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Somatic Psychotherapy

Somatic Psychotherapy

“On occasion, our bodies speak loudly about things we would rather not hear. That is the time to pause and listen.”  Verny, Thomas R

Somatic therapy, rooted in the belief that the body is where life happens, empowers individuals to take an active role in their healing journey. It harnesses body techniques to strengthen the evolving dialogue between the client and therapist, fostering a deeper understanding of the relationship between bodily experiences and mental states. By focusing on a holistic perspective, somatic therapy cultivates embodied self-awareness, guiding clients to tune into sensations in specific body parts. This approach has been found to be particularly beneficial for addressing issues such as eating disorders, body image issues, sexual dysfunction, chronic illness, emotion regulation, disassociation, and trauma.

Breathwork in somatic psychotherapy

Breathwork, a cornerstone of somatic therapy, has a rich and diverse history in the realm of physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing. Its transformative power can alleviate psychological distress, soften character defenses, release bodily tension, and foster a profound sense of embodiment and tranquility. Somatic therapists employ breathwork techniques, from energizing the body for emotional processing to soothing and grounding hyperactive body parts, offering a hopeful path to healing and self-discovery.

Conscious breathing practices are used:

  • to help couples and families to connect through touch
  • assist in recovering from trauma
  • to promote sensory awareness,
  • and to access altered states of consciousness for healing purposes

What is disordered breathing?

Disordered breathing, a term often used in the context of somatic therapy, refers to a state where the physiology and psychology of breathing intertwine. It’s characterized by irregular breathing patterns, which can trigger anxiety or panic and disrupt cognitive processes like decision-making. These patterns can vary based on emotional states, with sighing, increased depth, or rate of breath often associated with anxiety and anger.

Irregular respiratory patterns could be associated with anger, guilt, or deep, weeping sadness. Hyperventilation associated with panic or anxiety creates lower levels of CO2 in the blood, often leading to decreased attention and mental impediments. Loss of concentration, memory loss, poor coordination, distraction, lower reaction time, and lower intellectual functioning are all associated with low CO2.

Feeling anxious: produces a distinguishing pattern of upper-chest breathing, which modifies blood chemistry. This leads to a chain reaction of effects, inducing anxiety and reinforcing the pattern that produced the dysfunctional pattern of breathing in the first place.

Body Posture: has also been cited as a factor in breathing efficiency and patterns. Somatic therapy tends to operationalize posture as a function of personality or character. Somatic therapists often note how one’s posture is presented when describing the emotional state. They track feelings and sensations in the body to help the client make sense of their experience in connection with their body.

What are some benefits of somatic psychotherapy?

  • The body is not just a location for distress but also for pleasure, connection, vibrancy, vitality, ease, rest, and expansion. Somatic therapy could make this easier to achieve through processing and resolving difficult bodily experiences.
  • Positive self-image: Somatic therapy can help clients feel a positive connection to their bodies and promote self-confidence.
  • Positive body image: Somatic therapy can enhance body connection and comfort instead of disrupting body connection and discomfort by pairing difficulty with enjoyable sensations to increase tolerance.
  • Enhance the body’s ability to experience and express desire by encouraging the client to Stay with and expand enjoyable sensations.
  • Encourages attunement of the body and enhances self-care instead of self-harm and neglect.
  • Provides a protective space where clients can re-associate with their bodily experience.

In conclusion, our bodies contain a complicated, unified, multilevel cellular memory system that allows us to be fully functional human beings, and attending to our body’s needs could enhance our overall mental and physical well-being.

If you are interested in somatic psychotherapy, please contact our Client Care Team to connect with one of our clinicians.


References

Stupiggia, M. (2019). Traumatic Dis-Embodiment: Effects of trauma on body perception and body image. In H. Payne, S. Koch, and J. Tantia (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Embodied Perspectives in Psychotherapy (pp. 389-396). Routledge

Verny, T. R. (2021). The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies. Simon and Schuster.

Victoria, H. K., & Caldwell, C. (2013). Breathwork in body psychotherapy: Clinical applications. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 8(4), 216- 228. https://doi.org/10.1080/17432979.2013.828657

“It’s a Wonderful Life!” – Every parent’s response: “is it really?”

“It’s a Wonderful Life!” – Every parent’s response: “is it really?”

What does Family Systems teach about being Parent-Oriented?


