Building the Practice of Your Dreams: Selecting the Right Space and Paying For It

Posted by: Doc Warren on July 12, 2019 12:34 pm

Selecting space is one of the most important aspects of a practice, whether it is your first location, an additional location or if you are considering relocating an existing practice. Just as in politics and religion, there are many philosophies and schools of thought on this. This article seeks to explore some, but definitely not all the options and considerations. It should help to provide a good framework to build upon, however, it cannot replace what you could expect from hiring a business professional or consultant that can help you develop a comprehensive business plan.

It’s time to find a location and if you are like most folks, you may be feeling just a bit overwhelmed. Should you buy, should you rent, or should you do a long-term lease? You might ask such questions as, how close do I want the office to be to my house? Could my house be converted into two spaces, one to live in and one to use as my office? Would I be allowed to convert my house by law or would I have issued with the local authorities? How big a space do I need? What is my plan for future expansion? How do I come up with a budget and stick to it? How much remodeling will be needed and will they allow me to do it or do I have to hire trades? What’s my ability handy wise? The lists seems endless and your head begins to spin like a dreidel.

Rent\Lease
While I personally am not big on renting or leasing, I have done it while in the process of buying a property or two. There are many advantages and disadvantages to not owning. I’ll start with the common disadvantages of renting/leasing so we can end on a high note:

  • Lack of control over aesthetics: You don’t own it so you are limited in what you can do to change the office. Depending on the agreement, you may or may not be able to change paint colours, may be limited in how you can decorate and what you can hang on the walls (some owners forbid nails or other mechanical hangers on their walls due to the potential need to fill in the holes and make other repairs once you leave). You may have no control over updating dated flooring, wall colors or other aspects of the office. You cannot make structural changes, change door sizes or door locations. Also, depending on when it was last updated, this property may not comply with accessibility standards. Depending on the owner, they may or may not voluntarily make the upgrades. Some property owners may refuse the upgrades which puts the renter in a tough space, others may refuse to pay for the upgrades but allow the renter to do so. It’s best to explore this before signing contracts. It should be noted that is you purchase the property, it all falls on you to make the improvements.
  • You will not build equity: When you own a property you will typically build equity as in most cases real property such as an office building, home, land etc. will increase in value as time passes. Upgrades, additions and other improvements made to the property typically will increase the appeal and resale price of a property. If you do not own the property though, every cent you pay to the owner is traded for the time you used it, it will not ever have a chance to earn you anything in the future.
  • No control over neighbors: This is most crucial in a larger building with multiple office suites for rent. As a tenant, you have little to no say in who your neighbors are. Over the years I have consulted with folks who have found that competitors rented space in their same building. Other times they found that an influx of new neighbors changed the feel of the building and became a detraction for them. One example was when a wellness and recovery program found themselves sharing space with a bar and microbrewery. While there is nothing wrong with bars or breweries, it proved to be a huge trigger for clients who were trying to stay sober. Had they owned the building, they could have done more to make sure that the renters all complimented one another.
  • Your contract may not be renewed: Many folks have found themselves having to relocate from a spot that they held for years and had grown to love due to changes in the ownership of the building, or changes in the use of the building. Once your agreement expires, neither you nor the owner is compelled to sign a new one. Should the owner have a new plan for the space, you may find yourself looking for a new location at the most inconvenient time.

Advantages of Renting/Leasing:

  • Repairs: depending on your contract you may find that you are not responsible for any repairs to the office. This reduces the need for maintenance staff and repairs (though these are often factored in the rental fees).
  • Mobility: As you do not own the property, you are free to leave when you want, though if you are still in an active contract you may receive some financial penalties.  Whereas if you owned the property, you would need to pay and maintain it until you found a new buyer.
  • Remodeling/renovations: Depending on your contract you may find an owner that is willing to build or remodel the office to your needs for no additional cost (though expect this to be a factor when they consider the monthly rental fee). Should this be the case, expect them to want to have you sign a lengthy agreement than 1 year. There may also be a penalty should you try to leave within the life of the agreement.
  • Size of practice: Many times when starting out or adding a location, you will need a minimal space, far less than an entire building. Renting may allow you to rent as little as a few hundred square feet of space and also allow you to expand in the future. Purchasing a property allows you to own it all or nothing. By renting just what you need as you need it, it can be far cheaper than having to buy much more than you will use.

