Ways I might be different to other therapists:

I offer counselling for individuals and relationships of all types – friendships, romantic couples, platonic friendships, family members, queerplatonic relationship anarchists, and the good ole relationship from oneself to oneself.

I am interested in relationship counselling between more than just couples – friends, parent-child, carer-child, adult siblings, etc.

Adult sibling relationship counselling is an increasingly popular service. There are specific dynamics and issues with adult siblings that don’t occur in any other relationships – who will care for your ageing parents, who will pay for their increasing health needs, how to come together to confront an ageing abusive parents, etc.

I focus on growing self-awareness and self-advocacy.

I look at your family of origin experience and how that’s influenced you as you are today.

I consider your possible attachment styles and attachment wounds.

I am LGBTIQA+ experienced. I still volunteer for a parents of gender diverse youth support group.

Lived experience + professionally trained = best of both worlds

I don’t believe I’m an expert – I believe in working relationally and collaboratively with you.

I don’t want to talk at you and tell you what to do. I want to sit with you and listen and be curious about your experiences.

I believe all people have acts of resistance in times of trauma and hardship. It’s about pointing out those moments no matter how subtle and seeing where you resisted and fought back.

I have training in working with men who use power and control and violence. I believe in empowering and inviting these men to take responsibility.

I genuinely believe that change is always possible.

What does being trauma-informed really mean in practice, (and why every therapist should be).

Trauma-informed care isn’t super recent but it may still elude many older mental health (and other healthcare or social work-y) practitioners. I don’t think it’s malicious but it’s definitely negligent (I feel bad for using that word but it’s accurate). It’s existed since the 90s so people who were qualified before then have (only) a little leeway but not really.

In Australia, the Blue Knot Foundation were pioneers in releasing the first Practice Guidelines for Treatment of Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Care and Service Delivery (2012). If you’re interested in reading the first draft (there’s an updated 2019 version) see: https://www.blueknot.org.au/Resources/Publications/Practice-Guidelines/Practice-Guidelines-2012

If your therapist (psychiatrist / GP / counsellor / psychologist / etc) isn’t trauma informed it can influence the way they (mis)diagnose their patients.

Complex-PTSD is often misdiagnosed as various anxiety and depressive disorders, bipolar 1 & 2, narcissistic personality disorder, codependent and borderline disorders, ADHD/ADD, obsessive/compulsive disorder, Autism, dissociative disorders, among others.

That’s not to say people don’t need treatment that also fits in line with some of those disorders – trauma can physically change the way your brain forms connections and reacts (but recovery is possible). However, the root of these symptoms is the trauma and so the trauma has to be addressed. So if a practitioner isn’t trauma-informed they may use treatment that doesn’t make as much progress that’s possible.

Recovery is not curing whatever label you have (that you were given). Recovery is to be able to function in day to day life, to have hope and to be empowered to take control. Recovery is feeling reconciled with your sense of self and your symptoms. Part of it may be recognising it’s an adaption that had a purpose (and often worked) to protect you from a traumatic situation but now that the traumatic event is over it’s harming you instead.

It may not be appropriate or work for some people but I have sent that part of me some warmth and appreciation. I wrote a letter to that part of myself/myself to say:

Thank you for protecting me, and I know you’re still trying to protect me. I understand you’re scared because the world has been scary and unfair to us. It’s okay now. I can take care of us now. I’m big and grown and we’re no longer in contact with him. I totally understand that you don’t trust that yet – it makes sense that you would want to wait and see. I don’t blame you but why don’t let me take the reigns now – let me take care of us.

You must be tired being so hypervigilant all the time. I know it was lonely being so scared and anxious all the time. I’m big now. I can take care of us. Why don’t you take a step back, and instead take a backseat and watch how it goes. If I need you again I’ll let you know. Trust me even if you don’t trust the world.

Thank you and I love you,

Big Michelle

So if it’s not ADHD/ADD/Autism/OCD/Bipolar/Etc and doesn’t have a neurological or biological cause then what is are these trauma symptoms/PTSD caused by?

A common cause of C-PTSD people don’t realise is a dysfunctional family of origin (both the families you were biologically born from and/or raised in). That includes emotional neglect which is the most common and most invisible form of trauma. People misunderstand it as a lesser and weaker form of trauma compared to verbal, physical or sexual abuse but that’s not true. It’s just different but can be just or more damaging. Many people who have experience multiple forms of abuse have said it was the worst part.

