The term “Busy Life Syndrome” was coined by Scottish researchers to describe a particular type of memory loss. Find out if you are at risk and how you can manage it.Learn More
You did it! You decided you could benefit from therapy. You looked for a therapist. You found a therapist. You are going to therapy. So now what?
Most people come to therapy with some idea of what changes they would like to see in themselves. It is kind of like embarking on a fitness journey. You know you want to achieve a goal: run further, lift more, increase strength and stamina. When we are talking about something you can measure, gauging progress is pretty straightforward, as you can time your runs or track how much you can lift. Sometimes the gains are significant, sometimes you feel like you move backward or sometimes you are happy to maintain the status quo. This isn’t much different than measuring progress in therapy, but there is one glitch: there aren’t necessarily measured milestones that you can actually quantify. So, how do you know you are actually moving in the right direction when you are in therapy?
Here are four ways you can observe progress in therapy:
1. Ok, maybe you CAN measure!
Simply tracking what you are trying to achieve can be a helpful way to see that you are progressing or notice when you are hitting a plateau. There are many apps out there that can help track mood and make connections to what you have been doing and whether this activity actually enhances or detracts from your positive feelings. When we are stuck in the mud of depression, anxiety and overall negativity, we tend to give far more weight to the bad days than the good. Tracking helps you see the small glimmers of hope, even if they seem to be buried under the s#&t.
Daylio is an example of a simple app that asks you to reflect how you are feeling (think awesome, good, meh or crummy) and then asks you to choose from a selection of activities that you participated in that day. Over time, you will start to see patterns. For example, you feel better on the days you ride your bike. Or you notice a low mood when you spend time with a certain person. Tracking mood is a good way to look for patterns and activities that contribute or detract from your positive feelings, your sense of life satisfaction or areas where some change may be needed.
2. Journal your thoughts.
Be inquisitive! You can simply google online journal prompts that can help you quickly answer thought provoking questions that will ultimately allow you to “brain dump” your thoughts, see your emotions written down on paper and again, look for themes. Asking yourself a powerful question is a great way to dig deeper. Here are a couple of examples:
What do I REALLY want?
What was my role (in a negative interaction)?
What is life asking me to do differently?
What gets me out of bed each day?
What needs my immediate attention?
Just a few minutes of your time a couple of times a week can really help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself, the skills you are developing in therapy and the stuff you still need to work on. If you make a habit of engaging in these quick reflections, you will see progress when you look back at entries and notice how you may have changed perspective, what you are emphasizing or what changes you have actually made in your world.
3. Ask others.
It is okay to ask for a little feedback now and then. Most of us forget to comment when we see positive change in someone, and it is safe to say that your spouse, best friend or family member may not have taken the time to actually comment on your progress. Look to people you trust and ask them if they have noticed anything different about you and your actions. Maybe you are working on your anger and you have been trying to put a little distance between your reaction and your action. Maybe you are trying to connect with your partner more frequently. Simply asking someone you trust to share their observations of you can be a helpful way to know you are on the right path (not perfect, but walking on the right path!). If you are deathly afraid of negative feedback, be more direct with the question: “what am I doing well?” is a good question to ask. It forces the observer to look toward the positive things and share them. You may be surprised at their answer (and that’s awesome!).
If you need to muster up a little courage before asking, be observant. Have you noticed fewer conflicts with your teenager? Have you been getting more sleep, and waking up refreshed (and less grumpy) and the morning routine is not as chaotic as it once was? Small gains lead to big change!
4. Ask your therapist.
Always remember that your therapy is just that; YOUR THERAPY! Your therapist is working for you. In order for therapy to be effective, open lines of communication are essential. If you don’t feel therapy is working, tell your therapist! A great therapist will be happy to explore this with you. This doesn’t mean you are “doing therapy wrong”! It means that you want to talk about what is working for you and what isn’t. That is brave and shows a willingness to do the hard things!
The more information you give your therapist about how you see things, how you communicate and learn and how you are feeling about your sessions, the better. Therapists have a myriad of tools in their toolbox. If this means adjusting how you are working together, your therapist will be all for it. Now if you don’t feel like your therapist is hearing you, perhaps this therapist is not the one for you…and that’s ok. Sometimes it takes awhile to realize you need to do things differently. But the last thing you need to do is stay with a therapist because you don’t want to hurt THEIR feelings!
