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Therapy & Change


By on Jul 9, 2017 in Therapy & Change | 0 comments

              Do you have any of these symptoms? If you have any of the following you might have post traumatic symptoms or qualify for a diagnosis or PTSD: nightmares and sleep disruption, not feeling safe or have a general feeling of unease in your surroundings or body, have panic attacks, unable to concentrate on reading material, work activities or household tasks, over the top anger and strong responses to minor things avoid certain places and people, isolate and are very uncomfortable with groups of people, anxiety about even minor life tasks is very high, an unreasonable fear of authority figures, the police or institutions, an exaggerated response to loud noises If you think that you have not experienced a potential traumatizing event, surprisingly most people have had at least one traumatic event in their life whether it is witnessing one or being in a car accident, breaking a bone in an accident or in a sports activity or losing a family member (estimated 70% in the US). Trauma is as old as humanity, however the field of Traumatology is relatively young with its origins in the 1990’s. The study and treatment of trauma incorporates biological, social, psychological, economic and political factors. Trauma is an exceedingly complex subject and my intention in this article is providing important information about Trauma and PTSD for my clients, colleagues, and readers. Understanding trauma and the profound affects it has on individuals and communities is essential in providing the resources for those people struggling with the effects. Background   During my Masters training in Chicago I was introduced to Dr. Colin Ross’ work, a Canadian born and trained psychiatrist, whose book The Trauma Model (2006) profoundly influenced my practice and my understanding of trauma and psychological disorders. Dr. Ross suggests that trauma is usually the factor underlying most mental illness diagnoses and that using this model helps in dealing with the issue of co-morbidity. The Colin A. Ross Institute ( contracts with psychiatric facilities in Texas, Michigan and California providing treatment for psychiatric disorders.   Another of my instructors in trauma work is Dr. Bessel van der Kolk whose work at the Trauma Institute ( in Brookline MA...

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Moving into the New Year and Letting Go of The Old

By on Feb 15, 2017 in Life Skills, Therapy & Change | 0 comments

Facing the promise as we traverse a new year and reflecting on the year that was, I am struck by how easy it is to dread or feel foreboding for the new year, particularly when 2016 was so tumultuous. Our brains are programed to focus on negative information first. It is likely a survival instinct but with the mindboggling amount of information we have to process in 2017, much of which is negative, I suggest we train our minds to access that which is useful and soul inspiring not the useless and destructive bits of information that clog our minds and deaden our spirit.   Despite living in Canada with a Liberal and progressive leaning government, many of us were impacted by the US election rhetoric and result! The election of a person to the office of president who is antithetical to a position that requires a responsible, balanced and skilled candidate has really left many of us aghast. I am not going to belabor the issue because it certainly is not useful nor inspiring to the soul.   Many people have pointed out also that not everyone has been stopped in their tracks. Bernie Sanders, who lost the U. S. presidential nomination and his party lost the White House is not grousing and complaining, he appears to be standing by his principles and strong in opposition to forces that would regress civil rights, civility and progressive and positive changes that President Obama and others have enacted.   Therefore I have adopted the motto Dig in, resist and challenge for 2017. Einstein asserted that we cannot change things at the level of which they are therefore I have decided to look for the nuggets of gold in the rocks and dirt we have been served. I also look to wise teachers who see the big picture and are not pulled into the mud and dirt at the bottom of the pit of despair.   Thich Knat Hahn in his book No Mud No Lotus does exactly that. When we accept that suffering is part of life and that we can be happy despite that fact then we can begin to change our reality. We can be happy today, not...

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The Problem With Worry

By on May 28, 2016 in Life Skills, Therapy & Change | 0 comments

  There is a conversation in the movie Bridge of Spies when Tom Hanks says to Mark Rylance “Aren’t you worried” and he says “Will it help?”. Unless worry results in action of some sort it is not helpful at all. In fact, just like guilt it is very unhelpful. One of the biggest health issues today is maintaining a relatively calm and balanced life. While that is a challenge in our increasingly complex and responsibility full  life, worry decidedly makes matters worse. Worry ups the stakes and causes high levels of anxiety.   We worry about our finances, our children, our work, our health, climate change, nuclear war, the government etc. etc. I have worried most of my life about things that have never happened or turned out to unfold in a much different way than my mind envisioned. What is the Mark Twain quote? ”I am an old man and have known a great many troubles but most of them never happened”. Yes, we worry about the future and regret the past so much that we forget the “oh so fleeting” present moment!   When I think of “worry” I think of the song by Eric Burdon and the Animals “War what is it good for? Absolutely Nothing” I think that way about worry. We can let it ruin our life or we can put it in its place. Worry comes with anxiety, rumination, sleepless nights, fingernails that aren’t, lost days and lost nights, lost opportunities, irritability, ulcers, cardio vascular issues, overeating and over using drugs and alcohol. It affects our relationships, family life and work. The main casualty is not being present for our life. Worry occupies our mind so much that we lose sight of what is in front of our face. In fact, the more we worry the more we lose out in precious life moments and what is really important in life.   Isn’t it time we put an end to worry or at the very least put it in its place? Easier said than done. For one thing we are bombarded by images and advertising that reminds us to take care of our health, to make more money, to love and be...

