Walk & Talk Counselling For Women

Val Warner BA MSW RSW
Counsellor - Speaker - Writer
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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Television Appearances

Spring, 2005 Big Breakfast Show - Interviewed by Dave Kelly and Tara McCool on "How Does A New Child Affect Your Relationship?"
October 21 , 2004 Big Breakfast Show - Interviewed by Dave Kelly and Tara McCool on "Sex - How Often is Normal?"
August 9, 2004 Global TV Morning Edition - Interviewed by Angela Kokott on "De-mystifying Counselling."
June 24, 2004 Big Breakfast Show - Interviewed by Tara McCool on "After the Honeymoon is Over."
June 2, 2004 Big Breakfast Show - Interviewed by Dave Kelly and Tara McCool on "How to keep you relationship flame alive."
April 15, 2004 Big Breakfast Show - Interviewed by Dave Kelly and Tara McCool on "How to bring some sizzle into your marriage."
March 1, 2004 Jumpstart Your Marriage - Interviewed by Joanne Good of the Calgary Herald for the "Family Matters" column
January 2004 Interviewed by Dave Kelly on the Big Breakfast Show, A-Channel
April 2001 Interviewed at home by Barb Mitchell - Global Breakfast Show
March 2000 Interviewed outdoors with her dog Kita by Karen Owens for Health Watch, CFCN News
October 1997 Interviewed by Dave Kelly on the Big Breakfast Show, A-Channel
Spring 1997 Interviewed by Barb Mitchell for the Global Breakfast Show

Articles About Val

Walking Key to Emotional Health - Mirror
Overcoming the Stress of the Season - Calgary Herald
Therapy On The Move
(detailed article about Val's unique walk and talk counselling methods)
Calgary Herald, June 02, 2005, Front page of Real Life Section (2 pages), by Robin Summerfield

Woman's Quest Had Happy Ending
(an article on Val's life path)
Calgary Herald, Feb. 97, by Susan Ruttan

Jumpstart Your Marriage
(about Val's marriage workshop)
Calgary Herald, March 04, by Joanne Good

Secrets to Saving Your Sanity
(About Val's Cochrane Ranch presentation)
Cochrane Times, May 04, by Darryl Mills


Articles By Val

De-Mystifying Counselling
Counselling! Are You Crazy?
Bathing the Big Girls

Many more articles by Val featured in Calgary's Child Magazine, Western Parent, and Alberta Parent Quarterly.

Walking Key to Emotional Health

By Miles Durrie
Mirror Editor

Next time you're complaining that life's pressures are getting you down, and someone tells you to go take a hike - maybe you should.

Valerie Warner hopes you will. She's the person behind Walk And Talk Counselling For Women, and a lifetime of experience has taught her that going for a walk can take you down the shortest pathway to emotional health.

"I've always thought it was better to be outside," Warner says. "Two people walking together outside - it's a great equalizer.

"Over the years, I've gotten to know more people that way than any other."

While most counselors still deal with clients the traditional way, sitting in a chair in an office, Warner feels this scenario has a number of drawbacks.

Surprisingly, not the least of these is the opportunity for eye contact between client and therapist.

Warner believes many people are uneasy with eye contact.

'We (counselors) are encouraged to make lots of eye contact, but a lot of people find that intimidating and uncomfortable," she says.

Warner, who holds a master's degree in social work and has more than a decade's experience in psychiatry, points to studies revealing people feel most at ease when standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

To come up with her approach to counseling, she combined equal parts experience, common sense and rejection of most "normal" forms of patient-counsellor interaction.

"Traditional therapy can be quite boring. I've had clients come to me after being dissatisfied with therapists who sat there and said'How do you feel?' and 'What do you think about that?'"

So Warner takes her clients outdoors, and walking side-by-side through University Heights parkland, helps them to open up and discover their inner resources and feelings.

And, she says, even if nothing is accomplished on a mental level during a session, at least she and her client have logged an hour of healthy activity in the fresh outdoor air.

Warner's unconventional approach goes beyond her therapy-in-motion premise.