Let me paint a fictional yet very real picture: 

“I can’t take it! This yelling is killing me,” Trish cried out to her husband in frustration.

Trish: 41 years old, married to Owen, mother of two boys (Jake, 9, and Sam, 14), and working part time at a Marketing firm – sat down with her head down. 

She went on, “I’m exhausted… and feel more tyrant than parent! I can’t take much more…”

So much for the classic Christmas exclamation (yes, I’m still in the Christmas/New Years reflective mode) we wish we could all shout from the rooftops: “It’s a wonderful life!” 

Trish’s internal dialogue: 

What an absolute battle! Shouldn’t swimming lessons be fun? Nevermind my lovely intentions for him to make some friends, something he is clearly struggling to do.

Our internal critics can be ruthless in their judgements: 

The tone you used was too intense! What sort of mother screams like this at her kids? Hopefully none of the neighbors heard that. It’s hopeless! I cannot stop this yelling. Am I just a bad mother?

It’s one of those moments when you have intrusive thoughts about how you wish you could escape all the commitments you have. You are trying to uphold an image of order and yet the cracks are forming and your will power is running dangerously low.

If this is you, breathe in and out deeply. Right now. Try it. It helps. Slowly breathe in and out again. Take your time. I’ll explain in a second. This is important.

There is hope.

There are new dance moves to learn! New songs you and your family can move to. 

There is hope.

Do you sense a little doubt rising up? If so, go ahead and acknowledge that part of you that is skeptical. Take a moment, and acknowledge that inner skeptic. Listen to what it’s saying. Makes sense. Change is difficult. We’ve gone down this road too many times. Hope often feels out of reach.


Well, as a therapist and fellow human (who is new to the parenting game), I want to encourage you and share some steps you can take to become that peaceful presence you long to be within your family.

Take the First Step.

I want to encourage you: walking up those stairs to confront your child, to investigate the brewing chaos, or to engage in the struggle to get your kid to swimming lessons is so important. Being a parent is a sacred duty. As much as I can through the medium of a blog, I want to say this: Well done! Parenting is so important.

Some of the biggest names in psychology and parenting – Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté – together wrote a book called Hold Onto Your Kids and they repeatedly highlight the importance of our children being attached or connected to us as their parents. Perhaps this seems obvious but, in fact, researchers are seeing a trend of children becoming increasingly more attached to their peers than their parents. This means our kids are getting their cues or primary validation from their friends over us, their parents. Do your kids lean towards being peer-oriented or parent-oriented? A helpful sign is who do they turn to when in crisis? Or this: when your child is freaking out at you it’s a sign of their safety with you. 

Whatever the answer may be, your involvement is critical. And that means walking up those stairs over and over again.

I think of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life where George Bailey doubts whether his life has made any difference in light of the chaotic forces of big business creeping in and widening the inequality gap. In a moment of despair George wishes he had never lived! The classic parental exclamation: “is anything I am doing making a difference!?” Spoiler warning. George Bailey gets his wish to see what his community would look like if he never lived…and what does he discover? His life, in fact, has positively impacted countless lives. This movie is a beautiful witness to the power of a life well lived. The takeaway? Our lives, our love, and each little decision we make has a significant impact in ways that, more often than not, we will never see.

Your attention, your love, your concern for your kids, even if it comes across not perfectly, is worthwhile, essential and life changing.

Take the Next Step.

So back to our main question: how do we end this seemingly endless screaming match and attain that wonderful life we all want?

Deep breath in. And breathe out slowly. 

Here’s an answer according to Family Systems research:

One of the best things you can do for your kid is to focus NOT on your kids but to focus on yourself.

What? This is a strange invitation indeed. 

Hal Runkl, a seasoned family therapist, puts it this way, “We all feel incredibly anxious about our kids, and their choices, and we don’t know what to do about it. We fret and worry about how our kids will turn out. Inevitably, we’re so focused on our kids that we don’t realize when this anxiety takes over—and we get reactive.” (Runkl, 2009, p. 9). 


Hal continues, “First, it’s a given that there are things in this world we can control and things we cannot control. Now ask yourself this question: How smart is it to focus your energy on something you can’t do anything about, something you cannot control? Answer: Not very. Follow-up question: Which category do your kids fall into? In other words, are your children something you can control or something you cannot control? Here’s an even tougher question: Even if you could control your kids, should you? Is that what parenting is all about? And what if it’s not the kids who are out of control?” (Runkl, 2009, p. 11). 

