In Opposition to Individualism and NeoLiberalism

The following is a poem that speaks against the premises and promises of our culture that we are better off going it alone, doing our own thing, sucking it up and moving on. It is about how these beliefs and practices serve to isolate us, steal our joy, and forfeit our connection and belonging to each other.

More than all that though, I hope this poem reflects my belief that every person embodies a divine spark and is a glorious creation. That people are worthy of a dignified working out of their beauty and promise. That deep, sustaining love and community is what we all need and long for.

Bantam Branch

Look at you, bantam branch!

Adrift in a barren sky, reflecting cold paleness from the moon.

Mirages brush up and bump against your bruises…

the languid sun that warmed your soul,

the life-course of trees that rooted in your chest,

the arms once wide open to the bright, clear sky,

signs and wonders and so much manna,

That you feasted upon, reaped upon, heaped upon, hoped upon

desires…and were desired,

lovers…and were loved,

babes in your arms, awakened.

They wailed for you in the dark distance.


Look at you, bantam branch!

Untethered to the twitching and tweaking of piety and prose.

Yearning to be a painting others would admire,

to detach and attach to your own encumbrances

to seed and harvest in unspoiled freedom

to leave the gloom of the glen when the night-season fell.

And so you did.

You gasped and grasped at love and light

in all its splendid and twisted arrangements,

And an image was crafted and drafted,

a singular line etched into a deep canvas,

a form and a frame generated, but it became

a still life that someone birthed and hung on their wall.

They didn’t know it was you.

You didn’t know it wasn’t you.


Look at you, bantam branch!

You are glorious!

Did no one tell you? Have you not heard?

Unfurl the stiff pleats of disappointment & doubt.

Sweep off the damp despair clinging to your vestments.

Lay down worry-creased bundles of certainty and sanctity.

Be embraced in the plush folds of mercy and grace.

Receive tender kisses from belief and belonging.

Let beauty splash into your cold, dry eyes and ears.

Let beginnings dazzle your night-vision.

This is the uncommon ground of your being and your glad inheritance.
Be grafted into this glorious mystery:

It is the oil flowing down your beard that commands the blessing.

© 2017 Shari van Spronsen

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC

January 2017: Bulking Up On The Positive

The beginning of a new year often precipitates more philosophical and poetic wonderings and wanderings for me. One thing I have been reflecting on a lot is about how 2016 is a “Thank God that’s over!” kind of year. There was a lot of bad news and most of us felt the shock of it washing over us again and again.

Uncertainty & Instability

I particularly noticed the ever-present uncertainty many people experienced in 2016, whether because of political posturing, wars and rumours of wars, racism and ageism, the loss of cultural icons and artists, or the effects of widespread economic instability. Unfortunately, there was ample news of death, doom, and destruction.

Isolation & Cynicism

Added to above problems were the isolation that social media and screens kindled (surprising) and the mushrooming messes neo-liberalism continued to propagate (not surprising). As well, there was intense frustration and cynicism about age-old structures, problems, and ideas that plagued and exhausted our communities—whether local or global.

Why We Notice Bad News

According to neuroscience, it is more common for us to notice the unusual, unpleasant, or worrying events around us. It’s called the negativity bias and it’s an evolutionary function to keep us alive. Problems and fears (real or perceived) strengthen the threat system in our brains and bodies (i.e., they supercharge the fight, flight, or freeze response).

Worry and fear activates the body’s threat system and preoccupation in either of these states can further increase our awareness of all that is troubling and wrong with the world. However, if our brains stay in threat mode for too long, there is an increase in the possibility of becoming depressed or anxious (or chronically cynical and angry). All those stress hormones floating around in our system are not good news over the long haul.

Stability & Security

Conversely, our brains typically pay much less attention to all that is going right. But, our brains will deactivate the threat response when we feel safe and stabile (psychologically and physically). If things are going well with us, the limbic system resets and the brain is able to focus again on other functions, such as creative thinking, analysis, and reasoning. We are also able to experience feel-good emotions, peacefulness, belonging and contentment being some of these.

Brain ‘Slacktivism’

What about the concept of a “no slacktivism” rule of life this year? Not just in our external domains but also for our brains. What if we were to actively combat that which seeks to destroy and divide our communities and families but also that which seeks to destroy and divide our happiness and hope? Not wearing rose-coloured glasses but also not wearing grey-coloured glasses either.

