The topic of the what the future will bring with COVID has been on everyone's minds, particularly when will the return to 'normal' come? As Roy points out, 'normal' is not a desirable state to return to, as this forced quarantine gives a chance for a depth of reflection not usually possible with the pace of everyday life pre-pandemic. It becomes apparent that we have less control over our fate than we would like to believe. Nothing is for certain and everything is always changing. We have control over how we choose to approach life; in keeping a hopeful attitude, making ethical decisions and treating people with respect and dignity.
How can you remain peaceful amongst the ups and downs? You must learn to find inner stillness despite the ever changing landscape of life. Are you only happy when you are experiencing a good phase of life? Or can you remain at peace when you are in the midst of several challenges? What happens if you lose the identities you define yourself by through a career loss, change of relationship or health status or loss of an important title or business? There can be sadness if you judge yourself based on what your external life looks like rather than who you are as a person.
We observe that people treat others differently as a result of their status at a given point of time. Nevertheless, it is a harsh reality to accept when you personally experience a status reversal and are treated differently for setbacks that you had little control over, that may have been unfair. At the same time, people are conditioned by media and society to treat people differentially according to factors that define material success. Much of this happens at an unconscious level, similar to discrimination based on sex, race, class, sexual orientation, age and disability. Inequities have become much sharper, with the gap growing rapidly between the haves and the have nots. Many people who never thought they could be have nots, suddenly find themselves in the vulnerable position of having to struggle for security in ways they could not have imagined possible. These experiences can build empathy or harden the heart. I would hope that for most people, that it creates an experiential understanding of the unpredictability of life, in that roles can always change. Therefore, to build an identity around something that can be taken away, is a recipe for anxiety and disillusionment.
I believe the pandemic presents an opportunity to think about how we define success and how we relate to other people. First, are you judging your success and happiness on the degree to which you have mastered yourself as opposed to what your life looks like on the outside? Second, think about how we can bridge the barriers between us; to see how we can judge people not by external identities but by personality traits and the ways in which they approach the world with compassion. If we looked at ourselves and others in this way on a micro level, the world will change on a macro level, as we develop self-compassion and form relationships with a broader range of people. Demographics are not under our control and there needs to be a stronger effort to move beyond the ways in which our appearance and outer success influences who we spend time with. By expanding our minds and our hearts, more authentic friendships can blossom. In this way, we can imagine a new world, one that values inclusivity, diversity and equality. This is well worth fighting for.
Happy Canada Day! I am thankful for this lovely holiday and honour all the freedoms of living in this beautiful country, we are very blessed.
I hope you have been having a great summer so far, I have been busier than usual lately and have not had as much time to update my blog. However, I wanted to share with you some beautiful music that has helped me to unwind and leaves me with feelings of peace and joy. Sam Garrett is someone I recently discovered and really resonate with his energy and lyrics, having watched several of his videos on YouTube. My favourites from this video are Hummingbird and Higher Than the Mountains, the latter I have been playing at least once everyday. Hope you enjoy!
It's important to remember that sharing our struggles and authentic self with someone takes a lot of inner strength and courage, and is something that should be commended rather than thought of as a weakness. Mental health issues can not be seen, and consequently are given much less tolerance, acceptance and empathy when compared to physical health issues. We wouldn't expect someone in a wheelchair to walk but we may get angry or resentful when someone suffering from depression has to take an extended leave of absence.
People who suffer from depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder and several other mental health conditions usually don't look or act differently than anyone else. It's time to change the way we view mental illness as secondary in importance to physical illness. OHIP will allow you to see a medical doctor when you are feeling physically ill, but not a psychotherapist when you are suffering mentally. Not all private insurance companies cover psychotherapists.
We become what we think about all day long. Our thoughts shape our destiny, if the mind is not healthy, you will not be healthy. The more we advocate for mental health, the more likely that those who genuinely need help will get help at critical points in their lives.
I hope that the first day of 2021 has been off to an auspicious start for you. There is a saying that what you do on the first day of the year reflects the theme for the year ahead, so I took the entire day for self-care, to harmonize my mind, body and spirit.
I'm not sure how 2020 was for you but there are always things that went well and that you finally accomplished, regardless of how difficult the year was in general. It's helpful to intentionally focus on all the things you accomplished and felt good about, rather than think about what you still haven't done yet. This way your cup will feel full. You will feel abundant and optimistic about all the good things that will be coming your way this year, and also encourage others to feel the same.
