How can I get the most out of counselling?

How can I get the most out of counselling?

Research shows that client engagement in the counselling process strongly predicts the success of treatment.1 In other words, when you arrive, you are not coming to be fixed by a counsellor, but instead to work in partnership with them. There are several ways that you can prepare yourself for a successful experience in counselling, but ultimately your only job is to show up, and however, you do so is commendable and brave.

 

Know Your Preferences and Needs

 

Here are some things you might consider before coming to see a counsellor at Alongside You. First, think about what kind of counsellor you believe would be a good fit for you. Your preference may vary depending on your phase of life, and unique circumstance, and that’s okay. Some people prefer a female or male counsellor (for reasons of comfortability or life experience), someone within a certain age demographic, or someone who works within a specific therapeutic model. You may also have a need for someone very soft and gentle, or you may need someone who is willing to challenge you directly. If you can come up with ideas on these preferences, we can help to guide you in picking a counsellor.

It’s also helpful to know what it is you’d like help with. You may feel like your list of concerns are long and complex. That’s ok, you’re not alone. Although it can feel overwhelming to narrow it down, it is often helpful to come to your appointment with one or two issues that are, at present, the most problematic for you. It doesn’t mean this can’t change over time because it often does, it just means there’s some focus to start out the work. That said, sometimes we don’t know what’s wrong, we just know that something is not right and we need help figuring out what’s going on. That’s okay too!

 

Openness in Counselling

 

When you arrive for your first appointment, try to be as open as you can to establish a relationship with your counsellor. Research indicates that the therapeutic alliance (the relationship between the counsellor and client) strongly determines the effectiveness of therapy.2 The therapeutic alliance will go the distance when you work through difficult things together and so we (as counsellors and as clients) cannot overlook the significance of trust, empathy, and connection. We understand that it’s a big ask! As part of our professional practice, counsellors do clinical supervision, and many also have their own personal counsellors that they see. You may find it helpful to know that it’s not easy for us either when we’re the ones “on the couch.”

 

Honesty & Feedback

 

If part of what makes counselling effective is the therapeutic alliance, the relationship between the counsellor and the client should be strong enough to handle honesty. As counsellors, we value when clients provide honest feedback. This can occur at the moment (“I don’t think you have a clear understanding of what I meant by that”), or after working together for some time (“I find that I feel frustrated when we start our sessions a few minutes late, and I wanted to let you know”). Counsellors want to hear if something is, or is not, working for you. When you don’t agree, or don’t feel your counsellor is fully understanding you, your counsellor prefers that you speak up. Statistically, when a client offers feedback, it usually serves to strengthen the therapeutic relationship, not weaken it.3

Furthermore, be honest about what you believe you need from counselling, whether it be guidance, problem-solving, empathic response, acceptance, non-judgement, or practical insight. It is okay to communicate this. Although each counsellor and client will naturally create a dynamic (or a certain way of being with one another), your counsellor will be better equipped to work with you if they have a clear understanding of your needs. It helps your counsellor to know your objectives for therapy, but also, it can provide insight as to who you are as a person.

 

Homework

 

As you participate in counselling, aim to implement some of the homework (sometimes called “between-session interventions”) agreed upon in counselling. Counselling homework usually consists of experimenting with new behaviours, making cognitive shifts, acknowledging feelings in specific moments, or keeping track of a combination of all three during the time you are not with us. Homework, at its best, enables integration between the counselling hour and the client’s regular life. Ultimately, homework can be a meaningful way of facilitating healing and growth outside of the time spent with your counsellor.4 As my supervisor, Andrew Neufeld, sometimes illustrates – if you go to see a physiotherapist for your knee and the only work you do is with the physio in session, your knee will likely eventually get better but it will be a long, drawn-out process; whereas, if you do exercises in between sessions your recovery will likely proceed exponentially faster. The same is true for counselling – the work you do between sessions will significantly influence the speed at which you recover and heal.

 

Self-Compassion

 

Last, and perhaps most significant, try to practice self-compassion as you enter and proceed with therapy.5 Counselling can be exhausting, and emotional, and it always requires bravery. Your counsellor knows this and appreciates this about you. Try to be especially gentle with yourself during the process, and treat yourself with tenderness, care, and grace.

