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I have thoughts about therapy! Some of them may even help you.

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One of my absolute favourite things to be asked is whether I have any advice for finding a therapist. This is because:

  1. I’m a huge fan of mental health and people getting help and treatment.
  2. I’m extremely honoured that people trust me to treat their question with care, to keep their confidence, and to provide good advice.
  3. I really love telling people what to do.

I’ve been getting this question more frequently recently so I thought I’d write up a guide for easy reference. I’m located in Toronto, Canada, but most of this advice applies across the board. There’s also a list of self-guided resources at the bottom if you’re not quite ready to take that plunge.

Disclaimer: I have no professional training in health care of any variety. My credentials mainly consist of having had five therapists in four cities in two countries and interviewed many more, so I’ve done this a lot. Comments and suggestions super welcome.


If you know for sure you want a therapist but don’t know how to go about finding one

Congrats! I’m genuinely super psyched for you. I know this can be overwhelming, but it’s worth it, I promise. There are three main components to this process:

  1. Figuring out what you want to address
  2. Finding a therapist
  3. Deciding if that therapist is right for you

Figuring out what you want to address

Everyone has their own reasons for why they might decide to get into therapy. It can be a good idea to write some of these reasons down on a post-it, and have that in front of you as you navigate this.

Figuring out what you want to address doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what’s wrong. It just serves as a jumping off point to focus your search. The thing you want to address could be trauma, dealing with microaggressions, bereavement, grief, a recent fight with a romantic partner, paralyzing unspecified anxiety, inability to talk about feelings, or existential dread about the future of the world. (Not that I, uh, know anything about any of those things.)

If you know what you want to get out of therapy, that can be super helpful. This might include things like coping mechanisms for when you get stressed, strategies for setting boundaries or dealing with conflict, or just a better understanding of your own motivations. If you have no idea what this is, that’s fine, too. Therapy will help you figure that out!

Finding a therapist

I find that this is the part that people find the most intimidating. Depending on your personality, you can either ask for help, or start from scratch. I’ve done both, and both are great.

Ask for help finding a therapist

The quickest way to short-circuit your search is to see if your local university or health care network has a referral system. Typically, this involves someone interviewing you and assigning you someone they think will suit your needs, and you can skip the whole research piece altogether. Often these systems also work with student practitioners, who are typically much more affordable.

Here are the main ones I know of locally, though I’m sure there’s many more.

If you’re in post-secondary education, your school probably provides some degree of mental health support. Navigating these can be tricky and each system is different, so I recommend reaching out to your school’s student accommodation centre for more specific advice.

If you or your partner work somewhere that provides health benefits, chances are that job also provides an Employee Assistance Program with a toll-free confidential number you can call for support. EAPs often have short-term counselling available, and even if you need something more ongoing, it can still be a good resource for figuring out how to set that up.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of just asking your friends for a recommendation. You might be surprised by how many people have been to therapy.

Finding a therapist from scratch

I personally start all my searches on the Psychology Today search engine, which is extremely broad and covers most local practitioners. Licensing authorities like the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Services Workers , the College of Psychologists of Ontario, or the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario will also have their own search engines. I personally like Psychology Today because it tends to aggregate all of these and has the most robust search filters, but I know it can be super overwhelming. Do what works best for you!

Generally I suggest doing enough research to find 3–5 candidates you might be interested in talking to, talking to them on the phone, and setting up in-person sessions with 1–2. You don’t have to do everything at once, or on the same day. Try setting a few hours aside over the course of a week or so and putting that in your calendar; that way you don’t have the pressure of figuring it all out immediately and have some room to breathe.

