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Therapeutic Insights

90% of performance is mental

In the world of sports many coaches and athletes maintain that reaching optimal performance is 90% mental. Unfortunately, ones mental state or psychological well-being is often neglected in an athlete’s training. The reality is that athletes experience a range of emotions; the excitement and thrill of winning, the agony of losing a game or missing a shot, and everything that comes in between the highs and lows of competition.

Certain traits may enhance or impede an athlete’s ability to manage these feelings and perform at an optimal level. Many elite athletes have, in fact, been found to have perfectionistic tendencies and have unattainable standards for themselves. Although high standards can enhance performance, if unreasonably high they can lead to heightened anxiety, being overly critical of oneself, depression and, eventually, burnout.

All of these things can interfere in an athlete’s ability to focus and perform. Furthermore, anxiety, low self-esteem, and burnout can lead to self-harming behaviours such as eating disorders, binge drinking, and emotional outbursts. Counselling athletes to manage these emotions more effectively, to be more present, and set more realistic goals/standards, is therefore critical to an athlete’s well-being and, in turn, performing their best.

Binge Eating Disorder

Unlike over-eating at Christmas dinner or stuffing yourself at the all-you-can-eat buffet, binge eating disorder is a complex problem requiring a complex treatment plan. Binge eating disorder is defined as episodes of losing control over eating and consuming large amounts of food in a short period of time. (CAMH 2012)

One reason why this is so difficult to treat is the disorder is not yet fully understood. One fact that is known is that up to 70% of people diagnosed with binge eating disorder also concurrently have another mental health issue; depression, ADHD, etc. According to WebMD, up to 3.5 % of women and 2% of men qualify for a binge eating disorder diagnosis in 2015. Binge eating disorder in some ways is quite similar to bulimia in that people tend to over eat and cannot stop even when they feel full. Similarly too, people who binge eat tend to eat very quickly and feel a lot of shame and guilt about this. The major difference between binge eating disorder and bulimia is that people diagnosed with bulimia will make themselves throw up after eating. This is not the case with binge eating disorder clients.

Research has identified some common behaviours or symptoms of binge eating. These can include: • Feeling depressed, guilty or disgusted with oneself after binging • Eating more food than others might in the same situation • Not feeling like you have control over how much you eat • Binging at least one time per week for a 3 month period • Eating enough to feel extremely uncomfortable afterwards • Eating a lot even when you are not feeling hungry

Binge eating can begin in childhood and often can run in families. Females tend to be more often diagnosed with this disorder than males (perhaps males do not disclose or underreport occurrences). Treatment for this disorder is complex and can require supervision of a physician as well as ongoing therapy. CBT or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been shown to be an effective modality in helping curb the pattern of behaviour and provide insight and understanding to the individual. Tracking ones diet and intake is another step to taking back control as is regular exercise and structured eating (portion control). Learning how to manage emotions and increase self-confidence and self-esteem is crucial. Therapy is especially useful in this area.

If you have or think you have issues with over eating, contact your family physician, a therapist or family member and ask about binge eating disorder. Get the help and support you deserve.

When to terminate counselling?

When is enough, enough”? There are many reasons someone begins the journey of therapy and counselling. You may or may not have a clear idea of what is/isn’t working? You want some things to be different but not sure how to change them? Maybe you are wanting clarity or validation on thoughts and feelings you are experiencing? Perhaps you “just don’t feel it” anymore and don’t know why. These are all quite normal and perhaps easy to relate to. Sometimes, the difficult question to answer after engaging in therapy is… knowing when to end.

The issue of termination in counselling and therapy is a ongoing conversation/discussion amongst those of us who make our livelihood from this profession. For clients, there are a number of things to consider that may help you in making your decision. First, we need to understand that the journey of therapy often comes with highs, lows and hopefully enlightening moments. This journey can be quite emotional and moving. Becoming transparent, open and vulnerable is never easy and having an individual who will listen without judgment, provide ongoing support and encouragement and one who will challenge us to grow can be very meaningful in our life. Clients can develop feelings for their therapist that resemble that of a close friendship. Your therapist has been trained to understand this and as a result has likely created boundaries and clarity to help recognize and deal with any possible transference.

