What Helps You Feel Safe?

When I was a child, I would often go outside at night to look up at the stars. I felt drawn to them. The starry night sky became the one calm constant in my life I could count on. They shined so bright amidst the darkness and made things better for a moment. When I was with the stars, there was no yelling, or fighting, or chaos. I was not scared or anxious something bad was happening or about to happen. When I sat under the stars, I experienced the most blissful peace. I could talk to the stars about my fears and troubles and they would always listen. There were days I eagerly waited for the sun to set and the sky to turn a dark indigo so I could sit with those sparkling glints of hope. They may have been millions of light years away but they were always close by when I needed them. On the nights when the moon was full were my favorite. The full moon made the darkness that surrounded me lighter. I would smile at the full moon feeling her light envelope me all the while knowing her stay was temporary. When the nights were warm, it was easy to stay out as long as I needed to chat with my confidantes. When the nights grew colder, I would stay out until my little fingers felt like icicles. It was always hard to leave.

Now as an adult, I still look up on dark nights and smile. The stars are still there for me.

And when the moon is at her fullest she still shines her light on me offering her safe embrace. They are all waiting to hear what I need to say and I am open to any answers that may arise.

The Counsellor’s Journal

The Counsellor’s Journal is a collection of journal entries based on my own experiences, perspectives, and reflections. Many entries will reflect on my past; other entries will explore my present; and some writings will focus on my future.

I always share with clients how healing journal writing can be. Journaling has not always been a regular habit in my life. However, when I do write my thoughts and feelings down it always provides some form of relief or insight. Moving our thoughts and feelings out of our bodies through the action of writing can be cathartic. When we write something on a page, we offer our bodies a way to release things we have been holding onto far too long. And when the words are on paper, we have created space between us and what we’ve written.

In this liminal space is where change can occur. It is a space where we can make choices that best suit our healing in the moment.

One option is to go back and read what we have written. Because we have created this distance, this space, we may be able to see things from a different perspective and gain some insight on our circumstances. For some, this happens while writing so there is no need to go back and re-read.

Another option is to simply write everything down then put it away and have that be enough. There is no need to re-visit the written words because the act of moving the thoughts and feelings out of their bodies was all they needed and that is okay.

There is also the option to burn the completed pages and release the ashes using water. This has been a beautiful ritual for many clients and one they return to regularly. Fire and water are healing elements for those who feel drawn to the process.

I have done all three depending on what I needed in each moment. I do invite you to try some journaling and know however you choose to journal is your choice.

Mini Mindfulness Breaks

Taking breaks throughout your day is good for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.  If you need some ideas, I made a handout filled with common mindfulness activities that are quick and easy.  Try them all out or find a favourite and incorporate it into your daily schedule to give your mind, body, and heart a much needed break.

Mindful Minibreak

Download a PDF copy: Mindful Minibreak

Covid-19 Update: April Appointments

Update for Clients

APRIL IN-PERSON SESSIONS CANCELLED

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I unfortunately will be cancelling all in-person sessions for April. I am closely following the direction of our provincial health officers, health providers, and the regulatory counselling and psychology colleges and associations. If anything changes and it is deemed safe and acceptable to hold in-person sessions before the month is over, I will send out another email.

I have opened up my calendar more so you can still schedule in-person appointments for May and June. Hopefully, things will be better by then and we can meet in the office again.

Schedule online: https://heathercounselling.janeapp.com


ONLINE SESSIONS

I want you, our loved ones, and our community to stay physically safe and healthy. And I also want to make sure you are staying mentally and emotionally healthy which is why I am still here to support you with online sessions during this time. There has already been so much change and I know having an online session is another change for you. But be assured it’s still me sitting with you as I’ve always done – just in a different way. (PJs and pets are welcome!)

Online sessions are done through the doxy.me website and there is no added cost in accessing the website or app. Online sessions are 50 minutes. My private “waiting room” can be accessed here: https://doxy.me/heathercounselling

*If you would like an online counselling session but are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19, please contact me via email: heatherhassenbein@gmail.com

**Most insurance companies are reimbursing for tele-health but check with your provider to make sure.

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I hope you are taking care of yourself, being kind to yourself, and listening to what you need to move you through this. As always, I’m here if you need support.

Be well. Stay safe. Stay connected.

