FLEX is excited to offer a focused training on exam preparation, study techniques, and test-taking strategies. Anchored in the neuro-science of how we acquire and retrieve memories, students will leave with an understanding of how early they should start preparing for exams, how to design and implement effective study schedules, and how to work strategically during examinations to show all that they know. Test anxiety will also be discussed, with a demonstration of techniques to resolve anxiety and keep your brain "online".
Date: January 7, 2018, 1pm to 3pm
Location: Cornerstone Clinic - Suite 313C - 1 Promenade Circle (Promenade Mall), Thornhill, ON
(This session is a education lecture and is not covered by insurance plans for psychology)
Presenter: Jessica Danielwitz
Did you know that on top of all the individual workshops and seminars that our team members attend, the FLEX team completes in-house continuing education sessions each month to advance our practice and to support our clients better?
Septembers session was hosted by FLEX's neonatal and paediatric consultant Esther Decaire, BScN, MN, NP-Paeds. Esther provided a comprehensive workshop for our assessment and treatment teams in order to expand their knowledge of how complications during pregnancy and birth can impact a child's development and self-regulatory capacities. These trainings assist our team in considering the multitude of factors that may contributing to the challenges are clients are experiencing.
The session was a huge success and we would love to share it with our clients, treatment partners, and peers. We hope to announce the workshop as an on-demand webinar soon.
FLEX’s founder Michael Decaire recently sat down with Michael Lander, MSW, RSW, to discuss his and role at FLEX and the services he has been providing to our clients over the last year. Michael [Lander] is a registered social worker and specialist in supporting those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Michael helps adolescents and young adults identify and work towards their goals and, more generally, to move towards a life of increased wellness, successes, and happiness.
MD: There is a misperception that therapy for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder is narrowly focused on social skills training, sensory, and behavioural interventions. While there is an obvious place for these supports, in my experience it is important to recognize that those with Autism are experiencing the exact same range of wellness and mental health concerns as any other client we see. The difference is that this population may come to those problems with some unique perspectives and needs. I was hoping you could discuss some of this uniqueness and how your work in this area has shaped you as a therapist.
Michael Lander: I agree with you Michael. I think that there is a misperception out there that therapeutic interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) should only be oriented towards social skills, sensory, and behavioural interventions. However, as you say, people with ASD experience the exact same range of mental health and wellness concerns as neurotypical people. It should follow, then, that evidence-based therapeutic approaches used in treating common conditions such as anxiety disorder among neurotypical individuals should also be utilized in treating those with ASD. For example, there is a high prevalence of comorbid anxiety disorders with ASD. But there is a lack of empirically supported anxiety-specific interventions for the ASD population. What is needed is the modification of effective therapeutic approaches that are adapted to the unique needs, styles of thinking, and perspectives of individuals with ASD.
Working closely with people with ASD for over ten years has given me the chance to understand ASD as being expressed and experienced uniquely by every individual. However, there are a limited number of common characteristics of ASD that I believe are keys to developing and implementing effective therapeutic practice for those with ASD. People with ASD often experience executive functioning deficits, problems with ‘central coherence’ (the ability to see the “the big picture”) and procedural learning skills. Combined, these different ways of thinking often cause barriers to generating alternative thoughts, beliefs or solutions, difficulties judging the potential usefulness of alternative strategies, or speculating on the outcome of various courses of action. Integrating these core characteristics of ASD into my therapeutic approach, I have shaped my practice around working collaboratively with clients to work through the relational and social emotional issues they face daily, and to develop concrete alternatives to disordered, or self-destructive thinking.
MD: It strikes me that the therapeutic relationship with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders can pivot from therapist, to advisor, to coach or mentor. Could you discuss the fluidity of that relationship and your role in providing the type of support that our clients need when they need it?
Michael Lander: I believe that a strong therapeutic alliance between a therapist and client with ASD is tantamount to providing effective therapy, and can be cultivated by fostering an environment and relational style that is driven by the communication styles, competencies, and needs of every individual client. Due to the varied and unique characteristics of individuals with ASD, my therapeutic practice is flexible and adaptive, largely driven by a solution-focused approach which holds that all clients have knowledge of what would make their life better, but often need support in achieving these solutions. Therefore, my role is constantly adapting and changing to provide every individual with tailored supports in setting and achieving goals, and in developing the tools and skills necessary for cultivating a better future, and achieving their goals. Sometimes, this calls for me to be an advisor, and mentor – one who can work collaboratively with the client to untangle the meanings of complex social interactions and relationships. Sometimes, I can take on the role of a career counsellor or life coach – working with clients to better conceptualize short-terms and long-term educational and employment goals, and put strategies in place to achieve these goals. No matter what role I take on – my priority is always to tailor the supports that I am giving to the unique needs, goals, perspectives, and thinking styles of every individual.