So many clients have said, “You were the first person to call it abuse/neglect. I grew up with it so I never saw it that way. Yeah but it was abuse/neglect.”

And that’s something heavy to sit with. These adults have been failed by the system as kids and the system has continued to fail them by not recognising what happened to them was trauma with lasting deep impacts across their sense of self, relationships to others and themselves, and that sense of emptiness that people struggle to describe or put a cause to.

Regardless of people’s values, goals and ambitions there is a core truth in the human need to know that someone sees you truly as you are and accepts you (let alone love you). Imagine as a child, you were never seen. That you were invisible in all the ways that counted (your wants and needs, your presence, your spirit, the sense of being wanted). If that happened to you, you don’t develop a sense of self-value because you were never shown how to and many people chase after that feeling (so many people don’t even know what it is or how to describe it).

If you have this trauma, how do you even start to address it if you don’t know you have it? Before you decide to commit to a therapist, check that they’re trauma-informed. It’s existed since the 90s and there’s plenty of training out there (so much training! I recommend Blue Knot Foundation) so there’s no excuse.

Peace,

Michelle

Moving house is mentally exhausting, and how much of your personal life do you decide to share with coworkers and clients?

I’m not physically moving until mid-late January and I am already stressed. I think I’m stressed a reasonable amount for the situation and I’m also balancing it with excitement. So, really I’m complaining for the sake of complaining – which can be therapeutic and bonding!

That relates to my current train of thought – how much of my personal sh*t do I share with my co-workers and clients? I know, I know. There’s no right answer. Everyone’s different, everyone’s work environment and relationships to people at work is different, and so on. Still…

While I was doing my Bachelor of Social Work degree at uni, I was taught to have an absolute concrete hard line between my personal and professional life. Pfft. Boundaries are important but that is impossible – like literally impossible.

Current best practice and training (ugh there’s always better stuff when you’ve already left) shows that social workers/therapist are more effective when they show they’re human. Every social worker I’ve meet agrees that there are hard limits (e.g. don’t add your clients on your personal Facebook!) but the other stuff is a bit more grey and wibbly-wobbly.

I use discretion to decide whether or not something I share is appropriate. I generally follow the principle most social workers follow is – I only share it if it has a purpose and helps the client. That being said, why deny that I’m feeling a bit tired or anything else that shows that I’m human and imperfect? The days of therapists presenting this perfect impenetrable have-my-life-together are over! Or at least for those of us that keep up to date with Best Practice with capital B and P.

You have to model the model – be imperfect, be vulnerable, be human and show that it is okay to be all those things you’re telling clients are okay! If you say one thing then to the contrary then why would the client believe you?

Or relate to you.

Or trust you.

So my point is that I’m really tired guys. Moving sucks. Buying furniture sucks and is so expensive. The dog in the box photo I found is cute though.

And you can always trust me to be honest and imperfect.

Peace,

Michelle

Relationship counselling includes your relationship to yourSelf. (See what I did there? Haha.) And why sometimes you need to tell your inner dialogue to f*ck off. Really!

It might sound woo-woo (which is I phrase I picked up somewhere in the last 6 months from who know’s where but I like it) but it’s true.

Relational living is unavoidable because your inner dialogue exists. Inner dialogue is not when you talk to yourself out loud, or even when you consciously choose talk to your self inside your head, or make a silent sassy comment. An inner dialogue is instinctive and immediate and out of your control. An inner dialogue is reactive tied to your sense of self (and self worth).

It’s that self-critic that tears you apart without permission, the anxiety you get when a silence goes on for too long in a group, the fear that someone doesn’t like you.

It can also be the a positive voice – immediate sense of gratification, feeling validated and connected, etc.

And you can backtalk your inner voice which relates back to how you cannot avoid relationships in life because you will always be in a relationship to yourself. Bummer, I know.

There can be a little bit of an element of CBT and ACT (disclaimer: I’m not massive fan of the models in my work) in the conversation if you want to “get rid” of anxious thoughts and build your self-compassion.

FYI: Self-esteem is built on a value based in comparison to others. Self-compassion is a feeling of warmth and kindness to yourself simply because you exist.