Heather


Source: https://mailchi.mp/78b6a2920175/heathercounsellingcovidupdate

Answering Brené Brown’s Call to Courage

In my downtown Vancouver counselling and art therapy office, I often sit with clients who find it difficult to embrace vulnerability as a strength.  And that is understandable since we are conditioned, since childhood, to view it as a weakness.  In order to help clients begin to take a new perspective on vulnerability I recommend Brené Brown’s 2010 TED Talk on the power of vulnerability.  The talk usually inspires further introspection that lead to many a-ha moments for clients.

On Friday April 19, 2019, Brené Brown’s Netflix special, The Call to Courage, was released.  As of Sunday I have already watched it three times.  Brown has committed 20 years to researching courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy so I value her knowledge on the subject.  On my first round I had to pause the special so I could grab my notepad and pen to record the wisdom that resonated with me.  I laughed.  I cried.  I felt inspired.  I leaned into the discomfort I felt around certain topics and understood those were going to be areas for my own personal growth.  I watched it again right away and found many more golden nuggets and laughed and cried again.

By the end of my third viewing, I was ready to show up, be brave, and jump in the arena.  Looking over my life, I like to think I have been brave and embraced vulnerability.  I do view vulnerability as a necessity, a foundation, to live a whole-hearted life.  However, upon further reflection, there are still certain areas of my life where I am cautiously reserved.  The areas of my life where I have answered the call to courage are where I have experienced copious amounts of failures, heartaches, disappointments, frustrations, as well as numerous moments of joy, accomplishment, expansion, and serendipities.  And the areas of my life where I have yet to pick up that call or put that call on hold, are the areas of my life that feel stagnant.  I was left wondering what I should do and judgment crept in which felt unhelpful even shameful.  Understanding the importance of self-compassion, I offered myself some. I know that it’s okay if I’m not ready.  I know it’s ok to take my time.  I know that I can take baby steps until I get there.  I know it’s ok to stay still until I’m ready to move forward.  And with practicing self-compassion the judgment dissipated.

For those also feeling inspired to jump into the arena of courage and vulnerability and are ready, I commend you and I’m rooting for you.  For those also feeling inspired to jump in but don’t know how or are not yet ready, I see you and I’m also supporting you.  Please know that it’s ok to take your time.  Always honor where you are and what you are feeling.  Move at your own pace and find what works for you.

Words from the special that resonated with me:

  • “Vulnerability is having the courage to show up when you don’t know the outcome.”
  • “You’re going to know failure if you’re brave with your life.”
  • “You can’t take criticism and feedback from people who are not being brave with their lives.”
  • “Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth, telling your story, and never betraying yourself for other people.  True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are.  It requires you to be who you are and that’s vulnerable.”
  • “When we were interviewing to understand resilience, the most resilient participants that we’ve met across all these years had this sentence in common: The story I’m telling myself.  Because when something hard happens, our brain, which is wired to protect us above all else, wants a story.  It understands story and narrative pattern, and it says, ‘Give me a story so I can understand how to protect you.’  It wants, bad guy, good guy, safe, dangerous, against you, for you.  And so we make up these stories.”
  • “Joy is the most vulnerable of all human emotions.  We are terrified to feel joy.  We are so afraid that if we let ourselves feel joy something will come along and rip it away from us and we will get sucker punched by pain and trauma and loss.  So that in the midst of great things, we literally dress rehearse tragedy…When we lose our capacity for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding…The people who could really lean into joy, they didn’t dress rehearse tragedy.  They didn’t practice the terrible things.  They just leaned in…What do you think the one thing they share is?  They practiced gratitude.”
  • Regarding trauma and loss: “No matter what the trauma was that they were recovering from, they said: When you’re grateful for what you have, I understand that you understand the magnitude of what I’ve lost.”
  • “If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create.”
  • “Today I’ll choose courage over comfort.”
  • “In the absence of love and connection there is suffering.”
  • “Vulnerability involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
  • “Sometimes winning is not coming in first.  Sometimes winning is doing the really brave thing.”
  • “Vulnerability is hard, and it’s scary, and it feels dangerous, but it’s not as hard, scary, or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves: What if I would have shown up?  What if I would have said I love you?  What if I would have come off the blocks?  Show up, be seen, answer the call to courage, and come off the blocks ‘cause you’re worth it.  You’re worth being brave.”

