Monday, June 15, 2015

Volunteer Counseling - Crucial to Community Health

Volunteer Counselling - Crucial to Community Health

All of us go through difficult and confusing times in our lives.  We experience emotional trauma, loss and significant change that causes us stress and can lead us into depression, addiction and other unhealthy coping strategies.  We can become overburdened and start to notice the ill effects of trauma in our life by the quality of our relationships and our own well-being.  It may seem we are mired in conflict, hopelessness and/or anger. 
Many of us will come to a point in our journey where our desire to grow and to heal will outweigh our need for sameness and the “safety” of the habits and strategies we have formed.  We might know that something better is possible but have no idea how to grasp it, or a loved one is so concerned about us that they have convinced us to seek help - whether we believe we need it or not.  When this time arrives it can be most beneficial to seek the support of another person, someone who is outside of our immediate circle, who can be a present and impartial witness to our growth.

Engaging in a counselling relationship can be a life changing decision. 

There are benefits to choosing to see a Volunteer Counselor.  A Volunteer Counselor is a trained  and skilled individual who understands the importance of providing a listening ear, support and guidance.  They may be a professional counselor, volunteering their time to be of service, they may be a Practicum Student who is taking formal training to be a professional counselor, or they may be an individual who is interested in giving their time to others in a healing relationship.  Regardless, they have specialized  and advanced training in offering support.  Volunteer Counselors generally offer more flexible appointment times; including evenings and weekends and sliding scale payment options. 

Counselling and support should never be denied to someone as it is an important component in the healing process. 
Just as medical services are crucial for the sick, so should mental health services be available for emotional health and wellness.  Volunteer counselors fill an important gap in mental health services that can be difficult to navigate and often unaffordable. 

At NFLA we offer a variety of Volunteer Counselling services and group support.  We have specialized services for Seniors, families, youth and individuals.  We are the leader in providing these services in Nanaimo, having been doing so for nearly 50 years!  Every year we help over a thousand individuals get the counselling and support they need through our Volunteers.  We are fortunate to have established clinical counselors providing supervision to our Volunteers and also to train and teach them the necessary skills to providing this service.  Because of our capacity to provide service we have a minimal to non-existent wait-list meaning we can connect you to a counselor in just a few days.  We see individuals dealing with past trauma, intimate partner violence, ongoing crisis and mental health concerns, and suicidal thoughts and feelings. We see youth who are experiencing bullying, family breakdown and a host of other issues.  We see couples who are struggling in their relationship and are at the end of their rope. 

Although there are no issues that our counselors are unable to support you through, if necessary we will refer to other services if your needs require more support then we can offer.

Our purpose and goal is to make counselling accessible to all in our community regardless of income and/or social status.  We believe that every person has the right to mental health services and we exist to respond to the needs of those who walk through our doors.  This service could not exist without the skill and commitment of Volunteer Counselors.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Top Ten Gift Ideas to Boost Creativity in Kids

Written by: Lindsay Shugerman

It seems that creativity is becoming a rarer and rarer thing in today’s world. Schools focus on lock-step learning and standardized tests, people are hired (or not) based on their answers to online psychometric panels and popular entertainment is often anything but creative or original.
But as parents, grandparents or teachers, we still want to encourage creativity in kids. So how do we fight the tide of conformity? Here are ten gift ideas that can help nourish the creative spark in the next generation.

10. Musical instruments
Don’t confuse this with rigid, mandatory piano lessons (although they are of value to kids, too.) I’m talking about providing kids with things to strum, blow into, bang or shake. A chance at first to make their own sounds. Later, lessons can help them harness creativity into composition or a style of their own.

9. Art supplies 
Let them paint. And make things with clay and draw pictures and play with shapes. Provide the art supplies, the time and the space, and creativity in kids will bloom. This is not a time for rules or lessons on artistic trends. It’s all about allowing them to explore how they see the world.

8. Books 
Books do more than tell stories. They can carry a child to places they have never seen…and places that don’t exist in the world as we know it. And they force the reader (or listener) to fill in the blanks. What does the heroine look like? What kind of forest are they in?

7. Science tools 
Children are natural scientists, exploring the world around them. Left to their own devices, a child will lay in the grass and watch an ant crawl or a worm slither with all the attention of someone performing a critical experiment in a lab. And all the while, they are imagining. Learning.
Give them science tools to explore their world. A magnifying glass or microscope opens new worlds. A chemistry set gets them thinking about how things react. A robotics kit helps them imagine the next step.

6. Craft kits 
Sometimes kits are okay. In fact, sometimes they’re wonderful for supporting creativity in kids. Acraft kit can introduce a child to new materials and new techniques that they can use later on. Look for kits that allow a personal touch in the finished product.

5. Dolls 
Baby dolls teach girls and boys about nurturing and caring. Adult or character dolls allow them to explore occupations, experiences and real or make believe events all within their imagination. Skip the collectible, do-not-get-it-dirty dolls for these gifts. This is all about playtime, not shelf time.

4. Kid-sized tools 
Giving kids the opportunity to build, clean and create with real, functional tools made for little hands might be one of the best gifts for developing creativity in kids.

