Sibling yoga

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When I first opened the studio, I had narrower age ranges for the kids yoga classes. As time progressed, I broadened these age ranges, partly for practicality with parents enrolling multiple children.

One unanticipated outcome I hadn’t even considered… sibling connection. Almost all our classes have at least one set of siblings in them and some of our PD day camps have siblings attend together.

I think what makes yoga different than other activities is possibly what allows this bond to grow. The non competitive, non attachment based individual practice allows children to turn inward rather than worrying too much about what others are doing. There’s no “goal”, no winners and losers, and no competitive objectives.

I think back to my childhood and outside of birthday parties and playdates, rarely did I get to do an extra curricular activity with my brother. He played hockey, I was in dance. We both played ball but the leagues were gendered and age specific.

Seeing the connection between siblings during yoga classes is something incredible. The children tend to naturally strike a balance between connecting with new friends, and staying connected with their sibling. Often the older sibling will keep an eye on the younger sibling to ensure they know what to do, or offer to help them, while maintaining their independence in their own yoga practice. The younger sibling often follows the older sibling in the asana practice, while taking chances and trying new things on their own. I have yet to see a sibling squabble occur at the studio which has me wondering if these kids get along this week at home, or is there something about a structured (mildly structured) activity with an adult who isn’t related leading the activity that breeds a deeper connection?

As always, I turned to the research. It turns out, there isn’t much research out there on sibling relationships and connection outside of the home so your guess is as good as mine.

Growing up, my brother and I never got along. We fought violently and were just so horrible to each other. Then something shifted… I wanted to start playing hockey when I was in grade 11. Suddenly my role as big sister was flipped around and I was the vulnerable one as my brother helped me go through his old hockey equipment to find pieces that fit me and practiced throwing me over the boards at the local rink (not sure he knew girls hockey didn’t have hitting!)

Now, we stay connected daily. We are each others confidants, travel buddies, business partners, and are always ready to hop on a flight to help each other out (I am still waiting for him to come fix that loose floorboard in the studio once it is safe to travel again.) I would have never predicted this relationship when we were young children who couldn’t even handle a car ride to the grandparents without a huge dramatic fight breaking out.

How interesting that it was a sport that started to bring us together. Although we couldn’t play in the same league, we’d watch each others’ games and practice together at the local outdoor rink, the power in my vulnerability as someone who was brand new at a sport my younger brother excelled at. I sometimes think back and wonder what it would have been like if we had done yoga or another activity together.

I am curious… with siblings doing yoga together, engaging in an activity outside the home without family, are we possibly strengthening a bond at a young age? What other benefits are happening when kids do extracurricular activities with siblings. I’d love to hear your thoughts and observations.

Choosing a camp or after school program for your child

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I had the honour of hosting a child’s birthday yoga class today and realized yoga birthday parties are such a great idea! As I expand on my offerings for children, I realize how many different options there are out there. Obviously I believe in the programs I run but understand yoga isn’t for everyone. I want to keep your kids safe regardless and so am hoping these tips in choosing the right camp or before/after school program for your children are useful. These views are my own and not intended to be an exhaustive list of considerations.

One of the first things we look at when putting a child in camp or programs is often cost. There’s that old saying… “you get what you pay for” and so I’d like to provide a few insider tips on what to look for in children’s programming beyond cost.

Reality check: anyone in BC can run a kids camp or after school program. Literally anyone.

The most alarming part of opening children’s programming is that nobody asked for a copy of a criminal record check. Yikes… I know. The City of Port Moody business license department didn’t ask, my insurance company didn’t ask, despite me being insured to provide yoga and counselling to kids, and there is no such “children’s programming” body overseeing the programs I run since I am not a licensed day care. Since I am a Registered Social Worker, part of maintaining my license to practice includes staying crime free. I also expect this of any person working in my programs or interacting with my kids. If you’re signing your kids up for programs, inquire what training/licenses the facilitators hold and if not registered with a professional body requiring a criminal record check, ask if the organization completes these.

Next up… privacy and confidentiality. I get a little concerned when I see programs using photos of children enrolled in the programs for marketing. If you want to post photos of your child before or after a fun yoga class on your social media, by all means, please do (and tag my business!) but I just don’t feel comfortable using identifying photos of your children for my marketing. If you’re comfortable with this, then not a concern. But if this is a concern for you, have a look at their photo consent forms as well as their social media and marketing materials.

