My Journey To Becoming A Counsellor – Bell Lets Talk Day 2022

My Journey To Becoming A Counsellor – Bell Lets Talk Day 2022

Director’s note: The following article is written by our Registered Clinical Counsellor, Marcia Moitoso, in conjunction with Bell Let’s Talk Day. If you haven’t met us yet, you’ll find out quickly that we’re about being real. We’re all here because we are on our own journey, and want to help others on theirs. Marcia’s article is a very real, personal account of her own journey with mental health and trauma and how it led her to where she is today. I want to express my gratitude to Marcia for being willing to share her journey with others, and I hope you find it helpful. Please be aware, the article describes some traumatic events that may bring up some emotions while reading. – Andrew
 

My Journey To Becoming A Counsellor

 

I came to a career in counselling as part of a long, arduous struggle with my own mental health. I want to share my journey with you as a way to show you that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone, things can get better, and we’re in this together.

 

My Story

 
My story toward healing really begins at 20 years old, when I hit the lowest low and far more psychological pain than I could have ever predicted. Laying on the bathroom floor of the courthouse after a two-year court battle against the person who sexually assaulted me, I remember thinking this is it, I can’t imagine continuing to live at this point, how can I possibly keep going? Unfortunately, like many of us, I had been through a lot of sexual assault in my early years. I had always felt immense shame about everything that happened to me, believing it was my fault and so I never told anyone how I felt, kept it inside and instead coped with eating disorders, self-harm, and substance use. This last incident in my late teens was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t keep going like this, something had to change or I didn’t think I’d survive.

I wrestled a lot with the urge to give up and give in to self-destructive impulses. One part of me wanted to survive and get better, a second part wanted to give up, and a third part of me wanted desperately to change the world for other women like me. Frankly, that part kind of wanted revenge (or at least justice) too. I think that third part of me is the one that started to carry me toward healing. At this time in my life, I was learning about feminism, and while it made me confront some very difficult truths about myself and what had happened to me and what I was also complicit in, it made me get in touch with all the rage I felt, and my rage (though sometimes overwhelming) motivated me toward change.

It wasn’t – and still isn’t – a straight line. I remember sitting in my very first counsellor’s office week after week and refusing to speak. She was kind enough, she would recommend interesting female empowerment movies and give me little snacks. I liked her, I just wasn’t ready to talk, and I’d had years of learning to push all of my emotions way down and disconnecting from my body and myself. I wasn’t ready for her to change that. She gave me the notes I needed for extensions on my university assignments that I couldn’t write because the flashbacks were so overwhelming, and I was grateful for that. I don’t think I’d have graduated without her. At that time I also started kickboxing at a small gym that quickly started to feel like a family. I didn’t have to talk, which was important to me back then, but I could punch and kick and secretly cry my heart out. It was everything; I started to feel what powerful could feel like.

But as life goes, more devastations occurred that set me off balance and back into my self-destructive behaviours. I left kickboxing and withdrew into my own world ruled by fear and dissociation. My social anxiety got to the worst point it had ever been, and I lost the majority of my friends. This was another point where I could have lost myself completely, but I had managed to retain one friend who wouldn’t let me go despite the many times I disappeared and definitely let her down. During this time I had started to realize that my self-destructive behaviours needed to stop, but I was still unable to ask for help or admit that I had a problem. I got lucky though, one night at about 2am this friend of mine texted me asking if I’d want to go and travel South America for a year by bicycle. I wanted to get as far away from the place where I grew up as possible, so I didn’t even hesitate, I immediately said yes and with very little planning we got out bikes and just went.
 

The Ride That Changed My Life

 
Since that time I’ve tried to put my finger on just what it was about that year on my bike that was so healing. I think it was a combination of things. I finally really felt like I had a friend who loved me unconditionally (she also had no choice because we depended on each other for survival, traveling by bike with almost no money). I also started to feel powerful and connected to my body for what it could do for me for the first time, instead of focusing on what it looked like or what other people wanted from it. For the first time my body was mine and it was carrying me thousands and thousands of kilometres just by sheer force and will. I also learned to get in touch with my intuition and figure out which situations felt safe and which ones I needed to get out of right away. I experienced some luck, and happened to meet incredible people in every place I went who reminded me that people actually are fundamentally good and that those few who did some bad things to me are not an indicator of all of humanity. And bonus: I didn’t have access to my unhealthy coping means of choice, so my addictions started to fizzle away.

