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.

Family Issues

I keep meaning to develop articles here, but two disparate careers and a theatre hobby? addiction somehow keep me away from doing more writing. But this article happened across my inbox today, and is worth sharing. I and other therapists often have clients who were (are) dealing with aging parents, which can often reactivate a lot of unfinished business left over from childhood. Especially in the case of neglectful or abusive caregivers, having to revisit these familial connections ? often not at our own instigation ? can even border on traumatic.

This is a really good article from a therapeutic perspective on what happens when abusive or neglectful parents come back later in life to their adult children, seeking reconnection and/or support; what do the now-adult children *really* owe those dysfunctional caregivers?


2013 is getting off to its usual start in a flurry of snow, a flurry of activity, and a flurry of new clients. While I am always happy to see new faces in the office, it’s a reminder that the holidays in particular, and winter in general, are stressful times for relationships and individuals alike. Good mental health care is as vital as good physical health care; staying mindful and compassionate when managing stress and depression is every bit as important as getting a flu shot or upping your vitamin intake during the cold dark months, resting and eating well, walking carefully on snowy or icy surfaces, and not throwing your back out while shoveling!

I’d also like to remind current, new, or potential clients that my 24 hour cancellation notice policy does not apply in the event of bad weather. This is particularly good to know as we head into a wintry week in which flurries are forecast every day between now and next weekend. Allow yourself lots of extra time to travel, and if you can’t manage the travel just call or email on the day or prior to your session, and let me know you can’t make the scheduled appointment.

I hope everyone is doing well as we move into a new year, and if anyone needs a little boost in their homework or some additional resources for dealing with ongoing issues or situations, contact me for an appointment and we’ll try to get you moving in the right direction again!


Something a friend wrote recently sparked a thought that is the tip of a larger iceberg on the topic of the difference between?feelings and thoughts (specifically, value judgments).

This post is entirely predicated on a statement about “feeling unworthy”; “unworthy”, and worth in general, is a value judgment, which puts it in the Thought category because it comes as part of a deeply-unconscious-but-process-driven experience of defining value. My teachers have taught me that processes like this frequently gets mistaken for feelings because they happen at such an unconscious level that we forget they ARE processes, but they actually occur somewhere far higher up the cerebral chain than feelings. The mistaken attribution makes it much harder to get to them, however, to name the actual feelings and give them safe space to just exist before we examine and/or release them.

Value judgments of worth (or unworthiness in this case) generally correlate to a feeling of shame, specifically. It’s different from person to person, but that’s the most common associated feeling; “When I believe I am found to be unworthy by myself or others, what I feel is ________”. A friend reframed that as, “more like an intuitive process pulling together non-consciously collected data and slapping logic to explain the shame feeling as a more distant and vague sense of unworth”, which is a reasonably astute way of describing the process. I’m a firm believer that “intuition” is just “deep processing we don’t know that we do”; I’m not sure “logic” applies, beyond a certain point, or perhaps it is generally “flawed logic”, the kind children create self-defensively as part of their emotional development when they have to process, internalize, make sense of emotionally-impacting events in their lives that may be beyond their ability to otherwise cope ? the kind that leads to broken or errant narratives that we build on all our lives.

“Shame” is such a big and monstrous feeling that as children AND as adults, we do everything we can to escape it, so we bury it and mislabel it and pretend it’s all kinds of other things. The same friend posited it as a “social tether”, “the bit of deep programming that tells us when we’re in danger of losing the safety of the community by breaking our part of our contract with it”. I think that’s just one piece of it; that it’s nothing so simple (and yes, “simple” is perhaps the wrong word there). Most of the approaches I’ve had to the topic of shame come roundabout from the world of addictions, but in its own way, clinging to the broken narratives to avoid the direct experience of shame is also a kind of addiction, like armor we never take off (if we change the narrative, we’re vulnerable, and that Just Cannot Be Allowed).

Complicating the issue of exploring shame is the fact that we use the word, but we all apply different nuances to it. And the closer we come to the actual experience, frequently the stronger the sense of needing to avoid or deflect the emotional impact altogether. It’s the child’s resistance to going into the darkened attic or basement or bedroom closet: Here There Be Monsters, and we *definitely* don’t want to go in there. That sense of slipping and sliding off the things I’m trying to observe is one with which I am frightfully well acquainted, as it’s where the origins of my personal Weasel Dance are rooted. I would do ANYTHING to avoid feeling shame, or feeling shamed (depending on whether I was applying the value judgement to myself, or perceiving it as being applied to me by external sources), and this has led over the years to some absolutely BRILLIANT bullshit tactics in deflection and diversion while I frantically dance to avoid looking at or naming the elephant in the room, which was (is) generally something associated with feeling shame or ashamed about something I want or have done.

