Category Archives: Pyschotherapy

The Highly Sensitive Person in Therapy

Last week I posted a book review of The Highly Sensitive Person:  How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

In this post, I’ll explore what taking part in therapy may look like for a highly sensitive person (HSP).

A Fictional Story

Jenny (age 23) had recently graduated,  with a certificate in Business Administration, from a small community college in her hometown .  Due to financial restrictions, she had chosen to live at home throughout her coursework.  After graduation, job prospects where she lived were in short supply, so she happily accepted a receptionist position at a busy company in a large city three hours away.  Jenny was looking forward to moving to ‘the big city’, making new friends and starting her ‘grown up’ life.

Jenny arrived in the city a few days before she was due to start her job.  She moved in with a young woman that she had found on Kijiji who was looking for a roommate.  The apartment was small, but she told herself that wouldn’t matter as she had her own room. Plus, her roommates was going to become a new friend.

Jenny’s first day at work was a whirlwind.  The subway ride from her apartment to the office was hot and crowded.  The reception area where she sat was in a busy lobby that echoed with the sound of hundreds of people rushing through the space.  If the phone wasn’t ringing, there was someone waiting to meet another employee or a courier asking her to sign for packages.

By the time Jenny ‘fought’ the subway to get home, she was exhausted and overwhelmed. She was looking forward to spending a quiet evening at home getting to know her roommate. However, when she arrived she was greeted by deafening noise!  Her roommate had invited work colleagues to the apartment for their usual “Thank Goodness Monday is Over” party.  They invited Jenny to join them, but she was so tired that she declined, promising to join them another time.

Jenny’s first day turned out to be the pattern for most work days–busy days, followed by some sort of social gathering taking place in her apartment at night.  Weekends were somewhat quieter as the office was closed, but her ‘home’ became pre-party central both Friday and Saturday nights as her roommate and her friends warmed up for their evening adventures. Jenny often spent her time at the apartment, curled up in her bed with her head under her pillow.  Jenny started to feel lonely and miserable.

After six months of living this ‘grown up’ life, Jenny was struggling to cope. On the advice of a friend from home, she decided to find a therapist.

The Therapy Experience

By the time individuals like Jenny start to meet with a therapist, they are often overwhelmed and doubting their abilities.  Many HSP’s think that they are failing at life and that there is something wrong with them.

As a therapist, once a client and I have talked about what is bringing them into therapy, if I suspect that the individual may be highly sensitive, I will talk to them about the concept of HSP’s.  We will explore the characteristics of high sensitivity–looking at past and present behaviours, situations and experiences.

I often suggest homework to my clients, and at this point will ask that they read The Highly Sensitive Person, not only as a way to gain more information, but also to discover some tools and coping strategies.

If the idea of high sensitivity rings true for them, this concept can provide a new lens for the client to look at their way of being in the world.  For the therapist, being aware that they are working with a client who is highly sensitive can help them to adjust their way of working with that client and the types of interventions they may recommend.

HSP’s and Types of Therapies

When working with clients, it’s helpful if a therapist has different ‘tools in their toolbox’ to help them.  The art of therapy involves matching specific therapeutic tools, from different types of therapies, to particular clients.  What are some common therapies and how can they be adapted to be the most beneficial with working with someone who is highly sensitive?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): 
CBT helps to relieve specific symptoms by exploring how our thoughts and beliefs affect our behaviour.  It’s fact-based, and involves keeping track of thoughts and behaviours. This type of therapy tends not to focus on feelings or motivations for actions.

When working with HSP’s, I like to use CBT not only as a way to explore symptoms (monitoring the thoughts and behaviours in the same way that we would a science experiment), but also as a way to gauge if the coping strategies learned in the Highly Sensitive Person are proving to be useful.

One of the skills possessed by highly sensitive people is an ability to focus on details.  This is very helpful when observing/tracking symptoms in CBT.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT):
DBT takes Cognitive Behaviour Therapy  further by looking at the emotions that are not explored in CBT.

I find that there are two benefits of using DBT with highly sensitive people:  the first is that DBT teaches calming and distraction skills that can help HSP’s to cope with the sense of overwhelm they can feel in specific circumstances.  The second–DBT encourages acceptance of current situations, while at the same time realizing that there needs to be positive change.  This acceptance allows HSP’s to begin to feel comfortable with their way of being in the world, while learning new skills and making changes.

