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ANTS: Our Thoughts or Not ?

The following contribution is from a middle-aged woman who suffered severe child abuse, sexual abuse, containment and physical violence as well as the early demise of her mother. Father’s subsequent downturn to alcoholism and grandparents scornful childcare assistance appear to have contributed, along with multiple sexual predators, to her ultimately suffering from complex post-traumatic stress “reaction” and dissociative identity symptoms. Despite the severe stress and strain on her psyche, she manages to strive to improve for her family and to attempt to regain her sanity. Her interpretation of how her brain works follows:

“I used to think that the four lobes of my brain just worked separately. Decisions made came from whatever lobe was healthiest at that moment. Like the wire connecting them together had a break in it. Over the years, I have tried to get control over which lobe would work but realized I don’t get to decide.

I have tried so many different attempts at control: changing my diet, adding different vitamins, punishment and rewarding the lobes that seemed to work best. Giving control to others who thought they could fix it for me using whatever methods they thought would work… (drugging, restraining, electrocuting, depriving, thought control, etc.). This has proved impossible so far.

Now I don’t think my four lobes work separately. I feel like my brain has turned into a giant anthill, each ant having its own job to do. Sometimes they seem to work together but sometimes they seem to eat each other and fight. It feels like a war inside the hill.

Sometimes, I think the poisonous ants are the big ones that overpower the small ones. The small ones have to fight and stay on alert at all times for the big ones. They have to follow the poisonous ants and do what they say, if they are not strong enough to fight. Other times, they get too tired and surrender themselves to the poisonous ants and get killed if they step out of line and do not follow. Sometimes, the small ants can win. It takes teamwork by many different small ants but they CAN choose their own job to do. It just takes more than one.

I can sometimes feel them in my skin and head. It makes me itchy. It makes me wonder if they are getting along or struggling. Sometimes, I see ants all over my bed or couch or wall…wherever I’m sitting. I think it’s the BIG ANTS making me see them and feel them, reminding me they are in control.

Sometimes, the small ants can be tricky and be poisonous too but you don’t know it at the time. You can’t assume anything with ants of any size. They switch jobs without notice. They fight without reason.

I don’t like ants. I enjoy spraying ant killer into their tiny hills. I like to put them out of their misery. I can’t imagine them being happy. God would likely disapprove, as he created such creatures but they can really torture you if they were to live inside your head. They have such a nasty sting for such a small bug.”


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A psychological term, from cognitive-behavioural theory, uses the acronym ANTS to refer to our “automatic negative thoughts” It almost seems as though the author of the words above has a hypersensitivity to her negative thinking processes. It would be nice, I suppose, if it were much easier to get rid of our ANTS or “Stinkin Thinkin” than it is. Help is available to reduce our ANTS.

Therapy is designed to help people uncover ANTS and find new ways to think that promote improved mental health. For help recovering from abuse, resolving relationship concerns or to improve your view of yourself, contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 


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Let Others Help You Untie / Lose the Addiction

Does it feel like every day there is a bulletin on the latest celebrity who has admitted himself or herself into rehab? The unfortunate passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was due to a heroin addiction. The death of Glee celebrity, Cory Monteith, was also from a drug overdose.

Some may perceive these celebrities as having amazing lives; they make a lot of money; they own multiple cars and homes. It appears that they have all the opportunities to have amazing lives and relationships.

If celebrities, people who seem to have so much, struggle to overcome addiction, how can the common-folk do it? On the radio, one doctor commented that there is no cure to an addiction. That’s all that was on the broadcast. There were no other comments to possibly instill a grain of hope in the listener’s mind.

So what about the so-called “addicts” who are not celebrities?  What about the people who mortgage homes to pay for rehabilitation programs. What about those who have such a hard time believing they are worth the effort?  What about those courageous people who, admittedly with help, have overcome addictive patterns of behaviour,  persevere,  improve their relationships and have been able to co-create happier lives? These are the stories and truths we need to hear more about.