 

 

  1. Shaw, S., & Murray, K. (2014). Monitoring Alliance and Outcome with Client Feedback Measures. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), 43–57. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.36.1.n5g64t3014231862

 

  1. Duff, C. T., & Bedi, R. P. (2010). Counsellor behaviours that predict therapeutic alliance: From the client’s perspective. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 23(1), 91–110. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515071003688165

 

  1. Murphy, K. P., Rashleigh, C. M., & Timulak, L. (2012). The relationship between progress feedback and therapeutic outcome in student counselling: A randomised control trial. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 25(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2012.662349

 

  1. Cronin, T. J., Lawrence, K. A., Taylor, K., Norton, P. J., & Kazantzis, N. (2015). Integrating Between-Session Interventions (Homework) in Therapy: The Importance of the Therapeutic Relationship and Cognitive Case Conceptualization: Therapeutic Relationship and Homework. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(5), 439–450. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22180

 

  1. Galili-Weinstock, L., Chen, R., Atzil-Slonim, D., Bar-Kalifa, E., Peri, T., & Rafaeli, E. (2018). The association between self-compassion and treatment outcomes: Session-level and treatment-level effects. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(6), 849–866. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22569
What Can I Do About Seasonal Affective Disorder?

What Can I Do About Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Winter is coming, and so too are shorter days and longer periods of darkness. For a sizable percentage of people (~3% of the Canadian population1), this change to our environment can bring about a seasonal form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD. Those who experience SAD experience an onset of clinical depression in the fall season, which spontaneously improves in the summer, a cycle that usually repeats for at least two calendar years in succession. Interestingly, the symptoms of SAD are not typical of non-seasonal depression.2 Depressed mood, loss of interest in activities, and withdrawal from social interaction is common to both, but where typical depression usually includes insomnia, anxiety and reduced food intake, SAD is characterized by hypersomnia, carbohydrate craving and increased body weight. The symptoms look superficially like seasonal rhythms in animals as they prepare to hibernate.

 

In fact, many of the same biological mechanisms which prompt the onset of hibernation in animals like bears are similar to the processes which give rise to SAD in humans. This is because most organisms have internal body clocks which track daily and annual cycles in the external world. Our body clocks, for example, are capable of tracking how long the sun is present each day. While we don’t yet fully understand why this process affects mood, we know that SAD is associated with day length because data from different American states reveal that the incidence of SAD are higher in more northern states.3 This is also true of the ‘winter blues’, or sub-clinical SAD. We also know that the issue is in terms of day length and not the amount of sunshine a location gets because Calgary (~51° N) has much more winter sunshine than Vancouver (~49° N) but similar daylengths and population rates of SAD. This is particularly important information for us Canadians who live north of the 49th parallel. We may get plenty of sun, but we still experience shorter days.

 

So, as we get less daytime during these seasons, is it possible to trick our body clocks into thinking the days are longer?

 

Remarkably, one of the most effective remedies for SAD is bright light treatment. Introducing bright light in the Fall and Winter can prevent or reverse SAD, with roughly 2/3rd of SAD patients responding to the treatment4. The research indicates that it is as effective an antidepressant as any pharmaceutical used to treat SAD and when used correctly is accompanied by relatively few possible side effects. Importantly, however, bright light therapy may trigger mania in individuals with bipolar disorder5, so please consult with your doctor before considering the treatment. The minimum effective dose is approximately 2500 lux, which is about the intensity of sunrise outdoors.6 Bright light treatments, however, will often exceed 10,000 lux. Indoor, room lighting typically emits 500 lux and is thus an ineffective treatment. Those susceptible to SAD can purchase bright light-emitting visors or, alternatively, there are bright light lamps which allow one to sit or work in an environment containing ambient day-time levels of light. These devices can also be used strategically to ease certain sleep disorders and help realign one’s body clocks during jet lag.7

 

Because many of the symptoms of Major Depression and SAD are shared and the two disorders are often comorbid, traditional psychotherapy is also a highly effective treatment for seasonal depression.2 Research using group-based cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, has demonstrated antidepressant effects which nearly mimic 30 minutes of 10,000 lux bright light treatment.8 Health professionals who utilize CBT teach skills to those suffering from various forms of depression which help to change their perceptions of the world.9 Cultivating emotional regulation, developing personal coping strategies, and learning to disrupt patterns of negative thoughts and actions are key constructs of CBT. Bright light treatment and psychotherapies like CBT may be used alongside one another, as well as in conjunction with other therapies like medication or mindfulness practices. Research also suggests that people whose depressive symptoms look more like the ‘winter blues’ than seasonal depression should improve their diets by limiting starches and sugars, exercise frequently, manage stress (especially around the holidays), increase social contact and connection, and spend more time outdoors.10

