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Yoga Therapy – A Path to Healing and Connection

Written By: Courtney Strong, LMHC, CDP- Director, Clinical Manager

Yoga is a practice of many elements focused on the physical, mental and spiritual. In EHN Seattle’s Yoga Therapy group, clients cultivate both a sense of integration between physical, mental and emotional experience.  In addition, clients learn how to differentiate between one’s self and an experience.

The Connection Between Yoga & Recovery

Yoga offers several benefits towards recovery. Practicing yoga allows you to be present and attentive to an experience while simultaneously providing you the ability to observe, not react to or feel controlled by the experience. Often with addiction people become adversaries to themselves. Individuals can physically and emotionally become disconnected. Yoga can give you the opportunity to create a connection using mindfulness, breathe awareness and body awareness.


Mindfulness is a foundation to yoga and essential to the yoga groups at EHN Seattle. By using mindfulness, a person can observe experiences, thoughts, emotions and sensations in real time, as they happen without judgment or reaction to them.

Author and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron describes this experience as, “You are the sky, everything else is just the weather.” Individuals often forget that they’re not their thoughts. Thoughts are just a part of them.  People tend to get caught up in a thought or a feeling and lose perspective beyond it. When it comes to addiction, cravings are an example of that. It’s a sensation and a series of thoughts. Part of the work in recovery is to observe cravings as they arise with the perspective that they are an experience that will pass. When individuals get caught up in the experience itself they react impulsively. People will use behaviors that are automatic instead of responding with a sense of perspective and understanding for what’s really need.

In EHN’s yoga therapy groups, the practice of mindfulness is developed through breath and body awareness. We observe the quality of how we breathe and realize how we feel in our own skin, taking note of where there is physical tension or pain. Our bodies carry memories of experiences from our history and impact our choices about how we treat ourselves.

David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, authors of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body, wrote about the effects of movement and breathing practiced in yoga and how they facilitate the healing of physical trauma that has been stored in our bodies as physical tension, restriction or pain. According to this book, individuals become physically and mentally hard, increasingly restricted and judgmental over time, because instead of compassionately paying attention to their experiences they run from themselves through addictions.

Practices of breath and body awareness create the possibility for softening, releasing and healing because they cultivate space in our experience to observe and pay attention to experiences without collapsing into judgment or reaction. Out of that space of attention and observation we come to a sense of connection, of care for ourselves, and find ways to address what we really need in order to heal.

The Unexpected Benefits of Yoga

Often what initially draws individuals to explore yoga is the physical side of it, increasing strength and flexibility. Yoga has a profound physical impact. It can increase flexibility after a single class, decrease chronic pain and improve strength within a few months. Yoga philosophy conceptualizes the self as composed of layers (physical, psychological, breath, spiritual) and therefore has a profound impact on all aspects of our experience.

Harvard Medical School has been studying the impact of yoga on physiological and mental functioning since the 1970s. They have produced studies on Yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular health and significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression resulting from a consistent yoga practice.

Yoga groups at the Edgewood Health Network involve two parts. First, a gentle yoga practice that includes stretching, mild strength-building, breathing practices, mindfulness and meditation. The second part is to provide a time to process. Following the yoga practice group members are invited to reflect on their experience and discuss insights into their recovery process.

Paramanhansa Yogananda, one of several teachers to introduce yoga to North America in the early 1900s, describes the purpose of yoga to condition the body to be able to sit and be still. Yoga therapy groups at EHN Seattle features a combination of movement and stillness, self-reflection and group processing with four goals in mind:


If this sounds like something you’d like to try, give us a call at 206-402-4115. Our Yoga Therapy Groups currently run on Tuesdays throughout the day and evening.

Courtney-seattle_300pxA part of Edgewood Seattle since the summer of 2012, Courtney Strong specializes in the treatment of trauma and addiction, as well as other related mental health disorders. Courtney is passionate about the opportunity Edgewood offers individuals in the Seattle area, regularly revamping services to provide the highest sophistication in treatment of substance use disorders.


What to Do When Your Partner Drinks Too Much

When your spouse has a problem with drinking or using drugs, it can seem as if your whole word is falling apart. It isn’t the relationship you wanted or planned. And what used to bring your joy and happiness is now filled with loneliness and despair. So what do you do? How do you start addressing the issue? Follow these 5 tips as your first steps:

1. Accept the reality of the situation

This one can be the hardest. You don’t want to believe that your partner has a problem. And you definitely don’t want to believe that it’s becoming a huge part of your relationship, but it is. It’s understandable; the consequences of alcohol or drug addiction are frightening. Once you accept they have a problem, you’ll have to accept that it could ruin your relationship or their life. But the longer you deny this, the worse things will get. You can’t begin to move forward until you have fully accepted that this is happening to you and your family.

2. Get educated

You and your partner can’t deal with this problem until you both understand it. Substance use disorders are complex and affect the both partners’ physical, social, mental and emotional well being. If your spouse had been diagnosed with diabetes or cancer, this would be an obvious part of the process, but addiction is a shame based disease. Don’t be ashamed to seek out educational resources. With 47,000 Canadian deaths linked to substance abuse annually, this disease affects a lot people and there are a lot of resources out there to help you understand it.