Technically, many might agree with the doctor’s negative, “to-the-point” comment… “There is no cure to addiction”. It is absolutely possible,  however, to have suffered from an addiction, overcome it with hard and consistent effort and to develop a happier life. YES!

If, as the doctor says “there is no cure”… then maybe it is not an illness. Perhaps it may, at least in some instances, be better viewed as an inappropriate coping strategy or poor stress response. In still other situations, it may be seen as learned behaviour that can be unlearned?  With an accurate assessment, it is possible to determine the factors contributing, the level of risk as well as the strengths and resources available to effectively overcome addiction. This is the kind of news we should hear about. The opportunities and success stories are not heard enough.

If you’d like to tell your success story… please submit it to our email (jeff@jeffpacker.com) with your clearly stated permission to post it anonymously on this blog.

Thanks


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Goal setting may be, for some, quite a daunting task that is simply just too hard to do alone. Perhaps limited experience in childhood with setting clearly defined goals is the reason. Others may have had negative experiences associated with failing to reach goals. Some people may have been coached on this skill, achieved success, thus, finding goal setting to be a pleasurable experience. Creating a list of things to accomplish can make them already feel a sense of accomplishment.

So what gets in the way of setting clear goals? (creating them and writing them down or making up a motivation chart)

  • Time and energy?
  • Fear of failure… or success? (yes this is also a concern for many)
  • Not feeling good enough/low self-esteem?
  • Distractions and difficulty focusing?
  • Worry and anxiety about the future?

When we can identify the obstacles (real or imagined) then it becomes a little bit easier to begin setting smaller goals to overcome these roadblocks to our success. Facing our fears head on, with help as required, opens possibilities, builds confidence and increases our chance of success.

Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals is a great first goal!

It also helps to identify our strengths, resources along with areas we struggle with or that require improvement so goal achievement is more likely to occur. Drawing upon our inner and outer resources is essential to our success so being clear about these aspects greatly improves our ability to set SMART goals.

Once we create our goals, what’s next?  When we set a goal to improve our marriage, get a promotion at work or perhaps even run our first Boston Marathon, we are then well advised to consider the small, incremental steps that need to happen for this big accomplishment to take place?

Sometimes, when we create our goals, write them in our notebooks or post them on our walls, we assume things will fall into place on their own.  However, two important elements need to be in the mix in order for goals to be accomplished:  intentional effort and accountability.

Intentional effort:  Making your goals present in your day-to-day life.  We may set a goal to fulfill a year from now but we need to be consciously doing our diligence each day.  The promotion we seek, the improved marriage or the goal of running a marathon requires thoughtful consideration and consistent attention in order to carry out the multitude of “baby steps” or objectives along the way.

Accountability: When we create goals, it is important to speak them, sharing these with others. Research shows that the more people you share your goals with, the greater chance you have to accomplish them.  Why?  People will ask, encourage, remind and even hold us accountable. Most will do so in a loving and supportive way.  When people hold us accountable, they believe we can accomplish what we have set out to do. This spurs us on to run a great race toward the prize.

For more information on goal setting and self-development, book an appointment with us today.

 


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We may fear heights (acrophobia), close spaces (claustrophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), or even public places (agoraphobia). But how do these fears develop? Psychotherapists may believe that presenting phobias act as a defensive mechanism against a more underlying area of anxiety, which is fueled by unconscious, repressed impulses. Behaviourists usually discard the content of phobias and instead focus on what role or how the phobia functions in the person’s life. Cognitive theorists will look into how people’s thoughts can heighten, lower, maintain and reduce their fear.

phobia – noun    (Mirriam-Webster’s Concise Encyclopedia Definition)

“Extreme and irrational fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. A phobia is classified as a type of anxiety disorder (a neurosis), since anxiety is its chief symptom. Phobias are generally believed to result when fear produced by an original threatening situation (such as a near-drowning in childhood) is transferred to other similar situations (such as encounters with bodies of water), the original fear often being repressed or forgotten. Behaviour therapy can be helpful in overcoming phobias, the phobic person being gradually exposed to the anxiety-provoking object or situation in a way that demonstrates that no threat really exists.”

