Aset Group Consulting & Counselling Services

Navigating Grief

Grief has a way of showing up in our lives at the most unexpected times. Sometimes, we can plan for the grieving process. Such as a planned change of employment, a move to a new community, or a family member dying of cancer. Other times, grief is sudden, unexpected, unwarranted, unplanned, devastating, and traumatic. In this way, grief is unexpected. It can send us into a place we never knew where we could be. It can change the course of our journey and our life forever.

As a psychotherapist, I “dance” with grief in my shallow office doors in a room with a couch, a blanket, a table and a box of Kleenex. I can listen to someone or a family express their grief, and I feel their pain, their hurt, and their sorrow. I can escort them back home, and say a prayer in my heart for their healing. I can write my notes, and close the door to their experience and their impact upon me. But when I am not working. When I leave the door, I am reminded of my own same fear of grief, of pain, of loss, sorrow and more. Even as a psychotherapist, or a major NBA star, or a father of two beautiful children, or whichever role we play or whichever journey exists in our life, we will experience grief.

We are not “immune” to grief as it is part of the human journey. But with grief, comes healing in different forms, in different people, in opportunities, and in continuing to live”

Healing from Grief

Honestly speaking, our journeys will bring us healing in different ways. Healing may come from our upbringing and how we were raised. It may come from our cultural background, and the traditions that are cultivated to help people heal. It may come from engagement with people in multiple ways. It may come from further experiences, whether difficult or positive. It depends. However, we can steer the direction of our healing with information and tools designed to help us navigate the process in the best way and to avoid re-traumatization. Re-traumatization occurs when we engage in other behaviors and activities that lead us to experience more difficult events and trauma as a result of our grief. Each grief process requires a different approach and journey, and as we tap into our own “self-identity”, we can learn to adapt to the best process that works for us.

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When a difficult experience occurs in your life, ACKNOWLEDGE that the event occurred, write down or identify your initial feelings about the event, and decide what you need in the moment to “take care” of those feelings. For example, in 2008 I experienced a significant loss when I took an educational leave from my beloved employment. I loved my work and what I was doing and was not ready for the change. However, I knew that there were significant events which had threatened my job security and I needed to make improvements in my practice to remain active within the field. It was difficult. I felt angry, sad, disappointed, hurt, nervous, excited and a range of many difficult emotions. I remember experiencing changes in my thoughts, changes in how I felt about myself and my situation, and changes in my behavior. This was grief. By recognizing that you are experiencing grief, take the time to assess: how am I reacting? what emotions and feelings am I experiencing now? has there been changes in my behavior? why am I feeling this way, and finally: what do I need? In the situation I described, I did not need my hurt or pain to “go away”. I would have loved it if I did not have these feelings. However, these emotions are inevitable with job changes, moves, death of a loved one, relationship breakups, miscarriages, and more. I needed to focus on how can I RELIEVE the pain I feel now, and how can I create OPPORTUNITIES from my experiences of grief.

Relieving grief…

In healing grief, I truly believe in the adherence to an holistic approach to healing using the four quadrants: spirituality (our beliefs, our higher purpose, and our meaning to life), physical (our bodies, our behavior, and our activities), emotional (our feelings, emotions, and heart), and mental (our knowledge, our experiences, our wisdom).

Develop a practice of spirituality…

When we talk about spirituality, many people often assume we refer to God or Christian faith. While myself and many people may ascribe to a faith-based practice, it is only a part of spirituality. Even those who ascribe to no faith-based practice, i.e. atheists have an existence of spirituality. As you move through your healing, ask yourself: what are your beliefs about grief, loss and change? What does your inner being or your inner soul need to feel at peace? What meaning do you ascribe to when it comes to death, loss, change, and more? Are your beliefs challenged now that you have experienced this loss? Engaging in physical activities, becoming mindful of the impact of grief on your bodies, and reflecting upon your behavior… will help you to address your physical needs in the healing process. Sometimes this may include: walking, mindfulness practices, exercises, yoga, swimming, meditation, breathing, dancing, pow wows, cannabis and medication, naturopathy, massage therapy, physiotherapy and cranosacrial therapy, and so much more.

Become mindful of the impact of grief on our bodies, and engage in activities that allow us to use our bodies as our way of healing.

To commemorate my healing and transformation, I used the Adrinka symbol, “Sesa Wo Suban” as a tattoo and later as the symbol for Aset Group Consulting and Counselling Services. I learned that change occurs as part of our life journey, and grieving can occur as a result of this change. I accept that I grieve, and we all grieve as humans. We also can not control or stop hurtful experiences, sometimes. And, I learned to radically accept some of the most difficult experiences that occurred to me, my close people, my clients, and the world. This knowledge is how our MINDS (Mental Being) heals from the trauma associated with grief. Knowledge is critical. Find a way to learn about yourself and your experience through books, podcasts, writing, videos, speaking to others, counselling or psychotherapy, speaking to elders or religious leaders and more. Feed your healing process with knowledge, knowing that knowledge will help to support your SPIRIT, your BODY, and your FEELINGS.