One question I ask clients (which some people may think is unprofessional) is that if they feel comfortable telling that self-critical voice to f*ck off. I know, I know. It’s a little (a lot) strong but it’s good gauge on how people see themselves and how much their concious mind vs subconcious mind are aligned in their motivations to change.

I tell myself to f*ck off all the time (sometimes). Less so now then a year ago. It brings humour into a shitty situation and it’s empowering. It brings energy with it’s aggression, it brings a sense of power and strength, it makes me think that I’m a badass, and it’s silly enough that it makes me smile.

I also swear heaps in my personal life (and some times in my professional life. Oops.) so it fits my personality. It may not fit everyone! And that’s a-ok!

You might prefer to gently say to that inner dialogue – “Hey, it’s okay. I’m okay. You’re okay.” You can also add a thought or fact that challenges the negative dialogue but you don’t have to like – “Bosslady sent you an email after the last meeting about how she really appreciated your input in the group discussion and brainstorm. No reason why that’d be different now”. Sometimes with both people and your Self, a little compassion without confrontation can go a long way in quietening aggression and fear. That’s also a whole other blog – so many blog ideas and so little time (and energy let’s be honest).

Peace,

Michelle

Why anger is a bodyguard emotion, what it's protecting, and how it can be both useful and dangerous.

So anger… what do I think about it? It’s so complicated. I don’t see it as good or bad. I see it in terms of is it useful and not-useful right now? So I’ve made a list of the pros and cons of anger. I’m going to use the pronoun “we” because I am also human before I am a counsellor.

Useful when…

  • Motivates us to get shit done when we might otherwise may fall apart.
  • Protective and can keep us safe in times of danger from others, and yourself.
  • Crazy smart from an evolutionary perspective for survival.
  • Source of inner power to fight for our rights and injustice of all kinds so we don’t feel helpless.
  • Prevent burnout if we work in jobs that expose us to shitty circumstances like systemic inequality (e.g. social work) or fascist world.
  • It’s telling us that’s something is wrong – we might not even realise it but our mind and body’s picked up something’s not fair/right/happy/what we want/abusive/etc in our life that’s in the way of our happiness.

On the other hand it can be not very useful if it overwhelms you and potentially…

  • Becomes problematic and a barrier to our everyday life.
  • It impacts our job e.g. attendance, performance, relationships at work, etc.
  • Socially isolating when it impacts our relationships by pushing people away by starting fights or isolating ourself consciously to protect others from the anger.
  • Dangerous and abusive if we take it out on ourself or others around us.
  • We start using it as an excuse for bad behaviour.
  • We feel trapped in our body and helpless.

Clearly it’s a double-edged sword and it’s a great band-aid for times of stress, depression or danger but it’s not sustainable in the long run.

But when it is being useful, what is it telling you and what is it protecting?

“Anger is a tool for change when it challenges us to become more of an expert on the self and less of an expert on others.”

Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships

In therapy, it’s protecting those soft squishy vulnerable emotions that might make us feel weak or cry.

I, personally, get angry when I’m hurt. When something happens or someone says something that shocks and hurts me, I immediately use a little bit of anger to cover and disguise it. I find it comforting, protective, keeps me from feeling vulnerable and exposed to someone’s (I perceive to have an element of) influence over me because I care about their opinion of me.

Sometimes that’s useful and appropriate when the “offender” was defensive or aggressive in the past when you were honest with your hurt. If you’ve never been vulnerable with them before, give them the benefit of the doubt as people have surprised me more often than not.

Sometimes it’s not useful or appropriate because the other person may genuinely respond with kindness and support if you say you’re feeling hurt. I feel (thought obviously I’m biased) that I’m pretty good at judging people. I’ve been a lot more vulnerable and honest with people in my personal and professional life and it’s generally brought me closer to people and created a more secure attachment style between us.

I also get angry when I’m scared. It’s most commonly when I hear or see racism or sexism. I feel shock and hurt and it make me so angry to compensate. I feel unsafe and hyper-vigilant when I hear a racist or sexist comment so I use anger to protect me. Sometimes it’s to get aggressive to fight back (not physically though my body is ready at that moment) and/or keep me energised enough so I don’t freeze up so I can get away from the situation. A way that it might not be useful is if I overcompensate and escalate a dangerous situation but thankfully that’s never happened.

Those are just two examples where anger has been useful and protective, and the possible dangers of it too.

Any where does this anger come from? Where did you learn this way of coping?

