My Counselling Sessions with Paddy

You can think of this blog as self-promotion and I am not-so-secretly delighted that this client thinks so well of Carole and me. And… there are some great ideas about how to approach counselling in his ideas. It was written in his blog space in 2014 and, 5 years later, he continues to see me on occasion. He offered his approval for posting his letter on my site.

 

I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success — however you want to define that.

In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommendation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like a familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.

My father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole’s husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a Registered Psychologist. I knew Paddy as a faculty member in grad school and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.

On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interrupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate university professor — and that’s what came home for me.

For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In grad school, it was to master Koine Greek or to understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn’t “what” I wanted to learn, but “who” — indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father’s passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress — they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.

I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that’s why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he’s definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It’s like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.

There still exists in today’s society such a stigma attached to “seeing a Psychologist” that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn’t start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.

Counselling doesn’t have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behaviour that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There’s no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.

One last word of advice — and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don’t decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.

My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, “Because Paddy doesn’t tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself.”

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Pat-Pat-Pow

“True friends stab you from the front” — that is was Oscar Wilde said and presumably he had some true friends.

In my work, I might say, “I’ve got your back but watch your front.” By that I mean, I will “pat-pat-pow” and it might cause you to stumble a bit. 

I think that 80% of confrontation is finding the good and pressing it into my client-friend. That is the “pat” and I do it lots because there are lots to affirm in most everyone. And about 20% is the “pow” or the zinger. Watch for the zinger.

I think of pats a lot in my work. This is finding good and commenting on it. Clients say “thanks” and I say, “It’s not a compliment; its an observation.” Not candy-floss sweetness but what is visible to me but unseen by them.

I think of pows a lot in my work. What will provoke the deepest and most lasting change? How do I de-concretize his thinking or believing? How can I help her get unstuck without harming her? Can I maintain empathy all the while stabbing them from the front like a true friend? And sometimes I think, “WWJD” (as in, “What Would Jesus Do?”).

Normally, I am not too anxious about tension and conflict, but I sure hate harming someone. In fact, I think my job is to create tension and conflict as in, “true friends stab you from the front.” But I will not stab you in the back.

Miracle on Fox Street

David wrote this about 12 years ago on his blog spot. I (Paddy) read it again today and was taken by it. I have updated the content to reflect 2019 but this is how he saw his life when he was 28. And the picture is updated as well.

Everybody has a testimony. A testimony is a story about a test, which a person has encountered, and how they have dealt with that problem. In a court, the testimony of a witness is expressing what they saw take place. The judge then makes a decision based on their testimony whether a defendant is innocent or guilty of a crime.

For a Christian, their testimony is the telling of what God has done in a person’s life. Therefore, you could say, “I caught God doing this thing in a person’s life.” For the next few minutes, I want to tell you my testimony and what I experienced God doing.

My testimony begins at my birth, on November 27, 1978, when I was born with a life-threatening sickness called hydrocephalus, which means water on the brain. This meant that while still in the womb, my brain was severely compressed. After a CAT scan, the doctors determined that I had approximately two percent living brain tissue. They said I would be a person who would be unable to do anything for himself — a vegetable. This news came as a great shock to my parents, who were looking forward to starting their new family in their new home on Fox Street, West Vancouver.

When my Dad held me as a babe, he saw that I had a head the size of a two-year-old, and also as soft as a sponge, due to the amount of water that was in my skull. He sensed God tell him to name me David, (which means ‘beloved of God’), and Joseph, (which means ‘He shall add’). At this, Dad knew, first of all, that God loved me, and he believed that God would add brain cells to my tiny brain.

Mom and Dad then listened to the doctors as they told them why I was this way and how hydrocephalus takes place. “Before a baby is born,” they explained, “water travels up and down its spinal column several times per day. This fluid makes sure that the vital pathways in the body are clear, so the body’s essential organs may continue to work. What happened in David’s case is that somehow, the fluid was unable to make it all the way down his spinal column. Through time, water backed up his spinal column and filled his head, crushing his brain.”

The doctors continued. “In order for any child to live an ordinary life, they must be born with a functional brain. Brain cells do not multiply; the amount of brain tissue a child is born with is the most brain tissue that he/she will ever have.”

I was given no longer than one or two days to live. My parents were told by the doctors that surgery could insert a tube (a shunt) that would drain fluid from my head and take the pressure off of my brain. However, at that time, the procedure was fairly new, plus they could not be certain that it would work effectively. Even if it did work, they were unable to assure my parents that I would live very long.

But, my parents believed that Jesus was able to heal me with the hope that I might be able to live a fulfilled life.

I believe that when Jesus walked this earth two thousand years ago, there was little that impressed him more than faith shown by regular human beings around him. My parents read a story in the Bible from Luke 18 that encouraged them to pray until something happened. “Will not God make the things that are right come to His chosen people who cry day and night to Him? Will He wait a long time to help them? I tell you, He will be quick to help them, but when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:7,8. New Life Version)

As my story spread, people started to pray and have faith that Jesus would work a miracle in my life. They prayed that God would multiply my brain cells so that I would be able to live without machines. They prayed that just as Jesus made the lame walk, made the blind see and gave life to those who were dead, that Jesus would give me brain cells so I could become a normal human being.