MD: Early in my career I worked extensively with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder during their transition to College or University and then into the workforce. At the time, the education system was making leaps in bounds in supporting those with ASD to be met with success in school. At the same time, it felt like we were not preparing them well for the transition into the work force, and unemployment was rampant with my clients despite their obvious skills and ability to contribute towards their areas of professional interest. I was wondering if you could discuss how this sort of transition looks today, what types of supports are available, and what kind of assistance you are able to provide through your work at FLEX.
Michael Lander: I believe the reality today is much like what you recall, in that supports are offered to individuals in school and throughout teenage-hood, but when high school is over, these supports largely dissipate. The transition into the workforce, then, with the goal of being an independent and self-sustaining person, becomes a transition and a task that many people with ASD struggle with, and is a primary concern for almost all of my clients.
There are many agencies within the General Toronto Area (GTA) which provide employment supports to individuals with ASD. Most of these agencies operate through the Ontario Disability Support Program, which many individuals who I meet rely on for income – despite obvious skills, abilities, and training in various professional fields. Unfortunately, most of the employment support agencies in the city which support individuals with ASD are cross-disability serving. Meaning that the supports put in place are not specific or adapted to the needs of individuals with ASD, but are the same supports provided to anyone with a disability accessing employment supports. This means that there is an alarming lack of ASD-specific employment support services in the GTA.
I believe that effective employment support for individuals with ASD looks quite different than the employment support that is most commonly offered to individuals with ASD, in that what is required is more relational and social emotional support rather than job task oriented. Most of the individuals I meet are more than capable of doing their job tasks successfully, but often face social and relational barriers to success, both in the hiring process and on the job.
Through my work at FLEX, I am able to offer supports related to employment which are specific to people with ASD, working with individuals to collaboratively set and achieve goals in regards to many aspects of employment, often focusing on the relation between person and environment. I provide supports in developing strategies for dealing with anxiety in the workplace, pre-employment skill building, self-esteem and confidence building, developing strategies for disclosure of diagnoses, and developing self-advocacy skills. I also provide supports in terms of communication with co-workers/managers, and the collaborative process of understanding, deciphering, and sometimes re-framing social emotional communication, cues, and unwritten rules that exist at work and in the job search. Through these supports and others, I am able to provide assistance to individuals with ASD to tackle the most common barriers to success which are faced in the crucial transition into the world of employment and independence.
MD: Conversations about gender and sexuality have exploded in public forums and the media. It feels like this is an area that had been swept under the rug with the ASD population for many years, but is finally becoming a part of the conversation. Given the role relationships and partnerships have on one’s wellness, it is exciting that this is an area our clients are now tackling. Could you speak a little about how we support clients in exploring these areas, understanding themselves better, and moving forward in a manner that promotes happiness and wellness.
Michael Lander: Despite discussions concerning gender and sexuality exploding in public forums and in the media, widespread social stigma and misunderstandings surrounding the intersection of gender, sexuality, and disability makes it hard for people with ASD to have a platform to talk frankly about their thoughts and feelings concerning gender and sexuality, even though these are primary concerns for many clients who I see. Part of my work involves confronting this stigma, speaking literally, acceptingly, and with verbally expressed non-judgement about sexuality, relationships, and gender if these are concerns brought forward by the client.
One of the lynchpins of my practice is supporting individuals to address and engage with stage-specific social emotional desires, strengths, and competencies. For many young adults who I see, romantic relationships and dating are a primary social emotional priority – and I support my clients in setting and achieving goals in this area of their life, one which is commonly overlooked by loved ones and professionals involved in the lives of those with ASD. Whether pursuing a passion in relationships, education, or employment, I work collaboratively with clients to set and achieve short-term and long-term goals in the areas of their life which promote happiness, wellness, and fulfillment.
MD: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today about your work within the ASD community. I look forward to seeing more success stories with your clients at FLEX!
Michael Lander: Thank you for the chat! I look forward to my ongoing work with the FLEX team.
If you feel that Michael Lander could assist yourself or a loved one to move towards wellness, please consider contacting FLEX now for more information and to inquire about availability.
People are starting to hear about FLEX's use of the Muse brain sensing headband with patients to develop mindfulness and accelerate gains in treatment.
Muse is a portable and low-cost EEG device that uses neurofeedback when paired with your phone or tablet to teach you how to meditate and become more attuned to your moment to moment experience. That state of mindful awareness has been shown to lead to a variety of wellness gains, mental and physical health growth, and improved attention. Many of FLEX's clients have been using Muse for over a year and our director Michael Decaire has spoken to professional audiences on its use at conferences across the province and the world through online webinars.