I met so many people from so many backgrounds, and heard their stories of devastation and transcendence, and slowly I started to share mine too. Hearing about the ways people make meaning from tragedy and find ways to survive and make life beautiful again after being in the absolute gutter of life was healing beyond belief. I learned that suffering is part of living and that it actually connects us to others. We suffer tragedies and then we find each other and we heal together. After hearing from these beautiful people in various towns, I’d always have a day or a few of riding my bike to the next place, getting in touch with my body and mind and processing everything I’d heard. It was in one of these in-between cycling times that I realized I wanted to become a counsellor. It was actually a need. I was in awe of how incredible humans are, and their innate urge to move toward growth and healing, and I wanted to be a part of that for myself and for others.
 

The Journey Is Ongoing

 
When I moved back to Canada, I spent several years in personal counselling before going back to school to become a counsellor. I was finally ready to talk and ready to continue the healing that had started on my trip. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, and I knew the triggers would come back now that the excitement of cycling from country to country was over. I’m endlessly grateful for the counsellors who helped me. I started in CBT to rework my self-shaming thoughts and my social anxiety, then I moved into somatic trauma counselling to learn how to heal psychologically through the power of my body, and then I continued the trauma processing work through EMDR. I still have sleepless nights with flashbacks but they’re few and far between now, and when they happen, I know how to ground myself, breathe through it, and look for my body’s wisdom to heal and do what it needs to. I still sometimes get urges to go back into those self-destructive behaviours, but I now know what to do with those urges rather than giving in to them. I’ve developed great friendships, thanks to my counsellors who helped me get out of my own way and soothe my social anxiety. And every day I get the massive privilege of walking with my clients on their journeys toward healing. I’m still a work in progress and know I will always be, and so I continue to work on myself, see my counsellor, and challenge myself to talk to friends and my partner when I need to. I’m endlessly grateful to the people who have helped me along the way, and continue to help me. We’re all in this together and we all have the capacity to grow and heal even if it sometimes really doesn’t feel like it.

I hope my story encourages you, and reiterates that we are all on a journey toward hope and healing. If we can help you on your journey, please Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 2

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 2

This article talks about some skills and strategies to heal the traumatized part of your brain and move toward the intimacy you deserve. If you missed the last article about the ways that sexual abuse/assault impacts intimacy and sexuality, I’d recommend going back and reading that article before beginning this one.

Remedies

Every nervous system is a little different. What works for one person may not work for another. There are many options for healing trauma and developing a healthy intimate and sex life, so I encourage you to choose options that resonate best with you.

Shift Ideas about Sex

A good place to start might be with the ideas you and your partner(s) hold about sex. Often survivors of sexual assault hold negative beliefs about sex. These beliefs result from parts of our brains confusing sexual assault (violence) with sex (consent, pleasure, equality). The two are not the same, and we need to rewire our brains to reflect this. I recommend having a look at Wendy Maltz’s comparisons chart here https://healthysex.com/healthy-sexuality/part-one-understanding/comparisons-chart/. This will help explain the difference between ideas about sex that come from experiences of abuse, versus healthy ideas about sex.

You can continue to develop a healthy sexual mindset by avoiding media that portrays sexual assault or sex as abuse or talking about sexual attitudes with friends or with a therapist. You can also educate yourself about sexuality and healing through books and workshops. One book I strongly recommend is Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski.

Communication with Partners

This may be the most important recommendation in this article. You cannot have consensual sex without communicating about it. That’s true for anyone, whether they’re an assault survivor or not. Sex remains a taboo subject in our culture, even though sex is very normal and most people have some form of sex at some point in their lives. When things are taboo and not widely talked about and understood, people develop feelings of shame about the taboo subject. Shame lurks in the darkness. This feeling of shame or embarrassment or even just awkwardness keeps many people from talking about sex with their partners despite engaging in sex.

  1. Consent is dynamic: It can be given and withdrawn at any time

All people, and especially survivors of assault/abuse need to be able to give and withdraw consent AT ANY TIME during a sexual or intimate act. Many survivors will experience flashbacks or triggers at various times through physical or sexual activities. Because they don’t feel safe to tell their partner to stop (often out of fear for making them feel bad), they will instead dissociate and push through the sexual experience. When you do this, you are telling your brain and body that what you feel doesn’t matter and that the other person’s pleasure or comfort is more important.