The Problem of Good

A question: what holds your attention and what do you think about on a regular basis? Turns out, that’s pretty important information if you want to maintain some of your optimism and hope.

Richard Rohr writes: ‘We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil”…but how do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world?’

How do we create, or enjoy more hope, health, and goodness?

How do we notice that which will delight, beautify, and love deeply?

How do we believe again that there are people and things worth celebrating?

Pare Down or Bulk Up?

To begin this season of my life, I am planning to notice more of what is working well, what is possible, and what will bring people together.   I’m going to notice who or what influences me most and what gets the majority of my attention in the average day. Maybe a deeper exploration of my true self is required or maybe ditching the constant navel-gazing would serve me better. As well, I’m thinking about the possibility of paring down or bulking up a habit, rhythm or ritual of life.

Ditching the Dark Side

One thing I feel certain about: I don’t imagine that looking for goodness, hope, peace, beauty, justice, truth will be an easy process, especially because those aren’t the themes relentlessly bloating my social media feeds or the news.   It’s probably not going to be a natural process either—especially as I remember again how our brains are wired. But I’m going to try to adopt a beginner’s mind in all this and lay my weariness and wariness down in favour of a more balanced vista.

Four Point Plan

This is the basic pattern I will try to follow in 2017:

  • Disengage from the unyielding barrage of ideas that seeks to grab attention but offers neither an informed opinion nor a viable solution.
  • Focus more on whatever supports healing and hope in the world around me.
  • Engage in calming rituals (e.g., Tai Chi, walking meditation, contemplation, yoga) to encourage different ways of thinking, noticing, and believing.
  • Focus on what is going well while moving toward changing what isn’t going well.

Maybe you’d like to join me in this?  Feel free to contact me with your ideas or comments.

Peace to you and your household in 2017,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
T: @gottasecond

December 2016: Liminal Space

Liminal space is when you are standing with one foot on a dock and one foot in a rowboat. The slightest wave or wind will topple you into the water. You are feeling unstable, uncertain, and disoriented. You want to get out of this precarious position, but how? Should you step back on the dock or step out onto the boat?

Liminal Space is a threshold.
While transitional periods are probably not new to most people, liminal space is less common and has a different feel about it. It’s like being untethered and stuck at the same time, restless, anxious, and uncomfortable yet, paradoxically, immobilized and lethargic. The way forward is ambiguous; the way back, unnavigable.

And like the threshold of anything, it is, by nature, transitional and dislocating. It’s the demarcation line between where you are and where you will be next; it’s the in-betwixt or in-between place that nobody wants to be in for very long because it’s neither here nor there. And yet it seems all-consuming.

What puts us in the liminal space?
That depends a lot on the person and the particular contexts they live within. Some examples: a relationship has ended or gotten very stale; an identity or purpose is ghosting on you; the status quo is deeply unsatisfying and unsettling; a career is going nowhere; or, you may be transitioning into or out of something without a clear sense of how or why.

What moves us out of liminal space?
This is also difficult to determine but here are a few questions to consider.

  • Change. Do you need to stop or change something significant (e.g., a practice, tradition, job, relationship)? Do you need to start doing something, even if it’s difficult or scary?
  • Healing. Are there unresolved regrets, disappointments, failures, or grief to be worked through? Why is your health being compromised? Who is most invested in you staying put or moving on and why?
  • Explore the territory you are in now. How did you get here and who is here with you? What do you love and hate most about being where you are now in life? Where do you want to be one or five years from now?
  • Explore meaning and purpose. Are your core values and beliefs being integrated into your life or are you living someone else’s life? What is preventing you from being the best version of yourself?

What resources do you have?

  • Who could mentor or counsel you about what is possible—whether that is a business decision, lifestyle or relationship change, or a move in location? Who in your community of care could speak wisely and truthfully to you about your current situation?
  • What is the most interesting and thought provoking area of the world around you right now? How could you stretch your current knowledges and experiences? What would happen to your beliefs about yourself and the world if you adopted a beginner’s mindset or an unjaded standpoint?
  • How have other people journeyed through liminal spaces? How could you position yourself differently in the current narrative of your life? How could you engage your non-cognitive skills in an exploration of the current territory?

