It probably doesn’t come as news that porn use is more widespread than ever, and is being introduced to increasingly younger consumers. This is partially due to increased accessibility and anonymity, a cultural shift towards more open attitudes about sex and pornography more generally, and increased technology use.
What Drives Porn Use
Another reason for this increased use may be that we have seen feelings of loneliness and disconnection rise to record levels. Pornography provides an effective, short-term solution for this that, at first glance, appears to have little risk: it gives us a free boost of the happy brain chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine and opiates that we typically get in close relationships. Dopamine levels increase to an incredible 200 percent during orgasm. Oxytocin (the “connection” drug) plays a vital role in bonding, creating memories, empathy, trust, and relationship building. It spikes during sex, when we hug or kiss or snuggle, or even just have a good conversation. It also increases sensitivity to naturally occurring opiates in the brain, which makes it very effective for bonding and soothing physical and emotional pain.
Of course, there’s a catch. You can’t really build a “healthy” relationship with pornography. It is a one-way street: dopamine-centred and novelty-seeking, and while a porn-induced orgasm will provide oxytocin and soothe pain, it won’t provide any of those healthy relationship building functions, or make us any less lonely. In fact, it may make us more lonely. This is one reason many people call pornography an addiction: it can create compulsive use that comes at a cost. As it provides effective temporary relief from implicit negative feelings, the brain will learn to direct us towards it compulsively.
How Does Pornography Impact Us
I could spend this post bashing pornography, and rattling off scary stats about how it breaks up marriages and has long term physical implications for the brain (it does, and it does), but I’m more interested in the human factors. Sex is great for bonding, and when used well, it builds intimacy, vulnerability and connection – the opposite of loneliness. Porn, on the other hand, based on vast amounts of research, actually tends to do the opposite: it builds shame and secrecy. It is typically a private experience and taps into some deep-seated urges that can feel very shameful. It’s possible that couples could use pornography in a healthy way, but research tells us that this is far more likely to be the rare exception than the rule.
This post is mostly aimed at men, mainly because I only work with men around these issues. Anyone can struggle with porn use, because it is so, so easy to come to rely on or use it, especially (though certainly not only) when we are feeling disconnected, shamed, or lonely. It’s a brilliant solution, really, but it tends not to solve the problem for future us.
What Can I Do About My Porn Use
Alongside You is running a porn recovery group this fall, for men who would like to be able to talk openly about the role of porn in their life, past and present, and receive support. We aren’t there to judge ourselves but to recognize and talk about some of the things that affect all of us, and, hopefully, feel like we can begin to enter a period of recovery from those impacts. If you or someone you know might be interested in attending, it’s low pressure and low cost (as always, talk to us if money is an issue), and is a great way to feel some meaningful and healthy connection with great people.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly here – I’m always happy to chat. If you would like support for yourself or a loved one, reach out to our reception, and they will help you find something that fits, whether it is at our offices or somewhere closer to home.
I remember my first counselling session. I was pretty freaked out. I didn’t really want to be there. I didn’t know what to expect. I think that last part was what made the situation difficult – I’d never been before, I didn’t know anyone who had seen a counsellor before, so I was completely lost and anxious about it.
I saw a new client yesterday and this reminded me of my own first experience seeing a counsellor. This client had never been to counselling, had no idea what to expect, and I could see that there was definitely some anxiety about the whole situation.
While every counsellor will be different in their approach, I thought I’d write an article about what to expect and how to make your first session as successful as possible when you meet with your Registered Clinical Counsellor for the first time.
Here at Alongside You, your first interaction will be with our front desk staff who will explain much of the administrative details that you’ll need to know, give you recommendations on which of our counsellors might be the best fit, and help to book your first session. After that, they will send you our online intake form to fill out prior to your appointment. This helps us take care of the necessary paperwork ahead of time, and also helps our counsellors get an idea of what you’re coming in for and some details before you arrive.
When you arrive, you’ll enter the waiting room to wait for your appointment. We have a self-serve waiting room, so please feel free to help yourself to water, coffee, or tea and take a seat. We want you to be as comfortable as possible! If you have any questions before your appointment and it’s during our reception hours, feel free to wander toward the back and speak with our office staff, they’ll be happy to speak to you.
Once your appointment time arrives, your counsellor will come greet you in the waiting room, and invariably, probably offer you another drink. Feel free to get a refill, they’re free! Now it’s time for the main event. Your first appointment with a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
Each counsellor will have a bit of a different interview process to start out your work together, but remember, they need to get to know you and also, you need to get to know them for the relationship to work. The first appointment will be about building the relationship and getting to know each other.
Here are some areas that I usually ask clients about at our first session to get to know them and how I might be of help. Again, every counsellor will be different but a lot of these questions are fairly common to ask new clients.
Things A Counsellor Might Ask You At The First Appointment
Personal and Family History
I like to know what life was like growing up, and how clients got to where they are today. This can be a short or lengthy discussion. As a marriage and family therapist by training, I believe that our personal and family history have a strong influence on our development and I like to know how people came to be where they are now. I usually suggest that clients tell me their story – however, they want to tell it – in as much or a little detail as they feel comfortable.
Mental and Physical Health History
I like to know the history of a client’s mental and physical health. What has your health been like throughout their life? Do you deal with any chronic mental or physical health conditions? Does anyone else in your family deal with any of these conditions?
Another question I often ask is, “When is the last time you saw your family doctor? When is the last time you got a checkup and bloodwork done?” This may sound overly-medical for a counsellor to be asking, but it’s important. If you’re coming in because you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or otherwise, I want to make sure that there isn’t a physiological problem at the root of your symptoms. There are many physiological issues that have symptoms that can masquerade as psychological or psychiatric issues. If you are dehydrated, have a thyroid imbalance, your blood sugar is off, iron is low, etc., these can all cause symptoms that look like a mental health issue. The last thing I want for you is to treat something as psychological if there’s a physiological cause.
Now, these areas not mutually exclusive conditions either. You may have a physiological issue and also be struggling with a psychological issue. We want to cover all of our bases.
