Counseling knows no border

Posted by: Warren Corson on April 24, 2017 3:01 pm

Last year my wife and I came to Canada for the first time to present at the joint conference between CCPA and ACA (American Counseling Association). Though she has been to other countries before this was my first time out of the USA unless you count a few trips that I took in high school when I went across the border in Fort Kent for five to ten minutes, once I even got out of the car and bought some pop. My knowledge of other countries came from stories from relatives, friends and clients for the most part, supplemented by some TV and readings of course.

After I secured my first passport ever, we headed to Canada ready to present and to explore as much as we could in the few extra days we were able to stay prior to the conference. Driving around Kingston and through to Montreal we stopped at many shops, spoke to countless folks and found the conversations to be engaging, sometimes entertaining but always enlightening. In one otherwise empty shop a conversation took a turn to the more clinical and I found myself doing an unofficial consultation with someone that was feeling overwhelmed. We found a private spot and talked about what was going on and explored some ways to improve, where real help could be accessed in their area and that above all, that they were far from alone. A nice thank you was the result and then we got into our old Merc and headed for our next destination. Though the person was far from suicidal and posed no risk, I have thought of them often and hope that they did enter formal treatment.

Most folks were curious to learn where we were from and typically had kind words for us about our country. In some areas language was a barrier but for the most part folks found my confused stare as a sign to speak English as I was clearly lost as to what they said. I often apologized for being in a country where I did not speak their native tongue but most shrugged it off and welcomed me fully. A few agreed that perhaps I should not be in a place where the language was unknown (there are some of those folks everywhere I suppose).

So here we are, two clinical professionals from a different country, one that speaks the language a bit (my wife took French in high school and traveled to France before so she can hold her own) and one that can look confusedly at the speaker of any language other than English, but we found many a kindred spirit in our northern neighbor. We were outsiders yet we were accepted.

A man named Michelle who was also a counselor, and proudly in recovery told me about the Canadian health care system and gave many real world examples. He spoke of his mum and how she went from a diagnosis of cancer to specialized care, including surgery to remove the cancer in a matter of three weeks or so. She, along with Canadian healthcare in general, are fit and fine as of our meeting. When asked about the mountain of debt she surely must have from treatment (here in the states, losing one’s home and life savings after a major illness is not uncommon, nor is the need for a “go fund me” page or fundraisers to help fund care). He told me she was covered and simply needed to focus on her health.

We met with many interesting clinical professionals during our stay and enjoyed the sights to be sure. And while we in New England USA know maple syrup (I believe it is in the DNA of every Vermont born person) we stocked up on the Canadian staple as well. The more we may sometimes feel different, the more we realize that in many ways, a border is just a made up division. We are all one though we may live under different conditions and authorities.

As counselors we’d like to thank our northern hosts for allowing us to present in their great country and for helping to educate us as to how your system of healthcare differs than ours. As a token of my esteem, I have become a member of this fine organization and have spoken with them on sharing freely many years’ worth of my writings. I have also applied for the CCC and CCC-S credentials and hope to play a small role in Canadian health care. Most important however, is my desire to learn as much as I can on the Canadian healthcare style so that much of your ways can be taught to my readers back in the states. This information exchange has much promise in my eyes.

While we may have different authorities and our take on health care differs greatly, it is my belief and my experience that counseling knows no borders.  I hope and pray for a day when the USA adopts a similar mindset on health care and refinds much of the humanism that it appears to have lost recently. If you ever find yourself in Wolcott Connecticut USA, consider this an invitation to tour our humble therapeutic farm. We hope to receive many such invitations from Canada as well. As I send this, my wife and I are packing our bags to head to other parts of Canada over the next four days. We hope to meet and speak with many folks including counseling professionals, to learn from and share with in order to help make real and lasting change for those we serve. If you see an old Merc with Connecticut plates in your neck of the woods, please give us a shout as we’d love to talk with you. Until then, Be safe and do good.

-”Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. ( and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm ( 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

Why The Protest Polka Dance?- Part 2 of Demon Dialogues

Posted by: Danielle Lambrecht on March 21, 2017 11:33 am

The protest polka is a unique pattern between partners that assures emotional detachment and distancing. The repetitive nature of this polka dance reassures partners that their emotional needs will go unmet. Why would this couple continue with this type of communication style when the outcome leaves them empty? Often, it is because the couple is unaware of this pattern and it has become second nature.