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sunset hands love woman

As a Californian, I fully support getting your Californian on. ❤️ 🤣


 

 

*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.

What Happens in an Art Therapy Session?

In my last blog post, I wrote about what happens in a first therapy session.  This post looks at what happens in an art therapy session.  An initial art therapy session resembles a first therapy session.  As discussed in my previous post, there is still an intake process where we are going over paperwork and I am finding out more about you and your reasons for coming in to see me.

Depending on the client, art can be introduced immediately as some clients may be eager to jump in to the creative process whereas others may need to ease into art making.  Many art therapy newbies and clients who do not identify as artists usually need to be eased into the process which is OK.

I assure everyone that artistic skill is not required to partake in art therapy.  Art therapy is not about what you create; it is more about what happens while you are creating.

For the clients who want to dive right in, I will offer the appropriate art materials suited to their emotional needs.  Some clients will just start creating something and other clients may need guidance also known as directives in the art therapy realm.  During a first art therapy session, one directive could be to create an intention (aka a goal) you have for therapy.  Another directive could be to fill up an entire page using your favourite colour(s).

Art directives depend on what the client needs in the moment or overall.  They are carefully selected to meet you where you are and then move you forward one step at a time.  The art materials offered are also mindfully selected.  Some art materials can be overwhelming to use therefore I would not use them with someone who was already feeling ungrounded.

While clients are creating, I will move in and out when appropriate.  I will ask questions if I feel it is helpful or I will offer silence.  Silence is practiced a lot in many different forms of therapy because it is powerful.  It gives clients time to be still and reflect and discover.  Silence allows clients to move at their own pace.  It lets certain thoughts and feelings rise to the surface perhaps for the first time.  Silence moves us inward to places that states of busy do not allow us to go.  When embarking on a healing path, we must go inward.

During this creative period, many clients naturally go quiet.  Their focus becomes centered on their creative process which requires all their attention.  After a period of quiet, some clients begin to open up and a stream of consciousness begins to flow.  Thoughts, feelings, reactions are unhindered which can be insightful for the client and myself.

Every client’s creative process is different.  One client may get a lot of information from a few sessions while others may need months.  One client may work on a different piece each session while another may work on one piece every session.

At the end of every art therapy session we do some processing to make sure you are feeling safe and grounded.  We discuss what you would like to do with what you created.  I usually recommend that all art stay with me but that is dependent on each client.  All art is deemed confidential and is kept in a locked filing cabinet.

I offer 50 minute art therapy sessions and 75 minute art therapy sessions.

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*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.

What happens in my first therapy session?

Is not knowing exactly what happens in your first counselling session causing some anxiety?  Is fear keeping you from making an appointment because of uncertainty?

I’m here to assure you that although the first session can cause some rattled nerves there is nothing to be afraid of.  Fear of the unknown is valid and experienced by many people.

During the first session with my clients, there is an intake process.  You will fill out some paperwork that involves consent to participate in therapy and a confidentiality agreement.  After you read and sign it, I check in with you to see if you have any questions.  If you’re not familiar with my therapeutic approach then I tell you about how I like to work with clients.  Then we move on to some questions about your medical background, current habits, concerning symptoms, and the reason you are seeking therapy.

This process can fill up the entire first session.  It’s one of the most important sessions because we are getting to know each other.  You’re deciding if I’m a good fit for your counselling needs and I am assessing if I can meet those needs.  As a clinical counsellor I will absolutely refer clients to another practitioner if that is what the client requests or if the client’s needs are outside of my scope of practice.  It would be unethical not to do so.

As a client, it’s important to feel comfortable and safe with your counsellor.  A strong therapeutic relationship is essential to successful therapy outcomes.  If you feel like you don’t trust or respect your counsellor, then the therapy process will not work.  You also must feel safe with your counsellor and feel like you can open up to them without the fear of being judged.

The first session is just the beginning to building a strong foundation for your healing process and it vital to find a counsellor that you can connect with.  The first counsellor you meet may not be a good fit for you, or even the second or third, so take your time in finding a counsellor who will hold space for you in the way you need them to.

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So consider the first session as a ‘getting to know each other’ session.  Depending on the client’s needs, goals may be talked about as well as some treatment planning and resources.  But mostly it’s an introduction session.  If a client has been in therapy before or is in crisis, then this linear process may look a lot different.