Transference occurs when a person takes the perceptions and expectations of one person and projects these onto another person. They then interact with the other person as if the other person is that transferred pattern. Changing Minds.org

It is important to understand that both beginnings and endings have many similarities. The uncertainty of trying something new, the fear of the unknown, the uneasiness created by new revelations and and how they may have influenced my life are all very real indeed. Endings too can induce fear of going it alone, the of loss of support, and the anxiety of “now what?”

When considering terminating therapy, some questions to ask yourself (and your counsellor) include: Has the goal(s) set out at the start of therapy been achieved? Has significant progress been made that it seems like a good time to take a break, maybe to return at a later time? Has my life changed and I have new priorities? Maybe you just can’t think of anything more to talk about and begin to question why you keep coming. The “work” of therapy can also create stress on the therapeutic relationship. Sometimes it is a good idea to take a break or change therapists if the connection is no longer there. Whatever the reason(s) it is important that you and your therapist visit and revisit this topic.

According to clinical psychologist John Duffy, PhD., “provided you feel safe and comfortable with your therapist , be direct and honest with your thoughts and feedback”. “A good therapist will be open to feedback and will use it to continually improve,” added Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist.

I leave you with this quote I find both enlightening and empowering:

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. Orson Welles

Take a risk and be vulnerable

Have you ever felt the need to express the overflow of emotions you are feeling about that special someone but restrained yourself? Have you ever felt love for someone but waited on them to say it first? Have you ever felt insecure or jealous about your partner spending time with someone but never shared this with them? What do you think it is that stopped you? In light of it being the month of L-O-V-E, I thought it would be fitting to do a blog about vulnerability. This is the feeling that often stops us from honestly and openly expressing ourselves and hinders us from experiencing love fully and completely. I think the famous poet Theodore Roethke said it best when he said, “Love isn’t really Love until it’s vulnerable”. So let’s take a closer look at that scary feeling called vulnerability.

We live in a society that definitely places a lot of value on being independent and we often scorn those who appear clingy or “needy”. The reality, however, is that sometimes we just want to snuggle up in someone’s arms, have them rub our backs, and be told everything will be ok and you know what? There’s actually nothing wrong with that! Being vulnerable does not mean being weak, in fact, it is the polar opposite. It is having the courage to let your guard down, be yourself, and ask for what you need.

Love is scary because of the vulnerability that accompanies it and because there are no guarantees. Your partner could leave you, a parent could criticize you, a friend may betray or reject you, and the individual you are asking something from may choose not to give it-which they have every right to. There are no two ways about it, when we expose ourselves emotionally we are definitely at risk of being hurt. “So, why take the risk?” you may ask. According to Brene Brown, bestselling author and expert about vulnerability, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy…Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light”. The trick is to learn how to sooth ourselves when feeling discomfort and to not make our happiness dependent on others. This way we feel more confident in our ability to handle the icky emotions and, in turn, more likely to take the risk. According to Lissa Rankin (March, 2013), “We all have the capacity to make our own sunshine. Our error comes when we mistakenly make someone else our sunshine, and then we feel dark and shadowy when our sunshine pulls away, not necessarily because they don’t love us, but because they have needs of their own”. When you are in that place of excruciating vulnerability, do something you love. Go for a hike, have a hot bath, watch a hockey game or your favourite movie, play with your pet-go ahead and create your own sunshine!

Opportunities to be vulnerable present themselves daily. Whether it be asking a friend for help, telling a teacher you don’t understand, asking a boss for a raise, confronting a family member about a behaviour, telling your partner you are scared and asking for a hug, or sitting with a friend who has recently lost a loved one. The question is, will you take the opportunity? Next time you are feeling fearful of sharing too much or asking for something you may not get I encourage you to be courageous, take the risk, and embrace vulnerability. I believe Alfred Lord Tennyson had it right when he wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.

Rankin, L. (March, 2013). Vulnerability vs. Needy-The Fine Line. Retrieved from http://lissarankin.com/vulnerable-vs-needy-the-fine-line-part-1

Counselling vs Therapy

These two words are often presented together as if they are one and the same. Depending on your background and understanding, they can be seen as interchangeable and synonymous with one another. For our purposes we will define each and present it to you to decide which is most appropriate to your specifics needs.

