This past May, I attended the Annual Roots of Empathy Symposium here in Toronto sponsored by Mary Gordon and her team of dedicated staff and volunteers https://rootsofempathy.org/2019symposium/. Mary’s work has a strong hold in most schools in the Greater Toronto Area, surrounding regions, and across Canada. She also has research affiliates in Ireland and the USA. Her work, career, and extraordinary dedication to children and early prevention strategies is inspiring. Having started a clinical social work career in early years services, I was very fortunate to learn theoretical and practical approaches to parenting that really work to grow healthy and resilient children over the long term. Dr. Clinton, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry reminded everyone about the essential nature of human touch and infant development.
Close to thirty years ago, the Hanen Approach was just beginning to reap the benefits of its piloted projects across this city. A unique blend of psychiatry, speech and language pathology, and social work, the Hanen Approach aimed to support healthy attachments between moms and babies. Research showed that a consistently caring and nurturing response style, eye contact, touching, and communication improved overall health and wellness in all children and adults, but especially in children with identified developmental delays in areas of speech, behaviour, and pretend & cooperative play http://integratedtreatmentservices.co.uk/our-approaches/speech-therapy-approaches/hanen-programme/.
Healthy human touch is essential and natural to human growth and emotional wellness. There are countless studies that reveal the negative impacts of significant caregiving relationships impoverished of human touch. People with histories of early trauma, emotional neglect, sexual, or physical abuse often develop problems with creating healthy boundaries in relation to personal body space. Some people may be overly vigilant and self-protective becoming touch adverse. Some people have loose boundaries standing too close to people waiting in line, rubbing a woman’s breast or a man’s bottom while standing or sitting next to them on public transit, or touching someone’s arm, baby-bump, or face without permission for example. There are social and cultural norms as well as professional training that shape how, when, why, and where people engage in human touch. The key here is speaking up honestly when you feel uncomfortable about someone’s unwanted touch.
More research is being explored about the prescribed use of touch therapy with patients suffering severe PTSD and other debilitating health conditions. It is imperative that clinicians feel comfortable with setting appropriate professional boundaries created with clients seeking counselling therapies from you. Clinical practice with children, adolescents, and adults do not require deliberate practices of human touch. There are other effective strategies such as voice tone, eye contact, and humour that help to reassure and co-regulate human emotion as people talk and/or process feelings about experiences or situations with you. Referring clients to therapeutic massage is suggested for people you assess would benefit from healthy human touching in a clinical milieu.
#wellness #healing #health #hugs #parenting
People often refer to personal experiences or stories, both as happy or painful “chapters” of one’s life. It helps to think about the past when friends, school associates, work life, or romantic partners were different. It is also helps to mine these memories for both happy and painful times, and to see what made this difference. Who or what helped you feel well or unwell for example.
The view that a chapter of one’s life may come to an end is very helpful to people undergoing significant changes in their own lives. An end to a marriage, longstanding romantic relationship, a professional career, or voluntary or community position are all very stressful each in their own way. People often seek the support of a clinical social worker, psychotherapist, or counsellor to help mitigate normative emotional disturbances caused when one chapter of life comes to an end. What or who played a disruptive or agitating role in your life? Are you able to identify a repetitive pattern or trend?
To me these transitional times between chapters where one chapter is closing and another begins is a nanometric space of personal change. Tasks of identity are dynamic and constantly growing over time from childhood to senior living. The idea that people grow and change over a lifetime is widely accepted, and perhaps even expected more now than ever. It used to be common to remain in the same profession, marriage, house, parish, community or country for years and years.
Using this literary metaphor in clinical counselling sessions creates a conceptual framework in which to contain, and process otherwise overwhelming, and at times, debilitating emotions. This is especially true when events occur beyond one’s control or in unexpected ways. Most people experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety when marriages end due to infidelity or sudden death.
Knowing that everyone shares similar vulnerabilities is in and of itself healing. Knowing that there is a temporality or timeline for emotional disruptions caused by life is also healing. Believing that people are able to move on, grow from, and flourish after devastating events or unexpected change is a fundamental underpinning to all approaches of clinical social work and psychotherapy.