What Brought You To Counselling
This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s also an important one. We all struggle with various things in life, it’s the joy of being human. I want to know what it is that brought you in today, what are the challenges, how did they start, and my favourite question, “Why now?” What made you decide to come get some help now, particularly if this has been an ongoing thing for a while. This question is important because it clarifies what is the key issue that you are experiencing, and what your motivation level is, and what is specifically motivating you to get help now.
How To Measure Success
I often ask clients, “If this works, what will be different?” I want to know what your goals are and how they’ll gauge if counselling is a success. This both handles the goal setting, and how to find out if the counselling process working. My goals and metrics may not be what my client is going to use. I want to know what your gauge is. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my own tools and metrics for the process (I do), but it gives us a common language to monitor the relationship and the process on an ongoing basis. It helps us answer the question I ask pretty regularly with clients, “How’s this going for you? Is this helpful?”
What Do I Need To Know About You For This To Work
We are all special little snowflakes. We have our idiosyncrasies, oddities, preferences, hot button issues, and more. I’m no different. I want to know what is going to help you in the process, help us build the relationship, and help you feel safe and supported while trying to avoid things that do the opposite. Some people need a very gentle approach, others need a straight shooter. Some are very wary of a particular gender because of past experiences, others aren’t. I want to know these things so I can be the best help I can be for you.
I remember my first appointment with my current counsellor about 7 years ago. As you might imagine, I can be picky about my counsellors, and I’m also pretty headstrong and assertive. I know what I need in a counsellor. So, I sat down in his office and said, “Here’s what you need to know about me if this is going to work. I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out on my crap. I need that, and I respond well to it. If you can do that we’ll get on famously, and if you can’t, no harm or foul, I’ll give you your money for today and be on my way.” I know myself and know that if I’m matched up with a counsellor who is softer and non-confrontational, I’ll be able to get away with things and manipulate the conversation easily and this won’t help me. I need accountability.
Things To Know About Counselling As A Client
As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I want your experience to be as positive and helpful as possible and I know I can speak for the whole team here at Alongside You on this one. It’s important to know, however, that counselling is a team effort. Counsellors aren’t magicians with a magic wand that can fix all that ails you. The process works through the development of a safe therapeutic relationship and a joint effort to move forward. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your counselling journey.
Your Counsellor Cannot Read Your Mind
Some of you who have been to counselling before may laugh at this, and I know that I’ve had clients who were relatively convinced I had this magical power based on some of my interactions with them. We have intuition, not mind-reading powers. What this means is, it takes two active participants in a counselling session to get to where we’re trying to go. If you’re not an active participant, the process is very difficult if not impossible.
Being Open and Honest Are Important
We know this is a big ask of you. It’s not easy to sit down with a stranger and talk about the difficult parts of life. The counselling process needs this, however. If we can’t be open with each other, we can’t work together and create a safe space to wrestle with life. It’s not all-or-nothing, however. It takes time, and you don’t have to be an open book from the first minute. Build the relationship, and share as you do so. We’re in this together.
Try To Know What It Is You Want From The Session
This is sometimes a difficult one. I know that I often struggle to know what I want out of a session with my counsellor, but part of that is because I have a standing appointment that I go to every month regardless of how I am feeling that day because that’s what works best for me. Some of the questions I’ve outlined above can also be used on an ongoing basis to figure out goals and focus points, but it’s always helpful when clients know what they want to focus on in the session. It helps keep the process on track.
Ask The Counsellor Questions
Sometimes clients are surprised when I turn the tables and ask them if they have questions for me! As I mentioned above, counselling is a two-person endeavour and process. If I need to get to know you, it only stands to reason that you should get to know me as well. Ask away! The fit between a counsellor and client is important and getting to know each other helps us figure out if we’re the right fit. I always encourage clients to ask whatever questions they want, with the caveat that I may choose to decline to answer questions of a personal nature if they go beyond what I choose to reveal to clients about myself or my personal life. Every counsellor is different in this area but feels free to ask. You may want to ask about experience, qualifications, approach, personality, or things like hobbies, etc. It’s up to you and your counsellor to navigate how best to get to know one another.
Give The Counsellor Feedback
I always tell my clients, and then remind them periodically, that I need their feedback. Going back to my inability to read minds, I need feedback to know if we’re on the right track, if I’m focusing on the right things, and if things are helpful. Sometimes clients are afraid to tell the counsellor if they feel the process isn’t going in the direction they want or isn’t working. I absolutely want to know these things. I’d rather find out that something is off than continue believing all is well only to find out after the fact that it wasn’t helpful. I also want to know what is working so we can do more of that!
Counselling Is A Journey
I know that going to see a Registered Clinical Counsellor for the first time can be anxiety-provoking. I promise it’s not as scary, and we’re not as weird as you might think. We’re just regular people too, who have some training and experience to help you through some of life’s challenges. If we keep some of the above in mind and are open with each other, we can find a path through the challenges and help you thrive!
Feel free to give us a call or send us an email through our contact form if you have any more questions. We’re happy to answer them! Have you been thinking about taking the first step in seeing a counsellor? There’s no time like the present – take the first step, that’s the hardest part. It gets easier from there.
Last week, I broached the subject of “back to school”. With some insight from teachers, I shared 3 ways to prepare for going back to school in a positive way. We looked at three components: Trust, Teamwork and Transitions. For Part Two of my blog, I want to share some practical tips, the ABC’s if you will, of what to remember when going back to school for both parents and children, and especially students who have challenges with being at school. The ABC’s stand for Advocacy, Bravery and Connection.
Parents Can Be an Advocate for their Child
Parents, please hear me when I say, you have the hardest job in the world. Being a parent is intense, it challenges you to the core, it captures your highest highs and your lowest lows. You have the responsibility of helping your child grow, learn and discover. You are your child’s biggest champion and because of this, you have the privilege to speak on behalf of your child when your child might need some extra support, especially at school.
I recently saw a parent of a child with some behavioural challenges. As she spoke through the tears, she looked at me and said, “I just want people to see what a great kid he is, I don’t want them to see all the challenges. I want them to see him.” This is what being an advocate looks like, painting a picture of who the child is at his/her best and what needs to be put in place in order for this to happen.
Here are some practical ways to be an advocate for your child:
Be informed. Know the challenges your child faces at school. If your child has a diagnosis, learn about how the diagnosis affects your child’s learning at school. Does your child need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? If so, collaborate with the classroom teacher to get it started. Know your child’s strengths and continue to find creative ways to work from a positive strengths-based perspective.