Therapy or Psychotherapy works towards the treatment of a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and is often sought in conjunction with medication or medical supports. Therapy is often in-depth and focuses on resolving issues by identifying and looking for root causes. While issues such as anger and sadness certainly warrant therapy, it is often past trauma and attachment issues that precipitate the effects. Counselling is often seen as present, here and now wellness oriented support. The focus is on the development of strategies and techniques that can be of benefit in coping or minimizing the impact the issues are having on a person. For example, you find yourself “stuck” and unable to move past your ambivalence. You feel unmotivated and depressed. Counsellors will provide education and insight into how and what the possibilities are.

Both are effective and often psychotherapists provide both counselling and therapy. Different techniques and modalities and used to best connect and support clients so it is important to understand the knowledge, skills and experience when interviewing a perspective therapist. Therapeutic rapport and feeling comfortable with your therapist is as important as their skills and understanding of your issue(s). Take your time and ask questions that allow you to find the right match.

Jealousy-The Dragon in Paradise

This emotion often involves the distressing feelings of fear, abandonment, anger, betrayal, envy, and humiliation. It throws the mind into turmoil and can drive even the most rational person to distraction. It is also a natural, instinctive emotion that everyone experiences at one point or another. If you guessed jealousy to be the emotion we are talking about here, you guessed right. If you are tired of the so called “green eyed monster” rearing its ugly head and showing its gnarly teeth, this blog may be of interest to you.

Pines and Bowes (1992) define jealousy as “a reaction to a perceived threat – real or imagined -to a valued relationship or to its quality”. A nationwide survey of marriage counsellors conducted by these same researchers indicated that jealousy is, in fact, an issue in one third of all couples coming in for counselling. With the ease and accessibility of technology, issues of deception and distrust among couples are certainly on the rise and as the gates of online communication open the green waves of jealousy often begin to flow. When it’s intense and irrational jealousy can definitely do serious damage to a relationship. In small manageable doses, however, jealousy can be a positive force in a relationship and keep things fresh and alive. Let’s face it, jealousy is often indication that we care for another person and value the relationship.

Erik Fisher PhD, author of The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict, reminds us that all emotions, even jealousy, have a purpose and tell us something about ourselves. Understanding the roots, triggers, and reasons for our feelings of jealousy is an important part in managing it and maintaining a healthy relationship. To do this we must be aware of the critical inner voice driving our uncertainties and doubts and challenge those thoughts that are not based on reality. A counsellor can assist in uncovering where this critical inner voice stems from and work through past unresolved issues that may be preventing you from feeling secure and confident in your relationship.

When jealousy strikes we often feel a loss of personal value. Opposed to seeking out something that would make us feel valued and loved, people instead do something that makes them feel more powerful (i.e., try to control their partner). Asking yourself, “What can I do to feel more loved and adequate?” may assist in changing this pattern and shift the focus from being on your partner to being on yourself. It also helps to remind yourself that jealousy is often an indication of something you need rather than what your partner needs to do differently.

Another factor to consider if jealousy is a familiar feeling, is how dependent you are on your partner. If we don’t have a life independent of our relationship we have less of a cushion to fall back on thereby increasing our vulnerability and insecurity. A general guideline is to make our partner responsible for no more than 25% of our emotional needs and have the rest come from a variety of things such as friendships, work, spirituality, hobbies and family. The more well-rounded we are; the more resilient we’ll be.

So far, we have focused primarily on when jealousy is not warranted and irrational. It is important to mention and not dismiss the fact that there are many times when jealousy can be triggered for legitimate reasons and when a partner’s behavior is disrespectful and indeed insensitive. If this is the case, communication with your partner about the impact of his/her actions on you and what you need in order to feel more respected and valued is encouraged.

Guilt & Shame – The Importance of Distinguishing the Two

We often hear shame and guilt used interchangeably. Much research has been done in this area and the need to distinguish between the two is not only important academically but understanding the differences on an emotional level is also vital. Let’s begin with some definitions:

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.

