Are you a therapist that specializes in grief and trauma counseling? How can you develop your skillset to work with clients through grief? Why is grief counselling a universal need?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about grief and trauma healing with Ashley Mielke.
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Meet Ashley Mielke
Ashley Mielke is a Registered Psychologist, Founder, and CEO of a large group private practice in Alberta, Canada called The Grief and Trauma Healing Centre Inc. She is passionate about supporting heart-centered practice owners in starting, growing, and scaling their businesses.
Ashley was called to start her company after the tragic death of her father by suicide in 2010. It was the purpose she found through her healing that inspired the ‘WHY’ that drives her 7-figure company today. It brings Ashley great joy to support other heart-centered leaders in building successful practices that are aligned with both their business goals and their deepest calling.
To maintain a group practice that specializes in grief and trauma healing, Ashley and her team are open and heart-centered when it comes to sharing their personal experiences of grief in their lives.
When we are hiring people to the team to join … we ask them about their personal loss experiences, and how those experiences have shaped them, and why it is important that they show up to help grieving people.
By doing this, Ashley, her team, and the private practice are known as a heart-centered space where therapists are passionate about providing healing to clients both through having had a personal grief experience and through a resilient skillset.
At the foundation of what we do really comes from the Grief and Recovery Institute and … the grief and recovery method, so that’s what we’re known for.
Being heart-centred translates to always choosing love. To be authentic, warm, and create a space for true humanness.
A masterclass on grief and trauma healing
Realize that loss lies beneath most of the issues that people deal with.
If you look at someone through the lens of loss and they’re talking about some presenting symptoms like anxiety or depression, loss of meaning or purpose, I would want to know what happened. What are the losses that are underlying some of those symptoms?
A grieving person just wants to be seen, heard, and witnessed in their experience. They do not want to be fixed because grief cannot be “fixed”. It can only be worked through with love, patience, and acceptance.
View a person’s grief through the human lens instead of seeing it as a mental health issue because it is a normal human process that everyone in the world goes through.
By seeing grief just as grief and not something to be fixed, you earn that person’s trust.
How to build your skills
If you are a therapist that is either currently assisting clients with grief and trauma healing, or you want to develop your skillset to be able to do that, then follow and attain the Grief Recovery Method certification.
You can take the online four-day certification training.
It’s highly educational, it integrates many different therapeutic perspectives and it actually is a roadmap to walk someone through a loss in their life. It’s an actionable tool, and that’s what’s so amazing about it.
Additionally, in working with trauma, Ashley recommends that therapists work with EMDR therapy as well as somatic-based therapies.
Ashley’s advice to private practitioners
Pursue the desires of your heart! If it’s joining a Mastermind, attending trainings, or launching a private practice, give your dream a go.
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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This is the Practice of the Practice Podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 867.
I’m Joe Sanok, your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. I am so excited to have you here with me. This month we are doing specialty month, and actually we’re doing it for all of April and all of May, really digging into the clinical work we do. We cover a lot around business and marketing and all of that, which is awesome. I mean, but if deep down we aren’t amazing at our clinical work, well, then we’re nothing. If we’re saying we’re therapists, obviously we have human, as humans, we are something, but we got to have our clinical work be really awesome too. So I’m so excited to have Ashley. Ashley’s one of our consultants here at Practice of the Practice, and Ashley also is a registered psychologist and founder and CEO of the Grief and Trauma Healing Center, a multi-location, large group practice in Canada. And Ashley’s a sought-after international speaker, trainer, thought leader on grief and business consultant with us. She’s also a wife, a mother, a second year doctoral student, I mean, what doesn’t Ashley do? Ashley, welcome to the Practice of the Practice Podcast. So excited you’re back again on the show.
Hi, Joe. Thank you so much for having me back. I’m also very excited to be here.
All the things you’re doing, I’m just like, when does this woman sleep?
It’s funny because I do get that question a lot and I do get my full eight hours. I do manage to squeeze it all in in a day.
Love it. I do too, most nights, unless I’m having fun playing. We just got a switch, so I got sucked into Mario World a little bit, so sometimes I stay up like a little seventh grade Joey playing Mario World.
Yes. Well, and you know that I play hockey and in our winter schedule, like last night I had a 10:45 PM day.