Keep organized. Gather all paperwork, reports and letters and get a binder where you keep all the information regarding your child. Make sure you have it accessible and bring it to meetings when/if necessary.
Build relationships. Introduce yourself to the principal. Get to know your child’s teacher. Connect with the support staff. More information about this can be found in Part 1 of the series.
Talk to your child. What does your child need to learn and share these insights with your child’s teacher:
Extra time to work on projects
A different way to show their work ie: typing instead of writing
A specific place to sit in the classroom
Time to be able to move around
Breaks during the day
Emphasize Being Brave, Not Perfect.
A few months ago, I sat with some parents who shared with me a story about their 6-year-old daughter who, despite never trying, did not want to play baseball because she was “not good at it.” I was so disheartened to hear this. How can a precious little person announce that they are not good at something without even trying it?
Let’s face it, not many of us like to fail. Not one bit. But the reality is that we are not going to be perfect at everything. To put it bluntly, we are not going to be perfect at hardly anything.
This coming school year, it is time to exercise your brave muscle. Imagine what your child could experience if they heard that it is better to be brave than perfect? Encourage your child to take risks, even if it leads to failure. Praise your child for the effort they put into a project, not in the grade. Delight in the scraped knees, crushed spirit and tears because it takes bravery to try to slide into home base and get called out instead of waiting cautiously on third.
What might be brave looks like for you and your child?
Be the example. As the Big person, the model being brave, taking risks and perhaps even failing.
Asking the new kid to play with them
Trying a new sport, even if they do not know-how
Asking for help from a classmate
Putting up your hand in class and saying you don’t understand
Telling a friend that they hurt your feelings
Sharing with each other ways that you tried new things but failed. Maybe even make a joke out of it and share Failure Fridays.
I often tell my clients when they feel like giving up and not trying, remember, “I can do hard things.” This is what brave looks like. It is acknowledging that this is hard, but you can do hard things.
Perfection breeds unrealistic expectations, stress, discomfort and constant striving. Bravery evokes self-determination, strength and resilience. I believe these are the qualities that this school year can foster.
Don’t Forget to Connect
Many parents replay the same scene each day after school. They ask their child, “How was school today?” And the instant answer, inevitably, is, “Fine.” Typically, the follow-up question might be, “What did you learn today?” With the usual answer being, “Nothing.”
I cannot stress enough the importance of connection. Take time to connect after the school day. Take time to be fully present with your child without distractions.
Here are some great alternatives to “How was your day today?” You never know what you might learn.
What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?).
Tell me something that made you laugh today.
If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?).
Where is the coolest place at the school?
Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)
If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
How did you help somebody today?
How did somebody help you today?
What is one thing that you tried today?
When were you the happiest today?
When were you bored today?
If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
Tell me something good that happened today!
What word did your teacher say most today?
What do you think you should do/learn more about at school?
What do you think you should do/learn less at school?
Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
Where do you play the most at recess?
Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
What was your favourite part of lunch?
If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?
If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?
Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.
To make this connection time into more of a routine, consider putting the questions in a jar and picking a question each day and even coming up with your own.
Make it a habit to put your phones down and turn your screens off and be present for your child. Make it a priority to spend time together each week. Put it in your calendar so you make it into the schedule.
Reading a book together
Playing a board game with some snacks
Ask your child to teach you something he/she enjoys doing
Go for a walk around the block
Go to a coffee shop and order a hot chocolate and play a game of cards
Write a letter to a family member
Record each other singing a song
Go to the gym together
Take a class at the Rec Center together
Like learning the real ABC’s, being an Advocate for your child, exercising your Brave muscle and making time to Connect takes practice. Please know you are not alone. Alongside You wants to journey with you and your child through this upcoming school year. Please reach out if you need some extra support – maybe that is exactly what brave looks like for you! Together we can help you be a progressive advocate for your child and help you connect in beautiful and tangible ways.
You’ve got this, parents! Happy Back to school everyone!
Cue music. “It’s the most… won-der-ful time… of… the… Year!” Nope, not Christmas just yet. It’s BACK TO SCHOOL time. While this realization might bring fear to some and joy to others, the reality is that September is going to be here sooner than we know it. I wanted to take some time to address how families and students can prepare for school in a positive way. I wonder, how can the change of summer routine into the school routine be met with anticipation instead of dread?
This summer, I had the privilege to run into my very first teacher: Mme Buss. She taught me kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. I remember how much I loved learned from her. I was in French Immersion and can recall looking up at her and speaking rather loudly saying, “I don’t understand what you are saying!” To which, she would continue to reply back in French and point to what I needed to be doing. Now multiply that by 25 students. Personally, I think teachers are real-life heroes. They have dedicated their career to help, support, encourage, teach and champion students. This is no small feat.
I have connected with some teachers and asked for their input, I mean they have gone back to school for years, so they are getting pretty good at it. In fact, the information that they shared with me was too much for one blog post, so stay tuned for Part 2. I love a good alliteration so this post will focus on TRUST, TEAM, and TRANSITION.
Building Trust With Your Child’s Teacher
The resounding message that was repeated over and over again was trust. It is vital for parents to trust teachers and vice versa. Perhaps, you as a parent might have had a negative experience with a teacher either as a student yourself or your child. Yet, it is so important to understand that teachers are doing the best job they can. Trust them that they are working for your child’s best interest. Trust takes time to foster and grow.
A counsellor who works in the school shared her thoughts: “I would like parents to hear… please trust me! If there are things going on with your family and I can help, please come talk to me! If your kiddo is struggling or you need support, I have resources! And if I offer you services, it’s because I care about your child and want them to be healthy and happy – it’s not a criticism of you or your parenting. Please don’t feel bothered or threatened if your child wants to talk to me – I’m here to listen without judgment. Also, while my primary job is to support the kids, if you need an ear, I will do my best to lend one!”
Another teacher explained: “When we have a fuller picture of what struggles and accomplishments a child is going through, we are more prepared to work with them and the family. It also goes a long way to speak in positive ways about your child’s teacher. We do the same for parents. For example, we always take stories from home with a grain of salt – kids don’t see the full picture of what all happened at school.”