“Our family of origin—the source of our first blueprint for navigating relationships.”

Harriet Learner

“All of us are vulnerable to intense, nonproductive angry reactions in our current relationships if we do not deal openly and directly with emotional issues from our first family—in particular, losses and cutoffs.”

Harriet Learner

This doesn’t mean reconciliation. This doesn’t even necessarily mean contact! It means understanding the legacies they left you with, and letting go if what they taught you so you can be different – so you can be more.

See ya next time,

Michelle

ps. Happy new year!

What's the difference between a social worker, counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist and psychiatrist?!

I professionally identify as a social worker and a counsellor. I think I would also fit into the definition of a psychotherapist but it’s a term that I don’t identify strongly. I have a Bachelor of Social Work and a Graduate Diploma of Relationship Counselling so those titles fit most comfortably for me.

Social Workers: A social worker needs am accredited Bachelor of Social Work or a Masters of Social Work (Qualifying) degree by the Australian Association of Social Workers to use the title.

Counsellors/Psychotherapist: A counsellor/psychotherapist in Australia doesn’t require any training or qualification to use the title though there are many different programs/degrees that teach counselling and psychotherapy. There are two voluntary registration bodies: the ACA (Australian Counselling Association) and PAFCA (Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia).

Psychologist: A psychologist must have completed a 4 year Bachelor of Psychology, then Honours or post-graduate diploma, then a Masters degree or 2 years supervised internship. A Clinical psychologist is a psychologist with a Masters of Clinical Psychology, while a Registered Psychologist does not have a Masters.

Psychiatrist: A psychiatrist is a registered doctor who can prescribe medication. Sometimes they are trained in psychotherapy but often are not. Often only get consulted when a client needs to adjust their medication and not for therapeutic services. Many trained GPs will be able to provide the same medication management.

So who should you see?

It depends on your needs. I am, of course, biased as I am a social worker and I believe we work holistically. It really depends on how you click with specific practitioners and how their specialities meet your needs.

I don’t think titles matter as much as how much you would get out of it. I’ve seen a variety of mental health professionals for both personal counselling and professional supervision – including counsellors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists.

If you think we would click well together then shoot me an email at: nichemichelle@gmail.com and we can chat more.

Do you need anger management, a men's behavioural change program, or individual/couples counselling? And the difference.

The treatment for a child/young person who struggles to control their behaviour is very different compared to treatment for an adult who has explosive harmful behaviours. I will be talking about adults (and mostly men though women can also use power and control in relationships) as that is my main client group. I will see adolescents and families but not children (8 or younger). I will be using gendered language for ease of reading. Treatment for adults can also be different depending on the level of motivation and buy-in from the person.

If you are searching for ways to control your own anger, of if you’re part of a couple that’s trying to find anger management for couples then I respect and applaud you for being proactive identifying the issue and looking for help. It’s hard and confronting to admit you have a part in the pattern. I welcome and encourage you .

Or are you looking for an anger management service for your partner, your husband, your wife? That’s a lot trickier. Will they be open to your suggestions or will they tell you to just bug off?

There’s a difference between anger management programs and men’s behavioural change programs. There’s a little bit of overlap (barely) but the biggest difference is that men’s behavioural change programs are specifically designed for men who use power, control and violence (including psychological, verbal, sexual or physical). Often attendance is court ordered but other times it’s voluntary.

Anger management is for a man who cannot stop lashing out at his parents, partner/s, kid/s, boss, co-workers, strangers, everyone in their life because they have not been taught how to self-regulate their emotions and self-soothe. This man has a problem controlling his anger.

Men’s behaviour change programs are for a man who can bottle up all his stress and anger from work to explode at home at his family because he knows if he explodes at his boss/co-workers he will be hold accountable. This man is abusive.

Do you see the difference? There’s intention and choice for the man who’s abusive towards his family.

Things like drugs and alcohol, stress, childhood trauma, etc are factors that do not cause domestic violence. They are excuses for conscious choices to behave badly.

You might want to bring your angry or abusive partner to couples counselling because you love them and want to keep your family together. It would be best for the angry/abusive partner to both go to their own individual counselling AND a group program (I will provide links to NSW programs below.)

However, I know things aren’t so straightforward. Maybe your partner doesn’t think he has a problem – maybe he thinks you’re just overreacting and that you’re the problem! Maybe the only way you think you can get him into therapy is to bring him to couples therapy.

