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Dr. Denise’s Blog and Podcasts


Moving into the New Year and Letting Go of The Old

Posted by on 5:34 pm 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 wait for something to happen to be finally happy. Since we really only have the present it seems that it is a rather practical thing to do.   His five practices that nurture happiness starts with letting go. Our mind gets stuck when we believe we need certain things for happiness, a job, money, a person, and material things. We hang onto material things, ideas and people long after their usefulness expires. We hang onto them because we are afraid what letting go will mean “and then what?” The familiar is comfortable the unknown is not. We are captured by the advertising industry and consumer spending, making us think we need this and that.   Starting a new year is a great opportunity to reflect at what we want to bring with us into 2017. More than ever I think it is important to take the time to reflect and then act. Dig in, do the work then resist the urge to hang on and feel comfortable and then challenge ourselves to let go of those things that no longer...

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Posted by on 4:59 pm 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 is at the forefront of trauma treatment. His recent publication The Body Keeps the Score (2015, Penguin books) is an excellent resource for practitioners and clients. The research he conducted on Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and incorporating Yoga in treatment for trauma is important work.   The Definition of Trauma   Posttraumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) is the term for the clinical diagnosis that meets the criteria for the disorder after a trauma event or an extreme stressor such as: Serious accident or natural disaster Rape or criminal assault Combat experience Child sexual abuse or physical abuse or severe neglect Witnessing a traumatic event Hostage/imprisonment/torture/displacement as a refugee Sudden unexpected death of a loved one   The first month after a trauma event or an extreme stressor, if distress is present, a person could meet the criteria for an Acute Stress reaction that may or may not lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. Not everyone develops a diagnosis of PTSD after an extreme stressor. If they do not meet the entire criteria they can be diagnosed as having an Adjustment...

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Empowerment 101-Exploring Boundaries

Posted by on 5:23 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Boundaries are different in each culture. Individualistic societies tend to set boundaries individually and collectivist societies set boundaries around the group or family. Personal and social distance is different in cultures as is eye contact and other nonverbal expressions. Some European and Latin cultures are more comfortable with closer proximity to others where British and American cultures are comfortable with more distance. Gender also is a significant factor in boundaries. Women tend to set different boundaries with their children, close friends, and family than they do with men. Fast track change – taking your power back, calming anxiety Become aware of your feelings- your feelings are your best gauge of inappropriate boundaries.   Keep a journal of your progress. Write about your feelings, thoughts, and successes.   Notice (and record) the following: who, what, where and how of boundaries. Is it friends, family, or work relationships? Is it when you are tired or vulnerable, at home, when you are out, men or women? Accessing Personal Power-Setting Appropriate Boundaries ‘When I let go of what I am I become what I might be” – Lao Tzu Dragonfly Secret #7: Powerlessness is an illusion For many people the belief that they are powerless to change their life is an illusion or mistaken belief that is embedded deep in their mind, it is largely unconscious, and it, essentially, governs the way they live. Feeling out of control of your body, your mind and your emotions causes anxiety and fear. The fear is largely for our own safety, physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional. Becoming aware of your personal boundaries and setting appropriate limits is one very important way to calm your anxiety and take your lost power back. Setting appropriate boundaries is also an act of self-protection and ultimately an act of SELF-CARE. Nurturing and caring for yourself sounds like an easy task to accomplish however we have many competing tasks to take care of and self-care becomes an after-thought. Questions to consider Have you felt, at times and in some situations, that life controls you, you do not control life? What happens when you feel angry or uncomfortable with someone? Have you said yes when you really want to say no? Are you finding that you are doing something you do not wish to do? Or have you found yourself avoiding or isolating from others? Generally when these things happen someone has been disrespectful of our personal boundaries, we have not asserted our boundaries and/or someone has assumed we are agreeable to something when we are not. Boundaries that need changing: Conversationally: Telling more than you feel comfortable with later Talking at an intimate level on a first meeting Fear of talking at all because you say too much Relationships: Trusting too quickly or in anyone who reaches out Becoming preoccupied with someone Adapting your behavior and values to please others Sexuality Being sexual when you did not want to Being sexual for someone else, not your self Awareness Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries Not noticing when someone displays poor boundaries Interactions: Accepting food, gifts, touch etc. that you do not want Touching a person without asking Lack of assertiveness and limit setting Personal Power Letting others direct your life, make your choices, and determine your identity Expectations: Believing others...