Last month, Dr. Cody Rall from YouTube's TechForPsych did a lengthy interview with Michael about his use of Muse and where he sees the future of psychotherapy going over the next decade. It's an exciting hour for clinicians, but also has some additional tidbits for Muse users.
Members of the FLEX team are available now to introduce Muse as your primary course of treatment or as an add-on to traditional talk therapies.
Michael Decaire is available for in-person, online, or institutional trainings for implementing Muse in treatment. He is presenting on Muse at Leading Edge Seminars in Toronto this October and as part of his Future of Psychotherapy Series in November.
Jessica Danilewitz, M.A., C.C.C.
Being a student is stressful. The semester gets started and before you look around and gather your bearings it’s already time for midterms. As if the academic work load wasn’t enough to handle on its own other parts of life start becoming stressful and overwhelming too. Suddenly the stakes feel higher for this exam and the sweaty palms, heart rate elevation, and negative thoughts start kicking in (“I’m going to fail”). Test anxiety is real and it can be debilitating. It can stop you from thinking clearly and being able to access the information you worked so hard to store in your memory. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe that with the right tools, techniques and guidance anyone can learn to walk into their exam a little bit more confidently and clear headed, so that you can focus on the test and only the test.
I like to take a three-pronged approach when combatting test anxiety:
When working with clients I come from the perspective that the client is the expert on his or her experience. They have completed exams in the past, know how prepared they are for the exam, and they know what is getting in the way now from performing like they used to. Working collaboratively to better understand and prepare for obstacles, capitalizing on strengths, and learning healthier coping strategies are all important parts of learning to manage student anxiety. - JD
Jessica provides individual and group supports at FLEX Psychology. She is co-facilitating our Start Fresh Learning Strategies group at the end of August and our Managing Student Anxiety group in September. She is also available for individual support in our Thornhill office and online.
After nearly a decade of success in supporting bright and gifted high schoolers and post-secondary students, FLEX is excited to announce our updated and expanded fall-prep learning group. This year we are adding a co-facilitator, meaning students will benefit from working with both FLEX's founder Michael Decaire and our new learning intervention specialist and therapist Jessica Danilewitz. We are also expanding our year long offerings, with all group attendees getting free access to our monthly tips and tricks training videos, support newsletters, and webinars.
This group fills up every year, so do not hesitate to book your spot soon and take your first step to Start Fresh with FLEX.
You can CLICK HERE to learn more about the Start Fresh group, view our group schedule HERE, or CONTACT US to reserve your spot right away.
It was an exciting week at FLEX, as we had a full film crew in doing a shoot with our Clinical Director Michael Decaire. Michael has been working closely with health start-up InteraXon, creators of the mind-sensing headband Muse. Following a successful professional training webinar a few weeks ago, the Muse team asked to visit FLEX's Thornhill office to film a Q&A with Michael and to see a demonstration of the Muse headband in action during a mock therapy session.
Word has gotten out about FLEX's use of Muse to help our clients live life a little more FLEXibly. Michael will be presenting on Muse this fall for Leading Edge Seminars and has been approached for some exiting additional projects regarding this exciting tool. More news soon!
Learn more about Muse: http://www.choosemuse.com
The FLEX team is excited to welcome back Katelyn Boersma, who trained with us for over half a decade before heading out east to complete her pre-doctoral internship. Katelyn is now wrapping up the final research component of her Doctoral studies.
Katelyn has many years of experience working with our assessment and treatment teams, as well as various work placements in university counselling/treatment centres, community mental health organizations, and mental health inpatient/outpatient programs.
Katelyn had an opportunity to complete a small Q&A with FLEX’s Founder and Clinical Director, Michael Decaire, in order to discuss her treatment interests and what she hopes to bring to the FLEX team.
MD: Can you discuss a bit about how your diverse training placements have prepared you for supporting clients in a private practice setting?
KB: Working in private practice completing in-depth assessments under your supervision has provided me with a solid foundation in test administration and interpretation, diagnostic interviewing, detailed yet accessible report writing, and delivering feedback in an engaging and understandable manner. My assessment experience has grown through my more recent work with personality disorder and early psychosis assessments, as well as providing consultation on a hospital inpatient unit.
Extensive training in emotion-focused, cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic, and integrative therapeutic approaches has provided me with a broad knowledge base to draw from in order to meet client needs in private practice. I have worked with adolescent and adult clients with a wide range of presenting problems across many settings, ranging from clients with psychosis in a residential care setting, to refugee clients seen through the assistance of a translator, to undergraduate students presenting with anxiety and depression. This generalist training has prepared me to adapt my approach to respond effectively to diverse clients with many different concerns.