That Weasel Dance is friggin’ exhausting.

One of the things I have learned only recently is that the more we struggle against something, the stronger it becomes. Force applied to force, isn’t just force doubled; there’s an exponential increase that has some complex mathematical formula I can’t remember, but I remember the “physics of increasing application” part well enough. That’s why the whole point of meditation is to not struggle against the thoughts that intrude, but just to let them be, then gently guide focus and breath back to stillness. There are entire streams of martial arts that stem from the idea of using an opponent’s force against them without exerting your own in opposition, and guiding their momentum past us safely to pull the opponent off balance and into us. It’s the same with these kinds of emotional internal struggles. We can apply force to force, or we can be still and use the momentum of the reactivity to draw the Thing at the other end of that reaction close enough to observe it, without putting ourselves off balance and at risk.

Anger, for example, is energetic force. A common response to feeling shame is to get angry, possibly to the point of aggression; shame reduces us, but anger makes us (temporarily, at least) feel big, powerful. We resist, and perhaps even drive back the Thing at the other end of that perceived value judgment for a little while, but in truth the emotional tinder is still in us all the time and while we’ve expended a lot of emotional energy, while we’ve destabilized the apple cart in whatever relationship housing the current emotional upheaval, we haven’t necessarily addressed that tinder that can be so easily sparked.

Until we recognize and understand the components of the bomb, we cannot understand how best to diffuse it effectively.

My friend Alf tells an amusing anecdote that, while appearing unrelated, is entirely related: Twice while visiting a friend in northern Ontario, he got tagged by highway OPP late at night, doing egregious speeds along the highway. The second time he was stopped, he asked the cop in humour why they spend their nights out in the wilds like that, just waiting for him. The cop smiled, then explained, “We’re saving lives, for real. If you hit a deer at 80kph, you have an excellent chance of walking away with nothing but some damage to the front of your car and probably a window replacement. If you hit a deer at 120kph or above, odds are good we’ll be scraping your remains off the next two kilometers of highway, because the impact will kill you.”

The more force you apply…

This all ties back to yesterday’s post about breathing, and emptying hands. There are a lot of images of breathing into hands that I find useful and evocative, from breathing warmth onto them, to breathing or blowing things out of them; blowing onto the dandelion head held in my fingers releases the fliers into the sky and freedom. Breath is both what fills and what empties. Breathing enables us to take the pause that pulls us back from the brink of picking up a weapon-of-choice and applying force where force is perceived; our reactivity to feeling shame, for example. The physical signals are the clue that something is amiss, and the cue to make a conscious choice rather than an escape into unconscious, reflexive, self-defensive reaction. We don’t want to, but to allow for change and growth, we probably have to.

It does get easier with practice, and it’s okay to ask for help. If this work was easy, everyone would be wearing saffron robes and eating granola.

One day at a time, one breath at a time; one foot in front of the other.


The rolling over of one year into another is both a a tough time and a hopeful time for people ? often simultaneously. Never mind the stress of financial and scheduling issues or family obligations around the holidays; where many people struggle the most is with our love-hate relationship with the New Year’s Resolution.

The “hopeful” aspect of resolutions is that the New Year often signals new beginnings, new opportunities, new dedication, and above all, the best of intentions. 365 days is a long time to stick with something, however, and the undisciplined among us ? myself included ? frequently don’t make it out of the first month (never mind the first quarter) of any new year with those resolutions intact. I learned a long time ago that going to the pool in January is a waste of time because of the Resolutioners crowding out both the aquafit classes and the swim lanes; by the beginning of February, however, everything is largely back to normal. Ergo, when December rolls around and we look back on our successes and failures of the year, a lot of people get really down on themselves for not measuring up to the hopefulness of January, not sticking with the resolutions, and not making the goals we’ve set for ourselves… often year after year after year.

One thing I’ve learned through working with clients throughout the year is that the consistent issues, not just with New Year’s resolutions but ANY kind of goal-oriented process, often revolve around not having a really clear mental image of what the end goal looks like, and not having a realistic scope of what’s involved in reaching that goal. This is where my previous life working in a project-oriented development field comes in extremely handy, because in doing Project Management, if you don’t have a clear eye on the project scope, and realistic milestone goals defined within that project, the project is fairly drastically handicapped from the outset. Sheer stubbornness might get you to the goal regardless of those impediments, but it’s not the most efficient way of getting from A to B, nor of maintaining effective, sustainable self-development practices thereafter.