Disadvantages of Buying:

  • Cost: The initial costs of purchasing a property can be daunting to say the least. Whereas renting may cost you a few thousand per month depending on size, location, etc., purchasing a property unless you are able to pay cash or have a super high down payment, will often cost you thousands a month for decades. This may be more than you can afford at the moment.
  • Repairs/ maintenance/ remodeling: As an owner, you will be responsible for all costs associated with the upkeep and improvements of a property. This may require hiring additional staffing and or having various trades on your speed dial.
  • Lack of mobility: Should you decide to relocate your office, you cannot simply move on once a contract has been completed as you could with a rental. Instead, you will offset need to either sell the property or find someone to lease it from you to help offset the expenses of keeping that property and opening elsewhere.
  • Availability: Depending on the market, it may be difficult to find your ideal property in the area that you wish to be located in. In some markets there is a very low inventory of specialty properties for sale. In our case, it took 4 years for us to find the right property, in the right area for a price we were willing and able to pay. This can sometimes be an issue when renting as well.

Advantages of Buying:

  • Building equity: Equity may help fund other projects or give leverage to better interest rates on a loan should you need funding. Some see equity as a nest egg in case an emergency should arise.
  • Build and remodel to suit your changing needs: As the owner of a building you have the ability to change it to suit your needs so long as you can afford to do so and you stay within government regulations. This can help you to totally transform a location as your practice develops.
  • Control your immediate neighbors: Should you own a larger building than you need and decide to rent out other areas, you can have control over who moves in so that they can complement, not compete with one another. This is not usually possible in a rental situation.

How close do I want the office to be to my house?
One of the most common questions that I am asked is how close is too close to have an office? Again, there is no right answer here. Each has its own pros and cons. Close to home offices are easier to get to in bad weather, offer short commutes and familiarity for sure. They can allow you to tap into a community that you already know, which may help with initial referrals but they also can cost you some much needed privacy and make it harder to keep firmer boundaries. I worked and lived in the same town for years and though overall I loved it, I have had some strange encounters such as when a few clients seemed to know my background better than I did. A few knew exes of mine and attempted to discuss the relationship before I reminded them that this was their session, not mine. I’ve also been “spotted” by clients when I was dressed in my worst outfit and trying to find a key part at the local hardware. Others new of my background and were inspired by it. You really need to explore this fully and decide what works best for you. In the end, I only moved my office because I found my dream location and it happened to be in the next town (about 4 miles from the office I had been using).

Is virtual counseling an option for you?
With the ever changing climate and the advancement of technology, more and more clinicians are considering tele-health and virtual counseling as their mainstay in practice. Though regulations vary depending on the country, state, province etc. that you are located, this area promises to be lucrative to those that decide to take it on. It requires that you have the specialized training in the area (many of these trainings can be had via online courses), equipment with the proper privacy software and a quiet room in which to conduct your sessions. I’ve known some clinicians that did this in a spare room and at least one that did it in their bed room; they put a screen behind them to hide the bed and other “private” items. However, virtual counseling is not for everyone. More and more folks are indeed giving it a go, so it is worth exploring. Here in the states, payment for these types of sessions is an issue with only certain insurance companies being willing to cover such care. Be sure to check in your area.

Could my house be converted into two spaces, one to live in and one to use as my office? Would I be allowed to convert my house by law or would I have issued with the local authorities?
Many people are remodeling their existing homes in order to build an office on site. This offers a very low overhead as it typically results in possibly a bit more insurance and an increase in utilities but little else other than the cost of the remodel. It’s important to work with local government agencies however to make sure that this type of use is allowed in your neighborhood. If it is, a separate entrance, separate bathroom and an office area that is separate from your living space is recommended.  Speaking with a tax specialist may be key here as well as there may be tax considerations that may make it more or less enticing. If you hold a mortgage, be sure to make sure that there are no provisions prohibiting the use of the property on a commercial basis as well. It is best to head into this with eyes fully open. Lastly, be sure to be considerate of your neighbors. Be sure that target population, hours of operation etc. will go well within the exiting neighborhood. For instance, working with violent populations such as sex offenders, those with histories of violent crimes etc. would not set well with most suburban neighborhoods. Should this be your population, much may need to be done in terms of educating and working with the neighborhood prior to opening so that you may avoid vocal and legal opposition. Being open and honest with the neighbors is typically the best policy. Please note however that this does not mean that you would ever disclose information on any particular client, just that if your program is to specialize with the above mentioned clientele, it is best to make sure the local laws and those around you are aware so you can calm things prior to opening. For general practices, this is not needed but it is wise to always properly screen clients for proper placement.

