About mstevenson

I am fascinated and inspired by the many different relationships we have throughout our lives. My passion is in exploring how these relationships shape our lives and how they in turn shape and are shaped by the world around us. I revel in the complexity and diversity of human behaviour and love to unpack the boxes that we're often expected to fit into so that we can dance amongst the many shades of gray.

Curiosity, and why we need more of it in our lives

Therapy, when you think about it, is a rather unique relationship. In a short period of time therapists often will transition from being complete strangers to having clients sharing some very personal stories and feelings. When I began my training as a therapist one of the first ideas that was focused on was the importance of nurturing and maintaining an open curiosity within our sessions. In being curious we acknowledged how much was unknown to us about our clients’ lives and invited our clients to help us understand their perspective.

Since then I’ve found that the idea of curiosity has often been on my mind. Curiosity wasn’t something that I thought about much prior to that point however. When thinking of the qualities that an aspiring therapist needed to cultivate, it was qualities such as patience, understanding, or compassion that were talked about but curiosity…not so much. Especially when looking outside of the therapeutic context, curiosity isn’t often listed as at the top of people’s virtue lists.

In our society we praise people for being kind, or brave, or wise but not often for being curious. Curious George may be a loveable character for many people, myself included, but you don’t often hear people aspiring to be like him. Curiosity is sometimes highlighted as being one of the characteristics of the young but as much as we idealize youth, we are less likely to praise youthful traits later in life. Continue reading

What is a Therapist?

Aside

Over the years as I have continued my studies in psychotherapy, I have often been amazed at how varied and diverse the profession is. I started off with a general idea of what it meant to be a therapist and since then have found not only that my idea has grown in scope and complexity but that there are many different paths that people have taken towards the same goal. There are many different roads towards becoming a therapist and each bring their own perspectives and ideas on the profession. Often one is no more effective than the other even though they may differ greatly.

Since I have begun working as a therapist, this awareness has been reinforced by the diversity of perspectives and expectations that clients have of therapists and the therapeutic process. Depending on their background, their past experience with the mental health and their goals for coming to therapy, their concept of who I am, or what my role is as a therapist can look pretty different.

Rather than just talking about the different perspectives that people have of therapists, I thought it would be interesting to use this blog as an opportunity to hear from different people’s perspectives and highlight some of the similarities and differences that exist.

In the comments section below, write the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the question “What is a Therapist?”.

It could be a word, or an image, or a feeling or a more elaborate description depending on what feels right to you. In this there’s no right or wrong answers, only different perspectives.

Because I Have a Voice

“Why Should I listen to you?” “Because I have a voice!”

Though it is a movie filled with many great lines, this exchange between Bertie and Lionel in the King’s Speech was the one that stuck with me the most. If you haven’t seen the film (and I’d highly recommend that you see it if you haven’t) it’s about king George the VI before and at the beginning of his reign as he worked to overcome a stammer. King George, or Bertie as he was often called in the film, was the sovereign of the United Kingdom and the dozens of other countries that made up the British Commonwealth and yet the most powerful reason why he should be listened to was not because of his crown or title but because he had a voice and it deserved to be heard.

I’ve been thinking about the power of people’s voices for a while now and watching this movie brought it back into the forefront for me. We all have our own voice and with it can bring our thoughts, feelings and inner selves out into the world. A person’s voice can be an incredibly powerful mechanism for change within our world. Speeches made by leaders and teachers can inspire people or rally them to a cause. They can spread fear and hatred too.

The power of people’s voices is not limited to leaders and public figures, each of us have a voice that is significant and that can impact our world in our own way.  Sometimes it’s sharing a new idea or new perspective. Sometimes, it’s taking a stand for something that we believe in, or with a friend in need of support. Sometimes, the power of using our voice is in sharing with those around us how we feel and what we value so that they can know us better and we in turn can come to better know ourselves. Continue reading

The Secret Life of a Family Therapist

Therapists are the keepers of secrets.

Within the process of therapy, clients often share knowledge that is very private and personal. They share their fears and anxieties, topics that are sometimes very hard to share openly with other people in our lives. The therapy room can be a safe place where people can take off the masks that they wear or to share thoughts and memories long kept hidden. A place where secrets can be shared and processed while still being kept safe.

Even before I began seeing clients, the significance of the secrets that people share in therapy was something that I was made keenly aware of throughout my education and training. Confidentiality is often a central theme in any therapy course, reinforcing the importance of protecting the private information shared with us by our clients. In addition there’s the importance of acknowledging the trust that clients are placing in us in sharing their stories as well as their courage in telling it. Even with all the checks and balances, sharing a story that has long been kept hidden can still be a significant challenge and as a therapist it’s always important to be reminded of this.

