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10 Tips for Choosing a Therapist or Counsellor

By Janice Stuart

This checklist will help you when you’re ready to “audition” your candidates. Although most people find that making inquiries by email is easier, you’ll get a better feel for the person when you talk over the phone.

Remember, it’s critical for the success of your therapy that you feel completely safe and comfortable with the therapist you ultimately choose.

The process of choosing a therapist can be intimidating and confusing, because the range of therapists and counsellors with varying credentials is very wide. But it’s critically important to choose someone who is a good fit for you.

So here are the top 10 points you should consider when you’re on the phone searching for the right therapist:

  1. The therapist is willing to speak with you for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, the therapist will call back at another time.


  1. She is warm and accepting, and seems comfortable and at ease with herself.


  1. He accepts you and empathizes with your situation, but sounds like he will also challenge you if necessary.


  1. Extra points  if  she’s  committed  to  ongoing  personal  self-

improvement, through therapy or other modalities.


  1. He is familiar with a variety of therapies, so there are lots of tools in the toolbox to apply to your issues.


  1. She has clear office policies that she reviews with you in the initial sessions.


  1. His credentials and experience are impressive, and relevant to your particular issues.


  1. You feel that she hears and understands the problem from your


  1. He’s had plenty of experience with clients who have similar concerns to your own.


  1. If you feel uneasy after talking to her, of if something tells you it isn’t the right fit, then move on. Always trust your gut!


© Dr. Janice Stuart Ph.D. Registered Psychologist

604 724-4255

Ten Tips for Anxiety Relief

By Janice Stuart

Managing anxiety can be tough. We’re hard-wired for it because its job – to warn us of danger, and to keep us out of it – is nothing less than survival. Think of a fire alarm that goes off on its own, ringing when there’s no fire. It can eventually make you feel as though you’re at its mercy.

In order to reduce or manage your anxiety, consider two main areas – your body and your thoughts.

Help for your Body

1. Breathe deeply – take a long inhale, hold it, let it out slowly. Do this 2 or 3 times. You want a long slow exhale. This helps to activate the part of your nervous system that calms you down (parasympathetic**).

2. Reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine – coffee, energy drinks, sodas.

3. Exercise, move your body, regularly. I also recommend restorative yoga for its effect on the parasympathetic nervous system.

4. Sit and “ground” into what you are sitting on — notice and feel how your back is supported by the couch or chair, notice how your seat is supported, how your legs are supported. Just notice your breath – in and out.
5. Get enough sleep with a regular and consistent sleep schedule.

Help for your Thinking

6. Learn to notice and watch your thoughts while focusing on your breath. Our thoughts will often feed the anxiety – it’s like throwing wood on a fire. Work at just noticing your thoughts, not getting attached in any way. They’re just thoughts and not necessarily facts

7. Identify and name what is happening. Tell yourself you are experiencing anxiety

– whether anxious feelings or anxious thoughts. It can be terribly uncomfortable but remember that thoughts and feelings can’t hurt you.

8. Change the story of your thoughts. When anxious thoughts weave a theme of catastrophe, change the story to something realistic.

9. Learn to ignore anxious thoughts about the future. They usually get blown way out of proportion. Always try to mindfully focus on the present.

10. Every day try to spend some time away from your screens (tv, phone, desktop, ipad…). Get the news in small doses if you really feel the need to know.

Don’t fight your symptoms. The more you fight them, the worse it gets!


**Some people need a bit of coaching on how to effectively use the breath.


© Dr. Janice Stuart
All Rights Reserved.

Self-Esteem Issues

By Janice Stuart

Are you fighting with yourself?
…maybe you have low self-esteem.

  • “I know I should make up my own mind. It’s not easy though when your husband wants you to visit his family even though they’re not that receptive to me. I don’t know what to do.”
  • “I feel so torn. I know my mother worries about me…she says I should be settled down by now…I’m just not ready for that.”

You know what it’s like when your mind is plagued by competing ideas…it’s as if two parts of yourself are being pulled in opposite directions. And even if there’s no one whom you’re trying to please, it feels this way when you’re at odds with yourself.

When these conflicts arise frequently, you may find that you’re prone to drifting off course in your life. For example, you may find it hard to say “no” to others. In fact, you may push yourself beyond your limits rather than disappoint others.

It’s important to understand that no one knows what to do in every situation. No one can possibly give you all the answers to these dilemmas. Ultimately, you are the one living your life. You are the expert on how you want to live your life.

You might ask though how does one do this if the answers don’t come easily to you? 

It may surprise you to know that the degree to which you are disconnected from your true self, will be the degree to which you will feel torn when the needs of others conflict with yours. This feeling will occur even if it appears that you’re not in conflict with anyone else’s needs.

You see, what you may have come to perceive as yourself may be in fact, a compilation of the wishes of others. Indeed, you might say to me that helping others makes you feel good about yourself.