Intention. What is your intention in enrolling your child in this specific activity or camp, and what is the intention behind the program offerings? If it is fun, perfect, so many great ways to have fun! But if you’re looking for social/emotional learning, physical engagement, body awareness, body autonomy, or a program designed to build resilience or social skills, you’re going to have to look a bit deeper at the curriculum offered to see if the intention of the program aligns with the intention of you enrolling your child.

Inclusivity is such an important part of any program. My hope is that all children’s programming is equipped to invite children with special needs to be integrated, both for children with special needs, but also for other children to be able to build empathy and social skills with those who are different than them. Have a look at the bullying and inclusion policy for the program you’re looking at. If they don’t have one, inquire about this.

Covid safety protocols. The British Columbia Public Health Order on extracurricular activities for youth is quite vague. Too vague in my opinion.

So perhaps the British Columbia guidelines for schools are more detailed…

Yeah… still not sufficient in my opinion. I opt to follow the adult guidelines for low impact fitness when running kids programs. Excessive? Possibly. But your child’s safety and the safety of the community are far more important to me than anything. With the rising number of cases, I want to ensure that I am able to provide an outlet for children with the highest safety standards.

So what about online camps as a safe option? Feel free to read my previous blog on screentime with kids for my opinions on online camps. Kids need connection and learn best through play and interaction.

I put so much love and intention into every kids summer camp, PD day camp, workshop, birthday party, and mental health programs and until actually running these programs, had no idea about the requirements (or lack of) Wherever you choose to send your child for extracurricular activities and learning, I’m hoping these guidelines and tips provide you with some things to consider. Again, these views are strictly my own. This is just a blog afterall!

If you are interested in enrolling your child in one of our PD day camps, summer day camps, or before/afterschool programming, use promo code YOUNGRAVENS for 15% (promo code subject to end without notice)

I primarily provide PD day camps, summer camps and after school programs in SD43 (school district 43) but have worked in partnerships with Burnaby Schools, Maple Ridge and Surrey youth programs, and Vancouver kids.

Do you offer online yoga classes for kids?

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No. I do not offer online yoga classes for kids. And I have no plans to in the future.

Adding virtual classes for adults was a big step for me, and only as an option for community members to stay connected. I have sold zero virtual only passes and am quite content to keep it that way (ok maybe one to pay for the Zoom fees would be cool)

Bonnie Henry has publicly stated that there have been no new infections in gyms or yoga studios since we all reopened in December 2020 and thus, I will continue to encourage in person, safe, connection through movement for mental health.

You may know me as the yoga instructor/therapist from RVN Wellness, but you may also recognize me from local hospitals or crisis programs. I might have been one of the first faces your child saw in the Emergency Room after a suicide attempt, with a mouth still black from the charcoal they were given to reverse the poison they ingested. Or maybe you spoke to me on the phone when you were desperate, trying to look for resources when your six year old child muttered that they want to die. Or maybe you’ve seen me out for walks with kids in nature, encouraging them to take a deep breath and smell the ocean air, or playing tennis, or practicing yoga in the park.

I am a Mental Health Social Worker. I have one of the worst jobs on the earth. I always thought people who empty the dog waste at public parks have a shitty job (pun intended) but after they go home and shower, the shit is gone. The stuff I have seen, the things I hear… that will stick with me forever. There is no amount of “self care” one can do to erase the trauma of providing crisis support to suicidal kids. Children who want to die. Children as young as six years old who would rather end their life than continue on the way they are living.

This is a blog. These opinions are my own. So I am going to say what we all know but nobody wants to say.

SCREEN TIME IS KILLING CHILDREN.

I did some research on medical journals. Everyone wants to dance around the topic. There is a “correlation, but not a casual effect”, “teen suicide is rising while social media use is rising” but nobody wants to come right out and say what is happening… kids are killing themselves as a direct result of unrestricted, unsupervised access to the world wide web.

Desperate parents are bringing their children to the emergency department, asking for medication for their children who have become zombie-like in their interactions, aren’t sleeping, are having panic attacks, refusing to go to school, and are voicing suicidal ideation. One that perhaps gave me the biggest head shake was a well intended mom asking about weight loss medication for her child that was gaining weight as a result of spending the entire night gaming, and then sleeping all day. I cannot make this stuff up.

The underlying issue in 90% of kids I see… unrestricted, unsupervised, screen time. Often at a very young age.

