Are you new to this counselling thing? Are you contemplating giving it a try? Do you need to go to counselling? Or just curious as to what the fuss is all about?
Well, here’s my attempt at giving you a little glimpse into the beauty of this phenomenon that is growing in its cultural acceptance and perhaps this can help you figure out whether signing up for counselling is the next right move for you. I speak as a fellow human who has attended counselling and as a therapist who has sat opposite to many who have courageously sought out help through the medium of therapy.
Here are some stats to gain a wider picture:
Statista conducted a survey of 1,650 people ranging from 18 years and older in 2020 via telephone interview. They asked the respondents, “in the past 12 months, have you received any counseling or treatment for your mental health?” 43.7% of respondents from British Columbia said “yes.” New Brunswick wins (or loses depending on how you look at it…) at 60.1% of respondents responding with “yes.” Manitoba was the lowest at 27.7%.
Another study found that between 2019 and 2021 the percentage of adults who had received mental health treatment in the past 12 months grew from 19.2% to 21.6% (Terlizzi & Schiller, 2022).
Statistics Canada found that in 2018 17.8% of Canadians aged 12 and older reported needing some help with their mental health. This is around 5.3 million people. That’s a lot of people! Out of that 5.3 million, 43.8% reported that their needs were either not met (they did not go to therapy) or were partially met (they went to therapy but it was not enough).
What do these three sources tell us?
Simply put, therapy is being accessed more and more. Perhaps, we are catching on to the fact that our mental health is worth investing in. It really is. Gone are the days when therapy was reserved for those that we lazily labeled (or diagnosed) with words like “crazy” or “problematic.”
5.3 million Canadians acknowledged the need for assistance with their mental wellbeing.
Deeper than just being accessed more, these studies are perhaps a helpful reminder that you are not alone, not part of a small fringe group, but… dare I say… human. Not yet got this “life” thing figured out. Normal? I think so.
What Does Therapy Look Like?
So, if you’re new to this or not yet bought into it, give me a moment to paint a picture of what it looks like:
You arrive in a cozy office, sit in the waiting room, another fellow human – your counsellor – will arrive and call your name, together you’ll enter a room with a couch and perhaps a few chairs. You sit down. And then…
This is what you may see on the outside but so much is happening internally.
You are setting out on a grand adventure.
You are escaping the noise and bustle of every-day life.
You are marching out into battle.
You are sitting by a warm fire on a stormy winter evening.
You are resolving unfinished business.
You are tending a wound that no-one around you sees.
You are aspiring and hoping for who you could become.
You are settling into who you are, becoming more at home in your own skin.
If you break your arm, you go to a doctor. This doctor will first assess your injury and then set you off on a path of healing and recovery – aligning your arm, bracing it, and advising you on what activities may or may not be achievable in light of your wound.
In a similar way, you may have experienced various psychological/relational/emotional challenges – a huge setback in your work life and left feeling fragile, recurring conflict in your most intimate relationships, abuse from people that were supposed to be your protectors – and the question remains: where do I go to sort through/respond/heal these challenges?
The added challenge of mental health is its invisible quality, which leaves us vulnerable to the pushback: “is this just in my head? Can I just push through and deal with this?” A broken arm just seems so simple and obvious. However, mental pain and suffering left unattended can fester in similar ways than an untreated wound. Though, it may come out in angry outbursts, tension in your shoulders (perhaps its not so invisible…), the inability to know what you feel, a low sense of self-worth, or intrusive thoughts that plague you every time you slow down.
This is where counselling becomes useful in attending to your mental well-being. It is true that humans are resilient and often, even after experiencing traumatic life events, people bounce back with courage and vitality. And yet, counselling is a protected space to address and tend to our relational, emotional, personal challenges.
How does counselling accomplish change?
At very least it accomplishes this through undoing our unbearable aloneness. Dr. Diana Fosha passionately declares that our relational, emotional, personal challenges largely stem from “being alone in the face of overwhelming emotion” (Fosha, 2000). Thus, therapy, at its best, works to undo aloneness.