I just need you to understand, “I am hurting”

Speaking your truth, talking about your pain, identifying your emotions, and sharing your experiences is a powerful way of finding your peace as you navigate through your grieving process. Many of us try to move on, bury our emotions in the sand, lock away our pain and refuse to address how we feel. Grief has a way of finding itself manifested throughout our lives in different ways. While painful and difficult, I encourage you to seek ways to express this pain in healthy ways as you move through these experiences. Knowing that grief is shared by each human being on this planet, let us navigate this process together and in support and solidarity of each other.

Written by: Nicole Perryman – I am honored to share my thoughts with you on grief on Monday, January 27 2020. If you require support, please do not hesitate to reach out for assistance from your closest people, your mentor or elder, your counsellor, or even to us. I wish you well on your journey and I am sending you wishes for continued opportunities for healing.

Empowering Superhero Children

In 2020, the entire world experienced a period of social distancing and quarantine due to COVID-19, a novel coronovirus that impacted every country on this planet!

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In 10 years, the history books will talk about this novel experience that this generation lived through, and our children participated in. Schools are closed. Recreational activities have shut down. Events and venues are suspended. Birthday celebrations and vacations are placed on hold. Parks and child play centers now considered unsafe, and marked with yellow tape. While we are in the moment, the novel experience is actually as worrisome, scary, and nerve-wracking as it can be a time to reflect, relax, and build patience. I recall attending a meeting, where a mom expressed concern that her child would not make it through the mandatory lock down. And another mom, who feared her children’s “cabin fever”, would lead to fights, arguments, and ultimately chaos. For those moms, I hear you. I can only imagine the uncertainty, fear and unsettled feelings that your children may experience through this difficult time. It is real. It is expected. It is true.

Within a few days, the world responded with suggested mental health support and interventions, virtual house parties, Whats App and Face-time video chats, Facebook LIVE events, Tik Tok dance-offs and so much more! The internet has brought us together in so many ways, we could not even imagine twenty years ago in 2000. The internet has helped make our “social distance experiment” a little more enjoyable. But, this does not mean that social distancing has brought us sunshine and roses! Absolutely not. Our economy has plummeted. Jobs have ended. Shortages have arisen in basic necessities such as food, toilet paper, and disinfectant. Vacationers are stuck overseas, and many on cruise ships. Hospitals have cared for thousands of people, and over 100,000 world wide. People have died.

As parents, there are many ways you can assist your children with managing COVID-19 in healthy ways. This may help them with dealing with the situation in healthy ways, and reducing their fear and worries about their future and what could happen. These strategies may work immediately and over time to help them process their experiences in a healthy way, and teach them valuable skills.

Family-Based Strategies

  • Develop a schedule... We know that our social distancing will last for a few weeks. Arrange a family meeting. Create a day to day schedule from Sunday to Saturday for the entire family. Create special days for family events. For example, Mondays are GAME NIGHT, Tuesdays are COOKING DAY, Wednesdays are DANCE PARTY, Thursdays are YOGA MEDITATION, Fridays are ACTION-TIME MOVIE NIGHT, Saturdays are FAMILY-VIDEO CHAT NIGHTS, and Sundays are FAMILY CHALLENGE NIGHT.
  • Create routines… use routines to help create structure, predictability, and consistency for your child or teenager. Routines can help to reduce boredom and undesired behavior. By creating routines, you can help your child or teen to spend small periods of time engaging in a variety of activities which may be interesting to them or to help them with learning. For example, one parent created a 6- period day schedule in 45 minute intervals where her child did activities such as: language, music, art, science, math, reading, and more.
  • Eat Healthy, Exercise & Sleep Well… ensure that your family eats healthy meals and snacks, spends some time exercising throughout the week, and has a good night sleep with naps if needed. Our bodies respond to stress in healthier ways if we are well taken care. For example, create a daily menu schedule with all meals & snacks posted.
  • Spend one on one time…. whether you have one adult child, as I do OR five children under 10 years old, make sure that you spend one on one time with your children to build your relationship and connection, to attend to their emotional needs, to ensure they have an opportunity to express how they feel, and to teach them strategies to manage their emotions. Use this as valuable time to build your child’s resiliency and capacity to manage through this difficult time, the best way possible. For example, set aside one day of the week to spend with each child in any activity they choose. Don’t forget your partner will also need some special time.