Compelling right? Take a moment to think about that paragraph. Not fully sold yet? That’s okay. Stay with me just a bit longer so I can paint a picture of what this sort of parenting might look like. 

So the natural next question to ask is: what does it look like to focus on ourselves as parents? 

Take A Different Step.

It means doing what I got you to do above.

First, breathe in. Breathe out. 

Then, acknowledge the parts of yourself that rose up (the inner skeptic we acknowledged earlier). 

And then finally, move towards your kids.

Hal Runkl puts it this way: calm down, grow up, get close.

This sort of parenting is less about mastering the available parenting techniques but harnessing what Edwin Friedman (another family therapist) calls a “non-anxious presence.” It’s less about skills to learn and more about managing our anxiety. It’s difficult but doable. And it works! 

The power of harnessing a non-anxious presence is that if change occurs in one part of the family system, it affects the entire system. When anxiety rises in one person, it instantly impacts the entire family system. Like certain house heating systems: if the temperature drops, instantly the heating system alters to adjust the temperature. Thus, as the parent, when one lowers their own anxiety (perhaps through our three steps – calm down, grow up, and get close) you will immediately impact the entire family. In fact, our heightened anxiety often creates the very outcomes it seeks to prevent (check out counterwill and Otto Rank for more on this).

This is why the first step of harnessing a non-anxious presence is breathing or getting calm. This aligns with new research that teaches us about mirror neurons which activate in those around us in response to our emotional state (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). Our brains are beautifully programmed to be really good at mirroring, or “getting in tune” with those around us. So, as you manage your breathing in high intensity situations, it will impact those you are around. So, first: calm down. Breathe.

Think Things Through.

Some questions to ponder related to our first step: what situations with your children make you the most reactive? What is said that typically triggers you? What are you feeling at that moment? Have you ever remained calm in the midst of family chaos? How did that affect those around you? 

The second step – grow up – is about how we handle the anxiety that is inherent in our families. It’s about avoiding speedy responses (emotional reactivity), increasing our self-awareness, and taking time to really think. 

Can you, in the heat of the moment as you walk up the stairs in response to the apparent chaos brewing, acknowledge the sadness, anger, and anxiety in you that is rising up? 

Hal puts it this way, “the only way to retain a position of influence with our children is to regain a position of control over ourselves” (Runkl, 2009, p. 16). Part of growing up, and thus infusing peace into our families, is our ability to embrace the emotional intensity present, the painful words unleashed, and the immediate discomfort for long-term pay-off. This is the process of maturity: our sacred responsibility as parents. 

“I hate you!” “You’re no fun… I want to go out Friday night.” “I don’t know how to do this homework!”

Cue anxiety. Do you feel it in your shoulders? This anxiety leads to two usual responses: Scream or avoid! Instead, each time this anxiety rises up it is an opportunity for us to grow up. And this process of pausing, thinking, and becoming aware of our own emotions, gives us enough space to think and respond from a non-anxious position… or as close as we can get to it.

So, the second step is to grow up: embrace your own anxiety, name the thoughts and emotions that come up, and take a moment to think.

I’ll keep the third step simple. The final step is to get close, which simply means remaining connected. From this place of calm move towards your kids. 

The Take Home Message. 

Let’s put this all together:

Your kids are fighting upstairs. Your heart rate starts to increase.. Angry thoughts start to arrive: “I’ve got dinner to make…I just put out five different fires today and now this kid is at it again!” These intrusive thoughts and more flood your brain. 

Here is what you need to do.

Walk upstairs… slow your pace… (unless danger is truly on the table… but it probably isn’t)…. Breathe in and out… attempt to slow your heart rate… even a little bit. Become aware of the part of you that is angry… where do you experience it? What is its job for you? Then, enter the room…

In conclusion, peace enters our families not in the way we expect, not through focusing on our kids – something we cannot or shouldn’t control – but through focusing on ourselves. Calming down, growing up, and getting close.

 

References

Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2004). Hold On to Your Kids: why parents need to matter more than peers. Vintage Canada. 

Rizzolatti, G., & Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror-neuron system. Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 27, 169-192.

Runkel, H. E. (2009). Screamfree parenting: The revolutionary approach to raising your kids by keeping your cool. Broadway. 

Are You New to this Therapy Thing?

