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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

A letter to potential clients: Yep, therapy is hard

- by Carolyn Bergen

Dear Potential Client:

As a person contemplating entering counselling, I feel like there are a few things you need to know. A lot more people have considered counselling than have actually made an appointment. So...a lot of people wonder about making an appointment, maybe even want to make an appointment...but don't. 

I just wanna make sure that you decide to not come to counselling for the right reasons.

I spoke to a friend this week who is in serious crisis. Other friends of ours were encouraging her to make an appointment with a therapist. In the end she spent the money for a session on paint for her bedroom. She spent her spare time for a week making her bedroom into her own little personal haven--a beautiful escape from the rest of the world. She maintains that this was the best therapy for her. Good on her for making that decision.

She did some important healing. She did therapy. Just not in an office. Sometimes a new coat of paint truly is therapy.

But sometimes people don't go to therapy, and they avoid healing altogether. That makes me sad. To know that there might be healing from the hurting for people, and they aren't grabbing the opportunity, and squeezing it. I love it when people grab an opportunity to heal--whether it is painting, or therapy--and don't squeeze every last drop of healing out of the opportunity into their hearts.

I think there are reasons people choose to not go to counselling for healing. I'm gonna invite you to think on these...and decide if you are choosing not to go to counselling for good reasons, or reasons that don't stand up. These are reasons that I think are powerfully and strongly given, that in my mind, just don't hold up:

1. You've been told counselling is for sissies (or wimps, or weaklings or something of the sort)

Evidently you've never witnessed a counselling session.

Simply put: therapy is one long exercise in vulnerability. 

Brené Brown, one of my favourite researchers, says that vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. But it is never weakness. I like her and I know that thought to be true. 

My clients show me. Every. Single. Day.

People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are town in the real badasses. Quote by Brené Br

Therapy is hard and risky work. It means:

You gotta know that if you show up in our therapy offices, you are seen as a person who is strong and courageous in being willing to look at the hardest parts of your life. 
I see you, as a new client, as a wise investor--willing to do hard things because you believe that the healing inside yourself and in your relationships will be a payoff that is well worth it.

2. You've been told that therapy is all about blaming your mother/father/bully/abuser...and it just seems like that's a lousy use of money.

Bad things happen to good people. Life isn't fair. Trauma shapes us powerfully. We don't have to like any of this. It's just truth.

But healing means taking responsibility for your own internal suffering. It means being aware not only of what happened, but how you tell yourself a story about what happened.  It means growing to accept that others are often doing the best they can, even when they are doing bad and hurtful things.

Those insights--when you get them at a soul level...well, that changes a person.

It means drawing boundaries. It means having hard conversations. It means grieving things that will never be...and then not hurting from the fantasy that will never be.

I'll warn you. Therapy is hard. 

Once you start counselling, you won't be able to keep on blaming others for your internal discomfort. 

It means looking inside for how your reaction to what has happened shapes your experience of what happened. It's often the story we tell ourselves about what happened that shapes how we see the world. The story we tell ourselves is often an unconscious confabulation where we honestly believe a lie about ourselves or the world. 

There is no way to know when we are confabulating without someone hearing our story and helping us work through it. Perspective is essential...and how are we supposed to see parts of ourselves we can't see?

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. But trust me, easier said than done.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. —Maya Angelou

3. You've bought into the cultural belief of the relationship equivalent of "The world is flat"

A lot of people believed for a long time that the earth was flat. Even when science said the world was round, folks denied it, and maintained the belief that the earth was a pancake. 

They can believe the earth is a giant Frisbee...but that doesn't change the reality...the earth is a giant ball.

And folks...we are wired for connection. We need each other. 

"I don't need anybody" or "I don't let anybody in" or "I'll only get hurt if I am vulnerable" are all emotional and relational equivalents of "The world is flat".

We understand the world and ourselves best in community. Therapy is an excellent place to start connecting if you live in a world where you have always believed, "I don't need anybody".

I've had folks (most often they are men) that tell me within the first 10-15 minutes of a session that they have told me more of their inner world than they have told anybody. Ever.

And folks, those people who are opening up--for the first time in their lives--they are terrified and second guessing themselves...and wondering why they waited so long. It's hard and challenging...and we can't promise you a straight upward line of linear progress

Talking to another person about the secrets and the fears and the inadequacies of one's life paradoxically feels life-giving and soul-saving. It acts like a glass of clean, cool water to a parched and thirsty soul...the dry cracks start to fill in, even in just the sharing of one's story.

We don

Secrets kill...and therapy is a great place to start speaking out, to practice talking about the things that secretly hijack your life. Once they are spoken of, they lose their power. In this clip, Wayne Brady speaks of the tremendous pressure that culture puts on people--especially men--to pretend they are OK.

Having the courage to reckon with our emotions and to rumble with our stories is the path to writing our brave new ending and the path that leads to wholeheartedness.  Quote by Brené Brown

So, dear-person-who-is-considering-counselling, know that we are ready to rumble with you. Make the call or write the email, and get the reckoning started. Get your brave on, and tell your story to someone who wants to help you write a better story.

You might have some questions about what it is really like to book an appointment. or what to expect the first session. I'll write you soon about that too.

You don't have to come to counselling if it's not right for you. But please make sure that you're not just making excuses. Please be candid with yourself if you are avoiding something big in your life. 

We would be honoured to work with you.




Hopes for Parenting in a Fast Moving World Part 1

- by Lindsey Walsh

(alternate working title: How to Slow Down and Stop Being a Jerk) 

From time to time I almost have myself convinced that I’m all grown up. On those occasions, I’m doing grown-up type things like voting for a prime minister, having difficult conversations with my boss**, or re-re-reading the bedtime stories my son prefers (rather than modern masterpieces like Benny and the Binky).

In fact, I am so mature now that I can even spend an hour at the supermarket without sneaking something into the shopping cart and/or whining until my wife lets me buy the sugary cereal.