Judith Herman, the legendary trauma therapist, writes that “the fundamental premise of the psychotherapeutic work is a belief in the restorative power of truth-telling” (Herman, 2015, p.181). In the presence of another human, can you share honestly how you are doing? Can you express, in detail and with clarity, the truth of your being? As you dive into the biggest challenges that seem to plague your life through this act of “truth-telling”, you are met with wise attentiveness and deep compassion.
Bessel Van Der Kolk, the medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, says “being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).
A Safe Relationship
Do you have relationships marked by trust, safety, honesty? How can you tell?
Bessell highlights the importance of each of us being heard and seen by another person in our lives. We need to be held in someone else’s mind and heart. He writes, “no doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love; these are complex and hard-earned capacities” (Van der Kolk, 2015, p. 81).
Do you feel a desire to be met with this sort of attentiveness and care? Does it feel too good to be true? Too simple? Fair responses. A helpful question to explore is what the costs are for not receiving this hard-earned capacities?
I know I need them. And as I step into vulnerability—this act of receiving and trusting—I find myself walking lighter, thinking with greater clarity regarding my relationships and problems, and feeling more at home in my body and in this world. Perhaps you could call it feeling mentally healthy.
I encourage you to find relationships that are characterized by these qualities. Whether or not they are counsellors. It will change your life. It’s changed my life.
Here at Alongside You, these quotes inspire our work; We offer award-winning counselling services that are shot through with these qualities: a safe context to be seen, held in the mind of another, and this “hard-earned” love that Bessell speaks about. If you wish to learn more, contact us to see how we can help.
Elflein, J. (2022, August 31). Adults who received past-year Mental Health Counseling Canada 2020. Statista. Retrieved from, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1328941/adults-who-received-past-year-mental-health-counseling-canada-by-province/
Facts and figures. Fraser. (n.d.). Retrieved from, https://vancouver-fraser.cmha.bc.ca/impact/influencing-policy/facts-and-figures/#:~:text=Between%2019.6%25%20and%2026.2%25%20of,a%20mental%20illness%20each%20year.
Fosha, D. (2000). The transforming power of affect: A model for Accelerated Change. Basic Books.
Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery. Basic Books.
Statistics Canada. (2019, October 7). Mental health care needs, 2018. Health Fact Sheets. Retrieved from, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-625-x/2019001/article/00011-eng.htm
Terlizzi, E. P., & Schiller, J. S. (2022). Mental health treatment among adults aged 18-44: United States, 2019-2021. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books.
As parents, we try to support and guide our children in every way possible. Unfortunately, what parents tend to think is supportive can sometimes emanate significant amounts of pressure. Parents often want their child to be the best and inherit the mindset that their child will be the next Wayne Gretzky. When a sports parent thinks this way, it can affect their parent-child relationship. As an athlete, you want your parents to be proud and express their validation towards you. If a child feels like their sports parents aren’t proud, their words and actions are frequently perceived with pressure. This is why it is crucial to understand what may hurt your child instead of what may benefit your child’s involvement in sports.
Three things that hurt your child’s confidence
1. Expressing appraisal ONLY when they are doing well
It is essential that you are constantly being supportive no matter the outcome of your child’s performance. Regardless of whether they make a good play or make a mistake, your support should remain constant. Giving your child support no matter the circumstances will show them that you are proud of them despite the outcome. When they look over at you and see you cheering for them, it displays direct approval and encouragement. What if they look over and see you are unhappy or distracted by your phone? It may make them feel like you are disappointed in them. You may not think that your child notices your presence in the stands, but really, they are.
The correct approach would be to exude positive energy and cheering, even when nothing is happening. Do not make your supportive habits dependent on your child’s performance.
2. Telling your child how they could have done better on the car ride home
The car ride home is always a challenging situation. As an athlete who pressured themselves, I was already upset with myself if I had a bad performance. I definitely didn’t need to hear my parents say to me, “you should have done this.” Or “what happened on that one play where you made a mistake?” It would make me even more disappointed in myself than I already was. As sports parents, it is crucial to support and encourage your child without interfering. It is essential to focus on the positive attributes of their game instead of constantly reminding your child of what they did wrong.
