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So far Spenser Dougley has created 117 blog entries.

Children and Loss

As children, we learn how to navigate life by what we hear, observe, and experience. What is the cost of sharing misinformation with our children? Could there be a better way? Up to the age of nine we have little interest in cognitively understanding what we experience. Nor do we have the skills, or abilities, to process many of life’s significant events. Our well-meaning parents, grandparents, teachers, and guardians pass on what they have absorbed during their childhood.  We then teach our children how to navigate life’s experiences; blindly following what we were taught. One of the myths we have acquired over time: children are resilient. We believe children do not experience life’s challenges the emotional way an adult would. We believe they have the capacity to bounce back quickly. Our current situation is demonstrating another perspective - children are struggling. As adults, we process stress based upon what we know. Many of us were taught to self-isolate, be strong for others, stay busy, or wait for time to take away our pain. As children we were encouraged to replace our loss with food, games, toys, and animals. We were taught to bury our pain and distract ourselves from the emotions we didn’t want to face.  These are the same coping skills we are unintentionally passing onto our children. Today, we must do things differently. When it comes to identifying and processing emotional pain, we have to do better. We must provide our children with a different role model than pretending we are all okay. How do we do this? We go first. We show our children we are not okay. We tell them how we are feeling.  We provide them an example of how to express their emotions and show them it is okay to talk about loss. We create a safe place. We become a heart with ears, open to listening to how our child is feeling without trying to make things better, judge or fix.  We allow them a safe place to express how they are feeling. Refrain from telling them you know how they feel. A child will have their own feelings, separate from our own.  We may remember how it felt when we experienced a loss. However, what our children are experiencing today, we can not truly comprehend. We cannot fully understand because we have not experienced this type of significant change in what was familiar. Avoid replacing the loss. Do not buy them toys, give them extended time on their devices, or food to comfort their unhappiness. Be there for them. Be present. Teach them how to be honest with their emotions. Helping them to identify, and label, how they are feeling is one of the most powerful ways of defusing the emotion. Be available organically. The best discussions take place in the car, at bedtime, spontaneously. Be available when your child is ready to share.  Avoid forcing a discussion. My father-in-law used to say parenting was the only job we did without [...]

Children and Loss2023-05-03T13:33:02+00:00

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

  What is domestic violence? Domestic violence, or family violence, occurs when adults in a household engage in physical violence, name calling, put downs, yelling, or threats among other abusive and controlling behaviours. This usually occurs in a cyclical pattern where the family experiences tension building, an abusive incident, and then usually some sort of honeymoon phase characterized by apologies and promised changed behaviour. What happens to children who have witnessed domestic violence? Children and youth who witness and experience domestic violence may have many conflicting feelings as well as behavioural and social impacts. They may feel: Scared, Anxious, Ongoing worry for the safety of one parent, Angry, Depressed, Confused, For some children and youth, these feelings may lead to aggressive behaviour in the home and/or at school. For example, I can recall working with a young child who intentionally acted out at school so he could be sent home to be with Mom because he was worried about her safety. For others, they will try to be the “perfect” child by excelling at school and being super helpful at home. Both examples can be in response to the child’s/youth’s feelings and the need to have some control in their life but also as safety measures of sorts to either keep the calm in the home or to direct the attention onto themselves and off the other parent. What other things can domestic violence impact? Domestic violence can also impact a child’s eating, sleeping, relationship formation and maintenance, and their ability to trust others. Does it affect babies? Or just older kids? Even babies are not immune to the effects of domestic violence. When a parent picks up their child or infant they can pick up on our energy which informs them if this is a safe, loving environment or if they need to be on guard. Domestic violence can even interrupt a baby’s attachment to their caregivers as a result. How do we support children and youth who have experienced domestic violence? First, it is helpful to note that children can thrive by having a secure attachment to positive adults in their life. Children and youth also need to know that the domestic violence that has happened in their home is not their fault, and they are not responsible for anyone’s behaviours but their own. Parents need to be mindful of what is age-appropriate information for a child to know. Safety plans are important to work through with children if the family plans to stay together while seeking support for abusive behaviour and healing from what has happened. These pieces can be done through therapy for children and youth, as well as parent coaching for how to talk to children/youth about abuse that has happened. In addition to therapy through Brant Mental Health Solutions, below are some helpful resources: The Refrigerator Door  - a practical handbook for survivors of domestic and family violence in Brant and Brant County https://novavita.org/the-refrigerator-door/   Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services – emergency shelter, [...]

