While summer has just arrived, it is not too late to do a bit of “mental spring cleaning” to declutter your mind and set the foundation to grow some new wellness routines and habits in the summer ahead. Winters in Canada can be long and the winter blues can set in and still hang around even when the weather has turned. So why not make a commitment to healthier and better habits that the new season can support.
Choose a new routine or habit you would like to implement. We all have old habits we would like to target or something new we have been meaning to implement into our daily wellness routine. Try not to change too much at once, as juggling too many routines increases the likelihood that one will fail and you will abandon all the work you have been putting in to yourself. Instead, choose one action or activity that you have wanted to implement and follow the steps below. Once that new routine becomes a habit, try the process again with a new routine, then repeat.
Be realistic. Is this a goal you are motivated to follow through with? Have you tried to make this new routine happen before? Take some time to evaluate if this is achievable for you given your current life priorities. If it has failed in the past, ask yourself why that happened.
Do some research. Make sure you really understand how to prepare yourself to take on this challenge. You don’t need to spend hours at the library, but a google search and a few youtube videos should help you feel more prepared with information to get started.
Write it down. Write down the new routine you want to implement. Be clear and specific about your intentions. Think about how it would look if you were implementing that routine right now. Is it something you can easily visualize and do in a single step? If not, try simplifying it and making it a single activity you can see yourself doing routinely throughout your week. End your note with some thoughts on why this new routine is a commitment that is meaningful to you.
Give yourself reminders. Let’s face it, we’re all pretty busy and distracted. Set a reminder or alarm on your phone if you find you tend to forget. Be mindful when choosing your alarm or reminders. When could it alert you so you can take action right away?
Positive reinforcement. Try to keep a record of when you have successfully accomplished your new routine. There are many apps that will help track this (e.g. Streaks) or you can create a habit tracker in a bullet journal. Often seeing your progress is in itself reinforcing. If you miss a day, look at this as an opportunity to congratulate yourself for getting back at it. If it is helpful, consider providing yourself with some sort of reward for successfully completing a routine “streak”.
Find a buddy. Try to find a partner to join you in implementing this routine or at least tell someone in your life about this commitment. The support of your partner will help you get through the tough times and may help you feel more obliged to stick to your plan.
Forgive yourself. We all fall into old habits or lose new ones. Breaking the routine is not a failure, it is an opportunity to assess why your intentions broke down and re-engage with the new information you’ve learned.
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Last week we explored how one might find a therapist when they felt they could use a helping hand on their wellness journey. On today’s Wellness Wednesday, we will take a look at the next step and prepare for your first session.
It’s completely normal to feel unsure and nervous about the first therapy appointment. You may feel unsure of how much you should prepare, what to share, and how to appropriately respond to questions. A little insight into the process can really help alleviate some of these worries, so here’s the lay of the land.
No matter what style/orientation your therapist occupies, the first session is really a “get to know you” session. Your therapist will take the lead in the first session and start with reviewing all appropriate confidentiality and policy forms. Following the completion of these forms you will be asked about the reason /main issue that brought you to therapy, your goals, important supports/relationships in your life (e.g. friends or family) and your history with your current concerns and the specific symptoms you are experiencing as a result.
You will also likely be asked about your previous experience with therapy or other health care providers and if you have ever had thoughts or actions of self harm or suicide. It’s important to be honest on that last question. While you will have just been told about how your confidentiality will be protected unless there is a risk to yourself or others, this relates to future risk and is designed to support you moving forward. The only real exception to this is when a child or elderly individual has been harmed, as therapists have an overriding requirement to act in the interest of vulnerable populations.
There is no perfect amount of detail that you need to provide, but essentially it is a time for your therapist to gather information so that they can get a sense of who you are, start to fit together the pieces in the puzzle and collaboratively create a plan and direction that works for you. You can discuss as in depth as you would like, but try to avoid sticking to one word answers to avoid your therapist forming an inaccurate impression of your needs.
If you have ever had a psychoeducational or mental health assessment conducted you should bring it in, even if it is several years old or does not accurately portray your current needs. These assessments may help your clinician to collect more information that will best assist them in understanding your strengths, weaknesses or, at the very least, better understand your journey.
Just remember, its ok to feel nervous.
While one of my goals in creating Wellness Wednesday was to assist people in their self-help wellness journey, there are certainly times when a bit of guidance can help you get over bigger hurdles or provide a fresh set of experienced eyes towards your situation. Deciding to speak to a mental health professional can seem daunting, with many people struggling to know where to begin and how to find a therapist that fits their needs.
It is completely normal to want to shop around to find the right “therapist” for you. Finding the right fit is often like finding the right pair of jeans, sometimes you have to try on a few, but once you find a pair that fits right you don’t stray from that brand. Finding the right therapist can be a delicate balance between giving yourself and a therapist sufficient time to get to know each other, while also following your gut to find therapeutic relationship that feels comfortable.