You do your best to choose a therapist who seems like a fit. The truth of the matter is that a therapist may have been a fit earlier in your time together, but you may have evolved and need to talk to someone with a different level of experience or expertise. Remember, you are the consumer. Open and honest communication with your therapist will clear the air around misunderstandings and roadblocks. It may mean your therapist will remind you that leaning into the tough stuff needs to happen before things get better (and that is part of their master plan), but hearing that and knowing they have heard you will help you know that you are walking on the right path, however slowly it may feel.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: small gains lead to big change! Look for clues that you are progressing, and create a safe space to track (your phone, a journal, your laptop). Look back at your observations frequently, but be patient and gentle with yourself. You’ve got this!Learn More
A Social Worker’s Path and Reflections on Why Social Work “Works”
In the early 90’s, I was a university student who was looking for direction. I had been studying sociology and as graduation loomed, I was unsure as to what I would do with this degree and how I would step onto the quickly moving treadmill of adulting. Enter social work. I had always felt I had an ability to listen, problem solve, advocate and help others, but I really wasn’t sure how I could translate these skills into something real. I decided to do some research, and ultimately, moving the focus of my studies to social work was the best decision I could have made.
My involvement in this field quickly revealed that being a social worker involved far more than working in the social welfare system or child protection services. I learned that being a social worker did not necessarily mean I was a “bleeding heart”, a “do-gooder” or a rebel whose goal was to constantly challenge the status quo. I soon realized that a social work education would place me on the path that would change the way I viewed the world and would eventually become my calling.
Fast forward over 20 years. I am a proud social worker who has been fortunate enough to have a varied career, working in the trenches of the criminal justice system, supporting victims and those who are marginalized, helping people of all ages navigate emotional and mental health challenges, teaching bright, enthusiastic students and finally, landing in private practice. Every day I have the privilege of helping my clients slog through the mud of hurt and pain to support them to identify their strengths and come out the other side feeling strong and empowered. It is truly a rewarding career which continues to bring me joy and satisfaction.
In honour of social work month, I thought I would share my top five reasons why I love being a social worker.
We look at the person in the system
Social Work is different from other helping professions. Although we possess the skills to counsel and provide therapy, we do so through a lens of looking at the person in the context of the systems that surround them. We believe that looking at a person as one who has a problem that needs to be fixed over-simplifies pain, heartache and trauma. We are all humans who are part of families, friend groups, communities, and workplaces. Acknowledging this is critical to avoiding labels and making generalizations. Ultimately, one of the primary benefits of this approach is that it empowers individuals to make better decisions as to where they want to focus their time and energy as a means of safeguarding their mental and emotional health.
We foster clarity
Working with a social worker involves a collaborative approach to understanding functioning, identifying dysfunctions, empowering one to work toward clarifying values and goals, communicating needs, managing stress and conflict and building upon strengths and skills to continually grow and evolve. Knowing what you believe in and when there is a conflict with your values helps identify the source of conflict. It is at that point that clients of social workers can feel empowered to identify what they want to change and how they are going to accomplish that change in a supportive environment.
Once the therapeutic relationship helps you examine conflicts and sources of pain in your world, you can be empowered to take action. Navigating these systems when all the moving parts seem to be working well is challenging. However, when we factor in trauma, abuse, childhood issues, and the demands of day to day life, a full assessment of the person in the system is a necessary part of providing the support needed to move forward. We empower our clients as we help them look at their strengths rather than focussing on their deficiencies. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate the problems, but it results in a shift that empowers.
We collaborate and advocate
Because we look at systems we help identify when connecting with other supports is needed. We will help our clients find the words to self-advocate, or with their permission, we can share our observations with others who are involved in your circle of care in order to provide support collaboratively, keeping our client’s needs as the top priority for all involved.
We provide a safe space
Working with someone who cares about you but who isn’t in a personal relationship with you helps you examine relationships, understand what you value and learn how you can empower you to decide where you want to put your energy to start living the life you want to live. Therapy sessions are where our clients unload emotions and examine perspectives. This safe place to try using new-found skills and look at the roadmap of choices before taking action creates confidence and moves toward action.