3. Stop delivering clichés
Parents often believe that speaking in clichés is suitable for their child, but it does the opposite for kids. For example, if your child is getting worked up in games because of a mistake they made, it probably is best to avoid making certain remarks. Avoid statements such as “stop overthinking’ or “when you are out there, you have to be focused.” Most likely, the child is already trying to accomplish these things. Still, it’s not something that will immediately help them after you tell them to. Telling your child these clichés can develop into pressurization. It might make them believe that they are not doing a good job. Instead of saying these clichés, it would be more beneficial to say something like, “nice effort, you will get the next one!”
Here are some ways you as a sports parent can support your child when playing sports.
1. Provide emotional support
No matter the outcome of your child’s performance, it is vital to prioritize and provide unconditional love. Whether it is giving your child a hug or a high five after the game or telling them how proud of them you are, a little goes a long way. This is crucial after a game where the player may feel like they had a bad performance. Hearing how proud their parent is will make your child feel better. This will give your child the affirmation that being proud of them is not wholly dependent on their play.
2. Emphasize the importance of effort over outcome
Often, we think of the end result as the ultimate achievement instead of understanding the progress made. There is a lot of hard work that has to be done to reach an end result. If children constantly think about the outcome instead of thinking in the moment, it can become detrimental to their performance. When you put too much emphasis on a final product or winning, it can cause the child to feel pressure or anxiety because of you. This is why it’s more productive for a sports parent to focus more on the child’s efforts and relate their efforts to success. For example, after a game, tell your child, “I really liked how you hustled in and out of the dugout” or “you made a great effort on that one play. ”
3. Encourage independence
It is crucial for you as a sports parent to be involved in your child’s sports. Still, it is also important that your child is allowed to pursue their own independence. It’s okay for you to have boundaries and set rules. Still, when your child is involved in sports, it is beneficial for your child to gain independence within these boundaries you set. This is how your child learns to hold themselves accountable and grow in their independence. For example, you may tell your child that “you must always be prepared for practices.” Instead, tell your child, “I will be home to drive you to your game, but you must be ready to go when I get home.” This compels your child to get themselves prepared for their practice or game without your assistance. Altering how you give your child direction may fuel the desire for them to embrace independence.
4. Communicate and share goals
Open communication is vital when guiding your child through sports. Developing the habit of solid communication between you and your child will provide an understanding of how you can better support your child. This will also allow the child to express what they want from you as a sports parent. Ensure you are regularly checking in with your child by asking them how they are doing with their sports. Allow your child to make goals for themselves instead of you making them for them. This encourages children to be independent and control what they want out of the sports they play.
5. Behave in a way that your children want you to before, during, and after a game/practice
Strong communication between you and your child will help strengthen your relationship. This allows your child to express what they want from you before, during, and after a game. Every child is different, so it is important to understand the likes and dislikes of your child and how you can better support them through that. For example, your child may be nervous before a game and want your help with relaxing. During a game, your child may not like it when you approach the dugout and tell them something they need to do. Because of this action, your child may not want to talk about the game or express openness regarding the game’s events.
From The Directors: Today on the blog, we’re starting a new series. Our daughter, Ava is going to be writing for our blog from time to time. She’ll be talking about some of the issues she experiences and comes across with her friends, in school, and in life, to offer a perspective from a kid. We professionals can be helpful, but sometimes kids need to hear from kids. We hope this is something that some of your kids can benefit from and see that they’re not the only kid thinking of these things or struggling with things in life. We also hope that some of Ava’s tips will help them too!
My name is Ava. I am a tween, and I have a sister and I have a dog named Buttercup – she is 10 years old. I love to do gymnastics and play with my beautiful dog. I love to bake, ride my bike, read, go skateboarding and last but not least, I LOVE TO PLAY WITH SLIME!!!!!!!!
You may be wondering why I love to play with slime, so here are a few reasons why:
I have anxiety and learning disabilities. Playing with slime helps calm me down when I am nervous. I love the feeling of it in my hands and how the texture changes by what I put in it. It can be really smooth, soft, fluffy, wet or stretchy! Just having it in my hands helps me concentrate better.
