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12/06/2024

On Therapy as "Man School"

Heya! Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending an event organized by the Dare to be Vulnerable Project here in Ottawa. This nonprofit's mission is to get people talking more and more about mental health to reduce stigma. The idea is that if leaders in various industries start these conversations, it could create safer workplaces where mental health issues can be openly discussed. The goal is to make people feel less shame, ask for more support, and offer support to one another, thereby avoiding some of the really terrible consequences that arise when mental health issues spiral out of control.

I appreciate this movement, and yesterday’s event, titled "Men Do Cry," was targeted at male leaders, focusing on men and mental health. It was a powerful day aimed at normalizing feelings for men and encouraging open discussions about our emotions and thoughts around who we are and how we are.

One speaker said something that struck me immediately. He referred to his therapy journey as "Man School," and I love this idea. Therapy as a way for men to learn how to be good men by learning about, differentiating, and appropriately expressing our feelings is profound. Think about little boys; if you’ve ever spent time around a three-year-old boy, you’ll see they have feelings for sure. However, our culture systematically teaches boys over time to shut off or turn away from their feelings. This isn’t encoded in the XY chromosome; it’s a learned behavior.

If boys can learn to turn off their feelings, they can certainly learn to turn them back on and make use of them because feelings are important. They’re crucial for living and are a vital part of decision-making. It’s not that we should run entirely on feelings all the time, but the information we get from our feelings is critical for making good decisions, whether in business, personal life, or elsewhere.

I love the idea of therapy as Man School. If we’re going to teach boys to turn off their feelings, as adults, we can start teaching ourselves and each other how to turn those feelings back on and use them effectively. Feelings are always there; it's just a matter of what we do with them. Ignoring them will only cause them to come out sideways. Because boys are often taught through reward and punishment that they shouldn’t have or express certain feelings, we need to help them unlearn this.

Another thing I love about the idea of therapy being Man School is because therapy isn't a one size fits all. Since therapy is tailored to the individual, the results will also be individualized, meaning that there will be diversity in how men express and deal with their feelings. It doesn’t have to look a specific way. There isn’t one right universal way to express yourself; it has to be coherent with your style, authentic to who you are as a person, and reflective of your lived experiences. So, a group of men who can express their emotions appropriately will show great diversity. It's not about reducing all men to one image but making you more YOU. Therapy helps you understand yourself better so you can show up as more of who you are.

Some things to think about. Look after yourselves and each other today. 

 

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10/06/2024

On Father's Day: Embracing Emotional Growth

Father's Day is coming up later this week, and it's got me reflecting on fatherhood and the complexities that come with this special day. One crucial point to remember is that fathers didn't start out as fathers; they began as little boys. Unfortunately, in our society, we often fail to teach our boys how to express their feelings effectively. We tend to reinforce the idea of being the strong, silent type or the easygoing, fun guy. However, when it comes to more complex emotions, we don't do a great job of guiding our sons on how to navigate and express these feelings constructively.

Many men only begin to understand their emotions through their romantic relationships, which is a tragedy. By then, they often have to learn tough lessons after numerous failed or challenging relationships, leaving a trail of emotional wreckage. Just because we haven't been socialized well to handle emotions doesn't mean we can't take steps as adults to learn and value this important aspect of life. Emotions exist whether we acknowledge them or not. If we bottle them up or deny them, they tend to come out sideways, causing more harm than good to ourselves and others.

A big part of fatherhood is about having a meaningful relationship with your children, which benefits both the kids and the fathers. Dads have a significant influence on their children's lives, and whether they are actively involved or not, it has an impact. Therefore, it's essential for adult men to learn to differentiate their emotions, understand how and when to express them, and do so in a way that feels genuine.

This topic is particularly relevant during Pride Month, as many in the queer community have strained relationships with their fathers. Often, it's not because their fathers are inherently unkind but because they are not well-versed in handling emotions and relationships. Young people care deeply about their parents' opinions, even if they sometimes seem dismissive. Fathers—and mothers—play a crucial role in their children's lives.