Are You New to this Therapy Thing?

New to Counselling?

Are you new to this counselling thing? Are you contemplating giving it a try? Do you need to go to counselling? Or just curious as to what the fuss is all about? 

Well, here’s my attempt at giving you a little glimpse into the beauty of this phenomenon that is growing in its cultural acceptance and perhaps this can help you figure out whether signing up for counselling is the next right move for you. I speak as a fellow human who has attended counselling and as a therapist who has sat opposite to many who have courageously sought out help through the medium of therapy.

Here are some stats to gain a wider picture:

  • Statista conducted a survey of 1,650 people ranging from 18 years and older in 2020 via telephone interview. They asked the respondents, “in the past 12 months, have you received any counseling or treatment for your mental health?” 43.7% of respondents from British Columbia said “yes.” New Brunswick wins (or loses depending on how you look at it…) at 60.1% of respondents responding with “yes.” Manitoba was the lowest at 27.7%. 
  • Another study found that between 2019 and 2021 the percentage of adults who had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months grew from 19.2% to 21.6% (Terlizzi & Schiller, 2022). 
  • Statistics Canada found that in 2018 17.8% of Canadians aged 12 and older reported needing some help with their mental health. This is around 5.3 million people. That’s a lot of people! Out of that 5.3 million, 43.8% reported that their needs were either not met (they did not go to therapy) or were partially met (they went to therapy but it was not enough).

What do these three sources tell us? 

Simply put, therapy is being accessed more and more. Perhaps, we are catching on to the fact that our mental health is worth investing in. It really is. Gone are the days when therapy was reserved for those that we lazily labeled (or diagnosed) with words like “crazy” or “problematic.”

5.3 million Canadians acknowledged the need for assistance with their mental wellbeing. 

Deeper than just being accessed more, these studies are perhaps a helpful reminder that you are not alone, not part of a small fringe group, but… dare I say… human. Not yet got this “life” thing figured out. Normal? I think so.

 

What Does Therapy Look Like?

So, if you’re new to this or not yet bought into it, give me a moment to paint a picture of what it looks like: 

You arrive in a cozy office, sit in the waiting room, another fellow human – your counsellor – will arrive and call your name, together you’ll enter a room with a couch and perhaps a few chairs. You sit down. And then…

This is what you may see on the outside but so much is happening internally. 

You are setting out on a grand adventure. 

You are escaping the noise and bustle of every-day life.

You are marching out into battle. 

You are sitting by a warm fire on a stormy winter evening.

You are resolving unfinished business.

You are tending a wound that no-one around you sees.

You are aspiring and hoping for who you could become.

You are settling into who you are, becoming more at home in your own skin.

If you break your arm, you go to a doctor. This doctor will first assess your injury and then set you off on a path of healing and recovery – aligning your arm, bracing it, and advising you on what activities may or may not be achievable in light of your wound. 

In a similar way, you may have experienced various psychological/relational/emotional challenges – a huge setback in your work life and left feeling fragile, recurring conflict in your most intimate relationships, abuse from people that were supposed to be your protectors – and the question remains: where do I go to sort through/respond/heal these challenges?

The added challenge of mental health is its invisible quality, which leaves us vulnerable to the pushback: “is this just in my head? Can I just push through and deal with this?” A broken arm just seems so simple and obvious. However, mental pain and suffering left unattended can fester in similar ways than an untreated wound. Though, it may come out in angry outbursts, tension in your shoulders (perhaps its not so invisible…), the inability to know what you feel, a low sense of self-worth, or intrusive thoughts that plague you every time you slow down. 

This is where counselling becomes useful in attending to your mental well-being. It is true that humans are resilient and often, even after experiencing traumatic life events, people bounce back with courage and vitality. And yet, counselling is a protected space to address and tend to our relational, emotional, personal challenges.

 

How does counselling accomplish change?

At very least it accomplishes this through undoing our unbearable aloneness. Dr. Diana Fosha passionately declares that our relational, emotional, personal challenges largely stem from “being alone in the face of overwhelming emotion” (Fosha, 2000). Thus, therapy, at its best, works to undo aloneness.

Judith Herman, the legendary trauma therapist, writes that “the fundamental premise of the psychotherapeutic work is a belief in the restorative power of truth-telling” (Herman, 2015, p.181). In the presence of another human, can you share honestly how you are doing? Can you express, in detail and with clarity, the truth of your being? As you dive into the biggest challenges that seem to plague your life through this act of “truth-telling”, you are met with wise attentiveness and deep compassion.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, the medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, says “being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).

