Photo credit: ManicMorFF from morguefile.com

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!


 Photo credit: Prawny from morguefile.com

Photo credit: mensatic from morguefile.com

What is Going Through Your Mind?

How am I going to pay the bills this month?

Am I spending enough time with my family?

What do I really want to do with my life?

Sometimes our daily routine can gradually appear redundant, unpleasant, and lacking excitement. But we’re in the real world, aren’t we? We have to go to work to make ends meet. We’re supposed to get along with others, build relationships, reproduce and have offspring. Right?

At times, we make choices that, at other times, we think are not what we really wanted to do. We may later think we went to college to please our parents or we did. We might attain a “good standing” job so that we don’t have to feel embarrassed when people ask us what we’re up to. We could possibly even fill our wallets and office walls with photos of a “picture-perfect” family fostering the appearance we have it all together? Are we genuine? Are we “for real”?

Is this what we worry about? Why do questions like those above flood our minds day in and day out? Should we not be happy with the choices we’ve made? How is it that after making decisions of the heart we can so readily abandon them?

What if those questions causing doubt are nothing more than thoughts floating around in our minds… like data on a computer hard drive? Increased focus on negative thinking quickly leads to more negative emotional and behavioural experiences. Of course, many of us will choose to just ignore these negatives, pushing them to the back of our minds, and go on with our daily routine. This can, however, leave us with little to moderate satisfaction.

Others may dwell on these negative thoughts, fueling feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment and doubt. Eventually these feelings can seem to consume hope and joy, at which point many push away and leave behind the lives and people previously chosen. Still, there are other people who chose ways to manage their thoughts in a mindful and intentional way, finding information to help them develop a positive action plan. Taking the first step acknowledges the desire to change. Finding ways to improve our mental health by changing our thoughts goes a long way to boost confidence, integrity and authenticity.

Steps forward often require us to go back, waaaaaaay back, to discover what led us to make certain decisions and historical strategies that can help prevent problems. Unsure how far back to go? Counselling gives us that safe, confidential space to sort through our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Trained counselors ask questions to help guide us through both historical and current events, related thoughts and experiences in order to develop behaviours, relationships and goals fitting with our innermost desires.

Rather than harboring thoughts that lead to giving up on our families and our responsibilities, we can become agents of healthier change by making positive cognitive adjustments. Healthier constructs, precepts and schemata can then become foremost in our minds, fostering improved mental health and improving relationships with everyone in our lives. Counselling helps coach skills to think, feel and behave in a more satisfying and happy way. Call us today !

or… Post-Traumatic Stress “Reaction” (PTSR)

“The anger, the rage, the hurt, and the cold loneliness that separates you from your family, friends, and society’s normal daily routine are so powerful that the option of destroying yourself is both real and attractive….It appears, it grows, it invades and it overpowers you….You cannot put these things behind you…And the more people advise you to do so, the more you get mad because you know these things will not disappear. Time does not help,” (from Lt-Gen. Dallaire; Davison, Neale, Blankstein & Flett, 2002, p. 197).

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly known to be experienced by those who have fought in wars and experienced combat stress; however, it may also occur to individuals exposed to prolonged abuse, trauma, and victimization at home, school, work and in other social situations. Personal tragedy, natural disasters, or overwhelming life experiences also contribute to suffering and potentially being diagnosed with PTSD. The term “reaction” has been used increasingly over more recent years with symptoms following after trauma.

When we are exposed to difficult situations, it can sometimes feel unbearable to cope with. Excessive memory loss, increased doubt and insecurity, thoughts that bad things are inevitable, trouble sleeping and eating are just a few symptoms of excessive stress. At times, our family and friends may develop unrealistic expectations that we are “strong enough” to overcome life’s challenges. This may inhibit sufferers of PTSD from seeking help and being able to move forward. Living with untreated or under-treated PTSD, people may subsequently, over time, “experience problems with anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, substance abuse (as a means of self-medicating), marital problems, poor physical health, and occupational impairment” (Blankstein, et al.).

Feeling stuck in this dark place, as Lt-Gen. Dallaire describes above, can make us feel like there is no way out. We may be reliving traumatic experiences on a daily basis and not realize that there are ways to overcome the situation differently—ways to cope, ways to feel loved and supported (not shameful or guilty).

One-to-one therapy can help address the specific needs of an individual with PTSD. Group therapy may create a space of support for those also suffering with PTSD; being in the “same boat” with others who are able to relate to similar symptoms and experiences. Together, both individual counselling and support groups can help individuals overcome the symptoms and impact of severe trauma and regain a positive perspective on life. Call us today for an appointment and additional resources to assist you.

What Can I Do?

Heart pumping, worry, fear, palms sweating, knees buckling, inability to carry out daily activities, avoiding social settings, and withdrawing from social interactions; these are just a few of the symptoms that individuals suffering from anxiety experience.

Overwhelming feelings of anxiety frequently prevent people from living the lives they dream of having. At times, “normal living” can seem unattainable or pointless because of the burden of constantly feeling anxious, otherwise referred to as heightened fear and apprehension. After years of suffering from anxiety, some people may have a difficult time remembering what it was like to feel “normal.”  For most sufferers, there was a more calm and relaxed time in their lives.

Anxiety rarely existed from birth or even early childhood. It may best be considered a phenomena that developed over time from a certain point in one’s life. Given the condition developed in concert with a person’s experiences and thought or cognitive development, effective interventions can assist people to uncover the sources and underlying thought patterns contributing to anxious and fearful experiences.

