Announcing the launch of The Moving Child documentary

On a personal and professional level I’m delighted to tell you about this film, made by my good friend and colleague Hana Kamea Kemble.

My husband, son and I were filmed for the documentary over a number of years, beginning when I was pregnant. My son Theo appears first at 3 days old in the film and the film tracks parts of our journey until he turned 4 years old. Needless to say the film is close to my heart.

At a wider level The Moving Child film is a beautifully made and important documentary about child development.

The film shows in an accessible and engaging way how movement and child development are connected, and what we can do tangibly to support healthy development of the children around us.  

“The Moving Child shows how to nurture healthier and more compassionate people.” RAFFI

From Hana: “As most of you know, I have just completed this film, with my wonderful team of helpers, after seven long years of hard work. This film can help to shape a new generation and support parents, caregivers and educators’ knowledge of the importance of dynamic movement from the get go and throughout childhood. It also sheds light on how kids are getting “stuck” these days in their movement development and what we can all do about it. We have received super positive feedback on the film so far.

We offer best practices in this film, interviews with parents doing things differently and lots of amazing expert voices sharing their wisdom.

Feel free to share with your communities. We hope to share the film with as many families, teachers, therapists as we can find!”

To watch the trailer, or to find out more about best practices, local film screenings and workshops, as well as various options for download and purchase of the full film see The Moving Child.   

[This post is replicated from my July SoulSoil newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter see the “Let’s Get Started” box at the top right of the page.] 

Posted in Parenthood, Relationships, Society | Leave a comment

Why it’s cool to be awkward

Many people come to see me because they feel socially-awkward and don’t enjoy it. They want more connection, they want more confidence, and they want to feel at ease. Who can blame them?

As a therapist I help them see possible places they get stuck. There could be a more fully-fledge social-anxiety which has it’s own story and history. It could be that they over-react to comments from others, perceiving them as criticisms and reacting as such, thus pushing the new acquaintance away. It could be that they have strangely high expectations of what they should be, or what it is to be an interesting person. A view often overly influenced by the seemingly innocent but highly destructive source of social media. It could be they haven’t really individuated yet (to use a Jungian term) from their parents and don’t have much of a sense of themselves.  Everyone’s story is a bit different.

Often, once any stuck places are addresses and the person is functioning more easily, I want to encourage them to celebrate their awkwardness. To relax into it. To start to befriend their style and what they do have to offer, rather than hate it.  Easy to say I know but it’s possible. While it’s a step away from therapy for anxiety, the article Why it’s awesome to be awkward from my favourite Guardian Weekly newspaper caught my eye. The article reviews the new book Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro. 

The article refers to the root of the word awkward which is afgr in Old Norse, meaning “facing the wrong way”, which I find endearing.  It also explores the different kinds of perception we humans can have:

“When non-awkward people walk into a room full of people, they see the big social picture. They intuitively understand the emotional tone in the room or how formally they should act. By comparison, awkward people tend to see social situations in a fragmented way. It’s as if they view the world with a narrow spotlight that means they see some things with intense clarity.”

My understanding is that the book explores how this difference in perception can be of benefit in many situations. Nicely re-framed. 

This difference in perception styles reminds me of a mindfulness exercise from Dan Siegel’s Mindsight book exploring how we can shift our focus. Here’s my version:

  1. Find a quiet place and 5 minutes free.
  2. Sit up straight, bring your focus inside.
  3. Take some deep breaths.
  4. With your eyes open hold a soft blurry focus on the space just in front of your face. Gaze here for a few moments. 
  5. Shift your focus to the middle ground between you and the opposite wall (assuming you’re in a room). Gaze here for a few moments.
  6. Shift again to the space just in front of the wall and repeat.
  7. You can play with moving your focus back and forth.

It makes me wonder if these kind of perception experiments might help broaden the experience of someone who feels awkward socially. I certainly invite clients to try a range of grounding and embodiment practices which help shift their focus and help them feel more centred in stressful situations, so the shifting of focus (quoted above) makes a lot of sense to me.