 

Finally, vitamin D, an essential building block for our bones and muscles, is in short supply in the Canadian Fall and Winter months. A deficiency of vitamin D has been associated with depressive symptoms and some research suggests that taking vitamin D before winter darkness sets in may help prevent symptoms of SAD.11 During the winter months, those living roughly 33 degrees north or 30 degrees south of the equator synthesize very little, if any, vitamin D.12 People beyond these latitudes rely primarily on eating fish and egg yolk or taking nutritional supplements to get the vitamin D needed.13 It is important that most of us, and perhaps especially people experiencing SAD, ensure that we have sufficient levels of vitamin D during these darker months. Thankfully, the Canadian government acknowledges this problem and mandatorily requires that products like cow’s milk, margarine, and calcium-fortified beverages have vitamin D added to them.14 Planning a mid-winter vacation may be valuable for its increased light exposure and onset of vitamin D synthesis, and who doesn’t like taking a vacation as a form of treatment?15

 

Thankfully, there are multiple options for Seasonal Affective Disorder which allow for more personalized treatment plans. If you’re feeling blue this Fall and Winter, Alongside You offers an abundance of counselling and well-being services that can help you if you identify with any of the discussion above regarding SAD.

 

If we can be of help to you, please don’t hesitate to ask. This is why Alongside You exists – because we believe that everyone is worth it. Feel free to contact us to see how we can help!

 

Adam Manz

Adam Manz recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Psychology. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical psychology while maintaining a love for meditation, podcasts, and hiking. Adam is volunteering with us here at Alongside You and we’re glad to have him on board!

 

References

1Body and Health Canada. (2019). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://bodyandhealth.canada.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/seasonal-affective-disorder.

7Burgess, H. J., Crowley, S. J., Gazda, C. J., Fogg, L. F., & Eastman, C. I. (2003). Preflight adjustment to eastward travel: 3 days of advancing sleep with and without morning bright light. Journal of Biological Rhythms18(4), 318–328. doi: 10.1177/0748730403253585

9Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/.

5Chan, P. K., Lam, R. W., Perry, K. F. (1994). Mania precipitated by light therapy for patients with SAD (letter). Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 55:454

4Golden, R. N., Gaynes, B. N., Ekstrom, R. D., Hamer, R. M., Jacobsen, F. M., Suppes, T., … Nemeroff, C. B. (2005). The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: A review and meta-analysis of the evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry162(4), 656–662. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.4.656

13Health Link BC. (2019). Food sources of calcium and vitamin D. Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/sources-calcium-vitamin-d.

3Horowitz, S. (2008). Shedding light on seasonal affective disorder. Alternative and Complementary Therapies14(6), 282–287. doi: 10.1089/act.2008.14608

14Janz, T., & Pearson, C. (2015). Health at a glance: Vitamin D blood levels of Canadians. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.htm#n2.

11Kerr, D. C., Zava, D. T., Piper, W. T., Saturn, S. R., Frei, B., & Gombart, A. F. (2015). Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry Research227(1), 46–51. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016

10National Health Services. (2018). Treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/treatment/.

8Rohan, K. J., Mahon, J. N., Evans, M., Ho, S.-Y., Meyerhoff, J., Postolache, T. T., & Vacek, P. M. (2015). Randomized trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus light therapy for seasonal affective disorder: Acute outcomes. American Journal of Psychiatry172(9), 862–869. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14101293

12Stewart, A. E., Roecklein, K. A., Tanner, S., & Kimlin, M. G. (2014). Possible contributions of skin pigmentation and vitamin D in a polyfactorial model of seasonal affective disorder. Medical Hypotheses83(5), 517–525. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2014.09.010

6Tam, E. M., Lam, R. W., & Levitt, A. J. (1995). Treatment of seasonal affective disorder: A review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry40(8), 457–466. doi:10.1177/070674379504000806

15Targum, S. D., & Rosenthal, N. (2008). Seasonal affective disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont)5(5), 31–33.

