Irene's Insights - Cloverdale Counselling - Marriage Counselling, Pyschologist (Provisional), Addictions, Trauma, Art Therapy

Good Relationships Require Effort

All relationships require effort to start, to maintain, to be responsible to each other, to resolve conflict, to be supportive and to end the relationship if need be. Its realistic to expect relationships to take work at times.

The start of a relationship is often very exciting as the initial love is easy and beautiful. This period of time usually lasts between 3-6 months and each person sees the other thru rose colored glasses either ignoring their faults or not seeing them. All things are wonderful. After this time period, reality sets in and the couple have to get to know the real person and accept all the things that were initially ignored. This may take some effort and communication skills may be needed to be calm and respectful thru this process. Gottman’s 4 horsemen often show up at this time.

The 4 horsemen of communications are criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness. The Gottmans’ have research showing if this form of communication habit continues, the couple will be separated before 7 years together. How does a couple break out of the “4 Horsemen” habit of communication? It takes conscious effort on both sides to stop. When I work with couples I ask them to pick a word that signals them that the 4 Horsemen have appeared and this often helps them with awareness, as awareness is the first step to change. With criticism Gottman suggests to complain instead of criticizing because criticism is really blaming. Horseman number 2 is contempt which includes many disrespectful words (sarcasm, hostile humor) and body languages messages (eye rolling, sneering) and replace all these with respect and you’re back on track. Defensiveness often shows up with criticism but can also be a victim stance. Gottman says take responsibility for your half of the problem, be respectful and again you are back on track. Stonewalling is the final horseman that is hard on relationships. Gottman says when people get really angry the tendency is to stonewall as anger is a fight and flight response.  Take a break from each other and calm down (about ½ an hour) and resume discussions. Make sure you let your partner know you are taking a break for ½ hour to calm down and want to continue talking after that. Avoid the 4 horsemen and you’re half way there.

Responsibility to each other can take some work too and Gottman has many strategies to connect couples and to turn towards to help couples feel they want to support each other. Usually the better communication helps as this brings couples closer when they are respectful.

Resolving conflict can be another area that is tricky and can take some skills and practice. A helpful strategy is to follow “fair fighting rules”. Some of those rules are becoming aware of what the problem is that is bothering you before you have that talk, focusing on one problem at a time, be respectful, watch your language and own your own feelings with “I statements”, no yelling, no stonewalling, take turns talking, and compromise. These rules help couples or any relationship stay on track.

Ending a relationship can be very painful and if you don’t do the work before a breakup you will probably repeat the same pattern all over again so I always recommend counselling if the problems can’t be resolved.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building Downstairs-9562- 82 Avenue, 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com

Healthy Relationships: Talk About Everything


Honesty and communication are the core of a healthy relationship. While it is important to share happy moments, it is also positive to recognize that conflicts are a normal part of a relationship. Learning to navigate conflicts can help you to resolve them. First recognize that being open is a goal to have with safe people. Sometimes simply being able to express one’s feelings to a concerned and understanding listener is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for an individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind.

In order to communicate in a healthy way, there are five strategies that can help.

  1. Focus on the problem, not the person. When a disagreement leads to insults, raised voices or sarcasm the conversation will not be productive. Focus on the problem without placing blame. If the disagreement becomes personal take a break.


  1. Use reflective listening. When both parties focus only on getting their own point across neither will be understood. Try restating in you own words what your partner said and check with your partner that you understand. Next share your side. Your partner should reflect back what you say until they also understand. In this way both will feel understood even if they still disagree.


  1. Use “I” statements. Begin your sentence with I. For instance I feel…. Or I think…. In this way we show we take responsibility for our thoughts and feelings instead of blaming the partner. Using “you” statements will cause the other to become defensive. For instance you always… you never….


  1. Know when to take a time out. When things are becoming argumentative, insulting or aggressive take a break. Have a plan in place to have a time out that is agreed upon that either person can call time out. One acronym to keep in mind is HALT. If you are Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired take a time out. Make sure that you return to the issue, it is important not to leave them unresolved.