If you are a dad or love a dad, encourage him to get in touch with his emotions and show up for his kids. You can't tell a child you love them too much. Expressing love openly and honestly is life-saving for young people and beneficial for their emotional health. And guess what? There are numerous positive outcomes for men who are active in their children's lives. Engaging with your children is good for you too. It fosters better relationships and makes celebrations like Father's Day less fraught and more joyous.

So, as we approach Father's Day, let's remember the importance of emotional growth and connection. I'm gonna go be with some hearts that beat. Look after yourselves and each other today.

 

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06/06/2024

"Shoulds" are Garbage: Finding True Fulfillment 

Heya! I want to share some insights that might resonate with many of you.

One common theme that brings people into my office is this realization: they've worked hard, achieved what they thought would make them happy, but still feel disappointed or dissatisfied. Then comes the self-criticism for not being grateful enough or not appreciating what they have. I believe a significant part of this struggle comes from chasing what they think they 'should' want rather than what they genuinely desire.

Often, people don't know what they want, so they default to what’s considered 'objectively' good. They follow societal expectations, influenced by social media, family, and community, pursuing dreams that aren't truly theirs. Without a personal connection to these goals, they end up feeling unfulfilled.

This disconnect also happens because people find it challenging to introspect and identify their true desires. It’s easier to follow societal norms and hope for the best. But let’s make introspection a bit easier with some guiding questions: What’s genuinely important to you? How do you want to spend your time? What do you value most? By answering these, you can start prioritizing and aligning your decisions with your authentic self.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what’s objectively good. What works for others might not work for you. Following someone else’s path often leads to dissatisfaction because it doesn't align with your interests and values.

Working with both adults and teenagers, I see this issue starting early. Young people are pressured to have everything figured out, aiming for excellence and success measured by teachable skills. But figuring things out involves trying and sometimes failing. Fear of making wrong choices—like picking the wrong major or job—paralyzes them, worrying they’ll fall behind.

Experimenting is crucial. Just like shopping for clothes, trying different paths helps you find what fits. A large size varies across brands, and so do life choices. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’re behind; it means you’re learning and growing.

These ideas can guide us towards decisions that bring true satisfaction. It’s about pursuing what we genuinely want, not what we think we should want. This shift leads to a more fulfilling life.

Some things to think about. Look after yourselves and each other today.

 

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05/06/2024

Why Pride Matters: A Reflection

Hey there! Since it’s June, which means it’s Pride Month, I wanted to share some thoughts on why Pride still matters. Happy Pride to everyone celebrating!

Every June, we celebrate Pride, and every June, I see the same exhausting questions pop up on social media. Questions like, "Do we really still need Pride? You all have your rights already," or "Why isn’t there a Straight Pride Month?" These questions often feel more like passive-aggressive pushback on our existence than genuine curiosity. So, let’s talk about why Pride is still so important and a bit of its history.

It was only 55 years ago this month that Canada decriminalized homosexuality. That might seem like a long time to some, but the oldest Gen Xer was just four years old then. Before decriminalization, being gay was illegal. You could be arrested, fined, or jailed simply for being who you are. The day after Canada decriminalized homosexuality, the Stonewall Riots erupted in New York City. The police raided the Stonewall Inn, a queer bar, and the patrons fought back. This led to the first big Pride event in 1970, marking a significant protest against injustice and a fight for rights.

Pride started from a place of protest and anger, not just celebration and glitter. Even after decriminalization, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association didn’t declassify it as an illness until 1975, and the World Health Organization didn’t follow suit until 1991. That's only 33 years ago, well within many of our lifetimes. Just think about that—it wasn’t that long ago that existing as a queer person was considered sick.

In recent years, we’ve made significant progress. There’s been legislation, reduced stigma, and it’s become easier for some people to come out. However, we’re also seeing pushback and regression in some areas. For example, changes in sexual health curriculum in places like Ontario often exclude families like mine, suggesting that queer families are controversial or inappropriate to discuss with children. There are lots of age-appropriate ways to talk about diversity and ensure that the rights and freedoms we’ve gained are not taken for granted.

Beyond these broader issues, there’s also the day-to-day struggles of existing as a queer person. For instance, when starting a new job, everyone worries about whether it will be a good environment. But if you’re queer, you might also wonder if it’s safe to be openly yourself at work. Can you talk about your weekend like everyone else? Will you be judged or excluded because of who you are? These small, everyday concerns add up and can lead to missed opportunities and unnecessary stress.