 

A Safe Relationship

Do you have relationships marked by trust, safety, honesty? How can you tell?

Bessell highlights the importance of each of us being heard and seen by another person in our lives. We need to be held in someone else’s mind and heart. He writes, “no doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love; these are complex and hard-earned capacities” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).

Do you feel a desire to be met with this sort of attentiveness and care? Does it feel too good to be true? Too simple? Fair responses. A helpful question to explore is what the costs are for not receiving this hard-earned capacities? 

I know I need them. And as I step into vulnerability—this act of receiving and trusting—I find myself walking lighter, thinking with greater clarity regarding my relationships and problems, and feeling more at home in my body and in this world. Perhaps you could call it feeling mentally healthy.

I encourage you to find relationships that are characterized by these qualities. Whether or not they are counsellors. It will change your life. It’s changed my life.

Here at Alongside You, these quotes inspire our work; We offer award-winning counselling services that are shot through with these qualities: a safe context to be seen, held in the mind of another, and this “hard-earned” love that Bessell speaks about. If you wish to learn more, contact us to see how we can help.

 

References

Elflein, J. (2022, August 31). Adults who received past-year Mental Health Counseling Canada 2020. Statista. Retrieved from, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1328941/adults-who-received-past-year-mental-health-counseling-canada-by-province/ 

Facts and figures. Fraser. (n.d.). Retrieved from, https://vancouver-fraser.cmha.bc.ca/impact/influencing-policy/facts-and-figures/#:~:text=Between%2019.6%25%20and%2026.2%25%20of,a%20mental%20illness%20each%20year. 

Fosha, D. (2000). The transforming power of affect: A model for Accelerated Change. Basic Books. 

Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery. Basic Books.

Statistics Canada. (2019, October 7). Mental health care needs, 2018. Health Fact Sheets. Retrieved from, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00011-eng.htm 

Terlizzi, E. P., & Schiller, J. S. (2022). Mental health treatment among adults aged 18-44: United States, 2019-2021. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books.

Parenting a Young Adult

Parenting a Young Adult

Parenting your Chronically-Ill Young Adult

Becoming an adult is a challenge these days. It’s even more challenging if you have chronic physical or mental illness, pain and/or disability. And it is equally challenging when parenting one of those kiddos. Here are some suggestions about what tends to work, and what tends not to work – although, of course, every child is different, and every parent-child relationship is different – so, take these as suggestions only and use what works for you.

Separation Anxiety

By separation anxiety, I mean yours! It is normal for young adults to become more and more autonomous as they separate from their family of upbringing and learn to stand on their own feet. This can be very anxiety-provoking when you are acutely aware of their struggles. Maybe you know that they have extreme anxiety around dealing with paperwork or making telephone calls. You may wonder, “how are they going to manage in their own place?” But hovering and fussing around isn’t helping them or you. Take a breath, do a guided meditation, and learn to be more patient than you ever thought possible.

If you have a young adult who sometimes goes ‘quiet’ and you have concerns about self-harm, it can be a good idea to have the name and number of a partner, friend or coworker who you can contact to check on how they’re doing. However, this must only be on rare occasions. Don’t use them as a way to deal with your anxieties.

They’re Still Here!

If your young adult is still living at home because of their health, and you are both happy about that, then there is no problem. If either of you are less than enthusiastic about it, then it’s time to give them their own space as much as possible, set boundaries and ground rules that work for everyone, and negotiate for shared time rather than assuming that they want to be around you 24/7. It may also be time for them to assume some of the household duties (to the extent that their health allows) so that they are building transferrable skills, and learning that being an adult comes with responsibilities.

Mind Your Own Business!

Privacy is something which everyone deserves. Our children get less privacy when they are young because that is tempered by the need to have some level of control over their lives to ensure that they are healthy and safe. However, adults have the right to privacy, period. Your kid’s computer, cellphone, finances, diary … all off-limits. If you have concerns, talk to them – it’s the grown-up thing to do and they should be able to expect you to model what being an adult means. They don’t need your permission to go out, but they may need your help with transportation. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll meet their friends and be part of their life way more than if they get grilled every time they leave the house.