If you experience social awkwardness and haven’t found the awesome side yet, know that you are not alone in your struggle and that help is at hand. 

Posted in Anxiety, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Society | Leave a comment

The power of play

An unforeseen, recently-acquired hobby of mine is clowning. I’ve attended a few trainings with my now esteemed teacher Helen Donnelly in Toronto. Aside from being a skilled theatrical clown, she is also a therapeutic clown in children’s hospitals which impresses me even more. 

Whooshla practicing (thus without red nose) for the Hamilton Aerial Group cabaret 2017

Due to having perhaps too much courage and too few brains I have also now performed 3 times in Hamilton.

Some of the things I most appreciate about the clowning I’ve done is that:

  • we learn to identify aspects of ourselves and play with them (e.g. my clown plays with being serious – which I am very good at in normal life, but which gets a bit boring and stressful in large quantities).
  • there’s a focus on being authentic and connecting in that authenticity (i.e. if you feel sad as a clown you enlarge the sadness and share it).
  • the clown is coached to be “enough” as she is, even just standing on stage breathing; in fact trying hard is discouraged.
  • clowns are taught to enjoy failures: it is part of the human experience
  • it gives me licence to gently poke at what I find ridiculous about our social norms rather than be angry about it

Clowning and therapy?

It occurs to me that this reflects much of what I facilitate as a therapist too. Whilst there is obviously a difference in the work and a warranted seriousness to the concerns clients are bringing, the willingness to notice, to dive in and to experiment is key, and this is part of play. Without play we don’t arrive somewhere new or different. 

“Play is always a matter of context. It is not what we do, but how we do it. Play cannot be defined, because in play all definitions slither, dance, combine, break apart, and recombine. The mood of play can be impish or supremely solemn … this is the evolutionary value of play–play makes us flexible. By reinterpreting reality and begetting novelty, we keep from becoming rigid (Stephen Nachmanovitch).

I challenge you to invite moments of play in your daily life. What does it even mean to play as an adult?

For now my worlds of therapy and clown are separate, but I see the beginnings of one informing and feeding the other. I foresee some integration of worlds at some point in the future. I would love to offer movement and play-based workshops for example both for children and for adults. Stay tuned. 

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“I remember the place” – a movement practice

I’d like to introduce you to a favourite sanity-inducing movement practice of mine. My acupressure teacher Arnold Porter taught it to me over a decade ago and I’ve been finding healthy perspective through it ever since. I believe it is from the Shin Tai Do tradition. 

While in this video I run through the phrases in succession, it’s often more powerful if you can pause at each one for as long as you like, with eyes closed, taking in the words. Thus it becomes more of a moving meditation. 

You might notice the phrases that hold a charge for you, pointing to something perhaps you long for or find especially difficult. Thus it becomes a kind of inner experiment.

It can become an intention-setting practice broadly, or if you repeat a particular line as a wish or a prayer.  Play with it as it serves you. 

Here are the written instructions. 

Posted in Anxiety, Depression, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Spirit | 2 Comments

The challenge for Millennials

Here is a super interview with Simon Sinek from an episode of Inside Quest about the challenges that Millennials face. These are the folks born roughly 1984-2000. 

I’m interested to hear what the Millennials watching this think. Is this true? Are you a slave to instant gratification? Do you need to learn patience? Are you addicted to social media? Do you want to make an “impact” and think that this should be easy? Do corporations need to value you more? What about relationships – are you any good at love?

Other offerings from Simon:


Posted in Addiction, Digital age, Relationships, Society | Leave a comment

5 unusual steps to reduce stress

“Is it normal to be so stressed?” “How do other people reduce stress? … Do they just breathe?!”

These are some questions that stood out to me over the last few weeks since I heard them repeatedly from different clients. To give you a picture, these are healthy women and men, with full-time jobs, who are either single or in healthy relationships. They are living the life they and most others aspire towards, at least on the outside.stress

They were concerned because their level of daily stress was far higher than they imagined it should be, given the “normal-ness” of their lives. They wondered what they were doing “wrong” or if others felt the same but kept it silent. 

