Tag Archives: counselling


have you ever thought about killing yourself? i have. for many, many years i thought that was totally normal. it wasn’t until my life got much better that i noticed the absence of this soothing thought: to just disappear myself … now, when that kneejerk image arises occasionally, i know it’s a warning sign: something’s not right.

i grew up thinking that suicide was a completely normal way to die. some people die of cancer, others of old age, and others of suicide. the good thing is that this normalized suicide. the bad thing is that this normalized suicide.

so … let me try this …

let’s imagine you’re thinking of ending it all. you just can’t think of another way out of that thing that just seems to crush you. debts, a broken heart, a feeling of uselessness, terrible loneliness, a sense of being trapped …

how do you feel? overhwelmed, right?

can you relax just a tiny bit of yourself? just a bit … maybe your hands … maybe the way you sit on the chair …

here’s a strange question.

how does your brain feel?

yes, feel that brain. just for a moment.

sometimes it feels like it works well, doesn’t it? maybe that was a long time ago. but there probably was a time when it felt like it worked pretty well. maybe when you played with that dog. oh – dogs aren’t your thing. sorry. maybe – maybe it was when you hung out with your buddy when you were six … can you do me a favour, look for a time when your brain worked ok?


so … i wonder … how does your brain feel right now, compared to that time when it worked well? is there a difference?

there is?

it feels a little – weirder, doesn’t it? maybe a bit cloudy? or perhaps it’s a just a bit noisy in there.

can you do me, and yourself a big favour?

i know life feels awful right now. i’d really like it, though, if you could wait with your decision to destroy yourself. please wait with that decision until your brain feels better.

if you don’t know how to make your brain feel better, stick around, please. i have a bunch of ideas we could try. and i know people who have way more ideas. they’ve worked, too. as terry wise, a woman who survived suicide, says “there are other ways to overcome pain.”

goals, learning and contracts

after my post about small and SMART goals on garfield’s blog, i got inspired to write another one at brainblogger about the pitfalls and benefits of goal setting, this time taking a bit more of an academic slant. larry ferlazzo took up that post and talked about goal setting in the classroom. it made me think about learning goals. i won’t get much into this right now but i found it interesting that when i was googling around a bit about the topic, pretty much everything i saw were not really learner-directed goals. they were either goals clearly set by the teachers, or contracts that were not really contracts, i.e. they don’t meet the criterion of containing mutual promises. a lot of learning contracts (and contracts in counselling, too, by the way) are of the mafia sort: if you don’t pay up, we’ll break your leg. fortunately, there is usually little leg-breaking involved in learning or counselling contracts but they tend to be one-sided. the promises by one party (e.g. the learner) are numerous and clearly laid out, and often there are no promises made by the other party, or they are not specified.

the depressing (side) effects of antidepressants

the following is a guest post by kat sanders, who regularly blogs at MRI technician schools. she welcomes your comments and questions at her email address: katsanders2 at gmail.com.

the opinions expressed in this post are kat sanders’ – i personally don’t take as strong a stance as kat, mainly because, as i say time and time again, psychoactive drugs have different effects depending on dosage, circumstances and who takes them. i don’t think we are at a point (yet) where we can say that there is “a” truth about any psychoactive drug, antidepressants or otherwise. similarly, while i obviously think that psychotherapy is useful, and that it’s a good idea to try it before, while or after taking antidepressants, like anything else, it’s not a magic pill that works for everyone.

having said that, i think kat offers good points for discussion.

have you taken antidepressants? have they worked?

here’s kat’s article:

the depressing side (effects) of anti-depressants

life has its ups and downs, and while we’re all able to enjoy the ups, most of us are unable to handle the downs. some of us bounce back to normalcy soon enough; but for the others, they sink into a mire of depression from which there seems to be no escape. when this situation continues for a while, they are taken to see a psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressants. the truth about these drugs is that while they may have a calming and uplifting effect in the short term, they’re not advisable after a period of time because:

  • they have been proved in clinical trials to work only 50 percent of the time.
  • they cause you to gain weight. while the initial increase is not much, you do tend to put on a lot of weight over a period of time.
  • they are likely to cause a relapse when you continue to take them over a period of time. so there’s a high probability that you will slip back into depression just when you think you’re getting better.
  • they cause sexual dysfunction, mostly in women. you feel yourself losing interest in sex and anything related to it. relationships suffer as a result of this side effect and your depression worsens.
  • they cause some people to experience insomnia, intense somnolence, and other sleep disorders
  • they cause you to feel tired all the time. the fatigue prevents you from doing any worthwhile work.
  • they may also cause nausea and diarrhea.
  • they increase anxiety.
  • they cause you to fee mentally dull and uninterested in anything.