I will tell you that’s admirable to help others – I encourage it – however, you should know yourself apart from what you give others. You should feel good about yourself and know yourself apart from who you are to others.

There will always be conflicts in life

Conflicts are a given in life – it’s how you approach and work through them that helps define who you are.

In fact, conflicts can often be opportunities for growth. You may discover a side of you that’s been denied too long…a part that’s blocking the true joy and fulfillment you could experience in the world.

If truth be known it is actually two aspects of yourself you’re wrestling with. That’s because we don’t have one self in the brain. Our brain is made up of many ‘selves’ which can be at odds with each other.

And that sense of who you are is actually made up of past experiences with others. So much of how you come to see yourself was mirrored in the eyes of your parents. These early experiences form the strongest sense of you because they happened at a time when your personality was being formed.

And even though these memories can seem as if they are who you are, they are actually just the reflected perceptions of others.

If you get into a tug of war with yourself too often it’s usually because too much of who you’ve come to know as yourself was in fact the result of adaptations to your early life experiences…an early life where some of your needs were not met.

Rather than feel the loss of these unmet moments, it was easier to adapt and assume that it was your fault that those needs were not met.

When you’re able to get beneath these conditioned responses and finally connect with the true you, you’ll find that decisions made from this place are far easier. It’s like having a roadmap from which to navigate your life.

What’s a good way to find your true self?

Well, I guess it’s no surprise that I would say ‘being in therapy’. It’s not just my experiences as a therapist though, it’s also my own therapy work that tells me this.

It’s been my experience as a practicing therapist, and as a client, that an ongoing relationship with a therapist is a golden opportunity to discover who you really are.

“Talking with another person, communicating with a mind outside of your own mind, puts you in touch with the part of your Self that is bigger than your mind, larger than your thoughts. That’s because the act of connecting with another pulls you out of your ongoing internal dialogue and into an external one. 

“In an external dialogue, another person can bring you fresh energy, provide a different perspective. They can come to the subject with a clear head, free of the self-judgment through which you are looking at everything. They see you as you really are, proving the irony that sometimes you have to get out of yourself to get into yourself. Sometimes you have to stop looking at yourself to see yourself.”

I don’t think Neal Donald Walsh (“When Everything Changes, Change Everything.”) was thinking of therapy when he wrote those words – but they capture the essence of what therapy means to me and the value I feel therapy holds for us all.

Moving Beyond Grief and Loss

By Janice Stuart

Struggling to get over a loss?

Usually when we think of grief we think of the loss of a loved one. And yet grief and loss can be about so much more.

As one client said “I’ve lost my sister so many times and in so many ways” And yet her sister was still very much alive.

Loss is painful. There is no way around that. And if you are living life there is no way you won’t experience loss; whether it is the loss of a loved one, a pet, a marriage or even the loss of a dream. We all experience loss.

And that can leave you struggling now.

Much has been written about the stages of grief and loss. Frequently they are identified as:

  • Shock, denial, and numbing
  • Pain and guilt
  • Anger and bargaining
  • Depression and loneliness
  • The upward turn
  • Reconstruction and working through
  • Acceptance and hope

And while it can be helpful to be aware of the stages of grief and loss, there is still the painful experience of moving them.

Often we want to avoid the pain. Sometimes we numb it through alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately that only buries it, leaving you vulnerable to have it emerge later, sometimes much later.

Or it leaves you cutoff from the emotional fullness of your life now. It becomes important to know how to comfort your body and soothe your soul.

“I didn’t want to grieve the loss of not being able to have a child. I thought if I grieved it that would make it real. Instead I just drank and sank into a depression. But it was real. It was a difficult journey to move through that pain. I will always be sad that I couldn’t have children. But at least I can move forward in my life without that unbearable pain.”

The only way out is to go through it.

That said, there are easier ways through it and you don’t have to move through it alone.

Goal Setting

By Janice Stuart

As a friend and colleague of mine says:

“Without goals you become what you were.
With them you become what you want.”

If you don’t have goals, life just keeps going along the same way. So if you want something different you have to do something different.

BUT – I’ll grant you that sometimes it’s easier said than done.

  • Do you ever set goals and not meet them?
  • Do things just keep getting in the way?
  • Are your afraid of failure?
  • Are you afraid of success?

There are processes going on in your brain and nervous system that might be holding you back. And it’s not your fault. It’s just the result of what was set down in our brain and nervous system at a very early age.

Luckily what we now know is the brain can change itself through the process of brain plasticity. And we can now make those changes through conscious awareness of new experience.

Psychotherapy takes advantage of the brain’s ability to change. I’d be happy to show you how.

Help for Depression

By Janice Stuart

Get on the Road to Recovery Today

If depression is prolonged, it can feel never-ending:

  • “I just take the weight of the world on my shoulders.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what happens somehow I take it on as being my fault.”
  • “Everything feels bad. I can’t even imagine getting excited about
    winning the lotto.”
  • “I’m tired all the time and everything feels like a chore. Even things that used to feel good.”

