The Details of My Approach
People are naturally adaptive, it’s how we’re made. We adapt to our surroundings, our environment, our culture, our families, peers, and even shifts in our internal worlds. But at each of these levels, the adaptations we’ve made in past contexts can stop working for the present circumstances. It could be that our environment has changed and what used to work for us isn’t working well now. Or it could be an internal change like depression or anxiety that now needs to be adapted to, either to minimize it’s impact or to eliminate it altogether. Whatever it is, it is normal and expected to encounter multiple periods in your life where the set of adaptations we’ve developed up to now aren’t working as well as we’d like, and we need help from others to develop new skills and ways of being, or shift to explore alternate solutions to what’s overwhelming us.
As humans, we are foundationally relational, and counselling and psychology is embedded in this reality: that adaptive change is mediated by learning in relation to another person. By providing a non-judgmental, warm, open and safe place to explore what’s happening, what mistakes might have been made, or injuries suffered unjustly, you can find just the right set of conditions in place with which to explore the big questions that come up for us when we face moments in life where out past adaptations are overwhelmed by the present circumstances.
I endeavour to provide this environment with everyone I work with, and in the context of this environment, to provide a range of different ways of exploring best suited to your contextual needs. Sometimes this is a process of exploring less integrated parts of processing, especially embodied senses and feelings, in order to fill in the gap of “that feeling that something is missing” with concrete guided experiences bringing a person back into integration. Sometimes it is building a set of concrete skills to counter problems like anxiety and depression. Sometimes it involves straight shooting analysis and guidance. Different problems in psychology require considerably different approaches and through life-long training I am always trying to broaden and deepen that base in my work with clients.
Relationships are profoundly complex, often a combination of what we seek the most in life and where our weaknesses and vulnerabilities are most at play. When working well, they are extraordinarily healing areas in our life that often provide the bulk of peak experiences we look back on as we consider our lives. Surprisingly, the science of relationships as a discipline of science has discovered more than many people know, and so there is much guidance outside the popular conception of relationships that can hone relationships to reduce where things can go wrong and emphasize all of their positive benefits.
Couples face unique challenges, obstacles, and even pathologies that transcend any one individual and emerge only when the relationship develops. In addition to crises such as affairs, major losses, and major changes, even the past including identity, and historical grievances can come to dominate relationships and challenge their resilience.
My work with partners is communication-centric, reflecting the science of relationships and the finding that communication is central to most problems that arise in relationships. Sessions are typically focused around one or both of two central activities: those that teach, practice, and increase scientifically backed up communication skills and methods, and those that facilitate supportive listening not only for the couple and each member, but also guiding each partner to provide the needed supportive listening to their partner, the end goal being for the therapist, myself, to be made irrelevant and unnecessary as these skills are honed by the couple.
I am trained in the Gottman Method approach to couples therapy, a method that began as primary research (that is, no focus on therapy itself but rather just the science itself of relationships) for many years before its findings were developed into guidelines for a scientifically grounded set of therapeutic interventions. Because the Gottman method historically derives from a purely research based look at the science of relationships, it is especially notable for teaching clients the facts, and myths, of what makes relationships tick, and therefore it helps couples focus from the beginning on what matters most in strengthening relationships and avoiding common but wrong assumptions about what matters most.
Childhood is a most extraordinary time of life where the same world of challenges that adults confront are experienced by children in the context of a nervous system and psyche that are still developing. Children often experience the world very differently than adults do. For children, there are many unique challenges that adults largely don’t face anymore: lagging skills, developmental hurdles, and locked future developmental milestones that can create struggles.
But it is easy to forget or miss that in addition to these unique challenges, children also face the entire world of adult-sized challenges, experiences, and struggles, but at immature stages of development that complicate how they are processed. Beyond formal diagnoses, children face loneliness, sadness, bullying, loss, trauma, attention and compliance difficulties and so much more with unique understandings, and lacking the full skills of adult development. These can be shaped and manifested in ways that can be confusing to parents and children alike. Sometimes, just like adults, children just need someone to help them make sense of a very confusing world.