She also feels too much time is often spent exploring a patient's childhood, or plumbing the deepest depths and every nook and cranny of a patient's emotions, when a practical solution may be at hand.

"By the time we analyse what our mother did or didn't do, our life is going by."

"We're just products of our environment. I don't think we can blame anybody around us - we have to look around and say, 'Where do we go from here?'"

For more information on Walk and Talk Counselling For Women, call 284-1999.
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Overcoming the Stress of the Season

Derek Sankey
For The Calgary Herald
Published in the Calgary Herald on Saturday, December 7, 2002

It's the time of year for Christmas cheer, and for many people that can bring a lot of unwanted stress as they struggle to wrap up projects at work and find those perfect gifts.

"People are in a state of collapse at the end and they're left wondering why…and that's the boom time for therapists," says Valerie Warner, a social worker and therapist who counsels people about work-related stress.

Warner says there is a growing trend toward identifying stress factors and taking a more spiritual approach to their daily tasks in life and work.

"An overall disregard for the need for spirituality leads to a lack of productivity, sleep disorders and other health problems," says Warner.

She sees numerous people in her northwest Calgary office that feel overwhelmed by the fast pace of the world around them, especially at Christmas time.

Planning parties, buying gifts, organizing family events, putting up decorations and other countless activities are fun times, but people often lose sight of the fact they need to slow down and make time for themselves.

It's part of a growing trend, according to therapists, business consultants and human resource experts, that reveals a deeper need for spirituality in the workplace.

Some people think of spirituality as a "fluffy, useless" experience and overlook the fact many people can incorporate various aspects of spirituality into their daily work routines.

By taking time to reflect and focus on the important things in life, Warner says, people are enabled to slow the pace down and actually accomplish more than ever.

"The strive for perfectionism and the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas…brings out a competitiveness with neighbours and family members that is often a ton of added work," says Warner.

She takes a different approach to counseling by taking her clients for a slow, relaxed walk as they discuss how the incredible speed of life overcomes them. Christmas obligations make this time of year especially busy for Warner.

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A Diary of Breast Cancer

By Marjorie K. Olmsted

Forty years ago, a mastectomy was an awkward subject that did not come up in conversation. It was definitely hush-hush

It has been 36 years since I had a mastectomy.
Back then, breast cancer did not receive the publicity it gets today - in fact, it was almost an unmentionable malady. Gradually, thanks to many prominent women, movie starts, women's groups and cancer societies - it has assumed its place in the light of day. High time, too.
In 1960 my husband, a member of the Canadian Army, was transferred to Madison, Wisconsin. We were posted to the Truax Air Base.
While we were packing that November, I discovered a lump in my breast. I went to an Ottawa doctor, who said that because I had had three previous benign breast biopsies it would be all right to have the lump checked after we had settled in the States.
Bad advice.
We arrived in Madison on New Year's Day 1961 with our four children (two girls and two boys) ranging in age from five years to 16. We checked into a motel after a long, tiring winter drive from Ottawa. It would be about two weeks before our furniture arrived to fill the large house we had rented.
Then we started "getting settled" - organizing furniture, cupboards, groceries, schools, services and so on - something we had done many, many times in the course of army life. More time went by and I experienced no pain in my breast.
Although early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, it wasn't until four months later that I made an appointment with doctors at Truax. After that, things moved swiftly. The air base doctor booked an appointment with a prominent surgeon in the city. Surgery was scheduled immediately, although it took three weeks to find me a bed in the Madison General.
Spring is beautiful in Wisconsin. That year, a huge crabapple tree on our front lawn was in full bloom. We had a large property and garden at the back, with 30 feet or well-established strawberry plants, blooming shrubs and huge poplar trees marking off the back or our grounds.
On Mother's Day we had a little "party" at which my daughters gave me some pale blue beads and earrings. Very small details, as is the fact that when I left the next morning for the Madison General, I took a branch from the flowering almond bush at our front door, for moral support. I hoped I would have a benign biopsy.
I was not to be home for three weeks.
When I woke up from the anesthetic I was told that my breast had been removed. (The test results left no choice.) The surgeon had also removed all lymph glands in the area. I remember everything as though it were yesterday - including the many visitors who checked up on my roommate, who had been thrown through a car window. Because I was a newcomer to the city, I received few visitors.
This is not the end of my ordeal. One day my doctor stopped in to tell me that a day or two later I would be "going up for more surgery." I thought he was joking. One week after my first surgery he performed an ovariectomy and an appendectomy. (Removing my appendix had not been a necessity. He merely said he had removed it "because it was in the area.") I was relieved, I told him later, that at least he had left my tonsils. He had felt, at my age, that surgery was necessary to curtain any further hormonal action. Although I was thrust into menopause at age 44, I was not allowed to receive any hormones for the side effects. I have had no hormones since.

