Sometimes You Just Need a Good Listening-To……Should I Try Counselling?

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Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have someone listen non-judgmentally and with interest to what you think/ believe/ want/ hope for/ fear/ hate/ distrust/ desire/ need? Or even just someone to bounce ideas off of?  Just be there while you cry?  Help you find creative or practical solutions to your struggles?  That is the very definition of a counsellor.

But isn’t counselling just for people who are crazy?  Depressed? Alcoholics?

Sure, I would definitely recommend counselling for those struggling with mental health issues, those stuck in negative patterns, those experiencing crisis or those living highly stressful, anxious lives; however counseling can also work wonders for the everyday person who wants to think, feel, problem solve, create and grow in the presence of, and with help from another caring and thoughtful person.  Maybe it’s a habit you want to break. Perhaps you’re struggling with family conflict. Or maybe you’re unhappy in your job, and need some guidance in figuring out what career will really make you happy. Sometimes people just want to get something off of their chest, or ask philosophical questions.  Most often, someone is struggling to understand a situation or needing support through a difficult time or major change.  Counselling can be a great option in these situations!

So what’s stopping you? The way counseling is portrayed in movies and TV shows can paint a judgy, awkward and pretentious picture It is also often used interchangeably with the word “therapy” — the differences between the two lie in the certification of the provider, as well as the presenting topic – more medical and diagnosed mental health concerns should seek therapy.  But in reality, while there may be a couch or a comfy chair, therapists are not detached, distracted listeners who charge an arm and a leg for an hour of their time and come out with a statement full of judgment or a diagnosis that paints you with a negative brush. Just because you receive counseling doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong with you.  A lot of people seek out a counsellor to help them with a goal or dream, and still others for support as they hope to help others through their struggles.

Seeing a counsellor also doesn’t mean you’ll need medication, group therapy or extensive, lifelong treatment programs.  While all of the above are a possibility depending on the situation, a good counselor will start with the gentlest strategies to find success, and only work with what you are comfortable with.  A good counsellor listens, helps you find your strengths, identifies thoughts, feelings, questions and answers and helps you to realize the changes or directions you would like to go.  They support you during your difficult times, celebrate your good times and guide you through goal setting, reflection and problem solving.

It’s also easy for people to get hung up on the cost of therapy — which can run the gamut from $80 to $200 for a session (usually an hour in length). Therapy is expensive, but it’s an investment and you should be getting a return on your investment. There are other things that are expensive, that we don’t question the finances of so much, such as hiring a good attorney if you’re going through a divorce.  Also, often private health care plans will cover the cost of counselling sessions, and sometimes companies or employers will have Employee Assistance Plans for the same purpose.  I often tell people that they are going to “work through” their challenges one way or another: spending money on counselling is a good investment as opposed to alcohol, shopping, shoes, gambling, food or other distraction techniques…

“But aren’t therapists just people you’re paying to listen to your problems?” you may ask. While compassionate listening is an important part of the counseling process, therapists have master’s and doctorate degrees and have spent years studying how people change, relationships, work environments, conflict resolution and communication. We spend years living in those systems and training in those systems so we can help you get to that part of yourself to understand the things that are driving your habits and choices.  There are many theories, strategies and evidence based practices based on solid research that these professionals can draw upon once the client is ready to move on to problem solving and/ or change.

So how would you even start?  The first step to starting therapy is to find a therapist. If cost is an important factor, you could ask your insurance company for a list of therapists who would be considered in-network. There are also government organizations and Not-For-Profit support services.  Still more private offices may offer “sliding-scale” programs.  Churches and schools also have people trained in counselling. You could also try searching the internet, yellow-pages, social media or friends to ask for a list of mental health professionals. Especially if you are looking for a therapist for a particular issue (i.e. divorce, weight loss, grief), referrals from friends/ family or specific internet searches may be the way to go!  There are also more and more online options (cyber-counselling) over email popping up to offer counseling at your pace, place and convenience.  Check out www.knowledge-power.ca/cyber_services.php   for more info!

One of the most important aspects of counselling is the counsellor/ client “fit.”  Not everyone clicks with everyone…don’t let this be a reason for you to give up!  No different than your doctor, vet or employer, you need to find the person you connect with, trust and respect.  It’s okay not to like a person’s style and find the best person to help you!  All counsellors have a different personality, belief system, and style….shop around!  Even ask ahead of time some questions about their strategies, style or beliefs about your struggle…a good counsellor will talk with you and take time to answer these questions!