What They Need versus What You Want to Do

Often we think we really know our kids and their needs – and we probably do, more than anyone in the world … except them. If we insist on helping the way we want instead of what they need, then we prevent them from growing. For example, if they tell you that they can handle taking the bus to work this week, and don’t need a lift – you may not be sure they can do it. But what’s the worst that can happen? They try it once and then need assistance. But what’s the best that can happen? Maybe they make progress and conquer a new skill! Don’t second guess them. Yes, it’s hard watching them struggle a bit. But that, as the kids say, is a you problem. Don’t make it theirs.

Work together with your kids to make contingency plans that help keep their lives on-track. If they take prescriptions, and you know they have difficulty filling them – keep a few days’ supply so that they won’t ever run out completely. If they’re travelling, and you worry that their ADHD will cause them to lose their passport – take a scanned copy backed up to the Cloud and make sure you both have a photo of it on your phones. There are creative solutions to most problems. Oh, and the occasional home-made mac and cheese never hurts, either!

Parenting Without Judgement!

Make parenting a no-judgement zone. If they get into trouble, they won’t ask for help if they know they are going to hear ‘I told you so’. Minimize issues and let them know that adult life is hard, but manageable, and most things can be fixed. Be ready to help when it’s needed, and be prepared to feel a touch neglected when they’re having a good spell and don’t really need you as much! And quit judging yourself, too. You’re navigating one of the most difficult tightrope walks of all – being there for a child who wants to be independent but who can’t quite manage it yet. You aren’t always going to get it right, and neither are they. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The best thing you can do for your kid is be there for them when they need you to be, and love them, always.

If you find that you are struggling with parenting, don’t be afraid to seek help. It can be a relief to realize that many other people struggle with the same issues. I know it’s hard, but try to let other people in. It can be easy to assume that you are the only one who can help your kid. But even if that’s so, maybe other people can help YOU. Maybe your partner can do the laundry or the supermarket run this week. Don’t get so blinkered that you exhaust yourself completely, because then you won’t be able to help your kid. I am not suggesting that you always put yourself first – no parent of a chronically-ill child I have ever met is able to do that. But I am suggesting that you don’t put yourself last.

Look How Far They’ve Come

It can be hard, when you have a kiddo with chronic health issues, to get bogged down in doctor visits, prescriptions, rough nights, trips to the ER, sensory overloads, etc, etc. But looking back a couple of years usually lets us see the progress which has been made. Maybe things don’t look like you expected them to. But maybe your journey, and your young adult’s, will end up being more meaningful than you ever expected. Celebrate the wins!

We’d love to hear what works for you and your young adult. And if you could use support in your parenting journey, contact us to see how we can help.

What is Play Therapy?

What is Play Therapy?

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked by parents is, “What is play therapy, and why is it the preferred way to work with children in therapy?

When adults begin their counselling journeys, they use words to express and communicate their thoughts and feelings. Young children do not generally communicate this same way, often because they don’t have the language to express what is happening in their internal world. They use play instead of words and let their play speak for them. Through play, children communicate their thoughts, worries, feelings just like adults do with words.

A child’s natural inclination is to play. Through play they are able to learn about the world around them and themselves, for example, I like playing with blocks but not drawing.  To an adult, play can look like an unproductive activity, but appearances can be deceiving. For children, play is serious business. It is never a waste of time. It is through play that children practice limitless things in a free and safe environment, until they have mastered them, preparing children for “the real world”- as adults call it- all without the child, or the child’s parents, realizing it.

Therapeutically, play gives the therapist a peek into the child’s rich inner world. The diverse ways in which children interact with different toys can reveal their feelings, fears, anxieties, desires, and past experiences. Children will act these out in their play and, at the same time, self-soothe/regulate, find novel solutions to problems, and learn.

What Is Play Therapy Helpful For?

Generally, play therapy is used with children between the ages of 3 and 12 years for presenting issues including, but not limited to:

  • Problem behaviors at home or school
  • Facing medical procedures
  • Angry and/or aggressive behaviors
  • Family divorce or separation, loss of a loved one in the family, birth of a sibling
  • Natural disasters
  • Traumatic events
  • Domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
  • Bullying
  • Anxiety, depression, and phobias
  • Deficits in social skills
  • Repressed feelings

The play therapist will typically observe how the child plays during the sessions and may intervene from time to time, depending on the child and the child’s therapeutic needs. Sessions are tailored to each individual child. Therapy goals are assessed in the initial sessions and periodically, thereafter.