How big a space do I need? What is my plan for future expansion?
These questions will help steer the search for sure. How big do you want your office to get? Do you want to have many clinicians or just yourself? For me, I would like to see that every clinician get an office that is at least 12ft by 12ft. There needs to be a bathroom, waiting area and reception/ medical records area (even if you are all electronic, there will be a need for certain forms and other resources.

How do I come up with a budget and stick to it?
Most of us have not won the mega bucks so we need to make sure that we keep our costs affordable. If you are not great with budgets it may make sense to hire a consultant that can assist you with making a basic budget and teach you how to stick to it. Many places that have failed have done so in large part by spending beyond their means. Be realistic with cost projections as well as with income projections. Personally speaking, I try to be ultra conservative when planning on income to fund a project so that I do not find myself overextended. You can always increase your budget later should you have the ready cash. When doing an expansion, I never count on an increase in income as a result of the new space or programming and only spend what I can afford at that time. Many will disagree with this premise of course and may recommend a more aggressive approach. Their way may indeed bring faster growth but it also brings more risk than I personally care to take on. I’d rather grow slowly and surely than risk overextending and closing down after financial failure.

How much remodeling will be needed, and will they allow me to do it or do I have to hire trades? What’s my ability handy wise?
No matter if you rent, lease, own or borrow space, it is helpful to have a solid idea as to what your abilities are remodeling wise. Some projects are expensive to hire out but require little in the way of special tools or advanced skills. Taking these projects on may help you save thousands of dollars. It is imperative however to check with local codes to make sure that you are allowed to do this without a license. Also check with the property owner and get all the permission required. In the case of my program since we owned the buildings and grounds, we were allowed to build a bathroom with a composting toilet system but were not allowed to install our own septic system. We were allowed to do much of the electrical, structural, sheetrock, windows etc. based on our ability. Local codes will vary however.

Case study:
For the first office of the charity I founded, we looked for office space all around our target town. We found that the quality and the price of each rented space varied greatly, with some of the cheaper ones appearing to have better quality. Each office space we looked at however left us saying that we wish it had the feel of the neighborhood where we lived. Eventually, we decided to look into the local laws and found that we could indeed have an office out of our home. Our home offered two floors, each with a bathroom. Instead of paying up to $15 per square foot in rent for 1200 square feet, we elected to remodel our existing space. As we owned the building, we were able to move walls, enlarge the bathroom, paint, and do flooring etc. by ourselves. This enabled us to keep costs low while still being in our target neighborhood. The fact that we still had our own private living area was a real plus.

We kept that space for years, expanding it once to add another office (we remodeled an attached garage into an office) and changing the interior from time to time. The space served us well until finally it became obvious that we needed far more space than the building could offer us. We started looking for a space to purchase as we had grown accustom to having the final say on what we did with our space. After much search and a false start or two (somethings look good on paper or in person but not vice versa) we found what we felt was a diamond in the rough just a few miles up the road from us.

We were able to negotiate a better than prime interest mortgage with only 10% down and to purchase the property well below its estimated value. Thankfully, at closing we had 40-50% equity in the property which gave us a safety net should we ever have to take out a loan for repairs or to help the charity get over a trying time. The building and grounds were rough to say the least and required a ton of work before we could move into it. We started by building a working bathroom, using a composting system, as we did not have access to city sewers and the property lacked a septic system. We then framed the building out for offices and a waiting area and installed basic heating. We opened on a limited basis, a day or two per week at first and made a slow transition with our existing clients. Most made the move without issue though a few were upset with the additional 4 mile commute and were referred elsewhere.

Over time we made more and more improvements to the building and grounds. We added two large greenhouses, added hiking trails, gardens, “pocket areas” that became attractions in their own right, including an interactive animal sanctuary area, meditation spaces, benches, orchard areas and other items of interest. In time the original building which we still owned, became the administrative building and also served as a location that had back up offices should there ever be a catastrophic event the necessitated the short term closure of the main location. The building is currently about 7800 square feet over 3 floors. It contains many offices, a few large community rooms, shop space for occupational training, art based therapy space and several clinical offices. We have elected not to subdivide and to enjoy all the space for ourselves. We initially bought about 24 acres but recently purchased the neighboring 25 acres, this combined with right of way land gives us 50 acres for programming.

Due to careful financial management, we have been able to renovate the property in stages without incurring mountains of additional debt beyond that of the mortgage. The mortgage we took out only covered the purchase price. We elected to pay for the remodeling as we went along in order to keep our monthly payments. Low. As of today, our only outstanding non-mortgage debt is what is left of the HVAC system bill. That amounts to about fifteen thousand US.