Articulating goals is a key first step. Almost everyone in western culture understands how to make a New Year’s resolution: for example, “In 2012, I’m going to lose 80lbs” (this may or may not be a real-life resolution; I decline to comment.) Stating intent is a great first step. But then what?

For a lot of people, defining the big goal is a be-all-and-end-all action. In counseling rooms around the country, therapists often face clients who come in with big goal intentions such as, “I want to improve communications with my partner/parent/child/etc.”. At that point, the best tool in my bag is to say to my client, “That’s a really fabulous Big Picture goal; what does that actually *look like* to you?” Often clients haven’t gotten further than articulating that big goal, and this is the point at which both clients and New Year’s Resolutioners often get stymied without help, because they lack clarity in understanding what that goal actually entails.

If the big goal is (coming back to our example) losing weight over the course of the year, a project management approach might look like this:

1. What are my dependencies (the things which will affect or be impacted by my big goal, like familial support, budget requirements, special requirements such as training materials or equipment to meet the goal)?
2. What do I already have on hand that supports this goal?
3. What are the big changes that the goal requires (eating habits, for example; special foods, a gym membership, and the scheduling to fit attending said gym)?
4. What is my support network for this goal?
5. How can I break the big goal down into monthly or weekly milestones I can track for success or mid-course refinement?

Number 5 there is often the best thing for helping people look really closely at the goal to which they’ve just resolved themselves. Weight loss is easier to measure than, say, general fitness improvements. Being as specific in one’s goal-setting is extremely important; it’s difficult to plot the rest of the project plan without knowing *exactly* what it is you’re trying to achieve. And don’t beat yourself up too much if you find you don’t know how to articulate those goals right off the bat. Sometimes we don’t have the language or the clarity to express what we really mean with goals like, “I want more intimacy with my partner.” (Developing that explicit clarity is one place where working with therapists is extremely useful and worth both the time and money.). Get as close as you can to clear expression of your goals, then work on breaking them down into things you can achieve on a smaller, ongoing basis.

Weekly and monthly milestones help you see both your successes and your challenge areas throughout the year, and also provide a structure for developing mindfulness around those goals. If you make a point to check in with yourself on a weekly basis, you may find it becomes easier to keep those goals, and the behavioural changes that support them through the week, at the forefront of your mind. Resolutions of the vague kind are harder to maintain if we don’t check up on them now and then, which is a self-discipline issue for a lot of us. Also, the weekly check-ins allow us to tweak the processes depending on how other variables are affecting our ability to sustain our resolutions from week to week: work or life plans may take priority from time to time and make staying on the resolution track difficult. But if you see this happening over the course of a couple of weeks, it becomes easier to adjust the plan at week 3 or 4 or 5 than if you let things slide unconsciously until Month 8, then panic and try to get your resolutions back on course after ignoring them over the longer term.

Smaller goals are also generally more achievable in the shorter term, and this in turn can lead to a greater sense of accomplishment that carries you from one milestone to the next. Success criteria doesn’t have to be measured in a single year-end Win/Lose binary state; some weeks will be better than others, and if you succeed in your goals three weeks out of four, that starts the next month out on a great success rate. Bear in mind, those smaller milestones need to be as realistic as your big goals; losing 80lbs in a year is realistic. Losing 10-15lbs in a week is not.

Once you know what the milestones are, it becomes easier to go back to the other items in the project plan and deal with them. You may want to put “joining a gym” as a dependency, but if budget constraints are also a dependency, what else can you do in the short- to medium-term to move you toward your milestones and goal until budget constraints will allow for that membership fee?

Remember also, there are always options, even if they’re not your first choice. Just because you don’t LIKE having to exercise to lose weight, doesn’t mean the only way you’ll make yourself do it is by committing financially to a gym and letting Expenditure Guilt motivate you to go. Trust me when I say, that just adds unnecessary pressure to the project’s Success/Fail criteria that comes dangerously close to self-sabotage for many (especially at the end of the year when people doing the mental reflection then have to deal with both the failure of the goal AND the sense of wasting money in the process).

It all sounds like a complicated process, but really it’s not. It’s all about being clear and positive in articulating your overall resolution goal(s), setting realistic and achievable milestones within the goal, and checking in with yourself frequently enough throughout the process to make the work become a good habit instead of shoving it to the back of your mind and relying on stubbornness to carry the day. Resolutions provide a great framework for making positive changes, but making them in the fever of hopefulness instead of the clarity of mindfulness, brings the potential for dismay come next December. A little extra planning work in January can make the entire rest of the year flow so much more smoothly!

