Everything You Need to Know About Therapy – On and Off the Couch

Can you picture yourself walking in your favourite park, sun shining down on your face, picture perfect trees against a vast blue sky backdrop?

What if this was your counselling session?

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When choosing a therapist to work with your teen, fit is really important. You want to choose someone who your teen feels comfortable with, someone who you can communicate with easily, and someone with knowledge in working specifically with teen issues.

Beyond these considerations, you’ll also want to think about how the sessions will unfold. When I was developing my therapy practice,  I gave a lot of thought to the different ways I worked things out when I was a teen. I have memories of walking with my best friends, tea in hand, venting about relationships and school stress. I remember keeping a journal for poems, art, and just letting it all out. I also remember blasting my music until the feelings passed.

That’s why it’s important to offer different ways for teens to meet with me. Here’s a little more information on the ways therapy can look when working with the team at Pyramid Psychology.

Photo by Priscilla De Preeze on Unsplash

Walk and Talk Sessions

My friend reminded me the other day that I had talked to them about the idea of walk and talk therapy sessions over 10 years ago. Although I’m definitely not the only person to have thought of this idea, it has been percolating in my mind over many years.

Walk and talk therapy sessions are when I meet with a client in a safe outdoor space (generally Fishcreek Park in Calgary, Alberta) and we walk during the session. We can take breaks and sit on the park benches or walk the entire time.

This kind of therapy can be great if:
– You are intimidated by the idea of sitting face to face with someone and talking about vulnerable topics
– You like to move
– You like being outdoors
– You have good conversations with others while walking

 

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Movement produces endorphins and other natural chemicals that help boost our mood. So the combination of being able to talk about your struggles while moving can be a natural way to help thoughts, feelings, and experiences transform from the inside out. Even paying attention to the speed of walk or the pace can help bring awareness to your teen’s experience and their ability to make choices that are right for them.

When I asked my first walk and talk teen client how the pace of our walk was, they answered, “what do you mean?”. I invited them to notice if our walking speed was too fast, too slow, just right and to notice that in their body. At first, I think the teen thought it was a little weird, but as they settled into noticing, they realized they wanted to walk just a little slower and we adjusted. It may have seemed like a small moment but it was so significant to have them check-in with how they were feeling in that moment and to advocate and ask for a change. This is a skill they continue to grow and use in their everyday life.

Walking side by side with your therapist can also help to even the playing field. What I mean by this is sometimes it can be intimidating for teens to talk to adults, let alone psychologist adults. Walking together can help it feel a little more comfortable and casual. The quality of the therapy is there, but the feelings surrounding it may make the conversation flow with more ease. You can check out www.pyramidpsychology.com for a little more information on walk and talk sessions.

 

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Expressive Arts

Expressive arts is a way of supporting teens (people of all ages really) to express, understand and discover while using experiential mediums such as paint, writing, drawing, photography, movement, music, crafting etc. Expressive arts is different from art therapy. It uses many different ways for teens to reflect and get to that place of change and action. Expressive arts also uses something called the Intermodal Process. The Intermodal Process means using multiple mediums in one session in order to gain a deeper understanding.

For example, you might start by creating an image and then write about the image or you may start by listening to some music and create a drawing in response.

It’s important to know:
– You don’t need to be an artist or
– Even think you are creative
– All you need is a little bit of curiosity and an open mind
– It can be as simple as starting with scribbles or creating a mini sculpture with pipe cleaners

I have trained for some time in expressive arts and the really humbling part is that in order to learn you need to do it. So I have tried many different ways of being creative, some which I love, some which I learn so much, and some that I won’t use that much in the future.

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If a teen is interested in using expressive arts, we talk about it at first and discuss how it can be used occasionally during sessions as an additional way to process thoughts, feelings, experiences OR that it can be used as the main technique. It’s important for us to find the right fit. I also start off by getting to know the teen’s type of creativity they feel most comfortable with. Teens have said to me it’s been helpful to know the art is not graded and there is no expected outcome. The art making process is just as important as the product (the thing you create).

When teens (and me!) use expressive arts in session, oftentimes, they are surprised at what they notice and what comes to their awareness. It can help them:
– transform an emotional response (e.g. anxiety to calm)
– put into images/art/music feelings and thoughts that are difficult to put into words
– take an experience that feels scary and big and make it into a tangible creation that isn’t as overwhelming
– bring awareness to their inner experience in order to make changes and come to resolutions
– learn new skills, new ideas, and new knowledge

If your teen is less verbal, needs more time to process their experiences, or enjoys being creative, expressive arts might be a really good fit. The Thirsty for Art Podcast and Shelly Klammer are a couple resources to check out to learn more.

 

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Virtual Sessions

Some teens like virtual sessions because they can hop on from the comfort of their own home. If your teen has a private, cozy space where they can talk to their counsellor,  this may be an option. It can be nice to have your pet snuggle up to you while in session and be able to sit on your bed or wear your pajamas.

Virtual sessions are not for everyone and here are a few things for your teen to consider:

  • Is my home a space safe?
  • Is it quiet and distraction free?
  • Am I ok meeting someone in 2D?
  • Am I virtually tapped out?
  • What are the pros and cons of this type of therapy for me?

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On the Couch

Meeting face to face in a specific office space has its advantages. It is a container for therapeutic work. The space is dedicated for this and once a teen leaves, they metaphorically leave some of that tough stuff in that space. Having a consistent  familiar space to meet can also help with that feeling of comfort and safety. Knowing all you need to do is show up and the space will be there, unchanging, and familiar can alleviate additional stress. Talking with someone face to face can help add things like non-verbal cues (e.g. body language) which gives another bit of information.