Sue Johnson, author of Emotional Focused Couple Therapy (2008), described the Protest Polka Dance as a maladaptive communication pattern that has one partner denying that emotional detachment exists, while the other person withdraws and protests their sense of disconnection. Johnson used the analogy of a partner banging on the door to get their partners attention, as the other person pushes the door shut. Johnson states this is a common snapshot of a couple engaged in the Protest Polka Dance.

When partners do not respond or get their needs met each person can feel humiliated, lonely, and unsafe within the relationship. The constant reaching of a partner towards one that is emotionally unaware, unavailable or denies this dance is even happening will eventually lead to a sense of emotional separation. This couple then becomes desperate and may resort to pushing each other’s emotional buttons and triggering unfavorable emotional reactions. Unfortunately, the emotional distance grows becoming reinforced and cemented.

As a couple’s therapist, the most important place to start is to increase the couple’s awareness not only of the content of their communication, but also the dance itself. The couple needs to understand how their responses or the lack there of, maintains habitual patterns and keeps them trapped. The Polka Protest Dance must stop and focus needs to be on building a bridge of emotional connection. The couple works hard to engage in early response and learn attachment language that generates safety and comfort. The therapist helps slow down these new interactional moments, to assist the couple in noticing their emotional reactions and windows of opportunity for strengthening connections. This is an ongoing process of practice for the couple in sessions and between to reinforce new skills and build confidence in each other.

Will the Polka Dance come up again? Of course it will, but with this emotional formula the Polka Dance looses its dance patterns as the couples emotional attachment gets stronger and stronger. No one is perfect and couples can resort to old behaviors. When that happens couples come in for one or two refresher sessions and any small gap between them is often easily closed and their back to feel emotionally connected again.

Danielle Lambrecht Counseling © 2017 Please engage in any comments.

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

How Counselling Improves Your Day Job or The Unintended Benefits of Counselling Part II

Posted by: Peter Persad on March 21, 2017 11:29 am

Last year I wrote a piece I called “The Unintended Benefits of Counselling” (April, 2015) in which I explored the “collateral” positive aspects of developing a counselling skill set and the impact it can have on our personal  lives as counselors.  The basic premise of that blog was that counselling can have a personal benefit for the counsellor as well as the client. (And it would follow of course, that when the counsellor improves, the results are inevitably beneficial for the client. Counselling truly is “the gift that keeps on giving.”) ­­The focus of this blog is an exploration of how counselling can have a positive impact on our capacities as professionals in other realms, and especially in professions where a counselling skill set may not be considered as a necessary tool in the performance of our duties.  A recent example in my daily work was the genesis for this idea. Although I am a CCPA Certified Counsellor, my day job is that of a high school administrator. To be honest, I have always maintained that the counselling skill set can be incredibly effective in the daily work of a school administrator.  In my capacity as a school leader, I employ effective listening skills, utilize re-framing techniques, conduct solution-focused therapeutic interventions and facilitate mediation in areas of conflict. All before 10:00 A.M.  As a Certified Counsellor, I believe that EVERYONE can benefit from counselling; the parents, students and staff that come into my office are no exception. And in fact, many of the people who come into my office are normally in some type of crisis that requires resolution or at the very least an intervention. (In fact, there is a movement afoot in British Columbia to empower teachers to act as mental health advocates and “front-line workers” since teachers enjoy a unique and increasingly significant position as professionals who see kids every day and are thereby able to establish baseline data for behavior.)  A case in point: I recently had a young woman referred to me for poor attendance. She was 13 years old and in the critical transition year of Grade 8 as students move from elementary to secondary school. She had missed about 25 of the first 35 days of school and as you might expect, her marks reflected her sporadic attendance. Now, under normal circumstances, most vice principals are going to suspend students (as counter-intuitive as that may seem) in order to reinforce the importance of daily attendance as it relates to school success.  The meta-message being, “Jane Smith, you need to attend our school on a regular basis if you wish to remain a student in my bureaucratic institution.” But, as I’m also fond of saying, “Don’t just DO something, sit there..” It takes a lot more effort and care to look beyond the behavior to find its etiological root. In other words, moving from the “what?” to the “why?” Obviously, this student isn’t attending regularly. That’s the “what” but “So what?” The real question is “Why is this student not attending?” And the answer is not, “Because she doesn’t like school.” In fact, as with many of the behavioral issues I deal with as a vice principal, the problems in school aren’t because of school, they have just manifested themselves at school. Extra-curricular issues tend to manifest themselves at school because school for the most part is a “safe space” where children can” act out” and the professionals in school notice these behaviors because “they care.”  So, back to the young lady in question: she was missing school because she was depressed about her parents’ recent divorce.  She was “creating a crisis” in the hopes that Mom or Dad would act, would “make her go to school” and thereby” demonstrate” their love for her.  How many times have we as therapists helped our clients make the connection between their unmet needs and their behavior? What I have found as a school administrator is that a little CBT can go a long way to helping students not come back to your office. With respect to this student who was missing school, my therapeutic intervention did not include discipline for truancy. It did include efforts to build a relationship with this student by demonstrating care for her, it included asset identification, self-esteem building exercises and homework, it included normalizing this student’s experience, it included identification of triggers, it utilized extra-therapeutic factors as a means of self-help, it included personal network reification. It was the antithesis of what a person would expect if they were referred to the vice-principal’s office for violation of the code of conduct. It was brief, solution-focused modality with an emphasis on psychoeducation.  And it worked! In the 30 school days since this intervention, this student has missed 2 days. As therapists, we can’t wave a magic wand and make everything all better, but we do possess a very powerful set of skills and clinical acumen that enables us to help. And that’s why we got into this “business” right? We are called to this vocation to use our time, skills and energy to help others, to improve their lives, to enable them to live a more meaningful, satisfying existence. And fortunately, this is a transferable skill set.