[Addendum: As I’m investigating working towards building barter-for-service links through services like, I came across a much more succinct blog post about this exact same topic for financial matters:]

Communication, Relationships

The 3 C’s of Conflict Management is something I began to noodle on years ago in personal blog posts. It also came up in my grad school classes from time to time in different formats, including a “5Cs” version that IMO is really just the 3Cs with a couple of expansion packs. Having the concept ?arise in the class context totally validated what I’ve been apparently thinking about the 3Cs for years. In conflict management, or any kind of mediation exercise, there are three principle decision models: Capitulation, Compromise, and Collaboration (the 5C version also lists Consensus and Co-existence, but in my experience, both can be achieved through any of the original three options). One class wit suggested Conflagration as a potential model of conflict, and while that’s technically a possibility, it’s more often the signal of immediate termination for the relationship in question, rather than any state in which the relationship might feasibly continue for an indeterminate period of time.

In my own personal relationship lexicon, Capitulation is “The act of surrendering or yielding; in relationship terms, capitulation often means simply giving in or giving up in a negotiation or confrontational situation for the sake of ending the conflict as quickly as possible, whether you have achieved the desired results or not (and generally the party who capitulates is the party who “gives up” the most, in exchange for early termination of a tense situation). In Capitulation, one party gets what is desired, and the other party generally does not.” Individuals with a history of low self-esteem or a low threshold for conflict are more likely to capitulate on a position than defend a line; this could be for any number of reasons, most commonly out of one form of fear or another: fear of abandonment is a big one, in which non-capitulation will cost someone the relationship s/he wants to maintain, even if it largely toxic. Teenage girls are particularly susceptible to this, but it’s a pattern that manifests in both men and women, often learned very early in the family of origin as a need to please one’s parents or caregivers.

Compromise is “consent reached by mutual concessions; everyone gives up something in order to achieve a tolerable closure to a negotiation or confrontation. Unlike Capitulation, compromise often means that neither party gets exactly what is desired, but both sides can usually accept the sacrifices made on the personal level to gain some degree of acceptable overall closure or balance.” Compromise represents a common-ground approach to relational conflict management in particular, as the nature of the power struggle generally involves someone driving for either a clear “victory” (such as might be achieved if one partner forces another’s capitulation) or a sense of “parity”, in which each partner must give up something in order for one or both partners to feel a sense of equality or “balance of fairness”. A previous lover used to describe this state as “No-one gets what s/he wants, but at least everybody gets something they can live with.” It’s often the less-tactful way of establishing peace, but often as a zero-sum game in which both parties have to *lose* something in order to gain something else.

Unfortunately, in both capitulation and compromise, when there is *any* sense that someone has to sacrifice a want or a need in order to achieve balance and the impression of peace, that state of calm is inevitably temporary at best. When core needs in particular are being sacrificed, there is often a subtle biofeedback loop that gets set in motion, because we all constantly move to get our needs and wants met, whether we realize it or not. I have been documenting for many years my battles with my own inner weasels, which are the anthropomorphic versions of those internal motivations, the little voices that urge me to do things I rationally know I should not do, but find myself acting on anyway. In following my weasels, I would?compromise myself, giving up a moral high ground for a short term immoral or amoral itch-scratching. I would often find myself in this kind of situation, as so many of us do, because I have compromised myself elsewhere in a relationship, giving up something I wanted (for better or for worse) because my wanting that thing somehow upset my partner and introduced conflict and tension. So I would have either capitulation or compromised in order to end the conflict, without necessarily finding out whether those decision models were the most effective choice for my situation within the relationship.

Which brings me to Collaboration, or (as it has often been termed here) “collaborative solutions”: “A joint process shared by two or more people to examine all the known or discoverable needs in any given situation, the known or discoverable options available for addressing those needs, and discussing how each of those outcomes addresses or affects the needs in question. In theory (and with practice) the discussions will yield increased understanding and trust that make mutual Agreement and Buy-in to any jointly-designed proposal not only possible, but likely. Both (all) parties must be equally involved in the process of examining and proposing solutions, must stay Present while discussing needs, and be honest about their buy-in, for any solution to be truly collaborative. Unlike Capitulation or Compromise, the result of collaborative solutions is all parties feeling like they have achieved what they wanted, that their individual Needs have been met, and the results support and sustain the relationship.”

