Making Contact Inside the Computer

Posted by: Sherry Law on June 29, 2016 11:49 am

Over the last 2 years as I have delved deeper into virtual reality (VR) I have learned things I never expected to experience. The fact that VR is programmable means that the experience is solely dependent on ones imagination (and perhaps a little aptitude for software development). VR transports you immediately into a new reality and this holds many implications. The truth is that the physical body, or meat space, does not go anywhere. It is the mind or the psyche that is convincingly transported and the focus of my exploration. This is the true potential for the impact of VR.

I recently received a consumer version VR device. This device not only allows you to glimpse into another world, but also provides you the ability to manipulate the world around you with your hands. In addition, the technology provides the freedom of movement throughout a play area where you can walk around, sit, dance, pivot, the full range of bodily motions as long as it is within the bounds of a play area. This transforms ones understanding of the lived experiences almost 100% from the meat space into a digital realm. When you can train your aim inside an archery simulation and the fidelity nearly reflects reality, it is a strange experience indeed. I have never done archery myself, but being able to have some measure of behavioural mimicry to archery was not only a fun experience, but immersive and tiring! Having to duck and dodge enemy fire, destroying enemies with accurate aim, and spinning around at a second’s notice to ensure no one was attacking you from behind was thrilling. To imagine that this is the new world of the gamer, no longer bound to a computer chair, but sweating instead in a dimly lit room, practicing proper aim that can maybe be carrieblogphotosherryd into the real world. On the score board, your abilities are compared against the best in the world and usernames compete in a never ending battle to the top rank.

I also experienced an amazing level of intimacy in VR. Coming headset to headset with other people around the world, playing games and chatting with them through mics was absolutely astounding. I could see their heads move about as they thought about the ideas I shared with them. People witnessed my hands held on my hips as I wait for them to take the next shot at pool. We giggled together as we threw chairs all around a digital bar and made a mess with beer bottles and books. I high fived someone from Germany, we chatted about what a strange experience VR was, we looked at each other’s computer screens to check time zone differences between me and someone from Illinois, and goofed around with the interface as we learned and tinkered with our new toys. I was approached by a Frenchman from Austria that even wanted to show me around the digital space while I practiced my French. We spent time with phantom others in our minds, while our bodies remained alone and without company, yet I felt connected online for the very first time. I have made several friends already from around the world.

Does the mind care that you are not physically next to a person? No. I can say for myself that my mind was thoroughly convinced that I was properly socializing with others beside me, sharing and laughing together in a room. Meeting with strangers was no more jarring than in person, and in earnest, less so because all my fears of judgment vanished with the replacement of my body as an avatar. However, my expression, who “I” was did not vanish, and was perhaps enhanced by the removal of my distracting physical self.




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

Reflective Practice from a Cultural Standpoint

Posted by: Amal Souraya on January 5, 2016 9:59 am

diversity.relfective.practiceMany of us are cognitively aware of the importance of reflective practice in our work with clients. Reflective practice allows us to stop for a moment and look back at our past actions and experiences in a critical and effortful way. Although reflective practice is beneficial when working with clients in general, I believe it especially important when working with clients from cultures much different than our own. According to the American Psychological Association, it is imperative for psychologists to recognize themselves as cultural beings and as such hold attitudes and beliefs that may inadvertently influence clients that come from a different background. Psychologists, like others, are shaped by their worldviews, ethnicity, culture, heritage, past experiences, family dynamics, nationalities, age, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, media influences, education and other significant culturally related dynamics. Hence, it is advisable to recognize this phenomenon when working with clients in general, but particularly with those who may have a cultural framework that is vastly different than the therapists’. This allows counsellors to be more cautious of their own agenda in the counselling relationship. Additionally, it increases the likelihood that the client will feel comfortable and heard in therapy.