I see children as young as 6 watching pornography or taking naked photos on their ipads to send to “friends” online (which is by the way, is considered distributing child pornography) or acting out in sexually inappropriate ways towards peers. Your first reaction might be “not my child” – but if you are not present for every minute they are online, do you really know it isn’t your child?

I see children unable to function at school because they are up on their phones or video games all night. I see children who have been in group chats with peers telling them (in detail of how to do it) to kill themselves. I see children who have uncontrollable panic attacks or rage when their devices are removed by parents attempting to set limits.

I could go on.

You may have come across this blog googling teen suicide or screen time addiction. Or perhaps you know me from my yoga studio as the silly kids yoga teacher who is known to wear socks with animal faces on them. Whoever you are, I have one request for you…

STOP BLAMING MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIANS.

When someone is a smoker and dies of lung cancer, do we blame the oncologist who was unable to save their life? No. But when a child commits suicide as a direct result of screen time addiction, why do we blame those working tirelessly to save them? We are exhausted. For every file we close from a child our interventions have helped, we have a pile of new referrals on our desk with several more kids needing immediate support.

I am good at what I do. Kids enjoy connecting with me, and listen when I provide them with practical tools to manage their big feelings. That being said, even the best therapist in the world could not compete with 10-12 hours a day of screen time in a one hour a week counselling session. We just can’t. We can provide all the coping tools in the world to kids but the ipad, cell phone, gaming system will always win. They are designed to win. They are designed to keep us addicted, to keep us engaged, and to ensure we have an anxious attachment to the allure of constant notifications and instant feedback.

So who is to blame? Parents? Schools? COVID? Video game companies? Internet service providers? This isn’t a blame game. We (society) all have a role. I am guilty of walking down the street looking at my phone – what is this modelling to kids? My brother pointed out that my niece’s primary use of screentime is video calls to Aunt Dawn. I have been sleep deprived as a result of doomscrolling. We all have a responsibility to do better. Our future generation deserves better.

When I opened RVN Wellness, it was because I knew I had to do something different. I knew the value of play, connection, breathing, and movement and what it could do to help kids build resilience.

The Tri-city news captured my “why” so well in an article when I opened. I don’t want to provide crisis intervention to kids anymore. I want to help kids (and adults) feel empowered, connected, and resilient. I want to help kids rediscover the joy of play. And I want to do that in collaboration with conscious parents, schools, and other young people support systems. This is my offering of a piece of the solution to managing the mental health crisis impacting children today.

How can we, as a community, better support young people in managing the damaging outcomes of unrestricted and unsupervised screentime during these pandemic times? I opened a yoga studio and designed kids programming to build resilience. I know others who have started outdoor groups, people who have helped kids get jobs or volunteer work to fill those extra hours caused by the shortened school days, and many other great ideas. I’d love to hear some other creative ideas and see them in action!

Now before you come up with excuses as to why your child “needs” to be on their ipad/video game/cell phone unsupervised, I can assure you I have heard most, if not all of them.

“It is the only opportunity for them to socialize with their peers during the pandemic”. Fake news. From day one, Dr. Bonnie Henry has encouraged us to get outside for walks. Youth sports and activities were briefly put on hold but we are allowed to continue with safe activities right now. If in person is not possible (as is the case with my niece in another province) – does your child need to be socializing unsupervised? Or can you participate in the video calls?

“________ program helps with __________ lifeskill” No doubt it probably does. But how did you learn ______ life skill? Play? Discovery? Books? Asking others? Or if it does require a screen, can you learn together.

“I want my child to fit in with their peers” – This is a tough one. I get it. It seems like every child out there is online. But are you also providing your child with a vape and some cannabis? They might actually be less harmful than that iphone. We will see what the research shows in a few years.

“safety” – I can assure you, there are far more dangerous things on the internet for children than exist in Port Moody.

“alarm, calculator, music, other useful functions” I am not THAT old and remember having an alarm clock, pocket calculator, ipod/discman/radio.

– “I need a break from parenting” – I bet you do. I am not touching this one other than to say… there are far less dangerous babysitters out there than screen time.

I could go on. Now you may notice I have said unsupervised and unrestricted screen time. I am not advocating for a society with zero screen time (ok actually that would be SO cool, but then how would you read this?) and so my primary tip for using screens with children is…

What is your intention?