And then despite the ever-thickening eyebrow and my wizened demeanour, something magically-youth-giving happens, and all of this maturity and equanimity just sort of floats away. I cease to be the mild-mannered, quick-to-smile man that I strive so hard to be…

I get behind the wheel and 

<sing this line:> Duh, du, la, duh

I transform into…

Driving Man

I am not proud of this.

Poster of"Driving Man" a blog about sending mixed signals and telling people what we really need

After all, Driving Man has about as much maturity as Caiou and all the dignity of, oh boy, I’ll let you fill in the blank on that one. I had a certain former Toronto mayor in mind, but I don’t like to mix politics with blogging.

Anyhow, you get the point: Driving Man is slightly less sympathetic than the velocoraptor in Jurrasic Park.

(I think I stole that joke from somewhere, but I’m not sure from where - sorry.)

So, given Driving Man’s limitless-impatience and timeless-immaturity (funny how those two seem to go hand-in-hand), you will not be surprised that he did not like it when Pedestrian Crossing Lights started popping-up all over his daily commute-route.

He did not like pedestrian crossing lights.

He did not like them, one little bit. In fact, he was offended by them.

The very fact that there were now 3 more things that existed, to his way of thinking, simply to slow down his daily commute, that offended him.

Oh, Driving Man! Poor, poor, grumpy Driving Man!

And then something happened that jiu-jitsued Driving Man’s attitude from impatient into mindfully-present, from “Get out of my way!” to “Ok, little buddies, take all the time you need.”

The thing that happened was this:

A little kid walked up and looked both ways.

Then he sheepishly hit the crossing lights button.

And then he waited for the drivers to stop their thundering metal death traps (Civics, Rangers, Malibus, Smartcars, etc).

And then he looked both ways, again.

And then he hit the button one more time, just, I suppose, for good measure.

And then he hustled to the median.

And then he hit the second crosswalk button.

And then…

Heck, Driving Man cannot report what the child did next, because by that point, the pedestrian light in front of Driving Man had stopped flashing and he was hurtling, once again, towards the next stop light. 

And yet the beauty of this child's deliberate actions did strike Driving Man as he was racing off, and it’s struck him several times since:

“It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” thinks Driving Man “It is very, very cool that the boy knew how to give all of us racing adults the signal they needed to stop and to let him cross safely.”

And that made Driving Man think then, and he’s often thought since:

Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t it be awesome? 

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every time we were in an un-safe-feeling situation we knew exactly what signal to give?

Imagine if there were some set of agreed upon verbal practices, physical codes, and emotional regulations – just like pedestrian crossing lights - that we could reliably follow to tell the important people in our lives, “Hey, I need some help, here.”

And, wouldn’t it be even better, if upon noticing the flashing lights they actually did the thing we requested?

Imagine if every time you cried in sorrow, or yelled in frustration, or posted something embarrassing on facebook, that everyone who heard or saw your signal knew what you needed them to do in response to make it ok.

And then they did what you needed 99% of the time

Imagine that!

But, of course, us human beings just aren’t built that way, now are we?

We are not simple! No, no, no! And, unlike that boy and the pedestrian crossing light, we give mixed signals.

  • Sometimes we smile when we’re sad, or 
  • We yell angrily when we are hurting inside; 
  • Sometimes we ask for help though we can clearly be independent; 
  • Sometimes people offer the help we need, and we decline it.

We just aren’t built to be easy-reads, us humans. 

We’re built to be contradictory, and baffling, and hard to read.

Particularly when our emotions are involved (and our emotions are always involved),

There is no simple, 99% clear signal.

And when there is a clear signal, there is no nearly-perfect response.

...or is there? 


I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with some thoughts on this.

After all, if an unknown child can make Driving Man (he of little patience) grateful for a slower and less efficient commute…

...well, then anything is possible.

**(personal note from Carolyn: Lindsey's boss here. For the record, any and all difficult conversations have been resolved successfully...and I would maintain...not that difficult. :) Just sayin'

Carolyn's Shoebox Legacy

- by Carolyn Klassen

And now...we take a break from the regular blog posts and send out a "message in a bottle" sort of blog. About 132 children will receive a shoebox from Samaritan's Purse this year with a letter that has this link to it. We don't know where they will be from--it could be anywhere in the world. Maybe some of them will have access to the internet. Maybe some of them will read this blog post. Maybe some of them will know someone who can translate this. Maybe some of them will then better know of the love and caring that went into their shoebox, and of the fun of packing...and of the prayers that were invisibly tucked in and around each item. And the rest of you that happen upon this blog? The rest of you can just sorta 'Listen in'. 

Poster depicting ethnically diverse hands holding each other with quote:"We belong to each other" by Mother Teresa

I've written before about how one of the important roles I willingly chose when I married J seven months ago, was to honor the memory of his first wife, Carolyn. (Yes--her name is the same as mine)  She was kind and loving, and left a trail of smiles wherever she went. She cared about people...and the folks she happened upon felt it. One of her favourite things to do in the year was to make shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. A ridiculously large amount of their Christmas budget went towards toothbrushes and toys, hair bands and pencil crayons, balls and washcloths. These went into shoeboxes and were shipped off to Samaritan's Purse to be distributed to children who may have never before in their lives received a gift.

Carolyn loved packing shoeboxes. That was one of the things she was known for. When she died, her friends were invited to bring a packed shoebox to her memorial service in lieu of donations. Her workplace collected money and put together shoeboxes at Christmas after her death to remember her. Shoe boxes and Car just go together.

So...we invited Car's family and friends, her Junior Tribe Member's friends and their parents, and other friends and family important in our lives to a "Shoebox Packing" party held in memory of Car this week.

Folks arrived with bags and bags of toothbrushes, soap, washcloths, T-shirts, stuffed animals, soccer balls, hair bands, markers, pencil crayons, little toys, pencils, erasers and countless other items. People arrived excited to make shoe boxes.

The junior high boys were in charge of making the boxes. Some of the dads helped. One family cut out the boy/girl labels to tape to the boxes. A lot of the moms helped sort and organize the items into piles--it was an organized chaos. We put on Christmas music. Some brought snacks to munch on while we were making boxes. 