If counsellors fail to view the client relationship from a cultural lens, then some detrimental consequences may occur. A common cultural error that many western therapists make is applying individualistic ideologies to clients who come from collectivistic cultures. For example, in many collectivist cultures the family and the group are more important than the individual himself/herself. Hence, if a therapist were to be working with an individual from a collectivist culture and attempted to counsel this client in ways that were more in-line with an individualistic standpoint, then this could potentially really harm not only the therapeutic relationship, but possibly interfere with that client and his relationship to others in his life.

I am aware that it is impossible to take “ourselves” completely out of the therapeutic process, therefore it is of utmost importance to engage in reflective practice and understand our presence during interactions with clients and how our own worldviews and ways of being may interfere with the therapeutic process. Once we do this we begin to learn more about ourselves; about how our culture is influencing our work with others; and ultimately how we can be more culturally sensitive and present for the clients that we serve.




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

 In-laws or Out-laws?

Posted by: Farah Lodi on September 18, 2015 2:15 pm

selfie-801226_1280             All too often I see multi-cultural couples in therapy who’ve been together for a year or so; the novelty of marriage has worn off, and now they are realizing things that usually only surface after you’ve been living together for a while. While the foundation of a good marriage can depend on things like friendship, commitment and a shared meaning in life, each of these factors varies significantly according to cultural norms. It can be hard enough for a homogenous couple to adapt to marriage. A multi-cultural couple has to adapt at a whole different level.

For example, a common problem I see in multi -cultural marriages is differing expectations regarding the rights and responsibilities towards the in-laws. The saying goes that in-laws can make or break a marriage. The collectivist mind-set takes it for granted that in-laws are part of the immediate family, they must be respected, involved and prioritized. It’s expected that in-laws will participate in all aspects of family life, and sometimes even be key decision makers. This view is not shared by those with an individualistic orientation, who may interact with in-laws on a “by invitation only” basis, and who value privacy, autonomy and independence. Another old adage is that you marry a family – this is so true for many cultures where joint living is the norm. In most of the cases that I’ve worked with, the adjustment has to be done by the young couple – rarely does the family system change to accommodate new blood. Just like in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the influence of the girl’s traditional family was all-powerful, and her husband adapted to it. Continue reading




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

Circle of Care for Protecting Our Children

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on August 10, 2015 3:07 pm

Throughout my work within the urban Aboriginal community, specifically at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, a Circle of Care model was developed to support Aboriginal health and the well-being of Aboriginal children.  It was a model presented and then further co-created with the Children’s Aid Society, with the goal of keeping Aboriginal families together and using traditional talking circles and the strengths of each family to support the next generation of children.

The practical piece of this model involved working with the parent that has been brought to the attention of CAS, to both advocate for their needs and choose and/or build a strong support network, creating a circle of care around the family.  So an Aboriginal mother who struggles with addiction, resulting from childhood experiences of child sexual abuse, may choose a parent, a few friends, an Elder, and/or her psychotherapist to be in a traditional talking circle and talk about her needs and how these people can all work together to support her and her children.  A concrete plan is made so ensure needs are met and the children can stay within the family unit while mom goes to treatment etc., with a trusted grandparent for example.

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

Can Diversity Make us Smarter and More Effective?

Posted by: Priya Senroy on July 24, 2015 2:06 pm

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. So simply put….being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working. In one of my recent reading assignments, I learned that diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior.
communityThis, I think is relevant to our practice as counsellors who in some way or another are engaging with clients to shape and change behaviors or address belief systems while working with different therapeutic modalities. When we talk about incorporating diversity in our profession, perhaps this is how it works – by encouraging the consideration of alternatives even before any interpersonal interaction takes place.  This point again is important in informing our interactions with clients when we set up that initial appointment…yes perhaps we might make assumptions based on their names or accent but it might be worthwhile to keep those assumptions in the back burner. It is crucial not let them cloud our counselling approach.

