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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
Last week, I broached the subject of “back to school”. With some insight from teachers, I shared 3 ways to prepare for going back to school in a positive way. We looked at three components: Trust, Teamwork and Transitions. For Part Two of my blog, I want to share some practical tips, the ABC’s if you will, of what to remember when going back to school for both parents and children, and especially students who have challenges with being at school. The ABC’s stand for Advocacy, Bravery and Connection.
Parents Can Be an Advocate for their Child
Parents, please hear me when I say, you have the hardest job in the world. Being a parent is intense, it challenges you to the core, it captures your highest highs and your lowest lows. You have the responsibility of helping your child grow, learn and discover. You are your child’s biggest champion and because of this, you have the privilege to speak on behalf of your child when your child might need some extra support, especially at school.
I recently saw a parent of a child with some behavioural challenges. As she spoke through the tears, she looked at me and said, “I just want people to see what a great kid he is, I don’t want them to see all the challenges. I want them to see him.” This is what being an advocate looks like, painting a picture of who the child is at his/her best and what needs to be put in place in order for this to happen.
Here are some practical ways to be an advocate for your child:
Be informed. Know the challenges your child faces at school. If your child has a diagnosis, learn about how the diagnosis affects your child’s learning at school. Does your child need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)? If so, collaborate with the classroom teacher to get it started. Know your child’s strengths and continue to find creative ways to work from a positive strengths-based perspective.
Keep organized. Gather all paperwork, reports and letters and get a binder where you keep all the information regarding your child. Make sure you have it accessible and bring it to meetings when/if necessary.
Build relationships. Introduce yourself to the principal. Get to know your child’s teacher. Connect with the support staff. More information about this can be found in Part 1 of the series.
Talk to your child. What does your child need to learn and share these insights with your child’s teacher:
Extra time to work on projects
A different way to show their work ie: typing instead of writing
A specific place to sit in the classroom
Time to be able to move around
Breaks during the day
Emphasize Being Brave, Not Perfect.
A few months ago, I sat with some parents who shared with me a story about their 6-year-old daughter who, despite never trying, did not want to play baseball because she was “not good at it.” I was so disheartened to hear this. How can a precious little person announce that they are not good at something without even trying it?
Let’s face it, not many of us like to fail. Not one bit. But the reality is that we are not going to be perfect at everything. To put it bluntly, we are not going to be perfect at hardly anything.
This coming school year, it is time to exercise your brave muscle. Imagine what your child could experience if they heard that it is better to be brave than perfect? Encourage your child to take risks, even if it leads to failure. Praise your child for the effort they put into a project, not in the grade. Delight in the scraped knees, crushed spirit and tears because it takes bravery to try to slide into home base and get called out instead of waiting cautiously on third.
What might be brave looks like for you and your child?
Be the example. As the Big person, the model being brave, taking risks and perhaps even failing.
Asking the new kid to play with them
Trying a new sport, even if they do not know-how
Asking for help from a classmate
Putting up your hand in class and saying you don’t understand
Telling a friend that they hurt your feelings
Sharing with each other ways that you tried new things but failed. Maybe even make a joke out of it and share Failure Fridays.
I often tell my clients when they feel like giving up and not trying, remember, “I can do hard things.” This is what brave looks like. It is acknowledging that this is hard, but you can do hard things.
Perfection breeds unrealistic expectations, stress, discomfort and constant striving. Bravery evokes self-determination, strength and resilience. I believe these are the qualities that this school year can foster.
Don’t Forget to Connect
Many parents replay the same scene each day after school. They ask their child, “How was school today?” And the instant answer, inevitably, is, “Fine.” Typically, the follow-up question might be, “What did you learn today?” With the usual answer being, “Nothing.”
I cannot stress enough the importance of connection. Take time to connect after the school day. Take time to be fully present with your child without distractions.
Here are some great alternatives to “How was your day today?” You never know what you might learn.