We need social work now, more than ever. Consider connecting with an experienced, qualified social worker if you want to feel better, gain perspective, experience empowerment and put yourself on a road to sustaining and maintaining support for your wellness. To find a therapist who can meet your needs, go to www.maratoscounselling.com. Therapist listing sites such as psychologytoday.com list therapists who can help as well. Look for the RSW (Registered Social Worker) credential to find a therapist who is a trained social worker who is registered with the Ontario Association of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.Learn More
Picture that beautiful, clean notebook, that unblemished calendar, that uncluttered desk. Ahhh…beginnings. Nothing beats a clean slate. The summer is now behind us, and we are teetering on the cusp of the fall season. So, before we get immersed back to school supplies, permission slips and extol the virtues of pumpkin lattes, let’s take a breath and honour the possibilities of September.
Many of us are ready to slide back into the routine that September brings, and this year, that new routine has a whole new meaning. Parents and students have endured two Septembers clouded with the possibility of lockdowns and far-from- routine school years. Dare we embrace the optimism of a new academic year for fear of what’s ahead? I vote YES, but with an asterisk.
This year, let’s focus on embracing September as the new shiny, fresh, clean-slate of January 2.0 BUT, all the while being intentional on how we use our time and energy, and spending some time thinking about how we want to incorporate the lessons Covid has taught us.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us that that frenzied, frantic pace of life pre-2020 was kind of overwhelming. We are learning to appreciate health, personal boundaries and what is really important to us. We have also learned that life can throw some pretty wicked curve balls, but we can still get a hit…sometimes it is a single and other times, we hit that damn curve ball over the fence.
Here are some mindset tips to remind yourself that you can come as you are, love who you are RIGHT NOW and still embrace the clean slate that September brings, while removing some of the pressure that accompanies it.
- Embrace Rejection
Reject the notion of achieving balance and kick perfectionism to the curb, once and for all. Balance is a myth and perfectionism will kick your butt every time it rears its ugly head. Here’s a novel idea: let’s propose that we don’t have to achieve balance to be content, to reduce overwhelm and achieve the elusive happiness. To do that, let’s agree that:
- You don’t have to be good at all of the things, all of the time
- You don’t need to have boundless energy, patience, drive and perpetual happiness
- Leaning into tough stuff is good for you, but on your own terms
- The scale of life rarely achieves the balance to keep both sides equal
Do what you’ve gotta do! Write these points down on your white board, your phone, your fridge…anywhere where you can see it. We need constant reminders that we are enough, especially with the avalanche of asks that come with that September blank slate. Choose what you need and want to do first and know whatever you decide, the choice needs to work for YOU first.
- Do What You Do Best (and just some of what you do best…not ALL of what you do best)
Stay in your lane. You have gifts. You know, things you are good at. Do more of that, and less of the things you aren’t so good at when it comes to giving your time and energy to the many activities that ramp up in September. Think school activities, sports teams, dance and music lessons, church groups…the list goes on.
Take a hard look at the people in your world. The above-mentioned activities require a group of people to make them successful. And each person in that group can play a small role in making the activity great. Maybe your friend is a master organizer. Let her head up the PTA. You don’t have to join if you don’t want to. You. Just. Don’t.
It takes a village to raise a child, and run a PTA, or a hockey team, and to organize a dance recital or a fundraiser. Yes, you can do your part without sacrificing yourself. Take on tasks that come easy to you (or you have done before with success). If you are creative, volunteer to help with the costumes (NOT make all of the costumes). If you are a numbers wiz, volunteer to help with the books (again, NOT do the books!). If you love herding cats and seeing young minds develop, co-lead (not lead) that youth group! Pick the gift you want to use and use it.
- Repeat after me: No. No thank you. Nope. Not today.
Practice saying no. I mean it. Look at yourself in the mirror and say NO (just so you believe it is possible). For some of us, when we are asked to do something the word YES comes out of our mouth before we know what just happened! Now is the time to check that automatic response.