My training has also allowed me to pursue specific interests in the assessment and treatment of eating disorders and trauma. Throughout my training I have sought out opportunities to expand my knowledge and skill in these areas through focusing my masters and doctoral research on body image, completing a placement at a community-based organization for clients with eating disorders, receiving additional supervision in emotion-focused therapy for trauma, and consistently ensuring a portion of my caseload includes clients with these concerns. I look forward to continuing to support individuals with these difficulties, among others, in a private practice setting.
MD: You have an interest in emotion focused therapy. We are starting to see this treatment become an increasingly popular branch of psychotherapy. Can you talk a little bit about the focus of this therapy and how it can promote change and wellness?
KB: Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is an evidence-based approach grounded in emotion theory and research. A fundamental assumption of this approach is that emotions are connected to a network of information, including our bodily sensations, our thoughts, and our beliefs. Discrete emotions are associated with information that contributes to adaptive functioning. They can alert us to our needs and guide our actions (e.g. anger at violation promotes self-defense, sadness at loss promotes grieving and moving on). However, emotional processes can also go awry.
EFT focuses on activating emotional experience in-session to gain entrance to associated networks of meaning, which in turn allows for exploration and change of maladaptive cognitive-affective processes. As a therapist I remain attuned and responsive to each client’s moment-to-moment processes, identifying markers for specific therapeutic interventions (e.g. self-criticism, unresolved trauma or feelings towards significant others, internal confusion, experiential avoidance). Interventions allow for the generation of new adaptive emotional experiences in-session. Information linked with adaptive emotion is used to transform maladaptive emotional meaning, and to increase awareness of unmet needs, thereby promoting adaptive behaviour outside of therapy.
MD: I know that psychological assessment is an important part of your practice. Can you discuss how experience as a diagnostician assists you in therapy even in cases where a lengthy formal assessment is not part of the current treatment plan?
KB: Assessment is always the initial starting point for working with any client, even if it’s not in the form of lengthy formal assessment. When I meet with therapy clients for the first time our initial task is to develop a mutual understanding of difficulties. To gather and make sense of this information accurately and efficiently I draw upon diagnostic interviewing skills and knowledge of psychopathology to arrive at a working diagnosis. This provides the basic framework for conceptualizing difficulties, serving as a guidepost for areas that are likely to require further exploration in order to arrive at a clear understanding of processes that are contributing to ongoing difficulties. This in turn informs collaborative decision making about the best therapeutic modality to address concerns, and which tasks and goals will be the focus of our work together. I also draw upon my experience as a diagnostician to identify any gaps in our understanding of difficulties, and to inform my selection of supplementary measures that will help us clarify concerns.
MD: In the other direction, how do you think your experiences as a therapist has influenced your approach to assessment?
KB: Creating a safe and collaborative environment where everyone is on equal footing is central to my therapeutic work. In a formal assessment setting there is some power imbalance inherent in the situation itself because I’m asking the questions and have access to all of the answers. This can be quite anxiety provoking for some clients, resulting in impaired performance.
I draw on my therapy training to establish the same kind of safe and supportive environment in the assessment context. In particular, my training in being attuned to moment-to-moment client processes allows me to identify emotional shifts in clients, and to respond empathically and explore these occurrences when there is a natural break in the testing. This can assist clients in regulating their emotions (e.g., decreasing frustration or worrying) allowing for more accurate assessment of the individual’s true capacity. Exploring these cognitive-affective processes also helps with diagnostic clarification, yielding explanations for inconsistencies in performance across tests, and at times identifying the need to investigate previously unarticulated mental health concerns. Additionally, it opens a dialogue wherein clients feel comfortable immediately disclosing when they’re struggling with anxiety, perfectionism, etc., allowing us to adjust the pace and sequence of tests to best fit their needs.
MD: We are excited to have you back as a permanent member of the FLEX team. Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts about the assessment and therapeutic process with me today.
KB: Thank you for having me! I'm thrilled to be returning to the team.
Katelyn is available for treatment and assessment services Monday - Wednesday (days and evening), Fridays (days), and Sundays (days). Call 647-494-3173 or CLICK HERE to electronically get connected with Katelyn.
Author: Michael Decaire
I have worked with many College and University students who have struggled to show their full abilities on final exams. They believe they simply need to study harder or earlier, but attempts to do so are met with limited success.
In my experience we see four common problems that are contributing to poor performance on final examinations:
(1) Not studying in an organized fashion. Our memory is like a filing cabinet. It relies on good categorization or "labels" in order to properly store and access information. File it incorrectly and it will not be accessible on an examination.