No parent I have met intended to have their child develop an anxious attachment to a device, or to get cyber bullied, or engage in child pornography, etc. I do believe parents purchasing these devices for their children have the very best of intentions. Perhaps this is the first you have heard about the dangers of these devices. They certainly don’t come with warning labels as cigarettes do (although if I had my way, they would.)

Each time you engage in screen time WITH your child, what is your intention?
If you are providing them with unsupervised screen time, what is your intention?
If you are providing them with unrestricted screen time, what is your intention?

When we approach any challenge in life with an outcome in mind, it can allow us to develop intention. When we are conscious about our intentions, we can discern what might be helpful in working towards that intention. I’m not asking you to remove all devices from your child, but if you have read this far in this blog, chances are you might be struggling with screen time overuse in your home and thus, I am asking you to return to your intention of offering the device. If the device is not serving the intention you set when bringing it in the the home, perhaps it is time for it to go.

Lastly, before removing devices, restricting screen time, or setting limits, please remember that it is not your child’s fault. It is not their fault that their little developing brains fell prey to the addictive features of the games/apps/devices. If you are going to reduce screen time in your home, please ensure you fill it with activities that have similar serotonin/dopamine releases for them to manage withdrawal. This may include outdoor time, movement, creative outlets such as art or baking, socialization (in a covid safe way) or other activities your child enjoys.

We are a year into a wild pandemic, we are all exhausted. Please practice compassion to the young people who have found comfort in devices during difficult times, and self compassion if you were unable to provide the support without devices they need to navigate these challenging times. But as we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, we need to start looking at ways to support our young people in managing the big feelings (and suicidal thoughts) that come as a direct result from unrestricted and unsupervised screen time because it should come as no surprise, that those very devices kids are turning to for comfort, are usually the problem.

And yes, despite all of the above and believing I have one of the worst jobs ever. I love what I do. I am honoured to be able to hold space for youth working through some pretty tough situations.

Here’s my little disclaimer… this is a blog of personal thoughts, not intended to replace real medical advice or intervention. As with any blog or opinion, take what you’d like and leave the rest. If you or your child are struggling with suicidal thoughts or self harm, please ensure you reach out to appropriate mental health supports in your community.

At what age do we start telling little girls to hate their bodies?

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Watching my two year old niece run around with total freedom in her tomboy mismatched clothing sometimes leaves me wondering…

At what age do we start to tell young girls to hate themselves and hate their bodies?

I see children as young as six years old with body image issues but perhaps we start even younger? I see very thin teen girls come to my office suicidal because they’ve been told they are fat. Because apparently kids call other kids fat as an insult, even when they aren’t overweight. And I’m not surprised because in the past I’ve heard patients fat shamed by the very people they have come to seek help from in healthcare. This isn’t a highschool bullying problem, this is a societal issue.

Yesterday I was in my office working through a pile of referrals for suicidal kids and I overheard two people talking about their diets. One was talking about techniques for staying under 500 calories a day and the other was talking about how they’re back on the keto diet, focusing on greasy animal products and eliminating the foods that offer the most nutrients such as fruit and veggies. I realized that while my day is filled trying to prevent kids from killing themselves, my evenings filled with using yoga as tool to build resilience in kids and adults to manage mental health so they don’t become a referral on my desk for a suicide attempt, some people spend their days worrying and calculating how to make their bodies conform to societal expectations, specifically around weight.

When did we decide that being overweight is one of the worst things a person can be in our society? Let’s not pretend what I just said isn’t true becsuse countless studies show that people of size are continually discriminated against in all facets of life.

I didn’t think I could become a yoga instructor because my body doesn’t bend in ways I thought it should. When I met my mentor and she explained that sharing yoga isn’t about how you can twist your body, but how you hold space to safely guide people through the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga, I knew I expand my practice to become a yoga instructor. I has been a social worker and college instructor for years and holding space for people is something I’ve always done.

I don’t even know where to begin to address the societal pressures on people (not just girls) to look a certain way but I figure opening a mirrorless yoga studio where everyBODY is welcome and where instructors hold space for you to move through your individual strengths is a start. This includes my approach to teaching kids yoga, finding opportunities for body awareness and growing confidence through the asana practice are two of my goals of the Young Ravens program.

We are living through a global pandemic right now. Weight gain is an absolute normal response to stress and trauma. If you find yourself spending more time counting calories than working on your mental health, or being of service to others, I am sorry. I am sorry that we live in a society that has told you that your waistline is more important than your mental health or your contributions to others. I won’t solve any of these societal issues through this blog but perhaps have given you some food for thought (pun intended)

As for those who insist on imposing their values of “pretty” on little girls, I have yet to find anything more powerful than this video.