When someone approaches you with a request for help, or to commit to something to help the greater good, remember that there is nothing wrong with asking for some time to think about it (“Umm, I know I have a few other things on the go. Let me check my schedule and get back to you”). Or, just saying NO THANKS if you are sure that the task won’t enhance your life and will ultimately take too much of the finite energy you want to save for other things.
It may look something like this:
“I appreciate the offer, but I have a lot going on right now. I think it’s great that you are committed to the (recital, fundraiser committee, etc.). I can’t wait to see what you do!” And then, STOP TALKING. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of exactly what you have on the go and why. Set the boundary and stick to it. Walk away with confidence. If they don’t like it, it’s on them!
In today’s world, many of us are hard on ourselves. We over-commit, spread ourselves thin, and push for perfection. What if we could abandon this way of thinking and actually be ok with doing things just ok, or maybe not doing things at all?! Think about it. September is the new January. This year, prioritize yourself on that blank slate.
Our therapists can help you set priorities, turn down the volume on external noise and unapologetically stop chasing the balance and put yourself first so you can be your best self. Reach out! Quite often, learning these lessons only takes a few therapy sessions where you feel heard, supported, and encouraged to move toward doing things just a little differently.Learn More
You have made the decision to tackle some issues and learn to approach things differently, but as you start to do the research, you come up with a question: “do I need counselling or coaching?” Let’s take a look at the differences between these two supports to help demystify the titles, skills and approaches.
What is coaching?
Coaching is an approach that is designed to help you see clearly where you are today, and then find ways to move forward toward your goals. A good coach will not tell you what to do, but instead will ask thought-provoking questions that will require you to reflect, and ultimately gain clarity on the choices you need to make first to set, then achieve your goals. A coach is a sounding board to help you discover what it is you want to do and how you are going to get there.
What is counselling?
The term counselling is often used interchangeably with the terms therapy and psychotherapy. A qualified counsellor is someone with a Master’s Degree or higher in the field of therapy. A counsellor is trained to assess functioning and development as they apply various therapeutic techniques to create a safe and supportive space for you to explore who you are and what you want in life. A good therapist will help you identify problems, aid in developing skills to manage a mental health concern or diagnosis, provide you support and guidance, identify strengths and ultimately help you improve coping and move forward, rather than allowing past issues to keep you stuck.
Coaches and counsellors are similar because both:
● want to help you find create a life you feel good about
● encourage self-discovery
● can help you identify and work toward life goals
● create an environment of trust, non judgement, and support to help you
identify what is holding you back
● focus around using good listening skills and asking you effective questions
● help you with identifying core beliefs that may limit you, and then focus on challenging this perspective
● help foster resiliency
● want you to find your own answers that will work for you
● help you move forward in your career, relationships, and home life
● have the goal of helping you reach your potential
But here is how they differ:
|Coping Oriented||Action Oriented|
|Helps you recognize what you feel||Helps you recognize what you think|
|Helps you identify and solve problems||Helps you set and achieve goals|
|Will support you with empathy and understanding||Will challenge you frequently|
|May focus on the past||Focuses on the present and future|
|Focuses on acceptance||Focuses on your potential|
|Trained in human development, mental health conditions, family dynamics, sexuality, personality||Trained to identify strengths and barriersand to motivate|
|Can recognize whether a mental health diagnosis or condition is impacting wellbeing||Can recognize whether core beliefs are hindering development|
|Requires a master’s level education with practical placement to develop skills and experience practical experience requirements||Can take training of various lengths and intensity to develop skills, generally with|
|Practices under the guidelines of a Regulating body (a College)||Can register with a non-regulated membership association|
|Receives clinical supervision as part of their work||Does not have supervision requirements|
|Is required to continually take courses to enhance knowledge and skills||May have requirements to complete additional continuing education|
I am going to be honest here. Due to the lack of strict guidelines and regulations governing the field of coaching, individuals should do their due diligence to learn about their potential coach’s education, experience, ongoing training and specialties. It is also important to know whether the coach has the wisdom and professionalism to pass on working with a client because they are not mentally or emotionally well, and as such, are in need of counselling before coaching can begin. A similar warning can apply to therapists too. Just because one has the education, it does not mean that they are qualified to treat all issues, nor do they have the experience you need to feel supported. Asking questions of your provider and assessing fit is key.
What about a counsellor who is ALSO a coach?