Oh my gosh. I remember when I curled, we wouldn’t get on the ice till like 10:30. I mean, then we would like get off the ice at like midnight and after all those bright lights, you’re just like, jazzed up till one or two in the morning and, now I do Improv instead. That’s a different excitement.
I love it, but it’s worth it.
Well, Ash I know that we’ve covered your backstory, so anyone that wants to hear your backstory on your family and how you got into trauma work, I would definitely recommend going back and listening to the interviews I’ve done with Ashley about that. But would love to hear in regards to doing your specialty work, how do you frame your personal specialty and your practices specialty?
So we are the Grief and Trauma Healing Center, so it pretty much speaks for itself in our business name that we do specialize in grief and trauma. And my heart and soul is really in the grief work. Without going too much into my backstory, what led me to pursue this specialty was the death of my dad by suicide in 2010, so going through such a significant devastating loss and really experiencing the pain of a loss, like the death of a parent and a suicide really inspired me to want to serve others and create a safe space for them to do their healing work.
Now, when you think about, this is something I’ve asked a lot of the people I’ve been interviewing, when you think about the DNA of your practice, you know it’s one thing when a founder has this horrific story that you’ve been through, and that’s a motivating factor, but transferring that onto other people is sometimes difficult or making sure that as, especially as scaled, as large as your practice has scaled it can be really hard to make sure that that DNA really stays core to the practice. Like what have you and your team done to make sure that really trauma and grief healing is, and the way, and not just that, but the way that you particularly want that done, stays embedded in how people do their therapeutic work?
That’s such a great question. I have like a million thoughts running through my head, but I would say like succinctly, we are a very heart-centered practice and anyone who joins the team knows that having gone through a personal loss yourself is a really important part of being a part of the team. So when we are hiring people to join, Joe, we ask them about their personal loss experiences and how those experiences have shaped them and why it’s important that they show up to help grieving people. So we are known as a very heart-centered compassionate space, and I think our unique value proposition is that every single therapist has gone through a significant loss in their own life. We also have very specific specialties as well, so people know what to expect when they join the team in terms of training and specialty areas, and also clients as well. So at the foundation of what we do is, really comes from the Grief Recovery Institute and the program is called the Grief Recovery Method. That’s what we’re known for and we’re very open about that.
Now, I’ve heard you, whether it’s in presentations or in consulting, say that heart-centered, break that down a little bit for us. Like what does that mean to you? What does that look like in the actions of your therapists?
Oh, that’s a great question. Well, what pops to mind first as our number one value is to choose love. So when I think about whether it’s me showing up or any one of our therapists, it’s really showing up from a place of love and service. Like we are there to give, we’re there to create a safe and warm space for our clients to feel their feelings, to show up authentically, to be a whole person. So the head part of our business, and that’s more of that clinical side, obviously is very key, but that sense of warmth and connection and humanness is even more important to us. And one of, like a belief that we have is that grief and loss is the one thread that connects every single human being, including our clinical team. So we lead with that thought that we’re all just human beings who’ve gone through stuff and we’re just here to give and that sense of love is really sort of communicated and integrated into every aspect of the practice
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Now, what are things that, if you think about any clinician that you would hope that they would have a working understanding of, not just at your practice, but someone here in Traverse City, Michigan, if they were listening and maybe they don’t have the training that you or your team have had, but things that you would say, these are essential things around trauma, grief, healing, all of that every single therapist really should have a working understanding of, what would be the quick masterclass that you would give around the basics that they should have as a functioning therapist?
Wow, these are great questions, Joe. Okay, I would say firstly, what comes to mind is that loss underlies so many of the issues that people deal with. If you think of, if you look at someone through the lens of loss and they’re talking about maybe some presenting symptoms like anxiety or depression, loss of meaning or purpose, I would want to know what happened. What are the losses that might actually be underlying some of those symptoms? Because I truly believe loss underlies so many of the struggles that we have. Number two, a grieving person just wants to be heard and seen and witnessed. They don’t want to be fixed. There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re not broken. It is not a psychological diagnosis. It’s someone going through a human experience and if we can look at somebody’s grief from that sort of normalizing humanizing perspective, we can earn trust and we can really support them in moving forward in a way that allows them to feel really seen. No, I think just unfortunately with what we’re taught in the medical model, we just, we’ve learned to really pathologize people’s issues and we think that grief is just something that we should get over and move on from in a matter of days and it’s just not the truth. Grief just needs to be witnessed, intended to and not fixed.