While it may feel frustrating to have to stop mid-sex or mid-kiss or mid-hug because something has triggered you, listening to your body will actually help the healing process go much faster. Each time you override what your brain and body needs, the trauma gets reinforced and the triggers continue to come back. Slower is faster when healing from trauma. This is something partners need to understand. If a survivor is saying no, it’s because they trust you enough to say no, not because they’re not attracted to you. Every “no” is sexy because it’s getting you closer to an enthusiastic, consensual “yes”

  1. Understand and Communicate your preferences

In addition to understanding and respecting the need to withdraw consent at any time, it’s important to talk about sexual preferences. What feels good, what feels neutral and what doesn’t feel good. Communicate when something felt uncomfortable and explore together to find what does feel comfortable. When sex is approached with curiosity and exploration rather than rigidness and shame, it becomes increasingly safe and pleasurable for both parties.

  1. The need to take a break

Sometimes survivors of sexual abuse and assault may need to take a prolonged break from sexual activity. This can happen when the individual is in a relationship or not. The break allows space to focus on healing and figuring out what feels good and what doesn’t without worrying about the anxiety of managing their partner’s advances. When you are ready to engage in sexual activity again, do so when you want it, not when you believe you “should.” You have a right to be an active participant in your own sex life. Communicate your likes and dislikes and give yourself permission to say no at any time.

How to Manage Triggers and Flashbacks

As mentioned above, some survivors will experience triggers or flashbacks during physical touch or sexual activity. Flashbacks and triggers are often thought of as images of the traumatic experience. But they can also be experienced as unpleasant sensations, or a lack of sensation, an experience of disconnection, or an experience of overwhelm. When this happens it’s important to stop whatever is triggering the flashback, i.e. stopping the sexual activity or the physical touch. When you have a flashback, a part of your brain thinks it is in the past when the trauma happened, You need to remind that part of your brain that you are in the present moment and that the danger has passed. Another word for this is “grounding.”

Grounding Strategies/Orienting back to the present moment

  • 5,4,3,2,1
    • Name 5 things you can see, 4 you can touch, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, 1 you can taste
  • Deep breaths
    • Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8 (or any variation of that where you breathe out longer than you breathe in
  • Box breaths: in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4 (repeat 4 times)
  • Stand up and move your body – get the adrenaline out
    • Run on the spot, go for a walk, jumping jacks
  • Watch youtube video that makes you laugh (laughter is grounding)
  • Play a categories game
  • Say the alphabet backwards
  • Show these strategies to your partner and do them together

Once you’ve successfully grounded (and give yourself as much time as your nervous system needs for this, remember slower is faster), take some time to rest and find comforts. Your nervous system has just gone through a lot. It can also be good to think about what triggered you and to discuss with you partner how to change that in the future. You may want the help of a counsellor to determine this.

Counselling

Trauma counselling can really help you to overcome the impacts the trauma has on your life. You may also want to incorporate some couples counselling to help improve communication so that the two of you can work as a team on this.

There are 3 types of trauma counselling that can be beneficial. You may benefit from a mix of all three.

  1. Top-Down counselling:

This type of counselling helps you to change the thought patterns and behavioural habits that have formed as a result of the trauma. You will learn to notice the emotions and to change the behaviours and thoughts that tend to come as a result of the emotions. Some examples of this include CBT and DBT.

  1. Bottom-Up Counselling:

Emotions and survival responses are physiological. You may notice a tightness in your chest when you feel anxious, a lump in your throat when you feel sad, a pit in your stomach when you feel embarrassed, or any variety of physical manifestations of emotions. When we feel an emotion our bodies are automatically mobilized to do something with it. For example, if you see a grizzly bear, your body might instinctively run or freeze or even try to fight it. You don’t even have to think about it, your brain does it automatically! Your body also knows how to heal from the trauma, but often circumstances prevent us from being able to allow our bodies to do what they need to do. Bottom-up counselling approaches such as EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, or Somatic Experiencing can help you to process the trauma by mindfully allowing your body and brain to do what it needs to do to heal. This will also greatly improve your relationship to your body

  1. Mindfulness Counselling or Practices

Through mindfulness practices you can train your nervous system (brain and body) to become fully present. You learn to notice when triggers are happening while keeping a foot in the present-moment so that you don’t become overwhelmed. With mindfulness you can learn to allow emotions to come and go naturally without being swept away. If you’d like to start mindfulness on your own I’d recommend starting with short 2 minute practices and slowly working your way up. Examples of mindfulness-based counselling include Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

I hope these tidbits can help you get started, or to continue on your healing journey. You deserve a healthy intimate life that includes boundaries, consent, pleasure and joy. Slower is faster; trauma takes time to work through, but it is very treatable, and you don’t have to do it alone.