Some counsellors integrate coaching approaches into their work. This ‘therapeutic coaching’ includes helping you identify obstacles, set goals, change perspectives, and identify and modify core beliefs. As a therapist who is educated, experienced and who practices both counselling and coaching, I aim to assess my client’s needs and use the approach that best fits with what they want to achieve and how they want to get there. I am up front with my clients in identifying my opinion on which approach will work best for them. I have worked with people who have come to me for coaching, but ultimately realized that some counselling is required before the coaching can begin, or conversely, counselling clients who have achieved therapeutic goals and who are ready for coaching to help them move to the next level.
Whether you choose counselling or coaching depends on your personal preference, but a qualified professional will be able to guide you in the right direction. In general, if you want to focus on what you are dealing with right now, don’t want to probe too deeply into emotional issues, you need help taking actionable steps, and you are in need of guidance as you travel through life stages and changes, coaching may be for you.
If you are ready to think about identifying and breaking patterns of thinking and acting that have been impacting your life for some time, you want to feel heard and understood, you would like to improve your self-esteem and understand yourself, and want to figure out what you want in life and move towards it, counselling might be a good choice.
Remember that the professional you choose needs to appeal to you and be someone you can see yourself connecting with. Aside from training, approaches and skills, both counselling and coaching are far more effective if the communication between you and the professional works for you. It is essential that the environment is open and non-judgemental, and that you feel heard and understood during your work together. Each coach and counsellor will bring with them their own personality and unique way of working with clients. It is essential that the professional you choose is skilled and knowledgeable of the issues facing you and is able to identify when they may not be the right person for the job.
Be a savvy consumer of services. This is your life! Do your research, ask questions, and arrange a meet and greet with your counsellor or coach so you can ensure that you have found a professional who is “your person”, who will guide you as you do the heavy lifting required to fulfill your potential.Learn More
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me”
Through the last two years, we as therapists have noticed an increase in folks who have sought out therapy for the first time in their lives, because “they don’t know what’s wrong”. This has been a refrain for all of us at various times during the pandemic. It is upsetting, frustrating, overwhelming…(all the feels) to not feel like ourselves, and to have no idea how to pull out of it because everything that usually helps does not seem to be working.
When we are feeling unwell and our coping skills are depleted, our minds can spin out of control with “what ifs” around possible chronic mental health issues, diagnoses, dependence on medications and the need for professional intervention. It is a scary reality to think we are stuck and unsure if these feelings will ever relent.
As I sat down to write this blog, I decided to google “Am I depressed or…?” to see what popped up. Here is a small sampling: Am I depressed or sad, lazy, tired, bored, burned out, bipolar? WOW! What a laundry list of inquiries, ranging from questioning and attempting to label emotions to querying mental health and diagnosis. We as therapists are pleased that people are becoming more aware of their emotions and mental health, and how they both impact their day to day habits and quality of life. We also worry that the feelings of hopelessness and the overwhelming volume of information on mental health that is all over the internet can actually exacerbate symptoms, rather than providing comfort or relief.
There are literally thousands of tools, therapy interventions and medical treatments used to assess, diagnose and treat depression that need to be utilized by a trained professional. There are also many valid informational and educational pieces on depression out there that you can use to first sort through the symptoms you are experiencing, gain an understanding of the severity of them, learn how to assess and incorporate day to day habits that may help ease symptoms, and finally help you to make informed decisions about seeking professional support.
Here is one, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), that provide useful information on depression, diagnosis, coping and treatment. Remember that this is not to be used as a substitute for professional advice and support, but it is from an accredited, professional organization that aims to educate so that you can self-assess before making decisions about reaching out for support.
I think I am depressed…now what?
One of the most studied and supported treatments for depression comes from psychiatrist Aaron Beck, called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). To put it very simply, one of the pillars of CBT is the Cognitive Triangle. This triangle helps us examine the intertwined relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When you are doing CBT with a trained professional, you are learning how to identify negative and intrusive thoughts that impact how you feel about yourself, your situation and your relationships, which in turn impact the choices you make about how you behave or respond. Again, professional support to help with this triangle is just one of the keys to managing depression, but doing a self-assessment check-in on your own can be a powerful way to understand whether or not to seek professional support to confirm a diagnosis, or treatment to help manage these thoughts and make some changes for the better.