Trust denotes belief, confidence and faith. These reflect the attitudes that are so crucial to have when building trust. There needs to be a belief in the skills and knowledge that a teacher’s posses. We must have confidence in the teacher’s capacity and care for your child and lastly, faith in the understanding that trust is built through connection and engagement.
Some things to think about:
How would the school year be different, if you started to cultivate trust with your child’s teacher? What would trust look like?
Imagine the impact of starting the school year with gratitude and acknowledging the hard work that each teacher puts in and thanking your child’s teacher? How can you share this gratefulness with your child’s teacher?
The Importance of Teamwork
It has been said that teamwork makes the dream work. This cannot be truer for parents, students and teachers, they are a team. I loved how one teacher expressed their perspective: “Teachers and families are a team. Families are their child’s first and best teacher, we (teachers) have so much to learn from them. We want to know about their child, big things, celebrations, important changes, please continue to inform us.”
Parents and teachers are not in competition with one another. They are a team and have a common goal: what’s best for your child. Another teacher spoke about the power of assuming the best of your child’s teacher by explaining, “teachers and parents need to be a team in order to best support the learning of each child. The attitude of ‘I am going to talk to that teacher and fix this problem!’ has way less value than, ‘I am going to talk to the teacher and see how we can work together to resolve an issue.’ Approach teachers with an assumption that they love this child and want the best for them…one of the safest assumptions ever!’” Each person has a different role in the team and yet, they are part of the team nonetheless. Play to your strengths. Speak with kindness and grace. Be generous in your assumptions of teachers.
Another teacher brought humour and humility through their words: “Though educators are “experts” in our area, we are not experts of your child – you are, dear parent/guardian! We respect that, yet our advice/comments/suggestions are to help guide your child to success as they select from the menu of school – what they like, don’t like, enjoy, are curious about – those topics, subjects and activities are where our strengths are but knowing your child as well as you do can only happen thanks to what you share and they share with us. Together we make up a three-legged stool – teacher/home/child – all equally important in the quest to reach the cookies on the top shelf.”
Some things to think about:
Consider teaming up (see what I did there?!) and writing a letter with your child to your child’s teacher. Sharing with the teacher all about your child, letting them know the things that help your child learn best and some of the areas that are challenging for them.
If your schedule allows it, consider showing your commitment to being part of the team by volunteering to help the teacher in whatever capacity they need.
A small token of appreciation always helps to build a sense of teamwork, cookies anyone?
How To Manage Transitions
Switching from summer mode to school mode is challenging for the best of us. I would be remised if I didn’t speak about transitions. Transitions are hard. They can be unpredictable, confusing, and downright frustrating. It is so important to help prepare your child for the upcoming school year. An insider’s perspective shared this practical advice: “September is a big transition. Give it time. Your child may be off and act unusually. Give it 6 weeks. Compare it to you starting a new job. You’re on and trying to follow the rules, build relationships and do your best all day every day. When you come home, you want to crash, veg out, etc. As an adult, you have some strategies and abilities to set boundaries, self-regulate etc. Kids don’t necessarily have those yet. So, expect meltdowns. Expect tired and hungry kids. Expect your child to be great for the first week and then refuse to come the second, make sure you still bring them. Routine is key”.
Some tips and tricks to make transitions easier:
Have a schedule/calendar where children can see it, so they know what is coming up and can prepare
Take time for exercise, if possible, get outside and enjoy nature.
Encourage your child to get lots of sleep, and you too while you are at it.
When possible, enjoy healthy food together
Make time to just play and hang after school, if possible save joining piano, dance, swimming for later.
Read with your child every night.
As your child’s best BIG person, the best thing you can do for your child at home is to model healthy living habits, love and support. Turn off screens and connect with your children.
Some things to think about:
What tips will you incorporate for your family to help encourage a successful transition back to school?
Consider doing some back to school shopping with your child and take some time to connect and ask how your child is feeling about the upcoming changes? How can you work together to make this school year a great one?
Going back to school brings up a myriad of emotions for both parents and students. However, there are people to support both you and your child. Alongside You provides counselling services for parents and children. If you are wanting more information or tools to know how to best support your child going back to school, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact me, or one of the many counsellors who would be more than happy to help you.
I can appreciate the not everyone has a positive experience with school. Please stay tuned for Part 2 of the Back to School Blog that will provide resources and suggestions for those students who find school a bit more challenging and need extra support.
I never thought that I was a perfectionist growing up. The state of my room at any given point in time seemed to be an indication of my lack of perfectionism. As I grew older, however, I started wondering about it. At the same time, I also didn’t really know what it was. So, I continued on and forgot about it.
Fast forward to the present day, and again I’m wondering about it. Anyone close to me knows that I’m pretty particular about things, and often have a specific idea of how things need to be. If you visit our office, you’re likely to see some of that in action. As I worked on my car this morning, I noticed it creeping in. My fun car, a 1997 BMW M3, is now 22 years old. It has squeaks and rattles. It’s well maintained, but even so, if I’m working on the engine and I notice a sound that doesn’t seem quite right, it’s incredibly easy for me to obsess about it, rather than accepting that it’s a 22-year-old car that is going to have some strange sounds at times.
It even creeps into work. Shocking, I know. When we first started, we set out to fill gaps in services, particularly in counselling in Delta. The reasonable person would know that we were flying by the seat of our pants many times, trying things that didn’t work, and revamping again. Truth be told, as we’ve expanded and branched out far beyond counselling, we’re still figuring it out as we go along. I think this is actually a good thing because we’re trying to figure out how to help people in new, creative, and needed ways. It just doesn’t sit well with my perfectionism most of the time, and as I’m writing this, I also think this has a lot to do with the anxiety I often feel around work.
My counsellor and I were talking about this last week, and he gave me a really helpful handout on perfectionism that he’d come across, which you can read here. Addressing the full topic of perfectionism would take far longer than this blog post, so I want to give you some bullet points that I’ve noticed in my own life with perfectionism, and also what has helped me – and I hope that it helps you!
Three Signs That You Might Be A Perfectionist
You care deeply about everything, even things that really don’t matter much.
