Personally, Shannon has had a rough few months. Of course, he doesn’t want to downplay the trauma that so many people experience on a day to day basis but for a while it seemed that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. From ‘minor’ annoyances, such as dealing with gastro and a broken down car (on his birthday) to multiple very personal and very deep concerns.
Towards the end of this period of unfortunate luck, Shannon decided to set time aside for self-care and go for a hike with friends in Gippsland. He was so looking forward to it. But the weather was wild and the track was steep. Shannon slipped and twisted his ankle and knee, requiring him to hobble 6km, including two deep river crossings, back to the car in the pouring rain.
The cherry on top occurred just last week. He received not one, but two speeding fines, which were given within 30 minutes of each other. They were from the month before, when he had just about reached his limit of strength and had decided to take himself for a walk in Torquay, as a way of processing his thoughts and feelings. (It should be noted that he wasn’t hooning around Torquay. But he does take responsibility for going slightly over the limit and is serious about road safety.)
Over the past few months, the bad luck began to lose its surprise. It was almost expected. But he continued on with his responsibilities - from running the business to supporting his family. So, how did he do this when every day was a struggle and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel?
He prioritised self care. One of the methods he identified as a relief from his stress was by walking his dog around the neighbourhood for 40 minutes each day. The fresh air, the time alone and the exercise helped to calm his body and mind and to give him energy to face the next challenge.
Another strategy for dealing with his stress was by talking to his partner and a friend. By sharing his worries, he shared the weight of these concerns and relieved himself of the mental and emotional burden he was carrying. Talking to others helped him to process his experiences and gain new insights into his circumstances, his options, his plans and his goals. Talking to a friend was particularly helpful, as an objective third party. Shannon would not have hesitated to talk to a professional if he felt that he needed further support, as he knows all too well the life changing power of therapy.
Shannon is passionate about laser therapy - both for the relief of pain but also for the relief of mental health challenges. When injuring his ankle and knee, he immediately started treating himself with laser and noticed a rapid rate of recovery. His physical health was important to his mental health, as his injury was preventing him from engaging in the therapeutic walks that he needed daily. Shannon also utilised the laser therapy to support his overall mental health, by using a systemic treatment and some targeted auricular therapy.
If you are going through a hard time, know that it most likely won’t be forever. Simplify your life by limiting anything unnecessary and focussing on the things that lift your spirits and energy. If everything continues to overwhelm you, reach out for further support, from a friend or a professional. Perhaps even look into laser therapy to see how it could improve your current wellbeing.
When contemplating therapy, the choice of which type of therapy and which therapist can seem overwhelming. However, with some time and research, it can become easier to make an informed decision.
There are many, many different therapies out there. Most therapeutic approaches can be broken into four categories.
(1) Behaviour therapy
Perhaps the most widely known therapy is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It views mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as the result of faulty thinking and cognitive distortions. By correcting those distortions and by adapting our behaviour, symptoms will decrease and our goals can be achieved.
CBT does not prioritise the client, but rather the issue, which CBT would see as faulty thinking. CBT is often seen as the gold standard of treatment for anxiety and depression. During treatment, the therapist will take a very active role in achieving short-term goals, as agreed upon with the client, to prevent relapse and overall symptom management. This is done through a process of psychoeducation, regular homework tasks and goal setting.
However, CBT is far less effective for treating issues relating to emotional regulation, attachment, trauma, addiction and relationship issues, where a more in-depth approach is needed. An approach that prioritises the client-therapist relationship to create deeper level change.
Psychodynamic Therapy & Psychoanalysis
This therapeutic approach comes from the work of Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts. It is rooted in the unconscious and in understanding the past to manage more effectively with the present.
In psychodynamic therapy, the therapist takes on more of a role as an observer, rather than a facilitator. The work is long term and the relationship between the client and the therapist is emphasised. Psychodynamic and psychoanalysis is concerned with a deep rooted change in thoughts, feelings, and behaviour by linking into the unconscious and subconscious mind, rather than short-term goals and symptom reduction. It is therefore an appropriate therapy for longer-term concerns, including trauma, attachment and personality issues.
