Monday, August 1, 2016

Challenges of A Psychotherapists

"In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?" - Carl Rogers. 
I have had many people ask me about what I do in the hospital and I have posted previously (scroll down in the older posts) about my role as a chaplain. Another role that Chaplains have or another hat we wear is the hat of a Psychotherapist. Psycho what? Yep! Psychotherapist!

Thinking about seeing a therapist but confused about the different titles? Psychiatrist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist. Point being is that there are a lot of psychos in the world :) So what is a Psychotherapist?

A Psychotherapist is really an umbrella term for any professional who is trained to treat people for their emotional problems. Depending upon their academic degree and clinical training, a Psychotherapist can be a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Social Work, or Chaplain (among others), and work with individuals, couples, groups, families, communities to help navigate them with the emotional distress present. We use many different techniques to assess and provide different interventions. Many models of assessment and interventions are present so I won't unpack them all here but I would like to touch upon one point; the challenges a Psychotherapist faces. Our work can be demanding and sometimes we don't see "results" (whatever that means) immediately. According to Joyce Marter, a Psychotherapist, she believes the challenging to maintain a happy medium between letting clients rinse and repeat unhealthy patterns can be a challenge:

One of the most challenging aspects of conducting therapy is finessing the balance between meeting clients where they are at and also encouraging them to grow. I believe we all unconsciously recreate patterns in our life that are familiar to us as a way of working through our issues.
When a client presents for therapy, I will honor their emotional experience and reflect empathy as a way for them to express and release feelings that may be preventing them from moving forward. I will gently but directly encourage them to identify themes and patterns in their life that are no longer working for them.
When clients are ready to make positive change[s] in their lives, they will learn from these insights and empower themselves to choose roles and relationships that promote wellness, happiness and success in their lives.
However, sometimes we need to repeat these patterns over and over until we are ready to look within ourselves and make the changes. It is difficult when clients focus on others (who they cannot control) and continue to cycle in a way that is self-limiting.
It is at these times that I need to practice healthy detachment with love–the ability to unplug from my clients’ stuff and understand that they are exactly where they should be in their journey and they will make positive changes only when they are ready.
I often refer to the Serenity Prayer, which is, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” This reminds me that I should focus on everything that is within my power as a therapist, such as providing empathy, compassion, insight, interpretations, coaching on how to change self-talk and perspective, and increase copings skills and awareness through psycho-education.

I need to continually remind myself to let go of that which I cannot control, such as the clients’ responses, behaviors, progress, etc. I remember when I was in graduate school, a beloved professor of mine said, “Joyce, you are very good at being empathic and breathing people’s stuff in. You need to remember to breathe it out.” Her words were very wise and I reflect on them daily as I continue to grow as a clinician.
Creating positive change is taxing on the people you provide support to. And, naturally, it is also emotionally draining for clinicians. Christian Hibbert, a clinical Psychologist and postpartum mental health expert, tries her best to prevent emotional overwhelm as she summarizes in the following:  
For me, the toughest part about doing therapy with a client is ensuring I do not get consumed with the emotional drain. I strive to be fully present with my clients, to listen carefully and feel what they are feeling. Empathy and connection in the therapeutic relationship is key to helping the client make change, and it is rewarding to get to know these wonderful people in such a deep and intimate way.
However, it can also be very draining. I used to work longer days and I would come home depleted, with little left for my family’s needs. But now I work shorter days, which helps keep my energy levels up.
I also prepare myself before sessions through deep breathing and visualization techniques that help me feel prepared to be with my clients, to empathize and feel with them while they’re there with me, but to also leave it all in my office when I go home.
I don’t let the emotional experiences “stick” to me like I used to, and that makes doing therapy so much healthier for me, which makes me a better psychologist for my clients.
This was just a tad bit of what a Psychotherapist is and what it is that we do. Our work can look different depending on the place of work and the environment we find ourselves. However, one thing is certain with all Psychotherapist; the care of the human being is what pushes us to be present with everyone we come into contact with! 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Faith: The Place of Mystery

I've been reading Brene brown's book "The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who you Think You're Supposed to be and Embrace who you Are".  Dr. Brown is a social worker and is a research professor at the University of Houston. This book focuses on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame, shared ten guideposts on the power of wholehearted living-a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. I recommend this book to any who's felt down at any point in life. This passage on faith touched me and I hope you enjoy it as I did.

I've come to realize that faith and reason are not natural enemies. It's our human need for certainty and our need to "be right" that have pitted faith and reason against each other in an almost reckless way. We force ourselves to choose and defend one way of knowing the world at the expense of the other.