I offer a child-centred approach that is grounded in science-based research and balanced with caring, patient, and supportive processing. This approach occurs not only within the counselling hour but also through coaching and training caregivers and supporting them to increase these attributes outside the counselling hour in their homes at the same time. This increases the amount and effectiveness of long-term progress and interventions for the child who is struggling or suffering in this moment.
The Details of my Approach
My particular approach to child psychology contains a notable emphasis on systemic level (school and community, but especially parenting) interventions. The science on the weight of influence of parenting on childhood struggles is clear and considerable, and so my therapeutic approach attempts to mirror this weighting of importance by biasing towards a heavy involvement of the parents in my work with children. Parents can usually expect to be involved considerably both in interventions and feedback of what to experiment with, change, and keep the same or emphasize at home and in relationship with their children. Regular parent update sessions are usually scheduled including special emphasis at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship.
Therapy works. Specifically, it has an effect size of .7, the same effect size as, for example, coronary bypass surgery. For adults, this is mediated through language, or ‘talk therapy’, but for children, whose language and cognitive centres are at various stages of development, the benefits of what ‘talk therapy’ provides are mediated by areas of the brain that are still being grown, and so another modality is necessary to bypass these undeveloped areas of the brain and get to the heart of what needs support, help, growth, encouragement, or change—in what can be contributing to the suffering of your child.
This other modality is play, and play therapy is the means by which children process events, experiences, emotions, sensations, and thoughts that trouble them or overwhelm them. Through experiences that are too confusing or overwhelming for the child to be able to comprehend through language alone, children use role play, sensory play, or play with toys to create a level of separation between themselves and the overwhelming problem, and in doing so, project the problem outside themselves and make it possible to relate to and process through without the danger of being emotionally overwhelmed by it. Play therapy is a broad school of techniques that facilitate this process by creating an environment in which the child feels safe to explore what is troubling them, and then walks with the child through their exploration of it to a level of processing or cohesion on the other side—the equivalent of what an adult does using talk in therapy.
In early childhood work (0 months to preschool years) I am a Registered Circle of Security Parent Facilitator. I am trained in and able to help with issues arising out of parenting questions and problems in the early years of life. I am also trained to help parents who want to engage in protective and preventative work to set their children on the right course from the beginning of their lives with maximizing access to the most scientifically grounded approaches to parenting. The attachment of an infant and toddler to their caregivers is their base for understanding much about their world and about relationships and this secure attachment is correlated with future success in marital relationships, happiness indexes, and future success in school and work.
In middle childhood work (later preschool years to onset of adolescence) I am a Registered Play Therapist (RPT) (Association for Play Therapy, #T4948) with a commitment to extensive ongoing training. My particular focus is in Child Centred Play Therapy, the most extensively researched approach in play therapy to date. For children who have experienced trauma and are able to engage with it in sessions, I am trained in the EMDR Sand Tray approach, which modifies the highly effective EMDR approach for the play-based sand tray approach. I am also in ongoing training in Sand Play, which lends itself especially well to children who speak less or are particularly shy of working directly on what is troubling them. For anxiety and depression focused work, I utilize especially Lynn Lyons’ systemic level approach that embeds the work with the anxiety within the framework of the family to maximize the effectiveness of the interventions. For parent-child relationships and lagging skills (developmental delays and other delays in maturing) I utilize both Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS, Ross Greene) and Child Parent Relationship Training (CPRT) when contextually appropriate to help parents and children understand each other better when communication is difficult both ways.
Adolescence is, for many, a turbulent time in which many of life’s biggest problems are faced head-on and sometimes without all the resources needed to face them ready or available. This can make for especially challenging battles with any number of difficulties including but not limited to clinical issues like depression and anxiety. In adolescent work, I utilize a hybrid of both Sand Play and talk therapy approaches depending on the preferences of the adolescent themselves, and their needs and goals (some requiring more emotion-based approaches, others more analytical). My particular strengths are in work with adolescent depression, Lynn Lyons’ systemic approach for anxiety, EMDR and EMDR Sand Tray, and psychodynamic (attachment) approaches emphasizing identity development.