What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?).
Tell me something that made you laugh today.
If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?).
Where is the coolest place at the school?
Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)
If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
How did you help somebody today?
How did somebody help you today?
What is one thing that you tried today?
When were you the happiest today?
When were you bored today?
If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?
Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
Tell me something good that happened today!
What word did your teacher say most today?
What do you think you should do/learn more about at school?
What do you think you should do/learn less at school?
Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
Where do you play the most at recess?
Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
What was your favourite part of lunch?
If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?
If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?
Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.
To make this connection time into more of a routine, consider putting the questions in a jar and picking a question each day and even coming up with your own.
Make it a habit to put your phones down and turn your screens off and be present for your child. Make it a priority to spend time together each week. Put it in your calendar so you make it into the schedule.
Reading a book together
Playing a board game with some snacks
Ask your child to teach you something he/she enjoys doing
Go for a walk around the block
Go to a coffee shop and order a hot chocolate and play a game of cards
Write a letter to a family member
Record each other singing a song
Go to the gym together
Take a class at the Rec Center together
Like learning the real ABC’s, being an Advocate for your child, exercising your Brave muscle and making time to Connect takes practice. Please know you are not alone. Alongside You wants to journey with you and your child through this upcoming school year. Please reach out if you need some extra support – maybe that is exactly what brave looks like for you! Together we can help you be a progressive advocate for your child and help you connect in beautiful and tangible ways.
You’ve got this, parents! Happy Back to school everyone!
Cue music. “It’s the most… won-der-ful time… of… the… Year!” Nope, not Christmas just yet. It’s BACK TO SCHOOL time. While this realization might bring fear to some and joy to others, the reality is that September is going to be here sooner than we know it. I wanted to take some time to address how families and students can prepare for school in a positive way. I wonder, how can the change of summer routine into the school routine be met with anticipation instead of dread?
This summer, I had the privilege to run into my very first teacher: Mme Buss. She taught me kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. I remember how much I loved learned from her. I was in French Immersion and can recall looking up at her and speaking rather loudly saying, “I don’t understand what you are saying!” To which, she would continue to reply back in French and point to what I needed to be doing. Now multiply that by 25 students. Personally, I think teachers are real-life heroes. They have dedicated their career to help, support, encourage, teach and champion students. This is no small feat.
I have connected with some teachers and asked for their input, I mean they have gone back to school for years, so they are getting pretty good at it. In fact, the information that they shared with me was too much for one blog post, so stay tuned for Part 2. I love a good alliteration so this post will focus on TRUST, TEAM, and TRANSITION.
Building Trust With Your Child’s Teacher
The resounding message that was repeated over and over again was trust. It is vital for parents to trust teachers and vice versa. Perhaps, you as a parent might have had a negative experience with a teacher either as a student yourself or your child. Yet, it is so important to understand that teachers are doing the best job they can. Trust them that they are working for your child’s best interest. Trust takes time to foster and grow.
A counsellor who works in the school shared her thoughts: “I would like parents to hear… please trust me! If there are things going on with your family and I can help, please come talk to me! If your kiddo is struggling or you need support, I have resources! And if I offer you services, it’s because I care about your child and want them to be healthy and happy – it’s not a criticism of you or your parenting. Please don’t feel bothered or threatened if your child wants to talk to me – I’m here to listen without judgment. Also, while my primary job is to support the kids, if you need an ear, I will do my best to lend one!”
Another teacher explained: “When we have a fuller picture of what struggles and accomplishments a child is going through, we are more prepared to work with them and the family. It also goes a long way to speak in positive ways about your child’s teacher. We do the same for parents. For example, we always take stories from home with a grain of salt – kids don’t see the full picture of what all happened at school.”
Trust denotes belief, confidence and faith. These reflect the attitudes that are so crucial to have when building trust. There needs to be a belief in the skills and knowledge that a teacher’s posses. We must have confidence in the teacher’s capacity and care for your child and lastly, faith in the understanding that trust is built through connection and engagement.