Before we started filling the boxes, we gathered around and J., Carolyn's husband (and now mine), talked about Car's love for shoeboxes...and even more, her love for the children who would receive them. He read a paragraph from a book about what was said at her memorial service:

She served those close to her but also found ways to serve others in need who were far away. One of her true joys was excitedly shopping for and carefully packing shoeboxes, ensuring as many times as possible could be included for children in developing countries. Operation Christmas Child packing parties were a highlight each year. Her enthusiasm was best expressed in her own words when she said to J: "I've never been drunk, but maybe this is what it feels like. I just can't stop shopping for more boxes." 

After a time of prayer of blessing for the boxes...and even more so for the children who would be the recipients, we got to packing. Then chaos took over! People reaching this way and that, organizing and reorganizing the boxes to see if more could be fit into each box. The kids loved "shopping" for their unknown child, carefully choosing what would go into the box...imagining what a child of that certain age would prefer. Some of the children wanted to put only toys in the boxes...and the adults would gently encourage the inclusion of a toothbrush, comb and soap. It got loud and a little crazy--and a lotta fun.

In each box was a letter that talked about Carolyn, her love for her family, and her love for children far away that she had never met, but in some small way, wanted to impact. The letter had a postcard with photos of Car and her family...and a link to this post.

We had a blast: you, the recipient of a shoebox with a letter in it that directed you to this page: 

Please know that you have been prayed for. Please know that we have spent time dreaming about you, wondering who you are. Praying that you are healthy and that you know safety. We know that there are challenges in your life, and that there are factors which make life difficult...but we also hope that there are relationships that create joy, and that you have some laughter in your life. We hope that this shoe box in some small way lets you know that you matter to a small band of people far, far away. We had you in mind when one of us put the box together. There was a very special momma named Carolyn who inspired those of us around her to care and love others far away that we don't know, but being in the same world, are very very much connected to. We are a part of a global family. We belong to each other...and shoeboxes are one of the ways we know to make a direct connection to love you, a distant relative in this global family of ours. May this box be a small blessing in your life...and may it's contents let you know you matter to someone far, far away who wishes you well.


- by Carolyn Bergen

Today is Remembrance Day.

I remember as a child cutting poppy shapes out of red construction paper, and making crosses, and having assemblies where a retired soldier would come and talk to us. Those crafts would be pinned on the bulletin board and the elderly man with the many pins on his suit would impress upon us, "Never again". 

Repeat again next year. 

This world is full of conflict...ugly stuff, complicated stuff where it is generally a lot more confusing on the ground than at first blush in the paper or in Wikipedia...generations of systems dynamics where perpetrators have been victimized, and oppressors have a history of oppression. 

It's a whole lot messier than it seemed when I was a child.

Conflict exists at a global level...wars and "armed conflict"--a rather sanitized term for something gruesome and violent--exist in multiple places in the world. Conflict exists within countries as political parties criticize and coerce, cajole and complain, and in some places, bomb and brutalize. Within cities and neighborhoods, school and organizations. Families, and couples. Everywhere there are humans, there is conflict.

I've been wearing this pin for the last 10 days:
As a therapist, Carolyn Bergen is called to create peace in tribute to those who have given their lives in conflict.
I recognize this isn't gonna make a difference...wearing a pin doesn't create peace.

But it does remind me as I wear it, that others have given their lives to allow us to live in peace...and so those of us that have received that gift have an obligation and responsibility to be peace-creators wherever we find ourselves planted.

If there is to be peace in the world, 
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations, 
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities, 
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors, 
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home, 
There must be peace in the heart.
- Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.) 

I take seriously the idea that as mothers and fathers have the ability to calm and sooth themselves, they can calm and soothe their children, providing a safe and loving environment.

Those children, when they grow to be adults will have greater capacity for empathy and understanding, a greater ability to tolerate differences and look for overlapping similarities, to find ways of relating to those who are estranged.

As a therapist, I have a responsibility and a privilege to work to create space where husbands and wives can live in a genuine peace with each other, where children and parents are able to authentically communicate in a respectful way. 

And as people, in their various roles as caregivers, teachers, parents, nurses, therapists, custodians, bus drivers and so on gather together to create situations of peace, it will catch fire and spread.

I'm aware that for many, Remembrance Day is not a day of thought where one ponders the significance of war in an academic sort of way. 

Recent peacekeeping and conflict duties of our Armed Forces mean that many mourn a friend, an uncle, a grandchild today. Someone with a name and a face, someone that didn't come home. Our thoughts are with you today.

Others did come home. And I wait for the day, when all can go home to hug their children, mothers, spouses and friends. When the folks in other countries who flee conflicts can go home to a place where they feel they can belong...or arrive welcomed in a new country that will become their home.

This world is a messy, violent place. But it also a place of love and connection. And increasing the love and connection is a way to make is a less messy and violent place.

Tags: Living Well

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau

- by Carolyn Bergen

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau from Carolyn Klassen at Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I'm no political wizard, so I have no political advice or wisdom to give you. Nada. Zip. As a Canadian, however, I care about this country...and I care for it's leaders. You are head of this very large collective family of Canada, and so I wanted to share a few things you and the rest of this family we call Canada. 

Please read this picturing that we are all gathered round one very large dinner table together, as I share a few things that have been on my mind:

Your Dad

You're going to have to allow us a few weeks to get used to you being "Prime Minister Trudeau"...and some are going to do a lot of comparing of you to your father. That might be hard. To be honest, right now when I hear the words "Prime Minister Trudeau", my brain goes to a mental file that has a picture of your dad. 

Give me a few weeks and that'll change. It'll change for all of us, I think.

As a therapist, I work with lots of folks. They tell me that it can be hard in this world to make your own way when you have well known parents. There will be some that will pressure you to fill your dad's shoes. 


Buy your own shoes and fill those. 

This world needs you to be you. Just as the world needs all of us to just be who we are. Feel free to use the wisdom you gained by being his son, but don't let yourself feel trapped into anything because he was your dad.