Humanistic Therapy (Person-Centered and Solution-Focused)
Humanistic therapy focuses on the positive attributes that a person has, including their personal characteristics, their strengths and their overall drive to self-actualisation. The therapy focuses on the here and now and on the client being able to take an active role in the therapy process. It is an approach that is heavily based on the work of Carl Rogers.
The most contemporary therapy approaches are integrative and combine elements of all or some of the above. By combining these elements, integrative approaches create a stronger whole and are effective treatments for more complex problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder, addictions, emotional regulation and attachment issues.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Schema Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are integrative approaches.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) commonly involves the rapid movement of a client's eyes, taxing their working memory and enabling them to reprogram their brain. It is a form of psychotherapy that was recognised as an effective way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but has since been adapted to treat a range of other concerns.
EMDR is a unique approach, as it uses bilateral stimulation. This is often achieved through the therapist using their fingers or a pointer to guide the client’s eye movements back and forth. Therapists may even utilise a light travelling side to side across a bar. As well as visual bilateral stimulation, EMDR can also use tactile and auditory stimulation. Clients may be facilitated to feel different sensations that bounce within their hands or hear different sounds that are bounced within their environment.
EMDR is an integrative approach that combines elements from CBT, humanistic and psychodynamic therapies in a unified whole. It focuses on the client as the centre of the process. Much like in psychoanalysis, there is also an element of free association. For example, during an EMDR session, the therapist will often ask the client, “What are you noticing now?”
The main idea behind EMDR is that when someone experiences trauma, that trauma memory goes into an isolated part of the brain and to a separate memory network. When a trauma memory is successfully processed in EMDR, it then becomes fully integrated and joins another memory bank network. In essence, the idea behind EMDR is that unprocessed and unintegrated memories can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Schema therapy is long-term psychotherapy that was created out of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of personality issues and borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Schema therapy combines elements from attachment theory, psychoanalysis, humanistic therapy, as well as CBT. The core idea behind schema therapy is that everyone has needs as a child and when those needs go unmet, often chronically, then ‘schemas’ develop. Schemas are a way in which we view the world and other people. They contain beliefs, feelings, thoughts, emotions and sensations.
In response to not wanting to feel the emotions that these schemas trigger, we develop coping styles or survival methods that are effective when we are a child but have become less effective as an adult. Schema coping is often most notable in relationships or in response to relationships and interpersonal situations.
Schema therapy, similarly to psychodynamic therapy, is focused on deep level change and a connection between understanding and working through the past to better cope with the present.
The therapy relationship in schema is central to the treatment and blends between humanistic and attachment. During schema therapy, the therapist meets the unmet needs of the client. This is achieved through the therapy relationship, as well as through a range of experiential techniques, including chair dialogues, parts work, imagery work and behaviour pattern-breaking.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT is a treatment that was designed specifically for borderline personality disorder and highly suicidal clients. It is used in both group and individual therapy. DBT is a behaviour therapy, in that it works on the client having the skills and the tools to be able to deal more effectively with an environment that is triggering and often pulling them into crisis. DBT is a skills-based therapy and highly psychoeducational, as well as combining elements of Buddhism and existentialism. Two of its core principles include acceptance and change as principles that co-exist. DBT is a highly structured therapy, similar to CBT. It utilises an active and engaging therapist, similar to a teacher, and is split over four modules: distress tolerance, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT is an integrative Cognitive Behavior Therapy. One of the core ideas in ACT is building psychological flexibility. ACT in essence is about embracing our difficult thoughts and our feelings, instead of trying to get rid of them or feel guilty for experiencing them. ACT uses many elements of mindfulness, as well as cognitive techniques to illustrate how our thoughts only have meaning once we give them that. ACT uses six processes to build psychological flexibility: defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, the observing self, values and committed action.
When looking to start therapy, it can first help to understand a little about some of the main approaches that are out there and which ones you feel may be best suited for your needs. You may also consider whether you think therapy might be a long or a short term process and any barriers you might have that hamper your ability to commit to therapy. A typical length of therapy in Australia is for ten sessions with a Medicare subsidised Mental Health Care Plan. However, therapy will often extend beyond this in order to address deeper change. Create Balance utilises a range of therapeutic approaches to suit your needs and prioritises integrative treatments such as EMDR.