we need to realize that depression is something that cannot be managed only with anti-depressants. it’s an emotion, one that is brought on by a set of circumstances and that affects us mentally. instead of resorting to drugs, we need to understand the reason for our sadness and attempt to resolve it. that’s the only way we to treat depression – face it head on and tackle the underlying reason for it. anti-depressants must be used only for a certain time during which we need to find the strength to deal with the problem and get over it.

the problem with anti-depressants is that they cannot be stopped cold turkey, because when they are, they bring on the same symptoms as those caused by long-term usage. the dosage needs to be minimized and the patients weaned off them as slowly as possible. it’s not advisable to discontinue anti-depressants without consulting your medical practitioner.

eating disorders: mothers and daughters

mother and daughterthis is a continuation of my conversation with joanna poppink about adults recovering from eating disorders, with an emphasis on how that impacts relationships. joannna poppink is a psychotherapist with a private practice in los angeles specializing in eating disorder recovery (you can see her blog at stop eating disorders.) yesterday i said i was going to present it in two parts; actually, i’ve decided to present it in three parts because … well, you’ll see why in the last instalment.

here joanna talks about how women with anorexia or bulimia (and, by extension, with any kind of eating disorder) relate to their mothers.

isabella: women with anorexia or bulimia often have complicated relationships with their mothers. when that is the case, how can these relationships become a little easier?

joanna: this is a huge question with, in my opinion, some wishful thinking attached.

first of all, women without anorexia or bulimia have complicated relationships with their mothers. the mother-daughter relationship is one of the most complex relationships of all. so please, all women suffering from bulimia or anorexia, take a breath and ease up on your self criticism, your judgments and your desires for wish fulfilling ease with mom.

that said, what is an approach that can bring some ease to the relationship?

the fast answer is the simple and straight forward one. get well.

eventually, if you stay on your recovery path, you will get well. as you gain more health and emotional stamina you will be able to use your emerging creativity along with your strategic thinking and core of love you have for this woman who is your mother to negotiate your relationship.

what does this mean? well, it means you can’t have what you want. your mother may change. she may not. but you are changing. so it’s up to you to find a way to relate to her as she is, not as you wish her to be. it can be a shock to your system to look at your mother as a woman.

if you always argue about certain topics, don’t try to win. as you would with a friend or acquaintance, sidestep the subject and bring in a topic that is pleasant and interesting for her. give her the gift of peace and ease. it’s a gift to you too.

let go of your need to win and your need to be seen in a particular way by her. focus on conversation and activity areas where you are compatible or where you can be patient and generous.

your great gain in life is recovery itself. you get a healthy life that you live with more responsibility and satisfaction than you ever had while living with your eating disorder. with your increased health and life energy, you can afford to be generous with this woman who is your mother in all her imperfections.

you are an adult now. you can extricate yourself from situations that go against your health and your values. you can accommodate with generosity when the situation brings no harm to you and brings space for peace and ease with your mother.

to do this, you have to let go of many wishes and hopes for responses you felt you were entitled to. but that sense of entitlement may be a leftover from your eating disorder. if you drop those entitlements from you psyche (not so easy) or drop them into your journal (much more doable) you can free yourself and your mother from the past and be with her as she is.

you may discover a woman you didn’t know was there. you’ll certainly discover more about who you are and how you can be increasingly present and competent in this world.

stay tuned for part 3!

image by deederdoll

eating disorders and relationships

remember last week i asked people to be interviewed about eating disorders? well, some people volunteered. today i am happy to introduce you to joanna poppink, MFT, a long time private practice psychotherapist in los angeles specializing in eating disorder recovery. her blog is at stop eating disorders.

joanna will talk about how eating disorders affect relationships. she has a lot of very interesting things to say, so we’ve decided to present her wisdom in two parts. i’ll be posting part two by sunday.

isabella: i am often contacted by people whose boyfriends or girlfriends suffer from anorexia or bulimia. they want to help and have no idea where to start. what advice do you have?

joanna: i’m a trained licensed psychotherapist in practice since 1980. i’ve specialized in treating people with eating disorders since about 1984 and have attended countless 12 step meetings. and, helping someone with an eating disorder is still challenging for me.

so, then, what can a loving friend or family member or caring colleague do to help?

first is to separate the person from the illness. you support the person you care about, but not the eating disorder. you make no special arrangements to defer to the demands of the eating disorder, don’t make special foods, avoid certain restaurants, keep secrets for the person or go against your own values and principles to help them feel better.