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

Making the Transition: Career Transition Resources for Canadian Armed Forces Members

Posted by: Michael Sorsdahl on March 21, 2017 10:35 am

The challenges of transitioning from being an active serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces to the civilian workforce are unique. Military members spend months training to enter into the military workforce, moving through training institutions and learning how to work as part of a highly functional team. When these military members either reach retirement, decide to retire early, or even get released for medical or other reasons, they are then placed into the precarious position of re-creating their identity and finding their way in the civilian world. Even beyond the need for support for transitioning into the civilian workforce, military members also have unique roadblocks to that transition that may include trauma, identity, and family issues.

There are some great resources that have been created to help aspects of this transition, and it is important to know the resources that are out there that can be used to help this population who have given their lives to protect all of ours. Some of the resources that are available for this population are:

Canada Career Counselling – is a national psychology practice that provides both an in-person and on-line career exploration and transition service designed to transform and translate military career experience into recognizable civilian transferable skills. This organization includes direct connection with highly experienced Master’s and PhD level Registered Psychologists, with extensive backgrounds in career development and the specific roadblocks unique to military members.

Canada Company – which is a charitable organization that is designed to help military members find resources available to them during their transition processes. There are some on-line resources available through this organization that provide assistance in resume writing and job search assistance.

Helmets to Hardhats – is a not-for-profit organization that provides apprenticeship training connections for members currently serving or those who have served to move into the trades from the military.

Michael Sordahl

*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

Positive Psychology experts discuss Hedonia, Eudaimonia and the Virtuous Organization

Posted by: Mark Franklin on August 25, 2016 12:48 pm

Listen to this episode of CareerBuzz at

With so much interest in positive psychology, how can we use it to enrich our careers and lives? How can it help us to flourish?

These are questions that today’s podcast guests help answer. Guests were speakers and exhibitors at the recent Canadian Positive Psychology Association’s national conference held in Niagara on the Lake, June 2016.

First up: Kim Cameron is Professor of Management and Organizations in University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. His past research on organizational virtuousness, downsizing, effectiveness, and the development of leadership excellence has been published in more than 130 academic articles and 15 scholarly books. His current research focuses on virtuousness in organizations–such as forgiveness, gratitude, kindness, and compassion–and their relationship to performance. He is one of the co-founders of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. Kim was recognized as among the top ten organizational scholars in the world whose work has been most frequently downloaded on Google. Kim Cameron is today’s first guest.

Today’s second guest is Veronika Huta. Professor Huta obtained her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at McGill University. At the University of Ottawa, she teaches statistics and positive psychology. Her research compares different ways of defining and pursuing the good life, or eudaimonia (which is the pursuit of excellence, virtue, personal growth), and hedonia (which is the pursuit of pleasure, enjoyment, comfort). She studies these pursuits in relation to personal well-being, the well-being of the surrounding world, cognitive and physiological responses, and predictors (such as, parenting styles, worldviews). She is a founder of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Finally… frustrated after a workplace accident, Hardy Premsukh started focusing on whole-body health as part of his recovery plan. Unable to find the proper tools to help him with this goal, he started working with psychologists, medical doctors, mathematicians, and other experts to develop a comprehensive platform that could create a more complete picture of how the body and mind work together. That platform – the FlourishiQ platform – knows how behavior and lifestyle choices impact health.