There are four key warning signs when it comes to checking in on our mental health. Whether we are currently in therapy or contemplating seeking help, it is important to view any one of these signs or risk factors as being on a spectrum. What may be the tipping point for one person may not be for another.
SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL (Isolating from groups/loved ones)
We all need our downtime and our time alone to reflect or recharge; however, if you notice you are spending more and more time alone and feeling the need to be away from others, then this may be a sign that you're not doing so well. If you find this is the case, one of the most helpful things to do is to reach out to others and let them know how you are feeling. This can also help to reignite the lost feelings of connection with other people.
MOOD CHANGES (Irritable, Sad, Manic)
One of the telltale signs that we should check in with our mental health is if we notice our moods changing more frequently and in any extreme. For example, if you are known to be a calm and collected person and you notice yourself snapping at your friends or your partner, then this could be a sign of irritability and something within your environment that is causing a change to your mood and mental wellbeing. Mood changes of concern do not have to only include anger or frustration but other sudden changes could be a warning sign, such as becoming very flat and low, or moods and behaviours of the other extreme, such as extreme elation to the point of mania.
Our diet has a massive impact on our mental health and how we are feeling can sometimes be displayed in our eating habits (whether we are eating more or eating less) in any significant capacity. Eating more may be a sign of ourselves self-soothing and a way of avoiding painful thoughts and feelings associated with an underlying trigger. Eating less may have to do with control and restriction or may indicate issues with self-esteem.
Create Balance is a trauma-focused practice. We sat down with one of our therapists, Dave, to discover more about his process and ways in which clients can get the best out of therapy.
It is well known that Create Balance uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help clients recover from trauma. What’s your favourite thing about using EMDR with clients?
EMDR is at the forefront of modern trauma treatments available. It was originally designed for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but has been adapted for many other mental health concerns outside of a strict PTSD treatment protocol.
My favorite thing about EMDR as a therapist is having the ability to be able to shift how a client views a negative belief or the impact of a trauma memory more quickly than traditional talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). EMDR is unique in both its application, using bilateral stimulation, whether that be a light bar, eye movements, or other methods, as well as in its integrative approach. EMDR is constantly being evolved and it is a really exciting time for the therapy as a whole.
EMDR uses rapid eye movement (bilateral stimulation)
Why do you use Schema Therapy and how does it help your clients?
For clients who have engaged in other therapies and undergone treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Schema Therapy is often an extremely rewarding experience. In Schema Therapy, there is a great deal placed on the therapy relationship as part of the healing, rather than the main emphasis being on changing irrational beliefs or thoughts. The therapy relationship takes the form of guidance, support, boundaries and building emotional regulation; similar to building a secure attachment with a primary caregiver.
EMDR and Schema is more than "talk therapy", it gets results
This has been extremely helpful to a lot of my clients who have not had a secure attachment, or who had certain needs unmet in childhood; in addition to educating clients on seeing their presenting problems as a form of coping to an underlying schema.
The change phase in Schema Therapy combines behavioral and experiential change, including imagery rescripting, parts work and chair work, that culminates in leading to changes in clients' behaviours outside of sessions.
What is your therapy process?
My process is tailored to each client and their goals. My process involves a period of assessment, including EMDR and Schema questionnaires to help identify any significant memories or themes/beliefs that may need to be processed or addressed. After which, a formulation will be shared with the client and goals defined for therapy. The time this takes depends on the needs of the client.
How can clients get the most out of therapy?
Clients can get the most out of therapy by understanding that therapy is a journey, by having regular or semi-regular sessions if possible, while understanding that things take time. There will be ups and downs. It's a commitment. Clients will also benefit from therapy by being open to work on things, as well as to give feedback to their therapist when they're not happy with something. Clients will also get the most out of therapy by continuing the work outside of the sessions.
What do you enjoy most about being a therapist?
I don't think there is any other job like it. I feel honored to be able to help people and go on the journey with them, and to use therapies like EMDR and Schema with my clients.