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22/Mar/2018

price-of-admission

“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” – Susan David

Dr. Susan David is a Psychologist at Harvard Medical School and is a founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital of Harvard Medical School.  In her Ted Talk about emotional agility, which you can find here, she discusses the concept of emotional agility, how society has made a push towards positivity, and inadvertently, how this may have led to additional suffering.

There is a push in our media, in our society, and in our homes to be positive; think positive, look on the bright side, or simply, smile!  Dr. David posits that this push towards positivity often leads to denial of the truth and denial of our emotions.  We can end up feeling bad about ourselves for experiencing negative emotions and negative thoughts because we’re supposed to be happy and positive all of the time.

The truth is, life isn’t always happy and positive.  Certainly there are times in our lives when we are happy and things are going well and we feel good, but there are also times when things do not go our way and we just feel bad.  Dr. David suggests that instead of trying to be positive during these times, and pushing those negative thoughts away, we need to embrace them, to learn to deal with and cope with them rather than trying to run away from them.  Dr. David’s Ted Talk mirrors much of what is discussed in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and, in particular, the idea that we must accept, rather than try to push away, negative thoughts and feelings.  These things are a way of life and like a rollercoaster, sometimes we have to just wait it out.

I like to use grief as an example in my practice with clients.  Our society treats grief as something that is normal – we are expected to be sad or to cry when someone close to us passes away.  We also know that people we love may pass away, and as much as we do not like that thought, we have no choice but to accept it.  We treat grief with a lot of respect, in most cases, and allow it to come and go naturally.  I believe that we need to learn to treat the rest of our emotions with the same type of respect that we treat grief.  When we are feeling anxious or sad, rather than beating ourselves up for these feelings we should be accepting that this is how it is right now, and allowing those feelings to come and go.  Often, the more we try to control these feelings, the worse off we become.  Either we actually end up enhancing the feelings that we started with, or we add additional distress, such as shame or frustration when we do not succeed in getting rid of the feelings.

I would like to challenge you to you try accepting your negative thoughts and feelings, and treating them with the same respect that you would grief.  Listen to Dr. David’s Ted Talk, and reflect back on your own experiences of trying to get rid of your negativity.  Try something new, and see what happens.

jenny-thomson

Source: Click


20/Oct/2017

meditate

To Begin I’d like you to watch THIS VIDEO.

What thoughts came up for you as you watched this video?  Were you able to relate to what the individuals were saying?  Did you understand why they answered the way they did?  I’d like you to take a moment to reflect on a time when you made a mistake, and some of the things that you said to yourself.  What sort of words did you use?  How did those words affect you?  Now think of the last time a loved one came to you and told you about a mistake.  How did those words differ from the ones you told yourself?  I’m willing to bet that there is a big difference in how you speak to yourself versus how you speak to others.

Why Self Compassion?

I’m sure you’ve heard the term self-compassion before.  Maybe you wondered why it was important, or why people even bother talking about it.  Maybe you thought you didn’t need to be self-compassionate, or that it simply wasn’t something that would impact your life.  Kristin Neff (2012) suggests that self-compassion is more than looking on the bright side or attempting to avoid negative feelings.  Self-compassionate people are able to recognize when they are suffering, but act kindly towards themselves.  Neff (2012) further explains that studies have indicated that individuals with higher levels of self-compassion experience less anxiety and self-consciousness when asked about their weaknesses, display more wisdom and emotional intelligence, and often experience higher levels of social connectedness and overall life satisfaction.

If we can learn to be kinder to ourselves, we can learn to let go of our mistakes and shortcomings, and move forward from them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring them, but rather not allowing them to hook us into a pattern of self-depreciation and dislike.  Instead, we can accept our mistakes/shortfalls/situations for what they are, learn from them, and move forward.

So how do I be Kinder to Myself?

Being compassionate towards oneself is similar to the way that we express compassion for others.  As in the video above, it is clear that many of us are better able to be compassionate towards our loved ones than we are to ourselves.  Learning how to be self-compassionate will not happen overnight; it may take time, practice, and trial and error.

Neff (2012) posits that there are three main components to having compassion for oneself:

  1. Self-kindness
  2. A sense of common humanity
  3. Mindfulness

compassion-components

In short, these three aspects of self-compassion involve being understanding towards ourselves and our downfalls; recognizing that we are not alone and that other people struggle as well; and practicing living in the moment and accepting some of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  What self-compassion is not, is self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem (Neff, 2012).  To learn more about how you can be more self-compassionate, click here to read Kristin Neff’s chapter on The Science of Self-Compassion.

jenny-thomson

Source:  Neff, K. D. (2012). The science of self-compassion. In C. Germer & R. Siegel (Eds.), Compassion and Wisdom in Psychotherapy (pp. 79-92). New York: Guilford Press.