A colleague of mine had a husband who bought a car. He bought it fairly impulsively, and it was a 5 speed standard, and she didn't drive a stick. She was disappointed. And furious. But they were family. They talked about it...she let him know how she felt about it. Oh yes, she did. She was direct about her disagreement. Then they got about the business of making their lives work with this car payment for a vehicle she didn't want to learn how to drive. Quite simply, she rolled with it. She was happier for it, I think. She didn't create a life of resentment and bitterness for them both. They actually still had a great marriage. She figured out how to be a team with him even though she didn't agree. I learned something from that.

I think we can all learn something about figuring out how to make it work even when we disagree on some things.

Prime Minister Trudeau, there are a lot of Canadians who didn't vote for you. But I'm hoping Canadians can find a way to respect you as the head of us, even with disagreements. 

Ultimately, we are all on the same team. We all want this country to be better than it is now.  We want everyone to have food to eat, a roof over their heads, and to feel respected and valued. We want a world that has less conflict, and we want our country to make a positive difference in the world. I'm hoping we can pull together on the important things.

I'm hoping that when we disagree (and you will have about 35 million different opinions on most things I suspect), we can create a discourse which is courageous. I'm hoping it can be candid in a respectful way that opens dialogue rather than shuts it down. 

I'm hoping we can be curious when others (including you) express different ideas than our own, rather than being judgemental. I think when we are judgemental we shut down and can't listen well to each other. When people push their agendas so much that they aren't listening to others, quite frankly, they aren't much fun to work with. This actually compromises how their ideas are heard.

I'm hoping that Members of Parliament can be less about promoting their own party and criticizing the others, and more about making this country a better place. I'm hoping that MP's can appreciate positive movement, even, or maybe especially when, it comes on behalf of another party's efforts.

Ultimately, government is about making our country and our world a better place for it's inhabitants. Listening--truly listening--is vital. Empathy and compassion go a long way.

I'm going to work to be gracious in my comments about you to others. I'm going to make an effort to be respectful in conversation even when I disagree with you. I'm going to look for reasons to be grateful for you. I want to be understanding of your efforts, and curious about your policies. We belong to each other, part of one's not fair for us to pick on you, label you, or malign you. I'll seek to do my part to make this country a better place, and not shoot easy criticism from the grandstands.

And even when I'm not sure I understand, I will choose to believe that you are doing the best job you can, and will endeavor to do my part to help make you a better Prime Minister. I want to support you in an informed way.

Your Family

You and the other candidates had a very long time before the election to campaign. The intense schedule must have been relentless--hard on you and hard on your family, as it was for so very many candidates and their families. I'm guessing the first weeks of office will be incredibly full of all the prime ministerial duties that are now your responsibility, locally and internationally. 

As someone who recognizes the value of rest and family, I'm hoping somewhere in there, you and the rest of the newly elected parliament can find some well deserved and needed moments of R and R and connection.

I can only imagine how very hard the political life is on a family. My son used to play at volleyball tournaments where Ben Harper was also playing. I used to watch Prime Minister Harper watch our sons' teams play...he would often be interrupted by folks wanting to shake his hand or have a photo taken. I'm not sure us regular Canadians can appreciate the innumerable requests for your time.

I'm grateful your wife, Sophie supports you in this endeavour. Having you be Prime Minister means that her life she takes on greater role of parenting, and works to be a supportive spouse--all in the public eye. With three little ones needing love and support and security like all children need, and with you travelling a bunch, it's gonna be busy for her.

Remember that she needs your support too

Remember that lots of people can work together to lead this great country of Canada, but only you can be Sophie's husband, and only you can be Xavier, Hadrien, and Ella-Grace's daddy. 

They need you. 

Don't sacrifice your relationship with your family for the sake of this country, please.

You've got your work cut out for you, haven't you? 

I would think that being Prime Minister of Canada is a little like herding cats. One of the greatest strengths of our country is that folks express their feelings and opinions very freely. 

That makes us a difficult bunch to lead as well.

You are brand new at leading an entire country. When anybody else starts a job, they usually get a lot of time to settle in, listen a lot to get a sense of the job. Some will be impatient...that's OK. Take a deep breath while you're settling in.

I want to invite you to remember how important it is to listen to your gut. It's vital to find a quiet space amongst the many folks who will tell you what do to. Give yourself permission to hear your own inner compass?

But give yourself permission to listen to those around you. Don't try to do this "running a country thing" by yourself. Nothing worthwhile in life should be done completely alone by any of us.

There will be a lot of support from people who care and want you to succeed. You already know who some of your wisest, most faithful advisors are. You will come across others who are equally wise and interested in you having the best knowledge to move forward--and who they are may surprise you. I'm hoping you can discern who authentically has the best interests of the country at heart, especially when they say truths that are inconvenient or difficult to hear.

You will be the brunt of much criticism--that goes with the job. I'm hoping that you will hold fast onto who you are, knowing who you are is so much more than Prime Minister of Canada. I'm hoping that you will know who you are is not defined by what you do. I'm hoping that you will have a few people who have earned the right to speak into your life that will remind you of who you really are, when everybody is telling you something else. Tend to your soul when life gets rough.

May these next years be fruitful and productive for you and for this fine country of ours.

"I'm proud of you"

- by Carolyn Bergen


I had a smile on my face the other day remembering the conversation:

A friend of mine met me for lunch...

John and his wife are good friends of mine...maybe 5 years or so younger than I am. Good people. Solid. He has Junior Tribe Members the same age as I do, and our kids played together. They were good friends with us--me and my former husband--for years. 

Then, a decade ago, life went sharply south for my husband, and he left his wife and his life. I was on my own. John was there. He sat on my front steps with me and listened when I cried. He fixed my leaky pipe when it was dripping into the basement. John and his wife had us over for a backyard BarBQ* in the summer. 

I would meet John in the bleachers over the years at our JTM's basketball games. I would see him at church. We would bump into each other in the neighborhood. 