Sources

Maltz, Wendy (2021). Healthy Sex: Promoting Healthy, Loving Sex and Intimacy. https://healthysex.com/

Nagoski, Emily (2015). Come as you Are: The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life. Simon & Schuster Inc: New York.

University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (2019). Sexual intimacy after sexual assault or sexual abuse. https://www.ualberta.ca/media-library/ualberta/current-students/sexual-assault-centre/pdf-resources-and-handouts/intimacy-after-sexual-assault-2019.pdf

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 1

Developing a Healthy Sex Life After Sexual Abuse/Assault – Part 1

Note: This article speaks in broad terms about sexual assault and abuse. If you feel overwhelmed at any point reading this article, I encourage you to stop reading (or skip to the section on “grounding”) and allow your body to do what it needs to do to come back to the present. Whether it’s going for a brisk walk, doing some deep breathing, or calling a trusted friend. As this article will discuss, there’s no need to push yourself past the point of overwhelm. Healing can only take place with patience.

Many survivors of sexual assault face difficulties with intimacy and/or sexuality at some point in their lives. While this is a very common experience, it’s certainly not the case for all survivors. Traumatic events affect people in a variety of different ways dependent on each person’s life experiences and their unique nervous systems. This article will focus on the people who do struggle with sex and intimacy after traumatic events. It will show that even though it can feel really hopeless at times, there are some amazing ways forward to achieving a healthy and satisfying sex life. We have some powerful innate abilities to heal trauma, but it often takes patience, support and work to get there.

Understanding the Impacts

Sexuality and the Central Nervous System – Stress and Love

Sexuality is impacted by the emotional systems managed by a very primal part of your brain often called “the reptilian brain.” This part of your brain is responsible for stress feelings as well as love feelings, all of which have helped us to survive as a species. Stress and love are also the main emotions that impact intimacy and sexual desire.

Stress responses are the neurobiological processes that help you deal with threats. Your brain prioritizes one of the following three main components based on survival needs: fight (anger/frustration), flight (fear/anxiety), or collapse (numbness, depression, dissociation).

Love is also a survival strategy; it’s the neurobiological process that pulls us closer to our tribes and bonds humans together. Love is responsible for passion, romance, and joy. It’s also responsible for the agony of grief and heartbreak.

Common Reactions

When a person lives through a traumatic event, the stress response in their central nervous system (brain and body) often gets locked into survival mode. It has detected that there is danger and so it learns that it must always be scanning for any sign of danger. As a result, there are two very common reactions to sexual trauma that affect a survivor’s sex life.

  1. Sexual Avoidance/Difficulty Experiencing Pleasure

The main function of the central nervous system is to prioritize survival needs in order of importance. For example, if you can’t breathe, you’re unlikely to notice that you’re hungry until you get oxygen again. Similarly, although love is indeed a survival mechanism (bringing us together with our tribes), the brain tends to prioritize attention to stress over love because stress points to a more immediate threat: the possibility of another dangerous and violent act.

After a sexual assault, sensations, contexts and ideas that used to be interpreted as sexually relevant (like physical touch) may instead now be interpreted by your brain as threats. So sexual situations actually make your brain sound the “danger” alarm bell. Our central nervous systems confuse sex (an act of consent, equality and pleasure) with sexual assault (an act of violence and power over another). Remember, your nervous system’s primary function is to keep you alive and safe, so anything that feels in any way similar to a violent situation from the past will sound your brain’s alarm bell.

Basically, you may be experiencing love or desire, but your brain is still stuck on survival mode. This makes it almost impossible to experience pleasure, desire and closeness.

  1. Engaging in Compulsive Sexual Behaviours

Remember how love is also a survival strategy? It draws us closer to others and makes us feel whole. So instead of stress hitting the sexual brakes, some people get locked into patterns of feeling out of control sexually and having multiple partners. In this case, sometimes the innate survival strategy prioritizes closeness for that feeling of being whole; however, when this is a survival mechanism, it’s often happening from that “collapse” stress response, or a more dissociated place. People stuck in this pattern may experience a brief feeling of relief but may still struggle with the deeper components of intimacy.