You didn’t go to yoga this morning did you?

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…asked a coworker today. He doesn’t know me well but noticed the change in my mood, productivity, and activity.

I typically start every morning with movement (workout or yoga) followed by a walk with my dog and whenever I can, a walk to work along the Inlet trail.

Today I woke up, showered, and drove to work had one of the most unproductive days of my career. At one point I counted FOURTEEN separate tabs open on my computer with half completed tasks. As I paced around the office chatting, rearranging books, cleaning, avoiding the mountain of paperwork piling up, I kept repeating the intention I set for the day. My mantra on the drive to work was “I will focus. I will be productive today” and when I was unable to manage this, the negative self talk started to creep in (and I have worked VERY hard to keep those demons away)

I have ADHD.

*I should note this was a paperwork day as my ADHD rarely interferes with my ability to be present for counselling clients in person*

I was a “bad” kid, always in trouble. Pretty sure I never saw recess in grade 6 as I was in detention every single day, and even banned from riding the school bus. I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD as a child, back then we were just labelled bad kids. Too talkative, too distractable, too intrusive.

My parents did the best they could to keep me engaged. Over the years I played ice hockey, softball, volleyball, basketball, rugby, field hockey, and was enrolled in brownies, girl guides, competitive dance, gymnastics, piano lessons, skating lessons and joined multiple school teams and clubs including curling, snowboarding, golf, adventure club, math league (I know… random. I used to love math) and any other activity I could join. No doubt these activities contributed to my success in school eventually leading me to obtain a postgraduate degree in Social Work. I do remember teachers openly querying that they weren’t sure what to do as I had top grades on assignments but my behaviour was so troublesome (just give me the As I would suggest)

In my 20s I had a pretty big job as a manager at a non profit organization. I remember when my fidgeting led to me snapping a hair elastic across the table at a community partner and thinking maybe I should get help. I printed off an ADHD assessment and brought it to my doctor who confirmed I met the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis.

Having a diagnosis means very little to me. What I did learn at that time was the power of yoga to manage symptoms, particularly the morning practice. Any yoga instructor is going to say yoga changed their life. I’m legit very serious when I say it changed my life. Not just through helping to manage the concentration aspect of ADHD, but also to address the self esteem and negative self talk that goes along with ADHD.

And this is why I offer morning yoga classes at RVN Wellness for kids, teens, and adults. Because we all deserve the opportunity to start our day off right. There are several studies documenting the benefits of yoga for people with ADHD, and yet in my practice as a mental health clinician in Port Moody, I had nowhere to send my clients for this treatment. The BC Children’s Hospital discharge paperwork template for kids released from the psych unit lists yoga as follow up for their treatment plan and yet, nobody was actually offering it for kids and teens! And as great as some of those yoga videos online are, they do not offer youth with mental health concerns the same benefits as in person yoga classes do.

So staying true to my nature of being impulsive and creative, I decided to open a yoga studio, mid pandemic with before and after school yoga. Just rent a space and invite some kids and teach yoga – simple right? It turns out running a business is far more complicated – lawyers and accountants and inspections and licenses and insurance, an ADHD person’s worst nightmare. But here we are.

I have 7000 ideas of exciting offerings but my follow through can only occur under the right conditions.

The ADHD brain can be beautifully creative and full of opportunity.

Yesterday I did a 45 minute HIIT workout when I woke up, followed by a 60 minute yoga class, and then a 45 minute dog walk. And then I got to work on my studio admin work. I worked 6 or 7 hours straight and was highly productive, even forgetting to eat. Because I was on a roll, I stayed up too late, hence why today I skipped my morning yoga and was terribly unproductive. It is hard for me to really put into words how drastic the difference yesterday was to today. Not only was I more productive, but I felt better about myself. As I checked each item off my list, (lists are the only way I can function!) I could feel my confidence grow.

And as I write this at 12:30 am, I am reminded of another side effect of skipping yoga… insomnia. I’m typically an in bed by 10 pm person (I learned the import of this in my Ayurveda course – more about that later) but missing yoga this morning has set my whole day “off”.

If yoga isn’t your jam, incorporating any time of movement and meditation into your morning can assist with ADHD symptoms. A few other tips I’ve gathered over the years based on my experience of living with ADHD as well as working as a therapist include:

– Consistency with noise. Personally, I need absolute silence in order to focus (yes I turn the radio down in the car when looking for a specific street address.) Some people prefer white noise. Whichever it is, consistency can help.