3. Puppets 
Puppets allow kids to act out and explore things they see and hear around them. But the “talking” aspect of puppetry also encourages children to get creative with what they say and how they interact verbally with other characters. Gifts of human and animal puppets or a puppet theatre is a wonderful choice as a creative birthday or holiday present.

2. Dress up costumes 
What child doesn’t like to dress up in mom or dad’s clothes and shoes? Dress up is a simple way for a child to pretend to be someone else…a grownup, a pirate, a doctor or a space explorer. Unlike video games where an avatar “lives” the alternate personality, dress up encourages kids to experience it from the inside out. So they can “be” rather than “watch” — a key component in developing healthy imagination.

1. Building toys 
For years, educators have known that using building toys like wooden blocks, erector sets and Lego blocks helped with spacial skills and with math and science success. But did you know these toys also help improve creativity, too? Sets with lots of pieces of different sizes and colors but no set pattern to build are the best choice for originality, experimentation and creativity, while sets with specific designs and instructions work on skill in following directions, sorting and patience.

Creativity in kids matters, so skip the electronics and passive toys this year. Make sure the gifts you give encourage them to explore, try and innovate.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Caregiver Stress

Caregiver Stress
Whether you are caring for children, an elderly parent or a sick friend the demands of caregiving can be overwhelming. If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout. When you’re burned out, it’s tough to do anything, let alone look after someone else.  Read on for tips on how to regain balance in your life.
Common Signs of Caregiver Stress:
Anxiety, depression, irritability, trouble concentrating, feeling tired and run down, difficulty sleeping, poor eating habits, health problems, feeling resentful, cutting back on things you enjoy, overreacting to minor nuisances.
When caregiver stress and burnout puts your own health at risk, it affects your ability to provide care. It hurts both you and the person you’re caring for. The key point is that caregivers need care too.
Tip 1:  Ask for Help
Taking on all of the responsibilities of caregiving without regular breaks or assistance is a recipe for burnout. Don’t try to do it all alone. Look into respite care, or enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or “baby-sit” the care receiver so you can take a well-deserved break.
Tip 2:  Give yourself a break
As a busy caregiver, leisure time may seem like an impossible luxury. But you owe it to yourself—as well as to the person you’re caring for—to carve it into your schedule. Give yourself permission to rest and to do things that you enjoy on a daily basis. You will be a better caregiver for it.
Tip 3:  Practice Acceptance
When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving, there’s often a need to make sense of the situation and ask “Why?” But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change and for which there are no clear answers. Focus on the things you can control. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on the way you choose to react to problems.
Tip 4:  Take care of your health
Think of your body like a car. With the right fuel and proper maintenance, it will run reliably and well. Neglect its upkeep and it will start to give you trouble. Don’t add to the stress of your caregiving situation with avoidable health woes.  Exercise.  Meditate.  Eat well.  Don’t skimp on sleep. 
Tip 5: Join a support group
A caregiver support group is a great way to share your troubles and find people who are going through the same experiences that you are living each day. If you can't leave the house, many Internet groups are also available.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

5 Signs that you may need Counseling

Most people can benefit from counseling at some point in their lives. Sometimes the signs are obvious but at other times the signs can be more subtle.  Often we wait until we are completely distressed before seeking help.  Before it gets to this point, here are five signs you may need support:

#1 Feeling sad, angry or otherwise “not yourself.”

Ongoing sadness, anger or hopelessness may be signs of a mental health issue that can improve with support.

#2 Abusing drugs, alcohol, food or sex to cope.

When you turn outside yourself to a substance or behavior to help you feel better, your coping skills may need some fine-tuning.

#3 You’ve lost someone or something important to you.

Grief can be a long and difficult process to endure without support.  There is no need to go through it alone.

 #4 Something traumatic has happened.

If you have a history of abuse, neglect or other trauma that you haven’t fully dealt with, or if you find yourself
the victim of a crime or accident, chronic illness or some other traumatic event, the earlier you talk to someone, the faster you can learn healthy ways to cope.

#5 You can’t do the things you like to do.

Have you stopped doing the activities you ordinarily enjoy? If so, why? Many people find that painful emotions and experiences keep them from getting out, having fun and meeting new people. This is a red flag that something is amiss in your life.

Although severe mental illness may require more intensive intervention, most people benefit from short-term, goal-oriented therapy to address a specific issue or interpersonal conflict, get out of a rut or make a major life decision. The opportunity to talk uncensored to a non-biased person without fear of judgment or repercussions can be life-changing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Teenage Brain

With summer here and school out, you might be spending more time with the teenagers in your life – or maybe more time worrying about them given the nice weather and the abundance of free time they have.  Hopefully this article will give you some understanding and context for their behaviour.

Most of us believe that growth and changes in the brain is something that happens during the first six years of life, however, we are learning more about the brain and development all the time.  Studies now tell us that it has been proven that our brains continue to grow and change throughout our entire life.