2The National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

Ending the Stigma Of Mental Illness

Ending the Stigma Of Mental Illness

One in five Canadians lives with a mental illness according to statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association. In my experience, the rate at which people struggle with mental health issues of some kind is much higher. Most people suffer in silence. Statistically speaking, we are all connected to someone struggling with mental illness. While you’re reading this, look around you. I guarantee someone you just saw is struggling with mental illness and/or a mental health issue of some sort. It’s guaranteed. Are you surprised?

I remember the first time I knew what it meant to feel sad and not know why; and the time I realized that I felt this way a lot of the time, and still didn’t know why. I was six years old. It confused me deeply. I had loving parents, we had a house to live in and food to eat, I went to a good school, I had a good community of people around me. I still felt sad. A lot.

When I was a kid, nobody talked about mental illness, mental health, or anything in the middle. It simply wasn’t something that was a part of the dialogue. As I contemplated what I was going to write this morning, I realized that actually, I don’t recall any public conversations about mental health growing up, whether it was elementary school years, or high school. And while I like to joke that I’m getting old, it wasn’t that long ago that I was in high school.

 It wasn’t for lack of experiences that could lead to a discussion either. I had friends who had very difficult home lives, knew people who lived through tragic accidents, I’ve lost friends to suicide, and more, never mind the statistics we now know about the rate at which mental illness affects the population as a whole. I’m not sure why it was not talked about, it just wasn’t.

Now that I’m older, and in the mental health field, I’m glad that there is more talk about mental illness and mental health management. What I find now, however, is that I can grow tired about simply talking about it and creating awareness, probably to a fault. Awareness is very important. I can only imagine the difference it would have made for me, or friends I now know struggled in childhood, if we could have heard about mental health and had discussions about it. The discussions, however, leave me asking the question, “So now what?” Many of the discussions I hear sound hopeless and don’t offer many solutions. As a professional, I’m also well aware that the solution isn’t simply more professionals and more mental health services.

 

Let’s Talk Hope

One of the things I’m known for, and is written all over my bios on various websites, is that I don’t believe in hopeless causes. It is one of my fundamental beliefs that there is hope in every situation, even if we can’t always see it when we’re in the middle of it. Last year, I connected with Connie Jakab who formed National Hope Talks and we collaborated on a conference in Calgary this past January. The conference is all about hope.

This time around, in January 2020, the conference will be hosted in Edmonton and Calgary, and together with 140 Sports, we’re bringing it to Delta. It’s time we went beyond talking and start acting like we believe that there’s hope.

 

What Is Let’s Talk Hope?

Let’s Talk Hope is a conference, or perhaps an unconference where we bring together students, teachers, parents, mental health workers, business people, non-profit leaders, and more to talk about Hope. We’ll have some speakers with lived experience and unique insight into mental health. This will set the tone for the day, and give some valuable information about what some of us are seeing in the community in terms of mental health. We’re also going to have workshops that incorporate different art forms and help build skills to manage mental health in our own lives, the lives of our community, and beyond.

The peak of the experience at Let’s Talk Hope are the incubator sessions. In these sessions, we get into small groups where people are mixed up to have at least one teacher, student, business leader, mental health worker, non-profit leader, etc. Each person gets 2-3 min to share their perspective and what they are noticing about mental health. Each group then writes down what was commonly shared and what could potentially be the solution.

We know we aren’t going to solve mental illness in one day. What we are going to do is create hope, and get creative, and talk solutions. Solutions that will come from every part of our community, not just the professionals.

 

Join us in Bringing Hope to Delta in January 2020

I can tell you that the first Let’s Talk Hope conference this year was one of the most powerful, encouraging, and hope giving experiences I’ve had in my work in mental health. It helps bring the message of hope in mental health forward, knocks down silos between providers, clients, and the community, and gives us a renewed sense of connection, of togetherness in this fight for mental health in our own back yard.

Does this sound like something you’d like to be a part of? We need to hear your voice and have you as part of the solution to bring hope to our community.

 

Join us on January 18, 2020 for a day of community, celebration, sharing each other’s stories, and talking solutions.

How can I Support my Child with Anxiety?

How can I Support my Child with Anxiety?

It can be difficult for a parent to watch their child struggle with big worries. As parents, we want to be able to fix our child’s problems – preferably this would happen quickly and easily. If we can’t fix what concerns them (which we often cannot), we are left to support the child through their anxiety. This may sound simplistic, but I assure you, it’s not. Parental support is vitally significant for the child, and often, empowering for the parent. As the saying goes — a good parent prepares the child for the path, not the path for the child. Approached with gentleness and kindness, encouraging support can be a great gift to their developing identity and self-confidence.