Talking to your Children

In some countries, children and youth are exposed to natural disasters such as devastating earthquakes or hurricanes. In other countries, children may live in war-torn countries where they experience repeated lock downs and disruptions within their daily lives. The traumatic stress associated with these experience are insurmountable. Thus, our experience of pandemonium disease may be new for us, but not new for many children around the world. It is important to realize that traumatic stress is the same, and children and youth may experience heightened emotions, psychosomatic pain, behavior disruptions, and more. Supporting your child through this process is important and necessary.

Be Open, Share truthful information & respond to their questions

As much as possible, share honest and open information with your children and elicit their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Be kind and gentle to correct their belief systems that may be inaccurate or motivated by fear. Reduce CNN and CP24 playing in the home. Choose 1 time of the day to read or listen to updates. If your children hear updates about new cases, deaths, or governmental response, use this as a key opportunity to talk about social justice, in addition to their fears and worries. Take the opportunity to ask children questions about what they believe is working well to help us recover from this experience. This can help to build their ability to take unique perspectives, to demonstrate empathy, and to enhance critical thinking skills. It also helps them to depersonalize the COVID-19 experience because while it impacts them greatly, it also provides an opportunity for learning and growth. Discuss your beliefs about spirituality, and end of life which may arise through this experience and access resources for grief and loss, especially if your family has a loss in relation to COVID-19 and or other losses you may not be able to complete a ceremony for because of COVID-19 social distancing rules.

To access more information and resources, the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto provided the following article: Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact. Another colleague wrote a book to help children learn about and understand their experiences called, We are Hanging Out Inside by Theresa Fraser. Caring for Kids.BC also posted an Question & Answer page to help parents navigate COVID-19 with their children, The 2019 Novel Coronavirus. And, Children’s Mental Health Ontario posted the following article: Talking to Your Anxious Child about Coronavirus.

You Got This!

Wherever this virus takes us, and however long social distancing lasts for, we wish that you and your family remain safe, healthy, and grateful through this process.

Our physical office is closed, but we are open VIRTUALLY for video and phone counselling and psychotherapy sessions. During this time, we are offering same-day and next-day appointments with one of our skilled therapists and interns. Low-cost & subsidized counselling sessions for those who do not have access to insurance or can not afford the costs of therapy. We are happy to take your questions & provide advice!

Coping with social distancing

We have the answers for you.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has put together a COVID-19 resource page for individuals seeking mental health support to manage the crisis.  If you have a prior experience with trauma, often feel anxious on a regular basis, and struggle with managing stress, it is expected that this experience may place a strain on your coping skills.

Sigh of Relief.  We will get through this together.

And just like that, we were home…

Many of us may not have anticipated, or considered that this virus would affect our country, our communities and our homes.  I remember listening to the news daily that covered Covid-19 with hopes that the crisis would slowly become yesterday’s news. It never did. While we were living our best lives, attending meetings, walking our children to school, planning our parties and gatherings, people around the world were slowing affected by the disease. Within a matter of days, we were informed that the best protection was “social distancing”, and with days our abilities to attend restaurants, go to the barber, get our nails did, go shopping, go to work, and so much more would end.  It is normal for us to experience stress and anxiety symptoms.  It is normal to feel panic and worry about our futures and our families.  It is expected that our past experiences of trauma may influence our coping.

It is normal for us to experience stress and anxiety symptoms.

As we learn to cope with our temporary new-reality

“Through the storm”

You can expect that the crisis will place a strain on your emotional, mental and psychological health. During this crisis focus on: seek credible information, assess personal risk, maintain your familiar routines, find balance, make “intentional” moves, practice relaxation and meditation.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health posted a website to assist you with managing the crisis within your daily life. For more information and to access their website select below:

I will try to be honest and authentic. The first week was absolutely difficult for me. I went from meeting and speaking to over 100 people per week, from teaching amazing students, meeting with my wonderful play-therapy kids, to supporting adults, couples and families, and so much more… to closing my office (insert crying face emoji). The curve was unreal. Emotions such as panic, fear, worry, anxiety, stress, and frustration were floating through me and around those I spoke with. Acknowledging our feelings are real means that we can imagine ourselves floating through muddy waters and accepting we are here, in this place, right now. Radically accept that we can not change our current circumstances but we can make the best out of our situation. We can draw upon our inner resiliency, strength and faith to help us float through this experience until we reach the shore again.

