It’s a sad fact that we are conditioned as a culture (by and large; I’m taking some broad generalizations here) to not want to take a lot of responsibilitites for ourselves, our choices and particularly our mistakes. Few of us like to draw attention to ourselves, especially if we fear punitive reactions or responses as a consequence of standing up and saying, “This is me” or “I did this”. Given the rising number of clients coming into counselling seeking help for self-esteem and disempowerment issues, however, I’m a firm believer that it’s long past time we challenge the cultural scripts on appropriate responsibilities and self-empowerment through mindfulness.

Easy words to say, obviously; damned hard concepts to live with any kind of consistency in the face of governments and social networks that want to reduce us to conveniences, algorithms, and consumer data.

So how do we start challenging those scripts? As with everything, it starts by looking at ourselves as individuals; as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Even if your parents weren’t the best models for empowerment and responsibility, that’s no excuse to be stuck in their system any longer than you need to be. This article provides some excellent questions to start the process of self-reflection without allowing that process to devolve into self-blame and self-loathing for the things we have done, conscously or not. I’ve printed them out and keep them stuck to the wall in my counselling office where I can see them for myself every day… not just for my clients’ benefits, but for my own daily challenges as well.


One of the big things we look for in family system dynamics is the impact of trauma, not just on the individual in the counselling room, but on the family in general. Like pieces of a puzzle coming together, sometimes we have an opportunity to see how a client’s depression or anxiety may result from the confluence of a number of confounding variables, including personal internal (often invisible or unconscious) conflicts between the client’s own lived experiences and inherited family values intended to keep the family unit together and, in theory, protected.

Values around protecting family secrets, especially those rooted in perceptions of shame around an old suicide, history of mental health issues or substance abuse, or sexual traumas (for example) sometimes become internalized in the system as a value for secrecy or simply not discussing difficult subjects. These values in turn get handed down to subsequent generations who then learn that not only are they not to talk about difficult subjects, but that difficult emotional expressions are not tolerable within the family system; children growing up within family systems organized around the value of “keeping the peace”, for instance, often have limited effective skills for handling conflict, as one example of a hereditary outcome to a previous generation’s trauma.

This article provides a simple overview and opening discussion around such issues, from an interesting scientific standpoint of how the brain chemistry may actually be modified by trauma in ways that also potentially transmit from one generation to another. This certainly opens up the discussion of whether depression as a hereditary predisposition is due to being a learned behaviour or a genetic one, or (as my own suspicion has long been) a combination of both kinds of factors.


I’ve been a big fan of John Gottman since I first read “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, long before I became a psychotherapist myself. He’s not a therapist, he’s a researcher with 25 years of watching couples interact in his “Love Lab” project. In that time, his success rate for predicting couples that will stay together versus those on the verge of implosion, is somewhere north of 90%. A big part of his observations revolve around behaviours he has termed “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) and how couples attempt ? or don’t ? to repair connections when those behaviours occur.

This article from Psychology Today does a great job of summing up those behaviours and their potentially-destructive impact on relationships; the section on how to circumvent or repair them is, in my opinion, pretty scanty, but sometimes the hardest work I do with clients is simply getting them to (a) *SEE* these behaviours in the first place, then (b) acknowledge their intimacy-destroying impacts. Relationship counselling is often largely about then figuring out how best to build more effective repair attempts into the relationship interactions.


I’m not usually a big one for the numbered lists of “Things You Should Do” to improve this, that, or the other thing that seem to be all the rage on social media these days. Once in a while, however, something comes across my desktop that seems to actually have some good, practical ideas ? not completely fleshed out, mind you, but enough to start a person thinking about things that might be worth… well, thinking about, at the very least, and perhaps actually experimenting with introducing as change processes within struggling or stuck relationships.

I admit it, I also like this one for the unabashedly Buddhist approach to relationships. Every one of these twenty items is a “special project” unto itself, and even as a student of Buddhism I have to admit I’m not always as good at some of these as I’d ultimately like to be. But as Pema Chodron writes, sometimes we just have to start where we are, and not wait until some future-perfect moment that always seems to be just over the horizon, never nearer or further away than an excuse to not start today, right now.