In addition to finding the underlying cause(s) of anxious symptoms, anxiety therapy can help people cope better and learn relaxation strategies to use when symptoms begin to arise. Individuals may learn to change their perceptions of situations, seeing these in less frightening ways and developing coping strategies to reduce the frequency and severity of panic or anxiety attacks.

Our registered and professional counsellors, located in Oshawa, can help individuals with anxiety recover and reclaim the life that was theirs back when anxiety was not a part of their daily living experience. Increased confidence in social situations and more satisfying relationships is the benefit when people struggling with anxiety get the help required to take control over anxiety.

Call us today, to discover the cause of your anxiety and learn how to overcome your symptoms!

Expecting Unexpectedly?

At Jeff Packer MSW & Associates, we help young mothers and fathers cope with unexpected pregnancy. It is still the norm that young mothers are more open to getting assistance, partly due to differences in gender socialization. Males are still unfortunately under-trained when it comes to the importance of getting help in personal matters. They are therefore less likely to ask for help and often quite reluctant even when they fully understand they have quite limited information; I like to call this BWS or “Bruce Willis Syndrome”… I can solve this myself… I don’t need any help!

Common concerns that younger parents have, yet mothers mainly seek help with include: fear of telling their parents, fear of the labour process, limited information and resources, financial strain, being the topic of rumours or disappointment remarks, worry about not being able to pursue goals and being in a difficult or uncommitted, even hurtful romantic relationship. We help young parents-to-be work through these fears, strengthen support systems, identify and utilize strengths and resources, coach parenting skills and provide communication training to best prepare them for parenthood.

It is common in Western civilized cultures to hear more of the negative side about teen pregnancy or pregnancies out of wedlock. With reality TV shows like “Teen Mom” or “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” society sends a debilitating message about the female gender. This negativity reinforces fear in young mothers.

Here is a brief posting of a young woman who decided to create a world of positivity toward her unplanned pregnancy.

“I am young, not in a stable relationship, and not in my chosen career. Oh! And I’m pregnant. Sounds like a great life to me; not necessarily the life I envisioned, but it is still a great life.

Fear, anxiety, and worry will try to pop up every now and then, but my coping strategies have not failed me. I turn to my higher power for strength. I keep only those who will stay supportive and positive around me. Each day, I do things to take care of myself, keeping my little peanut top of mind. My mind is at ease. My faith is strong. Positivity allows me to stay in action. I am not blind to the challenges I face. I remain calm and hesitate the feeling of being defeated. “I can do this!’ I repeat to myself as I need to.”

We trust this post provides hope to expecting mothers and fathers as well.  To enhance your path to healthy and happy parenthood, Call us today

“Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself who you are, and who you want to be.” ~Sadie Nardini

Behind our stinkin’ thinkin’ lies the secret to our success. And if we could only dig through the negative thoughts on our mind, imagine what we can achieve in this lifetime.

Sometimes my mind is consumed with self-doubt and worry. So much that I have an increased heart rate. Or, I feel like I’m choking, but no one has their hands to my throat. At times, my worry about one small thing may magnify into twenty small things in seconds. I feel as small as an ant, surrounded by giant strands of grass, trying to avoid avalanches of footsteps that can destroy everything: my life, the home I created, and the people I love.

No one can free me from these anxious thoughts and feelings but myself, which is why cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) is so impactful. CBT is helpful for anyone who is having trouble seeing the good in themselves; seeing the possibilities that each one of us are capable of achieving in our lives.

I understand the difficulty it takes to cope with anxiety and doubt. I am utilizing my coping strategies on a daily basis. This has helped me significantly decrease the length of my worrisome episodes. Here are my top 3 ways of coping:

(1)        Self-affirmations: changing my negative thoughts into positive declarations about myself.

(2)        Yoga: a practice dedicated to my mind and body. A flow of movements that allows me to accept who I am and what I can do, and also explore poses in which I once believed I was not capable of.

(3)       Goal setting: I have one, five, and ten year goals set to keep me motivated and focused. I don’t have time for worry!

 Allow me to help you through your journey of thoughts and better identify the real you!  Contact us today !

Horrendous secrets many people carry for months, years, decades and maybe even to their grave can lead to debilitating stress. This can result in what many people call a “break-down”.  It was historically referred to as a “nervous breakdown”, “hysteria” and “shell shock”.

I like to call it a “letting out“, in what may appear like sudden release of the awful trauma from the past. The information may be considered held in the background of the mind until the person suffering is better equipped to deal with it. It can take years to reach the point of release. When the abuse and violence happens during childhood, it is quite common to keep it secret; possibly not wanting further upset in the family, because of embarrassment, confusion, shame and guilt or simply because the child has no way of dealing with this at their age and stage.

This is a very serious psychological dilemma, a catch twenty-two. Victims are caught between two very stressful choices: speak up or not?

Studies show as many as one in four girls and one in six boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen. Not only is the offending behaviour severely troubling at the time, in the years that follow there is usually increase in emotional upset and imbalance. Negative thoughts can gradually increase with one’s heightened awareness of the nature of such an offence, the stigma associated and throughout the subsequent stages of sexual development.  

Of course, with the negative thoughts, or what I reframe as “stinkin thinkin“, comes negative emotional states and the negative behavioural patterns are not far behind. Those suffering from what Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery, 1992) first called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (or reaction – PTSR) may display symptoms often related to depression or anxiety, may engage in harmful and hurtful “risk-taking” behaviours, substance misuse and experience severe and chronic difficulties with relationships.

If you have experienced such a trauma, and feel ready and able to work on this obstacle to growth, I encourage you to seek out a specialized professional counsellor for assistance. There are also good books and resources to use in combination with recovery and restorative therapy. For more information on this and other issues  Contact us today