By: Paula Ruiz
In 2020, the resilience of my clients has inspired me. At the end of every year I find myself reviewing the previous twelve months and reflecting on both challenges and growth I have experienced. In 2020, with the unprecedented challenges experienced globally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems especially pertinent to reflect on the difficulties and the learning the year has brought.
In early March 2020, when I embarked on opening my private psychotherapy practice, I never would have envisioned my first year to unfold as it has. Without a doubt, it has been a challenging year and our mental health has been impacted. Among many other adverse consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an enormous amount of death, loss, and grief. Families and individuals have lost livelihoods, businesses, jobs, and face economic hardship. We have also experienced restrictions imposed by quarantine and lockdowns, the interruption to our social lives, relationships and routines. Many clients have told me that pre-COVID they had certain routines, hobbies, relationships that they could turn to when they felt down or vulnerable. Many feel they have lost these now.
In Canada recent mental health statistics are alarming. Canadians are reporting alarming rates of mental health challenges. One recent report found that 71% of Canadians are worried about the impact of the second wave and 40% say their mental health is worse now than when the pandemic hit in March (Click here for study). There has been increased anxiety, depression, substance use and addictions, suicidality and intensification of a range of mental health challenges. In my own psychotherapy practice, my clients have told me that in addition to fearing catching the virus, or that loved ones might catch it, the biggest challenge comes from not having the ‘normal’ coping mechanisms they had pre-COVID. Going to coffee with a friend, visiting friends, going to restaurants, going the gym, even commuting to work and going into the office provided means of distraction or opportunities for social contact that helped many to cope with every day stressors.
As a psychotherapist, I cannot underestimate the mental health challenges that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many forms of collective trauma, the mental health implications of the pandemic will likely persist for decades, and perhaps live on inter-generationally, impacting our future generations. At the same time, every day that I log into my computer and enter virtual sessions with clients (how sessions are happening these days), I cannot help but be struck by the great strength, resilience, creativity, and hope that I see.
In the midst of the challenges I hear people finding new ways to connect to their loved ones, building new routines, and taking time to appreciate the small things. I see people finding hope in the midst of hardship, beauty in the midst of pain.
In looking to 2021, I have the same words of advice for anyone reading this as I have for myself:
Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year. Warm wishes for 2021.
Paula Ruiz is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) based in Toronto, Canada. Currently, she practices virtually and sees clients from across Ontario. She works with high achieving adults who have experienced trauma to build wellbeing in their lives.
By: Paula Ruiz
The recent world events that have cast light into the insidious problems of systemic racism and oppression of Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Colour, have prompted me to reflect on topic of historical trauma.
Historical trauma refers to “a complex and collective trauma experienced over time and across generations by a group of people who share an identity, affiliation, or circumstance”. It is a mass trauma that is deliberately and systematically inflicted upon a target group by a subjugating, or dominant group. Trauma continues over extended period of time. This type of trauma has severe physical, psychological, social and economic impacts on generations.
The concept of historical trauma has been used to describe a number of negative experiences including those of slavery, colonization of Indigenous groups around the world, experiences of peoples that have undergone genocide or war, systemic racial oppression and many others.
Historical traumas leave a legacy of deep emotional and mental health challenges. During my PhD studies in anthropology, I conducted research among Indigenous women in post- genocide Guatemala. Women in my research described many adverse consequences of the traumas their communities had endured. These manifestations, at both individual and community levels, included: mistrust of others; underdeveloped regulation skills; somatic disturbances; flashbacks; anxiety and terror; shame, guilt, self-hatred; cognitive distortions; deep sadness and depression; passivity; dissociation; disturbed relatedness; detachment, numbing or withdrawal; drug and alcohol abuse; suicide; anger; hyper-vigilance and mental illness; among many others.
The women I worked with also described the traumas as being layered on top of the historical traumas of colonization, displacement from their communities, structural inequalities, marginalization, racism and exclusion.
There are many other consequences of historical trauma I cannot fully capture in this short piece. Historical traumas impact systems of meaning, how people relate to others, and perception of self, community and the world.
The consequences of historical traumas are too serious to overlook. Today, we have the opportunity to look inwards and outwards and ask ourselves, what actions can we take to address historical traumas, particularly systemic racism?
At the individual level, it may mean introspective work addressing the impact of historical trauma on our psyches, lives and families. And how our actions might contribute to systems of inequity and privilege. At a community and larger scale, it may mean taking part in collective actions aimed at eradicating racism and other forms oppression in our societies.
Our actions today will have an impact on generations to come. What do we want that impact to be?
To take part in actions to address the historical trauma of racial oppression of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada, check out this link: https://blacklivesmatter-canada.carrd.co/
 Mohatt, N. V., Thompson, A. B., Thai, N. D., & Tebes, J. K. (2014). Historical trauma as public narrative: a conceptual review of how history impacts present-day health. Social science & medicine (1982), 106, 128–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.01.043
 Mandley, A. (2018) Cultural and Historical Traumas: Invisible Barriers to Healing and Change. PESI Inc.
By: Paula Ruiz
Self Care is an intentional activity or practice that we do to take care of our own mental, physical and emotional health.
It's such a simple concept and yet we can very easily overlook it in our everyday lives.
With the challenges faced by the current global pandemic, it is even more essential that we look after our own wellbeing.
Why engage in self care?
The benefits of self care can include an improved mood, reduced anxiety and stress, and overall better physical and mental health.
Is Self Care Selfish?
The simple answer is: NO.
There is a big misconception that self care is selfish. However, it can be quite the opposite. By taking care of our own needs, the better we may be able to love, support and care for others.
But Isn't Self Care more Work? I am already too busy and drained...
Self care should be something that fills your cup (e.g., brings joy, calm, peace...) and not something that drains you. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the concept of self care or it feels like more work, that is not self care. Try to think instead of an activity, even if a very brief one, that will make you feel better.
Self care may look differently for all of us.
For some it may be as simple as a cup of tea, a walk, or a moment to ourselves. For others it may mean, reaching out to a friend, exercising, preparing a healthy meal or watching a movie.
Self care entails self compassion.
Some days we may struggle with self care and that's okay. Even if we can give ourselves 2 minutes today, tomorrow is a new day and maybe we will be able to give more to ourselves. Like anything, self care takes practice too.