That can be a good way to get him into therapy but be careful to find a therapist who is trained in men’s behaviour change. Otherwise, the therapist may miss the signs and do “normal” couples therapy which won’t support long term change as it’s not address the underlying abusive behaviours and beliefs. There’s not a lot of counsellors who have specific training in this so you should ask them directly if they have training or experience with men who use power and control.

I do have the training and experience, and I believe that these men (or women) are not inherently bad or beyond hope.

To other services looking for referral pathways: I welcome refers for individual counselling for men who are already attending behaviour change programs as best practice is to attend both individual and group therapy.

To clients: Come as you are. As long as you’re open to exploring and being curious about yourself then you are welcome. Therapy is not meant to be easy.

List of Accredited Men’s Behaviour Change Programs within NSW: https://www.ntv.org.au/get-help/list-of-mens-behaviour-change-programs/

Be careful that the program you or your partner is signing up to is an accredited program. There are many programs out there that are not accredited and therefore not evidence-based or regulated and may do more harm than good.

Just another bio…

It’s always such a dilemma when writing up or choosing a professional biography/write up. I like the first person casual atmosphere (as you can probably tell from my Who Am I? page) but recently I was asked to write up a bio for a new workplace and I tried to follow their style. I’m interested in getting feedback of  what you think would be more welcoming/encouraging for the clients to message for an appointment:

Michelle is a qualified social worker and relationship counsellor. She specialises in issues of self-growth and identity, family and couples therapy, parent-child bonding, working with the LGBTIQA+ community, family of origin exploration and issues, relational and complex trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect, working with men who use violence, and attachment issues. Michelle enjoys working with individuals and couples to really unpack their experiences of relationships and sense of self. She is interested in how our families of origin influence how we think and act in our current relationships.

Michelle also enjoys working with carer-child relationships to facilitate a secure attachment and deeper connection whether this is with an adolescent or a toddler. She has experience working with children and families that have been impacted by trauma such as domestic violence or intergenerational neglect. She approaches these issues with an empathetic non-blaming lens.

Michelle’s practice framework is developed from a variety of models and theories but the she would say she is most passionate about attachment theory, narrative therapy, family systems therapy, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, trauma-informed, and Open Dialogue/dialogical practice. However, she doesn’t think that all that is as important as the relationship between the therapist and client.

She also co-facilitates a monthly parent’s support group for gender-diverse youth at the Gender Centre, and is interested in running workshops/groups for both clients and practitioners.

Hello and welcome!

Hello, I am Michelle. I’m glad something about me resonated with you so you clicked on my profile. I don’t know how I could possibly summarise me as a professional or a person on using words on a page. I think the therapist-client relationship and chemistry is more important than a list of credentials or a fancy spiel.

A little about me: I am a social worker and a relationship counsellor. I am a queer Chinese-Australian woman that loves dogs and reading.  I believe that relationships are key of living a rich life (including friendships, and relationships to yourself if no one else). I am the same as you – human.

I am an individual, couple and family therapist. My interest is on self-growth, relationships, attachment-based therapies, family and couple therapy, groupwork, narrative, systemic, and intergenerational trauma/legacies.

I love working with you to really unpack your experiences of relationships and sense of self. There’s so much we carry from our families of origin and what we believe about relationships that is subconscious that impacts our sense of Self, identity, self-worth, romantic relationships (attachment styles, communication styles), friendships, the way we parent (insecure/secure, punitive/passive, authoritarian/authoritative), the way we communicate, and the way we see the world (safe/unsafe).

I am currently work in private practice and at an NGO offering therapy, consultations and training for individuals, children and young people, couples, families and practitioners. I’ve worked at the NGOs e.g. Gender Centre (transgender and gender diverse service) and Interrelate Family Relationship Centre, among other organisations.

I don’t believe any of this means I am more of an expert than you about your lived experiences or relationships – I am here to talk with you, not talk at you in a monologue.

I want to be explicit in saying I am inclusive and warmly welcome all LGBTIQA+. CALD, poly, any other diversities you might be wary that therapists may not understand.

I work with people on a human to human level and believe that therapy is about the relationship between us, not me telling you what to do or any specific model. We might try specific things from specific models but overall I work holistically and tailor my approach to you.