CareerBuzz is hosted by Mark Franklin, president and practice leader of CareerCycles.

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

“The Quickest Way to the Truth”: Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace and Beyond

Posted by: Denise Hall on June 22, 2016 3:47 pm

From the plea bargain and previous acquittal of Gian Ghomeshi to the sexual harassment class action suit against the RCMP and other high profile cases, sexual harassment is definitely in the news but are we seeing justice done? Christy Clark said recently that sexual abuse, assault and  harassment are a part of women’s everyday lives. These acts of violence and abuse continue to occur at alarming rates. A CBC guest Rebecca Solnit on the Sunday Edition’s  June 19, 2016 discussion on violence in the US  indicated that a rape occurs every 107 seconds and spousal abuse every 17 seconds. Why are we not doing enough to protect women in their homes and their workplaces?

The CBC executive whose quote I have used in the title was abused at work while a male coworker stood by. She agreed to an apology and a peace bond from Ghomeshi instead of enduring a trial. She may be quite right in stating that the truth can get tangled up in the justice system and the court of human opinion. Forgoing her anonymity, she felt the truth would best be served by making a statement about the abuse. Perpetrators seem to be able to continue harassing and abusing and evade responsibility for their actions. Gian Ghomeshi was acquitted of six charges in the first court case and PeasandHammerbarely offered an apology or took any responsibility for his actions in the second.

In the memoir “No One To Tell” Janet Merlo, a former RCMP officer in British Columbia, outlines the abuse and gender inequality she endured during her time with the force. Merlo was named as the representative plaintiff in the class action suit of over 100 women against the organization. Going through the courts is not working very well for the victims, mostly women. So what can be done to stop the rampant abuse and bring the perpetrators to account?

As a therapist I work with victims of sexual harassment, rape, physical assault and violent acts mainly perpetrated by men, many unreported. Discussing this issue with other therapists they tell me that the women they work with state that if they had a chance to go back they would not report sexual harassment and sexual assault. They say it is just too horrendous an experience to report. Furthermore many victims report losing their jobs while the offender(s) keep(s) their position. Women in male dominated occupations tend to fare pretty badly in the places they work.  I have heard reports directly from women in construction jobs, police forces, and the military.

Politics aside, Christy Clark, BC Premier, recently disclosed being a victim of an assault when she was 13 years old. She said she never told anyone because of the shame associated with being a victim. Some people are cynical and say that her report was politically motivated. I am thinking this is not the case.  Most women feel a high degree of shame associated with being a victim and I question why women and, specifically our premier, would talk about a traumatic and highly intimate situation for political purposes? Claims from perpetrators that women report for financial or other reasons are usually way off base. There is no amount of money in the world that would make up with the horrific circumstances, terror and public scrutiny involved with disclosing sexual harassment or assault. Also, research on recanting suggests that many victims recant because of the consequences of going through with the accusations for their families and the community.

I watched a Norwegian movie last week called HEVN (“revenge”) and the heroine of the film was bent on revenging the rape and subsequent suicide of her younger sister who was in her teens when the rape occurred. Initially she was going to kill the perpetrator but settled on setting him up and stripping him of his family and stature in the community. If the court system does not provide justice then must victims take retribution into their own hands? The problem with doing so as an “eye for an eye” suggests, will leave both parties injured, most likely badly. More succinctly, violence is not the answer.Violence is the problem.

The women in the RCMP have initiated a class action suit to settle their grievances around sexual assault and sexual harassment. Maybe civil action is better for compensating victims. Civil actions have a lower burden of truth and they can provide compensation for suffering and loss of positions the victims aspired to and felt proud of.

WorkSafe BC now accepts sexual harassment and bullying under their mental stress provisions if the abuse if work related. It is also incumbent on employers to have a system of regulation and protection in place. Certainly the criminal courts did not appear to serve Gian Ghomeshi’s victims well. Many victims just keep quiet and perpetrators continue to harass, abuse, and rape because they believe they can and they believe THAT THEY WILL NEVER GET CAUGHT.