It helps me be creative and lets me experiment with ingredients such as, white glue or clear glue (optional), hand cream, glitter, clay (but add in after you activate), foam beads and shaving cream. For activator you can use borax, contact solution and tide, but only use one activator for one slime. Don’t use two activators in one slime.
You can do this on your own or while social distancing with a friend. Or, you can make it online in FaceTime or Zoom – I like to do this with my cousins. It is a very soothing activity but it can get a little bit messy! It doesn’t take long to clean up! If it gets on your clothes just put the clothing in a bucket and put it in hot water to soak for 30 minutes to an hour and it will come right out.
I hope you enjoyed my blog today! Every once in a while, I’m going to write a blog that I hope will help some people. I know that I have a hard time with school and with anxiety sometimes, and I hope some kids out there will hear that it’s ok if things are hard. Life can be hard sometimes! I hope that some of my experiences and ideas might help you!
See you next time!
Ava Neufeld is the newest author on our blog. She is a 12 year old student in the Delta School District and wants to share her perspective on life and challenges in the hopes that it helps others.
I feel tired. I wonder if you are too? I am feeling anxious. I wonder if you can relate? I am feeling discouraged. Are you as well? I could use some self-compassion.
There seems to be increased tension if you are brave enough to venture into public spaces. Do I wear a mask? What if I can’t and people judge me? It feels like we are on hyper alert, the slightest cough, sniffle or tickle causes panic and uncertainty. Not to mention the larger conversations around the legitimacy of the pandemic and differing views of safety and the infusion of fear.
We made it through the spring and now the last weeks of summer linger in the air. Fall is approaching and with it comes questions. So. Many. Questions.
What is school going to look like?
Should my kids return to school?
When will this end?
Will things ever return to how they used to be?
Will there be a second wave?
How do I keep myself and my loved ones safe?
There seems to be a collective ‘heaviness.’ We could call it COVID fatigue? I feel it too.
Let’s all just stop.
Whatever you are doing this very moment – breathe.
Take a nice deep breath from your belly. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your shoulders and lower them, try to ease some of the tension. Try to find a moment of calm.
Contrary to what some may think, Registered Clinical Counsellors are not immune to feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty. I wanted to share a few things that have been helping me lately. I hope that you will find some of them helpful too.
Do The Things That Keep You Well
Many people are feeling tired, sad and even depressed. I have been noticing that motivation is dwindling for many. The things that we know help us and we enjoy doing, are the very things that are falling away. We cannot simply sit around waiting for the motivation to return. We need to do the very things that we so quickly dismiss. May I gently ask you to dust them off and try them again?
Go for a walk. Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
Pick up that instrument you love to play.
Paint, draw, sculpt.
Read a book.
Go for a run.
Putter in your garden.
Call a friend
Take a nap
These are difficult times. Our hearts can feel weary. There are pressure and demands coming at us from all sides. It is vital to take care of yourself first in order for you to show up the best you can for those you love and are looking to you for support and care. I know that I feel the joy returning when I put on my helmet and take my bike for a ride; I have too many excuses as to why I don’t, but the moment I do…there it is – joy and lightness come trickling back.
What can you do today to help some lightness return?
Engage In Mindful Self-Compassion
I often say “Be kind to yourself,” when I am speaking with my clients. It is a nice sentiment, but what exactly does it mean? A few months ago, I had the privilege of taking an online course on Mindful Self-Compassion with Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. I would love to offer a few helpful points that encouraged me.
Let’s face it, often the way we treat ourselves is terrible. The thoughts and comments rolling around our mind are not kind, in fact they can be downright cruel. The crux of Self-Compassion is this: Treating yourself the same way you would treat a good friend. Typically, we tend to be more understanding and empathetic to others and not as much to ourselves.
There are 3 main components of self-compassion:
Kindness – giving yourself compassion and empathy Mindfulness – allowing yourself to be with the painful feelings Common Humanity – understanding that you are not alone in your suffering
Self-Compassion fosters connection and togetherness as we hold our suffering and realise that we are not alone. Self-Compassion allows us to pause and realise the present experience without judgement. The paradox of self-compassion is that we give ourselves compassion not to feel better but because we feel bad.