 

Practical Ways Parents Can Support Their Anxious Child’s Wellbeing

 

Children require consistent, predictable routines in order to flourish1. These don’t have to be rigid or excessive, but a general structure for the course of a day allows a child to predict what comes next, and to prepare for it. For example, create a rhythm to the bedtime routine that becomes so predictable and soothing that it lulls the child to sleep (figuratively speaking). When a child knows what time they go to bed, and the events that lead up to it, they can begin to gear down and relax, knowing that the adult in charge will be helping this process the same way every night. Avoid screen time two hours prior to bedtime as the emitted blue light inhibits the release of melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleep cycles and circadian rhythm).2 Instead, read books together, discuss a moment of gratitude, ask questions about their day, or speak words of affirmation to your child.

During daytime hours, a child’s pace of life should be slow and sustainable. Children need plenty of time for play and quiet exploration.3 Children who are expected to run at a pace that is beyond their capacity may experience an increase in anxiety. As an adult, you may have a clear perspective on what is manageable for your child. They may be excited to join five different sports teams this fall, but you are the one with the foresight to understand that, within a short time, this may lead to them feeling overwhelmed. This, of course, evolves as children get older, and every child is truly unique in what they can tolerate – much like their adults!

Lastly, create space in your day (or week) to connect with your child. Follow your child’s innate interests and spend one-on-one time enjoying what they do.

Some ideas to get you started:

    • If they’re interested in food, bake cookies
    • If they love sports, kick a soccer ball around, just for fun
    • If they enjoy physical activity, go on a bike ride or for a walk
    • If they’re into music, listen to a new song they’re excited about and show them what you know on the guitar or piano
    • If they’re interested in mechanics, have them help you change the oil, or open the hood of the car to look around together

Intentional investment of time spent with your child will pay dividends when it comes to their behaviour, but more importantly, to their sense of belonging and connection. The attachment that is formed from these positive connections bolster a child’s confidence to face the world, and increases resilience to stress.4,5,6

 

Ways Parents Can Emotionally Support Their Anxious Child’s Wellbeing

 

Emotional support is an extension of practical support. A parent may become overwhelmed by their own feelings (of guilt, or frustration, or panic) when they see their child in the throes of anxiety. It may be important to take a moment to check in with yourself before running to the aide of your child. First, accept that your child is feeling anxious, and notice your own feelings about this. Give yourself some time to regulate your own emotions. When you feel ready, approach your child to validate their feelings, and to name what you see happening for them. For example, “I see that your fists are clenched and your eyes are wide. These must be big worries for you.” Sit with them as they feel the weight of their worry without trying to rush them, or brush it off. Once the child has walked through the experience of their big feelings of worry, re-direct them to calming activities.

Some ideas to get you started:

    • run a warm bath
    • go for a walk together
    • somatic breathing exercises
    • progressive muscle relaxation

Lastly, show your child that you, their hero, can make mistakes, do hard things, go on to survive the experience, and thrive. It can be very helpful to practice self-compassion in a way that is visible to the child.7 For example, if you find yourself running late at the school drop-off, model taking a few deep breaths, smile, and acknowledge, “Wow, we sure are running late today! I can’t get it right every day though, and that’s okay! Today we might be late, but maybe tomorrow will be different.”

It can be soothing for a child to observe their parents set boundaries that guard their own time and self-care in fact, it reinforces that it is acceptable for the child to do the same.

If you or your child would like to come in to discuss their big worries, or yours, please contact us and we would be happy to help! I’d love to work with you while I complete my internship. We also have a whole roster of Registered Clinical Counsellors available to work with you as well.

 

References

 

  1. Spagnola, M., & Fiese, B. H. (2007). Family Routines and Rituals: A Context for Development in the Lives of Young Children. Infants & Young Children, 20(4), 284–299. org/10.1097/01.IYC.0000290352.32170.5a
  2. Fletcher, F. E., Conduit, R., Foster-Owens, M. D., Rinehart, N. J., Rajaratnam, S. M. W., & Cornish, K. M. (2018). The Association Between Anxiety Symptoms and Sleep in School-Aged Children: A Combined Insight From the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire and Actigraphy. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 16(2), 169–184. https://doi.org/10.1080/15402002.2016.1180522
  3. Mrnjaus, C. (2013). The Child’s Right to Play?! Croatian Journal of Education, 16(1), 217-233.
  4. Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2004). Hold on to your kids: Why parents matter.
  5. Priest, J. B. (2013a). Anxiety disorders and the quality of relationships with friends, relatives, and romantic partners: Anxiety disorders and relationship quality. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 78–88. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.21925
  6. Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books
  7. Neff, K. (2013). Self compassion. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
What Is Play Therapy?