3. Get some support

Just like your spouse can’t get sober alone, you cannot recover alone either. You need some good coping skills and people you can call on when things get heavy. Head to a counsellor, therapist or a support group for family and friends of addicts.  The people there will understand what you’re going through and will be able to help you through this journey.

4. Let yourself grieve

Going through addiction in the family is akin to suffering a big loss. The relationship you once had and the future you imagined is probably gone. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is necessarily over. It’s just means that your partner will be deeply changed, whether they get sober or stay in active addiction.  Make sure you let yourself grieve this loss – you have a right to be sad and sorry that it’s gone, and you won’t be able to embrace the new until you’ve given yourself the time to move on.

5. Put yourself first

If your partner is deep in their addiction, it’s likely that they’ve become the center of your world. Your mission to get them sober and well may have morphed into your purpose in life. It’s become a bit of an unhealthy dynamic and it’s likely the rest of your relationships and endeavors have suffered because of it. It’s time to start putting yourself first. As hard as it may seem, ensuring your own physical, mental and emotional well being has to be your most important priority. There are some difficult times ahead, and you need all the strength you can get. And you’ll be surprised how much better you feel when your life revolves around you again.

There’s no easy solution when you love an addict, and no one-size-fits-all solution. But if you practice acceptance, allow yourself to grieve, get the education and support you need, you’ll be ready to move in the direction that’s right for you and your family. For more information, learn about our family education and support programs here.

5 Signs Addiction Is Taking Over Your Family

When someone in your family suffers from addiction, it’s not just the addict who hurts.  Family, friends, spouses and even co-workers are deeply impacted by this disease.  It can feel like it has taken over your life, even though you aren’t the one using drugs or drinking. And it often happens before you even realize it.


1. You feel exhausted

  1. You spend most of your time and energy on your loved one. You worry about them all the time and you constantly brainstorm how to help them.  You spend so much time managing their addiction that it’s become the dominant force in your life; you run interference with their job, you give rides and money, and you pick up the pieces when everything falls apart.  Other relationships suffer because you are too tired to even connect with friends and loved ones. It’s called caretaking, and it prevents you from taking care of yourself.


2. Your biggest fear is losing them

  1. You may have known other addicts who passed away because of their disease, and you’ve probably noticed your loved one getting worse over time. It seems like no matter what you do, they keep using and you’re so afraid of what could happen.  The fear that they will lose their life overwhelms you.


3. It feels like you`re grieving

  1. Many people who have gone through our family programs say that addiction in the family is like “death without a body.” But we tend not to acknowledge this grief because they are still alive. But you probably haven’t been able to celebrate special occasions, have family get-togethers or talk about your loved one with others.  The happy family has disappeared and you grieve for it.


4. You feel guilty and ashamed

  1. “How did this happen to my family? Is it my fault? What could I have done to prevent this?” These are the questions you ask yourself all the time.  And you keep a lot of secrets because you don’t want the rest of the world to know what’s happening in your home.  There is a huge amount of shame, guilt, self-blame and a loss of self-esteem.


5. You are starting to isolate

  1. You have become so wrapped up in the fear, guilt and exhaustion that you have begun to disengage in other parts of your life. It feels impossible to give your all to work, social activities and other relationships, because there just isn’t anything left to give.  You are focused on the addict, and everything else has just started to fall to the wayside.


If you can relate to most of the scenarios, it might be time to get some help for yourself.  Addiction doesn’t have to run your life anymore.  Look for a local Al-Anon group to meet some others who are in the same situation as you.  You could also participate in one of our family programs; we provide both education on addiction as well as therapy and coping skills to deal with the overwhelming emotions. You could even just give us a call – our family counsellors are happy to talk with you, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation.  Whatever you do, it’s important to acknowledge the affect addiction has had, so that you can start to take care of yourself.

5 Tips for Staying Sober During the Calgary Stampede


It’s the final weekend of the Calgary Stampede and while this annual rodeo means lots of fun for most of the city, it can be a hard time for those in recovery.  With plenty of beer gardens, parties and late night hours, the Stampede has been described as ‘Cancun on spring break with western wear’.  This party atmosphere has been increasingly examined by the media; CBC reached out to our Calgary clinic for comment on how it effects those with addiction.

So how can you enjoy the final weekend of Stampede without compromising your recovery? Here are some expanded tips from our clinicians:

1. Stay Connected

Stay in touch with others in recovery. Talk to them about the upcoming events and your feelings around them. These are people who understand you, what you’re going through and can help support your through it.

2. Take Care of Yourself

Since this could be a very triggering time, it’s essential that you practice self-care. Get plenty of rest, some exercise, meditate, eat three healthy meals a day. Be mindful of feelings of anger, loneliness or longing and take action to address them.

3. Create New Ways to Celebrate

The same old places and events can trigger negative urges, so plan some new ways to enjoy the Stampede. This may mean staying out of the party tents or off the midway, and going to more of the animal demonstrations.