There is also the question of how many sessions one should go?  Some people want to have a speedy experience, where the problem is solved in six sessions or less. If this is you, then you should look for a “solutions-focused therapist.”  It is still important to keep in mind that you can’t expect that all problems can be solved in a short period of time, as some situations take longer to sort through. Meanwhile, other people can end up going to therapy for years, either because the situation has never been resolved, or because they like being able to come in for an hour each week to talk about life – either one is okay and you can decide what is best for you.

So…what is the first session like? Some therapists do a first session by getting an assessment of the current problem. Some will do history, relationship or background information gathering.  Others will listen and let you guide the process, and still others will engage using metaphors or thought-provoking questions.  It isn’t just a one-way relationship to be sure….you need to have an idea of what you would like to talk about, and what you would like to get out of therapy.  Be sure to communicate that desire…you’re the boss and the therapy should meet your need!  A counsellor’s job is to help guide people where they would like to go.  As a trust and rapport builds, this sharing and reflection will become more natural.

The purpose of counselling is to build. Grow. Repair. Remake. Lift. Understand. Seek. Answer. Identify. Feel. Live. Smile. Listen. Be.

If you need or want any of those things….give it a try!

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New Year, New You!

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It’s a New Year which means a bright new beginning, a fresh start, and a time for personal change, challenge and trying new things! New Year’s resolutions are exciting and motivating for some and a passing thought for others, but if you’re one of the tried and true try-ers, here are some tips to help you find success with your resolve!

1. State your goal in the positive. All too often we want to lose, quit and stop. While it is true that there are certain behaviors, patterns and pounds that we’d like to be rid, of, it is far more encouraging and psychologically efficient to state our hopes in positive and forward-thinking ways! Instead of “losing weight” think, “I want to become more fit and healthy.” Instead of “quitting smoking,” you can say “I’d like to make healthier choices.” It makes a huge difference in how we think about our goals! It is always easier and more rewarding to work toward something than away from it.
2. Pick Realistic Goals. One of the biggest problems in keeping a resolution is that we simply aim too high too far and too fast. Resolving to look more like a super model or martial arts star is an unrealistic resolution for anyone. Resolving to make healthier choices or be more active are more realistic goals. Setting a goal of completely changing your life, your career, your family relations, etc. is too overwhelming and broad. Keep the goals small and simple and achievable. Maybe this means you have a few small goals that will build upon each other. Remember that even a small step is progress and recognize and celebrate each achievement as part of the overall goal.
3. Keep goals specific. Stating, “I want to feel better” is a very broad and vague concept which will make it difficult to figure out exactly what success will be! Instead, choose specific actions or behaviors that you will work on (I will spend more time with friends at coffee dates, I will take a yoga class on Wednesdays, I will pay my bills within one week of receiving them, etc.) which are easier to measure and provide an actual activity to succeed at. You may need to do a little research and reflection on the “how”, but it will pay off. Be sure you know the what, where, when and why of your goals as you set them! You’ll find this tip alone will help you find success.
4. Set up a Schedule. One of the first rules of time management is “if you don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen.” No goal is attainable without deciding when you’re going to make the small changes needed to reach that goal. If you set no schedule for yourself, or — as most people do — set an unrealistic schedule, you are setting yourself up to fail. The schedule should be written down (on a calendar, smart phone, etc.), just like your goal and the steps you will take to reach each goal. If your schedule involves things which need to be done daily or weekly, set specific times of the day or specific days of the week which you will use to work on it. Then do it, and keep written track of your keeping to that schedule. If you find a part of your schedule isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it. The key is to stay flexible and adopt to changes needed to be successful in your goals.
5. Don’t Be Upset by Setbacks. New Year’s Resolutions have a reputation of being difficult to keep. It may help, though, to remember that we’re all human, we all make mistakes. It does no good to get depressed or disillusioned by setbacks in trying to reach your goals. In fact, if you know ahead of time that there are going to be times in which your resolve weakens or you don’t live up to a certain step or schedule you’ve set, it can help when it does happen. It’s a part of the process and means nothing more than a temporary setback. Putting such temporary setbacks into their proper perspective can help you move beyond them and put them behind you. Remind yourself why you have decided to make this change and try try again! The weakness is not in the falling down, but in the refusing to get back up again.
6. Enlist Additional Help or Support. Some people will find need or want additional help and support from others. Whether it’s in the form of a professional, a family member, a friend, or some type of formal support group, consider enlisting someone’s help. This shows that you are not only serious about keeping the resolution, but that you realize your own strengths and limitations. Getting additional help or support in this manner is sensible way to help increase your success in maintaining your New Year’s resolutions.