  1. Work towards a resolution. Disagreement is normal. If it becomes clear that you cannot agree focus on a resolution instead, find a compromise that is acceptable to both. Ideally a compromise would benefit both people. Ask yourself if this disagreement matters to the relationship and if not move on.


Anne McMaster & Irene Haire MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice at 9562 82 Ave Downstairs Edmonton, Ab 780-232-1055 http://edmontonpsychologistpros.com

Healthy Relationships: Alone Versus Unhealthy Relationship


It is better to be alone than in a unhealthy relationship. Destructive relationships damage your emotional health and your self esteem.  It may not be easy to find someone to be in a healthy relationship with but its worth the search. The longer you are in a destructive relationship the less time you have to look for a healthy relationship. Sometimes you may only be in a healthy relationship with people who you see for therapy and that’s ok as this starts to give you good guidelines.

What are some of the benefits to being alone? Melody Beattie in Co-Dependent No More says you can learn to like and love yourself and have” a love affair with yourself”. Learn to value yourself and even love yourself and be more compassionate to yourself. If you don’t like or love yourself then you don’t recognize your self worth. All humans have the same self worth though some may not recognize or honor it. Recognize your self worth. Learn to accept your thoughts, feelings and your body as they are all amazing.

How does this love affair with yourself start? Start by telling yourself you are good enough. Realize that everyone has similar negative feelings and thoughts but they push thru them. Then they set goals for a better life and proceed to have a better life.  Value yourself and make choices and decisions that enhance your self esteem and improve your life.

Be gentle, loving, attentive and kind to yourself. Value your feelings, needs, wants, desires and all that you are made of. If you have a hard time with this act as if and change the destructive pattern. Accept yourself and start where you are at and then work to become more. Develop your gifts and talents, trust yourself, respect yourself and be true to yourself. Last of all, honor yourself as this is how you will find yourself.

Nathaniel Branden says for a better life and improved self esteem, honor the self by being; willing to think independently, to feel what you feel, want what you want, and need what you need. He adds that you need to desire and suffer over what you are vulnerable about. He further says preserve an attitude of self acceptance, live authentically, refuse to accept unearned guilt, be committed to your right to exist, and be in love with your own life.

You may find that as you develop your relationship with yourself to be healthy and loving then people who come into your life will be loving and kind too.

In my counselling work with clients either individually and with couples I often see evidence of people making changes in themselves and then finding healthier relationships after. This really makes sense logically as we become more comfortable around people we can relate to whether they are unhealthy or healthy like we are. We can change the pattern and have a healthy relationship or at least a healthier one. Other ways to change to healthy relationship patterns are through reading books, viewing information videos, taking courses or workshops and looking around you for role models that show you what a healthy relationship is.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist/Registered Art Therapist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building Downstairs-9562- 82 Avenue, 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com

A Parenting Story

No More Shoes in the Back Porch: A Parenting Story
Studies done by Diana Baumrind, who was a developmental psychologist, show the best parenting style is the authoritative style of the three types she studied in the 1960s. Authoritative parents hold high expectations for their children but are fair in their approach. This style of parenting is sometimes referred to as “democratic” and involves a child-centric approach. Characteristics of the authoritative parenting style include the following; listening to their children, encouraging independence, placing limits, consequences and expectations on their children’s behavior, expressing warmth and nurturance, allowing their children to express their opinions, encouraging their children to explore and discuss options, and administering fair and consistent discipline with the children’s input once they are in their teens. People with authoritative parenting styles want their children to develop reasoning and independence and these parents have high expectations for them. They are flexible parents and allow their children to explain circumstances and reasonably adjust their responses as needed. The effects of authoritative parenting is the best for stable child development and children raised this way tend to be more capable, happy and successful.

