An Interview with Jason Ediger
Dr. Jason Ediger, a clinical psychologist with experience in hospital settings, university environments and private practice, knows that the study of psychology can provide powerful tools for healing anything from chronic pain to side effects of inflammatory bowel disease and, of course, pressing mental health concerns. However, to his mind, the field truly flourishes outside the walls of institutions and offices. In fact, for Dr. Ediger, much of the power of psychology can be unlocked at its intersection with our everyday lives. Here’s what that looks like, according to the expert.
Psychology: the Story of Life
In revealing what first drew him to this chosen calling, Dr. Ediger explains, “I’ve always liked working with people and being fascinated with people’s stories.” In fact, long before completing formal training at the University of North Dakota and the University of Manitoba—not to mention a residency and postdoc—the psychologist says, “Part of why I ended up in the field [was that] I was the guy sitting next to you on the bus, and somehow you told me your life story accidentally as we were trying to get from point A to point B.”
Given the human draw for Dr. Ediger, he says, when he got to the point in his career when, “different parts of your job are barking for attention,” the decision was simple for him as he notes, “The client work was always easier to focus on.”
Now, some of his clients require intensive sessions, with deep dives into past traumas or explorations of ingrained fears or emotional hurdles. However, in many cases, Ediger notes that merely teaching patients to get through their days with less stress is the true gift his psychological training can relay.
Step One: Just Breathe
The simplest—and most important—psychological lesson that Dr. Jason Ediger wishes to impart is the power of breathing. As such, his starting point with new patients is always, “Just learning to breathe and stop and breathe and reset a little bit.” In fact, he says, “I joke that breathing is the Swiss Army knife of psychological interventions.”
While it’s a great tool for getting through an important presentation at work or a highly-anticipated first date, Dr. Ediger explains that breathing can help you cope with so much more than you’d imagine. In psychology, he says, “We use it for pain management, we use it for stress management, we use it for high blood pressure. We use it for pregnancy, we use it for chronic pain. We use it for anxiety reduction… you name it.” For that reason, he says, “Teaching people to breathe is one of the first interventions that we do.”
Step Two: Check in with Yourself
Dr. Ediger described that self-observation can be an important step in taking our experience off auto=pilot and giving us options. “It’s moving past an automatic reaction and letting us respond.” Simply asking ourselves the question “what am I feeling right now?” or noting “I am observing myself …” can make bring things into awareness in a very empowering way. This awareness gives the opportunity to make choices about our feelings and life. Dr. Ediger explained that not all reactions, opinions or feelings have to be a final draft. In observing them, we have the chance to revise them if necessary and arrive at a response more in keeping with our values and goals.
According to Dr. Ediger, the combination of a physical pause (breath) and a mental pause (self-observation) may allow the individual to self-regulate more effectively, make better decisions under stress, and react effectively to challenges in life. These things are hard to remember in the moment you need them, however, unless they are a regular part of your routine. Practising them proactively can go a long way towards making them available more easily under the pressure when you need to react to more acute stress.
Waiting to Exhale
By modeling simple interventions that can be used by patients on a regular basis—at home, on their own, and in the thick of everyday life—Dr. Ediger explains that, while some patients enjoy regular check-ins at his office, “I’ve got other people who come in every four months because they’ve got that amount of coverage, and they want to make sure that we’re in place for when they really need me.”
In other cases, he says, he’ll be able to part ways with patients after working through specific concerns, knowing he’s achieved “success stories when they feel good enough about the relationship that they’re in,” or the concern that first brought them to his door in the first place.
Now, he admits, “because so much of what we do is relationship based,” not every patient will feel comfortable working with his particular style of therapy. So, to ensure a good fit, every single time, Dr. Ediger open his first client appointment with the following introduction: “I’ll say, I’m going to ask you three questions at the end of this appointment, and if you answer no to any of these three questions, we may need to see if we can find you someone else. And those three questions are going to be, ‘do I get it?’ ‘Do I know what I’m talking about?’ And ‘do I give a damn?’” After highlighting the crucial queries, Dr. Ediger exhorts his patients: “If you say no to any of those three questions, why would you come back and see me? Because if I’m not getting it, I need to ask better questions or we need to work harder to make sure I get it. If I don’t know what I’m talking about, clearly there’s an issue. And if I don’t give a damn, why would you listen to anything I say?”
Of course, to some patients, this introduction to Dr. Ediger’s take on psychology may feel harsh or abrupt. Yet he explains that it’s actually quite the opposite. Because, he explains, “My goal in the first intake is to get it, to demonstrate some insight, hopefully, and demonstrate empathy and that I care to help them.” After all, he says, “People’s lives go up and down.” But, with a dash of concern and a few helpful psychological tools, Dr. Ediger believes that it’s possible—and likely—that the up days can far outnumber, or at least outweigh, the down ones.