Author Archives: Anna Coutts

Finding work life balance: supporting our field in promoting what it preaches

Posted by: Anna Coutts on September 11, 2015 1:40 pm


In every counselling course or workshop I’ve ever taken, there is always a discussion about the importance of self-care. While we promote it, putting it into practice is often challenging. If you are looking for a new job or if you are an agency trying to reduce your turnover, here are some important factors to consider when determining if a role will offer the right amount of self-care.

Part-time or full-time. For many therapists, maintaining emotional well-being means not working as much. Whether it’s because you are working with a high risk population or because you are busy raising children, many therapists I know find the best way to prevent burnout is working part-time. More and more research is highlighting the benefits of a shorter work week. It has been suggested that working less can not only make employees happier, but more productive. If working less is something that you feel makes you a better therapist, seriously consider weighing the pros and cons of part-time before jumping into a full-time role. Agencies looking to reduce turnover may also benefit from offering both part-time and full-time positions.

Flexible or fixed hours. Some people love routine. They love having a clear, fixed schedule because it reduces anxiety and increases their ability to effectively manage their lives. Other people find such rigidity stressful, as it leaves them little leeway to balance fluctuations in their personal and professional lives. Know what works best for you and explore what a workplace offers before accepting a position.

Opportunities to work from home. With the go- go-go style of today’s society and the abundance of technology that allows us to stay connected from all around the world, more and more agencies are offering employees the ability to occasionally work from home. This can make a world of difference to one’s well-being. Whether it’s being able to avoid the stress of traffic jams once a week or to enjoy the opportunity of spending your lunch hour with your kids, many people find even a few hours a week working from home can keep them refreshed and focused.

Time off or Extra Pay. How much time off do you get? Do vacations help you unwind? Does making extra cash mean you spend ever extra minute you have off recovering from work? Sometimes we forget to consider how important vacation is and instead jump at the opportunity to make a bit more money. However, time away from work might actually make you a more effective therapist. Traveling can give you perspective. A few days relaxing with family can rejuvenate you. Take the time to consider how much you value your time off before accepting a job. Make sure to ask in-depth questions about vacation, as some agencies might seem to offer more than they do. Some agencies may only offer two weeks vacation but also give staff additional flex days or shut down for a couple extra weeks during holiday times. If you’re working at an agency and looking for a way to entice employees, consider being flexible about offering more time off instead of only offering salary incentives.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Inside Out: Using Pop Culture to Engage and Educate Youth

Posted by: Anna Coutts on August 24, 2015 1:08 pm

How good is your knowledge of pop culture? If you’re working with teens and children, being pop culture savvy can greatly enrich your work. While being up on the latest trends isn’t a job requirement, it certainly helps with building rapport and relating important skills to clients in a way that sticks. It’s for this reason that I’m always on the lookout for positive popular media I can incorporate into my work. Recently, I found a new favourite in the Pixar film Inside Out.

Even if pop culture isn’t for you, Inside Out is still worth checking out. The film is like a dream come true for therapists: it’s a perfect teaching tool and a great way to build rapport all wrapped up in one entertaining film. The messaging is amazing and the film is engaging.

The film has so much potential to be used therapeutically. It externalizes emotions in concrete, fun ways that kids can understand. It teaches them about the importance of different emotions, the difference between these emotions and the reason why we need to experience all of them in order to function effectively. It shows kids the negative impact of ignoring feelings. It even offers kids strategies for effectively managing emotions and educates them about the science of the brain.

Given it’s popularity at the box office, almost all my clients have seen this film. Every time I use it in session, even the shyest, most disengaged kids noticeably brighten up. Its numerous positive messages makes it an extremely versatile tool. I’ve used it to teach clients everything from how to identify positive and negative self-talk to how to effectively communicate emotions to parents.

If you work with youth and haven’t seen yet indulged in this delightful film, don’t delay it any longer. Catch it before it leaves theatres! I promise, you won’t regret it.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Back To Basics: Using Distress Kits for Simple Self-Care

Posted by: Anna Coutts on June 16, 2015 12:34 pm

Where’s your wellness toolbox? This was question that was recently posed to me while attending a Youth Engagement meeting. A few child and youth workers had created a smorgasbord of simple coping tools so the youth could create customized distress tolerance copy

I was heartened to see my push for putting such kits into practice at our residential programs was paying off. It was inspiring to see both the work the staff put into preparing the event and the youth’s delight in making the kits.

