Tag Archives: therapy

Working with Animals in Practice

Posted by: Eileen Bona on February 26, 2020 10:26 am

Animal Assisted Interventions (AAIs) are interventions which are based upon the belief that interactions with animals have inherent value for humans on behavioural, cognitive, emotional, physical, psychological, relational and spiritual levels. AAI’s are intended to be carried out by qualified helping professionals who are trained animal handlers working with specially screened, trained and certified animals.

Although there is evidence to support the benefits of partnering with animals in all ways aforementioned and in doing Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) as a formal medium of therapeutic intervention, there is no standard code of practice in Canada.

As a psychologist who has been working in the field of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) for nearly 17 years, I am excited by the momentum AAT is experiencing in Canada. I am contacted daily by Canadians who are exploring the intricacies of integrating animals into their practice and am aware of the current and interested practitioners.

There are several important ethical considerations for including animals in practice and they include the following:

  • Understanding the many terms in the field to determine where your particular practice, skills and knowledge might fit.
  • Staying within your scope of practice.  As many people are attracted to animals in practice, often practitioners are requested to work with those who may not fit into their scope.
  • Researching and attaining thorough training and certification as an animal assisted therapist. Certificates in AAI/T are available at the college level in some provinces in Canada (i.e., Alberta and Quebec) or training and arranging consultation with a credentialed, well known and ethical AAT professional.
  • Ensuring your animal has been screened, tested and certified to work with you in your setting and with your population. Animals have preferences and ‘scopes of practice’ too and these should be discerned before the animal is integrated into practice.
  • Consultations and training with skilled and trustworthy animal trainers or animal behavioral specialists who are cross-trained in AAT are vital to your animal being well prepared for its work and for you as the animal’s handler to be trained in understanding your animal’s communication and stress signals.
  • Garnering advice about working animals’ schedules and the ratio of client/animal interactions is important to the health and well being of the animal and can be attained from these professionals or the AAT professional.
  • Having a regular veterinarian who is knowledgeable about AAT, understands your species/breed and can advise on changes your animal may be experiencing is invaluable for your AAT animal’s health and welfare.
  • It is often necessary to have extended insurance coverage (alongside professional liability insurance) when involving animals in practice. Determining whether both the practitioner and the facility require insurance for the AAT is necessary.
  • Providing a waiver to participants is recommended to ensure fully informed consent for participation in AAT. The waiver should provide details of the AAT as well as a release of reliability for the therapist in the event of any unfortunate events that may occur during the AAT. The waiver requires the signature of the participant or guardians of minors.

It is an exciting time in our AAT field and I look forward to the promise of soon having approved guidelines to direct our practices and one day, a thorough Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics to govern us. Stay tuned for more-detailed Emergent Guidelines for Animals in Practice. In the meantime, I hope this information is helpful.

Eileen Bona
Registered Psychologist
Animal Assisted Therapist
CEO and Executive Director of Dreamcatcher Nature Assisted Therapy

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

Empathy Through Virtual Reality

Posted by: Sherry Law on September 22, 2015 12:51 pm


As a virtual reality (VR) enthusiast, I have seen first hand demonstrations which encourage empathy. Computer graphics is sophisticated enough where facial expressions of avatars are believable, and if you pay attention to video games which focus on story/narrative, then you can see that context of avatars can be deep, meaningful, and nuanced, reflecting real people and real situations. These characters and their stories can be powerful enough to elicit deep emotions, not unlike how poetry or song can. However, because VR includes visual, audio, and contextual stimulus, the emotions rely less on interpretation, and instead are directly administered through the story telling and the expressiveness of the characters and environment which surround the observer.

Empathy, the ability to understand or share the feelings of others, is a powerful tool that all therapists employ. As a skill, it serves to help therapists navigate through the challenges that a client may be facing. Empathy is critical in client care for its ability to create a therapeutic alliance bound by understanding. Not only can empathy directly impact the therapeutic relationship, it can impact a therapist’s practice by reducing bias, prejudice, and conflict within the therapist from which they can develop and improve their practice. Due to the importance of this skill, developing empathy is a significant focus for many health professionals. Traditional ways of developing therapeutic skills include workshops, conferences, lectures, reading, and field experience. Although these methods have been invaluable and cannot be replaced, what VR could offer in the future is a streamlined, safe, and efficient way to learn and practice therapeutic skills, but also to tinker with our social interactions in a digital vacuum.