I was reflecting on my parenting lately and know I could have done a better job if I knew than what I know now. Now, meaning since I have learnt a lot about parenting with my psychology education but too late as my children are grown up before I learnt these skills. I learnt from experience too but that didn’t always help my children though it may have at times. I remember going to listen to a psychologist lecture about parenting at our children’s school long before I went into the field of psychology and learnt a little about parenting from him. I even put some of what I learnt into practical use.
The one idea I picked up from this parenting lecture was to make my children more responsible for their actions. In other words start making them responsible humans in our society gradually so the lessons eventually become a habit. That rang true for me and I decided to put that one lesson to use. Looking around home I sometimes saw messy rooms with scattered cloths that I ran around picking up on laundry day and shoes scattered all over our back porch. More shoes then I thought we could possibly own and with 2 closets sitting empty in that same entry way. At times I could hardly open the back door for shoes. Guiltily I noticed a few of mine and my partner’s too. Well maybe the back porch was a good start. At supper the next evening I announced that any shoes left outside the closets would get pitched out. The looks on those innocent faces were hard for me to see without backing down. Being the democratic person I generally am, I quickly let them know mine and their dad’s were up for grabs too. My partner’s face became alarmed as he glanced towards the back door. The girls both dashed towards the back door and quickly put their shoes away in the closets and threw their dad’s out. Mine were neatly put away because of course I had the home advantage. This became quite a fun game for all of us and quickly worked with a back porch with never a shoe around or at least not for long.

Another idea that quickly came to me was that I needed help with dishes after meal times. I quickly established a rule that the cook never has to do dishes with me being the most frequent cook. This worked like a charm with my partner pitching in when he didn’t cook and me doing the same when he did.

My third idea that didn’t work so well was the laundry scattered all over the girls’ rooms. I generally closed their doors so I wouldn’t have to look at the mess and once weekly was their thorough clean up time to neat up their rooms. I announced that I would wash what was put in the dirty clothes laundry shoot that led to my downstairs laundry room. Well they mostly ignored it no matter what I said so I decided I couldn’t allow my children to wear dirty clothes to school and continued to sometimes pick up laundry as before. It did work sometimes and I wasn’t looking for perfection just habitual responsibilities and that I did accomplish. Overall I believe I accomplished the job of raising responsible children as I have two wonderful adult daughters today.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT, Registered Provisional Psychologist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building 200-9562- 82 Avenue, 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com


Empowerment is defined as, to enable, to permit and to authorize. This can apply to ourselves or to others. You can empower others by words and actions. You can empower yourself in the same ways through self talk and experiences. Self empowerment may occur with education, money, work, satisfaction at work, social identity, with verbal exchange, self awareness, emotional freedom, emotional expression, spiritual freedom and creative expression.
There are many examples of empowerment. Empowerment with education is the completion of your education with a ceremony and diploma and perhaps a banquet following, with friends and family expressing their pride with cards and gifts. Work can be empowering if you have a job that allows you to do the work you were trained to do and you have positive results from it. Respect from your employer with positive feedback and pay that is equivalent to others in the same profession is also helpful. If you don’t have this in your work, keep looking. Earning money offers freedom to do many activities you may want to do and items you may wish to buy. This is empowering for many people. Having financial security is empowering.
Social identity occurs from many areas of life such as home, work, society, and spiritual practice. These are empowering sources for many people. With social identity, freedom of spiritual practice, friendships, other community groups and political choice all lead to empowerment in our society.
Self awareness, emotional freedom and emotional expression are areas of empowerment many people struggle with and its often through counselling that this area of empowerment materializes. There are many theories of counselling that help individuals to expand in these areas of human development. Art therapy can be a powerful means to self awareness. Through art medium and exploration comes a an authentic look at what is needed by the individual to allow awareness to surface. The whole process is empowering because the individual creating the art decides what they see in their art and what they wish to talk about. This becomes a gentle unveiling and non-threatening means to greater self knowledge.
Emotional freedom through art therapy is another step to self awareness. Emotional expression is often difficult in our cognitive society and art therapy leads to unconscious materials that can lead to emotional expression. Emotional expression is an authentic expression of the human experience. This can be a gift and lead to emotional freedom. Our emotions are a natural and normal expression for humans which we get cut off from and forget in our busy social and work interactions.
Art therapy in groups is a safe and effective way to explore experiences both cognitively, emotionally and spiritually. The art expression relates to experiences in the real world and leads to emotions that are often blocked in the real world and held back. The group gives people a safe space to explore their authentic experiences cognitively and emotionally and connect to others safely. This connection often becomes a spiritual experience. The whole process is empowering.