the best thing you can do is let them know you care about them while you continue to live a healthy life yourself. let them meet you in health. let them be inspired to find their way to recovery so they can join you in a healthy life. let them see what they are missing when you don’t compromise your values to accommodate the eating disorder.

you can’t force a person into recovery. but you can show them the benefits of living a healthy life and perhaps, by so doing, inspire them into recovery.

isabella: once a person starts on the road to recovery from anorexia or bulimia, how does that impact on their relationships – romantic and otherwise?

joanna: anorexia and bulimia are illnesses that affect a person’s body, mind, heart and soul. a person with an eating disorder often believes her perception of herself, her values, her strengths and weaknesses, her intelligence and even her loves and hates are her own. she doesn’t realize that all these aspects of her lived experience are powerfully influenced by her eating disorder. her dreams and visions for herself are limited and distorted. she doesn’t know who she is, and she thinks she does.

everyone, and i mean everyone, in her life is present in a relationship with her based on who they think she is. many are in relationship with her because of who they need her to be.

when she moves into recovery mode, her genuine personhood begins to appear. her taste and preferences become clearer. she is surprised by her strengths, and often, so is everybody else. instead of trying to please or deferring out of fear, she finds herself saying, ‘no,’ where she used to say, ‘yes.’

some people benefited from the gifts she has but never used for herself, like intelligence, creativity, education and various skills. some needed to be with a dependent and frightened person so they could be in the powerful, rescuer/savior role.

the people who can grow themselves, who can live a mature and responsible life with respect for another’s boundaries, goals and lived talents as she follows her heart can remain in relationship with the recovering person. the relationship will become more equal.

but it’s difficult for people to grow and change if they are set in their ways and committed to a particular way of life and sense of themselves. many will not be able to tolerate the recovering person’s emerging self and her self respect.

a challenging part of recovery involves dealing with the shock and pain of discovering how vested others were in the eating disorder symptoms. when the symptoms fall away and the true person emerges, many old relationships fall away.

the new relationships are based on who the recovering person is now. people who are attracted to a sick person are different from people who are attracted to a healthy person.

chaotic thoughts on employment counselling

another live blog from the career management conference!

glenn olien works in employment/career counselling in the construction industry

warning: aptly, since this is about chaos theory in counselling, these notes will be somewhat chaotic, more than the two live blogs before. kind of like twitter on a blog 🙂

questions to be discussed: why do people fall into the pit of unemployment?

he also kept asking, “who gets a good job? who doesn’t? why not?”

he was a funding officer for a while. he figured that a program that helps people with employment would work “if they loved the participants”

career counselling and chaos theory: why does the marble attract employment, why does it resist employment?

supported work model in nelson: people with serious mental health issues were helped to get a job, they loved their jobs so much they had to be told not to work saturdays

(i love how he keeps saying, “then i was REALLY confused”)

glenn olien is the author of the unified employment theory

he worked with a chaos and complexity advisor to further explore his ideas

“i wrote thousands of words and threw them all away”

now it’s all in one sentence:

all human potential for change can be represented by a fractal object with 33 parts

his theory is used in all kinds of different environments – eg unified famliy transitions theory


all his work is about tools of the imagination; it’s magical

research: people who go through a 2-week program that uses this approach were 300 percent more effective

unemployment can be seen as a failure to imagine

“every bad job i’ve gotten i’ve job searched”

“you can’t be an expert on a mystery” – “i’m not an expert, i just help people with their imagination”

the alchemy of drawing a line between now and the future: it CHANGES your future

chaos scientists are finding that if you deal with genuine complexity, no matter how much knowledge you have, the best thing you can do is use your imagination


fractals generate all the complexity in our lives. those objects which are not fractals can be fixed. that’s why we can’t fix people

fractals: if you look at something and look at it closer and closer, you keep seeing the same patterns again and again

everything that’s controllable is based on euclidian geometry; that’s the stuff that is completely predictable

examples of fractals in the human body: veins keep on branching and branching and branching in the same way

a fractal is the signature left behind from complexity

in employment: our employment patterns follow the same structures

a company is a fractal made up of its employees (the health, education, etc. of its employees)

if you change one part of something, for example the education of an employee, you change the whole thing – that’s the butterfly effect

as counsellors, when we say something small to a client, it can have a huge effect

big effort, no change …. big effort, little change …. big effort, large change
small effort, no change …. small effort, little change …. small effort, large change

–> all these are possible. often hard to predict

big effort, no change – it’s because wenow we”re complex; we may look at doing X to produce Y, doing a lot of X to produce why – but there may be other areas in our complexity (like A, G and M) that hinder the effort

information can be fractaled

after the break: now we’re on to trying out his theory, using this site

we’re asked to think of a dream job and use the tool.  i’m using the online tool which is specifically designed for construction workers.  one of my dream jobs is corporate philosopher.  that’s kind of amusing.

his theory is very much centered around getting support.   eg getting support from friends in finding a job.  thinking: what is the general pattern of a person’s supports?  how does that pattern propagate through all the different aspects of those supports?  (e.g. is the way you look for help from family similar to the way you look for help from friends?)

