“Mental health is not a destination, but a process.
It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.”
Noam Shpancer, PHD
Core Areas of Concern
Fear/Worry (“Anxiety”) – We all have fears and worries. They are normal - it’s part of being human. Sometimes our worries are small, and other times our fears are overwhelming. When worries and fears begin to get in the way of daily life “functioning”, such as preventing us from doing things we would normally do, we consider them a problem. That’s when most people will seek therapy - to learn strategies to better manage them. When fears and worries cause significant issues in a person’s life, they may be seen by a physician. The physician will may assess give a diagnosis of “anxiety”. Depending on who makes the assessment, sometimes a prescription or trial of medication is offered - to help the brain “settle” down. Many physicians will also recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - so the individual can learn how to better manage their thoughts and behaviours that drive fears and worries. After successfully learning strategies, some people (with their physician) are able to stop taking medication.
Sadness/Grief/Loss (“Depression”) – We all experience sadness, loss and grief at different times in our lives. Like fear and worry, these experiences are normal and a part of being human. Sadness can be little, or big. When it becomes big – more often and more intense – frequently it gets labelled as “depression”. Only a physician, after a thorough assessment, can diagnose an individual with depression. A prescription for medication is also often offered to help increase the hormones and neurotransmitters necessary to increase “happiness”. It is believed specific medication can help re-balance the brain and body. There are other cognitive and behavioural approaches that are often used alone, or in conjunction with medication.
Stress – When we think of stress, we often refer to it as something negative (“distress”). We feel overloaded, overwhelmed or not able to meet the demands placed upon us. But stress can also be positive (“eustress”). This is when we feel excitement, anticipation, thrill and accomplishment of a difficult challenge. The important piece here is to ensure our lives are not disproportionally heavy with distress. When this does happy, stress can be cumulative. Like a bruise – not yet healed - stress can send our nervous system back into a threat response quicker and harder. Our lives are inundated with an incredible amount of daily “micro stressors” that can have such a cumulative effect, that when something insignificant happens, it causes us to over react. There is a lot of research on the neuro-bio-psycho-social effects of stress, and how it manifests in the body as dis-ease. So recognizing, understanding and managing stress can be incredibly important in wellbeing.
Parenting/Caregiving - If parenting was easy, there wouldn’t be over 3,000 published books on the subject. Parenting is a learning process, and unique to each caregiver because of the relationship they create with their child. Fortunately, there are some specific understandings and techniques we can use as “guideposts” to help us problem solve challenges, characterized in parenting. At the core of parenting is the relationship caregivers have with their children, called “attachment” - the emotional bond that is instrumental in the healthy emotional and social development of the child. Also at the core of parenting is behavioural management. “Positive discipline” – are the things parents say and do, to help their children learn how to act and behave well. For some caregivers, this is easy and for others it can be very challenging, especially when we add in other challenging variables, like learning disabilities, sensory processing issues, schooling and the incredibly long list of adult stressors and life in general. Therapy can definitely help parents work through challenging experiences.
Trauma - Is any experience that produces psychological injury or pain. Our understanding of trauma has grown significantly over the past many years… so much that we can accurately assume no one will ever be exempt from experiencing it. The “pandemic” and the collective trauma it created is one such reason. Lots of events in life can scare and threaten us. The difference is that we all have resources that either aggravate or weaken the impact of the experience. For individuals who have struggled, and continue to struggle through a traumatic event, therapy becomes the prescribed “treatment” to help them cope and heal from the effects of trauma impact. Treatment can include diving deep into understanding past childhood events & relationships, as well as corrective attachment patterning, cognitive re-scripting and cognitive behavioural therapy through a trauma focused lens.
Family Functioning & Relationships
Family Functioning & Relationships - I have a poster titled “dysFUNctional family rules. Depending on the reader’s perception – it can be stressful to read, or it can be enlivening. Frequently, the stresses and struggles experienced within families are related to miscommunications and misunderstandings. Being an outsider, I often have the privilege to see all sides of a situation, and how they each crash together to create a problem. Families are dynamic emotional units with complex interactions that function within “systems” (such as but not limited to, education, health, justice, and communities). Families are also not just blood relations. They are composed of adoptive children, friends, neighbours, community members as well as close and distant relatives. It’s easy to see how complicated family relationships can become when we consider all these variables and we haven’t even talked about the likes, dislikes, values, beliefs, perceptions or experiences each person carries with them! So when families struggle, consider it the norm, and not the exception.