Growth is a process; and transformation is a gradual, sometimes subtle, process that we have to cultivate faith and patience towards. It can be frustrating to see that we are working hard in pursuit of a certain goal; we have been at it for months and even years, and the outcome remains uncertain. We don't know if or when we will see the fruits of our labour and it seems tempting to change course or put it on hold. Other people may not see or understand our talent and passion, and may not validate our dream. Yet, the dream remains in our heart and we can imagine vividly how it will feel when the time comes for it to be actualized.
I've observed that how we would like the timing of our life to look like isn't always what the universe has in store for us. The universe operates on divine timing and has infinite intelligence. Be open and receptive to what the universe is trying to tell you, and use pencil to plan your life instead of pen. That way you will be able to surrender all expectations which keep you from living joyfully. Happiness may not always come in the package we would expect it to. God's blessings don't come in a linear way; all of a sudden, you find yourself with more than you ever dreamed possible, or you suddenly find yourself thinking from a much higher, deeper and wiser level of awareness.
Sadvi Bhagawati Saraswati writes in her book 'Come Home to Yourself':
"The universe has a plan for you. Yes, of course, we have to choose a path and walk it, but we only do that until we get a sign that says, 'Turn right now'. Look at the caterpillar. It spends most of its life crawling on the ground, and then one day, it hears a voice or it gets a sign that says, 'Climb the tree.' Now, it's never seen anyone go up that tree and come back. Mom's gone up, dad's gone up, but no one has come back. That tree is the Bermuda Triangle for caterpillars. But when it receives the instruction to climb, it does. It gets a signal to go out on the branch, weave itself into a cocoon and sometime later, burst forth, jump and fly away. It has no idea how to fly! It's never flown before, but when it is time to jump, it does.
A caterpillar never misses the chance to become a butterfly because it's too scared to climb a tree, or because it doesn't know how to weave a cocoon, or because it jumps out of the cocoon too soon and plummets to the ground. It never becomes a butterfly that climbs back down the tree instead of flying because it doesn't believe it can really fly.
There is an intelligence in the universe that pervades all of creation, including us. But we have to trust it, and we have to be quiet and still enough to hear it. If the caterpillar spent its entire life bemoaning the fact that the millipede got a thousand legs while we only got twelve, it might miss the call to climb the tree."
From this passage, I take away that it is important to find ways to honour yourself just as you are now, even though you might be in the caterpillar stage. Bloom where you are planted. While it is important to be aware of our constant state of evolution, it is also important to be content with the way our journey has unfolded up to this point, with the realization that everything that happened is meant as preparation for our ultimate destiny. We have everything we need to fulfill our unique destiny, and do not need to compare our talent to anyone else or feel inadequate or inexperienced in any way. Take risks that will add vitality to your life when your heart tells you it is right. Don't miss your chance to become a butterfly due to fear and worry, the false belief that you aren't ready yet, or listen to the voice of naysayers. If you are given the opportunity, you can be sure that you are well equipped to handle what comes your way. There is no need to have the process completely planned out, for it will happen just at the time and in the way that it is meant to.
To varying intensity and duration, we've all struggled with our mental health at some point in our lives. Experiencing these issues are part of the human condition, part of our life cycle just like birth, aging, and death. Yet, mental illness does not garner the same level of empathy and societal acceptance as physical illness. While we take time off when we are physically ill, it is unheard of in nearly all workplaces for employees to take a "mental health day" off work, to just stay at home, when they are on the brink of burnout and desperately need to re-charge. It would make a huge difference if companies provided even one paid holiday for employees to take care of their mental health without having to lie in order to do so. Feeling forced into lying is part of what perpetuates the stigma around mental health.
As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living". Self-analysis is necessary for all of us to understand our blind spots, and to be equipped with the right tools to initiate meaningful change. It takes strength and trust to be vulnerable in session. Vulnerability and honesty are necessary for growth. If you are in therapy, this is a great time to honour yourself for all of the work that you have done thus far, and to celebrate the fact that your enhanced self-awareness impacts the lives of the most important people in your life. Relationships are on the path to restoration and revitalization because of you.
Habitual self-care and going to therapy are acts of generosity towards yourself and others. I hope one day mental illness will be recognized as a normal, inevitable response to life's accumulated daily stresses and unexpected curveballs at certain stages in life, and people validated by loved ones for the courage it takes to seek therapy as part of their healing.
There are some points to consider when thinking about the impact of intersectionality on the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client. Intersectionality commonly considers factors such as age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, native tongue, citizenship, religion, and social class in studying how a person's lived experiences, view of the world, and expectations for the future are created and shaped with time.