In consulting with other programs in the area, we have found that our combined mortgage payments (the main property and the new acreage) are typically far less than some folks are paying for rent on offices that are only a fraction the size of ours and offer little to no outside space.  While our model would not work for everyone, it has enabled us to grow year to year since we were founded. By keeping overhead low but program quality high, we have thrived at a time when many other programs have closed. We have also been able to do so with no formal advertising other than a website and signs for the office.

A dream practice is possible if you are willing and able to put in the effort. I’m rooting for ya.

Be safe, do good

-Doc Warren
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at [email protected]




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

From Red Mind to Blue Mind

Posted by: Grant M. Waldman, MA, CCC, CIAS III on April 4, 2019 10:14 am

A new book has recently been published called Blue Mind: The Surprising Science that Shows how Being Near, In, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. The author, Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, has written this book to bring awareness to the healing power of water. The difference between Red Mind and Blue Mind is that a Red Mind is one that has been impacted by the velocity of today’s society; as compared with a Blue Mind that has been calmed by the soothing effects of water.

Water has been a healing element for indigenous peoples since time immemorial; turning to water to take away illness and unhealthy emotions. To this day, First Nations in Canada still go to the water to cleanse or bathe throughout the year. It is common after each round during the sweat lodge ceremony for participants to turn to water to wash off. Today, many indigenous people have been impacted by mainstream culture and therefore many of the people have Red Mind because they are caught up in the pace of modern society. Water needs to be brought back to the people to decolonize their minds.

In his book, Dr. Nichols also writes about the impacts industrialization has had on water and why it is imperative for all of us to invest time and resources to clean up our water systems and to stop polluting. This is going to take a tremendous amount of willpower in order to consistently send this message to government and corporations. Restoration of ecosystems cannot occur, however, if pollution continues and global warming is not mitigated.

All of us will benefit immensely by embracing the healing powers of water and shifting our minds from Red to Blue; we will all be healthier and more connected to Mother Earth. It is about recognizing that by slowing down and experiencing the awe of an ocean vista, mountain, lake or steam, we will re-remember where we come from and know that by having a renewed connection with water, we will cleanse ourselves and feel better as a human species.

Grant Waldman, MA, CCC, CIAS III




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

Holy Small-Town Ethics, Batman! Navigating Community Spaces and Experiences as a Counsellor in a Northern, Remote, Small City

Posted by: Robyn Steinke, MC, CCC on March 25, 2019 9:06 am

I live in the interesting community of Grande Prairie, Alberta. Technically it is a small city with a population of around 65,000 and it is technically situated in an intermediate northern part of the province. I say “technically” because by way of feel and experience, Grande Prairie still holds to “small town,” we receive Northern Living Allowance and incentives to live here though not as fully as those say in the Territories, and the population fluctuates up to 125,000 on weekends because of Costco, Walmart, and the Prairie Mall. I should note that when my family moved to this community in 1995 the population was roughly 28,000. While the community has changed, the core remains the same, and when it comes to the professional counselling community, it’s a small one. Back to that small-town feel, experience, and all the conundrums of small-town ethics.

It is well-recorded that small town counsellors face unique challenges such as multiple relationships, limited resources and competence, and geographic and professional isolation (Schank, 1998). Luckily there are ethical codes and standards of practice established by the CCPA that provide guidance. Unluckily ethics are not black-and-white and one-size-fits-all. So, what have we got?

“Counsellors should discuss confidentiality with their clients and any third party payers prior to beginning counselling and discuss limits throughout the counselling process with clients, as necessary” (CCPA, 2015, p. 11).

Check.

“People are more likely to know each other in small communities and the counsellor is more likely to meet up with clients in non-professional situations. Practitioners in small communities protect private knowledge, and ensure confidentiality in the face of intricate social networks and lines of communication that lead to the availability of informally-gained knowledge” (CCPA, 2015, p. 11).

Check check.

“Counsellors, whenever possible, avoid entering into social, financial, business, or other relationships with current or former clients that are likely to place the counsellor and/or client in a conflict of interest and/or compromise the counselling relationship. This includes relationships via social media” (CCPA, 2015, p. 24).

Getting a little trickier, check.

“In rural communities, and in certain other workplace circumstances, such as in closed communities or remote, northern, and isolated areas, it may be impossible or unreasonable for counsellors to avoid social or other non-counselling contact with clients, students, supervisees, or research participants. Counsellors should manage such circumstances with care to avoid confusion on behalf of such individuals and to avoid conflicts of interest. Lack of anonymity requires rural counsellors to think carefully as they develop new social networks. Boundary management is a challenge in small communities as multiple relationships are inevitable.” (CCPA, 2015, p. 25).