Pride matters because it creates spaces where we can simply be ourselves. Last year, I was walking to my car in a parking garage, and someone screamed a slur at me from across the empty lot. I wasn’t interacting with anybody, just existing. And then, there are the more tragic incidents, like the Pulse nightclub shooting eight years ago, where someone opened fire because the patrons were queer. These things are still happening—it’s not just ancient history.

This is why we need Pride. It’s not about just tolerance; it’s about being allowed to be proud of who we are and our community. Pride is crucial because it can be life-saving for many people. The lack of safe spaces can be life-ending for some of us.

If you’re someone who isn’t a fan of Pride, remember, you don’t have to attend any events. But understand that many of us still face discrimination daily. For those who come from communities that haven’t been traditionally marginalized, I have a message for you: I’m not saying your life isn’t hard, but your gender and sexuality didn’t make your day harder from the moment you woke up. That’s what we mean by privilege—you don’t have to worry if your identity will inspire cruelty or violence.

So, yeah, we still need Pride. And no, we don’t need a Straight Pride Month. You get all the other days. We’re just asking for recognition, for a moment to celebrate who we are. That’s it.

I’m gonna go be with some hearts that beat. Look after yourselves and each other today.

 

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03/06/2024

Therapy is Not a One-Size-Fits-All

Hey there! Today, I want to talk about a common misconception many people have when they start therapy: the idea that therapy is a one-size-fits-all solution.

A lot of folks are surprised to learn that therapy isn’t the same for everyone. While there are some common approaches that can be helpful, the way two people experience the same situation can be very different. Because of this, therapy needs to adapt to each person's unique needs and circumstances.

For example, someone might come in saying, “I’m going through a breakup and need coping skills,” or “I think I’m dealing with depression, burnout, or anxiety. Please help me.” It’s easy to think that there’s a standard method that works for everyone, but this isn’t true. The way you understand your symptoms and how they developed can shape the meaning you make of your experiences. This understanding varies from person to person.

Take depression, for instance. While there are common features like low mood, other aspects can differ based on personal history and individual makeup. One person might see their depression as largely genetic, while another might link it to a series of life events and past experiences. These different perspectives will influence how each person works through their issues in therapy.

We often talk about the benefits of diet, rest, and exercise for managing depression and anxiety. These basics can help everyone, whether they’re struggling or not. But therapy goes deeper. It helps us understand ourselves in the context of our lives and symptoms. What works for one person might not work the same for another, and that’s okay. It’s not about something being wrong with the person or the suggestion; it’s about finding what fits your natural style and situation.

Therapy isn’t just about using a set list of coping skills. If it were that simple, we wouldn’t need therapy—everyone would just read self-help books. Coping skills are useful, but sometimes they only help us get by in situations that aren’t good for us. Therapy can help us see when it’s time to change our situation instead of just coping with it.

So, remember, therapy is about understanding yourself and your personal history. It’s not a cookie-cutter process. If you’re struggling with something, therapy can help you figure out what’s in your control to change, what isn’t, and how to manage things in a way that works for you.

Take care of yourselves and each other.


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30/05/2024

Inner Critic vs. Wise Mind: Understanding the Difference

Hey there! Today, I want to talk about something many of us struggle with: the difference between our inner critic and our inner wise mind. It's easy to confuse these two, but understanding the distinction can make a big difference in how we approach our thoughts and actions.

Our inner critic is that harsh, negative voice inside us. It’s not helpful or balanced. Instead, it focuses on our fears, twists facts to make us feel worse, and often speaks in extremes and absolutes. This is the voice that tears us down when we make mistakes, calling us "failures" or "losers." It's repetitive, intrusive, and downright mean.

On the other hand, our wise mind is the part of us that blends logic and reason with compassion. The wise mind acknowledges when we've made mistakes, but it doesn't beat us up over them. Instead, it uses these moments as opportunities for learning and growth. The wise mind is kind and understanding, looking at the full context of our actions and asking why we did something, rather than just condemning us for it.