While factors such as age, race, sex, physical disabilities, and sexual orientation tend to be visible, disabilities (learning and mental health), social class, citizenship and religion tend to be more hidden. I've observed that clients tend to gravitate to a therapist who shares visible factors in common with them, with age and race being most commonly sought out. Sometimes therapists will discuss on their websites the non-visible factors they experience or have experienced in the past in an effort to convey that they have a particular lived experience in common with their potential clients. Or perhaps they will disclose this if you discuss it in session.
The list of non visible shared experiences are endless but for example, being a first or second generation immigrant, having a parent who was a refugee or coming to the country as a refugee, having overcome an addiction, being a parent or single parent, miscarriage or issues with pregnancy, divorce or separation, marital difficulties, being in an interracial relationship, holding precarious jobs or other issues with career, being bullied, experiencing trauma, experiencing sexual assault, going back to school in mid-life, growing up in a particular country, parents divorced when young, learning English as a second language, experiencing challenges with mental health or having a learning disability, and experiencing difficulty with household income as a child.
When you are in a school, are a client at a community centre or are accessing a therapist through a EAP, there may be just a handful of therapists to select from and you feel they may not be a good fit for you. It is important to invest in your mental health and put a great deal of care in selecting the right therapist for you. It is a crucial investment because your thoughts and feelings shape your destiny. The right therapist can be a huge catalyst for change in your life. Many therapists in private practice offer a sliding scale (even if it isn't advertised) and are willing to work with you to make therapy accessible.
When seeking therapy, it is natural for clients to want to seek out a psychotherapist who shares at least a few of these features of intersectionality in common as it suggests they may have had some similar experiences and therefore have a better understanding of what the client is going through. Lived experiences are powerful builders of empathy, because if I remember going through something, or am going through it myself, and you are now going through the same thing, my understanding comes from the heart and not just the mind. You may be able to convince me out of believing in a theory but not out of my lived experiences. When we share lived experiences, I can see and understand you in ways that other people may not. You are free to speak your personal truth. Taking the risk of being raw in session, and then feeling truly seen, heard and validated in a caring, genuine way is the power of a strong therapeutic alliance.
The therapeutic alliance is the single best predictor of meaningful client outccomes. The strength and quality of the therapeutic alliance has been shown to be associated with: positive changes in attachment style in clients (Messer & Gurman, 2011, p. 95), clients being able to access and express their emotions faster and more in-depth while in therapy (Greenberg, 2014) and more profound, long-term behavioural changes after termination (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011; Leszcz, Pain, Hunter, Maunder & Ravitz, 2015). Leszcz et al (2015) state that the therapist’s ability to: convey genuineness and empathy to a client, collaborate on goals, quickly and effectively repair ruptures, and understand the client’s beliefs and worldviews make for a stronger therapeutic alliance. In turn, this helps to create an atmosphere where clients can heal, regardless of the therapeutic style employed (Leszcz, 2018).
Every therapeutic model has research that demonstrates the effectiveness of its individual techniques on client progress. Examples would be the thought record and exposure therapy in CBT and empty chair and self-critical split techniques in EFT (Josefowitz & Myran, 2017; Elliott, Watson, Goldman & Greenberg, 2004). However, two therapists using the same technique on the same client may have significantly different results, depending on the therapist’s personal characteristics and the quality of the therapeutic alliance they have established with the client (Greenberg, 2018).
In emotion focused therapy, the therapist’s presence in creating a safe space for expression of emotions that may have never been made conscious or expressed to others is associated with a high-quality therapeutic alliance (Greenberg, 2014). While the technique used can make a difference, the therapeutic alliance is more important (Greenberg, 2014; Greenberg, 2018). In other words, technical mastery is not enough for meaningful change unless it is accompanied by a high-quality therapeutic relationship. Sensitivity to issues of diversity (Big 7 identities) and equalizing the power helps to cultivate the therapeutic alliance (Moodley, 2011).
Sometimes you have to try a session or two before you can gauge whether the outcome is likely to be fruitful if you continue to invest the time and effort. Pay attention to how you feel after the session and trust in your intuition to guide you to someone who is the right fit for you.
Ardito, R. B. & Rabellino, D. (2011). Therapeutic Alliance and Outcome of Psychotherapy: Historical Excursus, Measurements, and Prospects for Research. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198542/
Elliott, R., Watson, J. C., Goldman, R. & Greenberg, L.S. (2003). Learning emotionally focused therapy: The process experiential approach to change. Washington D.C.: APA Books.