Don’t get me wrong, caring is a good thing. Particularly as a counsellor, caring is important! Here’s the thing though – we need to care about things at an appropriate level. The difficult part is knowing what that appropriate level is, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
You have unrealistically high standards, in almost everything you do.
High standards are a good thing. It’s something that I actually appreciate about myself, and usually, something people appreciate about me. The problem comes when our high standards become impossible One of my battles is that it is impossible for me to know about, account for, and control all of the details in a rapidly growing clinic. It was much easier when it was just me, Meg, and a couple others at the beginning. If it goes on for too long, it’s easy to get frustrated and just stop caring about anything, which doesn’t help either!
You have a difficult time with criticism.
I don’t know anyone that likes criticism and coupled with the fact that most people suck at giving constructive criticism, it’s a difficult thing for many people to handle. It’s very difficult for perfectionists because it flies in the face of their standards, their view of themselves, and their views of their accomplishments. How do you feel when someone offers constructive criticism? Does your body respond in revolt? Do you immediately go to justification and finding ways to fight back?
These are only three of the many signs of perfectionism you may notice in yourself if you’re indeed a perfectionist. If you’re interested in getting a quick sense of whether this might be a thing for you, you can try this screening tool as a way of finding out if perfectionism should be on your radar.
So, what if you are indeed a perfectionist? What do you do? Here are three things that help me keep my perfectionism in check, and I hope they’re helpful for you!
Three Ways To Combat Your Perfectionism
Question your level of care about things.
If you are caring about everything very deeply, then there’s something goofy in your meter. This one can be difficult, especially for something high on the emotional spectrum. Caring deeply about fellow human beings is a wonderful attribute, although it too needs to be kept in check. Caring deeply about whether the Kleenex boxes match the wall colour, or the specific noise your car is making is exactly as it should be when everything is running fine, or other such things may be an indication that your level of care is off.
One question I ask myself frequently is, “What is my level of care on this one, and is that reasonable?” I find this question to be especially helpful if my stress, or anxiety levels are high – because if they are, then that lovely limbic system is going to shut off our frontal lobes, which is the area of the brain that helps us determine reasonability.
Question your standards and expectations.
Working hard is a good thing. Being disciplined is also a good thing. Having no boundaries on either of these is not. It was pointed out to me when I did my Birkman assessment during my certification training that I will never expect anyone else to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. I’ve found this to be very true. The problem is, I expect extremely high standards from myself, and thus, it’s easy for me to pass all of those onto others. My own standards are often impossible to meet.
A question I use to keep myself in check on this one is, “If someone else were doing this, and it had nothing to do with me, would I think this standard was reasonable?” This integrates a little bit of the mindful self-compassion that Kristin Neff has developed and I find very helpful. We often expect things of ourselves that we would never expect from others. It also helps us give our brain a break, reduce anxiety, and increase the chance of having a reasonable perspective.
Have key people in your life whom you trust.
This is perhaps the most important of these three. I cannot overstate the value of key people who know you well, care about you, and are able to speak truth into your life, even when it’s hard. The trust part is key, because you’re going to have to trust that they’re doing it for your benefit, and it’s not because you’ve failed.
I’m fortunate to have a number of key people like this in my life who keep me in check. First and foremost is my wife, Meg. She knows me better than anyone else in the world, loves me despite my inadequacies, and also isn’t afraid to speak the truth to me when I need to hear it. I know that when she calls me out, she’s doing it for my own good, and I need that.
I also have my Registered Clinical Counsellor that I have a standing appointment with each month. I’ve been seeing the same counsellor since 2014, and I still remember our first appointment. I sat down and said to him, “Here’s how this works. I have impossible standards, I care deeply, and I don’t always have perspective. I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it. If that isn’t you, that’s ok and I’ll thank you for your time. If it is, awesome, and we’ll get on famously.” He said he had no problem with that, and true to his word, he’s still supporting me, pushing me, and calling me out when I need it 5 years later.
Perfectionism can be a difficult thing to manage. It’s part personality, part anxiety, and wholly exhausting at times. I’ve been dealing with it for many years, but through some of the strategies above, and thanks in great part to some key people in my life, I have learned to manage it well, most of the time.
I know that my counsellor has played a key role in my ability to manage this part of myself. If you’re struggling with perfectionism and would like some help, we’re here. We’ve all got our stuff, and sometimes that outside perspective can be really helpful.
One of the questions I sometimes get asked is whether we do qEEG and linear neurofeedback here at Alongside You. Invariably, my answer is, “No, we use dynamic neurofeedback.” Understandably, people wonder why that is, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain why we use dynamic neurofeedback vs linear neurofeedback training. Before I continue, let me be very clear on one thing – both linear, and dynamic neurofeedback work, they are simply different approaches with different upsides and potential downsides. When we looked at our clinic and practice, the dynamic is what fit best for what we do.
A Very Brief History of Neurofeedback Training
Although many people still have not heard of neurofeedback, it has been around for decades, going back as far as the 1950s and 1960s and to research performed by Dr. Joseph Kamiya from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA. Since then, there has been an amazing amount of research on, and development of neurofeedback with a wide variety of clinical applications.
The most well-known form of linear neurofeedback these days involves the use of qEEG brain imaging and mapping. From this, it is thought that diagnostics can be derived, and specific areas treated to relieve specific symptoms. Many people have used qEEG and the different linear neurofeedback protocols with great success. This method appeals to our rational brains as well, because it gives us an image, with a diagnosis, and a specific form of treatment based on protocols.
Why linear neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
I’ll admit, this approach appeals to my scientific, rational brain that likes numbers, graphs, and black and white answers. The problem is, the science of linear neurofeedback isn’t, in my opinion, as black and white as it may appear. While linear neurofeedback favours training at specific sites, research suggests that at any given site on the scalp, sensors will pick up signals from across the brain, both from under the surface and across the scalp. The complexity of brain signalling cannot be overstated, and it may be problematic to assume that training at a certain site will affect all individuals with specific problems in the same way. This problem is made greater when we use DSM diagnoses to guide methods because they are defined by behavioural characteristics of individuals vs specific behaviours as defined by neurologists. There are also multiple subtypes of EEG with reference to DSM categories, including 11 subtypes of ADHD determined by Chabot (1996), for example.1
qEEG is still a helpful tool, and linear neurofeedback does work, it’s just not as black and white as it may appear. General groupings of EEG have been shown to correlate to specific DSM categories, but training based only on qEEG doesn’t guarantee results. Training at specific sites also does not necessarily permanently alter brain activity at that site, but it may in fact do so – we just don’t know and can’t predict that.1
Why dynamic neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
Let’s be unconventional and start with the problematic part of dynamic neurofeedback – it’s not a specific treatment for a specific symptom. While I’ve briefly highlighted how this is not altogether completely different from linear neurofeedback, linear does have the ability to potentially be more specific to symptoms. So why do we do dynamic neurofeedback training then? What’s the upside? I’m glad you asked.