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Thera-splaining Therapy: What it is and What it is Not

By on May 3, 2016 in Life Skills, Therapy & Change, Uncategorized | 0 comments

This blog post is meant to unravel the puzzle that is therapy. In the past therapy was considered only for people with serious mental health issues. Therapy has become much more accepted as a way of changing one’s life, recovering from grief and trauma, relationship breakups and family and parenting issues. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it can be very beneficial in relieving depression and other issues. It also is effective in reducing the need for pharmaceutical intervention in some situations.     What does the therapy process look like? Contrary to what some people think, therapy is an active process requiring work, openness and cooperation on the part of the person seeking therapy. The therapist does not change you, they are, in effect, a facilitator of change. How much you change (or even whether you change) is up to you.     Well what does therapy do? Therapy changes the brain as Norman Doidge the author of The Brain That Changes Itself” aptly illustrates. Having a skilled person validating your experience, listening with nonjudgement, and focusing on your strengths does wonders for most brains that have a tendency to focus on the negative side of any experience and produce emotions such as shame and guilt. Therapy can help you think differently about your situation and with understanding comes clarity. It also helps you remember who you truly are and encourages you to accept your strengths as well as your human flaws.     Knowing you are not alone and that someone really understands what you are going through has immense therapeutic value. Family and friends can be supportive too but most of us would rather not burden friends too much and usually most people just keep their feelings to themselves.   Therapy is also preventative. It prevents and/or mitigates conditions such as high stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and PTSD that left untreated can cause associated physical conditions such as stomach ulcers, cardio/vascular events, panic attacks, isolation, suicide, physical deterioration, musculoskeletal challenges and debilitating pain, and addiction addiction to opioid medication.   What therapy does not do? Most of us in our ever increasingly complex and fast-paced world are looking for a magic bullet or...

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Expressing Anger Constructively: A stress management tool

By on Feb 26, 2016 in Life Skills, Therapy & Change | 0 comments

Expressing anger in a constructive way is challenging and in many situations almost impossible. First we need to locate the source of our anger then determine whether we actually are angry with others or ourselves. Is it righteous anger or displaced anger and is this a battle that it is wise to wage? Is it way beyond the particulars of the situation? Another question is are we using anger as a defense? in particular: * Anger can keep you from dealing with the source of your fear * Anger keeps you from dealing with the critical voices in your head * Anger keeps you from dealing with personal values that create guilt * Anger prevents you from examining the losses in your life * Anger stops you from communicating your hurt * Anger keeps you immobilized and not able to problem solve * Anger keeps you angry not moving forward. From McKay, Rogers and McKay (1989) Let us discuss the wisdom of choosing our battles. Some of the questions that would be helpful to ask are: * How important is this relationship? * What are the costs to me of keeping quiet? * Is there a power imbalance (e.g. Employer – Employee) and what are the costs of speaking up? (e.g. will I lose my job, will it be difficult in the long term if I speak up?) * Will I put myself at risk physically if I speak up? * Can I express myself clearly and constructively? * Will this person understand if I speak up? (An elderly person or someone with diminished capacity) * Is this battle worth fighting? * Would letting go and not taking the situation personally be a much better strategy in this situation? The point is in asking these questions we can pause and better define the situation and decide whether to go ahead with expressing our feelings. In choosing in any of these situations not to proceed this does not mean we stuff our feelings. There are other constructive ways to express feelings of anger without confronting the person directly (e.g. writing an “unsent letter” to them). Maybe in knowing we will not win with someone who is unapproachable and/or  has more power...

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Finding Compassion Within

By on Jan 25, 2016 in Life Skills, Therapy & Change | 1 comment

  Every part of us that we do not love will regress and become more primitive – Carl Jung   I have been thinking for a long time about writing about Self-Compassion. In my work as a psychotherapist and with my friends and family, I am constantly struck by the lack of self-compassion people convey in their words about their work and life. They are constantly saying things like “I am so stupid”, “I should have known better”, “how could I have missed that”, “who would notice or like a _____”. “I am just a ________” etc. etc.   No wonder we have high levels of depression and anxiety in our culture. Western society is high on guilt and judging individuals. It also encourages people to have unrealistically high standards for themselves and sometimes their standard is pure perfectionism. Their failings are seen as a panacea for everything that is wrong. Not only are individuals judged and blamed, parents, in particular,  are one of most heavily blamed group in society. Some people believe that individual blame conveniently shifts the responsibility from organizational, corporate and /or institutional/governmental culpability.   What is self-compassion? I think we confuse it with selfishness if we tend to spend time on caring for our self. Self care and self-compassion, I suggest is an afterthought, something we do when we have time and when all our responsibilities are taken care of. What happens usually is there is nothing left to give to self. We turn to other things like alcohol or drugs, food or other dependencies that hook us quickly but do not provide the profound and positive affect of simple self-compassion.   Self-compassion is the act that states “I am human; I am fallible and it is OK to make mistakes to change my mind, to pursue my passion.” It is not judging our actions as good or bad, just viewing  them as  part of learning and growing, part of being human. How can we be compassionate with others if we do not practice it with ourselves? The Green Cross Standards of Care state that we cannot perform our work as a caregiver unless we take care of ourselves. There is also the  metaphor of...

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