our comfort zone challenges us to be braver, to be stronger, to be more self-aware, and maybe even a little more compassionate. I took the leap of faith and moved. I ordered new furniture, then cancelled the order and started over. I painted, then I re-painted. I moved in the furniture, only to move some out and re-arrange other pieces. I put art up. I took art down. I sat in the room and pondered the space. But in the end it all came together. And the creation is now a beautiful, comfortable, cozy, private space for the healing work of counselling to unfold.

When we embrace change, including all the emotions change evokes – anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger and sadness – we grow as people. Sometimes it’s about taking a leap of faith. And it is always about believing in yourself. Trusting that no matter how the cards fall, you won’t fall. Be open to change – you are capable of more than you know!

Check Live Happy Counselling out at my new location: The White House Wellness Centre. 

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