21/Sep/2017

guilt

I’m sure that just hearing those words, your mind took you to a particular incident that you’re not proud of.  Psychology Today explains that shame happens when you fall short of “societal moral standards”, whereas guilt is when you fall short of your own.

Many people who struggle with feelings of guilt and shame are often stuck in a cycle that they can’t seem to get out of.  The unfortunate part is that it is often paralyzing, and can lead to resentment and depression.  The torment that we feel limits us from fully engaging in what life has available for us, strains relationships, and can leave us questioning our self-worth.

The truth is that dwelling on the past hurts us more than it helps us.  Our minds have an unfortunate way of hooking us into unhelpful cycles by recalling memories that are hurtful and painful.  Constantly feeling guilty and ashamed can then cloud our judgement and stagnate our personal growth.  Whether what you’re guilty or ashamed of was something small or something that had huge consequences, ruminating over our thoughts to the point that we can’t see the good in ourselves and hope for the future doesn’t make things better.

Take these steps today to overcome the sting of guilt and shame, and move towards a more fulfilling life:

Accept Mistakes

A part of living life is making mistakes.  You’ve made many mistakes in your past, and will make many more in the future!  Accepting that no one’s perfect can be difficult, but understanding this can help to reduce your suffering.

Improve the Future

How can you take what you’ve learned from your experience to better yourself in the future?  We can’t change the past, but we have the ability to shape our future.  How can you apply the lessons you’ve learned towards future actions so that you can live a life that you’re proud of?  How can you inspire others to overcome their guilt and shame?

Exercise Self-Compassion

It can be difficult to feel good about ourselves when we’ve done something we’re not proud of, but self-compassion is vital to overcoming guilt and shame.  Forgiving yourself starts with acceptance and the commitment to be better.  Challenge negative thoughts about yourself and practice positive self-talk to encourage healing.

renee-raymond

Source: Burton, N.  (2017, March 16).  What’s the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?  Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201703/whats-the-difference-between-guilt-and-shame



“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations” –Michael J. Fox

sunny-tree

Although acceptance is the namesake and one of the main premises of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), it can be a difficult concept to understand and an even more challenging one to put into practice.

There are many misconceptions about acceptance.  When we speak of acceptance, we do not mean liking or wanting something that we are struggling with.  It also does not mean resigning or giving up on trying to improve a situation.  Rather, acceptance means taking a stance that is fully open to experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

Our minds do not seem to come innately wired for acceptance.  More often than not, we find ourselves struggling with difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Almost all of us have some version of a “not good enough” story.  We may compare ourselves to others in terms of wealth, attractiveness, status, or achievements and wonder why we do not stack up.  This can then lead to struggle, and attempting to cope with the struggle by doing things that do not bring us closer to achieving these ideals.

For example, one may have the thought “I wish I was as attractive as them” which then leads to feelings of shame, guilt, frustration, or sadness.  The individual may struggle more with those feelings, and then try to alleviate some of the pain through distraction techniques such as television or overeating.  Unfortunately, these strategies are unlikely to rid the individual of the feeling forever, and they are likely to produce further feelings of frustration, sadness, and shame.  This can lead to further distraction techniques, which then becomes a cycle of struggle.

Acceptance offers us an alternative to feeling caught in a battle with our own mind.  When we choose to accept a thought, feeling, or sensation, we are acknowledging that sensation and allowing its presence – even if it is unpleasant for us to do so.  It is greeting the feeling with open arms; even if it is not something we want, with the knowledge that it is normal and natural to have this feeling.  It is meeting the feeling with compassion, noticing that we hurt where we care, and this is a feeling that is telling us something is important to us.

So how do we do this?  The first step is to notice the thoughts, feelings, or sensations you may be struggling with.  What is it?  Notice where you feel this struggle – how does it show up as a sensation in your body?  Do you feel a tightening in your chest?  A knot in your stomach?  A lump in your throat?  Notice what your urge to do is when this sensation shows up.  Do you have the urge to run, and not confront it?  The urge to watch television, or have a snack?  The urge to yell, or tell somebody off?  Notice if these urges bring you closer to the person you would like to be, or take you away from them.  Finally, you may ask yourself: Is it possible to sit with these sensations and allow them to be there while refraining from acting on the urges?