That’s one thing that a therapist that I was personally working with, he talked about grief and trauma as reverse labor pains that it’s like at first is just like so intense and relentless, but then over time it spreads out more and more but that oftentimes those pains pop up at really random times. I mean, we all have memories when we hear a song or outside a certain temperature or whatever that, like, you don’t know when that grief is going to pop up. And to think that we have to follow that medical model just to fix it and get rid of the “disease of grief,” I mean, grief is a reflection of the love that you had for that person or the love or hope that you had for what that relationship. Could have been and didn’t end up being, or whatever it is. So to me, it’s a direct reflection of what that relationship was or what it ended up not being. So it’s like if you try to fix it, you’re dishonoring what that relationship actually was.
Yes, exactly. It’s so permission giving when someone, when you say that, Joe, that it’s actually very normal to have feelings forever and to think about the person and to talk about it, whatever. If it’s the death of a person or some other loss experience, it’s actually very normal for that to become integrated into your life for the rest of your life and it’s not something that you need to “get over” or forget because that’s really not possible. So that’s, I find that that’s very permission giving for our clients as well.
Well, I think even just looking at my own uncoupling and being an unexpected single dad, it’s like I had a vision or dream for what I thought adult family was going to be for me. Being from a Polish Catholic family that like even if people hated each other, they like never got divorced. It’s like that wasn’t really part of the narrative I was raised with. And right now where I’m at, I feel so free. I feel like, wow, I never would’ve guessed this path, but I feel like it’s been a very positive thing for me, but there’s also grief that goes along with that. So how great to just have that permission giving be part of what you all do now. Now, if you were to give bullet points for people that are hearing you talk and they’re saying I really want to be more of a specialist than what I am right now around trauma and grief, what would be the bullet points, the trainings, the books, the podcasts, like any resources that for you would want someone to go through to build their clinical skills around trauma and grief?
Well, I would say like, number one, I’m such an advocate for this program. I’m a trainer for the program. The Grief Recovery Method certification is what I would encourage anyone who wants to work with grief. Anyone who wants to understand their own loss experiences, who’s looking to, the language we use is complete losses in their own life, in their own life, I would recommend going to the Grief Recovery Institute., I think that the website is griefrecoverymethod.com and consider taking that four day online certification training. It’s highly educational. It integrates many different therapeutic perspectives and it actually is a roadmap to walk someone through a loss in their life. It’s an actionable tool and that’s what’s so amazing about it and it really honors all unique losses and it’s not religious based. It really just meets a person where they’re at in their own belief system. The Grief Recovery Handbook is the guide that we use to walk someone through that program so I would highly recommend that.
The other training I would recommend in working specifically with trauma would be EMDR therapy, which I imagine a ton of EMDR therapists are listening right now. That is one of our signature approaches to working with trauma as well as somatic based therapies. So somatic experiencing or hakomi are really popular. A lot of our therapists are getting trained in those body-based approaches to working with trauma. Off the top of my head, I can, I’m just drawing a blank in terms of books and podcasts, that’s something we could follow up with, but I would say like that’s the three prong approach that we use to work with grief and trauma. It’s pretty holistic. So I think that’s a really good starting point.
Awesome. Any extra things you send our way, we’ll put in the show notes over at practiceofthepractice.com. Now, one thing that is really important is, you’ve mentioned how your dad passed away and in past episodes you’ve gone more in-depth as to what that looked like and the trauma that you went through and being a helper. When we have family trauma of any sort the last thing we want to do is pass that down to our kids. So I’m interested as a mom, because I’m a dad also and want to make sure that I’m doing what I can for my kids. Are there things with your kids that you either do or in the future will do to incorporate say somatic, thinking about what your body’s feeling or like how have you changed the way you parent based on your clinical work that’s different from, or maybe reinforced how you were raised?
Yes, oh my gosh, I love that question, Joe. We could do a whole podcast just on that question. So the grief training, especially the grief recovery method, going through that and having truly grieved my own losses and giving myself permission to feel my feelings and honor those has been just amazing with my son. Like, realizing we live in a culture with this narrative that says, boys have to be strong, boys can, big boys don’t cry, suck it up, get over it, that language. So something my husband and I do is really honor our son’s feelings. We validate them, we encourage his tears, we sit with him. We don’t tell him to suck it up and stop crying. That’s been amazing to witness in my son that he now, at least by this age, he’s going to be seven this year, he’s not carrying that sort of, that emotional baggage or thinking that it’s not okay to cry because I really want him to grow up to be a man that can be vulnerable and see the strength and his vulnerability.