When we feel different emotions, we can learn to notice the emotion, feel the emotion, and label the emotion. Offer compassion to yourself as you experience this emotion. Try placing your hand on your chest and offer yourself some kind words, just like you would a good friend. For example: “This is hard.” “This hurts.” “I am sorry.”
Focus on Being Mindful In Everyday Life
Introduce the practice of mindfulness into your daily life. This can look different for each person. From guided meditation, to breath work, to savoring experiences, cultivating gratitude and self-appreciation.
I’d encourage you to check out more suggestions and ideas at Dr. Kristen Neff’s website. She has some great resources that make the introduction to mindful self-compassion much easier to grasp.
Please remember that you are not alone in your pain. It is true that no one know exactly what it is like to experience your pain, yet, we have a collective humanity in that we all go through suffering. There are folks who experience more pain than you do and there are folks who experience less pain than you; it is not a competition. Let’s remember to use suffering as a way to cultivate empathy and connection.
Start Your Journey With Self-Compassion Right Now With Me
Self-Compassion is about taking a moment to check in with yourself – to stop and listen; to feel and to ask, “What do I need right now?” And if possible, to be kind enough to give it to yourself.
Make your mental health a priority. I cannot stress the importance of counselling right now. As physical health and safety is taking a front seat in the news, it is imperative to keep your mental health on check as well. Personally, I have been making my counselling sessions a priority. They are a lifeline during this time of uncertainty. Please know that Alongside You is here to help. We have appointments available 6 days a week – morning, afternoon and evenings. We provide face to face sessions as well as secure video sessions. Please reach out and talk to someone. We are here for you.
Practice Gratitude. There is much to be discouraged about – cases of COVID 19 are rising, there is political unrest in the United States, tensions are high about going back to school, natural disasters surge, and innocent lives are being taken at a sobering rate. I have found myself feeling overwhelmed and struggling to know how to respond. I acknowledge that I am but one person and the need is great. I was asked by my counsellor in our last session, “Where is gratitude in all of this?” I smiled. I can still practice gratitude when there is injustice all around. I can delight in my flowering geraniums on my patio, despite my not-so-green thumb. I can be thankful for my family, for my weekly handwritten cards in the mail from my mom. I can savour a delicious meal cooked at home and delight in the technology that allows me to stay connected with loved ones around the world.
We can hold more than one feeling at the same time. We can acknowledge the pain, suffering, uncertainty and fear we feel. And we can appreciate the beauty, the simplicity, the kindness, the compassion and love that still exists.
Sadly, I do not have a magic wand to make everything better. If only I did. But what I do know is that we can step steps to help ourselves through this time. You are braver than you know. Do the things that bring you joy. You are not alone. Reach out for help. Remember to breathe. And finally – know that you matter. The world needs you.
One of my favourite things to do during my time as a teacher was to set up schedules for my classroom, plan out lessons and units, and help students stay on track with their learning and with their assignments. As a young mom back then, I thought it would be a good idea to use the same kind of set up at home with my own kids around scheduled feeding, sleep time, and play time. As my own kids grew and my role as a teacher of teens continued, I realized more and more that kids of all kinds thrive from structure, routine and predictability. All of these things help our kids with their executive function.
In school, teachers provide schedules, structures and routines to kids that, over time, become a way of life. The benefits of this kind of structured functioning became clear to me as my students and my own children entered the teenage years. In my roles as a mom and a teacher I was able to witness the advantages of good planning skills in teens firsthand, and the troubles that can arise for kids when organizational skills fall apart.
These kinds of planning skills are known as executive function skills (meaning the skills you need to execute tasks). What most parents and teachers don’t realize is that the full scope of executive function doesn’t just include planning and organizing, but also includes:
Following through on tasks
With the latest research in neuropsychology, we’re discovering that it can take up to 25 years for executive skills to fully develop! In other words, executive skills are dependent on brain development over time. This development happens in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain just behind the forehead.
