Individual Counselling or Psychotherapy
Counselling and psychotherapy are similar yet different services, and you and your practitioner can decide what makes the most sense for your needs. Typically, counselling focuses more on providing information (psychoeducation), advice, encouragement, and instruction on a variety of life issues, whereas psychotherapy focuses on the assessment and treatment of serious disorders of thought, cognition, mood, emotional regulation, perception and memory that affect one’s ability to function. Both counselling and psychotherapy use techniques and approaches that are similar (both counselling and psychotherapy can involve Somatic Experiencing, mindfulness, and working on emotion regulation, for instance); the difference lies more in the severity and level of dysfunction of what is being worked on. For a better definition of psychotherapy, please consult the following document.
Personal work can be used to address a number of different life issues. While our main focus is working with trauma and attachment injuries and their various symptoms and associated challenges, we also work with other mental health, addictions, interpersonal, spiritual and personal growth challenges, such as: emotion regulation, anxiety, anger, toxic relationships, chronic stress, grief and loss, caregiver stress, high self-criticism and low self-worth, life transitions, identity crises, sexual issues, boundaries and communication, interpersonal skills, and so on.
Please visit Life Issues to get a feel for some of what we can focus on in our work together, and read up on our Therapeutic Approaches to have a better understanding of what you might experience in your work with us. We work from an integrative model, incorporating approaches that work with the body, emotions, mind, spirit and relationships based on each client’s unique needs and comfort level. If you have a specific issue that is not described on our site, please contact us to find out what some next steps might be.
Occasionally, our individual clients request to bring a spouse or family member to sessions. This is typically done for the purposes of facilitating collaborative dialogue about personal therapy goals and progress and to provide psychoeducation to the client’s ally on a particular topic of interest. Should you decide you would like to pursue both individual and couples therapy, The Refuge can assign you to more than one therapist in order to address your needs (pending therapist availability).
Note: If you have experienced a spiritual emergency following religious involvement, meditation, silent retreat or yoga, please click here and contact us for more information on how we might be able to help you recover.
The Refuge offers couples therapy services for those who are seeking a more involved therapeutic process for themselves and one or more loved ones. This can include, but is not limited to::
- Providing support when one or both members of the couple has experienced trauma/PTSD, addictions or loss
- Working on emotional regulation and attunement
- Building empathy, trust, active listening, and repair following attachment injuries, abandonment or betrayal
- Improving communication skills and interpersonal effectiveness
- Coping with stress (life, transitions, work, caregiver challenges)
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Exploring emotional and sexual intimacy
- Addressing issues related to abuse, power and control
Some couples come in the hopes of restoring their relationship, while others come with the intention of separating/divorcing in a healthy, amicable way. Some couples come already separated/divorced in order to work on effective co-parenting.
Practitioners offering couples therapy at The Refuge draw from a number of different models in their work, including Somatic Experiencing for trauma resolution and emotion regulation, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skills, Psychodynamic Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, mindfulness, Attachment-Focused Therapy, and are inspired by the fields of attachment parenting, interpersonal neurobiology, family systems therapy, Gottman family therapy, Non-Violent Communication, and other models.
The Refuge is known for being a centre focused on trauma therapy, and each of the practitioners who operates here has committed themselves to the principles of safety, embodiment, choice, voice and empowerment. Our practitioners are dedicated to pursuing ongoing training in the area of trauma, attachment and safely working with the body to heal all aspects of self – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and relational. Our areas of focus include:
- Complex early developmental trauma, birth/peri-natal trauma (to self or child), colonial trauma, PTSD, and ongoing abuse and neglect/abandonment
- Shock trauma (motor vehicle accident, near death, falls, injury, medical trauma, inescapable attack, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, horror, war, genocide)
- Chronic stress, physical symptoms and body memory
- Toxic, co-dependent or insecure relationship dynamics
- Family of origin issues (such as: dynamics with siblings, neglect or abandonment, or anxious, dysregulated, cold, controlling, angry, chaotic or narcissistic parents or caregivers who often have experienced their own trauma or addictions preventing secure attachment and co-regulation)
- Shame, dissociation, identity issues and sense of self
- Associated concerns (anxiety, panic, hypervigilance, fear, anger, depression, grief, triggers, flashbacks, adjustment, etc.)
- Compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and occupational stress injury
Our main trauma therapy approach is Somatic Experiencing™, which our practitioners combine with other trauma-oriented approaches based on their training and experience. This might include:
- Touch and table work
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
- Attachment-oriented therapy
- Emotion regulation and arousal modulation
- Inner child and self-parenting work
- Dissociation and parts (ego state) work
- SE eye movement work
- Art and movement-based therapy
- Trauma-sensitive mindfulness and self-compassion
- Boundaries work
- Equine-assisted therapy
- Nature-assisted therapy, etc.
We adhere to a tri-phasic model of trauma therapy, which emphasizes focusing on 1) recognizing and shifting out of a familiar state of emotional dysregulation, chaos/rigidity and hyper/hypo-arousal, to 2) building rapport, safety and stabilization skills for emotional regulation, arousal modulation and distress tolerance so that 3) you have the confidence, internal resources, emotional flexibility and resiliency to move into deeper trauma/grief processing, renegotiation and release work when you are ready, and only if you so choose.