Narrative Therapies:
We usually equate therapy with talking, and talking is at the heart of the narrative group of therapies where feelings and motivations are explored.  HSP’s can feel very comfortable with this type of therapy as they tend to have a rich inner life and are sensitive not only to their relationships with others, but are intuitive regarding interpersonal dynamics. Their attention to detail and awareness help them to recognize patterns in behaviour and circumstances.

Medications:
As a psychotherapist, I don’t prescribe medications, though I sometimes suggest that a client consult with their doctor to explore if medications could be a useful addition to therapy.

For many highly sensitive people, their sensitivity includes their physical self.  They may have noticed that they are more sensitive to physical stimulation such as sounds, light, touch.  They may have discovered that they are more sensitive to alcohol, caffeine and over-the-counter medications.  They may react to prescription medications.

It’s important for people who feel that they are highly sensitive to let their health care providers know.  For many prescription medications, compounding pharmacists can create specific dosages for individuals that can be slowly increased over time–eventually arriving at the ideal dosage while minimizing side-effects.

The End of the Story

When Jenny learned about the possibility that she may be highly sensitive, she felt that a big piece of her personal puzzle fell into place.

With her therapist, Jenny explored her negative beliefs about her feelings of failure and that there was something wrong with her.  She looked at how her current living and working situations were affecting her health.  Jenny thought about whether she wanted to continue her current lifestyle  (using her new coping strategies and tools) or if she wanted to try something else.  Jenny gave herself permission to dream about what a new lifestyle could look like and used her therapist as an accountability partner as she planned for a change and set these plans in place.

By the end of therapy, Jenny had decided to fine-tune her lifestyle.  Using what she learned in therapy along with her past experiences, she decided look for a new job at a smaller company.  She updated her resume to help her obtain a specific position that didn’t involve working with the public in an open space.  She decided that she liked living in the big city, but wanted to do so on her terms. She found a bachelor apartment that allowed her to live alone at a rent she could afford.

Jenny  used the HSP coping strategies to travel to work on the subway and organize her social calendar.  Jenny found that when looking at her life though the HSP lens she was able to take care of herself and do so without embarrassment.

Let’s Take a Break

Now, for all of us who would like to take a break from the business and noise of life; here are two clips.  They both feature the famous cellist, Yo Yo Ma.  The first  is a clip of his 2015 concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England.  The second is of a seven-year old Yo Yo Ma (accompanied by his sister) at the his American debut performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Enjoy!

 

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Experiential Learning Theory and Mental Health…Is There a Connection?

As a therapist, one of my professional goals is that the people I work with will leave therapy with a greater understanding of the issues that brought them to see me, as well as tools to cope if the challenge should occur in the future.  As a way to work towards this understanding and skill development, I often ask clients to complete homework assignments.  The assignments may be to reflect on part of our discussion, practice a new skill or write a letter (not to be sent) to a difficult person.   Over time, I have found that clients’ willingness to complete homework outside of our sessions has a positive influence on their therapeutic success.  Because of a presentation I recently heard on Experiential Learning Theory, I now have a clue as to why.

What Is Experiential Learning Theory (ELT)?

Simply put, the theory is based on the idea that people learn through “discovery and experience”.

Imagine that you want to learn how to ride a bike.  If someone told you how to ride a bike or you read “Bike Riding for First-timers”, you could gain theoretical knowledge about physical balance or types of bikes. You may even get an idea of how to fix a bike, but would this information be useful in fulfilling your desire to race through the neighbourhood on your own steam?

Instead, now imagine that you are standing beside your ‘new-to-you’ bike.  You are brimming with determination to start riding.  My guess is that you would be using a process of ‘trial and error’ to figure out how master this new skill.  Learning would involve finding ways to sit on the seat, pedal, turn and stop–while not falling off.  It would take time, and while a book or lecture could be helpful, their content may make more sense after your had the experience of actually playing with your bike.  This is experiential learning!

David Kolb and the Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb Learning Cycle)

In 1984, David Kolb (social psychologist) coined the term “experiential learning” when he published Experiential Learning:  Experience as the Source of Learning and Development.