Liminal Space is not a great place to hang out.
To be frank, it usually sucks. It requires radical self-examination and tough reflection; it demands more time than anyone would ever want to spend, and it probably creates some mental anguish. However, it might also propel us toward a new alignment with our self and the world. And it holds the promise of meaningful and authentic growth, freedom, and expression.

Sometimes it’s worth it to rock the boat for a while and appreciate what shakes out of your pockets.

Peace to you and your household,
Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
T: @gottasecond

November 2016 Trauma (Part 2): What Happens in Trauma Therapy?

In Part 1 of the series on trauma, the discussion focused on the definition of trauma and the common effects or responses to trauma. We will now be going in a little deeper to the ideas around trauma therapy or counselling.

Trauma Therapy

Therapy of any kind is nuanced and there is no perfect way to approach it. However, when counselling people who have experienced trauma, I am most informed by the work of Herman (1997), van der Kolk (2014), and Haskell (2008. This reflects the type of professional training I have received and practices I feel comfortable with in counselling sessions. However, this does not, in any way, suggest that other approaches are less helpful or less valid.

How does trauma therapy begin?

Generally, treatment for trauma begins with establishing safety and stabilization for the individual—therapeutically, but also relationally. The main goals are to provide information about treatment plans, highlight resources and strengths, address any substance misuse, self-injurious behaviours or suicidal ideation, and to minimize the traumatic responses. This is typically the longest stage of therapy and it is considered essential for providing a stable and safe foundation for the work ahead.

What happens next?

When appropriate, the work of transforming memories is then undertaken, with the goals of reducing their intensity and influence. Re-experiencing the trauma is never the goal as that might unintentionally re-traumatize the individual—the last thing you want to happen. Rather, a person is helped to construct a meaningful and coherent narrative about the trauma while continuing to feel safe and secure. Once the processing stage is nearing completion, we then focus on reorientation and reconnection with meaningful and desired aspects of life, including working on any difficulties in interpersonal relationships.

Of course, counselling work is complex, multi-faceted, and very diverse because people are that way too! Accordingly, there is no magic formula or perfectly structured sessions or pathways and there are many other approaches, which have not been discussed. However, this is meant to give a general overview of what one might expect in trauma counselling.

Feeling the effects?

As always, I encourage anyone who is feeling overwhelmed with life or concerned about their safety in any way to contact a professional or agency as soon as possible for assistance. If you would like to talk about this more, please use the contact me using my website, email, or Twitter accounts.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

October 2016 Trauma (Part 1): What Is Trauma and What Are Its Effects?

Many words are used outside of their context and definitions and one of them is the word trauma. It is often sprinkled into conversations quite casually; something as small as a social misstep can be described as “traumatic”. At the same time, many people who have experienced actual trauma will often not refer to it as such. In fact, many will never speak about their traumatic experiences at all.

Silencing oneself about a traumatic event is common. The deeper emotions of shame and self-blame often travel alongside of trauma experiences. Additionally, there are very real fears about sharing trauma narratives with others. What will people think about me if they knew that…? What will happen to me (or others) if I share this? Will people believe me? Will I lose my family?

“Keeping quiet” about a traumatic experience is especially true of women who, for a variety of reasons have found that it is better not to talk about it. For example, women rarely use the term sexual assault or abuse to describe a non-consensual sexual experience even when it is clearly about violence and violation and is typically life-altering, to say the least.

What is trauma?

Trauma can be described as both the events of an experience, such as severe neglect, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, physical and sexual assault, as well as the effects of those events, which include complex physiological and psychological responses. A deep sense of helplessness, powerlessness, and profound fear are often experienced during the time of trauma and may continue long after the actual occurrence. Examples of trauma events could include sexual or emotional abuse, spousal battering, or witnessing a death or a natural disaster.

What Are the Common Effects of Trauma?