Because others in their daily lives aren’t talking about or showing the same kind of stress they feel, they find themselves questioning their own ability to cope. They even doubted their mental wellness and felt more isolated as a result. 

The “new normal” stress level

Many clients complain about the “always on” state they are in. Some of the new normal influences are probably familiar:

  • 24/7 internet access on phones and widgets and an expectation of accessibility
  • Social media’s glamorous or uber-connected or otherwise unrealistic picture of what life could be
  • The sound-bite version of life created by the internet that evades people’s lived experience
  • Little real understanding (or practice) of what creates good emotional and mental health

Unfortunately folks often end up internalising the stress (i.e. “it must be me”), which only worsens self-esteem and a sense of isolation and then actually creates more anxiety and depression. This isn’t helped by the over-prescription of antidepressants and pharmaceuticals generally for diagnoses that I would argue are much more a result of an inherently stressful society/life than underlying mental illness. 

The shadow of productivity

We’re a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. I think of it as an addiction.

I believe we have lost sight of how to lead satisfying human lives that include ritual, community and spirituality. We’ve lost the social structures that make the latter a normal everyday part of life. Our collective mental health is suffering.

I urge us all to build ritual, deeper community connections and spirituality into both our individual lives and into our social lives.

Reduce stress by moving from a human doing to a human being: 5 steps to sanity

1. Create a “Sabbath” one day a week
Put the phones and digital widgets away for a day. Plan time with family or friends, or time in nature. Intentionally slow down. Follow what feels good inside. Remember what Sundays used to be before shops were open 7 days/week and before the Internet took over.

2. Gather friends regularly for a pot-luck
Start building regular connections with people you like. One way is a shared meal on a regular basis. Perhaps involve a few friends and rotate the location. Or a soup share, where one person makes a big batch of soup once a week and the others come to pick up their jar.  

3. Create a self-care evening once a week
Think of it as a mini-Sabbath if that helps. When you want to shift gears after work for instance, consider how you make the transition, i.e change out of work clothes, add music, light a candle, add aromatherapy oils.

Consider making a list of activities you could do, i.e. yin yoga, follow the lead of your body in stretching/moving, a bath, non-doing time just sitting and noticing or listening to music, or find a book to guide you, e.g. the “Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. 

4. Join a community choir or dance group
Research shows singing together gives the quickest sense of connection out of any activity, but do what brings you joy. Just make sure you prioritize it so you do it regularly. 

5. Connect to the big picture
In our “always on” lives we can loose sight of the big picture. We are mortal. Life is short. We will die. Knowing this, how does it change the way you live your life?  

One way of connecting into the divine / the bigger picture is to pray. Another is to give gratitude. Another is to explore the stars and planets. Or do Qi Gong. Or visit your local waterfall. Whatever does it for you. Strengthen your relationship with whatever divine/big picture you can connect with. Join a faith community if that feels good. 

This article is reposted from my SoulSoil newsletter (March 2016). To subscribe click here.

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The way the nightmares disappeared: a story about anger in grief

Anger is a normal part of grief but expressing it can be hard because we tend not to like to feel angry.  Anger can be taboo especially for women, and especially as part of grief. We may recognise it, but often we don’t know what to do with it. Sometimes we can get stuck in grief as a result.

The dream world gives us beautiful creative access to what is struggling to become conscious. That is, anger can be pushed into the unconscious if we’re not okay with it at a base level. The dreams’ rich imaginal world can be used as part of a therapeutic process.dream moon

Here is a story about attending to anger creatively through dreamwork.  This story is taken from my practice, with a client struggling with grief after a friend completed suicide. Names have been changed. 

Joanna had had a rough year: several deaths of (non-immediate) family members, then a month ago the suicide of a close friend.  Then even her cat had been put down the 1st day we met. Until the suicide she’d been managing well enough… some stress and strain on her relationship with her partner, but okay.

