Dr. Lee C. Smith, C. Psych.

I’m a Registered Psychologist in Ontario. I obtained my Ph.D. from Dalhousie University in 1984 and trained at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry and Baycrest Hospital in Toronto subsequently. After working at Queen Street Mental Health Centre in Toronto, I moved to Peterborough to work at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre in 1987. I have been in private practice since 1990, in partnership with Dr. Gene Telka. Our practice has grown to include 10 regulated practitioners and four support staff.

Most of my work is with adults, young and old, who seek help with problems related to stress, emotional trauma, depression and anxiety, relationship or couple issues, or who presently just feel overwhelmed by changes and pressures in life. Sometimes the best help is a fresh perspective and a fresh, caring set of ears, an offer of new ways of seeing or of coping with present circumstances, or even some encouragement and a touchstone with another human being. But sometimes comprehensive help is more involved.

In my practice I work sensitively and informatively with people to develop a shared understanding of their goals and difficulties, and to pursue those goals collaboratively and meaningfully. How we pursue those goals depends upon many things.

As a therapist, I strongly believe that it is important to stay close to science and research (but to also be aware that scientific study is always a work in progress). I have enjoyed reading widely and learning what the scientific and clinical literatures have to teach us about health and helping. If pressed to peg my clinical orientation, I would acknowledge the psychodynamic, interpersonal and cognitive-behavioural schools of theory and thought. I have trained in advanced methods in hypnosis and, later, in EMDR. I continue to appreciate the neurobiological underpinnings of our experience, of mind, of our abilities and of our behaviour, and I feel that this literature gives good guidance about stress, trauma and how to heal. And over the past 9 years or so and with more fascination and excitement than I’ve experienced before, I’ve been practicing and soaking up the bursting literature on mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Although there are numerous theoretical orientations and methods of psychotherapeutic practice, their common origin is an effort to capture therapeutically some essence of the problem of being a human being who feels distress and wants relief or resolve. It seems to me that just about all therapies have in common interventions that bring people to themselves. Essentially, as we face ourselves, we grow. The good, if common, question in therapy – “And how are you feeling about that?” – prompts self awareness in the moment, with an added encouragement to accept the internal answer. (Similarly and on a more technical level, the CBT interventions of challenging so-called dysfunctional thoughts are essentially encouraging awareness and acceptance. Awareness and acceptance of how we are are invariably present in effective therapy. Gestalt approaches, family therapies, hypnosis and “exposure therapies” such as EMDR all ‘expose’ us to aspects of ourselves.) There is a golden thread running through all effective therapies that has to do with becoming aware, which is in turn critical to healing and wholeness. Neurobiologically, awareness reflects a critical operation in our self-organizing brain that underpins health on many levels. The ‘secret sauce’ is awareness.

And so it has been with great excitement and some humility that I’ve more recently come to learn about the practice of mindfulness, also called meditation, as a concentrated way to tap fully in to our capacity to be psychologically stronger, more fully aware. A muscle that has been little used still holds the potential for strength, needing only exercise, day after day – that’s just the way tissue is. Like a muscle, our neurobiological and psychological potential to be able to handle stress and distress, to do the heavy lifting in life, is exercised through mindful practice, with all sorts of benefits ensuing. The scientific evidence is pointing to mindfulness practice as perhaps the most efficient and effective way for adults to develop a secure state of mind, one that may have been elusive through life. Both the wisdom of mindfulness teachings and the evidence of its effects and impacts regarding physical and mental health and coping suggest to me that the practice of mindfulness is of tremendous potential benefit to all of us. The exciting evidence is that mindfulness strengthens our capacity to respond to stress in productive and healthy ways, enhancing the strengths of our character. In theory and in practice, that is only a good thing.

I trained with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli in a 7-day retreat in 2008 and returned to take the 10 day teacher-intensive training at their Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 2009. I’ve attended more than a handful of  silent residential retreats of from 7 to 10 days duration as well as other training, and I’ve now been teaching my iteration of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for many years, usually offering 3 courses each year. Please contact me for details.

Sometimes understanding the present is about facing the past

Effective therapy is not concerned with an aimless exploration of one’s past. But to understand our suffering in the present may require looking at what underlies the suffering and that will often be past experience. Our history lays down an emotional landscape of feelings and meanings that silently shape our sense of life in the present.

None of us escapes our development, and it’s a normal part of our development to encounter minor and major emotional and physical injuries. When these hurts occur during our developing years, even though our care-givers do the best job of it that they can (which may have been wonderful through to regrettably destructive), it is common for a child to contain and hide their hurts, doing their best to cope and survive. More optimal care-givers provide the safety and attention that is needed for children to sort out a hurt, to heal it and learn and then leave it behind. As children, we often have too few internal resources and lack the wherewithal to deal with overwhelming experiences completely on our own. Our brain and mind retain our multilayered experience of our history nonetheless. Our history is the mass of experience that shapes our hugely automatic ways of feeling and thinking and behaving.

Further, the quality of care that infants and children receive is critical for the optimal development of many different qualities of mind that constitute the very strengths and resources at our disposal with which we live our life. These qualities of mind are qualities that can be strengthened in each of us, which is a desirable therapeutic goal.

In both complicated and straightforward ways, early unrepaired traumas and neglect have understandable effects on our self-esteem, on our emotional and interpersonal functioning, on our physical functioning, and on our susceptibility to developing depression, anxiety and other problems in adulthood.

Sometimes how we cope makes it worse

An understandable adaptation that most of us commonly make, in childhood as well as in adulthood, is to automatically avoid being aware of distressing memories – we push them out of awareness, bury them. To be sure, avoidance can provide temporary relief. But avoidance means that nothing but momentary relief has been achieved. Coming to terms with our past and with our very life has been further postponed. Also, we may pay a significant price for short-term relief. For example, because of our distress we may episodically do things that we regret, like give vent to our tension with angry outbursts or take substances or withdraw from others passively. We thereby add more problems to our already full plates, losing more control and composure.

Our ability to handle distress

Our internal resources are a very big deal. If at any time our level of distress is greater than our resources, then we become overwhelmed. To be overwhelmed is intolerable, giving rise to intense fear, panic and subjective confusion and dis-order. ‘Bad coping’ may feel necessary. People resort to alcohol or drugs or gambling or sex, avoidance or dissociation, yelling or fighting or cutting or bulimia, to quickly reduce the distress so as not to be overwhelmed. When people come to therapy to deal with their pain, it can be the case that the therapy itself can be overwhelming because it arouses the pain that overwhelms the resources. As a result, people may see their bad coping resume, may have difficulty doing the therapy or bringing themselves to do the talking or the homework, and may drop out of therapy, feeling even more stuck and unhelpable. Clearly, for a lot of us, strengthening our resources is an important first step, increasing our ability to handle the distress before going to the distress. In recent years there have been many creative efforts to develop ways to help people develop their resources, but nothing seems to have emerged as clearly effective, except mindful practice.

If you have any questions and if you would like to speak with me about a possible referral or about your own interests in therapy, please give me a call (705-742-3120), or email me at .