There is also evidence that suggests genetic factors that may predispose some to phobias rather than others. Sixty-four percent of patients with a phobia have at least one first-degree relative with the same fear (Davidson, Neale, Blankstein, & Flett, 2002, pg. 167). Some may argue it is possible to learn or “adopt” a fear or phobia from a close relative as a function of repeated, chronic exposure to the behaviour.

Regardless of the specific fear an individual has, its symptoms can have a significant impairment on the person’s life and day to day functioning can be severely limited. Because the onset of phobias (especially social phobias), is usually during adolescence, when untreated, there is a likelihood of dropping out of school and experiencing a decreased quality of life.

“A parent who consulted us for treatment for her son, who had gradually decreased school attendance, was somewhat unaware of her own heightened social fear that restricted her behaviours to home and work for years. The son’s own anxiety was further exacerbated by the onset of puberty, transition to highschool and the development of compensatory behaviours such as excessive computer and video gaming activities. Eventually, school staff negotiated a reduced class schedule which, inadvertently, affirmed the problem. Through the assessment process using both the cognitive behavioural and systems lenses, changes in thoughts and behaviours helped this student to gradually improve school attendance and social involvement. His mother also became more socially involved throughout the therapeutic process.”

There are many approaches involved in reducing phobias, so it is important to create a treatment plan (which may include a combination of different therapies) that can serve you best:

  • Systems theory helps identify multiple factors contributing to a problem and quite accurately informs change options and solutions
  • Psychotherapeutic treatments (such as free association) attempt to uncover repressed conflicts that are assumed to be the underlying explanations for extreme fear and avoidance.
  • Systemic desensitization (exposure to specific fears while increasing the state of improved relaxation) has shown to eliminate or at least reduce phobias.
  • Depending on the severity of anxiety developed from phobias, some medications may be prescribed for fear-induced symptoms (e.g., sedatives, tranquilizers, or barbiturates).
  •  Cognitive techniques paired with social skills training (safe exposure to phobia-induced environments) can lessen people’s reaction to their phobias as well as enhance people’s sense of self-worth.

You may find it becomes necessary to seek professional help to gain a thorough understanding of a specific phobia or area of anxiety and how it impacts your life. For professional and confidential help contact us today!


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Each Person, A Distinct Individual

Carl Rogers, a leading humanistic psychotherapist developed client-centered or person-centered therapy on the premise that, “people can be understood only from their own phenomenology—the immediate experience that they have of themselves and their world—and that they become disordered when they fail to attend to their own inner nature and instead guide their behavior according to what others wish,” (Davidson, Neale, Blankstein, & Flett, 2002, pg. 597).

Whatever our specific experiences in life are, they are certainly unmatched by and incomparable to anyone else’s. Whether we experience constant nagging or coddling of our mother, the stern scolding or excessive joking from our father, or if the peer pressure we were exposed to was too intense, many of our choices are molded by these experiences. Each person’s experience, if when raised in the same family is vastly different.

Client-centered therapy provides the opportunity to express and explore your own personal experiences and how these have both positive and negative impact.  By building self-awareness in therapy, people often feel they have regained their voice and freedom of choice.  Steps toward increasing understanding foster an improved ability to respond more effectively to challenges in life, to communicate and interact in a way that increases satisfaction in relationships.

In client-centered therapy, the role of a therapist is to create an environment that is non-judgmental, accepting, and empathetic. The goal is to allow the person to better understand his or her own wishes, fears, needs, and aspirations—also to reconsider his or her current relationships. He or she may begin to question how these relationships are benefiting or hampering their pursuit in life and identify ways to bring about positive change.

Who can benefit?