After six months of prayer, the doctors were amazed to find that I had 25 percent brain tissue. My parents and many others continued to pray for more. Six months later, doctors again were amazed to find 50 percent brain tissue. By this point, I was a year old and was slowly learning how to do simple things. My parents and those who prayed for me were in awe at what God was doing, full of praise and thanksgiving to Him. As people continued to pray on my behalf, the Lord heard their prayers and continued to answer them. Prior to my second birthday, their prayers were answered yet again when doctors took a final CAT scan and found 98 percent brain tissue.

By this time, I was able to do most things that a two-year-old child could do. The only problem, which has persisted since my early days of life, is a severe visual impairment. Doctors have determined on many occasions that I have only two and a half percent vision in my left eye and three percent vision in my right. However, this was enough vision to get me through my first nine years of grade school.

In grade nine while I was thirteen, I suffered a stroke, which paralyzed the entire right side of my body. Before I came out of the coma, doctors in San Diego, California performed surgery to place a second shunt down the left side of my body. For years, I had had scars on my stomach which my parents termed scars of courage. By the time the surgery was done in 1991, I now had twice as many scars to boast about!

Soon after the surgery, I awoke from my coma and went back to school. Though the Special Education Assistants (S.E.A.) at my school now needed to help me overcome memory issues and balance problems in addition to my blindness, they helped me, and I graduated from high school with my classmates in 1996. That fall, I started a psychology degree at Trinity Western University and graduated with my second academic certificate in 2003. I then completed a certificate in Special Education and worked as a S.E.A. at a private Christian school in North Vancouver. S.E.A.’s had helped me successfully complete each level of grade school. It was my privilege to help others in the same ways that I had been helped many years ago. Not bad for someone who was supposed to die as an infant?

Though my parents originally gave me the credit for the courage I had to go through the many hours of surgery I endured, I give all the credit to Jesus Christ as he was the one who healed me. I hope my story will serve as a reminder both to me and anyone else, that God can and does heal us today. I know that he can work the same miracle in the lives of people anywhere. God is willing and able to make your life a testimony of his ability to transform a life. My life was turned around by prayer offered in simple faith. Your new life can begin the same way. All we must do is ask.

“Nobody did anything wrong,” said Jesus. “But this happened so that the works of God might be shown in this person’s life.” John 9:3

Addendum: David completed a Master’s degree in Spiritual Formation at Carey Theological College (UBC) and is now working on a chaplaincy degree at Vancouver General Hospital through Vancouver School of Theology (UBC). As well as the chaplaincy with seniors and the hospitalized, David provides spiritual direction (a kind of faith-based private practice) and is an active member of Artisan Church in East Vancouver.

 

Do You Need Meds for Your Emotions?

Right from the beginning, I know you don’t want to take meds for your feelings. But who would? I also know you probably don’t believe in them. Haven’t you seen “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”? And you have read the articles on “designer emotions” (which is crap-full, to say it nicely).

You have to be aware of side-effects that may hit you. If you read about side-effects online for these meds (SSRI mostly), it will feel like there is nothing but side effects — and that is simply because they legally are required to list every possible side-effect. It is best to ask your GP for his / her ideas about particular side effects that might impact you.

You may be interested to know that new meds are coming out all the time to reduce the side effects of medications. A new medication called Viibryd (sounds like a raptor to me) is a successful SSRI anti-depressant for men. It helps reduce sexual impotency, a frequent side-effect to anti-depressants for men.

Having said all this, medications for your emotions might just work for you because they work for lots of people. And here are some assessments that might help you think it through whether meds are right for you.

I also suggest my client friends look into the NSAD Stress Questionnaire, the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and the GAD 7 or Generalized Anxiety Disorder Checklist. You can find these 3 assessments on my website under “Tools / Psychology and Emotions.”

So what do you do with this advice? You take it seriously because the quality of your life might depend upon it. You read through the assessments to see if they reflect who you are and what you think. You don’t just believe it and do it. You think. And you make some decisions.

Your doctor will also talk to you about how long you may wish to take the meds; when you should see some decent upturn; and how to discontinue them.

You get meds by asking your Medical Doctor or Psychiatrist. And make sure you take your doctor your completed assessments. She looks at them and helps you come to a conclusion about whether or not a medication is right for you. It is a consultative process. No one will coerce you. At least I hope not.

If you and the doctor decide to progress, he gives you a prescription and you fill them at your pharmacy. The dispensing fees as well as the medications themselves, tend to be cheaper at Costco, but do ask advice. And if you have a pharmacist that you work with now, this is invaluable.

You can also use the assessments to monitor your progress in therapy. If you complete them when you first visit Carole or Paddy, take them again in a month or so. You will probably see a change.

If you wish reliable information beyond what I have written you might wish to consult the Canadian Government website for mental health. There is a lot of info there.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Carole or me for guidance on these things. We are willing and able to help.

See also an additional article on my website on SSRI and depression and anxiety. Helpful, I think.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]