Here are some of the things I like to think about as I research:

  • Approach to therapy: There’s a ton of different approaches to therapy, and some of them will work better for you than others. It can be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of them. The Psychology Today search engine, for example, will let you narrow your search by therapy style. You might need trauma-informed therapy to deal with your past, CBT to address specific behaviours you want to stop (or start), and mindfulness can be really effective at treating anxiety. If you want to talk about microaggressions, you probably want to look for a therapist trained in cultural sensitivity, queer inclusivity, or feminist approaches. However, if you feel totally overwhelmed by the idea of digging into all of that, it’s totally okay to skip this. Most therapists are familiar with multiple styles, and they’ll be able to guide you to something that works for you.
  • Non-therapy experience: Most of the therapists I’ve had in my life had a different job before going into health care. One of them used to be a lawyer, so they’re really good at calling me on my rhetorical bullshit. Another is a novelist, so I really felt heard when I talked about my creative blocks. It won’t make or break your therapy relationship, but it might grease the wheels to already have something in common.
  • Location
  • Price / insurance accepted
  • Years in the field

Even if you’ve been very selective in what kind of therapist you want and where you want to see them and how much you want to pay, sometimes you still find yourself with too many options. There are a lot of therapists out there, and all of them are on the internet. This is usually the point I start to despair.

Here’s the thing: it’s okay to be entirely arbitrary in your selection choices. You need to feel comfortable being vulnerable with this person, and as much as your rational brain might be like “I shouldn’t judge someone for having terrible taste in statement jewelry”, if your gut feeling about someone is mistrust for whatever reason, that can be a hard thing to get over. Here are things I have personally disqualified therapists for:

  • Autoplay music or video on their website
  • A website that looks like it was last under construction in 1996
  • An overly polished website, I know, I’m a pain in the ass
  • Over-reliance for spirituality-informed practices (which is fine for other people but probably not a die-hard atheist!)
  • Weird decor in the photos of their clinic space

You’re not in a court of law. You don’t have to be perfectly fair. It’s definitely important to keep in mind the latent biases we inherit from society, such as associating nurture with femininity, or being attracted to people who look like us. You know who might be a really good person to help with that? A therapist.

If this still sounds like too much, I give you permission to just pick the first three names near you and call them for a consultation. You’re not proposing marriage, here. You don’t have to be 100% sure for therapy to still be helpful.

Deciding if that therapist is right for you

Call them for phone consultations

Many clinics and therapists allow you to book your appointments online or over email, but I find that phone calls are still the best way to get a feel of whether you’ll feel comfortable talking to that person.

Have a script

If you’re not used to talking on the phone, the thought of calling some stranger and trying to figure out whether you’re willing to expose the rawest part of you probably doesn’t sound super fun. I like to write down what I want to say first and have it open in front of me. This doesn’t have to be some big decision tree; it can be as simple as “Hi, my name is [name] and I’m located in [city/neighbourhood], and I’m looking for a therapist who can help me with [generic issue]. Can I ask you a few questions about your practice?

You might catch them in the middle of a session with a client, in which case you’ll have to leave them a message. Don’t hang up! This is normal! Therapists’ voicemail boxes are confidential — just re-use the above and add “please give me a call back at [number]“.

If you find you didn’t click with someone on the phone, hanging up can also feel daunting. My go-to is “thank you so much for the information, I’m talking to a few other therapists as well and I will be in touch if I decide I would like to move forward“. They do this for a living; they’re not going to be offended.

Prepare some questions

It’s possible you are less anxious about being on the phone than I am, but if not, it’s a good idea to have some questions written down before you call. Here are the three questions I always ask:

  • Tell me a little more about your general approach to therapy
  • Do you have any experience with social justice-informed therapy or feminist practices?
  • How would you rate your familiarity with technology and the internet?

These questions work for my specific needs because the reaction to the question tells me almost as much as the response. If someone starts being very flustered when I say “feminism” and tries to throw buzzwords at me, they’re probably not the right person. However, if they say that they haven’t specifically practiced in that area but can relate it to, say, social worker burnout, that’s a good sign. And I don’t necessarily need (and probably shouldn’t have) a therapist who’s Extremely Online, but if I’m talking about FOMO or information overload I would rather not have to preface it by explaining what Twitter is. You’ll have different questions, and different red flags. It’s worth taking a few minutes to think about what these are before you pick up the phone.

Also pay attention to how the conversation flows. Most therapists will ask you to expand a little bit on what specific issues you want to address – are they good at prompting you? Do they talk over you? Do you feel like the silence is awkward? These cues can tell you a lot.