So in a nutshell:

  • Racially diverse groups tend to share information better
  • Diversity enhances different points of view lead to broader thinking
  • Diversity pushes one to abandon the status quo

By: Priya Senroy




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

Technology is Expanding a Counsellor’s Toolbox

Posted by: Sherry Law on July 22, 2015 9:37 am

I recently spent some time with a colleague and the idea of video conference counselling came up. Both being technology buffs, we dove right into the idea without hesitation. As we discussed, it became clear to me that there were real ethical arguments to support the idea of integrating technology with therapy. Unfortunately, the fears around the little known realm of technology in counselling creates a demanding barrier of entry, stifling enthusiasm to attempt online therapeutic practice. Hoping to fan some burning embers of excitement, I present three ethical considerations for the use of technology in counselling:

Financial Access

Cost has always been a struggle for people who need mental health assistance. Both the direct cost per session as well as indirect costs can affect people’s budgets, adding pressures to the decline of one’s mental health. For example, taking time off work or out of the day may not always be feasible for people, especially if you have children to take care of, and during a contracting economy where every day matters in the eyes of your employer. The struggle to balance self care, and life responsibilities is very real. Online counselling could reduce the cost of office space rental, parking space rental, and utilities in the office. The savings from such a transition could help to increase access for some clients.

Physical Access

Physical access can be limited due to a person’s living arrangements, or life circumstance. Many people cannot afford a convenient mode of transportation to attend a counselling session. For example, in rural areas, the problem can worsen with some people having to depend on the therapist’s mode of transportation into their area before they can acquire mental health services. The dependency could lead to spotty access at best, and an inconsistent therapeutic relationship at worst. For counsellors working within a rural area, a plethora of other ethical concerns can arise, such as multiple relationships, limits on resources, isolation, and community expectations. Online counselling could not only offer larger variety of therapists for the rural clientele who can specialize, but can subdue altogether some of the ethical issues around rural therapeutic practices.

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

The Unique Ethical Issues of Working Within the Aboriginal Community

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on July 13, 2015 2:10 pm

I have had the honour and privilege of working within the First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations throughout my career as a psychotherapist. I use a predominantly relational, emotion and solution-focused approach in working with clients. Throughout my ethical courses and training, both 12 years ago in my Masters Degree, as well as subsequent conferences and workshops over the years, I have been able to create an ethical, foundational way of thinking and being as a mental health practitioner. However, the multi-cultural work I do involved learning ethics on the job and within the urban Aboriginal community. Due to the trauma I encountered extensively within this community, the ethics of working with clients that have experienced complex trauma, helped and led the ways at times, but are only a beginning. I truly believe it is necessary to create a new ethical code to practice effectively within this wonderful community.pow-wow-249204_640

In order to be a trusted mental health provider within the urban Aboriginal community, it is important to become a visible presence in that community. When invited I attended ceremonies, Pow Wows and traditional Teachings. This allowed Aboriginal people to see me as a presence, interact with them and observe me with other people and Elders within their community. This is an important piece as a mental health provider because Aboriginal people have every reason not to trust me, as a Caucasian person that is part of mainstream Canadian culture. There is also a different relationship with “authority” as traditional Elders and leaders live within and are a part of the community. There has also been many years of racism, oppression and subsequent intergenerational trauma, all impacting the Aboriginal relationship with “authority”, especially in mainstream, Canadian culture. When your face is seen in the community and people begin to chat with you, word of mouth spreads quickly. While I believe word of mouth endorsements are powerful among all peoples, it is especially important when working within oppressed communities.