No matter what, as a counsellor I believe it’s important to meet you where you are and then proceed from there.

See, not too scary, right?

I usually have light refreshments in my office as well so there’s that. 😊

And of course, there’s the art therapy piece of what I do but I’ll save that for my next post.


 

*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.

What is art therapy? Why should I try it?

Art Therapy is a therapeutic modality that involves an art therapist and client working with the creative art making process to support a client’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  Working with the creative process allows people to reach deeper levels of healing that talk therapy alone cannot always do.

If you have trouble expressing yourself verbally or find yourself unable to describe your experience with words, then working with art can help you express yourself without the use of words.  Studies have shown how trauma impacts the verbal language area of the brain making it difficult to use or even find the right words to effectively verbalize traumatic events.  The ability to use images and symbols can facilitate healing when words fail.  Creating art can also feel like a safer way to express yourself which also ignites the healing process.  Visual and symbolic expression can empower individuals and help develop self-awareness, explore emotions, address unresolved emotional conflicts, improve social skills, and raise self-esteem.

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You do not have to be an artist to engage in art therapy.  This is a common concern and fear of many people who are not familiar with art therapy.  You do not need to know how to draw or paint or do anything.  You are not responsible for creating a great masterpiece.  Art therapy focuses on the creative process itself.  It is about what is coming up for you while you are creating.  As an art therapist I will not be judging or critiquing your art.  I am with you to support your process and make sure you feel safe.

Many clients choose to create a variety of pieces.  Some clients like to paint pictures while others like to experiment with mixing paint colors.  A few clients may roll balls of clay with their hands while others create pinch pots or clay animals.  There are clients who like to draw cartoons while other clients just like to scribble on a page or two.  As individual needs are different so is the creative process to each client.  Your “art” is whatever you create it to be and that is okay.

As an art therapist I focus on a client’s strengths, interests, and abilities so engaging in the creative process feels safe and comfortable.  Art expression includes drawing, painting, sculpting, clay, writing, collage, poetry, music, and much more.  Research supports the use of art therapy and acknowledges the therapeutic benefits gained through artistic self-expression.

It is always the client’s choice to engage in art therapy or not.  It is okay to start at anytime and it is okay to stop at anytime.

Benefits of Art Therapy

• Promotes self-expression and self-awareness
• Supports self-care, balance, and well being
• Decreases stress, depression, and anxiety
• Manages chronic pain and physical ailments causing distress
• Encourages the development of healthy and effective coping skills
• Explores traumatic experiences in a safe manner
• Assists in improving focus and memory
• Develops problem solving skills and interpersonal/social skills

 

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*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.

The Empath & The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

A warm welcome to all my fellow empaths and HSPs.  And if you are not an empath or a HSP then perhaps you know one and are curious to find out more information to get to know them better and support them. 

EMPATHS

Dr. Judith Orloff is an expert on empaths and describes empaths as those who feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms due to their high sensitivities.  They are incredibly intuitive and often have a difficult time sorting out their feelings.  Dr. Orloff has a free self-assessment to find out if you are an empath.

Dr. Orloff discuess the differences between empaths and HSPs in her blog.

HSPs

Dr. Elaine Aron is the originator of the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ concept and describes HSPs as having a sensitive nervous system.  HSPs are aware of subtleties in their environment and can can be easily overwhelmed in a highly stimulating environment.  Take Dr. Aron’s self-assessment for HSPs.

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A person who is an empath or a highly sensitive person, or both, holds unique skills and traits that can be powerful.  Both are deeply genuine and care about others with a great intensity.  They are loyal in their most treasured relationships.  They are excellent workers and thrive in environments that supports their autonomy.  Empaths and HSPs tend to be drawn to the arts, whether they are creating it themselves or merely observing all its beauty.  They enjoy a rich inner life and have numerous ideas swirling around in their heads at any given time.  Deep conversations are welcomed involving the sharing of passions, ideas, meaning of life, and beyond.  And with this deep thinking comes impeccable problem solving abilities.  Some of the more commonly known characteristics of empaths and HSPs are their sensitivities.  Empaths and HSPs are highly tuned in to the energies and emotions which surround them.