Some things to think about:
How would the school year be different, if you started to cultivate trust with your child’s teacher? What would trust look like?
Imagine the impact of starting the school year with gratitude and acknowledging the hard work that each teacher puts in and thanking your child’s teacher? How can you share this gratefulness with your child’s teacher?
The Importance of Teamwork
It has been said that teamwork makes the dream work. This cannot be truer for parents, students and teachers, they are a team. I loved how one teacher expressed their perspective: “Teachers and families are a team. Families are their child’s first and best teacher, we (teachers) have so much to learn from them. We want to know about their child, big things, celebrations, important changes, please continue to inform us.”
Parents and teachers are not in competition with one another. They are a team and have a common goal: what’s best for your child. Another teacher spoke about the power of assuming the best of your child’s teacher by explaining, “teachers and parents need to be a team in order to best support the learning of each child. The attitude of ‘I am going to talk to that teacher and fix this problem!’ has way less value than, ‘I am going to talk to the teacher and see how we can work together to resolve an issue.’ Approach teachers with an assumption that they love this child and want the best for them…one of the safest assumptions ever!’” Each person has a different role in the team and yet, they are part of the team nonetheless. Play to your strengths. Speak with kindness and grace. Be generous in your assumptions of teachers.
Another teacher brought humour and humility through their words: “Though educators are “experts” in our area, we are not experts of your child – you are, dear parent/guardian! We respect that, yet our advice/comments/suggestions are to help guide your child to success as they select from the menu of school – what they like, don’t like, enjoy, are curious about – those topics, subjects and activities are where our strengths are but knowing your child as well as you do can only happen thanks to what you share and they share with us. Together we make up a three-legged stool – teacher/home/child – all equally important in the quest to reach the cookies on the top shelf.”
Some things to think about:
Consider teaming up (see what I did there?!) and writing a letter with your child to your child’s teacher. Sharing with the teacher all about your child, letting them know the things that help your child learn best and some of the areas that are challenging for them.
If your schedule allows it, consider showing your commitment to being part of the team by volunteering to help the teacher in whatever capacity they need.
A small token of appreciation always helps to build a sense of teamwork, cookies anyone?
How To Manage Transitions
Switching from summer mode to school mode is challenging for the best of us. I would be remised if I didn’t speak about transitions. Transitions are hard. They can be unpredictable, confusing, and downright frustrating. It is so important to help prepare your child for the upcoming school year. An insider’s perspective shared this practical advice: “September is a big transition. Give it time. Your child may be off and act unusually. Give it 6 weeks. Compare it to you starting a new job. You’re on and trying to follow the rules, build relationships and do your best all day every day. When you come home, you want to crash, veg out, etc. As an adult, you have some strategies and abilities to set boundaries, self-regulate etc. Kids don’t necessarily have those yet. So, expect meltdowns. Expect tired and hungry kids. Expect your child to be great for the first week and then refuse to come the second, make sure you still bring them. Routine is key”.
Some tips and tricks to make transitions easier:
Have a schedule/calendar where children can see it, so they know what is coming up and can prepare
Take time for exercise, if possible, get outside and enjoy nature.
Encourage your child to get lots of sleep, and you too while you are at it.
When possible, enjoy healthy food together
Make time to just play and hang after school, if possible save joining piano, dance, swimming for later.
Read with your child every night.
As your child’s best BIG person, the best thing you can do for your child at home is to model healthy living habits, love and support. Turn off screens and connect with your children.
Some things to think about:
What tips will you incorporate for your family to help encourage a successful transition back to school?
Consider doing some back to school shopping with your child and take some time to connect and ask how your child is feeling about the upcoming changes? How can you work together to make this school year a great one?