As therapists, not only are we responsible for honoring the secrets shared with us by our clients but in addition, we have the responsibility of guarding the secret of participating in therapy itself. The decision to attend therapy is often seen as very significant and often it’s a very private decision. In addition, there can be social stigma associated with attending therapy and sometimes the well meaning concern and curiosity of others in our lives can make it harder for clients to protect the content of their therapy work when their attendance is publicly known. This, I’ve discovered, is even more important in couple and family therapy work when different components of a family system can be involved in therapy at different times. Creating a safe and open space for dialogue is a central component of any therapy work and ensuring that clients are confident in the privacy of their work with you is of key importance to any therapist. Continue reading

Experiencing Hope and Resilience as a New Therapist

When I’ve talked to people about my decision to enter into the family therapy profession, I often get a comment that goes something like this:

“It’s got to be depressing sometimes listening to people’s problems all day.”

As I began my Master’s program last year, and anticipated the therapy work that I would begin as part of my practicum, this was one of the many sources of anxiety that I felt myself. Would I be able to protect myself and remain positive when working with people faced with all kinds of difficult challenges. People rarely come to see a therapist when they’re feeling happy and everything’s OK. Some days reading the news can be depressing enough, would I be able to handle spending hours each day talking with clients too?

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Bathtub Therapy

Aside

My first contribution to this blog last year talked briefly about some of the reactions that I received from family and friends when they heard I was going into the family therapy profession. My grandpa, a wonderful man with an ever-present sense of humor responded by sharing with me a psychology themed joke which had been sent to him by a friend. I keep it at my desk and it always brings a smile to my face so i thought I’d share it here for your enjoyment:

During a visit to a mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the criterion was that defined whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

The Director Replied, “We fill up a bathtub and offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and then ask them to empty the bathtub”

“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup”

“No,” said the Director, “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want to be by the wall or near the window?”

The Intimacy of Personal Space

I always had my own room as a kid. I was pretty lucky in that way that I didn’t have to share it with a sibling as some people did. It was really nice to have a place in my house that I could really call my own and that I had a lot of control over. The rest of the house was definitely my family’s house and the spaces were shared with other people and others dictated the rules surrounding it but in my room I was in charge. Well, as long as I kept it clean enough that my parents didn’t have to step in that is.

As I grew up, this space became an extension of my own identity. I organized it the way I wanted, I decorated it with pictures and posters and my favorite things.  It was a place where I could retreat if I wanted to be alone, a place I could go with friends where we wouldn’t be interrupted. I place that I could share with whomever I wanted and keep away from those I didn’t.

This pattern continued, as I got older and moved out of my parents home. Now the house was an apartment and was shared with roommates and friends instead of family but my room was still my own. I could decorate it as I liked without having to negotiate with others and people only came in if I wanted them to. It was still my place, where I could be me and no one could tell me different. Continue reading

Looking Backwords, Facing Forwards

With January half-way gone and the celebration of December 31st a distant memory, It’s probably a bit late to be writing about New Years but, since one of my resolutions this year was to be a more active contributor to this blog, I hope you will forgive me for it.

New Years Resolutions used to be a big part of my New Year ritual. In fact, resolutions used to be an important ritual for me at many different ‘new beginning’ moments throughout the year. In addition to the beginning of the calendar year, there was the beginning of the Jewish calendar, the beginning of the school year, the beginning of a new term. With each of these new beginnings I would set out a set of resolutions to motivate me and try and set some goals to work towards over the next little while until the next set of resolutions come along. I think there’s a lot that is great about new years resolutions and even though I don’t use them anywhere near as much as I used to I totally understand why many people use them. That being said my goal today is not to talk about new years resolutions but rather to present an alternative use of reoccurring milestones like New Years. Continue reading

Finally, a therapist in the family

This spring when I shared the news with friends and family about my acceptance into a master’s program their response usually comes in two parts. The first, as expected, is some form of congratulations, which is always greatly appreciated and nice to hear. Often following this is some version of, “So you’ll be able to help me” or “Free counselling for family members/friends right?”

In most cases these responses are so outlandish or humorously delivered that it’s easy to share a laugh about it and move on. Every so often I get a comment that has a hint of seriousness and in a few cases the people are genuinely asking to meet with me once my training in complete. These conversations are a little more awkward than when it’s all just a joke.

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