Greenberg, R. (2018). Essential ingredients for successful psychotherapy. In M. J Dewan., B. N. Steenbarger & R.P. Greenberg (Eds.), The art and science of brief psychotherapies, 3rd edition. (pp. 17-28). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing
Greenberg, L. (2014). The therapeutic relationship in emotion-focused therapy. Retrieved from
Josefowitz, N. & Myran, D. (2017). CBT made simple: A clinician’s guide to practicing cognitive behavioral therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger
Leszcz, M., Pain, C., Hunter, J., Maunder, R., & Ravitz, P. (2015). Psychotherapy essentials to go: achieving psychotherapy effectiveness. New York, NY: W.W Norton & Company
Messer, S. B., & Gurman, A. S. (2011). Essential psychotherapies: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Moodley, R. (2011). Outside the sentence. Toronto, ON: Centre for diversity in counselling and psychotherapy
Meghan Markle and her family were forced to leave the royal family because despite being beautiful, successful, independently wealthy, eloquent and charitable, the U. K. was not ready to accept a biracial or Black person into such a powerful position. She did not fit the image they had in their minds of who would be a suitable match for Prince Harry. She would never be good enough. The royal family refused to defend her from the constant abuse, although they defended Kate Middleton even when the level of abuse she receives was of less frequency and intensity. I believe Meghan was seen as 'the other' from the beginning and treated in ways that dehumanized her. She wasn't seen as worthy of protection. People refused to consider that race may be even one factor in the discrimination she was facing. The lack of empathy and compassion was probably also because she was now in one of the richest and most powerful families in the world, being partially funded by the tax payer. The expectation was that the abuse and increased scrutiny was the price she was expected to pay. All sorts of things were said to portray her as a villain in the media, when her only crime was being half Black. The U. K. as a whole will probably take a long time to admit that as they continue to vilify her for stealing Prince Harry (when it was really him who decided to move out of the U. K.). However, what happened to her did cause important conversations to come to the forefront all over the world. I hope that her lawsuit against the British media, regardless of whether it is successful in court, will be a force for change.
When I first saw the video circulating of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck on facebook, my first thought was how is this still able to occur in 2020? After so many incidents like it in the past on recording, you would think that systems would have changed so that this could not happen again. Nevertheless, it happened with 3 other officers present in broad daylight on a busy street in front of numerous witnesses in a first world country. Why? People generally don't do things like this so brazenly unless they think the consequences they will face will be insignificant, or perhaps they think they will get away with it entirely. We have seen this happen before, particularly with White officers and Black civilians. The police have power because of their position in society. Power with an absence of proper checks and accountability lead to the abuse of that power. Targets are typically oppressed groups, particularly minorities, and especially Black people in the United States.
With the rise of cell phones, these incidents are being recorded and the truth being exposed so that perpetrators can be held accountable. Convenient excuses used in the past of officers taking innocent people's lives on the premise of defending themselves against aggressive Black men resisting arrest will no longer hold as the public outcry becomes louder, as society demands change. Change will not happen overnight but little victories add up and change on a micro level leads to change on a macro level. Every generation becomes better than the one that came before it.
Overtly racist comments are rarely made in public discussion but the belief that minorities are more aggressive, particularly when standing up for their rights or bringing up systemic discrimination persist. Mistakes are blown out of proportion. Punishments are harsher. Expectations for achievement are lower. The benefit of the doubt is not given as much and there are fewer second chances. There is not as much room for error because judgements of behaviour are immediate and attributed to inherent flaws rather than external changeable factors. Assumptions are made about profession, class and/or social status.
Sadly, people with White privilege often make decisions about people whose lived reality they know (or care to know) very little about, though they may pay lip service to it. Or they may say they "don't see colour", or one is "playing the race card". Race is not a card to be played, it's a non-changeable factor that causes real disadvantages in many areas of life, as evidenced by research in many social contexts. For example, the fact that there is a significant wage gap between Canadian born and educated minorities, and Canadian born and educated Caucasians despite the children of visible minority immigrant parents going to university at much higher rates than the rest of the population. Refusing to acknowledge race is a way for those with white privilege to ignore systemic inequalities, maintain their power and diffuse their responsibility in considering what factors contribute to discrimination and exclusion from the highest decision making positions. By pretending the issue does not exist, it is easier to maintain the status quo that is already in their favour and avoid any change that could upset the power balance. It is easier to silence dissenting voices by inflicting punishment, to teach others vicariously not to speak up.