Going back to school brings up a myriad of emotions for both parents and students. However, there are people to support both you and your child. Alongside You provides counselling services for parents and children. If you are wanting more information or tools to know how to best support your child going back to school, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact me, or one of the many counsellors who would be more than happy to help you.
I can appreciate the not everyone has a positive experience with school. Please stay tuned for Part 2 of the Back to School Blog that will provide resources and suggestions for those students who find school a bit more challenging and need extra support.
I never thought that I was a perfectionist growing up. The state of my room at any given point in time seemed to be an indication of my lack of perfectionism. As I grew older, however, I started wondering about it. At the same time, I also didn’t really know what it was. So, I continued on and forgot about it.
Fast forward to the present day, and again I’m wondering about it. Anyone close to me knows that I’m pretty particular about things, and often have a specific idea of how things need to be. If you visit our office, you’re likely to see some of that in action. As I worked on my car this morning, I noticed it creeping in. My fun car, a 1997 BMW M3, is now 22 years old. It has squeaks and rattles. It’s well maintained, but even so, if I’m working on the engine and I notice a sound that doesn’t seem quite right, it’s incredibly easy for me to obsess about it, rather than accepting that it’s a 22-year-old car that is going to have some strange sounds at times.
It even creeps into work. Shocking, I know. When we first started, we set out to fill gaps in services, particularly in counselling in Delta. The reasonable person would know that we were flying by the seat of our pants many times, trying things that didn’t work, and revamping again. Truth be told, as we’ve expanded and branched out far beyond counselling, we’re still figuring it out as we go along. I think this is actually a good thing because we’re trying to figure out how to help people in new, creative, and needed ways. It just doesn’t sit well with my perfectionism most of the time, and as I’m writing this, I also think this has a lot to do with the anxiety I often feel around work.
My counsellor and I were talking about this last week, and he gave me a really helpful handout on perfectionism that he’d come across, which you can read here. Addressing the full topic of perfectionism would take far longer than this blog post, so I want to give you some bullet points that I’ve noticed in my own life with perfectionism, and also what has helped me – and I hope that it helps you!
Three Signs That You Might Be A Perfectionist
You care deeply about everything, even things that really don’t matter much.
Don’t get me wrong, caring is a good thing. Particularly as a counsellor, caring is important! Here’s the thing though – we need to care about things at an appropriate level. The difficult part is knowing what that appropriate level is, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
You have unrealistically high standards, in almost everything you do.
High standards are a good thing. It’s something that I actually appreciate about myself, and usually, something people appreciate about me. The problem comes when our high standards become impossible One of my battles is that it is impossible for me to know about, account for, and control all of the details in a rapidly growing clinic. It was much easier when it was just me, Meg, and a couple others at the beginning. If it goes on for too long, it’s easy to get frustrated and just stop caring about anything, which doesn’t help either!
You have a difficult time with criticism.
I don’t know anyone that likes criticism and coupled with the fact that most people suck at giving constructive criticism, it’s a difficult thing for many people to handle. It’s very difficult for perfectionists because it flies in the face of their standards, their view of themselves, and their views of their accomplishments. How do you feel when someone offers constructive criticism? Does your body respond in revolt? Do you immediately go to justification and finding ways to fight back?
These are only three of the many signs of perfectionism you may notice in yourself if you’re indeed a perfectionist. If you’re interested in getting a quick sense of whether this might be a thing for you, you can try this screening tool as a way of finding out if perfectionism should be on your radar.
So, what if you are indeed a perfectionist? What do you do? Here are three things that help me keep my perfectionism in check, and I hope they’re helpful for you!
Three Ways To Combat Your Perfectionism
Question your level of care about things.
If you are caring about everything very deeply, then there’s something goofy in your meter. This one can be difficult, especially for something high on the emotional spectrum. Caring deeply about fellow human beings is a wonderful attribute, although it too needs to be kept in check. Caring deeply about whether the Kleenex boxes match the wall colour, or the specific noise your car is making is exactly as it should be when everything is running fine, or other such things may be an indication that your level of care is off.