Irene Haire, MC, RCAT Registered Provisional Psychologist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building 200-9562- 82 Avenue 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com

*Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety is a cognitive behavioral present day focused category of coping skills to help people stabilize when they are recovering from addictions either with PTSD or without. It was developed as an integrated treatment for PTSD/substance abuse that can be used in early recovery from both disorders. The treatment manual offers a guide to the therapist and handouts for the clients with core principles being; safety as priority, integration for trauma and substance abuse, focusing on ideals, four content areas (cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and management), and attention to clinical processes. The seven interpersonal topics are; Asking for Help, Honesty, Setting Boundaries in Relationships, Healthy Relationships, Community Resources, Healing from Anger, and Getting Others to Support Your Recovery. The program offers diversity and is inclusive in areas needing attention for trauma and addictions.
There is often trauma behind the addiction or/and during the addiction which results in dysregulation of emotions and behavior with either hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal either with PTSD or not. When hyper-arousal occurs there is frequently an expression of anger or other emotions towards others which may be inappropriate and excessive for what has transpired, or abusive behaviors, irrational explosions or other behaviors that later need an apology for. Hypo-arousal is the opposite and shows up as tiredness, falling asleep, and being bored. Both these behaviors make progression difficult because a person in either one of these states has problems taking information in to help themselves. Strategies from Seeking Safety over time help people in recovery to self- regulate so they can learn more effectively, work on their trauma with less distress or with knowing how to regulate if they become distressed, and make every day life easier when upsetting experiences occur.
In my groups in the past, they have been one and one half hours in length and the topics included learning strategies for life to be able to effectively balance life’s energies. The following topics were included in the previous group; how to develop safety with coping skills, identifying ways that thoughts effect your feelings, how to effectively manage emotional pain, how to effectively manage self-care and take action, how to become self-compassionate and give yourself the love, affection and self nurturing you deserve, understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and PTSD symptoms, taking your power back by learning about PTSD, what are your red and green flags and how these affect your recovery?, how to cope with triggers. and termination: coping with feelings around endings. Art Therapy is added weekly.
An art therapy exercise is introduced to express feelings and body sensations around the weekly theme. This does several things that are helpful for trauma resolution. One of the major advantages is that it helps people get into their feelings. We tend to be very cognitive in our expressions and lose the art of expression through our feelings and body sensations. Additionally, feelings and body sensations are often blocked with addictions. The art expression helps the clients explore their feelings and experience their feelings through body sensations. Both expression of feelings and body held sensations when explored from the art expression help the client to start exploring another method of experience of healing.
Irene Haire, MC, CRAT Registered Provisional Psychologist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building 200-9562- 82 Avenue 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com;
*Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits

Help Your Relationship!