The effects of trauma vary considerably from person to person, depending on a multitude of variables. However, traumatic responses often show up in the following ways:

  • intrusive thoughts and memories, flashbacks;
  • re-experiencing of the event(s);
  • self-harming behaviours;
  • frequent suicide ideation;
  • feeling numb, spacey, “outside” of yourself or your life, or feeling “unreal”;
  • experiencing significant gaps in memory (short-term or long-term);
  • frequent or long-term struggles with depression, hyperactivity, dissociation, and/or anxiousness;
  • long-term physiological complaints (e.g., ADD-HD or IBD symptoms);
  • tumultuous relationships;
  • feelings of deep shame and self-blame;
  • substance misuse for coping with emotional pain;
  • persistent hypervigilance (scanning for danger) and sleep disruptions;
  • feelings of helplessness, fear, stress; and,
  • feeling that you do not have safety or control in your life.

While most people will, at some point in their lifetime, have times when they experience some of the responses on the list, trauma effects are typically more persistent, pervasive, and significant, and they tend to affect the major areas of life (e.g., relationships, employment).

What does trauma therapy look like?

Trauma therapy usually begins with information, since this helps to normalize and understand the experience of trauma and the resulting trauma responses. After establishing safety and stability, the work of creating narratives and processing the emotions and sensations related to the trauma begins.

In Part 2 of the series about Trauma, I will talk a bit more about what happens in actual counselling sessions. In the meantime, my hope is that this brief introduction to trauma and its effects will be helpful to some individuals who are trying to make sense out of a profoundly difficult and often confusing experience.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen, MC, RCC, CCC
Twitter: @gottasecond

Some resources if you are interested in reading more about this topic.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.

Haskell, L. (2008). First Stage Trauma Treatment: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals Working with Women. Toronto, ON: Centre for Addictions and Mental Health.

Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The Aftermath Of Violence—From Domestic Abuse To Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, 19-21. New York, NY: Viking Publishers.

September 2016: Couples and Conflict

Couples in counselling will often ask me if I think their relationship is a “good one”. Typically, this is because they are experiencing difficulty in some area (or many) in the relationship and they are concerned about whether or not they will make it through the messy bits of life together.

Conflict is common when you put any two adults together in close quarters—we all know that—but how much conflict is “normal” and how do people find a way through the conflict to a stable, loving, long-term relationship (assuming that’s the goal)? The answer lies perhaps not with how much conflict there is, but about what the conflict is creating or costing. That is, what is occurring as a result of the conflict or arguments and how is that affecting the relationship?

In some relationships yelling and passionate arguing is stress reducing; it clears the air and the make-up sex that results is perceived as being worth the drama. For others, yelling is overwhelming and abusive and they can’t stand to listen to it. So they retreat from the stress. Both of these are typical responses and are well within the typical range of conflict patterns and interactions for couples.

Creating distance is one of things humans do when they are scared, angry, and feeling vulnerable—it’s part of a powerful, protective mechanism that the limbic system in your brain employs to keep you safe and alive. Any threat, whether psychological, emotional, or physical, real or perceived as real, activates the flight-fight-freeze response, which often perfectly mirrors what is happening during the conflict. People may leave the room (or the marriage), stay and fight through it long after they should have stopped, or they might just shut down and refuse to engage any longer with their partner.

When the limbic system is firing up, the pre-frontal cortex (the reasoning, prioritizing, and analyzing part of your brain) is less likely to function well. After all, when a grizzly bear is in your campsite, you don’t need to consider how many reside in Northern Canada and how closely the bear’s size matches the standards for grizzly bear weight. You just need to run away, fight it off, or play dead. Your brain zeroes into your survival in that moment.

In the same way, if we are threatened, whether or not the threat is real or perceived, our brain prepares us to fight, flee, or play dead (unresponsive). This is why conversations can get heated and out-of-control so easily and why we then say things we don’t really mean. This is also why some people suddenly refuse to say anything more in the middle of a fight; they shut down to stop the threat from overwhelming them. Some people run and hide.

When engaged in conflict, it is difficult to stay calm and think clearly and rationally. Not surprisingly, this is the time of heated debate when the majority of relational wounding and damage occurs. And it can be difficult to begin the process of making things right again. Some people are naturally more comfortable with moving toward resolution and repair; others will find it difficult.

Every couple is different in their approach to resolving conflict, but there are a few common missteps in the “dance”. After the immediate conflict ends, there can be a distancing-pursuing dynamic wherein one person steps closer to the other to mend the breach, only to find that the other person is not ready or willing and is actively moving further away. The greater the pressure of the pursuit, the farther the distancing partner retreats.