Blood transfusions and intravenous feedings were followed by soft foods and then a diet that included the famous Wisconsin bratwurst. At the hospital, I began radiation treatments.

Summertime in Madison proved most therapeutic. My family and the garden looked mighty good after my hospital stay. The long rows of strawberry plants kept us busy. Asparagus was great, and we had a bumper crop of black currants and red ones, too. Flowers spilled over our pathways and were a constant delight.
My new neighbours were also fantastic. In no time I was "the new Canadian wife who was just out of hospital." I will never forget their many kindnesses.
During the long weeks of radiation treatments I found I was really among friends, despite being so far from home and relative.
In the 1960's breast cancer did not come up in conversation. I didn't discuss it except with a few close neighbours - and with one especially who had recently undergone breast surgery. I didn't feel very chatty about it, anyway. It is an awkward subject - even my own family avoided direct mention of personal details. The situation was definitely hush-hush.
At a checkup for months after my mastectomy, the doctor detected a small lump in the same area. I had to return to the hospital. It turned out to be adhesions from the initial surgery - nothing ending in "ectomy," thank goodness.


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"When I do good I feel good. When I do bad I feel bad. That's my religion."

Abraham Lincoln


Bathing the Big Girls

By Val Warner BA MSW RSW

And I do mean BIG girls. I'm referring to the female elephants at the Calgary Zoo: Maharani, her mom Kamala, and her aunt Swarna. Each weighing over 10,000 lbs, these lovely ladies are given a bath every day of the year - and, with 2 scrub brushes in hand, I got to help! Let me backtrack. As a Mom of 2 wonderful daughters, now grown up, I've always put them first. Volunteering for their school and extracurricular events was a top priority and since we moved around a few times while they were growing up, I realize I've volunteered in Ottawa, Winnipeg, San Diego, and even Maui - visiting King Kamehameha Elementary School to complete a brownie badge.

Now that my 1st born is an elementary school teacher herself, I get the double thrill of being "the teacher's mom" on field trips. (I overheard one little girl say, "I was expecting her to have white hair!"). In Calgary alone I've spent happy times on many school trips: seeing and petting baby animals in Butterfield Acres, learning calligraphy and how to pick up marbles with chopsticks at the Chinese Cultural Centre (added delight - a scrumptious Chinese meal), biking with kids along the river pathways, and taking part in the Calgary Children's Festival where we learned math through dance.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for the thrill-of-a-lifetime experience that awaited me recently at the end of a week of volunteering for Chevron Z00 School. Since my daughter and her teaching partner had 32 kids from grades 4 to 6 on this adventure, they were divided into study groups based on each child's first choice - gorillas, meercats, warthogs, giraffes, and elephants. I was assigned to be in charge of the elephant group. Now and then I would shout out "elephants" to round them up and if they needed to find me, they would call out "matriarch," the term for the senior female elephant in a herd. All week long we observed, wrote about, and drew pictures of elephants, along with mini safaris to see what the other groups were learning.

On our 5th and final day of Zoo School, all of us were treated to an extraordinary event - we were to help bathe the three female elephants. Spike, the male bull elephant, is separated from the females for this event because male elephants are more temperamental. However these three females are so mellow and good-natured, thanks to the loving care they receive from their keepers Bob and Dave, that The Calgary Zoo is the only one in North America where members of the public are sometimes allowed, by special arrangement, to help with their daily bathing ritual. Talk about dedication - Bob has worked with the elephants for over 30 years, and Dave for over 14 years!