After the suicide she said she felt angrier and “not myself”. She said it was harder to deal with the stress. She felt worried that something would now either happen to her boyfriend or her sisters.  

nightmare-photo-by-arthur-tress-dream-collectorIt was our 2nd appointment together when she mentioned the nightmares. She had several a week; they were very intense and graphically violent and always about loosing people. She felt worried about going to sleep. I saw she was visibly disturbed by them as she talked. So with her permission we explored a bit more and I followed my intuition… here’s where it led. 

Grounding, then touching on pain, then grounding

We grounded first – stabilising in the here and now since she was clearly upset having mentioned the nightmares. She felt calmer again.

I invited her to picture the nightmare at a distance, staying connected with herself in her seat. I asked her if she felt okay telling me what happened in the dream. I asked her to keep noticing her level of upset inside as she talked. She recounted a nasty story of angry men attacking her and her boyfriend and slitting his throat. Her distress levels inside were suddenly high. I coached her to let go of the dream and we grounded together again in the here and now. 

Finding a protector

When she was more settled I asked what kind of defense she might need against those scary angry men. I invited her to use her imagination – dream time. She liked the idea of a “bubble protector” that her and her boyfriend could be in. Imaging that she felt stronger inside.

We went through the dream again, but with the bubble. She felt more control. In her imaginal world now the angry men couldn’t get them – they got angrier at first but then lost interest and left the couple alone. 

Becoming the angry part

I normalised the anger that had been showing up in her life, and again in her dream, saying that often these parts represent themselves through the dream world when we can’t deal consciously with them.

I asked her if she’d be up for taking on the role of the angry men in the dream. tunnel3She was. So as she went into it I coached her to feel the sensations of anger inside her body, and as she did, to push with her feet against the floor and the coffee table, and with her arms against the inside of the chair arms (ie pushing outward using the Deltoids and the Latissimus Dorsi – the big muscles involved in pushing/punching). She was able to do that.

I asked if there’s an impulse with her arms and she said she could imagine punching … so I held a padded chair out and invited her (staying tuned in inside) to push or punch it. She bravely pushed through the oddness of this scene and punched for a minute or so and then stopped and started crying. She felt a release, a shift. 

Towards a new beginning

In her imaginal world she was now in a tunnel.tunnel1 She said it felt safe but dark. She looked a bit scared still but calm. I asked what the scene needed – what wanted to happen. She imagined the sun in.  She saw her boyfriend nearby. He was safe. She moved towards him and the sunlight. 

Positive change

I’ve seen Joanna twice since then (over 3 weeks) and she has reported no nightmares. She had a dream instead of going canoeing with her boyfriend and having a good time. She also reported feeling more relaxed with her partner – she felt less reactive and was worrying less about him. 

With thanks to several approaches I draw on in this work: the pendulation practice of Somatic Experiencing (from ground/calm, into a piece of pain, and back to ground), the embodied muscle work of Merete von Brantbjerg, perhaps an appreciation of jungian dream work I picked up from my mother, a Jungian Analyst and likely some Gestault work too. 

Posted in Anger Management, Creativity, Dreams, Grief | Leave a comment

Chicken dance wisdom

How do we change habitual unhelpful reactions? Or in simpler language, how do we change habits? I’ve been exploring possible approaches in a hands-on fashion. Here’s a story of (momentary) personal triumph that might appeal especially to parents of young children.  

This story was originally distributed in my SoulSoil newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe fill in the “Let’s Get Started” box in the right side-bar. 

The chicken dance: a personal story

My son Theo is 3 yrs old. Changing habits: chicken dance wisdomOn the evening in question, it was time to start the bedtime routine. The initial warning had been given and in response Theo was tearing around the house finding things to throw and bash into, leaping in delight knowing he was winding his tired parents up. He was being 3; duly pushing back. 

I needed to help him shift gears. I needed to shift gears myself. 

My head could see the comedy in this scene. My body was starting to react. It felt familiar from my childhood (my authoritarian father would inevitably emerge with a loud angry voice and I would be powered-over). Not something I want to repeat with my son. So as I said, my body was reacting… some inner logic like “my son is not obeying me, he should obey me, I’m angry, I will assert my power”. I felt very serious inside. My impulse was to grab him with some force. I knew I didn’t want to do that. 