Another high profile example is the Stanford sexual assault case where the perpetrator’s father wrote a letter decrying the six month sentence for his son, Brock Turner, stating it was too harsh for “20 minutes of action”. What if he got 20 months for each minute of action? Legal experts have said that this sentence was more in line with a “first offence of burglary or auto theft”. Another comment from Danielle De Smeth, a California based criminal attorney, was that “it emboldens those of privilege or an athletic background”. Sure does! Two young black men were hung in the 1942 on a bridge on the Chickasawhay river for being within 10 feet of a white teenage girl.

So what is the quickest way to the truth and how are we going to stop perpetrators from sexually abusing? Sexual assault and harassment is a technique of power as is withdrawing reproductive services for women. Rape is used by soldiers in war zones to totally control the vanquished. Racism is more of an issue in economically stressful times. Maybe, sexual assault and harassment is like racism where the perpetrators objectify and dehumanize their prey because they feel they are losing power economically and politically. Mark Lepine killed 14 women in Montreal for just that reason. In spousal abuse perpetrators keep their partners powerless so they will not leave. Sexual abuse and assault are the tools that perpetrators use to subjugate women and children.

Maybe the solutions to stopping abuse lie beyond the criminal courts in changing workplace culture, economic inequality and societal attitudes. As long as women remain unequal economically and societally along with ethnic minorities and are kept powerless to bring the abusers to account, the abuse will continue despite the criminality of the acts. Even if we have regulations that prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, many victims will not speak up because of fear of losing their jobs, being ostracized for speaking up, and concern about the onerous process of going through a system that is fraught with difficulties. This is a challenging issue and we must do a better job of protecting women in the workplace and in the community.

Your comments are welcome

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

Effectively communicating in your personal life

Posted by: Jamie Dovedoff on May 5, 2016 12:00 pm

communicationAs counsellors we aim to minimize the amount of emotional harm a client is experiencing or inflicting on themselves through teaching and modeling effective communication, expressing compassion and patience. But what about our own conditioned human response and how we communicate with ourselves or others in our personal life?

I recently read a book by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg – Nonviolent Communication: A language of life. He outlined to communicate nonviolently is a process of communicating compassionately with both yourself and others. Dr. Rosenberg outlined 4 steps in the process of “compassionate communication”:

1) Observations – the actions we observe that affect our well being

To make honest observations about the actions which impact our well being we must be willing to observe without evaluation.  In other words, we acknowledge a particular action without judgment as we would if we were observing the action (s) of our client.

2) Feelings – how we feel in relation to what we observe

Though it may be easier said than done, we must be willing to identify the feeling(s) associated with the action (s) we observed in ourselves/others that negatively impacted our well being. Dr. Rosenberg encourages the individual to distinguish feelings from thoughts (i.e. I am disappointed in my performance versus I am a failure); distinguish between what we feel and what we think we are (i.e. I am sad my client has decided not to continue to see me versus I am a terrible counselor) and; distinguish between what we feel and how we think others react or behave toward us (i.e. I am lonely versus I feel like you abandoned me).

3) Needs – identifying the needs, values and desires that create our feelings

In this step of the process, we take responsibility for our feelings versus blaming others for how we feel. Instead of using judgments, criticism, diagnoses, and interpretations as to the reason our needs are not being met, we can choose to take ‘emotional responsibility’ for our actions.

4) Requests – the actions we request in order to enrich our lives

The final step is to be open to asking for what it is we want. This request should come without a demand and be clear and specific. The intent is not to force someone to behave in a certain way but to request an action if the person is willing to do so without guilt or feeling like they “have to”.

In summary, to promote compassionate understanding and communication within our personal lives and, most importantly, with ourselves: take ownership; be willing to be open & honest and; be receptive.

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

Unspoken Empathy

Posted by: Sherry Law on April 20, 2016 10:46 am

In my counselling program, we were always taught that the therapeutic alliance was the most important part of any successful therapy. Trust was fundamental to the construction of the therapeutic alliance, and it was through empathy that trust was forged. In my few years of practice, it seemed to hold true that relating to my clients through the use of empathy helped them to trust and confide in me the details of their struggles. As I would listen, my mind would focus on what it may have been like to be in my client’s shoes. I believed every word they would say, and considered their positions as though they were my own. I would ask questions when I was not clear to help define my clients position on their experience of an event or a reality, and I would adjust my views accordingly to better empathize. This worked well enough as time after time, the clients thanked me and seemed appreciative of my time spent with them. I always thought that the more empathy you could harness, the better the outcome. But what did I think empathy was? One session made me reconsider what empathy meant to me in my practice.