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The Problem With Worry

Posted by on 3:53 pm 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 with friends and family more and to perform better at work at being a wife, mother, husband father In challenging the authority of “worry” we can ask the following questions:   “Is there evidence to substantiate my worry about_________? Is there anything I can do about___________? Will worrying help? Would appraising the situation clearly be more helpful than worrying the time away? Is there someone I can talk to who can help me problem solve and reduce worry? Do we just need to accept things as they are for today?   Maybe the following poem is helpful in this regard?   God give me the SERENITY  to accept what I cannot change? To CHANGE the things I can And WISDOM to know the difference”   When our mind is clouded by worry it is hard to discern the truth of the situation we are worrying about. Fear gets in the way and if we are unable to to take a break and relax our activated brain it is almost impossible to put worry in its place. Worry and fear activate...

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

Posted by on 3:47 pm 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 a quick solution that will alleviate or solve a difficulty. Therapy is not a quick fix for many reasons including that situations are usually complex and accrue over time. Healing takes time. Untangling the many factors in a situation is a process and our defense mechanisms often get in the way. We usually need a safe place to freely explore the landscape around issues causing frustration and pain. Many people have never had a safe place to do this.     Another thing therapy costs money, upwards from $100.00 to $200.00 per hour. Depending on the qualifications of the therapist. Psychotherapists have a Master’s degree and are certified by provincial or national bodies. Psychologists are regulated provincially as are registered social workers. I definitely would recommend counselling or therapy with someone who has had rigorous education, training and supervision.   The good news is that it might not take a lot of sessions to get you feeling better about your situation and feel like you are gaining more control over your life. For complex issues involving trauma it can take...

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Expressing Anger Constructively: A stress management tool

Posted by on 3:46 pm 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 than us, taking care of ourselves in the situation is a better route than confronting the person and being much worse off. This does not mean we should accept bullying or sexual harassment there are other ways to deal with this then confronting the person directly. Analyzing the situation is rather tricky. Our feelings sometimes prevent us from perceiving the situation accurately and then it is time to bring in a trusted friend, colleague, family member, or counsellor. In using our feelings to help us direct our lives we definitely need to give them more than a glance. They are there to guide us to more authentic and healthy ways of being. Strong feelings indicate that we have to take notice and that there could be underlying and long-term issues fighting for uncovering and expression. Not expressing feelings constructively can really get people in trouble in their relationships, at work, and with the law. However, not giving them expression is destructive because they can erupt at any time in the most inopportune places or wreck havoc on our health. Road rage...

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Finding Compassion Within

Posted by on 2:30 pm 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 the airplane oxygen mask; putting it on first before we put it on others.   The driver of this judgemental approach is our critical voice or voices that are internalized from the Media, and the dominant stories in our culture about who is valued and who is not; from our parents and school experiences. Awareness is the key to self-compassion and the more we understand these influences, the more we have control over our actions. When we judge ourselves harshly it demeans us and often drives our self-esteem into the black hole of constant recrimination, fear and helplessness.   There is a Buddhist sutra that is called Metta or lovingkindness that blesses ourselves and others. It is a meditation similar to the following:   May I be safe May I be healthy May I have ease of body and mind May I be at peace   The practice goes on to bless others, dearest ones, benefactors, neutral ones and those we are in conflict with. Compassion starts with the self and it encompasses our work, our friends and family, relationships...

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Creating Your Optimal Future Podcast

Posted by on 4:41 pm in Podcast | 0 comments

There are two parts to the podcast Creating Your Optimal Future This is the introduction to Creating Your Optimal Future

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Basic Relaxation Podcast

Posted by on 4:37 pm in Podcast | 0 comments

Listen to my podcast about Basic Relaxation here:

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Guided Progressive Relaxation Podcast

Posted by on 4:32 pm in Podcast | 0 comments

Listen to my podcast about Guided Progressive Relaxation here:

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