Now we’re really into the weeds, especially considering people (myself included) with history in the communities they counsel in, but check.

If CCPA’s ethics codes seem straightforward and yet challenging, you are not alone. What do we do? How do we navigate the code? Professionally, one of my favourite research pieces includes a practical to-do list by Schank (1998), which can be found in full PDF version online. Of the 13-item list, I have found the particular items listed below integral, though all of Schank’s (1998) recommendations are worth knowing as a rural or remote counsellor:

  • Recognize that ethics codes and or standards are necessary, but not sufficient (Schank, 1998, p. 279).
  • Know relevant codes, regulations, and laws (Schank, 1998, p. 280).
  • Talk directly with clients about the likelihood of out-of-therapy contact (Schank, 1998, p. 280).
  • Set clear boundaries, both within yourself and with clients (Schank, 1998, p. 280).
  • Be especially aware of issues of confidentiality (Schank, 1998, p. 280).
  • Participate in ongoing consultation and discussion (Schank, 1998, p. 281).
  • Know when to stop (Schank, 1998, p. 281).

Further I would like to add some personal tips that have helped me navigate these moments when your feet are on the ground, your eyes are open, you are not in the office, and a client or former client has been seen.

  • Strive to maintain your natural facial expression upon sighting the individual. Internally I refer to this as my “poker face”, though it is not a single expression.
  • Find a comfortable distance, if possible. For example, I often spot clients or former clients at the community gym and library, my eyes are looking for a space with an amount of distance to allow the individual their freedom to engage the environment while allowing myself to do the same.
  • Use community sightings as a way to review informed consent and build the working alliance in follow-up sessions. I found a great value in discussing these sightings and interactions at the next session to review important client rights and touch in to the counselling relationship following these interactions.
  • Be polite.
  • Isolation is not the solution, exploring the community, finding comfortable spaces, and social connections are necessary components of therapist self-care that are not to be underestimated in importance.

To my fellow counsellors in your unique communities with your unique challenges, I wish you well and I hope you have found a helpful tip or two.

-Robyn

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Standards of Practice, 5th Edition, April 2015.
Schank, J. (1998). Ethical issues in rural counselling practice. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 32(4), 270-283.

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ581163.pdf




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

School Counsellor in an Outreach School

Posted by: Derek Collins on March 4, 2019 10:57 am

My impression of school counselling has certainly evolved. It did not have a great first impression. For the first half of my career I worked in a rural K to 12 school. School counsellors were mythical creatures similar to teacher librarians and lab technicians. I saw “school counselling” as something that was done by the vice-principal in addition to his other tasks. He “counselled” the students on which courses to put in their schedules in order to graduate. Meeting the entrance requirements of a post-secondary program was a wonderful bonus.

My understanding grew when I became the vice-principal. I found a copy of the Alberta Education publication of “Building a Comprehensive School Guidance and Counselling Program” released in 1995. On page 35, it lists the three key issues facing school counsellors: promoting academic growth skills, encouraging positive student transitions, and developing positive interpersonal relationships. As a new school administrator, I tried to help students plan their academic course loads. I worked to help students develop better interpersonal skills when they were sent to me for disciplinary actions.

A side effect of disciplining students that I began to realize is that every one of them had a back-story. I began to hear the terms such as “anxiety,” “depression,” “anger issues” and “stress.” While I was initially overwhelmed, I was intrigued about this vast field of counselling. I realized I was allowed into a privileged place to help guide these students to find their strengths. At that point came the wonderful opportunity I still get to work in today. I became the principal at Vermilion Outreach School. Outreach schools are alternative schools set up to “meet the needs of students who either cannot or will not pursue their education in traditional high schools” (from the Outreach Program Handbook, 2009, Alberta Education, pg. 1). Many people describe it as a school for “those” kids with addictions, criminal records or violent pasts.

Certainly, every school has a tremendous variety of individuals each needing different types and amounts of support. Working in an alternative school setting has provided a wonderful place to learn more about mental health and supporting youth. I hope to explore various aspects of school counselling and the field itself from this viewpoint. There is a strong need to advocate for trained school counsellors. Hopefully, I can hear from others about their experiences.

Derek Collins




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

Aloneness

Posted by: Grant M. Waldman, MA, CCC, CIAS III on February 25, 2019 10:21 am

Dave feels alone in the world. He no longer connects with his family and has few friends. He spends too many hours contemplating the darkness of his days, with no motivation to change his mindset. Day after day, he ruminates about how terrible his life has been; his voicemail tends to be full because Dave does not return the frequent calls from collection agencies.