  • Lower the channel on Covid-19 updates
  • Video chat friends and/or family every day
  • Netflix, Prime, Crave video is the place of all great series
  • Host & attend virtual events
  • Rekindle your love for board games. Monopoly anyone?
  • Bake new recipes every day
  • Create your own family cook show
  • Get plenty of rest & sleep
  • Journal
  • Maintain your similar routines, with more breaks
  • Exercise daily
  • Yoga exercises
  • Read a new book
  • Join an online book class
  • Connect with friends you neglected to speak with
  • Creative writing or art
  • Plan your 2021 vacation schedule
  • Moderate alcohol & drug use
  • Boost your immune system with healthy foods & drinks

Crisis Resources

During this challenging time, many aspects of our lives are being impacted. If you are experiencing mental health difficulties or distress, and find yourself in crisis and in need of support, the following are a list of relevant resources. In the case of an emergency, please call 911 or contact your nearest hospital emergency department.

CAMH provides information on coping with stress and anxiety, as well as strategies to maintain mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Durham Mental Health Services offers a range of crisis supports to assist individuals who are experiencing a personal or situational crisis. Crisis services are free and confidential. C.A.L.L. (Crisis-Access-Linkage-Line)
Call 905-666-0483 (Local) Call 1-800-742-1890 (Toll Free)

Kids Help Phone is a 24/7 national support service for young people and completely confidential. Text CONNECT to 686868 Call 1-800-668-6868

Distress Centre Durham offers 24/7 telephone services, with trained responder volunteers who can provide emotional support and encouragement, crisis management, suicide risk assessment, community resource/ referral information, and emergency intervention. Call 905-430-2522 is an emotional and crisis support chat, available to anyone in Canada under 30, from 9pm to 3am EST. Online Instant Message Chat Text 778-783-0177

Parenting Resources: Articles & Websites for Parents

The following list are collected websites and articles for parents providing key tips and resources on parenting, building resiliency with young people, and addressing challenges in youth. Click on a topic for more information below:

Mental Health Services

Support for Parents, Children, Youth & Adults…

BC Children’s Hospital provides a Mental Health Resource site for youth, adults and parents: Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre

Children with Special Needs: Neuroimaging and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, article published by researchers

Addressing bullying…

Cliques and Put-Downs in Elementary Schools addresses the impact of “cliques” for young people, and interventions parents and schools can utilize to build resiliency.

Anxiety & Teenagers

by: Helen Gibbs MSW (c), M.A. CYS

Writing exams, moving to a new school, or a job interview are some examples of events that may cause your teenager to be nervous, moody and/or withdrawn.  In those situations, those types of reactions would likely be expected and your teenager often “bounces” back once the stressful event is over.  However, nowadays more and more teenagers are experiencing frequent or daily feelings of anxiety that are impacting on their activities at school, at home, and in the community.  The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto noted that anxiety is the most common form of mental health concerns in adolescents, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over their lifespan (1). Anxiety may be very evident in your teenager, in that they tell you about all their worries and concerns.  But sometimes anxiety is more hidden and presents itself as school refusal, repeated complaints of feeling ill, sleeping too much or too little, defiance and/or intense moodiness.  Teenagers with anxiety often feel very fearful but can have difficulty identifying the source.   They commonly experience anxiety as feelings of unease and dread in anticipation of an ambiguous event (2).  It is highly recommended that you speak to your family doctor or other health care professional should you notice that your teenager is presenting with some or all these symptoms on a regular basis.

The good news is that anxiety can be successfully managed.

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As a parent, what can you do?

  • All teenagers benefit from having loving, supportive parents.  However, for teenagers with anxiety they require parents with a great deal of patience and understanding.  Parenting a teenager with anxiety can be challenging as ‘usual’ teenage behaviours, such as going to school, become areas of intense conflict. 
  • It is important to educate yourself about the symptoms of anxiety and ways to get support.  Joining online parent support groups through Facebook is one resource (e.g. Teenage Depression & Anxiety – Support for Parents group).  
  • If you prefer to connect with others face to face, there are parent support groups in Durham Region and Toronto.  HOPE – Helping Other Parents Everywhere is one example and more information can be found at

Additional Strategies:

  • Encourage your teenager to open up about worries and fears:  Start by describing a recent situation when you observed some signs of anxiety in your teenager. “

“Yesterday, when Sarah came over to do homework, you seemed very quiet and  you just stared at your phone. It seemed you may have been a bit nervous about having her over. What was that like for you?”

  • Tell your teenager about some things you feared when you were the same age (   especially if you shared the same types of fears) and ask if he or she has any similar worries or fears (e.g. failing an exam, being ostracized from social group).
  • Validate, validate, validate:  When your teenager expresses anxiety or worry, offer reassurance by saying you believe him or her, and that having those feelings is okay. You do not have to come up with the solutions to fix it.  Show acceptance of his/her worry thoughts and anxious feelings. If you stay calm, it will help your teenager to stay calm, too! 
  • Set the exampleBe mindful of the comments you make about your own stress (e.g. “if one more thing happens, I am going to lose my mind”.   Talk to your teenagers about the healthy ways that you manage stress and encourage them to join you (e.g. taking a walk, yoga, deep breathing). 
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Loving your Teen

Teenagers with anxiety benefit from learning strategies to identify, cope and/or conquer their anxiety.  Studies has shown that Cognitive Behaviour, Therapy, Mindfulness, Exercise and a healthy diet can contribute significantly to addressing anxiety (3).  There are also articles, books, websites and apps available on a wide variety of topics related to anxiety. 