One question I ask myself frequently is, “What is my level of care on this one, and is that reasonable?” I find this question to be especially helpful if my stress, or anxiety levels are high – because if they are, then that lovely limbic system is going to shut off our frontal lobes, which is the area of the brain that helps us determine reasonability.
Question your standards and expectations.
Working hard is a good thing. Being disciplined is also a good thing. Having no boundaries on either of these is not. It was pointed out to me when I did my Birkman assessment during my certification training that I will never expect anyone else to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. I’ve found this to be very true. The problem is, I expect extremely high standards from myself, and thus, it’s easy for me to pass all of those onto others. My own standards are often impossible to meet.
A question I use to keep myself in check on this one is, “If someone else were doing this, and it had nothing to do with me, would I think this standard was reasonable?” This integrates a little bit of the mindful self-compassion that Kristin Neff has developed and I find very helpful. We often expect things of ourselves that we would never expect from others. It also helps us give our brain a break, reduce anxiety, and increase the chance of having a reasonable perspective.
Have key people in your life whom you trust.
This is perhaps the most important of these three. I cannot overstate the value of key people who know you well, care about you, and are able to speak truth into your life, even when it’s hard. The trust part is key, because you’re going to have to trust that they’re doing it for your benefit, and it’s not because you’ve failed.
I’m fortunate to have a number of key people like this in my life who keep me in check. First and foremost is my wife, Meg. She knows me better than anyone else in the world, loves me despite my inadequacies, and also isn’t afraid to speak the truth to me when I need to hear it. I know that when she calls me out, she’s doing it for my own good, and I need that.
I also have my Registered Clinical Counsellor that I have a standing appointment with each month. I’ve been seeing the same counsellor since 2014, and I still remember our first appointment. I sat down and said to him, “Here’s how this works. I have impossible standards, I care deeply, and I don’t always have perspective. I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it. If that isn’t you, that’s ok and I’ll thank you for your time. If it is, awesome, and we’ll get on famously.” He said he had no problem with that, and true to his word, he’s still supporting me, pushing me, and calling me out when I need it 5 years later.
Perfectionism can be a difficult thing to manage. It’s part personality, part anxiety, and wholly exhausting at times. I’ve been dealing with it for many years, but through some of the strategies above, and thanks in great part to some key people in my life, I have learned to manage it well, most of the time.
I know that my counsellor has played a key role in my ability to manage this part of myself. If you’re struggling with perfectionism and would like some help, we’re here. We’ve all got our stuff, and sometimes that outside perspective can be really helpful.
One of the questions I sometimes get asked is whether we do qEEG and linear neurofeedback here at Alongside You. Invariably, my answer is, “No, we use dynamic neurofeedback.” Understandably, people wonder why that is, so I thought I’d take a minute to explain why we use dynamic neurofeedback vs linear neurofeedback training. Before I continue, let me be very clear on one thing – both linear, and dynamic neurofeedback work, they are simply different approaches with different upsides and potential downsides. When we looked at our clinic and practice, the dynamic is what fit best for what we do.
A Very Brief History of Neurofeedback Training
Although many people still have not heard of neurofeedback, it has been around for decades, going back as far as the 1950s and 1960s and to research performed by Dr. Joseph Kamiya from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA. Since then, there has been an amazing amount of research on, and development of neurofeedback with a wide variety of clinical applications.
The most well-known form of linear neurofeedback these days involves the use of qEEG brain imaging and mapping. From this, it is thought that diagnostics can be derived, and specific areas treated to relieve specific symptoms. Many people have used qEEG and the different linear neurofeedback protocols with great success. This method appeals to our rational brains as well, because it gives us an image, with a diagnosis, and a specific form of treatment based on protocols.