Then one of the staff prompted the clinical team to start making our kits. The suggestion threw the team off-guard. Our kits? Everyone seemed a bit puzzled by the suggestion. And in that moment, I was reminded just how few of us practice what we preach.

Sure, we all have self-care strategies we use, whether it’s yoga or traveling or personal therapy. Yet due to our busy work days, we often dismiss using the simple yet solid strategies we recommend to our clients. This applies not just to therapists as individuals, but mental health organizations in general.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Failure or Opportunity? The Benefits of Shifting Our Views on the Meaning of School

Posted by: Anna Coutts on April 10, 2015 10:44 am

Learn /lərn/: to gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.learn

School is supposed be about learning. Unfortunately, it often seems our society is forgetting what learning is all about. In my practice, I’ve worked with increasing numbers of bright, talented and eager-to-learn youth who are unable to “succeed” at school. Many have become so overwhelmed by depression and anxiety about having to excel academically that they’ve ended up in hospital or have simply stopped attending.

For many kids, it isn’t this extreme. However, more and more youth are feeling the pressure to “get the grades.” Ask almost any teenager about what is more important, understanding the material or getting an A, and I guarantee you most would go with the latter. Yet it’s no wonder they feel so overwhelmed: all around them are frantic parents and teachers, instilling fear in youth that not getting the right grades will lead to failure in life. Failing a test, or worse, failing a class or a grade are seen as catastrophes that can destroy a person’s chance at a happy, prosperous life.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

The Power of Parental Acceptance

Posted by: Anna Coutts on March 18, 2015 12:00 pm

I recently re-read the award-winning book The Help. While the book carries many important messages, there is one message in particular that really stood out for me. It was the message about the importance of acceptance. I was struck by just how determined the main character Aibileen is to make sure the child she nannies grows up feeling good about herself. In order to make sure this happened, she tells the child daily she is kind, smart and important. Aibileen reflects on how she’s learned over the years the value of giving children messages of love and acceptance, as she has seen how too many pushes for change can devastate a child’s sense of self. It made me realize how powerful feeling accepted by a parent can be for a child.dualism-597093_640

Every parent wants the best for their child. They want them to be happy, healthy and successful. Most parents will bend over backwards trying to give a good life to their child. Unfortunately, sometimes in an effort to make things better, we inadvertently make things more difficult. I see it all the time – parents pushing their kids to excel at school or sports, convinced that pushing them will give them a prosperous life. They will fight tooth and nail with teachers to get their kids out of difficult situations and to protect their kids from perceived harm. They fear the emotional devastation that will be caused if their child doesn’t go to the best school or have the best friends or make the best team. They push for change because they believe it is what will give their child everything they want.

No one can fault them for their good intentions. They are trying to do something wonderful for someone they love. The problem is this constant push for the best often causes us to forget the power of accepting someone as they are now. Unintentionally, the message that is often sent along with the strive for change is that who you are at the moment isn’t good enough. This is of course not at all what parents intend. But unfortunately, it is often the impact.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Be a Lifeguard, Not a Lifesaver: The Benefits of Avoiding Rescuing Behaviours

Posted by: Anna Coutts on February 24, 2015 3:31 pm

It’s hard to not be a rescuer. Very few parents, therapists or generally empathetic people I know can stand idly by and watch someone they love drowning in emotional pain, getting choked by waves of sadness, anxiety or shame. It’s not to say that rescuing is a bad thing- saving someone from a painful struggle is absolutely necessary sometimes.

Unfortunately, however, it’s easy to get trapped in a rescuer role that eventually puts both of you at risk. I see parents getting caught in this trap all the time in my work with youth dealing with complex mental health issues. Parents witness their child’s emotional turmoil and bend over backwards to find a way to dive in and save them from suffering. Who can blame them? No one wants to see their child in pain and every parent wants to protect their child.

Balancing Stones - 36428104The problem with rescuing is that while it provides immediate relief, it doesn’t yield long-term results. It dis-empowers the person being rescued and they never learn how to swim. Instead, you get caught in an infinite loop, as they become reliant on you to rescue them over and over again. Even the healthiest lifesaver, the strongest swimmer, can only pull someone safely to shore so many times before they too become exhausted and are unable to keep their head above water. Not only can this lead the person rescuing to struggle to stay afloat themselves, it can breed resentment. How many times can you rescue someone before you get frustrated with them for always jumping in? It can also stir up negative feelings for the person being rescued. They may begin to see themselves as a helpless victim and feel ashamed or angry that they always need someone to help them get to shore.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA