Annina Schmid (M.A.) is a feminist counsellor who helps women recover from binge drinking and disordered eating, as well as families with young adults who "failed to launch". Annina employs Solution Focused Dialogue to support and empower her clients in making lasting life changes. She works from a strengths-based harm reduction approach. Annina works with all genders and people on the LGBTTIQQ+ spectrum.
As a counsellor who works mostly with women who struggle with disordered eating and binge drinking, I have started running monthly online support groups at the beginning of the year. Here are the four most important things I have learned from my participants:
1. Recovery is really possible
First and foremost, I want to stress that recovery from an eating disorder or problematic substance really is possible. Participating in an online support group can be a great reminder of this fact, as group members constantly share their successes and recovery wins. In my groups, I make it a point to focus on what is going well for my group members. As everybody is already beating themselves up enough about what's not going well anyways, people have found it beneficial to be reminded of the many ways their recovery is already happening. Group members are explicitly encouraged to share recovery strategies that work for them personally, in the hopes that others who can relate can draw some inspiration from their achievements. Group members bear witness, encourage, celebrate and support each other every step of the way.
2. Rejecting the diet mentality is the first step to getting better
When it comes to eating disorders in particular, recovery is tough: wherever we go, we are bombarded with diet messages. "Eat this!" "Don't eat that!" "Work out!" "Join this useless cleanse, diet or health trend!" We have to be really strong and secure in our desire to get better in order to actually get better, and often the first step is debunking popular diet myths and unfollowing people who make money off of making us feel bad. As you might know, research shows that diets don't work: 95 out of 100 people who lose weight will gain it back within two years, and the five that don't usually keep it down by means of disordered eating. Therefore, one of the first suggestions I make to anyone struggling with their body image is to unfollow social media accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and look for body positive messaging instead. Great places to start are @bodyposipanda, @jenniferrollin and @immaeatthat who will all tell you that your life truly begins once you realize that you don't need a special occasion to enjoy cake.
3. Sharing your feelings is healing
Providing a supportive environment conducive to healing is my number one goal with these groups, and time and time again I get to witness how even just being in the presence of others who "get it" is a healing experience for my participants, who often struggled in shame and silence for years - and all by themselves. While group members usually live many thousand kilometres apart from each other, there is great comfort in knowing that their eating disorder is not due to a personal character flaw, and that there are many relatable elements between them; even across age groups, income levels, and ethnic backgrounds. For the purpose of healing, I would strongly encourage anyone whose thoughts are consumed by food to share their secrets with their family, friends, a professional, and/or in an in-person or online support group, because keeping them to yourself will perpetuate, and over time most likely worsen, your condition.
4. Food is supposed to taste and feel good
There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking to eat food! On the contrary, we are biologically programmed to do so. Food is supposed to make you feel better, and our tendency to seek solace from it is therefore perfectly understandable. We all eat emotionally sometimes and that is more than ok. Taking up less space in the world does not make you a more worthy or loveable person, and you deserve happiness and freedom from your eating disorder no matter what size of clothes you are wearing! Realizing that we often apply harsher standards to ourselves than others is another big learning. Those group members who are diligently practicing being kinder to themselves will often recover faster.
(And for those of you who have more technical questions: I run my online groups via Zoom and use Acuity Scheduling and Stripe as booking and payment tools. The groups work very well in adjunct to individual therapy or counselling sessions, and if you could benefit from participating or have a client who might, here is more information and this is where one signs up.)
Alright y'all, big announcement time! I'M MOVING... UPSTAIRS! I'm excited to share with all of you that as of May 31, I will be relocating upstairs, to the 5th floor of College Plaza. The new space I’ll be practicing out of is located within Transcend Psychological Services and Blossom Counselling, though of course I'll still always be Feminist Counsellor Edmonton. It’s a dedicated therapy office which means I get to work alongside some amazing therapists. It's got some big beautiful windows, a little more space... and I'm so looking forward to sharing it with all of you.
For clients, there are two major changes that will affect you in this move that I wanted to let you know about. The first is that I’ve switched one of my usual working days, so I'll be in the office available for clients on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 9am and 4pm.
The second change is that I will no longer have access to reception, so in addition to being able to communicate with me via email, I will also be introducing online booking in June! I know some of you will be pretty excited about that. If you have any questions about how this might affect you, please don't hesitate to reach out by sending me an email at email@example.com
Looking forward to seeing you in the new space!
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
As health professionals in positions of power, we have certain standards of practice we need to adhere to it in order to protect the public. The Standards of Practice of the College of Alberta Psychologists are “the minimum standards of professional behaviour and ethical conduct expected of all regulated members”. These include informed consent, avoiding dual relationships, and acting within our scope, to name a few. These are incredibly important to know and adhere to, and yet it’s not enough to ensure that we’re working in a way that’s ethical and sustainable.
A lot of our work involves being in touch with our own very individual and unique boundaries. For example, what’s the right number of clients per day? I know plenty of folks who understand that four people per day is their maximum, while others regularly see seven or eight. And what’s the right amount of money to charge? Some of my colleagues go with the standard rate as suggested by the Psychologists Association of Alberta, while others leave room for a sliding scale. What about cancellation fees? Some people charge the full rate for a cancellation no matter what the reason, while others make the decision based on the individual situation and the reason for the cancellation.
What times will you see clients? What issues and populations will you work with? What kind of advocacy work are you willing to do? All these are important questions related to our boundaries, and none of them have a one-size fits all answer.
So just how to we go beyond the minimum standard, and develop professional boundaries that are truly a fit for us? I’d love to share my unique definition of boundaries to give us a place to start: “Boundaries are the external expression of our internal limits”.
So that means if we’re consistently feeling burnt out and exhausted after seeing six clients a day, we may need to adjust how much we take on in a day or the types of issues we’re working on. If we’re feeling resentful about a client who has cancelled last minute, we may need to adjust our cancellation policy, or have a conversation with the client. If we’re not as present with our clients as we’d like to be, we may need to take a break, get more sleep, refocus our energy, or consult with our colleagues.
If there’s something we’re not sure how to handle with respect to boundaries, getting ideas from our peers or supervisors is a great first step. We can learn a lot from the mistakes and successes of those who’ve come before us. But it doesn’t end there. We also need to take the time to get a felt sense of what’s right for us.
When we make decisions related to our practice or the type of work we do with clients, we need to consider what our body is already telling us about this decision. When we listen to ourselves and make decisions that are in line with our boundaries, there tends to be a “yes” feeling that goes with our decisions. It might feel like relief, calm, or “rightness“. When we’re going against what actually feels right to us we can feel unsettled, unsure, or “not quite right“. Resentment, exhaustion, and burnout are sure signs that we’re ignoring our boundaries, but there can be subtler cues that we’re crossing a line. If we listen to these internal signs, we can create a practice that honours our limits and is sustainable over time.
1. Accept your pain
At the risk of sounding too obvious, you’re in pain. Even if you don’t want to be. Even if you think you should be better by now. Fighting it isn’t working anymore. Pretending it’s not there isn’t working anymore. Accept that you’re in pain.
2. If “curing” your pain doesn’t work, try managing it
When our goal is to cure pain, we can end up dismissing strategies that help us to manage it. I remember an eye-opening conversation with a friend a few years ago about pain. “Yes, meditation helps,” I admitted to her, “but the pain always comes back after a few days. Nothing I do is really getting rid of it.” “What if you didn’t try to get rid of it?” she asked. “What would happen if you just kept meditating, every day?” It may seem obvious from the outside looking in, but I’d never thought of this before. I felt that I must be doing something wrong if I couldn’t find a cure, and if the pain didn’t go away for good, then it wasn’t worth doing. “If I was meditating everyday…. I guess I’d be feeling better than I am right now,” I laughed. “But it also makes me want to cry – to let go of the idea that I’ll actually get better.”
And that leads me to…..
Grieve the life you thought you had – the one that wasn’t impacted by chronic pain. Grieve the loss of anything you can no longer do because doing so would increase your pain. Grieve the person you used to be before you realized that “doing all the right things” doesn’t always lead to a cure. Accept that the things we go through in life can feel unfair and unjust. As Cheryl Strayed puts it in Tiny Beautiful Things, we assume that because mercy has always more or less been granted us, it always will be. But it isn’t. We need to accept that awful things happen to people all the time, and then let ourselves grieve it.
4. Embrace your new life
When you’re done grieving, remember that there is a full and wonderful life awaiting you. It may not be the life you envisioned, but it’s yours. I can’t speak for anyone else, but dealing with pain has helped me to really make sure that what I’m spending my time on is worthy of my time. Because I don’t always have time that’s pain free, I find ways to embrace it. I’ve stopped doing the things that hurt me, and I have a better relationship with my body. I also unexpectedly found myself connected to my humanity and my compassion in a way that just wasn’t possible before.
Day after a rough migraine and I look a little worse for the wear but happy to be alive. When pain is at a 10/10 I try to keep reminding myself that it will eventually pass. (Did those new grey hairs sprout overnight? I wouldn't be surprised...)
I want to offer some assurance for anyone struggling with setting boundaries. Ready for it? Deep breath.
It’s not your fault.
Yep, I said it, and I’m going to say it again. It’s not your fault.
In my experience, there are plenty of good reasons we struggle with setting boundaries. Most of us are taught some pretty messed up stuff about them. We’re taught to put others first, even at a detriment to ourselves. We’re taught that we need to keep things smooth at the surface, even when that means underlying issues go unaddressed. We’re taught to be polite and deferential. We’re not taught how to listen to our needs, let alone speak them.
We’re taught these things so completely from such a young age that it’s hard not to believe them. The ideas given to us by someone else can start to feel like our own.
So, once more – take a deep breath. Remember that it’s not your fault. And even more, we can work on believing something different about our boundaries. Like that we’re allowed to have them, as a start. And that doing so doesn’t make us rude, selfish, or wrong.
I've created a PDF with 5 more affirming beliefs you can play with about boundaries. Try them on. See how they fit. Create your own, if you like.
You’ve got this.
All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter and you'll instantly get a copy of this free PDF. From there, I send out emails about a dozen times a year with handy guides I've created, information about the latest groups I'm offering, news about community resources, and a curated collection of the best articles and resources related to mental health from a feminist counselling perspective. And remember, you can unsubscribe at any time if it no longer works for you.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After having this book on my shelf for several months, I read it over the December break, knowing that I needed the time and space to fully immerse myself in it. And I did. I sat on my office couch, and in my bed at home, and I had a good long cry or two (or more). I let myself take in the sorrow of the letter writers' grief and be moved by it. I let my guard down and allowed myself to be different. I even took off my psychologist hat (a thing I almost never do) and let myself read it as a person first.
This book will transform you, if you let it in. I definitely recommend reading it over several sittings (all at once could be overwhelming) but within a short enough time frame that you can stay down in the depths with it. I thought it might be too much but the order of the letters has been designed wonderfully, so it intersperses shorter more humorous letters with the more difficult ones. I was particularly moved by the letters that had to do with family and mothering, but really this is a book about life.
Trigger warning: Cheryl Strayed talks pretty openly about her childhood sexual abuse, and a number of the letters have to do with sexual violence. I absolutely found it readable - and I don't always - but it wouldn't be the best book for someone in the early stages of healing from trauma or dealing with active flashbacks/nightmares.
View all my reviews
Most people who have seen me in the last few years know how much I rely on self-compassion - in my own life and in my life as a clinician. I've seen so many amazing people struggle with never feeling good enough and self-compassion is the foundation I return to again and again.
This is wildly different than what our culture focuses on. The temptation is to try to simply argue back when the amazingcreativeintelligent person in front of us talks about how messed up they feel they are "No! You're great!" we want to say, and we can get caught in trying to bolster self-esteem by reassuring people of their greatness. But for most people on the receiving end of those well-intentioned reassurances, it doesn't do any good. They question it. And they wonder, "what will they think of me when they find out I'm not so great after all?"
That's where self-compassion comes in. It doesn't require us to be perfect, or great. It doesn't require us to hold up a mask and only show others the good parts. Instead, it focuses on making room for us to be human. Broken, imperfect humans who bungle things up sometimes. Self-compassion says "yes, you mess things up. You're in pain and struggle. And you deserve kindness in that."
For anyone working on self-compassion or interested in learning more about it, I've included some resources below, beginning with my upcoming group on shame resilience and self acceptance!
"Never Good Enough": Moving from Shame to Self-Acceptance
What if you turned toward yourself with kindness instead of judgment? What if instead of berating yourself for all the things you "should" be doing, you were able to appreciate all that you already do? This 8 week group provides the space for that journey.
I run this group twice a year and would love to tell you more about it so that you can consider registering! Just head on over here to get an overview and a week by week breakdown.
Self Compassion Exercises
Kristen Neff's "Self-Compassion Break" is absolutely my favorite go-to exercise to boost self-compassion on a daily basis. It only takes about 30 seconds and can make a huge difference to how we treat ourselves. The three steps are:
2. Common Humanity
and the full exercise in all of its wonderfulness can be found here.
Kristen Neff also has a number of other exercises and information on her website. I like "soften soothe allow" - though I'd love to hear what works for you the most!
Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is absolutely my favorite book for women related to sex and sexual desire. I first heard Emily Nagoski speak as a guest on Sex Nerd Sandra's podcast, and loved what she had to say in that episode. I feel like I learned a ton and it also left me wanting to know more. She spoke so clearly and knowledgeably that I was pretty excited to learn she'd also written a book, complete with worksheets to fill out.
Emily brings a really fresh perspective on desire styles and offers insights about female sexual desire specifically (unlike old models that were based on the average male desire style). I've found myself teaching others what I've learned from her about spontaneous vs responsive desire. She also teaches readers (in a really accessible and fun way) about the dual control model of sex, suggesting that if we want to feel like having sex more often, we need to focus on "turning on the ons and turning off the offs". At the same time, it never comes across as prescriptive or judgmental. She reminds readers every chapter or so that there's nothing wrong with your desire, and helps us understand what a huge role context plays in desire for women.
"Come as You Are" is great for folks who might like to have a more active sex life, but don't necessarily feel like having sex. It's great for women in relationships where their desire style is much different than their partners (higher or lower). It's great for women who've worried that there's something wrong with their desire. It's great for partners of these women. It's great for women in heterosexual relationships and queer relationships. And the list goes on.
I love love love this book! As a bonus, Emily Nagoski is a generally awesome person and speaker who really does come across as wanting to share what she's learned and help remind readers just how fantastic and normal they are. The audiobook is read by her and it's lovely to listen to.
View all my reviews
The audiobook is directed toward adults who are having trouble in their intimate partnership that seems bigger than the current relationship. It's for those who've had obvious trauma in childhood such as abuse and neglect, as well as for those with less obvious but still impactful "missing experiences" in childhood, where the adult caregivers were unable to provide the level of warmth and attunement needed for a child to thrive. This could be due to circumstance like poverty and war, mental health issues like anxiety or depression, personality disorders, or even just lack of resources that left the caregiver(s) unable to be as present in the life of the child.
What I like most are the experiential exercises offered. I've already had the chance to try some out with clients and have found them really powerful. The book lays a solid foundation of understanding and compassion, then offers these exercises as a pathway toward healing. I absolutely recommend listening to them, and trying them out - with the help of an experienced therapist, if you like.
The book would be great for both clinicians and the general public. I'm already on my second listen and LOVE the unique exercises and insights she has to offer.
Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
As anyone who knows me might guess, I was initially drawn to this book because of the cover (woman alone in her apartment with her cat! So obviously me!). I also was at a point in my life where learning to do more adulting just felt right. I was 28 at the time and ready to feel more like a professional woman. I'd already started to feel more settled in my career and less like a student just struggling to get by. So if you're a woman in your 20s thinking "adulting! I need more of that!" then you'll very likely enjoy this book.
One big thing I appreciated about the book was the very user-friendly breakdown. The chapters are by topic (eg., Domesticity, Fake it Till You Make it, Get a Job, and Love) and within each chapter, there are a number of bitesize "steps". It was nice to pick and choose the things that felt most relevant and go from there.
Looking back now, it's interesting how much I loved a book that's basically about taking responsibility for your life. The tone absolutely helps (it's fun, light, and authentic) and so does the author's voice. She's a young, modern woman who is compassionate and a bit awkward and completely relatable. I never felt judged or like I wasn't doing a good enough job as I read through the steps. Instead I felt pride (there was a lot I was already doing right) and a lot of validation for where I was in my life and the specific day to day struggles I was having.
Now that I'm flipping through it to write this review, I kind of want to read it again. While it's probably not a good book to buy for someone else , it's definitely relevant and fun to read. Worth the purchase.
View all my reviews
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.