It seems to me that there are many individuals in Dave’s situation across Canada. The levels of depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels, and the only entities  gaining from this increase are the pharmaceutical companies that are, in my opinion, putting a band-aid on the issue. What people like Dave require is a connection with others. On the one hand, he needs to be validated and provided with insights as to how he can lift himself up and feel more positive on the other.

Many years ago, one of my supervisors said to me, “fail to plan, plan to fail.” When I think about this concept in relation to Dave, I wonder how many people are drifting aimlessly in our communities because they do not have a plan. How many people are alone because they lack structure and discipline in their lives? I can hear some respondents saying, “People who are depressed lack the motivation to get up and go.” I agree with this statement, and I also believe that it is through inertia that people change; that people need to go to work, or be in school, volunteer, or go on dates to be connected.

Dave needs purpose in his life to get out of bed; he needs a mission to move him forward. In my opinion, this is what individuals who find themselves alone sitting in the dark need to lift themselves up. Dave also needs to stay present rather than churning up his past that is gone or worrying about the future that has yet to happen. By being present, Dave can focus on his current tasks step by step in a way that he can manage.




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

Searching for other players…

Posted by: Sherry Law on September 26, 2016 8:22 am

732016_149For as long as I can recall, I have had access to the internet. From the time I was a young teenager, I had reached out to friends through chat, created profiles on multiple social media sites, and enjoyed expressing who I was to the world. These social media sites were rudimentary at the time, providing image upload limits, having low traffic, unattractive aesthetics, and unsophisticated platforms for spreading information. However, they sufficed at the time and I created friendships with people from all across the world.

I remember playing a MUD while I was a teen, or a Multi-User Dungeon, one of the first online gaming platforms of the internet. You would be asked to type what your character would do; go n, go w, k goblin, get all… these were the inputs that would help your character navigate north, navigate west, kill a goblin, and get all of the corpse’s inventory for possible weapon upgrades or magical items. I was drawn to these online worlds and soon came to meet other users who would play with me, sharing their experience points as we adventured. The people I had encountered often became my Facebook friends, though seldom became conversational.

Later, I remember posting on an online art exhibit platform. There I shared my traditional and digital drawings with the world and pretty soon I started receiving comments. One particular user and I happened to get along and we not only became Facebook friends, but actually called each other on occasion as well!

Fast forward a decade, I now spend time in virtual reality (VR), where online gaming flourishes. While playing virtual billiards, I quickly found an opponent with the built in match-making. By the end of it, we spent nearly two hours talking and shooting billiards, and the experience was unlike anything I had encountered before. Although the MUD allowed we to interact with others, it was purely text based so the presence of another was unconvincing; and my friend on the art exhibit site and I shared dialogue over the phone, it was short lived and our lives naturally drifted apart as the exhibit became less popular. In contrast to this, VR allowed me to see this person’s height compared to my eye level. I saw that he would move his hands while talking to me, and fold them while he listened. I could see his head tilting upward while thinking over what was just discussed, and teleporting around each other made it feel like we were truly in a room together. This created a certain bond unlike anything I had ever experienced before by simply using a computer. I felt like I was with a whole person, even if he was thousands of miles away. I knew immediately that I had made a friend.

The friendship has moved to other platforms and we share experiences together regularly. We have played billiards together, played disc golf, enjoyed some air hockey, hung out in a tennis ball arena and shot selfies with our avatars, and we have even turned into robots and killed drones with our boomerang katanas. I have learned about his personal life beyond the screen, his history, and I have shared my own story with him. The bond between him and I could not have existed without VR, and this fact has profound implications for our evolving social dynamics. I shared various experiences with this new friend of mine. We worked together to battle evil forces, and were able to discuss our experience as we maneuvered and strategized within these simulations. What other experiences could people share together? How does this change the way we perceive and think about others? What other sides of a person could be observed through exploring, as Gene Wilder once said “a world of pure imagination”.

VR is more than fun. VR enhances empathy and understanding. We now have the ability to bond with a mind without the distractions of judgement by using the VR interface to mask irrelevant information, and instead select what our consciousness wishes to share with others.




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

Thera-spraining Psychotherapy: What it is and What it is not.