As Lao Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Any one of these twenty suggestions starts with such simple movements towards change.

Article links, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Development

It’s a bit of a truism: the turning of the seasons usually means as much a degree of mental house-cleaning as actual house-cleaning, as noted by the pervasive increase in client intake requests that tend to happen once the weather turns. It’s a little later this year, completely in sync with the delayed onset of (slightly) warmer weather. Glad to see people are using spring and “new beginnings” for cleaning out some internal cobwebs!

I’ve got this vague notion of trying to clear out a backlog of useful and relevant article links that I collect from professional and social media networks. I may not always get the time to add my own comments on why a particular article seems like a useful one to share, but anything that’s not self-explanatory in that regard is a great invitation and opportunity for the gentle curiosity I work to develop in my clients, and lead-ins for conversation and dialog. Shake off those gloomy, overlong-winter habits and open up some discussions! 🙂

First up, a core component in learning to work more effectively with emotions, is developing better understanding around the differences between feelings and facts. Our brains *want* us to believe that emotions, especially strong ones, are actual mental events that demand action, but in truth, they’re internal provocations that, with mindfulness, can have different outcomes than habitual patterns demand. Learning to distinguish “what we feel” from “what we do” is a really useful, powerful tool for re-establishing trust not just between partners, but within ourselves, and improving communications as we learn to express more clearly what we feel, and what we perceive about ourselves within the moment of that feeling (our thoughts)… then decide on a course of action that is more in keeping with what we know or learn about our own needs. I will have more thoughts on this later in specific regards to a workshop I just attended on anger, and how this distinction becomes *really* important when dealing with particularly strong emotions.

But for now, I share this article as a starting point for your own mental noodlings and discussions!

Article links, Book Recommendations, Relationships

Today’s article link is a good summary of how to improve conflict management in intimate relationships.

Especially once the honeymoon phase of New Relationship Energy wears off and people start to settle into more comfortable, often less-conscious patterns of behaviour with each other, conflict starts to creep into interactions. We see each other’s less “Best Behaviour” sides and start to realize there’s more to this person than we realized in the warm hazy glow of fresh love.

John Gottman, relationship researcher, has spent 25+ years studying couples in his Love Lab and concluded that it’s not how relationships manage their similarities that determines success or failure of the relationship, it’s how we manage our differences and points of conflict. His big thing is charting how couples in heated interactions handle what he terms “repair attempts”, or ways to acknowledge conflict without letting the heat of the emotional stuff behind it burn the participants. This January 2014 article from GoodTherapy.org provides a little bit of insight into how to focus on connection when fighting rather than catastrophe and division.

For more information on how to handle conflict better, I recommend John Gottman’s books, specifically The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. These kinds of tools for staying present and mindful even when the moments are turbulent and heated, are the tools most likely to build strength and resiliency into relationships, rather than reinforcing brittle and bitter entrenchments.

Practice News, Relationships

Happy… er, Spring?

Things have been a-bustling quietly here at the practice since I finally cut off the ties to a day-job in IT and moved into the business of being *just* a therapist late last year. Like Spring 2014, this transition feels like it’s been a very long time in coming, and the traffic that finds me by hitting on this website is a big part of what’s making that transition even remotely possible. So if you’re an existing client, or taking a tour of this site for the first time on a current quest for a therapist you might be willing to work with, thanks for taking the time to read, and welcome!

One of the things I’ll be doing in 2014 is making more use of this platform to share what I think are useful articles from (hopefully) reputable sources, about relationships, psychology, families, and mental health. I believe that putting more information into people’s hands is the best way to help you make more informed decisions about getting your needs and wants met, in and outside of relationships, in the most effective ways possible. Some of this will be in the form of links to articles, some of it will be book reviews as I’m reading new material, some of it might be clinical observations from my own work with clients. In all cases, hopefully this information will provide some insight to you, the reader, maybe even permission to think about your own situation in new ways. And if you’d like to continue such ponderings as in-person conversations, then perhaps give me a call or send me an email and we’ll set up a sit-down and see what we can do to get you the information or perspectives you feel you need.