Client-centered therapy has shown to provide a positive effect on those suffering from:

  • Depression
  • Poor relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse
  • Personality disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Phobias

Benefits of client-centered therapy include:

  • Decreased feelings of guilt and stress
  • Increased ability to express personal feelings and opinions
  • Greater ability to trust oneself
  • Decreased anxiety and fear
  • Healthier relationships
  • Openness to new ideas and experiences
  • Increased self-esteem

To discuss how client-centered therapy may work for you, book an appointment with us today!

             Photo by Alan Light

An invitation to the Oscars is quite the accomplishment, let alone what it would mean to be asked to present an award or be nominated for one. The big moment for celebrities and fans is that terrifying red carpet walk that leads to the venue’s entrance. The cameras, the eyes, the cheering for attention…all prepared for accidents, falls, and dreadful attire.

The best and worst dressed list is sometimes more important than those who actually win an award for their performances and artwork. What message is this providing to younger generations? There is an unrealistic idealism that celebrities have the most amazing lifestyles and that happiness is determined by the price of jewellery worn and the number of high-end cars in the garage.

Then we pay tribute to those who have passed away, whether to natural causes, accidents, heart attacks, or cancers, as well as those who take their own lives. Mental health issues plague celebrities just as much if not more than the general population.  Imagine if the relationship and personal struggles experienced by celebrities were showcased to increase awareness about mental health and the wealth of solutions available to resolve them.

If anything, famous celebrities with mental health issues are usually “pushed under the carpet”, “thrown under the bus” and/or exploited by tabloids. Sometimes the fame and fortune, and what it took to get, is difficult to cope with. Great difficulty faces them in finding work and being recognized, while somehow still providing for themselves and other family members too. They also experience great pressure wanting to make parents proud, maybe because they sacrificed so much on the dream they had or maybe because they didn’t.

Take out the words show business and fame and wealth and we can actually identify with these LIFE STRUGGLES. When struggles become overbearing and we are encouraged to keep quiet about them, mental health concerns are likely to develop. Many of us can understand the heartache of romantic break-ups, poor choices, substance abuse, addictions and career failures. Can we imagine what this might look like if we saw it broadcasted on the news?!!!

Mental health is not something to stay quiet about or to try to push under a rug. We all have struggles and difficulties in life. To manage and cope with these challenges, it is important to speak up about them. Awareness is the first step toward actions that can help you create a better quality of life. Contacting our professional registered counsellors is the second step… help is available.

 

 


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Are Our Phones Smarter Than We Are?

Smart phones are like our very own personal assistants (who we can even have a conversation with).  Appointments, dinner dates, meetings, and deadlines are recorded to keep us on track.  Email and Internet access are easy to use with the touch of a button.  We can even scan prices of items when we shop (who needs customer service?). We no longer even have to wait in bank lineups to manage our accounts.

Because of the accessibility that smart phones provide, we often feel a need to have them around us 24/7.  They wake us up in the morning (sometimes before) and even follow us to our bathroom.  Somehow, we have adopted the habit of our phones joining us at the dinner table or while eating in restaurants.  When do we consider our phones as intruders in our lives? Possibly when we can answer yes to any of the following questions:

  • Do you have more conversations with your phone than with people around the dinner table?
  • Do you text members of your family within the same household when they are just in another room?
  • On vacation, is one of your first questions an inquiry about wi-fi?
  • Do you allow phone interruptions to take precedence over your current person-to-person conversation?
  • Does your phone accompany you to the bathroom?  (Really?)

Smartphones can have a significant impact on children’s social development.  An article from Dr. Michael Gabriel from GPM Pediatrics says that “children are missing out on how to learn language, learn about their emotions and how to regulate them, learn how to carry out a conversation and how to read each other’s facial expressions.”

Can we come to a consensus that we may be addicted to our phones and that, until now, we didn’t fully realize the impact they have on our lives, well being, and relationships with others?

There are easy ways to reduce the time with our phones.  Counselling isn’t likely to help you decrease dependency on your “smart” phones, however, short-term counselling can help rebuild relationships and develop the social skills required to maintain healthy relationships.  Contact us today!