Once computer graphics, story-telling, and VR merge, you can have in the palm of your hands a powerful experience that is convincing on a human level. Imagine the avatars reacting to your movements, and paying attention to your actions and reactions to them. Imagine the avatars being able to express without even speaking, simply by using their facial expressions. Imagine having text boxes popping up to explain the reaction of the avatar and why they may have occurred, and more importantly, what you have done to contribute to such a response. What VR can provide is the isolation of these human expressions and an interactive environment from which to build empathy and tinker with social behaviour in a safe and insulated way.

As a practicing counsellor, I can see immense benefits in being able to interact with an avatar to test therapeutic methods. Given some context, how will the avatar react if I did this, said that, or looked away? Of course, the reactions of the avatar rely solely on the ability of the programmer to predict how a human would respond. Once health professionals become part of the development for these programs and experiences, much more can be expected of them.

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

Dealing with Difficult People

Posted by: Trudi Wyatt on July 23, 2015 12:24 pm

Many people come to psychotherapy due to frustrations in dealing with “difficult people” in their day-to-day lives – family and extended family members, colleagues, fellow TTC passengers, etc. On this topic of dealing with difficult people, I recently listened to Louisa Jewell, President of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, interview David J. Pollay, MAPP and author of “The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Stop People from Dumping on You”(1). Some of the content of that interview is shared here.

Mr. Pollay explains that while we sometimes allow other people to “dump their emotional garbage” on us, allowing this – taking it personally, giving meaning to what they say, absorbing the words – can weigh us down and make us unhappy. He points out that even seemingly small/insignificant garbage – everyday “hassles” such as criticisms and complaints – can have a negative impact on our health, and lure us away from focusing on what is truly meaningful to us in our lives.

Mr. Pollay was inspired to write this book when he encountered a New York City Taxi driver who, having been cut off and then yelled at by the very driver who cut him off, just smiled and waved at this other driver, and moved on. In turn, Mr. Pollay now suggests that people remind themselves that, “I am not a garbage truck. I do not accept negative emotional garbage I can’t control and dump it on others.”

Of course choosing not to engage in others’ garbage offloads is not as easy as 1-2-3! But with practice, and in time, it can potentially save a lot of energy.

Other strategies provided by Mr. Pollay for this sort of challenge include: Asking the person dumping his garbage on you if he would like a chance to vent, as this question tends to slow the person down; reducing your interactions with this person; and/or, when you catch someone who often dumps her garbage on you acting kindly towards you, notice it, point it out, and mention how much you appreciate this behaviour over when she’s picking on you.

Trudi Wyatt, MA, RP, CCC is a Registered Psychotherapist and Canadian Certified Counsellor in Private Practice in downtown Toronto. She has been practising for six years and currently works with individual adults on a variety of life challenges such as depression, anger management, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationships, and career direction.

1. 14 May 2015 Louisa Jewell interview with David J. Pollay: Dealing with Difficult People.

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

Yoga as a Form of Trauma Therapy

Posted by: Andrea Cashman on July 8, 2015 4:00 pm

There are many trauma therapies that focus on the body such as sensorimotor therapy and EMDR. Exercise itself is a healing modality for depression, anxiety, stress and especially trauma. Many therapists may turn towards CBT or exposure therapy or another form of psychotherapy, forgetting that the body may be a source of healing. I specifically want to talk about the effects of yoga on trauma as this is a great trauma tool to encourage clients to engage in. Yoga therapy has been understudied; however, has been shown to be an effective adjunct treatment for psychiatric disorders (Cabral et al.,)

Trauma and its effects on the body cause disregulation. In PTSD, the fight or flight system is broken causing prolonged symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal. Hyperarousal symptoms are the main embodiment of the physical symptoms within the body of a PTSD client. Clients may feel easily startled, hold tension within their bodies and have difficulty sleeping and exhibit angry outbursts (nimh.com). The body will hold onto that tension and not be able to regulate back to a calm state compared to someone who does not have PTSD.