I understand that faith and reason can clash and create uncomfortable tensions-those tensions play out in my life, and I can feel them in my bones. But this work has forced me to see that it's our fear of the unknown and our fear of being wrong that create most of our conflict and anxiety. We need both faith and reason to make meaning in an uncertain world.

I can't tell you how many time I've heard the terms having faith and my faith in my interviews with men and women who are living the wholehearted journey. At first I thought that faith meant "there's a reason for everything". I personally struggled with that because I'm not comfortable with using God or faith or spirituality to explain tragedy. It actually feels like substituting certainty for faith when people say, "There's a reason for everything".

But I quickly learned from the interviews that faith meant something else to these people. Here's how I define faith based on the research interviews:

Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty. 

I also learned that it's not always the scientists who struggle with faith and the religious who fully embrace uncertainty. Many forms of fundamentalism and extremism are about choosing certainty over faith. 

I love this from theologian Richard Rohr: "My scientist friends have come up with the things like 'principles of uncertainty' and dark holes. They're willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of 'faith'! How strange that the very word 'faith' has come to means its exact opposite". 

Faith is essential when we decide to live and love with our whole hearts in a world where most of us want assurances before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt. To say, "I'm going to engage wholeheartedly in my life" requires believing without seeing. 

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who you Think You're Supposed to be and Embrace who you Are. Pages 90-91.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Joy that allows for a Peaceful Death

The following is a excerpt from Henri Nouwen's On Dying and Caring. He speaks about two kinds of joy and paints an image of what it means to die a peaceful death. I hope this resonates with all of you as it did with me.


Two of the greatest joys experienced are the joy of being different from others and the joy of being the same as others. The first of these I saw while watching the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona on television. Those who stood on the rostrum and received their bronze, silver, and gold medals experienced joy as the direct result of being able to run faster, jump higher, or throw farther than others. The difference might have been extremely small, but it had great significance. It was the distinction between defeat and victory, between rueful tears and ecstatic joy. This is the joy of the hero and the star, the joy that comes from successfully competing, winning the prize, receiving the honor, and walking into the limelight.

I know this joy myself. I know it from getting an award at school, from being chosen the leader of my class, from receiving tenure at the university, and from seeing my books published and receiving honorary degrees. I know the immense satisfaction that comes from being considered different from others. These types of achievements dispel self-doubts and bestow self-confidence. This is the joy having “made it”, the joy of being recognized for making a difference. We all wait for this joy somewhere, somehow. It remains the joy of the one who said, “I thank you God, that I am not like everyone else” (Luke 18:11-12).

The other kind of joy is harder to describe but easier to find. It is the joy of being the brother or sister of all people. Although this joy is closer at hand-more accessible-than the joy of being different, it is not as obvious, and only a few people ever truly find it. This is the joy of being a part of that vast variety of people-of all ages, colors, and religions-who together form the human family. This is the immense joy of being a member of the human race.  

At several times in my life, I have tasted this joy. I felt it most acutely in 1964, when I walked with thousands of people in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in a civil rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. I will never forget the joy I experienced during that march. I had come by myself. Nobody knew me-nobody had ever heard of me-but when we walked together and put our arms around each other’s shoulders and sang “We shall overcome one day,” I experienced a joy I had never experienced before in my life. I said to myself, “Yes, yes, I belong; these are my people. They may have different way of life, but they are my brothers and sisters. They love me, and I love them. Their smiles and tears are my smiles and tears; their prayers and prophecies are my prayers and prophecies; their anguish and hope are my anguish and hope. I am one with them”.

In an instant, all differences seemed to melt away as snow in the sun. All my comparing disappeared, and I felt surrounded by the welcoming arms of all humanity. I was aware that some of the people with whom I held hands had spent years in prison, were addicted to drugs or alcohol, suffered from loneliness and depression, and lived lives radically different from mine, but they all looked to me like saints, radiant with God’s love. They were indeed God’s people, immensely loved and radically forgiven. All I felt was a deep sameness, a profound communion with all people, an exhilarating sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.

I am convinced that it is this joy-the joy of being the same as others, of belonging to one human family-that allows us to die well. I do not know how I or anyone else could be prepared to die if we were mainly concerned about trophies we had collected during our best years. The great gift hidden in our saying is the gift of unity with all people. However different we are, we were all born powerless, as we all die powerless, and the little differences we live in between dwindle in the light of this enormous truth. Often this human truth is presented as a reason to be sad. It is not seldom called a “sobering truth”. Our greatest challenge is to discover this truth as a source of immense joy that will set us free to embrace our mortality with the awareness that we will make our passage to new life in solidarity with all the people of the earth.