– Nature. I often do my counselling sessions with kids with ADHD outdoors. I find they’re more likely to open up to me on a walk to the Noons Creek Salmon Hatchery than sitting in a grey office. It also gives me a chance to put some mindful techniques into practice – “wow, watch that leaf fall to the ground” and for myself, when I feel “stuck” a walk or run outdoors can provide me the answers I need.

– Intention. I find setting my intention for the day a powerful tool to keep me grounded and motivated.

– Lists! Not only do they help organize, but can increase confidence and self esteem as things are checked off. I use a notepad in my phone for most but often carry a notebook as well. I write my to do list before bed each night for the following day and review it when I wake up each morning.

– Doodling. That notebook is also to allow me to doodle which is needed when I’m required to sit and listen (like when taking a course.) There was an interesting study that showed doodling actually increases concentration for people with ADHD. I hope kids aren’t still getting detention for doodling in class. I wish smart ass grade 6 Dawn had access to this study to get out of detention.

– Limiting screen time. We have enough trouble without the constant distraction of alerts and noise. I try to take at least one hour a day of screen free to allow myself a reset. This screen free time includes no radio or talking – incorporating pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) into my day without necessarily sitting in full meditation.

– Holding a warm cup of tea. We know fidgeting is a classic sign of ADHD but having a mug to play with while twirling the tea bag string not only provides me with an opportunity to fidget (which that early study notes improves concentration) but also is a change in temperature on my hands, lips, throat, is calming and can bring more awarenessness into each moment.

And I’m finally ready to sleep so will finish this blog later. Or maybe I won’t and it will go in the pile of other half completed tasks and ideas.

Good night.

I’m back to quickly finish this blog to remind those reading this of the many strengths of people living with ADHD. I came across an article that stated: “If I could name the qualities that would assure a person’s success in life, I would say being bright, being creative with that intelligence, and being well-liked. I would also choose hardworking and diligent. I would want many of the traits that people with ADHD possess.”

This resonated so much with me because I have finally chosen a path where I can capitalize on my strengths. Years of working in management with tight deadlines and loads of paperwork wasn’t serving me. Being present with people, serving people in person through counselling and sharing yoga is what allows me to be present and creative rather than constantly struggling through administrative tasks (don’t get me wrong, I struggle with the administrative tasks of running a business but they are far less important than how I show up and hold space for my clients.)

If you are interested in learning more, or booking a counselling or yoga session, head to www.rvnwellness.com for more information.

My child and teen yoga program is called Young Ravens because in Indigenous culture the Raven is a powerful bird known for it’s sneaky curiosity, much like children with ADHD. Despite these characteristics, the Raven is celebrated for being the one who brought light to the world through it’s curious and trickster ways. When we celebrate the curious and creative ways of children and teens living with ADHD, we allow them to grow their gifts to serve the world.

Choosing a Therapist

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If you do a Google search for therapist or counsellor you will come up with pages upon pages of search results. There are some directories such as Psychology Today who help organize by discipline, focus, etc. but it can still be overwhelming to try and figure out where to begin!

So how do you choose one?

1. Relationship/rapport. Research has shown that the therapuetic alliance between client and counsellor is the most important factor in determining outcomes in therapy. Take advantage of those free 15 minute consultation calls and make sure you vibe with the therapist! If you don’t feel it, keep searching. I remember finishing a game of tennis with a youth on a very hot day (we were working on comfort being in public doing something vulnerable and we both suck at tennis) and afterwards I offered her an ice cream bar. She declined saying she is vegan. I am also vegan and of course the ice cream bars were non dairy. Instant rapport! We ended up working together quite well for several months and her mom was surprised she kept returning after she had refused to go back to the 8 previous therapists. We are human beings and connection is important. You don’t have to play tennis and eat ice cream with your therapist, but they do need to be someone you feel you can be authentic and vulnerable with.

2. Professional designation. I’m not even sure how to unpack this one in a short blog but in British Columbia, the terms “therapist” and “counsellor” are unregulated. This means anyone (literally anyone) could call themselves a therapist. Yikes right? Start by checking out credentials. I know I just said the therapuetic alliance is most important but you also want to ensure the person you’re unpacking your deepest darkest stuff with has some kind of training in how to manage it. Although not provincially regulated, I personally recommend finding a therapist with a minimum of a Masters level education. Within that level of training are a variety of disciplines, most common being RCC, Registered Clinical Counsellor, and RSW, Registered Social Worker (Pro tip: if they don’t have that “R” meaning Registered, keep looking. You want to ensure your therapist is accountable to a regulatory body).