I said to my husband “I know I should make this a game, but I really don’t want to”. He said “do it anyway”

And so I begrudgingly went to find my son, now jumping on the guest bed doing his crazy dance, and… I became a chicken.

I flapped my wings and ducked up and down with my chicken feet hopping on the ground. He stopped immediately. I said in my chicken voice “mommy chicken needs a baby chicken to follow”, and quick as lightening he was behind me laughing and clucking, and off we clucked upstairs to a smooth and remarkably pleasant bedtime. 

Parenting is indeed emotional rocket science. 

Changing habits generally is difficult, but our brains are so adaptable that with some rewiring through repetition, you might be surprised. 

Key elements of chicken dance wisdom include:

  • notice and accept own reactivity, i.e. use mindfulness (see Five A’s)
  • pause
  • know where reactivity comes from (having some understanding is helpful)
  • have some ideas of alternate approaches in your back pocket
  • decide to do something different in the moment even if it doesn’t feel good at first
  • use play
  • recruit helpers
  • see what happens
  • repeat

What habits do you want to change? 

  • Defensive or otherwise reactive to certain family members at Thanksgiving?
  • Want to start exercising but hate the reality?
  • Habitually shut down when you feel upset or vulnerable?
  • Overeat when you feel upset emotionally?

You can develop your own “chicken dance wisdom” to change unhelpful reactions into reasonable responses. 

Posted in Anger Management, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Parenthood, Relationships | 1 Comment

CBT for depression workbook

Whilst I’m no hardliner Cognitive Behavioural therapist, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be a useful tool. I recently found a freely available workbook that is well organised and practical. I would recommend it to anyone struggling with depression as one approach to try. 

Antidepressant Skills Workbook

Antidepressant Skills Workbook

For more on why I’m not a hardline Cognitive Behavioural therapist read my Beyond CBT article.

The Antidepressant Skills Workbook (ASW) (Dr. Dan Bilsker, RPsych, Dr. Randy Paterson, RPsych) is a self-care manual is based on the experience of the authors and on scientific research about which strategies work best in managing depression. It provides an overview of depression, explains how it can be effectively managed according to the best available research, and gives a step-by-step guide to changing patterns that trigger depression. ” Source

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Tips for challenging family visits

As mostly rational, fairly successful adults, most of us lucky enough to still have living parents hope that family visits will be enjoyable, connective, potentially heart-warming experiences, at least in part. It seems though from my personal and professional experience that success in this, at least when in close proximity, is alarmingly rare. 

It can be surprising each time, if you’re anything like me, to experience intense reactivity, and to feel like a child again in the presence of your parents. Oh Lord, I say, can’t I get beyond this? Come on already. I’ve done some inner work, I realise xyz, and now I want to be an adult and have an adult relationship. So I’m still learning I guess. Here I share some of what I’ve learnt. If you too have not yet found the place of Zen when with your Family of Origin, this is for you. 

n.b. Since I don’t yet have adult children to find challenging, I write this from the adult child’s perspective. I should really interview my parents to bring a more rounded approach. Maybe in a sequel. Or a next life. Or give me 20 years and I’ll write it myself!

What’s going on? Why do I get so reactive?

Each person and each family system is different of course, but here are some factors that might be relevant;

  • Old wounds can still be sore. Difficult memories are held in our emotional (or limbic) brain. Unless we’ve done some healing (involving more than knowing and understanding the story) the old hurts may still be there, like it or not. 
  • Our style of attachment with each parent (see my post on Attachment style). Our attachment style will likely still be the same as when we were young. 
  • Each generation has different values and expectations. Each generation tends to challenge and react to the previous ones’ values. Neither is likely to change it’s deeply held value because of the other offering their perspective! 
  • Aging. Your parent is likely going through their own aging process, whether they are fighting it, ignoring it or embracing it. Aging in our society of anti-aging, is often not an easy process. They have their own experience and their own reasons. They may have different priorities now.  They may not be how you want them to be, or want what you want them to want. 

