Two Wise Chicks

Simple Advice For Real Life (Self-help made easy)



5 Questions you’ve always wanted to ask your therapist: Tanya’s answers

May is Mental Health Awareness month.  A perfect time to ponder and think about our journey – personally and professionally – towards mental health.  Sally wrote a lovely piece with a great introduction that I will not try to duplicate here – but I encourage you to check it out here.

Why did I choose this path?

As a psychologist, clients have often asked me about my choice to work in the field of mental health.  I’d love to say the answer to that question is easy, tanya thinking out loudsimple. But rarely is the truth about these things either easy or simple.

Without getting into too much detail here (I save that for my own therapist or supervisor!), my curiosity about relationships and communication started very young. As a young child I suffered from very low self-esteem and if I am to be honest I believe I spent a great deal of my childhood feeling depressed. I was always a deep thinker, and as a child would  love to watch and listen as adults talked.  I clearly remember overhearing a comment about me: “She’s wise beyond her years.” Even though I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, I took it as a great compliment. I still do.

I knew early on that there were things about our family and home life that didn’t feel right, or indeed felt really wrong. My parents separated officially when I was about 13 years old. It was a decision that I now realize brought my parents shame (we lived in a small town in the very Catholic West of Ireland, where, at the time, separation and divorce was uncommon and frowned upon).


To me though, it felt like a relief.

Fast forward several years and I had to choose something to study at university. I was lost. I knew I loved to learn but the only thing I could think of was wanting to help families communicate better. Little did I know at that time that a classic reason for people to get into the field of psychology is to heal themselves or someone close to them (also, apparently not a good reason!). I did a little research (no computers and Internet back then) and found out that psychology was the field I needed to pursue.

It took many years of study (seven years and three higher education degrees) – and healing – for me to come to a place where I realized I not only could ‘do this’ but loved it too. When I understood how I could merge my years of study and my own struggles with dysfunctional family dynamics, depression and anxiety to be helpful for others, I knew I had finally come to the place that felt right. No longer a square peg in a round hole.

This line of work is certainly not always easy.  But it is always worth it.


I worked with adults, families and children as a psychologist for over fifteen years prior to moving to the United States. Many clients suggested that listening to their ‘problems’ would be a burden. Some jokingly suggested that I must get irritated or cranky listening to them “whine about their problems” all day.

It was most certainly never irritating or a burden. Instead, it was a privilege.   Knowing that they trusted me with feelings and thoughts that sometimes they did not trust with anybody else (sometimes even themselves) is a special honor.

Is the job tiring?

Absolutely. Being emotionally fully ‘present’ with clients can be exhausting.  But only if you do not practice self-care. As therapists we try to practice what we preach as it were: I would schedule no more than 4-5 clients a day, and work four days a week. That worked for me, my famiIy, and my mental health.

Is it depressing

…to work with clients that are suffering, depressed, and/or in emotional pain?

It was never depressing. Seeing others in pain is difficult but inspiring at the same time. I am always amazed at the strength of the human spirit. To be even a small part of helping a person heal, to walk even a short distance of someone’s journey with them – is inspiring and up-lifting.  It is the opposite of depressing.

Is it lonely?

Working as a psychologist can be ‘lonely’ in the sense that you work alone.  However, you  have colleagues, peers and supervisors that you consult with.  Sometimes you work with them in the same location, sometimes you meet or consult outside of the space where you work. And because you get to work directly with people , it is very hard to feel lonely at work!

Making time for family and friends, socializing and keeping balance outside of work keeps all the parts moving as they should.  While we cannot talk about work with our friends the same as other people, that can sometimes be a blessing: we get to talk about all of the other stuff that makes life interesting.

Would you choose a different career if you could?

I don’t believe I would ever choose to do something that doesn’t involve advocating for and supporting mental health. In a conversation about careers with a friend just after moving to Texas, she innocently asked what I would do since “[I’m] not a psychologist anymore”.  It was at that moment that it became profoundly clear: My identity is tied to helping others on a much deeper level than a job title.  Call it what you will: psychologist, life coach, mental health advocate, counsellor, friend – using my knowledge and experience in the field of psychology is not just what I do, it is who I am. And that  is why I chose to co-author this blog! It allows me to pursue my passion until such time as I choose to move back into private practice.

Thanks for reading!



6 steps to better Mental Health

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

Statistics tell us that at least in the United States, approximately one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, with approximately 20 percent of youth aged 13-18 experiencing severe mental disorders in a given year. Approximately 18 percent of American adults live with anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and phobias).

IMG_9199 Or you could view it another way – 18% of American adults experience difficulty, one way or another. While over-diagnosis appears to be a very real problem, with ‘normal’ negative feelings being more and more ‘medicalised’, the fact remains that many of us experience difficulties every day. The impact of mental ill-health is significant, ranging from lost earnings, hospitalization, chronic medical conditions to suicide.

Obviously, these statistics reflect individuals who have been diagnosed with disorders. But what about the millions of people who have not sought treatment? Who have not been diagnosed? Or who do not fit the medical model of ‘disordered’ but still need and deserve help? These are the people like you, like us, that are going through life. Coping with every day stressors. And sometimes it is just hard to get through the day without feeling stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.

Too many days like that, without adequate support, and we may find ourselves struggling to maintain good mental health.

What is ‘Mental Health’ anyway?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.

We like this definition, because of it’s use of the term ‘state of well-being’.  Mental health is much more than ‘mental’ or ‘cognitive’ processes. And while mental health is certainly affected by how we think about ourselves and situations, it is not simply a ‘state of thinking.’ Mental health is by definition tied into our thoughts, feelings and actions.