  1. Additional common symptoms
  • sexual avoidance/anxiety
  • sex feeling like an obligation
  • dissociation during sexual activity/not present
  • negative feelings associated with touch
  • difficulty achieving arousal/sensation
  • feeling emotionally distant
  • flashbacks/intrusive thoughts or images during sexual activity
  • engaging in compulsive sexual behaviours
  • difficulty maintaining an intimate relationship
  • vaginal pain in women; erectile dysfunction in men
  • feelings of shame
  • negative beliefs about sex

This is a short list of reactions, there are many more impacts on a person’s sense of self and experiences in relationships. If you’d like to get a better sense of how your traumatic experiences may have impacted your sex life, you can have a look at Wendy Maltz’s Sexual Effects Inventory here https://www.havoca.org/survivors/sexuality/sexual-effects-inventory/

Remedies: Developing a Healthy Sex Life 

This short article was just to give you an idea of some of the many ways that sexual assault can impact intimacy. These impacts sometimes show up directly after the assault and sometimes show up years later.

Stay tuned for the next article which will talk about some of the many ways to heal the parts of your brain that are impacted by the trauma and to help you to find safety and pleasure in intimacy.

Sources

Maltz, Wendy (2021). Healthy Sex: Promoting Healthy, Loving Sex and Intimacy. https://healthysex.com/

Nagoski, Emily (2015). Come as you Are: The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life. Simon & Schuster Inc: New York. 

University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (2019). Sexual intimacy after sexual assault or sexual abuse. https://www.ualberta.ca/media-library/ualberta/current-students/sexual-assault-centre/pdf-resources-and-handouts/intimacy-after-sexual-assault-2019.pdf

How Can Therapeutic Dance/Movement Help Me?

How Can Therapeutic Dance/Movement Help Me?

Many people feel apprehensive or intimidated when they hear the word “dance.” Movement is a beautiful and intricate part of who we are. We are in constant motion, from blood flowing through our veins to neurons firing during thought processes and through the simplicity of breath. Our very existence depends on the continuous movement happening within the body.

Therapeutic dance, or movement, is a mind-body approach for working with emotions towards holistic wellness. We often dismiss the subtle signs of stress from our bodies until it becomes a chronic issue, preventing us from functioning in our daily lives. Therapeutic dance and movement explores the presence of emotions within the body and shows us how to care for the emotional symptoms that we may find.

What do you mean by emotions living in the body?

Have you ever noticed sayings like, “I have butterflies in my stomach,” “That gave me the heebie-jeebies,” or “My blood is boiling”? These sayings are examples of how we experience nervousness, fear, and anger in the body. Some people describe these feelings in their body as “gut feelings.” We often override gut feelings using the mind and ignore what is happening in the body. Learning to trust in the body’s wisdom is an important skill to possess in today’s fast-paced world.

In therapeutic dance and movement, the connection between the mind and the body is facilitated as a conversation used to achieve a deeper understanding of the self. Emotions in the body are made aware by paying attention to the subtle shifts in the body and linked back to spoken language.

What does an appointment look like?

Clients are often surprised that a session does not have to involve dance whatsoever. Sessions are NOT like a dance class, experience in movement is not even required. Therapeutic dance/movement is an approach that gives your body the space to express what words cannot. Do you ever move your hands when you talk? That’s a form of therapeutic movement! A session can consist of talking to someone, along with the optional invitation of moving, breath-work, or spontaneous dance. It’s entirely up to you! Another way to interpret therapeutic dance/movement is as a counselling session. Your whole body is invited into the conversation, and expression is created from the inside to the outside.

There have been times clients have said, “I’m not sure why I just did that.” The body knows what the mind may not understand quite yet. Therapeutic dance/movement helps to bring understanding and self-compassion to patterns of being. Session goals are co-created between client and practitioner. With this, a therapeutic movement session becomes a journey of creative expression and experiential processing.

What can therapeutic dance/movement help with?

Therapeutic dance/movement can help with anything, such as stress, pain, difficulty sleeping, relationship issues, chronic illness, temper tantrums, developmental disabilities, and neurodiverse diagnoses.

 Some other issues therapeutic dance/movement can support:

  • Feeling stuck
  • Feeling agitated or angry
  • Anxiety
  • Depression / low mood
  • Trauma
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Tantrums and intense emotional upsets
  • Strengthening relationships

How Can I Start Moving?

Whether you want to start moving by speaking, storytelling, writing, drawing, or dancing, get your emotions moving today by calling our office to book a therapeutic dance/movement session. Have a quick question about therapeutic dance/movement? Click here to email our therapeutic dance/movement practitioner, Stefanie.