Dynamic neurofeedback is diagnostically agnostic What this means, is that the protocols do not depend on a specific, accurate diagnosis from the DSM. Dynamic neurofeedback trains the brain as it is, in its current state of being. It constantly evaluates the brain (at approximately 256 times per second) and bases the training on this evaluation, outside of diagnostic categories.
It trains the whole brain, not just part of it The downside is that we can’t specifically say we are treating a specific symptom. The upside is that we can say that we are training the entire brain to function at its best. Thus, anything we are experiencing as a negative symptom that is related to the brain not functioning at its best, we can hope to see improvements in. We can’t guarantee that we’ll see relief in specific areas, but as I’ve already mentioned above, qEEG and linear neurofeedback protocols can’t truly guarantee that either.
There is no chance of clinical error With linear neurofeedback, an evaluation of the brain is done, and a treatment protocol put in place based on the assumption that the brain is showing activity on a certain wavelength, and should be behaving differently. Thus, the brain is manipulated in a particular direction to produce the desired change. If the assumption is correct, we see positive results. If, however, the assumption is wrong, it can introduce negative results, side effects, etc. With dynamic neurofeedback, we don’t manipulate the brain. We present the brain with information about what it is doing in real-time and allow the brain to make the adjustment itself. From current research, we know that the brain is perfectly capable of changing itself and adjusting based on neuroplasticity (you may have heard of The Brain That Changes Itself). Dynamic neurofeedback works on this principle and provides the information the brain needs to make its adjustments. Thus, there is literally no chance of clinical error in this form of neurofeedback.
It helps us reach those who may not be able to access neurofeedback otherwise Because our type of neurofeedback and its protocols are housed within the software, it does not require the same level of training that most linear neurofeedback does. This allows us to be creative in how we deploy it in our clinic. As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I do all the assessment work involved in tracking for in-clinic neurofeedback. We have trained technicians who run the in-between sessions to keep costs down. We are also able to offer rental units for people to do at home, which allows those who can’t get into the clinic to access it, and also further reduces the per-session costs. This aligns with our mission to provide the best care possible and fill in gaps in service.
I hope this helps explain some of why we use dynamic neurofeedback training in our clinic. It’s an approach that works, produces results, and fits us and our clients best. If you’re curious to know more, check out this page on our website with more explanation and answers to common questions. You can also read more on our blog here.
If you have further questions or want to give it a try, please contact us or give us a call. It’s an amazing technology that we can all benefit from (myself included!).
ADHD is one of the most prevalent psychiatric issues in our society. According to current Canadian statistics, a conservative estimate is that 4% of adults and 5% of children experience ADHD worldwide. It is also one of the most treatable conditions, and often medications can be very helpful. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects the frontal lobe of the brain and impacts executive functioning. What this means is that people suffering from ADHD often experience problems with attention, hyperactivity, decision making, mood regulation, and more.
We see it in children very frequently here at Alongside You. The challenge is that it’s often misdiagnosed, or mis-attributed. Kids with ADHD are often labeled the “bad kids,” or it is assumed that they’re just behaving badly, for no apparent reason. While I can understand this, we have to ask ourselves, “if we suffered from some, or all of the symptoms above, how would manage this in our lives?” The answer, I’m confident, would be a resounding, “not well.”
As I’ve already mentioned, ADHD is quite treatable most of the time, and most often it involves medications. What if the medications don’t work, or don’t work as well as it was hoped? What if the side-effects outweigh the benefits? What if you just don’t want to use medication? This is where neurofeedback training can help.
While medications can be a very helpful treatment, there can be problems, or there can be no effect. Neurofeedback training can be of help with ADHD in a few specific ways. Here are a few ways it can be beneficial.
Improving Executive Function
Executive function is a primary mechanism of our brains. It helps us with many things, including decision making, organizing, impulse control, and many others. ADHD can make these functions very difficult. Neurofeedback can help this is two primary ways. First, the training can help the brain optimize its inherent abilities. The training can help regain function in the frontal lobes, and also, can help optimize the function that is already there through strengthening existing neural connections, and creating new ones.
Second, neurofeedback training can help the limbic system calm down. Here’s why that’s important. The limbic system controls our fight or flight response. There is mounting evidence that limbic activity, particularly an overactive limbic system, is involved in particular forms of ADHD, and also in aspects of any form of ADHD. When our limbic system activates, its’ job is to keep us safe. Here’s the problem – it can’t tell the difference between anxiety, fear, or stress. Think of the kids you know with ADHD and how often you see these three things in their presence. When the limbic system activates and becomes highly engaged, it shuts off the frontal lobe. Lights out. What this means, is no more executive functioning.
Therefore, it stands to reason that if we can reduce the activity of the limbic system, it will help preserve executive functioning. Neurofeedback training can help the limbic system relax through training that area of the brain, and also through interacting with the central nervous system (CNS) and reducing activation.
Mood regulation, or the lack thereof, is often a part of the presentation of ADHD. Our brains are our bodies are integral in our emotion regulation and management. Through training the brain and the CNS, neurofeedback can help to optimize the emotion centres of the brain and relax the CNS. If our emotion centres are running optimally and our CNS is less stressed, our emotions stay more consistent and manageable.
Many individuals with ADHD have difficulty sleeping. One of the advantages of ADHD is that many folks with ADHD are very creative. The downside of this is that thoughts are many, and can run rampant. Bedtime is one of the quietest parts of our day and nothing is there to stop our thoughts from running free!
Neurofeedback can often help regulate our sleep patterns through brain training, CNS activity regulation, and reduction of stress and anxiety. If we do these things, and sleep improves, our overall stress level goes down, the brain runs more optimally, and our emotions stay more in control.