The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children2023-02-22T19:17:25+00:00

Supporting your Neurodiverse or Neurotypical Partner

Both neurotypical and neurodiverse people can find it challenging to understand each other’s behaviours, which creates a “double empathy” problem. A couple may experience each other’s body language, tone of voice, eye contact and facial expressions as confusing, critical, or rejecting, even if that was not the intention. Verbal communication may be interpreted as judgemental or critical correction, even when it’s meant to be encouraging or helpful. Understanding this potential for disconnection can help couples to slow things down and pay more attention to their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and focus on what they can do to help their partner feel safe and secure. The following are some suggestions for both neurodiverse and neurotypical people to help support their relationship. For the Neurotypical Partner Chances are that you find your neurodiverse partner’s behaviour difficult at times. Dealing with these challenges can lead to strong emotions and negative thoughts about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. You may find yourself feeling frustrated with them, and thinking that your partner doesn’t care about your or your needs. At times, you may feel alone in your struggles. The following are some ideas to help you develop better habits in how you respond to your neurodiverse partner. Make self-care as a priority, as well as engage in self-soothing activities on a regular basis. These activities will help to calm your nervous system and energize you when you are feeling depleted. Take responsibility for knowing and expressing your own needs and wants and don’t make assumptions that your partner should know. Use clear, calm, and considerate communication to make requests. Avoid being reactive and being critical of your partner’s character -Use the “sandwich approach” when approaching a sensitive issue; lead with positive comment, introduce the concern, and finish with possible solution or validation. Accept and reframe your partner’s behaviours, acknowledge that they are ‘differently wired’. This will help you avoid personalizing their behaviour and seeing it as intentional hurt. Also, this will save you some unnecessary suffering. Challenge negative thoughts and narratives. Have reasonable expectations of yourself and your partner and focus on accepting their flaws as well as your own. See yourselves as human and allow both of you room for errors and imperfection. Acknowledge frustration, and then turn it into energy for compassion, understanding and gratitude. Take a deep breath and calm the emotional brain so that this intentional shift can happen. Ensure you are calm before having important conversations. Hold positive thoughts of your partner in mind. Foster humour and more adaptive responses to situations. Be open minded. Spend quality time together. Show them appreciation, love, and respect. Be aware of taking on a parent role with your partner, and instead, shift to personal responsibility for both of you. Focus on what you can control. Recognize negative feedback loops in your relationship and take a step back so that you can name it. Take responsibility for your actions and apologize when you have caused harm. Encourage and support your partner to [...]

Supporting your Neurodiverse or Neurotypical Partner2023-02-07T19:39:26+00:00

When Your Child or Teen is Diagnosed with Depression

Parenting is already a tough job. Parenting a child with depression is even tougher. Keep in mind that depression is a medical condition. Your child is not acting this way on purpose, and it is not your fault. Here are some things you can do to help your child with depression: Honor  your child's feelings  It is difficult to see your child sad and in pain. Your first response might be to try to cheer him or her up, however, trying to make depressed children and teens happy makes them feel like depression can be “willed” away. It is more helpful to listen. Acknowledge their feelings and take them seriously. Be aware of the importance of co-regulation Our children and teens are directly influenced by our own moods and behaviours. When we are dysregulated, it is likely that our state of being will have a negative impact on our child. Where possible, ensure that you are calm and regulated before attempting to help your child to regulate their own emotions. Give yourself time to respond to things if you are upset vs. dealing with it immediately. Use encouraging statements rather than criticism and punishment Instead of complaining about their behaviour, notice something they did that was positive, no matter how small. Build up their sense of self-worth. Be prepared for their behaviour to be challenging at times, as depression has many faces. In some children and teens, irritability and aggression are symptoms of depression. Separate the deed from the doer Approach behaviour together as a problem for both of you to solve. For example, say something that focuses on the behavior, not your child, like "I know it has been hard for you to (fill in desired behaviour). What can we do to make sure it happens? How can I help?” Focus on logical consequences rather than punishment For example, if your child misuses technology, talking about what they learned from their mistakes, how they can make amends, and having open conversations about what limits will be in place regarding technology are more impactful than just taking away the device for unlimited periods of time. Help your child build a "feeling vocabulary" Many people have difficulty finding the words to describe how they are feeling. Helping children and teens to label their feelings gives them a vocabulary that will enable them to speak about feelings. Show unconditional love and support Many depressed children and teens feel unloved and unlovable. Say, "I love you" often. Hug or pat him or her on the back. With young children, be sure to cuddle together. Encourage your child to engage in activities Consider the activities your child enjoys and suggest doing those together. But don't force, threaten, or bribe him or her to do so. If your child is not feeling well enough to participate, honor that feeling. Encourage socializing with positive peers: especially for adolescents, having a sense of belonging with peers helps to improve mood and well-being. Create good sleeping habits Children [...]