Another common dance is one in which a partner has been assigned the unstated but very real responsibility to initiate the repair process. This person often resents this task; they wait for the other partner to address the emotional turmoil as a sign of caring, but it doesn’t come through or come fast enough. This dance often results in silencing or stonewalling and there is yet more negativity added to the original conflict.

Unresolved conflict can also lead to another dance, wherein neither partner knows how to begin to walk and talk together anymore nor do they necessarily want to keep trying. It all just feels too exhausting and, besides, there’s a sense that there’s probably no point to yet another discussion (fight) about the conflict. This can be a very powerful and destructive dynamic that is hard to overcome.

But, there are solutions to managing conflict, some of which will apply to your situation and others that will not. What are some ideas around how to work through conflict so that it doesn’t become too damaging or divisive? Here are a few for you to consider.

  • Remember that this is really about that. Figure out what the “that” is. Example: Is the missed chore the real problem or is it that one person thinks the other doesn’t care?
  • Turn toward your partner as soon as possible to attempt repairs. Consider the best time and place and check in with your motives, blind spots, sensitivities, and biases.
  • Solve the solvable problems and manage the perpetual problems.
  • Maintain the belief that your partner is not intentionally trying to make you miserable and that they want the best for you and the relationship.
  • Figure out your views and positions about important subjects together—finances, parenting, education, and life goals—before they become problems.
  • Prioritize your partner over every other relationship—including your children, friends, boss, and family of origin.
  • Compromise on some things that aren’t affecting your core values and beliefs. Sometimes choose your relationship over your need to be right.
  • Not everything that can be said should be said. Be honest, but speak with wisdom, sensitivity, and compassion.
  • Balance the giving and receiving of resources, including available time, money, energy, skills.
  • Share the responsibility for relationship-building.
  • Practice managing conflict. Not everyone grew up seeing how conflict can be expressed and worked through in a healthy and helpful way. Extend some grace to each other as you figure it out.
  • Strive to be humble, quick to forgive, open with needs and vulnerability, protective of the other, generous with praise, and stingy with criticism.
  • Remember that you have what it takes to figure this out…but even if you don’t there are professionals, such as counsellors, who can help with skill building, mediation, and support.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen


Unfortunately, some relationships escalate past the point of conflict and become abusive. If this is the case for you, then please seek refuge and safety first, before anything else. There are transition houses for men and women who are experiencing violence and abuse of any kind and counsellors and social work agencies can assist you in the process of figuring out what to do.

August 2016: Practices & Protective Factors for Couples (Part 2)

Henry Youngman: The secret to a happy marriage is still a secret.

I love the above quote! I believe that successful relationships look very different for different couples. There is no set framework or definitive strategies to master. There is no magic formula. Building and maintaining a strong relationship is like solving a mystery that has twists and turns as you go along. Like a good novel, it’s interesting, surprising, complicated, and compelling but not necessarily easy to understand or navigate.

However, there are some protective factors that have been collected and posited as a result of research about couples (see the July, 2016, blog for some links). Here are a few that might ignite some insight, direction, or conversation. As well, I have included some practices that may be helpful.

Practices and Protective Factors

  • Increase your overall enjoyment of your life and the life of your relationship (e.g., plan for regular time away, date nights, and events that you can happily anticipate; fulfill life dreams; obtain meaningful work)
  • Increase your overall enjoyment of your partner: appreciate the qualities you fell in love with (while realizing that these may be the same things that drive you crazy now); turn toward them even when it is hard to do so.
  • Increase your overall capacity for stress and develop the skills to deal with it: create rhythms and routines; mediate or pray; exercise; reward yourself; and remember what is going right even in the midst of pain; practice generosity and service.
  • (Re)establish and increase connection points—emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical.
  • Increase the intimacy level (i.e., affectionate touch, affirmation, communication outside of daily chores and responsibilities, do things together, and have sex).
  • Maintain a balanced lifestyle (SLEEP!).
  • Develop shared values and beliefs that will steer you into the same waters for the purposes of decision-making and responsibilities, respecting one another’s contexts and culture, and figuring out directions and goals.
  • Get support early for issues relating to mental health, addiction, illness, or losses.
  • Protect your relationship from anything that might threaten it (e.g., job stress, in-laws, nosy neighbours, over-spending).
  • Have fun; delight in one another; cherish one another.
  • Create the best possible scenario for the other to flourish whenever possible.