Evaluate them in person

I honestly don’t have a ton of advice here, because you’ll know best whether you’re clicking with someone in person once you’ve made an appointment with them. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Feeling discomfort is not the same thing as not clicking with that therapist. Most of us are not used to talking about our feelings and being vulnerable with another person (or with ourselves) and sometimes we take that discomfort out on the person in front of us. It’s also super common to transfer our emotions for other people in our lives to the therapist. Unless there’s an egregious red flag, I would recommend sticking with a therapist for at least two sessions before making a decision.
  • Your therapist is not your friend, and should not be your friend.
  • Remember that your first therapist doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, and oftentimes they won’t be. But every therapy experience will teach you a little bit more about what you want out of an optimal therapy experience.

All that said, pay attention to the physical feeling in your body and trust your gut. Your gut’s pretty smart.


If you’re not quite ready to get a therapist

That’s super understandable; in-person therapy is expensive and time-consuming and daunting and hard. There are still lots of resources out there for you even if you don’t want to talk to a person face-to-face.

Books

These are the ones I’ve read and can vouch for:

Here are some books I’ve heard tons of good things about but cannot personally vouch for:

Phone apps

Guided meditation and mindfulness

Anxiety and depression and CBT training

Mood trackers

Talk therapy apps

As your local resident paranoid tech professional, I personally don’t recommend these, because they’re unregulated and have very few accountability structures in place, therapists have spoken out about the lack of support for escalating dire situations, and they’re just generally rife with inevitable privacy and data retention issues. Plus, they’re often not much cheaper than a student session in Ontario. That said, whatever helps you is worth trying.

Misc


The most important thing to remember is that this is a journey, not a destination. I’m really happy for you that you’re taking this first step. Whether you succeed in finding a therapist or not, the act of looking for a therapist is a signal to yourself that you are worth taking care of. You are. You’ve got this.

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sillygwailo
1 day ago
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Toronto, ON
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Time in a box – Union Station prepares to retire a vast interlocking system that’s guided every train in and out of Toronto for almost 90 years

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Behind a city that has grown with the times, sits a remarkable system of handle-pulls, audible clicks and banks of early 20th century electrical technology – all housed in three castle-like downtown towers. Combined, it has constantly shepherded trains in and out of Canada’s largest city. Designed in the late 1920s, the complicated contraption is … Continue reading Time in a box – Union Station prepares to retire a vast interlocking system that’s guided every train in and out of Toronto for almost 90 years

















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sillygwailo
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Being Deliberate with Task Wording

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How we word our tasks can make a significant difference in how we approach them. For example, several rules of thumb may be:

  • Start with a verb
  • Maintain both simplicity and clarity when possible
  • Act as though you are delegating the task to someone else. (In fact, you are delegating to your future self.)

In the last post, Grouping Tasks by Session, I showed my Dashboard Perspective:

Dashboard Perspective - 2016-03-15

 

On Twitter, Brandon Pittman asked me what’s the difference between “Read book” and “Read: book”. I said, “not much,” but in hindsight, I realized that there is some rhyme/reason to the nomenclature. The syntax can also be useful to highlight my intentions in several ways.

A Structure of Task Words

The structure is a single verb followed by a colon, for example “Process: X”. I originally picked up this task-writing style from Tim Stringer at Learn OmniFocus. He tends to use it for working with perspectives.

There are several words I now tend to use to start tasks, each with their own cautions. I do not use this convention all the time. They do tend to show up more in the Dashboard perspective, or areas I visit with regularity. The following is a list of how I sometimes write my tasks and my intentions behind them:

  • “Develop:” or “Continue:” are useful words to continue a project where I do not know how long it will last. Most any creative work can fit in this mold. The task often is repeating with a link to materials of the work, a context, or a perspective dedicated for that project.

Example: “Develop: Music piece”

The task repeats. Every session that I feel I have done enough ends by marking the task complete.  The task then appears again at the repeat frequency. When the work itself is complete, I delete the task.

  • “Consider:” is useful for considering if I want to do something. I have a dedicated context for considered tasks, but I can also have considered tasks sprinkled elsewhere.