Yoga has many physical benefits, one of which is retraining the body to be calm. The National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines mind-body interventions as “a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms.”Yoga practice enhances the connection between the mind and body, and it is used as a therapeutic intervention in a variety of diseases. The mechanisms that allow for the potential therapeutic effects of yoga involve the autonomic nervous system, especially a reduction in sympathetic tone, as well as activation of antagonistic neuromuscular systems and stimulation of the limbic system (Cabral et al.,)yoga

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

On Accessing Psychotherapy

Posted by: Trudi Wyatt on June 17, 2015 8:26 am

Open Minds is a recent Globe and Mail series exploring mental health in Canada. One topic is paying for psychotherapy, and one of the articles under this umbrella, “The case for publicly funded therapy”, by Erin Anderssen, is explored and reviewed in this post.

Ms. Anderssen’s case is built on two premises: that psychotherapy is an effective intervention for mental health issues — especially depression and anxiety; and, that because not everyone has the resources to pay for it, it should be paid for with tax dollars.

The first premise is obvious to me, though I admit my bias! As a Psychotherapist, I see on an almost daily basis how helpful this intervention can be. More broadly, as Ms. Anderssen points out, “Research has found that psychotherapy is as effective as medication – and in some cases works better,” “In randomly controlled trials, drugs often perform only marginally better than sugar pills”, and “we have 100 clinical trials [in support of talk therapy] and no one believes us”.

In building the second premise, Ms. Anderssen points out that not everyone is able to afford psychotherapy, or enough psychotherapy. She illustrates a range of scenarios: from people who can’t pay and are on public wait lists, to people with some but limited private insurance coverage, to people with ample coverage (including federal public servants, paid with tax payers’ money).

She also indicates where dollars (about $2-billion annually) are being spent on psychotherapy in Canada: About half are tax-collected dollars and go to physicians, including about $350-million to family physicians who may not be well-trained in psychotherapy, and about $650-million to psychiatrists who may maintain small practices that serve higher-functioning, higher-income patients, perhaps for years. Contrast this with Australia, Britain, and the United States, where publicly-funded psychiatrists serve more as consultants on severe cases (as other specialists do) than as psychotherapy providers.


The other $1-billion is spent by private insurance / workers’ compensation, and individuals directly (“out-of-pocket”). But despite $2-billion being spent ($272 per Canadian if one in five suffers from mental illness) (1,3), not everyone in need is receiving treatment.
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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Riding the Elevator with Dr. Peter Levine

Posted by: Angela Herzog on June 3, 2015 2:06 pm

There he was, the man I’ve studied from for the past five years. I have poured over his books and practiced his skills, and there he was, Dr. Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing.
My heart was beating fast as I assessed the situation:

My colleague, myself — Levine and his wife.
Contained within four walls of a tiny elevator.
Levine — a foot across from me.

My thoughts colliding with each other, picking up momentum with each collision.elevator-787381_640

It’s Levine
Here’s my chance
It’s Levine
I can make contact
It’s Levine
Say something Angela

Nothing came out, but a sheepish grin as I stole a glance.

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

End of Summer

Posted by: Priya Senroy on September 30, 2013 10:06 am

Hello Counsellors….

Hope you had great summer… for me… It was a time for letting o as well as acquiring new information to sustain me during the Canadian Winter Hibernation….. I had the opportunity to attend events and workshops through-out the summer and as part of my work, I attended a settlement service event here in Toronto which was attended by service providers from as far as PEI and Manitoba.

We as counselors working with diversity are always looking for best practices that we can incorporate into our exiting work and also trying not to reinvent the wheel. In one such chance encounter, I came across the Aurora Therapy Program for Immigrant and Refugee Families, who are based in Winnipeg, Manitoba and are also featured in the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. I got to meet eh ‘therapists;’ and was enriched by the work that they are doing.  Its a new program and this is how they describe w=the need for its existence in their website:  The new Therapy Program for Immigrant and Refugee Families came about as a result of our efforts to become more involved with our surrounding community. We recognized that there was a large part of this community that we had not been able to serve due to various obstacles, including language, cultural differences, and the stigma many members of refugee and immigrant communities associate with mental health issues (Aurora Family Therapy Centre).