(2) Not doing enough rehearsal. There is a lot going on inside our brains. Neuro-pathways connect information and create a complex set of forks in the road that may not be easy to navigate. Rehearsal increases the likelihood the right pathway is taken and the speed at which one can traverse it goes up.
(3) Taking the test wrong. I have seen students use every strategy in the book while studying only to abandon their strategic approaches once in the exam. What part of the test do you do first? Most students start with multiple-choice. That's a mistake. This increases the amount of less-than-usefull information active in your short term storage and will only lead to confusion once you get to the more focused work (e.g. short answers or essay). Leave multiple-choice for the end.
(4) Poor sleep hygiene. If you are not getting enough sleep your memory becomes compromised, your attention span drops, and you are more sluggish. Too bad you are now about to go into a memory test where you need to be focused and work really really quickly. Go take a nap.
The FLEX team offers workshops to boost academic performance. Our College/University exam workshop runs November 9th at 6pm. Only $40! Click here to learn more.
There is a misperception that bright and gifted students should be met with academic success with very little effort and that exceptional results should be well within their grasp if they try hard enough. Parents often perceive that giftedness programming is a place for accelerated and enriched learning and that keeping their children in a “normal” stream will stunt their potential. In reality, giftedness programming often exists to prevent bright students from floundering or underachieving in a more traditional stream, where their logical talents may be both a blessing and a curse.
During the early elementary years, being “smart” can lead to a great deal of success. Bright students see the big picture or the end goal quicker than many of their peers and they may very well be able to get to a solution in one single brilliant step. Rightfully so, these successes are praised, but could this have a negative impact on one’s learning style?
When you reward a child for their successes the brain does not necessarily associate that reward with the fact that they produced a high quality result. Instead, you may unintentionally be encouraging a manner of responding that favours how quickly and seamlessly they can resolve the problems they are facing. Unfortunately, this may promote a manner of responding to test questions and projects that promotes rushing towards task completion and keeping track of all aspects of a task in one’s head.
"The most strategic students I have met are those who have faced the greatest challenges"
The most strategic students I have met are those who have faced the greatest challenges. They had to develop countless alternative strategies to simply keep up with the pace of their peers or to show all that they are capable of. I have observed some remarkable techniques and outcomes from students with the most severe physical or learning disabilities imaginable. Many of these strategies I now teach to each student I work with.
In contrast, the least strategic students I have worked with are the bright and gifted population. It’s not laziness. It’s not disinterest. Instead, it typically a consequence of having been met with great success for many years by rushing into problems and completing tasks in one step or at the very last minute.
This approach can work quite well in the early and middle grades. The first signs of difficulty may emerge in the senior elementary years or during the transition to high school. Teachers begin to expect students to coordinate each stage of their approach more and projects begin to require work that spans many nights or a weekend of homework. Even the most talented thinkers can’t keep track of all of these steps in their heads. They may, however, be able to envision the end result, which can reinforce old strategies that promote an attempt to get there in one fell swoop.
High school begins and the tendency to perceive work as being completable in a single step or with low efforts may continue. They may also begin to underestimate the amount of time necessary to complete work, which then leads to procrastination. Eventually marks start to take a hit and a student may: begin to believe they are less capable, lose interest in school, or begin to experience academic anxiety.
The anxious student may show a sudden increase in effort. Unfortunately, working hard and working smart are two different things. We have also learned that working smart and being smart are also not always related.
"... working hard and working smart are two different things"
A little over a half-decade ago I began looking for programming for these students. School based learning strategy courses did not always meet their needs, tutor centres focused on content more than the process, and I had yet to meet more than a handful of adolescents who were willing to work with their parents to develop these skills. So I created a learning therapy program targeting these exact needs.
I learned that bright students are more likely to connect with strategies if they make logical sense to them. My focus is to help them understand how the brain works and how they can “hack” their brains to meet its full potential. We then demonstrate practical ways to take advantage of this knowledge during note-taking, reading, project and time management, studying, and test-taking. Not every student will jump on board with every strategy, but everyone tends to find a few things that really work for them.
In the end, my goal is to teach bright and gifted students to think strategically. To pause and reflect on “what” they are being asked to do and “how” they should respond to that expectation. It can be quite remarkable how much can change by simply thinking about how to work smart rather than just being smart.
At FLEX Psychology we offer an ever expanding slate of workshops and group trainings. We are also available to support our students as they implement these strategies into their workflow. Keep an eye on our websites www.flexpsychology.ca and www.studentstrats.ca for more information or contact us to talk about how we can help your bright or gifted teen be met with increased success.