Kolb’s cycle has four parts:  experience (doing something), reflection (review what was experienced), conceptualization/generalization (making sense of what happened and the relationships between these elements, and experimentation (putting what was learned into practice).  When we see how what we learned is useful in our lives, we’re more likely to retain the knowledge.  The gift of this cycle is that it is a cycle–we can keep repeating the process as a way to fine-tune our knowledge when learning a new skill.

Let’s return to the bicycle example–you want to learn how to ride your bike.  To begin (experiential stage), you straddle the bike, sit on the seat and put a foot on a peddle.  So far, so good.  However, as soon as you start to lift your second foot off the ground, you feel a loss of balance and find yourself on the ground!  The reflective stage starts as you think about what just happened (one second sitting on your bike, the next lying on the ground).  As you make sense of this experience (conceptualization/generalization) you may be thinking about how unsteady you felt as you moved for the second peddle.  You may decide to go back to “Bike Riding for First-timers” and re-read the section on balance–this time with a new perspective.  Finally, after your bruises have healed, you will return to your bike and apply what you have learned (experimentation).  As you repeat this cycle, you will roaring around the streets in no time!

What Does ELT Have To Do With Mental Health?

As I was listening to the presentation, I was thinking not only about how this could explain the success of therapy homework, but also how it could affect the development of phobias and be used in their treatment.

Phobias are learned behaviours–based on previous experiences.  Common treatments for phobias are Exposure Therapy (treating the avoidance behaviour by helping individuals to slowly become acclimatized to the phobic trigger) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)(exploring thoughts around the feared object, as well as develop alternative beliefs about the phobia and its effects on their life).

If we bring in the Experiential Learning Cycle, can the Learning Cycle help to explain the creation of a phobia?  There was the original experience (for example being bitten by a small dog).  A time of reflection–“I was just bitten by a small dog!” followed by conceptualization/generalization–I put my hand out and a small dog bit me, so small dogs bite.  Finally, experimentation when we put what was learned into practice–“I’m staying away from small dogs!”… and a phobia may be born.

On the other side, does CBT and  Exposure Therapy use ELT concepts to help people explore and unlearn the basis of the phobia–especially when used together?

I’ll Keep Suggesting Homework

Experiential Learning Theory has confirmed for me the value of therapy homework, as the homework is assigned based on a specific client experience.

Let’s take the example an argument with a co-worker.  In therapy we would reflect on the argument, look at past incidents with the co-worker, and talk about emotions connected to this event.  We would explore possible ideas of what could be done differently in the future.  We may move into role-playing a specific communication skill or conversation.  The resulting homework would be to practice the skill, and perhaps, have the conversation with the co-worker.  The cycle continues at the following session when we debrief the homework, fine-tune and explore where to move from that point.

Experiential Learning Theory In Practice

Here’s a great example of experiential learning.  Thankfully, most people don’t have this experience on network television!  Warning…there are lots of bleeps due to language.  Enjoy!

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Art Therapy and Mental Health…Have you Doodled Today?

If you have been out in the world over the past year, you may have noticed the increase in the number of adult colouring books for sale.  They are everywhere!  You can pick one up when buying your groceries, refilling prescriptions or waiting for your flight at the airport.  They cover a range of topics, disciplines, genres, moods, spirituality and life events.

In the October 2016 issue of Psychology Today, Emily Silber reports that an estimated 12 million colouring books were sold in the U.S. in 2015, up from 1 million in 2014.

When reflecting on the growth of this popular item; Silber quotes clinical psychologist, Ben Michaelis, who suggests that “even if colouring does not help people process negative feelings directly, it may a least offer an effective form of relief”.

Art Therapy

While some people may balk at this popular culture activity, using adult colouring books could be considered a form or art therapy.  The Canadian Association of Art Therapy describes art therapy as “the combination of the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”

While art has been used since the beginning of human history as a way to share thoughts and ideas–the oldest cave painting was found in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain and dates back 40,000 years to the Aurignacian period–art therapy, as we know it, didn’t really start until the 1940’s.  The original art therapists were artists who recognized the value of creation on their own mental health, and chose to share the creation process with others.