Art In The Time of COVID-19

Art In The Time of COVID-19

We live in strange and difficult times. When the Covid-19 pandemic made its debut, our world was rocked by devastating loss of life. Our schools, businesses, and essential services were shut-down. Even still, both travel and the distribution of goods has been disrupted. Our medical system is being inundated with those fighting COVID-19 along with other illnesses. Though we are in the process of re-opening some of these things, the reality is setting in; Covid-19 has radically changed every fiber of our society. I wonder, how can art inspire us, and be a force for resilience in the time of COVID-19?

While social distancing requirements have forced the cancellation and suspension of many social, cultural, and artistic events and services, the arts have always been and continue to be a way to illustrate the resilience in our society, foster self-reflection and connection with others in profound ways. The role of artists and the arts is not just to record, commemorate, or comment on socio-cultural events, but to uplift, encourage and give hope to all those who see experience it.

It’s no surprise, then, that this health crisis has inspired artists to create. At this time in history, artists are illuminating the world around us. All around us, we can see a wide range of COVID-19 inspired artistic endeavours.

 

Examples of Art Emerging During COVID-19

 

Painted Posters and Rocks

 
Early on in this pandemic, many participated in the communal effort to cheer on frontline and essential service works with posters and scripted messages of hope and love to isolated populations, such as seniors in care facilities. With children home from school, painted rocks also became one way for youngsters to express their gratitude and connect with a seemingly intangible concept of a pandemic and quarantine. Placed discretely around town, happening upon these gems still reminds us that we are all in this together.

 

Street Murals

 
Across the Lower Mainland, street murals have been springing up everywhere. Murals adorn exterior walls of elementary and high-schools, under over-passes, downtown buildings, and malls. Locally, a mural was recently completed at Tsawwassen Mills Mall by artists Jan Rankin and a Natalie Way. Its beach scene reminds us of the connection we have to the nature around us. In downtown Ladner Village, a recently-completed mural done by artist Gary Nay helps depict the vibrancy of Ladner and the region.

What do these murals do? They help to create a sense of community, offer messages of hope, and add cheer, all of which we need during this time!

Across the Lower Mainland, “Open Air” art galleries are expanding. There is a new-found vigour as artists respond to the issues of today and the fight against COVID-19. Over 200 public art pieces in and around Vancouver are part of The Vancouver Mural Festival and range in subject matter, but they provide overall messages of love, community, strength and resilience. All art pieces are accessible online if you can’t get out to see them.

 

Online and Social Media Platforms

 
From the comfort of our homes, we can tour the world’s greatest museums, historical sites, and have access to online exhibitions. The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, for instance, gives you digital access to their collections, and a range of podcasts, stories, and research.

Instagram and Facebook have some interesting links to innovative and timely art. On Instagram, the account @covidartmuseum consists of themes and art work related to Covid-19 and shows how, in tough times, art can be used for serious contemplation but also offer comic relief. On Facebook, “Dr. Bonnie Henry Fan Club” tells us of a tribute art show at the Ministry of Health showcasing artwork, such as paintings, signs, mosaics and fibre arts, sent to Dr. Bonnie Henry from people all over the province and world.

We can also peek inside the life of an ER nurse, Anna Trowbridge, who sketches the scenes at work and posts them to her Instagram account. Her drawings show us how things really are on the front lines. Though this may be hard for some to take in, it captures the human side of the pandemic and highlights the heroic nature of our health care workers.

 

The Importance of Art Through COVID-19

 

Making art is one way we can practice self-care and learn positive coping strategies, both of which builds resilience

 
Viewing, and even more so, making art can be an important part of your self-care routine. Setting aside time to do something creative has been shown to reduce stress, protect against depression and anxiety, and can improve self-confidence and problem solving skills. Enjoying the mindful process of creating can help in pain-management, and it offers positive distraction tools and healing. Whether it is journaling, painting, singing, dancing, or knitting, our chosen activities helps to shore up our defences and learn healthy habits that we can use to sustain us during tough times. As we head into Fall, with the possibility of further shut-downs, we need the arts now more than ever. Its times like these where art can make all the different to keep our spirits up.
 

Making art together feeds our needs as social beings

 
Making art with others brings with it social benefits; it allows a space for relationships to be built, fosters a sense of belonging, and provides an outlet for self-expression. As we face COVID-19 fatigue and social distancing measures, doing something together with others is becoming more and more important for our mental health. It is not the art itself that has true value, it’s the ideas, conversations, choices, and connections we have made with ourselves and with others as we create that matters. Whether it’s connecting with a small group of people in person or online, the social nature of art helps us to not only to share our stories or voice our own opinions, but to listen to others with a compassionate ear.
 