A great website for teenagers and parents  Amongst its many resources, is a section specifically geared towards teenagers that uses a variety of methods (e.g. videos, quizzes and games) to get them engaged in learning. 

Cellphones & Apps

Over the past few years, with the increased use of cell phones, several apps have been designed to help people with anxiety. Three are listed here, in no particular order:

  • Mindshift CBT – free App for iOS and Android platforms.  Scientifically proven anxiety solutions based on cognitive behaviour therapy.
  • Headspace – bite-sized, guided meditations designed to fit busy lives. After 10 free guided meditation sessions, sign up for a yearly $7.99 membership
  • SAM – Self-help for Anxiety Management.  Consider SAM your all-in-one diary and practical workbook for managing anxiety. Use SAM to track worrying thoughts and combat them through both physical and mental exercises. An in-app forum also offers a safe space to talk with other SAM users about coping with anxiety.
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Some Helpful Books..

  • Worry Taming for Teens. By E. Jane Garland and Sandra L. Clark (2002). Ideal for children 12-17 years.
  • Helping Your Anxious Teen by Sheila Achar Josephs (Phd) is an excellent resource for parents searching for thoughtful and effective strategies to effectively parent their anxious teen. The book is filled with useful advice and proven-effective techniques parents can use to guide their anxious teen through a critical time in their development.

Asset Mapping of Indigenous Community Resources

Durham Region was originally the home of several First Nations including, but not limited to, Iroquois and Ojibway.  Today Durham is home to The Mississauga Nation and a large Métis community. In the 2016 census, it was identified that in Durham region, just over 20,000 people identified themselves as having North American Indigenous origins.  Due to the colonization and assimilation of Indigenous groups through Canadian policies and programs (e.g. Residential Schools), the Aboriginal people were displaced, and their land was stolen.  Since the late 1960’s, government policy has shifted slowly to a goal of self-determination and self-governance for Aboriginal peoples.  However, the Federal government continues to hold responsibility to meet the needs of Indigenous people in Canada.  Indigenous protests such as “Idle No More” have identified the numerous challenges that Indigenous peoples still face especially in areas of safe housing, good education and culturally appropriate medical and mental health services. Many Indigenous bands have created opportunities to generate their own sources of revenue and to use this money to support their community.  For example, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island opened their community economic development project in 1997, the Great Blue Heron Casino. With the casino came the Baagwating Community Association, which is run by members of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and is the charitable-arm of the Great Blue Heron.  Medical care, housing and family support are some of the services offered through the Health & Resource Centre. This report was created to identify programs in Durham region that serve the Indigenous community.  Due to the small number of programs available and the proximity of parts of Durham Region to Toronto and Peterborough, these areas are also included.


Community Resources

We have complied a list of community resources located in the Greater Toronto Region and Durham Region. For any edits, please email us at:

Beyond Cultural Competence

Cultural Competency and related terminology is used to describe service providers who are conscious of, aware of, and actively seeking to understand the cultural diversity with the individuals they service. However, in our practice at Aset Group, we go beyond awareness of cultures… we understand the trauma-related symptoms associated with racism embedded within services and especially within the mental health field. I recently asked our counsellors, both permanent and interns to describe their understanding of how counsellors need to be aware of culture within the counselling practice. Each counsellor responded with their own story and perspective the practice. I hope this experience will be meaningful as a service user of counselling and psychotherapy, and empower you to ensure that your counsellor uses the best approach in supporting you with your needs and healing journey. With peace, love & wellness… Nicole

As a counsellor, I identify as a heterosexual Italian-Canadian female. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had throughout my education and I am grateful that I have found a career that I am passionate about.   As a clinician, I try my best to approach all people from a place of genuine curiosity.  I try to treat everyone I interact with in the same way I would wish to be treated if sitting in their shoes.  I encourage clients to share their story and their experiences and make all efforts to ensure I respond in a non-judgmental, respectful, and compassionate way. 

I want clients to feel safe at all times, and even in moments where they are most vulnerable I want to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect that they can feel comfortable to tell me when these vulnerabilities arise. 