Have you lost the spark in your relationship? What was exciting at one time seems a little ho-hum these days? Gottman’s Couples Therapy offers assessments and strategies that have been tested on many couples and shown to be effective to liven up relationships, result in better communication and increase intimacy. Willingness from both parties to put in effort is a necessity. Date nights, strategies for communication, and love maps are just a few examples of ways to light the fire.
Date nights are a great way to start. Remember how exciting that time was when you started your relationship and were dating. Get some of that excitement back. Take turns making plans for a weekly date night. Take a break from dishes, diapers and cooking; away from work, grass cutting and responsibility. Turn towards fun, carefree times, and ways to amuse yourselves. Make the dates exciting, do things you have always wanted to do. Go to another town for coffee, try something really different for dinner, spend a night in a hotel together, go on a picnic and let your ideas flow. It might take awhile before you relax and enjoy date nights together but don’t give up as they will become exciting. Date nights help couples communicate meaningfully and are a worthwhile investment.
How do you start to communicate meaningfully? Maybe you have lost the art of spontaneous communication you had when you first met and hours became minutes. Perhaps one of the ways to start is to concentrate on four strategies that Gottmans refer to as the “Four Horsemen in Your Relationship”. The four horsemen in your relationship are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Overcoming these four horsemen leads to the art of owning your feelings verses criticism, appreciation verses being defensiveness, being present and owning your feelings or walking away to cool down verses stonewalling, and avoiding contempt by owning parts of an argument as your own. Studies done by the Gottman Institute has shown a high percentage of couples who communicate using the four horsemen end up divorce by 7 years of marriage. The effort to turn this dysfunctional style of communication off is not easy, but it works with awareness and motivation. Once the conversation becomes more friendly, loving and intimate you are ready for love maps.
The love maps are an intervention that involves a series of questions to learn intimate details about your partner. This questionnaire can be utilized on a date night and/or in a therapy session or both. This is a simple strategy to learn more about each other and to be involved in a more meaningful way. This intervention helps the couple to start communicating on date nights if they are having a problem with what to say to each other.
Date nights, strategies for communication, and love maps are just a few ways to start work as a couple towards relationship repair. Working with a therapist together as a couple or with a therapist with groups of couples, helps motivate the couple(s). Awareness through assessment of the problems helps the therapist know what couples needs to do to guide them to some solutions. Solutions lead to a more functional relationship that works more effectively for the whole family.
Irene Haire, MC, CRAT Registered Provisional Psychologist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building 200-9562- 82 Avenue 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com

When Words Are Not Enough!

Art Therapy
Art Therapy deals with the same issues as conventional talk therapy but the two disciplines of art and psychology are combined. All aspects of the visual arts, creativity, human development, behavior, personality and mental health are important to the scope of art therapy. Art therapy is a modality that uses the nonverbal language of art for personal growth, insight, and transformation and is a means of connecting thoughts, feelings, and perceptions with life experiences.
Art therapy explores the symbolism that is revealed through line, shape and colour. Art expression often contains the form of human, or animal body, nature elements, real or invented, and abstractions and may be parts of self and states and expressions of emotions. An example of use of line shape and color that led to exploration of emotions reminds me of a young boy I worked with several years ago and could not seem to help him because he would not talk. I had him draw a spontaneous scribble drawing with me as I demonstrated using colored paper and colored chalk. He finished rather quickly and said it’s a face and the face is angry. Wow he said, its me. Then the work began. Integration and awareness of these inner parts and states occurs in therapy.
The art expression becomes a form of communication for the client and the therapist. A short course of art therapy often results in a shift or change that may move to greater depth or a faster process. I have utilized a directive with a client such as “Draw your anxiety!” The rich information at times can be used for many sessions to explore situations from that original piece that relate to the anxiety. Again and again the drawings are explored individually and together for more insight from the client of their inner world and the experiences, thoughts and feelings that lead to anxiety. Art therapy has expanded and is a recognized therapy for treatment in health, medicine, and schools.
Who can benefit from Art Therapy?“Art Therapy is effective for people of any age. An art therapist works with individuals, couples, families, or groups in settings such as counselling agencies, schools, treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, correctional institutes, and elder care locations.” I spent several years working with children using art therapy. Children are often quite open to exploring their art in unique ways. One example is finding an animal in a child’s drawing and playing a game of pretend to explore feelings and thoughts and how they might relate to their experiences. Asking questions like, What do you think the puppy is thinking, feeling, doing?, Have you ever felt like this puppy? What happened that made you feel that way? This can lead to a very meaningful session very quickly. Currently I use art therapy as part of a treatment program with clients who are recovering from addictions. I find the people using art learn to relax, are often surprized at their creativity and what surfaces in their art, and enjoy this part of their treatment. The media we use is varied and simple.

Canadian Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “ Art Therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour, and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings may be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”

Irene Haire, MC, CRAT Registered Provisional Psychologist is in private practice in Edmonton at The GB Building 200-9562- 82 Avenue 780-232-1055 www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com