The brain is an amazing organ in our bodies, and central to all of our functioning. ADHD impacts the brain in many strange and wonderful ways. While treatment for ADHD should always be multimodal, neurofeedback training can be a very valuable tool for kids and for adults struggling with this condition.
If you’re interested in trying it, please contact us or give us a call. If you have any further questions, we’d be happy to answer them!
I was speaking with a friend on the phone a few weeks ago. She was curious about what I do as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and what happens in a session. As we continued to talk, I mentioned that I was going to see a counsellor myself. She gasped and said: “You have issues too?” I chuckled and said, “Yes, we all have issues, even counsellors.”
I mentioned to a few colleagues that I was going to see a counsellor and they encouraged me to write about my experience as a way to share with others and ultimately normalize going to seek professional help. As a counsellor myself, it is so important to understand the perspective of what it is like to be a client. This post will try and shed some light on my experience as a counsellor, and being a client.
I have been thinking about seeing a counsellor for a while now: over a year. However, it always seemed like it was never the right time. I was too busy, juggling different jobs, other commitments, financial constraints: all these things seemed to vie for my attention and appeared to be good reasons to once again push down counselling on the list of “things to do.” May I offer my perspective for a moment? There are always going to be things that seem more important and seem like they must take priority, yet, my mental health and overall well being should also be a priority. It is my deepest desire to be the best counsellor that I can be, to show up and be the right support for each of my clients. Therefore, I need to make myself a priority. I need to make the time to work on areas of my life that will ultimately help me in my career helping others. I struggle with the idea that this sounds selfish, but as the old airplane analogy goes, I need to put on my oxygen mask first before I help others with their masks.
So, I put on my mask, so to speak, and made my first appointment. I left a message. I was brief and gave my contact information. Julie (this is not her real name) called me back promptly and we set up a time to meet in 2 weeks time. I had done it. I was proud of this first initial step. I filled out the intake form, sharing contact information and reasons for counselling. It was personal. I was reminded of the initial vulnerability that all clients must experience as they complete the forms; from a counselling perspective, it is crucial for liability and legality sake, yet there is also a piece that asks the client to try to put into words the areas they want to work on. In my experience, this process allowed me to think about the areas that I wanted to concentrate on and helped organize some of my thoughts a bit more.
Seemingly small, making that first phone call was the first step towards reaching out and asking for help, acknowledging the importance of having someone to listen to my story. As I tell all my clients on our first meeting, coming for counselling is brave. It is trusting a stranger with pieces of your story and there I was asking for a stranger to listen to mine. The tables have been turned, or perhaps another way, this time I get to sit on the couch instead of the armchair.
The day arrived. I saw some clients of my own. As the day progressed, I continued to check in with myself and see how I was feeling. My stomach felt a bit “off.” I named this feeling and voiced that I was nervous. This seemed like a natural reaction to me as I was preparing to meet with Julie. I left myself enough leeway in my schedule to arrive on time, as I tend to be late and did not want to arrive flustered.
Disclaimer: It is May, and I still have my snow tires on my car. Again, this is something that is on the “to do list,” not really a priority, but important nonetheless. Sometimes, there is a misconception about counsellors that they have it all together and have reached new levels of perfection. May I say, this is not the case. At. All. I share this with you, because as I sat in my car waiting to go into the office, I saw Julie getting out of her car, and to my delight, she too had her snow tires on. At that moment, I felt a sense of connection and validation that counsellors are people too, people that care deeply, they are human just like everyone else and perhaps have left car maintenance slide a bit as well.
I got myself comfortable on the couch, Julie has a few couches in her office, and so she chose the couch opposite to where I was sitting. She went over the limits to confidentiality and said that although I was a counsellor myself, she would treat me like any other client. I appreciated that. She mentioned that as she asked me questions if there was anything that I did not want to answer, then that was fine; in addition, if there was something that I wanted to talk about more in-depth for another session, I was free to do that as well.
Julie explained the importance of finding the right fit with a counsellor. This is so important. Just like in life, you are not going to click with everyone. Sometimes I like finding a counsellor to that of eating ice cream. There are many flavours and while some folks might enjoy more daring flavours of Bubblegum, Tiger or Moose Tracks, others enjoy the classic Vanilla, Neapolitan and Chocolate Chip Mint. It is a preference, and like ice cream, finding the right fit is crucial in a relationship with a Registered Clinical Counsellor.
My first session was basically me providing background. I gave a brief summary of what my childhood was like and highlighted some major events that have happened throughout my life. My counsellor listened intently, she provided encouraging nods and asked questions when more insight or clarification was needed. Her approach was gentle and genuine. As I shared about a situation that is particularly meaningful to me, I started to cry. I am not saying that crying in mandatory in counselling sessions, but as I share with my clients, “tears are welcome,” while ensuring a box of tissues is close by. When I cried, my counsellor sat with me. She shared the space. She acknowledged this was important to me and therefore she took the time to understand it more from my perspective. This was a beautiful gift for me to receive from her. It validated my experience and allowed me to know that she understood the importance for me.
At the end of the session, I felt like I was in a bit of a fog. Sometimes I have referred to this with my own clients as a “vulnerability hangover.” It is the sense of having shared meaningful information with someone and trusting them enough to hold the information. Did I share too much? Not enough? My life cannot be condensed to 50 minutes. Nor can the lives of the clients that I see. Counselling takes time to unpack, learn and discover. As I tell my clients, after my own session, I took some time to breathe and think and be calm. I booked another session to see Julie again in 2 weeks.
In summary, the session went well. I felt safe, heard and validated. For me, this is a sign of a positive therapeutic rapport. Moving forward, I anticipate more tears, more questions, more wrestling with the reasons why I do the things I do; but I know that what I learn and discover as a client will help me tremendously as a Registered Clinical Counsellor. My second session with Julie is in a few days. I am excited to see her again and see where the conversation takes us. And I must say, I still have my snow tires on my car. Perhaps I will have them taken off before my third counselling session, and maybe Julie will too?