Check Your Thoughts
Many of us resort to googling information on any issue we are faced with, whether it be a leaky faucet or our mental health. We do this because it feels safer to “DIY” our problem, so that we don’t have to say it out loud (because that makes it more real), and so we can hopefully find a solution that we hope will be an easy fix. The other reason we often start with Google is because we are feeling some shame around the issue and the act of even asking for help. Many of us hold longstanding and firmly planted beliefs around the concept of admitting to a problem (think perfectionism) and asking for help (think “weakness”, “incompetence”, and feeling “less than”).
Challenge yourself to really identify your thoughts around what you are experiencing, and how these thoughts may be roadblocking your ability to manage your moods, relationships and overall functioning. It is so easy to believe everything that pops into our heads. The truth is, a lot of what we think about ourselves is hyper-critical, and is driven by fear and shame. Newsflash: we don’t have to listen to these messages!
Check Your Feelings
As therapists, we hear clients using “negative self-talk”, whether it be out loud, or in their heads to put themselves down, name call, and shame themselves for experiencing what are actually normal and healthy feelings. Throughout the pandemic, many of us have resorted to “numbing behaviours” such as scrolling through our phones or Netflix bingeing because we have just not had the will or the energy to identify feelings, much less actually feel them! If this sounds like you, try to get into the habit of asking yourself “what am I actually feeling right now?” Identifying the feeling and actually naming it will help you manage it, rather than pushing it further within by seeking quick fix and feeling-numbing behaviours that actually take us into a perpetual shame spiral of negative self-talk.
Check Your Behaviours
Here comes your mother’s, fitness instructor’s, therapist’s, doctor’s voice: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, eat your vegetables, go for a walk, and practice mindfulness. “YUP, got it,” you are saying (me too). The issue for most of us is not that we need this knowledge, it is ensuring that we actually practice these behaviours.
Let’s go back to the thoughts part of this cognitive triangle. When we are feeling depressed, our minds generally block out these simple, yet challenging habits which we know in our heads will help us feel better. Depression can almost act like a magnet that keeps us attached to our bed, sofa, phone or computer screen, thereby blocking out the will to incorporate habits that will naturally increase the happiness chemicals in our brains and will contribute to us feeling even a little better. Again, the shame-spiral of knowing that you already know what to do to feel better but not being able to push yourself to actually do it is activated, thus leaving you feeling further down and depressed.
Just having a basic understanding of this cognitive triangle can be helpful to become more self-aware of our feelings, moods and behaviours. The smallest bit of self-awareness and the tiniest of changes is progress. Drinking one glass of water instead of none, reaching out to a friend to walk and talk, or getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than usual is all part of living the change.
So if you are reading this and still asking yourself whether or not you need help to cope with this post-pandemic reality, the answer is YES! We all do. The past two years have been a harrowing and traumatic experience for every single one of us. For some, emotional and mental health issues that existed before the pandemic have increased in intensity and severity. For others, the current set of circumstances has led to new and uncomfortable emotions that have taken a toll on quality of life.
Seeking the support of a qualified, experienced therapist will help you sort through your own cognitive triangle and make choices around the next steps to take to alleviate the symptoms on one end of the spectrum, to seeking out more intensive and long-term interventions on the other. Regardless, reaching out for professional help will ensure you are getting outside of your head and that you are not walking the path to feeling better all alone.Learn More
As many families are focussed on moving out of the pandemic uncertainty and are holding out strong hope for the return to “normal”, let’s take time to examine exactly what normal is, and whether or not we really want to return there anyway.
We can start by spending some time reflecting on the pandemic experience. From those first uncertain days of shock and denial, moving to some anger and sadness, and finally landing on acceptance, we all have travelled a sometimes bumpy road. No two journeys have been the same. What can we learn from all of this? Over 18 months of an unprecedented, unpredictable and unbelievable ride has to have taught us all some life lessons.