This lack of empathy for 'the other' dehumanizes the victim, inhibits one's ability to feel their pain, and as a result causes injustices to be swept under the rug or minimized to as great extent as possible. When someone complains or files a lawsuit about racial discrimination, the judge or person in charge of hearing the complaint is more often someone with White privilege than not. People from this privileged group can at times lack the awareness and humility to truly understand (or to take the time to learn) the subtle nuances of racism and all the ways in which it has historically (through intergenerational trauma) affected and continues to affect racialized people. These people don't take the time to learn because there are no consequences for them for their ignorance. If you make an appeal, the higher and higher you go up the chain of command, almost all the decision makers are people with white privilege.
As one of my favourite authors Najwa Zebian notes, they often would like to believe something is wrong with you then something wrong happened to you. You are written off as a troublemaker when you have the courage to advocate for your rights. I believe that placing of people with White privilege in positions where they have to decide on whether racial discrimination happened, for example in regulatory bodies, organizations, courts and tribunals, has the potential to show a lack of sensitivity towards the complainant and can possibly risk re-traumatizing them in the process.
I believe the only way to fight back against this is to keep speaking up, keep recording through audios and in journals the microaggressions and keep having the courage to bring up these issues publicly despite attempts that those with power and privilege will make to ruin your reputation. Know in your heart that you are not the labels they place on you. The more people who complain about this treatment, the harder it is for the same person or organization to keep treating people badly.
Success is not to be judged just through the outcome. On the other hand, success comes from knowing you used your voice to fight the good fight and you can be proud of yourself for raising awareness and making it easier for the next person who finds themselves in the same situation that you did.
"We don't change the world when we whisper, we change it when we roar"
- Cleo Wade
It's inaccurate to assume you don't have unconscious bias towards stigmatized groups because you have friends from those groups, are married or in a relationship with a person from those groups, that you have been nice to them or that you haven't done anything wrong towards them. The fact is that good people often hold unconscious racial and other types of bias. Holding these biases does not make you a bad person, you just need to recognize that you need to learn more about the nature of these biases and how to reduce them in order to grow as a socially responsible citizen.
Growth comes from learning about different perspectives and experiences; for example watching films, reading stories or listening to audios/ videos from: women, minorities, immigrants, poor and working class, persons with disabilities, LGTBQ, or people with different religious and cultural backgrounds than your own. These stories are being told and it is up to you to seek them out and listen with an open heart and mind. This process of reducing unconscious bias takes time, effort and a sincere willingness to change.
After realizing to what extent the dominant narrative about these groups is shaped by people who are not a member of those groups, you will start to change your beliefs because your assumptions will be challenged.
I watched the entire series of Little Fires Everywhere in just 3 days and highly recommend it for a thought-provoking look into race and class in America and how it shapes the choices available to us. Elena, an upper-middle class White woman, (who was born into wealth and is married to a lawyer, who is also White) tells Mia, a working-class, lesbian, Black woman who is a single mother, estranged from her parents and was recently homeless, "A good mother makes good choices" to which Mia responds, "You didn't make good choices, you had good choices".
While people can be quick to judge the choices of others, very seldom do they adequately consider what factors led to them having to make that choice, or question if it was actually a choice at all? It is easy to blame others and assume you would do better if you were in their situation but since you lack that lived experience, there is no way to know for sure what you would have done. It does cause discomfort to realize that you may have done the exact same thing if you were them and had the same "choices" to make as they did.
The power starts to re-balance when we have a collective shift in attitudes and expectations about different groups in society. Choosing to say something is better than saying nothing at all when it comes to speaking about injustice. We need people with privilege to advocate on the behalf of those who don't have it.
When you change your beliefs towards and expectations of people, the way you unconsciously act towards them will change because you will develop more empathy and be less likely to view them as 'the other'. This is making the unconscious conscious so that longstanding behavioural patterns change and we as a society progress in the right direction. I think that's something you can find peace in.
Deep breathing has several benefits. These include increasing oxygen supply to the body, reduction of stress and tension, improved immunity and digestion, enhancement of the body's ability to eliminate toxins, as well as promoting balance in the mind and body. While it can be very challenging to control one's thoughts, it is much easier to control breath, which has a direct effect in calming the mind. Over time, deep breathing practices can lead to lengthening of the silent periods in between our repetitive thoughts.
Psychotherapeutic services in Peel region