It’s important to understand that the first few sessions are about developing a relationship and forming an understanding of your needs and how the therapist can assist you in reaching your goals. You cannot expect big changes to happen in these first few sessions, but you usually will be able to tell whether the therapist is the right fit for you. Be mindful that feeling nervous and awkward during the first couple sessions is completely normal. The first session itself is usually just an opportunity for the therapist to take a history of your concerns, symptoms, background and goals/areas of focus. While they may propose a way forward after that first session, even that may be deferred for session two so the therapist can truly consider all that you have brought to them.
One thing you might want to be aware of is the difference between different types of mental health care providers:
Social Workers and Psychotherapists: In Ontario, Social Workers and Psychotherapists are both approved to provide psychotherapy for a variety of complex social, behavioural, and emotional concerns. They will assess your emotional status and needs, but do not provide a formal diagnostic label (e.g. you may hear that you are reporting many symptoms of depression, but they will not label you as having a depressive disorder). In Ontario, many private extended health plans cover services by Social Workers and Psychotherapists.
Psychologists: Like their social work and psychotherapy counterparts, Ontario Psychologists (sometimes referred to as Psychological Associates) generally support a wide range of social, behavioural, and emotional concerns. In addition to their provincial approval for psychotherapy, most Psychologists are also approved to provide diagnostic services. The additional qualifications of Psychologists can provide value for complex cases where a more succinct diagnosis is warranted or when a diagnosis is required for accessing other services (e.g. academic or work accommodation; disability supports). In Ontario, nearly all private insurance plans provide some coverage for psychological services. Psychologists are not covered by OHIP.
Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are medical doctors that completed their medical residency in the specialization of psychiatry. Like psychologists, psychiatrists can provide therapy and diagnosis, though few tend to offer regular therapeutic services. Instead, the majority of psychiatrists manage the medical side of mental health support through medication or other alternative treatments. Psychiatrists are covered by OHIP, but their wait lists and a low OHIP reimbursement rate for therapy often lead them to focus on medication management rather than the provision of psychotherapy.
It is also important to be aware of unregulated providers. People who do not list credentials after their names, or write “therapist” “counsellor” or “coach” are individuals who are not verified and policed by a regulator. This does not necessarily mean they are an unsafe choice, but it does require increased diligence on your part. New Ontario laws also prohibit unregulated professionals from providing therapy for complex or serious conditions.
How to find a therapist
Starting with asking your family doctor for a referral or looking at referral websites like Psychology Today are great places to search and compare therapists of different qualifications and refine by region. It is also acceptable to call up different clinics/professionals and ask a few questions about their population of focus, main concerns that they specialize in, their fees, and their therapeutic orientation/approach. FLEX Psychology, the clinic where I work, provides a good overview of different therapy styles. While one approach may catch your eye, it is important to seek the advice of your treatment provider for what approach will likely be more efficacious for you or how different approaches can be adapted and integrated to meet your needs.
While it certainly can seem daunting to find a mental health professional that is within your area, your budget and a good fit for you, it generally only requires a little research and taking a chance by booking that first session. Hopefully these tips help make this search a little bit less overwhelming.
Join us the first Wednesday of each month for our Wellness Book Club, where we will introduce readers to great books or author profiles that can help you along your wellness journey. Have a book we should review? Send us a comment and we will add it to our list.
Sometimes when we self reflect with honesty we will recognize certain flaws within ourselves.
Maybe it’s the recognition that we could have responded to a friend more compassionately. Perhaps it’s the realization that we are partly to blame for the dissolution of a relationship. Sometimes we recognize that our actions were not aligned with our values, and other times we recognize that perhaps we have failed at something important to ourselves.
While recognizing our challenges and failings can be difficult, that awareness is also the first step towards growth and improvement. If we are not honest with ourselves how can we better next time?
Author, therapist, and speaker, Brene Brown often speaks of the importance of embracing vulnerability in order to be braver, more creative and more successful. She often discusses the importance of our desire to belong and how this can be conflicting with the need to fit in. She also shares how our failings in this regard can lead to shame and the impact this has on our ability to navigate our relationships with others and ourselves.
Knowing and understanding our shame may mean apologizing, taking a chance and opening up about something embarrassing, or acting in alignment with our values instead of expectations or norms. Letting shame hold us captive, however, isn’t helpful. We need to forgive ourselves and commit to being better next time. Brene has published many books, hosted Ted Talks and recently came out with a Netflix special called “The Call to Courage” that all touch on different aspects of these themes. I think that all of Brene’s work is worth checking out, but a great deep dive is her writings, and our book of the month, Braving the Wilderness (CLICK HERE to view on Amazon). If you are looking to ease yourself in to her work, consider checking out her TED Talk or Netflix specials.
Undoubtedly, like many you will be hooked and will want to binge on all of Brene’s work. Be compassionate and realistic with yourself, however, and try applying one of her principals. Once that gets integrated in to your day to day, why not revisit her work again and see what the next step is for you.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.