The sensitivities include but are not limited to:

  • Sight: Bright lights including sun light
  • Sound: Loud noises (easily startled); Yelling; Non-stop talkers
  • Smells: Perfume; Food; Cleaning products
  • Touch: Scratchy clothing; Pain; Hot/Cold
  • Other people’s moods/reactions/energy
  • Violent TV shows/movies

Research by Dr. Arthur Aron and Dr. Elaine Aron, the originator of HSP, has shown the different ways HSPs process emotion, awareness, and empathy through MRIs.  20 percent of the population is genetically pre-disposed to empathy.  “We found that areas of the brain involved with awareness and emotion, particularly those areas connected with empathetic feelings, in the highly sensitive people showed substantially greater blood flow to relevant brain areas than was seen in individuals with low sensitivity,” said Dr. Aron.

I want to be clear that being an empath or an HSP does not constitute having a mental illness.  However, empaths and HSPs often experience challenges due to their sensitivities.  Some of these challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Becoming easily overwhelmed, confused, panicked
  • Feeling anxious, depressed
  • Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day
  • Experiencing panic attacks, excessive rumination, negative thought patterns
  • A lack of self-confidence, self-awareness, self-worth
  • Somatic symptoms not due to a medical condition

Those who are not aware of being empaths or HSPs are likely to experience unexplained stressed reactions leading to confusion, guilt, and self-blame.  Without proper education and guidance, these challenges may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.

My intention is to help you discover who you are as an empath and/or a HSP.  I would like to help you develop your own tools and resources so you feel safe, confident, and capable navigating your chosen path.  And hopefully help you see your sensitive nature as a part of you to embrace.  I view our sensitivities as a strength but you may need some time before you get there and that’s okay.

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Heather Hassenbein Counsellor Vancouver, BC Art Therapist Empath Highly Sensitive Person HSP Downtown Kitsilano 

 

*Heather Hassenbein is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Professional Art Therapist located in Vancouver, BC.

Exercise to Calm Anxiety

If you are dealing with anxiety, you are not alone.  Anxiety and mood disorders are the most common type of mental illnesses in the United States and Canada.  If you have anxiety you know what it feels like.  It feels like crap!  Some typical anxiety symptoms are dizziness, tension, nervous stomach, racing heart, chest tightness, muscle tightness, dry mouth, fear of dying, nausea, and on and on and on.

Good times right?

NO!

Our minds are incredibly powerful.  The mind can create happiness and hell.  It can lift you up as easily as it can bring you down.  Now let me share something else with you.  You are incredibly powerful!  You are the master of your mind.  Perhaps you have forgotten this.  Sometimes I forget.  My mind will easily spin out of control if I forget this.  Left unchecked and untrained the mind can take over and cause chaos.  No one is immune from experiencing anxiety; not even therapists.

The bright news is that anxiety is treatable.  There are many ways to help you calm and manage and even alleviate anxiety.  Everyone experiences anxiety differently and a treatment that works for one person may not work for another.  A therapist will work with you and help you discover the methods that work best for you.

I offer a well-known exercise to help calm and balance you while you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack.  And practice, practice, practice.  Use this often even when you are not experiencing anxiety.  When you are in the middle of a panic attack, it is hard to remember your tools.  Practicing will help you access this calming exercise and your mind and body will work together to help you ground into calm faster.

First take a deep breath.  Breathe into your belly so it rises and falls at a slow even pace.  If it helps, put one hand on your belly to make sure you are breathing deeply.  Deep breaths send signals to the mind that everything is safe – that you are safe.  Take at least 3 deep breaths – more are always okay.

  • Look around you and name 5 things you see.  Look at each object’s shape, size, color, and texture.
  • Look around and name 4 things you feel.  Feel your feet on the ground. Feel your skin against your clothes or rub your fingers together. Press your lips together or feel your teeth with your tongue.
  • Look around and name 3 things you hear.  Hear the clock ticking.  Hear the traffic outside.  Hear the birds, wind, or rain.
  • Look around and name 2 things you smell.  Smell any nearby perfume.  Smell some spices from your kitchen cabinet.  Smell your hair or skin.
  • Look around and name 1 thing you taste.  Taste in your mouth.  Taste a piece of your favorite food.

This exercise can be done as many times as needed.  It can also be adapted.  If you can’t remember the sequence of numbers, just choose a single number for all the senses.

And remember this:  You are powerful!

Calming Anxiety