If you are interested in a detailed history of art therapy, you can check out Art Therapy Journal for a wealth of information.

But What If I’m  not Creative and Can’t Draw?

While I am not an art therapist, in the past, I sometimes suggested a ‘drawing practice’ to clients–especially if they were working with anxiety and/or depression–as a way to calm their thoughts and shift their focus.  One of the most common responses that I heard was “I can’t draw” or “I’m not creative”.  The idea of being forced to create ‘art’ increased rather than decreased their level of anxiety.  So, instead I started suggesting a ‘mandala practice’.

What is a Mandala and How Do I Practice It?

Mandalas have been with us for a long time.  The word ‘mandala’ is Sanskrit for ‘circle’.  In Hindu and Buddhist traditions it is a graphic symbol for the universe.  Famous mandalas in the Christian tradition can be seen in the Celtic cross and rose windows.

In some traditions they have been used as part of meditation practices and some people believe that they have magical properties.  In fact, meditation paths are often built to form a mandala.

For people who don’t feel that they are creative (everyone is, whether they realize it or not!) or think that they can’t draw, a mandala practice is ideal as it is unstructured and free-form.  The practice doesn’t require a large outlay of cash for art supplies or take up a lot of space.  All that is required is a blank piece of paper, pen or pencil, pencil or regular wax crayons and a drinking glass or pot lid.  Intrigued?

The Mandala Practice

The way of this practice is to do it daily–similar to meditation practice or breathing exercises.  Besides being an enjoyable activity, there are many benefits to creating mandalas on a daily basis.  It is a way to step into mindfulness as you focus on the act of making your own mandala.  As you work, you may notice your thoughts slowing down.  As you engage the decision-making part of your brain, the emotional part of your brain may experience a sense of calm.  Clients have reported feeling a sense of accomplishment when they complete their mandala.  You are giving yourself the gift of a ‘time-out’.

There is no right or wrong way to do this practice–the value is in showing up.  It can take as much time, or as little, as you like.

Ready To Give It A Try?

Assemble the necessary tools (pen or pencil, blank paper, pencil or wax crayons, pot lid or glass) and find a comfortable place to work.

Step One
Empty out the box of crayons where you can see all the colours and easily reach them. This is easy if when sitting at a table.  Take a minute and appreciate the range of colours.  Think about the colours that you are drawn to and those you shy away from.  Take a deep breath.

Step Two
Using the pen or pencil, on the blank sheet of paper, trace around either the glass or pot lid.  The goal is to have  a circle of a size that you are happy with.

Step Three
Look at the selection of crayons, and without over-thinking it, choose one that appeals to you.  Using that crayon draw a shape inside the circle.  It can be anything you chose.  When you feel that the shape is complete, stop and return the crayon to the pile.  Take a deep breath.  Select another crayon and either add to the shape, or create another shape inside the circle.

Step Four
Continue  Step Three, until you feel that your mandala is complete.  Again, don’t overthink it.  You’ll know when it’s finished.  The circle may be filled, or it may only have one or a few items in it.

Step Five
Initial and date the mandala and file it way.

When you develop a regular practice, over time, you will have a collection of mandalas.  It is often interesting to look back over the series (several months’ worth) to see how the drawings, colour choices and subjects have changed.

Most of all…have fun!

Ultimate Mandalas–Made of Sand! 

As well as having my own mandala practice, I have been fascinated by the Tibetan practice of making sand mandalas. Their creation and destruction can be viewed as the ultimate expression of impermanence and love for the benefit of others.  Below are two clips showing this amazing act of creation.  The first gives a sped-up overview of the process. The second shows the process in more detail.

Enjoy!

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It’s Groundhog Day! Are you SAD?

We are a hardy people living in the northern hemisphere!  While we may enjoy snowy and cold activities–we also lust for spring–especially  after an especially cold, dark or wet winter.  Whether it’s a longing for spring or the desire for a distraction from the cold, enter Ground Hog Day!

First popular in 1956, February 2nd is set aside each year as a day to place our faith in the predictions of a ground hog to forecast the coming of spring.  While Wiarton Willie (an albino ground hog from Wiarton, Ontario) was the original weather-forecasting rodent, he has been joined by Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia), Gary the Ground Hog (Ontario), Balzac Billy (Alberta) and Brandon Bob (Manitoba).