Peace to you and your household,

Shari van Spronsen

July 2016: Common Couple Struggles (Part 1)

In my counselling practice I often see couples who have been struggling to work out problems for a long time and, in desperation, come to counselling as a last ditch effort to save the relationship. Their problems can be varied; some couples will have a single issue that dominates everyday interaction and others have a complex mix of issues slowly driving a wedge between them (or creating a drift toward something or someone else).

G. K. Chesterson: Marriage is an adventure—like going to a war.
I’m not sure if Chesterton was joking or not when he stated this, but marriage can feel like an epic battle sometimes. And yet, marriage is still a life goal for many or most people, despite the high rates of divorce and dissolution and the difficulties that ensue when two people live so intimately in close quarters. I was curious as to the disconnect between what people were dreaming about and what they were often experiencing.

I recently conducted some research recently on why committed and loving people, who work so hard to make things good in one of the most important relationships in their life, just can’t work things out. I chose to reference the work of John Gottman, Sue Johnson, & Judith Wallerstein, among others, who are respected researchers in the field of couples therapy. I also reflected upon my counselling and training experiences and asked about 20 other couples to offer their opinions about what the most common stressors or problems would be. From this admittedly imperfect and somewhat limited study, I compiled a list of problems that were mentioned most often, knowing that they might not necessarily apply to every couple.

So, that’s how the Common Couple Struggles list was created, but my exploration also unpacked some factors as to what every couple could (potentially, at least) do to increase their chances for a loving, healthy, happy relationship—even in today’s cultural moment and even for decades or a lifetime! So, to balance things out a bit, next month’s posting (August 2016) will be a list of potential protective factors and common practices often found in “happy” or “successful” marriages and long-term relationships. Hopefully, these will be helpful to you or someone you know.

In the meantime, if you are in a conflicted couple relationship, consider some of the struggles you might be facing as a couple and keep conversing and brainstorming for possible solutions. It is said that a problem identified is half-solved. Hopefully, this truism is applicable to you and your partner as well.

Peace to you and your household,

Common Couple Struggles

1) Money & Finances (difference in financial goals; access & planning differential in use of money & budgeting; scarcity of money; large debt)

2] Family of Origin (psychological & emotional immaturity; low degree of differentiation from family of origin; differing beliefs about how relationships should work; role formation and role expectations; difference in cultures & core beliefs/values)

3) Past or Current Abuse (trauma—including distressing life events; violence—badgering or battering; lack of agency, respect, and esteem for self &/or the other)

4) Physical or Mental Illness/Addiction (diagnoses; disability; including socially sanctioned addictions, such as work)

5) Intimacy & Sexuality (dramatic changes in life stage or season; affairs; sexual dysfunction; lack of desire or intimacy)

6) Children & Parenting (changes in sleep, roles, money, sex—quality/quantity—, money, or time for each other; divergent parenting styles; infertility; child’s disability/diagnosis; child-dominated family life)

7] Life Dissatisfaction/Unhappiness (losing a job, life dream, or significant person(s); changes in goals, social arena & worldview)

8] Daily Stressors (scarcity of resources, such as energy, communication, social supports, intimacy; over-scheduling; issues related to having power & control; lack of respect or authenticity)


FYI: In the coming year I will be offering a Couples Workshop, which will be held on three Saturdays: one of which will be held in the fall of 2016 (probably in October) and the others in the winter and spring of 2017. Each Saturday will be a stand-alone workshop and each will cover different themes and concerns with an opportunity in advance for couples to choose topics most meaningful to them.

For more information, please contact me via or fill out the contact email on my website

June 2016: Am I Depressed or Just Sad?

I will assume right from the start that you and google are acquaintances and that you can access info on the Internet about the diagnostic criteria for depression (here is one). But, sometimes, it’s hard to know where you fit into what can seem like ambiguous and artificial constructs.   For some people sadness and depression seem quite similar and they don’t meet all the ‘criteria’. And what about grieving? It’s kind of like both sadness and depression for some folks.

One day, in a counselling session, I was trying to come up with a simple way to explain the difference between sadness and depression; the following three images came to mind (knowing that these are attempts to describe sadness but are, by no means, exclusive or inclusive of all people’s experiences).

