Tag Archives: Bonney Elliott

When we Stumble, it is Simply Part of the Dance

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on November 3, 2015 12:55 pm

tangodanceAs we struggle to wrap minds and bodies around a new sequence, our wise dance teacher asserts that Argentine tango is not complicated, but complex. His words give me pause, and hope. Tango looks complicated, and takes years of practice to master. Yet, even the most dazzling choreography is essentially a pattern of basic steps.

As a psychotherapist, this distinction seems quite relevant beyond the dance floor. Helping clients who are suffering to make sense out their lives can feel complicated, but perhaps the intricate dance of psychotherapy is, like tango, a layering of steps and patterns.

A few concepts that simplify therapeutic relationship for me are connection, presence, self-awareness, humility and perspective. When a dance goes well, the partners are in sync. They have a strong, tangible connection that transcends the alchemy of physical chemistry or attraction. Dancers communicate with each other, often nonverbally. Therapists deliberately cultivate and maintain empathetic attunement with our clients. Connection is the fulcrum for therapy. When Ego steps into the space between us, connection wavers. Miscommunications happen. Insecurity and perfectionism complicate relationships.

As dance partners need to be fully present to each other to coordinate their steps and negotiate the space of the dance floor, the therapeutic process flows when we manage to stay together in the moment with our clients. Mindful presence helps us to keep in step and rhythm, to focus on what is actually happening. Staying centered in any complex relationship takes self-awareness. Partner dancing is not about one controlling the lead or the other blindly following. They work together, each learning to maintain individual frame and axis of balance. Similarly, therapy evolves when both partners are able to keep their feet under them, therapist self-awareness nurturing client self-awareness.

To grow and learn is to be vulnerable. Good dancers expect to make mistakes, to fall in and out of sync and rhythm. As the saying goes, when you stumble, make it part of the dance. Err graciously. They improve over time at stepping back to figure out how a small step gone awry threw off the entire pattern. Similarly, therapy is rarely a linear process. One step forward, two steps back. Creating new patterns of being requires patience and practice. It takes humility to own our fears and foibles while gently calling our clients on theirs.

Keeping perspective is important. The essence of any dance is simply expressive movement to music. Good dancers attend to the technical details while keeping in mind the bigger picture they are co-creating. Whatever theoretical methodologies we subscribe to and creative counselling techniques we weave in to help our clients wade through the intricacies of human feeling, thought and circumstance, the essence of our work is the co-creation of meaningful, compassionate dialogue. Simply put, psychotherapy is a therapeutic conversation. Inherently complex, but not necessarily complicated.

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

How Private Do You Want Your Private Practice to Be?

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on September 2, 2015 9:11 am


With working quite part-time, I debate about how much time, energy and money to invest in advertising my psychotherapy practice. Typically the bulk of referrals have come via word of mouth, through my social and professional networks. For the most part, I like it that way. Clients arrive at the office door with some confidence that counselling will be a worthwhile experience. Often there is a good fit between their personal issues and my practice style and experience.

A few months ago, I decided to advertise with an Internet service. Within the first week that my practice profile was up, more inquiries for counselling started coming in. My caseload is growing to include lovely, interesting clients who I might never have met through my usual referral networks. However, making a private practice more public has certainly come with hidden costs and considerations.

Screening prospective clients takes more time than I anticipated. An individual cold calling naturally has more questions and concerns than someone who has been referred by someone they trust. They may have preconceived ideas or unrealistic expectations about psychotherapy. They may not be quite ready to open up to a professional about their personal concerns. Some callers are in the throes of a crisis and needing more immediate and direct support than I can possibly offer, or struggling with complex mental health issues or addictions beyond the scope of talk therapy. Getting a sense of where people are coming from over the phone takes some finesse. Continue reading

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

One Hand Washes the Other

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on August 19, 2015 1:30 pm


In nursing school in my early 20’s strict principles of infection control were drilled into our heads. From basic hand washing to elaborate sterile technique, the focus was on caring for people without spreading disease from the infectious patient to the wounded or immune compromised. These principles have served me when working up close and personal with the human body as a nurse, but nursing school did not prepare me for the emotional impact of caring.


In my first job as an RN at a children’s hospital, I loved the kids. Children are honest, fun, and incredibly resilient. Over time it became harder to separate my personal feelings from the clinical scenarios that unfold in an acute care setting. I often took on the suffering of my sick and dying young patients and their families. I brought it home with me. This was heartbreaking, and unsustainable once I became a young mother myself.


With support from family, I upgraded my skills and moved into community health in my early 30’s as a nurse practitioner. I developed more solid emotional boundaries, which I found easier to maintain outside of the hospital setting. Working with families from all walks of life still pulled at my heartstrings though. I am prone to holding onto the emotions of others, sliding from empathy into sympathy. It was early in this second phase of my career, that I received simple but sound advice from a visiting Elder from the Nova Scotia Mi’qmaq First Nation, a warm and wise medicine woman.