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

Looking Inside My Cultural Fabric

Posted by: Priya Senroy on June 15, 2015 8:17 am

I consider myself to be a global citizen…meaning plant me anywhere, I will assimilate and survive, I will grow my own roots, embrace the culture and thrive as a counsellor….I thought that all clients will seek my professional services and no one will discriminate me because of my accent, my skin color, my ethnicity , my age or how I dress myself in ethic wear…Well….on the contrary, I find myself targeted….by clients who want to come and see me only just because we look the same, we speak the same language and we know where we are coming from. It does not matter to them globe-673005_640that I am not an expert in what they are looking for….it’s my accent that comforts them, that assures them that they will be heard and not be marginalized. It’s a sense of belonging which is creating therapeutic space, a therapeutic relationship and ultimately helping the clients to deal with their concerns. So many times I am hearing in a diverse work culture, that what matters is your competency but that’s not the case, it’s about the cultural competence, it’s the connection. Even I see when I burst into the common mother tongue and explain the confidentiality or complex process. It s such an interesting time in my head, when I have to think in English and translate the essence in another language. For me being culturally diverse in my practice is more than just understanding the commonality, it’s about conveying the appropriate message within the context – sometimes translating emotional languages and words which do not exist in my clients. It’s also about recognizing and embracing my own (and sometimes inviting clients) into my cultural diaspora to make that connection.




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

A New Online Support Group

Posted by: Farah Lodi on June 12, 2015 2:59 pm

My last post was about the importance of emotional support, especially for those who leave their country of origin (http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=4188). Usually family and close friends are the first people we lean on or turn to for advice. Anxiety and depression can be soothed by talking to loved ones, but when people have geographic distance from their support networks, life problems can be hard to manage and anxiety and depression can spiral.

To help people who have no help, I’ve created a new online support website: Supportseekers.info. This is an interactive forum where members can post any mental or emotional health problem, and get feedback from other members who may have faced a similar situation. Maybe you’ve been struggling with a situation for some time, and need advice, encouragement or clarity? Maybe you are stressed and overwhelmed? This website is especially useful for people who lack an emotional support network. There are two separate forums, one for adolescents and ansupportseekerother for adults. Sometimes youngsters respond better to their peers, and of course all members use anonymous user- ids. The most useful part is that each day a moderator who is a professional psychologist will go online and offer guidance to each poster – so in effect it’s free counselling therapy. The psychologist moderators are all trained in cross-cultural sensitivity with a solution-focused CBT approach. So no matter what your ethnicity or background, you will get balanced feedback from a non-judgmental professional (as well as from other members who may have life-experience to share). In addition there’s a “support library” which will give members the latest information on mental health awareness issues.

This community service doesn’t replace face-to-face therapy, and it’s not a forum for crisis situations, but it’s an option for those out there who (for whatever reason) don’t have access to emotional support. It’s completely free. All you have to do is join. I invite everyone who reads this, to log onto supportseekers.info, and become a member. You can post your problem anonymously and get same-day advice from your peers, as well as a free professional opinion. And you can help another member by offering your support. Who doesn’t need a bit of emotional help and support these days?




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

There’s No Place Like Home

Posted by: Farah Lodi on May 15, 2015 12:27 pm

In my counselling practice I see a lot of clients who have moved away from their home countries, usually because of job transfers. This means a nuclear family is uprooted from their home, and re-located to a place where they have no family, friends or support network. Many people enjoy the novelty, excitement, and adventure of international relocation, but the clients who walk through my door struggle with that often over-generalized diagnosis: adjustment disorder. It’s a condition that many insurance companies won’t cover, but it accurately describes a lot of my cases.

mobile-home-417578_640Relocation can take its toll on a family’s resiliency. For example, one common problem that I see is when children have underlying feelings of resentment: they were not part of the decision to move, it was forced upon them by adults, and they feel a lack of control and heightened helplessness. Youngsters can become depressed after a big move – I’ve seen this manifest in girls as young as 10 years old who develop eating disorders and boys with anger and even raging episodes – triggered by the move. Previously well-adapted adolescents can develop oppositional behaviors, making the adjustment process for the whole family much more complicated. Erik Erickson identified peer approval and group identity as the psycho-social crisis at this age, and relocation to a new country, new school, new neighborhood upsets this already challenging task. Many children describe feeling lonely and unaccepted as they struggle to adjust, whilst pining away for their old life. As they try to deal with their kids, parents can feel frustrated and helpless (missing their support network at home), and also guilty for uprooting and causing their kids distress. They may also feel guilty for leaving aging parents or other responsibilities behind in their home country.

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