What is the difference between an RCC and RSW? This is a blog so these are strictly my opinions but I’d say social workers are more solution focused (think make a plan and get shit done) and clinical counsellors may be more invested in unpacking the journey. Again, just my opinion.

What about psychiatrists? They’re the ones with the prescription pads. Psychiatrists are very important medical specialists who often work in collaboration with therapists but rarely provide talk therapy. Psychiatry is a medical service covered under MSP in BC and if you would like to discuss medications or other medical interventions with a psychiatrist, speak to your family doctor for a referral. In some very rare situations psychiatrists do provide talk therapy as well.

What if I found someone who seems like a great counsellor but doesn’t have any formal training? There are things you can inquire about that those of us with professional licenses have to honour such as our privacy policies, confidentiality, reporting, record keeping, etc. The sketchy part of this unregulated profession is that without a regulatory body (for example, I am accountable to the BC College of Social Workers) your personal information could be at risk, as well as your personal safety if the “counsellor” isn’t trained in handling complex issues. Another piece to inquire about is insurance. This is to protect the therapist, but can be an indicator of how legit they are.

3. Style and approach to counselling. Every therapist is going to have their own unique approach. My approach often involves incorporating movement, either into our sessions, and/or in the treatment plan as I strongly believe in the body/mind connection and the healing power of movement. This may not resonate with everyone so finding out which framework or approach your potential counsellor works from can be helpful before investing too much into the relationship. You may also want to explore their values as they relate to your experience. If you’re wanting to process and integrate following a spiritual awakening with plant medicines, somebody who doesn’t believe in the healing powers of these plants may not be a fit.

4. The practical bits. So you’ve found someone with a Masters level education whose approach resonates with you and you feel connected with right away. Great right!? Well… not quite. Therapy is expensive af. One of the first things you may want to consider is what your extended health benefits cover. Some extended health plans (or ICBC, victims assistance, WCB, etc.) only cover certain designations (RSW or RCC) Checking this ahead of time can save you quite a bit of time (and money!)

Unfortunately counselling is not covered under MSP in BC (it should be – surely there are petitions out there you can sign) and if you don’t have extended health benefits, you may be looking for some cost effective ways to get help. Below are a few options:

a. Student clinics. If you’re looking for a therapist in the lower mainland, SFU, UBC, City University and Adler University all have free or low cost counselling services by masters level interns. Those interns are supervised by more experienced professors. Don’t let their inexperience scare you away, interns can be some of the most caring and invested people in your wellness!

b. EAP – employee assistance plans. Some workplaces have these plans as an option and they are significantly underutilized. They will set you up with a counsellor depending on what you need and despite being a resource through your employer, confidentiality is still honoured.

c. Specialized clinics – there are far too many to list but there are all types of great organizations with specializations depending on the issue you want to work through. One of my very first counselling jobs was actually providing support to people affected by HIV (usually family members of people who were HIV positive) which is one example of a specialized free counselling service. Other specialized counselling services may be included under larger organizations such as Fraser Health or MCFD’s child and youth mental health clinics. There are far too many to list so I encourage you to use Google here.

Did I miss anything here? If you have any questions about how to go about finding a therapist, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message.

In the beginning…

rvnwellnessUncategorised

A few nights ago I was teaching a Young Ravens kids yoga class and we were bringing our energy down with our legs up the wall and the lights dimmed and a child said “can we share things that make us happy?” As I listened to the group of children sharing their favourite things with enthusiasm, I laid there smiling and thinking, “yes! This is why I did this!” That moment was everything. We know that the simple act of gratitude can have significant benefits for our mental health which is why gratitude exercises are woven into every Young Ravens class, but to have a child initiate this in a class, was evidence that our time together had made gratitude exercises routine.

Over the last few months I have had many moments like this. I have had the honour and privilege of sharing space with some of the most curious, fun, and passionate young people.