He was part of my community of significance. 

John had earned the right to speak into my life. 

The roots of history were deep. 

I value him and his wife immensely.

John and I met for lunch downtown one day...he works nearby to my office and we had some business to discuss. We had a pleasant lunch and explored the business of the day and then he leaned back and with a smile said:

"Carolyn, I'm proud of you."

John went on: "I'm not your dad, and so it might be odd to hear from me. I have been your friend for a long time. I've watched you navigate some rough waters. Life was treacherous for years. You could have given up. You could have become bitter. You struggled through in ways that I admire, and I think you've done really well in difficult circumstances. I want you to know that I am proud of you. I hope that's ok to say."

Yep, it was OK. It was more than OK. I still smile when I think about it. 

It felt odd...but it felt right.

A good friend whom I admire and respect is proud of me. Sigh...that gives a quiet burst of joy pretty deep inside.

This lunch was some time ago, and it still has me smile when I think about it. I didn't ask him to say it. I didn't need him to say it. But when John said it, it felt good. It felt like someone noticed how hard I tried to be honourable in difficult circumstances, how much effort it took to do The Next Right Thing. Sometimes, when you got your head down and are just putting one foot ahead of the other, it feels really lonely...and so to have someone notice means a lot. To draw deep on your courage for the long haul is hard...and when someone lets you know they acknowledge and honour the effort--well, that matters.

I smiled of that this weekend when a friend of mine texted me. She had shared with me on a long drive a few weeks ago about how overwhelmed she was. Her own children, foster children, special needs children, the chaos of a long deserved home reno, a job and all the rest that is involved in her busy life--it was threatening to capsize her well-being. We explored how to relieve the pressure and decided that getting some weekly help to organize her household and give it a good scrub would make a huge difference. It means she works a half day extra at her job...and it meant arranging respite childcare, and finding someone to hire for the job. It took a month...but she has got it set up. She is relieved and pumped at the thought of coming home to a clean house once a week.

Her text? It said: "You will be very proud of me. I, as of next week, will have a cleaner coming in."

The next time I saw her? She hugged me and said, "Aren't you proud of me? I've been looking forward to how proud you will be of me!"

And I was, actually. She done good. She tried hard. She was honourable in difficult circumstances, she worked hard, and she faithfully did The Next Right Thing. She's gonna be able to be a more present mama and wife--the light was back in her eyes.

I am proud of her. And I told her so. And hugged her back.

I know that there are some that think we shouldn't say "I'm proud of you", and that it sends the wrong message. I'll leave the debate for elsewhere. I'm thinking that, used judiciously, it is a beautiful thing to say to a friend. We belong to each other...we are part of a community, and when you live in community, it becomes a sort of family...and in family we give each other that sense of, "You done good and I notice...and it matters to me, and I feel good about what you done." 

"I'm proud of you" implies a pronouncement...a sort of belonging to each other. I like the sort of intimate praise it sends to someone that matters. I like the affirmation and the acknowledgement of a struggle well fought with honour and integrity. When a person we love hangs in there to do the next right thing, even when it's darn hard and there is opposition and failure and struggle--and you notice--well, it needs to be seen and acknowledged and celebrated.

"I'm proud of you" is a line that connects people, honours the effort and acknowledges courage and bravery. It's a line that needs to be used carefully and sincerely...and with permission. But, by can change someone's week with that line!

 (*Which was fantastically cool because somehow couple friends generally don't get together with newly single friends socially. It just doesn't happen when even when all those couples are really kind and lovely people. Please keep that in mind, couples!)

Comforting Power of a Parent

- by Carolyn Bergen

So, parenting is hard, eh? Brutal. 

Some days, you gotta wonder if all your efforts matter. If you matter.

Some days, we as parents mess up, screw up, yell too much, micro manage, over-parent, under-parent, can't-play-dressy-up-even-one-more-time, or use the screen as a babysitter in an all together unsatisfying way.

But we always got something our children need. 

Our love for them.

The loving voice of a parent profoundly matters to a child. Quote and poster by Carolyn Klassen of Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg, Canada

Watch this the power of a father's voice. Watch how this baby, brand new to the world, finds comfort in her father's voice. 

Watch how she responds to her father's love:

This is worth watching:

Posted by Anna-Marie Russell on Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I watch this over and over. I love watching to see how the baby calms to his voice and looks for his love.

I also love watching the shock of Michael Junior, as he revels in the power of the love in his voice. How it changes his daughter's experience.

Us parents tend to minimize our role in our kids lives.

Parents are big time important to their kids. 




I listen to kids (many in their 40's, 50's, and 60's) talk about the hurt they have with parents who were distant or absent or hurtful. Kids that can go back and remember a single hurtful line that was said to them, that echoes in their head and pulls the strings in their life. I listen to kids (completely disguised in adult's bodies!) talk about how the love of a parent has sustained and goes with they hear the encouragement of a parent to get through things like retirement, letting their own children become adults, or grieving the death of that parent.

Parents are important...even if those kids don't let us know that. 

Kids often won't let us know how important we are to them.  They hide it.

I was talking with a friend recently who has a 17 year old son...this son isn't showing much initiative anywhere in his life, grumbles when he is supposed to help around the house, assumes he can have the car whenever he wants it (and is horrified he is expected to ask for it), too many video games, picks on his little sister mercilessly, and isn't really working hard on his studies...generally not living up to his potential. 

Not unlike many typical teenagers, really.

His dad invited him out to supper to talk about the general state of things. This son didn't want to go. He wanted to get this conversation over quick...didn't want to hang with his dad. But he didn't have a choice. His dad was going to invest in this kid, whether he seemed to want it or not. Time to value the kid, leave the other kids at on one time with a rare dinner out. A father-son date...mandatory.

There was some great conversation about sports and upcoming events over the ribs, baked potato and caesar salad.. Some laughter about what was happening on the TV in the corner of the restaurant. Some reminiscing about old times.