Continue reading

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

A Conversation with Grief

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on July 9, 2015 4:00 pm

Internalized other interviews are a powerful Narrative Therapy practice. The therapist invites the client to speak from the imagined perspective of a significant person in their lives, living or dead. Often, this exercise elicits deep emotions and insights into relationships and values. People live inside of us.conversation-595827_640

At a narrative practice group on the subject of grief, my colleagues and I try a twist on the internalized other interview. None of us in the room are strangers to loss. There have been some very recent family deaths amongst the group. We decide that rather than interviewing a colleague who would connect with and speak as a particular internalized person, we will conduct the session as if she were the personification of Grief itself. My colleague plays the part impeccably. It feels as though she channels our collective experience. We are blown away, moved, and more deeply connected by the dialogue that ensues.

Welcome. Grief seems surprised. I’m not always welcome, she explains, sinking deeper into her chair. Ah, I nod. What is it like, to not feel welcome when you come to call? I ask. Grief answers from the heart. It is hard, she replies. She describes how out of sync she feels. The party guest who nobody knows what to say to. Hurt, alone, avoided, unwanted and cast aside. Trapped, but unable to leave. I understand though, I get it. I’m not easy to be with. Her tone is empathetic, compassionate.

My other colleagues listen intently, silent witnesses to her eloquence. Continue reading

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

Social Dancing Makes Me a Happier Therapist

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on June 12, 2015 8:18 am

It may even help me be a better one.

Here are a ten reasons why.

1. Dance modulates mood. Fridays after work, I am so tempted to flake out on the couch in front of Netflix. Relaxing, sure. Sometimes I do, only to wake up to Saturday mballet-111705_640orning chores still holding onto the emotional residue of the week. Dancing, on the other hand, releases accumulated stress, and the grip of poignant client stories. Whatever humor I may arrive in is soon influenced by the music. The upbeat bounce of Swing, the sweet lilt of Waltz, the flirtatious rhythm of Latin, or the poignant melody of Argentine Tango. Each in its own way sweeps me into a more positive frame of mind.

2. Dance is expressive. After just a few turns of the dance floor, I feel lighter, more myself.

3. Dance is just the right amount of social. I sit with people all week, actively listening and problem solving. As much as I look forward to seeing friends outside of work, sometimes the last thing I want to do is sit and talk some more, especially at a loud, crowded pub or a restaurant. Not for lack of caring, but because I am depleted. The empathy meter is low, capacity for concentration and conversation diminished. Dancing recharges my emotional batteries.

4. Dance is connecting. I cherish the friends and acquaintances I have met through social dance. Happy people of all ages and from different walks of life who I might never cross paths with in my regular day to day. Yet we share a common passion.

5. Dance gets me out of my head. From focus on thinking and problem solving, to being fully in my body. And it fosters authentic non-verbal communication.
Continue reading

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


Posted by: Bonney Elliott on May 13, 2015 8:28 am

Streets of Haiti
In 2013, I spend two weeks volunteering in Haiti. A colleague suggests writing a travel blog. Writing is not new to me. I have been an intermittent scribbler of poetry, short stories and personal journaling since childhood. Writing a blog is new to me. Intriguing, but fraught with some trepidation about publishing first-person reflections. Having churned out countless academic essays through university, and carefully crafted client-centered notes as a clinician, the word “I” has been practically obliterated from my written vocabulary. Dare I ramble on-line about what I think, or braver yet, how I feel?

Sharing perceptions of my first foray into a foreign country struggling in the aftermath of disaster with an invisible audience does feel vulnerable. Yet, the Haiti blog evolves into a lifeline to home, a forum for sharing the heightened perceptions of an Outlander visiting a strange and sometimes frightening place. Not speaking the national language renders me essentially mute for much of the trip. Quiet for stretches of unaccustomed time, and untethered from responsibilities, my thoughts turn inward. Mind lapses into daydreaming and reflection. I reconnect with a love of writing, streams of consciousness spilling on the page, soliloquies emerging from the back corners of my psyche. I bring to life with words my intense experience of Haiti, and in so doing begin to process past memories it evokes.
Continue reading

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

Sand, Story and Solidarity: Finding Joy and Meaning in Clinical Work

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on May 4, 2015 9:06 am

My work life is split between coaching cancer patients and their families, and private general psychotherapy practice. In both domains, the clients who come to see me are often in the midst of major life transitions. Their stories can be heart wrenching. I could easily get lost in their suffering, Take it on and bring it home with me. Or worse, become so detached that it ceases to affect me at all. Both alternatives would impact my wellbeing and my longevity as a practitioner. There is no perfect formula for keeping the fire in the belly alive in my clinical work. Mitigating compassion fatigue is not simply about finding the perfect job and job/life balance, or staying healthy through self-care, nurturing relationships and mindfulness. It is about finding joy and meaning in the work I do.

fantasy-221242_640The three pillars of my clinical practice are sand, story and solidarity. Sand represents the Sand Tray Therapy that brings creativity, joy and lightness to the work, even with clients who have experienced significant trauma. Story represents Narrative Therapy and my own writing, which help me to find truth and beauty in client’s stories. Solidarity comes from the practitioner community that I belong to, my lifeboat of support. I meet with like-minded practitioners regularly, through group supervision and collaborative practice groups. Having a therapeutic community sustains my practice, keeps me grounded and bridges the isolation of clinical work. Continue reading

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