There are several ways to distinguish between shame and guilt. Shame speaks to “I am broken” whereas guilt says “I did something wrong”. Much has been written about these two emotions including John Bradshaw’s “Healing The Shame that Binds You”. In his book, Bradshaw talks about toxic shame as a barrier to intimate relationships and healthy self-esteem and believes it also contributes to the development of anxiety and depression. Shame is never helpful to the individual; it doesn’t allow for positive changes to be made and may in fact rob us of the motivation or desire to consider taking responsibility for addressing the negative thoughts and perceptions often given to us from our childhood.

Guilt is different than shame in that it is about making a mistake. It is the feeling of hurting someone else and then understanding that to make things right one must take responsibility for their actions. The feeling of guilt can pass with time and healing can then begin. Guilt has the potential to motivate us; to push us forward and get us to look at options and changes that can be made or to provide empathy in order to create harmony and intimacy in our relationships. Guilt is a teacher in that it can prevent us from making choices that might cause pain or the mistreatment of others.

When not managed effectively guilt can, however, result in some ugly behaviour patterns such as verbally or emotionally attacking those around us or attempting to be perfect and do everything “just right” (unachievable and unrealistic). This clearly is exhausting and only leads to failure which can then lead to blaming others or withdrawing and avoiding the challenge to try again, which is self-sabotaging.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has shown to be effective in helping individuals understand the difference between guilt and shame, to become more aware of our self-sabotaging thought pattern, and to challenge these thoughts in order for it to cease. Counseling can assist in healing from the wounds of shame and motivate us to take responsibility for altering those negative thoughts and break free from the chains of shame and guilt that keep us stuck in the mud.

If you or someone you know seems mired down by shame or guilt, provide a pathway for help and encourage them to give us a call.

Compromise – A Relationship Saving Strategy

How often have you found yourself immersed in an argument that you know won’t end well? How many times have you asked yourself the question, “what were we fighting about anyway?” The goal in any relationship disagreement is to get your point across in a respectful, honest, and direct manner and to feel good about the outcome. Fortunately, that is also the goal of the other person (be it your life partner, a business partner, a friend, or a family member). Getting from Point A to Point B, however, can be a tricky route. Let’s talk today about the art of compromising.

Compromise can be defined as “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions”. What stands out in this common definition is the fundamental aspect of both sides giving a little to achieve an ending they both can live with. One very poignant quote comes to us from Stephen Covey’s tremendous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. This highlights the paradox of how we often spend years learning how to read and write as well as communicate our thoughts and ideas and yet we fail to actually practice the art of listening. Often this is because we are “programmed” with the intent to respond rather than understand the other person’s situation and/or experience. Instead, we tend to relate to the other person by using autobiographical listening. Very few of us ever practice the highest form of listening-empathic listening.

Compromising begins with the undeniable belief that the person across from you is worthy of their opinion and equal to yourself. If this is not in your heart…keep looking. Once you have found it you then seek a resolution that the both of you can accept knowing that there must be some give to each person’s ideal position. Consider what you need and what it is you can live with.

The benefits of this technique are numerous. If both people are true to each other you will have a partial victory. Something is always better than nothing. You also have the satisfaction in knowing that your partner also shares in a partial victory. Additionally, once both sides become proficient in the art of compromising the speed at which differences and misunderstandings are dealt with allows you both to move on to bigger and more important things. It also builds on the existing strengths of the relationship: respect, trust, and honesty. Like most things, timing is a key element to a positive outcome and it requires two parts practice, one part patience, and one part luck. For more information about the art of negotiating and compromising feel free to contact us.

Forgive and Forget???

How often have you found yourself immersed in an argument that you know won’t end well? How many times have you asked yourself the question, “what were we fighting about anyway?” The goal in any relationship disagreement is to get your point across in a respectful, honest, and direct manner and to feel good about the outcome. Fortunately, that is also the goal of the other person (be it your life partner, a business partner, a friend, or a family member). Getting from Point A to Point B, however, can be a tricky route. Let’s talk today about the art of compromising.

