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

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

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.

Controversial Question: Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

This is a question that’s come up a few times in the last month in my readings, audiobooks, discussions with colleagues, and now in my thoughts.

I can cite a bunch of blahblahblah this theorist says this, that theorist says that – but really what is your immediate visceral reaction?

Where do you think your belief came from? Your parents? The media? Has it ever caused any problems for you or your intimate relationships?

I won’t lie. I was a fierce proponent of “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else!” I think it is 200% true that you should focus on self-compassion (which is different to self-esteem; post on that to come) and prioritize self-care in this fast-paced chew you up and spit you out society.

However, does that mean you should avoid being vulnerable and dating until you’re 100% settled in your own skin?

Maybe. Maybe not. Context, as always, matters.

One of my core principles as a therapist is working transparently (translation: no bullshit). I’m going to throw out another controversial idea! Haha! I think dating is one of those things that may not be for everyone.  I think it’s fair enough for people to make a conscious decision to stay single.  Some people who do not have the emotional energy to give to a romantic partner with existing needs (e.g. mental health; children) and it’s best for their stress and wellbeing to focus on themselves. 

But!

If you’re using something like that as an excuse and not a genuine reason that it’s time to challenge yourself on what you really want, what you’re scared of, and what you want that you don’t even know you want.

If you are interested in the theoretical side of it look into Stan Tatkin (PACT), Sue Johnson (Emotionally Focused Therapy), Dick Schwartz (Internal Family Systems), Gottman, Brene Brown for modern theorists’ view on it.

The (historical) pioneers of attachment theory were Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby.

My reflections on Emotionally Focused Therapy

I’ve been brushing up on my Emotionally Focused Therapy with Sue Johnson’s online course and her book/s. I’m far from an expert but so far it’s a model that really aligns with my main homeboys Attachment Theory and Family Systems Theory.

If I had to take only one thing from my study into Emotionally Focused Therapy, it would be to not get distracted by the content couples come in with (we never have sex anymore! the house is a mess! you’re rude to my mum! you had an affair! I don’t like the way you speak to me!). Under all this content is the root of the problem – disconnection.

Of course, the other things problems – but the root of ALL problems is the lack of emotional safety and security in your connection to each other to openly and unabashedly talk about it without anger, hurt, sadness or defensiveness.

The root of all discontent is disconnection.

The solution is safety and security in connection with another (your lover, your child, your mother, your Self).