Example: “Consider: Continue arranging photos” (unflagged, repeating, in @File & Flow : Home context.)

Once the work is considered, whether actually done or not, it can be marked as complete. See also the post on the considered task for an in-depth look at its use and cautions.

  • “Process:” Indicates a series of tasks that are generally memorized and should be completed in one session if possible.

Example: “Process: (some track of music)” means to do all the editing, mixing, and transfer to a Dropbox folder marked for review.

Example: “Process: Communications” means to review the Waiting for list, clear my phone, emails, and text messages, and make all needed calls, emails, and text messages.

Caution: This term is most useful for fully practiced work, where you know the methods and materials involved. If it needs to be left incomplete before ending its session, consider writing an additional task to mark where you left off.

  • “Review:” is useful to look over a list. I can do none, some, or all of it.

Example:“Review: Office Filing” – flagged and repeats on weekdays. I have in mind the intention of clearing the list every few days or so, but I do not have to do all of it when I see it. I make that decision during each work day. If I feel I have done enough filing tasks for the day, I mark the “Review:” task complete. I anticipate seeing it again on the next workday.

Caution: One needs to acknowledge the intention of the list. If a list never completes, is too large to review in a single setting, or is completed too slowly, is this acceptable? If not, adjust the list so that trust for its use is maintained.

  • “Clear:” is similar to “Review”, “Clear” tends to refer to a list. However, instead of doing none, some, or all of it, my intention is to do all of it.

Example: “Clear: Home Filing” which is flagged and repeats on Fridays. I aim to complete the task by the end of the weekend.

Caution: Lists that we intend to complete in a span of time tend to take the greatest skill and finesse. For example, a daily list (like the Dashboard) is intended to be completed within the day. All of the skills of drafting tasks, setting repeats, acknowledging what can and cannot be done, etc. come into play.

  • “Practice:” is specific to the practice perspective. These are pieces of music that I am either composing or learning. I set them at some Defer Another interval, practice it on the day it shows up, and mark it complete. Periodically, I’ll change the repeat interval depending on how well I feel I know the piece.

Example: “Practice: Toccata in D Minor” unflagged, defer another set to q3 days, @Piano.

  • “Arrange:” means that I plan to re-arrange where the task sits in a project.  This is useful if I send a task to a project from the Inbox, but I know that I want to change its position because of sequential groups of tasks.

Caution: These tasks are best addressed as soon as possible.  Otherwise, the system decays quickly.

It should be stressed that, with the exception of “Arrange:”,  these terms are mostly useful for habitual tasks, usually representative of larger projects, areas of focus, or commonly visited lists.  They are also in an evolving state of use.

To Finish or Not to Finish (a List)

There is certainly overlap between some terms. For example, “Read: …” is just another version of “Continue: …” or “Develop: …”.

Other terms, though, such as  “Clear” and “Review”, highlight an important distinction of how we can approach our lists. Some lists are meant to be completed in a period of time. Some lists are not. But it is the acknowledgement of the intention that is most important. The lists themselves do not care.

For example, I have @Laptop as a context. There are presently 84 tasks in it. It would be ridiculous for me to actually work from the context directly. I know that.  But, I still find it to be a very useful context when paired with focus and/or workflow perspectives. If I focus on a particular project, I can see a small number of @Laptop tasks. Suddenly, clearing the tasks makes sense.

As another example, I maintain the @File & Flow tasks as a list that I wish to complete within the span of days. Any task that sits there longer is either poorly placed, not broken down enough, or I need to consider whether it is a larger task than I originally considered or admitted to myself.

 

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sillygwailo
20 days ago
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→ Quitter, my first Mac app

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Inspired by the effectiveness of my Automatic Social Discipline script, I’ve made my first Mac app:

Quitter automatically hides or quits distracting apps after periods of inactivity. I’ve found it tremendously helpful to my work efficiency to hide Slack and quit Tweetbot after 10 minutes.

(Tip: Keep them out of your Dock, too, so when they’re not running, their icons aren’t even visible.)

Quitter is available right here, for free and will likely never be in the Mac App Store due to, among other reasons, its inability to be sandboxed. (Believe me, I tried.) So in addition to the utility it provides, it’s also a learning experience for me to dip my toe into both Mac development and distributing software directly.