For teenagers, research has shown, crucial brain development is occurring and understanding this can help us to also understand typical teenage behaviour.   Most notably, there is intense change in the part of the brain that controls self-awareness, understanding of consequences and behavioural choices, and planning.  If you have spent time with teens it will come as no surprise to you that the result of this is that they seem more impulsive and less self-aware then adults.  Another important development in these years is the ability to understand another person’s perspective which adults may perceive as selfishness.   (Google “Tedtalk Sarah-Jayne Blackmore, neuroscientist” for an excellent presentation about her findings as they relate to teens).

There is also evidence that the teenage brain is programmed to take risks that are associated with adolescence, risks like alcohol/drug use, even when the teen clearly understands the dangers of their behaviours/choices.  Teenagers brains respond positively to being rewarded – and often it is the reward of peer approval that is available to teens most readily. 

Therefore it is helpful to remember that teens’ behaviour (just like that of younger children) can be linked to changes and growth in their brain development.  Adults who are close to teens (parents, caregivers, etc.) can serve as a safe person with whom they can test out new and developing social skills as they (teens) deal with an often overwhelming amount of social, emotional instability with underdeveloped coping mechanisms.  Adolescent meltdowns can be understood as a way of expressing frustration and adults can help by staying calm and being available as a listener.

The teenage years can also be a time of incredible learning and creativity if adults can support, encourage and positively reinforce teens whenever possible as they grow and test the boundaries.  Taking a “strength-based” approach to raising a teen (looking for and reinforcing “what’s right” and creating opportunities for youth to succeed) will help to guide the youth through these turbulent years.


1. Look for opportunities to praise your teen: asking “what’s right”?

2. Create opportunities for success: provide your teen with constructive activities to do that they enjoy and then be there to acknowledge them.

3.  If you get angry or frustrated—count to 10, go for a walk, take a time out.  Be a role model for your teen!

Reducing prejudices needs to be a personal goal for each of us. The following list contains things we can do as individuals to help reduce prejudices within ourselves and in those around us:

1. Acknowledge that you have learned prejudicial information about other people. 
Without this acknowledgment nothing can change. Only through acknowledgment of the prejudicial learnings can the misinformation be openly discussed and dealt with in a way which is likely to bring about change. It is clear that if we can’t talk about it, we surely can’t change it.

2. Confront without guilt or blame the stereotypes that you have learned.

Guilt for having learned information is not really appropriate. It would have been difficult or nearly impossible to avoid learning this information. You probably learned it before you were able to think about the information critically.  To focus on either blame or guilt distracts one from the need for change. It also focuses one's attention from the present into the past and leaves one feeling helpless or powerless to make any changes.

3. Make a commitment to change and a commitment to a process of change.
The commitment made to others is a stronger commitment than the one made alone or to oneself. The commitment should be to working on a change process. Simply making a commitment to change is not as likely to result in the modification of behaviour.  A commitment to change that includes a commitment to a process is most effective.  Make an agreement to meet regularly with someone to discuss how you are both changing. Mutual commitments are both powerful and healthy. In this way, people approach the process as equals and are more likely to adhere to the process of growth.
4. Become aware of your own "self-talk" about other groups of people.
Becoming aware of one's own "self-talk" is critical in the process of changing the early stereotyped beliefs that one has learned. Talk about where those messages came from and the messages' limiting effect with a person who will be accepting and non-judgmental. Knowing what those messages are is critical to changing them and replacing them with positive messages.

5. Increase your exposure to or contact with those who belong to the group(s) toward which you have learned some prejudicial stereotypes.
Misconceptions remain effective only when you avoid contact with those about whom you have misconceptions. It is always helpful to increase your exposure to people that belong to the group about which you have stereotyped thoughts. When you are doing this, be sure that you are not making contact in a way which will only affirm your stereotyped beliefs. In finding people who are representative of this group, you might ask yourself, "Is this the method I would want someone to use who wanted to learn about people of my nationality, race, age, religious belief, or culture?" As you enter this process, keep in mind the tremendous diversity within any group.

6. Learn how other groups see your own identity group.
Learn from those in other groups how your own group is seen. This may take time because one needs to develop a trusting relationship. When their stereotypes about your own group are shared, don’t defend or deny them; instead, hear them as being as likely and as valid as your own stereotypes about other groups. Let yourself understand and accept how this view might be shared and believed by those who don’t have your experience.

7. Feeling good about ourselves is important in being able to accept people who are different from us.
We need to develop a strong sense of security. People need to feel secure enough to be self-critical and to accept and learn from critical feedback by others. Those who are unable to accept critical feedback often project blame onto those who are different from themselves.

8. Develop listening skills so that we can really hear other people.
We need to develop listening skills and an appreciation for listening to other people.

9. Develop an appreciation for the complexities of the universe. 
Knowing that one truth does not preclude another is an important concept. We need to develop and nurture our own appreciation for the complexities of the universe. Our ability to accept contradictory truths is related to our tolerance for others. It is important to accept that there are truths that, "I won’t understand." It is also important to recognize that what may appear to be conflicting and contradictory at first glance are not always so. One example of this is, "I am like all other humans," while at the same time, "I am like no other human."

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