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Behind the Mind: A Psychologist’s Journey

Introduction to My Story

My name is Dr. Benjamin Armstrong. I’m a psychologist licensed in Quebec and Ontario. In my 9 years in the field so far, I’ve spent 1000s of hours working with 100s of clients and studied psychotherapy from a variety of perspectives. I’m starting this blog under the name “Ben the Psychologist” to talk about all the things I think are important for everyone to know in psychology and mental health.

A little background about me.

I did my training at McGill University from 2013 to 2019 and received my PhD in 2020, less than a month before the pandemic started. It was a wild time to be starting out as a psychologist. Demand was incredibly high. Everyone was nervous and stressed as we all went into lockdown for the first time. There were requests for help coming in constantly, and it was unclear how to help people who were struggling in isolation with a very new and novel challenge.

Fortunately, I was able to find the common threads in what I was seeing. Everyone was feeling isolated and anxious about an uncertain future, and the need to tolerate very real fears and carry on was an important theme. Unfortunately, this didn’t fit well with much of what I had been taught about cognitive therapy, which often assumes that our difficult feelings are caused by irrational or unfounded thoughts that should be challenged or reframed. However, at this time it became increasingly clear that reframing anxious thoughts wasn’t as effective for people whose fears seemed well-founded. I needed an approach that would work whether one’s worries were irrational or not.

The solution I found was my own blend of:

1- Mindful self-acceptance to understand and make peace with our thoughts and feelings
2- Self-compassion as a way to self-soothe and heal the relationship with the self
and only then:
3- Techniques for working with negative thoughts, building new habits, etc.

This focus on acceptance and self-compassion as a foundation for everything else turned out to be my major breakthrough. While others used many of these same principles and techniques, they tended to use them as “just another tool in the toolbox”. In my work, they are foundational.
I started training all of my clients in how to be open and accepting with their thoughts and emotions and in how to use caring and compassion to self-soothe.
Whatever else we did, this was the base, and it worked. People got better over time. Clients courageously allowed themselves to feel and process some truly difficult feelings, and they came out the other side stronger and more resilient.

This approach has worked so well that I feel compelled to share it not just with my therapy clients but with everyone. So many of us go through the world at war with ourselves, pushing our emotions down or distracting ourselves in whatever way we can. And while this can seem like a good idea at the moment, in the longer term it can actually hold our feelings in place, keeping us from moving forward, keeping us stuck. And feeling stuck and uncomfortable, we are even more likely to try to turn to distraction or suppression leading to a negative cycle that can be hard to break.
Mindfulness teaches us to loosen our grip on our emotions so that they can begin to move again. Compassion soothes us and facilitates this process.
Over the coming weeks and months, I will be talking about this foundation of mindfulness and self-compassion as well as a variety of other mental health concepts. Each week I will tell you about a specific challenge, technique, or concept that has shown up in my clinical psychology practice in the blog, and each day I will try to offer a small piece of guidance or wisdom to brighten your day.

In the medium term, keep an eye out for the courses and materials that I’m putting together to really teach the foundation: emotion regulation and exploration from mindful self-compassion. I’ll be adding a piece to that growing library every month or two.

Oh, and one more thing. The greater work — the future courses, videos, and audio recordings that this is building toward — will be supported by donations, not sales.
The aim here is not to get rich but to get this information out to as many people as possible, especially to those who really need it.

So that’s me, Ben the Psychologist, and what I’m trying to do: offer my perspective and body of work on mindfulness, self-compassion, and mental health to the world at large. If my style of writing and perspective sounds interesting to you, here are your first action steps:

- Visit my website. It’s where you’ll find information on upcoming tools and courses
- Subscribe to my social media. I’ll be posting tips, tricks, and updates about future posts and courses several times per week

Let’s go.

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