For collaboration to work effectively in relationships, it requires a lot of things from the participants:

  • self-awareness (you can’t collaborate effectively unless you know your own wants and needs, and understand what you have to offer),
  • vulnerability (a willingness to engage the process in good faith and to put your own needs on the table without subterfuge or manipulation),
  • compassion and empathy (the willing engagement of your partner’s needs and wants as they are presented to you in good faith),
  • an authentic desire to find collaborative solutions (this isn’t about forcing someone to capitulate to your fears just because their needs may provoke your internal fears; “sacrifice” is NOT the initial intent in collaboration),
  • and full presence in the engagement (being willing to stay focused on the process work, and not go haring off into fearful blame-storming or aggression; this isn’t about you, this isn’t about me, this is about the “us” of the relationship).

Collaboration is most likely the best means of achieving “together decisions”, because by their very nature, collaborations require partners to work together to achieve something that brings value to them and to the relationship, not decreases the perceived sense of value, nor diminishes individual position(s) within the relationship. True collaboration requires authentic buy-in from both parties to the belief that all needs are being respected, not lip-service to an agreement that actually disregards or fails to meet identified needs from the outset.

The reason I don’t include Consensus and Co-existence is because I consider them to be corollary to the three models above. The idea of consensus in a dyadic (2-partner) system is a little silly; as soon as both parties agree on something, you have consensus, regardless of which of the three principle decision models generates the agreement. Consensus works better in larger structures; it’s a better decision model for certain types of decisions within poly structures, for example, in which more than two potentially diverging viewpoints are required to be in agreement before a decision is enacted. Co-existence, on the other hand, is more likely to be the result of a failed decision model than a decision model itself. When partners fail to make “together choices”, they will increasingly make “apart choices”, and the slow continental drift that results from those “apart choices” can eventually result in partners living more like room-mates than like romantic intimates; vulnerability suffers, engagement erodes, collective buy-in becomes something that happens to other people. One can choose co-existence; one term for it in relational therapy is “parallel lives”. It’s not a relationship style that attracts proponents of authentic and intimate relationships; however it can become what those proponents find themselves in should they fail to make effective collaborations a lifelong habit in their authentic and intimate relationships.


The NYTimes article above provides a clear case in favour of how social services (and, in the same vein, many mental health professionals such as myself) often do better work with their clients by empowering them to build solutions from within their own knowledge of strengths and resources, rather than dispensing advice and solutions. The F.I.I.’s work proves this works as well on a community-at-large level as on the individual level.

The article also highlights the difficulty for agencies and practitioners alike in disciplining ourselves to avoid the tendency to advise and solve. Advice, no matter how well-meaning, is based in OUR experiences, filtered through OUR values, and in the end may be inappropriate in a client’s or community’s different context. The need to solve other people’s problems is a slippery slope rooted by a lot of motivations that are often more about us than those we think we’re trying to help.

The F.I.I. is doing some excellent work to build self-empowerment within communities by helping collectives assess their own resources, and developing strengths that support the community toward flourishing. This is an approach I can get behind, even as I have to remind myself more regularly than I’d like to admit, that I’m not in the business of advising, but rather one of encouragement. It’s not my understanding of resources that will help someone most, it’s the understanding we can develop in someone else, based on what they already know… even when they don’t know they know it.


I will be taking a break from the crazy-busy summer (if not from the heat) from July 29 to August 15. Clients who need to talk to someone are requested to make use of the walk-in clinic facilities at KW Counselling Services in the interim, and session schedules will resume on the 16th.

I will have very limited phone coverage during this period, checking voicemail only sporadically. I do not anticipate having any email access at all, and will catch up with written communications on my return.

Have a safe and happy summer!


I should know better than to try to do business admin late at night, but a random email from the PolyResearchers mailing list prompted me to finally try to update my professional listings on both the Poly-Friendly Professionals and Kink-Aware Professionals directories late this evening.

Of course, on a brand-new laptop, I’m running all new browser versions for IE, Chrome, and Firefox… which means not only do I have to try and remember the dashboard login credentials to my own site from memory for once, but neither directory website’s scripts support the latest-and-greatest anything. Much frustration ensues, but hey, it’s great opportunity for the Buddhist Therapist to practice what she preaches about mindfulness and self-soothing techniques in the moment, right?


Yes, it’s true… even professional therapists want to throw their office equipment out the window into the rain in frustration sometimes. You’re not alone in this, I promise.

Colour me bemused. I think I will wisely leave trying to add graphics and logos for another, non-midnight-update time.

(And both sites have updates; the PFP site has both the out-dated and new listings, and the new KAP listing is awaiting moderator approval. They’re there, I promise… I think. ?Or hope, really.)