Now I have to tell you, washing the family car isn't remotely similar to the reality of having 2 scrub brushes in hand, and scrubbing the trunk, back, ears, and yes, bum of an elephant! Their wet and shampooed hide feels like nothing else on earth, other than perhaps the weather-beaten skin of an old cowpoke with 4-day stubble. Crocodile Hunter Steven Irwin would have to concede that his "little beauties" would lose in a contest with these gorgeous hunks of femininity. Even being splashed by killer whales at Sand Diego Sea World pales in comparison to the waves produced by Maharani and Co. when they rinse off all together in their swimming pool sized bathtub. Maharani, by the way, is expecting a baby and is half way through her pregnancy of 22 months!

Can volunteering get better than this? I know this is a hard act to follow, but I'm counting on my daughter to keep on inviting me to many more field trips. Remember this story the next time you find one of those volunteer sheets in your child's backpack - and sign up!

For a print ready version of Bathing The Big Girls click here

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De-Mystifying Counselling

By Val Warner BA MSW RSW

When I graduated with my Masters Degree and found my first job in an Ottawa psychiatric clinic, I admit I was terrified. I was part of a 'team' approach - the others being a psychiatrist, family physician, psychologist, and a nurse. It was bad enough that I felt intimidated by the experience, age, and expertise surrounding me. What made it worse was that I was convinced that every term bandied about - psychotic, neurotic, paranoid, inadequate, etc. etc. - referred to me, too! I acted confident on the outside, but inside I was scared someone would see through my acting and discover the insecure little girl who lurked below the surface.

As time passed, and after getting to know my colleagues better, it slowly dawned on me that all of us - male or female, young or old - were hiding our true selves behind a mature 'know it all' façade. What was hidden? The longing to be liked and understood for who we really were, with our imperfections and frailties. In fact, this is the very essence of counseling - helping people to like themselves with their own unique flaws. Only then can we be more accepting of others and their idiosyncrasies.

Good counselors see themselves as equal, not superior, to those who come to them for guidance. In my own case it wasn't until I had counseling myself, provided by our clinic director Dr. Erwin Koranyi, that I started making headway in the area of self-acceptance. Unless we face, and overcome, similar struggles it is hard to help others in difficulty.

Parenting provided an amazing learning experience. Until I had my first child I thought it would 'come naturally'. My first hour home with my brand new daughter convinced me it wasn't going to be se easy, and by the time she was 2 years old I was desperately in need of a good parenting course. Not only did I enroll in one, I went on to teach the course in the following years, giving validity to the old expression "you teach what you want to learn." I laugh (and shudder) at some of the advice I gave to parents before I had kids of my own and found out it is the best, and definitely the hardest, job in the world!

Historically our society has preached independence and self-reliance when it comes to family problems, however we can all benefit at times from the help of others. Dentists need dental work themselves just like everyone else, but the right one can still fix your teeth. The same holds true for counselors. Good ones are honest and will admit they never have their lives under perfect control. No one does. But a counsellor may, through his/her own personal growth and professional development, be able to help you find more fulfillment in your life by sharing some of their insights.

For a print ready version of Demystifying Counselling click here

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For a print ready version of Counselling! Are You Crazy? click here