What Is Play Therapy?

Last week, Andrew wrote a blog about the logistics of getting counselling for your child, I would like to provide some insight into what happens inside the counselling room. I absolutely love working with children. I find it challenging, inspiring, rewarding and unique. Often folks ask me “So, does the child just sit on a couch and tell you how they are feeling, does that even work with kids?” I chuckle and assure them that counselling with children is going to look very different than counselling with adults.

Enter PLAY therapy.

 

What Is Play Therapy?

 

I believe that play therapy is the most developmentally appropriate therapeutic approach for children. I feel that it is doing children a disservice if we ask them to communicate their inner world the same way we ask adults, which happens primarily through talk therapy. Children do not have the same cognitive ability as adults, therefore, play therapy bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought.1 Play therapy provides the opportunity for children to express their feelings and thoughts in a way that is familiar to them because typically children love to play.

To this, some might question, “Are you just playing then?”  The answer is unequivocal, “No, quite the opposite.” There is much meaning in play; Froebel says, “children’s play is not a mere sport. It is full of meaning and import.”2 Play is the natural language of children. Play is the way children communicate. Garry Landreth says, “toys are used like words by children, and play is their language.”3 While engaging in play therapy, the child uses the toys in the room to communicate thoughts, experiences, situations and feelings.

 

My Approach To Play Therapy

 

Each counsellor who works with children has a different way of engaging with the child through play therapy. For myself, I adopt a posture of curiosity; I want to see the child’s world through their eyes. Typically, the first session is about establishing trust and rapport, just like a session with an adult client. Personally, I find sitting on the floor and meeting the child at their level is helpful. I have a box of fidget toys that I have available on the floor or table, these are for the child to squish and fiddle with as we talk and play. Often if a parent is in the initial session, I will encourage the parent to use a toy too.

In order to help facilitate the sometimes awkward first meeting jitters, we play Getting to Know You Jenga. This is a tower building game with a twist – each block has a question. The child is encouraged to answer the question and this helps establish a rapport and points of connection. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the child’s ability to direct the conversation to the areas that are needed to be focused on. This is modelled in the way that child answers the questions and, in turn, ask me questions. When I have my initial meeting with the parent, I often share that my trust needs to be earned. Often a child might share a small piece to “test the waters” and see if I am paying attention. Like playing pass with a ball, I need to catch what they have shared with me and convey to the child that I have heard them.

 

What Is A Play Therapy Session Like?

 

Each play therapy session can look different. For me, I am all about the feelings. It is vital for children to grow up with a greater understanding of their feelings and learn healthy ways to express their emotions. I try to incorporate as many different modalities as I can. Sometimes it might be colouring pictures of feelings and emotions, other times it is outlining their body and drawing where they feel that emotion. Other times it is playing in the dollhouse and sharing about their family. There are incredible books that provide wonderful language for children as they process their feelings. One of my favourites is In My Heart, which beautifully describes some of the many emotions that are found in our hearts. For the more active children, we can play catch and answer questions back and forth.  I really try to tailor the activities to the likes of each child.

One of my favourite ways to work with children is through the use of the sand tray. Picture a mini sandbox complete with figurines to play with. The child is encouraged to use the sand tray to create a scene. The child can build a magical world or perhaps create a scene that is more realistic. The beauty of the sand tray is that often it is a way to visibly show what a child might be feeling internally. As the child creates, depending on the preference of the child, I am asking questions and gaining insight or silently attending to what they are sharing with me.

 

How Can Play Therapy Help My Child?

 

Just the same as adult counselling, when I am in the room with a child, it is my desire to provide empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard, as these are the core conditions that help to facilitate change.5 I truly believe it is the relationship with the therapist that helps to promote growth and healing.  However, that does not negate the important role the parent plays in the relationship. When a child has shared something significant or created something powerful, I encourage the child to invite the parent into the room to see and learn together. As I remind the child, we only see each other during sessions, but you see your parent more. I want the parent to be well equipped to take the themes and language that was spoken during the session and translate that to home.  I want to thank you, parents, for trusting me with the most precious gift: your child. I want to work with you in order for a child to learn, grow and develop into a confident and healthy person.