When Your Child or Teen is Diagnosed with Depression2023-02-06T18:49:24+00:00

Schizophrenia: What You Need To Know

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Individuals living with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. They may experience, in some combination, hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviour. These symptoms can make it difficult for people to participate in usual, everyday activities.   Individuals are usually diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30, and usually after the first episode of psychosis. It is important to recognize symptoms and seek help as early as possible. Symptoms of schizophrenia can differ from person to person but generally there are three main categories: psychotic, negative, and cognitive.   Psychotic Symptoms may include:   Delusions: These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, individuals may believe that people on the radio and television are sending special messages that require a certain response. Hallucinations: When a person sees, hears, smells, tastes, or feels something that does not exist. Hearing voices is the most common hallucination for people living with schizophrenia. Disordered thinking (speech): When a person has ways of thinking that are unusual or illogical. People with thought disorder may have trouble organizing their thoughts and speech, or stop talking in the middle of a thought, jump from topic to topic, or make up words that have no meaning. Disordered movement: A person may exhibit abnormal body movement such as childlike silliness, unpredictable agitation, resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, a complete lack of response, or useless and excessive movements. Repetition of certain motions over and over may also happen.   Negative Symptoms may include: Loss of motivation, loss of interest or enjoyment in daily activities, withdrawal from social life, difficulty showing emotions, and difficulty functioning normally. Examples of this could include: Grocery shopping Talking in a dull voice and showing limited facial expressions Avoiding social interaction or interacting in socially awkward ways Having very low energy **These symptoms are sometimes mistaken for symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses.     Cognitive Symptoms may include: Problems in attention, concentration, and memory. These symptoms can make it hard to follow a conversation, learn new things, or remember appointments.   Most people with schizophrenia are not violent. Overall, people with schizophrenia are more likely than those without the illness to be harmed by others. It is important to help people who are showing symptoms to get treatment as quickly as possible.   How can you help someone who may have schizophrenia Talk to them about your concerns. Help them get treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment. Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them. Be respectful, supportive, and kind without tolerating dangerous or inappropriate behaviour. Look for support groups and family education programs.   Causes and Risk Factors   It is believed that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and environment contributes to development of the disorder.     Treatments and Therapies   Current treatments focus on helping individuals manage their symptoms, [...]

Schizophrenia: What You Need To Know2023-01-31T17:17:45+00:00

Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

Eating disorders are treatable mental health conditions that are also considered serious physical health conditions because of the impact on the body. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (withholding food), bulimia nervosa (binging and purging) and binge-eating disorder (eating large amounts rapidly). Generally, a person with an eating disorder will change the way they interact with food, and/or be dissatisfied with their body weight, shape and size. People with an eating disorder can be underweight, normal weight, or overweight and may appear to eat a “normal” amount. Their suffering may not be visible to others. Along the continuum of eating disorders is what is called “disordered eating”, which is even more prevalent. Among youth, 1 in 4 adolescents engage in disordered eating behaviour, including binge eating, and weight control through restricted eating. Research also suggests that during the pandemic, rates of eating disorders increased in both younger and older people. This is in line with the increases seen in other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. What are the Symptoms? With eating disorders, there are persistent eating behaviours that negatively impact a person’s health, emotions, relationships, and ability to function in life. Some behaviours include but are not limited to: restricting certain foods, extreme dieting, binging and purging behaviour, misuse of laxatives, eating in secret, and compulsive exercising. Dissatisfaction with one’s body image and/or a distorted body image are also present. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the symptoms of disordered eating are as follows: frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods, or meal skipping chronic weight changes feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating preoccupation with food, weight, and body image that negatively impacts quality of life a feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating using exercise, food restriction, fasting, or purging to “make up for bad foods.” If a person is engaging in or exhibiting any of the above behaviours, it might be an indicator that an eating disorder is developing or is already present. What If I think I might have an eating disorder? For a diagnosis, a medical assessment is required to determine if an individual has an eating disorder. Wherever the person is on the continuum of disordered eating, the key to intervention is in identifying it early, and then taking steps to interrupt both the behaviours and the thoughts that are reinforcing the patterns. Treatment for eating disorders ranges from office-based counselling to inpatient treatment programs, depending on the severity of the disorder and it’s impact on the individual’s health, functioning, relationships and well-being. A multi-disciplinary approach is best, incorporating the support of medical and dietary professionals along with counselling for the individual and/or spouse and family. If you are struggling with disordered eating, or have a loved one you are concerned about, there are many reliable web resources available for you to learn more and inform your next steps. If you would like to speak with a mental health professional, the staff at [...]

Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know2023-01-31T15:35:51+00:00

Digital Detox- The Benefits of Unplugging

The new year is always a good time to reflect on the important things in life, such as who and what brings us joy and meaning, how we can improve our own health and well-being, and have better and more fulfilling relationships. Often this involves taking stock of our own behaviour and making some changes. A common trend today is intentionally taking time away from behaviours that no longer serve us or may in fact be causing us harm. For example, “dry January” was initiated to encourage people to limit alcohol consumption. Another behaviour that can cause us harm is our (over)use of technology and social media. Because the impacts may be less obvious, the potential harms may not be in our awareness. What are some of the costs of being on our devices? Here are just a few for you to consider:  Feeling Dissatisfied, or FOMO- Fear of Missing Out. Research has shown that there is a negative correlation between how satisfied people feel with their lives and the amount of time they spend on social media. Consistently ingesting images of other people’s lived experiences can lead to elevated feelings of dissatisfaction, jealousy, envy, and loneliness, as people will often compare themselves to others, and feel “less than.” Research with children and adolescents shows a correlation between the presence of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and the overconsumption of social media. Disrupted Sleep Patterns It is recommended that people shut down their screens well before bedtime, to give the brain time to transition to sleep. Blue light stimulation through screen viewing into the evening and night signals the brain to stay awake and interrupts the brain’s process to transition to sleep. Children and adolescents who take their devices to bed are often sleep deprived on a regular basis, which impacts their growth, learning, and mood. Barrier to Intimacy Spending time on devices while in the presence of other people creates barriers to true connection and misses an opportunity to have meaningful time together. Being in the moment is an important aspect of developing intimacy in a relationship, whether it be with a partner, child, or friend. Having a device as part of every moment makes it more likely we will miss things that are happening around us, and it prevents us from being tuned in to the people we are with. It signals to the other person that they are not the most important thing, not deserving of our attention. Poorer Productivity People find they are more productive both at home and work when they limit the amount of time spent on social media. Time spent online shopping, gaming, and scrolling can develop into habits that are hard to break. The same neural networks in the brain that are activated by narcotics, are also activated by spending time on screens. Therefore, it is possible to be addicted to technology. Given these risk factors, “unplugging” from our devices on a regular basis, as well as limiting social media [...]

Digital Detox- The Benefits of Unplugging2023-01-09T20:40:45+00:00

Is it OK to Miss School or Work for Counselling Appointments?

With many of us having returned to school and/or work ‘in person’ in 2022, the need for mental health services has continued to be substantial. This has resulted in many services creating or expanding their waitlists, particularly for those seeking later counselling appointments following the school or workday. This is an unfortunate reality for many clients, as a mental health clinic we have seen the additional stress that can be placed on one who is already struggling personally and in need of immediate help. A primary obstacle for many looking to not only begin their counselling journey, is having the ability to book and attend sessions consistently. Many are hesitant to miss school and/or work to attend daytime appointments. Due to the demands of school/ work schedules and their requirements,  the majority of people feel they are unable to attend daytime appointments. They feel they aren’t ‘allowed to’ by their school and/or employer. Some may also be unaware of the laws regarding missing school or work for counselling appointments. In an ideal world, no matter what someone’s job is or when classes take place, occasional missed periods of time  for the purposes of attending counselling appointments would not only be permitted by employers and educational institutions, but promoted. For the average working person, there are often two main reasons why it is difficult to attend daytime counselling appointments. The first reason would be the stigma that still exists around seeking mental health treatment, especially within the workplace. While many employers have made positive steps towards reducing this stigma, I have heard many accounts by clients regarding their feelings that their employer doesn’t care and provides little to no support. Due to this, employees often don’t view counselling appointments as a priority compared to other common medical appointments. Another reason people often see it as difficult to attend daytime counselling appointments is the belief that one can push through their stress while holding the belief that work comes first. In North America, at no fault of our own, we have developed the belief that we wait until we are unwell to seek help, as opposed to practicing a healthy lifestyle (which includes a work-life balance, mental health care, etc.) Just as with any other health issue, the earlier one seeks counselling can correlate to how effective the treatment can be. This can help reduce the impact on our employment, schooling, friends, family, physical health, etc. Students face similar challenges to the one’s discussed above, but also have their own unique ones. If we look at the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had, and continues to have on children/teens when it comes to their mental health and success in the school environment; factors such as altered brain development, inconsistent in-person social interaction, teacher burnout, and family/home stressors, have played significant role in their struggles today. The impact of the above factors on children and teens’ mental health includes: increased instances of depressed mood, irritability, sleep disturbances, increased need to spend time alone, decreased [...]