How can we improve our mental health?

There are many ways to improve our mental health. Taking small steps can have amazing payoffs.

1. Take care of your body

A healthy body has a huge impact on our emotions, as well as gives us the strength to deal with the challenges of daily life.  Take time each day to move: walk, run, swim, jump rope – anything that gets your body moving and your blood flowing. Make good food choices.  Eat a balanced diet.

2. Sleep more

Research tells us that  adults – and children, especially teens – do not get enough sleep.  Poor sleep  increases the risk of developing mental disorders, while a good nights sleep helps increase the ability to handle both mental and emotional stress.

3. Socialize

Make and keep connections with people.  Loneliness has a direct impact on our mood, and lessens our ability to deal with stress.  If you are new to an area, struggle to make friends, or simply like the emotional benefits of being of service to others, volunteering is a wonderful way to connect with others of a  like mind, while also giving back to your community.

4. Communicate your feelings

Talking about how you feel is part of the healing process.  Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with trusted family and/or friends.  If they are trustworthy, they will give you good honest feedback, or at the very least will just listen (which is sometimes all we need).

5. Keep a Diary

Much research tells us that simply writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us heal. Just writing down what we feel allows us to acknowledge our feelings, as well as allowing us to process them.  Getting them down on paper (or onto a computer screen) also allows us to ‘see’ what we are feeling.  Solutions sometimes just become clear.  Or, we might find that we are truly ‘stuck’ and need to seek advice from someone else to resolve the issue. Either way it’s movement!

6. Seek Help!

If you are eating well, keeping active, resting well and keeping connected – or are struggling to do any or all of these – and are still feeling as though your anxiety or anxious thoughts, depression or other feelings or thoughts are making all the choices in your life, then it may be time to seek help.  Mental health professionals (counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists) are all advocates for self-care. They are able to accurately assess your situation, and offer recommendations that will have the most impact to get your life back on track.

You can – and deserve to – feel better!

If we translate the WHO definition of mental health that we mentioned earlier, it simply boils down to this: A person with good mental health is a person with a good sense of self-confidence/self-worth, is able to cope with normal daily stress while being a functioning, productive member of society.

If you or someone you love struggles with mental health issues, know you are not alone. Reach out – there are many hands willing to hold you up until you can stand on your own two feet again.

You've got this... and we've got your back

Do you know what you need to be happier?

It’s always nice to hear from a previous client.

As therapists, we have a privileged opportunity to share a precious part of our clients’ journey through pain, crisis, vulnerability – but we usually do not get to hear about the “what happened next?”. Often, after the work is ‘done’, our minds wander back to our clients and we can only hope that things are going well.  Hope that our relationship however brief, had some positive influence, that they are happier now. Continue reading “Do you know what you need to be happier?”

6 steps to changing your judgemental ways

“The way I see it, you’re wrong”.

Or, depending on your mood, the  wrong could be: ‘stupid’, ‘fat’,  ‘ugly’, ‘badly dressed’, ‘choosing the wrong spouse’, ‘choosing the wrong car’, ‘eating the wrong foods’, ‘living in a horrible house’ or  ‘being a terrible parent’.

Pick your poison.   Continue reading “6 steps to changing your judgemental ways”

Thinking Out Loud: Teaching Children a Healthy Body Image When You Struggle With Your Own.

tanya thinking out loudI can remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. We’re sitting in a pub – my parents and I. My guess is that I was nine maybe ten years old.  But while I’m sitting there drinking my ‘soft drink’ (soda as my fellow US dwellers might call it), the issue of weight comes up. Again. Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud: Teaching Children a Healthy Body Image When You Struggle With Your Own.”

Nurturing a healthy body image in young children

Is it possible to help create a healthy body image in our children?

Yes.  And it’s (relatively) simple.

How? By having (or developing) a healthy body image ourselves.

Let’s explain. Continue reading “Nurturing a healthy body image in young children”

Ready to kick the ‘sorry’ habit?

We say “sorry” too much.

This isn’t a criticism, more of an observation. “Sorry!” is a social nicety, a social convention, that seems to have gone terribly wrong. Over-saying sorry not only dilutes its true meaning, it can also be a way we in which we unwittingly dismiss ourselves and allow others to follow suit.

Let’s look at what we call the 4 Unnecessary Apologies: Continue reading “Ready to kick the ‘sorry’ habit?”

10 ‘Life Detox’ choices made easy!

Since we’re all talking detox these days, why stop at guzzling green drinks? We all know that feeling physically healthy is just one part of being emotionally healthy. So let’s look at the whole picture – our body, our environment and our moods. Why not go for a complete ‘Life Detox’ – guaranteed not to result in frequent trips to the bathroom or foul tasting burps?! Continue reading “10 ‘Life Detox’ choices made easy!”

Emotional Detox: can one size fit all?

Both of us are firm believers that commercialized ‘detoxing’ is at the best a ‘fad’, at worst potentially dangerous. Psychologically speaking, it also appears to somehow minimize or trivialize the actual medical detox that patients need to work through in an addiction program.

We do not support (nor does the research) drastic lifestyle changes. That ranges from drastic changes in our diets to drastic changes in our relationships. Research and experience tells us that these types of changes are just not sustainable, and often do more harm than good.

Having said that, most people who choose to undertake a detox do so for valid reasons. Somehow, they know that they are just not feeling rightContinue reading “Emotional Detox: can one size fit all?”

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