Mental Health Week: family therapy session with our new pet therapy puppy


Yes, we did head off to the weekly family therapy session with our new pet therapy puppy (unnamed as of yet, probably damaging the puppy’s ability to imprint or habituate to his name or something) (both of my sons were nameless for the first month of their lives…. I may be onto something here).

Clover/Pocket/Lucky/Baybay spent the entire session in one lap or another—one of the reasons for choosing a lapdog. Subject matter was not the dog however. It was more family upset, issues of control, trust, respect. Anger and the management of it. Some families cruise through their lives and small crises, other stall with major crises. That’s my family. That’s why we attend family therapy. I’m no psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. We need professional help.

This is Mental Health Awareness Week. I am acutely aware of mental health every day of my life. It’s a must-have. This week, actually called Mental Illness Awareness Week, was started in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and is now managed by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH). They even have a website for the week, with a succinct rundown on the most “popular” mental illnesses.

I watched CBC Sunday Morning on the weekend, and they kicked off the week with a segment on Tazz Norris, a comedian with bipolar affective disorder who uses his mental health problems as material. On the subject of suicide, he says—”I tried it six times, I’m not very good at it!” You can catch the piece here.

I have my own little peeve about the use of the term “mental illness”—I prefer “mental health problem” because that makes me feel more hopeful, as in, someone has a problem with their mental health, but the problem can be worked on, and the health can come back. Mentally ill has a smack of finality to it that doesn’t leave much room for hope or work.

Back to our family therapy session. By the end, Luka had completed his white board artwork of a huge apartment building with tons of windows and some death rays. The puppy was waking up, refreshed from a good nap. I realized there hadn’t been any shouting or raised voices or slammed doors during the session, because he slept the whole time. Good puppy! Good family!

QUESTIONS FOR YOU: including your family, saying so or not, how many families would there be in your circle of family, friends, close coworkers, neighbours and your children’s friend’s? How many have attended or are attending family counselling or therapy?


4 Responses

  1. Thank you for rephrasing “Mental Illness” into “mental health problem.” Anything to remove the unnecessary shame associated with something so incredibly common – so very much apart of all our lives – and yet still cloaked in a veil of misunderstanding. Good on ya for seeking an objective opinion and having the guts to follow through.

    In response to your question, I have a circle of about ten families that I figure would be in my circle, people I frequent socialize with or my children do, and this includes coworkers, school people, volunteer crowd, etc. One of these families has a mother for a therapist – and they are the wackiest of the lot! (I say that with love). Of all these families, I know that two are in couples therapy (not yet realizing the damage they are doing to their children), two have their children and the mother in counselling – but not together, so they are be treated on individual levels as opposed to family dynamics (the father’s have avoided therapy), and I have at least two friends who are seriously on the verge of a breakdown of some kind, and I am waiting to pick up the pieces. I also have a child with some anxiety issues, and will soon head to counselling so I can figure out to help her (and could probably use some objectivity in my own life too).

    We all need help. Life isn’t easy. There is no shame in getting it.

  2. I agree – “mental health problems” – or “mental health challenges” – would be my preferred terminology. Good for you for making the time and the effort to get the family to therapy on a regular basis.

    We have two kids and were always adamant that we sat down to dinner at the dining room table each night. That was our self imposed family therapy. It’s funny how many topics we would discuss (tackle) just because we were sitting in a circle facing each other.

    Now the kids are teenagers, they have jobs and crazy schedules that don’t always allow for them to be home at dinner. And half the time, two or three of the four end up in front of the TV. Family dinners with the four of us at the dining room table are about once every two weeks. This past week we actually sat down at the dining room table, just the four of us, TWICE! And both the kids commented that we should try to do it more often because it’s “fun”.

    p.s. We are fortunate to have a close circle of other about 5 families as close friends. None of them are in family therapy but some of the family members are in couples therapy or individual therapy.

  3. Oh, and the puppy is adorable.

    And I vote for Clover as the name. Very cute, rolls of the tongue and has a gentle, understanding ring to it.

    What does everyone else think?

  4. I like Clover, too. But compromise by making his official full name…Sir Lucky Clover of BayBay Pocket…a huge, regal title for the newest, tiny family member!

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