And remember…
Not every New Year’s resolution needs to be life changing or dramatic. Sometimes it helps for a person to make a few fun resolutions and things that are exciting to look forward to or make you laugh. Maybe try something new, take a road trip, call up an old friend, or do something silly.

Keep these few simple tips in mind this New Year may help to increase your chances of success. Also, consider that the New Year is not only a time to make changes in your life, but also a time to be thankful for being alive and well for another year.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

Setting your Sails for the Winds of Change

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Change is something we cannot completely control, and a part of life that is inevitable. While it sometimes uncomfortable or even a little scary, often it can bring about positive growth opportunities. It is an important part of “learning” and life. Part of the work in transitions, is helping people to navigate and understand change, and do it in such a way that is comfortable, positive and forward moving. There are a few ways to take an event or lifecycle experience, and create an atmosphere that is easier, helpful and “smoother” in the process of transition from one idea or thing or place to the next. Some of the strategies that can be used in any time of change follow:

*Find routine. Any sort of predictability in times of unknown or questioning can provide comfort. It is helpful to stick to familiar and routine oriented activities whenever possible. For example, if the family has always had a certain meal or outing together weekly (say Sunday nights) this can continue even in a new house or community.

*Determine the things that are within and those that are outside of one’s control. Try to focus on those things to which you have some influence. It can become hopeless and frustrating to focus on things that cannot change, which will only add to overall angst and fear. For example, if you need to move for work to a new community, rather than focusing on that, begin to focus on the choices you are in control of in the new community (i.e. the house you will live in, the activities you will participate in, or the school your kids will attend).

*Find the positives: Taking a situation that feels scary or unknown, and that is somewhat uncomfortable will inevitable cause a person to grow. We often tend to focus on those things that we are worried about or unfamiliar with. Try instead to take any positives or “silver linings” from the changes, however small they may be (i.e. I will never have to wait at “such and such” red light again or now I live closer to Tim Horton’s).

*Honor the uncomfortable feelings you are having and try to identify what is behind them. It is often helpful to “name” the things you are worried about or fearful of in times of change. For example “I am afraid I won’t be able to make any friends.” This will help with the next step. Once you can name the fear or negative emotion it is easier to communicate with others and work towards solutions.

*Work at finding solutions or ways to cope with the feelings and unknowns. If you know you are afraid of making new friends or not being able to find a new job etc. it is important to begin to problem solve through various things to try or ways to handle these possibilities (i.e. if I can’t find a job, I will ______ or _______ or _____. If I have trouble making friends at my new school, I can try to _____ or _____ or _____). Having these tools or possible solutions will lessen fear.

* Learn as much as you can about the situation. Knowledge is power, and thus if you are presented with something that is out of your control, or makes you feel powerless or worried, it is important to learn as much as you can about it, the possible outcomes, the potential positives and negatives and how this change will affect you. This will help to be better prepared for it when it comes. For example, try to learn about the new school or community, or what to expect as you move away from home. The more you understand and are ready for the change, the better able to “handle” it you can be.

*Remember times you have experienced “change” (even in small forms) in the past, and were able to come through it, even if you had to adjust some things. Remembering these times will help you to build confidence that you have experienced things like this before and done well.

*Keep in mind all things pass: Once the major change occurs, and you begin to adapt and learn the things you need to in order to enjoy the differences, you will again be more comfortable in your situation. Keep in mind that you will have accomplished one more thing, and while the process if often difficult or scary, it will come to that point of understanding and acceptance eventually and in your own time.

*Surround yourself with help and supports. Try not to do everything yourself, and in fact take it easy on your mind and body as they are trying to adjust and figure things out also. It can be exhausting to process and understand change never mind all of the things you actually have to do (i.e. find a new job, move, rearrange schedules etc). Be sure you have emotional support. Change can be difficult and scary, and it can be helpful to have someone walk through the process with you, and help you to understand various pieces of it…..that’s what friends are for!

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