Self-Awareness as a Skill in Therapy and Daily Life

Self-awareness is one of those topics in which Western and Eastern teachings meet. It is a concept that has gained a lot of attention although there are still variations in the names used to refer to it, the concept of it and the applications of this term in different contexts. 

Since the 1970’s there had been efforts to define self-awareness including the idea that this is about individuals’ ability to focus on the self and/or focus on others or the external world. Self-focus could involve the attention in the present moment to emotions, thoughts and thinking, behaviors and physical sensations. Others had referred to it as the “observing self”. Although there are different factors that can affect people’s ability to develop or maintain self-awareness, individuals can still learn to become more self-aware. In daily life, self-awareness could support self-regulation in the interaction with others and could contribute to self-reliance and the ability to sooth and calm oneself when triggered by events or people, the possibility to shift states. It can also help in identifying what is happening internally, recognizing and naming the emotions, accepting them, understanding how the body carries the emotion making it real. The development of self-awareness skills could be supported by mindfulness exercises including breathing, body scans, mindful walks, mindful eating and by openness and curiosity to enquire about individuals’ experiences to make sense of what is happening internally. 

In therapy, the self-awareness of the client and the therapist are critical for an effective therapeutic process. In this context, being self-aware could facilitate clients in a deeper exploration of their internal experiences, gaining more insight about reactions, beliefs and patterns. Self-awareness has been also considered a key attribute of therapists. In this context, self-awareness has been referred as the knowledge and insight that therapists have of themselves, of their own issues, their strengthens and weakness as well as their biases. Self-awareness can be developed and it is a skill that can facilitate both the therapeutic alliance and therapeutic outcomes.

Although there have been efforts to define its attributes, self-awareness can be experienced differently since it is a very personal way to relate to oneself, to others and to the world. Self-awareness would be hardly a state individuals reached and preserve for long. It could be more an instant, a moment of mindful attention involving body, mind and emotions, here and now, that can be expanded with practice. The presence in the present moment gives a unique quality to the way life can be experienced. It could provide a sense of control because it is not about the past or the future; it is only about here and now. It could help individuals anchor themselves in a place in which they could challenge beliefs and re-write life narratives. It may help in breaking patterns developed in the past as a way to cope with distress, even if it is for just a moment. It is a skill or ability that could open opportunities to continue to know one self in a process of self-actualization.

Myriam Hernandez is a Registered Psychotherapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Myriam provides services to individual adults, couples, LGBTQ2 experiencing a wide range of difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, interpersonal relationships, grieve, identity, gender, sex and sexuality, existential and meaning making issues. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from Psychodynamic, Attachment, Object Relations, Emotion-Focused, Mindfulness, Cognitive-Behavioral and Parts theories. Myriam began her meditation practice since her teen-age years. She works with her clients in developing self-awareness skills to support the therapeutic process and outcomes. 

Reconnecting with Yourself During Social Distancing

It’s been a strange time. There are daily news updates regarding the current pandemic; still, it’s uncertain how long we’ll be required to stay home. Some of us have found this period at home to be calming, while others have found it to be monotonous. The change of pace has left us with time to spend with (and learn more about) our selves. Here are a few things you may wish to explore:

Do Things You Enjoy: When life gets busy, we may start to neglect aspects of ourselves to make time for things that seem even more essential. During this time, allow yourself to reconnect with the things that bring you joy (e.g., art, music, writing, etc.). Reignite those passions and take note of how they affect your wellbeing. 

Unplug: The ongoing dissemination of news can become overwhelming. It is okay to allow yourself a chance to step away and take a breath. Instead of tending to something that may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and being out of control, shift your focus to what can be controlled-you. Do the things that bring you peace of mind (e.g., yoga, reading, cooking, etc.) 

Reminisce: It’s not uncommon to want to press ‘pause’ sometimes during fast-paced times. If you have some extra time now, reconnect with who you are, and how far you’ve come, whether it’s looking at old pictures or looking at mementos; allow yourself to look back on special memories. Reconnect with the forgotten parts of yourself and reflect on how they affect your wellbeing. If distressing feelings or thoughts arise, it may be an indication for you to reach out for support.