And this begins my first blog on the journey of creating RVN Wellness.
I have created a blog for a few reasons…

  1. To share my journey which may inspire others along the same path.
  2. Because I love writing (I used to have a travel blog) and this is a form of reflective practice for me.
  3. Apparently blogs can improve your SEO (the boring stuff of owning a business I am learning about)

I knew I wanted to create a yoga program for youth mental health, serving kids in the Tricities, Burnaby, New Westminster and surrounding areas as the only yoga programs for kids at the time were based in Vancouver. Just rent a space and roll out the program. Easy enough right?
Join me as you learn about my journey of opening a wellness space encompassing yoga, counselling and other practitioner services, and other wellness related events. In summary, it has been a lot of champagne, tears, and the rollercoaster of everything in between.

A few months ago (July 22, 2020 to be exact) I was out walking my dog in my neighbourhood Moody Centre and walked past 2506 St. John’s st. in Port Moody where there was a large “For Lease” sign. I immediately envisioned a space where yoga would bring people to connect as a community. At the time, I was working 50-60 hours a week in healthcare during the pandemic as a mental health clinician and knew the toll this crisis was taking on the community, especially youth who had been out of school since March 2020 while parents were trying to navigate working from home, setting up online schooling for their children, while managing their own anxieties.

How I spent the first few months of the pandemic.

I emailed the realtor who let me know there was an accepted offer on the space. I try to practice non attachment to outcomes and so I shrugged it off as a silly idea (I mean who opens a yoga studio during a pandemic anyway???)
I kept walking past the studio and couldn’t help but envision myself in there, sharing the beautiful practice of yoga that I had found so much peace in. I laid tobacco and asked the Creator to open up the opportunity for me if it was meant to be, as I had been taught by an Indigenous friend of mine. So much for non attachment, I felt so drawn to this space.

The wackiest and best team of inspectors.

A few days later the realtor I had contacted emailed me to let me know the landlord was willing to look at other offers on the property. I had never leased a commercial space before but thankfully was in good hands with Savvi from William Wright who held my hand through the process. The landlord liked my idea and I had a weekend to put my business plan in writing to show him. Thank goodness for the 7 hour ferry wait on the way to Gabriola Island for my annual kayaking trip as it gave me the time I needed to put years of ideas down on paper.
I got the call that the landlord had chosen my business out of the competing offers.

Holy. Shit.

No champagne yet. It turns out leasing a commercial property comes with a lot of paperwork (50+ page lease) and lawyers, inspectors, and licensing people. Over the next few weeks my landlord and I worked to come to an agreement that worked for both of us while I jumped through the hoops required to open a business. A little shoutout to the Port Moody city hall folks who couldn’t have made it any easier on me, as well as the Port Moody fire department who completed the inspection in a very timely fashion (I think it was even next day from when I called!) I’m not sure if getting a business license is this easy in every city but we sure are lucky in PoMo to have such efficient people!

On August 20th I got the news the subjects had been removed from the offer was mine. Champagne time.

On August 26th, I received the keys to the studio. More champagne…

…and one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received in my life. A friend stopped by the studio with a wooden Om sign. She had bought it over a year ago for me knowing that one day I would open a studio. I had no idea and she held onto it this entire time, waiting until I opened a studio.

The next morning I practiced yoga alone in the space, with each breath setting intention for what the space would hold and the healing that would occur within the walls of the studio. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I’m not sure if it was a release of all the anxiety of the work over the past month, terror at what I had just done in the middle of a pandemic that had forced many incredible yoga studios to close, or joy that I was living my dharma, my life purpose.

I wanted my opening to coincide with back to school to allow kids the support to return to routine. I received the keys August 26 and planned to open on September 14. Turns out it isn’t as simply as renting a space and just teaching yoga. There is web design, accounting, legal contracts, human resource hiring of instructors, marketing, opening wholesale accounts and ordering supplies, scheduling software (the worst part of the whole journey!) and a billion other behind the scenes tasks to run a yoga business. And of course… renovations. No renovation is complete without the drama of uncovering new tasks each time you complete one task.

I am fortunate to have a village of people who believe in me. On the bad days when I ask one of my best friends why they let me do this, he replies “you wouldn’t have listened and would have done it anyway.”

He is right.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about opening a business, it is that tenacity is one of the most important things. Once you set your intention, if it is aligned with your dharma, the universe will open the doors for you but you’re going to have to work your ass off to get there.

And that is the beginning of how we got here.

It feels pretty good to get back to blogging and I’m excited to share the next part of the story of how we ended up with some of the lower mainlands best yoga instructors!But first I’m going to figure out how to upload this onto the website…