If you have been thinking about going to counselling, can I give you that little nudge and say to do it? Find a Registered Clinical Counsellor who is a good fit for you. Can I be so bold as to suggest looking at Alongside You to find a one? Like ice cream, we have some daring counsellors as well as classics and everything in between. There is no shame to ask for help. There are counsellors who want to help. Put on your oxygen mask. Be Brave. Contact Us.
Spring is in full swing and one of my favourite things about this season is the fresh, local produce that is available here in Ladner.
I am so excited to announce that Alongside You will be collaborating with Danielle and Alicia from Backroads Family Farm Market for some exciting things this summer.
To kick this off, I asked Danielle and Alicia some questions. So here is a little snapshot of the market itself and the ladies behind this beautiful place.
1. What variety of crops do you grow?
We farm on the one acre behind our store and we grow multiple colours of cauliflower, green and purple Brussel sprouts, corn, kale, rainbow swiss chard, field cucumber, yellow and green zucchini, artichokes, multiple varieties of pumpkins, gourds, ornamental corn, sunflowers, dahlias, gladiolas, peonies, eucalyptus, farm fresh eggs from our own chickens, basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, mint, thyme, chives, beets, and garlic…. I think that covers it!
2. What variety of crops do you get from other farmers?
We source many fresh berries, tree fruit (Okanagan), and assortments of other local vegetables that we do not grow. (It’s really a lot to list out!)
3. How do you source for the crops from other farmers?
We have built long-standing relationships with local farmers since we were teenagers. We call directly to farmers as there is no need for a ‘middle man’ when these relationships have been formed. That sets us apart from grocery stores.
4. What’s one thing you love most about farming?
Coming from a 5th generation farming family, we are deeply rooted here in Delta and passionate about our farming community. We love watching the process from planting to harvest and that every day is different. We love connecting the community to fresh local produce and educating people the best we can about why supporting local is so important and what is really grown in Delta’s backyard. We get to be creative in our business and really choose what we directly support and what we get to promote. We also love that it is a family effort.
5. What are you both most excited about this coming season?
We are excited about planting more of our own crops in the field behind the store! We also always look forward to our new employees. We love hiring all local students!
6. What’s one thing you both want people to know about Backroads Family Farm Market?
When you shop at Backroads, you are getting quality produce that is locally grown. If not by us, it is sourced locally from other local farmers. We are proud of local farmers who advocate for women in agriculture and the future of farming in our community. We love our connection to our community and enjoy working with many different businesses.
Officially Open For The Season
Backroads Family Farm Market is officially open now so you can your hands on fresh produce daily. For the produce, you can expect this upcoming season,check out their handy list here. Stay tuned here for more exciting news about this collaboration!
If you’re looking for new ways to turn these vegetables into simple, real meals, I can help! Contact our office for more information.
I remember when I found music. It was on an old church piano sometime before the age of 6. I grew up around music, both listening to it, and also as a part of my culture. There’s an old joke that Mennonite folk are born signing four-part harmony. The funny part is that it’s not so far from the truth. I remember how it felt to hear notes, and how it felt to play them. I remember how there was so much going on inside of me that I couldn’t figure out how to get out of my head and out of my heart – except through those old piano keys.
Recently, American Idol crowned its newest winner, Laine Hardy. While Laine is certainly a talented guy, I’ve been fascinated by one of the other contestants throughout the entire season this year. He is a meek, quiet guy, who is an immensely talented musician. He hasn’t said much about his history, but you can tell he’s been through some stuff. He has said that he hasn’t had much support in his life, and that’s part of what has made the support of fans so overwhelming for him – and you can tell that it is overwhelming when you watch him on the screen.
The contestant’s name is Alejandro Aranda, or as many know him, simply “Homie.” He said something during one of the videos they played on the final episode that stuck with me. He said, and I paraphrase, that kids need to be encouraged to find themselves in music and express their emotions. It got me thinking about how my life may have turned out if I hadn’t found music. From the little I know about this contestant’s life, I can’t imagine where he would be without music. It’s clear that a key to his resilience, and certainly mine, has been music.
What Is Resilience?
The answer to this question could be multiple posts long, but for our purposes, I want to define resilience this way:
Resilience isn’t finding the perfect balance and constantly withstanding what life throws at you; resilience is finding a way to thrive in the midst of challenges, knowing that your thriving will sometimes be messy. It is finding your way in life, using the unique gifts you’ve been given, to forge a path and a way forward despite the difficulties.
For me this has been using music to be mindful, to prove that I can challenge myself, to express emotions that defy the words that I can produce through the English language, and to find a way to use my own challenges to make something that encourages others and brings us closer together.
What Is Celebrating Resilience?
Celebrating Resilience is a partnership between our good friend Radina of Radina Photography and our own social venture, Alongside You. Celebrating Resilience is a gallery showing to highlight the resilience in our local community and encourage others who may be struggling. The exhibit will showcase 9 portraits and stories of recovery and resilience in the areas of mental health, chronic illness, abusive relationships, and more. You can read more of Radina’s story and how she came up with the exhibit idea here. What is so great about this project is it gives a platform for people to have a voice in their resilience, to tell their story, and to do good in the community at the same time.
We are using the show to raise funds for our Step Forward Program here at Alongside You that subsidizes our services for people who need financial assistance. We’re hoping to raise $15,000 toward services for the community.
Join Us For Celebrating Resilience
We would love for you to join us on June 1, 2019, from 6:30pm-9:30pm at Stir Coffee House to see the images and stories of resilience in our community. Come, and be encouraged by those who have gone through it. Find common ground in the community, and perhaps find the courage to share your own journey.
After the opening, the images and stories will remain at Stir Coffee House for some time; after this, they will be distributed in the community through local businesses and organizations for a second showing.
Click here to let us know you’re coming on our Facebook event, and share with your friends!
Our Thank You To Our Supporters
This project, and show could not take place without support. We have brought on corporate sponsors, and we are looking for private sponsors to continue the project, and to continue the work we do through the Step Forward Program. If you’d like to sponsor as an individual, please click here where you can submit a sponsorship through our website – please put “Celebrating Resilience” in the dedication box. If you’re a business and want to sponsor, please contact Andrew through email by clicking here.
Our sponsors are incredible. Without their generosity, this project would not happen. Please see below for our corporate partners, and we look forward to seeing you on June 1st!