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Using a systems perspective, I try to look at all aspects of the clients’ life to try to empathize with the various circumstances they are experiencing in their life.  After watching the “Beyond Cultural Competency – Cultural Safety and Implication for Clinical Practice” webinar, the key term that stood out for me is “cultural safety”.  As social workers, we learn a lot about “cultural competency” throughout our education but I, along with many of my colleagues, have questioned whether we can be truly culturally competent and whether using language such as “competence” implies a full understanding of, or expertise in, culture?  Cultural safety on the other hand does not imply that we need to be fully competent in this area but rather that we continuously strive to ensure that we provide an environment that is socially, spiritually, physically and therapeutically safe for our clients. 

This involves understanding our own cultural identity and how this can impact the work we do with others and how we can place value and importance on the cultures of those we work with. 

This opens up conversations about culture with our clients and allows for a space that is respectful, open, welcoming, compassionate, and most importantly safe for all clients.  This term will change my practice with others by shifting my focus to my clients as the expert of their own culture and identify and using my clients’ experiences of culture to shape my understanding of what culture means and its impact.  Culture is not something we can fully understand and it is not something we can be trained on out of a manual; culture is something we need to learn to experience, reflect on, and learn about through the experiences and descriptions of others, and to encounter and embrace.  Culture has so many different meanings and I do not believe we can ever fully be culturally competent, rather we can strive to create a place of cultural safety, and a place of genuine interest and openness.  It is important that we reflect on the terms shared in this webinar, both for ourselves and for our clients.  Culture is ever-changing; it is important that we constantly reflect on our own experiences of culture if we truly want to create a safe space for our clients to do the same (Deanna)

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I am a cis-gendered heterosexual European-Canadian female living in Canada. I approach people as a clinician with a culturally sensitive and trauma- informed perspective. I believe in the theoretical application based on an intersectional understanding of an individuals’ race, gender, culture, sexuality, age and class. I am mindful of my client’s experience in therapy and help guide them to be the ideal person they want to be using CBT and CBT-based therapeutic approaches. I feel like using CBT as the base of my therapeutic practice is an opportunity to be objective and considerate of how the client communicates and perceives the social world around them. Some keywords that had me consider my own counselling practice including culturally safe, cultural fluidity and the future considerations based on Donna Alexander’s webinar presentation.

As a clinician keeping in mind the concept of cultural safety provides the reminder to ask clients questions about their culture such as their family background, parent’s upbringing, family traditions. This can help empower clients to guide the direction of therapy and share information about their experience. This approach helps therapists possibly be accessed to a more multicultural population and help provide more service throughout the community. Ms. Alexander emphasizes that culture is fluid which is helpful as a practitioner to consider and reminds you to keep learning, growing and exploring what other cultures have to offer for oneself and clients. Other cultures have a lot of offer in one’s life in general helps and can help provide a more informed and culturally sensitive therapeutic practice based on understanding and trust. In addition to the key words based from the presentation I want to note a statement from the webinar which includes, …

She was just writing things down”. This statement resonates with me as I feel like this could be seen as an innocent act of writing information details down in sake for therapy. However unintentionally, it can also create and unsafe environment and distrust initially in the relationship with the client.

As I clinician I hope I keep this mind in general when I am working with my client population and keep my pen down and fully engage with my client and actively listen. Donna Alexander’s webinar was an informative presentation providing the consideration to always move forward in your therapeutic approaches. Providing culturally safe therapy is based on practice and always being mindful that every individual has an interpretation of what the word ‘culture’ means to them. I enjoy providing space for at least one session to have the client reflect of their thoughts and feelings which can be a helpful way in getting to know your client. As stated As I continue to grow as a therapist I am reminded that you keep growing and growth is a continuous process that I continue to strive for in the future. Reading, learning, growing, attending is how I can become the culturally competent therapist I intend to be and always keeping this in mind no matter who the client is in front of me. Stephanie

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As a Black, male therapist whose parents are from the Caribbean. I approach people when doing therapy from a cultural understanding with a focus on family dynamics and attachment. The importance of cultural safety with clients resonated with me. Learning to understand the client’s culture and also knowing your own is important in building rapport with a client. It helps me as a therapist to better understand the client and to be aware of any cultural ideas or speech that could be inappropriate when speaking to my client.  A key term that I found of value was cultural privilege. It is important in my own practice as a therapist and also as a Christian to know that their may be some clients who do not relate to or have been harmed by those within Christian circles. Clients may come forward with issues that they feel would not be welcomed within a Christian community and they may not feel safe talking about certain experiences that they have had because of judgemental attitudes from they have experienced from Christians.

As a therapist it is beneficial to my own practice to have knowledge of other cultural ideas and beliefs and to ask questions of clients on their own experiences and culture that does not come off as judgemental.