The FLEX Psychology team is excited to welcome Jennifer Marcus to our assessment and treatment team. Jennifer is a doctoral candidate who has worked closely with our clinic director (Michael Decaire) since her first placement in graduate school. She has always proven to be a quick learner, highly skilled, and engaging clinician who will hopefully bring each of these assets to our team for years to come.
Jennifer will be an integral member of our contract assessment team, a role she has seasonally held in the past, and she will now also be offering psychotherapeutic services at a group and individual level. Jennifer brings forth a wide-scope of therapeutic knowledge, which allows her to adapt to each clients needs, rather than trying to fit individuals into a single "type" of psychotherapy. This makes Jennifer the perfect fit for our team and just one more way that we can help you live FLEXibly.
Author: Michael Decaire
In honour of Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!), FLEX is featuring a look at mindfulness trainings in popular culture throughout the month of May. And the series continues ...
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. - Yoda (The Phantom Menace, 1999).
Like a true teacher, Yoda provides us with a few different ways to interpret this statement. In essence, there is more than one lesson here.
The first is the idea of "autopilot" or as I like to refer to it the "chain of thoughts and emotions". As human beings we are surprisingly unattuned to how our behaviours, thoughts, or emotions arise. Most of the time we are swept up in a chain of events, where the previous moment dictates the next one and the current moment dictates the next. At very few points do we step out of this chain and simply observe what is truly going on in this moment and make an informed decision on how to proceed on the basis of that information alone. This is one of the anchors of mindfulness training and is also the primary component of many other successful psychotherapies (e.g. CBT & REBT are text book chain breaking exercises for you therapist folks).
An example: A student who has exhibited poor behaviour at school tells me that he "hates" his teacher. We explore why he feels this way and he relays that he is "angry" that his teacher has given him several lower than expected marks of late. That anger is further explored and is connected to a "fear" that he will not make the honour roll this year. This is in turn linked to another "fear" regarding overall performance and then eventual success. In the end, we have a lot of actions, interpretations, emotions, and behaviours that are connected to each other with very little conscious examination of this "chain" having occurred prior to therapy.
Mindfulness practice provides an opportunity to do a couple of things here:
(1) Observe the chain - Simply observing one's thoughts as they arise during either a formal mindfulness practice (e.g. sitting and meditating) or an informal one (e.g. mindful moments throughout the day) can provide valuable insight into what preceded the current moment and what resulted from that thought, behaviour, or emotion. This insight can be quite valuable as it may allow us to recognize when these "triggers" happen in the real world and then we can ...
(2) Break the chain - Being aware of the chain may allow us to step outside of this previously unconscious series of events. Simple awareness of the triggering events, thoughts, or behaviour can provide the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to act or respond in a different manner. It does not mean that we will always make that choice or that we will not experience a strong emotion, but the likelihood that we can act in a manner that reflects our own decisions (and not the chain's) is higher.
Recognizing the chain is the first step. It is my hope that you will choose to return here in a few days to pick up the next lesson from this great Yoda training. Who ever said there was nothing redeeming about The Phantom Menace!
Art Credit: Navdeep Raj (San Jose, CA - http://bit.ly/1ewNXSJ)
Author: Michael Decaire
In honour of Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!), FLEX is featuring a look at mindfulness trainings in popular culture throughout the month of May. And the series continues ...
No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try. - Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980).
Pretty much everyone has heard this quote. At the same time, most have probably assumed it is synonymous with saying "don't accept defeat" or that persistence will pay off in the end.
While I do not claim to have the inside scoop on Yoda's motivations, I suspect that the intention here was not to infer the concepts of effortlessness and non-judgement. Effortlessness is not synonymous with laziness, but instead relates to a lack of narrow intention during mindfulness practice. If you anchor yourself on "trying" to do something there is a possibility of failure. Either way, the result of trying is undoubtedly that it worked or it did not work. An opposing way to look at this would be to simply acknowledge or observe that this happened, it did not, or something in between occurred. There is no judgement here, this is simply an observation or reflection of what happened.
An example: If my mind is busy and I am finding the thoughts overwhelming or distracting I may choose to do a sitting meditation where my attention is at least part of the time on my breath. If I "try" to keep my attention on my breath the entire time I will undoubtedly fail and may very well perceive the meditation practice as a failure as well. If I simply "do" a mindfulness of breath practice I will be sometimes have my attention on my breath and I will sometimes not. This exact example is one of the first barriers I observe when training my clients mindfulness (e.g., "I tried that, it did not work").