For many January is the time for new beginnings or “wiping the slate clean”. For this reason I choose to write 2014’s first blog about something that frequently surfaces in counselling and is a critical component to the healing process and moving forward: forgiveness.

Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Forgiveness is not about forgetting, denying, or excusing; it is choosing to no longer seek punishment and surrendering feelings of animosity, anger, and hatred. Some of you might be rolling your eyes thinking, “riiiiight…..easier said than done!” Well, I don’t blame you for being skeptical and the truth is that it does not occur over night-it is a process. Forgiveness entails hard work and it takes courage to work through difficult emotions and memories. For this reason, no one should be pressured into it; forgiveness needs to occur when you are ready and on your own terms.

There are obvious benefits to your mental health when you forgive but did you know there are also physical health benefits? Researchers have found that, when compared to participants who hold grudges, those who forgive have lower cortisol levels and a lower physiological response to stress (Witvliet, Ludwig, & Lann, 2001). Forgiveness has also been shown to be good for the heart, literally. According to findings in a study by Lawler-Row, Karremans, Scott, Edlis-Matityahou, Edwards (2008) people who hold grudges tend to have higher heart rates than those who choose to forgive. Forgiveness has also been indicated to help lower pain in chronic pain sufferers (Carson, Keefe, Goli, et al. 2005), lower blood pressure (Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, et al. 2003) and, if that’s not enough for you, findings of one study even indicated that those who forgive live longer lives than those who hold grudges (Toussaint, Owen & Cheadle, 2012).

Now that we have you on the edge of your seat in excitement and motivated to forgive, you are probably wondering about the process and what is involved. Although there is no set formula there are some suggested steps one can take to help him/herself through the process. The first step is acknowledge. Acknowledge what occurred and the fact that you were hurt. It is also important to get in touch with any other emotions you may experiencing in response to what occurred. If you do not feel able to do this on your own don’t push yourself. Instead, find a counsellor who can support you through the process in a safe, non-threatening way. It is important to note that this step can take a day, a week, or even several years. It should be moved through at a pace that is comfortable for you.

The next step is communicate. If possible, communicate your feelings with the individual that hurt you and share how his/her actions impacted you emotionally. If it is not possible to speak to the individual directly writing a letter or speaking to an empty chair can be just as therapeutic. It is not necessary to give the letter to the individual, sometimes just writing it can be cathartic and freeing. The person may not ever fully understand the depth of your pain, however, you owe it to yourself to honor your feelings.

The final step is release. Give yourself permission to hand over and release the painful emotions you are carrying. It can be beneficial to do something to symbolize letting go such as burning the letter you wrote; writing down the name of the offender and what he/she did, putting it in a balloon, and letting the balloon go; or meditating/visualizing being tied to the offender by a cord/rope and then cutting the rope and freeing yourself. Regardless of the exercise you choose the most important thing is that it is meaningful to you.

Forgiveness can be challenging and take time, however, the reward is that it can lead to a place of greater healing and inner peace. We challenge you to start 2014 off by shedding some emotional layers, digging deep, and choosing to let go and forgive-especially if the person you need to forgive is youself.

Carson, J. W., Keefe, F.J., Goli,V., Fras, A.M., Lynch, T.R., Thorp, S.R., Buechler, J.L (2005). Forgiveness and chronic low back pain: A preliminary study examining the relationship of forgiveness to pain, anger, and psychological distress. Journal of Pain 6(2): 84-91.

Lawler-Row, K. A., Karremans, J. C., Scott, C., Edlis-Matityahou, M., & Edwards, L. (2008).Forgiveness, physiological reactivity, and health: the role of anger. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 68: 51-58.

Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Billington, E., Jobe, R. (2003). A change of heart: Cardiovascular correlates of forgiveness in response to interpersonal conflict.Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 26: 373-393.

Toussaint, L.L., Owen, A.D., & Cheadle, A. (2012). Forgive to Live: Forgiveness, Health, and Longevity. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 34(4): 375-386.

Witvliet, C.O., Ludwig T.E, & Laan K.L.V. (2001). Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: implications for emotion, physiology, and health. Psychological Science 12(2): 117-123.

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