For those who are unaware of the process–people get up before dawn to wait for their groundhog of choice to come out of his den.  If the animal sees his shadow, he flees back into his den and we’re destined for six more weeks of winter.  If not, spring is on the way.

According to Willie’s website, he has been able to predict Spring with a 90% accuracy rate.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

All fun aside, some people need spring, and the longer hours of daylight, for bigger reasons than to get a break from the cold and dark.  These are people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that is related to the change of season.  It is experienced by individuals who are not usually depressed at other times of the year.  It often begins, and ends, at the same time every year.  While most people who suffer from SAD do so in the winter, some may do so in the summer instead.

How Do I Know If I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

There are a variety of symptoms that people coping with SAD are dealing with.  These include:

  • Low energy
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
What Causes SAD?

While there are no known clear-cut causes, we do have some ideas of what may bring on SAD.

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm).The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels.A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels.The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
What Can I Do?

There are many ways that you can cope with SAD symptoms.   Depending on the severity of your symptoms, some or all may help.

Increase Your Exercise
While it’s easy to hunker down during the winter, especially when feeling depressed, increasing your level of exercise has been shown to improve negative effects of SAD. Exercise releases endorphins (the ‘feel good’)  hormone as well as improving seratonin levels.

Cut Back on Simple Carbs
During cold days, when we spend more time on the couch, we may also be spending more time with white pasta, candy, potato chips, cookies and other ‘comfort’ foods. Unfortunately, these foods cause sharp spikes in our glucose levels that play havoc with our moods.  If you’re suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s a good idea to pay special attention to eating well.

Take Advantage of Natural Light
When possible open your drapes or shutters to let in the sun (when it makes an appearance!).  Spend time outside by going for a walk, shoveling the driveway, or inviting friends over for a snowball fight or snowman-building competition.  As long as you dress warmly, it can be fun.

Use a Natural Spectrum Energy Light
If Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough natural light, box light therapy is an alternative. Natural spectrum energy lights mimic the sun’s rays.  While data on the results of these lights is mixed, many people say that they are helpful.

Make a Point of Socializing
When we’re feeling depressed, often the last thing we want to do is be with other people. However, this is often what is needed.  If possible, plan a regular get-together with friends–even a coffee date will do.

Meet with a Therapist and/or Medical Professional
As with any form of depression, sometimes it becomes difficult to cope with.  If you are feeling unsafe, hopeless, attempting to self-soothe with self-harming behaviours, alcohol or drugs, feel that SAD is taking over life or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for professional help ASAP.  You don’t have to cope with this alone.

Spring, and with it warmer and longer days, will come again!  For laughter…here’s a clip from the iconic movie Ground Hog Day…featuring the famous Punxsutawney Phil (Pennsylvania’s Ground Hog)….and Bill Murray.  (Spoiler alert…contrary to what the ending looks like…they survive!).  Enjoy!

 

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It’s Friday the 13th…Are You Feeling Anxious?

Happy Friday the 13th!  Are you feeling anxious?  While some people find this a reason to celebrate, others spend the day in a state of fear and anxiety; suffering from either Triskaidekaphobia (the fear or avoidance of the number 13) or Paraskevidekatriaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th).

If you are uncomfortable when Friday the 13th comes around, you’re not alone.  Popular culture supports your discomfort around the number 13.  Most buildings don’t have a 13th floor.  There is no 13th row on airplanes, and the entertainment industry has capitalized on our anxiety by creating horror movies such as Friday the 13th.  The effect is so wide-spread that businesses lose approximately $1 billion a year in sales as people chose not to do business on Friday the 13th.

At the end of the day, it’s a phobia.

Triskaidekaphobia and Paraskevidekatriaphobia are phobias.  A phobia can be defined as “an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something or situations that pose little real danger, but provoke anxiety and avoidance”.  Phobias are linked to anxiety disorders and the fight or flight response in the brain.

Common categories of specific phobias are:

  • Situations: flying, enclosed spaces, going to certain locations (school, work)
  • Nature: extreme weather, heights
  • Animals or Insects: dogs, spiders
  • Medical: body fluids, needles
  • Others: loud noises, dolls, clowns, escalators.
Our mind and body knows.