Treatment for depression is generally very effective. It is possible to get on the other side – and it won’t take forever!

Sometimes depression is a reaction to something that has happened in our life. Sometimes we have a family history of depression and have had minimal opportunity to develop the neural pathways associated with joy.

Many times we have core negative core beliefs about ourselves:

  • “It’s all my fault.”
  • “I’m just not good enough.”
  • “I don’t deserve happiness”.

Just listen to how you talk to yourself and the stories you tell yourself about your life, your relationships, your world.

Depression symptoms include:

  • Low mood
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Poor sleep – too much or too little
  • A sense of worthlessness and guilt
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Fantasizing about ending your own life to escape the pain

There is treatment for depression. And often it’s worth digging underneath those depression symptoms and working through what keeps it alive. For somewhere in your past you decided something negative about yourself and you turned that into a belief about yourself.

First we create our belief and then our belief creates us.

And then we reinforce that belief with the stories we tell ourselves.

And it can seem like a never ending feed-back loop.

Call Me Now for Help with Depression


Working With Anxiety

By Janice Stuart


It’s scary to feel powerless over an experience that seems to take over your life. You can feel overwhelmed and fearful with the lack of control and sense of unpredictability.

Anxiety and anxiety attack symptoms vary from person to person. Anxiety can be triggered by something very specific (e.g., like a phobia) or it can feel like it comes from out of nowhere.



Here are some of the most common anxiety attack symptoms.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trembling, shaking, feeling tingly
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Chest pain
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

There are other ways anxiety shows up as well:

  • Excessive worry
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing thoughts about all these bad things that are going to happen
  • Uncertainty about the future

One of the hallmarks of anxiety is avoidance. Anxiety compels you to avoid certain tasks because when you attempt to undertake the activity the angst is so uncomfortable you would rather avoid that feeling.

Sadly, the long term effect is that your life becomes small. You end up living outside the life you really want.

This is how my clients describe their experience of anxiety. Do you recognize them?

  • “I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
  • “I just had this feeling something awful was going to happen.”
  • “I just get gripped by this sense of panic.”
  • “My thoughts just kept going and going and going about how all these bad things were going to happen.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many ways to approach managing and reducing anxiety. I’d be happy to show you how.

Call Me Now for Help with Anxiety

Anxiety Relief

By Janice Stuart

Anxiety…it’s a personal matter.

Yeah, anxiety is a personal matter for me. My Dad struggled all his life with it. And, he laboured with it at a time when you didn’t talk about “those things” especially as a man.

He went through life with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. And I watched him suffer.

Naturally, he passed it on to me.  And for a long period of time I also struggled.  It required discipline and commitment to get past it.

Anxiety Symptoms

Did you know one in four people suffer with anxiety?

And many don’t recognize it.

As an anxiety psychologist I see firsthand the different ways my clients experience anxiety. Its different forms range from physiological symptoms such as tension, tightness, shortness of breath to that cognitive chatter that focuses on worry and disaster and won’t let go.

Here are some facts about anxiety that psychologists and counsellors know…

  • It’s normal – we are hard-wired for it. Sometimes we even seek out activities that trigger that anxious arousal– the thrill of riding a roller coaster or watching a suspenseful movie.
  • It’s adaptive – sometimes you are supposed to feel anxious – like when you are writing an exam.  And a little bit of anxiety helps you perform better.
  • It acts like a warning system for danger. But it’s not dangerous. It is however, uncomfortable – sometimes really uncomfortable.
  • It’s a problem when the warning system tells us there is danger when there isn’t.  It’s like a smoke detector. You want that smoke detector to go off when there is a fire. But there is a problem when it’s going off and there is no fire.

The challenge with treating anxiety is that you have to first explore how the anxiety symptoms show up. For many of my client it shows up as anxious thoughts.

“What if……”

“I should ……”

“I shouldn’t have ….”

It’s that chatter in your head that creates doubt and feeds that feeling of fear.

Then there are the physiological symptoms that

  • create a sense of foreboding
  • leave you feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed
  • leave you wondering if you are having a heart attack and dying

Anxiety symptoms and attacks are common yet many people don’t recognize anxiety.   Fortunately psychological counselling can offer solutions.

It can help you learn strategies for what to do with anxious thoughts.  And even more importantly what to do to help your body let go of built up anxious arousal. There are some basic things you can start to do on your own. You can see my “top ten checklist for getting relief from anxiety”. Those strategies are a good start.

I wish my dad had known about them.  And I wish he would have gotten the help he needed and deserved. His life would have been a little easier.

And me – well, I did get help. It took time for me to get the results I wanted. But it was worth it. So if you are in that place where you might need a helping hand from someone else to support you taking the next step down that road to relief  feel free to give me a call. I have years of experience as an anxiety psychologist and counsellor and I’d be happy to help.