Once I started to learn more about executive skill development in kids and teens, I became particularly concerned about kids who had challenges with executive skills. These are the kids who underachieve because of weak skills in organization and time management, which in turn prevents them from working to their potential or achieving their goals. In many cases these kids have had chronic problems throughout school and may have developed a negative history there. Sometimes these kids have been labelled as lazy, irresponsible and not caring about their own success and achievement. These children are largely misunderstood. For kids with attentional disorders and learning challenges, these skills develop even more slowly and are more sensitive to disruption.
Stress and Executive Function Skills: Getting Through School Closure And Online Learning In The Time of A Pandemic
At the time of our school closures when typical schedules and routines disappeared, and teacher support for project completion, time management and organizational skills was unavailable, many students with weak or immature executive skills floundered. In fact, many students of all abilities, including high achieving students, struggled without the day-in, day-out support that teachers typically provide through face to face connections and organizational supports in classrooms.
Even more importantly, in times of stress (such as during the current pandemic), everyone’s executive skills are taxed. From a survival point of view, right now is the time when our brains are hard-wired to focus on the immediate needs in our environment and whatever is causing our stress. This in turn decreases the resources that usually get directed to executive skills, leading to reductions in working memory, emotional regulation, sustained attention and goal-related persistence – just to name a few!
When Kids Are Stretched And Stressed
During the pandemic, many parents are struggling to contain their own worries about jobs, lost income and health conditions related to the COVID-19 virus. When kids begin to understand what their parents are worrying about, they start to worry too. To add to the strain, the familiarity and routine of school as well as the many supports at school that provide security to students have disappeared. This support often includes nutrition breaks, feelings of love and belonging, and connections with teachers and peers who care for them.
Finally, increased expectations that kids manage their school work on their own when daily routines disappeared tended to overload many students and contributed to a significant amount stress and difficulty completing work. This stress can result in reduced mental resources that are normally devoted to executive function, causing significant difficulties for kids in coping emotionally and keeping up with learning at home.
How Can I Help As An Executive Skills Coach?
Moving forward, as we all wait to hear from our Education Minister regarding school opening plans, we can be thinking about how to best support kids in this upcoming school year, no matter what it brings. The best approach (at any time, but especially at a time like this) is to view executive functioning difficulties as obstacles, rather than character flaws or poor choices. If we approach kids using problem-solving strategies that include a sympathetic ear, trauma-informed practice (relationships matter!) and some open-ended questions and discussions, kids are more likely to work with us, do better and feel better.
Many parents regularly use coaching as an option when teens push back against attempts to teach new skills to help them manage the details of life. Coaching is a process that keeps the pressure and the meltdowns away from parents, preserves family relationships at a time when they matter most, and helps kids develop the skills they need to adapt to new realities with resilience.
Through coaching, kids can become the independent, self-sufficient individuals they want to be (and that their parents want to see), even during a pandemic.
As a coach, I work with kids to support their emotional health and well-being, help them identify their goals, and make daily plans to achieve them. This might include keeping up with assignments, advocating for accommodations at school, improving grades or even getting a job. I work hard to help kids feel autonomous and make important decisions about the goals that they want to work towards. At a time like this, our kids need a helping hand to navigate their way through very unsettling times, all the while keeping their eye on the prize – there is a way through this!
As a consultant, I offer advice and strategies to kids, leaving the final decisions in their hands! In this way, a pre-teen or teen’s success building small goals will build a base for achieving bigger goals over time. I firmly believe that with help, kids can overcome the hardships that have suddenly landed on them and feel proud of themselves for prevailing.
My role in the life of your child and your family in my practice at Alongside You is to offer support to help kids build executive function skills and feel successful, help your kids survive the pandemic and the continued upcoming changes in school life, and to help all of you stay connected and learn to rise above the current schooling challenges due to the pandemic.
If you would like to meet with me for a consultation regarding your child’s progress, please contact us and we will be in touch with you soon. Secure video appointments are a safe, kid-friendly space to meet virtually and shake-off the anxiety, despair and overwhelm and gain some ground as we approach our new normal at school.
Reach out for help, relieve worry and remember that a helping hand is what is most needed for kids at this time in order to feeling better, learn better and do better. I look forward to working with you and your kids!