Self-expression through mindful making helps us make sense of the uncertain world around us

 
This pandemic has compelled us to look at what matters to us, what we deem as essential, and to reflect on our lifestyle. Tuning into the present moment with self-compassion allows us to stop, breathe, observe, acknowledge, contemplate, and respond to our current state. Approaching the art making process in a mindful way can be very relaxing as well as restorative. Thoughtful experimentation can help us cope with the chaos around us and help us to express our beliefs and opinions and be open to new ways of thinking and doing. Giving yourself permission to question your own thoughts carefully, and without judgment, is an effective way to learn more about yourself and to rest and regroup.

 

How Can We Infuse Art Into Our Lives During COVID-19?

 

Art can be a major benefit for all of us as we head into the the Fall season, and into further unknowns. With school starting up, work shifting, and all that comes with this, we need now more than ever to take care of ourselves. Here are a few ideas on how we can use art to manage through this challenging time:
 

  1. Check in with your local community centres, artists’ guild, or private classes in the arts. There are so many wonderful artists in our communities and many are offering classes or experiences you can take part in.
  2.  

  3. Create or buy art for your loved ones. Whether you make something yourself, or buy from a local artist, your gift can show others you are thinking of them. Supporting local businesses and donating to local causes also creates a stronger community! At Alongside You, sales of our jewelry, cards, and art help to fund our Step Forward Program, a program that has become increasingly important in subsidizing services for those in need of financial assistance.
  4.  

  5. Learn a new skill online. How we do art has changed, and with many programs facing shut downs, artists and organizations are finding ways to adapt their art making offerings. Online learning tools and YouTube videos are a great way to try something new. Finding a live class can also help connect those who may feel isolated. Learning to dance, paint, draw, sing, knit, write poetry, or play an instrument with the help of online tools is a great way to pass the time as we stay home!

  6.  
    What we’ve learned over time is that the creative arts are essential. They enrich our lives, they help us practice self-care, encourage connection, embrace challenges, share our stories and knit our community together. Creative connection is crucial, especially now. May you be safe, be calm, and be kind.

     

    EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! Open Studios are Back! COVID-Style.

     
    After long last, we are excited to announce the opening of Open Studio Sessions, COVID-Style. We’ve made some changes to our operations and programming to keep people safe and healthy while being able to open the studio back up! We can not express how excited we are to welcome you into the studio again!

    Click here to read about some of the changes and how to register for Open Studios again. We look forward to seeing you!
     
     


    1. Herring, Daniel. Mindfulness-Based Expressive Therapy for People with Severe and Persistent Mental Ilness. P.171. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 168-179.
    2. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L. & Burney, R. J The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Behave Med (1985) 8: 163.
    3. McNiff, Shaun. Chapter 2: The Role of Witnessing and Immersion in the Moment of Arts Therapy Experience. P. 40-41. In In Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Laury Rappaport ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2014: 38-50.
Move For Freedom – Joining Ally Global to Impact Trauma Around The Globe

Move For Freedom – Joining Ally Global to Impact Trauma Around The Globe

A Message From Our Director About Move For Freedom

Since opening in 2015, we’ve been committed to being more than a counselling office or mental health centre. We’ve been focused on providing high quality, evidence-based support for mental health, and we want our reach to be more. We’ve focused on our impact on the community around us locally, and beyond around the globe. To us, it’s about exponential impact; we want what we do to grow beyond our work to speak into the lives of others in a meaningful way. This is why we’ve partnered with Ally Global for their Move For Freedom event, and why we’re so grateful to have associates like John Bablitz on our team who share our vision and commitment, and go above and beyond to make an impact. I’ll let John tell you more about this initiative that we are so pleased to be a part of.

– Andrew


 

Move For Freedom

On August 15th, Alongside You is participating in an event called Move for Freedom, which will raise funds for a cause that is really close to our hearts. Alongside You is a corporate sponsor for the event, and I will be riding 150 km with a team of people for Ally Global, an organization that works to prevent human trafficking and restore survivors of abuse through local partners in places such as Nepal, Laos, and Cambodia. They provide safe homes, education and job training to help survivors find healing and work towards healthy, independent futures.