What Does a Session Look Like?

Toys and other items are set out in the session room so that children can reach them easily. My preferred method is allowing the child to choose the items he/she wants to use during the session, much like an adult will choose what to discuss in a counselling session. Items used in these sessions can include:

  • Play-doh
  • Paints, coloring pencils/markers and crayons
  • Dolls
  • Miniature house (simulates child’s house) with figures of family members and furniture
  • Toy cars
  • Doctor’s kit
  • Play money
  • Puppets
  • Sand tray
  • Board games and playing cards
  • Legos
  • Blocks
  • Action figures
  • A soft ball

As a play therapist, I find these sessions with children to be not only therapeutically helpful, but also great fun and incredibly rewarding professionally! I know that play therapy can be a bit mysterious for parents and I hope this article helps you understand it a bit more. If your child is struggling, I would love to work with them, and with you to see how play therapy could help!

If you’d like to know more, or book an appointment, click here to contact the Client Care Team. We love your little ones!

Coping Ahead: Anticipating Stress & Boosting Confidence

Coping Ahead: Anticipating Stress & Boosting Confidence

Do you find yourself constantly worrying about every possible scenario that could go wrong? You’re not alone. Constant worrying, overthinking, and feeling out of control can take a big toll on your mental health and well-being. This makes it incredibly difficult to focus on daily tasks or enjoy life to its fullest. But there is a solution: Coping Ahead is an effective technique from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that helps you prepare for stress and manage emotions ahead of time.

Eventualities

When I was 19 years old I learned to pilot gliders (airplanes without engines, also called sailplanes). Before each flight, we would always go through our pre-flight checks, even if the aircraft had just landed from a previous flight. We would make sure all of the controls worked as expected, the instruments were reading correctly, and of other important things worth double-checking when you’re propelling yourself two thousand feet into the sky!

The very last step of every pre-flight check was to review “eventualities.”

Though it’s been many years now since I last flew, I still remember vividly what I would say out loud to myself at this step, time and time again:

“If a wing drops on the launch and I cannot recover, I will release the launch cable and land ahead. At a safe height and speed I will start to climb. In the event of a launch failure, I will release the cable and lower the nose to a recovery attitude, and gain sufficient speed before maneuvering. I will land ahead if possible. Otherwise, I will turn downwind, which today is [left or right] and complete an abbreviated circuit or find a safe landing solution. The wind today is ___ knots which means my minimum approach speed is ___ knots.”

Coping Ahead saves time and effort.

The reason for talking through these eventualities in so much detail on the ground is that you’ve already made all of your decisions in the event of an emergency. In an unlikely situation where the pressure is on and seconds count, you don’t need to waste precious time or mental effort deciding what to do. You’ve already thought it through, and simply must follow your plan.

And this skill isn’t just for pilots! In DBT, coping ahead is an emotion regulation skill that can help you rehearse strategies ahead of time to better handle stressful situations or uncomfortable emotions. By visualizing and planning out how you will cope with challenging situations in advance, you start to feel more confident in your ability to face them, boosting your self-esteem and reducing stress.

What’s the difference between Coping Ahead and overthinking?

Overthinking is a common response to stress that can be counterproductive. It is also a common feature of anxiety that involves dwelling on worst-case scenarios, often leading to a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. It can be triggered by a wide range of every-day stressors or perceived threats.

On the other hand, rather than going in circles about problems, Coping Ahead involves thinking about solutions. It is a deliberate and proactive skill, rather than a reactive response that actually impairs your problem-solving abilities.

How do I learn to Cope Ahead?

If you want to learn how to Cope Ahead, there are some practical tips you can try.

  1. Identify potential stressors in your life, such as upcoming deadlines or social events.
  2. Plan coping strategies that work for you, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or seeking support from friends.
  3. Rehearse your coping strategies in your mind, visualizing yourself using them and picturing how they will help.
  4. Lastly, remember to take some time to relax and ground yourself. Well done!

If you are struggling with…

  • Overthinking
  • Low self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • A sense of low control in your life
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Other conditions that cause intense emotional reactions to common life stressors

…then consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Coping Ahead is a skill that can be learned and practiced, and therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for developing this skill. Contact our clinic to learn more about how we can help.