This client had seen me multiple times before. For confidentiality, let us call him “Toby”. Toby had originally come to me to help him with raising a problematic teenage child. I would see them regularly and helped them with communication exercises, and untangling their emotions and intentions from their words and reactions. My empathy worked well for a number of sessions as Toby continued to come back with son in tow, claiming successes in the home that had never been witnessed before. After a few months of sessions, Toby disclosed to me that he wanted sessions for himself, rather than with the child. I was open to the idea and happy that the successes helped Toby believe that if I can help him and his son, that maybe I can help him as well.

In our first session, Toby explained that he had been victim of multiple forms of domestic and family abuse, spanning years. He described vivid memories that I watched through my mind’s eye. The abuse was horrible. I sat silently as Toby recounted the tales, and feelings of helplessness in moving past these experiences. At the end of the session, all I could feel was gratefulness of this person reaching out to help themselves move on. I utilized the same tools of empathy that had worked so well before, and looked forward to seeing Toby again. Unfortunately, after that session, neither Toby, nor his son, ever came back to see me.

People are resilient and we all use different tools and mechanisms to adapt and survive. Toby’s pain was something he was surviving, and it is possible that he distanced himself from his own experience in order to survive the pain. The logic and flat tone he used when narrating his experience was not lost on me. How does empathy build trust when the very thing that kept a person alive was to block the feelings that hurt so much? I do not have an answer, but that moment helped me to temper my views on empathy, and therefore my practice. Empathy was not solely isolating the feelings and views stated by the client and taking them as your own. Empathy was also reading between the lines and understanding the quiet hesitancy, fears, anxieties, and resistance within the session as well. Maybe I was moving too fast for Toby, but I believe I struck a nerve. Perhaps it is also what Toby needed to create a chink in the armor to truly begin healing from past wounds.

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

Changing how you feel with technology

Posted by: Dawn Schell on April 18, 2016 3:57 pm

Wearable technology gets more interesting all the time.  I’ve talked about all sorts of devices from ones we can wear that track our fitness/health goals to ones that show us our mood state.   Next up for discussion is wearable technology that can change our mood.

Yup.  That’s right.  Don’t like how you are feeling?  Press this button and change it.

Okay – it’s not actually that simple.  Nor do these technological devices cover the whole range of human emotion.   What they do alter is our feelings of alertness/energy and calm.

doppel  [1] is not yet on the market though it has been in development for the past three years.  doppel  makers say the device “works with your body’s natural response to rhythm to change how you feel”. It looks like a watch and the principle is you will feel a vibration or pulse against your wrist that then can change your emotional state.

This level of vibration is set by you.  The doppel wristband is connected to an app that allows you to monitor your resting heart rate and then you control whether you want the heart-beat like vibration on doppel  to go faster or slower.  “A fast rhythm helps you to feel more alert and a slower rhythm helps you to feel calm”.

A study of the effects of doppel on alertness was done by Royal Holloway, University of London.[2] The investigators state “Overall, the observed results suggest that doppel use may have a tangible effect on behavioral performance as well as subjective experience during task performance”.  Interesting.   I look forward to seeing more research on this.

The creators say that doppel is the next step in wearable technology.  “By working with your body to change how you feel, instead of simply monitoring, doppel brings together well-being, mindfulness and technology”.

Thync[3] is similar to doppel in principle though you wear it on your head.   The creators of Thync say that it “works by signaling nerves on the head and neck to act on the brain’s adrenaline system. These nerves then activate your body’s natural state of energy or calm”.    This device uses what they refer to as “vibes”, which are “low energy waveforms that stimulate nerves on your head and neck”.   You can choose Energy or Calm vibes.

Thync says their team of neuroscientists and engineers have done years of clinical research on this process.  You can also read reviews from Thync users on their website.  Should you wish to check it out you can purchase one for $200US.

As with all other wearable technologies I can see many potential uses for our clients and I also have many questions about them.  For example, is there a benefit to clients if they learn to meditate and calm their own minds rather than rely on a device to send signals to their body?   Or does it make any difference if the outcome is that people feel calmer, less anxious?

Lots to think about here!




Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor with Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.

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