This fundraising event is open to anyone: anyone who would like to, can participate in any way they like: you could do a walk, run or ride with your family or a group of friends, organize an all day spike ball marathon, swim, climb – really anything that involves movement. If you’re interested, you can click here for more information. Mostly though, I’d like to talk about Ally, what they do and represent, and why that’s important to us. I’d like to start with a short story.

People Who Have Experienced Trauma Need Our Support

My grandfather, when he was in his eighties, noticed a problem: many folks were challenging themselves to go through addiction recovery and rehab, and so few had a place to land when they got out. This contributed to high relapse rates. Something as simple as work was hard to come by (and a job is only one of many things that a person in recovery might need). My grandfather took all his savings and bought a farm, with the dream of creating a place where those in recovery could come live and work after finishing their time in rehab. The farm would give these people safety, purpose, and connection: growing food for their communities through share programs, and connecting to the land and each other in a positive way. This story is meant to represent the importance of aftercare. We can help someone give up substances or rescue them from the horrible situation of human trafficking, but this is just the very tip of the iceberg.

john bablitz on bike

Kids coming out of trafficking, like all kids, need safety. They need a place where their needs are taken care of, where they know they matter, and where they can grow and connect with others. The trauma these children experience is significant. I find it hard to imagine a situation where you might feel that you or your pain mattered less, or where you felt more unsafe, alone, and disconnected from people who cared about you. Kids – young kids – have every interaction at a crucial age with someone who wants to hurt them, uses them for personal gain, and does little beyond keeping them alive. I don’t think I need to explain the impact that can have on a child’s sense of self; this can be the only reality they know or remember. Being rescued from trafficking is one step, but where do children that often have no connection to family or caring support go next? Survivors are often shunned in their communities, not unlike someone who has just been released from prison in North America might be.

The Importance Of Aftercare

One thing I appreciate about Ally, and that also aligns with the values of Alongside You, is that they understand the importance of aftercare, and they are committed to quality over quantity. They provide children with the basics, like a bed, food, and shelter, but they do so much more: they help connect kids with a caring community. Kids have a “little sibling” and a “big sibling” that they are able to look up to, and be looked up to. They are connected with caring adults who know them and value them for who they are: teachers, counsellors, nurses and others (please take a minute to watch this video, as it brings what I’m saying to life). Especially cool about Ally is that the majority of their staff are “graduates” – many of them were rescued from human trafficking themselves, and might have gone on to get education, and devote themselves to giving back. These individuals have the unique ability to relate to and understand the kids they work with. The community takes the time to understand the impact these kids’ experiences have had on them, which in my experience as a therapist is one of the most vital steps to recovery. The body responds to trauma in ways designed to keep it alive under horrifying conditions, but it is a challenge to come back from that – even if you might come to logically believe you are safe, your body may not be willing to take any risks, and that can severely stunt your ability to be human: enjoying experiences, laughing, connecting, feeling safe. It takes patience, support, and time to process the impact of trauma, and Ally provides that, which I love. There is no fixed structure – when you leave from one of Ally’s warehouses, you are welcome back at any time, and Ally will continue to support your continued growth, perhaps through subsidizing an apartment with some of your peers, or assisting with educational opportunities.

I could say lots more about Ally, but I’ll just stick to one more thing: their system works. Industry standard is about a 60% rate of reintegration – this is considered good. Ally’s project in Nepal has a 92% success rate over 20 years. That’s incredible. They have helped over 600 children as young as 4 or as old as 20, who stay for an average of 10-12 years.

How You Can Help

On a celebratory note, this fundraiser has taken off. Initially we had just set a modest goal to support the needs of 13 children. The outpouring of support has been so great that Ally has begun the process of opening a new safe house in Cambodia that will house up to another 38 rescued children. I have done work with children who have experienced trauma, and working with just one of these children takes an incredible amount of energy and time, and it is deeply saddening to be with children who have not experienced a safe adult who believes in them and reflects back their worth. They survive – children are wonderfully resilient – but they have no ability to thrive. The thought of being able to help provide safety to more kids than I see in a year just by torturing myself for 9 hours on a bicycle (I’m by no means a seasoned rider) gives me a lot of joy.

Though financial donations have a big impact, they are not even the most significant way you can help. We would love to ask that you spread the word! Use your social media, host your own mini-fundraiser, tell even just one person you care about. Awareness is the greatest tool we have to combat human trafficking. You can also participate in other ways the day of the event; if you would like more information please contact me, I would be happy to chat more about this or anything else.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you’re struggling with trauma in any way, we’re here with you. Let us know how we can help.

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