The storm or a tsunami (grief): this is a powerful surge of weather that can take you by surprise with its intensity and rapid onset. You see, smell, or hear something, a memory pops into your head and you suddenly feel overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts. This is often the nature of grief. It’s not always present but when it is, it is fierce and unrelenting…for a time. And then it subsides, crests and falls over time, and when it stops we are left with a sense of exhaustion and lingering sadness. Grief is typically about losing someone dear to us or losing one’s dreams, faith, health, or trust in the world. It’s significant and devastating but it is often relieved a bit by periods of sadness and maybe even some sunnier breaks.

The coastal mist or drizzle (sadness): This is like the misty rain that is so soft and fine you don’t know you are soaking wet until you come into somewhere dry and feel chilled to the bone. This is how we sometimes experience sadness. It permeates and everything and it’s persistent: it’s a perpetual wet blanket. Our daily tasks can feel like treading through water; there is a heaviness that rarely lifts even when our thoughts are elsewhere. And we just want it to stop or ease up a bit. Sadness is also typically about a loss. Someone, some thing, or some idea is gone and we are deeply affected by its absence on a daily basis.

The mud puddle (depression): this is when all our energy is gone and we just can’t care enough about anything or anyone (not even ourselves) to move out of the stagnant, murky puddle of water we are sitting in. People urge us to snap out of it but we can’t. “What’s the point?” we argue. Everything is meaningless, hopeless, defeating, and so exhausting. We may want things to change but it doesn’t seem possible anymore. And it feels better somehow to stop struggling and just accept the sinkhole we are in or we might flail about, restless and anxious, but still feeling stuck. Depression is like this sometimes; it’s typically about an imbalance in a few (or more than a few) important areas of life—our physiological, vocational, spiritual, relational, and psychological selves, for example. It’s hard to figure out how we got here or how to get out and it seems to be sticking around for a long time.

The main difference I see between all three of these metaphors is the sense of movement. In grief and sadness, we are generally still fighting with it or working through it or managing life somehow. With depression, we are more often still and stagnant—shut down and unresponsive to the relationships or movements in our days.

I’ve written about how to manage the day-to-day in another post (Dec, 2015 blog post), so I won’t go into it here, but I will mention that movement is often a key strategy for getting out of the metaphorical puddle—exercising our physical, creative, or cognitive muscles, so to speak. Whatever you can do to keep moving through the storms or sadness, keep doing it (assuming it’s overall outcome is more health). If you really can’t get going on a daily basis, ask a friend or family member to help you access some psychological care.

To wrap this up, maybe these metaphors made sense of your experience and maybe they didn’t at all. If you would like to add to the conversation or if you have questions, I would love to hear from you at

Peace to you and your household,


May 2016: A ‘Safe Place’ Visualization for Calming Your Body and Soul

Safe Place Visualization Exercise

This is an exercise that will enable you to create a safe place in your imagination to help manage any overwhelming feelings, images, and sensations you might be experiencing. It can help create a sense of safety and calm if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Allow yourself 5-10 minutes to complete it so you don’t feel you need to rush through it.


  • Think of an image that evokes calm and safety for you.
  • This place can be real or imagined, outdoors or indoors (e.g., beach, forest, your bed or couch). Maybe you have been there before or maybe you’re just creating it now in your imagination.
  • You may want to go there alone or with some person or pet that makes you feel safe and peaceful. You are in control of this safe and calm place. There is nothing worrying you here; it is full of beauty, comfort, and peace.
  • Focus on this image for a few moments and strengthen the image in your mind.
  • Then, notice any pleasant sensations and emotions you are experiencing in your body. What kinds of sensations are you experiencing (texture, pressure, wind, temperature)? What are you tasting, seeing, or hearing in your safe, calm place?
  • Notice where you feel them and allow yourself to enjoy each for a few moments.
  • Now, think of a word or two that describes the image in your mind (it could be ‘relax’ or ‘ocean’ or something like that). No need to say this word out loud.
  • Think of the word and the image together, allowing yourself to again experience the pleasant sensations and a sense of emotional security and peace.
  • When you are ready, re-orient yourself to the room you are in. Slowly open your eyes. Look at the floor first in a corner and then slowly let your eyes travel up to the ceiling and back to the floor.

Peace to you and your household,


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