In no way do we need to diminish the tough stuff. We have gone through so much. These times have been (and still are) heavy. Don’t be afraid to sit with whatever emotion strikes you when you reflect on life since March, 2020. You may be thinking about the virus and it’s victims. You may be grieving losses. You may be mourning the loss of the life you had before this pandemic hit. You may be overwhelmed, confused and angry by the ever-changing rules and codes of conduct. All of that is ok. Lean into those emotions from time to time. Whether it means crying, journaling, venting with a friend, expressing your emotions through creative pursuits, or working up a sweat in the gym, please allow yourself to feel the feels. But once you allow yourself to “feel those feels”, think about giving yourself and your family the opportunity to reframe the pandemic as a positive.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Identify the A-ha moments when you realized the way in which you were living and the choices you were making just didn’t fit for you anymore and were not really working for you or your family. For example, think about times when you felt relieved by the pandemic. You didn’t have to rush around from sport, to activity, to event, to a meeting. You could just exist, in your home, with your family, and slow the heck down. Did you have moments during the pandemic when you said to yourself: “I kinda like this pace”, or “I don’t miss going to…, or seeing…?” Ask yourself: are there priorities I had, obligations I maintained, relationships I held on to that are just not that important to me or my family any more?
Think about the teachable moments that occurred that allowed you to learn more about yourself, your family relationships and your connections. These moments could be as simple as learning you forgot how much you loved to cook, or knit, or read, or build things, to learning that your family benefits from scheduled time together to share a meal, play together, talk, or have family meetings to check in. Did these teachable moments actually help you focus on what you want for your family? Did you gain some clarity on personal and family values? Did you learn more about what each of your kids respond to? How did you re-discover the necessity of prioritizing yourself?
Engage in goal setting for the future, both for yourself and for your family. Now that you have gained some clarity about your wants and needs, ask yourself:
- What do I want to prioritize?
- What do I no longer need?
- Who do I want to spend my time with?
- How do I want to dole out my energy?
- What are my values?
This list of questions is by no means exhaustive! But once you are clear on the answers, you can work on creating concrete goals to hold yourself accountable and make these changes a reality.
Part of setting goals is making sure they are SMART:
Specific: you know exactly what needs to be done
Measurable: you are clear on how you will measure success
Attainable: it is something you can actually do within a reasonable time frame
Realistic: it can be achieved with the resources you have
Timely: it has a deadline for achievement
Here’s an example: I will commit to spending 20 minutes a day knitting so that I can make a sweater for myself by December 1.
Be kind to yourself! Identifying, clarifying and settling on new habits is not easy. The journey isn’t going to be perfect. However, let’s all agree that if nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that we need to adapt, foster resilience and be kind to ourselves each and every day.
Let’s commit to using the fall to identify what we have learned (and continue to learn) from the pandemic and figure out how we are going to apply these lessons to our families and our lives going forward. If you want to discuss these concepts further, learn more about yourself and what you want, and where you are going, reach out. We can help. Our therapists are wonderful listeners and are very skilled at asking the right questions to bring you clarity. And hey, maybe you’ll agree that this pandemic thing hasn’t been all bad!Learn More
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
I am often asked by people what is the best therapy “advice” that I have ever given. It may appear that answering this question would be difficult because I see a wide variety of individuals who come to me with a wide variety of reasons for seeking therapy. However, the question is not a difficult one for me to answer at all. The reason is because I generally don’t give advice!
Let me explain. Think about a time when you were confused, overwhelmed and in emotional pain. Quite likely, you sought the advice of a close friend or family member whom you trusted. You told your story, you cried or yelled, you got a supportive hug and then waited for your support person to tell you what to do to “solve” the problem. You then took their advice, felt 100% better and moved on with your life? Right? I highly doubt it! Even if your support person offered advice, you likely met that advice with a “yeah…but” reason for not taking it (that is if you didn’t just meet it with an outright “NO!, I can’t do that!”). Or, maybe you can think of a time that you took someone’s (well-intentioned) advice quite literally. What happened? Were you thrilled with the results? Did following the advice seem inauthentic? Did the following through with the advice lead to further problems?