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A Diary of Breast Cancer

Return To The Beginning of A Diary of Breast Cancer

Nor will I forget Dr. Fred Joachim, to whom I own my good fortune in recover. It was a stroke of luck that I was put into his care - he led my life from darkness into sunshine. I later heard him described as one of Madison's finest surgeons. We became "bosom pals" during my frequent checkups. He told me to treat myself to some new clothes, and grinned when I said I would by a "single-breasted suit." He prescribed golf games, in addition to a list of recommended exercises. No "slow boat to China" for convalescing. He also suggested I find a new interest or hobby.
The word "prosthesis" also came up - and the need to fill the other half of my bra. At no time during our discussion did my doctor hint about an "implant." No doubt, in 1961 such things had not been heard of - a blessing in disguise.
Discussing the assortment of "stuffings" I used is like a Highlander revealing what he wears beneath his kilt. They were makeshift, but did the trick. To go home from the hospital, I used a small bundle of soft tissues. Not long after, I managed to get a plastic breast form that was filled with air. I was forced to carry a straw, just in case the wind went out of my sails, so to speak.
The air-filled breast form was useful, in more ways than one. On hot afternoons, I had to accompany my youngest son to the nearby beach. I was forced to wear a bathing suit so I could join him in the water. With a few well-placed safety pins in the cotton covering of the air form, I wiggled into my bathing suit and faced the world. Wonder of wonders, I found I could float better than ever before. An extra bonus: The cool water and sunshine helped me immeasurably.
Later I was fitted with a heavy glubby shaped fabric pouch. It was rumoured to be filled with birdseed, but this was never proven. This was soon replaced by a nicely shaped rubber product, which was very hot in summer.
Over the years, there have been great improvements in the breast prosthesis. Fittings may be had a friendly little shops, listed in the Yellow Pages. I have found the forms to be most comfortable when worn with a proper-fitting bra - or a special bathing suit if need be.

During my ordeal, I struggled with very lonely, very sad days. My doctor had warned me about depression, thank God. Hot flashes mingled with warm summer breezes, day and night. By the time the dark gloomy days of November arrived, I found it helped to turn on extra lamps and keep music playing on the radio. A few daytime TV programs like I Love Lucy and The Bob Cummings Show helped immeasurably. Evenings at the movies also provided a great escape, especially during radiation treatments.
Phone calls and letters to relative in Canada helped a lot. Freelance writing had been my hobby, now I found it too solitary and lonely an occupation. I no longer enjoyed spending time with my portable typewriter. By a wonderful quirk of fate, an American wife at the air base invited me to evening art classes. A terrific art teacher soon had us enthralled, and it proved to be great therapy.
I remember looking out the kitchen window one winter day after the children had gone to school. As I wondered which shade of blue would be best for the shadows on the snow, some of my own shadows began to disappear. I made new friends in my new world of pastels, inks, oils and acrylics - and later, water-colours. I was one of the first in the class to sign up for the next semester.
I spent many happy and productive hours painting, and it continues to be a source of delight. Gradually I resumed writing, my first love. I tried children's stories, poetry, women's articles, travel pieces (from army postings) and it was fun to see them published. Humour and poetry became my favourites, and as a result I did considerable public speaking and tried my hand at standup comedy. At no time did I ever feel self- conscious about my breast. I considered myself extremely lucky. Contrary to current thinking, I did not feel that breasts and self-esteem were linked.
No long ago it was announced on TV that a "harmless" oil was being used in breast implants. Within a few days I heard that a number or women had volunteered for this new procedure. I wish them well. "Structural enhancement" is not for me. It puzzles my why a woman who has had a mastectomy would consider having an implant for a breast or any part thereof. I have never seen a woman who has had this type of surgery - nor do I know such a woman. Apart from vanity, who would want one? Quit while you're ahead, I say, health should be the only consideration.
I must admit that being in a sauna or shower room with other women is not my best effort. Towels come in an assortment of gorgeous colours, and I can use one to advantage. Fortunately I am rarely in these places, nor am I the type to enter a wet T-shirt contests.
Needless to say I had many, many checkups before we left Wisconsin in the summer of 1963. It had been our last posting away from Canada after many army assignments since the beginning of the Second World War. It was not easy for my family to have an invalid mother, during their formative years. I was not always able to give them support or guidance. We all missed family and relatives and old friends, but Madison did become a home away from home.
I like to think the breast I lost helped medical researchers at the University of Wisconsin in their long, long search to end what is a scourge to women everywhere. Many wonderful women have been lost through breast cancer to their families, to their friends and to the world - and to me personally. This article is for them.

For a print ready version of A Diary of Breast Cancerclick here

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