I get the opportunity to work with immigrants and refugees and have often been approached to support issues like Your Family Support Counsellor provides support for:

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

The Art of Doodling

Posted by: Priya Senroy on April 16, 2013 8:00 am

Hello readers…..call it hiatus, call it sabbatical or call or taking break….that was good but it is good to be back contributing again to the blogs…..

I wanted to share one of my recent fads or obsession-Doodling…..yes doodling—-I have got into trouble for doodling during staff meetings, during taking notes  in the sessions ….but that’s what you get from people who do not understand that doodling is a serious business and for me….its visual land of  remembering and recording….not to mention relieving stress and I have been  advocating what I have been practicing—have introduced to my clients, to my children and  it’s all about doodle journaling.

…… it seems that I am not the only one ‘crazy enough’ to have found the therapeutic benefits of doodling…. Oprah .com quotes from the April 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine: The old thinking: Scribbling circles on a notepad while your company’s chief inspiration officer drones on about synergy means you have trouble focusing or described as a rough drawing made absent-mindedly in  Oxford Dictionary.

Well that was the old way, this is the new wisdom: Doodling can boost your mind’s ability to notice and remember mundane information by nearly 30 percent, according to research from the University of Plymouth. The theory is that the act of drawing makes use of visuospacial processes in the brain that might otherwise be used for daydreaming, thereby preventing your mind from wandering.  Doodling is defined as a type of sketch or unfocused drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. In the same way that dreams are said to offer us a glimpse into our unconscious, psychologists believe doodling can give us an insight into our deepest thoughts and feelings ( Lucas, S 2013) I am not saying that just because its Oprah it has to be   a great technique-but it is an evidence based work in progress for me and I have found it to be amazing counseling tool .

Check out these websites if you want to know more about Doodles :






So next time you doodle, doodle with confidence and doodle to relieve stress

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

Benefits of Routine Eye Examinations

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on July 11, 2011 12:45 pm

The British Columbia Association of Optometrists (BCAO) and American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children receive their first eye examination within the first year of life.  According to the AOA, the percentage of school-aged children who have visual concerns is 25 percent, or one in every four children. Major optometric associations recommend that children have routine eye examinations. 

What are the benefits of routine eye examinations? Routine eye examinations can rule-out sight threatening eye and health diseases or disorders.  They can prove a preventive measure, as well as, a resource for monitoring health related issues. 

Routine eye examinations can provide a baseline for which future eye health can be compared.  The determination of an accurate prescription can result in comfortable, clear vision. 

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

The Significance of a Smile on the Life of a Child

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on June 13, 2011 1:11 pm

What is a smile? A smile is a nonverbal expression of emotion. Smiling can indicate a host of emotions including joy, happiness, sorrow, sadness, cheerfulness, tearfulness, and lightheartedness.   Smiling can be accompanied by other nonverbal communication including body language, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, physical artifacts (clothing or apparel), and voice and speech inflections.

Harwood (2006) discussed how the very gesture of a smile within the first developmental years has a significant role in the development of a child’s ability to empathize and self-regulate his or her own emotions. Therefore, if a child is unable to self-regulate, it is a possibility that the primary caregiver did not show a proper amount of affection. Research seems to indicate that if a child is traumatized during childhood, it is especially important to have such a connection with a primary caregiver.

During my own doctoral research which focused on “The effects of childhood trauma on adult perception and worldview,” it was discovered that a parent’s smile played a significant role in the life of a child.  My research used a number of instruments including the Parental Bonding Inventory, which looked at an adult’s memories associated with the role of their parents on their own childhood.  “The PBI provided clarification that smiles or a lack of smiles are significant in the relationship between parent and child. Twenty-three of the participants recalled receiving smiles from their mothers as children, and 17 of the participants recalled receiving smiles from their fathers as children, whereas only 11 participants recalled that their mothers had not smiled at them during childhood, and 15 recalled that their fathers had not smiled at them during childhood. The significance of a smile arose when considering comforting and reassurance following a traumatic event. Furthermore, it is significant when considering how one’s perceptions of one’s parents frequently are reflected on one’s own feelings of acceptance, self-worth, self-image, and the essence of one’s self-esteem.” (Brown, 2008, p. 84-85)

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