We emphasize gentle, compassionate care that honours your comfort level and growing edge, and helps you build your capacity incrementally (“titration”). Therapy is done with you, not to you, and you always have the right to voice your opinions so that we know how to work most effectively to meet your needs. You might decide that your goals only include phases 1 and 2, which are in and of themselves important and transformational, and we are happy to support you with this.
Trauma therapy at The Refuge can include other aspects of healing as well, such as:
- Exploring and/or restoring self-protective responses, such as orienting, fight, flight, freeze, surrender and submit
- Understanding power and control dynamics
- Systemic factors related to intergenerational trauma or trauma occurring in a particular group, community or institution
- Restoring a more whole sense of self
- Exploring anger, empowerment and healthy aggression
- Building tolerance for discomfort as well as joy and pleasure
- Looking at relationship, attachment and activation patterns with caregivers, friends, partners and colleagues
- Developing greater present moment awareness, presence and attunement with others and restoring your ability to have flexible boundaries
- Addressing issues related to interoception (awareness of sensation and of yourself from the inside), exteroception and neuroception (awareness of safety or threat in the environment), and proprioception (the body’s awareness of itself in relation to the environment, gravity, pressure, being upright, and balance)
Please Note: We do not use CBT for body-based trauma symptoms, prolonged exposure therapy, or models that emphasize catharsis, re-living or re-enacting experiences. These have the potential to be overwhelming, flooding and reinforce a familiar sense of helplessness, override or dissociation. Such approaches also typically do not address the complex, subtle interplay of emotions, personality style, attachment dynamics and neurophysiology that accompanies trauma, including the tendency of the body and brain to freeze and shut down in the face of overwhelm. The processing work at The Refuge instead focuses on renegotiation and completing or unwinding frozen responses that are left in the body in a safer way, to help restore you to a state of emotional and physical balance. Our hope is that you will experience a different sense of yourself as more empowered and capable of taking effective action on your own behalf (agency), so that you are less victimized by your own internal experiences or by dynamics with others. This is quite different from simply re-telling or re-living an experience for the sake of “facing it”.
Touch and Table Work
In certain circumstances, traditional psychotherapy (even if body-oriented) is unable to address specific symptoms related to stress, shock trauma, and attachment / relational trauma. Touch can be used to support containment and regulation of physical or emotional dysregulation or activation; to process early developmental (pre-verbal) trauma that can’t be dealt with through language; to increase awareness of different areas of the body; to explore how one enters or leaves relationships; to settle anxiety or stress responses; to support the softening or unclenching of areas that are bracing, tense or armoured; or to help the body to unwind out of chronically-held stress or to mobilize a self-protective response to renegotiate a past experience, in order to achieve a sense of triumph or physiological completion. Touch involves bringing support to an area through one’s intention (no physical contact) or through actual contact. Touch work is not massage therapy, manual therapy, or physical rehabilitation. No manipulation of tissues is involved. Touch is through contact and attention alone.
Using touch in the context of psychotherapy, whether seated or on a massage table, requires advanced training in how to use touch ethically and therapeutically, and is only done with your full consent and right to self-determination. Working with apprehension/anxiety/fear/bracing surrounding touch is important to address before any actual physical touch can occur and is an important part of the healing process. For more information about touch and table work in the context of psychotherapy and counselling, please read the following pages: Somatic Experiencing and Touch and Table Work.
Group Programs, Workshops and Retreats
Group programs run at varying times during the year, based on demand. Groups have a small number of participants to foster personalized attention and comfort. Groups offered through practitioners at The Refuge have varied in focus, including art therapy, mindfulness, eco therapy, Somatic Experiencing, and equine-assisted therapy.
For information about upcoming groups, please click on Events.
Have you just spent time in hospital or at a mental health or addictions treatment facility, and are looking to hook up with therapy in the community to continue and deepen the work you began in your in-patient program? Please contact us to discuss your needs so we can explore how we might join your circle of care. We often work with other agencies, medical professionals, and alternative health practitioners in order to provide an integrative model of support to you, based on your needs.
Support for Spiritual Crises
Have you experienced trauma, ritual abuse, programming, a loss of personal integrity, or anxiety/fear at the hands of a religious group, cult or organization? Are you questioning your religious beliefs and want to explore alternative ways of experiencing spirituality? Or perhaps you have experienced adverse effects from spiritual practices such as meditation, yoga, or silent retreats? If so, please know that you are not alone and that help is available.
Spirituality or faith can be an important resource in people’s lives, and mindfulness and yoga are often sought out by those who are seeking to heal. But religion and spiritual practices can become problematic when they take away a person’s sense of choice, voice or self-determination. More importantly, practices that emphasize going into the body or breath too quickly before other skills are in place can lead very quickly to a triggering state of overwhelm and flooding for trauma survivors, for whom being connected to themselves and their bodies has not been safe. Similarly, practices that emphasize disconnection from emotion or dissolving one’s sense of self can also be problematic if your emotions were invalidated or dismissed and if you don’t have a healthy, embodied sense of self to start with. Shame, anxiety, psychotic breaks, depersonalization (loss of sense of self), derealization (loss of sense of reality), dissociation, spiritual bypassing, confusion, depression, panic attacks, hypervigilance, paranoia, and intrusive thoughts can accompany spiritual practices or religious involvement, and be counter-productive to the act of healing.
The Refuge is supportive of healthy spirituality and religious involvement, if these have been resources for you and this is part of your belief system, and also is able to help if you have had an experience that has made things worse. Contact us to find out more.