When conceptualized in a framework of "try", the fact that I was not always able to sustain my attention on my breathing inherently implies that I failed. When conceptualized within a framework of "do or do not", I am simply acknowledging what happened in the present moment. Now, some of you are likely saying this is simply an argument in semantics and that what I'm really doing is choosing to not judge myself (which is also an important mindfulness lesson), but the key here is effortlessness versus intention. If I simply "do" something and observe what happened there is no possibility of failure. If I "try" to do something and I do not succeed then I have undoubtedly failed.
In the end, I'll admit there is a bit of a semantics argument going on here. Still, we examine and describe our world and experience in words. A shift in how we interpret these experiences is the anchor of many therapies and is undoubtedly part of a mindfulness practice. I have personally found that having a good "vocabulary of mindfulness" is one of the keys to my personal training and is often how I transmit these tools to my clients. This can come from a mindfulness teacher, therapist, or a self-help book, but as you will see over the rest of this month, it can also come from the world around us (and from a galaxy far far away). Do or do not return in a few days for another pop culture mindfulness training.
Art Credit: Navdeep Raj (San Jose, CA - http://bit.ly/1ewNXSJ)
Author: Michael Decaire
In honour of Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!), FLEX will be featuring a look at mindfulness trainings in popular culture throughout the month of May. We will start off the series with some trainings from one of the original pop-culture Mindfulness gurus, Yoda.
Named must your fear be before banish it you can. - Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back, 1980).
Many people mistakenly believe that mindfulness practice and mediation is about clearing your mind of strong emotions. This would suggest that there is some active attempt to suppress or push away these types of thoughts. Placing too much active energy towards any aspect of meditation is really the opposite goal in mindfulness and will undoubtedly lead to frustration (just another emotion to attempt to gain control over!).
Instead, mindfulness practice has a lot more to do with simply observing one's emotions as they rise and fall during a formal meditation practice or less formally when we go about our day. Being able to simply observe these emotions can be facilitated by labelling. Recognizing that something is simply a positive or nourishing thought, a negative or depleting one, or by a more specific label (e.g. a judgement thought, anger, or fear) allows us to step away from the emotional experience itself and facilitates an observer role. With no real effort, this can lead to eureka moments that can consciously guide our future behaviour (e.g. Hmm look at that. This happened and then I felt this way), may allow one to step out of a chain of strong emotions, or may simply prove to be just an interesting exercise in knowing oneself a bit better.
Join us back here in a few days with a few more wise teachings from Yoda or feel free to contact our team to discuss how Mindfulness training may also be able to help you manage strong emotions.
Art Credit: Navdeep Raj (San Jose, CA - http://bit.ly/1ewNXSJ)
FLEX Psychology is proud to announce that Denyse Brushett, M.S.W., RSW., has recently joined our treatment team and will be offering psychotherapeutic services for individuals and groups at our Thornhill/Toronto-North office.
Denyse is a respected therapist and educator who integrates traditional western therapies with mindfulness based practices. She is available to work with adolescents and adults who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, psychosis, trauma, and gender based concerns. She also runs workshops and trainings in Mindful Parenting, Mindfulness and Adolescents and has facilitated the Mindful School curriculum with elementary and high school-aged students.
Having seen the results of Denyse’s work as both a therapist and educator, it was my pleasure to welcome her to our collaborative treatment team at FLEX Psychology. She brings years of unique experience to our office and will undoubtedly increase the wellness of our clients for years to come.
Michael Decaire, M.A., C.Psych.Assoc.
Clinical Director, FLEX Psychology
Author: Michael Decaire
Mindfulness is about being in the moment. A great deal of the tension we experience arguably comes from when we are stuck in the past (e.g., regret; rumination) or when we are over focusing on the future (e.g., worried and overwhelmed).
One of the risks is that we do not fully let go of previous moments and we move onto the next one. Before we know it, we have chained together dozens of "moments" and the stress of each of these, which was not very big at the time, has culminated into something much larger.
We've been working with some of our clients on the idea of transitions. Examining the number of transitions once faces in a day is quite telling and allows us to recognize when a pasts moments baggage can start impacting the present. Brief meditations and body scans can help to transition into awareness in the morning and into rest when we go to sleep.
Throughout the day, shorter mindful "moments" may be of benefit as we take a few breaths as we move from one task or activity to the next. Consider focusing on your breath for a few moments and simply counting when you have completed each inhale and exhale without having your mind wander. Try to make it to three without losing your focus and ruminating on the past or worry about the future. If you do not make it to three, start over. Do not judge yourself, even I have trouble getting to three every so often.
This little activity can help you come to new tasks and new interactions with fresh eyes and your full focused attention. Why not try it between job tasks or before lunch.
Coming from school or the office can be one of the biggest transitions in our day. Bringing the days baggage home can harm our self-worth, our relationships, and may derail us from getting things done that we need to do (e.g., homework or housework). Below, I've included a guided meditation to walk you through a small lesson and practice in being in the moment and transitioning well.