Posted by: Denise Hall on June 13, 2016 12:34 pm

This blog post is meant to unravel the puzzle that is therapy. In the past therapy was considered only for people with serious
mental health issues. Therapy has become much more accepted as a way of changing one’s life,
recovering from grief and trauma, relationship breakups and family and parenting issues. In
fact, there is evidence to suggest that it can be very beneficial in relieving depression and other
issues. It also is effective in reducing the need for pharmaceutical intervention in some
situations.

What does the therapy process look like? Contrary to what some people think, therapy is an
active process requiring work, openness and cooperation on the part of the person seeking
therapy. The therapist does not change you, they are, in effect, a facilitator of change. How
much you change (or even whether you change) is up to you.

Well what does therapy do? Therapy changes the brain as Norman Doidge the author of The
Brain That Changes Itself” aptly illustrates. Having a skilled person validating your experience,
listening with nonjudgement, and focusing on your strengths does wonders for most brains that
have a tendency to focus on the negative side of any experience and produce emotions such as
shame and guilt. Therapy can help you think differently about your situation and with
understanding comes clarity. It also helps you remember who you truly are and encourages you
to accept your strengths as well as your human flaws.

Knowing you are not alone and that someone really understands what you are going through
has immense therapeutic value. Family and friends can be supportive too but most of us would
rather not burden friends too much and usually most people just keep their feelings to
themselves.

Therapy is also preventative. It prevents and/or mitigates conditions such as high stress,
depression, anxiety, chronic pain and PTSD that left untreated can cause associated physical
conditions such as stomach ulcers, cardio/vascular events, panic attacks, isolation, suicide,
physical deterioration, musculoskeletal challenges and debilitating pain, and addiction
to opioid medication.

What therapy does not do? Most of us in our ever increasingly complex and fast-paced world
are looking for a magic bullet or a quick solution that will alleviate or solve a difficulty. Therapy
is not a quick fix for many reasons including that situations are usually complex and accrue over
time. Healing takes time. Untangling the many factors in a situation is a process and our
defense mechanisms often get in the way. We usually need a safe place to freely explore the
landscape around issues causing frustration and pain. Many people have never had a safe place
to do this.

Another thing therapy costs money, upwards from $100.00 to $200.00 per hour. Depending on
the qualifications of the therapist. Most psychotherapists have a Master’s degree and are certified by
provincial or national bodies (for more information on practice requirements for psychotherapists
across Canada, please see https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/profession/regulation-across-canada/).
Psychologists are regulated provincially as are registered social workers. I definitely would
recommend counselling or therapy with someone who has had rigorous education, training and
supervision.

The good news is that it might not take a lot of sessions to get you feeling better about your
situation and feel like you are gaining more control over your life. For complex issues involving
trauma it can take much longer. I remember a therapist telling me that if personal growth was a
priority then I would find the money to pay for therapy. I do not see it as simple as that now
that I have been a therapist for years. Most people have competing priorities these days and
therapy is usually put on the back burner. Although it is likely to be beneficial, managing a
household, paying rent and food costs are a high priority in most everyone’s life.

Although there are some options for therapy with psychiatrists that practice therapy, employer
funded programs and government and community organizations, there are usually wait lists,
number of sessions is time-limited, and acute conditions take priority. The Globe and Mail
published an article last fall that made the case very well for government funded mental health
services accessible to everyone. Many countries do provide therapy and the cost to taxpayers is
outweighed by the reduction in cost in the general health budget and employer funded
disability plans.

A word of caution about therapy though; growing as a person can change your life priorities
and the relationships with those around you. It also can be challenging! Opening yourself up to
someone maybe for the first time is scary. We are afraid usually of being judged by others. The
evidence for addressing issues rather than suppressing them is strong. Unexpressed feelings
can manifest themselves in health conditions, chronic pain and addictions. Many people have
tried self-medicating when issues have become too much leading them into a dangerous
trajectory.

I am hoping this blog post helps you understand what therapy can do for you. Remember you
are the captain of your own life when you take part in psychotherapy. What you get out of it is
up to you and I encourage you to shop for a therapist that fits for you and that you feel safe
with. In case you would like to speak to me further about your situation, I am available for free
30-minute telephone consultations if you would like to explore it for yourself at 604-562-9130
or email [email protected].




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

Wildflowers Mindfulness

Posted by: Dawn Schell on May 9, 2016 10:28 am

Need another app to help you meditate?

No?

Well you might want to reconsider when you see the new Wildflowers Mindfulness app from Mobio Interactive.[1]  This beautifully designed new app was released on May 2, 2016 and is free for the first month.