“now”, he says, “comes the magic part”.  first we look at all the 33 parts of the employment fractal and see where we already HAVE what we need.  then we look at what we want to improve.  the actual action of visually representing for ourselves is magical – “it’s amazing,” he says, “to see what happens when you do nothing but fill in the assessment, put it away, and then go back to it a month later – chances are you’ll have gotten closer to where you want to be.” this activity can be the butterfly effect.

he also has ways of creating action plans from this.

this is the practical part.  i want to hear more about how all of this ties in to chaos and complexity!  will we have time to talk about that?

norm amundson talks about being and doing

this is a live blog of the talk given by norm amundson from the department of educational and counselling psychology and special education at the university of british columbia at the career management association’s annual conference here in vancouver.  the topic is

active engagement – the being and doing of career counselling.

norm amundson was the first psychologist i ever researched for an academic paper, so he has a special place in my counsellor’s heart.


active engagement is also the title of one of his books.

right now he is working on a book on metaphor and career counselling.

how are WE as counsellors showing up?  – one of the main topics he’ll talk about.


how to talk about active engagement? he really wants to stress the “being” element, in addition to the “doing” element.

he spends a lot of time in counselling not having a clue what he’s doing, he’s confused. natural reaction is to jump in and do something, “let’s do another activity”. but how about moving into stillness and listening to the small voice?

how do counsellor and counsellee relate to each other? also important in counselling.

the importance of the RELATIONSHIP in career counselling, just like in other types of counselling. research: it’s the relationship that drives the process.

flexibility, imagination and creativity are so important.

ok, now we’re going to do an exercise – switching hand positions – something that was easy to start with but became more and more difficult as the speed of switching increased. the trick is to find the RHYTHM of change/switch.


at some point, he realized that he was doing career counselling the same way it was done in the 1960s. “what am i doing, why am i doing it that way?” really important to do.

so – don’t come to these conferences and love the sessions and then don’t change your practice!

why do we do everything with talk? why nothing visual?

after a while, he started using flipcharts, right in the office. and it changes the dynamic, just with that flipchart in the office.

equip your office so that you can do more than just talk!

and make sure people get a feeling they MATTER!

confidence is also a huge piece in the field. if you lose a job, the confidence starts to wane. underneath the resume, no matter how impressive it is, there is often a feeling of doubting and insecurity.

“let’s action plan!” works really well when you have confidence – but the other way round? doesn’t work so well.

he focuses a lot of time talking about positive moments and joy with his clients.

embedded in joyful moments are lots of information about what makes us tick.

physical movement is also important.  don’t just sit and talk!


readiness, recruitment, retention

there is so much more to life than problems.

STORIES are so important!  invite emotional and cognitive engagement.  helps remember and integrate information.   also, stories have the power to move us to action.

so sad how often people don’t want to hear stories.  in counselling, we can have space for stories.  [oh, how i LOVE hearing this!]

stories give us such rich information.

backswing stories: to move anything forward, you have to go backwards (imagine a swing, or throwing a baseball).  that doesn’t mean you have to go back and back and back.  a good backswing is short, full of energy, and then you release.

take time to HEAR the stories so that you can shoot forward again, but in a new way, feeling good about yourself.

then there is the dog ball thrower.  a tool, leverage that helps you throw the ball further with less energy.  that’s what networking is all about.


who is the person behind the story?  stop looking at labels.

he’s doing a little demo session now. he calls it a career conversation.

starts out by asking her what she does for fun. she’s a career development advisor doing post-program support after a one-week intensive career.

“what should we do next?” he asks. “her work history!” someone from the audience shouts. “naw,” norm says. “when’s the last time your heart lit up?” someone else says – that’s a question he likes. she talks about a seminar she took about moving from renting to owning.

so now he asks her about what she likes about living in vancouver. this moves easily into a conversation about how she came to vancouver, and the career change that was involved with that. norm listens a lot, just asks the odd question, makes a comment or two here and there.

he asks the audience what they found out about her as she was telling the story. all kinds of skills and personal attributes come out. he writes it down on a flipchart around her name as a center. when he’s done, he calls the skills and attributes her circle of strength.

it’s powerful to have other people reflect these strengths back to us. plus, now we think of her in terms of these positive terms.

people who get jobs are good storytellers.

using stories is also “mindboggling” how powerful it is in groups.


now he’s going to talk about metaphors

william james quote: “most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they have a second.  give your dreams all that you have and you will be amazed at the energy that comes out of you!”