Quite likely, you have seen one or more of these scenarios play out. Your plan to seek advice and support from your family or friend can sometimes lead to you feeing more frustrated, confused, judged and upset than before you started! The reason for this, is that in order for us to solve the dilemmas that face us, we need to come up with the solution ourselves. We need to create a “buy in” to our solutions. Although friends and family can offer support, their well-intentioned offers of advice are based on a variety of factors: their morals and values, their personal experiences, their biases (toward you or the other party in your conflict), among other things. Taking advice can often lead to more confusion and a lack of a “buy in” to the solution as we didn’t come up with it ourselves!
This does not mean that seeking the support of friends and family is a bad idea! Quite the contrary! We all need support to hear our stories, dry our tears and give us hugs. In fact, quite frequently, the simple act of telling our story to someone else can produce clarity that letting our problem run “the internal loop” between our heads and hearts cannot.
However, time and again, I have people confirm for me that seeking therapy allows them to tell their story to a “neutral, third party” who is only privy to their perspective. A good therapeutic relationship can help you “re-focus the lens” through which you are viewing the problem. Talking about your issues and feelings can help you gain insight and start to see things differently and with clarity. The good news is that the therapeutic relationship supports you in this, but ultimately, the change in perspective is yours, and yours alone.
Now the cynic within you may say, “YES! That’s precisely the problem with therapy…the therapist only hears one side of the story!”. My answer to this is a resounding “YES! You’re right!” However, a skilled therapist is trained to listen, ask questions skillfully and support the individual in reflecting upon their situation. These questions and reflections have the effect of encouraging the client to see their troubles from a different point of view, and sometimes, even cause a shift in perspective about the problem or their relationships with others who are involved with the problem. It is hoped that this shift in perspective can open up dialogue and help the person move toward solutions.
That is why therapy does not include advice-giving. If the purpose of therapy is to increase perspective, reduce discomfort and move toward solutions, then individuals who seek therapy with these goals in mind are sure to work through their issues and ease their discomfort.Learn More
All of us have attempted to change or modify our behaviours at one time or another. That all means all of us have experienced the frustration when change does not come easily, or it does not come at all. In the 1980’s, researchers Prochaska and DiClemente developed the Transtheoretical Model to explain how people embark on a path toward change. This biopsychosocial model integrates information from previous research and provides a theory of change that can be applied to anyone who is attempting to change anything within themselves.
The foundation of this theory lies with the consistent stages of change that people travel through when they are attempting to modify their behaviour. Although each person will spend a different amount of time at each stage, the journey through the stages is consistent and the tasks required to move forward to the next stage are common to all who are moving from struggle to success in changing habits and behaviours.
Studies have shown that only a minority of people who are attempting to change can achieve long term success without guidance and support. Use of the Transtheoretical Model in therapeutic coaching results in improved outcomes for most people, as it incorporates assessing readiness for change, and principles promoting balance and self-determination in setting small goals along the way. This differs from most people’s thoughts about change, as it proposes that successful change occurs in small increments and with a series of changes over time, and does not simply focus on a culminating event (such as quitting smoking or losing pounds).
Simply put, an individual needs to assess where they fall on a continuum of stages of change before they can take action in formulating a change strategy.
The stages are as follows:
- Precontemplative (not ready to think about change)
- Contemplative (getting ready to change and making plans)
- Preparation (ready to put the plan into action)
- Action (taking active steps to change and engaging in change)
- Maintenance (using the skills learned to maintain the change behaviour)
As people travel through these changes, their choices and decisions start to shift in favour of the change (think about a “pro and con list”). As they become more motivated toward change, and they see success, the “pro-change” list starts to become longer, and overshadows the “con-change list”. In short, the advantages of change (such as weight loss and improved health) outweigh the disadvantages (such as the time and energy it takes to count calories and exercise).
Successes lead to increased confidence and commitment to change and ability to counter or avoid potential “relapse” situations that can sabotage change. That’s an interesting part of this theory too…it incorporates the concept of “relapse” into the model. It recognizes that people may (and likely will) “fall off the wagon” from time to time. However, the higher one is on the change continuum, the quicker they can recover from the relapse by utilizing the strategies and techniques that they used to move their way up in the first place. In addition, by recognizing relapse as a reality, one can develop strategies for managing difficult or challenging situations that may threaten their change BEFORE they occur.
If you are considering changing a habit or behaviour in some part of your life, consider this information, and think about how some extra support through therapeutic coaching could help you achieve your goals.