Although the mediums used in play therapy are often very fun, many times, the work that is done in play therapy is difficult – children work hard at expressing and understanding their big feelings. It is my role to help facilitate these discoveries through conversation and play. Play therapy can be a powerful experience where great changes can happen for our kids – changes that may not happen without the freedom and safety of the play therapy sessions. Play therapy is a place where children get to be who they are at their core and have that be ok and celebrated. A place where they can explore difficulties in life in a safe, supported way.

Working with children is a privilege and one I do not take lightly. If you are interested in learning more about play therapy or setting up an appointment for your child, please do not hesitate to contact me through our website.

 

 

References

  1. Bratton, S. & Ray, D. (2000). What the research shows about play therapy. International Journal of Play therapy, 9, 47-88.
  2. Froebel, F. (1903). The education of man. New York: D. Appleton.
  3. Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play Therapy: The art of the relationship. Third Edition. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
  4. Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood. New York: Norton.
  5. Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy, Its current practice, implications, and theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
What To Expect At Your Child’s First Counselling Appointment

What To Expect At Your Child’s First Counselling Appointment

A couple of weeks ago, we published an article on what to expect at your first counselling appointment. We wrote this article in response to questions we’d been receiving from people who hadn’t been to a counsellor before and we hope it was helpful!

We’ve been receiving more questions about counselling appointments, and particularly appointments for children with a Registered Clinical Counsellor. So, we thought we’d write another article to address some of the things that are unique about counselling appointments for children. I won’t repeat the details of the last article, so you may want to read that one first, and continue here.

 

Consent and Confidentiality in Counselling for Children

 

Consent to Counselling

One of the questions we get asked is, “Who can consent to treatment, and can my child consent?” This is a bit of a tricky question in some situations, particularly around parental separation and divorce. I’ll save the intricacies for another article, but in general, one or both parents need to consent for their child to see a Registered Clinical Counsellor. If there are no court orders involved, either parent can consent but we always like to get both parents to consent, and also to provide history and input because we believe it’s in the child’s best interests to operate this way in most situations. The more information we can get and the more support the child can get, the better off everyone is.

In terms of when a child can consent to their own counselling, there is no black and white line drawn in BC in terms of the age at which a child can consent. One of the most commonly-used ages is 14 and is generally accepted by most service providers. If, however, you can make an argument that the child is what is called a mature minor, the child can consent as early as age 12, or possibly earlier as long as they understand what they are consenting to. In most situations, we use the age of 14 as a guideline here at Alongside You.

 

Confidentiality in Counselling for Children

Many parents find it unnerving to send their child to counselling when they are not in the room to witness what is happening and being said. As a parent, I can easily understand this anxiety – I know I want to know what is happening for my kids all the time! Here’s the challenge – counselling relies on a safe, secure relationship between the client and the counsellor built on trust. If the child thinks the counsellor is going to turn around and tell the parents everything they are saying, what are the chances the relationship of trust will survive? Probably not very high.

Every Registered Clinical Counsellor at Alongside You is responsible for their professional practice and so there may be some variability in how much input from parents is sought. What I would suggest is that most counsellors will seek to collaborate with parents as much as possible, with the best interests of the child in mind. The degree to which information is passed, however, is going to depend on the comfort level of the child and the strength of the therapeutic relationship with the counsellor. It will also depend on the counsellor’s judgement of what information would be helpful to pass on. If there is a suspicion of imminent risk to the child, confidentiality can be breached without consent, but this is a judgement call on the part of the counsellor and up to their professional discretion. I know this involves a great deal of trust on the part of parents, and it is not lost on us as professionals. We want the best for your kids and will hope to strike the greatest balance between these needs to help your child.

 

Who Comes To The First Appointment?

 

The answer to this question really depends on the age of the child, or what the child wants. For younger children (i.e. approximately 12 years old or younger), it’s quite common for the first session to be with the parents alone to get some history and background and answer any questions or concerns. This first appointment can also be split between the parents and the child, at the counsellor’s discretion.