If not, the client will not feel safe and would choose to not come back because of their fear of not being understood or loved. Even if the client chooses to stay, they may not speak on issues or experiences that need to be expressed and unpacked further and so there may not be progress during therapy. I believe it is important for the therapist to know their own cultural privilege when speaking to their clients, even if the therapist is a visible minority. The clinician should not believe that they are on equal footing because they come from a similar background or believe the client copes with issues in a similar way or to that of your own community. I believe by going into the communities that the clients that I normally work with frequent, it can help in understanding the clients I come across. The speaker had mentioned that many clinicians tend to like to stay in the office and not visit the outside world and see violence and those who live in poverty which I believe is needed when working with your clients. Reaching out to these communities and interacting and engaging with people who are in them will help with your own prejudice as you learn to see them as actual people and develop empathy towards them. It will also help to better understand the struggles that people are facing and gain a better understanding from others who work within those communities as to what helps people struggling with various issues. Andrew

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As a clinician, I approach people with a genuine interest to learn as much as I can about them.  I recognize that every person is unique and has been shaped by their experiences and interactions with the world.  I want to know what they have decided about themselves as a result of their positive and negative interactions with others.  I approach people fully aware that I will need to check my assumptions about who they are and why they think the way they do.  I am responsible to question and unpack my beliefs and values that contribute to any meanings or assessments I make of clients.  Two terms that really resonated with me are cultural conditioning and cultural safety. 

Cultural conditioning is the way we think, speak, act, our religious beliefs, and what we consider right or wrong.  Being mindful to cultural conditioning will impact my practice as I will pay attention to, not only what clients bring but, what I am bringing to sessions in terms of embedded values and opinions.  I can use the concept of cultural conditioning to assist clients to explore how they came to know things about themselves and others. 

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Helping clients to see that they had no choice in feeling or thinking the way they did as a result of cultural conditioning can potentially be freeing to clients who feel oppressed and/or conflicted.  Cultural safety speaks to an environment that is spiritually, socially, physically, and therapeutically safe for clients where there is no denial of their identities of who they are, and what they need.  Cultural safety is about shared respect, shared knowledge, and collaboration.  This will change my practice in the following ways:  if I have an office space, I will decorate it in a manner that is culturally diverse (e.g. art work from other countries) and therapeutically sensitive (e.g. low lights); I will include culturally identity as a part of the intake assessment so that, right from the beginning, understanding who the client is in all aspects is valued; and, I will seek clarification from clients about whether their culture is a source of support or stress and encourage the co-construction of the therapeutic alliance based on a mutual learning about culture. People need to know that cultural competency is an ongoing journey. Helen 

Given that everyone has their own unique experience of culture, the journey to learn never ends.  People need to know that culture is fluid, therefore, our endeavour to know must also continue to evolve.

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Community Mental Health Services

At times, we may need to reach out to community mental health services if our Employee Assistance Program and Insurance Benefits are no longer able to cover the expenses of psychotherapy and counselling. We may also need to seek a thorough treatment intervention that may surpass the expertise of the psychotherapist. Kindly see the following list of community mental health services within Durham Region, as well as Wait list and referral contact information.

For more assistance, contact us at:

An overview of Durham Agencies:

Kinark Child & Family Services:

Ontario Autism Program (OAP) Single-Point-of-Access (SPOA)- 1-888-454-6275

Durham Rape Crisis Centre:

Catholic Family Services of Durham:

Durham Mental Health Services:

Carea Health:

For our complete list of community resources, you can download here:

Brain Development & Stress

As our brain develops..

our brain development begins shortly after conception and continues into our 20s. Babies are born with most of the neurons they will have throughout their lives, what forms in the early years is the connections between the neurons.

Most connections are formed within the first 3 years of life.  For each connection there is a critical or sensitive period, this is a time when the connection is most malleable. These critical or sensitive periods are a time frame in which most learning in a particular area occurs.

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Most critical periods are in the first 5 years of life. Our brains are built from the bottom up, meaning, complex brain circuits (executive functions) are built on top of more simple brain circuits. For example, the critical or sensitive period for neuron connections related to vision, hearing and touch tend to develop in the first few years of life. In contrast, the critical or sensitive period for neuron connections related to more complex areas of development such as communication, reasoning, and decision-making will occur later in development. Therefore, it is critical that children receive attention, instruction, and nurturing for age-appropriate areas of development that are occurring at east specific critical or sensitive period. If certain connections are not strengthened and are lost, this can impact future development of more complex connections. 1