Your teen’s choice on how they want to work with their therapist is part of growing their self-esteem and confidence. You can always mix things up also and have some off the couch and some on the couch sessions – making the process of building bulletproof mindsets as creative as they want it to be!

Love,
Chantal

​If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!

– Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

The Miracle of Teen Feelings

This could apply to all humans really, but my passion and purpose are all about helping teen girls build bulletproof mindsets and believe in themselves, so I’m writing for you today.

Feelings (emotions) can fill your heart with love and joy, steady your body with calm relaxation, or claw at your chest with heart rippling anxiety. Feelings can be raw, intense, and totally hijack your body and brain.

 

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Even though they can be pretty powerful at times, your feelings are also a practical and important barometer (measurement tool) for how you are doing in any given moment. They give so much information and if you can be curious enough to learn about them, they can be a guide to your inner world and what you are needing.

Here are 5 things you must know about feelings:

Photo by Ilya Shishikhin

1. UNDERSTANDING THE EMOTION:
​THOUGHT-BEHAVIOUR LINK

Feelings are the body’s response to your thoughts. Feelings can seem like they are happening in response to something outside of you like a breakup, a test, a fight with a friend, etc. The truth is that it is not the situation or event that causes the feeling. It is actually the mental filter which it is interpreted through. So the mental filter (your thoughts about the thing) which you see a situation through leads to the feelings you experience.

You may not feel a lot of emotion if I tell you that Sarah is no longer best friends with Jude, but if it is you that is no longer friends with your best friend, you will probably have a lot of feelings about this. The meaning we give to situations and events cause our feelings. Why is this important to know this? Well it means anytime you are feeling a feeling you can check-in with yourself by asking:

What is the story I am telling myself right now (e.g. I’m not a good friend, I’m not smart enough, I will screw this up, I am strong, I can always try again, I am a good friend)?

 

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2. NAME IT TO TAME IT

When something is unknown or uncertain, our human brains see it as a threat of danger. The danger can be physical, but it can also be emotional or psychological danger. So if you don’t know what you are feeling or you are not sure how to express that feeling, you might end up getting totally overwhelmed. Being able to name your feelings might sound way too simple to make any difference, but it can really help your mind and body start to feel better.

​I like to use the emotion wheel below as a tool to practice this skill. You can start at the centre (these are the 6 primary emotions that have been researched and pretty much found globally across cultures and ages.) They are Happy, Angry, Scared, Disgusted, Sad and Surprise. Then from there you can branch out to other feelings that might help you better understand how you are feeling in that moment.

​I like to print it out and have it around. You can circle different feelings that you notice coming up for you often.

 

3. OBSERVE YOUR FEELINGS

It can be really easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings, kind of like being swept up by a storm. Once you calm down or it is over, do you ever realize that you can look back and see things much more clearly?

Imagine your thoughts and feelings like a big aquarium full of sea life. When you are caught up in your thoughts and feelings it is like swimming in the aquarium along with all of the sea life. It can feel pretty overwhelming to imagine swimming in the water with sharks and stingrays beneath you! (Did I mention the aquarium was really big?)

Being able to observe your feelings and taking a step back can give you a whole new perspective. It is like standing outside of the aquarium and looking in. All of the sea life is still there (your thoughts and feelings), but you can now look at it with curiosity instead of overwhelm. It often opens up the possibility of choice on what you want to do and how you want to respond when you are observing your feelings.

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One exercise that can help you practice observing your feelings is an exercise introduced by Daniel Siegel, called SIFT. You divide a piece of paper into 4 (see below) and take 1-2 minutes to write or list anything you notice. Start with sensations and work your way through.

Sensations – Any body sensations you are noticing in this present moment (e.g. tense, tight, tingling, numb, warm, cold, shaky, etc.)

Images – Any images that you are noticing. Some people see them as pictures, moving images like a movie, colours, shapes, symbols, or nothing at all. All of these are ok!

Feelings – Any feelings or emotions you are noticing in this moment. It may be one dominant feeling, or different feelings mixed together.

Thoughts – Any thoughts you are having right now. They can be repetitive thoughts, questions or random thoughts. Anything goes!

4. YOUR BODY CAN SOMETIMES FOOL YOU

Your brain and body are pretty amazing. They take in everything that is happening in your environment – what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste – and within fractions of seconds, decide if things are safe, dangerous, good, bad, liked or disliked.

The thing is our brain can’t tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. Weird right?! Meaning we can think ourselves into worry (and other emotions) and our body will feel it like a real danger or threat.

Next time you feel worried, scared, or anxious yourself: Am I in real danger at this moment? What is the evidence for this? Then take a couple slow breaths and see how you’re doing.

 

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5. THE POWER OF FLOW

The more you resist a feeling, the more it will keep coming back. The expression “what we resist persists” means that if you try to avoid anxiety or ignore anger, it gets bottled up until it basically explodes in ways you are not meaning to. Allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling helps it flow through instead of getting stuck.

Think of your emotions like houseguests. If your anger houseguest comes to the door and you pretend like you’re not home, anger keeps knocking. Then anger knocks louder and maybe starts trying to find other ways to get it. Your feelings are like really persistent houseguests. Or you may have your joy houseguest that comes by and you invite in and you never want it to leave. Eventually joy is like, “I need to go home now” and you may cling to it and ask it to stay just 5 minutes more.

Learning that feelings come and go constantly is important, and if you allow them to stop by and hang out for a while, they always leave.

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I love this translated poem, written by Rumi –

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

​You are the miracle that is a Teen and I feel so honoured to write to you today. Here’s to hoping your feelings can be your guide.

Love,

Chantal

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!

– Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.