But when the conversation came around to the issues, the son denied not trying hard, had excuses for why he was doing what he did, and minimized his actions. He accused his dad of being a lousy dad. And he may or may not have outright called his dad a jerk.

The dad thought he had failed. That somehow he hadn't done it right. That he hadn't found a way to connect with the son and blew it.

But a funny thing happened

In the days following, in amongst the normalness of all the chaos of the household, the son spontaneously played a game with his sister at the kitchen table. He actually invited her to help him clean up supper one evening. He asked for the car, and casually dropped the fact to his dad that he was busy studying for a test. 

That, folks, is the power of a father.

The kid isn't perfect, and more conversations will be needed. And on the surface, the dinner out felt uncomfortable and difficult. But the change was real and powerful...a kid, no matter what the age, responds to the sound of a loving parent. 

Maybe not right away, maybe not visibly, maybe not giving you the satisfaction of knowing it. The love we give to our kids comes from imperfect, messed-up parents who have their own issues and insecurities and is delivered with flawed, ill-timed and poorly delivered. 

But the love we have for our kids has to be spoken--out loud, directly, with the best we got...even if that sometimes doesn't seem enough. And sometimes, as dads, you may wonder if you can do it, wonder how to do it (especially if you didn't experience it). It may make you uncomfortable, feel like you want to crawl out of your skin, and feel woefully inadequate. Figure out how to take the courageous step to tell your kid you love him anyways. It matters. 

The loving voice of a parent matters profoundly to a child. 

Always. Trust me.

Loving Family Rituals – Four Steps to Peaceful, Nurturing Times with your Kids

- by Lindsey Walsh

From Carolyn: One of the greatest treats of my life (and there are many) is to work with therapists that I deeply trust and respect. I believe in their approach and their commitment to help clients that come to see us. One of those deeply valued therapists is Lindsey Jay Walsh . He writes so eloquently about the balance of routine and freedom; ritual and flexibility in the below. It fits so well with my fundamental belief that as parents we do well to give our kids profoundly stable roots to enable them to develop strongly capable wings...Lindsey's example of how he handles a nighttime ritual with the little guy just hums along with how I roll. 

Lindsey writes:

After the bedtime stories and once the lights are out, my son and I sing together. It started out with me singing to him and as he gets older, he has started singing along. I ask him what song he’d like to sing and, these days, he answers, “Round and Round” (As in “The wheels on the bus go…”).

This seems to have a big impact on my little guy. He’s certainly getting to sleep faster. And I began to wonder why. One thing that I’ve come up with is this: 

When I am curious about what he wants to choose within the nightly bedtime ritual, it helps him feel at peace.

At an emotional level, my curiosity and presence lets him know that there’s room for his hopes, dreams, and wishes. It also helps keep his choices kid sized. I’m not asking him when he wants to go to bed - that wouldn’t be a safe choice for a two year-old.

On the other hand, it does free up space for him to make kid sized choices. So far as he’s able, he chooses what songs to sing and what books to read at bedtime. As he gets bigger, so will the choices his mother and I allow him to make. I think this helps him feel safe and supported while helping him practice decision making. Practice might not make perfect, but the right kind of practice certainly does help.

Besides, it helps him know that his hopes, desires, and dreams matter while helping him accept the fact that we’re his parents and we make all the big choices. (Though sometimes we pretend he’s making those too. For example, about five minutes before bedtime we’ll ask “Do you want to go to bed now or in five minutes?” -But, that’s not really curiosity - that type of “choice” is more of a good and useful tactical strategy!  In some situations, the illusion of choice is often even more comforting than the actuality of choice.)

I am, however, genuinely curious about what songs he wants to sing. After “Round and Round” I’ll give him some additional choices. “Do you want to sing “Amazing Grace” (I’ll ask and then hum a bit of it) or do you want to sing, “This Little Light of Mine” (ditto). And then, as he gets sleepier, I kiss him and tell him I’ll be back in a few minutes.

Sometimes he’s fast asleep by the time I get back; sometimes he is awake and wanting a cuddle. This demands a lot of curiosity on my part because I really need to tune into what my son needs and what will help him have the best sleep. I don’t always know how far away he is from slumberland, so I play it by ear. The promise that I’ll be back in a few minutes, though, is key. So is the fact that I always keep it. If I get back and he’s still awake, I stay a little longer, before saying, “I’m going to go for a few minutes, I’ll be back.”

Family ritual: Aim to have family rituals that are consistent but flexible. Give age-appropriate choices. Honour their choices with gusto. And close reliably. By Lindsey Jay Walsh of Bergen and Associates Counselling

I’d never really thought about it before, but I guess this can be summed up as a four step process.

1. Have rituals that are reasonably consistent, but flexible enough:

When rituals follow a reliable pattern, children generate expertise within the ritual. Well-formed rituals help our kids feel just-enough empowered while also feeling safe and comforted (and in this case, helping my son get to sleep at night).

2. Exhibit structured curiosity with age-appropriate choices:

Within the ritual, create space for your kids to make kid-sized decisions based on limited options. Let them choose from limited options within the well-established frameworks (such as at bedtime or meal times). You will likely find yourself pleasantly surprised to notice little cognitive growth-spurts, shifts, and changes in your child’s abilities, that you might not have noticed without a reliable and consistent framework. The safety and reliability of the ritual helps your kids cognitive and emotional development as well. And there you are, with a front-row seat, witnessing their development. Cool! 

3. Honour their choices with gusto – Put your heart into it!

I don’t naturally love singing “Round and Round” but I have decided to love it. I love it because my son does, and my son would suss-out if my heart wasn’t in it.

Kids are smart that way. If they choose gotta wholeheartedly respect and live the choice you've given them!

4. Close rituals reliably.

This was the hardest part for me and I have lots of questions to be mindful of: “Should I stay or should I go? Am I keeping him awake by being here? Will it make him more awake if I leave?” - As you noticed above, I decided to take the middle ground: We have our routine, then I go away for a few minutes, and I come back (and I repeat as is needed).