Once connections are formed in the brain, our childhood experiences either strengthen these connections building strong foundation for future development, or they weaken these connections through a process called “pruning”. The more a child uses a connection (carry out a specific task or behaviour) the stronger the connection becomes. If a child does not have opportunities to use and strengthen connections, they can be lost, this is called “pruning”. Strong connections build a sturdy foundation which promote a healthy developing brain. Exposure to trauma, negative relationships, and neglect can lead to weaker brain foundations and higher rates of pruning. These weak brain foundations can lead to health and mental health challenges later in life. 1 The video by the Alberta Health & Wellness Initiative demonstrates the importance of early childhood experiences on healthy brain development. 1

Serve & Return 

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Serve and return interactions between children and caregivers/adults help shape brain development. Research has shown that children learn best when an attentive adult is engaged with them throughout the learning process.  This video by the Alberta Health & Wellness Initiative (June 2014) illustrates how the “Serve & Return” process can positive impact healthy brain development. 1  

How Early Life Stress Shapes our Brain

There are three main types of stress: 2

During stressful situations our brain produces a hormone called “cortisol”. When the stressful situation has subsided and the perceived threat is gone, cortisol signals the brain to stop producing more cortisol. While cortisol has many positive functions within the body, high levels of cortisol can cause long-lasting damage to the brain.

“Allostasis” is a term used to describe the body’s ability to adapt to cortisol making it harder for the brain to shut down its response to stress over time. This can lead to “high allostatic load” which is the deterioration of the brain due to exposure to high levels of stress over time.1  Research has shown that positive caregiver attachment can act as a buffer to chronic stress response. For example, one study by Nachmias et al (1996) showed that children (age 18 months) exposed to a frightening stimulus who had a secure caregiver attachment showed lower levels of cortisol than same age children exposed to the same stimuli with insecure caregiver attachment. 3This video on “Toxic Stress” by the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (June 2014) further describes the impact toxic stress in childhood can have on brain development. 1 For more information, see the resources below.


  • Center on the Developing Child Harvard University. (2019) Toxic Stress. Retrieved from:
  • Nachmias, M., Gunnar, M., Mangelsdorf, S., Parritz, R.H., & Buss, K. (1996). Behavioural Inhibition and Stress Reactivity: The Moderating Role of Attachment Security. Child Development 67(2), p. 508522.

Autism in Girls

As a child play therapist…working with


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children is the BEST part of my job.  Children are always eager to change, to grow and learn… they are insightful, witty, creative, funny, imaginative and curious about themselves and their world.  Over the past twenty years I have worked with many amazing girls, who appear show symptoms in relation to Autism.

Autism is a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Volume 5.  According to the DSM, Autism CRITERIA is important in understanding specific behaviors and experiences for children.  While the criteria is not gender-specific, some of the behaviors and symptoms for autism is.  This is why many girls are not readily diagnosed with autism by their physician.  Girls present autism symptoms and behaviors differently than boys.  As a play therapist, one of my key initial assessment questions are around understanding whether the child may have behaviors or symptoms which appear “atypical” for children their age.

The following articles may be a helpful start:

What Are the Signs of Autism in Girls – Is Asperger’s in Girls Overlooked?

Signs of Autism in Girls

The first step is speaking to your family doctor for a referral to a developmental pediatrician specializing in Autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  In your first appointment, ensure to present a diary of some of the behaviors seen in your child, the difficulties they experience, and daily log of meals, symptoms and experiences.

Talk to your child’s school.  If needed, speak to the teacher about a Individual Educational Plan to support their progress in school.  If your child experiences sensory difficulties, ask the school for an occupational therapy assessment.  An Occupational Therapy Assessment assesses your child’s sensory needs and can provide meaningful recommendations on interventions to improve their environment and achieve success.


Behavior Therapy is the new wave in teaching your child healthy ways of managing their symptoms, developing social skills, and communicating.  What is ABA?

According to Research Autism Net,

Play therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play. Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them. Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development More.

Play therapy is an excellent treatment for Autism, as well as is part of an holistic approach in supporting a child with autism, their parents and their family.

I have worked with many girls who have symptoms related to autism and/or are diagnosed with autism.

First step…

a proper diagnosis and support through behavior therapists, assessments, and more are critical to addressing the symptoms and providing a healthy, safe, and accessible environment for your child.

Play therapy…

Teaches your child how to use language to express their emotions, to identify how their body is feeling so they can seek appropriate support, and to understand their thoughts and how it influences their feelings and behavior.  This Cognitive Behavior Therapy approach is helpful to support your child use their words instead of acting out through tantrums or behaviors.

Many children who have special needs may experience difficulties with their peers.  Play therapy can help build their self-esteem and identity so they can feel happy and content with themselves.

Girls who have autistic traits and symptoms may struggle with anxiety and perfectionism.  Play therapy can help with teaching children how to manage their anxiety in healthy ways.  As well, as helping children to manage transitions, to reduce their need for perfectionism, to identify their triggers, and to help your child experience greater success with their emotions.