Today’s entry is all about understanding that relationship skills need practice too. So often, we get settled into a relationship and assume that, once we’ve attracted and secured a partner for ourselves, the hard part is done. In truth, more often than not the hard part and the work is just beginning. Empathy, validation, and consideration are just three aspects of intimacy that are critical to its success, but they’re big ones, and good places to start to check in and see how you and your partner are interacting with each other.

Activism, Politics

Today I’d like to support a colleague in Milton who has more extensive experience supporting Canadian Forces personnel than I do. I grew up, however, in a small town off the corner of CFB Borden, and knew enough military families through classmates to see how little support they had then… and how badly the Canadian government has fatally eroded that support system almost to the point of non-existence.

*THIS* is why both Susan and I support a special rate for first-responders and military personnel. These people assume “absolute liability’ with their jobs by choice. Whether you’re pro-military or not, the outcome of their choices is proving to be more devastating than *anyone* could have reasonably expected, and they need help.



Susan Tarshis is?a private practice psychotherapist living and working in Milton, Ontario, Canada.

Practice News

It’s been crazy-busy here, straddling two professional careers for the past three years as I bring the private practice up to speed and phase down or out the technical writing. The F/T writing contract I began in late May fell between two unexpected expansion booms to the client roster, and it has been a summer of exceedingly long, often challenging days (contract in Guelph from 8am-4pm, seeing clients at the home office four nights a week from 5pm-9pm).

As I finally near the end of the delicate balancing act that was getting through the summer, I’d like to thank my clients for toughing the transition out with me, even when it meant some serious scheduling shenanigans trying to fit everyone on the increasingly solidly-booked client calendar. With the contract finally wrapping at the end of November, I am pleased to reintroduce weekday, day-time hours to those for whom the evening schedules just weren’t working. Standard session times will be:

(The evening slots will continue at 5pm, 6:30pm, and 8pm.)

2013 was also good for the practice in terms of moving into some greater visibility through the Psychology Today profile, and officially joining the Dalton Associates network. Since the majority of the client contact I receive starts with someone’s web search for a local therapist, these two networked links have been really helpful in connecting people with me or with these resource networks. In addition to continuing to work with Garrett LaFosse, a well-respected local AAMFT supervisor, I’m also now working with two new group supervisors, which is both challenging my own professional development in good ways, and making sure I stay on my best game for my clients by providing me with a support community and network I can tag for information and perspective as needed. I’m definitely looking forward to having a little more time in my own schedule before the end of the year to also get caught up on my reading and research. Why is it that the book stacks never seem to get any shorter??

Stay tuned for more news as the year winds down and the practice ramps up. I’m looking forward to continuing to build the best services I can for my clients and community well into 2014 and beyond!


Good morning!

Wow, it’s been a long time since I *had* time to post anything new here. Business has been great over the summer, but working two jobs in wildly divergent career fields takes its toll after a while (a necessary path for some, just not necessarily one I would recommend as a long-term lifestyle choice, you know?)

This crossed my desktop this morning, and since it’s both right on the money and pertinent to a lot of what drives couples into counselling in the first place (or individuals with patterns of their own to deal with beyond any singular relationship instance), I wanted to forward it here for reference.

“Men and women are raised to objectify each other and to objectify the relationships they?re in. Thus our partners are often seen as assets rather than someone to share mutual emotional support.

A lot of the self help literature out there isn?t helpful either (no, men and women are not from different planets, you over-generalizing prick.) And for most of us, mom and dad surely weren?t the best examples either.

Fortunately, there?s been a lot of psychological research into healthy and happy relationships the past few decades and there are some general principles that keep popping up consistently that most people are unaware of or don?t follow. In fact, some of these principles actually go against what is traditionally considered ?romantic? or normal in a relationship.”

Read more from Mark about six common but hugely toxic relationship habits I know many of us have done in our time.