Re-Evaluate: With the opportunity to disconnect from ‘auto-piloting’ through life, we may start to evaluate our thoughts and feelings concerning our experiences in the present. Allow yourself to acknowledge this information. Sometimes, we may need to re-evaluate what is working and what is not working in our lives and how it’s affecting our wellbeing.

Social isolation can be a confusing and anxiety-provoking state to be in, but it may also teach you a lot about yourself. Taking the time to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we would like to head in life can be a compelling experience. Therapists at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships can help you process different aspects of your identity during this time. We are currently offering virtual sessions that you can connect to from the safety and comfort of your home. Click here to learn more. 

Nereah Felix, B.A. is a registered psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa and is under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych and Dr. Natalina Salmaso, C. Psych. The clients who come to see her are provided with an authentic, non-judgmental, safe, and supportive environment to share their experiences and improve their wellbeing. Nereah is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa.

What Kind of Role Does Emotional Intelligence Play?

 by: Dr. Meg Aston-Lebold, C.Psych

Intelligence has traditionally been defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. We often see it represented by an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score. However, there is growing research indicating that emotions also play an influential role in learning. For centuries, philosophers have contemplated intelligence as more complex than cognitive capacity: 

“All learning has an emotional base.”


In response to this missing piece, the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been suggested as a complement to traditional IQ and, as such, has been affectionately dubbed EQ. While there is some controversy about how to measure EQ, it is commonly thought to describe a few key skills:

  • Emotional Awareness: the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and their impact on others.
  • Emotional Regulation: the ability to manage one’s own emotions, for example, by calming oneself down or cheering oneself up.
  • Empathy: the ability to recognize and respond to another person’s emotions.
  • Emotion Application: the ability to use one’s emotions to help guide tasks, such as thinking and problem-solving.

Well-developed emotional intelligence may lead to improved performance and satisfaction in a variety of life areas, including mood, self-confidence, and interpersonal relationships. Competence in emotional regulation allows people to remain calm and collected in stressful environments or situations and allows the brain to remain in a state conducive to effective problem-solving. 

In contrast, poorly developed emotional intelligence may lead to relationship dissatisfaction; general feelings of malaise or distress with seemingly no cause; as well as physical ailments like muscle aches, headaches and stomach/digestion discomfort that seem to have no medical basis.

While many of us may admit to the benefits of emotional intelligence in our relationships, we do not commonly value emotional intelligence in the workplace. This is a mistake. EQ competencies can help you approach an impending deadline with an organized plan, effectively respond to conflicts with co-workers or supervisors, and figure out how to get people on your side, whether that’s by motivating workers or getting buy-in from new clients. 

Without effective EQ at work, you may find yourself blaming others, lashing out, or having difficulty asserting yourself. This could potentially lead to negative consequences for yourself or others.

We are not born with EQ and, while these skills may come more naturally to some, we all must learn how to understand and respond to our own and others’ emotions. But since emotions aren’t part of the traditional school curriculum, how do we figure it out? In ideal circumstances, we learn emotional intelligence from significant adult role models in our early years. 

Unfortunately, not everyone grows up in an ideal environment where their caregivers have their own well-developed EQ. As a result, emotional intelligence often gets stunted, leaving the individual unable to articulate feelings, easily overwhelmed, unable to trust their gut, or wondering why their relationships remain shallow and unfulfilling. 

Psychotherapy can help you learn to recognize, make sense of, and respond to your emotional needs. By exploring your inner world, you can feel more competent responding to challenging interpersonal interactions, managing your stress, and obtain the healthy and satisfying relationships that you may have struggled with. These skills will help you both personally and professionally. Becoming more emotionally competent will help get you out of that rut by improving your mood and relationships, which can ultimately lead to greater productivity and success in all areas of your life.

Dr. Meg Aston-Lebold, C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She provides psychological assessment and treatment services to adults and couples experiencing a wide range of issues related to depression, anxiety and stress, self-esteem, trauma, and relationships.

THE CBT CLINIC and CPRI (Centre pour les Relations Interpersonelles – services in French) Grand Opening is January 2023!