Processes of healing are not possible without the view that painful chapters come to end. Processes of healing begin when the human heart opens up to the unfolding of life in a new chapter. This new chapter of life usually involves some of the people, roles, places and interests from the past, and sometimes not. You will know who or what you wish to remain in your life by the way you feel, and only you know that. Be confident in your personal feelings and embrace what your own heart and intuition reveals to you.
What are some of the ways you help your clients identify health and wellbeing following devastating news or events? How do you confidently and deliberately support your clients to recognize their own growth and support them in cultivating and growing health in new and exciting ways? How do you validate insights into harmful people or messages from the past? What approaches do you use to empower clients to move through and beyond this pain? Do you fundamentally believe that your therapeutic interventions work? If not, what are you doing to improve your own conceptual and practical knowledge base and skills to ensure therapy people deserve?
#healing #wellness #growth #change #personal
Loyalty is an experience you have with other people. It is more than an idea. It is a common human virtue you value in the home, at work, and in community organizations. It is something that most people hold dear to their hearts, and completely understand when it is absent. From a clinical perspective, people will often express many symptoms of emotional pain associated with experiences of betrayal with friends, professional colleagues, romantic partners, spouses, and business partners. It is not easy for people to articulate these feelings at first. It takes time for people to identify abandonment, rejection, and loss. Of course, the most profound and long-lasting effects of abandonment & rejection occurs in people whose primary attachment was insecure.
Attachment theory has been researched for years. It underpins most interventions that work to repair deep-seated experiences of fear and anxiety created by inconsistent responses used to nurture the baby in order to reduce distress. There are several studies that demonstrate the importance of your parent-child attachment in the first two years of life. Insecure attachments have been correlated with poor outcomes, even more so than angry attachments. Attachment has more to do with the quality of emotional connection you establish with your baby, than the number of hours you spend with your children.
There are some fundamental assumptions that underlie attachment theory that are contestable in some circles. It places responsibility on the parent, usually a mother for setting a responsive nurturing pattern with a baby. How a parent responds to a crying infant is one of the key indicators of attachment. Of course, early days caring for an infant creates emotionally and physically exhausted parents. Having two mutually supportive parents during this early stage is associated with better outcomes, especially where the primary parental connection is loving, strong, and respectful. Single parents are certainly working harder than two-parent households. It is during these early days that a baby learns whether the world is a safe and nurturing place, or not.
An angry attachment happens whenever a baby cries for help, and the parent responds with frustration, tension and anger. The baby’s temperament shapes this primary relationship as well. Some babies are truly fussier than others. The infant whose parent responds with an angry style learns to self-soothe and usually falls asleep. Insecure attachments occur when an infant is unable to predict the primary parents’ response, which may include both nurturing and rejecting styles. It is this unexpected response style that creates anxiety. A nurturing parent consistently responds to the child’s needs first; assessing what or when to intervene, reading the child’s emotional cues for pain correctly, and working to protect and care for the baby.
This secure attachment style has the best long-term outcomes and often leads to emotionally resilient adults who demonstrate stick-with-it-ness with loved ones when trouble happens. They grow with the people closest to them. They create a loving and mutually nurturing style of negotiation on big decisions in life like exclusive coupling, moving in together, getting married, going back to school, changing professions, investing in a home or the market, having a child together, and more. People with secure attachment styles are emotionally present for one another through serious acute and chronic illnesses such as cancer or depression, job loss, grief, and even deceit including extra-martial sexual affairs.
Adults with secure attachments seek emotional support from close friends and partners. They turn to one another, not on, or at each other. They lean on one another and decide next steps together. Of course, people with secure attachments decide to end marriages or to uncouple. However, this decision is usually addressed openly and honestly. It may include a mature conversation where one partner expresses the need to move on, feeling unhappy, emotionally or sexually unfulfilled. This decision to separate is painful, but true friends want people they love or loved in the past to be happy, even if that means moving on without them.
Loyal friends and couples are generally happy people whose love and respect for one another grows over a lifetime together. They are not threatened by their partner’s need to grow and are open to enjoy the journey together. They problem solve together. What have your reflections about your primary attachment with your parents revealed for you? How do you actively work to address or repair your own need for experiences of secure emotional attachments with people? Do you feel confident about co-regulating your clients’ anxieties around the reasons they are seeking therapy from you?