Cultivating our wise mind means accepting that we're imperfect and that it's okay to have regrets or to need to make amends. The wise mind helps us move forward in ways that align with our values and true selves. It's about finding balance, mindfulness, and self-compassion.

Many people mistake the inner critic for the wise mind because they believe being harsh on themselves is necessary for learning lessons. But that's not true. The inner critic is mostly just mean and driven by fear. It doesn't help us grow or move forward in positive ways. Compassion, balance, and acceptance—these are the qualities we need to develop our wise mind. This approach allows us to forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and make those mistakes worthwhile.

So, next time you catch that harsh inner voice, try to recognize it for what it is: the inner critic. Then, take a moment to listen for your wise mind instead. It’s there to help you learn and grow with kindness and understanding.

Some things to think about today. Look after yourselves and each other. 

 

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29/05/2024

The Importance of Vacations: A Psychologist's Perspective

Hey there! I just got back from a lovely week-long vacation, and with summer just around the corner, it's the perfect time to talk about vacations and their role in good living.

First off, we all need regular time off and rest. Whether you travel somewhere or stay home, what's important is giving yourself a break and moving through time differently. When we're not constantly at work, we live differently and can truly recharge.

If you find yourself living from vacation to vacation, dreading your daily life, it's time to re-evaluate. You might be able to bring some elements of vacation into your everyday routine to make life more sustainable. Look at the list of things you "have to" do and figure out your actual priorities. Incorporating more regular rest into your daily life can prevent you from feeling completely drained by the time your vacation arrives. Remember, vacations are great for recharging, but if you're starting out already exhausted, you won't get the full benefit.

A common struggle with vacations is the feeling of having to work extra hard before leaving or after returning, as if you didn't take any time off at all. This is often a mental trap influenced by our work culture. If you feel like you need to work extra just to take a break, the problem likely lies in the structure of your workplace, not in you. Be kind to yourself and understand that catching up on emails and tasks after a vacation is still part of your job. Don't set unrealistic expectations that every minute of your workday should be super productive.

Lastly, think about what you want to achieve with your vacation time. Many people have expectations but don't plan ahead, leading to disappointment. If your goal is to recharge, focus on activities that genuinely refresh you. If you want to make memories with family or friends, find activities you all enjoy. And if you're looking to explore new places or try new things, plan deliberately to align with your values and needs. This way, you'll be happier with how you spent your time off.

So, take some time to think about how you can incorporate rest into your daily life and make the most of your vacations. Look after yourselves and each other. 

Fact

 

16/05/2024

Navigating Facts and Assumptions: A Psychologist's Perspective

Hey there! Today, I want to talk about something that really affects how we think, feel, and act: the difference between facts and assumptions.

Facts are solid. They're things we can prove and see. Assumptions, on the other hand, are more like guesses. They fill in the gaps when we don't have all the information. We might believe in them strongly, but they're often influenced by our fears, worries, and what we think others are thinking.

When we realize we're working with assumptions, we get a chance to check them against the facts. This helps us figure out if we're making decisions based on reality or just our interpretations, which might not always be helpful. A lot of us go through life mistaking assumptions for facts, but unlike facts, assumptions can change when we look at them more closely.

How we interpret events has a big impact on how we feel. Two people can go through the same thing but feel completely different about it because of their different assumptions or perspectives. We often have ideas about how things "should" be, which can lead to disappointment when reality doesn't match up.

So, how do we tell the difference between facts and assumptions, especially when things get tough? We might start with looking inward. Ask yourself: What do I really know for sure? What proof do I have for my beliefs, and what might need more checking? Also, knowing that our minds like to create stories about events can help us separate what’s real from what we’re assuming.

Think about a common situation like being late for an appointment. The fact is simple—the appointment time has passed. But assumptions about why you're late can be all over the place. Maybe it was due to unexpected issues or personal problems unrelated to the appointment. Jumping to conclusions based on these assumptions can cause misunderstandings and stress.

In the end, being able to separate facts from assumptions helps us see things more clearly and be kinder to ourselves and others. By questioning our assumptions and looking for the truth, we can build better relationships and make smarter choices. So next time you’re feeling stuck, take a moment to ask yourself what you know and what you’re guessing. It might help you find a calmer, more satisfying path.

Take care of yourselves and each other. 

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