Why linear neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
I’ll admit, this approach appeals to my scientific, rational brain that likes numbers, graphs, and black and white answers. The problem is, the science of linear neurofeedback isn’t, in my opinion, as black and white as it may appear. While linear neurofeedback favours training at specific sites, research suggests that at any given site on the scalp, sensors will pick up signals from across the brain, both from under the surface and across the scalp. The complexity of brain signalling cannot be overstated, and it may be problematic to assume that training at a certain site will affect all individuals with specific problems in the same way. This problem is made greater when we use DSM diagnoses to guide methods because they are defined by behavioural characteristics of individuals vs specific behaviours as defined by neurologists. There are also multiple subtypes of EEG with reference to DSM categories, including 11 subtypes of ADHD determined by Chabot (1996), for example.1
qEEG is still a helpful tool, and linear neurofeedback does work, it’s just not as black and white as it may appear. General groupings of EEG have been shown to correlate to specific DSM categories, but training based only on qEEG doesn’t guarantee results. Training at specific sites also does not necessarily permanently alter brain activity at that site, but it may in fact do so – we just don’t know and can’t predict that.1
Why dynamic neurofeedback is both appealing and problematic
Let’s be unconventional and start with the problematic part of dynamic neurofeedback – it’s not a specific treatment for a specific symptom. While I’ve briefly highlighted how this is not altogether completely different from linear neurofeedback, linear does have the ability to potentially be more specific to symptoms. So why do we do dynamic neurofeedback training then? What’s the upside? I’m glad you asked.
Dynamic neurofeedback is diagnostically agnostic What this means, is that the protocols do not depend on a specific, accurate diagnosis from the DSM. Dynamic neurofeedback trains the brain as it is, in its current state of being. It constantly evaluates the brain (at approximately 256 times per second) and bases the training on this evaluation, outside of diagnostic categories.
It trains the whole brain, not just part of it The downside is that we can’t specifically say we are treating a specific symptom. The upside is that we can say that we are training the entire brain to function at its best. Thus, anything we are experiencing as a negative symptom that is related to the brain not functioning at its best, we can hope to see improvements in. We can’t guarantee that we’ll see relief in specific areas, but as I’ve already mentioned above, qEEG and linear neurofeedback protocols can’t truly guarantee that either.
There is no chance of clinical error With linear neurofeedback, an evaluation of the brain is done, and a treatment protocol put in place based on the assumption that the brain is showing activity on a certain wavelength, and should be behaving differently. Thus, the brain is manipulated in a particular direction to produce the desired change. If the assumption is correct, we see positive results. If, however, the assumption is wrong, it can introduce negative results, side effects, etc. With dynamic neurofeedback, we don’t manipulate the brain. We present the brain with information about what it is doing in real-time and allow the brain to make the adjustment itself. From current research, we know that the brain is perfectly capable of changing itself and adjusting based on neuroplasticity (you may have heard of The Brain That Changes Itself). Dynamic neurofeedback works on this principle and provides the information the brain needs to make its adjustments. Thus, there is literally no chance of clinical error in this form of neurofeedback.
It helps us reach those who may not be able to access neurofeedback otherwise Because our type of neurofeedback and its protocols are housed within the software, it does not require the same level of training that most linear neurofeedback does. This allows us to be creative in how we deploy it in our clinic. As a Registered Clinical Counsellor, I do all the assessment work involved in tracking for in-clinic neurofeedback. We have trained technicians who run the in-between sessions to keep costs down. We are also able to offer rental units for people to do at home, which allows those who can’t get into the clinic to access it, and also further reduces the per-session costs. This aligns with our mission to provide the best care possible and fill in gaps in service.
I hope this helps explain some of why we use dynamic neurofeedback training in our clinic. It’s an approach that works, produces results, and fits us and our clients best. If you’re curious to know more, check out this page on our website with more explanation and answers to common questions. You can also read more on our blog here.
If you have further questions or want to give it a try, please contact us or give us a call. It’s an amazing technology that we can all benefit from (myself included!).