We may find that acceptance is easier with some thoughts or sensations, and more difficult with others.  There may be times when acceptance comes easy to us, and we welcome thoughts and feelings with open arms.  Then there may be other times when we notice we are in a struggle, but cannot seem to find the will to accept.  Accept this.  The more we accept, the more we can notice thoughts that hook us and the urges that come from the thoughts, without acting on those urges.  The more we utilize acceptance, the more we may have compassion for ourselves and for others who are struggling.

kayleen-willemsen1


10/Jan/2017

As a counsellor using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) on a regular basis, I always enjoy sharing concepts that I come across that are interesting and have also had a personal impact on my life.

One such concept, that I try to remind myself of regularly, is the concept of the “Happiness Trap”.  I have to admit, before my work with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and ACT, I was probably in the same boat as many, in maintaining the belief that life is only “good” if we are feeling happy, excited, and full of laughter all the time.  Although we may wish this for many of our loved ones and self, the reality of life indicates that just experiencing positive emotions, all or even the majority of the time, is not realistic.

Take for example raising children.  To say that being a parent means you are experiencing “feel good” moments and feelings all the time probably would make most, if not all the parents reading this, giggle to themselves.  As a parent, you are sure to go through times of happiness and excitement, but there will also be times of sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger and frustration.  All emotions are not everlasting and what this concept is trying to do is to help us to realize that living a full and meaningful life doing the things you want to do, while making room for our ever-changing emotions, can help lead to healthy and balanced life.

This concept has not only opened my eyes, but also those I work with, in changing our perspectives on life and what we would like to get out of it.  In part, this concept highlights the use of acceptance. Acceptance that as humans, our actual “normal state” consists of an ever-changing flow of emotions, just like the weather.  It also reinforces the fact that when we do have to deal with negative emotions, that’s ok!  We do not have a character defect because we are not happy all the time and we do not have to let a change in emotions dictate what we want to accomplish on any given day.

I hope this concept helps you open up to the wide range of emotions we as humans all get to experience throughout life!!

To find out more about this concept I have attached a video by Russ Harris below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93LFNtcR1Ok

happy-potatoes

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  • Concept Sourced from “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris


Does the thought of reading a self-help book make you cringe?  If it does, you’re not alone!  Many people do not like the idea of reading a self-help book for fear that the book may be “preachy”, “air-fairy”, or flat-out does not relate to them.  However, self-help books can be great tools both during counselling treatment, or if you are just considering a lifestyle change.

When choosing a self-help book, one of the most important things to consider is that the book is from a credible author and is backed by scientific evidence.  Try and seek out books that are from reputable clinicians, and based on research evidence, instead of relying solely on anecdotes (personal stories).

You can find out if an author is credible by doing a quick Google search of the author’s name:  Are they affiliated with a university?  Do they have a clinical practice and registration with a medical college (e.g. College of Psychologists, College of Registered Psychotherapists)?  Do they have any academic publications?

Academic publications (sometimes called journal articles) are a good way to determine if the content of a book is based on scientific evidence.  For example, if you would like to read a book based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), try and input these terms into Google Scholar (scholar.google.ca) to see if there is research on the subject.  The search below returned almost 700,000 results!  This is generally a positive sign that the topic has been heavily researched.  To learn more about what the research says, click on the article titles and you can read the article abstracts for more information.

act-google-search

Finally, it is helpful to check out the book before making the decision to purchase!  Flip through a few pages in the bookstore or on Google Books (books.google.ca), making note of the content, style of the writing, and the issues the book is addressing.  Some books naturally speak to some personality types more so than others, so it is important to find a book that you feel you can relate to.


For a little inspiration, here are three of our favourite self-help books, which have changed both our lives, and the lives of clients:

1. Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life by Steven Hayes

book-get-out-of-your-mindSteven Hayes is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and has authored over 400 academic publications!  Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life applies concepts of ACT to help readers move from feeling stuck in a struggle against their own minds to assess what is truly meaningful to them and then pursue a life guided by those values.

Why we love this book:

This book provides an educational background as to how human suffering occurs, and ways in which we can cope with that suffering.  There are exercises and spaces for you to complete activities throughout this book, which we have found helpful to make the book more relatable to your own unique experiences.