Author: Michael Decaire
A very enlightened 17 year old once shared with me a metaphor that he felt described his sources of tensions (I'm paraphrasing as I did not anticipate the enlightened moment he was about to share with me):
"I have spent much of my adolescence sitting on a bus, either looking out the back window ruminating about where I have been or out the front window worrying about where I'm going. Mindfulness meditation has taught me to look out the side of the bus and simply experience where I am now."
The more you get into the concept of mindfulness the more that metaphor will really mean to you. I do not know if he came to that thought himself or if someone had shared it with him, but it is a remarkable statement none the less and really captures how failing to be in the current moment in time means we are often being driven by tension or stress about the future or suffering regarding to the past.
Below is a brief 5 to 6 minute breathing and focusing meditation intended to take you out of the past/present and into the moment. After you've tried this, why not try moving onto something you want to get done, by working on it one step (or present moment) at a time, moving forward by simply acting in the moment.
Author: Michael Decaire
Mindful.org is a non-profit online resource for the mindfulness community. It is a secular resource that includes a number of fantastic and brief reports relating to how individual's can incorporate mindfulness into their life in different ways. While I was aware of the website, I was unaware that they had launched a traditional paper magazine.
Now in it's second issue, "Mindful" is a reasonably priced magazine examining how the practice of pausing (through meditation or other means) and then acting in a manner that facilitates the ability to fully leveraging your brain in a focused and strategic fashion can impact peoples lives in a multitude of ways. The magazine is like Psychology Today without all the flash and noise (which is a very mindful way to present itself). If you are interested in how to incorporate mindfulness into your life it is worth a read. Subscriptions are available in print here and for iPad here.
Author: Michael Decaire
Almost everyone I assess complains of having a bad memory. While legitimate impairments in acquisition of memory (more of an information processing deficit) and retention (that's pretty rare actually) exist, clients are rarely complaining about forgetting something from the past. Generally people forget and get in trouble for failing to remember to do things in the future. Essentially we are talking about forgetting to not forget to do something. It is as much an mechanism of attention and is referred to as a prospective memory failure.
Wired Magazine had a nice little brief on this (click here) and talked about the use of "geolocation" reminders to prevent you from making these errors. Maybe now you won't forget the milk.
Author: Michael Decaire
Mindfulness meditation, relaxation therapy, and even some martial arts begin and end with taking a controlled, slow, and deep breath. What's the big deal?
There is a long list of research regarding what the breath does for the body (beyond just allowing us to exist). Of therapeutic interest are the links that breath has with many aspects of our physiological stress response system. When we get stressed out we become increasingly driven by our "fight or flight" system which is driven by our sympathetic nervous system. This response increases our blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate in order to protect us from threat.
This was a pretty useful evolutionary construct when we were dodging lions and other large meat eaters tens of thousands of years ago. These days the system is rarely that helpful and, even in times of threat, a system that we can control will usually lead to a better outcome (the US military is doing some really cool experiments hacking into this system through breath and meditation).
While we may not necessarily be able to bypass the sympathetic nervous system immediately, we can learn to take control of these systems fairly quickly and somewhat unconsciously through practice. One of the key aspects of this is breathing. Slow and deep breaths have been shown to stimulate an opposing "para"sympathetic nervous system reaction. This is the one that calms us down.
Think of the sympathetic system as the gas pedal where we decide to race away or crash into a threat at high speed. The parasympathetic system is the breaks where we slow down for a second and act in a smart way to solve our problems.
Essentially, when we are being driven by our sympathetic system we are functioning at a pretty basic and not especially strategic part of our brain (the amygdala to be more precise). This system derails our ability to self-direct ourselves and usually means we act on instinct. If we can bypass that system we can leverage our more evolutionary advanced frontal lobes. This part of our brain allows us to better inhibit our instincts and move forward in a smart and self-directed way.
Another example, ever gotten into an argument or fight with someone and said something you did not mean that did not resolve your issue at all and perhaps made things even worse for you? Have you walked away, calmed down, and realized how you could of approached the situation differently and better conveyed your thoughts?
That first system is the sympathetic the second is the parasympathetic, which we can give a boost too by taking a second to breath slowly and deeply. So take some old advice. Relax a bit and take a deep breath. Then decide what to do.
Need some help playing inside your brain and nervous system? We can help you think FLEXibly. Give us a call.
The information provided on the Think FLEXibly Blog is for educational purposes only. These documents are not intended to be considered therapeutic guidance, nor should they be followed as a substitution to a well established therapeutic relationship.