In short: 

Aim to have family rituals that are consistent but flexible. Give age-appropriate choices. Honour their choices with gusto. And close reliably

When we generate and perpetuate family rituals like this, we create good-times, emotional balance, and even a sense of expertise in the child.  

Contact Bergen and Associates via our contact form or call us at 204 275 1045 to inquire about seeing Lindsey about challenging family issues...or with any of our other therapists for individual, couple and family therapy.

Tags: Parenting

Visiting my husband's wife's grave

- by Carolyn Bergen

J. took me to Carolyn's grave on Sunday. For the first time. He took me to the grave of his late wife.

I always thought that this might be space that would belong to him alone. I thought that he might want to keep some part of her private from me. I live in the house she designed, and have moved into the kitchen she cooked in. I still see her hand written labels on the red quinoa in the cupboard and on the frozen peaches in the freezer, and her handwriting is on the recipe card of family's favourite cookie recipe. I have my clothes in the closet where hers used to be. There are so many ways in which I have moved in where she was. I thought he might want to keep some space where he could be with her--space that I wasn't in--space that continued to be theirs alone.

But when your husband asks you to go graveside, you go. It's the sort of thing you figure out later, but just say yes in the moment. 

I think it's part of us being married. She was and always will be a big part of his life. To be invited into the part of him that is still connected to her by visiting her grave is part of loving him by knowing his world. It was a privilege that I was going to do my best to honour.

The air in the car changed on the way to the graveyard. It became silent, a little stiff--definitely somber. He was distant, remembering times past. I asked him once what he was thinking, and with a chuckle, he said that lately the triggers that brought her to mind happened when he entered the kitchen and the cupboard drawers were open. She always closed the cupboard doors when she was working. (I'm of the style of closing them once at the end...efficiency y'know?) He said the counters were often wiped while she working (yep...I'm one of those that wipes them once at the end). 

He was careful to say it wasn't criticism...just a way that he noticed she wasn't around, and found himself getting wistful for her. She comes to his mind often...maybe sometimes I don't ask him about her often enough.

We arrived. I watched, helplessly, as his whole body shook with the sobs of the brokenhearted as we approached the gravestone. 

Gosh, he misses her. 

I watched myself watching him that afternoon. At one point, he said to her, "I will love you always". And it struck me that I might have been jealous--but I checked myself and I wasn't. I was just sad. The crappiness of cancer personified-they loved each other and were two-people-become-one--and then would be ripped apart when she died. It's raw and harsh this stuff of grief. It's wrong. It's painful to watch...because I know it's even more brutal to feel.

It's an utterly helpless feeling to watch someone I love so deeply hurt so much...and I'm lost on the "right thing" to do in that I, as his current wife, hold him as he grieves his late love or keep my distance and just silently witness his grief?


Just. Don't. Know.

I have to say that sometimes my head and heart rather threaten to implode and explode simultaneously as I have the fun joy of being newly wed to an attentive, kind and loving man after a decade of being a single woman. It's delicious to be cared for after so many years of looking after myself all by myself. But I am aware that my happiness and our love only happened because of her death. 

There was this cutely awkward moment when J spoke to herr as he gestured towards me, "Carolyn, my Carolyn, my wife." He and I both chuckled a bit. I like to think that she heard that, and smiled too.

It was an honour to spend time there. An honour to watch him talk to her about himself and each of the Junior Tribe Members, putting a rose representing each of them in the vase on her marker as he spoke of them. He included a sprig of pink baby roses for the JTM that whose heart only beat for a few weeks of life. He talked about me too...and laid that rose on the marker near, but not in, the vase.

I wasn't quite sure what to do, or how to be. There were clumps of wet grass and early fall leaves on her marker, messing up the stone. It seems pathetically little to tidy up the marker...but it sorta seemed like something this door-closing, counter-wiping woman might appreciate. I flicked the leaves, and rubbed away the grass..yes,pathetically little.

Loving someone means that you will inevitable grieve for them; love is an engraved invitation for grief. Quote by Sunshine O

We came home in the evening, and he was tired. Wiped out.

But he said something really powerful to me that I hold as wisdom for myself: 

"My missing her doesn't diminish the love I have for you. 
These don't compete in my brain...I miss her a lot and I love you a lot. I wish my sons had her as their mother still, and I'm so grateful they have you in their life now. I will always love and miss her...and I will always love and cherish you."

I love J for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is his ability to feel big feelings as they are--he accepts them. He doesn't try to fix, or judge, or shush one feeling in favour of another. It doesn't torture him to both grieve his past wife while he loves life with his current wife. He doesn't have to let his grief go to love me, or put aside his love for me to grieve his love for her.

Wow, eh?

I'm learning from him on that. I need to learn from him...because I love my life with him, and also so often wish that she hadn't died...that J wouldn't have this ache that is now a permanent part of his life, that her JTM's would hear her laugh, feel her care, and be guided by her motherly wisdom...and that so many to whom she meant so much wouldn't be living life without her. It's hard to watch the man I love ache...and to wish he didn't ache...but to know that for him to not ache would mean I wouldn't have him as my husband. 

Confusing, but possible to hold at the same time.

I'm learning from him how to hold those big feelings together.

I'm thinking that if all of us had the ability to hold big feelings that are so different, and could feel those big feelings all at the same time, our world would be a different place...a kinder, gentler, more compassionate place. Without judgement, with quiet acceptance, with a knowing that it is possible...we could change our worlds.

Introducing...Carolyn Klassen

- by Carolyn Bergen

This is not your typical "introducing our newest therapist/intern" blog. I'm introducing new name. Same therapist...different name. Used to be Carolyn Bergen. Now...Carolyn Klassen. 

It’s funny what happens to you when part of your heart gets born inside somebody else. Quote by Donald Miller. Poster celebrating name change to Carolyn O. Klassen, for therapist at Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

I got married in April.  And when I got home from my honeymoon, I was still a Bergen...