(so – when you think you’re at the end – you’re probably not really!)

metaphors: use famliar imagery.  it brings out structure, pulls things together, exapnds possibilities and perspectives.

psychologists are not usually trained on metaphors and how to hear them.  [amazing, isn’t it?]

“can you come up with an image that describes this situation?” – invite people to paint their own metaphors.

need to be aware of cultural aspects of metaphors.  (he practices “career craft” he says – translates into “career knitting” in swedish).  but through conversation, you can find out the cultural background.

have clients draw the metaphors – one of the things that the flipchart is good for.

exploring and extending career metaphors: move clients into different metaphors.  metaphors, of course, can also be ruts!

exercise: client and counsellor create lists of metaphors together.

magnetic attraction as a metphor for workplace attachment. we are attracted to work places through different values.  security is one of them, for example.   don’t ignore location as an important attractor!

interesting values exercise: what values (e.g. recognition, flexibility, lifelong learning) would you give up?

values/attractors change over time.  he’s really starting to talk in terms of chaos theory now.  yay!

butterfly effect: small things can make big differences.  e.g. when something small bugs you and bugs you and bugs you and all of a sudden you explode.

when the attractors/values don’t match, all of a sudden it seems like there is lack of motivation, work ethic, ambition, commitment, maturity, stability, depth, self esteem, warmth decision making, creativity.

[so far i am using every single one of the tools he is talking about, and definitely not just in career/employment counselling!  well, except for the ball thrower.]

activity: life/career as a book.  fold a paper in half, two times.  now it’s like a little book.

what’s the book title?  what are the chapter headings?  what would be the topics included in a chapter?  what are the chapters still to be written?  (his title would be “take it to the limit one more time”)

meaningful stories and idle chatter

conversationa theme for me in the last little while has been to hear from others, “i don’t want to talk about this because i don’t want to be a burden.”

i honestly think i’m wired differently than most people. hearing people’s meaningful stories, whatever they’re about, is rarely, rarely a burden for me. and when it is, i have no problem dealing with it.

cancer, childhood sexual abuse, addiction, death, mental illness, unemployment – this is the stuff of life just as weddings, pregnancy, promotions, travel and enlightenment.

whatever is meaningful to you, my clients, my friends, family and acquaintances, actually, i can hardly get enough of it. when someone tells me what’s going on for them, they let me into their lives. it’s an honour and frankly, it’s fascinating. why go to the movies?

so i’m a very willing listening ear, and when my listening and our conversation help someone along, i am deeply grateful.

what i do have limited patience for is meaningless idle chatter. idle chatter can be meaningful (otherwise i wouldn’t be so happy on twitter, i guess!). not everything has to be important with a capital I every time we open our mouths. i’ll never forget many years ago, when my first husband overheard a conversation i had with my best friend from school (we’re still close after almost 50 years, imagine that!), where we were talking about detergent. “how can you have such a banal conversation!” he exclaimed. he didn’t understand. the connection i have with ava is so deep and meaningful, we could spend a whole year talking about nothing but tide, and it would still be lovely.

i do have difficulty with certain types of idle chatter. i actually find it painful; perhaps as painful as others find listening to people’s harrowing lives and experiences. how might i describe this type … perhaps it would be the type of chatter that is marked by disinterest and/or unwillingness to at least contemplate engagement. someone talking about all the stores in the mall they went to last week, for example, without giving an interesting description (=engaging the other as listener), talking about what they thought/felt/remembered during the shopping trip (=engaging themselves), or asking questions or opinions (=engaging the other as conversation partner). in such situations, i tend do try to follow the talk (can’t really call it a conversation) and imagine the trip, ask questions, or, last resort, tune out – all of which i find quite exhausting. as i’m writing this, the image of a closed circuit comes to mind, one that may have a few openings here or there, but only for highly specific input, which will then immediately be reintegrated into that closed circuit. mine or other circuits are of no interest. does that make sense? i’m exploring this as i’m writing along …

but what you have to say about your marriage, your struggle with addiction, your sorrow and confusion over being an empty nester, your fears around your chronic illness – i will always be interested, and, oddly enough, i will always be invigorated. it might be the invigoration of a forest fire; perhaps we’ll have to wait a while until the ashes fertilize new life. more likely it will be the invigoration of a thunderstorm, or the awe that comes from walking the desert. i am, truly, grateful for your stories.

image by closely observed