How I Can Help
I offer psychotherapy that is focused on overcoming an immediate or enduring problem which often has roots in the past. It can involve the careful processing of family history, social or cultural expectations, traumatic experiences/relationships and self-defeating coping patterns that have defined one's identity and way of living. I also provide the support and accountability needed to assist you in whatever personal development goals you might have.
I work mostly from Psychodynamic, Existential, CBT, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Meaning-Centered, Somatic, and Gestalt perspectives, and incorporate many creative and experiential techniques that facilitate personal inquiry such as art, writing, focusing, genograms, movement, nature and in-vivo exposure. You may be considering counselling because you are struggling with:
Disordered Eating and other Addictive Behaviour
Addiction is an attempt to cope. We use it because it works. It provides a way to escape or avoid a host of painful feelings often associated with a belief system built up from childhood. A belief system that tends to be rigid, perfectionistic and highly self-critical. Addictive behaviours, whether they be eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating), workaholism, substance use, gaming, surfing media, etc. all in their own way serve to numb and distract from the intense emotions of shame, guilt, anger, emptiness and disappointment amongst others. Almost certainly lying underneath it all, is a chronic belief that one is inadequate or not good enough.
You yourself may notice specific triggers that move you quickly into a spiral of distress, but more often than not, you don't. You just know that it hurts, and it feels like the habitual behaviour is the only thing that will help you survive those feelings. Until it doesn't anymore. All of us have engaged in addictive behaviour at some points in our lives, but it is when that behaviour gets a hold of us and starts to demand all of our energy and attention, that in essence we have become "devoted" to it. Recovery isn't about white-knuckling it for the rest of your life. It is instead about approaching yourself and your history with curiosity and compassion, accepting that the behaviour was functional for a time, but that you can develop new ways to cope.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Illness, Burnout or Injury
The development of a chronic health condition or experiencing an injury can be not only physically debilitating, but emotionally overwhelming as well. Whether it is processing the initial shock of the incident or diagnosis, or trying to deal with the ramifications for your future, it is essential to have supports in place that can validate your unique and complex reactions. Recovery can be very confusing for clients, as the prognosis is often unclear, and medical treatments can be ineffective or at times even exacerbate conditions.
Along side all of the physical attempts at recovery, there are often painful internal struggles that impact a client's ability to heal overall. Clients can experience feelings of grief, fear, shame, discouragement and deep despair which if not dealt with can lead to pushing too hard through body cues of pain and hyper-arousal of the brain/nervous system, or overly-attending to bodily sensations, both of which put pressure on an already taxed system. You may also feel burdened by unrealistic expectations of healing by your self, those close to you, and society in general, making it a struggle to set important boundaries around what you can and can't do. In order to move forward, I believe clients need space to make sense of all the ways that one's lifestyle and relationships have been impacted, as well as to work through the resistances that prevent acceptance and commitment to establishing new hopes and plans.
Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP)
Many individuals will immediately resonate with being highly sensitive, but may not fully understand the meaning or impact of this trait on overall wellness. You might have grown up hearing that you are "too sensitive", or have always had a vague sense that you were different or misunderstood. Perhaps you have noticed that you feel both positive and negative emotions more intensely, or need more time to observe or think about things before acting. You probably have also noticed that you can become overwhelmed when exposed to too much stimulus, and that you often need more down time or time alone than others you know. Thankfully, researcher and psychologist Elaine Aron, has begun to shed more light on what has historically been a poorly understood and mislabelled trait.
Studies have shown that approximately 20% of both men and women across all cultures possess this genetic temperament trait, and that this innate sensitivity is also found in over 100 animal species. The trait expresses itself through an increased awareness of the subtleties of stimulus, and a brain and nervous system that process information at more depth than those who do not possess the trait. Due to these genetic differences, highly sensitive individuals can be especially vulnerable to the effects of a troubled childhood, resulting in higher levels of depression, anxiety and struggles with self-esteem. Research clearly validates what highly sensitive individuals have been experiencing all along, that indeed they are different, thus requiring a better understanding of the unique gifts, and challenges that arise because of this.
All of us experience worries and fear at times, and often that fear can serve us in a positive way, signalling to us potential dangers so that we can avoid the negative consequences of those threats. We have all had moments where we are thankful we listened to that inner alert. But anxiety can become problematic when it begins to impact your ability to function day to day, or stops you from being able to make decisions or take risks for your own behalf. It can also make it difficult to trust your own instincts, and often leads to missed opportunities or regrets at goals left incomplete.
You might notice that you feel physically paralyzed by a specific stimulus or situation, particularly after experiencing something traumatic, or that you feel chronically overwhelmed by spiralling thoughts and disorganized behaviour which contribute to the enduring physical discomfort of tension, nervousness and fatigue. Chronic anxiety should not be ignored or just "dealt with", as research so clearly shows that having a chronically activated sympathetic nervous system can be detrimental for a person's health and wellbeing. I approach the management of anxiety not only through the practical use of cognitive behavioural techniques, but also through the careful exploration of a client's inner experience of fear that when brought into awareness, can be better understood and resolved.
Depression, Grief and Adjustment
Depression, characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and loss of interest or pleasure in most daily activities, has been labelled by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of illness and disability, impacting over 300 million individuals worldwide. Depression is a complex mental health condition that can arise in an individual due to large number of factors. Reactions to the loss of a loved one, or the adjustment to major life changes, losses or stressors can bring with them a period of depression which often will resolve with the passing of time. But there are times that the depressed mood can persist beyond what might seem reasonable, or it might be that you cannot determine the source of the chronic sadness and apathy being experienced.
We do now know that depression is a condition that is highly treatable, and responds well to psychotherapy. It is important not only to explore the actual event or situation that may have triggered the depressed state, but also to determine how an individual comes to understand what it means for them and for their life. Clients may also have unhelpful patterns of beliefs, thoughts and actions to which they are entirely unaware, that make adjustment to crisis and loss much more difficult, and can often contribute to a more chronic state of depression. When all these factors are addressed, an individual can better accept certain parts of their struggle, while discovering that there are aspects that can be changed or improved.
Existential or Spiritual Concerns
There are times in life when we can feel brought to the end of ourselves by the weight of our own suffering or struggles. At these times we may come to realize that solution-focused approaches will never be able to get at the core of what we are experiencing. Because we are living within a culture that expects people to just "get over it", many have lost sight of the inherent value moving through suffering can offer. How someone comes to understand and make meaning of suffering within the context of their life story often determines how successfully they navigate the challenges of being human.
Suffering in all its various forms can lead us into deeper questioning or searching, which in turn can cause us to look within ourselves, at our relationships with others and the world, or to a connection with something beyond ourselves, such as God or a Higher Power. It can also prompt us to face some of the basic human fears we may be experiencing, such as lack of purpose, meaninglessness or isolation. Psychotherapy that doesn't shy away from these deeper questions can assist clients to evaluate whether the way in which they have been living lines up with their core beliefs and values, so that future choices are more aligned with who they really are.