For older children, it’s likely going to come down to what the child wants. If the child wants the parents to come into the first session, then that’s likely what will happen. If, however, the child wants to come in alone, it’ll likely be just the child in the session. This is to build trust between the counsellor and the child and allow them to establish boundaries around safety and trust.

 

How Can I Help My Child While They Are In Counselling?

 

Encourage Your Child

Going to counselling can be scary for anyone, and it’s a lot to take in for a child. One of the best things you can do is to be encouraging. Let your child know that this is a time for them to have a safe place to talk about what is happening for them. Emphasize that this is an opportunity to work through some of the difficult things in life, it’s not a place to go to get fixed because there’s something wrong with them. They are wonderfully made human beings who sometimes need a little extra help.

It may also be helpful to let your child know that you’ve gone to see a counsellor before and share how it helped you, in as much detail as you’re comfortable with and as is appropriate for the age of your child. Common experience and reassurance can go a long way.

 

Avoid Interrogating Your Child After The Session

I get it – you want to know what happened. We all do as parents. But, it’s not going to support the process if the child then worries about being interrogated after coming out. Instead, a helpful question can be, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me about your time with the counsellor?” Realize that answer may be, “No,” and this needs to be okay. You want to give your child the opportunity to share their journey with you, not make a demand that they let you in if they’re not ready to do that yet.

 

Understanding The Reports You Get Back

We all love our children, and we want to believe everything they say. I remember when my parents would ask me what I did at school, invariably, my answer each time was, “I played and had a snack.” I, of course, didn’t do this, and this only every day at school. I was a very forthcoming child apparently. I also know, that what kids report back to parents isn’t always accurate (the same goes for adults), or the full story. This isn’t intentional necessarily, it’s just how our communication patterns work. I remember a client that I was doing EMDR with one time had gone home and told their parents that we had been doing ECT. Yes, that ECT that involves significant electrical charges to the brain in a hospital setting. Thankfully the parents called me to clarify and assumed that something got lost in translation. I’ve also heard clients tell parents, “All we did was talk about boring stuff,” or, “All we did was draw a picture.” While some of this may be true, there’s usually a lot more to the story.

It’s helpful if we all start with the assumption that the counsellor has the best interests of the child in mind and that we may not be getting the whole story when we get it from our child. Be curious, ask general questions, and if you have any concerns, contact the counsellor to clarify.

 

Trust The Counsellor and Your Child

I know it’s unnerving to trust someone else with the care of your child. I get that on both sides, as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and as a father of two young girls. Again, trust goes a long way and goes both ways in the relationship between parents and therapists. We want what’s best for your child, and we’ll do whatever is possible to help. Sometimes this involves us not divulging information you may want to know, and sometimes that may be unnerving for you.

We want to include you in any way we believe will be helpful for your child and your family. This sometimes takes time to develop, understand, and plan for. Your patience is much appreciated, as is your commitment to a process that may have you feeling like you’re standing on the outside at times.

 

Conclusion

 

Thanks for reading to the end! I hope this helps with some of the questions you may have about the first appointment with a Registered Clinical Counsellor for your child, and a bit about the ongoing process. Sending your child to a counsellor for the first time can be nerve-wracking, and challenging at times. Please feel free to ask any questions you like as you’re booking, we’ll answer them as best we can!

How Can I Deal With My Porn Use?

How Can I Deal With My Porn Use?

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.

What To Expect In Your First Counselling Session

What To Expect In Your First Counselling Session

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.

How To Prepare For Back To School – The ABC’s

How To Prepare For Back To School – The ABC’s

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:

  1. 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.
  2.  

  3. 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.
  4.  

  5. 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.
  6.  

  7. 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.

  1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?).
  2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.
  3. If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?).
  4. Where is the coolest place at the school?
  5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)
  6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
  7. How did you help somebody today?
  8. How did somebody help you today?
  9. What is one thing that you tried today?
  10. When were you the happiest today?
  11. When were you bored today?
  12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
  13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
  14. Tell me something good that happened today!
  15. What word did your teacher say most today?
  16. What do you think you should do/learn more about at school?
  17. What do you think you should do/learn less at school?
  18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
  19. Where do you play the most at recess?
  20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
  21. What was your favourite part of lunch?
  22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
  23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?
  24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?
  25. 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.

Some ideas:

  • 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!

How Can I Prepare My Child For Going Back To School?

How Can I Prepare My Child For Going Back To School?

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.