The aim of Wildflowers Mindfulness is to assist individuals with developing a mindfulness practice.  Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can improve both physical and mental health.  It takes practice to really become comfortable with it and make it work for you.   Given how busy our lives can be it isn’t always easy to make the time to practice.   It’s like lots of things that we know are good for us and that we “should” do.  Sometimes a little help is needed!  That’s where an app like Wildflowers can come in handy.

There are interactive lessons on mindfulness, a library of meditations, and a journal to track your progress.   The creators of this app have also designed a feature that makes meditation suggestions based on your mood.  The page lists a number of different feelings and you can pick the one that is the closest fit and the app will suggest a variety of meditations for you to try.

One of the really fun features is you can use the camera on your mobile device to calculate your heart rate.  That’s right.  I said, the camera!    You can use this feature to calculate your heart rate both before and after a meditation and see how well you were able to relax.

Give it a try today and as the creators say, “Make friends with your mind”.

***

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.  http://www.therapyonline.ca

[1] http://www.wildflowersmindfulness.com/#home




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

Would you go Mobile?

Posted by: Priya Senroy on February 29, 2016 4:29 pm

CaronmapI cannot imagine not having a physical location for my counselling practice. That was, to me, an essential building block to set up my practice. Whether it was private or in an organization, I have been fortunate enough to always have a space to operate from. But I sometimes find it to be restricting either geographically or in terms of the hours of operation. E-counselling has more flexibility when it comes to space as the barriers to accessing services are reduced.

I read about a counsellor who has a mobile office-an RV that goes into the community and acts a safe space that has all the necessary amenities and prerequisites to make it and actual ‘office’.

If there are any counsellors out there who are mobile, it would be interesting to get their view point on this and their pros and cons of operating from and office vs. doing e-counselling and vice-versa. We often talk of meeting the clients where they are at, so why not making ourselves mobile, accessible and transportable? We tell ourselves to be creative and think out of the box, so why not work out of a restrictive boxy immobile space?




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

Welcoming the New Year

Posted by: Dawn Schell on January 13, 2016 12:18 pm

It’s a new year and that often means people are making resolutions, setting goals and planning ahead.   Each time the calendar rolls around to January ‘hope springs eternal’ as Alexander Pope said. We want to get focused and clear. We want to make changes in our lives. We want to dream new dreams.    How long those resolutions, goals and plans last is another issue altogether!

In the spirit of hope I would like to share some fabulous online tools that one can use to reflect on the year that was and plan for the year to come.

One tool I have used for a number of years is choosing a ‘Word-of-the-Year’. It’s not a resolution or a goal – more of an intention for the year or a way to explore the year ahead or a guide for the year ahead.   If you haven’t yet tried this approach you can find numerous examples in the ‘blog-o-sphere’, Facebook groups or on Pinterest. Just search for “word of the year” and you will find amazingly creative ideas for showcasing one’s word of the year as well as reflections on what the word means to individuals.

There are a myriad of methods to finding and using a word for the year.

Christine Kane, a business coach, offers a Word-of-the-Year discovery tool for free. There is an introduction to the idea, an idea generator and worksheet to guide you through the process of choosing a word for the year and, of course, an action planner. Cause it’s more useful when you identify steps you can take!

Sometimes it’s harder to choose a word than others.   But each time I have chosen one I have found it to be both personally and professionally useful. As Ms. Kane says, “Your word is meant to teach you about you.” The tool is easy to use. The clients I have recommended it to find it to be helpful as they begin a new year. Just FYI – you do have to enter your email address to get this tool.

http://christinekane.com/wordoftheyear

On a similar note Susannah Conway, author/photographer/teacher, offers a helpful free resource titled “Unravelling the Year Ahead 2016”. Her Unravelling e-workbook has thought-provoking questions about the year that was and provides reflecting exercises for the year ahead. Having used this workbook with individual and group clients the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

http://www.susannahconway.com/2015/12/were-coming-for-you-2016/

Finally, there is Leonie Dawson’s ‘Guide to creating your shining year’. Leonie Dawson is an entrepreneur and coach based in Australia. She guides you through a series of questions and reflections on the previous year and her creative questions about the coming year allow you to explore a number of different areas of life and set goals for each of these areas (e.g. physical, spiritual, financial).   For a small cost you can download her e-workbooks or order hard copies.

http://leoniedawson.com/

As with many goals/resolutions/intentions the keys to actually doing what one says one is going to do are:

  • Be accountable to someone – share your goals, hopes, dreams, intentions
  • Take small steps
  • Regularly review your progress
  • Celebrate your successes
  • Be gentle, kind and compassionate with yourself
  • 2016 – ready or not – here we come!

2016Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca




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