When we’re under the influence of a phobia, we can experience a range of symptoms:  intense fear, anxiety, panic, racing heart, sweating, breathing difficulties, dry mouth, upset stomach, dizziness or shaking; just to name a few.  Not fun.

Reactions can range from mild to severe.  In some cases, a phobia can get in the way of our daily routines and even redirect our path in life.  For example, we may choose not to accept our dream job because it requires travel; and we’re afraid to fly.

Am I at Risk for Developing a Phobia?

Phobias can be developed at any time, and there are factors that make some people more susceptible than others.

  • Age: Phobias usually first appear under the age of 10, though they can start anytime in our lives.
  • Family History: Some phobias are like family heirlooms—passed down from one generation to the next–“Women in my family have always been afraid of spiders.”  It’s not clear if this is genetic or learned behaviour.
  • Temperment: Some people have developed a more sensitive ‘fight or flight’ response that makes them more sensitive to negative events.
  • Negative Experiences: I have a family member who was bitten by a small, white dog as a young child and has been afraid of small dogs ever since.
  • Learning about Negative Experiences: We live in a world that is so inundated with news and social media that we are more aware than ever before of negative events—either among our Facebook friends or world events.  If we pay attention to all of it, the world can seem like a very scary place–“I’m terrified of spiders after reading the Facebook post about the man in Australia that had to have his arm amputated after a spider bite!”.
When to Seek Help.

As with most things in life, it’s a matter of degree.  If your phobia is something that can be managed in a healthy way, and doesn’t affect your normal life, then you may choose not to look for support.  However, if you are experiencing any of the following behaviours, please speak to a therapist or your doctor.

Social Isolation

When we suffer with anxiety disorders, life can become smaller.  Anxiety is an ‘avoidance’ disorder—we become so afraid of being anxious that we avoid the triggers.  Eventually, our lives become an exercise of keeping ourselves safe.  We stop seeing our friends or family members because we’ve become afraid to take the bus, go into crowds or even leave the house.

Increased Anxiety or Depression

If you feel that a phobia is beyond your control and is running your live, increased anxiety and depression can set in.  If you are feeling that the anxiety/depression or your life isn’t going to get better, seek help.

Self-soothing with Addictive Substances

If you are attempting to ease the negative feelings that you are experiencing by using alcohol or drugs, this is not in your best interest.  In fact, using drugs or alcohol to cope is complicating the issue by adding addiction to the mix. As it is very difficult to improve mental health challenges when an addiction is fully active, you would need to be able to manage the addiction before working on the phobia and resulting anxiety or depression.

Suicidal Actions or Thoughts

Sometimes phobias can send us to such a dark place that suicide is seen as a way out.  I cannot say strongly enough—if you are feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, go immediately to your nearest hospital emergency room.  It is important that you are safe.

Treatment

There are three recognized treatments for helping with phobias:  Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and medication.

Exposure Therapy
Exposure Therapy treats the avoidance behaviour by helping individuals to slowly become acclimatized to the phobic trigger.

For example; if my family member was undergoing Exposure Therapy for his fear of small dogs, a therapist would support him in his efforts to think about small dogs.  Once this becomes comfortable, he would move on to looking at pictures of small dogs, followed by watching a live small dog, getting closer to a small dog, talking to a small dog—all the way to petting a small dog.

My family member can move at his own pace, and stop when he reaches his goal.  He may decide that being symptom-free when seeing a small dog in the park is enough, and have no desire to ever touch a small dog.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT):
During CBT, the therapist helps the individual to explore their thoughts around the feared object, as well as develop alternative beliefs about the phobia and its effects on their life.

Medication:
Depending on the severity of the effects of the phobia on an individual’s life, they may choose to use medication to lessen the mental and physical symptoms—especially while they take part in the other therapies.  If a phobia is situational and/or infrequent—such as a fear of flying—short-term medication is often an option.

You don’t have to let a phobia take control of your life.  It’s treatable.  If possible, enjoy the day.  For some people, Friday the 13th is very lucky!

Now, here’s some Exposure Therapy if you have a phobia about black cats.

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