So we really value that in our family and just, if he’s hurt or he is sad or he is angry, just helping to identify those feelings before moving on to the next thing. So that’s been really, really key in my parenting and also recognizing that I, it’s not my job to protect my son from the pain of life because pain is inevitable and he is going to suffer and loss is going to happen. But teaching him how to deal with those feelings and how to deal with grief when it does happen is where I can support him. So I often think about that when we’re going through a difficult time or something has happened in his life
Now what skills in your practice do you have first from a skill building standpoint for people? So they, you select people, they are able to articulate and identify their own trauma or their own grief, a lot of them maybe have trainings. Are there other things that you think make a really good fit for your practice from a from a clinical standpoint?
I would say honestly like for us, it’s someone who is really an authentic person. Someone who has a true passion for service, someone that really cares about people and is very natural at building relationships. When you’re working with grief and trauma, and we know the therapeutic relationship is the most important quality in the outcomes for a client that they have to trust the person they’re sitting with. They have to feel safe. So I am, we are always looking for that. Like, this is an easy work. It takes tremendous courage for our clients to come in. They’re already feeling extremely vulnerable. So having someone who has a natural ability to build relationships and really cares about the work and is always doing their own work is really important to us.
When it comes to grief and trauma, what else should we be covering? What else should we be diving into to make sure that in this episode people really have a good sense of new areas of research or of just different ways to think about it?
I think, again, the big thing is to be grief sensitive or grief informed, we have to know what the myths of grief are. We have to know what sort of we’ve been taught over the generations that’s not correct information about grief, which a lot of it is like time heals all wounds. You have to be strong, you just need to keep busy, don’t feel bad, think happy thoughts. Like there’s all of this misinformation that’s weaved into our daily lives that we have to be aware of first. I think that’s really important. Number two, it’s recognizing that grief is a normal and natural response to loss. It’s not an abnormal and an unnatural response to loss, that it’s not, it doesn’t need to be fixed, it needs to be tended to. So we have to unravel our belief system about what we’ve been taught about grief, how we deal with our own grief, and we must be willing to look at the losses in our own lives, recognize the impact they’ve had and do our own work. Because the truth is we can only take others as far in their healing as we’ve gone with our own healing. If I haven’t done my own work as a grief and trauma therapist, it’s going to be very hard for me to show up and help my client to do that work if I’m not even willing to go there. So there’s a lot of personal reflection that goes into working with this particular skillset and this particular population and I think those are just some things for people to consider.
Well, Ashley, the last question that I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
Well, this might be off topic on what we’re talking about today, but I love to just encourage people to pursue the desires of their heart. Maybe there’s like a particular niche that they want to specialize in, or there’s a training that’s really appealing to them or maybe they’re ready to finally start their private practice. Really listen to the desires of your heart and trust that those are God’s desires in you and just go for it.
Now Ash, if people want to connect with you, if they want to get consulting from you, read about your practice, where should we send them?
If they want to connect with me directly and look at setting up maybe a pre-con consulting call, they can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to check out my practice or connect with me outside of consulting, you can go to healmyheart.ca or email me at email@example.com.
So awesome. Well, Ashley, thank you so much for being a part of the team and for being on the Practice of the Practice Podcast.
Thanks so much, Joe.
So what are you going to do to build those skills? There’s a lot of skills that are just basic skills that we all need and there’s also a lot of skills that we can go into some extra specialties. Would love for you to take some action and let us know how you’re taking action. That could be that you tag us on an Instagram story, you send us a message, get in contact with us through practiceofpractice.com or just email us. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Would love to hear how you’re taking action from this podcast. Also, we could not do this podcast without our amazing sponsors. Today’s podcast is sponsored by Therapy Notes. Therapy Notes is the best electronic health records out there. They have teletherapy embedded in it. They can have credit cards on file directly bill from it and best of all, they’ll give you two months for free just by using promo code [JOE], J-O-E at checkout. Also, if you’re in one of our membership communities they will give you six months total free, so four months in addition to that too. So reach out to us if you sign up for therapy notes and you’re in our communities, happy to connect with you to give you those extra months for free.
Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day. I’ll talk to you soon.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music.
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