You see, I got a whole new pack of Junior Tribe Members and a husband that I wanted to invest in. Another one just came home from a year away. They were priority #1. And catch up at the office from when half (or more!) of my brain was running a wedding, not a practice. And then, well...summer. And in order to change my name I needed to go downtown and get a formal marriage certificate and that was an errand that didn't get to the top of my list until lately. 

So, as of today, October 1st, I'm Carolyn Klassen.

This changing of my name is hard and exciting. It's a decision that folks have to decide when they get married. Different people do it differently...what is right for one person might not work for the next person. My story is unique.

A long time ago, I got married for the first time. I was just fresh out of university and working to understand and figure out who I was as an adult. I fell in love and was to become married. It meant that I would be moving to a new city in Saskatchewan to live with my new husband, get a new job, move into a new apartment, and join a new family...far away from my family. I wanted to keep the name I grew up with. It felt quite important to bring my name with me.

However, I was marrying someone from small town Saskatchewan...where all women always changed their surname to their husbands. There was no category for him and his family for me to keep my name. It would seem disrespectful. It would seem as though I wasn't fully prepared to be joined with him in marriage. It would be confusing to have a different last name as many in his world had no concept for a married couple with different last names.

I am a flexible easy going person...and I reasoned that changing my name even though it was hard was the one of the many give and takes that would occur within the context of marriage. I changed my name to was hard for me, but I did the expected thing...the thing that needed to happen to make it all work. That's what spouses do, right?

It was about 6 months into our marriage where my first husband, CJ, and I were watching a cop show on TV. The show featured someone who was in the FBI's Witness Protection Program and establishing a new identity. During the commercial, CJ turned to me and said, "Wow...can you imagine what that would be like...moving to a new city, creating a whole new life...and having a new name. Like, to change to a different name than you've always would be like a new identity...a name is sooooo much a part of identity...and so to change your name...such a big deal..."

His voice trailed off as I stared hard at him. He looked at me hard and slow...wondering why I had suddenly turned mute and only looked.  I could see his face changing as it slowly dawned on him what he was saying...and realizing that he had so easily assumed it was no big deal when he suddenly realized it was actually was a very big deal.

I felt understood, profoundly.

I don't remember much that happened after that conversation until Valentine's Day...the first Valentine's Day after our wedding. As his gift to me for Valentine's Day, he handed me an envelope with a form in it. A name change form. 

In what I regard as up there with one of the most romantic moves of all time, he gave me the gift of changing my name back, regardless of what others would think, and how his community would handle it.

It was the acknowledgement of the form was what I needed...moreso than the name change itself. I felt understood and my difficult validated...that was a gift that was powerful and life-giving. I had already been a Bergen for the better part of a year, and the fuss seemed more trouble than it was worth. I did however, feel his blessing to use my maiden name as a middle name. I've signed all my documents "COBergen" for a lotta years...and now I will sign "COKlassen".

When my marriage ended many years ago, many thought I would return my last name to my maiden name. Why continue bearing a man's name that I wasn't married to any more? Two very important very emotional, one very practical.

  1. Emotional: My Junior Tribe Members had assumed that I would change my name, as a friend of ours recently had after her divorce. They asked me what would happen to their last name when mine changed...they wondered about hyphenating their name. They wondered about the loss of having the same last name as their mom...they were sad about the possibility. In a world where it felt like they had already lost so much, it made so much sense to keep my last name the same as that of my children. It was important to me after their lives had changed so much to do everything I could to stabilize their world. We liked having the same name, me and them.
  2. Practical: I was now the sole provider of our little family and in private practice as a therapist...and highly dependent on the Yellow Pages for business (Yes, the time before Google wasn't that long ago). To be candid, the "B" therapists showed up first, before the "O" therapists, and when potential clients looked at the Yellow Pages, they would start at the top and work their way down. Having a last name that began with B helped me feed my family.
So...I remained a Bergen when I became single again.

Fast forward 10 years...and I fall in love with Mr. Klassen. We marry...and now I have to decide what to do with my last name. My new husband is older and has taught him that last names are less important than the process by which last names are arrived at.

He gives me complete freedom to go back to my maiden name or take his. He's reluctant to have me remain with Bergen, given that this name is another man's. This makes sense to me...I don't want my current last name either now.

Now the dilemma. I'm a long way away from my maiden name. It doesn't feel like I'm moving forward to go back to an old name as I join together to form a new family. I discard that idea rather quickly.

Which leaves me to take my new husband's last name: Klassen.

It means changing my name to something different than my biological JTM's. That's hard. They're adults now, so it may mean that it is harder for me than for them...but it matters. It's another belated loss that their parents' divorce has given them. Kids are kids even when they're adults, eh?

However--and the black humour here is not lost on me--my husband's late wife--her name was "Carolyn Klassen"...and she was a therapist too. I mean, seriously, Carolyn is not that common a name, and we both share it?

To become Carolyn Klassen means that the world, especially her friends and family, have to be compassionate towards me as we share the name. They will have to understand that I don't mean to replace her, or disrespect her, or in any way minimize her memory.

There have been some interesting moments. J's late wife, Carolyn, was exceedingly generous, and more than once I have answered the phone and when "Carolyn Klassen" is asked for on the phone, I say "speaking". The voice on the other end of the phone thanks me for my past generosity and asks me to again consider donating. It's either chuckle or cry.

(For the record, if she supported it, I support it too. That's part of honouring her.)

I don't even try to explain that the Carolyn Klassen they are looking to speak to isn't me. What would I say? Why would they believe me? of today, I am Carolyn O. Klassen. But don't call me Mrs. Klassen...that's my mother-in-law. 

Just call me Carolyn. Everybody just calls me Carolyn...I wish I could just be "Carolyn", like Cher, or Madonna...but I don't think I have enough personality to pull that off. :)

But I'm still Carolyn. Me.

A happy married me.

Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

November 21, 2015

yep...I bet you can find a million reasons why you shouldn't go to counselling. A letter to you...decide not to come for the right reasons?

A superhero learns a priceless lesson from a child.

A Message in a shoebox recipients far, far away...take a listen...and see what fun a shoebox packing party can be--especially when it honours a loved one.

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