Some things I have learnt:

  1. We have 3 mothers and 3 fathers

    1. The mother and father we had
    2. The mother and father we wish we had
    3. The mother and father we currently have

At any moment all 3 characters can be present in our reactions.

Three Women 2005, by SACHA

Three Women 2005, by SACHA

For example, (A) if our parent criticised us in some way regularly when we were young, there may be left over hurt from that and a response, like a “hiding inside” feeling for example. At the same time, (B) we may have longed for a relaxed, easy going parent with whom we could settle in with and be ourselves – so there will be a longing for that and likely a frustration that it’s not a reality.  And then the reality of the changed parent we see before us, likely aging or at least maturing, perhaps retired, with their own emotional responses to their transitions and their own hopes and fears of us and our children if we have them.  We may have our own response to their situation (C) – perhaps wanting more/different for them, wishing they were a different character, not wanting them to be in pain, wanting them to accept help etc. 

2. Our limbic brain remembers

Difficult emotional experiences have been shown to be lodged in the midbrain in the limbic system. This limbic area is linked to the brain stem and together they seem to regulate the Fight/Flight/Freeze response. For more on the brain see Dan Siegel’s work (brain parts, hand map of brain-video).


Basically if we perceive a present-day threat (which may be as simple as a familiar feeling of how we felt trapped/threatened/etc as a child), our limbic and reptilian systems may go into “emergency mode” to prepare us as if there was a life/death threat. We may feel our heart beat more, a tight chest, blood rush to our limbs (Fight/Flight)… or feel shut down and frozen (Freeze). All this doesn’t help our adult selves respond in a civilised way. Our neotcortex thinking function in this situation effectively shuts down (again see Siegels’ hand model of brain). See below (#4) for ideas of how to calm your limbic brain.

What can I do?

If you’ve had a challenging relationship with one or both of your parents, don’t expect it to be different. Expecting otherwise is living with the idealised parent in the forefront and may set up up for failure. Prepare for it to be the same AND know what you can do differently.

1.  Plan a visit that respects your own boundaries

For example stay in a separate place, have your own transportation, just go for dinner not for the weekend. If sensing and setting your boundaries is challenging, practice and notice what your tendencies are and whether they are working for you. Take this opportunity to do some work on your ability to stand up for yourself. Even baby steps are steps. 

2. Have an alternative plan, a way out

Even if you don’t use it, your limbic system will settle better if it knows it’s not stuck in a situation, like it may have been as a child. So have a place to go if things go sour even if it’s a motel. 

Have people to visit or be close to who you like and who like you. This could mean sitting next to your brother at a potentially stressful dinner, or planning a visit with Aunt Allie, or having your old high school friend on text standby so you can go to her house if things get too much. 

Know places to go where you are comfortable and have a good time.

Remind yourself it’s not like it was as a child – you have more agency now, you can choose how to response, you can choose to leave. 

4. Yes AND 

If a parent will likely ask something that you feel pushes your boundaries in some way, practice your response. For example “So I hear you asking/saying…. [repeat essence of what they asked/said] and I can see why you’d want me to do that/why you’d think that… AND what I can do is/what I ask for is….”.

Some of the time you can choose to do it there way, but if something really isn’t possible for you, say what you can do instead. 

5. If you get “flooded” self-soothe your limbic system

Couples therapist John Gottman says it takes 20 minutes to calm the physiological arousal system once it’s started. Here are guidelines (taken from John Gottman couples work).

6. Accept and be kind towards your experience

The “5 A’s”:

Attention: notice your experience (i.e. “tight chest”, anger, wanting to hide)

Acceptance: accept that these reactions are there for a reason, and it’s okay

Appreciate: your reactions likely kept you safe and were useful at earlier points in your life. 

Allowance: allow the feelings and reactions to be there. Don’t try to make it different. 

Affection: be kind towards the feelings, to your reactions, to the situation perhaps. 

7. Plan for success

What situations do you best connect with your parents? Try to set up some of those circumstance. 

Posted in Anxiety, Holidays, Relationships | Leave a comment