When the universe shakes our lives, what gifts are left in the rubble?

Many of us are left reeling when seismic changes erupt  in our daily lives.

Renovictions from long-time apartments; delays to graduation when funding suddenly changes; a scary diagnosis a loved one receives: difficulties can overwhelm us until we accept we have no control and simply have to live through them.

When we come out the other side, we are forced to confront how we cope with sudden and intense life changes. Living through difficult times burnishes us. It changes how we view the world, those close to us and ourselves.

Psychotherapy helps us become more conscious of how these events have changed us.  It can help us put to rest some of the grief and anger many of us are desperate to escape with alcohol, drugs, sex or food. When enough time passes, when we process our pain and loss, it is possible to see how these experiences were in fact a gift.

Sound impossible? This week saw the release of a moving interview with Stephen Colbert, whose father and two older brothers died in a plane crash when he was 10 years old. His conception of viewing punishments as gifts from god came from a quote from Tolkien.  Here is a man that life has burnished. Stephen Colbert interviewed by Anderson Cooper 

Superheroes Among Us

Sometimes there are parts of ourselves we don’t know how to accept – discomfort with a mood disorder or anxiety about taking longer to make a decision than we think is ‘normal’.

What may at first seem to be a weakness is often a unique trait that is part of our identity. The more we can tolerate that discomfort of acknowledging that weakness, the more we can learn about ourselves and, eventually, learn to accept those rejected parts of ourselves. This acceptance can lead us to value these so called defects and differences and see them as strengths. Sometimes what you once saw as a weaknesses can become your own personal superpower.

What does this look like? Sometimes we struggle with a lack of sleep and panic a bit when we feel a more manic mood coming on. What we do with this energy can transform it into a force of good –  completing a lot of work very well, providing the best customer support I can with a little extra sparkle, or getting into the zone with a DIY project or latest craft. If we put our excess energy to good use, might this be considered practicing ‘right action’, as best we can?

If you contemplate your options before telling your partner about a decision, are you anxious or cautious? Has taking your time or even waiting a few days before disclosing your thoughts shown you, on occasion, a better option than you first saw? Are you anxious and worried? Or deepening your patience?

Taking time to think and reflect, to focus your energy on positive actions or even showing  empathy and compassion, all of these traits can be devalued as unnecessary or find you labelled a ‘bleeding heart’. Turn the mirror gently and we can find new strengths.

What are you uncomfortable with? What secret superpowers do you possess and not yet know about?

Kate Lawton is a social worker providing psychotherapy in downtown Toronto. See the Contact page  for availability, rates or to book a free initial session.


Anticipating Change


The new year brings with it relief of returning to our daily routine and the comfort of having ordinary days. Regardless of the cultural event we celebrate or ignore, we have collectively passed through the winter solstice and anticipate increasing minutes of daylight.

We anticipate a subtle and evident cycle of change most with the arrival of the new year. Whether we harbour enthusiasm and delight or a low thrumming dread, how we anticipate change helps us learn about ourselves and the people around us.

You may be ambivalent about the arrival of a new supervisor or colleague at work, yet suspend your judgment about how their arrival affects you and the workplace. You may privately assess her character based on her willingness or ability to be colegial, professional and courteous. It seems straightforward to assess the impact of change in your professional life using these classic workplace measures, even when you realize you don’t like the new arrival one whit.

Changes in our personal lives can often feel like small eruptions that take us by surprise. Change could be an internal rumbling that has gone on for months until, one day, you see your relationship is over and you aren’t sure why or when it ended. Or you may feel the sharp sting of intense loneliness while comfortably tucked into bed with your partner.

Emotional discomfort frequently precedes change. Our ability to accept and tolerate unpleasant feelings, and the unsettled sensations accompanying them, is necessary to welcome change into our lives in a nonjudgmental manner.

Psychotherapy can help you learn how to tolerate emotional discomfort, to have more calm in your daily life, even in the midst of change.  The psychotherapeutic session is a safe place to explore the meaning of changes in your life and let you move freely in the direction that aligns best with your values and goals.

January 4, 2017

Kate Lawton is a social worker providing psychotherapy in downtown Toronto. See the Contact page  for availability, rates or to book a free initial session.

Fathers and Sons

Sometimes my male clients tell me they do not really talk with their fathers, yet these men know to the letter exactly how their dads feel about them, their lives and their choices.

Western culture purports fathers and, by extension, our father figures are archetypes of our connection with the world, setting our relationship style with authority figures, our community and our work. This archetype has come crashing down with the economy a decade ago as more and more young (cis, het, middle class) men find themselves assuming traditionally female roles in child rearing  while women continue to make gains in full-time employment.

It’s a topsy-turvy world for young fathers and one in which their parenting roles have become far more central to their children’s lives. What I hear more and more from men of all ages is how they saw a straight-jacket of masculinity saw keep their own fathers silent when their jobs weren’t meaningful or they only had an hour with the kids at night.

No wonder it seems unusual for men to have easy conversation with their older dads.

We all seek meaning from work enough and love.  Men who are new to fatherhood, and those hoping for children, are confident in their emotional need to have as much time as they want with their kids.

Working through the loss of a physically or emotionally absent father, whether through overwork, divorce or death, can bring up painful feelings that you may have avoided for years.

We can’t get that time back with our dads. Sometimes the relationship rupture is too great to repair. And yet we do this inner work to understand what happened with our dads, and to forgive ourselves for our behaviour when our needs weren’t met. Or for being away from our own kids to put food on the table.

We talk about our feelings so we can be present to our kids and to our dads, if they are still in our lives. And so we can continue to read our father’s opinions of us clearly from their single glance at us when we darken their doorway.

August 28, 2016

Kate Lawton is a social worker providing psychotherapy in downtown Toronto. See the Contact page  for availability, rates or to book a free initial session.






Mother and Daughters

Patients come to me for many different reasons: difficulty parenting tweens; feeling triggered by a supervisor at work; working through infidelity in a marriage. In many cases we unpack these immediate problems only to find painful, unresolved relationships underneath – grief over the early loss of a mother through death or divorce, or ambivalence that arises from a difficult home life.

Coming to terms with your relationship with your mother or your daughter requires exploring your unmet needs and the expectations you have of yourself. The therapeutic conversation can help you gently bring some air into long held beliefs about these bonds. The very traits you miss about your mother or grandmother you now see shining in your daughter’s eyes.

Mother daughter relationships can feel intense, emeshed, or downright toxic when you first enter therapy. It is hard work to explore the similar life transitions that you share with your daughter, precisely because you are frantic to have her avoid the same mistakes you made in your twenties. You may be aware that the traits you share with your mother – a sharp wit and analytical mind – are currently perceived by your spouse as critical and harsh.

Developing compassion for yourself and your mother or daughter puts to rest the pain of the past and separates it from daily challenges we face at work and home. You may not be able to talk to these women any longer; you may be, and choose to remain, estranged from your adult daughter. But working through these primal connections helps you feel lighter and be more present to the people in your life.

Psychotherapy is a form of work on yourself that helps us live more fully. Over time, your therapeutic work leads to greater self acceptance. You begin to see yourself, and the people around you, complete with glorious imperfections. Surprisingly these imperfections will no longer trigger you, but may delight you.

Next week: fathers and sons

Kate Lawton is a clinical Social Worker/Therapist in downtown Toronto specializing in parent child relationships, major life transitions and issues facing older adults. Contact me for more information or to book an appointment.