Who could benefit most from this book:

If you are suffering from depressed mood, anxiety, stress, or want to just learn more about how ACT can help you cope with everyday situations, this book is for you!

2. The Reality Slap by Russ Harris

book-the-reality-slap

Russ Harris is a medical practitioner, psychotherapist, and leading expert in ACT.  He is from Australia and travels internationally to train practitioners in the ACT approach.  In The Reality Slap, Russ discusses “Reality Gaps” (such as the death of a loved one, personal illness, or loss of a job), and how we can live a life that is meaningful despite them.  He then discusses ACT-inspired coping strategies, and provides guidance as to situations when these strategies could be helpful.

Why we love this book:

The Reality Slap features a style of writing that is conversational, as if you are speaking to the author.  Russ’ compassionate and sometimes humorous tone is comforting to the reader, and many have described that reading this book made them feel as though they are not alone.

Who could benefit most from this book:

Anyone who has recently been through a difficult time could benefit from this book.  This may include the death of a loved one, a major health diagnosis, divorce, loss of a job, an accident, or betrayal.

3. Living Beyond Your Pain by JoAnne Dahl and Tobias Lundgren

book-living-beyond-your-pain

JoAnne Dahl is a prominent ACT researcher who specializes in the use of ACT to treat chronic pain and epilepsy.  Tobias Lundgren is a licensed clinical psychologist who has carried out applications of ACT in clinical research areas of epilepsy, diabetes, and chronic pain.  Living Beyond Your Pain reveals a new approach to living with chronic pain, which involves recognizing pain as an event in your life that does not have to interfere with the way you live.

Why we love this book:

Similar to Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life, Living Beyond Your Pain includes various exercises throughout the book to help the reader incorporate ACT into their lives and help transform pain from a life-defining preoccupation to just one thing in their lives that they experience.

Who could benefit most from this book:

Anyone who suffers from a chronic condition, such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes, or chronic migraines could benefit from this book.

 


All of these books are available on Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca.  Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life and The Reality Slap can also be found in some Chapters/Indigo stores.

kayleen-willemsen1


13/Oct/2016

hiding

When we suffer emotionally, we often try as hard as we can to change those emotions – we try to hide them, we try to push them away, or we try to not feel them at all.  In our attempt to do this, we realize that the opposite usually tends to happen.  In trying to hide our emotions, we may isolate ourselves from our friends and family so that they do not see our suffering.  In trying to push them away, we struggle and we fight and, most times, we fail.  And in trying to not feel them at all, we avoid participating in our lives with the hope that if we avoid situations that produce the emotions, we can avoid the emotions altogether.  The reality is, emotions – whether pleasant or unpleasant – are part of the human experience, and we cannot change that.

I love the words of the serenity creed authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971):

serenity-prayer

Although we cannot control or change the emotions we experience over the course of our lives, we can respond to them differently.  Behavioural Activation (BA) can help us to do just this.  The goal of BA is to increase our engagement with meaningful activities no matter what emotions may be present.  For example, if you are feeling anxious, particularly in social settings, the goal of BA would be to follow through with a planned valued action, such as getting together with friends, despite that anxiety.  If you cancel your plans with friends because of how you are feeling, you are attempting to control the anxiety through avoidance, and you are reinforcing the idea that you can only engage with your friends when you are not feeling anxious.  The problem here is that avoidance creates a pattern in favour of short term relief, such that each time you feel anxious, you will avoid interacting with friends in order to feel less anxious.  Choosing to behave based on how you feel can cause you to lose sight of your values and lose your sense of purpose in this world, but behaving based on what is important or meaningful to you – your values – can increase fulfillment, pleasure, and achievement in life.

We must find the serenity to accept that we cannot control our emotions – they will come and go as they please – and the courage to change our behaviours and behave in a way that will enrich our lives.  In order to do this, take some time to think about what matters to you, and what gives your life purpose.  Remember, there are many different domains of life, so decide what you value in each of those domains – family relationships, social relationships, health, work, community, spirituality, personal growth – and then set goals to move in the direction of those values no matter what is going on in your internal repertoire of emotions.

Here is an example of how you can implement this in your life TODAY!

Domain: Health
Value: Physical Fitness
Goal/Planned Activity: This afternoon, at 5:30 p.m. I will go for a 30 minute run outside (even if I am tired from work, or sore, or fearful that I will not be able to run for a full 30 minutes)

jessica-rickus1


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J Marlin and Associates Inc. offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy services to help individuals increase their sense of vitality, well-being, and fulfillment.

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