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samuel
1314 days ago
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This will be supremely useful.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
sillygwailo
20 days ago
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Toronto, ON
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On The Popularity OF "I Am" / "We Are"

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sillygwailo
20 days ago
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Great Minds Talk About Ideas

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There’s a famous quote:

Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People

This quote is often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but it’s been suggested it was a less pretentious edit of Charles Stewart’s 1901 autobiography:

Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.

Let’s break each one of these down, starting by talking about people, or in other words, gossip. I recently had a friend inadvertently share a story about another person, which was quickly gossiped, and has created drama amongst several social networks. This was a powerful reminder to both of us, that most of our social network doesn’t gossip, or talk about people, and the drama that can unfold when one does.

If you do insist on talking about people, or gossiping, my friend Scott N pointed me to the Buddhist Rights Speech philosophy (part of the Noble Eightfold Path), which I enjoy as a reference when I want to bring up another person in conversation:

  • It is timely
  • It is true
  • It is spoken affectionately, and of good will
  • It has a benefit to being shared

If the answer isn’t a clear and obvious yes to all four of these, hold on to the thought and work through each of these four, or just drop it and move on to more beneficial conversation.

There is a short term benefit to gossip, you get an immediate boost of dopamine as both the sharer and the receiver. The sharer will also experience a release of oxytocin, and potentially even a release of serotonin. As these are the three chemicals that make up happiness, it’s no doubt that it’s physically and emotionally rewarding to gossip. It also improves bonding amongst those who seek out these chemicals, which are typically people who in my experience, lack self discipline.

Why they are referred to as small minds, is because scientifically there’s not enough stimulation in this process to create new neural pathways.

It is my experience that the smallest minds not only gossip, but they talk negatively about others. It takes a little self awareness and observation to notice that talking negative about others, or against the Buddhist Rights Speech mentioned above, hurts the originator more than anyone else, and that anyone doing so is not calm nor contented, and usually less successful than the person they are gossiping about. A gossiper would be better served improving themselves.

When you want to start to move into more objective conversation, you will start to talk about things, such as events. This is referenced in the quote as the level of conversation of an average mind. You will get some of the above chemicals as mentioned above, but less usually, but you’re also introducing a level of thought. The challenge is the thought is likely not much new information, but mostly information that is already known or experienced, so not many neurons are used.

What is likely obvious at this stage in the story is that when you start to express curiosity, or questioning, your brain activity is creating new neural pathways over time as you walk through this new learning. This means you’re actually becoming smarter — and in my experience people automatically think you’re really smart — which it doesn’t mean you are, but it is my recommendation there is no better position to be insatiably curious and perpetually improving your critical thinking skills.

If you’re wondering how you might do this, try to take a contrarian position on something you’re emotionally attached to. If you’re strongly a liberal, try to understand and take the honest position of a conservative. If you’re an atheist, argue how Islam is the correct religion.

It is my observation, or hypothesis, that those who identify as critical thinkers are less settled and less happy, so with everything, there’s a trade off.

The intent of this article isn’t to place a right or wrong on any of the three areas of conversations you usually find yourself in, but to think about which of the three you usually talk about — people, things/events, or ideas, and then to question how that is serving you.

While drafting this article, I came across a poem but I can’t find the original author so I’ll reference a medium post with it and share it here:

I once asked a very successful woman to share her secret with me. She smiled and said to me…
“I started succeeding when I started leaving small fights for small fighters.
I stopped fighting those who gossiped about me…
I stopped fighting with my in laws…
I stopped fighting for attention…
I stopped fighting to meet peoples expectation of me…
I stopped fighting for my rights with inconsiderate people..
I stopped fighting to please everyone…
I stopped fighting to prove they were wrong about me…
I left such fights for those who have nothing else to fight…
And I started fighting for my vision, my dreams, my ideas and my destiny.
The day I gave up on small fights is the day I started becoming successful & so much more content.”
Some fights are not worth your time … Choose what you fight for wisely.

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sillygwailo
25 days ago
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