A good death is a death in solidarity with others. To prepare ourselves for a good death, we must develop or deepen this sense of solidarity. If we live toward death as toward an event that separates us from people, death cannot be other than a sad and sorrowful event. But if we grow in awareness that our mortality, more than anything else, will lead us into solidarity with others, then death can become a celebration of our unity with the human race. Instead of separating us from others, death can unite us with others; instead of being sorrowful, it can give rise to new joy; instead of simply ending life, it can begin something new. 

Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, Pages 21-24.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Does it Mean to Forgive?

"Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude". Martin Luther King Jr.

The following is passage from Jean Vanier's book, "Becoming Human". This section is taken from the final chapter on, "Forgiveness".

To forgive is to break down the walls of hostility that separate us, and to bring each other out of the anguish of loneliness, fear, and chaos into communion and oneness. This communion is born from mutual trust and acceptance, and the freedom to be ourselves in our uniqueness and beauty, the freedom to exercise our gifts. We are no longer contained and held back by fear, prejudices, or the need to prove ourselves.
So the sense of belonging that is necessary for the opening of our hearts is born when we walk together, needing each other, accompanying one another whether we are weak or strong, capable or not. This belonging will not bring feelings or superiority if we are walking towards inner freedom. It will not seek to exclude but to include the weak, the needy, and the different, for they have a secret power that opens up people’s hearts and leads them to compassion and mutual trust. This belonging becomes a song of gratitude for each one of us.
Of course, all this takes time. But are we not all called to take this journey if we want to become fully human, to conquer divisions and oppression, and to work for peace? If each one of us today begins this journey and has the courage to forgive and be forgiven, we will no longer be governed by past hurts. Wherever we may be-in our families, our work places, with friends, or in places of worship or of leisure-we can rise up and become agents of a new land. But let us not put our sights too high. We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, Forgiveness, Pages 162-163.    

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Path to Freedom

"Being human is difficult. Becoming a human is a life long process. To be truly human is a gift." Abraham Heschel

The following is a passage from Jean Vanier's book, "Becoming Human". This section is taken from the chapter, "The Path to Freedom".
To be free is to know who we are, with all that is beautiful, all the brokenness in us; it is to love our own values, to embrace them, and to develop them; it is to be anchored in a vision and a truth but also to be open to others and, so, to change. Freedom lies in discovering that the truth is not a set of fixed certitudes but a mystery we enter into, one step at a time. It is a process of going deeper and deeper into an unfathomable reality.

In this journey of integrating our experience and our values, and of what we might learn we listen to others, there may be a period of anguish. We need to find links between the old and the new, links that will permit the integration of new, consciousness-expanding truths into what we already know and are living-our existing certitudes. As human sciences develop and the world evolves, we are called to grow into a new and deeper understanding of the source of the universe and of life. As we participate in this, our sense of the true expands. Freedom is to be in awe of this source, of the beauty and diversity of people, and of the universe. It is to contemplate the height and breadth of all that is true.

Freedom is to accept that when we belong to a group, a race, a tribe, a family, a community, a religion, that none of these are perfect, that each has its limits and weaknesses. Every community of humans has its light and its darkness. We are all part of something greater than ourselves. We all flow from a source that is unfathomable and we are all journeying towards it, carrying with us the light of truth and love. Each of us is called to be in communion with the source and heart of the universe. The infinite yearnings of our hearts are calling us to be in communion with the infinite. None of us can be satisfied with the limited and finite. Each cone must be free to follow the Spirit of God.

And this freedom is for love and compassion, to give our lives more totally and more freely to others. It is the freedom to be kind and patient. This freedom does not seek personal honours; it believes all, hopes all, bears all, and endures all. Freedom does not judge or condemn but understands and forgives. Freedom is the liberation from all those inner fears and inhibitions and that we need to ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.

There is a freedom that I sense exists but that I do not have. I cannot always describe it but I do want it. I sense I still have a long road to walk in order to reach this freedom. I see the goal but I am not yet there. I love and want it but sometimes I am frightened on the road I must take.

I am frightened of the disappearance of my walls of defense, sensing that behind them there is an anguish and a vulnerability that will rise up. I see that I still cling to what people think of me and am fed by the way people love, want, and admire me. If all that fell away, who would I be? But that is where freedom lies, the freedom to be rejected, if that is the path I am to take in order to live more fully. Is that not the freedom that Jesus announces in his charter of the Beatitudes, when he says, “Woe to you when people speak well of you”?