#wellness #healthy #secureattachments #bestoutcomes #resilient
During this religious time, many of us engage in prayerful reflection and family traditions. We think about our roles in charity, voluntarism, and community wellbeing. Participation in activities that aim to promote wellbeing in others is usually hidden from view. People are uncomfortable with claiming positive contributions to society, as being anything less than humble is regarded as pompous and arrogant. In my view, Canadians have long suffered from a poor sense of self esteem, failing to own the positive ways we have shaped local, national, and international initiatives. We often defer to others to claim what is truly Canadian in character and deed. Certainly, we can never forget the perils of nationalism. Our diverse citizenship reminds us to never become so bold to think as Canadians, we know best. A gentle breeze, a walk in a protected conservation area, or a breathtaking mountain view are some of the important ways we experience freedom. During holidays, we reflect on those people who paid for our freedom and remain forever grateful to those in our lives who helped us along the way. What are the ways you plan to embrace the gentle in your own hearts and share it with others ? Are you prepared for unexpected responses to a gentle embrace ? Is the gentle even possible in our modern times? If not, what can you do to be the difference ?
Clinical Social Workers and Psychotherapists understand the importance of helping people to learn visualization strategies proven to reduce stress. Visualization techniques employ the imagination in the healing process. Breathing techniques are also highly valued strategies used to reduce the harmful impacts of stress, anxiety, and worry on the body. Breathing and visualization also help people sleep deeply and more soundly. Learning to relax is neither easy, nor quick. People often master relaxation techniques over several months and in most cases, over years of concentrated practice. There is ample evidence to support the use of visualization in elite athletic
programs and goal-oriented industries. The overall impacts on one’s sense of wellness is uncontestable when people sleep better, and engage in daily activities with more energy and calmness. There are several resources currently available that will help individuals learn the power of visualization techniques. It often merely takes the use of one practiced image such as clouds on a partially sunny day, or a warm beach for people to feel an immediate sense of relief. Many people practice visualization before presenting at a business meeting or professional interview. Do you feel confident about supporting your clients or patients to learn visualization techniques? What are your own experiences with breathing, visualization, or progressive relaxation techniques? When or how do you use your experiences with these strategies in counselling sessions, if at all? Have you reflected upon any ethical issues with your clinical or peer supervisors?
#wellness #stressmanagement #wellbeing #healthy #heal #breathing #visualization #progressiverelaxation
More than ever, there are several options for families to spend quality time together during the Spring or March Break, as referred to in Ontario. Historically, Spring Break began in the United States in the 1930s. Students in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools were given a week off from school to spend time with family. Over the years, Spring Break has grown synonymous with much needed vacation time. March break is a welcome pause from the daily grind after long dark winter months. Local cities provide affordable activities, camps, and events for children and young teens. Where families plan personal vacation days to align with March break, parents have opportunities to spend time together with their children. Some people organize trips to family-friendly all inclusive resorts abroad that offer a good combination and balance of supervised child minding, adult only, and family based activities. Some people find the stress of travelling difficult. A fear of flying, jet-lag, and expected delays during peak travel periods are sometimes too much for children with emotional sensitivities. Expecting at least one tantrum is realistic and preparing yourself in advance for some problematical behaviour will help you to regulate your own mood, so your vacation remains mostly stress-free. Travelling to beach front resorts offers people in otherwise stressful jobs an authentic opportunity to unwind in the sun and sand. It is a time to leave all technology and business at the office and to retreat with your loved ones. Deep relaxation over a course of several days is a healthy antidote to chronic daily stress of work and city-living. Enjoy the sounds of nature and silence where possible, and minimize loud dance halls and parties. You may find that it takes a couple of days before you being to experience the wonderful sensation of unwinding from stress. The impulse to check your cellphone, email, or social media sites will diminish as will any thoughts about your never-ending to-do list. Small children and teens also experience stress and benefit from a techno-diet during vacations. Take this opportunity to re-connect with your children and your spouse. Enjoy the experiences of just being together and the simple pleasures that life without work or school related stress brings. Have you planned what you will be doing with your family this week? Do you feel confident about leaving your work related tasks unattended while you are away? How do you plan to cope with your impulse to check your email or social media while away?
#wellness #family #health #tantrums #vacation #springbreak #marchbreak