Is it OK to Miss School or Work for Counselling Appointments?2023-01-09T20:36:35+00:00

All About Couples Counselling

When is the right time and why should we seek the help of a couple’s counsellor? Many people ask when is the “right” time to seek counselling as a couple. There are many possible answers to this question, but often couples seek the help of a therapist when the issues have really taken root in their relationship. Often by the time both parties agree to start counselling the couple is dealing with a huge breakdown in communication, changing sense of connection, conflict and in some cases, infidelity. These are all things that could be managed with the help of a licenced mental health professional. The best suggestion that can be given, would be to seek help long before you think you need to. Most couples will admit that there were small issues that came up over the course of their relationship that “snowballed” over time and created much bigger problems within the relationship. Counselling could have supported exploring and possibly identifying these smaller issues and given the couple tools and techniques to deal with conflict when it arose. What are some things people seek couples counselling for? Communication problems Intimacy/Sexual problems (including infidelity) Financial concerns/disagreements Major life changes (newly married, starting a family, moving to a new area for work) Disagreements over parenting. Feeling less connected as a couple What if my partner doesn’t want to go for couples counselling? This is definitely an issue that comes up during couples counselling. One person may feel like they won’t be heard or understood or it may shock them that you are springing this on them. The best suggestion we can give you for this situation is: Discuss the possibility of couples counselling before committing to or booking anything. Talk to your partner about what you hope to get out of couples counselling and ask what they would like to work on. If your partner won’t agree to it, you can still have individual therapy which would be helpful as you navigate the difficulties within your relationship. The hesitant partner may see you grow in therapy and make positive changes and it may make them more open to the counselling process. Final Thoughts: When looking for a couple’s therapist, do your research! Make sure the therapist is a licenced mental health professional with experience working with couples. Ask for a free consultation. Many therapists will offer free consultations so that you both have an opportunity to discuss the issues you are experiencing and find out if the counsellor is a good fit for your unique relationship. The consultation will also help the couple decide if they both feel heard, understood and respected by the therapist. Make sure you both have set some attainable and measurable goals for the relationship (even if those goals are different.) We will be running a couples workshop event Saturday, January 21st 2023 from 9am – 12pm. The workshop, facilitated by Registered Psychotherapist Alicia Lawson, is $150+HST and will include learning about one another’s love languages, different types [...]

All About Couples Counselling2022-12-31T00:19:38+00:00

Family Estrangement during Holidays

It is common for human beings to experience feelings of grief during the holidays, particularly if we have experienced a recent loss, such as death of a loved one or a pet and this is the first holiday without them. However, when we are dealing with loss due to estrangement from family members, there is also a grieving process, one that is less recognized. The impact of a loss of relationship with family members due to estrangement can be devastating for people, and the holiday season brings constant reminders of the loss. Many people feel they are alone in their situation, and because of feelings of shame or guilt they may not share it with others. While family estrangement may not be openly discussed, statistics indicate that it’s more common than you might think- 1 out of 5 people are estranged from a family member. The following are some ideas to help with coping with estrangement during holidays:   Honour your feelings. Acknowledging how you feel, the range of your emotions and the pain you may be experiencing are important for your well being. Identifying supportive people you can talk with, safe spaces in your life and finding ways to release emotional energy from your body (e.g., yoga, walking, swimming, meditation) will all help with managing intense feelings. Grief, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame are some of the common emotions with estrangement.     Know that you are not responsible for all of the family dynamics at play, even if you have a big role. Whenever you bring people together, there will be dynamics, and the family system is a complex web of relationships with history. You are one part of a family system and can only be responsible for yourself and your own actions within the functioning of the family. Remind yourself of this especially if you are experiencing feelings of guilt. To move toward healing in relationships, one person cannot do this alone.     Write a letter to your estranged family member. Without considering that you will send it, sharing what you think and feel in the form of a letter can be helpful. Expressing how you feel and think at this moment in time may help bring clarity of thought, guide your decision making in the future, or open up some new insights.     Acknowledge holiday pressure. There may be pressure to reunite with the estranged family member, from yourself or others in your life. If you are wanting to reach out, consider whether this is the best time for you and for them, what the outcomes might be, and if you have the emotional bandwidth to deal with a rejection. If an invitation comes to you, take time to respond thoughtfully, and talk about it with a trusted person before you do.   Create new traditions. If estrangement has changed the holiday for you, create new traditions and rituals that represent what is important to you and works for your current life situation. Accept [...]

Family Estrangement during Holidays2022-11-28T15:39:51+00:00