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, The Path to Freedom, Pages 117-119.

Friday, August 28, 2015


The last entry looked at how we as humans can use strength and weakness to live with others. Becoming human is a struggle of finding your strength in weakness. For the following entry I would like to look at belonging and what it means to belong. Living in Canada this can be a difficult task because of the multicultural environment we find ourselves living in. Toronto is culturally the most diverse city in the world. What does it mean to belong?

Belonging, like anything else, can be a place of opening up as well as a place of closing in. It is a place where we discover what makes our humanity. Family, language, humanhood, culture, food, communication, love and respect for others sums up this notion of belonging. If we accept this then we must accept that at the heart of belonging, is the fact that, we have received our existence from others and need to grow and develop as individuals, physically, psychologically, and humanly.

Let's use the example of a child to see how a child can become a product of the society that we build around ourselves. Belonging is not an individual act but involves an entire group. The child goes to school, shares in the life of the community, and discovers a wider sense of belonging with others from the same city, region, country, religion, language and culture. Sometimes the child meets people who are different, strangers, people with disabilities, immigrants, people from different religious backgrounds etc. The child will quickly pick up, through the adults attitude whether such people are to be accepted and loved or ignored, or even ostracized because they do not belong. And so from a young age we learn, without realizing it, that those who are different, those who standout, are either acceptable or dangerous.

When a child acquires a language and learns how to relate to adults, to friends, to God, when he learns the customs and values that have been taught to him through his culture, how to deal with death, pain, sorrow, he cannot but think that what he has been taught is the only way of being and living. As children we learn that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing everything. We do not ask questions instead, we obey. As we grow to adulthood we begin to questions the values learned during our childhood. This is why many adults and youth go through a crisis of faith and of trust. Belonging begins from day one. We must constantly seek to grow our humanity by accepting everyone as a human being. "Differences" should never be a factor in accepting others. Let us cultivate a society that nurtures the ideals of love and acceptance no matter how one looks, talks, or eats. To be a human is to belong and to belong is to love all without any pretext or conditions. Love is at the heart of belonging and once we belong to a community we learn to love unconditionally.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Strength in Weakness

The last entry looked at the humanistic approach involved in Chaplaincy. I would like to expand this and speak on what it means to be weak and how this relates to becoming a human being. Becoming human is a title for many books written in the last century. Authors like Jean Vanier, John Behr and Olivier Clement have written on what it means to become a human. Becoming human, I can define from reading these books, is based on the idea of constantly seeking the good and beautiful in all that we do. In order to seek the good and beautiful we must however understand that, in order to find beauty and goodness, we must come from a place of weakness.

The paradox of weakness and strength can be difficult to understand. One can say, "How can I find beauty and goodness when I am lying in a hospital bed and I do not have control over the condition that has taken a hold of me?" People are infuriated by weakness that sometimes even the beautiful cry of a child can be a distraction. Weakness awakens hardness and anger in all of us. Equally dangerous, sometimes less obvious, weakness can lead people to a possessive love. However, in this mystery of weakness it can open our hearts to compassion; the place where we are concerned for the growth and well-being of the weak.

I see this on many levels in the hospital. The nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and many more constantly seek to help others who are in a position of weakness trying to restore them to a position of strength. To deny weakness as a part of life is to deny death, because weakness speaks to our ultimate destruction of not being in control which is death itself. To be sick or dying is a stage of weakness and as that weakness becomes more apparent we begin to deny it all together.

If we deny our weakness and the reality of death by constantly seeking to be powerful and strong, then we deny part of our being creating a space of illusion, a bubble that becomes harder to break. To be a human being is to accept who we are, this mixture of strength and weakness. To be human is to be bonded to each other with our weakness and strengths, because we need each other. Lastly, weakness that is recognized, accepted and offered back is at the heart of belonging, which brings us together as a community of love.

I leave you with the beautiful words of Jean Vanier. Jean Vanier published a book called Becoming Human, inspiring me to write this post. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in wanting to understand and grow their knowledge of what it means to become a human being.

Weakness carries within it a secret power. The cry and the trust that flow from weakness can open up hearts. The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love in the one who is stronger. Do those who are stronger respond with love because in an unconscious way they identify with the one who is weak? Do they, in some way, know that one day they too will be weak and will cry out for help, recognition, and love?       

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, 40.