4. Have an Escape Plan

There is nothing wrong with having a planned exit time from any gathering. Having your own transportation is key; no need to wait around for your ride in a situation you don’t feel comfortable in. You can plan exactly how long you’re staying at an event, and have a sober friend check in with you at your planned exit time.  Or, have a list of sober friends you can call if you’re at an event and you feel triggered.

5. Respect Your Fear

There’s nothing wrong with having a little healthy fear around a party focused event like the Calgary Stampede, especially if you’re new in recovery. Respect that fear, and stay away if you need to. There’s also nothing wrong with taking a year off – your sobriety is more important than your worries of missing out.  You can always enjoy the Stampede next year, when you’re a little more stable in your recovery.

Remember that we’re hear for you.  Should you have trouble with substance abuse during the Stampede you can always call our Calgary office at  587-350-6818.

Nursing best care for clients with addictions starts with self-care

The notion of self-care is no longer an exotic or optional practice for healthcare workers. However, the way in which it is effectively incorporated into the life of a nurse working in a mental health setting is not routine by any means. Given my experience as a nurse for over a quarter century in the addiction treatment field, I have reflected on what it means to effectively integrate self-care into practice. In the “caring professions,” burnout is becoming more and more common. This unfortunate outcome may be intensified, given that individuals seeking help for addiction or other healthcare services are presenting with very complex problems. Therefore, self-care becomes imperative to ensure there isn’t a “cost of caring” for those providing the care.

For 15 years I worked at a women’s addiction treatment program and it was there the issue of self-care for staff became apparent. In particular, a counsellor who was working with women with identified trauma histories began experiencing unusual fatigue and a feeling of disconnection with some of her clients, canceling appointments and not sleeping. These symptoms are now recognized as possible manifestations of “vicarious traumatization.”

Vicarious trauma, sometimes also called compassion fatigue, can occur to individuals who care for others who are suffering or in distress. Being exposed to others who have experienced trauma – listening to their stories, bearing witness to the pain and fear, and working with them – can create vicarious trauma in counsellors and nurses.

It is my belief that nurses, and particularly those who work in addiction treatment, are at risk of experiencing vicarious trauma by the very nature of the people we are caring for on a daily basis. In the 25 years I’ve worked in this area I’ve seen the “typical client” change dramatically. In the 1980s and early 1990s, individuals seeking treatment for addiction were dependent mainly on alcohol, prescription drugs and cocaine. Clients usually had some family support, often some form of employment, and rarely disclosed a concurrent mental health issue. Now, the majority of individuals seeking addiction treatment is dependent on multiple substances, including highly addictive opiates, and also has histories of trauma – be it emotional, physical and/or sexual. In the past, these were not always recognized as underlying issues associated with the addiction and were certainly not addressed in treatment. But now, it is becoming the rule rather than the exception that clients being admitted for addiction treatment also present with a co-occurring mental health issue and require more complex care. This places more demands on the nurses and staff, who may begin to experience ongoing fatigue, stress and possible burnout as a result.

What makes self-care even more important is that most nurses experience the stresses of long shifts, overtime and the effects of shift rotation; all of which can be physically taxing and tough on family life and friendships. Given the emotional and physical demands of the job, nurses can sometimes internalize their feelings in order to stay in control and make tough decisions in a short period of time. At times, nurses can go from one emotionally and physically demanding situation to another, and may have little opportunity to process their experiences and decompress. It is these conditions that can contribute to burnout and compassion fatigue.

Nurses by their very nature are people drawn to help others, provide empathy and put others ahead of themselves. They must be mindful of the impact these increased demands have placed on them as primary care providers. Employers need to demonstrate recognition of this impact by providing education, support and opportunities for staff to debrief. They must ensure staff receive the training they need to offer care appropriately and to recognize when someone may be on the verge of burnout leading to blurred boundaries, unhealthy coping strategies and even depression and anxiety.

To avoid the pitfalls noted, it’s important for individuals in the caring professions to consider the following strategies for self-care:

Being committed to ensuring that you incorporate at least some of the above list into your personal commitment to health greatly increases the likelihood you won’t end up drained and disheartened to the point you believe you can’t do the work anymore. Addiction nurses are a special group of care providers and their contribution to someone’s recovery is, I believe, a fundamental component of their journey. But, it is nearly impossible to teach wellness to someone else if you don’t practice it yourself.

As someone who has often been identified as a “human doing” versus a “human being”, I know all too well the risks of over-extending. I wouldn’t stay working as a nurse in this field if I didn’t love what I do and have the chance to be a part of people’s journey back to good health and positive well-being. For me, the work is a privilege and keeps me grounded in what are the priorities in my life. To manage my choice to work in this area, I stay mindful of what is considered good self-care. That doesn’t mean I’m always successful at practicing self-care, but I’m a believer that being informed in what I can do gives me the tools I need to stay healthy and remain a good nurse.

By Nanci Harris, BSc Nursing

Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Moods Magazine,

Nanci Harris holds a BSc Nursing from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in Library and Information Science. She has worked in various roles in the addiction treatment field since 1987 including: the Donwood Institute, the Jean Tweed Centre and Bellwood Health Services, where she has been a casual staff nurse since 1988. Nanci presently holds the position of Manager, Practice Assessment & Enhancement at The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.